Sunday, May 15, 2011

Friday Angler Interview- Mike Daley a.k.a The Rusty Spinner

(Editorial note- Again, this was not published on Friday- between Blogger being down for over 30 hours this week and a lot to do, I was not able to post this interview on Friday... but I will still keep striving to get interviews done on Fridays when I am able to!)

Hendrickson hatch brownie
One of the great things about the interwebs are the ability to network with other folks with similar interests. I was very fortunate to have been introduced to Mike Daley who writes a popular blog called The Rusty Spinner. We share a lot in common and have had a lot of conversations- but not in person yet! Mike is a great angler that I look forward to spending some time with. He has is own take on things and tends not to mince words too. Check out his blog when you have the chance.

How did you get your start in fly fishing?

I started fly fishing the way so many other bug chuckers do; my father taught me. That is to say that he taught me as best he could. My dad was never a fly fisherman, but for whatever reason, he put a fly rod in my hand when I was just six years old. I distinctly remember catching my first trout on a fly that year. It was July of 1979, and an eight inch Battenkill brown took my hendrickson dry just downstream of what is now the covered bridge museum in Shushan. My great-aunt and uncle owned a home there, and I spent nearly every weekend that summer trying to repeat the miracle. i don't remember it happening. Everything aside from Dad's initial casting lessons came from books and time on the water.

You grew up in an area of New York that is noted for some great fishing and you fished hallowed waters (the Battenkill) from an early point. How would you rate the river today compared to yesteryear?
Yesteryear? Wow, am I really old enough to have fished in yesteryear? I guess I am. (yes Mike, you are...)

Truth be told, the Battenkill has never been quite the fishery that its reputation suggests. That isn't to say that there aren't a lot of fish. The fish are most certainly there. That isn't to say that there aren't some big fish. They're also there, and in surprising numbers. What characterizes the Battenkill - and to my memory has always characterized the Battenkill - is that the fishing can be very, very difficult.
One of the problems facing the river is a general lack of mid-stream and bank-side cover. As a consequence of this, crystal-clear water, and relatively high fishing pressure and recreational use, the fish are extraordinarily wary. Nowhere else in the country have I seen a seven inch brookie follow a #20 BWO imitation for seven or eight feet downstream, only to turn away at the last moment. I've always been of the opinion that if an angler can catch fish in the Kill, then he or she can slay them just about anywhere else.

