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.
Kubie Brown is a Vermont native who used to man the fly-fishing desk at the Orvis flagship store in Manchester, but he has since moved to Montana to pursue his fly fishing dreams. He is now a “Jack of all trades” at Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in Emigrant, and he spends all his spare time chasing new species and experiences, from the Adirondacks to the Pacific Northwest. His answer to the “What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?” question below is one of the best we’ve ever read.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I’m not sure how old I was—probably around 8 or 9 years old—when my grandfather and my great Uncle Vern first took me down to the dock at our family’s lake house and tried to teach me to cast with an old bamboo rod, and I remember hating it! They were both gruff, stern men and very strict about my holding my elbow in and not bending my wrist. At that age, I was too concerned with catching a fish to actually listen! They ended up getting frustrated and taking the rod away from me, and I didn’t pick up a fly rod again until I was around 11 and my Uncle Peter took me out on his farm pound and showed me how to cast poppers for bluegills.
I suppose though that I didn’t really start fly fishing until I was in my early teens and my dad used to take me out and drop me off with a spinning rod on the Black River in Cavendish, Vermont, to fish until dark. I would roam the rocky banks and catch one or two trout fairly quickly, and then I would spend the rest of my time watching the fly fishermen. Those calm evenings with the sun setting, its last rays dancing on the surface of the river, and those men standing hip-deep in the river throwing slow graceful loops out over the rising fish. . . it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen and I knew it was what I wanted to learn to do. I would watch how they moved their arms and how their hands worked on the line, and one day I picked up my grandfather’s rod again and started casting. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
2. What’s your favorite water?
There are a lot of wonderful places and famous rivers that I have fished, but I have to say that my favorite piece of water is still the Tupper Lake area in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Perhaps I’m a bit sentimental, but it’s where I grew up fishing, where my passion for the sport truly began. Although it doesn’t have the reputation of Montana where I now live, it is a fly-fishing Mecca. You never know what you’re going to catch out of all those lakes, ponds, and rivers up there—from two-pound brook trout to 40-inch northern pike, to four-pound smallmouth bass, to tiger muskies, those mountains have almost any species you can think of, and they all can be chased with a fly rod.
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod?
That’s a tough question, and I’m going to have to call it a draw between northern pike and steelhead. Pike have always held a special place in my heart. My grandfather had a massive one mounted on the wall, and I spent many hours as a child just staring at it, asking him over and over again to tell me the story of his epic battle with that fish. It is just such a cool fish, a super predator with giant jaws and teeth that hits with a head-shaking ferocity that few other fish can equal. There’s nothing that makes my heart pound harder than stripping in a fly in shallow water and seeing a giant pike behind it, knowing that any second he’s not just going to hit that fly—he’s going to destroy it!
Steelhead is another species all together. Swinging or nymphing, Great Lakes or Pacific, however you get them, and wherever they’re from, there is nothing that makes your reel scream quite like a bright chrome steelie. There’s also a mystical element to steelhead fishing that adds to their appeal. I recently returned from an unsuccessful trip to the West Coast. I hooked one fish in twelve days, and that fish was only on for a few seconds, yet it was one of the most enjoyable fly-fishing trips I have ever undertaken. Standing there in the early morning, hip-deep in cold water, banging long Spey casts across the river in a continuous rhythm, with the mist rising around you in the slowly growing blue light of a canyon and believing that any moment, the next cast perhaps, is going to be the one where your line stops and the quiet peace of the morning will be shattered with the scream of your reel and the splash of a leaping fish…there’s a sort of magic to it that can’t be found anywhere else.
4. What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?
I have quite a few of them, but the one that stands out happened when I was around 13. We were in the Adirondacks, and my brother Sam and I were happily catching perch with spinning rods in our boathouse for most of the day, when my brother decided he had to take a leak. I told him to just hold it and go outside, but he ignored me and began to relieve himself off of the dock. Suddenly there was a tremendous splash right beneath his feet. I turned and saw a massive smallmouth bass swimming just below the surface having just struck at the spot in the water where Sam was peeing! I immediately jumped across the dock and grabbed the first rod I could, which happened to be my grandfather’s old Abercrombie and Fitch fly rod. It had a big yellow bass bug already tied on, so I turned around and smacked the fly down on the water right beside the bass. BOOM the fish exploded on the fly, and I set the hook as it ran under the dock. I fought the bass for what seemed like forever, trying to pull it out into the open where Sam waited with the net. Finally the bass relented to my struggle, flew out from under the dock and rocketed into the air with a classic smallmouth leap, right into the net! It was my first big game fish on a fly rod, and I still thank Sam for not holding it.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly fishing moment?
