Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe

Is it secret? Is it safe? Or did you sell out your favorite fishing
spot to Sauruman and his orcs?
Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien will recognize the title of this post. Gandalf has returned from doing research about the ring and is very concerned about its security.  “Is it secret? Is it safe?” The same thing applies to fishing. There are some valuable resources out there that need to be kept quiet. Yet some people don’t seem to have the ability to recognize that.

Winter in Vermont makes for tough fishing. Most streams are closed to fishing, but a few remain open. That is of course when they aren’t locked tight with ice. So, good places to fish are limited. Add to that a fairly limited run of cooperative salmonids and you have a situation where a lot of anglers can be on relatively small water. Increasing angling pressure on small streams is never a good idea to begin with but it is especially poignant when there are only a few streams available to anglers. Does anyone actually think it is a good idea to name places to fish in this situation?

Think about it this way too: if you blab to everyone on the interwebs about where you caught your last #########, you are putting pressure on the place that YOU are fishing. Is this smart? Back in the day if you told someone you didn’t know well and they told other people it was like that old shampoo commercial. Fishing reports could spread quickly by word of mouth and inside a week or two a spot could be overrun. Nowadays with the ease of communication provided by the internet it doesn’t take that long. It can be like telling a bunch of frat boys that there is free beer. Of course what they aren’t telling the frat boys about the beer is that there is only a six pack when 100 guys shows up…

Use your head when you are in this situation. It is very easy to tell everyone where you are fishing. But is it smart? Nope. Think about what you are doing. You could be psyched about fishing at the same spot the next day but, oh look, there are 6 people fishing in my spot. How did that happen? Or even worse, you have been telling people to fish somewhere that you don’t fish and have heard about by word of mouth… so you have screwed over people you don’t know. Really wonderful thing to do to others…
What??? How do people know about my spot?
Oh yea, someone blabbed...
Don't be a dummy....

One thing that anglers in Vermont really should remember is that this isn’t huge state with a lot of big water. We don’t have the Madison, the Henry’s Fork, the Salmon River, etc.  The rivers we have (and especially smaller streams) can’t absorb an extra couple of dozen people a day. There simply isn’t any place for them to go. And that is when the season is open. Right now, I would estimate that maybe 2 percent of all water in the state is available to anglers and much less of that is fishable with a fly. Sending a bunch of people to VERY limited areas is not a smart thing to do.

Follow Gandalf’s advice to keep it secret and keep it safe. Don’t be a schmuck and ruin good water just for the sake of looking cool or looking like you know a lot. Keep it quiet and have fun on the water.  Take pictures that don’t let people know where you caught the fish. Be smart. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Angler Interview- Phil Monahan

I have been pretty fortunate to be able to guide Phil Monahan this past summer. For those of you who don't know Phil, you are still probably familiar with some of his work. Phil was the editor of American Angler for 10 years and is now editing the Orvis News blog. He is definitely a great guy to spend a day in the boat with. I hit him up for today's Angler Interview and here is what he had to say:

Phil- showing his talents as a gator rider and brown trout hunter...
How did you get into fly fishing?

My grandfather was a big sportsman, and he got me and my older brother, Brian, fishing when we were quite small. I fished a lot in local ponds in southeastern NH growing up, but then I went away for high school and college, where I didn’t fish much. Then I returned to my home state to go to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. Brian lived nearby, and he had discovered fly fishing. He taught me to cast one snowy afternoon in his girlfriend’s backyard, and I was hooked.  Aside from my brother, who was often busy, I had no one to teach me, so I learned by trial and error. I went fly fishing thirteen times before I caught my first trout.

Do you remember your first outfit?

My brother handed down his $12 Eagle Claw fly rod combo, which I used until I splurged on a Sage Discovery combo about a year later.

When did you head west to fish and guide? And where did you end up? 

In 1992, I got to the point in graduate school where they paid me, rather than vice versa. Therefore, I didn’t need a summer job that would make a lot of money, so I decided it would be fun to learn how to be a guide. I sent out 110 cover letters and resumes to every fly-fishing operation in the West and Alaska I could find. I received a total of three responses, but one was a job offer from a lodge in south-central Alaska. So I headed up there, with no idea what I was getting into.

The guy who hired me turned out to be both insane and bankrupt, which is a particularly bad combo in a lodge owner. He sent me out into the bush to “get the lodge ready for the season” all by myself. I had never been to Alaska before, and suddenly, I was all alone in the wilderness. Long story short: I worked out there from May 20 to July 14, but the lodge never opened and I never got paid. 

However, I had met a few people on the river, and through their assistance, I got hauled out of there, back to Anchorage, and got an interview with another lodge owner named Duke Bertke. He hired me on faith, and I finished that summer at Chelatna Lake Lodge, one of the most gorgeous lodges in Alaska. My summer (and budding guiding career) turned from disaster to spectacular. I spent another summer at Chelatna Lake, worked a season at Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in Paradise Valley, and then finished my guiding career at Rainbow River Lodge on the Copper River in southwestern Alaska.

