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Fishing through climate change, with John Gierach

Description: Our climate is changing, and regardless of whether you think it's human caused or natural it is changing. If you don't believe that you need to get outside more. John Gierach [58:00], thoughtful guy that he is, wanted to talk about this subject and how he deals with changes that have happened in his lifetime, and what we can all do to deal with climate change and still enjoy fly fishing, because as he says "we still gotta live" and to some of us fly fishing is life.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and my guest this week is the great John Gierach. John is the author of many, many, many books. He's a favorite of lots of podcast listeners and it's always a treat to talk to John. And the topic this week is kind of fishing through climate change. And as John says, in the interview, if you believe that climate change is human-caused or at least human-exacerbated, as most of us do, there's things you can do, personally and politically. But you still got to live your life and that's a good point. And, you know, life, to many of us, is fly fishing. So we're gonna have to deal with climate change, even if you don't think it's human-caused, if you think that the climate isn't changing, then you haven't been outside much. But, you know, again, we got to live our lives. We got to learn how to adjust our expectations and our angling practices to deal with climate change. So John and I talk about that and we talk about lots of other things that are less serious and more fun. So again, it's always a treat to talk to John and I hope you enjoy the interview.
Oh, and by the way, John has a new book out. It's called "All the Time in the World" and you can find that in almost any bookstore. John's books are very, very well distributed and very popular. I've even seen his books in airport bookstores. So anyway, go out and buy that book because, as with all of John's books, it's great and fun reading. John's a great storyteller.
And we're gonna do the Fly Box, but before we do, just a couple announcements. And I made this announcement before, but I'm gonna make it again, because I have some hosted trips and if you want to come fishing with me, I'd love to host you on a trip. And I have four trips planned in the next 12 months. The first one is at Three Rivers Ranch in Idaho. It's September 30th through October 6th, that's this year, 2023. It's one of my favorite places in the world, amazing food, amazing guides, amazing people, beautiful location and just very near and dear to my heart.
Another place that is very near and dear to my heart is Magic Waters in Chile. And we have one cabin left for that hosted trip. It's February 10th through 17th, 2024. So it's next winter and there's only one cabin left. So if you're interested in going to Patagonia, you may want to call Orvis Travel. That's the place to call, by the way, Orvis Travel. You can find their information on our website.
And then, the following week I'm staying in Chile and I'm going to Cinco Rios, which is another spectacular lodge and it's kind of a, we're going to two lodges, a few days in the main lodge and then a few days at a more remote lodge in Argentina, where they have some really cool spring creeks. There's one cabin left on this trip as well, which is...Oh, by the way, one cabin is two people or one person paying the private cabin rate. So you can either find a buddy or bring your spouse or your mother or your father or whoever you'd like to bring, or you can go by yourself and pay an upcharge for that. That trip is February 17th through 24th at Cinco Rios.
And then finally, next May, about a month from now, I have a hosted trip at Swain's Cay on Andros Island in the Bahamas. I love Bahamian bonefishing and anyone who listens to the podcast at all, knows that one of my favorite things to do in Swain's Cay is a really, really wonderful, welcoming, warm, beautiful lodge and with great guides, by the way, very, very good guides. And it's a little more remote than some of the other Bohemian lodges and that is May, I don't know if I said that, May 11th to 17th, 2024. So those are my four hosted trips. If you're interested in coming fishing with me, I'd love to host you and love to hang out with you.
Another announcement, and I made this before but I'm gonna make it again in case anybody didn't hear it, it's summer tourist season coming in Vermont, and the Orvis Rod Shop is now open for tours. We closed it down, we had to close down our tours at the Rod Shop for COVID and it just reopened. And the Rod Shop tours are every day at 10:30 a.m., Monday through Friday, not Saturday and Sunday. So just Monday through Friday. You just go into the retail store and tell them you want a Rod Shop tour. Then you head over to the Rod Shop at 10:30 a.m. and you can go through and see how our graphite bamboo and fiberglass rods are made. It's a pretty cool tour. I always enjoy going through it and I've done it a lot.
And then, finally, I have a new book out. I think it's in bookstores now. Its pub date is June 1st, so it's coming up and I think it's already out there. I just saw my first printed copy the other day. It's called "Finding Trout." And it's about reading the water, but it's about much more than that. It's about finding trout, finding a trout stream, finding the right part of a trout stream to fish. It goes into things like water chemistry and water temperature and quite a bit of in-depth study of currents and hydraulics. And then, it goes through specific types of trout water and where you might find the trout and when, and then some tips on how to fish it. So it's a book I've spent about at least three years working on and I'm pretty happy with it. A labor of love. It's something that I really enjoy about trout fishing and I know that a lot of you have questions about finding trout and reading the water. So anyways, that book is now out.
All right. Enough of the propaganda. Let's do the Fly Box. And the Fly Box is where you ask me questions and I try to answer 'em. Or you share a tip with the rest of the listeners. And you can send your own question to the Fly Box by sending me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can either just put your question in your email or you can attach a voice file and maybe I'll ready it on the air. I read 'em all. I don't answer 'em all. Sometime I just answered that question or sometimes I think that it's a question that I don't want to answer. And I'm the one that decides. So anyway, but I answer lots of 'em and most of 'em, I think, actually. So let's start the Fly Box with an email from Todd from New Mexico.
This is a bit of an unconventional question, but since it came up last week in your question with ME, what is the best rig to use to catch trout with worms? Do you want to drag your worm along the bottom, suspend it from a bobber or does it depend? How much weight do you need?
Todd, I'm not sure if you're talking about live worms, like live bait fishing, or worm fly. But basically, you can fish 'em both the same way. You want the worm to drift just above the bottom, like it's tumbling along in the current. And dead drift is the way you want to fish it, because worms don't swim. So you don't want to strip a worm. You don't want 'em to drag. You really need to get a natural or a dead drift. So you need to do everything you can to avoid the line and the leader dragging the worm away from stuff. They usually work better in high water, when worms are getting washed in, there's both aquatic worms that live in the bank underwater, and then there's terrestrial worms, obviously, that get washed in. So trout eat both of 'em. They look alike. They both look like worms, earthworms. And yeah, you want to fish it just like a nymph. You want to fish it as you would a nymph. So you may want to suspend it from a bobber or a strike indicator. You don't want to really drag your worm along the bottom, because worms don't really swim.
And regarding how much weight do you need, you need enough weight to get the fly to drift a foot or two above the bottom. Trout can't really see it well if it's right on the bottom, because they're built so that they look up for their food drifting in the current. So that's gonna vary. It's gonna vary depending on the water depth, the current speed and everything else. So I hope you're talking about worm flies.
Live worm fishing, if you're really talking about live worm fishing, you can actually just throw your worm out there and let it sit on the bottom because the trout may find it by smell. Your artificial worm doesn't smell like a natural earthworm. But live worms do. So you can do all of these things with a live worm, a real worm, and you can also just let it lay on the bottom and hope somebody stumbles on it. I hope that's helpful.
Oh, let's do a phone call. First one is from Jake.
Jake: I'm a latecomer, having just learned about your Orvis podcast recently. It has become my daily morning work commute companion. My question to you is about what to do if the welded loop on your fly line develops cut marks. In a classic case of beginner's luck, I had the good fortune to land some nice steelhead on a recent Great Lakes tributary adventure. My quality fly line, which has only seen a couple of outings, has developed some cut marks from where the loop of my tapered leader is attached, though I attach leaders recommended by the line manufacturer. Given my past fly fishing experience with smaller stream fishing and smaller fish, it has never been a problem before, which I attribute solely to the extended pressure of landing large fish. I'm unsure if the newly acquired cut marks can or need be repaired. If repair is suggested, what method is effective? Also instead of preparing the line, I read about simply cutting off the welded loop and making a direct connection between the line and the leader with a knot. It appears that approach is controversial based on what's available online. It looks intriguing and potentially quite effective. Can you help me provide me with some insight? Thank you for your time and the great content you produce.
