Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Suspension of Disbelief

I'm not going to write about my most recent fishing trip. You wouldn't believe a word of what I had to say.

I'm not going to tell you about the ten ... or twenty ... or thirty steelhead we caught. The numbers don't matter, and you wouldn't believe them anyway. You would say we snagged fish ... or lined them ... or flossed them ... or whatever. Your mind couldn't get itself to wrap around so many fish, so eager to take a fly. I know. Believe me, I do. A day like yesterday is unlikely to happen in November or April, let alone January. I'll just skip it.

Likewise, I'll probably forgo telling you about the size of the fish. I realize how likely it is that several twelve pound hens and a similarly sized buck come to hand in a single day. The odds are against it happening, just as the odds are against any number of 11 pound fish following hot on the heels of their outsized cousins. There's no point in mentioning any of it. You'd cry shenanigans. You'd want to certify my scale.

I won't bother to tell you that at one point in the day, we were all so fatigued that netting a buddy's fish became a chore.

You wouldn't believe that the day marked one fella's 40th birthday, and another buddy's first steelhead. I know ... I get it ... what are the odds?

All I can say for certain is this ... if such a day had happened, it would certainly never happen again. Such days are once-in-a-lifetime events. They're not to be taken lightly, or for granted. Most importantly, such days are not to be forgotten.

If they ever happen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Feature

If you look in the right-hand column of this page, you'll see I've added a polling feature to the blog. My intent is to use the results of the polls to drive the content of the blog ... and that may or may not happen. I realize this isn't exactly an Earth-shattering development in the blogosphere, but it's a big deal for me. I'm technologically inept, and the process of copying and pasting HTML code is a big step into the 21st century. In the future, if you've ideas for polls then I'd like to hear from you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Steel ... bows?

Stealing a cue from fellow blogger, Drew Price, I'd like to take this opportunity to once again venture into the ridiculous argument that is West Coast versus East Coast steelheading.

Put a cap in bobber-boy's ass
I'm yet to meet the man or woman who can adequately explain to me the differences between West Coast and East Coast (Great Lakes) steelhead. Lacking a degree in marine biology, and having no left coast experience, I can't say for sure that any of the chatter I've heard is either true or untrue. Finding someone to consult who has fished both coasts has proven difficult, which I think might be very telling in and of itself.

I've a tendency to focus my less than empirical eye - however momentarily - on the obvious. West Coast steelhead are anadromous while Great Lakes fish spend their lives in fresh water. After much research, I believe that this may be the only indisputable fact in what has been a prolonged and sometimes onerous debate. Aside from this nugget, there is little objective evidence of any difference between fish on opposite ends of the country.

Two strains of steelhead inhabit the Great Lakes, and as best I can tell, two strains of steelhead inhabit the West Coast. The first is Skamania. Skamania steelhead - as I'm sure you know - are a summer run fish that generally move into Great Lakes and coastal tributaries in late spring, and will sometimes continue on their spawning runs until early September. The second variety of steelhead found in each watershed are Washington strain. These fish begin their spawning runs in September, and will remain in the river until late spring. Both fish present intrepid bug chuckers with tremendous angling opportunities, especially during the winter months when one is generally limited to tying flies or spending time with the wife's family.

Science tells us the fish swimming the Great Lakes are genetically identical to those fish found out West. Indeed, the first plants of steelhead into the Great Lakes were done in Michigan, and the eggs used in those original stockings came from coastal fish. If Great Lakes steelhead are simply rainbow trout, then so too are those fish on the coast. Why then do some folks insist on calling Great Lakes steelhead, steelbows?

Seems to me that if they're steelbows here. They're steelbows there.

If you didn't know I was a Great Lakes fisherman, would you know this was an East Coast fish?

I think the demeaning chatter we sometimes read or hear about Eastern and Midwestern fish comes primarily from two sources. First - as one might expect - Great Lakes steelhead have any number of critics on the West Coast. These folks feel that for a steelhead to be a steelhead, the animal must be anadromous, spend the vast majority of it's life in the Pacific, and only enter coastal rivers when it is ready to spawn. Any steelhead that does not spend a significant portion of it's life in the salt is simply an outsized rainbow trout.

Again, science tells us that these anglers are absolutely wrong. The fish running West Coast rivers are the genetic dopplegangers of their East Coast counterparts.

These same folks might concede the common genetic roots of East Coast and West Coast fish, and instead choose to argue that while Great Lakes and ocean run steelhead share a common ancestor, they experience very different lives. To survive life in the world's oceans requires an animal to be made of hardier stuff than composes a freshwater fish. Coastal steelhead grow to larger proportions and fight with a ferocity that is generally lacking in freshwater steelhead. In a way, this is the piscatorial equivalent of the nature versus nurture debate. Fish are products of their respective environments.

