Fly anglers know there are few experiences more endorphin inducing than a well-placed cast that provokes a spectacular eat,
Welcome to the 2019 Fly
Fishing Film Tour
or a perfectly-timed strip followed by a hammering take. They fire the pleasure centers of our brain, stoke our ego, and fuel our desire to get on the water season after season. But who really deserves the credit for your success and deep connection to the sport? Who taught you that magnificent cast? Or how to tie those perfect knots? Even if you build your own flies, you probably weren’t born knowing how to whip finish. I’m sure family and friends were along for the journey, but your local fly shop probably played a huge role in creating the angler you are today. Independent fly shops have come a long way from the hackle traders of the past. Gone are the stuffy caverns where staff looked down at beginners and carp fishermen alike. Modern shops are as much community centers as gear vendors. They’re a place to gather, swap stories, and initiate new anglers. When access or fisheries are threatened, they’re the bullhorn that sounds the alarm. They’ve helped pull our sport out of the dark ages. At the F3T, we’re indebted to local fly shops for the support they’ve given our shows, our audience, and the films that we tote around the country—not to mention what they provide us as individual anglers. Without them, we’d be screening to empty rooms, our attempts to raise funds and awareness for conservation would be in vain, and our successes on the water would be fewer and farther between. Long live fly shops. Ryan Thompson F3T Tour Director photograph Ryan Thompson
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Chris Keig, Ryan Thompson, Doug Powell Andy Hawk, Will Rizzo, Dave Cox
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StoneflyTM and F3TfishTM are trademarks of Fly Fishing Film Tour Editor Will Rizzo Creative Director Dave Cox Copy Chief Sarah Peruzzi Contributing Writers Ryan Brod, Yvon Chouinard Kirk Deeter, Chris Dombrowski, Olivia Dwyer John Gierach, Sarah Grigg, John Larison Sam Lungren, Pete McDonald Tim Neville, Miles Nolte, Scott Sadil, Abe Streep Ryan Thompson, Guy de la Valdène Contributing Photographers RA Beattie, RC Cone, Cavin Brothers, Liam Gallagher Bryan Huskey, Jim Klug, Jako Lucas, Dave McCoy Jeffrey Neubauer, Tim Neville, Tim Romano Colin Scott, Brett Seng, Arian Stevens, Ryan Thompson AIM Executive Team President & CEO
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experience counts for everything T&T Advisor Camille Egdorf McCormick divides her time between Montana and Alaska when not hosting trips around the globe. Guiding since she was a teenager, Camilleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s experience and insight helps us to approach rod design with a unique perspective. Her knowledge, expertise, and understanding are passed to our craftsmen, who strive for perfection and uncompromising performance in every rod we make. To us, Camille and her fellow professionals are our unsung heroes. We salute you.
introducing the new award winning zone series, 3 through 10 weight, uncompromising quality. legendary performance.
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Interview: On the water with Lacey Kelly—Conservation: Can live music help heal the Blackfoot River? The F3T Guide to Tabasco, MX Profile: Filmmaker Travis Swartz is not Hank Patterson
considers the meaning of angling success
fishes Argentina’s river of gold photograph Arian Stevens |cover photograph Ryan Thompson
returns home with his film NexGen
Kings and Corn with Dave Cox
Tim Romano explores the stilt houses of the Texas coast
Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water
Protecting the Peace of Wild Things TROUT UNLIMITED has thousands of volunteers throughout the country protecting and fixing the cold, clean, fishable water that makes fly fishing possible in the first place. We restore miles of trout rivers every year. And we work to protect the peace of wild things for everyone.
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THIS COULD BE YOU.
Wading the ﬂats of St. Francois with Alphonse Island Fishing Company and Yellow Dog. Be sure to register for the 2019 F3T Yellow Dog-Alphonse trip package.
Africa • Alaska • Argentina • Bahamas • Belize • Bolivia • Brazil • Canada • Chile • Cuba • Guatemala • Guyana
FLY FISHING TRAVEL IS WHAT WE DO. IN FACT....IT’S ALL WE DO.
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EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE, COMPLETE TRIP PREPAREDNESS, EXPERIENCED TECHNICAL SUPPORT AND INCREDIBLY RELEVANT INFORMATION FOR EVERY DESTINATION WE WORK WITH... AT THE SAME PRICE OR LESS THAN BOOKING IT YOURSELF.
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WWW.YELLOWDOGFLYFISHING.COM • Toll free: 888.777.5060 Iceland • Kamchatka • Mongolia • New Zealand • Seychelles • St. Brandon’s • Venezuela • Yucatan • United States
from the film
photo by Keith Roseâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Innes
from the film
photo by Josh Hutchins
from the film
photo by Matt White and Aaron Hitchens
from the film
Where It All Started photo by Liam Gallagher
from the film
photo by Darcy Bacha
from the film
photo by Nathan Corbin
from the film
photo by Josh Hutchins
In the world of ﬂy ﬁshing for tarpon, there is a holy grail, the 200+ lb. tarpon. Mine ﬁnally came this past summer. Late in the day she came into sight and he placed the ﬂy dead in her path, one strip and she casually ate. “STRIP HARD, STRIP HARD”!! She felt the hook and was in the air. We all realized her size, but said nothing. I nervously coached Stanton as he bent the H3 to the cork, praying over and over as the giant jumped. Miraculously within 25 minutes she came to hand. We took meticulous measurements and placed a satellite tag near her dorsal and revived her until she exploded out of my hands and sped away. When we calculated the measurements we discovered she conservatively weighed in at 215 lbs. A lifetime ﬁsh. I’ve been walking on air ever since.”
— Capt. David Mangum
When the ﬁsh of a lifetime presents herself, the diﬀerence in success or failure is measured in inches. To the angler faced with a cast that will forever inspire or haunt them, it’s the eye of a needle. At that moment, only one thing matters.
HELIOS 33ERASE THE DOUBT
AHEAD OF OUR TIME SINCE THE BEGINNING
Lacey Kelly Saltwater guide Lacey Kelly is a product of her environment. As a child, Kelly spearfished for mangrove snapper, cast to redfish, and explored the Everglades soaking up generations of knowledge from a family of Florida outdoorsmen and women. Her education started early; at six months old her parents strapped her car seat into their boat and spent weeks commercially diving for lobster in the Keys. Later, she got her captain’s license and began a career guiding for redfish and tarpon on one of the state’s last, wild coasts. “She’s a badass. She knows how to live off the water and is an extremely talented fly angler,” says Oliver Rogers, a videographer in last year’s F3T film “Beyond the Horizon”. “There aren’t many people at her skill level.” As women gain some much-deserved visibility in the industry, we thought we’d catch up with Kelly to talk about life above and below water. I’m on my third renewal for my captain’s license, so it’s been about fifteen years now. I was a full-time guide until I moved to Belize for three or four years, then ended up back here in Florida running a lodge.
My family was headed to Cuba from the Carolinas by train where they’d heard the hunting, fishing, and farming was spectacular. They ended up stopping in Fort Myers, deciding they didn’t need to go any farther.
I don’t remember the name of my first client—it was a double, I was fishing with another guide—and I was so nervous I almost hit the dock. There were six people waiting and I came in super-hot, almost ripped my arm off grabbing the piling. I can’t tell you what we caught—I think we did great—but I’ll never forget that.
Back then there wasn’t any licensing for guides. My greatgrandfather took people like Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone out on the Caloosahatchee River.