Every guide has some great stories… what was one of the best days of guiding you had?

When I worked on the Copper, I once guided a pair of judges from California—one a state Supreme Court justice. They’d been friends for 60-something years and been fishing together almost as long. We caught a lot of fish, but more fun was their banter and their stories from their lives on the bench and in politics. (According to them, the great U.S. Supreme Court justice Earl Warren never uttered the name “Nixon” without prefacing it with “that sonofabitch.”) 

In one part of the day, they were casting big Kauffman Stoneflies under indicators in a long glide, where we could see a bunch of rainbows holding. One of the judges was crushing it—20+-inch rainbows, one after another—but the other couldn’t get a bite. They tried switching spots, switching rods, and even switching hats, but the same guy kept catching all the fish. It was just one of those weird “fishing karma” things that’s totally unexplainable, and they had a good time with it, which made my job fun.

On the flip side, do you have any nightmare clients that you remember and what was it that has stuck with you?

When I worked at Hubbard’s, I guided a lawyer from Texas who wanted to fish Slough Creek in Yellowstone Park. We drove two hours there, but when he didn’t catch a fish in the first ½ hour, he said, “Let’s go back to the lodge.” I pointed out that we could see any number of cutthroats in the water. He handed me his rod and said, “Okay. Let me see YOU catch one.” On about my fifth cast, I hooked a nice trout. With the rod bent, I turned to where he was standing on the bank. He said, “I’ll meet you at the van,” and made me drive him all the way back to the lodge so he could fish the stocked pond on the property.

Having spent time out west and on the East Coast with a wide variety of anglers, do you see a difference in angler attitudes between the two?

In the West, fly fishing is much more tied into the overall outdoor lifestyle of skiing, boarding, mountain biking, etc. Eastern fly fishermen are their own unique club, set apart from those other enthusiasts.

You have been involved in the fly fishing industry for quite some time now and it has undergone some serious changes. What do you think the biggest changes and challenges that you have seen over the years are?

The Internet has changed pretty much everything from the publishing industry to merchandise sales to the dissemination of information. In an hour on the Web, you can learn almost anything about the sport, get the cheapest price on any gear, find a great fishing spot, and discover exactly what fly and tippet you should use there. That said, I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing. There are a few big problems with this model:

1. How can you tell the difference between good and bad information? Anyone can post anything to the Web, and with no editor to vet the info, you stand the chance of the old garbage-in-garbage-out problem. This explains the rise of sites such as and
2. Internet discounters hurt fly shops . Fly shops do a lot more than sell stuff. A good fly shop is like a clubhouse, a meeting place, repository of local knowledge, and center of expertise. Saving $25 on a fly rod isn’t worth giving all that up.
3. There’s something to be said for learning something slowly, rather than all at once.
Phil with a gorgeous bowfin from this past summer!

You and I talked about Warmwater Fly Fishing magazine when we were fishing for bowfin on Lake Champlain (appropriately). It was definitely a magazine ahead of its time. Do you think that now is the time for a re-emergence?

It’s a tough time launch anything like that as a traditional magazine, and folks still haven’t accepted the notion of paying for online content. I think we’re still a few years away from figuring that all out.

I am sure a lot of people must ask you this, but since you work at Orvis now, do you get a chance to play with lots of new toys before they hit the market? Is there anything fun coming down the line to look forward to?

Although I’m friends with all the guys in Rod & Tackle, I’m not really privy to all their fantastic new products until it’s time to write about them. I can certainly use anything I want, which is great.

After spending some time on Lake Champlain this summer, what did you think of the diversity of the fishing and do you have plans to return next summer?

I thought it was an amazing place, and I’d love to explore the many different fisheries available. I especially want to find some pike.

Ok, time to bring up unpleasant memories… what fish(es) that you got into but didn’t land haunt your nightmares? Tell me their stories…

When I was about 12 years old, I was fishing for largemouth bass with a worm under a bobber on Country Pond, in Kingston, New Hampshire. There was a huge patch of lily pads, and I was fishing from shore. I caught a little tiny bluegill, and in a fit of adolescent frustration, I decided to use the tiny fish as bait. I hooked it behind the head and then cast the ridiculous rig as far out into the weeds as possible. A couple minutes later, the bobber went WHOOMP! Straight under. I set the hook and battled some kind of beast (bass, pickerel, ?) for about five minutes—my tiny spinning rod bent double—before the line broke. I really wanna know what the heck that thing was.

I love asking this one: if you could go anywhere in the world to fish for anything, price is no object, where would you go and what would you target? 

Iceland to fish for brown trout, char, and Atlantic salmon.

