Archives

Fishy Tales Archives - FFI Magazine

A friend lost a fly box on the Crowsnest River. It slipped out of an open vest pocket. We never knew where or when. All we knew was it was gone. I searched down one side while Richard splashed across and searched down the other until his progress was halted where the river rushed up against a rock wall. He waived me off, and pointed upstream, signaling I should meet him back where we started.

“This sucks,” he said, wading out. “All my Stealth Caddises were in there.”

His first trip to Alberta wasn’t off to the best start. Crap weather and reluctant rainbows made his few days on the Bow near Calgary underwhelming, so this morning on the two-hour drive south I assured him that the Crowsnest would be different. But now I imagined the box—my gift of a clear Orvis full of perfect little hand ties—spinning in eddies and bumping off boulders, eventually tumbling over Lundbreck Falls a few kilometers downstream. There are some big trout below those falls. At dusk they start looking up for caddisflies that the size-16 Stealth Caddis matches perfectly in dark waters.

Now he didn’t have any. And that’s where we were headed.

Smaller and wilder than the Bow, the Crowsnest flows east along Highway 3 in southwestern Alberta, until it joins the Oldman River northeast of the village of Cowley. It’s a walk and wade dream river that fishes best late June through early autumn. In July I like to pitch my tent at Lundbreck Falls. Above the falls, the Crow is primarily a rainbow fishery, boasting 1,500 hundred trout per mile; below, you’ll find browns too. Fifteen-inch fish are typical here, but don’t be surprised when a 22-incher stretches your net.

For me, the Crowsnest is a welcome retreat, its caddis hatch a refuge from the lingering stuffiness of fly fishing. Sometimes I just want to spend a week wet wading knowing I’m gonna get ’em, and sipping the beer I stashed in the shallows for the walk back. Each day I can do something different, or nothing at all. Because every night around 9 p.m., I can walk down to the river and catch big trout on little caddis patterns. It doesn’t matter if my casting’s a bit off, or if I don’t know the name of the bugs they’re biting. There doesn’t have to be anything technical about it. I don’t want to be the Friday fly shop hero, telling everyone what they just missed. I just want to drink a beer and catch a few trout.

There’s a midstream rock near the campsite, my twilight perch every trip. Sitting there at dusk I can see them, big snouts emerging from the choppy water. Gently lay 5X just above them, and watch the little black speck bob along until someone eats it. As the light leaves I cast blind, and strip back once, twice, three times. The line often tightens before the third strip. There in the dark, my reel will chatter while I wedge my boots between slick rocks.

This is tricky. Sometimes I’ll bruise a knee. Or fall in. I lost a hat once, which I found the next morning a few hundred feet downstream. But never a fly box. Near midnight I’ll walk back to camp, sipping one of those Big Rock Traditional Ales I stashed in the cool shallows. My neighbors are long asleep. I’ll sit at a picnic table in the perfect darkness and listen intently to nothing.

Tonight, Richard’s first on the Crow, our headlamps illuminate rough caddis tied to replace lost ones. It’s Saturday and the campground is full. We hear the kids giggling from the trails below camp, and know that the trout won’t be looking up for a while. Later, with a handful of ragged wraps of elk hair and dubbing, we shuffle through the currents until we find a spot that fits our feet.

We false cast with eyes closed and heads bowed so the bill of our caps shield errant hooks. Those ugly little flies land up there in the chop, then float towards us until something big stops them.

After a dozen of these moments, I’ll mention open pockets and unappreciated gifts. Richard will reply that good gifts are worth sharing.

“Maybe someone will find it,” he’ll say, the day’s frustrations tempered by hot fishing on a warm summer night.

We’ll never know if one of those kids playing below the campsite will find that box intact, and learn to snug a clinch knot up against one of those perfectly tied little flies. And, then, one night years later, seeking refuge from a bright and busy world, close her eyes and cast upriver into the darkness below Lundbreck Falls.

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

As a result of Covid-19, Alaska’s overall tourism, including angling traffic, dropped dramatically in 2020. The Farm Lodge, where I have fished five out of the past six years, felt the pain; the lodge didn’t open for guests until July, and even after opening it never saw more than 80 percent of its regular bookings. By mid-September, with cold weather moving in and the birch trees already turning to a golden hue, the last of the guests were gone.

            The Farm Lodge has been my base of fishing and photography excursions around the Bristol Bay drainage, and a sort of home-away-from-home. In previous years I fished a lot of water in and around Katmai National Park and Preserve, and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Most of my visits have been in August, which is a great month for fishing the area, a time when rivers are full of sockeye salmon. At that time rainbow trout and Dolly Varden have moved out of the lakes and into the rivers to gorge on protein-rich salmon eggs and carcasses, a result of the spawning and dying of those sockeye.

            This year I was visiting alone, and in September, working on a book of essays about some of the waters in the Bristol Bay drainage and the native fish that inhabit them. On this particular day the weather had turned, bringing in wind and rain, and threatening our plans. Around 9 a.m., after a hearty lodge breakfast, we departed the village of Port Alsworth with Glen Alsworth, Jr., lodge manager and grandson of the legendary aviator “Babe” Alsworth (after whom the village is named). He flew our Cessna 206 float plane. His teenage son Caleb (a high school senior taking the day off from school) joined us, along with Jeff Duck (a guide at the lodge).

            Our flight took us south out of Lake Clark National Park, across Lake Iliamna, and down into Katmai National Preserve.

            We flew low over a river that we’d planned to fish. However, one glance down made it clear that it wasn’t worth landing. A couple nights of hard rain had blown out the river. The swirl of mud emptying into the lake at the river mouth was the first clue. A quick circle over the trees upstream revealed a gushing river overrunning its banks.

            So Glen adjusted his plans on the fly—a benefit of four decades of accumulated knowledge, and also of having myriad options. We continued down the lake to another river. Although it was too small for four anglers to wade upstream, it would provide good casting along the lakeshore near the river mouth. From the air, the river appeared to be in better shape, with no signs of mud. Glen circled once then brought the plane down onto the lake just around a point. We taxied back toward the river mouth with hopes of enticing a few patrolling lake trout, Dolly Varden char, or Katmai-sized rainbows. As we approached, I spotted two river otters bobbing and diving near the shore. I hadn’t seen an otter in years, so it was a delightful sight. It was also a potentially promising one, as the otters were unlikely to be in the area if there wasn’t a plentiful food source. Unfortunately, as soon as we got the plane’s pontoons tucked against the shore a stiff wind picked up from a bad angle, making it unsafe to leave the plane parked there. We took just a minute to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves of the morning coffee, then loaded up and took off again.

            Several minutes later, we came in for a landing at the outlet of Hammersly Lake, next to the head of American Creek. Born and raised in Port Alsworth, Glen has spent his whole life fishing the Bristol Bay drainage. Nonetheless, it had been a while since he’d stopped at American Creek—not because it doesn’t offer excellent fishing, but because the fishing is so good that the river is rarely free of other anglers. Like most fly-fishers, Glen prefers to have a good stretch of river to himself and his friends or clients. While that’s getting harder to achieve, even in Alaska, he’s proven quite adept at it over the years. On this occasion, there wasn’t a boat or plane in sight.

            We landed into the wind, turned, and taxied back toward the northeastern corner of Hammersly Lake. Jeff and Caleb hopped into the water and helped tie the plane to shore, nose outward. With the wind blowing straight in, there was little danger leaving it there for the day. By this point, we were eager to fish. Huddling against the shoreline brush, with our backs to the cold wind, we rigged our rods as quickly as our chilly fingers allowed. I went with my favorite for Bristol Bay waters: a heavy #4 Egg-Sucking Leech with a hot pink, chenille head wrapped around dumbbell eyes; a black chenille body with black hackle and red wire; and an extra-thick marabou tail. It was my variation of the original ESL and had proven itself over time for rainbows and Dollies when I’d fished for them in August.

            Flies tied on, we headed toward the fishing. Walking the gravel shoreline between water and brush, we skirted the last hundred yards of lakeshore to the river mouth, and started downstream. A low bluff rose on each side of us. Thick shoulder-high brush lined the streambank, and further up the bluff a few small spruce trees stuck their noses above shoulder level. Beyond a few yards on each side of the river, however, the landscape was mostly barren of trees—or of anything growing taller than a few inches above the thin windswept soil. Moss lined the slopes, along with low blueberry bushes bearing a few remaining uneaten berries shriveled and squishy from nights of frost. The frequency of anglers had yielded a little path through the streamside brush. We made occasional use of the trail—booby-trapped though it was with large piles of blueberry-laden bear dung. Mostly we slowly waded our way downstream looking for signs of trout. Though there were stretches of swift current that made for challenging wading amid slick rocks, and a few pools of slower water rising above the level of our waders, for the most part the river was quite wadable and I rarely bothered pulling out my wading staff.

            For the first several bends, none of our flies drew even a hint of a strike. Instead of battling rainbow trout fattened on salmon eggs and salmon flesh, we battled the bitter blustering wind. Hoping to find more productive water further downstream, maybe in the pools of salmon carcasses we’d spotted from the air, we cut up and over a corner of the bluff. From the higher vantage point, Glen spotted a dark shadow dart across the current. He offered me first shot at it, but I took out my camera instead and sent him, hoping for a video of him hooking a monstrous rainbow. He worked down through the brush to the shore and took several casts to the area where the shadow had moved.

            No takes. No more sign of shadows. I snapped a few photos, and then joined the others in the water and we continued working our way downriver.

            We worked another hundred yards and two bends in the river before Glen had his first strike. He was drifting his orange flesh fly through soft water, in a deeper stretch below a rip. Oddly, the hit came not as he drifted the fly downstream—imitating the natural drift of salmon flesh—but as he stripped the line slowly back in. It was a soft hit that missed the hook. But he soon had a second hit, and a third, all light taps on the retrieve.

            I looked around again, trying to read the river and understand why the fish might be hitting in this particular spot. The sockeye salmon that draw trout out of the lakes and into the river were gone. Or, rather, the living sockeye were gone. What Glen spotted flying over, however, were the carcasses of hundreds of spent salmon in eddies and backwaters near the banks. And dead salmon meant dead salmon flesh floating downriver: an easy river mouthful for a hungry trout. Glen had tied on a gaudy orange pattern. And the trout liked it.

            The first fish Glen landed was a smallish rainbow, only 15 inches or so. It would prove to be the smallest fish of the day. His second fish, still in the same hole, was an absolute football, rippling with fat reserves, and muscular enough to put a serious bend in his rod. I didn’t get a good look at his third fish because soon after he hooked it I got busy snipping off my Egg-Sucking Leech and tying on one of my own flesh flies: a body of hot purple zonker strip, two pink beads, and some softer pink marabou wrapped like hackle around a 4X long #4 hook.

            Within minutes I was fighting my first bow of day: another football-shaped mass of fat and muscle that had more the girth of a 28-inch fish than the 20 to 21 inches it actually measured. And I was wondering what foolishness had kept me from imitating Glen’s fly selection from the very start.

            American Creek is one of Bristol Bay’s remarkable rivers. It sits in the upper portion of the Naknek drainage, which also includes the famous Brooks Camp, where fat bears catch salmon out of the air as they leap the Brooks River falls. American starts at the outlet of Hammersly Lake, at an elevation of 1,599 feet, making it not only the highest point I’ve fished in Katmai, but likely the highest elevation I’ve fished anywhere in the presence of spawning—or spawned out—salmon. It flows some 30 miles total, starting north, then turning east where it wanders through the hills just south of Nonvianuk Lake, before veering south to run its final 10 miles into Lake Coville. Coville drains back toward the east (temporarily moving away from Bristol Bay) into Lake Grosvenor which eventually drains down toward Naknek Lake. The only access to American Creek is by boat or float plane at either end of its 30-mile run.

            Alsworth didn’t have American Creek in mind for a late summer/early fall trip but, for a couple years, he’d tried to get me to come in September, his favorite season. Although the weather could get sketchy, the fish would be as fat and healthy as they’d been all year. Dolly Varden char, even at their dullest, are a stunningly beautiful fish, sides dotted with rich, magenta pearls. During fall they are particularly bright and breathtaking, with red bellies that rival those found on a male eastern brook trout’s, and lips so vivid orangish-yellow that you might think they got into their mother’s lipstick. So after reading up about the safest way to fly a commercial airline during a pandemic, I’d taken the leap and purchased plane tickets.

            And there I was out casting in a well-known Katmai river, with the notorious September weather tying wind knots that actually were the result of wind. But even when the sky opened up and started dumping a heavy rain on us for a quarter of an hour, I was quite happy. The fish were coming one after another. We mostly found them congregating in big pods in long patches of soft water every hundred yards or so, but I also hooked into a few in the small pockets behind rocks or against the shore.

           The downpour didn’t last long. At some point, the rain stopped altogether. The wind died down. Sun broke through for a glorious hour.

            Not that rain and wind bothered me too much when I was catching footballs. Unlike Glen, who continued to hook fish on the retrieve—and probably had three times as many hookups as I did, including three fish that broke him off—I couldn’t get past the instinct to drift my flies like natural flesh, and that seemed to work pretty well also. Although it was seriously beat up by the end of the afternoon, I never took off the flesh fly that hooked my first fish of the day.

            Glen knows me well. About 30 minutes before we actually needed to fly back to the lodge in time for dinner, he gave me the “five-minute” warning. I made my final cast, which took me at least another 50 yards downriver and 25 or so minutes to complete. Then we cut back across a bluff on a straight line toward the parked plane. Although one of the fish that broke Glen off was a Dolly Varden, the rest of the day it was all rainbows for all of us. I would have enjoyed seeing those magenta pearls, but I didn’t complain about the amazing rainbow fishing. (A couple days later in a different Bristol Bay river, on another fly-out with Glen—this time accompanied by my friend Branden, another of Glen’s Farm Lodge guides—I was able to hook a fair share of Dollies in their fall colors, as well as some bright red silver salmon.)

