Monday, December 28, 2009
At the falls I tested both my luck and the new camera ...
Avoided the shrooms ...
Fished an old rod ...
Fished a new rod ...
Ben caught a decent fish ...
Adam caught a decent fish ...
Ben caught the same fish again ...
The rainbows were cooperative ...
Very cooperative ...
As were the browns ...
Floated the tailwater ...
Where we caught some real bruisers ...
Fished with Shawn ...
Fished with Timmy ...
And tried to get everything else in order ...
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Once every so often I'll post the recipe and instructions for one of my favorite flies. If I can get a grip on the photography, I'll post photos as well (I'm new to macro-photography, and I must admit that I am struggling). The flies I'll showcase won't likely be anything particularly innovative, but you won't usually find replicates in an Umpqua or Montana Fly catalog.
To the fly ...
Brillon, a good friend and the fly-tying product developer for Orvis. As best I can tell, the pattern draws on the work of Jack Gartside, the Heron series frequently found on the streams of New England, and various Pacific Northwest steelhead patterns. It is relatively easy to tie, but can be a little tricky to tie well (don't crowd the head). In white and barred-white, it is one of my top two streamers. When fishing this fly, remember that it is meant to be stripped ... like freakin' crazy. Of all the streamers I fish, this one provides the most visual experience in that it runs fairly shallow, and often draws charges from some very large fish.
Enjoy the tying. Good luck with the fishing.
The Bou Bou (aka: Das Big Bou, DatsalottaBou, Mayor McBou)
Hook: #6-#2 Tiemco 9395 (a vicious streamer hook)
Weight: Lead or lead-free wire covering the rear 2/3 of the hook shank
Thread: 8/0 color to match body (fine thread helps reduce bulk and make a neat head)
Tail: SLF Hank color to match wing and cut to the length of the hook shank
Body: SLF Hank dubbed or wrapped 2/3 the length of the shank
Wing: Two or three marabou blood quills, tied in tip first and wrapped forward like hackle with the natural curve to the rear
Veil: Gadwall flank, either folded or stripped on one side and flared back over the marabou
Eyes: Jungle Cock (optional, but boy do they ever look good)
The key to forming a nice small head on this fly is to leave plenty of space for the gadwall, and to wrap only the thinnest stems near the eye of the hook. The fine thread is a real help. I also strip the fibers from one side of the gadwall, both to reduce bulk on the head and give the fly a slightly sparser appearance.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Lakes and ponds lacked the character of rivers, they lacked motion, and - perhaps most importantly when we were very young - all the area's lakes were just outside the reach of a reasonable bike ride. I suppose it was this matter of accessibility that jaded us to lakes and ponds, and is probably the source of a bias that exists to this day. We generally avoid stagnant puddles, and favor flowing ditches.
Now that we're older, each of us is a dedicated fly rodder, and as is the case with most bug chuckers we are fascinated by running water. We've bounced all over the country looking for Salmo Trutta, Oncorhynchus Mykiss, and Salvelinus Fontinalis. Like so many kindred spirits we've an especial appreciation of big trout and as I'm sure you're aware, the biggest trout are generally found in lakes. Herein lies the rub.
A lake fish has advantages a river fish simply does not. Foremost, they haven't continuous current with which they must contend. As a result, they don't expend as much energy as their river dwelling cousins. This excess energy is instead channeled into growth. This growth is fueled by an abundance of forage, which is generally lacking in rivers. Quite simply, lake fish have more to eat and work less to earn a meal. They grow more quickly, and to larger proportions.
For river-loving fly rodders, the implication is that trophy river fish are not to be measured on the same scale as trophy lake fish. A ten or twelve pound brown trout is likely one of the largest - if not the largest - of its species in the Battenkill. In a ditch like the Salmon River, a tributary to Lake Ontario, ten or twelve pound browns are respectable but hardly kings of all they survey. Owing to the aforementioned biases, I viewed such enormous lake bred fish with a little bit of disdain.
Until Ben caught this beast ...
Unlike so many of its Salmon River cousins, Ben's fish didn't have a mark on it: not a single lamprey scar, no obvious hook marks, nothing (see below).
This is exceptional because the fish was caught in the river's upper-fly zone. He swam through miles of heavy flow, past fly-rodders and bait dunkers, meat fishermen and catch and release anglers, newbies and river veterans alike. He managed all that in a river that sees more fishing traffic than most any other body of water within 300 miles. You might say these lake-run fish contend with challenges that river bred fish simply do not face.
What a fish. Much respect.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
One week ago today, I was knee deep in the Salmon River, thinking about baseball.
Standing in the icy water, my mind went back to October 31st, Halloween. Amy and I had already taken the triplets from house to house, fed them each a few diminutive bites of chocolate, and tucked them into their beds (it didn't go quite so smoothly, but I'll spare you the details). The rain came intermittently, the trick-or-treaters stopped ringing the doorbell, and we were anxiously settling in to watch our beloved Yankees in game three of the fall classic.
You have to love October baseball: the history of the game, the anticipation of each at bat, the drama of a game changing error or double play. That isn't to say that baseball takes on some sort of mythical ethos in October; rather, the game is much the same as spring and summer ball. In October, however, the mood changes. The tempo changes. Everything surrounding the game is just a little more intense. When the playoffs, pennant, and World Series arrive - decked out in all their autumnal splendor - much of America stands up and takes notice. Such was certainly the case with game three of this year's series.
Here's a quick synopsis ...
The Yankees were down by three runs after the second inning, and tied 1 -1 in the series. After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, my wife squealed as Alex Rodriguez found his post-season mojo, and knocked a disputed home run off a camera mounted on the right field wall. Johnny Damon later had an amazing at bat, resulting in a two-run double that put the Yankees ahead. True to their form throughout much of the season, the boys in pinstripes came from behind to win in the clutch. It was almost too much to take, and I nearly had an embolism. The Yankees took the series after six games.
So there I was, knee deep in the Salmon River, and I couldn't stop myself from thinking about that particular game. The correlation should be obvious to anyone familiar with what might arguably be the most renowned of the Great Lakes' tributaries. Would the river gods - who had denied me any success all day - allow me a glimpse of grace? Would I have my moment, my ninth inning glory, my come from behind victory?
Yes. Before that moment came, however, I had to pay a price. The gods demanded a sacrifice on the altar of chrome, a virgin sacrifice.
Prior to this trip, I committed to purchasing a new steelhead stick. She arrived precisely one week before Ben, Shawn, Tim (pictured above) and I were to meet at Brenda's Motel and Campground (a stay at Brenda's is an experience unto itself). She was a glorious, bright blue with gorgeous appointments, and from the moment when I first opened her tube - wrapping my hand around her velvety smooth and meticulously shaped cork - I knew we were destined for a loving and intimate relationship. She was glorious, and she exploded immediately below the mid ferrule only two hours after we began fishing.
She may have arrived on the river's shore a virgin, but she left - carelessly discarded behind the passenger seat of Shawn's truck - a vile, soulless whore. When Blue finally returns, she'll have some explaining to do.
