American Angler Sept Oct Issue 2018

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Get Lost The Devils in Texas remote Patagonia Argentina’s dorado NYC’s forbidden stripers Temagami wilderness bass Alberta’s 2-foot long browns




A weeklong fishfest in Ontario’s Temagami wilderness leaves two anglers needing one thing—more of the same. —Ryan Sparks


You know all about the numbers and size of Patagonia’s monster rainbows. But who knew you could get them on drys? —Rasmus Ovesen


Deep in South Texas, near the Mexico border, prowling for bass. —Greg Thomas


Mousin’ by mothership on Argentina’s Río Paraná. —Zach Matthews


The numbers are there, but does this fabled lake still hold giant largemouths? —Gary Kramer Cover: While flying a drone high overhead, Pedro Rodriguez, who shoots stills and video for Jurassic Lake Lodge, captured the breadth of Patagonia and Lake Strobel’s extremely remote location.







Skeena Country • Soda Butte Creek • Milkfish


Cutthroat and giant caddis. —Dave Hughes


Calgary’s Bow River and the 100-year flood. —Dana Sturn

18 ART

Graham Owen’s flies hit the big screen. —Zach Matthews


The Last Steelhead. —Chris Santella


Todd Gregory builds the ultimate muskie-getter. —Seth Fields


Simms’s G3 wader, Patagonia’s Snap-Dry Hoody, more. —the editors


Late-summer and early-fall terrestrials. —David Klausmeyer


Sneaking in for stripers. —Henry Cowen


A madman’s push for catch-and-release. —Will Ryan


You need bulk, but you still want that pattern to launch. Here’s how to do it. —Scott Sanchez


Two men follow a rumor and end up across the border, with giant cutthroat on the ends of their lines. —Scott Sadil




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SIGNATURE by Greg Thomas



WAS ON MONTANA’S BIG HOLE River the first time I took a pull off a flask while fishing. My dad had just hooked a nice rainbow on a size 18 dry, watched it jump to eye level, then landed the fish in a little pool along a grassy bank. He pulled a flask from his pocket and said, “That one’s worth a pull.” My dad isn’t a big drinker, never was, so this surprised me. I was in college at the time and didn’t want to hint at what went on during weekends, although thinking back, he and my mother had to know. That’s the thing about being a kid (and in my opinion, you are a kid through college)—you think you’re getting away with murder, but any caring parent with half a brain knows the truth. For that matter, my GPA didn’t lie. Catching that rainbow was a big event because we were fledgling fly fishers and it wasn’t like the trout arrived one after the other. In fact, I still carried a spin rod


with me—just in case—and was known to spear a live salmonfly to my imitation during trying times. My dad and I still remember that Big Hole rainbow and its acrobatics. I still have a photo of my father holding that ’bow, the back half of that fish draping off one side of his hand, the head and half the body off the other. It was a great fish, a fine moment, and despite my reservations, I took a long pull on the flask and said, “That is a great one, Dad. We better have another.” I can’t remember if he agreed, but I do remember him nixing my request for another toast . . . right after I landed a 12-inch-long whitefish. He looked at that fish with condemnation and said, “We’re not drinking to a whitey.” When I peek at my fishing gear today, I see a fine collection of flasks, 10 in all. One is a token from the Cold War, with a hammer and sickle emblem, given to me by a fellow editor when everything in the Soviet Union went up for sale. One night, years ago, at our hotel in Juneau, Alaska, this editor friend filled that flask with absinthe, then drank the lot and paid heavily for his enthusiasm. When I awakened in the morning, I thought a strong breeze was blowing in from a salmon-reduction plant across the street; I learned the truth when the editor staggered to the sliding glass door and threw his bedspread off the balcony. I said, “Gawd, can’t take you anywhere.” He crawled back into his bed and snarled, “Don’t worry. I’ll pay for it.” He spent most of that day reclined in our rental car while I tried to will a steel steelhead out of Cowee Creek. I acquired another flask,

with my name etched on it, during a wedding party in the Northeast. It links my memory to a day when the bride’s father asked the groom and several others to discard some old tires. We understood what that entailed—we’d have to drive an hour to the dump, pay a disposal fee, then drive all the way back, taking away from our time to celebrate his daughter’s bright future, and fish for bass. Instead, behind a veil of lakeside trees, we rafted those tires to a floating dock, then pitched them into the drink, all in the name of fish habitat. It made sense in a way, still does, but probably wasn’t the right thing to do, although there are reports of the fishing having, inexplicably, picked up in that area. I also have a Montana Fly Company flask, given to me at a trade show with a wink from the marketing gal. Each time I drink from that flask, I think about my reaction to the gift—I grabbed the flask, shook it, and said, “It’s full! Can I have another?” I didn’t get another, but I get a laugh every time I take a pull from that thing. If you consider fly fishing to be a sport, drinking on the river probably isn’t a good thing. I mean, would you drink before playing basketball, soccer, or football? A friend of mine, the fly tier Kelly Galloup, refuses to drink on the water, not wanting to compromise his chances to land a monster. I don’t think he’s wrong in taking that approach. I could take that path, too, just write off the occasional pull and get more serious about the catching. But maybe that’s not the point—I won’t celebrate every fish with a drink, certainly not a whitey, but on those great fall days when all the big trout are eating blue-wings, or on those frustrating occasions when I can’t buy a steelhead, I’m going to take a second to acknowledge that each day on the water is pure fortune, whether I get a fish to hand or not.




is a membership-based organization, and our members are our lifeblood. Since our founding in 1998, we have grown to include concerned anglers from over 20 countries, researchers from throughout the world, and guides committed to working with BTT in order to educate anglers and gather data while on the water. The generous support of our members is critical to our mission: Conserve and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats through research, stewardship, education and advocacy. We have celebrated many accomplishments, but there is still much more work to do. Please help us in our mission by joining and urging your friends, guides, lodges, and fishing clubs to join. Please go to and click “Join BTT” to become a member today.




John Lunn A S S O C I AT E


Michael Floyd

(706) 823-3739 • EDITOR

Greg Thomas ART


Wayne Knight D I G I TA L






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Zach Matthews, Dave Hughes, Henry Cowen, Philip Monahan, Chris Santella, Scott Sanchez, Will Ryan CIRCULATION

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Location: Northern British Columbia, Canada. Target: Wild Pacific steelhead.

Note: When people picture the Skeena watershed, they think of its famous tributaries. After years of exploration on those tribs, I now spend more time on the mainstem Skeena. The river is massive, the fish are fresher than they’ll ever be in the tributaries, and they pull harder and fight stronger than they would upstream. Here, Eric Jackson works his way to the top of a run, wondering where he should throw and what might happen on that first cast. Photographer: Darcy Bacha;




Location: Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Target: Native cutthroat trout.

Note: Fall in Yellowstone is one of the classic American fly fishing experiences. During September and October, anglers match Baetis and fall drakes in the afternoon hours, often under the golden hue of cottonwood leaves. Photographer: John Juracek/Images on the Wildside




Location: Kiribati Islands, South Pacific. Target: Milkfish on the flats.

Note: Milkfish are vegetarian and mostly eat algae, which makes them one of the more challenging fish to catch on a fly. The reward is well worth the effort, however. Once hooked, these supersized power mullet fight harder—and longer—than any fish on the flats. These fish don’t generate lactic acid, which means they can battle just as hard 30 or 40 minutes into a fight as they do the first few seconds. A milkfish on an 8- or 9-weight rod is a major catch. I captured this image with a “flying camera” while fishing the Korean Wreck area on Christmas Island. Photographer: Jim Klug; www.klugphotos. com



Hatches 14

Gates Checked: YYC 16

Art 18

Projects 20

Grassroots 21


Big Bugs In North Idaho and beyond, trout crush this oversized fly on top. By Dave Hughes

I GREW UP IN THE WET NORTHWEST, fall caddis country, and became fond of that big insect for the beauty of the places into which it enticed me, and still does. The clean bottom stones of those rainforest streams harbor herds of the pebblecased larvae. When the adults dance over the water in autumn, native cutthroat trout dash savagely to kill size 10 and 12 floating caddis patterns. My father, brothers, and I used to toss Bucktail Caddis drys to prod those cutthroat into action. My mother, may she be forgiven, plucked portly larvae off the bottom, peeled them out of their stone cases, impaled them on single-egg hooks, lobbed them out, sat, and waited. She rarely got past the deepest pool closest to the car, but she always caught the biggest trout on any given trip. Fall caddis, often called October 14 I AMERICAN ANGLER

caddis, emerge from early September in some places to the middle of November in others. Four closely related and widespread species create important hatches in every western state and province. I’ve fished over them from New Mexico to British Columbia, but have had the most fun, in recent years, on the beautiful streams that cascade off the Rockies in North Idaho. Kelly Creek, the St. Joe, Coeur d’Alene, even the broad Clark Fork offer hatches. My favorite has become the Lochsa River and its sister the Selway, in large part because I’ve seen so many trout jumping into the air after the erratic caddis there, in almost equal part because at the end of a fall fishing day, cold from wading or even dusted by a light snow, there is always a restoring hot spring within a short hike of the river. The ancient Bucktail Caddis still

draws a trout’s eyes. On brisk pocket water, it might be wiser to use a heavily hackled Fall Caddis. On long and smoother pools, a more imitative size 10 CDC and Elk might be your best bet. Cased fall caddis larvae are so heavily fortified that trout don’t indulge in them much, though I’ve occasionally caught cutts in small streams with bellies so distended, you could feel pebbles when cradling one. Mature larvae migrate to soft water at the edges of streams. There, they gather in colonies on the undersides of stones, seal themselves in, and take up to five weeks to transform into fully formed pupae. They emerge into adults by crawling out of the water on stones close to shore, usually at night, presenting limited feeding opportunities to trout. Pupal patterns are of infrequent value, WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

5 Questions With … 22

though Skip Morris does well with his beautiful Brick Back Caddis for this stage, dead-drifting it along stream edges, usually at evening or on cloudy afternoons with low light. The late Doug Persico, who owned Rock Creek Mercantile outside Missoula, Montana, swore by a yellowish Serendipity from mid-August through fall, in larger than standard sizes, meaning size 8 and 10. I once watched idly while Rick Hafele soft-hackled his way down a long, broad, and boulder-strewn stretch of the Lochsa. It was late; clouds hung low. Rick cast long, mended once or twice, followed the swinging fly with his rod tip. Every few casts, the swing was interrupted by a 14- to 16-inch cutt. I got a look at his fly as he released another trout. It was a wet with no name, size 12, just an amber Krystal Flash body and several turns of pale brown hen hackle. It was difficult to tell if it resembled a fall caddis pupa or a drowned adult. Those trout apparently didn’t care. Fall caddis are as large as size 4, average closer to size 8. It’s never unwise to tie your imitations for trout, whether wets or drys, a bit undersized, say 10s and 12s. If you’re fishing water that contains steelhead, however, it’s smarter to tie them on larger hooks. I once fished British Columbia’s Bulkley River at Barrett Station in late September with a fellow who had trouble getting up in the morning. I got into the habit of hiking out from camp before dawn, nibbling at pocket lies along the edges that were too small for boaters to tuck in and take on. I had them all to myself. One morning I fished a size 4 fall caddis dry to a short and narrow run, dead-drifted just as if I were after trout. A seven- or eight-pound steelhead boiled at the fly on six successive casts, completely shattering my composure. On the seventh cast, it blew up on the dry fly, threw my slack line into the air, knocked off my hat, bolted, and broke me off instantly. It’s a fall caddis memory I wish I could forget. All the others I’m glad to remember. Dave Hughes is the author of Pocketguide to Western Hatches. He lives in Portland, Oregon. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Gear 24

Guide Fly 27

Personal History 28

Find Them Here

Though fall caddis hatch in streams and rivers of all sizes, all over the West, they’re best known in a few famous places: Elk River, BC; Red Deer River, AB; Upper Columbia River, WA; Deschutes River, OR; Sacramento and McCleod rivers, CA; Missouri, Big Hole, Clark Fork, and Blackfoot rivers, MT; Wind and Green rivers, WY; Green and Provo rivers, UT; Colorado and Gunnison rivers, CO; Rio Grande, NM.

Top: Bushy dry flies (top row) and nymphs and soft hackles (bottom left and right, respectively) take westslope cutthroat during fall. Nymphs can work well as early as mid-August; dry fly activity kicks in by mid-September. Bottom: Idaho’s Lochsa and Selway rivers produce stunningly beautiful native cutthroat trout, some stretching to 16 inches or more.




Gate Checked: YYC

Big brown trout still rule western Alberta’s Bow River. by Dana Sturn

After the IT WAS A BUMPY SUMMER: THE MOVIES ALL SUCKED; a leaky tent trailer sabotaged the family camping trip; chinook salmon didn’t show up on the Dean; and scheduling snafus killed several half-planned trips to the Kamloops area lakes. 16 I AMERICAN ANGLER

As August tumbled into September, I was pretty much ready to tap out and prepare for what was looking to be a “too much water, not enough fish” October steelhead season. But late in the month, a classic Ian Tyson lyric landed in my head—“Think I’ll go out to Alberta / Weather’s good there in the fall . . .” In search of a tonic, I hopped a WestJet flight out of Vancouver, British Columbia, and pointed my ball cap straight at Calgary, Alberta, and the Bow River. It was mid-September, and after landing in Calgary I grabbed a cab and went straight to the Trolley 5 Restaurant and Brewery in the city’s Beltline District. Walking from the cab in the cool evening air, I passed the Trolley’s patio patrons, cold beer warming their Friday-night moods. I felt better already, and I hadn’t even thought about trout, nor taken my first sip. “Beer should always trigger something,” said Trolley 5 owner Ernie Tsu. “Beer, music, and memories.” As I sat down and enjoyed an IPA, I recalled my last trip to the Bow, back in 2013, not long after the Flood, as locals call a catastrophic event that rolled right through Calgary, displaced 100,000 people, and cost $1.7 billion. I remembered the rainbows being a bit skinny, but all things considered, they seemed okay. In 2015, I considered returning to the river, but ironically, high temperatures and low water led to midAugust closures on the Bow and other Southern Alberta streams. Another beer arrived, along with Trolley’s general manager Cory Lowe—known as C-Lowe—who’s as knowledgeable about Eastern Canada’s Atlantic salmon fishing as he is on the Bow’s current hatches. His simple statement meant my return to the Bow would pay dividends. “The Bow’s been fishing really well lately,” he said. “You should have a great time.” A little while later, during a cab ride to my room at the Blackfoot Inn, I allowed cautious optimism to creep in—could this be the trip that saves summer? Early in the morning, I met Josh Nugent at Out Fly Fishing Outfitters, his shop in South Calgary. Wiry and keen, Nugent has the build of an NBA player and a fan’s WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

As he prepared a stir fry of rice, bourbon chicken, and vegetables, he added, “But floods are like forest fires: They’re Mother Nature’s reset on an ecosystem. As it turns out, fish are pretty fond of water, and they don’t get that upset about more of it. This year, all season long, the fishing has been incredible. We’re finding twentyfive- to twenty-eight-inch fish.” Those steelhead-sized beasts are brown trout, the kind that made the Bow a destination big-fish river before the flood and what makes it that same temptation after the Flood. To target those fish, we spent the following day in the city stretch where Nugent and his clients had landed several beauties over the past few weeks. While rigging up, Nugent picked an articulated monstrosity from his box and said, “These are great, but the problem is with the name—I can’t really tell a ten-year-old who’s in the shop with his mother that the Sex Dungeon is working really great right now.” Muddy water slowed the fishing that day, apparently the result of some maintenance work in progress on an upstream weir. Undaunted, Nugent found pockets of clear water and I pounded them with streamers until my elbow hurt. But I couldn’t get the strip-strike right and missed my chances. Then, halfway through the day, in a flat along a grassy bank, something big charged my streamer. The line tightened, the fish turned, and its spotted back was clearly visible. There, not 30 feet away, was a very fat brown trout in very skinny water. Suddenly, Suicide Squad and that leaky tent trailer were merely things to shrug about. That trout was going to save the summer. I set, the rod bowed, then pulsed twice before abruptly straightening. I turned to Nugent, who just grinned and pulled us into deeper water. Neither of us said a word, because there wasn’t anything to be said. But I can say this now—the Bow is back, post-Flood, offering the same kind of big-fish thrills it provided before all that water tried to wash away the city, and I’ll be back this fall to fish it again.

