How I Fish: Lefty Kreh

How I Fish: Lefty Kreh

One of the greatest flyfishermen of all time shares his angling wisdom, talks about his favorite fishing spots and fish to chase on the fly, and explains his four principles of fly casting

Lefty Kreh, one of the most accomplished and beloved flyfishermen of all time, died in 2018. He was 93 years old. Kreh was a prolific author and globe-trotting angler. Among his many accolades, Kreh was the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sportfishing Association and a member of the IGFA Hall of Fame and Flyfishing Hall of Fame. He was also a wonderful person—kind, warm, funny, and always happy to teach others. Field & Stream’s legendary fishing editor John Merwin once wrote of Kreh: “If America can claim a national flyfishing treasure, Lefty is it.”

Here, we’re reprinting an interview Kreh gave the magazine back in 2009. His stories, humor, and fishing tips are timeless—just like the man himself.

I’ve been fishing since I was old enough to walk to the Monocacy River, near Frederick, Md. My father died when I was young, during the Depression, and my mother had to raise four children. I was the oldest, at 6. We were so poor that we had to live on welfare. I’d catch catfish on bait and sell them so I could buy clothes and food to get through high school.

After World War II, I started fly casting when I got back from Europe. (Lefty fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945). Back then, I got a job at the Biological Warfare Center, where we grew and concentrated the bacteria that the scientists worked on. I was one of three people who got anthrax—on my hand and arm. My full name is Bernard Victor Kreh, and there is now a BVK strain of anthrax. I was doing shift work, and I’d hunt or fish between shifts. I started to get a reputation as a hotshot bass fisherman.

Joe Brooks, the fishing writer, lived in the Baltimore suburbs, and he was writing a column in the county paper. He came down with a fly rod one day. This was in September 1947. A big hatch of flying ants was trying to fly across the river, and millions of them were falling into the water. I’m using a 6-pound-test braided silk line, and Joe pulls out this fly line that looked like a piece of rope and swished it back and forth. There were rings out there—he was using a Black Ghost streamer—and he dropped this damn thing in a ring, and boom, he had a fish. He caught almost as many bass as I did, and you don’t normally do that to a guy on his own river.

The next day I drove to Baltimore in my Model A Ford and met him, and we went down to Tochterman’s Sporting Goods—it’s still there, third generation—where he picked out a South Bend fiberglass rod, a Medalist reel, and a Cortland fly line. We went out in the park, and he gave me a casting lesson. Of course, he was teaching that 9 o’clock to 1 o’clock stuff, like everyone was.

My favorite fish to flyfish for are bonefish, absolutely. In freshwater, I like smallmouth bass and then peacock bass.

The longer you swim the fly, the more fish you catch. Gradually I evolved the method that I now teach, where you bring the rod back way behind you on the cast. This accelerates the line, lets you make longer casts and, in turn, puts more line on the water.

I started fishing for smallmouths on the Potomac, at Lander, which is below Harpers Ferry. The river was full of big smallmouths. It was fabulous fishing.

In the 1950s, I went down to Crisfield on the bay. They had a crab-packing plant there, and at the end of the day they shoved everything they didn’t put into cans off the dock. It was the biggest chum line you’d ever seen. My buddy Tom Cofield and I knew about it, and the bass were all over the place. We were using bucktails with chenille, and the wing kept fouling on the hook. On the way home, I said to Tom, “I’m going to develop a fly that looks like a baitfish, that doesn’t foul in flight, that flushes the water when it comes out into the air and is easy to cast.” That’s how I came up with the Deceiver.

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Lefty Kreh got his nickname because he used to do everything left-handed—except write and cast. Chris Crisman

The first magazine story I sold was to Pennsylvania Game News. I got paid $89. We thought it was a fortune! It was on hunting squirrels from a canoe.

I teach four principles rather than a rote method of fly casting. The principles are not mine; they’re based on physics, and you can adapt them to your build. They are: (1) You must get the end of the fly line moving before you can make a back or forward cast; (2) Once the line is moving, the only way to load the rod is to move the casting hand at an ever increasing speed and then bring it to a quick stop; (3) The line will go in the direction the rod tip speeds up and stops—specifically, it goes in the direction that the rod straightens when the rod hand stops; and (4) The longer the distance that the rod travels on the back and forward casting strokes, the less effort that is required to make the cast.

My most memorable flyfishing experience was in New Guinea. There’s a fish there called a New Guinea bass—they spell it N-I-U-G-I-N-I. They are the strongest fish I’ve ever seen in my life.

My three favorite flyfishing spots in the world are Maine for smallmouths, Los Roques off Venezuela for bonefish, and Louisiana for redfish. The marsh near New Orleans is over 20 miles wide and 80 miles long. There’s very light fishing pressure, and it’s absolutely the best redfishing anywhere.

The three most important fly casts are the basic cast —you have to learn to use a full stroke; a roll cast, because you use it for all kinds of things; and the double haul. You need to learn how to double haul.

Up until seven, eight years ago, you couldn’t get into flyfishing if you didn’t have a lot of money. Now we have fabulous rods. If you buy any rod today that costs more than $100, it will probably cast better than the person who buys it.

Written by Jay Cassell for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Field & Stream

13 Shocking Facts About Lightning Before You Go Out Fishing

13 Shocking Facts About Lightning Before You Go Out Fishing

Lightning, which does strike in the same place twice, can literally knock your socks off and change your personality

Lightning is much simpler than people realize. It’s nothing more than a brilliant, naturally occurring electrostatic discharge in which two electrically charged regions in the atmosphere or on the ground temporarily equalize themselves, causing the release of up to a billion joules of energy. There. Aren’t you glad you asked?

