Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Salmon River F@#kdoggles and Moses Descending the Mountain

There is something about the experience of fishing New York's, Salmon River that lends itself to the expansion of the bug chucking vernacular. Maybe it's the easy wading. Maybe it's the unspoiled landscape. Maybe it's the native women: exotic, mysterious, toothy. Whatever the reason, nearly every time we're wading the river's currents we're faced with some new rub - something unlike anything we have ever before experienced. Sometimes this strangeness is born of mother nature, but more often it's the river's anglers who leave us scratching our heads like space monkeys staring down some strange, foreign fruit. Consider one of our latest additions to the lexicon: f@#kdoggle. F@#kdoggle was spawned on a day and in a moment when we couldn't quite make sense of the world - a moment in which some of our fellow bug chuckers forgot the lessons learned from their fathers, grandfathers, or in that short section of The Curtis Creek Manifesto devoted to etiquette and the fishing of a popular spot.

F@#kdoggle's genesis saw a late November morning break crisp and clear as five of us settled into one of our favorite runs. We arrived at the river around 4 a.m., made a pot of coffee that smelled like sex and tasted of malted turpentine, and as the sun peeked out over the trees we started our rotation: one man at the head, three working through the bucket, one man in the tailout. Cast, step, cast, step. From top to bottom, the whole process took us some 45 leisurely minutes to complete, and with five anglers swinging five different flies on five different tips, we were likely hitting every fishable inch of the water column. Our rotation allowed each of us a shot at the best sections of the run; two of us hooked steelhead on our first pass, and with our second hookup so began the F@#kdoggle.

One of the peculiarities of fishing the Salmon River is that regardless of where we might wet our line we're likely to have an audience. There are only 16 river miles from dam to lake, and some of that water is private and posted. Consequently, a great many anglers are packed into a relatively small space. Compounding the effect of limited space is an epidemic of steelhead fever, which is a potent affliction with the power to make men do things - despicable things - they would never do on an ordinary trout stream.

As that second fish took off on its first run, the alarm of line peeling from the reel had the effect of alerting a trio of passing anglers to the presence of fish in the water. Standing on the ridge overlooking the riffle, they huddled, they whispered, and they pointed. Plans were made. While three of our party contended with the chaos of landing, photographing, and releasing our second steelhead of the day, the three musketeers slipped into the empty spaces between us and began nymphing the seam. In typical Salmon River fashion, not one of the interlopers ever said "hello" or made introduction. No one asked to join our group or to share the water, and before we could finish that first pot of Death Wish Coffee, our rotation had ended.

There is no way of knowing if those three anglers were the advanced guard for a larger group or if some member of our party owed a karmic debt, but no sooner did our nymphing cousins set up in the middle of the run than four more anglers tiptoed into the tailout, waded clumsily across the river through the very water our bottom most man was fishing, and then set up on the far bank directly across from us. To be clear, in the space of ten or fifteen minutes, five anglers had ballooned to twelve. Twelve anglers were fishing a piece of water that could comfortably hold four, accommodated five so long as they were all were in synch, but became something of a circus if stretched beyond that limit. The result?

The early stages of a F@#kdoggle.

But numbers alone do not a F@#kdoggle make. F@#kdoggle requires a certain something - something even the most talented writer might find difficult to articulate. A carnival barker would say it's a spectacle, extravaganza, or a feast for the senses. Southern gentry might suggest it's a heckuva hullaballoo. A soldier returning from war would speak more plainly and call it a clusterf@#k.

And a clusterf@#k it was. Shortly after crossing and scattering any fish that may have been lying in the tailout, one of those bug chuckers on the opposite bank hooked - or rather snagged - a late season king salmon. The angler was fishing at the top of the run, immediately across the river from our coffee pot and top most man, when his tippet likely tickled the mudshark's dorsal (or the whitish stub that remained of its dorsal). Suffering the onset stages of steelhead fever (or perhaps having an epileptic fit), the fisherman immediately set the hook Bassmaster Classic style, and for fifteen minutes we were treated to Jo-Jo the Idiot Circus Boy running up and down the far bank as he chased a fish that had likely spawned a week prior and was just moments earlier looking for a quiet place to die. Eventually, one of our party spoke up.

