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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

On Birthdays, Big and Tall, and a Bit of Perspective

I'm a 3XL guy, and I've been a 3XL guy for most of my adult life. I haven't been a 2XL guy since I was a soldier and an athlete, and I haven't been a soldier or an athlete in a very long time. I don't think I've been an XL guy since I was in the 10th grade.

A rare photo of yours truly. That's me behind the camera with Shawn Brillon in the background (photo courtesy of Ben Jose's iPhone)

On the day my children were born, the nurses - God bless the gaggle of them - tried their very best to squeeze me into an XL gown. "This is the biggest we have in the hospital" one nurse said. On any other day I would have offered a lurid yet witty reply, something sure to make my wife roll her eyes and offer an apology on my behalf, but only moments before I had been listlessly wandering the hallway in a sort of pre-paternal daze. I wasn't feeling particularly witty. I was terrified.

I vacillated between terror and nausea as a nurse pried one of my legs past the too tight stitching on the too small hospital gown. As my leg slid in, one of my arms came loose. Another nurse wedged in the other leg, and the gown slipped off my shoulders entirely. The process of dressing me must have taken 30 minutes, and when it was over I imagine I looked a little like a disturbingly fleshy caricature of King Kong Bundy circa 1985.

Bundy ... In the flesh.

When the gown was tied off, one of nurses fit me with a mask and slippers while another touched me gently on the shoulder and looked directly into my eyes. I remember being struck by her eyes. They were different colors - one hazel and one blue - and full and beautiful in the way songs are sometimes beautiful. She said, "Mr. Daley, it's time", but more than her words it was the kindness in her eyes that spoke to me. Her eyes said she understood my trepidation, that she knew I was scared, and that she would handle me with a soft touch; as I allowed myself to be led down a hallway humming with fluorescence, I was vaguely aware of both her arm on my shoulder and a numbing tightness in my chest. She was absolutely right. It was time.

The entire process from epidural to incubator took fewer than twenty minutes, which is amazing when I consider that 20 minutes amounts to roughly seven minutes per child. When the flurry ended, I was left standing alone and dazed in the back of a delivery room that smelled vaguely of my grandmother's lilac bushes - perhaps the remnants of a nurse's perfume. I think I might have stayed there indefinitely, overwhelmed and stupefied as I was, had one of the attendants not returned to lead me to the elevator that took me to the N.I.C.U.

And as I sit here at this keyboard - separated from that day by seven years, dozens of football games, hundreds of soccer practices, and more dance recitals than I ever thought I could handle - I find myself going back to that elevator ride and those first few minutes with my children. Before that moment, I thought I knew what it was to love.

When I was a boy I loved my dog, my kid brother, and my parents. When I was a teenager I loved my friends, heavy metal music, and a dazzling blonde that was too far out of my league ever to approach. As a young man, I loved my country and the other soldiers with whom I served. Later I loved my girl, and I loved her all the more when she became my wife. Through it all, I loved fly fishing. Fly fishing had always been the cord that bound together the various epochs of my life. Then my children were born, and in the instant when I first walked into the N.I.C.U., my entire understanding of the world changed. 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.

The weather forecast the day before the triplets were born. Ask me how much fun it was to drive to the hospital at 4a.m. (I was in the red band).
All of this - my burgeoning waistline, a hospital's best attempts at being hospitable, and the premature arrival of three precious little people - is always foremost on my mind this time of year. Most of my friends are focused - if not fixated - on steelhead, and not long ago I suppose I would have been too. But for me things have changed, and I think they've changed for the better.

That having been said, I wanted desperately to fish this week. I had every intent on doing two days on the Salmon River chasing some ornery winter steel. Things didn't quite come together as I planned, however, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little bit jealous when the reports started rolling in from all the usual sources. It seems this was a good week to be on the water.

But if I had been on the water as much as I wanted to be then I would have missed some really good stuff. I would have missed Madison singing Let it Go in the shower - again. I would have missed the dining room light flickering as Emma tap danced like a 57 pound rhinoceros on the floor above. I would have missed a family outing to The Party Warehouse, and if I had missed The Party Warehouse then I would have missed Michael getting his groove on.

