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Skeed Borkowski has lived in the British Columbia’s rugged Cariboo region for over 50 years. He’s a man of humor, wit, and endless stories. Along with his wife Sharon, Skeed owns and operates the iconic Northern Lights Lodge, located in the small town of Likely. When he’s not tinkering with machinery or entertaining guests, he can be found drifting down one of the local rivers, casting flies to his favorite quarry—big, yellowbelly rainbow trout.

How did you end up at Northern Lights Lodge? What was your motivation for being in this remote part of the world?
Well, I was going through male menopause . . . . We had gone from logging to building and operating a cedar sawmill with about 50 employees. That mill burnt down. I think our [insurance] policy covered about 900-grand. My partner Rick and I went back to logging for five years and we paid off about a million and a half bucks worth of debt. And then we went gold mining. It definitely was a learning curve ‘cause we had never seen gold before. After about 10 years we were doing well and were approached by a company out of Calgary that wanted to buy our company—sort of a retirement package. We got a decent down payment, and Sharon and I bought the waterfront property. But you know me, I had a tough time staying still.

That was about 26 years ago, and about that time the Bre-X gold scandal came out. At the time it was the biggest gold scandal ever. Bre-X got caught and our investors couldn’t pay for the property. To make a long story short we got the mining property back, but Sharon and I were already committed down here. We had partners, so we had to leave the mining alone and fix up the lodge. It was pretty run down. Sharon and I spent a couple years completely rebuilding and renovating everything. It was quite the adventure, but I think it paid off. Now we’ve got a pretty awesome lodge here.

What was the fishing like when you first came to the Cariboo region?
Well, the fish were even more dumb than they are now. I mean they had never seen a fly or lure before. But it was rugged and you were alone. I remember when I was in my twenties, I used to go down to the Cariboo (spelling from the gold miners of the 1850s). River fishing for bulls and big rainbow trout. I’d get as far up the river as I could. Most of those spots had never been stepped on by anyone, ever. I’d climb over rocks and log jams with my spin rod in my teeth and not a person in the world knew I was out there. Crazy, isn’t it? That’s just the way it was. And those places still exist. Maybe not as many of them, but we have plenty of those untouched places here.

 

Was NLL always a fly-fishing focused lodge?
No. Originally the lodge was more focused on conventional fishing. Guys would come up, spend a couple nights, eat some fish and enjoy a few beverages. We started focusing on fly fishing in 1999, when a friend of one of our original partners came up just to see the place. He was from an Orvis fly shop in Colorado and on the first day I took him fishing, he just looked at me and said, “You have no idea what you have here.” Up until that point we really just took it for granted. I mean, you could walk up to the bank, cast a line, and in just about any decent spot, nine out of 10 times you’re going to get a fish. What’s the big deal?

That must be a big draw for anglers. What can you tell me about Likely?
Likely is just such a small, unique sort of community. Its demographics are all over the map. If you see someone, you wave, even if you don’t know them. Most of the time you do—there are only a couple hundred people living here. It’s just such a safe place where people genuinely care about each other. Not all of them may sit down for dinner with you, but you know they’ll all show up if you need a hand.

 

It’s a good thing too, with no cell phone reception or emergency services in Likely. Get into trouble, you’ll need to count on your neighbors. Being unplugged, disconnected—is that an advantage or disadvantage?
I find it a huge advantage. It would be the most horrid sound in the world if you are fishing on the most beautiful river and your bloody cell phone rings, or there’s a grizzly bear you’re watching and your phone rings. It doesn’t matter what animal—a grizzly or moose or whatever. No animal should know what a cell phone ring sounds like. I have really strong feelings about that. Some things should just be left the hell alone.

 

Talking about grizzlies, word on the street is you have a lot of bears up here. Any good stories?
You know, when we encounter the bears, they have so much food with the salmon in the water and wild berries in the woods . . . they really aren’t interested in you. Sows here tend to keep their cubs real close because the boars will kill her cubs to put her back in heat. All they think about are food and women. Not so different from a couple guys I know. But anyway, we haven’t had any situations. If clients want to see bears, typically we’ll stop for lunch where we can have a look and take pictures. The most I’ve seen in one day is 19 different grizzly bears. We saw two sows with triplets, so that was eight bears right there. Many days I’ve seen over a dozen different grizzly bears. Never an issue as these are wild animals and not used to humans . . . they take their salmon and head back to the forest to enjoy their feast.

 

Without giving away spots, can you tell me a little about the area you fish, and why it’s unique?
We basically fish three main rivers in the summer, and five later in the season as more water becomes fishable when water levels drop. Some of the more remote systems, we take the cabin-cruiser, along with a jet boat. We’ll spend the day working our way up as far as we can in the jet boat then turn around and drift down and wade-fish some of the better spots on the way back. Other rivers we drive to and launch driftboats or inflatable rafts. Some of the best spots are just a spot we’ve marked with a broken limb on an old, deserted logging road. Then we drop down over the bank to a beautiful pool, only known to a few old-timers.

We are talking with some whitewater rafters who get to some spots that we’d like to fish. It would be a cool sort of adventure that we could add to our program.

I know firsthand how busy you are during the season. Do you still get out fishing?
I’m a dry-fly guy. I love river fishing, just targeting a fish. It’s like hunting. I can look at a run and know there’s a fish there and I just have to catch it. I will say, though, recently I have been exploring our backcountry lakes and there are some really big fish there. Some of the stocked trophy lakes have the yellowbelly Horsefly strain and they are so much fun. They are just the most aggressive, hard fighting rainbow trout you will find in the world.

 

I can definitely attest to that. I remember the last time we fished together. The fish preferred skating and stripped flies opposed to dead-drifted presentations.
I know, especially with the dry fly. You can drift it, drift it, and drift it, then right when it starts to swing bam!

 

What happens when the salmon first come into the river? Do the trout react right away?
Oh yea, they’ll spend the summer looking up, feeding on the surface. But right before the salmon arrive the trout start looking down. The transition takes a couple days but you can feel it. They’ll slow down with the dries, but egg patterns soon get inhaled, and by big fish, too. It almost feels like cheating. You don’t even have to cast far. The fish are often two feet from shore, in less than a foot of water. If you can find salmon beds, you always find trout five or 10 yards behind.

How big are these fish? What’s a good sized fall rainbow trout?
This time of year [late fall] 20-to 24 inches is a good fish for the river. Remember, these are wild, native rainbows that have likely never been caught before. Very aggressive, as there is so much competition below the surface. We have seen fish over 35 inches landed, but not many. We do get fish over 10 pounds quite often in our trophy lakes. They do turn a driftboat around.

What’s nice about our river fishing is that a good angler can land 30 or 40 fish in a day. A complete beginner can land 10 to 20, no problem. Our rivers are 100 percent catch-and-release, barbless hooks fisheries. Kudos to our fish and wildlife department to have the foresight to recognize and protect this unique species of trout.</p?

 

Have you had any days on the water that were really memorable?
We had three guys up from Denver, Colorado. We anchored the driftboat just up from a chinook red and we were pulling trout after trout out of this hole. Probably over a hundred in a few hours. Ridiculous fishing. Anyway, there was one big bull trout in there and he kept ramming the chinook, knocking the eggs out of their bellies. We tried to get him on egg patterns, as well as beads, but he wouldn’t take. Then we tried swinging a streamer and wham, he nailed it. The fish ran downstream. We had to pull up both anchors and chase him. After about 45 minutes we finally landed this thing. And I kid you not, it was 42 inches long. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Grinning just thinking about it.

There have been so many big rainbows, I just lose track. Actually I hooked into a good one stillwater fishing a little while ago. He must have been around 28 inches and heavy. These lakes just have so much food. A lot of freshwater shrimp. What I really remember about this fish is he tailed three times and then an eagle swooped right over my head and nailed it. But the eagle couldn’t lift the fish out of the water. It sort of just got stuck, and face-planted. Anyway, the eagle paddled into shore and it took about a half-hour to eat the belly off the fish before it flew away with the rest of it. This all happened right in front of me.</p?

I could keep going and going, but I’ll stop after this one. We had a father and son from Chicago, and they wanted to see one of our rivers that has a big sockeye run. But it was too early in the season to really fish it and the water was very high. I took them to the far side of the lake and we went up the river as far as we could go.</p?

We made a couple casts. Didn’t catch anything, and headed back. Anyway, the mouth of this river opens up into a big bay and there were fish rising everywhere. I passed the lad his rod. He must have been 14 or so. I said, “Hit those rises.” First cast he lands a 20-inch rainbow. I set them up wading 50 feet apart, just off the shoreline, towards a drop-off, and spent the next four hours running back and forth taking fish off their lines. They must have landed 30 fish, all big, probably not a fish under 20 inches. Five or six in the 28-inch range. All wild fish. There are no stocked fish in Lake Quesnel. That was cool. Big golden stonefly hatch and we hit it just right.</p?

As a lodge owner, is there anything that has really surprised you over the years?
We have guests that are just amazing. We have couples that have been coming up 15 to 20 years consecutively. Even with covid last summer, we had guests come up and stay with us multiple times. I feel fortunate to have shared this area with people. It really makes Sharon and I feel so fortunate to have made so many truly great friends in a business venture that has put the word “business” on the back shelf.

A lot of our longtime guests have sort of got a little too old, or have health issues, and can’t make it here anymore. I still talk to a lot of these folks every couple months. They ask how we’re doing and how the fishing is going. It’s really special to make these kinds of connections with people.

 

Do you notice a change in your guests from the time they arrive to the time they leave?
Oh, big-time. Big-time. You can tell when they just arrive, they’re just so excited. You know the first couple days you see them miss so many strikes, and it’s not because they are not good anglers. It just takes them a couple days to slow down and get that rush-hour traffic off their minds. Once they take a deep breath they begin to fish so much better, and I think find a deeper appreciation for this place. It’s just so fresh here. You won’t see a single jet stream in the sky and rarely another angler during their entire five-day trip. It really is a forgotten piece of the world.

 

Can you talk to me about the guides you employ, and what it takes to be a guide up here?
Well, most of our guides have been working with us for 15 to 20 years. Gordy has been with us about 25 years, but he’s been guiding and outfitting in the area since he was 16. He’s the most skilled jet boat operator I’ve ever seen. He just knows so much about everything there is up here. The animals, the history, everything. We’ve got Tate and Curtis—both of them are completely fishing obsessed. And we’ve got Rob, our second most senior guide—he’s probably on a first-name basis with most of the fish in our rivers.

Bobby and Brian, at different times and on their own terms, sorta just ended up here and decided they never wanted to leave. It was the fishing that made them want to stay, but I think it’s the lifestyle that keeps them here.

Most of our guides are local and live here year-round, so this isn’t just a seasonal thing. It really is a way of life. There’s something about the peace and tranquility here. There’s no pressure as to when you have to be here or when you have to be there. Look, Sharon and I came here 52 years ago to spend a year in the woods and we just didn’t want to leave. I don’t think it’s something that can really be explained. Just stand in the water and look around. Oh, I missed a strike . . . oh well.

 

Before we wrap this up, what flies would you recommend tying up before coming up to NLL?
The Turks Tarantula is our number one fly. The Tom Thumb is my favorite, though. Prince Nymphs work well if you’re going under. Mouse patterns are fun to skate, and the strikes are crazy aggressive. If you are coming in the fall, egg patterns are a must. Beads are great if you are ok with fishing them. They are a little easier on the fish.

Gil Greenberg
Gil eats, sleeps and breathes fly fishing. He is the founder of Gil’s Fly Fishing International and holds a degree in marine biology. Before getting into the fly fishing industry, Gil served in the IDF and worked as a fisheries consultant in the Solomon Islands.

If ever there was a toilet of a trout season, 2020 was it. Instead of packing for my annual lake trips, I hunkered down in my living room packing on the pounds. The few times I did get out, the weather was so bad I ended up sitting in my truck glaring at the windshield while my boat filled up with rain.

And the river fishing? Well, that was an absolute double-flusher. I missed the Dean due to Covid. And two days on the Thompson only produced a small number of sickly looking rainbows that pulled about as hard as you would if I asked you to pull my finger.

Worst, I missed the Bow due to Covid, too.

Ever since my 2020 Bow trip got the big flush, I’ve been looking ahead wondering when I can return. The reason? Brown trout. Big ones. The types of fish the Bow is famous for. And though I haven’t caught any real monsters—two feet long is my current personal best—I’ve seen some giants come out of the river. And I wanna get me one.

Summer 2021 looks like it might be the right time to do it.

Anticipating some relaxing of Canada’s travel restrictions now that the Covid-19 vaccination plan is rolling along, I checked in with a friend, the author and former Bow River guide Jim McLennan (mclennanflyfishing.com), and asked what all of us might expect on the Bow these days.

“There is a belief that the fish population has dropped significantly in the time since the big flood of 2013,” he told me. “And people don’t seem to catch as many as in the ‘glory days’ of the 1980s. [But the big fish that made the Bow famous are still around and] They’re as big or bigger than ever.”

Over the years “The Book” on big Bow River browns is streamer fishing. A few seasons back, when I spoke with some veteran guides about trophy browns, they told me to fish streamers in late June through early July if the river is in shape, or late August and early September.

The Bow is is broad in most places, but narrow side channels offer easy wading and lots of opportunity for the wade angler. However, given a choice, most anglers would prefer to float the river and pound the banks with streamers, looking for Mr. Big. (Jim and Lynda McLennan)

McLennan notes something new. “I always thought the best way to find the biggest fish was fishing streamers just as the river is clearing from runoff. But people seem to catch big guys through the season, including with dry stones and hoppers.”

Those “dry stones” are Classenia sabulosa, the “night stone” or “short-wing stone” that starts appearing in late June and early July. “The names come from the fact that the whole business—hatching, mating, egg laying—occurs at night, and because the adult males have wings that are only about half developed,” McLennan said.

Trout—even the big ones—take imitations of the adult stone fished along the shoreline just before sunrise and through the early part of the day.

A month later you’re still fishing the shoreline, but now it’s Hopper Season. After a hot July, the hoppers really gets going, and even the big browns can be found along grassy banks in very shallow water looking for these terrestrials. One of the biggest Bow River browns I’ve hooked came out of an eight-inch deep dish in a shallow riffle. I hooked it prospecting my way up a bank, after I dropped a Whitlock’s hopper just upstream of a waterlogged tree branch. That branch surprised me by taking the hopper and charging into deep water.

If you’re in a driftboat, pitching hoppers tight to the bank is a sure way to learn just where really big fish sit even in bright sun. On an August afternoon, some of those big dark rocks that you can see in the skinny water will suddenly grow fins and eat. And if they won’t eat your hopper, the Hare’s Ear you’ve attached to a short dropper usually entices them. This “hopper-dropper” setup is a standard on the Bow, and it’s my usual August bank-busting rig.

Big dries are great of course, but don’t neglect the nymphs. I’ve had some great days rolling nymph rigs through the riffles or splashing them into the deeper troughs ahead of a driftboat. My biggest Bow River brown came to a Brooks Golden Stone just below the Highway 22X Bridge, and I’ve bounced big nymphs off the rocks in that section ever since.

It’s one thing to trophy hunt the Bow if it’s been your home river for over 30 years. And quite another if you’re just looking to get on the water for a few days and catch some nice trout. One of the reasons I love the Bow so much is that it’s a river that meets you anywhere you need to be. The chance at a big brown is always a draw, but the Bow offers great fishing for rainbows and browns almost anytime of the season.

Springtime on the Bow is pretty, but fishing can be a hit-or-miss affair. A good blue winged olive hatch in April sometimes gets ignored by the trout, and a small window in mid-May can lead to some decent Mother’s Day caddis fishing. But unpredictable water and weather conditions can plague the spring angler, making an April or May trip a dice roll for the weekend getaway angler. Late May through June the river is high with runoff.

Once things settle down, we really get into the heart of what makes the Bow such a great river. July is all about PMDs and caddis. One of my favorite floats is “Police to McKinnon’s.” Here, a mid-morning sneak along a grassy bank puts you a careful cast away from risers that can go over 20 inches. Then in the evening near the end of the drift you might find some caddis about.

Better yet, if you rent a car, you can always drop in to one of the in-city access points to see if you can hook a big brown near dark. For me this is one of the classic Bow River experiences—peering upstream in the fading light looking for shapes in the surface, and casting just above them with a #16 Stealth Caddis. Don’t lift until the shape submerges. Then keep your fingers away from your reel handle and hang on.

Speaking of Mr. Big, the Bow still kicks out browns like this one. That gives anglers from Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Spokane good reason to board a flight hit the river this summer and fall. (Jim and Lynda McLennan)

August is my favorite month on the Bow. And if I had to pick one week to be there, it would be the first week of August. Along with hoppers, August also brings the Trico hatch. If you hit it right, you can puddle cast tiny Trico spinner patterns to rising fish in the morning, then sling a hopper-dropper rig through the day, and maybe catch the last of the caddis hatches in the evening before the idea of a bourbon and steak prevails.

So I think I’ll go out to Alberta for a quick trip this year. And Calgary is where I want to be for a weekend or mid-week getaway on the water. The Gateway to the Bow, Calgary is easily accessed by air from Vancouver, Seattle, Spokane and Portland. An early morning flight can have me wadering up before noon.

Heck, during hot summer days, who needs waders? If I’m fishing with a guide I’m not particular about my tackle choices, so I could just show up at Calgary Arrivals with a fancy fishing pack loaded with wading boots, a sun hoody or two, and midnight layer, and a light rain jacket. Good to go.

If you head out that way your guide will be well-equipped with quality tackle. But if you prefer your own graphite and tin, bring along a 5-weight for dries, a 6/7 for nymphs and streamers, and a reel for each that sings a sweet song. A 5 wt floater and a 6/7 Type-3 sink-tip covers you for anything the Bow splashes your way.

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and can be found each year (minus 2020 of course) swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him at @danawsturn

It had been a long tough week on the flats. Back-to-back cold fronts replete with a savage easterly wind had churned the crystal waters of Cayo Cruz into a milky soup. Overhead, the towering thunderheads had crowded out the sun, further conspiring to make sight-fishing all but impossible. All week my guide Raffa and I stuck stubbornly to our task, and despite those wretched conditions, we’d had a couple of shots—gut-wrenching heartbreakers when a permit suddenly appeared, right in front of us, materializing from nowhere, and was already fleeing before I finally made it out. Somehow I managed to hook a fish, but tragically, it came unbuttoned, right at the boat.

On the last day, as I throw open the big shutters on the windows of old Casona, I am met not with rain and wind, but a clear, sparkling sky, shot through with the rosy hues of the dawn. My old friend Tim and I squeeze into the old Russian truck, and bump down a rutted tarmac, past sugarcane threshers and field workers who are waving and laughing as they stroll down the main drag to another long day in the fields. We turn off the highway and head north. I’m upfront with Lucio, our driver, and I grin as he lights up a Popular and absentmindedly hums along to the incongruous old Adele CD that serenades us to the dock and back each day. I cadge a smoke and as I wind down the window, I catch the warm, salty air wafting off the flats. As we cross an old causeway, we can see that the wind has died and vast flocks of flamingos are tip-toeing in the shallows. Better yet, the spring tides have washed the sand suspension out of the water, rendering it clean and clear at last. As we pull up to the dock, I see that our dear old friends, Raffa and Nelson, are already preparing the skiffs. Today, at last, we have a chance.

Tim and Nelson head west to Cayo Megano. Raffa and I head to a spot that I love—the vast flats east of Punta del Este. The first hour is slow. The tide is only starting to rise, and the Punta del Este flats are just a little shallow to accommodate the big permit that like to feed on its endless white canvas. We push across to Roca y Piedra and fish the outermost edge, close to the ocean, most likely the best place to ambush a big permit as it arrives to forage in the shallower water. We find a nice long broken line of rock and turtle grass, and pole gently along its edge. Only a few rays glide across the flat and they are alone.

Then, suddenly, Raffa is animated. “There, Mac! Look! Eleben! Tailing!” I start to point my rod to 11 o’ clock but already I have it—a big black sickle tail is wagging lazily in the early morning sun, rooting out a crab from the rocky seam that divides the vast white swathes of sand.

The wind has died to nothing, and I wait breathlessly as Raffa gently pushes us in range. As he stops the skiff, there is a faint crunch from the pole as it buries in the coral beneath the powdery sand, and the tail slides under the surface. “Puta!” Raffa hisses. But just as I am about to echo his curse, the tail is suddenly up again, the fish unaware of our presence as it resumes its early morning feed.

Responding to the flat calm, I take a chance, quickly biting off the Sideswiper crab and replacing it with a little tan-colored Alphlexo—a pattern that makes less splash on the glassy, mirror-bright surface. The fish is still happily grubbing in the sand and broken coral, and I start to line up the shot, lengthening the line and then sending the fly arcing out over the water. I feather its fall, and the little crab imitation lands just to the left of the fish. I let it drop and then give it a gentle strip to grab the permit’s attention. At first, the fish seems unaware of my offering, but then, in a magical moment, it slides purposefully over to the fly and we watch as its tail arcs up high into the air. I draw the line smartly back and, feeling resistance, set the hook with a sharp, jabbing strip-strike. The next few moments are fraught with anxiety, as I watch the running line shoot up off the deck. Soon, my precious permit is on the reel and we are in business.

Battling a permit is never fun. I’ve watched big fish—that I thought were beaten—tip up in a heartbeat and rub my fly out of their mouth, leaving me inconsolable. Fishing is supposed to be fun, but this is somehow too important to enjoy. I’m often reminded of the old Liverpool soccer coach Bill Shankly’s famous quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Permit fishing is the same: After a long battle and a tense, nearly unbearable end-game, comes that special moment that permit addicts know. That moment when a guide’s hand closes around the wrist of a fish’s tail and an angler senses relief and elation, a feeling that assures all those long hours were undoubtably worth it.

Cuba offers lots of permit and big permit. Still, you’ve got to bring your A-game to catch these finicky fish. If everything aligns, you might be the next one hoisting a good one.

We gaze down at the fish—24 pounds of opalescent perfection, those deep flanks splashed with a vivid lemon yellow. The permit seems to gaze up at me with a big black eye. Raffa cradles it under the water and gently removes the hook. I get a childish rush. We make some quick pictures and then I gently nurse the fish until I feel its strength return. I take one last look at that big, sickle tail and then, with a flourish, it kicks away from me and disappears into the pellucid water. I’m shaking a little, like always. “Give me a smoke,” I say to Raffa.

