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.

Will We Ever See a Ruger 10/17?

By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director

A couple years ago, I shot a .17 HMR for the first time, a standard Savage bolt-action. I packed it off into the sagebrush, looking for jackrabbits and cottontails. What ensued was one of the most enjoyable rabbit hunts I’ve had in a long time.

Both the accuracy, speed, and impact power of that little round was exhilarating, adrenaline-inducing, and left me grinning from ear to ear. After the hunt, I told my wife I had a new rifle at the top of my firearm list. The look she gave me suggested I was failing to curb the little Ralphy/Red Rider BB gun vibe.

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For those of you who don’t know, the .17 HMR came out back in 2002. It’s built on a .22 Magnum casing, necked down to take a .17 caliber projectile. The combination of more powder and less mass leads to an extraordinarily accurate and ranged rimfire cartridge, perfect for small game and varmint hunting. 

The center-mass hits I was scoring on the rabbits were dropping them where they stood (no follow-up shots, no god-awful rabbit screams). And, I was scoring hits on running rabbits way beyond what a .22 could do.

About the only problem I had was learning not to lead the rabbits at a distance. Those little .17 rounds shot so fast that they would impact in front of the rabbit if I led one like I would with a .22. 

My only real complaint with the rifle was the single-action and the relatively small magazine size. Having packed around a Ruger 10/22 since I was a kid, I thought there had to be a good semi-automatic option for the .17 HMR out there, if not a Ruger 10/17 in development.

I was shocked to find the options were limited, almost non-existent, and was told not to trust even the few semi-automatic .17 HMRs that were out there. 

The working theory of most of the firearm industry was that the .17 HMR was too high pressured for a semi-automatic action. This conclusion was mostly due to the recall of Remington’s Model 597 semi-automatic .17 HMR in the late 2000s, which had a bad tendency of shooting the magazine out of the rifle.

The pressure of the bullet would force the action open too quickly, before it had left the barrel, and the expanding gases would escape violently in the wrong direction. I also learned that Ruger canceled its 10/17 development project as a result of the Model 597’s failure.

But these theories were later put to the test and largely debunked by the .17 HMR my wife did end up getting me for Christmas: the Savage A17 (Note: marry a woman who thinks you look cute when you’re grinning like a total moron). Savage was able to solve the problem of high-pressure blowback by building a new delayed-blowback action system from scratch. 

To put it in simplest terms, they fashioned an interrupter lug that holds the bolt in place until the carrier itself moves back from the pressure of the fired shot. The weight of the carrier moves past the interrupter lug and loads another round in the chamber. This system delays the action just long enough to ensure the projectile has left the barrel and expelled the high-pressure gases.

I love my Savage A17, but it’s just not a Ruger. While it uses a similar rotary magazine, the mag release is far less intuitive, and you really have to press hard to make sure the magazine clicks when you insert it, or it will fall back out.

I’ve also found the A17 needs a lot more consistent maintenance to keep it from jamming up. And, I’ve even noticed that spent cartridges sometimes don’t get ejected properly, and the rifle doesn’t seem to have cycled properly at all (I don’t know if it’s carbon build-up, a poor extractor, or simply the delayed-blowback action being too delayed).

Granted, I experienced all of this after new rifle range trips, and we all know how quickly spent brass gets out of hand on trips like that.

So, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic rifle. As long as I give it the care it needs, most of the issues above don’t show up until after a hundred or so rounds have been put through it (and let’s face it, it’s still a rimfire). If my Ruger 10/22 hadn’t spoiled me all these years, I probably wouldn’t know the difference.

And that brings me to the point of all of this. Now that Savage has made the impossible possible, when are we going to see the Ruger 10/17 pop up in the catalog? Unfortunately, the answer may still be never. And, I’m not entirely sure why.

I have actually brought this up in various Facebook Ruger groups, and the replies often go one of two different directions (I’ve heard nothing official though).

The first argument is that the Savage A17 is little more than a novelty rifle.  While its delayed-blowback operation makes a semi-automatic .17 HMR possible, it may not be truly effective nor efficient enough to inspire similar technologies in other rimfire firearms.

The second argument is that the A17’s system is too unique to duplicate before the patent expires. 

As for the first argument, while the A17 does seem to have its annoying ticks, it’s not that ineffective. Most of what I’ve experienced, I’ve experienced with my 10/22 as well (granted after several hundred more shots).

And, I’m sure given another few years or so, the A17s that come out of Savage’s factories will probably experience these issues less and less (they’ve already improved the magazine release). If anything, it’s the lack of competition on the market that’s probably slowing innovation.

To the second argument, delayed-blowback technology is nothing new. While Savage has gone about it in a very unique way, that’s not to say there aren’t similar (but different) ways to do it or that there aren’t better ways to build a similar action. 

