Trout Bum of the Week LVII: Brian Kozminski

Kozminski feels blessed by the miles and miles of quality water near his home in northern Michigan.
All photos courtesy Brian Kozminski

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. 

Brian Kozminski (or “Koz” to his buddies) is one of those guys I’ve been Facebook friends with for years but whom I’ve never met. It’s clear from our online relationship, however, that this is a guy who lives for fly fishing. He owns and operates True North Trout, a guide service based in Boyne, City, Michigan, where the Jordan and Boyne rivers are his playground. Like me, he’s a sucker for “the orange flecks and blue halos of the native brook trout from its cold, clean and clear rivers.”

1. When did you start fly fishing?
My earliest memories of learning the way of the fly are much like many other future advocates of the sport, when my dad and grandfather took my younger brother and me (ages 9 and 8). After “chumming” up the pond, we took advice from Grandpa Koz on how not to snag the trees behind us, even when he demonstrated exactly what not to do. Rule #1: Always be aware of what is behind you. I can still hear it echo today. I am not sure what fly we had on, but it was most likely a classic wet-style downwing fly from a variety pack, maybe a McGinty or Royal Coachman. But from that day on, I went to the vise and began to devise the best pellet fly I could tie, using a variety of materials: deer hair, foam, and even panty hose. I am happy to say that my tying skill set has developed and matured a long way since then.

Koz ties on a Chernobyl ant on a summer float.
Photo by Martin Ludden

2. What’s your favorite water?
We have so much great water in northern Michigan, it would be a disservice to name any one in particular, just because I wouldn’t want to omit other quality waters. We have the good fortune of fishing Type IV streams all year, with artificial lures/flies and no kill regulations. The Upper Manistee has provided many a “Hog Johnson” for me to chase, and the well educated trout of the Au Sable and its Holy Waters test my casting and drift ability. But my favorite rivers are those of less notoriety—the skinny waters that are found far upstream from any town, off two tracks that are more often utilized by youngsters looking for a place to sneak a kiss or rev up their 4X4. These rivers have taught me more than I can even begin to imagine, and they have also shown me a few surprises, which is why I will always keep coming back.

3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod?
The steelhead we chase in the Great Lakes offer a challenge, and often the reward is a good day when you can say you went 3 for 10. Losing a hot fish on a downstream run or as it takes a well planned turn in to the woody debris makes it a low numbers game, and long, cold, fishless days are not uncommon. But when a front is coming, or the pressure drops, and the mystical fish gods align, you can have a spectacular day on the water, with the river all to yourself. There is something magical that happens when your line goes tight on a drift or swing and you have no clue what is about to happen next. You know you are alive and connected to a beast.

4. What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?
In late May, a few years back, it was close to eighty degrees when I met up with a fellow skinny-water aficionado. We headed to a braided stretch of the upper Jordan, only to be met with a lackluster sputter hatch of Hendricksons and a few willing brookies. We decided to head farther downstream because I wanted to show Jake a former sand trap that had become dammed by a beaver family and all but forgotten, except for a few spinner fisherman. The mosquitoes were on a record rampage, more menacing than an entire squadron of Tie-Fighters against the Empire, but we carried on. After a few casts, Jake was on to a large trout, which we assumed was a brookie. Instead, it was a healthy 16-inch brown, fat and satiated on what we thought were cotton-wood blossoms floating down stream, until we noticed they actually wriggled and took flight. What were they? Way too big for Hennies and far too early for the Hex. But what were they? Could it be we had come across a hatch of the elusive Hexagenia recurvate—the Red Hex, of storied lore and fiction?

We had 3-weight rods and no big bugs in our boxes, so we found ourselves under-gunned and “under-bugged.” I saw a nose-to-tail rise across the slow water and thought the fish had some length to it. I pulled the only large-ish fly off my hat, a rather ragged and beat to death Parachute Deer-Hair drake, and made a proper cast across and above the best looking lie. The fish ate the fly, and in the fading light I could see a submarine headed in my direction. The trout suddenly realized it was hooked and took off downstream. That was when we discovered from his tail wake that it was an even bigger fish than previously thought. My poor little reel squeeled, and then, boom, the fish became unbuttoned. I went home that night, and visions of the entire episode unfolded several times before I could drift off to sleep.

