Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Musky Math

Musky. The fish of ten-thousand casts. Fact or fiction? Actuality or self-delusive justification for our hours of failure? Truth or elegant lie that we tell ourselves because we suck at catching the bastards?

Let's look at the numbers.

Actually, before we dig into the math, we ought to examine the premise that these fish really do exist and that they are not the part of the formula that requires proof. Admit it, many of us have never seen one in the flesh, despite how long we've been chasing them. They're sort of like dividing by zero. They make no sense.

A quick Google of the word "musky" (well, of the word "muskellunge" as "musky" sends us down internet paths we'd rather not follow) leads us to the species esox masquinongy and to pictures (mostly drawings, actually, which should make us slightly suspicious) of the large, toothy critters we have all imagined someday catching. Since anything we find on the web is true (and especially indubitable since the term is in unpronounceable Latin), I think we can safely assume that somewhere such a creature exists. Probably swimming right next to its cousin the mermaid.

So, having established that musky are in fact real, we can safely begin to pursue this whole ten-thousand cast business. But how? While John Gierach's recent statement that "all fisherman are liars" may be a bit on the harsh side, you must agree that relying on anecdotal data from this particular population is more than a bit sketchy. We need to find a finite, quantifiable, confirmable set of data on which to test this whole postulation.

Luckily, I have such a dataset. The 2018 Hardly Strictly Musky tournament. This past weekend I and host of other hopeful anglers spent a few days chasing our obsession on a handful of western Tennessee watersheds. The numbers were quantifiable. The tournament duration was set, the participants registered, and all catches were reported and fully documented with photographic evidence. From this, then, we can begin making our calculations.

Let’s start with the anglers. Ninety, to be exact. Ninety chasers of the holy grail. Ninety Don Quixotes.

90 anglers

The tournament itself was held over a period of two days.

90 anglers X 2 days = 180 fishing days

But wait, it’s not quite that simple. A large number of the anglers arrived a day early and hit the rivers. Some to scout for the upcoming competition, some to test out their gear, but most just to enjoy a day on the water because, well, why not? Let’s assume that a third of the ninety anglers did this.

180 fishing days + (90/3) fishing days = 210 fishing days

Now, a Hardly Strictly Musky fishing day is a long day, physically and mentally, because you’re fishing for musky which means that you’re working your ass off for essentially a lost cause. Starting times varied widely across the subjects. Some hit the boatramp at daybreak. Others chose to get a leisurely gas station or Smoke House biscuit. More than a few were delayed by their slowly diffusing inebriation. Let’s average it out at, say, 8:00am. Most everyone finished up about 5:00 as the evening festivities commenced at 6:30, confirmed by the simultaneous clusterfuck of boats at the major takeouts. Let’s call it nine hours, minus an hour for lunch.

210 fishing days X 8 hours = 1,680 fishing hours

An adjustment needs to be made here as a large number of the boats in play were drift boats, effectively taking the rod out of one of the angler’s hands so that he could man the sticks. You’d think that would be a bad thing, being the rower, but after a couple of hours slinging a wet sock around on 450 grain sinking line with an 11wt, manhandling a cranky boat feels like a nap. Let’s conservatively estimate that at any given time 20% of the participants were “resting”.

1,680 fishing hours x .8 rowing adjustment = 1,344 fishing hours

Let’s then figure that a single cast and retrieve takes less than a minute. At a constant rate that means 80, maybe 90 casts an hour. Of course, we’re all not machines and time out is required for sips of beer, lamentations, and the occasional retrieval of flies from streamside vegetation. Let’s play it safe and call it 60.

1,344 fishing hours x 60 casts/hour = 80,640 casts

Now, we really should consider that this particular population deviates from the norm. Yes, I know anyone who goes fishing for musky with anything less than dynamite, much less a fly rod, must deviate from the norm, but that’s a psychological study, not a mathematical one and we’ll set that aside for the time being. For our purposes, the statistical deviation I refer to is that there exists in this dataset a large percentage of fishermen who have chased these beasties for some time and have established a certain elevated level of expertise. It might even be safe to say that they are twice as likely to catch one than the average angler. Let’s be uber-conservative, however, and say that they have an extra 25% of a chance.

