Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012: A Narcissistic, Porntastic, Photographic, Piscatorial Review ... and Primus Sucks

We have one more trip planned before 2012 fades into the sunset, but the river nymphs and weather gods may conspire to keep us off the water. It's time for a quick look back ... and Primus ... because Primus sucks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report (Part Four)

Day four. The final 24 hours of our annual steelhead bender. Shawn and Mike had quit the day before, and when my alarm sounded at 3 a.m., I woke hoping the boys hadn't taken our luck with them when they left. Our plan was to get Milo into fish; seventy years on this Earth and the man had never hooked a steelhead. Tragedy of tragedies.

The plan was simple: plant Ben's father in what is arguably the most prolific run on the river, give him the right fly and a reasonable chance to learn the drift, and defend the man from the inevitable low-holers and dog walkers who would try to crawl into the slot. The first part of the plan required us to be the only cars in the parking area at 4:00 in the morning, and while we were the first to arrive, little time passed before approaching headlights told us we needed to head down to the water.

The rabbit runs round the hill, through the loop, and ...

By 4:30 we had humped all of our gear a short distance to an equally short run that is - rather ironically - known as Old Farts. I can't say I'm entirely sure why this piece of water is named as it is; other sections seem more aptly named: Schoolhouse, Trestle, the Flats, Black Hole, Church Pool. Perhaps the run had been named for a group of aged gentleman who once frequented it currents. Perhaps Old Farts is a reference to the stench that hangs perpetually low and oppressive over the water: putrefying salmon, diesel fumes, and cigarette smoke. More likely, the run is named as such because it provides ridiculously easy access to some of the river's best fish and fishing. Old Farts may be the only run in the river where an angler - even a septuagenarian like Milo - can be absolutely sure of his footing as he fights steelhead that are both ridiculously big and scary fast. The process is usually only complicated by those fish that choose a long downstream run. If that happens we'll usually break off so as not to intrude on the folks fishing below us, unless - of course - the fish is exceptional.

As we hoped, the river gods were kind to Milo, and gave him the opportunity to tangle with some very respectable fish. Ben played the part of his father's guide, patiently explaining the mechanics of the run, showing Milo exactly where to place his fly (Milo's switch cast became increasingly accurate as the day went on), helping with fly changes, and otherwise doing what he could to get dad into fish. 

Here is Milo hooked up ... again ... moments before the fish throws the hook ... again.

Unfortunately, the river gods' generosity only goes so far, especially as it surrounds the newest of initiates. Milo hooked several fish over the course of the day. Every one of those fish would likely have scaled 10 pounds or more, but we'll never know for sure as we were not able to put even one into the net.

One of Milo's steelhead haunts me. The fish was an honest 14 or 15 pounds; for most bug chuckers she would have been the fish of a lifetime. As Milo played the thick bodied hen, I found myself whispering little prayers to whatever divinity chose to listen. Everyone wanted desperately for Milo to land that fish, everyone except the chuckleheads fishing just downstream of us.

On the last of its runs, Milo's best steelhead of the day tore off downstream but came ridiculously close to the near shore, perhaps only one or two feet off the boots of the group occupying the territory on that downstream flank. As I chased Big Bertha past the demilitarized zone, net in hand, I explained as I ran (by ran I mean that I was moving as quickly as my morbidly obese backstrap would carry me) to anyone listening that this could be Milo's first steelhead. "Pardon me ... excuse me," I kept repeating. "The old fella's hooked up on a slob - it could be his first fish in the net - and he can't get down here quickly enough to get his line and the fish out of your way."

"Mind if I step in with the net?"

No reply.

Again, "Mind if I step in with the net?"

Blank stares.

"Fish off."

Really? Really.

None of them moved. Not so much as a twitch. I'm fairly certain one of those boys actually stepped farther out into the water solely to complicate things. They had been trying to low hole us all day, and I am convinced their lack of cooperation was deliberate. For the life of me, I just do not understand the logic. They were hooking as many fish as were we. Could the grass really be any greener over our septic tank? Had they moved, I am certain I could have put that fish in the net. Modesty aside, I am generally surgical with a net.

This is what it looks like to get low-holed on the Salmon. On the right is Ben Jose: gentleman, fisherman, sometimes doberman. Only moments before he had been standing in the space on left, which is (in this photo) occupied by one of the river's many low-holing chuckleheads. Ben only moved to the right so as to extricate his fly from a snag. Barely two minutes. Barely a rod length. There you have it.
A consummate gentleman, Milo only smiled, and I am told - quietly whispered to his son that the fish he had just lost was the largest he had ever hooked in fresh water. I hope we can get him back on the water before the first real snowfall. 

As for the rest of us, we all caught fish. Adam brought in his best ever brown trout, and Bennie stung a couple of steelies. I was good for a few myself. Altogether, this year's trip will be remembered as one of the best if not for the fishing then certainly for the personalities involved. I am a lucky man for many reasons. I am blessed with a wonderfully understanding wife who abides my passion for the long rod, three beautiful children who love me without reservation, and friends who are every bit as passionate as am I about swift water and silver fish.

