Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hard to Concentrate

Today, I find it hard to concentrate.

Thirteen years ago (good God, has it been that long?) I was in my classroom when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. My students and I watched - dumbstruck and horrified - as the second plane hit its target. I can't remember ever having been so angry.

Thirteen years, but it seems like only yesterday. The memory is fresh, and so too is that anger.

Today, The Rusty Spinner isn't thinking much about fishing.

God bless the souls of those poor unfortunates who - thirteen years ago today - lost their lives to a hateful ideology. God bless their families. God bless our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who fight to right a wrong and to keep the rest of us safe, and God bless the United States of America.

A genuinely riveting account of 9/11 from the perspective of a former Special Forces (Green Beret) medic who was in the WTC when the first plane hit ... Click HERE.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Oftentimes, we bug chuckers measure our success as piscatorial masters of the universe in terms of personal bests: our best trout, our best cast, our best fly, even our best knot. Our continued ability to match or eclipse a previous record is how we convince ourselves that we're fine - fine fishermen. We say in our minds that if the apocalypse was to come tomorrow then we could provide needed sustenance for our loved ones, and our families would finally be forced to acknowledge and value our prowess with the long rod.

Consider the fella' in the above photograph. Tim Blair (you may recognize him from S.S. Flies and Tim's Warm Water Flies) has been fishing the Lake Ontario watershed since he was a boy. In the 20-odd years that he's chased steelhead on the Salmon River, the specimen pictured above is his best. This fish - caught on day one of a four day bender - made his trip. Tim was as happy as he was not because he bested a fish but because he bested himself (and inebriation), and demonstrated his skill at hooking and playing such a trophy before a very appreciative audience. I maintain that he's more lucky than good, given his lack of sobriety at the moment of the hook-up.

And then there's Shawn Brillon - one of the Orvis company's product developers. Shawn's best steelhead came on the same trip to the river. As you can see from the photo, the fish was a thick and powerful buck that weighed in at some 15 pounds (Boga-grip on the net ... not on the fish). That fish alone was reason enough to elicit a happy dance from the faithful employee of The Big O (he did dance ... I have it on video, and will happily sell to the highest bidder), but the quintessential icing on the cake was that the outsized buck took a traditional spey fly - an Orange Heron - on a long and slowly swinging line.

Typically, I do not catch very many big fish. My friends do, but either through a general lack of luck or skill, the river gods never seem to smile on me quite the way they do the people with whom I surround myself. And the truth is that I've come to terms with my turn of fate being what it is, because sometimes the biggest fish aren't what matters most. With all due respect to Shawn and Tim, sometimes catching just the right fish at just the right time is what most matters.

Consider another of my good friends, Ben Jose. Ben is one of the hardest working men I know. He runs his own business - Benjamin Bronze Studios - and he genuinely cherishes the little bit of time he gets on the water. Ben has caught any number of outsized fish in his day, but if you were to ask him he would almost certainly suggest that his best fish was a brown trout that came to hand at the end of his very first day on the Salmon River in New York. Ben was relatively new to fly fishing then, and the boys giving him a tour of the river did all they could to make sure he paid his dues: he was mercilessly ridiculed, made to fish the least productive parts of the run, and called on repeatedly to net fish for his "friends" as they hooked up many times throughout the day.

Through it all, Ben was resolute and never allowed his frustration to show. In the waning daylight - just minutes before regulations demanded anglers stop fishing for the day - he hooked and played to the net a genuinely magnificent fish. As impressive as it was, the brown trout wasn't Ben's best simply because of it's size. Rather, that trout remains a special fish because it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That trout signified Ben's resolve, his absolute refusal to have anything but a good time, and a willingness to learn lessons born of frustration and disappointment. Such lessons are difficult lessons to learn, but they are often the most useful.

As steelhead season creeps ever closer, I find myself looking forward to learning a few lessons of my own. I've no idea what they might be, but I know they're out there waiting for me, and that they'll be difficult lessons to learn. Steelhead lessons always are, but here's the thing: difficult lessons are often the best lessons, and the best lessons always help us to catch our best fish.

So as summer gives way to fall I find that I am hopeful; hopeful for my best steelhead, but more hopeful still, for my best day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Boring Day

A great video, but I have to admit I'm only posting it here because it features the greatest animated character in all of television history.

Boring Day from JensenFlyFishing on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Don't Be This Guy

With salmon season just around the corner and steelhead season following close on its heels, you'll want to make sure you're not this guy ...

Of course, a fifteen minute walk in any direction from any of the Salmon River's public access areas will likely buy you all the solitude you'll need.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Losing Weight

When my wife was pregnant with our triplets she gained 100 pounds. One hundred pounds, and our children were six weeks premature. Of course, much of that 100 pounds was fluid; some of it - 15lbs 14oz to be exact - was baby. Most of Amy's weight gain, however, must have been love and hopeful anticipation because not once in seven and a half months of pregnancy did my wife complain. She was a trooper, and entirely dedicated to the well being of the lives growing inside her. All that having been said, she was more than happy to be rid of the weight once our children were born.

Now, to the point ...