Tom: Jake, that's something that does happen eventually, particularly if you're, like you did, if you're catching big fish and you're putting a lot of stress on that leader to line connection, the leader's going to eventually cut through a fly line. It happens, even if you don't catch a lot of big fish, it'll happen eventually just from stress of the leader attaching to the loop. So if it's just barely kinda dimpling the coating and it hasn't really cut all the way through the coating, then that's not a problem. And even if it's cut all the way through the coating, it is not going to affect anything because the core inside the fly line is what actually holds the leader. But it might hinge a little bit when you're casting and it doesn't look that good. You can try putting a couple drops of more flexible super glue type adhesive on the spots where it's worn through. That'll help keep things in shape.
And you don't really have to worry about water getting up inside the core of your floating line, because that loop is sealed before it extends to the rest of the fly line. And, you know, if it gets really ragged or you just don't like the looks of it, then it's perfectly fine to cut that loop off and put a nail knot on it. I don't know what you've read online or heard online about not using a nail knot on a fly line, but it's what we did for many, many years. And I still do it on some of my lines. So yes, you can absolutely put that leader back on your fly line with a nail knot. Just make sure it's tied properly. If it doesn't look good and it doesn't look smooth, then cut it off and try again. You can lose a few inches off the end of your fly line and it's not gonna make much difference. So maybe practice on an old piece of fly line if you've not tied a lot of nail knots, because they are kinda tricky to tie. But yeah, you can absolutely put it on with a nail knot.
Okay. Here's an email from Mark from Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Tom, thank you for everything you and Orvis do to promote and advance fly fishing. Podcast is a must listen every week and I appreciate the work you put in to producing it. Have gained many pearls through the years. Recently while surf fishing for striped bass, I experienced a lot of line tangles in the Depth Charge line. The line is only a year or two old. I did take some time to stretch it in the yard earlier in the season. Most of these occurred in the light green running portion. I use an Orvis stripping basket. Any tips or tricks you could provide to prevent this frustrating occurrence would be greatly appreciated. Again, thanks for everything.
Well, Mark, it is gonna happen with a line like the Depth Charge, because thinner line tangles more easily and you've got that thin running line and you need that to be able to shoot a lot of line. And it's gonna happen. But the fact that you said you stretched it earlier in the season might be a cue to what's the problem here. You can't just stretch it once during the season. You gotta stretch it, if you have that problem, you gotta stretch it every time you go fishing, because once you put that line back on the reel, even if it's on the reel overnight, it's gonna take on a little bit of a memory and you're gonna have the same coiling problem. So, you know, if it's a problem, you need to stretch that line every time you go fishing and put some extra pressure on that running line so that all the kinks are out of it. Don't worry about hurting it.
The only other thing you could do is to when you strip in line, try to be a little bit more precise about placing the line in the stripping basket if you can. Always put the next coil of line on top of the coil before it and that'll help a little bit. But, you know, in the heat of the moment, you're stripping fast and you don't pay any attention to it. That happens. And if the wind's blowing, you know, the wind can blow the line around in your basket and flip one coil on top of the other one and then you run into tangles. So it's gonna happen.
The other thing you can do to help is to clean your line, just, you know, clean it with soap and water, a little soapy water. And then, use a paper towel to wipe it to off. And, you know, a line that's little slippery or a little slicker will tend to shoot better and tangle less. Don't use any kind of line dressing or any kind of potion on the fly line. Just clean it off and it'll shoot fine. It'll shoot better actually when you clean it. So those are my tips. I hope they help.
Here is an email from Aaron. I have a quick tip and a question for you. First, tip. Every novice fly angler should get out there with a local guide. The education you will receive is invaluable. I have been fly fishing for a few years and was starting to understand some fo the basics of this wonderful sport. Last week, my wife surprised me with two guided float trips, one down the Watauga River and the other down the South Holston. These were the first guided trips I have been on. I learned more in those two days than I have in the past few years of DIY fly fishing and YouTube videos. I highly recommend that if you can afford even a half day with a local guide, you should do it. Thanks to my great guides, I now better understand how and when to actually apply the information I learned online to the local waters. I also received a lot of great little tips and tricks on my casting technique, rigging different fly setups and even useful information on line management. It was a great experience.
One caution I would give to anyone going on a guided trip is to keep in mind the hidden expenses that can occur after the trip. It turns out these can run quite high. For example, after the first guide introduced me to the Orvis PRO Textured Trout Lines he had on all of his rods, I had to go out and get one myself because it was the easiest casting line I have ever tried. Even more expensive, the second guide I went out with provided me with an Orvis H3 9-foot-5 weight for the trip. It was such an incredible rod and light years beyond my entry-level Fly Outfit that I had been using for trout up to this point. Now I have to save up some money to get an H3 I wasn't even planning on buying, but now can't live without.
Now onto my question. I'm about to move from eastern Tennessee to the Texas Hill Country. It sounds like there are some stock trout in a few of the rivers, but most people chase smallmouth bass and Guadalupe bass in the area. I'm also going to be only about two hours from the Texas coast so I might be able to start getting into some inshore salt water fishing. Is there a rod and reel setup that would work for both bass in the Hill Country and inshore saltwater fishing? Or would I be better off simply saving up and getting a dedicated rod and reel for each? P.S., any tips on how to convince my wife that buying an Orvis H3 is an actual necessity and not just some new rod I want would be appreciated.
I'll answer the P.S. first. No, I don't have any. I'm not gonna go there. Regarding your question. You know, I think for the Guadalupe and the smallmouths, most people would probably pick a 6 or a 7-weight. But for the coastal fishing, you're probably gonna want an 8 because the flies are a little bit bigger and you're gonna run into wind. And you may have to make a longer cast than you would for bass fishing. And what I would do, if I were gonna buy one rod, I would go with an 8-weight. Now it's gonna be a little bit over gun for those bass, but it'll still be fun. It'll throw all the bass flies fine. You don't need to worry so much about stealth and delicacy with those bass. And it'll still be plenty of fun with a bass. I mean, 8-weight will still bend with even a small bass. So it'll be fine. And then, when you go saltwater fishing, you'll have the necessary power to throw those bigger flies and deal with the wind. If you're gonna have two rods, I would get the 8-weight for a saltwater and then get either a 6 or a 7 for the bass fishing. But I think you can do it all with an 8.
Here's an email from Brent from Wisconsin. I have two question I'd like to ask you. First question is as follows. Are you better off spending more money for a single high-end rod setup, like a Helios 3, and use it for all scenarios, or are you better off spending less on a rod setup and have multiple rod setups, Clearwaters for different scenarios. Examples being a short 7-foot-6-inch, 4-weight rod set up for small streams, brushy streams, a 9-foot-5-weight for small rivers, or even a 10-foot-3-weight for Euro nymphing.
My second question is about fiberglass and/or bamboo rods. Is overlining a thing on fiberglass or bamboo rods or is it not beneficial, because the rods are already loading up more due to the slower action of the rods themselves? Thanks for your time, Tom. I hope to have the opportunity to meet you in person someday. Thank you for sharing your passion and wealth of knowledge with the whole fly fishing community. I also like to thank Orvis for everything they have done for the sport and their dedication to conservation. P.S., proud owner of four Orvis rod setups and looking to add my fifth soon, whenever I can finally make up my mind on which one that is.
So Brent, you know, I really think that the better option is to go with the less expensive rod. If you're gonna go from everything from a small brushy stream to a bigger trout river, it's gonna be tough to get something that's gonna be fun and will be efficient in both scenarios. So I would go with the Clearwater or the Recon price point. They're great rods. I fish them myself, even though I could fish H3s all the time. I do fish Clearwaters and I fish Recons because I like some of 'em. So yeah, I think you're better off going for the less expensive option and different setups of rods.
