Friday, December 30, 2011

Jealousy Counter

If you look to the right and scroll down just a little you'll see the Jealousy Counter, by which I keep track of the number of times I've gone fishing this year.  It was meant as a bit of a snarky joke, implying that while you were stuck in your cubicle in Detroit or Chicago, Austin or Seattle (who am I kidding? No one in Seattle reads this.) I'm out fishing.  Ha- suckers!

As you can see I got out 96 times this year.  This doesn't mean they were all-day trips, only that I got out and engaged meaningfully in the pursuit of fish at some point during the day.  This also doesn't mean that I blew off work to fish- some of my jobs have me crossing multiple trout streams to get to work, and most of my jobs are on lakes.  As a matter of fact, one night, a friend came and picked me up on the job with his boat and we fished until dark- not a bad way to end the day.  My fly fishing gear is always in my truck, and it's never a problem to stop off and fish for an hour on the way home.  I'll eat dinner when I get there, whenever that is.

My real reason for the counter was because I was actually curious as to how much I fished.  I knew I fished a lot, and maybe I was better off not knowing.  I'll never be the type who blocks out an evening for a favorite TV show- if conditions are right and the fish are biting, I'm out there.  I'm pretty sure I fished close to 150 days in 2010.  This year I was busier with work and had other constraints.  As it is, I fished nearly 100 days, and had a blast doing it.  What were the highlights?

just one great fish in a great year

Well, let's see-
  1. Catching my first bass on a fly- a big smallmouth no less.
  2. Catching my first carp on the fly and being introduced to Michigan's expansive flats fishing.  Just ask Kirk Deeter, it's really that good.
  3. Catching my biggest brook trout (16"+ in MI and 20+ in Nipigon) and biggest brown trout (28").
  4. One word- Nipigon.
  5. Fishing with Sanders on the Poudre.  He's a class act and great guide.
  6. Fishing the Betsie river for salmon in September.  The run was insane this year.
Phil with just one of the tanks we caught this fall
I don't know what 2012 will bring (I'm not holding my breath on that Mayan Calendar thing), but I can't wait to see.

My Favorite (Other's) Blog Posts of 2011

I was good enough to pat myself on the back the other day and share my 5 favorite blog posts I’ve written this year.  I don’t see a problem with that, but it begged the question “What were my favorite posts by my favorite bloggers?"  Being new to blogging, it took me a while to figure out that most of those nice people leaving comments on my blog were actually other bloggers.  Hey what did I know?  It has taken me awhile to get around, and there’s so many great blogs out there I can’t possibly keep up with every post by every blog, but I do my best.
I understand that when you write a list like this you run the risk of insulting some.  Without the time to run back through every blog  post by everyone that I try vainly to keep up with,  I’m sure I’ve left out some great posts.  Still, these are some noteworthy posts by some noteworthy bloggers and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

the real brains behind T!
6. Wednesday Nibbles- Selbbin is Nibbles Backwards- Mike Agneta, Troutrageous!.  Ok, this one is going to seem a little gratuitous as it’s the one in which FR received Blog Love (a term which we all learned- and stole- from Master T!) but face it, long before you scroll down and see my banner at the bottom, Mike has you laughing, as he does most every Wednesday.  If I had to pick a favorite blog of the year (which I won’t) it’s probably Troutrageous!.  Where else can you go to get such consistently good entertainment, someone who can lightheartedly address issues and still make you think, a Tenkara guy who doesn’t act like it’s a religion?  And don’t forget Lilly.

5. November Rock- Ivan Orsic, Yukon Goes Fishing.  I’ve been following YGF for some time now and head over there whenever I need my video fix.  Ivan has gotten a lot of play lately by various outlets including Midcurrent and Orvis’ Friday Film Festival for Silver and Gold, his foot-stomping mash-up which I have to admit was a very strong contender, but you’ve all seen it already.  I really love his “Rock” series though, and his use of color and beat together in this piece was very original.

Sanders when the camera IS around

4.  Without a Camera- Sanders, Up the Poudre.  I love all of Sanders writing, but I think this post encapsulates his style- understated, slightly self-effacing, creative, beautifully written.

3.  The Dancing Cast- Erin Block, Mysteries Internal.  Erin Block is such a prodigious talent, that it was difficult to know where to start.  She is perhaps the most creative and profound outdoor writer to come along in a long time.  I’ve said before, that I only visit her site when I have time to think and digest what she’s saying- I miss a lot of posts.  I don’t know if this one is her best; it’s certainly a personal favorite of mine, and out of all the fantastic writing she’s done, I had to pick something.

2.  The Best Trout Fishing Trip Ever- Mike Sepelak, Mike’s Gone Fishin’…Again.  This was Mike’s entry into the Trout Unlimited writing contest, which he won handily, and it landed him in Montana with some other distinguished blog writers to do some fishing and check out what TU has been up to out there.  This piece flows, reminding you of every trip you’ve ever made or yet want to make.

