November 30, 2012

Article: Brown Butter - Arkansas Life Magazine

My article on fall fishing on the White River in Arkansas, "Brown Butter," for the current issue of Arkansas Life magazine, is now online. You can read it for free on the Arkansas Life website on page 58, but you may need to wait a minute for the full magazine to load. (The whole magazine is excellent, by the way. Special thanks to my old friend Katie Bridges for the assignment.

October 11, 2012

Article: DIY Adventure

My article from the Spring 2012 "Adventure" issue of Fly Rod & Reel magazine, on planning your own do-it-yourself backcountry trip, has made the website and is now online for free!

"All of us dream of adventure—the three-day float deep into a map where the only pathways are rivers and game trails.

But to pull it off, you have to be properly equipped. A few years back, I spent the most uncomfortable night of my life camped on a solid sheet of ice in sub-freezing temperatures next to a trout stream in Arkansas. It was February, and yet I had only a thin-wall tent, no stove, and a cheap sleeping bag that in no way deserved its 20-degree rating. That trip illustrated just how important quality gear can be—especially when you’re miles from the car, in places where the weather can be a touch unpredictable..."

Keep reading on FlyRodReel.com!

August 6, 2012

Article: Among the Hogs

If you missed it in the paper format, my article from the Fall 2011 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine, on the White River's fabulous fall brown trout fishery in Arkansas, is now available online for free:

"Woooooo! Pig! Sooooiiiieeee!”

The tinny crackle of the radio broadcast sounded weakly from under the drift boat seat. One hundred miles away, 78,000 red-clad Arkansas Razorbacks fans “called the Hogs” right before kickoff, as I watched a cruising brown trout lazily wave its tail in the current.

The trout, I realized, strongly resembled the football that was about to be placed on the hash mark. In the old days, if you mentioned Arkansas in conversation anywhere outside the state, you immediately conjured up images of Jed Clampett, moonshine, and banjos. Now, those stereotypes are being replaced. Ask people today what they know about Arkansas, and they’re now more likely to mention Walmart, Razorback football, and brown trout fishing. Walmart is open 24/7, but football and trout fishing both kick off in earnest in the fall..."

Keep reading on FlyFisherman.com!

September 30, 2011

Article: Foreign Tied

If you missed it in the paper format, my article from the Summer 2011 issue of Fly Rod & Reel magazine, on the foreign fly tying industry, is now available online for free:

“DEAR SIRS,” the e-mail started, “My name is Reginald Kibugi, and I am seeking to sell you excellent-quality fishing flies.” My cursor hovered over the Spam button, but the next line made me hesitate: “My asking price is $3 per dozen.” That’s a quarter a fly. Was this a good deal? A bad deal? I didn’t know, and chances are, you’ve received similar e-mails, if not this very one, and you don’t know either.

In order to answer that question, you have to know a bit about the world of commercial fly-tying, and that means you need some history. Back in the 1970s, an American professional fly tier named Dennis Black was driving from shop to shop to peddle his wares. On one of his long road trips across the West, he had an epiphany: He might be better off supervising other tiers than doing all the work on his own.

Continue reading at Fly Rod & Reel's website...

August 6, 2011

How To: Repair a Pontoon Boat

We're all familiar with one-man pontoon boats; those inflatable single person watercraft which range from small, pond-appropriate single-bladder floats on up to whitewater grade, three-man catarafts.

Most pontoon boats have an internal bladder made of a lighter grade of material than the multi-dernier PVC exterior we actually see.  On many boats, this is a polyurethane bladder, which can be easily patched. (Some boats have a PVC bladder which may require special glues; these instructions apply only to the more-common polyurethane models). Over time, creases in the bladder, sharp impacts, or sheer wear-and-tear can cause pinhole leaks, which prevent the pontoons from retaining air.  Oftentimes these leaks are most noticeable after a long day on the water or a period of storage.  They may develop when the boat is broken down for transport (a practice best to be avoided as much as possible).

Repairing these leaks is a hassle but certainly doable and worthwhile.  A boat that does not leak will require less fatiguing pumping and will ride better throughout the day.

