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Tips for blue lining, with Ian Rutter

Description: Ian Rutter is a long-time guide in the Smokies and one of our top field testers. He specializes in small mountain creeks (as well as their local tailwaters) and because I have had numerous requests for a podcast on "Blue-lining" I wanted to get him on to get the views from someone who does this in the heart of wild mountain brook trout country. For those of you who don't know the term, blue-lining refers to looking for new small trout water on a map and then exploring it to see what it holds. It's part hiking, part fioshing, and part discovery.
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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 longtime guide, Ian Rutter, of Tennessee. And I've received a lot of requests for a podcast on blue lining, and it's one of my favorite things to do. And Ian does blue lining in a different part of the world. And so, I thought I would get him to share his thoughts with us on this fascinating way of fly fishing.
For those of you who don't know, blue lining is really looking at little blue lines on the map and exploring them and see if they hold trout. And if they do, what species and what size and all of that stuff? It's a way of getting away from crowds. It's a way of taking a really nice hike. It's a way of seeing beautiful scenery. And as Ian says, it's a way of really returning to the 19th Century.
So anyway, I hope you enjoy it. It's a topic I always love discussing and I love comparing notes with people who do it from other parts of the world.
And because you've asked me, I try to recommend some products that I think you might have missed or products that I'm particularly excited about. And the one I wanna talk to you about this week are the PRO Zip Bootfoot Waders.
Now, this is a product that's been a long time coming. A lot of development time and field-testing time went into this product because believe it or not, it's really tough to figure out how to make a good pair of bootfoot waders. In other words, waders with the boots already attached so you don't have to put on a separate pair of wading boots.
And these are done with the PRO fabric, so they're super durable. The boot is a really, really good boot. And it took a long time to find this particular boot. And another great feature of these waders is that they have a zipper. So there's a number of advantages in bootfoot waders. One is that they're easy to get in and out of. You don't have to bend down and fuss with laces and put a separate boot on over your waders. You just slip your feet into them, zip them up, and go.
So, you know, if you frequently do short fishing excursions from your car, they're great. Or if you live on a trout stream as I do, and you just wanna go out in the backyard and fish or you wanna walk through the neighborhood and fish, you can just put them on and go.
I wouldn't recommend these for walking more than a couple miles. If you're doing a lot of hiking in waders and boots, you probably wanna wear stocking-foot waders with a boot with a little bit more support and a little bit more of a hiking-type boot over your waders. But if you're only walking a mile or two, they're great.
Another big advantage of these is wintertime fishing. Bootfoot waders are just so much warmer than stocking-foot waders. Keeps that cold water further away from your foot with an added layer of insulation. And, you know, you don't have to mess with icy laces and ice all over your wading boots. They're cleat-sole so that you can walk on the snow without having the same kind of buildup you would with felt soles. They can be studded if you want. And so, for winter fishing, they're just gonna keep your feet so much warmer than wearing stocking-foot waders.
Another place that these waders are a big advantage is beach fishing. If you saltwater fish in colder water or in a lake, and you walk on a beach with a lot of sand, it's so much nicer not having to worry about sand getting in between your waders and your wading boots.
So there are a lot of advantages of bootfoot waders. I will warn you that they're expensive. A good waterproof zipper. And we have investigated nearly every waterproof zipper that's out there. A good waterproof zipper is expensive. So just having the zipper adds a lot of expense. And then, the added labor and cost of putting boots onto a really high-quality wader also adds to the expense.
So they're $898 a pair. They are not inexpensive. But if you fish in the wintertime or you fish from beaches or you want something that's more convenient, I highly recommend these waders. I've been wearing them and testing them for a couple years now and I just love them. So anyway, there's a product recommendation for you.
And speaking of equipment recommendations. You know, I'm flattered that a lot of you asked my opinion on what fly rod or reel or fly line to get. And I'm happy to answer those questions here but sometimes, it might be a month or so before I get to your question. And you may need an answer quicker than that. You know, there's a really good way of getting advice on new equipment.
The best is a local fly shop or an Orvis store where you can actually go in and talk to someone one-on-one, try a rod or reel, or look at a fly line, or whatever. If you don't have one close by, another great place is the Orvis Outfitter line, which is 800-548-9548. This line is manned by anglers, people who fly fish, and they know the product line really well. And they can give you great advice on a new rod or reel or waders or whatever.
If you go into the fishing section on the website, and you use the chat, one of these individuals will also be answering your chat. So they're probably gonna give you the same recommendation that I do here on the podcast because, you know, there's usually a fairly good answer to your questions.
If you still wanna ask me tackle questions, go ahead. I'm happy to do that. But again, if you need an answer quicker, there are better ways to get an answer to your tackle question.
So let's do the Fly Box before we talk to Ian. And you can send a question to the Fly Box by emailing me at You could either just type your question into your email or you can attach a voice file. And if I can answer it, I'll read it on the air. So let's start with Scott from Florida. This is an email and this is a tackle recommendation question.
"First of all, thank you for all you do for the fly fishing community. I know everyone says it but they should. I've been listening to the podcast for at least eight years and love it. I get withdrawals if a week goes by without a new release."
Well, Scott, I try not to go a week without a new release.
"What a Christmas. One business colleague gave me an amazing Orvis waterproof fishing backpack. We fish in Montana every year together and we call it the Montana Summit. What you and your listeners should know is that they had the backpack logo'd with our logo we use and Orvis was the only major supplier to do this. Great service.
Second, a different colleague gave me a Helios 3 9-foot, 6-weight F. I've recommended the Orvis Recon to several friends who all like it but this is my first Orvis rod. I haven't bought a new one in years other than the one that came with my TU lifetime membership. I feel like I really need a pair with an Orvis reel.
I know you get a lot of questions on fly rods but I don't hear many questions regarding reels, so I thought I'd ask for a recommendation. I'm assuming I'll use this rod for nymph rigs, smaller streamers, and of course, hoppers on the Yellowstone. Any recommendation on which Orvis reel you would recommend would be appreciated. Looking forward to many great podcasts in 2023. And thank you for your insight and advice."
Well, Scott, you know, a reel is a lot more subjective personal decision, particularly when you're talking about trout fishing where, yeah, you need a smooth drag but you don't need a really super strong drag. And basically, any reel that has a decent drag in a size that will hold your 6-weight line and between 50 and 150 yards of backing. Fifty yards is probably plenty for any trout fishing you're gonna do.
But, you know, you want one that looks good and you want one that appeals to you. You want it in the color that you like. The exact weight of the reel is not that important. There isn't a lot of variation in the weight of fly reels at various price points. But I think for that rod, you either want a Hydros reel or a Mirage LT reel.
The Hydros is super durable. It's good-looking. It has a smooth drag, a sealed drag. It comes in different colors. But it is made overseas.