And drumroll please…….
      1.  Fly Fishing Needs Dirty Harry- Kirk Werner, Unaccomplished Angler.
Yeah, so Kirk got a lot of play out of this one, but why shouldn’t he?  It was and is one of the funniest posts I’ve ever read.  It’s not just that the idea was original, the writing is hilarious, and so are his graphics.  After this one Rebecca Garlock proclaimed Kirk was “toast” and thus sending him into temporary retirement.  It didn't last long, and Kirk continues to entertain, but this was certainly his Magnum Opus.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Best, Wild, Place

This is in response to the latest OBN writing prompt, and in conjunction with Trout Unlimited and Field and Stream.  Make sure you check out their Best Wild Places.  Here goes....

Michigan doesn't have a lot of wilderness.  Mind you, we have a lot of wild lands, big woods, big rivers, Great Lakes.  There's lots of state land, well used.

This is my best wild place- the South Branch of the Ontanogan River, from Ewen to Lake Victoria dam.  It is not Yellowstone.  It is not even Isle Royale (also part of MI).  It is working class Michigan, all the way.

Seven friends, seven boats, twenty-seven miles of river. The original plan was to do 55 miles of river; this was obviated by the rocks sans water staring back at us at the original put in. We eliminated half of the trip before finding enough water to float at the town of Ewen. This turned out to be just fine. The town of Ewen has a beautiful launch and parking area at the M28 bridge. From there on we encountered no bridges, only two cottages and precious few signs of human activity.
We drove up and stayed Thursday night at the takeout at Victoria dam. There's a rustic campground down a little trail that is difficult to see as you enter the dam area. It has a nice view of the reservoir, which is completely undeveloped. Bald eagles hold sway over its waters. It is surrounded by high ridges, some with rocky bald tops.

I rousted everyone out at six am Friday and we left before 8, but the aforementioned river conditions and the subsequent search put us on the river at 11:30. The first few miles are flatwater and slow current, the river a rich red color from the local clay. The only hazards are submerged logs. While getting ready to launch, a large smallmouth bass chased a minnow right up to my feet. This is gonna be good, I thought. Yet I fished off and on for the first few miles and didn't catch a thing.

The younger guys kept up a steady pace, disappearing while the three senior members opted to float and fish. After a couple hours of fruitless fishing we gave up and decided to catch up. We paddled for at least another hour before finding them just downstream of the first rapid on a small sandbar. They were ashore checking the bank out for camping. We shot the location down as too constricted and lumpy and pushed on. We eliminated another half dozen locations over the next hour. Steep banks 6' to 20' high and thick brush made getting out difficult to impossible. Finally at about 5:30 we spotted a tongue of sand coming down a low bank and hauled out. Unlike the other rocky areas we had checked, this was pure sand with ferns growing on it and lots of flat areas. Everyone hauled out.

We set to pitching tents, securing gear, filtering water etc. Two guys built a fire and Keith figured out how to build two cook tables out of a slab of charred white pine stump that worked very well. After dinner we wandered down to the river to find Keith catching smallmouth bass. I got my rig out and proceeded to catch or break off eight bass in eight casts. We passed rods and lures around and everyone caught fish. As darkness closed in we sat around the fire, told stories and shared libations. We turned in shortly, and I fell asleep immediately, leaving the rain fly off my tent so as to get a glimpse of the stars.

day one camp as seen from the "cook table"
I woke a couple hours later to the sensation of something hitting me in the face. At first I thought it was insects, but as I came to I realized it was water. My first thought was to roll over and ignore it, but thankfully, my head cleared. As I got out of the tent to put my rain fly on it started to rain in earnest. Rod was also out, adjusting the tarp over his hammock. By the time I finished I was shivering uncontrollably. Much to my surprise, I was instantly warm as soon as I got back in my bag. I slept like a baby to the patter of rain and murmur of the rapids.

I woke early the next morning, ready to get at the bass. I cast around for awhile with absolutely no results, so I finished my coffee, lit the fire and made breakfast. Gradually everyone rolled out, and after a brief safety talk we left at 11.

We camped about halfway down the river and from here on out it is mostly class II rapids which increase in intensity as you go. An hour after launching we encountered a large island where the river split in three braids. The middle channel was the best, and just downstream where it all rejoins was the most beautiful sand beach and swimming hole you could wish for. We decided to stop for lunch and a swim.

the swimming hole

The rest of the day was spent running rapids of increasing difficulty, floating past banks several hundred feet high, immense white pines twisted by time, numerous bald eagles and ducks. I managed to find a few good holes that held numerous 10-12" smallmouth. In one, as I attempted to take down my rod to catch up with the others, a 12" bass grabbed my lure right next to the boat - I had to fight him on the line with my rod collapsed. I released him and immediately another bass grabbed my lure and snapped it off.

