Seeing Other Fish

It’s not cheating if you don’t catch anything – right?

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

I hadn’t visited in months, and I felt guilty. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was aware that I shouldfeel guilty, but I didn’t feel it strongly enough to assuage it. For the first time in my life, I had something in common with the United States Congress.

But unlike the rapscallions roaming beneath the capitol’s rotunda, I was honest with myself. The relationship I’d spent years cultivating was in trouble. I knew it. So did everyone else. The dysfunction was plain to anyone who had a spare moment to glance at our mess. And as much as I wanted to blame someone else, I knew things wouldn’t get better unless I put in some effort.

So, in stark contrast to the example set by our nation’s leaders, I swallowed my pride, admitted my fallibility, and decided to try and mend fences as best I could. I made the short drive to visit on a bright spring day – the kind where you roll the windows down in the truck and hope you don’t fill the cab with bugs and the white fluff that blows off cottonwoods in the spring.

The drive over is always gorgeous, but it felt particularly ostentatious that day. The beauty reminded me of what I’d so cavalierly tossed aside, and the fertility of spring was a particularly well-placed barb about the future we may have had together.

I took the turns without thinking, driving on autopilot as the road narrowed and grew steep. I was in the canyon, and I caught glimpses through the trees of what I’d come to see. After what felt like a longer than normal ride up the canyon, I pulled my truck off the road and parked. Once my truck was quiet, I heard nothing save for the sound that was familiar and intimate as it was painful.

I got out of my truck and shuffled through the knee-high cheatgrass. Scrub oak, cottonwoods, and a few pinyon pines dotted the shores, each a different shade of luscious spring green. As I broke through a wall of willows, I came face-to-face with what I’d been avoiding for far too long.

A river. My river, to be exact. My home water.

It was at once comforting to be in familiar surroundings, but disconcerting because I almost felt like an intruder, as though I was somewhere I didn’t belong. Which is probably how any politician feels when stepping inside a church.

The river didn’t acknowledge me. It usually doesn’t, though on rare occasions it feels like we’re conversing. Once, years ago, when we first met, the river gave up one of its rarest possessions – a wild brook trout. At that elevation in the Rockies, rivers are packed bank-to-bank with browns, and maybe a few rainbows. Brookies, especially in this river, were rare, if not downright unheard of. Without the pictures I took of that fish, no one would have believed I’d caught a brook trout there.

Although I let it go, I held the memory of that brook trout as a token of the relationship the river and I had. Throughout the coming years, I’d spend more time there than anywhere else. Sure, I fished it because it was convenient, but also because I thoroughly enjoyed its company. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had to share its attention with anyone else. Whether I visited for minutes or hours, the river always lent a willing ear.

“Look, I’m not sure where to start,” I said. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and kicked sheepishly at some loose rocks around my feet. I couldn’t make eye contact.

“I love our time together, I really do. It’s just that, well . . . I dunno, things get sort of, old? Not that you’re old,” I added quickly. “It all gets repetitive, I guess. And then my buddies invite me to go to other places, and I can’t tell them no, can I?”

“What I’m trying to say is, that, I’ve been . . . I’ve been doing, oh, you know – the thing?”


“The thing you asked me to not do?”

More silence.

“I’ve been seeing other fish,” I said, letting it all out at once. “There, I said it. I’ve been frolicking around the Rocky Mountains, seeing all sorts of other trout! I even saw a walleye in the Missouri River!”

Somehow, I felt vindicated. Probably the same way most of the House of Representatives feels anytime Donald Trump tweets.

“I spent a few days with some bull trout in Idaho,” I said. “And I found goldens here in Utah, up in the Uintas. I still haven’t hung out with Gila trout, and every time I go to visit, the Lahontans are never home.”

“I did spend a few days with, um, some carp,” I muttered. “But it wasn’t just us. We weren’t alone all the time. Some smallmouth were there, too.”

On cue, a faint plunk broke the steady burble of water over rocks, and I saw the rings of a trout rising to a dry fly dispersing in a pool upstream. I shouldn’t have mentioned the carp.

“It’s not that you’re not enough for me,” I started again. “You are. I just can’t stay tied down in one spot for too long. Even when we spent all that time together, I saw other fish on the side. And you knew about those ones. So why do I feel like I’ve been cheating on you?”

The same fish rose again, in the same upstream pool.

“I let those other fish go,” I replied. “Just like I do here. Hell, I got skunked a lot, too. Is it really cheating if I go somewhere else and don’t catch anything?”

A mayfly lazily fluttered by, floating whimsically in the special way those bugs have. It was light, butter-yellow and big. It was early in the year for pale-morning duns, but the river always has good hatches. Better hatches than a lot of the waters I’d traveled to, in fact. I’d roamed from the Rockies to the foothills of the Cascades, and even down into the desert of Arizona in search of big trout. All the while I’d ignored the steadying – albeit smaller – presence of the river 15 minutes from my house.

Another trout rose, in a pool a bit further upstream. I took the hint and went back to my truck, swapping my work boots for wading ones, and strung up my fly rod. When I busted through the willows again, the PMDs were everywhere, and the river’s fish were all looking up.

I stepped into the water for the first time in what must have been months, and it felt like stepping back into my great-grandma’s embrace. The rhythm of the river was just as I remembered it, and I settled in quickly, casting to fish I could see and catching just enough of them that I always wanted one more.

And just like that, the PMDs disappeared and the sun set behind the mountains. I took my sunglasses off, but even then there wasn’t enough light to see my fly on the river’s surface. I trudged back to the truck in darkness, listening to the river as it settled in for a chilly spring night.

“I’m not going to stop seeing other fish,” I said, more to myself than the river that now lay hidden behind the black of night and a bank of willows and trees. “But I’m not going to be away for as long this time. I promise.”

I’m still seeing other fish. But those ones, in that river – I see them the most.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular contributor for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.

