The tradition continues at Sweetgrass Rods;
crafting fine bamboo fly fishing rods

Thanks for the wonderful craftsmanship. You guys are amazing.
Frank D.

Kodiak Bear on the Fly

The following adventure was provided by Dan Crismore.  Thank you Dan!!

I have listened to many discussions over fate versus our own control of our destiny, and until now, had not taken the time to decide which side of the fence I stood on.  After being part of this adventure, I will have to say fate plays a much larger part of our destiny than I once thought.

Our adventure started with a phone call from my older brother, Cliff and his wife Shari, who live in Fairbanks, Alaska.  They had both put in and successfully drawn Alaskan Brown Bear permits on Kodiak Island, through the state's party system.  After a few minutes of agonizing small talk, the invitation for myself and my two younger brothers, Wayne and Challis, was issued.  Of course, I summoned the courage to accept instantly without first consulting my wife.  After some begging and a new Joan Wulff Winston 5 wt. fly rod, she gave me her blessing!

The next few months flew by as preparations were made for the trip.  As with all big hunting trips, part of the excitement and fun is in anticipation while plans are being made.  In the end, it would be Challis and I leaving Montana to go on what was now being called "The Big Bear Hunt."  With regret, Wayne had prior commitments and was not able to join us.

Challis, who is the youngest of the bunch, and I had made arrangements to drive from our Montana homes to Spokane, Washington, where we would meet at the airport to begin our travel to Kodiak City, Alaska.  All flights went well and by 3:00 p.m. Alaska time, we were on a Cessna 206 headed south to meet up with Cliff and Shari.  They had flown in earlier with all the camping supplies and food for 10 days.  Our weather was not a factor that day and the plans we had spent months making, were executed to the exact minute detail.  I should iterate that Cliff is an extremely organized camper to the extent of earning the nickname, "seven copies", while in Boy Scouts as a kid! As Patrol Leader, Cliff would have typed, double spaced waterproof copies of the agenda, menu, and duty roster to hand out to the 7 members of his patrol.  These organizational skills also helped him Eagle Scout and to later become a Boy Scout Executive. 

With camp set and nightfall quickly approaching, we prepared supper, which was our first meal of completely freeze dried food.  The main course, veggies, and a dessert was served of which I could not honestly tell you what it was, for my mind has conveniently blocked this memory from my collection.  A mind will sometimes do that after you have experienced a horrible trauma!

The next morning, Challis and I awoke to our normal morning schedules which had not transferred over to the two hour difference in time.  Sunrise would be at 8:00 a.m. Alaska time, or as Shari growled, not for another 3 hours.  With bear season not opening for another day, we spent the day hiking around scouting for bear and hoping to find a Sitka deer to supplement our week-long menu of freeze dried meals.

From the plane flying in, we could see a lush carpet of ripened grass that was punctuated by patches of reddish gray alder.  From the air, this vegetation looked like it would be easy hiking for us that grew up in the rugged mountains of Northwestern Montana.  After reaching the first ridge back of camp,  which was only an elevation change of 400 feet, we decided that we liked things better from the plane.  The grass was extremely thick and chest high.  The alders were even thicker and over our heads.  After that climb, we sat a lot under the pretense of glassing for bear, which really translated to, "let's rest for a while!"  We found no bear or bear sign that day, which was fine with me since we were so close to camp.

Opening day of bear season brought us the second day of rain along with fog that held us to playing cards in the tent and catching up on news of everybody's life, since busy schedules and distance don't allow us to see each other every year.

The second day of bear season found us awake long before daylight listening to the downpour of rain on the tent.  We discussed the futility of hunting in the rain versus another day of cards.  I voiced my opinion that since Kodiak gets close to 150 inches of rain every year, the bears had to be out feeding in it or they would starve.  That was all the prodding needed.  No one wanted a repeat of the day before.  After a quick, bottomless, or so it seemed, cup of plain instant cream of wheat, we dressed for the rain and headed out. 

