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Introducing Das Boat: MeatEater’s First Original Fishing Series

The MeatEater brand first became a household name through its host, Steven Rinella’s uncompromising work and conservation ethic while filming his outside-the-box show that focused on ethical hunting with a penchant for well-prepared wild game. Now, MeatEater is turning its sights to the fishing world. Bolstered by the storytelling aptitude of its new fishing director, and previous long-time Gray’s Sporting Journal Angling columnist, Miles Nolte, the show Das Boat follows Rinella and the MeatEater crew across the Southeast to different fisheries as they modify and customize what can only be described as a boat past its prime.

It looks to be one hell of a ride.

 

The Other Fish

New Zealand’s lesser-known fly fishing opportunity.

[by Miles Nolte]


THE WIDE, DARK FIGURE—roughly the size and shape of a sunwarped Hula-Hoop—glided through knee-deep water, stirring sand. My cast was lazy, flirting with disinterest, bordering on ennui, having already hurled multiple empty offerings toward the creature.

The fly settled four feet ahead of the shape’s plodding progress. A series of short, erratic strips mimicked life, something small and helpless panicking along the swell-sculpted bottom. The dark shape wasn’t supposed to eat the fly. It was a visible target, a stand-in for a fish that had bewitched me; a fish that, until a few weeks ago, didn’t exist in the scaly stew of my piscatorial brain; a fish that may or may not have been hovering around the dark shape.

Kingfish are difficult to see; stingrays are not. Kingfish, however, often follow stingrays that patrol the shallow flats of Golden Bay and snatch up fleeing morsels dislodged by the bottom-feeding rays, so stingrays make good proxies for anglers stalking kingfish.

“What a grand prank, then: me on a sandy saltwater flat, nearly nipple deep, tethered to an uncatchable incidental species…”

When the dark shape accelerated and the line came tight, I wondered, for the first time in my life, what does one do when standing on a shrinking sandbar a quarter mile from shore, attached to a stingray by a fly line?

“Just damn.” Apparently, one swears.

The cartilaginous ray spun—stiff tail whipping, wings undulating, 8-weight folding—anthropomorphically angry. Attempting to land this creature struck me as foolish but tempting—assuming I could actually bring the thing in. I was a solid JV substitute in high school, but removing the barb without getting pierced by a bigger, more poisonous barb seemed like a dance beyond my athletic ability. Agitated rays wield their Godgiven maces with the grace and speed of steroidal hummingbirds.

“Be smart—break the leader,” but I hesitated. The locals I’d befriended around a fire the night before had assured me that the stingrays don’t eat flies.

“Nah, never,” Jake told me, elongating his vowels like any good Kiwi. I nodded intently, a Speight’s lager cooling my palm.

“They’re too smart to eat flies.”

What a grand prank, then: me on a sandy saltwater flat, nearly nipple deep, tethered to an uncatchable incidental species when, over the past four days, I had failed to successfully hook the supposedly catchable target species.

I had seen kingfish daily, blue-silver streaks with bright yellow tails, darting and slashing an impatient radius around the methodical rays; had watched them chase flies with predatory purpose, detonating the surface but somehow never finding the tiny hook point, that impossibly small space around which all angling orbits.

The fly riding out to sea in a fleshy maw felt valuable, or perhaps invaluable. It was the only one of its kind in my possession. The previous morning, three kingfish attacked the gray and black baitfish imitation, while every other fly I’d tried was treated like a panhandler slumped behind a cardboard sign outside a midtown subway station. My saltwater fly boxes sat on a shelf nearly 8,000 miles away. This was supposed to be a trout trip.

Never mind their invasive colonial history, trout hold the center of angling ethos in New Zealand. Fly fishers from around the world make pilgrimages to the South Island. They genuflect at the caudals of massive brown trout and await judgment. Should your leader, your fly, your cast, your drift be deemed worthy, you will be bestowed with that hallowed white flash when the fish accepts your offering. Should you be found wanting, the river will appear as Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to the nonbeliever— sublime in beauty and assembly, impressive in scale and sculpt, but lifeless. New Zealand is not known as a flats-fishing destination, and I did not come prepared for salty presentations.

