Friday, December 27, 2013

TRS End of the Year Fly Fishing Blog Cliche

My end of the year cliche ... errrr ... video. Warning ... this will steal eight minutes of your life - eight minutes you will not get back.

Best viewed by switching to HD 1080 and full screen (options appearing in the lower right hand corner).

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Just a quick one today to wish you all a very merry Christmas. It's a magical day indeed that can make a fisherman forget about fishing - for even the briefest of moments. This Christmas I find myself thanking God for all I have - especially my family (as dysfunctional as it sometimes may be) - and remembering those folks who've made sacrifices that were never required of me.  Merry Christmas all ... God bless.

Some 5000 wreaths laid on the graves at Arlington, donated every year since 1992 by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. Gives me some perspective ...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Where Time Passes Slowly

We've been here a week - marooned in a rum fueled, salt water, white-sand-beach day dream. Our snowed-in psyches have nursed the pain of Central American sunburns and sucked back Belikins as if each bottle was filled with a different woman's love. Our guide - an American expat who goes by Ray Ray - reminds me a little of David Lee Roth circa 1985, and he hasn't been bashful about drinking panty rippers and mojitos on our dime. In truth, we've done nothing to either discourage his indulgence or encourage his abstinence.

Ray's a big man: 6' 3" tall and all of 325 pounds on one of his better days. To look at him, you would think that his next drink was sure to be his last, but then he sucks back the rum - tongue licking the inside rim of the glass like a hungry python tasting the air - and nods to the bartender for another. The barkeep is almost certainly a native Belizian. That is to say he looks much more the part of Central American fishing guide than does Ray. With a flourish and a knowing smile, he acknowledges Big Ray’s request and looks to us for validation.

“Another for your friend?”

I find myself simultaneously thanking God they speak English here and wishing I had paid more attention during high school Spanish.

"Set him up."

For all his inner demons and assorted personal failings, our guide has put us on fish every day. If feeding his tendency toward alcoholism helps to keep the trend going then so be it. We'll happily be the big man's bankroll and benefactor. The drinks are on us Ray; we’ll keep them coming so long as you do the same with the tarpon, permit, and bonefish. You can climb back on the wagon once we've safely returned to the land of snow blowers and rock salt.

And after six days in paradise, I find I'm missing purgatory. I'm an enthusiastic winter fisherman - a steelhead guy of the first order. I've drawers filled to overflowing with Under Armor long-johns and Smartwool's thickest socks. I own two balaclavas and three pair of fingerless gloves. Who in the lower 48 - but a steelheader - really needs two balaclavas and three pair of fingerless gloves? Add to all of that three hundred pounds of God's natural insulation, and I can't help but wonder what I'm doing here - so close to the equator.

As difficult as it might be to believe, I need snow drifts and shelf ice, intruders and sucker spawn, slow drifts along the seam and the unexpected grab of a migratory torpedo. I need steelhead.

I need steelhead.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Days Four and Five - Photo Dump

I've been thinking about the final two days of Steelhead Mania 2013, and I find I just haven't the words to articulate all that happened as the trip came to a close. We did well and had fun, but saying as much doesn't quite do justice to our time on the water.

For my part, I think I learned more on this trip than I have on any other in recent memory. I can say without reservation that I am a better spey caster today than I was a month ago. I am better able to manage my line when it's on the water, and the flies I am fishing today are undeniably better than those I tied last year (better does not necessarily mean that they entice more fish). And isn't that what it's really all about?

Every time I'm on the water I manage to get the job done just a little more handily than I did previously, but more to the point I've learned to recognize and appreciate certain moments when they happen: the sun rising over a favorite run, fresh spikes on old boots, courteous guides rowing their boats behind wading anglers, a friend hooking ten pounds of steelhead on a 75 year old bamboo rod. I've learned that fishing stories aren't always about the fish. More often than not, fishing stories are friend stories, and friend stories are the stories that most matter.

And I'm reminded that I love my friends. I love them when they're hooking up and I'm cursing the gods, but I love them more when they're having a hard day and still they're quick with smiles and a net. I'm fortunate to share the water with the men I call friends; they're the reason I look forward to steelhead fishing the way I do.

All that having been said ... and since a picture is worth a 1000 words (or approximately 207 cliches and hackneyed phrases), here's the remainder of our trip ...




Photo by Adam Kettering

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day Three - Swing That $#!% Until Your Arm Goes Numb

Day three began with a little prayer to the river gods; a prayer that day two would not repeat itself. We were ready - all of us - for some assurance that we were still men, that we could not be emasculated by a river, that if the apocalypse came tomorrow we could provide needed sustenance for our loved ones. We were ready for a good day. I was especially hopeful given we had decided to fish one of my favorite runs.