The Mirage reel is made in the U.S.A. It's made in New Hampshire and it's a little bit higher quality. It's gonna be a little bit more durable and a slightly smoother drag. But again, for trout fishing, you know, the Hydros reel is gonna work fine. Even the standard Battenkill reel will work fine on that 6-weight.
So it really depends on looks and eye appeal and the sound of the reel. But any one of those reels is gonna be fine for trout fishing. If you were gonna be fishing for bonefish or tarpon or something that's really gonna test your drag, then there might be a different consideration. But for trout fishing, I would really go with your gut instead of worrying too much about the technical aspects of a fly reel.
Ben: Hi, Tom. Ben from Michigan here. For my first question, I was wondering if you have a memorable worst day of fly fishing. Personally, mine took place fishing a popular Colorado stream on a typical windy front-range day with a triple nymph rig complete with a heavy split shot.
While not catching a thing, I watched my friend across the river catch fish after fish. Out of frustration, I made a sloppy forceful cast upstream and hooked myself through my knuckle with my last fly. After removing the hook from my hand and accepting my skunk, I marched across the river only to slip and fall and fill my waders. Does anything come to mind for you?
Secondly, I was wondering if, at any point, you've thought twice about divulging certain secrets of our trade to your listeners. I've noticed you're careful to not mention many specific locations, especially around your home waters in the Northeast, and also that many of your questions pertain to ethics and ethical best practices, which are of the utmost importance to share with any and all anglers.
But rather, I was wondering more if there were any techniques or tricks you've developed over the years or even decades, that you've perhaps thought twice about sharing with your listeners. Fishing can be an incredibly tight-lipped community at times, and I was just curious if anything along these lines has ever crossed your mind.
Thanks again for everything you and Orvis do, Tom.
Tom: So, Ben, my memorable worst day of fly fishing is not really that memorable. But I remember it was a particularly disappointing day. I think it was a couple summers ago. Shawn Combs [SP], my fishing buddy, and an Orvis rod and reel designer and I. It was the middle of July, and it was hot, and fishing was slow everywhere. And we didn't really have time to go carp or bass fishing, which we probably would have preferred to do on a hot day.
We wanted to just go out and catch some trout. You know, we just wanted to throw some flies out there and catch some trout. So we thought of this tributary to a tributary to the Battenkill that kind of runs up into the mountains into pocket water pools. And it's always good. It's always reliable. There's always some brook trout there and maybe a few brown trout. But it's easy fishing. And we thought, "Well, let's do that."
So we walked a bit and we hiked up into this area. And in places where we should have been catching brook trout, you know, almost every cast, we couldn't buy a fish. So we hiked back out. And decided, "Well, let's go to this one spot on one of the upper branches of the Battenkill." It runs right through Manchester.
And there's a little spot there where it has some nice little pools. And, you know, it's always good. It's always reliable. The water stays cold there all summer long and not many people fish it because it's kind of brushy. So we went there.
And we fished up through a stretch. And just didn't catch any fish. Again, we just wanted to catch a trout. We didn't even care how big it was. We just wanted to catch a trout. And finally, I caught a trout. And the weirdest thing is it was a rainbow. Rainbow trout don't occur in the Battenkill. They can't reproduce for whatever reason in the Battenkill. It has a population of wild brown and brook trout. And to catch a rainbow and only a rainbow in this particular part of the Battenkill was just really weird. I don't know if it got out of somebody's pond or how it got there.
But anyway, that was the end of the day. And I just remember both of us being so depressed and disappointed at going to places where it should have been easy fishing and not having very good luck. And, you know, I'm one of those people that when I go fishing, I wanna catch a fish or two. You know, it's nice being out there and I love wading in streams and I love being in trout streams. But I like to catch a couple fish. And that was a particularly disappointing day.
So nothing very exotic or traumatic happened. But I kind of think it was one of my worst days of fishing.
And regarding divulging techniques or tricks that are secret, I don't really have any secrets. I don't feel that holding back on a tip or a trick is gonna make my fishing any better. And certainly, I like to share these things with you so that your fishing can be more fun. So I don't really have any.
Maybe the only secret I have is that I've been doing this for a long time and sometimes kind of have an intuitive view on what's gonna work. But other than that, no, I don't have any secrets. One of the things...and I don't have any secret fly patterns either. One of the things that I typically don't divulge are places that I fish, especially if they're not well known. So that's one of the things I don't do. But other than that, no, I don't have any secrets.
Let's do an email. This is one is from Greg.
"Hi, Tom. Thank you for sharing your passion and knowledge of fly fishing. I live in Northern California and fish in Southern California in the summer. And I'm planning on going to South Carolina in the spring. My question is, I have a 7.5 foot 3-weight rod for panfish, a 4-weight for trout, and an 8-weight for steelhead and stripers. I'm looking to fish for redfish, corbina, and streamers.
What would be the best weight rod for this? I'm thinking 6-weight medium to fast action. Thank you, again, for all you do for fly fishing."
Well, Greg, I gotta disagree with you on that one. I think you have the rod you need for redfish, corbina, and streamer fishing, and that's your 8-weight. You know, for the redfish and the corbina, when you're saltwater fishing, you often encounter wind and sometimes the flies are a little bit bigger than trout flies. And pushing a bigger air-resistant or heavily weighted fly with that 6-weight rod is just gonna be a struggle. And it'll handle smaller redfish and corbina just fine.
But, you know, an 8-weight will bend almost as much and give you almost as much pleasure as a 6-weight. And, you know, the 8-weight doesn't weigh that much more than a 6-weight. It's a fraction of an ounce more. So I would stick with an 8-weight rod for that kind of stuff you're doing.
Maybe for streamers, I might go with a 6-weight. But for your saltwater fish, I'd stick with your 8-weight rod. I think that what you have is gonna work just fine.
Here's another email. Another tackle question. Surprise, surprise. This one's from Chris.
"Hey, Tom. I have a question about rod choice for you. My home water is a medium-sized river where the majority of my time is spent tight-line nymphing. I have a 10-foot 4-weight Recon and an 11-foot 3-weight Blackout.
I love both of these rods but I also spend a week or two in Montana every summer, and want a rod that works for the big rivers up there and also something I can use to throw streamers once in a while. I'm looking at a Clearwater since I won't be using it as much.
My question is, do you think I should get the 9-foot 5-weight, 9-foot 6-weight, or 9.5-foot 6-weight? Thank you so much for everything you do. I love all of the information you share, but even more, I appreciate your humility and attitude towards conservation."
Well, Chris, I think any one of those rods would be fine. If you're planning on leaning more toward the streamer end of things or fishing bigger nymphs, this would be if, you know, you're fishing more in higher water earlier in the year or streamer fishing later in the fall when the big brown trout are moving, then I would go with one of the 6-weights. And whether it's a nine or nine and a half, really depends on the size of the water.
You know, a really big river, the nine and a half might be a little bit better. It'll help you mend line a little bit better and keep line off the water for some of your drifts. But that's really a toss-up.