Fortunately, Ben had the good sense to bring an extra rod, a reliable friend that he was more than happy to share with me. It was that rod that I cast the better part of the day, and it was on that rod that I finally hooked some steel. The fish hit just before the end of the day, took me 100 or so feet downstream in a series of hot runs, and finally came to net with a sour look on its face.
One might ask if the cost in time and treasure is worth a single fish. If you find yourself asking that question then you've clearly never hooked up with Papa Chrome. If I could make the trip every week, and had to swallow both my pride and a broken rod each and every time, then I'd be seeing you on the river.
For now at least, it's Rusty Spinner (1) - Salmon River (0).
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
First and foremost, there are the paternal obligations of being a father during the holidays. Turkies need to be carved, trees cut, lights strung, gifts purchased. Of course, those gifts will only find their way under the tree if Daddy puts in some overtime.
For a teacher, overtime usually means coaching, chaperoning, or mentoring. Dances, basketball games, wrestling matches. During the winter, I'm there for all of it. Don't misunderstand me. It isn't that I don't enjoy the time I spend with my students. I generally do, and I haven't forgotten how haggard my father looked after doing a double shift at the factory. I know when to count my blessings. I do, but ...
A few days ago, my friend Shawn Brillon sent me the photos attached to this post. Shawn is the fly and fly-tying product developer for the Orvis company, and in one of the pictures he is hard at work "field-testing" Orvis' new line of Helios switch rods. He reports having had his best day ever in twenty years of fishing Lake Ontario tributaries. Thirty hook-ups with twelve fish landed.
Are you kidding me? You have got to be freakin' kidding me! He's off hooking steelies on the company's dime, and I'm watching prepubescent boys miss lay-ups.
I know what you're going to say ... "But you only work nine months a year." I suppose that's true, and I suppose we all have our respective crosses to bear.
My cross is made out of chrome.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I was fishing with Shawn Brillon, Bob Mead, and Paul Ptalis. We were jaw-jacking and laughing more than fishing, a wonderful day in all the ways that matter. Foremost in my memory is a respectable brown that Paul took on a greased Hornberg. I suppose you had to be there, but watching that fish fall all over itself while trying to engulf Paul’s skating streamer … well … it was absolutely hysterical.
The day stands out in my memory as it was the last time the four of us fished together. Paul passed away last November, after losing a prolonged battle with cancer. He was a talented fisherman, a transcendent tyer of Atlantic salmon flies, a patient tutor, and a good man. Today, as autumn gave up its ghost, I couldn’t help but think of Paul and his fish.
I suppose the day will come when my friends will reminisce about the time they spent on the water with me. If I’m very lucky, they’ll remember how much I appreciated the river and my time with them.
I hope that memory makes them smile as much as I did today.
Here, you’ll find a video of Paul releasing his Hornberg fish.Here, you'll find the American Cancer Society.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I love old stuff.
Pictured in the photo is the prize of my Orvis CFO collection. It was manufactured in 1979 by the Hardy company, and was the first of the bar-stock CFOs. All previous models were made of cast aluminum. One thousand reels were made, 500 in silver and 500 in gold. Mine is gold, number 342. Not a mark on her ...
I actually had this reel up on Ebay about a month or so ago, and was offered $700.00. I couldn't go through with it. I ended the auction early, and put baby-girl back on the shelf. Glad I did ...
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
It occurs to me that the title of my blog is something of a double entendre, not unlike Lecter's line at the conclusion of Hopkins' performance. No, The Rusty Spinner doesn't imply cannabalism of any sort, although fly flingers may find that the title elicits thoughts of out-sized trout slurping tiny, carrion morsels from the surface of some eddy or backwater. Today's post is about more than fly fishing though. Today's post is about the meaning inherent in the title of this forum.
And that's why I sit at this keyboard, and pour myself into cyberspace for all to see. For that brief moment when all the words come, I am an artist. I'm a creator. I'm a teacher who can, and still chooses to teach. I'm a man with a passion for his family and fly fishing. I'm an old dog that has learned a new trick, and in doing so has begun to remember all the old tricks. I'm a writer who has rediscovered writing.
When did fishermen, fly flingers and bait chuckers alike, stop teaching their sons about stream-side etiquette? I ask as I didn't get the memo. And yes, I am speaking specifically about men and their sons. I've never encountered a lady along the banks of a river or stream who didn't practice both common sense and basic etiquette. As such, I'm left wondering how high one's testosterone level must be to completely abandon all sense of common courtesy and decorum.
Does anyone know? When did the piscatorial professors stop assigning the chapters on thoughtfulness and tact?
I make this promise now, before my readers and all mighty God that if my son is ever discourteous to other anglers, the offensive behavior will not be the result of a lack of tutelage.
Rant over ... BKill out ...
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Knots. I learned how to tie knots. Arbor knots and Albrights. Nail knots and Bimini twists. Perfection loops, surgeon's loops and even a spider hitch. I learned them all, tied most of them hundreds if not thousands of times, and like a diamond, a knot is forever. Barring some dreadful accident or debilitating disease, I'll never need anyone to rig a line for me. I've got it covered.
I learned to double haul. I won't be entering a casting competition anytime soon, but when Mercury aligns with Venus, I can really lay it out there. Mercury only seems to align with Venus once out of every thirty casts or so, but the double-haul isn't just about distance. It's about accuracy, and if nothing else I can thread the needle nearly every time the fish dictate I must do so.
I also learned that people need help and reassurance, and that this is especially true of fly flingers. If one is in a position of authority, not unlike a flyshop employee, then he or she will be called on to testify to a customer's aptitude or answer a client's questions. If the employee doesn't have the answers a customer seeks, he or she must to be able to refer the client to an appropriate source. The most respected guy in any flyshop isn't the one who casts the farthest, catches the biggest fish, or can recite all of the technical specifications on every rod in the shop. Rather, the most respected employee will be the one who shovels the least bullshit. I miss being that guy.
Conversely, I don't miss being the guy who couldn't spend the weekend on the water because he had to work. On days like this past Sunday, when the fishing is spectacular even though the catching leaves something to be desired, I am especially grateful I no longer receive a w-2 from the shop.To better illustrate my point, let's just say that I was casting an eight weight and some ginormous streamers to what may have been the biggest stream-bred trout I've ever seen. Yep. The fishing was amazing, and I was there for it.
Monday, September 7, 2009
There is no denying that people are creatures of habit. We find a routine with which we are comfortable, and follow that same time-worn path, most every day. Just take a moment and consider all the things we do simply because we've always done them. We drive the same way to and from work, never varying our route. We order the usual dishes at the usual restaurants. Some of us even go so far as to mow our lawns in particular patterns (Yes, I am that guy). In roughly thirty years of fishing I haven't any reason to think otherwise of my fellow fly flingers.
I'm a rod first kind of guy. That is to say that when I pull up alongside the river, the very first thing I do is pop the trunk and pull out a rod tube. If it's a bamboo rod I intend to fish, I'll extricate the rod, and may even go so far as to give the tube a sniff (rod varnish is intoxicating). Some folks might take a quick look at the river, while still others scan the air for bugs. I need to get my hands on that rod, attach the reel, string it up, and give it precisely three false casts.
Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out! - Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975
Each and every time I go to the river, I follow that routine. It's my ritual, and when I'm forced to do things outside of my usual order I feel uncomfortable and unlucky. Of course, my way of doing things isn't necessarily everyone's way of doing things. Some folks prefer to don waders before stringing a rod or checking the water.
Adam is a wader guy. He throws those Orvis Silver Labels on with a speed usually reserved for people doing a 4:00 a.m. dine-n-dash at Denny's (you know who you are). I've never understood why he opts for the waders before all else. It seems to me that if you go with the waders first you'll only sweat that much longer underneath all that no-sweat fabric. Of course, Adam carries only two-thirds of my natural insulation, so maybe sweat isn't so much a concern. Still, there's no way a pair of waders could possibly have as much mojo as a rod. Rods are extensions of our will, old friends ready to charge into the fray alongside us. Waders smell like urine.
There are also those routines that aren't the result of habit or superstition; life has a way of forcing certain customs upon us. My experience is that as we age we fly flingers fall into a seasonal routine. That is to say that we tend to fish the usual places at the usual times. I must admit to doing this quite a bit since my children were born. When I was a younger man I was constantly exploring.
Adam and I each had our Gazetteers, and every week we followed some new blue line. We started with the Battenkill and all of its tributaries, but if there was a river, stream, ditch or puddle somewhere within 75 miles of home then there was a pretty good chance we fished it or thought about fishing it. Over the years we expanded our search for fly fishing Nirvana, and made our way to Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Montana and Wyoming. Everything was fresh. Everything was new.
We haven't seen those maps since we married and had our families. These days our time is at a premium, and we try to hedge our bets. When the hendricksons are on, we fish the hendrickson run. When the sulphurs are on, we fish the sulphur pool. When the river runs at a particular CFS we fish streamers, a little higher and we stay home. Some folks might suggest we're stuck in a rut. The truth is though, that we're finally able to benefit from years spent knee deep in swamp muck, climbing over out-sized boulders, and wading through as many brier patches as riffles.
When we were young we didn't catch a heck of a lot, not as much as we do now at any rate. Sure we were lucky on occasion (I'm reminded of the time Adam took a 20" brown from a tiny tributary to the 'Kill), but for the most part the blue lines creeping across our maps didn't offer the kind of fishing for which we were searching. We eventually found our philosopher's stone, and now we jealously guard the knowledge that took so many years to cultivate.
And having found our holy grail, what is it that we do to keep our rituals from becoming ruts? How do we maintain our passion for a sport that takes us to the same bit of water, day after average day? First, each of our pilgrimages begins with the hope that the day will not be mediocre, but rather exceptional. By and large it is the promise of the next day that keeps us coming back. Second, we remember that we can never really go to the same river twice. She is always in a state of flux, and it is the riddle of those changes that we find so intriguing. Third, we find new ways to approach her challenges. We tie new flies, fish different rods, and use longer and lighter leaders. We vary our technique, and in doing so we change our experience.
I'll finish with some words to those younger bug chuckers who might pity an old guy like me who is closer to 40 than to 20; a fella' who is burdened by the responsibilities of work and family.
Do not pity me, and do not mistake my routine for a rut. Most days I love my job, and my family could never be a burden. I hate to voice a cliche, but I've been there, I've done it, and I am perfectly happy right where I am. You go on and enjoy the swamps and brier patches, and in nine or ten years when you've figured things out, I'll meet you for the hendricksons.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
"Mr. Coach Klein, you got your manhood! You got your manhood." - The Waterboy, 1998
After being emasculated and sent home a eunuch by a particular downstate tailwater, I was pitied by my home river and had a terrific day. I lost count, but took somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve to fifteen fish, with the best being a powerful, twenty-inch rainbow.
It's a good thing too because as a man I'm especially fragile, and need constant reassurance from women and rivers alike.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
There were no omens. There were no portents. The sky did not darken, and the earth did not move. There was absolutely no indication that things would go as poorly as they did. Had I any inkling the day would play out in such a fashion, I would have chosen a better way to spend my time; perhaps asking my neighbor to kick me in the testicles and steal my wallet. Instead, this is what happened.
At 5:30 a.m. Ben and I started out on a two and a half hour pilgrimage to the downstate tailwater that all the outdoor writers suggest is home to the best trout fishing on the east coast. The truck was loaded with five or six rods and their respective reels, waders, boots, nets, vests and a Thermos full of coffee. Notice the absence of beer. Had we the good sense to bring a few bottles I might today be writing a much different post, but I digress. With a smile on my face I walked out the door, blissfully unaware that I was on my way to piscatorial purgatory.
An hour and a half later we had contacted the folks at an area fly shop about renting a drift boat for the day, and stopped off for food and drinks to bring along on the float. I suppose this is when karma abandoned me, but I wouldn't recognize the moment for what it was until I later reflected on the day. Entering the convenient store we were greeted by stony glares from a half dozen patrons, each seeming to scream, "You're not from here!" The awkward silence made palpable the tension between me and the cashier. Her snaggle-toothed sneer left little room to doubt that she wanted me out as quickly as possible. I was happy to oblige as scenes from Deliverance ran in a loop across my mental cinematoscope. "I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee! I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee! I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee!" Ben wasn't quite so quick to perceive the mood in the room.
There are some things you need to understand about Ben. First, he's accepting of all sorts of people and a genuinely compassionate person. There's no better friend or fishing partner. Second, he's an artist whose preferred mediums are molten bronze, discarded steel, and tanned and stretched animal hide. He has worked in a foundry for years, and recently started his own business producing bronzework. Third, he has absolutely no tolerance for intolerance or incompetance.
Care to guess what happens when an artist with a shaved head, two pierced ears, a smithy's forearms and a short fuse asks a toothy, backwoods, convenience-store clerk to make him a vegetarian sandwich? Give up? The clerk foolishly rolls her eyes, flips her hair over her shoulder, and without a word dismisses said artist to tend to her regular customers. The artist stomps and curses his way out of the building. It's especially funny to watch if you're not one of those liberal, hippyesque, starving artist types (starving because you don't get your sandwich ... not because you're unemployed).
Ben's mood soured just a bit, he swore he would return and set fire to the building (his reaction demonstrates the difference between he and the average hippy ... Ben would happily set fire to people who annoy him). I suppose it was that moment, which ultimately set the stage for the remainder of the day.
By 9:00 we were 300 yards into our float, diligently working streamers to the banks. We had forgotten about Bucktooth Sally, and were sharing a laugh when we spotted a steadily rising fish. Here I should mention that the tailwater's trout are notoriously tough nuts to crack. They meet countless fishermen in any given week, and witness a corresponding number of flubbed casts, inadequate presentations and poorly tied flies. Add to this the great variety of insect life, which might be present on the water at any time, and you've set the stage for a frustrating outing. Yesterday, however, the fish were surprisingly agreeable. Ben made the process of catching them seem simple as taking one's next breath.
