Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wild Horses

They idle up behind us, their two-hundred horsepower Merc loping like a Don Garlits dragster priming for its holeshot. Nitro heat pushing a low-slung, red metal flaked, NASCAR grade, ass haulin’, pile-carpeted rocket ship on water. Ready to rip some lips.

Hey guys. There’s a bunch of spotted bass over by those docks. They’d probably jump all over them flies.

Thanks. But we’re good here.

What ya fishin’ for?


Thirty seconds pass, awkward silence but for the potato-potato-potato of a couple-hundred fiery steeds straining at the reins. Begging to be cut loose. Finally…

You catch carp with those fly rods?

If we do it right.

The Merc skips a beat, shudders, but then gathers itself and resumes its steady, impatient thunder.

We’ve seen some awful big ones.

Yeah. That’s what we’re after.

With fly rods?

Yep. With fly rods.

A light breeze rises and the gas-guzzling growl seems to pause as if the ponies are suddenly unsure of their footing. Their world has tilted. But only for a moment. The rumble resumes.

Well, y’all have a good one.

Good luck to you too.

And in a blink they're up on plane and they're gone, like an odd thought, leaving only a stampede-driven wake and some perforated eardrums. They’re off like scalded cats. Off like wild horses.

Off like carp having taken a fly.

Not so long ago, most fly fishermen were as clueless about fishing for carp as those bassmasters were. But in the Charlotte area, Captain Paul Rose of Carolina Bonefishing has been chasing them for decades. Tales of his escapades were my first inkling of the golden bones and I was thrilled to finally spend a day on his home waters. And to sweeten the deal, I got to share it with my buddy Cameron Mortenson, a bit of a carp connoisseur himself, and watch him bend a few of those fiberglass candy sticks that he likes so much.

Many thanks to each of them for a day very well spent.

And I'd have paid good money to listen in on them Rapala jockeys when they found their point, stabled the horses, and switched over to their trolling motor.

Carp? On fly rods?!?! Those guys are nuts!

If they only knew.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Photo Bin - March 2016

Crap! I almost forgot the photo bin for last month!

Actually, there isn't much to show. I was catching my breath from a busy February and really didn't spend much time with the camera. But in keeping with the program, here's a handful of shots that tell March's story, along with a couple of holdovers from February, bumped by the glut of Abaco shots.

They're my rules. I can break them if I want.

After stealing away to the Bahamas on my own, Mary and I wandered down to the Keys to escape winter's last push. A week in the chain and I didn't fish a day. Yes, I took a rod and reel (and a box of bonefish flies, or two) but I enjoyed my wife's company and lounged in the sun enough that they stayed in the back of the Forester. Next time...

The trip, however, started with a night in St. Augustine and the top picture comes from a gift shop we wandered through on St. George Street. The place was a delight for the eye and this shot captures the quirkiness of the boutique. The challenge was using the mirror to fill the shot with even more chaos and give the photographer a Where's Waldo cameo.

The bulk of the trip was spent on Key West and then a few days in Islamorada. (Huge thanks out to Mike Agneta, Mr. Troutrageous himself, for the pointer to the Cheeca Lodge & Spa. We had a great visit.) We finished our trip off with an evening at the Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar, the best sunset and good-time spot on the island. Some good blues and country music and the funky magic of Michael Trixx. The show was a gas, soundtracked by good old, kick-ass, big hair rock. I forgot how much fun that can be.

March means weird weather here in North Carolina. You never know what's coming. One thing you can count on are some early year storms and some impressive electrical displays. Always a bit scary sitting up here on the ridge like we do.

One thing that we do to keep in touch with the Chicago-based grandkids is to send postcards created from photos taken here around Camp Redbud. This particular shot of Zeppelin, with his favorite frisbee, went to young Carter who, not all that long ago, was deathly afraid of the dog. Reasonably so, as their first encounters went less than easily. A skittish four-year-old and a nervous Aussie with a drive to herd, anything and everything, made for an interesting couple of visits. But during last year's camp they came to terms and are now fast friends.

Carter still wears gardening gloves when playing frisbee with Zep. The dog's slobber is impressive.

And finally, another couple of days on the water, also without a fly rod. Our Georgia Tech Freeman York Memorial Scholarship recipient is a swimmer, a darn good one, and we were thrilled to cheer her on as she competed in the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships in Greensboro. I've never followed the sport but I have to admit getting into it as the weekend progressed and we were incredibly proud of young Chichi's performance. She's a special young lady and we are pleased beyond words to be a part of her college experience.

Guess that's it for another month. Cheers!

