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Part two of Young People and Fly Fishing, with Lukas Draugelis

Description: Anyone involved in the world of fly fishing knows that young people are getting involved at a rate greater than any time in its history. Why? What do they want out of fly fishing, why does it appeal to them, and what do they see as the future of fly fishing? This is Part two of a podcast series where I interview young people about these questions, and this week my guest is a college student, Lukas Draugelis [37:14], president of the University of Vermont Fly-fishing Club—a very vibrant organization.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and this week, the podcast is part two of two in a series that I wanted to do about young people in fly fishing. It's interesting, I think I know a little bit about the fly-fishing world, and the fly-fishing market, and what motivates people, but a local high school teacher and I started a fly-fishing club. And this is in Vermont where we're surrounded by trout waters. And we put up signs, and posters, and sent out emails, and we had one student come to the first meeting. And we tried a second meeting and tried to cajole some other students, and we got two students. And then we had a third meeting and nobody showed up, so obviously we're doing something wrong.
And at about the same point in time, I went up to the University of Vermont to do a presentation for the UVM Fly Fishing Club and the room was filled. It was one of the most engaged and enthusiastic audiences I've ever had. Nobody once took out their phone and scrolled through their phone. They asked great questions. We spent about an hour and a half after the presentation just doing question and answer stuff. And so I've kind of realized that I don't really know what motivates young people to get into fly fishing, and I'm curious. I wanna learn about, because it's a lot different today learning fly fishing than it was around 55 years ago when I first started trying to teach myself fly fishing.
So this is part two. I guess this week is Lukas Draugelis. Lukas, I think he's the president of the UVM Fly Fishing Club. He's the one who first contacted me about speaking at the club. And anyway, Lukas is not in the industry, not involved as a guide, or an outfitter, or anything else. Doesn't work at a fly shop, just Lukas is a college student who is just wild about fly fishing, as are his compatriots in the Fly Fishing Club. So I wanted to talk to just someone who really wasn't exposed at an early age to fly fishing and just see what intrigued Lukas, and what we can learn from what young people are looking for in fly fishing. So I hope you enjoy this podcast. It was one that I really enjoyed doing.
Before we go talk to Lukas, let's do the Fly Box, and this is where you ask questions, or make comments, or share a tip, and I sometimes read them on the air. And you can send me your question or tip at podcast@orvis.com. You can either just type your question in an email, or you can attach a voice file, and please try to keep your voice files to under 2 to 2.5 minutes max. Thanks. The first one is an email from Frederick from Denmark. "Greetings from the northern part of the world, Denmark, to be more specific, Copenhagen if we really should put a dot on the map. Recently walking the bank, fishing for brown trout in my local stream, some of my line laying on the bank got stuck in some small plants. This happens from time to time, and it seems like it magically creates a tangled mess out of the ordinary, even though it is just laying there, a bit like ear phones, if you know what I mean. Thank God for cordless."
"Maybe being a bit lazy, I usually just pull the line out of the plant using a bit of force if required, and continue fishing. Then it occurred to me, even though modern fly lines are quite sturdy, will I shorten the life of the line significantly, maybe even break the coating? After the trip, I at least decided to spend the extra 10 seconds bending down and untangling from now on. In that context, I wanna ask you and the listeners, once every hour I go into a state of emergency lasting a minute or so. I bend down to untangle, I drop my flies in the water. When picking them up, my neck gets stuck in the plant, and when getting that out, my rod tip will get stuck in the tree above, and when finally ready to cast, the fly has long broke off, etc., etc. It feels like someone is telling me to reset. Anyone else experiencing the same? Thank you for a great podcast."
Well, Frederick, I can tell you that I experience the same nearly every time I go out. So yeah, we have all been there, and I sometimes mutter to myself, "Well, welcome to the pleasures of fly fishing. Why the heck am I doing something like this when I could just throw a worm out there, and sit, and wait?" But anyway, we all do that, and don't think that people that have spent their life fly fishing don't run into those same situations. On the serious side, yeah, you have to be careful of fly lines. Plants sometimes have thorns and you could cut the coating on a fly line. The fly line has strong tensile strength. It's about 34 pounds, but you can crack that coating.
Sometimes I'll wrap it around a rock as I'm walking from one spot to the next and I'll just yank on the fly line, trying to remove it from being stuck under a rock, and that's a dumb thing to do because if the rock is sharp, you could cut the coating. Once the coating on a fly line is cut there's not much you can do to fix it. There's no glue or repair, so we should all be more careful of our fly line if we let our line drag as we're walking from spot to spot, as most of us do.
Kip: Hey, Tom, Kip in Utah. You know when you're fishing along in a stream and you spook a fish, and it just goes scurrying up and down the stream? It got me thinking what sound that fish is making, and I don't know what you think, but this is the sound I think it's making. "Ah." Love to hear what you think.
Tom: So I don't know, it seems like we're getting a lot of humorous podcast questions this week, but Kip, I think you're absolutely right. I think that's exactly what the fish say. And thank you for your theory, and appreciate you sharing it with us. Here's another email from George.
"Hi, Tom, thanks for taking the time to read my email. I have been fishing for three years, minus deployments. I mostly fish warm, still water for bass and bluegill. In my research about fish behavior, I have yet to find a good explanation as how barometric pressure and rain affect fish and how they feed. I live in the Savannah, Georgia area and we get a lot of rain bursts and very muggy days. Any insights from your experience would be appreciated."