As I stood by the tent waiting for the others to finish with last minute details, I could not help thinking that it has been a good year for Cabela's.  I wonder if they sell stock!

Our plan was to hike back along the bay to the west of our camp and glass for bear on the opposite ridge.  If we found anything, we could then walk around the end of the bay which was only a mile or so from our camp, and climb the ridge.  With the tide being out, this would be an easy walk.  At a point halfway to the end of the bay, we decided to glass for a while.  With the low light and the rain, it was going to be tough spotting.

At this point, I believe that fate was starting to take charge.  I was lucky to spot a Brown Bear sitting in a spot void of grass and alders.  His back was to us and his nose was facing into the wind.  The bear was looking up the hill.  Nervously, he would look down and then snap around to look up again.  The motion was what caught my eye.  I am sure Cliff, Shari, and Challis could tell how excited I was as I struggled verbally trying to direct their binoculars to where the bear sat.  After several tries, we were all looking at the bear.  None of our bunch was very experienced on sizing bear, even thought Challis had taken an 8 ft. bear on a previous hunt with Cliff two years before.  Before we could guess the bear's size, it jumped up and started running downhill.  His point of origin was approximately 600 years above the bay.  Watching the bear run towards us was mesmerizing.  We were snapped out of the trance when the bear entered an alder patch and we could no longer see him.  In vain, I searched the alder patch with the spotting scope looking for some sign of movement.  My emotions had felt like I had just stepped on a roller coaster, first up, then down.  Then Shari spotted the brown walking along the beach, heading our way.  We had ranged across the bay earlier and found that it was 380 yards from our point to the bank the bear was on.  This was too far for a shot, but our hopes were up that somehow it would work out.  As if listening to our wishes, the bear entered the ocean waters, swimming directly at us.  I know that Brown Bear can be aggressive, but this bear had no clue that we were anywhere around.  He just kept swimming to our point.  This began to unnerve more than just myself.  Cliff's leg was resting against mine, and I could feel him shake.

Shari decided to use my rifle, a 300 ultra mag, to shoot the bear with, and Challis was to back her up with his Winchester 300 mag.  Both Shari and Challis had a good rest on a rock about 5 feet to my right.  Challis looked to me and mouthed the words, "now?", and I whispered back, "let him get closer, we have to get him out of the water somehow."  At 30 yards, the bear's disproportionately little dark eyes stared right through us.  He could not determine that the 4 camouflaged lumps on the bank were actually humans.  At 25 yards, Challis again looked to me, which I whispered to go ahead and have Shari take him, I think I can get him out.  The bear was pushing close to 20 yards when Shari shot.  Challis fired a backup shot seconds later.  An old time guide had told us that there are no one shot kills on Brown Bear, so we figured we would be wise to follow his advice.

All of us were now on our feet staring at the form of the dead bear.  The water was changing from blue to red as the bear bled out.  I was rattled out of my state of awe by Challis stripping his clothes off.  I did not want him to go in alone, so I stripped to my fleece and long johns as Cliff retrieved a rope out of one of his packs.  Challis grabbed one end of the rope and started wading to the bear with me on his heels.  On several occasions throughout my life, I have swam in lakes in Montana that were mostly covered with ice, whether it was to retrieve a duck, or a dare from one of my siblings, usually Challis!  I have to say that it is always cold, but nothing prepared me for how cold that salt water was.  Challis had stopped thigh deep, still 15 yards from the bear.  I took this as another dare as he handed me the rope. Two more steps and a little drop off, the water was up to my chest.  Suddenly, there was no oxygen left on earth as far as I could tell.  One classic pirouette and a couple of graceful leaps that would make a ballet dancer jealous, I was handing the rope off to Challis as I headed to shore.  Above the gasps coming from the body that I could no longer determine was mine, I could hear squalls, roars, and cackling of laughter, which must have been caused by my dance steps..  I had to strip my long johns off so I could breathe.  The rain and 40 degree air felt comfortably warm.  I was grateful that I was amongst family as I stood helplessly on the edge of the bay dressed in just my baseball cap, boxers, and socks!