2020 Spring Fly Fishing Gear Guide

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

If your pandemic and resulting quarantine experience has been anything close to mine, you probably haven’t been out fishing enough lately. I’ve been cooped up, looking at all the new toys I plan to buy when work picks back up and the world goes back to normal. Thankfully, we’re starting to see that return to normalcy in a few places – my native Utah being one of them – so I figured now was as good a time as any to release the 2020 Spencer Durrant Outdoors Fly Fishing Gear Guide.

I tried to find great gear at various price points, because I know as well as anyone that we don’t all have the budget for a brand new Orvis H3. For those who do, however, I’ve included my opinions on the more expensive items. If you have any follow-up questions about any of my gear recommendations, leave your comments below or feel free to contact me directly.

Fly Rods

Best Overall Rod Winner – The Douglas Sky G. Photo by Spencer Durrant

Best Overall Rod – Douglas Sky G 9′ 5wt

I’ve made no secret that my current favorite production fly rod is the Orvis H3. But with a price tag that runs from $850 – $950 or more, it’s a steep asking price. The $795 tag on the Douglas Sky G is a bit more palatable – and, the Sky G has the lightest swing weight in its class. It’s also frighteningly light at 2.7oz, and has a bit more of that intangible wow factor than the H3.

For the everyday Rocky Mountain trout angler, I can’t think of a rod better-suited to tackle the various rivers and fish than the Douglas Sky G. Read my full review of it here.

Best Expensive Rod – Orvis H3D 9′ 6wt

At $950, the Orvis H3D commands a serious commitment – but it’s 100% worth it. While the Douglas Sky G is a great rod, it doesn’t have the outstanding versatility that the 9′ 6wt H3D does. I’ve used my 9′ 6wt H3D for everything from fishing Alaskan rivers for big dolly varden and sockeye, to catching pink salmon in the surf, to chucking big streamers for trout on the Green River. I can also turn around and fish dries when the situation calls for it.

The H3D is head-and-shoulders better than any other rod you can buy right now, but it’s priced just enough to be out of the reach of most anglers, which is the only reason it didn’t take the top spot as Best Overall Rod for 2020. If you have the money, though, buy an H3D. You won’t regret it.

Read my full review of this rod here.

Best Inexpensive Rod – Fenwick Aetos 9′ 5wt or Orvis Clearwater 9′ 5wt

At the sub-$200 price point, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better than either the Fenwick Aetos or the Orvis Clearwater. Neither is better than the other here, which is why I had to have a tie. The Fenwick feels a bit faster in my hands than the Clearwater, while both rods have similar swing weights. Honestly, I’d put both of these rods up against a lot of rods that are two or three times more expensive. They’re that good.

They’re not as flashy as the other rods on this list, but they’ll get the job done.

Read my full review of the Orvis Clearwater here, and read a review on the Fenwick Aetos here.


The new Ross Animas is supremely capable – and surprisingly affordable. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Best Overall Reel – Ross Animas

Ross updated one of their most popular reels ever – the Animas – for 2020. It’s light, looks absolutely fantastic, and the drag is as buttery-smooth and strong as we’ve come to expect from Ross. At $295, it’s right at the sweet spot for a bombproof reel that’ll last you for years and not break the bank. It has the power to put the brakes on big trout in heavy water, but there’s almost no startup inertia – which means fewer instances of broken tippet and lost fish.

Read my full review of the reel here.

Best Expensive Reel – Abel SDF

I’ve had an Abel TR-2 for years now, and that reel will outlive me. My good friend Ryan McCullough has some from the 90s, with Abel’s signature cork drag system, that are still stopping brown trout in their tracks. Abel is pricey, but they’re worth it.

The SDF is their fully-sealed disc-drag reel for freshwater. With a nearly unlimited array of color options, custom finishes, and hand-painted trout skins, the Abel SDF is the best reel you’ll find if money isn’t an object.

Read the full review here.

Best Inexpensive Reel – Orvis Clearwater

I waffled between this and the Redington Zero, but at the end of the day, the Clearwater is just better. It’s a die-cast aluminum reel, so it’s not going to blow you away with its light weight. The Clearwater isn’t egregiously heavy, though, and its drag is fantastic when you realize you’re paying less than $100 for it. I’ve used the Clearwater to wrangle big browns and rainbows in big water, and aside from less-than-ideal startup inertia, the drag is rock-solid.

Read a full review here.


Rheos is a new name in eye wear for fly anglers – but they should be on your radar.

Best Inexpensive Sunglasses – Rheos Bahias

I’m a sunglasses snob, and I’ll readily admit it. I have more pairs of Smith sunglasses than most people deem necessary, but I figure with how often I’m outside, my eyes deserve the best.

Enter Rheos, a company that’s relatively new, and doesn’t have the cachet that Smith or Costa does. That shouldn’t matter to you, though, because Rheos is putting out a quality product. At $55, you get a pair of polarized shades that also float when you drop them in the water (I tested this multiple times on my local rivers). I fished in the Bahias for a few days straight, then switched back to my trusty Smith Chromapop+ lenses.

There’s a significant difference between the two, but that in no way makes the Rheos shades any less better. They’re affordable, they float, and they protect your eyes. What more can you ask for?

Best Expensive Sunglasses – Smith Guide’s Choice

I’ve worn Smith sunglasses for years now, and I don’t think I’ll ever change. I spend so much time outside, staring at the harsh light reflected off rivers and lakes, that I want only the absolute best in eye protection. The Guide’s Choice delivers. These high-profile, larger sunglasses, when paired with Smith’s proprietary Chromapop+ polarized lenses, combine to make for an extremely comfortable, functional accessory.

Other Random Goodies

These aren’t exactly a necessity, but I love accessories that make angling a bit easier – or more enjoyable. These products accomplish that, and I can personally recommend each of them.

