GUIDE INTERVIEW – TOM KNOTH

by Jon Novoselac

Picture of Tom Knoth

I’ve written about the value I get from guided trips before – here, here and here. A good guide will get a newbie like me onto fish in a short period of time. A great guide will improve your ability to spot fish, show you how to prepare and care for your gear, present your fly correctly and much more. Not only is Tom a good guide, he’s a great one.

He’s Owner/Operator of Yosemite Sierra Fly Fishing Guide Service and Outfitters based in Groveland, California and his guides specialise in stream trout fishing throughout Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada.

Tom has taken some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his fly fishing history, what the future holds for the sport, tips for beginners and some other useful nuggets.

How did you become interested in fly fishing?

“My father introduced me to spin/bait fishing when I was eight and although the times he took me fishing were limited, they were one of the things I looked forward to most at that age.

“We usually caught fish and Dad always made sure that I outfished him. On one trip, my dad set me free on a remote stretch of a Sierra stream with the son of his closest friend. Jeff and I had a great adventure that day and we both caught a few fish with salmon eggs, but what stuck in my mind was when Jeff told me how much better the fly fishermen did on that river.

“My interest in fishing was from then on fuelled by the fly fishing articles in Field & Stream. The fly tying aspect of the sport really interested me, so I bought a book on tying (“Noll Guide to Trout Flies and How to Tie Them”) and a tying kit. I spent hours teaching myself to tie flies and they looked pretty good to me back then. Yet, I had still never fly fished; my dad knew nothing about fly fishing so I didn’t have an instructor.

“I had to do my first oral presentation in the fourth grade when I was 10 years old, and decided to do it on fly fishing. My dad borrowed a fly rig for me to use during the presentation. It was a lovely, new baby blue fibreglass rod with a basic Pflueger reel. My presentation went really well and piqued the interest of other students, which furthered my own interest in the sport.

“Just before Christmas that year, I found the same fly rod and reel outfit in my Dad’s closet, and knew that was my present. Soon after, I was teaching myself to fly fish.”

What has fly fishing meant to you?

“Fly fishing has a combination of elements that draw me in. First, I’m what I describe as a “propeller head”, more commonly known as a “Type A personality”, an engineer type, over analyser, perfectionist, etc.

“If you’re into fly fishing, there’s a good chance you’re nodding your head saying “Yep… that’s me”, because a large proportion of fly fishers fit that personality profile. And the many challenges of the sport are what draw us in.

“Great fly fishing demands perfection. Knowing where to fish, when to fish, what hatches to match, how to imitate the hatch, how to present the fly, bug or other aquatic creature that you’re trying to imitate for the situation, how to rig your equipment, how to set the hook, how to properly fight and land the fish and how to safely release it.

“These are the basic variables of fly fishing and most of them change with different locations, water types, species, weather conditions and so much more. No matter how much you have fly fished, you’re always learning something new on each trip and I’m always trying to improve my knowledge and techniques. Striving for perfection, I guess.

“I am also attracted to the beauty and solitude of areas where I typically fish and the companionship of friends and clients I fish with. I don’t enjoy fly fishing nearly as much when I’m alone. I like to compare notes and learn from others and I like to help others who don’t know as much as I do.

“Guiding is a natural fit for me and I get just as much of a thrill by helping beginners hook fish as I do when hooking them myself. Most of my clients are absolute beginners who have never touched a fly rod before, and I’ve managed to help them all land fish. It’s quite a high to see the expression on their faces when they hook their first trout. If you’re an experienced fly fisherman, take a beginner out and show them the ropes. You’ll love it!”

Interviewer’s note: two of Tom’s happy clients, below, show off the results of his careful and patient instruction.

Tom Knoth's clients

Is there a particular piece of water you like most? Why?

“It’s difficult for a fly fisherman to pick out a favourite piece of water as most of us have a top ten list. But I’m particularly interested in stillwater trout fishing and my favourite spot is Pyramid Lake. It’s located on Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation about 45 minutes north of Reno.

“Pyramid is known for giant Lahontan cutthroat trout which cruise the shallows in the spring on their way to spawning tributaries. 20 inch cutts are a typical catch and they occasionally get up to 20 pounds or more. Many of the popular fishing areas have flats that extend up to 150 yards out in a few feet of water before dropping off several feet at a ledge. Most of the trout can be found cruising near those ledge drop-offs.

“Most fishermen bring ladders to fish from and set them up near the ledges; the two most popular methods of fly fishing are stripping Woolly Buggers and/or Foam Beetles with sinking line, or indicator fishing with larger midge or nymph patterns. On a busy weekend, you may see up to 50 fishermen lined up on ladders in popular fishing spots. It’s quite a sight and you can learn a lot with so many other anglers in sight and within talking range.

