Monday, December 31, 2012

At the end

As I reflect upon this year of angling I can't recall a fish that made the year; most years are that way. I'm not at the point that I'm chasing trophies or exotic species. Most times it's enough just to be standing in running water with a hope for a tug. Catching a Greenback Cutthroat (later debunked as a hybrid), the first on a bamboo fly rod, does have a special place but mostly owing to the totality of the experience than the fish itself.

There are places that stand out during the past year: seeing the Front Range for the first time was more extraordinary that I thought it would be, struggling to breathe on a fourteen thousand foot peak while simultaneously being stunned by the views, hiking up along the Big Thompson at altitude and discovering it's not all that Big, up the Slough scrambling on boulders dodging bear, walking among Bison on the Lamar, sitting under a tree smoking a cigar with Bruce while a summer storm pelts the Gallatin.

Lily Lake
Beyond the angling and the locales, the people defined the year. Ann and the boys continue to conspire on new adventures. While I know my oldest seems to be gravitating toward urban landscapes both the boys still humor us with outdoor adventures that I hope are molding them into being something better than they might otherwise be. And Ann and I are having such fun. It is the life and partnership that I had hoped for and it is becoming so much more. It's a blessing.

I finally got to meet a few of my fellow bloggers. Unfortunately, a meeting with Jay and Erin was cut short by illness but I'm sure we'll reconnect before long. I met Marc out in Yellowstone and then again in Tennessee where Mike joined us for a day of angling on the Holston. In our sport, streams are the table upon which we break bread and Marc set a fine spread for us. That's another place to which I must return.

The Yellowstone Gang  (from left to right): Smithhammer,
Karen Kress (Yellowstone Park Foundation),
Deeter, Payne, Hunt, Garlock, Zakur
In Yellowstone I met a gaggle of extraordinary people. Chris was the ringleader and he put together an all-star team. Kirk, Bruce, Marc, Rebecca and Chris formed the core of a traveling band of writers that I am deeply humbled to be counted among. It was one of those rare moments where a group of strangers gathered and the mixture of personality, experiences and shared passion for craft and sport meshed in a way that I may not witness again if I live a hundred years.

Along our journey we also met with Rich, Brennan, Dave, Ken, K.C., Todd, and countless, dedicated National Park Service folks who are doing yeoman's work to keep the places that are worth saving, safe.

Locally, I fished with Kit, Jon, Don, Ross, Heather, James, Chris, Sam, Todd and Steve and probably a few others whom I've forgotten. I usually fish when I can which means I often fish alone. It's when I have the opportunity to fish with a friend that I recall what a joy it is to fish in good company. Looking upstream to see Kit working the tail of a pool, see Don methodically and effectively nymphing the Sand Hole and wrestling chrome to the beach with Jon are all satisfying memories of the season past.

And because I spend more time at the keyboard than I do on the water there are people here who have rounded out my angling year. Howard, Alan, Quill, Sanders, Brian, T.J., Tom, Nate, Emily, John, the other Mike, Matt, Jason and countless others whom I've now offended by leaving them off the list.

The next year is close by and for the first time I enter a new calendar confused and uncertain. The past year has marked some of the highest and lowest points of my life; never have they been compacted so temporally. I find myself revisiting long-held beliefs and looking at the path I'm following which has suddenly become unfamiliar and dark.

But I have strength. As Ann says, confidence bordering on arrogance. And I have family and friends upon which to lean for the support and comfort that make long, hard journeys bearable and worthwhile. We'll find time to adventure and talk and write and read and together we'll make the coming year notable and extraordinary. The end is upon us and I face it with hope because it is also the beginning of new adventures, deeper friendships and a hope for grace and peace for those I hold dear.

Happy New Year to you all.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Christmas Fire

From time to time I indulge myself in the delusion that I can write. There are pieces that I'm proud of and those that I'd rather have not written in the first place. But if I really need to get brought down to earth, I just need to troll around and read from a handful of folks who can craft a tale. Mike Sepelak is one of those people. He's written a fine, four-part holiday tale for us all to share. Links below.
Part 1: A Christmas Fire: The Burning
Part 2: A Christmas Fire: The Queen
Part 3: A Christmas Fire: The Search
Part 4: A Christmas Fire: The Gift
I hope you enjoy the tale half as much as I did. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Longer Days

The light fades too early through the late fall. With a paucity of daylight I dole it out with great attention. I find myself plotting more.