“You want to try for a slam?” says Raffa as he lights me a Popular and passes over an icy Crystal from the cooler. I catch his eye and he’s grinning because we both already know the answer “No, signor!” I smile at my old friend and say, “Let’s go catch another.”

Cuba offers some of the very best fly-fishing for permit, anywhere in the world. For many years, the ongoing spat between the United States and Castro meant that Brits like me had the place pretty much to ourselves. Even now, with the recent easing of restrictions, Cuba has enough vast flats to offer wonderful permit fishing for all.

I have fished all of Cuba’s major permit fisheries, and I particularly favor these three.

Cuba is not Biscayne Bay or the Florida Keys—the flats are void of anglers and the fish are happy and hungry. And the scenery ‘aint bad either.

Jardines de la Reina
I’ve fished at JDR for over 20 years, and it is a very special place. It offers 840 square miles of pristine flats that remain just about as wild and untouched as they were when Christopher Columbus splashed ashore and named them for Isabella over 500 years ago.

I caught my first permit here with another old friend, Bemba, on May 25, 2009. After we’d finished celebrating, we managed to add a tarpon, a bonefish and a snook, thus completing the first super grand slam ever recorded at this fly-fishing mecca. It’s a day I will never forget.

JDR is a first-class permit fishery and offers fish of high average size. Perhaps the biggest problem at JDR is the presence of other species—it’s often extremely difficult to keep fixed on the permit when big, mirror-scaled tarpon are rolling all around and vast schools of lithe bonefish are tailing in the shallows. If you have the self-discipline to target permit, there is a huge diversity of habitat to keep you entertained and constantly thinking. On the ocean-side, in the choppy waters around Faro and Mar Y Flores, jagged coral flats mean that crabs are the main forage and it pays to throw something sizable, like a Sideswiper or the excellent Strong Arm Merkin Crab. On the inside, you’ll find beautiful sand flats at Las Auras and Cayo La Lisa where smaller shrimp imitations, like the all-conquering Avalon Shrimp, are more effective. The flats shelve sharply on the north shore, but the white sand means that big permit are easy to spot even in three or four feet of water. For these flats I developed a tungsten-beaded version of the Avalon Shrimp that sinks quickly into the permit’s eyesight. It caught me three big permit here with yet another very special friend and fly-fishing mentor, Coki, in 2019. One of the most fascinating features of JDR is that the fish often fixate on large, black urchins, grazing on them like a cow eats grass. I’ve given up throwing perfectly serviceable urchin imitations, and now just try to drop a big Avalon or some crab pattern right on their noses.

This is the moment every saltwater flats angler wants to enjoy. Your chances of being in a photo like this are as good or better in Cuba than anywhere else in the world.

Cayo Largo
Cayo Largo is the birthplace of the Avalon Shrimp. This remarkable fly is the brainchild of my old friend Mauro Ginevri, who ran the lodge here for many years, and became almost obsessive in his quest to imitate the permit’s favorite forage item on the sand flats. After about a year of study, he came up with the Avalon, and it is an absolute game-changing pattern for Cuban permit. Unlike crab patterns, you can strip the Avalon to imitate a shrimp, and this means that the permit simply doesn’t get a good look at it. Let’s face it—the Avalon is just a load of fluff and steel. I love this fly and I’ve caught more permit with it than any other pattern.

Cayo Largo has huge numbers of permit, and of all of Cuba’s locations it is probably the easiest place to successfully kick-start your permit-fishing career. Crucially, the vast sand flats here offer the perfect habitat to find a fish riding shotgun with a stingray. This is, undoubtedly, the easiest way to catch a permit, especially if there are two or more permit with a ray.

Fish follow rays to feed on the forage they kick up. At that time permit are most vulnerable to fly-fishers. First, they are by definition feeding. That’s got to be a good thing. Second, the rays tend to kick up a lot of sand as well as food, so it is harder for the permit to examine your fly or see your leader material. Finally, rays are much easier to spot than permit, so you can see your quarry a mile off. This offers plenty of time to plan an ambush and line up your skiff and make the shot as easy as possible. Which is much better than being in a fevered rush when you suddenly see a big fish that is only 10 yards from the boat.

I once shared a golden week with William, Mauro’s head guide at Cayo Largo and one of the most talented guides I have ever fished with. Unlike many of my favorite firecracker Cuban permit guides, William retains a perpetually easy, relaxed demeanor, probably because he can spot a big black ray at 300 yards and set you up with a nice easy downwind shot. During one special week, I managed two super slams and one grand slam at Cayo Largo with this amazingly talented guide.

While Cayo Largo does have the occasional big fish, if you are after a real monster, you really want to head north to Cayo Cruz.

Whether casting from a skiff or wading the flats, you’ll get plenty of shots at permit and bones when fishing Cayo Cruz, Cayo Largo or Jardines de la Reina.

Cayo Cruz
I first fished Cayo Cruz in 2010 with my great friend and fellow permit nut Tim Marks. We fished with a novice guide “Gorgeous” George, who fell off the poling platform four times in one morning. It was a day of high comedy, but we could see the potential. We came back a week later, and I met up with a man named Raffa, who became another great friend. We caught a big, beautiful permit, and Tim and I had one each the following day.

Cayo Cruz lies adjacent to the Bahama channel, and the big fish that cruise out of deeper water here are sometimes astonishingly big. On more than one occasion the guides have mistaken them for tarpon. I believe that I have seen 50-pound permit here. The fish often hang with stingrays and they can occasionally be seen sipping juvenile white crabs from surface grasses and sponges. At such times, they can be caught with floating crab patterns, although I have had more success with small shrimps and lightly weighted Alphlexo crabs.

There are a few tarpon and some real trophy bonefish here, but it is primarily a permit destination. My friend Tim has caught two fish of well over 30 pounds here, and I lost a fish that my guide reckoned was nearer 40—it rubbed the fly out on the seabed after a 30-minute fight. These permit are as big as any in the world. They can be extraordinarily tough to catch and they will break your heart any number of times. But keep at it, and keep telling yourself that, like all creatures, permit have to eat.

Sometimes they do.

Matt Harris
Matt Harris is a globetrotting photographer who catches fish wherever he goes. Check out more of his work on IG @mattharrisflyfishing

We knew something was up as my fishing partner and I drove along an increasingly snow-covered road to Peterhope Lake on a mid-November day. Not a tire track and certainly no evidence of anyone recently launching a boat.

Then, why you might ask, would anyone want to fish with a good eight inches of snow on the ground and ice pushing out from the back bays of the lake. Here’s why: It was perfect—no competition, flat calm water and a bright, sunny morning meant we could cruise the shallow water and the edges of the longstem bulrush patches in search of big rainbows. And it wasn’t long before we spotted dark shapes swimming slowly along the marl bottom and other groups of fish disappearing into a maze of bulrush stems. Anchoring at the first good pod of bigger fish, we set up with floating lines and indicators and started suspending and wind-drifting micro-leeches and scuds, both go-to fall patterns. As always, the first fish landed in my boat, as long as it’s big enough, gets its throat pumped. Our first fish of the day was crammed with still-live, immature damselfly nymphs. A quick pattern switch made for an extremely productive morning bite.

Damselflies blend into their environment perfectly. Trout feed on these large insects when they swim to shore.

Preferred damselfly nymph habitat includes dense mats of submerged vegetation, such as chara, coontail, milfoil and pondweed. Damselflies can spend up to four years in the nymphal stage before making the transition to an adult. The nymphs undergo multiple molts or instar stages as they grow from minute creatures to 1.5-inch long mature nymphs. Lush vegetation that covers the shoal, or shallow zones, of a lake provide an abundant hunting ground for these carnivorous insects. Nymphs feed on scuds, mayfly nymphs, zooplankton and any other meaty food sources they can capture in their extendable mouthparts. These are not fast swimming predators, but stalk and ambush specialists. Nymphs are adept at matching their body coloration to the habitat they live in, so it is not uncommon to have multiple colors of the same species of damselfly in the same waterbody. Damselflies undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, which means there is no pupal stage such as found in midges and caddis. The fully developed damselfly nymph leaves the protection of its benthic habitat and swims to patches of emergent vegetation, like longstem bulrush, cattails or sedge grasses. The nymphs swim in a sinusoidal motion using their three-lobed caudal lamellae or “tails” to propel them through the water. Once reaching the plant stalks the nymphs crawl out of the water. Their exoskeleton dries and splits open allowing the adult to crawl out. Newly emerged adult bodies are soft and delicate and it takes up to several hours for their bodies and wings to harden. They then fly off and spend the rest of the open water season eating adult mosquitoes, midges and other small flying insects. Adults mate and females deposit eggs in emergent and floating vegetation. Females also crawl down emergent plant stalks and deposit eggs well below the surface. Adults live well into the fall season, but die off along with their prey with the arrival of freezing air temperatures.

It’s the nymphal stage that really attracts the attention of trout. One of the most intense and frenzied feeding periods occurs during the mature nymphal migration. Typical emergence occurs during the early summer season while water temperatures are still increasing, but prior to the onset of hot summer air temperatures. Overall, the hatch is short, often less than a couple of weeks in duration. Fully developed nymphs, in large numbers, swim from the lake bottom to within a few feet of the surface, then travel horizontally en route to concentrations of bulrush and cattail. During this migration the nymphs are fully exposed to trout cruising the shoals and edges of drop-offs. Fish pick off nymphs at will while never showing any signs of surface activity. Anglers see the swimming nymphs in the water or hanging from the stems of emergent plants. Pulling anchors at this time of the year often results in several nymphs falling into your boat or onto your float-tube. Things get even more interesting when masses of nymphs, emerging nymphs and newly emerged adults cling to the stems of rushes and sedge grasses. A gust of wind pushes the helpless insects into the water making for a very easy meal for trout willing to feed in water often less than four feet deep. At other times aggressive trout roll into bulrush stems to send the food purposely crashing onto the water. This is an amazing sight that leaves an angler shaking as they scramble to tie on an adult pattern. Fishing patterns tight to or into the bulrush or cattails is exciting and a real challenge when the trout decides to run even further into the forest!

Big trout get busy when damsels hatch. Anglers can catch numerous 20-plus inch fish, such as this rainbow, when conditions are right.

Damselfly nymph emergences are best fished with floating, emerger tip or intermediate sinking lines. It’s important to try and imitate their swim up off the bottom of the shoal and then the migration high in the water column. A continuous hand twist or slow strip retrieve consisting of 4-to 6-inch long pulls, followed by regular short pauses, imitates the natural movement of these bugs. Often, actual damsels pause and slowly sink back down through the water column before getting back to the task at hand. It makes sense to position your fishing craft so that you are casting out and retrieving in the same direction that the nymphs are swimming. Better yet, one can anchor on the leading edge of a bulrush patch and cast right into the area where the real nymphs are swimming through. Make sure to tie on your nymphs with a non-slip loop knot, which adds lifelike movement to the fly.

Late fall is one of my favorite times of the stillwater fishing season. This is when the bigger fish school up and move into very skinny water to bulk up in preparation for a long, cold winter. In many clear-water lakes fall is all about sight fishing in the shallows. There are no insect hatches to rely on, so the trout go back on food sources that overwinter in the lake. This typically means scuds, leeches and juvenile damselfly, mayfly and dragonfly nymphs. I have noticed that in many nutrient-rich lakes damselfly nymphs make up a significant portion of the late fall diet. Often the damselfly nymphs are less than a half-inch long. For some reason big trout really search out the “baby” damsels. Overall, the most consistent way to catch these damsel feeding trout is to suspend patterns under an indicator. An indicator allows you to cast right up against or into openings amongst bulrush or cattail and present the fly within inches of bottom or at whatever depth you choose. A slight breeze blowing in the direction of your casts provides a subtle undulating motion that trout find hard to resist. However, there are days when the fish want more movement to the fly, so always try fishing the same patterns with a floating line and a 12-to 16-foot long leader. Casting into or parallel to the rushes or cattail stands, and retrieving the fly often gets the fish to chase after a fleeing food source. Think about your favorite stillwater fisheries—if they have abundant shoals and lots of emergent vegetation, there should be some good damselfly nymph fishing to be had at various times of the year.

Numerous patterns take trout during a damselfly hatch. Tie your flies in different colors and sizes so you have all the options covered no matter where you fish.

Fly Patterns
Trout can get selective when feeding on the mature nymphs making their emergence migration swims. Realistic patterns that match the colouration of the real insect can make a difference between hooking the occasional fish or having a banner day. However, during the fall feeding time the nymphs can be more suggestive as long as the size is close to the real nymphs being eaten. There are many damselfly nymph patterns out there—some are extremely realistic and there is no question these patterns catch fish. Tying baby or juvenile damselfly nymphs can be as simple as using strung marabou fibers as this feather breathes and pulses when moved through the water. Here is the recipe for my Baby Damselfly Nymph.

Chan’s Baby Damsel Nymph.

Chan’s Baby Damsel Nymph

Hook: Daiichi 1120 #12, #16

Thread: 8/0 olive green

Tail: Olive green strung marabou fibers (6-8 fibers), tail should be 1.5X length of hook shank

Rib: Fine gold wire

Body: Olive green strung marabou fibers (tie marabou tips to form tail, spin remaining fibers to create body and then wrap forward onto hook)

Bead: 7/64th gold bead

Brian Chan
Brian Chan lives in Kamloops, British Columbia and breathes everything about fly-fishing in stillwaters. Follow him on Instagram: @brianchanflyfishing

When it comes to beauty, few fish can compete with the shimmer of a steelhead. (Cohen Lewis)

The Canadian north shore of Lake Superior is one of the most beautiful and rugged places in Canada. Superior itself is an inland sea, deep, cold and expansive. The lake is fed by hundreds of rivers and creeks. These rivers run that gamut from fast flowing freestone creeks to huge, deep rivers, to tiny spring fed rivulets. While all these tributaries are different, they share something in common—they host runs of migratory rainbow trout each spring and fall. These Lake Superior steelhead are some of the most beautiful and hardiest rainbow trout on the planet. Here is a look at the angling opportunity they provide.

An average size Northern Superior Steelhead, caught by the author. (Gord Ellis)

The Fish
Steelhead are not native to Lake Superior. The fish were introduced to the lake near Thunder Bay in the early 1900s. Other jurisdictions on the American side of the lake have also stocked various rainbow trout including the Kamloops and Donaldson strains. Over time, this melting pot of rainbows has naturalized and become a wild, naturally reproducing population of Lake Superior steelhead. And make no mistake, Lake Superior’s north shore is one of the coldest and harshest environments steelhead live in, anywhere in the world. This makes them tough, ornery and relatively longer lived than some other strains. Lake Superior steelhead are not as large on average as West Coast fish or even those found in the other Great Lakes, but they can get close. In 2011, I caught and released a fish that measured 33 inches long. However, the average Superior steelhead is about 25 inches long and weighs between five and six pounds. A 30-inch fish is generally considered an exceptional one and will weigh close to 10 pounds. Many of these larger steelhead have made a spawning run up to seven or eight times.

Lake Superior steelhead also vary widely in shape and coloration. Fresh fish just in from Superior can be nearly solid nickel, with almost no red blush. Then there are fish so dark they are nearly black. Most Superior steelhead are racy, with longer bodies and wide tails built for rushing up rapids and leaping falls. However, there is also the occasional supertanker that is round and fat. Superior steelhead generally fight hard and, if the water is not too cold, leap and tear out of pools at breakneck speed. They are an awesome fish.

The Water
From the border between Minnesota and Ontario, to Sault Ste. Marie, there are literally hundreds of gorgeous places to fish steelhead. Most fly-fishers will be attracted to the midsized and larger rivers that offer a bit more backcast room and water to work.

These north shore rivers and streams are wild, challenging, beautiful and pristine. Cedars and pine trees line many of them, while others are open and rocky. Few (outside of Thunder Bay) have more than a handful of cottages or homes on their banks. Many have limited access to the upper reaches outside of small game trails. On the most remote rivers east of the town of Nipigon, you may not see an angler for days, or at all. It is a place of wild fish and wild water.

Some of the better rivers for numbers of fish are found within the city of Thunder Bay. The McIntyre, a medium size freestone river, snakes through the center of the city and has enough greens space (public lands) to allow a lot of angler access. Several thousand steelhead run the Mac—a large number by Lake Superior standards. Easy access and numbers of fish attract anglers, however, so being alone on the river is rare. Still, there are enough riffles, pools and runs to keep most anglers busy. Above the fishway at Lakehead University the river is much more lightly fished.

The other urban streams in Thunder Bay also see large numbers of anglers, particularly the Neebing River, which is heavily fished below a weir in the center of town. The Current River, on the east side of the city, is a large, fast-moving river that has a smaller run of steelhead, but much more elbow room. Most of the fishing is done in the pockets and pools below the Boulevard Lake fishway, with the lion’s share of fish being caught at the base of the rapids near Lake Superior.

The Jackpine, Cypress and Gravel rivers, located east of Nipigon, are standout destinations. All are accessed off the highway, and the easily reached water is quite busy during the main run. However, a little exploration upstream on these classic rivers reveals a lot of unfished water. Prepare for some rough trails and uneven walking, but the reward can be worth the effort. Some anglers pack their waders and hike well upstream, then fish their way down. A scan with Google Earth reveals many of the less easily accessed pools and runs.

A beautiful fall specimen caught by the author, on the Steel River. Note the bead hanging out of the fish’s mouth. While some purists consider them cheating, they are extremely effective, and less likely to be swallowed by the fish. (Gord Ellis)

The Steel River produces the largest fish on the north shore. The Steel, which is located near Terrace Bay, is a classic trout river in every way and pulls a substantial run of fish. In many ways it reminds me of a West Coast river. It has some huge, deep pools that hold steelhead all winter. There are long riffles and some deep runs. It is most easily fished with a fly in the early and late seasons, generally the first two weeks of April and last two weeks of May. Unlike most north shore streams, you can fish a spey rod here and not feel overarmed. Steelhead start running here early and keep coming well into June. There is accessible water off the highway, but the adventurous angler finds lesser fished areas by taking the trail up from the highway.

Anglers use boats to fish several of the north shore’s largest rivers. That does not mean you can’t fish them from shore. You just have to find your spot and work it carefully and thoroughly. The Nipigon and Michipicoten are the two largest rivers and have steelhead runs as well as resident rainbows. These larger rivers can also cough up some larger than average fish. Both these rivers are great for the spey enthusiast. Other beautiful rivers include the Mackenzie, Wolf, Black Sturgeon, Whitesand, Deadhorse, Prairie, Pancake, Baldhead and Sand.

There are also literally hundreds of smaller creeks on the north shore, nearly all of them with good runs of steelhead.

The Fishing
Many of these rivers—and the ones fly fishers gravitate to—run swift, with deep pools, runs and riffles that hold steelhead on the move. During spring, mornings are cold and the steelhead hold up in deeper pools and runs. Fishing sink-tips and egg patterns (cactus fly, yarn fly) or colored beads are the favored techniques.

Another go-to is the black Woolly Bugger in size-8 or 10. A peacock Woolly Worm with a red tail is another local favorite. In heavily pressured water, or in ultra-clear streams, a size-10 chironomid works well. Most anglers use a floating line and add some weight to the leader to get the fly down. Generally, only the largest rivers, including the Nipigon and the Michipicoten, require a sink-tip.

As the water warms and steelhead begin moving, the tailouts of pools and the heads of runs hold the most active fish. Swinging streamers, such as an Egg-Sucking Leech, Strip Leech or a nymph pattern, can be deadly. As the run winds down and the steelhead begin to drop back, anglers can really cash in. After the spawn the steelhead are extra-aggressive and lower water makes it easier to reach them with a fly. Best of all, the water is warmer at that time and these steelhead are acrobatic. A 7 or 8-weight rod covers most north shore situations.

No crowds here. Though easily accessible, you rarely encounter other anglers while fishing the North Superior tributaries. (Gord Ellis)

Timing
Timing the spring run on Superior is not difficult. As a rule, fishing the first week of May all but guarantees there will be steelhead in a river. However, the runs have been trending earlier over the past decade with the last week of April seeing the peak of the run. The spring run is about a week earlier in Thunder Bay and close to Sault Ste. Marie than on the most northern edge of coastal Superior. Early season anglers in mid-to later April find lower rivers and a lot of snow, but some very bright fish. From mid-to late May, the spawned out “drop-back” trout tend to hole up in the deeper pools and runs. In late May the coastal rivers are generally devoid of anglers and the fish are plentiful. There may be a few blackflies and mosquitoes around, but the fishing will be worth the annoyance. As a bonus, the coastal rivers may produce brook trout, including resident fish and the larger “coaster” brookies that move up from Superior to eat steelhead and sucker eggs. Not a bad incidental catch.

Thunderbay local, Cohen Lewis with a beautiful spring fish. (Cowen Lewis)

Regulations
Lake Superior steelhead populations are managed in a conservative way. The fishery is open year-round, so there is plenty of opportunity. Most anglers practice catch-and-release and it has helped the fishery immeasurably. However, there is some harvest. For the northwest coastal streams of Lake Superior, which flow from about Wawa to the Minnesota border, it’s a one-fish limit. The only variation is found on two rivers within Thunder Bay (the McIntyre and Neebing) that also have a size limit of one fish over 27 inches. On the northeast coast of Superior, east of the Pic River, the limit is two steelhead any size. There are also closures on small creeks in the northeast, and these are generally signed. You need to check the Ontario regulations whenever you fish new waters. One other thing to be aware of is some streams have weirs and falls with no fishing areas beneath them. Again, these are generally signed and marked, but a check of the regulations is always a good plan.

Gord Ellis
Gord Ellis is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, photographer and fly fishing guide from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Gord has been working as an outdoor writer since the mid-1980s, and has written several thousand features, columns, web pieces and news stories. In 2018, Gord was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Ethan Markie takes a contemplative sip of beer and watches another group of Bozeman “bros” wander into the Rocking R Bar. We’re talking art, and for the Bozeman-based artist, fishing guide and former fly shop rat, this is a day just like any other.

“I need to have the experience first, in order to get inspired to paint,” Markie says. “It might be just something as simple as the patterns witnessed on a recent trout caught and released. Sometimes it might be more complex; a whole general feeling I have about a certain river or stream that is the result of cumulative experiences on that water.”

Markie grew up in rural Connecticut, the eldest of three brothers all very close in age. The brothers lived near several small trout streams, and spent their family vacations camping, hiking and simply being outside.

