Posted In Gear
The Spey Trout reel from Speyco Reels is one of the more interesting pieces of gear I’ve reviewed lately. That’s a good thing, by the way. New fly fishing gear, while always exciting, isn’t always interesting. That’s not the case with the Spey Trout reel from Speyco Reels, however....


Gear Review: Speyco Reels


The Spey Trout reel from Speyco Reels is one of the more interesting pieces of gear I’ve reviewed lately.

That’s a good thing, by the way. New fly fishing gear, while always exciting, isn’t always interesting. That’s not the case with the Spey Trout reel from Speyco Reels, however.

I had the chance to meet the folks behind Speyco at the Wasatch Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Expo in Sandy, Utah, back in March 2018. Mike Pantzlaff, who handles a lot of the building and marketing of the reels, knows his way around the spey fishing world. Being a trout guy from Utah, I know exactly squat about spey fishing.

But Mike’s knowledge is evident in the reels produced by him and his father. They’re built in the classic spey reel style (I know that much about it, at least) reminiscent of the old Hardy Perfects, or the modern Cascapedia. While Speyco offers reels for the most avid steelhead and anadromous fishers in the world, what caught my eye was their new Trout Spey reel.

Machined from standard 6061-T6 bar-stock aluminium, the Trout Spey reel is built with a 1/3 arbor to ensure ample line storage space. The frame is ported on one side of the reel, with a solid face on the other.

You have a bevy of options with handle colors, plate coatings, bearings, and the roll all available for customization. The drag type is a quad-based HEXAD click/pawl. These reels don’t weight terribly much more than standard trout reels, coming in at 4.5oz for the narrow spool and 5.1oz for the wide spool.

A Speyco Reels trout-sized reel will set you back around $325.00, depending on how much you customize the reel. They’re all handmade in Wisconsin. If you’re looking for a “retro” style reel, love click/pawl reels, or want to class up your spey outfit with something different than the standard large-arbor reels, the Speyco Trout series is worth looking at.

What I Liked


Branding something as hand-made in America automatically ups the standard for quality in the eyes of most anglers. The smallest imperfection cause cause suspicion as to a product’s true origins.

Aside from the Spey Trout, I played with other Speyco Reels models. All of them were, without a doubt, handcrafted to the highest quality Mike and his father can produce at a reasonable price. From a quality standpoint, I don’t have a hard time recommending this reel.

Classic Style

I love a slick-looking reel as much as the next gear nut. Maybe more so, given my propensity to hoard anything and everything fly fishing. The new Ross Evolution LTX is gorgeous, as is the Hardy Ultralite MTX.

But there’s something alluring about the classic styling of old-school reels, and Sepyco did a great job designing a product that looks classic but functions like a modern piece of gear.

Fighting Fish

I used this reel on a variety of rods — the new TFO Drift, a few single-handed 5wt rigs, and my trusty Winston Boron IIIx Super 10 3’wt — and while it got the most use on my Euro nymphing rig, I was pleasantly surprised at how it handled fish. The drag isn’t easily adjustable on the Speyco Trout, which leaves you with your fingers and palms to stop big runs.

It’s worth noting that the startup inertia was almost nonexistent. I’ve seen some reels made that look great but retain that notable hitch when you suddenly pull line.

As far as click/pawl reels go, Specyo Reels is firmly middle-of-the-pack in fish-fighting. It won’t blow you away like an Abel TR or the Hardy Duchess, but it gets the job done. The spool is recessed into the frame just enough that, combined with the dime-edge, palming the reel is a breeze.

What I Didn’t Like


One of the first things I do with a new fly reel is take it apart. Writing isn’t a profession known for lucrative salaries, and fly fishing writing even less so. That means I service, clean, and repair as much of my gear as possible.

Speyco Reels makes their products to last, and to prevent as much damage to the drag system as possible. But even drag adjustment requires a screwdriver or, in a pinch, a quarter or dime. The drag components are all stainless steel and brass, so cleaning them is easy. Getting to the innards, though, takes a few minutes.

Limited Drag Range

This is a knock against almost all click/pawl reels. I’ve only fished two that have a truly adjustable drag (both built by Hardy). The Speyco Trout isn’t a bad reel because the drag range is limited. That’s part of the nature of click/pawl reels, especially in this style.

Even so, I’d like to see a bit more adjustment available to really add more torque to this reel.


I know, I know — I’m complaining about the weight of a spey reel, and a click/pawl one at that. It’s not so much a complaint, though, as it is a suggestion for improved design. While I love the look of the solid frame, porting both sides, or even partially porting one, would help reduce weight.

Final Word

Speyco Reels has put together an impressive reel at a reasonable price, especially when you factor in that it’s made in the U.S.A., machined, and features a large arbor. The styling and build quality are impressive, and these reels look good on most any fly rod.

The weight, limited drag range, and difficulty of disassembly are legitimate knocks, but not enough to rule this reel out completely. As it stands, the Spey Trout reel would be an excellent choice for Euro nymphing rods, since the weight of the reel helps balance the length of the rod. All in all, I’m impressed with what Speyco Reels put together, and I look forward to seeing what else they come up with in the future.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media, and has written for a variety of national and local publications including Field & Stream, American Angler, Sporting Classics Daily, Hatch Magazine, and many others. Find him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.

landscape photo for sale
Photography For Sale

Wildlife Photography and Landscape Photos For Sale

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
May 29, 2018


On Sale Now: Wildlife Photography and Landscape Photos

I’ve toyed with this idea for a while, and decided now is the time to go after it. I’m now making my wildlife photography and landscape photos available for purchase. This is part of the ever-expanding TMTB Store, and I hope to add more wildlife photography and landscape photos in the months and years to come.

All orders are processed through Etsy, because it’s the most cost-effective way to share my photography with you. If you’re interested in any of the wildlife photography or landscape photos on this site, but don’t see them listed for sale on Etsy, don’t hesitate to contact me. I can do custom work fairly easily.

So, if you’d like, go ahead and visit the store here.

Shipping is quick, and I’ll be adding new photos on a consistent basis. Each photo will only be printed 25 times, so if you see something you like, don’t wait. It might sell out before you get your chance to buy a copy.

I’ve priced these prints at a point where I’m making enough for this to be worthwhile. I’ll likely never get rich selling photography, but if it helps pay for a new fly rod or a trip? Well, I don’t think there’s any trout bum out there who’d say that’s a bad thing. Also, if you’re a fan of my photography, do me a favor and please share the link to my store all over social media. Those little links go a long ways in helping me get everything off the ground. Most of the money made from these sales will go right back into TMTB, which means more content for you at the end of the day.

All photos are printed on HP Premium Plus, EPSON Ultra Premium, or Finestra Art Premium Luster Photo Paper. All photos come mounted on backing boards. If you don’t want your photo mounted on a backing board, check that box during order submission and your total order cost will be adjusted accordingly. 

wildfire in wyoming
Public Lands

The American Wildfire Epidemic

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
July 8, 2018


It’s another horrible wildfire season here in Utah.

It’s not surprising, given the drought, terrible winter, and early summer we’ve experienced. I expected a bad wildfire season, and I think most everyone else did as well. The Dollar Ridge Fire — currently the state’s worst of the year — has burned nearly 50,000 acres in a week. It’s only 30% contained as of Sunday morning, July 8th, 2018.

This fire, along with the dozen or so others currently burning, has once again spurred discussion on how to best prevent major wildfires. The angling community is vocal here, as we should be. Wildfires can have a devastating effect on the wild trout we love so much.

But what exactly can we do to prevent wildfires? Well, nothing. The reality is that wildfires have and will continue to occur so long as something to burn is still standing. So the question we really need to ask ourselves is this: how do we mitigate wildfires and their effects on the environment and wildlife we hold to be an integral part of our American heritage?

The most effective answer, as I see it, is to pressure the powers that be in D.C. to make amendments to forest management here in the U.S.

moose wildfireA momma moose and her two calves along the Richardson Highway in Alaska. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Forest Management

So how does changing forest management directives help us decrease the wildfire epidemic in the West? Well, to understand that, you have to first understand the spiderweb of red tape in which our forests are currently managed. This means diving into the politics of land management and environmentalism. While it’d be nice to think that this is one issue on which partisan politics could be discarded, that’s wishful thinking.

Forest Service Directives

The U.S. Forest Service manages 155 national forests, 20 grasslands, and 1 prairie that comprise the entirety of the National Forest System. Since the Forest Service manages so much land — 193 million acres — they have to adopt policies that are more broad strokes than individualized responses.

On top of that, the Forest Service has to make sure that anything they do is in accordance with at least 12 laws that dictate how America’s National Forest lands should be used. That means each national forest needs to meet the standards of the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Wilderness Act of 1964, and any other law or regulation Congress has passed in the past hundred or so years.

My call for changes to forest management isn’t a condemnation of the Forest Service. While I think we can all agree that most every federal agency is too large, spends too much money, and accomplishes too little, the Forest Service at least tries to maintain our national playgrounds. It’s not their fault they’re hamstrung by the political theater Congress creates.

Looking south from Fairbanks to Denali. Photo by Spencer Durrant. 

The Tragedy Of  Environmental Politics

This call for change to our forest management policies is aimed directly at Congress. Their laws and rules dictate how the Forest Service operates. Federal legislation is designed, by default, to be a one-size-fits-all solution that caters to one party’s demands over another.

For reasons I can’t fathom, public lands has become a political issue. The laws currently being proposed and passed stand to benefit the Republican Party and their interests more so than anyone else. It’s more apparent now than ever in our country’s history that Congress truly doesn’t have the best interests of the American populace in mind.

When I say that the laws being passed benefit the Republican Party, I mean that in the most literal sense. Its leadership, administrative members, and representatives in government will reap the rewards of legislation that allows for broader, unchecked development and natural resource extraction. Those rewards usually come in the form of campaign donations.

And the Democrats aren’t absolved in this matter. Their platform pushes for clean energy, global climate leadership, and an end to dependence on fossil fuels. To pretend that the Democratic Party wouldn’t benefit financially is purposefully burying your head in the sand. Both parties are as corrupt as the other.

Realism aside, those goals are admirable, and if they could be realized, America would be a better country. Yet we’d also see impressive national growth if this line from the GOP platform wasn’t just another talking point: “States, not Washington bureaucrats, are best equipped to engage farmers and ranchers to develop sound farm oversight policies.”

Altruism doesn’t exist in politics. Both parties’ charade of caring about the environment has resulted in the current tinderboxes that are our national forests. Specifically, Subchapter 1, Chapter 36, Title 16 of the U.S. Code shows just how culpable a role political posturing has played in getting us to this point.

“The Secretary of Agriculture shall limit the sale of timber from each national forest to a quantity equal to or less than a quantity which can be removed from such forest annually in perpetuity on a sustained-field basis,” reads the opening lines of this particular law. This is just one of dozens of laws, regulations, and directives Congress has made to impose its own interests on America’s national forests. That particular piece of legislation was added by the 94th Congress in 1976 — a Congress in which the Democrats had a majority in both the Senate and House and Republican Gerald R. Ford sat in the Oval Office.

A view of the mountains bordering Prince William Sound outside Valdez, Alaska. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

How Environmental Politics Causes Wildfires

Now that we’ve covered just how much an an impact Congress and its ridiculous environmental politics has on forest management, we come to the next important question: how exactly is this political theater causing wildfire after wildfire?

The answer is simple. Thanks to gridlock on the issue of public land management, the Forest Service has its hands tied when it comes to thinning forests to prevent large-scale wildfires.

When President Donald Trump signed an executive order in August 2017 that ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review national monuments, critics spoke up immediately about their fears of the return of clear-cut logging to America’s forests. Per the Independent“Critics say this (executive order) will allow the Trump administration to roll back protections that prevent drilling, mining, and logging on the public land.”

When the average citizen hears a line like that on cable news, it’s not hard to imagine them developing an immediate opposition to that statement. Today’s political theater paints everything from the opposite party as dark, evil, and the surefire downfall of the American way of government.

If a Republican Congressional delegate proposes a piece of legislation that would allow for broader logging on national forest land, they’d be lambasted by the Democrats as an enemy of the environment. Conversely, the Republicans would do the same thing. This back-and-forth bickering underscores not only the impossibility of bipartisan legislation, but also the large-scale insecurity with which Congress operates.

The end result is that the Forest Service is left with its hands tied, and the American public is left to foot the bill for fighting massive wildfires year after year.

Fly fishing the Tangle River along the Denali Highway in Alaska. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Could Logging Reduce Wildfire Risk?

This is a legitimate question to ask, and one that must be considered with an open mind. Again, if we’re to enact real change, then we can’t immediately condemn anything a fellow citizen of a different political persuasion says.

Logging could reduce the risk of wildfires, per The Nature Conservancy’s Oregon Chapter Director Russ Hoeflich. As reported by Earth Island Journal, Hoeflich believes that, “Fire is absolutely natural, needed, and normal in our forests” and blames the “megafires” in the West on degraded forests. Hoeflich supports the thinning of hazardous fuels from forests through a process known as selective logging. “While controversial, commercial logging is an ‘important tool’ to make this happen economically,” the Earth Island Journal article reads.

This view is backed up by research from Dr. Dymtro Matsypura of The University of Sydney.

“The intensity and severity of wildfires can be reduced through fuel management activities,” reads the abstract to his article in the January 2018 edition of the European Journal of Operational Research. 

Conversely, a study published by Australian, Swiss, and American scientists concluded that, “While the effects of deforestation are pretty clear, the impact of selective logging on forest biodiversity is still poorly understood and, most likely, commonly underestimated.”

Research from Stanford backs up that opinion, with one study stating that, “In logged forests, light penetrates to the understory and dries out the forest floor, making it much more susceptible to burning.”

The Druid Complex Fire in Yellowstone National Park, 2013. Photo by Mike Lewelling.

What Do We Do Now?

Conflicting research tells us there’s no easy answer to this question. But one thing is certain — action is better than inaction. Letting forests degrade, through pine beetle infestations, overgrowth, and limited use of prescribed burns, has led to the current American wildfire epidemic. At the very least, we know we can’t let things continue as they have. Wildfires will only get worse with time if we don’t take some sort of action.

What that action is shouldn’t be decided in Washington, D.C. The power brokers don’t understand what our forests mean to us. Instead, we need to speak up to local Forest Service and state congressional delegates. We need to let them hear our voice, and we need to make some sort of move on this problem is we want to avoid burning the West to the ground.

When we leave party affiliations behind, the American people are a force far more influential than big oil or high-tech clean energy companies.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum and Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media. Spencer’s work has appeared in multiple national publications including Field & Stream, Sporting Classics, American Angler, the Associated Press, and TROUT Magazine. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.


Gear Review: TFO Drift Fly Rod

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
June 5, 2018


The TFO Drift is one of the most revolutionary fly rods in decades.

I’m a self-proclaimed gear nut, and in the last five years I reckon I’ve reviewed or cast around 100 fly rods. From boutique builders to the latest and greatest from Sage, Orvis, and Winston, I’ve seen the gamut of fly rods. The TFO Drift stands out above them all because it’s easily the most unique, promising rod I’ve seen in years.

Now, I’ll be honest – TFO hasn’t ever drawn much of my attention. I did get to fish the Axiom rod while at Pyramid Lake last December, and that rod was surprisingly great. In fact, it was good enough to make me start looking at what else TFO had to offer.

I stumbled across the TFO Drift not long after its release. At first, I was wary.  Here was a rod positioned to not only have a new stripping guide system, but also to be capable of fishing in four different configurations without turning into more of a hindrance than a help for catching fish. That sounded an awful lot like the old spincasting/fly combos from the 60s and 70s.

I’m very happy to say I was wrong, and that TFO put togetheer a really, really solid product. The Drift may not be for everyone, but what it represents for the future of fly fishing should be enough for most folks to at least appreciate this rod.

You can check out the video review here, and read the rest of the review below.

The Nitty-Gritty

What I Liked

The Innovation

TFO took a big leap of faith with the Drift, but I think it paid off. It takes guts to sell anglers on buying a 4-in-1 fly rod. That’s the sort of gimmick even a gear whore like myself usually passes up.

What made me really stop and think that the Drift had a chance of being good were the new stripping guides. These are open ever so slightly on one side. It’s enough to let you insert line through the side of a guide, which means you can add and remove sections of the rod without restringing the rod every time.

Of course, with any other fly rod, you’re not adding or removing sections. That’s what really sets the Drift apart from the pack. It comes as a standard 9’3wt 4-piece rod with a downlocking reel seat and decent cork. The blank is a deep bronze with gold lettering, and the wraps all seem tight and slim.

Then, thanks to two other sections, you can turn the rod into a 10 or 11’3wt Euro nymphing rod, or a 12’3″ switch rod.

When I saw the Drift put together for the first time, I remember thinking, I don’t care if this doesn’t work, I need one just because it’s cool. 

The Performance

Alright, drooling over  stripping guides and removable rod sections aside, does the Drift actually fish well?

In all honesty, it did better than I expected. The 9’3wt configuration was surprisingly light and responsive, serving me well on my favorite creeks near my home. Both the 10 and 11′ Euro rods were plenty serviceable, if a bit heavy.

Then there’s the switch rod – all 12’3″ of it.

I’m no sort of expert spey caster, and I’ve never caught a steelhead or a salmon on a spey rod. For a beginner who’s just treading water in the two-handed fly rod world, the TFO Drift is a great place to start.

Now, bear in mind this rod costs $400.00. You’re not going to get all the light weight, torsional stability, and oscillation reduction you would from an $800.00 rod. The Drift is a bit on the heavy side, and it’s not the most accurate rod ever built. But it’s also not too heavy, or to inaccurate, that I wouldn’t fish it.

Put simply, the Drift performs exactly as you’d expect it to at its price point.

The Potential

Lastly, the other lingering impression I have after fishing the Drift is that it’s going to influence fly rod design in the near future. The stripping guides alone should pop up on most major fly rods, if only because it’s easier than ever to string a rod with them. A fly rod doesn’t have to have removable sections to utilize the new stripping guides.

It also shows that having a rod designed to do more than one task is viable. Sure, we’ve had 5wt rods billed as the do-it-all rods. That’s the staple for most fly anglers. But we’ve seen few rods meant to tackle steelhead in the morning and small grayling in the afternoons.

What I Don’t Like

No Storage for Parts

The TFO Drift comes with two accessories that screw into the butt cap on the reel seat – a weighted extension, and a switch grip extension. The weight is used to help balance a longer rod in Euro nymphing situations.

