Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Isle Royale Bound

Friday I'm heading north, crossing the Mackinaw Bridge, pointing my car west for several hours, then north into the Keewenaw peninsula all the way to Copper Harbor. It is at least a seven hour drive. I will have my kayak, my 8 weight rods, and my camera. I will be joined there by four other anglers- Wayne Snyder, Brett Watson, Chris Reister and Bob Miller. Chris and Brett will take a plane from the town of Houghton, but the rest of us will board the Isle Royale Queen IV for the cruise to Isle Royale.

We've done our homework, packed our bags, tied flies, bought supplies. We've spent months planning, poring over maps, discussing plans, the weather, lodging, travel. We have contacted scientists and fishermen. We pored over the maps some more. There is nothing left to do but go.

We're going to Isle Royale in search of Coaster brook trout. For me this is a fantasy in triplicate. Coasters are a dream fish- large native brook trout that can weigh up to ten pounds. Isle Royale is a fantasy land, remote and rugged, difficult to get to, the playground of moose and wolves. Kayaking its rocky shore dotted by dozens of smaller islands will round out this trip.

this fish is so bad ass.

This won't be a backcountry trip unfortunately- we'll be staying at the lodge, and I'm bringing my laptop, camera and cellphone, but it's all for a good cause. The lodge where we're staying advertises it has wi-fi (we'll see what that means to them) and so I'll be posting updates on our Facebook page daily. The point of this trip is to catch and chronicle some Coaster brook trout and hopefully build some awareness of their current status, and what needs to be done to restore them on the mainland. Coasters used to number into the millions throughout Lake Superior, but only remnant populations remain. Isle Royale is one of their last strongholds.

Let me introduce the crew.

Wayne Snyder is a Michigan author and historian extraordinaire of Michigan fly fishing. His book "The Golden Age" is the touchstone tome on Michigan's rich legacy.

Brett Watson has been fly fishing since age 12, and is currently the president of the Paul H. Young chapter of TU here in Michigan.

Bob Miller is the latest addition to the team. He is the founder of Ryan Rocks Outdoor Adventures, which takes children with a history of cancer into the outdoors.

Chris Reister is the sole owner of Willow Classic Reels. He has fished the world in search of rare and beautiful fish.

Me? Meh. I'm just a guy who fishes, and with a name like Fontinalis, this was a natural fit.

alex cerveniak photo
I feel like I'm falling down the rabbit hole. If Alice has brook trout colors I'll completely understand.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Coffee Break- Flat on my Back Edition

That's right, you're going to have to listen to me complain about my health. I'm afraid morning is come and gone, so there won't be any of that yawn-stretch-scratch routine. Despite some minor back pain I was having a pretty good week last week- I night fished in terror and wrote that post Monday night, then Wednesday I got to take artist Becca Schlaff fishing. Her fish art is amazing, and she has painted several canvases from my photos, with more in the works. I had pitched her the idea of coming up and fishing, photographing her fish and then seeing how the whole experience would affect her artwork. We had a great time and found some fish and so we'll see. Despite how small and brushy the creek was I took her to, I think she enjoyed herself, as she says she's coming back soon.

Becca up north
one fish from the day

I had big plans for the weekend, including finishing a job and night fishing. Thursday morning when  I woke up my back was hurting noticeably, and when I reached for a  shirt in my dresser I almost collapsed. I quit work early and saw my chiropractor.

Friday morning I was unable to walk.

This isn't the first time, but the last time I was confined to my bed by lower back pain was 8 years ago. Since then I've learned how to cope with and manage the pain and avert a complete collapse. Not this week. I hope this doesn't come across as some sort of disrespect to disabled people, but to suddenly not be able to walk gives me at least some glimpse into their lives. How did I get by? I had to crawl around my house, that's how, and that was excruciating. By Saturday evening I was able to walk a little, and by Sunday morning I could walk unassisted. Usually exercise in the form of walking is actually helpful at this point, as it seems to re-align my back and muscles. So what did I do?

