Month: July 2016

Oh Montana!  For our first stop in our adopted home state of Montana, we hit the Bighorn River near Ft. Smith.  We’d heard stories and had read about how great a fishery the Bighorn is, but we’d not fished it here in the Ft. Smith area where it is most well known.   What we know firsthand now is that all the stories are true.

Epic is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the fishing world so we try not to use it freely and save it for the truly amazing days.  For us, epic doesn’t mean biggest fish ever, or even most fish ever (although that certainly helps) but means a day of great fishing and fun.  So….. our trip on the Bighorn with Merritt Harris of Bighorn Trout Shop was truly EPIC!

We started out just below Afterbay Dam and fished our way down to the Three Mile Access takeout.  In between, we fished from the boat but waded in certain holes along the way.  In both cases, big wild brown and rainbow trout were fought and netted.  More importantly, we had a guide, Merritt, who made the day not just productive for sure, but so much fun.

Merritt is one of the most requested and hardest to get guides on the Bighorn.  Not sure how we were so lucky to have him as our guide, but we’ll definitely be back to fish with him again.  I’d highly recommend that if you’re coming to fish the Bighorn, call the Bighorn Trout Shop and ask for Merritt.

For now, enjoy this interview we did with him parked in some shade along the Bighorn.  If you look closely, you’ll even see a fish rise to eat a black caddis.  Enjoy!


On our way from Michigan to Montana, we decided to take a side trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument.   The SaraLinda was up for it so we gassed up with the big boys and headed across the midwest cornfields on I-80.

When we made it to South Dakota and I-90, Barb actually took over and drove the SL for the first time.  She made about an hour of clenched teeth driving before she turned it back over to me.  We needed a rest before we made it to Devil’s Tower, so of course, it was “Wall Drug or Bust”.  It was HOT to say the least.  Our temp gauge registered a high of 110 but we couldn’t get a pic quick enough but we caught it at 109.

After our night in Wall, we headed to Wyoming, which meant Devil’s Tower couldn’t be far. We pulled the SaraLinda into our campground and boy were we surprised at the incredible view our View had.  We looked directly up at Devil’s Tower from the campground.

The campground does a somewhat cheesy but ultimately very cool thing each night.   With Devil’s Tower as the backdrop, they show Close Encounters of the Third Kind on an outside big screen TV.  Barb and I still remember seeing it for the first time back in November, 1977.  This time was pretty special given the environs.  What was really fun was seeing families watching it for the first time.

After watching the movie, we headed up the mountain to Devil’s Tower to try out the camera on a night shot.  Lots of trial and error, but we got a couple of pretty good shots of a moonrise along with the tower and stars.  Many thanks to Keith Mitchell, John Woody and Don Henderson, my photography gurus for helping me figure all this out.  Turned out great I think.  Afterward, it was back to the SL and our oh so appropriate nightlight (make sure to see the pic in the attached movie 😉

The next morning we got up before dawn to see if we could capture a sunrise on the tower.  We found a family of deer as we climbed back up the hill.  The buck was really watching out for everyone.   We ended up hiking Joyner Trail to get some great photos of sunrise and how it hit Devil’s Tower.

After getting shots along Joyner Ridge Trail, we headed to the tower to hike the Tower Trail that circles the entire Devil’s Tower.  It is truly awe inspiring to walk it.  We saw ten climbers scaling the columns that make up the tower.  We even heard their grunts and screams…. eeeeeek!

Devil’s Tower is a sacred place to many Native Americans.  In June, climbers are not allowed on the tower.  Tribes connected to the tower come and place prayer cloths on trees around the tower, conduct ceremonial dances and more.  You can see the prayer cloths everywhere as you circle the tower.  The Native American Lakota Sioux (great grandmother on my dad’s side) in me made visiting here very special.   Must do more research when I get a chance.

We encountered lots of wildlife as we hiked the trail.  From a squirrel stretching on a log to two fawns playing just off the path.  The night before we saw a fox and a zillion prairie dogs.

