Thursday, April 30, 2009


From the Greek katharos, meaning "to purge" or "cleanse" we derive the modern English catharsis. Colloquially, we use the word to signify a cleansing or purgation of our most worrisome troubles or thoughts. For many Catholics catharsis is found in the confessional. Some say writing is cathartic, while still others flail away at a heavy bag. My wife tells me that Pilate's is cathartic. I really don't know, but on occasion it is fun to watch.

Back to the point. When I write or fish, I scrape barnacles off the bow, sand away the rough edges of the day, buff the scratches out of whatever weighs on my mind. Yes, flyfishing is cathartic.

I won't be cliche and say that I lose myself in the rhythms of river and cast, the forms of fish and of fly. No, I do not lose myself. Rather, I find myself in those forms and rhythms. When I am fishing I am unfettered by the mundane troubles of the day. I can choose to set responsibility aside. I am purely myself.


I wax philosophical because the cathartic nature of the sport was especially important earlier this week. Early Sunday morning I was told that my father has cancer.


The "C" word. For God's sake, he's still a young man. I've never seen him ill.


Understand that I adore my dad. He is quite simply the finest man I know; a man of talent, integrity, compassion, and humility. Here, I will be cliche. My father is my hero, and the paradigm by which I judge the merits of my own life. He taught me how to drive, and how to drive a nail. He taught me how to cast a fly. He taught me how best to love my family. I am not now, nor could I ever be, ready to lose him.


The news was devastating, and when Adam phoned and asked if I could get a pass from Boss Lady for a little fishing, I was desperately in need of relief. We spent the entire day on the river, and I barely wet a line.

Instead, I watched Adam christen his first bamboo rod, an 8'6" Montague Manitou, which had been expertly refinished by Charlie Hise, a friend and the Orvis company's bamboo rod guy. The first fish on Adam's new rod was a gorgeous twenty-two inch brown; a special fish not only in terms of its size, but also for its spectacularly rich colors. Even though the honors are all Adam's, I will never forget that fish or my friend's excitement at having caught such a fish on such a rod.

Nor will I forget the intensity of Ben's stare as he focused all his will on a similarly outsized fish later that same evening. Again, I didn't fish much. Instead, I did my best to help Ben (a neophyte relatively new to the long rod) sting the fish he was working. Sadly, our best efforts weren't up to the task, but what fun would fishing be if we caught every fish every time? Those that get away make more meaningful those we capture.

And that is flyfishing. Flyfishing is all about the moment, a snapshot free of life's worries, fears and regrets. A life spent flyfishing is a collection of such moments, snapshots of the best of times. My father stands prominently in many of my snapshots, and I pray he'll be in many more.

Love you Pop.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

These are a few of my favorite things.

My wife (that's right honey, I began the list with you). She's brilliant, fun to be around, one heck of a mother, and pretty easy on the eyes. Even with two-year old triplets running wild around the house, she's willing to give me a pass for fishing almost any time I like. On our wedding day, I said a prayer of thanks as I definitely got the better end of the deal.

My children (sorry kids, I have to start with Mommy). You guys are great, except when you're beating up on each other, or me, or Mommy, or Grandma, or Grandpa, or the neighbor's dog, or the squirrels living in the trees in our yard, or the tulips in the flowerbeds, or ...

Brown trout (Salmo Trutta). Next to Salma Hayek (From Dusk till Dawn Salma not Frida Salma), brown trout are the most beautiful animals on the planet.

Fight Club. "On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero."

Hickory smoked bacon. Bacon makes absolutely everything better. Steak. Better with bacon. Scallops. Better with bacon. Ice cream. Better with bacon. Sex. Yes, even sex is better with bacon, bacon-bits anyway. Just use your imagination.

The fur and feather bins at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone. If you've been there, and you're a fly tyer then you know what I mean. Those bins make me want to snuggle inside all that downy goodness, and take the kind of nap my children would when they were six-months old.