As I stood contemplating stupidity and ecstasy, states I don’t find at all mutually exclusive, the tide kept climbing, and my reel kept steadily turning out line.

“Damn it.” My linguistic quiver had shrunk that morning. Though short on flies, I carried a fat sack of expletives.

One might wonder at this point, What’s a kingfish, anyway, and how did you wind up tethered to a stingray in the international mecca of trout fishing?

Gray’s Best 2019

Summer Camp, by Chet Reneson

Our Top Choices for Angling & Hunting Gear in 2019

[by the Gray’s Sporting journal staff ]

GRAY’S BEST awards are anticipated by longtime readers of Gray’s Sporting Journal and coveted by hunting and angling manufacturers. The reason? GRAY’S BEST carries the weight of authentic sincerity. Many sporting magazines publish an end-of-the-year roundup of new products. Gray’s publishes a distinguished selection.

Our editors cover areas of expertise and experience—Angling, Shooting, Apparel, and Accessories—and select gear that not only makes good first impressions, but also satisfies during repeated use. We make choices of our own volition, absent encouragement and incentive from the manufacturers. Further, GRAY’S BEST winners deliver on the claims of their makers but also have an extra attribute, an extra something that triggers a tenor of feel, remembrance, or aesthetic and can be defined only as . . . satisfying. Much like Gray’s itself.

Bowing Down

FLATS OFF KEY WEST (DETAIL), BY GALEN MERCER

Fishing, like marriage, is first and foremost an act of faith.

[by Miles Nolte]

Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.
—D. Elton Trueblood

A FAMILY WEDDING WAS MY OFFICIAL REASON FOR TRAVELING TO KEY WEST. Fishing was a side project, away to squeeze the most from an expensive plane ticket. But I spent more time organizing fishing gear than planning wedding attire.

I expected a tarpon trip. In the Keys, migrating chrome flanks are the marquee spring event. But having never caught a permit, their gospel, from the pastoral essays of McGuane to the rapid-fire imagery of fly fishing films, nagged at me. Everyone said May was the wrong time of year to fish for these big-eyed fly critics. It was tarpon time, they said, so I contented myself with targeting tarpon, a first-world problem.

The wedding went well. I sat in the shade of palms, smiling at the well-coiffed couple. They beamed at each other in front of the people who loved them most, and I didn’t think about flats fishing for a good half hour.

I know that weddings are the shine on a freshly detailed relationship. I also know that roughly half of American marriages end in divorce. Western Rationalism instills the value of abstract modeling: statistics, probabilities, and equations allow us to send winged hunks of metal skyward, suspend bridges across chasms, and predict the instability of human cohabitation.

“You might’ve hooked Permzilla.”

But rationality doesn’t fully explain the human experience. Love and atavism persist. Weddings and fishing trips are powerful. It seemed fitting that the ceremony took place less than a mile from that lusty, fecund force known as the ocean. Salt water dripped from the corners of my eyes, mixing with the salt water beading through my pores, all of it roughly the same salinity as the sea. Marriage is only a bit more logical than catch-and-release fishing. At least there are tax benefits.

Two days later, friends and family scattered, and I was left with a musty hotel room, a chattering mind, and three days of fishing. Todd Peter, a friend from Palm Beach, came down for a day and we met our guide, Rob Kessler, at the dock early.

The tarpon were plentiful, albeit uncooperative, all morning. Before the sun stretched high enough to locate their dark shapes, they rolled. Silver underbites and dorsal antennae appeared and disappeared with unhurried gulps. We cast, slow-stripped, cast again, repositioned, repeated.

We were intellectual about it, focusing on angles, using the swing of tide and the curl of daisy-chaining fish to present our flies in front of them. We switched patterns like puzzled trout anglers trying to decode a masking hatch, tried casting farther back in the string, used an intermediate sinking line to get the flies deeper. Fish over five feet long continued to spook at the sight of three inches of fur or feathers.

