Fly Fishing Edition with John Juracek

May 26, 2021

Chas hosts John Juracek, former owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana, for this special fly fishing episode 25 of The Wealth Cast. They discuss John’s journey and how he came to live and work in Yellowstone, the magic of the park and specifically of Firehole River, the history and traditions associated with fly fishing, and much, much more.

Listen here:

Hello, and welcome to The Wealth Cast. I’m your host, Charles Boinske. On this podcast, we bring you the information that you need to know in order to be a good steward of your wealth, reach your goals and improve society.

On today’s podcast, we’re going to take a detour to the world of fly fishing, which is, as some of you already know, one of my favorite subjects. I’m really pleased to have John Juracek on today as my guest. John is an entrepreneur, author, photographer, instructor—who’s made a very large impact on the sport of fly fishing from his home in West Yellowstone, Montana.

John is one of the original owners of Blue Ribbon Flies, which in my opinion is one of the best fly shops in the world. In addition, John is an expert fly caster, an author, an instructor, and entrepreneur.

Just a minor programming note—you’ll notice that john calls me Phil, which is my middle name, and an artifact of being a junior. Many of my fishing buddies and long term friends still refer to me by my middle name.

Today, John and I talk about just the philosophy, sort of at 60,000 feet, of fly fishing—why it appeals to us—and in some detail about one of our favorite rivers, which is the Firehole River in Yellowstone Park. I hope you enjoy the show.

So John, thank you so much for joining me on The Wealth Cast. I’ve been so looking forward to this conversation, for lots of different reasons. But primarily, as I’ve always enjoyed chatting with you and your knowledge of fishing in Yellowstone and fishing in general is extremely broad and deep. And so thank you so much for joining me.

Well, I appreciate the invite Phil, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. And anytime we get to talk fishing, that’s good with me, I enjoy it. So I look forward to this as well.

Well, that’s great. I think that for the benefit of the listener, maybe we start it at sort of the big picture and move it down in some particulars about a river that you and I both love—we can talk about in some detail in Yellowstone Park. But at the highest level, you know, many people ask me, “Why do you fish? Why fly fishing?” You know, it’s not only just why do you fish, but why fly fishing in particular. It’s hard for me to articulate exactly why, and I wondered if you had any thoughts on the on the subject?

I think it’s a very interesting question. I have wondered that myself for years: “Why do I fly fish? Why do I fish at all?” And I think one of the things that really sort of comes forward in my mind is, it’s a chance to engage in the natural world, in a very deep level—if that’s what you want. One of the beauties of fly fishing is that you can enjoy it at many different levels. But you can go as deep into it as you want, and I think for me, exploring all the different aspects of it is one of the things that I find most interesting.

I have just forever been fascinated with water, and when I see fish in water, I always think “Oh, it would be so fun to try and catch them.” And that might just be a predator instinct coming out. So I think those are a couple different reasons I enjoy it. 

Yeah, that makes sense to me. I think for many people, it’s a combination of things, right, it becomes a personal combination of all the elements. And whether you like to tie flies or it’s all about catching fish, or it’s the fact that fish—trout in particular—live in pretty nice places, and they’re nice to visit, you know: the combination of all those things, sort of as a personal code, or personal equation. But the one thing that I think is worth mentioning, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on is the camaraderie aspect of fly fishing. 

Oh, yes. So I think that’s important too. You know, I have said for years that I think everyone that enters this sport eventually gets what they want out of it—and that’s different things for different people, as you just implied. For a lot of people, hey, it’s just an escape from work or their escape from their normal daily life, which is beautiful. Again, you can just enjoy it in so many different ways. I feel very lucky in that I have never engaged in fly fishing as a way of getting away from something else. It has always just been, again, to sort of engage in the natural world and sort of appreciate it on a very base level. Obviously, with the camaraderie, talking fishing, spending time with good friends on the water—all that, of course, is very important. There’s just so many different aspects and ways to enjoy it, that it just varies for everybody.

