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A life in fly fishing, with Tom McGuane

Description: Back in 2008 when I first began this podcast I had two dreams—that I would have my two literary heros, John McPhee and Thomas McGuane as guests (they are both passionate fly fishers). I was lucky enough to record a podcast with John in August of 2021 and this week's podcast is with Tom McGuane [44:36], author of 20 highly regarded novels, screenplays, collections of short stories, and what is in my opinion the finest book of fly-fishing essays ever written, The Longest Silence. Most people who interview Tom want to talk about his crazy days in Key West in the 1970s, , fishing for tarpon with Jim Harrison, Guy de la Valdene, Jimmy Buffet, and other notable characters. However, in the podcast we talk about what he is doing now—his fascination with small-stream trout fishing, why he would rather wade than fish from a boat, his opinion on guides who yell at their clients, and how to grow old gracefully and still continue to fish with a fly rod. It was a real honor to chat with him and I know you'll enjoy this very special podcast.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom R.: Hi and welcome to the "Orvis Flyfishing" podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer and I have for you this week what to me is a very special podcast. Back when I first started doing these podcasts and I think it was 2011, there were two people that I always wanted to get on the podcast because they were my literary heroes. One was John McPhee who I was lucky enough to have on my podcast in August of 2021. And John is an incredible writer of nonfiction books who I've read all my life and just really admired his writing style. And that was a fun one. And I've finally gotten my second literary hero on the podcast, Tom McGuane. Tom McGuane is a writer of novels and short stories. And he's also written what I consider the finest book of flyfishing essays called "The Longest Silence".
So, it was a real honor to talk to Tom about flyfishing. We had a lot of fun doing it. We talked about things like guides that yell and how to grow old and continue flyfishing and how you never get tired of fishing small trout streams. So anyway, I hope you enjoy that. I certainly enjoyed it and it was an honor to be able to interview Tom for the podcast.
But first, before we do that, let's do the Fly Box. The Fly Box is where you ask me questions and I try to answer them. You can send your questions to me in an email at You can just type your question in your email or you can attach a voice file using the voice memos function on your phone.
So, let's start with an email from Drew. As always, really enjoy the podcast and really appreciate all that you do giving back to the flyfishing community. Couple quick questions. Number one. The casting instruction from Pete Kutzer are excellent. The question I have is what kind of rod does he use in his instruction. I have never seen an all-white rod like that and I always have wondered if it is the special model made for him or an older Orvis model. Question two. I'm a big history buff. My grandparents had a hardware store and I loved being there when I was little. I bought my first rod there, a Zebco 202 which I still have to this day. My grandfather sold Shakespeare Fly Rod, Shakespeare and Zebco rods and other forms of tackle. He was a great fisher and really inspired me to take up flyfishing although it was later in life for me. What I was wondering was is there a history book or references for Orvis as far as selling of their tackle. I have a few Orvis catalogs from the '70s, one from 1974 when I was born so I recognize the mail order aspect. But did Orvis sell products at non-fly shops such as hardware stores or even toy stores, general merchandise stores? Was mail order the major source of providing products at one time?
I asked a while ago if there was a secret warehouse of old Orvis products, tumblers, rods, etc. which I was saddened to hear there wasn't or maybe there is and you're sworn to secrecy. But these things fascinate me from an advertising and selling point of view. Question three. On February 24th episode one of the callers mentioned he used Yaktrax on his wading boots. What a brilliant idea. I have a pair of these. They are not Yaktrax and have small studs instead of springs so I anticipate that they may last longer. But what a great idea to avoid having to have a drilled in pair of boots and a pair that don't have the studs drilled in. They have been sitting next to my flyfishing stuff just looking me in the eyes to be used.
So, Drew, first of all, the rods that Pete uses in the casting instruction are just Helios 3 rods, standard Helios 3 rods that you can buy. They're just painted white. And the reason they're painted white is so that they show up better on the videos. So, we get the rod shop to make a couple of rods for Pete. He usually uses either a 905F or a 908D, I think, for the longer casts. And the rod shop just paints them white for Pete. So that's what it is, standard rod painted white.
Regarding the history of Orvis, there is a book called "The Orvis Story" that is out of print. It's by Paul Schullery and it's a great history. It's very readable history. I looked it up and there are some copies available, used. The hardcover is about 125 bucks but the paperback is much cheaper. I think $20 or something like that. So, it's called "The Orvis Story" and it talks about the history of Orvis starting in 1856 and how Charles Orvis got started and the history goes until, I believe, about the 1980s. So anyway, and yes, you're correct. In the old days, most of the tackle and the clothing and everything else were sold through the mail and then the one Orvis retail store in Manchester, Vermont. And there were Orvis dealers but Orvis products weren't sold in toy stores and general merchandise stores. They were sold in special...always been sold in specialty fly shops. Sometimes someone would have a little fly shop in the corner of the hardware store and they would be an Orvis dealer but most of the time, they weren't sold in just general merchandise stores.
So hopefully that's helpful to you. And then regarding those studded things that you can wear over wading boots, yeah. Again, just be careful. They're probably not gonna hold up that long as I've found out. They just don't...they just fall apart eventually but they will give you some traction, at least until they fall apart.
Kevin: Hey, Tom. Kevin in Boise. I'm catching up on some back podcasts and currently am traveling. So, the recent podcast about traveling with fly gear kinda hit home. I'm currently in Laos but I have traveled extensively in my working career. I was approaching two million miles at one point on one of the international carriers. But some tips for people that I didn't hear discussed was to always carry your vaccination records. They can come in very handy if you forget when, what or where you had any vaccines. The other one is to carry antibiotics. They obviously come in handy for various reasons. And then in this era of COVID, always carry some COVID test. The other thing I wanted to point out for two other countries that we've been to is Mexico...the Mexico equivalent of TSA can be very picky. So just check your gear. When we were down there over the last few years, they would not let you carry anything on that looked like flyfishing gear. So better to check it at the front of your trip rather than try to go back and then check it.
New Zealand, I think you're...the person you interviewed had it spot on. They are very, very picky. The time that we went there, we had to use tweezers to pull little stickers out of our shoes. They took all our camping gear out, looked at every seam. So, I think the interviewee was spot on. Make sure your stuff is clean and/or new.
The other thing a few podcasts ago was when you were talking about flies from Kenya. And as a person who's bought probably 2,000 dozen flies from there, I have a few suggestions for people and then a question for the person you interviewed. But the times that I've ordered, I always send pictures to show the exact colors of the fly, even the most basic flies. Make sure you send pictures to tell them or show them what you want. The question and the only issue I've ever had is regarding the hooks. Try to find out what hooks they use. I had some hook issues early on, since been resolved. But that would be a question to ask. And then don't ever use Kenya post to...can take forever to get your flies and I've had a few packages get lost. So, use some domestic or international carrier like THL or the equivalent so you know that you can track those flies. Other than that, I think you're off in Chile so enjoy your trip and we'll look forward to the next podcast. Thank you.
Tom R.: Well, Kevin, thank you. Those are great tips. And, you know, we all have to carry our COVID vaccination records but it's a good idea to carry your other vaccination records with you just in case. So that is a terrific idea. And of course, if you're traveling to some place where the food or the water are gonna be questionable, antibiotics are really good to have. And thank you for those tips on both Mexico and New Zealand.
Regarding buying flies directly from Kenya, my advice would be don't do that. You know, my advice would be to buy flies from a reputable fly company whose name you recognize here in the United States. There are a lot of fairly shoddy...there are a lot of fly operations in Kenya and I hear these complaints all the time where people got really cheap flies buying directly from Kenya through Instagram or Facebook or whatever. And then the hooks broke and the flies fell apart. I get those complaints from guides and other people all the time. Generally, you get what you pay for in flies. So, if you don't care about your flies falling apart or your hooks breaking, go ahead and buy your flies directly from Kenya but I'd advise you if you want Kenyan flies to get them from Fulling Mill because their operation is much different than a lot of the other operations that you're gonna find.
Let's do another email. This one's from George in Pennsylvania. Tom, thanks for sharing your knowledge with your fans. Two questions, please. First, any chance of another all-Fly Box podcast? Finally, do you have a favorite reel lubricant and especially recommendations for cord drags?