Any of the three people who regularly read The Rusty Spinner are sure to know that this blog focuses much more on the why of fly fishing than it does the how of fly fishing. The how is done to death, and when it's done well, it is done much better than I am likely to do it. Over the past several years, however, I've had something of a revelation in my carp fishing that I think bears sharing: to follow the example of my wife and lose the weight.

I've been fly fishing for carp for over twenty years. When I began, I did what most bug chuckers do when they start chasing carp: I threw woolly buggers at them and hoped for the best. A typical outing had me fishing my home river for smallmouth bass, never targeting carp specifically, but always hoping I might find one willing to eat. Every so often I'd get lucky and cross paths with an enthusiastic fish rooting in the shallows, but these carp were always much more likely to spook than they were to take a #4 cone head woolly bugger.

As I matured as a carp angler - if such a thing as possible - and began to chase carp to the exclusion of other species, I tied flies that I thought would be more to their liking. These bugs were almost always constructed with tailing carp in mind. That is to say that they often mimicked crayfish and were heavily weighted - usually with beads or lead eyes - so that when cast to actively feeding fish they would drop straight to the bottom where tailing carp feed. If my casting was on point then chances were reasonably good that a fish would take. If my casting was off - even the least little bit - then the fish was likely to spook. Sometimes, the mere splash of my weighted fly entering the water was enough to send entire pods of fish scattering across the river.

And this is why I've decided to lose the weight. Small unweighted flies enter the water with much less commotion than do flies tied with bead chain, barbell eyes, beads, or even lead wire. As a consequence, I'm able to make multiple presentations to fish that would likely spook if presented with larger and heavier offerings. If made to guess, I would say that on average I am able to make five or ten times as many casts to fish when I am using unweighted flies than I might make with weighted offerings. I'm not a mathematician, but I'm fairly sure this makes me five or ten times more likely to hook a fish.

Of course, fishing with unweighted flies in the the rivers I frequent does present a particular challenge. If my target is rooting on the bottom or suspended mid column then I must cast far enough upstream to allow my fly time to sink into the fish's field of vision. More often than not, the carp I chase are unwilling to move very far in following a fly so my presentation must be in the fish's lane to be at all effective. This can prove difficult at first, but any bug chucker who has spent time fishing for stream trout has likely had thousands of opportunities to practice.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tis the Season

It's that time of year when I start to daydream of steelhead. Of course, we have to make it through the summer and then salmon season, which brings us to this video ...

It's a little dated, but worth watching nonetheless. Forward to 3:00 or so to see the most interesting part.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Biblical Mayfly Emergence

Fly Fisherman Magazine's website reports a massive emergence of hexagenia mayflies along the upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin. The photographs and radar images - the hatch was large enough to register on radar - taken from local newscasts and the National Weather Service are ridiculous ...

Read the full article and see more images here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On Amy's Legs and Using the Tools We Have

I hated - hated - high school chemistry. Ionic bonds bored me. Covalent bonds made me angry. I practically hulked out over Graham's law, and Dalton's law - who needs that kind of pressure? The teacher, Mr. DeMarco, was a former NCAA wrestler who was more chemistry than teacher, and at times seemed a strange amalgam of Randy "The Macho Man" Savage and Raymond "The Rain Man" Babbitt.

Most days, Mr. DeMarco had more patience for nitrification and titration than he did for any of the young people he was teaching. He was perpetually angry; at only 5'6" tall and 150 pounds he may have been short of temper because he was short of stature, but more likely he just didn't appreciate having to deal with chuckleheads like me. I enrolled in his class not out of intellectual curiosity but for wholly prurient reasons: Amy Salvadore and her legs.

Amy Salvadore was ground zero for every feverish, hormone induced, adolescent daydream I ever had. God help me, but I could stare at her legs for hours. She was an athlete: a soccer player who as a high school student played in two state championships and eventually went on to play at the college level; her legs told the story of that athletic prowess. They were magnificent - magnificent. Amy Salvadore was my Helen of Troy.

Liz Taylor as Helen of Troy ... look at those ... eyes.
Unfortunately, I never had the courage to try to convince Amy that I was the Paris to her Helen, the Antony to her Cleopatra, the Solo to her Leia. She was intimidating, aloof, and out of my league by any reasonable measure. My only solace was that while I was content to quietly fixate on her legs, Amy focused on her studies and soccer; she had no interest in the many boys that hovered around her like so many vultures circling a carcass.

From time to time, however, Amy would look up from her chemistry notebook and smile at me from across the classroom. Insecure as I was, I always looked away, embarrassed at having been caught staring. I should have thrown off my teenage cowardice and held her gaze if only for a moment. I should have returned her smile, and struck up a conversation after class. I should have been bold, swept her up in my arms, and carried her off to the locker room; I never did because I did not recognize those glances across the classroom for what they were - opportunities.

As I sit here at the keyboard, it occurs to me that writing The Rusty Spinner is a little like sitting in chemistry class and staring at Amy Salvadore's legs. Inspiration and opportunity are always just that close. Whether it's steelhead or trout, carp or bass, pike or musky - my next opportunity to write is never further away than a sloppy double haul. The trick is to recognize the moment when it comes, and be willing to take a chance. Sometimes everything comes together, I catch a few fish, and write something that may actually be worth the reading. Other times, not so much.

