It’s all over the news- Yellowstone Park Closed! It looks like they’re having a 100 year flood down south, and we feel for them. Missoula had a 100 year flood event in 2018, and the town had issues for about 2 weeks. And then, except for the people whose houses took on water, we went back to a normal year. Better, in fact, because the water was high and cold throughout the summer and fall. Freestone rivers are at the mercy of the weather, and when the weather makes the national news, it has a definite affect on the rest of the season.
Right now in Missoula, the rivers are dropping. The cool spring has our flows where we want them, falling, and water temps staying cold. We have some heat coming in the next few days, but we don’t expect as dramatic of a bump like last week with the rain, followed by more mild temperatures. Last year at this time we were already talking about when hoot owl hours would come into play, and at the end of June we needed them. That won’t be the case this year. We have the makings of a good end of June fly fishing in western Montana and great fishing for the rest of the season. Water is what we need in the drought plagued west.
It’s a 4 hour drive to Yellowstone Park from Missoula, the intense flood we see on the Yellowstone river is much different than the bump in flows we saw last week around Missoula. We’ve had some people call and email the shop today concerned with what they’re seeing on national news. It’s important to note that Yellowstone river is almost 300 miles away from us. That’s multiple states away for some areas of the country! The Yellowstone river fly fishing will be affected by these floods for a while, Missoula rivers are in better shape and the rivers are dropping and the fishing is going to slowly picking up. Should be a decent salmonfly hatch starting by next week, although we don’t expect the rivers to keep dropping as quickly with the warm weather on tap for the next few days. Most likely another bump that should be smaller than last week and flows should continue to drop after that.
It’s the cycle of nature- the snow will melt and spring rains will come. Sometimes it happens early, and takes a while. Sometimes it happens late and occurs all at once. This year in Yellowstone Park, it’s happening late and a lot at once. In Missoula, it’s taking a while to occur. Both are normal, though we sympathize with the people whose lives and travel have been impacted by the extreme weather down south. It’s normal for the rivers to be high and off color.
But in a time, the roads will be cleared and the rivers will be back in play in Yellowstone. In the long run, it’s just a blip on the radar. Just as last year’s low, warm water was a blip on the radar to Missoula. Each year brings its own challenges, and its own set of conditions. But it takes a crazy year to really foul up the fishing beyond June 22 in this area and we don’t expect that to happen in Missoula. We expect our late spring fishing to be decent in Missoula, and the summer/fall fishing is going to be spectacular across the western half of Montana. Of course these are all speculations at this point but we are optimistic about the last week of June and the rest of summer
It’s all about the water, and in both places, we’re getting it. It might not be the way they want it in West, but it will be there. We’re having an easier time of it, and for that we’re thankful. But in the end, this too will pass, as Spring goes into Summer and then Fall. Then we see how next year shapes up, we see how nature treats us. It’s an endless cycle that anglers and other travelers have been dealing with for centuries. It seems like a lot right now, but in the long run, the trout, the rivers and the anglers will be doing what they always do- handling the conditions as they find them.
Right now, despite the news, it’s looking pretty darn good in the Missoula area for at least the last week of June and the rest of summer. Yellowstone will be out of commission for a while and we expect there to be an extended road closure for the summer months over there. We realize that many people are changing their plans to come fish the western side of the state at least for the next few weeks as we don’t have near the amount of issues like many other places in the state. Just remember those small businesses on the Yellowstone will have a tough summer. We’re happy to accommodate the lost fisherman for the time being but those small businesses will hopefully be ready when the damage is repaired. Might not be a bad idea to give them some business later this year or next, whenever they open back up.
One of the WORST things I ever did in a fly shop happened in early summer 2000. Yes, I remember the year- surprised I don’t remember the date. A guy came in the shop simply bouncing, telling me he had the best day he ever had on Rock Creek. It was epic! He’d never caught so many fish! He was so excited. I joined in his excitement, and said, “Hey, you must have caught like 40 or 50!
He looks at me and says, “I caught 6”
You can imagine his face. You can imagine how bad I felt. In one sentence, I’d crushed his day. Just crushed it. Still, to this day, I think about that. He’d HAD a good day….until he talked to me. I’m still haunted.
About 2007, I found myself back on the Bighorn in a 7 boat guide trip. I’d fished the Bighorn in the early ‘90’s, and spent two guided days following a huge polypropylene indicator. I caught 50 fish a day. It was terrible. I vowed I would never do that again.
