THE WILD SOUTH PODCAST

Episode 4: Tom Rosenbauer, Fly Fishing Guru

The author, podcaster, and face of Orvis fishing discusses his nearly half-century career with the company, his innovations in fly fishing—and his wife’s reaction to his spur-of-the-moment tattoo

A fisherman on a river bank holding a rod

Photo: Jim Aylsworth

Tom Rosenbauer.

About Episode 4:

Dave and Eddie talk with Tom Rosenbauer, the renowned fly fisherman who has spent forty-eight years with Orvis, written more than thirty books, and hosts a popular podcast. Rosenbauer discusses getting his start at Orvis, why he’s obsessed with carp, his role in bringing the bead head fly to the United States, and the work being done to save the Everglades. The Wild South is presented in partnership with Duck Camp.


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Sites mentioned in Episode 4:

Rosenbauer’s Instagram: @rosenbauert

Orvis Homepage

Orvis Bio of Rosenbauer

The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast

Trout Unlimited

photo: Courtesy of Tom Rosenbauer
A young Rosenbauer with a brown trout on the West Branch of the Ausable River in the Adirondacks, circa 1970.


Transcript of Episode 4:

Tom Rosenbauer (00:00):

I was at the New Jersey Fly fishing show with Julia Zema, our social media person. And we were walking around. She said, let’s do something live on Instagram. And I said, okay. And we are standing next to this booth that was doing tattoos. She says, why don’t you get a tattoo? And I looked over and I said, well, yeah, okay, let’s do it. And I was walking back to the Orvis booth, and some guy comes up to me and says, Hey, I heard you got a tattoo. I said, yeah, where’d you hear that? He said, oh, from my son who’s in Iraq. He just saw it live on Instagram, in a space of like, three minutes.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:48):

Welcome to the Wild South Podcast. I’m Dave DiBenedetto, editor-in-chief of Garden and Gun Magazine.

Eddie Nickens (00:55):

And I’m Eddie Nickens, contributing editor for Garden and Gun.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:58):
Together, we are talking with the most interesting outdoorsmen and outdoors women in the South and beyond.

Eddie Nickens (01:06):
Quail hunters and duck hunters, trout anglers, and redfish fanatics, musicians, scientists, writers, wild game cooks, and frankly, a few wildcats we dig up along the way.

Dave DiBenedetto (01:17):
We are talking with legends and legends in the making.

Eddie Nickens (01:21):

All with unforgettable stories of life way beyond the sidewalk. Today we’re talking to Tom Rosenbauer. Now, this is a man who, he is synonymous with fly fishing. He’s synonymous with the Orvis brand. He’s synonymous with this thoughtful, passionate, but really approachable way of coming into the fly fishing world. David, I know you’ve had a friendship with Tom forever. I am so stoked to have him on this podcast.

Dave DiBenedetto (01:53):

One thing about Tom that I just love is he is a fish hound. There is not a time that Tom Rosenbauer doesn’t want to fish. I mean, look, I’m addicted to fishing. No doubt about it. Right? But I don’t think my passion even comes close to what thrives inside of Tom Rosenbauer. And what’s pretty cool about Tom, Eddie, is that he’s taken that passion and just spread his knowledge across the entire fly fishing universe.

Eddie Nickens (02:31):

Yeah, and the spectrum as well. You know, and he sort of preaches to the front row, the back row, the balcony, hardcore, the newbies. I’m gonna tell you one thing I don’t love about Tom Rosenbauer is the man has written almost 30 books. I’m the writer here, and he is smoking me.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:53):

He’s productive. He hits his deadlines T. Edward. He does, I mean, his books again, synonymous right with learning how to fly fish. And then all the, you know, the other books that are geared toward the expert level fly fishermen. He’s covered it all.

Eddie Nickens (03:11):

He has, I’ve got one of his books, right. I’ve got several of his books in the office. But I pulled out my favorite, which is called Reading Trout Streams and it’s funny. It was published in 1988, and there’s all of these hand drawn illustrations, I don’t think Tom drew ’em, but they’re, you know, all of the trout in the stream are these black trout shaped blobs and the rocks with moss dotted on ’em. And the bubble lines and the eddy lines are these little open bubbles. You know, it’s very simple. But I mean, even today, when I see a trout lie in my mind, I’m seeing it from the pages of the book, oh, I know that black blob of my trout is right there. And I sort of, the bubble lines all sort of appear in real time. It’s, you know, I don’t think we think about the Rosenbauer way like it truly exists in the fly fishing world. It’s how so many of us learned reading his books, even not really knowing how important he was. You know, I feel like most of us who fish, we wear this invisible bracelet that says WWTD. What would Tom do? You know, we’d blow up a knot. How would Tom do this knot?

Dave DiBenedetto (04:19):

Hey, let’s start selling those on. So when I started doing the research for my book on the Run, which I’ll do a little shameless plug here, which was about me following the migration of the stripe bass from the fall migration from Maine to North Carolina in the fall of 2001. And the way to do that was to hook up with as many fish heads as I could along the way and tell their stories. And one of the first calls I made was to Tom. And as usual, Tom was happy to share every bit of knowledge he had, not only about the striper, but really about the people. He thought I should meet the guides, the conservationist. And he let me use his name. I mean, he was an entree for me in a way that was extremely helpful.

Eddie Nickens (05:09):

You know, I think listeners are gonna pick up on that. You know, at every turn we try to get Tom to, you know, pound his chest and talk about big fish and that sort of thing. And he just, he just turns it around. He is like, look, that’s not what this game is about. Let’s, lemme talk about how to make you a better angler. I mean, what a sweet guy. 

Dave DiBenedetto (05:26):
Yeah, yeah. No doubt. Let’s get to it.