If you're gonna fish Montana in the summertime, you know, you might be dealing with some pretty delicate situations and some smaller flies and lighter leaders. And I would go with a 5-weight in that case. You can still throw a streamer with a 5-weight. It'll handle it fine. You maybe don't wanna throw a big articulated streamer with a five, but you can definitely throw standard streamers with a 5-weight.
And it's gonna give you a little bit more delicacy when you're fishing small, dry flies during the summer, which you often do. You know, the days of being able to get away with 3X and a size 12 Royal Wulff all summer long in Montana is a thing of the past. It used to work. You know, the fish have gotten more pressured and more sophisticated and, you know, smaller flies and lighter leaders are probably going to be an advantage.
So I'd get the 9-foot 5-weight. I think that's a better rod for you.
Let's do another email from Steve.
"Hi, Tom. Technique question for you. I live in the Midwest and have some small to medium rivers by me that can get quite stained from spring until fall. I fish for the usual warm water species, mainly targeting smallies. My question is, will warm water fish take common trout techniques with a smally rise to a drifted foam hopper? Can you fish a dropper in stained water? If so, should it be a larger profile? Will they even know it's there?
I think you could see where I'm going here. My closest clear moving water is five hours away in the Driftless and I would like to get more time and experience in. I also don't wanna rely solely on streamers for my river fishing. Just wondering if this is something you've tried, seen, done, or know anything about.
Thanks, as always, for the podcast and the wealth of knowledge found within it."
Well, that's a pretty easy one, Steve. Yeah, trout techniques work really well for smallmouth. You know, streamers work well almost all the time, because smallmouth, they're always looking for crayfish and bait fish. But smallmouth, in many rivers, will eat a lot of insects. They'll eat damselflies, dragonflies, dobsonflies, hellgrammites. You know, they'll eat mayflies and caddisflies. I've caught smallmouth bass during a March brown hatch on a dry fly and I thought it was a big trout.
So yes, they absolutely will work well. And, yeah, I think you wanna stick with a bigger profile dry fly, particularly if your water is a little stained. But, you know, a big foam hopper, something, the smallmouth may hear that hit the water. They may hear it splat on the water. And I don't know how stained your water is, but, you know, they can get see pretty well up through even stained water. So I would think some big foam fly. Occasionally, twitched maybe.
And yeah, a dropper would work well. I would use a fairly large dark nymph, like maybe a black stone fly or something that's gonna look like a hellgrammite or even a small crayfish. Black or brown, a fairly large nymph. You want one that's not so large that it's gonna pull your dry fly under. But you want a pretty good-sized one. Maybe lightly weighted.
So yes, those techniques will absolutely work on smallmouth. I remember one of the biggest smallmouths I ever caught, I was, for some strange reason, blind fishing a white Wulff dry fly in the middle of the day and a big smally came up and ate it. So yeah. Those things will work. And I think you'll have a lot of fun doing it.
Caleb: Hi, Tom. This is Caleb Pinby [SP] from Saint James, Missouri. And I've called in a couple times with questions. But I actually have a tip this time. So I've been euro nymphing the last season and a half or so. And I normally use a sling pack. And I noticed some discomfort in my shoulder with holding the rod up like you do in euro nymphing. And what I realized is that I was holding my shoulder a little bit higher than I needed to for the fishing motion to kind of stop my pack from sliding down and kind of twisting away from me.
So what I did is, it's actually reversible, and so I switched it around and put it over my non-dominant shoulder. And since then, I've got less discomfort in my shoulder and I can fish for a lot longer without my arm really getting tired because I'm not holding my shoulder higher than I need to be.
So I don't know if this will help anybody else, but maybe it will. It definitely helped me. But thank you for the podcast, Tom. I really appreciate it. And I hope you and all your listeners have a great day. Bye.
Tom: Well, Caleb, that's a great tip. And yeah, the sling bag can be worn on either shoulder. And I have been taken to task before for wearing my sling bag on my wrong shoulder in videos. So yeah, you can wear it. And that's a really great idea to help relieve that shoulder discomfort.
Also, when you're euro nymphing, you don't always have to hold your rod high, because that is tiring. If you go to the Orvis Learning Center and watch the euro nymphing video that I did with George Daniel, you'll notice that he holds his elbow pretty low and he just cocks his rod up at a high angle. And, you know, for short to medium distances, this will work fine. So you don't need to hold that rod way out over the water if you keep the tip of your euro nymphing rod high if you have a long enough rod.
So anyway, great tip. And try keeping your arm a little lower and maybe that'll help relieve your shoulder discomfort.
Here's an email from Andy from Virginia.
"In your opinion and/or recommendations, and I won't hold you to it if you have the opportunity to go to a shop and build your own bamboo rod and customize it to your liking, what size and weight would you recommend? I do have this opportunity to go to Georgia and spend a week building a bamboo rod at a reputable shop. You've mentioned in the past that bamboo rods are pretty stiff, better for short casts.
I was thinking a 3-weight, three-piece rod for small to medium creek fishing. Would a 2-weight or a 4-weight be a better option? Is there a go-to reel for this setup? I would love to purchase from Orvis but the thought of having a one-of-a-kind rod that I can pass on to my son and his children, you just can't pass up.
Thank you deeply for all you and Orvis do for our fishing and hunting world."
Well, Andy, that's a great opportunity and it sounds like it could be really cool. I didn't know you could do that. I think your idea of a 3-weight, 3-piece rod for small to medium creek fishing is a good one. And I don't think I ever said that bamboo rods are pretty stiff. They're actually not stiff. They're actually gonna be a lot more flexible way down into the butt.
But they are better for shorter casts and I think they're better for small stream fishing. There are can make a big, powerful bamboo rod for longer casts in bigger rivers, but they can be quite heavy and I think that's a better place for a graphite rod.
So yeah, you know, 3-weight is a good length. Regarding a two or a four, I think a four is a good option as well because a lot of times, in small streams, you know, we fish a fairly big dry fly, 10s or 12s. And there are often in areas of some big foam flies and stuff like that. And a 2-weight is gonna be a little bit of a struggle throwing those bigger flies. You could do it. But you're gonna be better off with a three or even a four.
So I think either a three or a 4-weight would be a good option. And I wouldn't go too short on that rod. I would go seven, seven and a half feet long. You know, get any shorter than that, and there's a temptation to build a really short rod for small stream fishing but they're actually not that beneficial in small streams. You're better off with somewhere between seven and eight feet.
So anyway, those are my opinions and recommendations, which is what he asked for.
Here's an email from David from North Carolina.
"I was on my way to fish and was listening to your podcast of December 2nd with the interview about Pyramid Lake. You answered a question about a loose ferrule by suggesting that a little wax would help. I had a loose ferrule and I thought, good idea. I'll get to that someday. I should have gotten to it that day before fishing. Here's what can happen when your ferrule loosens.