For the first time in over 20 years, I today found myself thinking of Amy Salvadore's legs as I stepped out of the shower and reached for the bath towel that hangs from the back of the bathroom door. Imagine my dismay at having discovered that someone - likely one of the three gremlins my wife and I spawned some seven years ago - absconded with my moisture wicking, Turkish cotton towel and left in its place a toddler's hooded body swab. More to the point, I was left to use this ...
Arghh Matey.
And there it was, my Amy Salvadore moment of inspiration: a diminutive caricature of an 18th Century pirate masquerading as a grown man's bath towel.

Bear in mind, that at 6' 3" tall and 300 pounds on the very best of days, I've quite a lot of surface area to cover. Anything less than an over-sized beach towel just isn't going to do the job very well. It's a simple matter of mathematics.

Needless to say, I didn't have many options. I could have swabbed myself with toilet paper, but the price of top shelf, double ply T.P. made that a cost prohibitive choice. I could have gone into my wife's cabinet, grabbed a handful of the cotton balls she keeps, and used that wad of cotton to dab the essential areas. The risk of chaffing made that an equally bad choice. I could have streaked from the bathroom to my bedroom, but as I've already said there were children in the house. With all I've done to mess with their minds over the years, I just couldn't bring myself to brand them with the indelible image of naked Big Daddy darting down the hallway. Wait for the air to do its job? Who has the time? Not this guy. I had no choice; it was the pirate towel or nothing.
Finally - after much rambling and digression - we come to the point, and the point is simply this: use the tools you have. How many times have we missed out on a moment because we weren't properly equipped? We show up to the river and discover that the hennies are done and the sulphurs have begun. Of course, we've left our box of sulphurs at home. Maybe we packed our waders but forgot to pack our wading boots. Perhaps we brought a 5# rod, but grabbed a reel mounted with a 7# line. We finally arrive riverside after a 40 minute drive, discover our mistake, and rather than take a chance we head back home, cursing our own stupidity along the way.

We've all been there - all of us - and while a toddler's pirate towel may not be the best tool for the job, it will still get the job done. Trust me. I know. I also know that hendrickson emergers and nymphs will continue to take fish during a sulphur hatch. Sneakers work every bit as well as our over-priced, sticky rubber, didymo resistant wading boots. Put a 7# line on that broomstick of a 5# rod, and you might discover you're casting better than ever before.

For my part, I'm going to chase muskies with an 8#. I've been putting off a muskie trip because I've convinced myself that I need a 10# before I go. Fly fishing companies must love that type of thinking, and it is just so much nonsense. No doubt the 10# is the better choice, but I'll get the job done with a lighter rod. As I see it, using the 8# may actually do more to improve my skills as a bug chucker and fly tyer than using what some folks might suggest is a more appropriate tool. So long as my line is in the water I've a chance, and a chance is all I really need.

If nothing else, I can say for sure that in twenty years I won't be looking back on this moment and wondering what could have been.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Google Translator

My wife is a teacher - a very good teacher by all accounts - and like all good teachers she has stories to tell. Just yesterday she came home from work and told the story of an 8th grade boy who had been caught cheating on a final exam. For whatever reason, this young man was allowed to use a computer to type his answers to the test questions, which covered the student's second year of foreign language - Spanish. Apparently, the he was very quick on the keys (or the proctors were oblivious to everything around them - a distinct possibility) as the student used Google Translator to devise an answer to nearly every question on the test. It wasn't until after the test that the cheating was discovered, and the boy was called to task.

As my wife told the story, my mind wandered off - as it is prone to do during the unabridged versions of my wife's stories - to the water and all things piscatorial. I thought about brown trout on the Delaware and carp on the Hudson, bass on Ballston Lake and bowfin on Champlain. In one instant, I was on the oars of my buddy's low-side Clack, and in the next moment I was casting to lily pads from the bow of a Coleman canoe. Before long, I was at the confluence of my wife's story and my own rambling stream of consciousness, and I found myself wondering if Google Translator might not help us bug chuckers better communicate with the rest of the world.

So ... what if? What if Google Translator made possible the translation of Bug Chucker to standard English?

Common Bug Chucker: "The wind is brutal today."

Standard English: "Listen, I am paying you $400.00 - FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS - to row me down this ditch of a river and set me up on fish. How about you take one last drag off that Camel non-filter and move this friggin' boat just a little bit closer to shore. I obviously haven't the zip on my double haul that you expect me to have. If I was Steve Mother-F@%king Rajeff, I wouldn't have hired you in the first place."

Common Bug Chucker: "Fish on!"

Standard English: "Look at me! Look at me! I hooked a fish! Get the camera! Get the net! Get the camera and the net, but be careful with my camera. It's not waterproof, and still has pictures of the kids' birthday party on it. If that camera gets wet and I lose those pictures my wife will divorce me before she murders me. They'll never find my body. Look at me! Look at me! I hooked a fish! Get the camera! Get the net!