Regarding your second question, you know, graphite rods can handle a line size or even two higher than their stated line weight, because they're stiffer and they can support that added load. With a fiberglass or bamboo, depends on who's making it. With an Orvis fiberglass or bamboo, I wouldn't go a line size heavier. But, you know, some of these rods, some of these fiberglass rods and some of the bamboo rods are quite stiff and you may want to slow them down by overlining them. But I don't think in most cases, I don't think you're gonna be happy overlining a bamboo or a fiberglass rod. I think you're right there. You know, they're designed to bend more basically when they cast and if you overline 'em, I think they're gonna bend a little bit too much and you may struggle.
Pete: Hey, Tom. This is Pete from Indiana. I'm calling today with a tip and a question. My tip is to learn how to fish without false casts. We all start off with the impression that false casting is just how you fly fish, but it can actually be quite detrimental to the overall experience. Using a scenario with fishing in a location for 10 minutes, then walking for 5 and allowing the very conservative rate of allowing a fly to drift for 15 seconds, that comes out to about 320 casts in a 2-hour period. If you make two false casts before each drift, you're now up to almost 1,000 casts. This is an equivalent of fishing for six hours at the previously described rate. Now I don't get as many days to fish as others, so when I do I'm usually out for six to eight hours. And before learning how to shoot line, this was the equivalent of 18 to 24 hours on my shoulder and back. Water loading, dumping your back cast and shooting line are great ways to eliminate all these extra casts. I hope that learning this helps others that are just starting out.
My question relates to you often fishing with a dry dropper. I like your rationale that a trout won't get hooked on an indicator, but I would like to know what you use when there are no hatches and/or in the winter. Do you just pick a dry fly you can see? Any flies in particular that you like when there are no bugs in the air or terrestrials on the water? Thanks in advance and I look forward to hearing your response. Tight lines.
Tom: Pete, you make an interesting point about saving time and saving your casting arm. But I would add some other reasons not to false cast so much. One is that the more your fly is waving back and forth, especially if you're fishing multiple flies, the greater chance you're gonna have a tangle, the greater chance you have of hooking it in a tree. And you just don't need it. Much better to practice casting and improve your casting form so that you don't need all those false casts to get the line out.
And the other thing is, it spooks fish. You know, false casting over a feeding fish back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, chances are you may alert that fish and you may spook it. So there's lots of reasons not to false cast. I was on a trout river the other day and I was watching another angler, and this guy...I think I counted 13 false casts. And you know what? He had it on his second cast and I don't know why...I mean, even for drying a dry fly, you don't need more than a couple of false casts. So I don't know what he was doing. He was not practicing. He was obviously intently fishing. But, you know, 13 is way too much. Four is way too much. Three is max. So yeah, you see a lot of people false casting way too much.
Regarding the dry dropper, if it's wintertime, I probably won't be fishing a dry dropper in most places that I fish, because the issue is that the only dry flies that are probably gonna work during the wintertime are either small blue-winged olives or small midges, and they're not gonna support a nymph. So in that case, that time of year, I would just use a bobber, use an indicator or use a naked nymph technique, just watching my floating line. But I wouldn't use a dry dropper. There are some streams in the southern Appalachians where fish will come up for dry flies all year long, and in that case, yeah, you could use a standard Chubby Chernobyl or Stimulator, hoping that they've seen a stonefly. But in most situations during the winter, I don't use a dry dropper.
Now as soon as the weather warms up, you know, unless your nymphs are pretty small, you really have to use a fairly large dry fly. So you have to kinda figure out, okay, if there's nothing hatching, nothing rising a tall, you have to think what's the biggest thing that the fish have seen and eaten recently? So in the early spring, it's probably a stonefly, so I would tie on a stonefly imitation, a foam-bodied stonefly or a Stimulator or something like that. And then, as you get into the summer, something like maybe a big Parachute Adams to imitate a mayfly or a big caddisfly, or a terrestrial, like a grasshopper or a beetle or a moth. So during the summer, you can get away with lots of different patterns.
And it's really, it's almost more about the visibility of the dry, right, and if a fish is gonna take a big dry, often the pattern isn't that critical. They're just looking for something big and they might think it's a stonefly. They might think it's a grasshopper. They might think it's a moth. But if they're gonna take it, they're just looking for something. And they make much better indicators. Trying to fish dry dropper with a nice precise mayfly imitation, it just doesn't work, because it's gonna sink your nymphs unless they're tiny or unweighted nymphs. So sometimes Parachute Adams will work in that situation, but again, it's gotta be a fairly large Parachute Adams or Parachute something. Or a Wulff, you know, Ausable Wulff or something like that might work. But often, those flies just don't suspend the nymphs that we're using well enough. So I hope that answers your question.
Here's an email from Matt. Thanks for the podcast. I'm Matt from Fernie. I just adopted a dog. She's 3 and trained to have the habit of getting into the water, chasing rocks and wanting sticks thrown, which clearly isn't helpful for fishing. We usually just walk and wade the local rivers around here. Any tips on how to adjust a dog to be a good fishing companion?
Well, Matt, from what I'm gonna say, you probably think I'm a dog hater. But actually, I own two Labradors. And after dinner, my wife and 18-year-old and I, typically spend at least an hour on the floor playing with our dogs and just petting 'em and admiring them. And our life revolves around our dogs, so I'm not a dog hater. But I don't believe...there are rare dogs that should be taken fly fishing, particularly wade fishing. Here's the issue. It is extremely difficult to get a dog to sit quietly on the bank while you're fishing and your dog doesn't sound like it's gonna do that regardless of training. That dog is 3 years old and has the instinct to chase rocks and chase sticks. And it can be dangerous for the dog. They can get into fly line, then they can get the leader wrapped around, they get hooked. But it's really annoying to other anglers.
So if you've got, like, a private stretch of pond or a river where you know no one else is gonna be around, and you want to take your dog, go ahead knowing that you're gonna deal with some frustrations. But if there are gonna be any other anglers around, it's not fair to take a dog that's not super well-behaved on a trout stream, because it's just gonna annoy other people.
And so, the only tip I have is you're gonna have to have some intensive training with that dog. You've got to get that dog so it will sit and stay on the bank, no matter what, until you release it. Probably gonna need, if it'll work at all, you're probably going to need an electronic shock collar to train that dog, you know. Unfortunately with strong-willed dogs, that's sometimes the only way to get 'em to behave reliably without fail. So again, most dogs shouldn't be taken on trout streams, especially wade fishing. You know, some dogs are pretty good in a boat and they don't annoy other people when they're sitting in a boat. And that usually works out pretty well. But as far as wade fishing, it's rare. I have had lots of days, not ruined, but I've had lots of annoying experiences with other people's dogs on trout streams. And again, I love dogs and I can't walk by a dog without petting it. But not on a trout stream. So that's my opinion.
Here's an email from Erik. I fish couple of Catskill Rivers and I fish mostly dries and emergers. Is there any telltale signs of trout rises, browns and rainbows, versus creep jumps? This is especially hard on emerger rises. Any tips on identifying the difference? Rise times can be relatively short and I hate wasting the entire rise targeting chubs.
So Erik, I've been fooled so many times by both creek chubs and their relative to fall fish, which can grow quite large, kind of a silvery, it's actually a minnow, but they can grow to be, like, 18, 20-inches long. And I personally don't know of a reliable way to tell the difference, particularly when they're sipping. Especially fall fish, but even a big creek chub, they look just like a trout when they're rising.
