The Czech team is probably the most successful in the all-time history of the World Championships. In 2018 they were on the podium again, this time with the team silver in Trentino. Smart Angling interviewed the team’s Manager (Assistant Captain) and flyfishing superhero Igor Slavik about the ingredients of this success.
SMART ANGLING (Ivo): Igor, tell us a bit about yourself first. When and how did you start fly fishing? How did you get involved in competitive fly fishing?
IGOR: I started flyfishing very late: I was 27. Until then I was spin fishing, but I was full of respect for flyfishing. Once I picked a fly rod, I almost immediately started competing. And if I do anything I do it very intensively. For 6 years in a row I fished for more than 150 days per year;) After a few years I made the selection to the national team. I took part in a few European championships with my personal best a 7th place in Norway in 2007. With the team I was part of a silver performance in Ireland in 2009. As a manager of the national team in Slovenia we claimed the gold;)
IVO: The Czech team is probably the most successful one in the all-time history of the World Championships. What are the key factors behind this?
IGOR: Many people have asked me same question. I thought about a lot and here is my opinion:
We do not have many huge natural fish in our waters. So instead of chasing the big ones, our thrill is to catch big numbers at competitions.
Another factor is that we have very affordable fishing licenses (by European standards) - for less than 300 Euro you can fish almost everywhere in the Czech Republic throughout the year.
Our country is small - for comps I travel max. 300 km. But if I am lazy, I can stay in my region and do at least 10 competitions per year staying within 70 km from my home.
Overall, we have many comps. If you are crazy for comps, you can do more than 25 per year in the Czech Republic. But normally, I would do about 14.
We also care about our youth. We have clubs for young fishermen. And coaches that spend time with them.
IVO: How is the Czech national team selected?
IGOR: We have annual ranking. You can compete in as many comps as you want. But only one’s 7 best results of the year are taken into account in the ranking. Every comp has different point value. For example, World Championship 60 points, European Championship 50 points, National lake 40 points, National river 40 points, 1st league round 30 points…
The second part of the selection for the national team are 5 rounds between the 14 best competitors from the previous year’s ranking.
And the combination of results of the present year’s ranking from all comps and these 5 rounds are used to calculate the final ranking for the team selection. The team Captain has the right to make some corrections, but the general practice is that the top 5 form the Worlds team and the second 5 go to the European Championships.
Does it make sense? :D
IVO: How did the team prepare for the 2018 World Championships? Did you visit the venues a year or more in advance or was your practice just limited to the weeks and days right before the competition?
IGOR: Tony (Pešek) our fishing Captain visited Italy in August: one month before the competition.
We collected info about Italy for a whole year. Plus a few years ago our team competed in and won the European Championships on the same waters.
As far as practice right before a competition is concerned, our habit is to arrive just one week in advance.
Photo: Igor Slavik
IVO: What does a day of team practice look like, on rivers and on lakes?
IGOR: Nothing complicated. Every member of the team fishes in his own style. And then we have a chat during the evening tying session. On the next day we try other techniques and so on.
Photo: Igor Slavik
IVO: Your team always seems to have a “reserve” angler. How do you decide who of the team members will start and who will be the reserve? How and when do you make a decision to use the reserve?
IGOR: You are wrong. We always have a reserve, but we never use him except in case of injury. This year I was the reserve;)
Our opinion is that motivation can suffer if you have to worry about being swapped with the reserve angler.
IVO: As most tournaments of this level, this year’s World Championships seemed to get more difficult with every session. Yet, while many teams were struggling the Czech team stayed strong and even got better towards the end. How did the team manage to adapt so well as the sessions got tougher?
IGOR: Competitions with a high number of sessions, like the Worlds, keep getting more and more difficult. I think it is about having a good level of self-confidence. Same like the Canadian ice hockey national team: everybody in the world knows that they will win at the final. And they know it, too. ;)
Anyway, we have a proverb: the hares are counted at the end of the hunt. What this means is that a competition ends only after the last second of the last session.
If you are on top after the 4th session, it means nothing.
There is no recipe how to adapt to such a stress. Only to fish as many competitions as you can. I mean MANY comps. Our boys in their competitors’ life have participated in hundreds.
And the last, but not least important, is having a good vibe in the team. This year we had a very easy going crew.
One more point: I think that it is very difficult for organisers to set balanced/even beats at competitions with such a big number of teams. And this is also why it is so hard to catch fish in the last sessions.
Photo: Igor Slavik
IVO: I am sure everyone will agree that strategy, skill and experience are a key in competitive fishing. But how important is good equipment, in your opinion? What equipment did the Czech team use at this year’s World Championships?
IGOR: If you do not have to think about your equipment, then it is good enough. If you are limited by your equipment that is a handicap.
It is very important to have good equipment.
We are happy, that we have great sponsor - Hanák Competition. Hanák helps us with rods, reels, hooks, beads, leader material. This year and many years before.
If I am to highlight just one piece of equipment: this year it was Hanák’s new rod SUPERB XP.
Photo: Igor Slavik
IVO: What are the roles of the team captain and the team manager (assistant captain)?
IGOR: The Captain’s role is to collect information and analyse it. To choose the team strategy. But you know, our boys are very experienced, they can change the strategy in a second. And this is also one of our strong sides.
My job as a Manager is to calm down the boys and motivate them, not to create unnecessary pressure on them. And to make fun around. When you are happy and with a smile, everything is possible.
IVO: What do you think is the strongest side of the Czech team? And the weakest?
IGOR: Strongest - many comps under our belts. Our guys can say: you know, this is same situation like we had in Finland… or somewhere else…
Weakest – language, but this is also getting better; in competitive fishing we are ok. ;)
IVO: What surprised you the most at the 2018 World Championships?
IGOR: Ishimura Misako - the only person who voted against all teams, when we wanted two rotations to make the lake sessions more equal.
And Matjaz Tirovič who saved the life of a controller who had a heart attack. Thumbs up!!!
And my young teammates (Vojta, Lukáš, Franta) - they were so focused, calm and easy.
And the older ones (Tony, David) - so much experience.
IVO: If there is one thing you could change about the way the team prepared and competed, what would it be?
IGOR: Happy end - so everything was great. You know we were very close to wining the gold medal. Just one fish!
But two fish less and we would have dropped to the 4th place.
I mean, it is very close between being a hero and being a zero.
Do not take it too seriously!
In addition to being a successful angler Igor Slavik is an avid fly fishing photographer. Follow him on Instagram at @igi_flyfish