Trip Preparations

I am a pretty unorganized person. Just ask my wife, buddies, co-workers, etc! There are two things, however, that I can get downright obsessive about:

1. Fly Box Organization

2. Planning Fishing Trips

Box 2
Labrador Box No. 2 – Only 3 months, 2 days until departure and open space.(Top row are #14 Parachute Adams, for size reference.)

I live for the level of optimism that is present from the instant the idea of a trip or day of fishing brings. From tying and organizing tens of dozens of flies, to spooling too many lines of various sink rates and cast-ability, and building the “perfect” leaders. Truth be told, maybe only a handful of those flies will ever get their moment to shine. The conditions may have you fishing a standard floating line and leader the whole time. Why the hell do we let ourselves get so bogged down in nailing down every single detail? We know from past experience that planning for every possible scenario never guarantees success.

I think as fly fishers we do it because the planning, the excitement we share in text messages and email strings about “what the fish were doing the month/week/day before we get there,” prolongs the enjoyment of our time on the water. A trip can be short, maybe cut down to just a few hours on the water. But planning makes the adventure last for weeks.

As I write this, I’m currently in a fly tying binge. Caught between blobs and woolley bugger variations on one side and tan and pink shrimp and crab imitations on the other. White marabou, jungle cock feathers, and various colors of fritz are tangled on one side of my desk. The other side is a pile of sandy pseudo hair, pink rubber legs, and small lead eyes. My dad and I each have fishing trips in the works. I am anxiously looking forward to returning to the Adirondacks in search of brook trout, colored up and aggressive, preparing for their spawning season. He is headed toward white sandy beaches, bonefish, snook, oppressive heat and humidity, and big starving mosquitoes. Well, the last few are what I’m telling myself knowing I won’t be going. I will be about 1,200 miles from the nearest bonefish, but that hasn’t stopped me from looking for easily wadeable flats or dreaming of scanning the choppy, glared sea surface in search of hungry shadows.

Adirondack Brook Trout. No bonefish, no problem… for the time being.

The trips come and go. They are the shortest portion of the story, but they are the everlasting highlights. Memories of fish caught or missed, unforgettable scenery, and friendships formed with other anglers leave us rambling on for years, possibly forever, about the time spent doing what we are incurably passionate about. At least it gives us something to think about while we’re tying flies for the next opportunity.

trip prep2
My dad with Johnny and one of many streamer eating rainbows from a great day in Montana.

Fish Karma

“Damn, this looks good,” I gushed about the smallish, roiling pocketwater in front of us.

Etienne agreed, “Yeah, it’s really good. That big rapid is full of big fish, but usually if people can hook them, they take them downstream and break off.”

It was easy to see how this would happen. Big fish have a knack for doing exactly what’s required of them to be a hassle, and ultimately, escape. We sat on the bank and observed the pool. Plenty of big caddis were struggling in the current before popping off the surface. Just enough to see exactly the fish I was looking for. “Oh dude, that was a good one.”

“Do your thing.”

I peeled line off the reel and dropped the slack to the ground as I set my feet on the river’s edge. Curved-Reach Cast to the right, I thought to myself as my No. 8 olive and yellow Stimulator sailed toward the target. Mend, mend, nothing. A good drift with no response. I tried a similar shot and got a splashy rise. A nice brookie that was 8 or 10 inches, but respectively a minnow in these rivers. Back he went. Two more drifts went through with no response before he came up and grabbed another natural.

Tough current,” I admitted and Etienne nodded with acknowledgement.

Yep, it is.

On the next cast, the fly drifted downstream freely, just on the other side of the main current, in front of the submerged boulder we knew the fish was sitting under. The river was deep and we knew it would take a real commitment for him to rise. The surface bulged and the white and black mouth of a rising brook trout engulfed the shaggy imitation.

