Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interview with a Master Angler

Earlier this year, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife began what it calls the Master Angler Program. According to the promotional material on Fish and Wildlife's website, "the program is intended to recognize the achievements of anglers who catch exceptionally-sized fish from Vermont water ... [and] the fish's accomplishment in surviving and growing to such an admirable size." 

And why not? Don't we all like to be recognized when we do something well? Isn't this especially true of bug chuckers, who have matched or surpassed their own personal milestones. The simple truth is that as long as men have been baiting hooks with meat or adorning them with fur and feathers, they've been telling the tales of their catch and the stories of the ones that got away. For proof, one need only look at the recent explosion in fly fishing related media: magazines, e-zines, HD films, blogs.

Vermont has provided a forum by which we might all be recognized, and perhaps learn a little something along the way. One of the first anglers to embrace the program, and the first to receive recognition as a master angler is Drew Price, a guide working with Stream and Brook Fly Fishing of Middlebury, Vermont. 

The Rusty Spinner recently had the good fortune to interview Drew about fishing, guiding, and Vermont's exciting new program ...

TRS:      How did you come to fly fishing?

Drew Price:  I got my first fly rod outfit in December of 1993 as a graduation present when I completed my first degree at SUNY Plattsburgh. I had been spin fishing for a few years but I wanted to try fly fishing. It seemed more challenging and in some ways more substantial to me. So I practiced casting in the snow that winter, got a fly tying kit and started tying, and then didn’t catch a fish until the middle of May!

TRS:  To where have you traveled to fish?

Drew Price:  I have fished all over New York state for a variety of species from muskies to salmon and steelhead, been to Cape Cod for stripers and I have been twice to the Everglades in Flamingo, Florida for snook, baby tarpon, and anything else we could catch.

TRS:  Have you any one place you tend to think of as a favorite?

Drew Price:  Well I try to get to Oak Orchard Creek in NY at least once a year, usually twice. Huge browns get my attention for sure! I really want to get back to the ‘Glades now that I know what I am doing much better.

TRS:  What place haven't you visited that's on your bucket list?

Drew Price:  I am not sure that we have enough space for that! Here are a few:
- East Texas for alligator gar
- Midwest for buffalo (the fish not the mammal)
- Somewhere for bonefish and shark
- The Amazon for a wide variety of fishes
- Mongolia for taimen

I suspect you get the picture… A lot of what I am most interested in are non-traditional species. And fish that get big. But I will fish almost anywhere.

TRS:  What are your home waters?

Drew Price:  The Lake Champlain watershed is what I really consider my home waters. I fish primarily the Winooski and Otter Creek watersheds, but I have spent a great deal of time on other rivers (especially in New York) and a lot of time on the shallow bays of the lake.

TRS:  When did you begin guiding?

Drew Price:  That was about 3 years ago. Stream and Brook was looking for some extra help and I thought I could bring them something a bit different. Now the Big Game fishing that I brought to the guide service is almost a quarter of our business.

Longnose gar up close and personal (note the "hookless fly"- although to be legal in VT it has a hook point: a size 20 dry fly hook)

TRS:  What do you enjoy most about your work?

Drew Price:  I meet some really cool and interesting people! And the office environment doesn’t suck to be in either.

  You seem to have very eclectic tastes in terms of the fish you pursue. Have you a favorite species?

Drew Price:  No. I love to fish for almost anything. Except walleye. Totally overrated fish.

TRS:  Of the species you chase, which do you think is most under appreciated by fly fishermen?

Drew Price:  I think that many species are underrated by fly anglers. From sunfish to bowfin to carp and pike many species have a bad rap with a lot of folks. I find that a lot of the “next generation” of fly anglers has a greater appreciation for these fish rather than the old school mentality of trout and salmon only. I do find a big bias from the traditionalists. Kind of like this “why would you bother” attitude. I bother because it is fun. To borrow a line from Ben and Jerry, if it’s not fun, why do it?

Drew getting a kiss from one of his favorite targets. I think that's Drew on the right.

TRS:  Why should fly fishermen consider pursuing these fish?

Drew Price:  The challenge that they present. I started fishing for trout and salmon and still do.  But let’s face it, if you run into a situation on a trout stream you can probably find someone that has written about how to meet that challenge. There is a kind of constant with it, knowing when and where something will hatch, how to imitate that insect, etc… A lot of what I have found angling for alternative species is that I am learning a lot about what I am doing with it every time I go out. No one has written much about it. I have dialed it in pretty well so far, but it is always a learning experience.

Most of these fish are bigger than your typical freshwater fly rod target. They fight hard, can be tough to get to take, and are in places you don’t see many other fly anglers. A lot of these species are also safe to fish for when it is super hot out (usually the best time to target them) making them a great option during the heat of summer.

Personally, I really enjoy the variety of angling for so many species. I would get bored just chasing one kind of fish or group of fish.

TRS:  As best you can, please explain the Vermont Master Class program.

Drew Price:  I think the best thing here to take a look at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website.

TRS:  What is the goal of the program?

Drew Price:  There really are three goals for the program: showcase the excellent fishing variety available in Vermont, acknowledge anglers that have made exceptional catches, and to collect valuable biological information from the anglers that have submitted their catches.

TRS:  How does an angler go about submitting his or her catch for recognition?

Drew Price:  Super simple! Just go to the aforementioned website, fill out a form and send in a picture with the online form. The important things to keep in mind are to know the minimum lengths for the species you are targeting, take a picture that can be used (best to take multiple pictures) and resize the photo before submitting it. Oh yea, and get out there to fish your butt off!

Shawn Good - Vermont state fisheries biologist and mastermind behind the VT Master Angler Program with a Master Class bowfin

TRS:  How many entries have you submitted

Drew Price:  So far, 27 entries with 10 different species. I am hoping to increase both of those numbers. And they are all on flies.

TRS:  Which entry did you find most notable?

Drew Price:  They are all notable! Seriously, they really are. All of them are large representatives of each species and were challenging to catch. A lot of homework went into figuring out when and where to target these fishes. Obviously it has paid off.

TRS:  Have you any plans to expand your list of Master Class fish?

Drew Price:  Well my original goal was to hit 10 species. Now, I will shoot for 15. I want to get as many as I can on a fly rod. I would say that I can get all but 4 or 5 of the 33 species on a fly, but then again, I have not targeted those few species yet. I have caught bullhead on flies before so I do think I could get one of those and probably a channel cat too…. I want as many as I can!

It all begins again starting January 1, 2011! The Master Angler Program resets at the beginning of each year. I am already plotting out my fishing for next season with the program in mind.


drunknmunky said...

You have a very nice blog! Good to read & follow.
Drunknmunky - Pikavippivinkit

Razzle Dazzle said...

Drew is on his game no doubt.
Thanks to Shawn for developing an awesome program.