World championships Slovenia 2012 by Howard Croston – Published at Hardy
The 2012 World Fly Fishing Championships were held in the stunning, fish filled rivers of Slovenia, a small country in size but vast in terms of angling opportunity. Team England consisted of Paul Page as Manager, John Horsey, Simon Robinson, Phil Dixon, John Tyzack and myself with Scott Nellins as reserve, a strong squad with a wide range of skills and experience across both rivers and lakes.

Our campaign began a week prior to the actual championships at our team base. We settled immediately into the very comfortable and friendly atmosphere of our guest house. Shortly after arriving we were treated to an excellent home cooked meal and a welcome drink - things where already looking good! Despite the relatively short journey time to Slovenia from the UK it was an exhausted England Team that hit the sack early ready for the start of our intense practice sessions.

2012 World Champs

Day one

We met Rok Lustrik, our guide ( for the week who Paul, our manager had lined up to provide the team with practice water that would closely mimic the actual competition venues of Sava Bohinjka , Main Sava , Kokra , and the lake at most Na Soci . The plan was to train for one day on each venue or if not possible due to competition restrictions, on water as closely matched as possible to the competition venues.

Practice week flew by with many fish caught on an array of methods and flies including some stunning grayling up to the magic 50cm mark and, although the one fly rule of Slovenia's fisheries did limit the tactical options to a degree we had a good tight range of nymphs, dries and streamers that we knew would catch in all the venues depending on water type.

As always the final captains meeting was a tense affair with all the teams nervously awaiting the draw for groups. Team England was no different and although we all had our own preferred draws in mind there is nothing that can be done - you simply have to fish what you get and make the most of it.

2012 World Champs

My own draw was the direct opposite to what i had hoped for, with the Sava Bohinjka (the post productive venue) first and the Kokra (possibly the hardest venue) last. I knew this would possibly make for blank avoidance tactics in session five depending on the beat draw and as with all these comps the dreaded blank must be avoided at all costs due to the heavy penalty points awarded for a clean sheet.

I stepped off the coach on the first morning surprisingly relaxed, although a touch apprehensive as to what I had drawn, down a tunnel through some bushes and along a riverside path I followed my controller until we broke through next to a stunning run split by a foot bridge - it was a good draw! When the whistle went for the start of session one my small black nymph hit the water and an immediate indication resulted in a hooked Brown Trout of 35cm... I was off to the races, first cast; it really can't start any better!

The next three hours as always flew past I fished only one rod my long serving Greys 9.6ft #3 XF2 Streamflex Plus with the extension section fitted and my own design of leader that I can pretty much fish any single fly technique from. I switched from nymph to dry frequently as I fished the beat and often caught two or three fish on the dry before fishing the same pocket with nymph (pic 3) for another two or three fish before moving on. My 200m beat had too much fish holding water to fully cover so I concentrated on the best areas and just on the final whistle fish no 26 hit the net. In practice our guide, Rok had guessed that 20 plus fish would be needed to win the first session on the Sava Bohinjka - was he right?
On the coach the numbers filtered back from the other anglers in my group and it looked like 26 had been enough for first place, my other team mates called in and John Horsey had also won his first session on the lake with 5 so it looked like a good team start to the Championships.

2012 World Champs

Session two

My rotation saw me drawn on the upper part of the Sava Bohinjka an area I had fished in practice for the 2006 Europeans so I had some prior knowledge of the beats. Off the coach at the second drop off point and my beat was immediately next to the road in an area I knew well - I could see fish cruising in a ‘blue hole' a term we applied to large deep back eddies some seemingly bottomless so signs were good.

With two hours to spare prior to the start I had lots of time to form a plan, when the whistle went I headed for the shallow water and hopefully the numerous small wild Rainbows that seemed to like this type of water, choosing to ignore the big 40 -55cm rainbows that cruised in the deep water. These bigger fish receive lots of angling pressure and although well catchable eat into the short three hour sessions as they take longer to subdue on light tackle.

Again, my tactics of one rod and switching between dry and nymph paid off with 24 fish in my three hours placing me second behind the Spanish angler with 23 slightly larger fish.

Three place points from the first two sessions was enough to tie me on points for the lead at the end of day one although my larger fish point score nudged me into first place over all.

At the end of day one England held 8th place with everything to fish for in a competition where results can change wildly from session to session.

2012 World Champs

Day Two Session Three

This saw me draw the lake, part of the Soca System and a lake but not as we know it! Similar to lots of the lake venues in World and Europeans the host nation had chosen a venue with a river running through it creating a strong flow in places, back eddies and as it was part of a hydro system changing water levels to confuse things further.

Armed with excellent info from England's first session win by John Horsey I headed for the same area but with different flies as the water seemed to have cleared over night and the fish had now had some pressure. With almost all of these lake sessions avoiding the blank is the first priority so the first fish and when you catch it is key - get one early and you normally go on to a good score, struggle for a take in the first hour or so and the nerves creep in and you often don't fish as well as you could.