So George, the one thing I've learned in my many years of fly fishing is that predicting how fish are gonna react to a change in weather is a losing proposition. I can't even figure out the fish in my local streams that I sometimes fish almost every day, and I can't figure out how rain or anything else affects the fish, the rain, the moon, the barometer, whatever. A couple things to consider. I actually don't think the change in barometric pressure by itself does much to fish in streams or maybe even in lakes, because they're constantly moving through the water column, which creates a much greater pressure change.
However, I do believe that changes in weather, changes in wind, wind direction, wind speed, light levels, and precipitation on the surface does affect how fish feed. I can't predict how, but I think it does affect and can change their feeding behavior. And you never get a change in barometer without a change in weather, so I don't think it's specifically the barometric pressure change that has an effect on the fish, but it's the change in weather because you just don't get a strong change in barometric pressure without clouds coming in, or without clouds disappearing and it getting bright, and sunny, and maybe a wind from the north.
So I do think, however, that it may affect aquatic insects' change in barometric pressure. The light levels and the water levels do change with a change in barometer, but also, insects are living on the bottom of the river at the same depth. They don't move up and down like trout do or any other fish in a river or a lake, and so it may affect the behavior of insects. How it affects them, again, extremely difficult to predict. Every river and every lake may react differently to changes in weather, so the best I can offer you is to go fishing when you can, observe what the weather is doing, and then make notes on how the fish are behaving. They may not behave the next time the same weather pattern comes through but at least you have some experience.
And don't not go fishing because the weather is inclement because you often learn a lot. Going out times when you don't think the fishing is gonna be any good, you often learn a lot about how the weather may affect fish. So I know that's a real mealy mouthed answer, but there are no absolutes and there's no guarantee on predicting fish feeding behavior. There just isn't.
Peter: Hey, Tom. This is Peter from Columbus, Ohio. I always love to see what experts do in the situations they're most experienced with. And I know that you've mentioned you love to small stream fish up close to home, and I just wonder if I came and visited you and we went out fishing, what would be your outfit? What's your favorite rod? What line do you use on that in the small streams? What's your leader set up? Maybe what's the fly if there's nothing catching that you're starting out with? Anything like that, I would just love to hear, as you fish small streams all of these years, what's your go-to rig? And I'd just love to hear that. Thanks for all that you do with the podcast, and look forward to hearing your answer.
Tom: So Peter, if you came and fished with me, I typically fish the same thing day in and day out when I'm fishing small streams. I like a 7.5-foot 3 weight. I sometimes use a graphite, and sometimes I use a 7-foot 4-weight bamboo that I have because I like fishing bamboo rods on small streams, but usually it's a 7.5-foot 3-weight graphite rod, H3 graphite rod. And my leader will be 7.5 foot, probably 4x. My flies will be, I will have a large, highly visible dry fly. Chubby Chernobyl size 12 would be the one I would pick, however, any buggy-looking, high-floating dry fly will work. Stimulator, Bugmeister, Royal PMX are other flies I use, but it'll probably be a size 12, 10, 12, or 14, depending on the water.
If the water is really high I might go to a 10. If the water is low I might go to a 14, but usually I'll fish a 12, and then I'll hang a nymph. I'll always hang a nymph from that dry fly, fish dry dropper in small streams, and I'll usually attach to the nymph with 5x fluorocarbon to the bend of the dry fly. And the dropper...dropper is gonna depend on water level but I don't make my dropper too long. I don't think in small streams you need to be scratching bottom with your nymph. In fact, I think it's detrimental because fish are always looking up for their food in these small streams. And so I think you wanna put a short leash on your nymph, somewhere around, I don't know, maybe 6 inches or so is what I start with.
The nymph I put on is gonna be probably some beadhead in about a size 14 or 16, and I switch. I switch on and off and try to find a nymph that works better than others, and honestly, most of them work pretty well. If push comes to shove in these small streams here, a size 16 beadhead Red Copper John is what I'd put on, but I often put on various nymphs, pheasant tails, and hare's ears, and caddis pupa, and things like that. The nymph or the dry pattern don't seem to make that much difference, as long as they're presented in the right place and look pretty buggy. These fish don't see a lot of food and they're not very fussy, so anyways, that's what I use.
Here's an email from Cory. "My question today is about entomology, and particularly, predicting hatches. Have you or would you consider bringing a fishy entomologist on the podcast to ask a variety of questions? If you have, I apologize. I must have missed that episode. Is it typically temperature that will encourage a hatch? If this is the case, would it be specifically water temperature? How about the time of day? I can't help but think season, sun position, air temperature heavily affects a hatch as well, regardless of the water temperature, especially when a body of water may see more or less sun throughout the day. The only reason I'm having this thought is because a lot of insects tend to hatch on the edge of a body of water in the shallows, where there may be less current, warmer water, and more vegetation."
"I don't wanna overcomplicate my days on the water. I just haven't been fortunate enough to experience a knock-out hatch that I've heard you guys talk about yet, as I'm fairly new to the spot. I thought this would be a great topic for new listeners, and maybe help the many of us fly fishers more easily determine where it is that we wanna fish day to day. Here in Wyoming where I'm located, we have such a variety of elevation and temperature variations from canyons down low, to the high Alpine lakes and streams in between. Thanks for all your efforts and contributions to the sport. Also, as a fan of the band Bon Iver, I wanted to say thanks for that episode. So with old-man winter around the corner, I just have to say that I hope you have a Bon Iver."