“Video games were never part of our youth,” Markie said, “so we learned to entertain ourselves the old-fashioned way. Part of this included painting and the other part was exploring outside.”

It wasn’t until the avid fly angler moved to Montana that he considered an actual career in the fly-fishing industry. He worked summer seasons in Alaska while completing a degree in fish and wildlife management, and then worked in several of the area’s top fly shops. Through those changes, art has remained a consistent theme.

“I first picked up a paintbrush probably before I can even remember,” Markie said. “I guess I have always just enjoyed how a painting can turn a memory into a physical thing that can be shared with others. I paint for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I just want to make something cool and interesting. Other times it serves as a state of meditation that allows me to slow things down and re-focus on the rest of my life. But my best work has stemmed from attempts to re-create and preserve a specific experience, memory, or feeling had out on the water.”

“Time outside and on the water is the main thing that inspires my paintings,” Markie said. “You never know what small thing might spark up inspiration for a new painting. Often, the hardest part of painting is the initial idea. When I start to get stuck, I go to the river. Things usually fall into place after that, and when I have that internal drive and vivid image in my head, it is much easier to get the paint to do what I want it to do.”

As all industry people know, burnout is very real and it’s easy to lose that creative spark in the daily routine. For Markie, keeping that internal drive is all about getting outside and on the water.

“Working in the industry helps with extra exposure to the subject matter,” he said. “Guiding especially helps. Not only are you seeing trout being caught, but you also get to see the joy that brings to your guests. (Also) you notice new things when you are out on the water. Maybe it is the way the ripples on the surface reflect the sky, or a certain shade of purple you see in the rocks in the water.”

For the moment, Markie’s work bears his trademark bright colors and high contrast, focusing on trout and cold rivers. Occasionally he’ll dabble with saltwater, or a commissioned piece outside his ordinary subject matter, but at the end of the day, he returns to those same trout and rivers.

“One of the things I like most about creating art is that the painting will outlive you,” he said. “You build something that will be appreciated and viewed by people long after you die. They may not know your name—or anything else about you—but you still have a chance to make a viewer pause for an instant and feel something about your painting. For me, that is good enough. It gives you a sense of immortality that makes me feel at ease with the rest of my life. Days (when) I spend even just a little bit of time on the easel are days I feel more complete, accomplished and calm. Art does that for me.”

The best advice he’s been given was from a fellow young angler—remember to keep it fun,

“He advised that as my art grows into more of an actual business, that I keep the drive alive and never forget why I started painting in the first place—because it is fun,” Markie said. “When things get a bit stressful with deadlines, commissioned pieces, and trying too hard to come up with new ideas, I head to the river and just try to keep things fun. Remembering that helps things fall back into place.

“Knowing that my paintings are starting to spread to places other than my own house, and now all over the world, is a pretty cool feeling,” Markie said. “Strangers somewhere else are enjoying something I created in my own home. If I can continue to make that happen and spread my art all around, that would be all right by me.”

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

By the time Belize reopened in October 2020, I’d held five sets of flight tickets, the travel date having been continually pushed back by changing border closures. The summer of 2020 was, essentially, spent watching flight delays and cancelations. So, when the border finally reopened and I stepped off the plane in Belize City on October 3, I was very happy.

But the process of travel had changed. I’d taken a PCR test before leaving Montana, carrying the results with me to present during a new health screening process in Philip Goldstein International Airport. Upon arrival in Belize City, all passengers were ushered through a line for health screenings. I presented my negative test results. Had my temperature taken. Was asked details about where I was going and how long I was staying. After a successful jaunt through the health screening, then customs, and then immigration, I rechecked my bags for my in-country Tropic Air flight and took a seat on one of the many wooden benches lining the airport waiting area. I considered how grateful I was to be outside my home state of Montana.

Five of us had made the trek to El Pescador Lodge on Ambergris Caye. All but one were return guests. Ken, a retired Delta pilot and Wyoming horseman was an old-school gentleman. Old friends Mike and Bill brought humor and tales of permit adventures to the dinner table each evening. And newcomer Bryan fit right in, being promptly bitten by the tarpon bug and boating more than a dozen silver kings over the course of the week. And I was there toting cameras and, occasionally, a fly rod. Within a day, our little squad had morphed into a family. Things like that happen easily at fishing lodges.

The daily routines had changed, of course. Every morning, Dunia arrived and took our temperatures, bringing along a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. Pangas were sprayed with a disinfectant before we could climb aboard, and at dinner we were carefully spaced out, an empty seat between each angler. The tempo of the lodge had changed slightly; even here it was impossible to escape the concept that the world was different.

But despite the little details, so much remained. Mariano whipped up magical concoctions in the bar. Isa gave casting lessons on the dock, helping me conquer my tailing loop habit. Lodge manager Bruce kept everyone entertained with tales of South Africa, and he was always keen to have a drink and chat.

Like most fishing destinations, once you’re on the water it’s easy to forget the outside world, with everything turning to a blend of water, sun, and air, and little else. Boated fish are celebrated with Belikins, and cold ceviche is provided during runs between the flats. The guides, who had been without work since March, were incredibly happy to see anglers (as was the entire staff) and they put in the work for us.

And the fishery? The flats surrounding San Pedro—El Pescador has access to more than 400 square miles of them—hadn’t been fished in nearly seven months. Despite persistent tropical storms, our group made a good dent in the resident fish population, landing bonefish, tarpon, and permit throughout the week. One rainy morning Bryan boated a 100-plus pound tarpon that towed the panga around the mangroves for an hour-and-a-half before coming to hand.

Four of us extended our stay at the last minute, adding on a day on account of a morning we’d lost to wind. (That’s the excuse we gave ourselves, at least.) Newly flexible airline flight changes come in handy for anglers. In truth, none of us wanted to climb back on a plane and return to the chaos of the “real world.” We’d settled back into that magical tempo of rise-fish-drink-eat-sleep. Rinse. Repeat. In good company, there’s nothing better.

After that October trip, I returned to El Pescador in January. The health screening process for incoming travelers has only become easier, and I hope to return again this summer. In a world gone mad, carving out time with like-minded anglers and breathing the salt air has become more important than ever, and somewhat safer than it was a year ago.

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

The first thing to behold when clutching this two-volume set called A Passion For Permit, is the sheer breadth of work: combined, these two oversized and hard-bound books, which weigh about five-thousand pounds each, total 1,665 pages.

In reality, their combined weight is nine pounds. Substantial, for sure, which means you will have to sit down at a desk or in an armchair to take it all in. And you’ll want to do just that if you are serious about fly fishing for permit, whether you’re a first-timer looking for a miracle fish or a globetrotting angler taking your shots wherever this fish is found.

As you probably know, pain and suffering are part of the permit equation, but these books may take some of the mystery out of what you are doing. With chapters covering permit anatomy, permit habitat, permit food, best tides and moons for catching permit, essential equipment for permit, choosing the right fly for permit and how to present it to permit, you can head out on your first permit quest with all the intel you need for success—but it still comes down to you putting the fly right where it needs to be.

Written by Jonathan Olch and published by Wild River Press, A Passion for Permit is one of those must-have title, such as Combs’ Steelhead Fly Fishing and AJ McClane’s Game Fish of North America. While the writing won’t knock your socks off in A Passion For Permit, it’s very serviceable and you get what you came for everything you need to know to go after these fish and have a reasona-ble chance at success.

While Olch’s technical how-to/where-to chapters are immensely valuable, what we found most inter-esting are Q&A chapters with some of the best known permit anglers on the planet, including Keys guides Nathaniel Linville and Steve Huff; Belize legend Lincoln Westby; marine biologist Aaron Adams; Cuban guide Mauro Ginervri; and Australian guru Peter Morse. These are fascinating interviews and likely to be read multiple times, each reading probably providing another little overlooked dose of wisdom.

Some of us are still looking for our first permit while you freaks, whom we speak of admiringly, may have already tallied dozens of those sickle-tailed beauties. In either case A Passion for Permit should serve you well no matter where on the globe you choose to chase this most addictive sport-fish. Our suggestion: pull out that wallet and pony-up. A Passion For Permit (two-volume set) $150
—the editors

The author’s first brackish waterpike, taken just a few miles from Stockholm, Sweden, December 2020.

As an author, traveler and professional fly-fishing guide, I had to cancel most of my 2020 projects, with only a curtailed guide season in Iceland surviving the global lockdown. But out of adversity comes opportunity—per ardua ad astra, as the Romans used to say.

I’d spent most of the first two months of the lockdown at home, becoming increasingly frustrated with imprisonment, while dutifully trying to follow social distancing recommendations. When May arrived I knew two things: If I wanted to fish, I needed to focus on local waters; at that time of the year, the pike were just coming off the spawn. I made a few trips to the west side of the Czech Republic, near the German border, to try and catch a monster on a fly. That trip made 2020 my Year Of The Pike, culminating with a remarkable December day in Sweden when I caught eight big pike in the brackish archipelago waters not far from Stockholm.

We were lucky—in other years those very waters were frozen in December. Instead, we enjoyed an idyllic day fishing some of the best water that Sweden offers. And my conclusion after this unexpected year pursuing these aggressive predators? Pike are the same no matter where you find them—thrilling to catch in shallow water, beautiful to study, and all capable of leaving a nasty cut with their razor-sharp teeth. I learned the latter at my own expense on several occasions. Here are some takeaways from 2020, my Year of The Pike.

Pine Lake in western Bohemia (Czech Republic) June 2020. This clear water with shallow bays and channels is a prime spot for big northerns, especially during the early season when water temperatures are cool.

Weather
All fish are affected by changing weather conditions. Depending on the weather, some species feed more aggressively while others make our lives more difficult, as they basically shut their mouths no matter what your throw at them.

In my experience most pike are caught as atmospheric pressure drops before storms and other unsettled weather. During summer, if I wake up after the weather has been stable and hot for a long time and find that it’s a cloudy or rainy day, that’s definitely the right morning to go off for pike! When you encounter that situation, drop everything and get the fishing gear out. But don’t overlook the sunny days if that is the only time you have to fish—pike will still feed in bright light, especially early or late in the season when water temperatures are low. Keep in mind that pike sense weather changes many hours before we do, so they can “come on” at unexpected times.

You might hook a pike anytime during the day, but early mornings and evenings are best. Hitting a day when pike feed from dawn to dusk is rare, but they do happen. You’ll need luck on your side to have that happen and the only way to increase your odds is to be on the water as often as you can.

The author hoists her personal best 2020 pike, a 41-incher that she landed on a local lake, just a few kilometers from her house in the Czech Republic.

Right Place
Many fly fishers prefer to target pike in rivers. I prefer lakes with clear water, especially in weedy areas, such as bays and flats. These are the spots where pike hold during the summer months. Often, they relax in deeper holes behind, for example, a drop-off or a fallen tree or some other piece of structure that provides security. When the weather changes, or the light is low, these fish move out of deeper water and into feeding areas to chase baitfish. You can find them in surprisingly shallow water, even during fall and winter.

When targeting pike, it’s always good to cast your fly to a drop-off and swim it back towards a shallow area, which mimics what a real baitfish would do, while teasing any pike that may be holding in deeper water. Never pass a weedy area, fallen trees, or big rocks without covering them thoroughly. If the fish are really in feeding mode, they’ll be aggressive and it shouldn’t not take long to find out if you are in the right spot. For that reason, if you don’t have any action right away, don’t stick around—go find some fish in hunting mode.

I caught my final pike of 2020 in Sweden as the sun fell and a cold wind blew. I fished from a boat, covering a shallow area where thin, dying reeds barely poked out of the water. There were some open areas between the reeds, some no bigger than the size of a car. It was tricky casting, but I covered those open areas at last light, got a great hit, and watched a pike explode from the reeds. Five minutes later I was holding my catch, wearing a huge smile, knowing that 2020 hadn’t been a waste.

No serious pike angler lets a little toothy cut get in the way of success. Bring the patch kit and keep throwing.

Season
The pike season in Europe varies from country to country. Many fisheries do not allow fishing for pike during the spring and summer months. However, the best chances to get a trophy pike on the fly (at least in the Czech Republic) are after the spawn in May and June, and late in the season shortly before the water is covered with ice. During late fall the baitfish move into deeper parts of rivers and lakes and the pike jump at the chance to gain that last bit of weight before the winter months arrive.

Pacchiarini’s Wiggletail is a winner no matter where it’s thrown. The author’s Year Of Pike woolen’t have been as successful if she hadn’t included several of these patterns in her arsenal.

Best Setup for Pike
Eight-to 10-weight rods rigged with intermediate lines and heavy heads are the ideal choices for pike. My favorite fly line for pike fishing is definitely RIO’s InTouch Pike/Musky as it smoothly loads 11-inch long flies without any problem. I consider intermediate fly lines as the most versatile for pike fishing, but there are situations when sinking or floating lines serve best. In Sweden, where we were fishing from a boat and casting towards drop-offs, the depth quickly fell to several meters. To get our flies to the bottom, where pike are usually waiting, we used Type 5 sinktips and flies with foam heads, which kept those offerings just above any snags.

Pike have lots of sharp teeth and are difficult on gear. If you use an insufficient leader you may reel in, find your fly missing and the leader bitten clean through. To combat those teeth I sometimes use a 70-pound mono tippet looped straight to my fly line. On other occasions I use a tapered leader with a 20-inch section of wire. To be sure you don’t lose a trophy pike, I strongly recommend using a piece of fluorocarbon connected to Trace Wire.

Another look at a beastly pike.

The Killer Flies
Pike are ambush predators, so a good silhouette is key to success. These fish must see your fly against the sky. Usually, pike will feed on anything with great movement, but it helps if your fly emits sound—pike can easily sense vibrations in the water.

We all want to catch big pike and big pike definitely feed on big baitfish. When hunting for these fish I definitely use big flies, up to 10 or 11-inches long. If you want to catch big pike, don’t waste your time with a minnow on the end of your line. You’ve got to go big. I prefer flashy flies with lots of movement. I like Dougie’s Sparkler (silver); my absolute favorite—and the fly I would use if I could only fish one—is the Pike Tube (fire tiger). Both are available from Fulling Mill.

In clean water I like to use bright colors. In dirty water I like silver colored flies that imitate roach and hot green/orange flies to imitate perch. To cover your bases, fill up your fly boxes with lots of Wiggletails. And don’t forget some poppers for those memorable summer evenings.

Good luck. I guarantee a huge pike is out there with your name on it!

Katka Svagrova
Growing up in a fly fishing family, Katka has been casting a fly rod since the age of four. In addition to being one of the top guides in Europe, she is a world-class competitor, winning the Czech women’s championship 5 times in 6 years. She has also competed internationally, helping the Czech team place 4th in the European fly fishing championship. After a trip to Australia in 2014, Katka started travelling the world, fly rod in hand. Within 3 years she had fished more than 10 countries including Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Belize, The Maldives, and Guatemala. Katka currently works as a fly fishing guide for Hreggnasi Angling Club on Laxa í Kjòs, one of Iceland’s most prestigious Atlantic Salmon rivers.

Skeed Borkowski has lived in the British Columbia’s rugged Cariboo region for over 50 years. He’s a man of humor, wit, and endless stories. Along with his wife Sharon, Skeed owns and operates the iconic Northern Lights Lodge, located in the small town of Likely. When he’s not tinkering with machinery or entertaining guests, he can be found drifting down one of the local rivers, casting flies to his favorite quarry—big, yellowbelly rainbow trout.

How did you end up at Northern Lights Lodge? What was your motivation for being in this remote part of the world?
Well, I was going through male menopause . . . . We had gone from logging to building and operating a cedar sawmill with about 50 employees. That mill burnt down. I think our [insurance] policy covered about 900-grand. My partner Rick and I went back to logging for five years and we paid off about a million and a half bucks worth of debt. And then we went gold mining. It definitely was a learning curve ‘cause we had never seen gold before. After about 10 years we were doing well and were approached by a company out of Calgary that wanted to buy our company—sort of a retirement package. We got a decent down payment, and Sharon and I bought the waterfront property. But you know me, I had a tough time staying still.

That was about 26 years ago, and about that time the Bre-X gold scandal came out. At the time it was the biggest gold scandal ever. Bre-X got caught and our investors couldn’t pay for the property. To make a long story short we got the mining property back, but Sharon and I were already committed down here. We had partners, so we had to leave the mining alone and fix up the lodge. It was pretty run down. Sharon and I spent a couple years completely rebuilding and renovating everything. It was quite the adventure, but I think it paid off. Now we’ve got a pretty awesome lodge here.

What was the fishing like when you first came to the Cariboo region?
Well, the fish were even more dumb than they are now. I mean they had never seen a fly or lure before. But it was rugged and you were alone. I remember when I was in my twenties, I used to go down to the Cariboo (spelling from the gold miners of the 1850s). River fishing for bulls and big rainbow trout. I’d get as far up the river as I could. Most of those spots had never been stepped on by anyone, ever. I’d climb over rocks and log jams with my spin rod in my teeth and not a person in the world knew I was out there. Crazy, isn’t it? That’s just the way it was. And those places still exist. Maybe not as many of them, but we have plenty of those untouched places here.

 

Was NLL always a fly-fishing focused lodge?
No. Originally the lodge was more focused on conventional fishing. Guys would come up, spend a couple nights, eat some fish and enjoy a few beverages. We started focusing on fly fishing in 1999, when a friend of one of our original partners came up just to see the place. He was from an Orvis fly shop in Colorado and on the first day I took him fishing, he just looked at me and said, “You have no idea what you have here.” Up until that point we really just took it for granted. I mean, you could walk up to the bank, cast a line, and in just about any decent spot, nine out of 10 times you’re going to get a fish. What’s the big deal?

That must be a big draw for anglers. What can you tell me about Likely?
Likely is just such a small, unique sort of community. Its demographics are all over the map. If you see someone, you wave, even if you don’t know them. Most of the time you do—there are only a couple hundred people living here. It’s just such a safe place where people genuinely care about each other. Not all of them may sit down for dinner with you, but you know they’ll all show up if you need a hand.

 

It’s a good thing too, with no cell phone reception or emergency services in Likely. Get into trouble, you’ll need to count on your neighbors. Being unplugged, disconnected—is that an advantage or disadvantage?
I find it a huge advantage. It would be the most horrid sound in the world if you are fishing on the most beautiful river and your bloody cell phone rings, or there’s a grizzly bear you’re watching and your phone rings. It doesn’t matter what animal—a grizzly or moose or whatever. No animal should know what a cell phone ring sounds like. I have really strong feelings about that. Some things should just be left the hell alone.

 

Talking about grizzlies, word on the street is you have a lot of bears up here. Any good stories?
You know, when we encounter the bears, they have so much food with the salmon in the water and wild berries in the woods . . . they really aren’t interested in you. Sows here tend to keep their cubs real close because the boars will kill her cubs to put her back in heat. All they think about are food and women. Not so different from a couple guys I know. But anyway, we haven’t had any situations. If clients want to see bears, typically we’ll stop for lunch where we can have a look and take pictures. The most I’ve seen in one day is 19 different grizzly bears. We saw two sows with triplets, so that was eight bears right there. Many days I’ve seen over a dozen different grizzly bears. Never an issue as these are wild animals and not used to humans . . . they take their salmon and head back to the forest to enjoy their feast.

 

Without giving away spots, can you tell me a little about the area you fish, and why it’s unique?
We basically fish three main rivers in the summer, and five later in the season as more water becomes fishable when water levels drop. Some of the more remote systems, we take the cabin-cruiser, along with a jet boat. We’ll spend the day working our way up as far as we can in the jet boat then turn around and drift down and wade-fish some of the better spots on the way back. Other rivers we drive to and launch driftboats or inflatable rafts. Some of the best spots are just a spot we’ve marked with a broken limb on an old, deserted logging road. Then we drop down over the bank to a beautiful pool, only known to a few old-timers.

We are talking with some whitewater rafters who get to some spots that we’d like to fish. It would be a cool sort of adventure that we could add to our program.

I know firsthand how busy you are during the season. Do you still get out fishing?
I’m a dry-fly guy. I love river fishing, just targeting a fish. It’s like hunting. I can look at a run and know there’s a fish there and I just have to catch it. I will say, though, recently I have been exploring our backcountry lakes and there are some really big fish there. Some of the stocked trophy lakes have the yellowbelly Horsefly strain and they are so much fun. They are just the most aggressive, hard fighting rainbow trout you will find in the world.

 

I can definitely attest to that. I remember the last time we fished together. The fish preferred skating and stripped flies opposed to dead-drifted presentations.
I know, especially with the dry fly. You can drift it, drift it, and drift it, then right when it starts to swing bam!

 

What happens when the salmon first come into the river? Do the trout react right away?
Oh yea, they’ll spend the summer looking up, feeding on the surface. But right before the salmon arrive the trout start looking down. The transition takes a couple days but you can feel it. They’ll slow down with the dries, but egg patterns soon get inhaled, and by big fish, too. It almost feels like cheating. You don’t even have to cast far. The fish are often two feet from shore, in less than a foot of water. If you can find salmon beds, you always find trout five or 10 yards behind.

How big are these fish? What’s a good sized fall rainbow trout?
This time of year [late fall] 20-to 24 inches is a good fish for the river. Remember, these are wild, native rainbows that have likely never been caught before. Very aggressive, as there is so much competition below the surface. We have seen fish over 35 inches landed, but not many. We do get fish over 10 pounds quite often in our trophy lakes. They do turn a driftboat around.

What’s nice about our river fishing is that a good angler can land 30 or 40 fish in a day. A complete beginner can land 10 to 20, no problem. Our rivers are 100 percent catch-and-release, barbless hooks fisheries. Kudos to our fish and wildlife department to have the foresight to recognize and protect this unique species of trout.</p?

 

Have you had any days on the water that were really memorable?
We had three guys up from Denver, Colorado. We anchored the driftboat just up from a chinook red and we were pulling trout after trout out of this hole. Probably over a hundred in a few hours. Ridiculous fishing. Anyway, there was one big bull trout in there and he kept ramming the chinook, knocking the eggs out of their bellies. We tried to get him on egg patterns, as well as beads, but he wouldn’t take. Then we tried swinging a streamer and wham, he nailed it. The fish ran downstream. We had to pull up both anchors and chase him. After about 45 minutes we finally landed this thing. And I kid you not, it was 42 inches long. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Grinning just thinking about it.