My son at the party store ... pimpin' ain't easy.
It would be almost too easy to wish this time away, and fast forward to the day when I get to have it all - birthdays and steelhead. What a fool I'd be if I did.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lee Wulff and Curt Gowdy in Canada

Over the years, I've watched this video too many times to count. I first saw it when I was young, and then it reappeared with the dawn of the digital age. Every time I watch it I find myself thinking I was born in the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blog Roll: The Green Eyed Monster - Volume Two

I sometimes find hard to believe that I've managed to keep The Rusty Spinner up and running for five years; few things in my life have had such longevity. As I sit here at the keyboard and reflect on that time, I'm struck - as I have been many times before - by the realization that I maintain The Rusty Spinner because blogging provides me with the opportunity to do that one thing I most enjoyed about working in a fly shop.

Of course, fly shop work is in many ways just like working any retail job: answer the phone, fold some shirts, stock the shelves, cash or credit. Being a fly shop flunky differed from other retail jobs, however,  in one very important way. My time in the shop allowed me the opportunity to talk fishing - serious fishing with anglers from all over the world - all day and every day. The same is true of this blog. I have the opportunity to talk fishing every time I sit down at the keyboard. Sometimes it's a one way conversation, but sometimes it's not and those are the moments I most enjoy. I guess that's why I started The Rusty Spinner, and I suppose that's why I continue.

Fortunately for all of us, there are any number of other bloggers who seem to enjoy that conversation every bit as much as I do. Some write professionally.  Some are directly involved in the fly fishing industry. Others are simply talented amateurs who seem to use blogging as a way to get to the stream when they can't actually get to the stream. The point - if there must be a point - is that there is no shortage of good stuff flowing through the veins of the bug chucking blogosphere. I might even go so far as to argue that blogs have surpassed more traditional forms of print and digital media as go-to reading material for the average bug chucker. I haven't picked up a fly fishing magazine in two or three years, but I read blogs everyday. What follows is an abbreviated list of some of my favorites.

1. Gink and Gasoline -  Kent Klewein and Louis Cahill are the Grand Poobahs of what I believe to be the very best fly fishing blog on the web; I write that as dollops of jealousy drip from my keyboard like green Jello oozes from the mouth of a lobotomy addled schizophrenic. They do things over there that I just cannot do. The writing is fresh and original - an interesting mix of the tangible and intangible, the concrete and the metaphoric aspects of our sport. New posts appear almost daily, and the authors' writing covers myriad topics that will almost certainly appeal to coldwater and warmwater, freshwater and saltwater bug chuckers alike. The photography is eye candy too good to be given away for free; every time I visit the site I'm immediately reminded of how inept a photographer I am. Perhaps more than anything else, I find I most enjoy Gink's honesty. The blog clearly benefits from a handful of advertisers, but Klewein and Cahill do not seem to have sold themselves to the bug chucking industry devil. The web is full of fly fishing blogs and bloggers who will say - or write as it were - just about anything to earn some free swag. I've never once had that impression of Gink and Gasoline. 

Tarpon: It's All About Letting Go

Is Your Introvert Personality Holding Back Your Fly Fishing Growth? 

The Toughest Water In Wyoming

Georgia Man Catches Trout On Car Key, But Why?

2. Dudewater - Dudes can write. I'm not sure there's much more to say so I'll say it again just to be sure I've made my point. Dudes ... can ... write. While not as polished as G and G, Dudewater is one of the most well written blogs I frequent and a welcome read every time I receive notification of a new post. Like Gink and Gasoline, Dudewater is a collaboration between two angler-bloggers whose travels take them to some genuinely beautiful places and put them in line with seriously impressive fish. I don't know either of the blog's contributors, but the quality of their writing and penchant for using expletives sparingly but to great effect make me think they'd be good company while rotating a run.

