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Artist Spotlight: Abby Wynia

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

We sat down with artist Abby Wynia, an artist and fish ecologist from Ontario, Canada. Alongside her important scientific work in Canada’s fisheries, Abby creates incredible wood burnings and paintings of the fish species she interacts with. Read below to learn more about Abby’s background in the outdoors, their passion for fish and conservation, and her amazing artwork.

Flylords: How did you first experience the outdoors?

Abby: I spent the majority of my shaping years around the rural areas of southern Ontario, Canada near the Saugeen River and its tributaries and an hour-long drive from Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. My family moved from a small bungalow in the city to a 100-acre farm north of Mount Forest, Ontario when I was about six. The house barely had heating and we had to install indoor plumbing, but the access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities in our own backyard made the move one of the best decisions my family ever made. 

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Growing up I was surrounded by people who had a deep connection and respect for the outdoors. My grandfather on my dad’s side spent his first few years in Canada as a prospector touring around the boreal forests of northern Ontario. He shared what he learned with my dad and his siblings and they passed it onto my cousins, my sister and me. We often spent our summers camping in Ontario’s provincial parks or up at our family hunt camp in the Parry Sound area of central Ontario. I had a great deal of exposure to the hunting and fishing community at a young age, though female mentors were hard to find. Recreational activities like camping have always been a large part of my life, but fishing and hunting came into my life in a significant way in my early 20’s. 

Flylords: What inspired you to pursue fish ecology?

Abby: In 2012 I departed for Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario for both my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science/Studies and my Master of Science in Ecology and Conservation Biology. 

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Late in my undergraduate degree, I scored a summer job as a fisheries technician through a federal student employment initiative. Learning about the complexities of fish habitat and the implications of invasive species for delicate yet resilient ecosystems around the Great Lakes helped me decide that fish ecology was the career path I wanted to journey down. I am now a member of a five-person ecotoxicology lab based in Ontario. We research and monitor the impact of aquatic contaminants on wild fish populations in Canada. 

Flylords: What do you think people should know about Ontario’s fisheries?

Abby: Ontario has bountiful opportunities for every angler. The province borders four of the five Great Lakes, each offering a unique angling experience. The smaller, inland lakes are also full of opportunity for everyone from the brook trout angler to the smallmouth bass, walleye or muskie enthusiast. Ice fishing is a huge recreational activity here, and if you haven’t had the chance to chase perch or trout through the ice I totally recommend giving it a shot.

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Flylords: When did you first learn to fish? 

Abby: I remember my parents taking my sister and me to a kids’ fishing derby at a local conservation area when I was about 12 years old. From that time on I recall occasionally picking up the rod and reel when there was an opportunity for it, but I’d say I became more serious about fishing when I started working as a student fisheries technician. My crew leads would spend their evenings fishing for walleye or perch during our field trips. I eventually got involved in fishing salmon tournaments on the Great Lakes (Huron and Ontario) and running downriggers and spoons bigger than anything I initially had in my tackle box.

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Since then, I’ve dabbled in spring steelhead fishing on the Saugeen River and trolling for brook trout and smallmouth bass out of canoes in Algonquin Provincial Park. In the winter months I get my fishing fix on the frozen lakes of Ontario like Lake Simcoe, in the Muskoka’s, or the lakes bordering Algonquin Park. As for fly fishing, I am still learning. I received my first fly rod as a birthday gift this year and had grand plans to take it out to Alberta with me to pass the slow time during spring fieldwork. But mother nature had other plans and we were required to overhaul our entire field program, resulting in minimal opportunities to get some practice in on the fly rod. 

Flylords: What does fishing mean to you?

Abby: Fish and fishing have made an incredible impact on my life. Prior to working with fish, I intended to pursue a career in the field of water science. This changed immediately after I spent a summer working as a fisheries technician in the coastal marshes of the Great Lakes, and I haven’t looked back. Beyond my career as a biologist, fishing sparked an ecological awakening for me. I’d say that fishing is like opening a door in your house you’ve never looked behind before. Each waterbody, access point, and cast holds the potential for surprise. It provides us with a glimpse into this parallel, aquatic world that hosts an incredible diversity of plants and critters we may overlook due to lack of recreational opportunities, perceived nuisance, or simple disinterest. Fishing has opened my eyes to the value of conservation and protection and propelled me beyond the idea that under that glistening, rippled surface are just some fish and some weeds. 