Eddie Nickens (05:29):
Let’s do it. Tom Rosenbauer is on deck. Let’s cast him a big old fluffy sparkle. Did you like what I did there? Huh? Did you get that?

Eddie Nickens (05:47): 

Hey, Tom Rosenbauer. 

Tom Rosenbauer (05:49): 

Hey, Eddie. How are you? 

Eddie Nickens (05:50):

 Man I think I’m gonna make it.

Tom Rosenbauer (05:52):
Good. I think I am too, at least for the rest of the day.

Eddie Nickens (05:55): 

Yeah, yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:57): 

Tom Rosenbauer.

Tom Rosenbauer (05:58): 

Hey, David.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:59):

What a delight to have you on the show. I was telling Eddie earlier that you and I first met in, I think it was about 1997, I was at a magazine called Men’s Journal. And at that time, you were already the guy that any editor worth his wadders needed to know. And now some 20 years later, plus, you have become the most recognizable face of Orvis. So I’m gonna start with a hard hitting question.

Tom Rosenbauer (06:33): 

Okay.

Dave DiBenedetto (06:34): 

Tell us about your groupies.

Tom Rosenbauer (06:36):
You know, there are some, there’s like a group on Reddit, which I don’t look at Reddit.

Dave DiBenedetto (06:45): 

Yeah.

Tom Rosenbauer (06:45):

But occasionally people will tell me about things that are being discussed there. And there’s a bunch of internet meme people that make some amusing memes of me, which I’m always flattered by. I think they’re funny as hell.

Eddie Nickens (07:00):
Am I to understand there is a Tom Rosenbauer subreddit?

Tom Rosenbauer (07:04): 

Yeah, I think so. 

Dave DiBenedetto (07:06): 

Wow, okay.

Eddie Nickens (07:07): 

That’s another level Tom.

Tom Rosenbauer (07:09):
Eddie, I’ve never looked at it. I don’t really wanna get into the Reddit rabbit hole.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:13):
Is anybody stopping you on the street for autographs or you get recognized? I mean, besides at a fly fishing show, do you get recognized?

Tom Rosenbauer (07:23):

People don’t ask for autographs, but I do get recognized in airports a lot. Yeah, there seem to be a lot of fly fishermen among Delta pilots. They’ll stop me when I’m walking from one terminal to the other and say, Hey, are you Tom? And nobody asks me for autographs or anything, but you know, they just stop and say they appreciate the podcast or the videos or whatever. It’s always super flattering. I come home and tell my wife and she laughs about it.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:45):
She knows the truth.

Eddie Nickens (07:48):

You know what’s interesting to me though, speaking about Reddit and the Worldwide Web and Tom Rosenbauer is how little there is out there about Tom Rosenbauer. I mean, we know what you think about knots and flies and why you like four carbon leaders for saltwater fishing, and so many, you know, just incredibly useful details about the technical aspects of fly fishing. But I personally know very little about who you are and where you grew up, how you got started. I mean, even your Wikipedia biography’s pretty lame. I gotta say Tom. Yeah. 

Tom Rosenbauer (08:25): 

Good.

Eddie Nickens (08:26):

I do know this about you. We have this much in common. Neither one of us growing up was much into sports. We both spent our time in creeks and catching snakes during which I had the not super cool derogatory nickname of “Nature Boy”. Did you have to suffer any of that up in the northeast Tom growing up? Tell us a little bit about your upbringing.

Tom Rosenbauer (08:46):

Yeah. You know, I used to, I used to follow football, believe it or not, when I was in college, pro football. But I don’t know, life’s too short for that too, you know there’s too many interesting things to do than sit around and watch people bouncing a ball around on tv.

Dave DiBenedetto (09:00):
What was that youth like? Like, I mean, you were commercially tying flies at the age of 14.

Tom Rosenbauer (09:06):
You know, I was a real boring nerd. I mean, I was into fly fishing and nature stuff and didn’t really participate in much high school stuff.

Dave DiBenedetto (09:16):
Did your parents teach you about fly fishing or?

Tom Rosenbauer (09:19):

Neither of my parents fly fish. My father took me fishing when I was a kid. He was a worm fisherman. And we used to go and sit on the shores of Lake Ontario and catch bullheads and white perch and stuff like that. I really took to it and decided that I wanted to learn how to fly fish ’cause it looked interesting, you know, I’d see it in Field and Stream or on the American Sportsman on tv. And I just taught myself, and it was a horrible process with no videos, you know, no schools and the few books that were around were really not very good teaching tools. So I had to really suffer through it and struggle. And I wasn’t a very patient kid, so I think I probably drove my parents crazy.

Eddie Nickens (09:59):
You had no mentors? You didn’t have anybody?

Tom Rosenbauer (10:01):

No, not really. When I started tying flies, there was a gentleman who unfortunately just passed away named Carl Coleman, who had a little fly shop in Rochester, New York where I grew up, and he kind of took me under his wing and I tied flies for his shop. He liked my flies, and he taught me a lot about fly tying. And then he took me fishing a few times. I learned a ton from him. I mean, I went to the State College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and there wasn’t even another fly fisherman in that whole college.

Dave DiBenedetto (10:34): 

Wow.

Tom Rosenbauer (10:34):

In those days, I mean, now, now there’s a lot of fly fishing going on in college campuses and clubs and things, but there wasn’t then. So it wasn’t until I really started working for Orvis that I got to meet other people who knew a ton more than I did.

Eddie Nickens (10:52):
What was it about fly fishing? You had this, we won’t call it an epiphany then, but you know, your transition from worm fishing with your pop to, what was it about fly fishing that attracted you? 

