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Craig Mathews

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Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Craig Mathews (@craigmathewsyellowstone) arrived in West Yellowstone in the late 1970s and served as the town’s police chief. Shortly after, Craig founded Blue Ribbon Flies, where he hired handicapped and disabled fly tyers to provide flies wholesale to numerous retailers. Today, Blue Ribbon Flies, owned by Cam Coffin, serves as a one-stop shop in West Yellowstone for fly anglers to get outfitted entirely for their angling adventures in the Greater Yellowstone region. Craig has also authored and co-authored numerous books on fly fishing, has been a fierce advocate for protecting and enhancing the Great Yellowstone region’s ecosystem, written articles for many major fishing publications, developed iconic fly patterns, and co-founded the international organization 1% For The Planet with his friend and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. 

When it comes to fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas, Craig’s intimate knowledge is matched by very few. In addition to his vast experience and knowledge of the Greater Yellowstone area, Craig has also fished internationally for bonefish, permit, and tarpon in the Caribbean and trout throughout Patagonia. He invented numerous saltwater fly patterns, such as the Bonefish Bitter and the Turneffe Crab fly, a staple at Turneffe Flats Lodge, for fooling the resident bonefish.

Rapid Fire Questions

What does the perfect day on the water look like for you?

“I love to hunt as much as I love fishing. I fish about 180 days a year and really enjoy casting dry flies to rising trout – that is my first love. We live on the Madison River, and I can see the Madison from our house. But I really enjoy just walking and stalking and fishing dry flies on the river here. Basically, any day of the year, provided that the weather and the wind is such, the winter offers some great dry fly fishing. You have midges, there’s nobody on the river, and you’re pursuing rising fish. And you can get close! I love to see their eyes when they take my fly. I’ll wait on my knees a lot – we’ll get as close to the rising trout as we possibly can. Sometimes, you have to back off of them in order to make a cast.”

Is there a particular fly fishing memory that stands out to you?

“You’re not going to believe this, but a couple of years ago, I fished for a brown trout on the Firehole River in the park. I love the Firehole River as well as the Madison, but I was fishing to this brown trout, and I fished to it for nineteen days. I couldn’t get it! I couldn’t get a good float or a proper presentation to this fish. I finally hooked it on a size 24 Sparkle Dun. I land it, and I’m just screaming to myself, you know. And a buddy of mine comes running up… it was 9.5 inches long. Those are the kind of fish that I love to remember. And I don’t care if it was only 9.5 inches. You know, those are the ones that really, really make a difference to me.”

What are a few pieces of gear that you never leave home without?

“My Tom Morgan Rod Smith 8.5 foot 4 weight. That’s my favorite rod. You know, you can fish 7x with it. It protects the fine tippet, even with big fish. It’s the best casting tool for close-in fishing, and I just love that rod! When Tom was still alive, he made it for me, and I fish it pretty much every day. I’ve got several other rods, but that’s my favorite.”

If you could fish with a celebrity, who would it be?

“Well, there’s several, but I’ll try to narrow it down. My closest friend is Yvon Chouinard, the owner of Patagonia. We fish a lot together. We fished many, many days over the course of the year together. One of the lasting relationships that I’ve had with an angler and a real close friend is Tom Brokaw. We did have a chance to fish together several times, but I’ll never forget going up to Slough Creek, the Silvertip Lodge, and spending a week with them a few times during the course of the year. It was always such a joy to fish with them and their whole family.”

How can we all do a better job of involving ourselves in conservation?

“Being in the fly fishing business and even simply just fly fishing – we’re all in an extractive industry. We’re using public resources to satisfy our goals and our fun times by catching wild and native fish. With starting 1% For The Planet, recently we broke $360,000,000. With 1% giving, it’s all about conservation and environmental issues. We feel that if you use a public resource, you have to give back, particularly if you’re in the business. I try to encourage younger people to become more conservation-focused, which is really hard for people now. I keep thinking I will have to write an article someday and call it “The Death of Advocacy.” People profess to be environmentalists, but nobody wants to step forward when it comes to activism and advocacy. And I’ll admit, some of them are guides and outfitters. You have to protect the resource because it’s the source of their living. I just spoke before Montana State University School of Chemical Engineering. I don’t know a dang thing about chemical engineering. There were a couple of hundred people there, and my part of the program was advocacy and activism – how you get involved with a unique community building, community participation, and advocating for wild trout and wild places and clean air and clean water, and particularly what we’re seeing right now. We’ve got to stand up and speak up a whole lot louder and more frequently for what we love and what we want to protect.”

Why Fly Fishing Destination Travel?

“For me, fly fishing, it’s about the trout. It’s about the insects. It’s about the flies. It’s about being in beautiful places but in the end… The best thing about it is the people you meet and the friends that you make. And not only actively fly fishing, but even in our business, that was what it was all about. The people that you meet, the lasting friendships from which you can learn. Even a beginner angler – I used to love it when a kid was walking in the shop. He tied his first fly, we worked with him for a bit, and he would come back a week later, and he’d be tying another fly for something else. You know, we can all learn from each other, and all become friends because of it.”

What's new in Craig's world?

“Well, we just started the Fly Fishing Climate Alliance. Right now, we’re scrambling for members and for money. We’ve got to stand up for wild and native trout resources, our clean air, and our clean water. Let’s face it, activists and advocacy. It wasn’t John Muir or Roosevelt. It was people holding little bake sales trying to raise money to fight dams and to fight pollution and that’s what we all have to stand up for. That’s what I advocate for right now.”

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