That morning in 2007, the guide introduces himself and says he’d like to take a look at my rod. I said, “Don’t touch my fly rod. Do not put a bobber on my line.” You can imagine the look on his face. He starts to tell me it’s the best way to fish, catch the most fish, etc. I say I don’t care, I don’t care how many fish I catch, do not put a bobber on my line. By this time, every guide in the group is watching this exchange, wondering what it’s going to be like having this @sshole in their boat, and who could blame them. After about 2 more minutes of the same conversation with my guide, including asking him to keep my friend Tom on all the fish, I reach into my wallet and tip the guide $150. In the parking lot, before the boat is wet. He looks at me and says, “I guess I have to believe you.”
I caught 7-8 fish that day, including a smallmouth bass, the guide’s first in that watershed. I was casting my streamer into some REALLY random water! Meanwhile, Tom is hooking up consistently. It must have looked pretty funny, the boat pointed into the bank for Tom, while I’m flipping a streamer behind the boat. Once in a while, I floated a dry fly, fruitlessly, and watched it drift along the bank. It was a great day on the water.
What’s up with that? 50 is terrible, 8 is good? It’s what I wanted on the water. It can’t be any simpler. I like fishing the way I like fishing. That makes a good day on the water.
When the Missoulian Angler fly shop books a guided fly fishing trip, we ask a lot of questions, trying to find out what the guest wants from his/her day on the water. Instruction? A shot at a legit 20” trout? A lot of trout? Only dry flies, or do they want to Euro nymph?
Can we guarantee a big trout, or a lot of fish? No. It’s fishing! But we guarantee our guides, the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, will do everything possible to make the day live up to expectations. We can’t stress this enough- talk to your guide, tell them what you’re looking for in a day. No matter what it might be. Our guides are good, but you’re input makes them better. That information will do a lot to make your day on the water a good day.
My Dad traveled the west for years, alone and being guided. He was happiest tossing a dry and catching fish 8-13” long. It made him happy. One day a guide, who knew my Dad was a “stick” (Guidespeak for a good angler) was floating Dad down a river. He stopped, and said, “George, let’s take a walk.” 45 minutes later, they’ve come to a slough. The guide gets excited, and ties on a little dry. “Cast it just above that log.” So Dad casts just above the log, and a 28” Brown Trout slides out from under the log and starts to rise… but halfway up, decides against, drifts back down and back under the log. “OOOOHHHH, that’s the farthest up he’s ever moved!” groans the guide. And then says, let’s get back to the boat.
About 2 hours, one cast. That was absolutely NOT what my Dad wanted. That was his memory of the day. The guide thought it was a magic chance for a huge Brown on a dry! That was his memory of the day. Straight up miscommunication. Just that simple.
There are anglers who go fishing for the Instagram moment. (Not my Dad!) They’ll walk or float anywhere to take one trout that garners the Big Looks! A day without big is a bad day. A one fish day over 20 inches, and it’s a great day. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s changing the concepts of fly fishing and fly tying. Some is good, some not so good.
We have pictures lining the ceiling beam at the MAngler. What shop doesn’t have a bragging board! Big trout and happy anglers! We get questioned about those pictures all the time. Is that the average size of trout around here? Were they caught this week? And the answer is always no. They got on the wall because of their rarity. But it gives some anglers an inferiority complex, because they’re not catching those trout. Sometimes it crosses my mind to take those pictures down, because it raises expectations and may make an angler’s trip less enjoyable. Not always, but it does happen.
The same happens with magazine articles. In the mid ‘90’s, I worked at a catalog fly shop in New Hampshire, where I spoke with anglers all over the country. I got a call from a man in Texas. He’d just finished reading an article about trout fishing on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I’d fished the Housatonic fairly often- the Smallmouth Bass fishing was pretty good. He was asking me about lodging, and when the best time to come for the Housatonic trout fishing.
I was baffled. I barely drove 3 hours to get there, and thought it was a bit of drive for the fishing. I went because one of my best friends lived close by, and I would hang out with him and his Dad (who still remembers me as “the guy who falls in the Housatonic.” It was very slippery, and I was too young to need a wading staff. Hence, falling). I asked the customer why he was even considering coming? He said he’d read the article, and was ready to make the effort for that type of fishing. I zipped out front of the shop, got the magazine, and started to read the article. Hmmm….
I’ve been to exactly ONE place where the fishing was as good as the magazine said, and that was New Zealand. What I was reading about the Housatonic was as close to fiction as you could get, without downright lying. I’m sure what was described happened on one magic day, but it was not anywhere close to what I experienced on that river in my 14-15 times fishing it. Think about magazine articles you’ve read about rivers you’ve fished- was the reality anywhere close to the actual experience?
That’s what I thought.