Tom Rosenbauer (11:02):

Well, I think it’s something that, you know, I’ve watched how people learn and watched how kids learn and how kids turn on to fly fishing. And I’ve discovered that when kids are really young, they just want to catch fish and yank ’em in, right? And then when they get to be about 10 or 11 or 12, they start to look for more complexity. And I think that I was a good example of that, that I just wanted to do something that was more of a challenge maybe. And, and, you know, probably a bit of a snobbish, you know, fly fishing was kind of the epitome of fishing and probably kind of a snobbish appeal as well. I mean, looking back, I didn’t think then, but I think now that’s probably why it appealed to me.

photo: Courtesy of Tom Rosenbauer
Orvis fishing school instructors in the late 1970s. From left: Rosenbauer, Ace Manley, Bruce Bowlen, Tony Skilton, and Ben Upson.

Dave DiBenedetto (11:50):
And so you get to the Orvis company, right outta college? Yeah.

Tom Rosenbauer (11:54): 

Right. Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (11:55):
You’re on the retail floor, I think, right?

Tom Rosenbauer (11:57):

Yeah, I finished my undergraduate degree in biology and tried to concentrate in fisheries. I wanted to get into fisheries or aquatic entomology for a living as a biologist. And I really didn’t have enough money to go to grad school. I didn’t come from a wealthy family. And so I knew about Orvis. I had been an Orvis customer, you know, when I was a kid making money tying flies. I spent my money on fly fishing gear, and I saw an ad for a position at Orvis, and I said, well, that’d be cool. And I make some money for grad school. And 48 years later, I haven’t gone back to grad school yet.

Dave DiBenedetto (12:36):
What was Orvis like 48 years ago? I mean, was Lee Perkins was in charge, right?

Tom Rosenbauer (12:45):
He was, yeah, Lee was in charge and he was old school. He was the boss.

Dave DiBenedetto (12:49): 

Right.

Tom Rosenbauer (12:51):

And everybody was scared to death of him. But you know, I went to Orvis thinking I was gonna meet all these famous anglers and hang around with Lee Wolfe, and I ended up basically measuring inseams on Chinos from wealthy people from Connecticut. I mean, in those days, Orvis was kind of a finishing school for wealthy kids that went to prep school. And they would go and work for Orvis for a couple years, and then they’d inherit daddy’s business or whatever. So it was a, it was a whole different world then. These days in the Orvis stores, you know, you got people that are really into fly fishing and really dedicated to it. And you got people coming in that wanna talk about the new rods and flies and fly tying, and it’s a whole different world now.

Dave DiBenedetto (13:38):

So let’s talk about innovation for a minute. According to the interwebs, Tom, you have invented the big eye hook, the magnetic net retriever, and you brought the bead head fly to the United States of all those things. I want to hear a little bit about how the bead head fly came to the US.

Tom Rosenbauer (14:02):

Well, the bead head fly that, it was originally a cat nymph, was developed by a guy named Roman Moser in Austria. He was a probably the most famous angler in Austria. And somebody sent us a VHS tape, which was all in German of him fishing. And in that he had this caddisfly with a gold bead that he put on the head of it to get it to sink better, and also to add a little flash to it. And I thought it looks kinda interesting. So we got some brass beads from Wirth tackle, and I tied up a bunch of them and didn’t think much of them. I gave a whole bunch away to friends, and when I’d go out like to Colorado and Montana, I’d give ’em to guides and stuff, and I sort of forgot about ’em. And then all of a sudden, the sprinkling of those beheads, it just took off. And I didn’t develop ’em, but I think I brought ’em to North America. As far as I know, nobody else had had ’em at that time.

photo: Courtesy of Tom Rosenbauer
A bead-head fly.

Dave DiBenedetto (15:09):
You sowed the bead head seed, so to speak?

Tom Rosenbauer (15:12): 

I did. Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (15:13):
And then you took it to the tungsten level, right?

Tom Rosenbauer (15:16):

Yeah. I used to go to this fly fishing lodge in July, around 4th of July. And there was a guest there that was named Ron Kurtz. And we got to talking at dinner one evening and I said, Hey, Ron, what business are you in? He never told me. And he said, oh, I’m in the tungsten business. I make darts and counterweights for feeding tubes in people. And at the time, Yellowstone Park was thinking of banning bead heads because apparently the brass has a little bit of lead or some other things in it. And so I said, Ron is tungsten inert. And he said, oh, yeah, yeah, it’s totally inert. It’s not toxic or anything. And I said, is it heavy? And he said, yeah, it’s almost as heavy as lead. I said, could you make beads? He said, yeah, I can make beads. So he made beads.

Dave DiBenedetto (16:04):
Wow. And so those beads went right into Orvis production of flies, and you guys were the first.

Tom Rosenbauer (16:09):

Yeah. 

Dave DiBenedetto (16:10):

With tungsten bead head flies, right?

Tom Rosenbauer (16:12): 

Yeah. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (16:14):

I mean, this was news to me. I mean, the bead head for folks who don’t know, is you string a metal bead onto the hook before you tie the fly, or I guess that’s the first step maybe of tying the fly. 

Tom Rosenbauer (16:26): 

Yeah, it’s the first step.

Eddie Nickens (16:27):
And it adds, wait, I mean, honestly, last night I was tying bead headed shad flies.

Tom Rosenbauer (16:35): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (16:36):

Tom, do I, yeah. Do I need to Venmo you some royalty? Is this something that I’m not supposed to be doing? Is this all yours?

Tom Rosenbauer (16:44):
Yeah, you should definitely Venmo me some money Eddie. I would give you my info and you can Venmo me.

Eddie Nickens (16:52):

Let’s stick with this theme of innovation change. This is astonishing me, Tom, more than 300,000 copies of the book you wrote, Orvis Fly Fishing Guide have been sold. That’s crazy. The book was first published in 1984.

Tom Rosenbauer (17:07): 

Yeah, my first book.

