Daddy, why do they call them The Smokies? You do favor your mother's side of the family, don't you son?
We took very different routes, coming and going, on our foray into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Going in, we drove around the north side, through Hillbilly Vegas, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and we despaired. It's a permanent carnival at the feet of the great tract, a carbuncle of the toe of the foothills, gaudy and neon, even on an overcast afternoon. Hatfield and McCoy tacky. Dinner show after side show after sho' 'nuff. Mind-reading pigs and talking dogs and Jesus Saves; the backwoods Holy Trinity.
Side note: If a pig could read your mind, how would you know? Perhaps all pigs can read our minds and this one was nothing special. Would the dog tell us if he knew (bein' our best friend and all)? Pigeon Forge drags you down to this level.
Coming home, we took the slow route, through the park, and our faith was restored. Here, it was easy to fall under the spell of Marc's Zen Baptist philosophy; the proof spread out before us in all it's uncultivated glory.
And in between the two, the coming and the going, we did a little fishin'.
We stepped out of the Townsend breakfast joint (two over-easy with a side of grits and biscuits, please) and the bottom dropped out. Rain in buckets. We'd have gotten good drifts in the seam running down the center of the two-row parking lot, if we'd cared to try. A trio of motorcycle riders (real bikes, with two wheels, not three), dressed head-to-toe in glossy black, also waited under the cover.
Wet ride ahead? They shrugged, nodded, then noticed our fishing gear and asked if we were going out in this stuff. We confirmed and they shook their heads.
When the bikers think you're crazy...
Rain in the deep woods makes spring greens pop with color and with life. Rich, ancient earth smells, borne within the thick mists, Smoky Mountain namesakes, seep deep into your core; a fresh, moist presence penetrating impossibly through waders and shell, Gore-Tex is no match, going straight to the soul, undeterred and welcomed at a primal level.
Though I must admit there were times when I wasn't quite sure whether the drifting haze was mountain mist or blowdown from Steve's upstream cigar.
The Sunday morning downpour stopped as we arrived at the turnout and by the time we'd slickered up there were traces of Smoky mountain blue sneaking through the canopy; mercy from the heavens, probably undeserved, but appreciated nonetheless.
The trout were as small as the surroundings were grand and I suppose there's a certain symmetry to that. Nature is balance, after all. For every small trout there's a majestic ridge. For every downpour there's a bluebird sky.
For every Pigeon Forge there's a Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Let's do everything we can to keep it that way.
Thanks, boys, for a great weekend.
Note: I don't recall if the "Holy Trinity" line came out of Steve's mouth or mine, but we arrived at it together as we turned off Pigeon Forge's main drag onto US321, away from the insanity. I guess, then, that this is an apology, if necessary.
As you can imagine, most of the images that fell out of my cameras last month were taken south of the border. Sadly, not enough were of fish. It wasn't because we didn't try. But if you've been following along you know that fishing trips are not always defined by the catching. This one sure wasn't.
Above, my travel buddy Chris contemplates whether or not to push a kayak into the rising sun on our last morning at the Buena Vista. It was the kind of morning that you could simply sit and enjoy, especially if your feet are burned to a blistery crisp, but the big guy sucked it up and paddled quietly out into the Sea of Cortez. He's a trooper.
As we traveled along Mexico Highway 1, I was struck by the number of small memorials that dotted the roadside. Elegant monuments, more elaborate than the simple crosses we see around the States, well and actively maintained, many with glowing candles among the numerous relics they contained. I was quite certain that I understood their significance, but was none-the-less moved to ask my driver of them. He confirmed my notion with a solemn pause, then a simple response.
"Suceden cosas malas, amigo." Bad things happen.
I know this all too well.
For the most part, every roadway branching off Highway 1 was dirt. Well traveled, well defined, but simple packed sand byways. And the soft colors of the structures that sat along these stretches provided a constant warm palette.
Chris noted that he wished he had the cinder block and rebar concession as most every structure we saw was built in this manner.
Our last day in the Baja was spent in Los Barilles at the Playa del Sol. A fancier place than the Buena Vista, but without the lovely gounds and fisherman's soul. This shot, taken across the pool deck, looks like something out of a travel poster.
Our last glimpse of the Sea of Cortez as we headed for the airport and flights home. The ocean turquoises and blues in this image don't begin to do justice to the real thing.
The most important event of the month, however, was the now annual Live Free Cornhole Tournament. More than most anything else, my step-son enjoyed a gathering of friends, of which he had many, and every spring he held an impromptu cornhole tournament in his back yard, complete with competition brackets, homemade trophy, and plenty of malt beverage. It was loved by all who attended, as was he, and it continues on in his absence with the addition of a nominal entry fee which goes directly to the Freeman York Memorial Scolarship Fund at Georgia Tech.
We gather to honor him and enjoy the day as he would have us do so.
Tip #2: It's not about the fishing. It's about the friends. So go with a good one.
