S2:E46 The Limits of Unlimited Fly Fishing

Unlimited fly fishing sounds too good to be true. No doubt, most of us would love an extra couple days each year on the river. But if you had the chance to do unlimited fly fishing would you? The topic raises some great questions about the role of leisure and when it moves from joy to just plain old work. Click now for “The Limits of Unlimited Fly Fishing.”

Listen now to The Limits of Unlimited Fly Fishing

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How many days do you fly fish each year? How many would you like to fly fish? How does fly fishing fit into the larger purpose of your life? Have we gone whacko with this episode?

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Trout Flies and Color

Whenever I fish Montana’s Madison River in the spring, I use a tiny red nymph as a dropper. It may be a Copper John or a Dave’s Emerger (a pattern developed by Montana fly fisher Dave McKee). But the body always has red wire. I insist on it because I have had great success with tiny red nymphs. But does color really matter?

Does red work any better than black or copper? Or is it simply, uh, a pigment of my imagination?

The truth is, the color may attract me — the fly fisher — more than it does the trout. Here are a few insights about color:

1. Trout see colors, yet water changes their perception.

Gary Borger observes that “water absorbs and scatters light.” In fresh water, red is absorbed completely by six feet down. Trout see it as a shade of gray. Perhaps the red wire on my nymphs makes a subtle difference since I’m typically fishing it one to two feet below the surface on my favorite runs in the Madison.

According to Borger, orange, yellow, and green get to ten feet before turning to gray. Blue only makes it to four feet.

2. Fluorescent materials retain their colors as long as there is light.

Borger makes this point and adds that “black is always black, and flash is always flash.” Surprisingly, black may be the most “visible” color due to its contrast. Perhaps that explains why a black Copper John or a Zebra Midge can work so well.

3. Trout are more perceptive to the violet side of the color spectrum.

Kirk Deeter made this point in a recent issue of TROUT magazine. Now I know why I’m seeing a rise (no pun intended) in purple Beadhead Prince Nymphs and in the Purple Haze patterns (essentially a Parachute Adams with a purple body) in the bins in fly shops.

4. Use something bright or translucent in your attractor patterns on the surface.

It’s always good to match the hatch. As Kirk Deeter says, go “as natural as possible.” But when you are using an attractor pattern on the river’s surface, red or orange will appear bright. It’s why I like a Red Humpy or the trusted Royal Wulff (with its band of red).

5. The amount of variables determining the way trout see color can make a fly fisher crazy.

The way trout see color depends on several variables – the clarity of the water, the light conditions (cloudy vs. sunny, evening light vs. mid-day light), and the depth of the fly.

So, the best advice may be to keep it simple: The size of your fly and the pattern may matter more than color.

S2:E45 Our 5 Most Dangerous Moments on the River

Dangerous moments are not always recognized fully in the moment. Several years ago while we fished the Wyoming Bighorn, the temperature dropped 25 degrees in a two-hour period. We drifted the Bighorn while stopping to wet-wade periodically. At the mid-point of the drift, however, we were shivering, unprepared for precipitous drop in temperature. In addition to the rain and wind was lightning, and we had to get out of the drift boat to wait out the weather. Fortunately, the squall passed, and we took out an hour or so later. We lived to fish another day. Some moments on the river are more dangerous than you realize at the time.

Listen now to “Our 5 Most Dangerous Moments on the River”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

We’d love to hear at least one story from your “most dangerous moments on the river” archive. Please post your most-dangerous-moments story below!

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Know Your Pattern: The San Juan Worm

When I was a boy, I caught trout with a bobber and a worm. I gave up bait fishing long ago. Now I use a fly rod. But I still catch a lot of trout with a bobber and a worm.

The bobber is a strike indicator. Yes, I like the little round plastic bobbers because they never get water-logged like the indicators I’ve tied with strands of nylon.

The worm is a San Juan Worm — a controversial “fly pattern.” Some fly fishers scoff at it. When they do, I simply smile, nod, and go back to catching fish. Here is the scoop on this beloved and maligned non-fly fly.

1. How it originated

There are as many accounts of this pattern’s origin as there are variations of it in the fly bins at your local fly flop.

What we know for sure (I think) is that a fly fisher developed this fly to imitate the red worms in the silt-coated channels of New Mexico’s San Juan River. The fly fisher is unknown to us, although I’ve heard several suggested names. The time period was likely the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The pattern is so simple that it is silly. It consists of a two-inch length of red chenille tied onto a scud hook — that is, a hook with a curved shank. That’s all. It’s the easiest fly in the world to tie. So it’s a great place for beginners to start.

2. How it has been modified

You might get dizzy when you think about all the colors and styles of chenille with which the San Juan worm has been tied.

I even experimented (at the suggestion of a friend) with putting a beadhead in the middle of the hook’s shank and then tying a one-inch piece of chenille on the front and then a one-inch piece of chenille on the back. This takes a lot of extra time and effort. It looks impressive, but I haven’t found it any more effective.

In the last six weeks, I’ve caught several trout in both Wisconsin and Montana on an odd assortment of San Juan Worm patterns. I’ve meant to tie some new ones, but I didn’t get to it. So I ended up using the left over patterns in my fly box — that is, some of the ugly ones I tied when I was experimenting with different sizes and colors (red, crimson, tan). The good news is that all of them worked.

There’s no need, then, to get hung up on size or color. Whatever you use will likely be “the only thing that’s working on the river today.”

3. Why it works

You don’t need a PhD in zoology to figure out why the San Juan Worm is so trusty. It imitates a worm — the kind which resides in a silty river bottom. Enough said.

4. When to use it

The San Juan Worm is a great go-to pattern in most conditions.

But it works especially well after it rains or when a river rises a bit. This results in churn that can loosen up the earth along a bank or the silt at the bottom. Worms get displaced by this churn. It’s hard for a trout to pass up such a large dose of protein for the little effort it takes to grab the worm as it drifts through the current or bobs along the bottom.

If a purist asks you later what you were using, tell him or her you were simply matching the hatch — imitating the aquatic life below the surface. You’ll be telling the truth.

S2:E44 10 Fly Fishing Proverbs for the Soul

Fly fishing proverbs are everywhere. In conversations at the fly shop. In stories after a big day on the river. And in books from our sport’s great fly fishing legends. In this fun episode, we lift ten fly fishing proverbs from the sayings of some of our great fly fishers and regale each other with stories about their truths. Proverbs are aphorisms, short statements packed with wisdom and, sometimes, humor. Steve even adds one of his own proverbs at the end of the episode for the cherry on top!

Listen now to “10 Fly Fishing Proverbs for the Soul”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

We’d love to hear a fly fishing proverb that makes you smile – or groan. Have you heard any great proverbs recently? Please share your sayings below.

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Holy Fly Fishing Distraction, Batman!

Recently I was invited to a retreat of executives. The facilitator ask us to introduce ourselves, and I was one of the first to do so. We were mostly in our 50s, with a few in their 60s. I ended my introduction with “And the great joy in my life is fly fishing.”

The woman next to me introduced herself and then concluded by saying her great joy was golf.

The next person, however, said that only grandchildren could bring joy to his life. Then every person in the room with a grandchild or two said, definitively, “Grandchildren.” Once grandchildren were mentioned, the two losers (who had mentioned fly fishing and golf) shrunk back in their chairs in shame.

With no grandchildren, I have no idea whether they bring joy. Steve, my podcast partner, has six. And another on the way. He says grandchildren bring joy. I’ll have to take him at his word. My laconic and grumpy 16-year-old teenager did not bring me large amounts of joy when I dropped him off at school this morning.

I’ve decided I need a better word or phrase to express how I feel about fly fishing. I’ve come up with “holy distraction.” Fly fishing is not so much my great joy as it is my holy distraction.

Fly Fishing Holiness

I had just started my second business when the Great Recession hit. Within a year it was clear the business would not succeed, and it took another five years before I finally was able to unwind and unload it – for about 25 cents on the dollar. Then the recession began to drag down what I had taken for granted – my other stable business.

Never before had I felt such acute fear for such a prolonged period of time. Almost two years.

One year during the latter part of the Great Recession, Steve and I took two trips to Montana, when both of us could barely afford one. I don’t remember how I justified two fly fishing trips or how I paid for them. Or why my wife Jana didn’t put her foot down. Steve and I did both trips on the cheap, like we always do, but it was still a chunk of money in a year when my family’s financial future was in flux.

Upon reflection, I can see that the two fly fishing trips (in addition to our regular trips to the Driftless) helped refocus me during the worst days of those years. The discipline of fly fishing, even in one of the most stress-filled stretches of my life, distracted me just enough to refresh me. Fly fishing was a holy distraction.

I’ve poached the word holy from my faith tradition. The word actually means “to set apart” or “sacred.” I definitely don’t want to be a lightning rod, so I need to be careful what I call sacred.

Fly fishing, however, was the chance to set apart some time from the grind of life, a distraction from the unsolvable parts of my life. Fly fishing offered me long stretches on the river with nary a thought, only the futile struggle to cast between gusts of wind or to warm my fingers while tying on an egg pattern in an early April snowstorm.

If only for a few hours at a time, I was liberated from my mind’s machinations, which had ground me to exhaustion.

I can’t explain it. Something transformative happened to me during the rhythms of casting and mending. It wasn’t like I returned home after a week in Montana with my life and business back to normal. I always returned to uncertainty, and it took several years for my business to stabilize fully.

Somehow, though, the time set apart for fly fishing was a kind of holiness, even sacred.

I haven’t yet had the courage to use the phrase holy distraction yet in a public setting. Maybe I’ll keep using the word joy. For sure I don’t want any grandchildren joy while my oldest is still in college!

S2:E43 Casting Upstream or Downstream?

Casting upstream is the default mode for newer fly fishers. It’s how we are taught: stand in the river or on the bank near the bottom of the run, and cast upstream. And then mend your line as it drifts in the current. That’s certainly one approach. But there are other ways to catch fish than just casting upstream.

Listen now to “Casting Upstream or Downstream?”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Do you default to casting upstream when you fly fish? What are some situations in which you like to cast downstream?

Here is a related article to this week’s episode:

    Fly Fishing Streamers on Smaller Creeks

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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Fly Fishing Crowded Waters

A few months ago I introduced my brother-in-law to the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon. We had a summer afternoon to fly fish. I warned him that we might run into a couple of other anglers in my favorite spot.

I was wrong. The number was much higher. I counted seven pairs of waders—filled with bodies — in the run I like to fly fish (pictured above). So what is a fly fisher to do?

Here are seven tips for fly fishing crowded waters.

1. Remain calm.

When I’m feeling annoyed, I have to remind myself that other anglers have every bit as much right to fish in my spot as I do. I am as responsible for the crowded conditions as they are. My kids’ advice is good in these moments: “Take a chill pill.”

What ruins a good day are not the fly fishers who beat me to my spot. It’s my response. If I relax, I can usually figure out a solution.

In fact, one of the best days I’ve ever had on Montana’s Madison River (I landed 25 browns on the last day of March) was the result of finding every one of my favorite spots on the Gallatin River filled with fly fishers. I’m glad I calmed down enough to formulate Plan B and drive to the Madison.

2. Arrive early (or late).

I’m fishing with a friend in a few days on the Missouri River near Helena, Montana. My friend has a favorite spot where he catches large rainbows in the spring. But he gets there at dawn.

Last week, he landed seven big trout in an hour and a half of fishing. Then he left as the crowds started rolling in about 9 a.m. The evening can be productive, too. I’ve found great solitude (and fishing!) on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley in the spring and summer after 5 p.m.

3. Avoid the weekend.

Yes, I know that you may only have weekends to fly fish. But if you have any flexibility in your schedule, try Tuesday or Wednesday, and then work on Saturday. Or leave work early if you live near a river.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I like to fly from Chicago to Bozeman, Montana, on Sunday night or Monday morning. Then, we fly home on Friday as the weekend frenzy begins. It’s worth our vacation days to fish mid week.

4. Wait for your spot.

Don’t crowd the fly fishers in the run you want to fish. That is simply bad fly fishing etiquette.

But you can hover (at a distance) in the run below them. You’ll find out soon if they are moving or planning on staying put. The twenty minutes you think you are wasting, waiting for them, might turn out to be a good investment of time. You may be using a different pattern or approach, so don’t assume that the run needs to rest for two hours before you fish it.

5. Look for an opening.

Sometime we give up too quickly and assume the river is too crowded when there are spots open.

My youngest son, Luke, is working in Madison, Wisconsin, at the moment. He had day off on a Friday, so I suggested he try the Blue River about an hour west of him. I told him to get there early, and he did. But he saw cars parked in both access spots. So he called me and asked where else he could fish. I told him to try to find an open spot on the river (well, it’s really a small spring creek). It turned out that a couple guys were leaving, and there was a long stretch of open stream to fish. He ended up catching several nice brown trout.

6. Walk the extra mile.

Dave and I have talked about this before. If you’re willing to walk farther than the other fly fishers on the river, you might get into some fine fishing. I realize this doesn’t work everywhere. You may walk a ways only to come to another fishing access with more fly fishers! I had this happen last year on the Provo River in Utah. But if you keep walking, you may find a golden spot.

7. Research other options.

If you keep encountering crowds on your favorite stretch of river, start exploring some other options.

A couple years ago, we noticed more fly fishers on a lesser known stream in southwest Wisconsin. So Dave did some research and found a beautiful creek a couple hours west in southeast Minnesota. We rarely see crowds (as long as we avoid weekends), and it fishes well. It reminded me that there are other fine waters out there waiting to be discovered.

S2:E42 Fishing Emergers During a Hatch

Fishing emergers during a hatch is not the first thing to come to mind for newer fly fishers. Yet, it can be productive. In this episode, we discuss four reasons to throw on an emerger pattern when a hatch is in full swing.

Listen now to “Fishing Emergers During a Hatch”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What have you discovered when fishing emergers during a hatch? What do you recommend for the best results?

Here is a related article to this week’s episode:

    3 Truths about the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

The Reel Truth about Fighting Trout

A little mistake cost me a big fish. I was fishing Montana’s Madison River several years ago when I hooked into a large trout. It began running down the river, and I could not get it to stop. So I started running after it — well, as much as one can run in knee-deep water.

About one-hundred yards downriver, the trout circled around a large boulder near the river’s edge. Suddenly, the line went limp. I felt disgusted. I had seen how big the trout was when it leaped out of the water before it started its escape route. I had made a few mistakes trying to land the trout. But one costly little mistake was failing to set the drag properly on my reel.

How many fish are lost as the result of reel-related mistakes?

It’s hard to say, but I suspect it is more than we think. A reel is not simply an apparatus for line storage. It is an integral tool for fighting fish. If you are new to fly fishing, here are four ideas to help you use your reel more effectively so that you land fish rather than losing them.

1. Retrieve the slack line so the fish is pulling against your reel.

The first tip has to do with that awkward moment right after the trout takes your fly. The thrill of setting the hook is replaced by the realization that you have a wad of line at your feet — or on the surface of the water. The loops of line you need to retrieve may add up to as much as twenty feet! So you have to retrieve it so that fish is pulling against your reel.

It sounds simple. But it is not. How do you multi-task and retrieve the line while fighting the fish? Very carefully.

While reeling in the slack line, use the index finger of the hand holding your rod to keep the right tension on the line. You can tighten the tension as the line runs through the groove in your index finger by pressing the line against your rod handle or by simply tightening the crease in your finger. Too little pressure means the fish can throw the hook or run into a place you don’t want it to go (usually there is brush involved). Too much pressure means the fish can snap your tippet when it surges.

I have even figured out how to use the little finger on my rod hand to guide the slack line and create the right amount of tension as it is being retrieved. Yes, I can do that even as my index finger on the same hand is controlling the section of line against which the fish is fighting.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and the slack is gone.

2. Adjust the drag as needed.

Once the slack is gone and the fish is pulling line from your reel, it’s time to think about the drag. This is the amount of pressure a fish must exert to pull the line out of the reel. Your fly reel has an adjustable drag—a lever or a dial which will adjust the tension.

The basic rule is to set the drag on the light side. If it’s too tight, a sudden surge by the fish will snap the tippet. But if it’s too light, the fish will invariably run for cover and snag or snap your line on a submerged branch or other obstruction.

You may even need to tighten and lighten your drag as you retrieve your fish. With a larger fish, I will typically tighten my drag as the fish tires.

3. Alternate between reeling in your line and letting the trout take it out.

There is a lot of give and take when you fight a trout. You want to land it as quickly as possible to enable the fish to survive. So retrieve the line when the trout takes a break. But when it wants to run, let it do so within reason.

Some fly fishers like to fight trout by palming the reel. That is, they press their cupped hand into the side of spool where the little handle is spinning around. This stops or slows down the spool from releasing line. It looks fun, and it can work with smaller fish. But expect a bruised palm if you try to do it with larger fish.

4. Develop the feel for your reel.

Some experts will give you formulas for how many pounds of tension to use when setting your drag. Newer fly lines even change in color to help you gauge how many feet of line you have in the water. But I still think you have to get a feel for this rather than relying on a particular formula or guideline.

S2:E41 Better Fly Fishing Photos

Taking great fly fishing photos is much easier in an age of Instagram and Snapchat. No matter the apps and technology, though, there are a few principles that can help you up your game. We are not professional photographers, for sure, but in this episode, we offer nine commandments for better fly fishing photos. Through the years, we’ve collected some basic skills that have improved our fly fishing photos. In the pic below, while being mauled by a grizzly, Steve demonstrates for us the proper use of bear spray.

Listen to “Better Fly Fishing Photos” now.

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What elementary principles for taking pictures have we missed? Please post your additions to our podcast below.

Here is a related article to this week’s episode:

    Keeping Track of Your Fly Fishing Adventures

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

8 Tips for Fly Fishing Grasshoppers

There is no such thing as a grasshopper hatch, of course. Grasshoppers live and die in the riparian zones along rivers and streams. They’re not mayflies, which roll around as nymphs underwater for a year or two only to emerge as adults for a few minutes or hours. And then die. Did you know that the mayfly with the shortest lifespan lives less than five minutes as an adult? And my teenager thinks his life is hard!

The life of a hopper is, too, quite short, of course, but that’s where the similarities between mayflies and hoppers end. Soon enough, it will be that time of year (mid to late summer) to fish hoppers.

Here are a few tips to help beginners enjoy what is one of my favorite seasons of fly fishing:

1. Let the river warm up.

Several years ago, Steve (my podcast partner) and I fished a gorgeous stream on private property in southwestern Montana in late July. We arrived at the creek about 8:30 or 9 AM, and we rigged up with hoppers. Nothing rose to our casts. I became a bit grumpy.

A Trico hatch was on, but I didn’t have the patience to fish a size #20 Trico imitation. I switched to nymphs for an hour or so, and then I walked upriver where Steve was hauling in his second or third brown on a hopper imitation.

It was like the bell rang some time between 10 and 11 AM, and the trout started feeding on hoppers. It was nonstop until late afternoon. Often, the trout won’t start hitting hoppers until mid to late morning, when the vegatation along the banks warms up.

2. Big is not bad.

I learned to fly fish in Montana and Colorado, but in recent years, I’ve spent more days on smaller creeks than I have the big rivers of the West. My spring-creek-to-western-river ratio is probably four or five days on a spring creek to one day on a western river.

I’ve grown acclimated to the spring-creek requirements of finer tackle and smaller flies. Consequently, I also reach for smaller grasshopper imitations. But if you’re fishing out West, select a bigger hopper just because you can. Go for a size #4 or #6. Make sure you have 3X or 4X tippet to handle the bigger bug.

And then see what happens.

3. Don’t forget the relaxed sip.

I love the aggressive strikes that hoppers provoke. But not all hopper strikes are aggressive. Some fish prefer to mouth or toy with the hopper. Crazy, I know. I’ve caught some large cutthroat in Yellowstone National Park simply by being more patient with my hook set. In general, fly fishers, especially those new to the sport, tend to rip the hook out of the mouth of fish. Certainly, trout love to slash at grasshoppers, but there are often more subtle takes as well.

That means being vigilant when you feel or see a take. Some fly fishers repeat a mantra or phrase when they feel a take, such as “God save the Queen” or “The Cubs finally won a World Series,” depending on your country of origin – and then they set the hook.

4. Give it some action.

Real grasshoppers don’t float passively on the water, unless they are already dead.

If the wind has blown a hopper into the water, then likely it is kicking for shore. If you’re fishing a swift-moving river like the Yellowstone, then you may not need to twitch or skate the hopper. But in more flat stretches, you may want to give the hopper some action by twitching it or skating it across the surface.

5. Drop another terrestrial.

Several years ago while fishing in Yellowstone Park, I dropped a fat foam flying ant off my top hopper pattern, and I caught more cuttthroat off the ant than I did the hopper. I tied the foam ant about nine to twelve inches below the grasshopper, and it worked beautifully.

The Yellowstone River was swift, and with the current, the ant seemed to float just beneath the film. Several times, I watched the shadow of a cutthroat appear from the depths of the river and grab the ant.

6. Pay attention to color.

When I was young, I used to catch grasshoppers and stick them on a naked hook and cast them into the streams. There’s nothing like the action of a real grasshopper in the throes of death on the water. I learned, though, that not all grasshoppers are the same (other than they all seem to have the dark liquid that squirts of their abdomen when you insert the hook). There are a million variety of hoppers, and a host of different earth-tone hues from green to yellow and to brown.

I’ve made the mistake of buying hoppers from a fly shop in Montana and wondering why they don’t work as well in the spring creeks of the Driftless (southwestern Wisconsin, for example). Dumb, I know, but I can be a little slow.

You’ll want to do a little research at your local fly shop. Size and color are important, and every fly is local.

7. Throw one on when nothing is rising.

It always strikes me as odd that when there is nothing rising, I can throw on a hopper in late summer, and an aggressive trout takes the imitation.

Through the years, I can’t remember a time when I’ve noticed trout rising to hoppers, and then decided to throw on a hopper. It’s just that time a year. The creeks runs through a meadow. There are hoppers. And I decide to throw on a hopper. And voila! I catch trout on hoppers. Again, there is no hatch, where you can see the trout rising to mayflies.

Hoppers promise a gob of calories, and during mid to late summer, trout want the gob.

8. Start with foam.

Most hopper patterns come in three styles: foam, natural, and parachute. I tend to start with foam, though I will use more natural patterns when fishing slower water. The parachute hopper always is a win in riffles – I can see it!

Grasshopper season is like the Christmas season. It comes once a year. And if you can have even one great day fly fishing grasshoppers, you’ve received the best present of the year.

S2:E40 Clues of Trout Feeding Behavior

Trout feeding behavior is not an exact science. And yet there are some signals that can help you select which flies to use. In this episode we discuss the four responses of trout when feeding on or near the surface. Listen to The Clues of Trout Feeding Behavior now.

Great Stuff from Our Listeners

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What trout feeding behavior have you observed? Any nuance or exceptions you’d add to the conversation?

Here are other articles or podcasts that we’ve published that are related to this topic:

    My 6 Favorite Dry Fly Attractor Patterns

    3 Truths about the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

    Interpreting the 4 Feeding Behaviors of Trout

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

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Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Fun Facts about the Movie “A River Runs Through It”

The movie A River Runs Through It celebrates its 25th anniversary later this year. It premiered on October 9, 1992. Based on the novella by Norman Maclean, the film launched the career of Brad Pitt and boosted interest in fly fishing. It continues to captivate viewers who resonate with its story of tragedy, family, the American West, and fishing.

The movie is set in Missoula, Montana, though most fans know that it was filmed 200-plus miles east of Missoula in Livingston, Montana. Livingston served as Missoula, and the Gallatin River served as the Big Blackfoot River.

But there are some fun facts about its filming which you won’t find in most reviews or articles. This information comes from two primary sources. First, I lived in the very area where the filming took place. I could take you to the exact spots on the Gallatin and Boulder Rivers (and Mill Creek in Paradise Valley) where the scenes were shot.

Second, my podcast partner, Dave, and I had an extensive conversation with Gary Borger about his role as a consultant. So if you’re curious about some of the details, keep reading.

The House

The “Maclean house” is across the road from the Springhill Presbyterian church, fourteen miles north of downtown Bozeman, Montana. The porch was built specifically for the scene where the Maclean brothers climb out of their bedroom window.

Then, when they drive away in the dark with their cronies, the church is visible, and it looks as much like a schoolhouse as it does a church.

Fly “Pole”

In the scene where the father teaches his young sons the art of fly casting, Tom Skerritt (the actor who played the role of Rev. Maclean) originally said: “Go get the fly poles.”

This happened to be Gary Borger’s first day on the set, and he told the line producer that a fly fisher never would have referred to a fly rod as a “fly pole.” So the line producer got producer Robert Redford’s attention.

“Go get the book,” Redford said.

He found the passage that says that “it is always supposed to be called a rod” — not a pole. And rod it was.

Fly Casting

Most of the fly fishing scenes were filmed on the Gallatin River in the Gallatin Canyon south of Bozeman.

In these scenes, Gary Borger’s son, Jason, did almost all the fly casting for the actors in the movie. This includes the memorable “shadow-casting” that Paul Maclean performed while standing on a big rock in the middle of the river. When Jason did that particular cast, an elderly, long-time friend of the Maclean brothers was on the set. After the scene was filmed, he approached Jason and said, “You are Paul.” The friend was stunned that Jason had captured the essence of Paul’s artistry with a fly rod.

While Jason did most of the fly casting in the movie, the actors picked it up rather quickly. Tom Skerritt (the elder Maclean) had done some fly fishing previously. Both Craig Sheffer (Norman) and Brad Pitt (Paul) were quite athletic. Jason made sure that Skerritt and Sheffer used the traditional forearm style, while Pitt used the more open freearm style that Paul Maclean would have used.

Fighting Trout

The “trout” the Maclean brothers hooked into and fought were mostly non-fish.

In several scenes, the fish on the end of their line was actually a half gallon milk jug with rocks in it. In the scene where Paul fights a fish hidden from view behind a large boulder, the fish is actually John Bailey of Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana. John was behind the rock, pulling on the line!

In the final scene, when Paul is fighting a monster trout, the producers filmed the water flying off of his fly reel in a city park rather than in the river. The city park was Lindley Park in Livingston, and the producers created this effect by dipping the fly reel in a bucket of water. Then, after an actor lifted it out of the bucket, someone on the end of the line immediately started pulling it to get the spool spinning and flinging off beads of water.

Riding the Rails

The scene where Norman’s girlfriend, Jesse, pulls her car onto the railroad tracks and drives through a tunnel was filmed on the CA Ranch forty miles or so north of Bozeman. The exact location is the Eagle’s Nest tunnel on an old railroad grade that the Ringling brothers used to haul their circus equipment to Ringling, Montana, for off-season storage. The railroad trestle leading into the tunnel towers over Sixteen Mile Creek. There is a brief view of the creek in the movie.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I have both caught trout underneath that trestle (pictured above – Dave, in fact, took the picture). In the movie, Jesse and Norman actually enter and exit the same end of the tunnel.

A Final Thought

Sometimes, knowing insider information on how a movie was filmed can spoil it. But both the cinematography and the story itself prevent his from happening. If you’ve never watched the move “A River Runs Through It,” you simply must. Even if you watched it years ago, it’s worth revisiting. I’m convinced that after watching it, you, too, will be haunted by waters.

S2:E39 Gearing Up for a New Fly Fishing Season

A new fly fishing season brings new expenses. It may be finally time to buy a new pair of waders. Or a new duffle bag or a pair of wading sandals. Too bad you didn’t purchase them last fall when some gear went on sale! In this episode, we discuss the new fly fishing season and the new gear that we hope to purchase. Listen to “Gearing Up for a New Fly Fishing Season.”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What gear do you plan to purchase this year? New waders? Wading boots? A new fly rod? Please post your comments below.

Here are some other episodes on fly fishing gear that we’ve published:

    Soothing Words for the Fly Rod Owner’s Soul

    Go-to Gear for All Kinds of Weather

    Your Next Pair of Fly Fishing Waders

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Working on Your Fly Fishing Swing

If you want to get more hits, you need to work on your swing. This truism is just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball. It is particularly critical for fishing streamers, although it can also work for nymphs.

The “swing” is that moment when the current begins to drag (swing) your fly back across the stream so that it suspends in the current directly downstream from you. At this point, you will begin to strip in your streamer (or pick up your nymph).

I have had a lot of trout hit my streamer or nymph as it swings across the current, so it pays to perfect the art of your swing. What initiates the swing is drag. Ordinarily, drag is the kiss of death. This is always true for dry fly fishing, and it’s true for nymph fishing – until you reach the end of the run.

Here are couple different approaches.

The Drift and Swing

Four years ago, I landed ten rainbows and a Dolly Varden — all fifteen to twenty inches—in Clear Creek, upstream a hundred yards or so from where it empties into Alaska’s Talkeetna River. I caught all but one on the swing.

My approach was to drift my streamer, a Dalai Lama pattern, down the run like a nymph. Then, when it reached the area where I knew the trout were waiting, I let the line go taut. This tightening of the line resulted in the current dragging the fly so it swung downriver from me. I quickly realized I needed to be ready for a strike as soon as the fly started to swing.

After I caught several trout, I decided to tie on a big attractor dry fly pattern. I had no action on the first two casts. But on the third, my fly got water-logged and disappeared beneath the surface. When the fly reached the end of the drift, I prepared to haul it in to dry it. But as soon as the submerged fly started to swing, an eighteen-inch rainbow attacked it.

I used this same technique whenever I fished nymphs in Montana’s Gallatin River south of Four Corners. I found a couple long runs, and invariably, I caught the most trout when my nymph reached the end of my drift and started to swing across the current. That’s not the norm for nymph fishing. But in certain situations, it works.