We arrived at a little before 5 a.m., and were pleased to see no one else parked in the lot. With headlamps ablaze I imagine that from a distance we must have looked like so many will-o-wisps flittering back and forth among the trees. Carefully, we made our way through the twilight darkened thicket and crept single file toward the head of the run. No sooner had we dropped our packs in a line than we heard the distinctive "creak-thud ... creak-thud" of oars and water working against the hull of an aluminum drift boat.

As the guide and his clients drifted past they complimented us for having the resolve to get down to the water so early in the morning. I couldn't help but marvel at the dedication of a guide who rows his sports down midnight-dark currents in hopes of being the first boat to reach many of the river's better holes. I wish it had been light enough to see his face or read the markings on the boat as I'd be sure to recommend him to anyone that asked. As the drift boat floated out of sight we began the process of rigging and re-rigging, and when the light began to peek over the edge of the horizon we were gifted one of the most beautiful sunrises I've seen in some time.

I'm hardly a snob insofar as fly fishing is concerned. My philosophy is pretty simple: I'll fish the way I do, you'll fish the way you do, and if we're not crossing lines mid-river then we'll never have a problem. Respect the resource, and I'll never make a judgment. I don't care if you're a swinger, nympher, pinner, or knuckle dragging gear head. All that aside, there is something special in the rhythm of fishing a swung fly on a spey rod.

I've always been impressed by a well executed spey cast - long before I ever picked up my first two-handed rod I was fascinated by the mechanics of the process. To my eye, a well executed spey cast transcends anything even the most accomplished angler might do with a single-handed rod. The structure of the spey is a marriage of form and function, a testament to efficiency, and when done especially well the process culminates in one of those rare moments when art and science blend to create something that cannot exist outside of the moment. The rod - twelve or thirteen feet of woven carbon fiber, or fiberglass, or fire-hardened bamboo - is a calligrapher's pen painting enigmatic characters in the air. And the line ... 

The line is anticipation. The line is potential. The line is all the promise of a day on the water. In a well executed spey cast our line is fluid - as the water we fish is fluid. She bends and yields, twists and tumbles. She dances for us, begging for the climatic moment when all of her potential is set in motion.

"Pffffffffffffffffffttttttt ... click."

In a well executed spey cast we wait to hear that click, and as soon as the line leaves our hand we know whether or not it's coming. One click. The reel wants to give more, but can only spare a click's worth. The rod jumps a little in our hands, and automatically we throw an upstream mend to slow and extend our drift.  In the course of a day we might do this hundreds if not thousands of times. Over and over again we probe the dark corners and recesses of the run the whole time waiting expectantly for some sign of life.

Then it happens.


Then it happens again.

Then you realize that the river gods were listening to your twilight prayers, and you run the remainder of the evening without so much as a thought of fish. You're content. Everything is right in the world, and as you watch the moon rise up to replace the sun you cannot help but smile at thoughts of the day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day Two - Bust

The thing about dreams is that they sometimes do come true. Sometimes you pick the winning horse. Sometimes you kiss the prom queen. Sometimes you get to play the hero.


More often than not, however, dreams remain dreams. Your horse breaks a leg before it ever reaches the starting gate. Try as she might, the prom queen cannot pick you out of a police line up, and the closest you've ever come to being a hero is when you camped out to be the first in line for opening night of the Star Wars prequel. Jedi dreams die hard, and on that second day of fishing, our steelhead dreams may as well have been Jedi dreams.

When we set off on Tuesday night for the two hour drive to the river we were giddy with enthusiasm. We believed with every bit of angler-instinct we possessed that the river gods were smiling on us. How could we not? Only three days before we were set to leave, the river flowed at a staggering 1850 cfs. So much water isn't impossible to fish, but it is uncomfortable to fish, and bringing steelhead to hand once hooked can be very difficult in the swirling currents of a swollen Salmon River. But in only three days the river had dropped to 500 cfs - just about perfect for a group of intrepid steelheaders. Surely the fish would agree.

And they did, but only for a day. Day two of our expedition saw air temperatures rise from just above 30 degrees to nearly 60 - a trend that would continue for the remainder of the trip. The sun, high in the cloudless blue sky, shone brightly on the water and cursed us with its warmth. In nearly twelve hours of fishing we managed one fish to hand. For my part, I drew only a single pull after a half day of swinging a 13'6" 8# around my head like a drunken Scotsman practicing his caber toss.