We'll be repairing this 2000-era J.W. Outfitters "Renegade" boat, a nine-foot craft similar to many other models on the market, such as those made by Water Skeeter or Scadden Boats.

You will need the following items:

(1) A squirt bottle
(2) Liquid Dish Soap
(3) Access to your pump
(4) A toluene-based vinyl glue, such as Aquaseal or a vinyl mattress repair kit glue
(5) Water
(6) Rubbing Alcohol
(7) A rag

(8) A permanent marker

Continue reading " How To: Repair a Pontoon Boat " »

June 14, 2011

Article: From Scratch—How Fly Rods Are Made

IF THERE’S ONE THING FLY FISHERMEN GET worked up about, it’s fly rods. Golf addicts may expound for hours about a club head’s “sweet spot,” and ammunition reloaders go glassy-eyed talking about ballistics and shot patterns, but even these fanatics would be hard pressed to rival a shop full of anglers discussing “swing weight,” “modulus” and “action.” The funny thing is, most of these same experts have little idea how a graphite rod is made (and in the fly shop we’re all experts, at least when it comes to what we think a rod should be). The process is as fascinating as it is complicated. Knowing a thing or two about rod construction greatly increases your appreciation of what fly rods are… and yes, maybe what they should be.

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April 21, 2011

Article: Different Strokes

YOU'RE FINALLY THERE. After years of saving coffee money and a thousand hours poring over catalogs, you’ve made the decision to buy your first drift boat. Yet there remains a problem: an overabundance of options. Do you need 15 or 16 feet? Two-, three-, or four-man? High- or low-side? Before you even get to those questions, you have to answer something more fundamental, something that will affect everything you plan to do with your new boat far more than the accessories you choose. These days, drift boats come in fiberglass, wood, aluminum, and newfangled plastic. Before you write a check, you have to decide which material will best meet your needs. We set out to make this all-important decision a little easier by polling as many drift boat manufacturers and enthusiasts as possible about the advantages offered by each of the four major materials.

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January 5, 2010

Article: Taper Tech

SOME MONTHS AGO A FRIEND RECRUITED ME to teach her how to fly fish, and the first time I put a fly rod in her hands, she cast it more than 100 feet. Impossible? That all depends on the line. In this case, my friend was throwing a 15-foot two-handed rod with a 75-foot level shooting head. All she really had to do was get it all moving and then let go. And yet, despite achieving world-class distances, she would never have been able to catch a fish, because the line—constructed from scraps and lacking a proper taper—would not completely unroll. Though enjoyable to cast, this unconventional setup amounted to little more than a backyard plaything. If nothing else, however, it illustrates the importance of tapering to fly-line performance.

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May 28, 2009

Article: Googling the Backcountry

"THIS BLOWS," and other bitter thoughts run through your mind as you're faced with a familiar scene: There's not one open parking spot at your favorite put-in. Looking up and down the river, you can see other anglers fanned out like the crowd at a parade, shoulder to shoulder in places. Worm-dunkers with coolers are setting up their lawn chairs at the foot of the ramp, and the canoe hatch is starting just upriver. You've got to get out of this place, but how do you find quality water where you can fish unmolested without a boat?

What you need is a way to take advantage of all the public land out there, all those waters flowing unfished on the way-back forty of a remote tract of national forest or BLM property. But the problem is obvious: You don't have time to search hundreds of acres of public land just to find two or three good fishing spots. What you need is a shortcut. You need Google Earth.

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November 17, 2008

Article: Cooking Up Some Lines

A FLY LINE seems like a pretty simple product—little more than some plastic material gooped around a thin piece of string. The whole thing can be made to float or sink by adding microballoons or heavy metal dust in the coating. However, this apparent simplicity can lull us into overlooking just how much we ask a fly line to do. It has to help us cast by remaining slick; it must withstand the rigors of constant casting, being dragged over rocks, and being stepped on; and it must help us keep our flies in the strike zone, whether it's on the surface or 10 feet down.

