Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You're Doing It Wrong

You're doing it wrong (clip).There, I said it.  Deal with it.  Get over it and catch some fish.

You're fishing too close to the access.

You're learning to cast while learning to fish.

You're too concerned with "pretty casting".

You're trying to teach your spouse/significant other to fly fish instead of gifting them a lesson.

You're spending too much money on gear and not enough on fishing.

You're not spending enough money on gear.

You're stuck on the same tired methodology and won't experiment.

You don't take enough pictures.

You don't cover enough water.

You don't cover water thoroughly enough.

You're afraid of the woods.

You're afraid of the animals.

You're afraid of the dark.

You're afraid to get into fly tying.

You won't hire a guide.

You won't take a class.

You don't change your flies often enough.

You haven't tried streamers.

You don't fish big enough streamers.

You don't plan well enough.

You haven't tried a new river.

You won't fish for new species.

You haven't tried it in a new province or state.

You haven't taken a kid fishing.

You complain about the DNR instead of pitching in and helping.

You don't get involved.

You've forgotten that fishing is supposed to be fun and not an extension of the petty and competitive society we live in.

You're not fishing right now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Croff Craft Chronicles- First Iteration

 In my last "Outdoor Profile" post I had mentioned we would be following the building of the next wood drift boat over at Croff Craft, and so it begins.  Being the early stages of the build, you can just see a vague outline of the boat, a curved wood floor with the bow stem in place, but already it's promising.  All cedar construction which finished will make for a stunning look. 

Phil has some custom  touches in store that are going to be absolutely beautiful, which I can't wait to show.  I'm going to end this series with a photo montage of this boat from start to finish.  The initial stages were proprietary- no cameras allowed, so this is where we start- the floor with the bow stem in place.  The side panels will be added soon and it will really start to take shape.  I may do several posts a week, as this boat is going to come together fast.

To the right are the chair frames. This is a three seat boat.  The seats are rope and Phil has some innovations of his own with these- he uses a rather fine rope finely spaced and stretched tightly.  The result is an extremely comfortable seat with no pressure points.  Can you say "all day comfort"?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee with Cardboard Kirk

no cardboard cutouts were scalded in the making of this post
 Ewwwawwwwhhhhuyghgh!!!  Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat....Man o man, is it Monday again already?  Let's have some coffee.  As you can see, I have some company- Kirk Werner in cardboard form.  We're drinking some Cafe Bustelo- a blast from my NYC days.  I didn't want to take a chance on French press, those Seattle folks need their espresso.  Cardboard Kirk is on a tour of the country or who knows, maybe the world, before heading back to good old Seattle.  He hasn't told me his full itinerary, but to be fair I haven't told him the itinerary here either.  He went fishing for steelhead with Rebecca Garlock of the "Outdooress" blog and the River Damsel out in Idaho.  He then came here.  He says that he traveled comfortably, if a little cramped.  The cup is always half empty and half full for Seattle-ites.  (Kirk wrote about his trip with the Outdooress and the River Damsel here.)

It's very hard to get a Pacific Northwesterner like Cardboard Kirk to come fish the Great Lakes region.  They, after all, live in the original home of the steelhead and salmon that eventually found their way here, and they have that stunning scenery as a backdrop.  The funny part is that both the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest have similar histories rooted in mining and logging.  So similar in fact, that a lot of the immigrant workers who came to Michigan to work in the lumber camps later moved on to Washington and Oregon when the timber played out here.  I'd like to think we made a fair exchange- we sent them some of our people, and they sent some of their fish.  Both stayed and flourished in their respective new environs.

We're in a bit of a cold snap right now, which has really suppressed the fishing at the moment, but Cardboard Kirk says he doesn't mind hanging out for a couple of weeks, so I'm going to show him some of the sights, take him on a few excursions, and hopefully catch him some fish.  I've settled him in the guest room and we're going to sit around
Kirk tucked into the guest room
 the campfire (not too close) and tell stories and I'm going to show him a few fly patterns.  I'm really looking forward to showing off my corner of the world- we may not have those high mountains, but the northern Great Lakes region definitely has its own beauty and charm- drama even.

This week I'll do the first installment on the new drift boat being built over at Croff Craft, I have a brief post on common mistakes I see on the rivers (including ones I've made myself), and Friday, being April first, I'll continue my Angler's Year series.  So hang with me here, it's going to be a great week.

Congratulations to Brian Kozminski on winning last weeks giveaway- a mixed dozen steelhead flies.  Look for the next giveaway next week starting Wednesday April 6th.  I may have to break down and make it a half dozen streamers.  Why not, I need some help testing them.

All right, coffee is done, and Kirk is going to mind the office while I go to work- let's get after it!

P.S.  I overheard some grumbling from downstairs last night about the fact Rebecca is on Andros Island after bonefish while he's here in frosty Michigan.  He'll change his tune once we get into some fish.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brian Kozminski- the Latest Fly Giveaway Winner

That's right, this weeks fly giveaway winner is Brian Kozminski, which should save me a stamp.  Congratulations Brian.  I hope they bring you steelhead success.   These are all great spring patterns that the fish go nuts on.  If you catch fish I demand pictures.

