Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- February 27, 2012

aaaaaauuuuuGGGGGGHHHHOOO+++++  Good Morniiiiinggggg!!!.....uugghhhh.  Monday is it?  It must be time for coffee.  Let's have some.  Yawn, streeeeetttccchhh scratch, repeat.

Well, it was a quiet week here.  I've been slowly building my time on the water (see the Jealousy Counter) and have been doing a steady job on the fish.  Nothing huge this last week, just some good daily success.  The winter remains mild, and with March right around the corner, I have little hope that will change.  Up here we need deep snows and cold temperatures to ensure steady flows and stable water temps throughout summer; if we don't get some flooding rains this spring our summer trout fishing could be in jeopardy.

one from this week
I have several events on the horizon that concern you, but I'll share them as they get closer.  I have some cool interviews coming soon etc., just keep an eye out here, it's going to be a lot of fun.  I also have a guest post coming out this week for The River Damsel, so make sure you check that out.

If you missed it, make sure you check out my post from last week about summer- remember, it is on its way.  Don't get caught with your waders down.

Make sure you check out Will King's latest post at The Riparian Corridor about the recent loss of his father and its effect on him.  Very well written man, and our thoughts are with you.

What else.  I'm starting a new job today, so we'll see what effect that has here on FR.  I won't be at as much liberty to run off whenever I want to, but it has me driving past some of my favorite steelhead rivers right as the daylight gets longer and the spring run takes off.  It will be an exciting spring fishing for steelhead, and not long after the lake ice clears I'll be after springtime pike, smallmouth and carp on the local flats.  I'm planning a solo kayak camping trip to the UP a little later, probably late June.  Just think- it's nearly March, and summer is just around the corner.  Do you have your game plan in place?

I've been invited to join a local writers group, my first meeting is tonight.  I can't wait to see what that's all about.  I already have that fish out of water feeling.  I'm reviewing a book for local author Chris Weston and will post it soon.

Well, coffee is done and it's time to go to work- let's get after it....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Summer, the Once and Future Dream

I wrote this piece in December for the last issue of The Cedar Sweeper magazine. That issue has now run its course so I'm happy to share it with you here.  If you miss summer or are looking forward to it, read on.
dreaming of waters tropical....

A thin coat of snow covers the landscape like a sheer garment.  It’s late December, and frankly, we’re having a mild winter.  It doesn’t matter, we’ll be buried in snow soon enough, the rivers and lakes here in the tip of Northern Michigan will ice over, swaddled in snow, and the fishing will grind to a crawl, quite like molasses in, well, January.  My tying vise is out, it’s time to clean up and reorganize my bench, and settle in for the winter.

I can’t complain, with all of the warm weather we’ve had so far, I’ve fished more this December than any other in the past.  We’ve had a lot of days in the 40’s, a lot of nights that didn’t freeze.  Still, I can’t help looking back.

the onset of late-stage winter madness
Somewhere in the back of my mind lies a memory, one that seems to be quickly fading, much like a dream half way through the morning.  Did that really happen?  Was it just a dream?  Colors, images and emotions swirl.  I remember wet wading, and wearing a t-shirt all day long.  I recall fishing dry flies until 10 p.m., the boreal glow reflecting blue and gold from the surface of the water as the sun slid off to the north.    I remember warm nights on the river, the whine of mosquitoes in my ears.  I remember hitting any stream, anywhere, anytime.  Ah, memories.

Why does winter feel like the only reality now?  The incessant damp and chill, the gray skies, frosty mornings, short days?  It’s difficult to imagine going outside wearing anything less than two layers, and it’s impossible to fish without feeling like the Michelin man.  But somewhere, deep in the recesses of our minds, a candle burns.  I like all those guys who say they love winter fishing.  I’m sure that a tiny minority do love it on its own merits- the beauty and silence of winter, the distinct lack of crowds, the satisfaction of catching hard won fish, that face-to-the-wind satisfaction of perseverance in adversity.  I get it.  But when you corner these guys, pin them down and get them talking, terms like “solitude” and “lack of crowds” come up repeatedly.  It’s about aesthetics, the season has nothing to do with it.

Beauty? Yes, Solitude? Yes, but it ain't summer...

Honestly- who would willingly trade summer for winter?  In summer the days are warm and long, there are bug hatches galore.  You can fish 24 hours a day if you like.  You can fish seven days a week and fish for a different species each day, you can fish the whole season without fishing the same body of water twice.   Right now you have to pick the most ice free streams out of the few that remain legally open, and there is usually only about six hours through the middle of the day that are very productive- if at all. 

