For english readers, look under the italic text!
Vak-redaksjonen var så heldige å få bli kjent med Chris Strainer i løpet av fire dagers fiske i Missouri (MT) i år. Strainer driver en av de tre fluefiskesjappene (CrossCurrents) i den knøttlille byen Craig, og er hva man kan kalle skoleeksempelet på god service og hyggelig type. Vi leide hus av Chris, ble servert hjemmelagede rådyrburgere og fikk så mye tips om elva som en fluefisker bare kan drømme om. Hadde det ikke vært for ham, hadde nok opplevelsen av Craig vært preget av stengte restauranter, alkoholiserte bygdeoriginaler på den lokale puben, og skulende amerikanske fluefiskere i elvebåter.
Strainer er på ingen måte en mann av få ord, noe som jo er særs hyggelig i konversasjonsøyemed. Men når det kommer til oversetting så blir det fort litt kjipere. Og av den grunn, så har vi altså latt intervjuet være på moderspråket hans. Altså engelsk. Noe som jo i tillegg også er hyggelig for eventuelle engelskspråklige lesere tatt i betraktning at Google Translate ikke akkurat får terningkast 6.
- Who is Chris Strainer, and how did you end up in Craig of all God forsaken places? Florida sounds a little bit warmer and definitely with more babes hanging around…not to mention all the tarpon…
I grew up as a young kid learning to fish with the traditional equipment in Ohio and then moved to Florida when I was a teenager. I really did love the salt water fishing and I was way into bass fishing. One of the best days in my fishing life was when my dad pulled in the driveway with a brand new, sparkly Pro Craft 1650v tricked out bass boat with a 115 horse Johnson on the back! That baby did 55 mph on the water and my dad and I put some serious miles on Florida waters with that thing. My best buddy and I would also take that rocket boat in the ocean on flat calm days and catch anything that pulled hard in the intercoastal and off the beaches of south Florida. One of the saddest days was when my dad sold the boat after I went off to college and that sparkly rocket sat in the yard far too much for my dad to justify keeping it around. At least that made my focus in on my one fishing passion – fly fishing.
I traveled all around the US after college -South Carolina, Minnesota, Alabama, back to Florida, then out to South Dakota. I was a field biologist (my Bachelor’s degree is in Biology from Furman University in South Carolina) and wound up working for The Nature Conservancy in South Dakota -in the tallgrass prairie. That’s about as far from fly fishing paradise as you can get!
When my job with TNC got a little rocky, I knew I had to make a serious decision. I remember having one of those intense «father-son» talks with my dad – who is a very astute and serious business guy – he’s worked very hard in the same industry, mostly for the same company since 1968 -before I was born. My dad is alway pragmatic and I have always tried to «live up to his expectations.» During this particular serious discussion about my current work situation, he asked me what I wanted to do. I then asked him, «Do you want the practical answer or the dream?» To my surprise, he asked me what my dream job would be. Now we had both going to Montana for a couple of years, separately – he to visit friends and myself while doing some field research on raptors and to backpack and fly fish with some of my buddies. My parents had also bought a place in NW Montana a couple of years before this fateful conversation and they planned on retiring there in the future. When I answered my dad, I was a bit sheepish about it but I did tell him my dream would be to own a flyshop and I hoped that he would help run it when he retired. There was a long pause and then to my utter dismay, he said, «That sounds pretty good.»
After I came out of my stupor from shock, we talked a bit about how that might happen and where. A couple of days later, I was called in from the field to answer an urgent call from my dad. At first I thought something was wrong but when I got on the phone, he told me very urgently to call this guy in Kalispell Montana because he’s trying to sell a fly shop very soon. Long story short, I flew out to Kalispell the next week and met some great people in the fly fishing industry. Although that particular shop didn’t work out, it did get me out to Montana permanently that Winter (1996), and the following summer I was able to hook up with two of the best Outfitters in Montana, Paul Roos and John Kowalski, who were trying to sell their fly shop, «CrossCurrents», in Helena. The deal couldn’t have gone smoother and they were a huge help in getting this idealistic field biologist into the fly shop business.
The Craig store came a few years later in 2001. That’s another long story but let’s just say it’s one of the better business decisions that a biologists could have made. And yes, Craig is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with practically no chicks but the trout fishing is world class and since I have the best girlfriend a trout bum could ask for, Craig is more than fine for me!
- How is it to run a fly fishing outfitter? Is there any time left for fishing at all, or is it all work?
