Ross Kessler

Ross Kessler

Years fly fishing?

47 fishing 36 fly fishing

Years guiding?

2, Many years ago

Who introduced you to fly fishing?

My father, a nonangler bought me my first fishing rod at around five years old.  It wasn't often I'd get a chance to fish but when I did the anticipation would have me organizing my tackle box, collecting bait under the rocks in the backyard, and actually waking up when it was time to get up!  In my late teens while working at a ranch in Wyoming my boss was a fly angler who encouraged me to take up the sport.  He helped me pick out my first outfit – The outfit was composed of a no-name graphite rod, reel, line, leader, and ten flies for $60!  Every night the old Cowboy Wrangler, Oscar Thompson who had lived on the ranch for over sixty years would give me directions to a new stream off the beaten path in the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming and Montana.  These waterways provided cutthroat trout more beautiful than nature intended.  In my twenties, I guided surf fishing trips on Nantucket for Paul Doyle, an old T&T pro-staffer.  His tutelage took me to the next level as a fly caster and angler. During my tenure with Paul, we fished day and night for bluefish, striped bass, Atlantic bonito, Spanish mackerel, and false albacore.  How did I have so much energy back then! 

Can you tell us a little about your home waters and the fish you pursue there?

I currently live on the Southcoast of Massachusetts on Buzzards Bay.  Saltwater fly fishing dominates my fishing here.  In addition to fly fishing spring and early summer Buzzard’s Bay also offers many bottom fishing opportunities for tautog, fluke, and seabass.  Around the middle of April migrating schoolie striped bass make their appearance  in the bay's many estuaries kicking off the season. At the end of April, the first bluefish are typically caught.  By early May the bay is alive with blitzing bass and diving terns.  Bigger migratory bass dominate my efforts from then until mid-July.  Late July or early August brings the first hardtails or mackerel species includign Atlantic bonito, Spanish mackerel, and even the occasional king mackerel.  The first week of September typically signifies the beginning of Albie, or false albacore season. In October the species begin to migrate to their wintering locations and dwindle as the days get shorter.

What's the height of the season for you? What time of year is your personal favorite?

There's no way I can pick just one favorite.  There are so many great things that fishing my home waters and other waters has to offer.  In my twenties and early thirties, it was all about me and what I could catch.  I still love a day alone on my boat or lost on a trout stream.  But, days with friends whether the fishing is red hot or slow can be rewarding.  Don't get me wrong the red-hot days are preferred! The many heights of the season include the arrivals of the many species we get on my home waters, encounters with wildlife, the smell of a trout stream in summer, A day shared with an old friend, the beauty of sunrise during the spring migration, and the fall sky at sunset. These all qualify equally as favorites and nourish my soul. 

What are your favorite travel destinations? What's on the bucket list?

I spent my late teens and early twenties in Montana. This is where I learned to fly fish high in the Beartooth Mountains for small Yellowstone cutthroat trout that are as pretty as the mountain environment that they occupy.  I typically get back there for a week or two most summers and get lost on many of the lesser-known waterways there.   In my mid-thirties I made my first trip to the Bahamas and bonefish instantly became my next crush.  I typically make it down there every year and a half and stalk bones solo in the family islands. 

What you like most about Thomas and Thomas rods? Which rods do you fish?

When I began fishing, T&T was producing the Horizon series.  This rod was a game changer. I've been fortunate to fish with several T&T Professionals and have cast many of the current rods with a number of lines. These days the Sextant, Exocett SS, and Zone dominate my salt water fishing.  I am also particularly fond of my five weight Avantt for trout as this rod is truly the Swiss Army Knife of flyrods delivering diminutive dry flies and oversized garish streamers with panache! 

What's your current go-to fly?

Shhhh! that's a secret!  Seriously though, hard-bodied shiners, Clousers,Clousers, and more Clousers mushmouths, simrams, McVay's Gotcha', blue princes, copper Johns, Adams, PMDs, and Turk’s Tarantulas, .  As a pragmatist, I’m not afraid to throw a San Juan worm or a mop fly when searching new water, especially during the coldest months of the year.  