"For f@#k's sake," he yelled. "You have a king, and it's snagged in what used to be a dorsal fin. That little chartreuse spot on its putrefying back ... yeah, that's your fly. Just break it off so the rest of us can get back to crossing lines with each other. F@#king halfstack."

Jo-Jo's response summed up the whole scene: "I want my fly back."

He wanted his fly back. Of course he did. For the sake of that 75 cent Estaz egg, he was willing to inconvenience everyone else in the run, and for the sake of a fish, he was willing to disregard anything his mama ever taught him about courtesy. He was willing to set up directly across from eight other anglers in what may be one of the narrowest runs on the river. He was willing to cross the river through water in which another bug chucker was swinging a fly. He was willing to forgo any semblance of grace, courtesy, or decorum. He was willing to do things he would never consider doing on other, more refined rivers. Why? Because this was the Salmon River, and for reasons known only to the river gods, there are no rules governing civility on the Salmon River.

We propose to end that tradition. Like Moses descending the mountain, we carry with us the law - rules to live by for the Salmon River's fisherman: bug chuckers, pinners, and gear heads alike. Consider them. Please, consider them. It's not about you; it's not about us. It's not about one group of fishermen or another. It's about the health of a river that has been hurting and the hope our children might enjoy it as we have.

Ten Commandments of the Salmon River

  1. I am the river, Salmon River; thou shalt consider me before all things. 
  2. Thou shalt leave neither refuse, nor excrement, nor entrails, nor mono, nor any sign of man strewn on my shores.
  3. Thou shalt not floss, nor line, nor snag; for snaggers are as thieves, and they shall be made to crawl on their bellies. 
  4. Honor the steelhead and her brood; she is of water and there must remain so to bring joy to the joyless. 
  5. Thou shalt not kill any steelhead but to soothe thine family's hunger. 
  6. Thou shalt not Boga for Boga is of the serpent of the abyss - the destroyer of piscine souls.
  7. Thou shalt show courtesy in all that you do as grace begets beauty, and beauty begets peace.
  8. Thou shalt rotate thine water with both friend and strangers on the path; for rotation is of the spirit, and spirit is of the river.
  9. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's riffle, but will instead offer him your own. 
  10. Thou shalt carry these words with you, and sew them as seed; for in the planting thou shalt be blessed. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Eternally Wild

I go to a dark place when I watch this video and juxtapose the film with what I see on New York's, Salmon River.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On the Salmon River, Common Sense, and Watching a Friend Die

You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to. - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, On Grief and Grieving

I first wet a line in New York's, Salmon River nearly twenty years ago. Shawn Brillon - a dear friend who now works for Montana Fly Company and calls home Columbia Falls, Montana - introduced me to the water, the region, and some of the people who once frequented its banks. Our first trip was one I'll never forget but not because I caught my first steelhead. I did not catch a steelhead on that trip or even on my next trip. In fact, I did not catch my first steelhead for several years after Shawn first dragged me to the river; I was a most reluctant passenger. Instead, that first trip left an indelible impression because the whole experience was so unlike anything I had ever encountered.

Until the day Shawn first took me to the salmon-centric towns of Altmar and Pulaski, my fly fishing had been relegated to the days between April 1st and September 30th, which at the time marked the length of New York's regular trout season. In those days, I chased trout and smallmouth bass. Occasionally, I'd wet a line for panfish or carp. I fished when the weather made for a comfortable day of fishing; winter run steelhead were completely off my radar. 

Winter fishing seemed an aberration. Why would any bug chucker, who by my juvenile understanding was most concerned with dry flies and rising trout, willingly consent to fish in the middle of a lake-effect snow storm?  What was a Korker? How in God's name was I supposed to cast half an ounce of lead on a 10', single-handed rod? At the time, spey rods were as foreign to me as camel racing and switch rods had yet to be born. What the hell was Estaz, and why would any self respecting, out-sized trout eat something I might otherwise hang on my Christmas tree?    

I remember being wholly miserable for most of that first trip. I was nauseated from the three hour drive to the river (Shawn drives far too slowly and indulges in the brake pedal far too much for my tender constitution to bear). Several hours with my lower extremities submerged in the near frozen, gelatinous currents left me in what must have been the early stages of hypothermia; no doubt a consequence of my own ignorance, inadequate clothing, and the brutal November storm that drove freezing rain into our faces on a near horizontal axis. At any point, I would have happily packed up, gone home, and never returned to what I thought may have been the final, frozen circle of Dante's, Inferno. And then Shawn hooked a fish.