Waders and Wading Boots

The Orvis PRO Waders are hands-down the best you can buy right now. Photo by Spencer Durrant

Best Overall Waders – Orvis PRO Waders

The Orvis PRO line of products is amazing. It’s worth every penny, as you can see from my review here. But the PRO Waders stand out as the best product from the entire line, and for good reason. Orvis uses a proprietary Cordura fabric to produce incredibly puncture and abrasion-resistant waders that haven’t failed me yet – and I’m notoriously hard on waders.

Best Expensive Waders – Simms G4Z

I love my Simms G4 waders, but they’re spendy – $849.95, to be exact. They’ll last through damn near anything, and Simms has a reputation for stellar customer service. Just this last year, I needed my G4s repaired due to an odd manufacturing defect. Simms couldn’t fix the waders, so they sent me a new pair instead. Talk to anyone who’s had to send their Simms in for warranty work, and you’ll likely hear a similar story.

Honorable Mention – Aquaz DRYZIP

Aquaz is a brand that’s new to lots of anglers, but one that I’ve come to fully trust in recent months. After Mike James, owner and head guide at the Quiet Fly Fisher, turned me on to Aquaz, I’ve become a fan. I have their DRYZIP waders, and have yet to find something to complain about. Zippered waders are one of the greatest inventions in this sport, and Aquaz delivers a great product for just under $425.

Read my full review here.

Tying Supplies

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing most of us indoors, I’ve seen tons of anglers take up fly tying. In a lot of cases, I suspect that the sale of tying supplies is the only thing keeping a lot of smaller fly shops in business.

With that in mind, please buy local when and where you can. Call local fly shops, place orders for pickup, or have them shipped to your home. Do whatever you can to support local fly shops.

If your fly shop doesn’t sell these exact supplies, they can likely order them for you.

  • Loon Outdoors Complete Fly Tying Tool Kit: this kit has everything – sans a vise – that you need to get started with fly tying. The quality of the tools is pretty good – you get a lot for $120 – and for a beginner who doesn’t know what they don’t know, this is a great starting point.
  • Loon Colored UV Resin: the rise of popularity in UV resin on flies has led to a lot of innovations in the resin itself. Loon just released a ton of new colored resins that are perfect when tying chironomids, or any of the popular Euro nymphing patterns.
  • Loon UV Infiniti Light: this light cooks UV resin nearly instantly, and thanks to a USB port that charges it, you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries.
  • Renzetti Presentation 4000: if you’re looking for a new vise, it’s hard to beat the versatility and longevity of the Renzetti Presentation 4000. If you plan to tie a lot of flies of different sizes – streamers to tiny midges – the Renzetti is a great options.
  • Regal Medallion: I’ve tied on a Regal Medallion for years now, and I love it. The vise is cheaper than the Renzetti, packs up small for traveling (my Regal has traveled from Utah to Alaska and everywhere between), and holds hooks with a rock-solid grip.

Gear Review: Orvis PRO Collection

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Over the last four months, I’ve had the chance to play with most of the new gear in the Orvis PRO collection. From their waders to their boots, I’ve been thoroughly impressed.

Orvis sent along their PRO Insulated Hoody, PRO Wading Jacket, and PRO Underwader pants, as well. I’ve been using these all winter, and wanted to really put them through their paces before offering a review. To me, these are the pieces of gear most valuable to an angler. Waders and boots are built well enough to last by most companies, and come with (usually) great warranties. But the jackets, pants, and shirts that I use to layer during winter in the Rockies have to last just as long as my waders. If I get cold or wet, it makes for a miserable day on the water.

So, to really see if the PRO collection has what it takes to keep me warm and dry, I ditched my usual cold-weather fishing gear in favor of the stuff Orvis sent. My usual inch-thick Fortress Hybrid Hoodie got relegated to hunting-only duty in favor of the PRO Insulated Hoody. My go-to waterproof shell, the Sitka Stormfront Jacket, also saw little use on the water in favor of the PRO Wading Jacket.

And last, but not least, the time-tested combination of merino wool long johns beneath sweats was swapped out for the PRO Underwader pants. Making this many changes to a layering system I know works well was a big leap of faith.

But it’s a leap that definitely paid off.

PRO Insulated Hoody

Retail: $229

A mid-layer jacket should be light enough that you don’t sweat to death while wearing it, but heavy enough to lock in body heat and keep you warm. It gets bonus points for waterproofing or water-resistance. And – I can’t stress this enough – adequate pocket room.

The PRO Insulated Hoody checks all those boxes. It’s incredibly light, has plenty of pockets, and has kept me warm in temps down to 0. It is water and wind-resistant – I’ve worn it without an outer shell in a few rain and snow storms, and the Hoody hasn’t let me down yet. Orvis packed this thing with PrimaLoft Gold insulation, and built in plenty of vents for temperature control.

Plus, the PRO Insulated Hoody looks good enough that you could get away with wearing it in non-fishing settings. Throughout the winter, it’s become the jacket I reach for first when leaving the house. I never thought I’d find a PrimaLoft-based jacket that performed as well as my Fortress Hybrid Hoodie, or even my Browning Hell’s Canyon Jacket, but the PRO Insulated Hoody works admirably.

PRO Wading Jacket

Retail: $349

Outer shells are tough to get right. You have to make something that’s roomy enough to accommodate layers beneath, but not so big that cold air gets trapped between the shell and other layers. Then, there’s the business of water-and-wind-proofing the thing – including any outward-facing pockets.

That’s why I’ve clung so dearly to my Sitka Stormfront Jacket. But after a winter of wearing the PRO Wading Jacket, I have to give my nod to Orvis’s much more reasonably priced offering.

While I’m not fishing in a wet winter like my friends in the Pacific Northwest, winter in the Rockies is bone-chillingly cold. It’s often made worse by consistent wind. The PRO Wading Jacket does an excellent job at cutting windchill and capturing warmth, without cooking you inside an oven.