Common Bug Chucker: "My rod broke."

Standard English: "As a consequence of my own careless neglect and/or inability to cast in such a way as to prevent the collision of 2.5 troy ounces of lead with the carbon fiber blank of my (insert brand name and brief description of fly rod),  I  (insert owner's full name to include middle initial)  have broken my fly rod. I hereby absolve the manufacturer of any culpability, which might otherwise be associated with the destruction of said rod. Furthermore, I pledge not to harangue - with an equally fantastic and false narrative of the rod's final moments - the minimum-wage fly shop employee who will assist me in the repair and/or replacement of my fully warrantied (insert brand name and brief description of fly rod).

Common Bug Chucker: "It's good just to be out."

Standard English: "F@%k fly fishing! I spend ... what ... somewhere in the neighborhood of $3000.00 on flies and gear, plus another $200.00 on a hotel and gas, and all I have to show for my investment is this f@%king sunburn and a couple dozen mosquito bites. F@%k these fish! Tomorrow, I go at 'em with dynamite and bleach." 

*** NOTE: In Steelheader Parlance (a dialect of Common Bug Chucker endemic to the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions) the above quote translates quite differently. "It's good just to be out" simply means, "I need a beer."

Common Bug Chucker: "While you're getting rigged up, I'm gonna' run down and check out the water."

Standard English: "You are a better fisherman than I am. As a matter of fact, you are a much better fisherman than I am. If you get to the water before I do - or even at the same time - there is no way I will catch the fish we both know calls this run home. So ... in order to give myself a fighting chance, I have arrived riverside with my rod already strung. While you looked off the bridge, I hid your rod tube under the van's bench seat and your wader belt in the center console. The time it takes you to arrange your gear should be all the time I need to get half a dozen drifts over that brown trout. Hopefully, six drifts will be all I need."

Common Bug Chucker: "Nice fish. Where'd ya' get him?"

Standard English: "They've not yet developed the metric by which we might measure my laziness. I have neither the time nor the desire to trudge through the mountains looking for water that holds fish like the one in your photograph. Instead, I'll ply you with the expensive IPA of your choice and several Slams from the Denny's breakfast menu in an attempt to beguile you and loosen your tongue. Once you've told me where you caught that fish, I will post GPS coordinates on the internet. In the process, I will completely destroy your faith in humanity."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Been Busy ...

Been busy lately - too busy to write anything of any substance that might be worth the time to read. The little bit of time I've had has been spent on the water ... hence the lazy photo dump.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Probably Knot

When I worked in a fly shop - a time in my life that is lately much on my mind - I was frequently asked mundane questions about the most mundane aspects of bug chuckin'. It was just the nature of the job. New fly fishers ask new fly fisher questions.

At times I found the questions tedious, but the people asking them were usually sincere and well intentioned so I always did what I could to offer my help. From time to time, I couldn't help myself and tried to have a little bit of fun with folks - usually the shop regulars who were used to some good natured ribbing.

My waders are leaking. How do I patch them?

I wouldn't know. Our shop's waders never leak. You should buy your next pair from me.

Are you a swinger or do you nymph for steelhead?

That's a conversation you need to have with your wife.

How long have you been fly fishing?

Eleven days. No ... twelve. Twelve days as of this morning.

Do you have a favorite knot for connecting  fly to tippet ... tippet to leader ... leader to line ...?

Probably Knot.

While I suppose it's possible that you've never heard of the Probably Knot, I can say with absolute certainty that you've used it from time to time. The Probably Knot is often the knot of choice for angling neophytes and experts alike. Sometimes, the Probably Knot is the only knot a fisherman knows how to tie. The Probably Knot is neither a Bimini Twist nor a Blood Knot. It's not a Palomar or Perfection. It's not an Albright or an Improved Clinch, and it sure as hell isn't a Surgeon's Loop. It's none of these, but at different times it steals bits and pieces from each.

The Probably Knot is the knot we tie when we're in the final three hundred yards of a twelve hour float. It's the knot we use when we can't control our excitement at the oversized snout slowly sucking spinners from a foam line. It's the knot we're most likely to tie just moments before stinging the largest fish of our lives. It's almost invariably the knot we use when we blink into the rapidly darkening sky as we try desperately to tie on a #18 trusty-rusty before the light fails completely. The Probably Knot is the knot we're most likely to use at both the dawn and dusk of our angling lives.

What's best about the Probably Knot is that it doesn't derive it's strength so much from the principles of chemistry or the laws of physics as it does from an angler's hope. Hope may not have 100% breaking strength, but as Emily Dickinson once penned, "Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul."




The strength of the Probably Knot comes from the soul - from an angler's faith that the knot will work when the angler needs it to work. Wars have been fought and won - whole nations have been conquered by faith. If given a choice between fluorocarbon and faith, I'll take faith every time.

But for those of you for whom faith is never enough ...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dear River ... Nevermind

Dear River,

Never mind my last post. I was out of my mind when I wrote that letter. Someone must have slipped me some bath salts or a badger tranquilizer. We're fine. In fact, we're great.