The top section of the two pieces creeps up the male ferrule and gets to the point where the action of the cast has the leverage to break it off with a sickening splintery crack. Fortunately, I have a spare, and Orvis's warranty for the rods is gold. But the incident gives credence to the old saying, don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."
Well, David, I'm sorry that happened to you but thanks for the tip. And yeah, you're absolutely right. That's one of the biggest dangers of a loose ferrule is that the male end gets too much leverage and can break off. And, you know, since I did that, one other thing, I was talking to some of the guys in the rod shop and you don't wanna put a lot of wax on that ferrule. Just smear a fairly small amount of paraffin on your ferrule. You don't wanna gunk it up too much. Just hit a couple of times with a piece of paraffin. That should be enough to keep that ferrule in place.
Here's an email from Tom.
"I've been fly fishing for a few years but don't get onto the river nearly as often as I would like. So I consider myself a fairly novice fisherman. I live in Minnesota but most of my fishing is done in the Eagle, Blue, and Colorado Rivers in Colorado. My question is about sight fishing versus picking spots and setting up drifts in areas where I think there might be fish.
So much of what I read and hear people talk about suggests that they are seeing a specific fish and casting to it. In my own experience, this is quite rare. When I've gone out with guides, it is also uncommon that they are seeing a fish and suggesting a cast to it.
Do I need to adjust my approach to fishing? Do I need to change my expectations? Should I spend more time trying to learn how to see the fish? I appreciate what you and Orvis do for fly fishing. And I always enjoy the podcast."
Well, Tom, yeah, I think that it's kind of misleading when you watch some of these videos on YouTube, particularly something like Dave and Amelia Jensen, who really specialize in sight fishing. But they do it in very specific places. They do it in small spring creeks, or really small shallow streams because it makes better video, it makes better TV. And it's also very educational when you can see a fish's reaction to the fly. So it's a great way to shoot a video and show people what's going on.
However, it's quite rare. You're right. It's quite rare. Most of the fishing I do, I don't see the trout. It's very rare. It's kind of a special treat in most rivers to be able to sight fish to a trout. So yeah, I think that, you know, seeing fish in the water a little better will come with time. But the water has to be really low and clear and shallow before you can sight fish like you see on some of those videos.
And I think that instead of spending more time trying to learn how to spot fish because I don't think you can learn it that well, it's really a matter of experience and spending a lot of time staring at the water, but I think that what might benefit you more is to learn how to read water types. Learn how to look at the surface of the water and look through the water and look at the subsurface. And see if you can determine where trout might live. Because they're really well camouflaged. And most of the time, by design, we're not able to see trout. They don't want us to see them. They don't want predators to see them. So they're pretty good at hiding.
I know even in small shallow streams where I know there's a trout, it sometimes takes me five or 10 minutes to spot those trout in the water. So anyway, spend more time learning how to read the water instead of trying to, you know, peer through the water and see fish. We can't all spot fish like Dave and Amelia Jensen. I've fished with them and they're very special and very, very talented and experienced at doing that.
Here's an email from Richard from Virginia.
"Based only on your enthusiasm for this book, I downloaded an audio copy of 'Lords of the Fly' by Monte Burke. I must say it was terrific and everything you said it was on the podcast, and it also helped clarify some of my own thinking about fly fishing.
I have, in the past, wondered about tarpon and other exotic big game fish. After listening to this book, I no longer wonder and I'm glad I never succumbed to that temptation. It seems like a hugely expensive and chancy pursuit and none of the participants seem particularly happy. So I answered that question for myself.
One thing that bothered me a lot was when the guide in Texas, Mr. Mangum, talked about ownership of certain sections of fishing water. He seemed to feel that because he had explored the local waters and found good luck at that particular section that he owned that bit of saltwater. That attitude drives me nuts. Still love those dragon tails, though.
I could see that attitude in freshwater as well, particularly in heavily fished waters like the Swift River in Central Massachusetts. It's one thing with private water, but in my opinion, it is strictly first come, first served in public water. But perhaps, there are some other criteria. Can you comment on that who owns a fishing spot?
By the way, I was glad to see your video on stream etiquette, something I learned many years ago from my fly fishing mentor, which I guess is the role you play these days for a lot of people coming up in the sport. They're lucky to have you as a resource."
Well, thank you, Richard. And, you know, the people that were described in "Lords of the Fly" are the extreme end of obsessed fly fishers. And not all, most of saltwater anglers and guides are not like that. So yes, it is expensive and it is chancy to go for something like tarpon. But it's also incredibly exciting and it's worth trying at least once or twice in your life.
So I wouldn't rule it out. It can be really fun. I don't like pressure when I'm fishing and I don't like that kind of scene. But I love tarpon fishing and there are places you can do it and guides that are a lot less intense. And you can have a really wonderful day doing that. So don't rule it out entirely.
Regarding David Mangum, by the way, he's from Florida, not from Texas. Dave is a friend. And he's a good friend. But we have to agree to disagree on his idea of ownership of water. And we've had this discussion before. You know, it's one thing if you had gone out with Mr. Mangum and he took you to a spot and you remembered where it was. And then, you went there on your own or there with another guide. I think he'd have a reason to be upset and I think you would be in the wrong and I think that's unethical.
However, if you were just poking around and exploring, and you happened to find that spot, you hadn't seen anybody fishing there. You just happened to find it because it looked good, then I think you have every right to fish there. And for him to claim that spot as intellectual property and we've had lots of discussions about this, but I think he's dead wrong.
You know, if you find a spot by yourself, it's first come, first served. And if the person that first discovered it is there after you, too bad. They better find another place to fish. So I don't agree with that at all whether it's on a trout stream or on a tarpon flat. I don't agree with it. So but Dave and I are going to probably never agree on that subject.
Jim: Hey, Tom. Jim from Sugarland, Texas where there is no equal. I wanted to discuss three things. One, when you talk about product endorsements and ideas, new things coming out of Orvis, would you mind mentioning about Orvis Adventures, like your trips and the school that's similar to the one you and Dr. Mickey attended in Idaho? I was not aware that Orvis had such a great travel service. Thought you might wanna bring it up.
Two, I wanted to push on all your listeners what a great book the tabletop book "Trout" is, written by you with great essays that I told you and photos beyond belief by Brian Grossenbacher. Great Christmas gift idea. For anyone that's looking into it, look into the book "Trout."
Third, this was something interesting that I found out that I have a friend whose father used to work at Brand X Fly Reel Manufacturing in Montrose, Colorado. I mentioned to him that I had meant Norm and told him about how he made Orvis reels. He raised his eyebrows and I said, "What?" And he said, "I didn't think Orvis made reels. I thought they outsourced it."
Tom, I've heard you had a podcast on Helios Rod Manufacturing. I've heard podcasts on your bamboo rods. I just heard a great podcast about your flies being tied in Africa. I used to always think they were in Sri Lanka.