There’s nowhere to store the extensions, though. The rod sock doesn’t have space, so I’ve taken to shoving them in the fancy case and throwing the spare parts in my vest for quick, easy access.


I know I shouldn’t complain about the weight of a rod, especially when it goes from a small-creek tool to your best bet for landing a king salmon. But the rod is a bit heavier than is comfortable for a day of full use.

Final Word

Weight and storage issues aside, the TFO Drift is a phenomenal rod. It performs exceptionally at its price point, offers versatility no other rod can mach, and it’s affordable. If you want to get into the world of two-handed fly rods, or even single-hand spey casting, then the Drift is a rod you need to check out.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah.. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, and Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 


Introducing “The West Today”

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
May 25, 2018


No Politics. No Agenda. Just Facts.

The West Today is The Modern Trout Bum’s publication dedicated to shining a light on environmental issues and wildlife conservation here in the American West.

The idea is to create a publication that spurs conversation around the topics that determine the future of he unique heritage we have in the American West. The West Today isn’t political and doesn’t have an agenda beyond promoting conservation.

Subscribe Today

Lee Wulff captured the essence of what The West Today is all about:

Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.

Wulff’s words have echoed through the generations of conservation-minded anglers who now enjoy the fishing the American West has to offer. But Wulff’s words apply to more than just fishing. They provide guidance for the conservation goals we need to accomplish today.

The biggest roadblock between conservationists and positive change is accurate information. We all know how biased news reporting is in this country.

The West Today strives to be different. We want to deliver only the facts. Opinions are left for the general section of The Modern Trout Bum. Down-the-middle, accurate aggregation of data and reports is the best way to make sure that each hunter, angler, and outdoors enthusiast is on the same page when it comes to the issues facing our great national heritage.

I’ve wrestled with this decision for a bit, but there’s really no other way to do it. To make The West Today the viable news source the outdoors community needs, I need you – the readers – to pay.

I know, I know – why pay for content when you can get it free elsewhere?

Well, I’m asking you to pay for quality over quantity.

For work that has a positive end-goal in mind, and articles without clickbait headlines. I’m asking you to pay for the opportunity to read all the facts in one place and form your own opinion. Do you want to know more about the Pebble Mine, but don’t want to sift through paragraphs of opinion for a nugget or two of actual information?

That’s what The West Today will do. But it can only do that with your subscription.

A subscription will run $19.99/year for 6 digital issues of The American West. 

If print-only is still your thing, we’ll mail issues directly to you on the date of publication for $39.99/year. These won’t be like your common outdoors magazines. They’ll be filled with substance, and you won’t see ads on every other page.

If you want both editions of the magazine, we’ll hook you up for $49.99/year.

I know it’s a big ask. But $20 is what, five cups of coffee at Starbucks?

You get immediate gratification from Starbucks. I get it. A subscription to something like this is delayed gratification, and you don’t know what you’re getting. This is new. Untested. Original.

But so is trying that new latte your friend mentioned last week.


Driftless Expectations

By Max Wilke | TMTB Contributor | Featured Image by John Westrich
May 23, 2018


I was in the the Driftless.

The area got that name due to the lack of glacier drift deposits over the landscape from the last ice age. The Driftless is full of wooded bluffs and spring-fed streams bubbling up from a limestone bedrock. It was early April, which usually means one of two options weather wise around here. It’s either raining and windy, or one of those bluebird days that lend spring an air of life.

If if was the latter, I’d hear the chirps of the first red-winged blackbirds as they came home to the Driftless.

Both weather scenarios would bring the first blue-winged olive hatches of the year. I suppose that’s what matters most.

After all, I wanted a picture of a trout with a dun stuck in its lip – in classic Instagram fashion – and it felt like a possibility.

Neither option showed up that day, since it registered as one of the colder Aprils on record in the Driftless. Snow, a thirty-some degree high, and strong, gusty winds equated to frozen fingers and feet that were starting to ache from standing in water that barely had reached 40 degrees.

The fishing was kind of lousy, though only in comparison to April days in years past. With so much cold lingering, the creeks hadn’t warmed up to their normal temperature levels for that time of year. The Blue Winged Olives hadn’t hatched yet, either.

driftless fly fishing stream

Photo by Max Wilke

I didn’t want to waste precious heat fumbling around with my fly box. After I pulled out a size 12 Pink Squirrel from its contents, I put the box away in the front pocket of my waders. I started casting to a slow, deep pool that still sported an ice shelf. The water was deep and still, and a sheer limestone outcropping on the far side of the pool rose into the overcast sky.

I’m a new fly angler. Like many, I suspect, I got started at the local pond. I threw whatever flies looked cool to me to bluegill, and I was lucky the pond was only a few blocks from my apartment at the time.

Once I had my feet wet, I decided it was time to chase trout. The Driftless was the ideal place to start, so I planned a spring trip around some of its creeks.

I was thoroughly skunked for the first five outings.  For the sixth trip, I ventured to a different stream, one slightly further into the hilly, Driftless. That’s where I caught my first trout – a thrilling experience unburdened by any knowledge that comes with time.

It was one of those warm, bright days in May, with everything looking and smelling green. A truly proper, peak of spring day. This particular stream was a bit more open than the previous one. It cut through a valley that ran North from a small town on the highway, bordered by dairy farms and pasture land.

I had hooked and lost a fish earlier, so I’m sure I shouted a bit too loudly when I finally put a plump nine-inch brown in the net.

driftless brown trout

Photo by Max Wilke

After hooking my first trout, the obsession began; or rather, it kicked into high gear. After all, I had gone fishing five times before, without so much as a bite before finally landing that modest trout.

Like any normal millennial, that passion spilled over into the internet and social media. I found a plethora of blogs, photos, websites, YouTube videos, and of course Instagram. Everywhere I looked, stories and photographs of beautiful trout and smiling anglers all alone in some remote corner of the world stared back at me.

That virtual reality informed my expectations about fishing – and raised the bar for what I expected in The Driftless. It was only a matter of time until I’d be out there catching 20-inch trout as if it were nothing.

Those pictures – and social media at large – was all I thought about when I saw that perfect pool on that chilly April day. I knew there had to be one of those Instagram-worthy fish swimming around in its depths.

And maybe there was.

I proceeded to haul out a handful of creek chubs and a brown trout measuring eight or so inches. I caught a couple more fish, all about the same size, and all on nymphs dredged along the bottom. Within a couple hours, my stiff fingers finally reached a point where I could no longer thread tippet through the eyes of my hooks, especially after tripping and catching myself with my hands in the snow.

It certainly wasn’t a day filled with grace. I only snapped one photo of a fish that day, and it was more out of a sense of duty rather than to capture the beauty of the moment.

There is a bit of irony to how much pressure I’ve put on myself to catch those big fish. Sure, some of it has been self-driven. I’ve always been a competitive person. I can’t help but dream of moments that would be worthy of a fly fishing magazine cover.

Clear, beautiful skies, sixty-five degrees in late April, and some snow capped mountains in the background fill the dream. In it I make a tricky, forty foot cast through complicated currents, drifting my dry to the mouth of a feeding trout. He sips it on the third drift and I come up tight on him.

We fight for a minute or so. I palm my reel until I can net him. It’s a brook trout, measuring 17 inches, with brilliant red spots and vibrant blue halos. I snap a quick photo.  The trout is only out of the water for a second, and then back he goes, to perpetuate the species.

brook trout driftless

Photo by Spencer Durrant.

I suppose social media has helped create a dissonance between the perception of catching fish and the actual catching of fish. We know that reality is not what we see in the digital world. Even so, we still allow it to permeate the possibilities of our own experience. It happens almost without our awareness, in a way that is both hard to control and to sequester.

When does the technology become so entwined in our lives that it becomes a mandatory part of the experience? When does the media experience become the foundation of the real experience?

When I returned home that evening I found that I had lost my beloved fly-box somewhere in that cold stream.  I took a photo of the empty pocket where my fly box normally sits. It never got posted to my Instagram account.

Two days later I returned to the stream bank and spent a couple of hours trudging through thick, tall, dead grass looking for my fly box.  I never did find it, but maybe not all fishing excursions need to conclude with a storybook ending.

Max is a new contributor to The Modern Trout Bum. He lives and fishes in Wisconsin. 

orvis helios 3 fly rod over a river

Gear Review: Orvis Helios 3

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
April 13, 2018

The Orvis Helios 3F 8’6″ 4wt is the best all-around trout rod for anglers in the Rockies.

Yes, I recognize that the “best” anything is subjective. Then again, the angling community has reached a consensus on the size 14 Adams and tan caddis as the two best dry flies of all time, right? Kidding aside, the new Orvis Helios 3 has the potential to become as widely accepted as those two timeless patterns.

Since I started fly fishing, Winston rods have been my go-to stick. The Orvis Helios 3 has a real chance to change that. The rod comes in two different designations — the 3F for “feel” and the 3D for “distance.” Performance differences exist between the two designations, but little changes in terms of rod design.

In fact, aside from the “NASCAR” sticker, as my buddy Sean Johnson dubbed it, nothing else about the appearance of an Orvis Helios 3 grabs your attention. If it’s on a rod rack next to something from Winston, Scott, Hardy, or Sage, it’d be easy to pass right over it. Hell, the H2 is more aesthetically pleasing than the H3.

But that’s what’s so great about the Helios 3. It’s a rod without the frills. It’s all business, built to cast straighter and deliver flies exactly where you feel they need to be. At $849, the Orvis Helios 3 is priced with the rest of the top-tier fly rods.

I put together a video review of the Orvis Helios 3, on top of the written review. If you like the video reviews, let me know! (@troutbumblog on Twitter/Instagram)

The Nitty-Gritty

What I Liked

Smooth Casting

From the moment I first fished this rod I fell in love with its effortless casting stroke. I’ve fished Winstons for so long for that same reason, and the Orvis Helios 3, in both the F and D configurations, casts superbly.

With the 8’6″ 4wt model, I didn’t notice exceptionally high line speed. A few of the faster Sage rods get a fly line moving quicker, but that’s partly to compensate for torsional stability. A slower line speed means a more relaxed, careful casting style, which the Orvis Helios 3 delivers admirably.


Orvis bills this rod as “accurate from anywhere.” In the hands of a competent caster, the H3 will absolutely sing. In the hands of an average angler like myself? Well, it felt a bit unfair – for the fish, of course –  that I could fling a dry-dropper rig beneath branches on the first try.

I will say that there’s a notable accuracy difference between this rod and most of my other 4-weights. Orvis engineered the H3 to track straight and wobble as little as possible, and those are two aspects of rod building that are universally accepted as impacting accuracy.

No Swing Weight

My buddy Hyrum fishes Sage rods like they’re going out of style. I broke his 9′ 4wt Sage X earlier this week, and offered to let him borrow a 4wt Winston while the X got repaired.

“Man, I don’t wanna downgrade,” was his reply.

And in some ways, he’s right. The first time I threw the X – and all subsequent times I’ve fished one of Hyrum’s – the lack of swing weight catches me off guard.

The Orvis Helios 3 is no different. You feel the line load on your front and back cast, but aside from that, the swing weight is nearly unidentifiable.

It’s Not Fancy

If you’re going to spend $849 on a fly rod, it might as well have some fancy accouterments, right? Well, just about every rod company would agree with you.

Orvis took things in a different direction with the H3, though. Instead of adding nickel silver, decorative wraps, or hand lettering, they slapped a matte gray finish on the H3F and spent the rest of the money on the blank.

It shows, because the Orvis Helios 3 outperforms nearly every other rod I own (my Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is the exception).

I love the fact that Orvis went all-in on making the best blank possible, creating a tool more than a piece of functional art. There’s something refreshing about the blue-collar attitude the H3 possesses. Aside from the high-grade cork, tight wraps, and even coats of epoxy, little else aesthetically points to the Orvis Helios 3 performing at the level it does.

What I Didn’t Like

No Hook Keep

The Helios 3 doesn’t come with a hook keep wrapped above the winding check. There’s a giant sticker in the way, so it’s understandable it’s not there. But there’s not a hook keep recessed under the reel seat hood, or elsewhere, for that matter.

Orvis Marketing Director Tom Rosenbauer told me they polled anglers on whether or not they wanted a hook keep. The response was split down the middle, so Orvis went without one.

It’s not a deal breaker, but I’d love to see the option for one on the rod.

Less Backbone

I know, I know – this is a review of a 4wt and I’m complaining about backbone. But hear me out. The Orvis Helios 3 fights fish well, and the way the rod flexes, you’re not going to break off light tippet unless you try.

But there’s not nearly as much backbone for casting my traditional dry-dropper-dropper rig. A three-fly rig is a standard setup in my part of the Rockies. Perhaps it was the line I was using – a true-to-weight WF4F from Scientific Anglers – but the Helios 3 didn’t turn over that big rig as easily as other 4-weights do.

Final Say

Lack of a hook keep aside, the Orvis Helios 3 is a stellar rod. I loved the H2, and so do tons of other anglers. Hell, John Gierach busted one out when he and I fished the Green River in March. But the H3 outpaces its predecessor by a mile. Smooth casting, no swing weight, and a no-frills blue-collar appearance combine to make it the best trout rod for the Rockies that I’ve ever fished.

Spencer Durrant is the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media, and a nationally-recognized fly fishing writer. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Public Lands

Is the Instagram Lifestyle Killing Fly Fishing?

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
April 11, 2018


The fishing community at large has a love-hate relationship with today’s Instagram lifestyle.

On one hand, it’s great to have the ability to share photos and video with thousands of other anglers. Seeing the creativity in how others capture the raw beauty of nature only spurs more innovation in outdoors media. Like all good things, though, there’s a downside to the modern Instagram lifestyle.

I should probably get this out of the way right now — I love social media, and I really love Instagram. 99% of the users there work to make fly fishing a better sport and community, and to raise awareness for conservation issues.

After reading an article from Ryan Hudson, owner and operator of the Wyoming Fishing Company, in Sweetwater Now, I was unfortunately reminded of the other 1% of fly fishing-oriented social media enthusiasts.

instagram lifestyle photo one

Photo by Spencer Durrant

Hudson’s article retells the story of a fishing guide from Colorado – who’s also a “brand ambassador” for a few fishing companies – who went to fish in Wyoming, caught a spawning brown trout off its redd, held it in the net for 20 minutes waiting for an entire photo crew got upriver to snap some shots.

Oh, and the guy didn’t have a fishing license, and left the scene of that indiscretion to fish part of the Green River that’s closed in the fall every year.

Hudson’s point in retelling the story wasn’t to single out the guide in question – though the poaching scumbag deserves it – but to highlight a growing problem within fly fishing:

Too many anglers are blinded by the opportunity to increase their Instagram lifestyle cred that fishing ethics and common sense go right out the window. Likes and follows mean more than being a responsible steward of the country’s fisheries. Being seen as the angler who makes a living fly fishing feels more important than respecting the fragile, finite natural resources we have.

Now I’m not trying to tell people how to live or how to fish. One of my best friends — Hyrum, who goes by @utah_on_the_fly on Instagram — is a stellar photographer. His Instagram profile gets tons of traffic, deservedly so. Hyrum has definitely cultivated an Instagram lifestyle that shows his passion and love for fly fishing.

Hyrum cares far more about the fish, and the places in which we find them, then he does in getting the “perfect shot” to share on Instagram. He’s yelled at me before because I’ve kept a fish in the net, or out of the water, too long. Half of what I know about photographing fish I’ve learned from watching Hyrum.

Photo by Hyrum Weaver

Ryan Kelly (@greenriverflyfisher on Instagram) is the best fly fishing photographer I know personally. Just like Hyrum, he’s yelled at me for not handling fish right during photo shoots. Ryan is a semi-retired guide on Utah’s Green River. The trout, the river, and the scenery have provided him with an income for about half of his life. But he’s also created a unique Instagram lifestyle that’s drawn the attention of dozens of national publications.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, it’s simple: there’s a right and wrong way to balance your social media enthusiasm with the natural resources you use to generate that content.

What the guide from Colorado did is inexcusable. And I’m not saying that the way Ryan and Hyrum live their Instagram lifestyle is the only right way to do that.

Photo by Ryan Kelly

But every angler worth their salt can agree that sacrificing the potential health of one fish isn’t worth it for a picture that we’ll all forget about in a few weeks.

As much as it may hurt to hear it, I’d say that yes, the Instagram lifestyle is hurting fly fishing. It’s hurting the entire outdoors industry too, but fly fishing is where I make my living. That’s where I see it most, and that’s where I know I, and my fellow content creators in this space, can make a positive difference.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum and Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.


Gear Review: Opinel Pocket Knife

By Spencer Durrant  | TMTB Managing Editor
April 5, 2018

Every angler needs a good pocket knife.

If you lose your nippers – which happens far to often for me to justify spending more than $5 on a pair – a pocket knife is a great backup. If you’re like me, though, you end up losing pocket knives as often as nippers!

Which makes the need for an affordable, but durable, pocket knife readily apparent. I’ve had my share of expensive knives, and they were great tools until I lost them. I hunt quite a bit, in addition to all of my fishing, and it feels like I’m buying new knives every year.

Enter Opinel. They’re based in France, making phenomenal products at a price point that doesn’t make your wallet cringe when you realize you lost another pocket knife. 

The folks at Opinel were kind enough to send along a few knives for review, and I’ve used them daily for the better part of two months. I have my favorite models, but there’s a consistent quality to every Opinel product that makes it easy for me to recommend them to other anglers.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good


The first thing I noticed about an Opinel was how light it felt for a pocket knife. The handle grabbed my attention in particular. Woodworking is a hobby of mine, but I couldn’t tell you what wood Opinel used. In my defense, though, I’ve never once worked with beech.

Most of their handles are beech, which is great because it’s so light. Half the time, I’d have the No. 7 in my pocket and forget it was there.

Blade Quality

For a pocket knife at this price point, I had some reservations about the blade quality. I’ve made a few knives in the past year (thanks to the TV show “Forged in Fire” I know how my own knife-building setup in my garage…) with 1075 high-carbon steel, and an old leaf spring.

The stainless steel blades on these Opinel knives are outstanding, especially for how cheap they are. Opinel sent me a No. 7, two No. 8s, a No. 10f, and an Eff. 15, and the blade quality was consistent across all five knives.

Two of those knives — the No. 7 and a No. 8 —  came with carbon steel blades. From a knife building perspective, I prefer the carbon blades for their durability.