            As we flew back across the northern edge of Katmai National Preserve, above the myriad lakes and waterways just south of Iliamna, Glen said, “There’s the biggest rainbow of the day.”

            Having grown used to Glen’s well-trained and very useful ability to spot fish in a river from two hundred feet in the sky, I looked down, trying to spot the monster rainbow he was talking about. It must have been big, I thought, if it was the biggest of the day. “Where?” I asked, secretly hoping he might land and give me a chance to cast.

            “Up there,” Glen said. I lifted my eyes from the lake to the eastern horizon. The clouds to the west had opened up again, allowing shafts of sunlight to burst through and carve into the mist and rain still falling in the mountains. To our right as we flew north, a big rainbow arced across the sky. I had to concede. Glen was right about its superlative size and splendid coloration—the best rainbow of the day.

This lucky ingrate, in my salt-stained eyes, had landed the fish of a lifetime. I’d just returned from my first epic saltwater foray on the edge of a barrier reef, via Southwater Caye, Belize. We’d spent a week sight casting under azure skies and exploring flats, mangrove-lined lagoons, and the outer atolls of Lighthouse Reef. We burned evenings while huddled around a thatch-roofed shack, relating the day’s events, with palms swinging overhead in the breeze. An occasional ray, porpoise or tarpon stirred up bioluminescent algae in the bay. Permit had eluded me, which I rather expected, but what really stuck in my craw was a missed opportunity to catch a big barracuda on the fly. As I interrogated that fellow angler from my San Pedro barstool, he inquired quizzically. “Wow, you’re really interested in barracuda fishing?”

Barracuda often swim where there’s unique scenery, whether that’s a beautiful coral head, a remote sand flat, or an interested bystander.

              “Yes, sir, I am,” I said. “I’ve caught tarpon and bonefish on this trip and it has been awesome, but I have been shut out on barracuda. That is my primary goal, to catch one like yours.”

              As we yammered over a couple of chilled Belikins, his eyes lit up as he related details of the encounter. Turns out, his original, solemn report belied reality: He was ecstatic to catch that ‘cuda. Likely, some other lodge guests downplayed the experience, and filed that barracuda away as bycatch, meaning wasted time in their pursuit of a Grand Slam.

              That exchange happened 20 years ago. The fly-fishing court of opinion hadn’t accepted the lowly barracuda as a worthy quarry. Today, anglers posing with barracuda grace the covers of fishing magazines and fill up Instagram feeds. Rightfully so—this apex predator possesses all the admirable qualities of a premier fly-rod gamefish. For example, barracuda occur in beautiful, intriguing habitats and present sight-fishing opportunities, playing to the hunter in all of us. The take and ensuing fight from a ‘cuda is often spectacular and tackle testing. Barracuda have broken my rods, snapped fly lines, and left me quivering in the wake of heartbreak. Additionally, barracuda are a highly successful species and can be found in subtropical oceans worldwide.

             On February 14, 2013, Thomas Gibson, of Houston, Texas, caught a 102-pound barracuda while trolling for tarpon near the mouth of the Cuanza River in Angola. While Gibson’s chance encounter is typical of tangles with the largest barracuda, fly anglers looking to specifically target big beasts would do well to begin the hunt off the beaten path. Having the capability to access less-pressured flats, cuts, and reefs greatly improves your odds of hooking a granddaddy. Consider packing a standup paddleboard (SUP) on your next foray to the Yucatan, Belize, or the Bahamas. These days, SUPS are highly transportable and can be reduced to the size of a carry-on, complete with a sand spear/push pole combo to “park” the SUP on flats for a final pursuit on foot. Savvy anglers pack snorkel gear on their SUP for scouting reefs and drop-offs, where big barracuda tend to hang out between tides.

You can catch and eat barracuda but you better be careful if you do so. Some barracuda carry heavy toxins. Most anglers choose to release these unique predators.

             Barracuda are both scavenger and predator. While the biggest are often found around reef edges in deeper water, these same fish venture onto the flats to hunt, particularly on big tides and full moons. When a large barracuda is spotted on a bonefish flat, utilize the element of surprise by landing the fly ahead of and to the side of the fish. Once your fly hits the water, give it a hard yank to garner the fish’s attention. That’s when the game of cat-and-mouse begins. Strip fast to imitate fleeing prey, set with a hard strip, and do your best to clear the line ahead of a reel-screaming run.

             Easier said than done, as I learned on a recent foray to Exuma, Bahamas, when I stumbled upon pay dirt in the form of an inland lagoon. That crystalline pond belonged to a shadowy figure patrolling in a figure-eight pattern. Under a high sun, the skinny water warranted a cautious approach. I slinked into position behind the fish and fired a cast. That ‘cuda immediately took interest and carefully stalked the fly. I stripped frantically and it was like a switch flipped in that fish—all but my leader was in a heap near my feet when the speeding ‘cuda grabbed the fly. That fishes’ speed outpaced my attempt to clear the line and I knew I was doomed. A loop of line wrapped around my reel and with a loud “snap” the fish went skipping across the lagoon with my entire shooting head in tow, leaving me despondent, and a fly line poorer.

              To fish barracuda, you don’t need elaborate gear or flies. Yak-hair streamers, four-to eight-inches long and armed with a trailer hook, are my go-to flies. An 8, 9 or 10-weight rod and a floating line or intermediate sinking line cover the bases while fishing the flats and cuts. For a leader, I use a loop-to-loop connection with 40 or 50-pound fluorocarbon and an 18-inch piece of the heaviest wire I can get away with. I’ve had a big barracuda gnaw through 30-pound, so 40-pound is a safer bet. In areas where fish have not been pressured, I think single-strand stainless steel, like shark anglers rely on, might be the way to go.

Big ‘cuda stalk the flats, looking for needlefish and bones. Take the author’s advice and the next time you see one of these beasts, give it a throw—you’ll be amazed at how fast these fish travel over a flat, and you’ll be equally impressed by that backing tearing off your reel.

            Barracuda are unpredictable and a chance to cast at one can occur anytime, anywhere. The biggest barracuda I’ve ever hooked was on that trip to Exuma. We were en route to a flat one afternoon when the sight of terns bombing into the water interrupted our commute. Upon investigation, the feeding frenzy was composed of small jacks. When the mayhem subsided, a scavenging beast arrived to clean up the scraps.

            Fortunately, I had a 9-weight rod, pre-rigged with wire. To mimic a floundering sardina, I plucked a five-inch long, red and white articulated fly from the box and threw at the fish. Without hesitation, that ‘cuda ate. I held on for a couple blistering runs. Unfortunately, when I tried to swing that fish to the stern the wire broke and the fish swam away to the depths.

            I took solace in having hooked a big barracuda and enjoyed a wild ride. Barracuda are always on my brain and one day, I’m hoping the pendulum swings my way.

COVER & FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAT FORD

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner

In June, the waters surrounding Nantucket are teeming with Striped Bass, but these fish rarely make things easy on the angler. Perhaps it’s the variety of habitats in which they feed that makes them so elusive. Chasing stripers with a fly rod is a full-on addiction. To get your fix, you tend to find yourself in many unique environments and moments.

It’s 3am, and I’m wading a salt creek under a new moon on this little island 30 miles offshore. The audible siren of Bass slurping sand eels produces a full-body buzz, persuading me to venture just a little deeper. Anticipation is at an all-time high and I start to giggle. A 35-year-old man giggling in the dead of night, waist deep in a salty creek is quite liberating. My line tightens and the giggles turn into a howl and I am sure if any unsuspecting homeowner is awake, they have just checked the locks on their doors. This particular fish and I only get to know each other for about 7 seconds before she decides to spit the fly – or more likely I failed to set the hook properly. I take a seat on the bank and try to calmly tie on another fly while the feeding frenzy ramps up. Sometimes it helps to slow things down.

When the sun comes up it’s time to engage your eyes and spot this slippery adversary. The pursuit of stripers on the flats is all-encompassing. Your mind is completely blank – no worries or unwanted thoughts – just laser focus looking through the water for that moving shadow. Time flows by and then seemingly out of nowhere: target acquired. Laying the trusty clouser in their path and bringing it to life with a slow, continuous strip, you see the leader of the pack change course to inspect. No giggling here: just full commitment to keeping composure in the moment. Setting the hook on a Bass in skinny water opens the door to immediate chaos. Without the ability to dive, flats Bass rip off line in search of deeper water. Unlike my time in the salt creeks, this fish stays buttoned and we complete our full song and dance. I release the sea lice covered fish and check my fly. It’s a little battered, but so am I.

The south shore of the island is a magical place to connect with a Bass, but at times you feel humbled by the force of the ocean. A while back, I remember my buddy saying, “You’re walking in stripers,” and at that moment I figured he had gone over his limit of beers. For years, my attempts at catching stripers in the surf from foot was dominated by repetitive cursing and disappointment. Manhandling my rod to get my fly past the breaking waves. The line wrapped around my feet. Smashing my hand on my stripping basket. Forgetting my phone in my water logged pocket. It was like a sad circus with no animals. However, I’ll never forget the morning when that first striper hydroplaned into the wash of the shorebreak and engulfed my fly. It’s a sight that cannot be properly put into words, but the image is forever imprinted on your brain. Knowing where and what to look for is key and I now know what my buddy meant.

By far the most adrenaline-filled striper fishing takes place in the rips. When 50 feet of rushing of water suddenly meets a 5 foot ocean wall – wild stuff happens. At the end of this June, we made an early outing in my friend’s boat several miles off the coast. Two Aussie friends join us and provide constant stoke and laughter. In fact, I have never met a boring Aussie and hope I never do. After an hour of running we hit our spot. I can only imagine the sheer terror of those early ship captains when they got a glimpse through the fog of raging whitewater in the middle of a calm sea. With that being said, you certainly want to know what you’re doing when fishing the rips.

With the boat in gear, treadmilling in the unforgiving current, myself and one of the Aussie’s take position at the stern and make perpendicular casts to the rip. When the fly hits the flat water, I mend the remainder of the line at my feet and point the tip of the rod towards the rip. Wham! A gaping Bass mouth inhales my squid fly almost instantly and the Aussie to my right feels the same explosion as his line goes tight. As we fight our fish we allow the boat to get sucked over the rip to even the playing field. The combo of the raging water and line peeling from the reel creates a euphoric feeling that is contagious and addicting. We land 2 keepers, take a quick photo, let them swim off, and then hit the throttle to get back in position. This is what striper fishing is all about!

Pass after pass, Bass launch out of the rip and demolish our flies. Poppers enhance the eruptions. At one point all four of us are hooked up and the fine balance between exhilaration and safety becomes clear as the boat drifts broadside through the rip. Rips are a place of constant motion and surprises in both a nautical and a fishery sense. But on this morning the Bass are lined up like a firing squad, keyed in on the squid being delivered to them by the ripping current.

After 2 hours we manage to connect with over 40 Bass and 1 monster bluefish. These stripers are healthy and several display distended bellies, probably caused by an overindulgence in squid. Although any of these keeper sized Bass would have made a proper meal, we let them all return to the water. There is nothing wrong about eating a legal Bass, but on this morning we all feel completely satiated. As I look into the big eyes of these beauties it’s hard to not reflect on their history and their future. This striper has traveled a journey of many miles and who I am to determine its end. I am just here for the pursuit, the fight, and the healthy release. Journey on my friend, and I hope to see you again.

Photography by

Alec Griswold

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

“The Lowcountry” is a term traditionally used by South Carolinians to describe the beautiful marshy coastal regions of the state. This region has long captured the hearts and minds of artists, sportsmen, and naturalists alike. With year-round fishing and hunting opportunities, it’s no surprise that many refer to the South Carolina Lowcountry as a Sportsman’s paradise.

For the fly angler, the opportunity to target tailing redfish in extremely skinny water makes this region particularly unique. While not a daily occurrence, flood tides usually occur around the top of a lunar cycle, when the tide brings water in the estuaries up and over the spartina grass-covered river banks.

With the right skiff, or wading access, an angler can stalk fish making their way through the spartina grass looking for crustaceans in a few inches of skinny water. While Louisiana and other destinations may offer more opportunities for larger redfish, South Carolina is unique in the quantity and quality of flood tide fishing that it offers anglers.

From about April through the end of October, each month South Carolina experiences a set of higher tides associated with the moon phase. When the tide rises and floods the spartina flats, hungry redfish anywhere from 15″ up to 35″+ can be found scouring the mud for crabs and baitfish

Tailing refers to how fish tip their tails above the waterline as they dig around in the mud looking for prey. It is one of the most beautiful displays of feeding fish behaviour and is the most opportune time to delicately present your fly.

Sometimes when a fish has been spotted and the angler needs to get that extra inch of reach, the captain will suggest stepping off of the skiff to chase these fish on foot. Landing a Redfish in this in-between world of land and water is a truly unique experience.

Captain Peter Lawson-Johnston is a longtime resident of Charleston, SC, photographer, naturalist, and guide at Lowcountry Premier Fly Fishing. Captain Lawson Johnston runs a 2019 Maverick HPX Skiff. Having a boat like this that is capable of floating in mere inches of water is key when targeting fish in skinny water.

Peter has captured some beautiful shots of flood tides over the years, and we encourage anyone who hasn’t already experienced this form of saltwater angling to check out his work.

Photography by

Captain Peter Lawson-Johnston

The unfortunate reality is that, for most of us, the tarpon of south Florida is not what comes to mind when considering “home waters.” Luckily, Captain Jamie Connell of Flying Fish Charters in Key West, found these fish just hanging out in his backyard while the rest of us spent the month of May sheltering-in-place.

With a wave of postponed trips and more free time than they knew what to do with, Jamie and photographer Dylan Schmitz targeted these fish on foot.