From blizzards to rain, the PRO Wading Jacket has stepped up to every challenge I’ve asked of it. While the technical specs are impressive – 3-layer proprietary woven fabric for the shell, fully-taped seams, 20k waterproofing and a 15 breathability rating – there’s one feature that stands out the strongest.

Orvis dubs this feature the “Dolphin Skin cuff system.” Essentially, it’s a band of waterproof rubber right at your wrist that forms a waterproof seal when you put on the jacket. Then when you reach to land or release a fish, you don’t soak your entire arm in frigid river water. I’ve tested the limits of the Dolphin Skin cuffs, and haven’t yet found a way to soak my sleeves. This feature alone is worth buying the jacket for.

PRO Underwader Pants

Retail: $139

My go-to clothing option beneath waders has been merino wool and sweats. It’s simple, warm, and most importantly, cheap.

The PRO Underwader pants aren’t as cheap as my option, but they might be even better. They’re comfortable enough that I’ve found myself wearing them probably more often than I should – especially in non-fishing settings. Drew Nisbet, the Community Leader for Orvis, and I both remarked in a recent conversation that we need about 5 more pairs of these pants, so we can live in them throughout the rest of the winter.

These are surprisingly durable, and I love the side-vents on the legs. The fleece lining is the perfect thickness for warmth, and the “stirrups” that prevent the legs from riding up when you’re putting on waders is a great little feature.

Wrapping Up

The Orvis PRO collection is as good as you’d expect – and better in a lot of areas. I’m really pleased with how well everything has performed in one of the tougher winters I’ve had. The weather hasn’t been kind, but the Orvis PRO collection has stepped up to the plate and performed admirably. If you’re in the market for any of this style of gear, I’d highly recommend taking a look at what Orvis has to offer.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer from Utah. He’s currently the News Editor at MidCurrent, and his writing has been published in multiple national magazines over the past decade. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Fly Fishing Conservation Stories to Watch in 2020

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Unless you’re purposefully ignoring it, as an angler you’re probably keenly aware of all the fly fishing conservation work going on. From Instagram posts to Facebook ads, organizations and brands alike push out a fairly unified message each year, about protecting and preserving the wildlife and wilderness we have left.

I believe it’s our responsibility to actively care for the natural resources that give us so much joy – and in my case, a living. So, that’s why I’ve compiled this list of conservation stories that you should watch throughout the rest of 2020. Knowing what’s going on in the fly fishing conservation world will help you better act to help preserve and protect what we have left.

Tarpon Protections

Tarpon are one of the most sought-after game fish in the world. As I wrote recently over at MidCurrent, a new study has revealed information on tarpon migrations, as well as the impact of sport and commercial fisheries on the species. New protections are needed if tarpon are to continue to be as popular – and present – as they are now.

You can read the study in full detail here.

San Juan Cutthroat Trout

This is one of the more interesting stories I’ve followed lately, due in large part to how dearly I love cutthroat trout. Back in 2017, news broke of a “new” cutthroat trout subspecies discovery. While the subspecies isn’t new, it is new to 21st-century fisheries biologists. The fish is native to the San Juan River, in Colorado, and is as distinct genetically as Colorado River and Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

Work is underway to preserve this fish, both from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited. You can read more about the plans for the San Juan cutthroat trout here.

Florida Bay

Florida is one of the world’s most diverse fisheries. From peacock bass and snakehead to tarpon and bonefish, you can spend a lifetime fishing in Florida and not come away with all your bucket list fish.

But that’s all at risk, thanks to a lack of freshwater spilling into Florida Bay. As Johnny Carrol Sain wrote for Hatch Magazine, “Florida Bay is a place like no other in the world. And, like so many other Florida fisheries, it’s dying.”

You need to read the rest of Sain’s piece, probably twice, to get a grasp of what’s really going on in Florida, and how you can help.

Yellowstone Lake Trout

For years, we’ve heard about the negative impact the lake trout in Yellowstone Lake have had on the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The fish all but disappeared from spawning in the tributaries to Yellowstone Lake, creating a ripple effect on the rest of the park’s ecosystem. The grizzly bears no longer had a rich food source right after hibernation ended – cutthroat spawn in spring, when bears are waking up for the year – and as such, preyed on other animals. I wrote a paper a few years ago that even detailed the river otter population all but vanishing with the Yellowstone cutthroat.

But, all is not lost, as Chris Hunt details in this in-depth piece. Lake trout are on the decline, cutthroat trout are showing up in tributaries to spawn once more, and it looks as though our efforts here are working.

It will be interesting to see how much more ground we gain here in 2020.

America’s Rotenone Problem

Most of America’s fisheries try to use chemicals to remove nonnative fish, in order to restore native fish to their native ranges. However, anytime you talk about putting chemicals in the water in America, everyone gets defensive.

Even if there’s mounds of science proving a particular chemical has no effect whatsoever on humans.

That’s the case with rotenone – a popular treatment chemical used to remove nonnative fish from rivers and lakes. As conservation efforts grow, however, the public will have to get used to the idea of chemicals, especially rotenone, being used.

Ted Williams goes into great detail on this in a two-part series for Hatch Magazine. It’s worth your time to read through.

Conservation is an ongoing work, and one that we, as anglers, should all proudly be a part of. Fly fishers have the unique position of being hugely invested in cold, clean water, pristine habitat, and well-managed wildlife populations. We’re a powerful voice, when we choose to be, and hopefully we can continue to unite and push this work forward. Nature is finite, and we have to do everything we can to protect it.

Spencer Durrant is a nationally-renowned fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and Founder of Spencer Durrant Outdoors. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.

New Year’s Resolutions for Hunters and Anglers

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

I’ve kept a fishing journal since 2017. It’s full of places I’ve fished, who I was with, what I caught, and what flies or lures I used. I keep the journal mostly for my own amusement, although it’s an interesting way to benchmark my growth — or lack thereof — as an angler.