Well, George, first of all, I've done a few all-Fly Box podcasts and, you know, I look at downloads to see how popular they are and they aren't as popular as ones I have a guest. So, chances are unless I can't find a guest and that's pretty rare, I won't be doing many or any all-Fly Box podcasts.
And second, I checked with our resident experts on lubrication for reels and specifically Shawn Combs who was in charge of our product development and also our reel developer and Shawn's reply to me was that Loon makes a good reel lube for external parts, the clicker, the handle, things like that. And he said seal drags do do not need any lubrication and should not be lubricated. You should never go inside your seal drag. So don't open that up and put anything inside it if it is a sealed drag. If you do have an external drag, non-sealed and you wanna put some lubricant on it, he says that Cork Nerds use neatsfoot oil to apply to the cork and freshen them up. So those are the answers from the expert.
Do another email. This one's from Tyler in Bloomington, Indiana. Love the show and your books. I have two questions. It's February in Indiana. So, I've been fishing a lot of dumbbell eye patterns as suggested by some of your prior guests like Tim Landwehr and Mike Schultz. The good news is that they're working. The bad news is every once in a while, I accidently hit my rod with one on the back cast. Is the risk of breaking the rod so significant I should stop fishing these patterns? Are glass rods less susceptible to breaking than graphite when they get hit with a dumbbell pattern? Is there a specific strategy I can use to avoid contact 100% of the time or is it unavoidable that this will happen periodically?
Second, in Apple Podcasts your show is limited to the last 200 episodes but I follow other podcasts that have 600 or 700 episodes in the feed. Is this a setting you could change so we could have all of your catalog? I've heard all 200 and it would be great to get to some of the older ones.
So, regarding your first question, Tyler, yes. Dumbbell eye patterns can fracture a graphite rod. Those things are going through the air at a pretty fast clip. If you've ever hit one in the back of your head, you know that they're moving pretty fast and they hit pretty hard. So, you know, and this happens a lot where someone will hit their rod with a clouser or, you know, another dumbbell eye pattern and they'll fish it for a few days and all of a sudden, the rod will just break. And that's because generally it was hit by, you know, a conehead or a fly with lead or salad metal eyes. So, it is a risk. And the thing you can do to avoid that is to, first of all, be careful casting in the wind where you've got gusty winds and you never know where that fly is gonna come forward. But you can avoid most of the problems by casting a more open loop. So don't false cast a lot with those patterns. False cast not at all if you can get away with it. Cast with a more open loop so a little bit wider casting arc. And also use what is called the Belgian cast which you come around to the side and then come over the top.
If you don't know what a Belgian cast is, there is some videos on the Orvis learning center that Pete Kutzer shows you how to do a Belgian cast. Fiberglass rods do have a little bit more hoop strength than graphite. The walls are a little thicker and they're a little more impact resistant. So, in general, yes, fiberglass rods are gonna be a little bit less likely to fracture when you hit them with the weighted fly.
And regarding the Apple Podcasts issue, there is a place where you can see all the podcasts back to 2011 and that's on the Orvis learning center which is at So, you can find those earlier ones there but not in Apple Podcasts.
Allegra and William: Hi, Tom.
Allegra: My name is Allegra.
William: And I'm William.
Allegra: And we are novice flyfishers and flytyers in Central Pennsylvania. And I've been enjoying practicing lots of different patterns for Spring Creek this Fall and Winter. And I know that as the seasons change, the patterns that we are tying in fishing also change. And as we're getting ready to go into our Spring fishing season, I'm thinking a lot about what environmental cues we should look for to know that it's time to incorporate different patterns while we're tying and while we're fishing. So, what sorts of things should we look for in the environment to let us know it's time to bring in those Spring patterns.
William: And I was wondering...we took a wet flies class at the New Jersey Fly Tying Symposium and our instructor mentioned that the messier the fly, the more effective it has the potential to be as an emerger pattern specifically. And I was wondering how much does the cleanliness and tidiness of your flies really matter when it comes to their effectiveness for catching fish such as do your pheasant tail legs really need to be even and perfectly splayed, do your copper john wire wraps need to be consistent per size, per fly and so on? So yeah, wondering about the tidiness and your thoughts.
Allegra: Thanks so much.
Tom R.: Well, that's a really good question. And you can predict hatches based on the flowering of plants and trees in your area. It's gonna be different in any region but generally, for instance, you know, in our part of the world and probably in yours when the shedbush starts blooming and the fiddleheads come out, we can expect the Hendrickson hatch and there are all kinds of wild flowers and trees that can cue you in to when you're gonna expect particular hatches. It's all dictated by photoperiod and water temperature and the plants. The plants are influenced both by photoperiod and soil temperature. So, they're gonna be, you know...they're gonna go along in line. And, you know, I would advise you...there is a little bit of information on that on the web so you can look for that. But I would advise you to just notice what' know, when you see a particular hatch, what's flowering, the state of the threes, how much foliage is on the trees and so on. And you can generally in subsequent seasons predict when to expect a particular hatch.
Regarding your question on emerger flies, yeah. You know, when cast flies and mayflies and midges emerge, it's pretty messy. They're trying to crawl out of their shuck and often they get crippled and bunged up. So, there is a, I think, a good reason for tying flies that look a little messier when you're trying to imitate an emerger fly. That's not to say that a perfectly beautiful one with perfect proportions and the legs all the same length won't work as well but the point is you don't need to worry as much about, you know, the exact length of your legs or your shuck or whatever because fish are seeing various stages of those flies and often, they look pretty messy.
Okay. Another email from RK. What do you think of the little or early black and brown stoneflies or whatever people call them as trout forage. I see lots of patterns but I never really hear about people getting out and really walloping them on nymphs or dries during the hatch. Obviously, February leads to less fishermen out there so maybe it's a secret I'm spilling but my experience is that maybe these flies catch more fishermen than fish. We get excited to see them but they're not all that available to the fish. Your sagacity on this matter is as always appreciated.
Also, can you give us an update on Orvis's current conservation projects it's supporting? Don't have to go into great detail. We'd just like to be able to go check them out. So RK, first of all, I've had similar experience with you on the little black and brown stoneflies. Of course, these things don't hatch in the water. They crawl up on the snowbanks and onto the shore to hatch. And quite honestly, I have never seen a trout take an adult black or early brown stonefly. Ever, ever, ever. They may but I've never seen it. So, I don't bother with...I especially don't bother with an adult imitation of those little early stoneflies. It stands to reason however that the nymphs, when they migrate into the shallows to crawl out of the water and hatch are gonna be more active and more likely to be drifting in the water column. You know, they make a mistake and they let go of the bottom and then they drift a little bit and they're moving around. So, I would expect a smaller dark nymph should work at this time of year. And yeah, I've caught fish on smaller stonefly imitations early in the season or during the Winter. Whether the fish take that for a black stonefly or not, I don't know but they seem to work and I expect that fish eat them.
If you're interested in an update on Orvis's current conservation projects, the best thing to do is go onto the Orvis website and there's a tab called experience Orvis. And then within that, there's another tab called impact. And that goes into all of our recent conservation projects and any updates on that. So that's the best place to go to get informed on current conservation projects.
Here's an email from David in Georgia. I've recently heard you discuss the benefits of polyleaders and I do own a couple but I'm reluctant to use them based on familiarity. I typically just add split shot to my leader when I need to get deeper. I also tie flies with bigger beads and wire under the thread wraps to make them heavier. I fish year-round in the Southern Smokey Mountains. We see all the conditions that would send trout deep, deep clear pools, cold snaps, high water and faster flows due to heavy rain, etc. I'm just curious if you can enlighten us on which method is best in any of these particular situations, a sort of comparison of the three. I know split shot is easy but can be a paint to cast, especially as you add more or bigger weights to get down deeper. I've also thought of adding a small box of intentionally heavy flies to my bag. Maybe a polyleader would be better and I need to just put it on and try it for a day whenever I encounter any of the conditions I mentioned before. I suppose each of these methods for getting deep has their pros and cons and each present the flies differently to the fish as they get closer to the bottom. I would love to hear your thoughts on the three. Thanks so much for the Fly Box and answering our questions. I have learned quite a bit since finding this podcast.
