2003 Trout Bum Tournament Wrap Up

2003 Trout Bum Tournament Wrap Up

This year FR&R introduced some new elements to the Trout Bum Tournament. It was still a fish-filled bum-fest, but this year we decided to shake things

  • By: Jim Reilly
This year FR&R introduced some new elements to the Trout Bum Tournament. It was still a fish-filled bum-fest, but this year we decided to shake things up a bit and by adding a Solo-Angler category, as well as extending the field of contenders.

Forest fires and heat were familiar themes throughout many of the contestants' trips. The anglers out West in particular had to deal with closed roads and restricted access brought on by the fires. And the summer's high heat was felt to be partially to be blamed for the slow fishing our Trout Bums experienced from Alaska to Michigan.

This year's contest also saw the first teams to donate any of their Trout Bum money to a charity, in both cases Casting for Recovery (see sidebar). We hope that future Trout Bums consider ways to help others through their trips.

Here then is a recap of Cabela's/Fly Rod&Reel 2003 Trout Bum Tournament, presented by Ford:

Alaskan Sourdoughs

Like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, the Alaskan Sourdoughs' incredible 33-day trip is a record for the ages. Talking about ages, who would have thought that these two seventy-somethings from Anchorage would outlast teams with half their years?

Retired and with lots of free time on their hands apparently, Marty Sherman, 78, and Frank Willis, 71, undertook a month-long odyssey around Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula that was a dream trip by anyone's standards-but with a Trout Bum twist.

With transportation and accommodation provided by their vintage Toyota mini-camper "Jennifer," the Alaskan Sourdoughs were hell-bent to fish for the incredible variety of fish species Alaska offers. On their trip Frank and Marty caught grayling, Dolly Varden, whitefish, a variety of salmon and giant Alaskan rainbows.

As with any campaign of this magnitude, these ex-military men had a lot of support from the troops in the rear. Frank and Marty received quite a bit of help from strangers and friends alike along the way. Marty's daughter in Washington State held a fundraising barbeque that gathered $145 in donations for the Sourdoughs, as well as a few pounds of frozen ribs for their cooler. And in a complex bumming scheme, the Sourdoughs 'mooched' two days of food and fishing at Ken Gill's&Pattie Wright's Eagle's Roost Lodge on the Kenai River, perhaps the poshest digs any Trout Bum has ever bummed.

Don't get the picture that just because these guys were up in Alaska that the fishing was easy and the going smooth. Due to the record heat of this past summer (inland temperatures reached into the 90's during one particular hot spell), the fishing was rather slow by Alaskan standards. Marty and Frank went fishless on some lakes and rivers, but nevertheless kept at it for over four weeks when lesser anglers might have thrown in the towel. However, even the most dedicated Trout Bums have their moments of doubt. "One had to ask," they wrote in a report, "Are we really having fun? We could have quit several days ago; why do we keep on keeping on? We probably both have some rare type of mental deficiency, probably fairly common in Trout Bums and unknown in the general population."

All the way through their trip, we admired the Soughdoughs' attitude, which Frank summed up nicely: "We're not like most people; we're kinda hardcore. We're not talented, but we have a dogged persistence."

Sounds like Trout Bums to us.


Dave Larson had a dandy of a Trout Bum trip. His determined ('Quixotic' might be a better word) 15-day quest for brook trout in Michigan's Upper Peninsula provided "Otter" with some great highs (such as finding $1.50 in quarters at the bottom a river) and some real lows. But through it all the retired social worker exhibited true Trout Bum attitude and never complained about a thing. He didn't have many opportunities to do so, as many of the places he fished were way off the grid. But how about those lows?

Well, first Otter backed his truck into a tree stump, causing $2000 worth of damage to a rear quarter-panel. Then the mid-summer heat made finding any decent fishing more than a challenge across the entire UP. And finally right at the tail end of his trip, an errant fly embedded itself squarely in Otter's forearm, which he extracted himself (tack-up another reason for going barbless).

Along the way Otter managed to find some eager brookies in the 10- to 13-inch range, as well as decent-size browns from Wisconsin's Namekagon River. And the Bois Brule did not disappoint either.

By the end of his trip, though, Otter had had his fill of the tough trout of the upper-Midwest and shifted his attention to more pragmatic matters: "I'm going up to find some bluegill to eat and see if I can find a place with a shower and clean up a little bit," he said.

Trout Lickin' Hooligans

Like most people in their 20's, the four members of the Ashland, Oregon-based Trout Lickin' Hooligans had some real optimistic ideas about life in general, and their prospects of catching trout in the California-Oregon border region in particular. What happened though, was that they got their trout-lickin', tofu-eatin' butts handed to them by the educated trout of northern California. But hey, that's life.

