Tuesday, August 23, 2016
There can be no more damning evidence of my total neglect of this blog than the fact that I haven't posted a photo bin since May. May, for God's sake! And it's not like it's a difficult thing to do. Dump the cameras, pick a couple of shots that I haven't used in real posts (like I've done any real posts lately), and tell its story. Easy. It's ridiculous that it's taken this long.
In my defense... Oh hell. There is no defense. Let's just go back and catch up. Start, here, with June. Maybe July in a couple of days. Then it's practically time for August. How time flies.
The cornerstone of June, the event from which most of the images that were dumped from the camera documented, was our excursion into Saskatchewan. For all the great fishing and weather and adventure, one of my companions summed it up best by saying "The highlight of the trip was the company and we brought that ourselves." So since my most stringent critic, my wife, always comments that I don't show enough people in my pictures, this month's bin is dedicated to my fellow travelers, shown above, looking like they're having a getting-the-band-back-togther moment. From left to right, Kris Kringle, Dirty Steve, and Captain Kirk. Couldn't have asked for a better lot.
A prettier one, yes. But not a better one.
I'd fish the world with Mr. Kringle, and have already put a lot of miles on the fishing odometer (not to mention a stamp or two in the passport) in his good company. This tarmac shot sums him up pretty well. Ready to go anywhere with a smile and a friendly swagger. No worries, mon, we're gonna have a good time whatever they throw at us. We usually do.
Then there's Dirty Steve.
I suppose that this is as good a time as any to talk about these nicknames.
With a constantly rotating lodge full of fisherfolk, the staff has to figure out a way to remember everyone's name. Hell, I have trouble remembering my own, now and then, much less a group of sixteen strangers. The crew at the Arctic resorts to nicknames. Shaylynn and D do the honors and have fun with it. "Kris Kringle" was easy, the jolly old elf, beard and all. The obvious choice for Chris Hunt. And I'm sure that he liked it, envisioning good little girls (and bad, oh yes, especially the bad) sitting on his lap.
So how was it that Stephen Zakur ended up as Dirty Steve? Mr. Kringle, again, is probably to blame. A nickname like that has his fingerprints all over it. And he was at the dinner table before us when it all got started so Dirty Steve never had a chance. Zakur took it in stride, though. Maybe even enjoyed it a little.
Seems that most of the pictures I have of Steve this trip are grip-and-grins. It's probably because he caught fish all week long. I smoked him the first day (he's still pissed about that, and for good reason, but that's a story for another time) but the rest of the week he put more pike in the boats than any of us, by a lot. Every time I turned around he was happily chomping on that damn cigar and hauling in another. Good times.
He needs to go ahead and retire so we can do this more.
Finally, there's the Captain. Captain Kirk. Kirk Deeter. He knew that nickname was coming and I could see him wince as it arrived. I wonder if he hates Start Trek for what it's done to him.
I've spent lots of time on the water with Chris and with Steve, but this was my first time out with Mr. Deeter and it was a treat. He tolerated my trying to pick his brain about this whole fly fishing writing thing, though we spent more time discussing music and futball and a myriad of other topics we found in common.
A quiet sort, Kirk is, but he kept us in stitches each night as we slipped off to sleep in our summer camp bunkhouse. Sharing a one room cabin with these three guys was a gas.
I look forward to doing it a lot more.
There you have it. The band, and a fine one it was. Kris and The Captain and Dirty Steve. As I said earlier, I couldn't have asked for better.
What's that you ask? My nickname?
It's not important.
Monday, August 8, 2016
What's he doing?
He's taking a picture of his reel. And a beer can.
He's doing what?
I totally get it. To regular anglers, we fly fishermen can seem a bit strange at times. And those of us who dabble in the media, stranger still.
He's taking pictures of his reel and beer can.
I don't know. You ask him.
So I guess it's no wonder that Daniel and Otto seemed a bit perplexed as I hunched in the bottom of the Crestline and rattled off a string of shots of my, well, you heard them. I suppose it's not something they see their sports do every day.
