Saturday, December 4, 2021
Saturday, December 4, 2021
I’ve spent over 25 years looking for The Right Hat. In the minor disaster my wife politely calls “your study” I probably have close to 100 hats tucked away. Some were gifts; others I’ve purchased. At one point some of them were The Right Hat, but then either the times or my requirements or some other illumination of Hat Rightness changed and they became simply hats.
F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed a sure sign of genius was the ability to hold two mutually exclusive ideas in one’s head at the same time, believing in them both fully. If that’s true, the closest I’ve come to cognitive brilliance is a July evening five years ago, when my friend Jason Tucker and I pledged to hit the road on a fishing trip at 6.30am—and then proceeded to pound porch beers till sunrise. The genius fishing trip in question required a certifiable doozy of a drive—1,400 miles from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Labrador City, where we’d board a de Havilland for the Atikonak River and its hump-backed brook trout. At least, it was 1,400 miles for me. Jason had volunteered to drive and was only picking me up en route. His starting point? Atlanta, Georgia.
One of the most unique fishing locales on the face of the earth is the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. This magical archipelago, made up of thousands of small islands and towering, snow-covered peaks, along with brilliant fjords and seemingly endless rainforest, is home to some of the best runs of steelhead, trout and salmon remaining in the Pacific Northwest. The Tongass is often called “the salmon forest” and also goes by the moniker, “the lungs of North America,” a reference to its giant Sitka spruce, hemlock and cedar trees that are hundreds of years old.
Warmwater fish is an ambiguous term for non-trout freshwater species. These fish’s feeding habits and habitat range widely, making it a challenge for a small group of flies to cover all the potential situations you might encounter when pursuing warmwater species. My core flies to match warmwater species are Conehead the Barbarian, the Sluggo and the Swamp Monster. I’ve used this set of flies to fool warmwater species in Montana, Idaho, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, California, Hawaii and Brazil, and the species I’ve fooled with these flies range from bass (smallmouth, largemouth, Guadalupe, spotted, white), to skipjack, channel cats, freshwater drum, carp, gar, bowfin, pike, pickerel, walleye, perch, sunfish, suckers, stripers and exotics, such as peacock bass, jacunda, matriexa, triara and oscars. So, if I were to whittle down a box of flies for such a variety of species, these are the ones I’d certainly carry . . . and I’d feel like I had a pretty good chance of hooking fish, no matter where I fished or what I fished for. These are patterns I’d fish in any season and I’d get busy tying them this late fall and winter so that I was well armed when spring arrives.
If you’ve been fly fishing for more than a month, you’ve probably heard these rules of thumb regarding saltwater fly reel maintenance. Rinse in fresh water after use; keep reels in cases when not fishing, so you don’t drop them and bend their spools, right? While a garden hose is a decent starting point to reel maintenance, there’s more to it than just washing off some dirt. Saltwater fly reels come in two formats: sealed disk drags, requiring some maintenance, and cork drags, requiring a little more. Cork drags are almost all found on draw-bar reels, which are used for big-game fishing. The most notable examples are made by Tibor and Abel—all pricey, high-performance models. Sealed disk drags are found on everything else. Nautilus, Orvis, Sage, Ross, Lamson and other companies use sealed disk drags. If you don’t know what kind of drag your reel has, it’s probably a sealed system.
I’ve been lucky enough to float Alaska’s fabled Kanektok River on four occasions. It’s a DIY trip in a true wilderness setting, and as such, is fraught with certain perils, including but not limited to: landing in float plane on a remote lake; half-ton brown bears rummaging through your camp; gravel bars peppered with bowling-ball size rocks, ever ready to break an ankle, especially as you rise in the dark to pee, painfully conscious of the ursine visitors that might be lurking outside your tent; size 1/0 hooks that could lodge in a sensitive body part as it parts ways with a feisty silver; and the myriad travails that can accompany rowing a raft 90-odd miles (like choosing the wrong river braid, having to tow the raft ½ mile upstream and experiencing a coronary event). It’s been 8 or 9 years since I made the trip. In those early adventures, the question of travel insurance didn’t even occur to me. As one of my fellow floaters is a doctor and the other a seasoned wilderness adventurer, I figured we (well, they) had things covered. We had a satellite phone, if worse came to worse …