Born in the Basement
- By: Phil Monahan
In the mid 1970s, Connecticut native John Merwin was living the back-to-the-land dream in northern Vermont, tending a herd of beef cows and growing his own food, when he came across an issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. A writer and lifelong angler, Merwin was intrigued. “My first thought was ‘This is awful,’” Merwin remembers, but he liked the idea of the magazine, which was edited by its founder, Don Zahner.
Merwin submitted a couple of fly-fishing articles to Zahner, who was impressed enough that he asked Merwin to become managing editor of the magazine. So, Merwin sold the farm and moved south to Dorset, Vermont, to begin a career as a writer and editor that has lasted more than 30 years.
A few years later, Zahner sold Fly Fisherman to publishing giant Ziff-Davis, and in 1979 Merwin decided to strike out on his own. His goal was to launch a fishing magazine featuring better writing and more diverse content, produced at “a higher level of intelligence” than the titles presently then on the newsstand. Thus was Rod & Reel born, in the basement of Merwin’s house, with the help of Kit Parker, whom he had lured away from Fly Fisherman as a partner to run the business side of the operation. Although at first the magazine covered all kinds of fishing, Merwin decided after a few issues that a more narrowly defined publication, devoted exclusively to fly-fishing, would work better.
Promising that his new title would be a cut above the competition, Merwin was able to convince authors such as Lefty Kreh and Charlie Fox to write for him. But his biggest coup was landing Lee Wulff, who at the time was a columnist for Sports Afield, one of the “Big Three” national sporting magazines, with a circulation in the hundreds of thousands.
When Tom Paugh, the editor of Sports Afield, told Wulff that he could not write for Rod & Reel, Wulff quit his prestigious post and took over the back page of Merwin’s untested startup—a testament to both Wulff’s stubbornness and his belief in Merwin’s ambitious vision.
From the beginning, Merwin tried to offer his readers something different from the standard fare. “It’s important to have a surprise or two per issue,” Merwin says, and his Rod & Reel included articles ranging from Robert Traver essays to an analysis of trout vision, as well as no-holds-barred reviews—even negative ones—of fishing gear. (See the All About… column on page 58 of this issue for Ted Leeson’s input on his decades of gear reviews.)
Merwin remembers those early days fondly, but he was working like a one-armed wallpaper-hanger: reading submissions, editing stories, designing and laying out the pages, and “running around New York City to raise money.” The son of a photographer, he also took many of the photos that accompanied articles. To add to the workload, Merwin also started a trade magazine called Fly-Fishing Retailer, which served the fly-fishing industry and offered a way for mom-and-pop operations and new businesses to get the word out on their new products.
The recession of 1981-1982 and grind of producing and financing two magazines took their toll, and Merwin sold both titles to Down East Publishing in 1983. He then served as director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing until 1986, when he returned to writing full-time. He is the author of more than a dozen books on fishing and has been writing for Field & Stream since 1994, and currently serves as the magazine’s Fishing Editor.
Phil Monahan is the former editor of American Angler magazine. He lives in southern Vermont.
- By: Buzz Bryson
Q: I messed up. I have dozens of fly lines and I’m usually pretty good at labeling them, but when I moved recently I ended up with one unidentified line. I do know that it’s almost certainly a 7- to 9-weight line, the main line is chartreuse or key lime in color and it’s got a 10-foot dark-green tip. I suspect it’s either a Rio or a Scientific Anglers (SA) line. The dark tip tells me it’s a sink tip—I think. In any case, I tried to look up info on line colors of older lines (it’s probably two to five years old) and nothing seemed to match. I’ve never used it. Any suggestions on identifying it? I guess I could simply throw it on my 7- or 8-weight rods and verify if it casts okay. Thanks, I’m a longtime reader of your fine magazine—Dan Calcaterra, Canton, Michigan
I’D AGREE WITH YOUR ASSESSMENT. The dual colors pretty much identify the line as having a sinking tip. You indicated that you had tried to look up (presumably on manufacturers’ Web sites) information on the line, and didn’t find a definitive match. I can completely understand that “problem” (in most cases, we’d consider it a blessing), in that fly-line manufacturers offer us a wealth of lines with sinking tips and heads. Notwithstanding the plethora of lines offered by others, SA (www.scientificanglers.com) lists at least one line, the Mastery Wet Tip, that appeared to pretty closely match the line you describe.