There aren’t many women guiding in Florida. I don’t know if I could name five full-time female guides on the saltwater side. I grew up in Fort Myers, I’m actually a 5th generation Floridian.
In the late forties or early fifties, my grandpa and his brother-inlaw, got some of the first spearguns in Florida. As far as they knew there wasn’t anyone else doing it. They started spearfishing in the mangroves and progressed from there. Mangrove snapper, grouper, amberjack, sheepshead, anything you’d find offshore of southwest Florida.
BY WILL RIZZO | PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRETT SENG flyfilmtour .com
THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING
PROUDLY MADE IN MONTROSE, COLORADO U.S.A ROSSREELS.COM
My Dad became a commercial realtor, but has always been a commercial spearfisherman on the side. My entire life I’ve been spearfishing with him, diving for lobsters for a month or two every year in the Keys. For at least a month, we’d rent a house and that would be our vacation as a family. I’ve never missed a year, even when I lived in Belize, I’d always come back. My aunt married a guy who loved to fly fish, they traveled around in a motorhome, spending three months each year in the West. One of those times, she invited me to come out to Yellowstone National Park. And that is when I started to get into it. I ended up in Belize because of a Simms’ photo shoot. When they called, I was in a treestand up in Illinois hunting whitetails, and asked, ‘Do you want to go on an all-expense paid trip to Belize and we’ll pay you for a photo shoot?’ I said ‘Sure, I’ll cancel my charters, let’s do this.’ I was pretty burned out, about year seven or eight into charter fishing. During the film shoot, I met Wil Flack, who owns Tres Pescados Fly Shop, and he offered me a job for a few months. I just never left. Some migratory tarpon move through, but permit are the main thing there, with bonefish to practice for permit. There’s nothing like tailing bonefish in Belize, they’re tricky and act a lot like a permit. flyfilmtour .com
I’m on permit number six right now, trying to catch my sixth. When you count them like that, I think it means you’re a little crazy. I was back lobstering and I came to Florida Outdoor Experience in Chiefland, the lodge where I now work, to do a story for the Miami Herald. It sparked something in me, and the owner Gray Drummond, offered me a job. The situation was right, and I’ve morphed into a hunting guide too. In the fall, it’s deer and hogs, and Osceola turkey in the spring. I guide turkeys with Flip Pallot. He’s awesome, Flip’s the man. In between everything else, I guide redfish all year round. During tarpon season, we have a camp we run in Homosassa for May and June. I’m on the water every day in May and June, and sporadically the rest of the year. The way I live right now is ideal for me; I hunt, fish, lobster, and spearfish. The seasons are a huge part of my life here. I’m still doing the same things I did as a kid. I haven’t ventured too far. There’s never been a better time for women in the sport. It’s really gaining a lot of traction. I can’t say enough about how important it is to take your daughter fishing. It’s important to pass it along.
BAKED FROM THE
Cast a fly, drink a beer, beer, watch a show, save a river.
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips
It takes more than fly fishers to save a watershed. Here’s how a few groups in Montana came together to form a confluence of good works. by Marc Peruzzi | photo Jeffrey Neubauer The future of Bonner, Montana, could have been bleak when the mill finally shuttered in 2008. With an EPA Superfund site already in the works to remove a dam backed up with mining-era heavy metals, and the largest employer gone, Bonner and its hamlet, Milltown, could easily have gone the way of other dying towns—but for the river. As the river was cleaned up, the fishing community from nearby Missoula embraced Bonner. So too did college kids jumping off rocks, families on tube flotillas, and campers, cyclists, and hunters taking advantage of the improving corridor. The nearby recreation, and the industry-ready abandoned millsite, attracted the eye of the business set, and in 2016, on an adjacent old log yard, KettleHouse Brewing opened a brewery and, this past fall, a taproom. KettleHouse, was just one of 17 businesses to move into the old timber mill property‚ bringing more than 450 jobs. But the land KettleHouse purchased—on the shore of a now free-flowing river in a natural bowl backed by cliffs—was too big for their operation. Missoula, though, loves live music outdoors, thought KettleHouse owner Tim O’Leary. Concert venue? That’s where Nick Checota, founder of Logjam Presents, comes in. A concert promoter, Logjam had already renovated two historic venues in downtown Missoula to great success—including The Wilma, a favorite stop of the Fly Fishing Film Tour. When the KettleHouse invited Checota out to look at the location, the spot screamed amphitheater. Signing on for a long-term land lease, Logjam broke ground in 2017. “The site had phenomenal potential,” says Checota, who spends about 30 days a year in a drift boat. “It’s now a purposely designed and acoustically correct 4,250-person venue. We knew going in that we had to offer customers and bands something special to get them here. And that’s what we did.” Over the summer of 2018, Logjam’s KettleHouse Amphitheater held 20 wildly successful shows. Now on summer nights, instead of the buzzing of the mill, Bonner is full of live music. That success, in turn, brought more good news to the river that originally drew the boaters, floaters, fly fishers, industrialists, brewers, and, ultimately, concertgoers to the area. Selecting Montana Trout Unlimited’s Blackfoot chapters as its sole beneficiary, Logjam pledged to donate a dollar from each ticket sale, five percent of gross bar sales (KettleHouse pours the drafts), and all proceeds from Blackfoot River Fund themed merchandise. David Brooks from Montana Trout Unlimited and Ryen Neudecker of the Big Blackfoot Chapter happily signed on and drafted up the details. It was only later, as they finalized the relationship, that Brooks understood just how much cash Logjam was talking about. “When Nick Checota said his goal was to raise $100,000 a year for this,” says Brooks. “I just about hit the floor.” In the end, after only one full season of 2018 shows, Logjam wrote a check for $106,000. That cash, says Brooks, will get split up over six to ten projects, where it will act as seed money with the potential of earning more than $1 million in matching funds. Almost all the efforts will restore tributaries up and down the corridor, curving what’s been straightened, cooling what’s been warmed, clarifying what’s been muddied. “If there’s one element of this kind of story it is that these projects are incredibly collaborative,” says Brooks. Next year, Logjam, Trout Unlimited, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials, businessfolk, landowners, recreationists, and concertgoers, will do it all over again; human tributaries of a larger confluence that’s saving rivers, streams, jobs, and communities. flyfilmtour .com
Meet Your Guide… By Christian Lybrook
