Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Photo Bin - July 2015

I suppose that this should really be called The Photo Bin - Beaver Island Edition. So be it. It's been too hot since my return to get out to gather anything else anyway. Here, then, is a random smattering of images from around island. A hodgepodge of motifs. A nonsensical collection, when you come right down to it.

You know. The usual Photo Bin fare.

Thanks, one last time, to the good folks on Beaver Island, from The Fisherman's House to Stoney's to The Shamrock to Daddy Frank's Ice Cream. And especially to the crew at Dalwhinnie Bakery and Deli for putting up with us each and every morning and packing some mighty, mighty fine lunches. You guys put the trip right over the top.

And, of course, a final nod to Kevin, Steve, and Austin for being hosts beyond all expectations. For a fantastic fishing experience, look no further than Indigo Guide Service, Third Coast Fly, and Grab Your Fly Charters on beautiful Beaver Island, smack dab in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Go there.

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


We drift quietly to the lee side, set the anchors, and slip over the aluminum gunnels into the cool turquoise water. Crystal clear. Rocky bottom. Surface slick as glass. Smallie haunts. But being a day short of the smallmouth season opener, we wade instead to shore and dive into the dense, hardy cover that keeps this thin spit of island from blowing away in the Lake Michigan winds.

But for the vegetation, you’d swear you were in the Bahamas. Emerald-edged coastlines fall to Indigo blue depths. Water so clear you could read the mint date off a dime at six feet. But the spray isn’t salty and the sun shines until ten and it’s Oberon, not Kalik, that waits at the takeout. South Andros, Beaver Island. Two sides of the dime, heads and tails, both shiny and bright.

We bushwhack over the spit, trading glances between our rod tips and our feet, avoiding tangles in the scrub with the former and snakes with the later. Steve hates Mr. No Shoulders, but we see only the occasional garter or northern so there’s no worries there; though Steve might disagree. Cam leads the way, pushing through the brush, the whisper of slick waders passing through undergrowth adds hushed compliment to the rising wind. Another Bahamian anomaly, waders. That and the snakes.

Along the windward north shore they flow, dark shadows that slide east to west along the edge, following contours that we can’t comprehend. Thermals. Geology. Perhaps the pheromones of preceding passages. Ten feet from shore, then sixty and back, in long graceful arcs, seeming random until you realize that each single, each pair, each pod of three that pass, follow the same line, as if on rails. A train of loose cabooses, they’re that big.

We pick our spots, our stations, where the invisible rails bring the carp close enough to reach in this facefull of breeze, tucking in tight to shoreline weeds to break up our profile, finding seams in the brambles through which to thread our backcasts. Following contours of our own. It’s a dance.

But today the fish aren’t interested and ignore our invitations to tango, spurning faux crayfish and gobies and other enticements, even on the occasional proper presentation. They just ride along on their rails as we curse them and the wind and our casting inadequacies.

But we don’t really mean it. We just wait for the next string of cabooses and then we try again.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Punching Above My Weight Class

Austin Aducci

I've said it before but it bears repeating. Authoring a "fly fishing blog" carries no presumption of competence on the water. I am, at best, an average angler and, at worst (and more likely), a guide's cold-sweat nightmare. I know just enough to be dangerous and my casting skills have plateaued at the point that I can generate sufficient line speed to bury a hook deep into tender flesh.

I'm everyman fly fisher.

But I've been lucky. Through these interweb pages I've met a host of good people and have been able to parlay some pedestrian piscatorial skills with the ability to use a thesaurus and to rescue an over/under exposed image into some extremely cool opportunities. The latest, a visit to Beaver Island and a week spent with some of the very best fishermen, and folk, I've had the pleasure to share a boat with.

I was punching above my weight class, and lovin' it.

Cue the introductions.

Austin Aducci

No one wants to be on the water first more than Austin Aducci of Grab Your Fly Charters. He wants it so badly that Steve and Kevin (who you'll meet here shortly) derive great pleasure in occasionally beating him to the ramp. The good news is that this little game of who-gets-there-first puts everyone on the lake early and that means more fishing. Here on Beaver, that's a very good thing.