Thanks for a great trip guys.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report (Part Three)

Day three marked a turning point in the trip. Once again we were out of the rack by 3:00 a.m., breakfast was another two dozen eggs (chickens hate us) - this time with a side of sausage (from pigs raised by one of our group, Mike Healy). As soon as we donned our waders and stepped outside the cabin door, we could feel change in the air. Each of us remarked on it. This was going to be the day; we knew it from the outset. For the first time in three days, we were genuinely hopeful (and hope arrived just in time as Shawn and Mike were slated to leave before the end of the day).

Perhaps because we sensed the change, perhaps because we're gluttons for punishment, or maybe because we're simple minded chuckleheads - we decided to revisit the run we had been fishing for two days. To a certain extent, fishing this particular run has become something of a tradition - we get together in November, and we fish this one piece of water. Even more than giving a nod to tradition, however, we were convinced that the fish were there. We only needed for things to heat up and turn on.

As it happened, things did heat up - both literally and metaphorically. Day three witnessed a dramatic change in the weather. The cold front that had been so persistent throughout days one and two finally gave way to weather that was downright balmy by comparison. Whereas the high temperature over the first two days might have scraped the low side of 40 degrees, by the afternoon of day three the air temp had exceeded 60 degrees, and the fish responded.

Everyone hooked fish that third day. At one point, we had hooked so many on the swing, I remember thinking that fishing with the long rod should always be so easy. If the fishing was easy, the catching remained difficult for just a while longer. By mid-morning I had jumped three solid fish, and as they did the day before, each came unglued. As if to rub a little salt in the wound, Brillon's third swung-up steelhead came - once again - to a generic Popsicle style fly in purple and black. Black over purple was the color combination all week long.  

Bug chuckers are a funny bunch. We love our friends; really, we do. We want to see them be successful, and we want to share in that success. We chase their fish with our nets. We photograph their catch, and post the pictures on our blogs. We do this - not because we expect our friends to reciprocate - but because they are our friends, and we love them. But love isn't enough - is it - to take the sting out of a friend's high rod?

While I was happy to see Shawn hook the fish he did, I have to admit that the last one stung just a bit. At the point in the morning when I looked upstream, and watched Shawn's rod buck in synchronized rhythm with the desperate antics of yet another steelhead, I was on the verge of piscatorially induced hara-kiri. I had jumped three fish and had at least two other pulls (maybe three but one might have been that snag that pulls back - you know the one). Yes, when Shawn hooked that last fish ... it hurt.

But the river gods weren't intent on my continued suffering. After a disappointing skunk on the second day and an early morning that saw several fish released at an unacceptable distance, I finally stuck one with which I managed to stay connected. That one fish was all I needed; anything else was gravy.

And there was gravy, but the details aren't of any real consequence. Suffice to say we did well on day three. Shortly after noon, Healy and Brillon decided to call it a day, packed their things, and said their goodbyes. Just before they left, Ben and I were joined by Adam and Ben's father, Milo - both of whom were eager to wet a line. Much planning and attention had been given over Milo's time on the water as he had never hooked a steelhead.

Milo Jose first cast a fly rod some fifty odd years ago. To hear him tell it, he had been rather successful as a young man growing up in Idaho's corner of the Rockies, but his most memorable fish were all caught in San Francisco Bay on conventional tackle and hardware. He didn't quite know what to make of the 11' rod we put in his hands, and our first afternoon on the water was spent teaching Milo a basic switch cast. He was a quick study. After an hour or so of practice, Milo felt his first sign of life at the end of the line.

To Be Continued

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report (Part Two)


Day one left us exhausted and tripping over ourselves as we made our way back to the cabin and up the stairway to our room.We stripped off waders, shimmied out of double thick socks and triple layered thermals, took our showers, and swallowed bowls of seafood chowder. Sleep came quickly, and so too did the following morning.

The alarm sounded at 2:30 - a less than soft serenade courtesy of Google Play and The Dropkick Murphys - I stumbled to the kitchen and started on making breakfast for everyone: eighteen jumbo, grade A eggs and a pot of organic, free trade, wake-the-flock-up coffee. After rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and prepping our gear, we were out the door, into the frosty morning, and on our way to the same run we had fished throughout the previous day.

Our logic for revisiting that piece water was simple: the run is usually loaded with fish and fishermen, but yesterday we saw few other anglers. Absent the occasional wanderer, we had one of the best runs on the river almost entirely to ourselves. We only hooked a few fish, but we were chalking that up to an obstinate cold-front that reportedly had the fish down throughout the length of the river.  We knew the run would break open eventually, and we wanted to be there when it did. So, there we were on day two, in precisely the same spot we had been the day before, staring - headlamps ablaze - into precisely the same fly boxes, hoping for just a little more magic. What is they say about bug chuckers who do the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result?

Photo: Mike Healy
As tough as was day one, day two was that much tougher. A bitterly cold wind came west off the big lake, and traveled - so it seemed - up 16 miles of river valley to the very run we were fishing. That wind stayed with us throughout the majority of the day. Accompanying the wind were any number of anglers, most of whom were kind enough - or perhaps sensible enough - to limit themselves to the extremities of the run. A few stragglers tried to wedge their way into the mix, but for the most part the other bug chuckers we encountered we very courteous, and we did our best to reciprocate. 

