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The Days that are Worth It

By Mike Pogoda, Winston Pro Staff

Father’s Day is right around the corner.

As I’m writing this, my son is napping and I’m enjoying some quiet time. Any fellow parents can relate to that big exhalation of relief when you have some time to yourself. My son turns two this year, so I’m still pretty new to being a dad. What I’m not new to is spending most of my time in the outdoors. Naturally, when he was born, I couldn’t wait to share my love for the outdoors and fly fishing with him. When he was only a few days old, I put a Winston rod in his hands, hoping that he’ll grow up to be a Winston guy like his dad. Fast forward a month and we packed up the camper, hooked up the drift boat, and headed to the Henry’s Fork. His middle name is actually Henry, so you can tell that it’s a special place to our family. That weekend, we did his first float and the rest is history.

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Blue-Wings

Blue-Wings

The most enigmatic of hatches.

Words by Spencer Durrant

I stood in a halfhearted drizzle with my back to a wall of willows while I surveyed the river. It was still at its wintertime flows, both the current and the fish barely moving. What I’d hoped would get the fish moving wasn’t showing up yet, and based on the weather and time of day, I doubted it would.

Ryan McCullough stood next to me and we watched his son Josh and my buddy Mike Kingsbury throw fruitless cast after fruitless cast.

“I can’t figure this out,” I said. “This is perfect weather. Perfect conditions. And nothing’s happening.”

Ryan nodded. “Yeah, it’s weird.”

The four of us were exploring a stream that was supposedly seeing good hatches of early-season blue-winged olives. The bugs were small, dark, and only came off when the weather turned sour. We’d planned the trip to coincide with weather just bad enough the bugs would be out, and hopefully few, if any, other anglers.

So far, we were the only things – fish or people – caught in the rain.

That we’d driven so far to explore a hunch only compounded the feeling that we needed something to happen soon. Mike and I both lived in Utah at the time, while Ryan and Josh drove down from Olympia, Washington. While any time I get to spend with Mike, Ryan, and Josh is certainly a win, we could’ve picked a more convenient location and time to break bread and catch up on life.

“Maybe we should’ve waited a few weeks for the skwalas,” I muttered.

Ryan shrugged. “Maybe.”

Then, cutting through the pitter-patter silence of a rainy day on a small piece of water, we heard the unmistakable sound of fly line going tight. Moments after, the whine of an old click-and-pawl reel filled the air.

“I got one!” Mike hollered.

Sure enough, he stood downstream about 100 yards, his fly rod bent in half. “It ate the dry!”

I glanced back at Ryan. “I haven’t seen any bugs yet.”

“Neither have I,” he said.

Mike played the fish quickly into the net, popped the hook free, then held the fish up briefly so the rest of us could see. Its pale golden flanks glittered dimly in the gray, flat light of midmorning.

Almost as soon as Mike let his fish go, Josh let out a yell. Ryan and I turned to face him, 100 yards upstream, just as the brown trout jumped, landed, then pulled off another 20 feet of line.

“Well, I guess they finally got the memo,” I said.

Ryan and I waded back into the water, giving each other enough room to cast. Between the raindrops, I saw tiny, dark bugs fluttering lazily. Mayflies tend to fly with a nonchalance that’s undoubtedly part of why trout love them so much.

As though someone had thrown a switch, the bugs came off in droves, and the fish reacted as you’d expect. Soon, the once-tranquil surface of the river was rolling from the unending series of rises as far as the eye could see. It was a perfect hatch. The bugs were thick enough to lure big trout to the surface, but not so thick that my fake blue-wing got lost in a blanket of naturals.

I don’t know how many fish I caught that day – I never started counting. The hatch was too good to worry about which fish I landed and which ones went free. It was a rare moment of angling nirvana, where you could thoroughly lose yourself in the machinations of the natural world.

The hatch finally petered out around 4 p.m., almost five hours after it began. The four of us fished without a break, pausing only to tie on new flies, tippet, or to grab the rapidly-depleted bottle of floatant from whoever remembered to bring it. My back ached, my feet were mostly numb, and I was down to my last battered spent-wing fly when I finally called it a day.

Back at camp, we shuffled around in a bit of stunned silence. To this day, that’s still the most magnificent blue-wing hatch I’ve ever witnessed. It reminded me of the picture so many folks I know try to paint of a stonefly hatch. A river full of fish, eager to eat, hitting the surface with something close to reckless abandon. The only difference was these fish weren’t hitting just anything. The slightest bad drift, or one too many false casts, put them down. I broke off a half-dozen flies, at least, because I set the hook before the fish had fully eaten my blue-wing. It wasn’t easy fishing by any means – the fish and the bugs kept me on my toes.