As line prices have increased and anglers are deluged with new marketing terminology, it's time to ask, What does it all mean? Is there a way to build a better fly line? And why does my damn tip keep sinking? The answers are not so straightforward as you may think, and there's a fair amount of subjectivity involved. But to get you started, here's your guide to fly-line technology.

Cores and Coatings

"Let's start at the beginning," says Nate Dablock of Cortland Line Company. "Today, most fly lines are made of PVC plastic—the same stuff in plumbing pipes—baked or 'cured' around a nylon core." According to Bruce Richards, the chief line designer for 3M/Scientific Anglers, "Although they are incredibly difficult to make, basically, we make a fly line a lot like you'd make a candle."

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November 16, 2008

Article: Long Shots

THE JET OUTBOARD gurgled to a halt as I stepped out onto a vast gravelly shoal. The river that greeted me was daunting—featuring a yards-wide channel, variable flows, and trout that often seemed just out of range. It's a scenario faced by big-river anglers across the country, and many a rotator cuff has suffered from the stress of repeated monster casts and long-distance mends. But these anglers are increasingly turning to a technical solution—a two-handed rod.

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October 16, 2008

Article: Night Time is the Right Time

DUSK FALLS PURPLE as the electric whirring of golf carts begins to fade, each note individually consumed as the carts disappear into a distant barn. The barn itself is aglow with fluorescents as steam hisses into the descending darkness, product of the course staff's efforts to scour away the day's mud and clippings. The lawnmowers are parked as the sprinklers kick on, whoosh-whoosh-click-click-click-clicking mindlessly into the night. Dragonflies as large as house sparrows swish low over the ponds, and the lily pads slowly quake with some subaqueous creature's passing.

Now is the time.

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February 20, 2008

Article: 10 Tips for Breaking into Commercial Magazine Photography

Don't miss my article, new this week on Photography Bay, Eric Reagan's top-notch photography news site.
Learn why this shot will sell when others will not.

Here's a sample:

"Breaking into commercial magazine photography is becoming easier every day. The main reason is magazine contraction: as profits are drained inevitably into the swamp of the internet, magazines have had to scramble to cut corners and restrict costs. The primary way they do this is by paying less for the same product, just as in any business. You can take advantage of this. The following are ten not-necessarily-exclusive tips to help you break the ice..."

Follow the link for the full article:

10 Tips for Breaking into Commercial Magazine Photography

January 18, 2008

Article: Reinventing the Wheel

This article originally ran in the November/December 2007 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

EVERY SPRING, you walk into your local fly shop and find out that some of your gear is obsolete. Two years earlier, you probably plunked down several hundred bucks to be the proud owner of the latest, greatest gizmo in the history of the sport. Your rod, reel, or waders had never been equaled; you were the envy of your friends. But now its successor is staring you in the face, taunting you with its crisper action, lower startup inertia, or improved breathability. How did it come to be here? Why is it here so soon? What could it possibly offer that your pride and joy doesn’t already? Suddenly, an intense rationalization process begins, and your wallet hand gets itchy.

Sound familiar? Since time immemorial, fly-fishing gear manufacturers have been engaged in a battle to one-up each other—and themselves—with newer, better, often more expensive products. Along the way, they’ve changed the nature of the pastime itself: breathable waders replaced neoprene, and graphite dealt the death blow to fiberglass, itself guilty of the destruction of bamboo.

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January 8, 2008

Article: Switched On!

This article originally ran in the Fall 2007 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

THE COWS WERE CAUSING TROUBLE AGAIN. I was fishing Arkansas's White River at Rim Shoals—Dixie's equivalent of the Miracle Mile—but the herd occupying the bank behind me was preventing any kind of real backcast. With my trout stick, I tried making Spey casts across the broad open shoal, reminding myself exactly why Spey casters usually prefer longer rods. What I needed was a hybrid—a rod I could cast like a two-hander but fish like a standard rod—but at the time I didn't know such a rod existed. Turns out I wasn't the only one to find myself in such a situation. A new wave of these hybrid tools, called "switch rods," is making its way onto shelves this year.

