Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Angler Interview- Kurt Budliger

Kurt with a nice smallie on a recent trip!
For years several friends of mine kept telling me stories about this guy named Kurt Budliger and occasionally asked me if I ever ran into him. It really didn't happen until just a couple of years ago when I started getting more involved my local Trout Unlimited chapter- MadDog (no, it is named after local rivers, not 20-20). Kurt and I really hit it off and we have been able to get out and get some fishing in recently. On top of being a fun guy to fish with, he is a pretty amazing photographer too- a pro as a matter of fact. The Spring and Summer 2011 issues of Vermont Life magazine feature Kurt's photos on the cover (and inside as well!). Check out his website after you read the article!

How did you get into fly fishing?

 I got into fly fishing kind of late, I was in my mid to late twenties and in graduate school if memory serves.  I had grown up fishing with spinning gear but was pretty casual about it.  I had a couple of friends who fly fished and I always thought it looked pretty cool, much more elegant and sophisticated if you will.  I was working as an environmental educator after college and had access to some rods, casting videos and a stocked trout pond.  I recall spending quite a bit of time one summer out on the lawn during down times at work teaching myself to cast.  Once I hooked my first fish it was all she wrote so to speak, I quickly became a fanatic.

 Where did you grow up fishing and what was it that you were targeting primarily?

Beautiful dry fly 'bow by Kurt

 I grew up outside of Albany, NY.  I mostly fished on family vacations to Florida (off the dock with a cane pole), camping trips to the Adirondacks with my scout troop and in a family friend's bass pond.  I wasn't too picky, I fished for whatever I could catch, mostly bass I guess.  Once I started fly fishing I had the good fortune to be living very close to the West Branch of the Ausable and the Saranac River in the Adirondacks.  I learned to trout fish on the Ausable and spent a couple of fall seasons chasing landlocked salmon on the Saranac River.

 Dry fly, nymph, or streamer?

 I love and fish them all!  For trout, I fish nymphs most of the time but love to cast a dry fly to rising fish or skitter a bushy stimulator around boulders in the pocket water.  I'm starting to fish streamers more and more lately however.  I'm a big fan of big fish and find nothing works better to move Mr. Hog out from his hiding spot than a meaty streamer.

 From the amount of time you have been able to spend in Alaska, you obviously have fallen in love with the place. What is it about Alaska that keeps you coming back?

Alaska king by Kurt

 I love Alaska and would go every year if I could.  I spent a summer up there working as a naturalist guide at a backcountry wilderness lodge after college.  I fell in love instantly, the scenery is absolutely epic, truly the wildest place I've ever been and the quality and length of the light in the summer is magical.  The fishing is simply amazing, tons of big fish, little to no fishing pressure and the chance to experience it all in a truly wild landscape.

 Huge salmon and rainbows are the name of the game up there. What are you fishing for flies and (more importantly) what are you catching?

Kurt Budliger Photography

 It really depends on when and where you go.  Most of my fishing up there has been in the interior.  Early in the summer you're fishing for king salmon and we use some flashy flies (gold kills) tied on 1/0 and 2/0 hooks.  Mid summer means chums, pinks and sockeye.  Late summer means silver salmon.  I haven't caught that run yet, it'll be my next trip for sure.  I've also spent some time chasing big rainbows and dry fly fishing for arctic grayling.  The rainbows (and grayling for that matter) are suckers for pegged beads.  It's absolutely deadly especially if the rainbows are sitting behind spawning salmon.  Egg sucking leaches, sculpins, and flesh flies are also super effective.  Dry fly fishing for grayling is a lot of fun.  They readily come to the surface to grab a fly.  Terrestrial patterns like ants and beetles are killer, however my got to fly is a bushy ausable wulff.  I like to summon the late great Fran Betters when ever possible :)

 I know you get out for salmon and steelhead on the Salmon River in New York a couple of times a year. How does that compare to Alaska? (I have to admit that I am grinning as I type this question)

Kurt Budliger Photography

 Yeah it pretty much doesn't compare at all :)  I don't even go over to the Salmon River for salmon anymore, it's just such a zoo.  I do however like to go for steelhead and may try to go in the late fall for big browns.  The pressure that river gets is unreal, especially compared to most of Alaska.  If you're going to fish for salmon, especially kings there is nothing better than a wild sea run fish.  Plus they don't turn that ugly brown color the great lakes kings turn.

 Tell me about your local trout fishing experiences. What is it about VT trout fishing that keeps it interesting for you?
Kurt Budliger Photography

 I know this will sound sacrilegious but I actually don't like trout fishing in Vermont all that much.  I do most of my trout fishing in the Adirondacks.  I find our rivers are prone to blow out and stay muddy in the spring and get too hot to fish by mid summer.  I will admit that there are a lot of rivers I've yet to fish and hope to soon.  My fishing time the past 5 or 6 years has been somewhat limited (young kids) so I've found it's actually easier to get away for a couple of days rather than try to blast out for a few hours.  I've got some great friends in the ADK and northern NY so I usually like to hook up with them and fish some familiar water when I get the chance.  I really should put in more time here at home.