Hey, what does Orvis manufacture? What is manufactured in the United States? What is manufactured outside the United States? And what do you outsource as a manufacturer?
Thanks, Tom. Looking forward to your answer.
Tom: Well, Jim, thank you for the nice words on Orvis Travel. It's a great organization and a really good resource for finding a great place to fish and also on the "Trout" book.
Regarding products, you know, it's always a mix of products. We get our products where we can get the highest quality at the best price. And for instance, in fly rods, the Encounter and Clearwater fly rods are made overseas to our specifications. The Recon rods, super-fine glass, bamboo rods, Helios 3 rods, those are all made in our rod shop in the U.S.A.
Clothing is always labeled and has to be labeled by law with country of origin, so you could find that out. But, you know, in the fishing products that you see that are not made in the U.S.A., and a lot of the clothing, waders, wading boots, and rainwear are not made in the U.S.A. Those are all made to Orvis's exact specs. And we specify the fabric and the construction technique and we actually go and visit those factories to make sure that things are being made exactly the way we want them to be.
You know, where we outsource things, we'll mention the manufacturer. So, like, Barbour rainwear. If you look at fly boxes, you'll see there's fly boxes from Fulling Mill or Cliff's or Wheatley. So where we outsource things from someone's line, it's mentioned so you know where that came from.
But as far as all the other things are concerned, they're either made by us or they're made to our exact specifications. And that's about all I can tell you about that.
All right. That is the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Ian about the pleasures of blue lining. Well, my guest today is Ian Rutter. And Ian's company is called R and R Fly Fishing out of Townsend, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains. They're right on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And welcome to the podcast, Ian.
Ian: Well, thanks for having me. Great to chat with you again.
Tom: You've been a longtime guide. How long have you been guiding?
Ian: I started guiding in the spring of 1995 and that's pretty much been my thing ever since. That was kind of my first foray into work with a college degree. I walked the night desk at a hotel here in Townsend and guided. You know, kind of, as a lot of guides are when you start out, you do a few days a week and it takes a little time to kind of get established. I was working through a fly shop.
And over time, I kind of about a season or two there being a little more in the shop than guiding. And just decided that I was too solar-powered to stay inside giving directions for the bulk of my time. And went full-time guiding. And my wife, Charity, started doing some guiding in 2002. And after that year, I had a guidebook to the national park come out, we decided to go ahead and really go all in. As if guiding that long wasn't all in, but then we started our own independent guide service in 2003, which was R and R Fly Fishing. And still chugging away.
I guess we just hit the 20-year mark now.
Tom: Wow. Well, congratulations. You know, something that I get frequent requests for is a podcast on blue lining because...and it's something you and I both love to do. And so, and I know you do a lot of it and you're in a great location for that kind of stuff. So let's talk about blue lining.
And first, let's tell people what exactly blue lining is.
Ian: Yeah. So yeah. I'm not even sure myself. So that term has kind of come in since I've been in fly fishing and guiding. And it sounds to me just like anything that's kind of creek fishing and generally, I would say off-road.
Tom: Yeah, right.
Ian: In some people's personal index or glossary, that would mean maybe not even trailside.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: But I think, for the most part, it's off-road, kind of away off the beaten track. And for me, personally, there's just an adventure element that is kind of the primary reason for it. And...yeah.
Tom: Yeah, it's kind of exploring. It's kind of looking for new places to find trout that are off the beaten path, you know, by looking at topo maps and Google Earth and whatever, and pointing your finger at a place and saying, "Hey, I've never fished this place and it's quite a ways away from a road. Let's give it a try."
Ian: Exactly. And, like, in my part of the country, the getting there and back can be problematic where, you know, people don't really think of the Smokies as big mountains but they are. They just start at a much lower elevation than the Rockies. That we've got base to peak elevations of 5,000 feet differences. And it's really steep and it's super sick. You know, I don't know if a lot of people can really appreciate the vegetation. It's like a rainforest for real, but I mean, it's like "Indiana Jones" sort of thick. So it's almost impenetrable in some areas.
And it's not just in the Smokies. I mean, you'll have this anywhere. But there are places where I can say with full confidence, there are fish that live their whole lives ignorant of the fact there is fake food with hooks in it in the world.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: That they live in such isolation that they never see any fisherman in their life.
Tom: Yeah. And, you know, it's these days, with our bigger rivers, particularly rivers that can be floated, just overcrowding. I mean, it's tough to get away from people. The one place that's almost guaranteed is blue lining for that very reason.
Ian: Yeah. And it's a different attitude. And I'm always careful. I don't know. I don't ever want to, like, offend somebody that if they don't think it's cool, well, you know, go away or whatever. But, you know, I always spent about 15 years guiding from a drift boot as well. And one thing I aways noticed was that my wade creek clientele, if we had some sort of flood issue or something where we just couldn't really fish a creek that day for whatever reason, but there was a tailwater option, they were always pretty agreeable to change it up and go float.
But my float clientele, if the flows on the big rivers were off, virtually none of them wanted to go up a creek.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, interesting.
Ian: And, you know, their attitude was often, "Oh, look, you know, I'm not gonna go walk, beat myself up and slip on those slick rocks to say what a big nine-inch fish we caught today." And that's fine. Everybody finds different things to enjoy about fishing. And I completely agree with that. And there are some... I'll keep it to myself. But there are some elements of fly fishing some people find remarkably fun that I think is just not worth my time. So I don't ever criticize somebody for what they think is fun in fishing because my stuff can be somewhat torturous to a lot of people, you know, what I find fun.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah, I've taken a few people into the mountains here that didn't really appreciate it. But most of them do. Most of them really do appreciate it.
Ian: Well, of course. And, you know, one of those things, and I know you know what I'm talking about here, Tom, but sometimes, the goal of the day is, how small a water can you still catch fish out of.
Tom: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Ian: It's not how big was the fish, or how many.
Tom: No, no, yeah.
Ian: It's just, like, and sometimes, it was just the most run-of-the-mill or smallest fish ever. But the fact you made that cast and you hooked the fish without snarling it up with know, you just felt like you had this moment of brilliance. But if you were...the equivalent of playing at Wimbledon. That they would show this highlight for years. But you caught a four-inch fish for it.
So sometimes, what the blue liner finds is the crowning achievement, some people are like, "Whatever. Good for you."
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, that's good that there are people like that in the world because it keeps them off our little streams, right?
Ian: Well, of course. You know, that's why I said it's good we all don't find the same things fun.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So let's talk about...let's start out. Let's talk about, you know...let's say you're starting a day on your own. You're going fishing. And you wanna go someplace that you never fished before. You wanna explore. So how do you go about it? What do you do?
Ian: When I go out for a day of fishing for myself, a lot of times, I'll have something that's kind of been nagging at me for a little bit. Sometimes for years. It's a place I've thought about, heard about, saw in a biological survey, or something. Maybe I'll be driving over the mountains and I'll kind of look across and see a valley and it'll kind of trigger a memory or just go buy a trailhead marker that I think about.