Myths abound about lightning. It does strike the same place twice. It is not attracted to metal. And if you want to get hit by it, Florida is a swell place to go. Where myths abound, so do surprising facts. Here are 13 things you probably didn’t know about lightning, a few of which could save your life, or at least win you a few bucks.

1. Lightning does not come from the sky.

We all think of lightning as nature’s air-to-ground missiles, but it's actually the other way. The negative charge preceding a lightning strike hits the earth—or an earth-bound object like a tower—and then a visible flash zooms from the ground up. This takes place in a millionth of a second, so it’s kind of hard to tell which way the strike is actually moving. But it’s generally up. This could help you win a bar bet.

2. Men are nearly four times more likely to be killed by lightning than women.

That’s bad news for guys, but in this case, it has nothing to do with feminism. It’s because men spend more time outdoors, especially fishing, which turns out to be a great way to get zapped. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, between 2006 and 2016, 33 people were hit by lightning while fishing, more than any other outdoor activity. Think about it: You’re out on the water with nowhere to take shelter, and you’re the tallest thing around. If you were lightning, you’d hit a fisherman, too.

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On the water is no place to be during a lightning storm. David Mark/Pixabay

3. Lightning is not attracted to metal.

Lightning is attracted to the tallest thing around, which often happens to be metal. Think field-goal posts, TV towers, and the top eyelet of a fishing rod while casting in a boat on a lake. Metal does, however, conduct electricity efficiently, which is why you shouldn’t climb a field-goal post during a lightning storm or lick a downed electrical wire, even if there is no lightning.

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Lightning is attracted not to metal but generally to the tallest thing in a given area. skeeze/Pixabay

4. Rubber doesn’t protect you from lightning strikes.

Wearing rubber boots, for example, doesn’t reduce your odds of being struck and won’t make things any less excruciating if you do get hit. Same goes for car tires. The reason a car is a good place to be in a storm is because the metal top and sides conduct the electricity around you and into the ground. If you’re in a car, the best thing to do is pull over, turn off the engine, and don’t touch anything metallic in the car. Just keep your damn hands to yourself.

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These won’t protect you from lightning, but they’ll keep your feet dry during the storm. LaCrosse

5. The best place to get struck by lightning in the U.S. is Florida.

Of the 15 U.S. counties with the most lightning strikes, 14 are in Florida. It makes sense. Geographically, the place has water on three sides. Meteorologically, it has a subtropical climate, with almost daily thunderstorms. Behaviorally, it has lots of dudes fishing, some of whom are drinking beer, which does not increase common sense. “Lightning Alley” between Orlando and Tampa is a particularly good place if you have limited time and want to maximize your odds.

6. Your odds of surviving a lightning strike in the U.S. are about 90 percent.

This is in part because CPR is so widely practiced here. On average about 51 Americans die from strikes annually, although the total has decreased in recent years. Just 16 people were killed by lightning in 2017. The Guinness World Record for being struck belongs to the late Roy Sullivan, a U.S. Park Ranger in Shenandoah National Park. He was struck seven times—the odds of which are 1 in 10 to the 28th power. He survived them all and lived a more or less normal existence until he took his life at the age of 71.

7. Thunder and lightning are the same thing, kind of.

Thunder is the sound lightning makes. Okay, pay attention, because this is the science part. Lightning is a stream of electrons flowing between or within clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. The electrons heat the air around them to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than any Big Green Egg. As the hot air cools, it creates a “resonating tube of partial vacuum surrounding the lightning’s path,” according to Scientific American. The rapidly expanding and contracting air in the tube makes a big cracking sound. As the cracking-sound vibrations die out, they rumble. Thunder can be heard as far as 10 miles away.

8. Your odds of being struck by lightning are probably going up.

Currently, your odds of being struck in a given year are about 1 in 1.2 million, and about 1 in 15,000 during your lifetime, according to the National Weather Service. Yet astraphobia—the fear of being struck—is one of the most common phobias in America. But the odds are likely going up. The cause? Climate change, just like everything else. A study in Science magazine predicts that for every degree of global temperature increase, the number of lightning strikes increases by 6 percent.

9. You can be killed by lightning while standing beneath a clear blue sky.

Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from a thunderstorm. A lightning bolt is about an inch wide in diameter and can be as much as 90 miles long, according to researcher Martin Uman, author of All About Lightning.

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A bolt from the blue. PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

10. Lightning can literally knock your socks off.

The blast of superheated air that accompanies a lightning strike can cause clothing to explode off your body. Lightning can also turn the sweat on your body to steam, giving you third-degree burns. (The sudden expansion of sap is what occasionally causes trees to explode when hit.) Blood vessels may rupture, leading to a temporary scarring pattern known as Lichtenberg figures.

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Trees can explode when struck by lightning. PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

11. Electricity can save the life of a lightning-strike victim.

Strikes most often kill because the massive electrical discharge stops a victim’s heart. Paradoxically, what the unconscious victim may need most is a second shock from a defibrillator to restart the heart. Victims have likened the pain of a strike to being stung from the inside by a thousand hornets or being inside a microwave oven. 

12. Lightning often strikes the same place twice—or much more than twice.

This myth is regularly proven wrong when a strong storm passes over very tall buildings or TV towers, which can be hit multiple times in a single weather event. Each year, New York’s Empire State Building is struck anywhere from 25 to 100 times.

