Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If Fly Rods Could Talk ...

If fly rods could talk what might they say?

Would they chastise us for casting as poorly as we do, for failing to bring out their potential? Would the consensus be that we - intrepid members of the faithful fraternity of fly flingers - frequently underpower our backcasts, and often overpower the forward stroke? Would our double-hauls earn any compliments, or would our rods suggest that our timing is off - that we might consider an investment in lessons? Would our rods secretly wish to be swept off their feet by the Rajeffs?

What of our bamboo sticks? They might stretch and breathe a collective sigh of relief when they're first pulled from their tubes. No doubt they would scold us for using them so infrequently. They might speak - in rambling tones - of their histories, and suggest that such tales demand the respect of use. "We were throwing loops over rising fish before you were a blush on your Mama's cheek."

I can imagine my impregnated Orvis, who has always been something of a curmudgeon, reminiscing about the good old days when Wes ran the shop, in the stretch before that crook Nixon took office. He would speak wistfully of the Perfects and Lightweights he's known, and frown disapprovingly when we mention that some Hardys are being made in Asia ... as is most everything. "What's wrong with the world?" he'd ask.

Made in England? Not anymore ...
In fly fishing, the new kid on the block always gets the most attention. Would that attention make for hard feelings? Would last year's sticks be jealous of this year's sticks? Would my Orvis Helioses - soon to be supplanted in the catalog and complaining of depression and frequent migraines - need Lexopro for mood and Vicodin for pain? At night, would my Winstons and Thomas and Thomas cry themselves to sleep? Would my Superfines, Conolons, and Fennies - who were "replaced" decades ago - smile knowingly, and remind all those other rods of what is meant by the word "classic."

Would they see the writing on the wall when they click "play" ...

... or would they dismiss it in the hopes it might all just go away?

No doubt, the rods we've broken would beg that we stop chucking tungsten beads and outsized split shot. They'd point to the nicks and scratches in their blanks, and speak - in frail and frustrated voices - of impending disaster if we don't stop behaving like barbarians. The message will be lost on us. We won't hear a word. We'll go on hucking the heavy stuff, right up to the moment when our favorite rods explode dramatically. Surely a manufacturer's defect we'll say, but the rods will know better.

Would those rods that survive history, seasonal shopping, and our ineptitude thank us for our constant companionship? Would they understand just how important they are to us, that - despite our lack of ability and the draw of new gear - the rods in our closet are like the air in our lungs? That they fill us up. That they sustain us.

Would they understand that without them, we're simply less alive?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dear River, WTF?

Dear River,

We've been together for a long time now; this past spring marked twenty years. The day we met, I was eager and full of energy, and you were the undiscovered country - an unknown whisper of a trout stream in an otherwise forgotten corner of my world. Twenty years. Nearly a quarter of a century, and I'm still wading your runs. 

In many ways, you're much the same as you were the day we met: beautiful if perhaps a bit temperamental, and able to make me smile as no one else can. For years you were constant as the north star, a friend whenever I have needed a friend, a confidant who helped to wash away my worry and regret. But something is different. Something small but significant has changed, and I know you've felt it too.

You don't embrace me the way you once did.  There was a time when I knew - with absolute certainty - that the third week of April meant the start of a tremendous hendrickson hatch. Fish would rise - big fish - with the carelessness born of a long winter, and I would leave the river every evening having been reminded that I am a man. After the hendicksons were sulphurs, and then drakes, and eventually white flies. Every hatch - every fish - was an assurance that you loved me the way that I loved you.

And as much as it pains me to say, it's over, isn't it? Seems I just don't know anything anymore. This year the hendricksons came in March. March? Really? Why? How could you so easily discard my favorite hatch, and throw it away in the weeks before the season began? You must know that the first hatch of the year is always the best hatch of the year. Was it deliberate? Did you want it to cut? Did you want it to hurt? It did. Still does. March? Really?

And now that spring has turned to summer and the time for trout has passed, I have to ask, "Where have the bass gone? What of the carp and pike?" Your lower water - the nether region - was special in a way warm water too often is not. Fish swam everywhere - in every run, riffle, pool and pocket, and fishermen were largely absent. Your water has always been gloriously absent of anglers; I've never had to share you with anyone else. But not now, not anymore, and I think you enjoy all the attention. I'm sad to say that wading your lower water just isn't quite the adventure it once was.