Virobloc Safety Ring

The biggest difference between an Opinel pocket knife and something at a similar price point is the blade locking mechanism. At first, I wasn’t sold on the sliding ring that supposedly kept the blade from gouging my finger.

After more than a month of use, though? I haven’t had a problem. In fact, I think I prefer a sliding ring to the liner lock or lockback safeties popular in most American knives.

The Not-So-Good


The Opinel blades were really impressive. As with most factory knives, though, they either came not sharp enough, or quickly lot their edge.

Then I had to remember I was holding a $15 knife that’d likely field-dress an elk more effectively than some of my $50+ knives. A quick run on the whetstone gave me the edges I wanted, and so far the knives have all held it.

Inconsistent Safety Rings

This is a tiny issue, but worth noting. The Virobloc Safety Rings seem to vary in how flush they fit against the top of the knife handle. Some are almost too tight, while others are a bit loose. I don’t know if it has something to do with the specific models or not, but you’ll want to check that before buying one for yourself.

Final Word

Like I said earlier, every angler needs a good pocket knife. Those of us who still eat trout —  I’m proudly one of those anglers — like a dependable knife for gutting or filleting fish around a campfire. It’s also nice to have a backup to your nippers in the event that you lose them, or need to cut fly line, bushes, tree branches . . . I think you get the picture.

An Opinel pocket knife is a solid choice at a price point that won’t hurt your heart if you lose it. I don’t know how they’d hold up to field-dressing big game, but I’d be willing to carry one along on this year’s elk and deer hunts.

You can pick up an Opinel knife here.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum, and CEO/Owner of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.


Streamer Fishing for Trout: The 1-2 Punch

By Dan Parson | TMTB Staff Writer | Featured Photo by Spencer Durrant
March 17, 2018

Streamer fishing is a lot like boxing.

In boxing, the “one-two punch” is a nickname for a jab and cross combo designed to fake out your opponent and land a solid shot in the kisser.In streamer fishing, a somewhat similar approach can be effective.

Now, I’m not talking about chucking tandem streamers. This 1-2 punch involves two anglers, working together, in a systematic approach to catch big, meat-eating trout from any stream you’re fishing.

Here’s how it works.

line of streamers used for streamer fishing

Photo by Dan Parson

Lead with the single streamer

The lead angler is positioned in the front of the boat, or if wading, works down the run first. He or she throws a standard streamer rig, swinging runs and pounding banks and structures with quick casts and rapid retrieves – your classic style of streamer fishing.

For this style of fishing, I like a 7-weight with a 5 to 10 foot sink tip line, and a leader of 4 to 5 feet of 1x fluorocarbon loop knotted to a large streamer. Big flashy attention grabbing patterns work best for this approach. You’re not trying to match forage here. We want a fly that wakes fish up, gets them to move, and if not outright eat the thing at least check it out.

Call out what you see

The lead angler has to pay attention and call out all activity they see. Any bumps, follows, flashes or weird shadows ought to be described to the rear angler so he or she can respond. This is where the second half of the system comes into play.

cutthroat caught streamer fishing

Photo courtesy Dan Parson

Follow up with the indicator

The back angler fishes an indicator streamer rig. I like a 7-weight rod with a floating line, rigged with a simple football shaped foam indicator on a 7 1/2 foot 0X leader and a couple feet of 1X fluorocarbon tippet. To this, loop knot a heavy streamer that trails a smaller lighter offering behind it two feet or so. Think big, fluffy, leggy creations with lots of motion, paired with a smaller unweighted leech, bugger, crayfish, or flash minnow.

streamer fishing indicator rig

Photo by Dan Parson

The rear angler drifts this rig through fishy looking stuff with short quick strips, twitches and pops thrown in here and there. The idea is to make it look stunned and vulnerable. The football shaped indicator, which is just large enough to suspend the streamers, helps minimize surface disturbance and pulls more smoothly through the water when stripped.

A totally drag-free drift is not needed, or even desired. Just stay in contact and keep it low and slow. Strip set on every movement of the indicator, even if you’re sure it’s just bumping bottom.

Why bother with the bobber?

The idea here is simple. The lead angler is probably moving more fish than they are able to detect. While they should get their fair share of hook ups, many trout break away for one reason or another before they have a chance to fully commit. Those trout are worked up and excited to eat. When the rear anglers big wounded offering comes floating into their zone, they attack it.

This is improved further as the lead angler describes where they saw some action so the rear angler can refine the position of their rig and, hopefully mop up those fish that were missed the first time.

rainbow trout caught streamer fishing

Photo by Spencer Durrant

As in all streamer approaches, playing with patterns and retrieves throughout the day is critical to cracking the code of what the fish want. With two anglers throwing 2 to 4 different patterns, that code is usually sorted out a little faster.

This approach has worked well for me, becoming a standard technique in my day-to-day guiding. Give it a go next time you want to target those big flesh eaters.

Dan Parson is a schoolteacher and fishing guide in Green River, Wyoming.

tom morgan rodsmiths fly rod in the snow

Gear Review: Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8’6″ 5wt

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor                                                              
February 19, 2018

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths fly rod isn’t just a rod — it’s poetry in motion.

Discussing a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod is impossible without mentioning Tom and his lovely wife Gerri. The amount of teamwork it took for Tom and Gerri to build rods together is astounding — and I only witnessed it a bit over eight months ago.

Tom spent the last 20 years of his life battling MS. He was confined to his bed or wheelchair, in a home not more than ten minutes from the Lower Madison River. It was during these years, though, that he created the best graphite fly rods I’ve ever fished.

It took years for Tom to teach Gerri how to create rods that met his lofty expectations. Luckily for Tom, Gerri was a quick learner. While she’d sort cork based on color, or wrap guides, Tom kept dreaming up new tapers and innovative ways to make rods better. He was a wealth of knowledge which never ran dry.

Tom owned Winston in the late 70s through most of the 80s, responsible for the design of the glorious IM6 rods. If the Sage XP is the best all-around production rod (which it likely is) then the Winston IM6 is the best dry-fly production rod.

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod today is what those old IM6 rods may have turned into had Tom not sold Winston and struck out on his own.

In other words, they’re simply incredible fly rods.

This won’t be a normal gear review, simply because I haven’t found one thing about my Tom Morgan Rodsmiths that I don’t like.

Effortless Casting

I’ve done gear reviews for the better part of a decade now, and I think I’ve cast something like five dozen fly rods. Some of them were the latest and greatest, and some were antiques.

None are as smooth and effortless to cast as my Tom Morgan.

Tom and Gerri built me an 8’6″ 5wt, with an extra tip section. It’s a two-piece rod, because those are the best casting rods ever built. Loaded up with a double-taper line, the Tom Morgan Rodsmiths rod taper goes to work and throws tight, quick loops in a relaxed, purposeful way that few other fly rods can match.

Build Quality

The sticker price on a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is enough to make even the biggest gear nuts think twice.

The moment you hold one in your hands, though, all thoughts of $1,500 being too much for a graphite rod fly out the window. These are some of the prettiest rods I’ve ever seen.

What’s really interesting about a Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, though, is the fact that they don’t mass-produce rods. Instead, each rod is built to the specifications of an individual angler. When I ordered mine, I think it took Tom, Gerri, and I a half-hour to sort through all the different options I wanted with my rod.

The standards across all of their rods, though, include nickel-silver reel seat hardware, octagonal winding checks, and top-of-the-line chrome snake guides and tip-tops. They don’t use pre-shaped cork grips, either. Each grip is built from multiple cork rings, sorted for color and quality, and then shaped to an angler’s choice.

Unless you were to build your own fly rod, it’s impossible to get this level of customization from any other rod maker (except the bamboo and fiberglass artisans). The attention to detail alone is worth the price of admission.


Like I said earlier, I’ve fished a ton of fly rods. The new Hardy Zephrus Ultralite might be the best production dry-fly rod on the market right now, and the new Orvis H3 is uncannily accurate at distance.

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths doesn’t really specialize in one aspect of fly fishing, nor does it try to be a jack-of-all-trades. It’s just simply phenomenal at all the things you’d expect from a 5wt. Dries on still water to cruising trout? No problem.

Streamers against a Wyoming wind? The Tom Morgan Rodsmiths has your back.

String this rod up with a double-taper line, slow down your casting stroke, and you’ll realize you have the most accurate, delicate presentation fly rod you can buy.

In the months I’ve owned this rod, I haven’t found a single complaint in how well it presents flies to fish. Tom designed these rods for one purpose, and that’s pretty clear when you start fishing one.

The Best Fishing Rod I Own

A common theme that cropped up during my long talks with Tom was that he wanted his rods to be fished. I told him how I’d snagged an old pre-IM6 Winston (which he told me was built in 1977!) on eBay, and Tom’s first question was, “Have you fished it yet?”

As beautiful as these rods are, they’re meant to be fished. They’re like a great shotgun, honestly. You may not use it for every duck or chukar hunt, but it doesn’t sit in the closet and collect dust, either.

My Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is simply the best fishing rod I own. It’s so fun to cast, a joy to play fish on, and just plain gorgeous to look at. It’d be more of a crime to not fish one of these beauties.

When I went to pick my rod up from Tom’s home in Montana, he had one question for me before handing over the rod:

“Are you gonna fish that rod or hang it on a wall?” He asked.

I shrugged. “I’ll fish with it today, I know that much.”

“Fly rods are meant to be used,” Tom said. “And you better use that one.”

So, since May of 2017, I’ve followed Tom’s advice. The rod he built me is nothing short of magical. But what else can you expect from the father of the modern graphite fly rod?

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is something special, and if you’re ever in the position to buy one, do it. You’ll never regret it.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, TROUT Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.


How to Cook Trout – The Right Way

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
February 7, 2018

If you know how to cook trout — the right way — a night on the river turns into a trip to the grocery store.

I’m a big fan of hunting. Always have been, always will be. It’s a great conservation tool, and it’s the best way to put healthy meat on your dinner table. Done right, it can be cheaper than buying a year’s worth of meat at the store.

A lot of anglers hunt, both big and small game, but it’s surprising how few know how to cook trout, let alone catch, keep, and kill them on a regular basis.

how to cook trout hero image

Even more surprising is that anglers don’t grasp the ecological benefits of responsible, selective trout harvest (much in the same manner that big game harvest is permitted in most of the world).

Consider these words from Tom Hazelton from Hatch Magazine:

Fish are good food. No, not the grocery store’s dry-skinned bug-eyed farm-plumped rainbow trout, or the translucent, tasteless tilapia fillets, or the ethically-risky origin-unknown salmon. Instead consider these eight-to-ten-inch wild brown trout, lean and cold, delicious and nutritious, legally and ecologically sustainable. More than sustainable. On some streams, taking a few home is arguably ecologically beneficial.

On some streams, of course. It’s probably too obvious to mention, but not all fisheries can sustain catch-and-keep and not every angler can keep every fish they catch. Moderation in all things.

Because while food is the point, it’s not necessary to fill the freezer.

Now that the requisite ethical debate of killing trout is over, let’s dig into the meat of this post: how to cook trout.


99% of the trout I keep for food are big enough to fillet, but not so big that a standard pocket knife can’t do the job. I only make an exception here for kokanee salmon and lake trout.

Filleting fish is less work than gutting, and if your significant other doesn’t love the idea of a fish sans head and tail in the oven, fillets are the way to go.

I also feel they’re easier to season, marinade, and serve alongside other food than a gutted fish.

Seasoning and Marinade

Telling someone how to cook trout only works to a point; seasoning and marinade is that point.

Given that I’m a perennially broke trout bum, I eat a ton of fish. On the rare occasion I share, folks usually make some comment about, “not liking that fishy taste.”

So if you want to mitigate the fishy taste, the following seasoning recipe is one I’ve used for years to convince folks who think they don’t like fish that they actually do:

  • Garlic powder
  • Chopped onions
  • McCormick Grillmates Chipolte Bacon seasoning
  • Black pepper
  • Salt

Sprinkle a fair amount of garlic powder on the fillets. This helps pull the fishy taste from the meat. Then use the rest to balance out what sort of flavor you want. I tend to go heavy on the chipotle bacon, but that’s just me.

If you’re less concerned about the fishy taste and want a good marinade, I suggest:

  • Sawtooth Skyline Red Wine
  • Crushed garlic
  • Chopped onions

Fill a bowl with a fair amount of Sawtooth Red (this wine has a fly fisherman on the label, and an Adams embossed on the stopper. While I don’t drink, I’d say this is a must-have wine for anglers who like wine-based meat marinades), and the crushed garlic and onions to the desired taste. Fewer onions and less garlic means more of the wine’s natural flavors come through.


I’m a fan of the grill. Who isn’t? If you’re planning on grilling your fish, I’d suggest wrapping the fillets in tin foil before throwing them on the grill. Trout fillets tend to be a bit too thin and flaky to go right on the grill.

If you don’t have a grill, lay the fillets on tin foil spread across a cookie sheet (you won’t have to wash the sheet!). I put a bit of olive oil beneath the fillets to help reduce how much of the meat sticks. Preheat your oven to 450, cook for about 10 minutes, and enjoy!

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, TROUT Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 


Gear Review: Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 29, 2018


The Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack looks like a fanny pack.

But it’s a helluva lot more utilitarian.

I’ve always been a vest guy. I’ve tried sling packs and never found one I liked much. I’ve had the same Colombia PFG vest for half a decade now (birthday present from my dad) but the zippers are shot. I’d gone back and forth on what to replace it with, but decided to give a hip pack a try.

The Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack has the advantage of being waterproof, light, comfortable, and it stays out of the way (for the most part). Surprisingly, I didn’t much like it at first, but it’s grown on me in the month since I bought it.

But is it the right choice for your day on the water? Let’s break it down and take a look.

Image courtesy simmsfishing.com

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

100% Waterproof

Some days it feels like I spend more time behind the camera lens than I do with a rod in my hand (though I’m nowhere near the level of Ryan Kelly, one of the best photographers I know). The only problem there is that water and cameras don’t mix.

The Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack is the solution for anyone who wants total assurance their gear is as waterproof as it’s going to get.

The first day I had the Dry Creek Hip Pack, I took it out to Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, filled it with all of my favorite fly boxes, reels, and other gear, and dunked it in the river for a good 30 seconds.

Everything was bone-dry. As long as you get the roll-top closure system tight, you don’t have to worry about losing a camera, phone, or walkie-talkie to the water ever again.


I’ve always loved a vest because it’s such a comfortable design. That’s a big part of the reason it’s endured for so long.

The Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack is surprisingly comfortable. The padded shoulder strap helps reduce arm fatigue, and the padding on the belt and body-side of the pack itself are soft enough.

Add the waist belt and cross-shoulder strap to the equation, and you have a much better balance of weight than with a vest. Instead of weight hanging from your shoulders, it’s spread across your upper body and into the hips when wearing the Dry Creek Hip Pack.


I’m always the guy who brings “too much stuff” on a fishing trip.

Yeah, like that’s possible.

But the Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack has room for all your boxes, and then some. Seriously, the interior space may not look like much at first, but you could easily fit a day’s worth of food, a backpacking stove, matches, emergency blanket, and water bottle in there alongside a few boxes of flies and tippet.

The Not-So-Good

No Comparments

I may be picking at nothing here, but the trade-off you make for all the room in this pack comes at the expense of no compartments. Aside from an outer zippered pocket (which Simms has very loudly labeled not waterproof), and two internal mesh pockets, the rest of the pack is completely open.

All that room makes it easy for tippet, small boxes, floatant, split shot, and anything else to end up on the bottom of the bag. Digging around to find the gear you need isn’t fun, and it takes away from time on the water.

Needs adjustment

The first few times I took the pack out, I knew I’d tinker with tightness of the shoulder and waist straps. A month later, I’m doing the same thing.

It’s just the nature of how Simms built this pack; Velcro nylon stoppers keep the nylon buckle straps from tightening past your chosen setting, but it doesn’t keep them from loosening. Likewise, the shoulder strap always seems to need a tweak or two before it’s ready to rock.

Final Word

The Simms Dry Creek Hip Pack is a stellar piece of gear at a reasonable price. $129.95 isn’t too much to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing your gear is always dry. It’s comfortable, has more than enough room for all your flies on the water, and you could use it as a day pack if needed.

The only knocks on it are the lack of compartments and need for constant adjustment. If you think this is the pack for you, visit your local fly shop to try one on.

related content cta

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, TROUT Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 


Protect What’s Left

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 9, 2018


The world is quickly running out of wild places.

I’m about to step on a soapbox, and I’ll be here for a while. If you don’t want to read about conservation and the logic behind protecting what’s left of America’s wild places, well, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

It’s a sad day, I think, when the mantle of conservation falls solely on the shoulders of folks like me. I’m not particularly influential or intelligent, and the thick Western drawl which accents my speech automatically destroys any credibility I may have built through my writing.

But if sportsmen and women across America won’t stand up for our wild places, no one will.

Check your partisan B.S. at the door; the discussion of saving our wild places is more important than loyalty to a set of ideals that changes every four years based on the whims of folks so out-of-touch with society that they think a visit to Martha’s Vineyard counts as being in the great outdoors.

I stepped on my soapbox after a disturbing report from the local Fox affiliate here in Salt Lake City detailed the plans a private group has to build an entire city of islands on top of Utah Lake.

The rest of that thread is worth reading if you’re a Utah native, but the gist of it is this: when are we ever going to learn from historical mistakes? Whenever we try to alter the environment to suit our wants, it doesn’t work out – for the environment, or us.

Utah Lake is a vitally important part of Utah’s environment. It’s a sprawling 98,000-acre puddle that isn’t much to look at these days.

Back in the day, though, it housed cutthroat trout in excess of 40 pounds. Per research compiled by Richard A. Heckman, Charles W. Thompson, and David A. White, Utah Lake’s trout were well-known to early Spanish explorers. a vital food source for the Native American tribes in what is modern-day Utah Valley, and provided valuable sustenance to early Mormon pioneers in the mid-1800s. The cutthroat grew in excess of 40 pounds, and the water was crystal-clear. One report even reads that the Provo River (Utah Lake’s largest tributary) got so full of spawning cutthroat trout in the spring that you could walk across the river on the backs of the fish.

That’s all gone now because the pioneers harvested every last pound of trout from the lake. Once the trout were gone, carp were introduced to feed the booming Asian and Hispanic populations working on the railroads in the West, and the gold mines in California (information that’s all included in the above-linked research).

I don’t blame the pioneers. They didn’t know better.

We do. And if we let stuff like this happen on our watch, then we don’t deserve the wild places we have.

