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On the Road & the River

Photos and Meditations on Fly Fishing in Southwest Montana and wherever.....

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Posted by on in On the Road Blog

Bamboo rod-making masters are rare jewels -- even with the increasing popularity of making bamboo rods. Not many makers have the time-tested knowledge and craftsmanship that the Boo Boys posses. One of my greatest joys is to spend time with the Boys, and pester them with questions. Another great joy is drinking micro-brewed beer in cans...

Not long ago, I got the chance to have Glenn cast a few rods I have been working on. One, is a salt-water capable, streamer-tossing rod that will also work well in the western wind while I throw double-streamers. It was great to see one of the Great Masters cast the rod, and get some pointers on bamboo rod-making.


"You know Zac, the next time you make a rod, you might want to put a reel seat on it."

Being in the works, I have yet to choose an insert and attach to the rod. Many makers often attach the reel seat last -- including Sweetgrass. We started with a 6 wt. line, and I didn't really like how the rod worked. Glenn cast it, and asked if I had an 8 wt. line. I did, and Glenn cast the rod again with the heavier line.


"Yep. Works much better now, Zac."

The 8 wt. line got the rod to flex more, enabling Glenn to cast with much less effort. Just to be sure we all understand how cool it is to get feedback from Glenn -- realize he worked as a biologist and fishing guide before involving himself entirely to making rods. He can cast expertly, and knows fish intimately. Heck, he even fishes often with the passion and intelligence he and the Boo Boys put in to every rod they make. Glenn doesn't B.S. or lie. I have not met many humans with such distinguishing qualities. Now, dogs are another subject altogether...


Not a bad loop, eh?! (Glenn doesn't have a Canadian accent. That's me chiming in...)


Those who have driven the highways around Portland might notice where we had brunch that day... And one small shock-wave in the line as the rod unfurls a long loop is a sign I'm not too far off on the rod design.


"You know Zac, one of these days you might be able to catch a Guppy with this thing."

Thanks Glenn, for taking a look my work in progress! Hopefully some day, I do catch a Guppy on that thing!


In Wild Waters,

Zac Sexton

The Meandering Boo Boy

P.S. All quotes are actually me being funny. Glenn had much more utilitarian and spiritual things to say about the rod, like, "This rod would keep a Monk warm if you made a fire with it...."
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  • Jim Phillips
    Jim Phillips says #
    Wonderful!! You put a smile on my face that kept going through the entire piece. Thank you very much! I'm sure you're going to hav

Posted by on in On the Road Blog
Some streams flow through magnetic valleys that seem to keep you stuck on their banks. You just can't leave, as if your wading boots were made of iron. Not long ago, I found just such a river, with Ariell and Sarah. Wish I was still there. Good thing I'm going back tomorrow!

After hours of map-explorations, fishing guide page-turning and regulation-reading, I loaded the rig with my favorite Sweetgrass rods to head for some of the only open inland trout water in the Northwest. If what I had read was true, there would be bugs hatching and Rainbow trout rising. I couldn't drive fast enough over a couple mountain ranges, to get there. If you happen to be a highway patrolman, please forgive the fact that my feet may just be made of iron.

Once reaching the river's source, I could smell Sagebrush surrounding everything for miles. A glance over the valley walls showed a clear, vibrating stream -- dotted with rising fish! I couldn't believe it, I probably saw six or seven rises in the first minute of river-gazing. Sarah and I quickly rigged rods as Ariell chased venomous rabbits away. Maybe they were Jackalopes.

Sarah had been practicing casting a fly rod in the park, and one float on a Montana river, but had yet to get a fish to hand. Midges were clustering all around, and knowing fish in spring creeks, like this one like to feed precisely, I tied on a size 14 Royal Wulff. It looked nothing like the naturals. But Sarah could see it. And on her third cast, she hooked up to a beautiful Rainbow!


Sarah's first fish on a fly rod and on a dry fly!

OK. Had her fish in hand. Time for me to get to work. I headed upstream a ways and was soon casting to a pod of rising trout. I kept getting refused. They somehow preferred Sarah's Wulff over my #18 midge thing. Figured. Something floated by on the water's surface, with decidedly upright wings. Oh, a Mayfly! But, the rise-forms in front of me made me think they were on emergers, not the adults. I tied on a different rig, with emerger patterns that floated just below the surface.

The high-banks and tall grasses lining the stream banks got me to choose the 8'3", 4 wt. Sweetgrass rod. I wanted the extra length to get away from the brush. And after I untangled myself three or four times from the grass and brush behind me, I got a cast on the water. That cast was hammered by a fatty Rainbow! It doggedly pulled in to the weeds, but I heaved it out, and soon had it in hand. Yes.


A beauty Rainbow trout that took a Mayfly emerger, just below the surface.


See you later little buddy.



Hey, before you go, check to your right. There's a fat, little Caddis larvae!