That’s largely where the following list of resolutions comes from — last year’s failures in the field, and how I can mitigate them in 2020. And even though I spend more days fishing than hunting, these New Year resolutions should apply to all of us as sportsmen and women. If you have any resolutions, please share them in the comments!

New Year’s Resolutions for 2020

  • Read more. A lot of folks set goals to read more each year, and they usually succeed early on in carving out time to finish a few books. For hunters and anglers, though, this is something we need to do more of. Replace scrolling through Twitter and Instagram with regular perusal of hunting and fishing literature. Publications like MeatEater, Hatch Magazine, MidCurrent, Field & Stream, and Fly Fisherman Magazine are stuffed full of worthwhile tips and how-to articles. Swap your 15 minutes of social media at night before bed for reading through some of those publications, and you’ll be surprised at how much new information you stumble across.
  • Go somewhere you’ve never been. I grew up in the Mt. Nebo Wilderness Area in central Utah. From the wild rainbow trout to trophy elk, it’s a sportsman’s heaven.

    It wasn’t until 2019, though, that I hunted a section of the 27,075-acre Wilderness Area I’d never set foot in. I found five gorgeous bull elk (that I couldn’t shoot, because I had a spike tag) and a young cow moose. This spot is only three valleys over from my usual stomping grounds, but like all of us, I got stuck in a rut of hunting the same draws and hollows year after year. Even though I didn’t notch an elk tag in 2019, the fact I stepped out of my comfort zone is worth celebrating.

    You don’t have to jet to exotic locales to go somewhere new. I’m constantly surprised by what I find just minutes from my house. Chances are, you will be too.
  • Add new recipes to your cookbook. Wild game is the best meat there is. Fish, elk, deer, moose, rattlesnake (which is largely illegal to harvest throughout much of the West, so please check all regulations on rattlers in your area), rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, duck — it’s all wonderful. It’s easy, though, to get stuck cooking elk steaks the same way you always have. Why not live a little? Try some new crazy recipes. Throw buffalo sauce on rainbow trout and serve it over a salad (a surprisingly good meal!). Learning new ways to cook your favorite wild game will only add to your knowledge as a sportsman.
  • Be excellent at one thing. A few years ago, my buddy Ryan McCullough handed me my first size 28 parachute midge. After balking at its diminutive stature, and complaining about not having any 7x tippet, I started fishing it without too much confidence.

    Fast-forward to today, and I’m actively seeking out situations where I get to fish tiny flies. It’s something I enjoy immensely, and I sacrificed a lot of days when I could’ve caught tons of fish, to net only a few. But I got those fish how I wanted to catch them, which is really what makes fishing fun.

    This year, pick one thing you’d love to excel at. Whether it’s improving your Euro nymphing game or bettering your elk calls, relentlessly give it your all. I’ve often found that focusing on just one aspect of my hunting or fishing skills improves other areas as well, and I don’t feel overwhelmed by all that I’m not doing.
  • Introduce as many people to the outdoors as you can. Just after New Year’s, I was in Colorado, fishing a section of the Yampa with my friend Bryan Engelbert. We were more than a little miffed at not having the river to ourselves. After all, we’d just walked through three miles of knee-deep snow. It was a safe assumption that we were the only ones dumb enough to walk that far for Colorado rainbow trout.

    Despite feeling slighted at sharing the river, it’s heartening to see other anglers out in such horrible weather. As great as solitude is, we need more people outdoors. Hunting participation is quickly declining, and the fly fishing industry isn’t growing as quickly as it has. If we want to preserve and protect the uniquely American way of outdoor recreation, we need more stewards of the resource.

    So, this year, take as many people hunting and fishing as you can. Show them why you’ll wake up at 4am, drive to a marsh, and sit in freezing water waiting to shoot ducks. Let them reel in a 15-inch brown trout on a Western river. It’s in those moments that the real magic of hunting and fishing manifests itself, and we can — and should — share that with those who haven’t yet experienced it.

This list is meant more as a jumping-off point than anything else. I hope it gets you thinking about how you can improve as a hunter and angler in 2020, and how you can share that with others.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and Spencer’s writing has appeared in multiple national publications, including Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Gray’s Sporting Journal, American Angler, and Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine. Connect with Spencer on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Respect the Redds: Fishing near Spawning Brown Trout

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

It’s hard to believe that the annual circus put on by spawning brown trout is nearly here. I hunted most of October (chasing elk through the Mt. Nebo Wilderness Area), as did our Shooting Director Justin Stapley (though he hunted deer). Usually I don’t hunt as long, or as hard, as I have this year. When I left for the elk country, the rivers were still high, temps still warm, and the hatches made up of mostly larger bugs.

Hunting season closed at the end of October, and the first thing I noticed when back on the water were redds. Not many, but enough to remind me that my favorite time to fish is right around the corner.

As I’ve made a habit of doing every year when I see fall’s first redds, I’m presenting a quick rundown of everything you need to know about fishing near and around spawning brown trout.

What’s a “redd?”

Redds are shallow, bowl-like depressions on the bottom of a river created by spawning brown trout. Redds function much the same way a bird’s nest does. Eggs are deposited in the redd, then milt (fish sperm) is sprayed to fertilize the eggs. Six months later, trout hatch and the cycle starts anew.

You’ll most often see redds on river bottoms in gravelly areas, though I’ve also seen them dug into silty bottoms as well. Brown trout especially prefer rocky terrain for digging their redds. You’ll find redds in areas where fish can easily keep these gravelly areas clean of moss and other debris.

Why do redds matter?

As you can imagine, redds are integral to self-sustaining wild brown trout populations. From about this time in November through December (and on into January in some places) brown trout will continue too dig redds, deposit eggs and milt, and then settle in for a long winter.

What should I do when I find a redd?

There’s all sorts of debate about this in the fly fishing world. The ethics of fishing to spawning brown trout are hotly debated, though I personally don’t see what the difference is between fishing the spawn and hunting during the rut.