After several rapids approaching class III, and miles of maneuvering through boulder-bed rapids, evening was setting in - I felt tired, Rod looked tired and everyone wanted out of their boats. We went through the same process of trying to make different sites work. We now came to an unnamed waterfall, which is really just a class II-III gradual bedrock slide that totals perhaps 6 feet of drop. Except for a couple of boulders to negotiate it was really quite easy. From there we picked our way through some class III boulder bed rapids and down a short slide into a pool with a large grassy sandbar Island on the left and maple covered low bank to the right. We pulled out on the sand bar to investigate and then spotted an opening on the opposite bank. As we pulled up to it we could see a small metal tripod with a fire grate hanging from it. It was an old campsite complete with fire ring, a small wooden table, an aluminum boat and lots of flat ground. There was no sign that anyone had been there in a couple of years.

eagles are abundant on this river
We again made camp, but Alex and Keith opted to camp across river on the sandbar island. The evening went much the same, with small bass biting one after the other below the rapids. I had thought we were in the backwater of the reservoir, but as I fished my way around the bend from camp, the river disappeared from sight and the sound of roaring water filled the valley. On either side, low rock cliffs lined the river. I caught one very nice bass at the head of the rapid, then headed back to camp to tell the others.

We roasted marshmallows, and then, as Keith and Alex headed to their island we tried to hurl flaming marshmallows their way to punish the deserters. This didn't work at all as a) it was too far and b) the marshmallows wouldn't stay lit. So we built a fire on a long flat, slightly cupped piece of driftwood and tried to float it their way. This didn't work either, so Braxton hopped into his yak and floated it over to them. This did not have the desired effect, but nothing's perfect. I later discovered that under the grass where I pitched my tent the ground was rocky and uneven, and spent a near sleepless night shifting around.

Sunday morning we launched a little earlier, eager to get back to the trucks and start the seven hour drive home. Despite the dramatic appearance of the rapids below camp, it was still just a matter of picking the right line and bobbing through the waves. I chose the wrong line and got stuck on the sandstone bedrock and had to walk my boat 100' downstream to relaunch, but the final rapid that dumps you into the lake made it worthwhile. We paddled the final 1.5 mile across Victoria reservoir in a stiff headwind. I felt bad for Alex, who having broken his paddle the first day, epoxied it back together, broke the epoxy on Saturday and now was fighting the wind with half a paddle. We left him behind. It makes a man out of you. Right? Right!!?

And so I conclude with a note of sadness. I don't know where to go from here. The South Branch of the Ontonagon River is probably the wildest river of its size in Michigan. In 27 miles there were no roads, no bridges, only two cottages, a deer blind and two cables across the river. There were no beer cans, no human tracks, no empty bait containers. We were the only ones we knew of on the entire stretch of river, barring one fisherman at the second cottage.   No canoe liveries serve it ( I called around- they won't rent to you if you're floating this stretch).  It is nestled in the remote north west corner of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  In three days of floating, we saw only one other person near the only cabin.  It doesn't have trout.  It's mountains are not grand.  It doesn't have press.  What it has is smallmouth and solitude and wildlife, in abundance.  I love it because it is unsung, because it's NOT a national park.  It's not even a state park.  It is just a beautiful wild place, overlooked by the masses because it has no services, no campgrounds, for being no-name, non-descript and ordinary.  I feel fairly confident in sharing this place with you- you're not going to go.  It's too far, and you'll drive past many of Michigan's more famous destinations to get there.  Which for me makes it perfect.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Year in Review- My Favorite Posts

Yes, 2011 is nearly over and it's that time of year when every news outlet is looking back and inundating you with the stories that were the biggest, worst, most shocking or you name it of the year.  Lindsay Lohan is featured in 23% of them.  I promise you that she doesn't appear in any of my posts.  Yet.  I started this blog this year, and it has been a roller coaster ride.  I've posted 146 times, spent a lot of hours typing, editing, fishing, shooting pics, tying flies, editing pics, and brainstorming ideas.  It has been a lot of fun, and a lot of work.  It has been a learning experience.  I was often surprised by what readers responded to.  I'm going to share a list of my favorite posts.  They may not have been your favorite posts, but oh well.

Ice!- Still one of my favorites, as it captures an event and season that even the locals miss out on.  No one read it, maybe it's the title.

The Ravens I Know- I love ravens, and this piece seemed to just flow.  To me, they are an integral part of the outdoor experience.

On Letting Go- my take on catch and release, and intelligent harvest.  This one caused me some trouble.

Floating Away- this article was very popular and got shared on several major websites.  The need for escape and adventure, and the pursuit of steelhead.

Fantasia in Minor Pain- a backcountry hike gone wrong.  Big fish, personal injury, and mountain lions.

Looking back through my posts has been instructive- I posted a lot of filler and crap, when what people respond to is good writing, good photography and good information.  I'll try to improve, focus more on my writing, and make this blog a better place for anglophiles.  Wait, that might be the wrong term.  Still, I'll do my best.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Outdoor Tip- Warm Feet in Waders

Ok, this is a quick tip.  Winter is upon us, and for some, the fishing isn't over.  We're always looking for excuses to get on the water, but deep snow and cold can be limiting factors.  Extremities, especially our feet, are hard to keep warm, especially when we're going to be standing in freezing cold water.  I've seen neoprene socks on sale by various manufacturers but they seem to be fairly expensive, and instead what I've done is cut the neoprene booties off an old pair of waders and wear them inside my current booties.  It helps that the booties on my current waders are a little over-sized, and your wading boots definitely need to be about two sizes too big.  I purposely buy them that large to accommodate winter fishing.  I wear one layer of wool socks, then the cut-off neoprene booties and then slip on my waders.  So far my feet have stayed toasty warm even when the ice is piling up in my guides.  If you have an old leaky pair of stocking foot waders give this a try before you spend money on something fancy or worse, stay home.  If you don't have an old pair, I'm willing to bet one of your fly fishing buds has a pair laying around- we frequently keep them as an emergency spare (why? if they leak?) or as patch material for our current waders.