For most traveling anglers, “walking in” to a tarpon spot, as if it were a trout stream, is a rare opportunity. Leave the 5X and the dry/dropper rig in the truck—you won’t need it here.

The tarpon is known for its explosive eats and acrobatics. This backyard fish was no exception to those rules.

For the majority of tarpon hookups, the action is short-lived. These fish may spit hooks and leave fishermen simultaneously disappointed and trembling. Remember, bow to the king and stay focused ‘cause you’re in for quite a ride.

Jamie’s fish leaves a sizable hole in the slick-surfaced creek. With the tide nice and low, the tarpon had far fewer mangroves and obstacles to break off on—advantage angler.

The moment of truth. This is where a lot of tarpon are lost so it pays to play the fish carefully here and don’t get too eager to land it. Be prepared for one final run, and maybe another jump, before bringing Megalops to hand.

CHECK THEM BOTH OUT:

Photography by

Dylan Schmitz

In 1941, the acclaimed novelist Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse near her home in North Yorkshire, England. I have absolutely nothing in common with Virginia Woolf, nor do I particularly enjoy her writing. However, I’m on day 17 of salmon fishing without even touching a fish, and the rocks on the bank are starting to look pocket sized.

If it weren’t for a handful of grilse, maybe Virginia Woolf and I would have at least one thing in common.

It’s a comforting thought as I reel in the final cast after four days of salmon fishing in Quebec and New Brunswick. It’s mid July, and there are still a few months left in the season where a proper salmon might find the end of my line. At least the bass are around back home in Boston, and the next few weeks are happily occupied with the simplicity of a predatory fish and a sinking fly.

In maybe 30 days of Atlantic salmon fishing from Canada to Scotland, I’ve caught one. It was a beautiful 12 pound hen that my friend Gonzo went swimming on a November evening in Nova Scotia to net. It was the 10th day of that trip, and one of two salmon landed between my core salmon fishing friends in 2018.

Constantly battling ever decreasing salmon returns and conditions is all just part of the game. It’s an arguably masochistic enterprise, with some sullen pride being taken in the tenacity of standing in the river day after day without producing a fish. An unexplained optimism is present in all genuine fly anglers, and perhaps none more than the Atlantic salmon angler, who could be put on par with steelhead fishermen. You’ll also find an equal affinity for alcohol and tobacco in the two sects. For my salmon friends, there is never a shortage of optimism, alcohol, or tobacco products.

Come August, the conditions up north are looking bleak. We’re watching the weather daily, but the rivers are low and the salmon run looks next to impossible. By September, salmon fishing has been written off until next summer.

Boston is crawling with pop up breweries, so I met some friends at one on a Saturday afternoon. If New York hipsters were actually hipster, they’d live in Boston. A few sprinkles of rain pushed us inside at around 9pm, which is when I got a text from my housemate and salmon junkie Alec Griswold, aka Griz.

“New Brunswick is about to get a foot of rain. Big salmon push – leaving in the AM. At the Tab by tmrw night, fish Monday Tuesday, back Tuesday night late. We’re picking up Gonzo on the way.”

The same Hurricane Dorian that devastated Abaco and Grand Bahamahad made its way all the way up the coast, taking out a few jetties in the Carolinas for good measure, and was currently dumping a foot of rain on the salmon rivers of New Brunswick. The river would rise quickly, and the salmon which had been staging for the spawning run at the mouth could finally access the fine gravel beds of the upper Tabusintac River, about an hour north of the Miramichi.

My stomach dropped. It’s a well presented fly, and he knows I’ll bite. I texted colleagues to see how disruptive it would be for me to be off the grid for 3 days. I explained these were once in a lifetime conditions. The response was good.

I texted Griz back, “Can you put my laundry in the dryer? I’m going to need it.”

At this point, I’d been tapping on my phone for an unsociable amount of time and one of my friends brought this to my attention. I finished a beer and stood up shakily.

“I have to go home. I’m going to Canada in a few hours. Venmo me for this.”

The road into the Tab is a rocky one through blueberry fields and logging trails. We call in our goodbyes to anyone who might care, switch into airplane mode, and inch the truck down to the river. The first sight of it brings a big laugh of excitement in the car. It’s spilling over with rushing water and the guardian of the river says he’s seen a few salmon roll already.

We arrived at the Tab’s Big Hole Camp in time for a quick session at one of the Tab’s most productive pools. We don’t touch a fish, but the river drops a healthy six inches as we fish until dark. The next day promises the conditions we came here for.

The morning brings a perfect river height, but the water is still dark with the runoff from the Dorian dump. We start in the middle of the Tab’s beats and Griz promisingly hooks a grilse on his first pass. In the afternoon, we land a few more grilse between two and four pounds. This is great action, and to me a grilse is a salmon. Except it’s not a salmon. After two days fishing, we’ve caught 9 grilse between us. By any standards – and especially New Brunswick standards – that’s pretty epic. Add in a couple four pound sea run brook trout, and no one is complaining.

After lunch on day two, Gonzo and I are taking a beer break on the bench by the pool outside our camp. We’re watching Griz fish, giggling about his hunched over stance and intense concentration on the fly as it swings around to perpendicular. We cheers and someone says “this is like ordering room service in Paris”, as in, it’s blissfully wasteful. Here we are on a private salmon river in New Brunswick and instead of fishing, we’re sitting on the bank drinking beers.

That’s when Griz hooks up. It’s a 10 pounder, chrome fresh, and we guess it arrived in the pool perhaps at the very moment he hooked it. We’re inspired by the now clear arrival of fresh salmon. With only a few hours left of daylight before we have to make the long drive back to Boston, bags are hurriedly packed and wader straps are cinched for one last session at the Tab’s famous Home Pool.

We each tack up another grilse, but once again it’s Griz.

He swings an Ally Shrimp into the middle of the pool and lifts the rod to extreme tension.

“That felt like a fucking anchor” he says calmly as a big hen breaks the water’s surface. Everything goes completely silent. This isn’t the kind of fishing crew that offers advice mid fight. We stand and watch at a respectful distance with pits in our stomachs. The only sound that breaks the tumble of the river is the big fish’s splash as it re-enters the water on its sixth and seventh jump.

Griz only has his floating tip out of the guides now, and we can see this beautiful hen making some last attempts at returning to the main flow of the river. For no particular reason, the tension releases and the fish is off to a single “fuck” from Griz. We line up to pat him on the shoulder, which turns into some awkward chuckles, followed by some deep, wholehearted, group laughter. The trip is over, and it’s another 9 months until we might see a salmon again. But that’s salmon fishing.

What is there to say about the Bass that has not already been written, recorded, or recounted around a campfire? It is unlikely that there is another species of fish that has offered the same amount of joy, recreation, and sport to anglers around the world. In North America, largemouth & smallmouth Bass are the most popular gamefish with anglers, and for good reason.

Perhaps there is nothing more American than Bass fishing. And we don’t just mean the US, both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass widespread throughout Canada and Mexico. Their resiliency in warm and cold water habitats is perfectly adapted for the varied climate and geography found throughout the continent.

For anglers, they are a favorite if sometimes overlooked or forgotten fish. Many of us fly anglers got our start in farm or town ponds where the thrill of watching a Bass smash a popper inflicted a lifelong addiction. As the pandemic continues to keep many anglers wading in place, we’ve seen a reemergence for the love and appreciation of our local Bass fisheries.

Bigger flies do not invariably lead to bigger fish. Sizable Largemouth Bass can be tricked with flies such as this small black leech pattern or Woolly Buggers.

The downhome satisfaction of lipping a Bass on local waters is a sensation shared by anglers all over the world. This feeling has inspired generations of fly anglers to travel the world in pursuit of moments like this.

Lily Pads (Nymphaeaceae) are a great feature to look for when targeting Largemouth Bass on topwater. The plants provide protection from birds and plentiful ambush opportunities for hungry Bass.

The markings on a Smallmouth Bass can be breathtaking. While Smallmouth Bass are not quite as widely distributed as their cousins, the Largemouth Bass, they are extremely popular with anglers and provide great sport in a variety of environments.

Bassthumb: The sign of a success full day on the water

The beauty of Bass fishing is that anglers can employ a number of different tactics, presentations, and flies to attract these fish. In this game, poppers, dry flies, streamers, and even nymphs are all in play.

Don’t be afraid to mix things up. Bass fishing presents an opportunity for fly tiers to get creative and experiment with alternative patterns and hooks. (photo credits: fly skinz, and looper flies)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a moment to admire and appreciate these special fish.

Raft, drift boat, jon boat, bass boat, float tube, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, you name it. Anglers around the world access these fish in a multitude of ways, including by foot.

Heck, why not every time? 

Just make sure that you return the favor by handling these fish appropriately and keeping them wet.

Once you’ve soaked it all in, and appreciated your catch in all of its glory, it’s time to let them go to swim another day.

The next angler will appreciate it.

Perhaps one of the Bass’s most alluring qualities is the diversity of fishing methods that can be employed to catch one. Whether you like to swing weighted flies through deep cutbanks, sightfish in freshwater lakes, or throw a wooly bugger off your grandparent’s dock, Bass are the baseline for fishing locally. We should all give a nod to small and largemouth Bass for having our backs while travel is curtailed.

And this is not a phenomenon strictly reserved for those in North America. For most anglers around the world, one form of Bass or another can be found and targeted in their home waters. So whether it’s Largemouth or Smallmouth, Spotted, White, Striped, European, Rock, Rainbow, or Peacock — we strongly encourage you to get out there and reconnect with your local fish.

Photos & Anglers

Gil Greenberg

Dan Zazworsky

Cam Chioffi

A friend lost a fly box on the Crowsnest River. It slipped out of an open vest pocket. We never knew where or when. All we knew was it was gone. I searched down one side while Richard splashed across and searched down the other until his progress was halted where the river rushed up against a rock wall. He waived me off, and pointed upstream, signaling I should meet him back where we started.

“This sucks,” he said, wading out. “All my Stealth Caddises were in there.”

His first trip to Alberta wasn’t off to the best start. Crap weather and reluctant rainbows made his few days on the Bow near Calgary underwhelming, so this morning on the two-hour drive south I assured him that the Crowsnest would be different. But now I imagined the box—my gift of a clear Orvis full of perfect little hand ties—spinning in eddies and bumping off boulders, eventually tumbling over Lundbreck Falls a few kilometers downstream. There are some big trout below those falls. At dusk they start looking up for caddisflies that the size-16 Stealth Caddis matches perfectly in dark waters.

Now he didn’t have any. And that’s where we were headed.

Smaller and wilder than the Bow, the Crowsnest flows east along Highway 3 in southwestern Alberta, until it joins the Oldman River northeast of the village of Cowley. It’s a walk and wade dream river that fishes best late June through early autumn. In July I like to pitch my tent at Lundbreck Falls. Above the falls, the Crow is primarily a rainbow fishery, boasting 1,500 hundred trout per mile; below, you’ll find browns too. Fifteen-inch fish are typical here, but don’t be surprised when a 22-incher stretches your net.

For me, the Crowsnest is a welcome retreat, its caddis hatch a refuge from the lingering stuffiness of fly fishing. Sometimes I just want to spend a week wet wading knowing I’m gonna get ’em, and sipping the beer I stashed in the shallows for the walk back. Each day I can do something different, or nothing at all. Because every night around 9 p.m., I can walk down to the river and catch big trout on little caddis patterns. It doesn’t matter if my casting’s a bit off, or if I don’t know the name of the bugs they’re biting. There doesn’t have to be anything technical about it. I don’t want to be the Friday fly shop hero, telling everyone what they just missed. I just want to drink a beer and catch a few trout.

There’s a midstream rock near the campsite, my twilight perch every trip. Sitting there at dusk I can see them, big snouts emerging from the choppy water. Gently lay 5X just above them, and watch the little black speck bob along until someone eats it. As the light leaves I cast blind, and strip back once, twice, three times. The line often tightens before the third strip. There in the dark, my reel will chatter while I wedge my boots between slick rocks.

This is tricky. Sometimes I’ll bruise a knee. Or fall in. I lost a hat once, which I found the next morning a few hundred feet downstream. But never a fly box. Near midnight I’ll walk back to camp, sipping one of those Big Rock Traditional Ales I stashed in the cool shallows. My neighbors are long asleep. I’ll sit at a picnic table in the perfect darkness and listen intently to nothing.

Tonight, Richard’s first on the Crow, our headlamps illuminate rough caddis tied to replace lost ones. It’s Saturday and the campground is full. We hear the kids giggling from the trails below camp, and know that the trout won’t be looking up for a while. Later, with a handful of ragged wraps of elk hair and dubbing, we shuffle through the currents until we find a spot that fits our feet.

We false cast with eyes closed and heads bowed so the bill of our caps shield errant hooks. Those ugly little flies land up there in the chop, then float towards us until something big stops them.

After a dozen of these moments, I’ll mention open pockets and unappreciated gifts. Richard will reply that good gifts are worth sharing.

“Maybe someone will find it,” he’ll say, the day’s frustrations tempered by hot fishing on a warm summer night.

We’ll never know if one of those kids playing below the campsite will find that box intact, and learn to snug a clinch knot up against one of those perfectly tied little flies. And, then, one night years later, seeking refuge from a bright and busy world, close her eyes and cast upriver into the darkness below Lundbreck Falls.

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

As a result of Covid-19, Alaska’s overall tourism, including angling traffic, dropped dramatically in 2020. The Farm Lodge, where I have fished five out of the past six years, felt the pain; the lodge didn’t open for guests until July, and even after opening it never saw more than 80 percent of its regular bookings. By mid-September, with cold weather moving in and the birch trees already turning to a golden hue, the last of the guests were gone.