Whatever the actual reasons for Ruger’s reticence to re-open its 10/17 program, I sure hope someone at that company can convince them to move past those reasons. The A17 is just similar enough to a 10/22 to make sure that little tick is always going to be there in the back of my mind. If Ruger ever made one, I would probably pounce pretty quickly on a Ruger 10/17. Until then, I’ll be walking the sage with what I’ve got, rabbits beware.


Justin Stapley is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.

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.

Another Crazy Hunt

If my hunts keep going like this, I’ll have to start writing comedy.
By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director

My friendship with Spencer Durrant began with a bit of bad luck during a crazy hunt chasing after turkeys. We didn’t bag a bird, which you’ll hear us discuss in our upcoming debut podcast episode. Usually, when bad luck plagues a hunt so thoroughly, I tend to think I’ve got all the bad luck out of the way for a while.

My recent archery hunt proved that wasn’t the case. 

The snowball effect began before I even made it onto the mountain to chase deer with my bow. For once, I tried to get ahead of the mad-dash packing fiasco we’re all familiar with. I inventoried all my gear and made my shopping lists. I even managed to find my old fly rod and reel, which to my amazement still worked. 

I deflated from my excitement rapidly when I got back from Sportsman’s Warehouse and my wife set the water bill in my lap. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill billing notice. We’re talking an extreme anomaly or a severe leak. Worse yet, it was Friday night. I wouldn’t be able to call city utilities until Monday – the day I was headed out hunting.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning. I still had no clue what was going on with my water, but I’d thoroughly checked my house and grounds for any immediate problems and requested a work order from the city. I’d only lost a day. At least that’s what I thought.

The next morning, I woke up to sunlight shining through my window. My phone had died during a power outage, so the alarm that was going to wake me at six didn’t go off. Instead, I woke up at nine-thirty.

I finished packing, ended up having a conversation with my neighbor about the water problem, and didn’t get to my dad’s house until after noon. We hitched up his camper to his truck, the ATV trailer to mine, and got off thinking we had enough time to get to Cedar City, head up the canyon, and still hunt in the evening.

Yeah, that’s not how things were happening on this trip.

As we were getting close to Nephi, I suddenly found myself way ahead of my dad. I slowed down to 60 and drafted behind a semi for a good twenty minutes waiting for him to catch up. He never caught up, but I got ahold of him on the phone (via voice command folks, I promise). He told me his steering was getting squirrelly when he tried going over sixty. 

We stopped in Nephi but couldn’t find anything wrong. I figured it was just wind pushing his outfit around through the canyon. To be safe though, we crawled along at 60 miles-per-hour to Cedar City. When we finally got into town, it was way too late to head up the canyon. We crashed at my grandma’s house for the night.

The next morning, we got up, headed up the canyon, and set up camp. The first hunting we were able to do wasn’t until Wednesday evening. We started with an ATV road-hunt through some trails where we’d seen a lot of deer in previous years. At this point, it was my bow’s turn to give me problems. 

I’m pretty proud of my bow, though I get crap for it sometimes. After all, it’s a 1970s single-cam. But I’ve dropped two deer within five years and love the classic wood look. However, the manual screw-in site pins apparently weren’t designed with ATV engine vibration in mind. Just a half-mile down a trail, I heard a subtle plop-plop and looked down to see my pins falling off my bow. 

Amazingly, I found all my pins but couldn’t sight it back in again until the next day. I’d practiced reflex shooting before and felt confident out to about 20 yards, so I wasn’t too mortified.

Not that it mattered. The lack of typical August rainfall seemed to have disrupted the usual late summer deer patterns. We didn’t see anything.

Thursday morning, I planned to hike down deep to my breadbasket area. Same place I’d dropped a four-point a few years earlier on my first archery hunt. I’m sure most of you would understand if I leave this little spot nameless. Suffice to say, it’s one of my favorite spots, both for the success I’ve had there as well as the family history in the area.

But even this sweet spot wasn’t good enough to overcome the current of crazy that was this trip.

While driving to where I usually start my hike, my check engine light comes on. When we stopped and turned the engine off, we could hear the radiator fluid boiling. Since it was too early for a shop to be open, we hunted for a few hours (saw nothing, again). Then, we headed down the canyon. 

The head gasket had blown, and the negative pressure kept the radiator fluid from circulating which caused the engine to overheat catastrophically. How I was able to haul an ATV trailer all the way down to Cedar City and then up a mountain before the problem manifested itself is beyond me. 

My dad had to head home early with his camper, so he could make a second trip back to get the ATVs. I finally got into the deer and spotted a few big bucks Saturday night but lost daylight before I could stalk close enough for a good shot. And that was that. I helped my wife pack up and leave in her car Sunday morning and came home with my dad Sunday afternoon when he came to get the ATVs.