If you don’t think we can make a difference, look at what we’ve accomplished within Yellowstone. The park’s native cutthroat trout still face a lot of opposition, but their future is bright. 

Gray wolves were recently removed from the endangered species list. A controversial decision, but one that shows their populations are stable enough that carefully-managed hunting will ensure the management and conservation of the species.

Here in Utah, Bonneville cutthroat were thought to be extinct until they were discovered in some tiny headwater streams in the late 70s. Now, Bonnies swim all over their native range – so much so, in fact, that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Trout Unlimited partnered to offer a cutthroat slam program for Utah’s four native cutthroat subspecies.

We can – and do – make a difference when we put our collective effort behind improving our wilderness. Angry, inflammatory rhetoric won’t get us anywhere Calm discussion and the willingness to compromise, work with the other side, and common sense will carry us through this ordeal.

Or, we can sit around and let developers act like monkeys in a banana factory, building cities on lakes left and right.

Yeah, that last bit was inflammatory rhetoric. I’ll admit when I’m wrong, but I hope it makes a point.

Stand up for what’s left. There’s not much of it, and if you want the America tradition of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation to continue, you can’t count on others to do the heavy lifting in your stead.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, TROUT Magazine, and other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 

echo carbon xl handle only

Gear Review: Echo Carbon XL

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 7, 2018


Echo makes arguably the best price-point fly rods on the market.

Finding a good price-point rod isn’t as hard as it used to be. Just over the past half-decade since I started doing gear reviews, I’ve seen a huge jump in the quality of rods in the sub-$300 market. You’re not limited to whatever entry-level rod Sage has, or an unwieldy glass stick. Just about every company – even Winston – has a rod built for the angler who doesn’t need a $600+ fly rod.

Echo takes that idea to the extreme, with their flagship Echo 3 running $349.  Their Bad Ass Glass rods are pretty popular out here in Utah, and I’ve always wanted to spend some time with Tim Rajeff’s line of budget-friendly rods.

So right after Christmas, I picked up a new and 10’6wt Ion XL (review on that coming later!) and figured I’d dedicate the next three weeks to fishing just that rod.

The Carbon XL surprised me with its performance on the few spring creeks that still have open water, as well as larger tailwaters like the Provo River. It’s a fast-action stick with great backbone, and surprising feel out to about 40 – 50 feet.

It’ll cost you a whopping $149 to own a Carbon XL, and I don’t think I’ve yet come across a better bang-for-your-buck value at that price. The only rod that stacks up evenly with the Echo Carbon XL is the Redington Classic Trout. The Classic Trout is the same price, but a much softer rod than the Carbon XL.

With that said, my top recommendation for a beginner’s rod – or a rod for those who simply don’t spend enough time on the water to justify spending $300+ on a graphite stick – is the Echo Carbon XL.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Angler-Friendly Fast Action

Fast-action rods are usually the best for beginners to learn on. They’re far easier to cast than a delicate dry-fly rod or a thick streamer stick.

The Carbon XL is a very crisp, stiff rod, with only about the top quarter of the rod flexing under the pressure of a fish. That being said, the rod does a good job of transferring energy throughout the shaft, and a seasoned angler will quickly pick up on the rod’s casting rhythm.

Good Line Control

One of my biggest knocks on most price-point rods is their lack of line control, due to a tip that doesn’t track well (or more often, at all). Torsional stability is important in any rod, and while the Echo Carbon XL won’t win any awards for how it tracks, it’s much better than what I expected. I didn’t have to worry about my loops going too far to the left or right during my cast, and the stiff rod gave me more ability to throw longer mends into complex currents.

Surprisingly Soft Presentation

For a rod as fast and lively as the Carbon XL, I wasn’t expecting much when I tied on some small dries and hit my favorite close-to-home spring creek.

The rod surprised me by laying flies down with reasonable delicacy, and it even casts off the tip softly. I prefer to fish a dry-dropper-dropper rig, and the Carbon XL didn’t have a problem turning that over without making a big ruckus on the water.

The Not-So-Good


Remember that this rod retails fro $149. Any aspersions about its weight need to be taken in that context. With that said, however, the Carbon XL is a heavier rod both in hand and on the swing.

It’s not so heavy that you think you’re throwing glass or bamboo, but it’s heavy enough to remind you (all day) that it’s there.

Long Leaders

Surprisingly, the Carbon XL didn’t turn over longer leaders as I expected. I still had to give it a bit of a haul if I threw anything longer than 10 feet (that’s with fishing Airflo Forge on the rod) to not risk my flies piling on top of each other. It’s frustrating, but not a deal-breaker.

Final Word

The Echo Carbon XL is a great rod for $149. If I had to recommend one sub-$200 rod to beginning or casual anglers, this rod is right up there with the venerable Fenwick Aetos. Its angler-friendly action and surprising ability to handle small, tight water will earn it favor with guides across the country.

It’s a great rod for its price, and one of the best price-point rods I’ve ever fished.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 


2017 In Review

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 3, 2018


2017 was a year of fly fishing I’ll never forget.

More than once, I had what would’ve been my new personal best trout on the line – if only I’d managed to land it. I made my first trip to Montana, met the late Tom Morgan and his lovely wife (now widow) Gerri Carlson, and bought a rod from arguably the greatest rod builder of all time.

I finally cracked the code to fishing a river in Idaho that, for the past few years, never yielded its trout for capture. My buddies Hyrum and Alex took me on my first trip to the top of the Wind River Mountains, and I got to fish in Oregon twice with Mysis Mike Kingsbury.

Some of the waters John Gierach has written about his entire career now have their names in my fishing journal. The St. Vrain, Big Thompson, and Cache le Poudre hosted my best friend Lander and I for long fall days of fly fishing Colorado’s Front Range.

A common theme through my favorite moments of 2017 is the fact that I shared them with others. Whether it was the three straight days of afternoon callibaetis hatches on Boulder Mountain, or winter midges on the Middle Provo, someone else was along for the ride.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. The people I’ve met through fly fishing – and consequently, the places I’ve seen because of those people – have all changed my life for the better in one way or the other.

I keep a pretty detailed fishing journal. It’s both a vain and scientific effort; vain in the sense that I make sure to note how many fish I catch, their size, and the species. It’s scientific because I note the flies I used, which ones worked, water conditions, weather, rigs, tippet, line, and rods used so the next time I fish that water I’m actually able to remember what I learned.

According to my fishing journal, I:

  • Caught 609 fish in 2017
  • Fished 148/365 days
  • Caught an average of 4.1 fish per day on the water
  • My biggest fish was a 26-inch, 7-pound cutthroat trout

Nothing about that is impressive, and I don’t share it to boast (there’s nothing to brag about). Rather, I hope you’ll consider a fishing journal for 2018. At the very least your musings will end up as invaluable communication from you to your posterity.

With that said, let’s look at what we all really came here to see – pictures of some big-ass fish.


My first fish of the year came on January 7th.  Alex Patterson and I fished size 24 and 26 parachute midge patterns (courtesy of brilliant fly tier and designer Ryan McCullough) to rising trout. There was three feet of snow on the ground.


My buddy Clark and I made it out a lot earlier this year, and one trip in particular was the best we’ve ever had on this particular piece of water.


Remember to look up once in a while. One of the best parts of any fly fishing trip is the gorgeous country we’re privileged to see.


My first trip on the water after moving into my new house was to the Green River – 4 hours away from where I live! The fishing was typically spectacular, though. I have to thank Ryan Kelly and his lovely wife Amber for putting me up in their home in Dutch John, and to Ryan for rowing me down the river so many times this year.


The bighorn sheep had to make an appearance that frosty day on the Green.


I finally got my first fish mounted! Troy Peterson, of True Life Taxidermy, completed the work on the fish and rocks. My buddy Chad and I built the base from a solid plank of walnut in Chad’s wood shop.


My good buddy Mysis Mike and I caught the annual run of big rainbow trout at Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We both caught 50 fish that day.


Thanks to Dan Parson – one of the best guides I’ve ever had the opportunity to fish with, and a man I’m honored to call my friend – I was able to fish this stretch of river that, until recently, I’d never set foot in.


2017 was a great water year for the Colorado River drainage. This picture shows the bypass tubes at the Flaming Gorge Dam operating at full capacity – raising the CFS of the Green River to a monstrous 8,600 for a few months.


This is one of the few photos I took in 2017 of which I’m proud.


My buddy Clark strikes again with another stellar catch! I’m glad Clark brings me along to be his net man on fishing trips. The guy can whisper to the water.


Clark’s tiger is good enough for another shot!


I met Tom for the first time in 2017, though we became friends in late 2015. He died about a month after this photo was taken, but his wife Gerri and I still talk occasionally, though our conversations center more around books than fly fishing these days. Tom and Gerri are two of the greatest, brilliant, giving people I’ve ever met. They changed fly fishing in many ways, and for that they have my thanks.


My buddy Blair snapped this shot of me with my first fish off the Madison River! This was right above Three Dollar Bridge. Montana didn’t disappoint on the first go-round.


My buddy Hyrum is one of the best fishermen I know. He caught almost 100 fish in one day on this trip. I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t been along for the ride, counting each fish as it came to the net.



This was the fish of 2017! A 26-inch, 7-pound cutthroat pulled from some heavy spring runoff. The trout and I fought for a half-hour as it drug me downriver to a lake, where I finally got it in my hands.


Mysis Mike and I found ourselves a lake with an incredible callibaetis hatch and plenty of hungry splake trout.


2017 was an interesting year for politics, and i had the opportunity to sit down with Spencer Cox, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, to discuss pubic lands, river access, and the heritage of sportsmen across the country. Lt. Governor Cox was refreshingly honest, and I didn’t feel like I’d spent an hour of my day talking to a politician. Cox is a level-headed, intelligent, down-to-earth leader, and if he continues to serve in Utah’s leadership I’m confident the future of outdoor recreation in the Beehive State is in good hands.


Montana, take two! With my great friend Blair. What a day of fishing that was with soft-hackle flies and 2-weight rods.


I watched Hyrum catch 98 fish in one day on this trip. He had to stop and catch his breath before catching another dozen trout before the sun went down.


If you’ve never seen the gorgeous art from Tim Johnson, do yourself a favor and browse his work. He’s the genius behind the Timmy Grips, and designed quite a few pieces of fishing apparel for Orvis. For whatever reason Tim thinks I’m good company, and we had a blast in 2017.


Alex and his wife are two of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and I had the pleasure of accompanying Alex and Hyrum on this trip deep into the Wind River Mountains.




The Wind River Mountains are incredible. And Hyrum took his sunglasses off and looked at the camera for the first in 2017 during this photo.


Mike is one of my favorite fly fishing models. He just knows how to strike a pose.


Ryan Kelly is the most talented photographer I’ve ever worked with. He worked his magic in this photo by managing to make me not look like an idiot while I tried to hold two slippery fish for the camera.


I got to introduce my buddy Cory to fly fishing this year. He took to it rather well – and quickly, too.


You’re not seeing things – that’s really a cutthroat with a hopper in its mouth with SNOW ON THE GROUND. How cool is that? I went up my local stream right after the first snowstorm of 2017. I usually fish a dry-dropper-dropper rig year-round, and it just so happened the rod I had rigged up that day was a big ol’ Chernobyl ant. Apparently the fish didn’t care that it was too cold and late in the year for hoppers – I caught three fish on that fly in an hour.


Tim Johnson making the first of many casts during a two-day trip to Pyramid Lake.


Tim caught the best fish of the trip, too.


My last fish of 2017 was this little rainbow trout from Lees Ferry. A pretty solid way to end what was a spectacular year on the water.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 




An Old Friend

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
October 11, 2017

A good fly rod is just as valuable — if not more so — than a good fishing buddy.

Fishing buddies come and go, much in the same way that early-season blue-winged olive hatches give way to pale morning duns and caddis with the change of seasons.

A good fly rod sticks around for as long as you’re willing and able to fish. Unlike a fishing buddy, a fly rod is along for every single adventure. It’s there for all the big fish — and the bigger ones that got away. Thankfully a fly rod can’t speak up around the campfire or at the bar when you take creative liberties in recounting just how large the fish was that you didn’t land.

Fly rods are, in no small way, a testament to an angler’s life on the water. They’re like an old friend who knows your secrets, the one to whom you turn for advice, and to whom you could never lie.

winston boron iiix in snow

Is it a stretch to anthropomorphize a fly rod? Maybe. But as a self-proclaimed gear-junkie and antique rod aficionado, I’d be lying if I said I never felt some sort of friend-like connection to a fly rod.

I have a Winston Boron IIIx that, until recently, was my go-to rod for nearly every day on the water. Its soft action and relaxed casting stroke match the laid-back style of fly fishing that permeates the Rocky Mountains.

That Boron IIIx was my first “nice” rod, so I doubt I’ll ever lose my fondness for it. Your first nice fly rod is a lot like your first fun car — it’s not entirely practical, and a cheaper option would work just as well, but dammit if it ain’t fun to own one.

My first fun car was a Camaro. $8,000 and a slew of repairs later I sold the car to some punk in high school who’d just received his license. As I watched him pull out of my driveway in the cherry-red Camaro still sporting a rainbow trout decal on the hatchback window, a vindictive part of me hoped the engine with 208,000 miles would give out on the kid before he had too much fun with it.

My Winston Boron IIIx hasn’t been back to Twin Bridges yet, save for the few trips I’ve made up there to fish the Ruby or the Beaverhead. It’s still plugging along, casting as well as it did the day I bought it.

winston boron iiix on log

After I sold my Camaro I settled into an SUV and tried to not feel like a mommy blogger while driving around Utah (a state known for its huge families, disturbing affinity for minivans, and outrageous amount of mommy bloggers per capita). I’ve never forgotten the thrill of driving that Camaro, and I doubt I ever will.

More than once, though, I’ve taken my Winston for granted. A few years ago I had the opportunity to start reviewing fly fishing gear on a consistent basis, and for a while I fished more review-model rods than ones I’d purchased myself. From Orvis to Hardy and every maker in between, I fell headfirst down the rabbit hole. Without a girlfriend, wife, kids, or other costly relationship to stop me, I bought new fly rods with reckless abandon.

A Tom Morgan Rodsmiths 8’6″ 5wt, Winston IM6 8’3wt, Winston pre-IM6 8’6″4wt, Winston Nexus 9’7wt, Orvis Helios 2 8’6″5wt, Fenwick Fenglass 6’3wt, Winston WT TMF 8’4wt, and some miscellaneous bamboo and graphite rods later, I hadn’t really fished my Boron IIIx for a while.

So earlier this year, after finishing reviews on new rods from Hardy, I picked up my old friend and set out for the Green River.

I cut my teeth on the stretch of river below Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Not long after I bought my Boron IIIx I took it to the Green for an outing that’d really break the rod in.

winston boron iiix header

Two and a half days of fishing yielded exactly one rainbow trout. No other bites, missed fish, or trout taking my fly and tippet with them upstream. Just one bite, and one fish.

Of course my buddy Mike stood 30 or 40 feet away and put fish after fish in the net, but that’s just how Mike is.

This most recent trip to the Green, though, stands out not because I caught a lot of fish, or a particularly large one at that. Rather, as I walked the well-worn trail from Little Hole up to Coney Island, I sight-fished to rising trout. I felt the rod come alive in my hands, and after the dozenth fish in two hours I sat down for a bite to eat and some water.

I glanced at the Winston, gleaming in the sunlight, and cracked a grin.

That day felt like fishing with my oldest and dearest friend. And in a way, that’s entirely what happened.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, TROUT Magazine, and various other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 

brown trout caught streamer fishing

How to Get Better at Streamer Fishing

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image by Ryan Kelly
November 14, 2017


For the longest time I wasn’t a big fan of streamer fishing.

I didn’t get the appeal. I watched videos of guys nailing huge trout on streamers, but it never looked fun enough to actually do. Those giant rods and huge flies made my shoulder hurt just looking at them.

Then I spent a day with two of the best streamer fishermen I’ve ever seen, let alone met, and my attitude changed.

streamer fishing for brown trout

What I learned from that day on the water has changed everything about how I fly fish. I always have a few streamers along now, and some thicker fluorocarbon tippet and sinking line. When my usual favorites aren’t hitting, I’ll pull out the streamers and get to work. Hell, sometimes they’re my first choice now.

I’m far from an expert at streamer fishing, and I still have a ton to learn. What I’ve learned so far, though, has made me better a streamer fishing, and none of the tips or techniques I’m just starting to get the hang of are advanced. I’m a decidedly middle-of-the-pack angler skill-wise, which means if I can feel confident with these tips, an average fisherman should see his streamer fishing success skyrocket.

Use the right gear

I’m a big gear nerd. I have more fly rods than most folks do house plants. That being said, I’m fully aware great gear can’t turn an average fisherman into a good one; I’m living proof of that.

Just as dry fly fishing is a specialized niche within fly fishing, so is streamer fishing. You wouldn’t use an 8wt to chuck size 24 midge patterns at rising trout; you likewise wouldn’t use a 2wt to throw articulated streamers.

My go-to setup is a Winston Nexus 9′ 7wt paired with a Hardy Ultralite ASR 7000 reel and Orvis Hydros HD Power Taper WF line. It’s a great rig to throw streamers from a drift boat or from shore.

streamer fishing on the green river

Get deep

Something I learned from watching my two buddies – Ryan Kelly and Charley Card – fish streamers is how important it is to get your fly down to the fish. It feels a lot like nymphing in the sense that you want your fly to go to the fish, as opposed to dry fly fishing where you get the fish to come to your fly.

I use about a 5-foot length of sinking line I just looped onto the end of my floating line, with another 3-4 feet of fluorocarbon line. I don’t use tippet; just a level piece of 8 or 10-pound test. Ryan fishes that way and it’s rubbed off on me.

Go slow

The first few times I went streamer fishing on a river, I made the classic mistake of stripping line in way too fast. Yes, it’s important to keep a tight line between your streamer and your reel, but ripping the fly at twice the speed of the current isn’t going to catch you many fish.

Ryan and Charley, master anglers they are, would throw their flies into the seams, pockets, and pools along the Green River and just . . . well, casually retrieve them. While they stripped line in the way you might take a walk with your significant other (slowly and deliberately) I stood in the bow of the drift boat trying to see how fast I could wear out my shoulder.

As soon as I slowed down my retrieve, I hooked into a fish.

ryan holding a fish he caught streamer fishingRyan Kelly (@greenriverflyfisher) with a nice Green River brown caught on a streamer.

