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.
Damon Bungard is the product manager at Jackson Kayak and the brand manager for Orion Coolers. I thought Tom Rosenbauer had the best job, but I think Damon gives him a run for his money. He’s traveling around the country in a new sponsored Winnebago Travato, field-testing Jackson’s fishing kayaks, and keeping liquid refreshments cold in Orion coolers.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I started fly fishing in 2006. I was spending a lot of time in a whitewater kayak back then and kept getting to all of these amazing, wild places, full of fish, and decided somebody should be there to fish for them, too. Fly fishing quickly became another way for me to interact with, and enjoy the river.
2. What’s your favorite water?|
That’s a tough one, as I have been incredibly fortunate enough to travel and fish quite a bit in a relatively short time. In general, anywhere with solitude, clean, clear water, and fish of any size ranks high on the list. Any water where I’m guiding and sharing adventures with my father or family/friends wins by default.
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod and why?
That’s another tough one, as I think all have their merits, but in fresh water, it’s really hard to beat Atlantic salmon, and in saltwater, definitely permit.
Atlantic salmon will always hold a special place in my heart, as they were one of the first fish I was able to catch. I know that’s ironic, but it’s also probably why I got as addicted as I did. I chased them after I saw a bunch on a week-long whitewater self-support of the Upper and Lower Magpie River in Labrador and Quebec. I went back with a fly rod and hopes and dreams and came away with amazing luck on the walk-in lottery system: a 44-inch hen landed, nine other hookups, a lot of memories, and one of the wardens up there took some great photos for me. There’s nothing like swinging flies in pristine water, feeling the tug, and seeing four-foot “trout” cut backflips up a rapid.
In the salt, permit are such a fun challenge, and so worth the effort. Hunting them, sneaking across the flats, and then getting everything to go right as not to spook them and get them to eat – to me it’s like the bow hunting of fly fishing. So many things have to right for it to work, and there’s no margin for error. The reward is very much worth the challenge.
Now any fish that I can target from a kayak certainly drives me to new places and new challenges.
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
I’ve been so fortunate to have so many great ones–of fish, of bears, of smiles–and I probably hunt memories more than I hunt fish. My first Atlantic-salmon memory is hard to beat, but there is one fish that I will never forget: I was alone, in Alaska, late August, fishing in the evening on little side spot that guides and drift boats don’t go to on the Upper Kenai. I was fishing a flesh fly, thought I was snagged on the bottom, and then the line started to move. What boiled next was probably the largest rainbow I’ll ever see. For the next half hour, I fought it upstream, fought it downstream, fought it through a school of sockeye, keeping their mouths off the line. I anxiously waited for a drift boat, a person, anything to come by with a net so I could offer them money to net the fish. (I didn’t have a net.)
Eventually I worked the fish into a grassy, flooded eddy with knee-deep water. I waded out to the fish to try and tail it. While I was lifting the rod with my left hand and grabbing his tail with my right, one head shake blew the tippet, and my grip. Then the trout decided to lie at my feet, letting me look at it, just to rub it in. I tried to sneak my hand back onto its tail, but I was only able to touch it before one stroke of its tail put it back out of reach. It was probably a 36-40 inch rainbow, over twenty pounds. No photos, no witnesses, just me and the fish. Pretty fitting, and most definitely the one that got away.
5. What is your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
On my last trip to Alaska guiding Dad, I let my overconfidence in whitewater kayaking put us in a bad place on a self-guided rafting float. I flipped our raft in a bad place. I saved my Dad, saved the raft, lost about $12K worth of gear, killed the satellite phone, and only had one oar left with days still to go. I got us through the rest of the canyon by hiking and lining the raft, or using one oar. I got us to a camp and a night to dry and recover. The next day, I made oars by cutting forked trees and putting sleeping bag stuff sacks over the fork to make a blade, and self-rescued by rowing the last 14 miles to our scheduled pick-up point. We were lucky to bump into a lodge on the main river, where the hosts were literally boarding their windows up. They were gracious enough to lend us their sat phone and some beer. We called in the air service for an early pick up, and once back in Anchorage and all squared away, planted ourselves at the nearest bar.
I won’t mind when that memory fades away.
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
I love the places it takes me, the challenges it creates, and the memories it makes.
7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My camera(s). Because one day I probably won’t be able to remember everything. Modern GoPro cameras are light, small, take amazing imagery both above and below the water, and help translate some of the amazing memories I’ve made into film.
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
When, exactly, is nothing else working?
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
In 2010 I was able to spend five weeks in Alaska. One week alone, one week taking my friend Brian around with me on the road system, two weeks with Dad—hanging with my friend Jim Albert at Brooks Lodge and doing some remote trips from there—and then a final week with both my Dad and my brother catching world class grayling, arctic char, and silvers at a self-guided remote trip that I arranged.
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
By the size of their van down by the river.