So be ready when your nymph reaches the end of the drift.

The Cast and Swing

The most common technique is to bypass the drift and simply cast downstream at a forty-five degree (or so) angle. Veteran angler Gary Borger likes this tactic in smaller streams where he can cast his fly as tight as possible to the other bank. It might take a strip or two to pull it into the current. But be ready when the swing begins! Trout on the opposite bank will chase it to keep it from escaping. If it makes it across the current and into the slower water along your bank, be ready for trout to dart out and grab it — even before you begin stripping it.

In a larger river, like the Missouri, I will even cast streamers straight ahead or slightly upriver. As soon as the fly hits the water, I will wait a couple seconds to allow it to sink. Then, I start stripping it. This results in a long, sustained swing.

Gary Borger also reminds fly fishers to give their streamers plenty of time to swing across the current. He even suggests letting the fly hang in the current for a few seconds before beginning the strip or picking it up to cast again.

Work on perfecting your swing so you can get more hits. Yes, it’s just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball.

S2:E38 One Fine Day on the Blue River

The Wisconsin Driftless region is known for its small spring creeks and bucolic, dairy-cows-and-old-barns setting. Recently, we escaped from the Chicago ‘burbs for a day to fish one of those creeks called the Blue River, a small stream just west of Madison, Wisconsin. Technically, it was winter, but it felt like spring. The day couldn’t have been better, except, perhaps, for the overly friendly dairy cows. Click now to listen to “One Fine Day on the Blue River.”

Listen to our episode “One Fine Day on the Blue River”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Have you recently had a fine day on the river? What made it exceptional? Any funny moments? Please post your comments below!

Here are some other One Fine Day episodes that we’ve published:

    One Fine Day on Willow Creek

    One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Day 1)

    One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Day 2)

    One Fine Day on the Madison River

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Fly Fishing Conversations

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

So true. Sure, I go to the river to catch trout—and hopefully lots of them. But I go to relax. I go to experience the great outdoors. I go to get lost in my thoughts.

I also go for the conversations.

Words and Silence

My podcast partner, Dave, and I are close friends. That might even be an understatement. When I think of Dave, there’s a proverb in the Bible that says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” So when we are together, we engage in a lot of conversation. We debunk the stereotype of men who simply grunt at each other. Real men do more than grunt. They talk.

Now this doesn’t mean our time on the river is a constant barrage of words. We do our share of grunting. But the sound of silence is frequent. There can be long stretches of hiking or fishing or even driving with no words.

When we do talk, though, the conversations seem to run much deeper than they do when we are eating lunch in a café in one of the towns where we live. Certainly the longer stretch of time we spend on the river or on the road to the river (compared to a booth in a café) makes this possible. But I suspect that the environment has something to do with it too.

Conversational Themes

So what do we talk about?

Well, fly fishing, of course.

We talk about the day ahead and what we hope it will be. We talk strategy, and we trade information on patterns that might work in the stretch of river we’re going to fish. We discuss the pros and cons of the gear we want to purchase. I suppose all the talk about fly fishing is a diversion from the stress points of life.

But I like to think it is a parallel challenge which keeps our minds sharp and our spirits refreshed.

We also talk about people — how they fascinate us, frustrate us, and inspire us. We talk about our wives and how we both married up. We’re grateful for how supportive they are of our friendship and our fly fishing habit.

We trade stories about our children — their challenges, their futures, and their dreams. We talk about our friend, Dennis, and the journey he and his wife are taking into the darkness as her memory loss becomes an increasing reality. We talk about Marty, a college friend, who has shockingly been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. We talk about the career of Don Henley, the drummer and co-lead singer for the Eagles. We talk as well about fly fishing guides and shop owners we know.

Then, we gossip about ideas.

That’s preferable to gossiping about people. We talk business strategy and political philosophy, though we quickly tire of politics. We discuss the big ideas we encounter in literature. On our last fly fishing day trip, we talked about some great lines from Wallace Stegner’s novels. Dave shared a quote from Remembering Laughter, while I brought up a poignant statement in Crossing to Safety.

Our faith is always a topic of conversation. Our worldview springs from this and provides our lives with ballast. Occasionally, we’ll circle back to the how the river is such a key metaphor in the Bible. Rivers figure prominently in both its opening and closing chapters. But lest you think our conversation is always deep and reflective, we spend a lot of time laughing (often at each other) and debating whether we should find a steakhouse or a pizza place for dinner.

On a recent fly fishing trip, we drove out of our way on the way home to eat at a supper club, only to wind up disappointed with the Friday night fish fare. We left the establishment graciously but chuckled about the third-rate experience on the drive home.

Laugh Kills Lonesome

When I lived in Helena, Montana, I would frequently go to the Montana Historical Society so I could gaze at C. M. Russell’s painting, “Laugh Kills Lonesome.” He actually painted himself in this picture. He is standing by a prairie campfire with a group of his cowboy friends. The scene evokes solitude. Yet, as the title of his oil-on-canvas suggests, the laughter effectively killed the loneliness.

I suspect that Charlie Russell liked riding the range for some of the same reasons I love to fly fish — the solitude, the scenery, the feel of freedom, the wind in his face, and the scent of sage. But he also loved the conversations and the laughter. That’s a side of fly fishing I treasure. I’m after more than trout when I pick up my fly rod and head to the river. I’m after some rich conversations.

S2:E37 How to Plan Your Next Fly Fishing Trip

If you haven’t yet made plans for a fly fishing trip this year, you’ll want to listen to this episode. Our fishing year is typically comprised of a series of short trips and at least one longer trip. We are do-it-your-selfers, so planning is essential. One important element is contingency plans: making sure you have options in the event of weather changes or a crowded river. Click now to listen to “How to Plan Your Next Fly Fishing Trip.”

Listen to our episode “How to Plan Your Next Fly Fishing Trip”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What tips would you add to our preparations? What are we missing? Here are some related podcasts and articles on planning your next fly fishing trip:

    Fly Fishing Trip Preparations

    Planning Your Next Fly Fishing Trip

    6 Tips for Planning a Memorable Fly Fishing Trip

    6 Ways to Spoil Your Guide Trip

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Know Your Pattern – The Royal Coachman

Not everyone likes the Royal Coachman. According to Paul Schullery, one angler called it “an act of aesthetic vandalism, a grotesque violence perpetrated on a fly box.”

But I am rather fond of this fly. Actually, I am rather fond of couple of its modifications — the Royal Wulff and the Royal Trude. The following profile will help you appreciate this dry fly pattern and use it more effectively:

1. How it originated

Paul Schullery’s essay, “Royal Coachman and Friends” (found in his book, Royal Coachman: The Lore and Legends of Fly-Fishing), tells the story of this magnificent pattern. John Haily, a professional fly tyer in New York, first tied this pattern in 1878. He simply created a more flashy version of an older British pattern, the Coachman. He added some red silk in the middle and a little sprig of wood duck feathers for a tail. Then, he mailed his sample fly to L.C. Orvis, the brother of Charles Orvis, who founded The Orvis Company.

Yes, the Orvis rod or waders or vest you may use comes from that company.

The rest is history.

2. How it has been modified

Legendary fly fisher Lee Wulff famously modified the Royal Coachman in the 1930s by replacing its wings and tail with white calf hair. Dan Bailey promoted this fly to western anglers in his fly shop in Livingston, Montana, and through his mail-order business. He gets the credit for suggesting the name “Royal Wulff.” The calf hair makes this fly float well in rough water of western rivers.

According to The Orvis Company, the Royal Trude originated even earlier in Island Park, Idaho (near Henry’s Fork of the Snake River). Apparently an angler in the early 1900s tied it as a joke. But it turned into a serious pattern.

The Royal Trude has a long wing of white calf hair which runs the length of the fly. A friend swears by this pattern on the Yellowstone River. He is a one-fly kind of guy, and he has used it successfully during the salmon fly hatch and during hopper season.

3. Why it works

Who knows?

It is definitely an attractor pattern. Paul Schullery notes that fly fishers “want to believe it looks like something — a dragonfly, a moth, a crippled hummingbird, a lightening bug; there is a desperation in these efforts to label the fly. And it’s unnecessary. Trout take flies for lots of reason we know and for some we’ll never understand.”

4. When to use it

The Royal Wulff or Royal Trude is a great pattern to use when you are trying to coax a trout to the surface when there is no obvious hatch in play.

For awhile I stopped using The Royal Coachman and its derivatives because they were so popular. I feared the trout would get tired of seeing them. So I gravitated more towards Humpy patterns and even an Elk Hair Caddis for those times when I wanted an attractor pattern that would stay afloat in choppy water.

But I have a hunch that the “Royals” have a lot of life left in them. Trout may see fewer Royals these days due to the myriad of other patterns available. So I’m predicting they will make a comeback as they give new generations of trout a fresh look.

I do hope the comeback happens. After all, as Schullery points out, “the Royal Coachman is the first great American fly pattern.”

S2:E36 Fly Fishing Physics 101

Fly fishing physics are always at work if you’re at work on the river. From casting to striking to reeling to mending – the laws of physics won’t be denied. And the better you understand fly fishing physics, the more fish you might catch. Click now to listen to “Fly Fishing Physics 101.”

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Physics 101”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Which laws of fly fishing physics do you violate most often? Which laws did we miss? Please post your comments below.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

7 Streamside Habits of Highly Generous Fly Fishers

In 2015, an estimated 4.5 million folks over the age of 16 fly fished at least once during the year. That’s slightly more than one percent of the population of the United States. The industry growth roughly tracks the net population growth of the U.S. Though not exploding in popularity, the fly fishing community is growing. And it’s important that new fly fishers carry on the great traditions of our sport.

One legacy is what can only be described as the generosity mindset, illustrated by the catch-and-release movement of the last fifty years, stream restoration efforts, the advocacy for public lands, and the extensive volunteerism of Trout Unlimited chapter members.

Another layer of this generosity mindset is the sport’s streamside etiquette. To oversimplify for a moment: There are takers in this world, and there are givers. The fly fishing community is a “giver community,” and I’ve assembled seven streamside habits that characterize the highly generous fly fisher:

1. They defer to others on the river.

This seems patently obvious, but it needs to be said again and again. This is a way of thinking more than anything. It is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength. This mindset believes there’s always better fishing elsewhere, if something or someone is blocking access to his or her favorite spot.

Just to be practical for a moment: If you’re not first to your spot on the river, you’re not the first. Move on. Defer to the person who got there first. Find another run. Move to another river.

By the way, this also applies to fly fishing guides. Just because someone paid you for a great day of fly fishing doesn’t mean the generosity mindset doesn’t apply to you. If you can’t be a generous fly fishing guide to others (those who not your clients), then get out of the business and into a different sport.

2. They give others a wide berth.

This is a corollary to the first point, of course, but we’ve all had days when we’ve come around the bend to see another fly fisher stalled on our favorite run. My first thought is often a prayer: I sure hope she is on her way upriver. My next is, “I sure hope there’s not another fly fisher ahead of her.”

The highly generous fly fisher doesn’t just go up to the next run. He or she goes up two or three runs farther – or another mile. Or leaves to find a different river.

Back to the initial point: There’s always more, not less.

3. They dole out information freely.

I love running into a fly fisher who says, “I switched to a size 18 BWO pattern this afternoon, and I finally started catching a few.” Or, “I fished an olive woolly bugger for a couple hours, but when I switched to nymphs, it was game on.”

No, I don’t think you have to tell someone your secret run. At least I won’t. But the highly generous fly fisher sees the next fly fisher not so much as a competitor but as a colleague.

I once invited a friend to hunt with my family in North Dakota. Once. I never invited him again. He was so obsessed with shooting pheasants, he wanted to hunt the ditches on the way to the cornfield we planned for the hunt – 15 minutes before the 10 AM opener! He was so fiercely competitive, he annoyed the rest of us the entire day.

4. They slow down to teach young fly fishers.

Young does not mean young in age, necessarily. Young means “new to the sport.” I have found so much joy in helping my twenty-something nephew get started in the sport. When he initially engaged me, I had a fleeting thought that I might not be able to fish much, because I’d be so focused on helping him tie on flies, untangle knots, and identify the best runs to fish.

Instead, the common interest created a nascent friendship, and it won’t be long and he’ll be much better than I. I can’t wait.

What I love most about helping younger fly fishers is that they ask questions. They want my opinion. Yea! No one wants my opinion on anything these days (not my wife, not my kids, and not even my dog!).

5. They keep their dogs in the truck or at home.

Speaking of dogs, I don’t believe they belong on the river. I’ve hunted with dogs my entire life, and even the best hunting dogs go AWOL some days. If you are in the wilderness and sure you’re ten miles from the nearest fly fisher, then yes, take along your dog.

But the highly generous fly fisher would never spoil the day of another fly fisher by allowing his or her unleashed dog to walk through runs or startle the fly fisher coming up the river. It’s crazy that this even needs to be mentioned.

If you want a dog with you, go back to the suburbs and walk your dog around the neighborhood.

By the way, did you know that the fly fisher moving up the river has priority over the fly fisher moving downstream? The person moving upstream has the right of way. So if you’re walking downstream with your dog, and it lopes ahead of you in the stream, you are in the wrong.

6. They slough off the slights.

Several years ago, an intense fly fisher (who looked like a Navy Seal) stomped past Steve and me (we don’t look like Navy Seals) while we were hiking a narrow trail to a stretch of river in Yellowstone National Park. He brushed past us with not so much as a grunt. It was clear he had a spot in mind. And he got it.

We were a little miffed. And after we said some unflattering things about him to each other, we laughed it off, spied him on the river later, and moved ahead of him about a mile. We never saw him again.

If you fly fish long enough, you’ll have the chance to be annoyed at someone. Just walk away. No need to get in the last word.

7. They share their gear.

A few years ago, Steve, my podcast partner, arrived at his favorite run on the Madison River to find another fly fisher sitting along the bank. The guy had broken his rod. After catching a couple rainbows, Steve handed his rod to the other fly fisher fisher and told him to give the run a try.

In case, you think Steve is the most generous guy on the planet, you should know that Steve was acquainted with this guy. They had worked together in the past.

That said, however, I’ve broken my rod several times while fly fishing with Steve and he has never offered me his rod. Maybe that’s because one day on the Yellowstone, with a broken rod tip, I outfished him. My eight-and-a-half foot five weight rod became an eight-foot rod when I snapped off the last guide about three miles into the backcountry. Fortunately, the runs were right along the bank, and I could sling the hopper pattern with a modicum of precision.

But wouldn’t it be great to make this a habit if the opportunity arises?

Generosity begins with the idea that there is more, not less – more river, more opportunity, more fish. And so there is no need to horde. No need to compete. No need to be a grump. Just move on and find the more.

S2:E35 Organizing Your Fly Box

Organizing your fly box is generally not a top priority until you’re on the river, scrounging for a size #20 BWO in your fly box, and realize you lost the last one on the previous trip. There are several ways to organize your fly box, depending on the number of flies you have, the different kinds of rivers you fish, and even the number of days you fish a year. Click now to listen to “Organizing Your Fly Box.” Hats off to Quinn, a faithful listener and great fly fisher who recommended this topic – this one’s for you!

Listen to our episode “Organizing Your Fly Box”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How do you organize your fly box? How many flies do you think you have? How many days a year do you fly fish? Please post your comments below!

Here are some related podcasts and articles on fly fishing gear:

    Assessing Our Fly Fishing Gear

    Fly Fishing Gear We Use

    Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

My Love-Hate Relationship with January Fly Fishing

Baby, it’s cold outside!” This celebrated song title popped into my head when my podcast partner, Dave, texted me about fly fishing on a recent January day. For better or worse, I had work commitments that kept me from spending a few hours mid-day on the Blue River in Wisconsin.

The truth is, I have mixed feelings about fly fishing north of the Mason-Dixon line in January or even February. I’ve spent enough January days on the Madison and Gallatin Rivers in Montana to form an opinion.

What I Hate

Let’s get this side of the relationship out of the way. To be frank, I hate the cold, the ice, and the slow. Yes, the slow. I don’t mind snow. It often helps the fishing. But the slow is a different story.

First, what is there not to hate about the cold? I don’t mind mid-30s and above. But fly fishing ceases to be fun when the chill stings my fingers. Nimble fingers turn into fumble fingers. Tying a fly onto my tippet becomes nearly impossible. Any moisture at all makes it worse.

The ice is also a problem. It clings to the guides on my fly rod and seems to freeze (pun intended) my casts. Then there is the ice at the river’s edge. Do I walk on it or not? Even if it is solid, it can be slick.

Then there is the slow. The trout move and feed more slowly, so the action on most days is predictably slow. I’ve caught a few trout in January, but I have never even come close to a banner day.

What I Love

But lest I come across as a grumpy old man, I want to affirm what I love about fishing the northern rivers on January days. I love the solitude, the rhythm, and the moments of success.

What is there not to love about having the river all to yourself? I love solitude, and I don’t have to hike very far to find it on a typical January day. It’s usually as close as the river’s edge a few steps from my parking spot at a fishing access. I rarely encounter other fly fishers on a January day.

Then there is the rhythm of casting and mending and stripping line. It feels good to pick up on rod again after the holiday season and weeks without fly fishing. Even if the fishing is slow (see above), there is something hopeful about getting back into the rhythm of fly fishing. January will soon give way to February. Then February — the shortest month of the year — will give way to March and the glories of fly fishing in the spring.

Finally, there are occasional moments of success. Hooking into a nice rainbow makes my day. In July, landing only one rainbow may disappoint me. But in January, it makes me ecstatic.

A Final Thought

Occasionally, the Chinook winds along the eastern slopes of the Rockies will warm January temperatures into the 50s and 60s.

For the most part, though, the temperatures will rise at most to the mid or high 30s. I hate those kind of conditions for fly fishing. But my love of fly fishing usually trumps my desire to stay warm and comfortable. So I venture out into the cold. My fingers may get numb, but at least the hot chocolate in my thermos tastes better than ever.

S2:E34 Fly Fishing Spring Creeks

Fly fishing spring creeks is a snap for those of you who cut your fly fishing teeth on the gorgeous eastern or midwestern creeks of the United States. We didn’t. We learned to fly fish on the freestone rivers in the West. You can imagine the shock to our system when we started fly fishing spring creeks. In this episode, we offer four hard-earned lessons from our learning curve to catch trout in spring creeks.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Spring Creeks”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What kinds of rivers do you fish most often? Did you learn to fly fish on spring creeks? What did we miss in this episode? We’d love to hear from you.

Here are some related podcasts and articles that we’ve published on fishing the wild places:

    Fly Fishing Streamers on Smaller Creeks

    Fly Fishing the Wisconsin Driftless

    Gary Borger on Fly Fishing Spring Creeks

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

When You’re in a Fly Fishing Slump

Fly fishers and baseball players share a common struggle. They sometimes find themselves in a prolonged slump. Anglers whiff on strikes just like batters, and one frustrating day without landing a fish can lead to another. Especially, if you’re a beginner fly fisher – and you have a string of days on the river with no stories to tell – you may wonder if the sport is for you.

So if you ended last season on a frustrating note, you may want to take heart from some of these lessons from baseball:

1. Just keep fishing

Often, this is all it takes.

Follow the lead of baseball players who hit their way out of a slump. Sometimes they can’t explain why they are struggling. They just keep taking good swings, and invariably their luck begins to change. Hard-hit balls start to go between fielders rather than to them.

Sometimes, the best solution is to keep casting, mending, and floating your fly down the foam line. Eventually, you will start catching fish. When the slump is over, you may not be able to explain “why,” and that’s okay.

2. Work with a coach

Mechanics can make a difference. Baseball players know this, and they turn to their batting coaches — as well as hours of video—to help them find a flaw in their swing. Fly fishers can do the same. Okay, you probably do not have video of the casts on your latest trip to the river. But you can engage a coach.

Where can you find a fly fishing coach?

Hire a guide for a day. Or simply invite a friend who is ridiculously good at fly fishing. Even a friend at your skill level may be able to identify a bad casting habit or the fact that you are not properly mending your line.

3. Go back to school

Maybe a fly casting seminar or a fly tying class will re-energize you. Perhaps you’re not doing anything wrong. But learning a new cast or a new dry fly pattern might give you an edge. At least it will keep you engaged with fly fishing until the trout stop boycotting your flies. Even something as reading a good fly fishing book or watching a good instructional video might lead to an adjustment which makes a difference.

4. Try something new

After all, baseball players try new bats when they are slumping. Now this is not a fool-proof way to fix your fly fishing flaws. But a little adjustment might change your luck.

Fish new water. Experiment with flies you do not ordinarily use. You might even try a different fly rod. I may just start a slump simply to buy a new fly rod!

The good news: Slumps don’t last forever.

S2:E33 Fishing the Wild Places

Fishing the wild places is one of the great thrills of the sport. Yes, it’s a lollipop if you are well off enough to fly fish Patagonia, Russia, and New Zealand, but there are many wild places near where you fly fish. Something about the chance of fishing the wild places gives us hope. There is more river in front of you. There’s more opportunity. There’s experiencing nature in its most pristine form. Click now to listen to “Fishing the Wild Places.”

Listen to our episode “Fishing the Wild Places”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What experiences have you had fly fishing the wild places? Have you had a fly fishing encounter with “wild”? We’d love to hear from you. Please post your comments below.

Here are some related podcasts and articles that we’ve published on fishing the wild places:

    Fly Fishing’s Wilder Side

    The Trail Less Traveled

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

5 Unlikely Places to Catch Trout

A few years ago I caught a 12-pound salmon while fly fishing a few minutes from an NBA arena. The tree-lined river gave no hint of its urban surroundings. You might be surprised at some of the unlikely places where you can catch trout on your fly rod. Here are five places you might not want to overlook.

1. In town

The salmon I landed on a Woolly Bugger a few years ago was within the city limits of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was fly fishing the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park—about nine minutes north of the Bradley Center where the Milwaukee Bucks play basketball.

Recently, I was eating in a little restaurant in downtown Estes Park, Colorado. One of my sons and I were seated on a patio a few yards from the Fall River. As we ate, we watched a rainbow rise to the surface to to take a fly. Later, I chatted with a fly shop owner who confirmed that there is decent fishing in town. The reason is not surprising. Nobody fishes it. Don’t ignore the city limits if a river runs through it.

2. In shallow water

This will come as no surprise to veteran fly fishers. Trout will make their way into shallow waters to sip flies. But I shake my head when I think of how many times I’ve overlooked the shallows.

Once I was sneaking up to a small run in the West Gallatin River not far from my home near Manhattan, Montana. The run was about six feet from the bank. As I approached, I suddenly saw a nice trout cruising the shallows. The sight startled me, and I froze. About thirty seconds later, I tossed my streamer just beyond it. On the second strip, I hooked it. The fish turned out to be an 18-inch brown.

On another occasion, I was concentrating on a long run in the Owyhee River and turned to the side to wade a few yards up river. As I turned, I happened to see a couple feeding trout in extremely shallow water near the bank. I never expected to see trout feeding at that spot. My son ended up catching one of them — a 15-inch rainbow — on a size #18 Pale Morning Dun.

So pay attention to what is going on in shallow water before you neglect it or wade through it.

3. Near a fishing access

It seems like a waste of time to fish within a hundred yards or so of a fishing access because everybody else does. But the truth is, they don’t. They assume everyone else has fished these spots. So no one does.

Plus, the fly fishers in the drift boats are putting away their gear or getting it ready. This means the fifty yards up or down the river might be a prime place to cast your fly.

4. Where someone else has just fished

I like to fish untouched water. If someone else has fished a run a few minutes before, I’m tempted to skip it. But I know a few runs which are so good that they are worth fishing shortly after the previous fly fisher leaves them.

Even if you’re not as skilled as the fly fisher who preceded you, the different look you provide might turn out to be the right magic. Perhaps the fly pattern you use or the different depth at which you fish will coax a trout to take your offering.

Keep in mind that your chances increase with the size of the river. If someone else has fished a run on a small stream, the trout will generally need more time to get back into their feeding patterns. The disturbance factor is simply greater than in a run on a large river.

5. In the grass

Yes, this works – but only if we’re talking about a side channel that runs through the grass. Admittedly, this venue can be frustrating. These channels are narrow, and the blades of grass that flank them love to grab your fly if you don’t get it exactly in the center of the channel.

I’ve caught some big brookies, though, in these grass channels in meadows where rivers flow. Beaver dams often create this phenomenon, but so does high water.

Keep your options open

I’m not ready to abandon the wild places. A trip to downtown Milwaukee is not at the top of my list of trips for this next year. Nor am I planning a trip to fish all the great fishing accesses on Montana’s Yellowstone River.

Quite frankly, my favorite places to fly fish are the most likely ones. But there is a thrill of catching a trout in an irrigation ditch or in a run right along the highway. I’ve learned to keep my options open.

S2:E32 Fly Fishing Myths of “More”

More money, more vacations, more fly fishing – who doesn’t want more of the good life? In this episode, we deconstruct the fly fishing myths of more – more days on the water, more fish, and more bigger fish. Don’t get us wrong: we both want to fly fish more this year. But the mindset of “more” is something that can steal the joy and satisfaction from the fly fishing life that you currently have. Click now to listen to “The Fly Fishing Myths of More.”

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Myths of ‘More'”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What “fly fishing myths of more” did we miss? Do you agree with our basic thesis that more is not always better? We’d love to hear from you. Please post your comments below.

Here are some related podcasts and articles that we’ve published on fly fishing satisfaction:

    The Markers of Fly Fishing Satisfaction

    Sustaining Your Fly Fishing Passion

    What Makes a Satisfying Day on the River

    Resisting the Urge to Fly Fish Until Dark Thirty

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Interpreting the 4 Feeding Behaviors of Trout

Look at that! Those trout are feeding on duns.”

My buddy Nolan pointed over the starboard bow of our drift boat: “Do you see those fish rising near the bank about forty yards away?”

We were floating the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, south of Livingston Montana. It took me a few moments to spot the three trout whose noses kept poking up from the surface. But I didn’t see any tiny mayflies in their dun stage. I thought Nolan was arrogant to make such a claim.

How could he have the 30x vision of a spotting scope?

After I scoffed at him, Nolan explained that he couldn’t see those insects any more than I could. Rather, he made the call by watching how the trout were feeding. While it is not an exact science, you can generally figure out what trout are feeding on by watching their behavior.

1. Noses mean duns

If you see noses poking through the surface, the trout are feeding on mayflies in their dun stage. Sometimes, these trout appear to be standing on their fins, up to their eyeballs in water.

The dun stage is the first of two adult stages of mayflies. A Parachute Adams may work fine. But in some cases — slow, clear water or a specific hatch — it might pay to use a Comparadun or Sparkle Dun pattern. Some kind of cripple pattern may work, too, given that most aquatic insects do not make the transition from nymph to adult stage and remain stuck in the surface film.

2. Fins mean nymphs

If you see only a dorsal fin or tail (and not the trout’s note), then the trout is feeding on something just below the surface.

This is a good time to use unweighted nymph, which floats just beneath the surface. Or, you can use an emerger pattern which sits low and protrudes into the film beneath it. A pattern which rides high, like a Parachute Adams, will not work well unless it gets water-logged and disappears from your sight.

3. Dimples mean midges or spinners

If you see a small dimple in the water, chances are are the trout are feeding on midges or spent mayfly spinners. You may or may not see the trout’s nose. Sometimes you will even see the trout gently roll through the surface with the grace of a dolphin.

Aside from specific midge patterns, a size #20 Parachute Adams works well for midges. Mayfly spinner patterns have light bodies and wings which lay out to the side (like airplane wings) rather than shooting up from the body at a forty-five degree angle.

4. Splashes mean caddis

If you see rising trout making splashes, they are likely feeding on caddis flies. The reason for the splash is that these flies are fluttering on the surface, and the trout go into attack mode. Some kind of elk hair caddis pattern will do the trick.

Final Thought

Of course, watching surface behavior is only one part of your knowledge base. Knowing which hatches happen in the river you’re fishing at particular times of the year and even specific times of the day is critical to making the correct visual assessment. As always, talk to the experts at your local fly shop or read their reports online. Then keep your eyes open to watch what is happening on the river’s surface.

S2:E31 Nymph Fishing Tactics for Beginners

Nymph fishing tactics can confound beginner fly fishers. If you’re just starting out, you may ask: How many split shot should I use? How far up should the strike indicator be? Why am I snagging on the bottom all the time? Click on “Nymph Fishing Tactics for Beginners and listen to our episode for beginner fly fishers now.

Listen to our episode “Nymph Fishing Tactics for Beginners”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

If you’re a veteran fly fisher, what tactics would you add to our episode? And if you’re a new fly fisher, what questions do you still have about nymph fishing?

Here are some other podcasts and articles that we’ve publishing on nymph fishing:

    Nymph Fishing’s 7 Nagging Questions

    Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns

    The Basics of Nymph Fishing

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

9 Fly Fishing Moments Requiring Different Speeds

Movies tend to romanticize the fly fishing experience. The natural beauty, the sound of the rushing river, and the rhythmic motion of the cast – all conspire to create an image of tranquility. The entire experience appears to be one speed: slow motion.

The reality, though, is that there are at least three speeds to fly fishing: go, slow, and stop. In the spirit of the stoplight, green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop! In this post, I identify nine fly fishing moments that require one or more of these three speeds.

1. Before you step into the river to flyfish – RED

As you approach the river, stop a few yards before the river’s edge. Observe. Even if you’re wading into the river at a public access area, don’t simply traipse into the water and move upstream (or downstream). Wait a few minutes. Do you see any fish rising? Is the stream or river lower? Higher? Do you see any insects in the air or on the water?

Start your fly fishing with a modicum of observation.