Big rainbows prowl Alberta’s Bow River, but the brown trout are what you’re really after—they may stretch past the two-foot mark.

enthusiasm that seemed immune to the wear and tear of a summer guiding schedule. Soon, he was backing his ClackaCraft down a boat ramp above the Highway 22X bridge, just south of the city where the river slips southeast through rolling hills and grassland country. Along the way, we passed a golf course, a movie set, and an artificial lake constructed for competitive water skiing. But these were well hidden behind a robust riparian zone. The fishing turned out to be exactly as I remembered. Nugent started me with an indicator rig and a brace of small nymphs, and about 200 feet from the launch, I hooked a nice brown trout. And the day continued like that. Fish a bit, catch one; fish a bit more, catch another. I’m not usually a numbers guy, but since it had been a few years, I was quietly keeping track of my hookups. I stopped counting at 15 takes from a mix of browns and rainbows close to the city, becoming mostly rainbows the farther downstream we drifted. Along the way, I managed to tie a couple of impressive wind knots in my tandem streamer rig and blow up one of Nugent’s boat rods. Through it all he was patient, offering insights into the area’s natural history while providing gentle coaching. Just after midday, as Nugent prepared a hot lunch, I asked him how the Bow had fared over the last few years. He said, “After the 2013 flood, you had people who never fish—some radio DJs and newspaper reporters—saying all the fish were dead.” WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

H Getting There: Calgary is a quick hourand-twenty-minute flight from Vancouver with WestJet. Other airlines provide regular service from major North American and international cities. Best Time for Big Browns: Dee

Chatani, a respected veteran guide with 29 years on the Bow, recommends late June through early July if the river is fishable. Paula Shearer, a newcomer who’s quickly gaining a reputation for finding big fish, likes late August and early September.

Gear: Your guide will be well supplied, but if

you prefer your own graphite and tin, take along a 5-weight for drys, a 6- to 7-weight for nymphing and streamers, and a reel for each that sings a sweet song, spooled with a 5-weight floater and a 6- to 7-weight sinking-tip.


Blackfoot Inn 5940 Blackfoot Trail SE Calgary, Alberta T2H 2B5 (403) 252-2253 Big, clean, modern rooms. Bar has decent Scotch. Restaurant (steaks are good) and comedy club on premises.


Trolley 5 Restaurant and Brewery 728 17 Ave SW Calgary, Alberta T2T 4M2 (403) 454-3731 I ordered the Pick Two BBQ with ribs, brisket, and the quarter chicken, washed down with pints of High Five IPA (among the best IPAs I’ve ever had) and a Hey Porter for dessert. If you’re sleepy after a good day on the water, the Trolley’s vibe will perk you up. Ask C-Lowe for a fishing report.


Out Fly Fishing Outfitters Josh Nugent (403) 278-6331 Trout Chasers Dee Chatan (403) 236-4409 Paula Shearer (403) 680-2361

Trip Planning

Visit the Tourism Calgary website at






Graham Owen


GRAHAM OWEN COULD BE THE world’s most talented and successful fly tier, but few anglers have even heard of him. How is that possible? Well, for one, none of his patterns are tied commercially. In fact, Owen doesn’t tie flies for fishermen; instead, he is one of the most sought-after artisans in the Hollywood prop industry, and he’s parlayed that success to the design heights of Milan. He’s too modest to claim to be the world’s greatest fly tier (he would bestow that mantle on Atlantic salmon fly specialist Steven Fernandez), but there’s no doubt Owen’s the most remarkable. Owen lives in Gig Harbor, Washington, and though he doesn’t tie flies for fishermen, you can often find him on the water, cruising the beaches of Puget Sound, where resident salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout are just five minutes from his home. As you might expect, Owen travels often and sometimes reflects on his success over the past 10 years. “A lot of the time, it’s on a flight, headed to some distant place,” Owen said. “When I’ll catch a movie with one of my flies in it, I’m kind of just, like, wow.” Tying specialized flies for a living does have one disadvantage: “It’s pretty hard to explain to people what I do for a living,” Owen admitted with a laugh. Owen explained a little bit about how this all came to be: “You know, I started out as just a hobby fly tier like anyone else, while holding down a day job in the solar energy industry. My buddies used to make fun of me for taking so much time over one fly; they would say, ‘You spent six hours on that dragonfly?’ I just told them, you know, yeah; I enjoyed doing it. One day, some prop procurement folks from Paramount Pictures went to a local fly shop in Los An18 I AMERICAN ANGLER

geles, trying to buy realistic flies. They were disappointed, but the owner sent them my way. That’s how my work ended up being held by Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button. “For film work, they have some really specific needs,” Owen said. “The bugs need to be really durable, so actors can swat them. I got used to seeing my bugs for about two seconds on-screen, right before someone would smack them.” Owen’s fly props have appeared in some seriously glamorous pictures: Angelina Jolie extracted “venom” from one of Owen’s spiders in Salt. His spiders were a key plot element in Andrew Garfield’s The Amaz-

ing Spider-Man. His bugs are favorites of television hospital dramas: “NBC’s Chicago Med recently used one of my cockroaches for a scene where the doctors extract it from the teen’s nose,” Owen said. “It’s a lot more economical to rent these props from me than to spend tens of thousands to put in a CGI bug later, and the actor has an easier time reacting to a real object.” You read that correctly: Owen rents his flies. “I don’t sell any of my creations,” he explains, “except in the fine art sector. All of my prop flies get returned to me after they’re used.”

Financially, Owen has likely found the one area in the world where a fly tier can make some legitimate money. His Hollywood rental fees are in the thousands per week, which is not unreasonable when you consider the amount of work that goes into his creations. “Some fly tiers can crank out a dozen complicated patterns in an hour,” he said, “but with mine, every thread wrap has to be carefully hidden. I average about a dozen a week.” As cool as the Hollywood work has been, Owen recently found an even more rewarding outlet on several levels—he was asked to work with Ingo Maurer, a wellknown German lighting designer. That partnership has borne rich fruit. Maurer pairs Owen’s exquisite butterflies and other creations with his own textured lamps, walls, and other large lighting installations. Their combined work is vigorously sought after in the fine art world, appearing in the palaces of sheiks and even in the Vatican. Owen speaks with especial pride about the piece he and Maurer recently had accepted by the Smithsonian Institute. These fine art works have demanded a change in Owens’s style. He says his mentor, Maurer, “told me I needed to remember that artisans make props and depict the real world. Artists express their inner creativity; they amplify the structures of the real world into something even more unique.” His fine art creations exemplify this artist–artisan dichotomy; more abstract and in some cases simpler than his “lifelike” bugs, they are in many ways even more impressive. Just how successful has Owen been? Let’s put it this way: between his Hollywood prop rentals, a business he continues through and his fine art separately offered at www., there is a good chance Owen has more annual fly tying revenue than some commercial fly tying companies. He recently took on some apprentices to assist him with his increasingly large fine art orders. Not bad for a guy who just happened to enjoy making the most realistic flies he can. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

“Some fly tiers can crank out a dozen complicated patterns in an hour,” he said,“but with mine, every thread wrap has to be carefully hidden. I average about a dozen a week.”

Graham Owen’s realistic flies rarely see the water. Instead, they end up in movies and as lighting installations. Left: A dragonfly falls for one of Owen’s “fake” flies.






The Last Steelhead An Oregon-based steelhead addict’s industrysponsored eco-rock opera. BY CHRIS SANTELLA LAST MAY, I WROTE A STORY ON THE challenges facing wild Columbia Basin summer steelhead—particularly “B-run” fish heading toward Idaho. In the course of my research, I couldn’t help but think that a tragedy was unfolding. Not just for the fish and the ecosystem and anglers—a tragedy in the dramatic sense that could lend itself to a creative treatment. I’ve dabbled with music for many years now, moving from open mics with an acoustic guitar to fronting a band (Catch & Release, which includes Keith Carlson, Doug Mateer, and Sloan Morris) with an off-white Les Paul. Catch & Release performs gigs around Portland, Oregon (we’re big at fishing fund-raisers!) and has recorded three CDs filled with original music. I’m always intrigued by the idea of telling a larger story through multiple songs. The rock opera. The concept album. (When I think of Tommy, the notion seems aspirational; when I think of “Mr. Roboto,” it seems like a very, very bad idea.) In 2014, I tested the waters a bit, with seven songs concerning the fracking boom in western North Dakota. The compilation, Boomtown, was recorded in a day, mostly by me, with a few assists from my bandmates. Start to finish, it cost under $400 to produce. In 2017, I tried to push things a little further, composing a “country opera” about the Bundy clan’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. With the help of my bandmates, a few guest singers, and a hired gun pedal steel player, Harney County was staged before a live audience. The price tag was around $1,000, which I again bootstrapped. This Idaho steelhead project, I understood, would cost quite a bit more—about $5,000. The Last Steelhead is 11 songs that explore the causes of the Northwest’s wild steelhead demise and our attitudes about 20 I AMERICAN ANGLER

With The Last Steelhead, singer Chris Santella hopes to save Idaho’s treasured Brun metalheads.

them. While there’s no linear narrative, the songs together provide a picture of the problem . . . and why everyone should care. The songs cover a range of styles, from bluegrass and country to reggae and hard rock, and are sung from different perspectives. Once again, my bandmates are lending their considerable talent to the project, and I’ve brought in some other musicians to flesh out the sound. The songs are being recorded and mixed at B-Side Studios in Portland, and mastered by PermaPress Studios in California. We expect the release sometime this summer. To underwrite this project, I’ve garnered generous support from Trout Unlimited, The Conservation Angler, The Wild Steelhead Coalition, and Simms— organizations that are passionate about maintaining our wild fish populations. The songs will reside online, at, and perhaps sometime later on the supporters’ sites, too. There will also be a short booklet to accompany the songs, “What You Can Do to Save Wild Steelhead.” Many in the fishing community know a bit about the critical state of wild steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest. My hope is that the story told in songs will reach beyond the fishing faithful and resonate with those who may not realize that steelhead even exist. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


Q&A with Utah Stream Access Coalition

By Joshua Bergan

ACCESS IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE to anglers—without it, we can’t fish. Which is why the Utah Stream Access Coalition fights for the public’s right to access Utah waters. And the fight here, in the Beehive State, may set precedent for future efforts in other states, including the trout-dense rivers in Montana and Idaho. The USAC is playing a significant role in a pending and crucial state supreme court decision; if the high court affirms a lower court decision, the current law, which restricts access, will be struck down and stream access will be restored (in some form). The USAC is already working with legislators “to develop a balanced replacement that affirms public recreational rights, once and for all.” Learn more at I recently spoke with Kris Olson, president emeritus of the USAC. Here’s what he had to say. Q: What are a couple of your most significant victories? A: We have brought two lawsuits on different legal grounds against those who sought to restrict public access to Utah’s publicly owned waters. The first case focused on the Provo River. The district court ruling restored access to all public waters for 112 days, until the Utah A decision in Utah could effect public access elsewhere, including Montana and Idaho.

Supreme Court granted a stay. The second case focused on a one-mile stretch of the Weber River and sought its designation as a “navigable river.” This past [November], the Utah Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s findings and ruled that because the Weber was used for commerce, it was indeed navigable, and therefore open to recreational use by the public. Q: Why should anglers outside of Utah care about stream access in Utah? A: There are stream-access battles happening all over the country. Just four years ago, New Mexico lost their public stream access with the passage of SB 261, which was based upon Utah’s restrictive law of 2010. There’s been a long-standing battle in Virginia, too. This idea of privatization of a public resource is a cancer, which took root in Utah. By fighting that cancer here, we hope to prevent its metastasis to Montana or Idaho and elsewhere, where the issue of public access has largely been settled in favor of public recreational rights for decades. Q: What do you ask of anglers to aid in your mission? A: Get involved. Care. Donate. Don’t trespass. Respect private property. Be a good steward.

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New: Trout Bugs Tied in Maine Fished Everywhere






5 Questions With . . .

Todd Gregory of Towee Boats By Seth Fields WHEN I HIT PAGE 25 OF AMERICAN Angler’s 2017 winter issue, I knew I’d found “the one.” The story covered fishing muskies on perfect moon phases, but what caught my eyes was an image of a boat, with an angler perched on the bow, performing a figure-eight, and a man at the oars taking in the scene.

I’d spent the previous year searching for a perfect boat, one that was not too large, but not too small; not too expensive but offering unwavering quality. I wanted a boat that handled big water, but I needed a shallow draft so it could perform in skinny water, too. And that’s what I saw in the image—a unique boat that could handle the demands my fishing would require. Enter Towee Boats. I liked the boat, got in touch with Towee owner Todd Gregory, and the rest is history. Recently, I reached out to Gregory and dug into his boatbuilding mentality. What’s your professional background, and why did you create Towee? Well, I used to work in the automotive industry, on the technical materials side as a director of quality control for several different companies. Even though I got to travel a lot, at the end of the day, it was a soul-sucking job. So I eventually got out and moved down to the Keys, where I found myself at a dead-end job and looking for something better to do. Luckily, some very close friends were

boatbuilders. My friend Chuck, who later became my mentor, had worked in the industry for a long time, and he had seen it all. He knew all the different designs and technologies. Well, I had an idea about a boat I wanted to create, and he helped me with materials, design, and ultimately taught me boatbuilding. So, we took it from just an idea to a reality. The boating industry has attempted to fill the crossover niche before. What makes the Rivermaster Calusa better than models we’ve seen in the past? In the beginning, I saw a need for something that was missing in the market. Skiffs had just started to get big, but no one was building technical boats. By that, I mean a stripped-down, no-nonsense boat made to get you where you want to go. On the river side of the industry, we had driftboats and canoe–boat hybrids, but neither did the things I needed a boat to do. There were skiffs, which worked well on the flats, but you would never dream of putting them in rivers. Nothing existed at the time that was a

Todd Gregory next to his flagship muskie boat.



credible flats skiff and was also a great river craft. You know, something you could do a lot of different types of fishing with. At the time, I was living a lifestyle where I was often going from the Keys to Tennessee, and up to Wisconsin. I wanted a boat that I could fish all of those places with. We set out to build a boat that did all those things, and did them well. It had to be able to get in skinny water, but also be stable (even with three adults in it). We wanted it to row well in rivers, and pole easily on the flats. But, in creating the perfect crossover boat, our fear was that we didn’t want to create an El Camino. El Caminos look really cool, but it’s a terrible car and an even worse truck. Ultimately, I wanted to have a boat that fit my lifestyle, and I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only one out there who wanted that. The Rivermaster Calusa is widely popular among muskie fisherman. Why so? There are two main reasons. One is the technical nature of the boat. It allows people to do lots of different types of

fishing. It allows people to travel. It can be a jet; it can be a prop. And you can take it on big rivers and lakes. That combination just fits the needs of a muskie fisherman. [Second,] this business grew alongside the growth of fly fishing for muskies. We started this brand as muskie fishing came into its own. I started guiding for them a little bit, and then started to learn about others who were guiding for muskies. I met some guys from the Midwest and Wisconsin that were doing it. I eventually reached out to them, and they had a lot of input on some of the original designs and changes we made to the boat. So, I had the input from guys who were really out there doing it. It was very grassroots. You recently expanded your facilities, the Calusa was featured in the recent Badfish video series, and your boat is popping up in magazines left and right. Is the Towee brand experiencing a boom? First, let me say that we could sell a lot more boats than we do. It was really hard in the beginning to get a handle on,

because if you build your own business and your own brand, you naturally want to see it grow. The entrepreneur in me wanted to grow the brand and make it some huge juggernaut. However, the boatbuilder in me said, Hey there’s a tipping point here, and if you go past that, you become a different kind of company. We want to serve as many people as we can while maintaining a level of service where each customer can have a real relationship with us; where I can help each customer select a boat and the custom features they need; and if they have a question, they can get in touch with me directly. You can’t have that kind of service if you’re too big. We’ve found the right production pace, where we can maintain quality over quantity, and we want to keep it that way. We like where we are. Check out Towee Boats at Seth L. Fields is the editor of The Angling Report and digital content manager for American Angler.

wearable shade– built for the flats. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM




Gear Patagonia’s Snap-Dry Hoody If you’re the type who takes fly fishing fashion to the streets, Patagonia’s new Snap-Dry Hoody is probably for you; if you’re looking for an impenetrable shield against the rain and ocean spray, you might look elsewhere. But before you shy away from this new hoodie because you’re headed to the Skeena Country for steel, or some bushwhack-required brook trout lake in Maine, realize this doesn’t have to live alone—you can layer under and over the Snap-Dry, if desired, to achieve some serious comfort. That’s why it fits the way it does—baggy, loose over the loins, with a hood that’s custom built to cover a flatbrim ball cap. It has adjustable Velcro cuffs and utilizes a fast-drying mix of nylon, polyester, and spandex— with four-way stretch—plus a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. That finish won’t keep you dry in an extended downpour, as you might see in Southeast Alaska or beyond, but as evidenced by my recent use in Montana, it will quash a light spring rainstorm or an early-summer thunderstorm with ease. Best, if the hoodie starts getting wet, you can snap the hood and send the beaded water droplets flying. Several other things to know: The SnapDry Hoody doesn’t offer drawstrings on the hood, nor around the waist. Its oversized front pockets do not offer zippers, which means they could hold water during a heavy deluge. The chest pocket does have a zipper. No, this isn’t a rain jacket, nor as technical as some of the gear we’ve come to expect from PG, but in many ways that’s what I want while late-summer and fall fishing, when the weather is just as likely to be sunny and 75 as it is to be snowing and blowing. I picture this as a go-to on bull trout prowls in Idaho and British Columbia, and steelhead jaunts down to the Clearwater and Snake. And I’ve been wearing it around Missoula, too, with friends saying, “Sick. Where can I get that?” For now I’ve been able to happily respond, “Can’t get it yet. Have to be in the biz.” I got away with that for a while, but now I have to find another outlet to make friends feel inferior—this hoodie hits the retail market August 1. You can own it for $169. —GregThomas