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Plans Are Overrated

My return to this hidden staircase of rock and water didn't go quite as planned. The intent was to nick a few brookies and take some long exposure images of soft falls and emerging Spring. I was ready.

But the brookies were absent (I saw nary a fish, much less caught one) and the day, forecast to be heavily overcast, turned bluebird bright, and windy. There's not an ND filter made that can fix dancing rhododendrons. I snapped a few shots but my objectives went pretty well unrealized.

No worries, however. The three-hour drive was saved by a quintet of rough-coated whitetails that passed within twenty feet as I sat on the tailgate enjoying my lunch, a leisurely mid-day nap in the bed of the pickup, taken between half-mile rock hops (the first with a fly rod and the second, a tripod), and, after each climb and descent, a cold beer, tucked snuggly in a trailside plunge pool. Nature's perfect cooler.

So while things didn't go quite as planned, it was a joy to be out. To be on the road. On the stream. On the trail.

Besides. Plans, as you well know, are overrated.

Note: Click on the pics for a better look. I'm often disappointed with how Blogger represents them.

Acknowledgement: Thanks, here, to the good folks at Upslope Brewing Company for sending a six-pack of their fine lager. A perfect summer beer, light and flavorful, that would be even more perfect if I could get it here on the east coast. Just another reason that Boulder rocks. Oh, and no small thing, one percent (1%) of revenue from sales of this beer is donated to local chapters of Trouts Unlimited where their beers are sold. Well done, boys.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The 6wt E

At the intersection of passions there often lies magic. Overlapping devotions compound and exponentiate in weird and wonderful ways, lifting each to stimulating new heights. But, just as often, at those same crossroads lies madness and the sad truth is, when in the throws of passion, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

My love affair with fly fishing is well documented. But those who know me best are also aware that I have been recently consumed by another old flame. The guitar. I’ve owned a trio of acoustics for decades, sentimental pieces more than musical, but the fire was reignited with the purchase, last November, of a Fender Telecaster and Blues Junior amp (electrified devices, for those of you uninitiated in modern six-stringed instrumentation). Our quiet hide-away in the woods has become a little less quiet and a little less fishing has been going on.

And while the Telecaster has gotten the most attention, the increase in musical interest has blown back on my acoustics. I pick them up much more often now, especially when the urge to make noise surfaces and there’s too little time to set up the electric, or when Mary has the girls over and I must be sonically restrained.

Such was the case yesterday as Mary and Susan and Sherry were downstairs, working on their basketry. I picked up the quietest thing I owned, my Yamaha G-231 classical, a box that I hadn’t played in a while, and gave it a good strum. But, with that single rake of the pick, the top nylon E-string pinged at the bridge and I was down to five, the final string left hanging loosely from the headstock like some poor tenkara offering.

At that point, I could have easily set the Yamaha aside and picked up another guitar, but it’s not in my nature to leave things in such awkward states. My OCD won’t allow it. And a quick rummage in the case failed to produce the new set of D’Addarios that I was certain had been there. I had replacements for the Fenders, my steel-stringed acoustics, and a variety, 09s-to-11s, to try out on the Telecaster, but none for the 231’s nylons.

If the strings were not in the case, then they had to be in my toy closet - that cluttered hole in the wall filled with guitar accoutrements, camera gear, and all things fly fishing - and it was there that the passions overlapped. Once the nylon set couldn’t be found, my eyes fell on the carefully stacked boxes of fly lines.

Do you think...

I grabbed an old RIO bass line, a 7wt that I’d had for a while and was likely not to use again, cut out a four-foot length of running line and strung it up. It easily tuned to an E and I got a soft, mellow note, but it couldn’t be held for long. After a bluesy Stormy Monday, it went flat as a Lefty Kreh loop. And I didn’t like the feel of the textured line or the “round-wound buzz” that I got as I slid between notes. That sound’s okay down low, but not acceptable in the upper registers. A four-foot length of the tapered head faired a bit better and had a bit more warmth of tone, but also quickly lost tune after just two bars of an acoustic Layla. That and it felt a bit bulky for the top end. All-in-all, the 7wt was unsatisfying, but the concept showed promise. A more scientific analysis was needed.

Tension was not an issue. Guitars are normally strung in the neighborhood of fifteen pounds tension and a fly line should handle that and more. I’ve broken off enough 20lb floro tippet on bonefish and reds to know that to be true. Size and texture were next to be considered and the possibilities that lay between 5wts and 8, especially when factoring in the tapers, would give me plenty of options. Perhaps a newer line would help address the tuning issue as well. But in the end it would all come down to tone. It’s all about tone.