Hendricksons. Of the multitude of mayflies that spring from the river, the hendricksons are far and away my favorite. They're the first major hatch of the year, and they often bring up some of the best fish in the river. It's easy fishing the hendrickson hatch, and after a long winter that is exactly what is needed. Big fish. Easy fishing. God help me but it's true. My waking thoughts are haunted by bugs.

And they should start popping any time now.

Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Harsh Mistress

One of my favorite rivers receives a lot of fishing pressure, but not A LOT of fishing pressure. Most of you understand the distinction. If you don't then you are either blessed or damned. For your sake, I'll explain.

The river is fished by many people, but most of the folks wetting a line in its runs and pools haven't a genuine understanding of how best to fish it. They are either new to fishing, new to the river or unconcerned with their catch rate. That many people have caught fish or a fish on occasion says more about the generous nature of Lady Luck than it does the complexity of the river. Without a doubt she's a tough nut to crack, and most fishermen would rather spend their time on less fickle nuts.

I consider myself fortunate to have such a river to fish, and I jealousy guard the secrets of this not-so-secret piece of water. I'm joined by a dedicated cadre of bait dunkers and fly flingers who are generally tight-lipped about the quality of the fishery. We don't use the name of the river in public, and give each other suspicious glances if the river's name is used amongst ourselves. We simply call it "the river."

Any hendricksons on "the river" yet?

"The river" fished well tonight.

Dear God that was one tough day on "the river."

Notice our use of the definite article. This is not a river. This is the river. The only river. The absolute, singular, invariable river. She's not the most beautiful. She's not the most prolific, and when we say she's tough we mean it with all sincerity. Regardless, she's our river, and we love her desperately and truly.

Occasionally, she reciprocates and shows us a little love too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Things That Make You Go, "Hmmmm"

In a previous post, I mentioned that opening day began with a farmer, a shoe and a road sign. I wrote at length about both the shoe and T.J. the farm hand, but I've yet to discuss the sign. I don't know that I need say anything because sometimes a picture really does speak a thousand words. This sign pictured above is a new addition to the signage at the trail head leading to one of my early season haunts. I think someone has figured out a way to make the best of those days when the fish aren't biting.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Faith and Knowing

I have a sister-in-law who is brilliant in a way I only wish I could be. She earned her Phd researching the cells that comprise the human heart, and now works in the pharmaceutical industry as a technical writer of sorts. As I understand it, she's something of a linguist who translates complicated medical and scientific jargon into more readily accessible colloquial speech. I once asked her why she finds science and scientific literature so appealing. She responded, "It's the knowing."

The knowing.
Indisputable, quantitative, empirical evidence.

It strikes me that herein lies the difference between faith and knowing. To know something is to be certain, assured, without doubt. By contrast, doubt is inherent in faith. To be faithful is to believe something without assurance, without proof. This is true of the devout, who possess an unwavering faith in the divine. This is true of the man who has unwavering faith in his spouse's love. We cannot prove the existence of God anymore than we can prove we're loved by our wives. We cannot know, but we continue to believe.

These are hardly original notions. Aristotle, Confucius, Carl Sagan. Authors and philosophers ad infinitum have debated the nature of truth. Who am I to presume to add anything notable to the discussion?

I'll say only this. I am a fisherman because I am a believer. I cannot know what any given day on the river might bring. I approach each day with hope, with the belief that some thread and feathers wrapped on the shaft of a hook might tempt an animal to leave its element and enter mine. Maybe this is why the beginning of each day on the water is usually so much better than the end. It's the anticipation, the hope, the belief in what lies ahead.

It's also possible that the beginning of the day is better than the end because there's still beer in the cooler. Of course, I have to believe there will be more there tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


In my neck of the woods, the first threat of real snowfall usually comes in November. We might see a few flakes in October, but only in an exceptional year does Halloween snow amount to much. By the Thanksgiving holiday, however, any day might bring eight, ten, twelve inches or more. Such is the case throughout the season until March. By opening day the snows have passed and the earth and water gradually warm. Snow and ice give way to the first of the year's major hatches.

For many anglers, the Hendrickson hatch marks the true start of spring. I've seen the Hendricksons start popping as early as the second week of April.

That won't be the case this year. Why?

