Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mobile Water

USGS Mobile Site
Like most river anglers, I keep a keen eye on the USGS' water gages*. I have a bunch bookmarked and I also use the handy map of each state. I know there's a way to create a custom table, I just never bothered to do it though maybe I should.

A few weeks ago I noticed that the USGS now has a mobile site designed especially for smartphones. I've been using it a bit and aside from one thing I'd like changed, it's pretty handy. I use it on an iPhone. If you're using it on an Android device, your mileage may vary.


One thing that I like is that you can develop a list of favorites. Once you've looked at the detail of a gage you can save it to a list of favorites (button at the top of the screen). This then allows you to quickly get to the details of the gages you look at frequently. The measurements for each gage also provide you with access to graphs of the last seven days of data.

The site is in beta now and has its quirks. For example, it doesn't remember that you've given it permission to use your location. It's inconvenient to keep telling it it's okay, but not overly onerous.

Details about a gage*
Also, when you select a site on the map the little pop-up window shows you information about the site (e.g. it's name, number and type) but it doesn't show any data being recorded there. In order to see data like streamflow, you need to select the link in the pop-up window.

So what one thing would I like changed? I'd like the little pop-up windows on the map to have some actual data in it, most notably, streamflow. That said, I'm using the map less and less now that I have a list of favorite sites created. If you're a streamflow junkie, I highly recommend this site for your smartphone.

* Yes, I spell it "gauges" but the USGS insists on spelling it wrong.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A guy walks into a fly shop

I've both bitched about and lauded fly shops on these pages in the past. I've probably bitched more than lauded but that's probably because it's a target rich environment.

On my way to fish the other day I knew I needed a new streamer leader. I toyed with just running with a straight piece of 4x but thought better of the idea. After chastising myself for not adding leaders and tippet to my latest online order, I stopped by a fly shop that I happen to think is one of the better ones.

At the counter was a new face; older guy but not the usual older guy. He seemed vaguely familiar but if I had run into him before it was some time ago.

I got the non-committal greeting that I've come to expect at other places and proceeded to select twenty-five dollars of leader and tippet.

Back at the counter the guy was helping an elderly woman purchase a gift certificate for her son. She was having trouble getting her PIN in the system and finally made it work after about ten tries. It seemed odd to me that something so simple could be so difficult but I'm not of her age and I'm not going to cast any stones. I'm sure there are younger folks who roll their eyes at me.

As I stepped up to the counter I noticed a guy waiting off to the side. He had waders and a box of wading boots in his hands. He was clearly there first so I waved him forward.

He explained to the clerk that he had bought the boots yesterday and they were a bit small and he wanted to try on a larger size. Without a word to the wader guy the clerk turned to me and motioned me forward. I think what he meant to say to the wader guy was "Would you mind if I ring this guy up real quick?", but he didn't.

I pulled out my debit card to pay. I'm not sure why I did, I normally charge everything so I can get the points. Perhaps, sublimally, I wanted to demonstrate that the machine worked just fine. Regardless, I swiped my card and the clerk immediately prompted me to enter my PIN. That didn't work. In fact, it didn't work for the next five tries either. On the seventh try, I entered the number super slow, like the previous customer, and noticed that the last two digits I entered worked, but not the first two. I also noticed those two keystrokes registered when the text "Enter PIN" appeared on the screen. So, on the eighth try, I waited for the words to appear, despite the contrary prompting of the clerk, and everything worked out just fine.

So, I said to the clerk "I think you have to wait for the words 'Enter PIN' to appear before you try to enter the PIN".

"No you don't", he replied.

"Two customers just had problems entering the PIN and both were successful when they waited for the words 'Enter PIN' to appear. You don't think that means something", I said.

"Two customers with problems, I've had a hundred thousand* enter it just fine." the clerk says.

Now what I heard was: "You sir are a dolt as was the wench before you. You can't even handle entering your PIN correctly and far be it for me to make you feel better about being such a dolt. That'll be twenty-five dollars, please." What I was looking for was something more along the lines of "There may be something wrong with the machine. I'll let the manager know." Such a response would have let himself off the hook and would have allowed him not to call me a dolt; everyone wins. Except for the guy holding the box of wading boots.

I laughed. I shook my head. I suspect that this new machine, it looked like someone had just taken it out of the box, worked differently that the machine used for the previous hundred thousand transactions. But I wasn't going to waste precious fishing time discussing the fine points of this matter with the clerk.

I feel like clerks at fly fishing stores need some help with their interactions with clients. So, here are a few greetings that you may use in place of the grunt/head nod. Feel free to use them in order or mix it up a bit. To be truly effective they should be delivered while standing, smiling and maintaining direct eye contact. I recommend fly shop owners post this helpful cue card (suitable for framing) by the register.

Note that all of the above contain a greeting coupled with an offer to sell the customer something. I am startled by my brilliance. I'm sure you are too.

Some of you are probably feeling dissatisfied now. The title of this post led you to believe there was a joke within. So, for those of you who have waited patiently, here's a joke.
A guy walks into a fly shop and sees a horse behind the counter spooling up a new reel for a customer. He stares at the horse for a minute without saying a word. The horse stops what he's doing and looks up. "Hey buddy, what's the matter?" the horse says, "You got a problem with a horse working behind the counter?" "No", the guy says, "It's just that I can't believe the weasel sold the place."
I didn't say it would be a good one.

* I suspect hyperbole.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Lair of the Purple Wooley Bugger Eater

A few weeks ago Jonny and I skipped the rush to purchase holiday gifts and instead fished the Farmington. It was a frigid day that would have been fishless if I had not taken to swinging Wooley Buggers. I managed to land one snake-thin brown trout on a green bugger.

While I was happy for the one, I surely missed the first fish that struck my swung fly earlier in the day. After an hour of fishless nymphing, I swapped the nymph rig out for a bugger. I tied on the only purple bugger I had with me and worked the same run again. The riffle arced above the pool towards midstream and that provided me with shallow water from which to work the near edges of the drop-off.

There is a group of chair-sized boulders about halfway down the run and lodged among them is a section of tree trunk that looks like it's been there for years. This grouping of objects carves a deep slot that appears fishy as hell though whatever lurked below had snubbed the stonefly-zebra midge combo.