The only thing I can suggest is to try to fish the faster water. Yes, there may be some big trout in the slower water, in the tail of the pool, but chances are you're not gonna find chubs and fall fish in really fast water and pocket water and at the seams along the head of a pool. So that's about the only way is to stay away from those spots where you think you're gonna find them, because I really don't have a reliable way of telling the difference. I can't tell you the number of times I said, "Oh, that's a fall fish, but I'm gonna fish for it anyways," and it turned out to be a big brown trout. Or the times when I said, "Oh, that's a big rainbow," and it turned out to be a fall fish. So I can't tell. Maybe somebody else can. If somebody has any good suggestions, send me an email.
Here's an email from Virginia. Hi, Tom. Newbie here. Even though I've been fishing for awhile, I am so hooked on it. Sorry about that, but it's my meditation. Like they say, "The tug is the drug." So here's my question. I'm confused when it comes to the size of flies and numbers. When they say, for example, use size 8 for a zebra midge or a size 28 caddis, is that the length of the fly? Also, when it comes to the rod and line, for example, 6-weight or 10-weight, is that the weight of the fish? I have several rods and when I'm with my friends, I pretend I know what they're talking about. So what is the reasoning behind all the numbers? Thank you for all you do and teaching people like me to fall in love with an awesome sport.
Well, Virginia, both of those numbers, both hook sizes and fly line sizes, are arbitrary numbers. And they don't really mean anything, unless you know the code behind it. But let's start with fly lines. So a long time ago, fly line manufacturers decided that they needed to somehow tell the difference between a light line and a heavier line and heavier yet line and so on. So they came up with this 1 through 14 number system. The number corresponds to the weight of the first 30 feet of the fly line in grains. And you can look up, you can find these tables online, which really means nothing. So it's not actually the size of the fish, although, you know, if you're fishing for really large fish, a 10, 11 or 12-weight rod is probably gonna be better because it's gonna be much stiffer in the butt, it's gonna throw bigger flies, it's gonna be able to handle those larger fish and enable you to put some pressure on them.
At the other end of the scale, the really light lines are much more delicate because they have less mass. They land on the water much lighter. And those rods bend a little bit more so they're a lot of fun with smaller fish. So that's where that number system came from. And there's gotta be places online where you can see a chart. If you want buy a book, I have a book called "The Orvis Fly-fishing Guide" which has charts, which shows the hook sizes and the fly line sizes and tells you approximately what kind of fish you're gonna catch on each fly line size. It's also on the Orvis Learning Center, if you want to go to the Orvis Learning Center, that fly line chart is there in the equipment section.
Now hooks, I have not dealt where we came up with the numbers that correspond with hook sizes. But the larger the number, the smaller the hook. We do know that. So a size 16 is gonna be smaller than a size 12. And that number refers to the gap, in other words, the distance between the point and the shank of the hook. And proportionately, usually, it means that a size 12 is gonna be a longer, a larger fly than a size 16. Although, you can have a long shank size 16 hook with a size 16 gap, but it might have the same shank length, overall length, as a size 12 or 14. So it gets really complicated. And nobody understands exactly where all these things came from. And there's actually, I don't believe there's actually even a millimeter measurement of what a size 12 or 14 hook should be that's standard. So the hooks can be all over the place, depending on their manufacturer.
So it does, in some respects, indicate the length of the fly. But, you know, you can tie, like, a streamer on a size 8, relatively short shank hook, and you can make a really, really long wing on it, which means that the fly is gonna be, you know, 4 or 5 inches long, even though it's a size 8 hook. So in nymphs and dry flies, the size of the hook kinda gives you an idea of the length. With streamer flies and saltwater flies, no, it's not consistent. My advice to you would just be to get some flies in various sizes. You know, just get one, you know, size 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, whatever, and put 'em somewhere and label 'em. And then, just study 'em for awhile. Eventually, you'll be able to eyeball a fly and say, "I think it's a size 12 or a 14" and that's gonna be close enough usually. The idea is that particularly for imitating bugs, is that you see a fly on the water and you pick it up, and then you hold it alongside the flies in your box, and you find one that looks to be about the same size. You don't even need to know the hook size. Anyway, hope that I didn't cause more confusion than elucidation. But it is a very, both of the fly line and the hook especially are very arcane systems and so don't feel bad that you don't totally understand the lingo there.
Here's an email from Jerry from California. I've been fishing in a nearby reservoir that runs 20 to 70 feet deep and is about 55 degrees. I've had plenty of good success with Wooly Buggers and classic style nymphs, but my best producer has been a rootbeer-colored Pat's Rubber Leg stripped through the water pretty quickly on a full sinking line. I cast out the rig, let it sink about five seconds and start stripping. It produces lots of strikes. Not complaining, just wondering what the trout see this fly as. Is it the movement of the rubber legs? Do you think it's a bait fish or a crayfish? Any ideas would be appreciated.
Well, Jerry, boy, I would have no idea. I would immediately suspect crayfish with the Pat's Rubber Legs, when it's stripped through the water, looks like a crayfish with those legs streaming along the side. Doesn't look so much like a bait fish. Could be a large swimming nymph, large swimming mayfly nymph. Maybe a Pat's Rubber Legs, might look like a sculpin. You know, if you kinda squint and watch one as it goes through the water, it could look like a sculpin. Could look like a leech. I don't know. But I think crayfish. Crayfish would be probably my best guess. But I would look around, maybe do some netting or observing in the shallows and see what kind of prey you see in that reservoir. And then, maybe that'll give you an idea of what the fish think it is.
Here's an email from Brian from Wachung, New Jersey. So a possible plug for you. I recently bought bunch of your Rabbit Foot Emergers, all colors, mind you. I have yet to use them, just waiting for them to arrive. So I can't say whether they're all mighty calling of trout just yet. As a long-time fly fisherman, I'm not prideful enough to say I'm a good fly fisher. I'm quite the opposite. But I love to learn and try to get better at the craft each day. Your podcast has helped. Thanks. My question is, sad to say, I've honestly never really focused on fishing emergers, so I want to learn. How would you fish a Rabbit Food Emergers? Where would you put that on a dual rig or alone? Or just any tips on how they've worked for you in the past, types of water, etc.
Well, Brian, thank you for buying my flies. A lot of guides swear by that Rabbit Foot Emerger, and to be honest with you, I use it but there are lots of times when it doesn't work, sometimes when it works pretty well, but lots of times when it doesn't work too. I most often fish it as a dry fly. So what I'll do is I'll put some fly floatant on the wing in the front of the fly sometimes. Sometimes I'll just dip the whole thing in fly floatant and fish it as a dry, because emergers kinda flop on their sides and everything. They don't always sit perfectly in and out of the surface film. And I like to be able to see it. So I fish it like a dry fly. You know, dead drift, without any drag and I fish it to rising fish. I don't use it as a prospecting fly. If there's no fish rising, I won't put on a Rabbit's Foot Emerger.
However, I think you could fish it as a nymph as well on a dual rig, and I actually have done this. It won't sink very well, but you could put it on a nymph rig with a heavily weighted nymph to get it down. And it'll look like an emerging fly underwater and it's worked pretty well that way. You can actually fish 'em like a wet fly and swing 'em. You just don't want to put any fly floatant on it in that case. And you can fish it as a nymph, just subsurface. So again, don't put any fly floatant on it and just let it hang just below the surface film. And sometimes, you know, if fish aren't rising regularly and I'm not targeting a specific fish, I might put it behind a dry fly. So let's say there's a March brown mayfly hatching but the fish aren't really crushing it and they're not feeding with any regularity, I might put on a March Brown Dry, like a Comparadun or a Sparkle Dun, and then I might tie a piece of 5x tippet, maybe a couple feet, and then tie a larger Rabbit's Foot Emerger, say, a size 12 to that, but not put any floatant on it. So then, I can fish the fish that are looking for the Duns, the emerge flies, or fish that are looking for just emerging flies under the surface. But chances are, if I see a rising fish and it's rising steadily, I almost never fish two flies because I just can't be as precise. And I like to just fish a single fly to a steadily rising fish. So I hope that helped. But you can fish 'em almost any way. Start by fishing 'em like a dry fly during a hatch and then go from there.
