Different Fish, Different Places: California Surf

On the latest episode of Different Fish, Different Places presented by Loon. We head to the California Coast. *cue “California Love”* The folks at Lost Coast Outfitters and Stokeventures Fly Fishing are hitting the coast in search of one of America’s favorite fish, striped bass, among some other fun species to catch on the fly. We got to chat with George Revel from Lost Coast Outfitters and Evan Praskin from Stokeventures Fly Fishing about this unique fishery. 


Flylords: Not many people think about fly fishing when you talk about San Francisco, what is it like having a fly shop in the city? 

George Revel (Lost Coast Outfitters): I mean, we are surrounded by water, why would you not think of fly fishing? I would argue, fishing opportunities are more accessible, diverse, and less crowded in San Francisco than say, Bozeman Montana, or many of your other famous trout towns. You won’t find trout in SF but a couple of hours from here you will find some of the finest trout fishing in the world. In city limits, we target Striper, Halibut, Surf perch, and Dungeness Crab (via pots) and with less successfully King Salmon, Ling Cod, and White Sea Bass. Aside from our local saltwater, delta fisheries, and one nearby trout stream, everything else is equally far away, with SFO providing frequent, cheap, and direct flights anywhere in the world. It’s easy to escape anywhere you can imagine with ease.

San Francisco is an incredible city, and our shop is in the best part at the confluence of North Beach (little Italy), Chinatown, Jackson Square (the old part of town), and the Financial District. There is a large fishing culture and storied history in San Francisco. R.L. Winston Fly Rods, Scott Fly Rods, and Ross Reels all got their start in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Golden Gate Angling and Casting club is where the ideas for many modern innovations used today in fly fishing like shooting heads and the AFFTA line standards.

San Francisco is an international city, We get visitors from all over the world. It’s amazing to interface with and learn from such a diverse pool of people. We’ve had Bosnian fly fishing guides and Mongolian competitive anglers walk through our doors. In one week we might have people going to Seychelles, Bolivia, Mexico, New Zealand, and places I’ve never even heard of. The diversity of people that walk through our doors is incredible and we are dedicated to providing a friendly and welcoming space for all people.

I grew up in the country in Northern California outside of Redding, CA. I moved to San Francisco in 2006 to attend college. 17 years later I am still working on my street smarts. Cities are harsh, and my country folk sensibilities often have me at odds with the city. It’s not all sunshine and roses in the sunshine state. The high cost of living, vandalism, theft, and homelessness all make running a small business in the city incredibly difficult. Once, I spent three weeks sleeping in my shop with my dog and a 12 gauge after a bout of break-ins as I awaited shutters to be installed. It’s wild, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. I love San Francisco and like many other small businesses, Lost Coast Outfitters is doing its part to make San Francisco a better place. Our customers have rewarded our commitment to the community, conservation, and keeping a well-stocked and friendly fly shop environment with tremendous loyalty. I wouldn’t trade or betray it for anything.

Evan Praskin (Stokeventures Fly Fishing): Having a fly shop in the city is absolutely crucial in my opinion. You can gain so much more from actually stepping foot into a shop as opposed to shopping online. Being able to ask questions and build a relationship with the staff can lead you to have more success out on the water.

Flylords: What led you to throw flies in the surf rather than conventional tackle? How long have you been doing it? 

George: It’s varsity. A true test of fortitude, casting ability, line management, and reading the water. I am a fly fisherman. I have spent the past 27 years learning the art and science of fly fishing. Everything I have learned and experienced is put to the test in the surf. My skills have and continue to improve from the frequency of outings and the challenge of the fishery. It is the thought of hooking a 30lb striper, salmon or something I can not even conceive of that lurks in the back of my mind with every strip and every cast that makes the challenge worth it. I don’t want to make it seem unattainable or too hardcore because there are many beaches and days where fishing can be quite easy. I have taken people out who have never touched a fly rod before in their lives and put them on fish.

