Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"not as bad as Kazakhstan"

Here in the northeastern part of the U.S. folks are fighting against the rampant and sparsely regulated natural gas industry for real and potential ills related to fracking shale deposits for natural gas. And now it turns out that the same market forces that brought shale gas into production also brought shale oil into production. And what is a nasty by product of shale oil? Why natural gas, of course!

And there's so much natural gas production going on (thank you shale gas guys) that the sparsely regulated oil shale guys can't bring the gas to market so they're burning it off.

Set aside for a moment the whole carbon dioxide global warming thing as they burn all this waste gas. Wouldn't it make more sense to just do less shale production and less burning of waste gas? Probably not. But is sure does feel stupid.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What's in a name?

I've been cleaning up my tying desk over the past few days. A little bit at a time. It's too much to tackle all at once. I've got an order of Steelhead fly parts arriving during the next couple of days and want to tie up some devilishly Dirrrty flies for a Steelhead trip in early November. My desk was just an unimaginable twisted mess of dead animal parts, synthetics and the plastic sleeves for all those materials. Hence a bit of tidying up.

My brain has begun the shift from thinking about fishing to thinking about tying. It's part of the rhythm in my fly tying year. I read an article this weekend in Fly Rod & Reel about five flies for Fall fishing. That sounded like a nice way to blend thoughts of fishing with thoughts of tying. One of these flies featured was the Morris Emerger. As I looked upon this creation I surmised that this was just a Quigley Cripple sans hackle. I had "invented" the Morris Emerger a couple of months ago when I thought just what this Morris guy must have thought:

"Gee, when you tie these Quiglies really small, it's a real pain in the ass to tie in the hackle. I'm just going to leave it off. The damn thing will probably fish just as good."

And it does.

So Morris put his name on this one. Of course, that brought to mind the whole Kaufmann Stimulator debate. Apparently he's not the only one of have "invented" this fly.

I find it goofy that one would want to put one's name to a fly. I didn't name my riff on the Quigley. It was simply the small Quigley that I tied without the hackle. I didn't think "Aha! It's the Cripple Emerger Deluxe" much less "Aha! It's the Steve's Emerger Cripple Deluxe!"

What drives this eponymity*? Marketing? A life absent of any meaning beyond fly tying?

Above: Quigley Cripple
Below: Steve's Cripple Emerger Deluxe (also
known as the Morris Emerger)

*Is that a word?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bridge Pool

The more I poke around the more I see riverscapes changed by the double teaming storms of Irene and Lee. I didn't have time to fish last night but I did swing by a favorite Croton watershed stream on the drive home. I don't often fish this pool though it is likely the most popular on this stretch. I suppose this'll make casting a bit more challenging. I expect the highway department is going to take this tree out so that it doesn't hit the bridge during the next flood. The fisherman won't mind too much either.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Winding Down

I'm a trout fisherman. I've noticed on some of the blogs I follow that folks are beginning to talk about the close of trout season. In New York, where I work, October 15 marks the end of trout season with Sept 30 being the end on the Croton Watershed. In Connecticut, where I live, we're blessed with a season that pretty much runs year round. There's a brief closed season before opening day but there are plenty of special regulation waters that allow for fishing in the interim.

Sandy Brook
Fall trout season is a great time of year to fish and I'm glad I won't have to pack it all into the next few days. I do want to fish one particular stretch of the Croton one last time this year but it doesn't look certain. The dam is still running about twice "normal" volume and I've not invested enough time this year to understand how the stream changed after the Spring floods.

There's a small stream near the house that beckons. I walked its banks a week ago. The fruit on grape vines near the water is past peak but the scent of grapes was heavy in the air. I recall a spectacular sulphur hatch a few years ago at just this time and maybe if everything aligns I might freshen that memory of small, wild trout coming to hand. The early darkness of fall evenings adds a special urgency to the rhythm of our sport as we fatten ourselves with memories of vigorous tugs and haunting rises before our long hibernation.

As the season wanes, I've also noticed a significant drop off in the volume of posting on the forums and blogs that I follow. I bet we're fishing less; recent storms and high waters have put the rivers in an unfishable state. That seems to be a trend this year. But there seems to be a special quietude that's laying over the writers. I'm not sure if everyone is too busy with "real" work or not fishing as much or perhaps they're all just written out after a busy season; words hibernating to emerge later, stronger. Hopefully they'll all return after a respite. Second only to fishing is reading about fishing.