Me and Mick
Just Passing Through

Dead Metaphors

3. Flyosophy -  I wish I could double haul an entire fly line as easily as does Steve Rajeff. I cannot. I wish I could tie married wing Atlantic salmon flies with as much flair as the late Paul Ptalis once did. I cannot. I wish I could write with as much a mind for internal dialogue and controlled nuance as does the FlyosopherAgain, I cannot. While I don't know the Flyosopher outside of the pages of the blog, I suspect he does what he does entirely for his own amusement, and it is precisely that tone which makes his writing as enjoyable to read as it is. As long as the Flyosopher is Flyosophizing, I'll be Flyosophizing along with him.    

Decision Makers

Fighting Addiction 

Hanging with Mr. Guide


Friday, January 31, 2014

On Disappointment and the Pinewood Derby

Five ounces. That's the magic number.

Too much and our car would be disqualified. Too little and the other cars might out run us just a little too easily. Before the race, I told my son Michael that winning wasn't necessarily our goal. "All that matters," I said "is that we run a good race. If you lose be sure to hold your head high, and shake the hand of the scouts who beat you." That's not to say that I expected my son to lose.

Going into the derby, I thought we had a good design, especially given that we had never before competed in the Pinewood. My boy was fairly insistent that the car resemble the Bat-Mobile. Not terribly original, I know, but I looked forward to the possibilities. I enlisted the help of a friend whose shop is equipped with a band saw and a router. He took our block of pine, and shaped it into an interesting amalgam of old and new; our Bat-Mobile was every bit of Adam West, a hint of Michael Keaton, and just a touch of Christian Bale.  My son finished her off with some light sanding, a few coats of Caped Crusader black, the mandated BSA (Boy Scouts of America) wheel set, and some tungsten putty shaped into a windshield, headlights, and afterburner. She weighed in at 4.9 ounces with most of the weight concentrated just in front of the rear axle. I tried not to be too hopeful.

But on the day of the race, the Bat-Mobile streaked across the floor of our local VFW and won its first three heats in rather convincing fashion. I began to believe, and so too did my son. At only six years old, he's yet to learn to hide his emotions. When he's happy, we know he's happy; when he's sad, we know he's sad. He doesn't spend too much time in the colorless land in between those two poles. He's either on or he's off, and for those first few races he was as happy as I've ever seen him.

Little Rusty Spinner
Unfortunately, Mikey went on to lose three of the next five heats - effectively eliminating the Dynamic Duo of bug-chucking father and dark-knight son from the competition. My boy was crestfallen and on the verge of tears throughout the remaining races. He had tasted victory, but finished in defeat. Courtesy of the triple elimination system, the winner of the division had only three wins over my son while my son had five wins over his competitor, and Mikey just couldn't get his six year-old mind around the math. He struggled with losing not because he was defeated, but because he had won the most races. I did my best to console him; I told him I was proud, that his car ran a great race. For my part, I was stung not because he lost - I knew this was a good and necessary lesson for my boy to learn. I hurt because my son hurt. I hated to see him disappointed.

Seeing my son so upset, I could not help but to reflect on my own disappointments. Lord knows I've had my share; many of them streamside. Over the years, there have been any number of fish, trout and steelhead for the most part, that have left me shaking and near tears. If I was so inclined, I could speak of the first and largest steelhead I have ever hooked, or regale you with a story of that brown on the _______ River that bent straight my hook, not once but twice. I can recount more stories than I care to admit, but as I sit here reliving those moments I find that my greatest disappointments aren't those fish, those many fish, that got away. In a strange way, I cherish those memories. Perhaps as much as anything else, those moments are the reason I continue to wade the river's fickle currents.

In thirty odd years of wading those currents, I've come to understand that the river never disappoints. Rather, the sadness I sometimes feel when I step from river to river bank comes as a consequence of my own unreasonable or unseasonable expectations. More often than not, my disappointment is the result of allowing myself to be distracted by the mundane pressures of the day. Sometimes I think I seek out that sadness if only to be reminded of how ridiculous it is to be sad when surrounded by water and woods. The trick, I suppose, is to deal with disappointment in a such a way as to learn from the experience and to keep sadness from taking root and blooming into regret.