I must confess, I had company over for dinner and so was unable to use Lorin the Drawing Girl for tonights drawing- my apologies to her.  I took the easy route and used a Random Number Generator from the comfort of my own home.  I'll try to make an event out of a drawing soon.  Speaking of which, the next drawing will be for streamers and will start on Wednesday April 6, so look for it.  Thank you all for your participation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some Goals

It's good to have goals.  Humankind is the only creature on this planet to have the ability to set them, so we'd better get to it.  We're often afraid to set goals for ourselves, other than on January first, and usually we don't act on them, which means they were nothing more than well meant whimsy.  I have a few goals for my lifetime and for this year.  I think I'll just cover this year for now.  Let me see....

Fish five different UP streams this year.

Find and fish new water close to home.

Kayak the Carp river in the UP from its headwaters in Trout Lake all the way to the mouth.

Catch a 25" brown on a streamer.

Land a 15" brookie on a fly during the day.  I keep losing them.

Strip streamers for pike and muskie- I'm surrounded by trophy lakes, so why not?

Catch a carp on a fly.

Get some quality long range glass for my camera so I can better highlight the wildlife I'm surrounded by.

Finally go fish the Nipigon River, after 8 years of musing and fruitless planning.

Break the spey barrier.

Finally go hit those Sturgeon Bay smallmouth with some leeches.

Surf cast Lake Michigan for salmonids.

Attend the OBN Rendezvous.

Now, there are goals, and there are goals.  Some are relatively easy to reach, such as surf-casting for salmonids- Lake Michigan is 15 minutes from my front door and I know a few good spots, so why haven't I done it yet?  I'm working on some light weight, long distance shiner and smelt patterns.  Carp?  I'll go to The Northern Angler's carp derby May 21.  Look for the shirt.
Other goals require some cooperation on the part of fish- land a 25 inch brown?  I hooked up or had several chase last year in that size range, but no love.  Likewise on the brookies; I lost several 15-16 inch fish last year.  Why can't I ever seem to land them things?

Some goals are dreams spoken out loud- fishing Nipigon, or getting into spey.  Nipigon has been a long-term goal and spey is something I've known that I'll get into since I first watched someone demonstrating it on Youtube six years ago.  It's time for that Nipigon trip to finally happen- I'm tired of waiting, tired of other things coming up, getting in the way.  In case you couldn't tell, I'm a brook trout fiend, and Nipigon is brook trout Valhalla- the home of brook trout so big and mean they wear the horned helmets.  Home of the world record 14 POUND brook trout.  To this day they still average over 20 inches and 3-5 pounds, with 7-9 pounders available in a steady week of fishing.  Nipigon is only about an 8 hour drive from my house, so if the right elements come together, all I have to do is load the truck and go.  Sounds like a plan.
The OBN Rendezvous?  That will require some planning and a whole lot of elements coming together-  I'm self-employed for one, and so I don't get paid until the job is done, meaning that if weather and work flow go against me it ain't happening.  If I'm going that far I'd want to be sure I can visit my friends in Denver and outside Telluride, which would take some coordination.

That's not too difficult of a list, and if I connect on 80% of it I'll be happy.  To me, the main thing is to have an outline and a plan, work to make sure that some of it happens, but not be so focused on it that my outdoor activities lose the spontanaity that I love.  So here's to some good goals.  I'd better get cracking.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Giveaway Wednesday- Feed Your Local Steelhead

Well, the annual spring snow storm is raging outside this morning, and while this may seem bad for you, it's good for one reason- steelhead.  That's right, our chrome friends love this kind of weather and ride it like a rented mule.  Since they are being so kind as to come visit, I think we should show them some Trout Country hospitality and rustle up some grub. 
 This weeks giveaway is one dozen flies that Madame Chrome loves as an appetizer.  In the mix we have some sac fry, egg-sucking buggers, some bead head eggs, and fire butts.  Sure to tickle the palate and make them dance a jig for you.  Now again- I'm no Mike Schmidt, but I do catch fish on these. Nothing fancy to enter- just leave a comment below and I'll do a drawing on Sunday March 27.  Lorin the Drawing Girl will do the honors.  Entry period ends at 7 PM.  As always, I'm a little soft in the head and will probably throw in a few extra flies.

Coming soon- I need help testing some streamers.

mmmm...sac fry

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Outdoor Profile: Phil Croff of Croff Craft

I've known Phil most of my life, but up until two years ago I never knew he fly fished.  Since then I've spent more time in a boat with Phil than I think I have on dry land.  We've become fast friends and usually fish together at least a couple of times a week.  Phil has created what I believe is the start of a legend- his boat, the CC Drifter and his custom wood drift boat company Croff Craft.
leaning into some winter steel

Phil and I both grew up here in Trout Country.  We grew up in self-sufficient families, in a community of tradesmen working in construction.  It turns out that if you apply yourself at carpentry you can build more than just kitchen cabinets.