Snowbee Thistledown Line Snowbee designed its second generation of Thistledown lines to float higher while still having the same small diameter, allowing for an even more delicate presentation on small streams and stillwater fisheries. The XS-PLUS Thistledown2 boasts two innovative line choices for a variety of rod weights, with options covering both 2- to 5-weight and 5- to 7-weight, making it possible to use the same reel for a variety of rod sizes. Unusual, yes, but also highly effective if your rod selection is ample, but your reel options few. Each line features a braided core for zero memory, and is geared specifically toward anglers who put a premium on stealth. To get the stats on this line, check out $79 —The Editors 24 I AMERICAN ANGLER


Simms G3 Waders My first pair of chest waders was made by Red Ball, which was a highly affordable fishing brand that became synonymous with being either smoking hot or freezing cold. Those waders were constructed with plastic, cut into human form, then welded together, one size fits all, no matter how long your legs or feet might be. Each time I wore those Red Balls in Eastern Washington’s arid sagebrush and scabrock country, I unwittingly began a rapid-weight-loss program via perspiration; when I wore those waders on Washington’s wet side for steelhead, I was shivering my way to hypothermia in an hour. They worked, sort of, but I yearned for something I could count on. When neoprene hit the market, I hit the jackpot. That’s because a girl I met in Alaska worked for a garbage business that collected refuse from Sage, and at the time, I think Sage and the wader manufacturer Streamline were in cahoots. She deftly confiscated the blemished items and gave them to me. With a little Shoe Goo or some other binding agent, I transformed those into my winter steelhead uniform. But there was still Eastern Washington and Montana, and later Idaho. You couldn’t fish comfortably in neoprene all year or you would have shriveled like a prune. Fortunately, along came Gore-Tex, and the promise of “breathable” waders. As you probably know, that turned all our lives for the better. Today, I can’t count how many pairs of Gore-Tex waders I’ve owned— I don’t play nicely in my fishing gear, and I tend toward off-the-grid waters where I spend half the time sliding down some mountain on my ass just to reach a stream. I’ve used waders with front zippers that allow easy relief; I’ve used waders with fancy drop-down suspender systems that allow the same; I’ve worn wader pants that worked extremely well on hot days. But day in and day out, over time, probably the most consistent waders I’ve worn are Simms G3 Guide waders. And in 2017, Simms overhauled these to make them stronger and more comfortable than ever. Today the G3s are constructed of three-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell in the upper section and four-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell in the seat and legs. That means you should keep cool in the upper portion while having a little extra durability in the lower portion, allowing you to slide down to the water if needed, and push through the blackberry and devils club when required. The bells and whistles on these waders include a zippered chest pocket, a removable flip-out tippet-tender pocket with a retractor that holds your nippers and forceps, a reach-through microfleece-lined hand-warmer pocket, low-profile belt loops, and an adjustable suspender that offers waisthigh conversion. In addition, these waders come with built-in gravel guards, anatomical neoprene stocking feet with an antimicrobial finish—so they don’t get unreasonably musty—and, key, seams are placed on the fronts and backs of the legs instead of on the high-wear inner thigh area. I got a pair of the new G3s in 2017, traipsed around the Northwest and the Northern Rockies in them, and haven’t had one failure in any portion of the product. They are stout yet comfortable, and offer enough storage area to carry what I need for steelhead and bull trout. $499, www. —Greg Thomas





Gear Lamson’s Center Axis Integrated Rod/Reel Combo Waterworks-Lamson set out last year to revolutionize fly rod performance with its new Center Axis. The goal was to remove the weight of its popular Litespeed reel by aligning its mass with the center axis of the fly rod, thereby turning two tools into one. The concept proved to be a far more comfortable casting machine than one might expect from such a unique concept, so Lamson opted to take an idea originally available only in freshwater models, weighted 4, 5, 6, and 8, and expand it to include a new saltwater 8-weight. Available now, it features a stronger fighting butt that efficiently transmits load without flexing, thanks to a modular arch structure at the top of the reel. All Saltwater Series rods are outfitted with hardy composite top grips and titanium guides, while the reel is fixed to the rod via six heavy-duty stainless steel Torx head screws. Learn more at $749 to $799 —The Editors

Costa’s Untangled Collection Costa del Mar has teamed with Bureo (, a pioneer in recycled fishnet products, to create the new Untangled Collection. Discarded fishing nets and gear account for roughly 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic pollution, which grows by an estimated 640,000 tons per year. To counter the environmental impact, Bureo works directly with fishermen in Chile to collect discarded nets that might otherwise foul the world’s waterways and harm wildlife. The nets are recycled, shredded, and turned into pellets before being melted down and injected into molds that form new products—in this case, a collection of four stylish frame options paired with Costa’s proprietary 580 color-enhancing lens technology. Choose from the Victoria (pictured) and Caldera for women, along with the Baffin and Pescador for men. Here’s your chance to reduce glare, fight eye fatigue, and do your part to help the environment., $199 —The Editors

Flymen’s Bass-Gettin’ Poppers If you count yourself among the many topwater popper fishermen who believe a louder pop equates to bigger fish, then Flymen Fishing Company had you in mind when it created the Surface Seducer Double Barrel Bass Bug. Lightweight, epoxy-free, and designed to take a beating, its loud, resonating pops with attention-grabbing splashes are created with minimal effort thanks to a patented Double Barrel head that’s made from highly durable closed-cell foam that never gets waterlogged—so it’s always easy to cast. Sold ready-to-go, or you can purchase the popper–slider body individually and tie it yourself. Either way, the end result is a fly you’ll lose to a fish long before you wear it out. Available in six colors and two sizes (2 and 6), this fly is a must-have for any angler who craves surface action., $5.75 each. —The Editors


Guide Fly F

Simple Terrestrials for Hot Summer Action

LETORT HOPPER (Top Left) Hook: 2X-long dry fly hook, sizes 12 to 8. Thread: Tan 6/0 (140 denier). Body: Yellow Superfine Dry Fly Dubbing. Underwing: A slip clipped from a turkey tail feather. Wing and head: Spun natural deer hair. LETORT CRICKET (Top Right)

Hook: 2X-long dry fly hook, sizes 12 to 8. Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier). Body: Black Superfine Dry Fly Dubbing. Underwing: A slip clipped from a black quill feather. Wing and head: Spun black deer hair.


Hook: 2X-long dry fly hook, sizes 12 to 8. Thread: Chartreuse 6/0 (140 denier). Body: Spun chartreuse deer hair.

by David Klausmeyer

WE ARE NATURALLY ATTRACTED TO complicated flies. Realistic legs, wings, bodies, and antennae are cool. These features make patterns look more lifelike, and it’s not a great leap to think that the fish will prefer them, too. But is that true? We’ve all heard about sophisticated— dare I say “educated”—trout, but I’ll be damned if I know what fish really think, or if they can think. Maybe we think too much and give the trout too much credit. I like to think so. Ed Shenk’s simple terrestrial patterns have been catching trout for more than 50 years on some of the most heavily fished waters in the United States, the limestone spring creeks of central Pennsylvania. I’ve visited LeTort Spring Run, Big Spring, and these other historic streams for more than three decades, and I have rarely had a piece of water to myself. There are

almost always other anglers stalking the banks and casting flies. Those trout see a lot of flies, and they should all have graduate degrees in knowing how not to get caught, but Ed has landed many trophy fish using his elementary patterns. Here are three examples of Ed’s flies: the LeTort Hopper, LeTort Cricket, and Harvey Inch Worm. Okay, George Harvey, another local fly fishing legend, tied that last pattern, but it helps prove my point: The most knowledgeable anglers who fish for these pressured trout prefer simple flies. Even if you are a novice tier, you can make these terrestrial patterns and catch trout this summer. David Klausmeyer is the editor of our sister publication, Fly Tyer magazine. For more information or to subscribe, go to

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Personal History

Forbidden Waters By Henry Cowen


IN MY MIDTEENS, I CUT MY TEETH fishing striped bass in Brooklyn’s Gravesend Bay. And I did so with a toe extending just beyond the line between right and wrong, depending on how you look at things. That’s because the bay was the entrance to New York Harbor and a bike path, which stretched three miles from Bay Parkway to the 69th Street Pier, ended just an eighth of a mile from the Owl’s Head Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was owned by the City of New York and marked as off-limits to the public, including young fly fishers. But . . . the plant’s discharge was 10 to 15 degrees warmer during winter than the waters surrounding it. That meant baitfish and striped bass would winter near the plant from January through March. If you could fish the plant and not get caught, you enjoyed a year-round striper fishery. The plant was fully operational 24 hours a day, but we knew there was no security


at night, so we did all our fishing from the bulkhead of the plant’s hot water outflow . . . after dark. It was easy enough to quietly walk into the plant, make your way to the docks, and fish where the hot water spewed out. Fish any moving tide, and you were assured of a successful night. Try to fish those waters during daylight hours, and you were quickly escorted off the premises. Soon after discovering Owl’s Head, I heard of other “low pressure” areas, including the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). Striped bass by the thousands would overwinter at that location along with their food sources, herring and sand eels. If we could see the LILCO smokestacks burning, we knew hot water was flowing and the fish would be piled up along the beach, as well as right at the plant’s entrance. I can’t tell you how many nights we sneaked into the plant (via a hole in the fence) to fish on top of the concrete turbines. We could often catch-and-release 20 to 30 stripers a


night, and I saw people catch 50-pounders. Sometimes security would find us fishing, but it never resulted in a major issue. Instead, they politely asked us to leave, but not before asking what the stripers were feeding on, meaning they were in on the game, too. Fishing out of a boat didn’t always make us legal either, especially when working some of New York City’s East River. While the Brooklyn Navy Yard (located in the East River) was totally off-limits to boaters, the fishing inside the shipyard was phenomenal, as we sometimes discovered. Even today, U Thant Island, located in the East River along Manhattan (and near the United Nations), is one of the best and least-fished striped bass spots in all of NYC. You could get away with testing its waters prior to 9/11; today, you could still expect to catch plenty of fish in the area, but after a pass or two—especially if the UN is in session—you’d be under full police escort and hustled away from the area.

I’m not alone in my search for mythical water—most anglers, it appears, have their forbidden hot spots. Each of us has to make an ethical decision before we test them. While I never walked onto a homeowner’s or landowner’s property, it somehow seemed okay to push it on commercial and government property. Of course, in my teens, I always had a card to play if things got out of hand. That’s because my dad was a big striped bass guy, who once showed me a picture of a 20-pounder he caught while surf fishing off the tip of the Silver Point Jetty, located inside the private Silver Point Beach Club, of which he was not a member. So, if security ever gave me a real bad time, I was prepared to pass the buck and simply say, “I’m sorry, but it runs in the family.” Henry Cowen is a regular contributor to American Angler magazine. He lives in Georgia and guides folks to freshwater stripers, Kentucky spotted bass, and carp.



HISTORY by Will Ryan

Ed Zern: Mad Man as Angling Sage Ain’t no doubt about it, he’s the same kind of crazy as me.


D ZERN COULD MAKE anyone laugh. Over the course of a half century, he wrote sharp, literate prose for a number of magazines and authored eight books, which made him the most important humorist that fly fishing (and hunting and fishing in general) has ever had. When not making us laugh, he proved an important early and articulate advocate for catch-and-release and clean water. Being funny doesn’t rule out being serious, too. Zern was both. His elemental joke—“Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it”—became one of angling’s all-time great oneliners. He penned humorous advice, too, as this fish-size rationale proves: “Personally I make it a rule never to weigh or measure a fish I’ve caught, but simply to estimate its dimensions as accurately as possible, and then, when telling about it, to improve those figures by roughly a fifth, or 20 percent. I do this mainly because most people believe all fishermen exaggerate by at least 20 percent, and so I allow for the discounting my audience is almost certain to apply, so that the net figure in their minds will be about right.”

A Writer from the Start Zern grew up a suburban kid who loved the outdoors and used cartoons and writing to bridge the two worlds. He was born in West Virginia in 1910. But his father died in 1915, and Zern’s mother moved the family to the Pittsburgh area. Before he graduated from Penn State in 1932, Zern managed to save up 400 Depression dollars by writing for the college newspaper. Then Zern left for Paris to become a writer. The great novel never happened, and before long, he ran out of money. He returned to the United States and signed on with the Merchant Marines. After a year or so, he married a young woman named Evelyn Menkin. Relying on his words once again, he landed a job with the N. W. Ayer 30 I AMERICAN ANGLER

& Son advertising firm in Philadelphia. When he complained one day to Evelyn about the quality of outdoor writing, she told him to write something. So he did. It ran in Field & Stream (April 1941) as “The Incompleat Angler” and told about a trip the Zerns took to Quebec, where the fish were plentiful, so much that it was hard to call themselves fly fishermen, let alone skilled, even though they enjoyed great success. They needed some people to educate them. In a sense, that story introduced the character that Zern would become.

Don Draper Goes Fly Fishing Zern rose in advertising and the outdoor press, and his efforts in one influenced the other. With the help of a cartoonist, H. T. Webster, he published his first of seven books in 1945, titled To Hell with Fishing. Meanwhile, his advertising career led him to the Geyer Advertising agency on Madison Avenue, and many early 1950s readers came to know him through his ad series for Nash-Kelvinator (later American Motors), which involved wacky hunting or fishing cartoons and brief stories. The premise—that driving a Nash would help you land more trout, for example—no doubt left a few folks scratching their heads. But the president of the company was an enthusiastic outdoorsman, and if his list of longtime fishing buddies is any indication, Zern was a great guy to fish with. Zern’s early magazine stories had similar social themes. “The Hooker Hooked” features a wise hotel owner who tells Zern that he really needs 4X tippet for the big brown in the nearby river, the hope being that he will lose the fish (which he does) and be hooked for good. In “A Day’s Fishing, 1948,” a misanthrope owns some lovely trout water, ends up liking Zern, and invites him to come back to fish . . . and bring a friend. Zern, in short, was less a student of fish than of fishermen. And in his writings he was less action

than meaning. He ended up in the perfect spot—the back page in Field & Stream. His column “Exit Laughing” appeared in every issue between 1958 and 1991. Zern combined an adman’s love of ruckus with a humorist’s deadpan delivery. He did his best to shake up the comfortable outdoor world of the 1950s. In a sense, Zern was to hunting and fishing what Catch-22 was to politics and the military. Readers often didn’t know what to think. Zern once wrote that there was no such person as Ted Trueblood, a nationally known outdoor writer for Field & Stream. Zern insisted that the magazine’s editors actually made up the name (and the person): He wrote, “‘Let’s make it Ted something, on account of Teddy Roosevelt being such a great outdoor guy.’ ‘How about Ted Trueblue?’ said one of the editors. ‘Too corny,’ said another, ‘but what you say to Ted Redblood?’ ‘That’s even cornier,’ said the editor-in-chief. ‘But let me propose a compromise—Ted Trueblood.’” People in the 1950s believed in their institutions, major magazines among them. Many readers hung on the words of Trueblood, H. G. Tapply, Corey Ford, A. J. McClane and other Field & Stream writers, and found it unsettling to read that one of their favorites never existed. The magazine was swamped with letters from engaged readers—as if the whole thing had been a successful ad campaign. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Like many other admen, Zern and family (which by now included two children) lived in Scarsdale, New York, the ultimate suburb and ground zero for social drama. He led if not a dual life, then certainly the life ironic: a devoted outdoorsman who lived in a suburb, worked in New York, and made his money persuading Americans to drive newer cars and laugh at the fish they couldn’t catch. As mismatched as that might sound, one thing was certain—he had material. If humor emerges from the gap between the ideal and the actual, Zern’s readers had the same view. No wonder they loved the absurdity.