There have been so many big rainbows, I just lose track. Actually I hooked into a good one stillwater fishing a little while ago. He must have been around 28 inches and heavy. These lakes just have so much food. A lot of freshwater shrimp. What I really remember about this fish is he tailed three times and then an eagle swooped right over my head and nailed it. But the eagle couldn’t lift the fish out of the water. It sort of just got stuck, and face-planted. Anyway, the eagle paddled into shore and it took about a half-hour to eat the belly off the fish before it flew away with the rest of it. This all happened right in front of me.</p?

I could keep going and going, but I’ll stop after this one. We had a father and son from Chicago, and they wanted to see one of our rivers that has a big sockeye run. But it was too early in the season to really fish it and the water was very high. I took them to the far side of the lake and we went up the river as far as we could go.</p?

We made a couple casts. Didn’t catch anything, and headed back. Anyway, the mouth of this river opens up into a big bay and there were fish rising everywhere. I passed the lad his rod. He must have been 14 or so. I said, “Hit those rises.” First cast he lands a 20-inch rainbow. I set them up wading 50 feet apart, just off the shoreline, towards a drop-off, and spent the next four hours running back and forth taking fish off their lines. They must have landed 30 fish, all big, probably not a fish under 20 inches. Five or six in the 28-inch range. All wild fish. There are no stocked fish in Lake Quesnel. That was cool. Big golden stonefly hatch and we hit it just right.</p?

As a lodge owner, is there anything that has really surprised you over the years?
We have guests that are just amazing. We have couples that have been coming up 15 to 20 years consecutively. Even with covid last summer, we had guests come up and stay with us multiple times. I feel fortunate to have shared this area with people. It really makes Sharon and I feel so fortunate to have made so many truly great friends in a business venture that has put the word “business” on the back shelf.

A lot of our longtime guests have sort of got a little too old, or have health issues, and can’t make it here anymore. I still talk to a lot of these folks every couple months. They ask how we’re doing and how the fishing is going. It’s really special to make these kinds of connections with people.

 

Do you notice a change in your guests from the time they arrive to the time they leave?
Oh, big-time. Big-time. You can tell when they just arrive, they’re just so excited. You know the first couple days you see them miss so many strikes, and it’s not because they are not good anglers. It just takes them a couple days to slow down and get that rush-hour traffic off their minds. Once they take a deep breath they begin to fish so much better, and I think find a deeper appreciation for this place. It’s just so fresh here. You won’t see a single jet stream in the sky and rarely another angler during their entire five-day trip. It really is a forgotten piece of the world.

 

Can you talk to me about the guides you employ, and what it takes to be a guide up here?
Well, most of our guides have been working with us for 15 to 20 years. Gordy has been with us about 25 years, but he’s been guiding and outfitting in the area since he was 16. He’s the most skilled jet boat operator I’ve ever seen. He just knows so much about everything there is up here. The animals, the history, everything. We’ve got Tate and Curtis—both of them are completely fishing obsessed. And we’ve got Rob, our second most senior guide—he’s probably on a first-name basis with most of the fish in our rivers.

Bobby and Brian, at different times and on their own terms, sorta just ended up here and decided they never wanted to leave. It was the fishing that made them want to stay, but I think it’s the lifestyle that keeps them here.

Most of our guides are local and live here year-round, so this isn’t just a seasonal thing. It really is a way of life. There’s something about the peace and tranquility here. There’s no pressure as to when you have to be here or when you have to be there. Look, Sharon and I came here 52 years ago to spend a year in the woods and we just didn’t want to leave. I don’t think it’s something that can really be explained. Just stand in the water and look around. Oh, I missed a strike . . . oh well.

 

Before we wrap this up, what flies would you recommend tying up before coming up to NLL?
The Turks Tarantula is our number one fly. The Tom Thumb is my favorite, though. Prince Nymphs work well if you’re going under. Mouse patterns are fun to skate, and the strikes are crazy aggressive. If you are coming in the fall, egg patterns are a must. Beads are great if you are ok with fishing them. They are a little easier on the fish.

Gil Greenberg
Gil eats, sleeps and breathes fly fishing. He is the founder of Gil’s Fly Fishing International and holds a degree in marine biology. Before getting into the fly fishing industry, Gil served in the IDF and worked as a fisheries consultant in the Solomon Islands.

If ever there was a toilet of a trout season, 2020 was it. Instead of packing for my annual lake trips, I hunkered down in my living room packing on the pounds. The few times I did get out, the weather was so bad I ended up sitting in my truck glaring at the windshield while my boat filled up with rain.

And the river fishing? Well, that was an absolute double-flusher. I missed the Dean due to Covid. And two days on the Thompson only produced a small number of sickly looking rainbows that pulled about as hard as you would if I asked you to pull my finger.

Worst, I missed the Bow due to Covid, too.

Ever since my 2020 Bow trip got the big flush, I’ve been looking ahead wondering when I can return. The reason? Brown trout. Big ones. The types of fish the Bow is famous for. And though I haven’t caught any real monsters—two feet long is my current personal best—I’ve seen some giants come out of the river. And I wanna get me one.

Summer 2021 looks like it might be the right time to do it.

Anticipating some relaxing of Canada’s travel restrictions now that the Covid-19 vaccination plan is rolling along, I checked in with a friend, the author and former Bow River guide Jim McLennan (mclennanflyfishing.com), and asked what all of us might expect on the Bow these days.

“There is a belief that the fish population has dropped significantly in the time since the big flood of 2013,” he told me. “And people don’t seem to catch as many as in the ‘glory days’ of the 1980s. [But the big fish that made the Bow famous are still around and] They’re as big or bigger than ever.”

Over the years “The Book” on big Bow River browns is streamer fishing. A few seasons back, when I spoke with some veteran guides about trophy browns, they told me to fish streamers in late June through early July if the river is in shape, or late August and early September.

The Bow is is broad in most places, but narrow side channels offer easy wading and lots of opportunity for the wade angler. However, given a choice, most anglers would prefer to float the river and pound the banks with streamers, looking for Mr. Big. (Jim and Lynda McLennan)

McLennan notes something new. “I always thought the best way to find the biggest fish was fishing streamers just as the river is clearing from runoff. But people seem to catch big guys through the season, including with dry stones and hoppers.”

Those “dry stones” are Classenia sabulosa, the “night stone” or “short-wing stone” that starts appearing in late June and early July. “The names come from the fact that the whole business—hatching, mating, egg laying—occurs at night, and because the adult males have wings that are only about half developed,” McLennan said.

Trout—even the big ones—take imitations of the adult stone fished along the shoreline just before sunrise and through the early part of the day.

A month later you’re still fishing the shoreline, but now it’s Hopper Season. After a hot July, the hoppers really gets going, and even the big browns can be found along grassy banks in very shallow water looking for these terrestrials. One of the biggest Bow River browns I’ve hooked came out of an eight-inch deep dish in a shallow riffle. I hooked it prospecting my way up a bank, after I dropped a Whitlock’s hopper just upstream of a waterlogged tree branch. That branch surprised me by taking the hopper and charging into deep water.

If you’re in a driftboat, pitching hoppers tight to the bank is a sure way to learn just where really big fish sit even in bright sun. On an August afternoon, some of those big dark rocks that you can see in the skinny water will suddenly grow fins and eat. And if they won’t eat your hopper, the Hare’s Ear you’ve attached to a short dropper usually entices them. This “hopper-dropper” setup is a standard on the Bow, and it’s my usual August bank-busting rig.

Big dries are great of course, but don’t neglect the nymphs. I’ve had some great days rolling nymph rigs through the riffles or splashing them into the deeper troughs ahead of a driftboat. My biggest Bow River brown came to a Brooks Golden Stone just below the Highway 22X Bridge, and I’ve bounced big nymphs off the rocks in that section ever since.

It’s one thing to trophy hunt the Bow if it’s been your home river for over 30 years. And quite another if you’re just looking to get on the water for a few days and catch some nice trout. One of the reasons I love the Bow so much is that it’s a river that meets you anywhere you need to be. The chance at a big brown is always a draw, but the Bow offers great fishing for rainbows and browns almost anytime of the season.

Springtime on the Bow is pretty, but fishing can be a hit-or-miss affair. A good blue winged olive hatch in April sometimes gets ignored by the trout, and a small window in mid-May can lead to some decent Mother’s Day caddis fishing. But unpredictable water and weather conditions can plague the spring angler, making an April or May trip a dice roll for the weekend getaway angler. Late May through June the river is high with runoff.

Once things settle down, we really get into the heart of what makes the Bow such a great river. July is all about PMDs and caddis. One of my favorite floats is “Police to McKinnon’s.” Here, a mid-morning sneak along a grassy bank puts you a careful cast away from risers that can go over 20 inches. Then in the evening near the end of the drift you might find some caddis about.

Better yet, if you rent a car, you can always drop in to one of the in-city access points to see if you can hook a big brown near dark. For me this is one of the classic Bow River experiences—peering upstream in the fading light looking for shapes in the surface, and casting just above them with a #16 Stealth Caddis. Don’t lift until the shape submerges. Then keep your fingers away from your reel handle and hang on.

Speaking of Mr. Big, the Bow still kicks out browns like this one. That gives anglers from Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Spokane good reason to board a flight hit the river this summer and fall. (Jim and Lynda McLennan)

August is my favorite month on the Bow. And if I had to pick one week to be there, it would be the first week of August. Along with hoppers, August also brings the Trico hatch. If you hit it right, you can puddle cast tiny Trico spinner patterns to rising fish in the morning, then sling a hopper-dropper rig through the day, and maybe catch the last of the caddis hatches in the evening before the idea of a bourbon and steak prevails.

So I think I’ll go out to Alberta for a quick trip this year. And Calgary is where I want to be for a weekend or mid-week getaway on the water. The Gateway to the Bow, Calgary is easily accessed by air from Vancouver, Seattle, Spokane and Portland. An early morning flight can have me wadering up before noon.

Heck, during hot summer days, who needs waders? If I’m fishing with a guide I’m not particular about my tackle choices, so I could just show up at Calgary Arrivals with a fancy fishing pack loaded with wading boots, a sun hoody or two, and midnight layer, and a light rain jacket. Good to go.

If you head out that way your guide will be well-equipped with quality tackle. But if you prefer your own graphite and tin, bring along a 5-weight for dries, a 6/7 for nymphs and streamers, and a reel for each that sings a sweet song. A 5 wt floater and a 6/7 Type-3 sink-tip covers you for anything the Bow splashes your way.

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and can be found each year (minus 2020 of course) swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him at @danawsturn

It had been a long tough week on the flats. Back-to-back cold fronts replete with a savage easterly wind had churned the crystal waters of Cayo Cruz into a milky soup. Overhead, the towering thunderheads had crowded out the sun, further conspiring to make sight-fishing all but impossible. All week my guide Raffa and I stuck stubbornly to our task, and despite those wretched conditions, we’d had a couple of shots—gut-wrenching heartbreakers when a permit suddenly appeared, right in front of us, materializing from nowhere, and was already fleeing before I finally made it out. Somehow I managed to hook a fish, but tragically, it came unbuttoned, right at the boat.

On the last day, as I throw open the big shutters on the windows of old Casona, I am met not with rain and wind, but a clear, sparkling sky, shot through with the rosy hues of the dawn. My old friend Tim and I squeeze into the old Russian truck, and bump down a rutted tarmac, past sugarcane threshers and field workers who are waving and laughing as they stroll down the main drag to another long day in the fields. We turn off the highway and head north. I’m upfront with Lucio, our driver, and I grin as he lights up a Popular and absentmindedly hums along to the incongruous old Adele CD that serenades us to the dock and back each day. I cadge a smoke and as I wind down the window, I catch the warm, salty air wafting off the flats. As we cross an old causeway, we can see that the wind has died and vast flocks of flamingos are tip-toeing in the shallows. Better yet, the spring tides have washed the sand suspension out of the water, rendering it clean and clear at last. As we pull up to the dock, I see that our dear old friends, Raffa and Nelson, are already preparing the skiffs. Today, at last, we have a chance.

Tim and Nelson head west to Cayo Megano. Raffa and I head to a spot that I love—the vast flats east of Punta del Este. The first hour is slow. The tide is only starting to rise, and the Punta del Este flats are just a little shallow to accommodate the big permit that like to feed on its endless white canvas. We push across to Roca y Piedra and fish the outermost edge, close to the ocean, most likely the best place to ambush a big permit as it arrives to forage in the shallower water. We find a nice long broken line of rock and turtle grass, and pole gently along its edge. Only a few rays glide across the flat and they are alone.

Then, suddenly, Raffa is animated. “There, Mac! Look! Eleben! Tailing!” I start to point my rod to 11 o’ clock but already I have it—a big black sickle tail is wagging lazily in the early morning sun, rooting out a crab from the rocky seam that divides the vast white swathes of sand.

The wind has died to nothing, and I wait breathlessly as Raffa gently pushes us in range. As he stops the skiff, there is a faint crunch from the pole as it buries in the coral beneath the powdery sand, and the tail slides under the surface. “Puta!” Raffa hisses. But just as I am about to echo his curse, the tail is suddenly up again, the fish unaware of our presence as it resumes its early morning feed.

Responding to the flat calm, I take a chance, quickly biting off the Sideswiper crab and replacing it with a little tan-colored Alphlexo—a pattern that makes less splash on the glassy, mirror-bright surface. The fish is still happily grubbing in the sand and broken coral, and I start to line up the shot, lengthening the line and then sending the fly arcing out over the water. I feather its fall, and the little crab imitation lands just to the left of the fish. I let it drop and then give it a gentle strip to grab the permit’s attention. At first, the fish seems unaware of my offering, but then, in a magical moment, it slides purposefully over to the fly and we watch as its tail arcs up high into the air. I draw the line smartly back and, feeling resistance, set the hook with a sharp, jabbing strip-strike. The next few moments are fraught with anxiety, as I watch the running line shoot up off the deck. Soon, my precious permit is on the reel and we are in business.

Battling a permit is never fun. I’ve watched big fish—that I thought were beaten—tip up in a heartbeat and rub my fly out of their mouth, leaving me inconsolable. Fishing is supposed to be fun, but this is somehow too important to enjoy. I’m often reminded of the old Liverpool soccer coach Bill Shankly’s famous quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Permit fishing is the same: After a long battle and a tense, nearly unbearable end-game, comes that special moment that permit addicts know. That moment when a guide’s hand closes around the wrist of a fish’s tail and an angler senses relief and elation, a feeling that assures all those long hours were undoubtably worth it.

Cuba offers lots of permit and big permit. Still, you’ve got to bring your A-game to catch these finicky fish. If everything aligns, you might be the next one hoisting a good one.

We gaze down at the fish—24 pounds of opalescent perfection, those deep flanks splashed with a vivid lemon yellow. The permit seems to gaze up at me with a big black eye. Raffa cradles it under the water and gently removes the hook. I get a childish rush. We make some quick pictures and then I gently nurse the fish until I feel its strength return. I take one last look at that big, sickle tail and then, with a flourish, it kicks away from me and disappears into the pellucid water. I’m shaking a little, like always. “Give me a smoke,” I say to Raffa.

“You want to try for a slam?” says Raffa as he lights me a Popular and passes over an icy Crystal from the cooler. I catch his eye and he’s grinning because we both already know the answer “No, signor!” I smile at my old friend and say, “Let’s go catch another.”

Cuba offers some of the very best fly-fishing for permit, anywhere in the world. For many years, the ongoing spat between the United States and Castro meant that Brits like me had the place pretty much to ourselves. Even now, with the recent easing of restrictions, Cuba has enough vast flats to offer wonderful permit fishing for all.

I have fished all of Cuba’s major permit fisheries, and I particularly favor these three.

Cuba is not Biscayne Bay or the Florida Keys—the flats are void of anglers and the fish are happy and hungry. And the scenery ‘aint bad either.

Jardines de la Reina
I’ve fished at JDR for over 20 years, and it is a very special place. It offers 840 square miles of pristine flats that remain just about as wild and untouched as they were when Christopher Columbus splashed ashore and named them for Isabella over 500 years ago.

I caught my first permit here with another old friend, Bemba, on May 25, 2009. After we’d finished celebrating, we managed to add a tarpon, a bonefish and a snook, thus completing the first super grand slam ever recorded at this fly-fishing mecca. It’s a day I will never forget.

JDR is a first-class permit fishery and offers fish of high average size. Perhaps the biggest problem at JDR is the presence of other species—it’s often extremely difficult to keep fixed on the permit when big, mirror-scaled tarpon are rolling all around and vast schools of lithe bonefish are tailing in the shallows. If you have the self-discipline to target permit, there is a huge diversity of habitat to keep you entertained and constantly thinking. On the ocean-side, in the choppy waters around Faro and Mar Y Flores, jagged coral flats mean that crabs are the main forage and it pays to throw something sizable, like a Sideswiper or the excellent Strong Arm Merkin Crab. On the inside, you’ll find beautiful sand flats at Las Auras and Cayo La Lisa where smaller shrimp imitations, like the all-conquering Avalon Shrimp, are more effective. The flats shelve sharply on the north shore, but the white sand means that big permit are easy to spot even in three or four feet of water. For these flats I developed a tungsten-beaded version of the Avalon Shrimp that sinks quickly into the permit’s eyesight. It caught me three big permit here with yet another very special friend and fly-fishing mentor, Coki, in 2019. One of the most fascinating features of JDR is that the fish often fixate on large, black urchins, grazing on them like a cow eats grass. I’ve given up throwing perfectly serviceable urchin imitations, and now just try to drop a big Avalon or some crab pattern right on their noses.

This is the moment every saltwater flats angler wants to enjoy. Your chances of being in a photo like this are as good or better in Cuba than anywhere else in the world.

Cayo Largo
Cayo Largo is the birthplace of the Avalon Shrimp. This remarkable fly is the brainchild of my old friend Mauro Ginevri, who ran the lodge here for many years, and became almost obsessive in his quest to imitate the permit’s favorite forage item on the sand flats. After about a year of study, he came up with the Avalon, and it is an absolute game-changing pattern for Cuban permit. Unlike crab patterns, you can strip the Avalon to imitate a shrimp, and this means that the permit simply doesn’t get a good look at it. Let’s face it—the Avalon is just a load of fluff and steel. I love this fly and I’ve caught more permit with it than any other pattern.

Cayo Largo has huge numbers of permit, and of all of Cuba’s locations it is probably the easiest place to successfully kick-start your permit-fishing career. Crucially, the vast sand flats here offer the perfect habitat to find a fish riding shotgun with a stingray. This is, undoubtedly, the easiest way to catch a permit, especially if there are two or more permit with a ray.

Fish follow rays to feed on the forage they kick up. At that time permit are most vulnerable to fly-fishers. First, they are by definition feeding. That’s got to be a good thing. Second, the rays tend to kick up a lot of sand as well as food, so it is harder for the permit to examine your fly or see your leader material. Finally, rays are much easier to spot than permit, so you can see your quarry a mile off. This offers plenty of time to plan an ambush and line up your skiff and make the shot as easy as possible. Which is much better than being in a fevered rush when you suddenly see a big fish that is only 10 yards from the boat.

I once shared a golden week with William, Mauro’s head guide at Cayo Largo and one of the most talented guides I have ever fished with. Unlike many of my favorite firecracker Cuban permit guides, William retains a perpetually easy, relaxed demeanor, probably because he can spot a big black ray at 300 yards and set you up with a nice easy downwind shot. During one special week, I managed two super slams and one grand slam at Cayo Largo with this amazingly talented guide.

While Cayo Largo does have the occasional big fish, if you are after a real monster, you really want to head north to Cayo Cruz.

Whether casting from a skiff or wading the flats, you’ll get plenty of shots at permit and bones when fishing Cayo Cruz, Cayo Largo or Jardines de la Reina.

Cayo Cruz
I first fished Cayo Cruz in 2010 with my great friend and fellow permit nut Tim Marks. We fished with a novice guide “Gorgeous” George, who fell off the poling platform four times in one morning. It was a day of high comedy, but we could see the potential. We came back a week later, and I met up with a man named Raffa, who became another great friend. We caught a big, beautiful permit, and Tim and I had one each the following day.

Cayo Cruz lies adjacent to the Bahama channel, and the big fish that cruise out of deeper water here are sometimes astonishingly big. On more than one occasion the guides have mistaken them for tarpon. I believe that I have seen 50-pound permit here. The fish often hang with stingrays and they can occasionally be seen sipping juvenile white crabs from surface grasses and sponges. At such times, they can be caught with floating crab patterns, although I have had more success with small shrimps and lightly weighted Alphlexo crabs.

There are a few tarpon and some real trophy bonefish here, but it is primarily a permit destination. My friend Tim has caught two fish of well over 30 pounds here, and I lost a fish that my guide reckoned was nearer 40—it rubbed the fly out on the seabed after a 30-minute fight. These permit are as big as any in the world. They can be extraordinarily tough to catch and they will break your heart any number of times. But keep at it, and keep telling yourself that, like all creatures, permit have to eat.

Sometimes they do.

Matt Harris
Matt Harris is a globetrotting photographer who catches fish wherever he goes. Check out more of his work on IG @mattharrisflyfishing

We knew something was up as my fishing partner and I drove along an increasingly snow-covered road to Peterhope Lake on a mid-November day. Not a tire track and certainly no evidence of anyone recently launching a boat.

Then, why you might ask, would anyone want to fish with a good eight inches of snow on the ground and ice pushing out from the back bays of the lake. Here’s why: It was perfect—no competition, flat calm water and a bright, sunny morning meant we could cruise the shallow water and the edges of the longstem bulrush patches in search of big rainbows. And it wasn’t long before we spotted dark shapes swimming slowly along the marl bottom and other groups of fish disappearing into a maze of bulrush stems. Anchoring at the first good pod of bigger fish, we set up with floating lines and indicators and started suspending and wind-drifting micro-leeches and scuds, both go-to fall patterns. As always, the first fish landed in my boat, as long as it’s big enough, gets its throat pumped. Our first fish of the day was crammed with still-live, immature damselfly nymphs. A quick pattern switch made for an extremely productive morning bite.

Damselflies blend into their environment perfectly. Trout feed on these large insects when they swim to shore.

