Monday, November 29, 2010

Deux Mains

I'm not a particularly religious man, but I do consider myself a person of faith who would never assume to know God's mind. I mean really, who - in the grand scheme - am I? Truth be told, I can barely get through a full work day without screwing the pooch at least once. The big guy upstairs creates the universe in seven days, and I might be able to mow my lawn, and pay someone to change the oil in my wife's car inside of that same week. Pathetic, I know.

In contemplating the divine, my own inadequacy, and bug chucking, I find myself wondering why if God decided to build a natural redundancy into human beings - two eyes, two legs, ten fingers, three testicles -why then is two handed casting not the norm? Why do fly flingers fling their flies with only one arm doing the lion's share of the work. It occurs to me that one-handed casting goes against nature, against divine design.

Here's the thing. On a recent steelhead trip - a four day bender on the Salmon River - I fished a two-handed rod exclusively. I didn't intend as much; I'm hardly a dedicated spey guy. It just sort of happened. I was there. The rod was there. I was a little drunk. Why not?

And I have to say ... I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much - in fact - that I'm considering a bamboo firesale to help finance an arsenal of two-handed sticks, and hundreds of yards of T-14. I'm sure I'll regret this later, but like the lives of so many other bug chuckers my life is a series of regrets strung loosely together, so why not?

Anyone interested in a 7' 4# quadrate that was built on a Payne 98 taper?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Asian carp create nagging fear in Lake Erie towns

WHEATLEY, Ontario – Well before dawn, Todd Loop takes his fishing tug onto Lake Erie in pursuit of yellow perch, walleye and other delicacies — a livelihood that has sustained his family for three generations but faces a future as murky as the freshwater sea on a moonless night.

Already ravaged by exotic species such as the sea lamprey and quagga mussel, the Great Lakes soon may be invaded by Asian carp, greedy giants that suck plankton from the water with the brutal efficiency of vacuum cleaners. Scientists are unsure how much damage they would do, but a worst-case scenario has them unraveling the aquatic food web by crowding out competitors and decimating a fishing industry valued at more than $7 billion.

Nowhere is the danger greater than in Lake Erie. Although the shallowest of the five lakes, its fish populations are by far the most abundant. That's why commercial fishing, which has faded elsewhere in much the Great Lakes region, is still alive in Canadian port towns scattered along the lake's northern shoreline.
But fishermen such as Loop, 48, wonder how long their cherished way of life will continue.

"We're just trying to survive and make a decent living," said Loop. "It's bad enough already, but if those carp get in here . it could be absolute devastation."

Commercial fishermen are already squeezed by the bad economy and regulations limiting the size of their catch. The number of fishing boats and employees has declined by about two-thirds in recent decades, and many of those who remain say they're barely hanging on.

The industry's downfall would be a crippling blow for places like Wheatley, where commercial fishing is not just a pillar of the local economy, but a cultural icon.

"It's absolutely vital that the commercial fishing industry remains strong here," said Barry Broadbent, owner of the Car Barn diner in Wheatley, where local perch is a menu staple. "It puts money in everybody else's pockets."

Lake Erie has relatively mild temperatures and plentiful supply of plankton, the foundation of the food chain, making it ideal fish habitat. In addition to perch and walleye, which the Canadians call pickerel, the lake teems with varieties prized by commercial and sport fishers alike: bass, trout, salmon, whitefish, smelt and more.
On July 31, boosters placed signs at the edge of Wheatley proclaiming it "the world's largest fresh water commercial fishing port." Ontario's oldest and largest fish processor, Great Lakes Fish Corp., shut down a month later in the town of 1,800 after operating just short of a century, idling 130 workers.

The closure was depressing for the tradition-minded community in which the industry provides spinoff jobs such as repairing nets and maintaining boats. Crews shop at local stores and eat at local restaurants.
Settlers established the first commercial fisheries on Erie's north coast in the mid-19th century. By the early 1980s, about 130 vessels operated across the region, employing some 3,000 workers. But the industry has declined across the Great Lakes as improvements in technology and equipment led to overfishing, invasive species took their toll and big operators bought up smaller ones.

