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Gary Borger Interview: Part 1


Eugene P. Macri Jr.

Ecolines: Fly Fishing Magazine

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© 2006 E. P. Macri Jr.

Let's start off with a little bit about your background.

I was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania and raised close to Franklin (Pa.). Actually I was raised near Cooperstown. I grew up on the banks of Sugar Creek. I also fished other streams growing up as a kid there.

There are a variety of streams  in Western Pennsylvania Do you think that the variety of streams helped you become a better fly fisherman?

Yes, I started fishing when I was four, just fishing in the mud puddles in front of the house. By the time I was six I was fishing all over. My brother and I traveled on our ponies to streams probably within ten miles of where we lived. When I was eleven I decided I wanted to start fly fishing because of articles I had read in Sports Afield and Field and Stream and other magazines like that. So I took up fly tying first and then fly fishing. There were good hatches in those days and lots of willing fish. Lots of different kinds of waters so I had lots of opportunities to explore different things.

When did you decide to go into biology as a profession?  Was it because of your love for fly fishing?

I think it was partly because of that and because of my love of the out of doors. I grew up like a Gypsy spending my summers on my pony, fishing and swimming, working for the farmers in the area. My grandfather was a farmer. I always had an appreciation and liked the out of doors. It just seemed a natural extension to go into biology. I started out in Forestry at Penn State. I got two degrees in Forestry, a bachelors and a masters. I then went on to Madison and got PhD at Madison (Wisconsin) with a joint major in Botany and Forestry.

What do you think is the greatest difference between fly fishing now and fly fishing then, besides obviously the better equipment?

Well, there have been a lot of things happen in the last 35 years. Obviously, one of them is a lot more people fly fish. There's been a lot more pollution in our rivers and degradation to the environment. I think there is a greater awareness then there was 30 years ago. I've seen the loss of habitat and the loss of hatches, and the loss of native species of trout replaced by stock species. I don't think fly fishing itself has changed in the sense of what we do in fly fishing. I think we've become better tacticians. I think we are better at fishing than we were then because of the equipment. But also because of our understanding of the aquatic insects. Much better than we did 35 years ago. Understanding the insects makes a big difference in our ability to take fish.

There has been a bit of a backlash because of the fly fishing pressure.  Also,  some of the older fly anglers referring to the younger guys as yuppies getting into the sport all of  a sudden.  Do you think this is a passing fad or do you think it will remain because fly fishing has caught the imagination of a large segment of the public?

In some ways I think we are just riding the crest of a wave right now and it will taper off. But I don't think it will ever taper off to the level where it was 25 or 35 years ago. There are too many people on earth right now. Our population has doubled so we are going to see a doubling of the actual number of fly fisherman even if the percentage were the same as then. In a way those of us who have seen it happen sort of regret it because it means more people on the river but on the other hand if we don't have more people fishing, and more people aware of the environment it's going to mean a tremendous degradation because we won't have the people to protect the environment. We must have people to protect the rivers and fly fishers probably appreciate the rivers more than anyone else. Someone once said a river without friends is a river damned. In both senses, literally and figuratively. Damned because of pollution and damned because of dams on it. We've got to protect our rivers and the only way to do it is to have people who are interested.

There are some problems in the Western States right now with guides, rafts and confrontations.  Do you think it will get to the point where certain states will have to limit the number of rods and people to protect the  environment?

I don't know if they will have to limit the number of rods but they will have to limit the number of drift boats, canoes, kayaks or whatever. Drift fishing is a good way to cover a river but when you put 40 or 50 boats all within an hour which sometimes happens on places like the Bighorn there can be problems. And maybe what we need to do is to spread the boats out. So many boats per hour permitted to enter the river. But as soon as you do that you need someone there to patrol it. Someone to issue the permits and other things. I don't really see a solution to it unless the guides themselves get together and do it. But I don't think they will because that is their livelihood. The more boats they put in, the more money they make.

Do you have a favorite selection of rods and reels you tend to use I more than others? For Instance, Eddie Shenk uses a short rod almost exclusively.  Are you a big rod man?

I've fished all lengths of fly rods I've spent all summer fishing with a 5'3" rod and another summer fishing with a 10 foot rod just to see what they were capable of doing. You can do anything with long rod that you can do with a short rod and vice a versa. You can fish streamers, nymphs whatever you wish. I like to be comfortable when I fish. Consequently, I select rods in the 7 1/2 foot to 9 1/2 foot range. When I fish dry flies and small nymphs I fish mostly with 3 or 4 weight rods in the 7'9" to 8'6" range. If I'm fishing streamer flies or larger flies I may go to 5 or even a 7 weight depending on size of the fly and type water and that sort of thing
What do you think about leaders?  There's been so much written about them.  I personally think it's a bunch of hype. Some people swear by leader formulae others swear at them. Are you into precision leader construction?

I'm into precision leader construction in the sense I design and build my leaders to do what I want them to do. I don't have 5000 leaders that I use. I only have 2 or 3 formulae. The idea is to produce a leader that will do the things that I want to do. For example, dry flies I  build my leaders on theory that George Harvey came up with. I want the leaders to collapse but don't straighten. Leaders with a thin diameter butt,  from fourteen thousandths all the way down as small as ten thousandths. Four to think you have to approach every water five to six foot tippets. So that when they individually turn over, they give you a lot S curves surface to prevent drag. I've been fishing  with those for about ten years and guarantee you I will never go back to standard leaders for dry flies. The same thing for nymph fishing, I have leaders I designed with compound tippets we fished earlier. . These are special tactic leaders, that I use. I just don't use commercial leaders because they just can't provide me with what I need when I´m fishing.

Most fly anglers don´t realize that may only have a few inches of drift. Why worry about the entire leader. Many have seen a casting video and fall in love with the way the leader turns over.  It´s hard for them to get that out of their head!

Yes it is. It's okay if you are fishing streamers where you want the flies to strip straight back but if you are going to be dead drifting either nymphs or dries you got to have leader that will let the fly do that.

What is your approach to stream reading? For instance, a spring creek versus another type of stream

I think you have to approach every water individually.  And you have to approach every river individually every time you fish it.  Too often we learn a spot where there are some fish and go back to that spot and fish it over and over again.  Or go back to the same river that we fished earlier.  The level has changed by 3 or 4 inches and it becomes a totally different river.  So each time you go you have to reread the river and look at it from that perspective.  For example,  the Bow River, which is quite a large river, I´ve fished it when it was flowing 9000 cubic feet per second, and I've fished it when it was flowing 1800 cubic feet per second.  It's two totally different  rivers. The fish behave differently; the fish are in different places.  Each time you go you have to reread the river.  You think what's happening to the river and its energy budget. One thing that most anglers don't realize is how much fish move around in rivers. A fish is not going to lie behind a rock and starve to death if there's no food there. It's going to go looking for food. And you have to read the river each time with that in mind.

When you approach a new river for the first time are you a method fisherman?  That is, do you often use a streamer to locate fish etc.

A lot of people tie a fly on before they go to the river. I never tie a fly on before I get to the river. I always like to look and see what's happening before I tie a fly on. I do like other anglers, have favorite flies that I may fish. If it's an opportunistic period with nothing hatching,  there are some favorite flies that I might try. But even during opportunistic times there may be one type of organisms that dominates like a scud. Then I would tie on a scud imitation. Maybe one day I feel like fishing dry flies.  I just feel like it. Perhaps it's a meadow stream. I´ll  stick on an ant and fish it.

End of Part 1


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