Here's an email from Benjamin. I'm coming to you from New York and I've just gotten into fly fishing. Your podcast has been an awesome companion. Thank you. I was wondering if you could do a segment on handling gear while you're fly fishing alone. I have a buddy who has far more experience than I am, and he's taken me out fishing a few times. When I've gone with him, he's held my rod so I can handle the fish or take a picture or he's examined my line, checked out my flies, adjusted my indicator, etc., while I held the rod and it's super smooth. But when I go out on my own, I find myself fumbling around bit, especially when handling my rod after a catch or if I want to change flies while on the water. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Well, Benjamin, that's interesting. I was fishing with the head of product development, Shawn Combs, the other day. And we had a long drive home. And he said, "What do you think we need for new products?" And I said, "You know, we need some kind of rod holder." There are rod holders out there, like holster types, and I don't find they work very well. I've tried 'em because I have the same problem as you do. I fumble a lot when I'm changing flies or when I'm landing a fish and trying to take the hook out. I have the same problem you do. And it's always kinda clunky. And you watch other people on the river and they're pretty clunky too. So I think it's part of the game until we figure out a better way to do it.
So here's what I do is I hold the rod under my arm usually, just stick it under my arm and that keeps it, usually keeps it out of the way. If you use a sling bag and it's pretty fully packed like mine is, you can swing it around in front of you and actually lay your rod on the sling bag like a little table. That works pretty well.
As far as landing a fish, there's a couple things you could do, because it is tough landing a fish, you know, after you've netted the fish, you've got the rod. What I often do is I just throw my rod in the water because generally when I'm landing a fish, I've gone to slower, shallower water, and the water's not gonna hurt your rod or your line or your reel. So I'll often just throw my rod in the water. I know people are cringing at that. But, you know, it's not gonna float away, hopefully it's not gonna float away because you're gonna be in slow, shallow water. You can, you know, hook the fly line around something if you're worried about your rod drifting away. Or if I'm close to the bank, I'll just throw my rod on the bank, and again, I know a lot of you aren't gonna want to do that. But there isn't much you can do if you're all alone, you're trying to land a fish and you got that rod, and then you want to put the rod down, because you need to take the hook out of the fish. You know, you can try to put the rod under your arm, but often it gets in the way. So try throwing it in the water around the bank. And then, when you're out changing flies, just put it under your arm until Shawn can come up with a super duper rod holder for us.
Here's an email from Ethan from eastern Pennsylvania. I generally fish smaller nymphs. My question is when using the smaller nymph size 18 to 22, I usually use the improved clinch knot when tying the knot rapid five times. Sometimes a knot on the smaller flies are pretty noticeable. I'm wondering if there's a good alternative knot that's smaller than the clinch knots. Thanks so much. Love the podcast.
So Ethan, yeah, there's a couple of knots that are a little big smaller. The double Davy knot, you can find that one lots of places online, is a very popular one and it's quite small. The Orvis knot, that one's on the Orvis Learning Center, that one's smaller than a clinch knot. So you can try those. They're both reliable knots. However, don't forget that you shouldn't really worry about a knot that's just a tiny bit bigger, because you got that fly tied on hook and it's got a big bend and a point sticking out of it. And if fish are gonna notice your clinch knot, they're gonna notice the hook too. Excuse me. I often think that fish think our knots are just part of the fly or just a piece of debris. So if you're really worried about it, I would try one of those two knots. But I wouldn't agonize over it too much.
Hey, Tom. Worth [SP] here from Richmond, Virginia. Got a tip and an observation. I'll start with the tip. For any anglers out there trying to learn how to read water better or just in general, one thing that was really, really helpful for me in my education was visiting those local favorite streams and rivers, big or small, when conditions were not ideal, meaning when flows are low, might be in the midst of a drought, water temperatures might be high, might not wanna go fishing especially if it's a cold water species, like trout. Get out and walk those river banks when the water is low. It's gonna reveal an awful lot because that water's gonna be receded. Water's gonna be clear. Take a look at the substrate, the boulders, the rocks, the undercut banks that you might not have seen when the flows are much, much higher. That's gonna tell you an awful lot about maybe the hydrodynamics, how that's gonna behave when the flows are higher, where a seam, soft piece of water might meet fast moving current, any kind of back eddies. Kind of your typical places where a fish might lie in a feeding lane. I know it kinda varies from species to species, but just in general, understand the structure that's in your system local to you so you can better understand how to fish it when its flows are up.
So the observation is kinda had me thinking. I was just listening to one of your archived podcasts with Alberto Rey, which I loved. And there was a Fly Box listener that asked about how to tell the difference between a male and female brown trout. Well, all those things you said are great, you know, looking for the uniformity of the female snout as opposed to maybe a long jaw of a mature male fish that's got a kype forming, same stuff I look for and I know a lot of other people do too. But one of the things I also look for now, it's something I've read on a couple different forums online, you know, maybe a fish biologist will correct me if I'm wrong, but look at the anal fins. If the anal fin on the trailing part of the fin, meaning the back end of the fin, facing the tailed of the fish, is concave, it's a male fish. If it's the opposite of that and it bows in, inward towards the fin, it's a female fish. So if you see that curvature, concave trailing end of the anal fin, I've been told that that's indicative of a male fish, I think, regardless of the species of trout. So I find that pretty interesting because I like to know, you know, kind of the sex of the fish, the best I can when I land one. And that was helpful for me. So I hope both of these pieces of information are helpful to any of the listeners. Love the podcast.
Tom: So that's a great tip on visiting streams when rivers are low. I do it myself quite a bit and, you know, also wintertime, if you don't feel like fishing, usually the water's low. You can take a look at where the pools are, where the deeper spots are, where the shallower spots are and so on. Sometimes, you have to be careful because sometimes the hydraulics do change with rising or lowering water levels and may even change the shape of the way the water runs through a pool. So you do have to kinda estimate that, but that's a really good idea.
Regarding telling male from females with the fin, you know, I've seen that occasionally online. And I went through and I looked at pictures in my photographs of full trout. And I don't have a lot of trout photographs. I mean, compared to other kind of photographs, I don't have a lot of trout photographs. But I looked at the ones that were obviously males and obviously females and it seemed to hold up. It's a little bit tricky because sometimes there isn't that much difference between convex and concave. But I think it probably is accurate. I haven't seen any scientific evidence of this, so I don't know for sure. But I'm gonna start looking at more of the trout that are obviously male and female and see if it holds up. So interesting question.
All right. That is the Fly Box for this week. It was a long one, I know. We had lots of questions. Let's go talk to John Gierach. All right, I'm gonna introduce you and then we'll go from there. You know how it goes. It's not your first rodeo.
John: No, it isn't.
Tom: Well, my guest today is my friend, John Gierach. John and I have fished together a little bit. We've known each other for, God, probably 40 years maybe.
John: That sounds about right.
Tom: Yeah. We're both kind of approaching the upper limit of fly fishing life, or I hope not, but you know, we're getting up there. And John, you are still very productive and you have a new book out. You want to talk about that a little bit before we get into the main part of the podcast?
John: Well, it's called "All the Time in the World," which is meant a little bit ironically, I guess. And it's what I do. It's a collection of fishing stories from a period of maybe three or four years. And kind of, you know, my motto, I always go back to Nick Lyons, the great Nick Lyons, who said, "The best fishing stories aren't really about fishing." So I do tend to drift off into other areas from time to time.
Tom: Fishing stories are kinda boring sometimes.
John: Well, they can be. You know, you went fishing, you either caught 'em or you didn't. Yeah. Exactly.
Tom: No, I love the way you tie these characters and people into your stories, because they're definitely the most interesting part of fly fishing.
