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Costa del Mar’s 2 Fly X-Stream has pushed the boundaries of competitive fly fishing

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Grandpa never fished like this. Then again, he never had a ‘Nuke Egg’, a ‘Cone Head Madonna’, or a ‘Fly Formerly Known as Prince’. For the record, those are all fly fishing patterns. But they might also double as new-school symbolism for Costa Del Mar’s signature 2 Fly X-Stream fishing competition at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games, which has pushed the envelope in competitive Fly Fishing as it enters a whole new era.

Traditionally associated with a more Zen-ed out crowd of water-watching cast-and-drift connoisseurs, the so-called “quiet sport” of fly fishing puts on a more animated game face at the GoPro Mountain Games as a capacity crowd of competitors arrives ready to fight for the right to fish.

It comes as little surprise that the competition has quickly become the biggest fly fishing contest in Colorado. Attracting an overflow field of anglers and regularly selling out sooner than any other event at the four-day festival of mountain sports and lifestyle, the unique event could soon serve as the poster child for competitive fly-fishing nationwide.

Unlike other prestigious American fly-fishing contests, anglers must work their way through the open field to earn the opportunity to actually fish at the GoPro Mountain Games. Two days of intense casting competition for distance and accuracy determines the finalists, who then pick their top two fly patterns to slug it out for a day of float fishing at one of the most unpredictable venues in America.

Only eight finalists get the chance to board boats (rather than walk-and-wade beats) for a frenzied four-hour fishing session that might be confused for another of the GoPro Mountain Games’ whitewater rafting competitions — were it not for the trout tugging at the line. Fed by the surging spring runoff, the often swift, turbid waters force fishermen to dig deep into their well of tricks and tactics to maximize fish counts against their total allotment of only six flies.

"Six flies to fish four hours means you're losing one-and-change an hour," event organizer Rick Messmer said. “It’s not like wade fishing, where you can walk upstream and retrieve a snagged fly. If you're casting too aggressively from the boat, you're out.”

None of the top competitors are ashamed to admit that they train hard for this contest, setting up targets of hula hoops and dinner plates, even casting from ladders to replicate the sloping angle of the competition venue on Vail's International Bridge, where semi-finalists compete in front of one of the biggest fly fishing audiences in the world.

"For me, the attraction is actually the fly casting," said Colorado local Michael Pukas, a perennial podium contender. "I like fly casting probably as much as I like fly fishing. I look at it as an equivalent to things like playing golf or playing tennis or baseball, like going to the driving range.”

 

Growing from an original exhibition event of six local fishermen to more than 100 competitors from across the nation, the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream appears to have found its niche at the GoPro Mountain Games. As for the potential "fish out of water" label at the adventure-sports amalgamation of rock climbers, kayakers, mountain bikers and racers, no one seems to notice, least of all the anglers.

 

"It's an unbelievable venue with thousands of people out here watching," Messmer said. “It's great for GoPro, it's great for us and it's great for the sport of fly-fishing."