Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Year In Pictures

A very quick photographic summary of a year that has come to a close far too quickly ...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Old Farts

There are those days when we're willing to walk for miles to find the right fish ... not just any fish, but the right fish. There are also those days when we're willing wander the countryside, and perhaps - both literally and metaphorically - wade upstream all day looking for any fish at all. And then there are those days when we want it to be easy. We don't want to hike ourselves into blisters and moleskin. We don't want to struggle to find a big fish. We don't want to sweat. We want it to be easy. We need it to be easy.

We need a day of steelheading without the sore shoulders that sometimes accompany swinging an Orange Heron on a 15' sink tip with the 13'6" big gun. We need eager fish. We need plentiful, eager fish. We need gentle wading, and perhaps most importantly, we need a short walk back to the car.

What we need is a run that oozes steelhead: four or five feet deep along most of its length, few snags but plenty of current breaks and structure, heavy riffle at the head and a gradual incline at the tail. Swing it or nymph it ... you'll bang 'em. We need a run with a name indicative of the kind of fishing one might expect to find there, a pool that comes complete with its own lounge chair.

What we need is ... Old Farts.

Old Farts Pool ... 11' 8# switch ... Ommegang Three Philosophers ... Three great tastes that go great together (at 9:00 in the morning)

So glad Great Lakes steelhead appreciate rubber legs as I do

Pretty sure, however, that they do not share my affinity for rubberized net bags ...
The pool is literally 75 feet away from the parking lot ... usually a bad thing ... sometimes however ... the best of things

Monday, December 5, 2011

We'll Get 'Em Next Time

Yesterday, I hit the river with Pat Cohen of Got Bronze and  R U Superfly fame. As is always the case when Pat and I fish together, we began the day with high hopes. As is sometimes the case when Pat and I fish together, those hopes were quickly dashed upon the jagged rocks of the river.

In truth, we hooked a few fish, which was a few more than some bug chuckers hooked and far fewer than others put in the net. The fish we tagged fought well, and we nearly brought each of them to hand. Ultimately, it just wasn't meant to be.

I did manage a few shots of Pat while fighting one of the steelhead he hooked. Of course, he didn't catch the fish (my fault ... poor job of tail grabbing), but he did look sharp while doing it.

For anyone interested in such things ... Superfly was fishing a 40 year old Fenwick fiberglass rod. I'm not sure if the rod made him look better or if he brought something to the rod. Either way, it did make for a striking picture when the rod doubled over with the weight of a steelhead. 

We'll get 'em next time Pat.

Friday, December 2, 2011

On New Friends and First Fish

It is a moment that remains crystal in one's mind regardless of the passage of time. Indelible, impossible to forget, not unlike the first time you kiss the woman you love. You're not quite sure what is happening when it happens, but you feel something you've never before felt. You're aroused, excited, and so full of hope that you think your chest might burst from the pressure. When it's over, you desperately need to feel that way again ... and again ... and again.

You've hooked your first steelhead.

I remember that first fish better than I remember my last fish; it must have been twelve or fifteen years ago now. We were high sticking a run that I now know is among the most popular for dirty-ass nymphers like myself (an affectionate appellation that I happily wear with pride).  My friend and guide for the day had been quite successful, and netting his fish - there were several - had begun to sting. The occasional skipper had somehow managed to impale itself on my fly, but the river gods had so far denied me the joy of a returning steelhead. Hours into the day ...


My indicator made the drift from left to right as it had so many times before, but on this run it stopped abruptly and was dragged under the surface. I stood dumbly watching the little piece of orange and yellow balsa shoot upstream through the current. The hook set itself - almost involuntarily - as the line drew tight against the rod. A steelhead - a real steelhead, not a skipper, not a ghost - somersaulted out of the water, turned, and ran back downstream.  

I never brought the fish to hand, which is - I suppose - why it swims still in my memory. My buddy suggested the chromed-up hen weighed at least 15 pounds. Who can say? She was big. She was strong. She was fast, and she was one hell of an introduction to what is arguably one of the finest - if not the finest - game fish found in freshwater.

Fast forward fifteen years to the weekend before Thanksgiving, 2011. The boys and I are on the second day of a three day steelheading bender. We did well enough on the first day, but our metal-lust was hardly sated. Joining us for day two is Shawn Combs, a native Kentuckian who has never caught a steelhead. As the day progresses, he watches as the rest of the group hook fish after fish, and I can see in his eyes the same fatigue and hopeful anticipation, which I had felt so many years before.