Preferred damselfly nymph habitat includes dense mats of submerged vegetation, such as chara, coontail, milfoil and pondweed. Damselflies can spend up to four years in the nymphal stage before making the transition to an adult. The nymphs undergo multiple molts or instar stages as they grow from minute creatures to 1.5-inch long mature nymphs. Lush vegetation that covers the shoal, or shallow zones, of a lake provide an abundant hunting ground for these carnivorous insects. Nymphs feed on scuds, mayfly nymphs, zooplankton and any other meaty food sources they can capture in their extendable mouthparts. These are not fast swimming predators, but stalk and ambush specialists. Nymphs are adept at matching their body coloration to the habitat they live in, so it is not uncommon to have multiple colors of the same species of damselfly in the same waterbody. Damselflies undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, which means there is no pupal stage such as found in midges and caddis. The fully developed damselfly nymph leaves the protection of its benthic habitat and swims to patches of emergent vegetation, like longstem bulrush, cattails or sedge grasses. The nymphs swim in a sinusoidal motion using their three-lobed caudal lamellae or “tails” to propel them through the water. Once reaching the plant stalks the nymphs crawl out of the water. Their exoskeleton dries and splits open allowing the adult to crawl out. Newly emerged adult bodies are soft and delicate and it takes up to several hours for their bodies and wings to harden. They then fly off and spend the rest of the open water season eating adult mosquitoes, midges and other small flying insects. Adults mate and females deposit eggs in emergent and floating vegetation. Females also crawl down emergent plant stalks and deposit eggs well below the surface. Adults live well into the fall season, but die off along with their prey with the arrival of freezing air temperatures.

It’s the nymphal stage that really attracts the attention of trout. One of the most intense and frenzied feeding periods occurs during the mature nymphal migration. Typical emergence occurs during the early summer season while water temperatures are still increasing, but prior to the onset of hot summer air temperatures. Overall, the hatch is short, often less than a couple of weeks in duration. Fully developed nymphs, in large numbers, swim from the lake bottom to within a few feet of the surface, then travel horizontally en route to concentrations of bulrush and cattail. During this migration the nymphs are fully exposed to trout cruising the shoals and edges of drop-offs. Fish pick off nymphs at will while never showing any signs of surface activity. Anglers see the swimming nymphs in the water or hanging from the stems of emergent plants. Pulling anchors at this time of the year often results in several nymphs falling into your boat or onto your float-tube. Things get even more interesting when masses of nymphs, emerging nymphs and newly emerged adults cling to the stems of rushes and sedge grasses. A gust of wind pushes the helpless insects into the water making for a very easy meal for trout willing to feed in water often less than four feet deep. At other times aggressive trout roll into bulrush stems to send the food purposely crashing onto the water. This is an amazing sight that leaves an angler shaking as they scramble to tie on an adult pattern. Fishing patterns tight to or into the bulrush or cattails is exciting and a real challenge when the trout decides to run even further into the forest!

Big trout get busy when damsels hatch. Anglers can catch numerous 20-plus inch fish, such as this rainbow, when conditions are right.

Damselfly nymph emergences are best fished with floating, emerger tip or intermediate sinking lines. It’s important to try and imitate their swim up off the bottom of the shoal and then the migration high in the water column. A continuous hand twist or slow strip retrieve consisting of 4-to 6-inch long pulls, followed by regular short pauses, imitates the natural movement of these bugs. Often, actual damsels pause and slowly sink back down through the water column before getting back to the task at hand. It makes sense to position your fishing craft so that you are casting out and retrieving in the same direction that the nymphs are swimming. Better yet, one can anchor on the leading edge of a bulrush patch and cast right into the area where the real nymphs are swimming through. Make sure to tie on your nymphs with a non-slip loop knot, which adds lifelike movement to the fly.

Late fall is one of my favorite times of the stillwater fishing season. This is when the bigger fish school up and move into very skinny water to bulk up in preparation for a long, cold winter. In many clear-water lakes fall is all about sight fishing in the shallows. There are no insect hatches to rely on, so the trout go back on food sources that overwinter in the lake. This typically means scuds, leeches and juvenile damselfly, mayfly and dragonfly nymphs. I have noticed that in many nutrient-rich lakes damselfly nymphs make up a significant portion of the late fall diet. Often the damselfly nymphs are less than a half-inch long. For some reason big trout really search out the “baby” damsels. Overall, the most consistent way to catch these damsel feeding trout is to suspend patterns under an indicator. An indicator allows you to cast right up against or into openings amongst bulrush or cattail and present the fly within inches of bottom or at whatever depth you choose. A slight breeze blowing in the direction of your casts provides a subtle undulating motion that trout find hard to resist. However, there are days when the fish want more movement to the fly, so always try fishing the same patterns with a floating line and a 12-to 16-foot long leader. Casting into or parallel to the rushes or cattail stands, and retrieving the fly often gets the fish to chase after a fleeing food source. Think about your favorite stillwater fisheries—if they have abundant shoals and lots of emergent vegetation, there should be some good damselfly nymph fishing to be had at various times of the year.

Numerous patterns take trout during a damselfly hatch. Tie your flies in different colors and sizes so you have all the options covered no matter where you fish.

Fly Patterns
Trout can get selective when feeding on the mature nymphs making their emergence migration swims. Realistic patterns that match the colouration of the real insect can make a difference between hooking the occasional fish or having a banner day. However, during the fall feeding time the nymphs can be more suggestive as long as the size is close to the real nymphs being eaten. There are many damselfly nymph patterns out there—some are extremely realistic and there is no question these patterns catch fish. Tying baby or juvenile damselfly nymphs can be as simple as using strung marabou fibers as this feather breathes and pulses when moved through the water. Here is the recipe for my Baby Damselfly Nymph.

Chan’s Baby Damsel Nymph.

Chan’s Baby Damsel Nymph

Hook: Daiichi 1120 #12, #16

Thread: 8/0 olive green

Tail: Olive green strung marabou fibers (6-8 fibers), tail should be 1.5X length of hook shank

Rib: Fine gold wire

Body: Olive green strung marabou fibers (tie marabou tips to form tail, spin remaining fibers to create body and then wrap forward onto hook)

Bead: 7/64th gold bead

Brian Chan
Brian Chan lives in Kamloops, British Columbia and breathes everything about fly-fishing in stillwaters. Follow him on Instagram: @brianchanflyfishing

When it comes to beauty, few fish can compete with the shimmer of a steelhead. (Cohen Lewis)

The Canadian north shore of Lake Superior is one of the most beautiful and rugged places in Canada. Superior itself is an inland sea, deep, cold and expansive. The lake is fed by hundreds of rivers and creeks. These rivers run that gamut from fast flowing freestone creeks to huge, deep rivers, to tiny spring fed rivulets. While all these tributaries are different, they share something in common—they host runs of migratory rainbow trout each spring and fall. These Lake Superior steelhead are some of the most beautiful and hardiest rainbow trout on the planet. Here is a look at the angling opportunity they provide.

An average size Northern Superior Steelhead, caught by the author. (Gord Ellis)

The Fish
Steelhead are not native to Lake Superior. The fish were introduced to the lake near Thunder Bay in the early 1900s. Other jurisdictions on the American side of the lake have also stocked various rainbow trout including the Kamloops and Donaldson strains. Over time, this melting pot of rainbows has naturalized and become a wild, naturally reproducing population of Lake Superior steelhead. And make no mistake, Lake Superior’s north shore is one of the coldest and harshest environments steelhead live in, anywhere in the world. This makes them tough, ornery and relatively longer lived than some other strains. Lake Superior steelhead are not as large on average as West Coast fish or even those found in the other Great Lakes, but they can get close. In 2011, I caught and released a fish that measured 33 inches long. However, the average Superior steelhead is about 25 inches long and weighs between five and six pounds. A 30-inch fish is generally considered an exceptional one and will weigh close to 10 pounds. Many of these larger steelhead have made a spawning run up to seven or eight times.

Lake Superior steelhead also vary widely in shape and coloration. Fresh fish just in from Superior can be nearly solid nickel, with almost no red blush. Then there are fish so dark they are nearly black. Most Superior steelhead are racy, with longer bodies and wide tails built for rushing up rapids and leaping falls. However, there is also the occasional supertanker that is round and fat. Superior steelhead generally fight hard and, if the water is not too cold, leap and tear out of pools at breakneck speed. They are an awesome fish.

The Water
From the border between Minnesota and Ontario, to Sault Ste. Marie, there are literally hundreds of gorgeous places to fish steelhead. Most fly-fishers will be attracted to the midsized and larger rivers that offer a bit more backcast room and water to work.

These north shore rivers and streams are wild, challenging, beautiful and pristine. Cedars and pine trees line many of them, while others are open and rocky. Few (outside of Thunder Bay) have more than a handful of cottages or homes on their banks. Many have limited access to the upper reaches outside of small game trails. On the most remote rivers east of the town of Nipigon, you may not see an angler for days, or at all. It is a place of wild fish and wild water.

Some of the better rivers for numbers of fish are found within the city of Thunder Bay. The McIntyre, a medium size freestone river, snakes through the center of the city and has enough greens space (public lands) to allow a lot of angler access. Several thousand steelhead run the Mac—a large number by Lake Superior standards. Easy access and numbers of fish attract anglers, however, so being alone on the river is rare. Still, there are enough riffles, pools and runs to keep most anglers busy. Above the fishway at Lakehead University the river is much more lightly fished.

The other urban streams in Thunder Bay also see large numbers of anglers, particularly the Neebing River, which is heavily fished below a weir in the center of town. The Current River, on the east side of the city, is a large, fast-moving river that has a smaller run of steelhead, but much more elbow room. Most of the fishing is done in the pockets and pools below the Boulevard Lake fishway, with the lion’s share of fish being caught at the base of the rapids near Lake Superior.

The Jackpine, Cypress and Gravel rivers, located east of Nipigon, are standout destinations. All are accessed off the highway, and the easily reached water is quite busy during the main run. However, a little exploration upstream on these classic rivers reveals a lot of unfished water. Prepare for some rough trails and uneven walking, but the reward can be worth the effort. Some anglers pack their waders and hike well upstream, then fish their way down. A scan with Google Earth reveals many of the less easily accessed pools and runs.

A beautiful fall specimen caught by the author, on the Steel River. Note the bead hanging out of the fish’s mouth. While some purists consider them cheating, they are extremely effective, and less likely to be swallowed by the fish. (Gord Ellis)

The Steel River produces the largest fish on the north shore. The Steel, which is located near Terrace Bay, is a classic trout river in every way and pulls a substantial run of fish. In many ways it reminds me of a West Coast river. It has some huge, deep pools that hold steelhead all winter. There are long riffles and some deep runs. It is most easily fished with a fly in the early and late seasons, generally the first two weeks of April and last two weeks of May. Unlike most north shore streams, you can fish a spey rod here and not feel overarmed. Steelhead start running here early and keep coming well into June. There is accessible water off the highway, but the adventurous angler finds lesser fished areas by taking the trail up from the highway.

Anglers use boats to fish several of the north shore’s largest rivers. That does not mean you can’t fish them from shore. You just have to find your spot and work it carefully and thoroughly. The Nipigon and Michipicoten are the two largest rivers and have steelhead runs as well as resident rainbows. These larger rivers can also cough up some larger than average fish. Both these rivers are great for the spey enthusiast. Other beautiful rivers include the Mackenzie, Wolf, Black Sturgeon, Whitesand, Deadhorse, Prairie, Pancake, Baldhead and Sand.

There are also literally hundreds of smaller creeks on the north shore, nearly all of them with good runs of steelhead.

The Fishing
Many of these rivers—and the ones fly fishers gravitate to—run swift, with deep pools, runs and riffles that hold steelhead on the move. During spring, mornings are cold and the steelhead hold up in deeper pools and runs. Fishing sink-tips and egg patterns (cactus fly, yarn fly) or colored beads are the favored techniques.

Another go-to is the black Woolly Bugger in size-8 or 10. A peacock Woolly Worm with a red tail is another local favorite. In heavily pressured water, or in ultra-clear streams, a size-10 chironomid works well. Most anglers use a floating line and add some weight to the leader to get the fly down. Generally, only the largest rivers, including the Nipigon and the Michipicoten, require a sink-tip.

As the water warms and steelhead begin moving, the tailouts of pools and the heads of runs hold the most active fish. Swinging streamers, such as an Egg-Sucking Leech, Strip Leech or a nymph pattern, can be deadly. As the run winds down and the steelhead begin to drop back, anglers can really cash in. After the spawn the steelhead are extra-aggressive and lower water makes it easier to reach them with a fly. Best of all, the water is warmer at that time and these steelhead are acrobatic. A 7 or 8-weight rod covers most north shore situations.

No crowds here. Though easily accessible, you rarely encounter other anglers while fishing the North Superior tributaries. (Gord Ellis)

Timing
Timing the spring run on Superior is not difficult. As a rule, fishing the first week of May all but guarantees there will be steelhead in a river. However, the runs have been trending earlier over the past decade with the last week of April seeing the peak of the run. The spring run is about a week earlier in Thunder Bay and close to Sault Ste. Marie than on the most northern edge of coastal Superior. Early season anglers in mid-to later April find lower rivers and a lot of snow, but some very bright fish. From mid-to late May, the spawned out “drop-back” trout tend to hole up in the deeper pools and runs. In late May the coastal rivers are generally devoid of anglers and the fish are plentiful. There may be a few blackflies and mosquitoes around, but the fishing will be worth the annoyance. As a bonus, the coastal rivers may produce brook trout, including resident fish and the larger “coaster” brookies that move up from Superior to eat steelhead and sucker eggs. Not a bad incidental catch.

Thunderbay local, Cohen Lewis with a beautiful spring fish. (Cowen Lewis)

Regulations
Lake Superior steelhead populations are managed in a conservative way. The fishery is open year-round, so there is plenty of opportunity. Most anglers practice catch-and-release and it has helped the fishery immeasurably. However, there is some harvest. For the northwest coastal streams of Lake Superior, which flow from about Wawa to the Minnesota border, it’s a one-fish limit. The only variation is found on two rivers within Thunder Bay (the McIntyre and Neebing) that also have a size limit of one fish over 27 inches. On the northeast coast of Superior, east of the Pic River, the limit is two steelhead any size. There are also closures on small creeks in the northeast, and these are generally signed. You need to check the Ontario regulations whenever you fish new waters. One other thing to be aware of is some streams have weirs and falls with no fishing areas beneath them. Again, these are generally signed and marked, but a check of the regulations is always a good plan.

Gord Ellis
Gord Ellis is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, photographer and fly fishing guide from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Gord has been working as an outdoor writer since the mid-1980s, and has written several thousand features, columns, web pieces and news stories. In 2018, Gord was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Ethan Markie takes a contemplative sip of beer and watches another group of Bozeman “bros” wander into the Rocking R Bar. We’re talking art, and for the Bozeman-based artist, fishing guide and former fly shop rat, this is a day just like any other.

“I need to have the experience first, in order to get inspired to paint,” Markie says. “It might be just something as simple as the patterns witnessed on a recent trout caught and released. Sometimes it might be more complex; a whole general feeling I have about a certain river or stream that is the result of cumulative experiences on that water.”

Markie grew up in rural Connecticut, the eldest of three brothers all very close in age. The brothers lived near several small trout streams, and spent their family vacations camping, hiking and simply being outside.

“Video games were never part of our youth,” Markie said, “so we learned to entertain ourselves the old-fashioned way. Part of this included painting and the other part was exploring outside.”

It wasn’t until the avid fly angler moved to Montana that he considered an actual career in the fly-fishing industry. He worked summer seasons in Alaska while completing a degree in fish and wildlife management, and then worked in several of the area’s top fly shops. Through those changes, art has remained a consistent theme.

“I first picked up a paintbrush probably before I can even remember,” Markie said. “I guess I have always just enjoyed how a painting can turn a memory into a physical thing that can be shared with others. I paint for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I just want to make something cool and interesting. Other times it serves as a state of meditation that allows me to slow things down and re-focus on the rest of my life. But my best work has stemmed from attempts to re-create and preserve a specific experience, memory, or feeling had out on the water.”

“Time outside and on the water is the main thing that inspires my paintings,” Markie said. “You never know what small thing might spark up inspiration for a new painting. Often, the hardest part of painting is the initial idea. When I start to get stuck, I go to the river. Things usually fall into place after that, and when I have that internal drive and vivid image in my head, it is much easier to get the paint to do what I want it to do.”

As all industry people know, burnout is very real and it’s easy to lose that creative spark in the daily routine. For Markie, keeping that internal drive is all about getting outside and on the water.

“Working in the industry helps with extra exposure to the subject matter,” he said. “Guiding especially helps. Not only are you seeing trout being caught, but you also get to see the joy that brings to your guests. (Also) you notice new things when you are out on the water. Maybe it is the way the ripples on the surface reflect the sky, or a certain shade of purple you see in the rocks in the water.”

For the moment, Markie’s work bears his trademark bright colors and high contrast, focusing on trout and cold rivers. Occasionally he’ll dabble with saltwater, or a commissioned piece outside his ordinary subject matter, but at the end of the day, he returns to those same trout and rivers.

“One of the things I like most about creating art is that the painting will outlive you,” he said. “You build something that will be appreciated and viewed by people long after you die. They may not know your name—or anything else about you—but you still have a chance to make a viewer pause for an instant and feel something about your painting. For me, that is good enough. It gives you a sense of immortality that makes me feel at ease with the rest of my life. Days (when) I spend even just a little bit of time on the easel are days I feel more complete, accomplished and calm. Art does that for me.”

The best advice he’s been given was from a fellow young angler—remember to keep it fun,

“He advised that as my art grows into more of an actual business, that I keep the drive alive and never forget why I started painting in the first place—because it is fun,” Markie said. “When things get a bit stressful with deadlines, commissioned pieces, and trying too hard to come up with new ideas, I head to the river and just try to keep things fun. Remembering that helps things fall back into place.

“Knowing that my paintings are starting to spread to places other than my own house, and now all over the world, is a pretty cool feeling,” Markie said. “Strangers somewhere else are enjoying something I created in my own home. If I can continue to make that happen and spread my art all around, that would be all right by me.”

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

By the time Belize reopened in October 2020, I’d held five sets of flight tickets, the travel date having been continually pushed back by changing border closures. The summer of 2020 was, essentially, spent watching flight delays and cancelations. So, when the border finally reopened and I stepped off the plane in Belize City on October 3, I was very happy.

But the process of travel had changed. I’d taken a PCR test before leaving Montana, carrying the results with me to present during a new health screening process in Philip Goldstein International Airport. Upon arrival in Belize City, all passengers were ushered through a line for health screenings. I presented my negative test results. Had my temperature taken. Was asked details about where I was going and how long I was staying. After a successful jaunt through the health screening, then customs, and then immigration, I rechecked my bags for my in-country Tropic Air flight and took a seat on one of the many wooden benches lining the airport waiting area. I considered how grateful I was to be outside my home state of Montana.

Five of us had made the trek to El Pescador Lodge on Ambergris Caye. All but one were return guests. Ken, a retired Delta pilot and Wyoming horseman was an old-school gentleman. Old friends Mike and Bill brought humor and tales of permit adventures to the dinner table each evening. And newcomer Bryan fit right in, being promptly bitten by the tarpon bug and boating more than a dozen silver kings over the course of the week. And I was there toting cameras and, occasionally, a fly rod. Within a day, our little squad had morphed into a family. Things like that happen easily at fishing lodges.

The daily routines had changed, of course. Every morning, Dunia arrived and took our temperatures, bringing along a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. Pangas were sprayed with a disinfectant before we could climb aboard, and at dinner we were carefully spaced out, an empty seat between each angler. The tempo of the lodge had changed slightly; even here it was impossible to escape the concept that the world was different.

But despite the little details, so much remained. Mariano whipped up magical concoctions in the bar. Isa gave casting lessons on the dock, helping me conquer my tailing loop habit. Lodge manager Bruce kept everyone entertained with tales of South Africa, and he was always keen to have a drink and chat.

Like most fishing destinations, once you’re on the water it’s easy to forget the outside world, with everything turning to a blend of water, sun, and air, and little else. Boated fish are celebrated with Belikins, and cold ceviche is provided during runs between the flats. The guides, who had been without work since March, were incredibly happy to see anglers (as was the entire staff) and they put in the work for us.

And the fishery? The flats surrounding San Pedro—El Pescador has access to more than 400 square miles of them—hadn’t been fished in nearly seven months. Despite persistent tropical storms, our group made a good dent in the resident fish population, landing bonefish, tarpon, and permit throughout the week. One rainy morning Bryan boated a 100-plus pound tarpon that towed the panga around the mangroves for an hour-and-a-half before coming to hand.

Four of us extended our stay at the last minute, adding on a day on account of a morning we’d lost to wind. (That’s the excuse we gave ourselves, at least.) Newly flexible airline flight changes come in handy for anglers. In truth, none of us wanted to climb back on a plane and return to the chaos of the “real world.” We’d settled back into that magical tempo of rise-fish-drink-eat-sleep. Rinse. Repeat. In good company, there’s nothing better.

After that October trip, I returned to El Pescador in January. The health screening process for incoming travelers has only become easier, and I hope to return again this summer. In a world gone mad, carving out time with like-minded anglers and breathing the salt air has become more important than ever, and somewhat safer than it was a year ago.

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

The first thing to behold when clutching this two-volume set called A Passion For Permit, is the sheer breadth of work: combined, these two oversized and hard-bound books, which weigh about five-thousand pounds each, total 1,665 pages.

In reality, their combined weight is nine pounds. Substantial, for sure, which means you will have to sit down at a desk or in an armchair to take it all in. And you’ll want to do just that if you are serious about fly fishing for permit, whether you’re a first-timer looking for a miracle fish or a globetrotting angler taking your shots wherever this fish is found.

As you probably know, pain and suffering are part of the permit equation, but these books may take some of the mystery out of what you are doing. With chapters covering permit anatomy, permit habitat, permit food, best tides and moons for catching permit, essential equipment for permit, choosing the right fly for permit and how to present it to permit, you can head out on your first permit quest with all the intel you need for success—but it still comes down to you putting the fly right where it needs to be.

Written by Jonathan Olch and published by Wild River Press, A Passion for Permit is one of those must-have title, such as Combs’ Steelhead Fly Fishing and AJ McClane’s Game Fish of North America. While the writing won’t knock your socks off in A Passion For Permit, it’s very serviceable and you get what you came for everything you need to know to go after these fish and have a reasona-ble chance at success.

