A couple years ago, we ran a series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlighted some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) This is our second round of profiles. Most of the subjects are guides who have turned their passion into a vocation, spending their time in an outdoor “office” that may include a drift boat, gorgeous mountain scenery, and crystal clear water. Others do have day jobs but manage to spend every other available minute on the water with a fly rod in hand. Whether you aspire to one lifestyle or the other, it’s illuminating to explore the different paths these men and women have taken on their way to achieving “trout bum” status.
Kip Vieth operatesWildwood Float Trips, based in Montecello, Minnesota. He floats the Upper Mississippi, St.Croix, Rum, Kettle, and St. Louis Rivers, chasing everything that swims. One client left a review that gave three reasons that he loves fishing with Kip: “1. I catch fish. 2. I catch a lot of fish. 3. I catch a lot of big fish.” Seems reasonable.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I started fishing in 1984 for trout on the spring creeks of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. A friend of mine got me into trout fishing with worms when I was in my teens. He was a few years younger than me, and after I got my license I would drive us over to the Driftless trout streams to fish. One spring day, I saw a guy trout fishing with worms with a fly rod. I thought that looked odd. Fly rods look pretty cool, I thought, but why wouldn’t you fly-fish with it if you had one? That next Christmas I got a Orvis beginner combo, and the rest is history.
2. What’s your favorite water?
My favorite is the Upper Mississippi River. Most of the country thinks of the Mississippi as this big, muddy, polluted, ugly river. In Minnesota, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a gin-clear, shallow and during the heat of the summer looks a lot like a western trout stream. I feel that it is the finest warmwater fishery in the country. From smallmouth bass to the alpha predator, the musky, and everything in between, it is a great and underappreciated resource.
3. What’s your favorite fish to chase with a fly rod and why?
Smallmouth bass are by far my favorite. They are a very visual fish. The way that I fish them, I can see almost ninety percent of the eats. It is a lot like hunting, and their fight is second to none. It can be a subtle popper take or a crushing attack on a streamer; they are simply the best fish for the fly rod. I like to think that when God created the smallmouth, he created the fly rod on the same day.
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
My moments involve my kids and passing this great sport on to them. This summer I had two really good experiences with both my kids. My daughter Grace has always been my fishing buddy. We have always really enjoyed our times together on the water. She has taken to the sport, and this spring she had expressed some interest in guiding. Well, she worked on her rowing and other techniques and guided for me this summer. My younger son, Truman, has always been more of a hunter than an angler. Well, the light finally went on for him this summer. His casting came together, and he finally got to see what a great popper bite is all about. He landed several large smallmouths, and he was very proud of his accomplishments.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
It was a long day of guiding. The smallmouths were just not being their usual aggressive selves. We tried everything, and nothing seemed to be working. I have a saying: “If they’re not going to eat, they may as well not eat a popper.” I tied on a big popper, and we started working some riffles and edges. The landing was in sight for the end of the day when a huge smallmouth crushed my client’s popper. Normally this is a great thing, but after a minute of the fight, the knot gave way and the fish was gone. I can still see the look on my client’s face as the fish got off, and it was a very valuable lesson. The worst part was that I had the client for two more days, and he made sure that he reminded me of my bad knot the rest of my trip.
6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
The visual aspect of it. There is nothing like seeing a fish eat your fly. Whether it’s trout, bass, bluegills, pike, or even muskies, seeing the eat is what really draws me to the sport.
7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
I love everything about drift boats and the way that you fish with them. When things are really going well, the anglers, guide, and boat all seem to be just kind of connected. The the boat rower’s bench is my second home, and it is a very happy place for me. Drif tboats are also the best way that I know to fish a river for smallmouths. It is the way that I like to fish the best. Nothing is better than the first day in my boat after a long cold Minnesota winter. When I sit in the seat that day, all seems right in the world again.
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
The Goldie Minnow, which is one of my patterns. You can fish it so many ways that is probably my most versatile pattern that I have in my arsenal. I came up with while watching the minnows in the Mississippi. The fly is supposed to be like a redtail chub. Every game fish that swims in the the river loves redtails. The fly really has a great kick and a pause that seem to really trigger strikes.
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
Slough Creek is probably one of my favorite places to go and fish. Its beauty and the cutthroats make it just a spectacular area. I went there as a young fly angler on a pilgrimage to Yellowstone. It is one of those places where I realized what a great sport fly fishing is. The third meadow will always hold a special spot for me.
10. What’s your next dream destination?
I would love to chase redfish down by New Orleans. I don’t know a whole lot about the fish, but the idea of sight-fishing to big reds really seems exciting. I’ve heard from clients that my Goldie fly is an excellent redfish pattern, and I would like to see that. The other aspect of it would be the culture of the area and all the interesting food. It is something that I would love to experience.