I worked that location hard and was rewarded with a solid tug on the line. Sadly, as I set the hook and felt the shake of the trout the line parted. While I'm not the most experienced trout hunter on the river, I've had enough tugs to know that this fish parted the line with ease; it was an act of experience from a heavy fish. Of course, I made that a whole lot easier by using 5x tippet instead of something more stout.

With the memory of that tug quivering through my forearm, I tied up a few more purple buggers the other day and planned my return. Yesterday, I revisited those boulders. Long story short, a trout was there. The trout took the bugger (this time tied on 3x) with a jarring take and fought sluggishly in the thirty-eight degree water until it came to my net.

The opening on my net is seventeen and one-half inches long and the fish bested that by an inch or two. Unlike the fish that graced my net a few weeks ago, this one had thick shoulders and a solid belly, clearly the master of this piece of stream.

I believe that the majority of what we do on the water is a skill that is learned and practiced and can be counted on to yield a result more often than not, but that's not the whole equation. We also need a willing fish-shaped partner and likely a dose of good fortune to be able to bring it all together to a measured result. I like to think that yesterday's result was the logical conclusion of my organizing the puzzle pieces, but maybe I was just lucky. I'll take as much luck as I can get.

Purple Wooley Bugger Eater

Friday, December 13, 2013

The best fly fishing gift...

...is the gift of literature.

Okay, that's BS. The best fly fishing gift is eight pounds of Steelhead, surely hooked, heading for the next time zone. Or perhaps large Browns slamming large dries. Or even a six inch Brookie grabbing a fly in a small stream. All good presents. Unfortunately, they're frightfully difficult to wrap.

But there is a gift, one of literature, that needs no wrapping. It's the latest volume of Pulp Fly. Pulp Fly, available in ebook formats, is "a platform for creative, adventurous writing – for those who believe good writing should contain as much potential for surprise as putting a fly on the water."

I have a submission in Volume Three. Lately I've been writing fiction that has to do with life's transitions. This one focuses on a young man's struggle to figure out exactly who he is and where he's going. It pulls a bit from my life thirty years ago but it also draws from the the many lives that have touched me since I picked up this sport.

Like many anthologies you'll find stories that strike your fancy and others that leave you scratching your head. But I think everyone will find something to their taste within its pages.

You can buy Pulp Fly: Volume Three ($4.99) from the following vendors (Apple iBook in the works):

Amazon Kindle
Kobo Books
B&N Nook

Also, from the folks at Pulp Fly:
Special pricing on Pulp Fly Volume Two for the holidays when purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Kobo!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Far from the herd

I was not trampled on Black Friday.* Nor was I at risk of being trampled. As is my habit, I was far from the shopping malls and casting on a river with my buddy Jon.

With the advent of the internet, my time in stores is thankfully limited. If I can't get something online, I can at least pay for it and pick it up at the store thus sparing myself aisle wandering and endless waits in checkout queues. If I can't do it that way, it generally doesn't get done. This, of course, frees me to wander a river somewhere while the masses struggle to find a parking spot at the mall.

Our post-Thanksgiving ritual is a tenuous thing. More often than not some weather spirit descends to muck it up. Our first year was perfect. The weather gods made it cold and clear. The water levels sufficed for nymphing the Housatonic with a variety of successful flies.

The second year things were entirely fishable save for a howling wind. I have a picture in my mind where Jon, Don and I are standing in the current, backs facing upstream into the gale, with our fly lines flagging in the wind, waiting for the gusts to subside so that we could make a quick cast. That day was grueling. I don't even recall if we caught fish.

For the past few years, we've had trouble with rain. The Housatonic, our traditional lair, fishes well at around 800 cfs and we've found to be well above 1,500 or even 2,000. Of course, some of our Plan Bs have worked out okay but getting back to the ritual was something that I was eager to do. Rain a couple of days before Thanksgiving sealed the fate of the Housatonic.

After a spate of cancelled affairs, Jon and I decided to fish the Farmington. Neither of us has fished it much this year and thus we don't know its moods and habits but it would be a day afield and that was better than practically any alternative.**

Small flies, midges down to #20, seemed the thing though we learned later that Caddis were up an about in the morning so perhaps something larger would have been better. We fished our midges and found it hopeless.

I switched to swinging a purple Wooley Bugger after a hour or so of watching a lifeless indicator. I did forget to cut my leader back to something stouter than 5x. A trout reminded me of this when she struck and stole the rig.

Snake Brown
Upstream with Jonny, I rerigged with a sinktip and a new fly. I worked a run and on the first cast managed the only fish of the day - a twelve inch, snake-thin Brown.

With a couple of slow hours of fishing and a nip in the air we adjourned to the banks for some french press & fruitcake. The remains of yesterday's meal jammed between two slices of bread rounded out the feast.

The Jetboil has revolutionized the stream side coffee. Once the realm of lukewarm swill poured from Thermoses, the Jetboil will whip up fine, fresh black gold in a jiffy. When coupled with Thanksgiving leftovers and a bit of Fruitcake, it makes one feel almost civilized. I suppose at some level this is the antithesis of that which we seek but we all draw lines somewhere. Some fish beads, some don't. Some drink crap coffee. I don't.

Further upstream we fished the fishiest hole on the river with no result. It got to the point where the fruitlessness of it all drove us to shopping - at the fly shop down the street. There we learned not only about the hatch that we had missed, the aforementioned Caddis, but also about the morning specials that were no longer available to those who were tardy.

I hope the visit to a place of commerce doesn't wipe out what little mojo we have for Black Friday fishing. I'm already looking forward to next year's trip. But between now and then there's a whole lot of good fishing, especially as the weather warms. Until then, I'll be bundled up, happy to be on the water praying for a tug.