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It’s not uncommon for lightning to strike a tall building more than once during a single storm. Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

13. Lightning can change your personality.

In a Psychology Today blog post, University of Miami neuroscientists tell of an orthopedic surgeon who, after being struck by lightning, developed an urge to play the piano. A few months later he gave up medicine to become a classical musician. This was almost certainly a great disappointment to his parents.

Written by Bill Heavey for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Field & Stream

How to Catch Big Fish on Giant Streamers

How to Catch Big Fish on Giant Streamers

When someone says “flyfishing,” what pops into your head? If the answer is the delicate sip of a rising trout, the perfect drift over a soft seam, or total relaxation, I’d call you normal. Then there’s me. Most of the time, I measure a good day of flyfishing by the soreness of my shoulder. That’s because the kind I’ve become obsessed with involves trying to get meaty bugs in front of the biggest fish I possibly can. Throwing flies that can turn the heads of true tanks is a big part of this addiction, but for a full dose of my choice drug, I must have sinking fly lines.

Some may argue that sinking line and flyfishing don’t belong in the same sentence, but not me. When a sinking line yanks taut, it’s pure electricity, and more satisfying to me than a dry-fly take. You can call me crazy, or you can take the lessons I’ve learned catching some of my most memorable “dredge” fish and use them to put more hawgs, toads, and donkeys on the fly than you ever could with traditional fly tactics.

Brown Trout: Gain Weight

I had been using short sink tips to throw trout streamers for years, but when I fished with guide and noted streamer tier Brian Wise in Missouri, I learned that my usual 3- to 5-foot tips just wouldn’t cut it.

Wise prefers a long, fast sink tip regardless of water conditions for two reasons. One is that 99 percent of the time, he’s throwing unweighted streamers because he wants the fly to dart side to side and hang during the retrieve, not jig up and down and sink quickly when paused. More important, he wants to keep it fishing all the way back to the rod tip. A streamer hit on most rivers is going to come in the first few strips off the bank, but browns in the Ozarks’ Norfork River are just as apt to hold on midriver ledges and pockets. Without a long sink tip, the fly would pass far above the heads of these fish; with one, the fly hugs the sloping bottom all the way back to the drift boat.

All day we had worn our shoulders out with only one half-decent brown in the net. It was just about dark on the last leg of our float when out of nowhere—and with only a few strips left before a recast—the black-and-purple Double Deceiver I’d been pulling for hours got viciously plowed by one of the heaviest and prettiest wild browns I’ve ever caught. Since then, you won’t find me ripping streamers for browns without a 15-foot sink tip. And the number of fish I’ve caught well away from the bank by doing so has positively skyrocketed.

Striped Bass: Blown Away

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Fly: White-and-Chartreuse Peanut Bunker
Line: 30-foot 250-grain sink tip Jim Golden

The wind on New Jersey’s Raritan Bay was cranking that April afternoon and the surface chop was building. We were drifting so fast in my friend Eric Kerber’s skiff that I doubt I could have held bottom with 6 ounces of lead. Yet somehow, Kerber was managing to keep a weighted rubber shad in the zone long enough to occasionally smack one of the stripers we were marking 15 feet down. All I wanted to do was get a fly in front of one.

Heavy sink tips generally stink to cast, but in a stiff wind they do have an advantage because they have some punch power. My only hope was to use the wind to my benefit.

Instead of casting behind the boat into the wind, I wound up and laid as much line as I could straight toward the bow with the wind. By the time my hands were in stripping position, the line was sweeping past the boat. I let it straighten behind the boat for just a moment before I began stripping. I don’t think I moved the fly 10 feet before a fish big enough to put me in the backing took a shot. The 22-pounder that delivered the blow remains one of my top three heaviest fly stripers.

For the rest of the tide, every time we marked fish, I either connected or got bumped. Kerber would only hit with his shad every couple of drifts. My takeaway: It’s always worth trying the fly even in terrible conditions, because every once in a while, there will be something about the presentation that turns the fish on more than anything else.

Jack Crevalle: Reel Power

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Fly: White-and-Chartreuse Deceiver
Line: 30-foot clear intermediate sink tip Jim Golden

Jack crevalle don’t get as much respect as they should. They are one of the hardest fighters in the ocean—and the closest you can get to a giant trevally without a ridiculously long flight. For anglers looking to put meat in the box, they don’t hold much appeal; for a flyfisherman wanting to see lots and lots of backing, they’re a dream.

On a trip to Mississippi, guide Sonny Schindler and I had chased wolf packs of jacks busting mullet around Cat Island all afternoon, but every time we got in range, the fish would vamoose. At last, we managed to creep up on a school that had pinned bait against a grass bank. My Deceiver sunk just out of sight, I stripped twice, and I was into my backing before I could even say, “I’m on.” That’s when I realized I’d made a very stupid mistake.

Although I had brought a large-diameter reel, it didn’t have a large arbor. A sink tip of any weight always increases slack in your line, as it creates a belly. That means you have to work a little harder to keep a tight line when fighting a fish. When the powerful jack turned and came at me, that standard-arbor reel couldn’t pick up line fast enough for me to stay tight. I don’t think I’ve ever reeled so frantically in my life. Luckily, I had stuck the fish pretty well, and despite a few seconds of completely limp line during the battle, the monster jack made it to the boat 30 minutes later. Had I been using a large arbor, I probably would have cut that fight time in half.