Nearly twenty years have passed and I can still see ten pounds of platinum silhouetted against the blue-black slate lining the Salmon River's banks. The hen somersaulted from the water and cartwheeled twice before slamming back home with such force a passerby might reasonably have thought a pony had fallen from the sky and plunged into the pool. Nearly twenty years, and I can still see the fish and the smile on my friend's face.

Much has changed from then to now. Like many Salmon River anglers, I quickly graduated from running line and slinkies to floating line and indicators. Eventually, the bobbers (let's call them what they are) disappeared and my single-handed sticks were replaced with switch rods. In recent years, I've laid aside nymphs and eggs entirely. Now, I swing flies - some big, some small, all of them beautiful in their way - along the seams in which the river's steelhead reside.

Unfortunately, as my fishing has evolved the fishery itself seems to have devolved along a contrary arc. The past two seasons have been especially discouraging. By all accounts, salmon and steelhead returns have been somewhat diminished from their height in 2011 and 2012. Evidence for reduced numbers of returning fish is largely anecdotal, but far more disturbing than the possibility of a reduced return (which may happen for any number of reasons, be perfectly innocuous, and part of a normal cycle) is a confirmed steelhead die-off, which is in its second year and shows no signs of abating. Fisheries biologists claim the explosion in steelhead mortality is the result of a thiamine deficiency, which is in turn caused by a staple in the steelhead's diet: the alewife.

My most recent trip to the river drove home the implications of such a die off. After a full day on the water, I had only one tug. As my fly (a diminutive #6 purple heron) swung across the lip of a tailout, it was intercepted by a large steelhead intent on making a fool of me. In one instant I was into my backing, and in the next moment the fish was gone. Of course, one pull - on a swung fly over the course of an icy January day - is all any bug chucker can reasonably hope for. Most days, I would have left the river feeling quite content and satisfied with myself.

Instead, I spent the drive home thinking about the three dead or dying steelhead I saw drift past me as I worked my fly through the run. Eight hours. One hookup. Three dying fish, and two of them were hens. Plump, egg-heavy hens. What makes this especially unfortunate is that I've seen this death dance repeat itself on nearly every trip I've taken to the river over the past year. Lately, a day wading the Salmon River leaves me feeling like I'm watching a friend battle cancer, like I'm watching a friend die. The Salmon River has become a killing field.

So what's a bug chucker to do? I suppose it would be easy to turn a blind eye or to give ourselves over to despondency, but neither ignorance nor despair get us anywhere. Instead, I suggest we begin by using some common sense, but first let's be clear about something. The Salmon River that we all know and love, is an artificial fishery.

As its name implies, the Pacific salmon is indigenous to the left coast, not the Great Lakes. Kings were originally stocked and today exist in Great Lakes tributaries only so they might combat the invasive alewives that are at the heart of the steelhead's trouble. To be clear, the Salmon River's steelhead enter the river in the fall to feed on the eggs of the fish whose purpose is to feed on the fish that is killing steelhead. If this were a Star Trek episode, this would be the point when someone mentions a tear in the space-time continuum.