So I tried to explain to them how Sage was good enough to send me their new 6200 series reel to give a try, and how nicely it matched up with RIO's InTouch Pike and Musky fly line and my new G.Loomis Pro4X Long Handles Predator pike rod. How it was good to feature such things on the blog and other media outlets. How fly fishermen are pretty much all gear junkies, deep down, and liked to see such things.
I went into detail. How I find it hard to review reels. It holds line nicely doesn't seem quite enough, though the 6210 did it quite well and looked good doing it. How I couldn't really give the drag a good test as pike didn't run like, say, a bonefish, and that I'd only put a couple fish on the reel this week and the 6210's had started up smoothly and confidently and how it felt solid, without a shimmy. How it felt like a good reel that begged for more rigorous testing.
And how the RIO line with it's short head and powerful front taper did the trick, carrying these big northern pike flies beautifully and how it was well-coated for these cold waters and would be perfect for the winter conditions we'd be fishing in for musky down south. How I'm a big RIO fan.
And that the G.Loomis was a nice surprise, an impulse purchase before I came here to the Arctic Lodge in Saskatchewan, and how it threw these sodden streamers a country mile and had the 9/10 backbone and extended fighting butt to manage these ornery four-foot toothy creatures. How I liked the green.
The beer? Well. It was just really good beer.
And as I finished all this explaining I looked up and noticed Daniel's eyes, and attention, had drifted off to the water again. Where, in a moment, he pointed. Big one there, at the edge. The camera was hastily put down, we dropped a fly on the beast's nose, and all of the advertising was forgotten.
But in the back of his mind I know that Daniel was still thinking. These fly guys are weird.
In the end, though, he had to admit. They're pretty good fishermen.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Sometimes I have to kick myself. I'm supposed to be a story teller. A reporter. But more often than I'd care to admit, when looking through photos of recent adventures, I'm confronted by the story angle I didn't pursue. The question I didn't ask. The opportunity I completely missed.
This picture of Daniel, studying the water, struck me in just that way.
I fished with Daniel for three days in Saskatchewan, out of the Arctic Lodge, and enjoyed every moment. We covered hundreds of miles of Reindeer Lake water and caught as many pike as we traveled miles. We laughed at each other's jokes, gave each other good-natured grief, and generally did what fishermen do. We fished. But I should have dug deeper. There was so much more to learn than how to catch northern pike. Stuff much more important.
Like how he'd been guiding this lake for forty-four years. How it had changed in that time. How the people, both those who lived here and those who came to fish, had changed.
Like his Cree ancestry and his involvement in the Paul Ballantyne First Nation. How his people are interwoven in the northern Saskatchewan landscape. How they exist and thrive in this harsh world.
Like how his grandchildren live with him, call to him, Papa, as we pass them as they swim in the cold lake waters beside his camp on the shore opposing the lodge.
Like how he was a tribal sheriff, or MP, or some manner of peace keeper that makes sense in the Cree context. I never fully understood, but that's not surprising.
Like his interest in the moose tracks along the shorelines and his knowledge of the movement of pike and his ability to identify birdlife from incredible distances. His connection to this place and its creatures.
Like how he lost a son, though this is a subject that we are both slow to discuss. We let it pass with a simple acknowledgement, a trite agreement that there's nothing remotely just in such a thing, and a prolonged shared silence. A bond wrapped tight in emotional barbed wire.
So I herewith apologize to you, dear reader, for failing to do my job. For not bringing back the story of a fascinating man, his community, and his history. A history that has as much to do with this beautiful and rugged lake as it does most anything else.
And, more personally, I apologize to Daniel for not getting to know him, and his story, better. In my defense, I was enjoying his company too much to pry.
I guess I'll just have to go back and get it right the next time.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
I am captivated by tree-lined shores
Sharp-edged delineations between water and sky
Where the world turns upside down
Where the heavens are reflected, shimmering
Where existences mingle and take on alternate affection
Interleaved edges of reality, air and liquid
Fluid, each, in their own etherial ways.
