Big fish stories set to emerge from Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Big fish stories set to emerge from Basalt

Ken Toy courtesy photo

Basalt's two gold-medal trout streams will get the recognition many anglers feel they deserve this weekend when the town hosts the U.S. National Fly Fishing Championships.

Organizers of the event expect as many as 70 competitors for the competition, which will determine who advances to the World Fly Fishing Championship in the Czech Republic in 2014.

There will be full days of competition on Friday and Saturday and a half-day contest Sunday.

Basalt established itself as a host for the national championships last year when it hosted a regional competition, according to Bret Bishop, a former competitor and organizer for Fly Fishing Team USA. The town applied for the national championships and was awarded the event for the first time.

"Basalt has everything you look for as far as quality of water," Bishop said. That includes an equal distribution of fish, he said, and water that is "challenging" for top anglers.

For the competition, 12 teams of five members each will troll the waters in five Basalt-area venues. They will use the Fryingpan River, two sites along the Roaring Fork River, Ruedi Reservoir and Blue Lake. The river sites are private property, so there won't be competition with recreational anglers.

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All competitors will have identical boats and identical equipment, and they will spend equal amounts of time at the various venues, according to Tom Skutley, a member of Basalt's organizing committee.

Using the same equipment and craft is meant to determine which anglers have the better skills, at least for the weekend of the competition.

"A lot of people think of fishing as luck," Bishop said. But in this type of competition, the top competitors rise to the top. They excel by figuring out how to tackle the challenges, he said.

Skutley concurred.

"These guys are so good, they don't miss fish," he said.

The competitors are judged by the number and the cumulative length of the fish they catch. A "controller" shadows their every move and records their catch. Any variety of trout counts in the competition as well as whitefish, which are common in Basalt, and salmon, which are not.

The event is catch-and-release. The Basalt Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting the event, said on its website that the event shouldn't have a detrimental effect on fish populations.

"All efforts to limit the impact on the rivers will be implemented, and because these fishermen are of such a high caliber, their respect and knowledge of the river ecosystem is inherent," the chamber said. "We anticipate a very limited impact to our beautiful river ecosystem."

The Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club supports the event and is supplying volunteers. Gary Wheeler, of Basalt, is organizing the volunteers. People interested in helping can call the chamber at 970-927-4031.

The competitors include 15 anglers whose records gave them an automatic berth on Fly Fishing Team USA as well as those who qualified through their performances at one of the five regional competitions this year.

"Some of them are guides, but they come from all different walks of life," said Bishop, who is a teacher. The common goal among all competitors is a "burning passion" for fly-fishing. Making the national team doesn't bring monetary awards. The sport is "Olympic sanctioned," so money cannot be exchanged, according to Bishop.

Skutley and Gretta McKenney, a coordinator through the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, said they believe the event will put the national spotlight on Basalt's great fishing waters.

"Fly-fishing in the summer is a very large part of the Basalt economy," McKenney said.

McKenney, Skutley and Basalt resident Ken Toy are among the committee members working to line up access to private stretches of the rivers to use for the competition, enlist volunteers and arrange sponsorships and in-kind donations of food and lodging for the competitors.

"We're all big fans of the sport," Skutley said of the volunteers.

scondon@aspentimes

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