Lake Trout: Peel It Out

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Fly: Heavy Olive-and-White Flashback Clouser
Line: 30-foot 350-grain sink tip Jim Golden

If you can hack it, one of the best shots at a laker on the fly is in the dead of winter when the fish are feeding close to shore. Even then, the depths are not ideal, but they’re manageable with the right line. That line, of course, would be a heavy-grain (300 to 400) full sink or long sink tip. This is the route I took to secure my first whip-stick laker.

Drifting with guide Frank Campbell over the Niagara Bar on Lake Ontario, I could see the fish holding around humps on the sonar. Every time we dropped off the back of this one 25-foot rise, Campbell came tight on a white swimbait. I, on the other hand, was stripping with numb fingertips, puzzled as to why I couldn’t connect. After five passes down the money lane without a touch, I changed up the presentation. I made a long cast, then just started peeling out line as we drifted. I waited long enough to actually feel my fly momentarily hang on the bottom. Then I buried the rod tip in the water and started making slower strips. I only made about five before my first laker nearly took the rod out of my hand.

Even though my fly was probably getting to depth before I altered my approach, my faster strips plus the drifting boat meant that it likely wasn’t staying there long enough. Although feeding line isn’t as sexy as casting it, if you’re going to make the effort to target a deep fish, sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to be sure your fly is staying in its face.

Northern Pike: Drop In (Slightly)

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Fly: 9-inch Articulated Olive-and-Orange Bucktail
Line: 15-foot clear intermediate sink tip Jim Golden

My heaviest pike ever on the fly weighed just north of 15 pounds and came from the Cree River in Saskatchewan. I’ll never forget that charge and take.

On our first day, our guide motored us into a small cove with an island. He told me to cast between the island and a patch of flooded grass about 20 feet away. The water was only 3 feet deep, and after the fly splatted down, I gave my line a few seconds to sink. After a couple strips, a wake of submarine proportions came pushing toward my streamer. I let the bug pause, and then gave it one hard tug. That was the trigger that turned the pike from a submarine to a missile locked on target. I could have surfed the wave it threw when it hit.

You might think that in water so shallow there was no need for a sinking line. To this day, however, I rarely pike fish without one unless I’m committed to using poppers. Letting a slow-sinking intermediate tip fall for just a few seconds creates a slight belly in the line. On the first strip, bulkier flies will dive, following the arc of that belly. I’ve come to believe that when you’re casting to a small zone, getting a larger fly to the fish’s eye level as fast as possible equals more strikes.

Largemouth Bass: Muskie Meal Plan

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Fly: 12-inch Articulated White Bucktail
Line: 30-foot 300-grain sink tip Jim Golden

For someone so obsessed with chucking monster streamers, you’d think I’d have several muskies under my belt. I have zero, but that’s certainly not for a lack of trying. Ironically, the most notable catch I’ve ever had while targeting muskies was a largemouth bass.

By the fourth day of a muskie quest in the St. Paul suburbs last October with my friend Robert Hawkins, my arms were like Jell‑O. All we had to show for the effort were a few pike. Then, as my giant fly sank along a lily-pad edge, I made one strip and saw it disappear. The hit was so violent we were sure I’d finally tied into a muskie. When the fish surfaced I couldn’t believe it—there was a solid 7-pound largemouth with the 12-inch streamer in its jaw.

After the laughter subsided, I realized what I’d done was no different than what trophy bass hunters throwing big trout-­imitating swimbaits have been doing for decades. While hair bugs, bunny leeches, and sliders are the patterns most anglers associate with largemouth bass fishing, you might consider taking a big piece of muskie meat to the bass pond. You’re probably not going to get a lot of bites, but they will likely be the right bites when you get them.

Written by Joe Cermele for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Field & Stream

A Father-Son Flyfishing Trip In Montana

A Father-Son Flyfishing Trip In Montana

I’m gonna ferry across the river,” my guide said. “Some pocket water I want you to hit.”

“Sounds good,” I replied.

I gazed downstream. Montana’s Bighorn River is big water, but it was flowing higher than usual, and I hadn’t seen much of what I’d call “pocket water” yet. But I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut. It was too early in the float to question the guide. What I did see, however, was a dark gravel bar rising under the drift boat and a plume of water pouring over the ledge into a deep green hole the size of my front yard. I didn’t want to scuttle the guide’s float plan, but I wasn’t going to pass up a giant fishy-looking lair either.

I cast a white articulated fly my guide had handed me earlier, and dropped it into the billowing pillow of water above the gravel bar. The leechlike blob rode the flow like a kid on a pool slide—I could see why he called his creation the Wet Sock—but the second it sank to the green abyss below, a fish hit and bent the rod. Not bad when the first fish of the day is a Bighorn brown trout just a smidge over 16 inches.

“Heck yeah, man!” my guide hollered. “I’ve been thinking about that pocket ever since we put in.”

That’s when I nearly stuck my foot in my mouth. You call that pocket water? I thought. But the guide was my son, Jack, and we had gone a first hour without a fish—and to be honest, neither of us were sure how this day trip was going to pan out.

Jack had just spent a week at Sweet­water Guide School, a hands-on, dawn-to-dark boot camp for aspiring guides. It was his high-school graduation gift—learning how to row a drift boat and field-fix a jet outboard and calm down cranky anglers. Jack had fallen in love with flyfishing when he was 14 years old, wading Montana’s Gallatin River. Over the next few years, he pelted guides with relentless questioning from Maine to the Florida Keys. One June, on Idaho’s South Fork of the Snake River, he heard that college students worked Western rivers over their summer breaks, shuttling boats and guiding. That was the end of his future as a summer lawn-care consultant. With his Sweetwater course now over, he’d bummed a drift boat from an instructor, and I was his first real client.