Eddie Nickens (17:08):

I think it was revised heavily in 2007 and maybe 2017. I’ve got a copy of it right here on my desk. I’m wondering what changes, what additions would you feel like you have to make if you were to do a 2024 edition?

Tom Rosenbauer (17:24):

The main thing, I think Eddie would be euro nymphing. I mean the latest version has a little bit of Euro nymphing, which for people aren’t familiar with. It is basically fishing with monofilament and not a fly line and lobbying a heavy fly out into the current. It has a number of advantages in that it doesn’t have the fly line dragging the fly all over, and you can control the drift easier. So that is the thing I would add. And probably a bit more on two-handed fishing, fishing with double-handed rods, particularly for trout. People love swinging flies. If there’s something about swinging a fly in the current on a long cast that appeals, I think that there’s more to be said there.

Dave DiBenedetto (18:09):

You know, I get it for the salmon. I wouldn’t have thought that for trout people really getting into it, but it makes sense.

Tom Rosenbauer (18:15):

Yeah. People, you know, people just really enjoy the two-handed casting aspect of it, which is kind of the opposite from that Euro nymphing, because Euro nymphing really, there’s not much casting involved. It’s more like a flick of the wrist, but two-handed casting requires a lot more manipulation of the line.

Eddie Nickens (18:34):

What about saltwater fly fishing? Do you feel like that would be something you’d need to underscore a little bit more, Tom? I know for me personally, saltwater fly fishing is about to drive me to the poor house. I mean, I’ve got.

Tom Rosenbauer (18:46): 

Yeah, yeah.

Eddie Nickens (18:47):

Multiple home equity lines of credit running, just so I can afford to get after these things all over the place. Just got back from Mexico with Hilary Hutcheson was down there last week with her in Ascension Bay. So maybe it’s just my perspective, but I would still think that saltwater fly fishing has really come a long ways in the last decade.

Tom Rosenbauer (19:07):

Yeah, it has. And that could be definitely improved, particularly the flies. I think that the tackle hasn’t changed that much. I mean, the rods are better, they can cast farther, they’re stronger now, but the flies have changed quite a bit. And they will change every year. I mean, the innovative flies that are coming out of the saltwater field now, it’s just mind boggling. And they’re a lot of fun.

Dave DiBenedetto (19:28):
Speaking of innovation, it is time that we talk about the Helios fly rod. Eddie, you throw Tom the first question?

Eddie Nickens (19:36):

Yeah. I know that Helios is a freshwater tool as well, but I’m certainly more familiar with it in saltwater environment. As a matter of fact, last week I had two of the latest Helios rods out and really enjoyed casting those. I don’t know if you’ll agree with this, Tom, but lemme just throw this out here. I’m gonna say that the advent of the Helios rod line, when was that? When did that come out? Do you remember the first one?

Tom Rosenbauer (20:01):

The first one? Oh boy. All the years run together for me, Eddie, but I’m thinking 10 years ago maybe.

Eddie Nickens (20:10):

We’re in generation four now, which isn’t called the four, but it is generation four. But right when those came out in my mind, that represented a purposeful, proactive shift in the Orvis arsenal. I think it’s fair to say that the brand had lost some of its luster among the hardcore fishing crowd, but that the Helios rod and then moves like the pro series of apparel, they just kind of put the angling world on notice that Orvis was roaring back, which I think it has. Is it fair or not fair, Tom?

Tom Rosenbauer (20:43):

No, I think you’re exactly correct, Eddie. Prior to the Helios, the Orvis rod design was very conservative. And I think the biggest mindset in the Orvis rod shop was we wanna make rods that don’t break. And as a result, they were heavier and they were heavier in the tip in particular. And some people liked that, but the popularity was going towards rods that were faster. By faster, I don’t mean stiffer, but I mean, they had a lighter tip. It wasn’t until Jim Logan took over the rod shop and now Don Swanson with Sean Combs and Frank Hoard as the designers that they really started pushing the envelope. It did catch a lot of people’s attention and really changed the perception of Orvis. Yeah, you’re absolutely right.

Eddie Nickens (21:37):

What’s sort of the design philosophy around the Helios line? Break that down. What, what makes a Helios, a Helios?

photo: Jim Aylsworth
Rosenbauer in Idaho.

Tom Rosenbauer (21:45):

The first Helios was, we wanna make the lightest rod. We wanna make the lightest 9 0 5, 9 0 8. That was the first, first and the second generations really, and the only reason I know the background of this intimately is because Sean Combs, the rod designer is probably my best fishing buddy. And so, we spend a lot of time talking rods and reels and lines and stuff like that. But we were thinking, okay, we had Helios two, what else do people want? We did some research with customers and guides and really realized that, you know, fly fishing is a game of inches regardless of whether you’re tarpon fishing or trout fishing. And we wanted to make the most accurate fly rod in the world. Well, how do you do that? And Sean said, well, the thing is, you gotta reduce vibration, right? Because the tip directs where the line goes. So if you can make a rod still flex and feel good, but cut down that vibration on the tip, it’s gonna put the fly where you point your finger. And so the Helios three, we wanted to be the most accurate fly rod in the world. And we actually developed a machine that measures the vibration reduction in a fly ride. And we compared it to all the competition and our older models and so on. For the fourth generation, numerous fishing trips. I said, Sean, what the hell are you gonna do next? The Helios threes are so good. He said, well, I’m gonna make it more accurate and I’m gonna make it stronger.

Eddie Nickens (23:18): 

Right. 

Tom Rosenbauer (23:19):

And I said, all right, good luck. And I was kind of a doubter at first that he could make a rod that improved on the Ilios three, but they did. It’s even more accurate. And people say, well, it’s only the ability of the caster that matters. Right. It’s not the rod. Well,

DaveDiBenedetto (23:36): 

Right.

