Trout Bum of the Week XII: Dave Hosler

Having chased muskies on gear for years, Hosler is now obsessed with catching them on flies.
All photos courtesy Dave Hosler

A couple years ago, we ran a series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlighted some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) Last week we launched another round of profiles. 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.

This week’s installment is notable because, despite the title of this series, the word “trout” doesn’t appear in any of Dave Hosler’s answers. A born-and-raised Midwesterner, Dave now lives in Indiana, where he is an IT man by day and a fanatical fly fisher at all other times. His targets? Pretty much anything that swims nearby. He also writes a blog called Pile Cast that chronicles his angling life and more.

When did you start fly fishing?

I bought my first fly rod—a cheap kit from a big box store—years ago, but I promptly put it away after not being able to figure it out. Fly fishing was for those uppity snobs was my take on it, so I went back to chasing musky on gear and smallies with ultralight tackle. In ’07 or ’08, a good friend got me back into it. I still couldn’t cast worth anything, and I was tempted to give up again and go back to conventional gear. But I was reading a lot of Gierach and at the same time found a local fly fishing club that’s full of amazingly talented men and women. The first time I saw my friend Gary throw line to the backing, I knew I had to learn how to do that.

Soon, fly fishing consumed me completely. I went to bed thinking about fly fishing and woke up telling my wife about fly fishing. I’m amazed I’m still married. She’s a patient woman, to say the least. I slowly saw myself getting better and better—at least I wasn’t beating the water to a froth—and started to catch fish. I had fished with spinning gear ever since I was old enough to hold a rod and drown a worm, so I wasn’t starting fresh when it came to fishing, but moving to a fly rod took fishing to a whole new level for me. There was more of an interaction both with the fish and with my environment. I remember the day I gave away the last of my tackle boxes. I have nothing against fishing with lures, but I just stopped. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it just kind of happened.

Smallmouth bass is the species that Hosler prizes above all others.

What’s your favorite water?

My favorite water is a little creek that I’m lucky enough to live near. You’ll never hear its name in a magazine or video but it produces healthy smallmouths, and that’s all that matters to me. It’s not uncommon to find a few common carp, gar, rock bass, bluegills, suckers, white bass, and creek chubs, as well. I do target the creek chub, too. Those little dudes are super aggressive and will rocket after a fly. On a 3-weight they’re stupidly fun to catch. I love that creek because on any given day I can strip huge streamers for bass, switch to a rope fly for long-nose gar, and then tie on a small nymph, sculpin, or crawfish pattern and chase carp. I also never see another person fishing unless I brought them with me. That, to me, is perfection.

What’s your favorite fly-rod quarry and why?

Smallmouth bass. Any day. I’ll say that having never fished salt water. Someday I might change my tune, but I doubt it. Trout are pretty to look at, carp are tanks that will put you in your backing in seconds, musky are violence in fish form—but a smallmouth bass is what makes me tick. Pound for pound, they just fight the best in my book. They seem to always be angry, like that short guy at the bar who’s had a few Shirley Temples too many and thinks you looked at him wrong.

This fine Beaver Island carp showed Hosler the backing twice.

What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?

That’s tough. I think my favorite moment would have to be stalking a massive carp on Beaver Island in Michigan. Kevin Morlock, from Indigo Guide Service, gave me the keys to his truck, pointed to an area on a map, and said, “You might start seeing carp here. It’s a long walk but it might be worth it.” When Kevin says something about carp, you listen.

I was completely alone, except for the random rabbit and bird I’d see scurrying away from me as I walked up and down the shoreline scanning for carp. I must have walked for a few hours before I spotted one of the fattest carp I’d ever seen in Lake Michigan. I was wading across a hip-deep flat and was able to get off just two casts to the fish in about twenty minutes. Both offerings were summarily ignored.

The fish was moving up a bay, and I decided to cross the bay to get a shot at the beast as it came up the other side. After almost dunking myself, I made it across and climbed onto a giant rock. There, I hunkered down and waited.

As it got closer the carp turned. I started to panic. From my knees, I had just enough time to false cast and lay the line out without spooking the fish. The fly hit the water not far from the fish, maybe within 10 feet, which was actually way closer than I wanted to be because the water was so clear and the fish so spooky. I stripped twice, and the carp made a bee line for the fly. The next thing I knew, I was into my backing and hoping that I had tied good knots.

During the fight, I realized my gear was still on the other shore, a few hundred yards behind me. I walked backward across a giant flat while trying to fight one of the biggest carp I’ve ever hooked. Bringing the fish to hand was almost anticlimactic. I’ll never forget the sight of that carp lying there on its side in the shallow water, its giant stomach out of the water. I quit fishing for the day after that. I was on cloud nine and didn’t want to ruin it. Plus I’d forgotten to bring food and only had a half bottle of warm water left. You’d think I’d know better by now.