And this is where common sense comes into play. If we want the fishery, complete with all its artificiality, faults, and ironies, to survive and to flourish, then we need to help it along as best we can. Fewer fish means those remaining stocks are all the more precious, which means we need to become kinder, gentler anglers. I suggest we all agree to the following:
  1. Let 'em go. There is no good reason to keep a steelhead when the future of the steelhead fishery is uncertain. Yes, it's legal. Yes, you can. You can also grind up a Budweiser bottle, mix it with hamburger, and feed the fatal mixture to your dog. But why would you (either drink Budweiser or feed a bottle to your dog)? It's a heartless thing to do. It's a douche move. Don't be a heartless douche. You love your dog, and you love your steelhead.
  2. Keep 'em in the water. If you want to take a photo then make it a quick photo. If you need to weigh a steelhead because you think it might be a personal best, put the damn Boga grip on your net, weigh the fish in the net, and then - once you've revived and released the fish - subtract the weight of the net. I assume you're capable of simple math, and steelhead weren't made to be hung in the air from their bottom lip any more than you were. If you know a guide, please forward this to him.
  3. Stop snagging 'em. Here, I am speaking foremost to my fellow bugchuckers, especially those who frequent the lower fly zone in Altmar. Some of you guys need to cut it out. You know you're lining fish. You know you're lifting them. You ... know ... it, and you know who you are. If a steelhead won't move to your fly or bait, then chances are good it hasn't the energy to survive a prolonged battle at the end of your line (perhaps as the result of a thymine deficiency). This may seem awfully preachy of me, perhaps even a little hypocritical given I've only been swinging flies for a few years, but for God's sake, challenge yourself. Fish in such a way as to give the fish an advantage. Be beyond reproach. All this leaves aside the fact that the LFZ has some beautiful swinging water if only people would rotate through the runs and fish them that way.
  4. Preach on brother. Preach on. When you encounter someone riverside who's doing the wrong thing, encourage them to do the right thing. Model the correct behaviors, and if encouragement doesn't do the trick, then be abrasive. Call them out on their nonsense. I can guarantee they're more afraid of conflict than you are; they won't dare mess with someone who has the moral high ground. The same ego that pushes them to snag a fish is also their Achilles heel. They're not afraid of you, but they're terrified of being mocked by their friends and fellow bug chuckers. They're piscatorial pussies. Embarrass them. Shame them.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On Looking Back and New Beginnings

I cannot believe over a year has passed since I last logged into The Rusty Spinner. I've felt the absence - acutely and genuinely. Like so many bug chuckers, I enjoy an opportunity to talk fly fishing when I can't be on the water, and for several years this blog had been the vehicle by which I could have those conversations. I've missed it, even if it's true that most of the time I spent here was likely spent talking to myself.

Regardless, I hope that today's post will mark something of a new beginning for The Rusty Spinner. I've blown the dust off the laptop, and I am feeling ready to go. The experience is akin to the anticipation we all likely feel in the moments before a fishing trip; and we all know how powerful that feeling can be.

Here's to hoping the river gods will see fit to bless me with some inspiration. Until my muse arrives, I hope you'll be satisfied with some amateurish and poorly edited fish porn.



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Redux

The time has come to put the year behind us. For a fly fishing blogger this means completing the obligatory end-of-the-year post, which is usually accompanied by a poorly edited video. While I have plenty of video to edit, I haven't a heck of a lot of time, so the video is on hold for now. Instead, I thought I'd revisit the year as it appeared in this blog.

What follows are links to my three favorite posts - one of which happens to be the most viewed post of the year. As you read - or reread - my rambling diatribes, I think you'll realize the theme common to all three.

Having children changes everything ... everything. There are times when being a father and a bug chucker go hand in hand. Other times we have to make choices and set priorities. I hope I always make the right choice.

Life is tough, and that's the truth. We all learn very early on that if we're going to be successful people, then we need to learn to deal with failure and with disappointment. Earlier this year, my son learned that lesson.

"There is no love like the love a devoted parent has for his or her child. Everything else - even casting a fly - moves to the periphery when one's children are born." 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on Fishing with Kids Redux

Part three in my umpteen part series of rehashed old posts ...

Thoughts on Fishing with Kids

Those of you that don't know me outside of this blog may not know that I am a father of three children. I've two girls and a boy; each was born February 15th, 2007. Yes. Triplets.

I have to admit that I was overwhelmed - perhaps even panicked - when the kids were first born; going from zero to nearly 30 diapers in a day will do that to a person. That's all changed, however, now that the trips have grown a bit. At five-years-old, they're on the verge of great things. They're learning to read. September brings Kindergarten and soccer. They can get drinks and snacks from the refrigerator without any assistance, and my wife and I can tell them to dress themselves with the odds usually better than 2:1 that they'll successfully accomplish the task (thank God for small victories). Soon they'll be mowing the lawn, doing their own laundry, learning to drive, and hiring lawyers to argue for the right to cremate my body, sell my home, and pillage my 401k. A bright future, indeed.

Looking back on the past five years, I realize that my best moments as a father have all come on days when I've taken my kids to the river. I don't believe I'm generalizing when I say that children - not just my own -are drawn to water; the attraction seems almost instinctive. I would challenge the members of my audience to find a young person who doesn't want to wade along the shore, swim in the surf, or splash in a puddle. I'm not sure when - as adolescents or as adults - so many of us lose interest in water and in woods, but I'm almost certain the behavior is learned. We must be taught to disdain the outdoors. I hope I never do that to my children, and I'm thankful that my three little guys are on the far side of that particular pendulum's swing.

