Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Morning Coffee- 12/26/16

Yyyerrrrgggghpppphhhhttt! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat! It's Monday morning of a holiday weekend in which I'm assuming most of you are still in PJ's and slippers, so let's have some coffee.

I've been writing every day for a couple weeks now, so I'm hoping to channel some of that into the occasional post here. I'm working on a couple books, including the novel I started a couple years ago, and two fly fishing books based on content started on this blog. It's my burning desire to finish and publish at least one by spring, whether or not it's any good or gets a publisher. Just the act of completing something like that will be very satisfying. I'll self-publish if I have to just so the couple people who read my stuff can have a copy. Maybe if I include a free fly rod they'll sell like hotcakes.

I hope you've enjoyed whichever Solsticial holiday you celebrated. I hope you got what you wanted, even if that was just to sleep in and then wear pajamas all day for a couple days. That alone can be worth the price of admission. Me, I got a food processor so I can start making artisan bread, some fly lines and a flitch of good bacon. And don't lecture me about kneading the bread by hand; I didn't evolve banking skills so I could do everything manually. I could build a clay oven out of this red Georgia clay too, but that ain't happening either.
one of my fishing spots a month ago

I haven't fished in awhile, so there's not much to share on that front. The continued drought here in the South has made it a dispiriting experience, and the recent tragedy in which Gatlinburg (a two hour drive from my door) burned made the idea of fishing a vulgarity, at least in the short term. We've had enough rain now to end the fires if not the drought.  Hopefully we'll get enough rain to raise the rivers again before the summer heat returns and bakes it all back out.

I've been sick for the past two weeks with this awful chest cold, so I'm really starting to feel restless. Yesterday we went and walked on Hartwell dam as it was 72 degrees out and sunny. I was looking for carp in the shallows and saw some likely looking subjects near an island, but they stayed too deep for a positive ID. We went to look at the Savannah River below the dam after, and instead of fish we had a family of otters feeding below us. I know a lot of fishermen hate otters, thinking they eat all of their fish, but I see them as the sign of a healthy river and ecosystem, and besides, there's nothing more entertaining to watch.

a lot of fun to watch

I'm working on tying up some flies for gifts for friends, so maybe I'll throw up a dozen here to give away. I guess I should get them tied up before making big promises. It's my Michigan Survival Kit, so it will be a mix of streamers, dries, and ugly foam abominations, but I guarantee they'll all catch fish. If your name is Charley Van Husen you're in luck.

Well, my coffee is done, and I have wrapping paper to dispose of. Have a great week and don't get too crazy this weekend.

Let's get after it.

P.S. Here's my latest on Gink and Gasoline if you have any more time and inclination to spare.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Our Public Lands- Freedom on the Brink

We rode off the ridge as the snow and darkness closed in. The wind howled overhead, driving the snow ahead of it, and I paused to cinch down the hood of my wool parka. We had followed a herd of elk high up onto the flanks of this mountain only to have them dump off into the valley below. Sure. Easy for them. Now we were headed back to our remote camp, 11 miles from the nearest trailhead. My horse was old and slow, due to be retired the next season. He refused to keep up with the horses ridden by our guide and my friend Larry, and I watched their headlamps disappear ahead of me into the darkness. 

After a while I realized I was spooking my own horse with my headlamp, so I switched it off and rode on, praying the whole time that we wouldn't bump into a grizzly bear. No worries- my horse knew the way back, and when we got within a half mile of camp it was all I could do to reign him back from a full gallop to get back to the corral and some high quality hay. It had been a great day- we had rode up after elk, and instead had a pair mountain goats strut not 40 yards from where we stalked. The whole day, from the ride up the mountain past the excavated stones where bears had dug for squirrels, to the clatter of hooves on rock as the elk moved ahead of us, the far off lonely bugle of a bull signaling their descent into the canyon, the mountain goats parading past at close range and realizing too late how close they were to us, to the long eerie ride home alone in the dark and snow, was all one great adventure, played out on America’s public lands.

This adventure, an outfitted elk hunt, took place in the Scapegoat Wilderness, which adjoins the more famous Bob Marshall Wilderness to the north. It is a gorgeous landscape of high peaks, breathtaking lakes and waterfalls, abundant game and predators, and all of it is yours to enjoy and explore. Why? Because it belongs to you and me. It is public land administered by the federal government.
Our Public Lands are under threat.
There are people out there who would rob you of this opportunity and adventure. They want to take our public lands away from all of us and give them to private interests. They do this in the name of States Rights, a red herring if ever there was, as they know full well that the states, cash strapped as they are, will divest them to private interests, or allow the exploitation of their resources at the expense of everyone and everything else. The fire fighting budget alone on these lands would break the Western states. Those who push for states rights know this, know it’s just a matter of time before all that juicy, resource rich land is theirs to exploit, mine, log off, or turn into private ranches and hunting and fishing clubs.