2. After you fish for 15 minutes – GREEN

Beginner fly fishers tend to find a decent run and cast in the same spot for hours. Unless you are working a steelhead run in a larger river, most likely you need to move to the next run more quickly than you are.

After ten to fifteen minutes, move to the next run. Truly. Don’t keep flailing the pool or run. Just move on. If there is another fly fisher in the run in front of you, go around him or her – perhaps to a stretch of river that is several runs ahead of him or her. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general, green means go when you are fly fishing in smaller streams and rivers.

3. Approaching your next run – YELLOW

This is a corollary to #1 and #2. Most stretches of rivers do not have unlimited runs – ergo, places where the trout lie. Treat each run like the treasure that it is. Don’t just step into the river and begin slinging.

Slow down to look for rising trout. Check to see if you are casting a shadow over the run you’re trying to fish. Don’t waste the opportunity that is in front of you. Be methodical as you fish. Act as if every run is the last run of the day.

4. Tying knots – YELLOW

It’s tempting to cave in to your excitement (or anxiety) to get back to fly fishing after you have snapped off your fly. Don’t. Slow down and tie a good knot. Make sure you haven’t weakened the monofilament when you tightened the knot.

5. Reeling in fish – GREEN and YELLOW

This requires two speeds. The time you hook the fish to the time you release it is crucial to its survival. Never should you “play” the fish. It’s green all the way. The goal is always to release the fish as fast as you can.

However, if you hook a large fish, you will suddenly realize the impossibility of simply cranking in the fish. You’ll need to slow down to work your drag, pull the fish from side to side to wear it out, and move downstream to a shallow part of the river to net it.

If you want to catch a large brown trout on your three-pound tippet, you’ll need to slow down.

6. Wading – YELLOW

Nothing good comes from trying to move through the river quickly, even in slower moving streams. Speed increases your risk of falling. Slow down to enjoy the experience and to preserve your life.

7. After you see lightning or hear thunder – RED and GREEN

This is patently obvious, but you’ll want to stop (“red”) fly fishing and run (“green”) to find a low spot (not under a tree!). Make sure you leave your fly rod in a safe place but a good many yards away from you. Or your Winston rod may become a lightning rod!

8. When you encounter a bison or moose or grizzly – RED

It’s never a good idea to saunter up to any wild animal or even to run away from a startling encounter. Stop. Maybe even curl up into the fetal position if the wild encounter is a grizzly bear. Hopefully, you have a canister of bear spray around your waist. Some say it works on even on other wild animals.

9. After a great day on the river – GREEN

Green means go to the nearest supper club or rib and chop house. Go with a cold beverage, and go with the largest rib-eye on the menu.

S2:E30 Fly Fishing Expectations for the New Year

Fly fishing expectations for the new year are in the air (or they should be!). We’re ready to make this next year our best ever, as we seek to find ways to get more days on the water. We’re not professional fly fishers or guides, so our days fly fishing will not be legion (we have day jobs), but we hope to claw and scratch for as many fly fishing days as we can. Click now to listen to our episode on fly fishing expectations for the new year.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Expectations for the New Year”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Any plans for the new year? Do you hope to get more days on the water? Any plans for a bigger fly fishing trip? Any books you plan to read or skills you hope to acquire? Please post your comments below!

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

My 3 Most Humbling Fly Fishing Moments

Humility is not something I necessarily seek out. But this past year, I had three moments while fly fishing that put me in my place. I don’t fancy myself an expert. Far from it. But I have fly fished for a lot of years. Doesn’t that count for something? Apparently not.

Here are my three most humbling moments while fly fishing this past year.

1. Nymph fishing with a guide in Yellowstone National Park

This past year, we (Steve, my podcast partner, and I) hired a guide for a half day. We needed some intel on the Gardner River. We didn’t want to waste an entire day exploring the two- or three-mile stretch of river that we had planned to fish.

The guide (as most are) was terrific. Young. Energetic. Specific in his instructions. And dead right.

About mid morning, we hit the trail, moving from a spectacular run to another upriver. While on the trail, he said, “Let’s stop and hit this little run for a few minutes.” The run was against the far side of the bank and flowed towards us at a quirky angle. I had to cast my two-nymph rig from left to right, almost an over-the-shoulder toss. And to hit the hot zone required a modicum of precision.

I tried six or seven times. Nope. Couldn’t make the cast. I even moved closer to the run, almost on top of the spawning browns. It wasn’t more than a 15-foot cast. Not even close. The one time I hit the general vicinity of the hot zone, I couldn’t get a decent dead drift to save my life.

Finally, in disgust, the guide said, “Let’s just move on.” I felt the sting of his non-verbal rebuke the rest of the day.

2.Mentoring a newbie fly fisher at 12,000 feet

I took a friend on a long day hike into the Colorado’s Collegiate Wilderness. We hiked four miles into the lake, the last mile a lung-bursting climb.

This was his first time fly fishing. I had coached him in buying his first rod, reel, and the rest of the paraphernalia. As soon as we arrived at the high mountain lake, just several hundred yards from the Continental Divide, I began setting up his rod and reel. I tried out his new rig first, made a cast or two, and immediately caught a rising cutthroat.

I handed him the rod, made a few suggestions, and within minutes he had caught a nice cutthroat. And then another. And another.

He was one of those natural athletes. I saw no difference between how far out I was able to cast (and I had just purchased a new Sage rod!) and how far he was able to cast. At the end of the day, we caught about the same number of cutts. I was reminded that for some, fly fishing isn’t all that challenging. At least not for him. On his first day. I truly felt excited for him.

I had, though, a simultaneous emotion – a touch of grumpiness. I wanted to warn him that fly fishing can only go downhill from here, that this kind of day was an aberration. But I didn’t. I swallowed my sense of importance as the veteran fly fisher and cheered him on.

3. Hiking (er, sliding) down an avalanche chute

It was stupid when I was 34. And irresponsible at 54 years old.

On the way back from the high mountain lake mentioned in the previous point, I called an audible that could have been a disaster. I remembered that there was shortcut down the mountain, an old avalanche chute now overgrown with brush and young (25-year-old) pine trees.

I had taken the shortcut twenty years earlier and forgot (or had suppressed) how steep it was.

As soon as we began to wind down the chute, sliding a few steps and then stopping, often by grabbing small trees, I felt the fear that registers deep in your soul. I snaked my way down slowly and deliberately, occasionally glancing over my shoulder to make sure my friend was making progress. About an hour later, emotionally and physically exhausted, we arrived at the bottom of the chute. We still had another couple hours of hiking left before we reached our truck.

Nothing is more humbling than stupidity in midlife. Maybe the male brain never fully matures.

S2: E29 This Past Year’s Fly Fishing Lessons

Fly fishing lessons do not necessarily involve expense. They’re all about learning, growth, and becoming better at the sport. In this episode, we look back on 2016 and discuss what we learned most from our days on the water. Click now to listen to “This Past Year’s Fly Fishing Lessons” in your browser.

Listen to our episode “This Past Year’s Fly Fishing Lessons”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What fly fishing lessons did you learn (or relearn) this past year? What made the year great (or a challenge)?

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Winter Fly Fishing without Losing It

Winter fly flshing is not my favorite. But there is a mystique to fishing the big rivers of Montana or the spring creeks in Minnesota a few days before Christmas or a couple weeks into the new year.

If you fly fish in winter, be careful to do so without losing it. I’m using the pronoun “it” to refer to everything from your sanity to the feeling in your fingers to life itself. The frustration and the dangers intensify in the winter.

Here are seven strategies for keeping your sanity and your life intact:

1. Lower your expectations

Don’t expect a twenty-fish day. Trout feed, but not as aggressively as they will when winter gives way to spring. Don’t expect that your hands will stay warm. Don’t expect the guides on your fly rod to remain ice-free.

2. Wait for mid-day and early afternoon

Trout respond better in these brief periods of warmth. You may, too. So sleep in and quit early. While we’re on the topic of warmth, wait for a warmer day. Tie flies or read a fly fishing book when the weather is in the teens.

3. Focus on shallow water, not deep pools

Bud Lilly, one of the deans of western fly fishing, assumes the fish in deep pools are not feeding as actively as fish in shallow riffles. Deep pools do not get enough sunlight, while the sun can trigger insect activity or even the metabolism of a sluggish trout in a shallow riffle.

4. Try nymphs first

I’ve had some good midge fishing in January on Montana’s Madison River. But unless you get into rising fish, nymphs may be your best bet. Trout do not chase streamers as aggressively (if they chase them at all) as they will when the water temperatures get warmer.

5. Avoid wading in deep water

Slipping and falling into the river on a thirty degree day is much different than on an eighty degree day in July. In July, a bath might cost you your dignity. In January, it might cost you your life.

6. Go with a buddy

This is always the safest approach to fly fishing, but it’s even more critical in the winter. A sprained knee a quarter mile from your vehicle could be a disaster in cold temperatures if you are alone.

7. Dress for warmth

It goes without saying, but pile on those layers. Put on waterproof gloves. Cover your face with a neck gator or a face mask. Double up on socks, too. Wear a wool or fur or polyester fleece hat. The folks at Harvard Medical School say that without a hat you can lose up to fifty percent of your body heat in certain cold-weather conditions even if the rest of your body is bundled up.

Final Thought

Alright, I promised seven strategies, so I won’t add an eighth one about bringing a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee. Also, the jury is out on whether you want clouds or sun. A friend and veteran fly fisher in Montana used to say, “The worst day for fly fishing is a sunny day in February.” My experience suggests he is right. Yet, as noted earlier, Bud Lilly observes that sunlight can trigger certain insect hatches, particularly the big “snowflies” that appear on many big rivers beginning in February.

For now, I’d suggest worrying less about the presence or absence of cloud cover than whether or not you remembered to bring that thermos filled with warm liquid.

S2:E28 One Fine Day on Willow Creek

Willow Creek is a gorgeous tailwater stream that flows out of Harrison Reservoir about an hour west of Bozeman, Montana. The willow-thick creek makes its way to the Jefferson River, which eventually flows in the Missouri. This fall, we spent a day fishing streamers on Willow Creek, and it became one of several highlights of our fly fishing year. Click on One Fine Day on Willow Creek now to listen to the podcast in your browser.

Listen to our episode “One Fine Day on Willow Creek”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Describe a recent fine day on the water? What make it a terrific day? What made the experience more than simply a day of catching lots of fish?

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Fly Fishing Proverbs for the Ages

Proverbs are little sayings that condense a volume of insight into a pithy sentence. A few years ago, I picked up a book of Haitian proverbs in a bookstore in Port-au-Prince. One of my favorites is: “Pretty teeth are not the heart.” I am also fond of Savvy Sayin’s, a little book of proverbs from the old west. One of the gems it contains is: “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.”

I’m a big fan of proverbs and aphorisms. By far, my favorite collection is in the Book of Proverbs (in the Bible). One of its well-known aphorisms is: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15.1) Another blunt-but-true proverb is “If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit” (25:16).

Fishing One Liners for the Ages

So far, I haven’t found a book of fly fishing proverbs. But I’ve discovered some great one-liners as I’ve read fly fishing books and listened to wise fly fishers. Here are some of my favorites. These sayings drip with wisdom. They challenge me, stop me in my tracks, and make me think. You might find a few of these useful, too:

    You don’t learn fly fishing as much as you survive it. [Tom Davis]

    There are lots of ways to catch a trout. Maybe that’s why there are so many experts. [Bud Lilly]

    There’s no taking trout with dry breeches. [Miguel de Cervantes, about 400 years ago]

    The more you fly fish, the less flies you will use. [Bob Granger]

    Rivers and their inhabitants are made for the wise to contemplate and for fools to pass by without consideration. [Izaak Walton]

    The deepest satisfaction comes from letting go. [Tom Davis, on catch-and-release fishing]

    There is no greater fan of fly fishing than the worm. [Patrick McManus]

    Creeps and idiots cannot conceal themselves for long on a fishing trip. [John Gierach]

    No hatch is good enough for you to risk waving a nine-foot graphite rod around during a lightning storm. [Bud Lilly]

    There’s a fine line between fly fishing and waving your rod like an idiot. [adapted from a proverb by Steven Wright]

    Accepting advice makes you no less a fisherman. [Peter Kaminsky]

    What a tourist terms a plague of insects, the fly fisher calls a great hatch. [Patrick McManus]

    Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. [Henry David Thoreau]

These pearls are words to live by as well as to fish by. Here’s one last fly fishing proverb: Blessed is the fly fisher who has nothing to say and doesn’t say it.

S2:E27 The Myths and Truths of Catching Big Fish

Catching big fish is no doubt a signal of skill. Then again, it may not be. A 10-year-old on a guided fly fishing trip can hook and crank in the largest rainbow that the guide has ever seen on that stretch of river. That’s not really skill. Or maybe it is: It’s the skill of the guide, not the young fly fisher. Click now to listen to our episode on “The Myths and Truths of Catching Big Fish.”

Listen to our episode “The Myths and Truths of Catching Big Fish”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What is the biggest fish you’ve caught? Did you “hunt” the fish? What did you catch it on? A streamer, dry fly, nymph?

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Trouble with the Cast

If Hollywood made a fly fishing movie about you, what title would they choose?

Since A River Runs Through It has already been taken, I’d adapt the title of a recent Clint Eastwood film. At least I’d do this if I was honest. The movie is Trouble with the Curve. It’s the story of a baseball scout with the Atlanta Braves (played by Clint Eastwood) who tells the front office not to draft a particular prospect. The kid looks like a future star, but he has trouble hitting a curve ball.

If Hollywood made a fly fishing movie about me, a fitting title would be Trouble with the Cast. At least, that would fit the early decade of my fly fishing career. But with the help of my fly fishing friends, I’ve been able to overcome some of the struggles that are common to novice fly fishers.

Are you a candidate for a lead role in Trouble with the Cast?

Here are five common struggles and a couple solutions for each one:

1. Your casts lack distance.

There are two quick fixes if your casts come up short of your target.

First, flick your wrist. Practice this before you pick up your fly rod. Make a handgun out of your casting hand (index finger extended, thumb up, bottom three fingers pointing back at you). Now snap forward, then back, then forward, then back. That’s the action you want when casting your rod.

Too many fly fishers try to be graceful and end up waving their arms forward and backward. But a graceful cast is the product of snapping the wrists (like a baseball pitcher throwing that curve which troubles hitters).

The second quick fix is to make sure that your rod is parallel with the ground on your final forward cast.

I’ve watched a lot of fly fishers keep their rods pointing up at a 45-degree angle as their line shoots towards its target. But as legendary fly fisher Gary Borger observes, this creates “all sorts of shoot-shortening friction.” He even suggests lifting the rod butt as a way of keeping your rod parallel to the surface of the ground (or water).

2. Your casts lack accuracy.

Here are two solutions to inaccurate casting. They seem too simple to be true.

First, keep your eyes on the target. Yes, some folks have better hand-eye coordination than others. But it is remarkable how this simple tip enhances accuracy.

Second, point your tip at the target. It seems silly to make such an obvious point. But I’m often surprised how my casts go astray when I get lazy about this. As soon as I make a conscious effort to point the eye of my rod tip towards the spot where I want my fly to land (even as my rod is parallel to the ground as discussed in #1 above), my accuracy improves.

3. Your casts result in tangled line.

Once again, here are two adjustments you can make. First, stop false casting so much. The more you false cast, the more opportunity you give your line to tangle.

Second, make sure you allow your backcast to unfurl. A lot of tangles happen because fly fishers hurry from backcast to forward cast. This is a recipe for either snapping off the fly (the bullwhip effect) or for tangling line that has not had time to unfurl.

4. Your casts spook the fish.

One problem is that the shadow of your fly line spooks the fish. This is an easy fix. Stop false casting so much! That’s all.

If the problem is that you’re slapping the line on the water, then there is a simple trick to help your line land softly.

The trick is to pull your rod tip up at the last moment. Ideally, your rod tip is pointed at your target (#2) and that your rod is parallel to the ground (#3). At the last moment, make a slight upward pull on your rod. I like to think of it as a gentle hiccup. What this does is to stop the forward momentum of the line. It goes limp and falls gently to the surface of the water. This takes some practice, but it really does work.

5. Your casts get wrecked by the wind.

I have a sure-fire solution for this problem. Quit. Yes, just quit. Call it a day. Head for the truck and drive to your favorite restaurant. I’ve had some days on Montana’s Lower Madison where this has been the best option.

But there are some other alternatives to quitting for the day:

First, stop false casting. Yes, that’s a solution to a lot of problems, including wind.

Second, move in closer and shorten up your casts. If the wind is howling enough to make casting difficult, it’s also creating ripples on the surface which will keep trout from seeing your movements.

Third, a guide once told me to make a strong backcast and a softer forward cast. That’s the opposite of my instincts, so it takes some practice. But it really does work.

Now, when Hollywood shows up to make a fly fishing movie about you, your prowess at casting might lead them to title it Star Casts: The Force Awakens. At least you’ll put yourself in a better position to catch more fish.

S2:E26 The Markers of Fly Fishing Satisfaction

Fly fishing satisfaction is situational. And personal. Folks fly fish for many reasons. There’s no single marker of fly fishing satisfaction, with the exception of “catching lots of and big trout.” Click now to listen to “The Markers of Fly Fishing Satisfaction.”

Listen to our episode “The Markers Fly Fishing Satisfaction”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What are the markers of true fly fishing satisfaction? Please post your ideas below!

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Fly Fishing Language for Parents and Teens

Communicating with my teenage boys was no small challenge. But fly fishing provided a language that made it easier. Last weekend, I hung out with my 29-year-old son, Ben. I left amazed at all the wisdom I picked up from him. He offered insights about financial planning and about my workout regimen (which needs to be ramped up a bit).

This weekend, my wife and I will travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota to watch the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks play their first ever football playoff game since moving up to Division 1 (FCS) a decade ago. They are ranked 8th nationally. Our 23-year old son, Luke, is a senior tight end and a team captain. He has blossomed into a fine leader and is heavily involved in community service in Grand Forks.

I am grateful for the way my sons have emerged from those challenging teen years. This is due primarily to the grace of God. Seriously. It covered a multitude of my parenting blunders. But I also have to give credit to one of God’s gifts which enabled communication during the tough patches.

That gift is fly fishing.

The Language of Life

My boys and I laugh about some tense moments during their teen years. A lot of them involved over-reactions on the part of their dad. Uh, that would be me. We laugh, for example, about scathing note I left for Ben when he didn’t make it home from gopher hunting in time to go with us to his sister’s high school graduation. My purple prose expressed bitter disappointment in Ben and outlined a long list of consequences. I was still seething when I reached the front of the high school auditorium and saw Ben waiting for us. He had his friend drop him off so he wouldn’t be late.

So how did we manage to communicate through the teen years? Fly fishing provided a language which made it possible. We found our voice in the laughter that fly fishers share. Conversation flowed like the river itself, moodiness evaporated like the morning fog. In this setting, my sons were quite willing to listen to my advice — at least about fly fishing. Fly fishing together even created a bond which led to some rather deep conversations about life.

Something else happened too. The conversations we began on the river followed us home. So did the ease with which we communicated. It seemed like our shared experiences on the river nurtured conversations marked by transparency, respect, honesty, and kindness.

By the way, both of my boys still love to fly fish — especially when we can do it together.

Fly fishing is not a magic pill that solves problems between parents and their teens. But time together on the river may yield much more than fish. It may provide a common language, which takes communication to a more productive level.

S2:E25 Benefits of a Fly Fishing Buddy

A fly fishing buddy (if you can find a good one) can improve your game. You’ll catch more fish. You’ll have to work through the dreary competitive stage, but eventually, you’ll have a partner to shoot the pic of your humongous brown and regale you at dinner about the ones you hooked but lost. Click now to listen to “Benefits of a Fly Fishing Buddy” in your browser.

Listen to our episode “The Benefits of a Fly Fishing Buddy”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Do you have a fly fishing buddy? Or do you prefer to fish alone? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Fly Fishing with Streamers on Smaller Creeks

Fly fishing with streamers is one of the most consistent ways to catch bigger fish. Trout that gobble up bait fish and larger aquatic insects like helgrammites get more bang for their caloric buck. More calories with less effort. A sure way to gain some heft. Pretty much how I would love to live my life, though I can’t because I’m a middle-aged guy with a slight paunch already. Some would say not so slight.

Steve, my podcast partner and I, recently fished streamers on two different-sized rivers in Montana. One day we each caught twenty browns and rainbows on a smaller stream called Willow Creek, ranging from 12 to 18 inches. Two days later, we each caught one big rainbow on the Missouri River just below Hauser Dam, after four hours of slinging.

Two days of fly fishing. Two completely different rivers. I realize this may be patently obvious, but it needs to be said: Fly fishing streamers in smaller trout streams is simply different than slinging a rig in larger waters like the Missouri. Here are three adjustments that fly fishers need to make when fly fishing with streamers on smaller creeks:

Cast Downstream

For starters, you tend to get only one or two shots at the pocket of water in a smaller stream, so your cast needs to be precise. Most likely you’re not going to rip out four or five fish from one small run.

On Willow Creek, with the stream as low as it was this year, more often than not I got above the run, cast downstream, and then made three or four strips. Sometimes, I crawled to the bank near the middle of the run and then cast downstream and then stripped back the streamer.

On the Mighty Mo (Missouri), I cast as far as I could sling the streamer, slightly upstream, with a nine foot, eight weight fly rod. I mended my line once after the cast and then let the streamer drift until it began to swing. Then I stripped back the line. There were three of us fly fishing, and we cycled through about a 200-yard stretch of river.

Big river, big open spaces, big casts.

Quicker Retrieves

In the smaller creek, of course, there isn’t a lot of time to retrieve the line. Casts are shorter, and the distance from the end of the swing back to your fly rod is short. Sometimes, shorter, one- to three-inch strips seem to work best. Other times, six-inch strips seem to work.

In tight spaces, you may get only three or four strips, and then it’s time to cast again. On the Missouri, stripping the line was less frenetic. I had lots of time to retrieve the streamer.

There’s a rule of thumb that I am not sure works all the time. It goes something like this: If you’re fishing slower water, then make your strips faster, and if the river is faster, make your strips slower.

The more precise rule of thumb is: Try several ways to retrieve your line, and go with one that works.

Weight Forward Works Well

Our day on Willow Creek, I used my nine foot, six weight fly rod with weight forward line. No sink tip line. The runs were not that deep, maybe mid-thigh at most. Occasionally deeper, especially in the beaver ponds. But the runs were short and shallow.

However, on the Might Mo, I switch to a nine foot, eight weight rod. With sink tip line. Later in the morning, after I had caught a fat rainbow, I switched to my six weight rod with weight forward line. I simply couldn’t get the streamer down fast enough and deep enough. I gave up trying to streamer fish without a sink tip line and switched to nymphs.

The point is that it’s okay to use a weight forward line on smaller creeks, but on the larger rivers, its essential to have a spare reel with sink tip line in your truck.

S2:E24 Assessing Our Fly Fishing Gear

Fly fishing gear matters. It just does. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or the brand of choice of the fly fishing literati, but the right fly fishing gear can make a good trip great. In this episode, we discuss our fly fishing gear and how it performed during our most recent trip to Montana. Click now to listen to the episode.

Listen to our episode “Assessing Our Fly Fishing Gear”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What kind of fly fishing gear do you need next? How do you budget for new gear throughout the year?

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4 Notes on Fly Fishing Knots

Here are some notes on knots to give you some knot know-how.

The only thing trickier than reading that sentence is trying to tie a tiny tippet (the size of a human hair) to the eye of a tiny hook. If you’re new to fly fishing, tying your tippet to your fly or (worse) tying your tippet to a leader can seem daunting. And time-consuming. And frustrating.

Here a few notes that will simplify the process and get you fly fishing.

1. Try this at home

Don’t wait until you’re on the bank of the Lochsa or the Hoosic for your inaugural attempt at securing your fly to a tippet with a knot. Try this at home.

If you’re trying to learn a brand new knot, use a small rope or piece of yarn or string. Tie the knot onto a key ring or an eye bolt. Then, you can graduate to tying actual monofilament (which has a mind of its own) onto an actual eye of a hook.

Practice may not make perfect, but practice does make progress.

2. Learn two or three basic knots.

There is a downside to buying a booklet of fly fishing knots. The sheer number of knots you can tie will overwhelm and discourage you. But relax. You can get away with two knots—one for tying your fly to your tippet, and the other for tying tippet to your leader.

The first knot to learn is the improved clinch knot. You will use this to tie your tippet (or the end of your leader) to your fly. This is a tried and true pattern which I use whether the hook size is a #20 (tiny) or a #6 (large). I will not drive you crazy by trying to describe how to tie it. Instead, watch this video. For the record, I prefer eight turns rather than five—especially if I’m using small (in diameter) tippet.

That’s really the only knot you ever need to tie a fly to a tippet or leader. But here’s another one I started using a few years ago because it is so simple. It’s the surgeon’s loop. It’s quicker to tie than an improved clinch knot, so it’s a bit easier when your hands are cold. You’ll waste a bit more tippet material, but that’s really the only drawback. I’ve used this with small flies and large flies. Here’s a video to show you how it is done.

Finally, to tie a piece of tippet to a leader, I recommend the double surgeon’s knot. It’s easy to tie after a few practice times. Just watch this video and learn it!.

Yes, there are other knots. But you can’t go wrong with these. I’ve used them for years and have landed a lot of large trout on small flies and tiny tippets. So I know these work.

3. Use the river as background.

One of the frustrations you’ll face when you try to tie a knot is seeing the tiny loop(s) you’ve created and seeing the tiny tag end you’re trying to push through the loop(s). I tried all kinds of background — my waders, the sky, green leaves. Then a friend pointed out the obvious. Use the river as a backdrop. It works surprisingly well.

4. Moisten your knot.

Last, but not least, moisten your knot with a bit of saliva. When monofilament is tightened, the friction generates enough heat to weaken the monofilament. That’s why you want to wet your knot. If you forget, the next big trout you hook might snap off.

Alright, you now have the know-how you need to tie knots without being fit to be tied (sorry!).

S2:E23 One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Day 2)

The Gardner River gave us two days of memorable fly fishing last month. During our second day on the river, we had even a better day than the first, and we learned more about the art of nymph fishing. Every time we spend a couple days on the river, we are either reminded about something we forgot or learn something new. Click now to listen to this episode.

Listen to our episode “One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Day 2)”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Have you ever had two straight days of unbelievable fly fishing on the same stretch of river? We’d love to hear your stories.

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

10 Ways to Cope with the Fly Fishing Off Season

I am three weeks removed from my last fly fishing trip. Winter looms. I may not pick up my fly rod again until spring. Now the coping begins. It wasn’t always this way.

When I lived in Montana, I fished into November. Then, I ventured out at least once a month in December, January, and February. This satisfied my fly fishing urge until a new season began in March.

But how do you cope if you live in the city or the suburbs? How do you manage if you live far away from prime trout fisheries? I’ve figured out a few coping strategies since I moved a decade ago to the north suburbs of Chicago.

1. Go through the photos of your last trip.

Thumb through the photos on your cell phone. This brings back good memories and helps you re-live the best moments. Warning: Your photos might result in you laughing out loud or shouting “Yes!”

2. Make a list of the year’s best memories.

After you’ve thumbed through your photos, write down your favorite memories from the last year of fly fishing. For me, the list from last year includes:

  • Catching browns at dusk in Rocky Mountain National Park;
  • Hauling in fish after fish on streamers in Willow Creek (near Three Forks, Montana);
  • Landing a big rainbow on the Missouri River (near Helena, Montana); and
  • Catching a ridiculous number of browns in October on the Gardner River (in Yellowstone National Park).

Making a list will preserve your memories and maybe even remind you of a detail you had forgotten.

3. Take inventory of your gear.

This is an act of hope. It’s a reminder that you will fly fish again. Besides, it really does prepare you for your next trip.

4. Shop for something new.

This is the benefit—or liability—of the previous strategy. When you take inventory of your gear, you may discover your need for a new reel, new gloves, a new fly box, or a new net. This sends you on a mission to research options and prices. It keeps your mind off the reality that you are not able to fish.

5. Visit the trout at your local Bass Pro Shop.

A couple times during the winter, I visit our local Bass Pro Shop (nine miles from my house) and stand on a little bridge and look wistfully at the twenty-inch rainbows that swim in the little creek on the edge of the aisle with coffee mugs and pocket knives. Seriously!

Now I’m trying to muster the courage to ask the store manager if I can fly fish the stream since I’m a catch-and-release fly fisher. Seeing me catch these rainbows might get more people interested in fly fishing, and then they would spend more money at Bass Pro.

It’s a win-win, right?

6. Watch fly fishing videos.

The internet is loaded with videos of fly fishers catching trout. Start with websites like Orvis or Winston. Then, go to YouTube and search for about any river or species of trout which piques your interest.

7. Tie a few flies.

This only works if you are a fly tyer. If you’re not, the off-season is a good time to take your first class.

8. Read a good fly fishing book.

Read about the areas you want to fly fish. For example, if you’re headed to Montana or Wyoming, get a copy of Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the West. It’s an entertaining read with humor and history woven into it.

Read for skill-development. Gary Borger’s “Fly Fishing” series is ideal for this. His fourth book in the series, The Angler as Predator, helped me a lot.

You might even educate yourself on the flies you’re trying to imitate with a book like Pocketguide to Western Hatches by Dave Hughes or Matching Major Eastern Hatches: New Patterns for Selective Trout by Henry Ramsay.

Don’t forget to read through the lists you compiled from previous years (see #2 above).

9. Plan your next trip.

There’s nothing like planning your next trip to get the juices flowing! The off-season is a great time to do some research on new places or to plan for a visit to some good old places.