And why do you insist on embarrassing me? Why? Used to be that whenever I would introduce you to a friend or acquaintance - you would do the right thing. You would try to accommodate my friends because you wanted to me to be happy, and yes ... you wanted me to play the part of hero. That's not the case anymore. Is it? Now, whenever I bring a friend by - be it for trout, bass, carp, or whatever - you take advantage of the situation. You emasculate me. The water and the fish never behave as I predict; I'm left to shake my head and think I must not know much of anything anymore. I've never been so full of doubt.

So that is why - as much as anything else - I've decided that we need a break from each other. You need time to become whomever it is you're becoming, and I need a chance to explore other corners of the world. Please don't misunderstand. I love you. I will always love you, but I am afraid that I cannot go on loving you if things continue as they are. Maybe after we've spent some time apart we'll discover that what we really need is each other. I hope so. I do.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Carp, New Waders, and Videographers ... Right in My Backyard

Amongst the many fishing blogs that I frequent is the OrvisNews.com. For those of you who haven't visited the big O's weblog, I really have to recommend that you give it a look. It is very nicely done - polished and professional - and intrepid bug chuckers might be surprised at the abundance of material that isn't directly related to the company's products. I digress ...

While perusing a string of recent entries on the big O's site, one in particular caught my eye. The entry is a video promoting a new line of waders that will be available in the fall. The waders look promising, and I'm sure I'll end up with a pair, but that isn't what caught my eye. What did get my attention were segments of the video that feature Tim Daughton (one of Orvis' many product developers) and Christine Penn (a merchandise coordinator with the company). Those of you that have followed my blog for a time may remember Tim from posts entitled, Boys Day Out and Dyslexic Steelheading. Again, I digress ...

The video segments that feature Tim and Christine were shot - quite clearly for someone who knows what to look for - right in my backyard. It would seem that my carp water is also Orvis' carp water. A brief correspondence with Tim confirmed my suspicions. For the sake of context, Daughton is the narrator of the video, and while it's clearly a marketing piece, I think you'll enjoy some of the footage as I did. Certainly, it's worth a couple minutes of your time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Project Healing Waters: Josh Williams - Redux

This past Wednesday, I was fortunate to help manage a fly tying class, which was given for disabled veterans at the local VA hospital. The class came together nicely - my hat is off to Robin Hill of The Angler's Net for making arrangements and getting us all to come together. Thanks go out to Shawn Brillon of the Orvis company and Doug (last name forgotten ... very sorry Doug) of Goldstock's Sporting Goods, both of whom lent their knowledge and skills as instructors to our class. Everyone at the hospital was enthusiastic and accommodating, and the veterans with whom we worked were - for lack of better words - just a great bunch of people.

I have to admit that I was - at least at first - intimidated by one of the veterans who attended the class. Don't misunderstand ... he was affable, funny ... just a great guy to be around. I'll buy him a beer if ever the opportunity presents itself. But he was also an amputee. His left arm had been removed just below the shoulder, and I have to admit - with some shame - that I was at first terrified of working with him because I had no idea how he was going to accomplish the most basic movements required of a fly tyer. Perhaps more to the point, I had no idea how we were going to teach him.

I should not have been concerned; he may have been an amputee, but he was also a soldier. He adapted to the nuances of tying as I am sure he has had to adapt in most every other aspect of his life. His Woolly Bugger was tied at least as well as any other in the class, and I learned a very valuable lesson as a result. I'll never again underestimate the strength of will and of character that most people possess.

What I should have done - from the very beginning of the class - was remember an interview I conducted some 18 months ago, with another wounded veteran. Staff Sergeant Josh Williams is a good man - a soldier, a husband, a father - and his story is an inspiration. What follows is the piece I wrote all those months ago, including my interview with Sergeant Williams and some video of Josh in action.

Project Healing Waters: Josh Williams

As I've mentioned several times in the nearly two years that I've maintained this blog, I count Shawn Brillon as one of my closest friends and fishing partners. Shawn is one of the fly fishing product developers for the Orvis company; he is generally responsible for the flies and fly tying material we see in the catalog every year.