I first became aware of this issue about a year and a half ago, but I mostly ignored it. I felt that our public lands were an integral US institution and American birthright, so fundamental to the American way of life and landscape as to be beyond question. The idea that our lands would be given to the states to do as they pleased with seemed laughable. But at this moment state and Congressional lawmakers are attempting to do just that.

The States Rights advocates exercise, or promote, a very selective false memory. The Federal Government owns over 640 million acres of public land, mostly in the West. They act as if that land was wrested from them by the Federal Government against their will, a birthright stolen from them, and that now that same government imposes irksome regulations and bureaucracy, robbing them of the full and free use of what is rightfully theirs. This tale, popular in the West, is untrue, a fable perpetuated by those who want that land for private profit rather than the public interest.

The truth is that land never belonged to the states. Not ever. The states didn’t exist in some statehood fairyland until the federal government came and took over. It was the Federal Government, which purchased (think Louisiana Purchase, in which the US bought lands that extended into Montana and Wyoming among others, and thus held title to those lands) or conquered the West, and then opened it up in an orderly fashion to settlement. Hell, they gave tens of millions of acres away to settlers and to local governments under the Homestead Act, and then as a condition of statehood and all its benefits, those states relinquished all rights and title to unsettled lands, the lands that became our federal public lands today, administered by a variety of agencies.

Even then the federal government was a fairly generous landlord, giving away mining claims, allowing ranchers to run their cattle rough shod over the terrain. When the range was so overgrazed and nearly destroyed they begged the federal government to step in and arbitrate, which they did. Limits were placed on the amount of cattle or sheep that could be grazed on any given range. These limits were not however, just for the benefit of the ranchers. Federal land managers also looked out for other interests, such as balancing grazing against water use, wildlife needs, recreation and timber management.

I grew up with this notion that our public lands were one of our best ideas, up there with and in ways better than our National Parks. They were part of what made us free. They make America special. You didn’t have to be a rich landowner in order to enjoy wild places. You didn’t have to hold title to a private estate in order to fish, hunt, camp, float, hike, and otherwise recreate in the wild.

I fished in Austria a couple of years back on a visit to my daughter. It was nothing like here. They have some astonishing fishing, but good luck getting to it. Her one friend had family with title to some of the best fishing in the Innsbruck area, so he inquired if I could fish there. Turns out they did have title, but it was non-transferable, and even though they didn’t fish themselves, they were unable to simply allow a guest to fish their rivers, or so I was told. After many inquiries that went nowhere, an outfitter friend of theirs said we could go and fish an alpine lake in a park. When we arrived we began to unload, but as another friend and I took our rods out, he explained that his license was only good for one rod. We put the other rod away. We would both be able to fish, but only one of us at a time, and it wasn’t legal to bring multiple rods. Having talked to many others about the fishing in Europe, it is a similar hodgepodge of archaic regulation, difficult or impossible to access, and largely the realm of the wealthy and privileged.

There is a lot of talk out there about what would happen if all that land were turned over to the states. It’s hard to say exactly but the following are inevitable:
  • Much more of it would be opened up for resource exploitation by private interests (the ultimate goal of the political forces behind this movement).
  • A lot of it would be leased to private interests or sold outright, to generate revenue for the states. The costs of firefighting alone on these lands would bankrupt the western states. This isn’t in question.
  • Unified management plans that benefit fish and wildlife, recreational use, grazing, and forest management, would be dismantled, or so fragmented as to be ineffective.
  • Recreational access by all parties would be greatly reduced or eliminated.

The taxpayers, including those who now support “States Rights” and public land divestiture, would not see the benefits promised under this movement. Their rights to access the land would be cut off, grazing sold off to the highest bidder, timber and minerals sold to outside companies whose only interest is exploitation. Everyone except those companies would lose.

I believe in free market concepts, but not at the expense of freedom. Public land isn’t a socialist concept, it’s a concept of freedom. It was the retention of those public lands that expands the freedoms of all of us. And this isn’t just for hunters and fishermen, though they would be greatly impacted by the loss of public lands. It’s for campers, hikers, birders, climbers, and sightseers. It’s for retirees who criss-cross this country in RV’s and stay at the campgrounds. It’s for the waterfall enthusiasts who use federally maintained facilities and trails to see these wonders of nature. It’s for the wildlife in the National Refuge system. It’s for the hikers who get to go hike a trail without seeing the mountainsides razed off by loggers. It’s for mountain bikers who want to ride trails in the wild, for canoers, kayakers and rafters who want to float in a pristine setting. It’s for parents who want to go for a drive and show their kids some wildlife. It’s for anyone who wants to see a landscape without fences or power lines. While hunters and anglers certainly contribute to the economics of public lands, it is largely supported by the everyday people who load their families into their cars and embark on a road trip, spend money in the surrounding communities, and enjoy the rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, forests, trails, beaches and campgrounds that are found on public lands. It is all of us who would be impacted, shut out, our experiences diminished, and economies altered in order to benefit private enterprise, all under the pretense of States Rights, in the name of protesting “federal overreach”.