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Flylords: When did you first develop an interest in art?

Abby: For as far back as I can recall I have always been creative. I remember thoroughly enjoying art class in elementary school and continued to take art as an elective in high school. However, my interests were very broad and I would bounce from hobby to hobby. Apart from some high school art classes, I am a self taught artist.

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Flylords: How did you narrow your work down to pyrography and painting?

Abby: I’ve always had an interest in watercolor. There’s something about blending colors and control over pigmentation that I find comforting in painting. Pyrography came to me a bit later and was inspired by the need to procrastinate on my thesis in grad school. In October of 2019 I agreed to do a piece for a friend. With my wood burner out of storage, I started experimenting more and began to like the slow, sometimes grueling process of taking a blank piece of wood and creating something with permanence and beauty. The improvement in my skill over the last two years has been a huge motivation to continue with the medium, though I do enjoy making time for painting too as a break from burning.

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Flylords: What is your process for creating a wood burning?

Abby: Many of my pieces start with inspiration like the opening of a fishing season, the species found in a local water body, or a species I catch myself. I love to work with trout, and often need to remind myself there are other species out there. I proceed with a trip to my local wood supply shop and find a unique live-edge or bias-cut piece of maple, cherry, pine, or birch. I put each piece through three rounds of sanding, finishing with a fine-grain hand-sanding sponge. I sketch my initial draft out and I use my small knife-tip pen (for the wood burner) to throw down an outline. Next, I begin an initial shade of the body and start filling in fine details. I usually finish by working on the fins and adding a final layer of shading. I use a tung oil finish on all of my pieces, which offers great water resistance and is food safe, so it’s perfect for coasters and serving boards.

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Flylords: How does your work as a biologist impact your art?

Abby: Working in the discipline of fish ecology has greatly opened my eyes to minute differences in species and habitats, and that has transferred well into my artwork. With each new piece, I remind myself that I have brought into this world because it brings me joy, and if that creation also happens to bring joy to someone else that is more than any artist could hope for.

Photo Courtesy of Abby Wynia

Flylords: Where can we find your artwork?

Abby: If you’re interested in some unique, original artwork please visit the custom order application on my website, or contact me through my email address abby@fishfulthinkingart.com

My current, available pieces can be found on my website www.fishfulthinkingart.com. My Instagram page showcases all of the pieces I have worked on and am working on. I have a few shows in Ontario this year, which I will be posting about through Instagram and the website. If you’re in town swing by and say hello!


Video of the Week: Freshwater Jungle Tarpon

Image Courtesy: Tropical Fly Collective

In this Video of the Week, we catch up with Federico Hampl and Tom Enderlin from the Tropical Fly Collective in the first episode of their new series the “Tropical Freshwater Diaries”. Caymans, monkeys, jaguars the list goes on. 200 km away from the ocean we follow the journey of the migrant king, or jungle tarpon, deep into a river system surrounded by rainforest. Wildlife abounds, as do really massive tarpon brought here by huge concentrations of baitfish. Prepare yourself for a visual ride to this amazing freshwater tarpon fishery.

Tropical Fly Collective is a Costa Rica-based story-telling and media production company focused on adventure fly fishing films and documentaries around the world.

Check out these epic articles as well! 

Video of the Week: The Legend of Casa Mar

Video of the Week: Golden Dorado “The Treasure of the Parana” by Fly Fish Food

Flylords Original Series: Fly Shop Tour


Flylords Original Series: Fly Shop Tour

Welcome to the Fly Shop Tour!

Last Fall, the Flylords team put our wheels to the pavement and headed out on a month-long, 5-state tour of the American West, to visit some of our favorite fly-shops. The mission in mind? To spread the word about fly shops’ importance within the fly-fishing culture.

Watch Episode 2: Wyoming – NOW LIVE

CLICK HERE FOR MORE EPISODES

How this idea came about…

We’ve all heard the term, “shop small” so liberally thrown around over the last 5 years. But what does it really mean? With the emergence of commerce giants such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other sporting goods conglomerates that have taken root within our beloved industry… there seems to be a dwindling spotlight overtop the very fabric of our sport: your local fly-shop.