John: Well, you know who does that beautifully is John McPhee, who he comes at his subjects through the people who do it and the people who do it through the subjects. So there's just no...geologists are geologists for a reason.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of big John McPhee fans on this podcast, myself included. So yeah, he's one to emulate, for sure.
John: Boy, I'll say. And if you're interested in writing, you should read his books on writing.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. Terrific. Although reading his book on writing made me push back more with my editors.
John: Yeah, yeah. You have to stand up for yourself a little bit. And I took the liberty of skipping that whole long section about his computer program, because I just couldn't care less.
Tom: So just tell us about what some of the stories are about, just to give people a flavor of what the new book is about. Give us example of a couple of stories.
John: Well, actually one of 'em was, it was about the last time you and I saw each other, which was at Three Rivers Lodge in Labrador, which was actually, you were up there shooting a TV show. Whatever they call those internet TV. They used to call podcasts internet radio. But that was one. One of the reasons I go up there so much is that I always get a story out of it. It's just that kind of a place. Things happen. People are cool. Talked a little bit about Ned. Do you remember Ned?
Tom: Yeah.
John: The Newfie accent's so thick you can't understand him. And this was the trip where I finally could start to understand what he was saying. And I was sorry it took so long because he's hilarious. His stories are fantastic, but you have to sort 'em out from his absolutely thick, sort of almost Gaelic sounding accent of his. But I wrote about the Aniak River in Alaska, some local stuff, actually a lot of local stuff because I was writing this through the COVID business. So travel was seriously curtailed.
Somebody said they had, not a reviewer, thank God, but someone said they detected a little cabin fever in this book and I think that's probably true. I was stuck at home for a year and a half and could only fish places where I could drive. And yeah, I think there might have been a little bit of that. But, you know, about the first third of the book or so is pre-COVID, and then middle section is COVID. Not that they're in sections or anything. And then, towards the end of the book, I'm kind of back out on the road again, but wearing a mask in airports and all that kinda stuff. So I don't know. I thought it was interesting and you know as a writer, you kinda write about what's in front of you at the moment, because what else is there, right?
Henry David Thoreau once said, "I wouldn't write about myself so much if I knew anyone else as well."
Tom: That's a good attitude to have, I guess. Although I generally write more about trout than myself. But I don't do the same kind of thing you do, right?
John: No, I'm much more self absorbed.
Tom: No. We just have very different disciplines. I'm not an essay writer. I'm more of an instruction manual writer basically.
John: Well, yeah, and you're good at it and you probably know more about trout than I do.
Tom: Oh, I don't know about that. I don't know about that. Anyway.
John: You did okay in Labrador.
Tom: Anyway, you know, you and I talked a little bit about before this and I asked you what you wanted to talk about, and you said you wanted to talk about fishing and climate change. And I think that's a great subject because regardless of what you think the cause is, of climate change, the climate is changing, has changed and your and my lifetime certainly, and we have to adjust. Regardless of what we do for the future, right now, we got to adjust. And so, take it away, John. Let's talk a little bit about how to adjust to these changing conditions.
John: Yeah. Well, we do have to adjust because you can do what you can to fix it, personally and politically. But you got to live your life. You know, the only alternative to living your life is not living your life. So yeah, you're faced with things. Well, Labrador, not to belabor Labrador, but you remember we went up there in a year when, that spring they went in to open the camp and they couldn't land the float plane because the lake was still frozen. And then, when they finally did manage to get in, they spent a week shoveling the camp out that was under 6 feet of snow, all of which was very unusual. They opened a week late. And then, the fish weren't doing what they would normally be doing. They weren't up in the rapids eating sucker minnows because the suckers hadn't spawned yet, and so on. And the hatches were late and spotty. The only thing that was...we actually got in, we were up there late, August is late up there, August is more like October. And that was when all the brook trout were heading upstream to spawn. And that was the only normal thing that happened all year.
So, you know, we did okay, but that's something that the fishermen, and even more so, Robin, who runs the lodge and the guides have to figure out, because it's their livelihood. And people come up there expecting, you know, the usual high expectations fishermen have. And you're not gonna satisfy all of them, but you need to know what the fish are doing and get the fishermen into 'em. So, you know, around home, in fact, this afternoon I'm heading up to our local tailwater to see what's happening with the blue-winged olives. Normally, I'd be a week or two too early, but the way things are, you gotta go up and scout early because it could happen. And, you know, it's a horrifying thought to think that the hatch has been going on for days and you didn't know about it.
Tom: Yeah, that's a horrifying thought.
John: Especially in your own backyard. It really is. It keeps us awake at night.
Tom: Yeah. Missing a hatch.
John: And, you know, later in the year when the real high country stuff that I love opens up, we had, up until a few years ago, we'd wait until afternoon, we might go up there after lunch, unless we were going way back in and needed to time for four-wheeling and walking. But we'd wait until afternoon because it would take that long for the water to warm up. And these days, we go up in there morning and we're often walking back out, heading back to the Jeep by about the time we would normally get there.
So you have to just kind of figure this stuff out. Especially, you know, it's especially hard in country like this. I live at 6,000 feet, which is just down in the lower foothills, and I fish up as high as 10,000. And, you know, the seasons change as you go up and down hill. And then, water's a problem. We've been in a 23-year drought out here in the west, which has made things a little skinny and bony at times. And then, this year, we got a lot of snow. So we're probably gonna have a fairly monster runoff. And then, I don't know what happens after that. You know, we lose a tremendous amount of water to evaporation. And as it gets hotter and drier, we lose more. I mean, there's even talk of running irrigation ditches underground and stuff like that, to cut down on the evaporation. So, you know, there's a lot of elements to try and keep track of.
Tom: Yeah. What we see in the east, I've noticed over the past, I don't know, 10 years or so, is that, you know, sometimes we get decent snowpacks. Sometimes we don't, but we get really good spring rains and the rivers are full. And then, all of a sudden, just a curtain comes down over it and it stops raining and it gets hot and dry. And all of a sudden, the rivers that were full in May and June, just almost disappear. And they get too warm. And it's been a repeating pattern, which we'd never used to see before, just less water in all of our rivers during the summertime.
John: Yeah. We get something like the same thing. Usually in years with a good snowpack like this, we'd have a long runoff, might run off until mid July. And then, late July, August, September, into October, there were just really good, strong, low but strong stream flows. Everything was wonderful. And now, even with the big snowpack, if it flashes hot early, like in late May, June, we'll get floods, and then low water through the summer.
Tom: Same here.
John: It's not uncommon anymore for rivers to be closed because the water gets too warm.
Tom: It's gonna be a really interesting summer throughout the Rockies with this heavy snowpack nearly everywhere, a lot of place close to 150% of normal. And, you know, it's gonna be really interesting to see, are we gonna see that sudden heat wave or is it gonna be mitigated a little bit and modified a little bit by this heavier snowpack? I hope it is.
John: I hope it is. I also hope it cuts the fires down a little bit. We've had awful wildfires out here, which is another effect of climate change, by the way. Some of the higher altitude countryside, when it burns, it used to come back eventually into forest again. But they're saying now it's more likely to come back into grassland. So you lose the shade over the water and you lose the wood that falls in becomes nutrients. So the water gets warmer and it's less fertile. Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm getting too depressing and we won't. But sometimes it's hard not to see a little disaster in the horizon.
Tom: Yeah. So your plan to deal with these warming summers and climate change, is to go higher and higher in the watershed?
John: Well, yeah, as much as I am able, you know. You alluded to the fact early on that neither one of us are spring chickens anymore. So some of these monster hikes aren't as easy to do as they used to be, especially at high altitudes. Yeah. That's one way. The other way is to kind of move your season. You know, we used to do an awful lot of our trout fishing in mid-summer, but anymore, in the last decade or so, by mid-summer, the water can be too warm and the rivers can be closed. Or if they're not closed, they should be. I mean, there's a lot of voluntary closure kinda stuff going on, where, yeah, there's no special regulations on the water, but people will just get off at noon when the water starts to warm up. And the fish will tell you, if the water's getting too warm, the fishing will just go off. You'll drop your thermometer in the water and you go, "Okay, time to go."