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August 7, 2007

Article: Brake Jobs

This article originally ran in the Spring 2007 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

ON A TRIP THROUGH Mississippi, I once saw an elderly man catching catfish using nothing but a coffee can as a "reel." Strange as it may have looked, his can accomplished a reel's simplest purpose: it held his line. And for many fly fishermen, this is almost all a reel does. On the other hand, saltwater anglers sometimes need serious stopping power, and many big-game reels look like a brake array on a racecar. Between the coffee can and the engineering marvel is a whole range of technology that many anglers understand only vaguely.

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January 31, 2007

Article: Down and Out on the Xingu

This article originally ran in the January/February 2007 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

“PIRANHA,” THE GUIDE SPAT, indicating that I should cast elsewhere. I had no regard for such misgivings: if the piranha were the only fish biting, then I was just thankful for something—anything—tugging at the end of my line. My companion, Cale, and I shared long-suffering looks, and then went back to the anything-but-elegant rhythm of chucking lead shooting heads on ten weights. It was mindless work, and my thoughts returned to events of the past few days.  The fishing party had rendezvoused in Miami the previous Tuesday. After a long wait for the redeye to Manaus, Brazil, we were faced with an inauspicious omen so early in our trip: Our flight had been cancelled, due to vulture strike. “What kind of pterodactyl does it take to knock out a 737?” I asked. “These aren’t your ordinary turkey buzzards,” our guide, Mark, shot back. I laughed and caught the others on the way to the bar. Nothing like getting the bad stuff out of the way early, we figured.  Our second flight made it out the gate, and soon enough we found ourselves in Belém, Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon. The rubber barons had made Belém one of the jewels of their industrial empire, but those days are long gone. Now the spirit of industry, never quenched, lives on in the form of streetside vendors willing to sell anything from monkey skulls to anaconda skins to themselves to the few gringos who pass through.

Our time there being short, we ran around doing the tourist thing, until the next morning, when we found ourselves a man down shortly before takeoff for the bush. Our guide, on the verge of apoplexy, began a room-to-room search, while I stepped outside to catch a glimpse of the World Cup on a street vendor’s portable TV. When I looked up, there in mid-traffic was our missing soldier stumbling back to the hotel. The vendor, noticing his look, winked at me: “He have good time in Belém, yes?” I just winked back.

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December 2, 2006

Article: Choosing Cane

This article originally ran in the November/December 2006 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

WRITERS AND ENTHUSIASTS have been so busy describing the recent "resurgence" of bamboo in the fly-fishing world, it’s easy to forget that cane rods never actually went away. The truth is, there is no more versatile rod-building material than bamboo, which is why it’s been so successful. The stuff’s been ripped, planed, and glued together into fly rods since at least the late 1800s, when Hiram Leonard came up with the idea of using a six-sided tube of cane as a fishing rod. Today, there are more kinds of bamboo rods out there than all the other types put together. For nearly a century, a fisherman using cane could be confident his rod was made from the best material available. Millions of fish fell victim to the allure of the soft presentations made by the supple, tippet-protecting grass. Generations of anglers did quite well, thank you, with these tools, and nothing about that equation has changed. A bamboo rod can still be a wonderful fishing tool, and there are lots of good reasons to own one. The only problem is, there are about as many styles of bamboo rods as there are makers of bamboo rods (read: a whole lot).

With thousands of choices out there, how do you know which bamboo rod is right for you? What do you get with a cane stick as opposed to a graphite or fiberglass rod? When it comes to bamboo, most of us will be quick to admit we’re dunces. I know I was, which is why I set out to find out the answers to these questions and many others.

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July 26, 2006

Article: Breathing Underwater

This article originally ran in the April 2006 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

IF YOU’VE LOOKED AT THE STACK of fly-fishing catalogs on your bedstand lately, you’ve probably noticed a lot of recent growth. Just 15 years ago, fly fishers could reliably choose from a small handful of products for their wader, jacket, vest, and sundry other needs. Established companies such as Hodgman, L.L. Bean, Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms have been providing technical products for decades, but lately they’ve been joined by such upstarts as Albright, Cloudveil, William Joseph, and even Under Armour, to name just a few. Having all these new players at the table means an increase in competition—and where there’s competition, innovation thrives. Unfortunately, all that innovation can add substantially to the level of confusion when an angler walks into a fly shop and takes a couple wading jackets or pairs of waders down off the walls. What makes a $350 wader a $350 wader anyway? Why is a $350 model worth more than the one that costs $99? To answer these questions, you need to understand a little about how fly-fishing clothing is designed and made.