I went fishing.

another sign of fall

This was an incredibly dumb thing to do. For starters, I couldn't be satisfied  with the streams close by. No, I had to drive an hour into the Pigeon River State Forest to fish. When my back is out, sitting and driving is one of the most excruciating things I can do. Secondly, it's one thing to walk down the side of a paved road, but the uneven bottom and large stones of a stream regularly jars things that don't wish to be jarred. Kind of like jarring a jar of bees now that I think about it. Walking back across the tussocky grass on the bank was even worse. Thirdly, to go that far into such a remote place in such condition was foolhardy to say the least. I did catch a couple brook trout including one ten incher, then headed to a nearby lake thinking that it would be easier on my back, but by the time I fished a couple of hours I knew it was time to race home and get back in bed.

I hope this was worth it

a dumb bass caught by a dumbass

One would think that with all this time on my hands I would have started writing my book, but no, I had to discover Trailer Park Boys on Netflix. Think "My Name is Earl" but more realistic. Being that I live in a trailer park I took it less as entertainment then a guide for living, minus most of the petty crime. I'm definitely gleaning style and decorating tips. There's nothing like mindless entertainment when you're in pain and thinking is something you don't want to do.

So, between naps and staggering to my feet to care for various needs, I'm working on nailing down the details for my Isle Royale trip. Do me a favor and go to our Facebook Page and click "Like".  There's a synopsis of the trip and its purpose, pics and bios of the team members and I'll be sharing more information and photos from the trip. The lodge on Isle Royale has Wi-fi, so I'll try to at least post pics every day, maybe even get a blog post or two done. Morning and evenings are the best fishing, and I'm sure I'll have some time at night as well.

Well, I've said enough. It's going to be a busy week, if ever I can make it out of bed.

Let's get after it.

morning scene this week

Review- Redington Sonic-Pro Zip Front Waders

Alex Cerveniak photo

I have some Redington, Rio, and fishpond swag to give away, so be sure to enter at the bottom of this post.

For years waders for me were a sandwich bag. They sheathed and protected that which was important to me (lunch or myself), but I didn't give much thought to them. Neoprene was a big breakthrough for me. Imagine that in July.

At some point my friend Tim started on me about breathable waders, how they would change my life. He was right, but even then I only bought store-brand, relatively cheap models. They were a revelation, but wore out in short order. I went through several pairs of cheap waders, enduring bad fit, thin material and slow leaks.

Over the years it seems that I fish more and more, not less and less. With the rate that I burn through cheap gear it has started to make economic and logistical sense to buy better brand-name gear. After all, if I wear out a pair of waders only once a year, that's fewer trips ruined or put off while I scramble for new ones.

Imagine my joy and surprise when Redington sent me a pair of their Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders to test. These are their premium waders, with welded flat seams (instead of stitched) and a water proof zipper that extends down to the waist.

Comfort and style. And Steelhead.

First impressions- these are sharp looking waders, stylish even. Next I noticed the wading belt- it is quite wide, thick and elastic, making it very comfortable. I took these waders fishing right away and I immediately noticed a difference in the feel of the seams. The welding process leaves them noticeably flatter than stitching- it really does make a difference and in my opinion more comfortable than stitched waders. I'm a bit of a bull in a china shop, so for me to notice this means something. Another plus, was that unlike my other brand name waders, the hook on the gravel guards actually stays hooked to my wading boots. This was a major pet peeve which  the Sonic-Pros solved.

 a good look at the design and features. And another steelhead

Some initial concerns? I thought I was having a fit problem, but then realized that no one designs waders to have a DSLR camera shoved down the front of them, a hazard of having bloggers review waders. I shifted the way I wear my camera- problem solved.

The other concern was more of an adjustment- I'm used to having one big storage pocket on the front of my waders which I always over-stuff, and with a zipper smack down the middle of them, the Sonic Pro Zip Fronts have to divide this space up. There are multiple pockets in the front, including an interior pocket that is just the right size for your cell phone or keys. I simply had to use smaller fly boxes and keep unnecessary items in my back pack. It's probably time for me to look into one of those handy fishpond chest packs. Redington provides plenty of storage on these waders and I only mention it because it did change the way I manage my gear.