The one fish brought to hand - Photo (and fish) courtesy of Shawn Brillon

So I guess Thursday was a lesson in perspective. Yes, the fishing was difficult. Yes, I found myself frustrated at times, but the old cliché held true: a bad day of fishing is better than the best day at work. Any pressure I felt was pressure I put on myself, and that was pure foolishness. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a bit disappointed, but more than disappointment I ended the day feeling hopeful. I still had three days ahead of me, and as I had the night before I laid back in my bed, closed my eyes, and dreamed steelhead dreams.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day One - Boon

Sometimes the best part of a fishing trip happens well before an angler ever steps into the water. The preparation - tying flies, checking knots, patching waders, and mapping routes and destinations - is part and parcel of the hopeful anticipation that characterizes the bug chucking persona. We spend the days and weeks prior to our trip in a prolonged daze. We dream adrenaline fueled dreams of what might be, but oftentimes the reality does not match our hopeful expectations. That's not to say we're disappointed. Rarely if ever do we come back from a fishing trip without smiles on our faces, but more often than not the what was is hopelessly eclipsed by the what could have been. All of this brings us to Wednesday of last week. 

Every November, the boys and I make our annual foray to the Salmon River in New York; the trip is one of many we each make to the river individually, but usually the only one we make as a group. We come not for those fish that share the river's namesake but rather the steelhead that entered the river behind the salmon; brilliant fish that are intent on a feast of decomposing flesh and eggs. By late November the great majority of kings and cohos have expired, and thousands of steelhead remain. These are the fish that fuel our dreams, and last Wednesday was our first day on the water.

Our plan for Hump Day had been made months before the alarm rang at two o'clock that morning. Ben's father was to join us as he had last November, and we were determined to make this year more successful. Milo hooked several large fish - including one of particularly grotesque proportions - on that last trip, but his young buck guides just couldn't manage a single chromer in the net. This year was to be Milo's redemption; we guides made sure to brush up on our net skills, checked and rechecked all our knots, and tied hundreds of the flies we thought might bring Ben's dad some luck. Unfortunately, life is no respecter of fishermen and their steelhead dreams, and this year life threw Milo a bit of a curve ball. Ben's father was forced to back out of the trip at the last moment, and the rest of us scrambled to rearrange our first day.

Ultimately, we decided to stay with our original plan for the early part of the morning, and began at the Lower Fly Zone where we were joined by several dozen of our very best friends. If you've fished the LFZ then you get the joke. In November, this stretch of river is packed with steelhead like Toys-R-Us is packed with soccer moms on Black Friday, and where there are so many fish there is sure to be a corresponding number of anglers. There are some cracks where one or two bug chuckers might grab a small piece of water and expect to be relatively unmolested for the better part of the day; because we arrived well before most other anglers were even out of bed, we were able to slide into one of these sequestered - if not secluded - spots. Before long, however, we spotted little dots of light - other anglers' headlamps - bouncing along the trails on either bank of the river. I was reminded of History Channel video I've seen of the Viet Cong moving supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail.

As the sun came up over the treeline we realized that we had chosen poorly. We were surrounded by at least fifty other anglers, and with half of our party intent on swinging flies, there was no way we could bear to stay very long.  

In the short time we remained there were fish to be had, and while everyone in our party hooked up with relative ease, the nature of such fishing quickly became tedious. Our proximity to other anglers - many of whom were clearly lifting and snagging fish - prompted us to pack up after just a few hours and find a piece of water that wasn't being quite so rankly abused. On a lark, we drove to the Upper Fly Zone to check on a run that was tailor made by God, Nature, and Brookfield Renewable Power (the company that owns the Lighthouse Hill Dam from which the Salmon River flows) for bug chuckers who like to catch steelhead on the swing.

I won't go into too many details, but suffice to say we finished the evening on a happier note than we began the day. There were plenty of fish in the run, a few of them were eager to chase the big stuff, and those bug chuckers who happened upon us generally left us alone to do our thing. We met another angler who asked to rotate the run with us, and as enjoyable as was my conversation with Tom - I was happier to have met his dog. Copper was the most stick-fetchinest pup with whom I've ever become acquainted. I tried desperately to take a photo, but every time I picked up my camera Copper sniffed the lens - leaving little streaks of dog drool across the glass. Camera shy I guess.

Photo: Ben Jose

As the evening wore on, a couple of the boys wandered off to find an open slot to nymph. When they returned we decided to call it a day. We were exhausted and satisfied. Slowly we walked back to the lot and made the bleary-eyed drive to the cabin that would be our home for the next five days. After showers, unpacking, and a meal comprised almost entirely of useless carbohydrates (read: beer and pasta) we agreed to a later than normal wake up. For my part, I fell asleep filled with the hopeful anticipation that always precedes another day on the water.  

Monday, October 14, 2013


There used to be a time when the winter months meant ever worsening cabin fever - when piscatorial pursuits were put on hold until the snow and ice made way for the first of April. The opening day of New York's trout season was the light at the end of a dark and fishless tunnel; the weeks which preceded the opener were always filled with a flurry of activity: cleaning lines, patching waders, oiling reels, and tying flies. Opening day meant anticipation. Opening day meant hope.

Then we rediscovered steelhead, and everything changed.

