FORGED TO FISH: Exploring the Obsession of a Species

IN THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION, ONE MUST EMBODY THEIR SURROUNDINGS. THROUGH DECADES OF PERSEVERANCE, PITFALLS, AND PEAKS; AN INDIVIDUAL BEGINS TO BUILD AN ETHEREAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR PURSUITS. AFTER ENOUGH BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS HAVE BEEN SHED, THE LINE BETWEEN ONE’S ENDEAVORS AND THE SENSE OF SELF FADES INTO AN INTANGIBLE MARGIN.

forged to fish

There are those in the world of fly-fishing that embody this mantra to the point where their name is almost synonymous with the beasts they chase. Just like them, the new line of Benchmade knives exists to encapsulate the same passion that drives these anglers to beat the sun to the water every day. Like the pressed steel of each blade, these guides are Forged to Fish

We sat down with 4 guides that we feel embody the spirit of each of the fish on the new Benchmade x Casey Underwood knife collection, to talk about what the pursuit of each fish means to them…

David Mangun – Tarpon

Captain David Mangum is the owner and operator of Shallow Water Expeditions, located on the Florida panhandle where Dave has been targeting Tarpon for the past 40 years. Never failing to beat the rising sun to the water, Daves Grit and salty-fighting attitude is at this point synonymous with the beast that defines his life.

dave with knife
Image courtesy of David Mangum

Flylords: Can you tell us what the pursuit of this fish means to you? 

David: It’s passed obsession… it’s my life’s work. I’m like some obsessed researcher studying 1 specific bird deep in the jungle somewhere, except for me it’s a tarpon.

Flylords: How much of a role has this one species of fish played in your development as a person, and an angler? 

David: The angling part is easy if you know the fish, having a single focus on this one species has allowed me to think outside the box and apply new and diff techniques in pursuit of tarpon

dave and tarpon
Image courtesy of David Mangum

Flylords: What is it about this one fish that has such a magnetic draw to you? Where does the passion come from? 

David: I hate the Word “passion”, so f***ing overused, passion is something that happens in the bed. On the water, I’m a hunter. I use everything I’ve ever learned before today and apply it now. I relay that to my angler and we create success…. we catch the fish and connect to our desire to be out of doors.

Lael P. Johnson- Steelhead

Lael Paul Thompson is an accomplished photographer and steelhead guide based out of Seattle. Through his time as a surgeon and guide, Lael has embodied the spirit of perseverance and grit that is so commonly associated with wild Steelhead 

lael with knife
Image courtesy of Lael Johnson

Flylords: Can you tell us what the pursuit of this fish means to you? 

Lael: Chasing a steelhead is more than connecting with the fish itself. What you find out about yourself in the process of the pursuit is an inevitable BONUS when entering their world, and each encounter has its own special story. Little sleep, cold fingers, and questionable food make being in the trenches something you ache for before or after the season. Everything that happens in the journey is worn proudly in the medal of honor memory wall encased in a steelheader’s mind or shared with others attracted to the same lifestyle. Steelhead welcome you into the octagon and challenge you every day to tap out. If the days get colder, hikes get longer, or comfort gets further away, and you still ask for more this game is for you. If not, there is always another rod waiting to swing up the life-altering moment you just passed up.

Flylords: How much of a role has this one species of fish played in your development as a person, and an angler? 

lael with steelhead
Image courtesy of Lael Johnson

Lael: When I met the Olympic Peninsula forest, it was like walking into a room that someone else designed for you, even though you have never met. This was supposed to happen, and that is why it feels so natural. If I had not met a gorgeous unknown river, the forest, and steelhead on the same day, I would don’t know where I would be. It took my mind from anything negative and brought it to only focus on the endless future possibilities of steelhead encounters or epic views as the consolation prize. With either situation now available in my home state, it gave me the drive to overcome anything to see it one more time. Steelhead also opened the door to a level of confidence and focus; I never knew existed. This fish developed me into a man who searches for challenging situations to build grit. That constant reminder to “face and overcome” has enabled me to experience the best out of life and steelhead days on the river.

As an angler steelhead made want more of the exceptional experience, an encounter presents you with, and it gave me the drive to keep working harder at my craft. Fish longer, cast smoother, both shoulders, tie better, and leave no water untouched are the lessons I’ve learned after the line gets tight. When this is the result you get from putting your time in, taking shortcuts no longer makes sense. First one in, last one out is a badge I earned, and I’m proud only the trees see my taillights when my guests and I leave for the day.

Flylords: What is it about this one fish that has such a magnetic draw to you?

steelhead
Image courtesy of Lael Johnson

Lael: Steelhead have a life cycle like no other fish, and when searching for that fish, I feel the need to work as hard to get to it, as it did to get to me. The battle and everything leading up to it is the draw for me. I love the connection, but bleed for the chase! The fact that this fish lives in two worlds and makes it past, sharks, seals, orcas, and then into a river to face more challenges of nets, obstructions, monstrous flow, and debris to meet my fly and then do it over and over again is mindblowing. I ask people in all seriousness, “How can you not want some of this excitement!?”