Don’t trout set

This is hands-down the most important tip I learned from Ryan and Charley. A traditional trout set is performed by holding slack line in your non-casting hand (usually the left) tight and lifting up with the rod.

That doesn’t work with streamers.

You’ll need to strip-set if you want to hook and land any of the fish that swipe at your fly.

The guys from Gink & Gasoline know their stuff, and this is a great example of how to strip-set versus a traditional “trout set.”

I’m far from any kind of expert streamer fisherman. I still have a ton to learn, and as Ryan and Charley can attest, it’ll take me some time.

But if you’re thinking about swinging streamers throughout the rest of fall and into whatever winter we end up with this year, these tips are a pretty good starting point.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and outdoors columnist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, TROUT Magazine, Hatch Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

fly tying tips october caddis

Fly Tying Tuesday: October Caddis Nymph

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
September 26, 2017

Fall is finally here.

As any trout bum knows, with fall’s arrival comes fly tying season. During the peak months of angling I often tie just to replace what I’ve lost over the course of a week’s fishing.

This fly tying tutorial, from Tim Flagler at Tight Line Videos, is a great way to kick off both the fall fly tying and fishing season. These European-style nymphs work miracles when fished on a Euro rig, and are nearly as effective with the traditional bobber-and-fly setup.

Tie a few of these up, head out to your local bit of water, and see what kind of trout you can scare up with this fly. If you want to give European nymphing a try, then I suggest starting with this film from Lance Egan, Devin Olsen, and Gilbert Rowley. The film is an in-depth look at the techniques Lance and Devin use while competing for Team USA Fly Fishing. This fishing style is effective enough to have helped Lance earn a silver medal a couple of years ago at the International Fly Fishing Championships.

If you’re looking for good deals on fly tying materials, check out the selection of feathers, fur, and assorted accoutrements available at Fly Fish Food. I spend a lot of time at the shop, looking at hackle and hooks. In fact, Fly Fish Food has one of the best selections of hackle I’ve ever seen.

Tight lines, and happy tying, everyone!

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Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, sports writer, and novelist from Utah. He’s also the Managing Editor for The Modern Trout Bum. He contributes regularly to nationally-renowned fly fishing publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

korkers hatchback wading boots

Gear Review: How Korkers’ New Wading Boots Shape Up After 6 Months Of Use

By Spencer Durrant |TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image by Ryan Kelly
September 19, 2017

Korkers makes the best wading boots on the market.

That’s my opinion and I’ll stand by it until I’m proven wrong. The issue regarding the interchangeable soles on Korkers boots has long since been addressed – they no longer pop off when presented with the slightest resistance like mud or snow.

When their new Hatchback boot came out, though, I wasn’t completely sold. In a review I wrote for Hatch Magazine, I was frank in my complaints about the boots. They were too stiff, and not the boot I’d pick for long days of hiking and wading deep into the Rocky Mountain backcountry.

They’re still stiff, but they feel broken in now. And I haven’t used a different pair of wading boots since . . . well, I honestly don’t remember.

The Hatchback is a good boot. I still think the Darkhorse is the absolute best value wading boot on the market, but if you’re looking for premium comfort and rock-solid stability, look no further than the Hatchback. Once you break them in, you’ll have a hard time breaking out of the habit of wearing them. At $239.99, they’re priced comparably to other top-tier wading boots. They’ll last longer – in theory – though, due to the interchangeable sole system.

Image by Ryan Kelly.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good


Korkers hasn’t let me down yet as far as durability goes, but the Hatchback is a new take for wading boots altogether. I usually spend 175+ days on the water each year. Those hard days on the water are evident in one glance at my gear. So the short of it is that I’ve put my boots through the wringer, and they still don’t show signs of wear. I’m talking 10+ mile hikes just to get to a river, plus wading in big water like the Blackfoot and Rock Creek in Montana. Through all of that, the Hatchback has remained strong and ready for action. I don’t see these failing me from a durability standpoint anytime soon.


The biggest draw – aside from the rear-entry system – of the Hatchback is the support it offers. Wading boots are notorious for being either too soft and putting your ankles at risk of getting turned, or too stiff that one wrong step sends you in the drink. Recently though, manufacturers have made big strides in finding that balance between supportive and flexible.

My initial, and foremost, complaint about the Hatchback six months ago was how the boot was just too stiff.

After six months of hard use, though, I’d say they’re just right. I haven’t had ankle problems in these boots, and that’s coming from someone who can (and does) roll ankles on level pavement.

Rear-Entry Comfort

I honestly thought putting the BOA cable system on the back of the boot would be a misfire, like the Simms boots that had the laces on the side.

Was I wrong? You bet.

I haven’t seen any less or more wear and tear on the BOA cables since they moved to the back of my boot. They look like they should after 90 some-odd days on the water.

I was also wrong about the comfort of the rear-entry system. I didn’t think it made that big of a deal, but I laced up my trusty Devil’s Canyon boots a few weeks ago while a buddy tried my Hatchback boots before buying some. Getting the boots on and off was much easier with a rear-entry system. I didn’t have to bend over as far, which is a huge plus. For a guy with a bad back and a Mtn Dew gut a West Virginian would envy, that’s saying something.

The Hatchback wading boots are surprisingly comfortable on long hikes in the backcountry. Photo by Blair Piippo.

The Not-So-Good


I didn’t notice this at first, but when I swapped over to my Devil’s Canyon boots, I realized just how heavy the Hatchback is. It’s not a deal breaker, mind you – but you’ll feel it in your thighs and calves the next day if you walk any decent distance in these bad boys.

Tight Laces

This may just be a result of using the boots a ton, but the BOA laces don’t feel like they get quite tight enough to hold my foot as securely in place as I’d like. Part of that may also be due to the thinner neoprene boots on my new waders, but it’s worth noting. I have had the laces loosen during a day of fishing as well.

Final Word

Being wrong about a piece of gear doesn’t always turn out this well. In my case, though, I’m glad my first impressions of the Hatchback were wrong. They’ve quickly turned into my go-to pair of wading boots, and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a top-tier boot. Don’t let the price scare you, either. You’re paying for a quality product and the absolute best customer service I’ve encountered in the fly fishing industry. Korkers goes above and beyond to take care of their customers.

Go try a pair on at your local fly shop and let me know what you think via Twitter or Facebook.

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to The Modern Trout Bum and never miss another post.

Spencer Durrant is the Managing Editor of TMTB. He’s also a nationally-recognized fly fishing and outdoors writer. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

fly fishing art cutthroat trout

The Art Within Fly Fishing

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image Courtesy Bob White
July 31, 2017 

Cold water lapped at my feet while I waited for my buddy Ryan to walk back to the boat.

The frenzy of other boats launching, guides asking clients to watch rod tips, and the general chatter of a boat ramp on a Saturday morning filled the air.

I tuned most of it out, though, instead staring at the canyon walls I’ve seen at least a hundred times before.

green river canyon fly fishing art

No matter how many times I float the Green River below Flaming Gorge, the beauty of that canyon catches me off guard. There’s always a new detail I see, some facet of the environment that I never quite noticed before.

It’s those tiny details that highlight the art within fly fishing. Often, you’ll hear fly fishing referred to as an art, but that’s not quite accurate. The act of fly fishing is artistic only in its role as a silent, contemplative way to appreciate the natural beauty of God’s creations. It’s like touring the Louvre – you’re constantly surrounded by art, enamored with it, uplifted in some cases. But you’ll never hold a brush to canvas and create something worthy of hanging in that gallery.

fly fishing art gierachImage courtesy Bob White.

Noticing – and perhaps just as importantly, communicating – the art that surrounds fly fishermen is largely responsible for the fly fishing writing, photography, and painting seen today. Every writer, photographer, and artist conveys, in their own way, how the natural art within fly fishing affects their life.

Few people do that job as well as Bob White.

An Artist’s Take On Art

About a week ago, I had the chance to talk with Bob for the better part of an hour. Like a lot of folks, I became acquainted with his art from the illustrations accompanying John Gierach’s columns in Fly Rod and Reel Magazine. (For those who haven’t heard, John and Bob’s columns/illustrations are being revived thanks to the effort of the good folks at TROUT Magazine.) Since then, I’ve come to appreciate Bob’s art not just for its beauty, but also for the constant reminder it is of the lifestyle.

“People keep things around that remind them of what they love,” Bob said when I asked why he thinks art is still relevant today.

leaping trout fly fishing artImage courtesy Bob White

Even in this era where fly fishing’s popularity has exploded and its highbrow image yanked down to earth (or as close as it’s likely to ever get), anglers still want paintings when they could just as easily print and frame a photo at Wal-Mart. The fact that fly fishing art’s quality has increased exponentially with the growth of the sport speaks to the impressive nature of modern angling artists.

“I could name 50 different fly fishing artists right now,” Bob said. “Back when I started, I could list maybe five. The quality is up, and you have people really pushing the boundaries and exploring what we can do in this sphere. That wasn’t typically done back when I started.”

Pushing the boundaries wasn’t typically done 30 years ago because all the fly fishing magazines were illustrated by painters and artists just like Bob.

fly fishing art rainbow troutImage courtesy Bob White

“We didn’t run with photos (in magazines) back then,” Bob said. “They were too grainy.”

These days I can and do take magazine-quality photos with my phone.

Photography has made leaps ahead, but painting isn’t that far behind. I’d argue, in fact, that paintings are more impactful because so few people create them at a high level. Painting is a much more direct integration with our pursuit to understand the natural world in which we live. Much in the same way that the best guides are also the best fishermen, the best artists are the ones who know how to accurately communicate their view of the world through the subtle strokes of a brush.

“Every artist has something they want to communicate, and I try and do that with my paintings,” Bob said. “Specifically, I love reflected light. I don’t think you can find a piece I’ve done in the last ten years and not see reflected light in it.”

Bob’s favorite painting that shows his love for reflected light. He calls it “Evening Soft.” Image courtesy Bob White

Is there a deeper meaning to the reflected light Bob loves so much? Probably. But it’ll be different for everyone who sees it.

In the end, the reason we love fly fishing art boils back down to the same simple reason Bob first mentioned.

“At shows, banquets, things of that nature,” Bob said, “I get asked to donate paintings more than anything else.”

When I asked why that is, Bob replied without thinking, “Because it’s a constant reminder of what we love and why we love it.”

If you liked this piece, subscribe to The Modern Trout Bum and get new blog posts directly in your inbox.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

young boy fishing


By Dan Parson | TMTB Staff Writer 
July 24, 2017

I am a father.

People who knew me as a young man would likely be surprised by this fact as. I didn’t always have “good judgment,” and the idea I might be in charge of another person’s upbringing seemed like a great way to generate a serial killer. Or worse, a bait fisherman. Despite my best efforts, my son Colt has turned into a well-adjusted 19-year-old man ready to make his way in the world. It’s a pleasant surprise given the genetic deficits and lack luster parenting style he got. dan fishing with colt

From the time Colt was a baby I hauled the poor kid with me on every outing.  It never occurred to me not to float the river or roam the backcountry just because I would need to pack bottles and diapers.

I killed an elk once, high on a ridge about two miles from the truck. I had Colt strapped to my back in one of those baby carrier things. Sorting out how to get the animal and the baby home safe is a story for another day. Another time he fell fast asleep wrapped tight to my chest in my rain coat. A wicked thunderstorm forced me to anchor under an overhanging cliff 25 miles from anywhere. The hail pounded my back, wind screamed, and lightning crashed all around us. I knew he was awake when he started to giggle and a little hand emerged to grab my hat. I could tell scores more stories, but you get the idea.colt fishing

As he grew he never knew a life that didn’t involve sunrises, sudden storms, sleeping on the ground, and eating stuff city kids would think unfit for alley cats. Fly rods, guns, bird dogs, mud, blood, and sage-scented air were his earliest friends. He’s still a quintessential millennial, though, enjoying all the currency of that generation – social networking, video games, instant access to music and film. The timeless stuff is there too, though – grades, trucks, and girls. But when asked if he loves fishing as much as his old man he typically says, “I don’t know. We have just always done it. It’s who we are.”

That makes me feel pretty damn good.

His mom and I split up when he was 11 and she moved away.

We decided she would have him during the summers and most holidays, while I had him during the school year. Our time to fish at that point got  limited. We went when we could, but between school, winter storms, my guiding schedule, extracurricular activities, and hunting season (I love to hunt, but he is obsessed.) we probably fished together only a dozen times a year from ages 11 – 19. Days on the water with my boy are precious and likely to become more so as he heads off to college this fall.

He’s a rather competitive lad and always wants to “out fish” me. He’s come close a few times, but at the end of the day we always felt like we had, more or less, about the same level of success. Now, I’m no fish counter – that’s a trait most of us thankfully out grow at some point. But who wasn’t a little that way when they were 18 or 19 years old? Come on – be honest.

dan and colt fishing again

One day this past January Colt and I were on the water.

Colt slept the whole drive up, waking only when we slid, bounced and rattled down the rough, snow packed 2-track that led to the put in. It had stormed hard, really hard, the day before which meant we were breaking trail to the put in.  After a series of unfortunate events, including getting stuck four times in less than ½ a mile, a flat on the boat trailer, and a lot of digging, pushing, swearing and general mayhem we finally launched. It was 11 instead of 8, which sucked, but as we finally got the boat headed down river a few midges came out and we saw some isolated rises. The river was just waking up. We decided 8 would have been to early anyway, strung rods and got to work. Colt was in the bow and I was rowing. He hadn’t slung line since October so he was rusty, but it didn’t take long for him to make reasonable presentations. Right away he tagged a whitefish, then another, and another. We reasoned we would need to sort through these to find some trout, and that was the case. Colt stuck a small rainbow that jumped and threw the hook, then landed a fat 19-incher on the next cast. At that point he said his hands were frozen and I needed to fish. Colt is pretty good on the sticks and I was confident I’d find a few fish myself. colt fishing river

More than an hour and a mile of river later and I had not had a take. I tried everything. Same flies, same presentation, nothing. I switched it up and threw streamers. Nothing. I sized down and up and changed weight and leader length. Nothing. Finally, providence showed a touch of mercy and I fooled a skinny whitefish to take a nymph. At least I got the damn rod bent. That meant it was Colt’s turn again. Five minutes later he was into a rainbow, then more whitefish, then another good ‘bow, then a football shaped brown. He was having a blast. His mojo was hot. He could do nothing wrong.

What the hell!?!?

We swapped again. I used his same rod – and nothing.

I was like a high school boy trying to get the attention of girls by making farting noises. Ignored, even loathed. I held my tongue in different positions, I prayed to the river goddess and made wild promises to live a more altruistic life, I swore to never touch another banana as long as I lived. Finally, a fish bounced the bobber and I managed to tag him. It was a cutthroat, blind in one eye and snagged on the side of his face. Shit. I gave up and took the rowers seat so my “fish whisperer” son could have the bow. He stuck 5 more fish, landing 3 of them, in short order. Colt giggled like a little kid when we hit the pull out. He has no idea how close he came to getting thumped in the back of the head by my #2 cone head slump buster.

colt fishing again in a river

Actually, and every father reading this will understand, I could not have been more deeply, profoundly, happy.

On the 90-minute drive home we talked the whole way. Fishing, college plans, girls, next hunting season, video games. We never even turned on the radio.

Dan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. 


The 5 Basic Rules of Fly Fishing Etiquette

By Spencer Durrrant | TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image by Hyrum Weaver
July 15, 2017


Yes, fly fishing etiquette is a thing.

It may seem like a dead-in-the-water topic anymore, what with how crowded rivers are these days, but fly fishing etiquette is almost more important now than it was 20 years ago. With the influx of anglers in the fly fishing world, all of us – myself included – have had to better learn how to share the water.

“You can never tell how someone is going to act until they are on the water,” Sean Johnson, of Always A Good Day, wrote recently.

Truer words have rarely been written about fly fishermen.

While some of us act like five-year-olds and others remain aloof and unapproachable, the majority of us are on the water to have a good time. These 5 basic rules of fly fishing etiquette will help us all have better days on the river.

horse and fly fishing etiquetteImage by Hyrum Weaver

1. Give each other space

I use the photo of the horse to illustrate a point. That horse – while completely benign – invaded the personal space of my buddy Hyrum’s car as we drove off a private ranch in the heart of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

More often than not, feeling like other anglers are crowding you on a river is a result of those other fishermen acting like this horse. They’re harmless, and they don’t know how close is too close.

As a general rule of thumb, I try my best to stay 50 – 100 yards away from the nearest angler. Each river is different, though. On the Lower Provo River, for example, fishing twenty feet from another angler isn’t uncommon. Rivers have their own rules and unwritten codes. But do your best to give other anglers as much room as you’d like to have while on the water.

2. Land your fish quickly

This is a bit subjective, since trout, for all we think we know of them, remain largely unpredictable. However, on most Western rivers where fly fishing etiquette is a hot topic, you want to land your fish as quickly as possible. This should be common practice in the first place, as it increases the likelihood of the trout surviving, but it’s even more important when you have anglers with lines in the water on either side of you.

fly fishing etiquette brown troutPhoto by Hyrum Weaver

3. Never be too busy to take a photo/help net a fish

In today’s world, if you catch a fish but don’t have photographic proof, did you even go fishing?

Seriously. It’s a legitimate question.

Depressingly true sarcasm aside, how often have you been out by yourself when you hooked into a fish worth remembering? Whether from the fight or the size, some fish stick in the mind. A photo helps it stick around longer. If you see an angler with a good fish, don’t hesitate to offer to take a photo. Who knows? You may even make a new friend out of the deal.

On top of that, if someone else needs help netting a fish and you don’t have one on your line, lend a net.

4. Watch the noise

Contrary to what our dads told us when they took us fishing back when we were fingerlings, talking doesn’t spook fish. But, quiet solitude is often a big reason why anglers head to the river. A couple of too-buzzed smartass loudmouths can quickly ruin a quiet afternoon.

Keep the noise to a respectful level, and avoid, if at all possible, yelling “Hambone,” “Monkey Junk,” or “Clam Bake” in your best Hank Patterson impersonation.

5. Watch where you walk

It’s really easy to inadvertently walk through someone’s hole. Whether you’re crossing at the head of a run that wraps around a tight bank and you don’t see the angler until you’re halfway across, or you’re just not paying attention, this is an easy mistake to make.

It’s also easy to avoid. If you know the river’s crowded, watch where you’re walking. Give other anglers a good deal of space so you don’t move any fish that they’re targeting.