What recourse will there be for the common, everyday Westerner who has “federal overreach” replaced by state overreach? Will the state be any more sympathetic to their pleas and complaints? When the state sells off the land once administered by the feds and Westerners are shut out of it, where will they hunt, fish and recreate? When the states, compelled by their constitutions to maximize profit on this land, raises grazing fees to a fair market rate rather than the cut-rate offered by the BLM, how many Western ranchers will be forced out of business? How many families who keep and graze a few cows on the side will be forced to quit?
"Once this happens, good luck stuffing this genie back in the bottle. . ."
Here’s the problem, the really, really, really BIG problem. Once this happens, good luck stuffing this genie back in the bottle. When the good work of the wildlife refuges, the comprehensive range and forest management, the coordinated firefighting efforts, the regulatory system on western rivers that limits the amount of recreational traffic in order to preserve a wild experience, when all that has been undone- good luck. When you can no longer access your favorite wild lands to hunt, fish, camp, photograph, or just breathe clean air in silence and solitude. When small-time ranchers are forced out of business in favor of wealthy or corporate ranch operations. When all the streams and good hunting are privatized, turned into McRanch subdivisions or destroyed for resource extraction. When all this happens then congratulations, they will have achieved their state’s rights, anti-federalist, anti-public land goals. And every one of us will be poorer, less free, and the greatness that was America, that everyone keeps talking about restoring, will be forever gone.

What You Can Do:

Sign a Petition:

You can also contact your local person of congressional persuasion and let them know you oppose the transfer of federally held lands to the states.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Morning Coffee- Conservation Week Edition

Yyyyyerrrrggghttppppphhhhttt!!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat- it's Monday, and I have some things to share, so let's have some coffee shall we?

As the title implies, I have had some conservation issues on my mind of late, and I have a post coming out tomorrow on the issue of public lands, so please tune in to that if you can. I have also coordinated with several other blogs to do the same thing. Public access to public land and waters is important to all outdoor enthusiasts, to a major share of the American public as a matter of fact, but right now those lands and some fundamental American ideals are under threat. Tune in tomorrow to learn more. If I can I'll share a couple posts this week including info on what we all can do to protect our heritage.

It seems like I'm slowly but surely cracking the fishing code here in North Georgia. For most of the summer it has been far too hot to enjoy a lot of fishing, and we've experienced some fish kills as far as trout are concerned. A lot of the streams are far too warm to consider trout fishing, so I've largely left them alone. I had a day off last week, however, and went up and fished the Chattooga river for Bartram's and redeye bass.

Looking downstream

The Chattooga River is an un-dammed system that delineates the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina. A week ago we hiked into the Ellicott Wilderness to see Ellicott Rock which marks the meeting point of those two states plus North Carolina. I saw a lot of trout up there, but didn't bring a rod due to the length and difficulty of the trail. So on Thursday I drove up and stopped into the Chattooga River Fly Shop in what is a rather remote corner of South Carolina, bought some flies and got some advice. Then I drove into what is more or less a canyon to fish.

The fish weren't as aggressive as I would have expected but I still managed to land a couple dozen bass plus some redbreast sunfish. The water is crystal clear, and you're fishing rapids (they call them shoals here) and in and around waterfalls. The water, flies and conditions were a lot like fishing late summer brook trout, and the bass were similarly sized. I hooked up on a couple better fish that came unpinned, and even had a couple catfish have a look at my flies. It may not be trout fishing, but I'll take chasing native fish in pristine settings over stocked rainbows any day. The markings on these fish are absolutely beautiful and it is really cool adding new species to the personal list.

Then Sunday we floated the Chestatee River. We bought some twin hulled kayaks earlier this year that you can stand up and cast from. I spent a very pleasant long afternoon catching largemouth bass, sunfish and bluegills, and saw quite a few hybrid bass and stripers in the river. There were a ton of baitfish in the river and I'm sure the hybrids were after them, and the stripers are a summer run that should be ending any day now. Toward the end of the day I had a very large bass eat right in front of me and take me on a wild ride, but my tippet was a bit light and probably worn from all 'gills I had been catching. On his second run he broke me off. He was pushing 5 pounds.

Well, my coffee is gone and it's time to go to work. Let's get after it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Morning Coffee- July 25 2016

Yyyyyerrrrrgggggpppphhhhttttt!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat- It's Monday so let's have some coffee.

Well, I've been back from Labrador for a week now. It has taken this long to catch up on sleep, do my laundry, air out my car and collect my thoughts. I had a run-up post for the trip on Gink and Gasoline, and I'll be sharing a follow-up post there soon.

Suffice it to say that we caught fish there from the first few moments that we started fishing until the last moments of daylight of the last day. Our first fish was an Atlantic salmon that hit a dry fly, and my last fish was a fifteen inch brook trout that took a large mouse pattern tied by Zach Ginop. We caught fish all week long, and there were times we changed tactics in order to catch fewer, or bigger fish, or to target specific  species.