Shawn Combs ... wishing it would happen.
Although he was too much a gentleman to say it, I am almost certain he thought it ...

"When is it going to be my turn?"

And slowly the morning haze gave way to noon day sun; noon eventually made its move toward night. The hours slipped away, and Shawn went without a pull. Eventually, there were just minutes left in the day. Like soldiers defending a fallen comrade, we converged on the crestfallen Kentuckian. Tippet is cut. Knots are tied. And then with only moments left in the evening ...


Shawn hooked a steelhead.  A steelhead - a real steelhead, not a skipper, not a ghost - takes Shawn's fly and shoots off downstream. Shawn tried frantically to bring the fish under some semblance of control, and just when it seemed he had gained an advantage, the fish turned straight back at him. It leaped only a few feet from our intrepid steelheader, and just as it quickly as the chaos began, so too did it end. The fish was off.

Game over.

As we shouldered our gear for the trek back to the car, I took a moment to console Shawn.

"I lost my first one too."


"Yep. Schooled me. You did a much better job than I did."

"There's hope then."

"Hell man. This is steelheading. All you ever have is hope."

I didn't have the heart to tell him I lost my second, third, and fourth fish too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pornography ... Courtesy of the River Gods

Not too long ago, the boys and I took three days to fish New York's, Salmon River. The trip was exceptional for many reasons, not the least of which was the fishing.

To say we did well might be a bit of an understatement. We caught more fish than the river gods had likely allotted us, but we worked hard to put them in the net. No two fish took the same fly. Some wanted eggs, others took nymphs, and a few slammed the hell out of half chicken skins, swung through the seams.  

As with all things pornographic ... we begin with a bald man ...

Like Cyclops - the defacto leader of the X-Men - should Shawn remove his glasses, a beam of light will burst forth from his eyes and destroy everything in its path ... this brown was one of the lucky ones.
Not sure why ... but looking at that photo of Shawn, I am reminded of Ming the Merciless - a little Flash Gordon flashback for ya' right there.
Ever wonder what they're thinking when they stare at you like that? Bet if they had legs, they'd kick you in the ...

Catching them is great, but watching them swim away is especially gratifying.
Anybody play guitar? Is that a G chord Ben is plucking on this fish?
Even the small fish can spool you in an instant.
Hard to say how many fish we hooked in this run ... more than two, less than 100.
It's an amazing fishery that provides an environment for fish like this ... clean, strong, fast ... and abundant.
Hard not to finish the day with a grin like that ...


Monday, November 28, 2011

Greetings from New Zealand

Ruhan Neethling has made several appearances here on The Rusty Spinner. He's a world traveler, top notch bug chucker, and an artist whose skill at the vise approaches that of the most accomplished fly tyers. Since Ruhan and I began our correspondence, he has made several trips to New Zealand, and each time he has sent along some photographs for my perusal and enjoyment. It's hard not to be jealous, and just as easy to forget how bountiful our own, local rivers may sometimes be.

So, here we go again. Ruhan recently went back to Kiwi-land, and once again I have to ask that you raise your glasses to toast to my man on the other side of the globe. He's proof that fly fishing is universal in both its appeal and its madness.

FYI ... in the message that was included with the following photographs, Ruhan laments that this year's trip didn't witness any of the really big fish he saw during last year's trip. I couldn't help but laugh ...

Look at the size of that adipose ...

This picture could just as easily have been taken in the Battenkill or the Yellowstone.

Another skipper ... not sure why Ruhan bothers with the little guys.

Trout live in such ugly places.

Wouldn't it be a shame to wake up to this view every day?

Guppy ...

I wonder if there are any big trout in New Zealand.

Double jealous ...

Nothing at all fishy about this spot ...

The fish is yawning because she's bored ...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mustad to be Sold

Norwegian investment company is the surprise bidder for iconic hook brand
After months of fevered speculation, the future of troubled Norwegian hook manufacturer Mustad looks to have finally been assured.

In a surprising twist to the long-running saga which has seen both Rapala and Pure Fishing linked to moves to acquire Mustad, Norwegian industrial and investment company, NLI Utvikling, has announced its intention to purchase the company.