Recently, Shawn and I were discussing such mundane things as line choice for certain two-handed rods, and the crop of new flies Orvis is likely to offer this year. At the end of that discussion, Shawn spoke of a gentleman from Virginia whose acquaintance he was happy to have made. 

I was intrigued by Josh Williams' story not only because he's both a fly flinger and a tyer, but also because he was a soldier. Staff Sergeant Williams carried his country's banner into combat, and like so many of our nation's warriors, he served with distinction. This is not, however, what what makes Sergeant Williams unique.

What makes Josh unique is his tenacity (think of how frustrating it might be to tie goose biots onto a nymph with only one hand). This stubborn refusal to allow life to pass him by was made manifest after he and I exchanged a few emails, and Josh very graciously agreed to be interviewed for The Rusty Spinner.

TRS: Josh, for how long were you in the Army? With what unit did you serve, and in what capacity? To where were you deployed, and for how long?

Williams: Joined the Army right out of high school (Roanoke, VA) on 31 July 2002 as an infantryman. After basic, I was put on orders to 2-7 CAV, 1CD at Fort Hood, TX. I was the automatic rifleman in my squad, so I carried the SAW (M249) and the 240B. In February of 2004, my unit was deployed to Iraq. We fought in Al Najaf, Baghdad, Sadir City, Fallujah, and Taji. Came back in March of 2005. Became a squad leader and eventually a Staff Sergeant on my 4 year service mark. I had full intentions of becoming a career soldier. God had other plans for me…

TRS: Let's address the 800 pound gorilla in the room ... How did you lose your arm, and how has that injury affected your life?

Williams: I was riding my motorcycle to guard duty on 6 April 2006, when a kid in a car ran a stop sign. I had no time to stop. I went through his window, and out the windshield. I then super-manned 171 feet in the air before finally falling. I was air lifted to a local hospital. My injuries included a severed right arm a couple inches above the elbow, a broken ankle with a nasty scar, a huge gash in my right thigh that got a skin graph, a shattered right femur that now has a titanium rod throughout, 3 broken bones in my back, and random road rash scars. Naturally, God graced me with being the only person in my family that is left handed. So that’s awesome! But I still needed to learn how to do every single thing I’d ever learned all over again. To say the least, depression set in quickly.

TRS: How did you come to fly fishing?

Williams: I was flown to Walter Reed Medical Hospital about a month after the wreck. These guys, John Bass and Ed Nicholson, came in to the hospital one day and introduced themselves to me. They were part of a non-profit called Project Healing Waters. Ed had started this to give a way for disabled vets, mentally and physically, a way of healing and therapy unlike anything else. I wanted no part of it. I was always a huge hunter and fisherman. But fly fishing looked impossible with two arms so why would I try with one? I certainly wasn’t gonna embarrass myself trying this with one arm! But after some persistence, thanks to John Bass (a paraplegic fly fisherman mind you), I gave in. I adapted fast and quickly became obsessed with the sport. Through the obstacles accomplished with fly fishing, I was able to tackle others like tying my own shoes and shooting one-armed.

TRS: When did you start fly tying?

Williams: I was retired from the Army and left Walter Reed in February of 2007. Shortly after, PHW was taking off like a wildfire. They decided to start one where I lived in Roanoke, VA. I was partnered with some guys to start it off, and it caught on pretty quickly. One evening, we had our first tying class with the vets at the Salem VAMC we volunteered at. I decided to try so I couldn’t give the vets there an excuse not to. And when it was all said and done, I tied the ugliest most pathetic woolly bugger ever tied! But I TIED IT!!! I took one of our kits home and it was all over. I was hooked.

TRS: How much time do you spend per day / per week at the vise or on the river?

Williams: I am married to my best friend, Lisa Williams. She is the best therapy I have. She knows firsthand how therapeutic fishing/tying is to me and has never batted an eye any time I’ve ever done either. I even got the chance to spend 8 days in Canada and she was totally supportive! I am also a student at Old Dominion University via satellite classes, while working full time at an architectural/engineering firm in Roanoke called Aecom. I stay busy! However, I still manage to fish almost every weekend. During Spring and Summer, I will even fish after work for a couple hours once or twice a week. I tie at least an hour almost every single evening. It is that enjoyable to me. All this fishing is definitely going to be reduced though, in the near future. Lisa and I are expecting our first child, 28 May. We find out the sex in two days and I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been! I have a feeling I’ll be taking our child out fishing before he/she can walk though ha ha.