Yeah, you know, it’s clear. Do you remember the first sort of instance, when you thought, fly fishing in particular, or maybe West Yellowstone specifically, was a place that you wanted to really dedicate time? Was there a series of events, or—

Yes, I grew up mostly in the Midwest. So we fished for warm water fish: blue gills, bass, a lot of panfish. I was an avid reader—always have been. My mom and dad exposed my brothers and I to libraries at a very, very young age, and I have spent innumerable hours in them ever since. So I have always read about the sport, and of course, you can’t read about it for very long without discovering the Yellowstone area—it is so central to fishing in this country. And so I had known about that since I was a little kid, and always wanted to come out here and eventually did.

Then at some point, you became involved with Blue Ribbon Flies.


Can you tell us about that a little bit? 

Sure. So I was working as a biologist for the State of Wyoming—graduated from University of Wyoming—was working out of Lander, Wyoming as a biologist. When Ronald Reagan got elected president, my job was cut. So I thought, “Well, that’s fine. I’m going to go ahead and just take a little time off here and then then see what lies ahead.”

So I had been up to Yellowstone in previous years, fishing. So I thought, “I’m going to come up here, and while I’m up here fishing,” I thought, “Maybe I’ll just look around and see if there’s any job opportunities, which would allow me to spend the entire summer here.” So I walked into Blue Ribbon Flies, which at that time was nothing but a wholesale fly tying operation. There was no retail, no nothing. And Craig Matthews and his wife Jackie asked me if I could tie flies. I said, “Yes, I can.” They said, “Bring in a few samples, and let’s see your work.”

And so they liked what I did. And so they hired me as a fly tire. And I spent the summer tying flies for various companies—you know, Orvis, LL Bean, and all kinds of accounts across the country. And it allowed me to stay here, and once I did that, and got involved with the shop there, I just said, “Hey, I’m never leaving. You know, this is—I love living here. I love being involved in the fishing business.” So I have spent decades here since then.

Yeah, I’m not surprised. You know, as a customer of that shop, there’s something unique about it, that I’m sure many fly shops around the country would like to bottle that uniqueness and figure out what that is. But it’s obviously the people, the sincerity of the help—you know, the sincerity of the advice that you get when you go in there into Blue Ribbon—the camaraderie we talked about earlier. I’d love to start my day going into Blue Ribbon flies and having a cup of coffee and chatting before heading out to the rivers. And that’s part of the experience, right? That’s not an unimportant part of the day for me, and I’m sure for others.

I think so too. You know, it gives a chance for people to get a feel for what’s going on in the area. It can give you current advice and fly pattern recommendations and all of that. But again, it’s just a chance to talk fishing. And I think one of the things that separated us maybe from some of the other fly shops was we just had this incredible passion for it. I think—you know, people have told us that shows through; that “we know you guys are serious anglers, and take this sport and your customers very seriously, and you want to help them and provide them with a great experience.” And I think that’s what we tried to do, and you know that passion I talk about, hey, that was just natural—that’s in us. Every single day I wake up to this day, I want to go fishing. And I’m as excited about it now as I was when I was eleven years old.

It’s nice that you can, you know, finding an opportunity to follow your bliss or to follow the thing you’re passionate about and have that turned out to be a way that you can make a living, etc. That’s not achievable by everyone. It’s a shame.

I know. It’s a very rare thing. And I think when I was young, I didn’t understand that. As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate it much more. Yeah, if you can make a living in what you do, what you love to do, you are very, very lucky and very fortunate. And I consider myself both of those.

Yeah, well, that’s clear, from my perspective, getting to know you.

