Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Bug Factories and Slave Boys

Some years ago, an acquaintance told me that the trick to fishing the Delaware River - and by extension any river on which prolific hatches are the rule rather than the exception - is to discover both the biggest and the smallest bugs that are on the water at any given time and to fish an imitation of one or the other. This strategy has worked for me many times on many rivers, but I'm still convinced that on a bug factory like the Delaware no method is sure to work all the time, most of the time, or even much of the time.   

What the hell is he eating?"

"How in Christ's name should I know? Every bug on the planet is on the water right now. Just open my beer, pass it back, and keep casting."

So went our conversations for the better part of a 12 hour float, and that's typical of the Delaware. Drift a few hundred yards, find a riser - either along a current seam or tight to the bank - set up as close as possible without spooking the fish, and cast until you're bored with casting or your arm falls off. Occasionally, the river gods will smile on you, and you'll hook up.  

More often, the fish to which you are casting - likely one of the best trout you've ever witnessed feeding on top - will slowly but surely emasculate you. She'll take naturals to the right and left of your imitation. She'll thrash the surface on every drift, but only after your bug has passed over her snout. She'll follow your emerger, and nose up behind your dun. She'll do all of this, but she'll rarely ever commit. In turn, you'll slowly lose your grip on reality; you'll begin mumbling to yourself. On the worst days - which paradoxically are also some of the best - you will curse the gods as your manhood shrivels and recedes into your abdomen.

Ironically, you'll finish the day with a smile on your face. The Delaware can be a harsh mistress, but you enjoy the torment she gives. You're her slave, her submissive, and you know that while the beatings are sure to continue they will eventually reach a climax. Once she has punished you enough to satisfy her sadistic nature, she'll give you the release you crave. She'll give you your reward, and you'll hook a fish. You might even hook a good fish, perhaps several, and everything will be right with the world.  

And while I'm not one to kiss and tell, I will say that last weekend - after fifteen fly changes, twelve hours, six river miles, five tasty IPAs, two bags of chips, and a partridge in a pear tree - everything was right with the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Faith and the Tongass

I spent the better part of my morning perusing the myriad blogs - all but one fly fishing related - that I follow. Two of them made mention of a contest being hosted by Trout Unlimited, promoted by the Outdoor Blogger Network, and sponsored by Fishpond, RIO, Redington, and Tenkara USA amongst others. There are a number of prizes with the grand prize being a trip to the Tongass area of Alaska to fish for its wild trout and salmon.

Why not?

"Faith and the Tongass"

I was once blessed with a teacher who was nothing less than a modern day Socrates - minus the robes, beard, and hemlock laced whiskey sour. Professor Callahan was both brilliant and quick witted. Her words were sometimes acid, but more often she whispered encouragement. Like any good teacher, Professor Callahan was a harsh task master, and though she did not demand perfection from her students she did insist that we strive toward that goal. In turn, she modeled the very same work ethic she demanded. Professor Callahan was no Hollywood, Edward James Olmos caricature of a teacher.  She was every bit the real deal. I've banked twenty years, fifty pounds, and three children since I first stepped timidly into the Iron Lady's classroom, and still there's one lesson that stays with me.

"Mr. Daley ..."

"Ughhh ... Yes."

"Tell us Mr. Daley, have you a romantic interest - a woman, perhaps a man - whose company you enjoy?"

"Yes ... a woman. Definitely a woman."

"Spare the emphasis. No need to proclaim your manhood to the class. You're in love?"


"And she loves you?"


"Prove it." 

Needless to say, I could not prove that I was in love (with the woman who eventually became my wife) any more than I could demonstrate the existence of God. For what seemed an hour, I only managed a stammering picture of my own juvenile insecurity and sophomoric ineptitude; I have to believe that was precisely the point of Professor Callahan's lesson. Some things simply have to be taken on faith. Faith - and her sister Hope - sometimes demands we move beyond the limits of the tangible, empirical, data-driven world in which we live. Sometimes we simply need to believe.

And I do believe. I believe there are places in the world that are well worth my day dreams. I believe in wild places hidden from the lecherous gaze of human progress - places that remind us of what the world once was and demonstrate what the world could be. I believe there are places worth protecting - places that are foreign to me but every bit as precious as the places I know well. I believe in the Tongass.

The sad and simple fact is that most of us will never see the Tongass. We'll never know the stinging sweetness of its salt tinged air. We'll never feel the moss give way under our feet as we stroll along one of its 17,000 river miles. We'll never see wolves sprint through the timber, or brown bears gorge on wild salmon. We'll never know the feel of a place that counts time not by the hour, but by the millennium.