What do I love about these waders? Again, the welded seam construction is noticeable in comfort- you'll really like these. Perhaps the biggest feature that sets these apart is the zipper. Donning and taking off your waders is always a bit of a job no matter how long you've been doing this. The zipper makes a monumental difference in ease of wader removal. If  you're a guy (sorry ladies- I have no idea if this helps you at all) it also greatly facilitates the ease of rest breaks if you know what I mean. Of course you do. And yes, the zipper is completely waterproof. It can be a little stiff to operate, but you'd expect that in a waterproof zipper.

The Sonic-Pros in action. Alex Cerveniak photo.

I really like these waders. I have about 50 trips on them, with an average of 5+ hours per trip, and at least 50 dry hiking miles on them, much of that through thick brush and swamp. One of my first outings in them was a 12 hour streamer float on the Pere Marquette river with Steve Martinez of Indigo Guide Service. I spent the day with my knees propped against a metal brace in his boat and managed to fray the material, but the reinforced knees seem to work as these waders still don't leak. I have worn them under all conditions you can think of- winter and spring fishing for steelhead, night fishing for browns, bushwhacking in the UP (Upper Peninsula) for brook trout, stalking the jagged rocky flats of Lake Michigan for smallmouth and carp. They have relegated my other brand name pair of waders to the closet for back up.

Now comes the confession. As I was preparing to write this review, disaster struck. Two weeks ago I noticed that the zipper had a catch to it. The next day it failed completely. In consulting with Redington their reply was "Just be honest". Not that I wouldn't have been, but it was a difficult moment. I really like these waders and really like the zipper feature. It makes life a lot easier. I think I've outlined that I am really hard on gear (after all, I've broken 5 rod tips in the last year, one of them twice). It could be that I've over-stressed the zipper by having the camera shoved down the front. They're obviously not designed for that. In consulting with Redington they say that they have only heard of one other zipper failure, the result of zipping a stick into the zipper. I am constantly in and out of my waders (yes I take my cell phone fishing) and so such a scenario is also likely. I love these waders and love the zipper feature and would not hesitate to buy them- I'd just be more careful. After all, any mechanical device has the inherent possibility of failure. If the zipper is a concern to you then consider getting the regular Sonic-Pro waders as these have the same great style, comfort and features without the zipper. Redington stands behind all of their products with an outstanding warranty. You can check it out by clicking the link here. Redington's customer service and warranty department strive to help out any customer no matter the problem. They are really great to work with. (And just remember to say "no" if I ever ask to borrow your waders.)

The final analysis- These are tough, comfortable, and even stylish. The design is well thought out, and the sonic welding makes a noticeable difference in comfort. Extra touches like the wide elastic wading belt and shoulder straps add to the comfort. As the pictures show, you will catch steelhead, even where they don't exist (okay, now I'm over-selling it).

The Redington Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders retail for $379.95, which puts them in the middle of the pack price wise. If you fish a lot (or want waders that will last) and comfort and ease of use matter to you I highly recommend them.

Okay- here's your chance to win some swag. I have three Redington T-shirts, three fishpond hats or visors, and three Rio Powerflex trout leaders to give away as well as assorted stickers. Three winners will be drawn. The proviso is that the I have one XXL T and two Medium T's- I'll try to match winners with sizes, but you may get what you get. Swag is swag.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Horror Flick

If you'd like a soundtrack for this, scroll to the bottom and click to play. Be warned.

It has been a long, busy summer. I've managed to fit a lot in, I'm not sure how. One thing that has eluded me is the night game. Driving home from work I decide it is time to go and find a big fish. I spend the evening running errands, cooking dinner, and keeping occupied, but one thing is on my mind- tossing mouse patterns for big browns, waiting for an explosive take in the darkness.

I finally wrap my deliberations up as the sun is setting. Conditions are perfect- no moon, warm evening and a high overcast. I'm looking forward to this.