This gorgeous brownie from the upper Jordan was a real surprise.

I had to go back the next night, and did. This time, I was more properly equipped with a 5-weight, a better reel, and larger flies. The weather was supposed to turn much colder later in the week, which would shut things down in a hurry, so it was now or never. I returned to the spot and waited. Sure enough, the fish came back. I delivered an amuse-bouche, he complied, and we were more formally introduced. At 24 inches, this was a surprise brown I shall never forget. As I was letting him go, I thought about his life: how much longer does he have, and will he last another winter? But I let him swim off, knowing that I could come back again. I am sure he is gone now, but in my mind, I keep going back in hopes of finding him.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly fishing moment?
Guide trips with newspaper or magazine writers can be the hardest days to fish, simply because rarely does the weather cooperate for photographs and writing about fishing. But this was the exception. My sport was a outdoor writer for Gaylord Herald, and we were looking to do a winter steelhead story in January. The winter had not been a mild one, with a couple of feet in December and no warming trend in sight. On the third bend below the put-in, we came face-to-face with a set of 15 to 20 medium-size swamp cedars that had been uprooted by a tremendous amount of snow weight and blocked the river. The water was running high and fast, and we couldn’t row back up. So we dropped anchor and proceeded to cut through the snow-capped cedar tangle. My chainsaw clutch was jammed, so it was a hacksaw job that took half the day. Not much fishing was accomplished, but we had an unforgettable day on the river, even though I wish I could omit the memory.

6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
The things that I love most about fly fishing are vast and many. The places and the people that I have met are foremost. Some of my favorite places include Colorado, fishing little streams in Estes Park and the Big Thompson before it blew out, St. Martin for baby tarpon, and Belize for bonefish. The many influential fly tiers, authors, and industry peeps that I have met include people like Landon Mayer, Joe Humphreys, Pat Dorsey, Charlie Craven, Eric Stroup, Rick Hafele, and a host of others. Most importantly, fly fishing is my serenity.

Koz hoists a king salmon from the Boyne River.

I have been ridiculed in the past for proudly declaring my years of sobriety, but it is because of fly fishing that I have been fortunate enough to stay clean and sober for 14 years. I use my experience to offer help or to set an example for others who may be struggling. Fly fishing is also about the hunt. We spend time tying flies, perfecting leaders, cleaning our gear, and staring at thin blue lines on maps to outsmart a fish that really has the brain capacity of a hamster, but we love it, and it all makes sense.

7. What is your favorite piece of gear?
Favorite piece of gear is my sling pack, which has converted me from a vest guy to a backpack fly guy. I love it. It has more storage, better placement and distribution than previous vests of any kind. More places to hide tippet, fly boxes, Gink, floatant, bug spray, and water bottles than I could ever have imagined.

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
My go-to fly depends on the river and the time of the year. Being a streamer guy, I love to toss articulated Galloup patterns with the best of them, but when it comes down to saving the day for a client in the boat, they are often surprised when a White Marabou Coachman streamer tied on a 4X-long streamer hook pulls some big fish out from under the woodwork. It has also been a killer fall pattern for brook trout on many rivers up here. There are also a few local patterns—which you can only get from a few select fly shops—that I never hit the river without: for instance, the Dust Bunny from Gates Au Sable Lodge will produce when it seems little else will. Lately, I have been doing more experimentation with nymphing our rivers. A Pat’s Rubberlegs with a Rainbow warrior in tow is a productive combination. Give it a go and watch fish appear you would have sworn didn’t exist.

Finally! Bob mallard poses with the fish he needed for his book project.