To the Canadian fishers, a big foe is the system that sets annual quotas on the amount of walleye and perch that can be taken from Lake Erie to prevent excessive harvests and give both commercial operators and sport anglers a fair share. The limits are set by a committee with representatives from the province of Ontario and the states adjacent to the lake: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Walleye catch limits have fallen drastically in recent years — just 2.2 million fish this year, down from 9.9 million in 2006. Perch levels have fluctuated during the same period, but the committee warns of declines to come.

Some commercial operators insist there's fish aplenty and that the quotas, rising costs and the poor economy have pushed many to the brink. Those like Don Loewen, 69, wonder whether the fishing industry can even stay alive long enough for the invaders to make a difference.

"We will probably die before the carp get here," he said.

Bighead and silver carp, both Asian species, have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries for decades. They're now on the Great Lakes' doorstep, threatening to enter Lake Michigan through Chicago-area canals and rivers.

Authorities are trying to repel them with electric barriers, poisons and nets. Five states are suing in federal court to close navigational locks that provide openings to the lake, a move ferry and barge companies fiercely resist.
If a breeding population takes hold in Lake Michigan, biologists say, they could find their way around the tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula to Lake Huron, then south to Lake Erie. How long the journey of more than 700 miles would take is anyone's guess.

"They'll make it eventually. They're good swimmers," said Jeff Reuter, director of Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory.

This summer, the danger suddenly looked a lot closer. Biologists discovered Asian carp had advanced farther north than previously thought on the Wabash River in Indiana, which has a tributary that seeps into wetlands near Fort Wayne. They say the carp could slip across the marshes during floods and reach the nearby Maumee River. From there, it's a straight shot to Lake Erie.

"Of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie would be the most feasible place for them to become established," said Roger Knight, a biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The characteristics that make the lake hospitable to perch and walleye would apply equally to the carp.

An Asian carp infestation wouldn't necessarily doom other species, said Duane Chapman, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist. Sport fishing is holding its own in some places where carp have gained a foothold — particularly the Missouri River, where anglers are still snagging catfish.

But experts agree it's likely that at least some species would suffer.

In Port Stanley, another Lake Erie fishing village, Larry Jackson's response to the Asian carp threat was a fatalistic shrug. At 73, he's seen lots of ups and downs in a lifetime of fishing. He was co-owner of the Wheatley processing plant that recently went bankrupt. A big financial hit, but he still has his lakefront fish shop and two tugs.

If the carp invade, Jackson said, he'll respond the only way he knows how: by catching them. Their flesh could be turned into patties and sold in Asia, where it's already popular, he said.

"If I'm given lemons, I'll make lemonade," he said. "If I'm given Asian carp, I'll make fish sticks."

Original Link

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Public Service Announcement: Pulaski Palsy

Today smelled like steelhead.

It was warm, probably somewhere in the high 50s or low 60s, with heavy cloud cover, and a slight foggy haze enveloped everything.

Smelled like steelhead, indeed.

And while I could not make it to the river today, I know there were probably a few hundred bug chuckers who did. Some of those long rodders were running Estaz eggs off an indicator; others were swinging Akroyds on a 500 grain Skagit and six feet of T-14. Some were probably hooking up, especially early in the morning, and again in the afternoon. A select few were likely hooking up all day. Some of those fellas - the boys hooking fish throughout the day - are tormented by a disease euphemistically dubbed Pulaski Palsy.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Volume IV classifies Pulaski Palsy as an offshoot of Tourette's Syndrome, although the research on a correlation is a little spotty. Pulaski Palsy - or PP as it's known amongst bug chuckers - is characterized by problems in communication between brain cells, a misfiring of the synapses that will usually manifest itself during the initial run of chinook salmon into Lake Ontario's tributaries.  The resultant symptoms rarely subsist until the last of the following year's summer run steelhead have dropped back into the lake.

The real danger of PP, the reason we desperately need to find a cure, is the tics often associated with the disease. Initially presenting as excessive, inane speech, these involuntary movements often progress to a violent flailing or jerking of the limbs.

The men and women featured in the following video clearly suffer from Pulaski Palsy, and seem to indicate the spread of the disease beyond the northeastern United States.    

