Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Double Jeopardy

I've managed to fish quite a bit the last couple of weeks.  Last Tuesday I fished with Koz, stripping streamers for browns, to no avail.  Wednesday I went down to the Boyne river in search of steelhead but found nothing but moldy coho's.  I managed to snag a couple even when I was trying to avoid them, and landed one so nasty I didn't bother to take pictures.  As I mentioned in this weeks MMC, while everyone was scarfing turkey and fixings I was in the remote back country throwing streamers for brook trout.  It was a cold calm day, slightly overcast, and completely deserted.  I didn't catch any fish this day either, but had several fish hit, including one 12 inch plus brookie that blasted vertically out of the water after my fly.  I was happy just to see these fish, in a season when most people are thinking of anything but Monsieur Fontinalis.

I don't have to catch fish to enjoy fishing, but after awhile it's nice to bring something to hand.  We all try to pretend we don't care, almost as if actually catching a fish is beneath us.    That's how we display our maturity as angler's right?  We're all grown up now, and don't bother ourselves with catching; we've found an aesthetic in the simple act of participating, going, doing, practicing our craft- "that's why they call it fishing..."

We'll keep telling ourselves that.  My itch this fall has been to catch a fall steelhead.  I've caught tons of spring fish, but November steelhead have this vicious reputation as slashing, striking, fighting machines, a fish so testosterized you may not want to put your line in the water.  As a matter of fact, you should just stay home and watch Matlock.  It's too cold for you to be out there anyways.

But not me.  I want one of these fish.  It's not really that hard, but I don't have any of the major Michigan steelhead streams close to hand- a lot of my local rivers get marginal runs.  Still, if you know where to go, there's fish to be had.  I decided to quit screwing around and focus on steelhead.  Sunday I drove north to a small ditch which hardly qualifies as a river, but gets a decent run of fish.  In the first twenty minutes I hooked up on a good fish which quickly took me to the cleaners.  It had been a warm weekend, but a front blew threw Sunday, and a cold north wind pounded across Lake Michigan, the roar of the surf drowning out everything else, despite the distance.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove further north, and fished near the mouth of another river.  In just a few minutes I picked up this fish- a lake run brook trout.  She was spawned out and very skinny.  She practically had stretch marks.

I flogged this series of pools for another hour, and just as I was getting ready to leave- I had said this was my last cast- I hooked into this guy.

That's right- a juvenile steelhead.  It put up a decent fight, and I was extremely happy to be able to take his portrait.  Today I went back to the same spot, and landed this fish.

Does it look familiar?  My best guess is that it's the same fish- same hole, same size, suspiciously similar "scars".

One Pere Marquette River guide says that when you catch a rainbow, you won't catch it on the same fly the rest of the year.  Mind you, I was chucking egg patterns, and this one hit the same pattern two days in a row.  Maybe eggs are too irresistible.  So what do you think- same fish?  Have you ever caught the same fish twice?  Let me know what you think.

I was a little tired tonight, and left the river a little early.  On the way home, I was treated to this spectacular sunset, which I had to share with you- enjoy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee- November 28

Uh-oh, FR is late with the coffee.  I have an excuse though.  I've been watching Whale Wars on Netflix and stayed up too late and thus slept in.  Excitement, made up drama, high speed chases with full size ships- this show has it all.  I love whales and dolphins as much as anyone, but to see these starry eyed vigilantes harassing the Japanese whalers while putting themselves in harms way due to their own ineptitude is priceless.  Man I've got to get a life.

Well, while you all were moaning and rubbing your turkey stuffed paunches last week, I found a piece of brook trout water that is still open and tossed streamers for the afternoon.  I didn't land any, but it was nice to see some decent fish smash and grab.  The roads in the back country were terrible after the deer season and some epic rains, so taking the back way home turned out to be a major mistake.  I spent most of the weekend smoking venison jerky, tying flies and cleaning house (smoking jerky keeps you home bound like nothing else) but Sunday I got out for a couple of hours for steelhead on a tiny stream close to home, and lo and behold I managed to hook a hot one that quickly broke me off.  No worries.  I know where he lives.

mmmm is for meatilicious

It's tempting to head right back out today, I have a light work load this week.  With December right around the corner, I'll try to get the next piece in my Angler's Year series together and up; I have several reviews pending and so I'll try to finish at least one, and having turned almost all my my deer into jerky, I'll probably hit the woods again once the archery season resumes December 1.  In case you missed it, I did post an entry for the OBN/Sportsman's Channel writing contest- it's kind of long and no pictures, but if you want to escape to the Montana wilderness with me on horseback go check it out. I'm going to spend at least one long day on the water this week on my favorite steelhead stream- I really want to land one this fall before the winter makes it tough, and I have jerky by the pound to take with me.  I have this fantastic jerky recipe passed on to me by my friend Terry.  It's like eating meat candy.

I was really pleased to get my latest copy of The Cedar Sweeper magazine in the mail.  It has my latest article in it.  The Cedar Sweeper is a small publication about Michigan fly fishing, and I'm really happy to be a part of it.  If you're from Michigan, look for it in your local fly shop, or you can subscribe at thecedarsweeper.com.  Blogging is cool and all, but to actually get your work into print is exciting.  My thanks to Chuck Sams for putting a cool magazine together and including me.

Well, seeing that the coffee is almost gone, it's almost noon and I need to make something of the day, I bid you adieu.  Have a great week- yours will almost certainly be more productive than mine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Elk, Just Happiness

Authors note:  this hunt took place in 2005, in the Scapegoat Wilderness of Montana.  This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

"Ride close" says Neil "we're coming up on Grizzly-On-Meadow."

A grizzly had killed a cow elk here during the summer, and the Forest Service had put up a sign saying as much, and thus the name.

Great.  We've ridden  nearly twenty miles today in a circuitous route from camp, up and over the mountains, and this morning the claw marks in the poplar trees, high overhead even from horseback attest to the presence of grizzlies in this area.  Now it's pitch dark, and my mule deer buck, cut in half to  fit the pannier bags, is spooking the mule we've strapped it to.  We're traveling without lights in the pitch dark due to the first incident that happened when we got here- the horses and mules are deathly scared of the shadows thrown by our headlamps.  We must trust Neil's knowledge of this wilderness, and rely on our horses night vision and sure-footedness to get us back safely.  We will ride for two and a half hours in the darkness.

