Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Photo Bin - March 2017

Yes, you read the title correctly. Here we are, a week into June, and I'm just getting around to a March photo bin. For quite some time the bins have been carrying the load around here and now I can't even be counted on to do them in a timely manner. Sad. But the good news is that a part of the issue is that I've been busy. Fishing, no less. That can only be good.

Let's go back a bit and catch up, then, starting with an escape to the islands (South Andros, to be exact), the only really significant photo op of the month. And I'll make up for the lack of expediency with quantity.

There's something inspiring about an image framed by an overhead wing, especially when it's taken on your way in. Small aircraft and remote fishing destinations get my blood pumping, especially as the clouds clear and I see miles and miles of salt flats, just waiting to be waded.

And the airports these small planes frequent beat the heck out of the hustle and bustle of the internationals. Here, Jeff struggles through the crowd at the main entrance of Congo Town's busy airport. You can feel the tension.

Our ultimate destination? The Andros South Lodge. Bonefishing. Mighty fine bonefishing.

And we wasted no time getting on the water. Here Steve stands ready, despite a stiff breeze. If you're not ready to deal with the wind, stay off the flats. It's not a question of whether it will blow or not. It's a question of how much. Day 1 the answer was a lot. Damn permit. (Inside joke. Sorry.)

Day 2, and most of the days that followed, started with a run up the Little Creek narrows. As good a wake-me-up routine as there could possibly be. Put it on plane and blow out the cobwebs.

Side note, I'm proud to have this image (along with a couple of others in the bin below) included in The Flyfish Journal's terrific photo essay BahamaCon 17, a fun compilation of the photography, words, and video from our week in the islands, mostly shot by the uber-talented Copi Vojta. If you haven't seen it yet, it's definitely worth the time.

Mr. Barracuda didn't have such a good day, though, fooled by a big, ugly popper. Jason probably saved a few bonefish's days bringing this rascal to dock.

And speaking of coming to dock, at the end of every fishing day as we came off the water, we (and every other South Andros angler) stepped out of the skiff and into (or around) The New Ocean View, the focal point and gathering place of all manner of South Andros social life. Good times, outside and in.

Andrew and Kyle (our hosts at the South Andros Lodge) and Steve and Copi get their first post-fishing beers.

Kyle and Copi retire inside, out of the sun for a bit.

I've come to the conclusion that the best way to chase bonefish is to wade for them. Maybe not the most productive approach, numbers wise, but for sheer immersion in the world of the flats, it can't be beat. Here, Jason and Torrie scope out a promising piece of water from behind mangrove cover. See any tails? Nervous water? Stirred up mud?

And speaking of mud, we walked away from some of the fishiest looking flats imaginable because Torrie shook his head and "too clean." His club (and his incredible fish-finding style) ain't called The Dirty South for nuthin'.

And it's all about these guys. This poor fella slunk away with a sore lip, but he'd get over it before too long.

Perhaps one of the most iconic images of Bahamian bonefishing is the beached skiff out behind the South Andros Lodge, used by legions of anglers to polish up their casting strokes in preparation for the real thing. Painted rocks at 12:00. Moving slow.

After a full day and great dinner, we typically spent more than a fair share of our afterhours here, at the beach fridge, and bar, behind the lodge. A story or two were told. A dark-and-stormy or three were consumed.

And sober, dark-and-stormy, or whatever, this ring swing baffled me. The contest was How many hookups can you get in ten tosses? I played it like How many tens of tosses does it take to get a hookup? Sorta like my bonefishing, now that I think about it.

And the wee hours, back at the lodge. A few kahlik-clad dead soldiers stand guard on the tables, some boots dry before an early departure.

The next morning's breakfast gets planned.

Perhaps my favorite image of the week. The morning after. To steal someone else's line (and if I could remember who's it was I'd acknowledge it, but, with such a crew full of such wonderful writers, it could have been anyone's observation), a caveman theater.

A final look off the bow, the sun rising on our fly out day. The rocks still tailing at 12:00.

A less inspiring aerial view as we return to the continent. Fort Lauderdale sprawl doesn't hold a candle to Andros flats, but it does mean that home's just one more jump away. That's always a good thing.

That'll do for now. Sorry for the delay. But it was fun for me to go back and enjoy the trip, so all is not lost. The April bin should follow shortly with May's shortly thereafter.

