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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Salmon River - A Trip Report - "Swinger"

Several years ago, I wrote an essay in which I proudly proclaimed, "I'm filthy. I'm unwashed ... I'm a dirty ass nympher." I suppose that to a degree, everything I wrote then is still true today. I am every bit as filthy as I ever was, but a recent trip to the Salmon River has complicated the equation by which I measure myself. That is to say that while this dirty ass nympher might be as dirty as ever I was, I might also be that much less a nympher.

The problem - if in fact change is a problem - is that last week's trip forced me to admit just how much fun swinging flies for steelhead can be. God help me, but swinging flies for steelhead might have become my favorite brand of fly fishing.

You don't need to say it. I already know what you're thinking. Here we go again - another debate on the virtues of swinging for steelhead versus the moral murkiness of nymphing.

Nope. Not this time. Not from this guy. I still love nymphing almost every bit as much as I ever did. I love the simplicity of glo-bugs, sucker spawn, and pheasant tails. I'm fascinated by the notion of a 12 pound fish gorging itself on #18 stoneflies, and Great Lakes steelhead do gorge themselves on #18 stoneflies. Estaz reminds me of Christmas. Who doesn't like Christmas?

The problem with nymphing is that while I love it, I've come to love it the way I love my brother. My brother is a great guy. He and I have shared some moments; we've had some great times. When I think of him, I think of him fondly, and I miss him since he moved to North Carolina. I don't miss him, however, the way I would miss my wife and children if they were to move to North Carolina. I am passionate about my family in a way I am not passionate about my brother, and - as much as I am genuinely pained by the admission  - I've come to be similarly passionate about swinging for steelhead. There are several reasons for the change, but two reasons in particular represent the sum of my thinking.

The first reason is flak. Yes, flak - as in World War II allied bombers flying over Nazi Germany - flak.

Any bug chucker who has stayed awake all hours of the night, in wide-eyed restlessness and hopeful anticipation of the next day's fishing trip, knows what it's like to watch the early morning programming loop on History or the Military Channel. You've seen RAF bombers lumbering up a Yorkshire runway on their way to Frankfurt, Dresden, or Berlin. You've seen the German 88s spitting fire as the bombers inch ever closer to their targets. You know what flak looks like, and so too do Salmon River steelhead.

On the Salmon River, the steelhead are the bombers, and it's the anglers - bug chuckers, pinners, and gear heads alike - that play the part of 88s spitting fire at the fish as they move upstream. In some runs, steelhead will take flak from both banks for hundreds of feet at a time. Line after line after line - each tipped with a vicious Gamakatsu, Mustad, or Owner - drifts slowly, and silently searches for flesh to bite or fins to sting. And if those anglers lining the banks aren't particularly ethical sorts, then their hooks will only sometimes sting fish fairly (more on that in another post).

And that's the first reason I've come around to swinging the longest of the long rods. Spey fisherman - with only very few exceptions - are beyond reproach insofar as legal hook-ups go. The fish they hook aren't snagged. The fish they hook aren't flossed. The fish they've hooked are fairly hooked, not the incidental, accidental, or providential result of enemy flak.

The second reason I've had my come-to-Jesus moment and given myself over to swinging flies for steelhead has been written about ad infinitum and to the point of being cliché. I'm willing to bet that anyone who lists his or her reasons for fishing a spey rod and swung flies - in any river, in any part of the world - would say the same. God it pains me to say this, but ...

The tug is the drug.

Ughhh. That phrase makes me cringe, but so help me it's true. The take of a steelhead on a swung fly is electric. It is pure, unfiltered, undiluted endorphin - piscatorial heroine hammering away at your frontal lobe. The take of a steelhead on a swung fly is like an orgasm in reverse. You get the money shot at the beginning and the foreplay follows after. By the time a bug chucker brings a fish to hand, he or she is likely to need a cigarette and a nap. And that's all from an average fish. Hook a big fish and chances are 50/50 you'll join a monastery and commit to vows of celibacy.