When the solstice arrived Friday I secretly celebrated. The lengthening days, if only by drops, mean the Hendricksons are looking up from the cobble wondering when the combination of light, temperature and whatever else it is they're waiting for will be right. It's not close but it's coming.

Sunday I had to distract my brain and with holiday preparations as complete as they're going to be Ann suggested I go for a walk by a stream and taunt some trout.

It's the season of small flies and slack water. The zebra midge is the fly I tie on most this time of year though I probably should use it more during other seasons. A small Copper John gave weight to my rig.

A small stream by the house is one of my favorites. It's familiar in ways I never expected to know water. I've seen it thin and thick and everywhere in between. I've seen it transform from a stream of  Brookies to one with mostly Browns. I know some of it's secrets.

This stream winds north edging farmer's fields, burrowing under the highway, flowing beyond the bridges at Sandy Hook deep into melancholy.

Our church was empty last night. I know that sounds like a figure of speech but it's not. Christmas Eve at St. John's is a special time. It's a small church and is New England story book perfect. It's usually packed on Christmas Eve. Not last night.

Twenty people struggled to fill a space that'll hold eighty. I suppose that maybe there was too little joy in Sandy Hook to support caroling and the promise of a coming savior. More than anything the ninety minutes echoed the struggle towards normality -- a journey that I thought we had begun but which still seems to be out there somewhere.

Sunday's fishing was restorative. I dove into it with a focus that forced me to shunt aside all the stray thoughts that have occupied me lately and just be in the moment. I fished the likely spots with special attention to soft areas just off the main current. It yielded the desired results, mostly on the midge though a few took the Copper John. Where there was one, there was reliably a few more. Perfect winter fishing.

The first fish of the afternoon came in a new secret spot. It's a popular hole that got filled by a fallen tree during a spring storm. The channel is much nearer the bank now but the fishy water is still on it's far side. But through some chance act of geology and hydrology the larger fish hold in the thin near seam; a fact discovered by accident on a errant cast this past spring. Three on, one to the net. Winter's first trout.

I wandered a thin tributary for a few hours picking up trout in the likely spots and making hopeful casts to unlikely water. The trout cooperated in ways I had no right to expect. Perhaps some cosmic balance is possible. At least in the world of trout.

During this season I enjoy hearing David Sedaris' Santaland Diary reading on NPR. It ends as follows:
Tonight, I saw a woman slap and shake her crying child. She yelled: Rachel, get on that man's lap and smile or I'll give you something to cry about. Then she sat Rachel on Santa's lap and I took the picture, which supposedly means on paper, that everything is exactly the way it's supposed to be - that everything is snowy and wonderful.
It's not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything, but the parents' idea of a world they cannot make work for them.
David has a way of painting amusing, dark pictures about the human condition but this struck me pretty hard when I heard it yesterday evening. In town we're going through the motions of Christmas service and present opening and caroling and family dinners. But life is still too raw to make if feel like anything but wallpaper covering something ugly; wrenching sorrow and an awful, harsh reality.

Sam just stopped by. He's very excited about his Christmas gifts and at thirteen I know he no longer harbors a belief in the magic of Christmas. But I sense that maybe there's still some of that wonder that can only be found in the young.

That's part of the journey we're all on. To find the wonder that we've lost. To restore the wonder that our children have had stolen. To break the cycle of gloom and once again to be able to look at each day as something more than to simply be survived. 

Longer days will help. Life is always more wonderful when the sun is shining. Especially when it's shining on a ribbon of water harboring trout.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No Light

I worked from home yesterday. It's a Friday habit though I've been doing it more so lately as conference calls dominate my day.

I received a phone call shortly before 10 a.m. saying that my child's school was in lockdown because of a shooting. It took me a minute to process that the shooting refered to could be at the school though there were no such details in the message. But then I recalled they locked it down a few years ago for the bank robbery. And then I walked into the kitchen. Ann was already making calls to everyone she knew in town. To sort it out your brain hopes for, wishes for, a best case scenario.

When you discover that the shooting is at your children's former elementary school and now that they're in Middle and High School they're safe the relief takes your breath away; texts arrive saying they're okay. The guilt I felt at the relief that warmed my heart remains; especially as the day played out.