And those are the lessons I want for my son to learn: take loss in stride, focus on the things that truly matter, live without regret. Of course, I would have preferred I had the opportunity to teach him those lessons streamside than on the warped hardwood floor of the local VFW. The water softens the blow.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


When I was a younger man, few things mattered to me quite so much as fishing. My schedule was decided not by life's most necessary pursuits (education, gainful employment, meaningful relationships, etc.) but entirely by the pursuit of fish with a fly rod. Trout, steelhead, bass, carp - any fish was fair game provided I could coax it into moving to a fly. And when I wasn't on the water I was tying flies; when I wasn't tying flies I was planning my next trip. College courses were scheduled around major hatches. I worked nights so that I could fish during the day. I caught the biggest brown trout of my life on a day when I played hooky from both graduate school and work.

Contrary to everyone's expectations - except for perhaps my wife's - marriage did little to change my habits. Throughout our courtship (if they still call them courtships) my wife tolerated - sometimes even indulged - my obsession with all things piscatorial. It was she who first suggested I take a trip to Montana, and later encouraged me to make that trip some seven or eight times. I like to think she wanted to see me happy, but just as easily I suppose she could have been using that time to find another husband. I didn't much care; I was in Montana.

If God exists in the world then Montana - western Montana in particular - must be his backyard. For a bug chucker, Big Sky Country is like a shot in the neck with some manner of powerful antibiotic, an inoculation against those days when we are not out in the world doing that one thing we are truly meant to do. When I returned from my last trip I did so knowing that I might never again see such big skies; I knew that the memory of Montana would have to sustain me for years to come. My wife and I had decided to buy a house, and we were going to try to have a family.

On February 15th of 2007, our triplets came into the world, kicking and screaming and - at 4 lbs 8 oz, 4 lbs 10 oz, and 4 lbs 12 oz - just slightly underweight. If I'm honest with you and with myself then I have to admit that I did not take to being a father, at least not right away. I had never so much as held a baby before the doctor placed one of our precious little girls into my reluctant hands. In that moment, all the clichés about being a father were true. I was simultaneously terrified and desperately in love. I wanted to shout my joy to the rooftops and crawl into a dark corner and cry. I had no idea how I would do it, but I wanted to give the world to my children. I started by giving my daughter a little piece of God's backyard: the Madison River.

Madison Sarah Daley.

Maddie playing in the Battenkill ... I thought about naming my son for the Kill ... bad idea.
In short order, however, all the romantic notions about fatherhood quickly gave way to the reality of caring for three newborns. Together, my wife and I fed the children 24 bottles of formula per day. We usually changed in excess of 30 diapers - often two or three at a time. We were assembly line parents working overtime. My wife handled it all with aplomb. While I floundered and fumbled my way through the early years, she was a maternal warrior fighting and winning a battle she had trained all her life to fight. Most days I was in awe of her while quietly brooding and dwelling on one simple question.

"What the hell was I thinking?"

My frustration and apparent ineptitude could only mean one thing - that I was not meant to be a father. On even the best of days, I was overwhelmed to the point of teary-eyed exhaustion. I could never tell what it was my children needed whereas my wife seemed to operate on some preternatural plane, a place where the kids communicated with her via clairvoyance and astral projection. She was the baby whisperer, and I felt like Jo-Jo the Idiot Monkey Boy.

And then something happened. I'm not sure quite when and I cannot put my finger on why, but at some point along the way I started to get it. I began to see fatherhood for what it is and - perhaps even more to the point - for what it could be. Maybe because my kids had grown a little but probably because I had grown a lot, I discovered the joy of being a dad. Most days I still felt like Jo-Jo, but I realized an odd satisfaction in being perpetually bewildered.

I'm not sure what all of this has to do with fly fishing. Probably nothing. Maybe everything. All I know is that just yesterday I was tying flies, and my son crept quietly into the man-cave and startled me with a question.

"Hey Daddy, want to go upstairs and play Legos?"

Know what I did?

I did the only thing a man who is both a bug-chucker and father should do.