10. Watch “A River Runs Through It.”

You owe it to yourself to watch this at least once a year. The cinematography alone makes it worthwhile. The story is gripping, too. Real men might even shed a tear or two at the last scene.

Alright, something in the above list is guaranteed to help you cope with the fly fishing off-season. If not, watch college football and college basketball. Go hunting. Remodel your kitchen.

Oh yes, you might even consider a few hours on the water in the dead of winter if you’re within a day’s drive of a river or stream. Whatever you do to pass the time, winter will lift and the rivers will come to life in the spring.

Let a new season begin!

S2:E22 One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Day 1)

The Gardner River near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park is a gorgeous fishery – with the added bonus of deer, bison, elk, and grizzly bears. In this episode, the first of a two-part series, we describe in detail one of the best days we’ve had fly fishing. We caught lots of fish (browns, mostly), got freaked out by a grizzly track along the trail, and was reminded of several key nymph fishing tactics. Click now to listen to this episode.

Listen to our episode “One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Part I)”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

We’d love to hear your stories of a fine day this past year on the river. Please post your stories below.

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Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

We’d love for you to rate our podcast on iTunes.

That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

4 Benefits of Fly Fishing with a Buddy

I enjoy solitude when I fly fish. Yet I rarely fly fish alone. I like to fly fish with a buddy, if only because there’s someone to take pics of my big fish (or buffalo bone).

The truth is, it is better to fly fish with a buddy or a brother or a sister or a spouse. In the past year of fly fishing, I have been on the water eighteen days (I know, it doesn’t seem like enough). On every one of those days, I have fished with someone else — either my podcast partner Dave, my brother, my sons, or another close friend.

Why is a fishing partner such a big deal? Here are four benefits of fly fishing with a buddy or someone else.

Safety

This is at top of the list for a reason. Your life might depend on it.

Four years ago, my sons I and hiked into a high mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail took us up the side of a waterfall. On our way back from fly fishing the lake, we came across a hiker who had broken her ankle. She was in a group, and one of them had hiked out to find a park ranger. By the time we made it down the waterfall, we heard and saw the helicopter that came to rescue her.

The buddy system results in a timely rescue.

A couple weeks ago, I slipped at the edge of a small stream I was fishing and fell forward in some shallow water. The only casualty was a cracked fly box. But I reflected later on how I could have hit my head on a nearby boulder and passed out. If I had been alone, that could have been disastrous even in shallow water. I was glad that my podcast partner, Dave, was only thirty yards away. It was a win-win situation.

Since I wasn’t hurt, he got a good laugh. But had I been hurt, he was there to help.

Dave and I regularly fish in grizzly bear country, so having two fly fishers — each armed with bear spray — is critical. Sometimes a bear can attack you so fast that there is no time to unleash the contents of your canister. But a friend can. One of my bow-hunting partners saved the life of his friend a few years when a grizzly attacked faster than his friend could get to his bear spray. Then, he was able to help his friend back to their SUV before the bear returned and before his friend bled to death. The recovery required a couple surgeries. But the attack might have led to death if my friend’s friend had been hunting alone.

Problem-Solving

Another benefit of fly fishing with a buddy is having another brain.

Recently, Dave and I were fishing for fall browns in the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park. We took turns drifting our nymphs through the same run. We were catching fish, but Dave pointed out to me that I was missing some strikes. He suggested that the almost imperceptible hesitation of my strike indicator was a subtle strike. So I started setting the hook every time my strike indicator made a slight bump. Every time, taking Dave’s suggestion resulted in hooking a fish.

Later in the day, I returned the favor on another run that I had fished a couple days before. After watching Dave’s casts, I suggested that he cast about 10 feet further upstream so the nymphs he was using would be deeper when they reached the hot zone. It worked. Sometimes it takes a friend to spot the obvious or not-so-obvious solution to those times when the fish are not biting.

Sharing the Joy

There’s something satisfying about sharing the moment with someone else. When Dave and I catch fish, we whoop it up together. I can honestly say I enjoy watching Dave catch big trout (okay, as long as I’m catching them too!). Then there are the hilarious moments. I was glad Dave witnessed the 20-inch buffalo bone (the picture above) I landed when we fished the Gardner together!

Like any other joy in life, fly fishing is meant to be shared. This goes beyond catching trout, though. It extends to seeing the sun flood a beautiful meadow, watching a couple of wolves saunter along the bank of the Yellowstone River, or hearing the piercing bugle of a bull elk on a September morning.

Remembering

As much as I try to slow down in the moment and take in the experience, I find that I forget certain aspects of a day on the river. That’s why I force myself to share dinner at the end of the day with my fly fishing buddies. Well, okay, I really don’t have to force myself to do this! Dinner is the capstone of a great day. Often, the dinner conversation I have with Dave or my brother or one of my sons will remind me of moments or experiences I had forgotten.

Sometimes, even years later, I’ll be talking about a certain trip with one of them, and they will remind me of some moment or experience that had vanished from my memory.

As a wise writer once said, “Two is better than one. . . . if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. . . . Though they may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (Eccl. 4:9-10, 12). While that applies to all of live, it certainly relates directly to your next fly fishing adventure.

S2:E21 The Art of Fly Fishing Mentoring

Fly fishing mentoring is a lot of work. For starters, it takes patience. A lot of patience. And many of us are not wired to watch someone else fly fish. In this episode, we discuss the importance of fly fishing mentoring and discuss some basic ideas to keep both parties sane, especially if one party is your spouse. Or your brother-in-law. Click here to learn more about the art of fly fishing mentoring.

Listen to our episode “The Art of Fly Fishing Mentoring”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Have you ever mentored someone in fly fishing? What did you learn about yourself when you did? What went well? What was most frustrating? Any recommendations for those who want to help teach others?

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5 Reasons You Need a Fly Fishing Wading Staff

A year ago, I bought a wading staff for use on the big rivers of the American West — particularly the Yellowstone and the Missouri. I had visions of strapping it to my side only for use in thigh-deep or even waist-deep water. But last week, I discovered that it’s worth wearing on small streams when I’m only wading ankle-deep water.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I were getting ready to fish Willow Creek south of Three Forks, Montana, with a good friend. I was mildly surprised to see our friend strap on his collapsible wading staff. But when he explained to me why he always wears it, I decided to take mine out of my duffel bag and give it a try.

Now I’m a believer. Here are the reasons why it makes sense to use a wading staff even when you’re on a small stream in shallow water.

1. Traction

This is one of the two reasons my friend cited. Even with state-of-the-art wading boots (we both wore Patagonia Foot Tractor boots that day), moss-covered rocks can be slick. I was pleased how my wading staff helped me stay upright when one of my boots slipped.

2. Stability

I’m in reasonably good shape at 54. But my legs are not as strong as they were at 44 or at 34. I found that a “third leg” gave me more stability when I walked on the rock banks as well as the boulders in shallow water.

3. Stamina

I was also surprised how my “third leg” took pressure off of my two legs. We fished three miles up Willow Creek in a canyon which lacked any trails or gentle banks. Then we walked three miles down in and along the creek. My legs were not nearly as tired as I expected after the six-mile trek.

4. Snakes

This is the second reason my friend always carries his wading staff. We were in rattlesnake country, and even though it was mid-October, some fishing buddies of his encountered a rattler a few days before on the stretch of creek we were fishing. I’m no advocate of killing snakes. But I like the idea of packing something that can ward off a rattler when a surprise encounter happens.

5. Climbing

Again, I’m writing as a 54-year old. I found that my wading staff made it easier to scramble up steep banks and rocky inclines. Now I understand why another friend of mine raved about the walking staff he carried in the Swiss Alps a few months ago.

If you’re in the market for a wading staff, check out the ones made by Simms and Orvis. I tried them both, and I give the nod to the Orvis model because it snaps into place almost instantly. Both of these staffs are collapsible, although I kept mine assembled most of the day. It didn’t get in my way when I let it drag behind me (the staff was connected to its sheath via a retractor).

There are more affordable alternatives, too. I know fly fishers who use an old ski pole or even a mountaineer’s staff.

When King David composed the twenty-third psalm, he was not referring to a fly rod nor a wading staff when he wrote, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” But still, I find comfort in taking both a rod and staff with me – even when I walk through quiet waters.

S2:E20 Sustaining Your Fly Fishing Passion

Fly fishing passion can ebb and flow throughout life. If you’re in your twenties, with no or few family obligations, then your days on the river may be unlimited. As your life accumulates obligations, it’s more difficult to sustain your fly fishing passion. But often life opens up again for some in their fifties and sixties. In this episode, we take the long view and advocate for ways to sustain your fly fishing passion

Listen to our episode “Sustaining Your Fly Fishing Passion”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How do you sustain your passion for the sport? Has there been a time when it waned? What were the circumstances? Please post your comments below.

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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Why I Don’t Tie My Own Flies

Steve does. I don’t. I do not tie my own flies. In this post, I make a case for why some fly fishers should not tie their own flies.

Steve, the other half of “2 Guys and a River” and I are life-long friends. In college, we hung out so much the haters called us “Bo and Luke” after the lead characters on the silly TV show “Dukes of Hazard.” We even went on double dates together, though neither of us married our dates, much to the appreciation (on some days) of our wives.

But Steve and I could not be more different.

Steve is a first child. I am not. Steve is so much of a first child that when we take fly fishing trips, Steve will make the bed every morning at the place we’re staying, even if it’s the last day we’re there. Yes, he makes the bed. Let’s just say that I don’t make my bed (though I will pull off the dirty sheets on the morning I leave).

We also differ on many aspects of fly fishing. We use different rods. We wear different waders. How we think about fly fishing brands, even, is so different. I tend to be practical and cheap; he is more brand conscious.

And we also differ on the topic of tying flies. Steve does. I don’t. There are consequences to my decision, such as not having the ability to tie a pattern at the river’s edge and feel the surge of emotion as I hook a brown with a woolly bugger that I tied. I don’t get to feel one with nature because I caught a fish with something I created.

However, I’d rather buy than tie, and here’s why:

1. We had too many kids.

We ended up with four, and with all their sports and school activities, I can barely get out on the river as it is. A lousy excuse, I know. But given the dizzying number of places to buy flies, I’d rather watch my sons play football or my daughters play soccer or attend one of my sons’ wrestling meets.

I can’t do it all, so I’ve made the choice to eliminate, among other things, tying flies.

2. I also love to hunt.

I’ve limited my sports to two – fly fishing and hunting. I’d rather fly fish and hunt upland game and waterfowl than spend time in a damp basement under a bright lamp with tiny hooks and peacock herl. Just sayin’.

Obviously, when I hunt is not generally in the evenings and in the winter, but even so, life is a series of trade-offs. And I’ve traded tying my own flies for other opportunities.

3. I’d rather write than tie.

In my free time, outside of fly fishing and hunting, I like to write. I’ve written two books, with another on fly fishing (with Steve, my podcast partner). I’ve written thousands of blog posts, it seems, and another hundred or so articles.

Writing is another choice I’ve made.

4. I’d rather work more than tie.

I’ve started a couple small businesses, so I’d probably rather throw my shoulder into landing one more client than spend an evening staring at a vise.

Again, it’s another choice. It’s probably more like a kind of illness, but I enjoy throwing my shoulder into what I feel I’ve been called to do.

5. The patterns on the market are legion.

I’m grateful for all those who tie flies, and the artistry that I can purchase amazes me.

Yes, I may be paying more per fly than I should, but you can’t have it all in this world. I’m happy to pay for flies. I just am. And I’m thankful for the talent that ties the flies that I can buy.

6. We have too much clutter in our house.

Until the kids all leave (and it looks like it will be a while, even though the two oldest are in college), we need every square inch of our house for kid stuff. I don’t have space for a bench and a corner for more boxes.

7. I can live with the ambiguity of who ties my flies.

Someone recently taunted me for my decision by saying that I’m contributing to slave labor, that most flies are tied in China (or Thailand) in a sweat factory, and that it is the dirty little secret of the fly fishing industry.

Whewda!

Just for starters, none of the flies I purchase are from big box retail stores. I generally buy from local fly shops. I know for a fact that at least some of the fly shops where Steve and I fish regularly purchase flies from local tiers. For example, one fly shop in Montana has this on their web site: “We stock only flies & gear useful within fifty miles of our door, we designed and/or tie around half the flies we stock …”

However, no doubt that many of the ties sold in both fly shops and big box retail stores are tied by, as a fly shop monkey said to me the other day, “a little old lady in Thailand.”

So do individuals who tie flies in bulk for that fly shop make a live-able wage for their work?

I have no idea.

Do the folks at the factory who make your nets and leaders and tippet and vests make enough money to live on? I don’t know.

Are the mutual funds that you invest in for your retirement comprised only of investments in companies with vetted labor practices? Do you know how your investments are used?

I have no angst about who ties my flies. I just don’t.

8. I still catch fish.

Steve and I have fished together for years and years. I will admit that he is a much better fly fisher than I am – for a variety of reasons.

But somehow, I still seem to catch fish. I’ve never had a day where I think, “Man, if I just had some hand-crafted flies, I’d catch more fish.” Just today, Steve and I each caught 20 browns before 10:30 AM. We fished different runs. We each caught a 20-incher. I guess he did catch two whitefish, and I caught none. So, there again, he is the better fly fisher!

Has there ever been a moment when I thought, “I sure wish I could run back to my truck and tie a fly that matches the hatch?”

In 35 years of fly fishing, maybe a handful of moments. And given what I am able to do because of my other choices, I am more than happy to concede the moment to another fly fisher who can.

S2:E19 Differences between Native and Wild Trout

Wild trout – those two words together make no sense. Aren’t all trout wild? We all know the story of hatchery trout, but what about wild and native trout? What are the differences between the two? Understanding the category of trout that you catch may not necessarily help you catch more of them. But it will round out your fly fishing acumen, and give you a better grasp of what’s at stake in the rivers you fish. Listen to our episode now.

Listen to our episode “Native vs. Wild Trout”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Anything you would add to our discussion on native vs. wild trout? What is your favorite kind of fish to catch?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

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Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

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That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

5 Questions to Determine If You Should Tie Your Own Flies

Tie your own flies – that idea might seem far-fetched to a beginner fly fisher. If you’re new to the sport, you might wonder if fly tying is something to pursue.

To tie or not to tie? That is the question. To help you answer the question, here are a few more questions to consider:

Can I tie flies even if I’m not an artistic type?

Absolutely! I am living proof of this.

I do not have an artistic bone in my body. Or perhaps I do, and it is badly broken. While I can color between the lines, I cannot draw anything more complex than a stick figure. Yet I can tie the basic patterns and catch trout on them.

If your goal is to win a “most beautiful fly” contests, then a lack of artistic talent is an issue. If your goal is to catch trout, then being artistically challenged is not a concern. To tie your own flies has little to do with your artistic gene.

How do I learn?

The best approach is to sign up for a fly-tying class at your local fly shop. I learned to tie flies two decades ago in an eight-week class that met Saturday mornings at a fly shop in Bozeman, Montana.

The second best approach is to watch fly-tying videos. There are some great instructional videos that you can access for free. I like the “Beginner Fly Fishing Tips” series on YouTube by scflytying. You might also check the videos by Tightline Productions that Orvis shares on its website.

In my experience, books have limited value. I need to watch someone tying a fly in order to make sense of it. I simply can’t visualize the process when reading a book — even if it contains clear instructions and sharp diagrams. Having a live person to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong is the best way to learn.

What do I need to get started?

To tie your own flies, you need tools and materials.

The first tool you need is a vise. Any fly vise that holds a hook tight will do. Don’t overthink this.

Next, you need fly tying scissors. I recommend two pairs. Spend more on one that you reserve for hair and thread. Buy a cheaper pair to cut thicker items, which tend to dull the scissor blades more quickly. You’ll also need a bobbin (for your spool of thread) and a pair of hackle pliers. Neither item will break the bank.

I’d suggest two or three bobbins so you don’t have to re-thread your bobbin every time you switch spools of thread. Finally, get a whip finisher. Save yourself the hassle of a cheaper one and buy the one sold by Orvis.

The materials you need depend on what flies you plan to tie. Typically, the minimum materials include hackle capes, thread, dubbing material, head cement, and wire. A good fly shop or an online video can help you figure out exactly what you need for the flies you plan to tie.

Will the first fly I tie be worth fishing?

Yes! Sometimes, a clumsy looking fly might look a bit more “buggy” to the trout than something that looks perfect.

Besides, I suspect that a lot of flies are designed to catch fly fishers rather than fish. I’ve caught trout on some gnarly looking patterns. Of course, I’ve gotten better over the years. But trout key in on size and color more than on perfect proportions (though the exceptions increase as the fly size gets smaller!).

Sure, some patterns require more precision than others. But if your first fly is a San Juan Worm or a Brassie or a Woolly Bugger, it does not need to be perfect. To tie your own flies does not require flawless wonders.

What is the financial payoff for learning to tie flies?

The expected answer is, “You will save money.” After all, the materials for a $2 fly may amount to 20 cents.

But that math is too simplistic.

The initial investment in tools will likely reach $100. Then there are the materials themselves. A good hackle cape or neck may cost $50. Even the inexpensive materials – spools of thread, various kinds of feathers, peacock herl, etc – add up. You may not begin saving money until you tie your three-hundredth fly!

So, unless you tie a high volume of flies, it might be as cost effective to buy flies at your local fly shop.

In my opinion, the real benefit of fly tying is becoming a better fly fisher. When I started tying, I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, which insects my flies were trying to imitate, and when certain patterns worked (and when they didn’t).

It’s Your Decision

If you decide not to tie your own flies, fine. There are other ways to accomplish what fly tying will do for you.

My podcast partner, Dave, is proof of this. He doesn’t tie his flies. Contrary to my ribbing, he is every bit as good a fly fisher as I am.

But if you’re leaning towards trying, go for it. Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch a trout.

S2:E18 Fly Fishing Trip Preparations

Fly fishing trip preparations are necessary to make the outing memorable. But a little planning also creates anticipation, which is part of the entire experience. We are about to take our yearly trip to Montana for several days on the Missouri, Yellowstone, and several smaller creeks. We selected mid fall because we wanted to see if we could catch a few browns as they move up river to spawn. Click to listen to our episode on fly fishing trip preparations, and we hope you find some nuggets to help you plan your next trip.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Trip Preparations”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What did we miss in our fly fishing trip preparations? How do you prepare for your fly fishing trips?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

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That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Tactics for Fly Fishing a Lake

I’m a river guy. That should be obvious from the name of our podcast. Yes, I love fly fishing rivers and streams. I find moving water fascinating and energizing. But I’m captivated too by the lakes I fly fish. In this post, I offer several tactical ideas for more success when fly fishing a lake:

While I’m not ready to rename our podcast “2 Guys and a Lake,” I am always happy to match wits with the trout in a high mountain lake. If you’re new to fly fishing lakes, here are few insights to help you succeed:

Do your homework

Yeah, yeah – this seems so obvious. But unlike most rivers and unlike all small streams, you can’t see the bottom of a lake when you get there. This means you can’t figure out where the fish will lie in wait for food to drift by.

You can sight-read a river you’ve never seen before. But it doesn’t work so well for lakes.

So read a book or a blog to discover where the deepest sections might be. Talk to someone at a local fly shop to find out if there are any shelves – that is, places where a lake suddenly drops in depth. The trout often hang out near these drop-offs There might even be other obstacles, particularly if you are fly fishing a reservoir. Large rocks or trees or even the original stream bed might be places where trout are located.

Also, you need to know what patterns work best at different times during the year. Can you count on any insect hatches that will send trout to feed off of the surface? Do certain sizes or colors or patterns work better than others?

Just recently Dave, my podcast partner, trekked four miles in to a high mountain lake in Colorado. He had called and then visited the local fly shop, purchasing some stone fly attractor patterns that the shop monkey recommended. But when he got to the lake, Dave saw some midges and tried fishing on the surface with a dry fly that was small and black. No luck. He immediately put on a size #14 attractor pattern, which he had just purchased, and for the next three hours was in cutthroat heaven.

It pays to do a little homework.

Bring the right gear and tackle

The right gear is important. Make sure you bring your lake split shot, lake waders, lake fly vest, and lake wading boots. No, no. Just kidding!

You’ll use most of the same gear you use on the river. Seriously, though, there are a few differences.

The key is to think long. You will want a nine-foot fly rod. Some experts even go with a ten-foot rod. Honestly, I’ve never felt the need to go that long. But I definitely want a nine-foot rod rather than an eight-and-a-half foot rod. The extra length helps you handle more line so you can make longer casts. Longer leaders are often important, too. A nine-foot leader may be fine, but I’ll sometimes go with a leader as long as twelve feet.

There is also a lot of overlap when it comes to fly selection. The same dry fly patterns I use on a river will often work on a lake, and that same is true for streamer patterns. I will even use some nymphs—particularly those which imitate emerging insects. But I tend to use streamers unless there is action on the surface. So toss in more streamers than usual and go a little lighter on nymphs.

Start at the shore

Lakes can be so intimidating because the “good water” seems to be out fifty to a hundred feet.

But what is true of the current along the river’s edge is true about the water along the lake shore. It can be a prime place to catch trout. At certain times of day, trout will cruise the shallow water along the bank. Or, some lakes have a deep drop-off just a few feet from the shore line. Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park has a shelf like this. I’ve often caught trout by casting my fly a couple feet beyond the shelf—that is, the place where there is a sudden, steep drop-off.

In some lakes, you can wade out far enough to cast into some deeper water. But don’t let the lack of current give you a sense of false confidence so that you get out too deep.

Go deep

If nothing is happening on the surface, and if nothing is happening in the shallow water near the shoreline, you need to go deep. If the fish are twenty feet below the surface, it will do you no good to fish ten feel below it. There are two considerations here.

First, you’ll need to put on extra split shot or use a heavily weighted fly. A beadhead or conehead pattern can give you extra weight.

If you are going to fish lakes regularly, I encourage you to invest in a sink-tip line. This is the best way to get your fly down to the trout. You will need to purchase an additional spool for your reel in addition to the line and the sink tip. The folks at a fly shop can connect you to the right sink-tip for the kind of lakes you will be fishing. Basically, these sink-tips drop a certain number of feet per second so that you can count out the seconds until your fly has reached the desire depth. Then, you’ll begin retrieving it.

Second, if the deep water is in the middle of the lake or further out than you can wade, you’ll need a means to get there. A simple, inexpensive way to do this is a float tube. That’s a discussion for another time. But most fly fishers I know who are serious about lake fishing end up with a float tube. Of course, access to a canoe or raft or boat can solve the distance problem too.

Head for the entrance and exit

Finally, don’t forget to check out the inlet and the outlet to the lake you’re fly fishing. Trout often congregate near an inlet because the current brings food. It can work the same way with the outlet. Sometimes, the best fishing may be in the inlet or outlet itself.

I’m still a river guy at heart. But I’ll never pass up the opportunity to fly fish for trout in lake. There are too many big trout waiting to nab the fly you strip by their noses.

S2:E17 Finding Fly Fishing Solitude

Fly fishing solitude is not something you’ll find during vacation season and most weekends. In today’s climate, with growing pressure on the rivers, it takes some work to find a stretch with no other fly fishers. Yet, it is still doable. Click here to listen to how you can discover more fly fishing solitude.

Listen to our episode “Finding Fly Fishing Solitude”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What do you do to get away from the fly fishing crowds? Post your ideas below!

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

We’d love for you to rate our podcast on iTunes.

That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

7 Tips for Better Fly Fishing Photos

The only things you want to leave behind when you fly fish are the trout you caught. The only things you want to take with you are photos. In this post, I offer seven ways to improve your fly fishing photos.

With social media, particularly Instagram and its filters, any photo can be touched up, altered, and manipulated. If you follow fly fishing guides, outfitters, or other fly fishers on Instagram, you know the deep colors and tints and shadows used to re-do photos. In addition to those on Instagram, there are many photo filter apps, such as Snapseed and Prism.

But engaging photos begin with, well, taking a great photo. Filters can only do so much. Most fly fishers will opt for a cell phone camera rather than, say, a Nikon single-lens-reflex camera with a zoom lens. Today’s phones take great photos, if you pay attention to these seven basic tips:

Keep the sun out of the background.

If the sun is behind the fly fisher you intend to photograph, your camera lens will do the same thing your eye does when it looks into the sun. It will squint. This allows less light into the picture, making it dark. So keep the sun beside you or behind you. If you’re taking a photo at high noon, this will not be an issue.

Similarly, if your subject is in the shade, make sure that the background is not lit up by the sun. Shade can be your friend because it lessens the shadows that hide your subject’s face. But a sunlit patch behind the shade will turn your photo dark.

Put a red hat or bandana on your fly fisher.

A red hat or bandana or shirt might spook a trout. But it sure adds a lot to your photo! Red provides a vivid, pleasing contrast to all the earthtones — the greens, browns, and blues.

Get some close up shots.

Skilled photographers move in close. If you’re photographing a fish, fill the frame. Similarly, zoom in on your fly fisher friend. Or take a couple steps closer. Yes, there is a place for a shot in the distance. But close-up shots are more interesting and generally exude more life.

Photograph scenery in the early morning and early evening.

Look at the scenery shots on your favorite calendar or book cover.

The reason for the vivid colors is not the $2000 lens (although that does not hurt). It’s all about time of day. The light in the early morning and early evening brings scenery to life. The shadows add a striking contrast that flattens out during mid-day.

Include an object the foreground.

This gives depth to your photos and can even provide a kind of frame which accents them.

A tree branch or a bush or a rock in the foreground can do wonders to the picture you are trying to compose. You can also use the bottom half of your fly rod with the reel.

Think in thirds.

If you’re photographing a stretch of river with the sky in the background, it’s easy to get the horizontal dividing line (between land and sky) in the middle of the photo. This breaks the photo into equal halves — an upper and lower section. Don’t do this. It results in a bland photo.

Instead, devote either the top third or the top two-thirds to the sky. This disproportion makes your photo more arresting.

Also, when you include a fly fisher in a landscape-shaped photo, keep them out of the middle.

Again, this is boring. The photography police may issue a warrant for your arrest. Instead, imagine that your landscape-shaped photo has been divided into three vertical panels. Put the fly fisher in either the panel to the left or the panel to the right. If your fly fisher is facing left, place her in the right panel. If your fly fisher is facing right, place him in the left panel. Why, you say? Take a photo which breaks this rule and you’ll see how silly it looks.

Keep your camera (cell phone) in a zip-lock bag.

You can’t take photos if your cell phone or camera is water-logged. So make sure you have some zip-lock bags. You never know when you’ll drop your phone into the river. Or you might slip and soak the section of your fly vest with the pouch containing your phone.

S2:E16 Reasons You Are Not Catching Fish

Catching fish is not merely about pure skill. Many fishers buy their fly fishing experiences with guides and outfitters. With the latest fly fishing gear, access to a drift boat, and a great guide, any person can catch trout. But for the rank-and-file fly fisher, the one who can’t always buy a fly fishing experience and wants to grow in the art and skill of the sport, there are some problem-solving skills to acquire when not catching fish. In this episode, we discuss seven reasons you’re not catching fish – and what to do differently.

Listen to our episode “Reasons You Are Not Catching Fish”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What have we missed? And where do you disagree with us? We’d love your comments to this episode!

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Three Half Truths about Fly Rods

Over the years, I have learned three truths about fly rods. These truths have become mantras. I stand by them and share them with new fly fishers. I also insist that these three truths are half-truths. Each has its exceptions:

You get what you pay for.

My family tires of my repeating this little proverb. I say it about everything from shoes to soap to SUVs: “You get what you pay for.” It’s true for fly rods as well. You generally get a higher quality and performance from an $800 rod than from a $400 rod. You can also feel the difference in quality between a $150 fly rod and a $400 rod.

Usually.

There are exceptions. Sometimes the feel of a rod when you cast it trumps the difference in quality. A cheaper-but-quality rod may work as well or better for you than one which costs a couple more Benjamin Franklin bills. I may be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a $350 rod and a $600 rod if I did a double-blind test.

Also, there are cases when the extra $200 gets you a particular brand name and not necessarily more quality.

You don’t need more than one fly rod.

For trout, give me a nine-foot, six-weight rod, and I feel confident in just about any situation on the river. I’ve used my nine-foot, six-weight to catch selective rainbows in Nelson’s Spring Creek (in Montana’s Paradise Valley) on size 20 flies.

My son, Luke, even out-fished me a time or two on a small spring creek in Timber Coulee (in Wisconsin’s Driftless area) with a nine-foot, six-weight while I used the more appropriate eight-foot, four weight.

Yet there are times when you need more than one fly rod.

An eight-foot, four-weight might give you the only chance you have at the delicate cast required for a wary trout. Besides, this lighter weight rod makes a sixteen-inch rainbow feel like a twenty-inch rainbow.

Then there is the King salmon I hooked while fly fishing with a nine-foot, six-weight on the Willow River near Wasilla, Alaska. I thought I might defy conventional wisdom and have a chance at hauling in this monster. But I soon realized that I would break my rod if I tried to net it. I needed my eight weight to have a fighting chance.

Sure, you only need one rod. But there are times when you really do need to go a size up or down to get either distance or delicacy — not to mention the strength you need to haul in one of the big ones.

You don’t need to worry about breakage when your rod has a generous replacement policy

My two Orvis rods have 25-year guarantees. Orvis “will repair or replace it no matter what the reason. . . . Step on it, close the door on it, run over it with the car-it doesn’t matter, we’ll fix it.”

This is no lie. I’ve had my two rods fixed twice and replaced once. I stepped on one in the dark and broke a tip off of it a couple years later. Orvis even replaced another rod after I dropped the tip section in the Owyhee River and it drifted away!

My Winston rod has a lifetime guarantee, although it does not cover “lost rod sections, intentional breakage, misuse,” etc. But when accidents happen, you don’t have to kiss your $800 investment goodbye.