Again, I cry shenanigans. An animal's environment may have an effect on that animal's behavior, but it does not change the fundamental, genetic character of the animal. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

And while I'm thinking of it ... can anyone ... anyone ... explain exactly how life in the Pacific makes for a gamier game fish than does life in Lake Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, or Ontario?


On to the second group of pundits.

These folks hail from the East Coast and the Midwest, and they actually fish the Great Lakes. They enjoy catching Great Lakes steelhead (although they might not admit it), but they want to be part of the West Coast club. Perhaps they need recognition. Perhaps they suffer from deep seated feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps their daddies never played catch with them. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same. Whether for feelings of inadequacy, the need to be accepted by West Coast naysayers, or the absence of paternal love, Easterners that refuse to embrace their own steelhead ... well ... they're just sad.

In the final analysis, I have to admit that I would love to fish for West Coast steelhead. The Olympic Peninsula appears to be a beautiful place, and I think I'd like to experience that kind of beauty. If that day ever comes, I might even concede to fish with a Spey rod and traditional flies. Why not? That does not mean, however, that I'm not grateful for what I have. The Great Lakes are tremendous fisheries, and I could do a lot worse than to fish here the rest of my days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grease and Pickle Spears

Many of my posts dance around one particular theme.

Fishing is about so much more than the fish.

Of course, if one is a fortunate then one's trips to the river are successful. You catch a boat load. You catch colossus. Your wrist is sore from the fight, and your face is tired from the smile. But there really is so much more, and I'm not talking about the scenery, camaraderie, or time for quiet reflection. I'm not talking about any of the metaphoric gobbledygook about which Hollywood or literary types might write.

I'm not even talking about the beer, although I'm glad - after a long lay off - to have rediscovered the restorative properties of this particular libation (read about it HERE).

It occurs to me that many of my favorite fly flinging haunts, and most memorable fishing trips are usually accompanied by genuinely fantastic food. Some of it is so good - in fact - that I think I've an obligation to share it with my fellow bug chuckers (it's not like I'm giving up any secrets). Before reading any further you should also understand that my tastes aren't particularly refined, and I've a real penchant for salt and bacon grease.

The lower Battenkill (from Cambridge or Shushan downstream) has several notable chow halls. Benson's Diner comes immediately to mind. It's 15 minutes from the river, but worth the drive if you're into steak and eggs or clam strips. If you're not in the mood for a sit-down meal then give the ice-cream stand a shot. An absolutely killer chocolate shake can be had if you catch it on the right day. Sadly, it's usually the wrong day, but if the stars align then I can promise you a thick, frosty beverage you're not soon to forget.

The upper 'Kill is graced by the State Line Diner, so named as the trailer that houses the restaurant rests on the border of New York and Vermont. The appearance of the building is such that only the gastrointestinally courageous will even think about stopping. This is how it should be as only the gastrointestinally hardy will likely survive the encounter. If I should ever need a quadruple bypass then chances are that at least one of the blockages is the result of the State Line's fried eggs.

Bennington, Vermont is blessed with several notable locations: the Blue Benn Diner, Tastee Freeze, and The Rattlesnake Cafe. The Blue Benn is cash and carry; don't even try to use your credit or ATM cards. The waitresses are a little surly, but the restaurant is an institution, and the standard diner fare is worth the attitude.

The Tastee Freeze in town has the very best fish fries and clamboats I have ever had (believe me when I say I've some experience in this arena), and the french fries are all cut fresh from whole potatoes. Similarly, the Rattlesnake is in a class by itself. By way of illustration I'll just say that the Army took me all over the country, and the Rattlesnake makes the best Tex-Mex I've had anywhere including Texas. I know what you must be thinking. Tex-Mex in Vermont? Trust me. It's like sunshine on the tongue.

When I'm fishing the Hudson River and its tributaries for bass, pike and carp, I vote for Hildreth's diner in my hometown of Mechanicville. The river's fish are thick, numerous, stupid, and catching them is especially satisfying after being repeatedly outwitted by springtime trout. Hildreth's reuban is equally satisfying. I've a real penchant for corned beef, and the meat in this sandwich is some of the best. Lean and moist, Hildreth's corned beef is what other sandwich meats may only aspire to be. Don't even get me going about the four cheese, mac and cheese; as close to being gourmet as mac and cheese might ever be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

You May Have Noticed ...

You may have noticed that I've embedded in the right column, my playlist from I think if you peruse the songs on the list you'll find my tastes are ... eclectic ... if not downright schizophrenic. I've put up the list for two reasons. First, it makes it easier for me to access and listen when I'm on the road. Second, I thought my fellow fly flingers might be kind enough to recommend some fishing music. I'm in need of something new. FYI ... not sure how long this will last. Right now I kind of like having some music on the site, but I might tire of it rather quickly.

