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.

Just Wait

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

A breeze pulled at my rolled-up shirt sleeves as I readjusted my hat to fend off the glare of a now-setting sun. It was the first truly warm day of the year – warm enough to make me itch for wet-wading. But the snow-laden peaks of the Rockies, still buried beneath 20 or 30 feet of the greatest snow on Earth, brought me back to reality. It’d be weeks, if not months, before wet-wading was an option.

I sighed and stretched my back, cursing the natural river side accommodations for not being more ergonomic. Standing up from the rough-hewn boulder that had served as my chair, I looked back down river, to the hole I’d just come from.

A fish jumped clean out of the water, snatched a bug mid-Sea-World-trick, and plopped back in the river. I swear the fish took time to wink at me on its way down.

That was the most activity I’d seen all afternoon, and I’d parked at the trail head well before the sun began setting. With it being so warm, and smack in the middle of May, I’d hoped to run into some caddis. I’d heard whispers that the bigger bugs were showing their wings, pushing the diminutive blue-winged olives to the peripheries of anglers’ attention. After a prolonged winter that featured the most spectacular blue-wing hatch I’ve seen on the Lower Provo River in years, I was ready to fish a size 14 elk hair caddis.

On cue, a light-colored caddis fluttered by in the rickshaw-like flight pattern that’s part of why the bugs are so endearing. The bugs were ready for a change too, it seemed. After a few minutes of re-rigging, paired with the inevitable curses of “I swear I tied more size 14s than this. These suck,” I was ready for the inevitable caddis hatch.

Except it wasn’t inevitable. A few more popped off, like blues guitarists in their frenetic, individual energy. The sun dipped behind the mountains and bathed the river in blue light. Fish rose, snacking on the menagerie of duns and cripples littered on the river’s surface.

Mayfly duns and cripples. Not caddis. A distinction I noticed but didn’t want to acknowledge. I’d just watched a half-dozen caddis buzz by in a half-hour. Surely those random bugs were harbingers of an upcoming caddis storm.

From behind, a voice carried over the noise of the river and made me jump out of my skin.

“How’s the fishing?”

I turned to see a young guy, around my age, standing a few yards away.

“I’m not really sure,” I said. “I’ve been here for a few hours but I’ve spent most of the time sitting on the bank waiting for the hatch to start.”

The guy paused a beat, not sure how to take that. He had an eagerness to his questions that suggested he wasn’t the type to sit on a stream and wait out a hatch.

“You see any caddis?” He asked.

I nodded. “A few, but nothing to really get ’em going.”

The guy shrugged and thanked me, taking off upriver, leaving me alone on the bank once more. Another half-hour dragged by and I started pulling up rocks, looking for caddis casings. I found plenty, but they were all full of larvae. Further proof that the hatch wasn’t quiet as ready as I’d hoped.

I turned my attention back to the river, expecting caddis but seeing only mayflies. As if reading my thoughts, a fish rose to a crippled dun as it drifted 15 feet from where I sat on the bank. The unmistakable plop of a big trout rising on small flies was insult to injury.

Just about then, the guy who’d stopped by a half-hour prior ambled back down the trail. His shoulders were hunched with the frustration of not catching fish, and I didn’t bother stopping him to ask how he’d done.

As it turns out, the guy should’ve waited another ten minutes. After he walked out of view, another fish took a crippled dun near my streamside seat. Then another. Within minutes, fish rose in that tight, predictable rhythm indicative of nature’s inherent truth – that sooner or later, predators will find their prey and finish the circle of life.

I insisted on fishing a caddis during the hatch, even though the fish were obviously keyed in on mayflies. I mumbled something about unmatching the hatch and a higher-protein meal target while tying on my size 14 caddis, but the fish didn’t hear my halfhearted pleadings.

Eventually, I broke down and tied on a size 18 crippled blue-winged olive. Within a few casts I had a fish in the net. Then another. I missed the next take, and broke my tippet on the following rise. But I fished until it was too dark to see, quietly grateful to step out of the water that had numbed my legs.

Later, as I stopped in town for a burrito and some Mountain Dew, I texted a buddy a blurry photo of one of the browns I’d caught that night. “The caddis were out but the fish didn’t care tonight,” I wrote. “Too many mayflies still kicking around.”