“Thank you, Lord,” Jack said. “I’m not going to lie to you, Daddy. I was getting pretty nervous until you caught that fish.”

“You’re not the only one, son,” I said. “And we need to talk about your idea of pocket water.”

Wild West

When Jack walked out from under the tall Bighorn cottonwoods at the Sweetwater school base camp, I hadn’t seen him for a week, but I could tell from his loping gait that Montana had changed him—that a week on the river had given him passage of a sort that he could not yet understand but that I could not deny. He’d been bitten by the West, and wherever his river would run in the future, it would run far from home for at least a portion of his life. This is the cruel contract of parenthood: Give them roots and wings, then pray that the former hold as your child spreads the latter in relentless freedom.

With the monkey off our backs, we settled in for perhaps the finest afternoon of fishing I’ve ever had. Jack held me in the current seam as I worked the fly all the way down the gravel bar, cast by cast. We caught fish at Grey Cliffs and Suck Hole and Mike’s Cabin, and we whooped it up with every strike. Did you see that? Holy cow, man, did you see that?

Jack spoke of these places like he might describe the local parks up the street back home. He was fully immersed in the magic of Montana, the fish and the river and the wild country, as the wild dreams of a 14-year-old were coming true right in front of him.

It was just one of those days that leaves you shaking your head and checking your heart. We all get them occasionally, moments in the field when you know that this is one you will carry to your grave. The fish were biting like crazy, yes, and their runs seemed stronger and their spots more finely chiseled than ever in the Bighorn light. But more than the fishing, it was the first day that we’d floated as equals, and the sadness that came with the loss of my little boy was baptized in the gratitude that from this day forward, I would fish and hunt with this man in the boat.

Big Finish

By midafternoon, we didn’t have much longer to fish. Soon Jack would have to hit the oars hard; we had a six-hour drive to Missoula still ahead of us. But then he slowed the boat one last time.

“I want you to hit that log,” he said. “See it?”

“I think so.” It was a giant sculpture of twisted driftwood, 8 feet tall, at least. Who could miss it? But as my mouth opened for a wisecrack, my guide tucked me into range. My first cast brought a ferocious slash from the largest trout we’d seen all day, but the heavy water carried the drift boat too swiftly for a second crack.

Jack slipped overboard and pulled the drift boat 30 feet upcurrent. “I’ll hold the boat,” he said. “You just catch the fish.”

We pulled two more fish from the hole, the second one running wild like a puppy in the yard. The water likely spent, Jack pulled himself back in the boat, rowed clear of the swift current, then stowed the oars and leaned back, soaking in the sun, the moment, the river, and his future, which unfurled just about as far as the next bend in the Bighorn. If there is a finer thing than to be 17 years old on a Montana river, I can only barely imagine what that might be.

“I don’t know, Daddy,” he said, kicking his Chaco-clad feet on the cooler. He grinned over a grimy sun buff and stroked a 15-day-old beard that I could actually make out in the right slant of sunlight. “I’m thinking of keeping the ’stache, at least. Think I can pull it off?”

I started to taste my foot again, but caught myself in time. I reckon if there’s anywhere in this world that a young man can still dream, it’s Montana.

Written by T. Edward Nickens for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Field & Stream

Your Guide To The 50 Best New Fishing Spots in America

Your Guide To The 50 Best New Fishing Spots in America

We found the hottest new rivers, lakes, and streams—one for every state—to catch big bass, trout, walleye, catfish, and more. Road trip, anyone?

Everything in fishing changes. On the minutest level, that change can be as simple as fish suddenly turning off of green-pumpkin worms after they’d been hammering them for hours, or a slow bite ­suddenly going bonkers before a storm. In the grander scheme, what can also change is the overall quality of an entire fishery. Sometimes lakes or rivers that were hot for decades suddenly go cold. It can happen for any number of reasons. On the ­contrary, removal of dams, a revival of water ­quality, or a regulation change can revive a struggling fishery or turn what was a little-known body of water into a big-time destination. To get the most up-to-date skinny on which bodies of water are trending now, we reached out to biologists, conservation officers, guides, pros, and local sharpies in every state. Here are their picks.

Alabama

Water: Lewis Smith Lake
Targets: Largemouth Bass and Striped Bass
Alabama is home to some of the best bass lakes in the U.S., but Lewis Smith Lake wasn’t one of them until recently. The deep, clear lake that seemed lifeless for years currently has a thriving fishery thanks to the newly flourishing blueback herring population, which largemouths and stripers are chowing down on.

Alaska

Water: Situk River
Targets: Sockeye and Pink Salmon
The Situk gets less attention than some of Alaska’s other rivers, and while it sees its share of traffic during the spring and fall steelhead runs, anglers all but disappear in the summer. Big mistake, because the Situk has strong runs of pink and sockeye salmon waiting for anyone seeking solitude.

Arizona

Water: Saguaro Lake
Target: Largemouth Bass
A fish kill in 2005 decimated Saguaro’s largemouth population. However, with rejuvenated grass growth, clean mountain water flow, and a resurgence of baitfish, the bass population has rebounded big time. Saguaro is now a top trophy lake in Arizona, and one that the locals consider a hidden gem.