So let’s talk if you wouldn’t mind about one of our favorite spots to fish. Just obviously, there’s lots of opportunities to fish out in Yellowstone country, and we could talk all day about the various places that we like to go and things that we like to see. But I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes about the Firehole, and what makes it special to you. See if there’s common ground—see if we have common ground, which I’m sure we do on that subject—and maybe give the listeners some idea of what to expect when they go there, what they may want to do, maybe things they can pursue that they haven’t pursued on the Firehole: techniques, etc. Talk a little bit about just how to make that experience even richer than it already is for many of us.

Well, I think that Firehole River is Yellowstone’s iconic trout stream. It is unique at so many aspects: from the geology, to the kind of fishing it offers, it’s got something for everybody. If you are just a rank beginner, you can go up to the Firehole and meet with success. If you are a past master, you’re going to find different kinds of angling up there that can keep you engaged forever—for lifetime.

So I think it’s just a beautiful stream visually. The setting that it flows through is fantastic. You throw in all the geyser basins and thermal activity, and then just the river itself as a trout stream. It’s a fantastic trout stream. I count it as one of my favorites. I know you do, too. And you’re right, we could talk about this forever.

Well, the really hard thing for people to appreciate, who haven’t been there, even though they may have seen some of your fantastic photographs of the Firehole—standing there, and just the absolute majesty of the place, from the thermal activity, to, you know, little geysers around, and little steam vents, and all those sorts of things, to the bison that are sort of ubiquitous and always around, right?

Oh, yeah.

And then swans and whatever else may be there. It’s a little bit primeval. It’s even more primeval than most spots that you go fish, right? You have this, you feel like you’re fishing in, I don’t know, at the beginning of time in some ways. Even the smell of the sulfur that you get every once in a while, etc. It’s quite amazing. It’s an amazing place.

I think it’s impossible to describe, and it’s impossible to get the feel of what you’re talking about looking at photographs, or video, or anything like that. I mean, you have to experience it directly. If you haven’t had that chance—people listening—man, I would recommend it strongly, as I know you do. It’s just an incredible experience coming out to Yellowstone for all those reasons. The wildlife especially, that’s a big part of it, too.

Yeah, wildlife is huge. One of the criticisms that I hear, and we’ve chatted about on occasion in the past is that, you know, the average fish there is not the monster fish, it’s you know, your, nine, ten inch, twelve inch fish. And that puts people off—or certain people that are after trophies on a consistent basis—because they can go down to the Madison and fish for lake run fish catch a twenty inch trout.

But it’s never bothered me about the Firehole. Matter of fact, it’s actually been a little bit of an attraction, in that you set that aside—if you set aside you’re out trophy hunting, and then focus on the completeness of that picture, the whole picture of the Firehole, it’s much richer than just chasing a big fish, at least from my perspective. You have an opinion on that?

I could not agree more. There are big fish in the Firehole. There are not as many of them now as there were 40 years ago—partly due to water temperatures increasing and so the fish in there do not live as long. Their systems are supercharged. They’re like mice; they grow extremely quickly, but they don’t live long, except for a very few of them. And those fish are found in spots where the water’s a little cooler.

So yes, there are fewer big fish in there than there used to be and I would not go up there to trophy hunt. But if you are a past master and really know what you’re doing, you can go up and find them. They’re difficult to catch, but they are still there. But by and large, yes, the average trout is going to be you know, nine to twelve inches long and I would never disrespect those. These are wild fish, and if you can’t enjoy a twelve inch fish, gosh, I feel like there’s something missing from your experience because those are just fantastic fish, and I love catching them.

Yeah, me too. And not only that, but the Firehole gives you the opportunity to catch lots of them. If you know where to go and the techniques to use, etc., I think you can have a day that’s full of catching fish from start to finish. Not every day of course, but it does happen.

It does. The Firehole has a lot of fish in it.

It does. It does. And at no time do you see that or recognize that more in my experience, the times I’m out there—which is usually at the end of the summer, beginning of the fall, is during the White Miller hatch—is when you see those caddisflies bounce around the surface and how many fish rise to eat those, it’s an amazing thing to see.