Well, David, yeah. You know, I can tell you how I use these three things and I think how most people do. First of all, I try whenever possible to get the weight into my flies. So, if I'm fishing a tiny fly without much weight, I'll put a bigger fly on the same rig so that it'll sink that smaller fly down or if I don't need a small fly, I'll just use two heavily weighted flies as heavy as I can get them. And then only when I just feel I can't get to the bottom with a couple of heavy flies and a little bit lighter tippet which is gonna help your sink rate because it prevents less resistance to the water. If I just can't get down by using heavy flies, I'll put a split shot on my leader somewhere, usually eight inches or so above the upper fly. But I try to avoid it. And so that's how I do it with flies and split shot. Those polyleaders that you're using are not that great for fishing nymphs. It's really difficult to get a dead drift and control a dead drift with a polyleader. Where I use polyleaders is where I'm swinging a fly. So, if the current is heavy and fast and deep and I'm stripping a streamer or dead drifting a streamer or swinging wet flies, then I will use a polyleader but it's not that great for standard dead drift nymph fishing. I've never used a polyleader for dead drifting. It's more for swinging flies. So, I hope that clears things up for you on your subsurface fishing.
Here's an email from Peter. Hello, Tom. I'm a long-time avid listener to your podcast and appreciate the hours of enjoyment you provide. This is my first time writing to you and I don't believe that this question has been discussed recently, if at all, and could be useful to anglers considering a new Orvis rod this Spring. I'm currently in the market for a high-end euro rod and have been considering the H3F 10-foot 6 inch and/or the Helios 3 11-foot Blackout. Hoping you could discuss the differences in the actual fishing experience between the two. Personal preference has a lot to do with choosing a fly rod but wiggling the two in the Orvis store, flipping a monoleader in the parking lot cannot accurately simulate the tight line experience on the river. Could you explain besides the obvious Blackout having similar, more reach, giving the six-inch difference in length. What does this translate to fishing experience on the river?
And what I did...Peter has some questions here and what I did was I reached out to Shawn Combs, our rod designer because Shawn's designed both rods, tested both rods and also Shawn fishes these rods a lot more than I do. So, the answers here to Peter's questions are from Shawn.
Does accuracy suffer with increased length? Here's Shawn's answer. No. The Blackout 11-3 is a superior rod in all but one respect. The 10-63 is a bit faster and casts marginally heavier rigs. It's less versatile at the end of the day. The 11-3 has improved sensitivity and accuracy while also having the extra reach. And here's another question from Peter. Does the rod recover as quickly or do you give up a bit for the extra reach. Shawn's answer is 11-3 beats the 10-63 in recovery and accuracy. Keep in mind it's a newer model and benefits from that. And another question. Is the Blackout softer and resulting in anglers having to set harder? And Shawn's answer is the 11-3 has better tippet protection and will drop less fish when they are on the smaller side. And then another question from Peter. Fighting butt, is it just on the 10-foot 6 inch? Is this just aesthetic preference or is there tactical advantage? And Shawn's answer. Both rods have the same fighting butt. The fighting butt does two things, allows for a down lock reel seat which people like with euro nymphing and provides a better anchor against your forearm.
And another question. Is the Blackout designed for larger water? Shawn's answer. Not really. It has the advantage of additional reach which comes in handy regardless of water size. And finally, Peter's last question. Any other differences to consider? Shawn's answer. I prefer the 11-3 from small stream fishing to covering riffles on tailwaters. It's a legit fishing tool. So, Peter, hopefully that will answer your question and other people's questions about the differences between those two rods.
Here's an email from JW in Forney, Texas. I'm fairly new to flyfishing. I went on a guided trip to the Big Horn in Montana last September and fell in love with the sport. I've been trying to fish and learn as much as I can since then. Yesterday spent the day in the lower mountain fork in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. I caught one rainbow all day on a blue winged olive. I enjoyed my day but was pretty frustrated at points. I have two questions. Number one. I saw people catching fish with nymphs/indicators. I tried different versions, the dry dropper for most of the day using the dry as my indicator. I tried a few flies on the dropper including copper johns and pheasant tails, both of which people were catching on. If I know I have flies that are working for others, what other things should I consider when tying the dry dropper rig, length, split shot, different tip size? What adjustments should I be thinking about making.
Number two. Late in the day I saw several fish rising. I moved to dry only and was letting it drift right over them. I only netted the one. I had a few turn away at the last second or miss the fly on the eat. My question is how quickly would you move to a different fly in that situation. You know they are there and you know you're putting the fly on them but you aren't getting the eat. Okay. So, JW, first of all, you said other people were fishing nymphs with indicators and you were trying dry dropper. And I suspect that they were probably getting their flies deeper in the water column than you were because it's difficult to use a relatively heavy fly on a dry dropper. You just can''re gonna sink the dry fly nearly every cast. So, there are times when you need to get really deep that you may wanna go away from the dry dropper and use an indicator. And again, I suspect that they were getting their flies deeper in the water column. With nymph fishing, it's often not the fly pattern you're using but how you're presenting it and how deep you're getting it in the water column. They may have also been using a longer tippet so that their fly was sinking better. A lighter tippet, again, fly was sinking better and perhaps they were putting split shot on there.
But what I would do is next time you see this happen, ask them or look to see how far below their indicator they've got those nymphs attached. That was probably the most important thing and not the exact fly patter that they had on. And regarding those rising fish that you had problems with, the fact that you said you had a couple turn away or miss the fly, those may not have been misses. Those might've been refusals. And a refusal often happens because your fly is dragging. So, you might not have seen some over drag. In other words, a fly skating across the different currents. You may not have seen that. Sometimes it's not very apparent. It's what people might call micro drag. And I suspect that it was presentation rather than fly pattern again that was causing you to miss those fish. So, ways you can avoid drag are to make sure that if your line and your leader are landing across different speeds of currents to make sure that you put on a longer tippet and maybe cast it with a little slack so that that slack has to pay out before your fly starts to drag. Also, upstream reach cast or downstream reach cast depending on the currents might help you. But it was probably presentation and not the fly pattern. The fact that those fish came and looked at your fly or slashed at it means the fly was probably pretty darn close but the fish saw it drag at the last minute and turned away.
Here's an email from James. I'm getting ready to purchase the seven weight Recon sometime in March and have a Hydros reel for it. It will pretty much be used only for smallmouth in creeks and rivers. I was looking at the fly lines online and was wondering what the difference between the Hydros Bankshot in warm water. What line would be better in this situation? If I go with the Bankshot, it will be the intermediate. So, James, there's quite a difference between the Bankshot and a standard fly line. The Bankshot is very heavily weighted toward the front and it's better for banging a cast out with bigger flies, making a quick cast. So, it really depends on how, you know, how...what size flies you're using for those smallmouth. If you're using bigger flies or weighted flies, then I think that the Bankshot would be a good line for you because it loads quicker at short distances. If the water's kinda clear and the fish are a little spooky, then probably the standard line would be better. I prefer standard line in most situations but I was actually just at a seminar at the Texas Brew and Flyfishing Festival on carp fishing and Mitch was saying that he prefers the Bankshot line for carp and I always thought that you would want more delicacy when fishing for carp. But obviously he makes the Bankshot work. So, I find they land a little harder. I find that the accuracy, I don't think, is quite as good with a Bankshot but they will push those bigger flies out quicker.
So, depending on know, how spooky the fish are and how big the flies are is gonna depend whether you prefer a Bankshot or the standard warm water fly line.
Here's an email from Matt. Thanks in advance if you get to these two very different questions or any of them and thanks for offering up your insight to the rest of us. My first question. I've done a lot of fishing in the Winter but anxious for Spring. I got out a few times in the last week here in the Colorado high country. It's obviously cold and the water is very clear but I was euro nymphing, liked what I had on. It was as stealthy as I could be but I got nothing. Looking back really anywhere fishing for me has been dead as well. I approach open water via ice shelves and wondered if between height and the sound of me walking on the ice might spook fish or do the fish hunker safely under the ice shelves and thus are not all in the pockets I'm targeting. Any thoughts around other considerations for mid-Winter fishing?
My other question. Extra spools for a reel. How do people strategize around using spools? Typically, I'm guessing maybe between slow and fast sinking lines and to what end. Is it sensible or just expensive? My salt water reel, by the way, is labeled seven, eight, nine and is on a nine-weight rod. Would a different weight line like a seven be used on the same reel but a different spool on a seven-weight rod? I realize my questions include several questions themselves. Apologies. And thanks again and safe and happy fishing.