Tom: I'm wondering if one bright spot of this change in climate and warm summer waters will be to spread their pressure around a little bit and see more people fishing pre-runoff and in the fall instead of, you know, everybody descending upon the Rocky Mountains in the middle of the summer to fish.
John: Well, that's possible. I think, you know the guides are gonna figure when the best fishing is. They're gonna find out real quick and they're gonna promote it. So I think if you got your ear to the ground, I think it'll be pretty easy to pick that stuff up. And then, you'll get your crowds at different times of year, but you'll still get 'em, I think.
Tom: Hopefully they'll spread it out a little bit.
John: Yeah. Yeah. You know, there was that one year, I forget which year it was during COVID, nobody could do anything. But they could go outside and fish. And it was relatively safe. I mean, social distancing is built into fly fishing, right? So there was one year when Colorado sold 90,000 more resident fishing licenses than they had the year before. And I keep telling people all those 90,000 people were going right where I wanted to fish. And that was kind of interesting too, because I learned all kinds of things about my home water that I hadn't known before. All the obviously good-looking spots were usually taken. So I just started going to the real crappy looking water, fishing real fast riffles and real difficult to wade stuff. And boy, you know, full of fish, you just had to learn how to fish it.
Tom: Uh-huh. So you found some new hot spots? You were forced to.
John: I was forced to and did. And one advantage, some of those places were harder to fish technically, but an advantage was people weren't fishing 'em, so the fish were kinda dumb. So I mean, you still had to be on your game, especially on catch and release water. I think memos go out among the trout population. Don't eat the Adams. But the fish weren't as hard as they can be in some of the more heavily fished pools.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Now John, when the water gets too warm, weather gets too warm, do you fish for species other than trout?
John: Well, I do fish for species other than trout. In fact, this summer in July, when it's usually really, really hot here, I'm gonna be up in Minnesota and Wisconsin with some friends, fishing smallmouth bass. Because the smallmouth, they're up in those rivers. They'll get pretty high up in those rivers and they'll work their way down as the water warms. And as far as the fishing goes, the hotter, the better. It can be miserable but at least you're out in the water. You're in shorts and wading boots. And if you get hot, you just hop in the water for a minute, soak your hat and keep fishing. So that's one thing I try to do. And then, I'll start fall early, I'm going up about the same time you and I did, to Labrador. I'll be up there in about mid-August. So that'll be my...October will start in August way up north.
Tom: Do you have any places closer to home that you fish for warm water species?
John: Yeah. There's a few places but, you know, I mean, this is Colorado. It's just not really bass country. We've got largemouth bass here, Division Wildlife, well, now it's the Parks and Wildlife, but they've stocked 'em over the years and there are populations of them here and there. But if you've been to good bass country, it can be disappointing. You know, 10-inch bass, if you're a trout fisherman, a 10-inch bass is a lot of fun. But if you're a bass fisherman, a 10-inch bass is like bait. And I grew up bass fishing and I've done enough of it since that I kinda know what good bass fishing is. I mean, that's not to put it down. It's plenty of fun and I've been known to go out and catch bluegills and actually in April. We do have some pike here. We don't have any great pike fisheries that I'm aware of. Pike do this thing out here where people stock 'em and they tend to eat up all the trash fish, all the suckers one year. Then you have all the trout the next year. And then, they'll be real big for a season or two, and then they'll just all die out because there's nothing left to eat, because they're an introduced species and they don't do well here. Or they do real well for a very short time, and then they ruin their own habitat.
Tom: Mm-hmm. I know that...
John: Kind of an object lesson, actually.
Tom: Yeah, a lot of people I've heard of fish for pike around the Denver area, but it sounds like they have to go through that cycle where one year they're good, the next, they're not.
John: Yeah. Yeah. That's my understanding. I've done a little bit of it out here, but if I'm gonna go fish for pike, I'll do it up north where pike belong and where things are kinda dependable.
Tom: Yeah, good pike fishing in Labrador.
John: Yeah. Yeah. I'm a big fan of fishing for fish that live where they're supposed to live. The history of human beings is rife with horror stories about introduced species, rabbits in Australia and things like that.
Tom: Brown trout in Colorado.
John: Yeah. I don't feel the same about brown trout as a lot of people do, if only for practical reasons. I mean, if you got rid of all the brown trout in America, now fly fishing would be unrecognizable. There would hardly be any trout. I mean, they're just everywhere. And yeah, they ate up all the native species and it would be nice to have the native species back. But we don't and, you know, it's like fishing in climate change. You have to kinda play the ball where it lies.
Tom: Yeah. Absolutely. Do you chase a lot of cutthroats? Do you do a lot of native cutthroat fishing there in your high altitude streams?
John: I do as much as I can. I can't call 'em native around here. Most of the cutthroats around here were fished out and then restocked and restocked at a time when fisheries managers sort of thought one trout was as good as another. So in water where we had...excuse me, where we had greenback cutthroats, we now have Yellowstone cuts, or we have what they call B-strain greenbacks, which are, they're Yellowstone, greenback, God knows what all else. Every one you catch is a little different. And then, you know, they'll be stocking rainbows in there at the same time. So you get cutbows and you just get this real hodgepodge of things that we generally call cutthroats.
I used to go unto British Columbia a lot and catch Westslope cuts and they were native fish. They'd been there for, you know, forever. Maybe I've just invented this, maybe it's a poetic idea. But I just think fish who live where they evolved just seem happier and healthier and prettier. You know? They just have something about them that's just incomparable, like those big brook trout in Labrador. I mean, they just go, "Yeah, that's right. I belong here and you don't."
Tom: And I'm gonna eat your mouse. Yeah, I feel the same way about our brook trout here in the northeast, although they're not quite the size of the Labrador brook trout.
John: No, but you know, when you cut up into parts of Maine, there's some pretty nice brook trout up there.
Tom: Still are. Yeah.
John: And [inaudible 01:26:53] I kinda like fish that are scaled to the water they're in. I fish a lot of these little mountain creeks where it's mostly brook trout and browns now and some cutthroats higher up. It's funny. The place where the species mix moves around from year to year, and back in 2013, we had 1,000-year flood. And the brook trout moved way down low in the higher drainages, which is really interesting. And they've stayed there. I don't know. I thought that brown trout would, I don't know, eat 'em up or chase 'em back or whatever they do. But they've kind of stayed and it's really...I'd much rather catch brook trout than browns.
Tom: Well, that's interesting because brook trout tend to need colder water temperatures than the other species. So maybe that's a good sign that your waters are staying cold.
John: Well, it could be. It could be. Yeah. Brook trout and cutthroat both are pretty good canaries in the cold mine as far as water quality and temperature go.
Tom: Yeah. I was gonna ask you actually if you've seen, with the change in climate, if you've seen the cutthroats being pushed higher and higher in some of those streams.
John: Well, you know, there was a time I'd said yes. But, like I say, now the brook trout and cutthroats both have come farther down and time will tell. I mean, you know, we tend to measure things by season. How was your season? And the natural world measures time by millennia. So we'll see. I mean, maybe in 10 or 15 or 20 years, it'll go back the way it was or change even more. Hard to say. I mean, at some point, you can move upstream only to a point. And pretty soon you hit snow fields. And if the brookies and the cutthroats can't get high enough pretty soon, brown trout will be a high altitude trout. So hard to say what's going to happen.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, we certainly do have these good and bad years. I mean, you started out talking about that one season in Labrador when, yes, the climate's changing and it's getting warmer. But that particular year, it was colder.