I love you Baby,


Dear River

Dear River,

Hey. We need to talk.



Scratch that.

We don't need to talk. I need to talk. You need to listen.

We've been together for a long time now; this season marks 21 years. When we first met, you were a mystery - nothing more than a faint blue line winding its way across a forgotten page in my Gazetteer. I was eager and full of energy, and you were the undiscovered country - an unknown whisper of a trout stream in an otherwise forgotten corner of my world. I had heard whispers - of course. Old men spoke of you quietly and with a gleam of fond remembrance in their eyes. "If only I were still your age," they'd say. And the stories they told - they were too fantastic to believe. They were too fantastic to be true.

But they were true. Every story. Every time. They were true. You were every bit the river those old men said you were. Nearly a quarter of a century has passed, and I'm still wading your runs; our history only makes more difficult those things I have to say.

I never thought the day would come; I can't believe I have to say this, but I think we need some time apart. I want to say, "it isn't you ... it's me" but that's just not true. The truth is that it's you - entirely you. For years you were constant as the north star, a friend whenever I needed a friend, a confidant who helped me soldier through my worst moments of worry and regret. You made me feel loved, but something is different. Something small but significant has changed. You're not the same river with whom I fell so desperately in love all those years ago. It's like I don't know you anymore - if ever I did.

There was a time when I knew - with absolute certainty - that the first week of May meant fiddle-head ferns and a tremendous hendrickson hatch. Fish would rise - big fish - with the carelessness born of a long winter, and I would leave the river every evening having been reminded that I am a man. After the hendicksons were sulphurs, and after the sulphurs came drakes, olives, and white flies. Every hatch - every fish - was an assurance that you loved me the way that I loved you.

And as much as it pains me to say, it's over, isn't it? Seems I just don't know anything anymore. Last year, the hendricksons came in March. March? Really? This year the hendricksons have been sparse at best and entirely absent at worst. Why?

How could you so easily discard my favorite hatch? You must know that the first hatch of the year is always the best hatch of the year. Was it deliberate? Did you want it to cut? Did you want it to hurt? It did.

So that is why - as much as anything else - I've decided that we need a break from each other. You need time to become whomever it is you're becoming, and I need a chance to explore other corners of the world. Please don't misunderstand. I love you. I will always love you, but I am afraid that I cannot go on loving you if things continue as they are. Maybe after we've spent some time apart we'll discover that what we really need is each other. I hope so. I do.



Monday, April 21, 2014

Project Healing Waters ESPN

Not much to say really ... a good organization doing good - and necessary - work.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Much Wood?

Day 117 of the Snowpocalypse witnessed me trudging across the wintry landscape (80 degrees just two days ago and five inches of frozen misery in my driveway this morning) looking for those trout that might have sense enough to abandon the main river's swollen currents and run into its less torrential tributaries. Two hours into my foray I realized my error: trout haven't any sense. Neither have I ... apparently. I should have stayed home and watched re-runs of Murder She Wrote on the Hallmark channel.

But I didn't stay home. I went fishing.

So what do we angling optimists do when the river gods hand us a basket full of lemons? We wander aimlessly through the woods looking for something, anything that might help us repair our fragile male egos.

I didn't find anything like that - no bikini clad Scandinavians whose Jeep was stuck in the mud - but I did find a woodchuck.

Staring contest ... starting ... now!
The groundhog was working rather assiduously on widening what I assume to be one of the entrances to his burrow. He disappeared as I approached, but on a hunch I set up my camera to record the door to his man-cave, and I wandered off long enough to let him get into trouble.

This is what I found when I returned (I don't think he quite knew what to make of the DSLR looming over him so oppressively) ...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Opening Day

Here in New York, the opening day of trout season comes on the first of April. For many Empire State bug-chuckers, opening day signifies the end of a frozen season and relief from a particularly nasty strain of the shack-nasties. My life (read: my wife) required me to be elsewhere on opening day, but that didn't stop a close friend and fishing buddy (read: a real son-of-a-bitch) from doing his best to make me jealous via text messages and email.
Photo: Adam Kettering
For five days I stewed over those messages. When finally I found myself stream side (read: my wife granted me a 1/2 day pass) the season had been open for nearly a week, and even the smallest streams were spilling their banks. I gave it a sincere effort, but the fish - no doubt too busy dodging rolling boulders and avoiding falling trees - did not cooperate. Most of the day I walked the woods with a camera in hand.

And in the course of my wandering I found something very interesting; something I've somehow missed in twenty years of strolling through that little patch of woods.

The inscription reads, "MIKE KANE / Killed here by / unknown assassins / July 26, 1930." I find it difficult to imagine that for twenty years I've walked those river banks in the shadow of a murder. A little digging on the Google machine revealed that Kane's killers were eventually caught - six years after his body was discovered in that spot by the stream.

Several years ago, I came across another interesting piece of history only a quarter-mile from the site of Kane's assassination. My best guess is that it was the foundation of a home or perhaps a root cellar. Whatever it was, all that remains are four walls of stacked stone. With the exception of some moss and a few trees growing up through the center, I imagine those walls today look much as they did a hundred or more years ago.