Regardless, if you find some redds this fall while fishing, take care not to step through them. Any disturbance to the redd can potentially crush trout eggs, meaning that many fewer new trout will hatch in the spring.

Can I fish near redds?

The short answer to this question is yes. Fishing near redds, so long as you’re not stepping on them, isn’t inherently “bad” or “unethical.” Again, what’s the difference between that and shooting a bugling bull elk?

What I see as crossing the line, though, is fishing to trout that are actively spawning. These fish are really easy to spot. They tend to be paired up, nearly touching, directly over the center of a redd. Every so often, the male or female will turn, wiggle, and deposit milt or eggs into the redd. So, a good general rule of thumb is to not cast to any trout that are on a redd.

However, there’s nothing wrong with fishing around redds. All the ruckus created by spawning brown trout stirs up plenty of bugs from the river bottom, creating a fresh supply of easy food. On top of that, not every egg makes it into the redd. Eggs are a protein-rich food source for any trout, so you’ll often find fish stacked in the pools and buckets behind redds. Drifting an egg pattern off the end of a redd and into the deeper water behind it will give you some of the fastest fishing you’ll get all year.

This is a touchy subject, but it’s entirely possible to fish the spawn in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the trout. At the end of the day, all of us as anglers have a responsibility to respect and care for the resource that gives us so much. Respecting the spawn – and leaving actively spawning fish alone – is just one of the many things you can do to ensure the long-term potential of your favorite fisheries.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. His work has appeared in multiple national publications, including Gray’s Sporting Journal and Field & Stream. Connect with Spencer on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.

The Campfire Chat

A tradition as old as camping itself — and just as therapeutic
By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

A campfire chat is just as effective as an hour on a shrink’s couch, but at a fraction of the cost. Your fishing, hunting, or camping buddies might not be licensed therapists, but more often than not, they’re unapologetically supportive, which is a cheaper alternative to antidepressants.

As someone who uses both a therapist and antidepressants, I see some cruel irony in how useful a campfire chat is at healing an ailing soul. For men especially, this is true. We’re largely terrible at discussing our feelings. I’ve regularly seen a therapist for the better part of a decade now, and still have a hell of a time putting words to what’s in my heart.

Put me around a campfire, though, and the emotions seem to flow like flames licking eagerly at a fresh log.

It was early September, unusually warm, and my buddy Mike and I sat around a fire in southern Utah. We’d camped alongside an out-of-the-way lake, accessible only by ATV or a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. Fishing was slow that day, but I’d netted three medium-sized brook trout and watched Mike haul in back-to-back 20-inch specimens. Even then, Mike shrugged the fish off as, “not as good as what I was catching two weeks ago.”

During the day, I focused only on fishing. Was I using the right fly? Was it deep enough? Was the retrieve too fast or too slow? Am I just a terrible angler?

Then night fell, chill crept into the thin air at 10,000 feet, and we called it for the day. It’s only when I fell into my camp chair next to a roaring fire, nursing a Coke Zero and a bag of buffalo wing-flavored chips, that I started thinking.

Everyone has family troubles, and I was in the midst of some. Those weighed on me while I started the third-to-last semester of my long-overdue bachelor’s degree. Work was hit-or-miss, and I realized summer was nearly finished. Despite the big brook trout I’d seen and caught, I had a bad case of the blues.

So, I talked.

The fire pulled my feelings to the surface, and whether Mike wanted to hear about them or not, he did. And, in largely non-masculine fashion, neither Mike nor I tried to fix my problems. Many of them didn’t have solutions — my family troubles are ongoing, and likely won’t stop for the foreseeable future — but I didn’t ask for any, either.

That’s significant, I think, because on the rare occasion men are willing to talk about emotions, it’s almost always done with some kind of fix in mind. And when we listen to the women in our lives, we often offer solutions instead of a listening ear. I’m generalizing, of course, but listening is the biggest stumbling block in effective communication between the sexes. So, when real listening happens between two men, I reckon it’s worth noting. For whatever reason, a campfire chat creates that opportunity more so than other situations I’ve experienced.

And it’s often the case that we all just need a listening ear.

A few days after that conversation with Mike, I felt I had a tighter grip on the insanity of working full-time, attending college full-time, and keeping up my work as an outdoors writer. Then, an email and a disturbing meeting sent my good mood into a tailspin. As I waded through the detritus of another shitty week, I found myself longing for another campfire chat.

It won’t fix anything, but it’ll help me feel better. And maybe that’s the reason we go fishing in the first place.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. His work has appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal, Field & Stream, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with Spencer on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Take a Kid Fishing

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

The best thing you’ll ever do as an angler is take a kid fishing.

It probably won’t be the most enjoyable, productive, or relaxing day. It’s likely you’ll get five minutes into the endeavor and wonder what the hell you were thinking. You’ll never regret it, though, and most importantly, the kids won’t ever forget the experience. In fact, I reckon it’s these memories, more so than other events, that spur kids into becoming lifelong, passionate anglers.

I was five or six the first time I remember going fishing with my dad. For some reason, I distinctly recall him telling my mother, “We’re going to the store.” We went in the opposite direction of the store, dad winked at me conspiratorially, and said, “Don’t tell your mom I took you fishing.”

Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and The Pet Shop Boys wavered through the car stereo as we drove. My dad’s musical tastes remain firmly planted in 80s New Wave and pop.

Thankfully, his fishing chops aren’t stuck in the 80s, and with minutes of rigging up on the riverbank, he had a brown trout in the net. We wet-waded a stream that meanders through a narrow mountain valley, running through a ghost town that was originally founded by my dad’s fifth-great grandfather back in the 1850s. The stream is one of those tiny affairs that’s somehow home to trout far bigger than what you’d expect.

One of those trout swam over my feet after dad let it go. It slithered, back half out of the water, on its way to deeper water. “Dad!” I yelled. “That fish just swam over my feet!”

