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Western Native Trout Challenge, with Daniel Ritz

Description: My guest this week is Daniel Ritz [1:00:58], who recently completed the Master Caster level of the Western Native Trout Challenge. We talk about how he did it, what flies worked, and had a lot of discussion about what actually counts as a subspecies of trout.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host Tom Rosenbauer. And this week, my guest is Daniel Ritz, who recently completed the top level of the Western Native Trout Challenge the Master Caster level. And that involves catching and photographing 18 species and subspecies across 12 states of the Native Salmonids native to western United States. So it's quite an achievement. And Daniel has some great stories to tell us talking about the different species of trout. So I hope you'll enjoy that.
But first, we're gonna do the Fly Box. Oh, before I do the Fly Box, I have an announcement to make. From now on for all podcasts going forward, we're going to be producing transcripts of the podcast. And it's important both for people who are hearing impaired but also for people for whom English is not their first language and they may have a little bit of difficulty following the podcast.
So anyway, we're gonna have transcripts made and a couple of weeks, two or three weeks after each podcast has been published, we'll have the transcripts up on the Orvis Learning Center for you, which is at Which is, by the way, the best place to search the podcast because it's the only place you can search the podcast for keywords. And they're all up there, and they're easy to load and play right from the Learning Center.
So anyway, okay, now, on to the Fly Box which is where you ask me questions and I try to answer them. And if you have a question for the podcast, you can send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and you can either attach your question as a voice file if you want me to read it on the air, or you can just type the question right into your email.
So without further ado, the first question is an email from Jesse. "I have one question. When I'm casting far after retrieve, my line wants to tangle up as I'm releasing it. I guess it's getting twisted in my hand after I do my strips back but I'm not sure how, please help. Thanks."
Well, Jesse, there's a couple of things that might be going on here. One is that the line could be a little twisted. And you know, one of the best ways to get those twists and kinks out of your line is to stretch your line before you start fishing. I usually stretch just the first actually 30, 40, 50 feet of line because I never cast it much farther than that.
But you just take the line out and little by little you just stretch it in your hands. If you wanna stretch the whole line to get all the kinks out of it usually helps to have someone else hold the line and strip all the line off the reel and then you know, find a big open place to do it. And then just yank on the line, just pull it until it stretches and that'll take a lot of the kinks out of it.
Now as far as tangling when you're trying to shoot the line, there's a couple of things that can happen. One is that it can just get kind of twisted up on the water if you're just stripping your line on the water and that happens to all of us.
But if it's tangling around the guide or around the rod, one of the best ways to handle that is to form a little o with your thumb and forefinger and funnel the line through that little circle that you made with your thumb and forefinger and kind of aim it at that first guide or the stripping guide. And that will help it hopefully shoot through the guides without tangling. So hopefully, one of those things will help, and good luck with it.
The next question is also an email, it's from Dylan in Denver, Colorado. "You've mentioned before that it's pretty darn hard to do anything really new in fly tying usually in response to questions about patent law and things like that. I rarely follow recipes when I tie flies and really enjoy tying with my imagination. However, these flies are usually based on something I've seen in the fly shop or something on social media. How would I know when I really have something unique? I have some that I've considered submitting to a catalog, but I struggle to convince myself to go through with it. I'm curious what you have to say about what makes a pattern unique."
Dylan, first of all, you know, if you're gonna try to market or sell your fly to someone, there's a couple of things you need to do. First of all, you need to do your homework. You need to research fly patterns either in books or on the internet and find out what's out there. And then, you know, hopefully, if you have developed this fly pattern, you've actually tested it, not just yourself, but you've given it to some friends to make sure that the fly is effective.
And you know, a way to find out if it's unique, typically is to...I would take it into a fly shop, or an Orvis retail store and talk to the fishing manager and show them your fly and say, hey, have you ever seen anything like this? Because they'll know most of the fly patterns out there. And they're probably gonna be your best advice for whether you actually came up with something unique or not.
You know, usually, something unique is either using a totally new material that nobody's used before that you've found somewhere or species of animal, or something you found in a craft store. Or using an existing material in a different way that creates an impression of an insect or baitfish with the fly. But you know, there's nothing truly new there are seldom truly new things in fly tying but that doesn't mean you can't come up with something innovative and different.
Just, you know, look at the Epoxy flies, or Bob Popovics, or the Game Changer patterns of Blane Chocklett, where they were using materials that have been around for a while, they modified them for their own pattern. But they're using materials that have been around for a while. But they use them in a new and innovative way. So, you know, keep trying but again, make sure you test the pattern, don't just dream something up over the winter and then, you know, expect people to buy that fly because you don't know if it's effective until you try it.
George: Hi, Tom. This is George from Ponte Vedra, Florida. I have a couple of quick questions that were raised by some of your podcasts. In one podcast you had suggested to a person prospecting a new stream that they move stealthily but quickly to cover as much stream as possible. I just was curious what you would consider a reasonable amount to cover on a new stream? I realize that it depends on the gradient and the drain and all of that.
But let's say you were on a medium gradient stream that was perhaps two or three-rod lengths across, what would be a typical amount of stream that you would cover? Are we talking a half-mile, one mile, five miles, just a ballpark what your average would be in a given day on a new stream?
The other question has to do with, you had mentioned to an individual using an intermediate fly line and an inlet, some options you know, how to get the fly down deep. And I was curious about whether or not you could use a fast sink polyleader along with that intermediate line.
You had mentioned obviously, that you really like the Depth Charge which is I guess, an integrated line with an intermediate running line and a fast sink tip. So I'm curious if you could sort of approximate that with the intermediate running line and then just attaching like a 10-foot polyleader to that.
Tom: George, I'll answer your first question or your second question first, because that's easier. Yeah, you can absolutely put a polyleader on a floating or an intermediate line a sinking polyleader to get that fly down deeper. However, it's not gonna be as good for getting down into really deep channels as a dedicated sinking line or a Depth Charge line. It's not gonna be quite as big and dense and long of a sinking section as a Depth Charge line. But yes, it could work, probably just not as well.
Regarding your question about moving on small streams, you know, it really depends like a lot of things that I'm always saying that, it really depends. What I do if I'm in a new small stream that I have not fished before I'll start out...of course, I won't start out right near the road or right near where the path ends, I'll either move a little bit upstream or downstream of that. Because usually those places are, you know, overfished and the fish are either gonna be removed if harvest is permitted, or they're gonna be a little spookier than the other fish because they get fished over a lot.
So I'll move up or down a little bit. And I'll fish slowly at first. I'll fish all the water. I'll fish the really shallow stuff because you never know. I'll fish the obvious deeper pools and tasty-looking pockets. And I'm usually fishing with a dry-dropper in a situation like this so that I can tell if the fish are you know, either eating dries or eating subsurface. And I'll fish it fairly carefully and thoroughly and figure out how dense the population is in there. So if the fish are everywhere, then I know I'm gonna move relatively slowly.
If I'm only catching fish in the prime spots, then I know that I can pretty much ignore that shallower marginal water and I'll just you know, skim the cream off the top and fish the very best stuff. So once I've figured that out, then I will fish a little spot, and then I'll look ahead.
And if the slope is too steep and it doesn't look like there's any place for a fish to hold, or it's too shallow, then I'll quickly move through that and totally ignore it. And then look for the next tasty little pocket where the water is a little deeper, a little slower, a place where there might be a fish. And I'll fish that, you know fairly quickly but thoroughly and then I'll look up again and move up to the next good spot.
Now if there are a lot of fish in there, and they're in all kinds of pockets and even in shallow water and they can be sometimes you never know, then I might move a little bit slower. So you have to kind of have an idea of how dense the fish population is before you decide how fast you're gonna move. But you know, you can pretty quickly after a half hour or so on a stream decide what part of the water you can eliminate and then just keep moving on.
And as far as how much water I'm gonna cover, how many miles of stream really depends on how much time I have, you know. The amount of water I cover is usually based on how fast I'm moving and how much time I have to fish before I have to go home and cook dinner, or mow the lawn, or write a book, or do a podcast, or whatever. So I hope that's helpful.
Okay, let's do another email. This one is from... I don't know who this is from, didn't give a name. Okay. I'll read it anyways. "Hey, Tom, thanks for the podcast. I've taken a lot away from it and it has given me some new ways of looking at my favorite pastime. Anyway, I'm a truly lucky man and my wife has set up a trip to Turneffe Atoll in January. I couldn't be more excited and bonefish and permit are new to me. I tie all my own flies and can't afford to purchase a new outfit and all-new fly tying material so I was hoping to ask a few questions about how to streamline the flies or gear I'll need. First, I notice that many of the bonefish patterns are a spin on the clouser with a variety of colors, Crazy Charlie, Christmas Island special, Gotcha. They use a variety of materials and colors. If I were to pick up one material and in a few colors, what would you recommend? Second, am I pushing it too far if I overline a fast action 6 weight instead of buying a 7 weight outfit? I will have the 9 weight I use for stripers. I was thinking I would use this if I needed to combat wind. Thanks for all the help. Sorry if this is a little long-winded but a little advice would go a long way to help. Hope you have a great fall out there."