A little bit of civilization

* Don't even get me started on shopping on Thanksgiving day proper. Madness. Let workers have a friggin' day off.
** Though a few come to mind.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tom Stienstra v Tom Chandler: Blogger Wins Suit

Tom Stienstra Loses Lawsuit v Chandler
Trout Underground Claims Victory in Tom Stienstra Lawsuit
A couple of months ago I learned that blogger and fly fisherman, Tom Chandler, was being sued by a well known California outdoor writer. In March 2010, Tom Stienstra, was arrested after the Siskiyou County Sheriff "seized 60 marijuana plants, 11.1 pounds of processed marijuana, scales, packaging materials and other paraphernalia from the barn and the home" of Tom Stienstra, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

At the time, the arrest garnered significant attention from local media. Tom Chandler also posted a story about the arrest in April 2010 on the Trout Underground blog. Tom Stienstra was not ultimately charged with a crime according to an article on redding.com (The Record Spotlight).

Earlier this year, Tom Stienstra took exception to Tom Chandler's post on the Underground. Tom Stienstra filed a lawsuit seeking $10,000 in damages.

The results off the suit were announced last week and the ruling was in favor of defendant Tom Chandler. Yesterday, Chandler wrote about his point of view on the victory. It turns out that the ruling turned on the fact that the statute of limitations (1 yr in this case) had expired. No ruling was made on the facts presented though one might infer from the ruling's discussion of the merits that things would have ultimately gone in Chandler's favor.

I was watching this case because it presents a close-to-home example of First Amendment rights associated with blogs. Clearly, one can't go spreading lies about someone and expect to walk away free from harm. But what was reported on the Trout Underground appears solidly rooted in fact and was in all ways similar to what other media outlets (including the ones quoted in the Chandler article) were reporting.

The First Amendment lives on to fight another day.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

give me Mountains for my Horses

Not Connecticut Horses
I don't get horses. At least I don't get horses in the Connecticut sense. In suburbia, especially at it's rural edges, you'll find all manner of horse farm. Everything from a 100 year-old shambles of a barn with a tiny ring of half-rotted fence posts to houses of splendor, havens of investment bankers, with acres of mowed paddock and gleaming rails.

I've ridden a few times while on vacation stopping at a dude ranch sort of place to satisfy my youngest son's desire for a saunter horseback. It's enjoyable but not something I'd got out of my way to do save to make my youngest happy. Around here horse riding seems to be the realm of middle-aged women and girls; legion of which can be found wearing buff colored breeches and riding boots while waiting in line at Starbucks on a Saturday morning.

On a trip to Idaho this past summer I had the opportunity to fish with a bunch of guys from Trout Unlimited. They were good company and the fishing was excellent. After the fishing the talk meandered over beer. One thing I discovered was that Tom Reed kept horses and that he had recently lost a special one. I didn't quite get it though I suppose losing a good dog was as close as I'd come to understanding. Later, while sitting having a beer with Bruce and Kat - the Smithhammers of Victor - I mentioned my fishing companions. Kat immediately stated that I should read Tom's book - give me Mountains for my Horsesand Bruce seconded the notion.

In the moment, a book related to something I was ambivalent about was set aside but later the enthusiasm of the recommendation gnawed at me. Amazon obliged in delivering the book to my doorstep by the time I got home.

I was expecting a "boy loves dog" sort of thing and was pleasantly surprised to find something else. Tom's book is a series of short stories that chronicle his early interest in horses, the mortgaging of his future to acquire that first four-legged beast and the lifelong obsession it kindled.

Those of us who prowl the stream in search of sport will understand the parallels between what we seek and Tom's journey. His dreams of living in Big Sky and traveling across the back country on horseback have as much to do with his passion for these animals as they do for that search for something else. Some of those things are tangible - elk and trout - but in the long pauses that exist in any search there's time to appreciate the solitude and grace that the journey affords. It's one of those books that ends too quickly leaving you wanting for the next chapter.

As I read the review copy for Pulp Fly: Volume 3 I was pleased to see another tale from Tom. It reminded me how much I enjoyed his writing about the journey. Maybe there's something to be found on horseback. Maybe on a ride to a trout stream.

You can find give me Mountains for my Horses on Amazon for $8.96. Pulp Fly Volume 3 should be on sale in the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I recently looked at my Instagram account. It creates a montage at the top of the page comprised of photos, presumably randomly selected, from the photos in the account. For some reason, this collection speaks to me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot Water

I like coffee. That might be a bit of an understatement. I'm an addict. And a snob. After a frigid morning of not catching Steelhead, there's nothing I like more than to fire up the Jetboil and french press a fine cup of coffee streamside. Very civilized. I should bring along biscotti.

By buddy English Jonny alerted me to this gear opportunity. While it does seem like a lightweight, inexpensive option to the Jetboil, honestly, who could wait five minutes for boiled water?

How To Turn A Beer Can Into The Only Camping Stove You'll Ever Need from Tom Allen on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pure Trout

Greenback. Sort of.
I visited the Front Range last year. During that trip I became enamored with a popular lake that was home to Greenback Cutthroat trout. Well, not so much. It appears that there's only one place you can find pure strain Greenbacks, in a sliver of water along the flanks of Pike's Peak called Bear Creek.

Bear Creek contains what has been verified through genetic testing as the last known place where pure strain Greenback Cutthroats live. The population is estimated at 750 fish. That's a slim population. And when you see how small the stream is, that portion of your brain where catastrophes and natural disasters live becomes very active.

State and local conservation groups, including The Greenbacks, are rallying to put in place protections for this critical resource.

They're trying to raise $10,000 to fund work to protect the drainage.

If you can spare $10, $20, or more, head over to their site. They've got a video that explains the effort and the drainage. Donating gives you access to some great swag from Fishpond, Vedavoo and others along with the satisfaction of helping to protect this important resource.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Steelhead Camp

First and Only
Steelhead Camp is not a luxurious place. It's chosen solely because of proximity to slate grey waters and the sweet tedium of swinging and chucking and ducking. Out before first light and back, exhausted, when the sun sets prematurely the sport leaves little time to enjoy niceties. Thus, Steelhead Camp has only the basics. Beds. A hot shower. A functional crapper. Perhaps a perfunctory kitchen. In the worst places the owner is either a rambling boor or an obnoxious half-wit.

