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.
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.
Over the past half-decade, I haven’t been as consistently impressed with a rod family as I am with the Orvis H3 lineup. They’re light, have a low swing weight, track incredibly straight, and are absolute lasers at distance. From the 8’6″ 4wt H3F to the 9’8wt H3D, each rod hits the sweet spot for its length and line weight. Call it premature, but I think the Orvis H3 series will gain the cult following the Sage XP currently enjoys.
The 9’6wt H3D was my second H3, and it had its first true test in Alaska in June 2018. The rod handled big salmon streamers just fine, but followed that up with surprisingly good dry fly presentation for hungry grayling. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice a change in accuracy when throwing streamers or dries.
The 9’6wt H3D features a full-wells cork grip, the standard H3 gray anodized aluminium reel seat, and a fighting butt. Since this is the “D” model, the blank is matte black with matching wraps. Rounding out the components are two SiC stripping guides, followed by REC recoil snake guides. Some folks don’t care for the white sticker above the grip, but I like it. The rest of the rod is fairly plain-looking, a far cry from the classy blue hues of the Helios 2 rods.
The rod performs like few others I’ve ever seen. It’s a beefy 6wt, to be fair – and heavier than the Helios 2 rods – but with a surprising amount of feel and delicacy available. A new Orvis H3D 9’6wt runs $949 and comes backed by the standard Orvis 25-year warranty.
I hesitate to call it the “best” 6wt on the market, but at the same time, I can’t readily place another rod ahead of it. The H3 is in a league all its own, and is one of the few top-tier production rods that’s worth every penny of its steep asking price.
What I Like
Orvis has spent a big chunk of change on marketing the H3 as “accurate from anywhere.” In the hands of a competent caster, they’re not wrong.
The 6wt H3D, in particular, is a laser of a rod. When throwing average trout-sized streamers from a drift boat, I rarely had to re-cast to get my fly right where I wanted. Switching over to dries, the rod did just as well.
The H3D is definitely fast, but not in the realm of the Sage One or Method. It’s lively, quick, and sensitive in-hand, even in heavier weights. I have an H3D in a 9′ 8wt, and it’s just as sensitive as its 6wt brother.
Novice and expert casters alike will get the H3D to work excellently. It’s fast enough to be forgiving, but in the right hands, it’s astoundingly powerful and accurate.
I didn’t expect this, but the 9’6wt H3D has a surprisingly soft tip. I’m not sure if this stems from the rod’s increased torsional stability, but I’m extremely grateful for it. A few weeks after I got home from Alaska, I was on Utah’s famed Boulder Mountain. My buddy Jeff and I were chasing tiger trout and splake, and the fish weren’t interested in anything unless it was a size 20 or smaller.
So I tied on a few nymphs, a long 6x fluorocarbon leader, and started a slow hand-twist retrieve back to where I sat in my float tube. Something heavy gobbled up a midge, I set the hook, and immediately felt the tell-tale death rolls indicative of tiger trout.
More than once, the fish made runs I thought would snap the tippet. But the Orvis H3D 9’6wt tip absorbed the impact and kept the tippet intact. A few minutes later I had a 20-inch tiger in my lap.
As much as I’ve raved about this rod’s feel and accuracy, it shouldn’t be overlooked as stick with plenty of oomph. The H3’s an absolute wind cannon, and you can cast to backing without too much effort.
What I Don’t Like
Everyone has to make a living, and Orvis isn’t any different. It almost feels disingenuous of me to complain about the price, since I run my own business and get tired of folks balking at my prices.
What bothers me about the $949 price tag for this rod is that a majority of anglers won’t get the chance to fish one. Add $200 to that rod cost, and that’s my mortgage payment. The H3D is worth $949, don’t get me wrong – but it’s still a hard pill to swallow.
I’m not used to fishing Recoil snake guides, because every time I clean ice from a frozen eyelet, I’m convinced I just broke my rod. This doesn’t affect rod performance or anything. It’s just a feature I’m not all that fond of.