Yes, the river is extremely fecund. It has just got a richness to it. And again, it can kick out a lot of fish—a big population of fish. And again, it’s just simply that those fish don’t live long enough to get large—at least most of them. And so you can always count on an incredible abundance of smaller trout in it. The rise is up there, as you know, from seeing some emergences, you know, the numbers will blow you away. And if you want to catch a lot of fish, you can certainly do it. 

You could make it happen.

I wanted to mention for a moment for those folks that have never fished the Firehole before: one of the interesting things about the Firehole from my perspective is, you know, you’re wading down the stream, and you know, you get used to a certain temperature of the water because you know, it’s along your legs and the temperature comes through the waders. But every once awhile, you hit a little bit of a warm spot, right? Where there’s some thermal feature that’s putting some water into the bottom. And I wondered, from your perspective, what’s allowed the fish to survive as long as they have? Have they adapted to the temperature, genetically? Is it a varied strain of fish? What’s allowed them to adapt to slightly warmer temperatures?

It isn’t the strain of fish, but it is the fact that they have evolved to survive in warmer water. There’s no question about that—that’s known biologically. They can take temperatures up to close to 80 degrees (Fahrenheit), which would kill a lot of trout in other places that are not adapted to those warm waters. But yeah, it’s pretty interesting stuff. 

I think, by and large, the rainbow trout can handle those warmer water temperatures when they’re younger, but they don’t tend to get as large as the brown trout—which for some reason can live longer in those temps, and obviously then get to a larger size. It’s definitely a unique situation.

Yeah, it’s really cool. We mentioned the White Miller hatch earlier. And that’s sort of—my understanding, I could be wrong—but I think that’s sort of a manifestation of the river warming over time. Much of my understanding is that that insect hatch has become more prolific over the years. Am I wrong in that? Is that a misunderstanding, or is that true? 

No, it is true. When I moved to Montana, and I moved here in 1982, there were White Millers on the Firehole, but in very, very light numbers. We would never bother fishing them, never imitate them—you would see a few individuals—but very rarely. So over time, that population has boomed and the White Miller—Nectopsyche is the genus for those interested in that—it has warmer water fly. As the Firehole has gotten warmer over time, those numbers of caddis have just exploded, and it is now—if it’s not the most significant hatch on the river, it would be the second, behind the Pale Morning Dun. But I think you could make a case that the White Miller is the most important, because it extends over a longer period than Pale Morning Duns.

Yeah, the Pale Morning Dun is a shorter period, right, as well. So the White Millers go from July through September or so, is that correct?

Even June, yeah.

Even June?

Yes. It is really about the second week of June, they start emerging up there. And then just depending on the year, they can go all the way through the fall.

Yeah. So if you’re gonna fish the Firehole, and you don’t have those in your fly box, it’s a tactical error, potentially.

Yes, yes. You want to make sure you have White Miller Caddis with you whenever you go up there.

Right. You know, usually when I’m there in September, the White Millers are around, there’s usually some Baetis around and some Olives around. And I’d like to fish for both of those using a soft tackle setup. And I wonder if we could talk about just a little bit about technique, and sort of what’s appealing about soft tackle fishing to you, because I know it’s something that you like to do. And it’s a real passion of mine—not only the history but the techniques and the flies that go with it. Everything else, it just seems like it’s the roots of fly fishing for me, but I wondered what your perspective is on it. What’s appealing about it?

Well, it appeals from a variety of different perspectives. One is that it is a great way to explore a lot of different water. You can fish soft tackles through various techniques. The most common one of course, would be swinging them—casting across, and slightly downstream, letting your fly swing. You can cover a lot of water that way. It is an especially good technique for beginning anglers because there’s not so much of a—it’s not so presentation dependent. You can make a lot of errors, if you will, in presentation and still successfully fish a soft tackle. Because when the flies are dead drifting, they can imitate a caddis merger, they can imitate a mayfly swimming. And so there’s just a lot of different ways you could fish the flies. And the Firehole itself is set up beautifully for fishing, because it has a lot of long, sort of slightly ripply runs and pools, and it’s not too deep. So the whole setup is really nice for fishing soft tackles on the Firehole. And they’re just a lot of fun.