A no brainer, here, but it's always worth reiterating. Share the adventure. Especially if you can do it with a fast friend, with a buddy that travels comfortably, and with someone who takes the ups and the downs at the same easy pace that you do. Someone who makes you laugh and makes you think. Someone with whom you enjoy sharing the road.
Thanks for a great trip, brother.
Tip #1: Don't forget the bottle opener!
Note: For dissenting viewpoints on this excursion, see Chris' reports on the trip at Eat More Brook Trout, but be cognizant of the fact that he's a master with Photoshop - the only plausible explanation for some of his most questionable content.
As much as you might wish to, you can’t fish every minute. Sucks, I know, but you can’t. Or at least you shouldn’t. You’re doing this for fun, remember, and it seems a shame to get burned out on it. Gives fun a bad name.
Now the weather often takes care of such things for you - wind, rain, frogs and locust - but when you find yourself in paradise and the meteorological gods smile down on upon you, you don’t always get that needed intervention. So, in the event of catastrophically perfect conditions, resist the temptation to cast ‘till you drop. Give the water, and yourself, a break every now and again.
As I tire my stroke starts falling apart and I begin to be a danger to myself and those around me. It's probably difficult for others to recognize the difference (my stroke always looks that bad), but I certainly feel it. So taking a break keeps me a little safer and prevents the repetition of bad habits. At least casting ones.
But, of course, if you’re supposed to be blogging about your trip and you’re staunchly committed to both of your loyal readers to experience and report back non-stop fly fishing exploits, putting the rods aside for an afternoon and settling into a hammock with a cold beer or dog-paddling about poolside with a high-octane fruity libation can make you feel awfully guilty.
Oh hell. Even I don’t buy that.
Tip #3: Don’t waste valuable fishing time looking for stuff.
We spent way too much time and energy searching for misplaced articles. Wallets, sunglasses, room and car keys, spools of 30lb hard mono, cell phones, reels, laptop chargers, purloined coconuts. It was maddening.
For those of us with a few years under our belts, this is an everyday problem; the most effective solution to which is putting things away in the same place every time. This breaks down, however, when two fishermen are dropped into a location with no “same places” and the contents or their overstuffed duffels quickly expand to fill the allotted living space. It gets ugly fast.
Stuff gets lost in the expansion and subsequent reshuffling. There’s even a mathematical formula for it.
G = (Ix$xT²x(P+1)) – ½F
G = Gone factor I = Importance of the item $ = Replacement cost of the item T = Shots of tequila consumed immediately before search P = Number of people waiting for the item to be found before they can go fishing F = Quantity of F-bombs dropped during the search
When the Gone factor exceeds one-thousand (or ten times the ambient air temperature, whichever is higher) your only hope of seeing the item again is if it has a hook in it. If it does, don't worry. Regardless of the G, you can be assured that it'll turn up. When you least expect it. Painfully.
Note: There’s some difference of opinion in the statistical community regarding the true effect of the mitigating variable F, but all do agree that it tends to make you feel better.
Sadly, there is no viable solution for this vexing misplacement problem.
It doesn't matter how much homework you do, how many people you ask before you go, or how many flies you tie and bring along, you won't have what the fish want. I promise. The guide will ask to see your fly box, take one look, and grimace. No bueno. And, unless you are chasing bonefish, the chances are pretty slim that he'll have a box of his own. We fly fishermen are few and far between in his world, especially in the salty scheme of things, so be ready to be self-sustaining. Be ready to adapt.
That first day you'll struggle, limited to throwing what's "close" and hoping to surprise your guide (who'll probably be wondering why these foolish fly fisherman handicap themselves the way that they do - a truly legitimate question). And while you won't choose to avail yourself of his usual fare of spin-casting lures or live bait, you should ask to see them. Perhaps even snap a picture. Then, go back to the room, pull out your vise, and get to work making fluffier imitations.
Tomorrow's another day. And you'll be ready.
Gratuitous Technical Tip: If you're fishing surf, save the space and leave the bucktail at home. It doesn't hold up for shit in the salt.
Tip #5: Bring plenty of gear. Plenty.
Take tip #6 a step farther. You have a fifty-pound limit on that duffel, so scrimp on the Hawaiian shirts and throw in another couple of rods and reels. What's important, after all?
Luggage side note: The quote of the trip comes from the shapely young lovely who, when asked if she needed assistance with placing her carry-on in the overhead bin on the flight to Cabo, smiled ever so sweetly and replied, "Oh, no, thank you. It's light. There's only, like, twenty bikinis in it."
A collective masculine groan echoed throughout the southbound 737.
So much for continuity. Where was I? Ah, yes. Gear.
If the roosters aren't running, be able to set the 9wt aside and pull out a 7 and have some fun with ladyfish around the pier. Ditch the light surf intermediate if the jack are AWOL and stick on a 375g and do battle with small groupers and sea bass in the rocks. And if all else fails, spool up a floater and pitch it in the general direction of the poolside bar.