It was the sort of fishing that demanded good casting and attention to detail, but rewarded both handsomely. That I got to spend the whole day throwing dry flies only made the experience that much more unforgettable. I think that’s why I enjoyed that blue-wing hatch more than any other stellar dry fly hatch I’ve fished. Part of fly fishing’s allure is the idea that you’re waging some sort of passive fight against nature; that we only sometimes win is what keeps us coming back.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Wyoming. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant

Photos by Cole Leishman (@cole.leishman)

 

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Extra Reach To Get The Job Done – 9’6″ 5-weight Air 2 Review

Words By Brett Wedeking

There’s a million rods out there these days and a million opinions on what the best one is—and a lot of hype. It’s impossible to say what “the best” rod is out there, but Winston’s Air 2 series makes a persuasive argument for top billing. Over the winter I had the opportunity to fish the new 9’6” 5-weight Air 2 on my homewaters of Puget Sound. What a treat it was.

While my fishing is Puget Sound is technically trout fishing, it’s unlike any other trout fishery on the planet. We need powerful rods that can zip out shooting heads and weighted flies with ease, repeatedly, but still retain a light and sensitive feeling in the hand. And, we’re talking 5-6 weight rods, this isn’t striper fishing. Blending power and finesse is a difficult task but this model finds the sweet spot on every cast, every hook up.

To say this rod blends power and finesse is unfair and simplistic, however. This rod generates the type of power you’d normally find in a 7-weight. And that kind of power is rarely blended with the delicacy and presentation accuracy of this rod. I’m a fan of longer rods for big rivers and this rod is perfectly at home on rivers like the Deschutes, wading thigh deep on slick rocks, trying to sling a stonefly around an upstream bush. Feel confident that the fly will drop where you point the rod and not six feet up in the bush. The line control that six extra inches provides is beautiful. Big mends and high sticking are cake. Roll casting is buttery and effortless.

The length slows down the cast and the rod bends deep into the butt, with kinetic feel from tip to cork. That feel is equally important when trying to sling a baitfish pattern 80’ to the beach or dropping a PMD emerger behind a boulder. While I only fished the former situation with this model, this stick would be my first choice for the South Fork of the Snake in July, where you’re double hauling bushy stoneflies along the bank and fishing hatches in the riffles on the same afternoon.

This rod excels at throwing a variety of fly lines. For floaters, I’d match it with an SA Trout taper or Infinity taper all day long. Don’t be afraid to load a heavier taper either, for turning over bigger bugs. This rod will handle it. I was thoroughly impressed by this rod turning over the shooting heads and baitfish patterns we fish on Puget Sound. I put a 6-weight Rio Coastal Quickshooter and 6-weight Outbound on and the rod slung both lines as far as I cared to cast, with tight loops, in a breeze. This is not your average 5-weight trout rod, folks. Streamer fishing in Montana, New Zealand browns, nymphing on Upper Sacramento, stoneflies on the Yakima, wherever you’re going, this rod is a grade-A option. And, I can’t wait to try out the heavier models.

For more info on fishing in Washington’s Puget Sound and local rivers, check out Brett’s website www.tailoutanglers.com or @tailoutanglers on Instagram.

Photos By Greg Sweney

NEW BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: WATER VIEWS

WATER VIEWS – Released on June 14, 2022
by David Ondaatje
published by Monacelli, a Phaidon company
Format: Hardcover
Size: 254 x 203 mm (10 x 11.5 in)
Pages: 240 pp
ISBN: 9781580936002
Retail price: $45

The R.L. Winston Rod Company, located in Twin Bridges, Montana, is excited to announce the upcoming release of Water Views: Rivers, Lakes, Oceans, by David Ondaatje. The book features a stunning collection of new aerial photographs, including aerial flyfishing images taken for Winston while Ondaatje explored wilderness areas, local rivers, lakes, and oceans with a fly rod over the past several years as Winston’s Chairman.

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Early Season Dries – 9′ 3-weight Air 2 Review

Words by John Duncan (Telluride Angler)

My guarded expectations were blown away by this model. The rod rolls gorgeous loops off the light and sweet tip as if dry flies were the only way to fish. Elegant, sensitive and plush, it casts from short to long with the cadence of a finely tuned instrument that any angler will handle with intuition and precision.

Fish it with an SA Trout Taper. It will handle slightly heavier lines, such as the Rio Technical Trout or Gold, but why not split hairs and bring out the very best? The 9′ 3-weight is one of the faster action rods in the series. Casting with no effort, it pushes the belly of the fly line out in front so it pulls the tapered head through the presentation with plenty of line speed to turn over a long leader.