            The Farm Lodge has been my base of fishing and photography excursions around the Bristol Bay drainage, and a sort of home-away-from-home. In previous years I fished a lot of water in and around Katmai National Park and Preserve, and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Most of my visits have been in August, which is a great month for fishing the area, a time when rivers are full of sockeye salmon. At that time rainbow trout and Dolly Varden have moved out of the lakes and into the rivers to gorge on protein-rich salmon eggs and carcasses, a result of the spawning and dying of those sockeye.

            This year I was visiting alone, and in September, working on a book of essays about some of the waters in the Bristol Bay drainage and the native fish that inhabit them. On this particular day the weather had turned, bringing in wind and rain, and threatening our plans. Around 9 a.m., after a hearty lodge breakfast, we departed the village of Port Alsworth with Glen Alsworth, Jr., lodge manager and grandson of the legendary aviator “Babe” Alsworth (after whom the village is named). He flew our Cessna 206 float plane. His teenage son Caleb (a high school senior taking the day off from school) joined us, along with Jeff Duck (a guide at the lodge).

            Our flight took us south out of Lake Clark National Park, across Lake Iliamna, and down into Katmai National Preserve.

            We flew low over a river that we’d planned to fish. However, one glance down made it clear that it wasn’t worth landing. A couple nights of hard rain had blown out the river. The swirl of mud emptying into the lake at the river mouth was the first clue. A quick circle over the trees upstream revealed a gushing river overrunning its banks.

            So Glen adjusted his plans on the fly—a benefit of four decades of accumulated knowledge, and also of having myriad options. We continued down the lake to another river. Although it was too small for four anglers to wade upstream, it would provide good casting along the lakeshore near the river mouth. From the air, the river appeared to be in better shape, with no signs of mud. Glen circled once then brought the plane down onto the lake just around a point. We taxied back toward the river mouth with hopes of enticing a few patrolling lake trout, Dolly Varden char, or Katmai-sized rainbows. As we approached, I spotted two river otters bobbing and diving near the shore. I hadn’t seen an otter in years, so it was a delightful sight. It was also a potentially promising one, as the otters were unlikely to be in the area if there wasn’t a plentiful food source. Unfortunately, as soon as we got the plane’s pontoons tucked against the shore a stiff wind picked up from a bad angle, making it unsafe to leave the plane parked there. We took just a minute to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves of the morning coffee, then loaded up and took off again.

            Several minutes later, we came in for a landing at the outlet of Hammersly Lake, next to the head of American Creek. Born and raised in Port Alsworth, Glen has spent his whole life fishing the Bristol Bay drainage. Nonetheless, it had been a while since he’d stopped at American Creek—not because it doesn’t offer excellent fishing, but because the fishing is so good that the river is rarely free of other anglers. Like most fly-fishers, Glen prefers to have a good stretch of river to himself and his friends or clients. While that’s getting harder to achieve, even in Alaska, he’s proven quite adept at it over the years. On this occasion, there wasn’t a boat or plane in sight.

            We landed into the wind, turned, and taxied back toward the northeastern corner of Hammersly Lake. Jeff and Caleb hopped into the water and helped tie the plane to shore, nose outward. With the wind blowing straight in, there was little danger leaving it there for the day. By this point, we were eager to fish. Huddling against the shoreline brush, with our backs to the cold wind, we rigged our rods as quickly as our chilly fingers allowed. I went with my favorite for Bristol Bay waters: a heavy #4 Egg-Sucking Leech with a hot pink, chenille head wrapped around dumbbell eyes; a black chenille body with black hackle and red wire; and an extra-thick marabou tail. It was my variation of the original ESL and had proven itself over time for rainbows and Dollies when I’d fished for them in August.

            Flies tied on, we headed toward the fishing. Walking the gravel shoreline between water and brush, we skirted the last hundred yards of lakeshore to the river mouth, and started downstream. A low bluff rose on each side of us. Thick shoulder-high brush lined the streambank, and further up the bluff a few small spruce trees stuck their noses above shoulder level. Beyond a few yards on each side of the river, however, the landscape was mostly barren of trees—or of anything growing taller than a few inches above the thin windswept soil. Moss lined the slopes, along with low blueberry bushes bearing a few remaining uneaten berries shriveled and squishy from nights of frost. The frequency of anglers had yielded a little path through the streamside brush. We made occasional use of the trail—booby-trapped though it was with large piles of blueberry-laden bear dung. Mostly we slowly waded our way downstream looking for signs of trout. Though there were stretches of swift current that made for challenging wading amid slick rocks, and a few pools of slower water rising above the level of our waders, for the most part the river was quite wadable and I rarely bothered pulling out my wading staff.

            For the first several bends, none of our flies drew even a hint of a strike. Instead of battling rainbow trout fattened on salmon eggs and salmon flesh, we battled the bitter blustering wind. Hoping to find more productive water further downstream, maybe in the pools of salmon carcasses we’d spotted from the air, we cut up and over a corner of the bluff. From the higher vantage point, Glen spotted a dark shadow dart across the current. He offered me first shot at it, but I took out my camera instead and sent him, hoping for a video of him hooking a monstrous rainbow. He worked down through the brush to the shore and took several casts to the area where the shadow had moved.

            No takes. No more sign of shadows. I snapped a few photos, and then joined the others in the water and we continued working our way downriver.

            We worked another hundred yards and two bends in the river before Glen had his first strike. He was drifting his orange flesh fly through soft water, in a deeper stretch below a rip. Oddly, the hit came not as he drifted the fly downstream—imitating the natural drift of salmon flesh—but as he stripped the line slowly back in. It was a soft hit that missed the hook. But he soon had a second hit, and a third, all light taps on the retrieve.

            I looked around again, trying to read the river and understand why the fish might be hitting in this particular spot. The sockeye salmon that draw trout out of the lakes and into the river were gone. Or, rather, the living sockeye were gone. What Glen spotted flying over, however, were the carcasses of hundreds of spent salmon in eddies and backwaters near the banks. And dead salmon meant dead salmon flesh floating downriver: an easy river mouthful for a hungry trout. Glen had tied on a gaudy orange pattern. And the trout liked it.

            The first fish Glen landed was a smallish rainbow, only 15 inches or so. It would prove to be the smallest fish of the day. His second fish, still in the same hole, was an absolute football, rippling with fat reserves, and muscular enough to put a serious bend in his rod. I didn’t get a good look at his third fish because soon after he hooked it I got busy snipping off my Egg-Sucking Leech and tying on one of my own flesh flies: a body of hot purple zonker strip, two pink beads, and some softer pink marabou wrapped like hackle around a 4X long #4 hook.

            Within minutes I was fighting my first bow of day: another football-shaped mass of fat and muscle that had more the girth of a 28-inch fish than the 20 to 21 inches it actually measured. And I was wondering what foolishness had kept me from imitating Glen’s fly selection from the very start.

            American Creek is one of Bristol Bay’s remarkable rivers. It sits in the upper portion of the Naknek drainage, which also includes the famous Brooks Camp, where fat bears catch salmon out of the air as they leap the Brooks River falls. American starts at the outlet of Hammersly Lake, at an elevation of 1,599 feet, making it not only the highest point I’ve fished in Katmai, but likely the highest elevation I’ve fished anywhere in the presence of spawning—or spawned out—salmon. It flows some 30 miles total, starting north, then turning east where it wanders through the hills just south of Nonvianuk Lake, before veering south to run its final 10 miles into Lake Coville. Coville drains back toward the east (temporarily moving away from Bristol Bay) into Lake Grosvenor which eventually drains down toward Naknek Lake. The only access to American Creek is by boat or float plane at either end of its 30-mile run.

            Alsworth didn’t have American Creek in mind for a late summer/early fall trip but, for a couple years, he’d tried to get me to come in September, his favorite season. Although the weather could get sketchy, the fish would be as fat and healthy as they’d been all year. Dolly Varden char, even at their dullest, are a stunningly beautiful fish, sides dotted with rich, magenta pearls. During fall they are particularly bright and breathtaking, with red bellies that rival those found on a male eastern brook trout’s, and lips so vivid orangish-yellow that you might think they got into their mother’s lipstick. So after reading up about the safest way to fly a commercial airline during a pandemic, I’d taken the leap and purchased plane tickets.

            And there I was out casting in a well-known Katmai river, with the notorious September weather tying wind knots that actually were the result of wind. But even when the sky opened up and started dumping a heavy rain on us for a quarter of an hour, I was quite happy. The fish were coming one after another. We mostly found them congregating in big pods in long patches of soft water every hundred yards or so, but I also hooked into a few in the small pockets behind rocks or against the shore.

           The downpour didn’t last long. At some point, the rain stopped altogether. The wind died down. Sun broke through for a glorious hour.

            Not that rain and wind bothered me too much when I was catching footballs. Unlike Glen, who continued to hook fish on the retrieve—and probably had three times as many hookups as I did, including three fish that broke him off—I couldn’t get past the instinct to drift my flies like natural flesh, and that seemed to work pretty well also. Although it was seriously beat up by the end of the afternoon, I never took off the flesh fly that hooked my first fish of the day.

            Glen knows me well. About 30 minutes before we actually needed to fly back to the lodge in time for dinner, he gave me the “five-minute” warning. I made my final cast, which took me at least another 50 yards downriver and 25 or so minutes to complete. Then we cut back across a bluff on a straight line toward the parked plane. Although one of the fish that broke Glen off was a Dolly Varden, the rest of the day it was all rainbows for all of us. I would have enjoyed seeing those magenta pearls, but I didn’t complain about the amazing rainbow fishing. (A couple days later in a different Bristol Bay river, on another fly-out with Glen—this time accompanied by my friend Branden, another of Glen’s Farm Lodge guides—I was able to hook a fair share of Dollies in their fall colors, as well as some bright red silver salmon.)

            As we flew back across the northern edge of Katmai National Preserve, above the myriad lakes and waterways just south of Iliamna, Glen said, “There’s the biggest rainbow of the day.”

            Having grown used to Glen’s well-trained and very useful ability to spot fish in a river from two hundred feet in the sky, I looked down, trying to spot the monster rainbow he was talking about. It must have been big, I thought, if it was the biggest of the day. “Where?” I asked, secretly hoping he might land and give me a chance to cast.

            “Up there,” Glen said. I lifted my eyes from the lake to the eastern horizon. The clouds to the west had opened up again, allowing shafts of sunlight to burst through and carve into the mist and rain still falling in the mountains. To our right as we flew north, a big rainbow arced across the sky. I had to concede. Glen was right about its superlative size and splendid coloration—the best rainbow of the day.

This lucky ingrate, in my salt-stained eyes, had landed the fish of a lifetime. I’d just returned from my first epic saltwater foray on the edge of a barrier reef, via Southwater Caye, Belize. We’d spent a week sight casting under azure skies and exploring flats, mangrove-lined lagoons, and the outer atolls of Lighthouse Reef. We burned evenings while huddled around a thatch-roofed shack, relating the day’s events, with palms swinging overhead in the breeze. An occasional ray, porpoise or tarpon stirred up bioluminescent algae in the bay. Permit had eluded me, which I rather expected, but what really stuck in my craw was a missed opportunity to catch a big barracuda on the fly. As I interrogated that fellow angler from my San Pedro barstool, he inquired quizzically. “Wow, you’re really interested in barracuda fishing?”

Barracuda often swim where there’s unique scenery, whether that’s a beautiful coral head, a remote sand flat, or an interested bystander.

              “Yes, sir, I am,” I said. “I’ve caught tarpon and bonefish on this trip and it has been awesome, but I have been shut out on barracuda. That is my primary goal, to catch one like yours.”

              As we yammered over a couple of chilled Belikins, his eyes lit up as he related details of the encounter. Turns out, his original, solemn report belied reality: He was ecstatic to catch that ‘cuda. Likely, some other lodge guests downplayed the experience, and filed that barracuda away as bycatch, meaning wasted time in their pursuit of a Grand Slam.

              That exchange happened 20 years ago. The fly-fishing court of opinion hadn’t accepted the lowly barracuda as a worthy quarry. Today, anglers posing with barracuda grace the covers of fishing magazines and fill up Instagram feeds. Rightfully so—this apex predator possesses all the admirable qualities of a premier fly-rod gamefish. For example, barracuda occur in beautiful, intriguing habitats and present sight-fishing opportunities, playing to the hunter in all of us. The take and ensuing fight from a ‘cuda is often spectacular and tackle testing. Barracuda have broken my rods, snapped fly lines, and left me quivering in the wake of heartbreak. Additionally, barracuda are a highly successful species and can be found in subtropical oceans worldwide.

             On February 14, 2013, Thomas Gibson, of Houston, Texas, caught a 102-pound barracuda while trolling for tarpon near the mouth of the Cuanza River in Angola. While Gibson’s chance encounter is typical of tangles with the largest barracuda, fly anglers looking to specifically target big beasts would do well to begin the hunt off the beaten path. Having the capability to access less-pressured flats, cuts, and reefs greatly improves your odds of hooking a granddaddy. Consider packing a standup paddleboard (SUP) on your next foray to the Yucatan, Belize, or the Bahamas. These days, SUPS are highly transportable and can be reduced to the size of a carry-on, complete with a sand spear/push pole combo to “park” the SUP on flats for a final pursuit on foot. Savvy anglers pack snorkel gear on their SUP for scouting reefs and drop-offs, where big barracuda tend to hang out between tides.

You can catch and eat barracuda but you better be careful if you do so. Some barracuda carry heavy toxins. Most anglers choose to release these unique predators.

             Barracuda are both scavenger and predator. While the biggest are often found around reef edges in deeper water, these same fish venture onto the flats to hunt, particularly on big tides and full moons. When a large barracuda is spotted on a bonefish flat, utilize the element of surprise by landing the fly ahead of and to the side of the fish. Once your fly hits the water, give it a hard yank to garner the fish’s attention. That’s when the game of cat-and-mouse begins. Strip fast to imitate fleeing prey, set with a hard strip, and do your best to clear the line ahead of a reel-screaming run.

