Major Leaguer’s Nice “Catch”

Although fly fishing is often hailed as one of the more peaceful and serene American pastimes, it also seems to go hand in hand with one of America’s most notable and beloved – Baseball.

Former Major League Baseball player Tony Graffanino, who played Second Base for Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City, Boston, Milwaukee and Cleveland from 1996-2009, is also apparently quite the outdoorsman.  Below, you’ll find an update we received from Tony after using WRF flies this past summer to land quite a few “catches” of a different kind!

 [These are a] couple of the fish I caught on a [Wild River Flies] Copper John.  Thanks for the flies.  The fly boxes [they came in] were great too.  God Bless.” – Tony Graffanino

Looks great, Tony, keep it up and keep in touch!

Spring Fishing in St. Ansgar, Iowa

Bob Menzies – 

Last April I was scheduled to drive from Springfield, MO to Minneapolis in order to spend time with my brother and his family. Before I embarked on my journey, I had a brilliant idea. Why not stop along the way and do some fly-fishing in Iowa? I didn’t want to deviate too far from the highway and thus was not able to travel into Northeast Iowa where there are a number of wonderful trout streams. So, I decided to check out the most western trout stream in Iowa that looked good. This led me to a hidden and unheralded fly-fishing paradise.

Check out this brief video that features trout fishing in St. Anshar, Iowa:

St. Ansgar is a tiny community that boasts a rich history that reaches back into the 19th century. Its historic homes, main street buildings, and beautiful churches evoke an earlier era. When you enter the quaint town, you really do feel as if you are walking back in time. This nostalgic setting, however, can be deceptive; for the conservation practices in this part of Iowa are thoroughly modern. I was delighted to find that nearby Turtle Creek is stocked with trout on a regular basis from April through October.

This part of Iowa in April is absolutely beautiful. The blue sky and cool weather, coupled with the warm reception the brown and rainbow trout gave me, made for a fantastic day of fly-fishing. My Wild River Flies were a big hit with the trout. They loved the dry flies and also beaded nymphs. I caught and released five nice trout within three hours. I had so much fun that I couldn’t help but stop and fish again on my way back to Springfield. Again, I caught and released four trout in as many hours. If you get the chance and have a fly-rod, don’t pass by this lovely little Iowa town without spending at least a few hours fishing in the nearby paradise that is Turtle Creek.

Click Here for more information on trout fishing in Turtle Creek near St. Ansgar.



A Matter of Necessity

Cheap Fly Fishing FliesBob Menzies – 

Early one morning in Thailand I trudged down to the beach in order to catch a glimpse of the new day’s dawn.  The sun had just broken through the horizon.  It painted the sky with a crimson coat, and this vivid hue was mirrored in the waves that lapped at my feet.  I was enthralled by the beauty of the ocean and caught up in the moment.

That is when I saw him.  He appeared out of the corner of my eye.  He too was trudging along the beach.  But he was not here to take pictures or enjoy the moment.  His net was out and clearly he was here to fish.  My focus soon shifted to his art: the silent way he entered the water and sought his prey; the rhythm of his movements as he swung his net; and the methodical way he brought in the catch and prepared for the next cast.

As I admired this man’s skill, I thought of my own fishing experiences.  It became clear to me that a great gulf separated our approaches to fishing – a gulf defined by necessity.  I suspect that this man fished not simply for fun, but to support his family.  This was his vocation, his livelihood, and his life.  Although we shared much in common, I fished for fun, for adventure, and for the challenge.

We shared a bond, this man and I.  It is a bond defined by the thrill of attempting to overcome the challenge posed by fish and the sea.  But a great chasm also divided us.  His challenge was far more weighty and serious than mine.  His life depended on his ability to face this challenge and to overcome it.  I left the beach thankful that mine did not.

Fly Fishing Flies


A Larger World

Bob Menzies –

When you think of fly-fishing, cool mountain streams and beautiful rainbow trout probably come to mind.  This too is how I used to think.  However, my vision has changed.  I have seen a new, larger world.
Booglebug Fly

A queue of Booglebugs, waiting eagerly for their next catch!