Cliff wrapped me in a survival tarp, a kind brotherly gesture, so I thought.  But in all honesty, it was to get Shari to quit that annoying cackle of a laugh she had.  Apparently my boxers had gaped open.  Ice water and manhood will never be in the same statement of flattery!  From one of the bunch, I heard the analogy of "it" being no bigger than the wrinkles on your elbow!!

Dan Crismore reeling in a 7-1/2 foot Kodiak Brown BearAs our stress relieving laughter subsided, our attention once again turned to the bear.  We were again on the down swing of our emotional roller coaster.  The bear was sinking into the blood clouded water.  With the rain pelting and the wind rippling the water, it was almost impossible to see the dark form of the bear.  To add more to the depth of our despair, the tide was rapidly moving in, carrying the blood spot along with the bear up the bay and further away from shore.  Quickly, Plan B was initiated.  Cliff and Shari hiked back to camp for the 8 wt. Winston fly rod I had brought along with the hopes of some late running silvers.  Challis and I would stay with the bear and wait.  In Montana, we don't have any experience with tides, but I can now state for a fact that tides coming in means the water is coming up.  Cliff and Shari found all of our gear either floating or under 2 feet of ocean water.  After salvaging our gear, they caught up to us another 400 yards up the bay.  Now, we could just make out the bear's dark form laying on the floor of the bay.  The tide had gone slack and the bear was too far for me to cast to.  As I stood on the bank shivering under my tarp, time felt like it had come to a complete stop, when in all reality, several hours had passed.  Since all we could do was wait, Cliff and Shari decided to take a load of wet gear back to our tent to start drying.  Challis and I would again stay with the bear. 

Cold and wet, we huddled under my tarp/coat with an emergency stove warming one side at a time.  To pass the time, we reminisced about previous times that we had been stuck in other miserable situations.  Challis thought that there may be a pattern starting to form when we are together!  Finally, the tide started to recede and it was time to make our vigil again.  Without the stove, it wasn't long before the early warning signs of hypothermia were setting in on both of us.  We agreed that, bear or not, we would have to go back to camp and regroup. 

Within 5 minutes after leaving the bear, we met Cliff and Shari on their way back.  They would take the next watch.  It would be an hour before Challis and I would return with dry clothes and high hopes.  The water level had dropped substantially, so our hike back to Cliff and Shari went swiftly.  We were sure that we would be able to get the bear now.

When we arrived back to where Cliff and Shari were, they informed us that the bear had floated to the surface and had traveled out to the middle of the bay.  They could no longer see the bear. This was not just a downhill plunge on the emotional roller coaster we had spent our day on, but an absolute crash. Dejectedly, we gathered our gear and started trudging back to camp.  I still did not want to give up hope of finding the cherished trophy, hoping that maybe the tide would bring it back in. 
Dan and Shari Crismore with the tropy Kodiak Brown Bear
As the cloud laden sky began to darken with the oncoming nightfall, I stepped up onto a rock to search out into the bay for our trophy.  There was an odd V shape in the ripple approximately 100 fee from shore.  My heart leaped into my throat when everyone confirmed my hopes, that this was the back of the bear floating barely above the surface of the ocean water.  It was just seconds later that I again felt the cold salt water as I waded in over the tops of my last dry pair of boots.  Standing waist deep, using a double hull cast on the 8 wt Winston rod with 1x tippet and a yellow fly I had tied for salmon, I set the hook on what I considered to be my greatest catch, a 7-1/2 foot Kodiak Brown Bear.  Steady pressure and patience led the bear into shore where we could get our hands on it and claim it as ours.