Yeah. I think when you start out for the first time soft tackle fishing, you think, it is the down and across technique—that’s the only way that you’ve really been taught to do it, but fishing them upstream and across and like you would dry flies works just as well. And I would agree for the beginning angler, the fact that the fish sort of hook themselves on that down and across presentation helps as well, right? Very often they’re on the line before you realize they’re on the line—they just aggressively ate that fly and it’s over. So that makes it a good way to get started.

But the thing that appeals to me about it, beyond the technique and the the special leader setups, etc., that you need to have to do that, is the history of it. You know, the soft tackle fishing, with its roots in in Europe and you know, then in the Catskills, etc., in New York and, you know, migrating West with the rest of us, there’s that little bit of a connection to history when you do it, as well as nature. And for me that’s particularly appealing.

Well, I love the historical aspect of it too. You know, the roots of soft tackles, as you said, go way, way back into Europe, and especially England, Scotland. So yeah, it’s just an old technique. They’re old flies, they’re very historic. They’re beautiful flies. They’re very simple in their construction, and yet incredibly buggy and the flies themselves, for me, they just seem to possess everything that seems necessary to catch fish, right? They’ve got this inherent bugginess to them. The materials are tied out of, and lend a lot of movement in the water.

And so they’re very cool flies, very beautiful. And, of course, it’s kind of interesting and fun, I think to realize that when you’re out there fishing a soft tackle, no matter how you’re fishing it, that you’re continuing a tradition that’s gone on for hundreds of years in this sport. And it’s really one of the root aspects of the sport, to me is, you taking, you know, a fly that’s imitating some natural trout stream insect and try to fool a fish on it, which is what we’ve done since time immemorial in the sport.

Right! And it is, I think that the idea that you you are, in a way—and you can say that about all sorts of fishing, you know, you’re perpetuating something we’ve done for since the beginning of man—but this particular aspect of it is sort of, at least in my understanding, is sort of the starting point for fly fishing as we know it today: that soft tackle fishing. At least that’s my impression based on doing the reading and hearing from others that know a lot more about it than I do.

You know, when you are connected to a living thing—trout on the end of the line that you’ve caught with a soft tackle—you have this, at least it gives me a double jolt of satisfaction. Because not only can you feel nature at the end of the line, but you did it using a technique, and perhaps a fly, that’s been in existence for five hundred years, or four hundred years. And there’s this strange philosophical combination of things that happens that just gives me a lot of enjoyment.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a very, very cool experience to fishermen.

You know, one of the things obviously, as we talked about earlier: swinging the flies is sort of the traditional technique. But I think once you move beyond that a little bit, and realize that look—these soft tackles are excellent patterns to fish during an emergence or over difficult fish. And I find myself doing more of that than say swinging them up on the Firehole. When I’m fishing Baetis up there in the fall, those fish can be extremely fussy, and a little tiny Baetis soft tackle fish, just slightly awash in the film, or even dressed and fished as a dry fly—excellent tactic for up there. 

Yes. Could be an insect that didn’t fully hatch, or get blown out of the water during the hatch—

Yeah, a cripple, a drowned adult, any emerger, or anything. And so they’re very deadly flies used either blind fishing, dead drift—or cast to individual rising trout which is what I find myself doing more with them now, than any other technique.

Do you—and I know this will vary from time to time—but do you fish them singly? Or do you fish them two at a time, or what? What’s your preferred way of fishing, or is there a preferred way?