Fly shops are the pinnacle of what makes fly-fishing such a unique endeavor, and is the very reason we refer to the group of people that make up our sport as, “our community”. Before Instagram, before “the movie”, before… well, Flylords – there were fly shops. A place owned and occupied by people with a single thread connecting the very nature of being – a love for being outdoors, on their local trout stream or salt flat.

It was within the confines of these establishments that folks could spend hours sorting through mouth-watering selections of flies, rods, and any other piece of fishing gear that could be dreamt up. More importantly, however, it was a place where anglers could be themselves: anglers – and nothing but. Fly shops were a place of business, but more importantly, a place to learn. Acting as a sanctuary for sportsmen and women to sit atop an old cooler and enjoy lukewarm beers while exchanging stories of the ones that got away. These showroom floors that could smell of anything from cigarette smoke-stained carpets to freshly polished oak were places where wide-eyed kids and adults alike could walk in without an ounce of knowledge to their name, and walk out with an encyclopedia’s worth of fishing information between their ears. These places weren’t just a place to purchase bugs and the newest stick…but more a temple where the tradition of what we know and love has been preserved.

So, when did fly shops change?

The true answer is: they didn’t. Unfortunately, the world around their skin-mount-covered walls did. Life got faster. Companies got bigger. Time grew more scarce. So, what happened? The world turned to a turn-and-burn method of living. Soon, small town fly shops were turned into parking lots as surrounding real estate costs skyrocketed. The internet reared its head, and the world of DTC took over. Now, this isn’t to say these methods of convenience don’t have their place in this world, but it’s up to us to make sure we make sure the people who showed us the way, don’t get left behind.

In today’s age of fly shops, there is a certain pride associated with the lack of change that’s occurred in the last few decades. These shops act as placeholders to preserve a simpler time. a more neighborly time. A grainy snapshot of some friends in their nylon, tan fishing vests standing in front of their favorite river, unencumbered by care besides arguing over who caught the bigger fish. this is all not to say shops don’t or shouldn’t change. Of course, some adaptation has to come with the times. But it seems that with fly-shops in particular, those who have embraced the future have done so without forgetting the past.

What is the Fly Shop Tour? 

This series is a celebration of fly-shops. An homage to all the shop rats slinging flies looking for beer money. A Thanks to those who turned away dental plans for a drift boat, and a commemoration of the backbone of our industry: fly shops.

In this series, we had the privilege of visiting a few shops in each state we visited (Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah), and offering a glance into the stickered shop doors for a behind-the-scenes look at the current-day-status of these small businesses. In each episode, you’ll meet some of the absolute characters that manage and keep these shops alive, as well as some friends met along the way. Each episode is concluded with an in-person event thrown in order to raise money for a local, fishing-focused, non-profit. In between all that, you’ll see car troubles, lost fish, good people, and a whole. lot. of. flies.

So make sure to tune in every week for a new episode in what is to be considered the first, and not last,  season of “Fly Shop Tour”.

Watch Episode 1: Colorado

Watch Episode 2: Wyoming – NOW LIVE

Thank you to all the shops that took time out of their busy schedules to spend some time with our team on the water and in front of the camera. We are so grateful to have a community made up of such passionate and invested individuals. Also, we would like to thank our sponsors who made this tour possible: SIMMS, YETI, Costa Sunglasses, Sage, Turtlebox audio, and Adipose Boat Works. Thanks for keeping gas in our tank and for donating all the prizes which were raffled off for non-profits.

Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to our Youtube channel to stay up to date with all things fly-fishing! 


Costa Behind the Guides: Paula Shearer

Behind The Scenes of the Sage SALT R8

 


Reel of the Week: Fly Fishing for Magdalena Bay Marlin

A note from Alec Lucas:

“Our season here at Los Locos had just ended and I went out on the boat with one of our captains Tacone for one last day to pull on some marlin. With the winds down and the conditions lining up to be perfect, why wouldn’t we!