I told this gentleman about my experience on the Housatonic. I told him he was going to an airport, and standing at a gate. He had a lot of gates to choose from! Missoula. Bozeman. West Yellowstone. Colorado. So many options where I KNEW the fishing was actually good. None of those gates included Hartford, CT. No dis on the Housatonic, but there are better rivers in the United States. Yet someone had written an article about it, and people from away were reading it and believing it. I think he would have had the worst days of fishing there- the reality would never have matched the expectations created.
This dovetails with a fascinating conversation I had with the caretaker of DePuys Spring Creek in Livingston, MT. I found myself on this amazing stream in early August in 2009. I was there with two friends, and there was a fourth rod on the water, but he was gone by noon. My two friends went to their spot and stayed there. I basically had 3 miles of spring creek to myself. It was amazing!
In my wanderings along the river, I saw the caretaker and we started talking. I said how pleased I was to be there when so few where fishing, and he said yes, that’s the new way of fly fishing. When I asked for an explanation of that statement, he told me this.
He’d been the Depuy’s caretaker for 20 years, and had seen a huge change in booking patterns. He said at this point, when the hatch chart said there was a strong hatch, all 16 rods were filled. But when there were no hatches, no one booked a rod. In early August, no hatches, so no anglers. Again, I was baffled. He elaborated, and it has stuck with me.
20 years ago, people came to Montana to fish when they could. They went fishing, and caught some trout. But since The River Ran Through It, a lot of anglers needed a REASON to be there. It wasn’t enough to go fishing, there had to be a reason to go fishing. To come when “nothing” was happening didn’t have enough ROI, it didn’t have punch, not enough to be GOOD. It made me think about my experience in destination fly shops and booking trips, and saw his insight was correct. There are many anglers out there who travel to something. Not to the fishing, but to the expectations of what fishing could be. There needed to be more than just fishing. An event was needed.
I caught about 30 fish that day, all on the surface. Hoppers, ants, beetles, micro caddis and there was even a rusty spinner fall for about 30 minutes. No, the rises didn’t make it look like it was raining. But if you think 30 fish on the surface isn’t a good day, you and I aren’t calibrating our fishing days the same way. The sky was iridescently blue, the mountains so close you thought you could touch them, but so far away. A good cast was rewarded often enough that subsurface never crossed my mind. It was a great day.
When nothing was going on.
Instagram and Facebook. So many magazines about fly fishing. I get it, I’m old and crotchety. I’ve been fly fishing for 49 years, and I was taught that a day on the river is better than a day doing anything else. Sometimes you hit it right, and lite the world on fire. Other days you got your fanny handed to you, and went home smelling of skunk. But it was never about the end result. It was always about the journey.
I feel that’s changed in the last 25 years. Now, it’s less about the process and more about the result. Guides have reported getting in a boat with anglers who have a counter with them. Yes, a finger activated counter. When they caught a trout- not a fish, a trout- the counter was clicked and the event recorded. Next.
Some of those anglers return year after year, and they will definitively let you know they had better fishing 8 years ago. As you speak with them, you find they aren’t enjoying the fishing as much. It didn’t meet their expectations. It can get a bit crazy. I’ve been told that the 25 fish day just wasn’t as good as the 40 fish day they had in the past. I get it. This is their vacation- it needs to be what they want. But every year is different, hell, every day is different.
I get a unique perspective in the shop. I see guides every day, I know how the fishing is. Everyone in the shop does. I know when a 5 fish day is a GOOD day. Here’s a thought. Missoula is blessed with over 300 miles of floatable water an hour’s drive from town. That means everyday, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides have a big decision in front of them. Some days, you make the call and you’re the hero. Some days you’re the goat. It’s all part of the experience. The experience………
I try not to be old and grouchy. Older is actually easier to deal with! We’re lucky enough to be close to a college- I see young, enthusiastic anglers every day. I wish I still had their legs! They go places and do things I used to do, and it makes me happy. It keeps me young. When asked (and often unprompted!) I’ll tell them something I think is important. Sometimes they think it is, sometimes not.
Grouchy is tougher some days. When the going gets tough, some customers get grumpy. Not enough surface action, not enough fish, not enough big fish, too many people. I want to ask them, did you look at the iridescent sky? Did you watch that little cloud form, and then simply fade away across the vast panorama of the mountains? Did you watch a storm move up the valley? Were you aware of the herd of Elk behind you, watching you, wondering what you might be doing in their river? What did you miss in your quest for fish?
We know all the hackneyed phrases. “It’s not called catching, it’s called fishing” and others are bandied about when the conditions go against you. Said with a laugh, but meant with a purpose.