Running a fly shop is truly a business and I’ve struggled more then a few times since 1997. I think it would have been a lot easier if «my dream» had worked out and my old man did retire and help me run the place. However, at 75, my dad is not retired and so I’m left with just half the dream. My girlfriend, Jennifer, does help manage both shops and we just hired a retail manager in our Helena store so there is light at the end of the tunnel for me. Even with all the «business» stuff I have to deal with, I try to get out almost every evening during our season. I’ve got a super fishy staff this year and it’s never had to find someone to run a shuttle with and split the rowing duties in a drift boat. We also do our share of wading, either on the MO or on other nearby waters. I have a policy in our shop that all the staff can use our rental boats if they are not reserved. Since we have 3 drift boats (and some of our staff have their own) a whole bunch of rafts and pontoon boats, there is usually something for the guys and gals to float in. And as you know from fishing the Missouri, if you don’t want to hassle with a boat, there are plenty of trout to go for on foot – although we do like to wear actual wading boots and not Wal-Mart sneakers! (red. anm: hehehe)…
- Would you characterize yourself as a «typical american fly fishing outfitter» squeezing money out of «easily fooled tourists», or is there a deeper passion involved that overtakes the crave for making money?
I’ve been in this business now for too long and have learned that you don’t get rich by running a flyshop! I got into it because of a dream and I’m staying in it because I love fly fishing and I love sharing that passion with others. I also love all the great people you meet with the same passion. When you guys were over this past Spring, it was so much fun showing you all where to fish and what flies to try and then when you came back at the end of the day and told us how awesome you guys did and to see the excitement for the river and our trout – it’s almost as much fun as being there. I feel the same way when I guide. I think sometimes I get more excited than the clients!
I also, take the resources seriously. Coming from a biology background and doing field work, I know that good trout fishing doesn’t just happen by accident in today’s busy world. Without careful stewardship, Montana wouldn’t have the world class trout waters she enjoys. I’ve been fortunate to have many conservation mentors in my life starting with Paul Roos, who I bought the shop from back in ’97. Another influential person in my life is Earl Dorsey, longtime Pat Barnes-Missouri River Trout Unlimited board member and President. Earl helped steer me to be active on the TU board both on the local chapter level and on the Montana State Council of Trout Unlimited. He also helped get me on the state panel for the Future Fisheries Improvement Fund which I sat on for 4 years. These people, along with many others have done a great deal to make a big difference for trout in Montana. As a flyshop owner and Guide, I talk TU and conservation to all of my guide clients and many of my shop customers. I should also mention that I’m proud to be affiliated with the Orvis company as all the folks there – starting from the top with the Perkins family – have a very serious conservation ethic. I don’t think you’ll find another company in this industry who does more for coldwater fisheries than Orvis.
- Best thing about meeting so many different types of anglers?
Without a doubt, the best thing about meeting so many different types of anglers, from all around North America and the world, is that I always learn something new about fly fishing! Whether it’s about casting, or knots or how they present different patterns at certain stages of the hatch – there’s always something fascinating to learn. Also, it’s just plain fun to meet people from all over and with all different types of backgrounds. Fly fishing is almost like a fraternity – once you find out someone fly fishes, you’ve got a connection and can instantly find common ground. You may not agree politically, or get along with someone outside of the flyshop but there’s always common ground to talk and laugh about with fly fishing.
- What is the biggest difference between american anglers and europeans, would you say?
Length of leaders they fish and the fact that when Europeans try on waders, they are not hesitant on stripping down to their skivies to put the waders on! Seriously, we’ve had two customers (both from France mind you) strip down right in the middle of our Craig shop to try on waders!
In all seriousness, I find that most Europeans don’t fish with the «bobbers» when they nymph, if they nymph at all. Most want to strictly dry fly fish and that’s great. A lot of them don’t fish streamer either and that’s just fine as well.
One of the most fascinating conversations we had (although difficult due to the different languages – neither of us had a grasp on the other’s native tongue!) was with a great fly angler from France (same guy that dropped his pants in the shop – I hope Stephen doesn’t read this!). He fished with a leader that was about 18′ long but he did something to it with salt water to make it much more elastic. You should have seen the crowd of people around all trying to understand what he did to make this amazing leader. It really does cast through the wind very well and is extremely supple on the water for great drag free drifts. I haven’t been able to replicate his leader on my own and I treat the one he gave me like gold. I really need to hire someone who speaks French and get him to translate what Stephen does to his leaders and then write it down so I don’t forget!