Opening day is not the spectacle it once was. We no longer pine for the first of April because the winter months no longer hang heavy on our hearts. Rather, we look forward to the opener in much the same way we anticipate the hendricksons, sulphurs or summer drake hatch. Opening day is just one of many in a long series of opportunities.

The first reports came in some six or seven weeks ago. King salmon were staging in the estuary; a few had even strayed into the lower end of the river. With these early reports were whispers - hints that perhaps a trout or two had come in with the salmon, but that was late August and early September. Finding a steelhead so early in the season is akin to finding treasure in Al Capone's forgotten vault, not that we didn't try.

Now it's October - a month filled with opportunity. Salmon have been streaming into the system. Kings and cohos are racing upriver, but they're no longer content to travel singly or in pairs. They come with urgency and by the dozen, and what were quiet whispers of trout are now exclamations of steelhead. They're coming too - in ever increasing numbers. They know it's October.

There's something truly extraordinary about October steelhead; something that gets the blood pumping in a way only skydiving, swimming with sharks, and near-fatal traffic accidents get the blood pumping. If steelhead are speed - and they are - then October steelhead are quicksilver. They're angry lightening from the heights of Olympus. They're the meth addicts of the piscatorial universe: deceptive, unpredictable, and biochemically inclined toward violence.

So as I sit here typing - pining for my next trip to the river - I find myself thinking that October is the new April. I suppose it's ironic. Once upon a time, the opening day of trout season was the highlight of the year, the day to which all other days were compared. Now, it's the close of trout season that gets most of my attention. God help me, but I love October.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Memorium: William Cairns (1932 - 2013)

A short while ago I received very sad news. A fly fisherman - one of the foremost amongst us - has passed. I first met Bill Cairns over a decade ago when I went to work for the Orvis company in Manchester, Vermont. At the time, Bill was still involved with the company; as the founding director of the Orvis fly fishing school, he was occasionally called upon to give casting demonstrations, lectures, or individual lessons long after his official tenure at the school had ended. To this day, I've never met anyone better able to articulate the physics of casting, identify the weaknesses of a student's cast, or demonstrate the principles he so easily explained. Bill was involved with the fly fishing industry throughout much of his life; at various times he was employed by the H.L. Leonard company, Thomas and Thomas and Orvis, and he served on the board of governors of the Federation of Fly Fishers. Bill Cairns was one of the finest teachers I have ever had the good fortune of meeting; being his student was a privilege. Perhaps more to the point, Bill was a fine man and a good friend. He will be missed.  

A memorial service for Bill will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday the 19th of October, at Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester, Vermont. The official obituary can be found here
Memorial services for Bill will be held Saturday October 19, 2013 at 11am at Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester. - See more at:
Memorial services for Bill will be held Saturday October 19, 2013 at 11am at Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester. - See more at:
Memorial services for Bill will be held Saturday October 19, 2013 at 11am at Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester. - See more at:
Memorial services for Bill will be held Saturday October 19, 2013 at 11am at Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester. - See more at:
Memorial services for Bill will be held Saturday October 19, 2013 at 11am at Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester. - See more at:
From left to right: Bill Cairns, Shawn Brillon, Thomas Ames
That's Bill on the cover ... this photo was often reversed in Orvis' catalogs, showing a left-handed Bill Cairns casting right handed.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

1880 House Robbed

The 1880 House is a bed and breakfast that caters - by and large - to anglers who visit the Salmon River in New York. While I haven't been a guest of the 1880, I can say that the B-n-B has a reputation for being very accommodating of the anglers who choose to stay there. Unfortunately, the place was recently robbed; a safe containing the owner's personal property was taken.

I realize that chances are slim the thieves will be caught - even slimmer that they would be recognized via this site - but I thought I'd do my part regardless. The video is below, and you can find the full story here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

September on the Douglaston Salmon Run

Every September, my fellow bug chuckers and I make an annual pilgrimage to the Douglaston Salmon Run on New York's, Salmon River. Our hope is to wrestle an early season coho or king while not-so-secretly pining for steelhead and browns. The trip usually comes together in the first or second week of the month, but as fate would have it, only yesterday were we able to get our collective acts together. As expected, there was no shortage of fisherman, but an abundance of fish - fresh from Lake Ontario - made the trip worthwhile.