It’s 2 p.m. on a Friday in the Boise airport. A group of guys in trucker hats and beards are gathered around the Delta counter, joking and checking bulky bags of camera equipment and fishing gear. All except for Hank Patterson, star of YouTube and F3T films, and self-proclaimed world’s greatest fly-fishing expert and guide. He’s off to the side, pacing, quietly speaking into the phone stuck to his ear, easily recognizable in his booming voice and fiveday beard. They’re catching a plane to film, “Hank’s South Dakota Adventure,” which has been in development for months. The plan is to shoot a segment of Hank’s TV show “Fly Fishing Around the World, Globe” which reports from the most stunning fly-fishing locations on the planet. For this episode, Hank has teamed up with the F3T, leaving his destination in their hands. “We can go anywhere on the planet and fish for any species you want,”
Hank says in the trailer. “The Seychelles, Alaska, Iceland, ANYWHERE. The passports are current and money is no object. You guys choose!” Their choice? South Dakota, the last place on earth Hank would ever go to fish. Filmmaker Travis Swartz, of course, is nothing like the brash and arrogant Hank Patterson, a character he created in 2012. Unlike Hank, he’s never guided, nor does he have an explosive temper. Swartz runs a video production company in Boise for corporate clients and is an experienced theater actor, having worked for several Shakespeare companies. While Hank wears a hat saying “Day Drinker,” Swartz can’t remember the last time he drank more than one beer in a sitting. Which is not to say people don’t confuse Swartz with the character Hank. “I’ll be at an event and maybe drink a beer before going onstage, and
that will be it,” said Swartz. “Sometimes when people find out I’m not a total alcoholic, they’re a little disappointed.” Hank Patterson started as a one-off when Travis’s good friend Reese Ferguison suggested they do a video for a Drake magazine contest. The video they shot, “Meet Hank Patterson, Your Fly-Fishing Guide”, won the humor category. Since then he’s appeared in the 2017 F3T tour, two feature-length films, and picked up corporate sponsors like Costa sunglasses. His most popular YouTube videos – “Hank and the Bait Fishers Part 1 and 2” and “Surviving Yellowstone National Park”— have millions of views. Over time, Swartz’s approach to the films has evolved. Most viewers would be surprised by the careful planning that goes into each episode. He spends weeks or months brainstorming and writing, with 90 percent of the content carefully scripted. “In the beginning, the videos were just a series of jokes,” Swartz explains. “The storytelling and more in-depth stories came later.” The films have also taken on greater meaning. After a fouryear illness, Ferguison passed away from melanoma. For years he’d hilariously played Hank’s client, looking deeply uncomfortable during his guide’s rants. His absence is strongly felt by Swartz and the crew. “When he was sick to the point where he could no longer participate, it was clear to me that I couldn’t replace him and shouldn’t,” said Swartz. “But Reese and I talked about it. He wanted me to keep it going, and that’s a big reason I have.” It’s Sunday and the rain from the previous day has cleared. Hank is standing in the middle of a clearing in the forest, hollering with a gravelly voice that reverberates off the surrounding Black Hills. It’s his familiar intro: “Hi! I’m Hank Patterson, world renowned fly-fishing…” Travis stops in the middle of his intro and starts over. There’s something missing in his delivery. He tries again. “Hi! I’m Hank Patterson, world renowned fly-fishing expert and guide, and today we’re in the Black Hills of South Dakota. South f---king Dakota.” Once Swartz has nailed his intro, he sets up for a scene where Hank plays both sides of an imagined conversation between two frontiersmen, one of whom is chasing after a murderous outlaw. As with a lot of Hank’s content, it’s full of deadpan irony. South Dakota is beautiful, as evident from the gorgeous Black Hills rising up around Swartz. The creeks are clear, the fishing is excellent, and the people are genuine, warm, and welcoming. By the end of the episode, Hank will change his tune about the High Plains. At the end of the five-day shoot, Swartz and the crew board the plane for the flight home to Boise. Swartz is exhausted and exhilarated. “The videos themselves are work,” Swartz says. “But meeting new people, fishing new waters, connecting people through Hank, that’s the real fun.”
The F3T Guide to Tabasco, Mexico by Jen Ripple At the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, southwest of the Yucatan, is the often-overlooked state of Tabasco. Previously known for its petroleum, in recent years Tabasco has risen to the top of the food chain in tarpon destinations. Here, Mexico is rich rainforest, with an estuary system created by the Usumacinta River similar to the Florida Everglades. Draining one-third of Mexico’s freshwater, the river borders the Pantanos de Centla, a biosphere reserve covering a Yosemite National Park-sized chunk of prime habitat. It’s a remote labyrinth of lagoons and thick mangroves, with hundreds of baby tarpon boiling at the surface. If the big migrators of the Florida Keys require hundreds of casts, Tabasco is the land of opportunity, with guaranteed shots at dozens of juveniles. If you’re drawn to tarpon fishing, Tabasco is a great place to start. Here’s our guide to fishing the region. LODGING After arriving in Villahermosa, you have two options: Either stay there for a more cosmopolitan experience (this is after all an oil town) and take a van to the dock every day, which is an hour- and- a- half ride, or choose to have a more authentic Mexican experience and stay 10 minutes from the marina at the newly renovated Hotel Marmor in the city of Centla.
LOCAL CUISINE Contrary to popular belief, the peppers in Tabasco hot sauce don’t actually grow here. Instead, it’s known for cacao, and is often credited as the place where chocolate originated. Apart from its sweet tooth, many of Mexico’s top chefs live in Tabasco and the food scene reflects this. Forget American-style burritos, you’ll want mole and the delicious enchiladas tabasqueñas.
GUIDES The Villahermosa-based father and son team, Paco Marroquin and Paco Jr., are the only licensed outfitters authorized to guide in the biosphere (flyfishingtabasco.com). The elder Paco has been the host of a popular Mexican fishing show, “Let’s Go Fishing with Paco Marroquin”, and is considered an expert on fishing the Usumacinta. With them at the helm, you’re in good hands.
WEATHER There are two seasons in Tabasco—the wet season and the less wet season—so bring rain gear. In addition, the river system does not offer much cover and midday can feel oppressive. Temperatures range between 75 and 90 degrees throughout the year, peaking from April to June. Remember this is not a flats fishing destination, so there’s no beach for an afternoon siesta in the shade.
Jen Ripple is editor in chief of Dun, a fly-fishing magazine by women. flyfilmtour .com
GEAR This is predominantly a juvenile tarpon fishery, with fish averaging 30 pounds and the occasional silver king pushing 90 pounds. You’ll want to bring an 8 to 10 weight rod and both floating and sinking lines, loaded with 16-pound leaders and 40- or 50-pound bite tippets. Flashy flies work well, with the largest tarpon to date caught on a size-2/0 Clouser minnow. While the fishing is good all year, each fall thousands of little reddishbrown baitfish, called topen, migrate out of the mangroves to tarpon waiting in the slow, brackish water. Tie up some baitfish minnows in copper and brown at this time of year, and you’ll be rewarded with as many tarpon as you can land.