Early in the day, it’s easy to be cerebral and philosophical about cranky tarpon; it’s an exercise in optimism, odds, and problem solving, like dating in your 20s. But when the sun progresses to the other side of the horizon, emotion and desperation trump levity and calculation.

A big string of fish appeared as we were tucking into the second halves of our lunches. Trading sandwich for rod, Todd presented his fly to a cruising line of fish. Logic dictates that our result should have been the same. There should have been either no response or a fleeing rejection. Instead there was a violent boil, a flash, and then nothing. The hook didn’t grab, but the bite tippet came back looking as though it had ticked a belt-sander.

Later that afternoon, I was on deck and followed Rob’s stare to a dark mass, 15 or 20 feet in diameter, 100 yards ahead of us. “Tarpon?” I asked.

“Maybe.”

I pulled the 11-weight from the rack, aluminum guides clacking PVC in hopeful rhythm. As I stripped line from the reel, Rob said, “Permit.”

Water in the Desert

("Arkansas River" by Nora Bushong Larimer)

Not all trout rivers are in decline.

[by Miles Nolte]

I FOUND THE ARKANSAS RIVER WHEN I WAS BARELY OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK. All these years later, the details are hazy: a heartbreak, a road trip, seeking solace in the mountains, scanning a map, remembering an invitation.

Kristen, a friend from college, worked summers as a white-water rafting guide in Colorado. I called her from a gas station pay phone after a week or two of state lines, interstates, county roads, two-tracks, and bootlaced forays into the woods.

The evening caddis hatch was so thick, and the fish so eager, that the trout fought over our flies.

The town was small and dusty, exposed in a mountainous basin. It seemed vulnerable to incursion, Mongols maybe. Arthritic piñon pines hunched at chaotic intervals along the road. Rock and grass thrust up toward a cloudless sky; the outlines of ridges danced on the hot August horizon.

Kristin and her gaggle of raft guides hosted me for two days. During working hours, I stowed away among the tourists, bounced through white water, and listened to stories and jokes showing wear after a season of daily use.

In the evening, we returned to the river, strapped oar frames to boats, and piled the inflatable floors with cans of beer: cold rivers make good refrigerators. Someone donned a wetsuit and flippers, grabbed a boogie board, and hooted when she hit the water.

Then the fly rods came out. The evening caddis hatch was so thick, and the fish so eager, that the trout fought over our flies. There were fish in every slick, around every boulder, feasting in every tailout. I was awestruck. Despite all the bass, bluegills, and pike I’d caught on a fly rod, these were my first trout. I know now how impressive the numbers of fish were. I also know enough now to find it odd that no one caught a single fish over 12 inches.

NEARLY 20 YEARS PASSED BEFORE I SAW THE ARKANSAS RIVER AGAIN. What I found was surprising and, perhaps, even hopeful. My initial impression of the valley was apt: the mountains hadn’t done a very good job protecting against incursion. Though, if longtime locals are to be believed, it wasn’t Mongols but Californians who’d invaded. The small, dusty towns that dot the river’s corridor have sprawled. Pastel stucco sprouts far faster than the gnarled trees that still lean into the winds.

Much has changed, but not only in the ways one might expect. I’ll spoil the suspense here: despite a population explosion and continued competition for limited water in a high-mountain desert, the trout fishing on the Arkansas River has gotten better. The fish numbers are still high, but now they grow well beyond a foot long. This river is an outlier. It represents a rare strengthening swimmer among a school of declining American fisheries.

For generations, the Arkansas was defined by industrial utility. Mid-19th-century mines at the headwaters drained slurry and waste. As the economy of Colorado shifted toward agriculture, the water went to crops and cattle, but there wasn’t enough. Farmers and ranchers on the fertile, though arid, Eastern Plains of the Rockies coveted the plentiful moisture on the west side. By the mid-1980s, a series of transmountain water-diversion projects tunneled through the mountains, increasing the flow of the Arkansas by more than 30 percent. The river fills Pueblo Reservoir, which feeds many of the fields of eastern Colorado.