No need to worry, right?

Not so fast. You will be without your rod for a few weeks. Also, there is some money out of pocket. With Orvis, there is “a nominal handling charge of $30.” With Winston, the handling charge jumps to $50.

And you really should take care of your fly rod even if the manufacturer has a generous replacement policy. But then again, slamming your car door on it is not the end of the world when all it takes is a few weeks and thirty bucks to get the world back to spinning happily on its axis.

S2:E15 Fly Fishing with Streamers

Fly fishing with streamers is no doubt the single best way to catch bigger fish. For the fly fisher just starting out, slinging bigger flies requires some adjustments. Fly fishing with streamers may mean a bigger rod and it definitely means making adjustments in leader size. In this episode, we discuss some of the basics of streamers.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing with Streamers”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

For those of you who are experts in streamer fishing, what would you add? Any additional techniques?

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Links Related to This Week’s Episode

    How to Fly Fish with Streamers

The Fly Fishing Wit and Wisdom of Bud Lilly

Fly fishing wit and wisdom – you need both to truly enjoy the sport. If you’re planning on fly fishing in the western United States, do yourself a favor and find a copy of Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West. Read it. Then read it again.

This volume, co-authored with Paul Schullery, was published in 2000. But it’s still relevant a decade and a half into the new millennium. You’ll want to read and re-read it for two reasons: its wit and wisdom. Lilly’s dry sense of humor and his story-telling skills will keep you entertained.

But he will teach you a lot about fly fishing in the land where the buffalo once roamed and the deer and the antelope still play. Here is a sample of what Lilly has to offer.

Time of Day

Lilly says that the cool nights in the west mean you do not have to get up as early to fish as you do when you’re fishing lower-elevation waters on either coast. Nor can you count on the evening rise when fishing the big rivers in the western mountain valleys.

Lilly writes: “Over the years, lots of my clients said ‘We really want to get the best fishing of the day, and so we’ll meet you here at the shop at 6:00 tomorrow morning.’ And I’d say, ‘Well fine, I’ll put the coffee on tonight, and I’ll be over about 8:00.’ It’s just too cold at the hour for much to be happening. Only in the hottest dog days of August do you have an advantage in fishing really early and late.”

Streamers

Bud Lilly is a big fan of streamers. Large streamers. He fishes them any time of year and argues they give you the best chance to catch really large trout.

Lilly writes: “A study a few years ago in Yellowstone Park showed that large cutthroat trout tended to prey most heavily on fish that were 25-30 percent of their size. Twenty-inch trout commonly ate chubs of five or six inches.”

Rain

According to Lilly, rain can be your friend: “Many times a nice rain in the middle of the day has brought a stream to life for me or my clients. It can drop the water temperature just enough to cool the water and trigger a hatch or get the fish into a more active mood. A hard enough cloudburst can loosen bank materials, including worms and insects, also getting fish out on the prowl.”

I’ve experienced this myself. Recently, a ten-minute rain shower on the Boulder River (south of Big Timber, Montana) brought a sleepy run to life. I landed two sixteen inch rainbows on back-to-back casts in the same run where nothing was happening before it rained.

But let the fly fisher beware: “No hatch is good enough for you to risk waving a nine-foot graphite rod around during a lightning storm.”

Sunk Hoppers

If my hopper gets waterlogged and sinks, I tend to pull it out and dry it.

However, Lilly challenges that practice: “If your hopper sinks, don’t immediately yank it out of the water; hoppers drown, and fish take them just as avidly then. The fish are often looking for the drowned ones.”

Relax

Understandably, you’ll want to make the most of your fly fishing trip to the west. It might be the trip of a lifetime.

So listen close to this next pearl of wisdom from Bud Lilly: “If I could offer the visiting fisherman only one piece of advice it would be this: relax. You’re out here to have fun. You wouldn’t fish 16 hours a day back home, and you don’t have to do it here.”

As the old saying goes, there’s more where that came from. Yes, you’ll find a lot more wit and wisdom in Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West.

By the way, if you don’t heed Lilly’s advice, he won’t be offended. He readily admits: “There are lots of ways to catch a trout. Maybe that’s why there are so many experts.”

S2:E14 Lessons from the Yellowstone River Closure

The Yellowstone River closure late last month confirmed once again how fragile our rivers are. In one week, about 4,000 fish (mostly whitefish) died due to a parasite. Some sections that were closed have been reopened, but jury is still out on the source of the parasite. In this episode, we tell our stories of the rivers we love and how the Yellowstone River closure makes us appreciate each moment on the river.

Listen to our episode “Lessons from the Yellowstone River Closure” now

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What rivers hold a special place for you? How do the lessons the Yellowstone River closure apply to the rivers you fish?

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Links Related to This Week’s Episode

    More Sections of the Yellowstone Reopened

    Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Press Release

4 Fly Fishing Retirement Myths

I retired in my late thirties. I left a job with no upward mobility and started a business. I told myself, “Retirement is doing what I want to do.” It was harder than I ever imagined. About the time I gave notice to the company, my wife told me she was pregnant with our third child. Since then, we added a fourth.

And no, I am not on a trust fund.

The first three years was a white-knuckling affair. It took about a thousand days before I knew whether the business was viable. Almost 17 years later, I’m still retired (working 60- to 70-hour weeks).

Part of my retirement plan was fly fishing. I decided that I didn’t want to wait until that magical day at 65 (or, now, 67 or 70). I wanted to fly fish and work, not fly fish after I stop working. I’ve had to debunk several fly fishing retirement myths in my mind as I’ve struggled to sustain a small business and integrate fly fishing into my schedule:

“I am not going to die.”

Up until my 40s, I was blinded by the thick veil of permanence. I thought I’d live forever. Now that a few of my friends are gone, the veil is slowly lifting. Maybe there is no other way to escape this world other than death.

No one says this out loud, of course, but we often live as if we have forever to do what we love. We don’t.

“I will be healthy enough to fly fish when I retire.”

Maybe. Depends somewhat on my genes (my grandmother lived until she was 103). And somewhat on my eating and exercise habits. Oh, no!

No matter what, though, you won’t be able to wade as deep when you’re 65 as you could when you were 35. For sure. You won’t be able to scramble up the steep incline that takes you to the best fly fishing run. You won’t want to hike four miles to fish for cutthroat for three hours and then turn around and head back down the mountain before dark.

You just won’t. I know you’re a great athlete (in your mind), but your days are numbered. This is one of the most pernicious fly fishing retirement myths, simply because we all assume good health.

“I will, finally, have more money to fly fish.”

No. All the research indicates that Americans will be working longer than they expect. So if you have no money now to fly fish, most likely you’ll have no money to fly fish at retirement.

Figure out a way to create a line item for fly fishing (along with college tuition savings).

“I will have more time.”

Another big no. I don’t know a single person who is retired after a life of work and who sits at home watching Fox News or ESPN all day every day. There may be few folks like that, but most I know seem to be as busy as they were before. This is another of the fly fishing retirement myths.

If you have no time to fly fish now, most likely you won’t make time for it after you retire. Make time to fly fish now. Retire now. That doesn’t mean quitting your job. It means doing what you love.

And since fly fishing is what I love, I am fully retired.

S2:E13 Fly Fishing Gear We Use

Fly fishing gear is like candy. Or better than candy. There’s no joy like the permission one gives himself or herself to buy a new fly rod or reel, or purchase a new pair of waders. Click now to listen to “Fly Fishing Gear We Use.” In this episode, we discuss our fly rods, waders, vests, and nets.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Gear We Use” now

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What fly fishing gear do you recommend? What have you found works best for the rivers you fish?

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5 Life Lessons I Learned from Fly Fishing

Recently, it occurred to me that fly fishing has taught me a few life lessons. That shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. But because I pursue fly fishing for the love and joy of it, I guess I had overlooked its lessons. Here are five life lessons I’ve learned over four decades of fly fishing.

1. You have to schedule time for what you love most.

I always thought I’d have to guard against fly fishing too much when I became an adult.

To my surprise, I found that I had to guard against not fly fishing enough. There are always meetings, chores, and scheduling conflicts that crowd out my time on the river. So I have to be intentional to make myself do what I love. That’s the way it is with life. It keeps you so busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of life that you have to make time for the people and pursuits you love most.

2. You only get lucky when you work hard.

Do you ever drool over the Facebook photos of friends cradling a monster rainbow trout?

Those lucky dogs, you think.

But they are lucky because they’ve made time to get out on the river, because they’ve taken “one more cast,” and because they’ve done their homework (which flies to use). Show me a “lucky” fly fisher, and I’ll show you a persistent, hardworking fly fisher. Luck is a result of hard work. That’s true with everything from product development to real estate sales to getting published.

3. Skill is most often made, not born.

Yes, some people have a knack for fly fishing. They remind me of my younger brother, Kevin, who got up on water skis on his first attempt — while the boat was still idling!

But there is no substitute for skill development. Read. Listen. Observe. Practice. Practice again. And again. Skill will only take you so far in fly fishing — and in basketball, in marketing, in web design, and in dentistry.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is an especially hard lesson for the male species.

I once spent fifteen minutes looking for powdered sugar in a grocery store because I didn’t feel like asking a sales associate for help. But after years of picking the brains of folks behind the counter in a fly shop or fly fishing guides or friends who practice the craft with more skill than I do, I finally figured out that it’s less painful to ask for help than it is to keep bumbling along while making no progress.

Thanks to my fly fishing experiences, I’m more likely to ask for help with software, building a deck, and even locating the aisle with powdered sugar.

5. There is always someone better than you.

If you’re obsessed with being the best, you’re going to be a frustrated fly fisher. Or a frustrated basketball player. Or a frustrated heart surgeon. Or a frustrated writer.

Some folks operate on a different level. My brother, Dave, is like that. He has regularly out-fished me at a pace of about two fish for every one I catch. That has been the case ever since I was six and he was four. Once I made peace with that, it was a whole lot more enjoyable for me and everyone else around me. I can now take joy in the success of others, as well as in my own.

The tag line of our podcast says it all: “for the love of fly fishing.” Yes, that’s why I fly fish. I love it, and it brings me joy. But it’s taught me a lot about life, too. I’m grateful for that, and so are the others in my life.

S2:E12 The Promise of Fall Fly Fishing

Fall fly fishing – is there a better time of year to fish? The crowds are thinner. Many summer fly fishers replace their fly rods with bows, shotguns, and rifles. They become hunters. Yea! Fall fly fishing promises warm days and cool nights. Listen to Fall Fly Fishing now and expect great things this fall!

Listen to our episode “Fall Fly Fishing” now

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Where are you planning to go for fall fly fishing? What do you love most about fly fishing in the fall?

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The Yellowstone River Killers

A killer is on the loose near one of my favorite stretches of the Yellowstone River. Its name is Ursus arctos horribilis. Every time I venture into the back country in Yellowstone National Park to fly fish the ‘Stone (below), I ready my hand to swipe the trigger guard off the bear spray holstered at my side. I’ve even practiced aiming from the hip; I might not have time to pull the canister from its holster if faced with a charging grizzly.

Now, however, there is another killer on the loose in the Yellowstone River. It too has a Latin name.

But you won’t see it lumbering alongside the river. Even if you’re a few feet or a few inches away, you still won’t see it. The name of this killer is Tetracalsula bryosalmonae. It is a microscopic parasite that causes kidney disease in fish. Within a week, it recently wiped out 4000 fish (whitefish and trout). Apparently, it poses no health threat to other animals or to human beings.

The situation is so serious that the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) closed a 183-mile stretch of the ‘Stone from the northern border of Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner, Montana, to the city of Laurel, Montana.

Parasite with a Vengeance

First discovered in Europe, the parasite was detected in some Idaho fish hatcheries as early as 1980. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the parasite was found in the Upper Snake River. Now it has attacked fish in the Yellowstone River with a vengeance.

Fisheries experts do not know if the parasite transferred via a human being or an animal. FWP biologists will study the situation and determine a strategy for managing and containing the parasite. Damage control is a more likely outcome than is eradication.

In the meantime, I am reminded of the importance of cleaning and drying our waders and boots before moving from one river to another. If you’re new to fly fishing, here are a few suggestions.

    Use a garden hose and vegetable brush to remove mud.

    Let the sun and heat dry out your waders.

    Don’t forget to turn up the gravel guards during the drying process to dry the underside of your waders.

    Use a blow dryer on felt soles and inside your wading boot.

Felt can hold moisture for a few days. Experts often recommend waiting between five to seven days before using a pair of boots with felt soles on another river. A few minutes with a blow dryer can, obviously, speed up the drying process.

Perhaps the move away from felt soles — which began five years ago but lost some steam – will emerge again. Maybe conscientious anglers will buy multiple pairs of boots, keeping a set for the Yellowstone, a set for the Madison, and so on. It’s too early to tell. Hopefully, biologists will figure out some strategies for anglers and other outdoor recreationists to avoid transporting the parasite.

Let’s do our best to pay attention to the problem and search for the best counter measures.

S2:E11 Fly Fishing Etiquette

Fly fishing etiquette – yes, there is such a thing. There are unwritten rules about how a fly fisher should behave while on the river. Listen now to our podcast on fly fishing etiquette and how the community views such things as bringing along your dog to fly fish and how to create space for the next fly fisher on the river.

Listen to our episode “Fly Fishing Etiquette” now

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What have we missed? What other rules of fly fishing etiquette should make the list. Please post your ideas below.

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Little Fly Fishing Hacks that Make a Big Difference

Fly fishing hacks – they are legion. In this short post I offer seven. A few years ago, I was struggling to thread a tiny (6x) tippet through the tiny eye of a tiny (#20) dry fly. My fly fishing friend — and I honestly can’t remember which friend— said, “Here’s a little trick I’ve learned. Use the river as a backdrop. This makes it a lot easier to see what you’re doing.” Presto! I had tried using the sky, the green grass, and even a light-colored branch as a backdrop. I had not considered the river.

It worked, and it’s been life-changing. Okay, it has not been life-changing. But it has certainly made it easier to tie tiny tippets to tiny flies.

Here are a few other fly fishing hacks I’ve learned over the years that have made my time on the river bit easier or a bit more effective:

Use a candle to wax your rod ferules

This prevents the end-of-the-day frustration of having sections of your rod stuck together. When this happens, the danger of breaking your rod increases as you try to pull it apart.

Keep a piece of carpet handy to stand on when you put on your waders

Make sure you always have a small piece in the back of your vehicle. It’s more comfortable to step on carpet instead of gravel when you are standing on the stocking feet of your waders. It’s even more helpful when there is mud or snow on the ground.

Wet your leader knots before you tighten them

If you don’t do this, you risk weakening the knot you’ve tied. When you pull it tight, the friction causes heat, which weakens monofilament. Yes, a little bit of saliva might be the difference between landing an 18-inch rainbow and losing it.

Stand at the river’s edge for a minute before you cast or set foot in it

Okay, this might not be so much a fly fishing hack as it is common sense. There might be a feeding fish right in front of you. Or, you might spot one feeding at a place you did not intend to fish.

On bigger rivers, take the time to fly fish up from where people take out

Fly fishers in a drift boat will often ignore the final hundred yards before they get out. They have rods to put away and gear to stow. So fish upstream to see if there is a run or two which has not been fished.

Use a larger dry fly as a strike indicator for a tiny dry fly

Do you have difficulty seeing size #20 PMD or BWO pattern?

Join the club.

One remedy is to carry a pair of binoculars. Just kidding. What works great is to tie on a larger fly first—something you can see like a size 12 or 14 tan elk hair caddis or Royal Trude (which has a tuft of white in it). Then, tie on about 10-12 inches of tippet and then the fly you’re going to fish. When the larger fly takes a nose dive into the water, you have a strike.

When fighting fish, pull them from side to side rather than up

Pulling fish to the side makes them use muscles which will tire them more quickly. This enables you to release them before they are too tired and stressed out to recover easily.

S2:E10 Colorado Fly Fishing High

Colorado fly fishing is legendary. It takes a little more effort to get away from the crowds in Colorado than, say, Montana, but Colorado fly fishing is amazing. We took separate trips to Colorado this summer, and in this episode we tell stories of catching cutthroat trout at 12,000 feet, and brookies and browns in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Listen to our episode “Colorado Fly Fishing High” now

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Post a story from your most recent fly fishing trip. Where did you go? What was your best memory? What did you learn?

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7 Spots to Cast Your Dry Fly

You’re standing at the river’s edge. The guys or gals at the fly shop have said that the dry fly fishing has been fabulous. So you’ve tied on the size #14 elk hair caddis they recommended. But where should you cast your fly?

If you are new to fly fishing, here are the best spots to cast your dry fly:

Where the trout are rising

This tip is not meant to insult your intelligence.

Rather, it reflects how easy it is to miss rising fish. Sure, the ones that jump halfway out of the water are obvious. But the largest trout often make the smallest ripple. Their snouts barely break the surface.

Spend a minute or two scanning the surface for the subtle rises that are easy to miss.

Where you are about to wade

Fly fishing legend Gary Borger says, “Fish it before you wade it.”

This is good advice. The trout are not always where you think they should be. The best spot might be the water through which you need to wade to get to the next best spot.

Where the drift boats fish

Fly fishers in drift boats do not cast to the middle of the river.

They typically cast to the banks — right where you are standing. If you’re fishing a large river, think of the first eight to ten feet from the bank as a small stream. You probably don’t need to make a twenty-yard cast. You’ve hit the jackpot if you see deeper water along the bank. This is where trout find shelter from predators and easy access to food.

The head of a pool or run

This is where fast moving water (a riffle) rushes into a slower, deeper section of current.

Sometimes, the riffle empties into a pool. I remember an afternoon on the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana where I fished nothing but a riffle. That’s where the rainbows were feeding on blue-winged olives.

In the foam line of a run

Sometimes, the trout are below the riffle in the current itself. These runs can be short or long. Watch for a moving foam and bubbles. This is the food line! I especially rely on the foam line when fishing in slower moving rivers like the East Gallatin in Montana or the Owyhee in eastern Oregon.

The shallow water at the side or the tail end of run

You won’t always find trout in these places, because they offer minimal protection from predators.

But these are great feeding spots for trout when the insect hatches are in full force. Often, the more gentle side of a “seam” (the imaginary dividing line between fast moving current and slow water) is a great place to cast a dry fly. Trout will sip flies there, knowing they can quickly retreat to a riffle if they see the shadow of a bird swooping down on them.

Near a rock

Some rivers – or stretches of rivers — do not have pronounced runs.

Rather, they have a steady flow and depth from one bank to another. If this is the case, look for big rocks. I’ve caught trout in front of, behind, and beside big rocks. Some of these rocks stick above the surface, others do not. One of my favorite stretches on the Gallatin River south of Big Sky, Montana, works like this.

When I find a decent-sized rock, I know I’ll find trout.

S2 E9 When Your Fly Fishing Trip Is a Dud

You plan the fly fishing trip. You carve out the time. And you finally make it to the river. And then nothing goes right, especially when it comes to catching trout. Listen now to “When Your Fly Fishing Trip Is a Dud” as we regale you with some fun stories from a recent fly fishing trip.

Listen to our episode “When Your Fly Fishing Trip Is a Dud” now

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How have you made time to fly fish? If you don’t live nearby blue-ribbon trout streams, how often do you get out? How many days do you fish a year?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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That helps fellow fly fishers decide whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Here’s hoping that your next fly fishing trip is better than our last!

Fly Fishing after Dark

A while ago, I wrote “Resisting the Urge to Fly Fish Until ‘Dark Thirty,'” a short post with the simple point that sometimes, it’s wise to to quit before dark. That’s sound advice. Sometimes.

My point in the post was that if you’ve already had a great day catching trout and you’re expected home at a reasonable time (a time determined in consultation with your spouse and/or children), then peel yourself away from the river. Head home. There’s no reason to be greedy and fish until dark to catch a few more.

However, you need to resist the urge to quit before “dark thirty” if the best fishing of the day typically occurs when the sun goes down and darkness prevails.

A few days ago, I fly fished with my son, Luke, and my brother, Dave, on the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, my flight to Denver was delayed, so we could not start fishing the first day until 7:00 p.m.

I figured we’d stop about 8:15 p.m. as the darkness began to settle in and head to the town of Estes Park to eat. But the brown trout in the Big Thompson convinced us otherwise. At about 8:15 p.m., they started rising. My brother Dave (pictured above) suggested that we keep fishing. Luke insisted on it. So we ended up fishing until 9:00 p.m. — well after dark. We caught trout after trout on a size #18 parachute Adams. Luke used a size #18 tan elk hair caddis with a black body and out-fished us all. We went back two more evenings, fished from 8:15 to 9:00 p.m., and caught quite a few nice-sized browns.

This experience provided some good reminders and a few lessons.

1. Browns like to feed in darkness.

This is common knowledge, but a good reminder: Brown trout come to life when the day is dying in the west.

Recently, I talked to the guides at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling, Michigan, about booking a trip. They told me that their “day trips” in June and early July start at about 7:00 p.m. Then, they fish until midnight. That’s when the big browns come of their lairs to feed on the surface.

2. The white post on a tiny parachute Adams makes it stand out even in low light

If you’re afraid of not being able to see these tiny (size #18 or #20) flies, don’t be. You can see the white post easily enough as long as there is a little bit of light in the sky. The tan wing of an elk hair caddis is easy to spot too in waning light.

3. Assume that any rise in the vicinity of your fly is a strike.

Even after it was too dark to spot our flies as the floated down the current, we caught brown after brown simply by setting the hook any time we saw a fish rise where we thought our fly might be. I don’t have the scientific data to prove it, but I think we had fish on about three-quarters of the time we guessed and set the hook.

4. Go with shorter casts.

For one thing, it’s easier to see your fly and to control your line as the darkness takes over. Also, it will keep you from snagging a rock or a branch on the other side of the bank. The last thing you want to do is to tie a tiny fly onto your teeny tippet when it’s dark.

5. A flashlight can save the day, er, the night.

Some fly fishers will not have the common sense to practice my previous point. Uh, that would be me.

I saw a fish rise about an inch from the opposite bank. There was a branch a few inches above it, but I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, I snagged my fly on the branch and ended up losing it. Trying to thread a 6x tippet through the eyelet of a size #18 hook was nearly impossible. Neither the river nor the sky provided enough backlight.

Thankfully, the flashlight on my cell phone saved the night! It was a clumsy process, but I tied on a new fly in the darkness and ended up catching two more nice browns before we quit.

6. You can’t fish at night (or in the day time) if you forget your fly reel.

Yes, on our second night, I left my reel in another small pack I had used earlier in the day when we hiked to a high mountain lake. So I was relegated to spectator status. My fly fishing companions mumbled something about giving me a turn to use their fly rods if the fishing was good. But I guess it was too dark for them to see that they were catching a lot of trout. Or perhaps they thought it was too dark to risk transferring their fly rods from their hand to mine.

I won’t make that mistake again.

S2:E8 Making Time to Fly Fish

Making Time to Fly Fish is a no brainer if you’re living in the American West or near some great streams. And if you have no other responsibilities in life. If you are not a fly fishing professional (and we’re not), you probably have a job. You may have a spouse. You may have kids. If so, then it’s not a slam dunk to fly fish at will. In “Making Time to Fly Fish,” we discuss the challenges of getting out on the river in the various stretches of life. And we provide some practical ways to focus your time.

Listen to our episode “Making Time to Fly Fish” now

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How have you made time to fly fish? If you don’t live nearby blue-ribbon trout streams, how often do you get out? How many days do you fish a year?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

We trust you are able to make time to fly fish yet this summer!

Keeping Track of Your Fly Fishing Adventures

Once in a while, my podcast partner, Dave, says something profound. A few years ago, he made this observation over lunch: “You cannot fully experience a present moment; but when you think back on it you experience the moment in full.”

That’s as true about your fly fishing adventures as it is about any other life experience. I spend a lot of time on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in my mind, experiencing some tremendous fly fishing days to the full.

The problem is, the details of past experiences fade with time. They also blur together in your mind.

    Was that day when the snow turned into rain and the rainbows went into a feeding frenzy in April or September?

    Did I catch them on a size #18 parachute Adams, or did I have to use a size #20?

    Did it happen on the East Gallatin River or on the main Gallatin?

    How many rainbows did I land that afternoon?

One solution is to keep track of your fly fishing adventures. Here are a three simple ideas that may help you do this. I list them from less ambitious to more ambitious.

1. Take plenty of photos

This is the easiest way to keep a record, and thanks to smart phones, you can now take photos or videos and post them to Instagram or YouTube. It’s also the most vivid record you can keep. The cliche is true: a picture is worth a thousand words.

Make sure to carry a Ziploc plastic bag to keep your cell phone dry. Make sure, too, that you take pictures of more than the fish you catch. Take photos of the landscape, the best runs you fish, and the grace (or clumsiness) of the casts that your fly fishing partner makes.

2. Keep a fly fishing journal

Sometimes, though, a word is worth a thousand pictures. So consider a fly fishing journal. Buy a cheap notebook or a moleskin notebook that you can throw into your fly fishing bag. Or, simply devote a Microsoft Word file (or Evernote or OneNote or …) to your fly fishing adventures. You can be as literary or as clinical as you want to be. Fly fishers may simply want to record the basics:

    How many fish I caught,

    What patterns and their sizes I used, and

    What the weather was like.

Or, you may want to write a more elaborate, literary account of your trip. That’s especially true if you are a writer. I don’t mean a published author. I mean a writer. There is a big difference. A writer-friend of mine in northwest Montana recently tweeted: “You write because there’s fire in your bones. You’ve got to do this whether anybody ever reads it or not.”

If you feel the urge, write about your fly fishing adventures. It’s a great way to re-live them.

3. Create a blog or a Facebook page

This is not for everybody. But a blog or a Facebook page devoted to your fly fishing adventures will allow you to organize your data — photos and writing — and even to share it with others.

Several of our “2 Guys” listeners and readers have shared their webs sites with us, and we have both enjoyed perusing their photos and the articles. Dave and I keep talking about how much we learn from the guides at the fly shops we visit. But we’re also learning a lot from the blogs that some of you maintain. If you’re doing this, keep up the good work. If you’re interested in trying this, go for it. If it’s not for you, you’ll know soon enough.

Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Instagram are free, of course, and many hosted blogs like Word Press are also free.

I’m glad I kept a journal.

Now I can go back and get enough details to jog my memory and spend some time in my mind on the East Gallatin River on that September day when I caught a half dozen 16-inch rainbows out of one run. The rainbows went into a feeding frenzy on blue winged olives, and I caught them on a size #18 parachute Adams.

I’m also glad I remembered Dave’s observation about what it means to live in the moment. I found it in my journal as I was looking for the journal entry about that day on the East Gallatin when the snow turned into rain.

S2: E7 Fly Fishing Made Simple

Fly fishing made simple is big promise. If you’re just starting out, learning how to cast, read water, and grasp a modicum of entomology can feel overwhelming. We’ve wanted to publish an episode on keeping fly fishing simple, and a recent post by a listener pushed us to make it happen. In this episode, we discuss fly fishing made simple by identifying four ways to reduce its complexity and help you enjoy the sport.

Listen to our latest episode:”Fly Fishing Made Simple”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

How have you kept fly fishing simple – and enjoyable? Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Fly Fishing Secrets at the River’s Edge

Like most fly fishers, I frequently find usable flies along the river’s edge. I spot most of them dangling from leaders wrapped around tree branches. A few are stuck in the tree branches themselves. Years of finding fly after fly along the river’s edge have provided me with a few fly fishing secrets.

Rather than turn these into a best-selling book and making a million bucks, I now share them with you in hopes these deep truths will improve your fly fishing experience:

1. Tree branches are the earth’s strongest magnetic force.

For years, I thought I was simply careless and not paying enough attention. “Rookie mistake,” I thought, after yet another errant back cast. But after seeing so many leaders wrapped around branches, it dawned on me that tree branches must have a Magnetic Force.

I am in need of a technology to de-magnetize my flies.

2. The Beadhead Prince Nymph is the fisher’s secret weapon.

Three out of every four flies I find at the river’s edge are Beadhead Prince Nymphs.

I can conclude only that this is the most superior pattern to use and perhaps the only one I will ever need. At first, I wondered if this was a reasonable conclusion. Why trust the fly selection of a slacker who loses his fly in a Ponderosa Pine?

But then I remembered the Magnetic Force. The fly fishers who lost these flies were likely skilled, knowledgeable veterans who simply underestimated the dark Magnetic Force of the branches behind them.

3. Buying or tying flies is a waste of time.

No more twenty dollar bills devoted to buying a dozen flies! No more money spent on dubbing material, hooks, beadheads, biots, peacock herl, head cement, the latest vise, and a host of other gadgets.

Now I’m saving so much cash that I’m planning on buying another high end fly rod.

The only downside is that I spend more time inspecting tree branches than I do fly fishing. Hopefully, that will change as I build up my supply. But I keep losing these flies that I find due to those darn magnetic tree branches. I may have to invest a metal detector to locate lost flies before I buy another fly rod.

Oh yes, there is another downside to my decision to stop buying flies and using only what I find at the river’s edge.

Three-fourths of the flies in my box are now beadhead prince nymphs. They work great, but at times I long for a caddis fly — particularly when fishing the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the Yellowstone River in Montana. I lost my last caddis fly pattern a couple years ago. Actually, I found one earlier this year, but I lost it a week later. It’s lodged somewhere on a magnetic branch.

I wish all those fly fishers using beadhead prince nymphs would switch to caddis flies for awhile.

S2:E6 One Fine Day on the Madison River

Montana’s Madison River is one of our favorite western rivers. There’s both the Upper Madison River and the Lower Madison River, two distinct sections. In this episode, we go into story-telling mode, narrating a terrific day of fishing while floating the Lower Madison in late summer.

