Bluff Line Media is at it again with another installment of their series “Ozarks on the Fly”. We had the chance to hear from Jon Link and Grady Powell (Dual Survival, American Grit) about their experiences that were documented in the film.

Fly Lords: Explain how fly fishing fills that same adrenaline need that you explained in the film.

Grady: When I would stand on the back hatch of a perfectly good airplane, thousands of feet above the earth, or when I would be bouncing around on a sandy road about to get dropped off in the middle of the Sahara Desert with nothing but the clothes on my back and a knife… the excitement for what is about to come would overwhelm me with this weird sense of happiness.. but at the same time, a little voice in the back of my head is always asking “are you sure you are prepared for this?”.

I searched for that when I was done with the TV life and the Special Forces, but the only things that I could fill the void with were either unhealthy, unsafe, or illegal… I started to lose myself, and knew there had to be another way. Then I found the water.

The moment I get hooked up, although not quite life threatening, I get the same sort of adrenaline dump… I know I am about to go on a ride. And at the same time, as a pretty green angler, the more sensible side of me is saying… “Are you sure you are prepared for this?”. I am slowly getting the hang of fly fishing, very slowly. But man, the rush I get from linking in to ANYTHING that bends my rod, I absolutely love it.

Photo: Connor Cockrell

Fly Lords: How has euro-nymphing changed how you tackle a piece of water?

Jon: I think the biggest change is that I’m just as focused on analyzing what I can feel underwater as what I can see on the surface. Another change is the amount of water I pass on while fishing. Euro nymphing is most effective on the water I fish when I’m targeting riffles, runs, tailouts, and eddies, so I tend to move around a lot hiking from hole to hole and skipping the slower water in between.

When I find a piece of water I want to fish, I try to paint a mental picture of what’s under the surface by feel. When you are tight lining, feel is extremely important. Feeling what’s underwater helps me locate fish holding structure I might not know is there utilizing other fly fishing methods. If I feel a boulder, depression in the streambed or anything isolated that provides a good current break, I make sure to fish that area more thoroughly and take multiple drifts around the structure.

Successfully identifying structure and contour changes often rewards you with biggest fish in that section of water.

Photo: Connor Cockrell

Fly Lords: Explain how fishing has brought you guys together as friends.

Grady: I don’t know if I’ve told Jon this honestly, but when I left the Special Forces, I found it pretty hard to relate to anyone.

I don’t consider myself someone who struggles with Post Traumatic Stress, but I most definitely struggled with reintegration. I felt like I had nothing in common with my peers, and had a pretty hard time relating to anyone or even keeping a conversation going. Its not like that on the water with Jon. It started off with us just hitting the water closest to home, and over the past two years, we have taken more trips together than I have with anyone else I would consider a friend. We never have to search for something to talk about, and it doesn’t hurt that he is the most generous fisherman on the water, letting me take the first stab at holes he KNOWS are holding the fish he lost on our last trip, or donating his most productive fly when I just cant get anything to work out.  Hell, it doesn’t hurt that he is just an all around killer dude to crack a cold Busch with. And he’s cool with me dating his cousin, so that’s nice too.
Photo: Sam Starr

Jon: Grady and I are very like minded when it comes to why we enjoy fishing and you never have to twist his arm to head out on a fishing adventure. For Grady and me, fishing is all about camaraderie on the water, enjoying time in nature and having a few cold ones while we’re at it. Potentially landing a big fish is icing on the cake!

Over the past few years, Grady and I have fished all over Missouri and traveled to fish streams and alpine lakes in Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming. We’ve caught cutties, browns, rainbows, brookies and smallmouth in some of the most picturesque places in the country and shared a ton of laughs while doing it. I also enjoy documenting these experiences and producing short films, which Grady gets into. Not everyone is tolerant of having a camera waved around in their face all day, but he puts up with it. I can’t think of a better person to share time on the water with!

Photo: Connor Cockrell

Fly Lords: Walk us through the big browns that both of you caught.