Okay, so regarding those fly patterns that you're gonna tie, you're right a lot of those flies have a very similar profile and the Crazy Charlies and the Christmas Island Specials, and the Gotchas. The most important thing for you to have is to have a small variety of sizes.
Typically, in Belize, they use 6s and 8s. It's rare to use a size 4 in Belize unless you're fishing for permit, in that case, you may wanna have some 4s but 6s and 8s for bonefish, even 10s. If you can...bonefish flies are difficult to tie on a size 10 hook, but I've found those to be useful sometimes in Belize.
And you know, you definitely wanna have some dark and some light flies. So you wanna have know, I like tans and then you wanna have some darker browns because you wanna match the bottom where you're fishing. So, tans or maybe an olive or a greenish color to fish. So you got something to fish over sand and coral and then you got something to fish over turtle grass because bonefish are used to seeing the prey match the background.
But the most important thing in whatever you tie is to have a variety of sink rates. So you wanna tie those bonefish patterns wanna have a few with lead eyes, particularly if you're gonna chase permit because they're in a little bit deeper water lead or solid metal eyes. You wanna have them with bead chain eyes that have relatively kind of a moderate sink rate. And then you wanna have some with plastic eyes for really, really shallow places or no eyes at all so that they sink very slowly. That's the most important thing.
And as far as tying those patterns, you can use almost any hair or synthetic hair or fur to make the wing. You probably have the stuff in your trout fly tying gear that'll work. Rabbit fur works quite well for the wing. You know, I prefer some of the synthetics like craft fur or EP fiber. Either of those would be really good, they're synthetics and they're very durable and easy to work with. And I would have know, I'd get some tan, and some brown, and some olive and you know, sometimes pink will work for bonefish as well for whatever reason.
So you don't need a lot of colors. And I think if you do a little innovating as long as you get those eyes, small solid metal eyes, bead chain eyes, and some plastic eyes or just leave the eyes off. As long as you have those and some saltwater hooks you can probably find what you need in your existing fly tying materials to tie up those bonefish flies.
And look at what they recommend for Turneffe Flats, look at what they recommend for flies there, and just try to duplicate those with what you have. And again you may have to buy some kind of hair, some kind of synthetic hair for the wing.
And then for bodies mainly just a flashy body, maybe overlaid with a coat of Epoxy to you know, wind a tensile body and coat it with Epoxy to make sure it doesn't fall apart. Or you can even use dubbing your trout dubbing or even chenille for the bodies or wool. You know bonefish are not that selective and as long as you have roughly the right size and the right sink rate, you're probably gonna do quite well and you may invent some new patterns that work there.
As far as your rod is concerned, Belize bonefish are fairly small and if you have a fast action 6 weight, I think you can overline that with a 7 weight and probably do pretty well. And then you know, you said you got a 9 weight and that's good. If you get a windy day or you're chasing permit the 9 weight will be just about right. So yeah, you should be able to get away with using that 6 weight and your 9 weight at Turneffe.
Here's a question from Derek, formerly of LA and now in Pennsylvania. Derek is chief everything officer of Vanguard Audio Labs, who kindly provided me with this wonderful microphone that makes my voice sound better on the podcasts in the past year. So I hope you've noticed that. So thank you again, Derek. And Derek has a couple of fly-tying questions.
"Number one, in a recent podcast episode I think I heard you mention that most of the beadhead flies in your box are black. Is there a particular reason you chose to go this route? The usual beadhead color is gold although I have gold, silver, copper, and black chrome in my tying supplies. I imagine you probably have thought this through and I'm curious as to what the reason is. Number two, my next question relates to hook sizing. I know the hooks used to be available in 13, 15 17 and other odd-numbered sizes, although now the majority of manufacturers, if not all of them, only sell hooks in even-numbered sizes, 12, 14, 16, etc. My question relates to special hook modifications like 1x long, 1x heavy, etc. On a size 16 nymph hook that's 1x long, is the length of the shank the same as a size 14 or a size 15 standard shank, i.e. do those size modifications also operate on an even number only basis? I've looked on the internet and seen it referenced both ways. Hopefully, you or the Orvis product engineers might have a definite answer. The question is partly based in pure curiosity and partly because I like to tie small size woolly buggers. Since I only have standard gape hooks on hand I will often use a 1x long 1x heavy nymph hook and size 12 to tie a size 14 bugger, which either gives me a 2x long, 2x heavy, 1x gape hook in size 14 or gives me a 3x long, 3x heavy, 2x gape hook in size 14, depending on the answer to the question. Either way, it gives me a well proportioned and strong woolly bugger that doesn't eat into the hook gape. Thanks, Tom, and thanks for hosting a lot of great interviews with guests who had great tips for summer warm-water species. I caught my first largemouth bass on the fly this summer on a size 14 purple woolly bugger I tied using the above method. And I've enjoyed chasing them up and down the local streams in eastern PA."
All right, so your first question is easy. Beads, you know there are times that I do use gold, and silver, and copper beads. And you know, I have friends who believe that one color works better than the other in certain waters. I'm not sure that that's the case. But there are times when you want a flashy bead particularly where the fish don't see a lot of flies, or maybe wilderness fish, or the water is dirty and you wanna add a little flash to your fly, you wanna catch their attention, I do use those shiny beads.
But there are other times in heavily fished waters where fish are spooky when I think that the flash of the bead turns them off or even sends a warning signal particularly if they've been caught and released on a lot of beaded flies before. So I think beads or tungsten beads are the best way to add weight to a nymph or a streamer. But I don't always want the flash so I use them just for weight.
And in that case, I like black and I like a matte black if you can find them, sometimes difficult to find. Black nickel is not good enough in my opinion for this purpose, it's a little shiny and so you know, you may have to paint them with a black epoxy or you know, a matte paint to get the matte black.
The other way you can do it is to bury the bead in the thorax of the fly, you know, put a wind case over the top of it and put some fur around it on both sides of it so that the bead isn't really visible. You can even do that with the shiny beads and then you get just a little bit of shine but not an awful lot. So yeah, it's just a way of being a little more subtle in heavily fished waters or in really low clear water. So that's the reason for often using black beads.
Your next question about the hook sizes makes my head hurt Derek. I think you're splitting hairs here. And I don't actually know and I don't even know if the hook manufacturers follow any particular...whether a size 16 1x long is the same shank length as a 13 or a 14. I don't know and I don't really care because we're talking about fractions of a millimeter here and I don't think it makes that much difference.
A 1x long is gonna be a little bit longer than a standard shank like you'd find on a dry fly, or standard dry fly, or wet fly hook. And a 2x long is gonna be a little bit longer yet and a 3x long is gonna be a little bit longer yet. But as far as exactly where they get these measurements from I am not sure. But I don't think it really matters.
I think your idea of tying a woolly bugger on the shorter shank hook is a great idea because you get better gape, and you get a shorter shank hook so it's less likely to pull out when the fish is fighting. So I think that's a great idea for small woolly buggers.
But think about it, if you tie your marabou a little longer or a little shorter for the tail, you're gonna negate any difference in the shank length anyway, you know. And it's the total length of those flies that matters, it's not how long the shank of the fly is, it's how long the whole fly is. You know, that's what fish see. When they look at something they don't look to see how long the shank of the hook is, they just look to see how long the fly is and does that fall into their acceptable prey range.
So I don't worry about it. I don't think you should unless you really want to. And the only way to really figure this out, what you could do is do to buy a whole bunch of sizes of hooks in standard length, and 1x long, and 2x long, and 3x long and measure the shanks and then figure out what they're doing. But again, I don't think it matters. I'm not gonna bother. I don't think you should. So just keep on doing what you're doing, it's a great strategy, and don't think so hard about these things.
Here's an email from Mica from Troy, Missouri. "First, thank you for all you do for fly fishing and taking the time to do these incredible podcasts. I'm looking to buy my first Orvis rod and I've settled on the 10 foot 5 weight Recon. I did have a question about the taper and where the extra foot is added. Does this rod have a softer tip or a heftier butt section? Looking to throw indicators do some lure stuff and small streamers. Thanks a ton."
Well, Mica, I think a lot of people are confused on how fly rods are made because when you build a 10 foot say Recon rod, you don't just add length to a 9-foot Recon. That rod is designed from the bottom up. So when the rod designers say well we need a 10 foot 5 weight Recon because people want a longer 5 weight longer than the 9 foot 5 weight, they start from the beginning, and they want to make sure that it casts in the same way as the 9 footer.
So they have to very carefully apply that graphite and tweak the taper of that rod to cast just like or very similar to the way the 9 footer cast because the 9 footer has been a successful rod. So it's not the fact that it's gonna have a softer dip or a heftier butt section, if it's designed properly, it should cast with the same action or the same taper as the 9 footer.