No Hook Keep
Orvis eliminated the hook keep on all H3 rods. The 9’6wt H3D is no exception. About a year ago, when I first got my hands on an H3, I jokingly told Tom Rosenabuer that if he’d put a hook keep on all the H3F rods, they’d be absolutely perfect.
The lack of a hook keep isn’t a deal breaker, especially on a heavier-weight rod like this one. But it’s one of the few things Orvis did with the H3 series that I don’t absolutely love.
The Orvis H3D 9’6wt is one of the most impressive rods I’ve ever fished, and it’s proven extremely capable for fishing dries to grayling, small nymphs to tiger trout, and streamers to angry browns and rainbows. It’s light, accurate as hell, fun to fish, and deceptively powerful.
The $949 price tag is steep, and it’ll prevent a lot of anglers from owning this rod. The lack of a hook keep still bothers me, but it’s honestly the most legitimate gripe I have against the rod. Orvis hit a home-run with the H3D.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, Hatch Magazine, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.
A friend of mine recently said that I live a charmed life. The way he said it made the statement sound more like an accusation, though I suspect that was jealousy speaking. He made the comment not long after I had my first byline in Field & Stream. That wasn’t my first ‘big-time’ byline, but seeing my name in Field & Stream lent credibility to my career as a fishing writer.
live a charmed life, if I’m being completely honest. I get paid to fish,
hunt, camp, and travel. I’m living the dream of every outdoorsy man who wishes
he didn’t spend his life in a cubicle. What those guys – my friend included –
don’t get is that behind the veneer of Instagram pictures and magazine articles
is a life just as hectic, stressful, and annoying as theirs.
As I lay in the back of a Toyota
4-Runner trying to keep my insides from becoming my outsides, I half-wished my
buddy could’ve been there to see just how “charmed” life was in that moment. Three
days before I lay dying in the 4-Runner, I’d left on what should’ve been a
leisurely backpacking trip. My buddies and I spent the better part of a year
planning this trip, but things went south so spectacularly that we came home a
The tragedy started late on a Wednesday night. I was with the usual crew of miscreants who are the cast in my fishing adventures. Mike, Bill, and Marty – Mike’s cousin – and I huddled around an empty fire pit, staring off a cliff at the valley which unrolled before us. The moonlight revealed scant details, but we could just make out the far edge of Big Dog Mountain, behind which lay our destination. It was just after midnight, chilly, and the crisp air did little to help us relax. The sharp edge to each breath – shorter now that we were more than 8,000 feet above sea level – excited rather than discouraged. After countless hours of planning, and countless more spent ignoring honey-do lists and general adult responsibility, we could literally taste the adventure we’d come chasing.
Like kids on Christmas morning, we
turned from the cliff’s edge and started unpacking the trucks. The plan was to
sleep on the cliff, get up with the sun, and start hiking shortly after first
light. And, just like kids, we had to make camp as close to the edge of the
cliff as was safely possible. Men may grow up, but rarely do we ever stop being
“Did you eat all the donuts?” Mike
asked while I set up our tent by starlight.
“Does a bear shit in the woods?” I
Dozens of bad jokes later, I lay on
my thin sleeping pad, acutely aware of each and every rock’s exact location
along my spine. All-night comfort my ass,
I thought, thinking back to the review I’d read of this sleeping pad. I’d
bought it specifically so I wouldn’t feel
like I was sleeping on top of spilled Legos, but it seemed I’d been swindled
yet again by savvy advertising.
And in case you’re wondering, spending $120 on a sleeping pad that wasn’t near as soft as the pile of feathers and angel tears I’d been promised wasn’t this trip’s great tragedy.
I didn’t sleep much, and was the first to wake to a weak sun and a sky dotted with clouds. Careful not to make noise, I opened Mike’s truck, rummaged around behind the driver’s seat, and pulled out a half-dozen nearly-frozen donuts. I was halfway through donut number three when Mike staggered out of the tent, looking surprised to be in the wilderness. He pointed at the donuts. “I thought you ate ‘em all?”
I shrugged. “I wanted one last good breakfast.”