Thanks a million Phil!  I will have you out for pike next spring for sure!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friday Anger Interview

Matt is a steelhead magnet!
The Friday   Sunday Angler Interview was a bit late this week... but here it is!  I met up with a great angler last week while out fishing. Matt Lavallee is mostly a spin fisherman but he is doing quite well with the long rod already after less than a year seriously fishing with one. I don't think that there are many folks who know the lower Winooski as well as he does too. He is also one of the many participants in the Vermont Master Angler Program- with some really awesome entries for this year already!
How did you get into fly fishing?
One of my most fondest and prominent memories on the water as a child was walking upstream on the Winooski River in Bolton and running into a group of fly fishermen. Not being older than 10 or 11, I'd never run into fly fishermen before, and had no idea what it was.  As I sat back and watched in amazement at how they picked up the floating line off the water, slingshot it behind them, and then in front of them, laying it evenly across the water and then watching with predator-like eyes at the dry fly as it drifted down, I knew this wasn't something anybody could do.  I was filled with excitement and curiosity.  Each one of them had a stringer of browns and rainbows and continued to land fish after fish.  Needless to say that night I arrived home, I looked in my father’s garage for something that resembled the rods and reels that they were using.  I ended up finding a baitcasting reel, putting it on a spinning rod with braided line, and somehow thinking I was now a fly fisherman!  I scanned the fields for grasshoppers, caught a few and ran to the same spot on the river where I'd ran into the fly fishermen before to learn this amazing fishing technique.  Nobody was there, as it was now a weekday and they were at work.  I spent hours upon hours trying to cast like they did with obviously no success.  After hours upon hours of trying to get the hang of trying to shoot my, "fly line" which was actually thin diameter braided line, forward over 50 feet in front of me like they did, I gave up.  As any young child, I decided it was just TOO hard for me to learn and I gave up too soon.  I was then forced to move from Bolton into Winooski with my family, and the passion I had for fishing dwindled away as I got caught up in school. Over 10 years later after getting back into fishing altogether, I picked up a fly rod and reel after spin fishing for about 4 years again, went to Bolton and managed to find that exact spot I was at when I was a child and it was just pure nostalgia!  It was one of the first places I'd ever actually fly fished.  I had felt complete and was at a loss for words when I had landed my first trout in the same spot I had ran into the fly fishermen as a kid.  It was a small rainbow, and I was hooked on fly fishing after feeling the first tug of that fish on my fly rod after I set the hook!

This is the spot where Matt first saw fly fishing
I know you have primarily been a spin angler for many years but you are getting more into fly angling. What have you seen as the biggest differences? What has the biggest challenge been?
The biggest issue for me was and is casting, especially at a distance.  Being a beginner, I'm far from presenting a fly at a distance to a fish whereas with a spinning rod I'd be able to achieve that distance with ease.  I find almost everything about fly fishing has been and still is difficult to learn.  Casting, presentation, using the right fly and even landing a fish!  There are many more things that go into fly fishing as opposed to spin fishing, and I love that.  Fly fishing overall has been more difficult than spin fishing, and I think that is why I'm starting to do it much more often lately.  Just like every angler out there, I love a good challenge!  Once I start tying my own flies, I will have a greater sense of accomplishment when landing a fish on a fly that I've tied myself.  I'm very much looking forward to it.

You have been doing really well with the Vermont Master Angler Program. What is it about that program that gets you excited?
I love the Master Angler Program.  It gives me a reason to target species that I normally wouldn't target and gives me a new respect for them.  I love going on the website and browsing through pictures of every kind of fish and seeing who caught it, and how.  It makes me feel even more proud to be fishing VT waters after seeing some of the beautiful fish on the Master Angler Program. 

What species do you want to chase more for the MAP?
I'd love to start targeting as many species as I can, but I'd love to catch a few huge pike and longnose gar, the pure size of them intrigues me.  I've landed a few before but nothing over 30".  I'd also love to land a MAP qualifying pike or longnose gar on a fly!

Yes, this is a laker from the Winooski!
The Winooski is your home water. At this point I think there are few people who know that water as well as you do. What species have you caught in the lower Winooski?
It would almost be better to list the species I haven't caught in the lower Winooski!  Species I have caught in the lower Winooski are steelhead(rainbow trout), lake trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon, brown bullhead, pike, pumpkinseed, yellow and white perch, small and largemouth bass, walleye, sturgeon, carp, fallfish, longnose gar, American eel, redhorse, white suckers and freshwater drum.  Almost every species you can catch in the Lake will at some point or another be in the tributaries, it's just a matter of when.

Have you seen an increase in fishing pressure in the area over the past few years?
This year has had a great increase in fishing pressure because of the amount and quality of fish coming from the lower Winooski, and not to mention other Lake Champlain Tributaries.