Before I go there, let me hand out the credits.  My grandfather taught me the rudimentary elements of fly fishing.  My friend Tim got me to start branching out, learning more, and buying better gear.  I'd have to say it was Phil who got me in this far.  Why do I tie flies?  Phil's fault.  Why did I start chasing steelhead and salmon on the fly?  Phil's fault.  Streamer mania? Blame Phil.  Whole rack of rods and pile of reels?  Thanks Phil.  Teaching me to row?  I hate you Phil.
Phil giving chase to an angry king
this was an epic trip
 I don't know how I seem to gather these types of friends, but with Phil it's always some sort of arduous adventure.  Long days in the snow, all-nighters in which we pull up to the take-out during sunrise, shooting miles of rapids in the dark because we misjudged the length of the float, last minute phone calls to go anywhere all day or all night, badgering me into blowing off work to spend days on some fly fishing grail quest. For a one week camping trip he built a cart for his boat and we wheeled it down some forest paths, then roped it down this ridiculous hill, almost killing ourselves or losing the boat several times in the process, all to camp in the one spot Phil thought was perfect- and it was.  We did this every day for a week.
Phil is what I'd call a stand-up guy.  He was cut from some mold that got thrown out awhile ago.  He's a skilled tradesman, hard working, honest to a fault, a great angler and boat builder.  He lives by a code of honor that most people have written off as impractical.  He and his wife Trude have fed me more chow (who knew that bread and salad could be an event? I may have to dedicate a post to Trude's cooking) over the last two years than I should probably admit.  The last couple of years have been personally tumultuous for me, and in large part it has been Phil and Trude's hospitality and friendship that have gotten me by.  That, and lots of time spent on the water.  By the way, Trude is a great angler, and a local artist whose paintings are much sought after.  There's a link on the sidebar.

So what do you do if you fish small streams, want a drift boat to navigate them by, and don't like any of the boats being offered by the major manufacturers?  If you're Phil you build your own.  I want to stress a couple of things here.  Phil had never built a boat before.  He had never designed a boat before.  He designed the first one in his head, did a rough sketch on his garage wall, which I hope he'll cut out and frame, and then he built the perfect boat.  Perfect- balanced, lightweight, strong, shallow draft.  In the first take.  Are you kidding me?  I'm sharing some pictures here so that you can see the lines, the attention to detail.  I've been in love with his boats since I first stepped in one, and having rowed several other manufacturers boats since, can tell you that his are still my favorite.
the CC Drifter

Here's a piece of news so exciting I have to pinch myself to be sure it's real.  Phil has agreed to let me- and you, follow along as he builds his latest boat.  I'm going to do a brief weekly post highlighting progress on this boat, and you the faithful readers will be able to watch it unfold.  If you have questions and want to contact Phil you can click here or on the link to his site to the right.  We fish his boats HARD and Phil is always coming up with design improvements, so it will be very interesting to see the next evolution.  The existing boats are very well thought out, with built in rod tubes, lots of dry storage, comfortable seats and casting stanchions.  His anchor stanchions are a piece of engineering to marvel at all on their own.  Oh yeah, and Phil builds his own oars too.

So I'm hoping that you wood boat enthusiasts will tune in each week to see the progress of this latest boat.  I'll post it every Tuesday, unless there's nothing to post, but knowing Phil, he'll keep it interesting for us.  This will give you a unique inside look into the making of a piece of working art.

One last shot, I can't resist:
the CC Drifter in action

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee March 21

Aaaawwhhhhgggghhhhuh!  Is that even a sound?  because I just made it.  Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat.... coffee is almost done.  Man does that smell good.  Did I tell you how good this french press stuff is?  I start each day weeping with joy.  Here, have a cup.  You might as well take a seat while you're at it, I've got a couple of things to go over.

First, I've been writing, editing and posting at a torrid pace and having a blast doing it.  I've done this for a reason- I have a day job and my busy season is coming. So, while I'm going to strive to keep the quality high (is the quality high?) the pace will of necessity slow.  I have some fun projects for this blog coming up and hope to expand what I do, but the lights have to stay on as well.

Congratulations to Owl Jones on winning yesterdays giveaway- a granite pedestal base for your fly tying vise from The Granite Fly.  For those of you who didn't win- buy one if you're able.  Andy is a a good guy and deserves your support, and my base has really made that big of a difference in my tying experience.  'Nuff said.

I've decided the fly giveaways are going to be a regular thing- I'll run one at least every other Wednesday starting this week.  Tell your friends.  I'm going to give away a mixed steelhead bag this week since it's still steelhead season, but look for soft hackles, skunks, streamers, and maybe even some warm water/bass/carp bugs.  I'll try to perfect some hexes in time for the hex hatch.

I've added a couple of new links and would like to highlight those briefly.  I met Mike Davis of Life on the Fly Outfitters at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo.
I had been on his website before, but it was really nice to meet such an enthusiastic and nice young guy.  You can tell he really loves his work and cares about his business.  If you've ever dreamed of taking that trip to Chile, the Amazon, or even the American West, go check out his website and dream some more.  Or better still, book a trip.  I'm going to get Mike up here to Trout Country soon and show him we have a destination of note right here.  He says he's going to get me out to Wisconsin's driftless area, so I'll have to tie up some cheese ball imitations for that.  That's a Cheesehead joke if you didn't catch it.  Come on Wisconsin, let's rumble.