I remember when my family made its first trip to the river; the kids were three - well on their way to twenty - and while my wife consented to the day, she was apprehensive about having her babes so close to the Battenkill's currents. In Arlington, Vermont - not far from the headwaters of the storied river - there is a small park and playground built along the river's edge. The river here runs swift but shallow, and the large cobble that constitutes the riverbed is perfect for a child's discovery. Our afternoon was full of minnows and crayfish, caddis pupa and stonefly nymphs. The day went so well - in fact - that my wife was able to forget her apprehension and simply enjoy her children.

We've made dozens of trips to nearly as many lakes and rivers since that first trip to the Battenkill, and I don't recall the kids ever having a bad time (well ... there was the day my boy stepped through the center of a dead, bloated, and slowly putrifying carp). For my part, our time together on the water has been many things, but more than anything else my family's time riverside has been instructive. I've learned so much, about my children as multiples and as individuals, and about myself as a fisherman and a father.

A few of my observations ...
  • Kids love mud, and so too should their parents. Mud - by virtue of its viscosity - slows the inmates - I mean kids - allowing parents to regain some ground.
  • Some children are a little like dogs in that they will try to taste just about anything they can fit in their mouths. Sun bleached bones, earthworms, sedimentary rocks, vacated snail shells, and smallmouth bass are among their favorites. While some of the things kids can put in their mouths may harm them, the vast majority will not, and the act of tasting will make memories parents will cherish for a lifetime. The number for poison control is 1-800-222-1222. Seriously, that's the number.
  • Kids like to know the names of things, and will give objects a name whenever they find it appropriate. A worm might be Harold, and a sunfish might be Sparkles. "Daddy, Harold must be pretty tasty because Sparkles ate his head."
  • Water is fun because water is wet. If water were dry it would be dust, and dust is not fun. As young children will only focus on a fishing rod for mere seconds at a time, a parent should be prepared to let his or her kids play in the water. Just remember that water is fun because water is wet, but riding home in wet Iron Man or Princess Belle underwear is not.
  • Sleeping on a water bed in a $120,000.00 recreational vehicle is not camping. Camping is roasting marshmallows, cursing mosquito bites, and sleeping under the gauzy mesh of leaky Coleman tent. Kids must experience the tent before they move onto an Airstream or Winnebago - even if it that experience happens in the backyard. To do otherwise is to risk your child - son or daughter - someday dating a man whose street handle is "Skinny P." As in "Yo, Skinny P in the hizzle ... mofos."
  • Some spouses act more like children when made to spend time riverside. Consequently, one should be prepared to deal with a whining spouse as one would a whining child. Dunk them and hold them under just long enough to cause hypoxia but not death. After pulling one's spouse from the water, be sure to act as if they've been saved from a horrible accident. I jest - of course - but a quick dunking (sans hypoxia) is sure to improve his or her attitude.   
  • If your son or daughter wants to kiss a fish, then let them kiss a fish. Would you rather a fish or Skinny P?
  • With the right modifications, a canoe can quite easily become a low cost family fun barge. 
  • The good Lord made tadpoles and panfish with children in mind, and children who enjoy panfish and tadpoles, with parents in mind. Get outside and enjoy your kids, enjoying themselves.  

Sunday, December 28, 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.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Secret Sharer Redux

For the past several months, I've been in something of a story telling funk. The words haven't come easily, and as a consequence my keyboard has gone practically untouched. This isn't to say that I haven't anything about which to write; anyone who spends a life fishing is going to have stories to tell, but the way in which to tell those stories remains elusive.

Fortunately, I've several years of material to draw from. For the next few days - or weeks, or months - I'll be republishing some of this blog's older posts. I start with The Secret Sharer not because it is especially well written, but because it expresses a notion that seems at odds with the act of blogging about fly fishing: keeping secret our best fishing spots.

The Secret Sharer 

Robin Hill (of Spey Nation fame) and I recently spent the better part of a day cruising a local lake, looking for any small sign of the outsized carp that we both believe swim its windblown currents. At one point late in the day, Robin looked over at me and remarked, "It's because of this ... because of days like this. People write us [Robin and Spey Nation co-founder Geoff Shaake] all the time asking why we don't discuss the places we fish. This is why."

