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The other pleasures of fly fishing, with Dylan Tomine

Description: I’ve been asked to touch more on the spirituality of fly fishing in my podcasts, and honestly I’m not very good at that. So I asked a thoughtful friend and author, Dylan Tomine [32:54], to touch on these aspects of fly fishing. I don’t think we got very spiritual, but we do ramble on about the other aspects of fly fishing we enjoy besides catching fish, casting, and tying flies. It’s mostly about the people.
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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 Dylan Tomine. Dylan is a steelhead angler and a writer, author of a couple of books. He writes for a living, he writes copy for some outdoor publications and catalogs, and all-around great guy and a very thoughtful guy. And I thought we would try to touch on a subject that honestly, I'm not very good at and that's the pleasures of fly fishing beyond casting and catching fish. What's so great about fly fishing? What's so cool about fly fishing? And we try to get spiritual on this because I've been asked to touch a little bit more on the spirituality of fly fishing, again, something I'm not very good at. And I don't know if we do a very good job, but we do have some fun talking about the other things that we love about the fly-fishing world. So, I hope you enjoy that.
But first, we're going to do the Fly Box. If you have a question for the Fly Box, you can email it to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and you can either just put your question in the body of your email or you can attach a voice file on your phone if you would like. So, here we go. The first question is an email from Derek from Pennsylvania, and Derek is a longtime podcast listener and also the guy who built this wonderful Vanguard Audio Labs microphone that I use and makes my voice sound much better than it is in real life. So, hats off to Derek. Here's Derek's question. "I've got a backpacking trip coming up in the eastern Sierra Nevada of California. We'll be visiting several backcountry streams and still waters and the chance to catch five different species of trout: Brown, Rainbow, Brook, California Golden, and Cutthroats. Trip of a lifetime.
My question is in regard to still waters. During the a.m./p.m., it's easy pickings at the inlets and outlets of High Sierra lakes, even bigger trout will hit a dry fly like it owes them money. However, during the day, the fish tend to hang out deeper just off the drop-off and don't tend to rise. I'd like to have the option to fish streamers in these lakes during the afternoon hours, but I do have a question about the setup. In backpacking, every ounce matters, especially on this trip. We'll be covering 35 miles in four days with a total elevation gain loss of 14,800 feet. I'll be packing as light as I possibly can and will be fishing at least three still waters with a variety of depths. This means I need to figure out a lightweight way to diversify my gear for streamer fishing.
So, on to my questions, with streamers and still waters, would you recommend fishing a floating line with an attached PolyLeader or taking a spare Arbor of intermediate or sinking line? If I take two PolyLeaders, what sink rate and PolyLeader length would you recommend? What sink rate would you recommend as a middle ground if I took a full spare Arbor? Thanks, Tom. I also appreciate you mentioning Trout Unlimited on a regular basis. Based on your continued recommendation. I joined TU last year and it's an incredibly rewarding experience to help protect and restore the cold-water environments I love. For listeners on the fence, join your local chapter, you won't regret it. Every time you go out, the stream is giving you something. Join TU to give something back to the stream."
Wow, Derek, that's a great thought. Regarding your packing for your trip, I would just take a floating line and a couple of PolyLeaders. I wouldn't bother with a spare spool, I don't think you're going to need it. Here's what I do. I would take the trout PolyLeaders of seven and a half footers and I would take, I think, fast-sinking and an extra fast-sinking. You know, the intermediate one is kind of slow sinking and I think you can get away with that with a floating line and a streamer with a little bit of weight to it, don't think you need that one. But I would take the fast-sinking and the extra fast-sinking, or if you only want to take one, I would just take the extra fast-sinking. You can always start your retrieve earlier if you're getting too deep with that extra fast-sinking but, you know, you want to have that just in case you're at a deep drop-off. And if you're at a really deep drop-off, you know, just put that on the end of your floating line, put a moderately-weighted streamer on the end, and just use the countdown method, let it cast out there and let it count down.
It'll get pretty deep. It won't get 20 to 30 feet deep, but you're fishing from shore so you're not going to have to worry about that. So, I would just take a floating line and PolyLeader to save on weight. That's all I normally carry on trout streams wherever I go without regard to weight for backpacking. So, I think that's all you'll need. Here's an email from Paul. "I primarily fish the Wisconsin driftless area using 3- and 4-weight rods. However, I got a brand-new Helios 6-weight nine-foot rod for Christmas. The idea was to use it for bass and rivers, and if/when I get the chance to fish bigger waters, this rod would be ideal. I took it out for casting practice yesterday and it's phenomenal. It's truly a work of beauty. At the end of June, I'm going to do some...I'm going with some work friends to fish Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park on a backpacking fishing trip.
And doing research, it looks like smaller waters similar to that of the driftless minus trees and bushes. My question is given this is a creek note for dry fly fishing, how effective do you think a 6-weight rod will be for our dry fly fishing with delicacy and stealthy presentations, etc.? I will have my non-Orvis eight-foot 4-weight and considering bringing my 10 foot 3-weight Recon, but I get the feeling that the 6-weight would be too much. Will a long leader presentation of a dry fly, likely some beetle or Hopper patterns, be suitable using this heavy of a rod? Wishing I would have asked for a Helios to replace my lighter rods now that I see how wonderful these are to cast. Your opinion is greatly appreciated. Notice that I didn't ask what flies to use. I believe this is going to be mostly dry fly and Hopper dropper with size 14 and 16 dry flies."
Well, Paul, I don't think...I honestly would leave the 10-foot 3-weight at home, I don't think that's going to be a lot of use in Slough Creek. I think that your eight-foot 4-weight for the smaller dries and that nine-foot 6-weight, you're probably going to use more than you think because Slough Creek is all Cutthroats. Cutthroats are very surface-oriented and they're very oriented towards larger dry flies. So, you know, you said 14s and 16s but boy, I would take some 10s and 12s with you, some, you know Hopper, Chubby Chernobyl-type high floating flies and beetles and things like that because this is a stream known for, you know, small dry flies but also a bigger dries.
So, I don't think that 6-weight will be too much rod and if you find that things are landing too hard or you think you're spooking fish in the flatter water, what I would do is just add three feet to the butt section of your leader. Take some butt material, take some 50-pound or, you know, 021 or 023 to match the butt section on your leader. Pull off three feet, add that to your leader with a blood knot, tie a loop on it, now you got a longer leader and then maybe even extend your tippet a little bit longer than normal, maybe out to four feet or something, three or four feet, and you should be able to get plenty of delicacy with that 6-weight. So, I would take it, I don't think it's going to be a problem at all. Plus, it'll give you the opportunity to use some streamers and things like that in other rivers in Yellowstone.
Johnny: Hey, Tom, this is Johnny from Missouri. I wanted to get your opinion on sink tip lines. I'm looking at getting a sink tip for my nine-foot 8-weight Orvis Encounter rod. The reason I want to get this is to get down into 10 to 15 feet of water with a three to four-inch streamer or Game Changer, EP minnow, something along those lines. I'm mainly fishing from my boat most of the time but I'd also like to get on on rivers if that changes what you would recommend. I'm curious to see what you had to say about this and also where you think PolyLeaders or Versileaders fall into getting a little more depth out of your fly line. Yeah, let's see what you have to say. And thanks for everything you and Orvis do. Let's keep those lines tight.
Tom: Oh, Johnny, I personally don't use sink tip lines at all. I use generally floating lines with a PolyLeaders if I'm not going too deep. And as I said previously to Derek, I carry the fast-sinking and the extra fast-sinking PolyLeaders. Sometimes, I take the...if I know I'm going to be fishing real deep, you know, there's a seven-and-a-half-foot trout PolyLeaders and there's a nine-foot what they call salmon PolyLeaders, it's just a longer, heavier PolyLeaders, it doesn't mean you have to use it for salmon. Sometimes I take both of those lengths and with a floating line, I can generally do...I think I can do anything I can do with a sink tip line.