While we complain about its lack of comfort and food the rest of the year, when you're in Steelhead Camp, none of that matters. Each day is ended with the fueling of the mortal shackle, the tilting of bottles, and a rapid decline into slumber so as to be prepared for the next day's toil in cruel weather on cruel waters.

The first year I fished for steel I landed one. I hooked a bunch but it was only the one that came to hand though another got close before coming unpinned. The frustration only made success that much more delectable which is probably why the sport is so intoxicating. I was told that it was a good outing for a rookie. I was also told that I should have been there last year. “Last year” the digits were double, the grins painful to maintain, the memory cards full.

That first outing ended with the sense of satisfaction one has when things start to make sense. But I was also left with something else. It was the gnaw of the addict’s craving. I went two years without landing another; plenty hooked, but no grip and grins. These were also lean years for the more experienced anglers in the troupe, so the sting of failure was mild though it did leave a scar on the part of my brain that noodles the steel. The touch of steel, cool and strong, cannot be shared with words or images. It defies understanding without suffering; endless casts, cold, stiff limbs, cheekbones scoured by frigid winds.

This year, because important non-angling matters pressed, I missed Steelhead Camp. The vagaries of managed water flows, barometric pressure, and perhaps something divine aligned in the unknowable mind of the west coast transplants and they ran upriver into diminishing flows. The fishing was good; great, even. Forum scorecards flaunted the success of the players. This year has now become a “last year”. A really good one.

I'll get to steelhead water for a few days next month. I feel like I’m going through the motions, yet my imagination partners with memory and calls me to action. The desire to feel the strength of bright chrome on the line and in the hand is strong. Without the grins and backslaps and jealous glances of my Steelhead brothers it won't be as good, but it could be good enough.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Too much slack!

I couldn't help thinking, "I hope a fish doesn't hit the fly cause there's no way he's going to get a good hookset."

Mind the slack line.

Almost Perfect.trailer from LIFE.productions on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I have no steel

Photo: English Jonny
I missed this past weekend's steelhead trip. My buddy TJ Brayshaw would say that's a good thing. I was feeling kinda smug last week when the river was a barely fishable 2,000 cfs. They dropped it to a trickle over the weekend. The steel had run in. The water was perfect. Many fish were caught.

I think this may become one of those "you shoulda been here last year" kinda things.

It seems to happen every time I don't go.

Maybe TJ is right.

Mending the Line

Looking forward to this one.

Mending the Line - Trailer from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Writing about sport is often not about the sport at all. The metaphors for the rest of life are easy to discern though finding the right turn of phrase to make the writing poignant is a challenge. I suppose that's what makes the sport interesting. Perhaps the writing too.

I finished a piece of fiction over the weekend. I've been working on it for the longest time even though it's only 1,600 words. It's almost done. The story attempts to connect the experience of our sport with the those of the warrior. It's been a difficult piece to write.

Writing fiction requires you to pull something from your life or the lives of others and stretch it to fit another framework. It forces you to draw emotions that were experienced or witnessed in one context and in some way make sense of them in another. This piece, about a warrior home from battle, requires me to rely upon the experiences, ideas, and emotion of others in ways that seem very different from previous writing. The ground is sacred. It feels as if I am trespassing.

Service to one's country is a high calling. The call comes to those who serve for myriad reasons. In my family the calling came twice from a court order; young men guilty of minor offenses offered the choice between jail or service made an obvious choice. Others sought adventure, or at least a release from boredom, and flew to places in Texas and Illinois and South Carolina to transform themselves.

I never served. My dad, who racked up thirty-three years of service in the Air Force and Air Guard, cautioned me against the life. As a son of a father who was never home I sought a different path to try and leave that legacy behind. But I have always carried the sense of the brotherhood, sacrifice, joy and pain of the life my father lived though only as a spectator.

On this Veteran's Day I carry in my heart a thankfulness for all the men and women who wear a uniform in domestic and foreign lands. I am deeply humbled by your choice and thankful for the selflessness by which you lead your lives. It is a sacred act. God bless you and your families.

Monday, November 4, 2013


It's been thirty days since I saw one of these.....
Where the hell did the sunlight go? More importantly, when is it coming back?

Gone are the opportunities for a quick trip to the water after work. Hell, there's not much water in the streams that are close at hand, so I suppose nothing is lost. It's still depressing as hell. Especially with the change of the clocks. More darkness during the seasons prime non-work hours.

I was out to the river twice in October which is roughly half the pace I was managing in mid-September -- on a weekly basis. Skunked both times. I suppose I deserve it for trying to stretch a good thing too far.

It's the time of Steel and I need to be plotting though November is already gone and committed. The first weekend in December looks promising. Perhaps a day or two in Pulaski.  I'll call for reservations in the morning.

I suppose I should just succumb to the reality. This time of year is increasingly filled with the administrative tasks of our sport. At some point I'll have to sort through fly boxes to see what's what. I am a compulsive buyer of Parachute Adams, a pattern I hate to tie, so I'll not worry about those. But PT nymphs are in short supply, the spot where Hare's Ears are stored is sparse and the Wooley Buggers and Worms of New Mexican descent remain only in less desirable colors. But if I try to tie any more Sulphur Sparkle Duns, shoot me. I have more than I'll use in four seasons. There's something about that pattern that I like. Maybe that it catches fish. I also have a fetish for fine deer hair.

My fly lines need attention as well. I know at least one has a nick in it from a boot stud and there are probably others that are in need of replacement. I may even clean them. I'm sure I've bought some doodad for fly line maintaining though I'd be hard pressed to find it at this point. I suppose there's a place where lost angling trinkets collect. It's probably adjacent to the home of lost socks.

I could also do something about that black duffle I keep in the car. It's a crazy mix of spare reels, winter gear, lost flies, cigar wrappers and twenty other random things. Of course, it always seems to hold just the right piece of gear at the right moment. Probably best not to over think it and let it alone for now. Mojo counts and I think there's a fair amount encrusted in that battered bag's weave.

I still have to plot out some fishing over the coming weeks in between all the personal commitments. I did start November with a quick trip. I tried to catch an Olive hatch on Sunday. A front had moved through Saturday and Sunday afternoon the clouds were scattered causing the hatch to be sporadic and put the trout in a bitch of a mood. I was getting refusals on #20 and #22 Olives. I suppose I should have tied up a few #24s but then I don't have an electron microscope to see the damn things.