That first incident I mention above spooked me a little.  When Larry and I first arrived at the homestead of Neil and Babette Eustance on the outskirts of Lincoln Montana (former home of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber.) late in the afternoon after a two day drive from Michigan, Neil was out at his main camp breaking it down for the season.  Babette had just fed us a hearty dinner when the radio crackled to life.  Neil asked if Larry and I could bring him some coffee and help him unload his horses and mules.  It was dark, and getting late, and he had a long string of animals to care for.  We drove out to the trailhead to find pandemonium.  Mules and horses were everywhere, some dragging their loads, others had kicked them off entirely and ran for the corral.  Come to find out the whole pack string had been charged in the darkness by two moose, and the pack string, already unsettled by the presence of bears, had scattered in the darkness.  We loaded gear into the back of Larry's truck, and I led two frightened, twitchy mules back to the corral to unload.

I'm no horseman.  We had ponies when I was a kid, but they were so mean I never did get comfortable riding.  During the time I lived in Ohio I rode a little with friends who owned some spirited Appaloosas and Quarter horses.  Riding horseback into the mountains was perhaps the part about this trip I looked forward to the most.  But right now, standing in the dark holding two of 15 or so terrified pack animals, I wasn't so sure.  Neil's five year old daughter, named Dew, who went with him that day to help, sees me fumbling with the harness on the mule I have, and so she comes and takes over.  She has curly strawberry hair, and intense blue eyes like her dad's.  She has been riding since before she could walk, and knows more about horses and riding than I ever will.  I have to suppress my laughter as she marvels at the fact that I don't know how to remove tack from a mule.  It's a great intro to my Montana adventure.

I don't recall why, but Neil sent us in ahead of him the next morning with their son Brandon.  Brandon is 14, but helps with all aspects of the operation.  I've been assigned Neil's oldest, most experienced horse named Rusty.  This also means that he's slow.  He seems to creak.  He mutters and moans when you saddle him, and then mutters and grumbles for the first twenty minutes any time I mount after I've been off of him for long.  He's old, and pale, kind of ratty looking, and seems to have one speed.  We set off for Short Camp that morning with Brandon, our horses, and two mules carrying our gear.  Short Camp, called that because it is only about five miles from the trailhead versus the 11 mile ride to the main camp, hasn't been used so far this year, and so we're headed in to fix the corral and do what we can to set up camp.  My horse, being old and slow, quickly lags behind.  Larry and Brandon are soon out of sight.  Just as quickly I ride up on Larry, holding his horse and Brandon's pack string.  They had spotted a black bear and Brandon, who has a tag, has gone in chase.  We hear no shots, and after a few minutes Brandon returns, out of breath and smiling.  How many fourteen year old kids do you know that would go running after a bear by themselves?

After not too long we arrived at Short Camp.  It is set on the far side of a boggy meadow, the kind that moose like.  As a matter of fact, there's a moose in the meadow when we arrive, and we wait at the edge of the trees for it to leave, as these moose tend to be aggressive.  After it leaves we entered camp, tied up the stock, and took stock of things.  The corral needs a lot of work and is the first priority.  After two days of driving, it feels good to be in this high mountain air working hard.  The corral takes a couple of hours to build, then we set up the tents while Brandon digs a  latrine.  Being outside the electrified bear fence that surrounds the camp, those night time visits will be one of the least fun parts of the trip.

Neil arrived late in the evening as the light was failing.  He puts us all to work immediately, and fixes the wall tents that we've done a poor job of erecting.  By the way, Larry has been friends with Neil for a long time, and we've gotten a considerable discount on the hunt, and so we don't mind helping with whatever we can.  We are both tradesmen and do it yourself hunters and are happy to work around camp.  Normally Neil's clients are catered to in every way by Neil and his guides.

Larry and I are here for elk and mule deer.  They've been having a tough year so far, with only a couple of bulls being taken.  We've come late in the season, because the previous year snow in the high country had put the elk on the move, and Neil had taken three bulls in two days.  This year (2005) it has remained warm, and the hunting has been tough.  Still, we have high hopes.  Neil has business to take care of the first two days of the hunt and so he leaves us in the very capable hands of his wife Babette.

Babette turns out to be one of the best hunter's I will ever meet.  She moves silently and has hearing that is almost uncanny.  I've never met anyone since who can stalk through wilderness like she can.  We set off on foot the first day, and she hikes us more than a dozen miles up and over the mountains.  By the end of that day I can barely lift my feet over logs.  At one point Babette holds up a hand and stops us.  She's heard something.  We stand for ten minutes, and right when Larry and I are starting to wonder, four deer take off from where they were hiding on the edge of a meadow.  At the beginning of the day, on a forested saddle on the mountain, we hear the clear mewing of elk ahead of us, but we're behind them and we never do catch up.

On day two we saddle up the horses and head out from camp.  We're stopped immediately outside camp by two bull moose in the trail.  They are far bigger than our horses, and don't seem to be intimidated at all.  They actually start to back us down the trail, and so we clap our hands and whistle, which seems to change their minds.  Even when they leave the trail they don't go far, and we skirt around them, watching our backs as they continue to face us.  Our horses are clearly frightened.  We ride all day, stopping from time to time to hike into meadows or circle over ridge lines.  The highlight of the day was a late afternoon break on a lake filled with giant cutthroat trout.  When I filter some water it quickly clogs with mysis shrimp.  We take a stand on a meadow that evening, but the only thing we see is a rather large whitetail buck that we pass on.  We're focused on elk.