The owner of NLI Utvikling, Borre Nordheim-Larsen, this week notified the Norwegian Competition Authority about the ‘possible acquisition of O.Mustad & Son AS’. He told it that some financial matters had yet to be settled, but that these were likely to be resolved in the next month after which a final decision on the acquisition will be made.

News of NLI Utvikling’s interest in Mustad has come as a shock to industry insiders as it was widely expected that one of the angling industry’s giants would eventually acquire the iconic hook brand.

Relatively unknown outside its homeland, NLI Utvikling, describes itself as a company that has a tradition in investing in companies in ‘demanding’ situations.

In a press statement the company said: “NLI Utvikling sees great potential in further developing the Mustad world brand.”

NLI Utvikling is a privately-owned and independent investment group with a strong tradition and deep roots in Norwegian industry. Since its inception in 1946, it has grown into an organisation that has nearly 1,300 employees and in 2011 had revenue of approximately 2.3 billion NOK.

It is said to invest in companies with potential for growth, but which find themselves in ‘demanding situations’.

Mustad seems to be an ideal fit for its growing portfolio as the company’s financial woes have been widely reported in the media. Speculation over its future heightened earlier this year when it closed its troubled Philippines operation – making around 200 employees redundant – and announced its decision to concentrate on its core business of hook manufacture.

NLI Utvikling currently has interests in the oil, gas, hydropower and renewable energy industries as well as the property and health sectors.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Per Angusta Ad Augusta

We should have known. When we pulled off the exit and the first flakes started to fall, we should have known. On this trip to the river - a November ritual that unites our small group of friends in the pursuit of piscatorial perfection - the river gods would be exacting their dues, but we were hopefully giddy and otherwise oblivious. We ignored the omens, and paid heed to no portents. We continued off the highway, and spent the next two and a half hours crawling along blizzard blackened back roads.

Midnight ... somewhere west of Rome, New York ... Notice the rod rack installed on the hood of the man-van.
Day one had us crawling out of Brenda's bunk beds, bleary eyed, exhausted, and cursing our decision ever to pick up a fly rod. We fumbled through the process of donning our gear, slid into the car at 4:30 a.m., and were stumbling down the trail that leads to the river by 4:40. We set up our day camp and drank our first Jetboiled coffee more than an hour before sunup; we drank our first beer an hour after daylight.
Mad Elf ... hoppy, tasty, and 11% ABV ... that's the sweet stuff.

Years had passed since I last fished the run, and she changed substantially in the time since our last dalliance. The roaring rapid at the head had been replaced by a gentle glide that slid into a long riffle. That heavy riffle then split into two distinct seams - steelhead would surely hold in either lie. The tailout was much the same as ever, aside from the three current breaks that divided the water into thirds; the confluence of these three eddies looked to be the perfect place to swing a fly.

As is often the case on the Salmon River, we hooked up with hot fish shortly after first light. Ben was first to bring a steelhead to hand, and shortly after Shawn followed suit with a corker of his own. Both were good, solid fish that tore the hell out of the water, and reminded us of why we chase steelhead.

Shawn's first fish of the trip was arguably one of the best fish of the trip.

Darkened by days in the river, but no less acrobatic than its chromed up brothers and sisters.

As for me ... well ... the river gods deigned that I was to pay penance for the group's continued success. I hooked fish that first day, quite a few fish by anyone's standard, but there's many a slip twixt a cup and the lip. The fish I hooked were slippery indeed. Each made a fool of me in short order.

What I felt after those steelhead came loose - either by throwing the hook or splitting my tippet - was akin to what a pugilist experiences when he's on the receiving end of a low blow. Nausea burned in my gut; my mind was a flood of frustration with my piscatorial impotence and anger at my deplorable luck. By the end of the day, I reeked of negative energy, and was ready to forever forgo November steelhead.

But that's the thing about steelhead. Chasing these fish is simultaneously one of the most frustrating and singularly gratifying experiences a bug chucker might have. All it takes is one fish. One fish and you're suddenly impervious to the cold. One fish and you don't mind snagging dozens of painstakingly-tied flies or losing yards of over-priced tippet. One fish and all the fish you've lost become so much background noise. All it takes is one fish.

They're all so fast ... oftentimes it is impossible to keep up.

