Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who cares.

Geez, a guy takes a few days off to celebrate his anniversary in Vermont and he misses a lot of blogging entertainment.

Recently, that guy said that that style of fishing was a fad. A fad!

There's always something new, or something that's old that is renewed, in fly fishing. From the bamboo craze to fiberglass manifestites to Spey through to Tenkara the industry is always looking for either the new double-helix-carbon-nanotube-buckminsterfullerene material or some old thing that can be dusted off and renewed.

I took up fly fishing eight years ago and at that time most folks couldn't even spell Spey much less describe what it was all about (unless you were some sort of West Coast Steel Junkie). But Spey, emboldened by the Switch Rod craze, seems to be slowly influencing our sport in larger ways. It's an influence that has some legs and I expect long rods and Spey-like techniques are a permanent and important addition to the sport.

It's always good entertainment when you can catch a famous person saying something provocative; it's also a great accelerant for the blogosphere and web forums everywhere.

Is Tenkara the new Spey? I don't know. More importantly, I don't care.

I'm a fairly pragmatic angler. I like to catch fish. I like to stand in moving water. I like to take pictures of the places and the fish.

If I find a new piece of equipment that I can add to make any of those things better, I'm willing to give it a try. In fact, I'm a compulsive switcher of equipment; but I'm also selective.

While I appreciate the beauty of bamboo, I don't own one cause having beautiful things on the water isn't part of the thing for me. Fiberglass; don't get that at all. Spey, no. Switch, yes - great for mending and plenty of backbone for casting heavy nymph rigs.

Tenkara? There's enough to it to have made it worth a look -- portable, allegedly for small streams -- but in the end it was not compelling enough to offer advantages over a 7 foot, four weight rod. No Tenkara for me.

And maybe that's what Lefty meant. Maybe it was his opinion that the advantages of Tenkara won't make it a compelling technology in the marketplace.

Who knows.

I suppose at some point the casting legend will have to speak for himself, but until then, go find what works for you cause at the end of the day making the sport more enjoyable for one's self is the thing that really matters.

Gratuitous Snowy Small Stream Pron

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Twenty Years

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of my marriage to Ann. During those years we've navigated the shoals of any healthy relationship, created two fine boys, and grown as individuals and as a couple in ways that one could never have foreseen on a frigid winter's day, twenty years ago, in Guilford, Connecticut.

So that's what I look like with hair.
I don't recall the exact temperature on that day, but it was likely in the low twenties, twenty-five comes to mind. It was windy and so sunny it hurt the eyes. I walked down to the church from our apartment near the Guilford Green.

It wasn't much warmer inside the church. Whomever took care of turning up the heat had arrived late. Even by the end of the ceremony the building was still an icebox.

Ann was late. I like to remind her of this from time to time. The limo driver was late picking her up and then he got lost on the way to the church. The day was a good lesson for life; things rarely go as planned but with the right partner it doesn't really matter, it all works out in the end.

As with most significant events the day was a blur and there are only fragments that I recall. Since then life has been extraordinary. Like most lives there are long stretches of mundane existence interlaced with moments of terror and joy that was, at the time, unimaginable. But in all of it I can look to my side and find Ann there with just the right counsel, a reassuring touch, or, when necessary, a kick in the ass. She gives exactly what's needed when it's needed.

We've had an amazing partnership; if we have half again as much good fortune for the rest of our years as we've had in the past two decades, we will be truly blessed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Heard Around the Camp Fire

"It took A.K. to teach me how to make real camp coffee....."
                                            - John Gierach, Camp Coffee, Trout Bum

"U.S. military satellite captures footage of A.K. Best and Ed Engle slyly and simultaneously dumping out their cups of John Gierach's famous camp coffee when John's not looking"
                                            - The Drake, Scuddlebutt, Fall 2011

"What are you up to?", Ed asked wryly, watching A.K. pour his coffee beneath a bush near the edge of the stream.

"He's gone to take a crap", A.K. nodded towards the trail leading downstream, "The only reason I ever drank this stuff is cause he's so damned earnest about the ritual. But today's is just too putrid to stomach."

Ed shuffles over to A.K. and begins to pour his out too.

"Not all of it!", A.K. said with alarm, "just most of it. You gotta leave some in your cup or he'll just pour you another."

Ed returned to his seat scowling down at the black slurry in his cup.

"I regret the day I taught him to make the stuff", A.K. muttered looking into the battered tin cup.

"For years I was the one who made the coffee", he sighed, "My pot was perfect and I didn't buy the cheap grounds. I'm not one of those mocha-latte-half-caff lightweights but I doubt that cheap stuff he buys is really coffee."

"And you're supposed to put two handfuls of coffee in. Sometimes his coffee is weak but mostly it's too strong. I think his hands are misshapen. Or maybe he can't count."

Ed nodded. Countless memories of lousy, gut-burning coffee rose to the surface.

"The damn coffee was my ritual." A.K. sulked.

Light footsteps on the forest floor drew their attention. John returned to the clearing and flipped the crushed roll of toilet paper on top of his rucksack.

"Another cup boys?"


Friday, January 20, 2012

What I saw the other day

I took a few minutes this evening to try and chisel away at the photo I took on Monday to find the memory trapped in there.

It's something like below -- a memory of a black ribbon of trout water slowly being strangled by the ice spilling from the banks.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tell Marc where to go!

My buddy Marc's got a busted wing (in his casting arm no less) and is laid up. Of course, he's dreaming of his next trip and has asked for input.

Go tell Marc where to go!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

That smell

Anyone who has spent time in a darkroom knows that smell. 

Developer. Fixer. Stop.

Acidic with a hint of sweetness. And plastic. And something else that you could almost taste; it grabbed at the back of the throat.

What happened in the darkroom was black arts. Knowing the arts, knowing their power and methods, separated the snapshot from the art shot. That's not to say what happened in the camera wasn't important, but the darkroom was where the magic occurred. There the idea manifests and is manipulated in ways that drugstore chemists could not replicate.

I haven't been in a darkroom for something north of twenty years. For a few years I paid professionals to work on my negatives. Then I lost touch with all things photographic. By the time I returned in earnest the whole digital thing was emerging. First with photo CDs; later digital cameras.

Digital cameras changed everything. Not only did their tiny computers make pictures better but you could ride the learning curve at a tremendous pace by snapping and learning and deleting and snapping again. And then digital editing software changed everything again by making it easy to apply the black arts. Picasa made everyone a wizard.

Racing up learning curves and free wizardry. What's left of the magic and art of photography? Can anyone make a great photo? Is photography diminished?

Maybe we're right back at the beginning; back at the fundamentals. Visualization. Composition. Technique. Sure a thousand monkeys could take a couple of good shots given enough time, but you gotta understand the basics, either intellectually or instinctively, to make a good shot; or be lucky.

Perhaps what the digital revolution has done more than anything is to make the art of photography more accessible. What blogging has done for writers the digital image has done for artists. It's now easier to make one's own art.

That doesn't mean it will be good art, but it will be one's own.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beast of Winter

beast of winter
cold's jagged maw
tears eyes
flesh stung
respite is far, far, far

Monday, January 16, 2012

Today, I'm somewhere else.

You can read a new piece I wrote, Winter Water, over on The Backcountry Journal. It's the first time I've written something for somewhere else but I seem to be in good company over there and am excited for Ben's venture.

In case you need some small nudge to go over and read it, here's the opening:

I like scotch neat; no ice. It’s also how I prefer my small streams. That’s more of a dream now than a possibility. Daily temperatures aren’t moving much north of freezing and in a few weeks the cumulative effect of all those cold nights will grip the streams tight. Even though I don’t like ice on my water, I still like winter fishing. Well, maybe that’s a bit strong, but my passion for catching trout on a fly rod cannot be diminished sufficiently by chilling winds and frozen precipitation. I’ll be out there as often as I can steal away enough time.
I hope you enjoy the rest of it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quick Sips: A little of everything

Been superbly underwater between work, TU, and seventh grade math. No time for writing, sorting through the photos I took last weekend or even day dreaming about fishing (okay, that last one was a lie).

Hopefully next week will lend itself a little better to some proper blogging. Until then:
  • Stunning story from Florida about a kayaker rescuing a dog at sea. First saw this on the TU. Sadly, that's not the real tragedy. You can read a bit more about the full story.
  • The Back Country Journal continues to bring new writers to it's stable. David Knapp writes about fishing the Cicada Hatch http://bit.ly/xQxk0a Cicadas. Who knew?
  • For those of you who fish the Farmington River, there are new regs. A handy schematic helps you figure out the new regs http://1.usa.gov/wjIDmS
  • Singlebarbed provides insight into the Fourth Dimension (i.e. the freedom and expression that comes with knowing there’s nothing special about a fly pattern) of flytying. bit.ly/w5QCBJ
  • Another Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast is out: If you're new to fly tying this season there are some helpful hints to setting up your desk bit.ly/xiQuYl

At least the water ain't solid!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: Monomaster

Things are slowing down fishing wise and it's the time of year when I take a look at my gear, clean what needs to be cleaned, replace what needs to be replaced and generally dream about new stuff to buy.

One of the things that I purchased last year around this time was the monoMaster. It's a $15 piece of gear that is, to me, necessary for all of us to use. Sure you can use your pockets to store odd bits of mono, but this thing works better and constantly reminds me not to drop little bits of mono all over the place.

The monoMaster Review

Monomaster Product Review from Sipping Emergers on Vimeo.

A note on this review: I purchased the Momomaster myself and have used it while fishing a variety of rivers over the past year. No one paid me to write this or influenced the words I wrote in any way. If you have any comments on this review feel free to write them on the outside of a package containing a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM AF Lens and send it to me via overnight mail

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Native Trout?

Ted Williams, one of the most vocal and adamant conservation writers out there, answered a few questions in the most recent issue of Trout Magazine. One of the questions that he answered is "How are native trout special?" and he gives one of the best answers I've seen to date.
"Native trout are special in the way that all wild creatures are special -- not because they're beautiful (although they are), not because they're fun to catch (although they are), no because they're good to eat (although they are), not because they "are" anything, but simply because they are...."
TU members can read the whole interview either online or in the print version of the magazine.

UPDATE: You can find the complete Ted Williams interview on the TU Blog

Monday, January 2, 2012

Last Trout

The water was so cold it made my hands ache, but given the circumstances it was pain I was more than willing to endure. Nestling a twelve-inch, wild Brown Trout in my hands I unhooked the Zebra Midge and eased him back into the water. He swam slowly back to the depths of the far bank.

Reaching into cold water to cradle a trout is something for which I will make many sacrifices; half-frozen  hands seems a very modest cost. Fortunately, the early winter weather was mild and I didn't have to bundle up too much. I'm sure there will be days of sleet and snow to come but this day both the air and water temps were in the mid-40s and I was spared.

New Year's Eve day was quickly winding to a close and once I had picked up the shrimp, baguettes and the parsley I decided to give myself a treat of a hour or so on a small stream near the house. My expectations for the afternoon were low but I figured I could fish for the duration of one cigar, walk a stretch I hadn't seen in years and maybe get a last trout.

The recently closed year was a good one. Like most years it had highs and lows. Some memories stand out in brilliance and clarity -- cruising down the spine of the Blue Ridge, seeing Half Dome for the first time, drifting over countless Sockeye on their redds -- and others I'm trying to tuck away in that spot were sour memories go to die. Old questions were answered, new ones were discovered and some things remain disturbingly unknown. But overall, a good year and I enter the new one in a better place than the last and I'm hopeful the trend will continue.

I fished a familiar stream not too far from the house. It's an old friend. She's a minor tributary of a small river where I caught my first trout on a fly rod a couple of winters back. It's an old friend who is well known but with just enough mystery remaining that one can have a small adventure when walking her banks. She used to hold Brook Trout throughout though it seems Browns are now taking up residence. I decided to walk a bit upstream to see if maybe I could find Brookies lurking in her headwaters.

Anyone who follows Small Stream Reflections knows that the Ausable Bomber is a great small stream fly. I tie this one myself and fish it more than any other pattern on streams that are narrower than my leader is long. A couple of trips ago I was fishing this pattern in some turbulent water and couldn't keep it afloat. It didn't seem to matter. The pattern works just as well as a wet fly. That's how I fished it New Year's Eve, wet with a midge pattern below and a bit of strike putty above.

I worked quickly up the brook seeking good holding water. The plunge pools and small pockets are where the trout hold during warmer weather but with the water temps down in the mid-40s  I was looking for some slower seams. The first Brown came in water that was a bit faster than I would have guessed would be good holding water but I'm not one to complain when fortune turns my way. He took the Bomber.

Farther upstream I came upon a deep undercut bank that the receding water had left exposed. The water against the far bank still had some depth and a few casts brought to hand the second Brown of the day as well as a very small fish that shook itself off -- my guess is a Trout parr but it could just as well have been a Dace.

The final fish of the year came in a bend just downstream from an old bridge abutment. I was told that this land was once dairy farm and there are the remains of small bridges (and even a tunnel under the ridge by the railroad tracks) that farmers used to move equipment about the place. Today time and the river have reclaimed most of the remnants of this old farm though concrete and steel remain to remind us of its history.

The bend seemed to be in a new place. Over the years since my last visit to this spot the water moved into the ridge carving a steep bank and depositing the felled trees in a tangle at its tail. The structure of the pool was classic with a turbulent head, a smooth glide and then a drop off at the tail that remained deep right to the lip.

A few years ago I would have skipped right to the head of the pool and fished it aggressively but I've since learned that trout can hold through-out and my eye was on the tail and the glide. The first couple of casts were ill placed and either didn't drift correctly or landed in totally unproductive water. For the past hour I had been checking my back cast to avoid overhanging bushes but this spot lacked interfering flora so I gave it a full cast and put the fly right at the seam between the shadowed water and that illuminated by the last rays peaking over the ridge.

And the beauty that is the Brown Trout emerged from that shadow and waited for the fly, easily visible to me crouching on the gravel bar, to come into its mouth. Seeing the trout was one of those moments when you think your eyes are deceiving you; I saw a fish move but I couldn't quite make out its form. The reason was that I was looking for a twelve inch fish. This one was considerably larger.

The take, that little flash of the gills plates and the turn back to the shadows, seemed to take forever and when it was done the line came satisfyingly tight. A short, sluggish fight brought this sixteen-inch, small stream monster to hand.

It was very satisfying that the last trout of the year was a true small stream trophy though I would have preferred to catch a Brookie. That's not a complaint, just a fact. Doubly satisfying was that it came as the day waned; the valley was heavy in shadow and the air was rapidly cooling. Somehow, catching my last trout in the last light of the last day of the year had some poignancy. I will tuck this memory in safely next to those of the Blue Ridge and the West and the Last Frontier and savor them in the frigid, early days of the New Year.

Happy New Year to you all! May you collect great memories in the coming months.

Air temps drop and fog begins to fill the river valley