Three casts after tying on a dimunitive BWO pattern, Ben hooked and landed his first tailwater trout. The cast turned over nicely, the fly drifted perfectly, and the brown took without any hesitation. It was really a pleasure to watch; I remember commenting that I wished we had a video camera. Just downstream another fish dimpled the surface. Ben's turn on the oars. My turn on the bow.
And it continued to be my turn for the next 30 minutes or so. That's how long I worked over that fish. I started with an olive dun. Nothing. Moved to an emerger. Nada. How about a trico dun? Not today. Sulphur dun. Are you kidding me? Caddis. Hehehe. One thousand, eight hundred seconds passed and my adversary had me so flustered I was stepping on my line, dropping my backcast, over-powering my forward stroke, and throwing a tailing loop wide enough to lasso a bull. As often happens on those rivers inhabited by trout that just don't play, I was forced to submit to a superior intellect and move on down the road. I tucked my tail and my pride between my legs, sliding forlornly back to the oars.
The reaction of those first few rising fish characterized the remainder of the day. Ben was totally relaxed, almost Buddah-like in his approach. He ignored the tailwater's dogma, and cast whatever flies spoke to him from his box. He caught fish, while I abided by doctrine. I tried to fish technically, matching specific bugs, and fishing a particular way. I should have forgotten everything I think know about the tailwater, and simply focused on having a good time. I'm sure the change in attitude would have paid dividends. Instead, I was stubborn and couldn't buy a pull.
A short while after I had begun to lose my composure, my cell rang with the sound of The Police, "Message in a Bottle." I had a text message (I know ... kind of cheesey, right? ... but it's cheesey in a really cool 80's music kind of way).
At this point, please don't make me explain why I keep my cell powered on while I fish. Suffice to say that I am a husband and a father before I'm a fisherman, and the phone is there for for emergencies. Sure, Ben will text or call from time to time, but he was sitting just behind me. Had the message been his, he would have been swimming to the take-out point. The message was from my wife, and it read "Mikey got hurt." Mikey is my son, and my son was hurt.
If you're a parent then you know what I experienced in the next few moments. If you're not a parent then allow me a few sentences to demonstrate a parent's panic-stricken stream of consciousness.
"Mikey got hurt."
"What do you mean he's hurt? Is he alright? Did he fall ... in the bathroom ... in the driveway ... from the swingset ... down the stairs? Did he scrape his elbow or break his leg? Did he manage to get past the fence, and into the road? My God, was he hit by a car? Was he even outside? Maybe he got into the kitchen knife drawer? Dear God, Dear God! Why didn't I better childproof the kitchen? I'm a lousey father, a terrible non-childproofing father. Mikey got hurt. Mikey got hurt!"
All that and more in the time it took me to speed dial my home.
"What happened? Is he alright? Is Mikey alright?"
"Who? Oh, Mikey. Sure, he's fine. He just fell and scraped his knee a little bit. Why are you calling? Shouldn't you be on the river by now?"
That, ladies and gentlemen, demonstrates one of the fundamental differences between men and women. My wife, brilliant as she is, cannot achieve clarity in only three words. She cannot briefly and succinctly communicate that my son's injuries are minor, there is no need to worry, and have a great day. Instead, she leaves it all up to her husband's juvenile imagination; an imagination fueled by Freudian tendencies toward sex and violence, which in its turn draws on every gory detail of those vintage 80s slasher films in which it indulged. My mood, and my experience on the river, did not improve.
It wasn't long before I lost all control, and did something I haven't done in nearly twenty years. No, I did not let go of my bowels and soil myself. I last did that as recently as six years ago. Instead, I did something that for a fly flinger is both more embarrassing and much more painful. Distracted and concerned for my son, frustrated by my seeming ineptitude with the long rod, I lost track of my cast at the pivotal moment and struck myself with a hook ... in the ear ... up to the shank ... well past the barb. Did it hurt? Yep. It was nestled deep into the cartilage. Was I surprised? Yep. I couldn’t have been more surprised if I woke up hogtied with a rawhide dog biscuit in my mouth. Did Ben laugh? Let's just say he said he wished we had a video camera.
At this point I think it may be best if I spare you the remaining details. Instead, I'll summarize by saying that the river gods continued to embellish their twisted psyches at my expense. Ben finished the day having made the acquaintance of somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred fish, and I can't be sure I even had a legitimate strike. My waders leaked, and I made the mistake of literally pissing into the wind.
Know what the really funny part is? Now that I've had the time to digest and file away the day, I sincerely cannot wait to do it all again.
Monday, August 31, 2009
What follows is the text of an email I received from friend and well known realistic tyer Bob Mead. He and David Martin, also a tyer of realistic flies, are starting a new auction site that may be of interest to the few folks who read my blog. Check it out and give 'em a shot.
David Martin and I are starting our own auction site for both buyers and sellers.
We decided that for $0.50 the seller can list any item at any price. This insertion fee includes the listing, up to 4 pictures, and a view counter. If you go to the site and make like you are listing an item the prices for additional auction helpers such as Bold print, Highlite, and featured item, all very low, will come up.
There will be NO final price percentage fee. David is trying to use the BANNER to let people know that there is no final price fee as he can't just go in on the fee schedule and put it there, he can only change charges and fees prices. It's just the way the program was written by the guy who created it. We'll figure it out. We were originally going to charge a constant 2 percent final price fee and give everyone a 20 dollar credit toward that final fee, but the guy who created the auction site would have to rewrite the program. He liked the idea and sometime in the future may incorporate it.
So basically, a seller can list any item for 50 cents and have no further charge for selling it. No charge for Buy it Now either. Google won't pick it up for a week or two. We have many venues to promote it plus all our personal collectors of our flies and other FF goodies, plus lure collectors have already been notified. This is going to be interesting. I'll be listing stuff myself.
I hope you will give us a try. Please register.
You can sell and buy. To sell, we have paypal to register accounts, so we can get our tiny fees, plus we will take m.o.'s from sellers so they can open an account if they don't use paypal.. We want to stay away from CC's although individual sellers can select any type of payment from buyers they want and are not limited to one type of payment. After that you must have sent in a m.o. $25 or more, or used your paypal to place a working balance in order to sell. You don't need a balance to buy.
Payment is between you and the seller who will list the type of payments he/she will accept.
Take Care and Thanks,
Saturday, August 29, 2009
A little history lesson courtesy of my student loan company, the G.I. Bill, and the first five or six entries to come up on a Google search (good thing I spent all that money) ...
In 280 B.C. and again in 279 (I refuse to use the politically correct "B.C.E.") King Pyrrhus of Epirus devastated his Roman opponents on the fields of Heraclea and Asculum respectively. Following the battle at Asculum the Greek historian Plutarch recorded Pyrhuss' reaction. The translation reads something like this, "One more such victory and I am lost."