Well, Cory, predicting hatches is a lot like predicting how fish are gonna feed in a given weather pattern, and boy, it varies. And don't think that most times when people go out they see a heavy hatch in fish feeding on the surface, because it's a treat. It's a special occasion, and it doesn't happen that often. You can, to the best of your abilities, predict a day when a particular hatch is gonna be great, and you can go to the river and see absolutely nothing. You can also go to the river on another day when you don't think anything is gonna be happening just because of what you've learned over the years, and you see a blanket hatch and fish rising all over the place, so it's really difficult to predict.
The things that affect the hatching of insects are photoperiod, mostly photoperiod and water temperature. So photoperiod affects the timing of the hatch. The insects live for about 12 months in the water, and when the photoperiod changes they sense that it's time to hatch. And then the short-term cue is probably water temperature. Water temperature hits a certain level, certain degrees, and the flies hatch. However, I think barometric pressure may have an effect on whether they hatch or not on any given day. If the photoperiod time is right, if their time of year is right, barometric pressure, light levels, water level may also affect things, but the main predictors are photoperiod and water temperature, but good idea to get an entomologist. I have a couple in mind that I wanna get on the podcast so we will do something.
I did do one with a bug expert named Peter Stitcher, and if you look in the archives, you go on the Orvis Learning Center and search the podcast archives on Peter Stitcher, there is some stuff about flies and bugs there. But I think I will get an entomologist or two in the future. And I do have an upcoming podcast on mayflies and some research that's been done on mayflies, so that'll be coming up. And again, for those of you who think you're doing something wrong because you're not experiencing great hatches when you go out on the water, it really depends on the water shed, and the time of year, and everything else.
Certain rivers have much more profuse hatches. Certain rivers have very sparse hatches and you can fish a whole season and not see a good hatch. So it really varies with lots, and lots, and lots, lots of things, but take heart. You fish enough and you'll hit one, and it'll be a very special experience. Here's an email from Chris in Oklahoma.
"The podcast has taught me a lot of knowledge, and thank you for everything that you do for the fly fishing community. I live in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and I mostly fish for largemouth bass on the fly in lakes, and I'll hit tail waters for trout occasionally. I have a couple questions. I have a 5/6, 7-foot, 6-inch fiberglass rod that I got for cheap to try out glass. I heard it on your recent podcast and really wanted to try it out. I really enjoy the rod, and I have been catching white bass and small largemouth on it, but my question is, will I be better off just fishing my 5-weight Clearwater, or this fiberglass rod for streamer applications? I ask this due to the action of my Clearwater, and it has been at the shop getting repaired so I can't compare right now."
"Question two. What grain weight should I put on a 5/6 rod? I'm assuming 150 grain. Any recommendations will be helpful. Number three, has Orvis made any 7-weight, super fine glass rods? I've seen 6 weight and an 8 weigh online but not a 7. I have an 8-weight graphite that I like but I think my next streamer rod will be glass. Any recommendations will be helpful. Number four, I hear the term 'boat rod' a lot, and I was wondering if you could explain the differences between a boat rod and a regular rod? I fish from shore, so should I avoid these rods? PS, this may sound creepy, but find your voice soothing and it helps me go to sleep at night. Some people listen to ocean sounds but I listen to Tom Rosenbauer on YouTube. It's weird, I know, but it really helps me sleep, and thought you might get a laugh out of it."
Yeah, well, Chris, I've heard that before so you're not the first one to tell me that. Maybe I should sell a streaming service of my voice droning on and on for people that have insomnia. Anyway, I'll try to answer your questions. That 7.5-foot fiberglass 5/6 rod that you said you got for cheap, a cheap fiberglass rod is gonna be a clunker. I'm sorry, but if you get a really cheap fiberglass rod, it's not gonna be a great rod. Great way to try out glass to see what it's like, but I would fish your Clearwater graphite. Use the glass rod if you want if you like it, but I think you're gonna be able to do more things, you're gonna be able to cast further. Your graphite rod is gonna be more sensitive, it's gonna be lighter, and I think you're gonna have more fun with it. So anyway, good that you started out trying a cheap glass rod but there's a big difference between a cheap glass rod and one that's been really, really designed and tapered for fly fishing.
Regarding the grain weight, a 5-weight rod, the rod is labeled a 5/6. So if you ever wanna know the grain weight range for a fly rod you can look it up online. Just type in A-F-F-T-M-A, or yeah, A-F-F-T-M-A line specs, or something like that, or grain weights, and you can find the standard industry grain weights. And they go in a range, so 5 is 134 grains to 146 grains, and a 6 is 152 to 168 grains. And you get this weight by measuring the first 30 or 35 feet, I can't remember, of a fly line. That's gonna give you the rating for the rod.
So a 5/6, here's what I would suggest. If you're gonna be casting distance more, you're gonna be looking for distance, you probably aren't on that rod. If you're gonna be looking for distance or a little bit more delicacy, I'd go with the 5 weight. However, you are fishing this for largemouth bass and white bass. You're probably not casting that far and you're gonna be fishing bigger bugs, so I would go with the 6 weight. I think the 6 weight is gonna help you cast those bigger bugs a little bit better. Standard fly lines are not sold in grain, so looking for 150-grain line is gonna depend on the manufacturer because, again, there's a grain range in that. So anyways, I think I would just go with a 6-weight line on that.