Monday, January 17, 2011

His name was Robert Paulson

I think it wise if I begin with a bit of a disclaimer. This is likely to be a long rambling diatribe that may not necessarily get to the point - if, in fact, it has a point. You, loyal reader, may want to find a better way to use your time. Perhaps your fingernails need a trim?

That having been said, I'm not quite sure how Ben and I came to discuss the ceremony of our own funerals.

We had been on the river since 8:30, and were enjoying a terrific day. Bitterly cold air, heavy snow, and the annual broadcast of the NFL playoffs had conspired to keep other fishermen off the water. While the fish weren't exactly on the bite, there was enough attention paid to our flies to keep us feeling like men. Our fire gave us much needed respite from the elements, and a hot riverside lunch warmed us in a way that food rarely does.

As an aside, it's amazing just how comfortable a winter steelheader can be when he or she takes the time to prepare for the day (a future post on the blog perhaps).

To the point ... How did we come to discuss our impending funerals?

As Ben and I so often do, we amused ourselves - while we slowly froze - by quoting from some of our favorite films. For Izaak Walton, it was lyric poetry. For us it was Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, and The Big Lebowski.

For no particular reason, we seemed to focus this day's recollections on Fight Club. Specifically, we joked about a scene in the film immediately following the death of the character Bob (a lovely, brutish man who had bitch tits). In the scene, the film's enigmatic and nameless narrator cradles his dead friend's head, and recites Bob's name to the assembled members of the fight club. In short order, everyone begins to chant.

"His name was Robert Paulson. His name was Robert Paulson. His name was Robert Paulson."

Ben and I thought it might be amusing to have someone chant our names during the church service for our funerals, and we made a pact to make it happen. Think about it. "His name was Michael Daley. His name was Michael Daley. His name was Michael Daley." It's all the fun of an Irish wake with just a hint of creepy cultishness. My family would flip. Good times. Good times, indeed.

In honor of our blood oath, Ben and I named our landing / fish handling glove - a washcloth given to my daughter when she was still an infant - after Fight Club's most amusing and strangely effeminate character.

I understand. In death a member of Project Mayhem has a name. His name ... is Robert Paulson.

Today, Robert saw one fish taken on the swing ...
And another taken on a nymph - caught by a dirty ass nympher.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I think I've had something of an epiphany. I've realized - at least I think I've realized - why I've maintained for nearly two years, a blog that few people read, and fewer still would consider of any genuine value. The Rusty Spinner isn't particularly informative. My readers won't learn much about equipment, casting, tying or conservation. Not here. The Rusty Spinner is hardly a money making proposition, and I'm not one of those fortunate few bloggers who are sent the newest products to test and review. Any motivation I have, to do whatever it is I do here, is entirely intrinsic.

So what precisely is my motivation?

The simple fact is that I like to talk fishing, even when I cannot be sure that someone is listening - or reading as it were. I like to tell a story. I like to play with words and manipulate language. I enjoy the act of creation; to watch as I give shape to an idea. To steal a phrase from Whitman, moving my hands across the keyboard is, "To indeed be a god."

And perhaps this is the connection. Perhaps this is why I am both a blogger and a fly fisherman (although always a bug chucker first). As a fly flinger and perhaps even as a writer, I have an opportunity to bring together form, function and style, and sometimes - I think with a little help from both God and nature - to create something beautiful.

Whether it be in the flies I tie, my fumbling cast, or the knots I hastily assemble at the height of a hatch, there is a beauty in all these things. I suppose my flies must appear amateurish when juxtaposed with the creations of more talented tyers. My cast won't win any competitions, but every year I do the job a little better than I did the previous season. I'm a fine tyer of complicated knots, but even so they'll occasionally come undone and pigtail at the most inopportune times.      

But these hurdles and trifling disappointments are of little consequence. Fly fishing and writing about fly fishing  each provide me with a satisfaction I have never experienced in another endeavor. When I am fishing or writing, I am involved. I am invested. I am not concerned with the product; instead I focus on the process.

Once again to steal from Uncle Walt ... "I exist as I am [and] that is enough."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ringing In the New Year

Yes ... I broke a rod. Yes ... it was entirely my fault. Yes ... Adam went for a swim. Yes ... we had to call the trip on account of hypothermia and frozen waders. Still though ... we managed a good day on the water. Somewhere in the neighborhood of six hookups with two fish landed. Not a terrible way to start 2011. If nothing else, I cannot help but wonder just how the rest of the year might look.