Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You do not talk about Fight Club

The narrator of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Fight Club, and his alter-ego Tyler Durden, would make fine fishermen. Why? They've the good sense to keep their collective, dissociatively disordered mouths shut. Silence is the first rule of Fight Club. Silence is the second rule of Fight Club. "You don't talk about Fight Club" (For the sake of further emphasis the contraction is omitted in the screen play ... "The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club"). Similarly, silence is the proverbial golden rule of fishing.

You don't talk about the river. Just in case that isn't clear, I'll say it again. You do not talk about the river.

When you talk about the river you lose your right to complain about ever increasing crowds of people fishing your favorite runs. You lose the privilege of receiving fishing reports from those folks who exercise a little more verbal control. You lose the security that comes with knowing, absolutely knowing that there is a quiet place where you'll someday teach your son or daughter to read the water. When you talk about the river you lose your key to the inner sanctum.

Pete (last name omitted to protect the guilty from lynching) once talked about the river. As a matter of fact he went so far as to play guide, and one of his sports caught an enormous brown, which topped five or six pounds. For that brief moment Pete was a hero, and in the six years since that moment, positively no one has mentioned the river in conversation with him. Pete has been ostracized. He is, in the words of Robert DeNiro, outside the circle of trust.

Pete's case illustrates an important point. It is the deep-seated, almost primal desire to be a hero that motivates talkers. Talkers need recognition. They need for someone to acknowledge that they're competent and that they've done a job well. In an effort to gain such satisfaction, a talker will spill his or her guts to anyone willing to acknowledge the talker's prowess. Talkers unload their bowels where they sleep, and are later surprised at the smell.

Understand too that talkers often do more than just talk. Sometimes they play at being a guide. Sometimes they write magazine articles or books. Sometimes they just hang stuffed fish on the wall, and eagerly anticipate the inevitable, "Where d'ya get that one?"

Sometimes they blog.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Willy Loman

In the fascinating world of literary criticism, an anti-hero is any character in a dramatic work who lacks the noble qualities of a typical Romantic hero. Anti-heroes are often weak, unsuccessful, and sexually impotent. They're pathetic, and in being pathetic they endear themselves to their audience. Anti-heroes are Everyman. They're the guy who gets laid-off from his job at the mill, and wrestles for a week with telling his wife (who incidentally was cheating on him with his shop foreman). They're the guy in math class who sits next to the girl of his dreams, and never makes a move because he thinks she's out of his league (she later takes vows of celibacy and joins a convent because she thought no man would have her). They're the guy who spends twelve hours on the water, changes tippet and fly dozens of times, watches his partner catch one fish right after another, and when the day finally ends he goes fishless but not before falling in the river twice.
I am Everyman.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Memoriam

This Memorial Day weekend I find myself thinking of the men with whom I served: Fitzpatrick, Kowalski, Magana, Sgt. Johnson, Capt. Moyer and so many others. I wonder where they are. More to the point, I wonder how they are. I'm sure that even as I write, several of them are walking the streets of Baghdad or climbing the mountains outside Kandahar. By now they've made rank, and are leading those missions. I'm sure they're making us all proud, and comporting themselves as do all professional American soldiers.

Regardless of your political stance or your opinion on either of America's wars, I ask that you please consider donating your time or money to Project Healing Waters, which is a group "dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings." Click
here for PHW's homepage, here for a list of associated businesses and donors, or here to make a donation. Donating couldn't be easier, and the cause couldn't be better.

The men and women PHW serves have given us all so very much. Let's give a little back. If my readers can collectively donate $400.00 or more this weekend, I will give myself a thorough dunking in the river (waders on ... vest and rod stay on the bank), and post the photo here. I'll take you at your honor, just drop a note detailing the amount of your donation in the comment section of this post or drop me an email (see my profile).

"No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great—Duty First
- First Infantry Division

Thursday, May 21, 2009


If you Googled cannabis, Rastafarian, bud, stink weed, Bob Marley, Indiana ditchweed, Ziggy Marley, hippies, ganja, zombie weed, Acapulco gold, hemp, bambalacha, dope, chronic, fry daddy, Panama red, spliff, skunk, Mary Jane, sweet Lucy, blunts, KGB, herb, 4:20, Birkenstocks or William Jefferson Clinton then I am sorry to say you've landed in the wrong place. You'll want to navigate away from this page as there is likely nothing here for you. If you're a flyflinger, however, then pull up a chair.