Now, two decades after that muggy summer evening on the old family stream, I’m a semi-competent angler and hopefully above-average storyteller. Fishing is my living, but also my lifestyle. As a result, I spend hours with other folks who work in the industry, from guides to gear manufacturers to rod makers. Between shared stories of big fish and fawning over new gear, there’s an undercurrent of worry about the future of the sport.

It’s not a worry as persistent as what those in hunting have hanging over them — only 5% of Americans 16 and older hunt, per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — but it’s a consistent question. Who’s going to look over the rivers and lakes that give us so many memories? That provide thousands of guides with a living? It’s such an intricate piece of the tapestry of our heritage here in the West, that any change is frankly unimaginable.

That’s why you need to take a kid fishing. They’re the next generation of stewards of this grand tradition, but only if they’re given the opportunity to fall in love with it in the way you and I have.

Luckily, my dad wasn’t about to let me grow up without the influence of fly fishing. I fell head-over-heels for the sport at a young age. Most kids don’t have that opportunity. Which is why, as inconvenient as it is at times, we have to steel ourselves for a day of tangled lines and lost flies, and take a kid fishing.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. His work has appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal, Field & Stream, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with Spencer on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Why Catch and Release Fishing Isn’t Just for Fly Anglers

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

It’s easy to poke fun at fly anglers for being catch-and-release snobs. Not long ago, Hank Patterson did a fantastic parody of the highfalutin’ attitude often associated with catch-and-release fishing.

All jokes aside, catch-and-release fishing plays a vital role in the viability of our fisheries. As my friend and fellow fishing writer Chris Hunt wrote in Hatch Magazine a while back,

The catch-and-release movement is perhaps one of the most effective, self-imposed conservation campaigns ever. It ranks right up there with America’s hunters imposing on themselves tighter bag limits. It was vital to the future of the pastime, just as catch-and-release has been vital to the future of fishing. Those who catch and release all, or even some, of the fish they bring to hand can take a good portion of the credit for the overall health of some of our best-known American trout fisheries.

Chris Hunt

I’d like to point out that Hunt specified that catch-and-release has been vital to the future of fishing. Not fly fishing, but fishing in general. That’s an important distinction to make, because fly anglers are in the vast minority when compared to the amount of people who fish worldwide.

Also, I’m not trying to paint one group of anglers as more conservation-minded than another. I’m simply recording my observations from a lifetime in the fishing world. Catch-and-release is largely associated with the highbrow fly crowd, and I think that hurts the effort as a whole. Catch-and-release fishing was never meant to separate bait anglers from fly guys; it was meant to bring the angling community together.

At its core, catch-and-release fishing is about improving fish mortality rates, and leaving fisheries better than we found them. It’s a conservationist mindset that aids in keeping our rivers, lakes, and streams viable fisheries for generations to come. It’s not about proving one form of fishing is better than another (it’s not) or that all fish caught on bait die upon release (they don’t).

So, let’s throw pretenses aside for a few minutes and have a clear discussion about why all anglers need to be better informed about catch-and-release fishing.

Why catch-and-release?

The theory behind catch-and-release is simple: it’s unsustainable to keep every fish you catch. By properly releasing fish, you help populations remain stable, self-sufficient, and vibrant for the next angler who comes along.

That’s the key, though – properly releasing fish. At the heart of catch-and-release fishing is the impetus to handle fish with care, and ensure they have as good a chance at survival as possible. That’s the real reason the catch-and-release movement exists. It’s not to stroke the ego of tweed-clad, pipe-smoking old guys on a river.

It’s also a phenomenal conservation and management tool. By releasing fish, you allow them to grow larger. As fish grow, they tend to turn to a diet of almost exclusively other fish – a habit known as “piscivorous.” This dynamic with a population of fish creates a class of larger fish – the hogs – and a lot of fish in the 10 – 17 inch range.

A prime example of that succeeding is on Utah’s Green River. The tailwater boasts trout populations of 12,000-13,000 fish per mile, along with an average size of just under 17 inches. And while the river isn’t mandated as a catch-and-release fishery, almost all fish caught are released. What’s more, the Green is limited to artificial flies and lures only, and every year I see more and more anglers booking spin fishing trips.

So, there’s just one example of catch-and-release fishing doing its job, and not creating an environment that excludes conventional tackle, either.

Handling fish

Another key component to the catch-and-release movement is learning how to properly handle fish. And yes, this includes not holding trout out of the water for 2 or 3 minutes while you get just the right angle for your next Instagram pic. I work with some very talented fishing photographers and filmmakers – like Gilbert Rowley and Ryan Kelly – and they’ve taught me a ton about handling fish when filming or taking still photographs.

The point in bringing that up is to show that anglers from all persuasions can learn to better handle fish. Just because you fly fish doesn’t mean you’re inherently better at releasing trout than the guy killing it downriver with a Rapala.

With that in mind, here are some tips for handling fish during the release process:

  • #Keepemwet: The #keepemwet campaign really blew up on Instagram, and its key teaching is to keep trout wet. Sounds simple, right? It is. Get your hands wet before touching a fish, and keep them in the water as long as possible. This greatly improves fish mortality rates.
  • 5-second rule: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good grip-and-grin photo. They’re a fun way to provide a lasting memory of a great fish. And without the good ol’ grip-and-grin, what would Instagram be? But when you’re taking these pictures, try to limit the time the fish is out of the water to 5 seconds or less.