For myself, because I so much enjoy the fly casting aspect of the sport—not just catching the fish, but the process involved in the casting—I always fish one fly at a time. And so no disrespect to those who fish two or even three flies at a time, that’s totally fine. And I would never make a value judgment about that. But for me, it’s simply one fly at a time because I don’t ever want to do anything in my setup that jeopardizes the pleasure I get from the casting aspect of it.

Yeah, having seen you cast, I’m not surprised by that answer. And it really does make a difference. When you see someone—I’ve been fishing for a long time, but I would not consider myself to be an expert caster by any means—but to see, to watch someone who can really cast, and cast accurately and effectively given different conditions on the water surface, or wind conditions, or debris in the water, whatever it may be, is something to see. And I can appreciate that. But I don’t think I’m at that level, John, to be honest.

That’s totally fine! That’s totally fine! Hey, and you know, the thing about multiple flies is—I point out this—that people often think, “Well, if I have more than one fly on, I’m going to increase my chances of catching fish,” as if somehow the fly is going to make the difference. But I always caution people, “Hey, be careful about that sort of line of thinking, because ultimately, what catches fish is good presentation.” That first and foremost is always going to be key to your success. And the idea that, “Hey, if I can just put on another fly, and all of a sudden, I’m going to increase my chances of catching fish,” that doesn’t hold true, and a lot of times people put too much stock in fly patterns, I think, and not so much in presentation, which is really, again, where it counts.

You know, it’s true, I think, as time passes, we try, as human beings, we maybe complicate a good thing—a simple good thing—in the effort to make it better. And sometimes it doesn’t need it. I mean, you look at some of the old English patterns, like the Waterhen Bloa, which is basically two materials and some silk. You don’t need much more than that, and it’s deadly—if it’s fished the right way.

I go through phases, like so many of us, right, where we try something for a while, and then we go do something else for a while, and we come back to it, or we try another technique. 2013 was the year of soft tackle fishing for me—that’s all I did, because I wanted to really practice my skills and get better at it. Have you ever gone through a phase like that where you thought, “Man, I’m going to concentrate on really learning this, and maybe not becoming the best in the world at it, but just having a better understanding of what that means”—have you gone through periods like that before?

Yes, when I was a young angler, I think I explored all the different kinds of techniques I possibly could. And I would encourage everyone to do that. But I think once you put in a lot of time in the sport, naturally you’re going to gravitate to certain techniques. That’s what has happened to me over time. I don’t blind nymph fish for instance anymore, because the visual aspect of the sport is just too important to me now. I want that visual connection either through watching a fish rise, or actually seeing the fish in the water. So while I blind nymph fished a lot when I was younger, it holds very little appeal for me now. And I would never say never, that I wouldn’t go back to it, but I think anyone that experiences this sport over a long period of time naturally is drawn to certain techniques, and sort of lets others go to the wayside—not because they dislike them, but just because they’re more attracted to another way of fishing.

Yeah, it’s interesting. I found the same thing to be true in fly tying, you know. One of the things about tying flies for a lot of people is variety, and just trying different things and experimenting, and, you know, developing your own pattern, although I’m pretty convinced every pattern in existence was developed by someone before me years ago. ‘Cause there’s not a lot new in fly fishing, I don’t think. It’s just new to you, but it’s not new to the sport or to history, which doesn’t take away from it in my view at all, right? It’s always a journey of discovery, whether you’re discovering it for the first time or not. That’s where the personal part, the personal adventure comes in. I can discover something you’ve known for thirty years, and it doesn’t take away from the fact that I had an enjoyable experience discovering that this works, or that fly pattern works, or try this material or whatever the case may be.

Yeah, I think that’s an important part of it, right? The self discovery in going through that. And I think as long as we understand, “Look, odds are somebody has done this before us,” but again, that does not detract from your enjoyment of it from your own discovery of it. And I think that’s just one of the things that happens in this sport. And I think it’s a very cool aspect of it for that reason, is that we can, in essence, rediscover things over and over and over again. And if it’s brand new to us, it’s exciting and fun to do. And it doesn’t matter that it’s been around for a century or more.