Try this tip out- you'll be surprised at how well it works.  JT/FR

Oh yeah, those finger-less wool gloves that sell for about five bucks are your other best friend out there.  Warm when wet, cheap, and they still allow you to use your finger tips.  OK, I'm done.


The dead eye of a salmon stares up at me, as if to say "I've served my purpose here, what's yours?"

The answer is, I don't know.  I've fished this spot a lot lately, as it's some of the only ice-free water nearby, but the water is so low and clear as to nearly rule out the possibility of it holding steelhead, or at least where they would be reachable.

The sky and landscape are monotone and monolithic, carved from a single piece of gray flowing stone.  Even the cedars have muted their green, embarrassed to show their color when everything else is so dull. The wind is calm and even the river flows in muted tones, as if sound could break this sculpture.

I don't know why I've come back again, what my purpose is.  Maybe it's just to cast.  It's certainly not for the exercise.  The fishing has been slow.  I wade in, aiming for the only piece of dark water around.  After a few casts my line zips sideways and I'm tight into a small rainbow.  The water temperature must be perfect, as this little fish actually puts up a struggle against the 8 weight I'm using for steelhead.   The fish races back and forth, jumping repeatedly before finally coming to me.  I admire it, snapping a couple photos before releasing it.  Grow up, buddy.

I stop at the next dark pool, and on the first cast my line again zips tight, there's another merry go-round, and this time a small brown is landed, carefully recorded digitally and sent on his way.  There's a cold spot on my left leg- I really hope my waders aren't leaking.  That could make for a long winter.  I'm surprised by movement and a greeting from the bank.  My vehicle is the only one here, but another angler hails me with the usual "Any luck?".
As I answer, my line comes tight with a serious weight, and a long silver flash.  A few head shakes and it's off, and like any dedicated fisherman, my new companion groans audibly from the bank.  On my next cast, the line comes tight again, and this time we're off to the races.

It's not a huge fish, perhaps 22 inches, but very hot, porpoising and tail walking all over the place.  It zips downstream, and then disaster-  the line I had stripped in my hand wraps around the tools on my lanyard.  The fish continues it's frantic fight as I frantically fight to untangle what is a rather complex knot.  After some tense seconds I work it out and play the fish again.  As I grab the leader the fish- a very fat and energetic young steelhead- starts to roll, and out pops the hook.  Oh well, I was going to release it anyways.  My friend of the moment shoots the breeze for a couple of minutes before wandering on.

I fish for another hour, landing one more small fish, but the light is failing and I'm having a tough time reading my line.  The landscape, sky and river are starting to merge back together.  It will take the sunrise to sculpt them again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview- Artist Becca Schlaff

I first ran into Becca at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo this last March.  I was instantly drawn to her artwork- her use of color and abstraction beautifully capture the essence of fish. We talked briefly then, but I finally got the chance to sit down and interview her recently.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

FR- Becca- why fish?
Becca- A few years ago a friend who is a fly fisherman asked me to do a painting.  He asked me to do a big canvas of a brown trout for his fly shop Nomad Anglers, and everything developed for me as an artist from there. It clicked for me- the colors and textures of the fish and water. I grew up in the country and had previously done animal portraits and fashion design.  The colors grab me in a certain way, combined with the movement of the water, the colors of the fish, the light and reflections.

FR- How would you describe your art, what is your style?  
Becca- I use an expressionistic approach.  Expressionists are the ones that clicked with me, using the paint itself to speak, creating a visual language of texture, layers and transparency with my own emotional reaction.  Abstract expressionism enters in, the play of chance versus control, almost the opposite of my original work.  You see my own commentary emerge from the paint.  The coolest thing for me is when a line or the colors match a picture of a fish I’ve seen, or times I've been on the water, seeing a fish through the water and shifting light and reflections.

FR- So becoming a fisherman yourself has added to or informed your art? 
Becca- Definitely- I’m still learning so much about it.  Everyone tells me to take it one step at a time.   Art and fly fishing are very similar- it seems like the more you let yourself go, the better it is.  The amazing thing about fly fishing and art is that it is enough to just relax and realize I’m in a beautiful place. 

FR- Could you make a go of this without fishermen?  In other words, does fish art translate across the artistic and art consuming world?  
Becca- It does, it definitely crosses both worlds.  Some are anglers who like art, others are collectors who appreciate my work.  Some (non-fishermen) don’t recognize what it is at first, but when I tell them it’s fish the seem to appreciate it all the more.   I can always tell who the fly fishermen are though- they walk right in and love it, they go crazy.

FR-What do you do to escape?  Is it something outdoors, or does it involve Netflix?
Becca- A little of both.  My best escape is going outdoors.  On a walk with my dog, or a longer hike, or something on the water.  I just cancelled my cable, but I do Netflix too.