Austin put me on my first carp and for that alone he should be enshrined in the guide hall of fame, but he's likely not to smile for his induction photo. That's just how he rolls.

Any time, any place. I'd fish with this guy.

Shawn Combs

It's good to know that your rod builder is also one hell of a fisherman. A week with Shawn Combs, Orvis's Rod and Tackle Divisional Merchandise Manager (which is industry-speak for Head Gear Geek) was enlightening on many levels as well as just plain fun. His brain is always working, spinning out ideas for gear, videos, and directions that our sport can and might go. He has one foot firmly placed in the tradition of fly fishing while the other steps comfortably towards new ground and the turf of today's emerging angler. It's nice to see the Grand Old Brand regaining such footing.

And the one-piece Helios2s that he brought along were smooth as Grandma's apple butter. If there'd been a way to sneak out, unnoticed, a nine-foot rod tube, the 9wt might just have gotten "lost" in the shuffle.

Shawn Combs

Steve Martinez

Steve Martinez. The rock. The big man. The Clarence Clemons of Indigo Fly Service's E Street Band. The guy I want in my boat when the weather gets tough or the fishing gets tougher. Or when the weather is sweet and the fishing is sweeter. Hell, I just want him in my boat.

I think a passage from his bio on Indigo's website pretty much says it all.

Steve is currently Indigo’s record holder for longest trip, at 16 hours. We were just about ready to call in search and rescue when Steve pulled in with his two very happy customers. After they left I asked him if something went wrong and Steve said no, we were having so much fun that we talked about it and none of us wanted to quite, so we decided to just fish till dark.

If you get the chance, go have some fun.

Steve Martinez

Kevin Morlock

Fly fishing for carp is just a little bit different. And it's complicated by the fact that there are so many ways of going about it. Drifting for crusiers and tailers. Dapping (heretofore referred to as Googling - don't ask) in the deep weeds. Stalking mudders in the tidal pools. Casting into the wind and surf of the Third Coast. There needs to be a class.

Wait. There is one and its name is Kevin Morlock. My carp professor for the week. We tried it all and I learned more about chasing the golden bones than I could have imagined. (Now, execution...a whole different matter.) I appreciated Kevin's patience and persistence, qualities necessary for a top notch guide in such a unique setting.

He says that I've graduated Carp 101. Maybe I have. But I think that I'll audit the class one more time. It's hard to find a good teacher.

Kevin Morlock and Friends

Cameron Mortenson

No introduction is necessary, here. The incomparable Cameron Mortenson, Mr. TFM, and the organizer of this little soirée. He's been coming to this island for a number of years now and loves to share it with an annual grouping of friends and fly fishing industry acquaintances; a group that manages to have a great time in good weather years and bad. Cameron always puts together a good crowd.

I've long admired Cam for what he's accomplished with The Fiberglass Manifesto. He's resurrected a segment of our sport and done it with basic hard work, people skills, and a love for what he's doing. I gets no better than that.

Thanks, Cam, for the invitation and the friendship. It was good to finally get on the water with you and I sincerely hope that there's more to come.

Cameron Mortenson

Mike Ward

He couldn't contain himself. As Steve pulled the empty trailer away from the launch, Mike hooted, leapt into the boat to grab a rod, and then raced around the dock to thread lasers through the pilings at a shadow that caught his eye at the edge of the short pier. The day hadn't started and he was already on fish. It's simply how he's wired.

I don't know which he does better - make a boat or fish. One thing's for sure, Adipose's Mike Ward can sure do the later. When the rest of us returned to the house after a long day, he was back in the weeds down the shore, catching bowfin for God's sake. He out-fished us all, every day, once we finally got him out of bed in the morning. I guess he was still on a Caribbean schedule and Montana time. Not a bad timezone to live in.

It's fun to watch a guy doing what he loves.

As I write this, Mike's down in the Keys, competing in the 2015 Del Brown Permit Tournament, chasing his 67th black tail. I wouldn't bet against him.