While Olch’s technical how-to/where-to chapters are immensely valuable, what we found most inter-esting are Q&A chapters with some of the best known permit anglers on the planet, including Keys guides Nathaniel Linville and Steve Huff; Belize legend Lincoln Westby; marine biologist Aaron Adams; Cuban guide Mauro Ginervri; and Australian guru Peter Morse. These are fascinating interviews and likely to be read multiple times, each reading probably providing another little overlooked dose of wisdom.

Some of us are still looking for our first permit while you freaks, whom we speak of admiringly, may have already tallied dozens of those sickle-tailed beauties. In either case A Passion for Permit should serve you well no matter where on the globe you choose to chase this most addictive sport-fish. Our suggestion: pull out that wallet and pony-up. A Passion For Permit (two-volume set) $150
—the editors

The author’s first brackish waterpike, taken just a few miles from Stockholm, Sweden, December 2020.

As an author, traveler and professional fly-fishing guide, I had to cancel most of my 2020 projects, with only a curtailed guide season in Iceland surviving the global lockdown. But out of adversity comes opportunity—per ardua ad astra, as the Romans used to say.

I’d spent most of the first two months of the lockdown at home, becoming increasingly frustrated with imprisonment, while dutifully trying to follow social distancing recommendations. When May arrived I knew two things: If I wanted to fish, I needed to focus on local waters; at that time of the year, the pike were just coming off the spawn. I made a few trips to the west side of the Czech Republic, near the German border, to try and catch a monster on a fly. That trip made 2020 my Year Of The Pike, culminating with a remarkable December day in Sweden when I caught eight big pike in the brackish archipelago waters not far from Stockholm.

We were lucky—in other years those very waters were frozen in December. Instead, we enjoyed an idyllic day fishing some of the best water that Sweden offers. And my conclusion after this unexpected year pursuing these aggressive predators? Pike are the same no matter where you find them—thrilling to catch in shallow water, beautiful to study, and all capable of leaving a nasty cut with their razor-sharp teeth. I learned the latter at my own expense on several occasions. Here are some takeaways from 2020, my Year of The Pike.

Pine Lake in western Bohemia (Czech Republic) June 2020. This clear water with shallow bays and channels is a prime spot for big northerns, especially during the early season when water temperatures are cool.

Weather
All fish are affected by changing weather conditions. Depending on the weather, some species feed more aggressively while others make our lives more difficult, as they basically shut their mouths no matter what your throw at them.

In my experience most pike are caught as atmospheric pressure drops before storms and other unsettled weather. During summer, if I wake up after the weather has been stable and hot for a long time and find that it’s a cloudy or rainy day, that’s definitely the right morning to go off for pike! When you encounter that situation, drop everything and get the fishing gear out. But don’t overlook the sunny days if that is the only time you have to fish—pike will still feed in bright light, especially early or late in the season when water temperatures are low. Keep in mind that pike sense weather changes many hours before we do, so they can “come on” at unexpected times.

You might hook a pike anytime during the day, but early mornings and evenings are best. Hitting a day when pike feed from dawn to dusk is rare, but they do happen. You’ll need luck on your side to have that happen and the only way to increase your odds is to be on the water as often as you can.

The author hoists her personal best 2020 pike, a 41-incher that she landed on a local lake, just a few kilometers from her house in the Czech Republic.

Right Place
Many fly fishers prefer to target pike in rivers. I prefer lakes with clear water, especially in weedy areas, such as bays and flats. These are the spots where pike hold during the summer months. Often, they relax in deeper holes behind, for example, a drop-off or a fallen tree or some other piece of structure that provides security. When the weather changes, or the light is low, these fish move out of deeper water and into feeding areas to chase baitfish. You can find them in surprisingly shallow water, even during fall and winter.

When targeting pike, it’s always good to cast your fly to a drop-off and swim it back towards a shallow area, which mimics what a real baitfish would do, while teasing any pike that may be holding in deeper water. Never pass a weedy area, fallen trees, or big rocks without covering them thoroughly. If the fish are really in feeding mode, they’ll be aggressive and it shouldn’t not take long to find out if you are in the right spot. For that reason, if you don’t have any action right away, don’t stick around—go find some fish in hunting mode.

I caught my final pike of 2020 in Sweden as the sun fell and a cold wind blew. I fished from a boat, covering a shallow area where thin, dying reeds barely poked out of the water. There were some open areas between the reeds, some no bigger than the size of a car. It was tricky casting, but I covered those open areas at last light, got a great hit, and watched a pike explode from the reeds. Five minutes later I was holding my catch, wearing a huge smile, knowing that 2020 hadn’t been a waste.

No serious pike angler lets a little toothy cut get in the way of success. Bring the patch kit and keep throwing.

Season
The pike season in Europe varies from country to country. Many fisheries do not allow fishing for pike during the spring and summer months. However, the best chances to get a trophy pike on the fly (at least in the Czech Republic) are after the spawn in May and June, and late in the season shortly before the water is covered with ice. During late fall the baitfish move into deeper parts of rivers and lakes and the pike jump at the chance to gain that last bit of weight before the winter months arrive.

Pacchiarini’s Wiggletail is a winner no matter where it’s thrown. The author’s Year Of Pike woolen’t have been as successful if she hadn’t included several of these patterns in her arsenal.

Best Setup for Pike
Eight-to 10-weight rods rigged with intermediate lines and heavy heads are the ideal choices for pike. My favorite fly line for pike fishing is definitely RIO’s InTouch Pike/Musky as it smoothly loads 11-inch long flies without any problem. I consider intermediate fly lines as the most versatile for pike fishing, but there are situations when sinking or floating lines serve best. In Sweden, where we were fishing from a boat and casting towards drop-offs, the depth quickly fell to several meters. To get our flies to the bottom, where pike are usually waiting, we used Type 5 sinktips and flies with foam heads, which kept those offerings just above any snags.

Pike have lots of sharp teeth and are difficult on gear. If you use an insufficient leader you may reel in, find your fly missing and the leader bitten clean through. To combat those teeth I sometimes use a 70-pound mono tippet looped straight to my fly line. On other occasions I use a tapered leader with a 20-inch section of wire. To be sure you don’t lose a trophy pike, I strongly recommend using a piece of fluorocarbon connected to Trace Wire.

Another look at a beastly pike.

The Killer Flies
Pike are ambush predators, so a good silhouette is key to success. These fish must see your fly against the sky. Usually, pike will feed on anything with great movement, but it helps if your fly emits sound—pike can easily sense vibrations in the water.

We all want to catch big pike and big pike definitely feed on big baitfish. When hunting for these fish I definitely use big flies, up to 10 or 11-inches long. If you want to catch big pike, don’t waste your time with a minnow on the end of your line. You’ve got to go big. I prefer flashy flies with lots of movement. I like Dougie’s Sparkler (silver); my absolute favorite—and the fly I would use if I could only fish one—is the Pike Tube (fire tiger). Both are available from Fulling Mill.

In clean water I like to use bright colors. In dirty water I like silver colored flies that imitate roach and hot green/orange flies to imitate perch. To cover your bases, fill up your fly boxes with lots of Wiggletails. And don’t forget some poppers for those memorable summer evenings.

Good luck. I guarantee a huge pike is out there with your name on it!

Katka Svagrova
Growing up in a fly fishing family, Katka has been casting a fly rod since the age of four. In addition to being one of the top guides in Europe, she is a world-class competitor, winning the Czech women’s championship 5 times in 6 years. She has also competed internationally, helping the Czech team place 4th in the European fly fishing championship. After a trip to Australia in 2014, Katka started travelling the world, fly rod in hand. Within 3 years she had fished more than 10 countries including Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Belize, The Maldives, and Guatemala. Katka currently works as a fly fishing guide for Hreggnasi Angling Club on Laxa í Kjòs, one of Iceland’s most prestigious Atlantic Salmon rivers.

Skeed Borkowski has lived in the British Columbia’s rugged Cariboo region for over 50 years. He’s a man of humor, wit, and endless stories. Along with his wife Sharon, Skeed owns and operates the iconic Northern Lights Lodge, located in the small town of Likely. When he’s not tinkering with machinery or entertaining guests, he can be found drifting down one of the local rivers, casting flies to his favorite quarry—big, yellowbelly rainbow trout.

How did you end up at Northern Lights Lodge? What was your motivation for being in this remote part of the world?
Well, I was going through male menopause . . . . We had gone from logging to building and operating a cedar sawmill with about 50 employees. That mill burnt down. I think our [insurance] policy covered about 900-grand. My partner Rick and I went back to logging for five years and we paid off about a million and a half bucks worth of debt. And then we went gold mining. It definitely was a learning curve ‘cause we had never seen gold before. After about 10 years we were doing well and were approached by a company out of Calgary that wanted to buy our company—sort of a retirement package. We got a decent down payment, and Sharon and I bought the waterfront property. But you know me, I had a tough time staying still.

That was about 26 years ago, and about that time the Bre-X gold scandal came out. At the time it was the biggest gold scandal ever. Bre-X got caught and our investors couldn’t pay for the property. To make a long story short we got the mining property back, but Sharon and I were already committed down here. We had partners, so we had to leave the mining alone and fix up the lodge. It was pretty run down. Sharon and I spent a couple years completely rebuilding and renovating everything. It was quite the adventure, but I think it paid off. Now we’ve got a pretty awesome lodge here.

What was the fishing like when you first came to the Cariboo region?
Well, the fish were even more dumb than they are now. I mean they had never seen a fly or lure before. But it was rugged and you were alone. I remember when I was in my twenties, I used to go down to the Cariboo (spelling from the gold miners of the 1850s). River fishing for bulls and big rainbow trout. I’d get as far up the river as I could. Most of those spots had never been stepped on by anyone, ever. I’d climb over rocks and log jams with my spin rod in my teeth and not a person in the world knew I was out there. Crazy, isn’t it? That’s just the way it was. And those places still exist. Maybe not as many of them, but we have plenty of those untouched places here.

 

Was NLL always a fly-fishing focused lodge?
No. Originally the lodge was more focused on conventional fishing. Guys would come up, spend a couple nights, eat some fish and enjoy a few beverages. We started focusing on fly fishing in 1999, when a friend of one of our original partners came up just to see the place. He was from an Orvis fly shop in Colorado and on the first day I took him fishing, he just looked at me and said, “You have no idea what you have here.” Up until that point we really just took it for granted. I mean, you could walk up to the bank, cast a line, and in just about any decent spot, nine out of 10 times you’re going to get a fish. What’s the big deal?

That must be a big draw for anglers. What can you tell me about Likely?
Likely is just such a small, unique sort of community. Its demographics are all over the map. If you see someone, you wave, even if you don’t know them. Most of the time you do—there are only a couple hundred people living here. It’s just such a safe place where people genuinely care about each other. Not all of them may sit down for dinner with you, but you know they’ll all show up if you need a hand.

 

It’s a good thing too, with no cell phone reception or emergency services in Likely. Get into trouble, you’ll need to count on your neighbors. Being unplugged, disconnected—is that an advantage or disadvantage?
I find it a huge advantage. It would be the most horrid sound in the world if you are fishing on the most beautiful river and your bloody cell phone rings, or there’s a grizzly bear you’re watching and your phone rings. It doesn’t matter what animal—a grizzly or moose or whatever. No animal should know what a cell phone ring sounds like. I have really strong feelings about that. Some things should just be left the hell alone.

 

Talking about grizzlies, word on the street is you have a lot of bears up here. Any good stories?
You know, when we encounter the bears, they have so much food with the salmon in the water and wild berries in the woods . . . they really aren’t interested in you. Sows here tend to keep their cubs real close because the boars will kill her cubs to put her back in heat. All they think about are food and women. Not so different from a couple guys I know. But anyway, we haven’t had any situations. If clients want to see bears, typically we’ll stop for lunch where we can have a look and take pictures. The most I’ve seen in one day is 19 different grizzly bears. We saw two sows with triplets, so that was eight bears right there. Many days I’ve seen over a dozen different grizzly bears. Never an issue as these are wild animals and not used to humans . . . they take their salmon and head back to the forest to enjoy their feast.

 

Without giving away spots, can you tell me a little about the area you fish, and why it’s unique?
We basically fish three main rivers in the summer, and five later in the season as more water becomes fishable when water levels drop. Some of the more remote systems, we take the cabin-cruiser, along with a jet boat. We’ll spend the day working our way up as far as we can in the jet boat then turn around and drift down and wade-fish some of the better spots on the way back. Other rivers we drive to and launch driftboats or inflatable rafts. Some of the best spots are just a spot we’ve marked with a broken limb on an old, deserted logging road. Then we drop down over the bank to a beautiful pool, only known to a few old-timers.

We are talking with some whitewater rafters who get to some spots that we’d like to fish. It would be a cool sort of adventure that we could add to our program.

I know firsthand how busy you are during the season. Do you still get out fishing?
I’m a dry-fly guy. I love river fishing, just targeting a fish. It’s like hunting. I can look at a run and know there’s a fish there and I just have to catch it. I will say, though, recently I have been exploring our backcountry lakes and there are some really big fish there. Some of the stocked trophy lakes have the yellowbelly Horsefly strain and they are so much fun. They are just the most aggressive, hard fighting rainbow trout you will find in the world.

 

I can definitely attest to that. I remember the last time we fished together. The fish preferred skating and stripped flies opposed to dead-drifted presentations.
I know, especially with the dry fly. You can drift it, drift it, and drift it, then right when it starts to swing bam!

 

What happens when the salmon first come into the river? Do the trout react right away?
Oh yea, they’ll spend the summer looking up, feeding on the surface. But right before the salmon arrive the trout start looking down. The transition takes a couple days but you can feel it. They’ll slow down with the dries, but egg patterns soon get inhaled, and by big fish, too. It almost feels like cheating. You don’t even have to cast far. The fish are often two feet from shore, in less than a foot of water. If you can find salmon beds, you always find trout five or 10 yards behind.

How big are these fish? What’s a good sized fall rainbow trout?
This time of year [late fall] 20-to 24 inches is a good fish for the river. Remember, these are wild, native rainbows that have likely never been caught before. Very aggressive, as there is so much competition below the surface. We have seen fish over 35 inches landed, but not many. We do get fish over 10 pounds quite often in our trophy lakes. They do turn a driftboat around.

What’s nice about our river fishing is that a good angler can land 30 or 40 fish in a day. A complete beginner can land 10 to 20, no problem. Our rivers are 100 percent catch-and-release, barbless hooks fisheries. Kudos to our fish and wildlife department to have the foresight to recognize and protect this unique species of trout.</p?

 

Have you had any days on the water that were really memorable?
We had three guys up from Denver, Colorado. We anchored the driftboat just up from a chinook red and we were pulling trout after trout out of this hole. Probably over a hundred in a few hours. Ridiculous fishing. Anyway, there was one big bull trout in there and he kept ramming the chinook, knocking the eggs out of their bellies. We tried to get him on egg patterns, as well as beads, but he wouldn’t take. Then we tried swinging a streamer and wham, he nailed it. The fish ran downstream. We had to pull up both anchors and chase him. After about 45 minutes we finally landed this thing. And I kid you not, it was 42 inches long. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Grinning just thinking about it.

There have been so many big rainbows, I just lose track. Actually I hooked into a good one stillwater fishing a little while ago. He must have been around 28 inches and heavy. These lakes just have so much food. A lot of freshwater shrimp. What I really remember about this fish is he tailed three times and then an eagle swooped right over my head and nailed it. But the eagle couldn’t lift the fish out of the water. It sort of just got stuck, and face-planted. Anyway, the eagle paddled into shore and it took about a half-hour to eat the belly off the fish before it flew away with the rest of it. This all happened right in front of me.</p?

I could keep going and going, but I’ll stop after this one. We had a father and son from Chicago, and they wanted to see one of our rivers that has a big sockeye run. But it was too early in the season to really fish it and the water was very high. I took them to the far side of the lake and we went up the river as far as we could go.</p?

We made a couple casts. Didn’t catch anything, and headed back. Anyway, the mouth of this river opens up into a big bay and there were fish rising everywhere. I passed the lad his rod. He must have been 14 or so. I said, “Hit those rises.” First cast he lands a 20-inch rainbow. I set them up wading 50 feet apart, just off the shoreline, towards a drop-off, and spent the next four hours running back and forth taking fish off their lines. They must have landed 30 fish, all big, probably not a fish under 20 inches. Five or six in the 28-inch range. All wild fish. There are no stocked fish in Lake Quesnel. That was cool. Big golden stonefly hatch and we hit it just right.</p?

As a lodge owner, is there anything that has really surprised you over the years?
We have guests that are just amazing. We have couples that have been coming up 15 to 20 years consecutively. Even with covid last summer, we had guests come up and stay with us multiple times. I feel fortunate to have shared this area with people. It really makes Sharon and I feel so fortunate to have made so many truly great friends in a business venture that has put the word “business” on the back shelf.

A lot of our longtime guests have sort of got a little too old, or have health issues, and can’t make it here anymore. I still talk to a lot of these folks every couple months. They ask how we’re doing and how the fishing is going. It’s really special to make these kinds of connections with people.

 

Do you notice a change in your guests from the time they arrive to the time they leave?
Oh, big-time. Big-time. You can tell when they just arrive, they’re just so excited. You know the first couple days you see them miss so many strikes, and it’s not because they are not good anglers. It just takes them a couple days to slow down and get that rush-hour traffic off their minds. Once they take a deep breath they begin to fish so much better, and I think find a deeper appreciation for this place. It’s just so fresh here. You won’t see a single jet stream in the sky and rarely another angler during their entire five-day trip. It really is a forgotten piece of the world.

 

Can you talk to me about the guides you employ, and what it takes to be a guide up here?
Well, most of our guides have been working with us for 15 to 20 years. Gordy has been with us about 25 years, but he’s been guiding and outfitting in the area since he was 16. He’s the most skilled jet boat operator I’ve ever seen. He just knows so much about everything there is up here. The animals, the history, everything. We’ve got Tate and Curtis—both of them are completely fishing obsessed. And we’ve got Rob, our second most senior guide—he’s probably on a first-name basis with most of the fish in our rivers.

Bobby and Brian, at different times and on their own terms, sorta just ended up here and decided they never wanted to leave. It was the fishing that made them want to stay, but I think it’s the lifestyle that keeps them here.

Most of our guides are local and live here year-round, so this isn’t just a seasonal thing. It really is a way of life. There’s something about the peace and tranquility here. There’s no pressure as to when you have to be here or when you have to be there. Look, Sharon and I came here 52 years ago to spend a year in the woods and we just didn’t want to leave. I don’t think it’s something that can really be explained. Just stand in the water and look around. Oh, I missed a strike . . . oh well.

 

Before we wrap this up, what flies would you recommend tying up before coming up to NLL?
The Turks Tarantula is our number one fly. The Tom Thumb is my favorite, though. Prince Nymphs work well if you’re going under. Mouse patterns are fun to skate, and the strikes are crazy aggressive. If you are coming in the fall, egg patterns are a must. Beads are great if you are ok with fishing them. They are a little easier on the fish.

Gil Greenberg
Gil eats, sleeps and breathes fly fishing. He is the founder of Gil’s Fly Fishing International and holds a degree in marine biology. Before getting into the fly fishing industry, Gil served in the IDF and worked as a fisheries consultant in the Solomon Islands.

If ever there was a toilet of a trout season, 2020 was it. Instead of packing for my annual lake trips, I hunkered down in my living room packing on the pounds. The few times I did get out, the weather was so bad I ended up sitting in my truck glaring at the windshield while my boat filled up with rain.

And the river fishing? Well, that was an absolute double-flusher. I missed the Dean due to Covid. And two days on the Thompson only produced a small number of sickly looking rainbows that pulled about as hard as you would if I asked you to pull my finger.

Worst, I missed the Bow due to Covid, too.

Ever since my 2020 Bow trip got the big flush, I’ve been looking ahead wondering when I can return. The reason? Brown trout. Big ones. The types of fish the Bow is famous for. And though I haven’t caught any real monsters—two feet long is my current personal best—I’ve seen some giants come out of the river. And I wanna get me one.

Summer 2021 looks like it might be the right time to do it.

Anticipating some relaxing of Canada’s travel restrictions now that the Covid-19 vaccination plan is rolling along, I checked in with a friend, the author and former Bow River guide Jim McLennan (mclennanflyfishing.com), and asked what all of us might expect on the Bow these days.

“There is a belief that the fish population has dropped significantly in the time since the big flood of 2013,” he told me. “And people don’t seem to catch as many as in the ‘glory days’ of the 1980s. [But the big fish that made the Bow famous are still around and] They’re as big or bigger than ever.”

Over the years “The Book” on big Bow River browns is streamer fishing. A few seasons back, when I spoke with some veteran guides about trophy browns, they told me to fish streamers in late June through early July if the river is in shape, or late August and early September.

The Bow is is broad in most places, but narrow side channels offer easy wading and lots of opportunity for the wade angler. However, given a choice, most anglers would prefer to float the river and pound the banks with streamers, looking for Mr. Big. (Jim and Lynda McLennan)

McLennan notes something new. “I always thought the best way to find the biggest fish was fishing streamers just as the river is clearing from runoff. But people seem to catch big guys through the season, including with dry stones and hoppers.”

Those “dry stones” are Classenia sabulosa, the “night stone” or “short-wing stone” that starts appearing in late June and early July. “The names come from the fact that the whole business—hatching, mating, egg laying—occurs at night, and because the adult males have wings that are only about half developed,” McLennan said.

Trout—even the big ones—take imitations of the adult stone fished along the shoreline just before sunrise and through the early part of the day.

A month later you’re still fishing the shoreline, but now it’s Hopper Season. After a hot July, the hoppers really gets going, and even the big browns can be found along grassy banks in very shallow water looking for these terrestrials. One of the biggest Bow River browns I’ve hooked came out of an eight-inch deep dish in a shallow riffle. I hooked it prospecting my way up a bank, after I dropped a Whitlock’s hopper just upstream of a waterlogged tree branch. That branch surprised me by taking the hopper and charging into deep water.

If you’re in a driftboat, pitching hoppers tight to the bank is a sure way to learn just where really big fish sit even in bright sun. On an August afternoon, some of those big dark rocks that you can see in the skinny water will suddenly grow fins and eat. And if they won’t eat your hopper, the Hare’s Ear you’ve attached to a short dropper usually entices them. This “hopper-dropper” setup is a standard on the Bow, and it’s my usual August bank-busting rig.