Fishing aside, the highlight of the trip was having the opportunity to meet Devin and his family. Devin was a young man (seventh grade) who had never caught a salmon; for the better part of the day, he and his parents were struggling to connect with fish. We were eventually able to get a fly rod in Devin's hands, and connected to that rod via line, leader, and gaudy fly was a coho of about ten pounds. Devin did an admirable job of listening to instruction and playing the fish; when that gleaming slab of silver was finally in the net I looked to the young man, and the expression on his face said all I needed to hear. We had done a good thing. Devin would sleep soundly that night, dreaming of silver salmon - his first salmon - and the pride in his parents' eyes.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The World Has Turned

After a long and particularly equatorial summer (read: hot and wet), the world has finally turned. I first noticed it the other night as the kids and I sat around the fire, and I watched as they practiced the nuances of properly roasting marshmallows. Their initial attempts back in July reminded me of that most famous of scenes in Apocalypse Now when napalm erupts along the tree line behind Robert Duvall's character, Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," Kilgore remarks, "that gasoline smell ... it smelled like ... victory." When set ablaze, marshmallows are remarkably napalm-like; they burn every bit as hot, stick to everything they touch, and even smell faintly of a sort of seasonal victory.

As the weeks have progressed since those first forays into the realms of sugar and soot, I've been seeing fewer fire hazards outside the confines of the stone brazier but exponentially more golden-brown caramelized goodness. The kids are finally getting it. When blowing out the amber flame that caressed one particularly well roasted marshmallow - perhaps his best offering to date - my son turned to me and said, "Dad, summer's over ... isn't it?" He looked a little crestfallen, and I nodded.

Yes, indeed. The summer is over, and as I sit here at my keyboard I find myself revisiting all the hopes I had for the season; aspirations that for myriad reasons - usually family, unfishable river conditions or indecisiveness - went otherwise unfulfilled. Foremost among my grand plans was musky. Going into the summer, I was determined to boat at least one of those snaggle-toothed apex predators. I did my research, and discovered that New York was surprisingly rich in flourishing muskellunge fisheries. I charted each river's course, marking on maps the likely put-ins and portage sites. I gave the wiggle test to several 10 weights, and tied a slew of outsized flies. And then - in the most anti-climatic way possible - it just didn't happen. Work got in the way. Family got in the way. Weather got in the way. Life got in the way. Maybe next year (of course, it doesn't help my fragile angler ego any that near the end of August one of my friends managed his first musky ... on a trip I was invited to attend).

This was also going to be the summer that witnessed me catch over 100 carp in the months of July and August. Again, I failed, but I think my inability to catch so many fish owes more to the nature of carp fishing than it does to any distractions. It was nothing short of hubris to believe that in roughly sixty days I would sting so many. Even if I was on the water everyday and everyday the water was perfect for sight fishing - hindsight suggests that such a high figure is a little ridiculous. Carp are far too difficult to stalk, and honestly I just don't have that kind of mojo. I caught enough fish to keep me happy, but I've learned not to project my foolish expectations onto such an unpredictable and uncannily wary animal.


Of course, I was supposed to explore new water - places that for now will have to remain distant and aloof. The ghosts that swim the phantom currents of those rivers will remain safe from the sharpened reckoning of my fly boxes for at least another year.

And while I am sad to see another summer come and go, I have to say that I am genuinely looking forward to the change. I find I'm filled with the hopeful anticipation that only autumn can bring; my dreams are filled with oranges and reds, chromatic silvers and buttery yellows. Bass, carp, and even muskellunge have given way to kings and coho, brown trout and steelhead. Reports suggest that the salmon have begun their annual push, and the trout will shortly follow to gorge on eggs and flesh.

So if I've a lesson for my boy I suppose that it is this: do not mourn the summer. Instead son, be patient and remain hopeful. The summer has indeed passed, but there are still new places to explore. There are still fish to catch. At the change of the season there is always a silver dream to chase.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


There was a time when I would walk for miles to avoid other anglers. If - when driving along the river - I came across another car in a parking area then chances are good I would just keep on going. I even tried to mask my movements bank side; at times hopping from rock to rock - like some sort of wader wearing ninja - to avoid leaving footprints in the mud. On the rare occasion when I did encounter another angler, I did my best to avoid conversation, feigning ignorance of the river and answering questions with the usual, "Don't know. It's my first time here." In simplest terms, I was about as antisocial a bug chucker as ever there was. Then two things happened to make me realize my foolishness: I rediscovered steelhead and I joined the ranks of the morbidly obese.

I wasn't always a fat man, although at no point in my life have I ever been skinny, slender, scrawny or svelte. Even when I was a soldier and possessed several clearly identifiable abdominal muscles, I weighed in at 225 pounds on my best days and a little more than that on my worst. I can only trace my family tree back a few generations, but I'm fairly certain that if I followed it to its source I'd discover my forbears hailed from someplace very cold and that they needed every bit of God's natural insulation.

While I am grateful for the extra warmth as I stand hip deep in a February cold river, I find the weight does tend to slow me down during the warmer months of the year. I'll still hike as far as I must to get to whatever piece of river I fancy fishing, but I'm not getting there quite as quickly, I'm not hopping along rocks like an outsized frog, and I'm not nearly as likely to go out of my way to avoid other anglers. Some days I'll even pause for a little while and strike up a conversation, and much to my surprise, I've enjoyed the overwhelming majority of those discussions. With few notable exceptions, the other anglers I've met streamside are men and women with whom I would enjoy spending a day on the water. Ironically, these conversations most often occur along the banks of the Salmon River - a stream with a reputation for combat fishing and rudeness amongst the anglers who chase its trout and salmon.