Conservationist Meanwhile, fly fishing, particularly for trout, had fallen into darkness in the 1950s. And that was no joke for people who actually fished. The postwar years brought a wave of new anglers, all armed with Mitchell 300s and boxes of Phoebes and Panther Martins. With stocking programs, and catch-and-keep the order of the day, the future was increasingly gloomy. Zern was nothing if not reflective; he had to have recognized his part in building the wave of outdoor consumption. If true, it helped fuel his early and fervent interest in catch-and-release. In the Ed Zern, center, was the founder and president of the Theadore Gordon Fly Fishers and a proponent of catch -and -release, even when it was not fashionalbe to release fish. Photo courtesy American Museum of Fly Fishing

late 1940s, his friend John Alden Knight began the Half-Limit Club, which encouraged anglers to keep only half a limit, and Zern signed on. Many anglers resented this new idea. As Zern later explained, writing in support of it had people accusing him of “galloping elitism, sexual perversion, unAmericanism.” The Half-Limit Club faded. But the proposal remained on the fly fishing community’s table. Biologists from Michigan lobbied for catch-and-release and improved habitat, and Zern and Lee Wulff and others (East and the West) picked up the gauntlet and used their membership in various clubs and associations to push for catch-and-release. But there was resistance—state agencies had to sell licenses after all. The fight was not over. Zern believed in advocating for his beliefs regardless of consequence. For example, although he remained an adman, he found advertising critics, such as Vance Packard, stimulating and argued that advertising needed more regulation. Zern had skills, too, and definitely knew the inside. With the help of Nash president George Mason (the same one who okayed the goofy ads), Zern began and directed the Conservation Award Program that was later supported by Gulf and Chevron and ran into the 21st century. His hand was everywhere in reversing the trend of overfished trout rivers. He was a founder and president of the Theodore Gordon Fly Fishers, which had

a big part in the early stages of catch-andrelease. He was also a member of Trout Unlimited, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and any other group that supported clean water and wild fish. Over the years, he published numerous advocacy articles in a variety of publications. His stories had “holding power,” meaning readers wouldn’t set them down, thanks to his humor. As he explained in one article, a bowler is happy when he gets a strike, but he doesn’t take the pins home with him. Or, in another, “The chief difference between big-game fishing and weightlifting is that weightlifters never clutter up their library walls with stuffed barbells.” His thinking had the clearest logic, as well, which he demonstrated in “The Ethics, Perhaps, of Fly-Fishing” (1966): “There can be no fly-fishing without pure waters in which gamefish can live; there can be no such waters without proper management of watershed forests and farmlands, or without control of pollution through erosion or industrial or human waste. Such was typically followed with a “call to action” (another advertising term, interestingly): “Therefore, the fly-fisherman should be deeply concerned with measures to conserve or restore pure waters, and will involve himself when possible in efforts to promote such measures, recognizing that they are inseparable from the conservation of all renewable natural resources.” And he always seemed to know the right ending parable: “He will bear in mind the legend of the African chief who said, ‘This land belongs to my people. Some of them are living, some of them are dead, but most of them have not yet been born.’” No doubt a good number of readers thought Zern out there. It was 1966—a lot things were out there, catch-and-release among them. It is our good fortune that Zern was able to get more than a few readers to come out there with him. Will Ryan teaches expository writing at Hampshire College. He is also a columnist with our sister publication, Gray’s Sporting Journal. His most recent book, Gray’s Sporting Journal’s Noble Birds and Wily Trout, has been published by Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press.



Temagami A weeklong fishfest in Ontario’s Temagami wilderness leaves two anglers needing one thing—more of the same. Story and Photos by Ryan Sparks





After listening to water lap against the sides of a canoe for seven days, it begins to sound like a heartbeat. Temagami, a region of northeast Ontario unknown to most outside its immediate vicinity, is a landscape of sound: the cry of loons, wind gusting through pines, the smooth rush of fly line shooting between rod guides, and smallmouth bass catapulting out of the water. Temagami is Ojibwe for “deep water by the shore” and refers to a patchwork of provincial parks, forest reserves, and conservation areas, and vast tracts of public lands linked together by a network of over 2,500 miles of canoe routes. The area harbors the largest stand of old-growth red and white pine on earth. It’s also the ancestral land of the Anishinaabe people, who thrived here for thousands of years. Hiking through Temagami’s dense forests feels like stepping back in time, and in many ways, you are; most of the canoe routes and portages have been used since time immemorial. After a week of moving through this ancient terrain, time slows and you can’t help but live in the moment—oar stroke to oar stroke, cast to cast. Temagami is a DIY angler’s paradise for several reasons. Most important, it provides a wilderness adventure that you can reach without breaking the bank. Yes, there are outfitters that fly deep into the backcountry for the right price. But with a little effort and research, anglers can access remote lakes with just a canoe and their own feet. Almost every lake in this region has a healthy population of northern pike, smallmouth bass, lake 34 I AMERICAN ANGLER

trout, walleye, and perch. A few lakes and streams hold aurora trout, a unique subspecies of brook trout native to Temagami. The best fishing is undoubtedly in Temagami’s interior, away from roads, boat access, and fishing pressure. The more paddling and portaging you do, the bigger reward for your effort. Besides physical exertion, another crucial aspect to success is research. My friend Jerrod Foster and I started planning our route almost a year before we visited Temagami. Looking at the scale on our map gave us perspective on how large Temagami actually is. If you plan your own trip, there are two main approaches—canoeing from one access point to another, or devising a large loop. We opted for a loop to avoid a shuttle back to the put-in. If you choose a through route, outfitters can shuttle you and your gear back to the starting point . . . for a fee, of course. Temagami offers more than 200 very fishy lakes. On our trip, we hoped to fish 20 of them. Using a variety of resources, including satellite maps, blogs, and an online map showing established canoe routes and campsites, we planned our loop along Temagami’s western edge. From our research, we knew the fishing varied greatly from one lake to another, so hitting as many lakes as possible would give us the best chance of finding fish. However, there is a fine line between exploring tons of lakes and not having time to enjoy a productive lake when you find one. So, we built a few nontravel days into our trip to enjoy prime fishing when we found it. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

A trip into Ontario’s Temagami tests an angler’s resolve. To reach the best fishing, anglers must paddle deep into the wilderness and endure difficult portages. The rewards, seen here, are scads of northern pike and smallmouth bass, plus scenery galore and time for introspection.

Blueberries, Mice, and Muskegs After a long drive from my home in Kingston, Ontario, I met Jerrod in Sudbury, where we bought last-minute provisions before continuing north on a desolate two-lane highway. When we hit the Canadian Shield, the prevalence of barren rock, scraped clean and made smooth by glaciers, was stunning. The hills around Temagami are remnants of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These mountains were formed during the Precambrian era, and as time and glaciers wore them away, they set Temagami’s rocky backbone. After hours driving on pavement, we hit a gravel road, and the canoe strapped to the roof began to hum from the vibration of tires on gravel, its bow pointing north like the needle of a compass. Eventually, the gravel faded to dirt, and miles later the road narrowed to a rutted ATV trail carved into the forest. We put the truck in four-wheel drive and folded mirrors in so they wouldn’t snap off on trees. Finally, the road ended in a small clearing with a game trail leading to a large lake, marking our entry point to Temagami. We loaded backpacks into large, waterproof roll-top bags, lugged them into the canoe, and set off on a northward course. The first lake was home to a sporting lodge, and our plan was to push past the lodge’s fishing grounds during the first day. Six miles of paddling and two portages later, we were searching the shoreline for a flat place to camp. As we came around a narrow rock point extending into the lake, two small islands came into WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

view. The first island had a perfect place for our tent, and as a bonus, the surrounding brush was loaded with wild blueberries. After setting up camp, we gathered berries for the rest of the trip. Fresh fruit is a luxury in the backcountry. The next two days took us through a series of large lakes connected by fast-flowing creeks, steep portages, and boulderstrewn waterfalls. We took turns fishing from the bow, while the other maneuvered the canoe from behind. Standing in a canoe may seem precarious, but moving slowly and keeping your weight centered makes a canoe a surprisingly stable platform. We caught smallmouth on rabbit-strip flies where creeks fed into the main lake. The unusually warm weather concentrated these fish where cold streams dumped into the warmer lakes. As our third day waned, we strategized around a fire. The next morning we were in a routine—we made breakfast, boiled water for tea, loaded equipmentinto backpacks, stuffed them into roll-tops, and threw everything in the canoe. After a few days, you start to work as a team, and this entire process happened without a word. Slowly working down the shore, we picked up an occasional smallmouth and pike hiding among fallen and partially submerged pines. They readily took our blue-and-white Deceivers and perch-colored EP flies. In marshy areas, we swam mouse patterns through lily pads, tempting pike to explode from cover and snatch the mouse from the surface. By midday, my mouse had seen so many pike, it was missing an eye and tail. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 I 35


Temagami is a large area. There are a number of small dirt airstrips scattered across the region, but the main entry is the Greater Sudbury Airport. Driving is a viable option, but be prepared for roads that require four-wheel drive and high ground clearance.

FISHING: While walleye, perch, brook trout, and whitefish are available

throughout summer and fall, the true gems of Temagami are smallmouth bass and northern pike. Six-pound smallmouth are not uncommon, and the average size ranges between 15 and 20 inches. Pike stretch to 45 inches, but fish of 25 to 35 inches are more common. Directly after iceout is the best time to target large pike and lake trout. Timing this is very difficult. Some lakes open before others, which causes problems when planning an early spring trip. Fall is a particularly good time to visit, as most species move shallow and aggressively feed and you don’t have to play the ice-out guessing game. Only a few heavily regulated lakes hold aurora trout, so don’t bank on catching any unless you specifically research and target lakes that offer those beauties.

EQUIPMENT: We used 8-weight and 10-weight rods with fast-sinking

lines. The 10-weight rods allowed us to turn over large pike flies, and to fish in windy conditions when an 8-weight wasn’t an option. For topwater fishing, we used standard floating lines. We used long leaders because of the clarity of these lakes. Ten-foot-long leaders were the norm, and 12- to 13-footers helped us catch the most discerning smallmouths. Fluorocarbon is necessary for its abrasion resistance and low visibility. We caught the majority of our fish on Deceivers, EP-style baitfish, and body-tubing bunny flies. Keep in mind, you must carry everything on your back during portages, while also transporting the canoe. Because of that consideration, we limited our fishing tackle to one small boat bag. High-quality, lightweight camping gear and standard backpacking equipment are essential. Invest in a great tent, a quality sleeping pad, and a technical sleeping bag. You’ll need a variety of clothing so you can layer appropriately, depending on the weather. Quality rain gear is essential, too. Bring waterproof roll-top bags to keep all gear in. Footwear is a tricky choice; boots offer ankle support but eventually get soaked. We opted for wading sandals, which we stylishly wore with wool socks in camp. A 17-foot-long flat-bottom canoe offers a good combination of carrying capacity, speed, handling, and stability. If you plan to portage, canoe weight should be a big consideration. If you can’t lift a canoe onto your shoulders and carry it with your pack—by yourself—it’s too heavy. Many outfitters in Sudbury and Temagami rent canoes. For more information, visit and


As we came to the northernmost lake on our route, we faced the most difficult portage of the trip. Our map said the portage could be particularly muddy, but neither of us expected a half-mile slog through muskeg. Unable to carry the canoe on our backs, we pulled it across the mud, sinking to our knees with each step, and sometimes to our waists. Meanwhile, blackflies and mosquitoes erupted from disturbed pools of stagnant water and did their best to drive us insane. Several times, we mired in the bog and our shoes slipped from our feet. That evening, we went for a swim to wash caked mud from our legs and scrub the musk of pike from our hands. Anywhere else, that might have been a burden; deep in Temagami, it was the look and smell of success.

Southern Return As we turned south, a sudden change in terrain was striking. On the northern stretch, we paddled across expansive glacial lakes with wooded banks that gradually stretched into the distance. Now the land closed in. The lakes became narrow and shallow with expansive lily-choked marshes. Besides the occasional floatplane overhead, we saw more signs of moose than people. The next few days, we understood, would take us through the world’s largest stand of old-growth red pine, and some of Temagami’s most remote territory. The following day, we paddled down narrow chutes, casting under overhanging ledges and gnarly, outstretched cedars that jutted from the sides of towering rock walls. At times, the banks WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

If solitude and scenery is your preference, you can find it in Temagami. The author found untouched fish, unreserved campsites, and plenty of time to chill out deep in the woods. This complete Ontario experience can be had by all, but going DYI requires heavy research before making your first oar stroke. Start planning a year in advance.

constricted so tightly that our canoe barely fit between them. Then they would suddenly open into long, slender lakes. The smallmouth fishing reflected this rugged environment. Whatever we threw, they crushed. As the day came to an end, we tied our canoe to a tamarack and walked up the granite bank, looking for a place to pitch the tent. From that vantage, Jerrod spotted a group of smallmouth milling around a beaver lodge, just a cast-length away. We scrambled down the rock embankment, fly rods in tow, and caught fish after fish, keeping several for dinner. Later that evening, as fresh bass roasted in the fire, the northern lights sent green and purple reflections down the length of the lake. With two days left, we walked the canoe down a meandering creek and then bushwhacked through a historic overgrown portage. When we emerged from the timber, the sky opened to reveal a beautiful, island-studded lake. We immediately wanted to spend the entire day exploring it. That meant the next day would require a big push to complete our loop, but the fishing, we learned, proved worth the effort. We found smallmouths concentrated off rock points adjacent to deeper water. On our way from island to island, we stopped at each point, caught a few fish, and then continued on our way. Stripping flies into deeper water, we watched fish charge from below and follow the fly, sometimes not eating until right next to the canoe. The next morning, we woke to the sound of our rainfly snapping in the wind. Anyone who’s spent much time in a canoe knows that big winds and canoes go together like oil and water. Two smaller lakes in WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

our path wouldn’t be a problem, but the final lake—requiring seven miles of paddling into 30-mile-per-hour winds—would challenge us. Trips like ours are often about earning it. If you want to escape the crowds, you must do things others can’t or won’t do. We paid our dues on that last day, which turned out to be a “sufferfest” of hard paddling. However, halfway through the day, we stopped for lunch at a vertical rock face offering shelter from the wind. We were stoked to find a series of red ocher pictographs painted on the face of that rock. Staring at renditions of moose, beaver, and humans—stained into the rock thousands of years ago—reminded me that Temagami is viewed as a northern wilderness adventure ground, and also as sacred landscape. Many people claim that wilderness trips clear their minds and prepare them for a return to the world of cell phones, emails, and commuter traffic. Honestly, all wilderness prepares you for is more wilderness. Once you get out there, in Temagami or some other remote area, 10-day trips are always better as 12. Twelve-day trips are better as two-week-long adventures . . . and so on. Temagami—with its ancient pine forests, rock-lined streams, wildly beautiful lakes, and those eager northerns and smallies—leaves an impression. As we finished our paddle and hauled our gear back to the truck, all we wanted was more. Ryan Sparks writes, fishes, hunts, cooks, and talks nonsense to his English pointer, Tippet. You can follow his writing, photography, and adventures at SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 I 37

Author Rasmus Ovesen hoisting a massive Strobel Lake rainbow, with a look in his eyes that says, This is why I came here. 38 I AMERICAN ANGLER


Jurassic with


Taking big Argentine rainbows underneath on streamers is one thing; hooking 20-pounders on dry flies is something entirely different. By Rasmus Ovesen




I carefully remove a barbless streamer from the jaws of another Lake Strobel rainbow, the massive fish swings its tail, sends cold water into my face, then heads for a drop-off where a dozen of its equally impressive brothers fin. Weighing about 11 pounds, this is just one of many fish that hit our flies this April morning at Strobel (also called Jurassic Lake), all while the wind continuously picked up. These are big fish for my 6-weight rod, and as the wind reaches gale force, it’s time to shelve the 6-weight for heavier artillery. I walk down the beach, stash my 6-weight, and pick up my 8. As I grab the rod, I hear guides giggling somewhere behind me. Those cheeky buggers, now settled behind their truck for shelter and a gulp of warm Argentinean mate, have tied a large, brightred spoon to the end of my leader. I think, Classic guide humor, but act as if nothing is out of kilter and play along. Their laughter fades as I get the spoon airborne, false-cast it a bit, then send it into deep water. Almost immediately, a huge


rainbow smacks the lure, stays tight, and all of us come unglued.


ince it was discovered in 2005, southern Patagonia’s Jurassic Lake has been ranked as one of fly fishing’s monumental destinations, a tantalizing and remote fishery in a barren, windswept desert with rainbow trout of near-mythical proportions. Each time I heard stories about the lake’s spectacular fishing, or saw pictures of the shapely fish caught there, I felt a pull to visit. But I’ve also been hesitant—when visiting highly marketed locations with big reputations, the fishing hasn’t always been great. But just after my brother and I land on a rudimentary strip at Strobel and make our way to the lake via uneven gravel roads, I’m sensing the hype may be true. There’s still one question to be answered, however: Will the fishing match the immense expectations I’ve managed to build? It doesn’t take long to find out. On our first day, we get something unexpected—a completely calm day and an opportunity to throw dry flies and sight-fish to these giant trout. Soon


Jurassic rainbows like terrestrials with long, dangling legs, and they’re equally fond of mouse patterns. Sight fishing or blind fishing, you’re sure to tangle with some rainbows that range past 10 pounds.