9. What was your favorite fly fishing trip?
My favorite fishing trip was last spring, when I made contact with Bob Mallard, who was writing a piece on Grayling, Michigan for his book, 25 Best Towns: Fly Fishing for Trout. It was two weeks after the trout opener, and we had had rain, rain, and more rain. The rivers were swollen, and fish were well fed. Bob had fished five days with other guides before I was up to bat, and he needed a fish for the book. . .any fish. No pressure. Conditions didn’t let up, and we had another full day of rain. But as we rounded a favorite bend, I said, “Often we look to the dark deep water on the outside bend, and it does look fishy—plenty of LWD [large, woody debris] and murky water. But never underestimate the soft inside seam.” When water is high, fish move out of their normal lies, and find new feeding lanes. That transition from sandy to dark water is a prime location.

We rounded the bend with no takers, and I felt defeated. But shortly we noticed a disturbance in the reeds on the shallow left bank. Bob is a very accomplished streamer guy—rarely have I been in a boat with someone who cast nonstop for eight hours, two days in a row—and he hits his target. Amazingly, a 20-inch brown smashed his fly in the shallows, and we had the elephant off our backs. What a relief!! We didn’t bang ‘em up by any means, but for the next two days, we boated five more fish in the 18- to 21-inch class, very respectable fish for anyone, any day on any river. I was very happy.

10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
The difference between a person who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum is simple. It is a matter of religion versus hobby. Someone who bleeds and breathes all things fly fishing is most likely a trout bum. Someone who has the latest and greatest in gadgets, waders, and accessories is good for the economy but most likely is a hobby angler who loves to fly fish. They can take it or leave it. When the next fad comes along, they will readily jump on board. The true trout bum will fish every day for as long as he or she is able, as there are no other options. I am blessed with a great wife and family who allow me to pursue this passion and share it with as many people as possible, without living in a van down by the river smelling of patchouli/deet, musty stanky waders, or dank feet for months on end.

When he’s not guiding or hanging with his family, Koz enjoys solitude on small waters.

11 thoughts on “Trout Bum of the Week LVII: Brian Kozminski”

  1. Brian Kozminski—a great guide, angler, husband, and father. Met him once and felt like I had known him forever. He’s just that kind of dude. I consider him a friend for life.

    Koz took my father-in-law and me on a great journey down the AuSable. Amazing scenery, vicious Browns, and wonderful conversation.

    He’s a great instructor. Never overbearing. Extremely informative—and his drift boat freaking rules.

    A day spent with this man is a day worth living.

    KOZ. The man. The legend. There is no substitute.

    1. Thank you for the kind words Reynolds~
      Hopefully, we can share some more time on the river, and discover more secrets.
      Tight Lines!

  2. Nice interview with an interesting subject. It made me want to fish with Koz. But here’s the reason it was interesting. The interviewer asked good questions.

  3. Friends call him “Koz?” Why do I have to call him Mr. Kozminksi!!! And, no picture, no mention of the fabulous (successful) fly I brought on our first trip and nothing about the soothing tunes I provided! UNIMPORTANT. Brian is a fantastic guide. One of the best in Michigan. Water smart. Bug knowledgeable. Great company in the boat. Now I know the reason he allows me on his trips. If he can spend that much time with me, he can tolerate anyone. Hope to see him a few times next year.

    1. You, good Sir, are always welcome in my boat!! and thanks for the gentle jabs & great music, I will keep the scones ready for you next season>> Tight lines & Happy Holidays!

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  5. I truly enjoyed my time in Grayling while researching for my book 25 Best Towns Fly Gishing For Trout. Koz is one of those guys who goes above and beyond for the greater good. His passion and dedication is infectious. After 5 days of throwing streamers with little to show for our efforts, Koz made it happen. The pressure was on, the conditions were against us, and the weather was tough. But he never gave up and it ended up being one of my favorite stops. I have fished with some of the best in the game–I put Koz in that elite class. If you find yourself in MI, do yourself a favor and look him up….

  6. All of the above is true. I was blessed with an invite to ‘Tie one On’ (flies) at Koz’s table some years ago for Petoskey’s Miller-Van Winkle TU chapter event. Koz is a cut above the rest; patient, insightful, and just a great dude. Congrats Koz, you earned it!

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