Welcome to our series called “Trout Bum of the Wee,” 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.
Bob White is one of the more respected sporting artists working today, producing both fine art and great illustrations (such as those in The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide. But he is also a longtime guide, having worked in Alaska since the 1980s, as well as in his native Midwest. Lately, he’s been spending his summers at Bristol Bay Lodge, where he also hosts retreats led by artists and writers. We have featured Bob’s art many times on the blog (see here, here, and here) and you can check out more at his website, The Classic Sporting Art of Bob White.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I began fly fishing around the age of eight or nine, after I found my father’s fly rod rolling around in the garage rafters. My father took the time to show me how to cast it on a local farm pond, and we caught a few fish. That was all it took for me to be hooked. Certainly, neither of us knew how far-reaching the impact of that afternoon would be to me, both personally and professionally. It was very meaningful for me to have had the opportunity later in life to guide my father, both in Alaska and Argentina.
2. What’s your favorite water?
That’s a tough question to answer. Of course the stock answer is, “whatever water I happen to be fishing.” I’ve had the opportunity to fish in some really cool places, and I have some favorites. I wouldn’t trade my annual week at San Huberto, on the Malleo River in Argentina, for anything. And, since I’m in the neighborhood, it’s always fun to pop over to Chile and fish around Lago Yelcho. Lately, I’ve fallen in love with the warmwater fly fishing in the upper Midwest. It’s pretty tough to beat a quiet day in a drift boat, floating on a river in Minnesota or Wisconsin for smallmouth bass, northerns, and muskies. This may all change after I get back from Sweden next summer!
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod?
I’d have to say that my favorite species to target with a fly rod is musky. I can’t think of any other fish that demands so much from a fly fisherman. To be good at it, you have to do everything right, all the time, regardless of the conditions, the hours on the water, or the fatigue. Lose your concentration or focus for an instant, and I guarantee you’ll lose a fish. In my world, there’s a direct correlation between the challenge a fish presents and the satisfaction derived by landing it. Muskies are at the top of the list for me. This may change the minute I land my first permit.
4. What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?
My most memorable fly fishing moment? If “memorable” means that I can’t forget it, that’s easy: it’s the moment I lost what would have been my personal-best musky. I swear, I did everything right! The second would have to be landing my actual personal-best musky with John Gierach in the boat and Brad Bohen on the sticks.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly fishing moment?
The easiest moment for me to forget in my life of fly fishing would have to be the last silver salmon I caught in Alaska. When it’s right, and it frequently is in Alaska, the fishermen and guides often get bored with catching silvers. I know. . .that seems ridiculous, right? But it happens. I’m convinced that this is how the Poly Wog pattern was developed; after the umpteenth silver was landed, someone asked, “I wonder what fly they won’t hit. I’ll try something dry!” It’s a lot more memorable watching them chase something on top.
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
The time with friends (or alone) to wind down and just be. I also enjoy waking up in the morning and checking the weather, knowing that I won’t be insulated from it by a vehicle or roof. How many peoples’ days are determined by the weather anymore? Not enough.
7. What is your favorite piece of gear?
If you’re as old as me, and you fished in boot-foot, rubberized canvas waders that weighed 30 pounds, the answer is easy: a good pair of breathable waders! If you’re too young to remember the canvas waders, count your blessings!
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
Of course, a favorite fly depends entirely upon the species that’s being targeted.
- Trout: A Fat Albert over a Copper Bob (A Copper Bob? It’s a long story, and one that I’m happy to tell. Just ask.)
- Smallmouth Bass: Murdoch Minnow, Boogle Bug (any color), a Swimming Baitfish, and lately the Swamp Rat (designed and tied by Ron Ratliff).
- Musky: Something I’ve tied, based on patterns by Brad Bohen or Gabe Schubert
9. What was your favorite fly fishing trip?
That’s as tough as the favorite-water question! I’d have to say that my favorite fishing trip of the year is one we call “Musky Madness.” This is an annual fishing trip that my wife, Lisa, and I host somewhere in the upper Midwest. This past season’s was the best yet! John Gierach was one of our 10 guests. We fished in northern Wisconsin, on the Flambeau and Chippewa Rivers, out of an old north-country fishing lodge. The guides are all local and some of the best around. The high point of the trip was listening to one of our first woman musky fishermen tell us about her first musky on a fly (day one) and her largest, a 43 incher, on day two. That’s a great trip!
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
I’m not sure about the “trout” part in “trout bum.” I think, perhaps, it ought to be “fly-fishing bum.” In any case, what’s the difference? Many people love a sport, or a hobby. You become a “bum” when it becomes your life and overrides almost everything else. The happiest bums I know are the ones who find that fine balance between their passion and their family obligations. They’ve learned to manage the “almost” part.