Fly fishing etiquette isn’t arcane and high-browed, like joining the Freemasons. It’s really just simple common courtesy with a side of common sense.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s also the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 

winston air fly rod

Gear Review: Winston AIR Fly Rod 8’3wt


Is the Winston AIR fly rod the company’s best performing rod?

Much in the same way that no two fish are the same, neither are the fishing style of any two anglers. The wide gamut of fly fishing approaches is, in part, responsible for the glut of rods on the market. The Winston AIR fly rod caters to a specific group of anglers, but does it so well that even anglers who don’t fish slower rods and lighter tippets will likely fall in love with the AIR’s lively, light action.

Last fall Winston sent a 9’5wt AIR for me to review (you can read my thoughts on it in Hatch Magazine) and I loved it. So when time came for me to pick up a new 3wt, I turned to the AIR rod family.

The 8’3wt is a lively, moderate-fast action rod that delivers uncanny torsional stability, subtle presentation, and an enjoyable casting experience in one of the market’s lightest rods to date. Add to that the high quality of workmanship present in the Winston AIR fly rod family and you’re looking at a premium niche rod.

For a 3wt, the AIR has surprising backbone. I’ve comfortably fished it at distances of up to 55 feet and landed a few decent browns with it. The AIR handled it all as well as you’d expect from a 3wt.

At $945, though, an AIR is cost-prohibitive to most casual anglers. However, if you’re any sort of dry fly enthusiast or you simply value a stellar casting experience, you should consider putting an AIR in the budget. It may not beat out the company’s vaunted antique graphite, but it’s likely their best niche-performance rod currently available in production.

winston air fly rod and fish

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good



Thankfully, the fly rod industry is turning away from fast-action broomsticks, albeit slowly. The AIR is a moderate-fast rod – by Winston standards – comparable to Scott’s rods. I’d say it lands somewhere squarely between the now-discontinued Sage Circa and the new Sage X.

The AIR’s action, while a tad faster than what Winston is largely known for, is enjoyable and easy. It’ll deliver dry flies and smaller nymphs on target up to about 50 feet, while the backbone of the rod helps turn fish in swifter current.


The AIR feels a lot like the name implies. It’s an exceptionally light rod, though in the 3wt version I have noticed a more pronounced swing weight than in a 9’5wt configuration. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Just something worth noting.

Tippet Protection

This is an underrated aspect of modern rod construction, which I find odd since so many tippet breaks I see are due to far-too-stiff rods more than angler inexperience.

I’ll save my dissertation on physics and fly rod tips for another day, but the AIR – in all weights and lengths I’ve fished it – does a stellar job of protecting tippet. The classic Winston feel is present in the AIR, and you can comfortably fish 7x tippet on the 8’3wt. Now, why you’d want to fish tippet that small is an entirely different argument, but it’s comforting to know that sort of protection lies within the AIR’s capabilities.

The Not-So-Good


Weak Wind Performance

Yeah, I know this is a review on a 3wt. But it’s also a complaint I had of the 5wt model – the AIR doesn’t do well in the wind. Winston made a big to-do about the SuperSilica resin used in the AIR, but it doesn’t seem to translate directly to improved casting against a steady headwind. If you ever use your lighter rods on something other than narrow spring creeks, you’ll want an aggressively-tapered WF line, likely a half-size heavy, to coax the best performance from the 8’3wt AIR.


I’m a believer in the mantra of you get what you pay for. Whenever friends ask me which rod they should buy, I always respond with, “The best you can afford.” Sure, we could all catch fish with a Wal-Mart combo, but there’s a reason we don’t.

At $945, the AIR is a heftily priced rod geared to a niche market. This rod is built for dry fly enthusiasts and light-line anglers – a crowd growing smaller and smaller as the fly fishing world’s obsession with streamers and nymphs only grows.

winston air fly rod and brown trout

Final Word

The Winston AIR fly rod is one of Winston’s best rods ever. I don’t have a problem saying that. It’s well-built, incredibly fun to cast, and a strikingly accurate tool of the trade. It’s expensive, but it’s worth the money if you have the budget for it. I’d still hesitate to dub the AIR Winston’s best-performing rod of all time, though. I have some rods built in the late 70s and early 90s that give the AIR stiff competition.

That being said, though, it’s likely the company’s best-performing rod since the WT line was discontinued from full-scale production. And it’s a rod worth having.

Buy it here from Fishwest.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

hardy reels fwdd image

Gear: Hardy Reels’ FWDD Review


Hardy reels have long been regarded as some of the best in the industry. The wide-spool Hardy Perfect revolutionized reels, and today the company continues to produce high-quality reels at reasonable prices.

The all-new FWDD from Hardy Reels.

The FWDD series ushers in a new era for the storied manufacturer. It’s a minimalist’s dream reel, featuring extremely durable bar stock 6061 aluminum and the light weight of a click/pawl reel. The most impressive aspect of the FWDD series, though, is that this reel isn’t a click/pawl.

It’s a disc-drag reel which maintains low weight, buttery-smooth pickup, and a medium arbor to give lightweight trout anglers yet another option in the reel world.

hardy reels with a fish

Ranging from $199 to $229 in price, the FWDD isn’t cheap. It does, however, deliver on its price tag with some of the best performance I’ve personally seen in a lightweight reel.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Drag System 

The highlight of the FWDD series – and any reel, really – is the drag system. If a reel can’t manage the runs of your target fish species, it’s nothing more than an expensive line holder.

Hardy went with Rulon for the disc-drag system, though they added a clicker that produces the famous sound many anglers love to hear in a fly reel. The drag’s max capacity is 1lb of force, per Hardy’s specs. While that sounds like it’s on the low end, I’ve found it to be more than enough for most situations the FWDD and I have gone through together.

Startup inertia is low and smooth – comparable to the Orvis Battenkill series – and adjusting the drag is simple. Most Hardy reels come with color-coded drag knobs, and the FWDD is no exception.

hardy reels in water

The drag will put the brakes on trout, provided your rod has a light enough tip to absorb the remainder of a running fish’s energy.

Judging how a reel fights a fish is more subjective than most people realize. Palming a reel is one way to make up for reels with lighter drags, in addition to using your index and middle finger on your reel hand to apply pressure to outgoing line.

Ideally, though, you get a fish on the reel as soon as possible. It reduces the amount of time fighting fish, with increases their survival rates, as noted by Kirk Deeter in Field & Stream

With all that said, the FWDD can comfortably handle trout up to 20 inches. Anything past that and you’ll be running downriver.

Build Quality

Lightweight trout reels need to be durable, due in large part to the “combat fishing” most high country anglers encounter. From bush whacking to being dropped on boulders, lightweight reels are often prone to easily breaking.

related content cta

The FWDD isn’t bomb-proof by any stretch of the imagination, but the 6061 bar-stock aluminum from which both the spool and frame are built will take a beating. I’ve fished my FWDD (a 2/3/4 model) for about 6 months now, and while it has a few battle scars, it’s in sound physical condition.

The Not-So-Good

Spool Release

In an effort to cut down on weight, Hardy built the FWDD series with a “push on/off” spool release system. There’s no button, no lever; instead, you grab the frame and push the spool off with your fingers. It’s tricky to figure out the first few times, and makes switching spools a bit of a hassle.

Drag Range

Remember, I really like the drag on this reel. Hardy did a spectacular job with it; however, the range of adjustment on the drag for the FWDD just doesn’t quite reach the full potential.

Hardy’s color-coded drag adjustment knob is a useful feature, but all the green drag settings on the FWDD feel exactly the same. It’s only when the reel is set to orange or red settings that I’ve felt the drag actually adjust.

hardy reels brown trout and rod

Final Word

For $199 – $229, this reel is is a bit on the high end as far as cost for a lightweight reel. However, Hardy reels are known for their top-notch materials and design. This reel is gorgeous, fun, and handles trout runs admirably. It’s a great reel for the minimalist angler who just wants the basics, and provides more stopping power for lightweight anglers who’d normally fish a click/pawl reel.

You can purchase an FWDD here.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum, and contributes regularly to national fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

green river fishing

Your Summer Guide to Green River Fishing


Three sweet words – Green River Fishing

I’ve been lucky enough to live with the Green River just a few hours away from my home here in Utah. The first seven miles of the river below Flaming Gorge Dam is some of the most scenic, achingly beautiful trout water I’ve ever fished.

With summer in full swing here in the West, and anglers looking to explore new water, I put this guide together to point you in the right direction for the best Green River fishing experience of your life. I look at the Green as a little slice of heaven, and it’s hard to beat the amount of good-sized fish you’ll catch here on a given day. High or low water, the Green is a singularly spectacular fishery.

Where to fish

The A-Section is the most popular stretch of the river. This is the first 7 miles of water extending from the Flaming Gorge Dam to Little Hole.

green river fishing map

The two black lines are the put-in and take-out. During the summer, the A-Section sees incredible caddis, yellow sally, mayfly, and cicada hatches, in addition to other stoneflies and terrestrials.

Since the Green is a tailwater, it can be finicky, to the point of utter frustration. Like any other tailwater, though, once you figure out the Green you won’t be able to stop coming back for more.

Now, the A-Section is the most-fished area of the river for a few reasons:

– You’ll catch more fish per day in the A-Section

– The fish average 15 inches in length, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

– The A-Section is the prettiest part of the entire river

Along with the popularity in fishing, though, comes popularity in rafting. Scout groups, youth groups, and families love to float this section of the river. The rapids aren’t terrible, even in high water, in the A-Section. However, the Green is a large river and you won’t have a hard time finding your own slice of water to work while other people float past.

B and C Sections

The lower stretches of the river, from the Little Hole take-out to the Colorado State Line, are a completely different fishery than the A-Section. While A-Section has crystal clear water and 12,000 fish per mile, B and C Sections sport fewer fish, less clear water, and fewer people.

The upside? Both B and C sections regularly produce the river’s largest trout.

green river fishing photo
Image by Ryan Kelly

For streamer junkies, the lower parts of the river are a gift from the fishing gods. Long, slow moving flats and deep pools populate these areas of the river, and the trout which live there don’t grow as big as they do for no good reason. Pike, smallmouth bass, burbot, and the endangered Colorado Pikeminnow call this stretch of river home as well.

When to go

Green River fishing in the summer is best from late June to mid-August. These months provide great opportunities for fish on big dries. In addition, they’re the best weather months of the year (unless you’re crazy like me and enjoy fishing in the snow).

The Green does see crowds on the weekends. Again, though, feeling “crowded” on the Green is a hard thing to accomplish. If I had to pick, though, I’d say the best time to fish the Green would be from Tuesday – Thursday. The river sees less traffic on those days and you’ll have the first run on the best holes.

green river fishing rowing pic
Image by Ryan Kelly

September brings back the smaller mayflies and their accompanying hatches, but there’s something unique about the Green in the summer. I think it’s the fact that you don’t have to wear waders all day that makes the difference.

Who to fish with

When planning your Green River fishing trip, you’ll likely ask as many of your friends you know who the best guide is. I have my own personal opinions, but I can say this at the very least: the outfitters on the Green River are some of the most competent oarsmen, guides, and teachers I’ve met in fly fishing. A float down the river from any of the Dutch John, UT-based guides won’t disappoint.

With that said, some of the guides to contact are:

Trout Creek Flies

Flaming Gorge Resort

Spinnerfall Guide Service

Old Moe

Red Canyon Lodge

Dutch John Resort

Trout Creek, Flaming Gorge Resort, Red Canyon, and Dutch John Resort all provide lodging options as well.

green river fishing pic two
Image by Ryan Kelly


As mentioned above, a handful of the outfitters on the Green offer lodging. If you’d rather camp, the Forest Service maintains plenty of campgrounds in the area as well.

The town of Dutch John is your one-stop shop for food, gas, and drinks when on the Green. The nearest supermarket is in Vernal, UT, about an hour south. With that being said, Dutch John is home to some of my favorite restaurants in the fly fishing world. I travel quite a bit across the West and make it a point to try as many of the hole-in-the-wall joints as I possibly can.

With that said, your Green River fishing trip needs to include a visit to Browning’s (located inside the Trout Creek Flies building on the east end of Dutch John) for their breakfast burritos. I’m not sure what all goes into one of those burritos, but they’re packed with enough of something to keep me going for most of the morning before I ask my guide for a snack.

The restaurant at the Flaming Gorge Resort does a great steak, but their blackberry cobbler is to die for. It’s worth the extra five pounds you’ll gain eating it. The next day you’ll burn it all off anyways, since fishing from a boat is such a physical activity.

The Green River is a truly unique place and we’re lucky to have it here in Utah. I hope you can make a trip out here and share in the beauty and wonder I call my backyard.

For help with planning your Green River fishing trip, head over here to explore what the area has to offer.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum, author of the Amazon Bestseller, Learning to Fly, and a regular contributor to national fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instragram, @Spencer_Durrant. 

fly tying tips

Fly Tying Tips: The Rowley Stone


Welcome to another day of fly tying tips from all of us here at TMTB.

Today we’re looking at one of my new favorite flies – the Rowley Stone.

This thing plain catches fish. It’s a simple, easy-to-tie pattern that works wonders.

Gilbert Rowley, who’s a local Utah filmmaker and responsible for the “Wide Open” and “Jungle’s Edge” IF4 films (in addition to Modern Nymphing) came up with this pattern. While he uses turkey biot for the legs, you can substitute rubber silly legs as well. That’s how I’ve tied most of mine, and they work spectacularly well.

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Spencer Durrant is the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. He’s also a regular outdoors, fly fishing, and sports columnist for local and national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant. 

walton fly rods

Walton Fly Rods Native Series


Walton Fly Rods is a new name in the rod industry – but are they good rods?

My good buddy Brad Smith (@BradSmithOutdoors, Senior Writer at Wide Open Spaces) is the owner of a new rod company based out of Indianapolis – Walton Fly Rods.

He was kind enough to send along about two-thirds of the Walton product line for the staff here at TMTB to test. We’ll be rolling out reviews on other Walton products in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

We’ll kick off the series of reviews with an in-depth look at the Native Series of fly rods.

USA-Built, Lifetime Warranty, Excellent Price Point

Walton Fly Rods are built in the USA, come with a lifetime warranty, and run $310. That’s a pretty great deal no matter who you are. However, the deal’s only good if the rods are adept fly fishing tools.

Walton built the Native Series with the East Coast angler in mind – a small 7’ 3/4wt graphite rod (unique, because most rodmakers aren’t rolling out blanks designated for two line weights these days, though it was very popular in bamboo and glass heydays) that bends like a wet spaghetti noodle. It’s obviously a dry fly tool with enough give in the tip to protect light tippet, yet when a fish is on the rod snaps tight and gives you ample backbone to play a fish quickly to the net.

These rods are built in the good ol’ US of A, with mid-grade cork grips (better than an average $300 rod, but not as good as the $500+ rods), average-sized stripping and Snake brand guides, and a beautiful burled walnut reel seat insert tucked away inside a skeletonized aluminium body. Two uplocking bands secure the reel into place and the entire affair is pretty light.

walton fly rod native series

The swing weight wasn’t as bad as I expected. Rods with this much flex tend to have a heavier swing weight, but the Native Series wasn’t bad at all. The casting stroke is extremely different than what most anglers are used to. I own more antique Winston graphite and other bamboo sticks that are slow by today’s standards – and the Native Series falls in that category. They’re relaxed, slow, leisurely-casting rods.

Now, the Native Series rod isn’t as accurate as I’d like. I threw two different lines on this rod (SA Heritage Ultra Presentation WF4F and RIO LightLine DT4F) and neither line got the fly exactly where I wanted it when I pushed my casts beyond 35 feet. Inside 35 feet the Native Series put flies where I needed them, making it a solid combat-fishing tool.

All Walton rods come with a lifetime warranty, cordura rod tube, and dependably solid build quality. At $295, that’s a helluva deal – and in my opinion, the best selling point for Walton Rods.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good


By far the best quality of Walton Fly Rods’ Native Series is how the rod is able to present flies. I fished it during a midge hatch on the Lower Provo River here in Utah and within 35 feet I had reasonable control of my fly. The Native is built on IM7 graphite, a material very similar to the old IM6 Winstons. This rod is soft and supple and if you fish tiny creeks in the Rockies or brush-choked streams in the Smokies, the Native has your back.

walton fly rod in water

Tippet protection

I fish dries or a dry-dropper rig more than anything else. It’s how my grandfather taught me to fish and it’s how I enjoy fishing. As such I’ve learned to value rods with soft tips that protect light tippet. The Native does a great job of that. I wrangled a 17-inch brown in on 6x tippet and never worried about the tippet snapping.

Price and warranty

I’ve fished nearly 40 rods, from a $50 Wal-Mart special to bamboo rods worth more than my car. Rods can cost as much as a downpayment on a condo, but is it worth it? That all depends on you.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced rod, with a lifetime warranty along the lines of what Sage or Winston offers, Walton is hard to beat. I commend them for a $295 rod with a lifetime warranty.

The Not-So-Good


For a 3/4wt rod I was a bit disappointed with the strength of this rod. It really struggled past 35 feet to get the fly in a good position, and I don’t think fishing a leader longer than nine feet is advisable.

Two piece

This is a two-piece rod so it’s not as travel-friendly as a four piece. I think this works in the rod’s favor when looking at how it casts (fewer sections means smoother casting) but some anglers may not be happy with that.


The Native does put flies where they should be if you take your time to learn the rhythm of the rod. It’s slow enough, though, that I had a few issues with fly placement out past 30 or so feet. It’s not inaccurate, just not a laser-straight stick like other rods.

Final Say

$310. Lifetime warranty. Smooth action, soft tip, great presentation abilities, and built in America? Those are all big points in Walton’s favor. The Native does have its drawbacks – most 3/4wt rods do, though – but with all the benefits Walton Fly Rods offers, the perks outweigh the possible dysfunctional aspects of the Native.

You can buy a Walton Rods Native Series here.

Spencer Durrant is a novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a contributor to other major fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.

fly fishing in bad weather

20 Tips from a Fly Fishing Guide


Now that my 2017 guiding season is underway,

and about to seriously ramp up, I find myself both excited and reflective. The 2016 was great. I met a pile of great new folks, reconnected with clients who have become old friends, had some great fishing and didn’t get hit by lightning (every guide I know has a good lightning story).

fly fishing in bad weather

Anyway, as I’ve thought back on past outings I find myself thinking about the advice most commonly offered to clients, and perhaps this is an indication these are all things we could use a friendly reminder on. With that in mind I would like to offer you…

A Fly Fishing Guide’s Random Advice (for whatever it’s worth)

1. Wear sun screen, drink water, take 15 and eat a good lunch. The time to reflect and recharge is worth it.

2. When fishing nymphs under an indicator, get the indicator-to-shot distance about right for most of the water you will be on. It’s rarely a game of inches. Then start light and keep adding weight until you catch fish.

