Welcome to our series called Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlight some of the folks 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.
Elsa Espino is an avid fly fisher, rock climber, and photographer. A native of Yakima, Washington, she now lives in New York City. She is also a contributor to Brown Folks Fishing, a collective that seeks to cultivate the visibility, representation, and inclusion of people of color in fishing and its industry. To see more of Elsa’s fishing photos, click here.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I was introduced into fly fishing by my boyfriend, Christian, at the start of our relationship back in 2013. I officially became a fly fisher during a road trip we took from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to Denver, Colorado, back in July of 2015. The expedition was chock-full of fly fishing, hiking, and exploration.
2. What’s your favorite water?
Picking one place is tough, considering that I have not yet explored the whole world, but I will say that Yellowstone National Park, the Delaware River, and the Louisiana marshes are in my top picks.
Yellowstone National Park makes me feel like I’m in a place before civilization; the land is pure and undeveloped. I can hike to a fishing spot, surround myself with nature, and fish for wild trout.
The Delaware River is also very close to me. Living in New York City, it is hard to find streams that give me that West Coast feel. The Delaware River system is significant, like the Madison River, but also packed with bugs like the Henrys Fork.
As for the marshes of Louisiana, fishing there is always a crap shoot. One day you’ll catch a flounder on a crab fly, another day you’ll catch a sheepshead on a streamer, but that’s the fun part of fishing that murky water. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some tailing redfish. When you want to take a break from fishing, you can catch plenty of crabs and shrimp!
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod?
I love the locations where I find trout and the versatility of fishing styles I can use to catch them. I like to start my float trips fishing a streamer to the banks and then switching to a dry fly when trout begin to rise. I’ve also learned many lessons while fishing for trout. To this day, I still remind myself not to overset when I am using 6X. I have finally mastered the strip-set with streamers, a result of losing big browns by trout-setting on the Madison.
4. What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?
Picture Friday the 13th mixed with The Grey, and you’ll get the flavor of the experience I had in Yellowstone National Park one day in the summer of 2017.
Christian and I were fishing at Madison Junction, where the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers meet to dorm the Madison. We had parked at a pull off, crossed a bridge, and gone down a trail. There was one way in, one way out.
As the evening was coming to an end, we started to hear howling in the woods right behind us. Trying not to get scared, we kept fishing. About twenty minutes later, we heard it again, even closer. Noticing that the sun was going to set soon, we decided that we should get back to the car. We gathered our rods and backpacks and headed toward the one-way trail we had come down.
Approaching the end of the path, Christian stopped cold. Confused, I asked him what was wrong. He said, “Go back”! Unsure of the danger, I ran back to the river, where Christian told me that there had been a wolf staring right at us at the end of the narrow trail.
We heard the howling again, and it was definitely getting closer. We new we couldn’t go back the way we came in, so we decided to swim across the river. Quickly, we took off all our gear until we were just in our undergarments.
Having second thoughts about jumping in the water, we decided to get the attention of a passing car. Waving our arms, we got one van to stop. Yelling at the driver from where we stood, we explained that there was a wolf at the end of the trail and that we couldn’t get through. The tourist was more excited to hear that there was a wolf than he was about helping us. Trying to maintain his attention and focus, we asked him to meet us at the trail, so we could all scare away the wolf, allowing Christian and me to get through back to our car. With our plan set, Christian and I ran up to the trail, almost naked and carrying all our belongings. But the wolf had gone.
We thanked the tourist for his help and got back to our car. Happy to have made it out of this scary situation, we decided to drive right by the trail to see if the wolf was still around. Hidden in some shrubbery, he came out of hiding and watched us drive by. His creepy stare felt as if he was saying, “I’ll get you next time.”
5. What’s your most forgettable fly fishing moment?
Back when Christian and I still lived in Washington, we decided to hike a trail in Snoqualmie Pass that would take us to a remote mountain river full of wild trout. We parked at the trailhead and started to hike, but the trail was not easy to follow considering how much snow was on the ground, for which we had not planned. After a half an hour or so, we realized that this was not so good an idea. We had no idea where to go, and were getting soaked because we had not dressed accordingly. Upset we didn’t even get to fish, we started walking back towards the car.
When we finally made it down, we noticed something tucked under the windshield wipers. It was a fake five-dollar bill that featured some scripture and words of hope. We think that someone had found our parked car and thought we had given up on life. A little weirded out after looking at the bill, we smiled and did thank whatever was looking after us on this trail because we came back unharmed.
We still keep this fake bill in our car, and whenever we find ourselves digging through the center console of our car, we remember our story. We learned some important lessons: to be safe when traveling to a fishing spot, whether together or alone, and to let someone know where we are going, in case of an emergency
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
I love the availability of knowledge. In 2018, I can google any question I have in fly fishing and find an answer for it. If I don’t know how to tie a fly, I can YouTube it. Also, I can easily check out the latest fishing reports and river flows. As an avid Instagrammer, I get to network with people who fly-fish all over the world and make new friends. Since Instagram has influenced the use of hashtags, I can easily find more information on specific rivers based on people posting pictures with specific hashtags.
7. What is your favorite piece of gear?
I always have my cameras, a Canon T3i and a Sony 6500, at hand. I love looking back at old photos and remembering the journey and how good it felt to catch that fish.
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
I always turn to a white Woolly Bugger, and I make sure to tie it on with a non-slip mono loop, which gives the fly significant movement underwater. Fish it to the banks and watch the monsters pile up.
9. What was your favorite fly fishing trip?
Christian and I traveled to Montana to fish the Madison River for the first time. We worked at a resort right on the Madison River. During the day, we were shuttling cars and getting insight into all the latest action, especially the hot spots for the salmonfly hatch. After work, it was fishing time! We fished the Madison practically every day and caught all the browns our hearts could imagine.
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
Anyone can be interested in fly fishing but not want to take part in going outside, setting up the gear, and trying to catch his or her own fish. Some people are happy if they make it out to the river once a year. A true trout bum is different. They won’t say no to any fly-fishing adventure. A trout bum is actively looking for a new river to fish and the next campsite or empty parking lot to sleep at to make it all happen.