Well, Matt, regarding your first question, Winter fishing is tough and, you know, the fish are not feeding that much. They're regulated by water temperature. They're coldblooded. And they're probably not feeding for very long period each day. Just when the water's warm. It's usually mid to late afternoon. And you say you're fishing in the high country. That water may not get warm enough for the fish to feed at all. So, you know, don't expect a lot of fish when you're winter fishing unless you get on an especially nice day when the water warms up considerably. You know, four- or five-degrees warmup can really turn things on.
You wanna look for fish...regardless of ice shelves and everything else, you wanna look for fish in slower, deeper water. Not stagnant water but slower and deeper. These are called Winter refuge pools or pockets. And they're gonna be in the deepest, slowest areas that you can find as long as they're not stagnant. And the fish are gonna be probably pretty deep, probably not willing to go very high in the water column. But since you are euro nymphing, you're probably fishing at the right depth. But, you know, I would just move around. Generally, in the Winter time, you're gonna find fish concentrated in pockets and there may be a lot of fish in one deep pocket and no fish in another. So, I would move around quite a bit and just try to find the deepest, slowest water you can.
And yes, you could be spooking the fish walking on the ice shelves. That's very dangerous too. Be really careful of that stuff. And they may be under the ice shelves if the water is slower and deeper there. But I think that if you can find those deeper pockets that are clear of ice, you know, just keep trying. Like I said, Winter fishing is tough.
Regarding extra spools, yeah. A lot of still water anglers use extra spools because they need a lot of different sink rates for their flyfishing. So, people might have three or four spools with different fly lines on it for fishing at different depths. You can long as that reel that you have a nine weight on doesn't feel particularly heavy or doesn't bother you, you can certainly fish that reel with an extra spool on your seven weight. Shouldn't be any problem at all. Maybe a little too heavy. But, you know, personally I don't worry much about reel balance on rods. Some people get very involved with getting the reel to balance the rod exactly. I personally don't bother very much and I don't worry about whether my reel "balances" my fly rod. I get a reel that I like that will hold the line that I need for the rod and I use it regardless of size. So, I don't think that'll be a problem at all.
Ross: Hey, Tom. My name is Ross and I live in Colorado. I have a question about trout selectivity. So, I've spent a lot of time talking about matching the hatch but also talking about sort of just evolutionarily how trout are attracted to calorie rich foods. So, for instance, in the Winter time, a trout is more likely to move further for a bigger insect where he can get more calories than he would be for a small insect where he could not. But that kinda seems to fly in the face of trout selectivity a little bit in which case you might have a trout who will not eat a very large imitation that you offer to them. I think you had an example of a large grasshopper that you were throwing in one of your streams and could not get the trout to key in on it because they were too busy eating the smaller ones. And I guess I'm curious. Knowing that you can't really know what a trout is thinking, if you have any explanation for why that might be, why a fish would pass up a larger meal that looks like the correct insect type and the correct species for a smaller meal just because there happen to be more of the smaller insects on or in the water. Is it because they suspect the larger fly is an imitation and not a natural? Is it because they are just programed to look for a certain thing at a certain time based on what they've seen? I'm just curious for your thoughts about what exactly causes that and why it would lead them to make decisions that, at least from the outside, would seem to not make a ton of sense calorically. So, I appreciate your thoughts, appreciate the podcast and thank you.
Tom R.: So, Ross, I think that, you know, selectivity is definitely an evolutionary advantage. The fish key in on something that's safe and they keep eating that until that food supply disappears and then they eat something else. But trout aren't always that super selective. They will eat lots of different things at any given time and it's rare that they're really, really selective to one particular type of insect. You know, it's an evolutionary advantage because, you know, they have to look at twigs and sticks and all kinds of nonedible debris that float by. If you ever look into the water or put an underwater camera and take some video, you'll see that there's a lot of junk drifting in the current. And trout have to sort out their food from that junk. So, selectivity just keeps them from eating stuff that has empty calories.
The reason trout probably prefer smaller flies...and we see this frequently. And you say it doesn't make a ton of sense calorically but it really does because smaller flies tend to have more trouble drifting in the current and also emerging. That surface film is a strong physical barrier and the smaller the fly, the harder it is for that insect to penetrate the surface film. And trout will go for the prey that is easiest to capture. And the smaller flies are gonna be easier to capture because they're gonna be stuck in the surface film. So, I think that's why...not necessarily that there's more of them but they're just easier to capture, you know. And any predator is going to select toward the prey that is easiest to capture and ones that are helpless like an emerging bug are gonna be the easiest one to get and burn fewer calories.
All right. That's the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Tom McGuane about all kinds of things related to flyfishing. Well, my guest today is Tom McGuane who should need no introduction but, in my opinion, there's no one who writes better about flyfishing than Tom McGuane. So, Tom, it's an honor to have you here on the podcast.
Tom M.: Well, thank you. I look forward to speaking to you directly. I thought we might be on the flats of Cape Cod but maybe that still will be.
Tom R.: Well, we're gonna do that. We're gonna do that if both of our bodies hold up for another season.
Tom M.: Yeah. I know. It's a big question.
Tom R.: Yeah. So, Tom and I don't...we don't have an agenda and a topic today. We're gonna kinda ramble. And I have some questions that I'm really curious about. So, Tom, if you don't mind, I'm gonna ask you a few questions.
Tom M.: That's fine. By the way, you're coming through very well.
Tom R.: Oh, good, great, okay, good. It was just a change in connections, I guess. So, Tom, you're a lifelong flyfisher and you've seen the world change a lot. You live in Montana. You've seen it change in both Montana and the Keys and lots of other places you fish. But what kinda changes have you seen in the flyfishing culture, both positive and negative over your lifetime?
Tom M.: Well, I suppose my earliest memories are of my father and a friend had fulltime demanding jobs and they would go someplace to fish on the weekends. And so, the idea of the fishing bum hasn't really come along. You know, they weren't...and I remember when I saw John Gierach's first book, I think, "Trout Bum" I thought, "What a great title and what a great idea."
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: But so, it was, you I heard myself saying before, the good, old days mostly based on the fact that there were half as many Americans when I was first fishing as there are now. And not only that but the greatly...the increased population [inaudible 00:47:03] geometrically increased the number of fishermen, including flyfishermen. So crowding is the issue. Montana, I think...the river crowding is the crisis. But it may be that people who don't know any better think it's just great.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: You know, I think a lot of the reason people don't see what the problem is that that's...old people talk about. And, you know, the kind of flyfishing I like to do which is to wade fish... [inaudible 00:47:42] trout fishing. That's don't see as much of that anymore. In fact, it's kinda hard to find a place to wade fish in Montana without getting run over by drift boats.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: So, and then there are so many stakeholders in the fishery now, the guide association and the guides and then the public fishermen and then there are the motel owners of all the know, they quantify everything now. So, they know what the money stream into these Montana economies is and they don't wanna [inaudible 00:48:15] you know, by saying, you know, we should close parts of the river and we should do this, that or the other. And then they also do things that are sort of idealistic but not practicable and they're trying to reestablish the grayling in the upper Big Hole and that's a very long shot if you don't restore the habitat. I mean, if you restore grayling and they continue to overgraze and over extract the [inaudible 00:48:42] for all the benevolence involved in restocking a challenged population, you're not really taking on the big problem which is loss of habitat.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: But that' know, and I think there's a lot of tension around those subjects. Obviously, people trying to make a living ranching really. It's harder and harder every year. Every year it's harder, the harder you have to whack the environment.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And then the fact that flyfishermen are sort of like fleas on a dog out here. They're just everywhere. I saw a ranch truck go by the other day with a bumper sticker that said, "I don't care if you do flyfish." Anyway, this is kind of the froth environment all Americans live in now and we're just trying to kind of, you know, [inaudible 00:49:45] each other's faces all the time and it's probably Pavlovian. There are just so many people.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: You know, I was talking to Endy Milton [SP] the other day and he said, "I'm kinda discouraged about the boat traffic in the Keys."
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: You know, I don't know what to do about it but every year I go back to how Florida, the state has put in another ramp and a big parking lot for trucks and trailers. And they're [inaudible 00:50:17] down the water. But it's still great. You know, it's really interesting. You know, I found two little strategies when I'm in... we have a house in Florida. When I'm down there, I do...I don't go tarpon fishing until 5:00 in the evening because everybody''s cocktail hour.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: And then the snook are getting so smart it's kinda hard to catch them off a boat. You know, I'm kind of a loner, you know. So, an electric motor doesn't get the job done. They know all about that.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: But what does work is wade fishing.