TRS: Can you give examples of what you do differently from those anglers and tyers who have use of both hands?

Williams: When I fish, I have to tie all my knots with one hand. I don’t ever use a prosthetic. I strip the line out with my teeth. I also bring the line in with my teeth as well. I am definitely a fan of roll casting. I try to manipulate all the line I have out, so I don’t have to keep stripping in and out with my teeth. Tying is actually much more challenging to me. I can’t spin hair as easily as one with two hands. I have to kind of separate my hand into two hands when tying one parts. A few fingers are wrapping the thread, while a couple others are attempting to hold the material in place. I taught myself to whip finish by using my index finger to twirl the line around because a whip finisher scares me to death to try to use!

TRS: When did you learn that Orvis was going to offer your fly in the company's catalog, and what was your reaction?

Williams: A friend that works for Orvis, Leigh Oliva, told me I should submit my pattern “Josh’s White Lightning” to Orvis after seeing me catch a bunch of trout with it at a PHW tournament. I said what the heck. At that time, I had just started an online business of tying patterns from home. I figured what better way to improve my patterns than tying for others. You see, I didn’t want to send someone a sloppy fly, so I strived to improve the quality of my flies. It has definitely worked. I found out last fall from Shawn Brillon, the guy that makes or breaks the deal of fly submissions, that my pattern had passed the board and would be in the 2011 catalogue. What a feeling of accomplishment!!! I still can’t believe it, so periodically throughout the day I go to the website to see my pattern ha ha.

TRS: Have you any other "secret" flies in your arsenal that might someday be offered for sale?

Williams: I have a stonefly pattern that I’m trying to perfect because I just love using them and they’re so abundant in the healthy streams I fish. I also have a dry fly version of my purple white lightning that works great on wild brookies, but looks weak. I just don’t like how it looks. I’ll eventually find the right combination of materials. There’s another killer nymph I tie, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything about it ……….. Oh well …….

TRS: Finally, have you any advice or words of wisdom that you might offer not only to other fly anglers, but also to men and women who - like yourself - find themselves face to face with seemingly overwhelming injuries and obstacles?

Williams: As far as advice, I believe that we must teach our youth the things that are so important to us. We can’t expect them to pick up on fly fishing if we don’t take them out. It may be frustrating, but just remember that you too were that bad at first! If you’re a disabled soldier or civilian, don’t be so discouraged to not even try. That’s not the way to live. Be stubborn. It’s because of our Lord giving me a whole bunch of it that I’m able to get out there without embarrassing myself too much! And remember, there is always always always someone out there who’s got it worst than you! You can do it, you just have to learn how to do it your own special way.

I don't know that there's much TRS might add to anything Josh had to say. I would just like to take the opportunity to thank Sergeant Williams for taking the time to talk fishing with us. I'd also like to congratulate he and his wife on the upcoming birth of their first child. I hope that in between diaper changes and teething rings, fate gives Josh and I the opportunity to wet a line together. He has an open invitation to the river.
 Garry Owen 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Tale of Two Fly Rods or An Angler's Odyssey

The following post was first published two summers ago. Recent events brought it to mind, and I thought it deserved another run.

A Tale of Two Fly Rods or An Angler's Odyssey

My father started me fly fishing thirty-one years ago. In fact, I caught my first trout on a fly in July of 1979. I remember the day well: the fish, the water, and my father's incredulous expression. I also remember the rod. It was a fiberglass Garcia; an eight footer painted electric blue. It was just the kind of thing that would appeal to a six year-old child of the seventies.

I remember needing to use both hands to cast, hooking that first trout, and eventually using big-blue to catch more panfish than I could ever hope to count. I fished that beast for a decade before earning enough money to buy a new, high-tech graphite stick. I no longer have either rod, but I wish I still had the Garcia.

Nearly a decade before I hooked that first diminutive brownie, the man who would eventually sire my fishing partner, Ben Jose,  was bouncing around the American west. Born and raised in Idaho, Forrest "Milo" Jose was no stranger to trout or to fly fishing. He fished his native Idaho. He fished Wyoming. He fished Montana when Montana was Argentina, and like me - he did it all with a fiberglass Garcia. To be exact, he did it with a Conolon model 2536-T, 7' 9" fast taper fly rod.