Even on bright, sunny days with calm weather, Jurassic Lake rainbows can be lured to the surface. The same goes for days with rough, windy weather—you may have trouble tracking your fly, but the fish easily find it and they are always hanging just beyond the dropoff.



we are moving along the beaches and climbing the lunarlike landscape, looking for schools of fish cruising the shore. Strobel’s surface looks like a big, shiny mirror, so we extend our leaders and tie on light tippets. I cast to a few fish circling a drop-off and start my retrieve. One of those fish lazily pursues the fly, then finally grabs, which sets all hell loose. I desperately try to cushion a heavy run, multiple head shakes, and a few meter-high jumps. The fish stops only after taking an entire fly line and 120 feet of backing into the depths. I regain line as the fish tries to cut me off on a jagged reef. Finally, I slide the fish across the frame of my landing net—it’s my first Strobel Lake rainbow and a hulk, weighing about 13 pounds. It’s one of the most flawless fish I’ve ever seen, and I can’t help but holler my approval. We get two more days of that flat-calm, dry fly medicine— some of the best sight fishing I’ve ever experienced—before the wind kicks in. It’s as if the weather gods have taken a long, deep breath in order to thoroughly blow apart the desert. The howling wind rips at everything that manages to stay erect, and the lake takes on its usual appearance, with rolling waves crashing into


shore, blown apart by heavy gusts that create a haze above the lake. This is only the beginning of the wind, but surprisingly, this isn’t the end of our dry fly fishing.


he nearby Barrancoso River, which meanders through the surrounding desert and carves through towering canyons, provides some relief from the wind. Here we sight-fish to stationary and migratory rainbows. These rainbows don’t rival Jurassic’s fish in size, but the river offers plenty of shots at trout ranging between 6 and 12 pounds. This is a technical and demanding fishery, where stealth, precise casts, and calm nerves are required. Armed with light single-hand rods, thin leaders, and small streamers, we share many unforgettable moments on the Barrancoso. The best arrive when we swap out those streamers for drys and mouse imitations and watch spectacular ’bows crush those flies on the surface. We do this for a couple of days while the lake remains a windblown mess. When that wind finally diminishes, we head out of the canyons and back


The author with an average-sized, 10-pound rainbow. These strong fighters can be targeted in Stobel/Jurassic Lake and its main tributary, the Barrancoso River.

to the lakeshore with big, buoyant drys attached to our tippets.


ake Strobel is located in a remote, windswept portion of Argentina’s Santa Cruz Province. Its shoreline resembles a lunar landscape with contorted tufa formations, cliff fragments, and remnants of a petrified forest. It’s a closed sinkhole drainage that lacks an outlet. The lake never held fish until recently, despite a rich food base consisting mostly of scuds. About 20 years ago, local gauchos gathered rainbows from the Santa Cruz River and deposited them in the 24-mile-long Barrancoso. Given a nutrient-rich lake and plenty of great spawning habitat attached to it, the fish thrived. Today, they naturally reproduce and grow to massive proportions, meaning up to 30-some pounds. It didn’t take long for anglers to discover this fishery. In fact, the lake quickly grew to fame when Christer Sjöberg—founder of Loop Tackle—co-organized an expedition to its shores in 2005. He’d stumbled on a rainbow trout fishery that exceeded his expectations and creatively dubbed it Jurassic Lake. Once a camp was established on its shore, Jurassic gained international attention. The rest is history.



eeing a 17-pound trout rise through crystal clear water to gulp a dry fly at close range is indescribably cool. And it happened repeatedly during our last two days at Jurassic, proving these fish, which grow large on a mainstay of scuds, always keep an eye up, too. We fished for cruisers with high-vis Chernobyl Ants that allowed us to track our flies even when the surface was chopped up by the wind. We landed a dozen or more trout weighing between 10 and 20 pounds. I was so absorbed by the action that I didn’t really consider what I’d experienced until I was riding on the small Twin Otter plane back to Comodoro Rivadavia. During the flight, I considered my high expectations and the marketing material I’d read. And I visualized those massive, chromebright rainbows rising, unexpectedly, to dry flies. No doubt, I declared, Jurassic Lake and its colossal rainbow trout lived up to the hype and even exceeded my lofty expectations. An Oslo resident, Rasmus Ovesen has spent the past 10 years working as a freelance fly fishing writer and photographer. He loves pursuing finicky fish on the flats, but his heart truly belongs to the soulful realm of trout and salmon fishing (




you’ll fly to Comodoro Rivadavia via Buenos Aires. Jurassic Lake Lodge provides private charters from Comodoro Rivadavia to the lake. This part of the journey, which takes about an hour and a half, replaces an infamous and excruciatingly long jeep ride on rudimentary gravel roads. The lodge’s new landing strip was completed in 2015, and there are flights every Saturday and, on demand, Wednesday.


Jurassic Lake is an extreme and moody place, especially when it comes to weather. Often, warm and calm weather is suddenly replaced by cold and raging winds. Be ready to switch from sunscreen and T-shirts to wool and weather-resistant shell clothing. Late in the season, there’s even a risk of snow. Regardless of when you visit, pack several insulating layers and wind- and waterproof shell clothing. The winds at Jurassic Lake reach speeds in excess of 60 miles an hour. In addition to layers and shell clothing, you should pack a warm wooBuff, water-resistant gloves, and a beanie. All your clothes and sunscreen should be packed in a waterproof daypack.

GEAR RODS: Generally, 9-foot-6-inch- to 10-foot-long, 6- to 8-weight rods, capable of handling turbulent winds, work well. On calm days—if you get one or more—fish 9-foot, 4/5-weight rods. Shooting heads, in combination with switch or light double-hand rods, are good options, too. Jurassic ’bows usually patrol the shorelines, but hang farther out around the dropoffs, too. Those two-handers help anglers reach the fish. REELS: Your reels should pack a WF fly line and 150 yards of backing. You’ll mostly be using floating lines, but intermediate lines are great when fishing streamers or nymphs in heavy wind. When doing that, you’ll fish fluorocarbon leaders. When fishing drys, nylon leaders and tippets are preferred. Take along even lighter tippet materials for the odd windless and sunny day, but never fish lighter tippets than necessary. FLIES: You’ll want a mix of olive, white, gray, and black streamers ranging from size 2 to 10 and nymphs and scud imitations in similar colors, size 8 to 14, preferably tied with lively rubber legs. The best dry flies are big and buoyant. Chernobyl Ants and similar foam flies with rubber legs and big, white deer-hair wings are the ticket. They are highly visible at a distance, which is key when tracking these patterns in heavy waves. Tie all your flies on X-strong hooks—otherwise you’ll get “bent straight.” GLASSES: There are plenty of sight-fishing opportunities, no matter the wind and weather conditions. A quality pair of polarized sunglasses, like Smith ChromaPop, are essential for locating cruisers. Glasses also provide some much-needed protection when casting big flies in wind.


December and January provide the best fishing, and anglers who visit at that time find trout stacked up in front of Jurassic Lake Lodge and the mouth of the Barrancoso. There are tales of 100-fish days on ’bows that average 10 pounds. I fished in late April, just before winter arrived, and didn’t register numbers like that, but I was happy with the amount and quality of the fish we took.


Jurassic Lake Lodge is strategically located where the Barrancoso River enters Lake Strobel. In other words, it is situated in proximity to the lake’s most productive fishing area. Jurassic Lake Lodge accommodates up to 10 anglers, who have access to several beats on the lake, in addition to 20 miles of the relatively unexplored Barrancoso River. Furthermore, the lodge owns rights to Moro Creek, which is a small river that connects a series of smaller lakes—here is a place where you can experience some amazing and practically unexplored trout fishing.


Visit or contact the lodge owner, Carlos Lopez Casanello, directly at






Deep in South Texas, near the Mexico border, searching for bass. Story & photography by Greg Thomas




The last time I’d paddled

anything resembling a canoe or a kayak was in seventh grade, when I’d taken the Amtrak from Seattle to Salem to visit a cousin and raise teenage hell. My cousin Gary had just moved from the Las Vegas suburbs to Philomath, Oregon, to be closer to family and to enjoy life on a farm. Unfortunately, his father was quickly diagnosed with leukemia and died one miserable year later. Gary’s mother held on to the farm for a couple of years, and during that time, Gary and I explored to our hearts’ content. This many years later, two things stand out. First—at the time, I was an AAU national-champion-level runner; my cousin was an awkward specimen, the result of having been in a body cast when he was young. One day, during an argument, or possibly just to see what would happen, I shot my cousin in the ass with a BB gun. I jogged away with a laugh but noticed he was keeping pace. I sped up but he kept with me. Then I was at full sprint through a hayfield, screaming, “Sorry! Sorry!” with him right at my heels. Eventually, to my relief, he faded. At that moment, I realized human limitation isn’t set in stone and that determination—in this case, an urge to pummel someone—can overcome any weakness. I’ve never aimed a gun at a person again. The second solid memory comes from a rainy western Oregon day when Gary and I hauled an old, homemade, and super-heavy wood canoe from the barn to Beaver Creek, which lay just across the road from the farmhouse. The creek was at spring flood stage, but that did nothing to dim our enthusiasm. We launched that unstable beast, laughed our way around a couple of bends, and then panicked when we spotted a fallen tree spanning the creek, about two inches above and parallel to the waterline. Gary paddled for the right bank. I paddled left. We hit the log sideways, capsized, and for the briefest moment, I felt the canoe pinching my leg to the bottom. Somehow I wrestled free and Gary and I waded out unscathed. A month later, Gary called and said he still couldn’t budge the canoe, even an inch, even though the creek had dropped. I’ve thought about that moment many times, wondered how my parents and my sister might have changed if I’d drowned at 13. Having kids of my own now, I get a deeply sick feeling every time I think about it.


I felt a similar sensation when Kevin Stubbs, owner of Expedition Outfitters, greeted me near the Devils River in southwest Texas, about 150 miles west of San Antonio and just north of Del Rio. I was traveling on a sponsored trip with other media, a foray for largemouth and smallmouth bass and anything else we could catch, and was surprised to see Stubbs at a ranch near our launch point. We’ve known each other for many years, but I’d forgotten about his Texas roots, despite his purely Lone Star accent. He looked us over, pointed at our stack of foldable Oru kayaks, and then asked me, “Is everyone here an experienced paddler?” I shrugged and said, “I know some of them are, but I’m not. Fact is, this is pretty much my first time in a kayak.” Stubbs shook his head and said, “Are you kidding me? This isn’t a beginner’s river. This water can kill you. And, if you get hurt out here, you’re hours away from a hospital . . . at best.” He inquired about our first aid kits, life jackets, and other survival equipment, then handed me a sat phone and said, “Keep this with you,” adding, “There are scorpions under every rock, more rattlesnakes here than anywhere else in Texas, swarms of wasps, and,” he said with a laugh, “if you get an upstream wind, you’ll know why it’s named the Devils River.” Finally, he said, “What do you guys have for rods and flies?” I said, “I’ve got a nine-foot five and a bunch of leeches, streamers, and nymphs.” Then I smiled, motioned to the rest of the guys, and said, “These boys are fishing tenkara.” Stubbs’s nose crinkled as if he’d smelled a bad oyster. He shook his head again, laughed, and said, “You guys aren’t going to catch a thing.”


he Devils River may be Texas’s most intriguing bass water. Certainly it’s the state’s most pristine and remote waterway, offering anglers and paddlers access to 40-some miles of prime fishing for smallmouth and largemouth, plus longear sunfish and a unique perchlike fish called the Rio Grande ciclid. The river rises from springs and flows south, through deep limestone canyons, to Amistad Reservoir, which is divided by the Mexico border. The trip takes two or three days, depending on where you take out, and can last four days if you paddle all the way to Amistad. The river and the lands around it remain mostly primitive and guarded by massive private ranches. However, the Devils


Floating the Devils River is not for the meek. To reach its smallmouth and largemouth bass, anglers must negotiate a series of rapids and drops and often battle upstream winds. However, that challenge is rewarded with great scenery, awesome campsites and, of course, some bass that occasionally top five pounds.



River State Natural Area, which is located 22 nasty, tire-ripping miles from U.S. Highway 277, offers anglers access to the water, as long as they have a state-issued permit to launch and fish the river. However, you need to hire an outfitter to transport you from the highway, over private lands, to the put-in at Bakers Crossing. Once on the water, you’re pretty much on your own— cell service is nonexistent and you can’t resupply. That means you must have everything you need before hitting the water. Speaking of the water, its spring-fed nature gives it an odd but beautiful light-blue coloration, like a glacial runoff river. The difference is that the Devils may run perfectly clear. Interestingly, the Devils is part of the Rio Grande basin and runs along the edges of three ecotones—the Chihuahuan Desert to the west, the Tamaulipan brushlands to the south and east, and the Edwards Plateau to the north. Prickly pear cactus and sagebrush dominate the hillsides. Oaks and sycamores cover the riverbanks. Ferns, mosses, and vines are found where springs enter the river. Javelina, mountain lion, black bear, whitetail deer, coyote, and other wildlife prowl the canyons. I was struck by the landscape while driving to the river. I’m a Northwest guy who’s spent scads of time in remote Alaska and in the high alpine country of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I’ve always glared at other parts of the country and called them tame. But here, in Texas, I discovered a hidden landscape where flash floods, demanding terrain, remoteness, and difficult access offer all the challenges and consequences I find in the “Upper Left.” You could die here, I decided, and that only made me more fond of the place. Not that I was looking for a way out. After Stubbs dropped us at the access site, we set up our hard plastic origami-inspired Oru kayaks, which fold into a box for transport and storage, and unfold into sturdy kayaks that snap together quickly. We got a quick lesson on paddling from the Oru crew, then pushed off into the Devils for a two-day float.


e were a mix of hard-core anglers and dedicated paddlers, which is always problematic. I understood that some of the water I wanted to fish would be spoiled by so many boats going over the fish’s heads. But it was a fun crew that mostly stayed together, with the anglers allowed to push ahead and get first crack at that water.