Next, I've added a link to the music website electronssmashprotons.  Music for me is an integral part of fly fishing, and it takes a great variety to cover all the nuances and moods.  I NEVER take my ipod on the river- sacrilege- but I do a lot of driving to get to streams and my music sets the ambiance. electronssmashprotons is the work of one of my best friends, it is all instrumental except for some spoken word, and is what I would call "intelligent" post prog rock, and ranges from hauntingly beautiful cello themed pieces, to artfully done progressive work.  His songs typically start with bold percussion and build sonic layers into a soundscape that works the imagination and emotions.  If you need some music to read this blog by, open a tab, get a song going, and come back here and read a post.  If you like the notion of supporting indie rock artists here's your chance- ESP is the kind of artist you should be supporting, the kind made possible by the internet era- the same thing that has made Fontinalis Rising possible.  My personal favorite piece is "Good Morning Winter".  Share and enjoy!

Blog Love- did I steal that phrase from Troutrageous!?  Probably, but it works so well.  This goes out to Ben Smith of Arizona Wanderings.
 I really love his blog for a variety of reasons, starting with his banner- it has a look that says  Old Arizona, like so many of those dessicated signs you find on the back roads out there.  Secondly, I love the Grand Canyon state, even though the Grand Canyon is the one place I haven't been.  Now that my family and friends are leaving the great AZ, I'm hoping that by reading Ben's blog I'll be able to keep in touch with a very special place.  Ben's writing is excellent, his posts and reports are spot-on, and Ben, like me, loves the San Juan River.  What I love about Arizona, and AZ Wanderings, is that no one thinks of it as a fly fishing destination.  I hope this stays true, as every time I go I find new amazing water that doesn't seem to have anyone on it.

I'll have to do an actual fishing post soon.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Owl Jones Takes the Base!

That's right, the ubiquitous Owl Jones has won the granite tying base of his choice from The Granite Fly.  Congratulations to you.  We'll be expecting a review on this soon.  We didn't have the bingo ball device, so Lorin the Drawing Girl helped me find a random number generator online- those things are reliable right? right??  So, Mr Jones, please contact me at with your address and we'll get that right out to you. 
Look for another fly drawing this week, along with a stellar (I think) line-up of new posts.  I'll see you over coffee in the morning.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Ravens I Know

 I don't bow hunt for meat anymore.  I don't hunt for antlers. I don't hunt for the solitude.  I hunt for the ravens.  I sit there in my tree, alone, shivering, waiting, knowing they'll come, the creeping daylight revealing the snow salted leaves, the grayness fading between gray trunks, the snow stark against the crisp cut edges of the leaves.  They swoop in, fleeting black shadows, speaking in low clicks and hoarse croaks.  I wonder where they spent the night, in the top of some tree, high on a  ridge, muttering to themselves against the cold and dark.

Only the raven knows this, his blackness cloaks his roosting.  I wonder about his morning meal- I'm certain he knew right where it was when the gray light lifted and he first shook out his shaggy feathers.

Ravens are my constant hunting companions; I am continually within earshot of their coarse banter as they swiftly wing overhead to some distant feast.  They frequently loiter , constantly calling and I wonder- are they talking to themselves?  Are they telling all the forest my position?  I doubt this, for above all creatures, the raven knows why I am here.  His croaks are celebratory, keen in anticipation of a warm gut pile, the cast off parts of an unwary doe.  Ravens do not see struggle or disease or death, only opportunity.  Fall for them is the fat time, three square a day, then back to their idle wheeling and groaning, their incessant jabber, their mocking and teasing.

I identify with Ravens- their intelligence, the way they banter and joust.  They are gregarious, but never found in large mobs like crows. They are busy, without ever seeming to accomplish anything.   They have one of the largest vocabularies for birds; they can even be taught to talk.  They live long.  They may be the last thing that all forest creatures ever see, yet no one knows where ravens go when they die.

Ravens are always a surprising bird.  They have one of the greatest ranges of body size in the bird world- I have seen them as big as eagles but shaggier.  They can trick you- I have found myself laughing out loud in the forest as they pass overhead, seeming to make up new sounds with which to entertain themselves.

My ravens are not your ravens and certainly not Edgar Poe's.  Poe's ravens were only grim harbingers of death and decay. Your ravens are dark shapes winging across the horizon, and you ask "Is that a hawk?".  My ravens are giddily happy and carefree, incredibly social, infinitely wild.  I live at the southern boundary of their range in the eastern United States, but they are not rare.  They hang out in noisy gangs, forever squabbling and pestering, always friendly.  On trips to Colorado, Utah and Western Ontario ravens were my connection to home, as if ambassadors had been sent to say "You are welcome here as well."  It was their constant presence that made me feel at ease and deal with my loneliness for home and friends and my daughter.

Do I sometimes wish I were a raven? No, and I'm not one of those people who believes in other lives.  I believe I share the same fantasy that all must sometimes imagine- that of sprouting wings, soaring, of being able to understand the language of birds, understanding the air currents, feeling the atmospheric pressure, to sense the earths magnetism.  We all want to experience flying in that purest of forms, not in the clodding manner of mechanized flight.  We want to feel our muscles stretch, to raise great wings in salute to the sky, and like ravens- fly.  Ravens do this every day and the more I observe them, I know that they, of all creatures, comprehend, their lives a celebration of  a privilege uniquely theirs.  Ravens celebrate this in style.  Their days are so idle, their lives so uncomplicated that they spend long periods playing at flight, chasing each other, swooping, diving, barrel rolling in aerobatics so astounding as to shame any ace pilot in a daily exercise that can stem only from joy, all the while carrying on  incessant conversation as if to say "Look at me, look at what I can do".