However, if you're casting in 10 to 15 feet of water, what I would recommend is a 250-grain depth charge line. That's the line that I use, that my fishing buddies and Orvis rod designer, Shawn Combs, uses consistently when we're fishing both streams and lakes and the ocean. When we want to get down, we use the depth charge line. It's a long...I think it's 30 feet of fast-sinking line with an intermediate running line, so the whole thing runs fairly deep. But the intermediate line allows you to pick it up just a little bit easier, you have to kind of roll cast it to the surface when you get the head in close and then pick it up and throw it. But I would...definitely, if you want to get that deep, use the 250-grain depth charge line on that rod, I think you're going to be very happy with that.
Okay. Here's another email from Andrew from Pennsylvania and Vermont. "I enjoyed your presentation on Saturday for the Battenkill Festival. I'm the guy who asked you about Terrestrials and what you would use this time of year. For your information, I caught a beautiful Brookie about eight inches long on a hare's ear nymph dropper on Monday, I could easily have jumped over the creek without getting wet. At any rate, some questions occurred to me and I hope you don't mind answering. When fishing a new small creek, how long do you give it in deciding whether it's worth fishing more or again? What signs do you look for? Obviously, if you're catching fish, it's a no-brainer. But if you aren't seeing any fish and aren't catching anything, when do you give up? If you don't give up, what signs make you keep going or returning?"
Well, Andrew, since there's a multitude of small streams here in Vermont and other places that I fish, generally, unless the water is really cold, if it's early season and the water is, say, 45 degrees or even around 50 and I don't catch anything, I'll wait for the water to warm up and go back and give it another try. But if I don't catch anything on...I usually use dry dropper, if I don't catch anything on a dry or a nymph or I don't spook anything, then I'm out, I'm not going to go back there. Although it's this part of the world, it's rare to find a small creek that doesn't have some fish in it. But, you know, if you cover 100 yards of water and you don't rise anything on the dry and you don't take anything on the nymph and the waters above 50, I'd give up on it unless you spook some fish, unless you actually see some fish. You know, this small stream fishing is know, it should be fast, kind of volume fishing and if you're not picking up a lot of fish, then...if you're not picking up any fish, then it's probably not worth going back to. But it's rare that, you know, when the water temperature is decent with a big dry and a nymph, you don't pick up something.
Don: Hey, Tom, this is Don in Northern Illinois, do some fly fishing in a driftless area. I have a few questions and one podcast suggestion. First of all, the suggestion, I enjoy all of your podcasts, sometimes I don't listen to all of the guests, but I certainly enjoy the Fly Box. I was wondering if it would be possible to have episodes just made up of the old Fly Box part of the podcast, so when you're traveling or out of town and need a filler, you could just plug in one of those. Speaking for myself, I would certainly enjoy that. Now, for a couple of questions. When you're out nymphing, let's say it gets late in the day and it warms up and there's a hatch and you want to go to a dry fly, how do you switch from your nymphing rig to a dry fly rig? Do you change leaders? I do that but it's a little bit awkward, just wondering how you deal with this.
And then my other question has to do with furled leaders. Maybe a year or so ago on a YouTube channel that I was watching a guide and shop owner was extolling the virtues of furled leaders as far as the presentation of dry flies, it sounded like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I don't really hear anybody else talking about it. So, I just wondering what your take is on furled leaders or if you use furled leaders. Thanks for your help with this and appreciate Orvis and your podcast.
Tom: Don, we considered doing just Fly Box episodes in the past but based on some feedback and based on some analysis we did, we're not going to do it. So, we decided not to do it. So, when nymphing, honestly, if I expect that there is going to be a hatch and I'm going to be...or if I expect that I'm going to be dry fly fishing, I don't put on a specialized nymphing leader. Here's what I do, I take...let's say I'm fishing in a nine-foot 4X leader, so I will...nine-foot 4X nylon leader. I'll cut that 4X back to about, you know, the tippet section where the Nautilus tapered part of it, you know, you go back on the tippet, and you start to feel it get heavier, so then you come forward about maybe six inches or so. And either tie a new piece of tippet or a smarter thing to do is tie a tippet ring on there. You got a tippet ring there.
Then I'll tie a piece of fluorocarbon onto that tippet ring, that's maybe...well, it's going to be, you know, about one and a half to two times the depth of the water I think I'm going to be fishing, and then I put my indicator usually just above that tippet ring somewhere. And that way, I can indicate the fish, I can nymph fish, I can move the indicator up a little bit on the leader if I want but I like thin leader below the indicator because the fly sinks much quicker. So, I'd rather have a long fluorocarbon tippet than I would, you know, have a tapered...have my indicator on a piece of tapered line. And then when I get tired of nymph fishing or if there's a hatch, all I have to do is take that indicator off, take the fluorocarbon, tip it off because I use nylon for dry flies, and I may eliminate the tippet ring if things are going to be really delicate. But if they're not, I'll just tie on my nylon tippet to there and I'm ready to dry fly fish.
So, that's how I switch back and forth. And if I want to go back to nymphs, I take the nylon, tip it off, put a piece of fluorocarbon on, put the indicator back on, and have at it. But, you know, it sounds like you're like me, you like to be able to switch back and forth and that's how I do, it's pretty straightforward but it works for me. That's why I don't Euro nymph a lot in a river where I expect I'm going to see some dry fly activity because there, I'd have to carry another rod and another line and use a different leader. And if I'm not in a boat, I'm not going to carry multiple rods with me. I carry one rod, one line, and one leader, so I don't have to switch around. So, yeah, switching leaders is definitely a pain, you don't want to have to do that on the stream.
Regarding furled leaders, I don't care for them. I've used them, yeah, they cast well, I'm not wild about the way they present to fly, but lots of people use them and lots of people say they're really great. The one thing you'll notice is that you'll hear a lot about them on the internet but if you go into a fly shop or you ask a guide, nobody sells them and nobody uses them. So, there may be something to that. They're hard to find and I've never found a guide that uses furled leaders, a guide that I respect anyways. So, not so sure. They seem simple, they seem like a good concept, but, you know, I have no problem with using standard Nautilus tapered nylon leaders for everything I do. So, anyway, try them out, you know, try one out. They're not that expensive, try one out, and see how you like it. You may find that it works really well for you.
Here's an email from John from Central Pennsylvania. "Just listen to the latest podcast about fly fishing lakes and still water from shore. It was great and informative. However, the one thing I was hoping you would touch on was left out. I know it's been covered in other episodes, but I think it would be helpful to go over some casting techniques for bank fishing, especially in tight spaces. Sometimes I'm just making a quick trip or walking with my children around a park with a lake and I'm not going to be waiting. However, having some more casting tools to use around the surrounding cover and shoreline obstacles would help make fly fishing from the banks more enjoyable. I currently have a 6-weight and counter outfit with the Orvis 6-weight PRO line. I was leaning towards trying the bank shot for more roll casting ability. I also fish smaller streams with wary fish and I don't have another reel to swap out for another line type. Will a 6-weight PRO line be sufficient for roll casting along the banks? Will the bank shot be too clunky for pressured creeks? Thank you for any and all info, and thank you for the amazing resources that you put to the public for free."
John, based on what you want to do, I would definitely not get a bank shot line. The bank shot line is basically almost like a Skagit line for two-handed fishing. It's a really heavy head and a really thin running line and it will drive a fly out there, it will really drive a fly out there but it is not delicate. It's gonna bang a fly out there and it's not what you use in small pressured creeks, definitely. I would not use it. I think that 6-weight PRO line is going to be just fine for both roll casting and for fishing your pressured creek. So, I hate to talk you out of buying a fly line but for what you're doing, the bank shot is not the line to use.
Here's an email from Sam. "As an avid listener, I want to say thanks for the podcast, it has helped me get through many Minnesota winters and provided some educational entertainment while time flies and dreaming about upcoming trips. I'm heading to the Boundary Waters in early June and have a question about leader material. Instead of buying expensive fluorocarbon leaders, could I buy a spool of fluorocarbon and run something without a taper? Maybe eight to nine feet of 12-pound fluoro? Casting out of Kevlar canoes can be a bit tricky, so if doing this would help me turn over my flies, it would be great. Or what a tapered leader helped me do that better? I'll be using this to target lake trout. Even with a late ice-out this year, I expect them to be in 30 feet of water when we head on June 1st. Maybe we'll get lucky and find them shallower. If we don't have luck with lakers, there's always excellent smallmouth fishing around this time. If you've never gone smallmouth fishing in the BW CA, I encourage you to put it on your list. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on this as it would save me quite a bit of money."