Tom Rosenbauer (23:37):

Even if you’re a great caster, if your rod’s wiggling at the end, you’re not gonna put that fly consistently where you want it. And even a novice can appreciate that difference, because if a novice can point his or her finger and their cast is halfway decent, then it’s gonna get closer to the target if the rod isn’t wobbling at the end. So he did it.

Eddie Nickens (24:01):

You know, when the new Helios first came out, it was, you know, the marking line was four times more accurate. And I’m like, what? You know, what does that, what does that mean? I mean, I could use four times more accuracy. I guarantee it. But throwing that rod in Mexico, it’s different. It does tend to go where you tell the rod to go. So you better tell that rod where to go.

Tom Rosenbauer (24:23): 

Yeah. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (24:25):
Yeah, yeah. Tom, there’s something else that I did not realize that you’re involved in. It’s something that all the cool kids do. Let’s talk about tattoos. I hear you have tattoos and I’ll tell you, when I was in Mexico, my son Jack, I took him down there with me and he was hammering on me to get a father son tattoo. And I came very close, but I chickened out last minute and just bought a third bracelet instead. But let me hear, let me hear about your tats, cat. I’m impressed.

Tom Rosenbauer (25:00):

Well, I only have two. I have a sparkle dun on one wrist and a sort of a clouser bonefish fly on the other, not wrist, forearm, I guess. And I was at the New Jersey fly fishing show with Julia Zema, our social media person and we were walking around, she said, let’s do something live on Instagram. And I said, okay. She said, what should we do? And I said, I don’t know. There’s, you know, a friend of mine from Cuba, Felipe, who’s here, and he’d be interesting. And then there’s a guide from Mongolia that’s here, we could talk to them. And we were standing next to this booth that was doing tattoos, and they were doing a bang up business. I mean, they were, there were people lined up to get tattoos at the show, and they were doing fish and flies and stuff like that. She says, why don’t you get a tattoo? And I said, no way. And I said, no, no, I’m not getting a tat I never thought of getting a tattoo in my life. And she said, all right. And I looked over and I said, well, yeah, okay, let’s do it. And the tattoo artist, he made room for me in the line, and we put it on Instagram live. And I was walking back to the Orvis booth after I got the tattoo. And some guy comes up to me and says, Hey, I heard you got a tattoo. I said, yeah, where’d you hear that? He said, oh, from my son who’s in Iraq. He just saw it live on Instagram, in a space of like, three minutes. So the next year I got another one on my other wrist, and then they haven’t been at the show, so I haven’t gotten another tattoo. So I only have two.

Dave DiBenedetto (26:38):

And tell me the significance of the sparkle dun.

Tom Rosenbauer (26:41):

Well, it’s just my favorite dry fly. You know what, I’m never gonna regret having a sparkle dun tattoo, right?

Dave DiBenedetto (26:48):
There’s some words of wisdom. I’m never gonna regret having a sparkle dun tattoo.

Tom Rosenbauer (26:53):

Yeah. I’m never gonna regret having a sparkle dun or a bonefish fly on my wrist, you know, I didn’t tell my wife until I had it done.

Dave DiBenedetto (27:01):
I was gonna ask this question.

Tom Rosenbauer (27:03):
And I called her and I said, Hey, I got a tattoo. And she said, cool, you’re the only guy I ever dated that didn’t have one.

Eddie Nickens (27:13):

She fell in love with the nerd. Huh? She knew it on the front end.

Tom Rosenbauer (27:16):

I know. I don’t know why, but she’s still with me and seems to be relatively happy.

Dave DiBenedetto (27:23): 

Let’s talk a little bit about carp.

Tom Rosenbauer (27:25): 

Carp. Yeah. Yeah, man.

Dave DiBenedetto (27:26):

Yeah. You know, Eddie and I are obsessed with brook trout and I know Tom, you are too. And we can circle back to them, but I also have heard that you are obsessed with carp. 

Tom Rosenbauer (27:38):

I am. 

Dave DiBenedetto (27:38):

With the fly. 

Tom Rosenbauer (27:39):

Yeah. 

Dave DiBenedetto (27:40):

Where’s that happening? Tell us a little bit about that.

Tom Rosenbauer (27:42):
Well, I’m not gonna tell you exactly where it’s happening because carp spots are like grouse covers.

Dave DiBenedetto (27:49): 

Yeah.

Tom Rosenbauer (27:50):

Because you have to find carp in clear water and shallow water where they feed. You can find a lake with the carp all over the place, but if they’re just kind of cruising from one place to the next or you can’t see ’em, you can’t catch ’em with a fly. You have to find them where they’re going to the places where they go in and root on the bottom and tail, like redfish or bonefish. So I get as excited about a carp trip the night before as I do about going striped bass or bone fishing.

Dave DiBenedetto (28:19): 

What’s the pattern?

Tom Rosenbauer (28:21):

Well, there is no pattern, that’s a thing. Every watershed seems to be different. And they have different food supply. You have to get ’em where they’re feeding. You have to get ’em with their head down where they’re tailing or feeding. 

Dave DiBenedetto (28:32):

Right. 

Tom Rosenbauer (28:33):

And generally you throw it just beyond them. 

Dave DiBenedetto (28:37):

Yeah. 

Tom Rosenbauer (28:38):

And then you do what’s called a drag and drop. You carefully strip the fly and let it drop right in front of them.

Dave DiBenedetto (28:43): 

Got it.

Tom Rosenbauer (28:43):
And it’s all visual. That’s why it’s so exciting. You can’t catch ’em blind fish. Well, you can, but it’s nearly impossible.

Dave DiBenedetto (28:50):
Are they eating bugs or organic vegetation?

Tom Rosenbauer (28:54):
They’re pretty good predators. They eat a lot of crayfish. They eat damselfly nymphs. Huh. They’ll eat anything.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:01): 

I didn’t know that. 

