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.
Mike Dawkins is probably familiar to regular readers of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog, as he has contributed several popular stories over the past couple of years. (See here .) A native of the Southeast, Mike is a longtime guide and Chief Operating Officer/Retail Manager of WorldCast Anglers, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Victor, Idaho.
1.When did you start fly fishing?
I always enjoyed fishing as a kid; I really could never get enough of it, ever. Most importantly, I was fortunate to grow up in a family that enjoyed being outside. I truly grasped fly fishing as a young teenager. Growing up in Middle Tennessee allowed me plenty of time, places, and species to target to begin building a solid fly-fishing skill set and passion.
2. What’s your favorite water?
I love spotting and stalking fish and trying to crack the code. There is just something special and unique about seeing a fish, putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, and making everything connect. All of my senses are heightened and running through my brain during those moments: “Watch out for your shadow, don’t be loud, watch how you move in the water, don’t spook the fish, is my back cast creating a shadow, did the fly land to hard?” The fish simply has the advantage, and I enjoy being on the same level as the fish, as the margin for error becomes very slim. Leave the boat at home and head out on foot, and the fish is already favored to win.
At home in the Jackson Hole and Teton Valley area, this correlates to technical dry-fly fishing on the Teton River, Henrys Fork, and South Fork but can be experienced sight-casting to a school of cruising peacock bass in the Amazon or stalking a tailing permit or bonefish on the flats in Mexico.
3. What’s your favorite fly-rod quarry and why?
I love cutthroat trout and their native habitat and watersheds. I have grown to truly appreciate and love the most “Western” of Western trout. Maybe they are not as wary and challenging to catch as a brown trout–nor do they grow to gargantuan size or jump as acrobatically as a rainbow–but they were here before any explorer, settler, or native American tribe or community existed. I am blessed to live in one of the last strongholds of the Snake River fine-spotted and Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and they currently inhabit only a small percentage of their native ranges. Cutthroats picked the most wild, free, and open areas to call home, so when you are targeting them you are truly making a journey into their home. They have an incredible story to tell every time you bring one to the net..
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
I remember taking a trip with my grandfather and dad when I was about 8 years old. We stayed in a little cabin by a marina and boat ramp, fished from my grandfather’s john boat and caught bluegill and bass all day with red-and-white bobbers paired with night crawlers on Nolin Lake in central Kentucky. One afternoon, I remember my grandfather pulling out a fly rod with a Pflueger Medalist reel, and he began working a small popper around some standing dead timber. It was the first time I had ever seen a fly rod in action. I remember trying to cast it in the yard around the cabin where we were staying. I have been fortunate to travel all over the world to catch incredible species of fish big and small, but that trip with my dad and grandfather will always rank as the most memorable. It was my first introduction into fly fishing.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
On Labor Day Monday of 2009, I was floating the Snake River Canyon south of Jackson Hole with two of my best friends. Dry-fly fishing was good, and we had entered a part of the canyon famous for whitewater rafting. We placed everything in dry bags and lashed those to the frame of the raft. I had floated this section before and felt comfortable with my skills and abilities. However, while rowing, I chose and followed an incorrect line and path into the Big Kahuna rapid, and the rapid crumpled the 13-foot Aire Super Puma like a trash compactor and ejected the raft like a roman candle on 4th of July. Everyone was okay, and the only thing we lost was the net and my hat. We still laugh about it, but the river put me in my place that day. I was reminded to never underestimate anything on the water and never get too comfortable or let your guard down.
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
I have learned that no matter how great of a caster, angler, fly-tier, writer, or guide you may be, fly-fishing is a sport that forces you to never stop learning. There is always a new adventure or experience around the corner, a new piece of gear to try out, a new technique to learn, a new relationship to build, a new species of fish to target, and new water system get to know. You never stop learning! The journey is never over; it’s always getting started. This, in essence, builds a very tight community around fly-fishing of people who share their passion about the sport. We all have something to share and learn from each other.
7.What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
Orvis Safe Passage Carry It All Rod and Gear Case! It is simply the most functional and best piece of gear I have ever owned. It fits everything I need on a long trip to remote fisheries all over the world or on a quick steelhead or trout road trip. I carry it on the plane with me at all times, and the anxiety of my bags (most importantly your fishing gear) not arriving at my destination are whipped clean from my memory. This bag never leaves my side. I commonly describe it to friends and customers as the “football” of traveling fly anglers! (The real “football” is a briefcase that accompanies the President at all times and functions as a mobile hub.)
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
An English Flashback Pheasant Tail, size 16, no bead. In my mind, it covers the entire spectrum of mayfly species–during many of their different stages–that call the Jackson Hole and Teton Valley area home. It is nice and slim pattern and very simple. It can be used as a dropper in a stonefly-nymph rig during spring and summer or as point fly during winter months when Baetis and midges are present. You can even hanging it under a small dry with 4X or 5X fluorocarbon tippet when sight-casting to snotty and picky fish during a mayfly hatch any time of year.
Strip and crawl a PT on an Intermediate or Density Compensated sinking line on lakes or flat water and you have a great Callibaetis imitation. The size 16 can imitate many of our PMD species, large Baetis species, fall Mahogany species, as well as mid-winter stoneflies. They are easy to tie and easy to tweak to your preferences and for different applications.
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
The Amazon! The mix of the flora and fauna blended with the fish species and ecosystem makes it one of the most incredible fisheries and experiences in the world. The fish are big, they eat with reckless abandonment, they have teeth, and they are the toughest and meanest on the planet. Everything is on guard and ready to eat and consume in the span of a fraction of a second. It is a true survival-of-the-fittest environment. The Amazon is one of those places that still has not been touched by time.
10. What’s your next dream destination?
I would have to say Alaska. My parents lived in Alaska for a number of years during the mid-1970s, and I always loved hearing their stories about their experiences there. As a kid, I remember obsessively looking at the photos of their journeys, fishing trips, and backcountry adventures and dreaming about being in those photos and visiting Alaska one day. As an adult, I still look at those photos from time to time when I visit my childhood home.