             Easier said than done, as I learned on a recent foray to Exuma, Bahamas, when I stumbled upon pay dirt in the form of an inland lagoon. That crystalline pond belonged to a shadowy figure patrolling in a figure-eight pattern. Under a high sun, the skinny water warranted a cautious approach. I slinked into position behind the fish and fired a cast. That ‘cuda immediately took interest and carefully stalked the fly. I stripped frantically and it was like a switch flipped in that fish—all but my leader was in a heap near my feet when the speeding ‘cuda grabbed the fly. That fishes’ speed outpaced my attempt to clear the line and I knew I was doomed. A loop of line wrapped around my reel and with a loud “snap” the fish went skipping across the lagoon with my entire shooting head in tow, leaving me despondent, and a fly line poorer.

              To fish barracuda, you don’t need elaborate gear or flies. Yak-hair streamers, four-to eight-inches long and armed with a trailer hook, are my go-to flies. An 8, 9 or 10-weight rod and a floating line or intermediate sinking line cover the bases while fishing the flats and cuts. For a leader, I use a loop-to-loop connection with 40 or 50-pound fluorocarbon and an 18-inch piece of the heaviest wire I can get away with. I’ve had a big barracuda gnaw through 30-pound, so 40-pound is a safer bet. In areas where fish have not been pressured, I think single-strand stainless steel, like shark anglers rely on, might be the way to go.

Big ‘cuda stalk the flats, looking for needlefish and bones. Take the author’s advice and the next time you see one of these beasts, give it a throw—you’ll be amazed at how fast these fish travel over a flat, and you’ll be equally impressed by that backing tearing off your reel.

            Barracuda are unpredictable and a chance to cast at one can occur anytime, anywhere. The biggest barracuda I’ve ever hooked was on that trip to Exuma. We were en route to a flat one afternoon when the sight of terns bombing into the water interrupted our commute. Upon investigation, the feeding frenzy was composed of small jacks. When the mayhem subsided, a scavenging beast arrived to clean up the scraps.

            Fortunately, I had a 9-weight rod, pre-rigged with wire. To mimic a floundering sardina, I plucked a five-inch long, red and white articulated fly from the box and threw at the fish. Without hesitation, that ‘cuda ate. I held on for a couple blistering runs. Unfortunately, when I tried to swing that fish to the stern the wire broke and the fish swam away to the depths.

            I took solace in having hooked a big barracuda and enjoyed a wild ride. Barracuda are always on my brain and one day, I’m hoping the pendulum swings my way.

COVER & FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAT FORD

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner

In June, the waters surrounding Nantucket are teeming with Striped Bass, but these fish rarely make things easy on the angler. Perhaps it’s the variety of habitats in which they feed that makes them so elusive. Chasing stripers with a fly rod is a full-on addiction. To get your fix, you tend to find yourself in many unique environments and moments.

It’s 3am, and I’m wading a salt creek under a new moon on this little island 30 miles offshore. The audible siren of Bass slurping sand eels produces a full-body buzz, persuading me to venture just a little deeper. Anticipation is at an all-time high and I start to giggle. A 35-year-old man giggling in the dead of night, waist deep in a salty creek is quite liberating. My line tightens and the giggles turn into a howl and I am sure if any unsuspecting homeowner is awake, they have just checked the locks on their doors. This particular fish and I only get to know each other for about 7 seconds before she decides to spit the fly – or more likely I failed to set the hook properly. I take a seat on the bank and try to calmly tie on another fly while the feeding frenzy ramps up. Sometimes it helps to slow things down.

When the sun comes up it’s time to engage your eyes and spot this slippery adversary. The pursuit of stripers on the flats is all-encompassing. Your mind is completely blank – no worries or unwanted thoughts – just laser focus looking through the water for that moving shadow. Time flows by and then seemingly out of nowhere: target acquired. Laying the trusty clouser in their path and bringing it to life with a slow, continuous strip, you see the leader of the pack change course to inspect. No giggling here: just full commitment to keeping composure in the moment. Setting the hook on a Bass in skinny water opens the door to immediate chaos. Without the ability to dive, flats Bass rip off line in search of deeper water. Unlike my time in the salt creeks, this fish stays buttoned and we complete our full song and dance. I release the sea lice covered fish and check my fly. It’s a little battered, but so am I.

The south shore of the island is a magical place to connect with a Bass, but at times you feel humbled by the force of the ocean. A while back, I remember my buddy saying, “You’re walking in stripers,” and at that moment I figured he had gone over his limit of beers. For years, my attempts at catching stripers in the surf from foot was dominated by repetitive cursing and disappointment. Manhandling my rod to get my fly past the breaking waves. The line wrapped around my feet. Smashing my hand on my stripping basket. Forgetting my phone in my water logged pocket. It was like a sad circus with no animals. However, I’ll never forget the morning when that first striper hydroplaned into the wash of the shorebreak and engulfed my fly. It’s a sight that cannot be properly put into words, but the image is forever imprinted on your brain. Knowing where and what to look for is key and I now know what my buddy meant.

By far the most adrenaline-filled striper fishing takes place in the rips. When 50 feet of rushing of water suddenly meets a 5 foot ocean wall – wild stuff happens. At the end of this June, we made an early outing in my friend’s boat several miles off the coast. Two Aussie friends join us and provide constant stoke and laughter. In fact, I have never met a boring Aussie and hope I never do. After an hour of running we hit our spot. I can only imagine the sheer terror of those early ship captains when they got a glimpse through the fog of raging whitewater in the middle of a calm sea. With that being said, you certainly want to know what you’re doing when fishing the rips.

With the boat in gear, treadmilling in the unforgiving current, myself and one of the Aussie’s take position at the stern and make perpendicular casts to the rip. When the fly hits the flat water, I mend the remainder of the line at my feet and point the tip of the rod towards the rip. Wham! A gaping Bass mouth inhales my squid fly almost instantly and the Aussie to my right feels the same explosion as his line goes tight. As we fight our fish we allow the boat to get sucked over the rip to even the playing field. The combo of the raging water and line peeling from the reel creates a euphoric feeling that is contagious and addicting. We land 2 keepers, take a quick photo, let them swim off, and then hit the throttle to get back in position. This is what striper fishing is all about!

Pass after pass, Bass launch out of the rip and demolish our flies. Poppers enhance the eruptions. At one point all four of us are hooked up and the fine balance between exhilaration and safety becomes clear as the boat drifts broadside through the rip. Rips are a place of constant motion and surprises in both a nautical and a fishery sense. But on this morning the Bass are lined up like a firing squad, keyed in on the squid being delivered to them by the ripping current.

After 2 hours we manage to connect with over 40 Bass and 1 monster bluefish. These stripers are healthy and several display distended bellies, probably caused by an overindulgence in squid. Although any of these keeper sized Bass would have made a proper meal, we let them all return to the water. There is nothing wrong about eating a legal Bass, but on this morning we all feel completely satiated. As I look into the big eyes of these beauties it’s hard to not reflect on their history and their future. This striper has traveled a journey of many miles and who I am to determine its end. I am just here for the pursuit, the fight, and the healthy release. Journey on my friend, and I hope to see you again.

Photography by

Alec Griswold

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

“The Lowcountry” is a term traditionally used by South Carolinians to describe the beautiful marshy coastal regions of the state. This region has long captured the hearts and minds of artists, sportsmen, and naturalists alike. With year-round fishing and hunting opportunities, it’s no surprise that many refer to the South Carolina Lowcountry as a Sportsman’s paradise.

For the fly angler, the opportunity to target tailing redfish in extremely skinny water makes this region particularly unique. While not a daily occurrence, flood tides usually occur around the top of a lunar cycle, when the tide brings water in the estuaries up and over the spartina grass-covered river banks.

With the right skiff, or wading access, an angler can stalk fish making their way through the spartina grass looking for crustaceans in a few inches of skinny water. While Louisiana and other destinations may offer more opportunities for larger redfish, South Carolina is unique in the quantity and quality of flood tide fishing that it offers anglers.

From about April through the end of October, each month South Carolina experiences a set of higher tides associated with the moon phase. When the tide rises and floods the spartina flats, hungry redfish anywhere from 15″ up to 35″+ can be found scouring the mud for crabs and baitfish

Tailing refers to how fish tip their tails above the waterline as they dig around in the mud looking for prey. It is one of the most beautiful displays of feeding fish behaviour and is the most opportune time to delicately present your fly.

Sometimes when a fish has been spotted and the angler needs to get that extra inch of reach, the captain will suggest stepping off of the skiff to chase these fish on foot. Landing a Redfish in this in-between world of land and water is a truly unique experience.

Captain Peter Lawson-Johnston is a longtime resident of Charleston, SC, photographer, naturalist, and guide at Lowcountry Premier Fly Fishing. Captain Lawson Johnston runs a 2019 Maverick HPX Skiff. Having a boat like this that is capable of floating in mere inches of water is key when targeting fish in skinny water.

Peter has captured some beautiful shots of flood tides over the years, and we encourage anyone who hasn’t already experienced this form of saltwater angling to check out his work.

Photography by

Captain Peter Lawson-Johnston

The unfortunate reality is that, for most of us, the tarpon of south Florida is not what comes to mind when considering “home waters.” Luckily, Captain Jamie Connell of Flying Fish Charters in Key West, found these fish just hanging out in his backyard while the rest of us spent the month of May sheltering-in-place.

With a wave of postponed trips and more free time than they knew what to do with, Jamie and photographer Dylan Schmitz targeted these fish on foot.

For most traveling anglers, “walking in” to a tarpon spot, as if it were a trout stream, is a rare opportunity. Leave the 5X and the dry/dropper rig in the truck—you won’t need it here.

The tarpon is known for its explosive eats and acrobatics. This backyard fish was no exception to those rules.

For the majority of tarpon hookups, the action is short-lived. These fish may spit hooks and leave fishermen simultaneously disappointed and trembling. Remember, bow to the king and stay focused ‘cause you’re in for quite a ride.

Jamie’s fish leaves a sizable hole in the slick-surfaced creek. With the tide nice and low, the tarpon had far fewer mangroves and obstacles to break off on—advantage angler.

The moment of truth. This is where a lot of tarpon are lost so it pays to play the fish carefully here and don’t get too eager to land it. Be prepared for one final run, and maybe another jump, before bringing Megalops to hand.

CHECK THEM BOTH OUT:

Photography by

Dylan Schmitz

In 1941, the acclaimed novelist Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse near her home in North Yorkshire, England. I have absolutely nothing in common with Virginia Woolf, nor do I particularly enjoy her writing. However, I’m on day 17 of salmon fishing without even touching a fish, and the rocks on the bank are starting to look pocket sized.

If it weren’t for a handful of grilse, maybe Virginia Woolf and I would have at least one thing in common.

It’s a comforting thought as I reel in the final cast after four days of salmon fishing in Quebec and New Brunswick. It’s mid July, and there are still a few months left in the season where a proper salmon might find the end of my line. At least the bass are around back home in Boston, and the next few weeks are happily occupied with the simplicity of a predatory fish and a sinking fly.

In maybe 30 days of Atlantic salmon fishing from Canada to Scotland, I’ve caught one. It was a beautiful 12 pound hen that my friend Gonzo went swimming on a November evening in Nova Scotia to net. It was the 10th day of that trip, and one of two salmon landed between my core salmon fishing friends in 2018.

Constantly battling ever decreasing salmon returns and conditions is all just part of the game. It’s an arguably masochistic enterprise, with some sullen pride being taken in the tenacity of standing in the river day after day without producing a fish. An unexplained optimism is present in all genuine fly anglers, and perhaps none more than the Atlantic salmon angler, who could be put on par with steelhead fishermen. You’ll also find an equal affinity for alcohol and tobacco in the two sects. For my salmon friends, there is never a shortage of optimism, alcohol, or tobacco products.

Come August, the conditions up north are looking bleak. We’re watching the weather daily, but the rivers are low and the salmon run looks next to impossible. By September, salmon fishing has been written off until next summer.

Boston is crawling with pop up breweries, so I met some friends at one on a Saturday afternoon. If New York hipsters were actually hipster, they’d live in Boston. A few sprinkles of rain pushed us inside at around 9pm, which is when I got a text from my housemate and salmon junkie Alec Griswold, aka Griz.

“New Brunswick is about to get a foot of rain. Big salmon push – leaving in the AM. At the Tab by tmrw night, fish Monday Tuesday, back Tuesday night late. We’re picking up Gonzo on the way.”

The same Hurricane Dorian that devastated Abaco and Grand Bahamahad made its way all the way up the coast, taking out a few jetties in the Carolinas for good measure, and was currently dumping a foot of rain on the salmon rivers of New Brunswick. The river would rise quickly, and the salmon which had been staging for the spawning run at the mouth could finally access the fine gravel beds of the upper Tabusintac River, about an hour north of the Miramichi.

My stomach dropped. It’s a well presented fly, and he knows I’ll bite. I texted colleagues to see how disruptive it would be for me to be off the grid for 3 days. I explained these were once in a lifetime conditions. The response was good.

I texted Griz back, “Can you put my laundry in the dryer? I’m going to need it.”

At this point, I’d been tapping on my phone for an unsociable amount of time and one of my friends brought this to my attention. I finished a beer and stood up shakily.

“I have to go home. I’m going to Canada in a few hours. Venmo me for this.”

The road into the Tab is a rocky one through blueberry fields and logging trails. We call in our goodbyes to anyone who might care, switch into airplane mode, and inch the truck down to the river. The first sight of it brings a big laugh of excitement in the car. It’s spilling over with rushing water and the guardian of the river says he’s seen a few salmon roll already.

We arrived at the Tab’s Big Hole Camp in time for a quick session at one of the Tab’s most productive pools. We don’t touch a fish, but the river drops a healthy six inches as we fish until dark. The next day promises the conditions we came here for.