Pyrhuss, it seems, sacrificed too many men to achieve a favorable end to the war. Although they were clearly defeated and suffered terrible losses, the Romans were better able to gather new recruits and resume the fight. Pyrrhus' own army was decimated, and he did not have the resources of his Roman counterparts. By winning the battles Pyrhuss lost the war. From this page of history we draw the term "Pyrrhic victory," which has come to suggest a victory that has been won at too dear a price.
The spring of this year witnessed the kind of fishing about which most of us dream. The hendricksons came in tremendous numbers, and it seemed as if every big fish in the river was regularly on the feed. Ben, Adam and I had more than just a few days when several twenty inch browns came to net. On one such day, Adam (the lucky SOB) took a twenty-four inch hen, and just a few moments later followed it up with a twenty-three inch kype-jawed male. Days like that are almost unheard of in this neck of the woods. Yes, the spring of 2009 was glorious.
Summer, by way of contrast, has been abysmal. Without consulting a local meteorologist, I would guess that since the end of June we've averaged two or three days of rain per week. The near continuous rainfall has had the effect of raising water levels in all the local ditches, and maintaining flows that just aren't conducive to fishing. Last year at this time I was averaging three or four days on the water per week (despite the triplets having just learned to walk). What am I averaging this year? Let's just say that I was never any good at fractions. It seems I spent all my mojo during the spring, and that I've nothing left with which to finish the season.
What then should a fisherman do who appears to have angered both the river and weather gods, and has virtually no hope of catching a fish? If you're reading this then you likely know the answer. When one is tormented by high water, horrible weather, and a gnawing desire to wet a line then one follows Pyrrhus' example and fishes regardless of normal considerations. That's what we did yesterday at any rate, and that's what we'll do tomorrow. Yesterday, we caught fish; a surprising number of fish. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe we'll find just a drop or two more ju-ju, and continue to fight the good fight.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Nada. Nothing. Zip.
Would you believe Big Daddy forgot to pack his gear? Yup. I left it all sitting on the porch, and there it remained until I returned. I had a free pass from the boss, and had even looked into booking a guide on the rat's lake. I was actually a little disappointed. There's a certain novelty to fishing in the foreground of Cinderella's castle.
My wife says not to worry as I'll have a chance to fish the lake next year, when we take our next trip.
Are you kidding me? Freakin' rat.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I'll be signing off for a week or so, as the triplets, the wife and I are making the drive to Florida. The kids are excited about the prospect of seeing Mickey's Castle. My wife is excited that the kids are excited, and I am dreading the whole ordeal.
Why? For starters it's freaking August. I weigh nearly three bills on a good day, and over three bills every other day. I'll be sweating more than a stray dog in a North Korean prison camp. Then there's the fact that my children are all of two and a half years old. Take a moment to consider all that implies. Two girls and one boy, each of whom has recently begun potty-training and taken a special interest in the others' genitalia, strapped in adjoining car seats for over twenty hours (one way). Sound like a good time? Johnny, you bet it does.
There had better be some willing bass in that freaking rat's lake.
Monday, August 3, 2009
About two months ago I visited my doctor about some pain I'd been experiencing in my abdomen. After a short examination he declared that I had a hernia, and he scheduled an appointment for me to visit a surgeon. One week later I found myself in that surgeon's office explaining that I needed to postpone the operation until mid winter. Naturally, he recommended I have the procedure done immediately. "You'd be up and about in only a few days. Why wait so long?"
Clearly, he wasn't a flyfisherman. He knew nothing of the hendricksons that were, at the time, coming off the water in tremendous numbers. He knew nothing of the sulphurs, which would follow the hendricksons. He knew nothing of brown trout, rainbow trout, brookies, largemouth and smallmouth. He had never double hauled an entire fly line, or lusted after another bamboo rod. The point is that at the time, I had months left in an already far too short fishing season, and I wasn't going to miss even a single day. My wife thought my decision was foolish. Adam disagreed.
Adam is one of the most focused fishermen I know. Strike that. Adam is, without a doubt, the single most intense angler I know. He is keenly perceptive, and purely analytical. If the Battenkill were a place where no man had gone before (sadly ... it is not), Adam would be a Vulcan and his flyrod a tricorder (yes Virginia, I am a geek). The man doesn't just go fishing. He weighs all the variables: air temperature, water temperature, cubic feet of water per second, weather forecast, historical climatic trends, prevalent hatches, and moon phase (by this I mean the moons of Jupiter). He knows when fish are going to be active, and he makes sure to be on the water when they are.
Which brings us to May 31st, 1998. Adam thought it would be a perfect day to fish, and I suppose that when one looks at the variables he was absolutely right. The river was running at roughly 150 cfs, which is perfect for drifting a pair of nymphs. The fish had been active during the previous week, having the tail end of the hendrickson hatch to enjoy. A cold front was threatening, but had not yet moved into the area. If I hadn't been committed to a backyard barbeque with my fiance's family, I probably would have joined him. Everything was looking good.
Yep. Everything was wonderful until the tornado touched down. The worst damage was had by the city of Mechanicville, where 215 mph winds were recorded. Dozens of homes were destroyed, any number of injuries were reported, and five people lost their lives. The storm tracked for miles, slowly losing intensity. By the time it reached the river, homes and barns were spared, but trees along hundreds of yards of shoreline were either uprooted or snapped like so much kindling. Where was Adam through all of this?
Would you believe he fished through the storm? Think about that the next time you find yourself casting a four weight and cursing the wind.
Not too long ago, I was recounting these stories to a colleague. Her response?
"So. You must really like to fish."
Yeah. You could say that.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
When one is having a bad day at what point should one simply call it quits, and try again the following day? I ask because no matter how bad my day may be I always seem to find a way to make it worse. This past Sunday was an average day that took a turn for the worse, and in doing so became a fine example of just how oblivious I am to those small omens and portents that tell more sensitive types to turn around, go home and crawl under the covers.
Before I continue ... a bit of a disclaimer. Generally, I try to avoid vulgar language when writing, which is odd because I've never hesitated to curse vigorously when I speak (one of a myriad of skills honed by my time as an infantry soldier). Sometimes though, swearing is necessary given a particular context. At those times, few other words will do. Here goes.
"Do it bitch! I fucking dare ya'. What's the matter bitch? Haven't got the balls?"
He was challenging me, that much was clear. That one beady, little duck eye said it all.
"Go ahead. Run me down in that P.O.S. family truckster. Maybe it'll make you feel more like a man."
He might have been suicidal. More likely he didn't even realize he was a duck. Either way, he was waddling his preen soaked derrier down the middle of the street, and taking his own sweet time about it. Frustrating? Yes it was, and especially so given that I hadn't been trout fishing in two weeks. I was desperate to be stripping a streamer or swinging a pair of nymphs. I needed to be knee deep in my favorite riffle, and that freaking duck was costing me time on the river. Normally, I wouldn't have been so worked up, but only moments earlier a baby fox had done the same. Moments before the fox it had been a goat. Yep. A goat. Clearly, nature was conspiring against me.