Due to the constraints imposed by such a trip my fishing was severely limited in the weeks leading up to it. I had too much work to do, too much to do at home. I was also on a tight budget and spent considerable time tying flies for the trip. The crazy part was that I actually had sufficient materials to tie everything from dries, to the streamers I needed for the trip. I'll probably do a post soon on the flies I tied for the trip, all of which caught fish at some point. You know you've bought too much tying materials when you can look at a pattern, walk upstairs, and find everything you need to tie a reasonable representation of the fly in question.

What is sad looking back, is the dearth of good photos from the trip. I didn't shoot nearly enough, and with Dave being on assignment, when we got a good fish I deferred to his need for photographs. We treated all of our fish with the utmost care, and when Dave did a photo session with a good fish I was reluctant to haul out a second camera and put a fish through another round of manipulation, dunkings and time in the net. I'm sure you'll be seeing a variety of shots from the trip through Dave's social media and published outlets.

So we went, we caught a ton of fish. We caught landlocked Atlantic salmon, Northern pike, brook trout, whitefish and lake trout. To be honest, the salmon were the most fun, the brook trout were the most challenging and the pike were the most plentiful. You could catch Atlantics by trailing a fly over the side of the boat, and catch pike by making a cast to the wrong spot. Brook trout took work and dedication. The Atikonak is a big river, a half mile wide where we were fishing, but we didn't really get into the trout until we got out of the boat and started tearing apart the water piece by piece, working the shoreline like a small stream, parsing it out until slowly the trout began to show themselves. We were also fighting exceptionally high water for the time of year.

a decent landlocked Atlantic. I could catch these all day long
The folks at Riverkeep Lodge were excellent- they overfed us hearty home-cooked meals and desserts each day. The guides were knowledgeable, and affable, the kind of guys you want to be with 100 miles from civilization, where anything can and does happen. We had thunderstorms blow up daily out of a clear blue sky, and one day lightening started a forest fire a few miles from camp. Luckily the wind was blowing away from us, and a couple days later a water bomber showed up, landed on the lake to fill up, then doused the fire in a few runs. It was quite a show.

Well, I don't know much else. Look for my follow up post on Gink and Gasoline. My coffee is done and it's time to go to work. Let's get after it. Here's a couple more photos for the road.

gateway to the backcountry

Dave with a decent pike. Note the look of astonishment

What we came for

landing a fish at sunset

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Morning Coffee- May 23 2016

Errrgggggppphhhhhttttt!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat. It's Monday so let's have some coffee.

It's crazy how fast time flies when you're busy, and crazier when I look at the blog and see it's been weeks since I posted. To be fair I have written several pieces for Gink and Gasoline (you can check them out here and here) and I'm working on more.

I also have started a new job and business opportunity, one which makes this Georgia move feel a little more sane, something that now feels sustainable and able to fuel other adventures and goals in life.

You may (or may not) notice I've removed the Jealousy Counter from the sidebar. It was how I tracked all those days I spent fishing while you were stuck at the office or in city traffic. Things down South are different- I don't cross half a dozen steelhead and trout streams every day to and from work, and don't have a trout stream five minutes from the house. So that's a downside, the fact that I have to work harder to get to fishing. The upside is the stunning mountain scenery I get to fish in, the beautiful mountain streams, many of which cascade endlessly down the rugged ravines, and the opportunity to explore a whole new region. The trade-off is less fishing, which made the Jealousy Counter a bit superfluous.

I still have yet to catch a bass down here, which is simply for lack of concerted effort. I've been informed that the striper run is on down here and we'll be going out after them soon. I also have an epic, EPIC brook trout adventure coming up, one I've been keeping under wraps, but I can tell you it doesn't involve small streams and six inch fish. Keep an eye out for it here over the next couple months.

I did get out with Marsha (my girlfriend) a couple weeks ago to hike in to a pretty little waterfall, and caught a few nice rainbows in the process, so I'll leave you with a couple pics from that trip. My coffee is done and it's time to go to work.

Let's get after it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hillary Clinton Unable to Enter Fly Rod Giveaway Due to Email Questions

Hillary Clinton testifying about her contest entry.
Vermont- In a stunning move, the Pembroke Company has announced that Hillary Clinton is ineligible to enter their rod giveaway due to questions surrounding the legality of her email server at home. Pembroke is an outdoor lifestyle company specializing in outdoor lingerie, fly fishing, and high end cat litter boxes. Their contest to give away an expensive fly rod was designed to gather emails for marketing purposes. You entered by submitting a valid email address.

According to Pembroke spokesman Pete Schoenauer “We really regret having to make this decision. We really wanted Secretary Clinton to be a part of our contest. But rules are rules, and not only does the email address have to be valid, but it also has to be from a legal server. Her home email server does not meet up to the high standards we set here at the Pembroke Company. She is hereby disqualified.”