I would describe the Devils River as a series of lakes divided by narrow slots, rapids, and pools. We found fish at the bottom of the slots and rapids, where the river carved deep holes around the bases of rocks. We could drop a nymph or streamer into the flow, let it sink and curl around a boulder, and often come up with a nice smallmouth. The smallmouth averaged about a pound, but four- to fivepounders aren’t uncommon (though we didn’t catch any close to that size) and there are rumors of state-record-size fish—meaning eight-pounders—being caught-and-released here. The river’s largemouth run to similar size. I worked a Sculpzilla around the boulders while the other guys slung their tenkara rods and drifted nymphs in the riffles. Surprisingly, they caught as many fish as I did, maybe more, because there was no need to cast far. They could simply drop a nymph or a bugger straight down from their rod tips and let it swirl through a riffle or around a boulder. The fishing wasn’t red-hot by any stretch, and a lot of good water simply didn’t produce. I fished deep in the lakelike sections, punched poppers into the lily pads, fished streamers on the outer edges of weedy areas, and sank nymphs into deep holes between limestone slabs. I was sure I’d get bit in most places, but my success rate was slim. We were only an hour or two into our float, pushing through one of the lakelike sections when I noticed something on my face—an upstream wind. How many miles did we need to paddle before camping? I wondered. I felt the muscles in my back straining and remembered Stubbs’s warning. And he was right. We spent the rest of the day pushing through the lake sections with whitecaps rolling upstream, crashing into our bows. Relief came at the end of these sections, when the water narrowed and quickened as it squeezed between islands and through limestone slots. The kayaks proved stable, and shooting the gaps was fun— but at times the flow was so thin that our paddles touched shore on either side and you couldn’t prepare for what might be around the next turn. I was shooting one of those gaps when the kayak in front of me became wedged, broadside, between two rocks. I had nowhere to go and thought about that tree blocking Beaver Creek years ago. I hit the kayak with my bow, which turned my Oru broadside to the flow. When the current took


(Left) Good eats are part of the South Texas experience. (Above) The Devils River offers a beautiful blue color and doles out good numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass, plus longear sunfish and Rio Grande ciclid. Because of its remote location, anglers must bring in all supplies, including the evening libation—and it looks like I’m next! (Right) Eddie Nickens with a solid longear sunfish. JAMES Q MARTIN



down my right gunnel, I fell out of the kayak. I felt my right shin starting to wedge between two highly abrasive rocks and feared the worst—was my leg about to snap? Fortunately, my leg came free and I popped up just downstream from both kayaks. I retrieved the kayak, pulled it out of the river and onto a rock, stood it on end to drain, and was off again just a couple of minutes later. My shin was bleeding, but otherwise I was fine.


ecause the river splits into so many channels, it wasn’t always clear which one was the correct choice. Once, I took a channel to the right, which sliced between islands with heavy brush and trees and obscured my view of the surrounding area. When the channel opened back to the river, nobody else was around. Had they gone left, to another significant channel? Or was there just one main channel? Or was I the first one to have gone through? I couldn’t remember. I didn’t know whether to look upstream or race down. I pulled to the side of the river and decided to wait. A half hour passed and still nobody. After 45 minutes, I wondered if I’d accidentally paddled past our predetermined campsite and now was downstream of my cohorts.. And if so, I wondered, how could I possibly find them? The lands surrounding the river are highly private (a sign on one bank says, Paddle Faster! Banjos Are Tuning), and there were all those warnings in my head—rattlesnakes, scorpions, wasps, mountain lions. I didn’t even have a tent in my boat. This, too: I didn’t have any food. Worse, I only had a little water. I fished a deep backwater with towering limestone walls overhead and missed two smallmouth that may have weighed three or four pounds. Then I spooked a group of carp sunning themselves in the shallows. I was starting to think the worst, and was looking for a vantage where I might look upstream and down, when Eddie Nickens’s kayak parted the brush. Moments later, the rest of the crew arrived. I felt a weight lift, and silently promised to stay close to the group from there on. We portaged our boats around a couple of Class II rapids, and soon pulled into a paddler overnight camp, which we’d reserved. I’ll give paddlers a nod over anglers in the cooking department—we feasted on tacos and fresh avocado and tipped back a couple of cold ones while admiring the stars. Then I wedged my way into a tent with Nickens and Nate Matthews, a fellow editor, and fell fast asleep.



he following day offered better fishing, although not necessarily the type I expected. In several places, I found schools of eager longear sunfish in mid-depth water. They pounced on buggers, leeches, and nymphs. These weren’t the largest fish I’d ever caught, but they bent the 5-weight, and the tenkara boys hammered them, too. Late in the day, I pulled my kayak to shore, stood on a limestone ledge, and cast a Sculpzilla over a broad and deep section of water. I swung the fly as I might for steelhead, and the bass were on it. In 15 minutes, I’d landed four smallmouth ranging to three pounds or so, which gave me an idea of what the Devils could do on a good day. Who knows how many fish I may have come up with if I’d stayed at that spot, but my fellow paddlers were already out of sight, and I didn’t want a repeat performance from the day prior. Still, just before the takeout, I worked away from the group again and cast into a shallow slackwater bay. It was full of lily pads, and on cue, a threepound largemouth crushed my fly. I released that fish, figured that’s good enough, and paddled on with frosty beverages on my mind. I know we could have caught more fish on the Devils if we’d built in three days instead of two. That way, we could have thoroughly covered the water and avoided the sensation of being in a track meet. And we could have started earlier each day, and fished until dark. But paddling is different from pure fishing, and I would have missed those big breakfasts and dinners. That’s just the trade-off for being mobile and eating well. The Devils River is a true fly fishing treasure, and my eyes are open to what else Texas might offer. I’ve already talked with Stubbs about a return, and he assures me there’s plenty to learn about this fishery, including a run of big striped bass that move out of Amistad and into the Devils. Next time, I’ll likely fish with Stubbs, out of a small raft, probing the deep water around all those boulders, looking for a record smallmouth that Stubbs believes to live here. And I’ll take my sinktips and weighted streamers and work the deep pools below the falls, where 20- to 30-pound stripers are believed to swim. Who knows if I’ll get those fish, but I know I’ll get the rush I like best—being out there, in a rugged and vast landscape, mostly on my own, with all possibilities dead ahead.


LOGISTICS To get a Devils River Access Permit (DRAP) and to reserve paddler camps, call (512) 389-8901, or visit Texas Parks and Wildlife;

ORU KAYAK Check out Oru’s indestructible and highly portable kayaks at was described as the most challenging trip the Orus had ever been through, and they stood up well, despite being dragged and scooted over miles of that abrasive limestone. I liked mine enough to ship it back to my home in Montana. SHUTTLE AND GUIDE SERVICE Expedition Outfitters, Kevin Stubbs; (210) 602-9284; Amistad Expeditions;




Riding the

GIPSY Mousin’ by mothership, on Argentina’s Río Paraná. by Zach Matthews / Photos by Zach Matthews & Rebecca Shaneyfelt






he mouse looked frightened. Seconds ago it slipped off a tuft of pampas grass, landing with a soft plop in a current seam. Now its tail dangled into the tannin-stained waters. The sun nicked below the horizon, spraying the sky in pastel shades of pink and blue, casting the riverbank into deep shadow. The mouse’s black eyes glimmered as it edged closer to the main stream, a surprisingly speedy current running off the massive, state-sized delta of the Río Paraná, Argentina’s longest river. A harrier eagle wheeled overhead, the bird of prey momentarily focusing its sharp eyes on the mouse’s struggles. Too small, it must have thought. The mouse abruptly made its move: a beeline straight into the current and downstream, accelerating as it hit the main channel. Its tail cut a wake. At the back of that V-shape, the water suddenly bulged. In less than a second, a golden dorado’s yellowringed eyes materialized in the film. The water beneath the mouse detonated as the dorado caught its prey. Then the fish disappeared, with the mouse in its jaws. . At that moment, Becca Shaneyfelt set the hook and the dorado surged again, this time heading for the surface in a panic. Its scale-rattling leap sprayed us with water, but the fish couldn’t shake the mouse fly tucked in its jaws. Becca gave a whoop as the dorado leaped a second time, shoulder high, its golden flanks flickering in the light. “Quick, there’s another one slaughtering sábalo right by that tussock!” Justin Witt exclaimed, gesturing to the spot where Becca had dropped her mouse.


I waited until she fought her fish to the opposite side of the boat, into a deepwater channel, then made my cast. As Becca landed her eight-pounder, another just like it inhaled my double-barreled, articulated popper fly. And so it went, fish after fish in rotation, each cast a success, each fish a holy terror—until our wire leaders frayed and our poppers and mice had nothing left to give. My last mouse fly caught fish for a while, despite its back half being stripped to bare hook. When dusk gave way to full darkness, our guide, Enzo Rico, fired up the motor for the short run back to our mothership, where drinks and a fine meal awaited. Such is life aboard the Paraná Gipsy, the riverboat hub of the Golden Dorado River Cruiser operation, one of the world’s most remarkable fishing lodges.


he Río Paraná arises in the highland rain forest of central Brazil, but unlike the Amazon, it courses mostly south, across the vast plains of the Argentine pampas. Shortly before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, it merges with the Uruguay River, which forms the northeastern border between Argentina and Uruguay. At that confluence the Paraná becomes the Río de la Plata; the estuary and home port that first drew mariners in the 16th century and led to the foundation of Buenos Aires. Some Buenos Aires streets are still paved with the ballast stones of European sailing ships, laid down (like the people of Argentina itself) after a journey of thousands of miles. Our journey to the Golden Dorado River Cruiser began in Buenos Aires, a city famous for its Beaux Arts European architecture and quaint tree-lined streets. Buenos Aires is the kind of town that converts a Gilded Age opera house into an ultramodern bookstore; where you can still wander the picturesque San Telmo neighborhood and find street vendors selling mixed sets of old silver flatware. Argentina, after all, was founded— and named—for the Andean silver trade. Years ago, Spanish galleons that docked in the waters of the Plata were loaded with mule trains’ worth of silver bullion, some of which was floated down the Paraná, along with loads of tealike mate and plants from the jungle trade with Peru, including the ultrastrong wild tobacco, mapacho. Our traveling companion and de facto leader, Justin, is an American by birth, Argentinean by legal citizenship, and world traveler in truth. Witt was on the first leg of a plan to never stop traveling, along with his wife and toddler daughter. Khadizhat Witt, Justin’s wife, runs a travel blog called Circumwanderers, and if ever a family deserved that name, it is this one. My other two companions were Becca Shaneyfelt—a Montana-based photographer—and Luciano Alba, an Argentinean lawyer who (like me) found fly fishing to be a more expressive outlet than law. Alba is the owner of a famous Patagonian lodge, and recently completed his multiyear quest to refurbish the Paraná Gipsy as a mothership operation dedicated to pursuing the golden dorado, primarily for fly fishers. I greeted Alba in the Gipsy’s swank, air-conditioned great room as he explained the history of his remarkable craft. “This ship was originally constructed back in the 1990s,” Luciano explained in his crisp but charmingly accented English. “When we bought it, eh, it was in pretty rough shape.” As originally constructed, the Gipsy conveyed tourists as far north as Iguazú Falls, the Niagara-like end of the road for WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

In Argentina, you go for numbers of dorado, not size. However, if you tie on a big streamer and sink it deep off a 400-grain line, 20-pounders are possible.

most Paraná River tours, more than 300 river miles away from where we now sipped Fernet and Coca-Cola (a peculiar Argentine indulgence). “One of my guides down in Patagonia, Dario Arrieta, was a native of this area and kept telling me, ‘Lucho, we need to catch dorado! Lucho, the Paraná is an amazing river!’ I would say to him, ‘Yes, yes, maybe next year.’ And then the Patagonian lodge was doing well, and we heard about this boat, so we bought it.” Luciano’s smile betrayed a mix of pride and residual bewilderment that he had actually gone through with the plan. “We hired a crew of boatbuilders, and let me tell you, I got an education in labor relations,” Luciano said with a dark chuckle. “Eventually, everything took twice as long as we expected and was three times as expensive, but we got it done.” The revisions Alba’s team made to the Gipsy were not insubstantial: an entire steel catwalk encircling the upper deck had to be welded in place. The boat needed new air-conditioning and plumbing systems, and the kitchen required a complete update. The results, to put it mildly, were worth the wait. As presently constituted, a night aboard the Paraná Gipsy is as close as a modern individual can come to the South American river cruises of Teddy Roosevelt’s time. Only the paddlewheel and steam stacks are missing. In keeping with the fin de siècle vibe that permeates the boat, everything placed on the table is made from scratch. One evening we arrived WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


to find scratch-made pasta drying from the catwalk, which was later served with a lamb ragout. The Gipsy has a built-in asado or Argentine barbecue, lovingly tended by its captain (now Dario Arrieta himself). Arrieta’s asado skills are as strong as any competition barbecue pitmaster, but the onboard chef, Lucas Villar, could truly cook for royalty. Like the food, the fishing, of course, did not disappoint. On our first morning, we swung from the Gipsy’s cloistered deck into one of the lodge’s many Carolina Skiff flats boats, each new and specifically fitted for fly fishing. Our guide chose a narrow channel between two grassy flats, with clear water filtering in from both directions. Those kinds of color lines serve as buffet zones for dorado, which feed on and hang out around sábalo, a large, buffalo carp–like bottom feeder. It was immediate mayhem. At one point, Justin, Becca, and I all had dorado on our lines, each leaping and thrashing and threatening to tie us in one big Gordian knot. These marshes primarily serve as a dorado nursery, not unlike Louisiana’s inshore waters serve for redfish, behind barrier islands like Grand Isle. As with any nursery, there is a superabundance of smaller fish (averaging around three pounds); the bigger, older fish are present, but tend to be discerning. At times you must change locations just to get away from the smaller dorado, which school together like piranhas (another species you’re likely to catch here). After successive days of absolutely wrecking both teenage dorado and most of our available flies, we reloaded in the boat’s onboard fly shop, and went headhunting. A big dorado in the Paraná Delta would just

scratch 20 pounds, while fish over 10 pounds are considered a good catch for a single day. Anglers do catch the massive 30- and 40-pound fish more commonly seen in Bolivia, but they typically do so by dredging dark flies down low near the main channel. We employed that method—fly fishing’s version of sinking bait—but could not have anticipated the near-comical results. After setting ourselves up with 400-grain fast-sinking lines, Witt and I bombed casts across the tailout of a wide creek, counting the fly down to depths of 20 feet or more. An oncoming storm ripped across the marsh, rattling the leaves off nearby trees, sending scores of teal and shorebirds sailing for more comfortable climes. Just as the water started to hit whitecap-level chop, Justin hooked up with something big, which surged through the water—this could well be our “ten-kilo” fish, indicated Enzo, our guide. He backed off the trolling motor, allowing us to float with the current. As Justin fought his fish, I continued crashing the bank, swinging the fly almost like a steelheader to get it down. After one of these casts, I heard the sickening snick of a knot failing and line rattling through the guides, followed by a number of Spanish phrases. Then, my own rod doubled over, but the pulse on the end was all wrong; too wriggly for dorado, not loggish enough for sábalo. Within minutes I landed my second-ever saber-toothed payara. Payara have tusks, much like a boar, that stand straight from their lower jaw, like jagged hypodermic needles. Just as I was hamming it up for Becca’s camera, the fish gave a weird wriggle, and slipped free. It fell in a perfect belly flop, executing exactly one half barrel roll before sticking the karmic landing, literally, by burying its teeth in the top of my foot. Ten points from the Russian judges. I blanched, laughing weakly but somewhat aghast, as Justin calmly noted, “Zach, your foot is turning green.” The payara had clipped a vein, which was rapidly bleeding out under my skin. I bent over and wrenched the fish free, flooding the scuppers with impressive spurts of my own blood. Becca, a trained EMT, flipped some kind of internal switch and took command. Within moments I was lying by the transom, my foot held firmly, elevated, and continuing to bleed. I obeyed all medical direction (most notably one about calmly drinking my beer “instead of whining”). Two beers and a surprising amount of gauze later, I was back on my feet, and we were headed for a different flat. So much for headhunting.


o be fair, fishing the Paraná Delta isn’t about trophies. Instead, you fish here for action. Like “puppy drum” fishing in the Louisiana marshes, there is seemingly no end to the five- to seven-pound fish. I didn’t even know mouse flies were an option until our third day of fishing, when Enzo seized upon my well-traveled but little-used row of mice. They didn’t last long, but I’ve never been more excited to lose flies. As the light failed on our last evening, with a distant lightning storm searing the horizon and our supply of mice thoroughly exhausted, I sat on the deck of a Carolina Skiff. My face was sunburned (in January); my arms were tired from reeling in fish; I was slightly buzzed from beer and mapacho tobacco; and I was thoroughly happy. Fishing is supposed to be fun, and the golden dorado seems custom-designed to make angling a blast. Roll in world-class food and a mobile lodge experience, and you’ve got a truly satisfying South American adventure. Zach Matthews is a longtime contributor to American Angler as well as many other publications. He also is the host of The Itinerant Angler podcast, now in its 12th season. When he’s not traveling, writing or podcasting, Zach is a working trial attorney in Alpharetta, Georgia.




The Golden Dorado River Cruiser is a mobile operation, so its distance from Buenos Aires varies with the fishing and seasons. When we arrived, the boat was a short, couple-hour car transfer outside Buenos Aires. Lodging is all-inclusive, with in-room bathroom suites and showers powered by (filtered but stained) river water. Due to Argentina’s currency fluctuations, U.S. dollars are king, especially for staff tips. The GDRC operation is best accessed through its American booking partner, Hemispheres Unlimited (; 404-783-2114). Hemispheres employs actual Argentineans to help navigate the country’s bureaucracy, which is extremely helpful given its occasionally volatile politics. Travel regulations may change with little warning. This is a great fishing trip for first-time anglers. And the boat is a perfect playland for 8- to 12-year-old kids who have an interest in fishing. The dorado are so prolific, hot angling is basically guaranteed. The marsh is also a birder’s paradise, with parakeets, ducks, egrets, and herons, not to mention a rich buffet of harriers, caracaras, and other birds of prey. Note: The CDC lists Argentina within the Zika zone, but a closer look shows that only four Argentine provinces, all along the Brazilian border and hundreds of miles from Buenos Aires, have confirmed cases of the disease. This area is well outside the malaria zone, too. Mosquitoes on the Paraná are also surprisingly dedicated to a dinnertime window of approximately 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fortunately, that’s when you’ll be inside, eating dinner yourself. Outside that time window, we saw no mosquitoes.

Fishing from a mothership, in this case the Gipsy, offers anglers a chance to stay on the grounds from dawn to dusk. When they are worn out from landing dorado, a nice meal always awaits.






DOUBLEDIPPING for MEXICAN LARGEMOUTHS Lake El Salto and Lake Picachos are kicking out big numbers of largemouth bass . . . and you can get them on top. by Gary Kramer



World-record seekers aren’t spending time at El Salto anymore, but commen anlgers have a blast landing scads of five-to 10-pound fish.

