Local fly fishing legends of the past & future

Each week we will share an interview with a local fly fisherman that has done many things for the sport.


This week we highlight Rob Prytula. Trout Unlimited member, college professor, Co-host of the Tony Sanders Outdoor show Talk radio 102.3 , and one hell of a great guy.


TU640: Where did you grow up and what brought you to Tennessee?


Rob: I am a native Texan, born in Houston. My father was finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Houston. My father did his post doctorial work at Williams College in Williamston, Massachusetts, so I lived in New England for over a year. We moved back to Texas and then to Murfreesboro, after he took a faculty position at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). I grew up mostly in middle Tennessee, and then left to go to college. I met a pretty girl from Murfreesboro while finishing up my degree at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) and returned to middle Tennessee. My wife (the pretty girl from before) wanted to stay in Tennessee, so we did. I had a quick teaching career in Memphis for five years, and then we moved to Chattanooga. Since there are no trout out in west Tennessee, I enjoy having the opportunity to fish semi-locally for trout in cold water. There are also particularly good warm water opportunities too.


TU640: What was the first fish you remember catching? How old were you?


Rob: Bluegill. I was probably 3 years old. I have a photo of me and my father on that day siting on my tying desk.


TU640: At what age were you introduced to fly fishing? How did you get hooked?


Rob: I was about 8 years old. My father taught me as best as he could. I am left-handed, so there were some issues in trying to teach casting to a southpaw who was uncoordinated. We fished for trout at tailwaters around Tennessee and fly fished streams in Massachusetts and Colorado when on vacation. My Dad died when I was 13, so fishing opportunities were limited to bike trips to small creeks, normally by myself.

I really got hooked again in college. I met a graduate student while I was still an undergrad who helped me with my cast and taught me how to tie. We hiked into the Daniel Boone National Forest to fish for native Brook Trout and fished the Cumberland River quite a bit for big rainbows and browns. From then on, I was hooked. In fact, I had to choose between a Humanities course final review or catch the huge Caddis hatch on the Cumberland River. I took the “B” in the Humanities course and caught (and released) huge trout eating dry flies.


TU640: Was fishing and the outdoors a big part of your life growing up?


Rob: Yes. My father took me fishing frequently and these are some of the best memories I have. We went often as my Dad was a big angler. When I was not fishing, I was outdoors camping or hiking. I find the outdoors a place of quiet peacefulness, yet with the possibility for great excitement and adventure. In college, the outdoors was my place of quiet. A place to get away from the noise, crowds, and stress. The outdoors and streams quickly became my place to recharge and reset.


TU640: What fish is your favorite to fish for? Why?


Rob: Bluegill/Bream. Any of the “Bream, Brim, Panfish” species. If Bluegill got to be 5 lbs., they would be THE number one sportfish in America. Bream will hit a fly like it owes them money. They fight hard, and if you match your tackle to them, you can have a lot of fun. It would also probably be unsafe to swim or wade due to their aggressive nature if they got to that size.

The coloration on Bluegill, Redbreasts and especially Long Eared Sunfish are amazing. Some fish look like they belong in a Tiffany’s jewel case. Some could easily be shown in an art museum due to their colors. I love wading warm-water streams catching the gem colored beauties. I did it a lot as a kid and through college. I still love it to this day.


TU640: Who are your biggest influences in fly fishing and conservation?


Rob: Lee Wulff and Dave Whitlock. Lee Wulff pioneered the idea of catch and release. He was a good tyer and was an excellent ambassador for fly fishing.

Dave Whitlock is an outstanding tyer and artist. Dave’s innovative fly patterns are now standard in most fly boxes all over the world. He lends his artistic skill to books and articles and encourages catch and release and conservation of waters.


TU640: How important is it to teach the next generation about conservation?


Rob: Extremely important! If we lead by example, conserving streams for future generations, maybe that trend will continue. If we can show the next generation that you can have great fun outdoors or on the stream or river, then they will want to go back. When thy go back, you can explain the importance of conservation and restoration so they will continue to be able to enjoy the experience for themselves and future generations.


TU640: You're very active in the protection of our rivers and wildlife, can you tell us about your conservation efforts over the years? What was the most important to you?


Rob: I mainly focus on youth. I guess it stems naturally from my teaching genetics. I have worked with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in teaching casting, fly tying and environmental science. When I tie at community events, the kids are most fascinated by the flies and especially the tying materials. Believe it or not, I can tie and talk at the same time, so I explain about what each animal, bird, or material I am using. I let them inspect and touch the material. They are normally fascinated by the fur and feathers. I then tell them where I am going to use the fly and what I intend to catch. I then tell them that we need to protect the waters so they can go fishing too.

I have worked with TWRA at many youth events. Youth hunts, fishing rodeos and other events, so I try to set a good example for impressionable youth by practicing conservation and restoration. I always try to find a piece of trash to take out to set an example and start a conversation of what a “real angler/outdoorsman” should do. Real sportsmen help the environment.


TU640: What's one thing every fly fisherman should know?


Rob: First aid. Always helpful. Particularly for hook removal. Also handy for poison plant contact and snake bite.


TU640: You are considered one of the premier fly tyers out there, can you tell us some of the honors you have received?


Rob: I was named “Fly Tyer of the Year” for the Mid-South Fly Fishers in 2003 and 2007. I was also named “Man of the Year” in 2004.

I was nominated for the “Fly Tyer of the Year” for the Southern Council of Fly Fishers International in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Although never winning, it was an honor to be nominated with other great tyers from all over the eleven-state council.

I was nominated for the “Fly Tyer of the Year” by the Southeastern Council of Fly Fishers International in 2009. Again, it was an honor to be nominated from the seven-state council.