My glimpse of this new world began about eight years ago.  That was when I first encountered the finest cork popping bug of them all – the Booglebug.   This beautiful fly, hand-crafted from cork, hackle, and an assortment of other materials, enabled me to fish in warm water lakes and rivers with my fly rod!  To my utter amazement, I began to catch bass, bluegill, and other warm-water fish with the flick of my wrist.  When I experienced the thrill of that first strike on my Booglebug, I was a changed man.  In an instant, the old boundaries that had circumscribed my fly-fishing world were shattered.  Now, trout still swim though my fishing dreams, but so do bass and bluegill.  Lakes and rivers merge together with those cool mountain streams in my vision of fly-fishing heaven.

The global implications of this larger vision became apparent to me this past May.  I normally live in Southwest China and had lost all hope of doing any fly-fishing there.  No, there are not many trout streams in our neck of the woods.  The one place near us that can boast of cold mountain streams is pretty much off limits for fishing. This area is populated with Tibetans, who loathe fishing due to their Buddhist beliefs and unique burial practices.  The mountain streams often serve as the resting place for their dead.  Understandably, this makes fishing far less attractive in these areas.

Booglebug trout fishing

Soon Lee teaching our Chinese friends how to cast

So, it was with some surprise, that I heard the news. A representative of the International Federation of Fly Fishers – a board member no less – was coming to visit us in Kunming, China.  I was told that a group of IFFF certified instructors from Taiwan and Malaysia had organized a fly-fishing festival in Suining, a beautiful area just east of Chengdu, China.  Soon S. Lee, IFFF board member and casting instructor extraordinaire, would be attending and, afterwards, planned to visit our little fly-tying center outside of Kunming.

Soon Lee arrived as planned and we had a delightful time.  We treated him to some of our local cuisine and he taught a group of our friends how to cast with a fly rod.  I can still see the joy on the faces of several of my Chinese friends as Mr. Lee tutored them in the art of fly-fishing.  We began in the courtyard of our center and then moved to our pond, which is stocked with an assortment of carp.  I had never tried fishing in the pond, for I had always viewed carp as bottom feeders.  I assumed that they would not be interested in a top water fly.

Booglebug trout

Soon Lee displays the grass carp he caught on a Booglebug

Just as our day of instruction began to wind down, I was startled by cries of excitement from the crowd.  I turned to see Soon Lee holding up for all to see a large grass carp.  He had caught the grass carp with a Booglebug!  He implored me to try and, to my surprise, I didn’t have to wait long.  A big carp hit my first cast.  My world had just gotten a lot bigger.


A Win, Win

Bob Menzies

Wild River Flies

Da Li is a member the Bai Yi (White Yi) tribe and, along with her family, she lives in a village adjacent to our Fly-tying Center in Southwest China.  She was also among the first ladies our Montana-native fly tying expert trained to tie flies for the U.S. fly-fishing market and has now been working with us for nine years.  Da Li stood in the room that houses our fly-tying project and, with a big smile, declared, “My daughter is attending University.  We couldn’t have dreamed of this opportunity if it were not for my work here.”

Her words touched me.  I thought back to the beginnings of our fly-tying project and remembered how we had established the program almost a decade ago.  We faced many obstacles in those early days.  We needed to build trust with the villagers, who wondered what these “big noses” were doing in rural China.  In spite of the challenges, through the years we have seen this project benefit all who are involved, both the American entrepreneurs and our Chinese workers.  Since most of the materials used to make Wild River Flies come from the United States and all of our flies are sold in the U.S. (we do hope to sell in the U.K. and New Zealand as well), this business clearly benefits the U.S. economy.  The key investors in this enterprise are also all Americans.  However, all of our skilled workers, like Da Li, are Chinese ladies from rural villages.

Trout Flies

Bill & Terry Krise teach the village ladies a new pattern

Da Li’s experience is not unique.  I have heard other similar comments from our workers in our Center in Yi Liang, another rural community that specializes in the production of Wild River Flies.  Clearly, Wild River Flies is also blessing members of the local community with opportunities to enhance their standard of living.  As Da Li indicated, it is opening new possibilities for this industrious and gifted group of people.  In short, this enterprise is a “Win, Win.” It benefits the economies and people of American and China.