I've said it more times than I count, both on this blog and elsewhere, that steelhead are a special gamefish. They're eager to take a fly, they're big, and they're fast - ridiculously fast. They're also accessible, and within a day's drive of many of the country's major metropolitan areas. This puts an excess of pressure on the most popular rivers as throngs of people embark on a great annual migration to steelhead choked water. The Salmon River likely sees as many anglers as any other steelhead water on either the east or west coast; in all likelihood she absorbs more bug chuckers, gear heads, pinners, and bait dunkers than most any other comparable piece of water. As a consequence, finding privacy on the Salmon River is sometimes a difficult endeavor. So what is a metalhead-loving bug chucker to do?

To my way of thinking, we have two choices. We can accept that the best water on the river is likely occupied, and try to get away from the crowd by fishing less prolific beats, or we can introduce ourselves to the other anglers who frequent the most popular runs. As I've said, there was a time when the second option wasn't even a choice for me. I couldn't bear being anywhere near an angler who wasn't part of my group. My attitude began to change, however, as I realized that the few people I met stream side all seemed to be good people who felt exactly as I did about steelhead - regardless of the method they employed in the pursuit.

I'm reminded of Leon. Leon was an older fella', perhaps in his mid seventies, who I encountered some years ago on a November trip to the river. Leon was nearby when I hooked one especially hot hen that took me into my backing several times before I was able to land her about 200 yards downstream of the run in which she was hooked. Unsolicited, the old fella did his best to follow me downstream - recording on a Flip video camera my attempt to subdue one the hardest fighting fish I've ever hooked. He later asked my email address and sent me both the file and his congratulations. He and I still correspond from time to time.

Then there was Utica. Utica was a 16 year old kid who fished alongside us on one of the rare days when we just didn't have it in us to hike a mile through the snow or pay $50.00 to fish water less traveled. As it turned out, Utica and I were both guilty of the same crime - truancy. He was a student at a local high school, and he was skipping class to hook a steelie. I was a teacher, and I was doing exactly the same. Utica was cordial, funny, and eager to learn. More to the point, he reminded me of the best qualities young people possess, and at the end of the day I was eager to get back in the classroom with my students.

Of course, I couldn't write this piece if I didn't mention Lou. I met Lou in one of the river's many parking areas when I overheard him berating himself for leaving his fly boxes at home; the poor guy had made a long drive and had no flies with which to fish. I opened my boxes and gifted him a dozen or so different bugs and then went on my way. Later that day, I again encountered Lou - this time grinning wide as he had just caught his first steelhead on one of the flies I had given him. We exchanged information and some time later I received a walnut turkey box call, hand made by Lou (who is the owner of Boss Tom Turkey Calls) and inscribed to "The Rusty Spinner."

It may very well be impossible to fish one popular section of the river without running into Char, Dick, Dave or Kenny. They're good guys, regulars on the Salmon who are happy to help the uninitiated if the uninitiated just take the time to ask. The only payment they'll expect is the opportunity to engage in some good natured ribbing every time the initiate loses a fish. I know this first hand.

And as I sit here at the keyboard, I find myself thinking of the fellas from Virginia - whose names I now forget - who inquired about the spey rod I was fishing, and then asked me to photograph them with the fish I caught so that they could impress their wives and friends. We fished together for the better part of the afternoon; I still laugh when I think of them showing off my fish to their sweethearts.

Most recently, I had the good fortune of meeting Sergeant First Class Trent Myer. Sergeant Myer is stationed at Fort Drum with the Army's 10th Mountain Division where he is the program leader of the post's branch of Project Healing Waters. He and I found ourselves fishing within seventy-five feet of each other when I hooked a 20lb king salmon that I was forced to chase right through the water Sergeant Myer's group was fishing. After I brought the king to hand, Sergeant Myer introduced himself, his son Hunter, and their friend Jim - a PHW volunteer who shares my penchant for Orvis Odyssey reels. We talked and fished together the remainder of the day.

My point here is not to be anecdotal, but rather to demonstrate the quality of people we may meet if only we're open to the experience. Solitude certainly has it's place, but if fishing brings us some of the best moments in our lives then I have to wonder how much better those moments might be if we shared them with someone. After all, we're all strangers until we've been properly introduced, and if we're meeting on the banks of a river then chances are we have more in common than not.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


I am not a fan of technology although I must admit to using it as much as anyone else; I suppose this blog is testament to as much. Everywhere I go there is some manner of digital device close at hand. I've a desktop at work and a laptop at home. My wife swears by her iPad, the kids all have iPods, and I don't go anywhere without my smartphone. Still, I find I resent the unfulfilled promise of the digital world.