Some of our staff feel that it’s best beyond 30 feet, but I found that it loads naturally from very short to very long. If a double haul is required for casting in the wind, tap it lightly and expect a confident response. It’s hard to make a bad cast with this rod.

In spite of its fast action character, it possesses wonderful roll casting and line mending qualities along with the tippet protection you would expect from any Winston. Spring creek and tailwater anglers have a new favorite rod. From the Delaware and Silver Creek to the Frying Pan and Green, this Winston will rise.

Lessons From The Marsh

Words by Brett Wedeking

I chased Redfish last fall in the Biloxi Marsh of coastal Louisiana. I had never cast at a Redfish before and had preconceived notions about what to pack, how to fish, and what is appropriate gear. As it turns out, I was mostly wrong. But, learning and discovery is what fly fishing is all about. So, while I’m still a novice Redfish angler, I have a few thoughts to share for anyone considering a trip to the marsh.

1 – The single most surprising aspect of redfishing, for me, was how short and quick the shots were. While similar to classic flats-style fishing, redfishing is unique and presents its own, fun challenges. I ignorantly expected to spot fish at distance, and wait for the guide to work the boat into position to make the cast. Ha! Our shots came fast and if you weren’t ready with a fly in hand you were toast.

The water is not clear like the Bahamas or Belize, and the bottom is usually mud or sand, with bits of shells mixed in. On top of that, the late fall sun doesn’t ever rise straight up overhead. Consequently, spotting fish at 120 feet isn’t really a thing (unless they’re pushing a wake in shallow water). Our shots came from 15-40 feet. And, when the guide says, “I got a fish, 30 feet, 1 ‘o clock,” you need to spot the fish, lift your rod and begin the cast all at once. It’s fun and fast, both exhilarating and heartbreaking.

2 – Lining your rod correctly is always important and critical for redfishing. Due to the quick nature of the casting opportunities, you want a short tapered, quick loading line. The Redfish specific lines are exactly what you want. They load quickly and turn over flies accurately. Trout/steelhead nymph tapers are another good option (without the high-vis tip). They have heavy, short tapers that are meant for turning over junk at shorter distances. You do not want to fish a standard Bonefish taper or trout taper. Those style of lines have long tapers that won’t load and turn over weighted flies quickly, on short shots. Water temperatures are important (duh!), not only because it dictates fish activity but dictates what lines to use. There’s a reason manufacturers produce both winter and summer redfish lines. Just as you wouldn’t fish a trout line in Panama, you want to match your line to the water temperatures you’ll be fishing.

3 – A happy Redfish will eat just about any fly you put in front of its face. However, while they aren’t Permit, reds can get a little picky about fly size, weight, color and presentation. We fished a lot of dark colors like black and purple with bunny tails and brass eyes, 3-4” long. The water is often stained and the bottoms dark and silty so a fly that shows a strong silhouette is more visible. Lighter color and lighter weighted flies are important to have ready too. We learned that in clearer and shallower water that crab and baitfish patterns in tan or olive would be hoovered up, while heavy, dark flies were ignored. 

Even smaller reds can get spooky, depending on tides, weather, and angler pressure. Naturally, the bigger fish will be a little more wary, but are regularly fooled and will pull hard and run far. Don’t be complacent, make the best presentation you can, every time. Trust your guide. I’ll say it again, trust your guide.

4 – It pays to have a popper rod rigged and ready to go. You can find plenty YouTube videos showing big bull reds destroying poppers, and that’s a good way to get jacked for an upcoming trip. However, just like trout fishing, reds eat a subsurface offering more often than on top. But, we aren’t bait fishing, we are fly fishing, and the challenge is part of the point of it all, so when you see reds pushing bait in 8 inches of water, grab the foam, throw an accurate cast and enjoy the show. 

5- A house on stilts is constantly moving and shooting pool in these conditions makes for a challenging game even when you haven’t dipped into your beer fridge yet.

6 – When traveling to fish and spending precious vacation time, you want reliable, high performance gear. I took a pair of Saltwater AIR rods, a #8 and #9, to the marsh. I was impressed with both rods and they match well with the needs of redfishing. These rods are fast and require a heavy tapered line to load quickly and make short shots, especially for this type of fishing. When you get the right combo, the sweet casting becomes even sweeter when you hook up. These rods are extremely powerful and throw tight loops in the wind. They track straight and turn over weighted flies despite windy conditions. Accuracy is important for reds and the Saltwater AIR rods put the fly exactly where you point the tip. These rods also have good lifting power to turn big fish headed for the deep. 