So in the case of the Recons, it's kind of a sort of a mid sort of a tip flex rod, it's kind of in the middle. It's a good all-round compromise, is what you'd call a progressive taper, which means that when you're making a short cast, the tip will bend enough to deliver that line properly. And as you add length to the cast, the rod will flex further down into the lower end of the rod so that you build up derive that reserve power from the thicker section of the rod. And so you know, it's not going to have a softer tip or heftier butt section, it's gonna be designed from the bottom up.
Here's an email from Isaac from Alberta, Canada. "I've been fly fishing for a year now and listening to your podcast has helped me a ton. So I would just like to say thank you for the best fly fishing podcast out there. Now I have a couple of questions. First I'm a trout fisher but would like to get into pike fishing and have been looking at the Orvis Clearwater 7 weight 9 foot with the Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor Extra spool, is this a good rod and reel and what line should I use? I will be fishing rivers mostly. Second, could this rod be used for the BC salmon runs or would I need a different weight? And would I need to get a different line for that as well? Now I hope you answer my questions on the podcast. And thank you again for making the Orvis podcast."
Well, Isaac, I think that 7 weight is a little bit light for pike fishing. And it's not so much that you can't land a pike on that 7 weight rod, it's the fact that you may be using larger flies, you may be using big long, 6-inch, or longer flies, you might be using big poppers, or big hair bugs or something. And that 7 weight is going to struggle a little bit throwing those bigger flies.
So I would go with at least an 8 and maybe even a 9 weight because the 9 weight would be a better rod for the salmon runs. And I think if you get a 9 weight, it'll be a perfectly fine pike rod and you'll also be able to use it for salmon.
Now, I don't know what line you're going to need because I don't know what the water conditions are, how deep these rivers are, what kind of flies you're gonna be using, you know, whether the fish are chasing something on the surface or you need to get deeper to swing the fly to them.
So my advice would be to start with a floating line and get yourself a couple of polyleaders. I'd get the sinking and the fast sinking, or the fast sinking and the extra fast sinking polyleaders to go on that floating line. And that will enable you to retrieve your flies or swing your flies deeper when you need to yet you'll be able to use poppers, and surface flies, and skating flies for the salmon and the pike.
So start with that. You may find at some point you need a faster sinking line in which case you may wanna go with, you know, a Depth Charger line or something like that, or a sink tip, or a full sinking line. But I'd start with that. Start with the floating line and a couple of polyleaders and see how that works out for you.
Tim: Hey, Tom, this is Tim and I live in the upper Midwestern part of the United States. And there is a small creek that I like to fish, and there are some trout in there that are absolutely huge. They're probably between 2 and 3 feet long, maybe even a little bit bigger. I'm guessing they're possibly rainbows and browns.
The water is very, very clear. The water is kind of slow. And they like to hang out in the like 3-foot deep area. And they are very, very difficult to catch. It's a catch and release area, they're very educated. And I'm just wondering, what would your approach be to try to snag one of these guys?
Tom: Well, Tim, first of all, better be careful about your choice of words. Don't say snagging them because that means sticking them in the side or the belly with a hook to a lot of people. So I know what you're trying to say but be very careful how you word that.
Anyway, in all seriousness that's a very difficult situation you've got where you've got, you know, slow water, clear water, small creek with huge trout. And I would say your best bet, in that case, is probably a streamer but you need to pick your times carefully. You know, those fish are probably not gonna come out in the open or even chase a streamer with bright sun and clear water.
But getting them on a nymph or a dry fly could be very difficult. You know, sometimes during a hatch, those bigger trout will feed on the surface or on nymphs but often they'll just be sulking. A big trout in a small stream probably spends most of its time just staying out of trouble and not doing anything, not feeding. And then they'll come out, you know, once a day or once every other day or every three days and they'll eat a mouse, or a minnow, or a frog or something, and then they'll sit around and digest that for a couple of days.
So they're not there not feeding that often. And you have to pick your times carefully. So the logical times are when the light is low so right before dark, after dark, or very early in the morning before the sun hits the water are the times when those fish are gonna chase a streamer. And a streamer's probably the best way to go after those fish because you can kind of plop a streamer above a log jam or next to a log jam and twitch it, and hopefully, if the light is low enough the fish will come out and chase it and grab it. So I would do that.
The other times to fish would be on a rainy day where it's really low ceiling and dark. Or, you know, if you get enough rain and the water goes up a little bit and gets a little dirty, those are the times when those fish are gonna be out and about looking for food. But it's tough because they don't feed all the time so you're gonna have to pick your times carefully. So good luck and I hope you get one of those big ones.
All right, let's do some emails here's one from Josh from Connecticut. "Great podcast, I've learned a lot, thanks. I have a couple of questions about fishing in challenging river conditions and how to best approach them. Last week I was driving through Lake Placid and stopped on the Ausable to fish. It had rained the night before and it was running pretty hard and was really churned up. I saw sand suspended in the water, visibility was tough. My question is in these conditions, is it worth fishing? If yes? What's the best way to approach a river like this? Similar question, during the fall when there are tons of leaves in the river how can I fish in conditions such as this? I've tried and frequently get snagged on the leaves. I've only fished nymphs at those times. Can you use dries in this situation? Do I wait until there're not as many leaves? One more. How do you pronounce Ausable? I didn't send an audio file because I didn't wanna butcher it. Cheers man. And thanks again for all the super useful info."
Well, I grew up in upstate New York and fished that river for many years and always called it the Ausable. Ausable. But I've heard it pronounced Ausable and I think in Michigan, they pronounce it Ausable. And in New York, they typically pronounce it Ausable. But you can call it anything you want, it's a beautiful river.
Regarding those difficult times, and they are difficult times you know, if you've got water that's gone high enough that there's sand suspended in the water, the fish are probably gonna tuck into really slower water, along the banks, in front of rocks, sometimes a little bit behind rocks, or in the bottom of deeper pools. And they're gonna try to stay out of the way.
And the best way to approach this is to look for that soft water, that slower water where there might be a fish feeding. It's difficult, and it's not the best conditions so don't expect it to be lights out. But, you know, sometimes a streamer will work know sometimes when a river gets up and dirty fish will be out looking for baitfish and crayfish.
You know, dry flies, not so much unless the river is clear enough in the shallows, or in those slower areas for a fish to see a fly. And nymph fishing, it's really difficult unless you use a really big nymph. It's really difficult to get fish to recognize a nymph as something to eat because there's so much debris going down the river.
And that really related to your second question, I find that in the fall when there are tons of leaves in the water, my theory is that the fish just get out of the way. You know, they can't feed in their normal places where they're in the current plucking things from the current because they have to dodge and weave away from those leaves coming down. And I think they get sick of it and I think they get disturbed by it. And there's also twigs and debris when there's leaves in the water. And I think they tuck out of the way in deeper pools or in places where they're not gonna have leaves slapping them in the face all day long.
So one of the best things to do in this situation is to swing a streamer or a soft tackle or a wet fly. You want something that doesn't drift naturally in this case because there's so much debris coming down that you need to call attention to your fly as something that's not just a piece of debris. So in that case, you need to move the fly, you need to swing it in the current, or you need to strip in the current to catch their attention.
Nymphs can work. You probably wanna stick to deeper pools and fish your nymphs quite deep. So maybe you can get down below that line where the leaves are drifting. I caught one the other day there were a lot of leaves in the water and I was able to catch one fish on a nymph, I fished it fairly deep. And use, you know, kind of a flashy nymph so that it doesn't look like the debris. Use a beadhead with a lot of flash on it or something like that, that's gonna call attention to itself.
Now you can fish dry flies in those situations, it's not always that effective, but sometimes fishing a bigger dry fly and twitching it occasionally. I don't find that the twitch often works well with dry flies. But again, you're trying to tell the fish that hey, this is something that's alive and it's not just a stick or a leaf floating down. So sometimes twitching a dry fly will help.
But both of those situations are very difficult. And yes, you will snag leaves and I don't know how to get around that, you know. I try to fish in the fall on calm days when there aren't a lot of leaves in the water. If you fish on a windy day and there are a lot of leaves blowing in the water, it's gonna be tough and it's gonna be slow. So try to try to pick calm days when there's not as much debris and hopefully you'll do better.
Here's an email from Bob for me. "I just returned from a Real Recovery retreat where I volunteered as a fishing buddy. Real Recovery is a fly fishing retreat for men living with cancer. It was an amazing event and I encourage all your listeners to check them out at I also wanna thank Orvis for their support of this event." Yeah, Orvis supports Real Recovery, and also my buddy Phil Monahan is on the board of Real Recovery.
"Okay, now my question, When I'm fishing a non-weighted streamer like a black ghost, gray ghost, etc. I have a hard time getting them down in the water column. I'm fishing a weight 4 floating line, should I add a little split shot? Do I need a sinking tip line? If so, what would you recommend? I don't wanna go to a full sinking line because I don't always carry two rods and I like to switch things up during the day. What do you suggest?"