I don't know if Orvis is planning any 7-weight super fine glass rods, but Shawn Combs, the rod designer, keeps his cards pretty close to his chest, so he doesn't always tell me what he's working, so I'm not sure. It's a good idea but I'm not sure if that's in the cards. Question number four, boat rod. It's a lot easier to manipulate a fish and land a fish from a boat with a shorter rod. Longer rods, if the fish dives under the boat, it's harder to control them. There's a chance you can break the rod. So a boat rod is generally just a fly rod that's a little bit shorter, so it'll be something like an 8 or an 8.5 footer for an 8 weight, which is quite short for an 8 weight. But since you're fishing from shore I wouldn't bother with getting a boat rod. A shorter rod is probably gonna be a hindrance fishing closer to shore. A little bit longer rod is gonna allow you to cast it a little bit further, and it's also gonna keep your backcast out of the brush behind you, so I would avoid a boat rod if you're only casting from shore.
Here's an email from Jeremy from the Northern Catskills. "Thank you for all you and others do at Orvis and for doing this podcast. A very special thanks goes out to Tommy and the folks over at the Manchester, Vermont retail store and fly-fishing school for giving my five-year-old son and I royal treatment on August 1st this year. I am two years into the sport of fly fishing, totally hooked, and live on a small Northern Catskills stream, 20 to 30-ish feet wide roughly, that no longer gets stocked. It's a very healthy stream that I've caught numerous wild browns up to 14 inches long on." I wanna know where that stream is, Jeremy.
"The question is, what is a biologically healthy and helpful limit of fish to keep on such a stream? I'm picturing no more than every third or fourth fish consecutively over 9 or 10 inches as a general rule, but wonder what your thoughts are on this? Also, any tips on how to make my first couple casts in a pool as good as my cast 15 minutes in? I feel like I struggle to make good first casts and I'm spooking fish." So regarding keeping fish in that stream, generally in a stable wild population of fish, you're gonna have a lot more of the 7, 8, 9-inch fish, which are actually probably better eating than the bigger fish. There's gonna be a greater number of those.
And the larger fish, a fish around 14 inches is pretty much a prime spawning fish. That's when their eggs are most viable and they produce the most eggs. It really doesn't take many spawning periods of fish to repopulate a stream. So a lot of those 7, 8, 9-inch fish are probably not gonna survive because the stream probably has limited places where a fish can feed efficiently and be protected from predators. So since there's more of those fish, a lot of them get pushed into places where predators are able to get at them easier. And your cropping of a few of those fish is not gonna affect the overall balance of the stream, so I would say keep a few of those smaller fish. They taste better anyway.
And population dynamics in trout streams is a very complicated issue, and so this is just a guess. And deciding how many fish can be cropped in a trout stream safely is always a crapshoot and always a guess. You never know how it's gonna affect the overall fishery but I don't think you're gonna hurt anything by keeping a few of those smaller fish. Regarding tips on making your first couple casts in a pool as good as your cast 15 minutes in, here's what I would suggest. First of all, I'd suggest practicing at home before you go fishing in the lawn, or in a local pond, or a pool, or whatever, and fine tune your casting before you go out fishing.
The other thing is, maybe start in a place where the water doesn't look that good, where you don't think there are gonna be any fish. Maybe the fish are concentrated in the pools, so go to a riffle, or a place where the water is too shallow, and make some casts there before you finally make that cast into the good pool because your first cast is always your most important. Once you've made that first cast the fish could be aware you're there. You've started to disturb the pool and you really wanna make your first cast count, so it's a good idea. You're heading in the right direction. You do wanna make that first cast count, and so practice somewhere else before you go to the really good pools.
Here's an email from Matt from Colorado. "Hi, Tom, I'm a novice fly fisherman. My question is in regards to foul hooking. I've been fly fishing for only a year and a half now, and in the last few weeks I've had my first instances of foul hooking a fish. First was a small rainbow on an Alpine lake, the fly being used was an Amy's Ant size 12. The second was on a small stream, again, a small rainbow, this time on a parachute blue-wing olive, size 16. Both flies were barbless."
"How can I avoid foul hooking fish? Does it come down to my hook set? Does the size of the fly have any impact? How does foul hooking affect the fish after release? I love fly fishing and love being able to see those beautiful fish up close, but I struggle with the thought of harming the fish permanently, or even killing the fish through negligence of my own. Is this just the reality of enjoying the sport that I need to get over? Thanks for everything you do. This podcast has been a huge tool for me to learn as much as I can about the sport."
Well, yeah, Matt, first of all, you do need to get over that because you're gonna foul hook fish regardless of how careful you are. I don't think it's your hook set that is a problem, unless you're setting the hook a little too late. Sometimes if a fish comes and takes your fly, they're gonna spit it out pretty quickly. And if you're a little bit slow on your strike, you may set the hook and the fish is still completing its roll when it rises or comes up for a nymph, and you may stick it into the back of the belly, or the fin, or something, but that's probably not the case.
What happens often is a fish refuses a fly. In other words, they're intrigued with the fly. They think it's food, they start to rise, and when they get close to it, they realize something is wrong, the fly is dragging, maybe it's too big. Maybe it just doesn't look right, and so they close their mouth but their momentum carries them forward so it looks like a rise. They still may even break the surface, and you think it's a rise, and you set the hook, but their mouth wasn't open, or they missed the fly. Sometimes fish miss a fly and you set the hook and you stick them in the side.
However, these fish are tougher than we think. You're using a barbless hook, and as long as you get the fish in quickly, and slide the hook out, and release it, you're not gonna damage that fish much. They get beat up in a stream. They get beat up when they're spawning. They fight, they nip each other, they tear at each other, they get poked by herrons. They get scratched by mink, and otters, and you'll see fish with all kinds of scars on them that have survived quite well. So your little barbless hook, unless you hook the fish in the eye and blind it, your little barbless hook is not gonna do that much damage to the fish, so I wouldn't agonize over it. I think you're just fine.