Okay, Sam, so first of all, if you're going to be targeting lakers deep were you fishing? Thirty feet of water, you definitely got to have a depth charge, you absolutely got to have a depth charge. That's the only fly line that's really going to get you down reasonably well in that kind of water. And when you're using that line, you don't need a tapered leader. All you need is tippet material and I would say something around 16 to 20-pound tippet material fluorocarbon tippet and put that right...loop that right to the end of your depth charge line. Now, if you're going to be fishing with a floating line, which you may be doing for smallmouth bass, then you're going to need a tapered leader. If you try to cast just a level piece of 12-pound fluoro with a floating line, it's all going to collapse, it's not going to straighten for you. So, that isn't going to work.
So, floating lines, you need a tapered leader, you need a stiff butt section, and you need to transition that energy from the fly line down through the heavy mono down through your depot with a floating line. Sinking line, you don't need to worry about it. So, if you just fishing sinking lines, yeah, you could just take fluorocarbon tippet but you know, if you're gonna chase smallmouth, you probably want a floating line in there, you're going to need a standard leader with a stiffer butt section. Now, I don't think you need a fluorocarbon leader. You're right, they're more expensive. I think for smallmouth with poppers or even with weighted streamers in water that's not too deep, the smallmouth should be probably pretty shallow that time of year, just use a standard nylon later, you don't need to go with fluorocarbon. So, fluorocarbon tippet, nylon leaders, you should be all set.
Another email from Christian. "I'm a self-taught fly fisherman in Connecticut and a relatively new listener to the podcast, I've learned so much from these Fly Box questions. Anyways, I have only one pair of sunglasses, a pair of polarized Ray-Bans not specifically for fishing, and they helped me immensely in seeing the bottom on a sunny day in mid-afternoon, but they're not terribly useful when it's cloudy or the sun is going down. I've watched fly fishing videos and heard people identify what type of trout they see in a pool before even making a cast on a cloudy day. This is not something my sunglasses get me even remotely close enough to be able to do. I can't even identify the species when the sun is out and the water is shallow. So, here's my question, are all polarized sunglasses equal in terms of seeing fish? Am I just bad at citing fish? And do you have any recommendations for good fishing sunglasses that work in different lighting conditions?"
I do, Christian. First of all, you didn't say what color those Ray-Bans are and that's really critical. The standard gray color that you get in a lot of non-fishing sunglasses does not work very well in both trout streams and in shallow saltwater flats. It's okay for offshore deep water stuff, but they don't work well. You need a pair of polarized sunglasses with some sort of amber or copper tint and there's various shades, but you want something that has a yellowish-brown tint to it. That's going to accentuate the contrast and it's going to help you see things on the bottom in shallower water, it's really going to help and it's really going to make things pop better. It's like using know, if you're a photographer using the old yellow filter on black and white photography. So, that's going to help, that's going to enhance the contrast, it's going to sharpen the edges between objects using copper or amber, something like that.
Now, there are sunglasses called low-light sunglasses that have a lighter tint and I think a little bit less polarization, I've never been able to figure that out. I don't use them personally because I have to use prescription sunglasses and they don't make those low-light in my prescription, I have a fairly difficult prescription. So, I don't know but I know a lot of people that use them and they work really, really well in low light. And as far as brands are concerned, I'm a big fan of Smith sunglasses, I think they're the best fly-fishing glasses and also awful lot of guides that I know use Smith. So, Smith make good colors and then they're made for fishing and they're really high quality. And if you need a prescription, they do a really good job of prescription. Again, you can't get that low light right now as far as I know in prescription, at least not in my prescription, you may be able to get it in a less complicated prescription. So, anyway, it sounds like you may be using gray lenses.
You know, as far as spotting fish, that's really an acquired skill and it just takes a lot of time. You know, people that spot trout don't look for a trout on the bottom. They first look for that flagging tail, then they look for the pectoral fins, and then they kind of resolve the whole fish eventually. But this takes a lot of time. One of the things I might suggest is that whenever you catch a trout and release it, watch it very carefully as it disappears into the deeper water and see what it looks like and kind of develop a search image for that color and that shape in the water. But again, this is going to take time, it's not something you're going to just go out off the street and be able to spot trout in the water. No matter how good your vision is, it's really something that takes some practice to develop.
Nevin: Hi, Tom, this is Nevin Goldsmith from Joseph, Oregon. I had a question for you about fighting fish and keeping fish on. So, basically, I'm fishing a local stream. It's a pretty small stream but it holds very large fish rainbow trout in the 18- to 25-inch range and a couple of steelheads that are late coming up. I keep losing them when they jump clear out of the water a couple of feet and they shake their head and my fly pops out of their mouth. And basically, I was wondering, is it something I'm doing going wrong when they do this? Am I losing tension? Basically, my question is do you have any tips on how to minimize that because I've lost several of them that way? And I'm using a nine-foot 6-weight, just nymphing, mainly indicator nymphing form. So, any suggestions you have on how to fix that would be much appreciated. And thanks for everything you do on the podcasts and thanks for everything Orvis does, and I hope to hear your response.
Tom: Nevin, I don't think you're doing anything wrong. You're fishing for rainbow trout and rainbow trout jump a lot and they throw the hook a lot and there is really not much you can do, as far as I know, to prevent them from throwing that hook. The one thing that might help, you said you're indicator fishing, you're indicator nymphing. When rainbows jump, they're really good at throwing beadhead nymphs or tungsten-headed nymphs because that fly has some weight and when they shake their head, they're able to shake the fly off. You might try...if you can, you might try using some...trying to get down with a lighter-weighted nymph, maybe a smaller bead or even an unweighted nymph if you can get it down.
Putting a split shot on your leader with an unweighted nymph doesn't seem to help because you run into the same problem, they shake and the split shot pulls the fly out. And especially with barbless hooks, you know, they're gonna throw a barbless beadhead with a big rainbow jumping, you're gonna lose a lot of them. And I don't know of any clever tricks to keep them on the hook when you're, you know, fishing that way. So, I wouldn't really worry about it, I would just play the numbers, and keep trying and try an unweighted fly if you can get away with it. But you nymphing for rainbows, you're gonna lose some fish, no way around it.
My guest today is Dylan Tomine. Dylan and I have only fished together once but we've kept in touch over the years. We fished in British Columbia, making a steelhead film called...actually, a climate film called "Chrome," which was a lot of fun, despite the fact that we didn't catch many steelhead. And I wanted to get Dylan on the podcast because Dylan's a more thoughtful person than I am. If you've listened to me at all, you know I'm kind of nuts and bolts linear thinking kind of guy and I sometimes get people that ask, "Why don't you talk about the spiritual aspect of fly fishing?" And I tell them, "I'm not a good person to discuss the spiritual aspect of fly fishing." So, Dylan, that's why you're here today, you're here to talk about...because you're a more thoughtful person than me. I mean, you've written a couple of books of essays. Your newest one is called "Headwaters," which is all fly-fishing stories, right? It's about life and family and traveling, but it's all fly fishing. Then you had another book called...Oh, God. All right, remind me.
Dylan: It's Closer to the Ground."
Tom: "Closer to the Ground," right, which I really love. It's about family and foraging and food and shelter, a pretty cool book. So, anyways, I'm going to ask you to talk about other things to enjoy while you're fly fishing to enhance the spiritual aspect of fly fishing. Can you handle that?
Dylan: I think I need a disclaimer that I may be a lateral thinker as far as, you know, duck dressing and shooting off to the side. I don't know how spiritual I am but, yeah, it seems like a fun thing to talk about, sure.
Tom: Okay. So, go ahead, fire away. Give me some ideas here.