Summer is a two-fold dream.  When here it has that surreal, whirlwind quality- like so many dreams, it passes too quickly, leaving us befuddled, wondering what happened, trying to figure out why we were talking to a pin-striped duck with a blue head at our mother-in-law’s house.  Before you know it, it’s here, it roars through your life in a swirl of heat and light and activity.  You’ll spend too much time at work, or mowing the lawn, or consumed with necessary things- family obligations, graduation parties, oil changes, backyard barbecues, and renewing your vehicle plates at the Secretary of State’s office.  Like a dream there will be those moments of clarity, snapshots in time frozen in your mind’s eye- a rise on a favorite stream, black and red spots on a yellow flank, the warm sun on your face as you doze to the sound of murmuring water, fireworks lighting up the night sky, the taste of ice cream on a hot afternoon, the sound of thunder under darkening skies, the smells of watercress, cedar and spruce, and of fish on your hands.  All of this happens in the same fast-twitch REM fashion, and we wake up in late September in a cold sweat, out of breath asking ourselves “Was that real? What happened?”  The harder we try to pin it down, the harder it is to remember.

One. Cold. Fish.
This time of year, summer is that other dream.  We only recall those pleasant days of blue skies and Simpson’s clouds, the leisurely days spent on vacation, the weekends when our schedules opened up, the wife took the kids to visit her sister, and you got away to fish.  The weather cooperated, the fish rose, you somehow managed to dodge the canoeists and tubers, you found a lonely stretch of water, enjoyed a cold one on the river bank to the gentle sounds of flowing waters, the clattering racket of kingfishers, and the splash of rising trout.  Your casting was perfect and even the tag alders restrained their greedy, grabby limbs.  You see with astonishing clarity your size 16 Adams land silently, a dimple on the surface film; you throw the perfect cast, the perfect mend and get a perfect drift.  Quietly a large nose breaks the surface and your fly disappears.  Fish ON.  There are no mosquitoes, no black flies, no harsh winds, no deadlines to worry about, and no one splashes their way down the river through your hole.  Like I said, it’s a dream.

Winter can be a lot like exile or imprisonment- the forced labor of shoveling snow and scraping frosty windshields, having to wear garments we don’t like, the involuntary confinement brought about by extended darkness, fierce weather and deep cold.  Prisoners and exiles, the ones who didn’t merely survive, but found a way to flourish, all say the same things.  They had routines, and they had hope.  For us interred in this darkest of seasons, we have both.  Besides the demands of our daily lives, we will clean our gear, inspect our reels and lines, and decide what we need for the coming season.  We will pore over catalogs drooling over the latest rods and nets.  We will tie flies.  We will get out our maps and guidebooks, consult with our friends and plan for the upcoming season.  We’ll watch videos online, read books and otherwise vicariously live the dream.  These things will sustain us, they will keep a flame of hope burning inside, a ray of sun shining through the bars, until the days grow longer, the snow melts and we are liberated again.

flame of hope? most definitely
I fish year-round now, I have for several years.  I’ve come to realize that it’s not out of some sort of purism, or some perverse love of cold extremities and icy guides.  For me it’s about keeping the dream alive, of not being able to let go.  I feel that if I just keep going I’ll get a taste of that happier time, that I may actually be able to remember what it is like to be warm, bug bitten and sun burnt, happily casting my three weight to rising brook trout far in the backcountry.  I feel that if I just keep going back that the montage of sights, sounds and smells that flashes through my mind will somehow materialize, congeal into something tangible, and that I’ll be prepared for the next time, ready to net the stream itself and carry it with me for the rest of the year, to fix myself in that happy time and place where the sun is warm, a river flows free, and trout are rising.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Scenes From the Day

Yes I went fishing today.  It was a beautiful, even grand sort of day- sunny, calm, 40 degrees once it warmed up from single digits overnight.  I drove all over the place looking for fish, and didn't find them until the end of the day, but you know what they say about something you've lost- it's always in the last place you look.  I used to think that saying made sense until I realized how redundant and asinine it was.  I ended up hooking up on nine fish, but only landed one.  I was ready to chuck my flies in the river and order new hooks before I landed the fish pictured.  Steelhead are always a gamble, and I've adopted a new style of fishing them, similar to high-stick nymphing, but with egg patterns, and a lot of them get hooked in the tip of the snout.  The one I landed was firmly hooked in the corner of the jaw wouldn't you know.

Anyhow, it was a grand sort of day, and I hit several spots.  The first didn't go so well.  There's only one spot to fish (I fish a lot of marginal streams), and when I got there, there was some white-bearded local dude with a ponytail and a surf rod staggering toward the only hole, and so I left it to him and continued on.  At the next spot there was not enough water for a steelhead to swim upright in.  The ice was pretty, as was the view of the Mackinaw Bridge.  This spot was track city- coyote, bobcat, and mink tracks dotted the shoreline.  As I was leaving, a bald eagle drifted north over the Straits.