FR- Which came first, fishing or painting fish? 
Becca- Fish painting, but fly fishing was the next step.  I grew up boating and kayaking, and love spending time on the water.  I went to Montana and had a great time fishing there this summer.  Fly fishing, for me, has brought my art back full-circle.  I'm so happy to experience what I'm trying to depict in my work.

FR- Do you ever fear being type-cast as an artist?
Becca- I don’t.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I haven’t really thought about it.

FR- Do you ever need a break from painting fish?
Becca- I do occasional landscapes.  I just did an abstract of someone casting.  My memory of a friend who could really cast, I loved the long loops and the lighting.

FR- You’ve been featured by Midcurrent, The Fiberglass Manifesto, and American Angler- is your art changing as you get wider exposure, and if so how?
Becca- I don’t think so.  It’s really cool to get the exposure.  It makes me more committed to what I’m doing.  Things change over time.  I seem to be doing more abstracts.  I’ve only been doing just fish for about a year, so I feel that I’m still a newbie, still developing.

this painting is based, in part, on a photo by yours truly
FR- I see you went fly fishing in Montana this year- if budget weren’t an issue, what would be your ultimate fly fishing destination?
Becca- Alaska, Belize, Italy, Chile- Facebook and its network of anglers has exposed me to a lot of places I didn’t know about.

FR- What’s your favorite fish?
Becca- It’s hard- brown trout?  You probably want me to say brook trout. (I laugh- no)

FR- You seem to capture a lot of motion in your paintings- how do you accomplish that?
Becca- I think that’s from the way I handle and apply the paint.  Layering and dripping, I move the canvas around a lot, they go through a lot of 360 degree rotations.  Sometimes I remove paint, or use a knife to scrape or drag it.  There's a lot of techniques, but it's about capturing a feeling, my reaction to what I'm seeing.

FR- Are fish a metaphor for something bigger in your life?  
Becca- It affects my soul- the water and colors of the fish and how I grew up in the country.  I think it's all tied together.

FR- Commissions aside, what determines that a fish picture gets turned into a painting- do you see each fish as a blank canvas, or does it take some back-story to inspire you?
Becca- It depends.  Sometimes I get a photo with a story, but I do think each fish is a blank canvas.  I typically have a million pictures out for each painting.  I might use three different pictures of brown trout with pictures of light and water to trigger that emotional response  in myself in that expressionist process I talked about.

FR- My personal approach to art is like or dislike, without a whole lot of thought to the process.  What do you say to art Neanderthals like myself-  what wisdom can you share in art appreciation?
Becca- I'm always surprised- fishermen always walk into my booth at art shows, say they don't know anything about art and then come up with these amazing insights, things I haven't seen in my paintings.  I think fly fishing, being an art, makes fly fishermen more open to art.

FR- What’s on your iPod?
Becca- I have a horrible mix of stuff.  Alternative, classic rock, but I have my Lady Gaga and Pitbull.  I play more upbeat high energy stuff when working on a canvas.  I listen to Pandora a lot.

FR- When’s the last time you took a knife to a canvas?
Becca- (Laugh’s) Never! I think I ought to sometimes, but never.

FR- What artists and art forms inspire you?
Becca- My number one is Gerhard Richter, he’s more of a contemporary style artist I learned about in school.  One of my professors turned me on to him.  It’s where my love of the colors and textures of paint came from.

FR- I’ve seen photos of your latest brown trout abstract, which is definitely more abstract than others I’ve seen.  Is this a direction you’re moving in?
Becca- I think it’s the direction I’ve been in.  My early work is similar.  It’s a fine line, whether I use one shot for more realism, or use several to create connections.  I think I just have degrees of abstraction, though those canvasses may be some of the most abstract I’ve done.

I really want to thank to Becca for participating.  I love her artwork and so will you.  Make sure you check out her artwork on her website, or join her on Facebook.  Her studio is in East Lansing, Michigan.

You can find Becca at the following art shows, among others.
January 7, 2012 at Indiana on the Fly
Jan 21,22 at the Islamorada Fine Art Expo
February 11,12 in Bonita Springs, Florida
February 18,19 in Sarasota.
March 10 Midwest Fly Fishing Expo in Warren, Michigan.

Becca wants to fish when she's in Florida in February- help a gal out, give her some tips, share guide contact info, or better still if you live there, take her fishing.

Monday Morning Coffee- December 19

Oh, do I have to get up?  I guess we all do, it's a new week. Hi-dilly ho-dilly.  In case you haven't noticed, I took a week off while I worked on other things.  I did get out and fish several times, with mixed success.  One day I caught about twenty fish, including eight that were 12-20 inches, the next day I caught 2 little dinkers.  The fishing can be hot or cold this time of year.  I didn't get any pictures as it was raining quite a bit, and the dry bag I store my camera in has developed several bad leaks.  I don't know if any of you keep track of it, but the Jealousy Counter to the right has crept up steadily- I'll come close to 100 outings this year.  I'll have to do a favorite trips/year in review post maybe.

I know everyone is distracted by the holidays, but I'll try to get a couple of posts up this week- I'll be conducting an interview of a Michigan artist and post that, and I have an overdue gear review coming out too.