Listen to our latest episode:”One Fine Day on the Madison River”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a great memory of a day on the river? We’d love to hear about it! Post your story in the comments section.

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

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That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Your Next Pair of Fly Fishing Waders

Are you as confused as I am? In this post, I provide four questions to help you sort through the brand confusion when purchasing your next pair of waders.

I recently Googled the word “waders.” Sponsored ads from Cabela’s appeared at the top of the page with Hodgman waders for $14.99.

Seriously. Waders for $14.99.

I should have Googled “fly fishing waders.”

So I did.

More Cabela’s waders and a few others. The lowest price in this next set of ads was $59.99 (another pair from Cabela’s) and the most expensive was a pair from Orvis ($169).

I refreshed my browser and another pair from Orvis for $398 appeared.

Fly Fishing Waders Galore

A few days later I was trolling for gear and hit upon the Simms web site. I clicked on the “waders” link, and this is what I pulled up:

    G3 Guide – WQM Limited Edition: $549.95
    G4Z Stockingfoot: $549.95
    G4Pro Stockingfoot: $699.95
    G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Lug: $699.95
    G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Felt: $699.95
    G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
    G3 Guide Pant: $499.95
    Headwaters Convertible Stockingfoot: $399.95
    Headwaters Stockingfoot: $349.95
    Womens G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
    Freestone Z Wader: $399.95
    Freestone Wader: $249.95
    Freestone Pant: $229.95
    Womens Freestone Wader: $249.95
    Kids Gore-Tex Stockingfoot: $199.95

I scratched my head. Other than price, the waders all merged together into an expensive blur.

And that’s only the Simms line of waders!

I then visited the Patagonia site. And then looked at the Redington brands, the Orvis brands, and then Dan Bailey brands.

My head was spinning. And that’s not even the entire list of brands. (I apologize for all those I missed.)

How does an average fly fisher make a rational decision about which pair of waders to purchase?

My (Former) Approach to Decision-Making

Here’s how I purchased my current pair of waders.

I was on a fly fishing trip to Montana with Steve, my podcast partner.

It was springtime. And my aging waders sprung a leak. I got cold while standing in the Madison River, with snow and gusts of 20 mph wind.

We decided to fish the Yellowstone the next day.

On the way over to Paradise Valley, we stopped in Livingston, Montana, and I walked into the Dan Bailey fly shop on the main drag through town.

I said to the sales person, “I need a pair of waders.”

“Here’s a pair of Dan Bailey waders on sale.”

“Are they good waders?”

“Yes they are.”

“Okay, I’ll take them.”

I paid about $250 or so, plus or minus. And walked out with new waders.

(Note: I’ve had these waders for four years. I’ve crawled up to a thousand runs on small creeks on my knees. No leaks. I’d like to buy a new pair just for the sake of buying a new pair, but I can’t justify the expense when there’s nothing wrong with them.)

My Randomness Is Not a Strategy

Am I a shill for Dan Bailey waders? No.

Is Dan Bailey sponsoring our podcast or blog? No. (This is a question that you should ask of every writer who mentions a brand in a post.)

My point has three parts:

1. I made a random, arbitrary decision.

2. I probably got lucky.

3. The unending options of fly fishing waders confuses me about which to purchase next.

Am I saying you should be as random as I was?

Absolutely not.

4 Questions to Select the Right Waders

So here are four questions that I think you should consider:

1. How many days a year do I fly fish?

Steve and I calculated that we fish between 10 and 20 days a year. That’s not as many as we would like. But we live with 10 million of our closest friends in the Chicago area. We both lived in the West before moving to Chicago, but now it takes a bit more thought and effort to get out on the rivers.

If you are a newbie fly fisher and plan to fish only once or twice while on a summer vacation, you do not need waders. I rarely wear waders in the summertime, except if I’m in rattlesnake country. I wear my wading boots and wading socks, or a pair of wading sandals, and dri-fit shorts or pants.

If you fly fish fewer days a year than Steve and I do, then I would recommend a middle-of-the-road, workhorse brand of waders.

If you fly fish 40 or more days a year or are a professional guide – by all means – purchase the “best,” however you define the word. My guess is you own multiple pairs of fly fishing waders.

2. Will this be my only pair of waders?

I generally keep only one pair of waders in play. I keep it simple. I don’t use wading pants. I don’t use hip waders.

Obviously, I’m not a fly fishing professional. Nor do I fly fish 40 days a year or more.

If you fly fish quite a few days in late fall, winter, and early spring, you may want to purchase a pair of insulated waders. But most fly fishers rarely fish in near-freezing or sub-freezing weather. I fish maybe a couple days a year in freezing temps, and if I wear layers under my breathable waders, I am fine (though you need to remember I grew up in North Dakota, so cold is my friend!)

Another consideration is the depth and speed of the river. If you are fly fishing shallow creeks in the summer, you definitely don’t need waders.

3. How brand conscious am I?

I am tend to be brand agnostic. At least when it comes to fly fishing waders.

With fly rods and wading boots – I am more persnickety. A fly rod affects how I cast. And wading boots could save my life.

But waders?

Some of you may need to look good on the water. You need to wear the most expensive brand because of how doing so makes you feel about yourself.

Bully for you. Buy. And be blessed. A $700 pair of waders may make perfect sense in your mind, even if you fly fish only once every couple years.

4. What is my budget?

With waders, I tend to be budget conscious, and, as I mentioned, brand agnostic.

I’d rather save a couple hundred bucks and add that to one more fly fishing trip this calendar year. I don’t have unlimited money for fly fishing. I also hunt upland game and waterfowl in North Dakota every fall with my extended family, so fly fishing doesn’t get all my resources for the outdoors.

I am budgeting between $275 and $350 for my next pair of waders.

I definitely will not purchase the discount brands. I’ve been down that road, and the saying that you pay for cheap three times is pretty much gospel.

Instead, I seek value – a durable pair of waders at a reasonable price.

I don’t need my waders to have the latest technology or include wi-fi or sing “You are so beautiful” to me. And since no fly fishing catalog will likely be asking me to model outdoor clothing anytime soon, I simply need the waders to be up for the kind of rugged fishing I do.

Waders should last me four or five years, given how hard I use them and my number of days on the water.

One last comment: I definitely recommend purchasing stockingfoot waders (not waders with boots). That means you’ll need to purchase wading boots, a topic for another time.

Fly Fishing’s Wilder Side

The wild places are not a kind and gentle world where Bambi lives in perfect harmony with nature. One reason I love fishing in the America West is that I often come face to face with fly fishing’s wild side.

I grew up on the windy and barren plains of the Dakotas, lived in the West during much of my twenties, and then settled in the Chicago suburbs to raise a family.

So much of how my suburb is organized paints over the harsher reality of the true nature of life. Fly fishing gets me into the outdoors where I encounter a different reality.

In the suburbs, my 15-year-old can’t shoot his bow or pellet gun in our backyard. He can’t take out the raccoon in our attic or the skunk under our deck. The neighbors might see him and call the police.

Instead, we must call “wildlife control” and pay $200 to solve our wildlife problem. I love fly fishing because it takes me back to what I remember growing up in the wilder places of America. A recent fly fishing trip reminded me how the cycle of life actually works.

Mama’s Not Happy

Last summer, Steve, another friend, and I were fly fishing on a remote Montana stream. We divided up among us about a half mile of the creek: Steve went upstream, and the other friend and I headed downstream.

A half hour into the day, while I was kneeling on the bank to tie on a fly, a duck burst out of the brush beside me, complaining loudly as she flew away. I thought the duck was mad at me. I suspected she had a nest nearby. After swallowing hard to get my heart back into my chest, I went back to the tedious task at hand. I wasn’t catching anything on a hopper. I decided to switch to nymphs.

A minute or so later, I heard some rustling behind me. I turned to see a mink dragging a baby duck backwards into the brush. The duck looked to be a couple months old and almost the same size as the mink. The mink had the little one by the neck, the duckling’s wings still flapping as it died.

The mink had raided the nest. I wondered if my sudden presence on the stream a few moments earlier had distracted Mama Duck, and the mink took advantage by stealing her young one.

Mother’s Darker Side

The picture above is up close with the mink and the duck. I wish the photo had turned out better. I was a bit rattled. I should have tried the video, but didn’t think to do so. The lighting against the bush was poor, and the mink kept backing up farther and farther into the brush.

The mink was less than five feet away when I first turned around.

It appeared unafraid, fiercely determined not to let go of brunch.

I fumbled to click a picture, followed the mink as it backed up into the brush behind me, slowly. Belligerent, it refused to let go of the baby duck and escape, even though I had an iPhone in its face.

It was one of the great moments of fly fishing in one of the most gorgeous remote valleys of Montana. The enounter was a bracing reminder that Mother Nature is not at all benevolent, not all love and cuddles, something I can easily forget living the good life in my Chicago suburb. Mother Nature is no a protector of wildlife. In fact Mother Nature is not really like a mother at all.

At least not like my mother.

I love the offbeat lessons of life from fly fishing. The sport adds color to my white-picket-fence view of the world.

S2:E5 The Five Traits of a Successful Fly Fisher

The successful fly fisher – what does success really mean? At minimum, success requires a persistence to stay at it during the slow and frustrating days. Like any pursuit, fly fishing demands a certain mindset of those committed to the sport for the long haul. In this fifth episode of Season 2, we identify the five mindsets of the successful fly fisher.

Listen to our latest episode:”The Five Mindsets of a Successful Fly Fisher”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

What mindset did we miss? Which mindset helps you catch the most fish?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Rate the 2 Guys Podcast

We’d love for you to rate our podcast on iTunes.

That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

Nymph Fishing’s 7 Nagging Questions

I love fishing beneath the surface of the river because of the challenge. It’s an ongoing set of problems to solve. Here are nymph fishing’s seven nagging questions:

Do I have enough weight?

Maybe.

Often fishers will add split shot above their top fly. The purpose is to get the nymph down to where it belongs – rolling along the bottom of the run.

The more weight, of course, the more tricky it is to sling your fly.

How much weight to use is a judgment call. I use a couple split shot to start – and add or subtract based on what is happening in real time.

Is my top fly at the right depth?

Probably not.

If you are quickly moving from run to run, then most likely each run is different in degree from the previous one. Plus, each run moves at varying speeds as your flies move up and down the water column.

I make continual adjustments to my strike indicator when I’m at work on the river. That means moving it up or down, depending on whether I’m getting snagged.

If I never snag on the bottom, then I need to move the strike indicator up some, thereby forcing my top fly down to the bottom of the run.

Should I use a dropper or trailer fly?

Maybe.

If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend getting comfortable fishing with a single fly. Some folks fish with three flies. I generally use two. There are a couple ways to tie on multiple flies. Find one that works for you.

Am I mending well enough?

No. This is the chronic challenge of fishing nymphs. Keep at it!

Is the twitch a strike?

Yes.

Newbie fly fishers tend to be slow to strike (or “set the hook”) when the strike indicator twitches or dips below the surface. So are veteran fly fishers.

Should I change my fly?

Wait.

Work on your mend. Pay attention to the depth of your flies. Move to the next run.

Okay, now you can change your flies.

What should I change to?

Is there a hatch on? If so, then try an emerger. Then try a slightly different color emerger (if you have one).

Other options: Go smaller. If you’re fishing a #14 beadhead pheasant tail, drop to a size #16.

Penultimate option: Switch to a streamer.

Final option: Go home and clean the garage.

S2:E4 Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns

Our top nymph and wet fly patterns are probably not the same as yours. Every fly fisher has an opinion. Each river is unique. Yet there remain some common attractor nymph and wet fly patterns that seem to work when there is no obvious hatch in play. In this week’s episode, Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns, we each offer our five favorites. There is lots of overlap, but a few surprises as well.

Listen to our latest episode:”Our Top Nymph and Wet Fly Patterns”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

What are your top nymph and wet fly attractor patterns? And why?

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A Beginner’s Guide to Fishing Hoppers

Here is a riddle: what is big, ugly, and sends trout into attack mode? Hint: it’s not your wading boots.

Answer: it’s a grasshopper.

Trout love to eat hoppers and will go into a feeding frenzy when hoppers are readily available. That’s usually mid-July to mid-August, depending on where you’re fly fishing.

Attack Worthy

If you are new to fly fishing, you’ll find that a hopper pattern is your best friend during the dog days of summer. You’ll learn to love hoppers because the trout attack them. I remember fly fishing the Yellowstone River a few years ago with my two sons on a hot afternoon in late July. It was a clear, sunny day—usually not the best conditions for fly fishing. Yet, all three of us had strikes on almost every cast.

Our hopper patterns were irresistible to the Yellowstone Cutthroats.

High Visibility

Something else which newbies and veterans appreciate about fishing hoppers is their visibility.

A size #6 Dave’s Hopper is much easier to see floating down the river than a size #18 parachute Adams. It’s like the difference between watching a strawberry and a single Cheerio floating in the current.

Fly fishers also love hoppers because they seem to float forever without getting waterlogged—especially the hopper patterns ties with foam.

Yes, hoppers are generally “easy-schmeasy” to fish. But here a few tips that will help you if you are a beginner.

1. Be ready!

You’ll often get a hit as soon as the hopper hits the water.

The first time it happens, you may be left with your mouth gaping, wondering why you didn’t set the hook! So expect a strike as soon as your hopper hits the water. Even if it floats for a few seconds before a trout attacks it, the strike will come unexpectedly and demand a quick set (that is, a firm, slight lift of your rod tip).

2. Size and color matters.

It generally doesn’t matter how your hopper imitations are made.

As noted above, foam patterns tend to float longer than those tied with hair. Otherwise, a certain style of legs or the shape of the body matters little. I’ve even caught plenty of trout on large caddis flies and spruce moths during hopper season.

What does matter is size and color.

Now most trout aren’t going to snub a size #8 and only take a size #10 or vice versa. But at the beginning of a season, trout might pass up a size #6 and only take a size #12 because the hoppers they are seeing are smaller. Likewise, if most of the hoppers are green, fish might not key in as well on yellow.

I realize that trout process color differently than humans do. But there are times when color seems to matter.

So, do your homework. Get on the website of a fly shop near the river you plan to fish. Better yet, pick up your phone and call one of their guides.

3. Use a smaller fly as a dropper.

I rarely fish a hopper by itself.

I’ll typically tie on a foot-long piece of tippet material to the bend of the hook of my hopper. Then, I’ll tie on another terrestrial, such as an ant or beetle pattern, to the end of the tippet. This additional fly is called the “dropper” or “trailing fly.” Sometimes, I’ll use an attractor pattern like a Red Humpy or a Royal Wulff as my dropper. Interestingly, there are days when two out of every three trout hit the dropper, not the hopper.

Other days it’s the opposite.

4. Slap ‘em and twitch ‘em.

You don’t need delicate casts with hoppers. You can let the terrestrial hit the water a bit harder than usual. You’re trying to imitate a hopper falling into the river, not a hopper making a smooth, stealth landing.

So don’t worry if your fly makes a small splash. Obviously, I’m not saying slap your line on the water. Slap the hopper on the water.

If your hopper is floating down a riffle or a fairly swift stretch of current, let it float. But if you are in a slower, smoother section, twitch or “skate” your hopper a bit. This imitates a hopper that has fallen into the river and is trying to escape. Caution: when you do this, be ready for a violent strike!

5. Aim for the prime time of day.

Prime time is usually mid or late morning to early afternoon. It takes the warmth of the sun to get hoppers hopping — and a little wind will blow them into the river. If you’re fishing early morning (especially) or late afternoon, you may need to try another kind of fly.

Last summer, I fished a creek in Montana that had a reputation as hopper heaven. I got on the water about 9:30 a.m. and immediately started using hopper patterns.

Forty-five minutes later, I felt a bit discouraged and considered tying on something else. Then I had a vicious strike. Then another, and another. The trout devoured hoppers the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. Then, about four o’clock, it was as if every trout had received the memo that it was time to stop feeding on hoppers. The action simply shut down.

So join the fun. Whatever else you do this summer, schedule a day or two on a river where hoppers live along the bank. Hopper fishing is downright addicting!

S2:E3 The Basics of Nymph Fishing

The basics of nymphing are never as basic as they seem. It takes time to learn the language of this aspect of fly fishing, and it takes a lifetime to become proficient at it. However, it’s worth the effort for most fly fishers. It’s said that 85% of a trout’s diet comes from beneath the surface of the river. As you master the basics of nymphing, you will likely catch more fish.

Listen to our latest episode:”The Basics of Nymphing”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Are you a veteran fly fisher with advice for those just starting out? We’d love for you to post your recommendations on the basics of nymphing.

What would you add?

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That helps fellow fly fishers make a decision whether the podcast is a good fit for them.

The Fly Fisher’s Inconsolable Longing

The fly fishing community is a rather diverse group. Some fly fishers are plumbers, others are professors. Some are Supreme Court Justices (think Sandra Day O’Connor), others are leftover hippies. Some are college basketball coaches, others are musicians.

What you get from such a varied group of fly fishing enthusiasts is a lot of great stories.

Thankfully, a few fly fishers have written them down for the rest of us to enjoy.

Shortly after I moved to Helena, Montana in 1987, I was browsing in a bookstore in Last Chance Gulch (downtown Helena), and I purchased a little book written by a retired English professor at the University of Chicago. He had reached his seventies before his two children finally convinced him to write down some of the stories he had told them when they were young. The opening paragraph of his little book captivated me, and the story he told touched me deeply. The book begins:

    In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout waters in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.

By now you probably recognize the book and its author: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.

The Angler’s Soul

In this book, fly fishing is simply a window into life. Two themes stand out to me:

The first comes from the final sentence of the book: “I am haunted by waters.”

These words emerge from a deep place in an angler’s soul while fly fishing a river in the cool of the day at twilight. It’s what the Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis, calls “the inconsolable longing.” In his essay, “The Weight of Glory,” he talks about how certain experiences provide the “scent of a flower I have not found, the echo of a tune I have not heard, the news from a country I have never yet visited.”

I remember a poignant moment like that one April evening on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. I was fly fishing alone, fighting 16-inch rainbows in the setting sun. As I looked at the red
glow on the snow-covered Absaroka-Beartooths to the east, I thought of bow-hunting elk with my dad in those mountains before cancer took his life. I thought of my grandparents who were buried in a little settlers cemetery on a ridge beneath those peaks.

The rhythm of standing in the river at twilight with fly rod in hand stirred up in me that inconsolable longing. For a few moments, I, too, was haunted by waters.

Fly Fisher’s Inconsolable Longing

A second theme is the book’s big idea, which surfaces a few times right near the end of the story.

After Norman finds out about the death of his brother, Paul, he drives to his parents’ home to tell them the tragic news. Norman says about his mother: “She was never to ask me a question about the man she loved most and understood least. Perhaps she knew enough to know that for her it was enough to have loved him.”

Later, his father wants to know if Norman has told him everything about Paul’s death. Norman says, “Everything.” His father replies, “It’s not much, is it?”

To which Norman replies, “No, but you can love completely without complete understanding.”

His father says, “That I have known and preached.”

I think about that conversation when I reflect on the life of a buddy in Helena, Montana, with whom I often fly fished. He was one of the happiest guys I’ve ever met. Or so I thought.

A couple years ago, his wife notified me that my friend had taken his life. It turns out that he battled depression for years. I was his pastor and his friend, yet I did not realize the emotional anguish that cut deeply into his soul.

I thought I understood him, but I didn’t. As the elder Maclean said, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

News of a Distant Country

Fly fishing has a unique way of forcing me to think deeply about life. I fly fish for joy of catching trout. But some evenings on the river stir something deep within me. I think about those whom I love yet fail to understand. And the poignant ache, or inconsolable longing, gives me the news of a country I have never visited.

In those moments I, too, am haunted by waters.

(photo credit: Jim Keena, Bozeman, Montana)

S2:E2 Our Fly Fishing Bucket Lists

Fly fishing bucket lists make us happy. There’s nothing better than to listen to someone yammer on about great days on the water in places they’ve always longed to fly fish. In this episode, we provide our fly fishing bucket lists. Listen to the second episode of our second season now.

Listen to S2:E2 Our Fly Fishing Bucket Lists

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a fly fishing bucket list? Where would you like to fish next? We’d love to hear from you. Post your ideas below or email us at Steve and Dave

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Why I Fly Fish

Why I fly fish – it’s pretty simple to explain. I often get asked, “Why do you fly fish? What do you like about it?” This question typically comes from folks who are dabbling in it or thinking about trying the sport. If that is your question, let me try to answer it.

Several years ago, I tried to improve my golf game so that I could spend more time with a friend. I soon realized that I didn’t love golf. In fact, I found it frustrating. I remember golfing on the Cottonwood Hills Public Golf Course just west of Bozeman, Montana, and looking down the hill at the Gallatin River. I longed to be fly fishing. My friend didn’t fly fish. So I found other ways to connect with him. We both loved to play softball. But I decided that day I was done trying to do things I didn’t enjoy.

But exactly why do I love fly fishing for trout (and salmon at times)?

Engaged with the Outdoors

Fly fishing allows me to experience the great outdoors in an interactive kind of way. I love mountains and the clear rivers or streams that flow through or below them.

Obviously, there are other ways to experience my favorite parts of nature. I’ve done outdoor photography, backpacking, hiking, and a bit of non-technical mountain climbing. I even reached the summit of Long’s Peak in Colorado (14,259 feet) twice. All these were great experiences. But unless I’m photographing my fishing trip or heading to a high mountain lake or stream, neither photography or backpacking does it for me. There’s something about standing in thigh-deep water as the snow softly falls or sneaking up on rising fish that allows me to interact with nature in a way that other pursuits do not.

This is not a knock on outdoor photography or hiking or anything else. It’s just a reflection of how I’m wired. Pursue whatever lets you engage with nature most fully and brings joy.

Addicted to the Riser

I’m also addicted to seeing a trout rise to take a dry fly and to the fight that follows. What else can I say? Fly fishing gives me an adrenaline rush and a sense of satisfaction that most other outdoor sports do not.

One exception is calling in bull elk during the rut in archery season. But nothing else quite compares with fly fishing.

Connected to the Art and Skill

Years ago, I fished with a spinning rod and a box full of Mepps spinners.

That brought me a lot of joy at the time. But I love the aesthetic side of fly fishing. There is a grace to casting (when done well). There are also endless ways of improving my craft – reading waters, identifying insect hatches, tying flies, maneuvering a drift boat, and casting.

Fly fishing gives me the chance to be part of something that I can never fully master. It offers a lifetime of learning. Even the literature of fly fishing is rich and often reflective.

I should add that fly fishing is more doable at this point in my life than other outdoor sports that bring me joy.

As I mentioned, I also love bow-hunting for elk. The crisp September mornings, the bright yellow aspen leaves, and the echo of an elk bugle across a canyon make me happy. But this is where reality kicks in. I no longer live ten minutes from good elk hunting.

A decade ago, I moved to the Chicago area.

The time and cost of hunting elk in Montana as a non-resident are simply prohibitive. It’s the cost, mostly. So out of my two outdoor passions, I’m grateful I can still pursue one of them. Fly fishing for trout is generally less expensive. I can afford to go to Montana at least once or twice a year to fly fish. Besides, I can find great fly fishing three seasons of the year (spring, summer, and fall) as opposed to a three weeks of the year (for bow-hunting elk). I’m hoping to bow-hunt for elk again one of these days with my brother in Colorado. But until then, I’m content to fly fish.

If fly fishing appeals to you, give it a try. The sheer thrill of landing a trout on a fly rod might turn out to be something that brings you as much joy as it brings to me.

S2:E1 What Makes for a Satisfying Day on the River

A satisfying day on the river – what makes one fly fishing day better than another? In this first episode of Season 2, we narrate the key moments of a satisfying day on the river while fishing in the Minnesota Driftless. The amount of trout we caught was average, but the overall experience was one of the best in recent years. Listen to the first episode of our second season now!

Listen to S2:E1 What Makes a Satisfying Day on the River

For more information on Canfield Creek, visit the Forestville Mystery State Park web site.

We’d love to hear one of your stories about a satisfying day on the river.

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Three People to Trust When Buying Fly Fishing Products

In the (supposed) good old days, there was a wall between church and state. There was advertising. And there was content. And the lines between the two were clear.

An ad was an ad. And a rod review was a rod review.

You could trust that the opinion of the writer wasn’t tainted by the fact that he or she was being paid by the product under review.

When buying fly fishing products today, however, it’s hard to know which is church (helpful and truthful content) and which is state (ads or sponsorships). The lines are blurred, thanks to an explosion of fly fishing brands, and, of course, the Internet.

Whom can you trust when buying fly fishing products?

Just recently I saw two rod reviews in the Trout Unlimited magazine. One was for a Sage rod, the other was a rod-reel combination from Cabela’s.

I wondered, “Why those two rods? Why not a Loomis or a Winston or an Orvis? Does TU have a promotion agreement with Sage and Cabela’s?”

Granted, a print magazine has limited space, so TU can’t possibly publish reviews of all the rods in one edition. But when you read a review of a rod in an online magazine or web site, can you really trust that the reviewer is not being paid by the rod manufacturer? Or receiving a cut from all sales tracked from the review (affiliate sales)?

In today’s cluttered world of unlimited fly fishing products, it’s hard to trust that the information you are getting is authentic and truly unbiased. Of course, that begs the question, “What does it mean to be unbiased?” Nothing is truly free from bias. I know that.

But we fly fishers want truly helpful advice when buying fly fishing products. Consider who I think are the only three people you can trust:

The Gals/Guys at the Local Fly Shop

This includes, of course, the guides at the shop. Yes, if you are flying into an area that you have never fished before and you don’t know the fly shop personnel, then you may need to be more wary. I hate to admit this, but the more “corporate” the fly shop, the less I trust the advice from its staff.

But I love buying at local fly shops. They deserve our business. They are the experts in local waters. And it’s hard to go wrong when you get advice from the folks at the shop.

With rare exception, I’ve found the guides and owners at local fly shops to be a trusted source for product recommendations.

Of course, each shop carries certain brands and may be, for example, the exclusive Orvis or Patagonia dealer in the area. That’s especially true in a place like Bozeman, Montana, with a seemingly endless number of fly shops. So it makes sense that fly shop owners and guides will push their brands. But I’ve generally been impressed at their objectivity. Actually, I’m looking less for objectivity and more for someone who will say, “Given your level of experience, I recommend this. And for this reason.”

Last year, I was looking at a new pair of waders. I was discussing my options with a fly shop owner, and he steered me towards a better brand that was on sale – and that was less than the brand I was looking at.

Of course, my trust-o-meter just went up 10 points.

Your Fly Fishing Buddy

Referrals are how I buy most big ticket items in my life, including cars, fly rods, waders, and shotguns.

I am not like my brother-in-law, who makes my eyes bleed when I think about how much time he spends researching his future purchases. I don’t have the patience. When he conducted a thorough investigation of mini-vans back in 2004 – and purchased a Honda Odyssey – I purchased one as well a few years later.

Why re-invent the research wheel?

It seems next to impossible to conduct a thorough investigation of every product. There’s too many products in the market. Take fly rods, example. Unless you have a year-and-a-half to fish a full day with each rod, how could you possibly select the right rod that works for you?

And even if I were to fly fish one day with every possible rod, I would never be able to make a fully informed, rational selection, much less remember how the first rod felt after trying out the other twenty rods.

If you fly fish with some folks, then ask for their recommendations. See if they will let you try out one of their rods (a risky request, I realize). At minimum, you should try out the rod you plan to purchase at the local fly shop. However, I have not found taking only a few casts at a fly shop all that helpful. I really need to fish with the rod for a couple hours.

That’s not always possible, though.

You. Yourself. Yes, You.

Don’t get caught up in the branding hype of fly fishing brands. Just because a piece of equipment or tackle is not the “top of the line” (as declared by some fly fishing personality or brand) doesn’t mean it’s not the best for you. The stories that brands tell about their products are silly. It’s just a product. It won’t save your soul or help you catch bigger fish. Truly.

The question is, “So does it truly work for you with the budget you have?”

I tend to buy higher-end fly fishing products when it comes to wading boots and fly rods. I start with more expensive products.

But not other gear. For other gear, I tend to look for value – best quality at the lowest price.

I recently selected a Sage One fly rod because the line was being discontinued, and the price was right. I like a good sale. I have now fly fished with the rod for several months, and I feel great about my decision. Somehow, I still seem to catch fish, even though I don’t have one of the more expensive brands.

Buying Fly Fishing Products

No person has unlimited time to research and try out every brand when purchasing equipment. And if you do, you truly have too much time on your hands. I’d rather spend my time fly fishing. You may have the personality for eternally investigating products, but I don’t.

In the final analysis, if you are agonizing between this brand of waders or the next, give it a rest. Ask around, take into account your budget, and then just buy the waders!

And head out to the river as fast as you can.

Episode 52: Fly Fishing Observations from a Year of Podcasting

This completes a year of weekly episodes from 2 Guys and a River. In Episode 52: Fly Fishing Observations from a Year of Podcasting, we discuss what we’ve learned from the weekly task of putting together each episode. The size of the fly fishing industry, the complexity of fly fishing for beginners, the importance of public access – these and other themes are part of the fly fishing observations from the past year. And yes, we plan to take on another year of podcasting!

Listen to Episode 52: Fly Fishing Observations from a Year of Podcasting

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have any ideas for podcasts for our second year? We’d love to hear from you. You can send your ideas to stevedave[@]2guysandariver.com.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Five Tips for Fly Fishing Lakes

We call our podcast “2 Guys and a River” for a reason. Both Dave, my podcast partner, and I are fond of rivers and streams. We like to fly fishing moving water. But neither he nor I are “anti-lake” kind of guys.