And last summer, Charity and I did something we've been meaning to do for years. We parked at one place, you know, kind of almost at the top of the Smokies and we had two cars. So we parked one at the bottom of the mountain and started at the top and walked down and started at the very highest part of this watershed, which was all not only just native brook trout but all growth forest, ancient path over the mountains.
And while we're catching these beautiful brook trout in there, I'm just kind of about how Cherokee warriors have probably walked past these ginormous trees at some time in the past. Not just the fish. And there's just so many waterfalls in there that, you know, there's no way for anything to get in there.
And it's just this whole experience for me of just kind of thinking about, it's like some of these places, I call them the time machine. That we've been in a time machine that while there are none here, there were mountain lions here. Did a mountain lion, once upon a time, kind of nap in the crook of this big giant tree?
And, you know, since this trail is actually an old Indian path, you know, how many Indian warriors came this way for how long before, you know, I'm here today catching fish? So while I absolutely ate up the fishing and loved the fishing, I have all that extra stuff kind of going on in the back of my head even more than the fishing.
Tom: And I'm sure you didn't see any other anglers that day.
Ian: No, no. There was a couple of hikers. But even then, you know, on some of these trails... And then, once you get off in the stream, you know, the trail doesn't follow the stream so often in places like this just because the topography doesn't really allow for it. And that's kind of where you have to have that little bit of a sense of adventure of, okay, here I go. We're kind of going off into the unknown.
And, you know, one thing I will suggest to people that do this is if you can kind of walk the trail, don't just kind of jump off willy-nilly. But if you're able to walk a trail and actually kind of see, oh, I would get out about here, you know, kind of be thinking about your exit points and entries just as much, and maybe mentally mark that it's a great big beech tree or something. Maybe even go down and make a little, you know...tie a handkerchief of something to a branch over the creek so you will see that this was your spot and go on past it on further into the gorge of no return or whatever.
Tom: Yeah. So in a stream like that, how do you research it beforehand? Do you look at topo maps? What do you investigate before you actually, you know...
Ian: So I would say at least for here where I am in the national park and national forest, there's trail guides that will give you some sense of the elevation that you're looking at. And one of the things for me that I personally think of as a major hazard is I'm in somewhat of a gorge that you just can't get out of. Short of being a bird with wings, you just literally can't get out of there.
And so, I'm concerned that I'm gonna come across this mega waterfall that now I've either gotta scale this waterfall or walk back down a very steep creek, which is pretty hazardous. Walking down creeks is a lot tougher than walking up. It's just that stepping down. So that's the thing that I always kind of worry about is there's gonna be some sort of obstacle that's just dangerous to get around or over.
And, you know, one thing, just to be clear for listeners, is I'm talking about places where there's no cell service and unless there's, like, satellite stuff, there never will be cell service in these places. I mean, it's just such a steep gorge. There's no line of sight to any tower anywhere. So in that sense, it's a time machine too. Although, I kind of laugh and tell people, "Welcome to 1995." Not 1700.
But so, I'm concerned about the chance for injury. You know, that's not my overriding thing. But, you know, I sure don't want a fun day to kind of turn into a survival experience either.
Tom: Yeah. You know, I get into those areas when I'm fishing by myself and I think, oh, my God. If I fall and hit my head, nobody knows where I am. They can't find me with my locate your phone, because there's no cell service and my wife doesn't know where I am. Nobody knows where I am. It's kind of a neat feeling that nobody in the world knows where you are. But it's a know, you don't wanna think about it too much, right?
Ian: No. And perhaps, Tom, and my age now, experience, age, and have children and things like that, my attitude's probably changed.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: You know, I remember one time in the '90s, you know, I was single, living alone. You know, there were a few times I remember, I would go out and do this stuff and kind of have half a plan. But I just was tickled to death to sleep under a tree next to the creek. You know, not even come home. Nobody needed me. Nobody expected me. Just sort of did that a few times. It wasn't a regular thing.
But, and again, I kind of had it in my mind that was probably gonna happen. But there was once I was fishing a stream that on the map, it paralleled the road. But the fact of the matter was you couldn't get to that road. I mean, it was several hundred vertical feet from the road and super thick forest. You know, you couldn't see the road. The road couldn't see the stream. And it was one of those forest service roads that maybe three people in peak season drive along anyway.
But it was just one of those steep, steep streams just one plunge pool waterfall after another. And I was kind of hoisting myself up on this rock that was probably three feet tall by two feet wide. And I don't know how deep. It was just a hell of a rock, put it that way. As I hoisted myself up, that rock just dislodged and I just kind of did a little sidestep and just watched, you know, kerplunk into the big plunge pool below me. And I thought that was so funny at the time. I really did.
And I know, it was probably when that movie came out about the guy in Utah or Moab or wherever that got pinned with the rock and he cut his own arm off with a pocketknife.
Tom: Yeah.
Ian: I kind of thought about that. And now, with kids, the idea that I would be in some place where they don't even really know where I am, and a boulder would just crush me, and my fly rod and hat would be sticking out and about nothing, and it's on the bottom of the pool, and somebody sometime might figure out what happened to me, that kind of gives me a little sick feeling in the pit of my stomach now.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: But, you know, again, like you said, it's a cool feeling being out there and having everything to yourself.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, it is. Now, do you carry a GPS with you when you're...?
Ian: You know, I don't. And I just don't feel it's of any use for where I am. And so, I've been in Yellowstone before. And just kind of pulled off the road there in Lamar Valley and cut across to go down to the Sun Canyon, cut over to the Yellowstone River and all of these sorts of things. And the terrain there is just so different. You can see so far. And it's so straightforward, even though there's no trail and I would be warned against doing such things.
But where we are here, the map does not show you how thick the forest is. It's called the rhododendron hell in East Tennessee and North Carolina parlance. And it's called hell for a reason. You know, you just cannot move. It's such a tangle. And it's wood. It's not, you know, flexible brush. So if you try to use that, it just doesn't really work. You kind of have to go by the terrain.
You can go along a ridgeline or kind of down a little draw. And there's places that I will fish somewhat regularly and have just decided that this little feeder dribble, it's maybe big enough to have a fish in every, you know, cereal bowl-sized spot, which is not even that common. But I will follow those back out to get up to a path or the dirt road or whatever. Just because going straight up the mountain is really just not a good option.
Tom: Don't you think, though, having a GPS just so you can retrace your tracks might be handy?
Ian: Well, maybe. But again, here, the terrain is so steep, I mean that it's pretty obvious where you came in because it's the only place that you can get back out. You know, so it's just not that big a thing for me, around here. And I'm probably showing my age, but I came into all this in the age of the map and compass. And used that for a bit. And what I've found... And when I was in college, I was a research assistant in a forestry project and we did all sorts of mapping of remote forest plots.