So am I still a dirty ass nympher? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm really not sure. All I can say is that last week's trip to the Salmon River left indelible impressions on both my heart and mind that are unlikely ever to fade. Even now - sitting here at my keyboard- my fingertips curl around imaginary cork and my closed fist follows an imaginary swing through an imaginary tailout. 

Damn it.

I'm a swinger.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Great Salmon Dud of 2014 and Adam Touches a Boob

Anyone who fishes with regularity for Great Lakes steelhead (and yes ... they are steelhead ... I hope you choke on your pretension if you roll your eyes at the thought)  likely spends the better part of the summer in hopeful anticipation of the fall. Fall is when everything comes together for a steelheader. By late August or early September, the first of thousands of king and coho salmon will start to show in the lakes' tributaries, and by October the salmon run is usually on in earnest. Following the salmon - intent on gorging themselves on eggs and flesh - are the steelhead that sustain so many of us throughout our typically brutal northern winters. Unfortunately for our salmon fishing brethren, 2014 has been - relative to the past few years - a bit of a dud.

As I walked the banks of New York's Salmon River this past weekend, I was struck with a thought that I couldn't quite articulate. Something was missing, but for the better part of the day, I couldn't quite put together just what it was. There were fish - at least there seemed to be. There were fishermen - as many or perhaps more than I have ever seen along the river's banks. I just couldn't put it together; everything seemed to be as it should have been. Ben had the epiphany before I did.

"Smell that?"

"Smell what?"


It was the stink. That distinctive Salmon River stink was missing. In a normal October, the river is lined top to bottom and side to side with the putrefying carcasses of spawned-out kings and cohos. The stink - an aroma slightly reminiscent of swelling, sun blanched, fly infested, road slaughtered possum - permeates the air from the estuary upstream to the Brookfield dam. In a normal October, the stink hangs over everything and offers quiet reassurance that there are fish to be had. At this point in the year the stink is entirely absent.

If a bug chucker is looking for salmon then there are some salmon to be found, but actually finding them may take a little more work than usual. There are, however, plenty of steelhead, and this past weekend those steelhead were our saving grace. All three of us hooked a chromer. Ben lost his fish as a consequence of the insipid stupidity of one of the Salmon River's many f@#ktards. The fish took off on a downstream run in front of the f@#ktard and his group, and rather than move as courtesy and intelligence dictate, f@#ktard chose to remain in place. Ben's line drew across f@#ktard's legs and the fish was free. 

While this scenario was not unexpected - we were fishing the Salmon River on Columbus Day weekend after all - losing that first chromer of the season stings especially when the loss could have been avoided. For my part, I lost the steelhead I hooked because I'm a chucklehead. I wasn't paying attention in the moment that paying attention mattered most, and the fish took advantage of my day dreaming to demonstrate her superior focus and determination. So it goes.

Adam, however, remembered to take his Ritalin before we wadered-up, and he was alert and ready when a beautiful chromer of some 12 or 13 pounds decided to take his fly and run back into the lake. Fortunately, the fish only made it a hundred feet or so before being scooped up in the net.
As I snapped the photo of Adam and his fish I couldn't help but laugh quietly. There was something boyish about Adam's grin. He looked like my son looks when he asks one of his sisters to pull his finger. He looked like my students look when they ply me with cleverly contrived excuses for unfinished homework. He looked as I imagine I must have looked the first time I ever touched a woman's breast. 
He looked a little goofy.
And I suppose that's the charm of steelhead. Perhaps more than any other fish a bug chucker might chase, steelhead have a near preternatural ability to turn men into boys. In one moment we're husbands and fathers, teachers and tradesman, soldiers and veterans. In the next instant we're making fart jokes and burping the alphabet.
It's a wonder we catch anything at all.

*** More recent reports seem to contradict my own. True to form, we fished the river one day early. Both salmon and steelhead arrived in numbers the day after we visited Pulaski. ***

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Douglaston Salmon Run: An Unsolicited Review - Redux

As steelhead season creeps ever closer, I cannot help but think about the Salmon River and the water I hope soon to fish. Some of that water runs through the Douglaston Salmon Run, and in the coming weeks I'll likely end up fishing there once or twice. What follows is a review I wrote of the DSR some two years ago. I find my position hasn't changed so I thought I'd republish it for the sake of anyone who might be interested.

