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Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass, with Matthew Lewis

Description: You may have never heard of redeye bass or seen one. Yet they are a wonderful fly-rod fish. They live in spectacular, clear mountain streams and take a fly very well. They’re mainly found in the deep South, particularly in Alabama, so they’re a great fly-rod target in places where you would not ordinarily think of fly fishing. They’re a native species that deserve more visibility from the fly-fishing community and my guest, Matthew Lewis [44:27], is perhaps the world expert on fly fishing for them.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to "The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And this week, we're going to be talking about a pretty special fish. It's a native species. It lives in beautiful, clear water streams. It takes a fly really well. And you know what? You can't catch one in the Rocky Mountains or the Catskills or the Pacific Northwest. You can only catch one in the Deep South.
The fish we're going to talk about today is redeye bass. And many of you probably have never heard of redeye bass, don't know what they look like, don't know where they live. Well, we're going to find out today. And if you do live in the South, particularly in Alabama, you have a great fish to target on a fly rod. And world-expert fly-fisher for redeye bass Matthew Lewis is going to be our guest today. He is going to tell us all about why it's worthwhile to chase these small members of the bass family and, you know, threats to their environment and the kind of places they live.
So I think it's an interesting podcast. And, you know, it's another fish to chase with a fly rod in places where you normally wouldn't think there would be a lot of fly fishing. So I hope you enjoy it.
But first, the Fly Box. The Fly Box is where you ask questions and I try to answer them, or I research them and try to answer them. And if you have a question or a complaint or a criticism or a comment or a tip for other podcast listeners, you can send me your message at You can either attach it to an email in text or you can attach a voice file, either way. I read some voice files on the air. So anyway, let's get on with the Fly Box.
And as usual, I'm starting with an email. This one's from Kyle from New Mexico. "I've enjoyed listening to the podcast for the last couple of weeks. I have a couple quick questions.
First, I fished a lot of lakes here in Northern New Mexico for trout and was wondering what the difference, percentagewise, between trout feeding subsurface on lakes was compared to rivers. I know on rivers, trout do anywhere from 80% to 90% of their feeding subsurface. And I'm curious to see if it differs in the lake.
Second question, for small stream fishing, streams under 15 feet across, what is your go-to fly in late summer months outside of a small hopper that will float really well after repeated fish catches and using dry shake?
Finally, I got a tip that may be useful to some folks out there. Whenever I get a new fly line, or even a leader, I will let out a bunch of line and wrap it around a round object like a pole and stretch the fly line out straight. I think this helps straighten out the fly line that has been coiled up in a box for a while. Remember not to try this with an object with sharp points as it may damage your line."
Thank you, Kyle, for that tip. Yeah, it's always good. You know, even if your fly line has been stored on a reel for a couple of days, it's always good to stretch your line, particularly if you're going to be doing a lot of distance casting, because, you know, a fly line without kinks and coils will shoot better for you. So that's a great idea. If you have a fishing buddy, you can also ask your fishing buddy to just hold the line and all you need to do is stretch the line a little bit, you know, just stretch it with moderate tension. You don't want to really yank on the thing, but you'll take the coils out pretty easily.
Regarding your questions, you know, I always am wary of those adages, like trout do 80% to 90% of their feeding subsurface. And that's probably true in a lot of streams. But, you know, there are certain streams where they do a much greater percentage of their feeding on the surface, particularly small streams, particularly places where there's cutthroat trout in the summertime. That percentage is not going to hold up. So, yeah, for the most part, they probably do three-quarters of their feeding underwater.
Feeding above the water is a risk because they're betraying their position to predators and also, they're sticking their nose into an environment that's alien to them. But there are times when it's easier for them to feed on the surface. When it's easier to capture their prey and there's abundant prey on the surface, they will come up to the top. In some small streams, most of their food comes from above in the form of terrestrials like moths and beetles and ants and grasshoppers and inchworms and things like that.
I don't know, and I think it's gonna vary from lake to lake, but I would say, probably in a lake, fish are more likely to feed subsurface even than in a stream. But again, that could vary and I don't think you can really have any rule of thumb but, you know, generally, you're going to be catching most of your fish with a subsurface fly in a lake.
For your second question, well, there isn't much that I use outside of a small hopper that will float really well in small streams in late summer. You know, I don't use a specific hopper. I generally use a Chubby Chernobyl. But another good fly for small streams late summer is a small Stimulator, a size 12, or 14, or even 16 Stimulator. That imitates a lot of terrestrial insects. And, you know, the good old Parachute Adams is a good fly.
And late in the summer, I invariably, unless the stream is super shallow, will hang a size 16 Red Copper John Beadhead on my dry fly because I sometimes get half my fish on a small nymph. But any small nymph will probably work. I'm partial to that Red Copper John.
Here's an email from Jacob. "Over the past few years, I've been involved in the unfortunate experience of foul-hooking trout from time to time on Wisconsin creeks and rivers that I fish. This has always occurred with tumbling nymphs and moderately paced water and has not been an issue in pools or slower currents. More recently, I have begun fishing dropper rigs, and the number of foul-hook sets I've been responsible for has gone up. And the guilt I experienced is causing me to want to use a different fly-fishing style. I'm mainly a catch-and-release fisherman and usually only keep a meal or two of fish each season.
When I pull a lake run rainbow out of Lake Superior tributaries with a size 8 nymph hook in its belly, however, or a 7-inch brown on a size 14 jig hook, I feel awful. And I began thinking I might as well just eat this fish. Though more often than not, they're under the legal limit for doing so. I'm firmly compliant with DNR regulations, but it's frustrating releasing a fish when you have a concern it will go belly up moments later.
When I foul hook a trout in the belly, am I killing the fish? Is it happening because I'm setting the hook too slowly, they're spitting it out, and the dropper nymph is catching their belly after? Or is the tippet catching on their fin in the drift and directing the hook into their body? It only seems to occur with the most distal fly on the rig. Thanks for your thoughts here and for helping to make sure fish are caught in a safe way and they can be gently returned to the waters."
Well, Jacob, first of all, just putting a little hook in the belly of a trout probably is not going to kill the fish. Fish get poked and jabbed a lot. I've seen lots and lots and lots of trout with heron pokes in their back and otter scrapes and, you know, scrapes from the claws of ospreys. And, yeah, they're probably not as healthy as they could be, but they're still surviving and feeding and probably spawning during the spawning season. So I don't think just sticking a little hook, particularly if you're using barbless hooks, in the belly of a fish is going to send it to its grave.
So I wouldn't worry so much about that. You know, when we kill fish, it's usually when a fish is hooked deeply in the tongue and it bleeds or somehow the fly gets down into the gills and gets caught there, or when a fish is handled too much, when it's kept out of the water for too long a time. But just a little poke in the belly, for the most part, is probably not going to hurt the fish that much.
There are ways to try to avoid this and, yeah, it's probably a combination of all the things you suggested, but it's usually when they take the first fly. A first fly is usually a larger fly. They see it first, they take it, and they spit it out, and then you see the blind hesitate, or the bobber hesitate, or whatever, and you set the hook, and they've already spit the fly out, and you're sticking them in the belly with the second hook.
So there are a number of ways to avoid that. One is to not fish beadhead fly so much because I suspect that when fish bite down on a beadhead nymph, they very quickly realize that this is a stone or a piece of metal or something, it's not right, and they're going to spit it out very quickly. Whereas a fur nymph or a softer nymph made out of chenille or something without a bead, they're probably going to hold on to it just a bit longer.
And setting the hook quicker, of course, is always going to be better because when you're dry fly fishing, sometimes you need to hesitate a little bit. But when you're nymph fishing, when that line moves, or when the indicator moves, or when your dry fly and the dry dropper rig moves, you know they've got it in their mouth, so you need to set the hook as quickly as possible.