We would go out to a particular area, age the tree, see how big they were, etc., etc., for this grad students project. And there were no trails or anything to those spots. And we saw right away, there was no such thing as the straight-line path. It was impossible.
So you kind of did a little bit of, okay, I wanna go down this ridgeline and the third little spur, we're gonna go off of that. And then, we'll kind of find our spot. And you would kind of count your paces a little bit to get your distance. And GPS is okay to a point. Especially in an instance like that mapping back out. But with the creeks, things are so much more obvious with a watershed than just kind of moving around from, "Was it the third ridgeline? Or the fourth ridgeline?"
And, you know, our country is really so big here in the Smokies that doing that, you've really got a long way to the next arm of the creek or something. It's not that much.
So for me, I don't find the GPS is super helpful so much as just paying attention. And like, on not even small streams but bigger streams here will take these massive horseshoe loops away from a trail or a road. And folks will like to do that. And the thing with those is that it's the distance that gets people. And Abrams Creek is one of our better-known streams in the national park here and it has this famous horseshoe that's two miles of stream that veers away from the trail.
And I always remind people that, you know, walking two miles is one thing, but wading two miles is really something else. And not just wading two miles, but fishing two miles. And if you're doing these big horseshoe loops, you really can't fish every last spot. You know, you really gotta cherry-pick this thing if you're gonna get home tonight and keep track of that. You know, trying to keep track of how far you've gone and how much further you've got.
And in that instance, having that GPS to see where you are in the crook of a horseshoe would be nice to know that, oh, I'm way ahead of schedule. I can slow down and enjoy myself a little bit. Or man, I haven't gone anywhere. It's two hours past lunch, and I'm still in the first quarter of this thing. So in that instance, I think it can help. But it's a nuanced product, the best way to use it, I guess.
Tom: Yeah, that's a good point. So for someone who wants to, let's say, fish somewhere in the Southern Appalachians, the Smokies, or Blue Ridge, or whatever, how would you suggest they start? You know, they're probably gonna narrow it down to some park or some part of a park. But where do they go from there? How do they find these places on their own?
Ian: Well, you know, just I'll be honest with you, this is one of these things that in the guide business we kind of laugh about it. But I don't feel like there's really any secrets out there. You know, in the big scheme, there just aren't secrets. If you know nothing and you're having a hard time just getting anybody to talk to you, it seems like secrets. But between guidebooks, fly shop personnel, you know, just if you're local, going to the local Trout Unlimited or FFI meetings, whatever, you can kind of get a sense of things.
And if you're new to an area, always kind of do the more mainline stuff first. Just get a sense of what the fishery is about. You know, what's the best way to go about this? Is it super strenuous? Is it, you know, easier wading than you thought? You know, because, like, so much of Michigan, it can be thick and dense but it's not rock climbing the way we have here where it's just like sometimes, you gotta be Spiderman to get up and around certain things.
And there will be streams that could easily be very enjoyable for you to do and not be roadside or whatever. But then, with experience, you'll get a sense of what's a little much for you. And I always tell people, kind of pair up trail guides with the fishing guides. Because sometimes, a fishing guidebook just is talking only to fishermen about fish and what fish and flies and hatches. But they might not really be as concerned with, you know, how far a walk it is or something else. And even if it does, a trail guide kind of comes from a whole different perspective. It will focus more on those other things.
Or it might even say there's so many creek crossings. Where it's like, oh, that's interesting. Well, I can fish from one creek crossing to the next. That's good intel. That's the best way to do it is kind of start off just kind of with something that's not so off the charts unheard of and then kind of work your way into that. And you'll find out pretty quickly how into it you are, you know, if it's your bag or not.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. So I'm gonna push you a little harder. Let's say you got a map in front of you. A topo map or whether it's electronic or paper. What do you look for? When you're zeroing in on a particular creek, what aspects do you look for?
Ian: Oh, wow. Maybe the size. Personally, the size because I will say this, that I don't know if it's wisdom or it's just kind of getting old and not as willing but I really don't wanna put in that much effort for something that is gonna be so thick and so small and tiny anymore. I kind of feel like I've done that. So maybe I'm not looking for the absolute top of the watershed anymore.
Maybe I'm looking a little bit kind of in the middle or again, those horseshoes. Is there some sort of a horseshoe that looks like it's a reasonable distance that's not a survival experience? And if I do get that mid-summer downpour and the creek comes up, I can still get out of there with some sense.
But yeah, I am looking for, like, those sort of horseshoes and, again, not way at the very top of the mountain to come all the way down. And I do like to have some trail thing. At least where we are, you just can't have miles of cross-country. It just does not work.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it can be difficult because when you're looking at...whether you're looking at a topo map or Google Earth, all the blue lines are often about the same size, right? They don't give you...
Ian: Yes, exactly.
Tom: And in Google Earth, most, a lot of these streams, you can't even see on Google Earth, right? They're totally covered with foliage. So...
Ian: Not at all. If you can see it here, I mean it's big water in our part of the world, just because the forest is so thick, yeah.
Tom: Yeah, ours too, yeah. So, you know, I mean, sometimes, you're gonna be disappointed. Sometimes, you're gonna get to this little blue line and it's, you know, dry or it's gonna be super, super tiny.
Ian: Well, so there is a concept in fisheries. It's what order is the stream. And if it is the first thing where it kind of dribbles out of the ground, that's a first-order stream. And then, if it's a tributary of something else, that is a second-order stream, and so and so forth. And usually, I know this from my experience kind of doing a lot of volunteer work with fishery guys, that you're looking for about third-order before you can reliably have fish.
Tom: All right, there's a good tip.
Ian: So if you're on that USGS, right, and you've got the main stem that everybody fishes, you know, everybody does that. Then you get up into the forks, and you know that that's up in there. So if you're going to the very tippy top and you're just seeing these know, it looks like the veins, you know, on an anatomy thing. You know, how these things look. If you're at the furthest capillaries and they're pretty short and coming at the very top, that's probably know, you need to get a few confluences before you're gonna reliably have fish.
Although it's super cool and I've done this where you really are, like, the third puddle down from the spring and there's still fish. And that happens sometimes in our streams where they're steep enough that they puddle up. There's not that much flow. But there's enough continual flow and ability for it to puddle up that there are fish just about at the're as far from the ocean as you can get and there's still a fish.
Tom: Yeah, that's a good point is to look at the terrain because, you know, if the terrain is flat and it's a first-order stream or a second order stream...
Ian: Yeah, it will dry up at times.
Tom: Yeah. It's gonna be skinny and probably no habitat for fish. But if it's got some drop to it, you know, you're gonna have those plunge pools that'll hold fish. And I know that a lot of streams here in Vermont, you look at them when they're close to the road and they look really skinny and too thin for fish. But then, you start hiking up and you get into where the terrain is steeper, and then you get those plunge pools that can be, you know, four or five feet deep.
