I really can’t add much to this photo…
I almost went to work for Orvis. It was on the table when the opportunity to work at a software startup came along. I figured it was a choice between selling Hydros sticks and eventually buying a bunch of them. I would have liked talking about fly fishing all day. That wouldn’t have been the worst thing.
I like Orvis. They have some good sticks and good reels these days. They also put out some really good web content, like this “Five Secrets You Must Know About Bonefish.”
• Know What Makes Bonefish Tick
Bonefish are predators, but their life is still one of eat or be eaten. If you have ever seen a bonefish do battle with a crab you will be convinced of its determination to eat. Watch a bonefish become alarmed and it is astounding how quickly it will abandon that meal when it senses a threat. A bonefish has a radar array that is controlled primarily by its lateral line. It senses both good and bad vibrations. A shark entering the flat 100 yards away can put down an entire school of bonefish. A crab shuffling its fins into the marl produces a sound that rings like a dinner bell. An angler can see the excitement in the bone by the way its dorsal fin quivers. Often, in this state of tunnel vision, a bonefish can be excited to the point of distraction. A wise angler chooses this moment to make the shot.
[Editor’s Note: Our friend Conway Bowman has a new book out, The Orvis Guide to Beginning Saltwater Fly Fishing, which is full of great information, tips, and tactics. Here’s an excerpt, in which he discusses the essential gear for any saltwater fly-fishing trip. The man spends hundreds of days on the water every year, and a few of his suggestions may surprise you.]
I thought this was an interesting list of stuff and since, really, I’m at the bottom part of the learning curve, it is always interesting to hear from the pro’s about what they choose to take with them on the water.
There might be a few tweaks for bonefish anglers, primarily, you shouldn’t take the Boga grip out on the water with you. Bogas and Bones don’t mix. Maybe they are for cuda’s and that I can certainly understand.
The list would certainly be different if you were wading all day. Not enough room for all that stuff when you are on foot all day and there wasn’t mention of anything to put on your inner thighs when they start to chafe (what, am I the only one who has had that happen?).
Tom Rosenbauer invented fly fishing. OK… I made that first part up. It turns out Tom has been a bit all over this thing we call fly fishing for a while now… mostly at the Orvis Company where he is currently Director of Marketing for Orvis Rod and Tackle. He’s been at the company for 30 years, which is a good amount of time to hold down a job. He’s also an author of more than a couple fly fishing books. Tom’s podcast has been around for about as long as podcasts have been around and Orvis in general has been way out in front in the use of new media. Tom just landed Angler of the Year from Fly, Rod & Reel… the most amazing part of that is that it is for 2011… we are only three weeks into 2011… so… good going Tom!
I read on the Trout Underground that you were Angler of the Year from Fly, Rod & Reel. What were some of your highlights from 2010?
I was actually Angler of the Year for 2011, so I’m looking forward to my angling highlights. I hadn’t even read the dates and someone told me, “Hey, you are angler of the for 2011.” So, I have to fish a lot.
Getting that in January, does that give you a pass at home?
Oh yeah, at home and at work, I can just fish any time I want. My wife is actually very understanding of my addiction and working at Orvis, we all get a pass more often than folks in other jobs… it is part of our job to stay up on things and to actually walk the walk. We are lucky, blessed in that regard.
Well, looking back to last year where you weren’t angler of the year, what were some of your angling highlights for 2010 and would your wife be willing to talk to my wife (this was before my wife signed off on my trip to Andros South, so, I think my wife is doing just fine)?
It took me a couple tries to get this one (wife). It’s a long road, a long and expensive road to find one that will let you go fishing.
I looked at the question and I had a hard time thinking of highlights. I had a great day brook trout fishing around the corner from the office one day. My annual trip to the Catskills, which I always love. I go to the Bahamas once or twice a year for what we call the Bonefish Classic where we go with some customers and Aaron Adams is there teaching about bonefish biology and I’m there doing a tackle and rigging seminar and then we go fishing, and that’s always fun. Striped fishing at Cape Cod. Nothing that I don’t do just about every year.