No, my ravens are not gruesome or morbid.  The ravens I know are my friends, my daily companions- the essence of that wild spirit that speaks to my soul, calling me outdoors to play.

For Mandy

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So There I Was.....

a bad place to be lost at night

....walking out of the headwaters of a favorite stream, alone in the evening, when suddenly I hear the sound of a rotten log being ripped apart, like thick organic cloth tearing, raising my pulse, my eyes straining into the dusk and forest to see what's out there.

....up to my neck in the Two Hearted river, my rod and pack held high over my head, the soft sugar sand bottom sucking me down calf-deep, miles down a remote road that no one has traveled in months, struggling against the steady push of the current that seems to whisper one word to me, "Surrender".

....up to my waist in snow, bow in hand, 15 years old, the light crespuscular, my throat tightening, sweat pouring off my brow even as I'm getting colder and then, that sick feeling as I walk up on the only thing I recognize in this thick swamp- my own tracks.

.... lost, stem climbing down between two massive house-sized boulders, in the pitch midnight dark, the sound of my brothers ragged breathing behind me, my own heart pounding in the desert stillness, groping my way down looking for a way out, when suddenly the bottom opens up, I still can't see the ground and I know- the only way out is to go back up.

.... standing on Route 99- the Kamehameha Highway, in my suit, listening to the ridiculous blabbering of the woman who struck me, my rental car totaled, on the far side of Oahu from where I need to be- in Honolulu, in court.

....walking back through Alphabet City, after taking a friend visiting from Finland to the place she's staying- what is an out-of-towner doing staying here?- past the drunks and skells, a man in dreads shouting insanely, the streets full of the young, the pierced, the tattooed, the fringes of even New York life.  We walk up behind a young woman, obviously high, and she turns around, puts her arms around my friend and in a dreamy voice says "Hi" and attempts to kiss him.

...sitting in the snow, my friends out of sight, my call silent.  Turning my head I meet the steady, yellow-eyed gaze of the bobcat, his great ruffed head twenty feet away, searching for the dying rabbit that he'd come to finish off, trying to figure out what this large camouflaged object is staring back.

....sitting in the delivery room, Long Island College Hospital, holding my newborn daughter as she calmly stared into my eyes.  I believe we made a connection, then and there in the noise and bustle and smell, as the doctors worked frantically to save my wife.

....high on this ridiculous talus slope, Keith out of sight below, my leg throbbing in pain, threatening to buckle with every step, my other friends already gone back down to retrieve my pack.  The altimeter on my GPS reads 10,800 feet.  Another rock clatters down the avalanche chute I'm about to cross in the fading light.

....on a paddle boat on the Elbe river in Dresden, Germany, sipping a hefewiezen redolent of green apples and spice, having just reviewed the horror of the Allied carpet bombing and fire-storm, the legacy of war tattooed on the pocked and cratered walls of the museum, and thinking too myself "Travel does not get better than this.".

....hanging on desperately to my climbing tree stand, the platform cable- the one that holds it to the tree- hanging limply, kicked out of its bracket; I'm struggling desperately to hoist myself up into the seat from below in a futile effort, the terrible realization dawning that I'll be hanging here 35 feet up and it will be at least 8 hours before anyone realizes I'm missing.

....on my belly in the apropriately named Billy's Belly Crawl, Sloan cave system, central Kentucky.  I've had my helmet off for the last 150 feet, head turned sideways, my back touching the roof of the cave with each breath, fighting the rising bile and tension, straining to keep my breathing steady and calm.  The guy in front of me has had it- the hours of darkness, four miles of walking, crawling, climbing and constant contortion, the bats, the cold humidity itself claustrophobic.  He stops moving, his breath coming faster, and he starts backing up, kicking me in the head twice.  I grab him and we start The Conversation.

....half a mile off shore in my kayak, a shotgun shoved down between my legs.  It was calm when I paddled the three miles up here, but now, with the red orb of the sun touching the horizon, Lake Michigan has come up.  I've paddled out this far to get past the breakers that threaten to swamp me, and the shotgun sticks up awkwardly, making me feel unstable.  I take another wave over the bow (why didn't I bring my spray skirt?!!), adding more water to the cockpit, and the boat starts to slowly rock.  I paddle towards the landing, still off-shore, my eyes and ears straining in the gathering dusk to find a hole in the gauntlet of waves.

....alone in the darkness with the sounds of the stream, my largest brown trout ever brought to hand after a tremendous battle, and I realize I've come full circle- I've caught this, my best fish ever in the same hole where I learned to trout fish 30 plus years ago, and within 150 feet of the place I caught my first trout on a fly.  One of my most sublime moments ever.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee March 14

Phhhhnnnuuuuggghh....what happened?  Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat..... where did this David Ruimveld mouse pad with a brook trout on it come from?'s coming back...the drive, this big place full of people talking about fishing, Henry's wild tales, something about the worlds most expensive dubbing at Saks in Somerset, and Irish jigs at Conor O'neills.  I need some coffee, and so do you.  Have a sip.  Did I mention how good this french press stuff is?  I'll give you a minute.  Good?

Whewwww!!!, what a wild weekend at the 2011 Midwest Fly Fishing Expo.  Who knew that the fly fishing community were such hard partiers?  Kidding- I had a long list of friends to visit and get caught up with, and I didn't hardly get to see them all- next time.  I have a lot of exciting news, products and people to share with you, which I will dribble out over the next few weeks so as not to do one of my characteristic loooonngg posts.