I drive out in the gathering gloom to my spot. I had scouted it during the daytime last week and am comfortable with the water. Night fishing however, is always a game of nerves, so we'll see how long I last. I'm already seeing bears in the bushes. Much to my dismay, I discover I've left my flies at home, and must drive the ten minutes home to fetch them.

When I get back, I tie on a big black foam gurgler, getting my Rapala knot right in the darkness. This is going to be good. I decide to leave my light off so that my eyes can adjust, and walk into the slavering night.

fly selection in the black of night

No sooner do I start down the trail than a horrible commotion erupts, piercing the night air, stopping me in my tracks. Some animal is braying in terror in the darkness. I've heard this before- two raccoons fighting. They make a horrible sound, a snarling mixture of growls, shrieks, and crying. This one is close, very close, and the bad part is that I'm walking toward it. I pass within thirty yards, and shout into the dense brush, but it never pauses, never lets up. As I pass by the sound changes to crying, and I realize it is not raccoons but probably a fox kit. It keeps up this incessant caterwauling all the while that I walk past. At the closest point I pause. What if it is a rabid fox, crazed and suffering, foaming at the mouth, biting everything in its path? But no, after the initial scuffle there is only the sound of a creature crying in the dark, pitiful, sad, plaintive. It's starting to sound like your new puppy when you made it sleep by itself for the first time, crying half the night in its loneliness.

I move on to the river. The sound never abates, just recedes into the background. It is a welcome relief to wade into the cool water, as if I've dug a moat for myself, the waters protecting me from that awfulness in the dark. I wade upstream to my starting point and wait ten minutes. Still this horrid creature cries, and now I hear sounds of movement on both banks. Perhaps some big boar coon whose motto is "carpe noctem", or some possum that is suddenly un-dead. Speaking out loud, I warn the creature on my side of the river not to come closer. This seems to work, but on the far bank the movement continues. I can imagine every set of ears for a mile around pricked in my direction, every set of night vision eyes gleaming with anticipation. Some creature out there isn't happy, and either through inexperience or injury it is an easy meal. It is only fifty yards from me.

The sound never stops. I'm not thrilled with this situation, but staying in the river at this point seems like a better option than getting out and walking back toward the miserable creature. The boreal glow on the northern horizon is starting to wane, and the surface of the river flows like polished black granite, and so I start to fish, more to distract myself than anything.

I toss my fly upstream, let it drift all the way below me into the bend, then lift and toss it back up, like the worlds slowest metronome. I tire of this and try chugging my fly or retrieving it. I roll-cast,  snap-T, and even overhead cast at times, slapping my fly on the surface with force trying to elicit a response. I also hope to make enough noise to alert any critter on the banks to my presence.

That infernal noise continues.

Ten minutes after I start fishing I hear a frantic scuffling, much closer, and a squeal of pain. Then a new sound, very close, guttural and deep. "Huh, huh, huh, huuuurrrrrgghhhh...... hurrrrgggghhh...huh, huh, huuuuuurrrrrggggghhhh...."

Another yawp and all hell breaks loose. That very deep growling accompanied by a snarl, the scuffling of leaves, breaking limbs. The animal is definitely canine, probably coyote, but the sound is so deep that it could be a wolf. They are fighting (or killing) only about thirty yards away on the far bank. The other creature is still crying in the distance, and now yet another creature is squealing in the dark as a much bigger something is obviously giving it a thrashing. It seems to go on forever, ten minutes, but it is probably only five. Then silence, followed by the sounds of running in the forest.

That blasted crying doesn't let up.

What did I do? I kept fishing. I didn't want to draw attention to my position. I stood there in the darkness choking down the rising bile in my throat, fighting the urge to flip on my light, to scream into the darkness, or to run down the river and back to my car. Everything in the dark seems wicked now- every sound, every rustle of grass, every croak of a frog, and even the birch limbs lying in the water shining whitely in the dark seem skeletal. Every muscle in my body is taut, every nerve set on edge, and the only thing that keeps me sane is to keep tossing my fly upstream.