Camp got packed up quicker than expected, and the sun hadn’t been up for more than half an hour before we started the trek. There wasn’t much of a trail for the first few miles, but we’d spent a year staring at topographic maps, Google Earth, and arguing about the best approach to get to a lake none of us had ever visited before.
We couldn’t have asked for better hiking weather. Blacksmith Lake was nine miles from the cliff where we’d slept. Balmy temps and a slight breeze kept the sweating and cursing to a minimum, even when I insisted on stopping five times in a span of fifteen minutes so I could set up some still photography and video shots.
“I’m working,” I had to remind
everyone else. “I gotta make a living.”
Bill and Marty both chimed in with
variations of, “You have a rough life.”
As I lay in the dirt, directing their
movements through the forest, I replied, “Yeah, call me when you’re up for two
nights editing photos and videos after doing
We passed a handful of lakes and eventually found a faint trail that’d take us through the rest of East Basin, which we were currently in, and up to the base of Big Dog Mountain. From there, the trail lost regard for the frailty of men’s legs and lungs at high altitude and shot straight up, taking us more than 1,000 feet from the bottom of East Basin to the top of East Basin Pass.
I was the last to arrive on the pass, and everyone lay sprawled on their backs, gasping for air. From the top of East Basin Pass I could see north, all the way to Mt. Emmons and the southern end of the King’s Peak Basin. Between Mt. Emmons and myself, buried beneath a canopy of emerald leaves, was the dull roar of the Yellow River. Sunlight glinted off it in a few places where the trees broke, but for the most part if was only noticeable by the sound it made.
East Basin Pass was more than halfway to Blacksmith Lake, so we soldiered on, the cursing increasing exponentially with the distance. Finally, we arrived at the most profane moment of the entire excursion. Blacksmith Lake was due west of us, but no trail led to its banks. We had to pick a route based on topographic maps, an ancient GPS, and the actual terrain before us. A year obviously isn’t enough time to pick out a path from maps and Google Earth, and hell will freeze over before four men agree on the right way to walk in a straight line. Mike and Bill were certain their chosen path was the best, the only “straight shot” to the lake. Marty told Mike to go fornicate with a goat, someone said something about an ass-kicking so hard grandchildren would feel it, and in the interest of the only physical fight being between us and the hike, we split up. I went with Marty and Bill went with Mike.
Marty and I staggered into camp well
after Bill and Mike arrived. I haven’t been in good shape since high school,
and Marty wasn’t in his prime anymore, either. The only reason Bill and Mike
beat us to the lake was due to them being in better shape – not the path they’d picked after we had
to leave the trail. Regardless, the view of the lake was worth it all –
accusations of fornication with goats notwithstanding.
As I set my pack aside, pitched the
tent, and made dinner, however, I wondered if it was pretty enough to merit the
hell that was the hike. Nine miles with 12,000 feet of elevation change isn’t
for the faint of heart – literally. And we were camped at 11,000 feet above sea
level. Even at a rest I had a hard time catching my breath.
Oh, how I wish I could tell you that
being short of breath was the trip’s disaster. Alas, the journey only grew more
perilous. I made note of my poor physical state as I wrote in my notebook
around the campfire after dinner.
I have to go to the gym for like, a month, before I do these things, I wrote. I’m too fat for this shit. But it’s gorgeous. The lake is glass and the
pines aren’t all dead from the pine beetle. The only trails are tracks of elk
and deer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re the first people here this year.
This isn’t a place you stumble onto by accident – you have to know where you’re
going to get here.
I have a notebook with me on every
trip, because most every outing ends up being work-related. I make a living
retelling the stories I live throughout the year, and if I didn’t come home
from this trip with ideas for at least two columns about the adventure, I’d
have wasted my time – and my money.
High above us is the craggy ridgeline of Big Dog Mountain, barren and lifeless. This feels like most other backpacking trips, all things considered. More work than it’s worth, but a necessary evil if you’re going to tell a story worth telling.