I played Legos.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

R U Superfly Schwag

Just a quick FYI for anyone that might be interested. Pat Cohen of deer hair and bass bug fame, is running a bit of a special for his customers. Seventy-five dollars gets you a limited run, bronze belt buckle made by Ben Jose of Benjamin Bronze Studios, a hand-turned hardwood pen made by Pat's brother Chris Cohen, and one of Pat's R U Superfly decals. Separately, these items sell for nearly $100.00 ... a good deal for some sweet (and nearly unique) American made schwag.

If you're interested, Pat may be contacted through his website RUSuperly.com or his Facebook page.

Friday, December 27, 2013

TRS End of the Year Fly Fishing Blog Cliche

My end of the year cliche ... errrr ... video. Warning ... this will steal eight minutes of your life - eight minutes you will not get back.

Best viewed by switching to HD 1080 and full screen (options appearing in the lower right hand corner).

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Just a quick one today to wish you all a very merry Christmas. It's a magical day indeed that can make a fisherman forget about fishing - for even the briefest of moments. This Christmas I find myself thanking God for all I have - especially my family (as dysfunctional as it sometimes may be) - and remembering those folks who've made sacrifices that were never required of me.  Merry Christmas all ... God bless.

Some 5000 wreaths laid on the graves at Arlington, donated every year since 1992 by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. Gives me some perspective ...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Where Time Passes Slowly

We've been here a week - marooned in a rum fueled, salt water, white-sand-beach day dream. Our snowed-in psyches have nursed the pain of Central American sunburns and sucked back Belikins as if each bottle was filled with a different woman's love. Our guide - an American expat who goes by Ray Ray - reminds me a little of David Lee Roth circa 1985, and he hasn't been bashful about drinking panty rippers and mojitos on our dime. In truth, we've done nothing to either discourage his indulgence or encourage his abstinence.

Ray's a big man: 6' 3" tall and all of 325 pounds on one of his better days. To look at him, you would think that his next drink was sure to be his last, but then he sucks back the rum - tongue licking the inside rim of the glass like a hungry python tasting the air - and nods to the bartender for another. The barkeep is almost certainly a native Belizian. That is to say he looks much more the part of Central American fishing guide than does Ray. With a flourish and a knowing smile, he acknowledges Big Ray’s request and looks to us for validation.

“Another for your friend?”

I find myself simultaneously thanking God they speak English here and wishing I had paid more attention during high school Spanish.

"Set him up."

For all his inner demons and assorted personal failings, our guide has put us on fish every day. If feeding his tendency toward alcoholism helps to keep the trend going then so be it. We'll happily be the big man's bankroll and benefactor. The drinks are on us Ray; we’ll keep them coming so long as you do the same with the tarpon, permit, and bonefish. You can climb back on the wagon once we've safely returned to the land of snow blowers and rock salt.

And after six days in paradise, I find I'm missing purgatory. I'm an enthusiastic winter fisherman - a steelhead guy of the first order. I've drawers filled to overflowing with Under Armor long-johns and Smartwool's thickest socks. I own two balaclavas and three pair of fingerless gloves. Who in the lower 48 - but a steelheader - really needs two balaclavas and three pair of fingerless gloves? Add to all of that three hundred pounds of God's natural insulation, and I can't help but wonder what I'm doing here - so close to the equator.

As difficult as it might be to believe, I need snow drifts and shelf ice, intruders and sucker spawn, slow drifts along the seam and the unexpected grab of a migratory torpedo. I need steelhead.

I need steelhead.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Days Four and Five - Photo Dump

I've been thinking about the final two days of Steelhead Mania 2013, and I find I just haven't the words to articulate all that happened as the trip came to a close. We did well and had fun, but saying as much doesn't quite do justice to our time on the water.

For my part, I think I learned more on this trip than I have on any other in recent memory. I can say without reservation that I am a better spey caster today than I was a month ago. I am better able to manage my line when it's on the water, and the flies I am fishing today are undeniably better than those I tied last year (better does not necessarily mean that they entice more fish). And isn't that what it's really all about?

Every time I'm on the water I manage to get the job done just a little more handily than I did previously, but more to the point I've learned to recognize and appreciate certain moments when they happen: the sun rising over a favorite run, fresh spikes on old boots, courteous guides rowing their boats behind wading anglers, a friend hooking ten pounds of steelhead on a 75 year old bamboo rod. I've learned that fishing stories aren't always about the fish. More often than not, fishing stories are friend stories, and friend stories are the stories that most matter.

