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Destinations on the Fly

By Josh Lantz - June 17, 2022
Unique and travel-worthy summertime fly-fishing opportunities from coast to coast

Summer is here and the days are long, just like the rods fly anglers use to play their favorite games on the water. No matter where you live or fish, the extra daylight hours afforded in the coming weeks and months are gifts from the angling gods. We talked with three expert fly fishermen from different corners of the country about how you might consider using them.

Midwest Roots

Before the Rocky Mountain states became the beating heart of much of today's American fly-fishing culture, the sport sprouted its continental roots in the Northeast and Midwest. Much of North America's earliest fly-fishing history was made in the Catskills of upstate New York, in Northern Michigan, and throughout Canada's Northern maritime provinces. While the region's native brook trout and Atlantic salmon were the most popular species targeted historically, these areas offer contemporary fly fishers incredibly diverse opportunities for a variety of trout and salmon species, as well as a near-endless list of warmwater targets including largemouth and smallmouth bass, true bass, pike, panfish, muskellunge and carp.

Gunnar Brammer offers testimonial. Professional fly-tyer and owner of Brammer's Custom Flies, Brammer spends a great deal of time pursuing bass and pike each year but remains devoted to summer streamer fishing for trout - specifically, the trophy-sized brookies scattered throughout the remote corners of Minnesota's Northwoods.

A loner, Brammer focuses on water off the beaten path. "I don't pick rivers and streams based on the species I want to tackle, I find water that has the fewest people. Period," says Brammer. "I don't like the stocked, findable, obvious runs butting up against the roads. I'm hunting brook trout in backwoods, skinny water that gets even skinnier come summer, to the point where you'd wonder how trout can even survive there."

Brammer casts big flies for big fish almost exclusively. "I'm throwing 4-inch streamers to imitate creek chubs, which is far bigger than anything I see anyone else throwing." But that could be because where Brammer fishes, he rarely encounters other anglers, covering miles and miles as quickly as he can, sling-shotting precision casts and cutting through jungle-like vegetation to find fish that never see an angler.

"I focus on those little elevation changes in the streams that allow trout to make a living. Each pool is a home, and I just knock on the door," he says. Brammer's knocking is done with simple variations on rabbit-strip zonker patterns - original concoctions like the "Seasoned Geezer" or the colorful "Butt Monkey" with sandy browns and pink hues that mimic the creek chubs that reside in these streams. "Those big brookies follow creek chubs into faster water, and flies that imitate a hurt chub really make them race to it," Brammer says. "Most anglers won't challenge those fish with a fly that big, but I want the baddest trout in the hole, whether he's ten inches or 20."

If Brammer's streamers are the knuckles that rap the door, the arm that does the knocking is usually a St. Croix Mojo Trout fly rod. "I'm a big fan of the different lengths and weights offered in the Mojo Trout Series," Brammer says, adding that the 11-rod series gives him the ability to tackle any part of any stream in the region, depending on cover, casting distance required, and the species being targeted. Brammer gravitates towards the more moderate action Mojo Trout rods for tossing streamers in quick-strike do-or-die-type trout runs but loves the faster Imperial USA when delicate tip-work is required. "The Imperial is definitely faster - which helps optimize casting in the hands of more experienced angler - but in my case it also imparts more nuance to the motion of the fly," he says. "If you need to articulate that streamer or make it stop on a dime, Imperial is an incredible choice for a more-precise strip and retrieve. Surround your needs with a few sticks that satisfy the approaches you're looking to take from a technique standpoint, then throw what makes sense for each given scenario. Don't try to do every job with a single rod."
Brammer says both series also do a great job of keeping hooks in place. "Mojos especially are excellent shock absorbers," Brammer relates. "There's literally nothing a fish can do to get that hook out of there as long as it's sharp." He's also careful not to put too much pressure on fish, noting that in his experience - especially with steelhead - extra pressure can have an opposite result from what's intended. "If you want to prolong the fight and make them run 100 yards into the next hole, just lean on them extra heavy," he says. "I've found that with nearly all species, it's a balancing act to apply the right amount of pressure that keeps the fish under control inside a window right in front of you."

Simple fishing requires simple rigging, with Brammer most often opting for short, five-foot leaders of straight ten-pound monofilament. "This is streamer fishing, and I'm not fishing super-clear water or making long presentations to rising fish," he says. "This is dark, tannic water and they either see the fly and smack it or they don't. I'm running and gunning, walking and casting to the next high-percentage spot as fast as I can. Strip, strip, move…strip, strip, move. Only the top dogs have the instinct to get after big flies in their face, and that's the headspace I'm in as an angler. I only want to fish for that fish, because it's the most rewarding thing I can do."

Best of the West

The Rocky Mountain states offer countless miles of freestone rivers, spring creeks, mountain lakes, diverse hatches, and more anglers shaking sticks at trout hiding behind every boulder than any other region on earth. Just a bit further west, however, the State of California has all this and more - great western trout fishing, plus abundant warm-water fly-fishing opportunities and 850 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline.

John Sherman knows California's fly fishing opportunities - and its fly fishermen - well. As a sales representative for St. Croix Rod and other top fly-fishing brands, Sherman has been immersed in California's fly-fishing industry and fisheries for decades.

"We're seeing peak runoff happening right now," says Sherman, who predicts better-than-normal early-season trout fishing this year because of relatively low snow-pack. "Our Northern California rivers like the Sacramento, McCloud, and others fed by Mount Shasta are going to be fishing really well. There's been a bit more runoff in the Sierra's, but those rivers will be fishing well too though, and very soon."

Sherman says standard 4-, 5- and 6-weight rods like those found in St. Croix's Imperial USA and Mojo Trout series cover the gamut of California's trout-fishing opportunities and hatches. "Anglers can expect consistent caddis, PMD and golden stonefly hatches on the McCloud and Sacramento Rivers throughout the summer, and we've got a famous hex hatch on the Fall River and up at Lake Almanor as well that a lot of our local fly fishermen get rightfully excited by. The hexes will start coming off as we get closer to the end of June and the action will extend into August," he reports.

Sherman says bass fishing at California Delta lakes is also in full swing. "They're finishing up the spawn and there's going to be a lot of exciting fishing for numbers of fish, especially with so many bucks actively guarding their broods for the next few weeks," he says. "It's a topwater or just sub-surface game right now as the bass are still shallow. Mojo Bass Fly or Imperial USA 7- or 8-weight rods casting aggressive bass-bug-taper floating lines carrying poppers or large, deer-hair divers will get it done."
In addition to the proven, big-bass waters of the Delta area and Clear Lake, Sherman says lesser-known lakes like New Melones, Tulloch, Success, and McLure are all worthy of consideration by fly anglers, each offering legitimate opportunities for trophy largemouths. He also says there's more than trout getting fat on Lake Almanor's hex hatch. "There's a good smallmouth population on Almanor, and this month when the hexes come off is a great time to catch some really nice ones." At the southern end of the state, Sherman says a lot of bass will be caught throughout the summer on 6-to-8-weight rods with sinking lines, short 12-to-20-pound leaders and shad-imitating streamers.
Fly fishing for carp has exploded throughout the country over the past decade. "Anytime you can combine the challenges and excitement of sight-fishing for fish over ten pounds, you've got a game that's going to be embraced by fly anglers," Sherman says. "And that's just what's happened with carp fishing. "Northern California offers fly fishermen great opportunities to target big common carp on our Delta reservoirs and rivers," he says. "The most-common setups consist of Imperial USA 8-weight rods, floating lines, and nine-foot 16-20-pound fluorocarbon leaders. In the way of flies, there's some really creative carp patterns out there, but most carp anglers have the most consistent results with Whitlock swimming nymphs, small crawdad patterns and clam imitations."
West of California's coastal mountains lie over 800 miles of pacific shoreline, offering incredibly diverse fly-fishing opportunities from beach or boat.

"Many anglers don't realize how good California's striped bass fishing is," says Sherman. "After spawning in the rivers in the spring, they move back out into the ocean and can be targeted from the beaches throughout the summer. Coastal waters near the mouths of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and the entire San Francisco Bay area are the best spots to intercept California's anadromous stripers. Most fly anglers plying the surf are using longer switch rods like the 11' 7-through-9-weight models found in St. Croix's Imperial USA series and are throwing anchovy patterns on type III sinking or intermediate sinking lines." Sherman says most beach-caught stripers are between two and 20 pounds, and that the fish can also be targeted on some inland reservoirs and the lower stretches of the Sacramento River.

Surf perch are another popular species with fly anglers and are available along much of the California coast year 'round. "6- and 7-weight rods between nine and ten feet in length are most often used to target surf perch, which can run up to three pounds or so," Sherman says. "They're largely hunting sand crabs just like the corbina are, which is another really fun species to target in the surf with the fly rod, although further south. South of Santa Barbara, the corbina come into super skinny water to feed on the sand crabs, so it's a blast sight fishing to them in just inches of water."

Offshore, Sherman says fly anglers can have success targeting diverse, hard-fighting pelagic species all summer long. "Boat and kayak anglers are using 8-to-12-weight flyrods to target anything from calico bass to tuna, with bonito and yellowtail being two of our more popular species," he says. "St. Croix's Imperial Salt fly rods are ideal tools in these applications, offering incredible performance for their price, just like Imperial USA freshwater fly rods, but with increased power and true, saltwater-grade components."

Florida Keys

Recognized internationally as one of the world's top fishing destinations, the Florida Keys were largely inaccessible to anglers until 1912, when the railroad finally connected Florida's mainland to Key West. Since that time, the Florida Keys have remained a central and constant presence in the evolution of saltwater fly fishing.
Captain Scott Brown is a devoted steward of our natural resources and a proponent for future angler development. He juggles being a fishing guide, an active-duty soldier, a father to two young kids, and husband to a wife who equally cares about mentorship and development. Together they formed Hooked on Family, a digital platform with the main goal of recruiting more parents into the outdoors. For Brown, being out on the water sharing his passion and educating others is exactly where he wants to be. He recently created Valiant Traditions, a nonprofit organization with the goal of locating wounded warriors and gold-star family members and taking them on fully funded guided fishing trips. Brown operates Push It Good Inshore Fishing Charters, specializing in light-tackle angling and fly fishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit in the Lower Keys.

"The tarpon migration is still in full swing on the Atlantic side right now but will start winding down as we get closer to the end of June," says Brown, who will soon transition from targeting 100+ pound adult silver kings with 10- and 11-weight fly rods to putting clients on juvenile resident tarpon, abundant bonefish, and permit with eight-to-10-weight rods. "The waters I'm fortunate to call home provide the best chance anywhere in the United States for anglers to catch a permit on the fly," Brown continues. "We have really good permit fishing in March before they head offshore to spawn, but they return inshore in July and the chase is back on."

In the coming summer weeks, Brown will typically begin his fishing days seeking resident tarpon between ten and 40 pounds in the deeper holes and channels adjacent to the flats. "We'll fly fish for tarpon until the sun gets up high enough to create adequate sight-fishing on the flats for bones and permit," says Brown, who pairs 9- and 10-weight St. Croix Imperial Salt rods for these tarpon with Cortland Liquid Crystal Series floating lines and ten-to-14-foot leaders. His leaders are constructed from a 60-pound butt section tapered to a 16-pound IGFA tippet with a 40- or 50-pound bite guard. For flies, Brown most often uses hand-tied black and purple cockroach variations or red palolo worm imitations, both tied on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks.

"Once the sun gets higher and spotting conditions improve, we'll leave the tarpon and begin the hunt for bonefish and permit in thigh-high water on the flats," says Brown, who believes tide phase to be less important than depth in this particular game. "Whether we're casting to bonefish or permit, minimal false-casting is the key to hooking up, not necessarily casting distance," Brown continues. "Speed and accuracy are the name of the game… these fish are often moving and they are always spooky, so you need to deliver the fly quickly, on target, and without the unnecessary disturbances of excessive false casting."

Brown favors accurate and powerful, made-in-the-USA, 8-weight Imperial Salt rods for bonefish and 8-to-10-weight Imperial Salt models for permit, depending on conditions and the size of the fish, which usually run between ten and 20 pounds. Again, he expresses an affinity for Cortland fly lines - also made in the USA - opting for Tropical Series Bonefish Taper floating lines and long, ten-to-12-foot leaders. "Long leaders are key, because you can't have that line landing anywhere near these skittish fish," adds Brown, who prefers his clients cast size-two mantis shrimp patterns in muted, natural colors for both bonefish and permit. "You can have good results presenting a crab pattern to tailing permit, but you can't animate or move those flies because they don't look natural unless they're basically drifting," Brown says. "The shrimp patterns are designed to swim and flee like real shrimp, so they can be a more versatile and more forgiving choice for both species."
While Brown says June and July are exciting times to come to the keys - especially July if your goal is to catch a permit - he believes the best time to go fly fishing is whenever you can go. "There's really no bad time to come and fish the Keys," he says. "Despite some of the best fishing of the year, a lot of my clients will avoid September, just because it can be so hot here then. But I'm really blessed to be able to live and work here. There's no other place like it and we've always got cooperative fish we can cast a fly to."
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