Tom R.: Oh, no kidding? For tarpon?
Tom M.: Yeah.
Tom R.: Wow.
Tom M.: No, I'm talking about...I'm sorry. I missed the...I buried the lead. I'm talking about snook fishing.
Tom R.: Oh, snook fishing, okay.
Tom M.: Yeah. And snook are really...they're a fabulous fish. They're probably maybe my favorite. But they, you know, they get so that, you know...and I talked...I have friends who guide for them. I'd say, "You know, it's pretty tough because if your caster can't make a 70-foot cast, then he has no chance."
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: But when you wade for them, a 20-foot cast is often enough. So anyway, that's kind of a new chapter for me because I'm now dealing know, I've overcome road rage on the water with [inaudible 00:51:42] blows by me and puts their wake in my...over the ball. So, I just have to find ways to kinda fish the way I remember fishing which was a kind of a solitary activity.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: Now, you know, when you go down the [inaudible 00:52:01] and you see guides in board shorts and making gang signs, you know, it's just [crosstalk 00:52:08]
Tom R.: So, what do you in Montana? How do you get away from the traffic when you're trout fishing?
Tom M.: I just...I sort of...I don't go to the places that I used to fish as much anymore.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: Some of the, you know...spring creek fishing, I mean,'s how do you feel about catching fish with [inaudible 00:52:37] faces. So, I fish a lot in these kind of thermally challenged trout streams that are a little bit east of the divide and they get too low or they get too warm [inaudible 00:52:54] basically [inaudible 00:52:55] experience. And I fish those and I fish small waters where you don't have much of a chance of catching a big fish. That's fine with me. And so, you just have to do some kind of avoidance stuff. But the fact of the matter is that Montana just wants to grow trout. I mean, they drift here. They're everywhere.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And I'll never forget seeing the Fish and Wildlife Service shocking [inaudible 00:53:27] little stream that ran around the Walmart parking lot. Every 10 feet they rolled up a pretty nice brown. And, you know, so it's just a natural habitat for trout. And if there's water and it's not polluted, there's gonna be trout in it. And there's a huge world of streams that are sort of beneath the consent of the really driven flyfishermen. [inaudible 00:54:00] kinda doesn't bother me but I'm an old guy so I'm just happy to be someplace where I can fish. And I told [inaudible 00:54:13] this last year. We fished this one small river, real quiet. We never see anybody. It's very hard to wade. You know, I said, "Well, we're gonna catch a lot of fish and we're gonna catch a lot of small fish but it's still important to look at every fish." And, you know, you don't just shut them off and go on to the next one. Because part of that makes you understand how they're doing. I mean, I've been fishing with same [inaudible 00:54:39] mostly for 50 years and I have a kind of a gardener's view about it. Early fishing, I like to see how well they wintered and how they feel, how strong they are. You know, the longer you do it, the more invested you are in their wellbeing. I mean, not that it's doing much about it but at least you're noticing how their habitat is responding.
I live on a little tributary here and when I first moved here, I moved from Paradise Valley over here about 40 years ago and it was all a brown trout stream. And then we had a really bad drought. The waters got incredibly low and bubbly. And when the water [inaudible 00:55:31] came back, it slowly transformed itself into a rainbow fishery.
Tom R.: Interesting.
Tom M.: That last about kinda 15 years and the last 2 or 3 years I noticed it's slowly reverting to being a brown trout fishery. But, you know, it just takes a long time and a lot of noticing to really invest yourself in this wonderful, really romantic natural world that we get to play in as a flyfisherman.
Tom R.: Yeah, that's so interesting because I have a little stream in my backyard too and it does fluctuate between rainbows and browns I guess depending on spawning success. And they're all wild fish. And yeah, very similar situation where I really do look at every fish and pay attention to how they look and how big they are and...
Tom M.: And to be reminded of how beautiful they are.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah. Every single one is special. That's for sure.
Tom M.: Yeah. There's no question about it. And also, you know, you don't have to go very far to another stream to see that there's kind of a subway [inaudible 00:56:43] it doesn't look quite like your home fish. You know what I mean?
Tom R.: Yeah. Oh, that brings up a question. You fish for lots of fish. You fish for big tarpon and big snook. Why are we so obsessed with trout?
Tom M.: Oh, that's a great question. Well, I think the thing about...well, first of all, they're our sporting partner in the flyfishing game. I mean, they throw you a whole new set of cards every time you go out.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And they require you to look a little more deeply into the world in which they live to be successful.
Tom R.: Aha, yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: But it's not the same as throwing a [inaudible 00:57:35] cockroach to a passing fish.
Tom R.: Aha, yeah.
Tom M.: This is a case of trying to understand what it is they want, what frightens them. You probably know Craig Matthews but, I mean, Craig can really catch fish and he's got great eyes and his typical cast is about 15 feet.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: Because he just crawls up on them. And but, you know, I don't have to recite this for your listeners but there's so many stages in the prey base for trout. And they reach a certain size and they become kind of meat-eaters, especially brown trout. But before that when you're fishing especially insect rich fisheries, you really have to learn all the little stages of what's going on and try to unlock the puzzle and if you're successful then, you know, you get a bite and it's very confirming if you've been struggling trying to get one to bite.
Tom R.: It is. It sure is.
Tom M.: Yeah, I know. I mean, I think I was fishing with somebody...maybe it was [inaudible 00:59:03] but anyway, fish were on emergers. We were all fishing the sort of beautiful array of emergers. And he was too. And then he spit on his emerger and immediately started catching fish. I mean, they're just...I mean, trout will really make you think in terms of your quest for success. It reminds me a little bit of a thing Lee Wulff said about it in "Atlantic Salmon". He said that when you're fishing for trout, you're fishing to their stomach. And when you're fishing to Atlantic salmon, you're fishing to their minds. And that's not entirely true because trout...especially trout is...I mean, I think somebody said that Yellowstone browns are caught half a dozen times a summer. So, it's not they're...they didn't just fall off the potato wagon, you know.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: You know, they know how to scrutinize things and they know how to make it hard for you. One of the situations that I love is over on the Beaverhead where you get these big moss...the grass mosses out there. Weed mosses. And your big browns will get under a weed mosses and if there's a hatch going on, they'll just ease out, like, inch and a half out of the edge of the [inaudible 01:00:32] and then go back. And so, you see this feeding fish and you have a big casting challenge because the...first of all, the [inaudible 01:00:42] weeds, you're gonna get the fish out of there immediately. But even that...even if you can get your great cast, you've only got a three- or four-inch window for those fish. And so, it's so challenging and usually it doesn't work. So, you know, Jim Benson just died and somebody was writing in about him and said, you know, his way of fishing where he would [inaudible 01:01:11] be in a likely place and he said...look for a rising fish and he said sometimes he'd be there...quite often he'd be there all day and never make a cast.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: So, I mean, there's something about flyfishermen that sort of...accomplished ones, let's call them. We want things to be tough.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: You know, there's a great passion for permit fishing. But I remember [inaudible 01:01:46] saying that he was living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and that they found a place where big brown trout were staging up to go into a small river. And nobody knew anything about them. He went down there and they were massive browns and he caught four [inaudible 01:02:04] eight or nine pounds and couldn't believe his luck. And the next day he went back and caught four or five more gigantic browns. And then on day three...and they dumber than a box of rocks. So, on day three, he just didn't really wanna go back again.
Tom R.: Yeah. I can understand that.
Tom M.: Yeah, [inaudible 01:02:25] You love the bonefish. Do you wanna go someplace where you catch 20 3 pounders a day or do you wanna go where you get a couple of shots at a double digit as they call it?
Tom R.: Yeah. I like both.