Bob, a split shot will work. Sometimes right at the head of a streamer or sometimes 6 inches or so in front of it, that'll work. Another way to do it is to as I mentioned a little bit earlier in the podcast, use a sinking polyleader which is a piece of sinking line with a little tape around it. You can loop onto the end of your floating line. It's pretty easy to switch back and forth between a polyleader and your standard trout leader, just you'd have to change your loop to loop connection.
So you can use that it'll, in essence, make your floating line into a sink tip line and you'll be able to swing those streamers a little bit deeper in the water column. Stick with a short leader, 3 or 4 feet is good. So try that and I think that'll help you out and get you deeper without having to buy a full sinking line.
Here's an email from Ryan from Colorado Springs. "Recently I was taking some newbies' dad, brother, and sister-in-law fishing and they had a real bad start to the day when my fly line about 2 inches behind the welded loop split. It happened when my sister-in-law cast on her first attempt. I'm gonna blame my previous use and not her casting although I'd like to. I tied a perfection loop to make the loop to loop with the leader and was on for the day. Caught a nice brown in the Gunnison River too so it ended up being a good day. About a week later I was fishing solo on the South Platte, much more relaxing, and noticed the tip was sinking every cast. This happened about an hour after I started fishing. I'm gonna assume I have more than a couple nicks in the line as well. It's a line that came with my 9-foot 5-weight Encounter, about two years old. Do you think there's any saving this line or should I get a new one and use this as a sink tip for streamer fishing? Learned a ton from your podcast and the Orvis Learning Center also had a great class in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho with Northwest Outfitters early this spring. My first year of fly fishing has been made so much more enjoyable by you and Orvis, thanks for the podcast and happy fishing."
Well, you're very welcome Ryan, and thank you for taking the time to write. A couple of things on there. First of all, putting a perfection loop on the end of a fly line is pretty clunky. It makes a big bulky knot you can't get it into your guides, it doesn't cast very well. What I do you know, I always carry something to tie a nail knot in my fishing pack or fishing vest. So you know, it can be a tube or it can be a knot tool, there's lots of different tools for tying a nail knot easily.
But you know, if you do have that problem and you have to cut the loop off, putting a nail knot in the leader, nail knotting the leader right to the line is gonna be a much cleaner and better connection than tying a perfection loop on the end of your fly line.
Regarding that fly line that you have, yeah, you know, the fly line that comes with the Encounter Outfit is not the top of the line. You know, it's a good line, if you got two years out of it, you probably had a good run with it. As you said it's probably got some nicks in it, which is letting water get into the core, and it's sinking. So you know, that's why fly lines come at various price points. The more you spend for a fly line, the longer it's gonna last, the better it's gonna float particularly up near the tip. So if you go to something like the Orvis Pro-line and you're not gonna have that problem after a couple of years.
So what I would do is, I would keep that other line and maybe put one of those polyleaders on the end of it to make a sink tip out of it. And then get yourself a new fly line because you got a couple of good years out of that, but they're not gonna last forever. So that's what I would do, get yourself a good line either the Hydros or the Pro-line and use the other line for you know, you could use it for pan fishing and bass, or you could put a polyleader on it and make a sink tip out of it.
Here's an email from Spencer from Massachusetts. "I got a couple questions for you about small stream brook trout fishing in the upcoming colder months. My first question pertains to the fast-approaching season of fall, more specifically mid-fall, which for us here in Massachusetts, lasts from early October to about early November. I was wondering if brookies will still consistently eat the big bushy dry flies I catch them on during late spring and summer, like Chubbies and Purple Hazes during this time of year. Of course, I'm talking about fish that aren't actively spawning. My second question is whether or not I can still catch brookies in small tributaries during the winter before the streams freeze up, say late November through January? I've heard they typically move downstream into larger waters during cooler months. But the larger rivers that the tributaries I fish connect to don't have a lot of prime wild brook trout habitat. Perhaps it wouldn't be a good idea to fish this time anyway because of the possibility of stepping on reds."
So regarding dry flies, you know in some streams, I know in our Vermont streams you can still catch brookies later in the fall on those big bushy dry flies, they will still take them and sometimes quite well. I always hedge my bets and use a dry-dropper. So I'll always hang a nymph off my Chubby or Purple Hazes, or stimulators or whatever big dry you use. So I would keep fishing the dry-dropper until you catch all your fish on the nymph, and then you know it's time to just fish a nymph or a small streamer. But give it a try.
You know, brookies often do drop down into marginal water during the late fall and wintertime even if the streams are not wild brook trout habitat, that doesn't mean they won't go down into those waters during the fall and winter. Because as the air temperature drops and the water temperature drops those areas that were marginal during the summer are going to have enough oxygen because cold water can hold a lot more oxygen than warm water.
So there may be enough oxygen for those brook trout even in places where you wouldn't normally find them. So yes, they probably will drop down although not necessarily. Sometimes the brookies will know, if they're deep enough pools, they're just looking for deeper pools to get away from anchor ice and the possibility of the stream freezing during the winter. But they typically do drop down into slower water, slower deeper water.
So either look for big pools in those smaller tributaries, or you know, don't be afraid to fish the mouths of those tributaries and, you know, 50 yards or so below them because those wild brookies may drop down into that marginal water in the late fall. So give it a try and let me know how you make out.
Here's an email from Shawn from Washington. "Just getting back into fly fishing after a 20-year break. My kids got old enough to wanna go with me and I didn't think my wife would understand if I came home with a trophy trout but one less child, swiftly moving water, and small children. So I stopped until my youngest got interested this season. Anyway, I have two questions. First, my favorite stream is a small mountain stream, snowpack and glacier-fed. I fish there more than any other spot. I can lose count of the fish landed in a day, but a whopper on the stream is 8 inches. It seems that larger fish could surely thrive in this waterway but I have not ever been fortunate enough to meet one. Is this an indication I'm just not a very skilled angler? Is there any way to tell if there are some biggies out there? I know several fishers who have had the same experience and many people don't fish it much because of the small fish. There are big pools and flat stretches that a 12 to 15 incher could hide in.
"Second, my super cheap vise blew up a few days ago. I'm sure you know the model the cheapest hit on the internet after a search for vises. I would say I'm an intermediately skilled tyer. The prices range from the $12 model to over $1,000. Can you talk about vise options? What the bare minimum things I should look for might be? With an eye to the future, am I being able to progress on my skill, but without breaking the bank? Models you recommend would be nice as well. Thank you for the efforts you put into this podcast. I spend an inordinate amount of time in the car and this helps pass the miles. I hope the answers to these questions might benefit the entire community. And I think it would be cool to have them discussed on the podcast."
Well, Shawn, first of all, that small stream may not hold any larger trout. You know, trout can be...trout are often limited by the available habitat and the number of places where they can safely feed and stay away from predators.
But there comes a point when the food supply in a system might not let the fish grow to bigger than 8 inches. So you know, the way you described it was snowpack and glacier-fed, there probably are not many large fish in that system. And you know, an 8 incher might be a monster and you might have to accept that. I don't know of any way of finding out if there's any bigger ones there other than you know, when the river goes up a little bit after a rainstorm, fish it with a streamer or even a big nymph to see if you can pull one out.
But it may be limited. May be limited by the food supply, there just may not be enough food in that stream. The water the way you described it is probably fairly sterile compared to lower altitude streams. So there may not be any much bigger than 8 inches in there. But try a streamer when the conditions are right.
Regarding your fly tying vise, you know it sounds like you're into fly tying, you're not gonna give it up. And so I would spend a little bit more money because once you get a good vise it's gonna last a lifetime and probably several lifetimes. A good vise is just gonna last forever. I think you're going to want to spend somewhere between $100, $200 for a vise but again, it's gonna last you a lifetime.
The ones I would recommend would be either the Renzetti Traveler or the Renzetti Apprentice Vise. They don't have all the bells and whistles that the more expensive one does, but the jaws are very similar and they're just beautifully made American-made vises. The other vise would be the Regal Travel Vise or the Regal Vise. Regal Travel Vise is just under $200. All of those would be good.
I have both a Regal and a Renzetti. My Regal is about I don't know 10 years old, and my Renzetti is probably 35 years old, and I still tie on them and they're still perfect. So no, you get to spend...if you spend between 100 and 200 bucks on one of those models, you're gonna have a vise that's gonna last you for a long time. It's not gonna break down and if it does, they're gonna make good on it, they're gonna fix it for you. But I doubt if you would ever have a problem with one of those vises. So that is what I would recommend for your next vise.
And this next email is more of an apology to Tori. "I have a huge favorite ask. Would you please give my dad a birthday shout-out on your podcast? My dad is the biggest fan of your podcast. We listen solely to your podcast every time we go fishing. And his trout club is about one and a half hours away from his home so we listen to a lot of your work. Since I live in Missouri and my dad is in Ohio, I won't get to see him for his birthday on September 27th." Well, I missed that deadline. "However, when I'm in town in October, we'll be going fly fishing and following our tradition of listening to your podcast the entire drive.