So I started experimenting. I grabbed a fresh box, a RIO Outbound Short Freshwater 8wt intermediate sinking line, thinking the running weight would be about right. In addition, the untextured, slick finish should reduce the buzz and the sink line might add some weight for a fuller sound. I hacked a few pieces, strung them up, and saw improvement, but the tuning issue remained. One full play of Down By the River and it was flat again. Worse, the coldwater coating began feeling tacky as it warmed under my fingers. Great for avoiding coiling issues in cold weather. Bad for warm hands and hot licks.

A tropical line, then. Snipped up another Outbound Short, this time a 9wt intermediate, but with a saltwater coating. Better texture under my fingers and a decent tone, but the bothersome tuning issue remained. Didn’t hold up through Day Tripper. Barely got through the intro. It was beginning to look like a show-stopper.

Another look into the closet and the light bulb went off. The lines' core was the key. If I could find a more stable core, perhaps it would hold. RIO’s low stretch ConnectCore might be the answer and I quickly took the scissors to a new 5wt Xtreme Indicator line. The running line proved a bit light, but a length of the head – the cool orange front taper – seemed closer. A rousing ten minutes of twelve-bar-blues jamming, bends not normally heard from an classical guitar, didn’t budge the tension an iota so the tuning issue was licked, but I’d lost the tone with the lighter line.

A 6wt InTouch Grand, then. The trimmed out green front taper wasn’t quite as cool, visually, but the tone was better. Not just better. Fantastic. Buddy Guy’s upper licks never sounded so good. Downright buttery.

I’d hit the sweet spot. Beautiful sound. Tuning stability. Silky feel. I’d solved my E string problem...

(with $400 worth of fly line)

…and wondered how fantastic it’d sound if I replaced the G and B strings as well.

Monday, March 21, 2016

No Snivelling

Papa would have hated it. Tourists packed shoulder to shoulder through the halls of his home. His hangouts filled to bursting with folks who thought that it was cool to be there, getting sloppy. The haunts of his Lost Generation replaced by the likes of Burger King and Salt Life.

He'd have freaked as he moved down Duval, carried along like just another head of cattle in the herd of beefy tourists sporting all manner of Steeler paraphernalia. I swear to God, upon landing at the docks, the gargantuan mothership hovering in the harbor had disgorged half of Pennsylvania, clad exclusively in yellow-and-black. I'd probably have retched too.

(No hate mail, please, all you Pittsburgh fans and Keystone State residents. Some of my best friends are so afflicted, bless their hearts.)

Ernest would have chaffed at the noise and the glitz and the commercialization he'd encountered as he moved down the main drag (and I use that term quite explicitly - not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not my thing) and I expect that he'd quickly have jumped over a block, west, probably no later than Eaton, to avoid the Duvallian circus. It's a bit more sane on Whitehead.

For those very same reasons, Mary and I took that route and, at the corner of Whitehead and Southard, just three blocks from Ernest's Key West home, found The Green Parrot. We stopped. Papa might have stopped too, wondering where the grocery store had gone.

Let me say, right up front, that the term parrotheads, associated with another Keys-based celebrity, was not generated here. That particular term, actually, originated in Cincinnati. Ohio. Enough said.

The Parrot was packed, but with a vibe unlike the cacophony of Duval. It was a happy buzz, generated, as it turns out, by a fun-loving mix of locals and "regulars" to Key West. Best blues joint on the island, the guide had confided in us as we sat up next to him on the front wheel well of the overpacked tour bus, getting the insider's scoop.

And while blues was not the musical genre for that particular evening, the band (Jeff Clark and the Rondo Rigs, an amalgam of local musicians, our bar mates knew the bass player) was a blast, full of unpretentious country and rock covers that they effectively and entertainingly made their own. Not an easy thing to pull off well. The crowd held a few first-timers, like ourselves, but it seemed many of the folks were regular island visitors who, like Papa and us, had learned to avoid the sightseer flash and landed here. A good crowd, at least the new best friends that surrounded us, and we happily drank and sang the evening away.

There were, of course, a few accommodations made in the name of tourism. Acknowledging the baby boomerish nature of the throngs that wash over the island, the band did two shows that night, starting at both 5:30 and 9:00. We old school rockers don't go as deep into the evenings as we once did.

The early show packs them in.

So after bitching and moaning all day over the state of Hemingway's beloved end-of-the-chain retreat, we finally found what we were looking for in Key West. Good folks and good times that filled the building and spilled out into the street. We could no longer complain, nor could have Papa, as it was plainly posted over the bar - there's no snivelling allowed at the Green Parrot.

