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 ...