Back to the tying bench for now. I've brought the nymph box inside for a proper inventory. And I did find a box of #24 hooks. Of course, I do have some reading to get caught up on. So maybe the vise can wait for a bit. I'll probably regret the procrastination in the spring.

At least there are dead trees to be perused.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Little Friends

I hope this head cold wanes soon. The olives are up and Sam thinks we need to go fishing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I am the enemy (and so are you)

The battle for fly fishing retail dollars is a brutal one. Fly shops, never a place to make one's fortune, exist in an increasingly competitive landscape. These days if you don't have an online presence to complement your bricks and mortar you either have a shop within a double haul of a storied water or are preparing to go out of business. If your business model depends on selling flies for two bucks a piece, it better be something better than can be had for thirty-nine cents online.

While as a consumer, I understand the day-to-day warfare, there's one theater in the retail battlefront that I wasn't aware of -- the fly rod guarantee. Apparently, shops are upset with rod manufacturers, and have been for years, because they offer these lifetime guarantees.

Short story: If I buy a rod with a lifetime guarantee, I'll never buy another one. If it gets damaged I get it repaired. If I want a new model, I wait for the old model to go out of production, damage it, and get sent a new one. The shop never makes another sale.

In a opinion piece over on The Angling Trade website, fly shop owner David Leinweber attributes rod sales declines primarily to warranties.
Over the past decade, fly shops across the country have seen premium rod purchases decline. There are several factors pointing to the decline of premium rod sales compared to the “pre-warranty” era. It may be competition, the economy, it may be the advent of the Web, it may be the increasing cost of repairs; it may be a lot of things. My opinion is that there is little incentive for someone with a “lifetime warranty” to buy a new rod.
He'd like to see manufacturers stop offering warranties so that when our rod accidentally breaks or when we need the new model and slam our old rod in the car door* that we have to go into the fly shop and purchase a new one from him. If we want a warranty, he suggests that we purchase one separately from the rod manufacturer. Presumably this also reduces the price of rods for consumers so those who want a warranty get one and those who don't, don't.

I'd like to see some data on this subject. Of the five things that David cites as the possible reasons for sales declines - competition, the economy, the internet, cost of repairs, warranties -- I think warranties is at or near the bottom of the list. Again, I have no data, just opinion.

One of David's key presumptions, that folks are slamming rods in car doors in order to get free upgrades, seems dubious. I know of two people who broke rods -- one on a backcast hooked in a tree, the other on a steelhead -- and then sent in rods for repairs. One got the same model, the other a newer one. The one didn't break his rod to get the newer model. I'm sure there are cheaters out there. Heck lowlifes cheat on far less valuable things, why not rod repairs. It's a matter of ethics. I don't think this is as much a problem as David thinks.

When I want the latest rod, I buy it. I don't scan the box of rods in the garage trying to figure out which to run through the ceiling fan. That said, of the three I've purchased during the past five years, only one came from a fly shop. The others I purchased online from the manufacturer**. Why? It's easier. I don't have to leave my house to go to a fly shop. Also, the selection is better. I don't have to purchase what they have in stock, I can purchase what I want. Again, my gut tells me that the ease of purchase on the web coupled with the crap economy far outweigh the effect of warranties. That's what the past decade has been all about.

I think much of this comes back to the role of the fly shop in our sport. Good ones seem to be places we go naturally, bad ones we avoid. There are two up on the Housatonic River and I clearly prefer Housatonic River Outfitters to the other***. Up in Pulaski there are two I like and one I don't. And down in Townsend, TN is one of the best I've found.

There are a lot of conditions facing fly shop owners and I think any time spent on warranties is time that could be better spent wondering how to improve your internet store or declutter the shop or investing in customer service training for the staff. I think those are the things that are going to make folks come in (or log on) and buy stuff. Eliminating warranties isn't going to change anything at all for fly shop sales. It's the red herring in this pool.

* I prefer to use a ceiling fan.
** Another sore spot with fly shop owners, I'm sure.
*** Which may, or may not, be still in business.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

No unsolicited poetry, please.

Why can't he write about what he's writing about? Poets...
Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

- Excerpt from The Bait by John Donne*

I've been distributing my writing in a few places that pay one to do such and having more success than I expected. That, of course, has led me to look for other places upon which to inflict to submit my words.

I find it amusing that in a number of submission guidelines I have found the following phrase:

No unsolicited poetry, please.

I am no poet, as I have demonstrated in the past, and no judge of poetry. I don't particularly enjoy the form though on occasion I will read a piece that is recommended. But I was struck by the request. Clearly there must be some supply-demand imbalance in the poetry world; so much poetry is available that it must be turned away. Are there really that many poets out there? Or are they generally worse than they think they are? Or both?

Not submitting poetry. Anywhere.

* And it's not even a poem about fishing! Damn that poetry, it's always about something else!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Rainbows of Eagle Ridge Ranch

Sheridan Creek

My first day in Idaho I had mentally penciled in the Henry's Fork as the place to fish. I had my camp site reserved and was fantasizing about hiking far from the beaten path to find water that had less pressure and large, less discriminating fish. Of course, I didn't foresee my buddy Chris Hunt offering a real bed at his place and an opportunity to fish some water for choice Rainbows with two friends, Greg McReynolds and Tom Reed.

Sheridan Creek runs off the flanks of Taylor Mountain near Island Park, Idaho, meanders across the valley floor for miles before emptying into Island Park Reservoir. Most of the land it crosses is privately owned and while there are ways to access the river from public lands and road crossings access through private land is the most convenient. That's where Eagle Ridge Ranch comes in.

An average denizen of Sheridan Creek. (Photo: Chris Hunt)
Eagle Ridge Ranch is located is Island Park just off the beaten path. It is comprised of 90,000 acres and is a working cattle ranch. Of course, all that pasture has some sweet trout streams running through it. The ranch has a lodge (four bedrooms) and four cabins for rent and accommodations include access to streams and lakes on the property. There's also the opportunity to canoe the ponds, do some horseback riding and participate in other ranch activities.