Again, I get it. I used to fish so hard for so long. Nose to the water, complete focus on the cast. Drift. Cast again. Drift. Cast, drift, cast, drift. Next thing I knew, it was dusk. Where did the time go?? It went fishing. And I went with it. Some days hero, some days goat. But always, at the bottom line, I went fishing. And that was good.
To sound like a jackass, I can truthfully say I’ve caught enough fish in my lifetime. I’ve been lucky, and I know it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I go fishing and it’s important to catch fish. It’s not as often as it used to be, but it’s still there. I’ll never lose that. But it makes fishing a lot more peaceful when the day doesn’t always rely on a result. Some days are about the journey, and those are turning into my good days on the water.
Do I tell my customers I went out and caught nothing? Not a chance! I use my father’s stock phrase, “I caught a couple.” Never more, never less. But I do tell them about the eagle’s nest and the circling adult, looking for food for her babies. I think about the play of light across the water, and wonder how many crayfish might be in the shallow rocks I’m walking through. I hope I don’t see a snake, and secretly hope to see a bear…..on the other side of the river! I talk about the ones I didn’t catch, and tell them how I plan to take them later. It always requires a new fly!
So as you contemplate what a good day on the water is, think about what it is that really matters. Ask yourself if it matters all the time. Think about the things that do matter all the time when you go fishing. And think if you’re giving each day on the water a fair chance. Every day on the water is good- if you have to search a bit deeper to find it that’s OK. And never forget Robert Traver’s words about why go fishing;
“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that people are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.” ― Robert Traver
And as a final note in this somewhat contained rant, I ask you to look up one of my favorite fishing stories. It’s short, fun and to the point. It defines why we fish, and why the bad days are so important. Because they are!
We’re having a typical Montana Spring. We had snow in late April, and the weather hasn’t gone above 70 since October! We’re getting a bit of rain each day, which is keeping the ground moist and the grass green. While some don’t enjoy this weather now, we’re all going to love it in about 6 weeks and throughout the summer. So far the Montana fly fishing 2022 prediction is looking pretty dang good.
Our snow pack is between 150 and 215% throughout the area, and if this rain continues, we’re going to have an epic summer. Hate to pull a jinx, but it’s looking a whole lot better than last summer, when we had some serious drought throughout western Montana. But right now, we’re poised to have water throughout the summer. The weather looks mild for the next few weeks which always helps extending the runoff further into the summer and should produce some good june fly fishing as well. As long as we don’t see those early record breaking temperature like we saw last June, we should have some much happier fish for the summer of 2022.
We can’t wait. The droughts that occasionally show in Western Montana can be a real issue for fishing. Low flows and high water temps are a serious stresser on the trout. When water levels stay up through the summer, keeping water temps lower, the fish stay healthy. This snowpack, and some typical June rain will keep water levels where they should be through the summer.
The Missoulian Angler is prepping for a big summer of fishing. Our cold spring fishing has shown us some very healthy, fat fish with no noticeable population decline. We came through last years’ low water relatively unscathed. All the cards are in place, it looks like the stars are aligned. With a little help from June rain, this summer is looking to be a lot deeper than last summer. Lazy waders might be a bit sad, as will those who like their fish stacked like cordwood. But for those who want a healthy river, stress free trout and cold water around their feet, it looks like the summer of 2022 Montana fly fishing is going to be a whole lot better than last year.
At the Missoulian Angler, we are big fans of the fly fishing packages for beginners. So many questions are answered, so many problems are solved with an outfit. The line, backing and reel come pre-loaded on the reel, so you don’t spend hours learning and tying knots you don’t really need very often. The rod comes in its own protective case for rod and reel. The rod and reel are balanced for comfortable fishing, and with the technology being used in manufacture, these relatively inexpensive outfits are very good fishing tools.
Echo Lift Kit
The Echo Lift Kit, upgraded from the Base outfit, has been our most popular fly fishing kit for the novice angler. This is probably based on price, as the Lift Outfit is our least expensive of the fly fishing combo packages. It comes in a 9’ 5 or 6 weight, and as an 8’ 4 weight. All rods in the Base series are 4-piece rods, which makes storage and carrying a whole lot easier. The Lift Rod is a mid-action rod, comfortable to cast, well made and durable. The reel is a cast composite with a mechanical drag, and is set up with a left hand wind but can be switched to right hand wind. The backing is pre-spooled, and rigged with an average fly line. The leader is 9’4X. Simply remove the protective plastic from the reel spool and rod handle, tie on a fly and you’re ready to fish. We used these beginner fly fishing outfits for our teaching and rental rods for years- they are an exceptional value in a starting fly fishing outfit and comes with a lifetime warranty for the rod and reel.