So many pictures. So little time.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sometimes I Feel...

I was visiting family when I learned of his passing. Its significance didn’t have a decent opportunity to gain traction in the swirl of grandchildren, dog management, and the complexities of Chicago traffic patterns. Life raced on.

Here, a few days later, I’m back in my patch of warm southern woods. Catching up. Today that included a run into town for groceries, the pantry looking bare after our long absence. A mundane task, but I enjoy the trip. As almost an afterthought, I grabbed a CD. Fillmore East.

The Allman Brothers, to me, were always about the soaring six-string interplay between Duane and Dickey. Always will be. Fillmore East defines them. But with Duane’s loss and Mr. Bett’s departure, the band carried on and continued to carry southern rock’s water. It's not like Haynes and Trucks were slouches, but the band didn’t miss a beat and the bedrock was Gregg. You could be carried away with incredible guitar solos for long stretches, but someone had to hold it all in place. Gregg’s gravely voice and powerful blues vibe was that anchor. He made everything else possible.

Statesboro Blues, Done Somebody Wrong, Stormy Monday. I immersed. You Don’t Love Me, Hot ‘Lanta, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. I was home, musically and spiritually, as I sped along the twisty back roads of my rural refuge. The band had found me in my most formative musical moment and when you scrape everything else away they are my rhythmic foundation.

Then, the climax. Whipping Post. The radio’s volume found it’s way to 40, a number I’m not sure it’s ever been turned to, and I howled, and I growled, and felt the harsh, deep grind in the back of my throat. Satisfying. ...like I’ve been tied

And I cried just a little for all that I’ve lost and for all that I’ve been given, this being the music of my life. It felt good, both the crying and the howling, and it felt bad that he was gone. That so much was gone and will continue to leave me as time wears on.

I’ve been run down. I’ve been lied to. But I’ve lived. And the soundtrack, for the better part of my life, has been the Allmans. From Blue Sky to Whipping Post. Through good times and bad. The music’s been there for me.

Thank you Gregg. For it all. May you rest in rockin’ peace.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Symbol

War isn’t about guns. It’s about symbols.

Make no mistake, we’re at war. The battlefield is no less than our earth. The enemy are those for whom the almighty dollar trumps any other consideration. The symbols are our pristine places.

And no symbol stirs the passions of the fly fishing community more than Alaska’s Bristol Bay. No enemy is more reviled than the Pebble Mine partnership, now resurgent and emboldened by an administration that’s undermining the environmental safety net that we’ve fought long and hard to establish. The safety net that we, as a species, desperately need. In Alaska and everywhere else. There’s more than salmon runs at stake here, precious though they may be.

Today, hopefully, you will find your inbox, your blog feed, your online reading list, filled with this message. It’s no coincidence. We who have platforms from which to speak, be they large or small, have gathered together to send a unified message and hope that you, in whatever capacity that you can, will help pass it along.

I’ve said enough. You don’t need to hear the details from me. I’ll let Mark Titus, director, of the stunning documentary feature, The Breach, tell you more and give you your marching orders. He will also give you the opportunity to see his beautiful film for yourself, to inspire you to follow us into the fray.

Save Bristol Bay

Let’s use this symbol to win back Bristol Bay.

And then let's move forward to win the war.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Following the Rules

I’m a rule follower. Always have been. Product of my guilt-based Catholic upbringing, I suppose. So when I found myself nose-to-nose with a duck-faced Tennessee submarine, the first thing that popped into my mind was...

Would a noodled musky get me disqualified?

Dave saw the swirl as we sat on the bank enjoying our hard-earned lunch. At least he thought he saw a swirl. Your eyes start playing tricks on you after you’ve spent a day or two scanning the waters behind your chicken-sized streamers for signs of apex predators. But it left enough of an impression that we quickly wolfed down the remnants of our sandwiches, chugged the last of our beers, and rowed across the creek to check it out. Shallow water with a couple of deadfalls. The kind of water from which we’d moved a few fish throughout the morning. Since Dave was the one who saw the swirl he got the first shot, dropping a popper against the bank and splashing it noisily home. Nothing. Pitched it again. Still nothing.