Ben was once again the first to move a fish, although he wasn't blessed with a solid hookup. The steelhead - what appeared to be a chromer in excess of 12 pounds - moved to a Wiggle Minnow of all things. The fish slammed the gyrating foam bug as it swam just inches below the surface. Crashing the fly, the steelhead made a vicious boil, and for a brief moment Ben had the attention of everyone on the run. When the whole episode was over, I found myself thinking how swinging a Wiggle Minnow to steelhead would rankle the sensibilities of more traditionally minded bug chuckers. To steal a phrase from my more digitally savvy students ... I laughed out loud.

Shawn was next to sting a fish, and as he did the previous day he quickly guided the outsized trout to a waiting net. This beautifully colored up buck wasn't the biggest of the trip, but he may have been the most photogenic. After a few photos and a fist bump or two, the fish was back in the water with one heck of a story to tell his piscatorial pals, but otherwise no worse for wear.

Bennie's next hookup was the one - THE ONE - he had been hoping for since he started steelheading some three or four years ago. He had done much to prepare: purchased a spey rod and matching line, loaded up with poly leaders and tungsten impregnated tips, worked on his knots, and even tied a few spey flies. He was fishing the bottom end of the run when the fish pounced on his chartreuse and purple intruder. After watching the steelhead's enthusiastic acrobatics I had the privilege of wrapping her up in the net, and snapping a photo to commemorate Ben's first steelhead on the swing. 

First steelhead on a swung fly ... the beard hides the smile
Mike Healy and I were very badly blanked on the second day; I wish I had something better to report, but wishing doesn't make it happen. We each had pulls from seemingly solid fish, but even when we managed to hook up, the result was ... less than ideal.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report


By four p.m. on the afternoon of the 7th of November, the car was packed - items loaded and arranged with double and triple redundancy. For only two men, we had packed three vests, thousands of flies, four pair of wading boots, three sets of waders, eight reels, and six rods. Gloves? Check. Extra wool socks? Check. Fleece? Check. Fly tying odds and ends? Check. Thermal underwear, two sets per man? Check. We were ready to slay some steel, and as luck would have it we were scheduled to leave just a few hours ahead of what was forecast to be the first serious winter storm of the year.

Of course, we left late, and our scheduled five o'clock departure dragged on from five to six and then from six to seven. We finally rolled out of my driveway at 7:15, and counted ourselves lucky that the meteorologists who had earlier warned of an impending nor'easter were once again forced to wipe egg from their faces. The drive to the river was uneventful, but filled with excitement and the nervous energy that is so much a part of steelhead fishing. Two plus hours passed quickly, the time filled with minivan air guitar and the misremembered lyrics to classic metal, including a lengthy course of Iron Maiden.

Photo: Mike Healy
We arrived at the Fox Hollow Salmon River Lodge shortly before ten, where we met the rest of our group at what was to be our home for the next four days. We spent the remainder of the night tying flies, prepping rods and reels, telling lies, and trying to determine where we should set up camp the following morning. Before signing off for the evening, I tacked to the wall for luck a pair of pictures my daughter had drawn for me. Written across the top of each in her best kindergarten script was a hopeful message, "I hope you have a great trip, Love Madison." Before I nodded off for the night, I looked to those pictures and thought, "Thank you Peanut, so do I."

Baby-Girl's mind is in the right place.

There's no secret to being successful on the Salmon River. The simple rule is to fish water that hasn't been trampled under the stampeding hooves of over-zealous anglers. If we choose to fish the more popular runs, then we have to be prepared to lay claim to the water well before first light.In practical terms, this means a 3 a.m. wake-up, a frenetic flurry to load the cars, and four headlamp-adorned chuckleheads stumbling along a well worn trail, praying for that first cup of over-boiled coffee to cut the morning's cold.

Coleman Cooked Deliciousness

Four o'clock turned to five and five to six. By seven we had finished our first pot of "organically grown, free trade, wake-the-flock-up dark roast," and were well on our way to finishing a second. Eventually, dawn cut through the darkness and low hanging clouds, and spread her smile on the water. We spaced ourselves evenly along the run's course - each man had about 100 feet of water in which to swing his flies or drift his nymphs - and we started our rotation.

Bennie was the first to hook up, taking a respectable fish at first light. Stinging a fish as quickly as he did gave us all hope for a very fruitful day, but our hope ultimately proved unfounded. Several hours passed before Shawn had his first pull, a fish that was there and gone in no more than a heartbeat.

One in the net
The day continued in much the same fashion. A cold front that had rolled in during the early hours of the morning lingered throughout the day and made fishing difficult. Near noon, Shawn eventually managed a second tug. This time the fish stayed put, and in fairly short order, Mr. Brillon was hefting a colored-up buck for a quick photo.

Hiding behind the tail, he looks a little like a steelheading gremlin - don't ya' think?

By the time Shawn hooked that fish, I have to admit that I was feeling a little underwhelmed by the day, and I suppose such a feeling is one of the dangers of steelheading. We bug chuckers have a tendency to build up in our minds our too-few trips to the river. Every time we hit the water we dream of glory, but more often than not we fall short. We aren't necessarily disappointed; it's just that most days could not possibly live up to our overly hopeful expectations. This is especially true on steelhead water. Of course, it is equally true that as soon as we begin to assume the worst - at times when we allow our minds to wander off in a funk - we're often caught off guard and sometimes even pleasantly surprised. Such was the case in the hour or so before our first day came to an end.

