Ausable Two-Fly Challenge returns to Wilmington in May

Fishing on the West Branch of the AuSable River in the town of Wilmington during the spring several years ago (News photo — Justin A. Levine)

WILMINGTON — Planning this year’s Ausable Two-Fly Challenge has been just that — a challenge — yet at least the Whiteface Mountain Regional Visitors Bureau will be able to host one this year.

Last year’s event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and as state restrictions in New York continue to be slowly lifted and people continue to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, there is hope that things will get back to a “new normal” in the town of Wilmington this spring. Yet events still have to go through a vetting process with health officials.

“The last time we met, it seemed like everything that we wanted to do, we kept being told, ‘Nope, you can’t. Nope, you can’t,'” Whiteface Mountain Regional Visitors Bureau Operations Manager Michelle Preston said Thursday, March 25 about the planning process. “Now that things are easing up some, maybe we’ll have more answers as to what we can do.”

In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced some changes to the state’s rules on gatherings and travel. Beginning March 22, non-residential social gatherings of up to 100 people are now allowed indoors and up to 200 people outdoors. And starting April 1, domestic travelers are no longer required to quarantine after entering New York from another U.S. state or territory.

The state Department of Health, however, still recommends quarantine after domestic travel as an added precaution. Mandatory quarantine remains in effect for international travelers. All travelers must continue to fill out the Traveler Health Form. State officials also say people should continue strict adherence to all safety guidelines to stop the spread: wearing face masks, socially distancing and avoiding gatherings.

The Ausable Two-Fly Challenge is a catch-and-release tournament — with divisions for women, men and children — known as the fly fishing challenge for the “average joe.” Held from May 13 to 15, the centerpiece of this event is the West Branch of the AuSable River.

Fishing is not the problem with the COVID guidelines. It’s outdoors, socially distanced, a highly sought-after pandemic activity in the Adirondack Park for residents and visitors. It’s the non-fishing portion of the tournament that needs approval, as organizers hold social gatherings all three days.

This will be the 21st running of the Ausable Two-Fly Challenge, and about 100 people register every year, according to Preston. Many return year after year, and they are “itching to come back,” she said. And they’ve been calling her office.

“I’ve been right up front with them, and I’ve said, ‘I do not know what we’re going to have for an event, but I will build an event that is based on what I’m allowed to do for you on that day.’ And they say, ‘That’s OK. We trust you. We’re excited. We want to come. So register us.'”

The tournament has four divisions: men’s and women’s, junior for children 15 or younger, and competitive for professional fishermen or Ausable Two-Fly Challenge winners within the past five years. The cost is $100 for adults and $50 for children. The juniors are not required to have a fishing license in New York state, but a parent or legal guardian must be present with the child at all times, both on and off the water.

The two flies are the main focus of the challenge, as the name suggests. Anglers can bring two barb-less hook flies of any combination or patterns to the river. That’s two flies per day, both chosen at the beginning of each day. If the flies are lost or unusable, the person is out of the tournament for that day. Anglers must fish with a partner, and both people have to record the total number of fish caught, the length of each fish, and the cumulative number of inches.

The rules state: “Only fish handled by the angler and successfully released will count as caught fish. The winner is determined by the highest cumulative length of each fish caught.”

The event begins on Thursday evening with a welcome party at the town beach, featuring live music, a bonfire and food trucks. COVID-19 rules apply to all. On Friday evening, there will be a fishing-related drive-in movie at the town ball park, and on Saturday evening, organizers hope to hold an awards banquet.

There is still time for local businesses to sign up as sponsors for the event or offer prizes for the raffle. Anyone interested can call Michelle Preston at 518-946-2255.

For more information, https://www.whitefaceregion.com/do/events/two-fly-challenge.