He wrote back, “I’m sick of fishing mayflies.”

I grinned because I felt his pain, but I wasn’t about to complain, either. The caddis would just be late this year, and while it was inconvenient, it wasn’t like the fishing sucked. The fish were just doing what they’ve done so well for as long as man has fished.

They made me wait.


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

Gear Review: Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

I’m always tinkering around with how I carry my gear while on the water. From the traditional vest to slings, I probably have too many options for carting my tackle around on the river. For the past few months, I’ve had the Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack.

Hip packs have always intrigued me with their theoretically easier access to must-have items, cup holders, and myriad of pockets. On top of that, most hip packs I’ve used are waterproof, an absolute must for an outdoors writer who always has a camera on hand.

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack is the second hip pack I’ve put through the review wringer, and while I’m still not converted to the hip pack game, I’ll easily rank it ahead of the Simms Dry Creek hip pack. It’s relatively comfortable, easily adjustable, and spacious. The waterproof nylon feels solid, the zippers are taut, and there’s even a detachable water bottle holder.

However, there’s a lack of multiple inner compartments and the zippers are almost impossible to operate one-handed. You’ll pay a premium for this product – $179.95 – but that’s cheaper than most fully-waterproof hip packs.

mountainsmith dry tour close up
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Like

Ease of adjustment

Most packs, be it for backpacking, fishing, or hunting, have unnecessarily complicated adjustment systems. And the packs that adjust easily tend to require multiple readjustments throughout the day to stay comfortably in place.

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour has the easiest adjustment system I’ve seen on a hip pack. I can tighten or loosen the shoulder and hip straps with one hand, which is a major plus. And the straps stayed in place longer than other packs I’ve used.

Fully waterproof

What some manufacturers consider “waterproof,” I’ve found to be anything but. I once had a supposedly waterproof pocket in some waders fill with water and ruin a phone while fishing the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour is fully waterproof, as far as I’m concerned. I filled it with various water-friendly items and held it underwater for five minutes while fishing. I did this over various trips, and never sprung a leak. The tough fabric and waterproofing finish all live up to what Mountainsmith claims it’ll do.

Plenty of space

This pack will hold 7L of gear, which is plenty of room for my Sony a6300, extra batteries, another lens, two or three fly boxes, and the various accouterments necessary for a day on the water.

It also has a detachable cup holder, which works just as well when attached to the pack. 12-oz cans of Mountain Dew fit in it perfectly.

mountainsmith dry tour cup holder
Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Don’t Like

Tight zippers

The zippers on the Mountainsmith Dry Tour are heavy-duty affairs. You likely won’t see a water leakage issue due to zippers failing. However, they’re tight as all get out and nearly impossible to use one-handed. It’s inconvenient to find a place for my fly rod while digging my camera or other gear out of the hip pack, but it’s not exactly a deal breaker.

Not enough compartments

There’s plenty of room in the Dry Tour, but just like most every other hip pack I’ve played with, this one doesn’t have enough compartments. I know it’s hard to strike a balance between a spacious main compartment and smaller ones, but I’d like to see someone try. Small pockets for floatant, nippers, thin fly boxes, or even spare sunglasses would be nice.

Final Word

The Mountainsmith Dry Tour Hip Pack is my first experience with Mountainsmith products, but from what I’ve seen so far I’m impressed. It’s a well-built, solid piece of gear that’s as waterproof and tough as advertised. With 7 liters of storage space, you’ll be set for at least a day or two on the water. And, it’s more easily adjustable than any other hip pack I’ve used.

It does, however, have a few drawbacks with tight zippers and not enough compartments inside the main storage area. Putting those two strikes aside, though, it’s still a great piece of gear at a fairly reasonable price.


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

Gear Review: 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

I’ve heaped a ton of praise on the Orvis H3F lately, but with good reason. The various configurations of this rod series I’ve fished have been absolutely stellar. The first one I reviewed, an 8’6″ 4wt, is still arguably the best 4wt you’ll find on the market today.

I’ve experimented a lot with rod length in the past year or so, trying to determine how much of a difference it makes for my “usual” fishing circumstances. Is a 10′ 5wt, for example, worth the extra swing weight just for the reach?