Is there any way you could please give Mark Schaefer a birthday shout-out? He's the best dad ever and has taken me fishing since before I could walk. As the only girl in his family, my dad made sure I was still always included in the boys' fishing trips and could bait a hook and tie a fly with the best of them. Thank you so much for your time and consideration."
Well, Tori, my apologies. Happy Birthday, Mark. I'm sorry that I missed your birthday. This is a belated birthday wish. But maybe you can save it and play next year. So I apologize I've had a lot of podcast questions lately and I didn't read your email until early October. So my bad, but I'll try to keep up with my podcast questions and birthday wishes.
Michael: Hi, this is Michael from Utah. And I have a question that is probably gonna make me sound like a terrible person but I'll go ahead and ask it anyway. Just a little background, my dad and I recently went on a guided fly fishing trip on the Green River. And we were really excited for the trip. And it ended up that the guide showed up about 30 to 40 minutes late and we ended probably 30 minutes early.
And the whole trip...not to complain but just to give background here. Like the whole trip, the guide was just yelling at us. It wasn't like a, you have a fish on the line excited kind of yell, it was a very condescending, bossy, angry yell like the whole time. So my dad and I ended up trying to do everything we could to just stay quiet as often as possible. Just kind of felt like we were walking on eggshells the whole trip.
And then the other thing was whenever we caught a fish, the guide took it upon himself to decide if it was big enough for a picture or not. So we only wanted one or two pictures and whenever we caught a fish we wanted a picture of, I'd say "Hey, can we get a picture?" And he'd say "Oh, that's too small," and throw it back. So all in all, it was just a terrible experience. And we were so glad to get off the water even though we ended early and we paid so much for the trip.
I'm just wondering, in your opinion, is there ever a case where you think it's appropriate not to tip a guide. And we don't wanna rip anyone off, we're very understanding of not catching fish or not loving the experience. But when it was like downright uncomfortable to be there on the drift boat and we just couldn't wait to get off the water. I'm just wondering if there's ever a time where it's appropriate not to tip a guide. So if you can give me your opinion on that, that'd be great. Thanks.
Tom: So Mike that sounds like you had a terrible day and that's just about as bad of an experience as I could imagine with a guide. It is absolutely appropriate not to tip a guide if you have a lousy experience like that. You know, a tip is optional and a tip is based on the service you get. Most of the time people tip a guide you know, around 20% of the total cost of the trip because guides work hard and they maintain their equipment. But that guide obviously didn't work hard, quit early, arrived late, was a jerk, yeah. If you stiffed him that was a good thing.
And by the way, I checked this with both Tommy Vincent, who runs our Orvis-endorsed program, and a number of guide friends, and they agreed that if a guide is that bad, then feel free to stiff them because they need to get the message and they don't deserve a tip. So I'm sorry, you had that experience. And it's not typical as you probably know, it's not typical amongst fly fishing guides, they're usually the best.
So, you know, I'm sure that wasn't an Orvis-endorsed guide, but you know, when you do pick a guide, either use a recommendation from friends or use an Orvis-endorsed guide because you won't have that kind of problem with the people that we vet.
All right, that's the Fly Box, long one this week almost an hour, wow. My guest this week is Daniel Ritz, and Daniel's now in Boise, Idaho, but originally from the eastern shore of Maryland. And Daniel, you recently completed a quest that's pretty special. You wanna tell people about it?
Daniel: Sure, Tom. First of all, appreciate you having me on and the opportunity to share the work that we've been doing together. Over the past five months, I guess it feels like I've been working on this forever. I went and I completed the Master Caster class of what's called the Western Native Trout Challenge, that's hosted by the Western Native Trout Initiative.
And we wrote what turned to be a 14-part series documenting the journey. So we're gonna be really careful about trying to keep all of our acronyms and labels in sorts to make sure we don't confuse people too much.
Tom: And where can people see this 14-part series?
Daniel: First, "Trout Unlimited" the digital magazine would be the best place, if you just looked up "Trout Unlimited" and went through to their digital magazine. The "Orvis News" blog, as well as all your standard social media platforms, its been plastered over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter as well. So it shouldn't be too awfully hard to find.
Tom: Is it out now?
Daniel: It is out now. So we have done it in a quasi-real-time, which has been a real challenge. But it's also been a pretty fulfilling mental physical exercise. I've been writing it from the road. I've been living out of my truck for the better part of those five months, writing it as we went, submitting it, you know, as I stopped along the way. So you can read it, it's up-to-date and you can see it now. By the time this is released, we should either have the finale, or the final series coming up any day.
Tom: Okay, so tell us a little bit more about the challenge, what species are on it, and what do you need to do to accomplish this? And then we'll get into some more of the fun details of this.
Daniel: Sure. And just so that everybody is aware the is the base website for this. It's a fantastic website that has all the details that you need. And I'll try to cover really the general...the basics to guide people in the most commonly FAQs, I guess.
The Western Native Trout Challenge I like to think of it as a framework where they have categorized each of the native salmonids, so trout, char, and arctic grayling, in their native habitats, charted their native habitats across the western 12 states. So I believe that's 23 species in total.
And each of the states represented within the Western Native Trout Initiative, which is a fundraising partner for conservation, the states have contributed these maps and they have combined to form the challenge. Now the challenge is where you can participate at any...not any, but certain levels to where you could have, for example, you could have six species over four states. Or the next level, if I remember correctly would be 12 species over 8 states. Don't quote me on that.
And then there's the Master Caster level which I participated in, which is 18 of the native species of the Western 12 states, in 12 of those states, all 12 states. So over the past five months, I've traveled to each of those states and documented either one... You know, I like to use the phrase experienced,
pursued each of those native species. I have pursued all 20 of them that are available because there are three that are native but not included in the challenge.
So if that makes sense, the available is 20 and I captured 18 this summer. And so it's been quite an effort but it's been extraordinarily fulfilling. And now it's over and I'm working on getting the message out, which is hard.
Tom: I'm curious about the ones that are native but not included. What are they and what's the reason for that?
Daniel: For example, greenbacks in Colorado, Paiute cutthroat they're just not ample. The states have concluded...the experts and the representatives on the steering committee of WNTI we'll use that acronym for the initiative. The steering committee at WNTI, each state has decided that there is not a stable enough population of those native trouts.
They want them to be listed and recognized but they're not participatory members to be pursued for the sake of this challenge. And so I believe the other one is going to be Lac La Hache Kokanee, which are not included in the challenge but recognized as a native species.
Tom: Okay. So when you say 20 species you're also talking species and subspecies, right because you're talking all the cutthroat subspecies.
Daniel: Yes. And I had to decide long ago when talking to what has turned out to be dozens if not hundreds of biologists and scientists and other anglers that taxonomy is not necessarily the hill I'm gonna die on for this project. Because I'm sure you've heard you know, there's lumpers and splitters and I had to put my...
Tom: Exactly.
Daniel: ...hands up and bailout of that from the very beginning. But these are yes subspecies. So for cutthroat, delineations of rainbows, grayling char subspecies. So yes, these would be including subspecies.
Tom: Okay. Tell me about a couple of them. Tell me about what was the most difficult one for you to accomplish?
Daniel: I have to be honest, though. So if you noticed there was 18 of 20 I said that I successfully was able to dance with. One of them I was not able to which was the Kern River Golden Trout in Kern, California, which is off-limits due to a wildfire in 2020. So that was simply excluded. So that brings my total to 19.
At 18 because in Alaska, I took a risk and I pursued arctic char in a relatively unknown zone in the northern Kenai Peninsula. And I was there in early June, which many of your listeners are well aware is the season of the Midnight Sun. And I angled...I believe I've counted close to 48 of my 72 hours there till 1, 2 in the morning every night, multiple sessions. Saw people on boats pulling out arctic char and I was unable to connect with one. I simply couldn't get it done.
So I'm not a...what's the word I'm looking for? Lake fishing is certainly not my...still waters is not my...excuse me, not my expertise and I wasn't able to get it done. Tried everything I had you know, streamers, nymphs, dries, early morning, late-night, and couldn't get it done. So we'll have to have to head back for that one. But that's a story for another day.
Tom: So that wasn't included in your 17 is that what you're saying?
Daniel: No, that was...I did in fact get 18 to achieve the Master Caster class. It would have been 19 if I had successfully connected with each of the species I wanted to.
Tom: Okay. So of the ones that you did connect with which one was the most difficult?
Daniel: Oh, let's see. I'm gonna go with I had an incredible experience but it was really trying lake trout outside Fairbanks, Alaska, in the snow and in the ice, and having to hike in for a couple of miles. I was with...who's turned out to be a great friend, Oliver Ancans, he's the president of the Trout Unlimited chapter there in Fairbanks. Just one of the fishiest guys I know.
And he led me in and we went to the unnamed lake in the Alaska range. And you're just chucking sink lines with big streamers and it's ice off and you're skating around on the ice, and just a really trying really powerful experience. We were successful and we did have a lot of fun but I've never done anything like that, Tom.
Tom: But you got your Laker?