With more water came more people. Settlements expanded into towns. But in the middle of the 20th century, the Arkansas had little identity as a river. The derelict mines upstream continued to seep cadmium, copper, zinc, and mercury in such quantities that the upper reaches were lifeless. The lower river had good numbers of fish, but they couldn’t live beyond four years. Supposedly, the stretches near towns actually did have some big fish in them, but only because the sewage leaking from septic fields trapped some of the heavy metals in the substrate. When the state implemented sewage regulations, even those few big fish disappeared.

In This Issue – March/April 2018

VOLUME FORTY-THREE,  ISSUE 1
Last Issue…

Volume 42, Expeditions & Guides

FEATURES

Journal: Agony
Fish swim in our memories and hopes.
by Russ Lumpkin

Humiliation & Redemption
Never give in. Never. Never. Never.
by Vance Sherwood

Some Thoughts on Guiding
Like fishing but with the chance to look up.
by Andrew Griffiths

Ten-Year Tarpon
Achieving a dream and finding it’s not enough.
by Ryan Brod

Who Will Tie My Knots?
The fish wait for him, and I will wait until they know a part of him is still here.
by Mathew T. Burgan

PHOTO ESSAYS

Wolf Fish
by Brian Grossenbacher

A Keys Spring
by Jeff Edvalds

Gaspé Salmon
by Tosh Brown

COLUMNS

Landscape: Anonymous, a Lake
Keep on casting, because you don’t want it said, “She didn’t try.”
by Erin Block

Traditions: Fly-Fishing in Maine Lakes
by Charles Stevens Edited by Will Ryan

Angling: Drugs of Choice
Tragedy, maturity, and fly fishing.
by Miles Nolte

Shooting: The Spirit of ’98
A Mauser from Mauser—finally.
by Terry Wieland

Art: Adrianno Manocchia
The less traveled road of the self-educated artist.
by Brooke Chilvers

Eating: Morning Trout
A brunch menu.
by Martin Mallet

Expeditions: The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fool
Fishing the monster bonefish of the Cook Islands.
by Richard Chiappone

Books: Biogeographies
by Christopher Camuto

Poem: Frozen Antlers
by Michael Garrigan


FRONT COVER: Suppertime, an original hand-colored etching, 9 x 12 inches, by Rod Crossman. INSIDE FRONT COVER: “What Ned Did,” a photograph by Russ Lumpkin.

 

In This Issue – 2018 Expeditions & Guides

VOLUME FORTY-TWO,  ISSUE 7
Last Issue…

Volume 42, Issue 6

FEATURES

These Birds Are Made for Walking
The politics and practicality of greater sage-grouse hunting.
by Brad Fitzpatrick

Queen of the Desert
A photographic journal.
by Bryan Gregson

In the Steppes of Central Texas
Pursuing Persian red sheep on their (new) home ground.
by Terry Wieland

Home Waters
With multiple personalities and great dry fly fishing, the Henrys Fork helps maintain family ties.
by Will Rice

Alaskan King
A photographic journal.
by Matt McCormick

The Mountain’s Own
Walking a knife’s edge, going where the bull tahr go.
by Tony Kamphorst

Hoodoo Gurus
Catching king salmon fresh from the ocean.
by Pat Ford

EQUIPMENT
Gray’s Best 2018

COLUMNS

Shooting: Through a Glass, Brightly
Viewing lenses through a changing world.
by Terry Wieland

Angling: A Trout in Catfish Country
My lifelong romance with fishing towns.
by Miles Nolte

People, Places, & Equipment 

DESTINATIONS

  • International Outfitters
  • Alaskan Outfitters
  • Contiguous United States Outfitters

Online Directory

Index to Advertisers


FRONT COVER: photography by Dušan Smetana

 

In This Issue – 2018 Expeditions & Guides Annual

VOLUME FORTY-TWO,  ISSUE 7
Last Issue…

Volume 42, Issue 6

FEATURES

These Birds Are Made for Walking
The politics and practicality of greater sage-grouse hunting.
by Brad Fitzpatrick