There are so many incredible views as you hike around Devil’s Tower.  You can even see the valley where the spaceships came in the movie CE3K.  I highly encourage anyone heading near this area to stop and take the hikes around Devil’s Tower.  If you can, spend the night at the campground at the base of the tower and watch the movie as well.   We hope you enjoy the slide show movie of our journey to Devil’s Tower.  Road trips ROCK!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Michigan, fishing the “Fab Five“.  We also had a great time with family camping at Holland Beach and at Hartwick Pines State Campground.   The “Trout Town” of Grayling was a treat from awesome fly shops like the Old Au Sable Fly Shop to great food at Spikes Keg O’Nails and Goodale Bakery.

Fishing the 4 TU Top 100 streams, theAu Sable, Manistee, Little Manistee and Pere Marquette as well as the Pine was a real treat.  We caught (and released of course) dozens of little brookies and a handful of really nice sized browns.  While we missed the “hex hatch”, we fished dries and twitched/stripped streamers to lure the fish to our nets.

Please enjoy this tribute to our time in “Pure Michigan”.  We’re now rambling on to points West.

Yes, I’m a college basketball junkie.  I can still vividly remember the excitement around a group of 5 mercurial freshmen at the University of Michigan that set the collegiate basketball world on fire during the 1991-92 season.   But this isn’t about basketball, but about the “Fab Five” trout streams we had the pleasure of fishing in Michigan.  Four of the streams are a part of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams.  The fifth, honestly fished better than any of the others even though its not on the “Top 100” list.

We started our Michigan tour in the Grayling area (stayed at Hartwick Pines State Park)  which boasts two Top 100 Trout Streams, the Au Sable and the Manistee.  The prime season for the “hex” hatch had just ended but when we walked into the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in Grayling, Andy convinced us we HAD to go out that very night and try.  Barb and I went out around 9:30pm to the Goose Creek Campground Access to the Manistee River, hiked in about 1/4 mile and found our spots.  We both had nice cut banks with some structure around them where big fish might hide.  We had our headlamps on our heads but off as we awaited a possible hatch.  While it never came, I did catch a nice 14″ brown on a “hex” fly about 10pm.  When 10:45 arrived, it was pitch black outside and Barb was ready to go.  Naturally, at that very time, a huge fish (think 24″ or more) hit Barb’s fly in the dark.  It surprised her so much it got away.  Not much happened after that so we headed back to the car around 11:15pm.

The next day, Chris Drake (son-in-law) and I floated the Manistee with Alex Lafkas in a genuine Au Sable River Boat.  While the fishing that day wasn’t too great, we had a great time on the river (see gallery pic) catching a few small brook and brown trout.  Unfortunately, a big thunderstorm blew up and we high-tailed it off the water.

Next, it was Barb’s turn to be in the the Au Sable River Boat with Alex as we floated the Au Sable River.  We put in at 2pm and fished until 10pm that evening.  Since sunset wasn’t until then, we had a great time fishing with the sun off the water for half the time.  What that meant was that we had brookies and browns rising regularly and we caught our share of them on dry flies.  Lots of fun and an incredibly relaxing float.  We also saw where Trout Unlimited was originally formed (see gallery collage pic).

Barb and I waded the Au Sable on our own a couple more times while we were in the Grayling area.  Wading both up and downstream and hitting the banks looking for big fish, we were happy with plenty of 10″ trout.  Every so often, a special racing canoe would come barreling down the river past us.  There is a big race every year on the Au Sable called the AuSable River Canoe Marathon and teams were already preparing for it.

We next moved down to the Irons/Baldwin area to fish 2 Top 10 streams, the Pere Marquette and Little Manistee, as well as what was described to us as the “best” trout stream of them all, the Pine River.  The Little M was just down from our campground in Irons.  Barb and I found access points at the Irons Road bridge our first morning and stepped into a small stream fishing for brookies and the occasional brown.  We found a few but had a wonderful morning searching them out in each pool (see gallery pic)  as we walked downstream.