I crossed those waters.  I was fairly astonished to see a freighter passing under the bridge in mid-February.  Usually the Straits of Mackinaw are frozen solid under 3 feet of ice.  Mackinaw Island residents establish a snowmobile route across the ice to keep connected with the mainland.  There's always what must be an uncomfortable period each winter and spring, when the ice isn't safe and the ferries can't run.  The only way on and off is by small plane.  I'm sure they stock up ahead of time, but I'll bet milk gets expensive.

I won't bore you with the blow by blow of the day.  Suffice it to say that it was sunny, pleasant dead quiet, the sense of isolation causing my heart to pound a little.  No one had been here in a month, and the wolf tracks following the shore raised the hackles on my neck.  The deer tracks were fresher than the wolf tracks- if it's safe for deer it must be safe for me.  Honestly, the thought of wolves doesn't bother me.  The area I'm in used to have one of the biggest packs in Michigan, said to be 28 members strong, but that has dwindled down considerably, and judging by the groups of deer feeding everywhere near the roads, I'd say they're doing fine.

I fished for several hours, but open water and fish were scarce.   I wanted to fish another river on my way  home, so I re-crossed the straits in the waning afternoon light.  It was at the final stop that I found fish.  It was a great day, like a mini road trip.  I'll let the pictures say the rest.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- Waiting for the Sun Edition

I've got a couple of days here to fish before I start work, but here it is, nearly 10:30, and I'm still sitting here drinking coffee.  It's supposed to be 40 degrees today, perfect for winter steelheading, but when I woke up it was single digits, and right now it's still in the teens.  I tied up some candy for the fish last night as I was running low on a couple of their favorite flavors.

I've managed to catch a few fish in the last week or so, mostly small fish in the 20 inch range, but I did manage that big 35" buck ten days ago- my fish of the winter.  I blame my recent success on the warm weather.  Stream conditions are terrible, all the local rivers being ultra-low and clear.  I've been fishing for just a couple hours at a time, as my options dwindle in streams running two feet below normal.  Today I'm headed out in search of more fishable water, as I'm supposed to fish all day with a friend tomorrow, and it's tough finding enough water to hold fish.  Here's hoping.

I have a couple of posts in the works that I've been too lazy to finish, and I have a good one coming up soon, maybe this week, looking back at and forward to summer.

Well, It's getting time to think about heading out the door.  It's beautiful and sunny, a perfect day for a road trip.  Not sure where I'll end up, only that it's time to go.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Trout for Breakfast

Butter, salt, pepper.  Bam.  I kept a small steelhead yesterday- It was time to eat a fish.  In a world that at times seems obsessed with catch and release, it was refreshing to take something home, filet it and partake of the rivers goodness.  I hear a lot of people say the river is their church, if so, then this is communion.  Fish is good food.  Fresh caught and properly cared for it is superior food.   I do this in honor of my grandfather as well, the man who taught me to fly  fish.  He was a fish cook par excellence who could whip up a shore lunch of breaded fish and southern fried potatoes and onions anywhere.  I'm not advocating catch and kill here, only that for me a meal of fish now and then completes the circle, nourishment derived from nature (and the largesse of the DNR stocking program). Served with sweet potato fries it becomes rocket fuel for a busy day.

I think I'll broil that other filet for dinner.

yeah, this one's coming home

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gear Review- Redington Crosswater Rods

My Crosswater 8 weight

For those of you who do know, you're wondering "Why review an entry level rod?".  The Crosswater is Redington's least expensive rod, retailing for about $70-90.  I got mine on sale from Cabela's last spring for $50.

If nothing else it lets you know I'm not sponsored by the company.  Redington is a great gear company with a full roster of excellent rods, from entry level to quite expensive, staying just below the absolute nose-bleed levels of the higher end companies.  Redington is now a subsidiary of Far Bank Enterprises, the same company that owns Sage, Rio, and a few other shingles.  They have a reputation to protect, and so I would expect that all of the products from all of their subsidiaries are held to a certain standard.