My first experience fishing the surf was in August of 2006, I was 17 and just moved to San Francisco. I went to Ocean Beach and saw all the gear guys out there throwing plugs for Striper. I converted some steelhead gear I had and promptly had my ass handed to me. The ocean chewed me up and spit me out. It wasn’t until I sold everything I owned to open Lost Coast Outfitters in 2013 that I started fishing the local surf and bay in earnest. I was 25 years old, broke, and needed fish so that I didn’t explode under the stress of my new venture. I started in the bay and caught some striper. Chasing striper in the salt quickly became one of my favorite pastimes. I learned about their migration and where I could find them throughout the year. 8 months a year Stripers can be found in and around San Francisco. It didn’t take me long to realize that my best product was selling people local fishing, something that makes my customers’ lives better. The local fishery has cemented the bay area as my home.

Evan: Growing up I was introduced to fly fishing at a very young age by my father. As a family, we also spent many weekends conventionally fishing the Santa Cruz coastline. As a young kid, I quickly realized how much more joyous it was to catch a fish on my fly rod, how personal and exciting it was. One day when I was about 12 I noticed a gentleman fly fishing the surf. Once I saw that it was all over for me and it became my mission/obsession to learn how to successfully throw chicken feathers into crashing waves.

Flylords: I saw you throwing two-handed rods, what is the advantage of that?

George: Ahh, not just any two-handed rods but two-handed rods designed to cast overhead. Most two-handed rods are designed to spey, cast, and perform very poorly in the surf. In one cast I can deliver my fly back out into the zone with much less effort than with a single-handed rod. We couldn’t find rods that did what we wanted in the surf so we set out to design our own. We have two models, one is good for flies up to 1/0 and the other is for larger flies 2/0 and of course large fish. The lines these rods are designed to cast are heavier and make delivering larger more wind resistant flies much easier. The longer length helps you manage the line over waves much easier.

Evan: Line control, line control, line control! Also the ability to save your arms and back from straining. Fly fishing the surf requires many casts to be made repeatedly sometimes for hours, having the two hander allows you to strain less and utilize more of your body instead of just your one casting arm.  The length of the rod gives you the ability to control the line in the crashing waves, thus allowing you to maintain a tight connection to the fly. Slack is the kiss of death in the surf as fish can bite and release your fly without you even noticing if you have any slack in your line.

Flylords: What are 5 things you always have with you on a mission to fish the California Surf? 

George: One of the beautiful things about fishing the surf is you don’t need a lot of gear, you can travel pretty light.

Evan:

  • A good waterproof pack whether it’s a backpack, Fanny pack, or sling pack. It’s a wet sport and it is important to keep your gear dry if possible.
  • A good pair of pliers
  • A good pair of clippers
  • Extra flies! One time I walked a few miles and got into a good school of fish, made a desperate cast, and snapped the only fly I had off on a big ball of kelp. I had to leave a nice school of fish that were busting the surface right in front of me. Lots of foul language was said on the walk back to the truck.

Flylords: How have you seen the fishery change? 

George: More people are getting out there and doing it. It’s awesome to see people get out and enjoy what makes San Francisco incredible, its geography.

Evan: Unfortunately for the worse. It seems that every year the migration of Striped bass has declined drastically, at least in the surf zone. The migration patterns differ every year and the fish can sometimes be very hard to locate or pinpoint during the season. Many factors come into play for these reasons, climate, clean water and water temperature.

Flylords: Can you share with us your favorite fly recipe? 

George: Adachi Clouser, the best color is surf brown. I have a very successful variation, but am still working out the kinks. The colorway is bright pink over white, incorporating bright blue lite brite and uv white polar chenille, with hackle tips on top. Been crushing with this. It’s a mix-up between my favorite steelhead fly, the burnt chicken by Dave Hughes, and the Adachi Clouser. I call it something borrowed 😉

Evan: I have two flies I always have in my box. First is the Adachi Clouser, and the second is my tie, the Trench Bomb!

Flylords: What does “Different fish, Different places” mean to you? 

George: Fly fishing is a vehicle that can take you to some of the most amazing places in the world and if you think beyond trout, the world gets even bigger and less crowded.

Evan: To me, different fish, different places means finding opportunities to find fish that might not be a main target by anglers or even thought possible. To search for fish in waters that might seem unconventional or unheard of. In pursuing other areas and fish, you are giving the over-pressured species and waters a chance to breathe and recover, you may also surprise yourself by finding a new/better opportunity to catch fish.

Thank you to George and Evan for taking us behind the scenes! If you want to check out the rest of the Different Fish in Different Places series head over to LOON’s Youtube channel.

Different Fish, Different Places: The Deep South

Different Fish, Different Places: Canals in the Desert

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