Chris: Hey, Tom, Chris from Baltimore. I got a beginner's question for you here. I like fishing the smaller creeks around Maryland and Pennsylvania, and I really like using a hopper-dropper setup. My issue is a lot of times in these creeks when I come to a big pool I'll think to myself, "Okay, there's gotta be a fish at the bottom of that pool, or close to the bottom, so I have to tie on a longer length of tip between my dry fly and my dropper so I can get the dropper farther down in the water column and hopefully in front of the fish," so I'll do that. I'll cut my line and I'll tie a new tippet and then, to varied success, I'll move on from that pool and continue further up the creek. And then I'll get to the shallower portion, and then I'm like, "Okay, now my dropper is too far down from my dry fly. It's dragging along the bottom. It's dulling the hook and everything else, so I need to get it up closer to the dry fly so that it floats with the current naturally."
So then I'll cut the tippet and I'll cut a shorter length tippet. My question is, is there an easier or more efficient way to do that? Is there an adjustable knot that I could be using, or is this just the way it is, you gotta cut your line and tie it a different length when you get to a different depth in a creek? And like everyone else says, Tom, I really do appreciate the podcast. And I grew up bass fishing, and one of the things that kept me from fly fishing was I just thought that it was a secret club. You gotta know the secret hand shake. So I appreciate you being so welcoming and inclusive, like everyone says, and look forward to hearing your answer. Thanks.
Tom: So Chris, this is a topic that comes up frequently, and I've seen a few, or quite a few, oh-so-clever ways of making an adjustable dry dropper arrangement, and I have never found one that's practical or that works for me. They just don't work. Either the fly slides too much or it's just too complicated, and it just doesn't work. So what I do is I try to, kind of, split the difference between the shallows I know I'm gonna fish in the deeper pools and hope for the best. And if I come to a really deep pool, yeah, I'll cut that dropper. I'll cut that dropper off and tie in a longer tippet, maybe use a heavier fly to get down into the bottom of the pool, but I honestly have yet to see a good adjustable dry dropper arrangement.
And please, everyone, don't send me your clever dry dropper arrangement unless you have thoroughly tested it, because I've seen way too many methods that don't work. So if you've found the Holy Grail of adjustable dry droppers, and you've fished it, and you've shared it with friends, and they agree that it works, then fine, but please, don't send me your theories about an adjustable dry dropper because I've seen too many of them. All right, that's the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Lukas about why young people are so intrigued by fly fishing.
Tom: My guest today is Lukas Draugelis, and Lukas is...you're the president, right, of the UVM Fly Fishing Club?
Lukas: Yeah, that's right.
Tom: And this is the University of Vermont Fly Fishing Club, and interesting. How many members do you have in your club, Lukas?
Lukas: I would say consistently that we've got about 20 to 25 students that show up to most of our events.
Tom: Twenty to 25 students, wow. Now when I was in college, I graduated in 1976 and I went to the New York State College of Environmental Science and Forestry. You'd think, of any place, that'd be a hot bed of fly fishers. Out of the probably 2,000 students there maybe, I think that's what was there when I was there, I was the only student fly fisher. I had one professor, my fisheries professor, Neil Ringler, who did some really awesome studies on brown trout feeding behavior. And my ichthyology and ornithology TA, a guy named Terry Finger, the late Terry Finger, he was a fly fisher. But there was one other kid that actually fished, as far as I know, in the whole college and I was the only fly fisher. And things have changed. Things have changed these days.
You hear of a lot of fly-fishing clubs on college campuses. So Lukas, I wanted to talk to you as someone who's not a guide and not really involved in the industry. You're a student and you're passionate about fly fishing. I wanna talk about how you got there, how you learned, and talk about some of the other people in your club. And what do young people want out of fly fishing? What do you get out of it, and what do you want out of it? So let's start with, how did you get started in fly fishing?
Lukas: Yeah, so I was in my junior year of high school. I had just moved back to the United States from spending nine years overseas, and I really, really, really wanted to pick up fishing again because I was deprived of it and started out in the conventional world. I got super into that, like a lot of people, and then eventually found fly fishing through, coincidentally, one of the Orvis 101 free fly-fishing classes over the weekend, and took that, along with my brother and my dad, and kind of just ran with it from there.
The Orvis store was there for my first fly rod, and then after that it kinda got a little frustrating once you started to cast on your own without any instruction. And you had to try and figure out where fish were, and obviously you didn't get any classes on reading water in the parking lot of the Orvis store, so that was also another challenge to hurdle. And I dropped it for a bit until the beginning of my senior year in high school, so probably for a solid nine months I didn't touch the fly rod. Picked it up again and just tried to go with it, tried to just put everything else away, go out, practice wherever we could. It was a stock trout stream if it was the creek that we used to fish for bass with our conventional rods, just kind of put it away. And then we found a fly shop nearby that had just opened up called District Angling.
And the community there is just second to none. The people who work there, Rich Farino, and Ivan Sanchez, and Griz, and all those guys are just key people who inspired us to go further, just push ourselves. And they showed us what fly fishing, where it can take you, what fish you can catch. They sat down with us for hours on end. I don't remember how many hours we spent in there. They really allowed us to, kind of, have the resources we needed to ask as many questions as we could, and we kind of flew from there.