Let's take a moment to talk about grass. I mean the type of grass with which some of us fish, and not the swag that Vermont college-students grow under hydroponic lamps in the basements of their 93 year-old grandmothers' homes. I'm talking about bamboo baby. Tonkin cane. Arundinaria amabalis.

What is it about rods made from culms of Chinese grass that so enthrall so many flyfishers? I'm sure some readers will take umbrage with the notion that modern graphite and boron rods are far superior fishing tools, but it's difficult to argue the other way. Generally, rods made from contemporary materials are lighter and more responsive. They track straighter, and allow an angler to cast farther (in the right hands). Modern plastic sticks go a long way toward making relative neophyte flychuckers seem like twenty-year veterans. And yet ...

A Payne 202, in good condition but not cherry by any means, just sold on Ebay for over $5000.00. Somebody desperately wanted that rod. A year or two ago, an excellent Payne 98 (7' for a 4#) sold on the very same cyber flea-market for over $8000.00. If you find a Gillum for sale, expect the price tag to be somewhere over the $10,000.00 mark. Check out the websites of Len Codella, Bob Selb and any number of other classic tackle dealers, and you'll find similarly priced rods available for sale. If demand drives market prices then we have to assume someone wants all of those rods. What is it about bamboo?

I can't be sure why, but truth be told I've got the bug. I've often thought that maybe it's the history I find so appealing. All but one of my bamboo rods is at least 30 years old. When I fish with them, I find myself wondering who fished the rod before me. Was he or she an avid angler or a weekend warrior? What rivers did he or she frequent, and by extension where has this rod been? I'm connected to the past in a way that just isn't possible with any of my plastic sticks. Maybe it sounds hackneyed or trite, but with a bamboo rod in my hand, fishing isn't just about fishing. With bamboo I leave my imprint on the rod; I become part of the rod's history.

I suppose that is why I find myself stringing up bamboo rods more and more often. It's just one of those things I do to ensure that fishing isn't just about fishing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Truth and Tape Measures

Looking back over some of my previous posts, I am struck by just how improbable many of my stories must seem. I live in a quiet corner of upstate New York, only thirty odd minutes from the capitol city of Albany. I'm about two or three hours north of New York City. Many fly flingers in this area spend thousands of dollars and their entire lives chasing a twenty-inch trout, and I'm sure that many readers come to one of two conclusions when reading my posts.

1) This guy is full of some serious shiznizzle (props to Snoop Dog for giving us such a wonderful euphemism). There aren't that many twenty-inch trout in the Albany area.

2) This guy thinks he's telling the truth, but clearly he does not carry a tape measure. If he does carry a tape, then perhaps he's confused standard and metric measurements, and is actually recoding the size of his catch in centimeters. I bet he's French Canadian.

I've tallied the fish Ben, Adam and I have taken this year, which measured (notice my choice of verb here) over twenty inches. At twelve, the total is actually rather remarkable. What may be even more remarkable is that as a group, we measure every trout we catch, which we think may top 18 inches. I mention all of this not for the sake of blowing smoke and singing my own praises, but rather to discuss the apparent paradox of being honest and a fisherman. Why do some fishermen (again diction here is important) feel the need to exaggerate the size of their catch? I see two possibilities.

1) Fishermen who lie have tiny genitals and they're compensating. Streamlined and torpedo-like as fish are, they're really just waterborne phalluses, and fishermen always seem to be chasing a bigger piscatorial penis. Caught a twelve incher, and you want a fourteen. Fourteen and you want sixteen. Sixteen and you want twenty. Look at the cover of nearly any fly fishing periodical, and you'll see a euphoric fisherman, grasping his catch with both hands, and holding it aloft in such a way as to say, "Look everybody, I got a big one!" Maybe these fellas have seen too many Extenze commercials (It's hard to believe that a simple capsule could make a man larger). Who knows? Conversely, those gentlemen who carry tape measures might do so as a means of crystallizing proof that they're ... umm ... blessed.

