Faces of Fly Fishing: Tanner Smith

Everyone meet this week’s Faces of Fly Fishing highlight, Tanner Smith. One the best beer drinkin, meat slingin, brown trout slayin, and friendliest fisherman we know. He holds it down in Colorado where the waters are pristine and professional sports are average. Follow along as he has some important fishermen wisdom to share. He doesn’t need a lot to fly fish; just a rod, some beer, Gus, and the freedom to fish U.S water. 🇺🇸

Flylords: Who is Tanner Smith (@sanjuanandeggs)? 

Tanner: I’d like to think I’m an extremely good looking guy with a great beard. In reality, I have a killer dad bod and ginger facial hair, what can ya do?. Other than that I’m just another guy trying to make it in the fly fishing world. A native of Colorado, fly fishing has consumed my life for a pretty long time. Beyond fly fishing, I’m a proud owner of an Anthropology degree from the world-renowned University of Northern Colorado, where I boasted something like a 2.8 GPA. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, there’s another UNC? I am also way too loyal of a Colorado sports fan, names like Dante Bichette, Terrell Davis, Peter Forsberg, and Antonio McDyess mean something to me. Again, what can ya do?

Photo by Ivan Orsic aka @yukongoesfishing

Flylords: Why did you choose to pick up a flyrod? 

Tanner: I am not sure if I really had a choice. My dad had a fly rod in my hand as soon as I could walk. Growing up there were two things in my household that were mandatory, watching the Broncos on Sunday and being outside as much as possible. Experiencing my dad and older brother’s passion for the sport rubbed off on me. From that point on the rest is history. There is something about fly fishing that keeps bringing me back. Maybe because it’s an excuse to start drinking beer at 7 am. Maybe, it’s the endless pursuit it offers and wild places it takes you. Maybe, it’s the friendships along the way. Those are a few reasons why I continue to pick up a fly rod.

Flylords: Tell us about your funniest experience on the water.

Tanner: There are quite a few pretty good ones. How about a fishing story that ultimately didn’t involve any fishing? Listen, I will hike however many miles needed to catch a fish. Now when it comes to hiking a 14 miler in Colorado, that’s not going to be my go to. Let’s get up at 3 am, hike up a mountain just to sit at the top for 5 minutes to take a flex photo and shoot a shooter…. I’ll pass. This leads me to my story. A couple of years ago, a few friends of mine wanted to camp and hike Mt. Elbert. I like camping, and out of ignorance, I assumed at some point along the way I’d fade off and fish for a bit while they did their thing. Turns out, the trailhead we took had a creek running by with a few beaver ponds littered around right at the start. As a friend, I couldn’t bail after half a mile so on we went. Turns out those were the only bodies of water along the entirety of the trek, some 7-8 miles. What’s funny about this you might ask? Well, I brought my fishing pack, a small net, and a two-piece fly rod tube along for the hike. People burned me pretty good along the way. “How’s the fishing up here?” “Catching anything?” “Is that a fly rod” I was asked along the way and at the summit…. I still get a random text from one of those friends asking how fishing on Mt. Elbert is. Those Bastards.

Flylords: What are 4 main essentials for a trip on the water with you?

Tanner: Three flies that may or may not work and Beer…. 

Flylords: Favorite case of beer to drink on a trip?

Tanner: This is a pretty easy one. Just about any cheap, somewhat cold American lager will do, Coors OG, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Bud Light, PBR, Montuckies… and Bourbon. 

Flylords: Do you take your dog Gus on all your excursions?

Tanner: If it doesn’t involve getting on an airplane Old G will undoubtedly be there. I picked him up when he was 8 weeks old on a way to a camping/fishing trip in Steamboat. He turns 12 in a few months. So it is safe to say the old man has put on plenty of miles. He has a reputation of being a bit of a wildcard, but he’s damn loyal. What else can you ask for?

Flylords: What do you think all beginner fishermen need to know? 