Still, I believe. I believe the day may come when my children or grandchildren will travel to the Tongass. I believe they'll taste the air and wade the rivers that wind across our collective unconscious. I believe they'll see a place that remains as it always has been - untouched, wild, primal - "the best of what's left." Finally, I believe that those of us who do the work now will inspire those who'll continue the work later.

This is my submission to the Trout Unlimited 2013 Blogger Tour sponsored by Fishpond, Tenkara USA and RIO, and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

When River Monsters Came to Town

As a rule, television programming sucks; it has for years. Maybe I'm just being a curmudgeon, but I think the advent of reality T.V. has gone a long way to turn an entire generation of young people into vacuous imbeciles who are unlikely ever to make a meaningful contribution to society. I might be a little harsh in my assessment, but consider that we live in a world that puts Snooki on a pedestal and deifies Dance Moms.

There are, however, a few channels that offer programming that I do enjoy - as much as any cynic can enjoy such things. History is alright, but it was better when it was The History Channel. I could watch footage from WWII all day, every day.  Comedy Central has its moments - at least when it's not being overtly political; I'll admit to thinking South Park is pure satirical genius (maybe I'm the vacuous imbecile).

There's also Animal Planet and the network's highest rated program, River Monsters. The premise of the show is simple. Jeremy Wade (the show's host) investigates stories of massive and/or deadly fish that inhabit freshwater environs across the world. Wade and his crew have recently found themselves in Nicaragua fishing for tarpon that reside in a tidal river, and in the Ukraine hunting Wels catfish in canals that once cooled the reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. 

Sometimes the dialogue is canned and a bit too dramatic. It seems that whenever fishing is difficult, Wade consults a local shaman who will cast a spell or craft a charm to help Wade channel his inner Aquaman. If we believe the program's editing then we have to believe the charms work because Wade always gets his fish.

Theatrics aside, Jeremy Wade is a very impressive angler. He catches some truly remarkable fish, with increasing frequency he uses a fly rod, and he is a devout proponent of catch and release. Perhaps most impressive is that the man has figured out a way to fish the remote corners of the world while earning a paycheck for his trouble. There are certainly worse ways to earn a dollar.

Wade's show is currently in its fifth season, much of the filming for which happened over the last year and a half. I know this only because last year at this time the River Monsters crew was in my neck of the woods - or rather, just northeast of my neck of the woods. They filmed a portion of tonight's episode on Lake Champlain in Vermont. As is always the case with the show - the crew utilized local guides to help Wade track his monsters. One of the guides who assists Wade in this week's episode is a friend who calls Lake Champlain his home water.

Drew Price is a masterful fly fisher, a talented guide, and perhaps more to the point - he knows his water intimately. As it happens, Drew is also cut from the same cloth as Wade. Both men have a penchant for chasing prehistoric fish, animals that many anglers - especially fly anglers - might otherwise discount or avoid. Drew opened my eyes to the potential of some of these beasts - bowfin and longnose gar foremost among them.

So I guess this post is a plug - for both the show and for my friend. I've no idea what to expect, but knowing Drew as I do, I am certain we'll be given an interesting hour of television. Unless you're planning to be on the water, I can think of few ways to better spend your time.


For the River Monsters home page and programming schedule, click here ...

To inquire as to Drew Price's availability and rates, click here ...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Winter Coats

My son is a behemoth of a boy. He weighed 65 pounds when he started kindergarten back in September; now he tips the scales at just a few ounces under 80.  That kind of growth - 15 pounds in roughly nine months - is difficult for my wife to abide. She wants her baby back, but we won't be seeing him again. Baby boy has left the building. Little man has taken his place.

For my part, I enjoy watching my children grow. Sometimes the process is slow and subtle; so slow and subtle in fact that I hardly recognize it for what it is. Still other times the changes are so enormous that they seem surreal - if not unreal - simply because of the scope of their enormity. These moments sometimes bring a tear to my eye, but more often than not they make me laugh. The things kids do - the things they say ...

One night, after corraling the triplets into the tub for baths, my daughter Emma screamed at her sister, "Get the F out of the Tub!" When I ran into the bathroom - all full of daddy fury - to chastise my daughter for her language, I discovered there was a foam letter "F" floating in the water.

Another evening I walked into the house to find my girls sitting on the couch and singing, "I've got the moves like Jagger, I've got the moves like Jagger" over and over again. While the girls sang, my son - naked as the day he was born - was doing his best imitation of Mick Jagger, shaking his money maker across the expanse of the living room ... in front of an open window.

My children's frequent growth-spurts have forced my wife and I to adopt a semi-seasonal ritual. Most parents likely do the same. As summer turns to autumn, autumn to winter and winter to spring we rummage through closets, dresser drawers, and laundry baskets for the sake of removing from the daily rotation those items of clothing that are just too worn or too small to keep their places in the lineup. Denim jeans, dresses, tee shirts, hoodies, and even socks and underwear are sorted into piles for donation (to either family, friends, or The Salvation Army).