 You are fortunate enough to get down to Pennsylvania every year to visit family and get some fishing in. Where do you fish?

Kurt Budliger Photography

 I mostly fish Penn's Creek and occasionally hit Spring Creek.

 Do you think the fishing in PA is more technical than here?

 I wouldn't say it's more technical.  Although I'm usually there in the Spring and the trout haven't been pounded too hard yet.  Penn's Creek isn't one of those fussy little spring creeks, it's pretty big and gets some big hatches, lots of miles to fish.  I'll see how tough it is when I'm there later this summer.

 Your two passions seem to be meshing together well- fly fishing and photography. How do you think that happens?
Kurt Budliger Photography

It's true my two passions in life are fly fishing and photography.  I've been a professional photographer for about 7 years now and for a long time I didn't combine fishing and photography at all.  If I was fishing I wanted to focus on just that, without complicating things by messing with camera gear.  I guess I've reached a point in my fishing life where catching fish isn't the end all be all of the experience.  Today I'm getting just as much, if not more satisfaction from making a beautiful photograph while out on the water with friends.  There is so much beauty and art in the sport of fly fishing, from the scenery to the angler's cast, the gear and of course the fish.  I'm finding a tremendous amount of fulfillment from capturing the art and story of fly fishing every time I head out.  As a professional photographer I'm also looking for more ways to focus my time and shooting on things that really inspire me, we make our best work when we photograph the things we love.

 Do you have subject matter that you are looking for when you are on a fishing trip?
Kurt Budliger Photography

 Sometimes I've got some really specific goals or concepts in mind when I head out on the water with my camera, especially if I'm working on a project or story.  However, sometimes this can be a detriment to your creativity.  If you're totally focused on finding something you've pre-visualized, or is on your "shot list" you can easily miss lots of other great opportunities that arise.  I sometimes find it's better to just relax and keep your eyes open to what's happening around you.  In most of my imagery I really try to create something that's different, artistic and goes beyond the usual grip and grin stuff we see in the mags.

 Have you ever had any bad experiences with cameras and fish (or water)?

 No bad experiences with cameras and fish yet (knock on wood).  I did take a pretty nasty spill in the Connecticut River a couple of years ago but fortunately the gear stayed dry.  I keep my camera gear in a roll top, dry bag style backpack made by Simms.  It's great, not only is the gear protected from dunking but also from rain.

 Have your fly fishing experiences started to change lately? Are you targeting things you haven’t before?

Kurt got this great shot of me with a friend

 Yes, they are changing quite a bit.  I've been fishing  with this crazy warm water fanatic that chases carp, bowfin and muskies.  Perhaps you know him? 

 Now that summer is upon us, what kind of plans do you have for fishing and photography?

 I'm hoping to do some warm water stuff, bowfin and musky being my main focus.  I'll also be doing a trip or two to the Adirondacks, the Upper Connecticut and maybe the Rapid River in Maine.  I'm toying with the idea of experimenting a little with HD video as well.

 So you have been helping to put together the first Vermont Trout Unlimited Trout Camp for kids. Tell me about the camp and the plans for the campers.

Kurt with a laker last fall

 I've been working with a bunch of guys from the Mad Dog TU chapter to get this camp off the ground.  We've been meeting and working on this since late February/early March.  We've teamed up with Quimby Country in Averil, VT so the kids will not only get to experience the thrill of learning to fly fish but get to do it at Vermont's oldest sporting lodge nestled in the Northeast Kingdom.  The program is 4 days and will provide kids (age 13-15) with a thorough introduction to the sport of fly fishing.  They'll learn casting, knots and knot craft, fly tying, fish and aquatic insect biology, wading and fishing tactics and participate in a conservation project with Joe Norton from TU national.  We've got some really topnotch volunteers slated to help teach and guide kids.  And of course the campers will get tons of time on the water to fish.  I spent a lot time working in camps and as an env. ed. when I was in my twenties and can attest to the fact that there is nothing more powerful and life changing for a kid than this type of immersive experience.  We owe it to our resource and those that came before us to help usher in the new generation of environmental stewards.

 I think it is pretty funny that for years I heard your name from various friends and I suspect you heard my name from the same folks. We finally met officially just a couple of years ago. Don’t you think it is kind of crazy that we know so many of the same people and took so long to fish?
Kurt Budliger Photography

 Yeah it is pretty odd but I'm glad our paths finally crossed. 

 It is October on the Saranac on a crisp clear morning. What fly are you going to tie on to get the interest of a landlocked salmon?

Always a tough choice picking the first fly of the day but I think I'd have to go with a grey ghost.  Although, the biggest fish I ever caught over there was on an olive bugger.

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