Saturday, December 24, 2016

Carp Fishing 2016

The 2016 fishing season was looking promising - as was my attempt to keep up on this blog - and then some health issues took me in another direction. Still, those few days I had on the water were great days. The carp fishing was especially good ...

Friday, May 27, 2016

On Canoes, Common Sense, and the Thinking of Murderous Thoughts

Earlier today, a meme came across my Facebook feed, which featured a woman's ample cleavage and read, "Sometimes understanding what a woman wants is very difficult. It's like trying to figure out what color, the letter seven, smells like." Usually, these things give me a little chuckle then I scroll on by and promptly forget them. This time, however, I had to stop for more than a moment as I was struck by both the extraordinary cleavage and the relevance of the words in light of something that happened on last weekend's float trip. No, I did not eat any psychedelic mushrooms or drink peyote tea before setting off downriver.

The meme touches on our understanding, or rather our lack of understanding, of those people who are not like us. Insofar as women go, I've been with my wife for some twenty three years, and I still haven't a clue. This may be a deliberate effort on her part, but I'll never know - she's smarter than I am. Insofar as fly fishing goes, we bug chuckers share our rivers with any number of other folks who aren't the least bit interested in fishing. Their lack of interest in things piscatorial is something of an enigma, but they are no less invested in the river for our lack of understanding.

More often than not, the various parties who make use of the river exist in harmony. Every once in a while though ... things just don't go so well.

In the video, that's me standing thigh deep in the run. I knew the flotilla was behind me somewhere so I moved as far out into the seam as I dared, making sure there was plenty of water behind me so the canoeists could proceed unimpeded. There was some 15 to 20 feet of water to my front and 75 or 80 to my rear.

I suppose it could be that I am just such a beautiful man these folks had to get as close to me as possible. Maybe it was the gravitational pull of my corpulent mid section. More likely I think, is the possibility that no one ever educated these folks on river etiquette, and this is where I erred.

Rather than stand there mute, fuming, and thinking murderous thoughts, I should have spoke up and gently rebuked them. Chances are good they just didn't know any better. I don't think any of the clerks or salesmen at Dick's Sporting Goods or L.L. Bean hand out pamphlets on river etiquette to customers who purchase a canoe or kayak.

Speaking up may create a little bit of tension, but only so much as is reflected in our tone. Rebuke them, but do so with the understanding that in a world whose people are increasingly removed from Mother Nature, this kind of thing is bound to happen. Understand that common sense is uncommon. Remember that we don't go to school because we know everything; we go to school because we don't. Be a wholesome person, and explain to the armada passing to your front that there is a better way of doing things.

Had I done that, the bug chucker fishing one mile downstream from us might have been saved just a little aggravation as McHale's Navy passed him by.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anybody Can Hendrickson

Our first notable hatch of the season - the hendrickson hatch - seems to have ended more quickly than it began. Just a week or so ago, there were enough duns on the water to make henny stew if one was so inclined. This week, nothing.

For many bug chuckers - and I count myself as one of them - the hendrickson hatch reminds us of why we took up fly fishing. Hendrickson season is all about the dry fly and watching outsized fish come to the surface. Oftentimes, the hatch provides us with opportunities to catch our best fish of the year as the early season trout we encounter are both winter-hungry and winter-dumb. Fishing is easy; life is good.

And then the hatch ends, the world settles into its summer pace, and we're reminded that we're not river gods. We're mortal, and many of us are mediocre fishermen.

Truth be told, anyone can hendrickson. As the water warms and buds form on the trees, trout come out of their cold water lethargy and are almost always more eager than wary. They'll whack garish, articulated streamers. They'll swallow every pink worm and purple caddis in your box. They'll come up top to gulp hennies, ignore your flubbed casts, and eat your rusty spinner as it is dragged, cork screwing and rooster tailing across the pool. All that nonsense ends as the hatch wanes, and march browns and sulphurs take the stage.

It's hardly a coincidence that social media witnesses a marked decline in hero shots and keep 'em wet photos as May turns to June. Rivers drop and clear, trout aren't quite so famished or eager as they were only a month before, and the fishing is markedly more difficult. The only way to be successful is to change tactics, and bug chuckers can be awfully resistant to change.

In a way, I'm kind of glad to see the hennies come and go. I'm in the mood for a challenge, the kind that leaves me scratching my head, perhaps even leaves me without another amateurishly composed keep-em-wet photo. Hennies don't leave you scratching your head; they don't leave you without photos. Hendricksons leave you thinking you've got it all figured out,    

Sunday, May 1, 2016

On Finding Noses and Growing Older

Ben and I recently spent a day floating the river in hopes of finding a snout or two looking skyward. We weren't disappointed, but we were a little rusty. Of a half dozen opportunities, we converted on two. Such is fishing, and as you almost certainly know - the fish we miss are the ones that keep us coming back.