Note: On most browsers you may click on the images for a better look.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
We banked hard right and lined up the dirt airstrip, barely contained on the small island. No margin for error in any direction, short or long, starboard or port, lest a watery touchdown be had. "Your seat cushion may also be used as a floatation device" suddenly took on pertinence.
Reindeer lake, dotted with hundreds of similar spruce-clad keys, albethey runwayless, stretched below us to every horizon. Visions of big northern pike danced in our heads as the Beechcraft danced on the north winds and dropped from the sky, touched down on the freshly graded runway, and taxied to the end where it buried its front wheel into the soft edges. The challenges of trying new aircraft in remote locations.
Out of the hold came the baggage, and into the waiting Crestliners. Well, most of it anyway, as some five hundred pounds had to be left behind, temporarily, to insure that we had the juice for the flight. Chris swears that we all stared at him when the weight problem was announced, but I promise you we were more discreet than that. We'd grabbed what was important, anyway. The rods and reels. Our clothes could follow at their leisure. The only second thought was not having that windbreaking rain shell as we motored from runway to lodge in the cool Saskatchewan spring air.
A small price to pay for arrival.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Friday, July 1, 2016
It’s no secret that I hate commercial air travel. From the booking to the security gauntlet to the crowds to the litany of little indignities endured as one travels the terminals (and I think the term “terminal” is completely appropriate) of our major airline hubs, it's the evilest of necessities. And the cattle cars they call airplane cabins... Don't get me started.
But, on the flip side, I am fascinated with the little stuff. From tropical isle hoppers to tundra puddle jumpers, small aircraft are a joy. It would be easy to put down the fly rods and just fly if I could limit my birds to de Havillands.
So I was happy to escape even the comfortable confines of Winnipeg airport to board a more spartan Beechcraft for the final leg of our northern excursion. I was further thrilled when we dropped onto a modest airstrip outside of Flin Flon, a small mining community located on the central boundary of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, for a quick stretch of the legs and a refuel. Though it was a working Monday morning, the one-roomed terminal was closed so we wandered, instead, to an adjacent hanger to get out of the way while the Beech's tanks were topped off. What we found was a feast for the imagination and fodder for the camera.
Here's a baker's dozen of shots from that aviation toy box, a steampunk playground, the hanger at Flin Flon.
My only regret was that I left the Nikon in the Beechcraft and had only the point-and-shoot to play with. All for the better, I suppose, for had I carried the big gun, I might have just stayed in Flin Flon and missed the fishing altogether.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
|Photo courtesy of Steve Zakur|
Here’s a dirty little secret about destination angling. More often than not, the fishing is disappointing. Contrary to what you might think, there is no correlation between how much you spend or how far you travel and your actual piscatorial success. If I’m wrong and there is some obscure equation, at its core there’s most certainly an inverse ratio.
Now there are lots of reasons for this – unfamiliar waters, new populations of fish, improper gear, unrealistic expectations – but the biggest, most frustrating factor is timing. We never seem to get it right.
We’ve arrived on The Gulf in the accompaniment of thunderstorms and tornadoes, spent entire Caribbean excursions under tropical rains, and trudged Baja shores mere days before the baitfish arrived (to be followed, shortly after, by the game fish we sought). With distressing regularity, the following week would have been better or the guide’s standard line that you should have been here last week applied.
So why do we do it? Why spend the time and the money, endure the travel, only to get it wrong time and time again? Why the risk? The rote answer is that there’s so much more to such trips than the fishing. The adventure, the companionship, the locations. Nice platitudes, and true to a point, but the reality is that there’s only one good reason to keep trying. Once in a blue moon you get it right.
Last week, we got it right. Really right.