The other thing is to fish one fly. You know, it's not so bad to just fish a single fly that's going to result in far fewer foul hookings because you don't have that second fly trailing along. If you do really want to keep fishing two flies, then what I generally do, and I get into times when I'll foul hook way too many fish as well, and I don't like it. And what I'll do is lengthen the distance between my bigger upper fly and my lower fly. And I'll try to make that length longer than the longest fish I think I'm going to catch in there.
And it may not always be optimal. And you may have to have a pretty long dropper on that second nymph, but you're less likely to foul hook a fish. And there's yet a third way to avoid when you're fishing two flies to lessen the chance of foul-hooking fish.
And that's, instead of tying your flies in line, which I imagine you're doing. In other words, you're tying the tippet to the hook of the upper fly and then just putting your lower fly on that second piece of tippet, which is the easiest way to do it. But by putting your second fly on a dropper, on your leader, above the first fly, so tying a knot, leaving a tag in long, and tying your second fly on that upper dropper. And that's usually the smaller fly. You're much less likely, it's out of line of the bigger fly, which is going to be lower and it's in front of it. So you're much less likely, when fishing with a separate dropper, to foul-hook a fish. So there's some suggestions, and I hope they help.
Isaac: Hey, Tom. This is Isaac from Vancouver, BC, Canada, just have a quick question about a local river that's local to me. And it just really kind of confuses me. It's a dam-fed river. And, you know, it's one of my favorite places to fish. You know, I've kind of dialed it in. The productive months for me are usually August, late July, August, September, and then, you know, and then some salmon start poking in.
But the problem I have is, for the first six months of the year, from January till June, I can't catch anything. And the water is usually pretty stable. I've measured it at like about 10 degrees Celsius, pretty consistently plus or minus, you know, a couple of degrees. During the summer, it creeps up a bit. But I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on where these fish go. I've tried all the usual productive, even, you know, riffles, runs, all the large pools because I know this river quite well. A fish, probably about a 10-kilometer stretch, quite extensively.
And just every year after year, between January and June, I have been skunked. And I just don't know where these fish go. It connects with a larger major river. And my question is, do you think these small trout migrate down and come back later on in the season? You know, I've quite consistently catch rainbow trout anywhere between 6 to kind of maybe 12 inches, 13 inches. But, you know, I don't know where they go.
Tom: Well, Isaac, welcome to the world of rainbow trout. Rainbow trout are very mobile. And even in a small stream, we have some wild rainbow streams here close to my house, and I find that, certain times a year, they just disappear. I have no idea where they are. And then, suddenly, they appear. So you're not alone. You know, the fact that you're not catching them early in the year could mean a couple things. One is that the fish might be spawning somewhere else. And they've migrated to spawn. So they're just not around.
Another thing is that, you know, if the water is heavy and there are no insects that bring them up in the water column, the trout may be there. But they may be difficult both to see and to target because they're down lower in the water column, and you're having trouble getting your fly to them. But this is very, very common with stream rainbow trout. They move around a lot. Sometimes, they seem to move all the time throughout the season. So I don't know where they go.
And, I mean, I have a little stream in my backyard, trout stream in my backyard that has wild rainbows. And there are times when I can't find them. And I have no idea where they are. I fish up and down through the system, and I just can't find them. So not uncommon, just be grateful that at least you're able to target them during the summer.
Here is an email from Brad from Southwest England. "So I have a couple of questions, which I hope you can answer. First, I've been fly fishing for five years now. And I remember being taught to cast by the owner of a local stocked lake. I can remember him telling me that every trout we caught had to be dispatched and taken for the table because the oils in our skin damage the fish when we hold them. Although I am now an exclusive catch-and-release angler, this theory has always stuck in my mind. And I was hoping you could verify or disqualify it.
Secondly, I was hoping you may be able to demystify the effect which rain has on our rivers and, in turn, how that affects the trout's feeding habits. And maybe give some general rules of thumb for when it comes to knowing whether it's worth fishing or not. Many thanks for your podcast and all you and Orvis do for the community."
Brad, I don't know about the oils in your skin. Unless you have something like insect repellent or sunscreen on your skin, I honestly have never heard anything about the oils in your skin affecting trout. However, there is some indication that handling a fish with wet hands will remove the protective slime layer from a fish's skin and expose them to infection and fungal diseases. So it's always good to wet your hands before you handle a fish, and handle a fish very quickly and handle it as little as possible. I mean, if you can keep a fish in a net and just gently wet your hands and then gently immobilize the fish in the net, and then remove the hook and just let the fish swim away, that's going to be the best thing for your catch-and-release fishing.
As far as rain is concerned, it really varies. However, I generally like rain. And if I see a rainy day, I will often go out fishing. A number of reasons, one is I know there won't be many people out there. There probably won't be any canoes, and there won't be any swimmers in the swimming halls. And also, rain means darker weather, darker clouds, lower ceiling, and that gives trout a little bit more confidence to come out in the open feed. Rain also stimulates certain insect hatches. Some of them hatch very, very well, our little olives, which I know you have in the UK as well, hatch much better in the rain than they do on a sunny day. So I love rain.
In general, I have found that a cold windy rain is not going to be as good as a kind of a drizzly rain on a warm day with low ceiling. So if you have a little bit higher ceiling and a lot of wind and rain, yeah, sometimes that will tend to put the fish off. And it's probably mainly due to the colder weather, dropping the water temperature, which will put the trout off to feed. Whereas a warm rain, a warm misty rain, gentle rain, without much wind, doesn't cool the water down and seems to be conducive to insects hatching and trout feeding. But that's my general rule of thumb.
Mike: Hi, Tom. Mike from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and I have a few fly-line-related questions. So I just picked up a Hydros IV reel to go along with Helios 3D rod, Orvis, obviously. The chart calls for 20-pound backing, 200 yards for the 8 weight for that reel. What if I want to consider using 30-pound backing? How do I determine how much backing that reel will hold with the given fly line?
In particular, the reason I would think about doing that, one would be I'm going to be going to Alaska. So we're going to be taking on salmon and, you know, their size and fight vary, so what's your thoughts, first of all, in upgrading to 30-pound backing and how would I go about determining how much the reel will hold?
Second, would be redfish scenario, same thing, 8-weight rod, 20-pound backing going to work for that? So basically, trying to figure out when to upgrade to heavier backing and also how much the reel would hold if the chart only calls for a certain pound of backing?
The second question would be regarding warm versus cold lines. And specifically, I'm a fan of Scientific Angler fly lines. And I've been looking at their high-end redfish fly lines. They have a warm one and a cold one. I've done a little bit of research and I saw some rough temperature estimates. But, obviously, you know, you can have cold snaps, hot snaps, and unusual periods of time. Is there a general rule of thumb?
So, in particular, fishing, probably going to be South Carolina, Louisiana for redfish, you know, maybe North Carolina or Georgia, but primarily South Carolina, Louisiana, maybe in Florida. But I know that when you bring Florida in anything, they're more tropical. So I'm just looking for your thoughts on when we get into these different types of temperature-dependent lines. Anything would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for everything, Tom."
Tom: Mike, I asked the people that fill our reels in our facility in Roanoke who fill the fly reels up when somebody owns an outfit or somebody orders a reel of line on it. And they mainly do it by eye. They're so good at that that they know just by watching the spool filling up when it's going to take a particular fly line.
But, in general, a general rule of thumb, a 30-pound backing is going to require that you cut the capacity of the reel down between 25% and 30%. And I would be safe, I would do 25% instead of 30% because it's always better to underfill a reel than overfill a reel. In fact, I like a little headroom in my reels and tend to underfill them anyway. So I would go 20% to 25%, less backing when you're putting 30-pound on, and you should be in good shape.