It seems like it was a banner year for landlocked salmon. How have you done?
I had landed only four landlocked salmon for the year out of about 8 or so I'd had on, but among those four I'd landed I had one rather large one, which was my personal best at just over 28".  The only downside to that was that the pictures I took of it were in the net because I planned on releasing it, and it was not able to be entered into the MAP.  I did however land one that came in at 24" which I had entered in July.  It was a big surprise to me as it was a collateral catch while fishing for smallies and the occasional walleye.  I am looking forward to next year’s run, or even landing another one in the river this spring as I have a few spots picked out on the lower Winooski that seem promising.

Has it been a good year for steelhead for you?
Gorgeous piece of steel Matt!
It's been a PHENOMENAL year for steelhead for me.  I've already entered 6 qualifying steelhead into the MAP, and have probably lost another 6 big enough to qualify.  My very first steelhead on a fly happened to be a MAP qualifying size, coming in at 24.5".  As with landlocked salmon, I've landed my personal best steelhead this year only about a week ago and it was 27.75".  I landed it on my fly rod, which is only a 5 wt.  One of my most memorable fights out of any fish I've ever landed, regardless of method.  I'm very proud of myself to have won that vigorous battle, and netting it solo as well.  The season however, isn't over for me.  I plan to fish the lower Winooski for steelhead until it closes in March with both my spinning and fly rod, weather permitting.

The Winooski has some of the best habitat for sturgeon in Vermont. Have you seen many sturgeon in the river?
In the spring, they seem to run up quite thick in the lower Winooski.  I have heard stories of people hooking 3-4 in the same day, and I wouldn't doubt that.  I had my first experience with a sturgeon this spring and it was just amazing.  I had absolutely no say as to where the fish was going in the water; I was just tagging along for the ride as it went where it pleased.  The size they can get to is just outstanding and they really can dwarf any fish in the rivers and in the Lake.

Matt's two-fer
What has been the biggest surprise catch you have had while fishing the lower Winooski?
I've had quite a few this year, but I guess when it comes to, "catching" it would have to be my first carp(s).  After hooking my very first carp and battling it out for a good 30 minutes, I walked down to the bank to net it.  Before I knew it, the carp was in the net with his trusty sidekick, ANOTHER carp!  While netting the carp, it's mate (I assume) was following it while I was fighting it, and decided to swim right into my net as I was netting the one on the end of my line.  I was in shock!  It has made for a great fishing story.

I have heard that you had a chance to film a segment with Lawrence Pyne for the Vermont Outdoor Journal. How did that go?
I was very fortunate to have been a part of his segment about the Master Angler program in Vermont, he's a great guy.   Lawrence contacted me via e-mail after seeing the different species I had entered into the MAP from the lower Winooski river.  He wanted to get some footage of me fishing and get an interview afterwards asking about the kind of fishery the lower Winooski is, and why many anglers overlook it because it's so close to the city.   We met up in late October with the river being quite high.  I had been fishing for my MAP steelhead entry, and that's what we were focusing on since I hadn't yet landed a steelhead big enough to qualify.  After a great day on the water with Lawrence, I did manage a steelhead about 17" on camera, but the day was coming to an end, and Lawrence and I parted ways.  I thanked him for the opportunity, and the episode should be airing around spring.  I decided to give a different spot a try before leaving myself, and ended up landing a 26.5" lake trout, it was just too bad Lawrence had already left.  As he left, he told me jokingly I had better not land a MAP qualifying steelhead, and the very next day I did just that.  A trophy sized steelhead and my personal best at the time, coming in at 27".  If only we had picked the next day to film, it would have been it on camera!  Overall the experience was perfect, and I felt very honored to be on the show.  I've since then sent Lawrence a few pictures of the MAP qualifying steelhead I've been catching.

Ok, time to bring up unpleasant memories… what fish(es) that you got into but didn’t land haunt your nightmares? Tell me their stories…
June of last year I had hooked into a fish that was so powerful and fast, after the initial hook set it took off and ran almost 100 yards across the river, just about spooling me within seconds.  It was the kind of run that makes your heart skips a beat.  When it finally slowed, it turned 90 degrees and ran into the deepest part of the river.  Shortly after that, it had gotten my line hung up on a snag at the bottom.  So not only did I not see the fish, but it outsmarted me and had wrapped my line around something in the water, and broke me off right after.  I was devastated, and it took me quite a while to get over it.  At that time of the year, I have no idea what it could have been.  I'd like to say it was either a monstrous salmon or steelhead, but since I didn't manage to get a glimpse of it I'll never quite know for sure, and it just kills me!

I love asking this one: if you could go anywhere in the world to fish for anything, price is no object, where would you go and what would you target?
That's a tough one.  Even though it's relatively close to home, I'd love to visit New York and fish for steelhead and browns on a fly in some of the great rivers and streams they have. There is just something about catching huge trout in small water that gets me pumped.