After A Thousand flyfilmtour .com
considers the meaning of success in fly fishing. illustrations by Bob White
Thomas McGuane once wrote, “What is most emphatic in angling is made so by the long silences— the unproductive periods.” That’s how I see it, too. Even on the best day of fishing, I still did more casting than catching and there’ve been plenty of days when I did nothing but cast. Still, everyone who goes out, including beginners, fully expects to hook and land fish. Likewise, even as you struggle to plunk out a few chords on your first guitar, you can’t help imagining the applause of fans. If it’s during the 1960s, every member of your generation thinks they’re a folk singer and most of them were wrong. We get ahead of ourselves and envision, among other things, boatloads of fish on the way to our first casting lesson. You can blame some of those unreasonable expectations on a fishing press that tells you exactly where to go and how to catch more and bigger fish once you get there, aided and abetted by a tackle industry that’s eager to sell you all the gear you’ll need—plus some you won’t. But the largest part is just the impatience inherent in the human condition. It can take decades before you begin to feel oppressed by excessive striving for hotter spots and more sophisticated tackle and start groping your way back toward the hometown creek and the single fly box you started with. I have the usual collection of snapshots that fishermen accumulate, nothing world-class, but all decent specimens that seemed worthy of a photo at the time. These four-by-six prints have been thumbtacked to a wall in my office until they now raggedly frame an Ansel Adams calendar and a watercolor portrait of a de Havilland Beaver floatplane painted by C.D. Clarke. Most are trout, with a few bass, char, salmon, steelhead, and a couple of muskies thrown in for variety. The fishy monotony is relieved only by a brace of dead blue grouse posed next to a Bernardelli side-byside 20 gauge, a plate piled high with wild morel mushrooms, and a UFO photo I faked years ago and sent to a local newspaper as a joke. The few people who have seen this collage must have come away with a false impression of nonstop success: nothing but big fish and lots of them. The most recent photo is of a 47-inch musky from Wisconsin. The oldest—a pre-digital black-and-white—dates to the 1970s and shows me as a much younger man holding a 25-inch rainbow/cutthroat hybrid from a lake in Montana. (At the time it was the largest trout I’d ever caught and it’s still right up there.) But given the time span covered, all those photos only average out to slightly more than one exceptional fish per year. And I’ve done quite a bit of fishing. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t quite remember my first trout on a fly. Wishful thinking wants to make it a brook trout, but it could have been a brown or even a stocked rainbow. I want to say it took an Adams, but it could just as easily have been an elk hair caddis. I do know it was a dry fly, though. Back then nymph fishing was still frowned upon by the intelligentsia as no better than bait fishing, so I’d become an insufferable dry fly purist—at least on paper. But I do remember the long drought that preceded that first fly-caught trout as the longest of many subsequent long silences, and I remember that it stretched on until I finally developed the habit of secretly carrying bait hooks and sinkers for days when trout was on the menu. Years later, when fishing subsurface with a fly rod became politically correct, the memory of drifting a worm behind a split shot gave me a real leg up as a nymph fisherman. That first, long dead spell—and the mercifully shorter ones that followed—amounted to an apprenticeship that, if nothing else, gave me common cause with other anglers and fine-tuned my bullshit detector. Also, nothing teaches you how to effectively study the water for missed clues like being reduced to tucking your rod under your arm and watching because you’ve run out of options. We measure ourselves by success only flyfilmtour .com
because our many failures—unless they’re downright Shakespearean— don’t make for much of a story. And fishermen do love their stories. One of the best beaver ponds I ever fished was in the mountains of northern Colorado, half a mile and several hundred feet below a cirque lake that had been stocked years before with grayling and golden trout. Beavers had dammed the outlet stream at the bottom of a meadow, backing up a large pond that was populated by grayling up to 16 inches and a few cutthroats of about the same size, plus one trout I couldn’t identify. I assumed it was a cutthroat because it had red slashes on its jaw, but everything else seemed wrong. Its flanks were a coppery yellow, it had white-bordered anal and dorsal fins like a brook trout, and bruise-colored parr marks as well as the usual uneven sprinkling of black spots. With a friend’s help, I got a few pretty clear color photos of it that I sent to Dr. Robert Behnke, the famous fisheries biologist at Colorado State University. He wrote back that without a necropsy he couldn’t give me a firm identification, but based on the fish’s markings and where it was caught, his best guess was that it was a golden/cutthroat hybrid. Not something you see every day. I had to go back to the photo to remind myself of the fish, but I can close my eyes and picture that beautiful spot. The biggest beaver pond I’ve ever seen in the Rocky Mountains was tucked into a high bench surrounded by spruce forest beneath steep peaks turning amber in the late afternoon September sunlight. Everything was fantastically foreshortened by the thin, dry air that was so clear it made a mile look like a hundred yards. The trout and grayling were as big and fat as they’d get that summer and even after we’d caught and released all the fish we could possibly want, we had trouble tearing ourselves away. Finally, we hiked down to the vehicle so we could drive out in what was left of the daylight. This wasn’t the worst Jeep trail I’d ever driven, but it was the kind where headlights would be useless because most of the time the beams would be lurching through the treetops, leaving the road ahead in darkness. That was one of the handful of great beaver ponds I’ve fished, but there are countless others I’ve scouted that were either too new to have grown big fish yet, or were silted in, blown out, gone stagnant and sour, or were otherwise past their brief prime. As I said, those blank days don’t make for much of a story in their own right, but taken together they amount to the interminable set up for a joke that turns out to be worth the wait when the punch line finally arrives. Fishing has never lent itself to the kind of satisfaction on demand that technology has trained us to expect for the simple reason fish don’t want to be caught and go to great lengths to avoid it. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to take up fly fishing for the bragging rights alone; it’s better to see it as an acquired taste that reintroduces the chaos of uncertainty back into our well-regulated lives. Some get stuck on the idea of racking up a score and spend their fishing time pursuing bonanzas. They might chase major hatches around the country the way others follow rock bands, or congregate in Alaskan fish camps during silver salmon runs where, if their timing is right, they can land big fish until they’re no longer able to lift their arms. Their dispatches home contain reports of major tonnage. Others go for size. In the Northwest, they’ll prefer Chinook salmon over steelhead, in salt water they’ll look for tarpon in the 100-pound range, or maybe they’ll spend weeks flogging Pyramid Lake in Nevada hoping for a 20-pound Lahontan cutthroat. Once these trophies would have been mounted by a taxidermist and hung on a wall where their colors would eventually fade and their fins would fray; now they’re more likely to be memorialized as digital images on fishermen’s cell phones where they’ll always be fresh and bright and just a swipe away. A subspecies of the big fish guy is the local loner who haunts ordinary rivers, peering into deep holes and undercut banks looking for the fat, hook-jawed old brown trout that turn up from time to time in water that’s not known for big fish. These bruisers are rarely, if ever, seen because they shun daylight, fatten up secretly on fish and rodents, and most fishermen
don’t believe they’re even there so don’t look for them. I heard about a guy like that when I fished the trout country in southeast Minnesota recently. He was said to locate, mark, stalk, and finally catch enormous trout in water where most locals were happy with a 15-incher. The proof was in the photos he’d occasionally post on social media cradling trout 30-inches long and weighing many pounds while wearing the expression of someone who’d just committed the perfect crime. He never revealed his fly patterns or locations and it was said that he fished alone, although he must have had an accomplice because someone had to take the pictures. Some people who knew him said he was an odd duck. And then there are the problem-solvers who gravitate to the most difficult fish, like spoiled spring creek trout that feed on blanket hatches of insects in glass-clear water and, with the help of countless skilled fishermen every season, have developed a talent for smelling a rat in even the most perfectly tied and presented fly patterns. You’ll see these guys standing motionless on the bank studying the rise forms on the water and then the contents of their overstocked fly boxes, waiting for logic or inspiration to kick in. These are the people Charley Waterman was referring to when he described fly fishing as “a small pool of trout surrounded by a great wall of speculation.” Others go the full distance for steelhead and Atlantic salmon, anadromous fish that come and go seasonally, but unpredictably, and are genetically programmed not to eat when they return to fresh water to spawn. Trying to work out why and when they’ll eat a fly is like describing the sound of one hand clapping, and these fish have been flyfilmtour .com