As we got to the zone sure enough it was epic chaos. Birds on top of bait balls and a large number of Marlin crashing underneath. It was go time, we cranked some music and began working the bait balls. It was Tacone’s first time fly fishing and he had wanted to hook a marlin on the fly all season. 

@flylords

Catching Marlin on the fly with Alec Lucas, @fish_a_day at @loslocosmagbay. #flylords #flyfishing #saltwater #fyp #saltwaterflyfishing

♬ 2am – Slightly Stoopid

Watching the joy across his face when he hooked his first one was the best part. We continued switching off driving the boat and casting to fish jumping and shouting with excitement. It really is something that never gets old. Pulling on these fish with a fly is something I hope every angler gets to experience.”

Reel of the Week from Alec Lucas, find him on Instagram @fish_a_day. Check out Los Logos Mag Bay Adventures @loslocosmagbay

Check out the articles below:

The Best Saltwater Fly Reels, and How to Find Yours

Urban Fly Fishing & The World’s 9 Best Cities to Fly Fish


Angler Story of the Week: A Redfish & Rainbow Trout Road Trip

A note from Bentley Faulkner:

An out of the box idea that started months prior, came together at the beginning of 2023. One of my best friends Benny Gregg and I had been kicking around the idea of a multi-state road trip and put our respective home waters to the test.


Our trip started on the eastern coastline of North Carolina stalking redfish in gin clear water. We took advantage of the warm, windless days and got on some schooling redfish early. Benny was able to knock sight fishing a red off his bucket list. From there we teamed up with my buddy Timmy and really dialed the fish in. Over the next 6 days we landed 15+ Reds in schools as big as 100.

Flash forward, a few days later we stalked massive rainbows in the spring creeks coming out of the Shenandoah Valley, VA. Water levels were up and a winter warm front pushed into the Shenandoah providing a window into some serious streamer fishing.



Our good friend Drew Sorrells had a feeling all week that the streamer bite would be on. Benny who swears by nymph fishing, respectively put down the euro set up, and started chucking streamers. Not to say nymphs weren’t also doing their thing, we were also convinced these bigger migrational trout were going to be looking for a big fly with the current water levels and the weather patterns. All in all, it seemed to pay off. With the two largest trout of the week being caught on olive and copper streamers, a male rainbow at 24” and a female rainbow at 22 inches.”

Angler Story of the Week from Bentley Faulkner. Check out Bentley and his fishing endeavors on Instagram @bentley_faulkner, and his buddies Drew and Benny. If you’re going on a rad fly fishing trip and want to pitch us an article for the Angler Story of the Week segment, send us an email at nelson@theflylords.com and content@theflylords.com

Check out the articles below:

Flylords Original Series: Fly Shop Tour

Reel of the Week: Monster Spring Creek Trout Hammers Cicada


Protections Reinstated for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, America’s Salmon Forest

Trout Tips for fishing on still water and rivers with Russ Miller of Fishpond.

Wednesday, January 25th–Today, the U.S. Forest Service announced the reinstatement of the Roadless Rule in Tongass National Forest, protecting some 9.3 million acres of salmon habitat and old-growth forest from industrial activities. This news comes after a years-long effort to restore the Roadless Rule protections after they were rolled-back in 2020. The Tongass Roadless Rule prevents industrial clear-cut logging in North America’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest and provides salmon, steelhead, and other wildlife with high-quality habitats.

“The Tongass’ wild and scenic landscapes are timeless, but its management practices were stuck in the past for far too long,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Today’s news brings hope for the future. A future where the national forest that produces more salmon than all others combined is conserved for the incredibly valuable and lasting resource that it is, and a carbon sink that slows the effects of climate change is left standing.”

This decision seeks to preserve the remarkable ecosystems of Southeast Alaska and maintain the sustainable tourism industry that is in large part built on the Tongass’ powerhouse ability to create strong runs of salmon and steelhead.

“This decision has been a long time coming,” said Austin Williams, Alaska legal and policy director for Trout Unlimited. “It’s so great to see the Forest Service move beyond unsustainable and damaging clear cut logging of old-growth forest and chart a path forward for the Tongass that recognizes roadless areas are critical to our local communities and economies, and to helping fight the effects of climate change.