And then freshman year of college up here at UVM, tried to do as much as I could without a car. And then Covid happened, and we had a lot of time to fish, you know? I like to look at that on the bright side of things, glass half full, because it really, really changed. I wouldn't be where I am today without that happening and giving us the amount of time to just do whatever we wanted, explore streamer fishing, so that was my main thing. That was our big goal, and fly tying also. I am now obsessed officially and I would not be there without it. So yeah, the time that the pandemic gave us, too, it was me and my brother. He's tried and true my fishing partner throughout everything whenever we're together at home, and we both bounce ideas off each other, and now we're here. And had these goals in mind when I came to UVM to eventually take over as president and it worked out, so yeah.
Tom: So you had no childhood mentor? Your mom, or your dad, or your grandparents, or your uncles didn't teach you fly fishing?
Lukas: Fly fishing specifically, no, but my dad was definitely instrumental in getting us out into the outdoors. We had our favorite spot on the local lake in Virginia where we used to go before moving overseas, and it was your weekend time with Dad. We were dunking worms and we thought we had this special spot figured out, right, and it was just a shallow leaf bed with tons and tons of bluegill that would move shallow in the summer. And that was what sparked us to love fishing, to keep us going all the way through when we didn't have access to it overseas to then reignite that spark when we came back. So my dad was...that was by far the best. And my grandpa also was an avid fisherman, but no fly fishing experience in the past. That's all new.
Tom: So family instilled the love of fishing, and then it was super important to find a fly shop in the area that supported your education.
Lukas: Yeah, that was key. Those guys were fly fishing mentors, for sure.
Tom: Great. Why did you start fly fishing as a high school kid? There's lots of other things to be interested in, sports, and the opposite sex, and cars, and all kinds of things. Why fly fishing? What was it about fly fishing that appealed to you?
Lukas: I think it was, to be quite honest, I would love to go back and ask my high school self the same thing because right now I couldn't tell you. You're completely right. You're right, there's a lot of other things to be interested in, but right now I can tell you that what kept me going and what interested me throughout my progression in fly fishing has just been this ever-changing puzzle and the complexity of it, and how every single aspect of it, you can dive down a rabbit hole, and you can go as far as you possibly want.
And I mean, recently, I think, so it's coming up on four-ish years of fly-fishing experience, and I've been fortunate enough to explore a lot of good water and different techniques, dry fly fishing, [inaudible 00:45:59] streaming, and then diving down the rabbit hole of fly tying, and tried everything under the sun. And I still have saltwater fly fishing. I still have a bunch of other...I haven't caught a fish yet on a two-handed rod, even though I have one, and that's something that's completely brand new. And then putting myself on training wheels after building my first fly rod just recently was...I had to sit there at the desk with the rod in the turning in the rod building vise, and kind of just sit there for a second and go, "Oh, my God, I feel like I have training wheels again. This is completely foreign, nothing like fly tying," and I loved it.
I was thinking about this and it just blew me away that even after so many hours, so much time, never stop thinking about it. There's always something new, and that's what keeps me going as well. And everything is different. Everything is just always different. No fish is the same.
Tom: Yeah, no day is the same.
Lukas: No day is the same either.
Tom: When you talk to other people in the club, what is it about the other people your age that fly fishing...what is the appeal of fly fishing to some of the other students in your club? Do you get a sense for why they started it and where did they first see it? And what is it about it that is so fascinating?
Lukas: I think everyone comes from a different background. We've had a lot of kids whose parents maybe fly fish and they come to college and are ready to try something new. And they see us at the club fair and go, "Oh, my dad fly fishes," or, "Oh, my dad has a friend who took him fly fishing once," and so they're familiar with it. And so that familiarity takes them and draws them in, and then it's our job to give them the opportunity to try it to spark their passion for it. And then others who are already into it, I think, seek a camaraderie aspect.
So for me, it was all about finding like-minded people. And some people like fishing alone and like it for the solidarity, and the alone time that they get from their busy life, but I actually am one of those people who prefer to fish with others because I love just talking and experiencing the day and the fishing with other people. And I know that I can speak for my friends, Oliver [inaudible 00:48:45] and Garrett Rice, who are the vice president and treasurer, respectively, for the club, and we all love fishing together and it's always a great time. So I think it really varies between person to person, but I think those are the two main reasons why people want to come and try fly fishing.
Tom: And I must say that you guys invited me up to do a presentation at your club and I said, "Okay, I don't want anybody other than students coming. This is just gonna be students." And there were students from a couple college in the area besides UVM, and I don't think I have ever had a more attentive and receptive audience than that presentation I gave. I think we stayed for an hour and a half after the presentation just talking about fishing. And the other cool thing, I never saw one of your students pull out a cell phone during the whole presentation.
Lukas: No, it was a good presentation on your part, too, but, I think, yeah, that speaks to the passion that surrounds fly fishing around here. Everybody who works their butt off to try and find one fish a day around here [crosstalk 00:50:06].
Tom: Yeah, it's Vermont, right?
Lukas: Yeah.
Tom: Especially Vermont carp fishing, as we've discussed.
Lukas: Yeah.
Tom: So how does your students, your fellow students in the club, engage in conservation, in preserving what we love, and protecting what we love? Because you don't see a lot of young people at things like Trout Unlimited meetings, how do you guys engage with that aspect of fly fishing?
Lukas: So I think we all take personal action day to day. I think I personally carry all of the spare tippet that I cut off my leader system and put it in the pocket of my leaders or in the pocket of a bag. Just take extra care to make sure that it's just carry out what you carry in. I think everybody does that. And then as a club, we're definitely gonna be looking to engage more with our local Trout Unlimited. We are in contact with our local Trout Unlimited chapter and had a few students go down to help prepare planting some trees on the banks of the Lewis Creek, which is one of the Lake Champlain tributaries here. And so although we haven't attended many of their meetings, if any, we got in contact with the chapter president and said, "Hey, if you have any opportunities and need help, let us know and we can try and see if the schedules line up and who's available, and we'll be able to send some people down."