Here's what I was after- an affordable 8 weight rod by a reputable company for chuck-n-duck fishing for salmon and steelhead, I wanted a backup rod for my night fishing and for flats fishing carp and smallmouth bass, and it needed to be inexpensive and tough.  For those not familiar, chuck-n-duck fishing entails using a running line, and a butt section of monofilament on which you have a sliding weight.  It is not uncommon for your sliding weight to come out of the water on a hook set or snag and impact the tip section of your rod, at times shattering it- imagine your sense of loss when you've paid $200, $300, or $600 for that rod.  Thus my search.

a nice salmon caught on the Crosswater

But here is another side to the Crosswater.  Last year I happened to recognize a buddy's truck parked at a local river.  He is a local guide, and has some very nice (expensive) gear in his drift boat for his clients.  I wandered upstream to see him throwing some beautiful graceful loops.  Come to find out he was using the Crosswater 4 weight.  When I asked him about this, he said they have such a nice feel that he continues to use them.  I have since had the chance to cast a 5 weight, and was very impressed with how it cast.  The action is medium and casts a bit like fiberglass, meaning that you have to slow your cadence, but it threw 50 foot casts effortlessly.  Your mantra on the back cast is "wait for it, just wait for it", but on the foreward stroke it is solid and a bit of a rocket.  It has a bit of a heavy feel, but casts very nicely, and with some practice I was able to make a gentle presentation.

As far as fishing my 8 weight for carp on the Great Lakes, it was adequate but not ideal.  I found the action too soft, it would not punch into the west wind like I needed.  It is not really designed for that kind of fishing.  It will do in a pinch, especially when the schools move close in and the wind isn't up.

Okay, here is where this rod, my 8 weight shines- it is fantastic for chuck-n-duck fishing for Great Lakes salmon and steelhead.  Here's why.  First, it is priced right- the 8 weight normally sells for $90, I bought mine for $50.  You could stock up on these rods at that rate and never run out.  Second- I have tried and can't seem to break this rod, and I've broken a lot of rods this last year.  The medium action is a benefit as you're not looking for an overly aggressive rod in this type of  fishing.  The Crosswater is responsive enough, telegraphing the bottom to you with some precision, but where I have found this rod to shine is in the battle.  Just try to break a tippet with this rod.  Lean back.  Relax.  Hang on.  I've caught some very big fish on this rod, including salmon in the mid twenty pound range, and a great steelhead.  It was overmatched fishing salmon this fall- the fish were huge and plentiful.  A 10 weight would have better suited the situation, and yet, I leaned back on this rod, hooked up with fish that were much bigger that this rod was designed for, and it would just bend, bend, and bend some more.  I got a couple of great salmon and had a great day.  It is ideally suited to steelhead fishing- perfectly matched to the fish, and it battles them with aplomb.

The 8 weight Crosswater features a nice dark blue blank, a comfortable cork grip with fighting butt, and an excellent reel seat.  I had problems at the start with my reel wobbling in the reel seat, but over time this has disappeared, which makes me think it was pilot error, and in battling my big steelhead today it was rock solid.

a great buck steelhead caught on the Crosswater 8
Drawbacks?  I've lost a couple of fish to soft hook-sets, and there are times when I've wished it had more backbone.  But once you hook up it is hard to lose a fish, so the rod seems to mitigate.  You could easily spend $600-800 on a rod these days- there's lot's of such models available.  Look at my pictures and my smile-  a fish is a fish- it's not about the rod, but the time you enjoy on the river.  If $50, or $70 or $90 gets you out on there fishing, then so be it.

If you're looking for a great trout rod, you can't go wrong with the 4 weight, it's a genuine pleasure to fish and cast.  The 5 weight is a great all around rod for streamer fishing as well as bass and even pike.  The Redington Crosswater is not a "beginner" or "entry level" rod, but an excellent and inexpensive alternative to spending big bucks on gear, money that can be spent on fishing trips.  It will not do everything (no rod does), but for most anglers, it will come pretty close.

You can check out the Crosswater and Redingtons other rods here at

You can buy them at most of your favorite retailer or online site, or here's a link to them on
Cabela's website.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Last Paddle

I wrote this two years ago after my last kayak outing of the year.  I'm sharing it in response to the OBN outdoor writing prompt "My Outdoor Scary".  My outdoor scary is drowning....

3 o’clock, December 2, and I’m out cleaning up my yard before the snow arrives tomorrow.  My beloved kayak, a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125 is sitting in my yard- it needs to be dried out and put away for the season.  I realize then and there that it’s the perfect afternoon for one last paddle.  It’s perfectly calm and relatively warm for December in Northern Michigan. 
I change my clothes, dig out my pfd and slide off into my canal to the river, cutting through the skim of ice leftover from the night before.  I push out into the river and head downstream.

There’s a surprising amount of mallards on the river today, but they all spook as soon as they see me.  They’ve been shot at for two months now so I guess I don’t blame them.  I paddle down to the area called Hay Lake, just downstream from my house and intend to paddle in and check out the beaver pond and find some of the deer trails, but the area is currently occupied by three mute swans, an adult and two juveniles, and I know better than to press my luck- they can be very aggressive, even to the boats that race up and down this river in the summer.