Other than that, there's not much to report.  Winter has definitely been delayed around here.  We have almost no snow (we should have a foot or two), temps were in the 40's last week, it's 40 right now.  Who says global warming is a bad thing?  I feel a little bad for local businesses- the ski resorts are unable to open, and the snowmobile trails are bare.  La Nina hasn't been kind to us so far.  The flip side, is that fishing has been tolerable, and so I've gotten out on a regular basis, even if it's just for an hour or two.  (Correction- I see that some of the ski resorts are open.  The miracle of snow making.  Last week when it was so warm, you could see through their base, but they must have burned the midnight oil when we it was cold Friday and Saturday.)

Well, it's time to get something done- have a great week!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gear Review- Mooseknuckle Lanyards

the Mooseknuckle and me, Poudre River
I only became aware of Mooseknuckle Lanyards a couple months ago, but in that time, I've seen them pop up all over the place.  When Jeremy Barnes, the owner, and I talked about reviewing one, he was only too happy to send one along.  He sent a beautiful carbon fiber model.

I discovered four years ago that I am a lanyard man.  I have never been the vest type.  I never liked the look, it seemed too stuffy to me.  I've always worn a light day pack and kept some flies in my front wader pocket.  On hot summer days, who needs to wear another layer?  As I got more and more into fly fishing I started running into problems.  I bought and used more tools and accessories, with no good way to utilize them.

The breaking point was when I fished the San Juan river in March of '09.  Suddenly, I needed tippet spools and a host of tools to tie and re-tie two fly indie rigs for the fishing there.  I bought a lanyard at Navajo Dam (the town) and voila.  It was a decent no name lanyard with a couple of decorative beads and a built in tippet post.  But, it fell apart at some point, I never got the foam padding back on, and I put up with it being a pain in the neck.

Then I got my Mooseknuckle lanyard in the mail.  Jeremy sent me the Carbon Fiber model.  The carbon fiber spacers are a cool touch, decorative and functional.  I love this lanyard.  What I look for in a lanyard is that you don't notice it's there until you need it, and I can say that for this one.  The high-density foam on the neck is very comfortable, and their patent-pending adjustment system is adjustable to any length you'll need.  The adjustment is simple yet secure.  I was impressed by the safety clasp which disconnects in an emergency.  It already has saved my bacon once.

the Mooseknuckle Carbon Fiber, ready for action

It has a variety of metal attachments and clasps.  Personally, I have a set of nippers, a Dr. Slick hemo combo tool, a gink dispenser, a small fly box made for lanyards, and a tippet post for accessories.  Here's the official run-down of stats:

  • Type III Commercial Para Cord
    • 7 Inner Cords Made of 14 Strings with a rating of 35 lbs each.
    • 14 Strings with a rating of 17.5 lbs each.
    • 32 Strand Sheath
    • Minimum Breaking Strength of 550 lbs.
    • Drys Quickly
    • Mold, Mildew, and UV Resistant
    • Made in the U.S.A.
  • High Density Foam Neck Padding and Fly Patches
  • Corrosion Resistant Stainless Steel Spacers
  • 5 – 80 lb Test Duo-Lock Snaps
  • High Density Rubber Cinch Beads
  • Break Away Safety Clasp
  • Ultralight, Extremely Strong Carbon Fiber Tube Spacers
  • Anti-sway Stainless Steel Alligator Clip
  • MooseKnuckle Lanyards Quick Adjust System (patent pending)
    • Does not compromise the structural integrity of the foam.
    • Allows the user to quickly and easily make adjustments while wearing the lanyard.
  • Hand Assembled in the U.S.A.
  • Unconditional Lifetime Warranty!
Available Cord Colors

Mooseknuckle has two other models, a fiberglass and a stainless steel model.  They retail for $24.99 and the Carbon Fiber model sells for $34.99.  If you're looking for a lightweight and convenient alternative to a vest, definitely give one a try.

He also makes a Universal Tippet Caddie, which I'm planning to add to my lanyard, as it is can be attached in multiple configurations, either hanging free, or horizontally depending on your preference.  

You can check out Mooseknuckle's products on the web as follows:

I want to thank Jeremy Barnes for the opportunity to review a really nice piece of equipment that goes with me on every outing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Angler's Year- December

"Winter Storm to Intensify as it Heads Northeast!"

this time last year
So goes the headline.  Good for them I say.  Let them have a rah rah start to the season.  I live in a snow zone, and at this writing (Dec. 2011) we are curiously lacking in snow.  Mind you, snow has been leaking steadily from the sky for two days, as if someone forgot to shut the clouds off, and it's slowly drizzling down while still failing to cover anything.  Normally, we'd have at least a foot by now if not two, so I'm not complaining.  I'm looking around my yard to make sure nothing is out that I don't want buried til spring, checking the bed of my truck to be sure I don't lose any tools (or gear) to the ice and snow.

I try to be upbeat about the fishing opportunities found each month, they are to be had.  But when December comes, there's no pretending anymore.  The cold is here, and it wants to eat your heart.  There are no good days anymore, just the encroaching cold and darkness, short days, the icy grip of the longest season.  December is as bad as it gets.  Here in Michigan, a lot of streams are closed until the end of April, the fish have gone dormant anyways, and the weather is typically horrid- cold, windy, lots of snow.  By the end of the month the ice fishermen will be out in force, which doesn't bode well for the fly fishing prospects.