As the video demonstrates, the earliest research into the affliction suggested that PP was limited to bait chucking fishermen and lead slinging snaggers. Later studies indicate, however, that Pulaski Palsy is not species-specific; an increasing number of cases amongst bug chuckers has been reported in the area in and around the Lower Fly Fishing Zone of New York's, Salmon River. Standing on the bridge in Altmar and looking upstream, one may see any number of fly fishermen - and the disease does seem to effect men more so than women - who set the hook with ever increasing frequency and rapidity. Every twitch of a bobber or stoppage of the line causes the victim's arms to jerk up and to the side, up and to the side, up and to the side.

Currently, there exists only one known treatment for Pulaski Palsy. This remedy demonstrates 100% efficacy, although multiple applications may be necessary.

Lara Croft

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Remember the original Star Wars films as they appeared on the big screen? Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and the ever imposing Darth Vader? Remember the Death Star, Tie-Fighters, and the Millennium Falcon? C3PO and R2D2?

Of course you do. Star Wars has become part and parcel of America, a slice of our collective unconscious. We've all dreamed of living in a galaxy far, far away. As such, I do not think it's entirely unreasonable to believe - or rather, hope - that you might remember one particular scene in the final installment of the trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. 

As the scene opens, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, and has become the favorite wall decoration of interplanetary criminal kingpin, Jabba the Hutt. Intent on rescuing Han, his friends attempt an ill conceived prison break. Among his would be rescuers is one time romantic rival, Luke Skywalker.

Skywalker enters Jabba's desert fortress, and is soon accosted by a pair of guards. With a simple raise of his hand, the puzzled duo retreats into the shadows. Then Jabba's majordomo - Bib Fortuna - confronts the young Jedi. Skywalker is the first to speak.

"I must speak with Jabba now."

Fortuna answers in Huttese, clearly denying Skywalker's demand.

Skywalker raises his hand and insists, "You will take me to Jabba now!"

In subtitled Huttese, "I will take you to Jabba now."

"You serve your master well."

"I serve my master well."

Unfortunately, the Jedi mind trick doesn't work so well on Jabba, and the rescue attempt gets a little more complicated.

What has any of this to do with fly fishing? Truthfully, it has nothing to do with bug chucking, but I witnessed something earlier this month that made me think of that one particular scene in George Lucas' film.

The boys and I were on day three of a four day trip to New York's, Salmon River. Officially, we were chasing steelhead, but we were all happy to take whatever the river offered. And she gave us quite a mix. Sure, we caught steelies (some big boys too), but we also tied into kings, Atlantics, and browns. Some of the fish were small, but most were measured in pounds. I digress.

One of the fellas with whom we fished is something of a regular on the Salmon. Bert Turner has been running the river's holes, and drifting its runs for nearly 30 years. He knows every nuance of the place: every rock, every seam, every cut. He's been the tutor to some of the very best fishermen I know, and by the end of the trip I had nicknamed him Yoda - Master Yoda if you're nasty (yes, that's a loose allusion to Janet Jackson).

Do or do not ... there is no try!
Allow me a moment to explain precisely why Bert reminds me of the diminutive, grammatically challenged Jedi Master.

First, the guy can catch fish - a lot of fish. In simplest terms, I think Bert must have some sort of piscatorial ESP. He uses the force to see steelhead in their lies; he knows when they're moving, when they're holding, when they're likely to be caught, and when they have lockjaw. For two days, Bert was hooking fish with nothing past the rod tip but leader and fly ... in spots where the rest of us had been wading not 15 minutes prior. Twice Bert hooked large fish that I lost at the net. He simply shrugged and smiled a knowing smile. Never a harsh word or disapproving look. Master Yoda is a consummate teacher.

Second - and more to the point - Bert has mastered the Jedi mind trick.

As anyone who has fished the Salmon River and surrounding watersheds can tell you, the tributaries to Lake Ontario can be something of a circus. The river and its cousins are within a day's drive of several major metropolitan areas - New York City, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Buffalo, Boston - and on any given day the parking areas along the river might be packed with vehicles from four or more states. I would be willing to bet that the Salmon receives more fishing pressure than any other cold water fishery on the east coast. In order to stake claim to a particular hole or run, one had best plan on arriving early. By early, I mean one had best be rigged and to the river an hour or so before sun up. Unless, of course, one happens to be fishing alongside Bert Turner.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.