And even though it's not a whole club effort, it represents us and what we stand for. And I would personally love to be able to participate. I had some scheduling conflicts for that event specifically, but I am trying to plan on helping Friends of the Winooski with their annual cleanup in Montpelier, and intend on contacting them. And I think that it kind of falls upon my responsibility to get in contact with some people and promote things like that to the club, which hasn't been done in the past, but I want to establish relationships for future leadership to have a sense of accountability and be able to consistently contribute to conservation events like that. Because at the end of the day, that's going to be the most impactful way to help our environment around here, especially with so much agriculture. That's one of the biggest things, so bank reinforcement projects, and stream restoration, and all sorts of things like that of that nature.
Tom: But you do need to usually get involved with some sort of organization, right? It's hard to do it on your own.
Lukas: Yeah, it is hard to do it on our own. Funding is hard to come by around here, or as a college club with so few students. And the planning process and permitting of any sort of conservation activity that we would want to conduct on our own would be unimaginable. So I think that going through organizations like Trout Unlimited, or already established conservation groups, like Friends of the Winooski up here in Vermont, I think, is by far the best way to get involved anywhere, not just in Vermont.
Tom: Do you think fly fishing has made you more aware of habitat and environmental issues?
Lukas: Oh, no doubt. I think fly fishing is a very intersectional sport that forces you to pay attention to everything that's happened, because you're always looking at the bugs, and the bugs, how they relate to the fish, and where the fish are going to be holding, and how they're going to be feeding, and I think specifically for trout fishing. But I feel like as a community, fly fishermen seem to be a little bit more in tune with the conservation side of things. I can't say exactly why but it just happens to be that way, and that's another reason why I love it. It's that everybody is so much more involved in the sport other than just the fly-fishing aspect and catching fish. Because without a healthy ecosystem there would be no fish for us to catch, and I think that's something we all understand and appreciate.
Tom: Well, I hear a statement from older fly anglers often that say, "We need to get more young people into fly fishing. Young people don't have mentors anymore. Their parents don't get them involved in fishing and they don't have any mentor." What do you say when you hear something like that?
Lukas: Blame it on YouTube. I think that with so many resources out there today, and the abundance of video resources, it's really easy to teach yourself. And trial and error, if you're persistent enough, is enough to bring you from zero to hero in a very short period of time, whereas before it was a little bit more word of mouth, it was a privilege to be able to buy X amount of books that you would need to get yourself to a high level of expertise. And so I think that's the case, but I don't agree with the fact that there's not enough people who are involved with fly fishing that are my age or younger.
There's a huge community, and I see more young people driving around with the rod racks on their roofs than I've ever seen before. It's outrageous. I saw one at a gas station in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire the other weekend, not anywhere near some fly-fishing destination. So it's a growing sport that's absolutely booming, and I think it's geographic location. If you look at Washington, DC, for example, it takes a really special...that's where I was based before coming to Vermont. It takes a hardcore person to commit themselves to driving an hour and a half at the very least to find some decent trout fishing every weekend to learn about it, and not everybody has the time to do that. Not everybody has the parents who are willing to do that when they're young.
But here in Vermont it's easy when you can just walk down to the lake in 30 minutes and cast for bluegill, and everybody has some form of water within 30 minutes, and it's amazing. It's great. And so I think that's the real issue, is access.
Tom: Yeah, and the other mindset we have to get out of is that fly fishing is just for trout fishing. Because as you probably know, in DC there is a huge contingent of urban anglers that fish for bass, and shad, and stripe bass, and catfish, and all kinds of things, and you don't have to drive an hour and a half to fly fish.
Lukas: No, you don't at all. It's amazing. The time or the location where I spent most of my time last summer fly fishing was on the C and O Canal fishing for carp. Yeah, I almost did no trout fishing last summer when I was back home because, yeah, it's an hour and a half and streams closer by are super fun, too. It's awesome.
Tom: Do you think young people are more inclined to embrace alternate species, different species, warm water species, and stuff than the more older, traditional anglers?
Lukas: Oh, absolutely. I think that the tradition aspect, like you said, traditional anglers...so I interpret fly fishing tradition as trout because, I mean, that's what people were taught. That's what everybody associates with it. But I think as those streams get crowded is when people start to look for other options, and people who move other places are starting to expand. And yeah, I think younger people are pretty flexible and our mindsets are a little bit more...they're open minded so we're able to say, "Oh, yeah, well, that's still fly fishing. It's just a different species." Yeah.
Tom: So people often ask me as an old guy, they ask me, "Where do you think fly fishing is going in the next 20, 30, 40 years?" And I have trouble answering that question, but you are the future of fly fishing, you and your fellow students, and high school students, and college students. Where do you see fly fishing as going, Lukas? What do you think is gonna happen? What's the culture gonna look like?
Lukas: Wow, that is...
Tom: It's a tough one, I know. It's a really tough one.
Lukas: That is a really tough one. I think that, like you said about multi-species angling, I think that's where the sport is gonna be trending towards as we start dealing with...I mean, it's already just the middle of July and we already have lowest water conditions we've seen in a long time here in Vermont. Water is getting warm so trout fishing is a no go. And I have been forced to go and explore new options, and try to target new species, like gar, and carp, and bowfin, and had a blast doing that this weekend. And I think that as people start to realize, "Oh, well, maybe I shouldn't be fishing for trout all the time because it's crowded on the trout stream and I want solitude," you're gonna start finding solitude where you might not have expected it before.