Ten minutes after the closest fight ends, my line swings out in the current and comes tight. I hear a small bloop and my line jumps in the darkness. So do I. There are fish here after all. Five casts later and it happens again. Downstream I hear the bombastic slap of a beaver tail on the water. Stink. There goes the fishing. It happens again. And again. My poor sorry screaming companion is starting to sound hoarse. It also sounds like a child drifting off to sleep as it cries. I'll never know if it fell asleep, died, or simply wandered off.

This infernal noise lasts 45 minutes. I only last an hour. Another larger fish hits twice, but it's still not the one I'm after. The woods have gone quiet, but I'm thoroughly rattled, and now my next fear takes over. I've fished to the bottom of the familiar water, and now I have to navigate a stretch of water that I've only waded once before. It is deeper, the current a little faster, and there are submerged logs and a couple of right hand holes to avoid.

I can't do it.

I turn my light on and head back to my car, grateful I've left it unlocked. I don't even bother to take off my waders. I start the car, flip on the lights and head home.

Sometimes the night wins.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- August 13

Aaaacccchhhhppphhhhh....... yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. Is it Monday already? It must be time for coffee. To paraphrase Homer (Simpson), "Jay no do coffee well without".

I'm not sure what's going on in the rest of the country, but the weather has stayed cool here with regular rains. It still looks and feels like summer, but change is definitely in the air. This is the prettiest time of year on the rivers here, as all the bank-side flowers are in full bloom. It's really turning into quite the month for brook trout too.

Most of the major fly hatches are over now, except for the Ephron hatches down on the Au Sable system, which doesn't affect me much. Low clear water and bright days have pushed all but the smallest browns into hiding, but the brook trout just seem to become more active, feeding on the waning trico hatch and the steady trickle of olive's. They also feed heavily on terrestrial insects, and a brook trout's motto seems to be "If it fits in my mouth I'll eat it".

Jeff with a hard won fish

I got a message early last week from artist Jeff Kennedy that he would be in the area, inquiring if I'd like to hit the water. We fished together Wednesday evening. Come to find out Jeff is the artist behind The Fiberglass Manifesto's Retro Fly design that is plastered on some of my clothes and gear. Jeff turned out to be a really nice guy and we had a great time. We didn't catch any monsters, but once again brook trout saved the day. We actually saw schools of them, and they were quite active. They also were so line shy that just catching a fish was a major accomplishment.  We had a great time and I want to thank Jeff for looking me up and hitting the water with me. At the end of the evening on my last cast I was simply letting my fly drift back to me when a small brown struck at close range, shot skyward before I could even set the hook and raced downstream. We were laughing so hard that it took me a few minutes to land the fish.

Friday I hit the water again, fishing three streams close to where I work.  On one tangled knot of a river I caught a ten inch brook trout that made it worth the trek, the deep mud, the stabbing cedar branches, and the hunger pangs. I didn't bring my camera Friday, as I just wanted to enjoy my fishing.

Pigeon river brookie

Saturday I hit a distant section of the Pigeon river, way out in the Pigeon River State Forest.  The river was stained and up a little from the heavy rains that had cleared out that morning. The fishing was extremely tough, with no fish rising anywhere. The wind blew cold under gray skies, and I switched flies constantly trying to see what would do the trick. I caught just a handful of fish, but they were all beautifully colored brook trout, including one 8 and one 9 inch fish. What they lack in size they make up for in beauty and attitude, and for me there's a special satisfaction in catching native fish. It has been very gratifying over the last twelve years to see brook trout numbers (and sizes) steadily grow as brown trout stocking has declined. Some rivers where I used to catch mostly browns now offer more brook trout.  There's still plenty of browns around, but the brook trout seem to be more than able to take back their rivers when given the chance.

Alex' grand entrance

Which brings me to yesterday, fishing once again with Alex Cerveniak, this time on the South Branch Au Sable river. We fished in the beautiful Mason Tract near the chapel. The fishing was typical of August- low clear water, a handful of tricos coming off, spooky fish. Brook trout again saved the day. We made up for the spotty fishing by working at our photography, though Alex shot far more than I did. It made for an enjoyable day, which we ended by getting a burger at Spike's in Grayling, and I ended the day with an afternoon nap and an early bed time.