I've decided that Monday Morning Coffee is a weekly feature, as it got such a positive response last week, and it allows me to address various odds n ends.  Such as...

Will the real fly give-away contest winner please step forward:  That's right, Shane, commenter #11, who won the egg fly give-away still hasn't contacted me, and I'm unable to contact him through his comment profile.  I've already sent his flies to The River Damsel (I know how to get in good with the ladies), but I'll tie more if he gets in touch with me.  It's

Fly tyers- I'm still running a contest to give away a granite pedestal base from The Granite Fly, so don't miss your chance to enter.  Story and details are in the Outdoor Profile post.

I'm very pleased with the modest success of this blog- thank you all by the way, for tuning in.  I'm starting to get a little cocky though, and now I have demands.

I want two widgets to add to my blog, and I need your help finding them.  The first is a jealousy counter- that's right, something that only I can click that will tally the number of times I've gone fishing this year, so that all you city-bound office types can seethe with jealous rage as you watch that number tick upwards on a daily basis while you wait for your one week off, IF your spouse doesn't "accidentally" remove your rod and waders from the car as you're leaving.  There'll be free FR stickers in it for the person who hooks me up.

FR makes the save
The second widget I want has to do with my love of hockey, and yes, I am a Red Wings fan.  Now, I know that the Wings dropped out early in the play-offs last year, but so would any team who's played that much hockey over the last several years.  They've played an extra two months of hockey for years while your team is playing golf, so there.  So what I want is a widget that tracks their progress- their standings, playoff position, last score and next game.  I particularly want this out there to taunt my Vancouver, L.A. and San Jose friends-  I'll wager that San Jose is back to its old ways- stellar season, sucky playoff run.  Vancouver has been on a tear this year, but can they really keep it up?  With all the Wings key players healthy and looking sharp, I'd call it curtains on Luongo and Co.  Should be a great spring! Again, free FR Stickers to whoever hooks me up with this widget.

Lastly, I'm looking for a patron- that's right, someone who will pay all my bills and thus allow me to do nothing but write and go fishing do "research".  I'm not high maintenance, and there will be no wrecked hotel rooms/run-ins with the law/Charlie Sheenesque adventures or rants.  I just have some really good stories in the pipeline that are going to take six months at the current rate of burn.  So, if you're out there, are a sucker philanthropist/supporter-of-the-arts (I use this term loosely), then you know how to get a-hold of me.  Oh yeah- there's stickers in it for you as well.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to the Show!

Astounding, truly astounding.  What a tremendous show.   I have indeed spent the entire day at the 2011 Midwest Fly Fishing Expo.  What a zoo.  There's waaaay too much to relate; long story short is that my T-shirts didn't come in and I totally gave up on any notion of live blogging.  I talked to people from the moment I walked in when it got started, and didn't stop until I walked out at the end of the day.  I'm just going to share some pics to give you an idea of what the what was and I'll clean up the mess later.

Derek DeYoung doing his thing
and how can you not include a DeYoung piece?

Matt Zudweg and his wares

The legendary Brian O'keefe of Catch Magazine

Becca Schlaff and her art

Brad Petzke put on an excellent presentation on UP fishing

Mike Davis has me thinking about Chile...
And Mike Schmidt is working on the flies to take.

Al Ritt of Peak Fishing on my fav vise
Chris Soule sells me on MFC- time to get the catalog

TFM was well represented
Kyle Hartman working the booth for BBT

Tommy Lynch with Hawkins Outfitting
Had a nice conversation with Scott Raymond Smith

Patrick Ertel with Huron Pines explains how rivers work

Highlights?  Star power (for me) had to go to Derek DeYoung or Brian O'keefe- I'm a huge Catch Mag fan.  Becca Schlaffs art is beautiful and definitely deserves another look.  Truly great to meet legendary tyer Mike Schmidt- it was really hard not to grab one of his streamer boxes and run for the exit.  It was great to hear Brad Petzke and Bear Andrews talk about their respective pieces of the fishing universe.  What I really enjoyed, and I have left most of you unpictured and unnamed, are all of the fine people who really love this sport, and care about our rivers and fish who have agreed to collaborate on projects to promote and protect our precious resources- the reason for this show.  I really look forward to talking to you all more in the future and wish you success.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm There-The Midwest Fly Fishing Expo 2011

This is to announce that Fontinalis Rising will be attending the above named show.  I'm very excited about this as I've never been to a major show dedicated to fly fishing.  I know this isn't fair- all you vendors had to get a table; all I had to do was get a T-shirt, some business cards and some decals made, and I'm going to wander around with my camera, a laptop and my "dumb" phone and bother people.  Oh, I also have a photo shoot to do- models, that kind of thing.  It's a crazy life.