Tom Rosenbauer (29:02):

And in fact, in the Great Lakes they eat gobies and I’ve never been there. But like at Beaver Island, Michigan, those fish will actually chase down a streamer, stripped streamer, because they’re eating gobies.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:14):
What size is, for lack of better word, trophy carp?

Tom Rosenbauer (29:17):
I don’t know. I think bigger than 10 pounds.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:20): 

Oh, it’s big.

Tom Rosenbauer (29:21):

I’ve caught ’em in the twenties. Wow. You know, it’s the only freshwater fish I know of non-US freshwater fish that will get you into your backing and some of ’em get you well into your backing. 

Eddie Nickens (29:32):

Oh wow. 

Tom Rosenbauer (29:33):

They’re, they do not give up. They’re tough, tough fish.

Eddie Nickens (29:36):
Tell us about a particular carp. Tell us about a carp that really, really got you going.

Tom Rosenbauer (29:41):

Oh God, lots of them. Well, I had a terrible carp year last year, so we had a lot of high water. And a couple of places I fish are rivers and they were just too dirty and high to fish most of the summer. But I do fish on Lake Champlain, which has a lot of giant carp and they’re almost impossible to catch. I have a friend who guides up there for things like gar and bass and lake trout and, and we go and chase carp. The things I remember are the places where I just couldn’t get ’em to eat. I think there’s a lot to be learned about carp fishing. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface. I think probably smaller flies. Eights and tens and twelves, maybe fourteens, might be the way to go. And you’re probably gonna bend out those hooks on a big carp.

Eddie Nickens (30:28):
But you know, there’s a number of these species that are sort of on the shoulder of traditional fly fishing carp. 

Tom Rosenbauer (30:34):

Yeah. 

Eddie Nickens (30:35):

Be one. I mean, you mentioned gar. I mean, I’ve loved catching gar on rope flies.

Tom Rosenbauer (30:40):
Oh, that’s fun. Yeah. 

Eddie Nickens (30:41):

Yeah. 

Tom Rosenbauer (30:41): 

Bowfin is another one that a lot of people wanna catch. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (30:45):

Talk to us about that, Tom, because look, there’s a lot of pressure on some of these rivers and streams.

Tom Rosenbauer (30:49): 

Yeah. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (30:50):
These other fish, man, they offer some real opportunity.

Tom Rosenbauer (30:55):

I’ve spent more time on Lake Champlain. It’s a couple hours for me, but it’s got everything. And my buddy Drew Price, who’s the guide up there, will call me and he’ll say, Hey, the lake trout bite’s on. I say, I don’t wanna catch any lake trout. But he’ll call me and he’ll say, the gar on top. And I’ll say, yeah man, I’m in and we’ll be going to a gar spot or a carb spot and he’ll say, oh my God, look at the size of that small mouth. And I said, nah, forget it. But there’s a fish in Lake Champlain called the Tench, which is, was introduced from Europe somehow. And they’re like, impossible to catch, super spooky. And I haven’t hooked one yet. Bowfin fishing is interesting ’cause in most cases what they don’t tell you about bowfin is they’re way back in the weeds. And you have to find a pocket in the weeds where a bowfin is just kind of sitting there and they’re not spooky at all. You could put your boat right on top of ’em and you kind lower a fly down to ’em. It’s like dapping or jigging. And you twitch it in front of ’em and all of a sudden they just explode on it. You know, there’s not a lot of casting involved, I’m sure there are places people fish for bowfin where you can do normal casting. Where we do it’s  just dapping flies in weed pockets.

photo: Jim Aylsworth
Rosenbauer.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:07):
So Tom, you also hunt wood ducks.

Tom Rosenbauer (32:10): 

Yeah, I hunt ducks.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:12):

You have a dog, you have a retriever.

Tom Rosenbauer (32:13): 

Yep, I have a lab.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:14):
Yeah, I know you have this idyllic setup where you have a little bit of a stream in, you’re essentially your backyard. Do you hunt there or where do you.

Tom Rosenbauer (32:22):
Yeah, I’ve gotten to be a lazy hunter, unfortunately used to go different places, especially up Lake Champlain, which is great duck hunting, but. 

Dave DiBenedetto (32:30):

Right.

Tom Rosenbauer (32:30):

All my friends that had boats either moved away or died. And so what I do is I get up early in the morning and I take three or four decs and there’s a slew on the little trout stream in my backyard. And I throw a couple decs in and sit there and drink coffee. And usually I don’t see any ducks. But I used to have am amazing population of black ducks in my backyard.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:54): 

Really?

Tom Rosenbaeur (32:55):

And they’ve disappeared. I don’t know, maybe they changed the farming practices in the valley ’cause it’s a dairy farming valley that I live in. But I don’t see many black ducks anymore. Wood ducks. Yeah. Some mallards.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:07):

You also forage, you and I have geeked out before talking about chanterelle mushrooms and things like that.

Tom Rosenbauer (33:13): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (33:13):

It’s a favorite of yours, right?

Tom Rosenbauer (33:15):

Well, my wife and my kid don’t fish, but we spend most weekends, both days in the woods foraging. My kid is a incredible botanist. They’re 19 and really knows the plants. My wife and I have always been mushroomers, we started that when we first met, but they introduced us to greens and buds and roots. And so yeah, we just go and forage. One of my kind of special meals is to go out and get some chanterelle mushrooms and some brook trout and cook ’em up on the stream bank.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:49):

Tom, I used to talk about doing something similar minus the chanterelles ’cause I didn’t know about them yet. Look, I don’t kill many fish at all, but I’ve always dreamt of being able to have a shore lunch of a brook trout and throw chanterelles on.

Tom Rosenbauer (34:06):

Well, you have an open invitation, David. It’s easy to do anytime from 4th of July through end of August.

