Check out this fly tying video featuring Dreams on the Fly guide, Ken Burkholder! Come see a live demonstration at the Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo, in Boise Jan 14, 9:00 am to noon.
June 13 was a beautiful spring day. The weather was perfect for fishing and since I had been over to the Owyhee River so frequently with clients lately, I wanted to let my family in on the experience. I loaded up my two boys and my wife and we headed out to the Owyhee River. My sons, Levi, 9 and Zach, 6 have been curious about what Dad does as a fly fishing guide. The only fishing they had done was some less than successful trips to a local pond with a kiddie spin rod. The boys love being out in nature, so the setting alone impressed them. Both boys practiced casting and hooked their first fish on a fly rod and they couldn't stop smiling. Posted below are some pictures from the day. It was a great day out with the family, and I now have 2 sons who share my "dreams on the fly."
Steelhead fishing on the Grande Ronde attracts anglers from all over the country. Spring and fall steelhead provide anglers with exceptional fishing opportunities. Anglers have the opportunity to hook steelhead through a combination of floating and walk/wading. In the fall, anglers have opportunities to skate dry flies and swing traditional steelhead flies to aggressive fish. During spring steelhead fishing it is more effective to drift nymphs and egg patterns. Anglers can use single or double handed rods to catch steelhead on this amazing river. Two handed rods (spey rods) are gaining popularity. In the videos below our clients used single handed rods to reel in some nice fall steelhead.
So over the last couple of years I have identified some ( I think) very large problems with my occupation. I apologize for my fragmented ramblings
There will be those anglers following this blog that will not get what I am trying to say, that is ok. There might also be anglers that take offense. But for those that get what I am trying to say there are rewards offered here that reach farther than an average day of guided fishing.
We are blessed to guide on the best brown trout stream in North America, the average size fish here are 17 to 21 inches with the rare opportunity to cast to fish as long as 30 inches. They can be picky, finicky and fickle. Every one of our guides has put in his time over these fish and can produce fish for you better than anyone else guiding this river. You may take this as a pompous statement if you want, but I stand firm on it!
Perhaps we have gotten too good at our job, or maybe we have taken the path of least resistance. Clients that have had a 20 fish day return a second or third time expecting a 30 fish day. We continue to set the bar higher and higher. This has become what a lot of anglers call the "Owyhee experience". In reality how many 17 to 24 inch fish can an angler realistically catch in a day. No wonder a vast majority of our clients and especially returning clients have become what I call fish counters. They measure their success for the day by how many fish they catch.
Nothing wrong with that, or is there?
If you the client want to catch as many fish as possible in a given day then your goal is met. You hire us to find the fish, match the hatch, rig the leader and terminal tackle, tell you where to cast, when to mend, and in a lot of cases when to set the hook. You play the fish, land it, take the grip and grin pic, release the fish and you are back to casting over another one. The faster the action the happier you are. There is nothing wrong with that, and truly that is what we are paid to do.
Don't get me wrong - there is no better ego booster for a guide than to have a client listen to them and cast where we tell them, hook the fish and land it. Bigger numbers = better fishing.
What if you measured the success of the day by what you learned or how hard you the client worked that one and only fish of the day before it ate your fly... What if you wanted to be a better angler? You hire us to give you results, we do our job and do it well. Yet I feel like we are doing you the client a dis-service by making it too easy. I personally dread the angler that does not like fishing unless they are catching fish every other cast. Unless the fish are extremely cooperative these unrealistic expectations make for a very miserable day for all concerned.
I have a personal desire to mentor people who want to learn what I know.
This means when we fish we may spend as much time watching as we do casting. We watch fish behavior and identify catch-able fish by how they act. We spend time watching bugs, watching water and waiting. The reason I know what I know, is because I spend my time on the water watching everything from the client to the fish. Not being distracted by the actual act of casting and fishing allows me the detachment from fishing that is needed to become an observer.
Out of hundreds of clients over the years there has been less than 10 that have shown the tenacity and desire to bypass the lure of instant gratification that fish counting produces. I have clients that tell me they want to learn but when the bugs hatch and the fish start feeding their attention span turns to mush. Do you have what it takes to purposefully NOT catch fish during a feeding frenzy in order to learn what it will take to catch fish during the feeding frenzies that will occur over the next however many years? Do you have the patience to not cast until you KNOW that you will catch that fish? Do want the ability to figure out the best angle of presentation in order not to spook your quarry or to decrease drag?