3. It’s almost never the pattern that’s the problem. It’s the presentation. Change stuff if it’s not working – where you are standing, the leader length, the angle. Take a moment to move your indicator shallower or deeper as needed. But do something new instead of making the same presentation 40 times. Give it 10, then make a change. Only change flies after you have done a bunch of other stuff.

4. Move those flies a bit if you’re not getting hits. Twitch ‘em, pop ‘em, swing ‘em … but don’t dead drift them all the time. This includes dry flies.

5. If fish are refusing your dries, make your tippet longer and change your angle. Usually that’s all it takes. Again its usually not the pattern.

6. Keep your voice low, walk very quietly, and for the sake of all that’s good and holy don’t slap the water with false casts or rip your line off the surface. You’re spooking the crap out of fish. In a boat the same thing applies, don’t bang around. Sound scares fish as it does any other wild critter.

7. If you like to play music in your boat while you float, stay away from me. I’ll double haul a #2 cone head double bunny into your MP3 player hard enough to destroy it. That shit has no place on the river.

8. When searching a riffle or other fishy looking spot, never make exactly the same drift twice. Make little changes (even a few inches left or right) to where you land your flies so you are potentially getting them into strike zones of active fish.

9. Don’t false cast over holding water. Ever.

10. Take pictures of things other than just fish. It’s more fun to look at later.

fly fishing marsh

11. Pinch down those barbs. You don’t need them.

12. Start stripping your streamers fast, like really fast. Slow down only if that doesn’t work. Generally, you can’t strip a fly in faster than a trout can grab it.

13. Strip set streamers. You may need to say it out loud several times to get it into the reactive parts of your brain. If the fish grabs but misses it, stop and let it drift dead for a bit before you move it again. Sometimes they come back looking for a stunned prey item.

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14. Streamer pattern does matter sometimes. Don’t throw the same thing all day if it’s not working. Sometimes you have to crack the code on what trips their trigger. I know I said its rarely the pattern but some streamer guys will chuck and duck the same sex dungeon all day while another guy figured out all they wanted was a big black bugger. It pays to experiment sometimes.

15. Don’t stand where you should fish. If its deeper than a foot, fish it before you walk there. Don’t set foot in the water unless you really need to. You might want to start casting 10 feet away from the water’s edge sometimes.

fly fishing set the hook

16. With big foam attractor type flies, cut off the stupid dropper nymph if they are not eating it. You’ll get more of those epic takes we all dream about on the big bug if you do. The dropper screws with the drift sometimes.

17. Fish soft hackles. Just do it. Swing them, drift them under big dries and indicators. Put them as a dropper behind a streamer.

18. Fish more mice. Try them at all times of the day. Wait a full 2 seconds before setting the hook when it gets crashed. If the fish misses it leave it dead still for as long as you can take it before moving it again. Honestly if you do this all day you might only get one or two takes, but they are worth the effort.

19. Start fishing close to your position. Like a rod length or less. Just because you can cast far doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you shouldn’t most of the time.

20. The river doesn’t belong to you. You belong to her. Like your mother, you should listen to her. She knows things.

Dan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.

san juan worm fish

Tying Tips – The Squirmy Wormy


The rivers here in the West are outrageously high, and just about every piece of water is blown out in some fashion or another. That obviously makes fishing difficult, but there’s one fly that’s chronically overlooked when fishing high water – the San Juan Worm.

Yeah, yeah, it’s not a fly. But guess what? It catches fish. It caught the fish in the photo at the top of this post.

I was raised a dry-fly purist like Norman MacLean (my grandfather tied commercially for 27 years) and even I’m fully on board the worm train.

Now, the squirmy wormy is an improvement on the San Juan in many different ways and it’s widely used on the competitive fly fishing circuit. In this video, Devin Olsen of Tactical Fly Fisher and Fly Fishing Team USA shows us how to tie this incredibly effective fly.

Do you like the worm? Do you have a favorite pattern? Let us know below in the comments.



First Float of the Season

By Dan Parson

It was dark and cold when we met.

Lee and Shane stood in their waders, clouds of breath fogging their glasses, bundled up in layers hoping to keep the frigid temperature from seeping in. Even beneath the bulk we looked as though the holidays had been too kind in the calorie department.

The three of us are good buddies who hadn’t fished together for more than 2 months. We were pretty pumped to get after it, despite the certainty the day would hold a lot of icy guides, frozen appendages, and possibly a few embarrassing moments falling on your ass.

My drift boat was ready and they followed me to the put in an hour’s drive away. I never listen to the radio on the way out. I tend to obsess over approaches and patterns, talking to myself the whole way up, which is funny since it all goes out the window once the reality of the day unfolds.

We’d left too early and we all knew it. Winter fishing is best in the middle of the day, but for several years we made it a point of pride that to be the first boat of the new year on the river. I guess we worried some ambitious soul would beat us to the launch. It’s not important, but games like these lead to adventures, so I like them.

Floating a river in the Rockies, in January, is usually a dangerous proposition. The weather changes fast, vehicles can fail to start, and phone service is sketchy. I told the guys if we got stranded somewhere and had to survive until spring they could eat me – just let me get a few trout first.

Anyway, we had all the needed survival stuff on board and it’s a bathtub float with no rapids. The dangers exist but not prominently enough to stop us. Besides, I had a new 6 weight streamer rod from under the tree and it was begging to be baptized.

The sun was up about 40 minutes when I took the oars.

Lee and Shane always argue they should row first, but it’s my boat. Letting another guy row your boat is a little like letting another guy dance with your wife. It’s all cool and innocent, but at the same time you find yourself keeping a close eye on things.

One little trick to winter fly casting is to not strip much line through the guides and cause them to ice up. We fed out just enough to hit the fishy spots and keep the rigs a reasonable distance from the boat.

We played with depth and weight settings a little bit, and soon enough rods bent under the weight of trout. Shane landed a fat 16 inch ‘bow in a long deep trough and Lee hooked and lost a fish he thought felt pretty heavy. Little #20 flies pull free easy as they don’t hold a lot of meat, so you do have to baby them. Shane kissed his fish and released it (another tradition – your lips must actually touch the first trout of the season. Period).

Anyway, I rowed back up river and made the same run. Lee scored on a chunky cutthroat (which received the required loving kiss) and Shane grabbed another solid ‘bow. We repeated the drift half a dozen times, weeding through some whitefish but scoring a few good trout in the process.

As Lee said in his eloquent style, “Hey your rods bent and its freakin’ January. Don’t whine about whities.”

We eventually swapped out rowers and I got a chance to sling the new 6 weight. I chose a #4 flashy streamer I had spun up the day before, and worked it with quick short strips and long pauses. Trout won’t move very far for food this time of year, but a big easy meal right in their face, at a time when big easy meals are scarce, is sometimes productive. I love streamer fishing, but it requires extra patience in the winter. Every 4 or 5 you have to clean the guides, and my hands were quickly numb. I was thinking of switching to nymphs when I strip set on something heavy. After a solid fight, a thick butter belly brown came to net, breaking in that 6 properly.

It was my turn to kiss a trout.

That’s how it went the rest of the day. We caught a bunch of trout and white fish in the deep slow stretches, a few were over 20 inches, and everyone had plenty of action to feel like the cold was worth it.  We had a couple doubles and I even caught a small lake trout that slammed that flashy streamer thing right at boat side.

When we got cold we would stop and warm up with coffee or a few minutes by the portable propane heater Lee had brought along. We bantered around the way guys do when they are having fun, hardly saw a soul, and ate elk jerky, sardines and left over Christmas cookies for lunch. No one had to resort to cannibalism, and as best we knew we were the first boat on the river again. Honestly, I just don’t get why more people don’t fly fish in the winter. They must really love TV.

We got home a bit after dark. Music always sounds better on the radio after you have had a good day on the water and I sang loud and off key the entire way home, which is probably why Shane and Lee rode together in Lees truck. My wife had ordered pizza and it was still hot, so I warmed up with that and told her semi-embellished stories of our adventures, then sat down at the vice. Time to tie more of those flashy streamers and midge larvae.

Dan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. 

man walking on madison river

New Water


“It’s higher than Monday,” Matt said from his place behind the oars. “I can’t believe how many bugs are out today. On Monday we still had snow.”

I grinned. “They’re hatching just for me, right?”

Matt chuckled and pushed off the bank, his four-year-old son pointing at the bugs in the air and shouting – correctly – “Dad, look, it’s caddis!”

A four-year-old correctly identifying the caddis among the menagerie of mayflies and stoneflies hovering just above the surface of the Madison River impressed the hell outta me. Matt gestured to the bank where I saw a fish rising, so I turned and cast against a strong headwind to the wary trout.

spencer on the madison river

I’d never fished the Madison River before, and on this trip we were floating below Ennis Lake. The upper section was blown out but the lower Madison was still fishable, even if, as Matt said, the water was higher than earlier in the week.

The sun hung at our backs and the wind blew bugs in the cracks between our faces and sunglasses. My buddy Blair stood in the back of the boat as we worked the flat, choppy riffles the Madison is famous for.

It’s easy to let a new river intimidate you.

Lord knows I felt out of my comfort zone the first time I fished the Frying Pan River but after enough time on the water you realize that every river is essentially the same. Tailwaters vary only in how selective the trout are due to insane pressure, and in rare cases like the Pan, bugs specific just to that water.

Now, the Madison certainly could intimidate upon first glance, especially for anyone who hasn’t fished a river larger than the A-Section of the Green below Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Below Ennis Lake the Madison is a seemingly endless riffle, the high water accentuating the pockets along the bank. Figuring out where the fish might be, though, is the trick. How do you pick a bit of river to fish when it all looks so good?

I’d spent most of the day doing just that – casting to each piece of enticing water in the hopes I’d lure a good trout to my dry fly. Blair and I had fished all day. This drift in Matt’s boat was the last leg of a day full of the most incredible caddis hatch I’ve ever seen in my life.

blair on the madison river

And all day the fish had resolutely ignored the bugs on top of the water in favor of nymphs and emergers. Blair managed a few on soft hackles and I was happy for the three 5-inch rainbows I’d caught earlier. They saved my day from being a skunk.

We both caught fish on the float, though they were as unremarkable as far as fish go.

That evening in Bozeman, Blair and I pored over maps and tried to guess which blue lines would be blue the next morning. Montana isn’t immune from this year’s spring runoff, and apparently Blair and I made our trip a week too late.

The next morning we hunted down the few leads we had, but everything was too muddy to fish. In a last-ditch effort, Blair made a call to Kelly Galloup’s shop on the Upper Madison River. The longer Blair stayed on the phone, the wider his smile grew.

I had the car going south before he hung up.

The Upper Madison, from Three Dollar Bridge up to Quake Lake, was high – but clear. Blessedly, impressively clear. As if adding a cherry on top of this, the storm clouds to the south rolled in closer and it started to rain.

madison river

We finished the day with more than enough fish to make us both smile, and as Blair headed home to Idaho Falls and I drove back to Bozeman, I couldn’t help but watch the Madison and think of its unspoken potential.

New water entices anglers for many reasons, but the most common has to be the unknown. Sure, you know if a river has brown or cutthroat trout, and you probably have an idea of the bugs in the water. But each turn hides a new opportunity, each hookset connects to a potential trophy, and the untapped potential of the next hole reminds you why new water so often lures you out of your comfort zone.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer, novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a regular contributor to national and local fly fishing publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant


whitefish from green river

In Praise of Whitefish


“Rocky Mountain Bone Fish”, “Ghost Trout”, “Smokies”. They shit in your boat, slime up your hands, smell funky and destroy good flies. Yet I must admit I love whitefish. Judge me all you want but honestly… down deep… you like ‘em pretty well too. They bend the rod and can save the day. Quit pretending you don’t like the humble whitefish; at some level you really do.

I wasn’t always this way. As a young fly fisherman some of the older guys I hung around taught me “the squeeze”, a despicable practice that turned a perfectly good sportfish into floating bird food. The rationale was that whities compete with trout for food, thereby limiting trout population and growth; thus, they deserved to die.

whitefish in boat

Never mind the law and never mind the two critters evolved right next to one another and occupy separate feeding zones in the river.

When I started guiding my tune quickly changed, and not just because whitefish can provide action on a slow day. I have come to see whitefish as a legitimate sportfish, worthy of pursuit in and of themselves. The state of Wyoming agrees with me. In 2012 they changed the limit on whitefish from 25 to 6. I guess they decided they are a resource worth protecting. I am glad they did.

So here are few thoughts on why we need to change the paradigm and narrative around whitefish.

1. Whitefish are an abundant native species.

At least on clean cold waters, whitefish are one of the most widely distributed salmonids of western North America. Here in Wyoming the rainbows and browns were introduced, something we tend to forget. Whities are supposed to be here, right next to the cutthroats. Additionally, they are less tolerant of pollution and warm temperatures than most trout. Basically, if there are whitefish in the system it’s a good indicator of healthy water conditions.

2. They are beautiful.

They may not be brook trout beautiful, but damn few things are. This is not me putting lip stick on a pig here. Really look at the next one you catch. They have all sorts of subtle purple and blue hues radiating out from under that bright silver coat of scales. I suspect the small subterminal mouth is the turn off to some. However, that mouth on closer inspection is not sucker like at all, as no rubbery lips exist. Whites have a distinct maxillary bone on the side of the mouth, similar to many gamefish. Do we look down on the celebrated bonefish of the tropical flats because it has a similar mouth?

whitefish mouth

3. They are tasty.

I have had them baked, fried, and smoked. They are flat out good to eat. They are no bonier than trout, possessing basically the same line of Y bones, and have a white flesh that many people find more palatable than the heavier “fishy” flavors of trout and salmon. Fillet some up, cut out the Y bones (YouTube as some excellent clips on how), and shave off the reddish meat you see on the skin side of the fillet. Deep fry and enjoy.

4. They are challenging to catch.

If you don’t believe this statement, try targeting a pod of them sometime. Sure, at times they are easy, but so are trout (thank God!). Trust me, whitefish can be selective. Additionally, when I’m hooking whitefish on a regular basis I know I have patterns on the trout will likely eat too.

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5. They are important forage.

Whitefish are an important part of the diet for larger trout as well as eagles, otters, bears, and other critters. As such they serve an important role in the health of a river. We ought to respect that.

6. They’re not trash.

Given the state of the world, can we really afford to think of any fish as trash? Carp have become an obsession for many of us, and rightly so. I have a buddy back in Minnesota who loves to chase dogfish on the fly. I don’t know what the future holds, but as Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan eloquently said “the times they are a changin’.” As human populations continues to increase and rivers become more crowded, perhaps we ought to celebrate the whitefish as the legit game fish they have always been. I am aware of a few whitefish fly fishing tournaments out there, and that’s a good start. But I would advocate whities be factored in the score at events like the World Fly Fishing Championship and the Jackson One Fly. Think of the street cred that would generate for this species.

Dan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. 

adams dry fly fly tying

Tying Flies: An Angler’s Rabbit Hole


I recently posted pictures of several flies I tied to a Facebook group that I belong to, partly because I enjoy sharing what I’ve recently tied and partly to dilute the never-ending ice fishing posts that overwhelm this particular page in the dead of winter. Unsurprisingly, the first comment that was posted questioned if tying flies of my own was less expensive than buying them from the local fly shop. My immediate response: good heavens, no.

tying flies mayfly emerger

When I first started fly tying two years ago, I was under the same delusion as my Facebook commentator – surely tying flies would be beneficial to my wallet, in the manner that buying individual ingredients at the grocery store for a family dinner is far less expensive than taking your clan out to the local Olive Garden. But two vises, eight bobbin holders, feathers from seemingly every known bird species, and countless packages of hooks and dubbing later, and I’ve come to realize that I will never save a single penny on this venture.

Why Bother Tying Flies?

So why exactly should one decide to take up tying flies when pre-tied flies are so readily available? If I could sum it up in one word it would be this: winter. If you’re anything like me and the prospect of braving snowy mountain pass roads to be able to stand thigh-deep in a surprisingly crowded tailwater when it’s 18°F with ice rapidly building on the guides of your fly rod isn’t your idea of a good time, tying flies is a great way to pass the time until that first 45° day comes along.

I imagine there comes a time in everyone’s fly fishing career when they contemplate getting into fly tying. For some, it might just be a rapidly passing fancy, an idea quickly dismissed for lack of time or perceived inability. Others may heed the call by acquiring a starter kit and tying a few flies, but the passion never develops and the tying kit recedes to the dark recesses of a closet alongside those handmade father’s day gifts from your kids and that jump rope you swore you were going to use every morning.

tying flies

Then there are those of us who decide to compliment a fly fishing major with a minor in fly tying. A visit to the fly shop no longer limits us to the bins of pre-tied flies. We’re now on a first name basis with the guy in charge of stocking fly tying materials (Kigen, Sam, Cheech, and Curtis – I’m talking about you). We now come in to the fly shop with a list of materials needed to tie the pattern we watched so-and-so create on the most recent YouTube video they released. And like going to the grocery store on an empty stomach, you’re guaranteed to walk out of the shop with far more than you intended to purchase. Our vocabulary has expanded beyond dries, nymphs, and emergers to include words like cree, biot, herl, and coq de leon, not to mention bodkin, denier, whip finish, and peccary hair.

I think you can start calling yourself a serious fly tyer when you start looking at roadkill differently, or wondering what kind of dubbing you could create from the family pet. Before you started tying, the thought of a visit to the local craft store with your spouse would send shivers down your spine. But now, you find yourself spending an hour just in the bead section alone.

So if you’re a fly angler who is sitting on the fence about whether or not to take up making your own flies from feathers and fluff, I would encourage you to take the leap, not only to add another dimension to your fly fishing lifestyle, but to be able to stay connected to the sport even when your favorite streams are inaccessible during those cold winter months. But don’t get into fly tying as a means of saving money on flies, because that’s nonsense. Think of it as a new hobby that could bring years of enjoyment but will likely cost you many thousands of dollars in the long run. And that doesn’t even factor in the cost of bourbon.