I don't remember the details of every day.  The most memorable was the day we rode up Red Mountain with Neil.  It was the middle of a seven day hunt, and Neil started the day with a horsemanship lesson.  He was tired of us dragging behind; he said we were being too easy on our animals.  He told us that the mountains and plains were these animals natural habitat, that they could go almost anywhere with ease.  To demonstrate, he spurred his horse directly into a pile of fallen snags on pitched ground.  Limbs and bark flew everywhere, but the horse, a large bay mare, negotiated it all with ease.  Neil got his start breaking and training horses and mules, then worked as a contract mule skinner for the government, packing strings of 30 or more mules into the back country for the Forest Service, scientists, and other government business in the wilderness.  He worked off and on as a guide for other outfitters until he bought the current concession he has in the Scapegoat Wilderness.
We rode straight up the mountain this day, through junipers and pines, past high hidden lakes of incandescent aquamarine.  We rode up into an old burn and glassed ridge after ridge, seeing nothing.  When we got up into the scree fields above the tree line we found huge excavations in the stones, as if a back hoe had been helicoptered in.  I was surprised that Neil didn't know what they were.  These holes, some ten or more feet across, and almost as deep, were the work of grizzly bears after ground squirrels and moths.  They were an odd sight, and a reminder of who we shared the mountain with.

After a while we came upon elk tracks.  Judging by the wet crumbling edges of each track, and some warm droppings we found, we were right behind a herd of about forty elk.  We soon reached a saddle below the peak of the mountain at about 9100 feet.  We could just barely hear movement ahead of us through the junipers. Our horses had come to attention, and their pricked ears pointed the way.  The herd couldn't be more than a couple of hundred yards ahead, and so we tied off the horses and proceeded on foot.  High on the mountain ahead of us we spotted two white specks on a very sheer face- mountain goats.  When we got to the point in the saddle where we thought the elk would be we saw nothing, and so we followed the tracks over the side down an incredibly steep slope that dropped several thousand feet.  From the valley floor rose a lone, faint bugle.  The elk had run down the side of the mountain.  It would take us three hours to do the same thing on horseback.  As we made our way back to the saddle, we noticed that the mountain goats were no longer on the exposed face below the peak.  As a matter of fact, they were now only a couple of hundred yards away heading straight for us, and so we hid behind a juniper and waited for the show.  At eighty yards out, the younger billy caught some movement and spooked.  But the wind was blowing so hard that the bigger goat, a mature billy who looked and moved like a gorilla, didn't realize the other goat had left. He walked up abreast of us, only forty yards away, and turned around casually as if to say something to his buddy, only to find him gone.  His eyes got big, and that big white goat looked even paler.  He looked around wildly, trying to figure out what had happened when Neil leaned out from the bush and shouted "hey buddy, we could have had ya".  Needless to say, he took off like a shot in the direction we were headed, and of course, when we got to where the horses should have been, they were gone, having torn loose from the shrubs they were tied to when the goat came tearing through, spooking them.  By the time we rounded the horses up and headed for the nearest trail back down the mountain it was nearly dark.  We rode three hours in the dark to get back to camp, and ate a hurried dinner before falling into our cots, exhausted.

Earlier in the day, a funny thing happened that went on to illustrate a lot of things to me about our relationships with animals.  Neil had a favorite mule to take on hunts.  I don't remember her name, but she was well trained and wasn't afraid of carcasses or blood.  She was also getting on in years, and Neil felt the need to train a younger mule in case anything ever happened to her.  So he brought a mule with us named Fancy.  Neil's mare, Sarah, didn't like Fancy, and the two bickered and nipped and kicked at each other all day.  Because Neil is an outfitter catering to a wide variety of people including families who want to experience the back country in summer, his animals are highly trained, and kicking a human is the ultimate sin.  On a break that day, Neil was checking the straps on Fancy's load.  When he walked around behind her, she kicked him in the leg.  That she thought she was kicking Sarah his horse was immediately obvious.  The blow was glancing, and the mule even pulled her punch so to speak, but her reaction was instant.  Fancy turned to face Neil, her ears back, head down and eyes rolling in fear.  She looked like she'd already been beaten.  "You know what you've done, don't you. You know what you've done" shouted Neil, making her cringe and back away even more.  It was a funny incident and needless to say she got a couple of good kicks to the ribs.  What was funny to me later was that when I told people about this they were offended that Neil had kicked the mule.  If they heard the drumming of hooves on ribs that I heard in the corral each night outside my tent as the stock settled scores from each days work, they'd know that these animals are far tougher on each other, and that a couple of kicks from Neil were nothing.  I wish you could have seen this animals reaction, like a boy who has just thrown a ball through a window.  It was priceless.

I don't recall the details of each days hunt, and I have limited pictures (I was still shooting film back then).  The weather had stayed far too warm, and the elk were staying high in the dark timber.  With only two days left, we made the decision to pack some things and ride into the main camp.  The area had been undisturbed for a couple of weeks, and there were some areas that held some monster mulie bucks- 30" plus.  We rode in, set up a rudimentary camp (we stretched a tarp over a lean-to) with our sights set on more remote country.

The next day we rose early, ate breakfast and headed out at daybreak.  We wound a circuitous route up and over mountains, stopping to glass as we went.  We got off of our horses and stalked through high juniper covered saddles where Neil had previously seen enormous mule deer bucks, but we still saw nothing.  We crept up to a cliff edge 1000 feet above a lake to glass its perimeter, only to have a golden eagle lift off immediately below us, floating on the updraft against the cliff as if riding some invisible elevator, mere yards from us.  Not long after noon, our horses spooked.  Just a little ways ahead we found out why.  Two bull elk had been feeding on the next saddle, and took off running at our approach.  The cold weather we were hoping for had finally arrived, and so we tracked them through six inches of snow, across scarily steep faces as our horses slipped and muttered to themselves.  The bulls were moving far too fast, we never did catch up to them, but they followed the same trail we were on.  After a couple of miles they veered off down a slope our horses could never follow, and shortly after that we jumped a large mule deer buck that similarly ran over a steep slope and disappeared.  For some reason that day, Larry had decided that I would be the first shooter if we got a chance, and after jumping that first buck I rode in front.  Not long after this, as we neared the bottom of a miles long descent, Neil came trotting after me, signalling for me to dismount and grab my gun.  There was a herd of mule deer immediately above us on the mountain.  I grabbed my gear, we handed off our horses to Larry, and made our way to where we could see the deer, hoping for a shot.  Another of Neil's clients had taken a 26" buck here weeks earlier, but there was a much bigger buck living on this mountain, one that Neil said might be 34" wide.

