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What's In Your Bag? What It Takes to Go Fly Fishing With the President



Dan Vermillion’s odd-shaped carry-on bag—a five-foot tube with one bulbous end—has an irresistible magnetic pull for certain people. Strangers approach without hesitation. Some will plop down next to him and offer him a beer as if they were friends.

They know the Simms carrying case holds a fly-fishing rod and reel. “It’s actually a good way to drum up prospects,” the 47-year-old says. “People love talking about fishing.”

Mr. Vermillion is president and co-owner of Livingston, Mont.,-based Sweetwater Travel, a fly-fishing outfit he runs with his two younger brothers.

He is heading to Mongolia in May, taking a group of scientists, conservationists and fishermen along a stretch of the Eg-Uur Watershed to fish for taimen, the world’s largest river trout that can grow up to 5 feet. Mr. Vermillion has guided trips in the region for 18 years, always catch and release. They regularly bag 50-inch fish. “When you lift one up out of the water, it feels like a labrador,” he says.

Mr. Vermillion took President Barack Obama fly fishing in 2009 when the president came to Montana and leads at least four international fishing trips a year, lasting one to three weeks.

The company has river lodges in Montana, British Columbia, Alaska and the Bahamas, and also runs fishing trips in South America, New Zealand and Mongolia.

The fishing camp in Mongolia is a cluster of yurts. It takes about three days to get there. “You start out in little planes leaving Montana, get into really big planes across the ocean, and by the time you get to Mongolia, your last flight out to camp is in a helicopter,” he says. “You need small luggage.”

For the upcoming Mongolia trip, he will pack two rods, one by Sage and one by Echo.

His other carry-on is a waterproof Simms backpack, which holds his laptop, camera, satellite phone, passport and reading material, which is mostly fishing related. When he’s not guiding, Mr. Vermillion serves as chairman of the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission and on the boards of environmental organizations Trout Unlimited and Montana Land Reliance.

He also brings an iPad Mini, “because my kids love to Skype,” he says. He has an 8-year-old and twin 6-year-olds. They all fish.

In his checked duffel bag, he packs his waders, which are waterproof overalls, and a guide raincoat. Occasionally, he is submerged up to his armpits pulling a boat. “I come back most days completely soaked,” he says. “The water isn’t glacial, but it’s cold.”

He brings a new pair of wading boots every year to avoid contaminating Mongolian rivers with organisms from foreign mud stuck in old shoes.

He is loyal to Altera Alpaca socks. “We don’t do a lot of laundry out there, and I swear these socks don’t smell,” he insists.

Fingerless gloves are important. “Fly fishing is very tactile,” he says. “You need to feel the line.” His fishing gloves have a mitten flap for the cold. He also brings a pair of UV-protection gloves, by Buff.

A crucial part of fly fishing is the fly pattern, the combination of materials tied to a hook to fool a fish into taking a bite. Mr. Vermillion carries his in a little plastic briefcase. He’ll bring two or three dozen flies to Mongolia, a modest number. “It’s not like in Brazil, where you’re losing a lot of flies to the bushes or piranhas,” he says. Those trips require five-dozen flies.

Mr. Vermillion uses dyed bucktail, feathers, bunny fur and foam on single, barbless hooks. His team keeps a supply of materials at the fishing camp, because “every year there’s some new pattern that shows up that we haven’t thought of yet,” he says. In the evenings, Mr. Vermillion and his crew will often sit around the fire tying flies late into the night.

Mr. Vermillion encourages clients to take plenty of pictures, so epic catches are well-documented. One thing he doesn’t carry with him is a measuring tape, which could get in the way of a good fishing story. “I hate to be hemmed in by facts,” he jokes.

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