Largemouth bass don’t sip flies the way trout do. And they don’t take flies in an elegant leap, as an Atlantic salmon might. Instead, they attack bass bugs with a surge of energy that often blows a fly clean out of the water. When things go right, a bass ends up attached to that fly, and an angler on the other end of the line is in for a fight. That happened a lot, years ago, on my first trip to Mexico’s legendary Lake El Salto, where I stalked largemouth bass with a fly rod for the first time. Now, 26 years later, I’ve returned to El Salto to see if it still provides that kind of fishing and if people still believe that a world-record largemouth bass—the Holy Grail—swims here. As I walked out of the Mazatlán airport, a guy holding a sign with my name ushered me to a vehicle, and as soon as we left the airport, I could see that some things have changed—Mexico Highway 15 is now a four-lane toll road instead of the two-lane pothole-riddled road it was in the 1990s. It used to take two hours to reach Anglers Inn El Salto from Mazatlán, but with good roads, we reach the lodge in an hour. We’re greeted by staff and handed two ice-cold margaritas. Soon we’re enjoying a great lunch consisting of tostadas, beans, rice, homemade salsa, and, of course, a Corona topped with fresh lime. Shortly after, we’ve got our rods rigged and we’re climbing into a boat with our guide, Carlos. 62 I AMERICAN ANGLER

Lake El Salto is located 75 miles northeast of Mazatlán, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The lake formed in 1985, when workers impounded the Elota River, which created a 24,000-acre flood-control and irrigation reservoir with 45 miles of shoreline. That same year, Billy Chapman Jr. stocked the reservoir with several hundred brood fish from Lake Baccarac, along with more than 100,000 fingerlings from a Texas hatchery. In 1989, Chapman opened a lodge that stood about three miles from El Salto. (In 2000, Chapman relocated the lodge to edge of the lake, so anglers could stay just yards from the water, another great change since I first fished here.) After being stocked into El Salto, the pure, Florida-strain largemouths flourished on a steady diet of tilapia. In March 1999, an angler landed a 10.8-pound largemouth. Before long, 10-pounders were common, and in May 2004, the lake record increased to a monster 18.8-pound fish. That set the bass world’s eyes on El Salto, with many anglers believing the lake could produce the next world record. It didn’t, WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

however, and now most anglers say it won’t. But that doesn’t mean El Salto isn’t worth fishing, especially for fly fishers who want to test these bass on topwater flies. In fact, today, anglers have a legitimate shot at hooking one or more 10-pound-plus bass during a typical three-day fishing trip.


fter our big lunch, we pulled away from the beach and Carlos pointed the 18-foot Bass Tracker north. He ran the throttle wide open, and soon we were passing submerged trees, rocky points, and water hyacinth–covered coves that looked familiar, meaning places I’d caught fish on that previous trip. Finally, the boat slid to a stop near a point surrounded by stickups. While Carlos adjusted the trolling motor, I grabbed an 8-weight rod rigged with a deer-hair popper and made several casts, dropping the bug just inches from shore. Lowering the rod tip, I jerked the line to make the surface offering pop. After about a dozen casts, Carlos pointed at a partially submerged tree farther up the shore. He nudged the trolling motor, and as we got closer, he said, “Cast.” I made the cast, and the popper landed a foot from the tree. I let the bug sit until the rings dissipated, then popped the fly once. A second later, a fish exploded on the popper and fully

engulfed it. The fish was airborne almost before I could react. But I managed a hook set, and the fight was on. After several hard runs and a half-dozen leaps, I subdued the four-pound largemouth. Not a bad way to start our first afternoon at El Salto, I thought. We continued working the shoreline with Ken on the bow and myself at the stern. About 15 minutes later, a bass slammed Ken’s popper. Again, the take was spectacular—the bass sucked in the popper like a vacuum cleaner, then caught air when it felt the sting of steel. It was a bulldog fight, but Ken was soon holding a four-pounder, almost a mirror image of the fish I’d just taken. During the next two hours, we worked the shoreline and a water hyacinth–covered cove, and caught a dozen fish ranging between two and four pounds. Later, just after sunset, I made one of those low-percentage casts between tangles of brush, into an open area about two feet off the bank. As I worked the popper, a fish boiled on the fly. I came up hard to set, but the fish leaped into the air, threw the hook, and was gone. Carlos looked at me with a frown and said, “¡Lubina grande!” Translated, of course, that means “big bass,” a fish Carlos estimated to weigh more than eight pounds. We had a 30-minute run to the lodge ahead of us, so we reeled in and called it a great first day on the water.

When visiting El Salto and Lake Picachos, bring a heavy supply of poppers. The bass crush these offerins in the mornings and evenings. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM



e’d planned our trip for early December, when largemouth move into shallow water early and late in the day. Those conditions are prime for tossing deer-hair bugs and poppers for “blowup” grabs. Most of our fellow anglers fished gear, but Joe and Jeff Mitchell, serious fly fishers, had been at El Salto for two days and confirmed that the bass were on poppers early and late. During midday hours, they caught some bass on the surface, but found the bite was better when they changed to Clouser Minnows and sink-tip lines. The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, huevos rancheros, refried beans, fresh tortillas, and coffee, we grabbed our gear and walked to the waiting boats. Carlos greeted us, and as the sun peeked over the mountains, we throttled for El Salto’s northwest arm. After a 20-minute ride on a glass-smooth lake, we rounded a bend and headed toward a cove flanked by steep hills. As the boat slid to a stop, Carlos said, “Llegamos.” (We have arrived.) We worked the area for about 15 minutes without success. That’s when Ken changed from a cork popper to a deer-hair bug and started working the edge of some water hyacinths at the back of the cove. On the second cast, and just moments after the bug hit

the water, there was a blowup take, and Ken set the hook hard. The bass dug for the weeds, but after a strong run, Ken landed the fish—it weighed nearly six pounds The rest of the morning, we caught at least two dozen fish ranging between two and six pounds, all on the surface. We fished those topwater flies for another day on El Salto with similar success before moving to Mexico’s newest reservoir, the 16,000-acre Lake Picachos. Built in 2011, the reservoir was created for irrigation and to develop a commercial fishery for tilapia. Soon after, Florida-strain largemouth bass were planted in Picachos, and they thrived, showing phenomenal growth rates. In fact, by 2014, the lake was alive with two- to three-pound fish, and by 2015, it was kicking out lots of four- and five-pounders. In January 2016, an angler caught a 12.4-pound bass on conventional tackle, proving this to be big-fish water, too. Picachos is located about an hour from Mazatlán and opened to fishing in July 2013. In fall 2014, Chapman opened a lodge here, offering the same kind of quality and fishing that anglers had grown to expect at Angler’s Inn El Salto. Our first afternoon on Picachos was incredible. We fished topwater flies, and the fish were all over them—these fished weighed less than five pounds, but we boated more than 50 of them be-

Anglers stay lakeside when fishing El Salto, which is a change from the early years when the lodge was three miles from the water. 64 I AMERICAN ANGLER


You can still tie into largemouth weighing more than 10 pounds when fishing El Salto, and you might catch one that large at Picachos, too, but mostly you’ll land respectable five -to 10-pounders. Those are great fish when you get them on poppers.

fore dark. The following day, we landed between 50 and 75 largemouth, with the heaviest right at five pounds. The action was 90 percent topwater, but we switched to Clousers and sink-tip lines during midday hours, which padded our tally. At certain times of the year, gill nets are set in El Salto and Picachos, mostly in the coves. Many anglers assume those nets are set for bass, but instead, they capture tilapia. That catch provides a significant source of income for local villagers, and Chapman has worked with commercial fishermen to reduce the incidental take of bass. So far, the mix of commercial and sport fishing is working well. Most fishermen realize that a new reservoir usually provides fabulous fishing for the first several years before diminishing in quality. However, for nearly 30 years, El Salto has kicked out high numbers of quality bass, and it doesn’t look like that appealing mix will go away anytime soon, although world-record seekers are looking elsewhere these days. Anglers are hoping that Picachos follows that same path, and if it does, anglers can count on some great topwater largemouth fishing for years to come. As I learned, El Salto may not kick out a world-record bass, but it still offers some big fish and all the thrills I’d enjoyed when I first fished the lake, so many years ago. Gary Kramer is a full-time outdoor writer and photographer based in Willows, California. He is a contributing photographer for Sports Afield and a correspondent for The Hunting Report. His images and words are regularly published in most outdoor magazines in the United States, including American Hunter, Ducks Unlimited, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and American Angler. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


Mexico’s warm sunny skies, white-sand beaches, top-shelf resorts, and friendly people—plus its proximity to the United States—are a real appeal for bass anglers. Unfortunately, beginning in 2006, drug violence ramped up, and there was a precipitous decline in tourism throughout Mexico. Fortunately, anglers bound for El Salto and Picachos are met at the airport and taken directly to the lodges. There have been no threats to any lodge guests.


Several airlines service Mazatlán, a bustling seaport city known for its beautiful beaches, resort hotels, and saltwater fishing. Daily direct flights are available on United Airlines from Houston and American Airlines from Phoenix.


Anglers Inn El Salto has 20 rooms with a capacity of 36 anglers. Each room is air-conditioned and has a private bath. There is a large bar and dining area and an on-site massage therapist. The lodge at Lake Picachos has 10 rooms that accommodate 20 anglers. The food is a combination of classic Mexican dishes, like chile rellenos and enchiladas, along with steaks and plenty of fresh seafood. Both lodges have an open-bar policy. Chapman and his lodges provide outstanding accommodations, first-class staff, and competent guides. Trips can be booked for El Salto or Picachos, or a combination of both lakes. Contact www. or call (800) 468-2347.


The lodges are open from September 15 to July 31. The best season for fly fishing is October through January, when the topwater bite is strong. Winter weather is generally balmy, with daytime highs in the 70s and 80s, dipping into the 50s and 60s at night. Summers are hot, with daytime temperatures in the 90s or higher. Seven- and 8-weight rods work well there. Take a bassbug tapered line and an assortment of flies, both deer-hair and cork poppers. Take a selection of colors in sizes 1/0 to 3/0. Sink-tip lines are useful during the middle of the day. Streamers—such as Clouser Minnows, Lefty’s Deceivers, and Whistlers, all tied on size 1/0 and 2/0 hooks—are effective. Dark purple, black, chartreuse, and white are productive colors. Mexico’s largemouths are aggressive and not leader-shy. Therefore, leaders should be heavy enough to turn over large flies and pull fish out of the stickups and floating vegetation. Twelve- to 20-pound test works.



FLY TYER® by Scott Sanchez

Fewer Calories, More Flavor Tying bulky flies that cast well isn’t simple, but our man at the vice shows you some tricks for success.


great potential to fit new components into our proven patterns and get the results we desire. If you want some ideas on flies that offer bulk but cast well, look no further than the late genius Lefty Kreh’s Deceivers and other saltwater patterns. Ultimately, a great fly would shrink in the air, expand in water, swim below the surface, and fool big fish. That goal is unattainable, but there are more ways to get closer to achieving those results than ever before.

Planning We want to create a façade of bulk. Materials that absorb water, sink quickly, and have a big profile—but shed water on the cast—are ideal for larger flies. When you’re building a big fly, the majority of the pattern should use opaque material. When tied with comparable quantities of

material, opaques create a much bigger profile than translucent dressings. Translucent materials can be used to complement the opaque fly. Saddle hackle and its variations are ideal for the wing or tail of big flies. Standard saddle hackle works on many flies and can be found in innumerable colors, including natural, dyed over white, grizzly, and badger. However, the fine tips on saddle hackle may require the use of a substantial amount of feathers. I prefer schlappen’s round tips, web, and opaque profile. (Schlappen consists of the webby, long feathers above the actual tail.) It can be found at the base of a saddle or purchased strung, and is readily available in white and dyed-over white colors. Webby feathers act like a sheet over other materials. In addition, wrapping hackle


OMETIMES WE NEED A BIG baitfish fly to attract and entice fish. Unfortunately, large flies aren’t the easiest to cast. So we often wonder how to tie flies that are big enough to create interest while making them easy to deliver on the end of a fly line. Fortunately, whichever challenge we choose—trout, streamer, salt, warmwater, anadromous, or exotic—there are ways to make “big” flies that cast well and make fish judge the book by its cover. Over the years, I’ve detailed some patterns that are light enough to be castable, but big enough to imitate large prey. Some of those patterns are not new, and in fact, some have been around since cane rods, silk lines, and gut leaders. Now the addition of synthetic materials has opened up



is an easy way to build a wide body or head, and it can also be used to support other materials. Best, hackle retains little moisture, which makes it easy to cast. Plastic hackles and long chenilles work, too. UV Polar Chenille, Chocklett’s Body Wrap, Krystal Hackle, and dubbing brushes are great options for lightweight bodies and heads. Here again, they can be used to support other materials. Bucktail is another tried-and-true material. It offers motion, but doesn’t foul, and offers an opaque profile. It can be found in just about any dyed color, and the underused brown or dyed-overbrown section can be used for barred flies. It can be used on its own or with other materials. It is very adaptable. The finer hair, on the upper two-thirds, toward the tip of the tail, makes the best-looking wings, since it flares less and is relatively easy to control. However, the thicker, more hollow hair near the base of the tail flares more—this offers a bigger look that also makes it a great wide base under a layer of fine bucktail. Synthetic fibers are useful when creating bulky baitfish. Crinkled polypropylene fibers, such as EP Fibers and Widow’s Web, are mainstays for baitfish. They are less prone to foul than other mediumthickness synthetics, and are sold in numerous colors in up to 10-inch lengths. They can be used as wings and tails, or to build bodies. They are well suited for tying in layers to create a wide shape. Polypropylene doesn’t actually absorb water, but traps it between its fibers. That allows the material to shed water when cast, and sink after contact with the water. Also, these synthetics are the best I’ve found for making an opaque synthetic wing. Slinky Fibre, and the flash-infused sibling, Farrar Blends, are stiffer than polypropylene and are great when you need a longer wing or tail. They are fine monofilament-like fibers and tend to mat less than most synthetics. They look better and mat less if the ends are trimmed uneven. Mylar fibers are good options when building light baitfish patterns, and come in numerous finishes, sizes, and shapes. There are three basic types of flash—flat, twisted, and crinkled. Mylar doesn’t absorb water. It can be used as wings or tails or WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Material Spreading Methods




to enhance flies. Flat flash Flashabou is the most common, and tends to be more subtle and have more action than others. There are fine, standard, and wide versions. Finer moves more; wider has more profile and is less prone to mat. Ice Wing and Angel Hair are very fine, flat Mylar, which makes very light wings and tails. However, they can snarl more than thicker fibers. Krystal Flash, the most common twisted Mylar, has a more scale-like look. Essentially, it is flat Mylar that’s been twisted, and it is usually made of a thicker-ply Mylar. Here again, it can be found in different sizes. Kreinick Flash is the most prevalent of the crinkle Mylars and has filaments embedded in the Mylar. It snarls less than Flashabou of the same size when used alone or in longer strands. All the materials come in pearlescent and metallic shades. Some come in solid, nonflashy versions, or even in mixed colors with barring. Marabou is a good option for big, light flies, but it needs a little help. On its own, you need a lot to make a fly look big. But if supported underneath, it makes a mobile veiling. Chicken and plastic hackles are probably the best bases for marabou. . Most anglers realize that a fly that is too heavy will be difficult to cast; but a fly that’s too light and bulky can also be a problem. A low-density fly with a huge profile may throw like a Styrofoam coffee cup. A modest amount of weight helps the fly maintain a little momentum during the cast. Weight can be added to a fly by changing materials, or by adding a little weight via lead wrap, tungsten beads, or other materials.

Supporting Cast One of the best ways to make a fly look big is to support materials so they radiate

away from the hook shank. Wider is better. A number of materials achieve this. A ball of material on the hook shank, with material tied in front of it, works very well. Chenille is one of the easiest and most common materials to make a support. Both standard and Mylar versions work. Just make a ball of chenille and tie in front of it. A cone or bead gives the same effect and can be used to modify weight and balance. Plastic, glass, brass, and tungsten are all possibilities. Plastic or brass disks from Pro Sport Fisher have a wide shape and minimum weight. Mylar or monofilament tubing can be tied in and pushed back to create a plastic cone. Blane Chocklett does that on his T-Bone pike flies. Tying on materials in multiple bundles is another proven method, and less material can be used for the same size profile. That technique goes back to old patterns like the Hi-Tie. Variations on this method can be found in many of Enrico Puglisi’s flies. If you tie the layers on the top and bottom, you achieve a wide, flat profile. You can also tie in layers to make the fly three-dimensional. Layering materials also helps blend in softer materials that, otherwise, wouldn’t hold their shape independently. A great but ancient variation works with the hollow butts of bucktail. It was used on pike and bass flies from the late 1880s. To utilize this method, tie in the bucktail with tips facing forward. The butts will flare. Next, stroke back the tips toward the bend of the hook and secure them back and down. The flared butts radiate the tips out. Glue can be worked into natural and synthetic hair to give it about any shape. Pinch and hold the hair in the rough shape you desire; then work in a sparse amount of Goop or Shoe Goo with a toothpick. When the glue is in the hair, and before it dries SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 I 67








Tying the Bunny Light 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Slide a cone and pony bead onto the hook shank. Slide the cone forward, wrap the shank with lead wire, and push wire up into the cone. Slide the plastic bead up against the cone, and start your thread behind the lead wire. Secure the lead and make a thread base. Tie in the rabbit and Flashabou tail. The tail should be a shank and a half long.