Daniel: We did and we got a couple of good ones too. Man, that was really, really fun. We've been really forced this summer into a lot of, you know, trying circumstances with the trout in weather. And there's been...I mean, I love all varieties of angling, you know, I love warm water species and the rest, and a lot of people are looking for alternatives. There's an alternative for you. So, lake trout never saw it coming but when I look at my Alaska experience, just what an incredible experience the lake trout were.
Tom: And you could...of course, you can catch them in Yellowstone Lake, but they're not endemic to Yellowstone Lake so that wouldn't be in...
Daniel: They're not. And they're...I think it's probably important to point out that you'll see a lot of these species in different zones. And the challenge operates on the premise of these are on their native habitats, so at time of colonization, you know, European arrival to the west that these are their native habitats. So you'll commonly see those overlap.
And some species do exist in multiple states, which was really fun to see the differences. And you mentioned the Yellowstone Lake and lake trout and the impact that they're having on Yellowstone cutthroat trout and that was really a focal point. And one of the stories I wrote focused on my time in Wyoming. And it was fantastic to see different species, I'm sorry, the same species in different states and to sort of see how they compared and what those experiences were like to compare and contrast.
Tom: So, you didn't ever have to worry about brook trout or brown trout in this challenge, right?
Daniel: Well I didn't have to worry about them. I did find a few of those in New Mexico. In New Mexico, I did actually, I worked with Toner Mitchell of Trout Unlimited who I'm endeared to him. And I appreciate all of his assistance. I actually met up with him both of my trips to New Mexico once in gila country for gila trout, and then for Rio Grande up in Northeast, in New Mexico.
And we sort of actually discovered brown trout in a creek that he had suggested for Rio Grande cutthroat. So that was a real-time discovery. I don't know was a real oh, shit moment. I'm not sure if I can say that. But...
Tom: Yeah, I think you can say that.
Daniel: No, it was a know, I consider Toner a friend and a colleague and I had to inform him of this. And so it was a real awakening that this wasn't something that's set in stone, you're really stepping into a moving process. And brook trout, actually, Tom, I caught my first brook trout on this trip, yeah. And actually had a couple of great experiences fishing for beautiful colored cutthroat in some of the Rocky Mountain states. And it really does make you process the native, non-native invasive conversation in your day-to-day angling experience.
Tom: Yeah, and it's a big issue these days, you know. We all love brown trout, and we all love rainbow trout and of course, brown trout are not native to any place in North America. And rainbow trout are only native to Pacific drainages, but we catch them all over the place. And you know, you have to think about that. Do I care that this fish is either introduced or invasive depending on how you wanna look at it?
Daniel: Yeah, and just to add to that I think...and I don't wanna get too far or ahead of us or you know, to steer too much the conversation. But this is really something that was...this has been you know, really at the heart of this project since the beginning, is that I love catching brown trout too. You know, rainbows are an incredible species and there's a lot of conversations, but my process of coming into angling, I get a lot and it really elevates the experience when I add that context, that acknowledgment of native species.
And I just think it inherently brings an angler into a space where you're understanding more of history, both biological, ecological, and you know, anthropomorphic. And it just really contextualizes the experience to where it's much more than just what happens to hit on the end of your line. And I personally get a lot of that out there.
And the more and more I started to introduce this idea to people that I might pursue this project, I just met more and more folks that were just blown away with some of, you know, the fun facts you could call them. And I think there's a lot of anglers out there so that's really what provoked me to want to tell this story and not just do it for myself.
Tom: Yeah, and you know, it does add a special dimension. I know catching brook trout in some of our mountain streams here in New England where they're above the line where brown trout have invaded. Or, you know, catching a Yellowstone cutthroat on the Yellowstone River, there's a real added dimension to that that you don't get when you're fishing for a species that was at one time artificially introduced into an ecosystem.
Daniel: I've become pretty fond of when I speak with people about this, you know, there's the something can happen to you while you're fishing, or I feel as if with native species, I feel like I'm stepping into an experience. I feel like I'm stepping into something, there's a bit of a...I feel as if I'm stepping on that conveyor belt and I'm moving from or through, I guess, history into the present and being kind of forced to contemplate a future.
And maybe that's not important to everyone, but it is to me, and it really heightens my experience. And you know, after completing this, all I can say is that it just makes me wanna do it more, honestly. And I wasn't expecting that, I have to be honest. I was looking forward to a sense of conclusion and achievement, I guess but I didn't, I didn't have that. When I got that last species I just realized that I wasn't disappointed. I just realized that I want to just keep doing it. And so I think hopefully, I'm not the only person on the planet that wants to do that.
Tom: No, I don't think so. And boy, you know, one of my dreams is to...probably yours too, is to catch a Kern river golden trout. You know, catch a golden trout in its native habitat. That's something that many people have done and it'd be pretty amazing.
Daniel: California golden trout even. I mean, I live in Idaho, and I meet folks all the time. And I was really impressed with the amount of questions that I got from people. "Where are you gonna get a golden trout? Where are you gonna get a golden trout?" And it's just the golden trout. And I would say, "Well, I'm going to Kernville [SP], California." And they're "Where?" I'm like "That's where they're from." This is where this place is.
And people are so familiar with golden trout and very few people know that they are native to this pretty small drainage, in central California. And then we also we were there in July, which you know, it's hot and do it responsibly.
It was part of this mission was we did it all on public lands and I did it all without guides. I'm endeared...I have friends and almost family in the guiding community but for this project, we wanted it to be just relatable to the...we wanted it to be a bit of an every man's experience and story. And to do the work to do it responsibly with water temperatures and where there was even water required a lot of work. So we climbed pretty high in the Sierras for those guys but what a day that was.
Tom: Did you catch a golden trout on this?
Daniel: Yes, there's the California golden trout, and then the little Kern golden trout, and then there's the Kern River rainbow, which are the three native species of the Kern River system drainage.
Tom: Oh, okay I didn't even realize that. So which one did you...
Daniel: There you go.
Tom: catch? You caught the California golden trout?
Daniel: Got the California golden trout which is the one that's not commonly but is placed throughout some of the states, relatively famous in some Wyoming drainage as well as they're in some places in Idaho, I don't need to name where. Then there is the...the Little Kern golden is the species that was restricted and it's a sad story.
And I wanna thank you. I actually had a guest the week before I was in California. You had a guest speaker from the Forest Service, I believe if I remember correctly about the burns. And I quoted her in this story where it is...there was a lot of positive to her message. And that exact scenario was in play in the Little Kern River where they...sad for wildfires but they didn't have a lot of rain, the season after the fire. And so it actually didn't soak through and the minerals didn't necessarily soak through into the river.
So there's a lot of hope for that species but it is scary because their entire existence is really strangled into this one small drainage now, which was engulfed by a wildfire. So we will have to see because yeah, Tom that's my dream too because now you know, I am in this place of anxious waiting to what's gonna happen to that species?
Tom: Well, I'd like to catch a Golden trout of any sub-species.
Daniel: I can't believe I stumped Tom Rosenbauer [crosstalk 01:20:20.336].
Tom: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Now we need to warn people that what you might see in places like Pennsylvania, and I know in Colorado, what they call Golden trout are sort of an albino rainbow that are hatchery-produced and that's not the golden trout, we're talking about.
Daniel: That is not. And there's a real rabbit hole to get down without one that I'm just gonna try and keep my head above. But a California Golden trout is an absolutely beautiful, one of the most beautiful species that I've experienced on this trip. And I think they're...just the story of their existence in California and the experience that California anglers have with California Golden trout, I think is just a really worthwhile, you know, trip to go down.
Tom: Yeah. So how many subspecies of rainbows are in this challenge?
Daniel: Let me see. So we've got...we have the Kern River rainbow. Generally, a little bit smaller, beautiful and native to just that Kern River drainage. There's the redband which there are subspecies from that. The Klamath, there's a couple of delineations and you have to forgive me off the top of my head. But there's a...I was looking for the Columbia Basin redband, relatively common throughout Idaho, and Oregon. Extraordinarily commonly mistaken for Pacific rainbows or coastal rainbows, which are for the large part, a lot of your hatchery production fish.
And so that's that story of identity crisis you could call it was the focus of my story for Oregon, where I fished and encountered a large population of redbands. And I think that's one of my main focuses here in Idaho, especially, because there's also a desert strain of redbands that are again, a lineage of rainbow trout, at the end of the day, and they live in places like the Uwahi [SP] basin.
And these are just, you know, they're magnificent little fish that live in places that...and I encountered so many of these. That you look around you go like, I cannot believe that there is a trout native you know, to this area. And it just speaks to's so evident of the fragility but also the perseverance of fish like this.
Tom: So how many rainbows were there, in there?
Daniel: I'm sorry, off the top of my head. I'm sorry, I'm counting. So I've got two, three. I'm gonna go with two off the top of my head. And I'm gonna take a look while we're talking here, Tom. And I'm just gonna shout out a number and that's gonna be the number of rainbows that there are.