I have had a fly pattern in ‘Homewaters’, published in 2007. I also had four chapters in the book as well.


TU640: Name one thing that no one knows about you.


Rob: I attended clown college. A full on, weeklong, clown college. Yes, I also graduated.

Pet peeve: wet socks


TU640: If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?


Rob: Do not worry so much. Relax and have fun.


TU640: What is your favorite river to fish and why?


Rob: Tough one. I am going to say Buffalo River in Arkansas for big smallmouth and feisty bream.


TU640: What is your favorite memory of fly fishing and why?


Rob: Probably when I first started really fly fishing. I remember in 1993, I was really getting good at tying flies. So, I set a goal that year of catching a Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout on flies that I tied. I swung some woolly buggers for Rainbows and Brown Trout in the Cumberland River with no problems. Getting the Brook trout was a real task.

I went fishing probably six or eight times, following blue lines on a map through the Daniel Boone National Forest with little success. Either no fish, or the stream got so chocked with Rhododendron, it was unfishable.

In May, I went with a friend who said he knew of a pool below a waterfall, but it was a hike. About seven miles later, up a small creek we came to the waterfall. He told me to get down and get low to approach the stream. I had to belly crawl up to the edge of the water.

I had tied on a black Caddis and tossed it into the water. Not two seconds later, I had a big strike on the fly. I set the hook and pulled up a wild Brook Trout on a fly I had tied. So that year, I managed to catch three species of trout, on my own flies in one year.


TU640: If you could fish anywhere in the world where would it be and why?


Rob: Kharlovka River in Murmansk, Russia for two reasons.

One, huge Salmon. Consistently huge Salmon. Big Salmon.

Two, I have a lot of Russian, eastern European and some Scandinavian DNA. I know the name “Prytula” has been anglicized from Ukrainian and I would like to see where my ancestors came from and catch big Salmon at the same time.


TU640: You are also an avid hunter, what is your favorite species to hunt?


Rob: Waterfowl. I love Sandhill Crane hunting. Not only are they very tasty, they have a lot of great tying feathers.

Turkey are a very close second.


TU640: You are co-host of the Tony Sanders outdoors show, how did the show start, how long have you been doing it, and what's it like having to work with Tony?


Rob: Tony started the show in 2005. I was one of his very first guests on the show. He started in April and asked if I could come in the first week of May. The show being on Saturday mornings, it coincided with my college’s graduation. Tony asked me for a resume to read on the air and I sent him the academic equivalent, a curriculum vitae.

Tony started the show by introducing me, and began to read my C.V. He started by saying I was an Associate Professor of… (quickly looking at all the courses I teach, mostly Technology and Engineering classes) and then stated; “He is a Trout Professor!”

Already being downtown and having to be at graduation shortly after Tony Sanders Outdoors, I came in a suit and had my mortarboard, gown, and hood in the car. We took a few pictures of me in full graduation regalia for his website.

The next year he ironically called again to re-interview me on graduation Saturday. It then became tradition for the third year.

I was asked to guest host on a few occasions while Tony was out of town during the next few years and was asked to be his co-host full time in 2010.

Working with Tony is great. He has had a great impact on me. I came from writing multiple articles for magazines, newspapers, and books, and he brought me into radio journalism. It has been a learning curve, but Tony has always been supportive in all my radio efforts.

We complement each other. Tony is Type B, really laid back, easy going, and fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to radio. I am Type A in most aspects of my life. I have a written script, plan of order, facts, data, figures, an expect to go in order. Tony has caused me to become more laid back and easy going which has really helped, not only with radio. We also complement each other by Tony knowing a lot about guns, hunting and the TWRA, while I bring in angling, tackle, and flies. I also bring an uncanny knowledge of useless facts and bad jokes.


TU640: How long have you been a college professor and what made you decide that as your profession?


Rob: I have been teaching college for 20 years.

I did not really train or decide on this vocation, in fact I was opposed to it at first, but I fell into it. My Dad was a college professor, my great-aunt was a college teacher, I had several other distant cousins that were also educators. Being a junior, I always heard I would be a great teacher like my father someday. In college I majored in Technology and Engineering, not education.

My first job out of college was as a Tennessee State Fire Marshal. I was assigned to the Administration Division, where one of my duties was to go into school systems to teach fire safety. I presented and helped others present safety programs to children. Teachers at the schools found my presentations to be highly informative and entertaining. They would ask where I got my degree in Education.

I was then recruited by a college to become a faculty member of their Technology Department. I interviewed and was made an Instructor. After a few years, I was awarded Assistant Professor and named Department Chair.

I found another college (Chattanooga State) was looking for a Department Chair and I applied and got the faculty position. There I have been awarded tenure and the rank of Associate Professor.

Never really training for education, I guess it just comes genetically. I love teaching and wish I would have listened and gotten into it earlier. I love teaching college, but I think I could also be a good role model for youth in the elementary system.


TU640: Outside of all we discussed, what are some of your other passions and what do you enjoy about them?


Rob: I love cooking. I am decent and still perfecting some dishes. I have really upped my cooking game in the last two years. I am doing more with sauces, like a cream dill for fish and reductions for other meats. I make really good Red Beans and Rice, to which I always add a lot of Andouille sausage. A great Aglio e Olio pasta, and a killer scratch Spaghetti sauce with spicy Italian sausage and red wine. I have been venturing out during the quarantine to try new dishes and recipes. I am working on more seafood recipes right now, trying to perfect a few at a time.


TU640: And last how do you want to be remembered?


Rob: A dedicated husband, a good fly tyer, an average fly fisher, slightly above average Professor, decent radio journalist, generally a nice guy, very funny, with an uncanny knowledge of obscure facts and information, and a good friend.


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