Now, in some ways, like we’re talking about with fly patterns, it kind of makes it cooler that it’s been around for centuries. That you’re using the same thing perhaps one of your ancestors used, you know, 250 years ago to catch a fish. And that, to me, has its own appeal. That’s another connection to the past that—I don’t know if it’s uniquely, has a unique appeal in fly fishing, but it’s certainly there, for me anyway.

There are long traditions in this sport, and the history of it is fascinating to me. And I very much enjoy that. I think it informs what I do on the stream. It adds another layer of enjoyment to the sport, as I know it does for you. Just thinking about, that people have been doing this for six, seven hundred years—who knows how long. Longer really. The idea that we can still participate in it in ways that are largely the same as they were, you know, millennia ago? That’s really a beautiful thing, and I think it just adds a lot of enjoyment to the sport.

It does. It does. That goes into the realm of the philosophical, you know, in terms of, you start thinking about what all this means, and where the real enjoyment comes from, and what’s the real purpose. And so that naturally brings me to your fly fishing reports that you post on the door of Blue Ribbon Flies on occasion. I don’t know, do you do that once a week, or, do you do it—

Yeah, once a week, or whenever the urge strikes me.

So for those of you who have never seen one of these reports, they’re sort of a fixture at Blue Ribbon Flies. Not sort of—they are. They’re right on the door when you go in. They’re unique in that they require some deciphering. Most fly shops you go into, they’ll have real specifics about streamflows, about insects, hatching etc. But there’s very little philosophical there—very little that needs to be interpreted. And John’s stream reports are a little different.

I’m going to, in the show notes, I’m going to find an image of one of these fishing reports and make sure that the listeners can go see it for themselves. But I wondered from your perspective, how long you’ve been doing it, what’s the genesis of it, what’s the message behind it? Because I think it’s a really interesting part of your personality and, and who you are, as a person.

Well, when we put up the board, of course—the idea is that we’re going to post fishing advice, or current conditions and fly pattern recommendations. Which is what we did early on, but I thought, “You know, this is kind of boring, you know, because every fly shop has one of these boards, and they all say the same thing: ‘Oh, yeah, the water’s in good shape, go down and use 14 Prince Nymph or an 18 Pheasant Tail or something.’” And I thought, “You know, I would rather use this board to sort of express this deep philosophical bent that I always have had.” And I thought, “I could make this board far more entertaining for people, as well as informative, I think.” You know, that’s still the goal, is to make sure that it’s informative, but to do it in a more entertaining fashion.

And so in the very beginning, I was a little reluctant to do that, because I was young at the time, and I wasn’t sure how people would take it, but I thought, “Well, we’re just going to go for it here.” Because it’s expressing my personality, and you well know, it’s the personalities in a fly shop that separate the shops.


So I just started going with it, and have stuck with it ever since. So I’ve been writing that board for a long time now. And again, it’s just a chance to express a slightly different side of myself—a different aspect of my personality. And it’s a lot of fun for me, and I think a lot of fun for the viewers or the readers as well.

No, I think it’s absolutely true. It’s really nice to see someone as successful in the sport as you have been, in lots of ways—influence and through the shop, etc.—be able to express their fishing philosophy, let’s call it that, through that fishing report. I always enjoy seeing it, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

I was curious from a creativity standpoint, do you have a process that you go through to do that? Or is it you just write down things as they occur to you during the week? Or how does that happen?

So I don’t ever write anything in advance. But when I’m out fishing, or really doing anything—driving to and from the river, you know, going out to my woodpile, hauling in firewood—I’m always thinking about things, and oftentimes that’s fishing. And so something will pop into my head and I’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I got to remember that and use that on the fishing report. That would be good.” A lot of times I’ll just grab the pens and write it spur the moment, right out of the blue. And I know people are like, “You know, you’re nuts!” Look, there are people that think that fishing report is the greatest thing ever, and there are people who say “This is the worst phishing report I’ve ever read in my life,” you know?