Eddie Nickens (34:14):

I love eating fish that I’ve caught right away. A couple of summers ago, I set myself a goal, which I did not meet. I wanted to catch, cook, and eat a fish once a week, like right there.

Tom Rosenbauer (34:28): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (34:28):
On the beach or on the shore at the pond.

Eddie Nickens (34:31):
I kept it up for, I don’t know, four or five weeks while the blue gills are biting. Well, but I love that notion of completing the circle, so to speak. I catch and release fish 95% of the time. But I like that idea of eating what you catch, acknowledging that circle in a meaningful way. Is that something that appeals to you?

Tom Rosenbauer (34:54):

It does, it does a lot, Eddie, and unfortunately, the fish that I like to eat, I don’t catch like black cod and or regular cod, salmon, bluefish. I’d whack every bluefish on the head that I caught. I love eating bluefish.

Eddie Nickens (35:10): 

I love a bluefish.

Tom Rosenbauer (35:11):

But yeah, it’s just that, the fact that the fish I like to fish for, I don’t like to eat as much.

Eddie Nickens (35:17):

You need you a farm pond filled with Georgia giants up there is what it sounds like. Sounds like the big old, big old bluegill.

Tom Rosenbauer (35:24): 

I do, I do.

Eddie Nickens (35:26):

Speaking of the fish, you like to catch Tom, I’d love to hear a couple of fish stories. Any fish you went after that really sticks in your mind, sticks in your crawl?

Tom Rosenbauer (35:36):

You know, it’s a really hard one, Eddie, because every one of ’em is a challenge and every one is different. And the variables change. And I mean, I remember one in my backyard, so my backyard stream has mostly small trout. And I remember going down right before dark one night and saw a fish rise. I had a little bamboo rod that I was using and I hooked the fish, you know, it was like 14 inch brown trout, which is a monster for there. And he tore up the pool and he ran downstream and I had to follow him. And I thought, boy, this is cool to be able to do in my backyard, this is really cool. But other than that, you know, every one of them is a different challenge.

Eddie Nickens (36:22):
Any that really just whipped your ass, Tom?

Dave DiBenedetto (36:26):

For fodder, the one I remember the most. But I wasn’t fly fishing. I was probably 11 years old and I’d taken a jon boat to a barrier island to try and catch a big redfish, which I had seen and read about in magazines, but I had never done it myself. And I didn’t necessarily have surf fishing mentors. And I threw out a chunk of mullet in the fall with a spinning rod that was way too small. And I mean, almost instantly got hit and this redfish starts just screaming off drag. And after 50 yards or so, just kind of stopped and put its nose down and its tail came up above the surface and it was a fairly calm day. I had never seen a redfish tail like that in my life. I’m talking knees shaking and I’m thinking, I’ve done it, I’ve done it. And then it came down and it just continued to go out to sea until I’m looking at my spool just coming off that spinning reel and I’m like, okay, I’m gonna tighten, tighten and finally bing. And I cried. I mean, I got down and cried. I mean, I wanted that fish so bad. That’s the one I remember the most. The one that for one showed me how outgunned and what I didn’t know, but also showed me what was out there.

Eddie Nickens (37:41):
That’s just a couple of months ago, right?

Dave DiBenedetto (37:43):
I could use a good cry Eddie.

Eddie Nickens (37:48):
But, but none that whipped you, Tom? Let me hear a whipping story.

Dave DiBenedetto (37:50):
How about a tarpon that just took you to task?

Eddie Nickens (37:53): 

Yeah.

Tom Rosenbauer (37:54):

Yeah. My biggest tarpon I ever hooked was in the Northern Everglades. And it didn’t jump. It was about 150 pounds and it never jumped. And you guys know when Tarpon doesn’t jump, they’re gonna just go forever. And I’m in fairly good shape. I work out, my arms are strong, my shoulders and chest are strong. And we finally leadered that fish. And I was just, I said, I’m never doing this again. And then there was another time talking about losing fish that I used to chase bluefin tuna with a fly rod back when gas was a little cheaper and I was hanging around on Cape Cod a lot. And the guides, if they had a day off, they really wanted to get a fly rod tuna on their boat. That would’ve been a pretty cool thing. So they’d grabbed me because they knew that I would not stop fishing all day. And I remember this big pod of tuna coming at us. We never chummed or anything, we would just go, you know, looking for whales and stuff. And this big tuna took my fly and instantly broke me off. And for years, the guides on Cape Cod would call me “Tom broke ’em off”.

Eddie Nickens (39:00):

Tom Broke… oh, I love it. I love it. That’s a good one. Look, if people have hung around for this long, let’s assume that they’re pretty avid anglers Tom and one of your signature podcast moves are when you take the letters from listeners.

Tom Rosenbauer (39:24): 

Yep.

Eddie Nickens (39:25): 

Posing all sorts of questions.

Tom Rosenbauer (39:27): 

Yep.

Eddie Nickens (39:28):

We wanna do a little bit of that here, but this time you don’t get the benefit of being able to know what the question is in advance and think up a cool, witty, awesome answer. So there’s gonna be a little pressure on. All right. And I’m gonna go first. Dear Tom Rosenbauer, while fishing, what is the maximum number of Orvis logos I can get away with having on my body and on my gear at one time? This includes rods, reels, waiters, bags, knee braces, hearing aids, orthotic inserts, everything. What’s the cutoff, Tom?

Tom Rosenbauer (40:06):

I think the limit is determined by your taste, Eddie. And I think that probably two or three is sufficient and you should cover the rest of ’em up with duct tape.

Eddie Nickens (40:17):

Oh, well I better, I better get a big old roll of duct tape. Two or three, that’s it. Wow. I’m surprised.

Tom Rosenbauer (40:26):
Yeah, I think so. That’s enough. That’s enough.