What was a real highlight was I had really good fishing in my backyard. I live on a little trout stream with wild brooks, browns and rainbows. The fishing was really good in my backyard and I was able to go down with my wife and dog and six year old and I was able to catch nice fish on dry flies while they were playing on the gravel bar every night. So, that was fun and a highlight.
Bonefishing is an addition for some and a dream for others. What advice would you give to someone who was maybe a little bit intimidated by bonefishing, but wanted to give it a shot?
Don’t go to the Florida Keys because the fish are incredibly difficult and the guides are very impatient. So, I’d not go to the Keys for my first time, or maybe my second or third. I’d go to Mexico or Belize or the Bahamas, Venezuela. Unfortunately, it’s a more expensive tour.
Two things. Don’t go to the Keys, not for your first time, and practice your casting. Practice, practice, practice. I can’t stress that enough. I mean practice casting to get the fly out there at 40 feet, accurately. I don’t know if I’ve ever made an 80 foot cast to bonefish and I don’t know that I’d try. People go down there and they spend all this money and they tie all these flies and then they get in the boat and they really, really can’t get the fly out there. They get a little wind and the game is over. All it would have taken was some practice.
Bonefishing is not hard. The fish are spooky, yeah, and the casting has to be accurate, but they aren’t that selective, at least in most places. They eat almost anything and you don’t really need to worry about fly selection and most bonefishing guides are so good at pointing out the fish and telling you where to put your fly, but you have got to be able to put that fly at 40-45 feet and you have to do it in a hurry. My advice would be to practice your casting.
You do the Podcast and Orvis has really been out in front when it comes to Social Media. A lot of the other established players aren’t really even in the game. The question you hear about Social Media is, “Does it work?” So… does it?
We don’t know for sure. We are going on trust. We have some advantages, we have a big infrastructure behind us that allows us to do these things, but we have a guy names James Hathaway who is our Social Media Guru who has been her for 4-5 years and he’s really pushed us into Social Media. The owners of the company are totally behind it, so, that has made it easy to get into social media.
Anecdotally, you hear it all the time. “I bought this rod because of your podcast” or “you’ve really helped me enjoy fishing more” and you have to believe that is good business. The fact they bought a fly rod, that’s fantastic, but that you’ve helped them with their casting or their stream reading or whatever, it has got to put Orvis top of mind next time they go looking for a piece of tackle.
As far as monetizing it, we haven’t figured that out. I don’t think anyone has. We are going on faith and that’s what you do when a new technology comes out or a new way of reaching out to your customers. That’s kind of out of character for Orvis because we are a direct marketing company. We’ve always been a direct marketing company and we measure everything. If you aren’t measuring it, chances are you aren’t going to get the support of the management here to do it. But with social media, we’ve taken that jump, we’ve taken that risk. Anecdotally we see it every day, you see indications that it is working, but as far as monetizing it, figuring out what it is worth to get someone to listen to your podcast, figuring out what it’s worth for a download, looking at the fishing reports, the blog… we don’t know.
There are places with big bonefish and places with a lot of bonefish. If you had to choose between the two, which way would you go?
That’s a tough one. Big bonefish can be kind of boring with long dry periods. Places with a lot of bonefish get a little too easy and you get bored… not that I ever get really bored with bonefish. Can I split the difference? My favorite place would be a place with a number of moderate sized bonefish with a few big ones thrown in. The Bahamas fits that bill better than any place.
I’ve seen 20 pound bonefish there. I’ve seen bonefish that Aaron Adams of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust said was a 20 pound bonefish. The average fish is usually 3-4 pounds, but the big ones are there. That’s kind of my ideal would be to split the difference. I don’t care if I don’t catch a 12 pound bonefish. A 6 to 8 pound bonefish I’d consider a really good day. I’d have to split the difference.
I may have a good idea what your favorite rod and reel is, but why don’t you tell me anyway.
It is hard to beat those Helios rods. They do everything you ask them to do. They are light and they are pretty. The Mirage reel that Steve developed… the Helios and the Mirage is really hard to beat. Luckily, we have an employee loaner program here so we can get these things, any model we want, at any time. I can fish any Orvis outfit I want.
Do you have one bonefish that you remember more than others?