The Echo Traverse is Echo’s upgrade in our novice angler choices of fly fishing packages. The Traverse outfits are available in a 9’ 4, 5 and weight rod outfits. The rod is a bit faster than the Lift, but not so much that it becomes difficult to cast. The biggest upgrades in the Traverse kit are in the reel and line. The reel is the Echo Ion. It’s a cast metal for better durability as well as closer tolerances. Cast metal reels are a superior option to a cast composite reel because of the closer tolerances.
It’s the line that has received the biggest upgrade in this fly fishing package. The Traverse line is a couple of steps up in quality from the Lift fly fishing kit. It’s a more durable, higher floating line than in their other kits. Because the line is so critical in fly fishing performance, we feel the higher price represented by the Traverse is often worth the additional expense for an outfit that performs at a higher level directly out of the box. As with the Lift Kit, the rod is correctly balanced, and the reel comes spooled with backing, line and leader, again in a left hand wind. This fly fishing package also has a lifetime warranty for the rod and reel.
At the Missoulian Angler, we are fans of the Douglas fly rods as well. New for 2022 is the ERA rod, available in a 5 and 8 weight. We are pairing the ERA rod with the Echo Ion Reel, a Scientific Angler Mastery fly Line, backing and a Rio 9’ 4X leader and offering this as an exclusive Mangler fly fishing kit. The ERA rod is an excellent casting rod, utilizing all we’ve come to expect from Douglas in every rod they make. The Frequency line is high floating and durable, and we’ve chosen it as the best value in a fly line. Please note the MAngler ERA fly fishing package does not come in a Rod/Reel case- the rod tube holds only the rod., and the reel will need to be stored separately. The same applies to the next fly fishing package listed as well. The Mangler fly fishing combo package reel and rod both come with a lifetime warranty.
For the angler looking for a step up from the basics, we are offering a fly fishing kit based on the Douglas LRS fly rods. Available in many line weights and lengths, we are pairing these rods with a Lamson Liquid fly reel, spooled with a Scientific Angler Mastery fly line. This kit is more expensive than an introductory fly fishing outfit, and the quality will show. The LRS rod has proven to be a shop favorite, while the Liquid is our number one selling reel, based on price and performance. The Mastery line is SA’s top of the line from 20 years ago- it worked well then and it works well now. Again, the reel will be spooled with the appropriate backing, and will come with a leader attached so you’re ready to go fishing. Like all of our fly fishing packages, the rod and reel comes with a lifetime warranty.
Another outfit that bears mentioning is the Echo Gecko kids fly fishing outfit. The Gecko is designed for the junior angler, and is perfect for anglers in the age range of 3-10 years old. 7’9″ and a 4 weight, the Gecko rod has a narrow handle for smaller hands, and a small fighting butt/handle that a younger angler can use to add strength to their cast. Hey, two hands for beginners! If you have a young angler coming up, the Gecko kids fly fishing kit is the way to go. The Echo warranty is very good, so if an accident does befall the rod, all is not lost.
We talk about these fly fishing packages from the standpoint of a beginner, but can say with all confidence these are excellent fly fishing tools. There are many other species to chase with a fly rod other than trout like bass and pike to name a few, but not everyone wants to drop $700 on a rod and reel for a species they might not target more than 2-3 times a year. We would have no hesitation in recommending an 8 weight outfit for those couple of times a year a pike or bass rod might be required. For those with less need for a heavier weight rod, the 4 weight outfits offer a great introduction into a lighter rod without breaking the bank. For most trout fishing, the 4 or 5 weight options are usually the best all around option. 4 weight for smaller streams and 5 weights for larger streams.
Since The River Ran Through It, fly tackle technology has advanced geometrically from what had previously been available. Rods, reels and lines have undergone incredible advances, and what was once considered cheap and less effective has morphed into fishing tools that work exceptionally well. The only place this doesn’t apply is if you are venturing into the salt for the first time. The rod and the line are fine- it’s the reel that might be problematic. The reels that come with the outfits aren’t designed to withstand the corrosive effects of salt water. They will work in an emergency, but you had better REALLY clean them after fishing, or you’re going to have a problem on your hands.
Today’s outfits are wonderful pieces of equipment- well thought out, with performance far exceeding their relatively modest price. 30 years ago we couldn’t say this, but we can now. Like every industry, fly fishing benefits from trickle down technology and the beginning angler will be very well served by the fly fishing combo kits available today.