Purveyors and proponents of technology claim that digital landscapes exist to make our lives easier, to help us better navigate the day. Perhaps I'm the odd man out, but I find that technology does nothing to simplify the daily grind. Instead, my smartphone and laptop only serve to keep the gristmill open after hours. Consider that my entire neighborhood is asleep, has been for hours, and I'm drinking coffee as I stare at an LCD screen. There is, however, one aspect of technology that I've really come to enjoy.


Today's digital devices allow me to share - instantaneously and across incalculable distance - my personal collection of illicit images with any number of like-minded degenerates. Perhaps more to the point, a smartphone and digital SLR are invaluable tools in my efforts to arouse the ugly specter of my fellow bug chuckers' jealousy. Enjoy ...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Writer's Block Revisited

I enjoy blogging - which is to say that I enjoy writing - but I have to admit that from time to time I do think of giving up the ghost. After five years of being - with fewer than a handful of exceptions - the sole contributor to The Rusty Spinner, I find it increasingly difficult to consistently come up with fresh material. A bug chucker can only write about the hendrickson hatch so many times before the topic becomes stale and trite. Steelhead may be the greatest gamefish on the planet, but being months away from the first serious run leaves me uninspired. Carp are great, but writing about carp is sometimes tedious. Maybe fly tying?  Perhaps something more mundane ... wading, choosing a net? No, no, and no.

So ... if none of the usual topics inspire, about what do I then write? Maybe I should consider finishing one or more of the posts I've already begun. Looking back through my blog's record, I see that I've 86 posts - yes, more than seven dozen - that I've started, but for whatever reason I've not yet finished. Some I started only days ago, while others have lain dormant for more than a year. Some are nothing more than a title - an idea - but the vast majority are much more substantial.

"Thoughts on Fishing with Kids: Part Deux." This is one of those pieces that has been languishing in the pile for quite a while. My intent had been to record my observations while fishing with my triplets: Emma, Michael, and Madison. Seems easy enough, right? Multiples should provide plenty of blog fodder, and I've explored the topic previously. The problem is that children - or so I am discovering - are something of a paradox. They might behave one way on one particular trip, but on the very next outing - if not mere moments later - they'll say or do something that seems to contradict the previous behavior. From the perspective of a father, it's terrific. My kids make me smile with every surprise, but from the perspective of a writer - at least one who generally operates in fewer than five paragraphs - it's a nightmare. And I suffer no illusions. I realize that my children are not your children, and I don't want to be the guy on the five hour flight who insists on showing everyone pictures of his spawn, even though I've some mighty handsome spawn.

"If Rods Could Talk." Certainly this post should just write itself. I mean, think about it. What would your rods say if given the opportunity to speak? Sad to say that I really haven't a clue. Sure ... it's a great premise ... promising, but I haven't been able to make it work. I can't help but think that my rods wouldn't be particularly kind; I've broken - almost entirely as a result of my own careless disregard - way more than my share of the latest carbon fiber sticks. The folks at the Orvis rod shop actually inscribed one of my sticks with the name, "Rodkilla" ... as much an affectionate appellation as a not-so-subtle way of letting me know that I need to take better care of my toys.

All that having been said, maybe I do know what my rods might say.

"$#@& you, dude ... $#@& you."

"Brenda's." There are any number of flophouses dotting the length of the Salmon River in New York, and while prices vary no one  is really much different than the next. One particular bunkhouse - Brenda's - was a magical place; a place where the sickly sweet smell of stale cigar smoke mingled with the stench of urine, mildewy carpet, and putrefying salmon. Brenda's was the kind of place health inspectors either ignore or fear, the kind of place where you're smart to bring your own bedding, and where the artwork hanging on the walls was likely stolen from local fast food restaurants. The proprietor - Brenda - was a real sweetheart until a bug chucker actually stayed at her place. God forbid one leave any dirt or fly tying debris on her floor as dealing with her when she was upset was a little like finding a rabid opossum going through one's garbage. The world was just a little less bright on the day she sold her place ... reportedly to the wing-nut who gives us this video ...

"Notes on Working in a Fly Shop."

I hated working in a fly shop. No. Really. I did. In fact, we all did - all of us who worked there. To the average bug chucker who hasn't had the experience, working in a fly shop must seem like a dream job, but I'm here to tell you that it's about as glamorous as cleaning rest-stop toilets. 

While I've any number of complaints, the worst part about working in a fly shop was that in many ways, being a fly shop grunt was no different from any other retail job. I wish I could tell you that I spent the day tying bimini twists and woolly buggers, but that's just not the case.  Most days were much more mundane, much more job-like.