Cranes coming in to roost on the river

 But there are no boats anymore, and I’ll have the river to myself.  December in Michigan becomes a kind of perpetual twilight, and I sit under the gray skies watching my swans for a minute and ponder this years kayak trips.  That first spring paddle on the first warmish day in April on the Bear River, happy to be out paddling again, the river extremely high but slow.  There’s the overnight trip in May on the Pigeon river, a small, fast, class II local trout stream.  Fighting cold rain and hypothermia, a paddle that stretched on for nine arduous hours over exhilarating rapids, and miles of trees that have been toppled by beavers, which had to be portaged.  Two party members rolled that day, and we spent fifteen frantic minutes trying to free my kayak from a blow-down, my bow wedged under the trunk and myself with it, my whitewater skirt the only thing between me and disaster.  Eventually my friends drag me over with the bow still wedged under the tree, to where they can wade in and drag the whole mess up on shore.

Let’s see, two other high water spring trips on the Carp River through rapids approaching class III, me trying to keep my 12’ boat straight in the current, waves slapping me in the chest and face.  I went and paddled in the waves on Lake Michigan one windy afternoon, trying to surf just a little, but the waves weren’t quite big enough, so I paddled over to the break wall and photographed the kids jumping off into the water.

summer fun in Northern Michigan

Then there are the two trips I took to the Les Cheneaux Islands; one solo afternoon trip in which I circumnavigate Government Island, dodging the boaters who don’t even bother to slow down for you, and on the far side of the island having to drag my boat over the three hundred yards of canal made dry by dropping lake levels.  With fewer boaters being around, the overnight trip in September was a more enjoyable paddle, but the camping was marred by the obvious over-use of the campsites and the amount of human waste in the bushes.

Regrets- I missed my opportunities to do some real kayak surfing on days that the waves were up on Lake Michigan.  Courtesy of the economy, we canceled plans for our annual extended trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It was a very cold and wet summer, which definitely cut down days on the water.  I never did spend any time just practicing my basic skills and rolls.  Next year.

I push on downstream intending to go the full four miles to Burt Lake from my house.  You can hear a lot of highway noise on the open marsh in the Hay Lake area, but as soon as I get into the cedars all is dead quiet, not even any bird sounds.  This kind of quiet is so profound and unusual in this area, that I pause to drink it in.  Nothing moves, nothing stirs, no ripples on the water, and it feels as if all of the outdoors is holding it’s breath, waiting for the coming snow.  I paddle on past the little huts of the deer hunters in the woods.  The deer have been shot at for two months now, so I won’t be seeing any of those today.  Their trails through the muddy river bottom are quite obvious, though.  People don’t realize that deer are more of a wetland creature than forest creature.  They’ll cross and re-cross this river all winter long, hardly seeming to notice the frigid water.

I didn’t bring the camera today, and now I’m kicking myself for it.  Photography is an activity of itself, and I wanted today’s trip to be about kayaking.  The reflections of the birches in the water would make a nice shot.  The only movement on the waters surface is the occasional dimpling of minnows, locally called “blues”, that run up the river from the lake this time of year.  

I’m sure the walleye and perch are here as well, following their food.  I’m surprised at how clear the water is now- I can see the bottom throughout most of the river, something you don’t see in summer.  In summer, Crooked River has the plankton bloom of a warm slow river, coupled with the turbidity of heavy boat traffic, much of it at full speed in a river that is only five feet at its deepest.  There’s been some debate over the years of making the entire river no wake, something that would certainly cut bank erosion and slow down the silting process in my canal.  It would make conditions safer for paddlers.  It would also greatly increase the trip time for locals heading down to the lake to fish or recreate, and so the idea has lots of local opposition, which I understand to some degree.

A little further down I find fresh activity- birches down in the river, bright wood chips littering the banks, and a large raft of saplings yarded up next to shore, the winter larder of a family of beavers.  I find this interesting, as I haven’t seen this kind of activity in this spot before.

I approach the first homes of the Devils Elbow area, about a mile of vacation homes for boaters.  A few are full time residents, and the smell of wood smoke drifts on the air.  A pair of mallards hiding in a boat basin lift off, the hen quacking reproachfully.  Just a little ways further, near where a small creek enters, and blues are dimpling the surface, a large walleye surfaces like a trout- first his upper jaw breaks the surface, then the opalescent eye, then his back and tail fin.  Just as quickly he disappears.  Good, I hope he got his meal. 