I went to bed that evening – a
Thursday – to the sounds of wolves howling in the distance and the gentle
whisper of wind through cold aspen leaves. Friday morning, I woke to a layer of
frost on my tent. Mike and I bunked together, but he’d been up with the sun. I could
hear him and Bill down by the lake, a hundred or so yards from camp. They’d
been fishing since they could see. Normally, I’d be down there with them.
Normally, though, I’m not waking up after a hellacious stroll through Utah’s
high country with 30 pounds on my back. Marty was in similarly rough shape, so
we ate a late breakfast and commiserated together about growing old and out of
shape. I went back to sleep and Marty went to the lake.
Missing out on a morning of fishing, realizing I’m not as young as I was (and I’m still young, so this train of thought is disturbing), and waking up almost too sore to move would qualify as fiasco on any other trip. But on this one? Those discomforts were the highlights.
I woke up at lunch, and that’s when I
made my first big mistake. I sat on a log in weak sunshine, an open box of
chicken salad and crackers balancing on one knee. The chicken salad and
crackers have been a mainstay on all backpacking trips for as long as I can
remember, and it makes a fabulous lunch.
I must’ve been 11 the first time I
had boxed chicken salad and crackers on a backpacking trip. My grandma Pat
loved the things, and she’s the one who taught me how to backpack in the high
“Always have something light and easy for lunch,” grandma Pat said while
we were stopped in the middle of a trail. “That way you don’t have to stop too
long to eat.”
“But I wanna stop,” I complained, because I was 11 and that’s what
11-year-olds do best.
Grandma Pat shook her head. “Nope, that’s another rule of backpacking.
You don’t get to rest unless I say so.”
That hardly seemed fair. “What if I’m backpacking one day and you’re not
with me? When do I get to stop?” I tried to be sassy. But grandma Pat always
had a smart comment for every smartass one I made.
“Then I taught you something right,” she said.
I chuckled as I thought back to my first trip with grandma Pat. She still backpacks to this day, at the age of 72. Just this past summer, in June of 2018, she spent five days with her dog and a friend in Utah’s San Rafael Swell. I’d told her about this trip to Blacksmith Lake, but when she asked about the elevation and the length of the walk, she just shook her head. “I’m too old for that. Go have fun.”
Just that once, it would’ve been a
good thing not to listen to grandma Pat and eat something else. I didn’t notice
anything wrong with the chicken salad as I ate it, but short of something
blatantly obvious – like bloody, raw chicken – I don’t think I would’ve. I was
tired and hungry enough that I’d have eaten anything.
I burned my trash, cleaned up around
camp, and got ready for the trip’s main attraction. In spite of the protests
from cramped calves and thighs, I grabbed my fly rod and headed down to the
lake. I was still beat from the hike, but I’d come all this way to write about
the fishing in that lake. I had to throw a cast or two if I wanted my writing
to have any ring of legitimacy. I made it to the lake, grumbling that I’d
rather be back in the tent sleeping, in a generally foul mood.
Then the food poisoning hit. Right about midafternoon on Friday, on the banks of Blacksmith Lake, at 11,000 feet and nine miles deep from a trailhead that lay at the end of a 20-something mile long dirt road, which was 30 miles from the nearest town.
In other words, I ended up on death’s
doorstep while in the middle of absolutely nowhere. But fear not, my intrepid
reader; if you’ve made if this far, you’re likely thinking that this is what turned the trip from bumpy
to bad. Getting food poisoning miles from any sort of help has to be as bad as
it gets, right?
Well, yes and no. Yes, the food
poisoning was terrible, but it’s what happened after my bowels became
impetuously inconvenient that’s truly disastrous. I ran back to camp, looking
for the toilet paper, failing to find any, and answering nature’s call with
nothing but dry sagebrush in arm’s reach.
I staggered back to my tent, found the toilet paper, and was just settling down to rest, in the hopes that this was a fluke accident, when my body decided everything inside of it needed to see Blacksmith Lake, too. As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, the temps dropped precipitously and I spent the hours trying not to hurl and begging for sunrise. The sun eventually rose. I couldn’t hold back the urge to empty my guts. With snow falling around our camp, I wiped the vomit from my beard and declared, “I’m not spending another night on this damn mountain.”