In addition to restoring protections, the U.S. Forest Service will employ local Southeast Alaskans to cary out habitat restoration work. The people, communities, and tribes that rely on the Tongass can celebrate the restored stability in the region through the reinstatement of the Roadless Rule.

Picture by TU’s Josh Duplechian


The Lost Salmon, An Interview with Filmmaker Shane Anderson

We recently sat down with film-maker, Shane Anderson, to talk about his film “The Lost Salmon” and issues facing the incredible Spring Chinook. Shane’s film tells the story of Spring Chinook and how we are on the verge of losing them. Follow along to learn more about Shane Anderson, “The Lost Salmon,” and ways to save these incredible fish.


Flylords: Shane before we dive into the film, tell us a little bit about you, your background, etc.. 

Shane: I grew up in Olympia, Washington and was raised in a fishing family, my uncle is Kerry Burkheimer of CF Burkheimer Fly Rods, so fish and fishing have been a central part of my life and excitement.

I moved to Tahoe out of high school and became a professional skier at the beginning of the whole free skiing movement and didn’t fish for awhile until I broke my back at the 2000 X games. I then had two consecutive knee surgeries and ultimately ended up losing that career. The rivers called to me as a form a therapy and excitement in my life when I really needed it. I began making the annual pilgrimage to the Trinity and Klamath Rivers and caught the steelhead fever which eventually led to me going back to school at Humboldt State to study fisheries and then starting my film career with Wild Reverence: The Wild Steelheads Last Stand.  

Shane on the Klamath River, @JasonHartwick

Flylords: How did “The Lost Salmon” come to be? Was there one moment, when you thought “I’m going to make a film about springers?”

Shane: I’ve always been fascinated with the genetic side of salmon and steelhead and the importance of preserving wild genetics that have evolved to specific landscapes. I didnt grow up fishing for springers like a lot of people here in the PNW but when I moved back to Washington State I started to re-explore the rivers on the Olympic Peninsula by snorkeling in the summer. I was shocked with how few springers and summer steelhead were left in these rivers despite pristine habitats. Fast forward about 10 years and Dr. Mike Miller was staying at my house during a symposium for a proposed dam on the Chehalis River, and he was presenting his research with his wife Dr. Tasha Thompson. After staying up late talking salmon genetics, I wanted to make a short film about it. I had no intention then of making a feature film over two years.

Flylords: What makes these spring Chinook so prolific and special? 

Shane: Their evolutionary story and their incredible life histories and migration make them the king of all salmon. Sure, they are the best tasting salmon on earth  due to their high fat content, but it’s their story and relationship to place that give them a special place in my heart. Most salmon return in the fall and can all overlap with each other with often very short migratory windows. The fact that springers spend up to six months in freshwater can really bring a river to life.

These natural waterfall features are now understood to be essential for maintaining salmon genetics, @JasonHartwick

Flylords: Based on the film, it seemed like some of these populations are in a bit of a catch-22: genetic diversity will improve their resilience to climate change, but it is also causing fish to run at different times of the year with some devastating results. Care to expand on that?

Shane: Yeah, a prime example of anthropogenic effects changing genetic diversity and not in a good way. The way we have changed and re-engineered river systems has had devastating impacts genetically that we are just starting to learn more about with the discovery of the GREB 1L gene and how hybridization between spring and fall chinook is encouraging migrations in the summer which is the worst possible time for a salmon. The interbreeding of spring and fall-run fish is caused by changes in habitat which can include damming a river with no fish passage, changing hydrologic cycles of a river, changes in water temperatures from dams and the fish and wildlife agencies assault on waterfalls across salmon country. In the 1960’s Fish and Wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon, California and other states had entire programs dedicated to the removal of waterfalls because they thought they blocked fish habitat, not knowing they were changing a very important separation barrier between fall and spring chinook. The fish evolved with waterfalls and ignorant good intentions altered millions of years of evolution. This is going to be hard and expensive to fix.

A springer making the jump, @JasonHartwick

Flylords: You covered many different river systems/distinct populations–were there any that really stuck with you?