The morning brings a perfect river height, but the water is still dark with the runoff from the Dorian dump. We start in the middle of the Tab’s beats and Griz promisingly hooks a grilse on his first pass. In the afternoon, we land a few more grilse between two and four pounds. This is great action, and to me a grilse is a salmon. Except it’s not a salmon. After two days fishing, we’ve caught 9 grilse between us. By any standards – and especially New Brunswick standards – that’s pretty epic. Add in a couple four pound sea run brook trout, and no one is complaining.

After lunch on day two, Gonzo and I are taking a beer break on the bench by the pool outside our camp. We’re watching Griz fish, giggling about his hunched over stance and intense concentration on the fly as it swings around to perpendicular. We cheers and someone says “this is like ordering room service in Paris”, as in, it’s blissfully wasteful. Here we are on a private salmon river in New Brunswick and instead of fishing, we’re sitting on the bank drinking beers.

That’s when Griz hooks up. It’s a 10 pounder, chrome fresh, and we guess it arrived in the pool perhaps at the very moment he hooked it. We’re inspired by the now clear arrival of fresh salmon. With only a few hours left of daylight before we have to make the long drive back to Boston, bags are hurriedly packed and wader straps are cinched for one last session at the Tab’s famous Home Pool.

We each tack up another grilse, but once again it’s Griz.

He swings an Ally Shrimp into the middle of the pool and lifts the rod to extreme tension.

“That felt like a fucking anchor” he says calmly as a big hen breaks the water’s surface. Everything goes completely silent. This isn’t the kind of fishing crew that offers advice mid fight. We stand and watch at a respectful distance with pits in our stomachs. The only sound that breaks the tumble of the river is the big fish’s splash as it re-enters the water on its sixth and seventh jump.

Griz only has his floating tip out of the guides now, and we can see this beautiful hen making some last attempts at returning to the main flow of the river. For no particular reason, the tension releases and the fish is off to a single “fuck” from Griz. We line up to pat him on the shoulder, which turns into some awkward chuckles, followed by some deep, wholehearted, group laughter. The trip is over, and it’s another 9 months until we might see a salmon again. But that’s salmon fishing.

What is there to say about the Bass that has not already been written, recorded, or recounted around a campfire? It is unlikely that there is another species of fish that has offered the same amount of joy, recreation, and sport to anglers around the world. In North America, largemouth & smallmouth Bass are the most popular gamefish with anglers, and for good reason.

Perhaps there is nothing more American than Bass fishing. And we don’t just mean the US, both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass widespread throughout Canada and Mexico. Their resiliency in warm and cold water habitats is perfectly adapted for the varied climate and geography found throughout the continent.

For anglers, they are a favorite if sometimes overlooked or forgotten fish. Many of us fly anglers got our start in farm or town ponds where the thrill of watching a Bass smash a popper inflicted a lifelong addiction. As the pandemic continues to keep many anglers wading in place, we’ve seen a reemergence for the love and appreciation of our local Bass fisheries.

Bigger flies do not invariably lead to bigger fish. Sizable Largemouth Bass can be tricked with flies such as this small black leech pattern or Woolly Buggers.

The downhome satisfaction of lipping a Bass on local waters is a sensation shared by anglers all over the world. This feeling has inspired generations of fly anglers to travel the world in pursuit of moments like this.

Lily Pads (Nymphaeaceae) are a great feature to look for when targeting Largemouth Bass on topwater. The plants provide protection from birds and plentiful ambush opportunities for hungry Bass.

The markings on a Smallmouth Bass can be breathtaking. While Smallmouth Bass are not quite as widely distributed as their cousins, the Largemouth Bass, they are extremely popular with anglers and provide great sport in a variety of environments.

Bassthumb: The sign of a success full day on the water

The beauty of Bass fishing is that anglers can employ a number of different tactics, presentations, and flies to attract these fish. In this game, poppers, dry flies, streamers, and even nymphs are all in play.

Don’t be afraid to mix things up. Bass fishing presents an opportunity for fly tiers to get creative and experiment with alternative patterns and hooks. (photo credits: fly skinz, and looper flies)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a moment to admire and appreciate these special fish.

Raft, drift boat, jon boat, bass boat, float tube, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, you name it. Anglers around the world access these fish in a multitude of ways, including by foot.

Heck, why not every time? 

Just make sure that you return the favor by handling these fish appropriately and keeping them wet.

Once you’ve soaked it all in, and appreciated your catch in all of its glory, it’s time to let them go to swim another day.

The next angler will appreciate it.

Perhaps one of the Bass’s most alluring qualities is the diversity of fishing methods that can be employed to catch one. Whether you like to swing weighted flies through deep cutbanks, sightfish in freshwater lakes, or throw a wooly bugger off your grandparent’s dock, Bass are the baseline for fishing locally. We should all give a nod to small and largemouth Bass for having our backs while travel is curtailed.

And this is not a phenomenon strictly reserved for those in North America. For most anglers around the world, one form of Bass or another can be found and targeted in their home waters. So whether it’s Largemouth or Smallmouth, Spotted, White, Striped, European, Rock, Rainbow, or Peacock — we strongly encourage you to get out there and reconnect with your local fish.

Photos & Anglers

Gil Greenberg

Dan Zazworsky

Cam Chioffi

A friend lost a fly box on the Crowsnest River. It slipped out of an open vest pocket. We never knew where or when. All we knew was it was gone. I searched down one side while Richard splashed across and searched down the other until his progress was halted where the river rushed up against a rock wall. He waived me off, and pointed upstream, signaling I should meet him back where we started.

“This sucks,” he said, wading out. “All my Stealth Caddises were in there.”

His first trip to Alberta wasn’t off to the best start. Crap weather and reluctant rainbows made his few days on the Bow near Calgary underwhelming, so this morning on the two-hour drive south I assured him that the Crowsnest would be different. But now I imagined the box—my gift of a clear Orvis full of perfect little hand ties—spinning in eddies and bumping off boulders, eventually tumbling over Lundbreck Falls a few kilometers downstream. There are some big trout below those falls. At dusk they start looking up for caddisflies that the size-16 Stealth Caddis matches perfectly in dark waters.

Now he didn’t have any. And that’s where we were headed.

Smaller and wilder than the Bow, the Crowsnest flows east along Highway 3 in southwestern Alberta, until it joins the Oldman River northeast of the village of Cowley. It’s a walk and wade dream river that fishes best late June through early autumn. In July I like to pitch my tent at Lundbreck Falls. Above the falls, the Crow is primarily a rainbow fishery, boasting 1,500 hundred trout per mile; below, you’ll find browns too. Fifteen-inch fish are typical here, but don’t be surprised when a 22-incher stretches your net.

For me, the Crowsnest is a welcome retreat, its caddis hatch a refuge from the lingering stuffiness of fly fishing. Sometimes I just want to spend a week wet wading knowing I’m gonna get ’em, and sipping the beer I stashed in the shallows for the walk back. Each day I can do something different, or nothing at all. Because every night around 9 p.m., I can walk down to the river and catch big trout on little caddis patterns. It doesn’t matter if my casting’s a bit off, or if I don’t know the name of the bugs they’re biting. There doesn’t have to be anything technical about it. I don’t want to be the Friday fly shop hero, telling everyone what they just missed. I just want to drink a beer and catch a few trout.

There’s a midstream rock near the campsite, my twilight perch every trip. Sitting there at dusk I can see them, big snouts emerging from the choppy water. Gently lay 5X just above them, and watch the little black speck bob along until someone eats it. As the light leaves I cast blind, and strip back once, twice, three times. The line often tightens before the third strip. There in the dark, my reel will chatter while I wedge my boots between slick rocks.

This is tricky. Sometimes I’ll bruise a knee. Or fall in. I lost a hat once, which I found the next morning a few hundred feet downstream. But never a fly box. Near midnight I’ll walk back to camp, sipping one of those Big Rock Traditional Ales I stashed in the cool shallows. My neighbors are long asleep. I’ll sit at a picnic table in the perfect darkness and listen intently to nothing.

Tonight, Richard’s first on the Crow, our headlamps illuminate rough caddis tied to replace lost ones. It’s Saturday and the campground is full. We hear the kids giggling from the trails below camp, and know that the trout won’t be looking up for a while. Later, with a handful of ragged wraps of elk hair and dubbing, we shuffle through the currents until we find a spot that fits our feet.

We false cast with eyes closed and heads bowed so the bill of our caps shield errant hooks. Those ugly little flies land up there in the chop, then float towards us until something big stops them.

After a dozen of these moments, I’ll mention open pockets and unappreciated gifts. Richard will reply that good gifts are worth sharing.

“Maybe someone will find it,” he’ll say, the day’s frustrations tempered by hot fishing on a warm summer night.

We’ll never know if one of those kids playing below the campsite will find that box intact, and learn to snug a clinch knot up against one of those perfectly tied little flies. And, then, one night years later, seeking refuge from a bright and busy world, close her eyes and cast upriver into the darkness below Lundbreck Falls.

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

As a result of Covid-19, Alaska’s overall tourism, including angling traffic, dropped dramatically in 2020. The Farm Lodge, where I have fished five out of the past six years, felt the pain; the lodge didn’t open for guests until July, and even after opening it never saw more than 80 percent of its regular bookings. By mid-September, with cold weather moving in and the birch trees already turning to a golden hue, the last of the guests were gone.

            The Farm Lodge has been my base of fishing and photography excursions around the Bristol Bay drainage, and a sort of home-away-from-home. In previous years I fished a lot of water in and around Katmai National Park and Preserve, and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Most of my visits have been in August, which is a great month for fishing the area, a time when rivers are full of sockeye salmon. At that time rainbow trout and Dolly Varden have moved out of the lakes and into the rivers to gorge on protein-rich salmon eggs and carcasses, a result of the spawning and dying of those sockeye.

            This year I was visiting alone, and in September, working on a book of essays about some of the waters in the Bristol Bay drainage and the native fish that inhabit them. On this particular day the weather had turned, bringing in wind and rain, and threatening our plans. Around 9 a.m., after a hearty lodge breakfast, we departed the village of Port Alsworth with Glen Alsworth, Jr., lodge manager and grandson of the legendary aviator “Babe” Alsworth (after whom the village is named). He flew our Cessna 206 float plane. His teenage son Caleb (a high school senior taking the day off from school) joined us, along with Jeff Duck (a guide at the lodge).

            Our flight took us south out of Lake Clark National Park, across Lake Iliamna, and down into Katmai National Preserve.

            We flew low over a river that we’d planned to fish. However, one glance down made it clear that it wasn’t worth landing. A couple nights of hard rain had blown out the river. The swirl of mud emptying into the lake at the river mouth was the first clue. A quick circle over the trees upstream revealed a gushing river overrunning its banks.

            So Glen adjusted his plans on the fly—a benefit of four decades of accumulated knowledge, and also of having myriad options. We continued down the lake to another river. Although it was too small for four anglers to wade upstream, it would provide good casting along the lakeshore near the river mouth. From the air, the river appeared to be in better shape, with no signs of mud. Glen circled once then brought the plane down onto the lake just around a point. We taxied back toward the river mouth with hopes of enticing a few patrolling lake trout, Dolly Varden char, or Katmai-sized rainbows. As we approached, I spotted two river otters bobbing and diving near the shore. I hadn’t seen an otter in years, so it was a delightful sight. It was also a potentially promising one, as the otters were unlikely to be in the area if there wasn’t a plentiful food source. Unfortunately, as soon as we got the plane’s pontoons tucked against the shore a stiff wind picked up from a bad angle, making it unsafe to leave the plane parked there. We took just a minute to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves of the morning coffee, then loaded up and took off again.

            Several minutes later, we came in for a landing at the outlet of Hammersly Lake, next to the head of American Creek. Born and raised in Port Alsworth, Glen has spent his whole life fishing the Bristol Bay drainage. Nonetheless, it had been a while since he’d stopped at American Creek—not because it doesn’t offer excellent fishing, but because the fishing is so good that the river is rarely free of other anglers. Like most fly-fishers, Glen prefers to have a good stretch of river to himself and his friends or clients. While that’s getting harder to achieve, even in Alaska, he’s proven quite adept at it over the years. On this occasion, there wasn’t a boat or plane in sight.

            We landed into the wind, turned, and taxied back toward the northeastern corner of Hammersly Lake. Jeff and Caleb hopped into the water and helped tie the plane to shore, nose outward. With the wind blowing straight in, there was little danger leaving it there for the day. By this point, we were eager to fish. Huddling against the shoreline brush, with our backs to the cold wind, we rigged our rods as quickly as our chilly fingers allowed. I went with my favorite for Bristol Bay waters: a heavy #4 Egg-Sucking Leech with a hot pink, chenille head wrapped around dumbbell eyes; a black chenille body with black hackle and red wire; and an extra-thick marabou tail. It was my variation of the original ESL and had proven itself over time for rainbows and Dollies when I’d fished for them in August.

            Flies tied on, we headed toward the fishing. Walking the gravel shoreline between water and brush, we skirted the last hundred yards of lakeshore to the river mouth, and started downstream. A low bluff rose on each side of us. Thick shoulder-high brush lined the streambank, and further up the bluff a few small spruce trees stuck their noses above shoulder level. Beyond a few yards on each side of the river, however, the landscape was mostly barren of trees—or of anything growing taller than a few inches above the thin windswept soil. Moss lined the slopes, along with low blueberry bushes bearing a few remaining uneaten berries shriveled and squishy from nights of frost. The frequency of anglers had yielded a little path through the streamside brush. We made occasional use of the trail—booby-trapped though it was with large piles of blueberry-laden bear dung. Mostly we slowly waded our way downstream looking for signs of trout. Though there were stretches of swift current that made for challenging wading amid slick rocks, and a few pools of slower water rising above the level of our waders, for the most part the river was quite wadable and I rarely bothered pulling out my wading staff.