When the start gun went off I was mid way through re attaching a fly and almost fell out of the boat with the shock! My first cast with my 9.6ft #8 Hardy Zenith and di5 40 plus with a dark olive damsel pattern tied by my good friend and former England team gold medal winner , Davy Parker was met with an instant take which I missed! When I started the retrieve on my second cast I was still cursing my mistake but that changed pretty quickly as half way back to the boat the line locked solid and a chunky Marble Trout went airborne trying to throw the barbless hook. Typically when you desperately want to land a fish it does everything it can to escape and the fight was overly long thanks to the nerves and apprehension of trying to get the all important blank avoiding first fish in the net -thankfully it stayed hooked and the blank was avoided 6 minutes into the session.

I worked away at the same area for the full three hours and was rewarded with 6 takes for four fish landed, mainly to the hang. This was enough to place me 4th and as I was to find out later, keep me in the individual lead.

At the end of the third session on day two all fishing stops as the afternoon is a ‘rest session' to allow exhausted anglers to recover from the 5am starts and the 1am bed times and the extreme effort everyone puts into the competition.

Back at the hotel the team results showed England had slipped to 11th place but still all the team rallied following Paul's team talk and we still knew we had everything to fish for.

The last day dawned and at 5am. I studied the catch results from the two rivers I had to fish that day to have an idea of what I would need to stay in the running individually and to not let the team down.

Arriving at the main Sava on beat 1 it was clear that my draw was not a great one. The three previous anglers had managed 8 fish in session 1 then 4 and 4 and only one good holding area was obvious - unfortunately it was on the other side of the huge river at the top of the beat - my only route to which was a deep wade across the tail a run 200m through the woods and then a wade /swim diagonally across the river to get me back to the controller with a fish . I made the decision to concentrate on that area and made the crossing 9 times in three hours each time with a fish, one was 1mm under size and was not counted but I finished with 10 fish hooked nine landed and 8 to score so was happy with my performance on a hard fished poor beat, 8 fish was just enough for a 9th place in the group.

2012 World Champs

Session 5

And so the last session of the 2012 World Championships arrived and the Kokra river - the most inconsistent of all the venues and now also one of the hardest fished, as its small size and shallow nature resulted in few if any fish that had not seen an anglers' fly in the last three days.

My beat was good with many features and had fished well but it had also had some exceptional anglers fishing it including Spanish, French and Italian. The scores had fallen quickly with 27 in the first followed by 14 then 11 then 1.

Whilst I sat on the bank rigging my gear a huge Grayling rose from nowhere and took sedge from the surface - at least they had left me one I thought!
I crept to the water's edge and waited for the start, the Grayling's rises were inconsistent and it actually refused a few real flies so I was a touch worried it may not eat my artificial. Luckily a short drift with a rod tip induced ‘hop' of the fly proved to be too much and the fish took my CDC sedge in a smooth rise.

I took advantage of the first split second of confusion of the fish and jumped on it with the net as I had dropped to 0.8 tippet to get the take and didn't fancy a long fight in pool full of obstacles! That fish went 48.7 cm and was a real beast, unbelievably my second fish was a 47 .5cm Grayling caught in almost the same manner in the next run.

After these two early fish it became apparent how hard the water had been fished and I resorted to crawling on my knee pads and exploring every inch of the beat with dries and small green sedge pupa. I hooked 11 and landed 9 for a 7th place and looking back I know I could not have made any more of that beat so was happy with my position in the group given the water I had.

At the end of the event when all scores had been tallied and checked, England as a team had fought back to 7th place overall and I had finished two points short of the medals in fourth place. Of course I was disappointed with not reaching the medals both as a team and an individual however to place 4th in the World Championships is still an achievement I will treasure although I haven't given up on improving it quite yet!

In summary the fishing and the event organisation was superb with the organisers trying to ensure as fair and level championship as possible. No stocking took place for four months prior to the event and stock fish played no real part in the scores, although some very poor water had been pegged in the match sectors resulting in some ‘grave yard' draws that even the best anglers in the world could find no fish in whatsoever, so as always there was a degree of ‘luck of the draw' involved.

The final team results saw Czech lift gold with Italy and then Spain, individually Spain took gold with a flawless performance from David Arcay followed by Italy and then Czech.

For me this was one of my most enjoyable World Championships with great crack amongst the team and excellent organisation and leadership from Paul Page as manager all helped along by some great fishing and scenery.

Chris Ogborne, himself an individual silver medal winner in the World Flyfishing Championships, pays tribute to Howard Croston's performance in Slovenia last week;

"For my money, anyone who comes in the top ten at a World Championship has done supremely well. When you look at the beat averages, the real picture comes into view. When you catch more on a beat than anyone else has done, when you turn an average beat into a good one, when you catch more fish in a beat on the final session than anyone did in the earlier days, those are the things that show class. The ultimate truth in the World event is that you can't catch what isn't in front of you. It's the luck of the draw - all you can do is to reduce the luck element with your skill.

"In my humble opinion, Howard is the best angler that England have had for a very long time. At Hardy & Greys we know how lucky we are to have that kind of expertise on the product development team, but outside of these circles he is less well known. He's quiet, un-assuming, and just gets on with the job."

Howard Croston is Hardy & Greys Catagory Manager and also current world team member.