Catch and release

Winning Superfly a gamble for anglers

Joel Evans of Montrose sends a cast over a tree-shaded side channel of the East River during Saturday’s Superfly contest. Summer rains have contributed to higher flows this year in the East and other Gunnison Basin streams.

Gene Hart of Gunnison, an official measurer during Saturday’s Superfly contest, watches as Superfly participant Joel Evans of Montrose carefully works a nymph through a run in the East River north of Almont. Hart has one the contest twice, the last time in 2012, and knows the challenge of fishing under pressure.

Gene Hart shows anglers Brad Oberto and Joel Evans, both of Montrose, how he would approach a particular stretch of the East River during the 2014 Superfly contest sponsored by the Gunnison Angling Society chapter of Trout Unlimited.

ALMONT — Despite the background chuckle of a nearly full East River, an anguished cry could be heard from an angler knee-deep in the September flows.

“Oh, I hope he gets off,” pleaded Joel Evans of Montrose, as he watched his fly line jump and dance from the efforts of the 8-inch rainbow stuck securely to Evans’ fly.

Evans gingerly released a bit more line and suddenly the fish, one second hooked and the next second gone, became a forgettable memory.

“He got off, yay!” Evans said as he cheerfully re-spooled his line. “I didn’t want to count that fish.”

In the deep annals of fly fishing, it’s rare you’ll ever read where an angler would encourage a fish to escape, but so it was Saturday during the Gunnison Angling Society’s 2014 Superfly, an annual catch-and-release fly-fishing contest conducted on waters in the upper Gunnison Basin.

The basic rules are simple: The two-person team catching the most inches of trout or char during the day wins, and the angler with the most individual inches wins the coveted Top Rod award.

The hang-up comes when the rules also state each angler can measure only five fish in the day, two each in the morning and afternoon shifts plus one “wild card” fish coming at any time in the day.

Plus, each angler was required to measure and count the first fish caught morning and afternoon, which is why Evans’ partner Brad Oberto of Montrose was so apologetic after hooking, and not being able to release, a brown trout a thumb’s width less than 8 inches long.

“Hey, I’m sorry, Joel,” said Oberto, sounding more like he had just stepped on Evans’ favorite rod. “I’ll make up for it.”

Over on the bank, Gene Hart laughed and nodded.

“That seven-incher might be worth some money later today,” he said with a knowing smile. “I’ve seen contests decided by a half-inch.”

Hart, who with fishing partner Mindy Sturm of Crested Butte won the Superfly in 2008 and again in 2012, sat out this year’s contest and instead was official measurer and scorekeeper for Evans and Oberto.

He filled the day with his lively commentary and his encyclopedic knowledge of the East and other Gunnison Basin streams.

“See that smooth run under that leaning spruce tree? I’d toss something up above it and let it drift down,” said Hart, leaning forward to better see the water. “It looks kind of skinny but I’ll bet there’s a nice trout in there.”

Evans and Oberto fished their small nymphs mostly in silence, intent on their endeavors and the challenge new water presents.

Occasionally Hart would splash across the river, brandishing the tape measure and calling out the official length.

“Seventeen inches,” he told a pleased Oberto. “That should put you in the money.”

But it wasn’t to be. Fishing is fishing, after all, and even though both Evans and Oberto each measured their five allotted trout, by the end of the day their 117 total inches fell short of four other teams.

The top team was Luke Beatty and Duke Beardsley of Grand County Anglers with 147 inches of trout, followed by Jack McCallister and Marc Solari of Crested Butte with 134 inches.

Third, with 127.5 inches and pleasing many observers, was the Gunnison Angling Society youth team of Taila Oulton, familiar to many local anglers for her contributions to the Grand Valley Anglers’ Fly Fishing Expo, and her teammate Connor Stahlnecker.

Top rod went to Beatty (88.5 inches total) and John Bocchino of Gunnison caught the biggest fish, a 23-inch rainbow.


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