And I'm reminded that I love my friends. I love them when they're hooking up and I'm cursing the gods, but I love them more when they're having a hard day and still they're quick with smiles and a net. I'm fortunate to share the water with the men I call friends; they're the reason I look forward to steelhead fishing the way I do.

All that having been said ... and since a picture is worth a 1000 words (or approximately 207 cliches and hackneyed phrases), here's the remainder of our trip ...




Photo by Adam Kettering

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day Three - Swing That $#!% Until Your Arm Goes Numb

Day three began with a little prayer to the river gods; a prayer that day two would not repeat itself. We were ready - all of us - for some assurance that we were still men, that we could not be emasculated by a river, that if the apocalypse came tomorrow we could provide needed sustenance for our loved ones. We were ready for a good day. I was especially hopeful given we had decided to fish one of my favorite runs.

We arrived at a little before 5 a.m., and were pleased to see no one else parked in the lot. With headlamps ablaze I imagine that from a distance we must have looked like so many will-o-wisps flittering back and forth among the trees. Carefully, we made our way through the twilight darkened thicket and crept single file toward the head of the run. No sooner had we dropped our packs in a line than we heard the distinctive "creak-thud ... creak-thud" of oars and water working against the hull of an aluminum drift boat.

As the guide and his clients drifted past they complimented us for having the resolve to get down to the water so early in the morning. I couldn't help but marvel at the dedication of a guide who rows his sports down midnight-dark currents in hopes of being the first boat to reach many of the river's better holes. I wish it had been light enough to see his face or read the markings on the boat as I'd be sure to recommend him to anyone that asked. As the drift boat floated out of sight we began the process of rigging and re-rigging, and when the light began to peek over the edge of the horizon we were gifted one of the most beautiful sunrises I've seen in some time.

I'm hardly a snob insofar as fly fishing is concerned. My philosophy is pretty simple: I'll fish the way I do, you'll fish the way you do, and if we're not crossing lines mid-river then we'll never have a problem. Respect the resource, and I'll never make a judgment. I don't care if you're a swinger, nympher, pinner, or knuckle dragging gear head. All that aside, there is something special in the rhythm of fishing a swung fly on a spey rod.

I've always been impressed by a well executed spey cast - long before I ever picked up my first two-handed rod I was fascinated by the mechanics of the process. To my eye, a well executed spey cast transcends anything even the most accomplished angler might do with a single-handed rod. The structure of the spey is a marriage of form and function, a testament to efficiency, and when done especially well the process culminates in one of those rare moments when art and science blend to create something that cannot exist outside of the moment. The rod - twelve or thirteen feet of woven carbon fiber, or fiberglass, or fire-hardened bamboo - is a calligrapher's pen painting enigmatic characters in the air. And the line ... 

The line is anticipation. The line is potential. The line is all the promise of a day on the water. In a well executed spey cast our line is fluid - as the water we fish is fluid. She bends and yields, twists and tumbles. She dances for us, begging for the climatic moment when all of her potential is set in motion.

"Pffffffffffffffffffttttttt ... click."

In a well executed spey cast we wait to hear that click, and as soon as the line leaves our hand we know whether or not it's coming. One click. The reel wants to give more, but can only spare a click's worth. The rod jumps a little in our hands, and automatically we throw an upstream mend to slow and extend our drift.  In the course of a day we might do this hundreds if not thousands of times. Over and over again we probe the dark corners and recesses of the run the whole time waiting expectantly for some sign of life.

Then it happens.


Then it happens again.

Then you realize that the river gods were listening to your twilight prayers, and you run the remainder of the evening without so much as a thought of fish. You're content. Everything is right in the world, and as you watch the moon rise up to replace the sun you cannot help but smile at thoughts of the day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day Two - Bust

The thing about dreams is that they sometimes do come true. Sometimes you pick the winning horse. Sometimes you kiss the prom queen. Sometimes you get to play the hero.