These things are not easy to learn, but they will indeed make you a better angler.
For those of you that don't already know, the fish in this river are keyed into hatches more so than other rivers. If there is no hatch your catch rates will be diminished. We will spend a LOT of non hatch time prospecting for the occasional feeding fish, often times only catching a couple of fish during that time frame.To fully take advantage of the nature of the river we need to be there during "the hatch" whatever it is. We also need to be in one of the "A" or 1st string spots to produce the big numbers that our clients have gotten used to. The number of other anglers on the river can often dictate the success of the day, as well as how well you the client can take instruction.. While we always do our best to put you on feeding fish, some days it just does not happen...... We are guides not God!
What is your expectation?
So here are some realistic expectations.
*You will have one of the best fishing guides in the business.
*If you are willing to listen and follow instruction you will gain more knowledge about fishing the Owyhee than you can assimilate in a day
*You will be fishing over trophy fish all day
*Our guides will do their best to put you over big feeding fish
*If you catch a few of our big fish you will have had a great day
*If you catch over a dozen fish you will have had a spectacular day
*You might catch the largest trout you have ever caught
*Whether you catch fish or not you should come away from the trip knowing that you have had the best guides taking you on the best brown trout river in North America
*You should come away from the experience with some knowledge learned throughout the day that will help you on your future fishing trips
The Fly Shop Life
So at the ripe age of 17 I took a summer job at Streamside Adventures that lasted years. I left twice for short periods of time only to come back to a place that felt like home. I moved through the ranks rather quickly from shop rat to manager to partner to full owner in a matter of a few years. while this shop bum may have dropped out of college, I earned a degree in hard knocks and retail management in a few short years.
Fly shops were different back then. The selection of good merchandise was very limited. We stocked two brands of fly reels, Pflueger at $25 and Hardy at $95. Graphite rods were just starting to show up in the marketplace. Sage was just starting out and sold both glass and graphite rods. We dyed and packaged our own materials, graded literally hundreds of Indian and Chinese necks. Legal Jungle cock necks sold for $10 to $16, and our cost for legal seal fur was $7 per ounce. I remember buying pairs of Florican Bustard for $9. We made our own head cement, fly floatant, leaders, flies, and many other products A retailer could stock every piece of quality fly tackle for less than $40,000. A far cry from the $300,000 it takes to stock a modern fly shop.
The fly shop was also the fishing communities gathering place. Fishing reports were posted with many of the "secret spots" omitted. Opening day of fishing season was treated as a holiday, Flyfishers would prepare and plan for months for their opening day trip. Memorial Day weekend was the busiest weekend of the year. Bluegill ponds were a closely held secret as were hatches on popular waters. We were able to keep the South Fork of the Boise and the Owyhee (pre brown trout) a secret from outsiders.
Boise was also the float tube capitol of the world at that time, we sold hundreds of fins, waders and Bagmaker or Bucks Bags float tubes. Pontoon boats had not been invented yet so the tubers took over the spring time lake fishing. People have forgotten , but there are 50 good reservoirs and lakes within a 3 hour drive of Boise. Seal dri rubber waders, voight or force fins, neoprene booties, and a vest were the uniform of the float tube navy. Intermediate, type 1, 2, 3, 4, and later type 5, and 6 sinking lines outsold the standard floating line 25 to 1.
I can not tell you how many people learned to tie flies at "Streamside", we ran classes every week from Thanksgiving through April. Every class met one night a week for 4 weeks, beginning, intermediate and advanced classes were offered. I am always running into someone that took one of my classes years ago.
We closed the store in 1996, having survived 4 years of a road construction project in front of the store that was supposed to last 3 years but actually lasted 5. It was a sad time for many of our customers as they lost their "home". It was a devastating blow to me personally, but it allowed me to stay home with my children for 3 years and tie flies commercially.
I feel sorry for you young people that never got to experience the feel of an old school fly shop. The only thing I can compare it to is the atmosphere of the TV show "cheers". As shop employees we had it drilled into us that we needed to know every customers name and to get to know them. We got to know every one of them on a very personal level. For us it was not just about sales but community. One of the most valuable lessons I had learned from my mentor Ken Magee was that life was about people first, fishing second. Most of the "regulars" are long gone but I remember them like it was yesterday. Pete Hidy, Rupe Gates, Phil Andersen, Les Hollad, Danny Jue, Paul Racine are gone now but left their mark on my life. There are some that will read this that will remember those days - Bob Glen, Kevin Jesse, Brian Miller, Ray Bush, Bob Kroos and a hundred more. There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss the "Cheers" personalities that used to stop in "Streamside" on a daily or weekly basis.