I followed Bennie in the rotation; I had been following him for over eight hours. My legs were tired. My shoulders ached. My mind drifted off to thoughts of dinner and drinksIf I had been expecting the universe to come unglued the way it did, then I suppose it would not have happened at all. But it did happen. My cack handed cast dropped the fly - a four inch monstrosity that was gaudy as a prom dress - a foot or two off the far bank. Ten feet of T-11 quickly dragged under the feather duster; she swung slightly slower than the river's current and drifted into the heart of the lane.

Tap. Huh?

Tap. That had to be a fish. Maybe?

Tap .... Bam!

Any attempt I might make at describing the struggle that followed would be inadequate. For the sake of brevity, I'll only say that I had no control over the fish - not until the very moment when I guided its head into Ben's waiting net. Twice I was into my backing. Twice he took me downstream to the edge of the tailout only to change his mind and run just as far upstream. After touching the fish just to make sure he was real and snapping a few photos, I watched him swim off into the tanic water and discovered I was absolutely content with what had been - only moments earlier - a rather difficult day.

Funny, isn't it? The effect a fish can have on a man ...

To Be Continued 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Broken Glasses

Funny, don't you think, how easily we become attached to things. Not people. Not places. Not ideas. Things. Consider, for example, that I own three bamboo rods. This is barely the hint of a collection, and I am hardly a connoisseur, but I do cherish the rods nonetheless. Truthfully, I'm infatuated with them in a way that borders on clinical obsession, especially when one considers that they rarely ever see the water. I tell myself that I'm holding tightly to the trio so that I may someday pass them onto my three children, but that's not entirely true. I would like for my kids to appreciate fly fishing and bamboo rods as I do, but in the end I expect the rods will be buried with me.

My 7' 4# Quadrate ... love that little stick.
But not everyone is drawn to rods as I am. If you're a reader or follower of this blog then I suppose there's a chance you appreciate over-priced tomato stakes as I do, but there's as good a chance that bamboo does nothing for you. Instead, you've likely a favorite fly box or lucky hat. Maybe for fifteen years or so you've been driving the same, slowly disintegrating Nissan pickup - she's carried you to every river you've fished for nearly two decades. You might cherish your old Hardy Lightweights, or it could be you collect flies designed and tied by notable tyers. Regardless, I think it fair to say that you each own at least one item - probably an item in some way related to fly fishing - with which you would never part. For my good friend and fishing partner, Ben Jose, that item is - or rather was - a pair of sunglasses.

Future's so bright ... he has to wear shades.
Sunglasses? Hey, I'm right there with you. I don't understand it either. I mean, they're sunglasses, right? Most of us lose at least one pair a year, but to hear Ben tell it, these sunglasses were special. They had traveled the country and the countryside as Ben's loyal companions; they had been witnesses to some of his finest and worst moments as a fly fisher. They fit like an infant fits into the bosom of his mother: warm, safe, and loved. They were a comfort. They were essential.

They were.

And now they're gone, having been crushed under the weight of a linebacker sized man and a studded wading boot. Their paths collided in the early morning haze of the river, and now this object that was so very precious, simply is not. Ben's prized sunglasses - trusted friends who had traveled with him to Minnesota, Colorado, Idaho, and numerous points in between - are nothing more than mangled plastic and glass.

In the moments after the sickening crunch of polarized glass filled the otherwise silent morning air, Ben was struck by an unexpected thought: his glasses simply did not matter. We were on the third day of a four day steelheading binge. We had caught fish when river reports were almost universally bleak. Ben took his first steelhead on the swing, and we were sharing a great piece of water with the best of bug chuckers. How could Bennie possibly be upset over the demise of his sunglasses when so much else was going so well? For four days at least, sunglasses and bamboo rods just did not matter. Moments mattered and the people who shared those moments mattered. For Ben, the moments that most mattered on this particular trip were those he spent with his father.

Make no mistake, Milo showed the boys how to get the job done
Milo Jose - septuagenarian, devoted husband, father of three, himself one of 15 children, long time bug chucker, and former Exulted Ruler of the local Elks lodge - was joining us for the final two days of our four day annual odyssey. Milo had never caught a steelhead. Milo had never hooked a steelhead.



A steelhead.

Imagine you have the opportunity to take someone to the river, and put him into his first chromer. Imagine the pressure, the anxiety you might feel, as you stand by your sport's side hoping for that first hookup. Imagine seeing him make that first solid cast. Imagine his fly making just the right drift. Imagine the line going taught as a ten pound, silver jump-jet spools the reel of its line. Imagine the smile on your sport's face, the grin spread from ear to ear. Now, imagine that sport is your dad.

Could there possibly be a better moment, a better gift for a son to give his father?