Au Sable brookie

Au Sable at the Mason chapel

Other than that there's not much to report. I have at least one outing this week that I'm excited about, but I'll report on that next week. The cooler weather is forecast to continue. There's a trickle of salmon in the rivers which will swell with each passing front into a flood a month from now. With less than three weeks to go for my Isle Royale trip I'll be increasingly focused on getting ready for that.

Well, this post has stretched long, and the coffee is gone. Have a great week.

Let's get after it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday Morning Coffee- August 6

Erraaaaauuuugghhhwww!!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. Monday again. Open one eye to the grey- at least it's before 6, I'll have time to enjoy my coffee.

I get up, still guided by one eye, stumble to the sink and fill the electric kettle. In ten minutes I'll be happy, or at least reasonably mollified. This makes me wonder who Molly was that she could be the personification of contentment, or is it resignation? The music I composed in my sleep (everyone composes music in their sleep right? RIGHT?!) is slowly fading away. In an hour I'll have no clue what the melody was.

It's definitely August now. Right on cue the first random branches have started to change color, a shot across our bow. "It's still summer, but not for long" it says. "Get it done while you still can". Also in character, we've been served with a big front moving through, blowing in much cooler and drier conditions. Rumors of salmon are already circulating. There is a tension in the air like a trip-wire waiting to be cut, setting off a deluge of weather, fish and activity, but for now we must endure the tightening vibration and rising pitch as August slowly draws its bow, aiming at fall.

This has me thinking about the goals I had set for this summer. I had written them here but never published the post. I'd say there was room for improvement, but I don't know how I could possibly have fit anything else in. It has been a very good, very busy summer. My kayak has set idle, much to my chagrin, and I live on a perfect kayaking river. In May the entire summer lay out before you, an open book waiting to be written (or read), but August is a completely different master- it is going to force you to decide what your priorities are- that camping trip, night fishing, that one river you've been wanting to cross off your list, skinny dipping on a remote beach, or that dirtbag road-trip you've thought about for the last four years. Maybe you just want to hit the ice cream stand right at dusk, when the families and bugs gather under the lights beneath a deepening blue sky as the stars emerge, the crickets chirp, and the faint scent of curing hay and cow manure drifts on the breeze. Now that's a worthy goal. Make sure you get it dipped in chocolate and rolled in peanuts- why scrimp now?

Ethan with a Preserve brookie. He looks a little like T! junior doesn't he?

This last week was busy- I fished The Preserve at Boyne Mountain with Ethan Winchester and The Bamboo, worked and wrote like a caged animal the rest of the week, mailed The Bamboo off to Ken Gortowski (who already has several great posts up- check them out here) and on Saturday I fished the tricos (who again didn't show despite perfect conditions) and then saw that Becca Schlaff was at the Bay Harbor Art Fair via Facebook. It was blazing hot Saturday, with humidity reaching well into the stratosphere, so I picked up some cool beverages and spent a couple of hours with Becca. Becca is a great artist, and really cool to hang out with. I felt bad for her, as the heat had driven most people to the water or into air conditioned hibernation, and she seemed grateful (or perhaps she's just too polite) to have some company. Gathering storms shut the art show down early, so I excused myself and went home.

Becca and I at the Midwest Expo. I was too lazy to upload my pics from Saturday.

This coming week looks to be insanely busy, with friends coming from out of town and a full personal schedule, but I vow to get some fishing in. Once this week is over, I'm saying yes to nothing. Everything henceforward will be spontaneous. I'm going to be a touch selfish even. Part of the reason is that I need to start concentrating on my Isle Royale coaster trip coming Labor Day week.

The other part is that it's August, and much like you, I have priorities to keep. I'll have to live with myself the rest of the year, and there's no greater nag than yourself.

What can you look forward to on FR this week? Well, I'm finally going to post my review of Redington's Sonic-Pro Zip Front waders, and I think I'll do one more post about The Bamboo and I. After that, it's August- let's just play it by ear.