So regarding warm versus cold lines, if you're fishing in South Carolina and Louisiana for redfish, I would use a warm water line only if the water temperature gets above or the air temperature gets above, say, 80-degrees or so, because it's not so much the temperature of the water with what's called warm weather or warm water lines or hot weather lines or tropic lines. It's the air temperature. It's a fly line sitting on the deck of a boat baking in the sun. If you use a fly line that's designed for colder temperatures, that coating tends to get really sticky and won't shoot through the guides well.
So, you know, when in doubt, one of the best lines is the Orvis Saltwater All-Rounder, that has a great temperature range and works really well in both warm and cold-water conditions. And unless the air temperature gets to 85 or 90, that line will work quite well. So, in general, go with an all-rounder-type line if you aren't sure what the water temperature or the air temperature is going to be like. So I hope that helps. I know it's confusing.
This one is from Bill from South Carolina. "I tied up several dry flies on non-technical wide-gap hooks. I was using them on a small brook trout stream and seem to have a lot pop off quickly. For small fish like these, would the wide gap cause a problem or would it just be a normal issue like barbless hook, poor hook set, or an attempt at refusal?"
Bill, you know, small brook trout are just so adept at getting off the hook. They take a fly really quickly, and they wriggle around a lot, and they throw the hook very easily. I doubt if you were doing anything wrong. I think that, you know, a short-shank hook generally have very good hooking qualities. And the wide gap shouldn't cause a problem, it should actually help, unless the fish are really tiny. It should help.
So, you know, set the hook quickly. Maybe the fish are refusing the fly. Maybe they're too small to take the fly. But, you know, in small stream brook trout fishing, I wouldn't worry too much about... It's probably nothing you're doing, it's just the fish. The fish are behaving like brook trout.
So strike quickly. Keep using those wide-gap hooks, barbless hooks help. You know, you're not going to miss a hook set with a barbless hook. You might have a fish come off when you get a little slack in the line, occasionally. But, you know, if you're not hooking the fish, it has nothing to do with whether using a barbless hook or not. It's a refusal or the fish came at it too quickly or the fish was too small. I hope that helps.
Here's an email from Ian from Australia. "I really enjoy listening to the podcast. I love learning something new or deepening my understanding of the techniques of fly fishing. I wonder if I'd get some insights and suggestions for catching large trout at the end of the season beginning of the spawn.
A recent late March/early autumn trip with a mate on a remote river here in Australia had us anticipating three days of excellent fly fishing, especially the hope of finding some large brown trout. Down here, the brown trout generally run to spawn in autumn, April through June, and the rainbows in spring, September through November.
The river in question had recently had a good run of fresh rainwater go up through the system, and we felt the possibility of the spawn run having commenced would be high. The first two days were super fun and saw us catching bunches of small rainbows and the occasional decent-sized specimen coming to hand. We carefully and quietly fished the river, which runs very clear. We were falling rewarded with citing some large browns on our last day. This is when we got frustrated.
Let me set the scenario. A few single large browns of three to eight pounds responded sitting quietly in the back end of the pools and in the gutters at the back edges. The fish all sat in very shallow water with barely covering their backs, previous trips had allowed us to cast to these types of fishes, as they jostled and paired up in preparation to spawn, and we had been successful in catching and releasing them on a variety of flies including dry/nymph/egg and small streamers. This trip, the fish didn't seem to be quite into the spawn proper as they were still all just solo fish.
We tried all the usual techniques of dry and nymph upstream and swinging nymphs and streamers downstream to them. The trout would remain motionless for most of our cast, almost like they were sleeping, occasionally moving out of their lines for seemingly no reason. Then eventually, they would swim off after we got frustrated enough to make an ugly cast or creep into their field of vision.
The fish didn't ever swim off startled but would just confidently move into deeper water and disappear. I feel these fish should be catchable, but I'm a little stumped as to how. Keen to hear your thoughts."
Well, Ian, I'm not sure those fish were catchable. You know, fishing for spawning fish or even fish close to the spawn is not something that I particularly like because fish really shut down in their feeding most of the time. You know, there are occasional times, and it sounds like you've experienced it, where they will take a nymph or a dry fly. But most of the time, they're preoccupied with spawning, their growth rate slows down, and they're not actively feeding very much. They got one thing on their mind, and that's to find a place to build a bed or find a female and mate, and then relax.
So one thing is those fish could have been post-spawned. Spawning takes a lot out of the fish, and they may have been just resting after spawning. You may have actually caught them after the spawn because not all the fish are going to spawn at the same time. So they could have been post-spawn, but they could have also been pre-spawn.
And, you know, generally, it's just best to leave those fish alone. They're replenishing the stream for future years. We don't want to pester him that much, and they're not actively feeding. The only thing that sometimes works with fish like that is to swing a streamer in front of them to elicit an aggressive response.
But I suspect that that behavior had something to do with spawning, and thus, they probably would be better just to be left alone. The next time you encounter it, if you want, you could try swinging a streamer in front of them. Something big and colorful and obnoxious. But for the most part, you probably should just leave those fish alone.
Here's an email from Zach. "Love the podcast and the YouTube videos. Keep crushing it." I will, Zach, I hope.
"Now for my question. I picked up fly fishing last summer and was able to take advantage of a free one-on-one intro class in my local Orvis shop in Denver, Colorado. Thanks, Jean. He taught me the Double Davy Knot and I must say I prefer this knot to any other I've tried for tying on a fly. It's simple, lower profile than the clinch, and I haven't had any strength issues with it. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on the knot and its pros and cons."
Well, Zack, I don't know any cons. I've just started to play around with the Double Davy Knot. It seems like there's a lot of internet experts out there that recommend the Double Davy. I actually don't know of a single guide who uses that knot, but that doesn't mean it's not a good knot. There are lots of good knots to tie on a fly.
I've heard some guides that have played around with a Single Davy Knot and have had it slip. But I've never heard of any problems with a Double Davy Knot. So if it works for you, if you feel strong, you're confident with it. I would go ahead and keep using it.
Here's an email from Gavin. "Your podcast almost single-handedly is responsible for teaching me everything I've learned over the past few years. I've been teaching myself fly fishing. Now that I'm gaining some experience and confidence, like to do my part to pay it forward to other new anglers.
I recently started fly tying just last year, and I've been experimenting with tons of patterns. I haven't quite mastered spinning deer hair heads, but simpler flies are becoming much easier. I had a thought while listening to your podcast a few weeks ago and decided to try to make some changes to a few flies to see what happened.
My best results so far was a simple Pat's Rubber Leg with black chenille, tan striped legs, and a hot pink bead tied right in the middle and secured on both sides by lead-free wire and then thread, of course. I've been fishing the spring on some rainbow stock or creeks here in East Tennessee. Nothing was happening on the surface, as is often the case in these creeks. But there were fish flashing all over the bottom. So I tied on my Pat's Rubber Leg and had absolutely my best day ever.
I don't even know how many fish I had hit the fly. It must have been over 100. I ended up landing at least half of them and got my daily limit of seven to take back to the grill for the family. I went back the next week to close by and a very similar creek with the exact same story. This fly is excellent, at least in these particular creeks. I think that hotspot from the bead gives just a different, maybe more enticing, picture than what these trout are used to seeing. But who knows for sure?
This is definitely a fly would recommend to new fly fishermen/women as it's simple and easy to tie and is a time-tried classic that's proven its worth. I just wanted to share this story. Hopefully, it will help someone else be successful, like so many other tips from the podcasts that helped me. Take care, Tom. Thanks for reading."