So what if Milo's first fish wasn't a ten-pounder? This little guy may be even more memorable.
I hope that Milo enjoyed the day as much as his son and I did. I hope that Ben finds a new pair of sunglasses to replace the old, but more to the point I hope Bennie remembers fondly those streamside moments he spent with his dad. More than anything perhaps, I hope that when the time comes, my own son will think enough of me to share with his old man a day on his favorite steelhead run.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#%@&tards: Redux

In less than a week, I'll be on my way to the river for the boys' annual steelhead trip. Each of us looks forward to this trip for different reasons, but come October each of us is similarly distracted from thinking of much else. Steelhead. In honor of the upcoming trip and the fellas who have made this trip something of a tradition, I bring back a piece that I wrote following last season's trip. Some of you might remember ...


Every November, the boys and I make the annual fishing trip to New York's, Salmon River. My wife asks why I describe this as the trip rather than a trip, given that I'll make at least two suicide runs (read: one day road trips with a minimum five hours drive time) per month throughout the fall and winter seasons. My bride asks a perfectly reasonable question, and I suppose if I stop to think about it, this trip is special for several reasons.

First, the November trip is a mini-vacation of sorts. The boys and I each take several days off from work, kiss our respective wives and children goodbye, and dive (metaphorically, of course) into the frigid autumn waters of several nearby Lake Ontario tributaries. Second, the duration of the trip allows us to behave more like boys than grown men. We generally don't do anything illegal, but given that we haven't any particular responsibilities for a short while, we do allow ourselves to relax in a way that might be frowned upon if we did it in the polite company of our families (a little "thank you" goes out to the Ommegang and Lagunitas breweries). Third, early to mid November is generally the only time of year when all of us can get together at the same time. That this assembly is a once-per-year event may be a good thing for our families, the towns of Altmar and Pulaski, and the local members of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Of course, there are certain draw-backs to wetting a line in the tribs that time of year. Anyone who fishes the Great Lakes with any sort of regularity - especially in that span of weeks between early September and late November - has almost certainly had a run-in with a #%@&tard. #%@&tards are the living, beathing, walking, talking personification of rudeness, and they're the sad reality of fishing western New York for potamodromous steelhead.

Whatever sense of etiquette a #%@&tard may have at home ... well ... he or she (yes, women are            #%@&tards too) abandons that behavior once in the vicinity of the big lakes. #%@&tards have an uncanny propensity for ruining an intrepid steelheader's day. As such, I think it incumbent upon me to help my too-few readers identify a #%@tard should they ever find themselves wandering the shores of the Great Lakes. How do we know a #%@&tard when we see one? It's not so easy as the uninitiated bug chucker might think.

What makes spotting a #%@&tard so difficult is that they might carry heavy action spinning gear or center-pin rigs, but they could just as easily be bug chuckers swinging spey rods or single-hand nymph rigs. They might tie their own married wing Jock Scotts, but they could also be spotted carrying jars of neon or glow-in-the-dark Power Bait worms. A #%@&tard might wade the river's currents in high end breathable waders complete with battery powered leg warmers, but they're as likely to be found in Gander Mountain neoprenes or Red Ball hippers. Ultimately, one can never tell a #%@&tard by his or her appearance, and certainly never by the gear he or she carries. One discerns a #%@&tard based entirely on the #%@&tard's behavior, and that behavior is easily recognized.

#%@&tards are the folks who insist on crossing a river through the very run you're fishing. Once on the far bank, #%@&tards will set up shop directly across from you, and toss their line over yours on every fourth or fifth cast. #%@&tards will step into your spot if you so much as dare to stop fishing for the sake of netting your buddy's fish, let alone to smoke a cigar, eat a sandwich, or pee in the woods. #%@&tards would crawl right up your backside if they thought there might be a steelhead inside.

And all of this brings us back to the November, 2011 steelhead trip.

For three days, the boys and I had been successfully fishing the same run. We caught fish; in all modesty, we caught quite a lot of fish. Most came on nymphs, several took eggs, and a few crushed swung flies. Either the river gods had enough of our antics or word spread that we were into fish because on the final day of the trip we were inundated with #%@&tards. We were simultaneously low-holed and high-holed. A wagon train of nomadic other-siders (bug chuckers who believe the fishing will always be better from the other side of the river) waded through the cherry part of the run. One #%@&tard decided he needed to fish exactly where I was fishing, so he set up directly across from me and began rigging his rod. I couldn't hold back.

"Really buddy? Really? Three hundred yards of river free below us, and you're going to set up shop right on top of me?"

"What'd you mean?"

"What do I mean? I mean there's a quarter mile of river free, and you're about to throw your line right on top of mine."

"I can fish here."

That single sentence encapsulates everything I hate about #%@&tards. Yes, you can fish here. You could also strip off all your clothes, and run down the river bank singing, "Doo-lay, doo-lay ... look at me. I'm an elf." If you were so inclined, you could jump off the roof of a very tall building, play Russian Roulette with a Colt Model 1911 (that's a clip loading pistol for the handgun impaired), or drive down the left side of any one of America's busy and beautiful byways. #%@&tards are very much aware of what they can do, but they often lack the sense to ask if something should be done. So while you can wet a line here, you shouldn't because to do so would be rude. Walking into the run that someone is fishing and setting up right on top of that other angler demonstrates a general lack of etiquette.

"Who taught you to fish?"

"What? My grandfather. Why you asking @$$hole?"