Another bronzeback comes to hand on a fine Midwestern summer evening.

What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?

I’m gonna go with the time I sheared the cotter pin in my trolling motor while smallie fishing on the Tippecanoe River with my friend Don, after we had had about two inches of water dumped on us in a few hours. We were at the mercy of the river and were dragged under many of the maple trees that line the river. Those trees are the homes to orb weavers, which meant that Don and I had spiders all over us. We had no paddles, no way to stop, and were in really fast water. We got wedged almost sideways on a rock pile near the take out, and two friends in a canoe finally caught up to us. Instead of helping, they got out and shot video of us. I’d expect nothing less from my friends. I was finding spiders in my gear days later.

Last year while musky fishing in northern Wisconsin, I was stripping a fly in and a huge fish came in hot on it. I stopped. Just a dead stop. I’ve fished for these fish for years, so I know not to stop when one comes shooting in. But I did. I just completely went blank. My friend Jordan was yelling from the oars, “STRIP STRIP STRIP!” with a lot of expletives thrown in. I sat there and watched the fish as he stopped and slowly disappeared back to the depths. I started stripping again after that. It was one of the weirdest experiences I’d had in a long time. “It was a pike” was what we said to take the sting away. I was recently reminded of that failure a few weeks ago when Jordan and I floated past that same spot.

What do you love most about fly fishing?

I think the thing I love most about it is the ability to be creative. Take casting, for example. I’ve never been a fan of that classic 10-and-2 casting stroke. It’s great for teaching people, but man is it boring. I’ve been yelled at many times for casting “wrong.” To me there is no wrong. If you can deliver the fly to the fish and that fish eats, that’s all that matters. Period. If you don’t add a piece of you to your casting, you’re a robot. Of course, there’s physics involved in casting that can’t be changed, but everything else can be, and if you’re so inclined, should be.

I also love the people I meet through fly fishing. Almost everyone is eccentric to some degree. It’s as if fly fishing seems to call out to that type of personality. I dig that a lot.

The only thing I don’t like about fly fishing is not being able to afford to go fish places I see pictures of. I gotta find a way to remedy that.

Banging the banks from the front of a drift boat.

What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?

As silly as it sounds, my favorite piece of gear is one of those Tie Fast knot tyers. I carry two on me when I’m on the water. Only reason I carry two is because there have been times when I’ve lost that tool to a river or to a lake, and then I have to try and tie pieces of tippet on with knots I don’t know. You’d think I’d just learn to tie some more knots, but for some reason I can’t be bothered when that tool exists. It’s the smallest thing that can ruin your day. Losing those have ruined days for me. Learning knots would alleviate this, but I am not as logical as I like to believe myself to be.

What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?

Always the Clouser Minnow. I tie it with craft fur and light aluminum eyes. It’s got to be yellow over white, too. It can’t sink too fast or too slow. If that fly doesn’t work, well then the fish are blind or have bad taste.

What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?

My recent musky trip, during which I landed my personal-best fish. It was just my buddy, Jordan, and me, and we could still see the truck. I cast to an eddy behind a piling on a bridge, and it was game on. I had tied the fly the night before and had no idea if it’d work. It was on the same river where I had caught my first musky on a fly last year. That was pretty special to me. I’ve traveled a lot around the country, but northern Wisconsin is a seriously amazing place and always calls me back.

What’s your next dream destination?

A friend moved back home to Bangkok, and he started an outfitting business over there. There’s a fish called the golden mahseer that I’d like to catch in the jungle rivers. I’ve got place to stay and friends to fish with; I just have to get over my intense dislike of hurtling through the air in a tin can with wings.

9 thoughts on “Trout Bum of the Week XII: Dave Hosler”

  1. To me, smallies are way overlooked when it comes to fly fishing. There are very few things I enjoy more than wading down a smallie shoreline in trunks and crocs on a warm summer evening. It helps if you have fished the lake a thousand times so you know precisley where they will be holding up. I have caught this one fish at least 6 times to date (she has a scar on one side, from what I think was a pike looking for dinner)…she is getting big now, certainly borderline for the state record (9lbs in MI). Regardless, I appreciate the post about fish less popular. Even though, come spring and fall, I will be nowhere else besides the steelhead rivers. Ah the midwest!

  2. I too am huge fan of smallies and Clousers. I have taken Bonefish, Bluefish, Stripers, Albies,Bones,Fluke, and many other saltwater fish on Chartruese & White Clousers-my favorite all time fly. Sometimes the addition of a Mylar strip to each side of the fly is a killer.

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