I always try to strike a happy medium in there where I’m entertaining and informative. But yeah, there’s no particular process, you know, stuff will just come to me or as I said, I’ll just write it right out of the blue.

Well, in summary, from my perspective, it’s in total harmony—that fishing report is in total harmony with the guy that doesn’t mind going to the Firehole, because the fish aren’t larger, doesn’t mind fishing one fly at a time because it—or wants to fish one fly at a time, because it allows him to concentrate on the cast, enjoys the environment of the stream that he’s standing in. All those things are in harmony to me. And if you haven’t fished the Firehole, and you have the opportunity to do so, make sure you spend as much time not fishing as fishing, would be my advice. Look around. There is some really cool stuff to see. It’s a magical place. And I think if we concentrate sometimes too much on fish catching, we miss some of those things.

I think so too. There’s so much more to this sport than just the mere act of catching fish, though, obviously, that’s the goal. But yeah, so if you’re coming to Yellowstone, you definitely want to spend a day on the Firehole. 


It is such an iconic experience. And so reflective of so many cool things that are going on in the natural world that you just, it’s not something you want to pass up.

Yeah, the last thing I would add on that is if you go, really consider preparing to walk. I mean, you can fish the Firehole almost from the road if you wanted to in Yellowstone Park. But if you’re willing to walk a little bit, and get away from people, the experience really changes for the better, at least in my experience.

It does change for the better. And that is so true of almost every river in Yellowstone, that if you’re willing to walk even a few hundred yards to get away from the most obvious accesses, yeah, you’re gonna have a completely different experience.


Well, John, I mean, this has been an absolute pleasure, I hope that we can get together again, in the not too distant future, and perhaps talk about other aspects of fishing in Yellowstone country, or different fishing techniques. But I so much appreciate you spending the time with me and recording this podcast and having the chance to talk about fishing in general. But as importantly, sort of the bigger picture of fishing and fly fishing in particular. So thank you so much for that.

Well, I appreciate it, Phil. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you. And I’ll leave your listeners with one final thought: Always remember that the fly rod is a form of absolute truth.

There you go. That sounds like it’s pulled right off the fishing report! So with that, thanks, John. We’ll talk to you again soon, I hope.

Thank you very much, Phil.

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with John Juracek today. I’m sure that we’ll take the opportunity if he allows us, to have future conversations. So many things to talk about both philosophical and practical, in terms of the sport of fly fishing.

If you’d like to learn more about John, I’ll put a link to his website in the show notes. Unfortunately, his books are a little hard to find these days, but they’re still available on services, or on websites like Abebooks. I would highly recommend that you see if you can get a copy of anything that John’s written. We’ll look forward to the next time.  Thanks so much for joining us. Have a great day.

About John

Portrait of John Juracek

John Juracek is a fisherman and photographer living in West Yellowstone, Montana. For over twenty years, John has been a partner in Blue Ribbon Flies, a local specialty fly fishing shop. He currently spends most of his time fishing, photographing and teaching.

He began flyfishing in 1969, and spent his early years pursuing bluegills, bass and crappie in the Midwest, with yearly trips to fish for trout in Colorado (and later, Yellowstone Park). After earning a degree in Fisheries Biology from the University of Wyoming, John worked for several years on environmental issues with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department before moving to Montana. Along with fish and fishing, photography and teaching have long held interest for him.

John’s pictures can be seen in magazines and catalogs, on websites, and in calendars. He is the author of Yellowstone: Photographs of an Angling Landscape, and the co-author (with Craig Mathews) of Fly Patterns of Yellowstone, Fishing Yellowstone Hatches, and Fly Patterns of Yellowstone, Volume Two.



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