The Hooligans-Barbara Bouschlicher, 29; Charles Gehr, 28; Bryant Helgeland, 25; and Noah Trieger, 20, all worked together at the Ashland Outdoor Store and on paper seemed to have all the trappings for a Trout Bum dream team: Bryant, a chef, would cook their meals, Charles and Noah would tie the team's flies and Barbara, the oldest of the youngsters, would provide 'adult' leadership on the trip. And for the icing on the cake-the Hooligans raided the Ashland Outdoor Store's well-stocked rental department for fishing gear.

Unfortunately, things didn't work out quite like that. First of all, Bryant is a vegetarian chef, while the rest are confirmed omnivores and don't really dig the "coconut-curry tofu kind of thing" Bryant concocted on their first night out; Barbara had to bow out of the Tournament because of a family emergency, and no matter how good of a tier you might be, if you aren't tying the right flies you're going to be left with a limp line much of the time.

In all fairness, the Hooligans caught fish nearly from the get-go, but they were pretty small, or what Barbara called "skippies." Not to be defeated by small fish on the Umpqua, the Hooligans next stopped at the privately owned Wild Billy Lake in southern Oregon for a day of fly-fishing's equivalent to the champagne room-catching and releasing big, dumb rainbows in a stocked lake. Although most people have to pay-to-play here, the Hooligans bummed a day's fishing and a night's stay at the lake, and had a good time catching big stockers. As a group they didn't catch a fish under 16-inches, and Bryant got one that measured 21 inches.

Their next stop was the Upper Williamson River where the group ran into a mayfly hatch and caught some descent rainbows, which Charles said were "smaller than the fish at Wild Billy Lake." No kidding. After that the Hooligans were thoroughly schooled by the fish on Northern California's Hat Creek. It seems the fish were rising to orange-cream spinners instead of the cream ones they had tied. The McCloud River provided some good fish the next day for the Hooligans and seemed to have made up for Hat Creek. Then it was off to the upper Sacramento River where the remaining Hooligans took some decent fish with nymphs.

A final visit to the Klamath River on their way home lucked the Hooligans-minus-Barbara into a salmonfly hatch and the best fishing of the trip.

Steel Horse Boys

Gordon Reese and his stepson Justin Salmon headed north out of their home in Sierra Vista, Arizona, on their two-wheeled steeds of steel and spent 10 days fishing for Apache trout in Arizona's White Mountains and enjoying some awesome rides.

Gordon, 37, is a rural letter carrier for the USPS, and Justin is a high-school student who turned 16 and got his motorcycle license right before the contest.

For those who don't know, Apache trout are a subspecies of rainbows found in the White Mountains. Gordon described them as "big, fat things that fight like crazy. They never stop even when they're in the net. They go like nuts." Justin and Gordon were catching them on the west branch of the Black River in the 10 to 12 inch range but their small size was OK with Gordon. "We're catching more fish down there than anybody else down there, so that was cool," he said.

Gordon and Justin mainly fished rivers near the White Mountains, including both branches of the Black River as well as the Little Colorado. But even if these guys didn't catch any trophy-size fish, they are still T-U-F-F in anybody's book. Just listen to Gordon describe their trip menu: "Oh, what have we been eating…We got enough beef jerky and Top Ramen to last a month, so that's what we've been living on… You know, Pop Ttarts and jerky for breakfast." Maybe they should have named themselves "Steel Stomach Boys."

Even though the fishing wasn't the best, the Steel Horse Boys certainly had themselves a good time cruising the mountain roads with fly rods in tow. However, they'd probably been wiser to spend a little more of their Tournament money on better food.

Geoff Mueller

Geoff Mueller has paradise in his backyard. The mega-waters of southern Alberta are a quick 10-hour drive from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the 25-year-old attends college. And Geoff's August Trout Bum trip to the Bow, Livingstone and Crowsnest rivers did not disappoint.

Home to giant rainbows and cutthroats, southern Alberta is a Trout Bum's dream. Geoff began his trip by fishing on the Bow River, and as luck would have it, he caught a giant rainbow his first day out. "The fish of the day was a spectacular rainbow-one of the biggest I've ever caught, actually," he said. "It was actually around 23-inches…The fish here are big and strong."

Geoff pretty much stayed put the next two day (who would blame him?) and caught more fish in the 20-inch range. Perhaps Geoff became bored with these fish because he took an afternoon off and went to a rodeo (giddy-up), but he was back on the Bow the next morning fishing at McKeirnan Flats, where he had another stellar day of casting Hoppers to giant rainbows. That is, until an intense thunderstorm with bolts of lightning hitting the ground nearby drove Geoff off the water.