I push on through the tight bends of the Elbow.  Almost all the boats are gone now, the cottages dark, shut for the winter, waiting for the snows.  I move past the golden Buddha statue, the toilet someone has mounted on their dock (in protest of something having to do with a septic permit), the plastic alligators and the signs saying “paddle boat parking only”.  I push past the few year round residents who sit at their windows but don’t wave.  If it was summer they might have come out to talk.  I paddle past the seawalls, the empty boat houses and abandoned docks.  The air vibrates to the sound of a myriad gurgling springs.  Virtually every home in this stretch has its own artesian well, some of the best tasting water in the country.  I know- I have my own flowing well at home.

Eventually I make my way out of the homes and back into state forest.  It’s only another mile to the lake.  I paddle past the last hairpin turn towards the lake when I notice a break in the reeds.  I’ve seen this before, but have never checked it out, so I paddle in to explore.  It turns out to be an oxbow, the old riverbed, and it loops in a long arc back to where I came from.  Like my canal, it is crusted with ice, and I enjoy the crunching sound of my hull cutting through.  I power through the thin veil of reeds back into the main river and head back upstream.

Then I notice a little water sloshing in the cockpit, which seems a tad unusual and reach for my sponge. I realize with horror that the water is roiling in- I must have cracked my hull somehow.  As it floods the cockpit I’m struck by the shock of the forty degree water rushing in, taking my breath away.  I haven’t told anyone what I’m doing or where I’m going, haven’t even packed a dry bag with a towel and dry clothes.  I dig for shore, but with the cockpit flooding and my rising center of gravity, it’s all I can do to remain upright.  In one sudden motion the kayak is over, spilling me into the frigid water.  Holding my breath, and fighting panic, I grab the cockpit coaming and pull my head above water, gasping raggedly.  I can hardly take a breath, and my head and chest hurt.  I reach for my pfd stowed in the rigging on the back of my boat.  Managing to free it, I fumble with it, trying to get an arm in.  I can’t do it without letting go of the kayak so I do, I let go.   I manage to get one arm in, but my rubber boots have filled with water and my clothing is rapidly water-logging.  As I thrash with the vest my head repeatedly goes under.  The kayak has drifted several feet away.  The cold and struggle are rapidly sapping my strength, and after one last effort my head slips under the water not to emerge again.  As the pain in my chest builds, I wait to draw in those first painful breaths of water.

My cell phone rings, breaking this reverie.  Why did I bring that thing anyways?  Thinking such thoughts can’t be good.  I have less than an hour before it gets dark, and so I dig in earnest for home.  I work on the stroke, concentrating on using my abdominal muscles, on making a full reach, and on transferring the energy of the stroke into the boat through my feet.  I power on past the vacation homes, the beaver homes, the deer hunters huts, the minnows, the Buddha, the springs and creeks.  It is just getting dark when I emerge back out into the open marsh of Hay Lake.  I can hear ducks talking in the hidden pools, roosted for the night.  As I approach my canal, movement over the water catches my eye and a mute swan emerges from the gloom, flying just off the water, passing directly overhead.  I can hear the beat of his wings and the hoarse whistling of his breathing.  It’s amazing to see such a large bird in the air, more like an aircraft than a bird.  I watch as he continues downstream, makes two turns, and then hear the splash of his landing, out in the gloom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- February 6 2012

Well, it was a busy week here at FR.  If you didn't get the chance, make sure you scroll down and read my January installment of my Angler's Year series.  I decided to change it up a bit and get some fantasy fishing done with it.  Now that I've been spanked back to reality let's move on.  Maybe, maybe some day I'll island hop the Pacific with fly gear, with a journal in stowage and a GoPro strapped to my forehead.  Til then I'll be content to dream about it.

I haven't fished in quite awhile, and missed an event Saturday that I really wanted to attend, but had other pressing matters to take care of.  The temps are supposed to whipsaw back and forth this week between the mid-thirties and a high of 12 Friday, so somewhere in there I'll try to get out once maybe.  It looks like I've finally found a job, to start sometime in the next two weeks- it couldn't have come at a better time.  You'd think I would have a book written by now, but it's hard for me to write when I'm worried about my bills.  Moving on.

Here's a couple of things worth  taking a look at.  Brad Petzke of Rivers North Guide Service has done a post on his blog about alarming proposed changes to Michigan's trout creel limit from 5 to 10 fish.  Give it a read and follow the links to complain to the right authorities.  Really, who needs to keep ten fish anyways?  Are we still subsistence fishing? Hot dogs are awfully cheap.