Well, Gavin, thank you very much. That's a cool idea of putting a hot pink bead in the middle of rubber legs. And I'm gonna try that myself. It sounds like a neat thing. And I've never heard of anybody doing it quite that way. I've heard of people putting hot pink beads at the head, but never in the middle of the fly. So definitely worth trying and I'm sure other people that are listening to the podcast are going to try that trick as well.
Here's an email from Alex. I'm 33 years old and living in Jersey City. I've been a spin fisherman most of my life on the lakes of Minnesota but got into fly fishing two years ago, primarily in the Catskill area, and have dove in 100%. I really appreciate your podcast, indulging my obsession.
Two questions, you frequently talk about the importance of practicing casting off the water, whether that be in a field or testing a line in a fly shop before you buy it. I've gone out to practice in a grass field twice now for about an hour in each session and have been impressed with the improvements I've made. It was really exciting to watch Pete Kutzer's video on how to double haul and, after struggling through it for an hour, increased my casting distance from 50 to 70 feet, well worth it, to say the least.
However, an unexpected problem has arisen. At the end of both days, my fly line had a gash in it near the tip. My short 2-foot leader's frame is almost like damaged, splitting hairs, and my little piece of yarn always breaks off. Photo of my broken line attached.
I should add, I thought I was using high-end lines. I'm using a 9-foot 5-weight and a 10-foot 8-weight Orvis Clearwater and a short 12-pound fluoro Leader. Have you ever seen this happen before? Why would a fly shop allow someone to test a fly line, because I am finding out, if it can be damaged after an hour casting? My theory is that sometimes when I cast, I hear a whip cracking sound on the back cast. I'm reading that may be an indication I'm a little too early.
Is this cracking sound a common issue? Does it frequently destroy line as quickly as I'm experiencing? Anything else you suspect? I certainly don't want to be fraying my fly lines every time I go out to practice. Do you ever guide? How might I book a day on the water with the master and living legend, Tom Rosenbauer?"
Let's deal with the fly-line question first, Alex. The key here is that cracking sound you're hearing, and it does mean that you're coming forward too quickly on your forward cast. And I've heard it said that that's the fly line breaking the sound barrier. I'm not sure if that's the case. But the fly line is moving very quickly and it's like a whip cracking and that can fray a leader and damage a fly line because sometimes it will pop a fly off the leader too.
So it's definitely the fact that you're not waiting quite long enough on your back cast. And when you practice casting, grass is better than asphalt, wet grass is better than dry grass, and plain old water is the best way to do it. If you can find a pond nearby, or a lake, or a swimming pool, or something where you can practice your casting, it's going to be much better on your fly line than casting on dry land. So if you can find a place with water, or even just wet the grass, if you're on your own lawn, if you could sprinkle some water on the grass before you cast, that will make it a little bit easier on your fly line. But I think your major problem is coming forward too early on the forward cast.
Regarding guiding, no, I don't guide. I wouldn't be a very good guide, not day in and day out anyways. I don't guide. I never have been a guide. I do occasionally donate a day of guided fishing to local charities, and that's really the only time I guide. However, I do host trips. And I have two hosted trips for anyone who's interested.
One is to the fabulous Three Rivers Ranch in Idaho, October 1st through, I think, 7th. It's the first week of October. And I know there are a couple spaces left in that trip. It's a great lodge. The food is spectacular. It's an old family owned. It's actually the oldest and longest Orvis-endorsed fishing lodge. It was actually the very first Orvis-endorsed fishing lodge, and it's always been in the same family. The guides are amazing. There's lots of good fishing in the area, all kinds of different waters.
And if you're interested in that, you should contact Orvis Travel. The number is on the website or in your catalog. And then I'm also hosting a trip to Magic Waters in Chile in February. And I forgot the date. So I do occasionally host trips, but I don't do any guiding at all. Sorry.
Larry: Hi, Tom. This is Larry in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'm a relatively new fly fisherman. I just started last year, fisherperson, angler, and even a newer flying tier. I just had a question about natural materials and the ethical treatment of those animals that provide those natural materials for fly tying and how they are acquired and how the animals are treated. I try to be as humanely ethical, whatever the right term for it is, with other things in my life and so I'm just curious about that.
I know that synthetics would also entail some ethical decisions as well, as far as habitat destruction and for mining and drilling for oil to create the synthetics or whatever products they need to do that. But my question is specifically the natural materials and how those are obtained and/or sources I could go to. Thank you much, Tom. Love the podcast, love your articles, love the videos on YouTube, and the Orvis Learning Center, and all you do for this board. Thanks.
Tom: Well, Larry, there's really no market for raising animals for fly tying, except for hackle capes and the chickens that are raised for hackle. In my experience, I've been to a number of these operations where chickens are raised for fly tying, for special dry fly hackles and long saddles, and things like that. And they are very special chickens. They're not even good to eat. They put all their energy into feathers. And they're pretty scrawny, not scrawny. They're healthy, but they're skinny and tough. And they are treated very well.
In fact, I have a vision of Dr. Tom Whiting, who is one of the main growers of hackle, sitting in a barn on the floor of a big chicken coop with his chickens and just kind of talking to them and letting them run around and petting them and things like that. So the chickens are treated quite well. Of course, they're treated quite well until they're killed for their capes. But as far as I've ever seen, they're very ethically treated. And people really treasure these chickens.
All the other natural materials that we get, nearly all of them are harvested or taken from animals that are harvested for sport. You know, the deer hair and the elk hair that we get is from hides that are obtained from hunters and things like Hare's Ear. For instance, the European hare is invasive in places like South America and Australia, and they're killed because they're their pests. And that's where we get the Hare's Ears.
And, you know, the duck feathers that we get, the CDC, and feathers like that are taken generally from ducks that are harvested by hunters and then taken to one of the commercial plucking operations. So there's not really much of an issue with...there's no place where there's like a feedlot, where there's animals being raised for fly tying, and, you know, it's not like our food supply where there are some ethical issues. But I would not have any concerns about fly tying materials being raised in an unethical manner. Unless you don't like hunting. And then, I don't know what to say because most of the animals are hunted and harvested for food by individuals.
All right, that is the Fly Box this week. Let's go talk to Matthew about the amazing redeye bass.
Well, my guest today is Matthew Lewis. And Matthew and I don't know each other, but Matthew is an expert on fishing for redeye bass. And it's a fish that I've never caught before. So I'm really interested in getting into the details of this fish. And the cool thing about it is where it's caught. It's within its native range, and it's a native species, which is very cool. So Matthew, welcome to the podcast, and why don't you give people a little bit of your background on how you got to be an expert on redeye bass?
Matthew: Sure, thanks, Tom, for the opportunity to talk to you and everyone else. But so, you know, it's kind of surreal given that I'm a fly angler in Alabama, where there's really not any trout or charge to speak of. And so, a lot of times, you know, we kind of get left out of the fly-fishing discussion. But coupled with that, you know, primarily, backers for redeye bass, which is a fish that most people have never heard of. So I'm kind of like the margin within the margin within the margin of fly fishing.
But so my background is I actually came from working in human genetics, where I worked on cancer and also Parkinson's disease, and spent 10 years doing that, and kind of my release or de-stressor was to get out and do back-country brook trout trips up in the North Carolina, Tennessee, and Smoky Mountains. And I discovered redeye bass in Alabama, just because, you know, locality. It was easier to go fish for them than drive all the way up to the Smoky Mountains.
And I just fell in love with it because, honestly, it was the exact same thing. The terrain was the same, the streams were the same. The only difference was I was catching these beautiful, colorful bass instead of brook trout. And it just really, you know, lit a fire under me. I wanted to know everything I could know about them, and just, you know, completely fell in love with the fish and the places that they live.
