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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

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

Your new favorite hoodie for cold weather. This extra-heavy top features classic Winston artwork and a poly-cotton fabric blend that won’t shrink in the wash.

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.