80,640 casts x 1.25 expert factor = 100,800 casts

Here’s where the tournament data saves us. We know exactly how many fish were caught. Exactly. No one claimed to have caught a fish on the practice day and you can bet that if anyone did, everyone would have heard about it. Believe me. You wouldn't hear where, but you'd know one had been caught.

Eight fish were caught on Day 1 of the tournament. Two were boated on Day 2.

Ten fish total.

That’s right. Ten.

100,800 casts / 10 fish caught = 10,800 casts to catch one goddam musky

Now, these numbers are preliminary and there's a wide variety of other factors that might be considered. Moon positioning. Competitive juices. The HSM hangout/hangover factor. But we’ll not mess with them in this first pass. They would just be minor puts and takes in these calculations and my head hurts enough already. Besides, we got where we wanted to go.

Proof. Fact. Musky. The fish of ten-thousand casts.

Thanks, Hardly Strictly Musky, for bearing out the numbers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


The second I pulled it out of the slingpack I knew there was a problem. It was neatly folded, all corners perfectly square, aligned, possibly ironed; not scrunched in a crusty ball like it should be. It smelled of peonies.

Over the years it had been worn from British Columbia to the Mexican Baja, from the southern-most Bahamas to northern-most Saskatchewan, from North Carolinian farm ponds to Montana trout Meccas. It was my fishing security blanket, my talisman, my mojo. My buff. Now, it was…laundered.

It no longer smelled of sweat and sunscreen and bug dope. Missing were the smoky undertones of Cuban cigars and the subtle spicy keynotes of Gunnison ganja (though I haven’t a clue as to how they got there). Gone were the phantom flavors of tacos and hops, readily available for a quick pick-me-up with just a flick of the tongue. My comfort saltlick was now tasteless. It no longer smelled of fish.

Front was no longer distinguishable from back by the leaked tobacco stains. No amount of twisting found that comfortable impression of nose and cheekbones and chin. Like OJ’s gloves, If it doesn’t fit, there’ll be no permit.

Until now, its only cleansing had been courtesy of rainstorms, salt spray, and an impromptu dunking or two; ineffective for proper sanitation but perfect for the maintenance of a proper angling alchemy.

So there I sat, rigged and ready on the flats of South Andros, mojo-less, with all of my angling history, encodings in scents, my comfort zone - washed, rinsed, and tumbled dry into oblivion. We’d been sterilized. The Tide had come in and I wanted to cry.

But tucked neatly inside it was a bright yellow Post-It on which, in a beautiful flowing script, was written “I thought you’d like this all nice and clean. Catch lots of fish. Love you.” It was mojo of an entirely different sort. Strong juju. Magic that overrides everything else. Energy that I carry wherever I go, in fishing and in life. Her act was selfless and done for my pleasure. A lovely, thoughtful expression. How could I be mad?

I hate the smell of peonies.

Note: I offer this as a follow-on to Jon Tobey's wonderful piece, She Loves Me, She Cleaned My Truck to which this little piece doesn't hold a candle. I've done so as Jon and I discovered these similar premises were each stolen from our mutual friend (and FlyFish Journal editor), Steve Duda. 

Now, who has a third for the trilogy?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Photo Bin - February/March 2018

I have no idea where they went, February and March. I looked up and they were gone. No evidence of their passing. No accomplishments. No progress made. No memories. Not even any real photographic proof that they existed. So I'm doubling them up, here at the Bin, and scouring my images for evidence that Spring really is returning. I need the reassurance.

Above, though the trees are still bare around us, the sun's climbing higher over the horizon with each passing day. It's a start.

The small incubator pond above the house is chock full of spotted salamander and frog eggs, just as intended. And way too many leaves. It will take some cleaning out, but not until after the "hatch" is done.

A sure sign of Spring's approach is the depletion of the woodpile. And depletion requires replenishment. Here's a set of freshly quartered white oak rounds, set to dry a little longer before their final splitting. Next winter's warmth.

Anticipating Spring always includes early trips down to the river; exploratory ventures to see if the bass are ready to play. Not yet, but the signs are encouraging.

Another strong hint is the blooming the the redbuds for which our small community is named. But the flowering doesn't necessarily mean that Winter's given up just yet. The seasons clash for their turf.