We spent the morning and afternoon glued to the TV set watching the familiar setting overrun by armed men. We saw neighbors on TV gathering their young children, relieved that the kids we saw at bus stops along the street, are safe, at least those that you see, and praying that the rumors are not true.

And then they are true. And then the truth is worse than anyone could expect.

I want to run away. I want this not to have happened. I want the pain to end.

But all I can do is weep for my neighbors who's pain is immeasurably more than mine.

This morning the sun did not rise. There is no light in Sandy Hook though we look to the horizon hopeful for a dawn that will warm our hearts and comfort our children.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Under the tree: Reading Anglers Edition

A few months ago Jason Whiteley sent me a copy of his illustrated children's book, Tales from the Tacklebox: Escape from the Crooked Tree. I've been sitting on that review for a while intending to pair it with another review I've been meaning to do but those great plans went the way of most great plans.

In this time of giving, I review below some of my favorite reading of this year. If I didn't already own this stuff I'd ask for it under the tree. If you know an angling reader I think they'd all be great gifts. Of course, don't forget to get a little something for yourself.

This book may set unreasonable expectations about the
size of fish than can be caught....
Tales from the Tacklebox: Escape from the Crooked Tree, Jason Whiteley, illustrated by Michael Koch, $14.99 Softcover, $4.99 ereader (Amazon, B&N, Google).

Jason sent me a free copy of his book and I subsequently bought the ereader version from Amazon. This is a fun book. It's delightfully illustrated by Michael Koch and while it has the simple story and primary colors of a children's book it's more than just a story about angling. Within is a fable of loneliness, self-worth and redemption; all valuable lessons for young anglers. My young nephew enjoyed it and was especially concerned about Stinkbait's loneliness. It's tough to be a Stinkbait.

Olive the Woolly Bugger App, Kirk Werner, The Apple App Store, $0.99

Who knew Dry Flies were such bastards!
I've been trying to buy Kirk's books for some time. I ordered the first book from an online fly shop and it turned out to be out of stock. A nearby fly shop told me they had a copy but it wasn't there when I arrived. I finally got around to buying them on Amazon while shopping for other Christmas presents. While awaiting their arrival (Note to Kirk: ebook),  I downloaded the Olive App. Short story: This thing is way under-priced for the value. Not only does it contain a short animated book that kids find enchanting, it also serves as an introduction to fly fishing. Throughout the story are links to sidebars describing all aspects of our sport from fly selection to stream entomology and river habitat. And then at the end there's a game. What's not to love? Kirk has an exceptional talent with both his illustrations and story telling. Good fun!

The Flyfish Journal, Steve Duda, Editor, $39.99/year, four issues

Part of the reason I still buy paper books is that some just feel good in the hand. Trade paperbacks I'll buy as an e-thing but certain hardcovers have a heft and quality that are delightful; good "hand". It's a strange thing by which to measure a piece of literature, but I never claimed to be normal. For forty bucks a year not only do you get four issues of fly fishing literature, but it comes in the best feeling and looking magazine journal I have ever held. And then when you open it and page through and read it you get wonderful stories from the likes of Deeter, Bie, Santella, Nolte and a host of others who write equally as well. Good stuff if you like the literary end of angling writing. Hook and bullet readers need not apply (unless you're looking for something completely different).

The Drake, Tom Bie, Editor,  $18/year, four issues

Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. Yeah, this journal has been around for a while and the forums that the Drake Mag site have spawned are notorious but it remains a benchmark for angling journals. I only discovered The Drake a year or so ago and find it an extraordinary collection of writers who don't have their drift boat tied to convention. At times I feel like it tries a bit too hard to not be conventional but then you don't become something different without planting your flag far off the beaten path. Mostly it's a solid, alternative voice in our sport's literary landscape. You'll read plenty of Tom Bie and Geoff Mueller in the magazine but you'll also get Tosh Brown, Chris Santella (there's that name again, watch for a pattern) and Bruce Smithhammer.

Fly Rod & Reel, Greg Thomas, Editor, $23.95/year, four issues

I know. You're saying, "Steve, you literary snob, how could you recommend a hook and bullet (sans bullet) magazine like Fly Rod & Reel. You might as well just recommend Field & Stream." Not so gentle readers. In a trend that began when Greg Thomas became editor a few years ago, the magazine has moved from being a "fish here, with this" sort of thing to being a place where stories about our sport can be found. This struck me when reading a recent article by Tom Rosenbauer about fishing the Delaware and a search of previous issues made it clear, the magazine is moving away from what one might consider "traditional" fare. Of course, this should be no surprise given the magazine's long tradition of publishing Gierach and the Traver Award winners. Look for more goodness from this magazine going forward.