With a big grin, I told Da Li, “You are an excellent worker.  We feel privileged to be able to work together with you.  We are thrilled that we can pay you a good wage and, in this way, help your daughter pursue her university studies.”  Of course, Da Li, with her skills, training, and excellent materials imported from the U.S., also produces some of the finest flies available on the U.S. market. And so do the other village ladies.  Clearly, Wild River Flies is a “Win, Win.”




Fly Fishing Tactics: Drop-Back Attack for Steelhead

Salmon Fly Fishing

Illustration by Chris Philpot

“Winter steelheading in Great Lakes tributaries involves icy flows, sluggish feeding, small flies, and big crowds. Spring fishing means big bugs and voracious hits. Success with fish dropping back into the lake now is all about effectively covering a run—which you should have all to yourself this time of year.

1 / Get a Head Start

Begin at the head of a run and fish the seams between the fast center and slower edges, where  steelhead can intercept food without fighting the teeth of the current. Drift a stonefly nymph or conehead Woolly Bugger under an indicator. Clip the hackle off the Bugger to make it look more like a baitfish.

2 / Meat in the Middle

At mid run, switch to a Zonker. Cast long and slightly upstream, and then strip the streamer back so it swims across the run, showing its full profile to any fish. If you move a steelhead and it misses, remember its exact location. Come back later and drift the same lane with a nymph-and-indicator rig.

3 / Swing Low

Take a few steps downstream. Cast across the run with a dark-colored Intruder and let it swing through the tailout, stripping the fly upstream as the swing ends. This fly has a weighted head that helps it get down fast. Keep a death grip on your rod because a drop-back that hits on the swing can yank it from your hand.”

For additional information, you can view the full article here.

A Matter of Perspective

Bob Menzies – Springfield, MO

Admit it, we’re all guilty.  We all tend to hold our proudly caught fish forward with the arm fully extended so that when the camera clicks, the fish looks larger than it really is.  It’s a matter of perspective, a revered fishing tradition.

Yet I have rarely considered how our perspective also changes with the passing of time as one grows from a child to an adult.  Consider how a huge fish looks in the eyes of a child.  Imagine the excitement, the thrill.

Recently I passed through the old neighbor where I grew up.  I was amazed as I walked down the street of my old block where I had ridden my bike with reckless abandon and played some pretty outstanding baseball (at least in my dreams).  I was amazed because everything seemed so small.  The “huge” field at the end of the street where we played ball was gone.  The small lot I now surveyed was a pale shadow of the grand field of my childhood memories.  What had happened?  I had grown and my perspective had changed.

Fly Fishing Blog

Paul Henderson (91) with his wife, Harriet

Surely the same is true of fishing.  It’s a matter of perspective.  Last week I heard a story that reminded me of what it feels like when a little boy catches a big fish.  The story comes from Paul Henderson.  Paul is now 91 years old and still sharp as a tack.  Paul has the distinction of serving our country as a Navy seaman in both theaters (European and Asian) of World War II.  He is an avid fly-fisherman and has been fishing in the trout streams of Southwest Missouri for the past 77 years.  Paul grew up in Monett, MO and managed one of his favorite streams, Roaring River, back in 1949.  Of course, after so many years of fishing experience, Paul has some amazing stories.  This story took place in 1933 when Paul was just 10 years old.

Paul was fishing with his father and Uncle Ether on the Tennessee River near Benton, KY.  Uncle Ether was an experienced fisherman and skilled at handling a boat.  They set out in the 22-foot long rowboat and cast out their lines.

Time passed and Paul began to pull in the trout line and re-bait the hooks.  Suddenly, the water next to the boat began to swirl and foam. Uncle Ether immediately grasped what was happening and called out, “Ease up on the line.”  He then told Paul’s Dad how to land the great fish churning the water beside their boat, “Grab the gills of the fish and pull it into the boat by laying back and hauling it onto your chest.” Paul’s Dad did exactly that.  He pulled the monster from the water and laid back into the boat.  The fish was now laying on his body in the bottom of the boat!  Amazingly, the fish did not move.  Later, Paul would learn that the heat of his Dad’s body calmed the fish.  It must have seemed like a warm sand bar in the middle of the river.  Uncle Ether instructed Paul to cut the line – Paul’s line, the line that he was pulling in (hey, this was Paul’s fish!) – from the giant Yellow Cat’s mouth.