And I couldn't find anything about them. There wasn't a lot of like scientific articles about, you know, their life history or anything like that. And there weren't many magazine articles. It's just not a fish that people knew about or wrote about. And so, I'd kind of started, you know, I thought, "Well, you know, what? If I like it, I'm sure someone else does." So I gathered up enough information and just wrote a piece for, I think, it was "Eastern Fly Fishing" magazine at the time on fly fishing for redeye bass in Little River Canyon, in northeast Alabama.
And, you know, after that, I was like, "You know, I'd really like to get more out there." So I started just combining everything and distilling all the scientific knowledge that we knew about this fish, as well as, you know, all my time on the water, fishing for them, my own experience. I mean, this is four or five years into fishing for them. And I just had enough information, I say, "I should just write a book."
And I started compiling things together and just writing a book. So, in 2018, I released my book, "Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass: An Adventures Across Southern Waters." And it's a very niche book. It's self-published. And it's sold, I think, right around 2000 copies now. And it's just done far better than I ever thought it would.
But at the same time of writing that book, I spent a lot of time, you know, on the water for these different species of redeye bass in their different native, in their drainages. And I learned about some of the conservation challenges that those fish were facing, some species more than others.
It kind of redirected my career. So I actually left my job doing Parkinson's disease research and came back to Auburn University to do a PhD, and I'm able to actually do my PhD kind of on the genetics of redeye bass and kind of understanding the hybridization that's occurring within that species and some of the other native species here in Alabama. And so, I've been able to kind of marry, you know, my professional and personal interests, which is something not many people are able to do.
Tom: No, a few of us view of us have been able to do it.
Matthew: Right. So my world is all redeye bass, whether it's scientific research or it's out fly fishing.
Tom: Well, let's talk a little bit first about the taxonomy. And I assume they're in the Micropterus genus because I'm embarrassed I haven't done any research on them. I should have done it, but I'm relying on you. So are they a subspecies or are they a separate Micropterus species?
Matthew: Yeah. So, Tom, we're getting into some really gray areas that still exist in science, but they are, you know, their own species of Micropterus. But, you know, Micropterus itself is undergoing all sorts of revisions and new species being added, some species being debated.
But within the redeye bass, we call it the redeye bass complex, because there are seven species, five of them are described currently. So they are, you know, five different species of redeye bass. And then, there are two that are proposed, but the work hasn't been done to actually formally describe them yet.
But most scientists agree that those are genetically, morphologically distinct enough to be their own species. So we're looking at seven total species.
So it's similar to what you see with, you know, maybe cutthroat trout out West, where they're each their own species, and they're each endemic to a certain river drainage. And there's no connection between these river systems. So they probably were isolated there in some kind of mountain uplift, back, you know, before the Ice Age or something. We don't really know. But they're geographically separated, and they're genetically very different. I mean, as different as a smallmouth is from a largemouth.
And they have some very distinct coloration and just visual morphological differences. You know, some have these beautiful red fins that look like a Caribbean fish. Others have, you know, just more blue and green kind of your typical bass colorations. But it's fascinating.
But there's no doubt that the name redeye bass has caused a lot of confusion because a lot of people refer to rock bass, a type of panfish, as redeye. So, you know, Roanoke bass or goggle-eye or whatever people call them. A lot of times, people think that's what you're talking about when you're talking about redeye bass.
But it's actually a Micropterus. It's a black bass. It's the slowest growing bass. So they don't get very big. This fish max out around 12 inches and, you know, rarely reach a pound in weight, obviously, well under that because they live in these small, upland mountain streams where, you know, there's not a lot of food. They don't have a lot of ability to get very big, but they're also genetically limited because if they've been moved into hatchery or some sort of aquaculture-type setting, they don't get big, even if you feed them a lot. They get bigger around, but they don't get any longer.
Tom: You mentioned hybridization worries. Are they more closely related to largemouth or smallmouth?
Matthew: They're actually most closely related to what's been described as an Alabama bass. So Alabama bass looks like a spotted bass. But they're also native to only the Mobile Basin in Alabama and, you know, parts of Georgia. And if you were to look at a spotted bass and Alabama bass, I mean, there's not a lot you can't tell them apart. And oftentimes, you know, state agencies can't either. They send samples to us to genetically determine whether it's an Alabama bass or spotted bass, but it's more closely related to Alabama bass, and they're both native and co-evolved in the Mobile Basin.
But what's, you know, typically, they were separated where redeye bass were kind of this niche specialist, you know, in these upland mountain streams, and Alabama bass were lower down in the system. And then when you started having things like dams and people moving fish around, and habitat degradation, things like that, it's made some of the redeye bass or historical redeye bass habitat more available for invasion, I guess, would be one way to describe it. For Alabama bass to kind of move up into those systems and Alabama bass is a species, you know, habitat journalist [SP]. And so they can move into these areas and thrive while redeye bass, you know, can't once their habitats change.
And so, we don't really know why hybridization is occurring between those two native species. But what we've done is some pretty large genetic surveys. And certain stream systems in Alabama, it's more prevalent than others. And so we think that there's some sort of, you know, relationship between habitat disturbance or human disturbance that's facilitating that hybridization. But we don't know that yet. We have the data to do that. We're going to be looking at that next. We just completed the genetic survey.
But we think that, you know, that's going to shed a lot of light on things that we can do to hopefully mitigate that from continuing to happen because a couple of the species of redeye bass, you know, we struggled to find pure populations. And this is just an example of when to fish kind of goes unnoticed by anglers or scientists even, things can be happening that we're completely unaware of, until someone looks like, "Oh, gosh, we're behind the eight ball now trying to figure out how do we keep these fish around?"
Tom: Did they hybridize at all with a largemouth bass?
Matthew: They don't. You don't see that a lot. I mean, you know, out of hundreds and hundreds of samples or individuals that we've tested, we may see less than 5% that are hybrids of largemouth and that's typically because their habitat is so different. You're not going to see them overlap as much. But Alabama bass can kind of really flirt the boundary there between largemouth water and redeye bass water a little bit better. And so you see a lot more hybridization with those two species.
Tom: And tell us about where people can find these fish. Are they only in Alabama? Or are they in some neighboring states?
Matthew: They're in a few neighboring states. So the native drainages or the river systems where redeye bass are native is the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Black Warrior, Cahaba Chattahoochee, Savannah and Altamaha river systems. And so, a lot of those are in Alabama. But some of the headwaters are in Georgia, South Carolina because of the Savannah River system. And Tennessee has a little bit of the Coosa River system that kind of gets into that state. So they have a small population of native redeye bass there as well.
But just Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are the only states where you can catch redeye bass in their native range. Let me specify that. The interesting thing, I went out to Arizona, of all places, to give a talk because we had done a study out there where they thought they had smallmouth in the Upper Verde river system. And I somehow came across a picture, and I said, "That's a redeye bass. Like, that is not a smallmouth bass. I can just tell, me looking at it."
And I contacted Arizona Game and Fish. And, you know, they connected me to the university there that was doing some of the work on trying to figure out what type of fish that is. And anyway, they sent me some fin clips, and I was able to genetically determine that they are in fact redeye bass. And then the question was, well, how in the heck did they get out there?
Tom: Yeah, really.
Matthew: And when I went out there. Actually, I was able to go fish for them. And so you're in this desert setting with cacti everywhere, and your red rock, red dirt and you're catching this fish that I'm so used to catching in Alabama in a totally alien environment. And it's just like, I have no idea how these got here. They were probably stocked as "smallmouth bass" back before people either knew what redeye bass were or they just couldn't tell a difference when they were really small.
But they have been stocked to other places because they can kind of inhabit water that's typically too cold for other bass species but too warm for trout, so kind of this great intermediary to create a fishing opportunity. So they've been actually stocked in some streams in California, obviously, Arizona, and even Puerto Rico. They've been moved around quite a bit but the native range is restricted to the Southeast.