Hey, coffee is done and we have a busy month ahead of us- let's get after it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Bamboo and I

 The Bamboo and I have reached an understanding- a detente if you will. I agree not to call it fat, and it agrees not to call me speedy. Or thick-head.

I took The Bamboo to the UP. The Bamboo was not impressed. ""Land of Hiawatha" you say?". I didn't say that. The Bamboo and I searched a new stretch of river for brook trout. We didn't find any. The Bamboo is starting to believe that the legends circulating about the UP may just be idle gossip, or misinformation spread deliberately by Yoopers to get tourist dollars. "Where are all these fish you keep telling me you have?" demands The Bamboo. I made him hang in the closet for three days for that remark.

The UP, sans brook trout
After awhile I started feeling a little guilty for the way I had treated The Bamboo. After all, this is El Bambuno, Mr. Bamboo to you and I, and I had taken him to untested waters and made him thread, bang, slash and crawl through some very thick UP swamp. We fished 3 miles of river, The Bamboo and I. He wore my arm out, and I taught him to hate tag alders.

"I am a gentleman" he kept reminding me.

"Yeah, and a pain in the ass" was my retort.

"You are a very coarse individual."

"And you are a dilletante."

"You are not a good angler"

"You don't know how to cook...."

The Bamboo still doesn't have an answer to that one. Years from now The Bamboo will be laying on a leather couch, blathering to his therapist. " I didn't know I was supposed to cook..."

There's a lot The Bamboo doesn't know, but I acknowledge that I am a coarse person in need of some refinement. The Bamboo family is accustomed to the finer things- the best rivers, the best guides, float trips in traditional Au Sable boats, shore lunches, silk rod socks, saffron tinted fly lines. The Bamboo reminds me of this on a daily basis. I am used to marginal small streams, thick forest, horrid swamps and no food at all. And rods I don't have to cater to. I snap the heads (tips) off of rods just for looking at me funny. Or for riding in my car.

Finally I relent- I will scrap my plans to explore the UP for a whole weekend and take The Bamboo to fish the Au Sable river. "Will that make you happy?"

"No, not after what you put me through. Well, maybe if you take me to the Holy Water."
"What? I can't afford that. How about the North Branch, just you and I? Wide open river, old cottages..."

"You promised to make things up to me..."

"....The North Branch Outing Club..."

"Deal. "

wide-open, North Branch, Au Sable
I left out a little detail, that I would be camping and hanging out with Viking-born-600-years-late Mike Schmidt and company. At first The Bamboo was alarmed, but when I told him that Mike is a well-known fly tyer he relented a little. I failed to mention that Mike mostly ties streamers, but that's just a minor detail. We were hoping to catch the trico hatch. We drove down Friday night. It was clear that it was going to be a long night. The Bamboo insisted on going to bed early, which was fine by me. Bamboo should be tucked away by eleven, or it will refuse to throw a loop the next day. Just so you know. Your line will fly in all sorts of funny directions, but never a loop. Put your Bamboo to bed early I learned.

Mike Schmidt on the broad and spacious river

We got up early (too early) the next morning. The air had a definite chill. I could hear The Bamboo shivering in his case. The Bamboo is very civilized, and doesn't tolerate immoderate temperatures or people.

"You left me to die last night" he whined.

"Would you rather have spent the night in the tent?"

"Point taken."

"That's what I thought. Stiff upper lip Bamboo, let's go."

"That's Mister Bamboo to you!"

Mr. Bamboo, still swaddled in his case.

We drove down to the river, but the chill had put a damper on the bug activity. As it turns out, Tricos are the gentlemen of mayflies and will not stir from their lairs unless the temperatures are just so. I would say that The Bamboo and Tricos are cut from the same uppity cloth, though from different molds.

token fish, but oh so satisfying. Notice that The Bamboo is smiling just a little.

We caught a token fish that morning (as The Bamboo shivered). We went back to camp, scraped through the crusted foodstuffs we had brought, raised a fine cooking fire, and ate granola bars out of the wrapper. If I may make any claim to refinement, I drank fresh, hot espresso from my portable pot, and I might add, it was fine. We dozed (while The Bamboo stewed in his case) until noonish, then Mike Schmidt kicked my foot. I wiped the drool from my arm and sat upright in my camp chair.