It's freakin' snowing!

I don't mean to imply that there are a few flakes falling here and there. No. This is the kind of snow we might see in November or December; the kind that slows traffic to a crawl. The kids will want to go outside to play. My wife won't let them because it's too cold. I may have to check the oil in my snowblower, and find the bag of salt I've stowed in the garage, the garage which I've already given a spring cleaning.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I think the weather gods and river nymphs (mythological not entomological) may be conspiring against me. I've had a single day on the water, just one, and already the season is over.

Ooops. False alarm. Snow's done.

Maybe I was a little hasty.

You've got to love April.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fish Porn

"The Fisherman"

Although I can see him still,
The freckled man who goes
To a grey place on a hill
In grey Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies,
It's long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.
All day I'd looked in the face
What I had hoped 'twould be
To write for my own race
And the reality;
The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved,
The craven man in his seat,
The insolent unreproved,
And no knave brought to book
Who has won a drunken cheer,
The witty man and his joke
Aimed at the commonest ear,
The clever man who cries
The catch-cries of the clown,
The beating down of the wise
And great Art beaten down.
Maybe a twelvemonth since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face,
And grey Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark under froth,
And the down-turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream;
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, "Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn."

- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Of Cabbages and Kings

Two years ago I nearly began trout season with a murder. Had it not been for Ben, I would today be writing a blog about prison tattoos and the best shade of lipstick for an evening on D-block. The Rusty Cage: Ruminations on Life and Art in Attica. Thankfully, Ben had been there, and his wit was keen as ever. I won't recount the entire episode as the day is briefly chronicled here. Suffice to say I'm thankful to have avoided any culpability in the demise of a toothless hillbilly.

I mention opening day 2007 only for the sake of juxtaposing two very different people, two very different attitudes.

Type one lacks courtesy and any sense of decorum. If you're lucky then you've managed to avoid him. He doesn't understand why you might expect him to wait to fish a run or pool until after you've finished. His daddy taught him to fish you see, but daddy skipped the lesson on etiquette. Type one smokes two packs of Camels a day, and drops one pack's worth of butts along the riverbank like he's Hansel leaving a trail of crumbs through the forest. He's the kind that keeps a trophy fish, drags its carcass to every bar in town for the sake of demonstrating his worming prowess, and then discards the remains in a back alley dumpster. Type one grates on one's nerves like salt in a wound.

Type two expects courtesy from the people he meets only because he is a courteous man. He waits patiently on the bank while you fish his favorite run, mildly suggests you not forget to try in front of the rock, and smiles broadly when you catch a few. His father taught him to fish with live nightcrawlers and salted minnows, but the lesson began with courtesy. He smokes two packs of Camels a day, and keeps a Ziploc bag in his creel just for the butts. He's the kind of guy who kills a trophy fish, and brings it home to his wife who then prepares it for dinner. Type two is salt of the earth.

T.J. was obviously a type two kind of guy.

Adam and I had been fishing for twenty or thirty minutes when a man and a woman, each wearing hip boots and carrying spin gear, approached from the far side of the hole. They nodded a greeting, which we returned. Neither said so much as a word, nor did they approach closely enough to wet a line. A short while after their arrival, Adam took an impressive rainbow, the largest either of us has seen come out of this particular creek. "Brown or rainbow?" the man asked. Adam replied, and the four of us struck up a conversation. We continued to fish for another few minutes, and then conceded the hole, which certainly had more fish to offer up, to T.J. and his wife Mary. Why? Courtesy.

Our fathers taught us right.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The previous entry detailed Adam's discovery of an interesting piece of footwear alongside one of our favorite early season haunts. I think the shoe makes for a good story insofar as it makes for a unique story. I am absolutely certain that I could poll every fisherman in New York state, and not a single one would report the same opening day experience. What makes the story even more interesting is that it didn't end with the shoe. Neither did the story begin with the shoe. No, the shoe appeared in medias res. The story starts with a green Stanley thermos, a road sign and a farmer. More later on the sign and the farmer.