Adirondacks in the Fall

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quick Sips: Dolphins, Grizzlies & Team Olive

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Busted Crap

Grayling Slayer and Mouse Chucker
Fishing for a week gives you an opportunity to test your endurance and that of your equipment. By the end of the week in Alaska my casting shoulder was ready for a break and a tendon in my little finger wasn't happy at all. It's probably indicative of some casting flaw but if it only bothers me one week a year, I can live with it. Fortunately, after few days of rest and a few Advil and both the shoulder and finger were back to normal.

My equipment was largely intact upon my return. The rods (a Helios, a Hydros and a ZeroG) and reels (Mirages and a BBS) worked like champs. Yeah, I'm a walking commercial for Orvis but the top end gear lived up to its heritage. Could lesser gear have done the trick, probably. But at least I didn't overpay for crappy stuff.

My fly lines were a bit gummed up by the end of the week on account of  spending so much time on the deck of the boat so next time I'll bring some fly line cleaner. Which reminds me, I have to clean my fly lines.

Tony during happier times.
Note the Dirrrty Fly
So, what didn't work? Tony had two failures: a reel who's drag was toast after the first day and a fly line with a welded loop that split on what might have been "the fish of the trip".

Both failures were due to old equipment. The fly line should have been replaced; the loop busted from age. And a bit of lube would likely have saved the reel before it self destructed. So, lesson learned: Check gear before trip. Replace old stuff. Clean and Lube everything else.

I had two problems, both of which revolved around tin; specifically, tin shot. I could just have easily called this posting Tin Sux, but it doesn't, I just have to figure it out why this specific product is.... less than satisfactory.

On Friday, we spent the morning trekking out to the tundra in search of Pike. We struck out and had to call it a day early because the weather was closing in. I'll tell that tale next week. But the good news is we got out in the afternoon for some fishing on the river.

Jerry took the afternoon off so it was just Tony and I and we were chucking large, articulated flesh flies on long leaders with five or six BB (or larger) shot on them. Big rigs fished deep for big fish. I was fishing the same rig I had fished the day before and it was missing a few split shot. Rather than bug the man at the oars I dug out a package of split shot that I had and applied them to the leader.

I managed a few drifts with that rig, caught a few fish and as I was untangling the fly, which had hooked itself, I noticed that I was down to only three split shot again. I added two more and resumed fishing.

One of these things is crap. The
other broke because of the
thing that is crap.
Well, this replayed itself two or three more times. I was loosing shot or the shot would slip down the leader. And I got two massive tangles while I was goofing around with the weight. AAARRGH! On the last full day of fishing the last thing you want to be doing is messing with your equipment. Especially when your buddy is catching fish. AAARRGH!

So, this tin shot just wouldn't do the job for which it was expressly designed -- grip a leader and drag it to the bottom of the river. At one point I thought that maybe I wasn't squeezing hard enough and I squeezed so hard I broke my forceps. I then switched to a pair of pliers and either it wouldn't mash the shot enough or it would split the back of the shot. Useless.

Short story: Orvis Tin Split Shot will not stay on a sixteen pound leader. It's crap.

I'm all for getting the lead out so I've ordered a sample of pretty much every sort of tin shot on the market. They've started to arrive and I'm going to ferret out one of these buggers that actually works as advertised. Look for a review of Tin Shot in the coming weeks. Maybe there's hope for lead free weight.

Though I'm not optimistic.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wee Bugs

What's eating the Mile-A-Minute?
Yesterday afternoon Ann and I got out and walked a bit. She's been working on this project with the State to assess our ability to control the spread of an invasive vine referred to as Mile-a-Minute (Persicaria perfoliata). As indicated by it's name, the stuff grows quickly and being a native to Asia nothing here eats it. It just grows like crazy unfettered by pretty much anything.

The stuff is evil. The stems and leaves are covered with vicious little thorns that tear at your skin and lodge themselves in annoying places. The growth covers the ground, climbs bushes, trees and anything else it can find and kills the plants it covers. It self pollinates and produces a prodigious amount of berries that birds love. They then do us the great favor of crapping seeds hither and yon. This invasive likely escaped from plants that were imported from Asia. Good fun.

One of the reasons that this topic is important to trout anglers, especially small stream anglers, is that one component of stream health is good cover and stable banks. Many native species of shrubs and trees provide shelter from summer suns as well as root systems that keep banks from eroding. Without cover water warms. Without good root systems, banks wash away and silt in spawning grounds. Mile-A-Minute kills off those native species and replaces them with a ground crawling vine that has no valuable root system.

Oh, and those berries float really well, for up to seven days according to some research so when this stuff settles in on a stream it's easily transported downstream.

Why wee weevils of course!
(About the size of a pinhead. That
flawless skin is the palm of my hand)
One of the ways the State is looking to control the vine is by setting free these small weevils from Asia that only eat this stuff. Prior to release there was plenty of research to see if they ate anything else. Apparently they don't. That doesn't preclude the weevils from eradicating human kind as we know it but it certainly reduces the possibility.

We looked for evidence the weevils were still alive and munching at four sites. Three were by streams and one was in a  field. The weevils in the field seemed to be happiest. They were eating the heck out of the vine. Near the streams we saw less evidence of weevil damage and didn't see many weevils at all. That could have been due to the flooding we've had recently but there are likely other factors at play.

Be aware of what you're planting in your garden. In all likelihood it'll someday get loose into the wild. Plant more of the species that exist where you live and less of the exotic things. The fish count on familiar places to live. Leave the Asian stuff in Asia.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recursive Hell

Taking Erin's suggestion I Googled "Are stand alone computers obsolete" and the third link is my own posting from yesterday.

My question is the answer to my question.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Google Devices

Is the entire purpose of computing devices to search Google? Or at least to connect to the internet?

Sitting watching TV this evening I found myself with a question that required Google and asked Ann if we had a Google device around. Are standalone computers obsolete?

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Chill Wind

Last Fall's pond
Today is one of those days that just smacks of Fall. We've got plenty of days ahead when the temperature will nose up into the 70s. Most of the leaves are still on the trees and are the dark green of summer. But today's mid-60s and blustery winds are indicators that, before long, the Maples will turn crimson, that trout will make redds and small blue winged olives will be the fly of sipping choice.

Fall is my favorite time of year. Something about wrapping one's self in sweaters and the first smell of wood smoke on the wind. The glorious colors emerging in the forests and the hashing and rehashing of memories of warmer weather and better fishing. And a bit of a cringe anticipating the harsh New England weather to come.

This weekend I will pick up a shotgun for the first time since last year. It's the quintessential fall transition. I'm off to the range to fragment small orange disks in the hope that I'll get out to shoot some bird this fall. Or at least get out to hike in the beautiful places where the grouse and partridge and mallard live.

But my passion will still be for stalking trout in cold water reflecting the crisp colors of fall. There are some small streams that I've neglected. The waters of past storms are clearing. I've heard the trout are still there. This cool wind smells of adventure. I have just the sweater for the task.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Changeable Weather

I had been told to expect lousy weather on the Kvichak. Rain. Wind. Rainy Wind. Windy Rain.

We got lucky. Most of the rain fell at night and the few rainy days had plenty of non-rain in them as well. And the fish never seemed to mind the weather; except for Wednesday when they seemed to mind something and we blamed it on the weather.

Clearing storms and impending storms are often a good time to appreciate moving light and the changeable weather made for some amazing cloudscapes. I've captured a few below for your viewing pleasure. I had a lot of trouble editing this down to a few items so you'll just have to suffer with a few more than I might otherwise publish.

Big River, Big Sky

Stormy Morning
During most of the trip we were under this sort of heavy, gray sky.

Fog on Iliamna

Morning on the beach

Storm on the Horizon (it passed us by)

Evening on the beach

Forest Sunrise

Happy, Dry Clouds
This day was perfect! Sunny. Warm. Big, fluffy clouds. Fish on!

Tonight a storm
During most evenings the cloud cover built.

Geez, I don't know, make up your own caption.


Iliamna before lunch
From a high point on the Tundra. It was refreshing to be
looking down on water as opposed to being at water level.

Pike Pond (sans Pike)

A link to the other posts about my recent trip to Alaska

Technical Details for you photo wonks: All these photos were taken with a Canon 50D and an EF-S 17-55/2.8 lens. I had a polarizing filter on the lens most of the time and was auto-bracketing +/- 2/3 of a stop. Most of the photos I liked were -2/3 owing to a very bright sky and my desire to have good cloud detail. The relative underexposure adds some drama though at times muddies up the overall picture. Minimal post-production. Pretty much what you see came out of the camera except for the B&W and Sepia images. This was highly dependent on the artistic vision of yours truly. :-P And, of course, some amazing weather.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quick Sips: Bourdain, Montana, Jim Harrison

Photo: Travel Channel
I'm not a big Anthony Bourdain fan. I like his show but I don't go out of my way to watch it. The other night I was channel surfing while I was writing and happened across one of his shows. He was in Montana. It has fly fishing, great game dinners and Jim Harrison. What more does one need? Chatham too!

Below are videos of the entire show. Good stuff. For those of you who haven't seen Bourdain before, be forewarned, he (and his guest Jim Harrison) enjoy colorful language.

That quote at the beginning of the show is as follows:

"Some people hear their own inner
voices with great clearness.
And they live by what they hear.
Such people become crazy...
or they become legend"
- Jim Harrison

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Strange Familiarity

The escape from Irene has weighed heavily on me. I did leave my family to go fishing and whilst one could certainly rationalize that I had a couple thousand dollars on the line one could easily argue the other way. Fortunately I have a resilient and resourceful spouse and boys who are finally of an age where they're very helpful with around the house stuff. More fortunately, everyone emerged from the storm without harm.

And the storms weren't finished with us. The remnants of Lee came north and dumped all manner of rain on an already soggy mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Our local streams got hammered but most of the big rain fell up north. That meant within a couple of days, the large rivers down here were testing their banks with both local and immigrant waters. These familiar waters were not themselves.

Saturday, we took a drive up the Housatonic to see the water. The normal drive is straight up Route 7 but we got detoured several times where water was still over the river or the road had been undermined. That was certainly new. And a river that fishes well around 800 cfs was rolling at around 12,000 cfs so now we have a sense of what to expect at those levels. One parking lot that normally holds a dozen cars was well under water; like up to the roofline underwater.

Fish on, Sand Hole. That red line is the water level in the
picture below.
11,000 cfs. Where's Sand Hole?
So seeing the large rivers in such bad shape I visited a small stream with the hope of some fishing. The stream gauge said I could wade it and a bridge crossing upstream showed me the water had cleared. Both good news from an angling perspective but this stream had been assaulted earlier this year with fairly significant changes.

I found a river that was where that other river was but it wasn't the same river. Straight lines were now curves thanks to fallen trees. Some deep parts were now filled with gravel and sand and the river now favored one side channel over her former main channel.

And the fish weren't where they used to be. I cast the flies that have worked in the past hoping that this new river would yield to the temptations but such was not the case. I got a few curious nibbles from fish who were likely half the size of the fly but nothing that resembled a real small stream trout.

This new river will take some time to figure out. In the spring a section downstream that was a delightful run was ruined changed by half a dozen trees that fell across the channel obstructing and diverting the waters. I haven't gone down there yet. Maybe this recent flood moved all those "bad" trees aside and now the run is restored. Perhaps the unintended consequences have cut my way. Maybe the fishing is good again, downstream, in this new river.

In that upper picture, the crown of a maple is sitting
smack in the middle of the pool with a beaver
nibbling on the branches. So much for rising trout.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You went to Alaska and all we got were two articles?

Two words: Work

Okay, that's one word, but it feels like two. Back to work this week and between the gazillion emails, dozens of meetings and sizeable jet lag I just haven't had the energy to post my thoughts, results, and pictures/videos of the trip.

Being back in the real world is certainly a stark comparison to the Alaskan bush. Out there I was really out of touch. At best I got one phone call back home each day. The only news we received was what had happened on the boats. Anything beyond the world of those ten boats just didn't exist.

In one way, that's really disturbing. I have a family and with Irene bearing down on them it put an edge on the first few days until I found out that everyone was okay. It was also disconcerting to be so out of touch with everything else. The pace of the world has changed and our circles of relationships has expanded. Setting aside work, it's all that other stuff that just moves with stunning rapidity. And I like to keep up with it via cell, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, websites, apps, texts and the numerous other technologies and techniques upon which I have become so dependent addicted enamored. And for a week none of that was available.

No wifi. No cell connection. Hell, no newspaper. No weather report!

And after a while it became this sort of meditative experience with patterns and rituals of its own. 6 am alarm. Breakfast. Boat at 8. Lunch at Noon. Three fingers of Macallan at 6. Dinner at 7. Bed at 9. Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Repeat.

There was a simplicity to camp life that had at once solitude and companionship. On the boat the rituals of casting and catching and rotating from front to back created a familiar pace in an unfamiliar locale. And each day was both the same and different. But in it all simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

After seven days, I was done fishing but not ready to go. I yearned for news of the outside but savored the bubble in which we had existed. And now I'm back in the comfortable routines of this other life. The boys are back in school after a hurricane extended summer vacation. Ann's life is back to a normal pace and work should taper off a bit once I get past the pent up demand.

I'm glad to be back though I do daydream at bit. One image that sticks in my mind, during the day and before I fall asleep, is a white strike indicator flowing over clear water and the scarlet backs of spawning salmon. Waiting for the take. Waiting for the tug.

This stuff can haunt you a bit. I now have a taste of what drives Steelheaders. Sure it's the tug on the line but it's also everything else that's around it. The totality of the experience; the cadence and the ritual of fishing over large fish in remote locales. The chance meeting of two species as we both make our long journeys towards the future.

Dawn over Iliamna

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

That's Dirrrrty

As fly anglers we're all about the bugs. Early in your fly fishing career you're confused by the bugs. Then you become obsessed by the bugs. And finally, you find bug wisdom. Latin doesn't really matter, size and color are enough.

Our guide for the week, Shane Reynolds, is a hardcore trout bum. No permanent address. He guides. Prior to Alaska he was a guide in Colorado, mostly on the Gunnison and nearby rivers, and after Alaska he's heading down to Chile for the winter.

Shane was a great guide. Not only could he manage the boat, find fish, help with technique and wield a net with confidence when the trout of a lifetime was on the line, but he was a good guy with which to spend long days on the water.

Personality matches are critical with a guide. Get a guide who is a dullard or has only one personality channel and you're doomed. But a guy like Shane knew when to bring out the ripping sarcasm, when to encourage, and when to back off though he backed off rarely. Shane was always on.

Shane called all flies "bugs" even though we rarely cast actual bugs flies. Flesh flies and eggs were the name of the game in these waters. While on the water, we were treated to a bunch of Shaneisms but the one that I found most appropriate to the game was "Now that's Dirrrty". You have to purr that last word. The phrase was used to reference a particularly gnarly looking flesh fly that he was convinced was a true fish magnet.

The original Dirrrty Bug
There were basic flesh flies that were comprised of a single hook, a strip of rabbit's fur and some webby hackle. But Shane's specialty were articulated flesh flies. Tied on two hooks, with the first hook's point clipped off to comply with single hook regs, this fly was tied in below a bead attractor and then dead drifted below a fifteen foot leader with a ton of weight on it. Ticking the bottom this fly brought most of my fish to hand. I was hooked on fishing the flesh.

Not Dirrrty

Massive Dirrrtyness

Wednesday was a slow day of fishing all around. I think I had one fish. The other guys did better but we clearly hooked far fewer than previous days and only had a few to the boat. I think this was the day that Tony missed two very large fish. Bad luck all around. We talked to the other guys and gals at the lodge and everyone seemed to have a slow day as well but Shane seemed to take it personally.

The next morning he hopped on the boat with a bunch of fly tying materials in his hand. He felt that some on-the-river innovation was needed and while we were drifting he tied up the fly below. Ugly as hell. Definitely Dirrrty. And it produced. First a Sockeye. Then a Rainbow. Then a couple more fish before it was lost in the jaws of a large Sockeye that got away.

Custom Dirrrty
Mini Sockeye. Fish magnet. Drifted. Swung. Stripped.
Lost it to a big Sockeye.
Shane can tie a good bug. A Dirrrty Bug.

Speaking of bugs.

UPDATE: Make sure you watch this at 720PHD to see the full swarm.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cutting to the Chase

I know you all want to hear me wax poetically about the majesty of Alaska. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait a bit for that sorta stuff. Here's the stuff that fisher people normally want to see.

This time of year on the Kvichak 75% or more of anglers have come to target large Rainbows. The 'bows come down from the lake and are laying behind the thousands of Sockeye and Chum whose sole focus is getting it on. The Rainbows are waiting for eggs and the decaying flesh to come downstream and they grow very large. Allegedly, it's not uncommon for the largest fish of the week to be measured over thirty inches. The 'bows were there though not in the numbers that apparently they were last year. I think this is a common lament of lodge owners everywhere.

The remainder of the anglers are there for the Silvers (aka Coho). Well, the Silvers ran early this year and the run was small. So, only one Silver was caught in the lodge all week.

We caught fish. Lot's of them. We hooked many more. Some days were better than others but even the slowest day, when I landed only one fish, the other guys made up for it. We caught Sockeye, Chum, Rainbows, Grayling, and one, lone Char. Here's a few of the better ones.

Tony's 28 inch Rainbow (Shane, the guide, looks
even more pleased than Tony)

Me and a 29 inch Rainbow (Top fish at the lodge until it was
 unseated by a 32" fish caught on Friday)

A bycatch of all that Rainbow fishing was plenty of
Sockeye and Chum. This is one of the larger Sockeye

A larger Grayling. We caught them to twenty inches. Lot's of
fun on a dry fly.
A smaller Rainbow, 22 inches. Shane was downright
disappointed when we hooked a fish smaller than twenty inches.
It was similar to catching salmon parr on the Farmington

Jerry and a large Sockeye.