Yep!” I shouted. The fish bulled down toward the bottom, from one side of the pool to the other. And then he did what we knew he would do. He took off downstream in the heavy current. “Here we go!” Etienne laughed with subdued excitement as he grabbed the net and trotted down the trail just behind the alders.

On my way down the bank my rod doubled over, applying side pressure to coax him into the calmer water at our feet. The cagey char had wrapped himself around a big boulder and the line stopped. Etienne strode down the trail making sure I had a clear path and a net man ready. Suddenly, he realized I was no longer following him.

Well, that was fun!” he joked while stepping back to where I had stopped with the line still taught. I tried twice to free the line from the snag, still skeptical of why the line remained under tension. On the third or fourth attempt, I threw in a little extra effort and displayed my impressively small vertical leap. Coupled with a circular overhead sweep of the rod tip and line, everything dislodged over the top of the rock, and the fish continued downstream with violent headshakes. As we followed the somehow still connected fish down the main flow Etienne chuckled, “Oh, you are so lucky!”

The luck got even more laughable. After we got around the boulder garden and downstream of the fish, he was ready to give up and slid neatly into the net. Shaking his head, Etienne muttered, “Man, you’ve got some crazy fish karma.


Call it whatever you’d like. Luck, karma, or the result of fishing size 8 dry flies on 2X, I’ll take it. I sat on the bank and replaced  my absolutely shredded leader and took a moment to soak it all in. Everything that could have gone wrong did and somehow we were still fortunate enough to capture and release a stunning trout. The only thing left to do was to set off to find the next rising trout.


“I’m not sure you should be reading that,” lamented my dad. He saw his old copy of Trout Bum by John Gierach at the top of my stack of text books as I was packing up to head back to Philadelphia after the holidays. “You’ll quit school and move out West.” Honestly, how did I not quit school and move out west?

In my days at Drexel, you were more likely to find me sucked into tales about one of Gierach’s fishing trips than one of my engineering text books. Shocker. The story that stuck with me most of all was the one about fishing dry flies for brook trout that were measured in pounds. In what kind of other galaxy was this even remotely possible? Labrador.

S2 Detail

Labrador was always kind of a magic word to me. Where the hell was this place? A long way away, but I knew, someday, I had to go there. More recently my uncle was visiting us from Maine for a family get together and asked my dad and I, “Would you like to go to Labrador?” Um, YES.

My uncle personally knew a guide who hosted trips and one of his destinations was in the magical land of mega brook trout. Over the course of a year and a half of hoarding vacation time and extra cash, the excitement began to build. Fifteen or so years ago, I had read about this place and now somehow it was our next destination.

I’m not going to lie, expectations were very high, but having never been somewhere like this, I didn’t have any idea what was realistic. Well, expectations were met and exceeded. I have never seen better fishing in my entire life. It was an adventure from the minute we said we were in. Skeptical Canadian Border Crossing Guards, driving 120 km/hr on sketchy dirt roads through Quebec, not speaking a lick of French, missing ferries across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, float plane delay days, and learning about birds and edible plants in the boreal forest all paled in comparison to the brook trout fishery.

We were spoiled with finely prepared French cuisine, escorted to the best sections of river in wooden square stern canoes propelled by 20 horse short shaft outboards, greeted anxiously by ravenous mosquitoes and black flies wherever we went, and welcomed back to camp by Zula the wonder dog. Caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies hatched steadily every day. If fish weren’t willing to look up, they would usually react with a well presented streamer. Most often though, it was the dry flies they wanted. Who was I to argue!

It’s been a dream of mine to go to Labrador for years and it’s still sinking in that we got to experience such an incredible place. Sharing the journey with my dad and uncle made it even more unforgettable. Watching kyped beaks break the surface for emerging caddis in margins of rapid rivers, followed behind by a vermiculated dorsal and broad red tail waving like a flag will forever be burned into my brain.




Quartzite Adams


Middle Top



Camp Sunset

Lake Sunset





Trail 2

Float Plane