As we hugged and hollered in celebration in the now dark and rainy night, were we celebrating a victory of man controlling his own destiny, or the acceptance of our fate guiding us?
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Sweetgrass Bamboo Rods on Nelson's Spring Creek

Coming about a month...a series of rods built for Nelson's Spring Creek--right here in The Last Best Place--these were built with Nelson's Spring Creek in mind as 7'6" #4 3-piece, 2-tip, Hexagonal Sweetgrass Rods with a few extra custom points chosen and designed by Jacquie and Tucker Nelson...the wraps, reel seat, sock, etc., will be custom made for these "Spring Creek Specials".

To whet your appetite, here's a video of some product testing done recently on location!

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The Pursuit of Permit

Permit FishThere are probably easier ways to catch permit than moving to the remote tropics to pursue them, but then again I have never heard it said that catching a permit is remotely easy. I recently read an article about a guy who spent over nine thousand dollars on guide services before he accomplished the feat. Then there is a local angler here who finally got one after thirty years of trying. But that is not to say it can't be done more reasonably either. Several friends of mine have landed permit here and there in the process of searching the flats for bonefish. There is even talk of an angler who came to this area a few years back and caught eight in one week just poking around on his own. The story goes that he has been down several times since and hasn't seen another. And on the wall at Sweetgrass Rods hangs a permit caught by my partner Glenn in the 60s while fishing the Florida Keys. It was one of the first known of the species to actually be taken on a fly - quite a significant accomplishment when one considers there are no "silver bullet" methods yet discovered that makes them easier to hook fifty years later.

Referred to as the "ghost of the flat" the permit is a saucer shaped silver dynamo with big eyes, thinly forked tail, a skinny dorsel fin, and a heightened sense of sight and smell. Long revered as one of the most difficult to catch fish that frequent the Caribbean flats, it is precisely this trait that has attracted a quirky brand of angler seeking the ultimate fly fishing challenge. This cunning quarry is wary, tricky to approach, and loathe to take even the most well presented fly, which is usually some sort of creative crab pattern. There are really no secrets to catching a permit either. It is more a matter of persistence, stealth, and seeking out as many opportunities as possible to get it right.

Dan Blanton wrote an article a decade ago entitled "In Pursuit of Permit" that honored Del Brown, arguably the most dedicated permit fly angler ever. Del fished saltwater at least one hundred days per year, sixty of them were spent chasing permit. At one point he set a goal of catching 500 before he died. By the time he passed in 2003 when he was in his eighties Del had landed 513 permit. This incredible number represents an astounding commitment of time, money, and energy. But more than anything it is also a testamonial of one man's singular drive to attain a goal that most people on the planet could never appreciate, let alone understand - perhaps, in fact, the fly fishing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. The practical knowledge he shared over the years about fly fishing for this phantom has been invaluable to others smitten with the same passion to chase them. In the end, however, it was his intuitive mastery of the total process, as if becoming one with the fish, that was most impressive. When an angler once asked Del how close should the fly be presented when one encounters a permit, Del's Zen-like response was, "Just close enough."

In my life it was the obsession to catch a bull trout in the 70s that fueled a magical journey eventually leading to where I am now, so I could relate to Del's quest to a certain degree. I was also led astray and steered in another direction in the 80s by our Twin Bridges' resident physician Dr. Bruce Beithon after he shared with me the goal he had once set for himself to catch one hundred steelhead on a fly rod, a feat he eventually did make happen on Idaho's Salmon and Clearwater Rivers. I was so impressed with Doc's story that it compelled me to take a steelhead detour myself for twenty years down a road that led around the Great Lakes, up and down the West Coast, and even over to Russia. And somewhere in there I also got distracted by my childhood dream of catching an Atlantic salmon which consequently resulted in nine very long drives from Montana to Canada's maritime provinces to satisfy that urge. So after reading about Del Brown's monumental sojourn my interest was piqued. Not that his achievement could be duplicated in anyway, but one last fish-quest in my declining years would only seem appropriate for a guy who defined a major portion of life by chasing one species of fish or another with a fly rod. The goal was simple, and it was to catch just one permit.

It has been said that fly fishing is a metaphor for life, but I have read where some ridicule this very notion. The same consideration, however, could also be applied to life-long passions like exploring continents, seeking lost treasures, sailing the oceans, climbing mountains, or engaging in any other all-consuming venture that would define one's existence in a unique way. Although there are those who may deem these options as a frivolous avoidance of life's necessities, at the very core these driven pursuits actually symbolize the essence of what life is all about on many levels, and these lifestyles should serve to inspire us all. It is in the pushing, the striving, the seeking, the reaching for but never quite attaining quality of the path less followed that potentially leads to success, even if it is only in one's mind, while just possibly nurturing a state of peace and contentment in the process. On the other hand, I suppose, one could just choose to be a couch potato or any equivalent. As for me it has been fly fishing and all its related side roads. And in the pursuit of a permit, I have found, it is more a metaphor for life than anyone could imagine.

According to Del Brown, one of the most important ingredients for permit success is opportunity, the implication being that practice makes perfect. In Mexico and Belize there are a number of guide services and lodges that specialize in tracking down permit. The guides know where to look, so they can buzz their pangas from one flat to another covering many miles with the hope of finding numerous opportunities. I booked such a trip to Belize a few years back and for the first two days my fishing partner and I were fortunate to encounter enough permit to work out all the kinks. We considered that practice. So by day three we were brimming with the confidence of a grade A student taking a math exam. But as bad luck would have it, stormy weather blew in for the rest of the trip making it impossible to find fish. Consequently, the remaining six days were a monumental lesson in saltwater frustration. We were so close to making it happen. Yet like many other aspects of life, success is not only a matter of much effort, it is also dependent upon good fortune as well.

I migrated to the tropics as a grand experiment to see if there was one last adventure left in me. I also figured that the move would provide another chance to accomplish my goal of catching one permit before I die, but to do so on my own terms. After the Belize trip busted years ago, it was time to make amends. And without the aid of a boat, it would require miles and miles of walking in order to accumulate enough opportunities to even have a decent shot. I know it can be done because my young friend from Montana had the same goal. Matt Boland finally landed a permit in May on the flat in front of the house after months of looking. Earlier this year I met a fit and trim fly tier from Germany who spent four months fishing afoot every day and he landed a few - his best year in a decade of trying. For me, I keep searching, but the drive and endurance to do what it takes at my age are very much diminished.

It is not that I haven't had a chance. While fishing with Matt this past June we did intercept at least two tailing permit on a far off marl break. Since Matt had recently landed the aforementioned permit, he graciously deferred the honor of stalking them to me. It was a thrill to actually have a legitimate opportunity. And after making a stealthy sneak, a good cast in the vicinity of the circling tails resulted in one of the normally elusive fish swimming over, picking up the crab pattern, and bolting for the reef. Unfortunately, it only took one run before the fly came undone, leaving me heartbroken - but hopeful. So close again. Since then the opportunities have been scant, chasing tails in the distance...but never quite catching up with them.

In the pursuit of permit I have learned that at a certain age maybe some goals are just unattainable. I have also learned that at a certain age maybe one has to face his limitations, and living in the tropics might be one of them. Pondering life, as I often do, I walked out on the flat yesterday, and there they were - two permit tailing right in front of me. It was almost spiritual. In what seemed like a set up for a storybook ending, I was able to slowly creep into perfect position. Then I readied both the rod and the fly. The first cast wasn't quite far enough. And after calmly retrieving the crab pattern, I steadied again. On the second cast the fly dropped, but this time it was apparently too close and both fish retreated into deeper water. Then they disappeared completely. Hmm, I thought, as I recalled Del Brown's advice to cast the fly, "Just close enough." I guess that sage tidbit will make more sense the day I hear the sound of one hand clapping. Until then, I will have to be content with knowing that I was once again so close, but not quite close enough. Sometimes that's life in a nutshell. And as the curtain falls on my tropic days, I can at least say I gave it my best shot.

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Jerry Thanks for letting us share the dream. I still remember the first time I asked Gelnn about the permit. We all miss seein... Read More
Monday, 13 October 2014 17:18
Kathy Scott
Great read; looking forward to the next.
Friday, 07 November 2014 17:38
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Fishing Buddies

Norm ZeiglerEvery time Norm phoned he would begin the conversation with the question, "How's Montana's Greatest Fly Fisherman?" This was his traditional salutation for years. After answering back with something like, "Only in my own mind, Norm," or some other lame response of feigned humility, I always asked in return "What's the Snook Meister up to?" To which he usually replied "Wishin' I was in Montana!" before qualifying his quip with a few stories of recent snook conquests. I wouldn't expect anything less, I'd tell him, from the guy who wrote the book on snook. Back and forth the banter regularly flowed from Montana trout tales to varied fish encounters in the waters near Sanibel, Florida, each of us vicariously reveling in the other's deemed far off ventures.

Norm Zeigler owns a fly shop on Sanibel Island and he did write the definitive book about fly fishing for snook entitled Snook on a Fly. As a former outdoor editor for the country's armed forces newspaper Stars and Stripes based in Germany, writing about fly fishing throughout Europe and subsequently North America has not only been Norm's profession, but also his lifeblood. After early retirement from the paper Norm moved to Florida in the late 90s where he continued to write for numerous publications only to eventually open a retail business on Sanibel for wayward saltwater fly anglers. But several times throughout the year Norm still flies to Montana to visit his Mom who lives on the shore of the Beaverhead River in the town of Dillon. This convenient arrangement also provides him the opportunity to fish for the trout he cherishes in the state he truly loves. We met on one of those trips over a decade ago and have been friends ever since. Maybe even more significantly, we have become fishing buddies.

I am a solitary angler and usually prefer to fish alone, but not always. For nearly 50 years my brother and I have routinely fished together throughout the continent, and our angling expeditions are too numerous to recall. We always fish as one, sharing information to the benefit of our team effort. It is the bond that we have nurtured throughout a lifetime of memories, however, that is most important, and I sometimes wonder if two brothers have ever fished so much together anywhere.

Also I fish with my business partner and friend Glenn Brackett, but when we do he customarily goes off in one direction and I go in another. And when it is time to depart for the day we both return to the vehicle at precisely the same time without ever looking at a watch. Then on the ride home we rarely talk about the fishing other than agreeing that it was a good day to be on the water. For us it is sort of a Zen thing, an opportunity to be in the moment in the spirit of peace and goodwill.

And during my recent stay in the tropics I have partnered up with a fellow young enough to be my son. Despite the generational gap that separates us, Matt and I are both looking for the same thing, but I am not really sure what that is. It does have something to do with understanding saltwater fishing on our own terms, though we each would agree that it is difficult to quantify exactly what we have learned so far. Because Matt grew up fishing in Montana, we have a lot in common and that helps us assess our current situation. I admire the fact that he has committed a year to this venture. In the end though I can't appreciate enough that he has my back in this remote corner of Mexico.

Then there is Norm. Not only do we share the same passion for fly fishing, but we also enjoy peering into looking glass of life through the prism of a fly rod. It's the nuances of the sport from the oneness with nature to the thrill of the chase that connect us also. Additionally we are equally dedicated to the conservation of water resources throughout the country, and we regularly chat on the phone or email each other about the highs and lows of our ongoing fishing exploits including any environmental issue that threatens to impact fisheries we each know and care about. And when it came time for Norm to visit Montana, I would scout out all the hot spots appropriate for the season of the year to assure reasonable fishing opportunities throughout his stay. In return he would do the same when I occasionally showed up on his doorstep in Florida. This is what fishing buddies do.

So when I told Norm I was retiring and moving from Montana to Mexico, he was more shocked than if the moon exploded. And I have to say if there are any regrets about leaving Montana it is in the sad reality that there will be no more days on the water with Norm in the near future. Although I have assured him that we would get together there once again, we both know it won't be for a while. Until then we will reminisce about glistening autumn cutthroat reflecting the spectacular fall colors of the upper Ruby River, or recall the free rising grayling as they dimpled a very special pool on the upper Big Hole. Then there is the memorable Mother's Day caddis extravaganza on the Beaverhead, or the magical discovery of new water on beautiful Big Sheep Creek, or the big rainbows on a snowy, windblown Clark Canyon Reservoir, or the 105 degree day on the Kootenai and its dry fly redbands, or so many other experiences in our memory banks still waiting to be jarred by our collective consciousness. Recently Norm reminded me of the wonderful spring day we shared wading my favorite side channel of the Big Hole River where he caught a 23" brown trout while recovering from an operation and how that outing really uplifted his spirit. I could say the same thing to him about the days we fished together as I struggled after my wife passed away and how meaningful they were to me. And no matter how either of us felt at the time, we always enjoyed the cold hot dog sandwiches and rich chocolate brownies prepared by his mother Jan. She didn't want us "boys" to starve while on any of our adventures.

The Zeigler SchminnowOf all our remembrances there is one story Norm will never let me live down. This time we were looking for snook off one of the beaches on Sanibel Island. It should be noted that Norm is the creator of the well known very effective white fly he calls the "schminnow" which has accounted for more than a fair share of snook on Florida's west coast. Of course I had one tied on when we spotted a beauty creeping up the shoreline, but as is my custom in saltwater fishing I blew my one shot at it. After that Norm was noticeably dismayed when he saw me exchanging my schminnow for a Clouser's minnow. He just shook his head as I sheepishly explained that I needed a mojo adjustment. In mid change, however, another snook came sauntering along the shoreline. Although Norm urged me to try once again I told him to go for it since I wasn't quite ready. Of course it took Norm just one cast to hook the fish on his famous fly. After landing the 31" snook he looked at me with great disappointment and said, "You should have been using the schminnow." We both laugh about it now, but my blunder wasn't so funny then.

So the other day I was in a canoe on the local lagoon when a snook came moseying by. I had a popper on and cast it into its line of sight. Pop. Pop. The snook came up, looked at the fly, spooked, and then headed for the mangroves. Again Norm's words came to life and echoed through my memory, "You should have been using the schminnow."

Afterwards I emailed Norm and regaled my most recent blunder and implied that it will be quite a while before I become "Mexico's Greatest Fly Fisherman." He concluded his consoling response by saying he would tie a few schminnows and mail them to me as soon as he could.

Now that's a fishing buddy!

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The first time I visited Norm was the first time I tried fishing for snook. He gave me a couple of pointers and a few schminnows a... Read More
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 00:43
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Chetumal Bay, Mexico with Sweetgrass RodsOn a distant beach road at the very point where paradise begins far from the last vestige of modern civilization sits Costa de Coco's. Located on the Caribbean near the Mayan village of Xcalak at the very southern reach of the Yucatan Peninsula it is a pilapa style bar and restaurant complete with thatch roof accompanied by several nearby thatched cabins for lodging. After catering to scores of fly fisherman for over a couple decades the establishment is a bit tattered around the edges, but that is the essential charm of basking in its ambiance. Owner Dave Randall "found his beach" in the late eighties and has led a lifestyle ever since that many only dream of when watching a Corona beer commercial or longing for the day when they themselves can slip into the oblivion of a simple existence on the edge of nowhere - or rather a creative somewhere so far from anywhere that one can truly meld into the vastness of the open sea as it hastens a mystical renewal to burdened spirits and wayward souls.