    When I’m out filming or shooting photos, we adhere to that rule pretty strictly. When we’re not ready for an above-water shot, fish are submerged in our landing nets. It’s perfectly fine to take a fish out of the water multiple times for multiple shots. Just make sure that you limit those out-of-water experiences to 5 seconds or less.
  • Cut your losses: When fish swallow a hook deep – and I’ve had it happen with everything from worms to flies – a lot of anglers make the mistake of trying to yank the hook out. If a trout’s hooked so deep that getting your hook or fly or lure back may require surgery, just cut the line. The hooks will eventually rust out, and the trout has a much better chance of survival.
  • Don’t place them on the ground: Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a trout splayed on the rocks, or covered in grass, next to a fishing pole. Placing trout on the ground removes the protective slime that’s paramount to trout health, not to mention that the fish is likely out of the water for way more than 5 seconds at this point.
  • Don’t squeeze: This one is hard, because it’s what we all revert to when trout get squirmy and won’t hold still so we can remove hooks. But squeezing trout too hard can damage their internal organs. And, I’ve found that trout tend to wiggle more when I squeeze them too hard. A gentle, but firm, grip directly behind the pectoral fins is all you need to get enough leverage to remove hooks.

    Additionally, you may want to turn the fish upside down while it’s in the water. For whatever reason, turning trout upside down calms them, and it’s not bad for the fish at all.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of tips and tricks, but it’s enough to help us all get started on the path to being better stewards of the trout we love so much.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. Spencer’s work appears regularly in national outdoors publications, including Hatch Magazine, MeatEater, and Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine. Connect with Spencer on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Gear Review: Douglas Outdoors LRS 9′ 5wt

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Around the end of last year, Douglas Outdoors introduce their new LRS line of rods. LRS stands for “Lake, River, Sea,” indicating that Douglas intends this rod family to address your angling needs no matter the body of water you’re in.

For the most part, the LRS does just that. It’s an absolutely gorgeous rod with an eye-catching deep blue finish, paired with better-than-expected cork and a wallet-friendly price of $249. I’ve had my 9′ 5wt LRS for about a month, and have fished it everywhere except the sea. So far, it’s performed above and beyond what I expected out of a $250 fly rod.

In fact, the LRS is such a fun rod, it rivals the Orvis Clearwater as my favorite budget-rod pick. Let’s take a deeper look at exactly why I say that.

What I Like

Progressive action

Douglas Outdoors isn’t known for building the stiff, fast-action rods that dominated the market for the better part of this decade. They’ve always put out products I’d classify as medium-fast, much like Scott, Winston, and a select few models from Sage.

The LRS, though, is more than just a moderate action rod. It’s quick and lively in close, then slows up just enough to punch flies out to 60 feet. The action is eerily reminiscent of most Winston fly rods, albeit with a heavier swing weight.

The LRS excels at 40-50 feet, but is plenty capable within 20, and in a good caster’s hands can work past 60 feet. I fished the LRS in some pretty nasty wind on Utah’s Green River in mid-June, and I was still able to push big foam cicadas out to the banks. I had to work like hell to make the cast, but at least I knew the LRS could handle things, albeit not as well as a stiffer rod would.

Regardless, this feels like Douglas Outdoors’ most user-friendly rod I’ve fished.

douglas lrs fly rod with fish
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Feel in close

Most rods under the $300 mark aren’t great in close. A few exceptions exist – especially for fiberglass – but it’s hard to make a rod that’s great at distance and in the short game, without giving your wallet a heart attack.

Again, Douglas Outdoors has really outdone themselves with the LRS. Casting small dries off the tip worked great, and it was equally as effective for nymphing in tight quarters. I said this earlier, but it bears saying again – this rod feels a lot like a Winston.

Build quality

I adore the blue blank Douglas went with here. I think it just pops, especially when compared to other rods, as pictured below.

douglas outdoors lrs next to orvis h3f 8'6" 4wt fly rod
The LRS just looks good. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

(For the record, my 8’6″ 4wt Orvis H3F is my favorite 4wt I own, even if it doesn’t have the same sex appeal as the Douglas LRS).

The blank sparkles in the sunlight, which was about impossible for me to capture in a good photo. Go give one a wiggle at your nearest fly shop on a sunny day, and you’ll see what I mean.

Moving on, the cork is better than expected for a $250 rod. I’m not a huge fan of the burls on either end, but that doesn’t factor into how the rod fishes. Thread wraps are tight, with a good even finish. The reel seat, while not spectacular, feels solid.

What I Don’t Like

Not enough backbone

Despite its pleasant progressive action, the 9′ 5wt LRS just doesn’t pack the backbone I expected. Getting flies to lay out in the wind was a challenge, and turning over bigger bugs wasn’t as easy as I’d like.

The LRS is plenty hefty to handle bigger fish, thanks to a solid butt section. I just wish the solidity in the bottom third of the rod extended further up into the tip.

Double uplocking rings

I’m a firm believer that 99% of us trout anglers don’t need a disc drag reel (feel free to disagree with me in the comments). Even when fighting 20-inch trout, it’s rare you need a reel with more stopping power than what a click-pawl offers.

But folks like their large-arbor disc drag reels, which means rod companies continually add double uplocking rings to their reel seats. I think it’s overkill, I don’t like the way it looks, and I wish we’d scrap uplocking seats altogether and go back to downlocking hardware.

I digress. Honestly, it’s not a dealbreaker here. The uplocking rings don’t affect the action or feel of the LRS. I just took this as a moment to get on a bit of a soapbox.

douglas outdoors lrs fly rod with brown trout

Final Word

The Douglas Outdoors 9′ 5wt LRS is one of the most impressive budget-friendly rods I’ve ever seen. I’d put it neck-and-neck with the Orvis Clearwater, and even go so far as to say the Douglas is better fishing within 20 feet than the Orvis.

The LRS features such a pleasant progressive action that it’s just fun to cast, and I love the blank color. While I wish the cork burls were gone, and the reel seat hardware downsized, there’s not one thing I can point to that detracts from the rod’s performance itself. Sure, it has a heavier swing weight than I’d like, but remember – it’s a $250 rod.

And it’s a damn good one, at that.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and fishing guide from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, and other national publications. Spencer is the founder/editor of Spencer Durrant Outdoors. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.