Shane: I think what stuck out was the diversity of challenges facing all these diverse populations. The issues were so different everywhere we went. Spending a few days with Russ Thurow in the headwaters of the Salmon River in Idaho was amazing. It was super powerful to see those fish they call “The Mariners and Mountaineers” that swim over 900 miles and climb 6,500 ft past eight dams two different times in their lives. Those fish have so many odds stacked against them, and yet they are still here and not extinct. The reason they are not extinct and have survived is because of their genetic diversity. If genetics are the instruction manual for a species, written over millions of years, then these fish have developed an encyclopedia of information which has kept them alive. But time is running out, and it was sobering to hear that they could be extirpated in four generations, if we don’t get those four lower Snake River dams breached. 

Shane on the hunt, @JasonHartwick

Flylords: If you could sum it down to a sentence or two, how would you describe “The Lost Salmon?” 

Shane: A cautionary tale of how tinkering with nature can have indirect effects even with the best of intentions. 

All smiles, @JohnMcMillan

Flylords: This is a topic that I’ve been thinking more and more about, but can you describe (briefly, because I know how complex it is) the impact of certain offshore fisheries on salmon and steelhead populations?

Shane: It’s a very complex topic and something that needs to be addressed immediately–especially mix-stock fisheries, where endangered stocks are swimming with non-endangered stocks. This is what is happening off the entire west coast but especially in SE Alaska, which is like a nursery ground for salmon and steelhead. This is where they go and do laps to forage and mature. These mixed stock fisheries are not only having impacts on numbers but also on the size of salmon by harvesting fish that are not fully mature. The result after a nearly a century of mixed sock fisheries is our salmon, on average, have shrunk, and we have literally lost entire age classes. The only path forward for sustainable commercial fisheries for species with locally adapted genetics like salmon, is to return to place-based fisheries like Indigenous people did for thousands of years.  

An amazing tool for this type of sustainable fishing was developed by The Wild Fish Conservancy called a fish trap or pound net. They were able to create a 100% passive fishing tool that can release non-targeted species unharmed and harvest targeted species.  Here is a video I did last year about it: 

Once you loose that connection to place you loose that connection to protecting the species. I don’t see any of the commercial fleets advocating for dam removals, hatchery reform, or habitat restoration on our local rivers. They catch these fish far from home and have no connection to the place where the fish are from. 98% of the chinook harvested in SE Alaska are not from Alaska. Why don’t we have protected marine sanctuary nurseries for salmon? There are many freshwater rivers and creeks closed to fishing to protect the fish, but out in the open ocean they get no refuge. In some cases it could be as simple as the changing of a fishing season like the winter troll fishery in SE Alaska that intercepts a lof of our endangered stocks.  Then there is the trawler bycatch issue which is the most maddening of all. NOAA allows chinook bycatch in the the neighborhood of 50k kings a year in each one of the fishery zones while these factory ships are targeting your pollock (aka your fillet-o fish sandwich or fish stick or imitation crab), while our most cherished species are allowed to be killed by the thousands and thrown overboard wasted. 

Flylords: How can people watch the film and advocate for spring Chinook?

Shane: As far as the advocacy part goes, in general just watch out for public comment periods surrounding new Endangered Species Act listings. The Feds really need to incorporate this genetic information into policy and come up with a formal recovery plan. Another practical thing is to know where your salmon comes from that you consume, especially chinook and especially if that chinook is caught in the ocean and marketed wild. Until the commercial industry gets a better understanding of what it is catching and selling, I only eat chinook that I catch or I know where it came from. There’s plenty of hatchery chinook out there that need to be consumed and kept off the spawning grounds, so go eat them. Unfortunately they are branded as wild and thrown into the same category as our endangered wild stocks.

The film is now broadcasting on PBS across the country and streaming on the PBS passport app. If you want to watch it on the big screen, the film will continue to be screened at festivals this year including Wild and Scenic film fest. I will update on my IG @shaneandersonfilm and my website swiftwaterfilms.com.


A Beginner’s Ode to Surfperch

The waves lapping up against my leg while I was trying to cast were spinning me into a dimension of frustration I haven’t been in since I first picked up a fly rod. The coastal wind was howling, the sea spray was covering me with moisture, and the waves were deafening, silencing any positive emotion or sight, despite being on a beach. 

