Back Issue Content: 2011

Morice River. Smithers, British Columbia. October 1997

Steelheading in Smithers was a little different fourteen years ago than it is today. For starters, there were very few spey rods. Also, a hotel in town was about $80—a week. But then, as now, as always, which river you fished was sometimes decided by the weather. We’d hauled a skiff all the way from Jackson—Morrison Simms, Trask, and myself—in order to meet Morrison’s dad, John, and his wife, Barbara. But after four days jetboating the Bulkley, heavy rains blew it out, causing us to head south to the clearer water of the Morice—the river John Fennelly, in his classic book, Steelhead Paradise, called “the closest approach to the dream river of a dedicated fly fisherman that I ever hope to see.” We left Trask inside the van while we enjoyed our best day of steelheading we’d had all week.

After eighteen hours of travel I arrive on the shaky, sweaty downside of an extended coffee and doughnut binge. I love travel, the lure of the exotic, broadening your perspective. But sometimes, instead of a welcome transportation to an easy, distant place, where you step off the plane and a bronzed beauty places a lei over your head and a mai tai in your hand, you end up somewhere

Image: Joe Belaqnger

For every good shot at a tarpon, permit, or bonefish, there’s a cast-per-hour-of-effort ratio that on most days looks like a line graph of the U.S. economy. Then there are those days that you instantly know you’re losing, like a cold February morning when even the boxfish are lurking deep and you’re just hoping for a visual on a single gamefish.

You know you aren’t going to catch your ass with both hands, yet you’ll pole by a school of big barracudas without giving

Matt Schliske isn’t 90 years old. He does not have a scraggly beard or a cabin in the woods. His driveway shows no signs of potholes and decrepit pickup trucks. And from what I can tell, the 37-year-old does not fit many of the clichés associated with “bamboo rod maker,” other than one: the pursuit of the perfect rod.

Schliske is a descendent of Wyoming cattle ranchers on both his mother’s and father’s sides. They planted fences, baled hay, and they used practical tools for utilitarian work. At the age of three, Schliske was presented with his own set of tools. His passion for design and building, however, would come years later while perusing the hallways of an antique shop. There he unearthed and purchased his first bamboo fly rod: “I bought that first rod and it was a piece of crap,” he says. “I tried fishing it and it cast terribly.”

Later he found a 7 1/2-foot Granger that had been made in Denver in 1924. More graceful than his first find, the rod was still in rough shape. He sent it to Atlanta rod maker Gary Lacey, who’d just received the rights to build Granger bamboo