With that said, we packed up and hiked out. The snow got worse. In any other situation it would’ve been beautiful. Snow in the high country, especially in September, is a breathtaking sight. A light dusting of the stuff on pines and aspens still clothed in their late-summer greenery is nothing short of magical. Sadly, I wasn’t in a position to appreciate the beauty. Instead, I spent the majority of the hike in a position not conducive to hiking
By a miracle I made it up East Basin Pass – the climb up on that side of Big Dog Mountain was easier than the climb on the way in – and stopped to either die or find the will to keep going. At that moment, death sounded like a splendid idea.
Then I heard the unmistakable squawk
of a sage hen. I looked up to see two of the birds standing right in the middle
of the trail, heads cocked to one side as if they’d never before seen a human
being in such terrible shape. With a start, I realized this was the exact spot
where we’d seen sage hen during the hike in. My mind flashed back to that
moment – seemingly a lifetime ago, one in which I was healthy and whole and
“Shoot it, we’ll have it for dinner,” I told Bill. We stared at the sage
hen. It stared at us. Nothing moved.
“I’m not eating sage hen,” Bill protested.
“It tastes just like chicken,” I retorted. “Come on, shoot it! If you
won’t, give me your gun.”
That got Bill ready to shoot. He popped off ten rounds from his little
.22LR pistol, missing every single one. The sage hen strutted off, clucking in
what sounded like a disapproving tone. I shook my head in agreement with the
sage hen. “Here, let me shoot,” I said.
Bill refused. He emptied the rest of his magazine after the sage hen,
missing every shot, and concluded that the bird was moving too fast to be hit
with a handgun.
“It was twenty feet away and walking!” I razzed him as we climbed down
the north side of East Basin Pass.
In a fit of irony, I laughed as I
remembered telling Bill that the sage hen would taste just like chicken. That’s
completely true, by the way. Those birds are some of the best eating I’ve ever
had, and as I sat in the snow, a cold wind doing its best to whip me into
submission, I couldn’t help but think that if Bill had shot the sage hen, I’d
have eaten those instead of my chicken salad, and I wouldn’t be in this mess.
Mike showed up then, hauling me to my feet and practically pushing me all the way from the top of East Basin Pass to Lake Bonnie, a mile or so from the pass. We’d stopped there on the hike in for lunch and a bit of fishing, but this time we stopped only to refill water bottles and catch our breath. The wind was so ferocious that little Lake Bonnie – the size of maybe two football fields – had whitecaps crashing on its shore.
I sat on a large square boulder, my pack off for the moment while I rested. Almost everything was wet, but my Sitka rain jacket kept my torso dry. Most importantly, though, the jacket’s waterproof pockets kept the quickly-dwindling supply of toilet paper in usable condition.
The break stretched out longer than
expected, and the extended time to sit on a flat surface made me feel almost .
. . better? No, that was too strong a word. Less terrible than I’d felt a
half-hour ago, definitely, but nowhere near approaching better. Buoyed by the
thought that maybe I’d passed the worst of the food poisoning, I fished a
package of cheddar and peanut butter crackers from my pack. These weren’t a
grandma Pat-approved backpacking mainstay, but they fit her parameters for good
backpacking food – light, full of carbs, and easy to eat while walking.
Reasoning that my body would do well
with something in my stomach aside from acid and misery, I ate as many of the
crackers as I could before we started hiking again. I even washed them down
with a bit of freshly-filtered water, and for the next mile I felt like I was
on top of the world. I could walk for five minutes without needing a break! I
had the strength of a ten-year-old instead of a toddler! I was beating the food poisoning, consequences
The elation was short-lived. The mile
after my brief encounter with hope, I dashed from the trail to the trees so
many times I ran out of toilet paper completely, had to borrow some from Bill,
used up all of his, and eventually had to resort to other means as I exhausted
our once-impressive supply of one of backpacking’s most valuable assets.