Tom M.: I do too. If you stay in one of those small bonefish rich nodes, you'll find, you know, you had enough after a few days.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: And then if you get [inaudible 01:02:53] some shots at 10 or 12 pounders, you feel you've's likely [inaudible 01:02:59] You feel you've been [inaudible 01:03:01] you've been robbed of the fish you were supposed to catch. One time I was fishing at [inaudible 01:03:09] really windy. A big, righthand wind and... but I don't know, 60 or 70 feet away there was a big, black bonefish feeding. And so, I thought, "Well, I'm gonna have to cast pretty well upwind and hope it works." And so, I made the cast and the fly sailed around in this 25-knot wind and it landed right in the middle of the fish's head and he exploded away and the guide just groaned and said, "Double digit." Sounded like an Edgar Allan Poe story. Nevermore. Anyway, it's all great. I mean, one of the things that I'm wrestling with is just aging. You know, I've had both shoulders replaced this year and my left knee replaced twice this year.
Tom R.: Wow.
Tom M.: And so, I don't wade as well and my balance isn't as good. I've kinda struggled in the wind in Louisiana just because I don't back cast isn't as strong as it was before I needed to have the shoulder replaced. I think it will be again but I have to be patient. So, then you kinda struggle on and you say, "Wat do I do?" I mean, this is the thing that's kinda defined my life and I... can I... will I always be able to find some form of fishing to keep doing it, keep going on?
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: And I think the answer is yes. Just because that will always be possible.
Tom R.: I hope so. I hope so.
Tom M.: Well, you won't find me out there...if it comes down to fishing with a bobber rig, I'm just gonna watch television.
Tom R.: Oh, speaking of which, there's a couple other questions. What do you think of euro nymphing?
Tom M.: You know, I'm a guy that grew up in Michigan with a lot of old-fashioned dry flyfishermen like my father. And my father was pretty rigid about it. He thought, you know, you either fish with dry flies or just go home.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And he would also question the morality of somebody who [inaudible 01:05:31] He was very...he had very strong opinions about it. But some of that [inaudible 01:05:39] and I love to fish with dry flies and I'll settle for far fewer fish if I can fish that way but I'm not a purist. I really don't enjoy nymph fishing very much. I can do it. Euro nymphing, I think they've got...the little bit I've been around it, I think they're getting too good at it.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: You know, Marshall [inaudible 01:06:04] you know, Marshall [inaudible 01:06:06]
Tom R.: Yep, sure, yeah.
Tom M.: [inaudible 01:06:08] He brought his son to the ranch and the son is an expert euro nympher. And he just brought many...I think he caught five trout through a side cast [crosstalk 01:06:22]
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: This works so well.
Tom R.: It does. It works.
Tom M.: So, my feeling about it is, you know, instead of going through all these gyrations and [inaudible 01:06:33] and you need a [inaudible 01:06:36] rig and you need also...why don't you just get a spinning rod? But seriously. I mean, I think that flyfishermen have got the idea that their activity is so blessed that no matter how far they go to lower the net and push the envelope and work on efficacity of it [inaudible 01:07:00] other value...I mean, you know, what's the point? I mean, [inaudible 01:07:07] for example.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: And they're really...but so why keep pushing and pushing and pushing trying to make flyfishing more efficient? Why don't you just change gear if it's not efficient enough for you?
Tom R.: What do you think of tenkara fishing? Because you fish with Ivan so you've...I'm sure you've exposed to that. What do you think of tenkara fishing?
Tom M.: You know, it doesn't appeal to me. I just think that I'm a little bit...and again, this goes back to being sort of set in my ways that I am swinging a fly [inaudible 01:07:46] steelhead or Atlantic salmon. Swinging a fly is just not that much fun for me. [inaudible 01:07:52] try to find one that was feeding and catch that one fish. So, but tenkara fishing especially [inaudible 01:08:00] is really effective.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And I have a near neighbor here who's really a skilled and very aggressive fisherman but he fishes with a tenkara rod during the float season on the [inaudible 01:08:15] River in the [inaudible 01:08:18] drift boats going down the river that the fish are basically driven off to the edge of the river. And he fishes with a tenkara rod because he finds that he could keep the fly accurate. I think often a nymph but he keeps it accurate in between the rocks and the beach. There's basically that little band but the boat fishermen can't get to that spot. And the pressurized fisher [inaudible 01:08:45] move into that place but the trick is to keep your fly from [inaudible 01:08:49] through the spot. And he uses a tenkara [inaudible 01:08:53] He doesn't cast tenkara [inaudible 01:08:55] He casts just as though [inaudible 01:08:57] with fly rod. And then he uses its flexibility I guess to keep the fly hovering behind moss. It really works for him. He's really good at it.
Tom R.: Yeah. I know Craig Matthews does it quite a bit too. He likes it.
Tom M.: With a tenkara rod?
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: Yeah. [inaudible 01:09:16] You know, he fishes a lot with Ivan so that would make sense. You know, I think first of all I think it's a's an elegant way to fish. It's certainly a very fair way to fish.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: And but, you know, all people...fishermen from California have their eyes cast toward Asia. And, you know, I remember when I was someplace fishing. I was with Ivan and he's gotten [inaudible 01:09:48] big fish are in Hawaii. And somebody said, "That's not the same bonefish." But there really is that kind of thing on the West Coast. [inaudible 01:09:59] you know, and really looking toward Asia for inspiration. And so anyway, you know, first of all, I'm kind of a gear junkie. [inaudible 01:10:14] Ivan gave me a tenkara rod and I ended up giving it to an old fellow who has passed away and he liked fishing with it. I probably haven't given it a fair chance.
Tom R.: Now let's switch gears a little bit. I wanted to...
Tom M.: Oh, let me add one thing.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: I was in Iceland. I was in Iceland with Ivan and he wanted to catch Atlantic salmon on a tenkara rod.
Tom R.: Oh, my God.
Tom M.: And this seemed to me extremely farfetched. But he hooked them pretty quickly. And he just threw the rod in the river. And we waded for a while and the fish ran downstream and then turned around and ran right back into the riffle. There was the rod bobbing around and of course Ivan went out and got it and... playing to win. Anyway, that's his thing. He loves that stuff and he loves pheasant tail flies, wet flies.
Tom R.: Aha, aha.
Tom M.: I like to cast at something. I like to see something and cast at it rather than swinging flies. On the other hand, I love steelhead fishing. It's been a lifelong passion for me and I'm happy to swing flies [inaudible 01:11:40] they've gotta be bigger before...the fish have gotta be bigger before I get it.
Tom R.: Aha, yeah. Yeah, I was gonna ask you because you said you don't like swinging flies but I know you like to fish for steelhead so...
Tom M.: Yes. And that's a... the whole thing is know, it's kind of metronomic and slow. You know, you could...the take is always so startling.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And it's really just such a thrill. And it's a thrill comparable to the tarpon take. You know, a tarpon gets that big buckethead out and takes in a couple of gallons of water with your fly. And that's, you know...that will blow a sensitive person's mind right there. And then it's almost the same steelhead [inaudible 01:12:30] I had...I was fishing up in DC. A couple local steel headers came down [inaudible 01:12:37] guys with get her done hats and fanny packs and they said...came up to me and said, "You wanna smoke some dope?" And I said, "No, no, thank you." And they said, "Seriously?" I said, "You don't realize how slow this [inaudible 01:12:54] is."
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: You know, [inaudible 01:13:01] they smoked pot to make the time fly between bites.
Tom R.: But it would make it seem longer, right?
Tom M.: I guess it would. I don't know. I didn't give it a whirl.
Tom R.: Oh, my God. You'd feel like you've been out on the river for three days. I wouldn't wanna do that.
Tom M.: I remember I had a job when I was younger...which reminds me of what you're saying. There was an old guy working the law lobby library and he was [inaudible 01:13:34] little guy. I remember about 3:00 o'clock every afternoon you could hear him from the next room saying, "Will this day never end?" That's the pot steel headers talking to themselves.
Tom R.: Yeah, really.
Tom M.: All right.
Tom R.: All right. I wanna switch gears. You wrote a book, "92 In the Shade" which was about tarpon guides. And I think it was your first book, right?
Tom M.: My first book was based loosely around the Michigan [inaudible 01:14:07] and it was called "The Sporting Club".
Tom R.: Oh, right, right, okay. But anyways, you wrote "92 In the Shade". What do you personally think of guides who yell at their client and do you fish with any and what do you do if you fish with a guide that yells at you?