After tailing one and spending a few moments with him or her, you share your journey with theirs. I live and die by these words “One Cast Can Change Your Life” that’s true for me and the steelhead, but I do my best to have that only apply to me. Your paths crossed, and this connection determines what you and the fish will do after. If you care for these fish the way I do, the fact that you know the unicorn is real does more than enough to anyone lucky enough to see one.

Flylords: Where does the passion come from?

lael with a steelhead
Image courtesy of Lael Johnson

Lael: The passion for steelhead has evolved for me over the years. When I first began just knowing how to catch one was a big deal, then you want numbers, and of course next on the list is a really big one. I’ve done all three, and the way I wanted to do it, so then what? My answer is I like that it keeps changing. I’m evolving as an angler and a person on every trip out, the same way a steelhead does back to the river from the ocean. We both get stronger, and the longer I have pursued this fish, the more I have developed a passion for helping it, and others understand why it is so special. There are so many ways to do better things in life, and steelhead have propelled me to do more of that!

Landon Mayer – Brown Trout

Landon Mayer is a guide and author in Florissant, Co, calling the South Platte river his home. He has been guiding on these waters for the past 17 years. Landon has is a renowned brown trout guide, and just like the fish, is best known for his knowledge
of his rivers and fierce approach. 

landon mayer with benchmade knife
Image courtesy of Landon Mayer

Flylords: Can you tell us what the pursuit of this fish means to you? 

Landon: My career started with one brown trout! I landed a large brown in 2002 (my personal best) and I caught it on a Copper John, eventually, John Barr saw a picture from Charlie Meyer who was on the river that day. John was cool enough to come over and introduce himself to say thanks for supporting the use of his fly. This led to a fishing trip and the rest is history. As my mentor in this great sport, John helped open doors for me that made it possible to make this a life on the fly.

Flylords: How much of a role has this one species of fish played in your development as a person, and an angler? 

landon mayer with brown trout
Image courtesy of Landon Mayer

Landon: The pursuit of wild brown trout is a passion of mine because they are such a challenge. Known as an independent species, browns make you focus on timing, tactics, and mental preparation. I can honestly say I still lose sleep at night thinking about the ones that got away. It has taught me that patience and allowing the day to evolve in front of you can lead to more success instead of jumping the gun and racing to reach the goal.

Flylords: What is it about this one fish that has such a magnetic draw to you? Where does the passion come from?

Landon: I love the thrill of the hunt and brown trout make you work for every catch. They force you to not only think before you cast, but they also make you think like a predator to find a predator.

Mike Schultz – Bass

Mike Schultz, the owner of Schultz Outfitters, located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, has been a fly-fishing guide for over 20 years. Mike specializes in seeking out the largest bass the state has to offer, and just like the species he chases, always hits it hard, and drives the fight until there’s nothing left to give.

mike schultz benchmade
Image courtesy of Mike Schultz

Flylords: Can you tell us what the pursuit of this fish means to you?

Mike: The pursuit of moving water. Bass on the fly drives my fishing life. Growing up in the midwest (Michigan) angling opportunities were plentiful… however, from the very beginning, I was drawn to bass. The early years were all about access and the opportunity for immediate success. As I matured as a bass angler the focus changed.  It was no longer about catching numbers rather the pursuit of individual fish, building unique programs, and pushing the perceived limits of a “warm-water” game fish.

Flylords: How much of a role has this one species of fish played in your development as a person, and an angler?

mike schultz bass
Image courtesy of Mike Schultz

Mike: Honestly, if it wasn’t for bass my entire life would look very different.  I surely wouldn’t be the person I am today without Smallmouth Bass.

When it comes to moving water I have not found a single species that compares on the fly.  The Smallmouth Bass is the ultimate teacher, it’s almost as if they were tailor-made for the fly pursuit.  They truly offer something for every angler, no matter what your skill level.

Flylords: What is it about this one fish that has such a magnetic draw to you? Where does the passion come from? 

Mike: Wild… Native… Truly a product of their environment.

In a crazy fast-paced world, most smallmouth rivers still offer solitude for those willing to explore.  The good ole days are now!

The unknown is what keeps the train rolling! When it comes to angling you truly get what you put in. Even if you read everything you can get your hands on, Listen to every podcast, Fish with top guides, Purchase the best gear and flies… Nothing trumps time on the water!  That will never change… I like that!

mike schultz with client
Image courtesy of Mike Schultz

Thank you to these guides for taking the time to sit down with us and share the stories of their pursuits. Also, thank you to Benchmade for creating these incredible knives and helping us share these stories. While these knives are sold out, you can create your very own Crooked Creek knife HERE. 


A Look Into the New Benchmade x Casey Underwood Knives

Artist Spotlight: Casey Underwood

The post FORGED TO FISH: Exploring the Obsession of a Species appeared first on Flylords Mag.