Jon Hazlett is a dedicated steelhead enthusiast and guide on the Rogue River, and his love for the Rogue has been recently featured in a new video from Sage. While in the middle of the fall run, Jon sat down to interview with The Venturing Angler:
Why do you guide where you do?
I spend most of my time on my home water, the Rogue River. There was a time when I traveled around Southern Oregon and Northern California guiding trout and steelhead. That gave me the ability to offer quality venues at any time of the year, and of course kept me quite busy.
Any more, the Rogue is my primary venue, and it keeps me close to home and allows me to spend more time with my family. The Rogue offers opportunities at summer and winter steelhead, and a salmonfly hatch that is a fun break from the challenges of steelhead guiding.
What is your favorite fish species?
I have a love/hate relationship with steelhead. Angling for these elusive fish are a challenge with any gear, but especially with a Spey rod and swung fly. I love the whole process of it, even the frustration, and certainly the reward is greater the harder they come.
What is your favorite thing about guiding?
The sum of the parts is what makes guiding special to me: the preparation, the gear, the interesting people and experience I get to share with them, the coaching aspect of it, the unknown, and certainly the venue in which it takes place.
That said, it’s the teaching aspect of it that is most fulfilling. Fly fishing, especially Spey, is very technical. It is extremely rewarding seeing my clients become better casters and anglers.
What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?
Several years ago I was fishing the Rogue with a single client. I had anchored my raft at the top of the run on some ledge rock. We had made it almost to the bottom of the run when the wind picked up. I glanced upriver to see that my raft had broke free and was suddenly floating mid-river, unmanned.
I quickly realized that swimming or wading to the boat was not an option. I grabbed my guy’s Spey rod and made a couple long casts into the boat. I hooked it on the second cast, but broke it off.
We watched the boat go by us and ghost ride the rapid below. Both oar were in the water, Spey rods were not strapped down, and there was no way to chase it from our side of the river.
We ran uphill to the nearest house. I knocked, and a lady answered the door. I told her what happened and asked for a ride downstream. She was running late for work, but said that her dad could give us a ride. An eternity later, a really old man came to the door, and we told him the story and asked for a ride. After locating his slippers and keys, he started the truck and walked back in his house. We were in full panic mode at this point. If we didn’t intercept it by the next bridge, we were totally screwed.
Finally, he emerged from the house. God only knows what was taking so long. Did he forget to take his pills? Was he just messing with us? Didn’t want to miss the Showcase Showdown? Whatever the case, I was somewhat relieved to be heading downstream. Based on the distance to the bridge and timing of it all, we had a chance.
We started down his driveway about 5 mph and reached a top speed of 7. My client looked at me and just laughed. At the end of the driveway, the old timer put his truck in park, got out, and checked his mail. My client looked at me again. He wasn’t laughing this time. I wasn’t either.
Finally on the main road, a 45 mph zone and top speed of 27, we were on our way. You could cut the tension with a knife at this point. As we approached the bridge, I could see my boat about 100 yards above it. There was no room for error. The problem, among other things, was the steep rocky bank under the bridge was going to be sketchy.
The raft was heading river right, and before the truck stopped, I jumped out started running that direction. I scaled down the cliff like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, and just as I got to the river, the eddy pushed it to the other side. Fortunately, there we a couple guys fishing over there. I yelled, “there’s beer in the cooler of that boat if you can recover it!”. They managed to find a dead tree limb about 20 feet long and hooked my boat with one of the branches.
I ran across the bridge and met up with my client and those two guys. We drank every beer in that cooler. And by some miracle, both oars and all other equipment was intact. The old guy? He didn’t stick around for the celebration. Wheel of Fortune was not to be missed.
What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?
My first year of guiding was in Alaska. I had a grandson/dad/grandad trio on a float plane trip into a creek. The lake we landed in had white capped waves from the high winds. As we coasted into the bank, it was my job to jump out first and hold the plane steady as the anglers exited. The waves and wind had the plane bucking and it was everything I could do to hold on.
Grandson got out first and made it down the float without issue. His dad also made it. Grandad fell out of the plane and landed on the float. After gathering himself, he started down the float, lost his balance, and fell in the lake. As he crawled through the knee deep water to shore, he shouted “ I stormed the beach at Normandy, but it was nothing like this!”
What makes your guide service great?
I’ve been known to say “don’t get too worked up, it’s just fishing”. I’ve never taken myself too seriously and I never get too worked up about fishing, or anything for that matter. Fishing should be a stress-free pursuit, relaxing, and fun. If you want to work on some skills, bring it on. You want to fish hard. We’ll fish hard. But it’s my belief that having a good time on the water is priority number one. To quote a former lodge owner I worked for, “we’re not just in the fishing business, we’re in the entertainment business”. So, I guess what makes my guide service great is that regardless of what your priorities are for the day, we are going to have a good time, one way or another.
If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?
I spent a week in Christmas Island last year. While we exercised a few Bonefish that trip, we really hunted Giant Trevally most of the week. I walked the flats with an 11wt for days waiting for a good shot at a big GT. It just never happened for me. So, if I had just one day, I’d have to go back to CXI. I’ve got a score to settle.
What are your favorite three flies?
It’s not fair to ask a steelhead guide what his favorite flies are, because whichever caught the last fish is the one. But if I had to choose, it would come down to 3 categories: traditional, medium, and large. The Lady Caroline is a fish catching, buggy, and versatile traditional fly. It works especially well if your river has an October Caddis hatch. The Hoh Bo Spey is my choice for a medium sized, modern shank style steelhead fly. It’s unweighted, easy to cast, and gets bit! The Dirk Wiggler is my choice for a large profile steelhead fly. Sure, it’s my fly. But hey, it has all the features you want in a big fly: movement, profile, and it’s not bulky.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?
This is kind of boring, but the Dr. Slick Scissor Clamp is the tool that is in my hands a better part of the day. I was a clamp/nipper guy for many years, until I was introduced to the scissor clamp by a guy I guided with in Colorado. Aside from pinching barbs and cutting line, this tool is also useful for trimming your fingernails, opening a bag of chips, and cutting your flies out of the bushes.
Do you have any other passions?
I love hunting for the same reasons I do steelhead fishing. The preparation, scouting, practice, good company, and practice of hunting are what make the pursuit so worthy. I hunt with a bow and rifle, mostly big game, but also enjoy hunting ground squirrels, lizards, and Christmas trees.
To check out more from Jon Hazlett, please click here.