Dylan: Well, I think, you know, I mean, for me a lot of the pleasures around fly fishing come outside of actually just [inaudible 00:35:21]. And, you know, I think part of what the writing is about in "Headwaters" is being able to see how a fisherman...or, you know, somebody who's really passionate about any pastime, how it changes over the years, you know, that what you focus on and what you think about. And I think, the early stories I was writing, which are indicative, I think, of what I was thinking about at the time, are really kind of just these Gonzo fishing adventures. And then, I think it starts to morph because of concern around conservation issues with the pressure that's on oftentimes dwindling numbers of cold-water fish. And then also, you know, changing even further into a deeper focus on the people and the culture and the experiences of fly fishing.
So, not to sound too, you know, woo-woo there, but yeah, I think a lot of the value to me in spending time fishing is the people you spend it with. You know, in my case, a lot of times, it's my kids and it's a good time that we can hang out that's kind of, I think, free or freer of the day-to-day pressures of, you know, grades and sports and school and all that stuff. So, I think there's that. And then I think, also, you know, to me, there's been so many people along the way...I think that's one of the really beautiful things about both literary matters and fishing matters, is that in those communities, in my experience, there's always been people that are really willing to really generously lend a hand. You know, so I have, you know, lists of people that are mentors in writing and mentors in fishing and, you know, some of them are both. And so, to me, that's one of the immediate real values and pleasures of time spent fishing is just the people who've come into my life through fishing.
Tom: Okay. So, I'm going to correct you for a second and then I'm going to ask you to tell some stories and give some examples. I had to correct our mutual friend Todd Tanner when I did a podcast with him a couple of months ago because he kept saying, "Fly fisherman," and we got to start using fly fishers so that we're more inclusive. Come on, Dylan.
Dylan: I know. Actually, I spoke at a reading in Portland the other day, I fear that my reaction to it was offensive to the woman who brought it up, which was clearly not my attention. Let's talk about this for a minute. Actually, this is really an interesting topic.
Tom: Okay. Yeah.
Dylan: And I would love to hear from female anglers, you know, what the consensus is because this came up in some of the commercial writing that I was doing. And in the process of it, I mean, A, I've thought about it a lot, and then B, I did kind of an informal poll, I talked to the women in my life that are fly fishers and a number of commercial fishers. And all of them, at least the ones that I asked, said that they prefer the term fisherman and that they don't consider it, you know, a gender-specific thing and that it felt awkward for them to be fly fisherwomen or fly fishers didn't feel right. And actually, I've been very thoughtful about this, I don't know that I come up with the answer. And, you know, it might would be great to hear from some of your listeners what the prevailing mood is because I clearly want to be as inclusive as possible. And I'm someone that, you know, grew up in a household led by a strong single mom and, you know, have a daughter, and so I want to make sure that we're doing this right, but I feel like I've received mixed information on it. Tom?
Tom: Yeah, yeah. What you're gonna ask me?
Dylan: Oh, I was just gonna say what's your experience? You know, have you delved into this with any of your colleagues or fellow anglers that are, you know, female gender?
Tom: Yeah, I've kind of gotten the opposite. I don't think the women that I've talked to like fly fishermen. And so, I've just gone to fly fishers and just as a matter of habit now, use that and I haven't had anyone complain. So, I figured, "Hey, if they're not complaining, then I'm just gonna keep on doing it." Because, you know, people complain about everything and we want to lessen that as much as we can.
Dylan: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I would say that the people that I talked to that were most vehement about it were the commercial fishermen of both genders. They consider it's their profession, they're fishermen, you know, whether they're women or men. But, yeah, I think, you know, in any endeavor these days, it should be our goal to, you know, not diss people off and make people feel welcome. Yeah, so I apologize for the times I've misspoken and we'll try and be better.
Tom: All right, well, now I understand why you use fly fisherman, and you are excused because you've got the data, you've done your work.
Dylan: Well, a small sample size. I don't know, you know, if it's...I mean, certainly, there's a long history of kind of male-dominated patriarchy in fly fishing.
Tom: Yeah, we never had to worry about it before. Right?
Dylan: And I, I feel like, you know, the future of fly fishing is with women, that, you know, they learn it more quickly, they become better at it faster, that there is an ability to multitask and understand the nuance that is not necessarily as compatible with testosterone. So, yeah, I think it's incumbent on us to try and make everybody feels as welcome as possible.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Dylan: So, I'm glad you called me out on that and I would love...I know there's no way to do a two-way sort of thing on a podcast but, you know, it's a really interesting topic, just that word and how do we use it and what does it mean?
Tom: Well, I will hear from people because I take questions and comments by email or voice file. So, it'll be interesting. If you have a comment on that, would love to hear it.
Dylan: Yeah. And Tom, you can pass those along to me because I'd love to hear it as well.
Tom: Okay. Yeah. Well, so let's go back to some storytelling and give some examples, Dylan. You know, I would suggest, there's a beautiful chapter in your book on your trip fly fishing in Japan and it sounds like you've met some really interesting characters there. You're Japanese-American back, what, three generations or something like that?
Dylan: Yeah, I'm a fourth-generation Japanese-American. So, yeah, it was...but I've been to Japan three times now, I didn't go till, you know, relatively recently starting. So, I spent most of my life so far not having been to the ancestral homeland. It's a pretty mind-blowing experience, I think. You know, I learned a lot. I think one of the things I learned is that probably because it's a heavily populated island nation with limited natural resources, that there's this attention to detail and craft with every single thing they do in Japan. I mean, like, you see highway signs where in America, it's a piece of sheet metal bolted onto a four-by-four post, and you go to Japan and you see these highway signs with dovetail joinery know, it's really this amazing pride and craftsmanship.
And part of it, I think, is a way of keeping people employed in a heavily populated place, but I have those tendencies of being a type-A perfectionist and I think I always just assumed that there was something wrong with me, that it was, you know, an OCD thing. And I guess I'm taking the out now that it's an inherited cultural trait and that in some cultures, it would be prized. But, you know, I think that that attention to detail, the idea that nothing in Japan is done in a half-assed way is really a contrast and not necessarily always positive. You know, I mean, it can make you crazy the attention to detail there. But for me, that was kind of one of the eye-openers.
And then, you know, the other thing that I tell people is that I look Japanese but I can't speak a lick of Japanese. So, what happens there is people come up to me and go blah-blah-blah in Japanese and I kind of go [vocalization] with this, like, befuddled look on my face. And oftentimes, the immediate reaction is, "Oh, he's mentally challenged." You know, like, "There's something wrong with..." And then I get this look of pity and kind of like the puppy dog pat on the head and then they start talking to whoever I'm with that does speak Japanese. So, in some ways, it's pretty humbling, you know, being there, but, you know, the fishing is really fun. Have you been over there and fish for, you know, the little trout in the headwater streams there?
Tom: I've traveled to Japan but I've never fished there, no. Yeah, tell me about how they approach their fishing. You briefly described it in your book but it sounds fascinating.
Dylan: You know, I mean, we fish the mountain headwater streams here in the Olympics and in the Cascades and, you know, it's mostly little cutthroat and rainbows that'll eat anything you put in the water, and so mostly [crosstalk 00:46:10] is a hike. And in Japan, those fish, you know, the Iwana and the Yamame know, I think there's pressure and stuff there just because, again, it's a highly populated small island nation, that those fish are crazy smart, even the four-inchers, you know? And so, they're fishing with 18-foot leaders tapered to like 8X with these, you know, intricately tied parachute flies. And, you know, I showed up and went like, "Oh, this is gonna be short work, like, we'll have 30 by lunchtime and get all the photos we need and we'll be out of here." And then I realized, you know, it's about as difficult as catching that five-pound brown out of a Spring Creek somewhere that seen it all, you know?
Tom: Interesting, wow.
Dylan: Yeah, and I think at one point, I landed about an 11-inch trout and, you know, people went bonkers. It was like landing a 200-pound tarpon. I mean, crazy cameras coming out and like, you know, high fives and hugs and back slaps. And, you know, and I didn't really realize the enormity of it until, you know, we spent a few more days doing it, and realizing most of them are like five inches.