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“The cutthroats, which often move in packs, will typically cruise in one direction along the ledge, and the smarter local fishermen will wait for rods to start bending on one side of the ladder chain before going out to their own pre-positioned ladder to fish. Some of the best fishing is in stormy weather with chop on the water that threatens the security of your ladder. Roughing it in miserable conditions for huge trout; why not?”

The photo below is one of Tom’s clients, fishing at Pyramid. The client is a stream guide that had never targeted trout in a lake. This was, in fact, the second trout he caught on a lake. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Second photo of Pyramid Lake

If you could fish anywhere at all, where would it be?

“Although I have done quite a few fly fishing trips to Baja, I would like to get to some better saltwater locations one day. Sailfishing in Costa Rica is definitely on the bucket list, and tarpon, bonefish, and permit fishing in Florida and the Caribbean is also something I’d like to get into.”

The following image is one of the rivers that Tom regularly guides on in the Sierra Nevada. His client looks quite content. Maybe it’s because she just caught a fish, or she might be enjoying the spectacular scenery. Probably both.

Image of Tom Knoth's client

What do you think has been the biggest change in fly fishing over the past few years?

“Definitely the number of people involved is the biggest change that that I see. I guess we have to give some credit to Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It” for that.

“With the popularity of the sport increasing, fly fishing is still good business. But fly shops are fading out of the picture in many areas. They just can’t compete with internet businesses.

“It’ll be interesting to see the further strides technology brings to the sport, as it has with other sports such as golf. I expect that we will see rods that are easier to cast and have slicker guides, lines that shoot even better and are less prone to tangling, stronger strength-to-diameter ratios on leaders, more effective flies and anything else that will make it easier for the beginner to have success with the sport. I’m surprised we haven’t seen a rebirth of the automatic reel yet. I think that’s coming soon.”

What does the future hold for fly fishing? Is the sport in good hands?

“I am hoping at least locally that we will see tighter creel restrictions, better enforcement of fishing regulations and more conservation efforts. Too many people are taking limits home rather than practicing catch and release. This applies especially to non-fly fishermen. I also witness lots of poaching, particularly people taking multiple limits. I haven’t seen any enforcement in the area where I guide for the last two years. Our weak local economy has limited enforcement resources at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“In California, we’re also dealing with problems associated with the great “water grab” from produce farmers in the Central and Southern parts of the state. It’s a constant battle to appease farmers and keep our fisheries healthy, and our striped bass and salmon fisheries are really taking a hit. Fishermen need to be more united and put up a fight on issues like this.

“I know I’m venting about local issues, but as our population continues to grow, issues like this will affect fishing everywhere. Fly fishing clubs are typically efficient at organising anglers for these efforts, and there are many conservation oriented organisations leading the battles. They desperately need our support and unity!”

What final tips or advice would you give to someone just getting started in fly fishing?

“Although I started out by teaching myself, my angling skills were greatly magnified after I joined a local fly fishing club. Most fly fishermen are more than happy to share their knowledge. I’ve met so many great fishermen this way, and several that will be life-long friends. I’ve met members of clubs who are well known fly-tiers, some that are great stream fishermen with intimate knowledge of local water, a few that are stillwater specialists and a few that specialise in deltas. All of these folks really enjoyed sharing their knowledge with me. This is typical of most fly fishing clubs and they are an invaluable source of knowledge for the aspiring angler.

“Don’t have a club in your area? Consider starting your own. Eight years ago I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to a small mountain community in the Sierra Nevada. A few months after my arrival I decided to start a fly fishing club. I put an article in the local paper advertising it and had a group of 10 for the first meeting. Although our club was small at the time, I met a couple of guys who used to guide in the area as well as a few experienced local fishermen. It took no time at all for me to become acquainted with the best local fishing locations and techniques, and I developed some great friendships, to boot.

“Another piece of advice is that all anglers, beginners through to advanced, should make it a point to hire a guide a couple of times a year. Pick a guide that is known for a location and/or technique that you are not already familiar with. For beginners or experienced anglers, a guide will greatly shorten the learning curve. You will always come away from each guided trip with at least few valuable tips and new skills.”

There you have it. Words of wisdom from a talented angler. Suffice to say, when I went fishing with Tom in 2012, I learned a great deal – even more than the wonderful insights he’s given here. I only wish I lived closer to the Sierra Nevada. Tom and I would be fishing again, for sure.

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