How can I be sure of the rod he used? Well, forty years after Milo was married, moved to New York, and forsook fishing to be a father, his son found Dad's old rod and reel tucked away in a dusty corner of the garage. The reel was a disaster; paint flaked away from the metal, and ancient grease jammed the spring.

The two, staggered sections of the rod had been held together with rubber bands for over three decades, and while I'm not sure it's possible for fiberglass to develop a set, it sure seemed that way. The cork was pitted, and the metal ferrules hopelessly tarnished. The single stripping guide was missing; other guides were corroded and in need of polish or replacement. All the wraps screamed for a fresh coat of varnish.

I suppose the rod was fishable, but Ben was determined for his father to revisit those days in the Rockies, and he wanted Milo to have something better than a "fishable" outfit. Ben used his resources as a foundryman to make the reel whole again (the entire process is detailed here). For my part, I did some research, and corresponded with folks who had their old rods - both fiberglass and bamboo - refinished.

After hours of Googling, emailing, and debate, I settled on a gentleman who came very highly recommended, one whose name is especially known in cane-nut circles. After a short correspondence, the rod was sent along with some very specific instructions: regardless of cost, please replace the missing guide with an agate stripper, rewrap and revarnish the guides (replace as needed), clean up the ferrules and be sure they fit together properly, clean the cork, and ink a very special message along the shaft of the rod.

"Happy Father's Day Dad ... Love, Ben."

Can you think of a better gift for a son to give his father? I've tried, and I cannot.

Ben and I both understood that the Garcia 2536-T was hardly collector's item. We knew that the cost of the work we requested would likely be ten times the value of the rod - if the rod was in pristine, unfished condition, and it wasn't. We didn't care. This was a gift for Milo. This was Ben saying to his father, "I love you Dad, I appreciate all you've done for me ... all you've sacrificed. Thank you." We were very disappointed when the rod found its way back to us just days before Father's Day.

The ferrules were cleaned, but little else was done in accordance with our request. A cheap wire - not agate or mildrum, but wire - stripping guide was mounted with thread that did not nearly match the thread on the other guides. None of the guides were polished or replaced. The cork was not cleaned. Not a speck of new varnish covered any of the wraps. A Post-It Note bearing Ben's message to Milo was stuck to the shaft. Included with the rod was a bill for $40.00. Forty dollars to have a lousy wire guide wrapped. Ben had been willing to pay up to $200.00 to have the work done properly.

As Bennie and I sat at my dining room table, sharing a six-pack and lamenting the mindset that allows someone to do shoddy, haphazard work, I thought to grab my laptop. I visited Ebay, and typed "Garcia fly rod" into the search string. Miraculously - and I couldn't possibly make this up - a 2536-T Fast Taper 7' 9" fly rod in new, unfished condition (with original sock and tube no less) was the first item up for bid. We won the auction - in fact we were the only bidder - and before our payment was ever processed, the very gracious seller overnighted us the rod so that Milo could have it in time for Dad's Day.

And Mr. Jose could not have been more pleased. We all spent the morning on one of our favorite ditches. I played guide, and everyone caught a few fish; nothing huge, but enough to remind Milo of what it felt like to be a twenty-something fly flinger. He smiled, and then Ben smiled.

I thought it a privilege to see a father and his adult son share a moment like that. I'm happy to have played my part, and I hope that someday my own boy might think enough of me to put so much effort into one afternoon on the stream with his old man.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New World Record Brown Trout

Brown trout caught in Milwaukee harbor recognized as world record

A 38-inch brown trout caught by Eric Haataja in the Milwaukee harbor has been certified as a world record in the all tackle length division by the International Game Fish Association.

Jack Vitek, IGFA record coordinator, said Haataja’s application had been approved and would be posted to the organization’s website Tuesday.

Haataja, a fishing guide from West Allis, caught the fish Dec. 16, 2011.

After measuring and photographing the fish, Haataja released it. The records are officially entered in metric units – Haataja’s catch measured 97 centimeters.

The all tackle length division was created two years ago by the IGFA as a catch-and-release category. Anglers are required to photograph the fish on top of an IGFA tape measure.

*** The remainder of the article and a photograph of the beast may be found here ***