Fly Fishing Blog

Paul Henderson (10) posing with his prize in 1933

They rowed to shore in quiet amazement, careful not to startle their whale.  Finally, after they arrived at the dock, they put a large rope through the fish’s gills.  Only when they hoisted the fish up by throwing the rope over the branch of a tree did the fish begin to thrash.  As the fish dangled under the limb, it writhed and jerked with such violence that it cut deep grooves into the branch.  The giant Yellow Catfish was taller than Paul and, at close to 60 pounds, weighed about the same as well.

Paul’s eyes gleamed as he told the story.  Although 81 years had passed, it seemed that for Paul it was only yesterday.  I wondered, in Paul’s memory, how big was that fish?

Family “Ties”

Family Fly Fishing

Alaska – Glen (L) & Bob (R) fishing with their father, Bill

Bob Menzies – Springfield, MO

Family and fishing are inextricably linked in my mind.  Many of my fondest memories of great family times together are connected to fishing.  I grew up in the 1960s and 70s of Southwest Missouri.  Our Saturdays were often spent on Lake Taneycomo (the name stems from Taney County, Missouri) near Branson fishing for trout.  Our family operated on a limited budget, but it didn’t take a lot of cash to rent a small, aluminum boat.  Our little Envinrude motor fit easily into the trunk of our car.  It was back breaking work hauling that motor to the boat, but this momentary inconvenience paled into insignificance when compared to the thrill of motoring out onto the lake.

My parents had two kids, they said it only seemed like more.  My older brother and I were quite a handful, but we loved to be out on the water and fish.  The lake somehow had the power to tame two rambunctious boys.  So the Menzies family – all four of us with the excitement that only those who fish can know – launched our boat and drifted out into the cool water of Lake Taneycomo in search of trout.  Our common purpose formed a unique bond that was enhanced by the exquisite beauty of our surroundings.  We were a family united by blood and focused on a single objective.  These were great times which we would later celebrate and sing about around camp fires and dinner tables.

My mother always seemed to catch the most and the largest fish.  She had a way with animals as well as fish.  I think they all must have intuitively sensed her kind and compassionate heart.  She loved God’s creation and was endowed, it seemed to me, with some extraordinary power when a rod was placed in her hands.  She surely could catch trout, better than any of the men in our family.  She knew how to cook them too.  Our family was blessed.

I was always a little too impatient to be a good fisherman.  But my brother’s insatiable curiosity led him to utilize every method conceived by man or beast to catch fish.  His quest ultimately led him to fly-fishing.  I still remember the bright, sunny afternoon when he hooked his head casting a fly.  He was fearlessly learning to cast and one backswing took the fly out of its natural orbit.  When he swung the rod forward the fly lodged squarely in the back of his head.  We ended up rushing my brother to a nearby medical clinic where nurses cut the hook, with its sharp barb, out of his head.  This minor setback didn’t diminish my brother’s zeal for fly-fishing in the least.  Quite the opposite, now he was all the more committed to honing his craft.  My brother’s “hook in the head” adventure, however, was not so easily forgotten.  The story has grown grander with each telling over the years and is now firmly entrenched in Menzies family lore.

Family Fly Fishing

Kenai River, Alaska

My favorite fishing memory does not stem from Lake Taneycomo and it centers on my father.  It is all the more special because it was one of the last times that I went fishing with Dad.  My father planned the trip, perhaps knowing it would be one of our last together.  The result surpassed anything that we could have imagined.  My father, my brother, and I traveled to Alaska where we all caught monster king salmon on the Kenai River.  This was the ultimate “trout” fishing experience.    If my mother’s health had been better, no doubt she would have joined in on the fun and once again caught the largest and the most.  I believe we all felt that through our fishing success we gave her homage.  We certainly felt like kings when we reeled our 50-pound fish into the boat.  Memories of our years struggling together to catch trout on Lake Taneycomo flooded back.  As we reeled in those great fish, somehow we felt vindicated.  And, in the process, we added a new and especially meaningful chapter to the Menzies family history.  This is a chapter that I will never forget.







Uniquely American

American Fishing

Tablerock Lake, MO

Bob Menzies – “The Ozarks”

This morning I woke up looking out on one of the most beautiful scenes imaginable: the sun rising over the wooded, pristine forest and clear blue waters of Tablerock Lake.  Only the Ozark Mountains could produce a scene like this, and it is a wonder to behold.  There is wonderful fishing in both the lake and various tributaries of the White River that bless this lovely part of Southwest Missouri.  Certainly God must have smiled when he created these rugged hills.