When I think of all the history tucked quietly into that little valley I find myself wondering what I've likely missed. Too often, I don't look away from the water. Too often, I don't take the time necessary to explore the river's history or to appreciate my part in that story. Maybe when I next go fishing I'll do a little more than just go fishing. Maybe I'll go for a walk, or maybe I'll just sit on the bank and think. Maybe I'll discover some of the river's history, or if I am very lucky, maybe I'll make some history of my own.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Working in a Fly Shop: Redux

Several years ago, I wrote what follows after a day spent drinking beer and reminiscing with friends about our time working together in a fly shop. I enjoyed my time there, but marriage, fatherhood, and career took me in another direction. I do sometimes miss the job, but most days I walk into a shop, and I am happy to be on the outside looking in. The truth is that working in a fly shop isn't glorious work. It's a retail job that in many ways is like any other. Conversation - about all things fishing - is the work's one redeeming quality, but I digress ...

I consider the reprinting of this a shop-veteran's service to those bug-grunts still operating in the field. I'm thinking it buys me first crack at that fish by the rock, but I know better than to hold my breath.

 On Working in a Fly Shop: Redux

Those of you who know me know that for about eight years I worked regularly in a fly shop, and that I still make appearances there from time to time. My time at the shop taught me some valuable lessons, which have helped me make the most of my time in other fly shops around the country. I thought I'd take this opportunity to share these nuggets with you.

1. The average flyshop employee does not care how you broke your rod. Your story is of little or no consequence, and will have no bearing on the employee's decision to help with your warranty issues. You need not regale the person behind the counter with ridiculous tales of Sasquatch, rabid muskellunge, or piscatorially-deprived sex offenders who demanded your rod tip or your arse.

Both you and the guy behind the counter know you broke your two-weight when you tried double-hauling four split-shot and a #2 Clouser. The ginormous rig collided with the blank at roughly 65 miles an hour, and the end result was splintered graphite in your hand. The rod shaft tells the tale.

Note my diction. The rod did not break. You broke the rod. It was your fault. It was not a defect in materials or workmanship, and guess what, the shop attendant is always happy to help. Just don't waste his or her time with a lame story. The conversation should go something like this. "Hi Mike. I broke my rod. Can you help? Great! When we're finished, can I get a quick double-haul lesson?" Be brief and to the point. There is no reason for subterfuge or narration. Again ... brief and to the point.

2. Warranties on rods do not equate to trade-in/upgrade privileges in perpetuity. Here's the scenario. You buy a top end rod. You fish that rod for two seasons. Two years later, company X replaces in its catalogue your top end rod with another top end rod. You then deliberately break your formerly top end rod, and return the graphite shards to company X fully expecting an "upgrade" to the latest and greatest fish slayer. If you've done this then you're no better than a steaming pile of bovine excrement. If you've done this more than once then your parents are no better than a whole field of steaming bovine excrement. Either way, I hate you. I hate your parents, and may God have mercy on your selfish, unethical souls.

3. If you ask a shop employee where to fish then you should expect one of several types of response. The particular response you receive depends almost entirely on your relationship with the employee, your skill as an angler, any prior military service (vets go to the front of the line), and/or the stature of your breasts (some boobs make liars out of us while others are like truth serum). All things considered, expect one of the following:
  • Lies. Almost always, shop employees are anglers before they're shop employees. Many have other, more lucrative jobs. They "work" in a fly shop so that they can talk fishing all day, and then fish after work. They will not turn you onto water they plan to fish themselves, and they almost always reserve the best water for themselves. It's human nature. Get over it, buy a map, and hope for the best.
  • Vague Generalities. Don't expect the employee to draw you a map, point to the rock on the key, and suggest you'll find a twenty-two inch brown behind that rock. If you're naive enough to ask where to fish, expect to hear answers like "The river," "Downstream of the bridge," "The trophy section," or "In your own state." In neither this universe nor any other does the purchase of four flies buy you access to the inner sanctum. Just go away, and choke yourself.
  • Truth. Some shop guys are just genuinely good people. In fact, most shop guys are just genuinely good people. They cannot bring themselves to lie for the sake of maintaining ridiculous, meaningless secrets. They will tell you exactly where to fish, when to fish, and what flies to use. They'll be so generous that you will invariably doubt the voracity of their information. You'll leave the shop feeling abused and belittled. That feeling will gnaw away at you while you go fishless in a section of the river the employee suggested you avoid.
4. All waders leak. The name on the label does not matter. The technology does not matter. The price does not matter. All waders leak. A few extra dollars might buy you some time, but this is not guaranteed. All waders leak. Patagonia, Orvis, Redington, Cloudveil, Simms, Redball, et al. All waders leak. Are you getting it? All freakin' waders will eventually freakin' leak!

5. Price does not necessarily equate to performance. If you want to cast farther or more precisely, take a lesson and practice. Don't make the shop guy explain why one rod is better than another. He'll have perfectly legitimate reasons, but in the end you need to cast the thing to know if a rod suits you. Avoid wasting everyone's time, and just get to it.