Peter Steen is currently pursuing a major in fly fishing with a minor in tying flies from the state of Utah. He lives in Cottonwood Heights with his wife and three children. Follow his fishing adventures on Instagram @fly_fishing_pete.

provo river fishing report header image

Provo River 7- 17 – 17


Provo River Fishing Report 7/17/17

The latest Provo River fishing report is good! Flows are down and the green drakes are hatching in abundance. The Middle Provo has more drake activity than the Lower, although both are worth your time. Flows are still high on the Lower, though they’re much more manageable than in weeks past.

This is the time of year when the tube hatch is in full force. Remember to be mindful of rafters and not to start too many arguments over who has the right to be in a certain spot in the river. The Lower Provo gets crowded this time of year due to floaters, while the Middle is more crowded with anglers.


provo river fishing report brown trout


Too Many Freakin’ People


Let’s face it, there are no secrets in fishing anymore – no go-to fly fishing tips or hot flies. Don’t get me wrong, we try. Heck, friends I guide with have been known to black out the backgrounds of grip and grin shots before posting on Facebook. I have chosen to turn down filming with a couple outdoor TV shows because I was worried an area would get hot spotted and overrun by hordes of long rodders. However, all these efforts have been in vain and one way or another word gets out. Even a particular section of my home river I have been floating for 20 years had, to my knowledge, never seen another boat other than a few “in the know” friends of mine. This year, thanks I suspect to Google Earth, I saw two out of state dudes floating down what was once my private playground. Oh well, it was bound to happen.

Crowded fisheries are both relative and reality. What is considered crowded on an obscure stretch of water in Wyoming is not the same thing as crowded on one of the famous tailwaters in Montana. But all are seeing more anglers as we seek out the serenity and unpressured fish that were once far easier to find. What are we to do? Stand in line like we were at an amusement park and wait for a hole to open up? (I have actually seen this)

Nope. Follow these fly fishing tips when you run into too many freakin’ people on “your” water.

  1. Fish marginal water

    The good riffles and runs always have anglers pounding them. When an angler is done with the spot, it doesn’t take long for it to be occupied by someone else. Guess what those fish do? They move to water where they get left alone. Don’t ignore them, go catch them. Try water types you might normally walk on past but are just a little bit fishy. You may be surprised.
    fly fishing tips big brown trout

  2. Fish at night

    Everyone talks about moussing at night, but damn few actually do it with any regularity. Be one of the few and get after it. It’s addictive as hell to hear what sounds like a cinderblock crashing where you think your Moorish mouse was. That said, mice are not your only approach. A bulky, water pushing, black streamer will often get more hits. Also, don’t fish all night unless there is a full moon (or you’re a vampire). Typically, your first couple hours after the sun goes down or before it comes up are best. Take a midday nap, a good dinner, and grab a headlamp, remind yourself there is no such thing as sasquatch, and hit a good piece of water when everyone else is asleep.
    fly fishing tips flies

  3. Fish in the winter

    I do this as much as I can and it often produces some of the most productive fishing I see all season. Honestly I can’t understand why I don’t have more winter bookings. I would love to guide more in the winter months. Sure it’s cold and you have to stop once in awhile to break ice out of the guides and warm up your hands, but big deal. You will have solitude, unpressured fish, and die hard stories of adventure to tell the next time you’re hanging in your local fly shop. A lot has been written about winter fishing so I won’t bother here (yet), but bundle up, grab a hot thermos, get a portable propane heater, watch your weather… but go give it a shot. With the right approach and on the right types of water it’s enormous fun, and your spouse will think you’re crazy (it is good to keep spouses guessing).
    fly fishing tips in the winter

  4. Take a hike

    It’s a fact most humans are lazy. Years ago I used to religiously fish a very crowded section of a famous tail water. I found a lot more solitude and willing trout by walking a mile or two before even stringing up.
    fly fishing tips hiking

  5. Hit the less famous, low fish density water

    I mentioned google earth. It’s your friend. Just because you have never heard of a particular stream doesn’t mean there is not great adventure to be had. Even on famous fisheries, I find the further away from the well-known access points you go, the fewer people you see. High fish counts equal high angling pressure, but that doesn’t mean there are no fish 30 miles from the dam or on that little tributary you have never heard of. Have a little faith in your abilities, grab a map and a GPS unit, and go where others do not.
    fly fishing tips cutthroat

  6. Lastly, give yourself permission to enjoy your fellow anglers

    No matter what we do sometimes things just don’t work out, we are in a crowd and its accept that or go home. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I love the company of fellow flyfishers. In these instances I chose to embrace the fellowship. No one wants to be that dude on the bank who talks everyone’s ear off, but if I find myself sharing trail with someone as I go from A to B or I happen to be breaking for lunch about the same time as someone else, I figure I might as well be friendly. If I find a bug that’s working and the guy 60 yards away is drawing blanks, Ill offer one to him. I have actually ended up meeting some totally cool people doing that and had a rewarding day because of it. In the end we are all members of the same tribe, with the same goals in mind; Catch a few fish, forget about the world for a bit, and feel the current against our legs.
    fly fishing tips and friendsDan Parson is a fly fishing guide, school teacher, and adviser to the phenomenally talented Green River High School Speech and Debate Team. Contact him through Solitary Angler or look for his boat on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. 

green river fishing report header photo

Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir 6 – 12 – 17


Green River Fishing Report 6/12/17


The Green below Flaming Gorge Dam is a frustrating – yet rewarding – fishery at the moment. Flows are still high at 8,600cfs – but the cicadas are out! If you hit the water first thing in the morning you won’t have a problem getting fish to eat. Sizes 8 – 12 are fishing well.

On Saturday, 6/10/17, a few anglers hooked into fish on nymph rigs, but it’s far from effective. Jigging through the deeper holes is a better option and if you can hold in one hole for a few moments to let the jig sink, the fish usually hit on the first twitch. Streamer fishing is best in the evening towards night, with things picking up from Secret Riffle downstream to Little Hole.

The fish below came off the A Section of the Green on Friday, 6/09/17.

brown trout green river fly fishing

provo river fishing report header image

Provo River 3 – 25 – 17


Provo River Fishing Report 3/25/17


The Lower Provo River, from Deer Creek Dam to Olmstead, is flowing high, around 400cfs. The water is clear, though. The high flows have displaced the fish and they’re not stacked in runs like usual.

The BWOs are finally popping, in addition to midges. Fishing warm days with overcast weather will produce good dry fly action. If they’re not taking dries, try an egg pattern. The rainbows are beginning to stage for the spawn, so all the fish in the river are eating eggs. The fish pictured below took a pale orange egg a few days ago.

provo river fishing report rainbow trout picture

fly line on fly reels

Gear Review: Cortland Fly Line is More than the 333 Series


Gear reviews here at TMTB are organized in a specific way. There’s always an overview section to give you a quick rundown of the gear, its value, and whether it’s earned the TMTB Seal of Kickass Gear. Then, because I hope other gear nuts are reading, the reviews will get into the specifics of different aspects of the gear.


I started fishing with a Cortland rod, reel, and Cortland fly line outfit my dad bought from the local supermarket. It wasn’t anything special, but to this day I still have the rod and reel. The reel’s old, clunky, and sounds like a chainsaw when a hot trout’s on the line, but it works. The rod is a serviceable backup streamer stick, though I’ve held on to it more for nostalgia’s sake than anything else.

The point here is that Cortland has been around for a long time, and for good reason – they make products that just work. Most beginner fly fishermen spool their rods with Cortland 333 or 444 line, since it’s more affordable than other brands. The 333 was actually the first PVC-coated fly line, and Cortland’s survived for more than 50 years in a tough industry.

They’ve since branched out, though, and have found some serious success. Fly Fishing Team USA members Lance Egan and Devin Olsen both used Cortland rods, line, and indicator mono in their “Modern Nymphing” film, produced by the great Gilbert Rowley. I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with both Egan and Rowley, and while it’s no surprise both of them handily out fished me, the quality of their Cortland outfits surprised this diehard Winston man.

Now, I’ve been a big fan of Cortland’s fly lines for the past few years. The Trout Boss HTx line, in particular, is my favorite 5wt line on the market. The Finesse Trout II is a dream on my old IM6 Winston rods, and every line I’ve used has lasted as long as I’d expect them to.

Recently, Cortland sent me two more lines to try – the Precision Omni-Verse WF5F and the 444 Spring Creek WF5F. Both of these lines are similar in function but incredibly different in taper, which is why I’ve lumped them together in one review.

cortland fly line

Photo courtesy Cortland Fly Line

The Omni-Verse is a specialty line with one of the more unique tapers I’ve seen. Offered in weights 4 – 10, this line features an exceptionally long head and thick rear taper, creating a line that mends like a double-taper but loads a rod as effectively as any weight-forward line. As with most Cortland lines, the Omni-Verse is built true-to-weight, per AFFTA standards.

The 444 Spring Creek is also true-to-weight, available in weights 2 – 6. The Spring Creek series has a long tip and the tougher 444 coating, making it ideal for use on spring creeks, freestone streams, and other waters demanding a perfect presentation.

I’m partial to the Omni-Verse line only because I love how well it mends at 50+ feet, but that doesn’t detract from the solid, workhorse performance the Spring Creek delivers. Both are a great value from a company that’s proven themselves since before graphite fly rods were a big deal.

The Cortland Precision Omni-Verse and 444 Spring Creek Fly Line earned the TMTB Seal of Kickass Gear.


The Nitty-Gritty

The Good


Both the Omni-Verse and Spring Creek are excellent presentation lines. Whether you need a small dry tucked tight to the bank or a roll cast with a nymph rig to the inside edge of a seam, the lines work well with your rod to achieve the desired results.

The Spring Creek is the better choice for dry-fly only anglers, if only because it’s built with a shorter head and more running line, making it an ideal line for the small stream angler where casts are usually 35 feet at the most.

Cortland Fly line 444 spring creek

Photo courtesy Cortland Fly Line


The taper for the Omni-Verse is nothing short of genius. Think of it as a long-belly line, because that’s essentially what it is. The head is 62 feet long that ends in a 25 foot rear taper. That’s a lot of continuous taper – reminiscent of the Triangle Taper – gradually growing and shrinking through the majority of the fly line. The 6 foot level tip gives anglers a WF line which roll casts as good as any DT I’ve ever fished.

The Bad

True weights

True-to-weight lines are harder to find these days, With the exception of offerings from RIO and Scientific Anglers, finding a true-to-weight line is like looking for size 30 dry fly hooks. Of course, the increasingly fast action of fly rods is the reason for half-weight heavy lines dominating the market, so if you fish with a rod that’s anything beyond a moderate action you’ll likely have a few issues with feeling your rod load this Cortland line. It’s not as strong in the wind either, and doesn’t offer the same turnover power for larger bugs, though both lines did just fine with long dry fly leaders.

Final Say

Both of these lines are essentials for the modern dry fly angler. They’re more durable than RIO, available in true-to-weight sizes which load dry fly rods (glass, bamboo, slower graphite) better than a half-weight heavy line, and they’re more affordable than most lines on the market. Cortland’s existed so long for a reason – their gear is quality, and these two lines are no exception.

Spencer Durrant is a novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a contributor to other major fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.


The First One’s Free


I can still remember the darkness the first morning Darby picked me up in front of my house to take me fly fishing.

Its a weird thing to remember, but it was so dark, I was struggling to see the stairs and not spill my coffee. As he opened the door at the curb, the map light from his 20-year-old BMW seemed to pierce the blackness like a beacon. I thought I was already excited to go, but seeing that light turned me into a moth who had seen a bug zapper for the first time. I was headed out on the adventure of a lifetime. There was no going back.

The dream to fish with a fly rod had been planted deep in my mind ever since I saw men shooting strange, orange lines back and forth on a creek, high in the Sierras. I had no idea what they were doing, but they looked like they could tame the river with their confidence. In those early years before the orange laser-beams got me to thinking, fishing always seemed like a game of guessing and waiting. These were two things I already hated doing as a kid. What secret did they possess with their magic, waving rods? Could they possibly know more than my grandfather, the source of all the fishing wisdom in the universe?

I learned by watching the men and their orange lines.

They showed me that using the river’s flow and casting to the fish rather than waiting for the fish to bite could produce different results than I was used to. As the morning sun warmed my brain, a fleeting thought came to being. That one idea, plus a head full of borrowed courage would equal a breakthrough in my 12-year-old life.

After clipping a two-tone, two-inch bobber four feet above my weight and worm and pinning the button on my crusty Zebco 202 down with my thumb, I “let it drift” for the first time instead of casting it. By allowing the bait to float freely, I suddenly was meddling with more fish than I could have imagined that day. I tried to keep up and glean from the men with the waving rods, but their neon wisdom quickly disappeared beyond the horizon. In retrospect, I probably caught more fish than the two of them combined that day, but they left me with a burning question that would have to wait more than twenty years to be answered.

sunrise while fishing

I wondered silently all those years until an hour into our car ride. The stars were beginning to fade when the question finally came out: “How do you fish with a fly rod?” The reply came after we had suited up and after a quick lesson in assembling and lining a rod. There was also a secondary but very important lesson on how to walk down a 50% grade in felt wading boots with an eight-foot rod without dying. Darby answered my question by showing me in the flesh, firsthand, how to fish with a fly rod.

It ended up that this man, the father of my daughter’s schoolmate, was an absolute master angler. He had given me one of his own rods and reels to learn with. He had taken me to his creek deep in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. A place so indescribably beautiful that eagles seem to take detours from heaven just to see it up close. It is a place where the clearest water you’ll find anywhere on earth plunges from pool to pool, washing the rare insect to voracious coastal cutthroat who are both clinging to life and yet seem to stick around for a few thousand years just for the scenery. If I’m honest, most days I want to take up that job description and join them.

cutthroat fish

Lost in my fantasy, my daydream was interrupted by the splash of a trout exploding through his glass ceiling,

only to get a nasty surprise from an October Caddis which was, unfortunately for him, connected mysteriously to a wide-eyed, elated rookie angler. The laughter of the only other human to ever have caught him before is the soundtrack to every fish I have caught since. I have since repeated to friends on several rivers the words that were escaping Darby’s mouth as he handed the fish to me for a quick picture:

“Welcome to the dark side… the first one’s free.”

Ryan is an avid angler, master fly tier, and excellent fishing teacher. He used to live in Germany, but now lives in Wales where he serves as a missionary for the Assemblies of God. Find Ryan on Twitter @dryfliesforever


Gear Review: Does the Orvis Recon Earn the Hype?


Gear reviews here at TMTB are organized in a specific way. There’s always an overview section to give you a quick rundown of the gear, its value, and whether it’s earned the TMTB Seal of Kickass Gear. Then, because I hope other gear nuts are reading, the reviews will get into the specifics of different aspects of the gear.


When you go shopping for a mid-priced rod (anything from $275-500) you likely don’t consider Orvis sticks. The mid-price market is dominated by Echo, Redington, Fenwick, Blue Halo, and some pretty decent Sage models.

Orvis has – rightfully so – earned a reputation of high quality over the years. As any angler knows, high quality is almost always accompanied by high price (the exception is the Echo Base, Fenwick Aetos, and Redington Hydrogen). But you don’t have to shell out a mortgage payment to own a quality Orvis stick, thanks to the Recon series.

orvis recon 9ft 5wt

The fine folks at Orvis sent me a 905-4 (9’5wt 4pc) Recon, and I spent a bit more than a month tossing it as my go-to 5wt. I’m primarily a dry-dropper fishermen, but I threw streamers and longer nymph rigs on the Recon as well.

Overall, I was impressed with a) the weight, b) the build quality, and c) the blue-collar attitude of the rod. This thing clocks in at 2 5/8oz, which is stupid light for a 5wt that has the backbone of the Recon. The build quality is what you’d expect from Orvis – high-grade cork, a beautiful dark wood burl insert for the reel seat, and black-nickel hardware.

Now, the Recon didn’t wow me in any specific category. Rather, I was impressed with how it managed nearly every fishing situation I threw its way. Dries to warily rising trout? No problem. Nymphing with a sighter leader? You bet. 5wt-sized streamers? Just don’t snag the tree behind you, because the Recon is a rocket that’ll shoot line in a laser if you’re a competent caster.

It felt like the fly rod for the blue-collar angler. If you don’t want to spend a ton of cash but still need a quality rod that’ll fish well and even put some trout on the table for dinner, the Recon deserves a wiggle test from your local fly shop. It sells for $425.

The Nitty-Gritty

The Good

Accuracy/torsional stability

This rod is scary accurate – almost as good as the new Sage X. A competent caster won’t have issues getting this rod to put flies on a dinner plate up to 60 feet. Beyond that, most 5wt rods don’t pack the punch to be that accurate, but most trout fishing situations don’t require 60+ foot casts to begin with.

The blank stays straight, tracks well, and unless you’re up against a stiff wind you don’t have to work the rod too much to get your flies in the right spot.

Roll casts

I’ve switched my nymphing game up to Euro nymphing (thanks in large part to Lance Egan, Devin Olsen, and Gilbert Rowley, who produced the great “Modern Nymphing” film that’s a must-watch for every angler) so I don’t look at a roll cast like I used to, but the Recon did an exceptional job of lobbing an indicator, two weighted flies, and some split shot up and down the Lower Provo River.

Overall competency/Build quality

The Recon really is a rod you can comfortably use in any reasonable fly fishing situation. It handles dry flies, nymphs, and streamers very well, has a soft enough tip to protect your favorite skinny tippet, but the backbone to fight a larger trout’s run.

The build quality is typically Orvis, who’s churning out some of the best-looking production rods on today’s market.

The Not-So-Good

Long leaders

I fish a lot of dry flies, and in the winter I’ll fish size 20-30 midges on a 14’ leader. The Recon didn’t turn these leaders over as well as other rods, like my Boron IIIx from Winston. I had to work the rod a bit with a short haul to get these leaders out, but again, for the price point of the Recon, it’s still great.

Not as great with the wind

The Recon does well in slight breezes, but in heavier winds it’s not as great as other 5wt rods. Again, though, it’s important to remember that this rod packs the performance of a much more expensive offering inside a sub-$500 price tag, so it’s hard to really nitpick it too much.

Final Say

With the 25-year warranty from Orvis, a $425 price tag, exceptional build quality, and solid blue-collar performance in nearly every aspect of trout fishing, the 905-4 Recon is arguably the best mid-priced rod on today’s market. There’s a reason guides from Alaska to Patagonia have a Recon or two in their customer quivers – because these rods just work.

You can buy a Recon from our preferred fly shop, Fishwest.

Spencer Durrant is a novelist, outdoors columnist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum and a contributor to other major fly fishing publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.