Are you hoping to do more fly angling in the future?
I definitely am, there is no doubt about that.  I'm hoping to use it just as often as my spinning rod from now on.  I plan on buying an 8 wt outfit next year for salmon and steelhead.  I may even try targeting pike and longnose gar with it as well.  Only time will tell!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Nothing endures but change” Heraclitus said in the 5th century BC. This has also been slightly altered into the more recognizable “the only constant is change” that we know today. The central theme to Heraclitus’s philosophy was that change is the fundamental source and order of the universe. After walking a good length of one of my favorite local rivers today it was a central theme in my thoughts as well.

The river's course has changed,
leaving its old channel behind
It was a gorgeous day, but the water was low and with a bright sun in the sky the fishing was less than stellar which lead to a lot of walking. I came to a spot in the river I have known well but was alien to me now. The channel had moved cutting off a bend I fished often in the past. With two catastrophic floods this year it could have happened during either event. Now the water flows straight through leaving a small oxbow to gradually fill in. 

The course of the river has indeed changed. Rivers do that as part of their natural cycle. They move constantly throughout their floodplain. Looking at a good aerial photograph of a river will show the evidence of sinuous movement back and forth across its valley floor. We don’t see this movement well because it happens on a time scale we are not familiar with- the geologic time scale. The only time we really comprehend it happening is when something major causes the river to dramatically alter itself in a short period of time.

Cataclysmic change can happen in a short period of time
and have a lasting impact.
Anyone who spends time on rivers sees changes from year to year. Gravel bars shift, pools fill in, logs and other debris move and deposit, and erosion consumes banks but it seems like the same place. After something disastrous it can be amazing to return to a familiar stretch of water and wonder if it is the same place. Pools will have been dredged or filled, runs become pools or riffles, banks are worn away, islands formed or wiped away and sometimes the entire channel of the river is nowhere near where it once had been. These vivid changes only take a matter of hours in some cases but have lasting impact on the character of the water.

As anglers we wonder what has happened to the river. Will it be the same? Will that pool still hold fish in the same place? Have all the spawning areas changed? Have the fish survived? Will I be able to fish this the way I always have? These changes are filled with fear. H.P. Lovecraft, perhaps the greatest horror author of the 20th Century, wrote “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Our questions are filled with fear. We don’t know the repercussions of the changes the river has undergone. It is an unknown and we approach that unknown apprehensively.
Once a river channel this mostly filled oxbow is
rarely visited any longer by the stream that formed it.

One thing is for certain: the water flowing in the river will continue to flow from its source to its end point. The path will change. There are places that will remain constant, vigilant against change. Hard rock outcrops will keep a river within its walls but once it finds release from these constraints it will move freely again, changing to adapt to its needs. There will be times when the river floods and revisits its old channels for a period of time. As the flows change however, deposits will build up and the frequency of those stopovers will be lessened. Oxbows will form leaving a permanent mark on the river valley that can be recognized if you look for it. The river’s path may have relocated but where it had been will always leave a sign to remind us of what once was. 

Change happens and we adapt. We find the place that the fish are holding now. We learn how to fish the pools and riffles that have been created. We discover the nuances of the river we spend so much time with. We learned from the river already how to work it well before and we will learn how to do so again. Adaptation is what has allowed life to go on through the changes that this planet has gone through. Species adapt or they take the path of the woolly mammoth and cease to exist. We do the same as anglers. 

John Gierach suggests with his book title that “Death, taxes and leaky waders” are the constants that anglers can expect and he is pretty much on the mark with that. Everything else will change. Rivers certainly do. And so does life.

…a metaphor?  Perhaps…

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Angler Interview- Dave Lindsay

Alright, its been a while since I pulled a Friday Angler Interview together, so its about time for a reboot!  Check out this cray man!

Dave hard at work on another fly
It doesn't take long in the world of fly fishing for pike to run into McFluffchucker- the crazed Scottish pike nut Dave Lindsay.  Dave has been instrumental in helping to spread the word of long rod Esox to the masses thanks to his blog, Facebook antics and the Pike Fly Fishing Association. He has developed great relationships with UK based firms like PikeTrek, Predator Bite and Deer Creek. He is always on the forefront of new gear and materials available to pikers. On top of being a total madman on the water Dave is also an incredibly talented fly tyer. He has developed quite a few innovative fly patterns for pike (and other predators) over the years. I haven't had the chance to fish with Dave yet but I have been fortunate enough to fish with some flies he sent to me (absolutely gorgeous and fished incredibly well!). I am sure that I will have that chance before too long when he once again graces the Green Mountain State to visit his "brother from another mother" Ken "the Redneck" Capsey.

How did you get into fly fishing?
Nice pike Dave!