2) Competition. The river is a great equalizer. She doesn't care if you're short or tall, skinny or fat, young or old. The river pays no mind to the kind of car you drive or the size of the house in which you live. How intimidating must it be to face one's shortcomings head-on? One cannot compensate for a poor backcast with fleet feet, a beautiful smile or a biting wit. Six-pack abs, enormous breasts or rock-hard glutes do little to improve the form of your double-haul or the effectiveness of your flies (although the caster's appearance can make flyflinging more of a spectator sport ... go about 3:15 into this video to see what I mean). In the final analysis, the measure of an angler is strictly his or her skill, and the most tangible fruit of one's skill is a large, wary fish. I think we're dealing with some primal need to be the alpha-dog. It's almost Freudian, which of course brings us back to number one.

Of course, it might just be that I'm full of it. Yep. That's it. I'm completely full of it. Just don't bother to ask where I fish. I'd hate to have to lie.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Tonight, I have to offer my congratulations to two close friends. Each made a milestone in terms of fly fishing, and both deserve some recognition.

Four or five nights ago, I began to teach Ben to tie flies. We started simply, with this blog's namesake, the rusty spinner. I think my friend will admit that he thought his first attempts at wrapping thread and dubbing on a hook were amateurish and unworthy of some of the fish we chase. His spinner didn't quite look like mine, but understand that I am hardly a world class tyer and Ben has an artist's touch. His flies were as good as any I've seen, and were far better than the first few I tied so many years ago. To try to give him a little confidence, I told him that which I've told every fly tying student to sit with me at the bench. I'm sure every fly tying tutor has suggested something similar to his or her students. "Ugly flies catch fish. In fact, they very often catch more fish."

Two days after completing his first whip-finish, Ben proved this little quip true and did so in grand style. He took a twenty-one inch brown; a twenty-one inch brown on the first fly he ever tied. Dear God, my flies didn't even take bluegills. I flogged the water for over twenty years before I finally took a twenty-inch trout on a fly I tied. Well done Ben! For making my night, I owe you yet another six-pack of that hate-strong, 12% beer you drink (actually, it's so hip and trendy a foo-foo brew that it's only sold in four-packs).

A second congratulations goes to Adam. Precisely one year to the day after having lost an enormous fish on a relatively remote section of the river, he returned and stung a similarly large fish. Adam has been fishing for over thirty years, and for twenty years or so he's been chasing a twenty-four inch trout. Today, for the first time in his life, he met the mark he set for himself so many years ago. At 7:00 p.m. I received a phone call from a giddy and seemingly intoxicated, 37 year-old man who today took a 24.5" hen brown. Only moments later he landed a 23" male, with a kype so out-sized that the animal could not fully close its jaw. Wow! You've got to love those honkin' big streamers.

I have to admit that some small part of me is jealous. Who wouldn't be though? I don't know that I have ever had a day to equal what Adam experienced today. I've taken precisely one fish that big, just one, and I caught it years ago. More than anything else though, I wish I had been there to see a friend do so well. Well done sir. I think you owe both Ben and I matching four-packs of that 12% sludge we drink.

Monday, May 11, 2009

All the Difference

You've made the two hour drive to the river, selected one of half a dozen ridiculously expensive rods, strung it up with a similarly expensive line, pulled on your breathable (breathable because they leak) waders, fought to wedge your foot into a pair of shrunken boots, and selected a fly to match the spinners in the air. Now you're left with a question. Which way to go? Left or right? East or west? Upstream or down?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.

Upstream is the safe bet. You know fish will be rising on the bend come dusk. Some of those fish top twenty inches, and they are gloriously and exceedingly stupid. You know this because you've caught some of them, and you're hardly a genius. Yup. Upstream is the safe bet.

Downstream is something of an enigma. You've heard there's big fish down there, enormous fish in fact. Mike lost a real bruiser on an eight-inch streamer five years ago. That sucker supposedly spooled his CFO, and snapped 12 pound Maxima like it was thread. What's-his-name took a 27 inch, kype-jawed male about eight years back. There's said to be a picture somewhere. You've heard the stories, and the water downstream looks just fishy enough for those stories to be true. Your luck, however, has never been worthy of a story.