He was absolutely right. Days like the one we experienced are the reason so few bug chuckers divulge the whereabouts of their piscatorial stomping grounds. We were methodically exploring every back back bay on the southern end of the lake. We had miles of water under the hull and under our lines, and at the end of the day we parted ways knowing that neither of us would ever tell people what we discovered or where we had fished.

As juvenile as it must seem to someone who doesn't fish, the simple truth is that secrecy is the rule. What's the first rule of Fight Club? And the second?  "You do not talk about Fight Club."

So too with fishing, but the question remains. Why?

Robin nailed it. We - the too few members of the faithful fraternity of fly flingers - do not talk about the places in which we wet our lines simply because of the work we've put into getting to know those places. Robin and I explored every back bay on the southern end of the lake. We put miles under the hull and under our lines. We stared into the shallows until our vision was blurred by the glare of the sun. We changed flies, lost flies, tweaked the design of new flies, but we did not catch a fish. Not one. We were skunked, busted, blanked. By any metric, we had a very tough day on the water.

Sometimes I'd swear that they really are ghosts
And again ... we will never tell anyone but our closest compadres where we fished.

Given the stench of skunk, I think it obvious that our secrecy doesn't result from having discovered angling gems that we want to hoard and keep to ourselves. We all know of places where the fishing can be exceptional, but exceptional fishing is not the reason we speak in code if we speak at all. Rather, we are oftentimes tight-lipped to the point of being antisocial because we've worked hard for what we have. We're reluctant to share with the world because the world does not share our experience.

So ... I've some advice for anyone who hopes for the key to the inner sanctum.

Do the work yourself.

Buy a map. Walk the bank. Float a section of the river or the edges of a bay. Take the time to learn the water, and you'll likely be surprised by how prolific the fishing may be. Then take what you learn, and lock it away. Keep it safe. Don't tell anyone, least of all me. In doing so you'll learn the greatest secret of all.

The best fishing is never about the river or the lake. It's not about a particular run or pool. The best days on the water are never about the spot. The best days we have will invariably come as a result of having worked to achieve them, and as a result of having failed along the way. It's all about the effort. It's all about the work.

Demonstrate the effort, and you'll find the right spots. Do the work, and you'll have your own secrets to share.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Brain the Size of a Pea

Over the past three or four steelhead seasons, I've been fishing nymphs less and less and picking up my spey rods with ever increasing frequency. This season seems likely to be the one in which I go all in; I haven't played with my nymph sticks in some time, and at this point it seems unlikely I will. Those of my friends and fellow bug chuckers that are die-hard nymphers might suggest I'm being pig headed, pretentious, or even a little bit foolish. Steelhead, they would rightfully argue, are much more likely to take a well presented nymph than they are swung flies, and no one in their right mind wants to drive several hours to the river only to be blanked.

But maybe that's the point. As awful as may be a skunking at the end of three hours in a minivan, I need a new challenge, and though steelhead are great fun to catch on nymphs the act of nymph fishing has become a little too familiar. While fishing a swung fly on a spey rod is no more challenging than nymphing, the nature of it is to me still something of a mystery. Still, I catch fish. Of course, I can't be sure my catching fish on a swung fly has anything to do with my prowess as an angler because truth be told - for all their shimmering iridescence - steelhead aren't the brightest fish in the river.

They're f##king dumb.

Make no mistake, steelhead are among the Dumbest of animals - that's dumb with a capital D. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Like a toddler who has only just discovered the family pet's tail, steelhead will put almost anything in their mouths provided they can catch it without too much fuss.

Consider the following photo, which I submit as proof ...

Look closely. Notice anything odd?

See that little bit of white peeking out from in between the hen's jaws? That little bit of white isn't a feather, a clump of marabou, or tuft of rabbit fur. It's foam - cylindrical foam painted with indelible markers and shaped into what most of us would think of as a bass bug. The last fish I caught on this particular fly was a smallmouth of maybe 13 or 14 inches. Hardly a trophy. Hardly a difficult fish to catch. And like that smallmouth, this steelhead took the fly in 18 inches of water as the foam bug shimmied its way across the tailout of a run.  

Don't let them fool you.

Steelhead are Dumb.