I was around 7 or 8 years old and my folks had just taken a job as a butler and chambermaid in a castle in Scotland which had the River Tweed running through the grounds. As a kid I used to walk the river bank with my dad and watch the salmon anglers catch big fish- their reels screaming and rods bent double. I used to love watching that and spent a lot of my free time down at the river, so I guess my folks saw the interest and bought me a small fibreglass trout outfit of my own. I remember knowing nothing much about fly fishing so I kind of did the casting style I’d watched the salmon anglers do and I managed to get a line out a respectable distance with a single fly. The second time I went on my own I watched as a big black shape came up under a big mayfly I was using, of course I froze solid and the fish turned away but from that point I guess the seed was sown.

Pike are quite obviously your favourite target with the long rod. What is it about pike that gets you so fired up?

Whats not to love about these fish?
The mystery of them gets me: you just never know what that next hit will be. The anticipation of that next hit just keeps me going even on the bleakest of days and the heart stopping moment when you see a fish following your fly, or when you hook up and see a mouth full of teeth airborne trying to shake the fly. That moment also when you feel those tugs of headshakes down the line and your rod bends over with lean, mean fighting machine...  There is something about these fish that just gets me and that words can’t explain... I’ve had the fire for most of my life and I can’t see it ever going out.  It’s one of the most addictive forms of fishing I’ve ever done in fact; so much so I now only own fly gear! 
I see a lot of discussion about the perfect pike stick these days and I have caught pike on rods from 6wt up to 10wt and have my own opinion about what rod does the best all-around job for pike. What is your take on this and what would you recommend to someone just starting out?
You know there is so much choice out there and if you don’t know what you’re looking for it can be very confusing to somebody just starting out. I would say without a shadow of a doubt a 9/10wt is the best all round pike fly rod. These days rods like the Pikesaber are so light you can fish with it all day without getting fatigued. These rods are light, powerful, get fish in quickly and can throw the biggest of flies no problem. But the rod you use is a very personal thing and I’d say what you need to do is go and try a rod out first- your local tackle shop will be happy to help you out. If you have a fly fishing buddy ask them as well and have a cast with their rods get a feel for what feels right for you. That makes the whole thing a lot easier. I’d also suggest if you haven’t been fly fishing before is to get a couple of lessons with an instructor this will really help you on your way.

Do you think there would be a difference in rod choice between what you would use in Scotland compared to here?

No, not for pike. I use the same gear over there as I do in Scotland. No need to go buying different gear although any excuse for a new rod or reel, eh?

Lines are another common area of discussion among the pike crowd. Do you have personal preferences? 
Tossin' the Saber!

Well, you know Drew; I like to keep things simple. The only thing I do insist on is buying a brand name. The reason for this is that the line companies have a wealth of experience in making lines and although they may be expensive it’s a good investment. I use lines from Rio and Scientific Anglers they have always done me well and I’ve never had a problem with them.  Also I’ve just started playing with the lines from UK company, Piketrek, which so far seem to be very good but time will tell on that one. Always buy from a company you trust and have a good customer service- should anything go wrong again asking people will help you on your way. No question is too stupid if you don’t know the answer... 

What line or lines should a piker have in their bag of tricks and why? 

You know I’m a “keep it simple guy” and I like to keep it uncomplicated. I mean half the battle is getting your fly past a fish. If a fish isn’t where you are casting it doesn’t matter how many lines you have: you can’t catch it if it’s not there! I carry only 3 lines floating , intermediate , and a fast sinking line. I use a floating line on shallow water venues and for surface work with sub bugs. The intermediate line tends to be a line I use to explore the depth layers and I also use this on new venues that I don’t know the layout a great way of finding fish. Finally a fast sinking line-  this I use on deep water venues and I usually use foam heads or sub bugs on these with a shorter leader so the fly sits of the bottom. Length of leader determines how far off the bottom you go. If there’s no weeds I tend to use four feet of leader: this can be deadly especially in colder months when you can just inch these flies along just off the bottom for lethargic fish. This technique can often make a pike snap at a fly.

Do you prefer fishing a weighted fly on a floating line or an unweighted fly on a sinking line?

I have no preference, really, on that one. It really depends on conditions and where I’m fishing. For example, a local canal I fish I’ll fish a floating line with a weighted fly as I know the fish hug the bottom so I need to have a fly that fishes off the bottom and sinks back down a.k.a. dying fish. The sinking line and unweighted fly I use as per the question above so it’s really down to conditions and where I’m fishing. If I had to choose one, I think it would be the floating line and weighted fly. Good question.  
Dave and Ken- trouble incarnate!

Since spending some time “across the pond” with fellow pike nut Ken Capsey, what do you see as the major differences between fishing pike in Scotland and in the States?