When reached for comment Mrs. Clinton seemed sad but resigned. “It’s all part of being a political figure. You’re a target all the time. It’s a shame too- I know it’s campaign season right now, but the bull reds are in down in Louisiana, and I have a couple campaign stops to make there.” 

She continued “I really would have liked to win that rod. Bill and I were broke after we left the White House, and the rod rack is pretty bare.”

We also reached Bill Clinton for comment. “The questions you should be asking,” he said in his trademark rasp, “aren’t whether her home email server is legal, but whether she thought it was legal at the time she signed up for the contest, and the answer is ‘yes, absolutely’, and I back Hillary 100%. She deserves a fair shot to win that rod.”

When asked if he had entered the contest the former president answered “I love spring break as much as the next guy, but every now and then you just need to get offshore and throw deceivers.”

We also contacted rival presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “I know what I said about her emails, but you have to draw a line somewhere. She deserved to be disqualified.” said the self-professed Socialist. When asked if he had entered the contest he winked and said “Somewhere in Vermont there’s a brook trout pond named after me.”

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager Levi Feinstein added “We really just want to get all this behind us. It would have been nice for her to win that rod AND the presidency, but we would have been happy with winning the fly rod.”

All may not be lost for Hillary Clinton. In a stunning change of fortune, when it was discovered she is a fly angler, over a dozen companies stepped up and added her to their pro staffs.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Morning Coffee- March 28, 2016

Eeeeeerrrrrrrrpppppphhhhhhhttttt!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat- It's Monday, and I don't have to start work for a couple hours, so I thought I'd give the Monday Morning Coffee a stir. Go on, have yourself a cup.

Well, as you all know, Jim Harrison died this weekend, which makes me kind of sad. He looked to me like he had one foot in the grave anyway so I guess we knew it was coming, but even looking old as dirt, smoking like a chimney and drinking like he stole it, he still exuded a vitality that you couldn't miss. I may be partial to Mr. Harrison's writings due to the fact that he's from Grayling Michigan, or that his Brown Dog Novellas so accurately captured the northern Michigan and UP haunts I love, but to be sure he was a damn fine writer and poet, a national treasure, someone who will be missed, whose writings will be forever treasured.

If you can't tell from my last post I got out fishing last week (the ONLY benefit of unemployment) and caught a brook trout. My girlfriend Marsha and I went back up to the Coleman river on Saturday and I caught a few rainbows and browns. The Coleman is a tributary to the Tallulah River. The Tallulah had been stocked last week and was a total shit show, the kind of circus I associate with the Pere Marquette or Tippy dam during the steelhead and salmon runs. The nice thing was that the "Artificial Lures Only" sign at the entrance to the Coleman thinned the herd out to just me. We hiked in to where the trail ends in a steep gorge at a thunderous waterfall. Now I need to go back and figure out a way around that.

I'm on a bit of a tying tear lately as my boxes are sadly depleted. My last round of ugly misshapen pheasant tails and soft hackles caught a lot of fish. This round looks a lot better - I could almost sell them. I need to tie up a bunch of Clousers for the local bass, and have some other trips to tie for too. My streamer box looks like hell and I've found muddler minnows to be hyper-effective here in Georgia, so I need to tie those too. I'll try to share some pics.

I lived most of my life in Northern Michigan, but all my grandparents were from the South. My Grandma Tucker used to tell me that what she missed about the South was spring- the fact that they had a nice, long, pleasant spring. I understand what she means now. It's full on spring here in Georgia and I'm loving it. Hopefully the summer doesn't beat me up too bad.

Well, my coffee is done and I need to hit the vise for an hour before work. It's going to be a great week. Let's get after it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

From One Stream to Another

Up, up the gravel mountain road. Onward and upward. Both are good right? Like most human endeavors, rivers are cleaner, more pure, BETTER at their source. As they, and we, wind through our respective courses, we grow, expand, pick up tributaries, impurities, baggage. I figure now I'm the equivalent of a valley stream, no longer clear and cold and babbling, but well defined, log-jammed and dirty. I'm never going to leave this place.  I'm definitely not the Mississippi, or even the Ohio, just a mid-sized stream meandering, but set in its course, no longer clear. It's a metaphor you can ride too hard. People are not rivers. Rivers aren't so simple.

These mountain streams are heart-breakingly beautiful; endless cascades beset by mountain laurel and rhododendron, both evergreen but dormant, waiting for their chance to flower, to shine, like actors waiting in the wings to play their bit part before fading into the background. This particular stream is also beset by people, and about every half mile I slow my pace. Almost all of them carry spinning rods. A woman stares at the place where her line disappears into green water, her thumb on the button of her reel, staring so intently, as if her universe has compressed into that tiny sphere and I'm just a passing comet.