Hiking in took us just under eight
hours, with long breaks included. 10 hours after we’d left camp that morning, I
found myself at the base of the cliff we’d slept on that first night. One last
hurdle and I’d be . . . well, not home, but able to lay on something soft and
die peacefully, instead of in a pile of unwashed pain in the middle of the
A faint trail – carved by mountain
goats, most likely – traversed the cliff as it rose for a few hundred feet
above me. Under normal circumstances, it’s a treacherous climb; loose shale,
steep, muddy chutes, and nothing in the way of foliage to use to break a fall
are the cliff’s defining features. In good health, I’d see the cliff as a
challenge, as something in need of conquering, and I’d do so with a swagger,
standing atop it with my beard blowing in the wind, surveying the wild kingdom
I felt I owned after scrambling up a relatively small cliff.
In my present state, though, I saw
the cliff as insurmountable. I’ll just
die here, I thought. This is as good
a place as any. The base of the cliff was pretty. Pinion pine, aspen, and cedar
grew thick, and there was even a pile of what looked like horse bones next to
the trail. I’m not the only poor animal
to die here, I thought.
Then Bill showed up, grabbed my pack,
and set off up the cliff. Armed now with only my trekking poles and a bruised
ego at watching Bill haul two packs
up the cliff with ease, I staggered up the rocky trail, each step a victory
that cost me untold amounts of energy and willpower. I’m certain my beard
turned from brown to gray in the time it took me to climb that damn cliff, and
I collapsed in a soggy heap next to Bill’s 4-Runner convinced I’d not live to
see another day. It was the longest, most exhausting hike of my life. Worse
than an expedition in 2017 which saw me go 35 miles in Wyoming’s Wind River
Mountains, the last of which were spent fighting altitude sickness.
That trip had a silver lining – as I
descended, I got better and caught fish.
This trip? Sure, the food poisoning was a blight on the experience. Running out of toilet paper was a literal pain in the ass, and I left parts of me on that mountain I’ll never recover. The true tragedy, however, is that I went through the entire ordeal without catching a single fish.
Bill drove as quickly as he could down the bumpy road, but there’s only so much you can do on a trail designed for ATVs instead of trucks. Saturday evening – a full day before we’d expected to get back to civilization – we arrived in Duchesne, Utah, and I staggered into a Sinclair for a bottle of 7-Up. I sipped while Bill drove in silence the rest of the way home. Somewhere around Strawberry Reservoir I passed out. I woke when Bill pulled into my driveway, and as I settled in my own bed in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I thought, a charmed life indeed.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, American Angler, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant, and on Facebook @SpencerDurrantOutdoors.
Over the past two years, I’ve dabbled in Euro nymphing. I happen to be good friends with Gilbert Rowley, the unseen hero behind the camera for the the excellent Modern Nymphing films. I’ve had the chance to learn from Gilbert, as well as Lance Egan, and I’ve used every Euro nymphing rod I can get my hands on.
From Winston’s Super 10 series to the Sage ESN and Cortland Competition rods, I have a feel for what I want out of my Euro nymphing rod. It has to be light, quick, lively, sensitive, accurate, and able to double as a dry fly rod in extreme circumstances.
The Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt checks almost all of those boxes, but more importantly, it’s quickly moved to the front of my quiver when reaching for a Euro nymphing rod.
It won’t cast dries like the Winston Super 10, and it’s not as accurate as the Sage ESN. But Douglas sells this iteration of the DXF line for $395. With a rod this exceptional at that price point, it’s hard to spend top-dollar on such a niche-specific stick, unless you plan to dedicate most of your angling time to Euro nymphing.
With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt such a great Euro nymphing rod.
This aspect of Euro nymphing rod design has come a long way in recent years, though most lower-end sticks are still hefty enough to wear your shoulder out during an afternoon on the river.
The DXF clocks in at 3.2oz for the 11’3wt model. That’s the same weight as the Redington Hydrogen ESN, heavier than the 10’6″ 3wt Sage ESN’s 2 11/16thoz (Sage doesn’t make an 11′ version of their Euro rods), and lighter than the Cortland Competition MKII.
With how great most modern fly rods are, a lot of anglers don’t need to take weight into consideration when buying a new stick. With Euro rods, though, you do. Luckily, the DXF weighs right where it should for its length and line rating.