We had made special arrangements to do some fishing and you should contact the ranch directly if you're interested in doing so. We came for the fishing; specifically fishing for trophy rainbows in Sheridan Lake. Of course, there's also Sheridan Creek, a pretty meadow creek, that caught our eye and was where we started our day.

By the time I got down to the water, Chris and Greg were both into fine rainbows. Chris was using a small fiberglass rod and it lacked the backbone to muscle the fish in any way so part of the joy of seeing him catch this fish was to watch him dance along the bank and through the riffles trying to stay connected. Fortunately, Chris is light on his feet and he managed to complete the dance and land the beast. Those fish proved to be the largest that we caught though everyone got into more modest sized bows and Chris managed to catch a beauty of a Brookie.

A delicate ballerina.
One of the things that you have to contend with when fishing a ranch are the fences. The location we chose seemed to be some sort of nexus between many fields and there was a maze of barbed wire fences that needed to be navigated. At one point I hooked a fish in an alley between two fences and he promptly fled downstream. Unable to cross the fence that spanned the stream, I had to literally drag the fish back upstream under the wire. Fortunately, the tippet held.

Chris' eddy rainbow
A highlight of the afternoon was sight fishing to a pod of bows in large eddy that formed off to the side of a bend. Chris was fishing the main channel when Greg and I came over the rise. The eddy was still and weedy and didn't look like much until the sun came out from behind the clouds. We both saw the shadows of several large fish slowly circling. Redirected, it took Chris a few casts to get the fly in the right place. With a twitch and a short strip, Greg and I got to watch a hefty bow surge and strike Chris' hopper.

We never made it to the lake to fish for the trophy bows. By the time we got around to going over to the lake the day was waning and the wind was up. We had foolishly passed on the option to bring along a battery for the boats on the pond and rowing in the wind wasn't appealing. Besides, our hunger had built. And we were thirsty. Again.

We drove into town and had a burger and a few beers. While the desire to linger was there, we all had ground to cover. Tom needed to get back home and Greg and Chris had a long ride ahead of them. I had an appointment with a campground in the park and needed to get to West Yellowstone before the shops closed down.

As I drove north, I passed the turn off for Sheridan Creek. I looked long and hard down that dusty dirt path. Fortunately, I was temporarily sated and continued north setting up my tent just before a storm rolled through. As the front passed the air chilled and I took a coffee and cigar to the banks of the Madison River to enjoy the last of the sunset. Even with storied water before me I couldn't help but reflect on Sheridan Lake and the rainbows we never saw.

For a video of what it's like to fish on the lake, check out Marc Crapo's Eagle Ridge Adventure Video

Prettier places are hard to come by. (Photo: Chris Hunt)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fiction: Yellowstone Taper

I've been writing a bit of fiction lately. Two pieces have been accepted for publication. Trying to stuff a good story into something less than three thousand words has been an interesting challenge. I look forward to seeing them in print. I'll let you know when they're out.

I'm not sure what inspired the following piece. On short notice, I was asked for 700 words that ultimately hit the editor's floor. This may be the beginning of a longer piece. Or it may just languish. Regardless, unsatisfactory for publication I'm free to inflict it upon you.

Camp Benign?

"TA-DAA-A-A, says the clown!" and I show two thumbs-up delivering the punch line with gusto.

The groans of two fellow revelers signal the joke's off-color nature. The other two fall off their perches laughing hard. It's a good joke. I tell it better sober. Not tonight.

Sharing a fire with strangers is part of solo camping. I've met some assholes this way but they're the exception. These four, college-aged guys pulled in late in a rust bucket of a pick-up truck and took the camp at the corner. Coming back from the john I chatted with them for a bit. They have a guitar, beer and fire-cooked meat. I return later with scotch and am offered a place.

With chuckles still coming from two knuckleheads, I slink off into the woods for a piss and then stagger back to the fire. Frankie is out. The blonde dude and goatee are talking low. Dylan has disappeared.

"I think I'm going to turn in", I say to no one in particular and turn stumbling vaguely in the direction of camp. At the next campsite, vacant on this post-season night, I sit at the picnic table to take a breather. Hours later an icepick of sunlight stabs into my brain. I raise my head from the table sticky with accumulated drool and dew. A glass of water before bed usually staves off a hangover. My swollen tongue and the spinning forest are but two of the symptoms that tell me I neglected this prophylactic treatment. I shiver. Late summer nights at 8,000 feet are more like early winter elsewhere. Coffee will restore some of me. A bottle of Gatorade will probably do more. Advil too.

Back at the truck I see that I've left the back open all night. Fortunately no creature has ransacked the interior. To a lay person's eyes its disordered state probably looks like the result of feral rummaging but I've got a system -- fishing gear to the right, camp gear to the left, valuables stashed elsewhere. Except that there seems to be less of a pile where the fishing gear normally sits.

As I explain to the officer, it appears that three rods - two in tubes, one strung, a gear bag containing reels and such and a waist pack are missing. My camp gear was left untouched including a fairly expensive stove. I suspect another angler. The officer is impressed with my sleuthing. I gain a piece of official yellow paper "for insurance purposes".

It's a crap place to be two days into a five day trip without a rod. A four-hour round trip into town seems certain when my gaze lands on my rear view mirror. Hanging there is my lanyard -- nippers, tippet, a dozen flies, floatant, a bottle opener. All the makings of a day on the water. With a bit of enthusiasm tinged with adventure I throw a beer and lunch into my pack and head upstream.

A thick, flexible willow branch hacked and whittled bankside and an improvised leader constructed with what will henceforth be known as a Yellowstone taper get me going Tenkara style. This stream, ten feet wide at its broadest, has plenty of fishy spots and soon pan-sized Rainbows and Browns are at hand.

In the early afternoon a hefty Rainbow smacks my Stimi drifting along the recesses of a dark undercut bank. I race up and down the stream splashing and stumbling trying to prevent my leader or rod from parting. As I beach the rainbow on the gravel his shovel tail makes a fine slap in the shallow water. The sound is immediately followed by a huff sound that raises the hair on the back of my neck. My bowels lurch.

I turn slowly to see a bear, large enough by any measure, standing on the gravel fifteen yards distant. I drop my rod and slowly back away, avoiding eye contact, speaking nonsense in a soothing voice and reaching for the bear spray that was burgled last night. Wading back across the stream I bump up against the far bank and stop facing the menace.

The bear approaches the limply flopping 'bow, huffs one last time and picks up the fish. It, the rod, and the Yellowstone taper disappear into the willows. Maybe it’s a sign.

Jetboil. Civilized Coffee. Anywhere.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The things you learn from internet videos

It's amazing how much video has changed the way we learn. And sometimes, it's not the educational videos that teach you something; other videos can be instructional as well.

I was recently watching a fly fishing video in Catch Magazine. The frame I stole below shows a chap keeping some of his fly line out of the current in a creative way. I've been trout fishing and missed having a stripping basket. It's an obvious method once you see it but it never struck me while on the water.*

* Note how I have resisted the baser urge to make vulgar puns related to internet videos and oral methods. I leave that to trolls in the comments section

Monday, October 7, 2013

Infamous Stringdusters & American Rivers

A buddy of mine recommended the Infamous Stringdusters on his list of top bluegrass bands. I now have a Pandora station that streams some excellent music. Turns out the Stringdusters were part of an American Rivers Tour this year. The Frank Church Wilderness was just added to my list of places to go.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gear Review: Fishpond Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack

The good folks at Fishpond sent me their new Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack. I registered my first impressions a few weeks ago. Since then I've fished with it a dozen times including a few days wandering about in Yellowstone National Park. While at the park I recorded a video review.

A summary of what I liked and didn't like:

  • Stupendously water resistant - the material (thermoplastic polyurethane) is impervious to water and the zippers are highly water resistant. Anything short of a dunking will keep your gear safe.
  • Large capacity - swallows a bunch of gear including four fly boxes, cigar case, headlamp, lunch, and the bazillion consumables (leader, floatant, strike indicators, etc) that one needs on the water.
  • Comfortable to wear, all day - wide, ventilated waist band and comfortable shoulder strap make this fairly comfortable, even fully loaded.
  • Customization  - lots of lashing points externally for zingers and gear both on the belt and the case itself.
  • Lacks an effective place to put a net. (True of all waist packs I've used). I used a s-biner to connect mine to one of the d-rings on the belt. A d-ring on the shoulder strap would have been great.
  • The straps on the bottom are too short to accommodate a heavy weight jacket. They either need to be an inch longer or include a quick release snap (or both)
  • The zippers are very stiff (yet water resistant). You really need two hands to zipper effectively (True of all waist packs and most vests I've used). Single handed closure seems to be the holy grail of packs/vests -- desired but unobtainable.

Overall, I like the pack. There's some competition coming out in the next few months and I'll be interested to compare those packs with this one. Until then, I'll be using the Fishpond Westwater Guide Pack on the water.

Retail Price: $139.95

Full Disclosure: This pack was sent to me gratis. I'd like to think that doesn't matter in the words that I chose. You judge for yourself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Congress and Conservation

"Experience Your America". Unless Congress gets its head stuck somewhere dark.*

The closing of the National Parks is one of the effects of the government shutdown that strikes me most strongly as wrong. Hell, just keep the gates open and let folks wander about. Of course, I'm totally underestimating the work that goes on in the background to maintain the park and keep us all safe. I should probably be more understanding but it still pisses me off.

It's easy to shrug off government shenanigans such as these. One's assumption is that it'll work itself out before too much damage is done. But in the dark of the night, I worry that this one may go on longer than one otherwise might think. A party minority, electorally sheltered in gerrymandered districts, really has no reason to take the gun away from our collective heads. Equally, the defense of the majority rule, democratic system requires the President and the Senate to stand their ground. It's the perfect storm for stupidity to rule the day.

Anglers and conservationists don't have too look far to find impacts of the government shutdown. A buddy of mine was planning to fish the Firehole tomorrow. Not so much if the park doesn't reopen. Further, there's a whole ecosystem that surrounds these parks including the fly shops, guide services, hotels and restaurants (and stuff that silly non-anglers use) that are now losing tons of business. I've heard of the woes of a fly shop in Boulder, CO losing several hundred trips, no doubt to the double whammy of the shutdown of Rocky Mountain National Park plus the flooding. One can easily imagine the impact of not being able to guide in Everglades National Park if that's where you hang your hat. One estimate puts the daily economic impact of closed national parks at $750 million a day.

In a call with the Trout Unlimited Government Affairs folks today they also spoke about the impact of the government shutdown on conservation projects. From the inability to get a $100,000 invoice paid, to stopping work on conservations projects occurring on public lands in Virginia, West Virginia, Vermont & Pennsylvania to the cancellation of the Wild Trout Symposium in Yellowstone National Park the government shutdown is silting over the fertile redds where progress on habitat restoration is made. And if this doesn't end soon, winter weather will delay field work into the coming year.

The effects to the things we care about is significant though likely small in the grand scheme of the federal government's machinations. That said, the government has to govern and Congress has to do whatever it's supposed to do in order to allow them to do so. Time to tell your reps to find a way out of this mess. And maybe do some fishing. Outside of federal lands.

* Like Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Where it's very dark when the lights are off. Which they are due to the government shutdown. What? You thought I meant...? No, I'm not that vulgar.....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On dead trees

Yes, I know you love my ramblings on the web, but print on dead/recycled trees pays better. 

Page 28, The Flyfish Journal

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fifty Friggin' Yards on the Lamar

The Lamar Valley is one of the prettiest spots on the planet. In the right dramatic light, with bison, elk, and proghorn swarming the valley floor, you'd swear you had been taken back centuries in time (Aside from Maude from Des Moines asking you for the third time if those fuzzy dots are bears).

The Lamar

At the floor of this valley winds the Lamar River and while it's less than a mile distant the walk is harder than it appears. Sea level lungs, bison mashed mud and dozen of rivelets conspire to dissuade one from continuing, but one does. Cause it's worth it, right?


I'll not be catching fish out past those aspens.