The two fish we brought to hand were not, however, the most notable part of the trip. Somewhere along those first few river miles, in between the boat launch and the first trout willing to take a swipe at my hendrickson, I had a thought - not a wholly unusual experience in and of itself, but strange given its context.

I wanted to hook a trout. I wanted the thrill of out-sized noses, tight to the bank or in a foamy seam, to materialize from the ether and swallow our poorly tied bugs. I wanted long casts and tight lines. I wanted some affirmation that after a combined four decades of near continual practice, Ben and I were competent bug chuckers, able to get the job done.

With as much in mind, we loaded the cars with one cooler, two boats, four oars, five rods, twelve beers, somewhere in the vicinity of 1500 flies (we fished five or six all day), and at least 6000 calories worth of roast beef and egg salad sandwiches. We actually took the time to wash thermal underwear and patch our leaking waders. We drove one hour to the take-out and another 15 minutes to the launch. We left business unattended and cashed in collateral with our wives. All that, and somewhere after we launched but before that first fish, I was struck by the notion that it wasn't the fish we were really after.

Read any book that touches on fly fishing, at least any older book that touches on fly fishing (which means no Kindle editions are likely available), and you're sure to see a similar thread woven into the fabric of the text. Fly fishing is so much more than hooking, playing, and landing a trout. As corny and hackneyed as it may sound, fly fishing is about the experience of a day spent riverside.

I remember once attending a lecture and slide show - on nymphing techniques, I think - given by Joe Humphreys. I was eager to hear what so talented and recognized an angler might have to say, but truth be told, so many years have passed between then and now that I remember nothing the noted bug chucker had to say about fishing a nymph. There is, however, one nugget that for whatever reason left an indelible impression. Humphreys implored his audience to "look up."

At the time, I either had no idea what Humphreys was talking about or I dismissed it as so much romantic nonsense, but nearly twenty years after the fact I am struck by his words. "Look up," he said. Look away from the water, and look to the trees. Look to the sky, to the birds, to the sunset or the sunrise. Look to the world around you, all those things that have become cliche in the sport's literature, and above all else - look to your friends and fishing partners. Take it in. Take it all in.

We were floating a beautiful piece of water on a genuinely beautiful spring day. If only for a moment, we were free of the stress and worry life often heaps on us in abundance. We were concerned, or rather unconcerned, with something that in the grand scheme is nothing but a trifle: finding a rising trout and coaxing it into taking one of our flies.

I don't know why, maybe it's a consequence of having caught my share of fish or the result of growing older and realizing I've more years behind me than are likely ahead, but somewhere after the boat launch and well before I hooked that first trout, I looked up from the water and realized my being there was enough. Sharing a river with my friend was enough. Sharing hope was enough.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Staying True to My Word

Earlier this year, I made myself a number of promises. One of those promises was to reacquaint myself with my home river - my favorite river. Several years ago, she was savaged by a 500 year flood, and that flood left her changed. Her trout - large, dumb, and willing to take a fly - all but disappeared when the flood waters abated. Probing with nymphs or streamers, we would still find the occasional corker, but those out-sized fish became proverbial needles in the haystack. Every time I waded her runs and pools, I was reminded of what she had been, and I left feeling sad that her best days were behind her. And then, during the season of 2015, there was a faint ray of hope.

On each of several long floats, we found noses - snouts sucking down hendrickson duns and sulphur spinners. They weren't all in the usual places because many of the usual places had been wracked by flood, but they were there nonetheless. By the end of 2015's season, I came to understand that while the river had changed, I had not. I also came to the realization that such a fragile fishery needs more friends, not fewer.

For more than two decades I barely even whispered the river's name. I fished with a select group of bug chuckers, each of whom had taken a vow of silence, and for nearly thirty years we kept secret our bounty. We caught fish - a lot of fish, big fish - but we did so to the exclusion of other anglers and to the detriment of potential friendships. This year, I've resolved to change all that.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't plan to publish any GPS coordinates. I won't sacrifice my relationship with the river to the gods of cyberspace, but I am broadening my circle. I've opened myself to new friendships. With a handshake and a promise to treat her well, I've introduced some fine anglers to the river I know and love, and I've learned every bit as much from them as I hope they might learn from me.

More to the point, I've enjoyed fishing more than I have in quite a while.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Droughts and Overdue Resolutions

This may be a rambling and overly personal diatribe. You've been warned. Should you proceed and find you don't much like what you're reading - well, I am sure you know what you can do.

You can go ... yourself.
Until three or four weeks ago, nearly one year had passed since I last wrote anything of substance for The Rusty Spinner. One year, and truth be told, I missed it. The Rusty Spinner is a chance for me to talk fishing with friends at those times I find myself removed from both friends and fish. Although, I suppose it could be said that even when I am separated from both the river and this blog - sometimes by distance, sometimes by responsibility - I am never very far away. My flies, ragged from too many drifts over too many miles in too many years, always tumble through the currents of my imagination. Always.

