Gary Borger has been a fly fishing idol of mine ever since I put in his VHS tape of fishing streams approximately twelve years ago. I was new to the fly fishing scene and soaked up every bit of his methodical approach to catching fish.Gary is an amazing fly fishing instructor, teacher, and storyteller. I was able to catch Gary between flights and fly fishing events.He was generous enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a couple of questions pertaining to his involvement and success in fly fishing.
Travis Dailey(TD): How did you get your start in fly fishing?
Gary Borger (GB): I was born in 1944, and I’ve have been fishing since I was about 4. My first fishing venue was the mud puddles in front of my parents’ home in northwestern Pennsylvania. I don’t remember catching any fish, but I do remember being very intense about the pursuit.
By the time I was six, I was actively fishing in the streams near my parents’ home. One of these, Sugar Creek, was a large trout stream, and I loved to go there as often as possible. When I was about 9 I began reading the articles on fly fishing in my father’s sporting magazines.
Authors such as Joe Brooks, Al McLane, Ted Trueblood, Ed Tapply, Lee Wulff, the young Ernie Schwiebert, and others fired my imagination, and when I was eleven, I asked my parents for a fly tying kit for Christmas. I tied flies all winter and started fly fishing that next spring.
TD: Where is your home waters?
GB: Currently I live in Wausau, Wisconsin, and my closest waters are the Plover River, east of town, and the Prairie, north of town. However, I have the opportunity to fish many places, and so I don’t really consider any river my “home water.” In my heart, my home water is Montana’s Madison River.
TD: What is your favorite fish to pursue?
GB: I started fly fishing in pursuit of trout, as did most of the fly fishers of my era. I still love to fish for them all over the world. However, I enjoy fishing for anything that will take the fly, and when the opportunity presents itself, for pike, bass, bluegills, bones, tarpon, permit, snook, bluefish, stripers, all the salmon species, whitefish, carp, tropical warm water species like Tigerfish, Payara, Golden Dorodo, etc. I’m more than willing to catch them. They all hold a special allure to anyone who loves to fly fish.
TD: Who or what Influences you?
GB: In terms of fly fishing, my greatest influences came early in the game. I read the articles and books of all of the greats of the 1950s and 1960s. I built my core fly fishing knowledge from their writings. I continue to read everything that can lay my hands on, always watching for nuances that will improve our understanding of the sport.
TD: What is you best fishing story?
BG: This is a tough one, because I have many, many stories. Rather than try to write a book on my best fishing stories, I’ll give you one that relates perhaps the most unique experience. This one happened in Argentina last year (March of 2013). It will appear I my forthcoming book, Fly Gear.
The Legend is in the Rod
Had I not been a firsthand participant in this story, I would find it hard to believe. At a Fly Fishing Show in Denver, Colorado, I borrowed a 6weight Zenith from John Shaner, of Hardy/Greys, for my casting demonstrations. It is an impressive rod that throws a long line as straight as an arrow, and makes such demos easy. When I returned the rod, John asked if I had cast their new 10 foot, 3-weight. I had not, and so early the next morning, I sought out John and gave the rod a test run. It felt as if I were casting a 5-weight; the rod easily delivered the line the full distance of the casting pond. I was delighted at its ability to cast at all lengths and manipulate the line through my test series of curves and mends, and I told John so. He graciously offered to provide me with one for upcoming trips to Argentina and Germany. And so the rod was eventually situated in my bags and headed into the southern hemisphere.
After a fully attended and very successful, daylong clinic for the Mendoza Fly Shop, celebrating its twentieth year in business, we headed south to fish. We being Benito Pérez and his son Pablo, Polo Rossi, Exequiel Bustos, and me. Benito published the first angler’s entomology of Argentina (La Mosca, Un Libro de Pesca, 1990), and he and Pablo established the shop in 1993. It would be a fast road trip, nearly 600 miles south into the northern reaches of Patagonia. It would also be a time for testing the new Hardy rod.
The first two days were spent fishing Río Tordillo and Río Cobre near the skiing village of Las Leñas, about 6 hour driving time from Mendoza, and halfway to our goal of the Río Codihue in the Neuquén Region of Patagonia. The Tordillo is a swift mountain stream that reminded me of a highspeed Madison. About half the volume of the Madison, it nonetheless carried the water along at seemingly twice the velocity. The fishing was totally within the “Secret River”—the pocket water and short flat stretches along the shores (for more information see our second book in this series, Reading Waters).
Polo took first turn on the 10 foot 3-weight, and found it to be an exceptional tool for pocket water nymphing. I fished it for a few hours and noted that sometimes the tip would over flex and hit the water when I made strong throws into the oncoming Argentine wind. Only a minor adjustment was necessary to overcome this tendency on my part. It played fish of a variety of sizes from 6 inches to 16 with equal ease.
The next day, on Río Cobre, found Exequiel using the Hardy to handle a big two kilo brown with equal aplomb. Unlike the Tordillo, the Cobre is a meadow stream with long pools, side channels, and swift riffles. And always, the wind. We fished bead head nymphs with a variety of indicators. The rod punched out the needed casts without strain. Polo left us at Malargüe on his way to Buenos Aires to drive in a nationally sanctioned auto race.