I have long been a critic of outdoor TV shows.  Too often they portray hunters as talking too loud, moving too much, taking too much time, and fiddling with too much gear.  Here in Michigan you would rarely get away with any of that.  We went on to do all of that.  These deer, living this far in the back country, apparently rarely see humans.  They were also about 600 feet above us and felt pretty secure.   We proceeded to lay there on our backs, glassing them. I ranged them several times with a range finder, got out my new shooting sticks and set up a secure rest, then it seemed to take forever for me to find them in the scope.  Neil was urging me to shoot, but I couldn't see horns.  I was aiming at an enormous doe.  Neil talked me through the landscape again, describing exactly where the buck was.  Ahh.  Now I had him.  An old hunter named Lou had come into camp a couple of days before.  He had been a army sharpshooter, and had given me advice about taking long shots, advice which now came to mind.  I had ranged this deer at 315 yards.  Lou had said to make sure that when you settle the gun in, that it is on the target, with only minor adjustments to make.  I did this, settling and resettling my sticks until the buck was in the cross hairs, with only minor adjustments needed by me. I felt unusually calm.  I let out a breath slowly, and squeezed.

What happened next was stunning.  The buck dropped immediately, and started sliding, then flipping down the mountain.  Neil and Larry shouted "You got him, but shoot him again before he runs away".  I refused.  Neil said "Shoot him, I don't want to track him."
"He's down" I said.
"He's running up the mountain, shoot him now!!"
"Can't you guys see him sliding down the mountain?" I asked.
I talked them through the landscape until they could see my buck, now propped against a log, and still kicking.
"Oh" said Neil, "I guess I didn't see that one".

None of us realized that there had been more than one buck.  Looking three hundred yards through a scope, all I saw was big body and horns.  It turned out I also had shot the smaller buck, a 20" wide five by five.  The bigger buck, a monster Neil said was at least 32" wide, put on quite the show for us, zig-zagging up and over the mountain for the next ten minutes before disappearing over the continental divide.  I guess I could have been disappointed.  But I had just ridden all day on horseback in the rocky mountains of Montana, past trees scarred by grizzly bears, had glassed high mountain lakes, seen a golden eagle, tracked mule deer and bull elk, and now taken my longest shot ever at a magnificent buck, making a clean kill.  I couldn't have been happier.

Since my father's untimely death in 2008, Larry and I have drifted apart as friends.  My fault.  I miss him and his wife Kim, they're good people.  Neil has offered to take us hunting free of charge several times since, but with the economic downturn and the increasingly obscene cost of Montana non-resident tags, I haven't been able to consider it.  Even without paying an outfitter, the trip would still cost several thousand dollars, and my salad days as a contractor are over.  Still, I want to go back.

In the end, we never even saw an elk.  Sure enough, within days of our leaving, continued snow in the high country forced the elk to move, and Neil and Babette got a bull for themselves.  I'll never forget their kindness and hospitality, their good cooking, their wild tales of a life that I had assumed no longer existed.  I won't forget seeing moose daily, or the does that walked right up to us and sniffed our boots as we sat on our horses.  I won't forget the bear sign, or the dead horse in the meadow outside camp that the bears had killed, and those long rides back to camp, in the dark.  I won't forget those goats, a highlight of my life.  I won't forget Dew, a little girl with big character and more horse sense than I'll ever have.  She must be about twelve or thirteen now, and her brother Brandon would be a young man.  Above all, I'll never forget the sense of freedom that comes while riding a horse, high in the mountains with a gun in the scabbard, and nothing on my mind.

Monday, November 21, 2011

One Bug is Fake's 30 Days of Fishing- The Grand Finale

As you all know, Brandon Robinson, that guerrilla blogger aka One Bug Is Fake challenged himself to fish for 30 days straight and post about it here on Fontinalis Rising.  I tried to fish for a week straight back in June and failed.  The 30 days are up.  Did he make it?  I'll let him tell the tale.

Drumroll please.........................................

It was day 29, and my Jeep broke in a catastrophic fashion.  The clutch just died.  “Of course,” I thought to myself (I’ll omit the expletives used), “I just had FR (Jason) go ahead and pick a winner and, I'm planning on camping out on trout water for the grand finale.”  That’s what I get for voicing my intentions.  “They” heard it and unleashed the gremlins to infect my weekend, ruining my 30th day. 

You know who “They” are… “They” are the ones that play sad songs on the radio when you want something to lift your mood.  “They” also make the TV kick out food commercials when you’re hungry.  “They” give you food poisoning the first day of a long-awaited vacation.  You know who “They” are now, right?  Yeah, those guys suck.  I was braced for a full on attack from the gremlins, trying to outwit “Them” and get to the water by almost any means.  I put the call out on Twitter, having access to a dozen or so Austin-area Anglers through that medium.  I also placed several desperate calls, looking for a ride to the water. 

Nothing.  Well, my friend Shawn did offer up a truck.  Appreciative as I was, the idea of taking someone’s truck made me a nervous wreck.  The gremlins were on my scent already; all I needed was to wreck a buddy’s truck to really make the weekend.

I called FR, trying to brace him for the probable defeat and embarrassment, since we had already picked a winner with the assurance it would be a coast to the finish line.  He expressed his confusion, and we counted, carried the two, and discovered…
Day 29 was actually day 30!  Holy crap on a cracker!  I did it!  Suddenly, the huge catastrophe was reduced to a minor nuisance.  I had already succeeded!  HA!  The very next thought was predictably, about still going fishing.  Not because I had to anymore, but because I wanted too.  Besides, what else is the weekend for?  Being an adult?  Pu-shaw, that’s what the week is for.