Grady: A double dose of the Anthrax vaccine did a number on my memory, so I will do my best to piece it together for you.

Jon and I were kind of working this submerged log that works as kind of a fence mid river between wadable water and this super deep pool. the North Side of the river has these awesome rock bluffs, and the south bank (at my back) has a steep muddy cut. We have always had success in this spot, and that day was no different. We were running out of daylight, and Jon had been talking the whole time about this ONE hole he had to hit, and if he didn’t peel off, he wouldn’t get a shot at it before dark. So, in typical Jon fashion, he pulled the ol’ Irish goodbye, climbed up the bank, and hit the trail down river.

When he left, I was consistently pulling 14-16″ fish out. But we had been doing that all weekend, I wanted a fish to remember.

It was about that time, I remembered another trip fishing this spot when the water was SUPER clear… The front of the pool was pretty well lined with a wall of fish, but the water got much deeper behind them, and I never saw what was down there. If I know anything about trout in the Current, its that the pigs hang low and under cover.

So I took a couple steps down river, just enough so that my rig would get past the front line of fish before my anchor fly hit the bottom. I felt my 4mm tungsten bead head bounce off the bottom, tightened up my line, and led the current. I was about at the 2 o’clock position when… WHACK. My adrenaline dumped, and I heard that familiar voice, “Are you sure you’re prepared for this?”.

Simultaneously my mind is RACING with instructions Jon gave me the first time we were in this spot, Rod tip went up, fly line pinched on the rod, checked my drag, and went for a ride. The trout never ran up stream, she was rolling, and jumping constantly. All I could see was the massive root balls and a pinned tree just down river… I didn’t have the luxury of open water to chase her down… I had 10 yards tops. I suppose at that point I blacked out and just went through the motions.. because the next thing I remember was having my personal best Current River Brown netted, and a childish grin on my face. Not 15 seconds later I start hearing the faintest familiar yell from a half mile down river… Jon was into something huge.

Photo: Sam Starr

Jon: The day before I caught the brown at the end of the film, were losing daylight and turned back to the cabin right before we got to the hole that was holding that fish. It’s a washout under the rootwad of a big tree. This small depression in the streambed doesn’t look like much, but it consistently produces a nice rainbow or two and I wanted to make sure to hit it before the end of the weekend.

The next morning, I broke off a really nice brown on a section of water near our cabin and was kicking myself as we headed back to grab lunch. When we hit the water that afternoon, I couldn’t get my mind off losing the big brown that morning. I had an overwhelming urge to hike downstream and hit the hole I had been thinking about since last night. After fishing with the group for an hour or so I split off and headed downstream with hopes of catching a nice rainbow and redeeming myself. Luckily, Connor pealed off with me with his camera in tow.

When we got to the hole, I drifted through it about ten or twelve times without a strike. Nothing. I was about to leave and told myself, “A few more casts and then I’m moving along.” I’m glad I decided to stay! I was throwing a 10’6” 3wt, so when I set the hook on that brown it didn’t even know there was a #10 jig hook in it’s lip. It started to slowly swim upstream a few feet, so I put some side pressure on it to try to turn it’s head. Then my rod keeled over and the fight was on! It reversed course, shot out of the hole, drag screaming and took off downstream like a freight train through a foot or two of water littered with small rocks for it to wrap me around.

When you’re fighting a fish that size on light tackle you’re at the mercy of the fish for the most part. You have to let it run. All you can do is try to turn it’s head to steer it away from obstacles and cross your fingers. Luckily, after chasing it over 100 yards downstream, Connor and I landed the fish and got some great looking shots despite my hands shaking like crazy.

The best part was I heard Grady yelling about 500 yards upstream a few minutes before I hooked this fish. I found out later he was celebrating landing his personal best brown! What a great day on the water.

Photo: Connor Cockrell
Photo: Connor Cockrell

Be sure to keep up with Grady and Jon on Instagram, and to subscribe to Bluff Line Media on YouTube to keep up with their future episodes!

Interview conducted by Fly Lords team member Conner Grimes.

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