When we hit the DLoop fly shop in Wellston, we were told that the Pine River was the one we REALLY wanted to fish.  Lucky for us, we got a slot to fish it.  Guided fishing trips on the Pine are regulated heavily with only a few allowed each season.  Turns out the Pine is much more a paddlers river and thus protected for them.  We went out with Brad Turner, The PM Angler.  Brad was as excited as we were in that he’d not paddled the Pine in some time as a guide.  We had a blast on the trip (another 2pm – 10pm) and caught numerous fish and some really nice ones (see Barb’s catch in gallery above).  The fly of the day was “The Skunk”, black streamer with white rubber legs that we twitched and stripped.  Barb was especially deadly with this method.

Finally, we fished the Pere Marquette River in somewhat the same way we’d fished the Au Sable.  We waded it on our own a couple of days before floating it with Tommy Lynch, “The Fish Whisperer”.  While the “bite” wasn’t on in a major way, we still hooked into a few good sized browns throwing hoppers and “The Skunk”.

All in all, the Michigan “Fab Five” rivers where just that….. fabulous!


What makes a “Top Trout Town”?  In 2009, Forbes Magazine published its list titled “North America’s Top 10 Trout-Fishing Towns“.   The author admitted that it was totally subjective but listed out 10 communities rich with trout fishing opportunities.  Fly Rod & Reel published its list of the “Top 10 Trout Towns” with some criteria: Pitfalls, Big Draws, Best Eats, After Hours, Kick Start with Caffeine, and Kicking the Dirt.  A book has even been written about the subject by Bob Mallard, “25 Best Towns Fly Fishing for Trout“.  As we travel around on our River Ramble, we are visiting many of the towns in these publications and more.   Of course, we are finding our own criteria for our own personal “Top” list, including important characteristics like:  local watering holes, best local beer, great local coffee, unique local eats, fly fishing economic benefit to the community, best live music, etc…  We’ll share more on all of these along the way and will likely be changing our minds along the way as we visit more and more of these locales.

To date, we’ve visited trout towns that are on most “Top” lists including:  Asheville, NC; Roscoe, NY; State College, PA; and Grayling, MI.    Absolutely all are great but they also are all different.

Asheville is a major city with a large regional university and very diversified economy.  It happens to set close to some of the most incredible trout fishing in the east.  It’s the largest city in an area I’d like to suggest become a new state devoted to trout fishing.  It would include Northern Georgia, Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.  There are numerous “TU Top 100” trout streams in the area.  While Asheville is awesome, we actually enjoyed a much smaller community that someone described as “Asheville 100 years ago”, Sylva, NC.  It’s closer to most of the NC trout streams, has a main street with multiple fly shops, has some unique local eats, multiple local breweries and a great live music scene.  If you’re in Asheville, take a trip out to Sylva and visit Innovation Brewing, grab a meal at Evolution Wine Kitchen (yes, they have a great selection of craft beers and great food pairings for it) and if you’re lucky, go listen to Bird in Hand playing nearby.

Roscoe, NY, bills itself as “Trout Town USA”.  Banners up on main street proclaim this proudly as do signs in many of the towns businesses.  The Roscoe Beer Company is in town and distributes a very nice Trout Town American Amber Ale that I sampled liberally.   Just down the road is Catskill Brewery.  The Roscoe Diner is a fixture among fly fisherman in the area.  The town supports 4 fly shops that lure fishermen with everything they’d possibly need.  Guides abound for fishing area rivers with drift boats on every corner of town.  We had the pleasure of working with the team at Ken Tutalo’s Baxter House River Outfitters.  Two of the three TU Top 100 Trout Streams flow right through Roscoe and a third is a short 15 minutes away.