More often than not, however, dreams remain dreams. Your horse breaks a leg before it ever reaches the starting gate. Try as she might, the prom queen cannot pick you out of a police line up, and the closest you've ever come to being a hero is when you camped out to be the first in line for opening night of the Star Wars prequel. Jedi dreams die hard, and on that second day of fishing, our steelhead dreams may as well have been Jedi dreams.

When we set off on Tuesday night for the two hour drive to the river we were giddy with enthusiasm. We believed with every bit of angler-instinct we possessed that the river gods were smiling on us. How could we not? Only three days before we were set to leave, the river flowed at a staggering 1850 cfs. So much water isn't impossible to fish, but it is uncomfortable to fish, and bringing steelhead to hand once hooked can be very difficult in the swirling currents of a swollen Salmon River. But in only three days the river had dropped to 500 cfs - just about perfect for a group of intrepid steelheaders. Surely the fish would agree.

And they did, but only for a day. Day two of our expedition saw air temperatures rise from just above 30 degrees to nearly 60 - a trend that would continue for the remainder of the trip. The sun, high in the cloudless blue sky, shone brightly on the water and cursed us with its warmth. In nearly twelve hours of fishing we managed one fish to hand. For my part, I drew only a single pull after a half day of swinging a 13'6" 8# around my head like a drunken Scotsman practicing his caber toss.

The one fish brought to hand - Photo (and fish) courtesy of Shawn Brillon

So I guess Thursday was a lesson in perspective. Yes, the fishing was difficult. Yes, I found myself frustrated at times, but the old cliché held true: a bad day of fishing is better than the best day at work. Any pressure I felt was pressure I put on myself, and that was pure foolishness. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a bit disappointed, but more than disappointment I ended the day feeling hopeful. I still had three days ahead of me, and as I had the night before I laid back in my bed, closed my eyes, and dreamed steelhead dreams.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day One - Boon

Sometimes the best part of a fishing trip happens well before an angler ever steps into the water. The preparation - tying flies, checking knots, patching waders, and mapping routes and destinations - is part and parcel of the hopeful anticipation that characterizes the bug chucking persona. We spend the days and weeks prior to our trip in a prolonged daze. We dream adrenaline fueled dreams of what might be, but oftentimes the reality does not match our hopeful expectations. That's not to say we're disappointed. Rarely if ever do we come back from a fishing trip without smiles on our faces, but more often than not the what was is hopelessly eclipsed by the what could have been. All of this brings us to Wednesday of last week. 

Every November, the boys and I make our annual foray to the Salmon River in New York; the trip is one of many we each make to the river individually, but usually the only one we make as a group. We come not for those fish that share the river's namesake but rather the steelhead that entered the river behind the salmon; brilliant fish that are intent on a feast of decomposing flesh and eggs. By late November the great majority of kings and cohos have expired, and thousands of steelhead remain. These are the fish that fuel our dreams, and last Wednesday was our first day on the water.

Our plan for Hump Day had been made months before the alarm rang at two o'clock that morning. Ben's father was to join us as he had last November, and we were determined to make this year more successful. Milo hooked several large fish - including one of particularly grotesque proportions - on that last trip, but his young buck guides just couldn't manage a single chromer in the net. This year was to be Milo's redemption; we guides made sure to brush up on our net skills, checked and rechecked all our knots, and tied hundreds of the flies we thought might bring Ben's dad some luck. Unfortunately, life is no respecter of fishermen and their steelhead dreams, and this year life threw Milo a bit of a curve ball. Ben's father was forced to back out of the trip at the last moment, and the rest of us scrambled to rearrange our first day.

Ultimately, we decided to stay with our original plan for the early part of the morning, and began at the Lower Fly Zone where we were joined by several dozen of our very best friends. If you've fished the LFZ then you get the joke. In November, this stretch of river is packed with steelhead like Toys-R-Us is packed with soccer moms on Black Friday, and where there are so many fish there is sure to be a corresponding number of anglers. There are some cracks where one or two bug chuckers might grab a small piece of water and expect to be relatively unmolested for the better part of the day; because we arrived well before most other anglers were even out of bed, we were able to slide into one of these sequestered - if not secluded - spots. Before long, however, we spotted little dots of light - other anglers' headlamps - bouncing along the trails on either bank of the river. I was reminded of History Channel video I've seen of the Viet Cong moving supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail.