We hit that sweet spot between upper Saskatchewan thaw and spring’s choking weeds, when the ice receded and the Canadian sun rode high and the big northern pike moved up into the shallow, open bays, hungry and mean from too long in cold, deep water. We chased out rain as we arrived and observed it returning in our wake, fished in shirtsleeves, watched big, bushy poppers get crushed by toothy finned dinosaurs, and wondered what we’d done to deserve such bounty. The answer, my friend, is that we’d simply kept at it.
So why is that man in the picture above grinning? Sure it’s a nice fish, but we’d caught lots of them, lots of them, with some a fair amount larger. No, he’s grinning because he and his buddies had just hit a hole in one. Teed it up nine months earlier, aimed at a cup the size of an eighteen-foot Crestliner, and let it rip. To everyone’s amazement and delight, it went in. We timed it right.
So now I sit here, back at home, having pike withdrawals, ready to head out again to be rained on, snowed on, blown off the water, or simply to be skunked day after day for no discernible reason in some far away hell hole. There’s dues that are owed and I’m willing to pay, because someday there’ll be another Saskatchewan…
…or maybe it’s all just the timing.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
It’s a common sentiment, written about with great regularity, that the packing for a trip is often as exciting as the trip itself. The suspense, the planning, the first steps into what one eagerly anticipates being a glorious adventure. The rod selection, the preparation of flies, the compilation of outerwear, underwear, footwear, and where the hell’s that bug spray. It’s heady stuff, previewing the trip as one counts down the days to departure, but I have a confession to make. I like the unpacking better.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the lead up, but it’s not without tension. Truth is, I tend to overanalyze. What will I need? Do I go with just the big duffle or split out the gear into a rod case and pack some contingency clothing? What’s the weather going to be like? Which waders? How do I keep the big bag under fifty pounds and not have to lug lots of carryon around? What will TSA think of those 2/0 stingers? Take the 8wt and the 6wt, or just a 7? Will I carry too much? Will I carry too little? What truly essential, lifesaving item will I completely forget? The preparation is fun, but it’s stressful.
And since my forays of late have been to a wide variety of locations for a wide variety of fishing experiences, it’s been tough to get a pat checklist in place. Every trip has its peculiarities and its special considerations. Alaska has one list. The Bahamas, another. (Yeah. I know. Big crocodile tears, right?) But take my word, starting from scratch every time has its challenges.
But when I get home, that load is lifted. There’s nothing to think about except unloading the bags and remembering the trip. I get to replay it all, what worked and what didn’t, as I dump the contents out on the floor of the office. I get to touch everything one more time.
I take note of what’s still clean and add that to the Exclude Next Time list, what’s well worn and dirty goes on the Frequent Flyer list, and what smells like fish on the Must Take Again. The new gear (for one must always take something new to try out) is assessed and what’s tried and true is once again acknowledged as the touchstones of my fishing life. And every item unpacked plays back into the adventure I’ve just experienced. Each piece bears a memory from the trip. Every object still resonates with the previous week’s travel.
And here’s where it gets weird. I get great joy from putting it all away.
You see, I have this obsessive/compulsive issue in which I derive insane pleasure in restocking the gear closet, returning everything to its proper place. The outwear hung in the right order, the fly lines stacked by ascending weight, the flies in their proper drawers or boxes, the rods standing neatly in the corner. Having that pile of dirty clothes laundered and hung gives me the giggles, the bags empty and stowed gives me peace.
And while that might seem odd, it makes perfect sense when you consider that this actually means that I’m just a bit ahead of you in the anticipation of the next trip. I’m poised, ready to start it all over, eagerly awaiting the time when I can pack it all up again and head out.
I’m ready to get ready to go. My pre-trip packing, whether I know where I’m going next or not, has already begun. I've just started early.
The unpacking simply closes my möbius fishing loop.
Note: This all comes to mind as I stare at the pile on the floor next to me. It smells of Saskatchewan here, and I know it was a good fishing trip because Zeppelin won’t keep his nose out of my duffle. Stick around for the next few days and I’ll tell you about it.
