Interview: Phil Monahan of Orvis

Phil in Norway

If you follow social media for fly fishing, one name appears over and over again: Phil Monahan. He’s the person in charge the Orvis fly fishing blog, among other many responsibilities.

So, I dug around and learned that he is a former guide, previously edited “American Angler,” and is a passionate fisherman, who has fished all over the globe.

Phil really has done so much for the fly fishing world. So, I’m grateful that he agreed to this interview.

How did you get into fly fishing?
I had always been a fisherman, since early childhood, but I didn’t learn to fly-fish until 1990, when I went to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. My older brother, Brian, lived nearby, and he taught me to cast one chilly January day in the backyard of his girlfriend’s house. Then we went down to the Suncook River to see if we could catch a trout. We didn’t. In fact, I would go fly fishing thirteen times before I caught my first trout.

Your favorite fly-fishing moment?
When I was a guide at Rainbow River Lodge in Alaska, a few of us guides took a night off and headed out on the Copper River to do a little fishing. We were laughing and joking, smoking cigars, and might have had a few beers soaking in the cold water. I hooked into a fish, and when it took to the air, it was so big that it confused me. I thought it might be a sockeye, but it was too bright.

I turned to my fellow guide Gordon Gracey and said, “What the hell was that?” “That,” he said, with a big grin on his face, “is a rainbow.”

When we finally landed the fish, it taped out at 28 inches. That was a good night.

Nice brown from the Missouri River

Your favorite ​fly-​fishing location​?
I feel like I really learned to fly fish on my annual visits to Maine’s Rapid River with my two high-school buddies, Fred and Sandy Hays (a.k.a. The Wretched Hays Boys). The Rapid is the steepest river in New England and holds some gorgeous landlocked salmon and brook trout. We would stay at Lakewood Camps, a rustic lodge on the lake above Middle Dam that really makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time a bit. That river will always be magic for me.

What is your favorite species to target?
I love wild brook trout, mostly because of the places they live. (See below.)

Bass from a local VT lake

What is your favorite style of fly fishing?
Casting a dry fly while wet-wading on a mountain brook trout stream is heaven for me. I can get lost in the rhythm of working from pool to pool, covering the water, and trying to make accurate casts and good drifts. I sometimes completely lose track of time, though, which can get me in trouble. And that moment when a trout smashes the bug is always a thrill, even if it’s the twentieth time that day. Finally, holding a brightly colored brookie—with its brilliant reds and blues—completes the experience.

What is your go-to rig? Rod/reel, fly line, tippet?
For brook trout, I love the 3-weight Superfine Glass with a CFO reel spooled up with a Hydros DT Trout line. I usually fish a 9-foot, 5X leader on small streams.

Your ​three​ must-have flies?

  1. Parachute Adams
  2. Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph
  3. Olive Woolly Bugger
Atlantic salmon, Gaula River, Norway

The fly you use when nothing else is working?
The DDH Leech, created by my Canadian friend, Stu Thompson. You can fish it like a streamer, dead-drift it, or use it as a dropper behind a larger streamer.

​​​How did you ​get your current role at Orvis​?
I knew all the folks at Orvis from my ten-year stint as the editor of American Angler magazine (1998-2008), and I live just fifteen minutes from the head office. In 2010, when they were looking for someone to edit and write the blog, first as a freelance gig, I was a pretty natural choice. That freelance gig turned into a full-time job after about six months.

​​Orvis has a killer brand. What do you think sets apart the company in terms of process and culture?
Every single person involved with creating Orvis products is a hardcore fly fisherman. These guys are on the water every chance they get, chasing anything that swims: from trout to carp to stripers to bass. That passion and experience informs everything they do. I remember walking by Tom Rosenbauer’s desk and seeing a sign he’d taped to his computer that said, “At an appointment with Dr. Triceau.” It took me a second to get it, but it speaks to the fun, passionate working environment at the company.

Marble trout, Soca River, Slovenia

Any new products about which you’re most excited?
The Hydros SL reels look amazing.

Photo illustration from Orvis graphic artist James Daley

Anything else our readers should know about you?​

  1. Before I got into writing and editing, I was on my way to becoming a college professor. I completed all but the dissertation for a Ph.D. in English at Rutgers University before I chucked it all to take my first magazine job at Outdoor Life.
  2. I am a die-hard soccer fan, having supported Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League since I made a pilgrimage to White Hart Lane in 1995. COYS! I still play in a Sunday-morning old-guys league.
  3. I love to play the guitar but am a self-taught hack.

Phil, this has been great. Thank you very much, and all the best to you and your colleagues at Orvis!

Rainbow trout, Rock Creek, Montana
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