I think it's appropriate here to extend a quick THANKS to the good folks at Redington for the loan of a pair of Link fly rods and Rise II reels and to RIO Products for their Tropical Outbound Short fly lines. I truly wish I could say that we tested them to their limits, but that's fishing. I was warned that the Baja surf can be tough on equipment but the gear took the abuse, including my fair share of inept surfcasting, and came through splendidly.
If you like 'em fast and need to do some heavy lifting, the 9wt Link's definitely worth your consideration.
Resorts are nice, but immerse yourself in the destination. By all means, stay safe, but get away from the visitors’ venues as often as you can. See what the place you are visiting is really like. Learn how the regional fare is, not just how the hotel interprets it for your tender tourist tastes. Find a local hangout, return a few times, and foster a friendship with the proprietor. You’ll learn more from him about where to go and what to do than from any concierge. He might even tell you his favorite fishing spots.
And, as you get out and about, do your best to present a friendly face, not just an American dollar. Above all else, show respect. Be a good ambassador for your homeland.
Lord knows we can use it.
Tip #7: Learn the language. At the very least, give an effort.
Speaking of showing respect, I can think of no better way than to put in some time to learn enough of a destination's language to get around. Possessing a three-year-old's vocabulary is better than projecting a "What? You don't speak my language?" attitude, especially if you're following Tip #8.
And know more than just your standard "fish, beer, bathroom, pharmacy" progression, even if that's all you typically use at home.
In truth, plenty of folks you will encounter may speak a modicum of English (and some probably more than they let on) but you should neither expect nor demand it. You'll get more consideration and better info if you try to use the native tongue. If they then switch the conversation to English, most likely to save their own sensibilities from your destruction of the dialect, you can smile and say Gracias.
And while those cute little translation apps may come in handy when deciphering a menu, an application for a fishing license, or the Prohibido sign that the frowning policía is pointing to over your head, it's pretty much useless in a regular conversation. Siri has enough trouble with English.
And you look silly talking into your hand.
They are, however, pretty useful in cleaning up your potty mouth.
I'm no world traveler, much less a seasoned "destination fisherman." Kickin' around North Carolina has generally been challenging enough and a two-tank-trip is about as far-flung as it got. But lately, it seems, I've fallen in with a fast crowd.
Lookin' straight at you, Mr. Hunt.
Being a travel rookie, I've made my share of rookie mistakes. I tend to learn lessons the hard way (as if there was any other process for doing so) and it seems a shame not to share these lessons with other aspiring adventurers. So this week I present the top ten travel tips gleaned from my recent Baja sojourn. Don't get too excited, though. They're pretty basic and most of you fly rod toting globetrotters will chuckle at my naivety. But a laugh is a laugh so, for your entertainment and/or enlightenment, here goes:
Tip #10: Air travel sucks, so enjoy it.
There was once a time when flying was fun. Back when the boarding gates were filled with happy families saying hello or goodbye to their traveling loved ones, when TSA didn't learn more about you during their ten-second body and luggage scan than your spouse knows after fifteen years of wedded bliss, and when people chatted with their fellow travelers about where they were going and what they were doing instead of silently bowing their heads in insular worship to their iGods. Flights weren't booked tighter than a four-man game of Twister, and, more often than not, there was no one sitting in B or E unless they were on their honeymoon. People dressed up nice when flying the friendly skies, yet didn't worry if there were holes in their socks.
And there was food.
Those days are gone. Accept it and find a way to enjoy the ride. Don't sweat the indignities. Make eye contact. Smile and get on with it.
But don't smile too much. You'll look suspicious. Two words. Cavity search.
Tip #9: Understand your currency
Yeah, we need to talk money. And I don't mean "how much," though that's pretty important too. I'm talkin' about currency. What should your money look like? If you're staying in the Sates, it's a moot point. Dollars are dollars (or plastic) throughout the good ol'e USA. But what about when you leave the country? You'd think the answer was simple, but, of course, it's not.
Mexico. Pesos, right? Seems obvious.
So when arriving in the San Jose Cabo airport I went straight to the currency exchange and converted the majority of my dollars to the local stuff. 12.1-to-1, the current exchange rate is, but I got 9.8. And I needed to convert twenty more dollars than I had planned to get that. One-fifth of my walk-around money, gone, with nothing to show for it.
I then got a ride to the resort (a whole 'nother story) and asked the driver how much I owed him. Forty dollars. Excuse me? Forty dollars. Ummm... How much is that in pesos? He didn't know, but eventually pulled out his cell phone and did the math. You can bet he didn't use 9.8.
And for most of the week, having pesos was unnecessary, and usually a complication. At the resort(s) the menus were in American and the bartender knew only piña colada, seven dollars. We did our best to use the pesos where we could so to save ourselves another twenty percent bite on the way home.
Check before you go. If you know exactly what you'll be dealing with before going in, you'll save yourself a lot of grief. And maybe more than a few pesos.
But don't put all your bets on the almighty dollar. Even if you know that your destination deals well in American currency, be sure you have some of the local stuff. For, when you find yourself off the beaten track (and you should!), sometimes the right coinage opens some mighty important doors.