This year, we'll be donating the kids' winter coats. We somehow managed to get two years use out of them, but there's just no way we'll make three. The triplets have sprouted, and the coats that were once so roomy are now nearly too tight to zip. I suppose it's a good thing that the days have grown decidedly warmer; unless the weather gods fancy themselves comedians, we won't be needing parkas and mittens for a while.

And last night - as I folded the coats and put them into a box with other items slated for donation - I had something of an epiphany. I realized that we bug chuckers mark time by the seasons. As removed as we sometimes are from the natural world we cannot escape its cycles; the end of one cycle generally marks the beginning of another. For the next several months, I'll be counting time by hatching mayflies, but in that moment my mind drifted off to steelhead. Packing those coats away - one atop another - I realized that in many ways steelhead fishing is for me a kind of winter coat.

When my corner of the world wraps itself in a swaddling of snow and most anglers go into hibernation, I turn to Lake Ontario and its tributaries. The annual run of winter steelhead insulates me from what would otherwise be a bitter, fallow season. Sometimes I swing streamers or spey flies, but more often I'll dredge the bottom with ridiculously simple and ugly nymphs. Each method pleases me in its way, but ultimately the method does not matter as it is the fish themselves that sustain me.

And now it's time to fold that coat and put it away for the season. I had hoped for one more trip, but  hope is never enough to keep the days from turning. After a long and especially tenacious northeastern winter there is now warmth beneath the clods. Herds of deer and rafters of turkey have moved out of the thickets and into open ground. Trees are budding in pastel greens and yellows, and hendricksons hatch in earnest. Brown and rainbow trout are rising from the miasma to gorge on the first course served at Spring's table.

Still, it pains me to have to box up a season of chasing steelhead and place it on a shelf. I'm sad to see the winter go in much the same way I'm sentimental about my children growing out of their clothes - each box donated or stowed is full of moments we'll never again experience. Squeezed in between the folds of those moments, however, is also a hopeful anticipation of what's to come. As I shelve this most recent winter, I look forward to seasons still before me, and I take some solace in the fact that while I may have to set steelhead aside, I'll never outgrow them.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Is It Much Farther Papa Smurf?

It's funny how we carry moments from childhood and adolescence into our adult years. Tune the radio to a station that plays the songs we listened to as teenagers, and we'll likely know all the words verbatim even though we haven't heard those songs for years - perhaps decades. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I know this one ...

I was a headbanger. I wore faded denim and high-top Reebok sneakers with the tongues hanging out. My buddies wore band patches like military insignia. Metallica. Megadeth. Anthrax. Exodus. We smoked Camels, Winstons, and Marlboros. We drank Black Velvet from the bottle. We were bad ass, and yet there it is. I know the words - all the words - to Wang Chung's, "Dance Hall Days." And so long as I'm being honest, I know all the words to The-Artist-Formerly-Known-as-Prince's, "Batdance," "Raspberry Beret," and "Cream."

Prince was amazing. There, I said it. It's taken me nearly thirty years, but Prince was amazing.

And along with the music are a slew of images; bits and pieces of history and pop culture that have parked themselves in my temporal lobe, squatting in the space that would have been better occupied by calculus and fifth year French. Here's one that sticks with me ...

As unlikely as it may seem, I found myself thinking of the smurfs this past weekend while I sat in the bow of a friend's drift boat. We were eight hours into what would eventually be a 12 hour float. We had hooked some good fish, but fishing was generally slow - as fishing sometimes is this time of year. The last of the beer disappeared a mile upstream, we were two hours overdue for lunch, and we had just passed the section of low riverbank that is our normal take-out. We were dehydrated, sun burnt, and our eyes ached from squinting into the sun. We were done.

At one point, I said out loud and to no one in particular, "Is it much farther Papa Smurf?"

From the back of the boat came the reply - spoken in stereo and like the answer to a sentry's challenge, "Not much farther my little smurfs." I guess we were all thinking the same thing.

But here's the thing. As difficult as were those last few miles, I wouldn't take them back. However long, however arduous was that trip - we were still floating down a beautiful river on a gorgeous day, casting ugly flies to hungry fish. Given all the alternatives, I'd have to say that there are far worse ways to spend an afternoon.

What bug chucker doesn't appreciate a good piece of tail?
Kegs and eggs ... breakfast of champions.
This fish is living proof that trout are stupid, and will eat half a rabbit skin if we throw it at them.
A hell of a boat, with a hell of a skipper.
Whatcha' lookin' at Pee-Wee?