And after 12 hours in and out of the water on that first day, cast after fruitless cast, I finally hooked that one fish. When Ben slipped the net under his snout I was exhausted. My hands shook, my legs trembled, I was effectively snow-blind, but none of that mattered. I had a fish in the net. I could touch it. It was real, not a ghost.

One fish ... even a gnarly, river darkened buck ... that's all it takes
Fly fishing - fly fishing for steelhead in particular - is a sport of small victories, and the hopeful anticipation that precedes those few, fleeting moments of triumph. Likewise, fly fishing for steelhead is a sport of frustration, irritation, vexation, and the particular anguish that accompanies complete and total defeat. Even the best amongst us know the bite of such defeat. It is these moments, however (times when we curse our fascination with water and with woods), that make sweeter those too few moments of victory.

Per Angusta Ad Augusta.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Like Father Like Son

Shawn Brillon is one of several talented product developers who work to bring the Orvis company's ever expanding line of fly fishing goods to market. Perhaps more to the point, he is among my closest friends. Like any man who is both a father and a fly fisherman, Shawn does what he can to impart his love of the sport to his boy. More often than not, this means that Shawn and Riley tool around the lake in Dad's drift boat, looking for midging trout or post spawn bass. At least once a year, however, Riley and his father make the trip to the Salmon River in hopes of finding some chromed up steelhead. This year R.J. showed his old man how to get the job done. 

I had to use an old photo of old man Brillon as this year the river gods took a shine to young RJ.

Like father like son.
Hang on there kid.
Makes me wonder why I wasted my adolescence on girls.
Must have been one hell of a day. Well done RJ.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Best Fishing Trip I Never Went On

I consider myself a fortunate man. I'm blessed with a wonderfully understanding wife who does her very best to tolerate my obsession with bug chucking, three children who - at least in this early stage of their lives - both adore and respect their father, and a small but tight-knit circle of friends who share my passion for tight loops and an evening spinner fall. Within an easy drive of my home are myriad opportunities to cast a fly in warmwater, coldwater, or saltwater, and my career is such that I'm usually in position to take advantage of these opportunities whenever they arise. Again, I'm a lucky guy.

When I consider that I've been casting a fly, however poorly, for a little over thirty years ... well, I have to admit that the avalanche of memories brings a smile to my face. There are certainly far worse ways to spend the better part of three decades. I owe this and so much more to my father, who had the foresight to give me that first fly rod. I'm grateful, and while I don't know that I could ever repay the debt I owe my dad, I do try to pay it forward whenever the opportunity presents itself.

To that end, I've taught any number of people to tie flies and cast a long rod. I've watched as these folks grow to appreciate that water as I do. In some ways, the small part I've played in the development of each of these anglers affords me the opportunity to live vicariously through their experiences. It feels good to see someone catch a fish on a fly I've taught them to tie, to throw seventy feet of line after a casting lesson, or read the water and locate a fish without any suggestions from me. I suppose it's a teacher thing. The carpenter or mason can step back from his or her work, and know that he or she has done a job well. Teachers can only look to their students, and hope the successes those students achieve might just have something to do with the teacher's tutelage. This brings us to Ben.

Ben and I have fished together quite a bit over the last three or four years. I've helped him clean up his cast, taught him how to tie some knots, and to wrap a hook with fur and feathers. In return, he's helped me rediscover my passion for steelhead, and to think creatively when sitting at the vise. Ben has an artist's eye; I do not.

In the time we've shared stream side, I've watched Ben come into his own as a bug chucker; I'm almost sad to say that he no longer needs my instruction.

That he no longer needs my help was obvious on a recent trip Ben took to Idaho with his uncles. Everyone caught fish, and they did so in some of the most beautiful places in this country. I wasn't able to tag along - although I was invited - but I did get to enjoy the trip vicariously through Ben's photographs and stories. Some of those moments, he's most graciously agreed to share on The Rusty Spinner. With luck, you'll be able to live Ben's vacation as I have. I should tell you that it's probably the best fishing trip I never went on.

The road in...

The Hairy Ass Stone Fly @ the tailout.

No unicorns but a lot of these guys.

The snow had ended...applying desiccant to a blue wing olive.

You should see this place rock on Movie Nite.

First morning...


...more neighbors

Quick Fix...all waders leak.