The store also brought me a number of close friends, Ken Magee and Warren Schoth (both gone) , Jeff Smith, and Dan Telford. Without the support of these men I would have given up long ago.
Words from Dave:
When I was a young teenager I was obsessed with tying flies, not a day passed that I did not sit down at my desk and tie a few. This obsession led me into a fly shop about a half mile from my house. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I walked into the store and was looking intently for some red saddle hackle When this old man with a throaty gruff voice asked if I was finding what I was looking for."No" I answered sheepishly and told him I needed some red saddle hackle. He gruffly answered "we don't carry red saddle, what do you need red for? Use Orange it works better". I bought some orange, but kept coming back every week looking for red until one day the old man leaned over the counter as I walked in and said simply " we got red hackle". Little did I know but that was the start of a 30 year relationship.
Ken was a short man built like a brick, he sported a flat top haircut that had been with him since WWII. he had been one of the few "flying sergeants" during the war and was very proud of it. I used to enjoy his stories of flying cargo planes over the "hump" between Burma and China. He had a gruff raspy voice that had earned him the nickname "bullfrog" from many of his old cronies.
He hired me at the ripe old age of 17 to work in the fly shop. I had already been tying some of the local still water float tube flies for him for a couple of years. The first thing he said to me when he hired me was " keep your mouth shut and listen, you will learn something". Ken trained me like a drill sergeant in boot camp, he tore me down and built me up as a man. His gruff and often loud voice barking orders, continuously kept me on my toes. Many a day I went home and felt like crying. Never one to explain things well, Ken would just say " give me that thing and watch". so I watched and listened. As gruff as he was on the outside, inside he had a heart of gold. Ken sort of adopted me as the son he never had.
Ken opened every door he could for me that was fly fishing related. Being a life member of the FFF Ken knew everyone in the business and was not shy about sharing his wealth of knowledge or his contacts with me. I learned to cast from some of the best, Lefty, Mel and Joan. As a young man I never realized who these people where, they were Kens friends . He taught me everything he could: we used to dye feathers, grade Indian necks ( yes that was way before Henry Hoffman or Whiting), build rods, tie leaders etc. The sky was the limit. The back room of the shop was always a mess from some dying or tying project we were all working on. I worked for Ken for about 5 years before he made it possible for me to buy his part of the fly shop from him.
When I was 19 my own father died, Kens drill sergeant attitude toward me started to fade and he became more compassionate. He seemed to have stepped into the father role and picked up where my father had left off. Not everything was rosy mind you. There were days I would be mad at him and hate his guts. There were days he would cuss me out and be mad at me, but that is the way it went. He was always there for me. Always a couch or a bed at his place to crash on when times were rough. One thing you could count on with Ken is that you always knew where you stood with him, he never held back and was sometimes brutally honest.
Kens favorite fishing was float tube fishing still water. Pursuing bluegills was constantly on his mind.his quest for 13 inch bluegill took him to every secret pond in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. On his birthday every year he would pack up his trailer and fish his favorite bluegill pond for a week. He would invite select family members and friend to join him, it was always a party. He also loved the Rattlesnake fork, although in later years he could not wade well. Most of his fishing on rivers was limited to drift boats. God help you if you had to row Ken down the river. He would cuss you out and make fun of your rowing, all the while laughing and having a grand time. I can still hear him saying" if I wanted to fish out of the back of the boat I would have sat back there!"
When Ken was diagnosed with a terminal illness he embraced death just as he had embraced life. Ken opened the doors to his house and invited all of his friends to see him before he died. When a friend would visit, Ken gave them one of his possessions. He wanted to personally give them something of himself. I was not able to spend much time with him in his last 30 days but I do remember the last phone conversation we had. I called Ken from Boggans oasis after hearing that he was close to the end. We both knew he was going to die soon and it was almost more than I could bear at the time. I did not want to hang up the phone and say goodbye. Ken died at the end of October that year, I cancelled the last 5 days of guiding I had that year and came home. His ashes have been scattered over many of his favorite places.