Tom: Wow.
Dylan: So, it's a matter of scale, I think. You know, when you talked about the sort of collateral pleasures of fly fishing, these elaborate box lunches that you stop and eat streamside with the sushi and all the prepared vegetables, I mean, you know, the food is amazing. And the fishing, I'll say is fun but I think in some ways, for us as Americans, you know, it's a wake-up call because if you use up all your resources, that's what you're left with. And, you know, most of the rivers there are heavily diverted to grow rice. And so, a lot of the rivers we fish, you know, the headwaters are fine, but they don't actually ever reach the sea anymore. You know, and even the headwaters where we were, you know, a lot of them have little retention dams every 100 yards or so, you know, so it's a highly sort of structured human-influenced environment.
You know, one of the guys that I fished with there said that, you know, he fished for cherry salmon during the season, which I think is in the fall there. And, you know, I asked him how it was and he said, "Oh, you know, this season was great, it was a banner year," and I said, you know, "What does that mean?" And he said, "I fished 37 days and I hooked 2." So, I think, in some ways, I came home really energized to keep that from happening here or trying to from happening here, that as our population increase inevitably happens, as climate change is warming the streams, as more runoff from shopping malls and housing developments. I mean, all the things that affect our fish, I think you can see the results of that in a really densely populated country like Japan in a way that's maybe not so visible here without some kind of future-looking crystal ball. So, yeah, I think it was really inspiring to me like, "Hey, you know, we need to get on it here at home and do something to keep it to where there's actually the kind of fishing that we like to do available to us."
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you can see it starting now. I hate to say it, but if you want to fish for truly wild trout in an unspoiled environment and you want to get away from people, you have to go to those headwater streams and catch those 5-,6-, 7-inch trout, maybe sometimes an 11-inch here.
Dylan: Yeah. Well, you have a pretty good, like, headwaters brookie fishery near you, right?
Tom: Yeah, brookies, browns, and rainbows, we have all three wild species. Yeah.
Dylan: Yeah, you can find the small versions and kind of untouched little creeks and streams.
Tom: Yeah, you can in a lot of parts of the country. I mean, you can in Pennsylvania and Virginia and North Carolina, even Georgia, and then, you know, the Midwest, Michigan, Wisconsin, in the Rockies. So, there's a lot of places that it occurs and luckily, we have a lot of them but...
Dylan: Yeah, I think, you know, my friend, the biologist, Bill McMillan calls them trout, the color of butterflies, you know, and that, to me, I think is one of know, if you take size out of the trophy equation, right? And you fish for those little fish in the headwater streams. The fish themselves are just, like, amazingly beautiful and colored. And then as far as like the side pleasures, I don't know if it qualifies as spiritual or not, but, you know, the places, the landscape where you're in headwater country is those little creeks, you know, run through least around here, some of the most beautiful wild country in the world, I think.
Tom: And what does that do to you spiritually, Dylan? What is it that...what spiritual about it?
Dylan: You see, I'm dancing around that where...
Tom: I know, I know.
Dylan: You know, yeah, I think to me, when I go to those places, it's really a way to...I mean, I don't know, I hate to say it, but there's a connection to the natural world that happens in a different way when you have a fly rod in your hand and you're trying to catch a fish than if you're just out for a hike. Does that make sense?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Dylan: You know, I mean, some people talk that there's like a latent predator instinct, some people, you know, just talk about sort of heightened senses when you're trying to accomplish a specific goal. You know, Tom McGuane says, you know, like, "I'd love to just go out in nature but I have to have a game to play." You know, and so maybe it's as simple as that. But I think, to me, that's what it is, is that there's sort of this connection with the natural world but with a heightened sense of what's going on around you and what you're trying to achieve.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. I never thought of it that way as being a heightened sense, but at least in the narrow tunnel of your vision on the water, it's a heightened sense. Not so sure it's a heightened sense of everything else that's going around you. I mean, I once fished in front of a black bear for half an hour and then there was a cameraman on me and he said, "Did you see that bear on the bank? It was like 50 feet away," and I said, "No, what bear? I never saw it."
Dylan: Yeah, so it may be a narrow vision.
Tom: Yeah.
Dylan: Yeah, and that happens...I mean, actually, I was doing an interview last week and it was with a non-fishing, you know, interviewer, it was more of a literary thing. And he said, "So, you know, fly fishing must be so relaxing," and I said, "Are you kidding? It's opposite of relaxing." I'm so fired...especially when I'm steelhead fishing, my brain is turning a million miles an hour the whole time I'm fishing. Like, I mean, really, "Am I in the right space? Am I fishing deep enough? Do I have the right tip on? Is this fly too big?" You know, I mean, like it's this constant stream, but I love that, like, that's also a kind of heightened sensibility around trying to process all the information and separate, you know, what are real cues and, you know, the wheat and the chaff, right? Like, you just...yeah, I don't think my brain ever grinds the way it does when I'm fishing.
Tom: Yeah, well, it's not relaxing but it's therapeutic because you're turning everything else off.
Dylan: Yeah, for sure. For sure.
Tom: That's a good break, mental break.
Dylan: Yeah, you know, I was out on the Olympic Peninsula last winter and this was kind of a weird experiment, you know, the numbers of fish on the Olympic Peninsula, the wild steelhead spin, like, in this precipitous decline, and so I thought, "Well, I'll fish without a hook." You know, and a lot of times in the winter, I fish these big kind of intruder-style flies, so you can just take the hook off the loop and I found it entirely unsatisfying. Like, knowing that I'm not going to kill a fish...or intentionally, I'm not going to take the fish home and eat it and knowing that I really don't want to harm the fish. And so, intellectually, I thought, "Okay, well, I'll just keep fishing but..." You know, it's like the hunters that say, "Oh, I don't need to kill the animal, I'll just take up, you know, a rifle stock with a telephoto lens and, like, snap pictures," like, you know, there's guys that do that, people that do that. So, I thought, "Well, this will be fine, I'll just go do that." And a couple of hours into it, I realized that my mind was wandering back to all the things that I usually never think about when I'm fishing.
Tom: Interesting. That's a great experiment.
Dylan: Yeah, it was really weird. And I think different people probably would experience it differently but I realized that like so much of that focus and grind that I crave about steelhead fishing, just the fact that I didn't have the hook on there, it evaporated, like, I just didn't have it. And so, I just quit and then I just decided not to fish the rest of the season out there because, you know, it didn't feel like I could do it without the hook and maintain the interest. And I mean, I don't think that's a universal reaction, I think there's plenty of people that could do it and feel satisfied. I'm probably just too shallow or too goal-oriented or something, but all the things that I love about it kind of went away.
Tom: Did you get any grabs?
Dylan: I did, I had a pretty solid grasp.
Tom: Were you bummed?
Dylan: You know, I was super excited that I had the grab and then there's something about...I mean, because with steelhead fishing for me, my favorite moment is the time when you know it's a fish but you haven't set the hook yet. When it starts to grab it, you can feel the weight increasing and it's starting to move away from you. For the listeners, I'm just speculating wildly about what it feels like. But, you know, I have that grab and actually, hold on to it for a surprising amount of time. Like, it was a pretty good grab, it is a full line. It was a pretty good grab, and then it was gone and I was stoked that I had the grab, but I felt disappointed that, like, the payoff of pulling back and then having it go hard like...I don't know. I'm probably revealing too shallow a side of myself here but it was a really interesting experience.
Tom: Well, I think this is getting spiritual. You know, you're examining your feelings. Isn't that getting spiritual?
Dylan: I don't know. I've been accused in the past of not having any feelings, you know, by people very close to me. Yeah, you know, I think everybody probably has some different level of focus and fanaticism about their fishing. I think that certainly there are other parts of it, though, besides catching the fish that are important and a lot of it is like this wonderful culture of people that are like-minded, you know, and it's kind of combined with conservation and fishing and the experience of being outside with people that you like or love or care to be with. I mean, I think there's just a lot to that commonality. You know, in one of those pieces in the book, it's kind of a side note, but, you know, fishermen fishers, no.