You know the U.K. has always been years behind the U.S.A in terms of fishing and pike fishing is no different. In terms of gear and even tying materials we are still way behind you guys but catching up slowly. The biggest difference I see is the attitude towards pike fly fishing. I see in the States people being interested in the method and more accepting of fly fishing for pike and muskie without really questioning the method. In this country we are still regarded a somewhat of an oddity as we don’t really fit into the general acceptance of what fly fishing is in the U.K. i.e. trout and salmon. We don’t fit into the general acceptance off a pike fisher in general, so we are still very much out there in a lot of people’s eyes. In Scotland the pike is still seen as vermin in a lot of places and should be killed on sight by the old guard of fly fishers of Scotland’s lochs and rivers. Attitudes are changing slowly as land owners and fishery owners realise that they actually can make some extra money by allowing pike fly fishers onto their waters. We pay the same price for fishing them and we put the fish back in the water not on a plate so no brainer really.  It’s still a long way off to where you are over there. The tide is turning but very slowly.

Are you surprised by the increasing popularity of pike as a target of the long rod crowd?

Yes and no really. We have always been on the edge of acceptance to “normal” pike anglers. When I started fly fishing for pike there was maybe half a dozen people doing it in the U.K. Flies consisted of all marabou flies- there was no such thing as synthetic fibres or even pike patterns. It was still very much hit and miss. 

Then as the years went by it was still pretty stagnant until Peter Jones formed the Pike Fly Fishing Association in the U.K. and people started coming together to talk about the thing they loved to do. There were no internet forums or club pages in those days it was all done by the club magazine and telephone calls. Of course once the internet side of it started and bait and lure anglers were seeing that we were regularly catching double figure fish on the fly, they started to sit up and take notice of what we were doing. They liked the idea in principle, hell some people actually bought fly gear as well, but a lot of them dropped off and went back to their bait and lures because they didn’t know what to do (and never thought to ask questions) with the stuff or it wasn’t for them. But it did leave a hard-core group of people who loved the sport. Even so we still got a lot of stick from people who said that pike couldn’t be bought in fast enough on fly gear and it would harm them fishing for them on fly gear etc. etc. etc. Perseverance was the key and these days a lot of pike anglers consider fly fishing as a viable method to catch them so we are still attracting a lot of people here in the U.K. In fact I was fishing the other week and was chatting to a guy who only lure fished. I gave him an impromptu pike fly fishing lesson and you know he said what a lovely way to fish. It took a while to get my rod back off him!

Where do you see pike fly fishing going in the next 5 years? Lots of new products, new thoughts, new challenges?

I’ve seen massive changes in the sport in the last 5 years. From websites popping up all over the place to new materials and the range of rods, reels, and lines available for the pike fly fisher. It’s incredible! I see the next 5 years being pretty much the same as new tying materials and methods of fly tying come forward. I also see a lot more mainstream acceptance of the method from both the game fishing fraternity and the coarse fishing fraternity in this country. I also think the American arm of the PFFA will start to gather momentum as more pred-heads get together to fish. It’s a very exciting time to be a pike fly fisher! 

You have a lot of innovative fly patterns you have come up with. Could you describe a few?
A lovely Sub Bug

Nice of you to say Drew, thanks! Fly tying is such a big part of what I do and to be honest I’m forever giving flies away to people. A challenge really fires me up and that’s how one of my favourites “the Sub Bug” came about. A guy said to me once “Well flies are all well and good but you can’t make them move like a jerk bait.” Well red rag to a bull that was! So I set to work and designed the Sub Bug (no, it’s not a Dahlberg diver) which when stripped and paused works just like a glide bait and looks fantastic in the water. Currently I’m playing with a new material from called Gliss-n-Glint Plus which is very mobile in the water and has a flashy material running through it. So far I’ve only tied big patterns with it but they really look like the real thing in the water so I’m quite excited about it. They are starting to do a nice range of colours as well, check ‘em out but suffice to say I still have a few patterns bursting to get out...

Do you have any personal favourite hooks to tie pike flies on and what is it about those “irons” that you like so much? 
The alchemist at work...

I have a few hooks that I really like to tie on for flies that I need to be lightweight. For example- for big Flashbou patterns I like to use the Sakuma Manta in sizes 4/0 to 6/0. For Sub Bugs I like the Orvis Pike and Muskie hook in 6/0 as it has plenty of shank room for materials without masking the hook. If I need a heavier hook I tend to go for the PikeTrek x-s Aberdeen in 6/0- this is a great hook and really sticks ‘em when It counts! I also love to use the Gamakatsu SL12 in 6/0. It’s quite expensive as far as hooks go but is perfect for big synthetic baitfish patterns and the sharpest hook I’ve ever used. I tend to stay away from barbless hooks as I believe they do a lot more damage than barbed hooks as they penetrate deeper. The jury’s out on that and it’s my own personal opinion from what I’ve witnessed firsthand. I also love using circle hooks but that’s a whole different subject in itself. Feel free to check out my website for my take on them. 

