Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Redux

The time has come to put the year behind us. For a fly fishing blogger this means completing the obligatory end-of-the-year post, which is usually accompanied by a poorly edited video. While I have plenty of video to edit, I haven't a heck of a lot of time, so the video is on hold for now. Instead, I thought I'd revisit the year as it appeared in this blog.

What follows are links to my three favorite posts - one of which happens to be the most viewed post of the year. As you read - or reread - my rambling diatribes, I think you'll realize the theme common to all three.

Having children changes everything ... everything. There are times when being a father and a bug chucker go hand in hand. Other times we have to make choices and set priorities. I hope I always make the right choice.

Life is tough, and that's the truth. We all learn very early on that if we're going to be successful people, then we need to learn to deal with failure and with disappointment. Earlier this year, my son learned that lesson.

"There is no love like the love a devoted parent has for his or her child. Everything else - even casting a fly - moves to the periphery when one's children are born." 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on Fishing with Kids Redux

Part three in my umpteen part series of rehashed old posts ...

Thoughts on Fishing with Kids

Those of you that don't know me outside of this blog may not know that I am a father of three children. I've two girls and a boy; each was born February 15th, 2007. Yes. Triplets.

I have to admit that I was overwhelmed - perhaps even panicked - when the kids were first born; going from zero to nearly 30 diapers in a day will do that to a person. That's all changed, however, now that the trips have grown a bit. At five-years-old, they're on the verge of great things. They're learning to read. September brings Kindergarten and soccer. They can get drinks and snacks from the refrigerator without any assistance, and my wife and I can tell them to dress themselves with the odds usually better than 2:1 that they'll successfully accomplish the task (thank God for small victories). Soon they'll be mowing the lawn, doing their own laundry, learning to drive, and hiring lawyers to argue for the right to cremate my body, sell my home, and pillage my 401k. A bright future, indeed.

Looking back on the past five years, I realize that my best moments as a father have all come on days when I've taken my kids to the river. I don't believe I'm generalizing when I say that children - not just my own -are drawn to water; the attraction seems almost instinctive. I would challenge the members of my audience to find a young person who doesn't want to wade along the shore, swim in the surf, or splash in a puddle. I'm not sure when - as adolescents or as adults - so many of us lose interest in water and in woods, but I'm almost certain the behavior is learned. We must be taught to disdain the outdoors. I hope I never do that to my children, and I'm thankful that my three little guys are on the far side of that particular pendulum's swing.

I remember when my family made its first trip to the river; the kids were three - well on their way to twenty - and while my wife consented to the day, she was apprehensive about having her babes so close to the Battenkill's currents. In Arlington, Vermont - not far from the headwaters of the storied river - there is a small park and playground built along the river's edge. The river here runs swift but shallow, and the large cobble that constitutes the riverbed is perfect for a child's discovery. Our afternoon was full of minnows and crayfish, caddis pupa and stonefly nymphs. The day went so well - in fact - that my wife was able to forget her apprehension and simply enjoy her children.

We've made dozens of trips to nearly as many lakes and rivers since that first trip to the Battenkill, and I don't recall the kids ever having a bad time (well ... there was the day my boy stepped through the center of a dead, bloated, and slowly putrifying carp). For my part, our time together on the water has been many things, but more than anything else my family's time riverside has been instructive. I've learned so much, about my children as multiples and as individuals, and about myself as a fisherman and a father.

A few of my observations ...
  • Kids love mud, and so too should their parents. Mud - by virtue of its viscosity - slows the inmates - I mean kids - allowing parents to regain some ground.
  • Some children are a little like dogs in that they will try to taste just about anything they can fit in their mouths. Sun bleached bones, earthworms, sedimentary rocks, vacated snail shells, and smallmouth bass are among their favorites. While some of the things kids can put in their mouths may harm them, the vast majority will not, and the act of tasting will make memories parents will cherish for a lifetime. The number for poison control is 1-800-222-1222. Seriously, that's the number.
  • Kids like to know the names of things, and will give objects a name whenever they find it appropriate. A worm might be Harold, and a sunfish might be Sparkles. "Daddy, Harold must be pretty tasty because Sparkles ate his head."
  • Water is fun because water is wet. If water were dry it would be dust, and dust is not fun. As young children will only focus on a fishing rod for mere seconds at a time, a parent should be prepared to let his or her kids play in the water. Just remember that water is fun because water is wet, but riding home in wet Iron Man or Princess Belle underwear is not.
  • Sleeping on a water bed in a $120,000.00 recreational vehicle is not camping. Camping is roasting marshmallows, cursing mosquito bites, and sleeping under the gauzy mesh of leaky Coleman tent. Kids must experience the tent before they move onto an Airstream or Winnebago - even if it that experience happens in the backyard. To do otherwise is to risk your child - son or daughter - someday dating a man whose street handle is "Skinny P." As in "Yo, Skinny P in the hizzle ... mofos."
  • Some spouses act more like children when made to spend time riverside. Consequently, one should be prepared to deal with a whining spouse as one would a whining child. Dunk them and hold them under just long enough to cause hypoxia but not death. After pulling one's spouse from the water, be sure to act as if they've been saved from a horrible accident. I jest - of course - but a quick dunking (sans hypoxia) is sure to improve his or her attitude.   
  • If your son or daughter wants to kiss a fish, then let them kiss a fish. Would you rather a fish or Skinny P?
  • With the right modifications, a canoe can quite easily become a low cost family fun barge. 
  • The good Lord made tadpoles and panfish with children in mind, and children who enjoy panfish and tadpoles, with parents in mind. Get outside and enjoy your kids, enjoying themselves.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Working in a Fly Shop: Redux

Several years ago, I wrote what follows after a day spent drinking beer and reminiscing with friends about our time working together in a fly shop. I enjoyed my time there, but marriage, fatherhood, and career took me in another direction. I do sometimes miss the job, but most days I walk into a shop, and I am happy to be on the outside looking in. The truth is that working in a fly shop isn't glorious work. It's a retail job that in many ways is like any other. Conversation - about all things fishing - is the work's one redeeming quality, but I digress ...

I consider the reprinting of this a shop-veteran's service to those bug-grunts still operating in the field. I'm thinking it buys me first crack at that fish by the rock, but I know better than to hold my breath.

 On Working in a Fly Shop: Redux

Those of you who know me know that for about eight years I worked regularly in a fly shop, and that I still make appearances there from time to time. My time at the shop taught me some valuable lessons, which have helped me make the most of my time in other fly shops around the country. I thought I'd take this opportunity to share these nuggets with you.

1. The average flyshop employee does not care how you broke your rod. Your story is of little or no consequence, and will have no bearing on the employee's decision to help with your warranty issues. You need not regale the person behind the counter with ridiculous tales of Sasquatch, rabid muskellunge, or piscatorially-deprived sex offenders who demanded your rod tip or your arse.

Both you and the guy behind the counter know you broke your two-weight when you tried double-hauling four split-shot and a #2 Clouser. The ginormous rig collided with the blank at roughly 65 miles an hour, and the end result was splintered graphite in your hand. The rod shaft tells the tale.

Note my diction. The rod did not break. You broke the rod. It was your fault. It was not a defect in materials or workmanship, and guess what, the shop attendant is always happy to help. Just don't waste his or her time with a lame story. The conversation should go something like this. "Hi Mike. I broke my rod. Can you help? Great! When we're finished, can I get a quick double-haul lesson?" Be brief and to the point. There is no reason for subterfuge or narration. Again ... brief and to the point.

2. Warranties on rods do not equate to trade-in/upgrade privileges in perpetuity. Here's the scenario. You buy a top end rod. You fish that rod for two seasons. Two years later, company X replaces in its catalogue your top end rod with another top end rod. You then deliberately break your formerly top end rod, and return the graphite shards to company X fully expecting an "upgrade" to the latest and greatest fish slayer. If you've done this then you're no better than a steaming pile of bovine excrement. If you've done this more than once then your parents are no better than a whole field of steaming bovine excrement. Either way, I hate you. I hate your parents, and may God have mercy on your selfish, unethical souls.

3. If you ask a shop employee where to fish then you should expect one of several types of response. The particular response you receive depends almost entirely on your relationship with the employee, your skill as an angler, any prior military service (vets go to the front of the line), and/or the stature of your breasts (some boobs make liars out of us while others are like truth serum). All things considered, expect one of the following:
  • Lies. Almost always, shop employees are anglers before they're shop employees. Many have other, more lucrative jobs. They "work" in a fly shop so that they can talk fishing all day, and then fish after work. They will not turn you onto water they plan to fish themselves, and they almost always reserve the best water for themselves. It's human nature. Get over it, buy a map, and hope for the best.
  • Vague Generalities. Don't expect the employee to draw you a map, point to the rock on the key, and suggest you'll find a twenty-two inch brown behind that rock. If you're naive enough to ask where to fish, expect to hear answers like "The river," "Downstream of the bridge," "The trophy section," or "In your own state." In neither this universe nor any other does the purchase of four flies buy you access to the inner sanctum. Just go away, and choke yourself.
  • Truth. Some shop guys are just genuinely good people. In fact, most shop guys are just genuinely good people. They cannot bring themselves to lie for the sake of maintaining ridiculous, meaningless secrets. They will tell you exactly where to fish, when to fish, and what flies to use. They'll be so generous that you will invariably doubt the voracity of their information. You'll leave the shop feeling abused and belittled. That feeling will gnaw away at you while you go fishless in a section of the river the employee suggested you avoid.
4. All waders leak. The name on the label does not matter. The technology does not matter. The price does not matter. All waders leak. A few extra dollars might buy you some time, but this is not guaranteed. All waders leak. Patagonia, Orvis, Redington, Cloudveil, Simms, Redball, et al. All waders leak. Are you getting it? All freakin' waders will eventually freakin' leak!

5. Price does not necessarily equate to performance. If you want to cast farther or more precisely, take a lesson and practice. Don't make the shop guy explain why one rod is better than another. He'll have perfectly legitimate reasons, but in the end you need to cast the thing to know if a rod suits you. Avoid wasting everyone's time, and just get to it.

6. Everyone working in a fly shop would rather be fishing. Bear this in mind when mentioning just how good was the morning hatch.

7. And finally ... never antagonize a bug chucker who is armed with a spear.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Secret Sharer Redux

For the past several months, I've been in something of a story telling funk. The words haven't come easily, and as a consequence my keyboard has gone practically untouched. This isn't to say that I haven't anything about which to write; anyone who spends a life fishing is going to have stories to tell, but the way in which to tell those stories remains elusive.

Fortunately, I've several years of material to draw from. For the next few days - or weeks, or months - I'll be republishing some of this blog's older posts. I start with The Secret Sharer not because it is especially well written, but because it expresses a notion that seems at odds with the act of blogging about fly fishing: keeping secret our best fishing spots.

The Secret Sharer 

Robin Hill (of Spey Nation fame) and I recently spent the better part of a day cruising a local lake, looking for any small sign of the outsized carp that we both believe swim its windblown currents. At one point late in the day, Robin looked over at me and remarked, "It's because of this ... because of days like this. People write us [Robin and Spey Nation co-founder Geoff Shaake] all the time asking why we don't discuss the places we fish. This is why."

He was absolutely right. Days like the one we experienced are the reason so few bug chuckers divulge the whereabouts of their piscatorial stomping grounds. We were methodically exploring every back back bay on the southern end of the lake. We had miles of water under the hull and under our lines, and at the end of the day we parted ways knowing that neither of us would ever tell people what we discovered or where we had fished.

As juvenile as it must seem to someone who doesn't fish, the simple truth is that secrecy is the rule. What's the first rule of Fight Club? And the second?  "You do not talk about Fight Club."

So too with fishing, but the question remains. Why?

Robin nailed it. We - the too few members of the faithful fraternity of fly flingers - do not talk about the places in which we wet our lines simply because of the work we've put into getting to know those places. Robin and I explored every back bay on the southern end of the lake. We put miles under the hull and under our lines. We stared into the shallows until our vision was blurred by the glare of the sun. We changed flies, lost flies, tweaked the design of new flies, but we did not catch a fish. Not one. We were skunked, busted, blanked. By any metric, we had a very tough day on the water.

Sometimes I'd swear that they really are ghosts
And again ... we will never tell anyone but our closest compadres where we fished.

Given the stench of skunk, I think it obvious that our secrecy doesn't result from having discovered angling gems that we want to hoard and keep to ourselves. We all know of places where the fishing can be exceptional, but exceptional fishing is not the reason we speak in code if we speak at all. Rather, we are oftentimes tight-lipped to the point of being antisocial because we've worked hard for what we have. We're reluctant to share with the world because the world does not share our experience.

So ... I've some advice for anyone who hopes for the key to the inner sanctum.

Do the work yourself.

Buy a map. Walk the bank. Float a section of the river or the edges of a bay. Take the time to learn the water, and you'll likely be surprised by how prolific the fishing may be. Then take what you learn, and lock it away. Keep it safe. Don't tell anyone, least of all me. In doing so you'll learn the greatest secret of all.

The best fishing is never about the river or the lake. It's not about a particular run or pool. The best days on the water are never about the spot. The best days we have will invariably come as a result of having worked to achieve them, and as a result of having failed along the way. It's all about the effort. It's all about the work.

Demonstrate the effort, and you'll find the right spots. Do the work, and you'll have your own secrets to share.