Tom: Flyfisher is okay.
Dylan: But they're not...I mean, even gear fishers. So, I'm just saying anglers, in general, are the best people I know. You know, there's a piece in that book where I talked about how, you know, the general population, I think, looks at fisher people, fishers as, I don't know, slackers or ne'er-do-wells or bums or, you know, you're a fishing bum. But, you know, I used to own this blueberry farm and had this sort of emergency need for a whole bunch of hands and my wife at the time, my ex-wife now, but we called everybody we knew like, "Hey, we need help right now, you know, can somebody come?" And the fishermen were the people that dropped whatever they were doing and showed up ready to work, you know? And so, I think, like, the greatest blessing for me of having spent a lifetime as a fishing person is the people, the friendships.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Dylan: You know, even you and I, like, we didn't even know each other, we went on that trip, and we're tent mates and, you know, I feel like I've known you my whole life by third day. And, you know, I think that kind of connection know, and I see it online, too, you know, if you're looking at Instagram or whatever, that there's a lot of, like, communities and sub-communities that have grown up around just the common interest in fishing know? And I'm sure it's the same with climbing and skiing and surfing and all the other things but I see it most tactically in the fishing world and, you know, that to me, is the most uplifting part.
Tom: Now, Dylan, when you're out for...let's say you're out all day fishing and the fishing is really slow. Like, it's bright sun, low water, whatever. What do you enjoy doing while you're there other than contemplating being spiritual?
Dylan: Hopefully plotting how to try and get a fish to bite.
Tom: Well, let's say it looks hopeless, but you're there for the day, you don't want to go home.
Dylan: Yeah, I think then what I'm looking forward to is hoping that I or somebody else packed a really good lunch. You know, I mean, does a cold beer ever tastes better than on a hot day on a trout stream, you know? Or a salami sandwich or whatever it is. You know, I mean, we did this photo shoot with a really good photographer on the Olympic Peninsula a few years ago and he's like, "I got lunch, don't worry about it, like, I'll pack food for everyone." And we get back to his truck after, you know, a long, wet cold morning and he has like this loaf of Wonder Bread and a giant tub of, like, Skippy peanut butter and a tub of some generic brand jam. And I was like, "Oh, God, really? Like, that's lunch?"
And you know what? It was delicious. It was so good. So, food, of course, is a real huge interest. I mean, even just a Snickers bar, you know, I know as a chocolate aficionado, that probably makes your skin crawl, but just, you know, a candy bar is something that, like, I can take a lot of appreciation. And, you know, if we're waiting, you know, I like waiting, like, that's fun. If we're in a drift boat or a raft, I like rowing. You know, there's so much of those...I don't know, they're all in the service of trying to catch fish but a lot of them have pleasures on their own, you know, figuring out the shuttle with a drift boat. And, you know, at one point, we were using a Honda Trail 90 to shuttle, you know, back to your car and just riding along the road in the dark on a little motorcycle is fun, you know?
So, yeah, I think that one of the beauties of having fished for so long for me is that some of that just rabid craziness over catching the fish has spread out into remembering to enjoy some of those other components of it. You know, and those slow days of fishing seem like the only time when I'm fishing where you actually have kind of heavy conversations with my friends or my kids. You know, if you're hooking fish left and right, you don't want to stop and talk about your divorce or, you know, your kids' grades at school or whatever, you know? But it seems like a lot of those kinds of important conversations in my life have come either on slow days of fishing or after fishing when you're making dinner in a cabin or, you know, something like that, that it feels like those are the times when you can have those heavier conversations too.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, I know, my buddy, Sean and I go fishing and we'll have a maybe a two or three-hour road trip, and then we'll fish all day and then we'll drive back and I'll get home, my wife will say, "Well, would you guys talk about?" "Fishing." "Well, what did you talk about on the river?" "Well, we didn't talk because we separated, we don't like fishing next to each other." "What you talk about on the way home?" "Fishing." And she says...this is a couple of years ago, she said, "Do you ever talk about your feelings?" And I said, "No." And so, now it's kind of a ritual that when we're driving somewhere to go fishing, John and I, like, spent five minutes talking about our feelings and then we get it done so then I can report back to Robin that we talked about our feelings.
Dylan: And what does that five-minute conversation entail? Give us a little breakdown.
Tom: Oh, might be kids or, you know, life in general, health, or whatever.
Dylan: Yeah. Well, yeah, and I think that that' know, I don't know, I actively am trying like you to make more room for that in my fishing. But frequently, I'm so fired up to fishing that it sort of falls by the wayside, you know, because I think...I don't know. I mean, I don't know if the actual desire to just hook fish ever really goes away.
Tom: No, I don't think so.
Dylan: I think like that McGuane quote, you know, I'll paraphrase that I would love to be at a Zen place in my life where I could just go out and wander along a stream and feel totally satisfied, but I don't think it's going to happen.
Tom: That's a great quote. But there are people like that, there are people that say, "Oh, I don't care if I catch any fish when I go out," and I think they really believe it.
Dylan: Well, those are mostly steelhead fishermen because they're not going to catch any fish when they go out.
Tom: Do you do any foraging or birding when you're out fishing? I mean, you know, there's other things to enjoy. Do you look at some of the plants and do you look at birds?
Dylan: Yeah. You know, I mean, a lot of that started for me as indicators for fishing. You know, I'm looking for bugs or, you know, with steelhead fishing, like, I'm trying to remember like, "Hey, you know, when the red twig dogwood start to bud out, is that usually when we start catching fish in this part of the river?" Which is, again, that heightened sensibility but yeah, like, you know, in the fall, a lot of times when fishing is slow, I'll walk through the woods and look for chanterelles. But again, it's goal-oriented, I have not reached the Zen level where I can just wander around out there. Like, you know, I'm trying to find something. And, you know, I don't know very much about birds but I like watching them, you know, and just seeing what they're doing. You know, like in the evening, if there's a hatch and you're trout fishing and the swallows or the swifts come out and they're zooming through the flies above the river and stuff, like, I love watching that.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Dylan: And I think the thing that really made me feel more...I don't know, some kind of kinship with birds and it's weird, this total anthropomorphizing. But I was fishing through this run in March on the Skykomish River, probably, you know, 30 years ago. And as I was working down this run, there was this little bird, which I later found out was a Ruby-crowned kinglet, like the size of a hummingbird, right?
Tom: Yep.
Dylan: They have these bright black eyes with a white ring around it, they're a beautiful little bird. But, you know, in the past, I was just like, "Oh, there's some tweety birds over there," or whatever. And I saw this bird and I was fishing down and he kept keeping up with me, he was hopping from branch to branch and as I moved down, he kind of stayed with me. And I thought, "Oh, that's interesting," I was watching the bird. And then eventually, as I was swinging the fly through the run, he fluttered up and landed on my fly rod.
Tom: Oh, wow.
Dylan: And he was gripping it with his little claws, you know, halfway down and he was just kind of looking at me, and I was looking at him and I thought, "Oh, geez, you know, the swing is going to end, I'm gonna have to cast again." But I don't want to disturb this bird, you know, and it came down, the swing finished, and I sort of slowly lifted the rod to start a spey cast, you know, and he flew off and I went, "Ah," you know, I scared him away and I made the cast and he came back.
Tom: Oh, my God. Wow.
Dylan: And fly again, you know? And my mom has this whole thing know, after her father passed away, there were these snowy egrets on the road and, you know, she said, "Oh, that's my father's spirit," you know, a snowy egret. And then when her mother, my grandma passed away, you know, she said, "Your grandmother is a crow, you know, that she'll come and check on you," and, you know, I thought, "Yeah, right, mom, whatever," you know? And since then, I've always felt some sort of comfort when I see a crow or I see a snowy egret when I'm going somewhere. And I went to California for some book events and had some free time and walk down to the beach north of San Francisco and of all things, there's a snowy egret standing in the surf and I thought, "Oh, I'm gonna be fine, like, this is good."