What other species do you get to target in the UK? Do you have any other favourites? 

Sometime I just love to get out on a small stream near my house with my 3wt and chase wild brownies. I also love chasing perch on the fly in summer but to be honest I don’t do very well when targeting them. My biggest perch, three and half pounds, was caught by accident while pike fishing. I do also like to target saltwater species like Pollock and sea bass although my tying schedule means I don’t get as much time to chase other species as I’d like  so maybe I need to address that next year …
Pike like this AND 25 lb browns?  Sign me up...

You told me a story about a rather massive Ferox trout that was haunting you after a pike trip this past summer. Do you mind sharing that with my readers?

Oh geez, I still get flashbacks of that! What happened was that we had been out on the water for a morning and the sun was blazing. We had already had a few pike to the boat so we went back into the lodge, had lunch and discussed tactics. We came back up the nearside shore that was tree lined and fished into around seven foot of quite green water. I cast out small bead eyed streamer pattern and was fishing it around a foot under the surface when I had a small pluck at the fly. This is nothing unusual on this water as the rainbow trout have a habit of nipping the backs of flies. So I cast out into the same area and changed my retrieve to a  fast strip and pause when the fly was around 40ft or so out I saw a massive black shape right on the tail of my fly! As it got closer I realised that it was a massive Ferox trout. As my fly got to the side of the boat the fish came around the side of the fly and down the side of the boat before disappearing into the depths. I could only marvel at the big kyped jaw and big spots and massive paddle tail as it glided past me. I estimate this fish was up past the 25 pound mark, maybe 28-29lbs. I’ve seen pictures of these magnificent fish so I know I’m in the ballpark but it’s a sight I’ll never forget... and this thing didn’t get that size eating nymphs...

Ok, time to bring up unpleasant memories… what fish(es) that you got into but lost haunt your dreams or nightmares? Tell me their stories…

More unpleasant than the ferox? Well actually, I have a few that are up there with that including being stalked by a big bowfin on Lake Champlain. Ken Capsey and I were about to launch the boat when we saw lots of fish rising off the boat ramp. It was only 5am so Ken suggested we could go throw some flies at them with the 5wts we still had in the truck after an afternoon chasing brook trout up in the Green Mountains the day before. I waded out to my butt and got in amongst some awesome white perch fishing. I then started to catch small yellow perch which was fun. It was as I was bringing in a small yellow perch that I spotted a really big bowfin just sitting out there watching the perch on the end of my line. I got the perch in and realised that the bowfin had disappeared. By this time I caught another perch and the bowfin was sitting 20 odd feet away from me. I released the perch and the bowfin was still in the same place.  I shout over to Ken about it and he says “What’s it doing?”
 I said “It’s sitting looking at me!”
“Is it quivering along its tail?”
“Er, yes. Why?”
“oh don’t worry, it’s just starting to get aggressive.”
OK, so a fish with a mouth full of teeth like that and looks like a cross between a moray eel and the devil’s spawn was enough to get me out the water screaming like a girl- much to the amusement of Capsey! I may add, I really wanted to catch one after that but from the safety of a boat. I didn’t really hook and lose that fish but its close enough… I have had many other fish throw hooks and get off but hey, that’s fishing! They do come back to haunt me now and again... I had a large 30lb+ pike that threw a hook at my feet but I don’t want to talk about that, a grown man crying isn’t a pretty sight…

When you were here fishing what struck you as the biggest difference fishing these waters compared to what you have in Scotland?

Dave will be back Lake Champlain....
Quality of fishing and the amount of species you have that will take a big fly. I truly believe you have some of the most amazing and varied fishing I’ve seen anywhere and in stunning locations too! I think your fisheries guys like Shawn Good do a fantastic job on maintaining healthy fisheries and this country could learn a few lessons from them. The other big difference is that in this country you have to pay a different ticket for every water you fish. So you would pay on average £20 pounds U.K. ($31 dollars ) to fish on a loch for a day whereas there you pay a state fishing licence and you can fish a ton of water on that ticket without having to pay anything else for a year. I think you have it good there and the species you have that will take a fly is mind boggling!

Are there fish in Lake Champlain that you have yet to tangle with that you really are dying to get into? 

Oh man is there... bowfin are top of my list just now as well as sheepshead and carp. I’m in the planning stages for this year’s trip so who knows.. I’m sure a few more will be added to the list...

I love asking this one: if you could go anywhere in the world to fish for anything, price is no object, where would you go and what would you target? 

There really is only place for me and that’s on the waters in northern Vermont! I’d spend all summer and fall there and only come home when the lakes freeze up! I have so many great memories of my last trip there I really wouldn’t want to go anywhere else…

Thanks a million for the interview Dave!  Be sure to check out all the websites and blogs that Dave has going on: