Man, it feels so good to be back…
When we started Mountain Dog Angling, we were just 4 young guys with a shared passion for fly fishing, and a desire to make a place for ourselves within the fishing community. After one of those great days of fishing, while we were drinking some cold snacks in the basement of our childhood home and riding the high from an afternoon of bent rods, the idea of creating a fishing company was born. We knew very little about how to establish a social media presence, about how to make videos, or really about how to run a business at all… We were also flat broke! But - lucky for us we had a supportive Father, who also shared our love of fishing, and has graciously sponsored the Mountain Dog team from the inception of this dream. We were younger, we had 0 real responsibilities, and all we thought about every day was trout and Rocky Mountain freestones…
I am starting this blog talking about the very beginning days of Mountain Dog because quite frankly they seem like a lifetime ago…
Since those early days - The Pack has:
The list could go on and on… but you get the point. Since those early days LIFE HAPPENED! Life happened for the Mountain Dog team… & We all get that! Every single person on earth can relate to that statement… LIFE HAPPENS MAN! No matter who you are, we all get swept up in the events and transitions of life. It is inevitable. We all wish we could be cowboys in Arizona, or pimps from Oakland, but you gotta grow up Peter Pan! Real life is a grind. It is hard, it is ugly, and it takes GRIT! No matter what it is that you do, to succeed in life you have to grab your proverbial (or literal) hard hat and lunch pale and clock into work every single day. Rain, shine, snow, sleet, it does not matter… You have to swallow the punches life throws at you, and just keep grinding.
I guess the point of that long rant was – that is exactly what Mountain Dog is all about. And our group is living proof of that. We are about the reality that life gets crazy and time can get away from us… but we will always have fly fishing to keep things in perspective. We aren’t Orvis, Simms, or Patagonia… and we most likely never will be. We are just everyday guys, grinders, who get up and go to work every single day knowing that the only river we will be seeing is the one in our day dreams. Guys that find their minds wandering to buttery browns at night when they take their ties off and hang up their suits after a long day at the office. This reality in no way dulls our passion, or Mountain Dog’s love for fly fishing. In fact, it only enhances it. Knowing that our days together on the river are few and far between makes the days we do get out on the water that much sweeter. Those are the days that I live for. Those are the Mountain Dog days.
My closing message is this… Nobody will ever be able to stop the bulldozer that is LIFE. LIFE is undefeated in that respect. All we can do is embrace the grind, and use the Mountain Dog days to keep things in perspective. Don’t take for granted doing the things you love; with the people you love. Enjoy the ride, and be sure to enjoy the Mountain Dog Days.
The word forever is one of the most versatile in an anglers vocabulary. It gets thrown around like a rag-doll into just about any type of conversation on the river. “Dude, I fought that one brown forever, I didn’t think that 6x was going to hang on.” Or you get the classic “I’m telling you man I haven’t caught a fish that big in forever”, which just hurts to hear from the guy who routinely nets mammoth trout.
My personal favorite is the forever that gets thrown around behind closed doors on the river. Sitting around the truck on Yeti coolers, eating awkwardly warm PB&J sandwiches washed down with a few beers while you let the trout reset mid-day. It’s inevitable that one guy in the group goes on a cold streak where his relationship with the trout is at an all-time low. Instead of trying to add up the number of trips and LDR’s since his last fish in the net, or simply being honest and saying it has been light years since his last fish, oddly enough “Man, he hasn’t caught anything in forever” seems to do the trick. However, this is like telling a pitcher he has a no-hitter going into the 8th inning, YOU DON’T DO IT. You just simply add it in to the group conversation when he’s taking a piss in the woods or something.
Here’s the kicker about forever in fly fishing. You have to be careful with it because at anytime you know that he could put it all together. Perfect cast, perfect set, perfect fight, perfect net. It’s somewhat inevitable. And next thing you know you’re taking a hero pic of him with a 20+ inch beauty that looks like what was on the front cover of the last Drake magazine you were reading. At that moment you say a silent prayer to the Trout Gods that you are not looking down the barrel at being the next target of “Damn, he hasn’t caught a fish in forever.”
Waking up on a frigid, foggy, 40-something degree autumn morning in Colorado is something you should never take for granted. About an hour and fifteen minute drive away from a 14-mile stretch of gold medal trout water. The possibility of getting 20+ in. fatty’s to the net fuels the fire that drives your passion for this lifestyle.
Soon your watch reads 7:25, so you lace up your boots and grab your Patagonia pullover in case it gets cold out there. You turn to leave and see your Winston Air leaning against the wall, right next to your abundance of equipment (which you bring with you every single time you go fishing, even if you haven't used some of that stuff in years). Again, your mind finds itself in the middle of a freestone trout stream. Casting a size 10 yellow belly hopper (even though you know trout have been hitting the minuscule size 24 trico right now), to a streamline monster in the back eddy under a large pine tree. The perfect cast, just the right fly choice, on-time hook set, a heart racing fight leading to an elusive SportsCenter Top 10 contending net job by your brothers. A legendary fish, picture, and moment. All in your head.
You see that rod sitting there full of possibilities and as hard as it is, you reluctantly grab your Mtn. Dog backpack. Not full of fly boxes, tippet and various reels, But, binders, pencils and a laptop. You strap on your go-to fishing cap and jump in the car headed to school. An empty rod vault, no Yeti cup full of magic fish-catching coffee and no half-ass made ham sandwich in the cooler. Not today. Today is just another day. Until tomorrow, because tomorrow who knows. Maybe you grab the R.L. Winston greenstick and head out into your comfort zone. You never know.
Of course the thrill of a bent rod and tight line is on every angler’s mind when they hit the water. But I believe fishing isn’t just about the fish. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of catching a hammer is the only thing I can think about when I’m sitting in class "listening" to the importance of MLA format. But the endless pursuit of fish on flies is really what it’s all about. As the old saying goes, “Trout live in beautiful places”. I believe exploring the world’s most beautiful water with a rod in hand and your foxhole guys next to you is the true thrill.
A summer ago my family and I road-tripped up to Melrose, MT, a few hours West of Bozeman (one of the fly fishing capitals of the world). Now, Melrose is not exactly a vacation hot spot for families, or anyone for that matter. However with one restaurant and a fly shop, the town draws anglers like moths to a flame. But, this trip was one that meant the world to the whole family, including my mom who isn’t exactly one for piecing together a 5 wt. The fall prior to the trip, my grandfather was diagnosed with severe lung cancer. The cancer spread so violently, three weeks later he tragically passed away. He would have loved nothing more than to come up to this mesmerizing fishing sanctuary and spend time with his family, while catching life’s most beautiful gift to the river. Nearing the end of our last day on the Big Hole river, my dad did something none of us expected. He tied on a fly that was tied by my grandfather’s grandfather in the 1930’s, not exactly the recipe we had been using on this trip. As if my grandfather had placed the fly in the trout’s mouth himself, the first cast my dad threw out he had a fish on. After an emotional fight with that magical rainbow trout, the moment we all shared holding up that full net was even more unbelievable.
Leaving the river, I threw in one final cast with the 1930 money fly at a beauty brown trout feeding near the surface. Soon getting snagged on the willow tree behind me, the line broke and the fly was stuck in the bark. Complete heartbreak came over me, as I had just lost a priceless treasure that would have probably gone under glass in our household. But, then my brother Adam said something that I’ll never forget, he said “hey, a piece of grandpa will stay here forever, right on the river we all love".
To many anglers, fishing is all about catching the most fish. But, I believe fishing is about more than catching fish. Henry David Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after”. The pursuit of trout, the beautiful places you visit, and the memories made with your buddies are the priceless gifts all fisherman can appreciate, even during the toughest days on the water. But, it only takes one bend of the rod to keep us trout junkies coming back.
Before you think I am the biggest wuss that ever walked in a river, let me preface the remarks you are about to read. I am unapologetically, Midwestern old school. You hand the ball to the referee after you score a touchdown. You don’t steal second base when you are up by double digits. There’s a pretty simple set of rules for me. I was told by my Dad years ago that you were born with only two things in this world, your good last name and your word. If you lose either one of those, you have nothing. I try to remember that every day.
I try to apply these principles to my fishing life as well. To me, it has truly never been about the fish, it’s about the experience with my sons. I freely admit that I am not the world’s greatest fly fisherman and likely won’t ever be, but there is no one that enjoys the experience as much as me. One of the other things I love about fly fishing is I have never met someone on the water that is a d-bag. I have fished in Saratoga, Wyoming, Melrose, Montana, Dutch John, Utah and plenty of the rivers in our home state of Colorado. Honestly, I can’t recall running into anyone that I would not otherwise want to spend the day throwing a line in the water with.
The other day though, that changed. Got up real early on New Year’s Day with my sons and headed out to one of the boys’ favorite honey holes. I shall change the name of the location to protect the innocent, so let’s just call it Reckers. Personally, I am 0 for Reckers. Never actually caught a fish there. Plenty of LDR’s, plenty of close calls, but no color in the net. Funny side note, I did catch my own net one time after it slipped out of my belt and I found it a mile down the river, but I digress.
My kids fished at Reckers the day before, and were struggling. A saint, sent down by the fishing gods, who apparently was a former guide in Alaska, took pity on them and offered some key advice. In fact, our hero changed their rig entirely, switched up their bugs and gave up the secret spot on the river to my kids. The boys were flabbergasted at this fishing saint’s generosity. They had met Mother Theresa, and they knew it. Almost immediately, they began the steady climb towards a slay-fest. They got home and could not stop talking about what Mother Theresa had done for them. I just loved the fact that Mother Theresa had taken time out from slaying trout to help my boys. They talked this up all night and convinced me to hit Reckers with them the next morning, with assurances that they had been taught the recipe to success at Reckers. I needed those assurances, because as stated above, Reckers blows in my eyes.
We got up at 6 a.m. and began the trek to Reckers. We were the second car in the lot, good sign for the day ahead. We started through the brush and headed in the direction of the boys’ newly christened honey hole. But unfortunately, there at the spot, was an interloper. No big deal though, he got there first. As he took a drag on his cancer stick and cast his line, we tried to make casual conversation. “Any luck”, I said. “Already caught 4”, said the Marlboro man. “Wow, that’s awesome, I have never caught a fish at Reckers”, I said. “Well, maybe today is your day,” said Smoking the Bear as he returned to slaying.
The time of our initial conversation was roughly, 8 a.m. No big deal. We did not want to be dicks and fish right next to the Smoking Bandit so we moved down the river, figuring, we’ll come back when Tobacco Tim moved on. I could see him as the hours passed, while I fished down river, and he just sat there and snagged bows, one after another. No pictures. No celebrations. No shouting. No yuks. He caught every fish, scooped it up in his net, lit another cig and unceremoniously tossed the unappreciated fish back in the clear river. This guy was a chain-smoking, fish-snagging machine. I was jealous and pissed, all at the same time.
Me and my boys continued on down the river for the next 4 hours. It was a pretty typical Reckers outing for me. Got one on the line, lost it. Got too far out on a rock in the river, and fell in the icy water. I watched with pride as my sons’ caught several fish. The excitement of watching them and trying to help net the big browns was awesome. You cannot replace watching your boys reeling in a hammer. We took some great pictures (my only real contribution) and laughed our asses off. But one of my kids had just had arm surgery (he was nicknamed Lefty for the outing) so we were going to cut our outing off at around 5 hours. As we headed back to our car, who did we walk by, but Mr. Menthol himself. Still in the same exact damn spot he was at day break. There he was, in all his smoky glory, in the honey hole we came for and that he had squatted in, and never relinquished. Let me reiterate, he never moved. Same exact spot. Over 5 hours, like a frickin statue, equipped with a chimney. Pulling fish out by the bushel full.
I was fuming. I get it buddy, it’s a good spot. But in the name of RL Winston, share the river. Share the good fortune. Not just with me and my boys, but with anyone. Is my opinion slanted by jealousy? Damn right. But you know what, the cool thing about fly fishing is the people. At my local fly shop, the guides I have met, fellow anglers I have just sat and bullshitted with, I have never met someone I wouldn’t otherwise want to have a beer with.
But this time, on this New Year’s Day, I did a slow burn, not unlike the nicotine stick dangling from this tool’s pie hole. Dude, you had a ten run lead on the river in the 8th inning and you just stole second on it. That was bush league. How about calling off the dogs. You catching your 20th fish of the day in the same god damn spot is like calling an onside kick when you are up by 30. Call me a wuss, call me a spoil sport. But there is a comradery amongst anglers who share the passion and addiction that is a tight line. I love sitting and talking with other fishermen who have been everywhere and seen everything. They love sharing their experience and expertise. What’s the first thing you ask someone when you get on the river, “any luck?” Second question, “what are you using?” Real anglers answer those questions readily, almost as if they are whispering the password to their brethren. My guess is that if I had asked the Marlboro Man what he was using on this day, his response would have been muffled by a puff of smoke and the splashing of his 30th fish of the day.
I guess the moral of the story is that the river needs more Mother Theresas’ and less Marlboro men. To the Sel-Fish Bastard that caught the Yeti full of fish on New Year’s Day, good for you bro. Just remember, the fishing gods don’t like running up the score on the river. Toke on that for a while.
As a Nineteen year old college student like myself, waking up at 6:00AM on your day off is like a swift kick to the balls. But at 6:00AM on this Saturday morning when my alarm blares Taylor Swift’s hit “Shake It Off” (My alarm since I was a Junior in High School) I sprung out of bed with a smug grin on my face… Today was the day.
It was a restless night for me. My dreams the night before were full of buttery browns, bodacious bows, and that high feeling you get from a bent rod and a tight line. I opened my blinds and see the Rocky Mountains off in the distance taunting me, freshly dusted with powder. I sit on the end of my bed and start putting my armor on for battle today. My trusty wool socks with a hole in the left big toe, my lucky sweatpants that have what used to be a silver nike swoosh on them, and finally my gently used quarter zip north face...Best combination in the game. I walk down the stairs from my room to find my brothers already geared up and waiting for me in the dark. “You’re late cat,” my little brother PJ whispers to me. I look at the microwave clock in the kitchen that reads 6:17AM… Late? Piss off. The three of us shared a moment of silence, but in that moment we all knew exactly what the other was thinking. Not the early morning, not the negative temperatures outside, nothing was going to stand in the way of our voyage today. Not today… Today was the day.
We loaded up my 2007 FJ Cruiser with enough Fly Fishing gear for a small army of people. The trunk was packed to the roof with rods, waders, boots, and turkey sandwiches we made the night before. Finally at 6:26AM we were off... Today was the day.
The drive from our house to the South Platte River in Deckers, Colorado is full of two lane canyon roads and tremendous wildlife outside. Inside the car, our ride was full of wishful comments, pleading with the fishing gods to bring us a “hog” or a “horse” or a “buick” or my personal favorite to let us meet “Barry Bonds.” Every group of people who has ever been fishing together surely has their own metaphors for describing the fish, my brothers and I just have more than usual. We talk strategy of what “sauce” we are going to put on the end of our lines, we joke about the temperature gauge in the car displaying a balmy 1 degree, and we talk about the “honey holes” from previous fishing trips where happened to have some luck. As we laughed our way through the canyon, we started to catch a glimpse of the sun. I find there is something incredibly peaceful about watching the sunrise… Today is the day.
After heavy debate the three of us decide on a spot, hoping that it happens to be the home of some hungry river monsters. As we step out of the car the cold Rocky Mountain air fills my lungs, and the new fallen snow sneaks into the cracks of my Birkenstocks, my shoe of choice on the water no matter the season. We waste no time gearing up our rods, tying double surgeons knots in the brisk wind and joking about what combination of flies is going to attract the buttery bruisers we all desire. Waders on, rods rigged, boots tied, and spirits high thinking of the endless possibilities today brings. The busier our lives get the more I learn to appreciate these trips with my brothers. The busier our lives get the more I learn to appreciate being out in the unknown, exploring new water, and the endless pursuit of fish on flies. In this moment I count my blessings, and smile. Just as it crosses my mind, my brother Adam says… “Today is the day!”
In my opinion every great fly fishing career starts with a double surgeons knot. Both ends through the loop and you’re essentially on your way. I learned my double surgeons about one summer ago. A family vacation to Montana spurred the urge to learn how to fly fish and in the year since then the unrelenting urge to feel a trout tighten my line has taken me all over the place, and then back again. I hooked up to a stubborn little rainbow on the Big Hole in Melrose, Montana and prayed that my newly learned double surgeons would hold on. That littler sucker didn’t know it but he hooked me more than the other way around. I spent an entire semester of college researching tail waters to fish over Christmas break and learned that mysis shrimp equal big fish. On Christmas morning I was no longer a rod renter when I unwrapped that slightly used Winston. I strung it up right then and there, then went out and whistled some casts into the snow. My Grandma bought me a fly-tying kit, DVD included, so I whipped up a few San Juan worms before christmas dinner. I convinced my dad that Alcolva, Wyoming is beautiful in mid December and we were the only drift boats on Gray’s Reef that day. Landed my first big bow when he decided to sample the purple size 22 Mcgruber and the new Winston brought him home. Then I found out how hard fly fishing really is. The outlets section of the Blue river humbled me, a lot. I found out how to take a shut out, I got pretty good at it actually. Started to loose faith that fish even ate flies anymore. I raked up more shut outs in one season than Nolan Ryan ever did. I learned the true meaning of persistence. I passed on Panama City, Florida for spring break and opted for Deckers, Colorado. I finally broke the streak and landed a 10 inch browny, damn it felt good. Over Easter I broke the 20 inch mark milestone on the Roaring Fork with an ugly looking rainbow or maybe it was a cutthroat? Who knows. I couldn’t have cared less. Capped that night off with the prettiest brown I’d ever seen. He took the RS2, works every time. Summer came and I battled my first run off, the San Juan worm kept the fish happy. In my first weekend off of my summer job I dead headed it out to Dutch John, Utah and traded hats with one of the coolest guides in the game. Hauled in 9 “best fish I’d ever landed” right in a row. Watched my first cruising fish run down my Wolly Bugger in a mountain pond and finally got the Parachute Adams working off of Y-camp road. I fished the famed Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan and learned even a 6 inch brooke trout will hammer a dry. Then had some killer guides let me in on “mousing”. I spent the next 4 moonless nights trying to find the Jaws of trout who would rip on a mouse pattern. I got shut out but I also became addicted. I still haven’t met one bad person on the water and I still haven’t been to an ugly trout stream. I spent more time with my family than any summer before and had more fun while I was at it. They say fly fishing is a life sport and to that I’d say you’re damn right it is. One full year in the books and I’m already planning my next excursion. In year two I want to land a bass on a fly rod and get into carp fishing, maybe even land a brown big enough to be put on the wall with pride, but in all honesty I’ll appreciate any fish that will test my double surgeons knot.
It’s a little different here, in small town Central Illinois. No, I am not driving two hours in to the mountains to snag a rainbow covered hog. It is a different pig I am after this summer. After dinner with the family, I head out the garage, put my rod in the back of the F-150, and head out to a top secret honey hole 15 minutes down the highway. It’s definitely no Colorado stream, but damn is it pretty at sunset.