Ian: Well, and I've pointed this out too that even in most, like, horrific draughts, right, that where you're talking about now, the road, it's almost like, oh, gosh, there's hardly any water. But when you get into those really steep streams, I always kind of compare it to, like, a champagne fountain. If you've ever been at, like, a wedding or something that has that. That no matter how much is coming in at the top, if you stop pouring the champagne, the glasses are still full.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: So what's interesting is that those fish up high oftentimes do better in draughts and are far less affected because of the cooler temperatures, but the fact it's actually plenty of water for them. It's not, you know, blowing through there whitewater. But there's still plenty of water for them to get on through. Where down low in the watershed, everything kind of got skinnier and shriveled up.
Tom: Yeah. No, those fish, those little brook trout can live in pools that have dry stretches in between them because there's always cold water running below the stream bed and seeping into those holes.
Ian: Yeah. Some of them are, like, the next phase of evolution, you know, they're just about to be a land animal sometimes you think.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, they are. They are. So let's talk a little bit about... I mean, I'm not gonna talk much about flies because generally, you know, any old attractor fly is gonna work on these fish. It's mostly dry fly. You can throw a nymph. But they're gonna eat anything that looks reasonably buggy.
Ian: Yes.
Tom: But how about, you know, rods and casting? When you get into those really tight rhododendron streams, what's your strategy?
Ian: Well, first of all, a lot of folks are shocked because I am not a proponent of the short rod. I don't feel like that's great. And it's mostly because we have so many waterfalls to contend with that if with a short rod if I'm close enough to keep the line off of the waterfall, I'm just about standing on top of the fish.
So I kind of feel like a 7-foot rod...if personally, I'm using a 7-foot rod, it's almost inconvenient to be carrying a rod in the first place. And everybody's got their own attitudes and creed with that. But that's mine is it's very rare to find me with shorter than an 8-foot fly rod.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: I feel like 8-foot is it. And, you know, another thing is, a lot of folks will be like, "Oh, I guess you're using, like, a one [SP] wade or an OT [SP] wade or something for those little fish." And actually, I kind of prefer a four and the reason being is that the line is heavier. And, you know, usually, if it's really tight stuff, I'm using a real short leader. Maybe, like, four feet. And it's sort of like a butt section and maybe 4X. You know, I've got it trimmed way back. And when you've got, like, something we'll say like a Royal Wulff, and around where I am, it would be, like, a Thunderhead, which is's like a Royal Wulff except without the peacock and red. It's just a grey body but brown hackle.
And whether to stimulate or something like that, you've got this really fluffy thing that's pretty wind resistant, and you don't have much fly line out. So the heavier line, that stiff butt section, you know, gets that thing to turn over and get where you need it to get.
And even if it's, like, that drought condition, whatever, no, the longer leaders don't do it. Because now, you've just got more monofilament, which casting that really tight is just kind of a mess. You just can't be accurate.
So I like to have, you know, as much fly line in the equation as possible. That way, it makes a nice tight little loop whether I'm casting it, bow and arrow casting it, whatever, it gets in there tight. And...
Tom: And your drifts are gonna be short. So a long leader really defeats the purpose because your drifts are gonna be a few inches.
Ian: Yes. In fact, I will tell people that even, like, on our bigger streams here where it's all pocket water, I'll say, "A lot of these pockets aren't seven feet in any direction." So a 12-foot leader is completely worthless. You know, you can have a seven and a half foot leader and you're great. You know, you never had fly line on the water, let alone the small stuff.
And in terms of casting, one thing that people will almost sort of, like...I don't know. It rubs me wrong. But they'll something like, "Oh, when you do that, you don't have any use for any double haul." And I'll say, "Well, actually, you do." And of course, like I said, I've fished and guided in a variety of environments, but if you can work a little haul in, you get a tighter loop. And not only is that loop tighter for tighter conditions, but it punches through that stuff. You know, you don't have that wide loop to hang up and it doesn't just kind of do the dying quail to the water. I mean, it zips right in there.
Tom: Interesting.
Ian: So if you get just a little haul... In fact, I've had people kind of laugh and say that I have a very distinctive style because I've got this short cast with this little haul that I just kind of habitually do. But just, it gives you that super tight loop that zips right in. And of course, I'm a habitual sidearm caster too, just because most of the forest I've got around me wherever I'm fishing.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. So if it's so tight you can't get any kind of back cast, do you bow and arrow cast? Do you roll cast? Do you vary it?
Ian: Well, I'm probably more of a roll caster. And the reason is, I feel like the bow and arrow is pretty cool, but the problem is if you're doing the bow and arrow, that kind of means you can't move the rod tip, which means setting that hook is gonna be kind of a problem too.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: So I do use that here and there. But usually, it's because there's just, like, a little window that I've got to punch it through and I might make it with a cast, might not. But with the bow and arrow, I can kind of line it up just perfect and zip it in. But sort of like a little sidearm roll is probably the most used in that tight quarters.
Tom: And another question. Do you ever work downstream? Most of us fish upstream in these small streams. Do you ever work downstream?
Ian: Only when I don't wanna catch fish.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: And one of the things with stream fishing and fish that are just smaller by virtue of where they live, they're often not given much respect. And, like, you made a comment a few minutes ago that, oh, you don't have to worry about the fly. And you don't. But the thing is, these fish practically have ESP. Just, they really have a sense of danger that big river fish don't seem to have as much of or don't seem to be quite as paranoid.
And anytime you give them anything where they know you're coming, you know, they're looking upstream. You're walking downstream. And not to mention the fact, you know, you're kind of kicking up a little silt, you know, just by virtue of walking. So you're kind of dirtying the water up a little bit as you go. That makes it a little harder too.
It can kind of be done, but it's gotta be on the other side of a waterfall or something like that. And even then, you notice a real difference if you try that. You notice a difference.
Tom: You do.
Ian: You don't have to be any statistician and run a linear regression to figure out it's not as productive.
Inter Yeah. I totally agree. I totally agree. People ask me all the time, "Can I work downstream?" "Yeah, you can if you want."
Ian: Just don't complain about the results.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Well, that has been great and I think it's a really good overview of blue lining in your part of the world. And, you know, these tips are gonna be valuable anywhere people fish that wanna get away from the crowds and wanna get off the road. So I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us today.
Ian: Sure thing, Tom. Sure thing.
Tom: All right, Ian.
Ian: All right.
Tom: We have been talking to Ian Rutter of R and R Fly Fishing out of Townsend, Tennessee. Thank you so much and I'll be seeing you soon at the Virginia Wine and Fly Fishing Festival. I'm looking forward to it.
Ian: Yeah, coming up.
Tom: Yeah.
Ian: I'm looking forward to seeing you there, Tom.
Tom: Yeah.
Ian: And anybody else, come by and say hey.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. All right, Ian. Thanks very much.
Ian: Thank you.
Narrator: 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 at in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. You can find more free fishing tips at