Tom: Okay, so whoever put this challenge together is definitely a splitter.
Daniel: I would say yes and no. They do a pretty good job and Therese Thompson who's the coordinator or the director, I'm sorry, of the Western Native Trout Initiative, she really...the states really do a good job of I think offering enough just to make you dangerous. And they lead you into as much as you want to accept. And WNTI operates off of the basis that the states suggest so kind of fishing managers. At the end of the day, the WNTI initiative, they are funding off of the needs of the information provided by the state managers.
Tom: Okay. So in trout, how exactly do you qualify a subspecies because they can definitely interbreed with other subspecies? So what is the...? It must be genetic. What is the genetic basis of a subspecies?
Daniel: I don't wanna overstep and I do wanna recognize I've been proud from the beginning of this that I am an enthusiastic recreational angler. I am a professional journalist, and that's the only thing that I will claim to be a professional at.
As my understanding you know, the ability to reproduce is one of those major functions that identifies you know...I'm sorry, this is...I don't wanna overstep and tell you something that's wrong because I don't wanna misinform people. But I don't wanna mistake any listeners, but I wouldn't be able to give you the scientific reasoning behind exactly what defines different subspecies or not.
Tom: Okay. All right I'm gonna have to do some homework on that, too.
Daniel: Yeah. No, it's a great question. And again, as a person who...I was really interested in the angler experience and this admittedly all came...I became interested in this not from a place of that I wanted to know everything and I wanted to tell everyone. I really became interested in this project because of my own experience of unearthing this whole world of my own experience of when I fell in love with fly fishing, of at a certain point, I woke up to realizing that I didn't know what I was pursuing.
And I went down know, it started in Idaho and expanded to the west. And it really comes from a place of learning and sharing. And much like that embarrassing moment on your podcast, it has been a very vicarious...I've attempted to try to be transparent as best I can.
Tom: Well, I appreciate your honesty, and I apologize for catching you off guard there. You know...
Daniel: [crosstalk 01:26:28.403].
Tom: never know what questions I'm gonna ask somebody, right?
Daniel: No, I love it. These are great. And there have been plenty...I mean, we're talking about rainbows and you're asking about the subspecies of rainbows. And in Oregon, like this story was really birthed...I had an idea for what I was gonna do in Oregon, and we set out with a goal. And I caught a great fish, beautiful, vibrant fish with this big band and I didn't know exactly what it was. And I had to go back to the drawing board.
And here I'm the guy...I was feeling quite chuffed with myself at that point, Tom. I was well into my trip, I was "Mr. Traveling Trout Fly Fisherman Writer Guy." I was on top of the world and I got kind of duped. And I had to revisit and look back and you know, make some calls. And you know, turned out it was a beautiful interior redband trout. And that', I am attempting to set some example, and I'm fallible as well. And I think that's something that I thought was a valuable lesson to share with folks.
Tom: Well, it's hard to know for sure, right because physical features aren't always a very good indication of whether a fish is a pure subspecies or a hybrid. I mean, just think about rainbow cutthroat hybrids, it's difficult to tell often whether it's a hybrid, or a rainbow, or a cutthroat really without DNA analysis.
So you know, I mean, us amateurs really have to guess and have to make an estimation based on, you know, where the fish is, is this its native habitat, you know, are there mostly pure fish in here? How do you prove this for the challenge? Do you take a picture of each fish?
Daniel: Yeah. So you take a picture, and you submit them when you are done, whichever level of the challenge you're going to pursue. Like currently, your $25 you know, registration fee, there's some tokens of recognition that you get. And currently, it does apply to...your registration applies for all of the levels, whether it's, you know, the 4, or the 8, or the 12, let's say. And you submit your photos with the locations, and they verify the locations where they are.
And I could not encourage any angler that thinks this is interesting and you're curious to pursue your own Western Native Trout Challenge, go to that site, and just absolutely scour those maps. And I'm gonna revisit something you said, Tom, but you're right. You know, the phonetics and the physical features of these fish sometimes don't determine, you know, 100%, genetic purity or anything like that. The challenge with these photos you're taking, they do recognize that if it appears to be as best they can tell, and it's in their natural drainage, they're not looking to deter people.
Tom: Yeah, sure.
Daniel: But I think there is a way to can be more sure. And again, it can add some context and some confidence into that experience. I think it's fun know, there were some mixed hybridized species that I know that I encountered over the course of this summer's trip. It was also wonderful to have a few... I was lucky enough to work with some folks and to go fishing with folks that I would now call friends that I experienced you know, as close as you can possibly get to pure genetics of some of these species.
And you know, kind of having one of those in your hand and really you know, watching that fish get out of the net is a really powerful experience. And that can be gained just with that little bit of background of looking at the map, understanding the drainages. It adds so many layers to it.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Crazy question. Did you in caught all of these on flies, right?
Daniel: Yes, sir.
Tom: Did you come up with any particular fly patterns that were killer over a number of species?
Daniel: Anyone that I could keep out of the trees Tom. No, I joke but I did not realize how...when you think of the West...sorry, this is a slight digression. But like when you think of the...
Tom: That's okay.
Daniel: ...west, you think you know, big rivers and you know, big mountains, and you have certain scenes in your head, right?
Tom: Yeah.
Daniel: Man make sure if you can get a small rod little lightweight rod and practice your small stream fishing and casting, do it, please do it. Do yourself a favor [crosstalk 01:31:27.234].
Tom: Well, that's where most of these fish are right they're in...
Daniel: And not necessarily most but a lot of them, a lot of them.
Tom: And headwaters.
Daniel: They're in tight quarters, you're under tight brush. And it mostly has to do with you are in the mountains, and you are in these majestic vistas but you're way back there. You're in the headwaters you are hunkering in and yeah, you really just gotta be able to manage your equipment. But let me see invent my own... I don't know if I invented any of my own pattern.
Tom: No, no, I wasn't asking if you invented any just if you found any pattern to be particularly useful.
Daniel: Oh yeah, for sure. And Tom, I'll say it, I learned this from you. I am a proud generalist. I show up with a 14 Parachute Adams and you know, I might go a little bit bigger with like a chubby and hang a flashback pheasant tail. Like I set yourself up, find your confidence patterns that you have for searching around. A lot of know, using a hopper-dropper, you know, these fish aren't usually that hard to catch, but they can be really hard to find.
For me, it was all about dialing in my searching patterns. What did I feel confident that I was gonna even move a fish, even if I wasn't gonna take it, if it was too big or you know what have you? If I could find out where I thought fish were that was by far the most important part.
So I'm a big hopper-dropper guy and that was kind of my go-to program if I was going somewhere new, which was everywhere. I had never been to a single one of these streams that I fished along this trip, which was a pretty fun personal thing. I was probably tying on the hopper-dropper you know, unless it was in fact you know, lake trout or something that I knew I was gonna...or a bull trout where I was with a streamer you know, things like that.
Tom: So parachute Adams and chubby and flashback...
Daniel: I'd say chubby.
Tom: ...pheasant tail.
Daniel: Yeah, if I was gonna pick one I'd say either a Chubby Chernobyl or an Amy's Ant seemed to really work for me. Especially with cutthroats, they really...all that flash they just would really come to it no matter how big. You'd be really impressed what an average size westslope cutthroat will take, what size they'll take. And then yeah, hang something with a little bit of shine on it.
And you wind up changing out the flashback pheasant tail or a Frenchie underneath it. Yeah, I am a proud generalist, and I show up with a box of the basics, and most of the time that'll get you where you need to go.
Tom: Yeah, man after my own heart.
Daniel: Like I said, I could probably say you taught me well. You talk about... I'm gonna go ahead and say it now that you know, the podcasts and I've got a few of your books here on my shelf looking at me. And you know, I'm not a decade's long experienced fly fisherman and you and the guys at Orvis and your show and the podcast you kept me company on the road, and you taught me a lot of the basics as I was getting through them. And I appreciated it, whether you knew it or not up until now you have played a part in this journey for me.
Tom: Well, I am proud and flattered and honored to have helped in a small way to help you accomplish this challenge because it's quite an achievement.
Daniel: Well thank you. I think a lot of people ask you know, what does it feel like you know, it's a know, it seems really hard kind of thing. And this is one thing that is directly from some of your tutelage is just keep walking. I just tell people keep walking. You can't find the fish, you can't like, you know, that fish is fighting you, it doesn't like your fly or I don't know. I'm not the guy that goes turning and burning through the box or, you know, runs back to the car for the new rod or what have you. Like, maybe that fish just deserves to live to see another day. Just move on, you know, I don't need to go nymphing through 20-foot holes or anything like that, like, know, just around the river bend.
Tom: Yep, there'll be an easier one.
Daniel: Yeah, you know, it's probably worth the walk anyway. You know, there's another view, there's another fish, there's another...and that was continuous through the whole thing. But that is hard to remember sometimes when you're under this framework of a challenge, you know, because I've got a story to write and editors that I gotta send stuff to, and you can only write so many, you know, "I didn't get it" stories.