Though I didn’t get to fish the Alpha+ rods for reds, given the fishing I’ve done with them at home, I’m taking a full quiver down next time. The Alpha+ loads deeper than the Saltwater AIR and maintain exceptional feel through the casting stroke (think like a modern version of the classic BIIx rods). These rods bend into the cork to unleash high line speeds and straight casts that easily translate to precision accuracy when it matters. Alpha+ models tame the wind and deliver flies where you want them. And when you hook a good one, you’ll find that the rod bends deep, while maintaining a ton of power and control.

If you only pack one rod to fish reds in the marsh, make it a #9. This gives you maximum versatility for fly size, fish and wind conditions. A #8 is excellent for throwing poppers or calmer conditions. Some anglers prefer a #10 and that’s a good idea too, especially if you have extremely windy conditions and are casting heavier flies in deeper water.

 

7 – While you won’t have a Redfish peel 200 yards of backing off your reel like a GT or Tarpon, the big ones still pull hard and will test your gear. On top of that, you’re fishing brackish saltwater, which can be harsh on reels. For these reasons, you should bring a machined aluminum reel with a solid disc drag. The marsh is not the venue for plastic cassette reels. The Bauer RX series is perfect for saltwater applications like this.

8 – Even though Redfish receive the modeling contracts, the fun variety of species available in the marsh was unexpected. Our group caught reds, Black Drum, Sheepshead and Sea Trout. In warmer months, you will get opportunities at Jack Crevalle and Alligator Gar too. Traditionally, anglers chase bull reds in fall when the biggest fish migrate to the flats, but big fish can be found year-round.

9 – A properly stocked beer fridge is crucial after a warm day of fishing and luckily New Orleans sports some really good beer. Find some cans from Urban South Brewing and NOLA Brewing for starters.

10 – If you’re fishing in southern Louisiana, you’re likely flying into and out of New Orleans. This was my first trip to NOLA, but won’t be my last, and anyone headed to the marsh needs to spend a couple days enjoying the city. It sounds deranged, but I would visit NOLA even without doing any fishing. The cuisine and music are worth the trip alone. The WWII museum is humbling and awe-inspiring, and the weather is a welcome break from gray or snowy northern winters.

Again, I’m still green when it comes to roping Redfish, but I think this list is a good starting place when considering a trip to the marsh. Having fun is the most important part of a fishing trip and going into it with the correct gear and expectations goes a long way to putting smiles on faces. 

If you’re interested in joining Brett on a trip to the marsh, or elsewhere, he hosts trips throughout the year and can be found at www.tailoutanglers.com or on Instagram @tailoutanglers.

Photos by Tyler Bowman (@t.bowcreative)

 

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Six Weights and Saltines

Words by Brett Wedeking

I live and die by the tides. The ebb and flood dictates everything about when I launch my boat and where I choose to fish. If the tide dictates I meet my clients at the boat ramp at 4:30am I obey. Bleary eyed, too early for coffee, my clients obey too, though they much prefer banker’s hours tides. However, once I hit the throttle all sleepiness melts away with the Seattle skyline as we head west in search of saltwater trout.

Sea-run cutthroat (SRC’s) are anadromous salmonids. Much like steelhead, they are born in creeks and rivers and then migrate to saltwater where they grow into adults before returning to their natal waters to spawn. Cutthroat however, don’t travel into the open ocean, instead making their living in the nearshore environment throughout the West Coast of North America. My little slice of water is Central Puget Sound, where sometimes we catch cutthroat within sight of the Space Needle. This is my favorite fishery in the Pacific Northwest, not only because the boat ramp is 15 minutes from my front door, but because the entire quest is unique, dynamic and always challenging.

SRC’s roam the shallow waters of Puget Sound in pursuit of a number of food sources including herring, sand lances, salmon smolts, shrimp and worms. Consequently, the fishing is pure joy for the streamer junkie. Stripping small, sparse streamer patterns is the preferred tactic for the fly rod and an absolute blast when with these aggressive fish.

The grabs are hard and the fish scrappy, their beautifully spotted fins and flaming jaw line a works of art. They aren’t near the size of their steelhead relatives but SRC’s occupy an important ecological niche and the Puget Sound population is robust enough to support a thoughtful catch and release fishery. The fishing is seriously visual too; you can often see one or more fish chasing down your fly as you frantically strip it back to your rod tip. Follows, grabs and hookups are common, but these aggressive fish are wily. Sometimes we see large numbers of cutts but only bring a few to the net. Like most fisheries, we don’t base success on how many we land, though when times are good it feels like the net will get worn out. I know I’m biased, but I think this is the most underrated trout fishery in the country.