Tom was on the sticks so I sent a streamer into the area, draping it over a submerged trunk that it didn’t clear on retrieve, burying the big stinger deeply into the swollen bark. I couldn’t roll cast it free so we worked our way over, figuring that, by then, the hole was blown. That is, if it had ever been inhabited in the first place. But as I leaned over the gunnels and reached down for the fly, stuck a foot under water, I heard Tom hoot.

Look at that!

I glanced up and saw nothing so returned to my extraction. But as my eyes dropped towards my dangling digits I saw what was causing Tom’s commotion. An arm’s length away, in that shallow foot of water, the object of our search lay suspended, a big one, calmly contemplating my wiggling fingers. Musky grande. Mid-forties, at a minimum, and thick as the tree I was digging my hook out of. Everything stopped except for the hypnotic fluid fanning of the musky’s splayed pectoral fins. He was so close I could grab him.

But would the rules allow it? Did my bare hand fall under the category of fly fishing gear only? It wasn't trolling or chumming. And just how much did I like my fingers? Hell, a fish that big, just how much did I like my arm! But this puppy was, hands-down, the tournament championship for our boat. There was no doubt. The little devil on my shoulder whispered Just win, baby.

Or maybe that was Dave.

But a shiver ran down my spine as I remembered Sister Agnes’s yardstick-enhanced lessons in ethics and I did what a good rule follower would do. I slowly pulled my streamer free of the submerged log, reached out, and plopped it in front of the beastie’s face. We held our breaths as the feathers fluttered to the bottom, settling six inches in front of the our prize winner’s snout.

I swear, the thing grinned. A contemptuous fuck you sort of grin. Then it turned, slid silently under the boat, and disappeared into the deep, green Tennessee waters, thus violating the final and most important rule of the Hardly Strictly Musky tournament.

Don’t Be An Asshole.

But then, I’ve come to learn that musky don’t seem to care much about our rules. Or us in general. So if that's how it's going to be, next year I’m bringing a gaff. Maybe put some hackle on it so nobody notices. Won't look much different than some of the big stuff we're already throwing.

Forgive me, Sister Agnes, for breaking the rules, but musky are straight-up assholes.

Monday, May 8, 2017

That Guy

There's always one. The guy that jumps out of the boat after ten hours in the heat, the cold, the sun, the chop, the wind, the whatever, and grabs his rod to run to the next dock, the adjacent flat, the muddy hole behind the launch, to see what else he can catch. He's the guy that takes the guide aside at the end of the days for extra casting lessons (when, in fact, you'd trade your firstborne for his current stroke). The guy that you have to go looking for when you're packing up to head back to the lodge, though he's easy to find. Just look for water. He's the guy whose fishing day never ends.

You know. That guy.

It's no accident that he fishes your, and everyone else's, socks off, day in and day out. He comes off the water and suggests that he's had a tough day when you know that he slayed them. He's a fish catching machine because he lives it, because he loves it, and you have to tip your favorite fishing hat to that.

You know. That guy.

I love that guy.

For the record, that guy on South Andros was my new bud Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate. A mighty fine fisherman, writer, musician, and as unique and entertaining a soul as I've encountered in quite some time. Watch for his work in The Flyfish Journal where he's a regular contributor.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tough Love

I’ve been thrown out of bars. I’ve been thrown out of school. I’ve been thrown out of the house. But I’d never been thrown off a skiff before.

Bring it in. Put on your boots. You’re walkin’ back.

To be honest, I probably deserved it. (I typically come by my expulsions righteously.) I’d blown shot after shot. Torrie had busted his ass to find us fish and I’d screwed it up time and time again.

Eleven o’clock. Eleven! You’re lookin’ nine! Square up on the boat, mon.
Put it in front of the fish. He don’t eat out his tail.
I said forty feet. That’s
[pick any number less than forty].
You don't see those fish? There’s ten of them!
No. You’re OTHER right!

So he dropped me off and he left me. Pushed off with Jason on the bow and headed out into the sprawling flat, instructing me to walk the edge of the mangroves with the sun at my back and keep going. He’d pick me up on that far point, a mile or so out. Maybe.

It had been frustrating, fumbling all those opportunities. Bad line management, poor accommodation for wind, poor fundamentals. I’d stood on the bow at the ready and took deep centering breaths to calm the inner tension but the moment Torrie said “fifty feet, twelve o’clock, moving left,” the yips came tumbling out. And it’s not like I hadn’t done this before. No this-is-my-first-time excuses. I just sucked.