Maybe you remember what it was like to stock shelves at the local Wegmans or fold polo shirts at the JCPenney. Did you work the drive-thru at Burger King or sell car-wash tickets at the Mobil station? If you did then chances are good that you've had the same experiences as the boys working at your local bug shop. The customers were sometimes ill informed, occasionally pretentious, and often rude. The few moments of action - experienced while working with a customer - were punctuated by ridiculously long spans of boredom. Imagine what it must be like to inventory the fly bins.

Ok ... I might be exaggerating. There were times when working in a fly shop was one of the best jobs I've ever had - like those days when there were dead trout to clean out of the pond ...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Robin's Mirror

A short video of Robin Hill (of Spey Nation fame) catching his first mirror carp. I've interspersed the video clips with some pictures of common carp - only because Robin's fish spirited itself away before I could snap a few photos. More than anything, this was a chance for me to play with a new video camera and editing software so please bear with my amateurish efforts.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Gunner, Missile ... Hopper

Stay with me here ...

The TOW missile has been one of the U.S. military's standard anti-tank weapons since first being introduced in the late 1960s. When I was a soldier (many years and several pant sizes ago) TOWs were just about the biggest and baddest piece of ordinance that an average grunt like myself was ever trusted to handle. It's probably a good thing too because I was foolish in all the ways young men are often foolish, and I really enjoyed making things go "Boom!" - perhaps a bit too much.

TOW is an acronym for "Tube launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided." As the name implies, TOWs are tethered to their firing tubes and guidance apparatus via a ridiculously thin and strong wire that spools out for a maximum distance of 3750 meters. Think about how many pheasant tails a bug chucker could tie with that much wire. Assume the average tyer uses three inches of wire per fly, and understand that one meter equals just over 39 inches. That means one meter gets us roughly 13 flies.  Multiply 13 by 3750 and we discover that one TOW fired to its maximum range will give us a yield of 48750 pheasant tails.

Make flies, not war.

Anyway ... I remember wanting a memento of the first TOW missile I ever fired (on a live fire range in the California desert). Unfortunately, once a round is expended, little remains but the aforementioned wire - draped across the landscape from launcher to smouldering target. With no other option, I did what any fly-tying infantry soldier would do, and I scooped up as much of Uncle Sam's wire as I could retrieve and fit into the cargo pockets of my uniform. For half a decade, the First Infantry Division and the Raytheon company provided the ribbing for nearly every nymph I tied.

All of this brings us to Sergeant Shaun Gruner, a fly tyer and Army veteran who is a little more creative than was I in applying military surplus to his piscatorial pursuits.

Shaun began his military career many years after mine had ended. He went through basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia in 2007, and first deployed to Afghanistan in January of 2009. Gruner survived that deployment and another in 2010, only to be felled by a golf-ball sized rock while on a run along the dusty roads of Fort Bliss, Texas. Torn ligaments in his right foot prevented Sergeant Gruner from continuing to serve, and in January of this year he was given a medical retirement from the Army. He and his wife have now settled in Arizona.

As is the case with so many bug chuckers, Sergeant Gruner began fishing as a young boy but didn't pick up a fly rod until later in life. Gruner's first trout on a fly was hooked entirely by accident (incidentally, most of the trout I've caught in 30 years of fly fishing have been hooked accidentally). That first fish took Gruner's bug when Shaun dropped his backcast a little too low, and the trout found the sergeant's misplaced fly too good to ignore. 

After a long hiatus, Sergeant Gruner now hopes to return to fishing with the long rod. He has started (or rather re-started) tying his own flies, but lacks a collection of that materials that many of us consider essential. True to his military training, however, Shaun has adapted to the situation. He ties a grasshopper pattern that uses materials taken from items that are common to any soldier serving at any post in the world.

Shaun first shared this fly with the world via the Project Healing Waters Facebook page, and he has graciously agreed to do likewise here on The Rusty Spinner.

Shaun Gruner's "Commando Hopper"

Hook: Any appropriately sized such as the Orvis 2x Dry-Fly
Rib: Copper Wire
Body and Head: Closed cell foam cut from a military issue sleeping mat
Legs: Knotted waxed-thread taken from a uniform repair kit
Eyes: 550 cord - burned and melted at each end (a brilliant idea)
Hackle: Olive grizzly

Friday, July 12, 2013

River Tank

The river is beginning to drop, but it will take another week of rain-free weather before she begins to clear. Regardless, I was out looking for tails today, and I almost stepped on this guy - having mistaken him for a rock. I would guess nearly 30 inches from tip of snout to tip of tail ... one of the biggest I've seen locally.

He ordered nine turtles to swim to his stone
And, using these turtles, he built a new throne.
He made each turtle stand on another one's back
And he piled them all up in a nine-turtle stack.
I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!”