Dave has had some fantastic days catching cutthroat trout on dry flies on lakes in Colorado’s Collegiate Wilderness area. Some of the largest trout I’ve caught on streamers have come out of Henry’s Lake in southeastern Idaho. We have fly-fished lakes all over the Western states and have had slow days and terrific days. It’s just like our experiences fly fishing rivers.

If you are new to lake fishing, here are five tips that will give you a better chance of catching the trout when fly fishing lakes:

1. Do your homework

This seems obvious, but I’m surprised how many fly fishers don’t take the time to learn anything about the lakes they intend to fly fish. I’ve been there, done that. But over the years, I’ve done much better when I’ve taken the time to read a guide book or check a fly shop website or talk to a guide at a fly shop about the lake I intend to fish.

When my friend, Jerry, introduced me to Hyalite Reservoir in the mountains above Bozeman, Montana, he pointed out certain places where the fish seemed to concentrate more than others. He knew spots where the lake was deeper or where the trout had a favorite hang-out by a drop-off or shelf.

I remember the advice I received from a fly shop owner in Estes Park, Colorado on how to fish Spruce and Loomis Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I would have wasted a lot of time wondering where to fish and what flies to try without his expertise.

2. Don’t ignore the shoreline

Lakes resemble rivers in at least one way: some of the best fishing is right along the bank. Now this is not true for every lake. But I’ve caught my share of rainbows (years ago) and Greenback cutthroat (more recently) in Spruce Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park by casting to feeding fish along the shore. This technique also worked well in Upper Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park.

Personally, I’ve found that early morning or early evening is a perfect time to find feeding fish along the shoreline of a lake.

3. Go deep

When the fish are not feeding on the lake’s surface, it’s time to fish streamers. But you’re going to have to go deeper than usual. Again, the right guide book or fly shop website or the guide behind the counter will tell you how deep to fish.

Going deeper may be as simple as using more split shot. But if you spend much time fishing lakes, you’ll be wise to invest in a sink-tip line. I carry an extra spool with a sink-tip line for these situations.

I suggest buying a sink-tip line at a fly shop so a guide can explain the different sink rates and which one might serve you best. For example, sink-tip lines are rated (often as Type I, II, III, etc.) for their sink rate. This rate can be anywhere from two inches per second to eight inches per second. If you need to get down eight or ten feet, you can do the math and figure out how long to let your line sink after you cast it before you begin the retrieve.

Also, keep your line tip in the water when you strip in your line. This prevents slack, enabling you to control your line more effectively as you retrieve it.

4. Try a float tube

This is a convenient, inexpensive way to make your way around a small lake. It takes a bit of practice, but after you do it a couple times, you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll want a nine-foot rod (rather than something shorter), because you are a lot closer to the surface.

It’s like casting when you are sitting down rather than standing up.

Safety is critical. I don’t recommend float-tubing alone. Also, you really do need to wear a life-jacket.

Yes, a float tube has at least two air compartments so that the entire tube will not deflate in case of a leak or puncture. But I never fish in a float tube without a life-jacket. Proceed with caution if you are new to float-tubing.

5. Fish the outlet and inlet if you can

This tip is not simply based on my love for moving water. The outlets and inlets can sometimes provide some fantastic fishing. They can get overlooked by fly fishers, yet the trout will sometimes congregate in these places because the food line is rich.

I’ve had days where I’ve done much better in the outlet of Upper Two Medicine Lake than in the lake itself. When I hike beyond Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to fish The Loch Vale or Sky Pond, I typically do better in the outlets and inlets than in the lakes themselves. In fact, one of my sons asked me the other day when we can go back to this glacial gorge just to fish the outlets to these lakes.

Two Guys and a Lake?

Dave and I still love our rivers. Neither one of us thinks we’ll change the name of our podcast any time in the future. But there is some great fly fishing on lakes. We look forward to our next opportunity to cast a fly on one of them.

Episode 51: Should You Tie Your Own Flies?

Tie your own flies? Some might say you can’t be a real fly fisher unless you do. Well, we differ on the matter. Steve ties his own, and Dave doesn’t. In this episode, using a point-counterpoint approach, we discuss the age-old question of whether you should tie your own flies.

Listen to Episode 51: Should You Tie Your Own Flies?

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you tie your own flies? If so, do you ever buy flies? If not, why not?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Have Fly Rod, Will Time Travel

I fly fish for one reason: to catch fish. Of course, I love the opportunity to be outdoors and experience nature. But I could accomplish that without fly fishing. I could simply hike or camp or take up outdoor photography.

I fly fish because I love the thrill of catching trout.

However, this does not mean that I’m unappreciative of the side benefits that come with fly fishing. One of them is the opportunity to do some time travel. Yes, the fly rod in your hand also serves as a time machine, transporting you to some places in the past.

Brookies on the Au Sable

Recently, my son, Luke, and I drove to Grayling, Michigan, to fish for trout on the Au Sable River. We spent a day on the North Branch of the Au Sable and caught our share of brookies.

What stands out to me most, though, was the opportunity to drift the river in an Au Sauble River boat. These beauties look and feel much different than the drift boats from which I’ve fished the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana. They typically run 23- or 24-feet long and only two-and-a-half feet wide, resembling the shape of a dugout canoe.

The Au Sable River boat has been used on the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers in northern Michigan since the early 1870s. Lumber companies used this flat-bottomed craft to move tools and supplies to their logging camps. Loggers used them to maneuver between the logs as they floated down the rivers and to separate the inevitable log jams.

In the early 1880s, someone got the idea to modify the design a bit to use this craft for fishing.

Drifting the North Branch of the Au Sable with my son, Luke (pictured above to the left), and our guide, Justin, took me back in time to the days when the Grayling thrived in these rivers and the camp cooks used these boats to shuttle staples to their camps to feed hungry lumberjacks.

Fly Rod under the Trestle

I had a similar feeling of nostalgia last summer when I fished 16 Mile Creek in the north reaches of Montana’s Gallatin Valley. I caught a couple of nice browns under a railroad trestle on an old railroad grade used by the Ringling Brothers. Every off-season, they used to ship their circus equipment to their ranch.

More recently, a scene from A River Runs Through It was filmed on the same trestle—the scene where Jessie Burns drives wide-eyed Norman Maclean onto the tracks, over the trestle, and into a tunnel. What struck me was how this remote mountain valley had remained untouched and undeveloped. There were no power lines, roads, or highway sounds to remind me that I was fishing in the twenty-first century.

More than a decade ago, I remember the chill I felt when fishing the East Gallatin River about a mile from my where my house. I had read enough of Lewis and Clark’s journals to know that Captain William Clark and his Indian guide, Sacagawea, walked somewhere nearby the spot where I fished as they traveled east from the Three Forks of the Missouri to meet up with the Yellowstone River.

More recently, local resident Jim Doig was killed when thrown from his saddle horse in a pasture adjacent to the stretch of the East Gallatin I fished. His nephew, Ivan, tells the story in his memoir, This House of Sky.

Something stirs me about the history that swirls around the places I fish. To be sure, it cannot make up for a lack of catching fish. But when the fish are sipping my flies off the surface, the historical dimension of the waters I fly fish enriches my experience.

So what happened a hundred years ago in and around the rivers you are fly fishing?

Knowing the history may not make a bad day on the river good. But it is sure to make a good day even more meaningful.

Episode 50: Unlikely Places to Catch Trout

Unlikely places to catch trout are good places to drift your fly. We’ve caught fish in shallow riffles, drainage ditches, grassy side channels, and trickles of water that could be barely be classified as a stream. Listen to “Unlikely Places to Catch Trout” and then post on our blog about the most strange places you’ve caught fish.

Listen to Episode 50: Unlikely Places to Catch Trout

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

What are some unlikely places you’ve caught trout?

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Teaching Your Kids to Fly Fish

So you want to teach your son or daughter to fly fish. How can you make that happen? The truth is, you can lead a child to water, but you can’t make them fly fish.

I have a few suggestions, though, to help along the way:

Get them on the river early and often

I still remember the first time my dad took me to the Kilchis River near Tillamook, Oregon. He was fishing for steelhead. I was four years old, mesmerized by the smell of the river — as well as by the smell of the fish. The experience was formative, creating in me a love for rivers.

Last summer, our family stayed in some cabins on Montana’s Boulder River. I watched my two sons-in-law fly fish while toting their little kids in backpacks. Now my sons-in-law were not wading, nor were they near deep water. So my 3-month old grandson and my one-year old granddaughter were safe! I was proud of the guys for getting their young children into the great outdoors at the river’s edge.

The time to introduce your kids (or grandkids) to the river is even before they are old enough to fish.

Get them hooked on brookies

When we lived in Helena, Montana, in the early 1990s, we occasionally made the 40-mile trip over MacDonald Pass and then up the Little Blackfoot River to a national forest campground. We fished the river—not much more than a little stream at that point—and caught quite a few brook trout.

My technique was to get a brookie on the line, hand them the rod, wait a couple seconds, and then say, “Hey, I think you’ve gone one!” Later, when they were old enough to go solo, I taught them to fish with a spinning rod and drown a worm. They eventually graduated to fly fishing.

Brook trout are a beginner’s best friend. They can be wily at times, but they are often forgiving of sloppy casts. If you do not live near a trout stream, even blue gills or sunfish will do. It’s important that your youngsters catch some fish.

Get them started on nymphing

Once your kids are ready to handle a fly rod, nymphing is a great way to get them started. Their casts do not have to be as precise as in dry fly fishing, and it’s easy to teach your kids to watch the strike indicator (I like the small plastic bubble) as it floats down a run.

About the only thing your kids need to learn is to mend their line. I’m surprised how early my boys caught on to this technique. Both of them caught some nice rainbows in the Madison River with nymphs. Later, when they became more proficient, they graduated to dry flies.

Make it fun, not too technical

Most six-year-olds are not going to respond well to a lecture on tippet size or your instructions for tying an improved clinch knot. Nor will they care much about the difference between a copper john and a prince nymph. Just let them fish.

This is also not the time to refine their casting. Be patient, and be prepared to take some deep breaths—and to spend time untangling lines and leaders.

Give them a break and let them explore

Don’t be upset if your child loses interest in a hurry and wants to explore. Encourage it. My youngest son, Luke, would often stop fishing after a few minutes—even if he was catching trout!—so that he could look for frogs and garter snakes. It’s all part of the outdoor experience. Your child’s love for fly fishing may develop later, after they first become enamored with all the cool things they find along the river’s edge.

There are no guarantees, but if you teach your kids to fly fish, they may continue it or even pick it up again later in life.

A funny thing happened last summer when we were camped out on the Boulder River. My sons-in-law taught my daughters how to fly fish. My daughters remembered the days we spent catching brookies on the Little Blackfoot about 25 years earlier and decided it was time to try fly fishing.

Meanwhile, my older son taught his wife to fly fish. Then, in the biggest surprise of all, my youngest son taught his mother (my wife). He was there when she caught her first trout on a fly rod. At first, he felt bad that he didn’t let me teach her how to fish. Both my wife and I reassured him that it was for the best. He was more patient with his mom than I would have been!

Later, as we watched the sun set from the porch of our cabin, we realized that we were seeing the results of a commitment to teach the kids to fly fish.

Give your kids a video game, and you’ll make them happy for a few hours. Teach them to fly fish, and you’ll make them happy for a lifetime.

Episode 49: Making Sense of Leaders and Tippet

Which leaders and tippet work best with a size #8 beadhead woolly bugger? No matter how many articles an aspiring fly fisher reads, he or she has to learn the hard way. It’s nearly impossible to sling a big streamer with a 6x tippet. You really need at least a 3x or 4x tippet before you can cast Mr. Woolly Bugger with any kind of accuracy and confidence. In this episode, we lay out the basics of leaders and tippet.

Listen to Episode 49: Making Sense of Leaders and Tippet

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

When it comes to leaders and tippet, any hacks that you’ve discovered for matching tippet to fly?

Here is a handy chart on when to use which tippet size: How to Choose the Right Tippet Size.

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View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

The Gift Every Fly Fisher Needs

There is a gift every fly fisher needs in order to experience success.

I’m grateful for a couple of folks who have provided it for me over the years. One is a farmer near Coon Valley, Wisconsin, and I don’t even know his name. The other is a well-known media mogul and philanthropist — Ted Turner. Both have allowed me to fly fish on their property.

It’s not that I’m well connected with friends in high places. Both Turner and the unknown farmer offer this gift to all fly fishers. It’s the gift of public access.

Technically, public access is not a gift.

Some say it’s a right. I don’t know about that. No doubt I pay for public access through license fees. The landowner sometimes benefits too. But I’m grateful that the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) in Montana and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have provided a generous amount of access points for fly fishers on some fine rivers and streams.

One of my favorite stretches on Montana’s Gallatin River is Ted Turner’s property south of Bozeman. I understand that he is responsible for the ample parking area at Williams Bridge. It’s a gift to park there and then walk up or down the river to some fine runs.

Here are a few tips for protecting and making the most of the gift of public access.

1. Don’t trash these sites!

There should be no need to say this.

But there are always a handful of folks who are too lazy to pick up their trash—water bottles, beer cans, cookie containers, candy wrappers, leader packets, etc. We can help protect this gift if we make the effort to pick up after others. And pick up after ourselves, including used leaders and tippet.

2. Leave the gates as you found them

If you’ve been around farms or ranches, this is rather obvious. Shut the gates you open so you don’t let the cows out! Or, if a gate is open, it’s open for a reason. There’s no need to try to be polite and close it.

3. Give livestock a wide berth

Again, this is common sense.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I often fly fish in a spring creek where the Coon Valley farmer (mentioned above) runs some cattle. We have nothing to worry about, because there are no bulls in the herd. Still there’s no need to agitate the cattle by getting too close to them.

Our unknown friend would not appreciate it. Besides, we don’t want to push the herd through the stream before we fish it!

4. Know your legal rights and limits

The Montana FWP website says:

    Under the Montana Stream Access Law, the public may use rivers and streams for recreational purposes up to the ordinary high-water mark. Although the law gives recreationists the right to use rivers and streams for water-related recreation, it does not allow them to enter posted lands bordering those streams or to cross private lands to gain access to streams.

I’ve rarely run into any problems, but I’ve had a couple occasions on the Boulder River in the mountains south of Big Timber, Montana, where landowners have tried (unsuccessfully) to get me to stop fishing the river as it ran through their property. On both occasions, I had entered the river at a legal access and stayed below the high-water mark.

Knowing the law kept the discussion civil and brief. I respected the landowners, and they ended up respecting my rights.

5. Know how to find access sites

Thankfully, this is not difficult. They are well-marked — at least in Montana and in Wisconsin — by highway and streamside signs. You can also purchase maps that show the location of these sites, but I’ve never needed to buy one.

6. Walk farther than anyone else

For Dave and me, this has become our mantra. If the run just around the bend from the access site looks terrific to you, then it looks terrific to every other fly fisher who spots it. So keep walking. Go an extra mile or two, if possible.

The farther you walk, the more you’ll enjoy less-fished water where the trout have not seen every kind of beadhead prince nymph known to fly fishers.

7. Don’t forget the water near the access point

No, I did not have a brain freeze after #6.

I’m talking here about access points on rivers which fly fishers commonly float. Most folks in a drift boat are getting ready to take out (when they are up river from the access point) or are still getting adjusted the first hundred yards or so into the float. My parents lived about a hundred yards from a fishing access site on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. I used to cross their fence to the access and then walk up about a hundred yards and fish under a bridge along a pylon, and I caught a number trout there over the years.

So thanks, Ted. Thanks, Coon Valley farmer. Thanks, Wisconsin DNR. Thanks, Montana FWP. Thanks for the gift of access to the charming spring creeks and stunning rivers. And thanks to all of you who buy fishing licenses and use these access sites with respect.

The future of fly fishing depends on this gift.

Episode 48: Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

Fly fishing brands are everywhere: Sage, Winston, Orvis, Patagonia, Temple Fork Outfitters, Fishpond, Simms, Loomis, and many more. It’s a noisy, cluttered marketplace. It’s hard to make a rational decision. When selecting a fly fishing rod or waders or a sling pack, how do you make the best decision for you? In this episode, we help fly fishers understand how fly fishing brands position their gear and how to make better decisions on your next purchase.

Listen to Episode 48: Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

When it comes time to buy new gear, how do you go about making your decision? Which brands do you prefer – and why?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Why We Love Fly Fishing Small Creeks

My podcast partner, Dave, and I have had some fantastic days on big rivers. One spring we both had 20-inch rainbows on at the same time in the Madison River.

We’ve both landed big browns in the Lower Madison, and we’ve had a blast catching cutthroats feasting on hoppers in the Yellowstone River.

But it is the small creeks that we find irresistible.

Even on our trips to Montana or Wyoming, we always devote at least one day to fly fishing a small creek. Here are five reasons why we find small creeks so charming—and why you may want to make them part of your fly fishing experience as well.

Small creeks get less pressure

I wonder how many times I have seen the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley look like rush hour in Chicagoland, with all the drift boats making their way down the river.

Yet the little creeks — such as Pine Creek, Mill Creek, and Big Creek — are abandoned.

Recently, Dave and I fished the Driftless in southeast Minnesota. We had plenty of company on the South Fork of the Root River, but we spend most of our time on a little creek that emptied into the river. Canfield Creek turned out to be a gem. We had it all to ourselves, and the browns were happy to rise to our elk hair caddis flies.

Small creeks bring out the hunter in us

Small creeks require us to go into stealth mode.

When I fish my favorite runs in the Yellowstone or Madison Rivers, I rarely need to sneak up to the bank on my hands and knees. But that’s what it takes to fly fish a small creek. The run you want to fish in a small creek is only a couple feet away from where you’re kneeling rather than a dozen feet away as is often the case in a bigger river.

These runs in small creek are typically more shallow than the ones in a river, so a fly fisher is simply more visible to the fish. Maybe all this sneaking through the brush reminds me of bow-hunting elk.

Whatever the case, operating in stealth mode is part of the fun.

Small creeks require more precision

To be honest, this is a reason to hate fly fishing small creeks as well as to love it.

It’s not that big rivers allow you to make sloppy casts. But they are more forgiving.

A river may give you a foot-wide window for placing your fly. But in a small creek, that window often closes to a couple of inches. Short, gentle, target-specific casts are the order of the day when fly fishing a small creek. The challenge is usually fun, although some days it will drive you crazy.

Small creeks are easier to wade

This is the middle-aged man in me speaking.

A day of wade-fishing the Yellowstone leaves me weary. It’s a combination of fighting the swift current while trying to keep from slipping as I step from one slick rock to another.

Recently when Dave and I fished a couple small creeks, the pedometer on his cell phone indicated that we walked about seven miles (full disclosure: some of those steps were to and from a great little café in Preston, Minnesota). I was surprised we had walked that far because my legs and feet were hardly tired at all. That’s the benefit of a day of ankle-deep and calf-deep wading.

Small creeks are home to some large trout

For the most part, the trout are smaller in small creeks, and neither Dave nor I mind a bit.

I get as much joy landing a ten-inch rainbow in a small creek as I do a twenty-inch rainbow in a large river.

Last week I caught an eleven-inch brown on a dry fly in a small creek, and it made my day. But occasionally, you’ll catch a monster in a small creek. Recently, I fly fished the Boulder River in Montana in a mountainous stretch where the “river” is really a small creek. For several years, I had caught mainly eight- to twelve-inch fish. But one afternoon, when it began to rain lightly and the trout went into a feeding frenzy, I caught a fifteen-inch rainbow and then a sixteen-inch rainbow on consecutive casts.

Then the rain stopped, and so did the fishing. This experience reminded me that bigger trout lurk in these small streams. They are harder to catch, but everyone once in a while you’ll hook into one of them.

Enjoy your next trip to a big river. But don’t overlook the smaller streams that flow into it. Your best day of the trip might be on a creek that everyone else has neglected.

Episode 47: Improving Your Fly Presentation

The fly presentation – it is the most challenging aspect of fly fishing. Especially when dry fly fishing or nymphing, perfecting the dead drift demands a mindset of continual learning and a ruthless critique of each cast. Improving your fly presentation is the art and skill of fly fishing. Listen to Episode 47 now!

Listen to Episode 47: Improving Your Fly Presentation

We’ve introduced a feature to our podcast called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners,” which we publish at the end of each episode.

We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have any techniques for dry fly casting or nymphing? What have you found helpful in improving your fly presentation.

You may want to watch several of these terrific Joan Wulff instructional videos on the R.L. Winston Rod Co. web site.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

2 Beginner Fly Fisher Mistakes When Fighting a Fish

I am haunted by a trout that got away. It happened on a spring day on Montana’s Madison River.

I had recently purchased a new fly rod—my first high quality rod. On my third cast of the day, my strike indicator disappeared, and a battle began. For a few seconds, the trout darted back and forth in the current. Then, it decided to run down river. The screeching sound mesmerized me as the fleeing fish stripped line off the reel.

“This is cool,” I thought.

But it wasn’t cool. I simply couldn’t slow down the fleeing fish. I pulled back on my rod, but the fish didn’t slow down. So I began to chase it. I held my rod high and ran down the river—well, as fast as a fly fisher wearing chest waders can safely “run” in knee deep water.

Then it happened. Suddenly the trout darted around a big boulder near the river’s edge, and my fly rod stopped quivering. The fly line went limp. The trout was gone, and so was my adrenaline rush. When I saw that the last two feet of my leader were missing, I realized that it had snapped off on the boulder as the trout swam around it.

Normally, I don’t brood over fish I lose. But I haven’t been able to erase this one from my memory.

One reason is the fish’s size. I never saw it, but it felt like the 20-inch rainbows I caught in this same stretch in the following years. Also, it would have been the first large fish I landed using my new fly rod.

Yet the main reason I am still haunted by this trout that got away is due to the beginner fly fisher mistakes I made that day with my fly rod. To be sure, the drag on my reel wasn’t set properly. And I’m sure I made other mistakes. But the two that cost me a better chance at landing the trout were related to the way I handled my rod.

Both are common mistakes made by beginners when trying to land a fish.

Mistake #1 – Pointing the rod straight up

I know where I got the idea to point my rod tip to the sky, straight up in the air at a ninety degree angle to the water’s surface. I learned it from the artwork of fly fishers landing fish. In each print, the fly fishers had their fly rods pointing to the sky so they could get the fish close to their nets. They had sufficiently tired the fish, making it ready for landing.

However, this technique does not work for fighting a fish. In fact, it might result in a broken rod tip.

Holding a rod straight up in the air when fighting a fish puts the pressure on the tip section. You do this only if you want to ease up on the tension against which the fish is fighting or to get it close to your landing net. Otherwise, you lower your tip at about a 45-degree angle with the ground during the battle. This transfers the pressure to the middle of the rod. It makes the fish work harder and tire more quickly as it pulls against the rod’s strong mid-section.

But there was a second mistake I made that day.

Mistake #2 – Pulling the fish up instead of sideways

Along with making the fish fight against the mid-section of your fly rod, you want to use side pressure. That is, you want to pull the fish from side to side rather than directly towards you. It is the side to side pressure which works against a fish’s muscles and tires it out.

Now your tippet must be heavy enough, and your knots tied correctly. But if you meet both conditions, you can wrestle aggressively with the largest trout and tire it out quickly enough for the fish to remain healthy when released.

If I had avoided these two beginner fly fisher mistakes on the Madison River that day, I might have landed a big trout rather than trying to chase after it.

But there’s something cathartic about confession.

Now that I’ve detailed my blunder, maybe I can forget about my mistakes. It’s better to be haunted by waters (a la Norman Maclean) rather than by the one that got away.

Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

Ever have a magical day on the river? Of course you have. But such days tend to be less common than we imagine. In this episode, we recount a magical day on the river that we know will never be repeated. Three of us fly fished a stretch of water on a warm August day when the trout feasted on hoppers and the runs seemed endless. May the memory never dim.

Listen to Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.”

At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We appreciate your advice, wisdom, and experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a day on the river to remember? We’d love to hear your stories.

Also, don’t forget to visit Casting Across, a blog we mention in the podcast.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

3 Truths about the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

One of the more fabled insect hatches on the great western rivers is the Mother’s Day caddis hatch.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it on both the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana. There have been some magical moments. At times, the water seemed to boil with rising trout, and they were eager to attack the elk hair caddis fly I was casting. Yet I’ve had some frustrating moments, too.

Here are three things you need to know about the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch if you’re hoping to fish it with success:

1. Mother’s Day will be too late.

Don’t circle Mother’s Day on your calendar and expect to have a banner day. Most years, you will be better off taking your mom to dinner because you’ll be a couple weeks too late.

The problem is not a lack of bugs.

I remember an evening in early May when our family was sitting outside on my parents’ lawn, about two hundred yards from the bank of the Yellowstone River. We had to go inside because the air was so thick with caddis flies that we could hardly open our mouths for fear of ingesting them. But there was no reason to grab my fly rod and head for the river. The spring runoff was in full force. The Yellowstone had turned into an angry torrent of chocolate milk.

Some years, the runoff begins before the caddis hatch in full force and the fishing is stellar. Honestly, the best you can usually hope for is a about a five- to seven-day window in late April. As fun as it is to fish the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, I would not recommend planning a trip to Montana in late April, unless you are prepared to fish the spring creeks. All it takes is a warm day or two to get the snow melting and the river churning.

2. You will have a hard time seeing your fly.

It’s a thrill to see so many caddis on the water and the trout going crazy. But it’s frustrating, too.

Your offering is just one of a smorgasbord of options. Even if a trout rises to your fly, how will you know it? It can be maddening to try to identify your fly as it floats float down a run where dozens of other caddis are fluttering on the surface.

One solution: If you tie your own flies, tie a strip of colorful fiber on the top of your elk hair caddis fly. Lay it on top of the elk hair. Personally, I like to use a strip of red Antron body wool. If you don’t tie flies, you might find a fly tyer who will do this for you — even to flies that have already been tied. I’ve even thought about applying some model paint to the top of the elk hair. I have no idea, though, how this experiment would work.

There is another option, and that’s the third thing you need to know.

3. You may have better success under the surface.

Fishing beneath the surface works before the hatch is going hard, and it’s effective even when the hatch is at its peak. Before the hatch starts in earnest, I like to use a beadhead red fox squirrel nymph and then add a beadhead caddis pupa as a dropper.

A few years ago, I picked up several 16-inch rainbows in the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley on beadhead fox squirrel nymphs about a week before the hatch kicked into gear. When the hatch is at its peak, I will fish with an elk hair caddis on the surface and then drop a LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa which will float in the film, just below the surface.

You’ll be surprised how many trout you will catch on the dropper.

It’s a small window every year when the caddis are on the water and the water conditions are right for fly fishing. Some years, the window doesn’t open at all. But when it does, you can have quite a day. You’ll have caddis crawling all over your clothes and your glasses. You might even coax some trout to take your imitation.

And then the fun begins.

Episode 45: The Joy of Fly Fishing with Hoppers

There is no joy like the joy of fly fishing with hoppers. Period. It’s a little like learning how to play the guitar. Every newbie guitar player begins by learning how to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” And every aspiring fly fisher should begin by fly fishing with hoppers. It’s crazy fun. The flies are big and sit high on the water and are easy to cast. And when the trout are rockin’ grasshoppers, there is no greater thrill. Listen to Episode 45: The Joy of Fly Fishing with Hoppers now.

Listen to Episode 45: The Joy of Fly Fishing with Hoppers

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you like fly fishing with hoppers? Any tips you can add to our podcast? Please post your ideas below.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

If you’re new to fly fishing, purchasing your first fly rod can be as bewildering as buying a car. There are so many variables to consider.

Besides, if you ask five friends for advice, you may get eight different opinions. It’s easy to get frustrated. Or even to feel stupid. Don’t. Selecting a fly rod should not resemble choosing a health care plan.

This should be fun!

Making some key decisions before you start shopping, though, will help you make an informed, confident purchase. It will also keep the fun in the process. So here are the decisions you need to make.

Price Range

How much do you want to spend?

If you’ve never fly fished before, a starter rod in the $100-150 range will serve you well. Less is more.

If you’ve fly fished enough to know that you really want to pursue this, then I’d suggest spending a bit more — perhaps in the $300-600 range. Buy a fly rod you will still enjoy using in two or three decades.

I purchased a Winston rod (see below) a few years ago, intending to use it for life. I paid good money for it (although the price I paid then looks quite reasonable now). I don’t regret the decision. At some point, you’ll want to buy your “fly rod for life” (unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in technology). If you’re ready to do so, then get a higher-end rod which fits your budget. But if you’re still experimenting, spend less.

Note: The mid- to high-end rods typically have a 25-year or lifetime guarantee. This means you can get your rod repaired for about 10% of its cost if you step on it in the dark and snap it in two (which I’ve done).

Brand Preference

I apologize in advance for leaving out some fine manufacturers. But here are some options:

On the lower end of the price range, some good options include Redington, Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), St. Croix, and Cabela’s. For mid-range to high-end rods (in quality and price), I’m a big fan of Orvis. Sage makes a fine rod, too, and I was all set to purchase one until I picked up a Winston Boron IIx which was made in Montana. Loomis is another fine choice, as is Scott.

Don’t fret over the difference between a high-end Orvis or Sage or Winston. Choose the one that feels right.

Rod Size

If you’re fly fishing for trout in the big western rivers like the Yellowstone or Bighorn, a nine-foot, six-weight will be a good all-around rod. It’s big enough to handle streamers and make long casts in windy conditions. Some swear by a nine-foot, five-weight. That’s fine.

To me, it’s like the difference between using a 30.06 or a .280 Remington for deer. Either will do the job. If you’re fly fishing the spring creeks of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, an eight and a half foot, four weight will be more appropriate. It’s a bit lighter and more delicate for those smaller streams which require more gentle casts.