Big dries are great of course, but don’t neglect the nymphs. I’ve had some great days rolling nymph rigs through the riffles or splashing them into the deeper troughs ahead of a driftboat. My biggest Bow River brown came to a Brooks Golden Stone just below the Highway 22X Bridge, and I’ve bounced big nymphs off the rocks in that section ever since.

It’s one thing to trophy hunt the Bow if it’s been your home river for over 30 years. And quite another if you’re just looking to get on the water for a few days and catch some nice trout. One of the reasons I love the Bow so much is that it’s a river that meets you anywhere you need to be. The chance at a big brown is always a draw, but the Bow offers great fishing for rainbows and browns almost anytime of the season.

Springtime on the Bow is pretty, but fishing can be a hit-or-miss affair. A good blue winged olive hatch in April sometimes gets ignored by the trout, and a small window in mid-May can lead to some decent Mother’s Day caddis fishing. But unpredictable water and weather conditions can plague the spring angler, making an April or May trip a dice roll for the weekend getaway angler. Late May through June the river is high with runoff.

Once things settle down, we really get into the heart of what makes the Bow such a great river. July is all about PMDs and caddis. One of my favorite floats is “Police to McKinnon’s.” Here, a mid-morning sneak along a grassy bank puts you a careful cast away from risers that can go over 20 inches. Then in the evening near the end of the drift you might find some caddis about.

Better yet, if you rent a car, you can always drop in to one of the in-city access points to see if you can hook a big brown near dark. For me this is one of the classic Bow River experiences—peering upstream in the fading light looking for shapes in the surface, and casting just above them with a #16 Stealth Caddis. Don’t lift until the shape submerges. Then keep your fingers away from your reel handle and hang on.

Speaking of Mr. Big, the Bow still kicks out browns like this one. That gives anglers from Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Spokane good reason to board a flight hit the river this summer and fall. (Jim and Lynda McLennan)

August is my favorite month on the Bow. And if I had to pick one week to be there, it would be the first week of August. Along with hoppers, August also brings the Trico hatch. If you hit it right, you can puddle cast tiny Trico spinner patterns to rising fish in the morning, then sling a hopper-dropper rig through the day, and maybe catch the last of the caddis hatches in the evening before the idea of a bourbon and steak prevails.

So I think I’ll go out to Alberta for a quick trip this year. And Calgary is where I want to be for a weekend or mid-week getaway on the water. The Gateway to the Bow, Calgary is easily accessed by air from Vancouver, Seattle, Spokane and Portland. An early morning flight can have me wadering up before noon.

Heck, during hot summer days, who needs waders? If I’m fishing with a guide I’m not particular about my tackle choices, so I could just show up at Calgary Arrivals with a fancy fishing pack loaded with wading boots, a sun hoody or two, and midnight layer, and a light rain jacket. Good to go.

If you head out that way your guide will be well-equipped with quality tackle. But if you prefer your own graphite and tin, bring along a 5-weight for dries, a 6/7 for nymphs and streamers, and a reel for each that sings a sweet song. A 5 wt floater and a 6/7 Type-3 sink-tip covers you for anything the Bow splashes your way.

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and can be found each year (minus 2020 of course) swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him at @danawsturn

It had been a long tough week on the flats. Back-to-back cold fronts replete with a savage easterly wind had churned the crystal waters of Cayo Cruz into a milky soup. Overhead, the towering thunderheads had crowded out the sun, further conspiring to make sight-fishing all but impossible. All week my guide Raffa and I stuck stubbornly to our task, and despite those wretched conditions, we’d had a couple of shots—gut-wrenching heartbreakers when a permit suddenly appeared, right in front of us, materializing from nowhere, and was already fleeing before I finally made it out. Somehow I managed to hook a fish, but tragically, it came unbuttoned, right at the boat.

On the last day, as I throw open the big shutters on the windows of old Casona, I am met not with rain and wind, but a clear, sparkling sky, shot through with the rosy hues of the dawn. My old friend Tim and I squeeze into the old Russian truck, and bump down a rutted tarmac, past sugarcane threshers and field workers who are waving and laughing as they stroll down the main drag to another long day in the fields. We turn off the highway and head north. I’m upfront with Lucio, our driver, and I grin as he lights up a Popular and absentmindedly hums along to the incongruous old Adele CD that serenades us to the dock and back each day. I cadge a smoke and as I wind down the window, I catch the warm, salty air wafting off the flats. As we cross an old causeway, we can see that the wind has died and vast flocks of flamingos are tip-toeing in the shallows. Better yet, the spring tides have washed the sand suspension out of the water, rendering it clean and clear at last. As we pull up to the dock, I see that our dear old friends, Raffa and Nelson, are already preparing the skiffs. Today, at last, we have a chance.

Tim and Nelson head west to Cayo Megano. Raffa and I head to a spot that I love—the vast flats east of Punta del Este. The first hour is slow. The tide is only starting to rise, and the Punta del Este flats are just a little shallow to accommodate the big permit that like to feed on its endless white canvas. We push across to Roca y Piedra and fish the outermost edge, close to the ocean, most likely the best place to ambush a big permit as it arrives to forage in the shallower water. We find a nice long broken line of rock and turtle grass, and pole gently along its edge. Only a few rays glide across the flat and they are alone.

Then, suddenly, Raffa is animated. “There, Mac! Look! Eleben! Tailing!” I start to point my rod to 11 o’ clock but already I have it—a big black sickle tail is wagging lazily in the early morning sun, rooting out a crab from the rocky seam that divides the vast white swathes of sand.

The wind has died to nothing, and I wait breathlessly as Raffa gently pushes us in range. As he stops the skiff, there is a faint crunch from the pole as it buries in the coral beneath the powdery sand, and the tail slides under the surface. “Puta!” Raffa hisses. But just as I am about to echo his curse, the tail is suddenly up again, the fish unaware of our presence as it resumes its early morning feed.

Responding to the flat calm, I take a chance, quickly biting off the Sideswiper crab and replacing it with a little tan-colored Alphlexo—a pattern that makes less splash on the glassy, mirror-bright surface. The fish is still happily grubbing in the sand and broken coral, and I start to line up the shot, lengthening the line and then sending the fly arcing out over the water. I feather its fall, and the little crab imitation lands just to the left of the fish. I let it drop and then give it a gentle strip to grab the permit’s attention. At first, the fish seems unaware of my offering, but then, in a magical moment, it slides purposefully over to the fly and we watch as its tail arcs up high into the air. I draw the line smartly back and, feeling resistance, set the hook with a sharp, jabbing strip-strike. The next few moments are fraught with anxiety, as I watch the running line shoot up off the deck. Soon, my precious permit is on the reel and we are in business.

Battling a permit is never fun. I’ve watched big fish—that I thought were beaten—tip up in a heartbeat and rub my fly out of their mouth, leaving me inconsolable. Fishing is supposed to be fun, but this is somehow too important to enjoy. I’m often reminded of the old Liverpool soccer coach Bill Shankly’s famous quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Permit fishing is the same: After a long battle and a tense, nearly unbearable end-game, comes that special moment that permit addicts know. That moment when a guide’s hand closes around the wrist of a fish’s tail and an angler senses relief and elation, a feeling that assures all those long hours were undoubtably worth it.

Cuba offers lots of permit and big permit. Still, you’ve got to bring your A-game to catch these finicky fish. If everything aligns, you might be the next one hoisting a good one.

We gaze down at the fish—24 pounds of opalescent perfection, those deep flanks splashed with a vivid lemon yellow. The permit seems to gaze up at me with a big black eye. Raffa cradles it under the water and gently removes the hook. I get a childish rush. We make some quick pictures and then I gently nurse the fish until I feel its strength return. I take one last look at that big, sickle tail and then, with a flourish, it kicks away from me and disappears into the pellucid water. I’m shaking a little, like always. “Give me a smoke,” I say to Raffa.

“You want to try for a slam?” says Raffa as he lights me a Popular and passes over an icy Crystal from the cooler. I catch his eye and he’s grinning because we both already know the answer “No, signor!” I smile at my old friend and say, “Let’s go catch another.”

Cuba offers some of the very best fly-fishing for permit, anywhere in the world. For many years, the ongoing spat between the United States and Castro meant that Brits like me had the place pretty much to ourselves. Even now, with the recent easing of restrictions, Cuba has enough vast flats to offer wonderful permit fishing for all.

I have fished all of Cuba’s major permit fisheries, and I particularly favor these three.

Cuba is not Biscayne Bay or the Florida Keys—the flats are void of anglers and the fish are happy and hungry. And the scenery ‘aint bad either.

Jardines de la Reina
I’ve fished at JDR for over 20 years, and it is a very special place. It offers 840 square miles of pristine flats that remain just about as wild and untouched as they were when Christopher Columbus splashed ashore and named them for Isabella over 500 years ago.

I caught my first permit here with another old friend, Bemba, on May 25, 2009. After we’d finished celebrating, we managed to add a tarpon, a bonefish and a snook, thus completing the first super grand slam ever recorded at this fly-fishing mecca. It’s a day I will never forget.

JDR is a first-class permit fishery and offers fish of high average size. Perhaps the biggest problem at JDR is the presence of other species—it’s often extremely difficult to keep fixed on the permit when big, mirror-scaled tarpon are rolling all around and vast schools of lithe bonefish are tailing in the shallows. If you have the self-discipline to target permit, there is a huge diversity of habitat to keep you entertained and constantly thinking. On the ocean-side, in the choppy waters around Faro and Mar Y Flores, jagged coral flats mean that crabs are the main forage and it pays to throw something sizable, like a Sideswiper or the excellent Strong Arm Merkin Crab. On the inside, you’ll find beautiful sand flats at Las Auras and Cayo La Lisa where smaller shrimp imitations, like the all-conquering Avalon Shrimp, are more effective. The flats shelve sharply on the north shore, but the white sand means that big permit are easy to spot even in three or four feet of water. For these flats I developed a tungsten-beaded version of the Avalon Shrimp that sinks quickly into the permit’s eyesight. It caught me three big permit here with yet another very special friend and fly-fishing mentor, Coki, in 2019. One of the most fascinating features of JDR is that the fish often fixate on large, black urchins, grazing on them like a cow eats grass. I’ve given up throwing perfectly serviceable urchin imitations, and now just try to drop a big Avalon or some crab pattern right on their noses.

This is the moment every saltwater flats angler wants to enjoy. Your chances of being in a photo like this are as good or better in Cuba than anywhere else in the world.

Cayo Largo
Cayo Largo is the birthplace of the Avalon Shrimp. This remarkable fly is the brainchild of my old friend Mauro Ginevri, who ran the lodge here for many years, and became almost obsessive in his quest to imitate the permit’s favorite forage item on the sand flats. After about a year of study, he came up with the Avalon, and it is an absolute game-changing pattern for Cuban permit. Unlike crab patterns, you can strip the Avalon to imitate a shrimp, and this means that the permit simply doesn’t get a good look at it. Let’s face it—the Avalon is just a load of fluff and steel. I love this fly and I’ve caught more permit with it than any other pattern.

Cayo Largo has huge numbers of permit, and of all of Cuba’s locations it is probably the easiest place to successfully kick-start your permit-fishing career. Crucially, the vast sand flats here offer the perfect habitat to find a fish riding shotgun with a stingray. This is, undoubtedly, the easiest way to catch a permit, especially if there are two or more permit with a ray.

Fish follow rays to feed on the forage they kick up. At that time permit are most vulnerable to fly-fishers. First, they are by definition feeding. That’s got to be a good thing. Second, the rays tend to kick up a lot of sand as well as food, so it is harder for the permit to examine your fly or see your leader material. Finally, rays are much easier to spot than permit, so you can see your quarry a mile off. This offers plenty of time to plan an ambush and line up your skiff and make the shot as easy as possible. Which is much better than being in a fevered rush when you suddenly see a big fish that is only 10 yards from the boat.

I once shared a golden week with William, Mauro’s head guide at Cayo Largo and one of the most talented guides I have ever fished with. Unlike many of my favorite firecracker Cuban permit guides, William retains a perpetually easy, relaxed demeanor, probably because he can spot a big black ray at 300 yards and set you up with a nice easy downwind shot. During one special week, I managed two super slams and one grand slam at Cayo Largo with this amazingly talented guide.

While Cayo Largo does have the occasional big fish, if you are after a real monster, you really want to head north to Cayo Cruz.

Whether casting from a skiff or wading the flats, you’ll get plenty of shots at permit and bones when fishing Cayo Cruz, Cayo Largo or Jardines de la Reina.

Cayo Cruz
I first fished Cayo Cruz in 2010 with my great friend and fellow permit nut Tim Marks. We fished with a novice guide “Gorgeous” George, who fell off the poling platform four times in one morning. It was a day of high comedy, but we could see the potential. We came back a week later, and I met up with a man named Raffa, who became another great friend. We caught a big, beautiful permit, and Tim and I had one each the following day.

Cayo Cruz lies adjacent to the Bahama channel, and the big fish that cruise out of deeper water here are sometimes astonishingly big. On more than one occasion the guides have mistaken them for tarpon. I believe that I have seen 50-pound permit here. The fish often hang with stingrays and they can occasionally be seen sipping juvenile white crabs from surface grasses and sponges. At such times, they can be caught with floating crab patterns, although I have had more success with small shrimps and lightly weighted Alphlexo crabs.

There are a few tarpon and some real trophy bonefish here, but it is primarily a permit destination. My friend Tim has caught two fish of well over 30 pounds here, and I lost a fish that my guide reckoned was nearer 40—it rubbed the fly out on the seabed after a 30-minute fight. These permit are as big as any in the world. They can be extraordinarily tough to catch and they will break your heart any number of times. But keep at it, and keep telling yourself that, like all creatures, permit have to eat.

Sometimes they do.

Matt Harris
Matt Harris is a globetrotting photographer who catches fish wherever he goes. Check out more of his work on IG @mattharrisflyfishing

We knew something was up as my fishing partner and I drove along an increasingly snow-covered road to Peterhope Lake on a mid-November day. Not a tire track and certainly no evidence of anyone recently launching a boat.

Then, why you might ask, would anyone want to fish with a good eight inches of snow on the ground and ice pushing out from the back bays of the lake. Here’s why: It was perfect—no competition, flat calm water and a bright, sunny morning meant we could cruise the shallow water and the edges of the longstem bulrush patches in search of big rainbows. And it wasn’t long before we spotted dark shapes swimming slowly along the marl bottom and other groups of fish disappearing into a maze of bulrush stems. Anchoring at the first good pod of bigger fish, we set up with floating lines and indicators and started suspending and wind-drifting micro-leeches and scuds, both go-to fall patterns. As always, the first fish landed in my boat, as long as it’s big enough, gets its throat pumped. Our first fish of the day was crammed with still-live, immature damselfly nymphs. A quick pattern switch made for an extremely productive morning bite.

Damselflies blend into their environment perfectly. Trout feed on these large insects when they swim to shore.

Preferred damselfly nymph habitat includes dense mats of submerged vegetation, such as chara, coontail, milfoil and pondweed. Damselflies can spend up to four years in the nymphal stage before making the transition to an adult. The nymphs undergo multiple molts or instar stages as they grow from minute creatures to 1.5-inch long mature nymphs. Lush vegetation that covers the shoal, or shallow zones, of a lake provide an abundant hunting ground for these carnivorous insects. Nymphs feed on scuds, mayfly nymphs, zooplankton and any other meaty food sources they can capture in their extendable mouthparts. These are not fast swimming predators, but stalk and ambush specialists. Nymphs are adept at matching their body coloration to the habitat they live in, so it is not uncommon to have multiple colors of the same species of damselfly in the same waterbody. Damselflies undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, which means there is no pupal stage such as found in midges and caddis. The fully developed damselfly nymph leaves the protection of its benthic habitat and swims to patches of emergent vegetation, like longstem bulrush, cattails or sedge grasses. The nymphs swim in a sinusoidal motion using their three-lobed caudal lamellae or “tails” to propel them through the water. Once reaching the plant stalks the nymphs crawl out of the water. Their exoskeleton dries and splits open allowing the adult to crawl out. Newly emerged adult bodies are soft and delicate and it takes up to several hours for their bodies and wings to harden. They then fly off and spend the rest of the open water season eating adult mosquitoes, midges and other small flying insects. Adults mate and females deposit eggs in emergent and floating vegetation. Females also crawl down emergent plant stalks and deposit eggs well below the surface. Adults live well into the fall season, but die off along with their prey with the arrival of freezing air temperatures.

It’s the nymphal stage that really attracts the attention of trout. One of the most intense and frenzied feeding periods occurs during the mature nymphal migration. Typical emergence occurs during the early summer season while water temperatures are still increasing, but prior to the onset of hot summer air temperatures. Overall, the hatch is short, often less than a couple of weeks in duration. Fully developed nymphs, in large numbers, swim from the lake bottom to within a few feet of the surface, then travel horizontally en route to concentrations of bulrush and cattail. During this migration the nymphs are fully exposed to trout cruising the shoals and edges of drop-offs. Fish pick off nymphs at will while never showing any signs of surface activity. Anglers see the swimming nymphs in the water or hanging from the stems of emergent plants. Pulling anchors at this time of the year often results in several nymphs falling into your boat or onto your float-tube. Things get even more interesting when masses of nymphs, emerging nymphs and newly emerged adults cling to the stems of rushes and sedge grasses. A gust of wind pushes the helpless insects into the water making for a very easy meal for trout willing to feed in water often less than four feet deep. At other times aggressive trout roll into bulrush stems to send the food purposely crashing onto the water. This is an amazing sight that leaves an angler shaking as they scramble to tie on an adult pattern. Fishing patterns tight to or into the bulrush or cattails is exciting and a real challenge when the trout decides to run even further into the forest!

Big trout get busy when damsels hatch. Anglers can catch numerous 20-plus inch fish, such as this rainbow, when conditions are right.

Damselfly nymph emergences are best fished with floating, emerger tip or intermediate sinking lines. It’s important to try and imitate their swim up off the bottom of the shoal and then the migration high in the water column. A continuous hand twist or slow strip retrieve consisting of 4-to 6-inch long pulls, followed by regular short pauses, imitates the natural movement of these bugs. Often, actual damsels pause and slowly sink back down through the water column before getting back to the task at hand. It makes sense to position your fishing craft so that you are casting out and retrieving in the same direction that the nymphs are swimming. Better yet, one can anchor on the leading edge of a bulrush patch and cast right into the area where the real nymphs are swimming through. Make sure to tie on your nymphs with a non-slip loop knot, which adds lifelike movement to the fly.

Late fall is one of my favorite times of the stillwater fishing season. This is when the bigger fish school up and move into very skinny water to bulk up in preparation for a long, cold winter. In many clear-water lakes fall is all about sight fishing in the shallows. There are no insect hatches to rely on, so the trout go back on food sources that overwinter in the lake. This typically means scuds, leeches and juvenile damselfly, mayfly and dragonfly nymphs. I have noticed that in many nutrient-rich lakes damselfly nymphs make up a significant portion of the late fall diet. Often the damselfly nymphs are less than a half-inch long. For some reason big trout really search out the “baby” damsels. Overall, the most consistent way to catch these damsel feeding trout is to suspend patterns under an indicator. An indicator allows you to cast right up against or into openings amongst bulrush or cattail and present the fly within inches of bottom or at whatever depth you choose. A slight breeze blowing in the direction of your casts provides a subtle undulating motion that trout find hard to resist. However, there are days when the fish want more movement to the fly, so always try fishing the same patterns with a floating line and a 12-to 16-foot long leader. Casting into or parallel to the rushes or cattail stands, and retrieving the fly often gets the fish to chase after a fleeing food source. Think about your favorite stillwater fisheries—if they have abundant shoals and lots of emergent vegetation, there should be some good damselfly nymph fishing to be had at various times of the year.

Numerous patterns take trout during a damselfly hatch. Tie your flies in different colors and sizes so you have all the options covered no matter where you fish.

Fly Patterns
Trout can get selective when feeding on the mature nymphs making their emergence migration swims. Realistic patterns that match the colouration of the real insect can make a difference between hooking the occasional fish or having a banner day. However, during the fall feeding time the nymphs can be more suggestive as long as the size is close to the real nymphs being eaten. There are many damselfly nymph patterns out there—some are extremely realistic and there is no question these patterns catch fish. Tying baby or juvenile damselfly nymphs can be as simple as using strung marabou fibers as this feather breathes and pulses when moved through the water. Here is the recipe for my Baby Damselfly Nymph.

Chan’s Baby Damsel Nymph.

Chan’s Baby Damsel Nymph

Hook: Daiichi 1120 #12, #16

Thread: 8/0 olive green

Tail: Olive green strung marabou fibers (6-8 fibers), tail should be 1.5X length of hook shank

Rib: Fine gold wire

Body: Olive green strung marabou fibers (tie marabou tips to form tail, spin remaining fibers to create body and then wrap forward onto hook)

Bead: 7/64th gold bead

Brian Chan
Brian Chan lives in Kamloops, British Columbia and breathes everything about fly-fishing in stillwaters. Follow him on Instagram: @brianchanflyfishing

When it comes to beauty, few fish can compete with the shimmer of a steelhead. (Cohen Lewis)

The Canadian north shore of Lake Superior is one of the most beautiful and rugged places in Canada. Superior itself is an inland sea, deep, cold and expansive. The lake is fed by hundreds of rivers and creeks. These rivers run that gamut from fast flowing freestone creeks to huge, deep rivers, to tiny spring fed rivulets. While all these tributaries are different, they share something in common—they host runs of migratory rainbow trout each spring and fall. These Lake Superior steelhead are some of the most beautiful and hardiest rainbow trout on the planet. Here is a look at the angling opportunity they provide.

An average size Northern Superior Steelhead, caught by the author. (Gord Ellis)

The Fish
Steelhead are not native to Lake Superior. The fish were introduced to the lake near Thunder Bay in the early 1900s. Other jurisdictions on the American side of the lake have also stocked various rainbow trout including the Kamloops and Donaldson strains. Over time, this melting pot of rainbows has naturalized and become a wild, naturally reproducing population of Lake Superior steelhead. And make no mistake, Lake Superior’s north shore is one of the coldest and harshest environments steelhead live in, anywhere in the world. This makes them tough, ornery and relatively longer lived than some other strains. Lake Superior steelhead are not as large on average as West Coast fish or even those found in the other Great Lakes, but they can get close. In 2011, I caught and released a fish that measured 33 inches long. However, the average Superior steelhead is about 25 inches long and weighs between five and six pounds. A 30-inch fish is generally considered an exceptional one and will weigh close to 10 pounds. Many of these larger steelhead have made a spawning run up to seven or eight times.