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May 10, 2006

Article: Flyfishing Photography: How to Improve

Hey guys - New this week on MidCurrent Flyfishing, don't miss my updated Top Ten Photography Tips article, Flyfishing Photography: How to Improve. Marshall Cutchin asked me to consider revising my article from last year, and I agreed, as well as provided new photos. Hope you enjoy.

May 7, 2006

Article: Working Classes

This article originally ran in the March 2006 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

AS THE NAME IMPLIES, a guide school is where fly fishermen go to learn how to be guides. Or, to be more precise, guide school is where some fly fishermen go to learn how to be good guides. Typical guide-school curriculum includes things such as how to tie knots, how to be a better caster, and what to expect from various kinds of clients. A good guide school will go in to stuff like important business decisions-everything from how to choose a name and logo to what kind of insurance to carry in case you accidentally kill somebody. (Hey, guiding can get a little hairy.) And when the school is over, any outfit worth its salt will help place a student in a guiding job.

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May 5, 2006

Article: The Winter Game

This article originally ran in the January/February 2006 edition of American Angler and is reproduced here with permission.

YOU'VE PROBABLY BEEN THERE. Two hours from home, halfway through the thermos of coffee, knee-deep in cold water on a cold day, and not a single, solitary fish to show for it. They're taunting you. Riseforms are everywhere, but not one of the shiny little bull's-eyes has your fly in the middle of it. You're forced to ask the most forlorn question heard on the water: What the heck are they feeding on?

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March 14, 2006

Article: Into a Far, Strange Country

The Great Falls of the Yellowstone and a Madison River brown.
IT ISN'T OFTEN IN LIFE one finds oneself unencumbered enough to agree to a two-week road trip. I know that. Soon enough children, full time jobs, and advancing age will limit my ability and willingness to be on the road for that length of time. For many of the same reasons that have caused me to study casting so intensely as a young man, I decided now was a good time to seize some experiences before those experiences pass me by. When my editor called and offered an assignment that would take me and Lauren, as my tandem photographer, into the West, I jumped at the chance.

Travelogues can be a surprisingly difficult thing to write. No one wants to read the nitty-gritty details of each stop along the road, but when you are in a far strange country for the first time, you want to do justice to the things locals may take for granted. For instance, I got a kick out of all the 'World's Biggest' displays, like the World's Biggest Pink Concrete Prairie Dog, outside Badlands National Park.

Keeping that in mind, I will try to lead you through the wonder I felt at the West's immensity and laid-back atmosphere without boring you with the details of crappy hotels (Dayton, Wyoming), bad food (Dillon, Montana), or broken-down vehicles (Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming) that mark and mar so many trips. Those things happened, but the grandeur of the West made them irrelevant. This was the most exhausting and grueling trip I have ever taken - psychologically hard, and hard on the pocketbook in the sense of being much more expensive than I anticipated - but none of that mattered. I was going West, farther out and for longer than ever before.

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March 13, 2006

Article: Ten Ways to Improve Your Pictures

THE TRUTH IS, anybody can take excellent fishing photos.

With modern point and shoot technology, such arcane concepts as "reciprocity of exposure" and the algebra behind camera stops have become unnecessary for the taking of good pictures. Most photographers starting out today can afford a point and shoot digital camera. With so many new photographers in the game, displays of pictures and fish are becoming increasingly common. What is not becoming common, however, are good pictures.

Think about it. How many pictures have you seen of fish so washed-out you can't see the scales being held by a guy whose skin tone is "three days dead" for every shot that might have belonged in a magazine? The ratio may be 100 to 1.

The following tips and tricks will help you improve your fishing pictures.

