If ESPN's Great Outdoor Games becomes as much a tradition as the network's offbeat X Games, then Captain Tom Rowland of Key West, Florida will one day be viewed among the old video clips that honor the competition's earliest champions.
Rowland, 32, won the inaugural Outdoor Games Fly Fishing division when he landed an 18 ½ inch-brown trout from the AuSable River in Lake Placid, New York, a fish that the second-place finisher matched in length, but not in girth.
"The competition was close and exciting," said Rowland, a few days after capturing his title. "We knew before we started fishing that the measurement could come down to girth and it did. It just so happened that the person I barely beat out as been my fishing hero for a long time." Renowned trout angling author and fisherman Doug Swisher finished second. ESPN's Great Outdoor Games began airing in late July and included timber sports, dog events, bass fishing, target and target sports, but none any closer or more exciting than the fly-fishing competition. "When the people at ESPN first started talking about the competition they weren't sure how successful or interesting it might be, but by the time it was over they were excited about it and were already talking about next year." Rowland fished against 11 other accomplished fly anglers, chosen to compete by ESPN based on reputation and the suggestions of fly fishing industry representatives to help select the country's best fishermen. All 12 competitors fished the AuSable River. Rowland finished second on the first round of competition, which was a fly casting contest.
"ESPN let us chose the stretch of river we wanted to fish based on how we finished in the fly casting category," explained Rowland. "I finished second but ended up getting the section of river I would have chosen had I finished first."
The fishing competition itself had the feel of a poker game on a time clock. Anglers were given three hours to fish but allowed to record only one brown trout.
"Once we recorded a catch, we had to quit," explained Rowland. "You had to decide right then and there if you were going to keep fishing. I think I had fished 43 minutes when I caught my largest fish and decided to quit. I think Doug was on the water for even less time than me." Rowland's gamble paid off, but only because his brown trout had a slightly larger midsection. In addition to prize money, the Key West guide will likely return to the games next year to defend his championship. "I plan to be back and try to hold on to the title," said Rowland. "It appears as if the Outdoor Games may get even bigger next year and I want to be a part of them."