I put on my waders and wading boots, just like I would if I were in the mountains chasing trout, swinging flies for steelhead, or crawling into a drift boat to float the local river. I put on a top layer to keep warm. A hat to prevent sunburn, and polarized sunglasses to help with the glare. The two only differences from my usual daily fishing pattern were the waves continuing to pelt me, doing their best to erode my ego, and the stripping basket that I have been relentlessly peeling line into with nothing but seaweed and sand to show for it. 

I don’t know what I am doing, I don’t know what the tide is doing, and I don’t know why I am putting all this effort into trying to catch a fish the size of my palm. But the allure to add yet another species under my belt was too tempting, and the beach that I grew up at has had these fish my entire life. Not once in the 23 years since picking up a fly rod, have I even tried a cast into their waters. 

Researching these fish, they can be caught all year along the coast from Mexico to Canada. Anywhere a sandy beach resides, these fish swim and feed off of the crashing waves and moving tides spilling anything from its shores and into their tiny voracious mouths. From minnows and shrimp, to their favorite, sand crabs. As a kid I have caught these fish with spinners and live sand crabs in the gullies in between low and high tide. Now at the age of 34, at the local beach I grew up surfing and catching those early surf perch, imitating the live specimen with a tied fly from a local fly shop, my luck isn’t like my childhood memories.

Surprisingly, with more research, I found many anglers target these fish with extremely heavy rod, reel, and line setups. For a fish that some trout could arguably bully in a local lake or river because of their size, require a rod a full third larger. Anywhere from 6 to 8 weight rods with sinking lines are the norm for both the hectic winds that can ravage the west coast, and most importantly, the crashing waves that come from both the North and South Pacific. 

Being a fly fisherman, despite growing up in cookie cutter Southern California, I didn’t come from the money that the TV shows inaccurately painted for most of the residents that call the area home. So my semi-retired spey setup from steelheading this past winter has been the chosen weapon for the battle. Two handed rods have become increasingly popular by coastal anglers for their sheer ease of casting both for over head and two handed casts, and with the extra rod length to get the distance or stealth needed given the conditions. 

So with the waves stewing me into a pot of sand, salt, and seaweed, my surfperch patience has worn for the day, and I return to hit the internet hard to find answers for my frustrations. 

Turns out, perch are very similar to trout in the regard that fishing mid day during bright sunlight hardly brings the success of the early morning or late afternoon hours. Also, unlike trout but similar, the flow of water is very important. During spring, trout anglers deal with high and discolored water making fishing possible but more difficult than late summer when the water has receded. The same to be said for perch when the waves are large, the bite and cast, more importantly, your safety in large surf, is hardly worth it. While contrarily, the smaller the surf the more likely your health and bite situation. 

Tide also plays a role depending on your beach steepness and depth. Beaches south of Point Conception in Southern California typically have a more shallow beach and smaller waves making for easier casting for low tide conditions. Where north of Point Conception up to British Columbia, the beaches are much deeper with far more consistency to larger ocean waves for a higher to medium tide success rate. 

The weather can also dictate your day as mentioned with the lower light conditions being favorable, but also with rainy or overcast days perhaps producing more fish than sunny and bright days. 

All of this I am reading while still stewing from my unsuccessful day on the water, but now armed with hopefully the knowledge to hit the waves early with a lower tide and small surf to see what I can come up with. 

With an early morning fog, I stumbled down the bluff and onto one of the many state beaches that riddle the California Coast. The swell is small with a buoy reading just offshore at 1.4 feet @ 7 seconds. The tide is slowly going out and the coffee is giving me a pep in my step to start flying that sand crab and hoping my luck changes from sand and seaweed to something more lively.

I started to find rhythm in the waves for the first time since attempting to cast in surf. I grew up as a surfer and thought I was fairly good at reading the ocean. But it is a very different perspective sitting on your belly as a surfer opposed to standing on the beach just taking the crashing waves on your legs. But figuring out the slowly crashing waves towards me, I found that if I timed my cast to shortly after the wave broke, the fly would sit in the green water for a little longer and the wave wouldn’t bring my line towards me without stripping. A few times the day before and during this session, I did cast directly into the crashing wave and found no tension on my line from the momentum of the wave bringing the fly towards me. But during a lull in the waves, it was the best opportunity to get the fly out there with the recession of the latest wave crashing on shore and momentum heading back out to sea. 

