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.