Tanner: Simplify things, slow down and put in the work. I think too many anglers these days become overly dependent on what the fly shop or local fishing report tells them. Go figure it out. Sometimes this means just sitting back and taking in what’s going on before just rushing into the water and slapping some line around.  Don’t be worried about failing and take the time to learn from those failures. The sooner you can grasp the fishes feeding habits and understand the food sources the better.

Flylords: How many days are you on the water per year? 

Tanner: I get out somewhere between 150-200 days a year. I used to push it about 250 days a year but now that I’ve grown up a little, I’ve realized living out of my ‘02 Tacoma isn’t the most sustainable lifestyle. Therefore, I have compromised with myself that spending time with family and friends outside of fishing is also important. So now I do things like go to concerts and games occasionally.

Flylords: In your opinion, what is the most overrated body of water in CO?

Tanner: Haha no matter how I answer this question it will fire some people up. Is private water allowed? I’m going to say Boxwood Gulch. It blows my mind how appealing that place is to people. The river flows are dependent on a tunnel dumping in water, the insect life in the river is practically non-existent and it boasts an equally non-existent natural fish population. Let’s throw some weirs in the river, have seasonal stockings of big dumb pellet heads that have to be replaced yearly (at least) and charge people a boatload of money to access it. In a sport that boasts all these conservation ideals, it makes me laugh how quick people/shops jump at the easy money grab to get clients onto this “Trophy” Fishery. Now I’ll quote Forrest Gump… That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Flylords: Streamer, dry, or wet fly kind of guy?

Tanner: Ideally, I’d like to say I’m a dry fly kind of guy. However, I’m mostly a streamer guy at this point. This has nothing to do with being too cool for nymphs or anything like that. I feel in fishing you sort of go through phases. There was certainly a time when my buddies and I lived at all the famous Colorado tailwaters nymphing away in attempts to catch as many big fish as we possibly could. That phase has sort of transitioned into slowing down and hucking the big bugs or dries. Nothing better than having a one or two-mile beat of water, alternating runs with your buddies, drinking a beer, and heckling the shit out of whoever’s turn it is to fish. 

Photo by Ivan Orsic aka @yukongoesfishing

Flylords: If you could pick one fly for CO, what would it be?

Tanner: A Frankie Floater. This is a version of a Stimulator that my old man ties. They are like gold amongst our crew. 

The things are flat out unsinkable and reliably durable. They also catch a few fish. I have yet to fish with anyone who hasn’t asked me for some. I will barter a few every now and again; however, don’t count on it. 

Flylords: What’re your favorite species of trout?

Tanner: I like them all, brookies and cutthroat will always be up there because the places you catch them. However, wild western brown trout are by far my favorite. Trying to find those big summertime browns that will fall victim to a big dry fly or streamer is something that will never get old.

Flylords: Describe fly fishing in one sentence or less.

Tanner: The best way to waste time.

Flylords: Is it the solid fishery that keeps you in Colorado? Or do you plan on moving down the road? If so what’s next for you?

Tanner: Colorado has a ton to offer, which makes it really hard to leave. From a fishing standpoint, there isn’t much Colorado doesn’t have to offer. High country cutthroat, big freestones, technical tailwaters, and unreal still water opportunities are littered throughout. There are also more opportunities to make a living in the fly fishing industry here than probably anywhere else. Sure, Colorado continues to grow and that will always leave the door open. But for now, this is where I plan on calling home, with plenty of road trips around the West and airplane rides to the salt mixed in.

Flylords: To end, give us a few words of your fishing wisdom.

Tanner: Just enjoy it. Fly fishing is something we all have a limited amount of time to do. Whether it’s work or family or just life, it is inevitable that things will interfere with this passion. So control the controllables, on the days you can go, don’t let a shitty weather forecast or the desire to hit snooze when the alarm is going off in the morning stop you. If you spend enough time on the water, regardless of the circumstances it is inevitable those experiences you are chasing will begin to happen.


Header photo by Ivan Orsic @yukongoesfishing

This article was developed by Flylords’ content team member, Collin Terchanik.

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