Wrap around the base of the tail, similar to posting a wing. This will stiffen the base of the tail to reduce fouling. Tie in Krystal Chenille and make close wraps to build a wide butt.

Tie in two white schlappen tips on both sides of the butt. The schlappen should extend back to the end of the rabbit tail.

Wrap the Krystal Chenille almost up to the bead. On top of the hook shank, tie in a couple of gray plumes of marabou on top of the hook shank. The tips will extend past the


hook bend. Tie in a couple of white marabou plumes on the bottom of the hook shank. Tie off and cement.


Start your thread between the bead and cone. You should be able to separate the bead slightly with your thumbnail. Secure a twoand-a-half-shank length of gray EP Fibers in the middle, between the beads. This will require some thread pressure.

9 10

Repeat this sequence with white EP Fiber on the bottom. Tie off.

Pull back the head fibers and work some Goop into the base area with a toothpick. Sliding a loose rubber band over the head fibers is a good way to hold the fibers while coating them.

Bunny Light

Hook: 2X-long Predator-style hook, sizes 3/0 through 2. Thread: Gray Flat Waxed Nylon. Weight: ¼-inch black nickel cone and .035 mm lead wire. Material holder: Red plastic pony bead. Tail: Magnum chinchilla rabbit strip with pearl Flashabou. Butt: Large pearl Krystal Chenille. Sides: White schlappen over butt. Abdomen: Large pearl Krystal Chenille. Underwing: Gray and white marabou. Head: Gray and white EP Fibers coated with Goop. Eyes: 3/16” pearl molded eyes.

11 12

Recoat the eye area with a little more Goop, and stick eyes onto the head.

Let the head dry for a few minutes, pull the fly out of the vise, and slide the rubber band back over the tail. It is all done.








completely, it can be pinched to enhance the shape. Eyes added to the glue base enhance width. All these methods can be reinforced with a thin overcoat of epoxy, Softex, or a UV-set finish. But be careful that you don’t add unnecessary weight or block the hook point. Head cement or cyanoacrylate are also useful when worked into the butts of materials to maintain shape and to reinforce. Planning out big flies for appearance and castability makes fishing enjoyable and productive. Sometimes in fly tying we need to be a politician or an advertising firm. Half truths can be good, and perception is more important than reality.

Bunny Light Double bunnies work. They provide great motion and come to life in the water, and have fooled a plethora of fish in numerous countries. However, the all-rabbit construction makes them heavy when wet. Most of the time, I don’t care and tie one on when desired. Other times, gear, wind, and distance needs make me pause and wonder if something else wouldn’t work better. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

Sometimes we need to balance the multiple attributes required in a fly. On the Double Bunny, the rabbit makes the fly move no matter the retrieve. And rabbit’s pulsating action often makes it irresistible to a fish. When tying this fly, I couldn’t eliminate the rabbit completely, because I would lose the rabbit motion. Fortunately, rabbit is at its best in the tail of a fly, where it undulates, pulses, and swims. Motion in the head and body, while important, isn’t quite so critical. So that is where a tier can reduce weight. Think of the beer and food promotion: fewer calories and great taste. I have a couple of clients for whom I tie large flies. They travel the world chasing arapaima, freshwater dorado, and taimens. I go through a lot of chickens, deer, plastics, and big hooks to make their flies. Some of those flies are existing patterns, many have tweaks, and some are flat-out experimental concepts. Some of the ideas for the Bunny Light came from those fly tying experiences. Cones under material are nothing new, and I’m sure someone like George Herter was doing that 70 years ago. The bead–

cone combo works great and makes for a consistent big head. I use large-hole plastic beads for the rear support. That allows me to wrap lead wire behind the cone, partially for weight but also, most important, to seat the cone against the hook eye. The bead slides over the lead. The most common of these are called round pony beads. Glass or metal beads can also be used, and you can even use two cones. The cone in front with its hollow back pushes the head material back. I use polypropylene (EP) for the head, but craft fur, fox fur, or bucktail would also work. The hooks I like are frequently called Predator hooks and are about 2X long with a round bend. Some examples are Partridge Attitude, Gamakatsu SP11-3L3H Perfect Bend, or Ahrex Predator hooks. However a 3X-long streamer hook works fine, too. This fly can also be tied articulated. Look back at my easy articulation article from last year. Scott Sanchez is the longtime shop manager for JD High Country Outfitters in Jackson, Wyoming and one of the most creative fly tiers in the West. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 I 69



• Waist strap/shoulder strap combination. • Fishing rod holder. • Magnetic workstation. • Rod tube holder. • Three inner compartments, three outer pockets.

• Magnetic snaps, YKK Vislon water repelling zippers. • Fleece drying patch. • Shoulder strap “D” ring. Quick adjustment for deep water wading, equipment attachment.

I think you will find it’s what you’ve been searching for for fishing or otherwise.

Available at

WATERLINES (Continued from page 72) of the state; in one particular run, where we took turns pulling fish off the far bank with swung flies, that comment started early, and by the time we reached bull number six, down near the tailout, it was permanently etched into our streamside chatter. It looked, anyway, as though our change of plans, as well as the effort to get here, was worth it.


y last light we were sure of it. Joe stuck a handful of fish in the camp pool while I was still unsure of the best way to go about it, a case of the yips I’m prone to when trying to catch fish before I even start fishing. But then we moved downstream to another handsome stretch of water, a riffle and bend and a long graceful run that piled up against a logjam with a deep glide sliding past it. Joe had on a big, black rubber-legged nymph, which seemed to be the ticket—or at least 70 I AMERICAN ANGLER

one of them —especially in the throat up top, where the river swung beneath the limbs of a fir that looked like it might not make it through another winter. There weren’t any bugs showing, no fish rising, so I tied on a Vanilla Bugger and swung it through the lower half of the run, where I was happy to discover I still knew how to catch trout in a trout stream. The fish were a mixed bag, rainbows and cutbows and a pure strain of true cutthroat from a population found higher up in the drainage after fisheries biologists realized what stocking programs were doing to undermine the native fish downstream. An old story. But now fish and game seemed to be on-board in attempts to protect the original westslope population—and Joe and I took delight in hooking our share of these relict fish, especially on a wild, free-flowing freestone river, the antithesis of the tailwater trout fisheries now so dominant in the West. Part of the appeal, of course, was a river full of hungry trout where wild

water fluctuations radically reduce year-round habit for macroinvertebrates, the stuff trout typically eat. In Pacific drainages,that is the biggest reason fish swim to the sea—not an option, due to geographical barriers, where we fished. We had stumbled on, instead, a relict watershed, the rarest of western trout waters. Given the suite of specific ingredients found in a genuinely wild drainage—shade, clean water, spawning gravel, year-round flows, a perpetual supply of big trees falling into the river, causing it to pool and meander—what you end up with, especially during normal summer flows, is a population of trout looking for things big enough to sink their teeth into. Hence, Joe’s big, black rubber-legged nymph. Without giving too much away, I’ll mention right here that these unsophisticated offerings, used by both of us, outfished a host of other patterns, both subsurface and dry—although we fished these flies on the swing, not as typical, bottom-ticking nymphs. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM

My real point is that the biggest fish wanted our biggest flies. That’s an oversimplified equation—but maybe not by much. The best trout passed, against my rod, the 18-inch mark—with the exception of one that Joe got, which went well over 20. I don’t know about you, but I can get behind that kind of trouting. I don’t think I’ve ever lost so many 15- to 16-inch fish.


he next morning, we headed without packs farther upriver on our rented bikes. We soon ran into crews raising dust with heavy equipment, trying to stabilize the road bed against the next high-water assault, by all looks an annual chore. The valley grew tighter, the river steeper, the farther upstream we pedaled. In some places we saw the remains of cabins buried in tangled logjams, the cost or trade-off for allowing wild rivers the full reach of their moods. We left the bikes at a tight corner in the river, where it turned away from the road and skirted a pile of downed trees wedged together atop the eroding bank. Near the tail end of the corner, right below us, we found our first rising fish, a lone feeder nudging the surface along a branch flexing side-to-side in the current. The valley was bright with morning sunlight—but where we stood, in deep shade, we could make out nothing more than the subtle wrinkles appearing and disappearing at the edge of the dark pool. A size 10 green Humpy set the tone for the day. I dropped it on the water; it vanished in the swirl of a gaping rise. Too good to be true? It was a reckless spot to hook a fish, a tiny bucket tucked tight alongside heavy water; the fish jumped twice, tumbled into the current, and came unbuttoned far downstream. Two grabs later, I finally stuck a fish I could keep in the pool and eventually brought a hefty cutthroat to hand. Meanwhile, Joe took off downstream, wading past the log pile and eventually coming into view again at the next corner. While I continued to move fish with the big Humpy, I kept glancing downstream, where Joe appeared to be hammering good fish, one after another. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. “Looks like another nice one,” I said,


wading across the rocks while Joe guided one more stubborn trout his way. It turned into a full day. While Joe crushed fish, hole after hole, with his swinging nymph, I fooled around, as is my wont, with an assortment of surface patterns. These were generally good for a stirring rise or two the first time through a run. The best of the lot seemed to be my generic hoppers, which I fished on the swing, waking them like a Steelhead Muddler. Out of nowhere, a trout would suddenly pounce, grabbing the fly like a cat that’s launched from the arm of a sofa. That’s some good sport, too—no matter how many times your buddy gets yanked upstream.

A size 10 green Humpy set the tone for the day. I dropped it on the water; it vanished in the swirl of a gaping rise. Too good to be true? Near the end of the day, we waded the river so we could fish a bend we passed while riding the bikes upstream. The water was just low enough to cross in select spots; you could tell from the cut banks, debris, and broad gravel bars that wasn’t usually the case. Even then, I kept checking downstream, trying to gauge what I’d have to deal with if I broke loose—another indication we were fishing a genuine river and not just a big stream. The pool below the bend proved yet one more good spot for Joe and his nymph. Really, these were some grabby trout. Beyond the tailout, the river passed

beneath a steep cliff that had shed furniture-sized boulders, creating a run of ribbony seams that begged for something big and dry to float with the current. I dug through my vest; in a box with my big stoneflies, I found a lineup of humongous Chernobyl Ants, atrocious things I must have tied while suffering illusions of grandeur. Or the effects of Isle of Skye single malt. The biggest ones were over an inch and a half long, with a reach in gangly twotone legs that extended at past two inches. Joe showed up while I was tying on one of those beasts.“Really?” “We’ll see,” I said, scooting out over the rocks. The thing plopped on the water and began to jiggle like a bobblehead on the dashboard of your cousin’s ’65 Impala. When the fish came up, it rose past its gills while lunging downstream, trying to grab the fly as it skidded away, just out of reach. Joe and I looked at each other. I picked up and made the same cast, or at least the best I could with something like a badminton birdie attached to my line. This time the fish didn’t miss. “Looks like another nice one,” Joe said. When I finally landed it, a cutthroat as big as any we caught all trip, I quickly persuaded Joe to clip the nymph from his line and try one of my foam and rubber concoctions. A fish soon liked one of his casts, too. I came upstream to take a picture. The entire fly was inside the trout’s mouth, as if a bath toy headed down Fido’s throat.


f there’s more to say, it’s probably redundant. Fishing, of course, is never that way—at least not if you’re paying attention to the fact that every day really is new, or different, or whatever bromide is currently in vogue. We fished half a dozen miles of river over a stretch of three days. We didn’t skip much. We found fish in almost every likely nook and cranny. Those cutthroat were hungry, healthy, and generally pretty damn hot. Guides would tell you the same—if you could get ’em to talk. Scott Sadil lives in Hood River, Oregon. His newest fiction collection, Goodnews River: Wild Fish, Wild Waters, and the Stories We Find There, will be published in February 2019. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 I 71


WATERLINES by Scott Sadil

Guide Secrets Native cutthroat—one after another.


LL WE’D PLANNED WAS to head up a drainage neither of us had seen before and look for some westslope cutthroat trout. Then, the day before we were scheduled to leave, a neighbor mentioned to my friend Joe a cutthroat river he’d heard guides talk about for years—a place the neighbor hadn’t actually fished or even visited, but something apparently good enough that the guides never took clients there. They kept it a secret amongst themselves. We waffled longer than you might expect. After Joe described what he’d heard, we both went online and poked around for more information. We talked a couple more


times. Joe claimed he wasn’t suggesting we change our plans—but, he added, it looked like a pretty interesting place, somewhere we ought to think about fishing sometime. “You know me,” I said. “I’m game whenever.” Joe called back in an hour and said, “We’ve got a motel reservation for tomorrow night. The ferry leaves the next morning.” It’s good to be flexible, I often tell myself, even though I’m the sort of guy who leaves his alarm set for the same hour all year round, who can eat steel-cut oats every breakfast for a month, who has bought the same brand and model of work boots for over 30 years. Okay, I still listen to Van Morrison, too. Yet, when it

comes to changing course in the middle of a fish hunt, I’m as ready as the next guy to head the other way. Especially if the other guy is driving. We carried our gear in backpacks. After the boat ride, we got legal with the authorities, then rented bicycles and rode upriver to a campground spread out in a grove of towering old-growth cedars. The campsites were entirely sand; some years they must be inundated by high water. There were picnic tables at every site, and every three or four sites shared a stout metal bear box with a complicated latch that made you feel smarter than a bear . . . once you figured it out. Like most camp spots along a river, this one sat next to a pretty piece of water, a deep, shaded run that looked like it could hold fish. If there were fish. At this point, it was all hearsay. We were both kind of proud of ourselves for pulling the trigger so quickly on this thing, making the trip happen on hardly a moment’s notice. But we knew, as well, that heading off in the direction of a rumor was a good way to land yourself in the middle of nowhere, wondering where you could get a drink at 10 a.m. Joe got his tent up and his waders pulled on while I was still trying to recover from the upriver ride. I’d selected my bike because of what looked like the softest seat; it didn’t seem to help much with 45 extra pounds on my back, trying to make a tortilla out of my hind end. Before I finished suiting up, Joe was already in the river— and in no short while, tight to a fish. “Looks like a nice one,” I said, coming down the bank without a fly yet tied to my leader. No matter its optimism, my comment was part of a running dialogue, the kind of shorthand phrase, layered with meaning, that develops when you fish or work or otherwise hang out long enough with someone who shares your sense of humor. This one went back to a trip when we whacked big bull trout in a remote corner (Continued on page 70) WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM


Oliver White

Professional angler and guide, lodge owner, writer and conservationist. TARGET SPECIES: Anything that swims, I love it all, especially getting out there and exploring. GUIDED ANGLERS TO: 28 lb. brown trout in Tierra del Fuego and a 200 lb. arapaima in Guyana. FAVORITE FLY: I’m a believer in custom flies on the best hooks. Enrico Puglisi are the best commercial flies out there –his spawning shrimp is standard in my box. FAVORITE WATER: The flats FAVORITE TYPE OF FISHING: Sight casting of any kind. Bonefish, permit, tarpon, trout, arapaima if you can see it all go down that’s fly fishing at its best. FAVORITE NAUTILUS REEL, WHY?: Monster– if I’m breaking out the Monster then we are chasing something special. Yellowfin tuna, arapaima, GT’s. No matter what it’s guaranteed to be exciting. BEST DAY FISHING: I had a day in Tanzania tigerfishing that can’t be beat. 20 lb. tigerfish, elephants and hippos, and a monster vundu catfish all with great people. BIGGEST FISH EVER LOST: Been spooled more times than I can remember. I’ve hooked an araipama over 400 pounds that embarrassed me. A 10-12’ tigershark ate my fly and took my entire line and backing without slowing down. DREAM DESTINATION: New Zealand, Papua New Guinea WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO GUIDE ONE DAY: David Letterman and Jim Harrison WHEN NOT FISHING: I love live music – acoustic and lyrical. Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, The Avett Brothers. Or in the woods with my long bow or in the field chasing birds with a shotgun. WHAT DO I LIKE ABOUT NAUTILUS REELS?: Unprecedented reliability.They never fail, never slip and take endless abuse. Smooth drag, especially on start-up. The large retrieve for line pick up. BIO:



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