Tom: You gotta produce, you gotta produce eventually.
Daniel: Yes, eventually. So there was a healthy mix of that a lot of mental...a lot of existential sort of consideration of you know, what is it to have a goal while fishing? So you spend a lot of time thinking about that. But, it's fun, you know, same time if I could do it all again and I gladly would, and I would suggest it to anyone.
This was a fantastic summer and I appreciate my loving fiancée for putting up with me being gone, at the same time. Yeah, so give yourself plenty of time because these are beautiful places and enjoy them. Everybody knows that already. But there's a lot of places that I wish I didn't have to leave quite so soon a couple of times, yeah.
Tom: Can you do this challenge over multiple years?
Daniel: Absolutely. So as far as timing I believe it's 2019, and again, you can check that on the Western Native Trout Challenge site. You can't grandfather fish that were caught prior to a certain point in 2019. And so, you know, it's not just like, "Oh, I have done this across my lifetime," but you know, we're looking forward. But yes, it is an unending timeline.
They are looking to get people to register before you go out complete your challenge that's, you know, highly encouraged. Just because it really helps with making sure that people are aware of the regulations and the rules. And you know, you don't wanna see people go out and catch a Dolly Varden but it's actually an arctic char.
And then you know, they're like people went to Alaska for nothing or something, if that was the case. And so you're encouraged to look at it before and to register before and your money goes to a good cause. I mean, we're all fly fishing, and like, what's the last thing you've spent more than 25 bucks on? I know, it didn't go to as good a cause as this.
Tom: No.
Daniel: So I encourage you to register and sign up before. But no, you can take as long as you'd like, you can take as long as you'd like.
Tom: So it could be a lifetime achievement could be something...
Daniel: Could be a lifetime achievement, absolutely. And I believe...I don't know him. And forgive me if I'm wrong. But I do believe that there is a gentleman that has done over the course of however much time but he has done the challenge twice, in its entirety. Not documenting it and doing it in one consecutive loop, I'm gonna stake my claim to that for better or for worse. But yeah, I hope to...that's the guy I'm racing him. I'll go for three let's go that sounds like a good life to live.
Tom: Yeah, it does. We gotta figure out how to get somebody to pay us to do this.
Daniel: Seriously, I know. I think you know, we're lucky enough to be I think you know, as close as I can imagine at this point. So I feel...I'm pretty grateful to have the support that I have and to partner with Orvis. You know, Orvis was an equal partner in this and you know, thanks to the Montana Fly company, you know, I lose a lot of flies on the road like I said.
Especially with my skills, you know, I've decorated a few trees and Western Native Trout Initiative and Trout Unlimited. You know the team from Trout Unlimited has been...learning the conservation stories and meeting with the folks that I have that are just really putting it all on the line for these fish and for these communities. And it's restored my faith in humanity which was not something I expected from what initially was a fishing trip.
It really has, it's been really fulfilling and you know, I can, you know, go down the list of every single state where these folks from TU and the state agencies that have been, you know, in Alaska. Some of the folks that guided me into some of these places. I couldn't encourage anglers enough like, pick up the phone even if it's just to tell your local fisheries biologists like thank you for all you do because it's a thankless job. But those guys love to talk about what they love to do.
Pick up the phone, give them a call. And I don't think a lot of people do that. I was really impressed by how communicative they were and how just supportive of what can probably be seen as a...agencies can be tough to wrap your head around and tough to decipher who you need to get ahold of. Like, pick up the phone, give them a call, like, they're not something just to serve you with regulations, like they're a part of your community too.
Tom: And they love talking about that stuff. Sometimes they're tough to get a hold of because they're in the field a lot so you have to keep trying. But once you get hold of a, you know, state biologist or fisheries manager, they love to talk about this stuff.
Daniel: Oh, yeah, I have...I mean, easily a dozen of different experiences, different places with some of these fish. I mean, we're really enabled by the support of folks that I still haven't met in person, but I'll proudly shake their hand when I do. I mean they went way out of their way, way more than I would have ever expected and I was intimidated as the next guy. But yeah, pick up the phone all the numbers are all listed.
If it's a public agency, then you know, it's all documented somewhere so dig in. Like these guys are not something just to serve you with the rules. This is an active ongoing process and I would really encourage people to take part in it.
Tom: Well, that's a wonderful thought and more of us should take advantage of these public resources.
Daniel: You did mention Tom they're tough to get ahold of because they're in the field. And if our first goal me and you Tom is to figure out how to get people to pay for these trips to you know, just take laps around the West to do the challenge.
The second one is I just wanna have a job to where I can have one of these you know, vacation email saying that sorry, I'm out "working in the field" that's the best. And yeah, I got a lot of those and I don't know I might have to take a harder look at some of these jobs when it comes around.
Tom: You know, I work in the fishing tackle industry. I can get away with it sometimes.
Daniel: "Working in the field," I like it.
Tom: I'm out testing a new rod for Shawn Combs or something.
Daniel: There we go.
Tom: All right, Daniel, well, anything else you wanna share with us about...?
Daniel: No, Tom. I think that's a...I mean, it's been the way, oh, yes there actually is one thing. There's three rainbow species, finally got to the bottom of it.
Tom: Good.
Daniel: You've got Alaska rainbow trout, where...I was there really early in the season. And I went with Eric Booton. That was the longest....he's one of the sportfishing managers for Trout Unlimited Alaska. What a great guy just, you know, another one of the just like so fishy. He's just rabid. And you know, I did a 14 hour fishing day for Alaska rainbow which is, you know, a good long day. And then you have the Kern River rainbows that I talked to you about. And then the last species that I was actually able to connect with, which is the Eagle Lake rainbow trout. You ever heard of those?
Tom: No, where are they? In Eagle lake obviously.
Daniel: They are legacy in Eagle Lake which is in Northern California. Central California, depending on whether you're a lumper or a splitter. And they are indigenous to the Eagle Lake drainage. There's a major thruway which is called Pine Creek there, and Eagle Lake rainbow is somewhat similar to the Lahontans, have habituated to really high alkalinity water.
They were geologically separated however many hundreds of thousands of years ago. And they have these just radiant, but pastel colorings, almost. They have this blue back with this pastel pink and was lucky enough to get into a few of those. It was a bit warm so I didn't actually fish Eagle Lake, specifically. So there's a little hot tip for anybody that's looking to complete their own challenge.
But anyway, Eagle Lake rainbows yeah, just these radiant pastel-colored fish and they can get really big in Eagle Lake. And that was the last fish that I was able to connect with. And so those are your three rainbow delineations that are...I guess it would be four if you included redband, but now again we're getting into the weeds.
Tom: Well, yeah, you got the...I'm confused now. You've got the Alaskan rainbow, you got the eagle-like rainbow, you got the redband. And then you have...don't you have the Pacific rainbow too, aren't there four, didn't you?
Daniel: There's gonna be...the Pacific rainbow is not recognized they're broken down into like the other species. Like you have the Alaskan rainbow which is habituated to the Alaska Range, you have the like interiors. And technically you would have steelhead, and then you would have resident which would be recognized as certain subspecies of redbands. So they are there but they're broken down further.
Tom: Okay. I'm gonna stick with being a lumper.
Daniel: I appreciate it. There you go. I think I might at least for now because you know, I've been dabbling with the splitting world. And I know there's probably scientists, biologists, and probably some of the people that, you know, helped me create this series that are shaking their heads at me right now and that's just fine.
Tom: Yeah, we're just anglers, right, we're not scientists.
Daniel: We're just scientists.
Tom: We're not taxonomists.
Daniel: We're not taxonomists. Long ago, I decided that's not the hill I'm gonna die on.
Tom: Me neither.
Daniel: Yeah. No, I think that's it, Tom, it's been a...I look forward... Like I said, there should be kind of a series finale coming out, you'll be able to find that through Trout Unlimited, you know, it's all there, various social media platforms. And yeah, I look forward to you know, keeping on the search for natives. And I've got a couple of projects coming around the horn that we're already kind of already chasing down now.
Tom: Great, I hope you can eventually in future years get to that number 20 mark.
Daniel: I hope so. So I that'll be coming around the horn. And we're talking to a few folks about how that's gonna happen. And just you know, this whole experience you know, and every place you go, every person you meet, every community that you connect with. And this is, you know, the background of coming up in the news world, you know, you just see a story everywhere. And so, I've got a list, you know, I got a long list that I'm chasing down now. So hopefully you're hearing, seeing more from me in the future.
Tom: Great. I'm looking forward to it.
Daniel: I really appreciate the opportunity, Tom. And yeah, this is a great experiment and I can't imagine anybody would regret it. So I appreciate the opportunity that letting us share the message here. And thanks again to you, man, for helping me get to where I am now.
Tom: Absolutely. I really enjoyed our conversation and good luck with your future endeavors.
Daniel: Thanks Tom. Appreciate it.
Tom: Okay, Daniel. Thanks very much.
Daniel: Bye, buddy.
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