I am, of course, a fear mongering hypocrite.  After all, I've fished six of the last eight days, and caught a couple of small (baby) steelhead, and a bunch of decent trout.  All on egg patterns while fishing for steelhead.  If you ask me, the first two weeks of December seem to be just as good as the November fishing, but it depends on how cold it gets, how fast.   This year, it has been unseasonably warm.  I may yet catch my chrome siren.

oh sweet siren, how I love thee...

I've had my chances and haven't done my part.  I've hooked up on at least three good steelhead so far this month, and each has come unpinned in the first couple of head shakes.  I lost five in one day last December.  Or to be more accurate, five in two hours.  I'm feeling a little snake bit on the fall steelies.   Why do I tend to hook up on spring fish and not fall fish?  I'm fishing the same patterns.  I think I'm doing the same things.  Or am I?

Perhaps, perhaps I'm sabotaging myself, as sub-consciously I surrender to this most amorphous of seasons, like being devoured by a jellyfish,  its tentacles drawing me deeper into catatonic lethargy.  It would be very easy to just hibernate right now.  To sleep, just sleep, and dream of warmer, happier times.  I remember things- green scents, the whine of mosquitoes.  I remember warm sand on my feet.  I remember rising trout, and tailing carp.  I remember wearing a t-shirt outside, all day.  I remember clear blue skies, with those high, comma shaped clouds, like Nike swooshes visiting from another realm.  When was that?  Oh well, sleep is good.

remember these days?

All that is gone, and until then we have to survive.  And we will, we always do.  Most of you are so caught up in the holiday season, that fishing is an afterthought anyways.  When we get a break, we'll read our favorite magazines, books, and blogs.  This is the time of year we start to get serious about fly tying.  My tying desk is a mess right now, with too many materials packed into too little space.  I'll have to do something about that.  Maybe after I get some more fishing in.  I'm going to make it a point to watch as many videos online as possible, learn some new techniques, new patterns, broaden my tying horizons.

There's a couple of warmer days coming up, so hopefully I'll get back out there.  My favorite steelhead river freezes up so solid that the locals ice fish for them.  The other rivers develop extensive shelf ice, making the fishing challenging to impossible.  When that happens, I'll sit down at my vise, and start plotting for the time when the rivers flow free, the mayflies hatch, and the trout look up.

a fate I can live with

I had thought of including a winter to-do list here, but I don't think I can do any better than Alex Cerveniak.  In addition to his own blog, he now  is running  This post has an exhaustive rundown of what you need to do before next season.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review- "Shin Deep" by Chris Hunt

Chris Hunt loves to fish, and he wants you to come with him.

Chris Hunt is the national communications director at Trout Unlimited.  With that kind of resume, I wasn't sure what to expect from his book "Shin Deep- A Fly Fishers Love of Moving Water".  Which school of fly fishing is he from?  Wearing tweed, throwing bamboo, and puffing a pipe?  Pushing the latest expensive gear while smoking a cigar?  Au contraire, I found this book to be refreshing, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Do you remember what it was like the first time your father or grandfather took you fishing?  Do you remember that almost animal pleasure of being on a trout stream, the youthful glee and excitement you felt in anticipation of an outing?  Do you remember the scent of watercress, spruce, cedar, and cold water, the smell of trout lingering on your hands?  Chris manages to capture all of this with an almost child-like enthusiasm.

In his book, Chris takes us across country, and through time, from his decision to retire from the newspaper business (an entirely entertaining intro to his book) to the present, and from his native Colorado, to his current Idaho, to Barataria to Virginia, in search of native natives.  He fishes back country, high country, and even right next to the interstate.  What comes through, is an overwhelming sense of his love of fishing, of the excitement we all feel when our boots first hit the river and and we strip out some line.  His stories wax, overtake you, and you will feel as if you are alone on his river, seeing it through your own eyes.  There's no posturing, just Chris (you), the river, and its denizens.  Later, as his story (yes, this is a life story in a way) progresses, we get to fish with his family, a touching series of vignettes (chapter 13 is particularly poignant),  coupled with real-life out-takes from the west- smoke lingers in the air, and bear tracks punctuate the scene, as Chris negotiates the back country with his kids, introducing them to the joys of clean water, and fishing off the beaten path for wild trout.

If you have the chance to go fishing with Chris Hunt, or just as well, read his book, then do so.  You can read most of his essays in ten minutes or less.  You will be that much the richer. In each story you will sense the excitement of approaching a river bank, rod in hand to the sounds of running water and the sight of rising fish.

Definitely add this to your book shelf and reading list.  You'll be glad you did.  I know I am.

To get your copy, click on the link here.  Go on, it's that good.

You can also keep up with Chris at his very popular blog Eat More Brook Trout.

Monday Morning Coffee- December 5

Well, it's Monday again- another week, another month, and a busy week coming up.  Last week was only moderately busy, and I got out and fished several times.

