Monday, November 23, 2015
We twisted the skiff into the cool morning mists and put it on plane towards Junkman’s Turn and the bridges. Charlie spun his Ranger the other way and headed up Beaver to see what he could find. Birds first, then, hopefully, bait underneath them. And stripers. They were out there somewhere.
Not knowing the protocol, I asked Troy when we should call Charlie in case we found fish. If we catch one?
No. Might be a stray. A single cruising. No need to call till we know more.
Probably not. Could just be a small fast moving pod. We don't want to bring him all the way here for nothing.
Three, then. Should we call if we catch three?
Hell no! If they’re bustin’, we ain’t wastin’ no time on the damn cell phone. We're fishin'!
Just so we're clear.
Friday, October 30, 2015
The camera didn't get much use this month. Life gets in the way, sometimes. But over the last couple of days I've wandered out of the house and snapped a handful of images of the surrounding woods as Autumn begins to creep in. It'll change fast, to be sure, but I always like that early-season moment when sourwood oranges, dogwood reds, and hickory golds begin to emerge against the steadfast and stubborn oak green, lighting up the woods and dappling the forest floor in riotous color.
My favorite time of the year.
Note: Be sure to click on each image, hopefully giving you a larger and better resolved look at the details within.
What is a Photo Bin?
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Excerpts from an Alaskan journal:
TSA Agent, with a straight face, as I entered the security queue with my travel rod case: "You don't have any guns in there, do you?" Really?
The biggest problem with carrying fly fishing gear on a plane is that you have to listen to everyone else's fish stories.
I'm toast, though the sun has not yet set. I've gained four hours, traveling west, and I feel the weight of them. Too long spent in seat 38B.
Far-flung trips seem unreal until I'm in the middle of them. Before departure there's always the questions. Will it really come off? What will it be like? Will I return from it? (Yes, I ask myself that sometimes.) Trips are a slice out of time, completely disconnected from the natural flow of my life, but they always teach me something new about it. Each trip has a lesson, though it often takes a while for it to be recognized.
First fish in Alaska, a robust rainbow, every bit of four inches long. Glad I came all this way. But hey, he jumped!
Black spruce, cottonwood, juniper, birch, scrub willow, alder. Fireweed, caribou moss, crowberries, salmonberries, wild blueberries. The colors of the tundra are scrumptious.
"They taste so good, it's like an angel pissed on your tongue." - Pete, on Tia's peanut butter concoctions
"Too early old, too late wise." - Grandpa Tex, via Pete, on nothing in particular
It's amazing to fish a stream full of brilliant red spawning sockeye, drifting beads through the schools, searching for the big rainbows and char that linger among them and gobble the roe. But the occasional salmon will go cannibal, take the egg, and they're a load to bring home; a guilty pleasure.
Thank God for Gore-Tex.
"You're just two casts away from the biggest trout of your life." - Bradley's mantra
Bent the 8wt all day long with silvers fresh from the salt, still fully loaded for their hundred-mile trek up the river, still bejeweled with sea lice along their broad chrome flanks. Charles said I caught fifty. He might have been right. I stopped counting at three.
Flannel sheets on an Alaskan morning. It's hard to get out of bed.
7wts with sinks, 6wts with floats. Streamers from all angles. My kind of fishing.
Our last day of fishing, done. The rain picked up as we arrived back at the lodge, washing the week clean. I'm ready to head home tomorrow. Hope the weather lets us out.
It did, with some reluctance.
Monday, October 12, 2015
You should have seen it coming. This month's photo bin could only be outtakes from Alaska for what else am I to do with the hundreds of images that came home with me? I'll go easy on you, though. Just a handful here. Odds and ends. The usual bin fare.
Scott will probably kill me for this, but the first image here from the Royal Coachman Lodge comes from the backyard. Not a glam shot of the lodge or slick advertising piece of scenery, but a view from the guts of the operation. Truth be told, when you're an hour away by float plane from the anything approaching civilization, there's nothing more reassuring than finding a well stocked and thoroughly outfitted workroom, capable of dealing with whatever the wilderness might throw at you.
Polished and comfortable rooms are nice (and the Coachman has that covered, have no worries), but having the right tools is priceless.
A quite different view of the place, nestled comfortably along the Nuyakuk River, taken as we circled before landing on our final day of fishing. I never tired of this vantage point.
An impressive moose skull and rack that adorns the front yard of the lodge, perfectly accentuated by thick morning mists on the Nuyakuk. These particular mists never gave way and kept us grounded the entirety of the day.
But the grounding had a silver lining, relegating us to the boats alone and to traveling a few miles downstream to visit some of the wildest and most beautiful rapids I've experienced. They were accessible this season only because of unusual and extreme low water conditions, providing a special opportunity to fish fast waters and eddies that had been untouched for years.
Fall arrived on the Tikchik during our week's stay, the colors of the tundra changing each and every day. I'm used to my autumnal brilliance arriving in the trees, so it's emergence from the ground was fascinating to see.