But this humiliation was uncalled for. This being left to slog along, alone, was unjust. It wasn’t right. Yeah, I’d disappointed myself and I felt guilty about disappointing the guide, but this? I walked and felt pissy about it.

But it’s hard to stay mad in the islands, wading along firm sands on a bluebird day in crystalline, emerald-green, shin-deep water. A light breeze filling your nose with the hint of salt and promise. A fly rod in your hand. There’s a reason that the islands are so relaxed. It’s in the air.

The flats seeped in, replacing everything else. The ripple of wind and the reflection of sun made the waters dance and the feeling of isolation comforted me. My tensions slipped away, left in the blue mud trail that extended behind me. All that mattered was the next waft of breeze, the next breath, the next passing cloud. The call of birds and the hush of slow steps in shallow water. I gave in to the place, in to the peace, completely.

They appeared in my peripheral vision. I saw them, not because I was looking for them, but because I wasn’t looking for anything and they were something. Anomalies. Subtle wrinkles in the fabric of the flat. Movement slightly askew from everything else. Two of them.

And before I thought too much about how it happened, my drag was singing and I soon held one of the pair in my hand. A splinter of silver, chipped from the flats, reflecting everything in each perfect mirrored scale. Wet lightning. And as quickly as it had arrived it slipped back into the warm salt, paused for a heartbeat at my feet, and was gone.

Take that, Torrie. I don’t need no stinkin' guide. I can do it myself.

But, I had to admit, I had done everything he’d said. Read the fish as they approached. Put myself and my line in a position to act. Moved the fly when it needed to be moved, stopped it when it needed to be stopped. Closed the deal. I’d been listening. I’d been thinking. But I’d been trying too hard.

So I smiled and waded on, soaking up the day and nicking a fish here and there, each almost as an afterthought to this splendid stroll on the flats. And quicker than I would have liked (though all day wouldn’t have been enough) I caught up with the skiff at the prescribed far point where the guys were digging into the cooler. Before I could say a word, before I could give Torrie a piece of my mind, he looked up from the box, a huge smile on his face, and extended a cold Kalik in my direction.

I been watchin'. Knew you had it, mon. Could see it in you. Just needed some time to yourself to make it right.

He had seen what I was missing and he had given it to me. Not the cast or the vision or the physical act. I needed the headspace to go with those tools. The room to figure it out in the very best way. My way. He'd put me where I could only disappoint myself, knowing that I wouldn't.

The beer tasted damn good.

We finished the day on the boat with a few more close shots, thirty and in, as the tides dropped out. I blew a few of them, but didn’t sweat it that much. Torrie was quiet until he called it a day and watched as I made my wind-em-up cast, clearing the coils on the deck with two leisurely flicks, sending out sixty feet of line, straight as an arrow. Twelve o’clock. No pressure.

I could hear him chuckling from the platform.

Note: Okay. Torrie didn't really throw me off the boat. Pardon a little poetic license. But I was sent in the described direction, on my own, after a frustrating morning. The rest is true, right down to the reason that he sent me off. My deep gratitude and respect goes out to an extraordinary guide, Torrie Bevins of the Andros South Lodge, for recognizing what I needed and making it happen. I look forward to walking the Dirty South with (or without) you again, my friend.

Oh, and pictured at the top of the post is my buddy Steve Duda of The Flyfish Journal who, if I recall correctly, was heading out on a similar walk our second day on Andros South. We jointly agree that wading's the very best way to play this game.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Photo Bin - February 2017

Catching up, here. The February bin is brief. Not much was done with the cameras, or much of anything else, outside of the single significant event of the month.

Thank you, Duke Hospital. She's doing great.

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Photo Bin - January 2017

To demonstrate how truly disconnected I've been from the usual routines, it's three weeks into March and I'm just getting to the January photo bin. Hell, I don't even remember taking these pictures. Okay, not true. But it feels like it.

At this point, it might have been easy to just let it go but this post kicks off the seventh year of Photo Bins. Blows my mind. A throw-away concept that has stuck around and, let's face it, carried the blog on and off for some time now. The bin makes me good for at least a post a month so I guess that I'd better keep it going.

The shot above is one of those images that comes together through the combination of a little inspiration, a little luck, and a little twist of perception. A big white oak and Carolina blue skies reflected in the salamander pond above the house. Cool stuff.

A standard shot for the January bins - our New Year's gathering of crazies. For nine years running, on the first day of the year, we've gathered at the neighborhood pond and, on the stroke of noon, take a quick bracing plunge. My thanks to buddy Paul for holding my camera for this one. I don't think the image stabilization was good enough to overcome my shivering.

A couple weeks later, the full wolf moon. You can practically hear the howls in the distance.

And it's about time I started wrestling this blog back to its intended purpose. It is, after all, Mike's Gone Fishin' so let's get back to the fishing already. Right? How about we start with the first outing of the year, a quick run north to The Smith, Virgina, and a good day spent bending the 5wt with my buddy Darrin. A nice beginning to the fishing year.

And then a couple of days east, poling the tidal creeks of Swansboro in search of schooling reds. Unfortunately, school was out so we just nicked a few speckled trout and called it a weekend. Tip of the hat to my host Troy for another good outing, fish or no.

Perhaps the best catch of the month, though, was this fine piece of leatherwork handcrafted by my new friend Lee Slikkers. Combines two of my passions into a single unique piece. Lee's a man of many talents so check out his beautiful creations, both leather and bamboo, at www.slikkerssplitcane.com. Fine leather goods and bamboo rods. Don't get no better.

Well, that does it for now. Short and sweet. Catching up. Thanks for your patience. We'll get things going again here soon enough.

I promise.

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day After of Hearts

I suppose that an update is in order. It has been a month since my awkward Valentine post, penned as I sat in a surgical waiting room. I left things hanging.

That Day of Hearts we learned that there was indeed arterial blockage. No real surprise, but what we had hoped could be remedied by a simple stent or two turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. My precious Valentine would need bypass surgery. Soon.

A week later she underwent a double Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting procedure, or CABG, the acronym pronounced like the vegetable, conjuring the image of the dense leafy head of lettuce-like consistency nestled in her chest cavity. The term felt awkward for a few days. Pipes were transplanted and rerouted. Her heart, already the most amazing thing I’ve ever encountered, was made an even more of a wonder.

Five days later we were home again and the long road to recovery began. This past month has been about pain and expectation management, two disciplines she should be a master at having lived with me for twenty years. That and soups and casseroles from every direction. More months lie ahead as she heals and prepares for many more Valentines Days to come, but the outlook is bright and a full recovery is expected. She'll be better than new in a whipstitch. 

Fishing, of course, has been set aside for a while as my life is here for the time being. Supporting her as she’s supported me all these years. I’ll sneak away soon enough, but only when I know she’s strong and in good hands. There’ll be time. This blog will resume before too long. I promise.

What’s important right now is that my Day of Hearts wish came true. That the only heart I that I wanted is still mine.

And will be for quite a while longer.

I must extend my profound thanks to family, friends, and neighbors who were here for us in any way that we might have needed. Without them... Your ongoing support is appreciated more than you can imagine. We are blessed by your presence in our lives. We thank you from the bottom of our, well, you know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day of Hearts

Today is a day of hearts. Frilly paper ones, professing undying Hallmark devotion. Floral ones, by the dozen, care of Cupid’s weary delivery boys. Culinary ones, consumed in a collective conflagration of candlelit tableaus. But the only heart that I am concerned with today is that which beats in her breast, for, as you read this, I am probably sitting in a surgical waiting room while she’s being prepped for a cardiac catheterization. Waiting. Worrying. My own heart, hurting.

She works harder than I do. At everything. Not because she has to, but because it's who she is. She's a wonder. But lately, as she’s busied herself about, she’s been feeling some discomfort that a stress test has determined to be probable arterial blockage. Given her family history, it’s no surprise, but it’s stunning just the same. I was supposed to be on a plane for Abaco this week, but the doctor’s pointed use of the phrase “without delay” changed all that. I sit here instead, no regrets, happy that we've gotten out in front of this and scared all the same. February 14th has new meaning.

So there's no elaborate cards, or flowers, or romantic dinners this particular day of hearts. It's become quite simple.

The only heart that I want is hers.