And I think as a sport we're just gonna diversify and keep on going, and push towards catching new species as far as we can push it within our local area. And obviously, I mean, we were discussing when you came, right, rod technology and stuff like that has just gotten so good. I see very incremental changes happening there technology-wise. But fundamentally, as a sport and what we do, which is catching fish on a fly rod, I think diversity in species and techniques is the way we're gonna go. We're gonna start targeting fish the way we want to, not the way that they want to eat, so we're gonna try and do that and have fun with it, which is what I like to do.
Tom: I have to laugh. Our mutual friend, Drew Price, is complaining that the bowfin in Lake Champlain are getting too pressured. Five years ago, nobody knew what a bowfin was.
Lukas: That's a good, good line. Wow. I can't speak to that. I saw my first two bowfin ever on Lake Champlain while weight fishing this weekend, so I can't speak to their pressure.
Tom: Well, there's always drum, and gar, and lots of other, as well as...
Lukas: Yeah, plenty of fish to go around, I think.
Tom: Yeah, in a multi-story lake like that, there's lots of things. Well, Lukas, anything else you'd like to say about young people in fly fishing, and just the culture that has evolved? Well, I guess we already talked about why there are more young people getting into it now. No, we didn't really. Why do you think in the past, I don't know, 5 years, 10 years, more young people have gotten into fly fishing? Why do you think that is?
Lukas: Another good question. So I would say, I mean, I'll go out on a limb and say that within the last two years, three years, the pandemic is what really got people going. Not only just the old folk who can now work from home and work remotely saying, "Oh, well, I have had this fly rod sitting around for a while. Let me try it out again." I think that young people who got bored of sitting at home playing video games probably went outside on a hike one day by a stream and saw someone fly fishing. And I think that's all it takes, honestly, is one experience to kinda drive your brain to dive down the rabbit hole, and it's kinda like you just can't shake the thought. It's like, "Whoa, what was that? I wanna try it. It looks fun."
And I think it has to do also with just the amount of exposure people are having to it. Like you said, in DC there's urban fishing. And so if more and more people are fly fishing in urban environments where population densities are higher, you're bound to have more interaction with young kids and people who will say, "Whoa, what's that? I wanna try that." And then they'll go out and their parents will know what it is but maybe not have an idea of where to get started. And then they do their research, and then it's just a slippery slope from there on. And the next thing you know, they're going and traveling places to fly fish specifically, and that's awesome.
I think people complain a lot about too many fishermen on the water at all times, and yeah, it's true. I've had my gripes with people high-holing me and not respecting my space, and all sorts of issues. People can go on and on. But I think that as a whole, when it comes down to the sport, and the ethics associated with it, I think it instills a really, really good stewardship attitude for the environment, and just honestly, respect for others. Fly fishermen, people...not everybody. Okay, that's a stretch. There are a few people or a community of people who maybe are not always the best, but I think for the most part, fly fishermen are really good people just genuinely down to the core, and always are wanting to teach others.
And I've learned recently that I really like the teaching aspect as well. I've been able to help some other friends out and put them on fish, and some of them on the biggest fish of their life. And I was just as excited as they were, and that also is something that other people are getting into. And yeah, just overall, I think more people who can learn to love the sport as much as I do or any of the people in our fly-fishing club, the better.
Tom: All right, Lukas. Well, I wanna thank you for sharing your thoughts. Sorry for putting you on the spot with a couple tough questions but I get them all the time, so I figured you might as well get one, too.
Lukas: Yeah, it's only fair, right? It's been fun.
Tom: So I wanna thank you for talking to me and kinda sharing what the mindset of the younger fly angler. I think a lot of people don't understand what young people wanna get out of it, and hopefully this will encourage more young people to get into it, and also more older people to encourage younger people. And it's so great to hear about fly shops being so welcoming to new anglers. They're the life blood of the fly-fishing world, and most shops these days are really good that way, and I'm glad that you had such a great experience.
Lukas: Yeah, they are. I can confidently say that I would not be where I am without District Angling in Arlington, Virginia. It's amazing. I never thought about a shop, a retail shop for that matter, I never thought anybody could ever be that genuine and just inclusive, and take care of us as well as they did, and teach us so much about something they love as well. Beyond clubs, and college campuses, and your own personal family mentors, fly shops are gonna be where it's at. If you are local to the area it's easier to make connections. But there are a lot of good ones out there, but not everybody is going to be as welcoming as if you...if you find a good fly shop, make sure you cherish that connection and maintain it as best as possible, because it's invaluable.
Tom: And do your shopping there.
Lukas: And do your shopping there. I still support it. We promote them enough to the UVM community and make sure that we do our part to support them even from far away, so yeah, support local, for sure.
Tom: That's great, Lukas. Well, I wanna thank you for taking the time and I wish you a great summer of fishing. Are you in Vermont now, or are you back home in DC?
Lukas: Yeah, no, I'm in Vermont. I've been here for the whole summer, and I will be for the foreseeable summer and into the fall, and I'm looking forward to it.
Tom: Great.
Lukas: Yeah.
Tom: All right, Lukas.
Lukas: Thank you so much for having me on, and I hope you have a great summer as well.
Tom: Okay, thanks again. We've been talking to Lukas Draugelis from the University of Vermont Fly Fishing Club. Thanks, Lukas.
Man 1: Thanks for listening to "The Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast" with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or a comment? Send it to us as podcast@orvis.com in the body of an email or as a voice text. You can find more free fishing tips at howtoflyfish.orvis.com.