The Week in Review (and then some):

The last week was almost as species prolific as the first one.  I took the Ex out to try and put her on a carp, (keep an eye on this site for a future post about her version) and instead I added three new species in about 20 minutes.  Drum, Longear, and Channel Cat.  If my numbers are correct, that makes 14 mouth-hooked species (I did foul-hook a shiner, but it wasn’t legal…).  I really wanted to add a trout but the clock ran out.  Technically, I fished 32 days in a row, as I did manage to fish Saturday and Sunday, despite the Jeep issue.  Thankfully the Jeep finally was fixed after 2 trips to the shop.  A new friend was made, (Travis Brown is his name) and it looks like it might work out.  Travis volunteered when I called the Fly Shop during “Trout Day” to see if anyone could save me from the crappy waiting area at Firestone.  Side note: If the shop you are taking your vehicle to has a really comfortable waiting area; they are horrible mechanics.  It’s a rule.  Travis and I also went fishing Sunday.  Ha!  I also bought a pipe, corn-cob (because it was the cheapest), and the rest of the accoutrement that goes with.  Don’t ask why, I don’t have an answer; I just did it.  I’m smoking it now and I pull it off, like a boss.  The jealousy line begins to my left, people.

You know what two biggest challenges were?  One was having to fish.  The weekends were a breeze; again, what else are you supposed to do on a weekend?  Conversely, the weekdays could be ridiculously hard: grades had to be turned in, groceries needed to be bought, hairs needed to be cut, flies needed to be tied, and blogs needed to be written.  Sometimes, you just want to go see a movie.  I have a backlog of guest posts that need to be written, groceries have amounted to fast food, and I am starting to look like a hippy.  Yes, it is partially because of No-Shave November, but the hair on top of my head is even worse.  Wait… Scraggly hair, beard, and corn-cob pipe?  I bet I look a cross between a moonshiner and an extra from Outlaw Josey Wales. “We-uns gots possum stewin’ if-n ya’ll is hungry.”   The second part, I had to write about each week.  No matter how boring it was, or how tired I happened to be.  As a new writer, it was both challenging and upsetting.  I felt like every post was rushed and therefore, horrendous.  (Special thanks to FR and Fly Fishilicious for putting up with my constant self-doubting; it couldn’t have been easy.)

Overall though, this experience was a lot of fun.  My cast improved some, and loops have been tightened.  While that has been helpful in catching fish, it also opened up a proverbial cavalcade of new casting issues to work through. 

CONGRATULATIONS TO: Howard Levett, CoFisher, or This Guy.  They are all the same person and they all won a large Morell Fly Box and an OBIF t-shirt of their choosing.  In all seriousness, this guy was one of the first to start commenting on all my posts.  Now, I know he is just probably a fan of the blogs I post on, but it is still nice to always see his comments.  I am sincerely glad he won. 
SPECIAL THANKS:  Dylan Owens, Amanda Fowler, and Shawn Bischel; for fishing with me, a lot.  Emily Blankenship (The River Damsel) and Theresa Cross; for asking almost every day, “What day are you on?  How is it going?”  Chase Hundley, Fly Fishilicious, and The Functioning Fishaholic, for retweeting, liking, or +1ing every mention of this contest.  Cameron Mortenson; for using your reach and prolific influence to spread the word, as well as encouraging me all along the way. Texas River Bum; for filming, editing, and showcasing a video about a contest hosted on a whole other website.  Finally, thank you FR for giving this personal goal of mine a home.  When this started, you were a stranger.  Now I count you amongst the too few that I call my friends.

Just in case you were wondering, I didn’t catch the Koi.  I haven’t forgotten about it, but I AM hoping that jerk forgets about me.  I promise, if I do nail the bastard, you’ll read about it here. 

Thanks Brandon, for taking us on your tortuous journey.  My congratulations to Howard Cosell... wait, Howard Cofisher... wait Cofisher Windknots... dang....

Make sure you continue to follow OBIF on his website onebugisfake.com

Monday Morning Coffee- November 21

Aaaaauuuugghhhh!!!!!  Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat.  Monday morning again- it must be time for coffee.  I'm going with the Sanders mug today, and some Komodo Dragon blend.  It's a cold morning out there and that warm mug feels good in my hands.  Here, let me take a sip... mmmm that's good.

Ok, well, not a lot to report.  I only fished once this last week, a very enjoyable outing on Thursday morning with Koz (our outgoing local TU chapter president) , throwing streamers for browns.  It was cold and windy but somehow it was still very pleasant.  We couldn't turn a fish to save our lives, but I guess you get days like that.  The wind was driving hard out of the north, which I think had put the fish down.  I'm going to try to get out a few times this week, being that it's a holiday week and I don't have a lot of work scheduled.

As you know, the One Bug Is Fake- 30 Days of Fishing contest is over but we haven't announced a winner yet, so look for that post tomorrow.  Long drum roll.  Did Brandon succeed, or did equipment breakage, car troubles, a hostage crisis and a dead cat prevent him from completing his quest?  Find out tomorrow.

As far as what else to expect from me here?  With several pieces of writing in the works for various outlets it has been difficult to generate much here at FR.  I do have about 30 different drafts in various stages, so maybe I can finish one and post it.  I haven't fished enough, or successfully enough, to post much.  I was too busy processing venison and finishing squaring my affairs here before the snow flies and winter gets serious.   This coming week looks fairly pleasant for November.  Hopefully I can find some fish and have something to share.

I tell you what- I'll sit down and make myself write at least a short creative piece and post it before the end of the week.  It will do me some good.

Well, I do have a little bit of work to do today, so I'm going to get to it.  Have a great week.

casting practice with Koz

Monday, November 14, 2011

Video Review- A Backyard in Nowhere

Four guys from Denmark embark to the Alaska wilderness, seeking adventure.  It's not surprising they find it.  What is surprising is the quarry they seek, the landscape they find themselves in, and the tale they tell.
And so I waded into the movie " A Backyard in Nowhere".  To paraphrase some opening dialogue, I didn't get what I bargained for either.

I love pike fishing.  There, I said it. Pike are big, violent predators.  The take is one of the most dramatic in fly fishing.  You're throwing big flashy flies, to a big toothy fish that eats anything from minnows to baby ducks.  You get to throw a big rod, learn your double haul, and strip line like a mad person.  Then when they hit, it's game on.  When you fish for big pike long enough, you're going to get injured, period.  They are tough, unpredictable fish with loads of big teeth and a lot of fast-twitch muscle.  I have the scars, and have clubbed them to death in the back of a boat before they broke any more equipment.