How's this for confidence? A sixty-inch tape in Cory's wader pocket. We never stretched it out, but not for lack of trying, and it was a constant reminder of the possibilities.
So, what do the guides do in the evenings? They retire to the barn to compare notes and shake off the day with a wicked game of darts. It's lively competition until the generator shuts down and sends everyone to bed. Some days that happens later than others.
In the absence of high speed internet, you must rely on lower tech for your immediate weather forecasts. A strategically placed stencil on the lodge's glass front door works just fine.
Another shot, here, of one of the out-of-the-way places that makes the lodge tick. The fare that comes out of this kitchen is mighty hard to beat.
And speaking of mighty hard to beat, so is this view off the front deck. Cory and Charles take a few minutes after diner and before the sun slips away for some late evening spey casting tips. Picking up a few grayling and rainbows in the process didn't hurt and the setting was spectacular.
One of the most important lessons I've learned from wife, Mary, is that while the panorama might be inspiring, so too are the little things. Take a moment to look at what's close at hand, to look down, and find the joy and beauty that's within your reach. You don't have to be in Alaska to be exhilarated.
But I must admit, it doesn't hurt.
What is a Photo Bin?
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
We spoke of many things.
We spoke of aging with vigor and with dignified acceptance of limitations. We spoke of how shadows on the stream are darker than their hosts. We spoke of brown water, both waded in and sipped on. We spoke of creativity and inspiration and the special disposition it takes to be a painter and a writer and a fly fishing guide.
We threw some mean darts.
There were many things that made my Alaskan adventure special, but foremost among them was time spent with my host, the unsinkable Bob White. Mary often wonders at my practice of charging off on far-flung fly fishing jaunts with folks that I’ve never met and I suppose that I understand her concern. But this was a no-brainer. Before I’d ever shaken his hand I felt a connection to the man. I’ve long admired his artwork, been inspired and entertained by his off-season social media quotes of the day, and appreciated a stimulating written correspondence over the past couple of years. I felt that I pretty well knew what I was getting into.
I was not disappointed.
So here’s to my Alaskan friend, guide, roommate, and fellow young pup. It was a pleasure to spend time on the water, in the lodge, and behind your amazing easel. Thanks for the invitation and the time shared in your special corner of the world. In Bob's world.
And I hope that we’ll get to speak of many more things as we travel down the road.
Monday, September 28, 2015
We put down on Lake Aleknagik, glided into the beach, and unloaded our gear into the shuttles that would carry us back to Dillingham. The week at the Coachman was done. Our pilot, Steve, became our driver and offhandedly observed...
Now comes the dangerous part of our trip.
Yeah, I replied, statistically speaking we were safer in the air than we are on the road.
Not just that. Look at this van!
Funny that he felt less comfortable in a ten-year-old Dodge than he did in the sixty-year-old de Havilland. Funnier still, I did too.
When I told folks that I was going to Alaska they were understandably envious, but most hesitated when I described our daily routine, predicated on venturing out into the wilderness in small floatplanes. More than a few inquired of my life insurance.
But in his book, Top of the Flood: Halfway Through a Fly Fishing Life, my friend Tosh Brown sums it up nicely:
“I’ve never quite understood why some will readily strap themselves into a 300-ton aluminum firecracker and then balk when offered a ride in a small plane that actually makes aerodynamic sense.”
The argument didn’t sway many.
But it’s their loss for while the fishing was fantastic, the flying was better. We soared over forest and water and tundra and rock. We glided high in bluebird skies and crawled a scant three-hundred feet off the deck under impenetrable white ceilings. We watched from an unparalleled viewpoint as Fall found the Tikchik and painted the Togiak in autumnal brilliance. It was simply breathtaking and I’d have happily lain down my fly rods to ride the winds all day.
I took hundreds of pictures from the air but none do justice to the spectacle. Not a one. But I’ll try to show you, as best as I can, Fall’s arrival in Alaska, framed quite nicely by wing and float.
Thanks, Steve and Tor, for sharing your wings. It was a joy.
If this handful of images isn't enough, feel free to check out another dozen here, including some shots of the horse itself, the lovely de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.
Note: Click on the images to see them in larger format. It's a step closer to the real thing, I suppose, but still pales...
Friday, September 18, 2015
Are you taking pictures of dead fish?
Yes. Yes I am.
I am fascinated by the carnage that litters the Alaskan streamsides and can only imagine what it will look like in a month. The imperative that exists within these fish, to swim hundreds of miles to their birthplaces, to do their thing and then call it a life, amazes me. To see the swimming zombies, spent and deteriorating, flesh falling from their bones, but still fighting the currents to perpetuate their species, humbles me.
Do I have such courage, such commitment, such ragged nobility within me?
Mike, you're weird.
Yes. Perhaps I am. But then you probably don't see them as I do.
Or do you?