The Douglaston Salmon Run: An Unsolicited Review

Until recently, I found distasteful the notion of paying a fee to fish. I'm not entirely sure why, but I did. 

Perhaps it's my blue collar roots. I grew up in a household where my parents worked alternating shifts - often double shifts - and only rarely had more than a few dollars to show for their efforts. Paying to fish seems a waste when so much water - excellent water in fact - may be accessed for free.

Perhaps it's that uniquely American ideal that juxtaposes our love of free and open spaces with the honored tradition of the ownership and cultivation of private property. Certainly, these concepts are sometimes at odds.

Perhaps it is because this is the United States and not the United Kingdom. Our European bug-chucking brothers and sisters have for centuries been paying tuition and fees to fish. We yanks have never been comfortable with the idea.

Perhaps there is some small part of me that resents the opportunities of folks who have the financial means to enjoy the kind of fishing about which I'll only ever dream. I'll likely never climb the hills and mountains of New Zealand, or wade the flats off the coast of Belize. I'll never watch golden dorado herd bait through currents of a Bolivian river, and Costa Rican roosterfish will never chase my poorly tied flies. My jealousy is ugly and baseless, but I'd be something less-than-honest if I didn't admit to it just the same.

All this brings us to the Douglaston Salmon Run. For two reasons - at least to my way of thinking - the DSR has been a source of some controversy here in New York. Foremost, the resort limits access to its nearly two river miles of river frontage on what is arguably one of the best salmon and steelhead fisheries in the entire Great Lakes region, the Salmon River. The resort was also at the heart of a landmark legal case here in New York that - for all practical purposes - grants land owners rights of ownership (and therefore the ability to post and limit access) to the river that flows through their property. In other states, one can access rivers from any public access point (i.e. a bridge) and walk the bank along private land up to the river's normal high-water mark.

The Douglaston decision made possible the posting of land through which my home rivers flow, and as a consequence of my anger at having been refused access to water at home, I refused to pay to fish the DSR's private water when I visited the Salmon River. For all the aforementioned reasons, I was bitter about the DSR's posting of a piece of water that benefits from the public's tax dollars - in the form of a very successful hatchery program that stocks the river with both salmon and trout. For years, I abstained from some of the best and most interesting fishing on the river because I didn't want to pay for something that I thought should be free, and I was vocal in my opposition.

I don't know if I was necessarily right or wrong in any of my attitudes, but I can tell you that some of my preconceptions about the Douglaston were fundamentally flawed. Having spent the past three seasons wading with some frequency the DSR's water, I've come to realize a few things about the resort, its staff, clients, and its fishing.

First, the fishing on the DSR's property is arguably some of the best on the Salmon River. There are excellent angling opportunities throughout the fishery (my favorite runs are all on public water), but the DSR does have something that much of the rest of the river lacks.

Fresh fish.

Situated at the head of the Salmon River's estuary, the DSR's property is the first bit of river that many of Lake Ontario's salmon and trout will run as they make their way upstream to spawn. As a result, the fish in the low end of the watershed are often bright silver and energized to the point of being electrified. This is true for the river's king salmon as much as it is its steelhead. I find that fresh, silver fish simply fight harder than their river-darkened brothers and sisters, and bringing a bright fish to hand is just a little bit more gratifying than catching a fish that has seen the fishery's entire length.

For the past several seasons, the Douglaston Salmon Run has maintained a policy of no-kill on trout throughout the property's length. Much of the rest of the river has liberal daily limits on trout and salmon. As a consequence, fish are often killed well before they've a chance to spawn. My secret hope is that the DEC will institute no-kill regulations on wild fish that haven't a clipped adipose fin, but until legistlators and regulators demonstrate the courage to enact such a rule, the Douglaston's policy is a step in the right direction for the fishery and its anglers.