Such was my dilemma this past Saturday. True to her magnanimous nature, Boss Lady granted me a pass to fish so I made the one hour drive to one of my favorite haunts. In short order I donned all my gear, and stood on the edge of a freshly plowed farmer's field wondering which way to go. Upstream or down? The certainty of big fish upstream or the fleeting hope of legendary fish on the downside? A thunderhead was threatening to crest the mountain and fill the valley. I had an hour, maybe two. Upstream or down? Upstream or down?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by.

Yes, I went downstream, but sadly I didn't catch any of those fish of legend. I did, however, hook and play one for ten or twenty seconds. He (and I say he because I saw his kype and it made me envious in the Freudian sense) would likely have measured an honest twenty-eight to thirty inches, and maybe nine or ten pounds. He was the largest stream-bred brown trout I've seen in years. It was the fish of a lifetime, and I lost him when he breached and bent the hook straight. My hands shook for 30 minutes. I swear he smiled, winked and blew me a kiss before we parted company.

My only solace is that I now know where he lives. I know the drift. I know the fly. Colossus and I are going to revisit our tango. Such is the birth of obsession.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


What is it they say? Opinions are like ... what is it now?

Don't worry. Mama taught her son better than to curse in a public forum. We'll keep it "G" rated (here comes the trite, rhyming innuendo).

Bass-poles. Yup. That's it. Opinions are like bass-poles. Everybody's got one.

Flyfishermen (many of whom have bass-poles, some of whom are bass-poles) are full of opinions. Which rod, reel, wader, line, tippet, vest, boot, nipper is best? Ask and you'll get an answer. It will usually be a long, detailed diatribe in which the angler extols the virtues of his or her gear and derides the failings of your outfit. Freshwater or saltwater? Bass or trout? East coast or west coast? Everyone has an opinion, and sometimes we appreciate the thoughts of our fellow anglers.

What's the best substitute for florican bustard? Like Porsche, there is no substitute.

If you had only two days in Bozeman, where would you fish? Heck with fishin', the Walmart RV park is where it's at.

What's the best way to shimmy out of a pair of Simms G3s when Mother Nature comes calling? Given your height, weight and expected bladder volume, you won't make it in time. Drop the lip eight inches, quickly calculate arc and trajectory and fire your mortar over the top (I refuse to believe I'm the only one to have done this).

At other times, the opinions of our fellow anglers are simply noisome. What could be worse than casting to an exceptionally large, rising fish, while your friend (who just caught a large fish himself) shouts instruction from shore? You're rattled as it is. You saw the size of the snout poking out of the water, and now your hands shake as you prep your leader and tie on your fly. You get into a rhythm hoping to manage a decent drift, and at this most excellent moment Bozo begins to channel Curt Gowdy and vociferously quote Joan Wulff's casting video.

Great. Just great. Freakin’ bass-pole.

The scenario I've described is anecdotal. It happened only two days ago. I must admit, however, that contrary to what you're likely thinking I'm the backseat driver. I stung a gorgeous twenty-two inch brown, and after shooting a couple pictures, worked my way back to shore for the sake of warming up a bit. Ben, who lacks about 100 pounds of my natural insulation, remained in the water casting to another gulper, which would likely have matched my fish's size. Such a brown would no doubt have been one of his largest on a fly rod.

And the moment never came. Sure, Ben came close. A couple of looks. A couple of nudges. It just didn't happen though, and I feel responsible. I couldn't keep my mouth shut as Ben shivered away in the kind of water that makes one's testicles recede into one's chest cavity. I couldn't keep my mouth shut, and if Ben was rattled at all then it was my fault. I've likely earned 20 years in piscatorial purgatory.

So, today's blog entry is my apology. Ben, I'm sorry. I owe you a six-pack of that expensive and trendy, twenty-hour IPA you drink. I've a big mouth, and I'm sorry. There, I said what I had to say, and now I feel better.

I should mention that the picture of the brown trout, which accompanies this entry, portrays the fish I caught that day. It took a rusty spinner after only two or three casts, and came to net rather easily. Made for a nice day.