Tom M.: Well, one time long ago...probably in the early '70s and I'm fishing with a guide which didn't happen very often then because I couldn't afford to do that. And I was fishing with a guide and I was pretty green and he immediately started screaming at me. And so, I said, "I just wanna go in." And he said, "Well, [inaudible 01:14:51] I said, "No, no. Don't worry. I'm gonna pay you but I'm not gonna stay in the boat with you." [inaudible 01:14:58] it's interesting to me that whatever it was about that guy that liked to scream at people who were doing their best, he was happy to take my money at the dock even though he hadn't done a day's work.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: So, I think those guys are...I don't know really but I think they are getting a little scarcer.
Tom R.: Yeah, it seems like it. It seems like it.
Tom M.: Yeah. Back in the day...and I won't name names. You already know who they are. You know, they were awful. They would just holler every time you made a mistake. And then so that made you more likely to make more mistakes.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: So, it's not smart [inaudible 01:15:42] loudmouth guides we have. You know, I have a friend, Tom Bailey. Do you know Tom Bailey by any chance?
Tom R.: No. I don't, no.
Tom M.: Anyway, he's kind of a mild-mannered guy. He loves to fish and he had a guide who was screeching at him and so he came in at the end of the day and told his wife, "It was kind of a hard day and the guy was yelling at me all day and..." So, the next morning he has the same guy. Then his wife went down half an hour early and she basically said to the guide, "If you yell at my husband again, I'm gonna break your neck." It worked.
Tom R.: It worked? Really? No kidding. Well, there's a strategy for you.
Tom M.: [inaudible 01:16:28] scary. So, you know, it wouldn't be anything I would...a guide like Marshall [inaudible 01:16:37] when he was a guide, he was a great guide.
Tom R.: Oh, yeah.
Tom M.: But, you know, you fish with him and you could get a pretty nice shot at a permit and you blow it. And about the biggest reaction you could get out of Marshall [inaudible 01:16:52] just drop his chin to his chest about half an inch, you know, and then resume.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: Onward. Let's find another one.
Tom R.: Yeah. One of the things I like about bohemian guides...I mean, I do a lot of wade fishing. One thing I like about bohemian guides is when you make a mistake, I've noticed that they generally just kinda chuckle quietly, you know.
Tom M.: Yeah, [crosstalk 01:17:15]
Tom R.: And they make a joke about it and it's so refreshing to have that experience because you're chucking too, right.
Tom M.: And they're just nice to be around. So, you're generally happy to get in a boat with those guys.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: Here's one. You probably have to bleep it out but I'll tell it to you anyway. [inaudible 01:17:35] guys over in Missouri. He was fishing in the Bahamas and they're pulling along a big boat. They shout they're tailing and the guy says, "It's a big fish. [inaudible 01:17:50] this is a big fish. Just don't fuck up." So, because [inaudible 01:17:56] guide friend blew the cast. They turn around and the guide's holding his knees and shaking his head from side to side and he says, "Man, I asked you only one thing. Don't fuck up. But what did you do? You fucked up."
Tom R.: Yeah, that wouldn't bother me because I'd laugh at that one.
Tom M.: I could too.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah. Hey, speaking of "92 In the Shade", a question I wanna ask were involved with the movie, right?
Tom M.: Yeah. Oh, I directed it.
Tom R.: Yeah. So, and it's a great...I mean, it's a classic '70s movie. I really love it. Why did you let them change the ending?
Tom M.: Well, I haven't seen it really since those days but we...when we were making it...when you shoot it...when you make a movie, you don't often don't work in sequence. In other words, maybe on day one of the shoot you shoot the ending.
Tom R.: Aha, yeah.
Tom M.: And so, when we were starting into it...and, you know, I never wanted to be a director. I was kinda hornswoggled into it. When we were starting, they said, "You know, because of that, you just leave all your options open in case there's some kind of...creative thing comes in on the actor, something that you wanna follow." And they said, "Don't trap yourself." So, we shot the ending both ways. And then when...and then I went over to England and edited it. I didn't have final cut. My fee for directing was Miami crew per diem which I think was about $150 a week. So, I think I'm...I mean, it's a long story but the Robert [inaudible 01:19:52] was supposed to direct the movie. Financing was all in place. Everything was done and then the producer, Ben Altman, had a big battle and at the end of it, [inaudible 01:20:04] to sacrifice the movie and give the money back to the United Artists, we just...the big producer said, "You want it? You go direct it." And I said, "Well, you know, I'll do my best." And so, I kinda tried to study up for a while and learn how to do it but I was very open to suggestions like why don't you shoot the ending both ways and see what happens.
Tom R.: Aha.
Tom M.: So, I thought I would have the right to choose, though, which one I wanted to use and then I get to England and financiers and the producer all prefer the other one. I couldn't make anything else happen.
Tom R.: They wanted a happy ending, huh?
Tom M.: I guess they wanted a happy ending and kind of a childish industry in a way when you're in the middle of it.
Tom R.: Another question is other than "92 In the Shade"...I think I've read all your books. You've never really incorporated flyfishing into your novels.
Tom M.: [inaudible 01:21:08] Yes, that's the case. Yeah, it's kind of the case. One of them...I think it was one of my books. I remember the narrator goes fishing with his daughter and [inaudible 01:21:22] but it is true. I haven't done much of it. In fact, you know, it's maybe because I have this kind of schizophrenic life which is I'm a sort of a literary "New Yorker" writer on the one hand and then a sort of a [inaudible 01:21:39] outdoorsman on the other. And, you know, the two of my audiences, they don't know anything about each other. And then secondly, I have a kind of aversion to fishing based fiction. And I don't know why that is but it's probably because I lived in those kind of two worlds. But I like, you know...wonderful thing about the duel between the two sort of...Monte Burke's book for example. That was kind of great and it had to be really...had to be nonfiction. But [inaudible 01:22:20] you know. It would be a mystery of the parachute Adams. [inaudible 01:22:32]
Tom R.: Yeah. I hear you.
Tom M.: You know, the thing that I do love about our world, though, is I love how obsessive it is. I have a friend that...who I [inaudible 01:22:57] met accidentally fishing in the Whale River. We've been friends ever since. It was 30, 40 years. And he has a stretch of the Itchen. A beautiful stretch of the Itchen. And so, I got invited to go fish there and I was [inaudible 01:23:16] one day and I went over to the famous... not [inaudible 01:23:21] famous fly shop in one of the...and they...but we [inaudible 01:23:28] were really popping all over the place and all of them were [inaudible 01:23:31] go-to thing to have in your kit. And so, I went in there to get some and there was a [inaudible 01:23:38] flytyer who was kinda famous who made reportedly the best [inaudible 01:23:43] emergers. And so, they had a big bin of them in the store. [inaudible 01:23:48] yeah.
Tom R.: Yeah, [inaudible 01:23:51]
Tom M.: And they had a kind of a bin of them. And there was a stream of London guys with [inaudible 01:23:58] coming in from work to the first to grab a handful of these [inaudible 01:24:03] emergers. You know, for one [inaudible 01:24:06] I think the authorities would assume it was a big dope deal going down. And so, I went in. I got my handful. Went out to the Itchen and I must have gotten one or two of the best days of days of my life. I'll never forget it. It was...I didn't really understand what I was doing. I was on a stream [inaudible 01:24:31] currents and the overcast...wind was [inaudible 01:24:36] and the air suddenly filled with swallows. And I just...the overhead sky was a solid swallow. And at that point, the olives began popping. And big, browns started easing out from these weed ledges and positioning themselves to pick off olives. It was just unbelievable fishing. Everything came together. In fact, the guy that owned that stretch said those were the best two days he'd ever had there.
Tom R.: Oh, wow.
Tom M.: [inaudible 01:25:13] landed on it.
Tom R.: Wow. And unlike most chalk streams over there, the Itchen is all wild fish, right?
Tom M.: That's what I was told, yeah. I hope that's true because it would be a shame if they [inaudible 01:25:32] less rewarding. But I do know and I think the [inaudible 01:25:41] have stocked fish now in that...
Tom R.: A lot of stocked fish, yeah. I think there may be some wild fish but I think a lot of it's stocked.
Tom M.: Yeah.
Tom R.: What do you think of carp fishing? Do you carp fish?
Tom M.: You know, I don't but I should. Yeah. I don't know. It's like [inaudible 01:26:00] I mean, you can't get no respect. We were fishing just this last week and a guy hooked a big [inaudible 01:26:08] just about clean them out and they said, "Oh, it's just a [inaudible 01:26:13]" And I said, "What more can a fish do for you?"