A couple miles up the road I discover the reason for all this frenetic activity on such a tiny stream- a truck blocks the road, forcing me to stop. A man standing on the back, eyes me suspiciously, so I get out and greet him. He takes a net, scoops deeply in a tank on the truck, and then hurls a dozen or more ten inch trout into the stream. He is the fish stocker.

My ensuing interrogation uncovers the following facts. He stocks this river once a week with between 2500 and 2800 trout. The fish are mostly 10-12 inches long. That's about 11,000 trout stocked into this tiny stream a month. It's a feed trough that people line up to partake of each week, a grand tradition of the oldest entitlement in America- hatchery fish. I hope the State of Georgia buys quality pellets.

I resist the urge to ask him to scoop me out my limit of fish.

I ask the man how far to Buckskin Creek. He says that not only is the road closed, but that you couldn't get a tank up it. Only mountain bikers and hikers go there. Sounds good to me. Part of me- that part tainted by silty run-off from muddy creeks, actually considers staying there and fishing, but fishing for stocked fish has as much appeal to me as roping newborn lambs.

Onward and upward, hoping to find some purity.

I'll save you some miles and switchbacks, the dead end, a hiker named Crunchy, and others on the Appalachian Trail seeking purity on their own terms. By the time I figured out where I was not and reconnoitered it was afternoon. I followed a path alongside the wild stream I wanted to fish, and when it veered far from the river I followed a tributary rill into a steep gorge to the stream, where it roared from pool to pool through vertiginous jungle. Just once, while crossing the top of a waterfall, I saw a wild brook trout holding in the current.

I followed the stream back up, fishing where I could, bushwhacking where I couldn't, sweating in the cold humidity, hoping that sound I heard wasn't thunder. It was.

Then, in a pool where a single rock split the flow into mirror images, I caught my first Appalachian brook trout, it's colors dull with the season, but still beautiful. It was the only trout I caught, though I saw many more. Perhaps they sense that I am tainted, a visitor from the valley, a rude voyeur.

When the skies opened up and the rain finally came I stepped out of the stream, found the trail, drove out over the pass and down, down, downward, back to my valley.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fantasy Fish

I'm sitting around on a sunny Saturday morning with a bad chest cold, perusing social media for some good reads. I found this thanks to Cameron Mortenson over at The Fiberglass Manifesto and it got me thinking- what are my fantasy fish?

I have a lot of dream destinations I want to fish for various familiar species- northern Ontario/Quebec/Labrador for big brook trout, or the Innoko river in Alaska for pike, but those are familiar species I catch on a regular basis.

But that article in Scale magazine got me thinking- what species make the fantasy list? Species so exotic that they set the imagination on fire. Something you can't catch in your backyard. Fish that live in an exotic setting, fight hard and take you to a whole new level.

Mahseer in Thailand

I may as well start with the fish in the article. It is claimed, as with so many fish, that mahseer fight pound for pound harder than any other freshwater fish. I'd like to test that claim. But when you couple them with such an exotic location- a jungle river, wild elephants, Asian tapir, pythons and cobras AND a mayfly hatch- now that is something you have to experience at least once.

Milkfish, Indian Ocean

Ah, the Seychelles, Maldives, and all points thereabouts. To fly to a location in the Indian Ocean that takes two days to get to, then to chase a plethora of flats species on those distant shores- bonefish, permit, Grand Trevally, and the elusive and hard to hook milkfish, which subsequently proceeds to give your drag a much needed cleaning. I could really go for that.

Peacock Bass, Amazon Jungle

I have a Heart of Darkness fascination with the Amazon jungle and it's fishes. Perhaps it's due to my late father's travels down Ecuadorian rivers on native rafts, in search of such fish. He was after catfish; I want to chase Peacocks. In a lot of ways the Amazon is the new Dark Continent, with hidden tribes, big predators, big hard-fighting fish, and lots of mystery. I want to go.

Tiger Fish, Congo Basin, Africa

And so to the real Heart of Darkness- Africa itself. Much of it is still little explored by the outside world. I recently read Peter Capstick, in which his camp cook's son was killed and eaten by a leopard, and then they had to hunt the cat over the boys dead body stashed in a tree. And it is in this landscape in which I want to fish for a creature with huge fangs, one that has been seen snatching birds out of the air. It lives in malarial jungles, in areas prone to Ebola outbreaks, and the much more deadly civil and national wars. Throw in an active volcano or two and you have the perfect Indiana Jones fly fishing adventure, which I am jonesing for.

There is no limit to the dreams of a fly fisher. Social media can make it all seem so immediate and real. Most of us will take our adventures on brook trout streams, with social media and the internet to fill in the gaps. But once, just once, you need to pursue the monsters that dwell in your dreams. I hope we all get the chance.

All images were stolen fair and square off the internet.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Search for Balance

Catch and release, catch and release, catch and release. Say it with me three times.

Catch and release, catch and release, catch and release. Feel better?