By the time the duck had moved aside I was in a flurry. I cursed continuously. Ben laughed nonstop, and seemed to enjoy my sputtering. My tirade lasted a full forty-five minutes, until we arrived on the banks of my favorite brook trout stream. Our plan was to fish for brookies during the heat of the day, and to quickly drive to the main river at dusk to see if there were any snouts breaking the surface.
The next two hours or so went well enough. We hopped from rock to rock (Ben hopped ... I kind of slid and shifted my girth between boulders), and caught a slew of fish on hoppers and stimulators. It was fun fishing for sure, and would have made for a perfect day if the sun hadn't been so hot and the water a touch lower. The day was looking up until we hiked back to the car.
Here again, a bit of a disclaimer. Politically, I'm an old school libertarian (get your hands off my wallet and your nose out of my business), but I'm a little more progressive when it comes to social issues. So, when I rounded a bend in the stream and saw two lesbians kissing and groping each other near one of my favorite pools, it wasn't my political sensibility that was offended. As the old adage goes, "To each his (or her) own." I was in Vermont after all.
The problem I had with the scene that appeared before me wasn't political nor was it philosophical. The issue I had was purely aesthetic. The women tonguing each other stream side were two of the most hideous creatures my eyes have ever beheld. One reminded me of Howard Stern, the other was a ringer for Dom Deluise, and they were locked in a passionate embrace that likely would have been consummated had I not stumbled through the creek bed. I pretended not to see them as they hastily arranged their clothing, and disappeared along the trailhead. The damage to my vision and my psyche, however, had already been done.
At this point I'm inclined to conclude my rant. Suffice to say the day did not improve. Ben served himself up as a feast for a hungry spider that had found its way inside his waders. My glasses were broken beyond repair. My waders were punctured, and my car developed an oil leak. I can't help but think it all has something to do with my childhood crush on the Morton Salt girl. "When it rains it pours."
Thursday, July 16, 2009
There are certain landmarks with which we are all familiar. Even if we haven't visited a particular monument, we can sometimes see it in the mind's eye. The Statue of Liberty, The Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument have all become part of the American lexicon. The landmarks with which we are most familiar, however, are usually a little more mundane. Oftentimes, these landmarks spell h-o-m-e.
Drive for twenty minutes in any direction from my house, and at some point you'll pass a Stewart's convenience store. You're likely to drive by several, and you're almost certain to stop by one at least. In much of upstate New York and southern Vermont, Stewart's shops are community gathering places and town centers. In my neck of the woods, Stewart's means home.
At least once in any given day, most folks will run down to Stewart's (even when driving uphill or otherwise moving laterally people will insist they're going down to Stewart's). While there they'll pick up a gallon of milk, look over a newspaper (while subtly glancing at the cover of Penthouse), pour a cup of coffee, and purchase a lottery ticket. Before walking out the door they might give the cork board a once-over. There they'll find all manner of memos and flyers: advertisements for garage sales, information on book clubs, sewing circles and pancake breakfasts, a flyer for a firehouse fundraiser, and the ever-present notice of a missing pet.
On one such cork-board, in one particular Stewart's shop, hangs a rather unusual notice. Someone's pet is missing; an animal that answers to the name Josie. No, a missing pet is not a big deal nor is Josie is an unusual name. What is unusual is that Josie is a cockatiel, and she also answers to the names Lulu, Sweet Bologna Puss, and Foreshadowing Disaster. Yes, the bird answers to Bologna Puss and Foreshadowing Disaster. Read a little farther down the page, and one discovers that Josie enjoys Beyonce's Single Ladies, Guns -n- Roses' Sweet Child of Mine, and Bing Crosby's rendition of You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby. I've been pondering the connection, and whether lyrical, thematic or rythymic I just don't know. Perhaps the bird has eclectic tastes. Perhaps she simply enjoys singing along, but neither possibility much matters.
What is significant is that only one half mile (as the cockatiel flies) from Josie's wanted poster is the home of one heck of a largemouth bass. Josie is the landmark. Find Josie and you'll find the bass.
Ben thought the fish may have topped six pounds, but I'm guessing it was much larger (when an angler fails to catch a particular fish, he or she forever has the right to claim said fish was enormous and of uncanny intelligence). We were paddling along shore and casting to the edge of the weeds, which marked the drop off to much deeper water. Fishing was slow. Those few fish that showed themselves were either too small to inhale my 2/0 hook, or too smart to fall for a few strands of bucktail lashed to a chunck of airbrushed foam (which was in turn lashed to an over-eager bassing neophyte). As luck would have it, or rather as luck always seems to have it, I flubbed my double haul when it most mattered. When the water caved in around my popper I did all that I could do, which was to strike hard on fifty feet of slack line. Nobody home. Ben glanced back over his shoulder.
"Definitely five ... maybe six pounds. That was the fish we were looking for."
"Yeah, I know. Thanks."
"Too much slack."
"Yeah, I know. Thanks."
"Try to keep your line tight."
Ben's barbs hurt, but he was right. I made a rookie mistake. I couldn't blame the wind or weather. I couldn't blame the river gods. I couldn't blame my guide. My inattention and poor form cost me the thickest largemouth I've ever encountered.
Foreshadowing Disaster indeed.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
So here's the deal. I'll list some of the gear with which I'm willing to part. If any of you see anything you like then write with trade suggestions. I'm not necessarily looking to sell anything (I suppose I would if prompted), but I'm always looking for new toys.
What specifically am I looking for? A canoe would be nice. Switch rod or a spey rod maybe. Orvis CFOs. Maybe a little 6' or 6'6" two weight. Firearms. Just about anything will be considered. Don't be bashful, and don't be afraid to simply list your items as I have. I may not be interested, but someone else might.
Winston WT 904-3, used twice
Orvis T3 905-2 mid-flex, "Rodkilla" (my nickname when I worked at the shop) penned on the shaft
Orvis Zero Gravity 906-4 mid-flex
Redington ML 9/10 (perfect 8# reel) loaded with an older but hardly used 8# Orvis Wonderline
Orvis, Rio, Cortland ... Some brand new. Some used once or twice. Floating and sinking. Don't be afraid to ask as I very well may have the line for which you're looking.
Brodin Catch and Release style (I think it was called the Madison or Gallatin model) used extensively but solid and perfectly functional.
More to come ... I need to actually look in the closets. If you would like to contact me I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Notice that 80% of this radar image is clear. The heaviest weather is passing over my neck of the woods, and the USGS has the river well on its way to being blown out ... again. I'm beginning to think this is never going to end. Guess who won't be fishing the evening hatch tonight?
Monday, July 6, 2009
First thing's first. I need to figure out a way to get out from underneath all this freaking rain. Every time the river drops to a reasonable level, another storm front moves in, unloads a biblical flood on all the local drainages, and effectively screws the pooch for a few more days. It may as well be March for all the waiting and anticipation, and I am tired of waiting and anticipation. Granted that the rain is just what the local trout streams need to better endure the summer. Granted I've always had my best seasons when we've a wet June and July, but enough is enough already. The clouds need to part. The water needs to drop. The river gods need to conference with the weather gods, and get their respective shiznat together. If a sacrifice is required then there are in my neighborhood any number of wandering cats that I think might suffice. Anyone feel like barbecue? (I'm an unapologetic dog guy).