Some fly fishers swear by an eight-foot rod for smaller stream fishing. One question to ask is, “Where will I be fishing most often?” If “smaller spring creeks” is the answer, then go with a smaller rod size.

Type of Action

A mid-flex or a medium action is the place to start.

This designation means that the rod flexes or bends in the middle when you cast your line. This makes it versatile (good in most conditions) and forgiving (not too temperamental). A tip-flex or fast action rod bends closer to the tip. The stiffness of this action gives you more power — especially on windy days. It is better for longer casts, but beginners sometimes struggle to get a feel for it. A full flex, or slow action rod, is easy to cast. But it’s better for short distances. You’ll have to work harder to get the line out on long casts. It’s like pedaling in gear 3 on a ten-speed bike as opposed to gear 9.

The pedaling is easier, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can make (or at least think about) these decisions ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make a choice when you enter your local fly shop.

Yes, unless you’re an expert, buy your rod at a local shop.

You can often try casting different rods to see which one works best — and you’ll get a little bit of help with your casting, too. The guys and gals at your local fly shop will also help you choose the right reel and the right line to go with your rod (yes, more decisions).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the purchase. I guarantee that buying your first fly rod will be more fun than buying a garbage disposal or a pair of dress shoes.

Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies

The ability to identify trout lies in the river or stream may be the single biggest predictor of your success. This is as basic for an aspiring fly fisher to learn as casting. Not all places in a stream or river hold trout. Spotting a trout lie, especially when fish are not rising, is a skill that a fly fisher uses every time out on the river. Listen to Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies as you prepare for your next fly fishing trip. If there are trout in the river, there are trout lies, and understanding even a little bit about how fish survive (and thrive) goes a long way towards great days on the water.

Listen to Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

What kind of trout lies do you fish most? Post your stories about how you read a river or stream.

In this episode, we mention Gary Borger’s book, Reading Waters. You can find Reading Waters and other books in “Fly Fishing, the Book Series” at www.garyborger.com.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

The Most Overlooked Fly Fishing Danger

The dangers fly fishers face are well publicized. Drowning. Lightning. Bear attacks. Rattlesnake bites. But little gets said about one of greatest dangers to your well-being when you plan your next fly fishing trip. It’s the most overlooked fly fishing danger.

It’s the same one facing hunters and airline passengers.

This danger comes from the vehicles you drive or pass on the way to your favorite river or hunting spot or airport. Statistically, the drive to the airport poses more danger to you than the airline flight you will board.

So it is with fly fishing:

1. Animal Encounters

It’s not enough to keep your eyes peeled for the rattlesnake on the trail to your favorite run. It’s the bison or the deer or cattle on the highway that can mess up you, your truck, and your trip. (Okay, the likelihood of hitting a bison is small unless you’re mindlessly driving in Yellowstone Park.)

One fall morning, my friend, Harry, and I left before dawn from Montana’s Gallatin Valley to drive to Henry’s Lake. What turned out to be a good trip (several nice trout on streamers) was almost sabotaged by a whitetail buck that jumped between Harry’s pick-up and boat trailer as we were driving down the highway.

Harry was alert for deer, and so he saw the buck getting ready to cross the road. He slowed down enough that there was no damage to the deer or trailer wiring.

A more serious situation occurred a couple summers ago involving Bobby Knight, the legendary college basketball coach.

A day before Dave, my podcast partner, and I fly fished the Wyoming Bighorn near Thermopolis, WY, Bobby Knight fished the same water and drove away in a Ford Expedition. It was dark, and he was driving in an open range area. Suddenly, cattle appeared on the road. He hit one of them and totaled his vehicle.

Fortunately, he escaped without injury. If you’ve ever driven remote highways in Montana or Wyoming at night, you know that this can happen to anyone.

2. Errant Drivers

When I was in high school, my brother, Dave, and I were fishing a little stream near Hallowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. The stream was below the mountain highway leading up to Bear Lake area. It took us about forty-five minutes to fish upstream to a natural stopping point.

On the way back down, there was a brand new car nose down in the creek—exactly where we had been standing about fifteen minutes earlier!

We learned that an elderly gentleman had fallen asleep because of some medication. He was okay, but we shuddered to think that what would have happened to us if we had been fishing there when the car took a nose dive over the bank.

I rarely fish streams or rivers right off the road. But when I do, I try not to linger too long at spots where errant drivers might land. I know how quickly these kind of accidents can happen—like the time I slid off an icy road and landed upside down in small stream near my home in Montana.

That’s a story for another time.

3. Drifting Vehicles

One day I was fly fishing the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley within sight of my parent’s home. I had walked down to a fishing access that was downriver from the Mill Creek Bridge. Suddenly, I saw a red car floating down the river! I didn’t see anyone in it, so I ran up to my folks house and called the county sheriff. They had already been notified. It turned out that a fly fisher had parked on an incline near the bridge and forgot to set his parking brake.

I now remember to set my parking brake whenever I’m parked on a slope of any kind.

Many are the ways to depart this world while doing what you love. Stay alert. And drive carefully!

Episode 43: 5 Fly Fishing Dangers

Fly fishing is no extreme sport. Just look at us. We couldn’t extreme anything. But fly fishing offers a few ways to die (drowning, the most obvious), and many ways to ruin a day on the river. Listen to Episode 43: 5 Fly Fishing Dangers as we identify a few fly fishing dangers. We also make several recommendations so that your next trip isn’t your last.

Listen to Episode 43: 5 Fly Fishing Dangers

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the great comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

What dangers did we miss? Do you have any great stories to tell? We’d love to hear from you.

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

My 6 Favorite Dry Fly Attractor Patterns

Sometimes you need the right dry fly pattern to catch selective trout. A couple years, ago, my son, Luke, and I were fly fishing the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon during a Pale Morning Dun (PMD) hatch. The brown trout would only rise to a PMD pattern. Nothing else.

But when there is no apparent insect hatch, it’s time to pull out an attractor pattern from your fly box if you insist on dry fly fishing. The strategy is to coax the fish to the surface rather than to match the insects on which they are feeding. It’s attraction rather than imitation.

And which dry fly attractor patterns do you want in your fly box?

If you are new to fly fishing, I have some suggestions, but let me first offer a few disclaimers.

First, this is not the definitive list. Another fly fisher’s list will be different, and that’s fine.

Second, don’t be fooled by claims of “the only fly that works” or the “best fly” for this river or that river. It’s all a matter of preference.

Third, size matters, though this post is focusing mainly on patterns. My default size is a #14 for an attractor pattern, though I’ll go smaller at times (see below).

Fourth, I realize that I’m blurring the definition between an attractor and an imitation with a couple of these patterns. So if you’re a veteran fly fisher, there’s no need to get your waders in a bunch. I realize that an elk hair caddis, for example, is an imitation. Yet I will use it as an attractor when there are no caddis flies on the water. Finally, I do most of my fly fishing in the west (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon). However, most of these patterns have worked for me in the Midwest, and I know fly fishers who have success with them on the east coast.

Alright, here is my list.

1. Parachute Adams

I’m sure this will land near the top of any fly fisher’s list of favorite attractors. I’ve used this greyish beauty in standard sizes, but a size #18 is my favorite. It can imitate midges or blue-winged olives or mosquitos. The white post, or parachute, is for you (the fly fisher), not for the fish. It makes a tiny size #18 visible to middle-aged anglers like me.

2. Elk Hair Caddis

If I had to select only two dry flies, it would be a Parachute Adams and an Elk Hair Caddis. This tan fly (and also comes in a black version) simply looks “buggy.” In a pinch, it can imitate a small hopper or a March Brown. I am fond of it because it takes longer to get water-logged than an Adams. So it works great in faster, choppy water.

3. Red or Yellow Humpy

The elk hair hump and the generous brown hackle at the front of the fly make this float forever—well, longer than a lot of flies which get soggy after getting dunked by a riffle. The red or yellow (or green or purple) underbelly makes it stand out as a trout gets closer to it.

4. Royal Wulff

There is a whole family of “Royal” flies, beginning with the Royal Coachman — America’s first great fly pattern according to Paul Schullery who wrote an entire book on it!

The “Royal” flies have a bright red silk floss middle flanked by two bands of peacock herl. Sounds stunning, right? It is. The Royal Coachman has white wings, while the Royal Wulff uses white calf hair which, in my opinion, makes it float a bit better. The white calf hair tufts protrude from the brown hackle at the front of the fly. Anyway, the Royal Wulff has been a standard pattern for years, and so it sometimes gets forgotten. But it’s still a great option.

Another variation is a Royal Trude — tied on a longer hook with a long white tuft of calf hair extending from the front to back of the fly. A friend, John, uses it almost exclusively on the Yellowstone River in Montana and always catches fish whether spring, summer, or fall.

5. Renegade

My last two flies are more debatable choices. I’ve included the Renegade because it’s the first dry fly I ever used and because it still works. It is an unusual looking fly with white hackle at the front and brown hackle at the rear. Some fly fishers actually fish it as a wet fly (beneath the surface). My friend Arlen swears by this fly when fishing the Boulder River north of Yellowstone National Park. After setting it aside for several years in favor of the attractor patterns I mentioned previously, I’m going to start using it again.

6. Spruce Moth

I fished with this pattern last summer for the first time at the recommendation of a friend.

Technically, this fly is also an imitation. The spruce moth, or Western budworm, returned to the spruce and fir forests of the West in the early 2000s. Even when there are no spruce moths on the water, I like this pattern as an attractor because it is big (easy to see) and has plenty of hackle (not easily water-logged). My podcast partner, Dave, and I did well with this fly last year on the Yellowstone, the Boulder, and on some smaller streams in the Bozeman, Montana, area.

These are my favorites, although I could have easily swapped out numbers 5 and 6 for a Stimulator, a Goofus Bug, or a Madam X with its rubber legs.

But I like to recall an observation which Bud Lilly made several years ago when he owned the fly shop in West Yellowstone, Montana, which bears his name.

During a typical day, he chatted with fifty or more fly fishers who talked about how selective the trout had been on the river that day. When Lilly asked them what they were using, they would say: “The only thing that worked was this little beauty.” Lilly said that by the end of the day, he had seen about fifty different “only things.” So you’ll be fine if you keep your fly box stocked with a few basic attractor patterns.

Unless there’s a hatch of PMDs or BWOs or Tricos, a standard attractor pattern just might coax a big trout from its lair.

Episode 42: Spring Fly Fishing Success

Spring fly fishing is filled with the promise of warmer days and blue skies, rain and snow, and spawners and browns. It feels so good to be back along and in the river. Listen to Episode 42: Spring Fly Fishing Success as you make ready for your next wonderful day in the great outdoors.

Listen to Episode 42: Spring Fly Fishing Success

We’ve introduced a new feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read your great comments, adding your ideas to the creative mix.

Post your ideas for spring fly fishing success; we’d love to hear from you.

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Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View our complete list of podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

11 Reasons You’re Not Catching Trout

It has been a long day. You are batting .000. Maybe the fish are simply not biting. Or maybe you’re not catching trout because of one or more of these 11 reasons:

catching trout

1. It’s a bright sunny day.

Not always, but I’ve often had better luck on overcast days, especially for BWOs (blue winged olives), which is a common hatch during the spring.

2. Your fly is too big.

Whether you’re nymphing or on the surface, drop a size or two. Go smaller. Make sure you have multiple sizes of the same fly in your fly box.

3. You cast like your mama.

Unless your mama wears wading boots. Figure out a way to false cast less. Precision casting is supposed to be hard. It’s even harder on smaller streams with trees and brush.

4. Your dead drift looks like a rubber ducky with spasms.

Your presentation is almost always the problem. Your fly simply doesn’t look like an insect, dead or alive. Try harder.

5. You scared ‘em.

You should not have walked up to the run like a drunk Abominable Snowman. Crawl next time. On your hands and knees.

6. The run was just fished.

Find a smaller stream with no crowds. Stop fishing the popular rivers during vacation season or on weekends.

7. It’s too early.

Yes, if you want huge browns, then maybe fishing at 4:30 in the morning is a good idea. But if you are fishing hoppers in mid August, for example, sometimes the action doesn’t heat up until late morning.

8. You haven’t moved in 30 minutes.

Remember, fly fishing isn’t bass fishing from shore. Keep moving. After a handful of casts, move on. Find the next run.

9. The river is blown out.

If the river is muddy, why are you fly fishing? Some color may be okay, but if the stream is like chocolate milk, head back to your truck, jump on your phone, and watch Netflix.

10. You’re not deep enough.

Add some split shot to your nymphing rig. Or add some tippet length to your dropper. How often are you bumping the bottom? Every so often is about right.

11. You have the wrong fly.

This should not be your go-to move when you are not catching trout. But if there is a Trico hatch going on and you’re throwing a size #14 parachute Adams, you’ll swear a lot before noon. Know your hatches and patterns.

Give these tips a try, and perhaps your luck will change. You might even impress your mama.

Episode 41: Funny Outdoor Moments

Funny outdoor moments – we’ve all had a few. Where would fly fishing be without the stories? In this episode, we regale each other with some of our better fly fishing, hunting, and camping stories. This won’t be our only episode of funny outdoor stories. We hope to publish a new edition every six to 12 months.

Listen to Episode 41: Funny Outdoor Moments

We know you have a story or two to tell. We’d love to read one of them! Please post your funniest outdoor story below! And we may even use the story on a future podcast!

Don’t Miss a Podcast Episode!

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View our complete list of podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

What Makes a River Sacred

Many years ago, Eugene helped his dad build a cabin on the edge of a melted glacier.

Eugene’s family lived in Kalispell, Montana. When his dad’s butcher shop prospered after WWII, his dad purchased two acres on a low rock cliff on the west shore of Flathead Lake. The view of the Mission Range to the east is spectacular as a few of the alpine peaks shoot up to ten thousand feet. The cabin became a family home, and it still sits on this rocky perch.

Eugene eventually moved to New York City and later to Baltimore for graduate work. He ended up serving as a pastor for nearly three decades near Baltimore. Then he worked as a professor in Vancouver, B.C. I got to know Eugene later in his life, but he says he never really left his two acre homestead overlooking Flathead Lake. He explains:

    I have lived sixty years of my adult life in cities and suburbs in other places, but most of those years I returned for at least a month, sometimes more, once for twelve months — an entire sabbatical year—to clarify and deepen my pastoral vocation on this sacred ground. And even when I was not here physically, the internalized space grounded me.

I can relate.

Since moving from Montana to a Chicago suburb a decade ago, I often return to the places that keep me grounded. For me, these are two mighty rivers of the West and their tributaries – the Yellowstone and the Madison. I have been able to return and fly fish them at least once a year since I moved to Illinois. But even when I’m not able to walk along the banks of the Madison or to float down the Yellowstone, I spend a lot of time there in my mind.

What Makes a River Sacred

At the end of his novella, A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean says, “I am haunted by waters.” In my case, I am grounded by waters. These rivers inspire me. They awaken a longing within me. They stir up thoughts and ideas and dreams about the future.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I have made the three or four mile hike (it gets longer every time we talk about it) up the Yellowstone River below Tower Fall a dozen or so times in the last few years. Sometimes, we talk. Often, we’re lost in our thoughts. It’s during these times of silence when my mind solves problems or generates new ideas.

These rivers bring healing, too.

When I’m catching trout, or trying to catch trout, I’m in the moment. But sooner or later, I’ll look around and get caught up in the surroundings. It’s then that I experience what novelist Leif Enger describes as “peace like a river.” After a stressful stretch of days or weeks, there is nothing like standing in the Madison River casting a size #18 parachute Adams to rising rainbows while the snow falls softly and melts into the river’s film.

Stress has a way of evaporating in those conditions.

The beauty of sacred ground is that you do not need to own it or live on it. It’s a unique gift if you do. But all it takes is an annual pilgrimage or (better yet) two for those rivers to ground you as they bring fresh perspective, clarity, and energy to your life.

If you don’t have a place like this, you will, as long as you keep fly fishing.

Your sacred ground — or river — may or may not be the stretch where you’ve landed the most rainbow trout.

But it will be the stretch which seems to breathe new energy into you like no other place. Keep fly fishing, and you’ll find it.

In one sense, it’s every river into which you wade and cast. Yet there will be places that stir your more than others. When you find one, keep returning. Look around at the landscape. Experience it in morning light and dusk. Fly fish it in the spring and the fall.

And during those cold winter days in an office cubicle or warehouse, spend some time there in your mind.

Episode 40: The Inconsiderate Fly Fisher

An inconsiderate fly fisher – you’ve probably met one. They are not legion, since fly fishing is the sport of thoughtful conservationists, but we’ve all groaned inwardly when we run across this species of fly fisher on the river.

Listen to Episode 40: The Inconsiderate Fly Fisher Now

We’ve not met a lot of slobs on the river, but every so often we run into one. Would love to hear your definition of “inconsiderate” and any encounters on the river.

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The 10 Commandments of Wading

A couple years ago, I decided to cross a side channel in the Yellowstone River to an island which would give me access to a superb run. Dave, my podcast partner, and I were fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park. The side channel was only about 25 yards wide. But the current turned out to be stronger than I anticipated. The side channel was deeper than it looked.

I made it halfway across before I decided to turn around. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I would make it back safe and dry. But I did, thanks to obeying a handful of the “10 commandments of wading” which I was tempted to break that day.

The lawgiver who delivered these to me was not Moses, but Duane Dunham – a veteran fly fisher and friend who used to teach fly fishing at a community college in Oregon. Dave and I have obeyed (most of) these commands over the years because we have no interest in drowning or taking a bath on a 40-degree day in March.

Or, if that unwelcome bath happens (it hasn’t yet), we want to survive it.

1. The faster the river is flowing, the lower the depth level you can wade.

This means wading only mid-thigh in swift water. I’ll go deeper than that in some slower stretches of the Lower Madison or the Wyoming Bighorn. But I stick to shallow stretches when I’m on a stretch of raging river.

2. Keep your strides shorts.

Panic leads to larger strides which can result in getting “stuck” in the current with your feet about a yard apart. This makes balance difficult. Besides, when you try to take a step, the current assaults the one leg on which you are standing and raises the odds that you will end up making a splash.

3. Make sure you have the right soles.

Felt soles, though controversial, are still the best, especially in fast-moving rivers with smooth-rock bottoms, like the Yellowstone River. They are controversial because for years, it was thought that fly fishers who didn’t fully dry out their soles and then fished in a different stream contributed to the spread of invasive species.

If you take the time to wash your felt soles and to let them dry before going to another river, you eliminate almost any chance of spreading an invasive species. Metal studs work well too – either as an alternative to or (better) in addition to your felt soles.

4. Use a wading staff.

For years, I’ve simply used whatever stout branches I could find along the river’s edge. Finally, last fall, I purchased an Orvis wading staff. Simms make a good wading staff, too. But you can assemble the Orvis in much less time.

5. Angle downstream when crossing a river.

This enables you to work with the current, not against it. The current will actually push you along. Remember command #2 and take short strides.

6. Don’t try to turn around in fast current!

This is where a lot of anglers get into trouble. Either use a sidestep. Or back up carefully. Remember to take short strides and to angle downstream as you back up towards the bank.

7. Wear a wading belt with your chest waders.

Seatbelts save lives (like the time I rolled my truck and landed upside down in a small creek). So do wading belts. They keep your chest waders from filling up with water if you slip and take an unexpected bath.

If you forget your wading belt, forget about wading for the day. I’m serious!

8. If you fall in, don’t try to stand up too quickly.

And keep your feet down river. Stay in a sitting position and wait until you reach knee deep water before you try to stand up.

9. Let your fly rod go.

If you need to use your hands to stroke to shore, give it up. Better to lose your fly rod than your life. You might even recover your fly rod downstream. If not, you now have an excuse to buy the latest and best fly rod you’ve been drooling over in your local fly shop.

10. Don’t wade fish alone!

It’s not worth the risk. At least avoid certain rivers or stretches or runs.

If you’ve rolled your eyes at any of the ten commandments of wading, let me I remind you how shocked your body will be by the cold temperatures of the big freestone rivers in the West.

Let me remind you, too, that one slip can lead to a broken arm or (worse) a head injury that can limit or incapacitate you. So when you break these commandments, you put yourself at risk. Keeping them will protect your life.

Wade safely, my friend. Wade safely.

Episode 39: Wade Fishing vs Floating

Wade fishing vs floating – it’s not either-or, of course. There is a time for each. But if you plan to take a fly fishing trip to the American West or some other area with bigger rivers, you’ll have a choice to make: should I use one or all of my days on a drift boat? Listen to this podcast, in which we help newbie fly fishers with the pluses and minuses of wade fishing vs floating. We also have thrown in some recommendations for your next float trip.

Listen to Episode 39: Wade Fishing vs Floating Now

How often do you float the big rivers? What do you prefer? Let us know your thoughts on this episode by posting your comments below.

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The Joy of Fly Fishing at the End of Days

In the final scene of the movie A River Runs Through It, the narrator, Norman Maclean, is alone on the river, trying to tie a knot. He is old now. His brother Paul has been gone for five decades. His wife, gone. Most of his friends, gone.

The narrator says:

    Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand in my youth are dead, even Jesse. But I still reach out to them.

    Of course now I’m too old to be much of a fisherman. And now I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. But when I’m alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories. And the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four count rhythm. And a hope that a fish will rise.

Only the river, which has flowed since the beginning of time, remains. It is the one constant in a full life, one of joy as well as tragedy and loss.

The Old Man and His Browning

Norman MacLean’s end of days are a lot like those of my father, whose hunting and fishing friends are now mostly all gone. My father will be 82 this year.

I think of Walter, who hunted upland game and waterfowl with us for 30 years until his wife Laurine died. Dad, my brother Matt, and I struggled to forgive him for putting away his Browning for good after she passed. He said he quit hunting because he had no one to clean his birds. That sounded so sexist to my post-modern ears, but it was Walter’s old world attempt to describe his sorrow.

Walter was only in his early 80s when Laurine died. He passed away in a nursing home about a decade later at 93, his lightweight 20 gauge (made in Belgium) never to be fired again. Physically, he could have hunted for most of the rest of his eighties. Dad and I stopped by the nursing home for a few minutes about a year before he died. He towered over us in his hunting years, but now was diminished in the wheelchair. The TV blared as we regaled him with stories from the last hunt. He said he was looking forward to seeing Laurine.

His Browning now rusts in its case with a son who doesn’t hunt.

Walter’s brother Albert also lived into his nineties – and hunted with us until his late eighties. He called it quits when he said the geese flying over him appeared as shadows, his eyesight failing. We didn’t argue with him, though he still had no problem knocking down birds. But it was time.

He lived for another five years after he stopped hunting. Right before he died, he told his son, who was 70 at the time, “When you turn 80, start another business. You’ll have more than enough time to watch TV when you’re my age and can’t leave the nursing home.” Albert and his son inspired me through the years to pursue my entrepreneurial calling.

Walter and Albert are now gone, as are most of my father’s friends.

My father scans the newspaper obituaries every day, something those who are left behind often do. I spent a two-week sabbatical with him and my mother in North Dakota last fall. Several times during the two weeks, he would look up from the paper and say, “Do you remember _______? He just died.”

If you get to live long enough, those you love pass on one after another until one day you discover that you are alone, in the half light of the canyon, astonished at the brevity of life. You have to decide whether to fly fish when only the river beckons, and the voices of others have gone silent.

Giddy at 80

About a year and a half ago, I got a call from my Dad. He had been out deer hunting, alone.

He said the November Dakota wind was howling up to 50 and 60 sixty miles an hour, the temperature plummeting thirty degrees in a couple hours. On his way home from the hunt, a large flock of mostly snow geese was circling a harvested field along the gravel road, trying to land against the wind. My father stopped the truck, grabbed his Browning and three shells, crawled and walked in the ditch for about 50 yards, crossed the road, shot three times, and knocked down eight geese. Alone.

He had just turned 80 several months earlier.

On the call with me not long after, he was giddy, emotional, like a boy who just had shot his first goose.

There is much to be said about the fellowship of hunting, the late mornings after the hunt in the coffee shop, the Ole and Lena jokes that make you groan, the story-telling while picking up the decoys after a slow morning.

But there’s joy in the hunt itself, in the act of netting a 17-inch brown in late fall. Norman Maclean may be alone on the river near the end of his days, but there’s no place for sadness.

Big Flies and the River’s Edge

I watched “A River Runs Through It” again not long ago, and the final scene, like always, slayed me. I fired off an email to my podcast partner Steve saying we need to promise each other that whoever remains on earth last will continue to carry on our fly fishing tradition, until like Albert and his failing eyesight, the trout become only shadows.

Steve responded, “I don’t see myself ever stopping. We will just have to fish big flies! And stay near the trail head. Wouldn’t it be cool to fish together in our 80s if God grants us both that much time?”

Yes it would.

And if for some reason I am granted days greater in number than those of my friends, and my kids are too busy to meet me at the river, I will walk the edges of the river alone.

What remains of fly fishing when the only companion left is the river itself is the joy that comes with the hope of a rising fish.

Episode 38: Fly Fishing Hacks

Fly fishing hacks – every fly fisher has them. The word hack has so many meanings today, but for our purposes, we’re defining the term loosely to mean shortcuts or quick solutions to regular problems that we fly fishers face. In this podcast, we offer a few of our better fly fishing hacks.

Listen to Episode 38: Fly Fishing Hacks Now

How about some of yours? We’d love to compile a long list of hacks that make our lives easier and, of course, help us catch more trout.

Post your hacks below!

Don’t Miss a Podcast Episode!

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View our complete list of podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

5 Fly Fishing Safety Devices

Fly fishing is a gadget-intensive hobby. The stuff you need to land fish, to wade safely, to meaure water temperature, to tie on a size #20 fly, to waterproof that fly, and to weight your line seems to multiply at an alarming rate. Since I don’t want my fly vest to weigh as much as a WWII flak jacket (about 22 pounds), I regularly go through it and take out items I don’t need.

fly fishing safety devices

But in the interest of safety, there are five fly fishing safety devices that I never leave at home or in the truck. These devices are, ultimately, more important than split shot or forceps or fly floatant.

1. Bear Spray.

You must carry this with you whenever you fish in grizzly bear country.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I prefer UDAP (http://www.udap.com/), the spray developed by Mark Matheny of Bozeman, Montana. The spray canister is designed to fit into a hip holster so that you can shoot from the hip. There may not be time to remove the canister from the holster to spray a charging grizzly.

Why am I so insistent on carrying bear spray?

Several years ago, a friend and I bow-hunted in the Taylor Fork drainage northwest of Yellowstone National Park. The next fall, my friend took a business partner to the same spot. They were charged by a grizzly, and my friend’s business partner ended up with some broken bones and needed surgery. But my friend unloaded his canister of UDAP at the grizzly, and it fled before inflicting any more serious damage.

Keep in mind that a canister of bear spray does no good buried in a pouch somewhere in your fly vest. So you need to hang it from your wading belt (and that is the next device!).

2. Wading Belt.

This is not a luxury item, yet some beginner fly fishers forget to scrounge through their duffel bag in order to find it.

Ideally, you shouldn’t need to search your duffel bag. Keep the belt looped through the single belt loop in the back of your waders. You can’t afford to leave it behind. Without a wading belt, your waders can fill up with water if you fall or get swept into water over your chest. That means you will sink instead of float to the surface.

3. First Aid Kit.

A friend of ours got a hook deeply embedded in his finger while releasing a trout last summer. After Dave, my podcast partner, removed it, we were glad to have some Neosporin and a band-aid. Besides, you never know when you’ll get blister or sprain an ankle. I could keep listing the injuries which a first aid kit will treat. But hopefully you get the point.

4. Communication Device.

In some cases, a cell phone works great. Honestly, I get better cell reception at certain spots in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park than I do in my office in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Seriously!

Apparently, the team of Verizon workers who appear in those television commercials prefer the great outdoors to the ‘burbs. There are a few places, though, where Dave and I carry two-way radios. We’ve been known to swap information about what flies are working best or to brag about a trout we’ve just landed.

But we carry these to make sure we can call for help if needed.

5. Flashlight.

There’s no excuse to be without a flashlight. Twisted ankles happen. Or inclement weather slows down your return hike. Sometimes, even the most punctual fly fishers (if such persons exist) can’t resist the urge to keep fishing until Dark Thirty (or O Dark Thirty!).

One alternative is to load a flashlight app on your cell phone. However, this will drain your battery in a hurry. With so many compact, lightweight flashlights on the market, you’ll be better off keeping one of those in your fly vest.

If you hike in far enough to fly fish a mountain lake or a remote stretch of river, you might also consider fire starter (a butane lighter and a folded paper towel) and even a space blanket (a thin metal-coated sheet which folds up into a pouch the size of your wallet).

Water-purification tablets are advisable, too.

Even though you are anxious to get to the river, don’t forget the items that will help you avoid or at least cope with dangerous situations. Yes, you could lighten the load by removing the first aid kit that you’ve never used once in the last five years. You probably won’t need a flashlight, either, since you’re planning to get back to your vehicle before dark.

Chances are, though, that there’s going to be a fly fishing safety device that will help protect you during one of your fly fishing trips this year.

Don’t leave home without it.

Episode 37: Why We Fly Fish

Why we fly fish is personal and subjective. Our reasons are probably not the same as yours. In this podcast, we get a bit more philosophical and reflective as we try to describe fly fishing’s strong pull on our lives. Why we fly fish is both simple and complex.

Why Do You Fly Fish?

What are the reasons you are a fly fisher? We’d love to hear from you. Please post your insights below!

Don’t Miss a Podcast Episode!

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View our complete list of podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.