Catch and release is good. Catch and release is beneficial. Catch and release brings good Karma. A trout is too valuable to be only caught once. The more you say it, the truer it becomes.

Catch and release.

All of life is a search for balance, and they say you don't really figure life out until you're about 80 years old. Then you die of course. A fly fishing blog is hardly the place to find truth and Zen. Fly fishing of course, is a spiritual journey, even before you are aware of it. Fly fishing is by definition an expansion of awareness, mindfulness, a balm to the soul, a healing of the psyche. You only get good at fly fishing when you learn to use all of your senses, when you slow down, relax, become AWARE. When you finally let go of ego and self, stop listening to the internal voice and start listening to what the natural world is trying to tell you.

Last year I ate a brook trout. I caught it on a fly, cut it's throat, watched the life drain out, and then took it home, skinned it, fried it in butter and consumed the delicate orange flesh. It was delicious and good. It was communion. It was satisfaction, the completion of a task. It was finished business. It was the essence of a stream on a plate. To be trite, it was the circle of life.

I also ate a young steelhead last winter, as an act of rebellion. I caught it on a warmish day when the ice did not collect in my guides. It was a very fat fish, about twenty inches long, with a white belly, gleaming silver sides with just the hint of pink, and a blue gray back. I took it home and filleted it out, then cooked the fillets in olive oil. The flesh was a deep crimson in the pan, and absolutely delicious. It was a very satisfying meal.

We live in a world of polarization- politically, religiously, ideologically. It's ingrained in our culture- "Go Wildcats!" Be true to your school. My country, right or wrong becomes "my thinking, my way of life, right or wrong, but your thinking and way of life are definitely wrong." As individuals and families we gravitate toward moderation, but as societies we adhere to the worst forms of tribalism, wanton gluttony and avarice, and ultimately violence. This alone may explain fly fishing, the need for the individual to find balance in a world that demands zealotry.

For some reason abundance in the wild engenders bad behavior in humans, as if we as a species get filled with a primal lust unexplained by hunger or the desire for wealth. We lost our minds when we saw herds of bison stretching to the horizon, when passenger pigeons darkened the skies, when the cod on the Grand Banks swam so thick they slowed the progress of boats, and we systematically exploited them to the brink of extinction, or beyond.

There's an entertaining passage in the Bible in which the Israelites, recently freed from Egypt and wandering in a barren desert, began to complain that there was no meat. Some suggested that returning to slavery in Egypt would be preferable- at least they had food. According to the passage, God sent quails into the camp and the people went gathering them by the bushel basket. God killed a certain number of them for being greedy rather than taking what they needed to sustain themselves.

Regardless of your religious bent or lack thereof the lesson is instructive. At the very least the author had a keen insight into human behavior, and our baser tendencies when faced with natural abundance.

I'm not against catch and release, having practiced it for the most part for a number of years now. I'm not against keeping fish for a meal, having partaken on a number of occasions in the same period. Food is what originally brought us to the streams, and it is only in the last few decades that the notion of recreation has even entered the equation. Historically recreation was always a part of angling, but with the goal of a meal at the end of it, and not as the ultimate desired end.

Catch and release will increasingly be a tool of conservation, but it is just a tool and a rather blunt instrument at that. It is not a guarantee. Fish still die from being caught. An angler who catches and keeps two trout may do far less damage than an angler who releases thirty trout and kills five through bad handling, or fishing when the water is too warm.

This for me has been my journey thus far. A search for balance, some peace of mind, connection to the natural world, and every now and then, some fillets on my plate that I caught and cooked myself.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Assault on the Au Sable- FR on Gink and Gasoline

I did some reporting for Gink and Gasoline on the Grayling Fish Hatchery about to be reincarnated as a fish farm.

Here's a quote from just one comment on the article. "Here’s the real clincher, once the watershed is dead, the amount of money it takes to make a recovery is beyond what the taxpayers are willing to spend. While the politicians worry about “global warming” we have a worse water pollution problem ongoing right under their noses"

It's an important issue. Give it a read and support the cause if you are able.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Of Gods and Smallmouth

Tom scans the flats for fish

It was July 4th week that I took a couple days off plus the weekend to spend time with my good friend Tom Hazelton, who despite his traitorous departure for Minnesota last year, still comes back to spend a week fishing the Land of 60,000 Lakes, plus 14,000 miles of trout stream, give or take.

Now that one- 14,000 Miles O'Troutstream is a hard number to pin down. Depending on which MDNR link you click on you'll get stats of 12,000 to 16,000 Miles O'Troutstream, and the their latest website iteration declares 20,000 Miles O'Troutstream. Miles himself is quite confused, as are the O'Troutstream fishing public.
there's 14,000 to 20,000 miles of trout stream there- depending on who you believe

Whatever that number may be, I bummed around with Tom a lot when I should have been working at my construction business, but I really didn't care since the jobs were so disorganized, and the owners were there and in full Up North Party Mode. This involves a lot of alcohol and fireworks, and huge sums of cash. That week their rockets arced into the dark, starlit sky, bursting vermilion flashes high overhead. The concatenations echoed across the dancing waves, their crests limned by the bursting shells, while the celebrants danced and shrilled around their shoreline fires, a great drum circle circumscribing the inland waters.