Mangler Fly Fishing Starter Kit
Fly Fishing starter kits are a fast track to getting started correctly, and we’ve developed other bundles to streamline the beginning fly fisher’s journey. For someone looking to get started in fly fishing correctly, we built the Mangler Fly Fishing Starter Kit. It begins with a 3-pack of 3X leaders, gel floatant, tippet in 3, 4 and 5X, a box of 2 dozen flies that work in all areas of the country, 2 indicators, nippers and forceps. With this fly fishing starter kit, an angler can step into the water knowing they have what’s needed for a successful day on the water. We’ve designed this fly fishing kit to take the guess work out of starting fly fishing. It can be a tricky and intimidating process, entering fly fishing, and this fly fishing Kit can remove a lot of question marks, as well as saving a few bucks when purchased as a unit.
Oh, to own a boat! Then using a net is not a question, because fly fishing nets with a rubber/silicon bag are a fish saving, time saving device on the water. A well-designed net allows you to land fish so much faster than hand landing, saving the trout’s energy for the best release. You’re back in the game much faster, because you’re not fighting a fish for 5 extra minutes better spent catching another fish you need a net for. The shallower rubber bag is the perfect platform for hook removal, and the unused hopper or dropper won’t stick in the bag as you remove the fly that worked from the trout’s mouth. In short, nets save time, reduce fish mortality and simplify hopper/dropper release. Fishing Nets makes a great holding pen before taking a picture- keep the net/fish in the water until ready to shoot, sweep the trout up and snap your shot. A healthier fish goes back to the river.
Despite all the positives a net has, the net can create as
many annoyances as it does solutions for the wading angler. I remember
struggling to carry a net in my youth. Attached to my vest under my left arm or
on my back, the net bag found every branch and shrub along the river. When I carried
it in easy reach, it was in the way as I fished. When I carried it where it
wasn’t in the way, then I couldn’t reach it when needed. Net carrying was a
dilemma. Then I learned about The Brookie, made by the Brodin Company, famous for
their oil rubbed wooden nets. The Brookie was approximately 13” in length, and
was advertised to hold a 20” fish due to the size of the net bag. Perfect! Tiny
to carry, and it holds huge fish!
Well do I remember the first time I went to use that net on
a big fish. I got the fish close, whipped out the net, and then just stared at
it. The opening of the net was about 6” across- the fish was about 17” long. Not
a good fit. In order to get the fish properly led into the net, I was going to
have to fight it to exhaustion. I stared at this silly piece of tackle for a
second more, then dropped it (couldn’t throw it as it was attached with a magnet/bungee-
more on that later) and landed the fish the old fashioned way. Never used that
It was a lesson learned. You don’t often truly need a net when fishing. Most of the fish we catch can be brought to hand quickly and released easily. But when you need a net, you need a NET. Not some tiny piece of tackle designed for easy carry, but a net that can easily swoop up a thrashing 18” fish. The bigger the opening, the more effective a net is. And therein lies the rub. The bigger the fly fishing net, the trickier it is to carry. That’s been made trickier by the new sling packs and fanny packs.
When I started fishing, anglers used a vest. The conventional
spot for a net was on the back of the vest, handle down or handle up. Each had
their proponents, and many clips/magnets were designed to hold the net while
not in use, with a piece of bungee cord holding the net to the clip. You
quickly learned to stop bushwacking when you felt a tug on the back of your
vest. Take two more steps, and the net freed itself from whatever separated it
from clip, and came ripping into the back of your head propelled by the bunjee
cord. These different clips are still in use today, and other than the
bushwacking thing, work very well.
But with sling packs and fanny packs, carrying a fishing net has become trickier. Net manufacturers build wading nets with longer handles that balance better when stuck into a belt. I’ve not mastered the sling pack yet, but they have net attachment points and I know anglers who use them with their slings. They make it work because having a net is important to them.
You can get a rubber bagged wading net starting about $35, and they go up from there. The less expensive nets for fly fishing are made of wood and then varnished. The varnish protects the wood from water, right up until you chip the varnish and then the net falls apart due to water damage. An oil finished wooden net lasts much longer, but needs some off season maintenance. Now the better nets are being made from graphite and tubular aluminum, and are completely impervious to water. Those will last until you lose them.
So let’s talk about losing tackle on the water. We all do
it, and many of us find things on the water as well. Fly boxes, sometimes a
vest or rod/reel but mostly gink and forceps. 99% of the tackle lost on a river
doesn’t have a name or phone number on it! I know if most anglers found a fly
box or vest with a name and number on it, they would get it back to the owner.
But without that info, who’s going to go to every shop in town and put up a
notice- tackle found.
PUT YOUR NAME AND PHONE NUMBER ON YOUR TACKLE
A box with 40 flies in it is worth $150. Fishing Nets can be $250 for a boat model and we all know how much rods and reels are. Take a piece of masking tape and a sharpie and put your number on the expensive stuff. It will come back to you. But without that info, it’s gone for good. Something to think about, especially with nets. They get put down while releasing fish, or put down because you’re working a run and don’t need to carry it and next thing, it’s forgotten. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
I carried a net with me for the first 20 years of my fly
fishing career. I carried it until the negatives outweighed the positives. How
did I define that? As I started fly fishing, my fish were few and far between.