I came across another site a while back called and keep forgetting to mention it- It has excellent tips and advise on catch and release.  I spent a Saturday afternoon reading the various research articles it links to.  It really highlights the need to keep fish in the water and take photos quickly if you're going to take them, as it's pretty shocking how fast the death toll goes up every thirty seconds they're out of the water.

And last but dearest to my heart- apparently there has been a snafu with the voting at The Fiberglass Manifesto in the T.F.M. Spotting contest.  As of today, all previous votes have been discounted and only emailed votes will count.

If you already voted in the T.F.M. spotting contest you need to send your vote via email.  Send your votes in to

Vote for me, Jason Tucker to win the Scott F2 rod.  I know it's a pain, but I appreciate your votes and support.  Again, if I win I promise I'll do some serious damage with this rod.

Okay- I'm off to a busy week.  I  hope yours is good.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Anglers Year- January

It is January, and the snow lies deep.  Shelf ice extends across the river.  You wake in the morning to a new low low, -20, -30.  The beat goes on.  Lahhty frickin' dee.   January is your lowest moment.  The coldest, the deepest snow, the lowest water.  It's January.  Get used to it.

The furnace runs all night, and yet you still feel cold.  You awake to the morning thermometer at -27.  Frost runs a fine filigree down your windows, up your pipes, and across your floor.  Oh, well, you'll insulate better next fall.  One fact is inescapable- winter is here, and fly fishing is next to impossible.

We used to have this notion here of a January thaw.  I don't think it exists anymore.  Half of January is a thaw now.  The snows are sporadic, the runs are unpredictable, the weather a sham, global warming is here.  Dispute it all you want, but if we get another trout die-off this year I'm going to scream.  We need thigh deep snow, pipe-bursting cold, and lots of shelf ice to guarantee a good fishing season.  Even with the diminished conditions, it is still winter.

What will we do this time of year?  The waters are cold, the winter is hard, and we all just wish to be somewhere else.  Like...  like... Andros.  You're on the bow of a flats skiff, a dark man with a dark accent is coaching you as he poles the boat into the wind, you cast, you cast.. twitch, .. twitch, and then your line races the other direction.  Gulls and terns whirl and scream as you palm your reel, sweat pouring from your brow, then your line goes limp to a dull weight- you reel in the jagged head of a bonefish, still breathing and bleeding.

Maybe you're in Argentina, riding a raft, your guide cursing in Spanish as you repeatedly miss the banks, the sun shines crisply in that South American way, the scrub covered hills lift above you, the wind is brisk, pampas grass billows in the breeze as you float past, and the trout are large and plentiful but somehow different from the fish you know at home.

Why not go all the way?  You're in New Zealand, on the..... (no one can pronounce those names, so I'm not going to spell them) clambering over the boulders, cold sweat and cold drizzle sopping your clothes, hypothermia setting in even as you line up on a snaky shadow, a large brown.   You cast oh so delicately from 45 feet away, and overshoot your cast.  In a flash your dream fish is streaking downstream for shelter, and you, soaked to the bone, must repeat the process over again of slowly working upstream in careful search of fish that do not wish to be found.

Where would I go if I could go anywhere this time of year and money was no object?  Because winters are so typically harsh here, I would want to find something completely opposite of what I'm forced to deal with here.  I wouldn't want to go to South America for trout, for instance.  Who wants a winter escape to a place that is 60 degrees?  No, I want tropical.  Not just tropical, but far away.  I'm thinking the Seychelles or the Maldives, or Christmas Island.  Bonefish, giant trevally, milkfish, tarpon.  When I want to get out of here, I want to really get out of here.  Opposite Day in vacation form.  Instead of fresh water I want salt, instead of temperatures below zero, I want blazing heat, instead of my 3 weight I want an 11.  I want big fish and lots of them, coconut palms, blinding blue water over blazing white sand, coral instead of limestone (for what it's worth limestone used to be coral).  I want the travel to be arduous, customs to be a bear, the guides to barely speak english, half my luggage to be lost, I want the chance to catch a tropical disease and learn the local cure, and the chance to drink the local moonshine.  I want to get stung on the legs by some invisible nemesis found only in those waters.  I want to get bit by bugs I've never heard of.  I want to break a rod and burn out a reel.  I want to reel in a bleeding fish head.  I don't want a sunburn, but it is probably inevitable.  I want a tropical rash.  In fact, I think I already have it, and now I just want to scratch it.