Ten years ago when Dave and I began this business of "guided fly fishing" he said we'd never be able to make a living at it. I said "ok" and we began our part time business Dreams on the Fly. We sat down to a computer and developed a logo, opened a checking account, obtained our business license, and I figured out how to build a website, we were off and running. We were living in Seattle then, and guided some of the well known steelhead streams on the West side of the state. When the occasional Owyhee request would come in, Dave would take his old Toyota 4-Runner and drive the 8 hr. drive over to guide for a day, spend time with his daughter and drive back, he was limited to weekends. Dave had another job, working construction on some of the finest homes in Seattle's Queen Ann District. So after 12 hours of guiding, an 8 hour return drive back to Seattle, he would pull in the drive, beat and weary from his weekend and off to work his job by 5 a.m. on Monday mornings. Ah the journey in those days was grueling on Dave. I was working 10-12 hours a day 6 days a week in a managing a catering facility. We were beat, but never gave up.
It was the spring of 2004 when we received an email from Kara Demorest at the Diamond D Ranch near Stanley, Idaho asking us if we would be willing to guide in the Frank Church Wilderness. I loved the thought of it, however it didn't seem too realistic to again drive all that way, plus another 4 hours to the Ranch to guide for perhaps a weekend. So we contacted Dave' friend of 30+ years, Jeff Smith, and asked it he would work for Diamond D. He immediately said yes, and submitted his application for his guides license. 2 days before Jeff was to head up to the Ranch we got word that his guides license had been denied. There had been some infraction when Jeff was 17 years old on his Idaho Fish and Game record. It was the very same weekend that Dave's son Joshua was leaving the US for his first tour in Iraq. We talked with him almost the entire way to Idaho about the two very different journeys we were on. Us heading into the wilderness where serene streams, peaceful days and God's wondrous beauty abounds, and his where uncertainty, stress and fear would surround him.
Diamond D ~ Moving ~ Living in a travel trailer
We worked at the Diamond D Ranch for 4 or 5 days that spring, began getting more work on the Owyhee and knew we needed to address Jeff's issue with Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board. It seems when Jeff was 17 he had an illegal pheasant in the back of his truck and was cited. Jeff appealed the decision, we testified in front of the Board that this was a one time, long time ago occurrence and guaranteed it would never happen again. Jeff was now free to guide in Idaho. We headed back to Seattle, knowing Jeff was fully skilled in guiding clients for us on both the Owyhee and at Diamond D Ranch. It became more and more evident that the Owyhee business was picking up, we were spending more time in Idaho, I quit my catering job, Dave quit his construction job and we moved thinking we both had positions waiting for us in Idaho. And so a new journey began!
When we got to Idaho we discovered that both the positions we anticipated fell through! We were both now unemployed, didn't have much money and no where to live. Again, Jeff Smith to the rescue along with his generous wife Debbie offered their 23' trailer in their backyard as temporary housing for us. And yet another journey into the unknown. More to come, keep checking back!
Journeys Part II
After living in the Smith's trailer for 2 months during one of the hottest summers on record, we finally had saved up enough money to move into a home. Continuing to guide at Diamond D Ranch and the Owyhee allowed us to have a summer filled with many opportunities...some great, some life lessons, and some very big changes.
Beginning in September Dave guided elk and deer hunting, a grueling 6 weeks on horseback, mule back and by foot. This position came about only after Rhonda volunteered, in a summertime conversation that "Dave loves to hunt and is a great hunter". That summer Rhonda was diagnosed with Degenerative Arthritis in her right hip and was scheduled for a total hip replacement in January, and in September we headed to Diamond D Ranch for a guiding and care taking position, that would last until Janaury.
If you are not familiar with the Diamond D I will tell you a bit about it. Set in some of the most pristine, wilderness in the lower 48 the ranch is located in the heart of the Salmon river mountains. Located in the Frank Church Wilderness- The river of no return, it is the second largest protected wilderness in the contiguous United States after Death Valley. To be exact 2.7 million acres. That's a lot of elk, deer, swans, mountain lions, wolves, foxes and hundreds of other little critters that always made their way into our lives.
At the ranch we cared for 37 head of horses and mules, keep watch over the buildings located on the 300 acre ranch, kept predators at bay, chopped ice for the hydro power unit that keeps the ranch running year round (read; no electricity for 8 hrs. a day). We cooked on a wood stove for all our meals, flew our kids and grandkids in for Thanksgiving and did not see another person until we returned to Boise in January for Rhonda's hip surgery.
Fast forward 2 months post-op, we began to make plans to purchase our first home together. Rhonda had sold her home in Lake Stevens, Washington that summer. 2 years after being a long distance landlord was just a little much.