Tom: And tell me about what the habitat looks like when you go to a native redeye stream where they're indigenous. What do the streams look like? And are they just streams? Do they occur in lakes as well?
Matthew: So they typically only occur in streams. They are kind of a stream specialist. There is one species, the redeye bass, that's in Savannah River system, which is commonly called the Bartram's bass. Those do persist in the lakes. And I don't know if it's like kind of the periphery of the lakes or if they're all throughout because they've had some major hybridization issues there with invasive fish.
But, you know, looking back as much as we can tell, we think those have persisted in the lake habitat at least better than the others. But the others are strictly stream specialist. And so, they live in these, you know, cool upland streams above the fault line in these areas. So if people don't know what that is, it's where the upland region meets the coastal plain region, which inevitably results in a lot of waterfalls and rapids. And they drain these mountain landscapes. So they have steep slopes and higher channel gradients and stream beds were dominated by the bedrock and cooler water temperatures.
And if I showed you a picture of where I fish a lot, you would have no idea that I wasn't standing in North Carolina and some Smoky Mountain stream. They're completely, you know, kind of bordered by mountain laurel and, you know, other kind of rhododendron, things like that you'd see in a mountain stream. And the water is crystal clear. It's cool. And it has this kind of cobblestone, you know, bedrock bottom. Lots of plunge pools and kind of, you know, waterfall, cascade-type riffle, run pool habitat. And it just feels otherworldly. Because even growing up in Alabama, that's not what I think of when I think of bass fishing, especially not in Alabama. But it exists.
And so there's that small stream environment. And there's a couple of river systems where you can, you know, catch redeye bass in a large river that's just, you know, has a lot of shoal habitat. And the Tallapoosa River is one of the best rivers for that, where you can just get on the actual main river and catch this fish instead of having to go up into the upper tributaries, like most of the other stream systems.
Tom: Wow. So let's talk about fishing for them. I mean, what do they eat? And what kind of flies do you use? What kind of tackle do you use for these guys?
Matthew: Yeah, so they're not picky eaters, you know, very similar to... I keep using brook trout as kind of a qualifier because I think that's the best way to kind of help people relate to this fish. But they're not picky. You know, they live in these streams where meals are hard to come by, and they kind of have to take what they can get fast by nature, you know, are opportunistic feeders anyway.
But there is some evidence that these fish are more surface-oriented. which bodes well for the fly-rod angler. But, you know, typically, what few studies have been done, their diets consist of mostly adult terrestrial and aquatic insects. So you do see a lot of stoneflies and mayflies on these streams. You see a lot of damselflies. That's probably one of the most common insects that I see flying around.
But you also have, you know, grasshoppers on the banks and things like that, beetles, ants, you know, all sorts of stuff, and then, obviously, the larval nymph stage of some of those insects, as well as hellgrammites and, of course, the ever-present crayfish. So those are kind of the main diet of those fish.
But I have better luck. When I fish in areas that have both redeye bass and, say, Alabama bass, I catch more red eye bass fishing, you know, a top water popper or some sort of other foam flop or it's hopper, whatever, than I do the other species. If I tie on the streamer, whether it's, you know, Wooly Bugger, to be general, or crayfish imitation, I'm going to catch more, you know, Alabama bass. And I think they've kind of developed this, you know, diet partitioning, maybe, to coexist in some of these areas.
But redeye bass are explosive surface feeders. I mean, they come out of the water very similar to smallmouth or a much bigger fish like a Golden Dorado and Brazil or something. They completely come out of the water when they hit your fly, which is a lot of fun on these small, intimate streams when you're way back in the backcountry and you're this little, tiny waterfall pool and it's completely serene and quiet around you. And then, all of a sudden, there's just like this explosion, since your fly hits the water. And so they're very exciting.
And then, they're very colorful. I mean, once you get them in, you're just, I mean, I cannot believe how pretty this bass is because of all the blues. I mean, sometimes the entire fish is blue. It just looks like they don't belong in freshwater. I mean, they just have a fin coloration that you don't see commonly among bass.
But I like to, you know, I typically fish top water. I like to use a smaller rod. So I typically use 3-weight. And I'm using, you know, typically 7'6"3 weight. I have used 9-foot rods before, but I mean, honestly, some of the streams that I fish, it's really hard. I mean, there's just going to be roll casting, a lot of times, which a 9-foot rod can be a little bit more effective with that. But, you know, I'm able to cast and do sidearm casting and things like that.
When I'm hiking in and out of the stream, I just prefer shorter rod. It's not getting hung on everything. But I use 7'6"3 weight rods is kind of ideal for the small streams. I like to use furled leaders. I know there's kind of a, you know, people either love them or hate them. I've always liked them because I primarily throw poppers and I think that transfer of energy from the fly line to the fly, a furled leader helps with that a lot.
These are pretty crystal-clear streams. So you're not really worried about getting stuff caught in your furled leader like grass and, you know, other stuff like that you might experience with a largemouth water. And I think my furled leader, it's anywhere from 5 feet to 7.5 feet, and I usually use about 18 inches of 8-pound monofilament.
So I don't even use tippet. I just use monofilament fishing line because these fish are not leader shy. And you want to have that added heft because there's a lot of rock. And they'll go down and try to, you know, rub the fly out or kind of get tangled in rocks. And you're inevitably going to catch some mountain laurel and things like that too. And I can just jerk my fly high up in a tree without breaking it with that 8-pound mono. So that's my typical setup.
If you're on a larger river system, I typically use a 5 or 6 weight. But I'm still throwing bigger poppers. I mean, on a small stream, I may throw like a number 8. And on the big rivers, I'm throwing a number 4 or number 6. So you need a little bit bigger rod, and also, you're casting a lot further.
So that's kind of the way I like to fish for them. I have a lot of friends that are kind of the opposite, where they really prefer the subsurface game. And so they like to just throw streamers and crayfish imitations and things like that. And those are highly effective. I mean, you know, they catch just as many fish, if not more, than I do and sometimes bigger fish.
But you can also fish... You know, I've done the popper dropper thing before too, where I'm covering a lot of water. And so, I may drop this little, What's called a hatchling craw by Panther Branch Bugs, Brandon Bailes, I think you've talked to him before. He ties this little hatchling crayfish. They're really small. And I can drop it off a popper without it, you know, weighting down the popper. And they tend to like those a lot, any kind of like hellgrammite-type nymph that you can drift that's really well. You know, any kind of size-down nymph fly that works really well.
Tom: And do these guys jump when you hook them like a smallmouth?
Matthew: Oh yeah, yeah. They jump, you know, as they hit the fly. And then, once they're hooked, they typically jump quite a few more times. You know, the bigger fish will tend to kind of bulldog you down, similar to a brown trout or something. And bigger is relative with red eye bass. I'm talking about an 11,12-inch fish. But, you know, the more common 7 to 9-inch fish, I mean, they go absolutely crazy. I mean, you get multiple jumps out of them, which is really fun. I mean, it's fun to see, and you can see all that color, that blue coloration and when they're jumping and you know what you've got.
And I tell him a lot of times, these fish, you know, as soon as your fly hits the water, they're gonna hit your fly. I mean, there's not a lot of investigation that goes on. And so the key is covered water. I like to, you know, if I come to a pool, I make a few casts and if I don't have a hit, I move on.
Tom: Sounds like brook trout fishing.
Matthew: Yeah, you're playing the odds game because the more water you cover, the more fish you're gonna catch. But, you know, it's a really fun type of fishing because you and many of your listeners probably understand because they understand brook trout fishing. It's more about the adventure and the places that you go and the places that you are able to catch these fish in that really kind of, you know, sets the tone a little bit more than the size of the fish that you're catching.