Trout Magazine, Kirk Deeter, Editor, Free with a Trout Unlimited Membership, $17.50 Introductory Membership or Free for Women, four issues per year.

"Steve, again?! Are you nuts? Trout Magazine! That's TU Propaganda!" Okay, yes, historically this is a pretty dull magazine; mostly backhoes, stream restoration and news from the TU Nation. But TU went crazy and hired Kirk Deeter and installed him on the editorial throne. Since then this thing has taken a hard turn off-road. Kirk's first issue brought stories from writers like Chris Santella (there he is again), Monte Burke and Christopher Camuto. These writers aren't producing conservation articles. They're writing stories about the people, fisheries and sport that we all enjoy. While I'm going to reserve final judgement on this venture, I suspect that this will soon be the greatest value in fly fishing magazines -- free for the price of membership.

Finally, three quick recommendations: You couldn't go wrong with any of these books. Two I reviewed earlier this year: the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing by Deeter and Myers and Shin Deep by Chris Hunt. Each can be had for around $15 in the usual places. And, finally, Pulp Fly edited by Bruce Smithhammer, $4.95, ebook only. About a dozen stories from different writers, half of which made the bargain price more than worth it. Probably the second best value on this list.

I hope you all get what you want for Christmas, even if it's as simple as more time on the water and peace in your heart. Both things that are hard to find but are worth searching for.

Even though Jason sent me a free copy of his book nobody else sent me anything or asked me to write this stuff. It's stuff that I enjoyed and hope you (and those on your Christmas list) enjoy as well.

Save the Farmington, Send an Email

I just got the following email re: the petition I asked you to sign.
FRWA has had to suspend its online petition that was to be delivered to UConn Office of Environmental Policy about the MDC Proposal to provide Drinking water to UConn and Mansfield.  If you previously signed the FRWA petition, we cannot guarantee at this time that your comment (if any) will be forwarded. 

You may learn more about this proposal and send your comments directly to UConn by visiting this link:
Written comments should be sent to:
Name: Jason M. Coite
Agency: University of Connecticut – Office of Environmental Policy
Address: 31 LeDoyt Road, U-3055
Storrs, Connecticut 06269
Phone: 860-486-9305
Fax: 860-486-5477

Thank you all so much for responding so quickly to our action alert.  If you have any questions, please call us at the office at (860) 658-4442 or visit our website at  
Aimee Petras
Education and Outreach Coordinator
It looks like perhaps the State doesn't care about petitions and will only respond to emails. So, send an email to this address:

Here's the email I sent to Jason. Feel free to cut and paste into yours.
Subject:  Water Diversion for UCONN

I am writing to express my strong opposition to the proposed water diversion from the Farmington River Watershed to supply UCONN and Mansfield with water. This sort of diversion is troubling not only in itself but also because of the long-term precedent that it sets. One only has to look west in places like the Colorado River drainage to see how overuse of resources harms watersheds. We should not start such a trend in Connecticut.
 Thanks for your support.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I drained my river and now I have no water!

In 2005, the University of Connecticut at Storrs took so much water out of the wells bordering the Fenton River that the river ran dry as the water table was diverted to showers and toilets. Eight thousand trout died and a pretty stretch of river was killed.

Since that time the town of Mansfield and the University have been looking for a new source of water. It turns out they found it: the Farmington River watershed.

The plans is to spend over $50 million laying twenty miles of pipeline so that five million gallons of water can be diverted each day from the Farmington River to the students in Storrs.

Now call me crazy, but I think this idea is crazy. The West Branch of the Farmington is a Wild and Scenic River and in one of the best trout fisheries in the state and among the top ten in the Northeast. Pulling water from this watershed is both a bad idea for the near term and sets a dangerous precedent for future water diversions in the state and region.


I encourage friends of the Farmington River to sign the petition opposing the diversion of water from the Farmington to students on the other side of the state.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Everything I Needed To Know About Steelhead, I Learned From "Animal House"

I've known and fished with Steve Culton for several years. He, along with Jon, even infected me with this desire to fish for Steel though clearly he's more committed and addled than I. Below is a post from a local fishing forum to which I thought many of you equally addled anglers could relate. Below is his account of recent day trip (i.e. suicide run) to Pulaski, NY reprinted with his permission.