If you're fishing with Bert, you're guaranteed the opportunity to fish whatever piece of water you might like. For example, on day three of our trip Bert, Ben, and I had hoped to fish a section of river known as Paradise. Paradise is the perfect steelhead run. She glides about 150 feet from head to tail, and is two to six feet deep along her length (depending on water levels). If it isn't the most popular section of the river, then it's probably number two or three. We arrived at about ten o'clock to find ten or fifteen bug chuckers spread throughout its breadth. Ben and I settled for some of the marginal water that was available, while Master Yoda sauntered up to the fella' who was fishing the choicest spot at the head. The conversation went something like this ...

"Beautiful day. Any luck?"

"Kiss off!"

"I'd rather fish here."

"Kiss off!"

Bert slowly waved his hand in front of the angler's face.

"You want me to fish this water."

"Come to think of it, I want you to fish this water."

"You want me to smoke one of your cigarettes."

"Care for a smoke while you rig up?"

And just like that Bert, Ben and I found ourselves alternating through the head of Paradise. Ben hooked an enormous fish that fought the way you want a steelhead to fight, especially if it's going to come unglued before it comes to net. Bert hooked up several times, and even I managed a couple of smacks. Altogether it was an interesting and instructive day.

To close, I leave you with this. Should you ever find yourself on the Salmon River, and feeling a disturbance in the force, then you had best step out of the water. Chances are that the master has his eye on your end of the run. It's best if you just let it be.
Looks a little like Greedo, don't ya' think?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Swinging for Steel

All that follows, currently appears on the Orvis News blog. The author, Shawn Brillon, is a friend, and he's given me permission to reprint the article on The Rusty Spinner. The events Shawn recounts happened on a recent trip we and some other friends took to New York's, Salmon River. Together, we hooked too many fish to count, including the beautiful buck steelhead pictured below, which Shawn took while swinging an Orange Heron.

Swinging for Steel

In all they years that I have been going to the New York's Salmon River, I always spend a day or two swinging big junk waiting for that magical tug. Well, last week I not only got that tug, but I brought the fish to hand—and to make the success ever so sweeter, it was done in the presence of my fishing buddies. Every fly fisherman has had those days: you hooked up and landed a beauty, only to share that epic moment with…uh, yourself. No pictures and no witnesses, so therefore it never happened in the eyes of your fishing buddies.

This time was different. One of the boys was skeptical about the swing, arguing that you catch way more fish running egg patterns under an indicator. I didn’t try to dispute that fact, but I knew that a really big fish coming to the swing was a great possibility. I also knew that if I were to hook up on a hog with 1X, I had a better chance of getting the fish to hand than my friend with his 3X. In fact, as we were discussing the merits of both styles of fishing, I hooked up on a fat brown of 10 pounds or more. After I released the gorgeous trout, my buddy commented , “Well, bro, you're off to a good start.”

It wasn’t more than 20 casts later when the big boy grabbed solid, and the game was on. This time, the whole crew was in attendance to share this epic moment of nailing a hog on the ultimate way to catch a steelhead…on the swing.

In three days of hard fishing, I swung up four steelies and four browns over 10 pounds. To my friend's point, he caught more fish with the egg, but the BIG boys came to the swing.

Shawn Brillon resides in Vermont and is an Orvis Rod & Tackle Product Development Specialist

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Salmon: A Video Montage

A sampling of some of the better moments from two recent trips to New York's, Salmon River ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Have you ever met someone that you knew - absolutely and positively knew - shouldn't be allowed to swim in the deep end of the gene pool? We're talking about someone who lacks the gray matter to remember to hold his or her breath when bobbing for apples, let alone reasonably handle the responsibility of reproduction. Fortunately, I don't often meet people who are that far gone, but one recent encounter does stand out in my mind.

Last month, I floated the river with Shawn (no ... Shawn isn't the subject of this diatribe). The air was crisp, the sun was bright, and the water was just right for a float. We brought along a new boat, swung some new flies, and drank what I suppose was more than our share of pale ale. The river gods saw fit to grant us a few hook-ups, and even if nothing we caught was too terribly large, it was enough to be satisfied. By anyone's yardstick we had a fine day.