"Well, I find myself wondering if grandpa skipped the chapter on etiquette, or if you're just a naturally obtuse #%@&tard."

From this point, the conversation was infused with testosterone and became increasingly belligerent. Our discussion culminated with the #%@&tard removing his gear and gesturing as if he were going to come back over to the near bank and challenge me for the heavyweight crown (these days it may actually be super-heavyweight).

"Maybe I should just come over there, and kick your ass?"

"You're welcome to try Spartacus. Whenever you're ready, I'll be right here ... fishing the run I was first on at 4:30 this morning, and yesterday morning, and the day before that."

This kind of aggression seems antithetical to fly fishing, and bug chuckers would be right to find it distasteful. Unfortunately, returning a #%@&tard's attitude is often the most effective way to deal with the situation. I once chose to leave steelheading because of the preponderance of #%@&tardation on so many Great Lakes tributaries. I won't let that happen again. From now on, I'll take the fight to the
#%@&tards. Perhaps some tough love is just what is needed to teach folks that etiquette and common courtesy are portable, and as apropos on the Salmon River as they are along the banks of the Delaware, Battenkill, Neversink, or Yellow Breeches.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Have a Few Extra Dollars Lying Around?

Hardy and Greys Up For Sale

In an exclusive interview with the UK-based fishing trade magazine Angling International, Ken Brewster, the Commercial Director of Hardy & Greys has explained why the company is being put up for sale. Meanwhile business continues as usual at this iconic British brand based in Alnwick in the North-East of England.

Hardy & Greys – a business that has built up an almost iconic status since its formation in 1872 – has this week been placed on the market by its owner the Harris & Sheldon Group, a family-owned UK private investment group.

The sale is part of a long-term business plan by Harris & Sheldon to divest itself of the manufacturing businesses under its control.

Hardy & Greys has struggled to make a profit in the UK in recent years and a reshuffle last year saw it make 19 staff redundant at its base in Alnwick, Northumberland.

Selection reprinted from

Friday, October 19, 2012

An Open Letter from a Dirty Nympher: Redux

I first published this as a response to the article contained at the hyperlink. I still believe every word, and I think it appropriate to republish given the onset of yet another steelhead season.

An Open Letter from a Dirty Nympher

I'm filthy. I'm unwashed. I'm a piscatorial heathen. I should be ostracized from the clan; banned forever from the faithful fraternity of fly flingers. I'm a highsticker. I'm a shortliner. I'm a dirty ass nympher, and apparently, I'm only half a step removed from bait dunkers on the angling evolutionary scale.

Bug chuckers are an odd bunch. Many of us consider ourselves a step removed - if not a step above - other anglers. We like to think that our preferred manner of angling involves more skill than most other methods of putting fish in the boat. It is for this reason, and the propensity for bug chuckers to pass judgment on other anglers, that we are often labeled as elitists. I sometimes think that the term elitist - suggesting that one is of the upper echelon, the hierarchy, the elite - must have been coined by a fly fisherman who reveled in his own snobbery. Any normal person would have used simpler words.

And make no mistake. It is snobbery and pretension to assume that one's way of doing things is the only proper way of doing things, especially when discussing something as subjective as fly fishing.

This pretension has of late resurfaced and come to the forefront of a seemingly perpetual debate about steelhead angling, and the variety of methods employed in chasing this fine sport fish. Some argue that the noble steelhead should be pursued solely with two-handed rods and sparsely hackled spey flies. To do otherwise, these folks contend, isn't worthy of either the fish or the fisherman. Nymph fishermen like myself - especially those of us who use indicators - aren't really fly fishing at all. We're bobber fishing.

Of course, this argument is all so much nonsense. While swinging a fly is certainly less productive than nymphing, it is no more difficult a skill to master. Regardless of the method, one must cast, mend, and drift his or her fly in such a manner as to elicit a pull from an otherwise lock jawed winter fish. This is the essence of fly fishing. On each drift, we hope to raise a luminescent, acrobatic ghost that will burn our drags and run us into the backing. More than anything that separates us, it is this incessant hope that should bring steelhead anglers together, but it does not. Nowhere is this divide more evident than between those folks who are fortunate to call the Olympic Peninsula home, and those of us who cut our teeth on the Great Lakes.

Mind you that the divide separating these warring clans is more philosophical than it is geographic. Both parties claim an allegiance to tradition, albeit disparate, opposing traditions. Northwest steelheading is about the experience. It's about long lines, slow drifts, and a fanciful school of tying that claims Syd Glasso as its progenitor. Great Lakes steelheading is about the blue collar efficiency that characterizes the region, its industry, and its people. Short lines, short drifts, high sticks, and simple flies are the rule.

A cliche perhaps ... but beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Neither method is more valid than the other, and this is especially true now that the lines are being blurred between factions. Left coasters are increasingly turning to the techniques, which have been commonplace on tributaries to the Great Lakes. Right coasters are often arming themselves with spey rods, and boxes full of the long sweeping hackles and bright colors that were the trademarks of Glasso's flies.

Ultimately, it's all about the fish. A steelhead is special regardless if it's caught on an Orange Heron or a pink Sucker Spawn. It is special regardless if it's taken from shore or from a boat. A steelhead is special regardless if it's the fish of 100 or 10000 casts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Salmon

I've come to love the Salmon River. Really, I have. It's grown on me, but such was not always the case.