As with everything in fly fishing, it depends. But after a month or so spent with the 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F, I’ve decided the extra length and weight of this rod is more than worth it.

For starters, this rod will pick up and throw line. Whether I had streamers or dries on the end didn’t matter; the rod just flat-out performed. Being 9’6″ long, it’s obviously a great tool for high-sticking dead drifts, and is an absolute dream for mending from a drift boat.

That comes at the cost of added weight, swing weight, and less subtlety than I’d like in close, but overall the 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F is a fantastic rod that’s worthy of a spot in any angler’s quiver.

What I Like

Raw Power

Even though this rod is part of the “3F” family, don’t mistake it for a slouch in the power department. It rockets line wherever you cast, and with whichever line you choose, too. I usually test rods out with various lines, because a good line can make all the difference in rod performance.

I used a Cortland 444 Classic Peach DT6F and the Orvis Power Taper WF6F on a Hardy Princess and Orvis Mirage reel, respectively. The 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F handled both lines flawlessly, though it mended the DT line better (as should be expected).

orvis h3f casting
Angler Ryan McCullough casting the Orvis H3F to wary brown trout. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Multiple times while using this rod to fish small dries in Oregon this March, I needed to pick up 50 or 60 feet of line and recast quickly. I rarely, if ever, had to false cast with this rod. That’s some serious power that comes in handy when hatches are sporadic and fish are wary.

Presentation

While I’d never call this rod a delicate dry fly tool, it is remarkably adept at soft, accurate presentations. For fishing pre-runoff hatches in low, crystal-clear water, that sort of delicacy is an absolute must. The 9’6″ 6wt Orvis H3F isn’t a Scott or Winston by any means, but it’ll get the job done.

Blank Strength

Honestly, six inches doesn’t feel like a huge difference in length, but as anyone can attest, length matters. And six inches is more than enough to make a normally great rod feel a bit wobbly.

You notice this a lot on some of the lower-end Euro Nymphing rods, if you’re paying attention. The rods are stout throughout the butt section, but lose any power, stability, and strength in the last few feet of the tip.

Orvis avoided that pitfall. The 9’6″ 6wt H3F has plenty of blank strength to help turn and lift fish. Given that this is the “F” model as opposed to its more powerful “D” model cousin, that’s pretty impressive.

Build Quality

I’ve touched on this in every other review I’ve done of an H3 rod, but I’ll briefly address it here. The build quality on the Orvis H3F and H3D series is impeccable. The thread wraps are tight, and you’ll find two SiC stripping guides alongside REC Recoil snake guides. As with all H3F rods, the finish is a matte gray.

Paired with the best cork on production rods I’ve found to date, an anodized aluminum reel seat, and a cork fighting butt. Nothing about the rod is fancy, but pick one up and it’s apparent that all components are top-notch.

orivs h3f in grass
The build quality of an Orvis H3F is hard to beat. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

What I Don’t Like

Swing Weight

This was a new experience for me with an H3. Most of these rods have so little swing weight you never notice it. The 9’6″ 6wt had enough for me to notice and wear my arm out a little after a week of fishing sunup to sundown.

For the average angler, though, the swing weight won’t be too much of a deterrent.

Rod Weight

The H3 series hasn’t even been known for being light. These rods are actually heavier than their predecessor, the Helios 2. It’s a minuscule difference, though, which most folks won’t notice.

But for the length and weight of this rod, I felt that the 9’6″ 6wt was too heavy. Eliminating the fighting butt may be all Orvis needs to change in order to help it feel better in-hand.

orvis h3f with fish
Angler Ryan McCullough tricked this big brown with the Orvis H3F 9’6″ 6wt. Photo by Spencer Durrant.

Final Word

Orvis continues to be the name to beat in the fly fishing arms race. No other company offers consistent value and performance over their lineup in the way Orvis does. From entry-level sticks to high-end models, Orvis has a rod for every angler.

The 9’6″ 6wt Orivs H3F may not be for every angler, but it has its place as an excellent distance rod. It’s an absolute wind cannon, perfect for using while fishing out of a drift boat, but also capable of delicately presenting dry flies.