I'll take a moment here to say just how pleased I am with all the work being done on the Vermont side of the river. The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, and the Orvis company have devoted enormous sums of money and quite a bit of time to improving the fishery. Over the past two or three years, they've been installing woody debris along the river's banks. This is what is needed to reduce mortality (as a result of predation) among yearling fish. The state stopped stocking the river years ago, and installed no-kill regulations along much of the river's length. The result is a burgeoning population of native brook trout, and more frequent catches of young browns, which were rare a few years ago (again as a result of predation ... damn mergansers).
Dry fly upstream, nymph with indicator, wet fly swung or stripped streamer? (and why?)
I love it all, but if conditions are right I will always run a streamer first. There are few things I've experienced as a fly flinger, that I think compare to the thrill of a big fish attacking a big fly. And it's not only the initial take that so impresses me, but also the visual nature of the experience. Just as it's a thrill to see the upturned snout of a large brown trout take a dry off the top, so too is it a thrill to see a large fish charge through the water in pursuit of a stripped streamer. The experience has - with some frequency - left me shaking, smiling, and disappointed all at the same time.
Hendricksons are coming off right now and it seems like you are having way too much fun out on the river… is this your favorite hatch of the year or is there another that gets you just as excited?
Sulphurs, drakes, olives, trikes, and ephrons ... I love them all, but there is something special about the Hendrickson hatch. In my neck of the woods, the Hendrickson is the first mayfly to emerge that has the effect of bringing genuinely large trout to the surface. It is also the first hatch after what has been a long, cold winter. I look forward to it for months, and have been known to grade my whole season based on the strength of the Hendrickson hatch.
You just joined the switch rod revolution. So Che Guevara, tell me what you think of it and some applications you are thinking about beyond the typical anadromous fish that are normally targeted with these rods.
Che was a maniac and a murderer, and every teenager who wears a Che T-shirt should be punched square in the face - by a twenty year-old Mike Tyson - for idolizing the devil. (See? I told you Mike doesn't fool around...)
Having said that ... switch rods are sublime fishing tools. They are versatile in ways that single-handed rods simply cannot be, and as such, their application goes well beyond steelhead and salmon. I fish my 11' 8# switch for run-of-the-mill stream trout. Even though the rod is marked as an 8# and throws a 450 grain line with authority, it has an incredibly soft tip and allows me to play smaller fish as I would with a 4# or 5# singlehander. I can perform single speys, double speys and snap-Ts with little effort, and all these casts come in handy when there isn't room for a backcast (there often isn't any room on the rivers I fish). I also use the rod when fishing from my pontoon boat. The added length helps me keep line off the water, and to get just that much more distance when I really need it. This is a bonus when carp fishing, and getting too close is sure to spook the fish.
Many folks come to you with questions about Orvis CFO reels and indeed your blog has a section devoted to these classics. How did you get into them?
When I was a boy - and to a certain degree even now - I was fascinated by fishing magazines and catalogues. I remember having once sent away one of those little cards Orvis used to include in so many publications. You know the ones ... three dollars for ten flies, a fleece fly wallet, and a three dollar coupon on an order. Well, I sent away the card, included three dollars cash in the envelope, and have received an Orvis catalogue ever since (shrewd marketing). 
Those catalogues were my first introduction to the CFO, and I have admired the reel ever since. I started my collection when I went to work for Orvis in the old red clap-board store in Manchester, Vermont. The new store is beautiful, but I've some really fond memories of the old place.
What makes CFO reels so special to you?
The CFO is special for several reasons. Foremost, it is an incredibly simple yet efficient piece of engineering. It does its job incredibly well. I like to think of the CFO as the Hardy Lightweight perfected. It uses a check mechanism that is similar to the Hardy reel, but the CFO's spool sports an exposed rim that allows for palming. Early versions of the CFO were among the first mass produced reels, which were machined from solid aluminum stock whereas the Lightweights and most other reels were cast. There's a certain elegance to the porting, as one would expect of a reel designed by Stan Bogdan. The many variations and "special editions" appeal to the collector in me. The prize of my collection is a gold anodized and hand inscribed variant that was manufactured and sold in 1979; the reel is absolutely mint, and I have its original case and paperwork. The chronology and history I've included on my blog ( was a labor of love, and I suppose that more than anything else it is that history that draws me to the reel.  
Very Carpalicious!
We have talked about alternative species a lot and you seem to have the warm water bug for this year. What are some of your plans (without giving away locations)?
As much time as I spent fishing the Battenkill when I was a boy, I spent many hours more fishing the Hudson and its tributaries for bass, pike and carp. It wasn't a question of preference or passion, but rather opportunity, availability, and mobility. As a kid, I relied on my father for a ride to the Kill; the Hudson was right down the street. I'd like to get back to those warmwater roots a little bit this year. Pike are definitely on the agenda, as are carp and bass. I'll chase them in the Hudson as I always have. I'd like to take a largemouth in excess of eight pounds. That one is probably a pipe dream, but not impossible given the water I fish. Bowfin and musky are on the list, but it's anyone's guess if I'll have the time to make those trips. 
What is it that has you so excited about these species?
Smallies on the top!

