Jeff Morgan

To say that NWFFO has some of the most knowledgeable and professional people working with us would be a gross understatement.  Our guides and contributors are simply the best and Jeff Morgan, aka "Professor" (reference from A River Runs Through It), is yet another example of that.  Jeff, as you will find out has been passionate about fly fishing, as you can see above with the black and white photo, well before there was color photography.
Sitting in one of Jeff's classes you learn very quickly how vast his knowledge and passion of this sport is.  So, as with others, we asked Jeff a bunch of questions.  Get to know the man behind the fly tying classes and "fly of the week".
Getting to Know Jeff

Q:  How long have you been fly fishing?

A:  40 years? I have had a fly rod in my hand trolling since I was at least 4 or 5, Dad wisely didn’t allow me to cast in the boat until I was 8 or so.

Q:  Why do you choose fly fishing over all other forms?

A:   There was no choice. Dad didn’t allow spinning equipment for anything but catfish or sturgeon and it wasn’t a debate. It was much like “A River Runs Through It” with me and my brother: casting practice in the yard and we only had a choice of a streamer or nymph when we flailed the water or trolled at Crane Prairie. My biggest act of teenage rebellion in high school was asking my parents for an Eagle Claw backpacking fly/spin combo rod and a pack of Berkley Power Grubs for Christmas. Even today, if I borrow his boat, I need to make sure there is no evidence of plastic left behind.

Q:  Do you tie your own flies?

A:  Since I was 5 or 6, I’ve tied flies of varying quality. Very bad for a long time, but they still caught fish. When I was a little kid in the 1980s we went to Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston and watched the women in the side-building (yes, women provided a huge proportion of commercial flies in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s) tying away all day and thought that would be the coolest thing to do when I got older. Paid for my college living expenses tying for NWFFO and other shops across the West in the late 1990s and early 2000s… then the internet decimated opportunities for local tiers and I went to grad school.  Now I’m mostly recreational tying, though I still do some custom tying for my old clients and the shop.

Q:  What are your favorite species to chase?

A:  Any species I haven’t caught.  Trout and panfish in general, I’m currently on a quest to catch all the trout and panfish subspecies in the USA. During the next few early summers, I’m looking to hit the Great Basin ranges in AZ, NV, and Utah which host micro-populations of cutthroat trout to get those checked off my list.

Q:  If you could travel to one place to fly fish where would it be and for what species of fish?

A:  Nile Perch. My French-Canadian wife, Renee, spent her formative years in Rwanda, and we would both love to catch a big perch in East Africa.

Q:  What has led to your success as a fly fisher?

A:  Reading, vociferously. You can spend all the time you want playing guess-and-check on a river like a bad high school calculus student, or you can do your homework and learn from the mistakes of others before you make them yourself.

Q:  If you could give advice to someone just starting into fly fishing what advice would you give them?  (Besides always shopping at NWFFO of course)

A:  Be patient. You will neither look nor cast like Brad Pitt charging out waist-deep presenting across fifteen different current seams. When you get to the piece of water you want to fish, arrive without a fly on your line, sit for five minutes, and observe.

Q:  What is your most memorable fly fishing trip?

A:  Opening Day on Yellowstone’s, Buffalo Ford July 15th, 2005. I was working as an assistant archivist in Yellowstone and already spent a month fishing and driving around the park, watching the rises of hungry post-spawn fish on that stretch for a week before Opening Day.  It was one of the last really good years on the upper Yellowstone before the illegally introduced Lake Trout took their toll on the native cutts. All the regulars who fished the stretch chatted over coffee at 5am, even though none us would make a cast until 9:30 or so. For about seven years, it was the same ten anglers who fished the same spots and it had become almost a homecoming ritual among us. As we all picked our perches and set up shop, I took a spot mid-river 100 yards upstream of the head of the first island, planting my three-pronged hunting stool into a foot of water, and read the entirety of Eric Alterman’s great Springsteen Biography, Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive,waiting for the trout to start feeding. Between 6 and 9am, dozens of other anglers pulled up, splashed around, flailed the water for twenty minutes, and caught nothing while all of my fellow regulars sat. At about 10am the trout starting poking up only 10-20 feet from my stool. I stood up, casting in multiple directions across the gravel bar, and landed eight, 18”+ buttery Yellowstone Cutts over the course of two dozen casts, and quickly packed up for ice cream at Fishing Bridge. Dave Hughes noted in one of his Yellowstone articles that after catching a pair of fish with only two casts at Bridge Bay on Yellowstone Lake, he left immediately leaving everyone else mumbling, “what is that guy using?”  I’ve followed his lead ever since.

Q:  What is your most memorable fish caught?

A:  It was on an North Dakota’s Red River of the North on a April-May cross-country railroad trip and I rented a car in Grand Forks to go check out my maternal grandfather’s birth town of Binford, ND. It was the typical springtime high-water spring runoff on the Red, and I was hoping to hook a couple smallmouth on a warm April afternoon. I subsequently landed smallies, some drum (brand new species for me!), a bunch of walleye and sauger, and a couple modestly-sized pike…all with the same big #2 Wool-head sculpin pattern. When pulling in another 12” drum, I saw a huge swirl that I imagined was a hefty Northern Pike or even possibly a Muskie (there were no muskies in that water, but I was steal a dreamy-eyed college kid). After throwing the same pattern back to the location of the swirl, I hooked something huge that  immediately locked on the bottom for a couple minutes and promptly wrapped me around a boulder. After wading around a bit, I was able to pop it free and play it towards a sandy eddy. Much to my surprise, a massive catfish flopped out of the mocha-colored river. It still is by far the biggest catfish I’ve landed, 35” and by feel (I didn’t bring a scale) probably in the 20-23lb range, and it was on a 7 wt. sink tip line and 3x tippet!

Q:  What is your most memorable fish lost?

A:  Back in 1998, the NorthWest Fly Fishers (the old FFF club that used to convene at Glen Otto Park) used to go on monthly club fishing trips around the Northwest. One was to Oregon’s Newport Bay back in 1998 for rockfish, which was an easy trip for me while I was at OSU. Inshore jetty fishing there is done at night and hits its peak during the winter. Once everyone arrived and spread out, we took our share of 7-12” rockfish and kelp greenling. Being a dumb college kid, I chose to move over to the windward side of the jetty, which faced north and waves turned my sink-tip line into a limp joke. I had no contact with my fly on each cast and was about to return to the safer, south side. About ten minutes in, my line immediately took off up-bay towards Toledo. I thought I had snagged a seal, but the run quickly stopped and I could see from he teeth and massive head that I hooked an extremely large lingcod, which spawn near our jetties in late winter. A couple more thrashes and it buried itself in the rocks, never to be found. Maybe not the most interesting, but when you hook a 20ish lb fish at 1am on a rainy jetty, it is about as exciting as fishing gets.