Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Talking with Captain Kyle Schaefer
By James Hamilton

James: From building paddleboards, to guiding in Colorado, Maine & Argentina, as well as managing a lodge in the Bahamas, it’s safe to say that you have lived a life of stories worth telling. Are there any guiding principles or concepts that have led you down this unique path that many anglers would aspire to follow?

Kyle: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the freedom and mobility to pursue my passions; I certainly don’t take that for granted.  As a white male born in America, the world has unfolded before me.  The opportunities have been endless.

My path has meandered significantly since I left home after high school and I’ve worn many hats.  I’ve been a tennis pro, a refrigerator truck driver, an organic vegetable salesman, a product designer, an entrepreneur, a marketer, a fly fishing guide, a marina manager, a bellman, a writer, a conservationist, a photographer, an outdoor TV manager, a ski shop technician and probably a dozen more.

At each of these stops along my road I’ve tried hard to tune into my purpose.  What am I supposed to be doing?  What moves me?

At a certain point in time I realized, without doubt, that teaching and helping people pursue fly fishing is my greater calling.  I get confirmation everyday that I am following my “truth” and I am grateful to work in a space where my passion intersects with my life’s work.  The internal voice that guides us all can be quiet as a whisper and sometimes loud as a roar.  Every message is powerful and the result of listening will take you to places beyond your imagination.  Just keep tuning in. Listen to every message, every sign, every little thing that calls your attention; then adjust your compass heading as you integrate your newly earned wisdom.

James: Is there a fly fishing experience that stands out to you as the most unique or exciting of your life thus far?

Kyle: I worked on a project with a great friend, Paul Moinester, centered around building a demand for Asain Carp. This project took me to the Mississippi river in August on a bass boat where we worked our asses off trying to catch Silver and Bighead carp on the fly. These are invasive carp that are decimating native ecosystems across the midwest and our project centered around building hype for these carp as sportfish to help mitigate the issues that they are causing through our waterways and ultimately build a demand for these fish to end up on the dinner table. These are not the fun carp that you can sightfish to with little bugs and crawfish. These are carp that feed on tiny algae near the surface, kind of like milkfish. So, we rounded up a super fishy, ex-special forces, South African who has caught hundreds of different species on the fly.

We fished for 5 days. We presented to hundreds and hundreds of fish without even a sniff. The carp would kindly give our fly a 5 foot radius and swim right around. Needless to say bighead and silver carp are not being caught on the fly and the project is inconclusive. Also, I had never met Paul before the trip. I was the only person he could convince to join and I did so willingly. An adventure in our own backyard, a chance to travel and eat midwest barbecue and an opportunity to meet a great new friend. We swung and missed on the carp and lots more work is needed to address the issue of this invasive species but Paul has become one of my best friends and I don’t think there is anyone in this industry that has helped me more than Paul.

James: How and when did you get into fly fishing?

Kyle: Second grade. Immediately after watching a River Runs Through It. I know, I know… soooo cliche.  But it’s true. I was drawn to the poetic story, the deeper connection to the outdoors, the cast and everything else that fills in around this great pursuit. It took a while for fly fishing to truly get it’s wings with me but it’s been present in my life for a long time.

I didn’t grow up in a fly fishing family and I never got taken on fly fishing trips as a kid. I just seeked it out and kept coming back to it. With no teachers and no YouTube it was a battle to earn my skills but I know what I love and I know how to stick with it.

James: Favorite species to target, and why?

Kyle: It has to be striped bass, it just has to. There’s a million places that I’d love to go off to and travel and sight fish and drink tequila but stripers are my “home” fish.  They occupy my home water. I have a long story line with striped bass. I was born on Cape Cod where stripers summer and I grew up on the Chesapeake where most stripers spawn. They’ve helped me grow as an angler, a guide and as a citizen of the planet. I owe striped bass more than I can say.

James: Do you see yourself in this species? If not… which species of game fish do you identify most with?

Kyle: I do not identify with the striped bass, no offense. However, I do identify with Maine brook trout. They are hardy but delicate, decisive and beautiful. I find a deep appreciation for these fish even though I am not rabid to catch them. They are mount-side gems and have a wonderful balance of qualities.

James: Striped bass have an almost cult-like following of fly-anglers. Why do you think that is, and do you think that the fish are under appreciated on the international level?

Kyle: We New Englanders are proud to have striped bass as our “home fish”. They aren’t the fastest or the strongest or even the most challenging species on the planet but they do it all. They feed skinny on the flats, deep off the coast, they linger over rocky reefs, they surf waves, stripers fill our estuaries and rivers, and they blitz on the surface with incredible intensity. We can fish for them however we like. I prefer big fish on the flats, but there’s no wrong way to catch a striper. They chow on live and cut bait, they crush flies, and explode on surface plugs. It’s up to you on how you want to target them. Pick a spot on the shore or on the bow and put your time in. The migration brings excitement each spring and when the bass depart in the fall we finally get some much needed sleep. We get to dream about them all winter as we tie flies in preparation for our next shot. The fact that they leave for more than half the year helps the heart grow fonder during the months of scarcity.

At this exact moment in time, I don’t think they are underappreciated on an international scale. Our stripers are at a 27-year low. When we repair our population, stripers will get all the credit they deserve.

James: Strangest/funniest thing to happen with a client on the water? Can be in recent memory or all time.

Kyle: I once guided a dog fly fishing.

James: FFI Mag has a diverse international readership, any message you’d like to share with the global angling community?

Kyle: It’s a privilege to fish and participate in this wonderful sport. I urge anyone with energy to engage in the fight to help protect our fisheries for future generations.  Donate your time, your money or your voice.

Together we are a powerful force.

Together can protect our fisheries against habitat loss, overfishing, climate change, and pollution. Find your cause and fight. For me it gives a much greater purpose to the pursuit of fly fishing.