And I think that's what's so cool about it, to me, because when people think of bass fishing in Alabama, it's always tournament largemouth and glitter boats and all these things. And then, oddly enough when people think of fly fishing, they think of trout fishing.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah, they still can't get out of that mindset, can they?
Matthew: I can't tell you how many times I get off the water. And, you know, typically I'll use a trail to get back to my car or something. You know, people see me carrying a fly rod, and they'll say, "I didn't know there were trout in here."
But I think that fly fishing for redeye bass is something that can kind of help break down that barrier, just people don't understand you can fly fish for anything. And it doesn't have to be trout. And I think in Alabama, at least, we're kind of redefining what it means to be a bass fisherman because this has become really popular. Not just pursuing redeye bass but fly fishing, because people are understanding and learning through redeye bass that, "Hey, you can fly fish for other things."
And so we've really seen fly fishing grow in Alabama. And I don't know if it's because specifically of, you know, anything I've done. I just think it's more people are doing it, you know, word of mouth and Instagram and things like that. People are fly fishing a lot more, which has always been our goal is to get people out fly fishing, number one. Because if they out there on these small streams, hopefully, they'll become advocates for those streams and the fish that live there.
And so, you know, that's something that we saw is obviously missing in Alabama, and really, probably a lot of places. And so, that's one way that we thought that we could, you know, help bridge that gap there, just create an army of advocates.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. You mentioned a little bit about hybridization. What kinds of other threats are there to the redeye populations?
Matthew: Hybridization is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, but I don't know that it's the habitat disturbance or habitat change causing the hybridization? Or is it compounding the effects of it? We don't know that yet. Those are the two biggest things. We're just not sure how they're related.
But hybridization and habitat loss. I mean, in the Black Warrior drainage, there's this whole canyon that used to exist that's just, I mean, absolutely breathtaking. I've seen photos of it. And this is well within the range of redeye bass in the Black Warrior drainage. And now, it's under a reservoir, it's under the water because they dammed up the river, and that canyon is now flooded. And so, obviously, that's habitat that's lost.
And, as I mentioned, there's other issues with dams that have been put in and other places that have completely changed the habitat of the streams that were once dominated by redeye bass. Now they're dominated by Alabama bass. And we can look back and see, you know, just 20 years ago, this stream based on you know, U.S. Forest Service surveys and things like that, was primarily a redeye bass stream. And then we can look now, 20 years later, and see through our own sampling or Forest Service, you know, recent samplings, and it's more dominated by an Alabama bass. And the only thing that had changed was that there was a dam put in in that stream.
And so, you know, there's a lot of issues like that. And I think because this fish is kind of flown under the radar by most, you know, state agency, all the way to scientists, and anglers, and everyone else, it's just not been a concern as much. And I think now that this kind of awakening that's happening with native biodiversity and being able to appreciate and also celebrate that redeye bass has kind of been a really good driver for that, at least among the fishing community, to be able to champion that cause and support conservation and river keepers and things like that, because, you know, they want this fish to persist. So, it's been a really exciting last few years, you know, to see all that kind of grow and people become more vocal.
Tom: Is most of the fishing that you do on public land? You mentioned the Forest Service, is a lot of it on public land?
Matthew: Primarily, I like to do several national forests here in Alabama. They have excellent system of streams. I mean, more water than you can fish in a lifetime. There's just so many streams. And, you know, they're hard to get to. It's not something you can just, you know, park on the side of the road and jump in. I mean, there are places like that.
But the things that I like to do is you hike back in, you access the water that you'd like to think that no one's ever fished. And it may be true for some of them. But, you know, you certainly see signs of humans being there, whether it's an old, you know, part of a mine cart or things back from when they logged the forest and stuff like that. So they're not untouched, but they're about as wild as we have left. And it's just really nice to get back there with a small rod and a couple of flies in a fly box and just go, you know.
Tom: Yeah, just enjoy the day on a small mountain stream. There's not much better than that.
Matthew: No, no.
Tom: And you said that fishing for redeye bass is getting more popular. Do you have any crowding situations on your redeye streams or there are just so many of them and so remote that you don't bump into other people?
Matthew: I haven't seen a lot of crowding. I think that the streams that are getting crowded are the streams that are just the more obvious ones. Because there are some locations where, you know, access is really easy. And they're well known. And, you know, people posting pictures with landmarks and things like that. It's, you know, kind of take some of the mystique away, but those places that certainly are getting more pressure.
But those are places that also have always gotten pressure, maybe not fishing, but recreating, whether it's swimming or floating, you know, an inner tube or whatever. But they certainly are getting more fishing pressure.
And oddly enough, the few places that I consider more remote, back-country-type places, I have met, I would say, less than a handful of anglers in the last two years as I was either leaving the stream or arriving to the stream. And they all said that they bought my book.
Tom: That always does.
Matthew: So, I guess I can point the finger at myself for those. But that's a fine line that we'd have to deal with in fish conservation because if people don't use a resource, they're not likely to appreciate it and even understand, like, why it's important. So you're trying to create, you know, this user group, so that, you know, funding and importance is placed on better understanding this fish. And you gotta have one to have the other. But at the same time, there's also negative effects with fishing pressure and things like that, too.
And so it's, you know, it's something I struggle with a lot. And the way I handle it is my book doesn't mention any streams by name. It's broad. Like the Coosa River drainage, the Black Warrior drainage. And that's the way I do it is that promote the fish, why they're important, why they need our help, and generally where you can catch them. But I don't just lay out a blueprint for, "Park here. Walk here." You know, I just think that's important.
We had a population of shoal bass. I don't know if you've heard of that fish or if you've been able to fish for it.
Tom: I have. I've never caught one, but I've heard of them, yeah.
Matthew: I mean, you know, they get as big as smallmouth and are certainly more aggressive. And they live in this beautiful [inaudible 01:20:05] streams around here in Georgia primarily. But we had a population in Alabama, and it's been extirpated because no one was looking at it. I mean, no one was researching it or trying to understand it. Or, you know, we just didn't know a lot about the life history or the habitat needs of that fish. And now, it's gone in Alabama forever. I don't think we're going to be able to get it back at this point.
And I don't want to see the same thing happen to redeye bass because we're not looking or no one knows about it.
Tom: And there's no advocates for it, right? If there are no advocates, people fishing for them, then nobody cares.
Matthew: Exactly. So I'm willing to risk a little bit of fishing pressure versus extinction or extirpation any day of the week. I just tried to do it smartly. And any kind of awareness is obviously educational as well as an informative for how fun it is to fish for.
Tom: Now, it sounds like there's a lot of room for someone who likes to explore. I believe that all the joy in small stream fishing is the exploration. It is going to a place you've never been before and finding out if there are any fish there and how big they are and what species. And that's what it's all about. It's not about a giant battle with a huge, huge fish, right?
Matthew: Right. And that's the thing. I mean, if we can get people to focus more on the overall experience and just the beauty of the biodiversity that we have here in Alabama, as opposed to pounds and inches, I think it will go a long way. And like the adventure aspect we're talking about, when I go into some of these national forest areas. And the other day, I was driving. It's been about a month now. But I was driving to one of my fishing spots. I was going down a Forest Service road, and I saw a wild turkey hen with some poults, kind of just playing around the side of the road, probably eating insects or whatever.
And I kind of just stopped the car because they were kind of in the road and I kind of looked around. And they kind of ran off the opposite side of the road from where they were. And at that same time, when I started inching forward a little bit more. A bobcat ran across the road to the other direction. So I feel like I broke up a predation moment there and hopefully saved some wild turkeys.
Tom: Yeah, but now you've got a hungry bobcat.
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. But you see things like that, you know?
Tom: Yeah, you do.