The tidal waters of the Sound move more than the uninitiated expect, with some spots looking and flowing like a river. I fish from a boat and use an electric trolling motor to control the boat as we drift along with the current, casting to juicy spots along the beach. SRC’s are ambush predators, they use the current along with boulders, shelves, eel grass, and whatever else they can us to disguise themselves, and wait for prey to make a mistake. Sometimes we can induce them into making a mistake too. This fishery is fleeting so when the fish are hot and grabby we make the most of it before it disappears. With the tidal changes go the bait and therefore go the cutthroat. The constant fluctuations keep me thinking and make it hard to get bored since we never fish the same exact piece of water twice.

One of the pleasant aspects of the fishery is we aren’t out there blind-casting 10-weights all day. We mostly fish 6-weights and slow sinking shooting heads. Rods like the 9’ #6 Alpha+ or the Air 2 are the dealer’s choice for this type of fishing. They are powerful and accurate for breezy days yet sensitive and supple when it counts. Line speed is key to turning over weighted flies at distance and these new Winston offerings shoot laser beams.

Fishing Puget Sound is about more than just cutthroat. We often incidentally encounter salmon on the same beaches as we fish for cutts, though I’m not licensed to specifically target them, salmon are fun bycatch. Seals, sea lions and bald eagles are ubiquitous and we often spot porpoises, otters and deer through the day. If we get really lucky we may even see orcas, that is if we have time to look away from bent rods and a net full of fins.

For more info on fishing for these native saltwater trout, check out Brett’s website: www.tailoutanglers.com or @tailoutanglers on Instagram.

Photos by Cole Leishman

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Legacy Hoodie

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Double Haul Trucker Hat

Our classic trucker features the infamous oval logo and an adjustable snapback. The Double Haul Trucker is a year-round fishing hat and a favorite among anglers.

Kisutch On The Swing

Words By Glenn Chen

As the glorious but brief northern summer draws to a close, a chill in the air and shortening daylight signals the onset of autumn – and with the change in seasons, comes the delightful opportunity to pursue coho with a two-handed rod and swinging fly.

Silver or coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) are members of the Pacific anadromous salmonid clan that are avidly pursued by legions of fishermen up and down the west coast.  This species is a favorite fly rod quarry:  the fierce grab followed by spectacular leaps and hard charging runs from a hooked silver is one of angling’s most exciting thrills, and I savor the memories of such wonderful battles well into our Alaska winter months of frigid cold and prolonged darkness.

Cohos are enjoyed by double-hand rod devotees, and those who are learning how to use such tackle will marvel at their responsiveness to a swung pattern, with the abundant opportunities for multiple hookups offering an excellent introduction to Spey fishing techniques.  My first successful catch on a two-handed outfit was a silver salmon… the big buck smashed my streamer as it neared the end of its arc, and ripped the line out of my hands as he tore away across the swift current, with the ensuing howl from the Hardy reel adding the perfect ambiance to this delightful experience.

For small to medium sized streams, I deploy the Winston 11’6” 6-weight switch rod, short Skagit head, and a 10’ T8 sink tip – or a 5’ floating/5’ T8 sink tip combination – to swing articulated streamers.  Larger rivers require a 7-weight (with the 13’3” Winston Spey being my preference), to cover the water with a full length Skagit head and a 10’ T11 sink tip (or a 5’ floating/5’ T11 sink tip combination, for shallower areas).  I’ll go to a heavier rod (e.g. the 8-weight Winston 13’3”) during higher flows or when a heavier sink tip/fly is needed.  Unless the water is low and clear, a 3’ – 4’ monofilament leader in 15# to 20# test looped onto the line tip will suffice for most coho angling situations.

Silvers prefer a fly with considerable action, so many fishers will employ a pattern with weighted heads (and an abundance of wiggly material plus flashy tinsel) that can impart an up and down motion via “false strips” — by pulling and releasing line repeatedly, about a foot each time — as it moves across the current.  Strikes can occur at any moment, and these fish will often follow the streamer through the entire swing, so I’ll add a series of false strips at the conclusion of the arc to provoke them (and be prepared for the “hang down” grab that’ll occur directly below you).