Friday, June 10, 2016
It was a last minute decision to attend the event and, like most such impulsive endeavors, it would either work out or it wouldn't. As it turned out, my last-minute detour into the heart of Tennessee did both. Hell, I was halfway there anyway; that is if you consider three hours into an eight-hour road trip to be halfway. I assure you, when there's fishing involved the equation balances perfectly.
I entered the tourney without a seat in a boat, reasoning that somewhere, somehow, someone might not make it and I could slide into an open spot. Just as likely, though, I wouldn't, and that would be cool too, giving me the freedom to roam around a bit, snap a few pictures, and relax. Regardless, boat or no, I'd catch up with some old friends, make a few new, and generally hang out with the cool kids.
I got off the water in Kings Mountain, NC, three hours west of home, after a good day chasing carp, filled the tank and hit the road for McMinnville. Stopped but once on the way, in Asheville, for provisions. A box of Wheat Thins, a bag of Snyder's Pieces (honey mustard and onion), and a couple of sixes of beer. You know. The basics.
But construction delays around Knoxville put a kink in the works and I ended up late to the party on Thursday night and unable to hook up with a boat for the next day. But no worries. It was all worth it and here's a handful of odds-and-ends pictures to prove it.
Perfect Photo Bin fare.
Above, the centerpiece of McMinnville musky culture, Buddy McMahon's mural on the backside of Collins River BBQ and Cafe, painted during last year's event. Very cool.
While the musky tournament was competitive, it couldn't hold a candle to the Thursday night beer pong rumble at the Franzen cabin. Here Mr. Paul Puckett shows his perfect form, in a losing cause. He and Kyle would avenge this loss later, after a few more rounds (on and off the table), with the battle cry "The higher they get, the taller they fall."
By that point in the evening, everyone understood what they meant.
Friday, while the contestants fished, I wandered around the county, taking odd pictures around McMinnville and trying to catch the occasional boat floating down some Caney Fork tributary.
I got more than a couple of suspicious stares from the locals as I hung out on the bridges, but the views were worth it.
I also wandered around town and picked up some odd images, my muse apparently still inebriated from the previous evening's beer pong. The textures in this city dumpster were of particular interest and, honestly, this image may be my favorite from the entire trip. Go figure.
More detritus from the old railroad part of town. I'm easily distracted with a camera in my hands.
The best part of the event, of course, is the people. Musky fishermen are an odd and varied lot, and no one understands that better than our host and tournament director, Todd Gregory, the founder and head honcho at Towee Boats. At least half of the craft floating in the tournament came out of his shop. Bloody good boats.
Todd also puts on a damn good weekend, including three good feeds and a preponderance of swag to go along with the fishing main event that brings anglers from all over North America. And of particular interest, to me at least, is each year's trophy; a customized guitar, a nod to Nashville, just an hour-and-a-half west. Todd's got connections in that town and lures some fine musicians, each year, to join in the fun.
Of note in this picture is the lad standing in the background. He became a bit of a celebrity for, the day before the tournament began, he caught his first musky - a feat that the vast majority of the real fisherman failed to do over the duration of the tournament. Good for you, little dude.
Since I was late in arriving, I compensated by leaving a day early (which makes every bit as much sense as three hours being half of eight, but that's how I roll sometimes). Todd had found me a possible seat for Day Two, but rather than inflicting my meager musky skills and rowing chops on perfect strangers (you only torture those that you love) I hit the road early, having been called back home for another last minute impulse. I'm a slave to my whims.
And while I was in McMinnville but briefly, I got the lay of the land and am prepared, already, for next year's Hardly, Strictly Musky, including a seat in a boat. My buddy Pipes and I will be ready.
Maybe I can fish like the kid.
Note: I can't get away without extending my deepest gratitude to Guy Franzen and his "team" (sons Patrick and Chris, Alan and Abbi, and the unsinkable Peter) for putting me up during my all-to-brief stay. Your hospitality made the trip work and for that I am in your debt.