Mike Ward

Kyle Wilkinson

It seems that every picture taken of Kyle Wilkinson this trip has him sporting a big smile and a bigger fish. And there's a good reason for it. The guy can bring it. We finally got to share a boat the last day of our visit and while a week of hard fishing was catching up with this old man, my casts looking tired and sloppy, Kyle's stroke remained long and straight as an arrow. Ah, to be young again.

We only got one eat that day (and by we, of course, I mean he) but it was a great way to end the trip. Good weather, a beautiful location, and stellar company.

Be sure to check out Kyle's day job - Outfitting Manager, Professional Fly Fishing Guide, and killer blogger at Denver's TROUTS Fly Fishing.

Kyle Wilkinson


And finally, the last member of this illustrious crew politely declined to have his image shared on social media. Something like If you show my face on the web I'll @#$%ing kill you. I respect his request and will do him one further by not even mentioning his name. Let's, for the sake of anonymity, simply refer to him as "Craig."

A fine angler, videographer, and co-owner of a somewhat respectable fly shop out west, Craig has his finger on the pulse of fly fishing. Like Shawn, he is well grounded in the heritage of our sport but has an enthusiasm for what is coming down the feeding lane. He knows freakin' everybody.

I couldn't have been in more entertaining company.

Hope he still has all his fingers after the hometown 4th celebration.

Photo by Kevin Morlock

Top shelf anglers. Top shelf companions. I thank each and every one of them for a fabulous week in a fabulous place. The takeaway here is that if you want to improve your game, you take these opportunities. You swallow your pride and you expose yourself to the best and then grow from it. You keep swinging.

And the best part of punching above your weight class is that every now and then, against all odds, you actually land a blow.

Damn sure feels good.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Photo Bin - June 2015

Summertime, and the livin' is easy

Easy, that is, as long as you don't mind it hot. These days, you get outside and get it done in the morning and then settle into the house and enjoy the air conditioning for a while.

So it was early that we got out on the pond and I introduced Jackson to the long rod. Being the good outdoorsman that he is, he took to it quickly and picked up his first fish on the fly, pictured above. He graduated quickly from brim to bass as he later boated a nice four-pounder, but only after a beastly bucketmouth crushed his popper, took him under the canoe, and tailwalked on the other side before spitting the bug. It's a moment that I know he'll never forget; the kind of moment that shapes us as fishermen.

After a good bass or two, a cooling dip always feels great. This is what a child's summer should look like. The pond to yourself. Come back and visit again soon, Jackson. I thoroughly enjoyed your company. And next time we'll get that big guy.

The other way to cool off is to sneak away to the Appalachians for a little hiking. Follow the trail for a mile or two, find a nice big rock sluice, and simply  chill out. It feels odd walking these woods without a 4wt, but I did it for many years, backpacking this watershed, before finding the fly rod. It was here that I learned to love hiking and camping along these beautiful small streams. The migration to fishing them was inevitable.

Sharing this place with the best of friends is a joy and the perfect way to appreciate the season. Go ahead. Let it be hot.

So hush litte baby, Don't you cry.

What is a Photo Bin?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers and Sons - A Father's Day Repost

Summer 1982
Durham, North Carolina
Rice's Farm pond
My father, my son, a Zebco and a few zealous bluegills

Dad, I'm glad that we finally saw eye to eye
Glad that I grew to understand
Wish that those last five years could have been twenty-five

Son, I simply wish I could touch you one more time
Just one more time
I miss watching you grow into the man that I know you would have become
Miss it desperately

Don't let being Fathers and Sons get in the way
of being fathers and sons
Today is more precious than you know

My father, my son
on my mind this weekend

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Fish Don't Care

Gonna rain in an hour. Gonna rain hard.

He'd pulled through the boat ramp with his F-150 and trailer of canoes and made the pronouncement like it was the end of the world. We nodded and kept loading the boat. He wasn't the only one with a weather app. After a minute he shrugged and drove off, presumably to warn the rest of the unsuspecting world of the coming cataclysm. That, or load his family and worldly goods into his flotilla of Old Towns in preparation for the floods.

Did we look like a little rain was going to scare us off?