In freshwater systems, cohos usually avoid swift velocity areas, so seek out the softer edges and slower runs that’ll still have sufficient current to swing your fly.  As these salmon will strike patterns that are moving slightly above – but not below – the depth where they are holding, select the appropriate sink tip and streamer weight to ensure that you are fishing at the correct level in the water column.  I’ll start with a bright pink articulated pattern, switching to a darker color (e.g. cerise/purple or black/chartreuse) to continue enticing the fish on successive passes; move to a new spot once all the biters have been hooked.

For the optimal coho swing fishing experience, head to a remote coastal watershed in Alaska where angling pressure is light and the salmon are abundant.  Systems such as the Sapsuk, Kanektok, or Ayakulik rivers (to name a few) host large runs of sea-bright fish and have ideal conditions for two-handed swing angling.  Mid-August through late September are the optimal weeks to pursue Oncorhynchus kisutch in these wilderness settings, where humans are vastly outnumbered by the piscine and wildlife denizens.  Tent-style camps and lodges reached via chartered air flights cater to visiting fishers, and jet boats provide transportation to spots where you wade and cast in these rivers.

On a recent trip to the Alaska Peninsula during early September, our timing was perfect, as wave upon wave of mint-bright silver salmon swarmed up the river and attacked our swinging flies with abandon.  We fished with three anglers per guide, and triple hookups occurred so frequently that we grew to expect this upon arriving at every coho-laden run.  My Winston 7 and 8-weight Spey rods were constantly bent on fish that ranged up to 14 pounds; changing fly colors plus sink tips enabled me to maintain constant action throughout each day.  Because our camp was located adjacent to the prime water, a number of us would continue our fishing post-supper, until the resident brown bears arrived for their evening repasts and caused a tactful retreat back to the safety of our electrified compound.

Surface gurglers fished on switch rods and floating lines provided an exciting option to sunken flies, with the best top water action occurring early in the morning.  Throughout each day, pods of kisutch could be seen chasing our offerings, with the most aggressive and swiftest ones grabbing, then screaming away and vaulting high in the air upon feeling the hook  (which were barbless, to facilitate their release).  Head guide Mike Flynn was kept busy with his netting duties, and big grins plus high fives celebrated each successful capture.

One afternoon, I had our guide Trevor Covich drop me off at a spot where we had seen squads of silvers lined up along a willow-choked bank.  This place had been unfished due to the deep, soft mud along the entry shore, which I struggled through to reach the constantly rolling fish.  To my pleasant surprise, the clinging silt gave way to firm gravel as I approached the thalweg, and I was able to throw a long line out against the far bank.  The 4-inch long, chrome cone head streamer began its swing, and was instantly grabbed as I made my first false strip.  A big hen dashed downriver and cartwheeled high in the air, then proceeded to empty my Hardy Duchess reel with the Winston Spey rod bent all the way to the cork handle.  I made successive casts from each spot until there were no grabs, before taking the next steps down the run.  Ninety minutes of blissful action passed by thusly, before Trevor returned to pick up a very satiated angler to rejoin his companions for the short boat ride back to camp that evening.

The final kisutch of this trip proved to be the most memorable.  I was fishing just above camp at a run called Silver Tree, so named for the big alder where cohos would stop to rest on their upstream sojourn.  As I cast my Winston 8-weight Spey and swung the big cone head fly, it was smashed by an enormous coho just outside the overhanging branches.  The big buck powered his way across the strong currents, then decided that his route to freedom was via a swift return to the Bering Sea.  The click pawls on the Hardy erupted into a banshee howl as the fish made a stunning run towards the rapids hundreds of yards below.  The river’s surface blasted open as he leapt repeatedly during this mad dash; I saw that this fish was far bigger than any I had encountered during the week, and I despaired over the slim odds of landing him in the heavy flows, as I was unable to get around the tree to follow.  He finally stopped just above the start of the choppy water, and in desperation – with the hope that the barbless hook would somehow remain attached to his jaw – I quickly stripped out line and let it belly below the salmon.  To my relief, this worked, and he began to swim back upriver against the downstream pull of the Skagit head.  I slowly worked him towards me, but had to repeat the tactic as the fish tried again and again to flee in the opposite direction.

After many long and anxious minutes, I had coho within a few yards of me, but he stubbornly refused to move out of the current.  I bent my rod deeply as I led him downriver and tried to draw him towards the quiet water along the bank – but the salmon would flex his massive body and power back into the flows.  It required a dozen attempts at this merry-go-round before I was finally able to slide him into the shallows next to my feet.  I could barely grasp the broad peduncle above his tail with both hands, and managed to snap one photo before the hook fell out of his mouth — whereupon the fish sensed his freedom and dashed back into the channel, dousing me with spray as a final salutation from a worthy opponent.  I hope that his progeny successfully return to challenge future silver salmon Spey anglers!