The swing weight and overall rod weight are a slight deterrent, but not enough so that I’d write this rod off as “not good.” It’s an excellent piece of equipment that’s accurate, fun to fish, and most importantly, gets the job done.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His writing has appeared in multiple national publications over the past decade, including Field & Stream, American Angler, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, Hatch Magazine, and Gray’s Sporting Journal. Spencer is the founder of Spencer Durrant Outdoors. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

Congress Gives NRMA Green Light

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Back on February 14, I hailed the U.S. Senate’s overwhelming approval of the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) as a win for public land. Just 12 days later, I’m happy to report that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the same version of the NRMA the Senate approved.

The bill passed by a 363-62 margin. It now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature – which I think we can safely say he’ll sign. President Trump is always in need of a political win. Signing overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) is the kind of win the Trump administration needs.

What I’m most impressed with, however, is the sheer number of disparate factions that came together to make this happen. I’m not privy to what happened in other states, but I know the work done by folks here in Utah, and it may have restored my faith in the American legislative process.

Rep. John Curtis (R, UT) represents one of the most staunchly conservative areas of the country. In meetings with Curtis, he revealed how much behind-the-scenes work he’s performed to get energy developers and county commissioners together in Emery County – a rural area of Utah heavily dependent on the coal industry – to form new land usage agreements.

According to KSL.com, the NRMA establishes more than 600,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell as a national conservation area. This is a huge step forward in properly managing recreation and energy extraction in one of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful places in Utah.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a longtime left-leaning group seemingly always at odds with Utah’s conservative stage legislature, praised the NRMA.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Rep. Rob Bishop (R, UT) has spent years working on what turned into the NRMA. “This is a good piece of legislation,” Bishop said, as reported by KSL.com.

Bear in mind, this is the same Rep. Bishop who was slammed by Hatch Magazine on multiple occasions for his stance on public lands. Ty Hansen called Bishop the,”Grand Poobah of the Utah federal delegation and a brazen industry mouthpiece who despises anything federal.”

The New York Times had similarly harsh words, with writer Timothy Egan writing that, “Bishop is the villain … a grim-faced ideologue who clearly doesn’t like public land or parks.

The fact that Bishop calls the NRMA a good piece of legislation and Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood is quoted by KSL.com as saying, “This bill is a tribute to the power of collaborative stewardship where communities of place and interest come together to protect and preserve the places they live and the rivers they love to fish” is nothing short of miraculous.

Seriously, who could have ever predicted this? Even in the age of Trump, this bipartisanship came so far out of left field it may as well have come from a different galaxy.

Oh, and the NRMA addresses one of the long-standing complaints Utah’s congressional delegation has levied against federal land management practices – that they’re too overbearing and ignore the needs and input of locals. Senator Mike Lee (R, UT) cited that as the reason he couldn’t vote for the NRMA.

Well, someone in D.C. listened, because KSL.com reports that federally controlled public land in Utah actually decreases by 6,302 acres.

While we’re waiting on the largest unknown political quantity in American history to sign this legislation, I think we all need to sit back and celebrate what’s been accomplished here. Republicans, Democrats, oil and gas lobbyists, conservation groups, and regular citizens alike contributed to the success of the NRMA. If signed by Trump, it assures the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) exists in perpetuity. It also expands how money from the Pittman-Robertson fund can be used; namely, using those funds to build more public shooting ranges, since recreational shooters pay more into that fund than any other group in America.

While we wait for Trump to sign the NRMA, I’d like to personally thank Lisa Murkowski for sponsoring this bill. John Curtis for his work in bringing disparate factions in Utah together to add their two cents to this bill. Mitt Romney for being the lone senator from Utah to vote for it, and Rob Bishop for laying the initial groundwork for parts of the NRMA years ago. And I can’t say how happy I am that the leaders of Trout Unlimited and SUWA were willing to come to the table and make a compromise.

Ladies and gentlemen, you did well. And the sporting public of America thanks you.


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

Book Review: Simple Fly Fishing

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

John Juracek – who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite fly fishing writers – made an interesting, albeit sad, observation in a recent piece for Hatch Magazine.