What made the trip especially gratifying was that river seemed to have recovered a little bit.

This year's trout season witnessed a brutal summer. The heat was absolutely relentless, and the effect of this heat on the river was exacerbated by the dryness of a Saharan July and August. The river was as low as I've ever seen it, and warm enough to effectively cook the few wild trout that inhabit its riffles and pools.

If you're an occasional reader of The Rusty Spinner then I'm sure you're capable of imagining the scenario. Browns and rainbows were packed like so many canned sardines into the river's springs. Big fish. Small fish. Even crayfish. Everything with an earnest desire to survive faced nose first into a handful of cold water seeps. Round about the second week of August, I received a phone call from a friend that lives on the banks of the river.

"Mike, you should come up for a visit, and be sure to bring a rod."

"Today Frank? Why? What's going on?"

"Not sure why, but there are ten or twelve browns - each well over twenty-inches - packed into the spring by the house."

Two things helped me to keep my composure, and refrain from giving Frank a tongue lashing. First, he's an older dude, somewhere in between 70 and 80. Older guys get a pass every once in a while; they've paid their dues after all. Second, he broke his neck last summer, but when he did he went right on tilling his garden. He's a tough old bird, and his 160 pound, wiry frame could probably do a fair job of kicking my ass.

"Frank, do you know why those fish are there?"

"No, do you?"

"Yes, Frank, I do. They're jammed up into that spring because it's providing them with the only cool water, and probably the only oxygen for half a mile. If those fish move out of that spring they'll likely die."


"Yeah, Frank ... oh. Do me a favor, and keep those browns between the two of us. I'll come up for a visit, but I won't be fishing."

"Great. I'll have Barb make us a few sandwiches."

And so it went for most of the summer. I avoided the river and its trout because I knew that not to do so could have serious implications for anything I hooked. Mind you, I'm not against killing a fish. Fishing - even the elevated, sometimes snooty sport of flyfishing -  is a blood sport. I mean, come on, the whole point of the game is to impale your quarry with a chemically sharpened piece of Japanese steel. In most parts of the world, that's not a very nice thing to do.

So, while I'm not against killing a fish or two, I am against killing anything - fish or otherwise - senselessly or needlessly. That's why I spent the hottest part of the summer chasing bass and carp. That's also why I wanted to murder the fella' Shawn and I met at the end of our recent float trip.

He was a young guy, maybe in his early to mid twenties, with a shock of red hair akin to Raggedy Andy. When he saw Shawn and I drift to the gravel bar and pull our boats ashore, he made a bee line for us. Without even taking a breath, he started in with the expected questions.

"How'd you boys make out?"

"Enough to keep us busy."

"Anything of any size?"

"Just a couple of dinks."

"Nothing rising?"


"Fish here often?"

Softly and to ourselves ... "You'll never know."

Shawn did most of the talking. After eight hours at the oars and more than my share of a twelve pack, I wasn't in the mood to make a new friend. Besides, it didn't take Big Red very long to spill his guts and start bragging. As a rule, I avoid braggarts as much as is possible.

"You boys shoulda' fished here over the summer. Woooo boy ... it was something. The water was real, real low, which was great. The fish were concentrated in every riffle. You could catch ten or twenty in a day. Some big ones too. When I tell people about this place, they just don't believe it, but I bet you guys do. Man, it was just an awesome summer."

I almost lost it. This guy should have known better. He was young, but he was hardly a kid. Taking as much pleasure from the river as he did, he clearly had a responsibility to exercise a little common sense. But that isn't the point of this missive.

The point is this ...

I had a responsibility to take advantage of a teaching moment, and offer something to that young man that he may not have received from anyone else. I couldn't be sure that he knew enough to stay off the water when the river was in such poor condition. I failed to live up to my responsibilities as an angler and a steward of the river. I failed because I was tired, and because I generally avoid speaking to other fishermen. I am secretive to the point of being antisocial, and this attitude does nothing to help the river.

So, from now on I won't be such a curmudgeon. I think the river is a special place, and I have to accept that other folks might think so too.