Photos by Cole Leishman

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The Forgotten Place: Fly Fishing in Costa Rica with Pro Staffer Jesse Males

Thick jungle, populated by monkeys and exotic birds, surround most of Costa Rica. The countryside is a mountainous region, hosting uncountable varieties of plants, trees, and other vegetation. The sheer biomass of this place is overwhelming, to say the least.

The far-out fisheries that I guide on are no exception and with views of ancient volcanos in the background, you are in naturally unique area unlike any other fishery in the Northern Hemisphere. Due to the amount of annual rain fall and running water, free flowing waterfalls pepper the hills and provide a wonderful backdrop for photography. When on the water and in the jungle, you get the feeling of being in a truly special place that offers more than a world class fishery. The landscape, wildlife, and scenery alone are worth the visit.

Many people don’t know it but Costa Rica boasts one of the of the largest congregations of tarpon on the planet. While most people think about Tarpon fishing in clear, blue water off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Rican Tarpon fishery occurs in the jungle. This is extremely unique to this area in Central America which includes other countries like Nicaragua and Panama.

Tarpon are likely responsible for more saltwater fly fishing converts than any other fish. Their attitude, strength, tendency to jump and make face melting runs is unmatched by nearly any other fish on the planet. Nothing beats watching a Silver King go completely airborne, violently thrashing and running like a freight train — an unstoppable force. Now, put yourself in the jungle of Costa Rica and experience a view that few anglers have ever seen.

For these fish, we use extra strong, fast-action rods like the Saltwater AIR 9’ 11-weight or 12-weight. The Salt AIR is an exceptional rod for these situations when you need to delicately hit your mark with extreme precision. It’s a smooth casting fast-action fly rod that still captures a classic “Winston Feel” but is also very friendly to picking up line quickly and laying it back down. The perfect rod for nearly any saltwater situation on the planet. 

Pair the Salt AIR with a Bauer Fly Reel RX 7 and you have a deadly combination. Watch out, Tarpon.

The other fish that we target is called the Machaca. Undoubtedly, this fish is one of the wildest and baddest dudes in the jungle. A cousin to the piranha, the Machaca sports a full spread of razor sharp teeth, capable of slicing open a finger…or worse. Don’t forget to bring a few pairs of your favorite pliers when targeting these toothy critters.

The Machaca have everything a fly angler could dream of in a sport fish — They bust topwater, jump, make hard runs, and live in beautiful places. Due to their stocky body and large head, these fish are surprisingly strong and don’t give up easily. After they are hooked, they typically head for the nearest structure, making it extremely important to take control as soon as possible. Because of this, we solely use rods with a solid backbone, like the Alpha+ 9’ 8-weight.

Flies for these fish are not your typical feathery concoctions. We use special flies that imitate the local fruits and berries — food sources that these fish can’t resist. Your typical dead drift presentation is perfect for imitating the berries that fall into the swift currents. Being almost exclusively a top water feeder, Machaca are a ton of fun on an 8-weight fly rod.

While the Machaca are not the most conventionally beautiful fish in the jungle, they feature amazing bronze and gold color patterns, often with highlights of teal blue on their gill plates and tail. Holding one up for a photo always puts a big smile on my face.

With such a rich history in fly fishing, you would think that Costa Rica would be on anglers’ bucket lists across the world. Back in the day, famous and influential anglers would flock to the jungle to take part in this world class fishery. It wasn’t until years later that fishing lodges became mismanaged and eventually shut down. The fishery and local economy collapsed. Anglers simply quit coming.

For the past few years, we have been working with local Costa Ricans to restore fly fishing travel in this area. Soon, anglers from all over the US will be happy to hook up in this jungle once again. Beyond the quality of the fishing, the greatest joy of exploring the jungle Tarpon fishery has been the ability to make epic memories with my good friends and guests.

It is a pleasure to be Costa Rica’s premiere outfitter for this amazing fish and I am happy to share it with anybody who wants to experience a truly unique fly fishing adventure.

If you would like to know more about fly fishing in Costa Rica, please feel free to reach me at backwaterflyfishing@yahoo.com or visit www.506outdoors.com.