For quite some years now, the classic books of fly fishing have been skating on thin ice. Very thin ice. Recently it appears—at least from where I stand—that the ice has finally given way. With luck a couple of classic titles may flounder for awhile, but the bulk of them seem to be plunging unceremoniously to depths from which only the most intrepid of future anglers might dredge them. Yes, the classics are pretty much gone. I’m taking it hard.

John Juracek

As someone who has a stack of classic titles on my desk, nightstand, and one of the many bookshelves in my home, I feel John’s pain. But I also see some hope for fly fishing books, of which the revised 2nd Edition of Simple Fly Fishing is emblematic.

It’s categorically impossible to call Simple Fly Fishing a classic, but if the angling world can produce more books like this one, then perhaps the classics titles from the early-to-mid 20th century won’t fall into such abject obscurity.

What Simple Fly Fishing Does Well

Concise Detail

For starters, this book earns its title. Authors Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews, and Mauro Mazzo break down the complex world of fly fishing to something more approachable. The intricacies of mayfly hatches and aquatic insect life cycles are illustrated with great detail, helping to roll back that shroud of wonder and mystery. I imagine this will shorten the entomology learning curve every angler goes through.

Also included are detailed descriptions and illustrations on casting techniques, like the one pictured below.

simple fly fishing diagram

Honestly, this feels like Simple Fly Fishing‘s biggest strength. The illustrations and directions are clear, concise, and easy to understand. If I’d had a book like this when I started fly fishing, I think I’d have picked it up quicker.

A Fly Primer

I’m no professional guide, but on the occasion I take folks fishing who’ve never been, the question I’m asked most is how to know which flies to use, and when.

I had the fortune of learning all about flies from a grandfather who tied commercially for 27 years, and a dad who took me fishing from the moment I could walk. For those not born into a situation like that, this book is a great primer on flies.

It’s not as scientifically-driven as Vincent C. Marinaro’s A Modern Dry-Fly Code or In The Ring of The Rise, so there’s not as much depth as more experienced anglers may expect. The details on flies in Simple Fly Fishing are much more akin to any of Jack Dennis’s books.

Phenomenal Illustration

image of dry fly in simple fly fishing

As a photographer myself, and a purveyor of fly fishing art and photos, I was absolutely blown away at the quality of the photos in Simple Fly Fishing. They’re above and beyond what I’d expect, and I think for a new angler they add to the grand aura that attracted so many of us to this sport in the first place.

How Simple Fly Fishing Could Improve

Pick Tenkara or Fly Fishing

I’ll likely catch hell for this, but I’m of the persuasion that tenkara isn’t fly fishing. I’ve spent enough time doing it that I feel confident in making that assertion, and I’ll even go so far as to say I believe the same thing about Euro nymphing. Fly fishing, in my mind, involves the act of casting fly line.

I also think both tenkara and Euro nymphing are too complex for beginners. Almost no technique from tenkara transitions to traditional rod and reel, which makes attempting it a waste of time if the goal of a new angler is to learn to fish in the classic “Western” style.

That’s not to mention losing out on the absolute thrill of feeling a big trout take line, and the immediate heft when you’ve hooked a brute.

If the authors would’ve picked a single form of fishing to focus on in this book, the overall instruction and presentation would’ve been much stronger. I know Yvon Chouinard loves tenkara, but out here in the Rockies it’s not practiced much.

simple fly fishing image

More Emphasis on Gear

The authors do a good job describing what kind of gear you need, but fail to give specifics. Craig Mathews says he prefers a “slow-action rod” for dry fly fishing (pp. 125), but unlike the recommendation on tenkara rods for dries – “I prefer Temple Fork Outfitter’s ‘Dry Fly’ model rod (pp. 115)” – there aren’t any recommendations for traditional rods or reels.

With this book being published by Patagonia, they obviously have a vested interest in selling Patagonia gear. But Patagonia doesn’t sell rods or reels, so why not suggest anglers try a Sage X, Winston Air, Scott Radian, or the outrageously-cheap-yet-impressive Fenwick Aetos? This at least gives newcomers a better starting ground than walking into a fly shop, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, asking for a “slow action rod.”