State College, PA, is the home of Penn State University and we’re told it’s also known as “Trout Bum U”.  Within an hour drive are three of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams.  If you go out to an hour and a half, you add 3 more TU Top 100’s and at least 3 other trout streams that could have been on the list.   Being a university town, you have all of the benefits that brings, including some great local breweries like Happy Valley Brewing Company.  You also have a PSU Ag Department creamery on campus that serves up some of the best ice cream you’ll ever find.  TCO is a great local fly shop that provides great flies, supplies and most importantly, info on where to fish.  We spent two weeks in the State College area and could have spent 2 months…. easy!

Finally, we just visited Grayling, MI,  which has the Au Sable River flowing right through town.  Old Au Sable Fly Shop sits right on the river and provides everything you could need for fishing the area.    Just outside town, flows the Manistee River, another of the TU Top 100.  The Au Sable is home to the founders of Trout Unlimited itself.  Couldn’t really find any “local beers” but did find a great local eats spot, “Spike’s Keg O Nails” which celebrates the town’s fly fishing and paddling heritage.  The are proud supporters of the annual canoe race on the Au Sable.  To satisfy your sweet tooth, the Goodale Bakery in town has everything…. and I mean EVERYTHING!  They are even a distributer for Albie’s Pasties, a northern Michigan concoction that was scrumptious.   What we found in Grayling was that while it is a great town with two world class trout streams, it’s really more of a paddlers town with more kayak/canoe rental shops by far than fly shops.

If you pinned us down according to our criteria at this moment, we’d probably say Sylva, NC should be on any “Trout Town” list just as much as Asheville.   We love Asheville but Sylva was closer to the fishing and more intimate.   But so far, if you wanted to say pure “Trout Town”, they’ve already coined it, its Roscoe, NY.  If you wanted to fish a dozen or more quality trout streams in an area, State College is your town.   If history, some cool river boats, an incredible hex hatch and some paddling is on your list, head to Grayling.

This year, we’ll also be visiting towns on most “Top” lists including West Yellowstone (MT), Bend (OR), Jackson (WY), Ennis (MT), Missoula (MT), Bozeman (MT) and Hailey (ID).  We’ll also be reporting on other “Top” towns we find along the way.  We have a favorite but will save it until we fish there…. so stay tuned…. and….

Ramble On!

We had a blast fishing the TU Top 100 rivers in Maryland: Big Gunpowder Falls, North Branch of the Potomac and the Savage.  Who knew Maryland had such great trout streams.  Given the proximity to DC, its really quite amazing that these streams don’t see even more pressure than they do.  We sure seemed to have the rivers to ourselves a lot during our stay here.  Please enjoy “Maryland Memories”, our video montage of our time in Maryland.

Our first stop was to fish the Big Gunpowder Falls river near Monkton, MD.  Our base was the Backwater Angler fly shop.  Make sure you stop in here and visit with Theaux Le Gardeur.  He knows this river inside and out.  He’s the “Riverkeeper” for the BGF river.  He and the young guys in the shop do a tremendous job of giving you the flies and the river intel to have a great day on the water.  He also hooked us up with Micah Dammeyer of Knee Deep Fly Fishing who guided us on an afternoon/evening of fishing.  At 6’6″ Micah is never more than “Knee Deep” in any part of the BGF river.  You can read his guide talk here.

Next stop was to fish the North Branch of the Potomac with Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitter.  We were in a small raft  floating down rapids and fishing holes in between.  Had a lot of fun and caught lots of beautiful rainbows along the Maryland/West Virginia border that the NB makes.  Hear more from Harold’s interview here.

Our final stop in MD was on the Savage River.  We had an absolute blast fishing this river and its tributaries.  We caught many small brookies in the tribs that were gorgeous in color and spunky for their size.  When we got on the Savage with Charlie Laffey and Mike Evans of Savage River Outfitters, we were treated to some amazing browns.  Their size and fight were a real treat.  We highly recommend this fishery and for sure heading to SRO for guiding, flies, tips and perhaps even a glass of wine by the river out back with Mike and his wife.  Check out his interview on the banks of the Savage.