Arkansas

Water: Lake Ouachita
Targets: Striped Bass and Walleyes
Lake Ouachita has seen a recent boom in its shad population, and with it came a boom in the number and size of stripers and walleyes. The state also recently lowered the minimum possession length of bass to 12 inches in an effort to urge anglers to fill their coolers with smaller fish and let the bigger ones go.

California

Water: Skinner Reservoir
Targets: Largemouth and Striped Bass
California is known for its big bass lakes, but Skinner Reservoir is a total sleeper. Local sticks refer to it as the “SoCal Clear Lake” for its similarities to the famous Clear Lake farther north. Its lunker largemouths and stripers get fat on the abundant trout.

Colorado

Water: Eagle River
Targets: Rainbow and ­Cutthroat Trout
Eagle River was sadly rendered lifeless by heavy metals from mine runoff in the 1980s. Eventually, the mine water was diverted to holding ponds, and after years of recovery, the populations of rainbows, cutthroats, and cutbows have made an incredible comeback.

Connecticut

Water: Mill River
Targets: Brook and Brown Trout
Though the state of Connecticut has some very notable wild trout streams and rivers by East Coast standards, you may not have heard of this tailwater. Improved year-round flows, new catch-and-release regulations, and an extended Wild Trout Management Area have all contributed to a major bounce back for the Mill, where wild brook and brown trout numbers continue to climb.

Delaware

Water: Nanticoke River
Targets: Blue Catfish and Northern Snakeheads
Blue catfish and northern snakeheads are both invasive species in Delaware, but love or hate them, they’ve made the Nanti­coke the state’s hottest fishing spot. Delaware has even ­established a state-record slot for snakeheads thanks to their abundance here. The current record weighed just over 12 pounds.

Florida

Water: Harris Chain of Lakes
Target: Largemouth Bass
Fertilizer runoff wiped out the hydrilla in the Harris Chain in the ’80s, resulting in algae blooms, low oxygen, and multiple fish kills. Fast forward to 2018: After numerous rejuvenation projects, you’d need almost a 40-pound bag to win a bass tournament here.

Georgia

Water: Upper Chattahoochee River
Target: Striped Bass
The striper fishing in Georgia’s Lake Lanier is no secret. But the fish that make their way up into the Upper Chattahoochee get much less attention. The stripers follow the plentiful shad schools, feeding in true blitz fashion.

Hawaii

Water: North Fork of the Wailua
Target: Smallmouth Bass
Bass fishing doesn’t jump to mind when you think of fishing Hawaii. But the North Fork of the Wailua on Kauai has surprisingly good smallmouth action that continues to improve due to a lack of fishing pressure. Those in the know routinely hit smallies over 3 pounds.

Idaho

Water: Pistol Lake
Target: Rainbow Trout
Idaho’s trout get a ton of pressure. Because of this, the best new hotspots have come at the end of short hikes in the ­McCall area. High-mountain waters such as Pistol Lake are somewhat remote and filled with rainbow trout that don’t see many flies or lures.

Illinois

Water: Lake Springfield
Target: Crappies
According to local sharpies, Lake Springfield is up and coming as a serious panfish producer. Other area lakes get the majority of the pressure, but tighter restrictions on Springfield have created a superb crappie fishery. A 10-inch size limit and a 10-fish creel limit ensure plenty of fish stay in the water.

Indiana

Water: West Boggs Creek Lake
Target: Largemouth Bass
The state of Indiana renovated the fish population in West Boggs Creek Lake in 2014 due to an overabundance of gizzard shad and carp. Gamefish like largemouth bass and channel catfish were removed and later returned. Since replanting, the bass are growing fast, as are the catfish and panfish populations.

Iowa

Water: Little River Watershed Lake
Targets: Bass, Bluegills, Walleyes, and Channel Catfish
Little River Watershed Lake has undergone recent renovations, and the improved structure and expanded access have helped establish it as one of the best lakes in Iowa. Massive bluegills, above-average bass, and trophy-class walleyes complement a population of lesser-known giant channel cats.

Kansas

Water: Milford Lake
Target: Blue Catfish
Blue catfish were first stocked in Milford Lake in the 1990s. Since then, continued stocking efforts and strict regulations have resulted in a true trophy fishery. Fish over 40 pounds are very common, and blue cats over 80 are being caught with increased frequency.

Kentucky

Water: Dewey Lake
Target: Muskellunge
Kentucky’s Cave Run Lake has drawn national attention for its muskie fishery and created a demand for others like it in the state. A stocking program was started five years ago in Dewey and is shaping up very well. The lake has a huge forage base of shad, and the structure-rich shallows are perfect muskie habitat.

Louisiana

Water: Toledo Bend Reservoir
Target: Largemouth Bass
Toledo Bend is a well-known body of water, but it made our list of new hot spots for a specific reason. Just over 10 years ago, the reservoir was stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass. Being a big lake with lots of threadfin shad, Toledo Bend is producing an exceptional number of hawg bass today.

Maine

Water: Sebago Lake
Targets: Northern Pike and Crappies
The overwhelming majority of anglers who travel to Sebago are itching for lake trout and salmon. That means the lake’s pike and crappie populations have been left virtually untouched. There is little fishing pressure for these species, which explains why bait shops are routinely weighing in pike and crappies that surpass the current state records.

Maryland

Water: Upper Potomac River
Target: Walleyes
While the lower Potomac gets attention for its blue cats and stripers, the walleye fishing on the upper river is hush-hush. Surveys of marked fingerlings show half the surviving fish are from stocking and the other half are naturally reproducing.