- Been fishing around the world alot?
My international fly fishing is a bit limited. I spent a few weeks in Ireland back in the late 80′s fly fishing for Atlantic Salmon, Sea Trout and Brown Trout and that was pretty cool. I was fairly new to the game at that time so the salmon managed to quit easily elude me – but having learned a great deal about Atlantic Salmon since then I don’t put all the blame on me – those are tough fish to get to grab a fly.
I’ve fished a bit in the Bahamas as well. And plan on doing more of that!
My latest addiction is international but not too far from Montana and that is fly fishing for Steelhead in British Columbia with spey and switch rods! My fly fishing mentor, Gene Shimel, worked in the summers in my Craig shop for several years. He is not only a Steelhead addict but a Skeena system guru! He’s been going up there every Fall (from September into November) since 1987! Gene started working for me in 2002 and every year he invited me up to BC with him but I never made the time to go up there and fish with him. He’s in his 70′s and has had some health issues and in 2008 he said to me, «Strainer, if you’re gonna ever get up to BC and fish with me, you better do it sooner than later ’cause I don’t know how many more years I’ve got left in me!» Needless to say, I made it a point that year to just do it! And a good buddy of mine and I drove up in late October to meet up with Gene and try our had at fishing with the long rods for those huge, wild, anadromous trout of the Skeena system. My first fish came on the third day and that’s all she wrote for me! I know own 5 spey rods, 3 switch rods and all my computers, iPads and phones have screen savers of my BC steelhead trips! So basically, don’t get me started on talking about Steelhead and spey casting unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hand! Just ask my girlfriend, Jen!
- We’ve heard that you are actually a euro? Tell us about it!
You must mean my heritage. My great grandparents were from Slovenia! I always listen to my grandparents speak Slovenian and we still eat a lot of ethnic food at family gatherings but I never was all that keen on going to the «mother land» – until I heard about the killer trout fishing there!! Giant Marble Trout in gin clear water! Who wouldn’t want to claim that as their heritage! Someday I’ll make it there – with a list of relatives I need to meet – and a fly rod (or three)!!
- What is so special with Missouri?
I’m friends with a lot of Guides and flyshop owners from around Montana and they all say the same thing to me – «You’ve got it so good being on the Missouri River!» And I can’t disagree with them! The MO is one of the best trout rivers in Montana, if not in the world! I guess I should clarify that – it’s one of the best trout rivers – if you’re into tons of big, feisty rainbows and gagger browns that love to eat flies. You’ll also want to love bugs if you fish the Missouri because our hatches are epic! My Canadian friend, Jim McLennan – who’s written a few books, had taught thousands of folks to fly fish and is one of the finest fly angler I know – always tells people that if they are truly into fly fishing, they owe it to themselves to witness at least once in their fly fishing careers, a Trico hatch and spinner fall on the Missouri River in Montana! I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of our most prolific hatches followed by our Caddis blizzards! Cool thing is, you can experience a massive spinner fall in the morning and the same day, catch the Caddis blizzard that very evening! Literarily witnessing thousands of rising trout – in one day!
The MO is also special because you can enjoy fine fishing all year long. The trout eat 365 and the only thing stopping you from enjoying fishing for them is nasty weather – which does happen quite a bit in Montana in the Winter. But we can get some warmer days in January – like this past January, we had 3 days that were 50 degrees F or warmer and we had great dry fly fishing on Midges! You can’t do that on the Clark Fork (no offense to those in Missoula!)
I do also realize that the Missouri is such a prolific fishery because it’s a tailwater below the dam and we have been pretty fortunate to have the dam operate in a manner that does allow for consistently great trout fishing. I know of other tailwaters that have crazy flow regiments that make it not only tough on the bugs and the trout but on people trying to safely fish. Of course, we will always grumble at time on how «they» are managing the water but for the most part, we’ve got it pretty good on the Missouri.
- Favourite river/destination besides the Missouri?
The Smith River. Without hesitate, that’s my number two – for trout! My true number two is a very special place in the Skeena system. I only get to fish it once, maybe twice a year but it is magical! I also won’t tell you where that place is – no matter how much Christiania you give me!