subjected to generations worth of far-fetched theories. It’s true that all successful strategies are based on a plausible supposition, but in my experience, gamblers and fishermen with a “system” exhibit unshakable confidence but don’t actually do any better than the rest of us. In northern Wisconsin, where I’ve been fishing for muskies for the last few years, the guides rightly believe that these fish have everything for connoisseurs of size and difficulty. Not only are they known as the fish of a thousand casts, but for those who favor foot-long flies cast on thunder-stick rods, a day of musky fishing is a physical workout akin to eight hours of splitting wood. And if you do finally catch one, it can be four-feet long and there’s the added drama of trying not to get bit. The last time I went musky fishing, I ended up in a jet sled on the Flambeau River with Luke, the guide, who on previous trips had gotten me into my biggest fish. Luke and I get along well, but there’s an almost half- century difference in our ages, so while I’m sort of old school (comically so, as he sees it) Luke and his boat both bristle with the latest technology. A new addition this year was a pole bolted to the console that held two GoPro cameras set to run continually and record an entire day’s fishing. Luke explained that to operate a successful guide service now you have to be all over the Internet with constantly updated material, and since I’d heard this from others, I supposed it was true. Still, this setup made me uncomfortable at first, although I quickly got involved in the fishing and forgot all about it, which might be the whole point. I guess it just comes down to that age difference. People of my generation still lug around an antique presumption of
privacy, while those in their twenties seem okay with being under surveillance and probably assume at this stage of human evolution we’re all just bit players in someone else’s movie. On the last day of that trip—well past the thousand cast mark without a take or even a follow—we’d exhausted the speculation about why we weren’t seeing any fish. It had rained hard recently, raising and cooling the river, but that should have been beneficial. And the water had darkened from its usual clear but tannin-stained tea color to a shade more like root beer, changing the color of my huge white streamer from pink to orange to red as it sank, but that shouldn’t have made any difference either. For the last hour or so of that last day, Luke and I were both fishing. Strictly speaking, the guide doesn’t fish when there’s a client in the boat, but if anyone asked, we could say we were off the clock, or that we just really wanted to put a fish in the boat before it was all over, either of which would be true enough. When Luke hooked a fish, it was a tremendous surprise, partly because there’d been so little action during the trip and partly because hooking a musky is such a rare event it’s always a surprise. When a fish is hooked things happen quickly, so however experienced you are, there’s always yelling, splashing, fumbling with the big net, and shouted instructions that sometimes no longer apply to the current situation even before they’re out of your mouth. I got the fish in the net on the second try, feeling the odd flyfilmtour .com
mix of elation and jealousy that descends when someone else catches a nice one. Luke measured the fish, a respectable musky at 45 inches. I took a couple of photos with his cell phone, the usual hero shots with Luke smiling proudly and the musky delivering the blackly murderous stare of a captured predator. And then, within seconds, the fish was back in the water catching its breath, and then it was gone under its own steam—one of the finest moments in fishing. When Luke got around to checking the two GoPros, he found that the pole had somehow gotten turned 90 degrees, so that the entire day’s footage consisted of nothing but the passing riverbank. I thought of Andy Warhol’s strange 1964 silent film “Empire,” surely an expired cultural reference for my young friend. The film consisted of an eight- hour and five-minute stationary shot of the Empire State Building during which nothing happens except the passage of time. I couldn’t help imagining an avant-garde fishing film consisting of an uneventful eight hours of passing riverbank. You could call it “A Fisherman’s Life.” Bob White (left) with John Gierach and Moose. To see more from John and Bob join Trout Unlimited and read TROUT magazine. Photo: Mike Dvorak
JIM KLUG PHOTO
Celebrating 20 years of biting off more than we can chew.
BRINGING IT BACK HOME AFTER YEARS OF INTERNATIONAL LOCATIONS, RA BEATTIE RETURNS TO HIS BACKYARD IN NEXGEN.
BY WILL RIZZO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ARIAN STEVENS
FOR MUCH OF HIS CAREER, RA Beattie’s work has
taken him across international borders, creating exotic and destinationbased films. In recent years, he’s shot in places like Dubai, fishing for queenfish, or Mongolia, to document the conservation efforts for the taimen, a giant member of the salmon family. But his latest film NexGen, is a departure, following two young anglers from Oregon, Jack Buccola and Judd Field, on a road trip from their homewaters on the Deschutes for their first exposure to trout in the Rocky Mountains. “We wanted to bring it back home a little, create something that felt real and show the amazing places in the American West that are attainable and easy to do,” said Beattie. “My grandfather took me on a road trip at the same age to Montana. It was a classic grandfather trip, buying me beer and teaching me to drive. What’s more identifiable than the western road trip?” Beattie’s childhood around Aspen, Colorado, primed him for a life outdoors and in media. Hunter S. Thompson lived next door, often filling the valley with the sound of gunfire. His grandfather Bob Beattie, coached the U.S. Ski Team and worked as a commentator for ABC Sports. Olympic skier Andy Mill fished with the family and would later become an obsessive tarpon angler, writing an excellent book on the fish and winning the prestigious Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament five times. At the time, the Roaring Fork Valley wasn’t very developed, and Beattie was left to create his own entertainment, mostly fishing and exploring the
outdoors. At 14 years old he was a guide apprentice, and four years later, running the guide program at an Aspen fly shop. After graduating from college, Beattie worked in Slovenia running an outfitting business and made his first film. Since then he’s appeared in every F3T tour since its inception in 2007, some years screening more than one film. NexGen is dedicated to Beattie’s grandfather, whose death in 2018 and passion for coaching kids, motivated him to make the film. The film follows the boys and their fathers as they swing for steelhead on the Deschutes River, to a farm pond near Bend, before heading out to Victor, Idaho, for cutthroats and dry flies on the south fork of the Snake River and a nearby spring creek. For kids who grew up as west coast steelheaders, the chance to throw small flies at individual, rising trout was new and exciting. “We hear from so many people in the audience that they want to feel connected to a grassroots experience, characters, and location,” said Beattie. “I remember that age and all I could think about was fishing. If I could have seen people my age on the screen, it would
have been super meaningful and inspirational.” Beattie knew the boys through their fathers, Peter Field and Ryan Buccola, and watched them grow into skilled anglers. With children close in age—Judd and Jack are now 14 and 11 years old respectively— Field and Buccola have spent years fishing the Deschutes between July and October together, mentoring each other’s kids on the patience and stamina needed to pursue anadromous fish in central Oregon. When the fishing was slow, they grilled brats on the riverbank, shot their bows, or played pick-up football in waders—anything to keep the boys engaged. “Judd and Jack can run a powerboat and have rowed for years,” said Field. “When safety allows, it’s so important for parents to learn to let go. There’s so much to be gained.” Built into the trip were important lessons on the health of the river and the returning fish. “With kids you can’t always go full-bore, fishing from dark to dark, but if they get out on the river, we get out too,” said Buccola. “And the more time they spend using a resource [like the Deschutes] the more it matters to them.” While in Idaho, the boys watched the hard work of the film crew and met the guide staff at WorldCast Anglers, and by the end of the production, Beattie came away moved by the kids’ pure desire for the sport. “The whole week was epic for all the experiences the boys had,” said Field. “To watch them advance and mature, was really rewarding.” flyfilmtour .com
CHASING DORADO IN NORTHERN ARGENTINA
BY TIM NEVILLE
IT HAPPENS AROUND 3 P.M. AND CIRU DUMAS SIGNALS FOR ME TO STOP.