And so, when that little kinglet land on my rod, I was trying to figure out like, "Who are you?" Like, you know, is it some kind of thing? Because he seems know, and again, I try at least in my writing to stay away from too much anthropomorphizing and attributing, you know, human emotions on animals. But there was something about that bird that know, I spent a whole bunch of time trying to figure out what kind of bird it was and then learning more about them and, you know, it turns out that kinglets hop around and eat spider eggs off the bottom of leaves, you know? So, yeah, there's some interest around that. I guess we're edging into the spirituality right there.
Tom: Yeah, I'm saying we're getting pretty spiritual here, Dylan, this is good. Good stuff.
Dylan: We went way down on that road. I don't know if your listeners are gonna be fully buying into that but...
Tom: Well, you know, my listeners like a good story and you tell great stories in your books and in person. So, that's what we're here to do.
Dylan: Thank you. Yeah, you're one of my inspirations for spinning a tale. So, that's a nice compliment coming from you.
Tom: How am I an inspiration to spin a tale? Because I don't spin many tails, really.
Dylan: No, I've talked to you and, for example, just your descriptions of how you make chocolate, like, totally stayed with me, like, that's completely fascinating and interesting to me. You know, and then the books that you've written, you know, the saltwater one, I love. What is the title of that book?
Tom: "Salt."
Dylan: "Salt," yeah. Yeah, I love the stories in that book.
Tom: You know, we just did a new companion book to that called "Trout" and it was a similar format with my essays and mainly photography book and Brian Grossenbacher did the photographs. I'm pretty honored to be in a book with Brian and...
Dylan: Yeah, he's good. It was Val Atkinson, right, that did the "Salt" book. Was it Val?
Tom: No, it was Andy Anderson.
Dylan: Oh, Andy Anderson, that's right. Yeah.
Tom: Yep, Andy Anderson.
Dylan: Yeah, man, he's good too. Like, you know, from when I used to do the work for the Sage catalog, he was always the guy that had the best photos submitted. He's really good.
Tom: Yeah.
Dylan: Yeah. Is he still around? He lived in Idaho, right?
Tom: Andy?
Dylan: Yeah.
Tom: Yeah, I think he's still in Idaho.
Dylan: So, what's your fishing like these days?
Tom: Oh, you know, I'm finally getting to travel a little bit, and so that feels better. And, yeah, it's been good. It's been busy.
Dylan: Where have you been?
Tom: Oh, I've been to...actually, I was in Chile and Belize over the past couple of months, and just in the Catskills. I'm actually looking forward to fishing around home a bit.
Dylan: Yeah, and is that mostly small stream stuff, or what do you...?
Tom: Yeah, right around home is mostly small stream stuff. I mean, we have some, well, bigger rivers to us. Vermont doesn't have many big rivers except maybe the White in upper Connecticut. Other than that, they're pretty small rivers. So, yes, mainly, small stream fishing. But we're not here to talk about me, we're here for you to tell stories, Dylan. Tell us some more about some characters that you've met on the river.
Dylan: Man, there's so many characters. I mean, I think, you know, one of my steelhead fishing mentors, Mike Kenny, who's like this, you know, kind of legendary Pacific Northwest steelhead fishing guru. You know, he became sort of one with the fish over 10 years of living in this cabin on the Stillaguamish River that had, like, no heat and no electricity. And he just fished every day, bathed in the river, you know, and develop this crazy...I mean, just amazing sense of the natural world all around. Great mushroom picker, great fisherman. I mean, just really this sort of woodsmen in the old sense of the world and just a really interesting guy, and he was very kind and taught me a lot about fly fishing for steelhead.
And it was crazy because he would always prefer to fish behind me because it was so much more satisfying to catch fish after I didn't catch them. That, you know, is super humbling. And then the other interesting thing about Mike is that...there are two things that are interesting about him. One is like he'd say, "Hey, do you want to go fish? Come on up." And I'd go up to his house and pick him up and we drive to the river and he lived up by the Skagit in the Sox, he lived on the Stillaguamish. But in the spring, we'd go fish these other rivers. And he'd say, "Park here," and we'd go on this, like, arduous brush-busting, horrible walk to get to one of his honey holes.
I mean, terrible, like, through thorns and brambles and ditches, I mean, just awful. And then we'd fish and the whole time, I'd be thinking, "I gotta remember how to get back here," because it's so hard to find shore access in a lot of these rivers. Later, I found most of those places you can just drive to, you know, but he didn't want me to know that. He wanted to go fishing with me but he didn't want me to know how to get to his spot, so he would devise these, like, insane, like, arduous ways to discourage me from ever going back there again.
Tom: That's hilarious.
Dylan: And then the other thing that was crazy about him is sometimes I'd be fishing and I'd be fishing down through a run by myself, like, I'd drive somewhere and just fish. And literally, with no warning, he'd just go, "Hi, Dylan," and he would be standing like a foot behind me, I didn't hear him, I don't know how he got there, didn't hear him wade out. You know, I'm waist-deep in the water and he'd go...yeah, he just, "Hi, Dylan," and I would turn around and go, "Jesus." You know, like, he would literally right at my shoulder and I'd have no clue how he got there.
Tom: Yeah, that would be spooky.
Dylan: Yeah, yeah. He's really a great...he's kind of an icon, I think, in the northwest. Yeah, so many great characters. You know, Bob Clay up on the Kispiox, another guy that just knows steelhead and rivers like, you know, on this amazingly intimate basis and I've learned a lot from him. And I think there's a profile...there's a short profile of him in "Headwaters." And, you know, the main point in that story is that of all the things that I've learned from him about fishing and rivers and all that sort of stuff, the most important thing is just what a kind human being he is. He's one of these guys that...I don't know, you always hear about somebody who gives you the shirt off their back, but that's Bob Clay. I mean, he's really just such a peach of a guy. And, you know, in my, I don't know if you've had this experience, I think a lot of fishermen have that...I said it again.
Tom: That's all right, I'll let it go.
Dylan: I'm working on it, I'm working on it.
Tom: Okay. It took Todd a while too.
Dylan: Yeah. Okay, well, I'm working on it. That, you know, you get these amazing mentors come into your life all the way through. You know, I mean, Tom McGuane, who has been instrumental in my writing and in fishing too, I fish with him up in British Columbia. And, you know, I mean, McGuane is a guy's so funny because I was writing the Sage catalog one year and Mark bale who I think you know, said, you know, "What do you want to do?" And I said, "I'd like to interview these iconic fly-fishing people and hear what their views of fly fishing are and put it in the catalog." And he said, "Okay, well..." And I made a list and he made some calls and he's like, "Okay, here's a phone number for Tom McGuane," and I had already even at that point had idolized McGuane as a writer. Nobody writes sentences like McGuane.
Tom: As I have idolized him. I'm trying to get him...he's promised me to come on the podcast but we're going to do it sometime this year.
Dylan: Yeah. I mean, there isn't a better nonfiction writer, I think, in the world, you know. And so, I called him and we arranged for a time and I said, "Hey, this is Dylan, you know, I'm doing this project, can I come out and interview you?" And he said, "Okay," and set up this sort of time to go out to his ranch on the Boulder River. And so, I flew out to Montana, drove out there, and it was crazy, it was in June and woke up in the morning and there's like four inches of snow on the ground in Bozeman. And so, anyway, I'd, like, slipped and slid my way in this little rental car out to this place and I said, "Hey, I'm Dylan," and he goes, "Oh, like Dylan-somebody," and he said somebody else's last name and I said, "No, it's Dylan Tomine," and he goes, "Oh, well, I thought you were the guy from "The New York Times" interviewing me about my book." I said, "No, same first name but this is about fly fishing," like that and he's like, "Oh, well, come on in. Do you like brisket? I just got a shipment of brisket from Texas, do you want some?"
And we sat down and ate, have this great interview, and ended up becoming really good friends out of this, like, totally mistaken him thinking I was coming from "The New York Times." You know, and just out of the generosity of spirit, he kind of took me under his wing and helped me get my first book published, and offered really good feedback in the editing process. You know, I feel like my relationship with Tom is like if you were a high school basketball player and you somehow connected with Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan, instead of saying, "Hey, here's an autograph, get out of here, kid," said, "Hey, I want to help you, like, with your craft, like, being a better basketball player, and let's go hang out, let's go do some things together."