Matthew: You see deer in the roads. I've seen, you know, probably some quail. And that stuff you don't see a lot. I mean quail, especially, anymore, not wild quail. Another thing, I like to forage for mushrooms, wild mushrooms.
Tom: Oh, so do I.
Matthew: And so I've come across morels, chanterelles, lion's mane. I mean, all of that stuff, just getting out, you know, hiking to the stream and hiking back out of the stream, getting off the trail. And you see turtles that maybe you've never seen before, different species of turtles. We've got quite a few here in Alabama.
Unfortunately, sometimes snakes that... You know, I don't kill snakes, but I certainly like to let them have their space and try not to interfere with them too much. But you see a lot of that kind of stuff. I've never seen a queen snake before. And I watched one on a stream when I was fishing. You know, the upper half of its body completely straight out in the water, kind of like a stick, and it's waiting for a damselfly. You know, and just stuff like that, that you're not going to see on a busy lake.
And you're all alone. And it can be so individualistic. It can be a respite for you to get out and just kind of de-stress and enjoy the natural beauty of the place. And at the end of the day, I'm perfectly fine by myself, sitting on my truck tailgate and drinking a beer and just thinking about how much fun I had, kind of reliving the day.
But there's also those times where we get a raft and we, me and two or three of my buddies, float down the Tallapoosa River, and we're all fishing together. We can stop and get out and sit in the cool water. And you know, you've got that camaraderie. And so you can kind of have both with this, which I think is really fun.
Tom: Well, Matthew, I think you have hit upon the essence of fly fishing, really. That's what it's all about, right?
Matthew: Right.
Tom: That's immersing yourself in nature and not focusing so much on getting a picture of a big fish for Instagram.
Matthew: Right, yep.
Tom: That sounds like a cool fish. And I hope someday to see these streams and be able to fish for them because I think it would be... Of course, being a lover of small-stream brook trout fishing, I did it yesterday afternoon for a couple hours, and it does sound so similar, and the environments sound similar. And they are just such beautiful, beautiful places that... I mean, that water that I fished was absolutely crystal clear, tiny stream. Nope, I don't think anybody ever fishes it, you know? And it's just my special place. It's great.
Matthew: Yeah, I mean, I would love for you to come and fish here. Because I think that it would just blow your mind. Anybody that ever has experienced that, you know, hasn't done that kind of stuff before, they're just like, "Man, don't tell anybody about it." You know, because you want it to be a secret. But at the same time, you know, it can't if this fish is going to persist in our current times.
Tom: Yeah, well, before...
Matthew: But it's...
Tom: Sorry, go ahead.
Matthew: I just think that, you know, this fish will kind of connect you to these wild places that we have left and kind of allow you to interact with, you know, a landscape or an ecosystem in a much deeper way than you would otherwise get. And I think that, you know, you or anyone else that kind of loves the small stream fishing would really enjoy something like this. But even people that haven't experienced it, or people that are new to fly fishing, it can be a little bit easier of a transition than trout fishing a lot of times just because trout, maybe not brook trout, but other trout fishing can certainly be very technical.
Tom: It's hard. It can be really hard.
Matthew: It can be very hard. You're concerned about, you know, careful waiting and not spooking the fish with your shadows and things like that. But you're not worried about fly selection or tippet size or things like that. It's kind of a release in that way.
I always wet waded, primarily. So, you know, when it's 100 degrees in Alabama with 99% humidity, but I'm standing in a 65-degree water, it's nice.
Tom: Not bad.
Matthew: I'm not sweating as bad as folks that are, you know, out on a bass boat on a lake in the sun. But yeah, it's a really special fish. And it's a really special experience. And, you know, I'm just glad that I can, you know, share it with you guys.
Tom: Well, thank you. And Matthew, before I let you go. We don't hotspot on the podcast at all. But if somebody wanted to chase redeye bass and wanted to do some exploring, can you just give them one general area to visit?
Matthew: Yeah, I would say that the Savannah River system, the Upper Chattooga river. My friend, Wilman Henkey [SP] that works for SCDNR, he's done a lot with South Carolina, promoting the Bartram's bass or the redeye bass that live there, as well as just kind of a he's created kind of a bass slam there. And, you know, that's a really pretty and scenic area to go. And there's all kinds of information for how to catch them there.
Also, the Tallapoosa River here in Alabama is, I mean, there's multiple access points and the fish are pretty prevalent throughout the whole river. And I have some friends, East Alabama Fly Fishing, that actually do guided raft trips down the river where folks can contact them for, you know, float trips or whatever, but also learn about the Tallapoosa River and the history there.
Tom: That's great. That's close enough. That's as close as you wanna get down. Hopefully, we've interested some people in chasing this beautiful native fish.
Matthew: I think so. I hope so.
Tom: All right, Matthew. Well, I want to thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. We've been talking to Matthew Lewis, possibly the world expert on fly fishing for redeye bass. And that's pretty cool.
Matthew: Yeah, Tom, I just I really appreciate the opportunity, like I said, to come on this type of platform to bring awareness for this fish and the places that they live. And thanks to Orvis for all that they do. And also, you know, Orvis, I think I mentioned briefly, is sponsoring a film that we're working on for the Fly Fishing Film Tour submission on redeye bass in this area.
Tom: Oh, cool. I didn't even know that. That's cool.
Matthew: Yeah, so Orvis has done a lot from buying my book, to putting in stores to, you know, putting money and gear towards the film to bring awareness for these fish. We really appreciate it.
Tom: Oh, well, it's our pleasure. Thank you, Matthew. We've been talking to Matthew Lewis, and you got me excited, and I love your passion and enthusiasm. So, great job.
Matthew: Thank you. Yeah, I didn't mention it a whole lot but my friend, Ben, he's got a company called Dorsal Outdoors, and they've done multiple videos and the film tour that he's been working with Drew Nisbet, I guess, is how you say his name.
Tom: Yep. Drew Nisbet, yep.
Matthew: And so he's the one that I guess that's kind of working on this film or sponsoring the film.
Tom: I'm gonna have to bug Drew to get a look at the initial run.
Matthew: Yeah, you will. We were out filming yesterday because we're kind of getting close to wrapping it up. But Orvis sent the Helios 3F is what we've been fishing with primarily the 7'6"3 weight. And it's been great. And I'm a glass rod guy myself, but being able to fish with that, I've been really impressed.
So it's been fun. I've never been involved in the film before, but it was cool to just, "Hey, here's all this gear, now go fish. And these cameras are gonna be watching."
Tom: Are you fishing the 7.5 3, Helios 3F?
Matthew: Yeah.
Tom: That's my brook trout rod.
Matthew: Oh, nice.
Tom: I sometimes put a 4 weight on it just for, you know, if it's a really tiny stream I'm casting short. I'll put a 4 on it. But that's a great little small-stream rod.
Matthew: Yeah, I need to go cast some different lines on it. You know, that came already spooled up with something. I don't know what it is. But it...
Tom: It's probably a 3, probably a 3-weight trout taper. But you know, try a 4 on it. If you got a 4, try a 4 and see how you like it for very short cast.
Matthew: Yeah, because casting poppers is a little bit different than casting trout line.
Tom: Yeah. You may want a 4 on it.
Matthew: I could use a little more heft in casting. But anyway, yeah, it's been a good rod. It's been fun little project.
Tom: Oh great. I can't wait to see it. Well, thank you again, Matthew.
Matthew: Yeah, thanks, Tom. I really appreciate it.
Tom: And I may take you up on your offer to go fishing in that area sometime if I'm ever down there.
Matthew: Anytime.
Tom: I'd love to see it.
Matthew: Or if you're anywhere close, you know, Atlanta. There's redeye water not too far from there in Georgia, so several places around here we can get to.
Tom: All right. I will give it a try.
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