I remember a day of bonefishing I had that really stands out. I was staying on a place on Abaco and there’s a place called Cherokee Sound with lots of white sand and ocean going bonefish, they are bigger bonefish, tougher fish, almost like Keys fish because they get fished kind of hard. One day I said to the guide, just leave me on a key for a day. He said “what?” I said, yeah, take me out there and leave me there and then come back at 5. You go have a smoke or drink a six pack, whatever you want and come and get me at 5. He left me on this little key and I fished all around. I caught some 8-9 pound bonefish and just had a wonderful day.
Another one recently, was a bonefish I was fishing with a customer during the Bonefish Classic and it was my turn on the bow and there was a bonefish way up in a mucky bay and we couldn’t poll to him. So, I asked the guide if I could get out and stalk it and he said “yeah.” I was able to sneak up and stalk that fish and I caught it. That’s always cool. It wasn’t a huge bonefish, but it was challenging. It was fun.
Do you have a “one that got away” story?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever hooked a really, really big bonefish. Maybe 11 pounds is the biggest fish I’ve ever hooked, but it didn’t get away. I don’t think I’ve ever had a really giant bonefish. I don’t know if I’ve ever even had a shot at a really giant bonefish. That 20 pounder Aaron was casting to it, not me.
I have a good tarpon that got away story from El Pescador. This story involved a broken rod and a broken reel and diving in after the fish and being left treading water while the guide chased the fish with my rod dragging behind it. The tarpon that got away story is the only good one I have. They are still talking about it at El Pescador.
Thanks Tom. Appreciate the time.
While I was down in Mexico casting for… well… whatever would eat a 1/0 Surf Candy/Clouser, I had two loaner rods with me… an 8 wt. Hydros and an 8 wt. Access. Having cast the Helios down in Belize a few weeks back, I’ve now cast three different Orvis sticks in an 8.
I must say… I’m impressed.
If I were going to buy one of these rods, I’d probably go with the Hydros. The Hydros gets you a rod as good as the Helios with a substantial discount on the price. I cast the Hydros most of the time I was down in Mexico. It was light, crisp and powerful. I was throwing lead eyes and sinking lines and the thing just played very well.
The Access is on the lower end of the Orvis spectrum, but it is still a good stick. When you put them side-by-side you notice that the blank is thicker and when you pick it up, you notice the extra weight, even if it does come down to a couple ounces. The Access is a little slower, so I had to change my casting stroke some, but the rod can still pound the casts out there. It may not be fair to look at the Access after having cast the Hydros for a few days since the Hydros is just a really slick piece of casting rocketry.
A Note on Rod Selection for Vallarta
Vallarta is a hard place to judge for rod selection. I would have been fine on most of the fish I caught with a 6 weight. Still, there are a few fish I hooked that would have put a serious beat-down on a 6. You just never know what is going to be on the other end. Could be a 5 ounce fish. Could be a 25 pound fish.
When out with guide Katchu from El Pescador we had an abrupt stop on our way tarpon hunting where permit rods were demanded. We were not rigged for permit. I quickly got the Orvis Helios 8 wt. ready and was up on deck, casting to my first permit.
I was pumping the cast out and was carrying the line well in the air and then… then the cast fell apart. The shot was gone. As one or two other anglers may be tempted to do, I thought, well… maybe I need to over-line this rod. Over-lining had proved just the ticket for the Sage Xi3 7 wt., so I put on a 9 wt. line. I missed the next shot, but have no recollection of how that cast went.
Later, in a moment of reflection, I began to wonder if, just maybe, I had jumped to conclusions about the Helios. I mentioned out-loud to my fishing buddy Shane (who happens to be a casting instructor and a beautiful caster) that I was beginning to think that maybe I had just put out a bad cast and blamed the rod.
Shane said in watching the cast that my false cast before the final presentation had been perfect. When he saw me go for the last cast, he knew it wasn’t going to go well. I think I knew it down deep too. I had botched the cast… this was operator error.
Our last morning in Belize I decided to trust Steve at Orvis and I put the 8 weight line back on the Helios and I took that rod out for the last fleeting hours of fishing.