You know, I mean, that was really a life-changing thing. And I mean, I can go down...there's a huge list. Yvonne Chenard has know, I don't know that anybody other than my parents has impacted my life and my outlook on things as much as Yvonne and Melinda have. You know, and all of these people, the connection came through fishing and grew into these really deep friendships. And I don't mean to say this, like, in a name-dropping kind of way, it's just that I use those people as examples because they are people who are really busy that already have completely fulfilled lives, that I was not in a position to offer them anything, but it was really generosity of spirit to say, "Hey, you know, let me give you a hand, let me help you out, let's hang out," you know? And, I mean, I feel that way about hanging out with you. Like, you know, like, "Oh, my God, I'm hanging out with Tom Rosenbauer."
Tom: Yeah, big deal, huh?
Dylan: No, it is. I mean, hey, they named a marijuana strain after you, dude.
Tom: I saw that on Instagram. What was it? Tom Rosenbud? And what was the description of it?
Dylan: I can't even remember, but I laughed when I saw it because I know you're not that big of a smoker but...
Tom: No. It was flattering, though.
Dylan: Yeah, that is awesome. Moldy Chum was sending that around and, you know, it was good. Yeah, so I feel like...and really, I think at the end of the day, the book "Headwaters" to me in a lot of ways is a long thank you note to all these people that have come into my life through fishing. You know, I read that...I don't know if you've ever read...Karen Russell wrote this book called "Swamplandia," so it's a crazy Florida, like, family circus novel, but it was great, it's like it's this wonderful book. But I think it's that book, in the acknowledgments, she said that all through, like, the grind of writing this book, oftentimes what chapter going was knowing that she could write the acknowledgments to thank all the people who've helped her along the way. And I just took it a further step, the whole book is really kind of a thank you or an acknowledgment of all these people and what they've meant to me.
I mean, it's not necessarily spiritual, but the amount of gratitude I feel for all the people from, you know, fishing guides, Andy Landforce, you know, taught me how to fish for steelhead when I was 10 years old and my single mom didn't know how to help a fish-crazy kid catch a steelhead. You know, and I think Andy Landforce is 105 years old now and I got a note from him at Christmas time saying that he didn't feel a day over 100. Yeah, I mean, that's my overall message, I think, is just how fortunate I've been and that I think if you're in the fishing world and you open yourself up to these experiences that people will step up and offer you help and, more importantly, friendship on kind of a level that maybe isn't expected in other pursuits.
Tom: I think you're right. And I think that, by the way, it's a great concept for a book, a thank you, you know, for all the people who have shared with you, that's really cool. And you're right, you know, my wife is always amazed at all these friends that I have in all walks of life and different parts of the country that I've just met through fishing and we've become close, and she's always amazed at, you know, the diversity of these people that I know in the...
Dylan: Yeah, exactly, because the person might be a hedge fund manager or they might be a school janitor, you know, or college professor. Like, all these people from these different...that have their real jobs that are real varied and different. You know, and our thing, fly fishing, you know, it's kind of like a friendly mafia or something, right?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Dylan: Isn't that what Cosa Nostra means? Isn't that "It's our thing" or something like that?
Tom: I don't know, I don't know what it means.
Dylan: I don't know very much about the mafia but I read that somewhere. Our thing, you know, our thing is fishing and probably...
Tom: The fishing mafia.
Dylan: Yeah, and I think, you know, there's the pleasures and the enjoyment of the pursuit and then like anything, there's some responsibility that goes with that, right? And that's conservation work, it's mentor of other people that are coming up. Like we talked about earlier, it's opening the door and being more inclusive to a more diverse group of people, making the knowledge and even the cost of the equipment more accessible to people. You know, I mean, I think there's a lot of that going on and, like, to me, people say, "Well, don't you get so discouraged in your conservation work because everything has gone down the tubes and getting worse." And I think the younger generation of fly fishers that are coming up now, you know, that are either new voters or will be voters soon. Man, that's a cohort of anglers that are so much more engaged on conservation and the environment and inclusivity than I ever was.
Tom: Yeah, I totally agree and it's such a positive hope for the future know, people complain that young kids don't go to Trout Unlimited meetings. Well, the reason they didn't go to Trout Unlimited meetings is they don't like meetings and they don't like sitting around with a bunch of old guys telling stories.
Dylan: But you look on Instagram and the community is there.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Oh, it's there and you see them, you see them, you see them at volunteer things and you see them when you try to organize something. So, it's really great and it's such a positive part of our sport that the younger cohort is really getting engaged in this stuff.
Dylan: I mean, there's a lot of problems with social media, but I think a lot of it has been positive in allowing people to connect. I mean, I have friends even that I met just through Instagram and ended up know? So, I mean, because when I was a kid, the town I grew up in, there was no fly shop. There was no fly-fishing community. There were lots of people that fly fish but we didn't know each other, there was no connection. And certainly, at my junior high school, I mean, I was the weird kid that just miss basketball practice because the river was good and he went fishing. He got benched because he didn't show up to practice. You know, I mean, so I think the ability to make those connections now is so much more enhanced, that's part of, I guess, why I'm still hopeful in the face of lots of, you know, bad news around the environment. I think that maybe our generation has dropped the ball, but the next generation coming, they might be pissed at us for dropping the ball but I think they're gonna kick ass.
Tom: I do too. I do too. I hope.
Dylan: Me too. I mean, yeah, that's really our only hope. And I tell my kids all the time, they're teenagers now, that, you know, "I'm sorry we didn't do better with the planet, but you're stuck with the situation, you're gonna have to fix it and we need you to fix it." You know? Yeah, so I do feel hope, like, I think that it's easy to get beaten down. You know this if you're working in fish conservation, it can be pretty discouraging at times, but then I think, you know, you look at the kids that are showing up at these events, at these volunteer things, you know, online. And I think, "Okay, you know, we might be all right after all." You know, and I know your company has done a lot with sort of opening it up to younger people and diversity and that sort of thing. So, you know, I think a lot of the manufacturers are getting on board with it.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. I mean, the community of manufacturers and retailers is getting behind a lot of those things as well, which is great. We're working together...
Dylan: I think, you know, almost every fly shop in the country has a women's group now. A lot of them are offering like kid camps and kid instruction and all that. But yeah, I mean, I feel like there's a lot of good change going on in our industry right now.
Tom: Yeah, I totally agree. All right, Dylan. Well, it has been so much fun talking to you. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and our listeners here. And just a reminder that Dylan's latest book is called "Headwaters: The Adventures, Obsession, and Evolution of a Fly Fisherman." I'm reading it off the cover, you can see me so you know that. And it is published by Patagonia? Patagonia. What am I doing a Patagonia ad here for?
Dylan: It's Patagonia Books, it's a separate division.
Tom: Okay. As you know, we work with Patagonia in a lot of conservation projects.
Dylan: Yeah, and I think that teamwork is know, that's something to be hopeful about.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, the competitors are getting together and banding together to preserve what we love., to protect what we love.
Dylan: You know, there's that David Brower quote about there's no business to be done on a dead planet. Well, there's no fishing to be done on a dead planet, you know? So, yeah. So, thank you. I mean, I also would say, you know, thank you for being a friend and I'm excited that we can hopefully find time to get on the water and fish together at some point here in the near future. And, you know, I'm going to secretly try and send my address and request one of your famous chocolate bars.
Tom: Okay. Yeah, that can happen. That can happen.
Dylan: Yeah. Well, thank you again for taking the time and hosting me here. It's been a pleasure.
Tom: All right, Dylan, thank you, so good talking to you and I hope to see you soon in person.
Dylan: All right, take care, bud.
Tom: Okay, bye-bye.
Dylan: Bye now.
Tom: Thanks for listening to "The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast" with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or comment? Send it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. You can find more free fishing tips at