Eventually Geoff made his way to the Livingstone River, which he described as "cutthroat fishing at its finest" and spent two days fishing there. Geoff had intended to fish the Gap section of the Oldham River but encroaching forest fires had shut down that section. Geoff's next option was to fish the Crowsnest River near Bellevue, Alberta, and despite the Crowsnest's reputation as being difficult and over-fished, with a little hard work Geoff managed to catch some beauties (the secret is to walk a mile-and-a-half up- or downstream from the easy access points and 20-inch rainbows can be easily had).

Geoff spent one more day at the Crowsnest before making his way back towards his home in Vancouver. Along the way he stopped to fish a small stream near Fernie, B.C., that produced some small cutts before heading further west and ending his Trout Bum trip.

Not a bad way to spend 11 days before heading back to school, eh?

Vanishing Fly Fisher

There's nothing supernatural or scary about spending 10 days alone fishing the Utah high country, or is there? Well, Jan Brunvand, retired professor of English and urban legend expert would be the one to know.

The author of nine books on urban legends (and frequent David Letterman guest), 70-year-old Brunvand wasn't afraid of the desert heat, bad roads and bands of polygamists that he faced during his trip. In fact, he seemed to love every minute of it.

Jan's trip began with a stop at a secret spot on Mammoth Creek, home to a lively population of rainbows and browns that weren't afraid to take a fly. After that Jan spent a day fishing the Merchant Valley Stream and sharing a campground with a family of polygamists. "I can report that the polygamists retire early and rise early-about 6 AM. I got up at the same time, had breakfast and waved to them-no response," Jan said. Well they probably didn't know that Jan is a famous author and Trout Bum to boot.

Jan had a fishing epiphany on Day Four of his trip: "I think I'm going to stop counting fish," he said. But then Jan quickly added that the first fish of the day measured 15 inches. Later, while wading Antimony, Jan fell twice and bashed his knee, but the injury wasn't anything that a cold towel and a cold beer couldn't fix.

A big forest fire thwarted Jan's plans to fish UM Creek, and road closures and construction ruled out any nearby waters. The summer heat also began to affect Jan. "I think I'm going a little whacko from the heat and dust," he confessed. But on the bright side:"The fishing has gotten progressively better and the campgrounds progressively cheaper."

Jan headed north to the Manti Lasal National Forest and fished Gooseberry Creek. "It's loaded with cutthroats and the good news is I caught them up to 16 inches," he said. After that Jan headed to Price River below Scofield Reserevor for a final day of fishing and found another beautiful stream, but he seemed more impressed with the campground. "Scofield State Park…is shady and pleasant, with SHOWERS," he said.

Day 10 was the last we heard from Jan. We assume he made it home, but maybe he…vanished.

R.C. Hooker

RC hooker doesn't need this award to tell him he's a Trout Bum. He already knew it. (We're sure he appreciates the prizes, though.) There's a lot that can be said about a guy who hasn't been gainfully employed in 14 years, has a half dozen ex-wives and drives an old beater of a car named 'Harlot.' All we're going to say though, is that R.C. comes the closest to being a 'real-life' Trout Bum that any of us have ever encountered, and that is why we named him as the 2003 Solo-Angler Trout Bum of the Year.

Right from the get-go the 58-year-old Montana resident entertained us all with his sometimes insightful, always entertaining, check-ins from the northwest corner of his state. Even if we had tried, we couldn't make this stuff up. In fact, we actually had to sanitize his reports a bit to avoid getting ourselves in trouble.

Although he didn't accomplish his goal of catching a 20-incher, R.C. found enough action during his 13-day trip to keep himself occupied. At Spotted Bear River R.C. found that "the fish were so hungry they would have eaten Wife Number Three's cooking," and he landed a 15-inch cuttthroat and two 17-inchers. Most of the fish he caught were a bit smaller than these, but that was OK with R.C. "In these setting," he said, " the trout are a bonus."

In fact R.C. seemed most excited about a whitefish he caught on the Flathead River and its prospect as dinner. "I have a surefire, delicious whitefish recipe," he said. "And here it is: Take one 12-inch whitefish-gutted of course-microwave on high for two minutes, flip, two more minutes, and voila! You have your entire day's supply of omega-3 fatty acids. Believe me, it works."

A busted muffler might be enough to cause most people to abandon their fishing trip and head for the nearest garage. Not so for R.C.: He just kept trucking through the Montana backcountry wearing earplugs to silence the exhaust noise. R.C. eventually fixed the muffler problem with an asparagus can and a Swiss Army knife. "I'm not making any of this up," R.C. said. "I've got documentation and photographs."

When it wasn't car trouble slowing him down, it was money problems. When he got critically low on funds, R.C. decided to employ a little entrepreneurship. "First, I put up a sign that said, 'nets repaired while you wait-$1.' That didn't work out, so I took a part-time position as lifeguard at the swimming pool. I got fired, though, because I wanted to wear my waders. Next, I set up a kissing booth with a sign that said, "Kiss A Real Trout Bum-$1." I made $2; I think I would have made more, but I needed a bath."