Newsflash… the Helios casts really, really well and an 8 wt. casts an 8 wt. line very well. It is light… that’s the first thing you notice. It feels almost like casting a 5 wt., which may give you the impression it isn’t going to have the power to get you through the wind or the distance you might need (and I think that is why I flubbed the first cast and went through the up-line fiasco). Of course, the ROD has the power to do it and the weight of the rod in ounces does not = the power of the rod.
At $800, the Helios is in the upper, upper price range of fly fishing gear. It really makes me want to get a Hydros out fishing… a rod that is the twin brother of the Helios… but that twin that was born 20 minutes later and who might not be totally the same. At $500, it is much more in the price-range I’d probably be more interested in. Basically, you get the same technology with a couple of bells and whistles removed.
If you drive a Mercedes that costs $40K, you are probably a Hydros guy. If your Benz costs $143,000… just jump right to the Helios (even though you are probably too busy to actually fish).
The whole blogging thing is interesting, for sure. I don’t have ads and don’t cash a Bonefish on the Brain paycheck. This started as a hobby and largely remains that (just one I am kind of ridiculously dedicated to). However, the distance the blog has come in the last year is pretty obvious to me when I think about all the folks who have helped put some shape to this upcoming trip to Belize.
Thanks to El Pescador for hosting me for this trip. We are still paying for guides and I’m still paying for a couple of flights, but the lodging… that was huge.
Thanks to Sage for the loaner Xi3 Seven and Ten weights. Good sticks for Belize, me thinks. Lori-Ann’s go to is the 7 wt. Xi3, so I’ll be in good company.
Thanks to Orvis for the loaner 8 wt. Helios and the line for the 10 weight. Steve offered and I couldn’t turn down a chance to see exactly how good these new Orvis rods are.
Thanks to Nautilus for the loaner NV Ten-Eleven. This is actually something anyone can do… you can test drive a Nautilus, just check out the website.
Thanks to Skinny Water Culture for two replacement sun masks (I somehow lost three in the last 6 months), a microfiber shirt and a new hat.
Thanks to Patagonia for a sling pack for alllllll those flies I’ll be sporting, plus a sun mask and hat.
Thanks to Off the Hook Fly Shop, where I bought most of the materials used in the flies I’ll be throwing.
That’s a lot of help… and if you look at my FFSI, you’ll see that I think the help you get has a lot to do with reducing suckiness… so, I have that going for me.
As someone recently wrote to me, “This is the most exciting bonefishing trip I’m not going on.” I hope to have some good stories to share and hope to be posting from Belize and El Pescador, assuming I have the strength left after milking each day for every ounce of fishing possible.
Steve Hemkens is a pretty fishy guy. He’s been at Orvis for about 5 years now as Product Design Specialist where he had a hand in crafting the Helios, one of the top rods in the industry today, and the Mirage reel, another top line product. Steve talks about what makes the Helios worth it, about going to church on Crooked Island and about a 14 foot hammerhead. Read on.
Steve put up with a rather rambunctious interview with my daughter doing her best to interrupt things. Steve, the oldest of 7 children, was a good sport about things.
I heard you were involved in the development of the Helios. What was your role in that?
The short version of that which has become the company narrative is before I knew better, I had just relocated from St. Louis where I grew up and where I lived after college for 5 years and started in Jim Lapage‘s office, who runs the rod and tackle division here at Orvis and I said “Jim, we need to make the lightest fly rod in the world.” He looked at me and kind of acknowledged it and picked up the phone and called Jim Logan who was the head the head of our manufacturing and runs our rod shop up in Manchester and he says “Jim, it’s Jim. Start working on the lightest fly rod in the world.” and he hung up the phone. Essentially, it started like that. It was a collaborative process with me and Jim Lapage, Tim Rosenbauer and the guys in the rod shop and created this perfect storm of a great technology, looking at the way we design rods in terms of the mandrills and the lay-ups differently and looking really critically at the more nuanced parts in terms of the guides and the paint color and the reel seat and the tube and the name and everything just coalesced into a great success story and its been very humbling for me to be a part of a product introduction at a weird time in the world economy when discretionary incomes are down and you wouldn’t think an $800 fly rod would be a great time to be selling something like that, but it has captured people’s imaginations and really done a lot for validating Orvis as a fly fishing company in a lot of places where people didn’t take us seriously before. It’s been pretty fun.