Now I know that some of you are thinking "Mr. Fontinalis, how will you, a hick from the sticks make it and get around in all that hustle and bustle?- this is Detroit (Rock City)."  They'll eat a simple fly angler like you alive."
Been there done that!  Once you get it out of the way it's not so bad.  Ugly truth be told, I lived in the metro Detroit area for about four years off and on, including nearly two years within the city limits of the Motor City herself.  While I didn't care for living there- there's not much to do for an outdoorsman who loves quiet and solitude, my Detroit friends have always been the best.  I've never met a more loyal and supportive group of people in my life, and if anyone has been neglectful of a friendship it's been me.  So, a BIG shout-out to all of my Detroit friends.  While the rest of the vendors are checking into their hotel rooms, I'll be staying with friends at the risk of insulting other friends.  So thank you all for the invites and hospitality.  I'll see as many of you as I can, but seriously I have to get back down and do a real visit soon.  Sorry for the lapse.

What's the Agenda you ask?  Push my card into Kelly Galloup's hand and ask him to read my blog? No, I don't think so.  I'm going to wander around, take pictures, attend a seminar or two and take notes.  I will attempt to blog live with a brief post, or at least post to Facebook, but I'm still working out the technical details. (hey OBN- when do we get to gear test lap-tops?)  I will try to find products and people that I think you will find interesting.  I will look for a hidden story.  Then I'll do some brief posts about what I find- I doubt the story of an event of this magnitude can or should be told in one post.

So, if you're reading this and attending- look for me in the Official Prototype FR T-shirt.  Mention that you've read the blog and I'll give you an Official Prototype bumper sticker or decal.  Mention that you love the blog and I'll give you my shirt.  (Joking- really, it's not pretty underneath.  My workout video would have to be called "Abs of Silly Putty").

It's going to be a great adventure. I wish all the vendors who actually have something at stake in this event the best of success and I'll try to meet as many of you as possible.  See you there!

Don't forget that I'm running a give-away contest in the Outdoor Profile post- if you are a fly tyer, or know one, you need to enter this.  It's the single most beautiful AND useful item you could add to your bench.  Contest runs until Sunday March 20, so enter ASAP.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Outdoor Profile: Andy Schmidt of The Granite Fly

Andy Schmidt photo
 Yes Andy is a good friend.  Yes, he's a family friend.  Yes he has a product to sell, a very good one.  One I own and it's my favorite piece of tying equipment.  I take it with me to all of the tying seminars and clinics I attend, not to hawk it, but because I never want to be without it.  It's my granite tying base from his company, The Granite Fly.  Take a look.
ahhh, my precioussss

It's gorgeous isn't it?  Wish you had one don't you?  That was the only blue one he had, so there.  Here's the thing- the base that came with your vise is either ugly as sin, or tipsy as all get out and probably both.  These bases are nice and wide and HEAVY- mine never tips, never budges.  It takes my reefing on streamers with 200 denier GSP, spinning deer hair, whatever it is you are fighting your base with right now.  They're compatible with most of the vises on the market, including the Renzetti Traveler, and my Peak vise.  They have little rubber bumpers on the bottom that keep them from shifting- the result?  A rock solid (no pun intended) set-up that is gorgeous to look at.  I love it for the aesthetic value alone.

"But Jason" you say, "I have one of those nifty, shifty clamps."  Really?  You want to tie on one of those ugly ungainly things for the rest of your life?  You are the tyer, your gear needs to work for you.  Why would you want to have to shift yourself around to be in the right position to tie?  Add to this that the surface of a granite base is virtually impossible to mar and that glue of all types and epoxies scrape right off with a razor blade without scratching it up?  Try that with an enameled steel base.  Let me know how that works for ya.

Back to Andy- I truly believe that he is one of the great innovators in the world of fly fishing.  Not that he has brought all kinds of great products to the market that you now use.  No, Andy is one of those tinkerers who can't leave a product or piece of gear alone.  If there is anything- anything at all, that bothers him about something, or that he can improve for his own use, he will work and work at it until he has modified it to his satisfaction, and trust me, that piece of gear is always better when he's done.  Gear manufacturers take notice- you need to be sending your gear to him before you ever bring it to market.  If there is any kind of bug whatsoever, Andy is going to find it, and rather than just complain, he's going to fix it.  I can't think of a single thing he owns that hasn't been given this treatment.  His drift boat, his waders, his tools, everything.
Here's another reason manufacturers should be sending gear to Andy to test.  Andy is truly a hardcore fisherman.  I know I've said some things elsewhere here about the notion of hardcore.  I also know, that this being my blog I sometimes make it sound like I'm Mr. Fisherman.  Andy is the next level plus several levels up, and one of the few truly hardcore anglers I've ever met.  He's a fly fishing purist, a great tyer, an avid steelheader, and a spey caster.  All I probably had to say was "spey caster".  They're all a little touched.  I learn volumes of stuff every time we fish just by watching him.  Andy has spent so much time on the water that it kills me that every time I fish with him, someone, usually a guide, walks up or pulls his boat up and starts talking and then it dawns on me that they know him and have for years.
Andy Schmidt photo

Here's a few more pictures of his bases.  He has them in a lot of different colors and types of stone.  Each base is "broken" instead of cut square or oval- what this means is each base is as unique as a thumb print.  He has pictures of each base up in the gallery sections on his website.  I was really torn between my blue one (the only one) and some that are an awesome green river rock.  What a tough choice.  Andy also has a video up that demonstrates the features of the base, so check it out.
Andy has managed to get these bases in the hands of some top notch tyers and guides, people like Matt Zudweg and Tommy Lynch.  I've been to seminars they've put on, and guess what, they showed up with their granite base they got from Andy, and then proceeded to tell the crowd why this was the greatest thing since sliced peanut butter.