"A Backyard in Nowhere" delivers this fantasy in spades.  I've always wanted to fish the Yukon drainage in Alaska for pike and sheefish.  It is not the classic image of the Alaskan landscape.  It is flat lowland marsh and river drainage, complete with loads of mud, cut-off sloughs, and none of that mountain majesty and glaciers you've come to expect from the 49th state.  What this area lacks in beauty it makes up for in pike- big ones.   Fish that measure 40 to 50 inches and can weigh over 30 pounds.  Mind you, these guys find adventure and come to terms with the landscape, but it is the fish that define this trip.

Our protagonists head to the Innoko river in search of monster pike, not far from Holy Cross, a native village in the Yukon drainage .  While their initial efforts yield them some decent fish, it's after they consult with the locals that they find the giant fish.  These guys go out and camp in the Alaskan outback for a month, dodging bears, and bugs, and outfitters who appear to be bent on protecting their turf.  What it yields, is video gold- giant pike smashing flies; twenty pound fish that jump and thrash, and slash at hands with mouths full of 700 teeth.  This movie has some of the most compelling footage in fly fishing that I've seen.  It also has some of the saddest.

Where this movie misses is in its portrayal of the Native American locals. Perhaps it was honest, but I don't think their portrayal of alcohol abuse and illegal drug use are the type of message that is welcome at large.  I can cut these guys some slack for heading into the Alaskan wilderness on an adventure and letting their hair down.  What is harder to swallow is their depiction of Native American dissipation.  The locals in this film are drinking in virtually every scene, or high or both.  They drive their boats while drinking, hunt and use firearms while drinking, hell, they even butcher a moose while drinking.  These guys, while being talented film makers, missed the nuances of the social landscape, and their admiration of the locals becomes patronizing.  Likewise, their portrayal of their run in with the local outfitter Midnight Sun is somewhat muddled.  While it's clear there was some sort of dispute, it is unclear the exact nature of it, or why they left their camp on public lands so quickly.  They almost cause a serious escalation of the conflict by involving the locals before better sense prevails, and they simply pull stakes and leave.  I would be interested to know if they filed a complaint with law enforcement.

I wish I could give this film two thumbs up.  It is very beautifully shot and edited, the music sound track is exceptional, the fishing is fantastic, and they even find beauty in a less than picturesque part of Alaska.  I love big pike, and the action is dramatic and explosive.  This film makes me want to go.  What was harder to reconcile was their portrayal of the local Natives they claim to love and admire.

I give it one thumb up for cinematography, soundtrack and action.
I give it one thumb down for its treatment of the locals.  I'm afraid their admiration did more harm than good.

Now to start planning that trip.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee- November 14

Deer Season Eve Edition

Opening day of the firearm deer season is tomorrow here in Michigan.  It has always started on November 15 here for as long as anyone can remember.  While everyone else is making their final preparations, I'll be wrapping my season up.  So far I've hunted a total of two and a half hours.  My hunting time has been severely limited this year by work, and moving and other factors, so I took my bow out Friday and shot the first doe that came along.  I've been holding out for bigger bucks the last two years, but I also had 8-10 days to hunt and had the luxury of passing up smaller bucks and does.  I have more than the usual amount of open space in my freezer, and thought it better to fill it rather than worry about aesthetics.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of rifle hunting.  The best part of the rut is over, when the bucks are wandering everywhere all day long, and instead I always end up with some restless hunter wandering through where I'm hunting, or else the daylight reveals some guy set up 150 yards upwind of me.  I'm going to do something I've never done tomorrow, which is to do the little bit of work I have scheduled, then go around to buck poles, shoot some pictures and talk to hunters.

death in the big woods

I didn't get out fishing this last week, but I did get my fly tying station at least partially set up and tied a handful of streamers.  I swung into Jay's Sporting Goods in Gaylord Thursday and got to meet and talk to Alex Cerveniak of alexkain.com.  He has written for Midcurrent and other such publications, and does free lance photography in addition to his day job.  It was nice to finally meet him and I hope we hit the river somewhere soon.  I'm planning on hitting a couple of streams later this week, once the initial rush of the deer season winds down and there's less bullets in the air.

As far as this blog goes- don't look for an OBIF post Thursday, as Brandon will be wrapping up his fishing then.  It looks like he's going to make it.  I figured he would.  We'll probably do the final post Sunday, along with a drawing of the winner then.  I have at least three reviews and two interviews to get done, so I'll try to get at least one of those up, and I'll even try to let my mind wander and put a short story of some sort together.

Well, I've got some butchering left to do, so I'm going to get back at it.  Have a great week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Bug is Fake's 30 Days of Fishing- Week Three

In what may be his best installment yet, Brandon Robinson shares the mind crushing horror that is-

I thought inbreds were dumb.  You hear the term inbreeding, and it conjures up images of big-headed little kids, with snot-crusted bubble-blowing noses, bare feet and lice ridden heads.  Their intelligence level rates somewhere between; a plate of chicken that’s been in the back of the fridge since the Clinton administration, and an amoeba.  This specialty koi/carp/goldfish, while probably inbred, defies the stereotype.  It is one of the smartest fish I have ever fished for.  Ever.  It’s smart enough to have me doubting my fishing ability entirely.  That isn’t saying much, but it is still frustrating. This fish isn’t like any other either.  It plays mind games.  Jedi-freaking Spock mind games…  (Somewhere, a fanboy just committed suicide because of that comparison.  Moment of silence begins now… … … …).  Seriously though, he will swim right up to my fly.  At the point that I think he is going to take it, he will turn to FACE me and then swim off with an indignant swish of his majestic flowing tail.  I hate him.   I hate him so much.

I might as well call this the “week of second guessing” too.  That is what I have done all week.  I have called myself every synonym of stupid I can think of.  I have lost my cast, found it, second guessed it, and lost it again.  I have cursed myself for choosing a BANANA-YELLOW fly rod for a mission where stealth, is critical.  I have a plan, though; giving up is not an option.  If I don’t get smiled upon by Neptune himself and catch this water stallion before this contest is over, I am going to take a sick day.  I will buy a ghille suit, smear camo paint all over my face and fly rod, and go full-on Long Trang on that piscadevil.  I will bring that fish to hand.  Okay, it won’t be a sick day, but it will happen.  Mark.  My.  Words.

