In The News

Reeling in the Victories
By Andy Scheidler | The Franklin Press, July 17, 2009

In individual sports such as golf, tennis or bowling, the mental aspect is crucial. When you don’t have any teammates to rely upon, and it’s all up to you how well you perform, every point and moment requires mental focus.

This same philosophy applies to competitive fly fishing. When they’re struggling to reel in fish, anglers need patience. And when they are experiencing success, they need to keep a steady frame of mind to prevent from being overconfident.

Gordon Vanderpool started competing in fly fishing tournaments last year, and his mental approach has helped him find success in rapid fashion.

Vanderpool won the third tourney he entered, and has continued his winning ways by taking first in two more events. Vanderpool, a Franklin resident and member of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team, got his last two wins on the Nantahala River against an experienced collection of fly fishermen.

“It’s awesome. I never expected to win one against this caliber of competition,” said Vanderpool, who celebrated his 35th birthday Thursday. “To win one was an honor. But to win three in a row? I’m just happy. I hope to keep on placing well in them.”

The power of learning

Though he’s been fly fishing all the time for the past eight years, Vanderpool didn’t start competing in tournaments until last year. Being the owner of a guide business, Turning Stones Fly Fishing, Vanderpool spends many hours in the water each week. That experience certainly helps with choosing which bug to select and knowing which section of the river in which to make his cast.

But his mental focus may be the most important reason why Vanderpool has won three straight fly fishing events.

Competing against other fishermen that he considers much better than himself, Vanderpool hasn’t gone into the events expecting to win. Surprisingly, he actually doesn’t even expect to catch a single fish.

“I always go in thinking I’m going to get skunked and not catch a fish,” he said. “It makes me hungry. It makes me want it bad.”

His foundation, the way he carries himself and approaches every day, is also another huge factor to consider in Vanderpool’s success. He always seeks to further his knowledge, a trait passed down from his father.

“I learn every day,” Vanderpool said. “I just had a client (Tuesday), and he said, ‘How do you gather all this information?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been fly fishing for years.’ But every day I go out, whether it be with a client or fishing myself, I want to have learned at least one thing that day. I try to learn something every day; it’s a never-ending process. I’m far from knowing it all. I know just a pinch of it.

“My dad taught me to be that way. He taught me how to be modest. As soon as you think you know it all, you better quit. And I live my life that way.”

Recent wins

Vanderpool got his breakthrough in only his third competitive fly fishing event, beating out 15 anglers at the 2009 Olympiad Fly Masters Tournament at Lake Lure and Chimney Rock on May 2-3.

His next two victories followed in the first two events of the six-round Nantahala River Tournament. Robbinsville’s Josh Stevens, a member of the U.S.A. Fly Fishing Team, created the tournament.

One round of the tourney is being held each month, with the sixth and final round to be held in October.

The tournament uses the FIPS-Mouche rules of the International Sport Flyfishing Federation. It’s a point system based on finish, where totaling the lowest number is the objective.

The Nantahala River Tournament is broken into one-day events, split into two morning and afternoon sessions. Each anglers fishes for an hour and a half in the morning and afternoon, attempting to catch as many fish as possible. The trout must be at least 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) to be scored and counted toward a fisherman’s total.

Twelve anglers from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee competed in the first round on the Nantahala held in early May. They were split into two groups, as six fished the first part of the morning session, while the other six followed.

Each angler is assigned a certain section of the river to fish by drawing a number randomly.

Points are awarded by how the anglers finish. First place receives one point, second gets two points, and so on.

Vanderpool was in the second group with Stevens, and figured he’d be the guy to beat. Vanderpool scored 14 in the morning, while Stevens tallied 17.

“I knew I really had to catch a lot in afternoon to have a chance,” Vanderpool said.

He was assigned a section of the river that the guys before him had struggled with. A fisherman in the morning had caught three, while a guy in the afternoon had scored six. Vanderpool didn’t have the same problems and reeled in 24 fish, scoring 18 of them. Stevens finished with three in the afternoon, allowing Vanderpool to walk away with the victory.

The next tournament was held June 27, and the fishing was a little more challenging. Vanderpool reeled in 12 fish in the morning, scoring six. Though the total was much lower than the previous competition, it was good enough for first place and one point. Vanderpool again caught 12 fish in the afternoon. He scored seven, more than anyone else. He was the only angler to win both sessions for a total of two points, thus laying claim to his third straight tournament victory.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Vanderpool, who topped the group of 14 in the second round on the Nantahala. “Those guys are great fishermen.”

Time in the water

The Nantahala River is one of rivers that Vanderpool uses through his guide service to take clients fishing. So his experience there is an added benefit for the tournaments.

Vanderpool estimates he puts in several dozen hours a week in the water, whether as a guide or just fishing for fun. Working as a guide helps him focus on technique, as he occasionally finds himself giving instructions when he realizes he needs to listen to his own advice.

Another factor that has attributed to his victory streak was selecting a good bug. Vanderpool tied a nymph that he wanted to use on the Nantahala, and busted it out on the first day of the tournament.

“It killed them. And they haven’t quit hitting it since,” he said. “That fly is a big part of what won both tournaments for me.”

His selection was a small mayfly imitation that obviously worked well. But knowing where to cast the fly may be even more important.

“Having the right bug helps,” Vanderpool said. “Everybody else was catching fish too. It’s all where you put it; it’s where you place the fly that’s gonna attribute your success more than what you’re using.”

The key is to read the water, looking for current breaks. Vanderpool said he looks for where fast water turns to slow water, and along those edges is usually a hot spot for trout. Also, Vanderpool looks for where two fast currents are side-by-side and there is a slow spot between them, or he looks for inner bends of a turn, where the slower water is on the inside.

“They like to hang in the slower water next to the faster water so they can shoot out and grab the food that come down the river,” Vanderpool said.

Quiet confidence

Vanderpool hopes to compete in the remaining four tournaments on the Nantahala, provided he doesn’t have a conflict with his guide business.

He’ll also compete in the U.S. National Qualifier in August, which will be held on the Davidson River near Brevard, and he’s looking forward to the Rumble in Rhododendron in Cherokee in September.

Since those are bigger tournaments, Vanderpool said he is already getting nervous. But adding a few wins to his resume has also given him a quiet confidence.

“Every tournament you’re in it relaxes you a little bit,” he said. “There’s nerves every time. But every one I’m in I seem to stay a little more calm and just go out and fish just like I would normally. So it helps to know that I’m having a few under my belt right before the big ones come. Because you’re going to have to be on your game that day.”

In between tournaments, Vanderpool will continue to give guided trips on the Nantahala River, Cullasaja River, Tuckasegee River and Big Snowbird Creek, just to name a few. After winning his first tournament in May, he’s had a number of clients congratulate him. And the compliments should continue to pour in after winning two more.

“It’s kind of neat to be winning stuff and getting the kudos from people,” Vanderpool said. “It’s nice. It feels good. It makes you keep wanting to go after it and win more.”

Franklin angler wins fly fishing tourney
By Andy Scheidler | The Franklin Press, Friday, May 15, 2009

Gordon Vanderpool competes in the distance and accuracy portion of the 2009 Olympiad Fly Masters Tournament at Lake Lure.

As a fly fishing guide, Gordon Vanderpool stays busy helping people catch trout in many of the rivers and streams in Western North Carolina. And in order to catch more fish, it helps to know what insects are prevalent in certain areas.Vanderpool always does his research beforehand so he knows what the trout will want to bite. “To be a good trout fisherman it helps to know what hatches on the streams, because that’s what they feed on,” Vanderpool said.

Vanderpool, 34, began fly fishing as a teenager. But it’s the knowledge he’s compiled during the past eight years of non-stop fly fishing that has allowed Vanderpool to become well-versed in the streams. He started entering competitive tournaments last year, and has finished in the top 10 in all three (with more than 40 competitors entered in one of the events).

Vanderpool won his first tournament at the inaugural 2009 Olympiad Fly Masters Tournament at Lake Lure and Chimney Rock on May 2-3. The Franklin resident bested some stiff competition that included 16 anglers from North Carolina and South Carolina. Finishing second was Paul Thompson of Marion, a three-time Field & Stream Total Outdoorsman national champion. Walker Parrott, who teamed with Kevin Howell to win a National Fly Masters Championship, finished in third place. “It was an honor to win against them guys,” Vanderpool said. “Them guys are good. Some of them guys have been doing it for years. I just started competitive fly fishing last year.”

Guide work

Vanderpool and his wife Suzanne have lived in Franklin for nearly two years. Originally from Pennsylvania, Vanderpool traveled around the country with Suzanne, a traveling nurse. He thought about setting up his fly fishing guide business in California, but decided to settle on the East Coast so he could be closer to his father.