A good night at Coco's is gazing at the ocean, sipping a margarita, and watching a bonefish swim by on the flat out front. A bad night at Coco's is gazing at the ocean, sipping a margarita, and seeing no bonefish at all. And while Sirius FM plays an array of musical nostalgia sung by artists like Jackson Browne, Gordon Lightfoot, or the Beatles through the softly lit background, one may drift into the reverie of catching an ephemeral glimpse of Papa Hemingway or even my hero Joe Brookes sitting at the bar reminiscing about the pioneer days of saltwater sportfishing while nursing a nightcap in anticipation of yet another day at sea. Instead in reality there is often a handful of knowledgeable anglers eager to share their stories, secrets, and even flies as they look forward to another day on the water in search of bonefish, permit, barracuda, and tarpon. This is a laidback atmosphere befitting of the tropical experience many serious fly anglers seek - myself included. And while the music sets the mood that stimulates many reflections from the past, a mind can effortlessly slide from thoughts of fishing to matters of uncertainty.

It has been a year since I left Montana and I often wonder what the hell I was thinking. I love the Big Sky State and its people. I love the rivers and the trout. I love building bamboo rods and all the friends I have met as a result. But still there was something missing, and a path that had yet to be followed defined this something. I always wanted to do more saltwater fishing, but this was a difficult task when living in Montana. Sure, booking a guide, being chauffeured to find fish, and subsequently being told where to place a fly has its merits, but learning the nitty gritty aspects about saltwater fly fishing without a guide and without leaving after spending a week in the sun was actually what I have longed for the most. But, I have to now ask myself, was giving up everything and risking it all to find my own beach at end-of-the-road Mexico worth it? At this point I really don't know. But when I heard Jimmy Buffet's classic tune "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude" playing on the radio at Coco's the other night, I was struck by a bolt of perspective. Life is too short, as I learned with my wife's passing, so when a path beckons - one should follow it.

Thus here I am, living on the Caribbean staring at the Mexican equivalent of Montana's Big Sky splendor. But so far what I have learned about saltwater fly-fishing could be written on a matchbook cover. Some info has come from other anglers. Some insight has been garnered from the guides at Coco's. Whatever else has been gleaned from sweating it out on any piece of water that looks good. The one thing I do know for certain is that catching bonefish on a bamboo rod is sublime. But other than that, being in the right spot at the right time on the right tide for the right fish with the right fly and the right rod is ultimately difficult. And more times than I would like, I have found that it doesn't hurt to be extremely lucky. Unquestionably it is exciting though to hack away here and there just like days of old when I learned to catch Montana's trout back in the 70s one fish at a time, one river at a time. At this point in life it is fun just to be challenged once again.

Perhaps the most intriguing tidbit I have discovered in my first few months of being here is that heavily pursued bonefish can be as testy as the most seasoned spring creek brown trout. For example, there is a nice bone that shows up on the much fished flat out front of my home every time the tide gets to a certain depth before ten in the morning or again after six in the evening. However, the timing of these tides is irregular at best, and also very difficult to predict. This particular fish feeds in the turtle grass about three feet from shore and it has become my nemesis. Numerous times I have tried to stalk it with no success. I saw it again this morning while drinking my morning coffee.

It should be noted that when it comes to saltwater the number of variables that can go wrong for me, and often do, are too many to list. Despite this fact every now and then I have been able to get my act together enough to deliver a few casts to this fish before the fly tangles in the wind or hangs up on the thick carpet of underwater grass signaling an alert that causes it to swim casually back to deeper water. But this morning I was ready for the opportunity presented once again. The rod was on the porch and the attached fly was the perfect size and weight. I put the coffee down, snuck out the door, and by the time I readied for a cast, the crafty bonefish was gone even before the fly hit the water. No way! This fish has taunted me for months. I swear it heard the cup clunk on the table and my footsteps tip-toeing in the sand. I am convinced it can sense what I am thinking. Even with my stealthy Sweetgrass Rod in hand this fish is not impressed. At this point I am considering calling a truce and maybe giving it a name....Joe, Carl, or even Bob to honor an old friend Bonefish Bob. Sometimes you have to be lucky, but sometimes you have to know when to quit. For sure, the next time I see "Bob" I'll sit back, relax, gaze at the ocean, and just enjoy another gulp of Mexican shade grown. Or better yet, sip on a margarita.

Like I have learned at Coco's. Down here, it's all good.

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