It was sure a crazy hunt, but it wasn’t what I would call a bad hunt. Cedar Mountain was looking beautiful this year. Navajo Lake and the other smaller lakes nearby were full for the first time in years. In response to some of the fires up there in recent years, they’re finally letting loggers go after the trees killed by wood beetles. New, young growth is sprouting up everywhere.

One of the hikes I made took me up above 9,000 feet and gave me a spectacular view looking south towards Zion National Park. Southern Utah is truly God’s country, and even though my trip had been the hunt from hell in a lot of ways, I still got to walk in places that are the closest thing a mortal man can come to heaven. Sometimes, that’s all a hunter really needs.


Justin Stapley is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.

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.

Self-Defense: Is Stopping Power a Myth?

By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director


I’ve been a .40 S&W guy my whole life. My thought process has always been that it’s an excellent middle ground between the .45 ACP and the 9mm. The .40 S&W maintains a respectable level of power yet still allows increased ammo capacity and decreased recoil – and it has great stopping power.

Until a few years ago, my fellow shooting enthusiasts and firearms instructors supported this theory. In 2014, the FBI shocked everyone by announcing a return to the 9mm as their standard-issue round. For justification, the FBI pointed to in-house studies , documented in this FBI Executive Summary, which concludes that “Handgun stopping power is simply a myth.”

Since then, a lot of organizations and individual gun owners have adopted this mentality – that stopping power is a myth. The growing belief is that the only meaningful considerations for ammunition type are capacity, penetration, and light-recoil. I’m still a .40 S&W guy because I figured one study is one study. But I am often hard-pressed to defend myself against claims I’m sacrificing speed, accuracy, and ammo capacity with no benefit gained.

Eventually, I got serious and started trying to learn more about the FBI’s findings. I also did some heavy reading on traditional understandings about the idea of “stopping power.” In this article, I’ll lay out what I’ve found.

My Findings

While the FBI Executive Summary claims their findings debunked the idea of stopping power, that isn’t necessarily the proper conclusion to draw from their data.

The data, and the administrative assertions of the FBI, point to the reality that stopping power is and continues to be highly misunderstood. Many of the diverging opinions and conclusions surrounding the FBI findings result from different ideas of what stopping power is.

What is stopping power?

When the FBI Training Division said stopping power is a myth, and when marksmen and shooters repeat this claim, they’re defining stopping power as stopping somebody in their tracks, or even knocking them back. If this were what stopping power was, the FBI wouldn’t have needed to debunk it.

Every learned and knowledgeable marksman knows that the movie magic of somebody getting knocked back – when shot – as if kicked by a mule is laughable. And, most marksmen recognize that the chance of dropping an assailant dead with a single shot is highly improbable. It should be evident that stopping power means more than these ideas, or it wouldn’t be something serious marksmen have ever discussed.

Stopping power is better defined as the ability to effectively and swiftly incapacitate (stop) the assailant and end the altercation. More specifically, it relates to the combination of several ballistic factors, including tissue displacement and transfer of energy leading to trauma, shock, and hemorrhaging.

What the FBI findings actually point to is a conclusion that speed and accuracy play a much more substantial role in determining stopping power than was previously believed. Rapid and precise placement of small, high-speed projectiles to a lethal area has more stopping power than scattered and slower placement of large, low-speed projectiles.

Is it ammunition-based?

This is the part where the FBI Executive Summary and its defenders make too bold of a claim. The actual performance of various ammunition doesn’t point to stopping power being a myth; it points to a more accurate conclusion that a larger round does not grant more stopping power absent good training and marksmanship skills. If a marksman can place larger projectiles rapidly and precisely, then there is more tissue displacement, more transfer of energy, and more stopping power.

The reason the FBI, and other organizations that followed their lead, went back to the 9mm, truly relates less to the superiority of the round and more to the cost and logistics of effective and constant training. While the FBI Executive Summary claims differently, the reality of actual bullet performance indicates their decision related more to the cost of larger ammunition and the more advanced and in-depth marksmanship training required to get effective use out of larger rounds.

Ultimately, based on the history of ammunition development and stories of smaller projectiles proving to be less effective, what the FBI really concluded was that the modern improvements to the 9mm made it good enough. While the FBI Executive Summary declares the 9mm is superior and that stopping power is a myth, they don’t adequately back that up.

The ammunition performances they cite, the lack of insight they provide into the administrative decision process for abandoning the.40 S&W, and the history of ammunition development and use over the last century-and-a-half should make all marksmen cautious of accepting the assertion that “stopping power is simply a myth.”

Personally, the FBI study and the new debate about stopping power it unleashed informed me more about what it is – but it doesn’t force me to conclude that I should dump the .40 S&W.