The beauty of nature reminds of us of how the human family is so richly blessed, but this morning my thoughts drifted to the uniquely American aspects of this experience.  You see, I have lived and worked in China for the past twenty years.  Prior to that, I was privileged to live for almost four years in the northeast part of Scotland.  My experiences in China and Scotland expanded my horizons and introduced me to the incredible beauty of these lands and their people.  Nevertheless, as I lay in my pop-up camper and looked out over the waters of Tablerock Lake, I couldn’t help but think of the utterly unique and distinctively American aspects of my setting.  Only in America could normal people like me – not simply the rich, the powerful, or the famous – have the kind of access to the lake, camping, and rivers that all Americans enjoy.  Only in America would you see the incredible diversity of campers (everything from my little pop-up to satellite-equipped fifth wheelers), boats (I have seen fishing boats on this lake that would make the navies of most countries envious), and fishing gear (rods and flies made with consummate skill, including our wonderful Wild River Flies) that I have witnessed this week, because in America innovation is encouraged and rewarded in a unique way.

American FishingPlease don’t misunderstand me.  Wonderful fishing and settings of incomparable beauty can be found around the world, especially in China and Scotland.  Scotland in particular has some incredible locations for fly-fishing and boasts a long and rich heritage of casting flies.  But the thing that makes American unique is the incredible access that normal people – people like you and me – have to our lakes and rivers.  Additionally, the wonderful entrepreneurial spirit that permeates this nation has enabled it to produce some amazing products for “life in the wilderness” (can Wifi and wilderness be used in the same sentence?) and our struggle to compete with those wily creatures that inhabit it.  Although the fish still seem to have the upper hand in my on-going battle with them, I do think all Americans should celebrate these unique blessings.

The Patagonia School of Fly Fishing

In a new book, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard evangelizes a back-to-basics Japanese technique for fly fishing

SUPER FLY | Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, with his tenkara rod at Foster Park in Ventura, Calif. Peter Bohler for The Wall Street Journal

SUPER FLY | Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, with his tenkara rod at Foster Park in Ventura, Calif. Peter Bohler for The Wall Street Journal

FOR SOMEONE WITH a vested interest in selling goods for exploring the great outdoors, Yvon Chouinard, the owner and founder of the outdoor-apparel company Patagonia, takes a surprisingly stripped-down approach to one of his favorite pastimes. “Heaven knows we fly fishers are suckers for every new gizmo we think will give us a leg up on catching fish,” he writes in “Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel,” to be published by Patagonia Books on Monday. With what could safely be described as ornery skepticism, Mr. Chouinard, along with his co-authors, Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo, questions the rise of $1,000 fishing rods and tackle boxes overflowing with flies. “I would offer,” Mr. Chouinard continues, “that this proliferation of gear is supported by busy people who lack for nothing in their lives except time.”

Therein lies the book’s charm. Part straightforward how-to, part back-to-basics manifesto, the volume is also a bit of a sermon that seeks to spread the good word about a centuries-old Japanese technique known as “tenkara”—which calls for a long, flexible, reel-free rod—that Mr. Chouinard believes is the hands-down easiest and most pleasurable way to fish.

“Some people say, ‘I don’t fish because I don’t have patience,’ ” Mr. Chouinard said by telephone from Patagonia’s headquarters in Ventura, Calif. “Well, it takes no patience whatsoever to fly fish. It’s not like sitting in a boat and dangling a worm down below and waiting for a bite,” he said. “It’s proactive. It’s like dragging a toy mouse across the floor for your cat. If you just drag it, the cat just looks at it. But you stop it and give it a little twist, the cat pounces on it.”

Granted, Patagonia does stand to profit from a surge of interest in tenkara; the book is part of a kit they’re selling—complete with a rod, lines and flies. But a portion of the proceeds from the book, which can be purchased separately, will be donated to various conservation organizations. And Patagonia stores around the U.S. will offer free clinics on the technique. We asked Mr. Chouinard to highlight beginner-friendly techniques from the book. To learn more, the full article can be found here.