-Jesse Males

The Infamous Green Tube – Joe Dahut’s Saltwater AIR Review

The mark of a well designed fly rod is one that is a precise balance between power and delicacy, two sides of one personality that the Winston Saltwater Air wears quite well. Ranging from 6-12 wt, the Saltwater Air is a rod with a knack for picking up 40-50 feet of fly line and smoothly transitioning its energy from a pick up to a placement right back down in front of a fish. My personal favorite rod in the line of rods is the 9wt, for its ability to present flies to permit in high pressure situations. On slicked out days when I need to switch from a deep water permit fly to a lighter fly, the rod handles permit fishing’s demand for quick situational change well. Even the occasional night time baby tarpon mission is no problem for the rod, as it acts as my go-to all around setup, paired perfectly with RIO’s 9wt Elite Permit line.

A slow-loading and immensely sensitive rod, the 9wt Saltwater Air is an exceptional choice for the permit angler with a deliberate and ‘process-oriented’ casting stroke. In layman’s terms, the rod has a slow action, and can be very beneficial for a caster who throws a long loading loop in situations with long leaders and heavy flies to spooky fish.

Some trout anglers who come down to the flats for a week of fishing have the idea in their mind that they need a fast action rod to cut through immense tropical breezes. Depending on your casting style, this could not be further from the truth. If you are a trout angler who likes the traditional action of a Winston, you should absolutely stick with it, because you have grown accustomed to that action. The learning curve of changing from what you are used to can cost you a large portion of your trip, because you are trying to recalibrate your casting stroke to fit the tendencies of the new gear that you are not used to using. Casting in the wind is a part of every day fishing in the Keys, as it is in many destination flats fisheries, so having a rod with an action you are comfortable with is important and essential.

In one particular instance, I put the Saltwater Air 9wt through its paces with the grandfather of spooky fish, the atlantic permit in the Florida Keys. I was fishing with my good friend Ryan Phinney, who is a guide out of Big Pine Key, and we were approaching a tailing permit, from the downwind position. Often, this is a highly difficult shot for an angler because they lose track of exactly where their fly is in the water column in relation to the fish, considering the current and the wind picking up the fly and taking it away from the feeding zone. Having very little idea where the fly was, I read the tailing body language of the fish, and sent a cast farther away from it than maybe I initially wanted to. The sight of a tailing permit makes any sane person freeze up, even if just a little. Ryan urged me to pick up line and hit the fish on the head, as its head was in the coral, feeding actively on what was likely crabs or other forage. With one even up-stroke of my rod tip, I was able to relieve line tension off the water and propel my cast into a quiet, even backcast, furthermore transferring that energy into a delicate forward cast that landed quietly, although it likely did not need to (this fish was really feeding).

I was able to place the fly exactly where it needed to be – right on top of the fish. The tail kept waving, and Phinney and I, the boat, and unfortunately the fly, were completely undetected by the permit. I stripped line in quickly, not as a retrieve, but more as a way to get another shot at the fish and remove the belly out of my line. I ended up coaxing the fish to follow, albeit accidentally, and we both suspected that somewhere in the exchange, the fish ate the fly and spat it, completely undetected, as evident to his reaction – a speedy getaway somewhere to another zip code.

It’s true, the end of this story does not end in me holding a permit. Most anglers would see this as a failure, a blown shot, but more importantly, I look at that scenario and recognize that the cast was exactly where it needed to be, apparently, and everything else is up to the good will of the permit gods. Even blind squirrels like myself find a nut, so I can only look forward to the next opportunity to capitalize on a shot like that. The good and the bad in fly fishing even out in the end, I’m convinced, and with more hard work, more permit will come to hand. It is that simple.

Now, back to the rod! Upon picking up the Saltwater Air for the first time, one of my main suspicions was that they were not fast enough to keep up with the fishing down here. Absolutely, like many other skeptics of Winston, I had my own preconceived notions about the rod in that pretty green tube!

“Isn’t Winston mostly, like, for trout?”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that! Before throwing the Saltwater Air, I knew they would work throwing big striper flies up north, and certainly for other predatory species, but I was not sure if it was more of a casting rod, as opposed to a fishing rod. I have tested out the line of rods shark fishing, and they withstand large fish taking powerful runs, which is the name of the game! Being able to cast in the wind, have backbone in a fight, and still present flies with delicacy is something all saltwater rods aspire to achieve, and this rod covers all those bases.

The rod action, or how fast or slow a rod casts, is an issue with high subjectivity, and likely has very little to do with the way the rod loads, but more so with the one loading the rod (ie the caster). However, the entire line of Saltwater Air fly rods were designed for delicacy, so keeping that in mind, someone who knowingly likes a fast action rod will take a longer time getting used to the action. If you are a Winston believer or skeptic, you owe it to yourself to come by the shop and cast one on the pond!

Read more from Joe Dahut at Seven Mile Fly Shop at www.https://sevenmileflyshop.com/.