Of all the homes we looked at, put offers on and even considered purchasing, the house in Parma was the one Dave liked the most. With "good bones, solid foundation and 1/3 of an acre" we put in our offer. Of course an appraisal was ordered and in light of that, we knew that boarded up windows would never pass, so we replaced the glass and removed the plywood from the windows and doors.
We looked at homes, property, modulars etc. for over 3 months, putting in our offers only to be beat out by others vying for the same properties Then after watching a foreclosure listing for over a month on a beat up, abandoned, overgrown monstrosity of a home, we finally went out to PARMA, of all places to view it. The realtor didn't even meet us, they told us the combination to the lock and we were on our own. Many of the windows were broken and covered with plywood, the back door was boarded up, and the weeds were over 6 feet high. And the downstairs (Dave calls the dungeon) was somewhere Rhonda refused to go. We had found out from one of the neighbors, someone had been living in the home, with no power, water or heat all that winter. Using the wood stove located in a corner of what might have been a dinning room on top of filthy red and black shag carpet. It was a true mess of a house! But we were on yet another of our wonderful journeys!
On May 6th 2006 we were proud (?) owners of this home that had car parts buried in the yard, marijuana plants growing next to the entry, and 30-06 holes in the bay window in the kitchen which by the way had no place to put a refrigerator. Oh did I mention little or no power? Dave's son, an electrician gutted the entire knob and tube wiring and re-wired the entire house. In the process we were living in the house, guiding on the Owyhee, tearing out walls (6 within the first 3 weeks), and digging into lathe and plaster. There was a time in this process where we had a 4 outlet gangbox hooked to an extension cord, directly wired into the old electrical box and had to plug and unplug hand held lights, the crock pot, the microwave and an electric skillet.
The bathroom consisted of an angular shower a toilet and a sink all in a condition which made going to the local gas station very attractive. That bathroom was the first room to go. Removing closets from the master bedroom and guest rooms we made it a spa like room that any woman would envy! Need more...keep checking back!
A little about Dave
Dave grew up in a modest household, his father attending both the University of Idaho in Moscow and the University of Washington in Seattle. Dave's mother taught music in Bellevue. Living in Seattle, Dave spent a lot of time with his Grandfather fishing the waters of the Puget Sound for Salmon, Steelhead, Sea Run Cutthroat and bottom fish. Those years from kindergarten to 4th grade taught Dave enormous angling and outdoor skills.
His first backpack, at age 6, the knapsack style, took he and his family into the Cascades of Washington and then into the Sawtooths of Idaho. Graduating into wood frame packs for expeditions into the wondrous Sawtooth Mountains, Dave learned his exploring skills. Imagine having the mountain lakes and streams as your "Gameboy". Catching little frogs and frying up their little legs for dinner. Finding fallen 8' trees and riding them like a teeter totters, scrambling over boulders and up and down mountain sides he and his cousins would fall into their sleeping bags exhausted and happy.
Fishing high mountain lakes at that time consisted of a clear bubble with a fly behind it on spinning rods. The cutthroats, brook trout, rainbows and grayling were plentiful and the bull trout, which they called Dolly Vardens were a feast (they were not endangered at that time), in fact they were often times the main fish in the system.
Rocks became the ammunition of choice for the abundant and unsuspecting Spruce grouse. Not known for their intelligence the grouse became a true treat for dinner. Fresh Huckleberry pancakes for breakfast combined with freeze dried eggs and potatoes the Tuckers never lacked. Foraging for mushrooms and many of the Salmon River and Sawtooth mountains natural culinary delights, cooking over campfires these trips could be weekenders or 8-9 days escapades.
Living in Boise, his father a professor at Boise State University and teaching environmental sciences, the family would backpack several weekends a year as well as plan an extended trip at least once a Learning to tie Renegades, Royal Wulfs, Humpies and the like, produced not only flies with the expected fishing results, but results that would offer him a career. With no You-Tube or videos of any kind it was Jack Dennis' book, Western Trout Fly Tying Manual, Volume 1, became Dave's best friend. Now battered, beat and coffee stained this book remains in Dave's vast collection of treasured books. Jack recently moved to Salt Lake, but we see him a couple of times a year, we need to remember to have him sign Dave's beloved manual. More to come, be sure to bookmark this page to return to see the next journey! Dave was 12 years old, when his father's associate Bob Freedly taught him how to tie flies.