The walk of shame
Unless someone lures me with tales of superb angling, I'm never taking that walk again. It's a pain in the ass. And the fishing was lousy both times I took that walk. I saw one other guy while I was down there and saw him catch one fish. I saw a lovely drake hatch. I saw no fish. I touch no fish. I scour my gear-laden self for some talisman that will draw trout. I am foiled.

You would think some fish live here.

After two rain showers, incessant winds and no fish I marched back uphill to my vehicle for a rest and some coffee.

On the way out I met a guy walking in with a fly rod. 0X leader. Large, green wooley bugger. Shorts. sneakers. Not a piece of legit "gear" on him. Totally less prepared than I for any eventuality. We talk about eating Rainbows for dinner though I am fishless. I bet he caught fish.

There's a black speck in there somewhere that is my truck

Fifty Friggin' Yards
So I'm having my JetBoiled, french-press coffee (one mustn't compromise, no matter the locale) when I look downstream about a mile to where the Lamar enters a canyon and decide that's a place where fish might take a streamer.

At the pull-off there's a car with New York plates. Three guys are working the water below. The guy one pool up looks like he's rooted in spot slowly working his way through his fly box. Two guys downstream are a mystery. One is working up a pool and the other seems to be working down a run. They're clearly together. Below me is some questionable water but I had time to kill while these guys got a sense of direction, so I scrambled down with a 150gr sinking line rigged on my 5 weight.

Probably closer to 75 yards now that I look at this diagram.

After twenty minutes or so, the two anglers below start moving upstream, each taking one of the two runs below me. The lower one leapfrogs the upper and walks my way.

He was moving with purpose. The body language hollered "passive aggressive" though I couldn't figure out why.

Instead of just letting it pass though I gave him a hearty "How's the fishing?".

He muttered something incomprehensible though through the rambling I got the message: I had "high holed" him.

"Excuse me?", I said.

"You saw me coming this way and you hopped on water I was going to fish."

After a few days of fishing and soaking in the beauty of Yellowstone one would have thought I was at peace with man and beast. That perhaps, as a karmic offering, I would offer an apology for the misunderstanding.

I guess it takes more than two days to wring out the stress. Instead of ignoring the statement or muttering something and wishing later I had said something smarter, I said exactly what was on my mind.

"Are you f#&king kidding me?  High holing?! You were fifty f#*king yards downstream! You and your buddy weren't moving one way or the other. If I'd dropped in 10 yards from you, you'd have a beef, but fifty f&*king yards? Give me a break!"

He kept moving. Probably best for both of us. His buddy came by a few minutes later. Neither of us said a word.

I get that in this wide open country fifty yards is probably the equivalent of three feet in other places but his argument was a specious as the water we argued over. At best we were ignoring that fact that, by his definition, we were both low holing the guy upstream. We didn't discuss that finer point. Maybe he was just a jerk. Maybe I was too. But if I drop in fifty yards from you, and you call me on it, we may have words. Or maybe we won't.

I worked downstream through the water they fished. The runs were fishless but the slower sections, home to large boulders, produced fish reliably. I was glad I brought the sinking line. There's something about sinking lines that makes me feel like I'm going overboard; over-gunning when a simpler rig would do. But in this case I was able to get into the deep pockets and draw fish to my olive wooley bugger.

Most of the trout were in the 10-12" range but two were nice fat specimens. They were all Cuttbows, at least to my eye, though I secretly hoped that I was catching native fish. None lacked throat slashes so none came home for the pan.

While I hoped to fish the next morning, I had an appointment to get to two hundred miles to the south and the day was consumed on the road. No regrets. There was a stout beer and good friends at the end of that ride. And there are worse ways to end a fishing trip than a friggin' day on the Lamar.

Finally, a fish picture. A fine specked Cutthroat or a Hybrid? Probably a hybrid.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In the meadow

The Gibbon meadow of years past.
In the east one would be hard pressed to find big rivers winding through meadows. I suppose the geography doesn't allow it and if it did there would be McMansions lining the banks. Out west, were expansive valleys still lay homeless, rivers still go where they want though they're more likely to suffer assault from agriculture and ranching than bipeds intent on constructing massive dwellings.

The Gibbon in Yellowstone National Park is three rivers divided by falls. The middle section, above Gibbon Falls and below Virginia Cascade meanders, mostly through meadow, though you'll also find steaming geyser basins in the mix. The meadow sections are the most inviting. Long, lazy stretches of water tousled by variable winds

In early September, the meadow grasses along its banks are thick with grasshoppers. You don't really appreciate the bugmass until you wander through the tall grasses and see the ground move ahead of you busy with leaping and scurrying. And you don't really appreciate what this means to you, the angler, until you stand at water edge and a sudden gust wells behind you and bugs fly helplessly in the gale.

I had tied on a hopper pattern at the car more out of awareness that this is the season for them than whether or not I'd actually find a "hatch". Standing at water's edge the wind shifted about and each time the velocity picked up a handful of grasshoppers would be deposited into the current. They'd struggle and swim heading back for shore and with enough frequency to keep it interesting (for me) they'd disappear in a swirl of trout mouth.

I wanted to be at the far shore casting to this bank so I found a spot where the bison cross and made the near bank far. The wind that delivered the hopping mana played tricks with my cast but such is the price to pay to cast large, buggy flies to trout you know are willing.

And they were. For several hours I was able to catch my fill of Brown Trout. Most were in the pan-sized range but there was one that would have been head and tail out of even a generous fryer. The catching seemed to come and go in waves as if aligned with some process that I could not discern. When it was on I did not complain and when it was off I felt like I was doing something wrong. Perhaps I was.

In the coming years the fishing on this stretch will change. Like the section I fished in the morning, this stream will be nuked in the coming years to make way for native trout restoration. For a few years, the fishing will be poor to non-existent as a series of piscicide treatments take out all the non-natives. But then the natives will be stocked into the stream.

If all goes according to plan, within a few years this portion of the river will be full of aggressive, modestly foolish Westslope Cutthroat and Grayling. This fishing will be good like it is today and perhaps a little more special knowing that native trout are back where they belong.

Gibbon Brown. Say goodbye.