What is it that makes the Helios worth that $800 price tag? I’m a lover of cheap things and when I look at an $800 fly rod I think “It may be a really awesome fly rod, but that’s two not totally awesome but serviceable fly rods.” What justifies that $800 price tag?
The short answer is the rod technology. We’ve got a proprietary, Defense level technology, it can’t be exported, we can’t share the manufacturer with peers in the industry or anything else and it’s the same thermo-plastic resin and fiber technology that the military uses on the rotor blades on the Apache helicopter. They were having problems in some of the campaigns with the rotor blades not lasting long enough and they were able to significantly improve performance and durability and save a whole lot of money by using this technology and fortunately we were able to establish a relationship there and start making rods and it enables us to use a lot less material and get the same or greater strength than what you’d get in Brand X out there in the market. I’d like to think you’d be able to tell and that the difference between that and another rod out there is discernible enough that you’d be willing to step up to the plate and take the plunge.
So, on the technology front, you are saying that you could tell me, but you’d have to kill me?
Yeah, the guys with the black suburbans and the curly cue earphones would come and take me away. Really, I’m not blowing smoke… it is real, proprietary technology that as far as we know, no one else is using. We feel we’ve got something special and the market place has voted.
Your last trip was to Grand Bahama?
Yeah I was down there about two, two and a half weeks ago. What a surprise. It was pretty awesome. I was fortunate to fish with two kind of ledgends… Stalney Glinton, who is at North Riding Point Club and I fished one day, unguided, with David Pinder, who was at Deep Water Cay and he and his brothers Jeffery and Joseph do their own thing now, but he’s been doing it for, what, 30 years now… just to fish with one of those legends, like the partriarch of a bonefishing family, kind of like the Leydens on Andros, was just awesome. It was a spectacular day of fishing. I may never have a day of bonefishing that rivals that again in my life. Didn’t catch any big fish, but we were cruising back at the end and he looked at me and he said “How many fish do you think you hooked today” and I said “Ya know, I couldn’t even begin to think, but… dozens.” It was pretty cool.
When you are out on the water a lot you see things that other people just don’t. Is there something you’ve seen along those lines out there on the flats?
I go tarpon fishing in the pan handle every year with a good friend of mine who is a great guide. We had a really great year this year with a lot of great fish. We had a great stream of tarpon, all mature fish, 80-120 pound fish, all 4-5 feet long, big fish, in four feet of water, crystal clear, and they were swimming twice as fast as all the other strings of fish. I threw at them and didn’t get a look and we just kind of shrugged it off and we were waiting for the next string when 10 seconds later a 12 or 14 foot hammer head came cruising up the beach. He was just dogging that whole school of tarpon. It was one of those experiences where you realize that a fish that is six feet long, even free swimming when he’s not vulnerable on the end of someone’s line, has something out there that wants to eat him.
For bonefish, on this last trip I was on… just seeing a creature that is perfectly adapted to its environment when you have fish that are 6-7 pounds in water not even deep enough to cover their back and they are just wallowing around because they know none of their predators can get to them and yet as reckless as they can be when they are feeding they are still hyper aware and a shadow or a poorly cast fly can freak them out and they are just gone. They anatomy and their colors and how they can change direction and disappear and how they can feed without being predated upon is really awesome.
Is there something beyond the fish that you associate with bonefishing?