Euro nymphing is an exercise in feeling what’s happening with your flies, rather than seeing the take. Sure, your sighter will move when a fish really commits, but I often feel the takes before seeing any movement in my line.
Great rods help you feel those takes better, and the DXF is significantly more sensitive than any Euro rod I’ve fished except the Sage ESN. That’s including the Winston Super 10 – a personal favorite rod.
It’s hard to describe “action” on Euro rods. Most “casts” don’t happen with fly line leaving the guides. Hell, I’ve seen great Euro nymphing anglers fish a leader so long that their fly line never leaves their reel.
That being said, there is an art to casting nothing but straight leader and two heavy bugs off the tips of an 11′ rod. The DXF puts flies where you need them without making you work too hard for it. I was surprised to find that Douglas built a more accurate rod than Winston and Redington. But that’s a recurring theme with Douglas lately. They’re consistently outcasting my expectations.
The DXF has a nice stiff backbone to help turn fish and cast flies. The tip is loose and feels a bit like a noodle – usually a sign that your rod won’t be as accurate as you’d hoped. I don’t know how, but the DXF makes it work. The light tip is obviously great in protecting light tippet as well.
The mid-priced rod market is blowing up in fly fishing. It’s arguably the only market growing in the sport, but that’s a conversation for another day. All the demand for rods that fish well but aren’t equivalent to a mortgage payment has forced builders to get creative.
From completely custom builds from builders like Shane Gray to Instagram-ready rods built by Blue Halo, the aesthetic appeal of fly fishing has never been more prominent.
The problem is that a lot of attempts to make rods that stand out from the pack results in added weight, decreased performance, higher prices, or a combination of the three.
Douglas doesn’t escape this completely – the DXF comes with burnt cork rings on the end of the grip, as does their flagship rod, the Sky – but they do an admirable job at building a functional, but attractive, piece of gear.
The DXF’s matte green blanks, dark green wraps, white lettering, and hard-chromed snake guides all show a bit of class. This is underscored by the gorgeous burled wood reel seat and double uplocking rings.
The cork is better-than-expected quality for a sub-$400 rod, and it comes shipped with a rod sock and triangular Cordura rod tube. I don’t see anywhere that Douglas cut corners when building the DXF. Compromises have to be made to sell a sub-$400 rod, obviously, but that reality aside, the DXF is a solidly built, good-looking stick.
One spring day in 2018 I sat in a drift boat with Bob White, the sporting artist, and our guide Charlie Card. Charlie brought up the topic of competitive fishing – and his brief stint with Fly Fish TeamUSA – which Bob found fascinating.
What caught my attention, though, was an observation Charlie made of the French national team’s custom-built Euro nymphing rods. Where most Western-style rods have a hook keep, the French national team placed a stripping guide. According to Charlie, this was done to reduce line sage between reel and rod, bettering the connection between angler and line.
That sounded like a bit much, but I’ve come to realize the French are onto something. Other Euro rods I’ve fished have guides lower on butt section, and more guides in total. Adjusting guide spacing on the DXF would help make this rod even better.
Uplocking Reel Seat
Blame it on my old-school tendencies, but I don’t like uplocking reel seats. Reels should sit in a downlocking seat, putting all their weight at the very end of a fly rod. That creates a better balance for every kind of fishing, but Euro nymphing especially.
Douglas could improve the DXF by swapping out its double-ring uplocker with a single-ring downlocker. This will help better balance the rod, and I personally think downlockers look better.
Douglas put together an absolute winner with the DXF. It’s a lively, fun, light, well-built Euro nymphing rod that fishes better than sticks twice its modest $395 price. I wish the reel seat were different, and guide spacing could be improved, but overall, this is just about the best Euro nymphing rod I’ve fished to date. The Sage ESN still holds the top spot, but Douglas’s foray into Euro nymphing should easily go toe-to-toe with Winston, Cortland, Redington, and other manufacturers.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, American Angler, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant, and on Facebook @SpencerDurrantOutdoors.