Last week, I made mention of my catch-streak.  Totally called it, by the way.  The day that post went out, I caught a big ol’ polecat.  That’s a skunk to the uninitiated.  It’s happened twice since the self-fulfilling prophecy.  I blame the koi, and his little (newly discovered) little brother.  It’s their fault.  I have: chummed with bread, thrown every carp fly, changed leaders, tied on a steelhead leader with an extra four feet of tippet, bought (and tried) more carp flies,  stepped up the size of the tippet, scaled the size back down, lost the first set of flies in every conceivable manner, and considered quitting fly fishing altogether.  I mean, I am constantly surprised at the tensile strength of the tiniest freaking tip of the tiniest freaking weed.

Enough about that fish, you want to hear how the rest of the quest is going, right?  The weather is turning colder just a bit earlier than it did last year, but I should be able to hold the waders off till after this contest is over.  I skunked out on trout, and I almost missed a day.  Saturday, I went to help a friend.  I got a late start to begin with, and was late getting to his house.  After doing the repair he needed, I went to the Orvis store to amputate my wallet.  That’s where I almost lost the contest.  I got sidetracked at the selection of flies, and I was contemplating buying something with leather elbow patches, when I realized I was almost out of daylight.  I had more than an hour, but only if I could find somewhere close.  Add another half-a-point to the species list (11 for those playing the home game) for my Copper-Nose Bluegill that was caught behind the newly opened Orvis store. 
This is crunch time.  One week left, it is do-or-die.  My fridge is empty, I have been getting almost all my meals from a drive through.  My fly tying desk looks like I tried to real-life play angry birds, then angry squirrels, then angry bunnies, then angry Hobby Lobby customers.  I would also like to apologize for this post.  It’s distracting, scatter-brained, and a little played out.  Actually, I take that back, it’s a perfect representation.  This quest has taken its toll, and work has been uber-frustrating this week.

That said…  Brandy Smith, Levi Green, Magnolia Sexton, Ken Hacker, James Schmidt, Lisa Brubaker, Shelley Montgomery, Mark Hardin, LCpl Manning, John Michael Gavit, Cass Winslow, Kirk Ryan, and the rest of the Corps (Old and New); Happy 236th Birthday, Marines!  Tomorrow is Veterans Day, remember to actively seek out and  thank a veteran.  It is more than just a random pre-Black Friday day off, take a second and show some respect to the people that chose to either serve for you, or chose to serve with you.  Veterans, thank you for your service.  I hope you are taking full advantage of the only Federal Holiday you actually earned.  I will be chasing carp on the Pedernales River while humming a Charlie Robison tune.  See you downstream!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee- November 7

Aaaaaaaaagghhhhhcckckc-thewww!!!!  Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat.  Hey, you try and come up with a new wake up sound each week.  I'm going to pass over my staling Sumatra beans for the Morning Joe, and I'm still with the DeYoung mug.  Go click his link here and buy a set already, I like Derek.

You know, when you work right through the weekend, Monday doesn't mean to me what it does to you.  I'll be working today as well, finishing a job, then my weekend starts tomorrow, as I'll take to the woods with my bow and attempt to shoot a buck.  Normally I've started by now, but with record rainfall in October it has taken extra long for me to finish my outdoor work.  I have business to care for in Ann Arbor Thursday, which will take me away, so I guess I have about six days to get the job done.  I have been roughly 300% successful over the last 11 years (I've shot about 35 deer), so I'm not worried about whether I'll get the chance to shoot a deer.  Seeing how I've gotten my two best bucks two years in a row, the question this year, is at what point do I give in and shoot?  I'd like a big buck this year, but at some point you need some meat in the freezer, and all those little bucks wandering the woods get awfully tempting after awhile.  I passed up 8 bucks last year before taking my best ever.

I got out once last week to toss streamers for steelhead and browns, but only had one small fish, 12-14" chase.  The wading was scary, and the rain incessant.  I brought my camera, but under those conditions wasn't about to get it out, so I have no pictures to share.  I also lost a bunch of big streamers, including my best Stacked Blonde, and two of my good Cougars, so I definitely need to hit the vise this week and get some stuff punched out.

What to expect here at FR this week?  Well, there will, of course, be Brandon Robinson's update to his 30 Days of Fishing.  If you haven't entered to win a One Bug is Fake T-shirt AND a large Morrell fly box, why not?  Enter using the form in the top right sidebar.  The rules are here.  Other than that, it's going to be a hectic week for me, but I'll see what I can get up.  I do have two exciting interviews planned for this week, which I'll post as soon as possible, and I have a couple more planned as well.  I also have several reviews due out soon- I'm reviewing a book that I'm enjoying thoroughly, and I have an upcoming video review that I can't wait to get to.  Brandon's quest has me thinking of pursuing a quest of my own- 30 Days of Fly Tying, in which I'd give away the fruit of said days at the bench in a contest in the end.  I'm still toying with that idea.  I'm lazier than Brandon, and my flies reflect that.  I think that's why they catch fish.  I can say now, that the majority of fish I catch are on flies I tie, so there's something to be said for that.

Well, I'll keep this one short and Swedish.  Have a great week.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Angler's Year- November

November sunset

It lies there on your calendar, like a dare you don't want to take.  November is a clear demarcation in the year.  Spring was refreshing, Summer glorious, and even September and October had their share of pleasantness, but November throws down the gauntlet- from here on out, if you're going to fish, you're going to suffer.  November can be your Rubicon, or your Waterloo.

Don't let those die-hard jerks fool you.  Sure there's lots of space age materials and clothing available these days.  Sure the equipment and waders, thermals, fleece and polymers are so much better today.  But let's face the facts- the cold season has begun, and here in Trout Country, the weather will typically be gloomy, rainy, cold, or snowy.  You may get some 50 degree days, but I wouldn't count on it, and before the month is over we'll have a skift of snow, if not a  foot already.  At some point if you're out there, you'll have to expose some skin to cold air and icy water. At some point, if you're going to fish in November, you'll have rain runneling off you or wet snow piling up on your shoulders.

So what are you going to do- fish, or hibernate?

