"Catch fish," said Steve Bechard of Oneida, N.Y. "That's it."
On Thursday, Bechard put his plan into action and beat a field full of competitive fly anglers for first place at the ESPN Fly Fishing Challenge. For his victory, Bechard earned a spot at Great Outdoor Games V presented by Dodge, which will bring athletes from all over the world to Madison, Wis., July 8-11 to compete for medals and glory.
"We had a great event in the Florida Keys this week," said Cadence Harkins, assistant director of the Great Outdoor Games, sport and competitions. "This competition was a great display of technique, strategy and tenacity on the part of nine great anglers. We're looking forward to testing the freshwater angling skills of the four that qualified for the Great Outdoor Games this July."
Bechard flew down for the qualifier on the advice of a friend who is familiar with the Games. For the past three years, Bechard has made annual pilgrimages to the saltwater fishing paradise, but this was his first saltwater competition.
"I figured if I was going to lose anywhere, I'd rather lose in the Keys," he said. Instead, he topped some very formidable competition, including second-place finisher Tom White, a professional flats guide from Marathon, Fla., and third-place competitor and Great Outdoor Games veteran Mike Dawes of Victor, Idaho.
Both Dawes and White, along with fourth-place finisher Rick Hartman of Harlingen, Texas, will join Bechard in Madison for a rematch at the One-Fish Fly Fishing Competition on a local fishery. And additional four competitors will earn berths through the upcoming Western Fly Fishing Challenge, scheduled for May 4-6 on Colorado's Eagle River.
The key to winning in Madison, they said, is research and practice - particularly for the casting competition that seeds anglers for their spots on the river.
"I'm definitely going to be working on the casting a little more," Dawes said. "I could have used more preparation for that today."
White, who is a master certified casting instructor, said he will focus on "different casting skills" and research.
"I have to study the species, the temperature of the water, the insect population," White said, acknowledging that the competition in landlocked Madison may be even tougher than the Florida qualifier. "I think most fly anglers are less adept at saltwater fishing and more adept at trout fishing."
The Eastern Fly Fishing Challenge will be telecast April 17 at 10:30 a.m. on ESPN2.
Top outdoor athletes from around the world compete for entry into ESPN Great Outdoor Games V, held in Madison, Wis. July 8-11. The ultimate championship of outdoor sports features one-of-a-kind, head-to-head competition in timber and target events, sporting dogs, and fishing. While entertaining large crowds on site, the ESPN Great Outdoor Games also draws a worldwide television audience airing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports.
For more information, call ESPN Outdoors Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.greatoutdoorgames.com.