I take a knee. We’re are on a gravel bar along the Rio Dorado, a remote river in northern Argentina. I see puma tracks and tapir tracks. Ibises honk at us from up in a snag. Ciru’s fingers wiggle, the signal to creep up beside him. I’m careful to disturb no rocks. Ciru is wearing camo. I’m wearing bright blue because I didn’t know better. On the far side of the rio, a ten-foot-high bank bends the water through BY SARAH GRIGG the shade of some cebil trees. PHOTOS BRYAN GREGSON “There,” Ciru whispers. His breath smells of coca leaves. He’s 35 with a barrel chest and a rich black beard he first grew at age 15, which is why his friends nicknamed him Vagrant. He points downstream. Nothing. Then something too big for such skinny water. Ciru presses his finger to his lips before I can say anything. We’ve been prowling around luckless for hours now and the rush of finding the first real shot lands harder than expected. “Dorado,” Ciru whispers. He pats the air, palm down. “It’s important to stay calm.” By dorado, I don’t mean mahi-mahi, the saltwater speedster with the boxer’s forehead, but golden dorado, the South American freshwater tiger whose black spots and bright scales gleam like a mythical city. These are the apex predators of South America’s second largest drainage, a big-shouldered, warm-water hunter with a head as hard and swirled as a cosmic bowling ball. Their bony, rat-crushing jaws bristle with teeth that can straighten a 3/0 hook. Seventy- five pounds is the record; here, twelve pounds is small. Every time one leaps out of the water you swear the river drops, as if the fat photos by Tim Neville and Felix Romero flyfilmtour .com
man just left the pool. Like many anglers, I first came to Argentina for the water thousands of miles to the south, in Patagonia, where I hooked up with glistening rainbows on the Chimehuin and big browns with tails as black as obsidian in austral Chile. Patagonia’s high latitudes create a certain kind of awesome, but this time I’ve headed north to the jungle for four days of trucks and mud and chasing a fish I could never find at home. Dorado are native to a 1.2 million square mile drainage that spans Argentina into Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and funnels into the Rio de la Plata, an immense estuary that empties into the Atlantic
I STRIP OUT SOME LINE AND GET READY TO HURL A HEAVY STREAMER UPSTREAM. I’LL HAVE TO STRIP FOR ALL I’M WORTH TO MAKE IT DART BACK DOWNSTREAM IN THE FAST CURRENT. at Buenos Aires. I’ve zeroed in on a sun-and-wine soaked province called Salta, a former colonial mule-swapping region about a twohour flight northwest from Buenos Aires. Here you’ll find 600 species of birds, Argentina’s only tropical national park, and mountains with exposed layers of red, green, and yellow rocks that make them look like cake. “This is real gaucho country,” says my friend Fernando “Nano” Escudero, a lifelong resident. “People are really proud of that.” Ciru tiptoes upstream keeping well away from the bank. He signals again. “Not one dorado,” he motions. “Two.” I strip out some line and get ready to hurl a heavy streamer upstream. I’ll have to strip for all I’m worth to make it dart back downstream in the fast current. One shot. Thirty feet. Far bank. My breath becomes steady and measured as I wind up and fire the fly right into the trees.
A FEW YEARS AGO, CIRU HAD HIS OWN BLUNDER,
though his was considerably worse. Back then, he was studying to be a computer engineer in Salta, the province’s 600,000-person capital. He’d been fishing all his life. One day he was wading one of Salta’s more accessible dorado rivers, the Juramento, when a surge from a nearby dam release knocked him over and snapped his leg. “The sirens never sounded,” he told me. The accident occurred just outside an old railroad depot called El Tunal, where in 1994, a fellow Salteñan and fisherman, Alejandro “Ale” Halo, had launched what would become one of today’s most respected dorado fly fishing companies, Juramento Fly Fishing. Ciru knew Ale through a friend of a friend and from his days of playing folk guitar at a rowdy barbecue joint. He hobbled over to Ale’s property for help. After Ciru healed, Ale, who knew Ciru could cook as well as fish, offered him a job. Today, Ale has two bases for chasing dorado — one in El Tunal near the Juramento, and one at a remote jungle outpost near the Rio Dorado to the north. More than 80 percent of Ale’s clients are Argentinians themselves and you can’t look into dorado fishing here without coming across his round, beaming visage. Now 47 with a dusting of a beard, Ale first started fly fishing in 1987, and has since become an outspoken champion for the big gold fish. He’s confronted poachers and worked to remove illegal dams. He’s created a foundation to help river rangers do their jobs. Even the flyfilmtour .com
ministry of tourism has recognized Ale, which you pronounce ah-lay, as the province’s first, fully qualified fly fishing guide. “It seems like all of my life I have heard of Ale Halo,” my friend Nano told me later. “And I don’t even fish.” I’d booked the standard four days with Ale to give me time to fish both the Juramento and Dorado rivers, but I had a whole week off, so I arrived in Salta early to get my bearings. Nano took me hiking through the rainbow-rock canyons of the Quebrada de las Conchas Nature Reserve and then to a lunch of lamb and empanadas at the 126-year-old Bodega El Esteco, an estate with nearly 2,000 acres of vineyards. Later, we’d wander through the Museum of High Altitude Archeology to see the mummified remains of Incan children sacrificed high on a 22,000-foot volcano centuries ago. Preserved by the arid cold, the kids looked so frozen in time you could still count their lice. Ale met me at Nano’s house on the outskirts of Salta, where I piled into his Toyota Hilux and rode east into a broad valley and El Tunal. The town’s pretty run-down these days, a stressed patchwork of dirt streets and low slung houses. There’s a bright blue church and an empty bus station. Ale lives in a modest compound of concrete quarters all gathered around a courtyard. It sits off a nameless street behind a metal gate. “What’s going on in El Tunal on a Sunday?” I joke the next morning as we roll down the empty streets towing a drift boat. “Same thing as all the other days!” Ciru replies. “Nothing!” Ale says. Today, the three of us plan to float 12 miles from El Tunal to a spot called El Saules, a takeout surrounded by rustling willows. Ale skips the boat ramp, a popular place to party on a Saturday night, and opts to lower the boat down a 15-foot bank instead. “Too many drunk mans to wake up at the ramp,” Ciru says. The boat goes vertical before easing into an eddy. Ale gets behind the oars. The Juramento is one of the few dorado rivers that you can float, and a streamer thrown right up against the banks and stripped back
as fast as you can manage is the name of the game. This is where you’ll find the biggest fish — 30 pounds isn’t so rare — and to trick them Ale ties on a huge deceiver that could double for a toupee. I get to work. Right away, things look promising. An unmistakable bolt of gold arcs toward the surface only to disappear without a take. I get my first good look at a dorado when Ciru gets a hit, strip-sets, and the creature leaps from the depths to spit the hook. Ciru scores another chance but that fish also gets away. I flog and flog and flog for the rest of the day but nada. A company of green parrots flitters by. Ale takes a nap. The chachalaca birds scream my judgement. “I cannot guarantee you will catch a fish,” Ciru tells me, “but I can guarantee you will be tired.” That night, I am indeed tired, but not as tired as Tom, an Aussie guide who’s guided with Ale for seven years. Tomorrow we’re supposed to head out to where he’s been, the Rio Dorado, but rain has made the jungle road getting there a quagmire. It’s well after midnight when Tom pulls into Ale’s compound in a truck that looks like a murder scene in mud. Three weary clients from near Buenos Aires step out of his truck. Turns out they got stuck, spun a tire right off its rim, killed an ATV, and otherwise spent the past six hours trying to escape the muck. “Good luck out there,” Tom says, sarcastically. “Yes,” says one of the clients, misreading the tone. “We caught five dorado. Magnifico.”
THE RIDE FROM EL TUNAL NORTH to the Rio Dorado outpost takes two hours in the Hilux, and it is also magnifico. The Pre-Andes roll off to the west as ranchland gathers into forests of tangerine trees and wild limes. We too get stuck, but free ourselves within half an hour. It’s a miracle. The clay soil can get so greasy that Ciru once saw a bulldozer get stuck pulling out a tractor that got stuck pulling out a stuck truck. “For three days, they were all there in a line,” he howls. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Fishing: Juramento Fly Fishing recently opened a new lodge that allows more comfortable access to the Rio Juramento, where anglers have connected with dorado weighing more than 40 pounds. Typical packages include three days of drifting the Juramento and three days of wading/sight-casting the Rio Dorado. (juramentoflyfishing. com; email@example.com; from $2,950)|Getting there: Aerolineas Argentinas, LATAM, and Andes Lineas Aéreas offer connecting flights into Salta (SLA).