So here's what I'm going to do- GIVE ONE AWAY! in this weeks drawing.  My instructions are very specific, so pay attention.  In the text here and under the sidebar to the right titled Friends of Fontinalis Rising, there is a link to his site, The Granite Fly.  Go to his website, view the photo galleries- (photo gallery I, photo gallery II photo gallery III) and  look at his bases- you'll see that each base, being unique, is individually numbered.  Pick out your favorite, then come back to this post and  leave a comment.  You must enter the words "base number" and the valid number of the base you've picked.  If you win the contest you can change your mind and select any base from his site, but you must enter a valid base number to enter.  I'm going to let this contest run for awhile, so it will conclude on Sunday March 20, 2011 at 7 pm.  Again, the drawing will be by staff member Lorin the Drawing Girl.  She's highly trained in fairness and her mother will be watching.

Note: I love Andy's bases and think everyone should have one.  If you would like to buy one please do- if you have any trouble whatsoever then contact me at and I'll see to it that you get one.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shop Talk: The Northern Angler and Brian Pitser

I'll never forget the first time I walked into The Northern Angler in Traverse City.  It was like....being home!  I let out a sigh of relief.  I was in my happy place.  I was there for several hours with a friend who was installing some displays.  Brian Pitser, the owner, was happy as all get out, as the longer we were there, the bigger my stack of tying materials got.  But here's the thing- it was like hanging out at a friends house.  The checkout counter doubles as a tying area, and Brian and Evan sat there and tied flies and shot the breeze, dealt with the couple of customers that came in and made an excellent pot of coffee that I went to work on.

What makes a great fly shop- is it price?  Selection? Cool hats?  Sure, and no.  I walk into some fly shops and walk straight back out- I can’t afford to be there and they want me to know that.  There are other shops who sell flies, but they sell so much beer and chips it’s hard to remember why they’re there.  Here’s what I want, and have found, in a fly shop.  I want a good selection of gear that I can afford, but still be able to drool over a Sage rod.  I want atmosphere but not a bunch of dusty deer mounts from 1927.  I want to be able to see and find what I’m looking for.  I want good advice.  I want a good cup of coffee.  The shop dog has to be friendly but polite.  I want a thorough selection of flies, even the ones I’ll never use.  I want to be able to find a decent selection of books.  They have to offer a decent range of services including tying classes, seminars and guide service.

 There's those other fly shops.  You've been there.  You walk in and can hardly see, there's an unhappy person behind the counter, there's a lot of dust and clutter and you don't DARE touch anything.  You've also been to the big and bigger box outdoor stores and found some of the things you need and no one to help you.

Back to our happy place.  Meet proprietor and guide Brian Pitser.  Brian gets it, he gets you- what you want and need in a fly shop.  In the space he has he's managed to pack in an incredible variety of gear, flies, tying materials, rods, reels and apparel.  The tying materials really stagger me, as I always seem to be able to find what I need, and Brian has assured me (before we ever talked about this post, I might add) that he can and will get me anything I need.  While he does stock high-end gear, The Northern Angler does not come across as high-end or stuffy.  It is always neat, clean, well-lit, well organized.

 They also offer a lot of services, not the least of which is guide service.  Right now the shop has 3 guides fishing the Upper and Lower Manistee, the Betsie, Platte and Boardman rivers and Grand Traverse Bay.  They pursue steelhead, salmon, trout, smallmouth bass and do sight fishing for carp that has to be seen to be believed- the water is so clear and such a shade of fluorescent aquamarine you would swear that you are stalking bones on the flats somewhere (I’ll finagle a trip somehow).  With casting and tying workshops and classes in the mix, there's always something going on to keep you coming back. The Northern Angler even has a shop dog.
Shop dog Casey- what a face!

 Brian had this to say about his shop and their philosophy:  “I’ve tried to build the kind of place that caters to the hardcore guys, but still welcomes the novice.  We all started somewhere.  Let’s face it- as fly fishermen we’re all a bunch of geeks, but we know we’re geeks here and so I try to make this shop as inclusive as possible.  Fly fishermen come from all walks of life, it’s not just a high-end sport, and so we try to welcome everyone.  I have a great staff here, and I am always here when I'm not out guiding.  I just want to earn peoples business, and you can only do that through good customer service.”  I can vouch that Brian and his staff walk the walk (or is it cast the cast?).  By the way- the coffee is that good, and he has mugs and not styrofoam.
The Northern Angler really is my favorite fly shop in Northern Michigan.  I don't mean this as a slight to other shops- there's plenty of good ones in the state.  I just feel that Brian has done an excellent job of putting together a shop that meets all of my personal criteria.  Too many local fly shops have gone the way of the dodo.  Everyone is shopping online, or going to the Big Boxes, but the soul of fly fishing is not found in those places.  Fly fishing is a hands-on, interactive sport, and fly fishing is always local.  You can get your gear online, but websites will never be able to tell you local conditions, hatches and patterns that you need to know to have success.  We need local shops and all that they bring, and The Northern Angler brings it.  Somehow I think The Northern Angler will be around for awhile.

 Visit their Website by clicking on the links below and look for them on the Friends of Fontinalis Rising sidebar.

426 W. Front Street
Traverse City, MI  49684