None was warranted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

End of the Line

Overseas Highway

Jewfish Creek, Lake Surprise, Key Largo, Tavernier Creek, Islamorada, Plantation Key, Snake Creek, Windley Key, Whale Harbor Channel, Upper Matecumbe Key, Tea Table, Indian Key Channel, Lignumvitae, Lower Matecumbe Key, Craig Key, Channel #5, Long Key, Fiesta Key, Conch Key, Toms Harbor Cut, Duck Key, Grassy Key, Marathon, Vaca Cut, Pigeon Key

Seven Mile Bridge

Little Duck Key, Ohio-Missouri Channel, Ohio-Bahia Honda Channel, Scout Key, Spanish Harbor Channel, Big Pine Key, No Name Key, North Pine Channel, South Pine Channel, Little Torch Key, Torch Key Channel, Big Torch Key, Torch Ramrod Channel, Ramrod Key, Niles Channel, Summerland Key, Kemp Channel, Cudjoe Key, Bow Channel, Sugarloaf Key, Park Channel, North Harris Channel, Harris Gap Channel, Lower Sugarloaf Key, Harris Channel, Lower Sugarloaf Channel, Saddle Bunch #2, Saddle Bunch #3, Saddle Bunch #4, Saddle Bunch #5, Shark Channel, Shark Key, Big Coppitt Key, Rockland Channel, East Rockland Key, Boca Chica Key, Boca Chica Channel, Cow Key Channel

Key West

The End of the Line

Monday, March 14, 2016

St. Augustine Textures

The tourists gave me a wide berth, changing sides of the street as they approached. Like I was crazy or something. Mothers gathered small children tight to their legs, hurrying them along the sidewalk to get past without making eye contact. Mary walked ahead with that determined "never saw him before in my life" stride that I've come to know so well.

All understandable, I suppose, considering I was facing relatively blank walls, inches away, intently focusing my camera on nothing. That's how they saw it, anyway. But I didn't notice as I was digging the textures.

St. Augustine is quite possibly the oldest city in the US. The climate is fantastic, the architecture's fascinating, and this particular evening's light was perfect. We had stopped for dinner and a quick overnight at an old-town B&B, breaking up the drive from home to Key West, and wandered along St. George Street to work the kinks out of our driving legs. Camera in hand, I became fascinated with the old walls (and probably a few that were just made to look old).

Old or faux, I was captured. So here's what came of that stroll. Pictures of nothing.

I might add, one night's not enough in St. Aug. We'll definitely go back and spend a few additional days as there's plenty to explore. History, architecture, gastronomy...

...and, most importantly, a lot more walls for the crazy man to stare at.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Photo Bin - February 2016

Feast or famine, here at the bin. Last month, almost nothing. This month, there's Abaco.

It's a fitting way to end the barrage of Bahamian posts that I've subjected you to, here of late. Hopefully, Spring's finding its way to your doorsteps and you no longer need these palm tree and bonefish fixes to start the thaw. Besides, you're probably tired of them by now. And I suppose that I, too, need to move on lest I get stuck forever in dreamy remembrances of paradise. It's time to come back to earth.

So a few final images from Abaco. A handful from around the lodge and the flats that, in true Photo Bin fashion, have no context but I thought I'd share just the same.

It's how things work around here.

So, be like my little lizard friend here and get out on the deck to find some sunshine, some Spring paradise of your own, and we'll see what next month brings to the Bin.

Feast or famine.

What is a Photo Bin?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Mary typically asks me, as I’m packing my duffle, if I know any of the guys I’m flying off to fish with. The answer, more often than not lately, has been “No.”

But that’s not a problem because what I do know is that they are guys who are willing to jump on a plane and roll the dice on weather, winds, and the finicky nature of gamefish. There’ll be no crying if conditions are bleak or the prey is absent because they accept that plunking down hard-earned cash for airfare and lodging guarantees nothing. Most importantly, they understand that if the journey and the company alone won’t satisfy them, they might as well stay home. They roll with it.

With such companionship, I’ve been seldom disappointed.

Last month’s trip to Abaco was no exception and for that I’ll thank my week’s fishing partner, Dave. Connected only by a quirk of timing and a common friendship with our (sadly absent) host, Oliver White, we spent a week chasing bonefish together out of Abaco Lodge before he returned to Sun Valley, Idaho, to prepare for a season guiding with Natural Retreats and I returned to, well, this.

So a simple, heartfelt thank you is in order. I enjoyed the hell out of it, my friend. Let’s do it again sometime soon.