We should note that the DSR is in many ways a microcosm of the larger river system. The Douglaston's property contains any type of water one might hope to fish: classic runs and glides, green-black pools, heavy riffles and pocket water. Whether one nymphs or swings, there is a place on the DSR to do whatever it is one likes to do, and the quality of the fishing hints at what could be possible throughout the entire system if similar, enlightened regulations were adopted river wide.

Fishing aside, the DSR's staff does a fine job of maintaining its facilities and trails, which provide for easy access to any of the resort's 12 or 15 distinctly named runs and holes. While there is something to be said for having to bushwhack one's way to a stream, there is likewise something to be said for being able to take a leisurely stroll along the bank, and the older I get the more appreciate the stairway that leads from the Douglaston's main parking lot, down to the water. 

And what of the 800 pound gorilla in the room? What about the cost? Season passes (unlimited access to DSR property from opening in mid August to closing in mid May) run $450.00, and Steelhead Season passes (unlimited access to DSR property from mid November to closing in mid May) cost $300.00. Both season pass holders also receive free daily passes to be used by the pass holders' guests whenever they together visit the property (limited guests per pass).

Upwards of $300.00 too steep a price to pay? I have to say that with three kids at home and all that entails, the price of a season pass - even the less costly steelhead season pass - is a little too much for me. My wife would argue that I don't need to pay for fishing when there is so much public water - and good public water at that - to fish free of charge. She would be right to make that argument.

But to access the DSR's property, we need not pay hundreds of dollars for a season pass. Instead, we may opt to purchase a daily pass for which the Douglaston charges $45.00. Forty-five dollars? I know. I do. I found it as hard to swallow as you do, but then a friend who frequents the DSR - and has for several years - explained to me his way of thinking.

How much do we pay to go to a concert or to see a film? How much do we pay for a tank of gas or a meal at our favorite restaurant? What's a round of golf cost these days? How about a gallon of milk, a bottle of water, or a six pack of a small batch IPA? The point is that we spend our money in myriad ways, and never think twice about the real cost of things. When observed through the prism of value, I think the price of a daily pass on the DSR is more than reasonable.

Before you begin to wonder whether the DSR has put me on the payroll, please know that there are some ways in which I think the Douglaston Salmon Run could be improved. The first of these is the angler education and the enforcement of the legal and ethical rules of angling. As is the case throughout the river system, far too many anglers that frequent the DSR simply do not understand the difference between catching a salmon or trout fairly, and landing that fish after illegally snagging the animal in its body.
Make no mistake, snagging is every bit as prevalent on the DSR as it is on the upstream sections of the river. This is especially true during the height of salmon season. Consider the following video ...

As hard as it may be to believe, the gentlemen in this video recorded themselves fishing the DSR's water, and then posted their antics to YouTube. If you can bear to watch long enough, you'll eventually see that one of the Douglaston's river walkers approaches the group.

We can't be sure how much the DSR's employee saw that day. We can't be sure that he was ever in a position to curtail these men snagging fish. What we can be sure of is that the snagging continued after he walked on. This is unacceptable, and against both New York State law and the DSR's stated policy of enforcing that law.

I think I'll finish simply by saying that I've always enjoyed my time on the Douglaston's water. Some days have been better than others, but such is the nature of fishing. Critics might say that I'm a hypocrite, that I subsidize the people who would seek to make inaccessible the water I would fish. I don't know. Perhaps I am a hypocrite, but it seems to me that the DSR does not make inaccessible the water passing through through its property. Rather, the DSR simply limits access to that land. The fee to use this land is not extravagent, and the value of the experience is well worth the price. Would I prefer that the law reads as it does in so many other states, allowing anglers to access the water from any public site? Of course I would, but in the interim the DSR seems to have found a reasonable compromise, and I am grateful for that compromise.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hard to Concentrate

Today, I find it hard to concentrate.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 5, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Boring Day

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

Boring Day from JensenFlyFishing on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Don't Be This Guy

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

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Losing Weight

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

Now, to the point ...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tis the Season

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Biblical Mayfly Emergence

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

Read the full article and see more images here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On Amy's Legs and Using the Tools We Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Google Translator

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

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

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

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

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

Common Bug Chucker: "Fish on!"

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

Common Bug Chucker: "My rod broke."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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