I've read Paul Theroux's book "The Happy Isles of Oceania", it's a favorite.  The title is a study in irony, as Mr. Theroux maintains a mostly dour outlook throughout the book, and yet I dream of doing what he did- flying from archipelago to archipelago, fold-up kayak in tow to paddle my way around the Pacific, but with one pronounced difference- where Paul Theroux is positively disdainful of anglers, I would want my fly gear strapped firmly to the bow.  He actually went to Christmas Island and thoroughly detested the American anglers there after bonefish and other species.  I would like to repeat his journey, but with the added twist of fly fishing.  We all have a dream don't we.  This one takes on a certain significance in January, when my kayak is stored away, my rivers are iced over, and all I can do is sit at my tying bench and stare at the frost on the window.

January is over, I've posted this too late.  I fished a total of 3 times, same as last year.  Two days were awful, one day was sublime.  Perhaps that is all you can ask of January- to bask in the limited glow of the boreal winter.  Even with the profoundly new reality of global warming, winter is still winter, minus the deep snows and bitter cold.  Instead it involves a dreariness that drives me even further toward my exotic goals- to find fish at this time of year in warm, absurdly blue waters.

Happy next January.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Where Does a Year Go?

I just realized that January 26 was the one year anniversary of Fontinalis Rising.  I wish I would have planned some grand extravaganza to reward my readers- you all have been amazing.  When I started this last year I had no idea that I would get such an enthusiastic response- Thank YOU.

It's interesting to go back and see the beginnings of things- looking at my original post, it appears I've accomplished some goals, I have a few yet to meet, and have set others in the process.  I'll let you in on the real motivations here.

I've always been a writer at heart.  My teachers in school wanted me to pursue writing, I've journalized and written assorted short pieces for my own entertainment over the years, and I've always wanted to be an outdoors and travel writer.  My heroes and favorite authors are Tim Cahill, Randy Wayne White, Paul Theroux, Jon Krakauer, David Quammen, and Sebastian Junger.  I love adventure, travel, and all things outdoors.  I don't have the time or money to pursue all of my outdoor loves.  I'm passionate about kayaking, fly fishing, bow hunting and outdoor photography.  But over the years I've dabbled in skiing, backpacking, travel, horseback riding, climbing, scuba diving and free diving, mountain biking, bird watching, foraging, and the list goes on. I love all things outdoors, and it's only in recent years that I've started to cut back and limit myself to a small core of activities- kayaking, fly fishing, photography and bow hunting.  Part of this stems from running my own business for a number of years- I started adding up how much I was spending on gear versus the amount of time I spent in each activity and decided I had to narrow my interests.   The other factor is that I like to be good at what I do and not just be a tourist, and you know what they say about a jack of all trades.

I should add "writer" to the list above.  I've always aspired to be a writer.  Tim Cahill says that you can't teach writing- you are either a writer or not.  Some elements of style can be taught, but beyond that, it is a matter of disposition and soul.  I believe this.  For the first time in my life there are people who know me as a writer, and not by the other hats I've worn.  I have not always done this blog justice.  At times I've posted just to post, and I'll add another layer to the mix- this last year has probably been the worst of my life.  Call it a mid-life crisis if you will.  I'll spare you the details, everyone has their problems.  In some ways, blogging and writing has been an anchor, a life line to hold onto, an oasis of normalcy in what has been a chaotic year.  It makes the support of you, my readers, all that much more dear to me.  Your comments and encouragement have gotten me through a lot, kept me going even when I didn't want to.  I especially want to thank Cameron Mortenson, Mike Agneta, and Kirk Werner for their support early on, and for their willingness to share their blogging wisdom and technical knowledge.  I would also like to thank Rebecca and Joe at the Outdoor Blogger Network for running such a great organization.  I need to thank Tom Chandler of Trout Underground, Kent Klewien and Louis Cahill at Gink and Gasoline, and Ben Joseph Rioux at Up North Maine Fly Castings for promoting various pieces I've written.  For their friendship and all around encouragement I must thank Howard Levett at Windknots and Tangled Lines, Sanders of Up the Poudre, Brandon Robinson of One Bug is Fake, and The River Damsel- Emily Blankenship.  For inspiration- Erin Block at Mysteries Internal, Will King at The Riparian Corridor, and again Sanders, as well as Mike Sepelak at Mike's Gone Fishin' Again. In addition I must add Brian Kozminski, our recently deposed local TU chapter president, who has tirelessly and selflessly promoted my work- thanks man.

One of my greatest satisfactions, and one of my primary goals in blogging was to be published in a magazine.  I have to thank Charles Sam's at The Cedar Sweeper Magazine for publishing four of my articles in print so far, and Ben Smith at The Backcountry Journal, with more to come.

Okay, enough of the Oscar speech.  You want to know what's next.  I don't know- each year brings its own adventures.  I'll share as it unfolds.  All I can say, is thank you for your support-  I plan on building this site as time goes on.

Here's to another year.

ah, the end result