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March 5, 2006

Article: Pushing Your Limits: High Water

ONE OF THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS raised by visitors to the southern tailwaters is "How do I know when to get out of the water?" Anglers from outside the area are often incredulous at a situation locals take for granted: we have no control of the dams.

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March 3, 2006

Article: Spey Fishing for Trout

Trout speys can handle large fish on light tippet.

Spey Fishing for Trout
By Zach Matthews
First Published January 29, 2005

You have probably heard about it by now; you may even have seen it coming to your area. Spey. What is it? Why is it on a trout stream? Who came up with such a bizarre name? The development of Spey fishing began in Scotland, but chances are it came to your area through the American Northwest. The style is named for the River Spey, which begins in the Scottish Highlands and meanders its way north east to its mouth in the Moray Firth, emptying into the North Sea.

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Article: Screwball Looks, Lonely Places

Did you know a Crazy Charlie will catch a carp?

Screwball Looks, Lonely Places
by Zach Matthews
First Published September 18, 2004

Ten years ago, maybe even fifteen, you'd have gotten a strange look if you mentioned flyfishing for carp anywhere this side of the Atlantic. Since then, carp seem to have become the species everyone feels obliged to mention at least once. You see carp in magazines, in books, even on the occasional flyfishing television show. Although some of these articles and books have been very good, carp have still managed to slip under the radar of the American angling public. In Europe, carp fishing is an established and expanding sport. Whole magazines are dedicated to the species and anglers routinely make the local newspapers gripping-and-grinning these fish like they know something we don't. After all, here in the United States the average angler would rather be photographed knee-deep in his sinking driftboat than discovered to have hooked a carp, much less caught it and looked proud about doing so. Sure, some enlightened anglers have begun to target carp - usually out of curiosity or boredom with still more trout. But if you asked a guy on the street to tell you about carp, he'd give you a funny look and inform you, sonny, that carp are widely known to be the nastiest, slimiest, plug-ugliest, bottom-dwelling-est fish on the continent. So before I get into why I not only respect the species, but actively seek to embarrass myself by catching them, maybe a brief review of the carp's less-than-noble history in the United States is in order.

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February 22, 2006

Article: Siblings of the White

Flowers line Arkansas' Little Red River's
banks in spring.

Siblings of the White
by Zach Matthews
First Published October 20, 2003 | Travel

This is not a giveaway article. Quite rightly, many anglers become upset when some online or published magazine starts selling out the secrets that locals spent years developing and shared with only a few. The streams I am about to dissect are known, even well known. Many hundreds of anglers fish them each week of the year, with marginal to excellent success. However, somehow these streams have managed to be passed over as “last years’ water.” There’s a prevailing myth here that these streams are overfished, that the fish are undersized, and that attempting an outing means wrangling with Bubba. This doesn’t have to be true.

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February 21, 2006

Article: Stripping Baskets on a Trout Stream?

Stripping Baskets on a Trout Stream?
by Zach Matthews
First Published October 1, 2003 | General Fly Fishing

“How’s the streamer fishing?” the well-accoutred young angler asked as I waded out of the river.

“Terrible,” I responded, noting that he was oblivious to the dry-and-dropper rig I was reeling in as I flipped my basket around to the rear and grabbed a limb to step onto the bank. “Why do you ask?”

“The basket, man,” he glanced down and looked slightly embarrassed for me. “Surf’s thataway,” he shot over his shoulder as he and his two partners clumsily made their way upriver, snickering.

Surf’s thataway. Betcha need those long casts on this little stream, eh buddy? Hey, man, caught any striper in that trout stream? I’ve heard them all. They’re referring, of course, to my stripping basket, which I take with me whenever I fish, just about no matter what.

My awakening to the stripping basket came in the standard way. I was learning to throw heads, getting ready for a big beach trip. I figured I needed some extra distance and I’d seen a lot of cool magazine pictures of guys on the East Coast with tubs around their legs. I went down to Wal-Mart and constructed myself a cheap basket which worked great (more on that later.) Then I took it out to the yard to try it out.

The author with his basket in a Yellowstone spring creek.

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