My favorite thing about guiding is?

Any time you can help someone have a good experience is a good day.  The gamut of taking people fishing includes providing firsts, lasts and everything in between.  Some of my favorite memories include the look on a kids face while reeling in their first bluefish. Others include taking out old men and being relatively certain this will be their last fish after a lifetime in the game.  That experience usually goes unspoken but being able to share that joyous yet solemn moment is humbling to say the least. 

From an angler's point of view, what do you see as the main value of going on a guided trip?

 Local knowledge. No matter how well you know your home water when time is limited and decisions have to be made nobody knows a piece of water better than the people that spend the most time there.  Additionally, good guides are professionals.  They know more than most people can about their craft.  They spend many years learning the moods of their water and the pitfalls anglers make there.  If they make a recommendation its not usually made just to hear their own voice. 

What's your ideal lunch when on the water? What do you actually pack?

 My favorite fishing lunch is the one that’s still in my bag at the end of the day.  That means there wasn’t time to eat, and the action was so good that no one even noticed!  The one solid rule no matter how hectic a day becomes is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Becoming dehydrated causes fatigue, lack of focus, and irritability. Drink your water! 

Other than fly tackle, what piece of gear do you find indispensable?

Two things, the hemocut is an indispensable tool from bonefishing to trout fishing.  I like the medium heavy ones that Umpqu makes that most represent the original ones made by William Joseph.  The other are my Costa C-mates, or in English, sunglasses with built-in readers.  In my real life, I'm a marine biologist and I started using the reader part of C-mates to find otoliths or ear bones in fish (for age and growth) while performing field tasks during resource assessment trips.  I'm now at the age where 5x and size 16s won't happen without the help of magnification.

From an angler's point of view, what do you see as being the main value of going on a guided trip?

Guiding is a responsibility that requires a many faceted expertise. The client is paying for professional experience -  The most important aspects of a guided trip begins with providing a safe, fun, and competent experience - in that order.  All waterways experience times of good and bad fishing.  The guide should have a skill set into making the slow days better. The good days take care of themselves.  Making a positive experience out of a slow day can be accomplished by teasing out one more fish or teaching the client a new skill.  Additionally, a guide should have knowledge of their chosen waters.  Every place where land meets water possesses a fascinating geological history, physical and biological oceanography,  avian presence, and marine mammals.   Being able to identify many of those features enriches the client experience.

I take a lot of children and new anglers on the water both spin and fly fishing.  From the moment we meet until the end of the trip I try to involve my anglers into the whys and whats of every part of the day.  This begins with how to be a courteous boater at the boat ramp and why time of day, tide, and time of year affects the fishery.  As a biologist, I share how water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and metabolic needs of fish play a part in our activities.  The next aspect of providing an enriching and enjoyable experience is to match the skill set of the angler to the day.  Schoolie striped bass in the back of an estuary will typically provide a great day for a newbie, heck I still love the back bay experience.  Showing the angler some experiences outside of their skill set can also open a window into what is possible with time and practice.  

What fly fishing blogs/magazines do you read regularly?

As a marine biologist who works in a regulatory agency, I like to read a lot of the local fishing club newsletters. For instance, The Rhode Island Salt Water Angler's Association quarterly newsletter captures the perspective of local anglers, guides, fisheries issues, cooking, management, and biology.  I also love the writings of Nick Lyons, and John Gierach or anyone who captures the many aspects of fly fishing combined with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. 

When I'm not fishing you'll find me:

Thinking about fishing.... In all seriousness, I am a member of our local Lions Club and am involved with that.  As age took its inevitable toll on my body in my mid-30s I began doing yoga, lifting some weights, and running for cardio.  On the year I turned fifty I ran the New Jersey Marathon.  I even hit my target time, to the minute!  Activities like these allow me to pursue my passions that require physical exertion.