Orvis Trout Bum of the Week XXX: Zach Matthews


Zach Matthews with a hefty Chattahoochee River striped bass.
All photos courtesy Zach Matthews

Welcome to our series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlight some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) 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.

Arkansas native Zach Matthews is now a lawyer who lives in Atlanta, but over the past decade, he’s made a name for himself as the editor of The Itinerant Angler website and as a fly-fishing writer and photographer. His work appears regularly in most of the sport’s publications.

1. When did you start fly fishing?
In June 1999, my cousin gave me a casting lesson on a golf course pond in the dark. That’s the best place to learn; you have no idea how bad you are doing and you can’t see the knots in your line. I walked away that night with the newfound confidence to go 0-for-the-season against trout. I think I caught my first one almost a year after my first lesson.


This fine Henrys Fork rainbow was part of a Grand Tour of the West with his friend Ian.

2. What’s your favorite water?
I have a lot of favorite places to fish: Slough Creek in Yellowstone; a small creek in North Georgia; my original home water on the White River in Arkansas; the Chattachoochee River in Atlanta, where I fish for striped bass. But my favorite watershed is a small river in western North Carolina, which is home to special runs of fish out of the region’s lakes. I spent five years searching out one of those runs–five years of driving two hours then hiking up to two miles a day. I found my fish, and I make a point of going back every year to find them again, count them, and make sure they are doing well.

3. What’s your favorite fish to chase with a fly rod and why?
Brown trout, because they are gorgeous and considerably smarter than any of their trout brethren (a result of a 2,000 year arms race against human anglers); striped bass, because they take off like a stolen car; and permit, which have all the appeal and challenge of trying to get a fashion model’s phone number.


Zach loves hiking into out-of-the-way Appalachian trout streams.

4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
There are few things more exhilarating than fighting a big striped bass from a canoe, standing up and waterskiing behind it. But my favorite single moment is probably the time I threw a fourteen weight strung with most of a chicken at a 16-foot hammerhead shark, cruising off San Diego in a chum slick we had put out to catch makos. My shark anatomy is a little shaky, so I threw the cast about five feet in front of its dorsal fin (which was out of the water like in Jaws, I swear). Five feet isn’t enough to get in front of a shark that big; I wound up slapping him in the back of the head. When he went down, the circle he left was bigger than our boat.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
I caught the biggest brown trout of my life on my second drift. On the first drift, she ate my tiny size 18 Trout Crack scud, and I missed the set. On the second pass, I felt the line come tight; 350 yards downriver, I reeled in my trophy: a 32-inch, gorgeous sow brown… foul-hooked on top of the tail.


A chunky shoal bass is a cool trophy from the ‘Hootch.

6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
Honestly, I just plain love the fish. I love getting to see them in all their variation, watching them in their natural habitat, learning about how they live and how they are each individually unique. I love catching big fish, and I love catching small fish. The only kind of fish I don’t love is a homogeneous fish, which is why I have entirely given up fishing for stocked trout.

7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
In the corner of my garage, I have a broken 9-foot 5- weight St. Croix Pro Graphite, a long discontinued beginner’s rod. I actually ran over the rod with my car a few years ago. It was a gift from my parents–my first fly rod, and the first rod I used to really learn to cast. The folks at St. Croix once told me that my longest ever cast with it (a fluke occurrence thanks to a helpful blade of grass giving me just the right amount of tug) was probably the world record for that particular rod. It’s easy to win a competition that no one else enters, but that’s still my favorite piece of gear.

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
White Zuddler Minnow. I have caught trout in every conceivable fishing situation on that thing.


Zach’s refurbished Gheenoe comes in handy on the carp flats.

9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
In 2012 I went through a very bad year. I got divorced, my grandmother died, and I was generally having a bad time. My friend, Ian Crabtree, hosted me in a week-long circuit of the West. We fished the Henrys Fork, Flat Creek north of Jackson, and much of Yellowstone Park. It was a tour royal, featuring lodging at the best lodges on the Henrys Fork, fishing with actual living greatness. I was an unpleasant companion, to say the least, but I came out of that trip in a much better place than I had started, and I will always be grateful for that act of friendship.

10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
Trout bummery involves sacrifice, making what an outsider would call a bad decision in pursuit of the passion. Successful business moguls who fish 40 days a year on the cerulean flats of Mexico go because they can afford to. If push came to shove, they would skip the trips to save their business. Trout bums are the opposite; their passion for the sport damages them. They would keep fishing and let the business suffer. The irony–or maybe blessing–is that the river gods have a way of repaying, and many true Trout Bums wind up in a good place. I think exposure to that much water has a mellowing effect which can confer wisdom. After a few years, those people have a lot to say about life, and smart people will listen to–and even pay to read or hear–their thoughts.


Zach caught his first permit this spring in Mexico.

6 thoughts on “Orvis Trout Bum of the Week XXX: Zach Matthews”

  1. Editor’s note: This comment has been deleted because it was an anonymous attack, which are not allowed here. The commenter is welcome to repost his comment under his real name.

  2. Enjoyed the article and getting to know more about Zach. Seems we fish much of the same local waters and maybe we’ll met up some time. I’ll trade you a red-necked wooly bugger for one of those zuddler minnows.

  3. Have been listening to the podcast for years, and really like what Zach does. Wish I had the ability to fish and have the experiences he has. Just going to have to live vicariously through him until my three year old son and I can travel to go fishing. Thanks Zach!

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