The steelhead slid from my hands back into the dark cold of the river. He hung for a moment on the edge of the clear shallows, giving me one last glance at a bright rose-colored cheek before turning his nose and lunging hard back into the current. That fish had been hard earned. I had spent the last three days swinging flies in the cold rain of early spring. The river was swollen and cloudy, full of run-off that carried sediment and logs down past me as I stood in the water. I had been casting and swinging with all the determination I could muster. Yet I was about to give up hope and had made myself content to just be on the river finally after a long winter… when that buck smashed my fly. I played him for a bit too long, just exalting in the fight, before finally tailing him just as it started to get dark. Another angler who had swung through the pool ahead of me was sitting on he bank watching me land the fish. After I released it he came up and shook my hand. “Hell of a fish,” he said handing me a small pewter flask. “That deserves a toast.” I saluted him and took a swig, and then nearly vomited it into the river. “What the hell is that?” I asked gagging. “Cherry vodka,” he said with a strange look. And just like that the moment had been ruined.
The importance of having the proper beverage for different angling situations is something that is often underutilized by many of my angling brethren. For many of them, believe it or not, booze is simply booze. There is no thought or feeling put into what they are drinking on their fishing trips. No understanding or love for what they are celebrating with! Now I’m not saying that you must partake to be a good fly fisherman, but if you choose to have a drink on a fishing trip you should be drinking properly! So for the sake of fly fishing and alcohol as we know it, I’ve compiled a little list of my personal favorite fly angling quarry, and the libations that match each species.
Steelhead and Bourbon
Let’s face it, steelheading can be a miserable experience. You usually fish for them in the cold, the wind, and the rain, and you usually don’t catch many. A few days of chasing steelhead can start to wear on you, and there’s nothing better than getting of the river and sipping something that simply warms the blood and preps you for the next day. And nothing does that like a good bourbon whiskey. If I had my way, there’d be St. Bernard’s with miniature bourbon barrels on their collars patrolling every good steelhead river in the country. You know, for emergencies.
Panfish and Moonshine
Fishing for bluegill, rockbass, perch, and crappie, is all about numbers. They’re all easy fish to find and easy to catch. Nymphs, dries, poppers, tiny streamers, they all work well for panfish and can make for some hundred fish days. With this kind of quick catch rate, you want a booze that works quick. Nothing goes better with releasing your fiftieth wriggling pumpkinseed than taking a sip of a hard-burning corn liquor and just feeling completely alive.
Trout Fishing and Irish Whiskey
Whether you’re fishing the chalk streams and bubbling creeks of the old country or the freestone rivers of western Montana, there’s something about brown trout slow sipping drakes and slow sipping a Bushmills that just seem to work together. The crisp, tangy, bite of a good Irish dram, just emphasizes and enhances the calm beauty of the river.
Musky and Rye
Musky fishing is a game of edges. Sharp clear edges of excitement and anticipation ready to cut you open with each explosive take of the fly. Musky fishing can completely beat you down into the dirt or raise you up higher than you ever thought possible, all in an instant. Rye whisky is a hot-blooded drink that just seems to both emphasize and dull the edge. It keeps you in the game and is the perfect thing to celebrate both victory and defeat.
Bass and Beer
Lets be clear now, when I say beer I don’t mean your local micro-brew’s triple IPA. When I say beer for bass fishing, I mean that stuff that comes in big carboard cases and often sponsors NFL teams. Bass are an all- American fish and for that you need an all-American domestic brew. Clear, ligh,t and hardy, cheap beer is the perfect thing to punctuate a long day of bagging bucketmouths, ‘Merica!
Atlantic Salmon and Scotch
There is something very ancient about salmon fishing. A connection between the angler and those who came before. Atlantic salmon were the original game. The first fish to create obsession among a dedicated group of anglers plying the rivers of Scotland and England with hopes of landing a silver bullet. Scotch just fits the bill. The peaty, smoky, warmth of a good Scotch simply holds you there in that ancient place with the river and the fish.
In truth, there is no set rule to which alcohol goes with which fish. These are just a few combinations that I prefer. Experimentation is something that I very much encourage. So go out and find a combo that works for you. Just always remember that famous quote “No one who doesn’t know how to catch a fish should be allowed to disgrace a fish by drinking cherry vodka.”