Eddie Nickens (40:28): 

Yeah. Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (40:30):

All right, Dear Mr. Rosenbauer, is my southern cane pole any different than a Tenkara rod?

Tom Rosenbauer (40:41):
Dear David, it depends on your perspective. Is your southern cane pole retractable into a nice little package?

Dave DiBenedetto (40:52): 

Yes, a very good point.

Tom Rosenbauer (40:54):

I mean, people make fun of Tenkara, but it’s actually, you do actually cast with it. It’s not a cane pole. You do actually cast with ’em and there’s a, you know, there’s some skill involved there, but yeah, you can dap with ’em too. You can use ’em like a cane pole.

Dave DiBenedetto (41:06):

Yeah. But I do like the fact that they retract.

Tom Rosenbauer (41:09): 

Yeah. That makes ’em nice.

Dave DiBenedetto (41:11):

Tom, is there an environmental concern? I mean, obviously we have a lot, we’ve got global warming, we’ve got everything going on, Everglades. Is there something that’s top of mind for you and on the conservation front when it comes to a sport that we’d love?

Tom Rosenbauer (41:26):

Yeah, there’s a few things. Global warming, of course, is the existential threat. And unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much that most of us can do about that until society as a whole realizes that we have to do something. But the Everglades is a biggie. And in the old days, Orvis used to just do like two or three conservation projects a year and then move on to the next project. And we finally realized that these things are multi-generational, and we have to keep the heat on certain things that are so important and so valuable to us that we have to stay on a particular project for years and years. And the Everglades is one where there’s progress being made, and we’ve got over a hundred years of plumbing to fix down there, and it’s never gonna be pristine. But we are working toward a more robust ecosystem in the Everglades in Florida Bay. And that one is really, really big with me and with Orvis obviously. Bristol Bay’s another one. You know, we’ve hopefully stopped that mine, but it’s not gonna go away. Bristol Bay’s a big piece of water and there’s probably a lot of minerals there, and it’s probably gonna be beyond our lifetime, this fight for preserving the largest sockeye salmon run in the world.

Eddie Nickens (42:46):

You know? And that’s a giant Alaskan issue up there with a pebble mine that was proposed. And I, my understanding, you know, there was a sort of a stake in the heart of that thing that we thought, and then it came back a little bit. What’s the status of the Bristol Bay issues these days?

Tom Rosenbauer (43:02):

Well, I hope I get it right, but the Department of the Interior put a stop to the mine, and then the state of Alaska tried to overturn that, and they lost just recently. But it’s gonna rear its ugly head again. And luckily the people from Trout Unlimited know that this is gonna be a lifelong struggle. And they’re dedicated to not only people at Trout Unlimited, but the, you know, Alaskan natives are very concerned about this and have been leading the fight, but right now it’s dead, but doesn’t mean it’s not gonna come out of the grave. The one final thing that I personally worry about is the overuse of pesticides and herbicides. I think that that’s an insidious problem that’s kind of invisible because they’re difficult to monitor and they’re difficult to sample. In particular these neonic pesticides that are being used are really decimating our trout stream insects, I’m convinced and that’s the food supply for the fish that we love.

Eddie Nickens (44:06):

And I guess the good news, in that, is that we’re becoming so much more aware of these issues that we’ve never really thought about. I mean, I, that brings to mind the pharmaceuticals issue in South Florida, right. With the bonefish and the redfish and the shrimp and crabs. So we are learning that we each individually and specifically do impact the environment.

Tom Rosenbauer (44:28):

We do, yep. There are things we can do. We may not be able to do much about climate change, but there are things that, other things that we can do to make the environment we have better. 

Dave DiBenedetto (44:39):

Well, gentlemen, it is sadly time to close this up, but Tom, it has been a pleasure to have you on our podcast. We appreciate what you do for the sport that we love, and the environment where we enjoy that sport in. So, as I said, I’m coming your way. I promise to join you for lunch on the side of a creek with a freshly caught brook trout.

Tom Rosenbauer (45:05):

Well, thank you, David. It’s been fun and it’s been my pleasure. And Eddie, thank you. And you’re welcome on that brook trout trip too, Eddie.

Eddie Nickens (45:12):

Well now I gotta say, I was a little hurt with you guys going all BFF on me over your 20 years of friendship. I’ve never even met you. So yes, we’ll be there soon. Alright, Tom, thanks so much. This has been fabulous. Look forward to crossing paths.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:27): 

Thanks, Tom. Be good. See ya.

Tom Rosenbauer (45:29):

Thank you guys. Thank you. It’s been fun. I really enjoyed it.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:38):

Man, what a cool dude. Lives up to all the hype. That’s a wrap for this episode. Another great conversation with a legend of the fly fishing universe.

Eddie Nickens (45:50):

And folks can get a lot more of Tom Rosenbauer and the Rosenbauer way. He’s got his own internet breaking podcast called The Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast, which you really should check out. But only after you listen to all of our episodes, three times.

Dave DiBenedetto (46:08):

Well done Eddie. The Wild South comes to you from Garden and Gun Magazine. This episode was produced and edited by Christine Fennessy with music by our longtime buddies, Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan. You can find us wherever you get your shows. 

Eddie Nickens (46:28):

And whenever you go to wherever you get your shows, leave us a review. We want to hear what you think of the Wild South.

Dave DiBenedetto (46:36):

Alright, from here in Charleston, I’m Dave DiBenedetto.

Eddie Nickens (46:39):
And here in Raleigh, North Carolina, Eddie Nickens. We’ll see you next time on The Wild South.


Also see:

Vermont Calling: A Summer Escape to Manchester

Books by Tom Rosenbauer


Wild South credits:

Producer and editor: Christine Fennessy
Music: Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan
Artwork: Lars Leetaru
Transcripts editor: Katherine Jarvis


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