With the water moving away from me, the tension on the line was good and I was able to put my rod under my arm pit and do the quick two handed retrieve. I am still very much a novice with this type of stripping and practicing in crashing waves is very difficult. But a few casts like this, timed with the receding water in between waves, the first strike occurred. 

I was blown away. It felt like a fish of much larger scale smacked my fly. But upon reeling in the little barred surfperch, it sat gently in my palm with water washing over it in the crashing waves. The name is appropriate with the bars of yellow going down its side and a sharp dorsal fin should you hold it the wring way. The tiny sand crab would have barely fit in its mouth but it struck it anyway and the two-day effort of curse words, the sunrise, and some internet research guided me to my first surf perch. 

The rest of the morning, that drum beat continued of casting between the waves and timing them to always focus on maintaining tension with your line. I reeled in a few more perch then called it a day to sit on the beach and reflect on another specie to add to my list. I noticed on the beach that if you pay attention, there are eddies in between certain beaches with deeper water that these fish congregate in. There is timing in the waves and like trout and steelhead anglers that watch depth gauges on a river, coastal anglers too, pay attention to buoy readings and swell charts. 

I did a few more trips up and down the coast and found success up at different beaches in southern California and even a few in the Pacific Northwest. With varying conditions and more focus than I thought it required, more perch came to hand with a few showing potential to break the palm scale. 

Simply put, unless this is the fish of your dreams, it is hardly a species to fly all over the west coast to target. What I think is great about surf perch is that it’s always there. For the steelheader in the PNW, if the rivers are blown out or if it’s the off season, perch are a great option to go and get your line wet and try for a few. If it is a family day at the beach and the kids are occupied throwing sand at each other, perhaps you could sneak away form your loved one and cast for a few. Or if you’re like me, a die hard surfer that knows that the waves don’t always come up, it is another fun way to get out into the water, while also itching that scratch for another specie on the list.

The beaches are beautiful, the sunrises are unreal. The sunsets are worth it to watch for the green flash, and yes, the perch are small. But the effort is worth it to spend the day at the beach and admire another surreal location that a fly angler can partake in. And quite possibly the best part about targeting surf perch, is that perch aren’t always what you get on the end of your line. It’s the ocean, and perch aren’t the only specie targeting the sand crabs, shrimp, and minnows. And trust me, the two handed, heavier weighted rod and reel, will be worth it once you set the hook.

Article written by Sean Jansen @jansen_journals. Sean Jansen is a freelance writer for Flylords Magazine, and spends his time in Bozeman, Montana where he guides tours through Yellowstone National Park.

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How to Tie: Nyman’s Shop Vac

In this week’s “How to Tie” video feature, Cheech from Fly Fish Food ties a staple pattern for winter fishing, Nyman’s Shop Vac.

Learn About This Fly:

Difficulty: Easy

Winter fishing may be some of the most technical and challenging fishing of the year. Trout will become more lethargic and tend to spend more time in deeper pockets, but these fish still have to eat! Smaller food items, such as midges and mayflies, are going to be your best friend this time of year. One pattern to get you through the grueling months of winter is Nyman’s Shop Vac, a fly that imitates a variety of smaller insects drifting in the current.

This is a very simple pattern that can be easily mastered by tyers of all levels. Wrapping pheasant tail can be frustrating at times, such as when it slips from your fingers or pliers, but taking your time will solve that. For the most part, midge patterns are extremely simple and tied in smaller sizes. Using a smaller thread will make sure you do not crowd the hook eye when whip finishing, which can ruin a perfectly tied fly.

Trout will consistently feed on midges year round, so fishing Nyman’s Shop Vac at any point in the season will produce fish. For technical fishing, using 5x, 6x, or even 7x may be necessary to hook into more fish. Although trout will become lazier in the winter, much like us, you will still be able to find feeding fish to keep you entertained. On your next outing, tie on Nyman’s Shop Vac and watch your winter blues disappear.

Ingredients:


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