For me, I’ve only bonefished in the Bahamas and in Florida, so I have a really strong association with the islands and the people. I think about going to Crooked Island and staying there on Colonel Hill with one of my saltwater fishing buddies who is a youth minister back in Missouri who had just gotten back from a ministry in Africa, they are 7th Day Adventist so they always travel on Saturdays so they can go to church. We had had a great week there. Great food. Great fishing. A really special experience and they invited us to go to church. It was fun to see the guys that pushed us around on the boats all dressed up in the band playing a toothpaste colored Stratocaster and the other guy is the minister. Seeing them put their tithe in the plate, the money we had just tipped them and seeing my buddy get up there and preach and having this overweight white boy from St. Louis getting “Amens” from the Bahamian church goes was really awesome. Those are memories I associate with bonefishing. Also, on Andros, when you have someone that wants a pack of smokes so somebody knocks on somebody’s door and comes back a few minutes later walks out with a couple boxes of Marlboros. It’s just a different place. It is a different life and a really inviting and cool culture they have down there and how they are all inextricably linked to the Ocean, be it as fisherman or lobsterman or tourism. They get it.
There are so many places to head for bonefish. Is there somewhere you are intrigued to check out?
I’m intrigued about Hawaii. I’ve heard a lot of great stuff about fishing there, how technical it is, how big the fish are. So that is really interesting. I’d love to go to Cuba to fish. It just seems, having never been there, to be a complete cultural experience and relatively underexploited. The Seychelles are captivating as a potential destination. I really want to get back to Florida again because I’ve been so humbled fishing for bonefish there, just the amount of traffic and size of the fish, it continues to be a strong draw for me.
I often asked what rod and reel people are throwing… I bet I know what rod and reel you are throwing.
I am usually throwing a Helios. On this last trip I was throwing a Hydros, which is the scaled down version of the Helios, it is the same blank without the recoil guides, it doesn’t have as nice a reel seat or tube so we can offer it for substantially less. You don’t have to spend $800 to get Helios quality. I was fishing that and the new Access rods, which we have worked on really hard over the past couple years which we are introducing right now. Those are $350 I think, for the saltwater version. My favorite set up right now is the Helios 9 weight. It is lighter than a lot of 7 weights out there on the market, so you feel like you are throwing a lighter rod, but when the wind picks up or you are throwing bigger flies it is a lot more effective. If I had one rod to use it would be the Helios 9 weight and the Mirage reel, which was another one of my babies over the past couple of years. I’m biased because I get to use the fruits of my labor when I go fishing, so I tend to stick pretty close to home.
(At this point in the interview, a plumber showed up and my 3 year old opened the door to this total stranger… seemed a good point to stop).
Thanks Steve for your time and for putting up with the hectic nature of the interview. Steve is sending a Helios 8 weight for use on my Belize trip and a line for the 10 weight. I look forward to getting them out on the flats of Belize.
The Fed Ex guy kept it late, which made it interesting. In the end, he made it here about 6:45 PM. Sure, I don’t leave for Belize for another 6 days, but I really wanted the weekend to do a little casting and it looks like that is going to happen. The box that arrived this evening was from Bainbridge Island, WA and if you are a fly fisherman that means Sage. Two brand new Xi3‘s were in the box, a 7 and a 10. I was a little surprised that the rods were brand new. These are loaners, after all… I have to send the things back after the trip, so I figured I’d get a rod that had been loaned in the past. Not so… these were spanking new with that new-rod smell… well… there really wasn’t a smell, but ya know what I mean.
In other news, I’ll actually be bringing along a third rod to demo… this rod will be the Orvis Helios in an 8 weight. I just did an interview with Steve Hemkens at Orvis for the Blog and he offered to loan me some gear. Having the 7 and 10 slots filled, I figured it would be better to go with an 8, instead of putting the Helios and Xi3 into some contrived duel. I am looking forward to doing some test driving in the coming days and putting them through the paces in Belize.
I’m just about done tying flies for the trip… I added another 8 or so flies today to the two crammed bonefish/permit boxes and am at about 148 flies now. My guess would be I’d use 10. So… over provisioned a tad, both on the fly front and probably on rods. Both are good problems to have.
A week in Abaco with famed photographer Val Atkinson doesn’t sound bad at all, really. Oct. 17-23 Val is hosting a trip for Orvis at Abaco Lodge, now made famous for being the filming location for Pirates of the Flats.
Honestly, it sounds like a good time. I particularly like this bit…
Anglers on this special trip can even participate in valuable bonefish research by collecting fin clippings and occasionally tagging their catches, prior to release. Each member of the group will receive a Helios saltwater rod, and a one year membership in Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.