As the sun came up over the treeline we realized that we had chosen poorly. We were surrounded by at least fifty other anglers, and with half of our party intent on swinging flies, there was no way we could bear to stay very long.  

In the short time we remained there were fish to be had, and while everyone in our party hooked up with relative ease, the nature of such fishing quickly became tedious. Our proximity to other anglers - many of whom were clearly lifting and snagging fish - prompted us to pack up after just a few hours and find a piece of water that wasn't being quite so rankly abused. On a lark, we drove to the Upper Fly Zone to check on a run that was tailor made by God, Nature, and Brookfield Renewable Power (the company that owns the Lighthouse Hill Dam from which the Salmon River flows) for bug chuckers who like to catch steelhead on the swing.

I won't go into too many details, but suffice to say we finished the evening on a happier note than we began the day. There were plenty of fish in the run, a few of them were eager to chase the big stuff, and those bug chuckers who happened upon us generally left us alone to do our thing. We met another angler who asked to rotate the run with us, and as enjoyable as was my conversation with Tom - I was happier to have met his dog. Copper was the most stick-fetchinest pup with whom I've ever become acquainted. I tried desperately to take a photo, but every time I picked up my camera Copper sniffed the lens - leaving little streaks of dog drool across the glass. Camera shy I guess.

Photo: Ben Jose

As the evening wore on, a couple of the boys wandered off to find an open slot to nymph. When they returned we decided to call it a day. We were exhausted and satisfied. Slowly we walked back to the lot and made the bleary-eyed drive to the cabin that would be our home for the next five days. After showers, unpacking, and a meal comprised almost entirely of useless carbohydrates (read: beer and pasta) we agreed to a later than normal wake up. For my part, I fell asleep filled with the hopeful anticipation that always precedes another day on the water.  

Monday, October 14, 2013


There used to be a time when the winter months meant ever worsening cabin fever - when piscatorial pursuits were put on hold until the snow and ice made way for the first of April. The opening day of New York's trout season was the light at the end of a dark and fishless tunnel; the weeks which preceded the opener were always filled with a flurry of activity: cleaning lines, patching waders, oiling reels, and tying flies. Opening day meant anticipation. Opening day meant hope.

Then we rediscovered steelhead, and everything changed.

Opening day is not the spectacle it once was. We no longer pine for the first of April because the winter months no longer hang heavy on our hearts. Rather, we look forward to the opener in much the same way we anticipate the hendricksons, sulphurs or summer drake hatch. Opening day is just one of many in a long series of opportunities.

The first reports came in some six or seven weeks ago. King salmon were staging in the estuary; a few had even strayed into the lower end of the river. With these early reports were whispers - hints that perhaps a trout or two had come in with the salmon, but that was late August and early September. Finding a steelhead so early in the season is akin to finding treasure in Al Capone's forgotten vault, not that we didn't try.

Now it's October - a month filled with opportunity. Salmon have been streaming into the system. Kings and cohos are racing upriver, but they're no longer content to travel singly or in pairs. They come with urgency and by the dozen, and what were quiet whispers of trout are now exclamations of steelhead. They're coming too - in ever increasing numbers. They know it's October.

There's something truly extraordinary about October steelhead; something that gets the blood pumping in a way only skydiving, swimming with sharks, and near-fatal traffic accidents get the blood pumping. If steelhead are speed - and they are - then October steelhead are quicksilver. They're angry lightening from the heights of Olympus. They're the meth addicts of the piscatorial universe: deceptive, unpredictable, and biochemically inclined toward violence.

So as I sit here typing - pining for my next trip to the river - I find myself thinking that October is the new April. I suppose it's ironic. Once upon a time, the opening day of trout season was the highlight of the year, the day to which all other days were compared. Now, it's the close of trout season that gets most of my attention. God help me, but I love October.