I've been after steelhead, but have only come up with a couple of small fish, and a handful of dinks every day.  They're fun fish to catch, but not the 6-8-10 pound fish I'm really after.  Those fish are out there- I'll keep trying.  Michigan has some fantastic steelhead fishing, and this right now is the most exciting time of the year to chase them, as they seem to come into the rivers super-charged, and generally they are blindingly silver-bright.  The rivers in my area are quite small however, and a lot of the runs tend to be marginal at best.  Still, it gives you tremendous opportunity to catch wild rather than stocked fish, and in my last 5 outings I haven't run into another angler.  I haven't even tried the three best streams in the area, so maybe I can find something yet.  Here's hoping.

I did some online research into the Pebble Mine issue last week, and thus the post Friday.  I did the math- gold Friday was going for $1744+/- per ounce, and they estimate the mine to hold approximately 11 million ounces.  My math comes to over $19 trillion, or nearly one and a half times the US gross domestic product.  Those kind of figures bum me out.  Who knows, perhaps public opposition will prevail.  We'll see.  It would be nice to see one of the last well managed fisheries in the world remain intact without this kind of threat,  but in today's climate where it seems big business gets away with everything, I'm not hopeful.  Those are some serious numbers at stake.

I don't have a whole lot to say this week, so I'll leave you with some fish pictures from last week.  I'll try to get a post or two up, and hopefully get out and fish once or twice, but I have to get some work done this week, including some writing for various projects.

Have a great week!

One of the "twins" I caught early in the week- just great, solid fish.

I caught lots of these guys last week.

This was a surprisingly hard fighting fish.

This was a small but solid fish.

Well, there's a few of last weeks fish.  Hey, they're all a lot of fun; hopefully I can find their daddies soon before the weather gets positively miserable.  - JT/FR

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dirty Pebble

I have seen and heard a lot over the last year about the proposed Pebble Mine.  I'm against it.  How much of this earth do we really need to rape and pillage?  What parts are we willing to protect, regardless of the street value of its resources?

I hear a lot about the potential dangers to Bristol Bay- I hear you loud and clear.  The dangers are real, the risk to the natural landscape and ecosystem are real.  What I don't hear, are hard number comparisons.  I hear a lot about the numbers of salmon, the number of jobs, the livelihoods and local communities that would be devastated by an accident or contamination.  But here is what you need to be aware of- what you're up against.

There's over $21 billion worth of copper in the deposit, and over $19 trillion- yes, trillion, in gold.

So here's what we're going to do.  We're going to complain, write letters, join websites, heck, even donate to our various favorite charities.  We will click "Like".  We'll dick around and gnash our teeth while the vastly more interested and funded parties do their dirty work.   The Pebble mine will proceed as planned.  They will do a magnificent job- this will be the mine to end all mines.  It will be safe, environmentally clean (except for the immediate area that gets torn up for the, ahem... mine.)  And then, IT will happen.

IT doesn't matter what IT is.  IT will happen- after all 'IT happens.  IT hits the fan all the time.  We don't know what IT will be, only that IT will happen.  An earthquake that splits those enormous earthen dams, a leakage, multiple leakages, the death by 1000 cuts that happens when you build a ginormous mine- a deepwater harbor, giant earthen dams, a long road, dozens of bridges and some pipelines.  Ten, or 25, or 75 years from now, the children, nay, grandchildren of the current residents will say "Grandfather, tell us about when the rivers were red with fish...." as they reside in Anchorage, or Vancouver, or some rez in North Dakota.

Once you let the genie out of the bottle, it's incredibly difficult to cram him back in.  I am not against all development and progress- I wrote this post on my laptop, replete in all its rare-earth-and-gold-plated glory.  God know's how dirty the electricity was I burned in the process.  I drive perhaps one of the worlds worst vehicle's- a Chevy 3/4 ton Silverado.  No matter what I do, it gets 13 m.p.g.  Cut me some slack, I'm a contractor, and you can't put a 40' ladder on a Prius (an environmental sham anyways).  My point is- once this monster is built, once you let the genii out, how do you contain them?  Is the watershed and its destruction worth $20+ trillion?  To whom?  After all, while the state of Alaska, and the US would see some minor benefits in jobs and taxation, the major players are not US entities.  Canada, the UK, Japan and others will see the bulk of trillions in profits- Trillions with a capital T. They are not running a charity.  And again, once you let the genie out of the bottle...

When you build 200 culvert bridges across creeks and rivers, which allow sand and sediment to clog spawning gravel...

When you build a pipeline, which likewise crosses creeks and rivers and dumps tons of sand and silt over spawning gravel, then breaks and poisons the streams it crosses....

When the trucks transporting ore break, or spill, and continuously discharge exhaust and effluent.....

When ships in the harbor (newly built in wilderness) sink in a storm yet to be foreseen...

You get my drift.  We all live downstream, and if the Pebble Mine is built, we will all live downstream of it.  The waters, that is, not of the profits, which all seem to flow conveniently upstream.

So do it- donate your dollars.  You're probably better off donating to Bobby's college fund.  He'll pay off his college loans (about the time of his death) much faster than you'll save any salmon.  But at least you can say you died trying.

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  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.