“Road trip.” - Boon and Otter
There’s something liberating about heading off to a far away place where steelhead live. An opportunity to be alone with your thoughts on the way up. Smoke a few cigars. Listen to the football game on the radio. It’s an adventure, flying solo. Too bad Fawn Lebowitz couldn’t make it.

“Oh boy, is this great!” - Flounder
I got to the river a little after six. It was dark enough to need a headlamp as I negotiated the wooded hillside down to the water. There was the uncertainty of crossing the river at 650cfs without a wading staff, but I had that old composite hockey stick shaft I use to prop up the hatch of the Jeep. Worked like a charm. I find fishing far more enjoyable when I’m able to cover the entire length of a run, and I did so in splendid isolation for nearly two hours. By nine, three other anglers had joined me. We exchanged pleasantries and fishing talk, which is civilized and makes you feel good that you’re not sharing the water with morons. Two of them were swinging flies, so to appease the fishing gods I gave each of them a classic-styled soft hackle. Sadly, the fishing gods had Monday off, too.

“Greg, honey, is it supposed to be this soft?” - Babs
Really? Not a single take, not even at first light? Not in the deeper runs, the soft seams next to the fast water or that really sexy confluence at the bottom of the island? Not right after all those midges started to hatch? Not on the zitty day-glo patterns or the somber naturals? Courage, lad. Your moment will come.

“Thank you sir, may I have another?” - Chip
My plan was to move around to find fish, so by 10:30 I was headed down river. Rumor had it there was a bunch of fresh chrome in the DSR over the weekend, and maybe they’d be up to Pineville by today. Or not. Fished five different holes over a quarter-mile stretch. I caught two sticks, one log, countless leaves and a fine selection of cased caddis. Not a bump from a fish. This is turning out to be a proper spanking.

“If I was in your shoes, I’d be…”
“Leaving! What a good idea.”
- Dude at Dexter Lake Club and Boon
The old college try will only get you so far.

“You have to drive us to the Food King." - Otter
To this point I have fished almost 7 hours and only seen three people. Including my last trip, I’m now into my 16th hour without a touch. So I am biting the bullet and heading to Altmar. Yes, there will be crowds. But there will also be fish. Mmmmm. Ring me up for some steelhead.

“My advice to you is to start drinking heavily." - Bluto
Good grief. This mob is ridiculous. It’s a Monday. What’s it like on a Saturday? Still, if this is the price of admission to catch a steelhead, I’ll pony up. I fished a few vacant holes then jumped into an opening in the sweet spot I had my eye on. I noticed a pile of beer cans on the shore behind me. A hookup would be most intoxicating right about now.

“I don’t want to seem…you know, pushy" - Chip
You know you’re too polite when you jump into a spot that opens up, you take great care to ask the angler below you if he has enough room, then ten minutes later a guy just walks into the space between you like it’s his own private beat.

"Mr. Blutarsky: zero-point-zero.” - Dean Wormer
Insert Culton for Blutarsky and that’s my day. And I did it without a single pencil up my nose.

“What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is!”- Bluto
I was walking out at 3:45 when I saw the little hole where I had hooked a fish last December. So I climbed in and fished for another half hour. By 4:15, I had made my decision.

“I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.”
- Otter
Yep. I'm going back next chance I get.


Steve Culton lives in Connecticut. He is a freelance writer, guide, professional fly tyer, and moderator on While he is an educated man, Steve will sometimes drive to Pulaski, fish all day, catch nothing, drive home and still proclaim the trip a success.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quick Sips: Twitterings

I know the many of you follow and ignore my Twitter feed regardless of how easy I make it for you to gain access to my brilliance. So, for my faithful, I present an extract of recent discoveries around the intertubes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Somewhere downhill

Somewhere downhill, close by, a small water flows.

Gathering myriad crevice's trickles it emerges from the wood as something substantial enough to harbor trout. And it does.

And it is unfished and unreachable on this unseasonably warm day.

But it is there tempting and haunting those desires and memories of days past and days to come and days that can only ever exist in the imagination.


Morning Fog. There's trout water out there.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Damn those dams

I prefer dam films that have WW2 bombers blasting them to pieces, but otherwise, this one has promise.

DamNation | Trailer from FELT SOUL MEDIA on Vimeo.