We (Tom and I) tried to hit a hex hatch that didn't. I tried to take him to New Water with promises of Big Brook Trout. (Note to Self: don't ever ever EVER try and explore when you have a guest. I should have learned from my experience with Mike Sepelak.) We ended up bushwhacking into the worst swamp ever, in which we had to use our phones, a compass AND a GPS in order to find our way out. The brush was so thick we were walking a foot off of the ground, like witch doctors in the African bush.
a few bugs showed but the trout did not

And all the while Tom accepted this nonsense with his usual grace. and even took the blame for my poor decision. That's the kind of fishing buddy you need to cultivate- and stick with the check.

It was Tom's turn to disappoint on the weekend when I showed up at his carp fishing spot in the UP. We waded out while waiting for Dave the Paddleboard God to arrive. We waited like the faithful everywhere.  "And Ye shall behold Him coming across the Waters" was, I believe, the scripture and verse. and finally we did indeed behold His presence, parting the waters as he rode in on the Paddleboard of Thunder.
"parting the waters as he rode in on His Paddleboard of Thunder"

Tom's spot was a first class dud, save for his five pound smallmouth he caught, which refused to leave the area after Tom bumped it off its rock, only to have it hang around while Tom assiduously changed flies, tested his knot, his tippet, current speed, altimeter, gerentologist, and the wind direction before casting to this fish, which continued to hang around like some deranged poodle that can smell bacon. I began to doubt it's mental acuity, even more so when it ate like a poodle who knows he's being thrown bacon. Not bacon treats- real bacon. Trust me- your dog and that smallmouth can tell the difference. Stop buying that shit.

Other than the Giant Smallmouth that most guys would want on their wall, not much was happening, and so we called it early.  Dave the Paddleboard God loaded up his Paddleboard of Thunder, and we made our way Northwest to a Public Access on a Particularly Well Known Trout Stream. No it's not the Au Sable. And Maybe it's not that well-known.

We wadered up, we drank a beer, we photographed grouse on the trail. Then We got in the river, and Dave the Paddleboard God started thrashing around with some godawful streamer, stripping for all he was worth, when we all heard a sound that made us pause. It was a sound that carried over the racket of a Stacked Blonde being ripped across the surface.

It was the subtle sound of a tiny fly being sucked from the surface by a fish whose displacement is classified by the US Navy. Tie a trico on HawserX was the message loud and clear. If it doesn't involve a logging chain and a fly that isn't visible without the Hubble telescope, then go home. As we stood there and watched, we began to realize that there was not one, but several behemoth fish feeding in slow, arcing cadence.

Tom on the hunt
Whales in Cook Inlet disturb less water than these fish. And they were tough. We were in placid, gently flowing water, and the fish moved around a lot. You could wade almost to casting distance, only to have them move twenty feet further out. They fed with a droll laziness- snout, then all of their backs, then whale tail, followed by jumping schools of terrified herring.

But seriously, these fish were two feet long. All we had to do was make the perfect long cast, get the perfect drag-free drift. It was all but impossible

Dave the Paddleboard God washed out, washed downstream, never losing hope, never quite connecting. Tom, showing his good Minnesota roots, persevered and hooked up on the first two-footer. He actually fought it for quite a while, before breaking it off like a good Minnesotan. "Live, Cast and Let Live" is their state motto as spelled out on their flag. Dave, the quintessential Cheesehead and Paddleboard God, chased the fish around and got nowhere, like a good Scott Walker presidential campaign.

Me? I hooked a two-footer in shallow water, and on a dropper no less. Using its signature maneuver, the Moby Roll, it shook out my fly like a bad case of fleas.

A few casts and a couple hours later I hooked up on a good fish, which proceeded to take me all over the river and back before quietly coming to heel. It was a sixteen inch rainbow, but fat and heavy, and slightly deranged from too many years of good living. We took his picture, Tom and I, before slipping him silently back into the river, agreeing that this was our best moment on the water ever. Until the next one. Then we dipped my camera in the river.

my fish of the day

At this point Dave the Paddleboard God had to go, and so we went back to the cars and threw spears at the sky and shot arrows to ward off the Thunder Bird, bidding Him fair travel on His Way. We also ate His food, prepared by his gourmand mother. I hogged the pasta salad, but we all got extra pork chops. I think I understand smallmouth very well now.

classic Dave Karczynski

That night we let ourselves in to the Fisherman's Cabin Tom's friend had told him about down the road. We signed in to the guest log and left a few dollars in the coffee can in the freezer. Later we drank whiskey out of tin cups in tribute to Robert Traver, who was reputed to do the same in this locale, and we paused to listen to the rumble of distant thunder.