Ale can’t come given the condition of the vehicles that Tom returned, but Ciru, another guide named Jose Antonio Caparros, his dude, Jeff Robinson, a retired engineer from California, and I all pull into a clearing and stop at a long white-washed building with a full-length veranda. Thirty years ago this was a schoolhouse for the village of San Fernando, population 1,000, a logging town until there were no more trees and everything went bust. An heir to the Campbell Soup fortune, John Dorrance, III, bought every last one of the houses, razed everything but the schoolhouse and let nature back in. Doing so gave him 52,000 acres of prime deer-hunting grounds with access to three dorado streams, including the Rio Dorado. Ale rents the schoolhouse and the fishing rights. I dump my things in an old classroom and head out. “We are going to see some dorado today!” Ciru booms as we jounce down a tight jungle track. This road is a rollercoaster of white-knuckle ups followed by oh-shit downs that the truck sometimes just slides down. A day later, the pit that gave Tom his epic is still monster truck worthy but now just firm enough to (barely) blast through. We park in the shade of a citrus tree and Jose and Jeff hike upstream while Ciru and I head down. We pass beats like ESPN, where the network filmed a segment a few years ago, and another called Dead Tapir. Close to a third called Behind Tom’s Friend I stomp clumsily into a pool and watch as a streaked prochilod, a sábalo and the dorado’s favorite food, twitches in the shallows. These are the river’s early warning system. “Spook them and you lose the pool,” says Ciru. From then on we stalk around like commandos and communicate a lot with our hands. Around 3 p.m. we see that first dorado, when I misjudge the distance and shoot a streamer into the brush. Ciru makes a circle with his finger to try again. Somehow I free the fly cleanly and place it just upstream of the lie. Suddenly the devil himself grabs the end of my rod.
“Fish on! Fish on!” Ciru screams. I gasp as a dorado, the biggest, most beautiful fish I’ve ever caught on a fly, erupts out of the current, flares its gills and thrashes about like a Godzilla stung by missiles. “Hooooly…!” I bellow. “Bring him around!” yells Ciru. The rod contorts into a grotesque arch as I test the integrity of the metal leader. The fish leaps over and over again. After ten exhausting minutes I’m holding a 13-pound beauty by the base of a tail meatier than Lionel Messi’s quads. Ciru frees the fly with pliers from a massive, toothy mouth that would gladly free you of your fingers. “A souvenir you will never forget,” Ciru says, handing me the fly. For the first time I see how scabby and swollen my hands have become from all of the mosquitos. During the next two days I catch three more dorado, each one bigger than the last. I stick a 16-pounder next to a log, and haul an 18-pounder out of a deep pool. Each night we relax on the veranda, drinking Fernet and Coke and devouring handmade empanadas to a concert of crickets. Months later, I’ll still be playing those highlight reels in my head. On my last day I strike gold and land a dorado on a dry. I watch in awe as a 20-pound monster emerges from the depths with its crescent maw agape like Jaws on the movie poster. It sucks in a big black rat dead drifting not six feet in front of me. The eat is so casual I have time to think, “wait, did that just happen?” before setting the hook. The fight leaves me shaking. “It’s not an easy fish, but it is a great fish,” says Ciru. “People have known how to catch trout for a hundred years on flies. But dorado? We’re still figuring them out.” The light turns strawberry pink, signaling it’s time to go. I take one more cast for good luck. This time I read the distance well and place the rat right over a seam. All I see is a flash of light.
Good to know: You must check your fly rods for domestic flights in Argentina. You will not be allowed to carry them through airport security. |Stay: Salta is worth checking out before or after your fishing trip, with good wine, hiking, museums, and restaurants. Rooms at the local Sheraton start at $130 for doubles, though you can get a better deal online in advance. (sheratonsaltahotel.com; +54-387-432-3000) Autentica Salta can arrange custom trips. (autenticasalta.com; +54-9-387-522-0806)
The F3T is proud to support
with an Online auction of items such as a new Yeti cooler with original artwork from Paul Puckett, great fishing products, and trips from our friends and sponsors. All proceeds will go to Captains for Clean Water. Check out the auctions site at www.biddingforgood.com/ captainsforcleanwater for everything you can bid on!
If you would like to go to the Keys to Fish and watch the F3T, join us on April 25th at 7pm at the Tropic Theater and have a beer with CFCW Captains!
CAST CARVE REPEAT
PLAYING BENEATH ALASKAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S MIDNIGHT SUN
LONG DAYS, STEEP LINES, AND WILD TROUT.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY DAVE COX
“HEY BEAR! HEY BEAR,” YELLS MY GUIDE. “WOO… WOO, IEEE, IEEE.”
The creek we’re walking down is the Talachulitna, which flows out of Judd Lake, about 65 miles northwest of Anchorage. His voice, which he hurls at the claustrophobic willows, sounds like Speedy Gonzales, or maybe Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys on methamphetamine. “I’m not sure if this is the proper way to warn a bear we’re coming or not,” he says. My guide, Skip Mullen, and I are here chasing trophy rainbows as part of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge’s “Kings and Corn” program, a mash-up of helicopteraccessed spring skiing and fly fishing. “Works for me,” I reply, thinking about his can of bear spray as we walk through the dense brush along the creek bank. “So, I would guess since the salmon aren’t running, then our chances of running into a bear are low?” I ask hopefully. “That’s true,” Skip replies. “But when they’re feeding on salmon, you can walk right past them. They’ve gorged and couldn’t give a shit about you, but now if we run into one, it’s going to be hungry.” A nanosecond after those words charge the air, I’m yelling too. “Hey bear! Hey Bear! Whoo!” leaving my lips like a primal scream.
My trifecta, grayling, rainbow, Dolly Varden. flyfilmtour .com
Twenty year ago, Olympic skier and gold medalist Tommy Moe and backcountry guide Mike Overcast were hunting Dall sheep in the Tordrillo Mountains, when Tommy recalls saying, “This looks like it would be great skiing.” Overcast, a founding partner of Chugach Powder Guides and no stranger to Alaskan terrain, agreed. Together they started a heli-ski operation, later evolving into a first-class outfit on the banks of Judd Lake. It was a pretty simple idea: fly clients to ski when the snow softened to smooth, granular niblets during the freeze-thaw cycle (known as “corn”) and then take them fishing during the king salmon run. “Kings and Corn” at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge was born. After a few years of guiding clients on this new venture, they expanded and started heli-skiing the nearly million acres of surrounding terrain in the late winter and spring. When it comes to fishing, I’m a bit of a dilettante. If you saw me cast, you’d probably wince. After moving to New Mexico many years ago, I’ve reached a good-time saturation point between fishing, skiing, mountain biking, bird hunting, and archery. I remember stopping myself when considering kayaking and rock climbing for fear I’d turn into some sort of outdoor-sport mutation of the Hindu goddess Maa Durga, eight arms manically grasping for more gear. Either my conscience or the credit card company applied the brakes. But that’s why the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is a big kid’s version of Disneyland. Want to ski heli-laps? Hop on. Fish for trout or salmon? You bet! You can raft the “Tal,” stand-up paddle the lake, bear watch, shoot skeet, all before a five-star dinner and still have time to fish until midnight. (The lodge also now runs trips into August
Moe can still mach it.