As I sit here at this keyboard, however, I find I cannot remember where I was for those twelve months, and it occurs to me that if I don't know where I've been, then there is a good chance I was lost. Is it possible to lose your way without ever realizing you've fallen off the edge of the map? How does a bug chucker safely wade the current when he's unsure of where he's been or where he may be going? I suppose we have a choice: upstream or downstream, with the flow or against it. We're fishermen, brothers of the long rod, so either way we're likely to find a place that reminds us of home. All we need do is pick a direction and go.  

Last season, I spent fewer days wading the river's currents than I did in only the spring of any of the previous twenty years. My waders were dry. My lines were dry, and so too was my imagination. Vanished was whatever enthusiasm I may once have had for throwing a light line over heavy fish - turned to vapors and evaporated in whatever personal drought I was experiencing. Could there be any pain more painful, any hell more hellish, than that of the dedicated bug chucker suffering through the desert? Good Lord, I hope not.

What then brings me back to The Rusty Spinner? I guess I've stepped back in the water, picked a direction, and experienced a renewal of sorts - both of interest and of spirit. Lately, I find myself daydreaming: brown trout and steelhead, bass and bluegill, pike, musky, and carp. I'm a little surprised to discover they're all still there, right where I left them, in the brightest and most colorful parts of my memory. I find I haven't been this fired up about fishing since I was in my twenties, and now I'm making plans - new year's resolutions of sorts. Long overdue resolutions.

First and foremost, I plan to reacquaint myself with my favorite trout stream. She was hard hit by Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011, and in the seasons that followed, the fishing fell off considerably. I've come to understand that the storm changed her. How might she have remained untouched when in the span of just a few hours the river's flow increased from a seasonal norm of a few hundred cubic feet per second to over 40,000 cfs? Homes and businesses were lost, lives were changed, and for the most part, the river's trout do not hold in many of the the same riffles and runs they once did. I am going to find them; I know they're still there.

When good rivers go bad
This is also likely to be the year I return to Montana. She and I have been apart for far too long. I miss her, and fate - for once working in my favor - seems to be conspiring to make a reunion happen. An old friend recently left his job with the Orvis company in Vermont, and he has taken on a new position with Montana Fly Company in Columbia Falls, Montana. His move, combined with ridiculously low gas prices, makes the trip almost certain. I'll return to Montana a little older and wiser than when I left her, and I might have a few more tricks up my sleeve than I did when last I fished there. I can't imagine I'll be the first to use a spey rod and swung flies in the riffles and pools of the Yellowstone or Madison, but I'm fairly certain the club's membership is small.
Shawn Brillon, formerly of Orvis, now working for MFC
Of course, looking forward to the new season is near impossible to do without being reminded of seasons past, and for whatever reason I find myself looking back decades. When I was a boy, it simply wasn't possible for my friends and I to fish trout whenever we liked. The nearest trout stream was too far away from home for a reasonable bike ride, and our collective need to fish could hardly be sated by a few weekend trips  to the Battenkill with our fathers. As such, we spent the better part of our formative years fishing the Hudson River, which flowed through our diminutive hometown and offered opportunities to catch any number of warm water species. We caught thousands of smallmouth bass and the occasional largemouth. We caught buckets of bluegill and crappie. We caught carp, walleye, and every once in a while, one of us would tag a pike. Regardless of their size, the pike were always the trophies about which we bragged. They were just rare enough to be interesting but common enough to be a goal within the realm of possibility. They were strong. They were fast, and they were angry. They were waterborne dragons, and we were the knights with whom they did battle.

Thirty years down river and I find myself once more dreaming of these predators. I've already started skimming through the pages of a faded DeLorme Gazetteer and poring over Google Earth; I've marked some likely looking water, and I'm making plans. I'll revisit my old Hudson River haunts. I'll explore two lakes and three or more rivers. This season - with the help of friends and fellow fish bums - I'll rediscover those dragons I chased as a boy. With a little skill and load of luck, I'll stick pins in pike and mess with my first musky. Should the river gods be so gracious, I'll even find time for a few bowfin and gar. I'm giddy at the thought.

My final resolution has nothing to do with fish, but rather with my fellow fishermen. For years, I have been far too secretive and reclusive a bug chucker. I've been such a piscatorial hermit, in fact, that I have failed to cultivate friendships for fear of having to share "my" water with new friends. This is the year that changes. I am officially too old and too tired to isolate myself in some small corner of some small river. This year, people come first. I will offer the keys to the kingdom, an invitation to the inner sanctum, to several people who have until now been on the periphery of my fly flinging world. With luck, they'll realize the invitation is genuine. With luck, they'll share with me a piece of the river I love. With luck, they'll respect that resource as I do, and with luck, their taste in craft beer is only exceeded by the generosity of their natures.

Monday, February 15, 2016