All I can remember about my trips to CO is the sound of the river rushing past when all else is silent. Here, it is the crickets and frogs that are the noisiest. Hell, you have to walk a mile and a half to get back there so you can’t even hear the faint passing car. The hard part about bank fishing during mid summer in Illinois, is the moss grows thick. I’m sure if I had Adam’s Flycraft I would catch more fish. No, it’s not a Colorado stream.
Even though the scenery is much different, once I forge my way out there, everything else is the same. As soon as the first fly touches the water, I am dialed in. I remember the first bass I caught on a fly rod, I half expected to pull a trout out of the water after the fight it gave me. For 3 hours I will move around that pond, skimming my fly across the water, chasing the large and small mouth bass. No, it’s no Colorado river, but for now, this is my oasis.
Alex, Andy, and I, took our first shot at sliding into a set of waders and piecing together a five weight in the summer of 2015. And like all you other rod junkies out there, we were obsessed. We spent our entire fall semester in a dorm room in Illinois planning our spring break trip to Colorado. Pounding the books gave way to dreams of rainbows at night. Our plan was six straight days of fishing, trying to make the transition from being as clueless as a 75 year old man trying to use an iPhone, to being rookies, but the kind of rookies that even the hardened river veteran could look at us and see some promise for the future.
The majority of our days would be spent fishing the South Platte at Deckers, but the crown jewel of our trip was a day trek to the Blue River or, as a local fly shop keep dubbed it, “the Hog Farm”. The thought of a 24” inch rainbow trout on the end of my line kept me up the night before, fish porn at its finest. The three of us, a young and hungry fish posse, fired out at four thirty in the morning. We were the first anglers in the parking lot of the infamous outlet mall that adorns the banks of this gold medal Colorado trout stream. We had the pick of the river we wanted to fish. Our choice was a prime piece of water located directly below the I-70 overpass. The moment my boots hit the water the sheer possibility of what river monster would sip on my double nymph set up had my heart racing. Nothing against my first kiss at the county fair when I was fifteen, but I would take this rush every time. Cast after cast, re-rig after re-rig, we were starting to lose our buzz. And to compound the problem, our precious real estate was being encroached upon by every hog wrangler this river town had to offer. They wanted our water, and frankly, based upon our lack of success, I knew time was short. I stood not twenty yards from a guy who pulled out ten fish in an hour. Selfish bastard.
He must have caught me gawking at his mastery of the Blue because as he netted a monster 26” inch rainbow trout, it easily would have been too much dinner for a grown grizzly bear to finish, he called over to me, “Hey buddy could you come snap a picture?” I ran over like Kate Upton had called me. When I returned for my rod, my brother looked at me and quite famously uttered the signature line of our little fishing team, “Was that a trout, or a fucking Buick?” The three of us lost it. Every guy on the Blue heard us laughing, disturbing the relative calm of the river. We spent the next six hours giving fish concussions with our flies. I stood over one particular hole looking down at sixteen fish. They glanced at my bugs like they were tacos from the back of a truck, tasty looking but the result of consumption wasn’t something they were interested in.
For all of our faults as fledgling fly fishermen, nobody can ever say we didn’t work hard enough. We were on the water from eight until five just trying to convince a Buick to bite. Actually, forget a Buick. I would have settled for the trout equivalent of a unicycle. We left Silverthorne, Colorado that day empty handed. Shut out. We limped back home, tails between our legs. The utter depression amongst our group left us without words as we made the long trip home in silence. I couldn’t help but think that we were the worst fishermen in America. So bad in fact I would undoubtedly have to pay fourteen dollars for my next copy of the Drake.
We finished out our spring break trip on a modest streak, pulling out five bows in all. Certainly less than our Illinois dorm room dreams, but more than we actually were expecting. We always tell ourselves that even the best fisherman had to start somewhere. You have to pay your dues to the river. Every time we sit down and retie our flies it’s an opportunity to learn and try to perfect the art of fly fishing. Someday soon we will return to the Hog Farm and who knows, maybe this time we will be driving home from the Blue with a Buick.