Final Word

In all, Simple Fly Fishing is just a nice collection of easy-to-digest fishing knowledge from some of the best in the sport. It’s simple enough that newcomers won’t feel intimidated while reading it, but those who’ve only been fishing for a year or two can still learn a lot from it.

I’d like a narrower focus and more specifics on gear, but those are two minor complaints about a work that is, overall, a great introductory tool to the sport of fly fishing.


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

A Win For Public Land

Author Spencer Durrant with an arctic grayling in the Delta Clearwater River east of North Pole, Alaska. Photo by Benji Hadfield/@alaskankayak.

Why the Natural Resources Management Act is a huge win for sportsmen and women across the country.

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Sportsmen and women in America got an early Valentine’s Day gift when the U.S. Senate passed the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) on February 13, 2019. It’s likely to sail through the Democrat-controlled House since it passed 92-8 in the Senate. The biggest wins include permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), protections for steelhead habitat in Oregon, and improved access to current federally-managed public land for hunters and anglers.

All eight senators who voted no are Republicans – Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), Rand Paul (KY), Jim Inhofe (OK), James Lankford (OK), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ron Johnson (WI).

Lee opposed the bill because it “Moves federal lands policy in the wrong direction by failing to reform federal land acquisition programs and adding new restrictions to how Americans are allowed to use land already under federal control,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Deseret News.

Personally, I’m surprised Lee views the NRMA that way. It’s far from a perfect solution for public land management in the American West, but it’s an important step in the right direction. This bill brought disparate groups to the table where they actually made a compromise. Isn’t that what Americans of any political persuasion have been begging of Congress for decades?

I recently had the chance to sit down with Congressman John Curtis (R, UT) to talk public lands. During that conversation, Curtis told me something that’ll shock anyone with a passing knowledge of public land management issues in the West.

Both the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and members of the energy industry in Emery County (a rural slice of Utah with an economy based largely on coal) sat down to discuss which lands needed protection, and which could be used for further development. And, the bill requires public input – a big sticking point Lee had with this legislation in the first place.

This is what the bill actually states:

Sec. 1222. MANAGEMENT OF RECREATION AREA.


(1) IN GENERAL – Not than 5 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall develop a comprehensive management plan for the long-term protection and management of the Recreation Area.

(2) REQUIREMENTS – The Management Plan shall –

(A) describe the appropriate uses and management of the Recreation area;
(B) be developed with extensive public input*;
(C) take into consideration any information developed in studies of the land within the Recreation Area.
*Emphasis Added. View the full bill here.

Here’s the thing about public input – I absolutely believe we need more of it at the state level, especially when forming legislation as federally overwhelming as the NRMA. But that’s exactly what happened here with the provisions in the NRMA specifically regarding Emery County in Utah. I can’t speak for the provisions made for other wilderness designations in Utah, or the other states this bill benefits, but I’d imagine similar processes occurred across the country.

Wes Siler put together a great piece on all the benefits from the NRMA for Outside Online, which I highly encourage everyone to go and read.

Now, the other big win here is something Siler only briefly mentions in his article, but one that Steve Rinella and the Meat Eater crew dived deep into on the latest episode of the Meat Eater Podcast.

The bulk of wildlife conservation funding in America comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act, an excise tax on most hunting and fishing gear sold in the U.S. That includes ammunition, and for years it’s been suspected that recreational shooters were paying the lion’s share of the Pittman-Robertson tax, simply because recreational shooting uses high amounts of ammunition, and more people target shoot than hunt.

So the NRMA gives states flexibility to create new shooting ranges, and improve on existing ones, as a way of saying thanks to the recreational shooters who help support wildlife conservation, many of whom never step foot on public land to hunt.

The NRMA isn’t law yet – it still has to pass the House and get President Trump’s signature – but this is the closest we’ve come to major steps in the right direction for public land management in years. I’ve lived my entire life in rural Utah and made my career thanks to public lands in the West. This is a part of the country known for its disdain of the federal government – or any government, for that matter – and I give almost no credence to anything uttered by politicians.

If Trump signs the NRMA, assuming the House passes it, political lip service won’t matter because we’ll have new laws on the books to help preserve wildlife in America.

But more importantly, if this bill passes, it shows that conservationists and the energy industry can sit down together to wrestle a solution that works well for everyone.


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