The Smith River does hold a very special place for me. My friends, my clients and I have all solved the world’s problems around the campfires on the Smith – every Summer! We just forget to implement them when we get off the river after five days of liquid and rock paradise! It’s stunningly beautiful and when the fishing is good, it’s awesome! And when the fishing is tough, it’s awesome! It’s a float by limited permit only and I’ve been fortunate to get down it every year since ’99 and some years a few times as I try to do one personal trip and at least 2 guided trips – where I’m one of the guides. I think you guys would love it.
- Frozen pizza at Craig Bar or deer burgers?
Sometimes that’s a hard call – it all depends on if I’m just too darn lazy to cook for myself! Also, the company can be quite interesting in the ol’ Craig Bar, we affectionately call, «Uncle Joe’s» When you get off the river at 10:45 after a bomber evening of Caddis dries and then streamers in the dark and Izaak’s has their kitchen closed, a cardboard pizza and cold beer just sound perfect!
- What do you think people would say is your best sides?
I would hope that people would say that I’m really passionate about fly fishing and that I love to share what knowledge I’ve learned from years on the waters and with talking to great anglers.
- And the worst?
I’m not very organized, that’s for sure. I usually have 27 things going at once. With 2 stores, up to 14 employees and a girlfriend with 3 kids, I’m usually running in several directions at once – when I’m not on the water. I think that’s another reason I love the Smith River so much – no cell phones, no invoices, no one calls in sick on a Saturday!
- Brownie or rainbow? Or Walleye maybe?
I’m a big Brown Trout fan! I love throwing streamers to try to catch some behemoth Browns on the MO. We don’t have as many Browns as we do Rainbows, so that could also be a factor in my liking Brownies. I always get excited to have one of my clients I’m guiding get a Brown and I think it’s because we always get so many Rainbows. That said, how cool is it to hook a big ‘bow and see it get air born 4 or 5 times!
The Walleye thing is kind of a new thing on the MO. The monster water we saw in 2011 pushed a bunch of those tasty fish through the turbines and into the river. I’ve managed to catch several of them while streamer fishing for trout – and I have to admit that they are super tasty!! The fight from them is a bit like a big wool sock but in the skillet they sure do seem like a great fish! I’m ordinarily a catch and release guy – especially with Montana’s wild trout – but with Walleye in the river where they aren’t supposed to be, I say catch & release in bacon grease! Please pass the tartar sauce!
- If you could go anywhere in the world to fish, where would you go?
Aside from my favorite, magical spot in BC, I would love to go to New Zealand. I have dog sat for some good friends of mine for about 10 years now as they go down to New Zealand to hang out and do a lot of fly fishing down there for 2 to 4 months each Winter. One of these Winters, they will have to find someone else to dog sit, as I plan on showing up at their place in Gore to go fishing! I also know several other folks from Helena and Bozeman that make annual treks to NZ to fly fish.
Of course, if I’m going to get Jennifer to go with me, then I have to say Belize or the Seychelles or somewhere that you fish with more sunscreen on then clothes. Where the air is salty and the drinks are cold and fruity.
- What would you rather choose: Girlfriend or rising trophy trout?
That could get me in very serious trouble!! How about, taking my trophy girlfriend out to cast dry flies at rising trout?!! (If I’m limping or have a crooked nose when you guys get back to Craig, you’ll know why!)
- Ever been to Norway?
I have never had the pleasure. After hanging out with you guys this Spring, I now have to say that Norway is on my list of international travel. Your treks for big trout in the northern part of Norway looks amazing! I love hiking in to our wilderness areas to fish here in Montana and so that trek is right up my alley. I was also very impressed that you said most people in Norway speak English. That too would make travel there much easier for me. (I have to admit, that it bugs me that Americans don’t learn many if any other languages. I think that says something about our education system here – but don’t get me started on that!)
- What do think about Vakmag.com?
I actually do go to the website and surf around – even though I can’t read the text! It’s fun to check out fly fishing from all around the world. Having met you guys and getting to hang out a bit in Craig, I know just how passionate you guys are for fly fishing and for wanting to share your adventures with others. One of the most impressive things about meeting you all was that you did take your fishing and the fish seriously but not yourselves. I mean that as an honest compliment. You all are skilled anglers, great photographers and videographers but are down to earth and easy to talk to. (Speaking English didn’t hurt the cause either.) When I saw the shoes, I knew you guys were the real deal. You weren’t arrogant about the cloths you wear or equipment you use when fishing – you are there to fish. To be in great places, fishing for tough trout because you love it. I think that shows in your work at Vakmag.