As I mentioned, chasing warm water fish hearkens back to my youth just a little bit. So I suppose there's some nostalgia there. The real appeal, however, is two-fold. First, the fish are nearby and readily accessible. I can walk out my front door, hop in my car, and in five minutes be rigged up and tossing flies for pike, bass or carp. Second, the size and power of these fish can leave a bug chucker shaking in the bow of a boat. It's about the pull, the explosion only a truly big fish can provide.
Okay, you are offered a dream trip with unlimited budget. Where are you going and what are you fishing for? (my money is on farm pond bluegills….)
Oooooooh. So many options. Unlimited budget means unlimited stops along the way, right? Kamchatka comes to mind. New Zealand is almost cliche, but hey ... it's freaking New Zealand. The UK for carp. Mexico for bass. Canada for pike. Wisconsin or New York for muskies. Mongolian taimen ... Costa Rican sailfish and roosterfish ... I really dig roosters. Amazonian peacocks ... and whatever the hell else will chase a fly in the Amazon.
And yes, I'd finish it all off fishing for farm pond bluegills ... with my three kids ... probably be the highlight of the trip.
Ben Jose- pretty fish, not so pretty man...
This is something I think about a lot: you and I have not met yet. Our mutual friend Ben Jose introduced us on Facebook and we have had a running dialogue and many phone chats since then. I feel like I know you already. So do you think that social media has a big role in fly fishing, for good or ill and what do you see that role evolving into?
Likewise Drew. I'm glad Ben made the introduction, and I look forward to the day we might flog some water together. 
I don't think one can over-estimate the impact of social media on our sport. The internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitter ... these technologies may seem frivolous at times, but I'm at loss to think of any other institution or invention that has done so much to bring together so many varied and oftentimes disparate ideas. The new media gives us a new perspective, and new ways of doing things. Consider, for example, tenkara fishing. Tenkara would not be what it has become without the internet, blogs, and Facebook. 
If there is any drawback to social media it is that it lacks, and - to my way of thinking, at least - cannot provide that most essential quality of human interaction ... the ability to look another man or woman square in the eye, shake his or her hand, and know that you've met a person to be trusted. Anglers - competent anglers especially - are suspicious by nature, and inclined to carry their secrets to the grave. The only way to ever truly learn anything from these men and women is demonstrate the strength of one's character. I don't know that this can happen in a Tweet or weblog.
Where does it all go? If I knew that ... I'd be a wealthier man.  
You had the steelhead bug pretty badly this past winter. I was hoping to get out with you one day. Tell me about your season.
Happy Birthday Mike!
I have the steelhead bug even now, Drew. I don't know hat it ever goes away. I imagine steelhead to be the piscatorial equivalent of heroine. Have it once, and it's all you'll think about until you get your next fix. 
This season was by far my most successful - if success is to be measured in terms of the fish brought to hand. I don't necessarily know why I did so well. It may be that there are more and better fish in the river than there once were. This certainly seems to be the case, but I haven't any empirical evidence to prove the point. It may be that I'm just a better steelheader than I used to be. God knows that I like to think that I've managed to improve over the years. It may just be that I spent more time on the water this fall and winter than I ever had previously, and if there is any single universal truth in fly fishing it is that you can't catch fish if you haven't a line in the water.
How does it feel to be labeled a “dirty ass nympher” in the minds of some steelhead aficionados? 
Dirty Ass Nymphing works...
It hurts Drew. It really, really hurts. Even now I can feel my eyes welling up with tears.
Actually, to anyone that would make the mistake of trying to label me, I would suggest they find better ways of wasting their time. Do I nymph for steelhead. Yep, sure do, but I swing flies too. And truth be told, I tie cleaner and more elegant traditional spey flies than most of the guys who would choose to brand me as a dirty-nympher (that's more a comment on their lack of skill than it is my particular prowess).
I wrote something a while ago about this very thing ...
Finally, are you going to be able to show the error of the trout snob way to Ben or do you think you will have to beat it out of him? (Ben cannot see the point of fishing for anything but trout and salmon- for being a relatively bright human being he can be obnoxiously stupid at times)
Ben's a good man. He'll come around. If I can just get him into that first carp ...

1 comment:

  1. It was worth the wait to read this interview. Thanks Drew, I'm going over to the rusty spinner right now to read nore!