The first time I fished the river's runs and pools, I lost every fish I hooked over the course of two days, and finished the second day by spewing vomit along the highway (a long story). But the memory of that God-awful introduction has faded, and most days I find myself eagerly anticipating my next trip to Altmar and Pulaski.

Yes. The river can be crazy at times. Hoards of people - some not so friendly, most not so courteous - descend on Pulaski every September, and they generally remain until mid October. By early November the crowds thin, and the river becomes much more user friendly. In the interim, however, we bug chuckers need to be flexible and go where the fisherman are not - even if we find fewer fish wherever that may be.

This is easier done than the river's reputation might lead intrepid bug chuckers to believe, but more on this later. Today ... just a few photos of our most recent trip.  God help me, but I love the Salmon.


First chromer of the year ... let's hope the first of many.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What If

An hour passed, and still I couldn't rid myself of the shakes. My hands trembled, and my fingers found impossible the act of threading tippet through the eye of another hook. My breathing was - for lack of a better, more appropriate, and less cliched adjective - ragged. Yes. My breathing was ragged.

It happened too quickly, and when it was over I was reminded of what those grizzled, old vets at the VFW would say - almost universally - when asked of their war experiences: "long moments of boredom, interrupted by glimpses of pure, unadulterated terror." Was I terrified? Perhaps. The shaking of my hands would suggest as much, but I was experiencing something else too, something much more than fear.

I was awestruck. I was exhilarated, and I knew from that moment forward I would never be quite the same. My thoughts would reinvent and realign themselves with this new passion I had only moments before discovered. Beyond all probability and in spite of doing everything the wrong way, I had hooked my first steelhead.

That first hook-up came some twelve or fifteen years ago. Regardless of the distance of time and memory I can still relive with perfect clarity, every second of my attachment - through rod and fly - to that first fish. I can see my pale yellow line drifting slowly from right to left, carried on currents I had yet to fully explore or understand. I feel pursed lips turn to a grin as my fly - an unthinkably small thing given the stories I had heard of the river's fish - finally found its way into the slot. The pause - what must be a take - almost imperceptible, but there nonetheless. A strip-set and a lift of the rod, which is met in kind by head shaking and an explosion of violence unlike anything I had ever before experienced.

And now, fifteen years after the fact I am reminded of the way the light shone on that steelhead's broad back as she somersaulted some three or four feet above the water. I can see the breadth of the animal's tail, perhaps as wide as both my hands when placed side by side, fingers splayed (at 6' 3" tall and near three hundred pounds I am a big man with big hands). My stomach clenches in an all-too-familiar way as I revisit the moment when she turned downstream into the rapids, forever severing our connection with a burst of speed that was as remarkable for its suddeness as it was its ferocity. 

The first steelhead I ever hooked was likely the largest I've ever hooked. At the time, my friend and guide suggested the fish was at least 18 pounds. I suppose it might be that time has a way of distorting memory, but in hindsight I'm left to think the fish was closer to twenty. Of course, I'll never know.

I'll never know how big she truly was. I'll never know just what she would have felt like had I held her in my trembling hands. I'll never know how my life might be different had I caught that first fish rather than merely watched with mouth agape as she ran for the lake. Perhaps the only thing I've learned in the years between that first fish and the last, is that losing is sometimes the best thing that happens to us. Losing keeps us hungry. Losing keeps us looking forward, gives us hope, and teaches us a genuine appreciation for winning.

As summer turns to autumn and leaves begin to fall from the trees, I find my nights are not spent dreaming of the fish I've brought to hand. Instead, I go forward into this steelhead season filled with imaginings of what might have been and what could be. I go forward into the season armed only with a few boxes of poorly tied flies and a question.

What if?   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Coho of a Lifetime

Holy Moses ... I thought this was a big king when I first saw the picture. I was wrong. It is an enormous Coho. I do wonder, however, if testing will prove it a hybrid. I seem to remember one several years ago that might have been a contender for the New York State record until it was tested. The test revealed it was a king/coho cross. Regardless of this beast's lineage ... it is a magnificent fish.

Follow the link for a short story and a better pic ... Simms Fishing Products - Coho of a Lifetime.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

YouTube Videos as Evidence of Idiocy

Every September finds me cruising YouTube for something, anything that might help to sate my need for steelhead. The fish generally begin to arrive in October, but by the first week of September I can feel them coming. They're almost here; no doubt, a few have arrived already. Unfortunately, September is a hectic time for school teachers such as myself. Work will keep me away for a while longer, but in the meantime I like to check in on the river via video, and see how other bug chuckers are doing.

Sadly, it would seem that 2012 is destined forever to be remembered as the year of the snagger. The water in the Salmon River is as low as it can be and still be fishable, and the conditions make easy targets of the king and coho salmon pushing upstream.

Consider the following video ... and please - if you've time - comment via YouTube (as I have ... four times) to help me shame these chuckleheads into doing the right thing.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Listings on Ebay

Looking to purchase some new toys so I am listing a couple of items on Ebay. Anyone looking for an excellent Great Lakes steelhead rig may want to take a look.