6. Everyone working in a fly shop would rather be fishing. Bear this in mind when mentioning just how good was the morning hatch.

7. And finally ... never antagonize a bug chucker who is armed with a spear.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


My fingers tap heavily on the desk like a metronome counting time for an elegy that only I can hear. I stare out my classroom's solitary window - a post-modern monstrosity, which was no doubt designed for a prison before it was diverted to my school. With the open-mouthed vacancy of a Hindu cow, I watch snow fall heavily in the courtyard beyond the glass.

I cannot help my blank expression. I've had enough of winter, and the nor'easter blowing outside has me wondering if I've done something to anger the river gods. Clearly they're angry. Why else would they conspire with the weather gods to trap me here, at the frozen center of Dante's Inferno. I should be off chasing steelhead or trout.

Two days ago, the air tasted of spring, but today the wind wrestles violently with itself, conjuring little cyclones of sleet and ice that battle each other in the square. Mr. Roe's greenhouse - built by last year's departing seniors to teach this year's incoming freshmen the value of all things green - rattles and shakes, its spring hinged door flapping open and slamming shut in time with my finger tapping. I'd be surprised if it survives until April. I'd be surprised if I survive until April.

Today's study hall is overfull. I've been assigned 39 students this semester, but there are only 27 desks in my classroom. Typical. Students squat where they can; some stand while others recline on the floor. To my front sits a young woman and her boyfriend. The boy wears a Volcom t-shirt and what I believe to be his sister's jeans; he smells strongly of menthol cigarettes and unwashed nether parts.
I smile and nod when the girl turns to look at me, but in my mind I'm screaming, "Dear God! Can't you smell it?". Of course, the stench may not belong solely to the boy. Perhaps the girl smells of Newports and the boyfriend of body funk. Perhaps their unpleasant, pubescent aromas have mingled like explosive binary chemicals, and in doing so formed an odor more repulsive than either could achieve if left alone.

Regardless, the wintry mix outside prevents me from opening my classroom's double paned porthole to better ventilate the too small space, so I turn on my fan and quietly hide from the stink in the vortex created by the blades. Kids are great; they're talented, insightful, and uninhibited in ways that adults simply are not, but there's a steep learning curve when it comes to hygiene that many find difficult to master. Some don't even care to try.


Before long, my mind - if not my nose - is quieted by the gentle thrum of the fan's motor. With my gag reflex momentarily suppressed, I drift off to happier times.

In the space of a moment, winter has given way to summer, and I'm no longer a teacher. The world is green and warm; everything is fresh and new - as it would be when seen through young eyes. I'm six years old, younger by a year than my own three children, and my father (who was then younger by a decade than I am now) has only just given me my first fly rod. We're together, dad and I, each of us in cut-off jeans and running shoes and standing in one of the Battenkill's shallow riffles. One quarter mile above us is Shushan's covered bridge.

My father, a dedicated bait fisherman, drifts his nightcrawler through the deepest part of the slot. I stand upstream of dad - as I always did when I was a boy - and whip the fly line back and forth as he had shown me only moments before. Throughout the morning, I managed a handful of casts to four or five yards, but for the most part the line would fall at my feet or wrap itself like a hungry python around the tip of the rod. When the line did stretch out in imitation of an adequate cast, the current would grab its thick PVC belly and sweep leader and fly at a sprinter's pace down through the head of the run. Mending was beyond this particular first grader, which meant the chances of hooking a fish were miniscule. This only made the brown's splashy take all the more remarkable.


"Wrapped around the pole again?"

"I think I have one."

"No you don't."

"I think I do."

"Just keep casting."

"I can't. The line is stuck in the water."


And then the scene changes. I'm a grown man, albeit a younger, less rotund man than I am today. It's a Tuesday in mid June, and while I should be at work - I am not. I've played hooky from my classroom, and later in the evening I will be absent from graduate school. As late as it is in the school year, my students are checked-out, their minds on summer vacation. They won't even know I'm gone. Professor Kelsh and research studies will just have to wait. Today is a mental health day; one that I have been desperately needing. Today, I am neither student nor teacher.

The day is beautiful in the way late spring days so often are: a brilliant sun climbs high in the cloudless sky, the water is a deep aquamarine that reflects the sun in its riffles, and the air carries the scent of blooming cornflower and coreopsis. Unfortunately, beautiful days are sometimes harbingers of poor fishing, and such has been the case throughout the morning. My partner and I had a few half-hearted nips as we nymphed through run, but as we stepped away from the tailout we had nothing to show for our efforts.

"I think I'll head up top and give it another go. I know there's fish there, and I'm sure I can get one of them to take."

"Alright, I might switch over to a sinking line and try the slot down below."

"Give a yell if you zip one."

"Will do."

I cross the river in the shallowest portion of the tailout, and when I reach the far bank, I do as I said I would and switch over to a 200 grain sinker. My fly choice is simple: a #4 woolly bugger with olive hackle and a barred yellow tail - one of my favorites on this river. On my first cast, the line slips free of my off hand, and my double haul becomes an underpowered single that ends with leader and fly wrapped around the rod's tip. It's been twenty odd years since I caught that first brown, and my casting hasn't improved at all.