Lake Superior steelhead also vary widely in shape and coloration. Fresh fish just in from Superior can be nearly solid nickel, with almost no red blush. Then there are fish so dark they are nearly black. Most Superior steelhead are racy, with longer bodies and wide tails built for rushing up rapids and leaping falls. However, there is also the occasional supertanker that is round and fat. Superior steelhead generally fight hard and, if the water is not too cold, leap and tear out of pools at breakneck speed. They are an awesome fish.

The Water
From the border between Minnesota and Ontario, to Sault Ste. Marie, there are literally hundreds of gorgeous places to fish steelhead. Most fly-fishers will be attracted to the midsized and larger rivers that offer a bit more backcast room and water to work.

These north shore rivers and streams are wild, challenging, beautiful and pristine. Cedars and pine trees line many of them, while others are open and rocky. Few (outside of Thunder Bay) have more than a handful of cottages or homes on their banks. Many have limited access to the upper reaches outside of small game trails. On the most remote rivers east of the town of Nipigon, you may not see an angler for days, or at all. It is a place of wild fish and wild water.

Some of the better rivers for numbers of fish are found within the city of Thunder Bay. The McIntyre, a medium size freestone river, snakes through the center of the city and has enough greens space (public lands) to allow a lot of angler access. Several thousand steelhead run the Mac—a large number by Lake Superior standards. Easy access and numbers of fish attract anglers, however, so being alone on the river is rare. Still, there are enough riffles, pools and runs to keep most anglers busy. Above the fishway at Lakehead University the river is much more lightly fished.

The other urban streams in Thunder Bay also see large numbers of anglers, particularly the Neebing River, which is heavily fished below a weir in the center of town. The Current River, on the east side of the city, is a large, fast-moving river that has a smaller run of steelhead, but much more elbow room. Most of the fishing is done in the pockets and pools below the Boulevard Lake fishway, with the lion’s share of fish being caught at the base of the rapids near Lake Superior.

The Jackpine, Cypress and Gravel rivers, located east of Nipigon, are standout destinations. All are accessed off the highway, and the easily reached water is quite busy during the main run. However, a little exploration upstream on these classic rivers reveals a lot of unfished water. Prepare for some rough trails and uneven walking, but the reward can be worth the effort. Some anglers pack their waders and hike well upstream, then fish their way down. A scan with Google Earth reveals many of the less easily accessed pools and runs.

A beautiful fall specimen caught by the author, on the Steel River. Note the bead hanging out of the fish’s mouth. While some purists consider them cheating, they are extremely effective, and less likely to be swallowed by the fish. (Gord Ellis)

The Steel River produces the largest fish on the north shore. The Steel, which is located near Terrace Bay, is a classic trout river in every way and pulls a substantial run of fish. In many ways it reminds me of a West Coast river. It has some huge, deep pools that hold steelhead all winter. There are long riffles and some deep runs. It is most easily fished with a fly in the early and late seasons, generally the first two weeks of April and last two weeks of May. Unlike most north shore streams, you can fish a spey rod here and not feel overarmed. Steelhead start running here early and keep coming well into June. There is accessible water off the highway, but the adventurous angler finds lesser fished areas by taking the trail up from the highway.

Anglers use boats to fish several of the north shore’s largest rivers. That does not mean you can’t fish them from shore. You just have to find your spot and work it carefully and thoroughly. The Nipigon and Michipicoten are the two largest rivers and have steelhead runs as well as resident rainbows. These larger rivers can also cough up some larger than average fish. Both these rivers are great for the spey enthusiast. Other beautiful rivers include the Mackenzie, Wolf, Black Sturgeon, Whitesand, Deadhorse, Prairie, Pancake, Baldhead and Sand.

There are also literally hundreds of smaller creeks on the north shore, nearly all of them with good runs of steelhead.

The Fishing
Many of these rivers—and the ones fly fishers gravitate to—run swift, with deep pools, runs and riffles that hold steelhead on the move. During spring, mornings are cold and the steelhead hold up in deeper pools and runs. Fishing sink-tips and egg patterns (cactus fly, yarn fly) or colored beads are the favored techniques.

Another go-to is the black Woolly Bugger in size-8 or 10. A peacock Woolly Worm with a red tail is another local favorite. In heavily pressured water, or in ultra-clear streams, a size-10 chironomid works well. Most anglers use a floating line and add some weight to the leader to get the fly down. Generally, only the largest rivers, including the Nipigon and the Michipicoten, require a sink-tip.

As the water warms and steelhead begin moving, the tailouts of pools and the heads of runs hold the most active fish. Swinging streamers, such as an Egg-Sucking Leech, Strip Leech or a nymph pattern, can be deadly. As the run winds down and the steelhead begin to drop back, anglers can really cash in. After the spawn the steelhead are extra-aggressive and lower water makes it easier to reach them with a fly. Best of all, the water is warmer at that time and these steelhead are acrobatic. A 7 or 8-weight rod covers most north shore situations.

No crowds here. Though easily accessible, you rarely encounter other anglers while fishing the North Superior tributaries. (Gord Ellis)

Timing
Timing the spring run on Superior is not difficult. As a rule, fishing the first week of May all but guarantees there will be steelhead in a river. However, the runs have been trending earlier over the past decade with the last week of April seeing the peak of the run. The spring run is about a week earlier in Thunder Bay and close to Sault Ste. Marie than on the most northern edge of coastal Superior. Early season anglers in mid-to later April find lower rivers and a lot of snow, but some very bright fish. From mid-to late May, the spawned out “drop-back” trout tend to hole up in the deeper pools and runs. In late May the coastal rivers are generally devoid of anglers and the fish are plentiful. There may be a few blackflies and mosquitoes around, but the fishing will be worth the annoyance. As a bonus, the coastal rivers may produce brook trout, including resident fish and the larger “coaster” brookies that move up from Superior to eat steelhead and sucker eggs. Not a bad incidental catch.

Thunderbay local, Cohen Lewis with a beautiful spring fish. (Cowen Lewis)

Regulations
Lake Superior steelhead populations are managed in a conservative way. The fishery is open year-round, so there is plenty of opportunity. Most anglers practice catch-and-release and it has helped the fishery immeasurably. However, there is some harvest. For the northwest coastal streams of Lake Superior, which flow from about Wawa to the Minnesota border, it’s a one-fish limit. The only variation is found on two rivers within Thunder Bay (the McIntyre and Neebing) that also have a size limit of one fish over 27 inches. On the northeast coast of Superior, east of the Pic River, the limit is two steelhead any size. There are also closures on small creeks in the northeast, and these are generally signed. You need to check the Ontario regulations whenever you fish new waters. One other thing to be aware of is some streams have weirs and falls with no fishing areas beneath them. Again, these are generally signed and marked, but a check of the regulations is always a good plan.

Gord Ellis
Gord Ellis is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, photographer and fly fishing guide from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Gord has been working as an outdoor writer since the mid-1980s, and has written several thousand features, columns, web pieces and news stories. In 2018, Gord was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Ethan Markie takes a contemplative sip of beer and watches another group of Bozeman “bros” wander into the Rocking R Bar. We’re talking art, and for the Bozeman-based artist, fishing guide and former fly shop rat, this is a day just like any other.

“I need to have the experience first, in order to get inspired to paint,” Markie says. “It might be just something as simple as the patterns witnessed on a recent trout caught and released. Sometimes it might be more complex; a whole general feeling I have about a certain river or stream that is the result of cumulative experiences on that water.”

Markie grew up in rural Connecticut, the eldest of three brothers all very close in age. The brothers lived near several small trout streams, and spent their family vacations camping, hiking and simply being outside.

“Video games were never part of our youth,” Markie said, “so we learned to entertain ourselves the old-fashioned way. Part of this included painting and the other part was exploring outside.”

It wasn’t until the avid fly angler moved to Montana that he considered an actual career in the fly-fishing industry. He worked summer seasons in Alaska while completing a degree in fish and wildlife management, and then worked in several of the area’s top fly shops. Through those changes, art has remained a consistent theme.

“I first picked up a paintbrush probably before I can even remember,” Markie said. “I guess I have always just enjoyed how a painting can turn a memory into a physical thing that can be shared with others. I paint for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I just want to make something cool and interesting. Other times it serves as a state of meditation that allows me to slow things down and re-focus on the rest of my life. But my best work has stemmed from attempts to re-create and preserve a specific experience, memory, or feeling had out on the water.”

“Time outside and on the water is the main thing that inspires my paintings,” Markie said. “You never know what small thing might spark up inspiration for a new painting. Often, the hardest part of painting is the initial idea. When I start to get stuck, I go to the river. Things usually fall into place after that, and when I have that internal drive and vivid image in my head, it is much easier to get the paint to do what I want it to do.”

As all industry people know, burnout is very real and it’s easy to lose that creative spark in the daily routine. For Markie, keeping that internal drive is all about getting outside and on the water.

“Working in the industry helps with extra exposure to the subject matter,” he said. “Guiding especially helps. Not only are you seeing trout being caught, but you also get to see the joy that brings to your guests. (Also) you notice new things when you are out on the water. Maybe it is the way the ripples on the surface reflect the sky, or a certain shade of purple you see in the rocks in the water.”

For the moment, Markie’s work bears his trademark bright colors and high contrast, focusing on trout and cold rivers. Occasionally he’ll dabble with saltwater, or a commissioned piece outside his ordinary subject matter, but at the end of the day, he returns to those same trout and rivers.

“One of the things I like most about creating art is that the painting will outlive you,” he said. “You build something that will be appreciated and viewed by people long after you die. They may not know your name—or anything else about you—but you still have a chance to make a viewer pause for an instant and feel something about your painting. For me, that is good enough. It gives you a sense of immortality that makes me feel at ease with the rest of my life. Days (when) I spend even just a little bit of time on the easel are days I feel more complete, accomplished and calm. Art does that for me.”

The best advice he’s been given was from a fellow young angler—remember to keep it fun,

“He advised that as my art grows into more of an actual business, that I keep the drive alive and never forget why I started painting in the first place—because it is fun,” Markie said. “When things get a bit stressful with deadlines, commissioned pieces, and trying too hard to come up with new ideas, I head to the river and just try to keep things fun. Remembering that helps things fall back into place.

“Knowing that my paintings are starting to spread to places other than my own house, and now all over the world, is a pretty cool feeling,” Markie said. “Strangers somewhere else are enjoying something I created in my own home. If I can continue to make that happen and spread my art all around, that would be all right by me.”

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

By the time Belize reopened in October 2020, I’d held five sets of flight tickets, the travel date having been continually pushed back by changing border closures. The summer of 2020 was, essentially, spent watching flight delays and cancelations. So, when the border finally reopened and I stepped off the plane in Belize City on October 3, I was very happy.

But the process of travel had changed. I’d taken a PCR test before leaving Montana, carrying the results with me to present during a new health screening process in Philip Goldstein International Airport. Upon arrival in Belize City, all passengers were ushered through a line for health screenings. I presented my negative test results. Had my temperature taken. Was asked details about where I was going and how long I was staying. After a successful jaunt through the health screening, then customs, and then immigration, I rechecked my bags for my in-country Tropic Air flight and took a seat on one of the many wooden benches lining the airport waiting area. I considered how grateful I was to be outside my home state of Montana.

Five of us had made the trek to El Pescador Lodge on Ambergris Caye. All but one were return guests. Ken, a retired Delta pilot and Wyoming horseman was an old-school gentleman. Old friends Mike and Bill brought humor and tales of permit adventures to the dinner table each evening. And newcomer Bryan fit right in, being promptly bitten by the tarpon bug and boating more than a dozen silver kings over the course of the week. And I was there toting cameras and, occasionally, a fly rod. Within a day, our little squad had morphed into a family. Things like that happen easily at fishing lodges.

The daily routines had changed, of course. Every morning, Dunia arrived and took our temperatures, bringing along a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. Pangas were sprayed with a disinfectant before we could climb aboard, and at dinner we were carefully spaced out, an empty seat between each angler. The tempo of the lodge had changed slightly; even here it was impossible to escape the concept that the world was different.

But despite the little details, so much remained. Mariano whipped up magical concoctions in the bar. Isa gave casting lessons on the dock, helping me conquer my tailing loop habit. Lodge manager Bruce kept everyone entertained with tales of South Africa, and he was always keen to have a drink and chat.

Like most fishing destinations, once you’re on the water it’s easy to forget the outside world, with everything turning to a blend of water, sun, and air, and little else. Boated fish are celebrated with Belikins, and cold ceviche is provided during runs between the flats. The guides, who had been without work since March, were incredibly happy to see anglers (as was the entire staff) and they put in the work for us.

And the fishery? The flats surrounding San Pedro—El Pescador has access to more than 400 square miles of them—hadn’t been fished in nearly seven months. Despite persistent tropical storms, our group made a good dent in the resident fish population, landing bonefish, tarpon, and permit throughout the week. One rainy morning Bryan boated a 100-plus pound tarpon that towed the panga around the mangroves for an hour-and-a-half before coming to hand.

Four of us extended our stay at the last minute, adding on a day on account of a morning we’d lost to wind. (That’s the excuse we gave ourselves, at least.) Newly flexible airline flight changes come in handy for anglers. In truth, none of us wanted to climb back on a plane and return to the chaos of the “real world.” We’d settled back into that magical tempo of rise-fish-drink-eat-sleep. Rinse. Repeat. In good company, there’s nothing better.

After that October trip, I returned to El Pescador in January. The health screening process for incoming travelers has only become easier, and I hope to return again this summer. In a world gone mad, carving out time with like-minded anglers and breathing the salt air has become more important than ever, and somewhat safer than it was a year ago.

Jess McGlothlin
For more than fifteen years, photographer and writer Jess McGlothlin has worked in the fly-fishing industry in several countries. Her work has taken her around the globe, leading her to chase fish on six continents, and she still somehow enjoys airports. See more jessmcglothlin.com

The first thing to behold when clutching this two-volume set called A Passion For Permit, is the sheer breadth of work: combined, these two oversized and hard-bound books, which weigh about five-thousand pounds each, total 1,665 pages.

In reality, their combined weight is nine pounds. Substantial, for sure, which means you will have to sit down at a desk or in an armchair to take it all in. And you’ll want to do just that if you are serious about fly fishing for permit, whether you’re a first-timer looking for a miracle fish or a globetrotting angler taking your shots wherever this fish is found.

As you probably know, pain and suffering are part of the permit equation, but these books may take some of the mystery out of what you are doing. With chapters covering permit anatomy, permit habitat, permit food, best tides and moons for catching permit, essential equipment for permit, choosing the right fly for permit and how to present it to permit, you can head out on your first permit quest with all the intel you need for success—but it still comes down to you putting the fly right where it needs to be.

Written by Jonathan Olch and published by Wild River Press, A Passion for Permit is one of those must-have title, such as Combs’ Steelhead Fly Fishing and AJ McClane’s Game Fish of North America. While the writing won’t knock your socks off in A Passion For Permit, it’s very serviceable and you get what you came for everything you need to know to go after these fish and have a reasona-ble chance at success.

While Olch’s technical how-to/where-to chapters are immensely valuable, what we found most inter-esting are Q&A chapters with some of the best known permit anglers on the planet, including Keys guides Nathaniel Linville and Steve Huff; Belize legend Lincoln Westby; marine biologist Aaron Adams; Cuban guide Mauro Ginervri; and Australian guru Peter Morse. These are fascinating interviews and likely to be read multiple times, each reading probably providing another little overlooked dose of wisdom.

Some of us are still looking for our first permit while you freaks, whom we speak of admiringly, may have already tallied dozens of those sickle-tailed beauties. In either case A Passion for Permit should serve you well no matter where on the globe you choose to chase this most addictive sport-fish. Our suggestion: pull out that wallet and pony-up. A Passion For Permit (two-volume set) $150
—the editors

The author’s first brackish waterpike, taken just a few miles from Stockholm, Sweden, December 2020.

As an author, traveler and professional fly-fishing guide, I had to cancel most of my 2020 projects, with only a curtailed guide season in Iceland surviving the global lockdown. But out of adversity comes opportunity—per ardua ad astra, as the Romans used to say.

I’d spent most of the first two months of the lockdown at home, becoming increasingly frustrated with imprisonment, while dutifully trying to follow social distancing recommendations. When May arrived I knew two things: If I wanted to fish, I needed to focus on local waters; at that time of the year, the pike were just coming off the spawn. I made a few trips to the west side of the Czech Republic, near the German border, to try and catch a monster on a fly. That trip made 2020 my Year Of The Pike, culminating with a remarkable December day in Sweden when I caught eight big pike in the brackish archipelago waters not far from Stockholm.

We were lucky—in other years those very waters were frozen in December. Instead, we enjoyed an idyllic day fishing some of the best water that Sweden offers. And my conclusion after this unexpected year pursuing these aggressive predators? Pike are the same no matter where you find them—thrilling to catch in shallow water, beautiful to study, and all capable of leaving a nasty cut with their razor-sharp teeth. I learned the latter at my own expense on several occasions. Here are some takeaways from 2020, my Year of The Pike.

Pine Lake in western Bohemia (Czech Republic) June 2020. This clear water with shallow bays and channels is a prime spot for big northerns, especially during the early season when water temperatures are cool.

Weather
All fish are affected by changing weather conditions. Depending on the weather, some species feed more aggressively while others make our lives more difficult, as they basically shut their mouths no matter what your throw at them.

In my experience most pike are caught as atmospheric pressure drops before storms and other unsettled weather. During summer, if I wake up after the weather has been stable and hot for a long time and find that it’s a cloudy or rainy day, that’s definitely the right morning to go off for pike! When you encounter that situation, drop everything and get the fishing gear out. But don’t overlook the sunny days if that is the only time you have to fish—pike will still feed in bright light, especially early or late in the season when water temperatures are low. Keep in mind that pike sense weather changes many hours before we do, so they can “come on” at unexpected times.

You might hook a pike anytime during the day, but early mornings and evenings are best. Hitting a day when pike feed from dawn to dusk is rare, but they do happen. You’ll need luck on your side to have that happen and the only way to increase your odds is to be on the water as often as you can.

The author hoists her personal best 2020 pike, a 41-incher that she landed on a local lake, just a few kilometers from her house in the Czech Republic.

Right Place
Many fly fishers prefer to target pike in rivers. I prefer lakes with clear water, especially in weedy areas, such as bays and flats. These are the spots where pike hold during the summer months. Often, they relax in deeper holes behind, for example, a drop-off or a fallen tree or some other piece of structure that provides security. When the weather changes, or the light is low, these fish move out of deeper water and into feeding areas to chase baitfish. You can find them in surprisingly shallow water, even during fall and winter.

When targeting pike, it’s always good to cast your fly to a drop-off and swim it back towards a shallow area, which mimics what a real baitfish would do, while teasing any pike that may be holding in deeper water. Never pass a weedy area, fallen trees, or big rocks without covering them thoroughly. If the fish are really in feeding mode, they’ll be aggressive and it shouldn’t not take long to find out if you are in the right spot. For that reason, if you don’t have any action right away, don’t stick around—go find some fish in hunting mode.

I caught my final pike of 2020 in Sweden as the sun fell and a cold wind blew. I fished from a boat, covering a shallow area where thin, dying reeds barely poked out of the water. There were some open areas between the reeds, some no bigger than the size of a car. It was tricky casting, but I covered those open areas at last light, got a great hit, and watched a pike explode from the reeds. Five minutes later I was holding my catch, wearing a huge smile, knowing that 2020 hadn’t been a waste.

No serious pike angler lets a little toothy cut get in the way of success. Bring the patch kit and keep throwing.

Season
The pike season in Europe varies from country to country. Many fisheries do not allow fishing for pike during the spring and summer months. However, the best chances to get a trophy pike on the fly (at least in the Czech Republic) are after the spawn in May and June, and late in the season shortly before the water is covered with ice. During late fall the baitfish move into deeper parts of rivers and lakes and the pike jump at the chance to gain that last bit of weight before the winter months arrive.

Pacchiarini’s Wiggletail is a winner no matter where it’s thrown. The author’s Year Of Pike woolen’t have been as successful if she hadn’t included several of these patterns in her arsenal.

Best Setup for Pike
Eight-to 10-weight rods rigged with intermediate lines and heavy heads are the ideal choices for pike. My favorite fly line for pike fishing is definitely RIO’s InTouch Pike/Musky as it smoothly loads 11-inch long flies without any problem. I consider intermediate fly lines as the most versatile for pike fishing, but there are situations when sinking or floating lines serve best. In Sweden, where we were fishing from a boat and casting towards drop-offs, the depth quickly fell to several meters. To get our flies to the bottom, where pike are usually waiting, we used Type 5 sinktips and flies with foam heads, which kept those offerings just above any snags.

Pike have lots of sharp teeth and are difficult on gear. If you use an insufficient leader you may reel in, find your fly missing and the leader bitten clean through. To combat those teeth I sometimes use a 70-pound mono tippet looped straight to my fly line. On other occasions I use a tapered leader with a 20-inch section of wire. To be sure you don’t lose a trophy pike, I strongly recommend using a piece of fluorocarbon connected to Trace Wire.

Another look at a beastly pike.

The Killer Flies
Pike are ambush predators, so a good silhouette is key to success. These fish must see your fly against the sky. Usually, pike will feed on anything with great movement, but it helps if your fly emits sound—pike can easily sense vibrations in the water.

We all want to catch big pike and big pike definitely feed on big baitfish. When hunting for these fish I definitely use big flies, up to 10 or 11-inches long. If you want to catch big pike, don’t waste your time with a minnow on the end of your line. You’ve got to go big. I prefer flashy flies with lots of movement. I like Dougie’s Sparkler (silver); my absolute favorite—and the fly I would use if I could only fish one—is the Pike Tube (fire tiger). Both are available from Fulling Mill.

In clean water I like to use bright colors. In dirty water I like silver colored flies that imitate roach and hot green/orange flies to imitate perch. To cover your bases, fill up your fly boxes with lots of Wiggletails. And don’t forget some poppers for those memorable summer evenings.

Good luck. I guarantee a huge pike is out there with your name on it!

Katka Svagrova
Growing up in a fly fishing family, Katka has been casting a fly rod since the ag