The day continued with bugs emerging, and fish feeding mostly on crippled emergers. Sarah and I had a wonderful time, and even ignored the wind -- for the most part.


In Wild Waters,

Zac Sexton

The Meandering Boo Boy

Posted by on in On the Road Blog
I'm not sure how often it happens, but it seems to more and more, when I'm on the water. It is getting to where a lot of the gear I fish with, has been hand-crafted. Sometimes, it's something I messed with, most times it's something a friend has made. Sometimes it is a cooperative effort. A recent trip floating my newly restored wooden drift boat brought out a lot of homespun creations that were able to withstand rugged conditions.

Somehow, I was able to talk Sarah, my girlfriend, in to a February trip to Montana, and go floating down a river. It wasn't as big of a surprise, but I was also able to talk Scott Anderson, a guiding buddy from Missoula, in to doing the float. And Ariell is always ready to go, don't matter what the weather!

"Zac it's frickin' cold! Sarah, can I sit on your lap and lick your ear?"


Me on the left, and Scott on the right. I am holding a Sam Drukman, Sweetgrass graphite creation. It's a sweet-tossing 9'3", 8 weight. It's not a typical trouting rod, but I knew the wind was going to blow, and the delicate tips Sam uses help to keep tippets intact on the hook-set. Here, we are rigging up at the put-in. From the put-in, we floated to the put-out... (That's a joke...sorta...)


This is a fine example of expressive "cabin fever." Though realistically, we are mostly expressing our happiness to finally be out of the car and icy roads, and ready to take my boat on it's first float since I got it painted. It's not quite done, as I need to put on more paint, adjust the oars and seats, and do some more work on the wood trim, but I first wanted to see if I fixed the one leak I was aware of before continuing work on 'er! This was also Sarah's first attempt at real-live fly-fishing (as opposed to just casting). She was a trooper and even had a good time. She took all the photos you are looking at -- well, except this one. Scott took this one. Ariell just wanted to chase Jackrabbits.


We shoved off, and I took a few strokes to see how she handled, and she did well. I didn't see any leaks, then concentrated on the fishing. I handed Scott the Sweetgrass graphite rod to start. To my right, (viewer's left), you can see a bamboo rod with an interesting history. The tip is a section I made for a prototype rod, but never finished out. I gave the blank to Scott, who had Dave, at Sweetgrass finish it out and add a more fitting butt section than what I designed for it. The finished rod really is a great 8'3", five weight. A great example of bamboo team work.

Jess, a friend of mine, made the stocking hat I am wearing, and it has held up to years of my abuse. Good job, Jess! And Morrison Simms, another good friend, made the lanyard to the right, near the oar tucked under my leg. Good job Morrison! Don't pay attention to the other rod next to the bamboo rod...

Scott took the bow first, to show Sarah some techniques on fishing from a boat. Scott wasn't too far in to his presentation before he hooked up. We were all pretty excited, as it looked to be a great day of catching fish.

"Don't horse it, Scott!"

And the first fish to my boat is a...

Oh, a Whitefish. Well, here's to native fish! It was a fatty that fought heartily. I truly have a soft spot for Whities, and often target them, believe it or not. Another point in craftsmanship, is that Scott made the frame for the net, holding the Whitie. He made the net for me last Summer, and it has turned in to a great boat net.

Scott worked the tail end of that water, and quickly hooked in to another fish. Wow. Scott sure is talented. Or lucky.

A decent Brownie! And a great-looking net frame, minus my ingenious zip-tie connectors. I simply didn't feel like drilling holes in the frame, so just attached the bag (what most people call the net, but what the bag-makers call the bag; the wood is the frame), any way I could. I'll fix it one of these days...


Good job Scott -- for a guy who fishes worms...

Scott did quite a bit of rowing, and we both worked on coaching Sarah through the sport of fly-fishing. Somehow we didn't take any pictures... She hooked a few fish, but we didn't quite get them to the boat. Maybe next trip. I hooked a nice Brownie, way bigger than Scott's, but somehow it fell off before a picture could be taken. The cameras were frozen. That was it, yeh! The day got a bit chilly as the wind picked up through the afternoon, but we had a great time. It was a great day spent with great friends, using gear we and our friends made. Hard to beat a day like that.


See ya later big river. I will miss you, until next time. See ya later also, big ol' eagle.

In Wild Waters,

Zac Sexton

The Meandering Boo Boy

Posted by on in On the Road Blog
I often get to talk with rod-making experts on my travels. And every once in a while I manage to pin down ol' Glenn Brackett, and get to twist his ear with questions. Recently, I met up with him while he was giving a talk about Sweetgrass rods, and bamboo rods in general for a northwestern fly fishing club. I met Glenn with Craig, a longtime friend of his, at the Struble company. Jeff Pentecost, Struble owner, was able to break from his busy schedule to give us a tour of his new shop.