            For the first several bends, none of our flies drew even a hint of a strike. Instead of battling rainbow trout fattened on salmon eggs and salmon flesh, we battled the bitter blustering wind. Hoping to find more productive water further downstream, maybe in the pools of salmon carcasses we’d spotted from the air, we cut up and over a corner of the bluff. From the higher vantage point, Glen spotted a dark shadow dart across the current. He offered me first shot at it, but I took out my camera instead and sent him, hoping for a video of him hooking a monstrous rainbow. He worked down through the brush to the shore and took several casts to the area where the shadow had moved.

            No takes. No more sign of shadows. I snapped a few photos, and then joined the others in the water and we continued working our way downriver.

            We worked another hundred yards and two bends in the river before Glen had his first strike. He was drifting his orange flesh fly through soft water, in a deeper stretch below a rip. Oddly, the hit came not as he drifted the fly downstream—imitating the natural drift of salmon flesh—but as he stripped the line slowly back in. It was a soft hit that missed the hook. But he soon had a second hit, and a third, all light taps on the retrieve.

            I looked around again, trying to read the river and understand why the fish might be hitting in this particular spot. The sockeye salmon that draw trout out of the lakes and into the river were gone. Or, rather, the living sockeye were gone. What Glen spotted flying over, however, were the carcasses of hundreds of spent salmon in eddies and backwaters near the banks. And dead salmon meant dead salmon flesh floating downriver: an easy river mouthful for a hungry trout. Glen had tied on a gaudy orange pattern. And the trout liked it.

            The first fish Glen landed was a smallish rainbow, only 15 inches or so. It would prove to be the smallest fish of the day. His second fish, still in the same hole, was an absolute football, rippling with fat reserves, and muscular enough to put a serious bend in his rod. I didn’t get a good look at his third fish because soon after he hooked it I got busy snipping off my Egg-Sucking Leech and tying on one of my own flesh flies: a body of hot purple zonker strip, two pink beads, and some softer pink marabou wrapped like hackle around a 4X long #4 hook.

            Within minutes I was fighting my first bow of day: another football-shaped mass of fat and muscle that had more the girth of a 28-inch fish than the 20 to 21 inches it actually measured. And I was wondering what foolishness had kept me from imitating Glen’s fly selection from the very start.

            American Creek is one of Bristol Bay’s remarkable rivers. It sits in the upper portion of the Naknek drainage, which also includes the famous Brooks Camp, where fat bears catch salmon out of the air as they leap the Brooks River falls. American starts at the outlet of Hammersly Lake, at an elevation of 1,599 feet, making it not only the highest point I’ve fished in Katmai, but likely the highest elevation I’ve fished anywhere in the presence of spawning—or spawned out—salmon. It flows some 30 miles total, starting north, then turning east where it wanders through the hills just south of Nonvianuk Lake, before veering south to run its final 10 miles into Lake Coville. Coville drains back toward the east (temporarily moving away from Bristol Bay) into Lake Grosvenor which eventually drains down toward Naknek Lake. The only access to American Creek is by boat or float plane at either end of its 30-mile run.

            Alsworth didn’t have American Creek in mind for a late summer/early fall trip but, for a couple years, he’d tried to get me to come in September, his favorite season. Although the weather could get sketchy, the fish would be as fat and healthy as they’d been all year. Dolly Varden char, even at their dullest, are a stunningly beautiful fish, sides dotted with rich, magenta pearls. During fall they are particularly bright and breathtaking, with red bellies that rival those found on a male eastern brook trout’s, and lips so vivid orangish-yellow that you might think they got into their mother’s lipstick. So after reading up about the safest way to fly a commercial airline during a pandemic, I’d taken the leap and purchased plane tickets.

            And there I was out casting in a well-known Katmai river, with the notorious September weather tying wind knots that actually were the result of wind. But even when the sky opened up and started dumping a heavy rain on us for a quarter of an hour, I was quite happy. The fish were coming one after another. We mostly found them congregating in big pods in long patches of soft water every hundred yards or so, but I also hooked into a few in the small pockets behind rocks or against the shore.

           The downpour didn’t last long. At some point, the rain stopped altogether. The wind died down. Sun broke through for a glorious hour.

            Not that rain and wind bothered me too much when I was catching footballs. Unlike Glen, who continued to hook fish on the retrieve—and probably had three times as many hookups as I did, including three fish that broke him off—I couldn’t get past the instinct to drift my flies like natural flesh, and that seemed to work pretty well also. Although it was seriously beat up by the end of the afternoon, I never took off the flesh fly that hooked my first fish of the day.

            Glen knows me well. About 30 minutes before we actually needed to fly back to the lodge in time for dinner, he gave me the “five-minute” warning. I made my final cast, which took me at least another 50 yards downriver and 25 or so minutes to complete. Then we cut back across a bluff on a straight line toward the parked plane. Although one of the fish that broke Glen off was a Dolly Varden, the rest of the day it was all rainbows for all of us. I would have enjoyed seeing those magenta pearls, but I didn’t complain about the amazing rainbow fishing. (A couple days later in a different Bristol Bay river, on another fly-out with Glen—this time accompanied by my friend Branden, another of Glen’s Farm Lodge guides—I was able to hook a fair share of Dollies in their fall colors, as well as some bright red silver salmon.)

            As we flew back across the northern edge of Katmai National Preserve, above the myriad lakes and waterways just south of Iliamna, Glen said, “There’s the biggest rainbow of the day.”

            Having grown used to Glen’s well-trained and very useful ability to spot fish in a river from two hundred feet in the sky, I looked down, trying to spot the monster rainbow he was talking about. It must have been big, I thought, if it was the biggest of the day. “Where?” I asked, secretly hoping he might land and give me a chance to cast.

            “Up there,” Glen said. I lifted my eyes from the lake to the eastern horizon. The clouds to the west had opened up again, allowing shafts of sunlight to burst through and carve into the mist and rain still falling in the mountains. To our right as we flew north, a big rainbow arced across the sky. I had to concede. Glen was right about its superlative size and splendid coloration—the best rainbow of the day.

This lucky ingrate, in my salt-stained eyes, had landed the fish of a lifetime. I’d just returned from my first epic saltwater foray on the edge of a barrier reef, via Southwater Caye, Belize. We’d spent a week sight casting under azure skies and exploring flats, mangrove-lined lagoons, and the outer atolls of Lighthouse Reef. We burned evenings while huddled around a thatch-roofed shack, relating the day’s events, with palms swinging overhead in the breeze. An occasional ray, porpoise or tarpon stirred up bioluminescent algae in the bay. Permit had eluded me, which I rather expected, but what really stuck in my craw was a missed opportunity to catch a big barracuda on the fly. As I interrogated that fellow angler from my San Pedro barstool, he inquired quizzically. “Wow, you’re really interested in barracuda fishing?”

Barracuda often swim where there’s unique scenery, whether that’s a beautiful coral head, a remote sand flat, or an interested bystander.

              “Yes, sir, I am,” I said. “I’ve caught tarpon and bonefish on this trip and it has been awesome, but I have been shut out on barracuda. That is my primary goal, to catch one like yours.”

              As we yammered over a couple of chilled Belikins, his eyes lit up as he related details of the encounter. Turns out, his original, solemn report belied reality: He was ecstatic to catch that ‘cuda. Likely, some other lodge guests downplayed the experience, and filed that barracuda away as bycatch, meaning wasted time in their pursuit of a Grand Slam.

              That exchange happened 20 years ago. The fly-fishing court of opinion hadn’t accepted the lowly barracuda as a worthy quarry. Today, anglers posing with barracuda grace the covers of fishing magazines and fill up Instagram feeds. Rightfully so—this apex predator possesses all the admirable qualities of a premier fly-rod gamefish. For example, barracuda occur in beautiful, intriguing habitats and present sight-fishing opportunities, playing to the hunter in all of us. The take and ensuing fight from a ‘cuda is often spectacular and tackle testing. Barracuda have broken my rods, snapped fly lines, and left me quivering in the wake of heartbreak. Additionally, barracuda are a highly successful species and can be found in subtropical oceans worldwide.

             On February 14, 2013, Thomas Gibson, of Houston, Texas, caught a 102-pound barracuda while trolling for tarpon near the mouth of the Cuanza River in Angola. While Gibson’s chance encounter is typical of tangles with the largest barracuda, fly anglers looking to specifically target big beasts would do well to begin the hunt off the beaten path. Having the capability to access less-pressured flats, cuts, and reefs greatly improves your odds of hooking a granddaddy. Consider packing a standup paddleboard (SUP) on your next foray to the Yucatan, Belize, or the Bahamas. These days, SUPS are highly transportable and can be reduced to the size of a carry-on, complete with a sand spear/push pole combo to “park” the SUP on flats for a final pursuit on foot. Savvy anglers pack snorkel gear on their SUP for scouting reefs and drop-offs, where big barracuda tend to hang out between tides.

You can catch and eat barracuda but you better be careful if you do so. Some barracuda carry heavy toxins. Most anglers choose to release these unique predators.

             Barracuda are both scavenger and predator. While the biggest are often found around reef edges in deeper water, these same fish venture onto the flats to hunt, particularly on big tides and full moons. When a large barracuda is spotted on a bonefish flat, utilize the element of surprise by landing the fly ahead of and to the side of the fish. Once your fly hits the water, give it a hard yank to garner the fish’s attention. That’s when the game of cat-and-mouse begins. Strip fast to imitate fleeing prey, set with a hard strip, and do your best to clear the line ahead of a reel-screaming run.

             Easier said than done, as I learned on a recent foray to Exuma, Bahamas, when I stumbled upon pay dirt in the form of an inland lagoon. That crystalline pond belonged to a shadowy figure patrolling in a figure-eight pattern. Under a high sun, the skinny water warranted a cautious approach. I slinked into position behind the fish and fired a cast. That ‘cuda immediately took interest and carefully stalked the fly. I stripped frantically and it was like a switch flipped in that fish—all but my leader was in a heap near my feet when the speeding ‘cuda grabbed the fly. That fishes’ speed outpaced my attempt to clear the line and I knew I was doomed. A loop of line wrapped around my reel and with a loud “snap” the fish went skipping across the lagoon with my entire shooting head in tow, leaving me despondent, and a fly line poorer.

              To fish barracuda, you don’t need elaborate gear or flies. Yak-hair streamers, four-to eight-inches long and armed with a trailer hook, are my go-to flies. An 8, 9 or 10-weight rod and a floating line or intermediate sinking line cover the bases while fishing the flats and cuts. For a leader, I use a loop-to-loop connection with 40 or 50-pound fluorocarbon and an 18-inch piece of the heaviest wire I can get away with. I’ve had a big barracuda gnaw through 30-pound, so 40-pound is a safer bet. In areas where fish have not been pressured, I think single-strand stainless steel, like shark anglers rely on, might be the way to go.

Big ‘cuda stalk the flats, looking for needlefish and bones. Take the author’s advice and the next time you see one of these beasts, give it a throw—you’ll be amazed at how fast these fish travel over a flat, and you’ll be equally impressed by that backing tearing off your reel.

            Barracuda are unpredictable and a chance to cast at one can occur anytime, anywhere. The biggest barracuda I’ve ever hooked was on that trip to Exuma. We were en route to a flat one afternoon when the sight of terns bombing into the water interrupted our commute. Upon investigation, the feeding frenzy was composed of small jacks. When the mayhem subsided, a scavenging beast arrived to clean up the scraps.

            Fortunately, I had a 9-weight rod, pre-rigged with wire. To mimic a floundering sardina, I plucked a five-inch long, red and white articulated fly from the box and threw at the fish. Without hesitation, that ‘cuda ate. I held on for a couple blistering runs. Unfortunately, when I tried to swing that fish to the stern the wire broke and the fish swam away to the depths.

            I took solace in having hooked a big barracuda and enjoyed a wild ride. Barracuda are always on my brain and one day, I’m hoping the pendulum swings my way.

COVER & FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAT FORD

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner

In June, the waters surrounding Nantucket are teeming with Striped Bass, but these fish rarely make things easy on the angler. Perhaps it’s the variety of habitats in which they feed that makes them so elusive. Chasing stripers with a fly rod is a full-on addiction. To get your fix, you tend to find yourself in many unique environments and moments.

It’s 3am, and I’m wading a salt creek under a new moon on this little island 30 miles offshore. The audible siren of Bass slurping sand eels produces a full-body buzz, persuading me to venture just a little deeper. Anticipation is at an all-time high and I start to giggle. A 35-year-old man giggling in the dead of night, waist deep in a salty creek is quite liberating. My line tightens and the giggles turn into a howl and I am sure if any unsuspecting homeowner is awake, they have just checked the locks on their doors. This particular fish and I only get to know each other for about 7 seconds before she decides to spit the fly – or more likely I failed to set the hook properly. I take a seat on the bank and try to calmly tie on another fly while the feeding frenzy ramps up. Sometimes it helps to slow things down.

When the sun comes up it’s time to engage your eyes and spot this slippery adversary. The pursuit of stripers on the flats is all-encompassing. Your mind is completely blank – no worries or unwanted thoughts – just laser focus looking through the water for that moving shadow. Time flows by and then seemingly out of nowhere: target acquired. Laying the trusty clouser in their path and bringing it to life with a slow, continuous strip, you see the leader of the pack change course to inspect. No giggling here: just full commitment to keeping composure in the moment. Setting the hook on a Bass in skinny water opens the door to immediate chaos. Without the ability to dive, flats Bass rip off line in search of deeper water. Unlike my time in the salt creeks, this fish stays buttoned and we complete our full song and dance. I release the sea lice covered fish and check my fly. It’s a little battered, but so am I.