Massachusetts

Water: Wachusett Reservoir
Target: Smallmouth Bass
This pristine, bait-rich ­reservoir is limited to shore fishing only, which drastically reduces the pressure, in turn helping the massive bronzeback population thrive and kick out plenty of quality fish.

Michigan

Water: Silver Lake Basin
Target: Northern Pike
In 2003, the dam at Silver Lake Basin failed, releasing 9 billion gallons of water. Low water levels following the failure and several years of repairs wiped out the trout population, but the northern pike that found their way in during the breach have taken a strong hold. Mid-40-inch fish are there for the taking.

Minnesota

Water: Big Stone Lake
Targets: Yellow Perch and Bluegills
Big Stone Lake has become a panfish mecca. Sitting on the border of South Dakota and Minnesota, it benefits from both states’ stocking programs. Thanks to tight bag regulations, many perch grow over a pound and bluegills exceed 11 inches.

Mississippi

Water: Lake Lamar Bruce
Target: Largemouth Bass
Construction on the Lake Lamar Bruce Dam was completed in 2012, and ever since, the bass fishing has exploded. In addition to the dam work, the state added in the formation of underwater islands. It’s a whole new lake, where largemouths weighing 6 to 10 pounds are common.

Missouri

Water: Bull Shoals Lake
Targets: Largemouth Bass and Walleyes
Bull Shoals Lake is a storied body of water with a new tale to tell. In the past six years, the lake has seen three 100-year floods. The high water has given walleye and largemouth fry lots of hiding places, helping to promote incredible spawns.

Montana

Water: Upper Madison River
Targets: Brown, Rainbow, and Cutthroat Trout
After the completion of the lower spillway on Hebgen Dam, the Upper Madison River is running considerably cooler than it has in the past. These cooler temps are bringing back explosive caddis and salmonfly hatches, and the river is estimated to have up to 3,000 trout per mile.

Nebraska

Water: Elwood Reservoir
Targets: Walleyes and Striped Bass
Elwood Reservoir saw a drastic reduction in its walleye and hybrid striped bass populations from 2009 to 2015 due to low water. In the past two years, however, improved water levels have led to a resurrection of these fisheries. In 2016 and 2017, the largest samples of fish to date were recorded, including loads of 25-plus-inch walleyes.

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Casting long on Pyramid Lake. Arian Stevens

Nevada

Water: Pyramid Lake
Target: Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat trout in Pyramid Lake were fished nearly to extinction. In the last few years, however, the state started releasing Pilot Peak Lahontan cutthroats into the Truckee Basin, which helped repopulate Pyramid Lake with trophy cutties. This fishery is now on the rise and expected to reach new heights in the next few years.

New Hampshire

Water: Connecticut River
Target: Walleyes
The Connecticut has had its ups and downs over the years, but in the New Hampshire stretch, walleye fishing is on a huge upswing. This stretch sees little pressure outside of the locals, which helped the walleye fishery to redevelop largely unmolested. Thirty-inchers are appearing with more regularity.

New Jersey

Water: Raritan River
Targets: Striped Bass and Smallmouth Bass
Several dam removals on the Raritan’s lower end have boosted runs of shad, herring, and striped bass over the last few years. The river also boasts a healthy smallmouth population, as well as some of the biggest carp in the state in its tidal section.

New Mexico

Water: Rio Grande River
Target: Walleyes
After a seven-year drought, improved flows and a booming baitfish population have pushed walleye fishing in the Rio Grande through the roof. Best of all, virtually no one knows about it. Walleyes to 34 inches and 12 pounds are not unheard of, and anglers can limit out fast.

New York

Water: Wappinger Creek
Target: Carp
The streams of the Catskills and Hudson River Valley are famed for their trout fishing, but when the water warms in summer, fly enthusiasts have turned to a newly recognized carp fishery on Wappinger Creek. The composition of the river makes it perfect for stalking and sight-fishing.

North Carolina

Water: Badin Lake
Target: Blue Catfish
When it comes to North Carolina blue cats, lakes Gaston and Kerr get all the attention. Their popularity, however, has let Badin Lake and its trophy fishery develop. With the lack of pressure and a healthy supply of baitfish, Badin blue cats are growing big. In fact, state biologists and local sharpies agree Badin may produce the next state record.

North Dakota

Water: Lake Sakakawea
Target: Northern Pike
Beginning in 2008, improved water levels in Sakakawea began fueling great northern pike year classes. With prime habitat and a solid forage base of smelt, the lake has blossomed into a top-shelf heavyweight pike fishery.

Ohio

Water: Clear Fork Reservoir
Target: Muskellunge
Ohio muskie fisheries don’t get much attention from outsiders, and with other state muskie waters getting the majority of the pressure from local anglers, Clear Fork Reservoir has developed into the new honey hole. Studies show that only a small percentage of Clear Fork’s muskies have been caught more than once, indicating a strong population.

Oklahoma

Water: Lake Tenkiller
Target: Smallmouth Bass
The smallmouth population in Lake Tenkiller has recently gone off the chain thanks to stockings of Great Lakes–strain fish. In addition, an infusion of nutrients from the Illinois River Watershed has resulted in more vegetation. This has strengthened the food chain with a larger forage base, helping the smallmouths reach top-end weight quickly.