November's distraction
November continues a trend here in Michigan, in that many anglers are also hunters, and so they set down their rods and pick up their shooting irons.  November 15 kicks off what may be our grandest outdoor tradition, as about 750,000 hunters embark on opening day of deer season, an orange clad army taking to the woods in hopes of taming the local deer infestation.  Me, I'm a bowhunter, though I usually try to take my rifle out and shoot coyotes.  November 15 is the one day of the year I will never fish here.  Never mind the risk of taking a stray bullet, you're likely to piss off some hunter who practically had to bribe his boss to get the day off so he could hunt down by the river for that giant swamp buck he saw cross the road in August, and now you're here, lanyard rattling and whistling Dixie, scaring his buck into the next county, all because you wanted to catch a couple 8 inch trout.  Yes the man is armed, and there's always the chance he was drinkin'.  No sir, it just don't make sense.  If I was you, I'd say November 15 is the one day to stay home if you don't hunt.  (You can insert your favorite country twang into those last two sentences.)

Here's your opportunities in November. There's steelhead, steelhead, and St. Steelhead.  Sure, go fish for browns if you like.  Yeah, I know, there's chrome coho's to be had late.  Or better still, kype jawed, red-flanked male coho, pissed off that you had the gall to swing a chartruese and white fly past their face.  But you're back to talking moldy fish here essentially.  If you catch a silver fish, I say keep it- it will be bright orange inside, and smoke up nicely, and the DNR will plant more.  But if what you want is a big angry silver-plated, whale-tailed fighting machine, then swing something to Madame Chrome, because November is the month of fall steel, and aside from the more famous Great Lakes tributaries, you're likely to have the river to yourself.

So here we are, at the brink of the cold season.  As Julius Caesar put it "alea iacta est (the die has been cast)".  It's time to wade in.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Bug is Fake's "30 Days of Fishing- Week 2"

Brandon is back with his week two report, as the challenge gets even more interesting.  Remember, we're giving away an OBIF T-shirt and a large Morrell fly box, so be sure and enter the contest in the top right side-bar.  Contest rules are here.

Call me, “Ishmael.”

 Actually, don’t.  In this version, I have become Capt. Ahab. The ‘white whale’ of my obsession is a very large and mostly white koi. Then again, it might be a gold fish, or an ornamental koi; I am honestly not certain.  What is certain is that it is lord and master of its domain; a dingy little pond adjacent to the ‘Acid Pond’.  We will call this pond the ‘Hobo Junction’ pond (mainly due to the three or four hobo living rooms I found in its circumference).  The pond is stomach shaped and fairly small; it is chock-full of playful medium sized bass.  But they pale in comparison to this fish, however.  The desire to catch this fish developed so fiercely that I actually considering ditching the contest!  The crisis was due to the self-imposed inability to fish the same pond two days in a row.  This fish must be caught, and I was willing to ditch the whole endeavor to it to hand.

not being koi
Cooler heads prevailed however, talking me down from the ledge.  I would continue, as it would likely increase my chances to hook him.  It was also pointed out that I can cheat a little in my methods, since it is a fish-nomaly; providing of course it’s done on the Eagle Claw.  I have fished for it two days at a time, less the weekend, since I discovered the aquatic monster.   Ōkina Sakana (Japanese for Big Fish) has pulled me from deep slumbers into cold sweats, simply by the knowledge it exists.  I have been supremely unsuccessful at fishing for him.  It is proving to be the cagiest fish I have ever pursued, and I am not convinced witchcraft isn’t involved.  This fish is as equally frustrating as, “Not tonight honey, I have a headache…”

Hours have been spent, both fishing and evaluating its behavior, trying to find a chink in the armor.  Over thinking it, I know…  I tend to do that frequently.  Just ask any ex of mine, they will emphatically support the evaluation.  It’s in my nature I suppose, yet this situation calls for disproportionate contemplation.  It knows when I show up and swims over to me.  As soon as I begin casting, it leaves.  Add that approach to the fact that it’s the hobo-junction pond; one can only assume that someone feeds it. It muds like a regular carp but shies away from any fly, or (more likely) any presentation I can achieve surrounded by an entire landscape scientifically engineered for perpetual fly-lossage.  This obsession has essentially, consumed week two.

Moving past the koi, I did catch a common carp, which you can read about here. You can also add Longnosed Gar to the catch-list as well, pulling that off on Saturday.  These bring the total caught species to nine fish.  After the carp, I landed a little red-breasted sunfish; that’s ten, baby!  Let’s not point out that I have fished skunk free for thirteen days in a row, scratch that crap, that’s a personal best!  Assuming this (bone-dry) cold front doesn’t screw things up for me, or the fact that I just called attention to my streak, the fishing should only improve now that fall is actually here.  Unrelated, I have run out of fluorocarbon leaders and the local storefront doesn’t sell them (read: I’m nail-knotting my tippet into a leader).  That variable should affect the Vegas odds slightly.  Lastly, I think I caught a Spotted Bass.  I say think because I have never heard of a pond-dwelling Guadalupe Bass, but it looked similar.  I snapped a picture, but it was a case of extreme camera fail and I didn’t want to kill the little guy waiting on it to quit acting stupid.  So, I am going to call it 10.5 species. 

Now, can I brag a little bit?  Texasriverbum.com made a video!  Why is that cool?  Well, because I am in it! Okay, that part really isn’t that cool. The only thing I can take credit for is my part in it, all the editing and such was done by le Bum himself.  I will own up to a couple of things though, before you watch it…    
1)      My backcast is too fast.  Blame the heavy streamers I fish for that bad habit, I didn’t even know I was doing it.
2)      I screwed the name of this wonderful website up so badly, he couldn’t use it.  I am asking for Rosetta Stone Latin for Christmas.
3)      I was nervous.  Cameras with people behind them make me a little nervous freaking basket case.
There, another week down.  I have a mission within the mission, so the pressure is on a little bit.  If I do catch the Ōkina Sakana, I will add five hand-tied *bass flies to the prize pot. To recap we have: magic koi, no leader, koi/angler cage-fight, ten species, white whales, extra prize, magic koi, and cool video...  Are ye not entertained?!?

Good. See you downstream!

*Disclaimer: I kind of suck at tying flies.  They do catch fish though, I promise.

Make sure you check out Brandon's site-

Previous OBIF contest posts: