Monday, November 28, 2011

One tree, two tree, three tree, four.

Route 111 joins my house with a beautiful little trout stream. Along the way it passes through forests and brown fields and all the trappings of suburbia and it crosses another small river that never seems to fish as well as it promises. Driving back Saturday evening from Brook Char water I began to see them. It's after Thanksgiving so I don't begrudge them their joy, but I still feel it's a bit too early to see Christmas trees on top of minivans and SUVs.

We have a one tree house; one real tree goes in the dining room. The other rooms can't accommodate a Christmas tree* without some piece of furniture being moved into some other space. And then the other space will be too damn crowded for humans. I suppose that's our own fault; we happen to like furniture.

We're not decorators. You won't find icicle lights on our eaves or a glowing Rudolph on our roof. The only decorations visible from the street are white window lights and a small fake tree out on the porch. We got that dwarf tree a decade ago when we arrived home from a trip on Christmas Eve and couldn't find a real tree anywhere. I bought that fake tree, fully decorated, from the window of a local shop. We put a garbage bag over it, put it in the trunk, and it made a fine home for presents the next morning. I've often thought of replacing that fake tree with a small real tree but that's just one more thing to buy and to care for and to dispose of after the holiday.

Saturday, while Sam and I drove back from the char stream on Route 111 we passed many vehicles driving home with conifers lashed to their roofs. Again, I have no problem with this as long as it's after turkey day.  I expect some folks likely have tree erection traditions that practically require the purchase of evergreen products within forty-eight hours of Tryptophan poisoning.

What surprised me was the frequency of vehicles with multiple trees. At first I suspected that they were picking trees up for a disabled relative or a recluse neighbor. Then I considered that perhaps, like me, they were replacing that small fake tree on their porch with a proper tree. But then I began to see vehicles with three, and even four, trees.


How many trees does one need to slay in order to properly celebrate the birth of Christ?

And then it struck me.

If one purchased a 6,000 square foot house mansion inferiority complex on a half acre of property with a sub-prime mortgage funded by taxpayers you have plenty of room in which to put more than one tree. And owning such a behemoth you probably aren't giving too much thought to conservation or any of that other drivel.

Consumption has gotten out of hand. I had hoped that the global economic crisis and unemployment and a general good look in the mirror might have caused one or more of us to decide that more of everything wasn't the goal of our existence. That maybe we'd give some thought to how we got here, what it means for our future, and how we might do things differently. But that's just Pollyanna bullshit. Consumption is King baby.

I'm sticking with one tree.

* At least of the "correct" proportions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

There are some who call me....Tim.

A few years ago, a kindly group of investment bankers, high-net worth individuals and consultants willing to help*, persuaded some neighbors in New Hampshire to take relatively paltry sums to give their land over to industrial wind turbines**. Many signed up. Rumor had it that they were getting up to $6,000 per year which is a nice supplement to income, especially in this rural town. Of course, flatlanders such as myself were against the whole idea.

I share with my brothers a small cottage built by my great uncle back in the 50s. It's on a small pond that fishes poorly but we don't go up there to see industrial power stations, we go for the whole nature thing. Fortunately our house faces west and the turbines are up to the north.

New Hampshire is a live-free-or-die kind of place. Our town has no zoning cause folks want to be able to paint their house pink (a statement made at a town hall meeting) or put a half-dozen broken down school buses in there front lawn if they want without have to worry if their neighbors don't like that. I admire their pioneer spirit (sarcasm intended).

Of course, one wonders what the town will do in a couple dozen years. The tax benefits for wind will expire. The turbines will become derelict. The Limited Liability Corporations established to manage the towers will declare bankruptcy (if they ever had any assets to begin with). And, the town and its six hundred residents will be left to wonder how such a furry little bunny could be such a powerhouse of destruction and ruin.

This past weekend there was a fine article in the New York Times about the experience that a small burg in Pennsylvania has had with the whole fracking thing. As anglers, we've been concerned about the long term impact on fisheries but most of these folks were dealing with issues like putting food on the table, paying property taxes and putting their kids through school. Having a well on your property was like winning the lottery.

Of course, the lottery in Amwell Township includes inexplicable illness, dead animals and a pile of money and pollution. Fortunately, all the studies that the drillers have done point no blame at the drillers. I'm glad the regulatory agencies are on top of this (there's that sarcasm again, sorry).

Be sure to check out the video in the article. I especially like the image twenty four seconds in. I'm sure that milky white liquid that's flowing directly into a river is harmless***.

Beware of cute little bunnies bearing gifts. That crazy guy with the horns on his head is usually correct. Just look at the bones of past mining and drilling endeavors. At best that gift'll turn into a rusty pile of scrap metal. At worst, you'll lose your head. And that of your children. And your dogs. And pigs. And llamas.****

And now, for something completely different.

* Before you send money to your utility company for green energy, check to see if their green energy partner actually owns any green energy power plants. My gut tells me if you counted up all the kilowatts of green energy sold each year to consumers you would find it's more than the total green energy produced. And that "extra" money (along with most of the rest) is a payment directly to some rich investor.
** Some folks call these windmills. Technically, a correct statement, though charming dutch wind mills they're not. And they are a beautiful from an industrial design perspective with a heavy emphasis on the word industrial.
*** I promise, that's my last sarcastic remark.
**** More like humor (such as it is), not sarcasm.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's Dawn

Though The Almanac would disagree, it's dawn.
Fully an hour before that sage would announce it
The lesser blue on the horizon
Visible through the bare trees
Is measure enough
for me.

The air is solid on the truck window
Though the winter devil is not so close
That a brief touch of warmth
Dispels its touch; clear vision
for what is ahead.

To the north, six lamps ,
bobble down a cut in the wood
with hushed curses.
Tip tops tangle
And roots grasp
Cleated boots
Downhill, river bound

Shadows stomp and pace
At the inside of the bend.
Lights are now out.
The forge is lit
Bellows build the fire
The hammer, the tongs, the switch
of our trade, of our passion,
Leaded and run deep,
To work the Steel.

With a keen vision
That old eyes haven't known
Since the days of our wee youth
We see, feel, sense,
In the cool, gray light
The minor tug of unseen lips
On a morsel of deception.

A line zips through the water.
No war cry, but maybe a grunt,
Perhaps a quiet recognition,
Of what we've all been waiting for.
Heads turn in unison to the sound
All hearts beating a few steps quicker.
Reel in, with urging and envious eyes,
Step back, give room,
willing the fight to be a good one.

And it is.

No log to be beached
But a bright, shiny, nickel-
plated demon with the strength
Of its namesake
It runs
It runs
And so does the smith
Reeling, praying, cursing
It runs.

And it is over.
Ambushed on the beach
By a Scotsman and his kerchief.

The records books will not record
This Steel
But it is real and solid
And satisfying to the smith and his peers
In ways that confound words
And emotions and everything. 
But that look in the eyes and 
the murmured accolades
A handshake, the recognition
That satisfy almost as much
As this Steel.

The smile, the outward joy
Expressed during
The trip's first days
Is gone.
Tired, haunted eyes
Dull expressions from days of casting
Satisfied. Content.
Ready for another go.
And another,
After that.

Steel is at hand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I am not a Steelheader

I am not a Steelheader

I have been to the river. I have stood and cast the thousand casts with the repetitive determination of one who knows that his time will come.

I have hooked fish. I have seen fish hooked. I have watched nickel-bright slabs cartwheel and surge and scream about the river. I have brought the Steel to hand.

And yet I did not leave the river with regret. I did not spend the ride home plotting the next trip. I am not fully distracted in my daily activities by the replaying of Steelhead moments on an endless loop in the screening room of my brain. I have no plans to return to the river.

I am not a Steelheader.

And yet I find myself still tying flies like these. What can it mean?

Steel Stone

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Bugs Life

Big Trout Food or Small Lobster?
There are bugs that scare the crap out of me. Sure there's that super large beetle that grasped onto my leg when I was fourteen and living for a summer in Montgomery, Alabama, but that's not the kind I'm talking about. Nor am I talking about some rare African stinging bug that can paralyze an elephant. I'm talking about trout food; scary as hell trout food.

Each year my chapter of Trout Unlimited samples a couple of streams in our area in support of the DEEP's* Rapid Bioassessment in Wadeable Streams & Rivers by Volunteer Monitors program or RBV** for short. The purpose of the RBV program is to monitor water quality (a key indicator of overall stream health) by sampling what sort of bugs live in the stream. Each type of bug is categorized as most desirable, moderately desirable or least desirable based upon the relative frequency that such bugs are found in high quality, moderate quality or low quality water. The better the bug life, the healthier the stream. And our trout friends, especially the natives, like high quality water.
Sam sorting

The bugs in the high quality waters are generally the stoneflies and a couple of different types of mayflies. Stoneflies are the Brook Trout of the macroinvertebrate world; they need clear, cold, well oxygenated water to live. Midges are the Bluegills; any sort of environment will do with a preference for warmer, still waters with muddy bottoms. Just the sort of place that would kill a Brook Trout. So, better bugs equals better water, and hopefully, more trout.

Some of these bugs scare the crap out of me. Sure the midges are harmless enough and the crayfish look like small lobsters so even though they pinch my hand when I pick them up they go into the "generally harmless" category. But have you ever seen a dobson fly? Well it's larva is no less terrifying. And they can pinch you like nobodies business. A pinch from a small lobster, no problem. A pinch from something that looks like it came straight out of the waiting room in the Men in Black spaceport, that's just freaky. And Large Black Stoneflies, those dudes just look like they've had a bad day and are out to mess with someone.

And just in case you think those ropy caddis fly larvae are harmless, I submit Exhibit 1: Bug Condo and Exhibit 2: Condo Carnage. Exhibit One appears to show a peaceful community of tiny, harmless bugs living in their condos; living and playing happily together. But one of those caddis flies is a voracious predator. Put him in a bin with anyone else and soon all you'll have left is nymph parts and a yellow goo swirling in the water. No need to call CSI, the guy who did it is the guy who isn't chewed into pieces.

Exhibit 1: Bug Condo
Exhibit 2: Condo Carnage

I love bringing the boys to do this work. In addition to the hard life lessons about condo living they get a whole new perspective on the things that link us to everything else. We like to fish. The fish need the bugs. The bugs need clean water. The water doesn't stay clean unless runoff is controlled. Anything you put on your lawn, put in the storm drain, or that leaks from your car eventually makes it to where the bugs live and the trout eat. It's all connected. It's all important.

For your viewing pleasure: I took a series of 2,000 pictures*** while Sam and I sampled a local small stream. This shows you how it's done.

One Minute RBV from Sipping Emergers on Vimeo.

* Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Or is it Department of Environment and Energy Protection? Who knows. But some genius in state government thought that putting energy and environment into a single organization made a lot of sense from a budget perspective. Probably for a lot of other reasons too.
** Thankfully the state has a law that limits acronyms to only three characters. Otherwise, the program would be called RBiWSRbVM.
*** Actually, the GoPro camera took the pictures, but I pressed the button to get it all started.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Salmon River Photos

I've got some words to write about the trip to the Salmon River, but for now I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Up Early


Warming Day

Frosty One

Bob with a fish on; hooked about 100 yards upstream.

A King that was far livelier that one would expect.

I never saw this one but he left his mark.

I was able to get my fly back off a snag after a King ran me around the pool for five minutes.

First fish.

Big Fish. Happy Bob (well, that's his happy look)

Much happiness on the Salmon River

Jon working the water hard.

Bill's actually happier than he looks. It's the nasty headcold that's holding back the joy.

Another shot of that Steelie I caught.

It really wasn't as crowded as it looks. Okay, it was.

Fish on!

Nah, Steve's not happy, he always looks that way.

Steelhead at first light

Quick Sips: CFR Fund Raising + Quilts

  • Casting for Recovery's fund raising online auction ends tomorrow. Go over and check it out! Bid early. Bid often.
  • Quilting. I know, friggin' quilting. What the hell does it have to do with fly fishing? I found Susan Damon Balch's website while rambling around the sites of folks who donated to the CFR auction. She quilts, but she quilts some amazing aquatic and fly fishing stuff. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back to work with Steel on the brain

After three days at Pulaski, I'm back at work. Fishing for Steelhead is clearly better than doing email.

It was my first time fishing for Ontario Steelhead though one could argue that my casting lesson in March was fishing though that would be quibbling and you know how I hate quibbling.

I managed to hook sixteen. I saw about a half dozen of those, most of which were Steelhead, but I also had a five minute fight with an elderly yet feisty King. He tangled me in a stump. That was the one fish I regretted not getting in; at least I got my fly back.

More thoughts soon.

My first (and only) Steelhead

Friday, November 4, 2011

Phriday Philosophy

This week has been a philosophical one on the blogosphere. The topics of ethics and the "why?" of our sport are nettlesome ones. At 50,000 feet they're so general that it's hard to get to the essence of the issue without some pretty deep and ripe thinking. You've really got to turn this stuff around and stare at it for a while. And even when you finally put pen to paper it's more often than not just your current thinking versus some final, universal insight on the subject.

And when you get to ground level on the issues, often there's so much emotion wrapped up in practices and traditions that it all devolves into a shouting match and you go and get banned from a discussion forum just for talking about it.

Tom edged up to the philosophy topic when he took on the "Why do we fish?" question in an excellent blog post on Tuesday. I gave my most recent answer in a comment to his article (which I've pasted below) but Tom summed it up best and simplest; go give it a read.
Why Steve Fly Fishes
It’s one of those “what is the sound of one hand clapping” sort of things. When we discover it we know it’s there but you can’t describe it; it’s only through experience that you discover the soundless sound of the stream and the fish and everything around it.
Crap, I think I just went metaphysical and zennish. I need a cocktail.
Erin started off the week coming at the topic directly. In her On Ethics post on Mysteries Internal she came at the issue from the point of view of fishing over spawning fish. She covered not only her research on the topic, but, as always, her thoughts and emotions and internal machinations as she turned over the issue. Erin, as always, gives us plenty to chew on and I've got some things to think about with regards to my fall fishing practices.

She also linked to an excellent post by Jay Zimmerman who discusses a "ground level" issue of bead pegging. If you read Jay's work and the comments you'll see how going from the 5,000 foot level to ground level triggers the emotional, slightly irrational, side of things. My take on Jay's post is below; I like facts, not emotion. Of course, the facts support my world view so that's why I like them so much.
Steve on Pegging
A fly, by legal definition in the Great State of Connecticut, is a "single or double hook dressed with hair, feathers....". A bare hook is not a fly. So let's not kid ourselves about a bare hook being a fly. That's just BS. And if you're not using a fly, you're certainly not fly fishing.
I don't care what kind of fly you use, natural or synthetic, bug or egg, I'm not going to tell you how to fly fish.
I also don't care if you're dunking worms, shiners or triple-jointed, treble-hooked Rapalas, that's still angling. I do it from time to time. It's good fun.
But if you're trying to trick a fish into getting close to a bare hook so you can foul hook it, well, that's not angling. In Connecticut we have a legal definition for intentionally foul hooking fish, it's called snagging.
Put the bead on the hook and we'll have no problems.

And finally, T.J. Brayshaw, in classic fashion, came at the issue head on in his post Verboten! Thoughts on ethics and fishing.... Fair warning, it's a tome. But it's worth reading and rereading to make sure you get it. And by getting it, I mean that you understand it enough so that you can go off and mull it for some time. Heavy stuff, with some quality references to work both practical, scientific and philosophical on the subject of the ethics of fishing, not fishing, and vegetarianism.

I'm very practical on the subject. Ours is a blood sport. If you're not comfortable with that statement, you're delusional. Some of us, myself included, mostly catch and release and by doing so look to do the least harm possible to our quarry. But I've accidently snagged fish, eye-hooked two that I can recall (those ones haunt me a bit), and likely killed a few fish that I didn't intend to in the process.

I'm not proud of those events nor am I shamed by them. They are what they are. I accept them as a reality of my pursuit which is a thing I pursue for reasons I can't put words to but need to do very much. It's part of what makes me, me. It's part of what makes me human. And it's part of what makes me like so many of you, so much. We approach our sport with thoughtfulness and passion, with a sense for how it fits into the greater scheme of our lives, and we try to express it in words that are a delight to read and which stimulate our love for all that our sport entails.

At the end of the day, perhaps Tom summed it all up best, we fish:
"Because we like it and we don’t break any laws doing it."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Where'd these Goons come from?

Quick nap mid-day. The lodge was basic but covered
the basics-- shower, bed, food, a place to store the scotch
In the United States, the edges of civilization are far more civilized that edges that can be found elsewhere. However, you can still travel to places that have enough cultural disorientation to make a small adventure seem bigger. I think most of the Mississippi is like this. And certainly the Southwest portion of Alaska promised cultural enhancement to what would otherwise have been simply an amazing thing.

Prior to the Alaska trip, I had not been to a lodge or fish camp. The place where we were going was clearly on the fish camp end of the lodge scale and about four miles upstream from one of those quintessential lodges. Of course, our place ran about one third the cost of the fancy place, and while room and board compromises were made, we fished the same waters.

Why we're all here. A small rainbow trout.
I'm sure the clientele downstream differed from ours as well. About thirty folks filled the ten rooms at our lodge and was a mix of retirees, small business owners, and working stiffs out for an adventure. In my experience when you assemble any random group of humans the prevailing mode is to mesh; to seek some way of coexisting. And when you tie them together with a common interest, say, fishing for large Rainbow Trout, you create a common thread of experience that makes the meshing much easier.

This group meshed pretty easily. Nobody in this crowd was putting on airs and for the most part I sat each evening with one or another of the parties and it was easy to fit in.

Except for the goons.

Tony called them the goons. It was the perfect moniker. Three guys, all shy of thirty seasons, who right from the beginning went out of their way to be apart. At first I attributed this to the awkwardness that comes from trying to leap the age gap. The next youngest guys in the room were probably close to twice their age and maybe they didn't appear to have the social graces to make that leap. But by the second day it was clear that they saw the gap and didn't deem it worth leaping.

It's as if someone built a 1950s roadside motel in the tundra. Who would sit at those tables? The bugs
would eat you alive!
They bitched about the rooms, the food, and practically anything else that could be bitched about. They drank heavily, apparently smoked dope on the boat and openly belittled and made fun of folks sitting around the room with them. And they saved special venom for their guide; poor bastard. I had to agree with Tony, these guys were goons.

I've found goons in all aspects of my life and you probably have too. Some of these goons have to be confronted, their affront to the established order is just too great, but most have to be ignored. They live in a small world and not only is it difficult to bust in their door, it's not worth it. There's nothing to find or to improve or to rationalize with, it's simply a void.

These goons were ostracized by the group and eventually they got the hint and chartered a plane and left. Sometimes social remedies are the best ones.

With the goons gone a cloud was removed from the public life of the lodge. The evening gathering of the clan lost its edge. Meals were easier. "Big Fish" stories were more enjoyable and there seemed to be a relative abundance of camaraderie in the room.  To paraphrase my best buddy Ross, living life well is both the best revenge and reward.

Live well.

Out back. A bedroom faced the front and a bedroom faced
the back with a bathroom in between.

Dirrrty flies for dirty business

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Quick Sips: Fire in the Hole & the Stone Age

The White Salmon free at last
(photo from White Salmon Restored)
  • A fantastic wicked cool video of the Condit Dam removal; better vantage point, higher quality and some awesome time lapse footage. I love watching this thing go off as much for the pure joy of blowing shit up as for the restoration of the flows for this stream. Let's blow up more dams!
  • The town said they hope to have all the streets clear by noon on Wednesday. Apparently that's when the bulk of the power restoration begins. Since we're off on the fringes of town on the wrong side of the tracks (though we would argue differently) my guess it's gonna be some time. Praise the Lord and pass the fuel can.