The south shore of the island is a magical place to connect with a Bass, but at times you feel humbled by the force of the ocean. A while back, I remember my buddy saying, “You’re walking in stripers,” and at that moment I figured he had gone over his limit of beers. For years, my attempts at catching stripers in the surf from foot was dominated by repetitive cursing and disappointment. Manhandling my rod to get my fly past the breaking waves. The line wrapped around my feet. Smashing my hand on my stripping basket. Forgetting my phone in my water logged pocket. It was like a sad circus with no animals. However, I’ll never forget the morning when that first striper hydroplaned into the wash of the shorebreak and engulfed my fly. It’s a sight that cannot be properly put into words, but the image is forever imprinted on your brain. Knowing where and what to look for is key and I now know what my buddy meant.

By far the most adrenaline-filled striper fishing takes place in the rips. When 50 feet of rushing of water suddenly meets a 5 foot ocean wall – wild stuff happens. At the end of this June, we made an early outing in my friend’s boat several miles off the coast. Two Aussie friends join us and provide constant stoke and laughter. In fact, I have never met a boring Aussie and hope I never do. After an hour of running we hit our spot. I can only imagine the sheer terror of those early ship captains when they got a glimpse through the fog of raging whitewater in the middle of a calm sea. With that being said, you certainly want to know what you’re doing when fishing the rips.

With the boat in gear, treadmilling in the unforgiving current, myself and one of the Aussie’s take position at the stern and make perpendicular casts to the rip. When the fly hits the flat water, I mend the remainder of the line at my feet and point the tip of the rod towards the rip. Wham! A gaping Bass mouth inhales my squid fly almost instantly and the Aussie to my right feels the same explosion as his line goes tight. As we fight our fish we allow the boat to get sucked over the rip to even the playing field. The combo of the raging water and line peeling from the reel creates a euphoric feeling that is contagious and addicting. We land 2 keepers, take a quick photo, let them swim off, and then hit the throttle to get back in position. This is what striper fishing is all about!

Pass after pass, Bass launch out of the rip and demolish our flies. Poppers enhance the eruptions. At one point all four of us are hooked up and the fine balance between exhilaration and safety becomes clear as the boat drifts broadside through the rip. Rips are a place of constant motion and surprises in both a nautical and a fishery sense. But on this morning the Bass are lined up like a firing squad, keyed in on the squid being delivered to them by the ripping current.

After 2 hours we manage to connect with over 40 Bass and 1 monster bluefish. These stripers are healthy and several display distended bellies, probably caused by an overindulgence in squid. Although any of these keeper sized Bass would have made a proper meal, we let them all return to the water. There is nothing wrong about eating a legal Bass, but on this morning we all feel completely satiated. As I look into the big eyes of these beauties it’s hard to not reflect on their history and their future. This striper has traveled a journey of many miles and who I am to determine its end. I am just here for the pursuit, the fight, and the healthy release. Journey on my friend, and I hope to see you again.

Photography by

Alec Griswold

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

“The Lowcountry” is a term traditionally used by South Carolinians to describe the beautiful marshy coastal regions of the state. This region has long captured the hearts and minds of artists, sportsmen, and naturalists alike. With year-round fishing and hunting opportunities, it’s no surprise that many refer to the South Carolina Lowcountry as a Sportsman’s paradise.

For the fly angler, the opportunity to target tailing redfish in extremely skinny water makes this region particularly unique. While not a daily occurrence, flood tides usually occur around the top of a lunar cycle, when the tide brings water in the estuaries up and over the spartina grass-covered river banks.

With the right skiff, or wading access, an angler can stalk fish making their way through the spartina grass looking for crustaceans in a few inches of skinny water. While Louisiana and other destinations may offer more opportunities for larger redfish, South Carolina is unique in the quantity and quality of flood tide fishing that it offers anglers.

From about April through the end of October, each month South Carolina experiences a set of higher tides associated with the moon phase. When the tide rises and floods the spartina flats, hungry redfish anywhere from 15″ up to 35″+ can be found scouring the mud for crabs and baitfish

Tailing refers to how fish tip their tails above the waterline as they dig around in the mud looking for prey. It is one of the most beautiful displays of feeding fish behaviour and is the most opportune time to delicately present your fly.

Sometimes when a fish has been spotted and the angler needs to get that extra inch of reach, the captain will suggest stepping off of the skiff to chase these fish on foot. Landing a Redfish in this in-between world of land and water is a truly unique experience.

Captain Peter Lawson-Johnston is a longtime resident of Charleston, SC, photographer, naturalist, and guide at Lowcountry Premier Fly Fishing. Captain Lawson Johnston runs a 2019 Maverick HPX Skiff. Having a boat like this that is capable of floating in mere inches of water is key when targeting fish in skinny water.

Peter has captured some beautiful shots of flood tides over the years, and we encourage anyone who hasn’t already experienced this form of saltwater angling to check out his work.

Photography by

Captain Peter Lawson-Johnston

The unfortunate reality is that, for most of us, the tarpon of south Florida is not what comes to mind when considering “home waters.” Luckily, Captain Jamie Connell of Flying Fish Charters in Key West, found these fish just hanging out in his backyard while the rest of us spent the month of May sheltering-in-place.

With a wave of postponed trips and more free time than they knew what to do with, Jamie and photographer Dylan Schmitz targeted these fish on foot.

For most traveling anglers, “walking in” to a tarpon spot, as if it were a trout stream, is a rare opportunity. Leave the 5X and the dry/dropper rig in the truck—you won’t need it here.

The tarpon is known for its explosive eats and acrobatics. This backyard fish was no exception to those rules.

For the majority of tarpon hookups, the action is short-lived. These fish may spit hooks and leave fishermen simultaneously disappointed and trembling. Remember, bow to the king and stay focused ‘cause you’re in for quite a ride.

Jamie’s fish leaves a sizable hole in the slick-surfaced creek. With the tide nice and low, the tarpon had far fewer mangroves and obstacles to break off on—advantage angler.

The moment of truth. This is where a lot of tarpon are lost so it pays to play the fish carefully here and don’t get too eager to land it. Be prepared for one final run, and maybe another jump, before bringing Megalops to hand.

CHECK THEM BOTH OUT:

Photography by

Dylan Schmitz

In 1941, the acclaimed novelist Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse near her home in North Yorkshire, England. I have absolutely nothing in common with Virginia Woolf, nor do I particularly enjoy her writing. However, I’m on day 17 of salmon fishing without even touching a fish, and the rocks on the bank are starting to look pocket sized.

If it weren’t for a handful of grilse, maybe Virginia Woolf and I would have at least one thing in common.

It’s a comforting thought as I reel in the final cast after four days of salmon fishing in Quebec and New Brunswick. It’s mid July, and there are still a few months left in the season where a proper salmon might find the end of my line. At least the bass are around back home in Boston, and the next few weeks are happily occupied with the simplicity of a predatory fish and a sinking fly.

In maybe 30 days of Atlantic salmon fishing from Canada to Scotland, I’ve caught one. It was a beautiful 12 pound hen that my friend Gonzo went swimming on a November evening in Nova Scotia to net. It was the 10th day of that trip, and one of two salmon landed between my core salmon fishing friends in 2018.

Constantly battling ever decreasing salmon returns and conditions is all just part of the game. It’s an arguably masochistic enterprise, with some sullen pride being taken in the tenacity of standing in the river day after day without producing a fish. An unexplained optimism is present in all genuine fly anglers, and perhaps none more than the Atlantic salmon angler, who could be put on par with steelhead fishermen. You’ll also find an equal affinity for alcohol and tobacco in the two sects. For my salmon friends, there is never a shortage of optimism, alcohol, or tobacco products.

Come August, the conditions up north are looking bleak. We’re watching the weather daily, but the rivers are low and the salmon run looks next to impossible. By September, salmon fishing has been written off until next summer.

Boston is crawling with pop up breweries, so I met some friends at one on a Saturday afternoon. If New York hipsters were actually hipster, they’d live in Boston. A few sprinkles of rain pushed us inside at around 9pm, which is when I got a text from my housemate and salmon junkie Alec Griswold, aka Griz.

“New Brunswick is about to get a foot of rain. Big salmon push – leaving in the AM. At the Tab by tmrw night, fish Monday Tuesday, back Tuesday night late. We’re picking up Gonzo on the way.”

The same Hurricane Dorian that devastated Abaco and Grand Bahamahad made its way all the way up the coast, taking out a few jetties in the Carolinas for good measure, and was currently dumping a foot of rain on the salmon rivers of New Brunswick. The river would rise quickly, and the salmon which had been staging for the spawning run at the mouth could finally access the fine gravel beds of the upper Tabusintac River, about an hour north of the Miramichi.

My stomach dropped. It’s a well presented fly, and he knows I’ll bite. I texted colleagues to see how disruptive it would be for me to be off the grid for 3 days. I explained these were once in a lifetime conditions. The response was good.

I texted Griz back, “Can you put my laundry in the dryer? I’m going to need it.”

At this point, I’d been tapping on my phone for an unsociable amount of time and one of my friends brought this to my attention. I finished a beer and stood up shakily.

“I have to go home. I’m going to Canada in a few hours. Venmo me for this.”

The road into the Tab is a rocky one through blueberry fields and logging trails. We call in our goodbyes to anyone who might care, switch into airplane mode, and inch the truck down to the river. The first sight of it brings a big laugh of excitement in the car. It’s spilling over with rushing water and the guardian of the river says he’s seen a few salmon roll already.

We arrived at the Tab’s Big Hole Camp in time for a quick session at one of the Tab’s most productive pools. We don’t touch a fish, but the river drops a healthy six inches as we fish until dark. The next day promises the conditions we came here for.

The morning brings a perfect river height, but the water is still dark with the runoff from the Dorian dump. We start in the middle of the Tab’s beats and Griz promisingly hooks a grilse on his first pass. In the afternoon, we land a few more grilse between two and four pounds. This is great action, and to me a grilse is a salmon. Except it’s not a salmon. After two days fishing, we’ve caught 9 grilse between us. By any standards – and especially New Brunswick standards – that’s pretty epic. Add in a couple four pound sea run brook trout, and no one is complaining.

After lunch on day two, Gonzo and I are taking a beer break on the bench by the pool outside our camp. We’re watching Griz fish, giggling about his hunched over stance and intense concentration on the fly as it swings around to perpendicular. We cheers and someone says “this is like ordering room service in Paris”, as in, it’s blissfully wasteful. Here we are on a private salmon river in New Brunswick and instead of fishing, we’re sitting on the bank drinking beers.

That’s when Griz hooks up. It’s a 10 pounder, chrome fresh, and we guess it arrived in the pool perhaps at the very moment he hooked it. We’re inspired by the now clear arrival of fresh salmon. With only a few hours left of daylight before we have to make the long drive back to Boston, bags are hurriedly packed and wader straps are cinched for one last session at the Tab’s famous Home Pool.

We each tack up another grilse, but once again it’s Griz.

He swings an Ally Shrimp into the middle of the pool and lifts the rod to extreme tension.

“That felt like a fucking anchor” he says calmly as a big hen breaks the water’s surface. Everything goes completely silent. This isn’t the kind of fishing crew that offers advice mid fight. We stand and watch at a respectful distance with pits in our stomachs. The only sound that breaks the tumble of the river is the big fish’s splash as it re-enters the water on its sixth and seventh jump.

Griz only has his floating tip out of the guides now, and we can see this beautiful hen making some last attempts at returning to the main flow of the river. For no particular reason, the tension releases and the fish is off to a single “fuck” from Griz. We line up to pat him on the shoulder, which turns into some awkward chuckles, followed by some deep, wholehearted, group laughter. The trip is over, and it’s another 9 months until we might see a salmon again. But that’s salmon fishing.

What is there to say about the Bass that has not already been written, recorded, or recounted around a campfire? It is unlikely that there is another species of fish that has offered the same amount of joy, recreation, and sport to anglers around the world. In North America, largemouth & smallmouth Bass are the most popular gamefish with anglers, and for good reason.

Perhaps there is nothing more American than Bass fishing. And we don’t just mean the US, both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass widespread throughout Canada and Mexico. Their resiliency in warm and cold water habitats is perfectly adapted for the varied climate and geography found throughout the continent.

For anglers, they are a favorite if sometimes overlooked or forgotten fish. Many of us fly anglers got our start in farm or town ponds where the thrill of watching a Bass smash a popper inflicted a lifelong addiction. As the pandemic continues to keep many anglers wading in place, we’ve seen a reemergence for the love and appreciation of our local Bass fisheries.

Bigger flies do not invariably lead to bigger fish. Sizable Largemouth Bass can be tricked with flies such as this small black leech pattern or Woolly Buggers.

The downhome satisfaction of lipping a Bass on local waters is a sensation shared by anglers all over the world. This feeling has inspired generations of fly anglers to travel the world in pursuit of moments like this.

Lily Pads (Nymphaeaceae) are a great feature to look for when targeting Largemouth Bass on topwater. The plants provide protection from birds and plentiful ambush opportunities for hungry Bass.

The markings on a Smallmouth Bass can be breathtaking. While Smallmouth Bass are not quite as widely distributed as their cousins, the Largemouth Bass, they are extremely popular with anglers and provide great sport in a variety of environments.

Bassthumb: The sign of a success full day on the water

The beauty of Bass fishing is that anglers can employ a number of different tactics, presentations, and flies to attract these fish. In this game, poppers, dry flies, streamers, and even nymphs are all in play.

Don’t be afraid to mix things up. Bass fishing presents an opportunity for fly tiers to get creative and experiment with alternative patterns and hooks. (photo credits: fly skinz, and looper flies)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a moment to admire and appreciate these special fish.

Raft, drift boat, jon boat, bass boat, float tube, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, you name it. Anglers around the world access these fish in a multitude of ways, including by foot.

Heck, why not every time? 

Just make sure that you return the favor by handling these fish appropriately and keeping them wet.