Second, I absolutely must make more time at the tying bench. More to the point, I need to make better use of what time I'm allotted by management. I made the mistake of hooking up a small television just to the side of my vise, and my productivity has dropped substantially as a result. No, I don't have A.D.D. What I have is a serious crush on Fox News personalities Megan Kelly, Alisyn Camerota , Julie Banderas, Andrea Tantaros and Shepard Smith. I love each of them to the point of distraction, but I love Shepard most of all. Not in a man-love kind of way mind you, but perhaps in a prison way. You know ... I'll hop in the top bunk and call ya' Ginger ... that kind of way (at this point it should be abundantly clear that the continuous precipitation is pushing my mind past the limits of normal human endurance).
Third, I need to spend a little more time getting to know that downstate tailwater. Everybody says it's the best trout stream on the east coast so I'm certain it must be. Why such crowds if it isn't all it's said to be? And as much as I hate the drive, maybe I'll hate it less once I better know what to expect once I make it to the river ... aside from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut plates at every other access point.
Fourth, I need to return to Montana. I miss the Yellowstone, Slough Creek, Duck Creek, Hebgen Lake, and the Madison. I miss cutthroat trout, pale morning duns and the Grizzly Bar. I miss seeing all those stars at night; stars we never glimpse here in New York. Sadly, my wife says that at two years-old the triplets are far too young to make the trip. I think she is convinced that once we cross the border from Wyoming to Montana, each of our children is likely to be stalked and devoured in turn by a rabid she-wolf. She forgets that normal, healthy children are everyday born to Montanan parents, and that most of these children thrive and reach old age. In an only slightly better scenario our children grow to love Big Sky Country as much as I do, and want to return every year. For my wife, such a possibility is worse than the inferno.
Finally, I need to start killing my own fly tying material. Grouse, partridge, turkey, rabbit, and squirrel are all here for the taking. I've a mind to start with the rabbit that ate my wife's flowers, although I probably shouldn't use the shotgun to perform the execution. I'm pretty sure firing a 12 gauge in my little corner of suburbia is verboten. No, the shotgun is out. I think I need to hit Wally World and purchase one of those Daisy, CO2 pellet rifles. Better yet, maybe I can pick up an "official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock." How cool would that be?
Who am I kidding? I'd probably put my eye out.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
In 1874 Charles Frederick Orvis received a patent for his ventilated fly reel. This reel was the first of its kind, and is considered by many to be the father of all modern fly reels. Many years later, the Orvis company introduced the CFO reel to commemorate Charles Orvis' achievement. The CFOs were first offered in 1971 and quickly became a success. The original CFO was a spring and pawl design; the disc drag model was introduced in 1994. The prototype CFO, "designed and made by Stan (Bogdan) now resides in the American Museum of Fly-Fishing in Manchester, Vermont" (Marchant 45).
1972 - 1977
The CFO was first offered in the Orvis catalog. The original reels had a screw that went through the back of the frame, which held the spindle. The newer model did not have the screw, instead the spindle threaded into the inside of the reel. The screw on the back was replaced with a cap. All reels with the screw through the back are early models. For roughly the next 20 years, all CFOs were manufactured by Hardy.
CFOs were offered in sizes II, III, IV, and V. Size II and III came standard without the nickel silver line guard, but the III was also offered with the guard for an additional charge. All other reels came standard with the line guard. All of the reels with the exception of the II had adjustable spring and pawl drags. The CFO multiplier was introduced in sizes III, IV, and V. The multipliers have a retrieve rate of 1 2/3 to 1. At this time, all CFOs are cast and then machined. On all these models, the spring and pawl mechanisms are held in place by rivets, which show on the back of the reels.
A size VI CFO was offered. A limited edition CFO was offered in both silver and gold color schemes. These reels were machined from solid bar stock aluminum. They were hand engraved with their limited edition number and "C.F. Orvis." 500 reels of each color were available.
The limted edition reel is no longer offered.
The CFO III without the line guard is no longer available.
A new saltwater CFO is introduced. This reel was produced by STH, and manufactured in Argentina. The drag is still spring and pawl, but all parts are made of corrosion resistant materials. The reels were available in Light and Medium sizes; each is a bright gold color.
The Large saltwater CFO is offered to accomodate larger line weights.
A new drag is offered in the saltwater CFO, a double pawl system. An angler can use the light pawl for minimal resistance, the heavy pawl for strong resistance, or both for an even stronger drag. This design was copied from the Presentation series of reels. The CFO VI freshwater was dropped from the inventory as was the CFO Multiplier.
The CFO saltwater model is dropped from the catalog.
The CFO VI is reintroduced, and the CFO II is replaced by the 123. The 123 has a larger diameter, line guard, and an adjustable drag.
CFO size selection is downsized; the reel is only available in sizes 123, III and IV.
The CFO VI is once again reintroduced. At this point the 123, III, IV and VI are available. A new anniversary edition is available, to commemorate the 20th year of the CFO reels. These reels were machined from bar stock aluminum, and had a platinum finish. This edition was a size III, and was designed to accept spools from standard reels.
Machined reels are introduced this year, and were available in sizes II, 123, III, and IV. These reels feature a "no rivet" design. The rivets that were used to hold the drag pawls in place are removed; the pawls are now internally affixed to a reinforced internal plate. The old cast reels are still offered this year in sizes 123, III, and IV. These still had rivets through the back. The new reels were manufactured in such a way as to allow interchangeability of spools between machined and cast CFOs. However, some experimentation may be necessary before a proper fit can be attained. An "Introductory Edition CFO III" was also offered this year. The reel was identitcal to the new, machined reel except for the finish. The Introductory CFO had an olive finish (slightly different from later disc-drag models) and featured gold anodized aluminum hardware. The line guard on this model was made from nickel silver.
The CFO I is introduced. This reel has a slightly larger diameter than the CFO II, and is designed to match up with the One Weight and One Ounce rods. The CFO I also had an adjustable drag, which the CFO II did not. The cast reels are dropped from inventory. All CFOs are now available in either gray with silver appointments or olive with gold components. These reels were available in size I, 123, III and IV.
The CFO III disc is introduced. These reels were green with silver components, and should not be confused with their olive, spring and pawl counterparts. The first 2000 of these models were introductory editions. Each of the introductory reels was individually numbered. Incidentally, the C.F.O. 1874 reproduction reel is offered this year. The reel foot on this reel was affixed with four screws, while the original's reel foot was held in place by three rivets.
The olive spring and pawl models are dropped from inventory. The CFO disc is offered in sizes I, 123, III, IV and V.
Size IV and V disc reels are offered with corrosion resistant finishes and parts, for use in saltwater. These reels are named the CFO Saltwater IV and V.
Small changes are made to the drag mechanism of the CFO disc. All spools are still interchangeable, but the clutch gear components are not.