"God loves the infantry," or so my company commander used to say. Like several of the men in my family, I was a soldier. The colloquial terms are "bullet stopper" and "canon fodder." I prefer "grunt." I was infantry; I carried a rifle and humped a ruck. I was and still am damn proud of it. There isn't day that goes by I don't think about the Army. My time as a soldier informs every decision I make. In some small way, I owe every success with which I've been blessed to my time in the First Infantry Division (if you've got to be one, be a Big Red One). Thank you Captain Moyer, wherever you are.

I mention this by way of explanation. Soldiers, especially infantry soldiers, live on a strict diet of caffeine and nicotine. Three days sans sleep aren't so bad so long as there's some coffee to help take the edge off. Nodding off in a foxhole, cigarette smoke envelopes you much like the loving arms of a grandmother. It's true.

It's also true that my addiction to these two substances has lasted years beyond those I spent in uniform. I recently quit smoking, seventeen years after I started. Drinking coffee, however, will always be with me. I've had at least one pot a day, every day since I was in boot camp. UPS delivers five pounds of Dunkin' Donuts whole bean coffee to my door at the first of every month. More often than not, I have to purchase an extra pound to see my way through to the next delivery.

Much of that coffee has found its way into my Stanley thermos. This trusty transport of South American ambrosia, has been with me since my first visit to the PX (the military version of Walmart). I purchased the heavy, aluminum and stainless-steel Stanley rather than other, more contemporary models, simply because I remember my father having one. Thanks Dad. Stanley has survived a fall from a three story window. He's been run over by a tank (true story), and fallen off the top of the car at least a dozen times as I pulled out of rest areas. Stanley has been to nearly all fifty states. He's seen the Battenkill in Vermont, the Madison in Montana, the Tongue in Wyoming and the Thompson in Colorado. He's been with me on every opening day since 1996.

That is to say that he's been with me on every opening day except the most recent. Adam and I left my home at 4:30 in the morning, giddy as a pair of school girls as we anticipated the day. I pulled away having forgotten Stanley, undoubtedly leaving him hurt and dejected. For ten hours he awaited my return, and stood morosely alongside his cousin the coffee maker. When I finally returned just before three in the afternoon I think he must have been happy to see me. The coffee was still hot. God bless you Stanley. Next year you're the first piece of equipment in the car. I promise.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Opening Day Part I

"Hey Cinderella, I found your slipper." With that, a sparkling silver stripper-shoe fell to my feet.

Stripper-shoes, including the one atop my wading boot, have seven inch heels and four inch platforms (measurements courtesy of WikiStrip). Genuine stripper-shoes are available in only two makes and colors, silver vinylette (like the one pictured) and clear plastic. Most dancers opt for the clear plastic model. It's a little more practical and much more versatile than its metallic cousin in that it matches nearly any g-string and resists stains from beer, watered-down blended whiskey, day-glow body paint, and whatever else might mar the finish of one's shoes during a lap dance. Clear plastic stripper-shoes are a working girl's steel-toed boots.

By comparison the silver shoe is only ever paired with sequined thongs, and must be meticulously cleaned and maintained. Only dancers in what is euphemistically called an "upscale gentleman's club" will opt for the silver shoe, and even then it is donned only for brief stints in the champagne room. For fear of being sued by the ACLU, I must also mention that roughly twelve percent of San Francisco's male population opts for silver stripper-shoes during the city's Folsom Street Parade. I digress.

It was 7:30 in the morning. After five months of being frozen and home bound, almost one half year of winter, I was fishing one of my favorite early season trout streams. I had already been on the water for two hours. I was feeling revitalized by the chill mountain air. I was losing myself in the rhythm of the stream and casting a fly. I was at peace with myself and confident of my place in the universe, and at the height of this Zen-like moment Adam threw a stripper-shoe at me.

Are you freakin' kidding? This has to be a joke. Nope. Not kidding at all.


I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was. Opening day isn't just trout fishing. Each and every opening day is a story. Sometimes the story is about the fish, but more often than not the story is about the landscape, the camaraderie, the quintessential big picture. On April 1st, 2009, a small part of the story was a stripper-shoe.