Vanderpool visited Franklin when he was young, and knew the fishing was superb. He also knew it was a popular tourist destination, so he decided Franklin would be a good spot to set up his guide business, Turning Stones Fly Fishing.

Through his website, anglers can book a reservation to go fly fishing with Vanderpool. He takes clients of all ages and ability levels to fish in the Nantahala River, Cullasaja River, Tuckasegee River and Big Snowbird Creek. “I get people anywhere from young kids to elderly,” he said. “People that have never fly fished, some have been doing it for years. They want to get a guide so that I can show them what to use that will work; take them to the places where they’re going to catch fish.”

Learning to cast is likely the most challenging part for aspiring fly fishermen. A standard fly fishing line is 90 feet. Leaders, which hold the fly and are attached to the end of the standard line, traditionally add another 7 1/2 to nine feet. Vanderpool was self-taught, but he recommends learning the proper mechanics of casting from a guide. “You see on TV, they just pick up a rod and go back and forth. Well, there’s so much more to it than that,” Vanderpool said. “The mechanics, how far you go, it all comes into play. So when you’re trying to learn it yourself, you don’t know any of the variables. So you have to try to put it together. It’s tough.”

Tournament action

The two-day tournament began with a distance and accuracy course. The various targets challenged the anglers and whittled the 16 competitors down to 10 for the second day. Among those advancing to the fishing portion of the contest were Vanderpool and Paul Bourq, also a Franklin resident. Bourq met Vanderpool last year when he noticed on South East Fly Fishing Forum that they were both from Franklin, so he suggested they go fish together. Now Vanderpool and Bourq go fishing 2-3 times a week and are both on the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team, a non-profit organization of about 18 people who work on stream cleanups and compete in tournaments.

The morning fishing portion of the tournament was held on the Upper Rocky Broad River in Chimney Rock. Fishing on the public waters made it more challenging for the anglers, as most tournaments in WNC are held on private waters. Anglers had two hours to reel in five fish, with the scores calculated by the combined length of the fish. Vanderpool scored four fish in the first session, allowing him to advance with the other top four anglers to the finals. Bourq wasn’t as fortunate. He finished with three fish, but dropped two before he could score them to finish seventh.

The fishing was made challenging because it was a hatchery supported stream that seemed to get a lot of pressure, Bourq said. “The people who won and did well caught the wild fish,” said Bourq, who’s been fly fishing for about nine years. “It was tough. A lot of times you normally decide which ones you want to score because you’re catching so many.” The goal for Vanderpool was simple: catch five fish and stay relaxed.

“I just need to keep a cool head. Because when you’re out there fishing, there’s pressure,” he said. “I knew the fishing was going to be tough. So I just focused to catch five fish. I figured if I caught five I was going to score them all. I just wanted to keep a level head and go after it.”

The strategy worked as Vanderpool took first place, good for $500 and a weekend stay a Firefly Cove condo on Lake Lure. Vanderpool thanked tournament hosts Michael and Michelle Yelton. Michael is also on the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team, but didn’t enter the tournament to serve as the host.

“It really tuned out nice for the first one,” Vanderpool said. “They did a really great job.”

Up next on the tournament docket is the U.S. National Qualifier held on Davidson River in Brevard in August. The top five anglers qualify for the national championships in Pennsylvania in October. Vanderpool would love to qualify to fish in his home state. “That would be sweet because I’ve fished some of the waters where the tournament is going to be,” he said.

He’s also looking forward to the second annual Rumble in the Rhododendron two-man tournament held in Cherokee in September that will be televised on The Sportsman Channel. Vanderpool and his partner finished eighth in tournament last year. But he won the individual casting competition and badly wants to defend his title.

People: Competitive Fly Fisher Gordon Vanderpool
Sunday, May 17, 2009 from Fly Fish Magazine

This might well be a picture of North Carolina’s current rising star in the realm of competitive fly fishing. Fly fishing guide Gordon Vanderpool, of Turning Stones Fly Fishing, LLC and a member of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team has been on a roll of late. Gordon finished first in the casting portion of this year’s Rumble in the Rhododendron and first in the Lake Lure Olympiad Fly Fishing Masters a few weeks ago. This weekend he took top spot in the first round of what amounts to a FIPS Mouche rule equivalent of a pick up contest on the Nantahala River. Congratulations Mr. V.