*** Many production anomalies exist. I've seen CFOs in red and jet black, and still others without script on the back. This is further compounded by the fact that some reels (especially the earlier models) were occasionally modified by their owners. As to value, I've followed the sale of many reels at auction (Ebay, Lang's, etc.), and those that consistently demand the highest prices ($350.00 to $700.00) are the gold and silver limited edition model of 1979 and the original 1972 model with inverted script.***
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
"You kill me."
"Try this shake. It just kills."
"She's got killer ..."
Kill. The word derives from the Middle English cullen, which means "to deprive of life, cause the death of or to slay." In Dutch, the language of the original settlers of much of New York, kill takes on an entirely different meaning. For the Dutch, a kill was a "a deep trench between high banks, as a stream or a river." The Dutch derivation appears as part of the name of any number of northeast watersheds (i.e. Kaaterskill, Beaverkill, etc.). Blend the languages and the definitions of these two words, and you'll imagine a place not unlike the Battenkill, or the 'Kill as it's known among the bipolar flyflingers who regularly ply its currents.
Scattered across the country are a number of rivers that are notorious for producing impossibly wary fish and inherently difficult fishing. We're talking streams of dubious reputation and trout that seem gifted with extrasensory perception, an uncanny ability to distinguish mayflies from feathered forgeries. Several names come to mind: the Delaware, the Henry's Fork, Silver Creek, Hat Creek, Depuy's. Each of these streams has been written about ad infinitum, and each is known in its own way for emasculating the feather-chuckers who dare walk its banks. I'm fortunate to have fished a few of these rivers, and for the most part their reputations are well deserved. They're tough nuts to crack, but with a decent cast and a little local knowledge you can usually put the wood to 'em.
Then there's the Battenkill.
To illustrate my meaning more precisely, allow me a moment to digress and tell you about one of my favorite bamboo rods; a beautifully flamed quadrate that I picked up a few years back. It's a seven footer for a four weight, although I could probably go one step up or down and the rod would likely perform well enough. I've paired this rod with a Peerless 1A. If you unfamiliar with Peerless reels then do a Google search. The name says it all, but I digress. Understand that I really cannot afford this expensive a piece of gear (I'm a teacher for Christ's sake). It is an object that represents quite a bit of sweat equity on my part, even though both rod and reel were purchased at a steep discount. It is my pride and joy. Yep. It's my pride and joy, and I tossed it in the bushes when my temper got the best of me after one particularly frustrating evening on the Battenkill. It was a gentle toss more than a fastball, and I immediately retrieved the rod, but the point is that the river made me loonier than an animated rabbit dressed in viking attire, singing Wagner's, Flight of the Valkyries.
The irony is that it's hard not to fall in love with such a stream. The Kill possesses a pastoral beauty that is both striking and increasingly rare. Fishing the river, one is reminded the paintings of Grandma Moses or one of Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers. Of course, both artists lived near the Kill. Rockwell's home and studio is less than 100 yards from the bank. Aside from Manchester center and a few areas near the river's confluence with the Hudson, the Battenkill valley is the proverbial land that time forgot. It hasn't changed in sixty or seventy years. Add to this the fact that the water itself just looks fishy, and you've the makings for a fine day of casting.
And expect to cast quite a lot because while the river is beautiful, she is also a harsh mistress. She'll coax. She'll tease. She'll make you beg, but she won't often give up her treasure. Of all the rivers I've fished the Battenkill is singularly the most perplexing I've encountered, and I grew up fishing its more remote sections. I caught my first trout there thirty years ago, and I am still a regular. I can say without boasting that I'm familiar with most every run and pool in both New York and Vermont (as far down as Rexleigh anyway). I know the river. I know its hatches, and I still have my arse handed to me on a regular basis.
Some folks will tell you the 'Kill is tough as it is simply because the fish aren't there. I disagree. I have seen as many trout on the Battenkill as I have on any other stream in the northeast. Granted, most of these fish are 6" to 12" brookies. There are, however, any number of wild browns that eclipse 20" and trout in excess of 24" aren't impossible to find. Catching those fish is an entirely different matter. You can't imagine how frustrating it to witness an eight inch brook trout follow your BWO for six feet before turning away and rejecting the imitation. It may be even more frustrating than watching a genuine leviathan follow a streamer and turn away at the last moment. One, you reasonably expect. The other you do not.
That is to say you don't expect these things unless, of course, you're a regular on the 'Kill.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Yesterday afternoon, I sat in my chair staring blankly at yet another episode of Yo Gabba Gabba, silently wondering how an enormous orange phallus has become so popular with children. My head slumped forward, and a puddle of drool formed beneath my chin. My daughter Madison asked her mother if daddy was dead. "No honey, your father isn't dead. He's lost his mind." The phone rang. It was Ben.
"Miiiiiiiiiike." Ben's usual greeting. He seems to think I've an over-abundance of vowels in my name.
"Mike. Will the wife let you come out and play? Let's go hit the lake."
"Uhhh. Uhhhh. Uhhhhh."
"Ballston Lake. My family's camp there. We'll launch the canoe, bring a couple of my spinning rods, and see if we can drum up a few largemouth. It should be perfect."
"Uhhh. Uhhhh. Uhhhhh. Uhhhhhh."
"Mike? You there?"
"OK, I'll go. But I'll take my fly rod."
An hour later the drool had dried, and I was paddling against the wind along the shores of a lake that is likely deeper than it is wide. The native people who inhabited the shores of Ballston Lake originally named it Shenantaha, which roughly translated means "deep water." The southern end of the three mile long lake (the section I was paddling) is estimated at 120 to 130 feet deep, although local lore holds that it is likely deeper.
The fishing is typical in that one can reasonably expect a mixed bag of bass and panfish. I'm told Ballston fishing can be exceptional when compared to other local lakes; Ben's best largemouth topped eight pounds and Adam apparently lost one that was much larger. Rumor has it that some enormous pike and lake trout inhabit the depths at the southern end of the lake, but we didn't see anything quite so grand. The best fish of the evening was a 15 inch largemouth that swirled on my mouse, and swallowed it in a boil. Truth be told though, the fish was of little consequence.
There was something about being in that canoe, at that moment, on that lake. I was reminded of my childhood; a childhood spent at my great-aunt's home on the shores of the Battenkill. The camps dotting the shoreline, the smell of moss wet from recent rains, the metronome of waves kissing the dock; it all seemed so very familiar. I was new to the lake, a foreigner on its shores, but I was comfortable. I was at ease. Strange as it may seem, I felt at home.
My jones is sated (for at least a day or two), but I am resolved to go back to the lake. Ben told me the predominant forage in Ballston is the mooneye shiner (alewife), and I've been devouring everything the internet offers about mooneye behavior. Master the forage and you master the fish, or so goes my often misguided and fallacious reasoning. By the weekend I'll have a box full of mooneye imitations, and I'll begin the process of weeding out the good from the bad.
Somewhere in the depths of Shenantaha is an eight pound bass that is desperate to make my acquaintance.