I called Bruce Richards, SA’s chief line designer, an avid curler, auto-crosser and fly caster and angler extraordinaire —he is either a true Renaissance Man or a true redneck (yes, it does take one to know one) displaced to Michigan’s north woods—seeking his wisdom. Bruce confirmed, as is too often the case, that I was right…almost. He said the line description more closely fit the SA Air Cel Supreme Wet Tip (which was discontinued in 2008, in favor of the improved Supra Sink Tip series).
Bruce made an excellent point about the line weight, as well. He said a couple of diameter measurements would confirm exactly which line weight it was. But he quickly added that the “test” you suggested—casting the line on a couple of rods, matching it with the rod that cast the line most comfortably for you—was as good if not a better option. Remember, line weights come with standards, but rod designations are subjective. Better to use the combo that best suits your casting!
Q: One of the guides on my favorite fly rod got bent on my last trip. I have an unlimited warranty on the rod, but would really rather replace the guide myself, and not spend the time and money to send it back to the manufacturer. How difficult is this?
A: YOU’RE REALLY ASKING TWO questions. First, are you capable of replacing the guide satisfactorily? Second, will the do-it-yourself nature of the repair in any way void or limit the rod’s warranty?
The latter is really more critical, since the unlimited warranty is: 1) not free; 2) too valuable to be voided by your own action, however simple the repair and capable you are; and 3) For instance, Sage’s warranty program (http://www.sageflyfish.com/Resources/Warranty) specifically excludes “modification or customization” of the rod. The warranty department advised me that Sage has no control over home repairs. Should you replace a bent guide, and the rod subsequently breaks, Sage cannot determine whether the breakage was a covered (under warranty) repair, or in fact related to the replacement guide not having sharp edges removed, or being wrapped on too tightly, either of which can create a stress point and ultimately lead to rod breakage. So, to be perfectly compliant with the warranty program, either take the rod to a dealer, or send it directly to Sage, with the $50 fee, and you’ll get it back, good as new.
Temple Fork Outfitters’ Rick Pope says: “I’m fine with somebody taking a rod to a repair shop; most of them will replace a single guide for $5 or $10. Or, send it back to us with the $25, and we’ll make it good.” Question One takes a little more explaining. Go to www.flyrodreel.com Skills section for some advice on replacing a rod guide.
Send your questions for Professor Buzz to email@example.com.
- By: admin
Hawaiian bonefish, a sunglass-maker gets serious about the fly-fishing market,
- By: Rob Lyon
In search of wild coho salmon and coastal thrills off the remote shores of Vancouver Island.
Often, it’s not only how well a product stands up in the midst of battle but, more important, how well the company stands behind their product. My trusty Steelhead Large Arbor Orvis Mach IV is only a few years old, but has seen many trying days on Michigan’s rivers. This past spring I had an issue onstream that “felt” like the reel was tight. I was mid-stream and decided to take a closer look, breaking a cardinal rule, and something fell out of my reel. I sent the reel to Orvis with a check for $40. A new clutch and cover and, within a week, I had the reel back with a refund check for $30. The level of service and customer satisfaction far surpass how many clams I shelled out for a quality reel. Thank you Orvis for getting me back in the season in time to chase more chrome.
WEB BONUS: More on Yvon Chouinard
- By: Paul Bruun
Recently returned from the Gaula in Norway, Yvon Chouinard bucked the trend of using the giant tube flies and enjoyed great Atlantic salmon success with small Eastern Canadian patterns. "We landed some fine 20-pounders and turned them all loose," he reported, despite the tendency in many countries to keep large Atlantic salmon.
2009 Angler of the Year
- By: Paul Bruun
The laughter, resonant with enthusiasm, is penetrating... even from across the river. The man is having a good time but who doesn't when they're catching fish? It's obvious from a glance at this behavior that size is unimportant: Nine-inchers elicit the same commotion as do fish twice that length. These trout are special in another way. They're rising in a run beside an island in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), where more than 30 years ago the man taught his own son and daughter to fish with a fly rod and a tiny piece of worm.
I enjoyed reading about my old home waters. I lived within 50 miles of Glacier National Park for 27 years.
- By: Jeremie Hollman
An encounter with a bull trout leads to a disappointing midcurrent loss.
- By: Anthony F. Genovese