One rod ... an Orvis Helios 10' 7# ...Click here for the auction.

And one reel ... an Orvis Battenkill Mid Arbor IV loaded with an Orvis Salmon/Steelhead 7# Wonderline ... Click here for the auction.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Steelhead They Ain't

In recent years, the group of bug chuckers that brings you The Rusty Spinner has tried to make at least one trip to the Salmon River in New York, specifically to fish for early season king salmon. In our collective opinion, the river is far too crowded with anglers to target Chinook during the height of the salmon migration, so as far as we're concerned it's late August through early September or not at all. When October rolls around and steelhead begin to run the river in ever increasing numbers, then any thought of kings quickly disappears. In the interim, lake run Chinook are an interesting distraction, but a distraction is all they'll ever be. Chinook may be kings, but steelhead they ain't.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Behind the Music: Carp

I've been dreaming about steelhead, but my chrome imaginings won't see fruition for another month or two at least. To try to dull the pain of waiting, my waking hours are spent thinking about carp. Yes. Carp. I'm convinced that they're the closest thing to steelhead that summertime bug chuckers might find in fresh water.

Over the past few years, common carp have received quite a bit of attention from the fly flinging public, and much of this is deserved. Carp are abundant, accessible, and able to test a reel's drag in a way that's uncommon in most warm water fisheries (those in North America at any rate). But still, I find myself asking, "Why?". Why so much time, money, and effort spent chasing a fish that was - until just a few years ago - generally considered a trash fish?

I think part of the madness - and it is as much a madness as is chasing any other gamefish - is market driven. Across most of the country - in fact, most of the globe - trout fishing is a very limited endeavor. Trout simply do not exist everywhere a bug chucker might wish. The same could be said of bass, pike, stripers, muskellunge, salmon, bonefish, tarpon, etc. The list of fish available to fly flingers goes on ad infinitum, but none - excepting perhaps panfish - are as accessible and available as are carp. Similarly, few fish are as challenging a quarry as are carp.

As a consequence, the fly fishing industry - an industry that caters to a small niche market and is always on the prowl for new customers - benefits immensely from the carp's popularity. New rods, new reels, new lines, and new flies are everyday being marketed to a new group of customers. It is no coincidence that most major fly fishing publications - periodicals that derive a substantial portion of their income from advertising revenue - have recently printed articles detailing the ins and outs of chasing carp. Brownlining has indeed gone mainstream.

And given the common carp's recent ascendency and celebrity, I thought it might be time we were given some insight from the perspective of those folks who best know this fine gamefish (yes ... I said gamefish). I thought it might be time we went "Behind the Music" or "Under the Water" as the case might be with our friend the common carp. If Stevie Nicks deserves her own special, then so too does Ol' Noodle Lips.

So what I've done here is to transcribe the first few moments of an episode of "Behind the Music" that will otherwise never see the light of day - even though it is certainly deserving of the honor.

Behind the Music: Carp

Narrator: He's been called a ghost.

Dave Whitlock: Like hillbillies noodling for dinner, he has an aura that's more than just slime and bottom feeding.

Narrator: He's a country boy who cast a spell on the world of bug chucking at a time when bug chuckers were looking to be enchanted.

Tom Rosenbauer: Carp. He's entirely about attitude. You can't make him eat. You can't make do much of anything. He'll do whatever the hell he wants to do, and there's nothing you can do about it ... not unlike a Salmon River snagger.

Narrator: For centuries, the common carp was misunderstood and much maligned. He was worm food. He was garden fodder. He was fertilizer.

John Gierach: A.K. once gave me a carp fly tied with quills that were specially dyed in a combination of pureed and blended mango nut butter, lilac milk, and wasabe.

Narrator: He seduces bug chuckers with the challenge of selectivity, nearly imperceptible takes, and insanely powerful runs.

April Vokey: I wasn't married to carp, but I would have been had he asked. We had some good times ... oh yeah, good times.

Narrator: He first rose to prominence on the U.K.'s coarse fishing scene.

Carp: It was one big pellet-fed, pay-to-fish-the-pond party.

Narrator: Then he stole the spotlight as a 226 year old koi, which was sold at auction for 13 million Yen, and died shortly thereafter.

Lee Wulff's Ghost: What is wrong with you people? I chased ocean-run Atlantic salmon with nothing more than my rugged good looks and the sheer force of my will. Think Kurt Gowdy would ever narrate a film about carp? Well ... do ya'?

Narrator: Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its own funeral pyre (or a drunken frat boy slowly asphyxiating on his own vomit), carp is enjoying something of Renaissance - a rediscovery and rekindled appreciation for all things stank.

Gene Simmons: I once had sex with a carp ... twice, I twice had sex with a carp.

Narrator: Thrice.

Henry Winkler: In the months before filming, "Hollywood: Part 3", I lobbied to have the script changed so that my character jumped the carp, but ultimately the network insisted on a shark. Networks don't fly fish.

Colonel Kilgore: And Charlie don't surf.

Dick Cheney: I haven't the heart for carp fishing.

Bing Crosby's Ghost: Doo Be, Doo Be Doooooooo.

Carp: Why didn't someone tell me I smelled like this?

Narrator: Tonight, Carp, the story behind the scales ...