The best fly rods are made with the best components. Struble has long been known as makers of the best hardware. Sweetgrass orders custom-made parts for their rods from Struble, so it was pretty educational to tag along as Jeff, Glenn and Craig B.S.ed their way through the shop.


From L to R: Glenn, Jeff and Craig talk shop. The machine to Craig's right is a CNC mill, used to manufacture precision parts designed by the crew at Struble.


Here a CNC mill is getting prepped to make fly reel parts.


Nickel-silver tubing is pictured above. These tubes are used to make many parts, such as...


...these threaded barrels that are part of locking reel seats.


Struble also hand-crafts agate stripping guides using nickel-silver wire and polished agate. Beautiful, eh!

After touring the shop, we happened upon Bob Roth, president of Snake Brand guides (also used on Sweetgrass rods). We got to B.S. a bit, then Glenn grabbed some examples of his own work.

Here Glenn shows Jeff and Bob how one, delicate bamboo strip compares to the bound 8-sided tip section blank on the Octi-rods he has been designing as of late. The individual strip on an 8-sided rod is very thin, but when glued and bound, is powerful and resilient.

And last but not nearly least, Glenn's infamous walking-stick-rod...

Glenn is pulling a 6-sided, 6-foot long, 2 piece, 3/4 weight fly rod from an 8-sided walking stick made of bamboo. I'm rather flattered, but Glenn had me in mind while designing this unique fishing tool. I love to fish small, remote streams that are home to native fish, such as Cutthroat and Redband trout. Glenn came up with a way to help me hike miles using the walking stick, then catch beautiful and rare trout with a Sweetgrass rod perfected for native habitats. It truly is a wonderful tool that will soon be laminated in to my wandering lifestyle.


Here Jeff flexes the walking stick to check it's durability and characteristics. That is a sure sign of a craftsman -- one who is always messing with things. It was wonderful to be a "fly on the wall" and listen to Glenn and Jeff discuss ways to make better rods and components. It is that search for perfection that Sweetgrass and everyone associated in crafting fine rods that keeps our imaginative rivers rushing. I look forward to seeing more bamboo wonderment next time I'm in the shop -- get ready boys, I'll be there this weekend!

In Wild Waters,

Zac Sexton

The Meandering Boo Boy




The midnight downpour had subsided to a sunrise drizzle. Even though puddles bordered the inside of my tent, I managed to keep mostly dry. Ariell was ready to explore the wilderness we had hiked in to the day before, and see if the Steelhead had made it this far upstream. I begrudgingly rolled off my comfy, down-insulated sleeping pad, and made my ritual cup of coffee with water from the creek. The day's grayness could not keep me from thinking it was going to be a splendid expedition.


Ariell had a great time running along the many game trails in the valley. After a while she came down to watch me cast the Sweetgrass 8'6", quad., 6/7 weight rod. She was pretty impressed with my ability to hit pockets behind boulders, and keep a dead drift through deep runs that should have held Steelhead. Yep, "should have." I had hoped the slightly off-color water and increase in flow from the rain, would have enticed the Chromers to come on upstream. Run, after run, after pool and pocket, yielded no Steel. But, I did manage to find a sweet surprise.


The beautiful (even in black and white) Coastal Cutthroat trout! Though only about 1/20th the size of what I was after, this guy was a hard-fightin' specimen, and welcome to bite my fly anytime! I love finding Cutthroat. Ariell led the way downstream after I kissed and released this bright ray of hope.


This stream is one of my magical places. I was led to it years ago by a friend and fished it with friends. It is not always exactly loaded with fish, but sometimes....
There is just something about wilderness streams coddled within old-growth forests -- not to mention the way they rush through boulders! Oh, man I need to go back. Anyway, back to fish.

Even though the place is magical, there must have been an evil spell on me. I did manage to find the odd, resident Cuttie, but they were few and far between, and not nearly as prolific as they have been in previous trips. But, I kept heading downstream, just to see what there was to see. After a while I had hiked out of the wilderness boundaries, and in to water I had never cast a fly in. I was tired, tripping and slipping more often. But I kept going.

After swinging my flies through one seemingly productive hole, I let the line drag after catching nothing. Deciding to move on down the line, I let the flies skate in the surface below me in a seemingly lifeless water. Before I took two steps, a fish tugged on my line and I was hooked to a fish. This fish however, bent much deeper down the rod. It was big -- not Steelhead big, but a healthy fish for sure.


Soon, I was looking at a beautiful Cutthroat -- the biggest I've caught this year, flopping on the bank. It was around 13 inches, and a fine specimen, though a bit skinny from Winter's dearth.











A beautifully native Cutthroat alongside a sweet-castin' Sweetgrass rod.


Then the Valentine's kiss-and-release. See ya buddy. Go get some fat on yer bones, eh!

In Wild Water,

Zac Sexton

The Meandering Boo Boy



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