When I hooked one, I wanted to land it- I wanted to touch it and hold it up to
look at it. I wanted it caught, and a net gave me such an advantage in
that area. Especially the rare larger fish that I didn’t have much experience
with. The net made sure I didn’t lose it at my feet, when the fight got real- I
could net it when it was merely frantic, not ballistic from me grabbing it. It
was so worth having a net with me.
As I gained more experience, and found myself actually learning to play fish to a point of release, I found myself going less and less to the net. I was able to handle larger fish safely and quick without a net, and over time, the net became less and less useful, until I finally stopped carrying one. Which is not to say that about twice a season, when faced with a fish much larger than I usually see, I don’t wish I had a net with me. But I’ve made that decision, and I might not land that fish. It’s on me. It’s a balance of comfort on the water versus the few times I really want it, and I’ve made my choice. I still have multiple nets I could pull out and use- I just don’t.
That’s the mathematics of carrying a net for fly fishing. They make landing fish a snap, especially big ones. If you want the photo op, a net is a critical piece of equipment. It’s a bit inconvenient, but then, really, what in fly fishing isn’t! Experiment with different ways of carrying it- Missoulian Angler has a few different net attachment implements. PUT YOUR NAME ON IT. It’s going to get forgotten at least once- give yourself a chance to get it back. The fish will thank you for carrying a net, it makes their lives easier.
Final thought. If you fish with a buddy who doesn’t carry a
net, and you do, make sure you fish far enough away so you can’t hear them
yell, ”Hey, I need this fish netted!”
Yes, the fly rod did begin as a stick. It was a well chosen stick, flexible with butt strength, but that didn’t stop it from being a stick. What passed for line was tied to the end, and off they went. By the late 1400’s, rods were still being built from sticks, but separate stick sections were spliced together, in order to get the action required. The tip came from the center of a tree, for flexibility. They could be anywhere from 10-15 feet long, and were heavy. The line was still tied to the tip.
Rods continued this way until the arrival of Tonkin cane from China. While Tonkin was initially used in its hollow state, craftsmen soon discovered the culms could be split, and the first rods that could actually cast were born. Split cane forced the development of longer lines, reel seats and reels, more permanent handles, ferrules and guides. It was the first modern fly rod. The cane could be planed or sawn to create specific, reproducible tapers and opened up many new vistas for fly fishing.
Yes, some cane rods re worth $1,000’s of dollars. 99.9% are not. Valuable cane rods were hand planed to within 1/1000” tolerance. The vast majority of cane rods were cut with a saw, with much less accuracy. When AFTMA set the standard for fly line weights (Fly Line), they created a deflection chart to help anglers identify the proper new line weight for their rod. Utilizing a wall mounted reel foot and a known weight, the rod was mounted on the reel foot, and the weight clipped to the tip top. The rod would deflect, and the tip would land within a region on the chart, giving a line weight for the rod. The first diagram shows a deflection chart, the second shows a rod deflecting to a 5 weight line.
Cane was the best and preferred material for rod building until 1945 when technology developed before and during the war effort found its way to fly fishing. While fiberglass was introduced earlier as a solid blank, modern rod building began in ‘45 with the advent of the initial hollow fiberglass fly rod. For the first time, rods were tubular, and manufacturers had to develop brand new criteria for building and controlling action and taper.
There are two variables in rod design, the materials resistance to bending, described in terms of modulus in millions, and the diameter of the hollow tube. Fiberglass is a very low modulus material, meaning it has very little resistance to bending. Fiberglass itself is a very flexible material. Diameter is best understood this way. If you took a 9’ long, 1/16 inch steel pipe and shook it, it would bend quite readily. Take that same piece of steel and hammer it out to a 4” diameter, and it would lose most of its flexibility. Now the design conundrum comes in. How much material is needed, and at what diameter is it needed.
The manufacturing process of hollow fly rods evolved this way. The mandrel- a solid rod varying in diameter along the length- is milled, and used to control the inside diameter of the rod. The fiberglass scrim (sheet of fiberglass) is also cut in a taper as well, and then coated with resin or adhesive. The scrim/adhesive is wrapped around the mandrel, then rolled on a rod rolling machine under a lot of pressure to compress, shape and complete the process.