with snow biking and silver salmon. I imagine myself returning for “Spin and Silvers.”) The only stipulation is that whenever adventure strikes, you’re accompanied by a guide. The afternoon our group arrived, we landed on the lake in a 1950s de Havilland Beaver floatplane, and after a safety briefing by Tommy, the guides fired up the helicopter. We skied on a glacier zone called Rolling Stone into the evening. In the morning, we would be on the river. Walking down the Talachulitna, I realize I’m wading in water that yesterday was the snow we skied, the cold creek soothing my sore legs. Skip sets me up with a Monkey Butt, a big, dry stonefly pattern for the rainbows that live here. When not in Alaska, Skip and his partner Jennifer Cornell run the Nic Fin Patagonia lodge in Chile, where he’s guided for almost 30 years. That morning we received some bad news during breakfast. Alaska had canceled the
The productive egg-sucking leech.
noncommercial king salmon season. But as Tommy pointed out, the other four salmon species—red, silver, pink, and chum—have strong runs up the “Tal.” But they had yet to peak, so we would target rainbows instead. “You have a good drift and mend,” Skips says. “But let’s work on making it great.” I could have fished that water for hours before netting a fish, but with Skip’s direction—“Cast there, let it drift, wait, mend”—I was into a big ‘bow. “Use the reel, walk downstream with it, keep your rod tip up!” Then suddenly the fish was gone. In the small streams I fish in New Mexico, the brown trout are only slightly larger than the egg-sucking leech streamer I’m now casting, and the drag on the reel is never used. “As a fly fisherman, I’d rather catch rainbows than salmon,” said Skip. “But the salmon are important, they add biomass to what is really a very clean river. The returning salmon turn
into what we call ‘zombie fish’ and fall apart, which is a T-bone steak floating down the river for the trout.” Those chunks of meat, the flies that gather around the rotting fish, and the fish eggs from the spawn, all become a feast for trout and bears during the warm days and nearly endless twilight of the Alaskan summer. Meanwhile, on the Talachulitna just downstream of the lodge, I’ve hooked and netted three species: Dolly Varden, grayling, and trout. As we’re fishing, Skip’s radio crackles. “What’s up?” I ask as I miss a strike. “Jennifer wants to know if you want to join the others,” he says. “They’re about to take off in the helicopter to go fishing downstream.” “You know, in skiing, my friends always say ‘don’t leave powder to find powder,’ ” I yell back at the bank. Skip laughs, “Do you want to go with them?” I wade out of the river. I never did see a bear.
.50 caliber bear spray
Tommyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s evening sauna-cooldown regimen.
Stilt Houses of the
Twenty years ago, writer Michael J. Medrano spent a weekend in a stilt house on Baffin Bay, fishing and duck hunting from
one of the 400 cabins built above the water along the Texas coastline. Medrano was struck by the sense of adventure and solitude, so during the summer of 2016, he returned with photographer Tim Romano, setting out to document the unique fishery and culture along the gulf coast. They spent more than a hundred hours in their skiff, running a Maverick HPX-T from the churned-up shipping lanes of Galveston Bay, down past Corpus Christi, to the lower Laguna Madre, the flats becoming cleaner and more remote as they headed south. Along the way they knocked on doors, drank beer, met fellow anglers, and fished with the noted guides like Kevin “KT” Townsend in Port O’Conner, and Ben Paschal of Arroyo City. The result is their 2018 book, Stilt Houses of Texas (available at stilthouses.com) and this photo essay of their trip.
Rincon del Arroyo in the Laguna Madre (left). The Texas coast boasts many flats and shallow marshes, holding fish feeding on the crustaceans that live and spawn there. As the bumper sticker says on the Maverick skiff used for this adventure, “Have Fly Rod, Will Travel.”
One of the two flags (the other being the Lone Star Flag) youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll see flown, hung, stickered, and painted on many things out here.
Captain Kevin “KT” Townsend looks at the weather (which is about to get worse) as Thomas Williams selects the next morsel to present to a redfish. When I asked KT how he ended up guiding in Port O’Connor, his response was simply “tarpon.”
Captain Ben Paschal with anglers, fishing the spoil islands in the Laguna Madre.
Cabin partners Ken Williams and Andy Knape first built this house together in 1984: They completely rebuilt it after Hurricane Ike.
Captain Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water
on solving south Florida’s water crisis and restoring the Everglades. “Growing up and guiding here in southwest Florida, water pollution from Lake
Okeechobee is something we’ve dealt with our whole lives, but the problem’s gotten worse. When the natural system was changed decades ago, water that would’ve historically flowed from the middle of the state down to the Everglades and Florida Bay was stopped at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee and held as irrigation for industrial sugar farming. The natural flow was cut off. The result is when we have heavy rains, Lake Okeechobee fills up, threatening to breach the dike and flood the communities around the lake, so all that water is dumped through canals out to the east and west coasts, like the Caloosahatchee River and into Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Bay, and San Carlos Bay. We’re talking about billions and billions of gallons of freshwater. The spring of 2016 was one of the worst discharge episodes I’ve seen in my lifetime. Miles of saltwater bays that I rely on to fish were literally turned into freshwater. In areas where I would fish for redfish, snook, and tarpon, people were catching largemouth bass. It went on for months, killing all the oysters and sea grass, anything that couldn’t swim away from the freshwater. That water is also very polluted, with phosphorous and nitrogen, from decades of agricultural and development runoff, which fuels red tide blooms. What would be natural events, blow up into massive disasters. You can see discoloration in the water, and you can feel it burning your eyes and throat. You’ll see tens of thousands of dead fish too. This past year, Lake Okeechobee had a blue-green algae bloom, it’s a neurotoxin, that sat in the canals and exploded into the toxic-algae mats that you saw on national news. It got to the point where fishing guides couldn’t offer clients the experience they were used to. It was a wake-up call. When we held a meeting at Bass Pro Shops in Fort Meyers in 2016, we had no intention of starting an organization. We thought we’d have a few dozen fishing guides, but over 300 people showed up, along with all the major news stations. Fishing guides have never been involved in trying to fix these issues, but we’re probably the most directly impacted. As an industry, we’re very powerful: Tourism, fishing, and boating generates $109 billion a year in Florida. We realized if people focused on the economic crisis as well as the environmental issues, we’d be able to get the attention of our policy makers. We traveled to Tallahassee and Washington and got a crash course on how the system works, but our first big win was passing Senate Bill 10 in the Florida Legislature. The Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir would store and clean the water from Lake Okeechobee with man-made marshes before sending it south. Historically, the water took almost two years to go from the center of the state to Florida Bay and the Keys. The idea behind Everglades restoration—about 68 projects—is to restore the timing and delivery of that water to where it’s desperately needed. The cost is split between the state and the federal government. Florida has committed $800 million to the project and the challenge now is getting the federal matching funds. The next stage will be getting funding through the appropriations process, which we will be working on this spring. The Everglades are a natural treasure unique to Florida. The experiences it offers are more valuable and long-lasting than the economies it supports. The worse the conditions get, the greater the chance we could lose the Everglades. It’s our responsibility to save this place.”
Chris Wittman has guided for 20 years in Florida and cofounded CFCW (captainsforcleanwater.org) in 2016 with Daniel Andrews.
photo Cavin Brothers