Fishing in the rain's no problem, as long as there's no crackly stuff. A solid rain shell, appropriate wet storage, and good company is all that it takes. And, as the old saying goes, the fish don't care; they're already wet.

Someone had to say it. It's, like, a law.

We threw poppers till the bottom dropped out, then kept right on throwing them. Just ripped them harder so the smallies might see them in the riot of rain splashing the surface. That is, if the smallies were there. You couldn't tell by us.

A front either makes them eat or shuts them up, Dave said.

Pretty smart guy, that Dave.

So we pitched poppers and bitched at the weather. Neither were particularly effective. But what else is there to do on a five hour float when it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between above and below?

One thing's for sure. The fish didn't care.

Note: A huge thanks to my good friend, Pile Cast's Dave Hosler, and to my new fishing buddy Tom Grimes for a fun, but wet, day on Indiana waters. I called, short notice, and they made it happen. That's what this wonderful fly fishing community is all about.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Photo Bin - May 2015

I've been a bit of a slug, here of late. No major reason, but the phrase "death from a thousand cuts" keeps coming to mind. Little things. Small loses. Change. But I'm coming to realize that it's part of the process; why visits with aging parents turn into discussions of flagging health, old landmarks bulldozed, and who's passed this month. Yesterday's gone. We don't have to like it but it's best to make peace with it and do the best that we can with what's next.

For life, and photo bins, go on.

So if the big picture seems bleak, look for a small one and work your way back up. A new batch of praying mantises appeared on the porch the other day. Cute little guys, in a close encounters sort of way. (For reference, the pink petals of this trailing vinca are about an inch from stem to tip.)

It helps to stay busy and creative. I fish and dabble with my camera and pen. Mary tends a garden, does a little writing of her own, and creates fantastic weavings from natural materials. Here a willow bark basket, made the other day, supple and soft as a fine piece of leather. I simply love her work.

And friends. Always friends. Even if they regularly kick your ass on the water with their funky ties and color selections. Even if they wear Duke hats. (Yes, I know. If it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use.)

And always, always embrace the new. Our Sammy's gone now, but Zeppelin's here. His introduction to you all is long overdue as he's been with us for more than a year. A beautiful Aussie, sweet of nature and with energy to burn. I swear that he sheds a small animal's worth each day but that's small price to pay for the companionship he's given us. He's the dog of the house now and we couldn't be happier.

Well, I guess that's it. Big month on tap so it's time to shake these doldrums and get on with living. Stick around. Maybe there'll be more interesting pics and I won't whine so much in the next photo bin.


What is a Photo Bin?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Wilderness Dog Sammy

For the past few years, the last thing I’ve done each and every evening has been to pick him up from his bed in the living area, carry him down the back deck’s steps into the yard for one last wobbly constitutional, and then return him gently to his kennel in my office for the night. Only then have I been ready for sleep.

It’s the most mundane things that you miss.

In time, such things become threads in the fabric of your life. The staying subconsciously tuned to any small noise that might suggest that he’s caught in a corner or under a chair. The listening for his small raspy breaths to try to keep track of which of the many pet beds, scattered about the house, that he's settled into. The responding to any whimper that might suggest the need for a trip to the yard. The juggling of meals and medications and subcutaneous fluids that have kept him comfortable and with us. A geriatric terrier takes some attention.

And yes, there were "good" years. Many. The stories I could tell. But the last have also been good in their own way, our lives woven more tightly through a dependency and a dedication and a tenderness that is hard to comprehend, much less describe. Man and dog intertwined by needs at their barest. But the threads have been pulled and our cloth has unraveled. Things here just don't fit quite the same.

Now there’s no reason to keep the door to the basement stairs closed, lest he tumble down them. No reason to excuse ourselves from the party every three hours to run back to the house for a moment of relief. No reason to take each first step with care in the likely event that he’s settled underfoot, just to be close to us.

For the past few years, the first thing I’ve done each and every morning has been to ask “Is Sammy awake yet?”

It will take some time before the answer settles in.

Godspeed, little Wilderness Dog,
Scourge of squirrels, chaser of deer, defiler of tall weeds.
Go run with the big dogs once again.