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A Craine Prairie Reservoir rainbow. Arian Stevens

Oregon

Water: Crane Prairie Reservoir
Target: Rainbow Trout
Crane Prairie Reservoir is a comeback story. An introduction of largemouth bass changed the reservoir’s dynamics, and stickleback infestations decimated fly hatches that supported Crane Prairie’s rainbow trout. With the stickleback gone and the lake in balance, the trout have bounced back big time.

Pennsylvania

Water: Lake Erie
Targets: Walleyes, Smallmouth Bass, and Steelhead
Lake Erie has been more historically known for pollution than quality fishing. Slowly but surely, that has been changing, and Erie is currently firing on all cylinders. The lake now supports healthy populations of numerous freshwater species, including panfish, walleyes, smallmouths, and steelhead. The flourishing fishery is a direct result of better water quality, which boosted the forage base.

Rhode Island

Water: Blackstone River
Target: Carp
Ironically, the Ocean State is home to the some of the largest freshwater fish in New England. Among carp anglers, mirror carp are special and sacred, and the Blackstone River may have the most plentiful population of them in the country. Because carp fishing is still not as popular in the U.S. as elsewhere, the Blackstone’s monsters also aren’t overly pressured.

South Carolina

Water: Lake Wateree
Targets: Blue, Channel, and Flathead Catfish
Lake Wateree is another body of water that has benefited from the popularity of other local waters. With Santee Cooper drawing massive catfish crowds, less-pressured Wateree has seen a boom of blues, channels, flatheads, white cats, and bullheads. The lake is teeming with threadfin and gizzard shad, propelling the kitties to massive sizes.

South Dakota

Water: Deerfield Lake
Targets: Lake Trout and ­Yellow Perch
Deerfield Lake has traditionally supported good numbers of rainbow and brook trout, in addition to a huge perch population. To create a second lake trout fishery next to well-known Lake Pactola, the state has been stocking adult-size lakers. This not only established an immediate lake trout fishery but also culled the perch population, allowing a lot of the remainder to grow huge.

Tennessee

Water: Watts Bar Lake
Targets: Blue Catfish and Striped Bass
Watts Bar Lake is an impoundment of both the Tennessee and Clinch rivers. In 2008, life in the lake came to a halt after 1.2 million tons of ash were accidentally spilled. It took years to recover, but Watts Bar is now chock-full of shad and skipjack that provide plenty of protein for the lake’s big, hungry cats and stripers.

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A summer lunker. Keith Sutton

Texas

Water: O.H. Ivie Reservoir
Target: Largemouth Bass
It can take time, strict regulations, and a healthy forage base to set a lake ablaze, but that’s exactly what’s happened at O.H. Ivie. A change in regulations that prohibited keeping fish above 18 inches has led to a spike in big bass. Texas records trophy catches through entries into its ShareLunker program, and currently, only Lake Fork is producing more double-digit fish than O.H. Ivie.

Utah

Water: Pineview Reservoir
Target: Muskellunge
Utah may be considered a trout state, but Pineview Reservoir has one of the best tiger muskie fisheries in the country. The size and number of tigers in Pine­view was already astounding, but a 2017 stocking of an additional 20,000 of these fast-growing fish has made your odds of sticking a trophy tiger better at Pineview than anywhere else in the U.S.

Vermont

Water: Lake Champlain
Target: Muskellunge
Champlain has always had a world-class bass and pike fishery, but we bet you didn’t know about its muskies. The muskellunge was native to Champlain until they were wiped out by overfishing and poor conservation efforts. The state reintroduced the fish in the northern reaches of the lake, and the effort is paying dividends.

Virginia

Water: James River
Target: Muskellunge
While the muskie fishing in the James is no secret, it has never been better. The state discovered muskies were reproducing in the James in the ’90s, and the population of fish is now abundant and self-sustaining. The James is also not as big and deep as other rivers, which greatly increases your chance of encountering a fish.

Washington

Water: Columbia River
Target: Walleyes

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Wall-Hanger: The Columbia River is synonymous with salmon, but it also holds some massive walleyes. Bill Lindner

The Columbia River is famed for its salmon, but with recent salmon runs being subpar, ­anglers are enjoying the ­incredible walleye population that has developed. Walleyes have been in the Columbia since the ’60s but have really taken off in the last decade. With an abundance of salmon and steelhead smolt to gorge themselves on, it doesn’t take the Columbia’s walleyes very long to grow massive.

West Virginia

Water: Cheat River
Target: Smallmouth Bass
The Cheat was once a dead river due to severe mine drainage. That began to change after 1972 with the passage of the Clean Water Act. The process has been slow, but in recent years the smallmouth population has bounced back strong. Annual state surveys are finding that from year to year, the smallmouth population is increasing dramatically.

Wisconsin

Water: Lake Geneva
Target: Muskellunge
Wisconsin has no shortage of muskie water, but Lake ­Geneva has recently become a new ringer. Muskies were first stocked in Geneva in 2010, and the fishery is now taking hold. With deep water, shallow flats, and plenty of weed growth, the habitat is prime for growing muskies. Geneva is also loaded with panfish and ciscoes to help fatten them up.

Wyoming

Water: Salt River
Target: Brown Trout
The Salt is one of the few ­rivers in Wyoming that doesn’t get much fishing pressure, largely because it’s bordered mostly by private property as it flows through a valley in the Salt River Mountain Range. This limits anglers to fishing the fertile, spring-fed river by drift boat, but those who row it have a serious shot at browns measuring better than 30 inches.

Written by Mark Modoski for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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