"Hey, these guys are going to do their own thing this afternoon- want to hit the river again?"

I didn't bother to consult with The Bamboo.

The North Branch Au Sable River near Lovell's is indeed civilized, nay, genteel, water. It is wide open, flowing languidly past cottages and weeping willows, graced with all of the classic hatches- sulfurs, BWO's, mahogany's, hexes, tricos, white flies, all kinds of caddis, and it has a large population of gorgeous brook trout. Very finicky brook trout. They see a lot of rods, and a lot of boats and flies, and they are not impressed by The Bamboo. I am. This is a river where I can really test his fibre ("moral fibre" he would say). I relax the back cast and power the forward. I'm waiting until I can feel his "fibre" load, then haul it just to goad him a little. He doesn't care. He's Bamboo, and under that genteel patina he is a workhorse, and once you put the spurs to a good horse it responds. The Bamboo would like to hide his working class roots, or should I say, his grass roots? In the end, he is what he is, and when I flex his spine he responds in good manner.

We don't get any fish this afternoon. We spend a pleasant outing in the company of Mike Schmidt (who does get a fish), and enjoy skulking down river, laying out cast after silky cast, fishing to wary trout, some of which slash away at our collusive deceptions.  We miss for reasons we know not, and stumble happily to the take-out.

The next morning Mike is up waaay too early, and is waaay too chipper, something about a lonely missus. He is on his way home, convinced that the tricos aren't happening. I whisper something to The Bamboo.

"What was that?" Mike demands, but I'm not sharing with him. He caught the last fish, and on a zero weight Sage no less. Piffle. I fold up my camp post-haste and soon we are underway.

the "Other" river...
The Bamboo and I drive north, get lost, stop, consult maps, turn around, drive the extra thirty minutes in the right direction and finally reach our goal. When we get out, the air is definitely warmer. In the first riffle I notice a flash. The water appears to sparkle. Twenty fish are slashing at emerging bugs. The Bamboo and I fail to hook up, but the Tricos start soon, and the fish throw all caution to the wind. Fish rise from places they should not. We have a great morning, The Bamboo and I. We land a dozen fish. When the Tricos stop, so do the fish, and wearily we make our way back downstream. A brief drive to a nearby stretch of river, a hot bowl of soup, which I attempted to share ("Soup from a can? Please...") and we are ready to roll, a team now. We fish hoppers in what used to be marginal water, and turn or catch fish in every bend, run, hole, riffle, and bit of cover for the next four hours. The Bamboo and I see fish where they don't belong; we see out-sized fish that dart away from us, as they should. We are both happy.

my happy fish

I don't want to tell you about the next outing. How I took The Bamboo out on what is a night club for bamboo- private water, groomed banks, wild fish, 15 inch brookies, steaks on the barbie, and a monster brown trout that finally tested Mr. Bamboo's moral fibre. I'm afraid that The Bamboo enjoyed it far too much, and while he enjoyed getting put to work by that brown trout, I suspect he took even more satisfaction when the line parted, leaving me speechless and numb.

We've bonded a bit I'd say, The Bamboo and I. He's come to appreciate to some degree my wild rivers full of wild trout, and I've gained some appreciation for his cultivated manner. I'll be sad to see him go, and I'd like to think I've left my mark on him. I hope he's scarred for life.

Mr. Gortowski, you're next.

I want to thank The Outdoor Blogger Network, Montana Fly Company, Rio and Fall River Fly Rods for making this happen, as well as Michael Schmidt of Angler's Choice Flies for inviting me along on his trico trip. I had a great time with the rod and hope that the bloggers who follow me enjoy it equally. By way of review, I really enjoyed this rod, and once I relaxed it threw a lovely tight loop, and line speed is not a problem. I cast it for at least 25 hours while I had it and loved every minute of it. It is a bit heavy for the daytime trout I fish, and I would never consider taking such a rod night fishing, so I wish I would have taken it out for bass. It's a perfect smallmouth rod. Next time- I hope.