Again there have been quite a few of them, but I think the all-time biggest was last year on the Clyde River in Vermont. I had been driving the two hours to Newport from my home in Springfield every week, hoping and waiting for the landlocked-salmon run. I had caught several small parr and a trout or two in those trips but had yet to land a big salmon. Unfortunately, in all the fishing and driving back and forth, I had forgotten to restock my equipment, so when I arrived at the river that day I found myself with only 7X leader and tippet. I shrugged it off and figured I’d make do and went down to the river. Almost immediately, I saw a big salmon, and then another, and another… finally the salmon were running! I quickly got down to a pool, made a cast ,and swung my fly through the center of it. I had a strike right off the bat, and saw a big buck salmon leap out of the river. Then I felt my line go slack. He had broken me off in barely a second. It was a performance that was to be repeated throughout the day, with fish after fish hooked and broken off almost on the hookset, over and over and again. In hindsight, I should have packed it in, but after driving four hours every week waiting for these fish to arrive I didn’t want to give up. I was unprepared, managing to land only one small fish throughout the entire day.
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
I think what I love most about fly fishing are the places it takes you. Every five-, ten-, twenty-hour drive, across the country. Every day-long hike along a river or stream to find that perfect hole. The sights, sounds, and experiences of those trips, the people you share them with, the people you meet, and the fish you catch. . .all become memories that will stay with you forever.
7. What is your favorite piece of gear?
My Helios 2 5-weight, hands down. That rod performs like no other fly rod I’ve ever had. I’ve caught big browns, huge rainbows, pike, bass, bull trout, and salmon on it. I’ve thrown big streamers, tiny dry flies, and nymphed with it all day. I have yet to find anything that rod can’t do! I love it!
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
In situations like that, I have a “go big or go home” mentality, so my go-to fly is Mike Schmidt’s Junk Yard Dog. It’s big, it’s cool, it moves a lot of water and has landed me many giant trout when nothing else seems to draw their attention.
9. What was your favorite fly fishing trip?
I really don’t know if I can answer that one. A lot of epic trips come to mind, like the first time I fished from a drift boat in the Yellowstone River when I came out to Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge for guide school. It was one of those moments where your childhood dream is suddenly coming true, and for a brief moment, you feel like you’re twelve years old all over again. There was the time my brother and I went to fish a small lake in the Adirondacks in the early spring for pike, where I was told that there was no way a body of water that size could hold any big fish. I think we landed three 35-plus-inch fish inside an hour. There was a recent trip with my boss and friend Eben Schaefer, where on our mutual day off we drove to a “secret” spot of his inside Yellowstone National Park and spent the day catching enormous cutthroat. We caught so many we just started throwing on whatever fly came to hand first just to see if the fish would eat it, and 90 percent of the time, they would. There was a trip to the Deshutes River with my brother Sam where we camped for two weeks beside the river and Sam, after seven failed attempts, finally landed his first steelie. The trip where I caught my first steelhead on the swing, the trip where I caught a bunch of steelhead on the swing, the trip where I hooked my first salmon, the trip where I finally got a muskie to take, the first time I fished the Hendrickson hatch, the first time I fished a Hex hatch…etc. It’s honestly impossible for me to choose a favorite.
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
I think that the difference between a person who loves to fly-fish and a true trout bum is all in the dedication. Obviously dedicating your life to fly fishing and making it your career is pretty easy way to define a trout bum. Yet some people have work or a family they’re committed to that prevents them from doing so. Some of these people love to fly fish and go out on the weekends or when they have vacation time because a certain hatch is happening or a certain fish species is spawning. The ones who are the true trout bums are the ones who scheduled their vacation time because a certain hatch should be happening or the fish should be running. The ones who took a job because they had their weekends off to fish. True trout bums are those fisherman who spend every waking minute of free time on the water, doing what they truly love to do.