The diagram above is a simplification of the scrim/mandrel interaction. Notice there is less scrim at the top than the bottom, matching to the thinner tip of the mandrel. Less material over a thinner diameter provides flexibility, needed at the tip. As the diameter expands and more material is added, the rod gets stiffer as it goes to the butt section. How the rod will flex- deeply, or very little- is defined by this combination of diameter and material.
The above diagram is a simplification of flex patterns of fly rods. In the terminology of fly fishing- slow action, medium and fast action. There are variations and combinations of this found in every manufacturer of rods in the past and today. It’s important to know about action, so you can decide which action is best for you and your casting. YOUR CASTING. It doesn’t make any difference what anyone else thinks is a good action, if you don’t like it it’s not correct for you. This applies to the oldest cane rods and fiberglass as much as the most modern graphite fly rod available.
In 1973, the Orvis Company introduced the first graphite fly rod, and changed the face of fly fishing. Graphite has a much higher modulus than fiberglass, meaning it’s a stiffer material. Since its advent in the 70’s, graphite technology has continued to advance, and modulus has increased. If I remember correctly, the first graphite rods were about a 25 modulus. Now manufacturers are using graphite with modulus of over 80. This has provided such a wide range of actions, rod weights and strength, along with durability, as to be almost unrecognizable from its origins.
Due to the weight of cane and fiberglass, rods were shorter in their initial design. The modern graphite fly rod can vary in length from 6-15 feet in length, with the industry standard being 9’. Shorter rods are often used on smaller waters, while the longer rods are used to enhance mending and distance, as well as specific casting styles like spey casting. The longer rods often require two hands from the angler, and can attain tremendous distance when casting. Rods are designated by line weight, length and number of pieces. The industry standard for trout today is a 9’, 5 wt, 4-piece fly rod.
Graphite has opened up whole new vistas of fly fishing. 10-15 weight rods are now light enough to be castable, opening up the salt in ways not contemplated previously. Graphite ferrules are so smooth that 4-8 piece rods are not only available, but excellent casting tools. This changed the way we travel with fly rods, as well as opening up the back country and making bicycling with a fly rod much safer.
Graphite also revolutionized the action of fly rods. While modulus can be described as resistance to bending, another description is a more rapid return to straight. This has opened up amazing new avenues of action. As modulus increases, we are leaving simple fly rod actions as shown in the flex pattern diagram and getting into more complex actions. With high modulus graphite, manufacturers can create a deep flexing, relatively fast action fly rod. The higher mod graphite returns to straight more rapidly- so even with a traditional “medium” flex action, the graphite itself is faster. The rod returns to straight faster, creating a relatively fast medium flex rod. This type of compound taper was unachievable without graphite.
As tapers expanded with higher modulus, manufacturers continued to refine their tapers in lower modulus rods as well. Lower modulus graphite is less expensive to use, and as mandrels pay for themselves the creation of high quality, less expensive rods has become the norm, not the exception. With such a disparity in price in rods, even from the same manufacturer, what makes a rod more expensive?
As previously stated, the higher the graphite’s modulus, the more expensive it is. Component quality can vary. Some reel seats are Nickel Silver with exotic wood inserts, some are aluminum. Cork handle quality, rod tube and sock style and other costs vary. The time of build comes into play, with guide style and finish coats adding to costs. But the real cost of a fly rod is unseen.
When I toured the Sage Rod factory, I was amazed at how many pieces I saw broken in the short time I spent in the construction room. They had a machine for crushing unsuitable blank pieces. Look at the diagrams below.
While the rods in the first diagram are both 5 weights, they are going to cast significantly differently. It’s consistency that creates the greatest cost in fly rod manufacture. The second diagram shows how most fly rods are deflected by the manufacturer. There are incremental zones the rod must fall into to become a fly rod. The wider those zones, the more pieces can be used. The narrower the increments, the more consistent the action, and the more pieces are unusable. Once rolled, the graphite can’t be reused. It’s a dead loss, and needs to be paid for. It’s the most expensive part of high end fly rods, the pieces that don’t work and end up crushed and useless in a trash can.
To sum things up, if you buy a rod from a known fly rod manufacturer, it’s almost impossible to find a bad one. It might not be magic, but it won’t be awful. After A River Runs Through It, fly rod manufacturing, graphite construction and taper design went through the roof. Increased sales provided more funding for R&D, with fly rod actions improving exponentially. They continue to improve on a yearly basis. In 1985, when I started selling fly rods, I could say if you don’t spend $400 on a fly rod, it really won’t be any good. Now, it’s a bald faced lie to say if you don’t spend $1200 on a fly rod, it really won’t be any good. We sell fly rods for $89 that outperform any rod available in 1985. We are living in the golden age of fly rod design. Rest easy in your rod selection- it’s all good.