John: Yeah. Well, I mean, if it was just progressively warmer everywhere, that would be easier to figure out. But in fact, it's more extreme extremes. So it's hotter when it's hot. It's colder when it's cold. It's wetter when it's wet, dryer when it's dry. So that's what makes it hard to deal with are the extremes. I mean, you know, tornadoes and hurricanes, forest fires, you name it, floods, all the run-of-the-mill environmental disasters are getting worse. And when you apply that to fishing, it's just like, well, okay, where we used to have runoff, now we have floods.
Tom: Yeah. One of the aspects, I guess, of climate change is it's tough to plan a fishing trip, right? You have to be a little bit more opportunistic because you don't know what the seasons are gonna be like.
John: Well, yeah. That's true. And, you know, it was never a lead-pipe cinch in fishing. That was one of the earmarks of the sport was that, well, you're taking your chance. Usually this is a good time of year, but then you show up and they go, "Well, it's been raining for six weeks." So yeah, things can be hard to plan. You know, especially with anadromous fish. You know, if you're fishing for trout, you need a healthy stream. But if you're fishing for steelhead, you need a healthy hemisphere. And that's getting harder and harder to come by. And you got commercial fishing bycatch and all that other stuff to deal with. I was talking to a friend of mine recently about steelhead, and he just said, "Well, look, if you live out here, and you've got your ear to the ground, and can drop everything to go fishing if you get a phone call, you can do okay on steelhead. But to come out here for a week or two and try to hit it, it's pointless." I mean, your odds of hitting a run are pretty slim.
So, you know, now if you want to fish for steelhead, you almost have to go out there and live out there for half a season and try to plug into the home court advantage. And you'd still need a network of friends who would call you if they found some fish.
Tom: Yeah. It may that we all, because we need to be opportunistic, maybe we all need to start fishing a little closer to home, and then we can take advantage of these opportunities.
John: Well, yeah. I mean, I do okay, you know, I can complain about changing conditions. But I do okay in my own little neighborhood, southern Wyoming, northern Colorado. But I'm lucky and so are you. I mean, not everybody, you know, if I lived in Chicago, I don't think things would go quite as smoothly. A lot of people live where they can't just hop in the pickup truck and be fishing in 20 minutes.
Tom: Well, depends on what they want to fish for, right?
John: Well, I suppose. Yeah, I suppose.
Tom: Yeah, if we're talking trout fishing, yeah, it can be tough because a lot of people do have to travel. But, you know, if you just want to fly fish, there's places to go.
John: Well, you're right. You're right. There's always carp. A friend of mine says that carp are the fly rod fish of the future. "Couple more generations," he said, "that's all we'll have to lead a fly in, in fresh water."
Tom: I don't know about that. But...
John: Well, I don't either, but it's a thought. And carp are a lot of fun. I mean, they're the biggest fish most of us have anywhere near home. And they will take a fly and they're really hard. I mean, that just poleaxed me when I decided to fish for carp with a fly rod. I thought, well, I'll catch a few carp, that might be a hoot. And I couldn't catch 'em. And it was like, these are, like, brown trout plus five.
Tom: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
John: And so, that, you know, took me a couple years to get to where I could almost reliably catch carp if they were on the bite. And then, it just finally occurred to me. Well, yeah, this is a lot of fun, but they're still just carp.
Tom: Yeah. As much as I love carp, I sometimes have trouble convincing other people that they're worth chasing with a fly rod. It's one of my favorite fish, but yeah, I wish I had more of them close to home. But they're not easy. They're not easy. It's not instant gratification.
John: There was a guy who was fishing Pathfinder Reservoir just over the border in Wyoming. And he was fishing out of a flats boat, fishing for tailing carp. And I really wanted to go up there and fish with them. We talked about it and it was just one of those things that just never quite happened, you know. When he could make it, I couldn't make it and vice versa. And I finally lost track of him. But we have a little reservoir near here about a half hour drive from here. And a friend of mine has kind of a low rent Colorado type flats boat. And we'll go out there and fish for tailing carp in the summer. It's a lot of fun and it's especially interesting because it's, like, the neighborhood beach. So there's families with kids and beach balls and people on paddleboards and here come these grizzly old fishermen in their beat-up old boat. And we kinda motor through all this activity over into the flats on the far side and catch carp.
Tom: Sounds like fun to me.
John: It is fun. It really is fun. The other thing about carp is, I mean, they'll happily bite in water that would have trout swimming belly up.
Tom: Yeah, they sure will.
John: I mean, bathtub warm water, they're just fine with that.
Tom: And I've been finding recently that they'll take in really cold water, a lot colder water than I thought you could fish for carp. Everybody seems to fish or carp when the water's really warm, but boy, they can be pretty aggressive even in cold water. So they must be very tolerant of water temperatures.
John: I haven't ever looked it up, but I've heard they have this, you know, every fish has this kind of comfort range, this range of temperatures they're comfortable in. And I've heard that for carp it's really wide, wider than most fish. I've never fished for 'em. When it's cool, I'm looking for trout. Carp, I fish for carp in the dead middle of summer when they've closed the big trout rivers because the water is too hot. And then we'll go out and fish for carp. And, you know, thank God for 'em because they're just swimming around, happily eating stuff and biting flies occasionally.
Tom: Very occasionally, right?
John: Well, they have their days. I mean, but yeah, I've never just tuna boated 'em. I've had days where I'd catch five or six in an afternoon. That's a pretty good day...
Tom: That's a really good day.
John: Usually if you get one, you go, "Well, okay, I didn't get skunked." There's no fish that can ignore you with more panache than a carp. Because they won't, I mean, trout at least pay you the compliment of spooking as if you were dangerous. But a carp will just swim over and look at you and go, "Really? You expect me to eat that?"
Tom: I've seen some pretty spooky ones. I've seen some pretty spooky ones.
John: Yeah. I mean, that's the interesting thing about them is their moods change on a dime.
Tom: And they're different in every watershed too. They're really different in every lake and every river. You have to adjust your tactics for them, I find, for those fish, depending on where you are.
John: Yeah. It seems like they have this more of a local personality than trout do. Trout will do, you know, under the same conditions, they'll do more or less the same things. But carp could be doing anything. I think a lot of that's just available food supply. I've never fished for carp in flowing water. Always fish for 'em in lakes out here. But there are places. Out in the Platte River out east, I guess, there are carp. And that would be interesting. Maybe I should try that this summer.
Tom: Yeah, we fish 'em here in some flowing water, some fairly fast rivers and it's pretty interesting.
John: Yeah. I should try that. That sounds like fun.
Tom: All right, John. Well, we've certainly gone the gamut of the fly fishing world. Remind people the title of your latest book because I know you have a lot of fans on this podcast. The book's only been out a couple weeks so they may not even know that your book is available, so.
John: Yeah. It's called "All the Time in the World." It's from Simon & Schuster. And yeah, it's been out for about a week and a half, two weeks now. I somehow missed the actual publication date, which is kinda like sleeping through your birthdate. But it is available now in fine stores everywhere, as they say.
Tom: Yeah, it won't be hard to find. I've even been in airport bookstores and they've had your books and it makes me jealous as hell, because airport bookstores never have my books.
John: Well, it's really a hit and miss thing. I mean, I know I've seen them in Anchorage, but I haven't ever seen 'em in Minnesota. And so, I don't know. It's just hit and miss. I think if the guy who manages the airport bookstore is a fisherman, he might have even more books.
Tom: Yeah, I've seen them fairly often, so.
John: Well, good.
Tom: Good for you. Good for you. All right, John. It has been great talking to you. I hope you have a great season. Say hello to the boys in Labrador for me...
John: I will.
Tom: ...and hopefully we'll talk soon.
John: Okay.
Tom: Thanks, John.
John: Good talking to you.
Tom: Bye-bye.
John: All right. Thank you. Bye.
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