And then it was on to the “El Halcon” estancia of George and Nichole Andrieu. They hold the upper 26 miles of the Río Codihue, and had graciously offered it to us for our Patagonian excursion. The river proved most welcoming, and the Hardy enjoyed its daily performance in the hands of the anglers of our party. There were many fish of all sizes, the largest coming in at 23 inches and a bit over 5 pounds.
On the last day, the Hardy was in again in the hands of Exequiel as we fished the canyon reaches of the river, taking small fish with alarming regularity. Alarming because we could not connect to anything over 14 inches. We knew the big fish were there, because the day before we had found them with regularity. Suddenly at 6:30 pm, as the sun dropped into the western horizon and shadows sought out every nook and cranny of the canyon, the small fish stopped hitting the fly. It was not a gradual tapering off; it was instantaneous.
We both immediately began rerigging—the big fish had come out. I cut the leader back to 0X and knotted on a huge, 6inch long articulated Down and Dirty Sculpin. I was after big fish, and I wanted the biggest fly I had. Exequiel, likewise began to change his leader and fly. We are fishing a large, deep pool occupied at its center by two enormous, roomsized boulders that had obviously calved off the canyon walls above, sometime in the dim, distant past. Exequiel stood downstream of the massive chunks of canyon wall, and in line with the space between them, the Hardy held upright as he worked to tie on a very large black Zonker.
Suddenly, the canyon walls leapt to life with the coarse, squawking cry of the Argentine Burrowing Parrot. And equally suddenly, a flight of about 50 of the high velocity birds came rocketing down river, barely head height, guided in their flight by the constraining, tortuous walls of the canyon. Some crested the big boulders at river center, others flew swiftly between them.
In an instant, one of the birds that dashed between the massive rocks smashed directly into the Hardy. It jerked around violently, and broke just below the center ferrule. The startled bird, tangled in the leader, struggled to stay on the wing. Croaking hoarsely in distress, it flapped uncontrolled toward midriver, driving the big, size two Zonker deep into the tip of Exequiel’s right hand middle finger, and jerking the leader free. The pain was evident on his face, and so was the dismay at seeing the top half of the rod shoot down the line and leader toward the bird, now dropping dangerously close to the water. Then, the bird was free, and raced off after its swiftly disappearing compadres. The top half of the rod dove head first into the deep, swift currents of mid river, and was gone.
Using a heavy piece of mono, we jerked the fly out of Exequiel’s finger, but it was small consolation to him for the loss of the top half of the broken rod. There was nothing to do, but to stand in disbelief for a few moments before finishing the evening with two large rainbows that he had to watch me catch. And so ends this bizarre story; another truly unusual adventure that is a part of the legend of the rods of the House of Hardy.
In all my nearly six decades of fly fishing, I have never heard of such an improbable happening.
TD: What led you to begin teaching classes on fly fishing?
GB: In the winter of 1972-1973 I was invited to present a halfday program on fly fishing at the University of Wisconsin, Marathon Campus, where I taught. The program was to be part of a one day sporting event sponsored by local businesses. As part of my program, I wanted to use the movie, The Way of A Trout, which had been filmed in Wisconsin, and promoted catch and release. The local Fenwick rep had a copy, and graciously shared it with me for the day. He came and sat through the program that I presented, and as I was rewinding the film, asked me if I had ever thought about doing anything professional with my talk. I told him that I had not because it was the first time I had ever given it.
Two weeks later I receive a call from Fenwick, asking me if I would consider being the Midwest Director of their newly formed Fenwick Fly Fishing Schools. I accepted, and started teaching that spring (1973). I have been fortunate since that time to have had the opportunities to teach fly fishing on a worldwide basis, both through my writing and many, many speaking engagement and schools.
TD: What do you take to the river with you when you go fishing?
GB: The rods, reels, flies, waders, clothing, etc., all depend upon the species I’m pursuing, as does the ancillary gear such as shot, indicators, nippers, vest or not, net, and so on. I think the best thing that any fly fisher can take to the water is a positive, inquiring, observant, persistent, angler-as-predator attitude. This, combined with knowledge of the fish and its feeding habits go a long way toward developing a consistently successful fly fishing strategy.
TD: What do you enjoy the most when fly fishing.
GB: Every aspect of fly fishing has its own enjoyment and rewards. But, the end goal of all fishing is catching fish, and that’s what I enjoy the most; and I enjoy it the most when catching them on a fly.
TD: You do a lot of traveling. What is your favorite place to fish?
GB: My favorite place is New Zealand, although I must say since I can’t be there very often that my favorite place to fish is right where I am at any time when I’m fishing. New Zealand is special because the fishing is really hunting individual fish. This type of hunting, stalking, and targeting a single fish offers more than “blind” fishing will ever offer. If also offers more than just fishing in a hatch and casting to rising trout because the NZ fish are few and far between and everything hangs in the balance of one’s ability to stalk the fish and get the fly to it without spooking it. It is a very thorough test of every fly fishing skill—and a very gratifying experience when one is successful.
In addition, NZ is a very beautiful country, and the people are extremely personable and helpful.
TD: What advice would you give to someone who just started fly fishing?
GB: Never stop learning. Always be curious, inquisitive, and look at every scrap of information about the sport with a questioning, searching mind. Never accept defeat from the fish; constantly be searching for the key to every difficult situation.
And. Have a great time!
You can read more of Gary’s writing on his website. Thank you again, Gary for taking the time to speak with me.
Do you enjoy these interviews? Let me know.