Fifteen minutes and four feet of tippet later, I'm again false casting. This time, I remember to hold onto the running line; the forward stroke and the second haul are timed as they should be, and everything is right in the world. The line slides through the guides with a pleasing "Pfffffffttttt," and the rod jumps a little as weight of the shooting head pulls against the reel. I watch the fly turn over the leader, the tuft of yellow marabou touches the surface, and the water erupts in a turquoise explosion. For a moment, I'm convinced a bobcat or shetland pony has jumped into the pool. I look to my reel, vaguely aware of an unfamiliar screech coming from its inner workings. When my eyes finally focus on the freely spinning spool, I witness a sight that until that moment I had only ever read about: backing - white as a sucker's belly - stealing away from the reel like a falcon diving on a hare.

Again, the scene changes, but this time I'm not looking back; I'm dreaming forward. And in my dream I see that next steelhead trip, which is likely to be the last for the year. I see the first day of trout season and the hendricksons that will soon drift in circles through the eddies of the Flats, the Ball Field, and The Springhole. I see snouts poking through the surface of the Delaware and ice cold beer and luke warm scrambled eggs served on the bow of Shawn's drift boat. I see cruising carp and slashing pike. I see bowfin and gar, brook trout and sunfish. I see the shadow of a musky, and the whisper of a laker. I see all the promise of a year on the water.

The bell rings, and it's all I can do to wade out from under the stupor. I look up from my daydream to find the room empty of students; the odor that accompanied them seems to have followed them out the door. I sigh heavily, knowing I have to put my dreams on hold for a while. In minutes, twenty-four young men and women will cross the threshold separating the chaos of the hallway from the tranquility of my little corner of the world. Some of those young people will need my attention.

Some will almost certainly want to spend the class daydreaming, and today - I think I'll let them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tying Trout, Thinking Steelhead, and Dreaming Carp

Day 87 of the Snowpocalypse...

Three days ago we exhausted our stores of craft beer and ate what was left of Charlie. Vodka is running low; we've been forced to cut it with orange Tang and grape Shasta. Only one bottle of scotch remains ... One bottle. Yesterday morning, Ana washed down two Xanax and an Ambien with half a bottle of Nyquil. Thirty minutes later she wandered off into the drifts singing Do You Want to Build a Snowman. We haven't seen her since; she was our only hope for re-population. God help us all.

It's that time of year when Jack Frost does his very best to remind us he's a badass. This year especially, winter is making it a point to keep its frigid little rat claws dug firmly into the northeast and Great Lakes regions. As of February 13th, ice covered 88.4% of all five of the Great Lakes. For the mathematically impaired, 88.4% is pretty damn close to 100%. In most high schools and junior colleges, 88.4% gets you on the honor roll. This is the year Frosty gives the valedictory address.

Wonder what it is that keeps that last 12% from freezing? ... warm springs? warm air? nuke plants?
And with an especially harsh winter comes a correspondingly bad case of the shack nasties. Cruise the Facebook fly fishing circles, and you'll see what I mean. Bug chuckers are everyday killing other bug chuckers. Steelhead usually help to assuage such senseless slaughter, but conditions have been poor for fishing and prime for nonsense. Let's hope spring comes soon. Fly guys sometimes thumb their noses at dropbacks, but this year a little dropback fishing might just save a life. Some people - myself among them - need desperately to get out of the house. 

As it does for many bug chuckers, tying flies helps me to assuage all the temperature induced craziness, and lately I've been a bug wrapping machine. My bugger barns are full to the point of being overfull. I gave dozens of last year's marabou monstrosities to a friend in order to make room for this year's batch, and still there are feathers sticking out past the seal of the waterproof boxes. In addition to all the usual suspects - buggers, zonkers, etc. - articulated behemoths will have a place in this year's stash. I first fished articulated flies some years ago, but I figure it's time I jump on the bandwagon in earnest.

The nymph boxes are also full. Just this morning I finished up the last few cased caddis, and tonight I'll start filling in the gaps amongst the dries. Of course, I'll have to see what remains from last season, but I already know I'm in need of hennies, olives, and green drakes. Maybe a week's work, which means that in only seven days I'll be back to daydreaming.

Winter dreams are warm dreams, aren't they? Steelhead have only just begun their spawning dance, trout season is not yet open, and already I've carp on the brain. I've plans, big plans. If even a few come to fruition then I should have plenty of blog fodder come August. This year, my flies and my tippets will be lighter. Time spent stalking the flats has taught me that lead eyes and beads spook fish. This year, the weight is gone and most of my carp bugs will be little more than chemically sharpened steel wire and blended fur. I'll get to tying them just as soon as I've wrapped up those drakes.

And so goes day 87 of the Snowpocalypse. I think it's colder now than when I began this post, and tomorrow is likely to be colder still. I suppose I'll survive; I suppose we'll all survive, but I don't see any way we make it out of the season completely unscathed. It's too damn nasty out there.