Just goes to show that R.C. has true Trout Bum spirit: When the world hands him lemons, he makes lemonade-then spikes it with tequila (don't knock it till you've tried it).

The Foxy Fishers

Although the Foxy Fishers may look like a pair of nice, ordinary professional women, be warned: they are world-class Trout Bums. Not only can 'Dee' (Patricia Dee-Kelly, 50, of Upper Montclair, New Jersey) and 'Dort' (Dorothy Giardino, 54, of Penfield, New York) hold their own on any stream or river, but they are also highly skilled in the art of the Bum.

Even before they formally began their trip the Foxy Fishers were executing some pre-emptive panhandling at a number of New England fly shops. But it didn't stop there: we fielded quite a few calls from shop and restaurant owners reporting encounters with The Foxy Fishers, and more often than not, Dee and Dort walked away with free food or gear.

The Foxy Fishers concentrated their fishing on rivers flowing through the Catskill Mountains. Their first five days of the trip were spent floating the Delaware River on their pontoon boats. Despite the late July heat, Dee and Dort both caught a fair number of fish. Of course, they bummed all along the way: shuttle rides, donations, flies and even places to sleep.

Their next stop was the Beaverkill River and Roscoe, New York, where they visited legendary fly tier Mary Dette and washed dishes at a diner in exchange for a free meal. At the Beaverkill's Mountain Pool both Foxy Fishers caught and landed a number of trout in the 12- 14-inch range. After that Dee and Dort hit Willowemec Creek and bummed around Roscoe before fishing the Neversink and heading towards the Esopus River to close out their trip.

It wasn't just The Foxy Fishers' angling or bumming abilities that set them apart from the other teams, though. Dee and Dort dedicated their trip and leftover tournament money to Casting for Recovery, and by the end of their trip they had raised $575 for the charity. In addition, Dee and Dort generated some publicity for Casting for Recovery through a media blitz that included a USA Today feature, several articles in regional newspapers and local TV appearances.

The Foxy Fishers have set a high-standard for the Trout Bum teams that follow. They've also shown us that fly-fishing can be used as a way to reach out and help people, as well as being a heck of a way to have a good time.

Casting for Recovery

Although any Trout Bum worth their salt will tell you that fly-fishing can change lives (just look at what it did to R.C. Hooker), a unique cancer charity is using fly-fishing to change lives in a different way. Casting for Recovery is an organization that helps women who have or have had breast cancer by introducing them to the therapeutic aspects of fly-fishing.

The group hosts retreats throughout the country where the participants learn the basics of fly-fishing: knot-tying, casting and some entomology. Besides learning these skills the participants also benefit from the gentle exercise of casting, as well as by simply being on the water among friends.

Both The Foxy Fishers and the Alaskan Sourdoughs donated money from their Trout Bum trips to Casting for Recovery. The Foxy Fishers raised $575 and the Alaskan Sourdoughs donated $145 TK. If you would like to donate to Casting for Recovery or find out more information about their programs and retreats, visit their Website at www.castingforrecovery.org.

Now a word from our sponsors:

Our primary Trout Bum Tournament sponsor, Cabela's, shipped each TBT contestant a Cabela's 7-piece Drake Combo Stowaway rod and reel set even before the tournament began. Designed for the space-conscious Trout Bum, these rods are perfect for the angler on the go. Made of high-Modulus graphite, with a medium-fast action, the Stowaway rods were fitted with the excellent large-arbor Drake reels. The combos also came with Cabela's fly lines. To view Cabela's incredible selection of gear go to www.cabelas.com

FR&R was pleased to have St. Croix and Scientific Anglers as returning sponsors of this year's tournament. The winning Trout Bums in both categories received their choice of St. Croix's new, top-of-the-line Legend Ultra 5-piece travel rods. Compact and easily stored in a truck or lashed to a motorcycle; they are the perfect rod for the wandering Trout Bum. To check out the Legend Ultra rods as well as the rest of St. Croix's high-quality rods, visit their Website at www.stcroixrods.com.

Scientific Anglers supplied the winners with a System 2 Large Arbor Reel in the size of his or her choice. SA also supplied the backing, leader and tippet material for use with the winners' choice of SA's new Mastery Series Trout Taper Fly Lines. With this line-reel combination our TBT winners will have the finest tools to catch even the spookiest trout. Take a look at SA's other excellent reels and lines by visiting www.scientificanglers.com.

The winners will also enjoy receiving a pair of Hodgman Guidelite breathable waders. The guidelite is Hodgman's top-of-the-line wader, and TBT winners will enjoy this product's comfort and durability even in the most extreme conditions. For a complete listing of Hodgman products, visit www.hodgman.com.