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And I guess these carp will pull a train and there are...there's none right next to me. I'd have to go take a pretty good drive to get to them but it sounds very appealing.
Tom R.: Oh, they're...I mean, it's all sight fishing and they're as...I find they're as intriguing as trout. I really think they're fascinating creatures. Every body of water, they're different. They change from day to day. They're pretty neat.
Tom M.: Oh, that's exciting to hear. I should make up for that because I've had it in my head for a long time. We do this over...on Missouri as I'm sure you know.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: I was at a steelhead camp and one of the guides was a really driven fishing nut and he's from someplace around Toronto and he brought a lot of pictures of him fishing and he was basically wading through these kinda shallow channels and went through head high grass. And he was catching great, big carp. And it was within sight of the city.
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: And it just looked so great.
Tom R.: It is. They're not pretty but they' learn to respect them.
Tom M.: Yeah. Well, [inaudible 01:27:38]
Tom R.: Yeah, true, yeah. Either a bonefish really for that matter, right?
Tom M.: No, I know. They had a sort of sly beauty, you know.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah. So, Tom, what's on your bucket list? What do you wanna do? You've done a lot of fishing all over and I hate this question. I hope you don't hate it but what do you wanna do that you haven't done?
Tom M.: Well, now fish for carp. You're a great carp salesman.
Tom R.: Yeah. And I know you wanna sight fish for striped bass on the Flats and we're gonna try to do that next year.
Tom M.: Oh, that sounds so good.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: That sounds so good. Well, you know, I'm adapting partly because I just got to be...I've had so many birthdays. And so, some of the things know, I used to be able to, you know, wade in big, fast rivers with older bottoms. I can't do that anymore.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: And so, some of it...there are new challenges to do what I always used to do. And when I had the...when both of my shoulders finally gave out and I had to deal with the idea of having them replaced and rehab...I mean, it takes forever. I just...yesterday was my last physical therapy and [inaudible 01:29:06] for over a year. And before that, I had a couple of others that required these long rehabs as well. So, one of the things I found during that period where I couldn't really fish as I liked to is I had... Tim [inaudible 01:29:22] gave me a trout spey rod and I'm an experienced spey caster so I could just pick it up and go fishing and it was great because, you know, it doesn't require much of painful shoulders. I'm kind of over that now but at that time, I couldn't fish conventionally but I could definitely fish with a double-headed rod. So, I had a little four weight trout spey rod and I fished with that all through the sort of rehab period. And that was pretty successful but it's swinging flies, you know, for smaller fish and stuff like that. So, it doesn't absorb me as much as trying to catch when I see feeding.
So that was an adaptation thing and, you know, in a funny way, it became part of my bucket list. How can I keep fishing if I can't, you know...I'm in and out of surgery [inaudible 01:30:16]
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah.
Tom M.: But I had one funny story I can tell you about that. [inaudible 01:30:22] tripped on a cow bone and fell on the bottom of a ravine and I broke my patella in four pieces. And so, I had...yeah, and I had surgery on that and [inaudible 01:30:34] And so about the time I was recovered, I called a friend of mine who owns a glorious spring creek over in Western Montana and I said...asked him if I could come over and fish one day. And he said, "Sure." So, I went over there and I took the bottom of what he controlled and parked and rigged up and walked back over and I could see fish feeding the whole time I was stringing up my rod. And I know. And so, I walked over to the bottom of this long run and it had a kind of a... about a 10-foot bank but it was kind of a clay bank. So, I stepped off the bank to get in the river and I slid down the bank. But my weak quad where I just got the surgical [inaudible 01:31:26] collapsed and when I get to the bottom, I go pow. It's my leg breaking. And I know. I didn't make a cast. [crosstalk 01:31:35]
So, you know, I crawled up out of the weeds and got on my cellphone and [inaudible 01:31:40] came out and helped me to the...took me to the [inaudible 01:31:43] ER. And while I was there, the owner called from his office in New York and said, "Gee, Tom, you know, you've always wanted to fish and I understand you didn't even make a cast." And I said, you know, I said, "Steve, that's what happened." And he said, "Well..." He said, "It'll make you feel better. I'm gonna give you lifetime permission on that stream." And he Bill Murray said, "So you've got that going for you." And so, I called my cousin Fred in Rhode Island and I told him the story and he said, "You gotta get that guy back on the phone." I said, "Why is that?" He said, "Ask him if you could break the other leg."
I don't abuse it but I go over there every year. It's fabulous fishing.
Tom R.: Oh, great. We won't mention where it is.
Tom M.: Okay, yeah, right. That's probably a good idea. It's never too late to withdraw the permission.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah. We don't wanna do that. We don't wanna do that.
Tom M.: Well, so we kinda covered...oh, the bucket list idea. I've just know, I have been lucky to fish in a lot of different [inaudible 01:33:05] thing I love about that carpet fishing and permit fishing and fishing in [inaudible 01:33:13] and all that is that somehow it never trivialized fishing small trout streams.
Tom R.: Yeah, yeah. So true, so true.
Tom M.: Isn't that great?
Tom R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom M.: Your mental ability to scale up and down and stay excited...I remember years ago [inaudible 01:33:35] carpet fishing like lunatics and we'd come back up to Montana and go fish the spring creeks or whatever. I would scratch my head. I'd say, "Gee, you know, we've gotten pretty, pretty blasé about catching 100-pound tarpon." And you come up here and there's honest to God 18-inch brown [inaudible 01:33:56] and your hands are shaking. How can this be? How can this be 5 days after the last 100 pounder? So, it really runs deep, whatever it is.
Tom R.: Yeah. I mean, I'm so glad to hear you say that. There's so many people that don't appreciate that. And it's a different world. It's a different challenge and it's's all great. It's all great.
Tom M.: It's all great. [inaudible 01:34:28] it's all more than enough really.
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: I mean, I think that's one of the things that I have learned from growing old is that you don't really need as much [inaudible 01:34:38] opportunities as an angler as you used to think you had to have. There's a thing Roger [inaudible 01:34:44] said. He said, "You can only really learn one river in a lifetime." And he said, "Truth be told, you can really only learn parts of one river."
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: So, it's got a pretty, pretty tall ceiling. I mean, you can make what you will out of it but that's the problem. You know, the world [inaudible 01:35:06] in a passport world. You know, you just say, "Oh, my God. I could...why am I messing around with these fish and [inaudible 01:35:16] when I could be in Tierra del Fuego?"
Tom R.: Yeah.
Tom M.: It's an improper question, you know. You shouldn't think that way.
Tom R.: No. No, you shouldn't. You shouldn't. Absolutely. And, you know, people that can't get to Tierra del Fuego should know that what they've got right in front of them is great.
Tom M.: Absolutely.
Tom R.: It's great and it can be all your life.
Tom M.: I've spent three years in graduate school on New Haven and there was an old stream that came down on the city water supply. Basically, a little tailwater stream called the No River. And I fished there so much that I was not doing well keeping up with the schoolwork because [inaudible 01:35:59] stayed out and fish so late. One time my wife called the police because she thought I drowned. But it was a beautiful little woodland stream. [inaudible 01:36:09] now. This was 50 years ago. But you could just wander around and it had sight fishing for wild fish and this was the Fall. And those were some of the best fishing days of my whole life.
Tom R.: Oh, that's great. That's great. I love it. Well, Tom, I wanna thank you for sharing those great stories and again it's been an honor to have you on the podcast.
Tom M.: Well, it's an honor to be with you.
Tom R.: I've been wanting to do it for a long time and we will try to arrange a striper trip next year.
Tom M.: I'm your guy.
Tom R.: Okay. Okay, I gotta come...
Tom M.: I'm gonna stay in PT until I get on the point.
Tom R.: All right, all right. Get your shoulder back in shape.
Tom M.: Yes, sir.
Tom R.: Thank you, Tom.
Tom M.: Okay, Tom. Thank you. I really enjoyed this. I could go on and on chatting with you.
Tom R.: Oh, we can always do it again.
Tom M.: Okay. I'll put that in your court.
Tom R.: Okay.
Tom M.: You're the working guy [inaudible 01:37:16]
Tom R.: Okay. Well, thank you.
Tom M.: Okay, you take care of yourself.
Tom R.: All right, you too. Bye, bye.
Tom M.: Okay. See you. Bye, bye.
Tom R.: Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Flyfishing" 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 on