As an individual, I have very different considerations when compared to a large organization. How much time do I dedicate to training? How natural are my marksmanship skills? What gun works best for concealment or feels good in my hand (and what ammunition options are there for that gun)? What kind of gun/ammunition did I grow up shooting? Do I flinch or anticipate when shooting? Am I “recoil sensitive”? Do I anticipate the recoil or have sympathetic grip reflexes in response to the feeling that the gun might fly out of my hand?

The definitive conclusions of the FBI Study are that shot placement is the underlying factor in lethality. So yes, all of the above considerations have a more significant impact on stopping power than the size of the bullet. If, for whatever reason, I can’t shoot fast and accurately with the weapon and ammunition I’m currently using, then yes, switching to a 9mm,.380 ACP, or other smaller caliber would grant me more stopping power than I currently have.

But this doesn’t mean bullet size doesn’t matter. If I can put three rapid shots on top of each other at ten yards or more with my .40 S&W than I do have more stopping power than someone who can only do the same thing with a smaller round.

In case you were wondering, I’m still a .40 S&W guy. Constant self-assessment has led me to conclude that my skill is good enough to allow my original thought process to remain relevant. But I am much more aware of the necessity to maintain my marksmanship while carrying a larger round.


Justin Stapley is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.

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.

Target Shooting and Wildfires

By Justin Stapley | Contributing Author

The threat of man-made wildfires has grown exponentially in recent years.  Millions of acres burn every year, and populated areas are increasingly endangered.  In response, many proposals have been made and policies put into place to mitigate the circumstances which can lead to the start of a wildfire.  One such proposition needing further consideration is the idea of banning target shooting on public lands. 

Many of these policies have demonstrated effectiveness, especially as the public becomes aware of the activities likely to lead to that dangerous first spark.  However, as with all reactions to pressing issues, some ideas demand further introspection to determine their likely effectiveness. 

While it may seem apparent that target shooting can present a clear risk for starting a man-made fire, that risk may be fundamentally misunderstood and compounded by misleading statistics. No argument can be made that shooting hasn’t resulted in a fair amount of man-made fires. However, a consideration of the details may frustrate a case for a wholesale ban. 

Generally, specific circumstances in the particular nature of shooting contribute to the fires; namely, the ammunition and targets used.  The most widely available and commonly used ammunition for target shooting is lead and copper-plated ammunition. Shot against a soft backstop at appropriate targets, these types of ammunition pose no serious fire threat. 

While any kind of metal striking a rock or other hard surface has the chance of sparking, lead and copper-plated ammunition has the same likelihood of starting a fire as a horseshoe hitting a rock on a horse-trail.

In contrast, less available and more expensive ammunition such as tracer rounds, incendiary, and steel-tip ammunition present a severe threat for sparking a fire.  The type of target is cause for concern as well.  Common paper targets, cans, bottles, and cardboard are unlikely to spark when shot with standard ammunition. 

Steel targets, exploding targets, or refuse targets with flammable materials (propane tanks, chemical containers, appliances, etc.) can create sparks or explosions due to the impact, and spark a fire.  In short, the greatest threat for causing a fire lies with specific choices in ammunition and targets and not with the general activity of target shooting.  

There is also a question as to the certainty of statistics released by government organizations related to the number of fires caused by target shooting.  Skeptics point to an interesting trend.  While wildfires blamed on cigarette smoking have significantly decreased in the last decade, blazes blamed on target shooting have increased. 

The possibility exists that target shooting has taken the place of cigarette smoking as the go-to scapegoat for wildfires of uncertain origin. According to the Phoenix New Times, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that in 15 of 23 fires between 2009 and 2012 considered “target shooting correlated fires”, “…the only reason for the label of ‘target shooting correlated’ is because they started on or near a known target-shooting area and because almost all other causes for the fires were ruled out.” 

Several of the investigations stated a belief that target-shooting was the cause but that “no evidence collected.” At least in this small sample of investigations, the majority of “target shooting correlated fires” were labeled as such only through circumstantial evidence, at best.

Well-intentioned policies designed to solve a pressing problem should always be considered with serious preponderance.  However, the intentions themselves do not suggest good policy.  Target-shooting is an everyday activity in many rural areas and is ingrained in American culture both through rural and constitutional tradition. 

The feasibility of year-round bans on target-shooting in public lands is not even certain, given the low personnel and assets available to commit to such a law enforcement action.  The risks of target shooting could very much be overstated and at or below the level of other everyday recreational activities on public lands, such as ATV riding.

Those dangers could easily be mitigated by focusing attention on controlling the use of specific ammunition and targets in high-risk months.  A complete target shooting ban on public lands is unlikely to have a recognizable effect on decreasing wildfires and indeed would be a policy impossible to enforce.


Justin Stapley is a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.