Queen of the Desert
A photographic journal.
by Bryan Gregson

In the Steppes of Central Texas
Pursuing Persian red sheep on their (new) home ground.
by Terry Wieland

Home Waters
With multiple personalities and great dry fly fishing, the Henrys Fork helps maintain family ties.
by Will Rice

Alaskan King
A photographic journal.
by Matt McCormick

The Mountain’s Own
Walking a knife’s edge, going where the bull tahr go.
by Tony Kamphorst

Hoodoo Gurus
Catching king salmon fresh from the ocean.
by Pat Ford

EQUIPMENT
Gray’s Best 2018

COLUMNS

Shooting: Through a Glass, Brightly
Viewing lenses through a changing world.
by Terry Wieland

Angling: A Trout in Catfish Country
My lifelong romance with fishing towns.
by Miles Nolte

People, Places, & Equipment 

DESTINATIONS

  • International Outfitters
  • Alaskan Outfitters
  • Contiguous United States Outfitters

Online Directory

Index to Advertisers


FRONT COVER: photography by Dušan Smetana

 

Gray’s Best 2018

Coffee at Dusk, by Brett James Smith

 Our Top Choices for Angling and Hunting Gear in 2018

Gray’s Best awards are anticipated by readers of Gray’s Sporting Journal and coveted by hunting and angling manufacturers. The reason? Gray’s Best carries the weight of authenticity. Many sporting magazines publish an end-of-the-year roundup of new products. Gray’s publishes a selection of field-tested gear.

Our editors cover areas of expertise and experience—Angling, Shooting, Apparel, and Accessories—and select gear that not only makes good first impressions, but also passes muster during repeated use. We make choices of our own volition, absent encouragement and incentive from manufacturers. Further, Gray’s Best winners deliver on the claims of their makers but also have an extra attribute, an extra something that triggers a tenor of feel, remembrance, or aesthetic that can be defined only as . . . satisfying. Much like Gray’s itself.

Turn the page and see for yourself.

In This Issue – 2017 November/December

VOLUME FORTY-TWO,  ISSUE 6
Last Issue…

Volume 42, Issue 5

FEATURES

Journal: Gift from a Trader
Relationships set the standards for what we define as precious.
by Russ Lumpkin 

Last Day of the Season
Blessed, on the frayed southeastern fringe of the Mississippi Flyway.
by Miles Powell Jr.

Empty Redd
Finding release in the Holy Church of the Brook Trout.
by Todd Davis 

Two Short of a Limit
Give something back to the sea, and she will return the favor.
by Mark I. Robbins 

Judgment Day
How a sportsman rides out a hurricane—and sees beyond it.
by Roger Pinckney & Peter Ryan

Middle Ground
When options dwindle to one, plunge in feet first.
by Scott Sadil 

PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNALS

Landing Zone
by Matt McCormick

Chukar
by Brian Grossenbacher

Potholes
by Chip Laughton

Snow Day
by David Cannon

COLUMNS

  • Yarnspin: Net Gains
    Gambling on the Miramichi with Shady Ladies, Green Machines, and wizards.
    by Robert Sohrweide
  • Traditions: Shooting the Salt-water Coot
    by Hebert Gardner Edited by Will Ryan
  • Shooting: The Anarchist in Solitude
    Random thoughts of an anti-organizational man.
    by Terry Wieland
  • Angling:My Favorite Depression
    Deer, trout, and the trouble with skipping work.
    by Miles Nolte
  • Art: David Maass
    The art of bringing wildfowl imagery to millions.
    by Brooke Chilvers
  • Eating: Terrines
    The perfect holiday food.
    by Martin Mallet
  • Expeditions: The Total Eclipse
    The Eclipse delivers a fly-fishing reunion to remember.
    by E. Donnall Thomas Jr.
  • Books: Angling Matters
    by Christopher Camuto

Poem: Four Habitats
by Timothy Murphy

People, Places, and Equipment

The Listing


FRONT COVER: Magic Time, an original oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches, by Rod Crossman

Inside Front Cover: “Perfect,” A photograph by Chip Laughton.