The only sure sign of Spring is the clouser hatch. Their emergence for white bass, shad, and striper (in this case, yellow stingers for Okefenokee bowfin) heralds the return of days on the water. The appearance is most welcome.

So the signs seem to be there, hidden in the camera, that things are warming up. I'm more than ready to put those lost months behind me and get on to some fishing. I suspect that I'm not alone.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Photo Bin - January 2018

I've let these Photo Bins get away from me and, frankly, I miss them. It's probably no coincidence that the volume of my writing has also dropped off. Wandering through the images that fall out of the camera always gets my mind turning. Not being one who can make up storylines or create circumstances from scratch, I need the stimulus of images or experiences - and preferably the two intertwined - to put words to paper. (What an quaint, anachronistic reference in these digital times, words to paper, though I still do it.)

So how about we return to the practice and see if we can't get back on track here at Mike's Gone Fishin'. Spring's coming and a little rebirth is definitely in order. Ironically, this month's bin is anything but Spring-like.

We don't get big snows very often here in the heart of Carolina, and rarely are they as genuinely beautiful as what we were graced with this January. Full-bodied. Graceful. Lasting. Winter's not my thing but I was enthralled. I took a shovel-load of pictures so this month's bin is knee-deep. Hope you enjoy it. I certainly did.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. Now, my wandering the half-mile down the ridge to the mailbox was another matter, even in this first light dusting.

The evergreens strutted their stuff when the days went grey.

The houseplants gathered around the windows to peer out at the snow and to give thanks that they're, well, house plants.

The deer fencing surrounding the garden turned into a white wall and the only color in the back yard was the Sarah Graham sunflower that defies any the weather.

Piled high and deep in snow, we watched a bevy of bluebirds hunker down in the box together... we did ourselves as the flakes continued to fall.

In due time our Carolina blue skies returned, but it stayed icebox cold. The sun, bold as it was, made little headway towards a thaw.

The mornings remained crip, the rising sun piercing, for the better part of a week.

The hero of the week, Zeppelin came to the aid of the fallen snow angel.

And for a few days, all was at peace.

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Louisiana, Check

Getting there

When fly fisherfolk gather, the conversation almost always finds its way (after meandering through sidebars of gear, beer, and the opposite sex) to one universal angling topic; the bucket list. Must-do-before-I-die lineups typically include the classics. Kamchatka, New Zealand, Christmas Island, Alaska, Patagonia, Cuba. They are also, with increasing regularity, expanding to the more exotic. Oman, Bolivia, French Polynesia, the Seychelles. Some of our more adventurous practitioners have secret lists, far beyond most of our imaginations. (Heaven forbid Elon Musk finds something that will take a popper on Mars.) And while my personal desires also includes many of the these places, near the top has long been a more domestic destination. I've wanted to chase big bull reds in the southernmost marshes of Louisiana.

Hello Houma.

Good Morning, Louisiana!

As they say in real estate, "Location, location, location"

Fish Camp

Ambushing from the weeds

Steve Martinez hoists a dump truck black

No bulls for me, but lots of slots

Shut up and cast!

The Other Woman

Looks like my fly line

Schnnider Boy, LA

Bayou pit stop

The fishing was tough during our week in the marshes. I look at the pictures above and wonder where those blue skies were when we were actually slinging a fly. Wind and cloud cover gave us a good fight but that's destination angling. Just because it's on your bucket list doesn't mean it will click when you get there. The hardships are part of the game. A true bull eluded me, this time, but Louisiana remains high on the list with a provisional check.

Who says a bucket list item needs to be a once-in-a-lifetime entry?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Actus Reus

First, I humbly thank the handful of you who have reached out to express your dismay and support regarding my recent legal difficulties. Your concerns are deeply appreciated but, I’m afraid to admit, completely unnecessary. Despite the fumus boni iuris nature of the alleged lawsuit, it was completely fictitious. I was not sued. The RFA does not exist. No visit to the Supreme Court was made. (Gorsuch, however, really IS a notorious low holer.) My crimen falsi was simply a misguided attempted to justify my unjustifiably long absence. Mea culpa.

But I must admit that I’ve struggled mightily in deciding whether to print this clarification or to let the story stand, incognita. You see, around here, volenti non fit injuria completely applies.

In plain English, if you read this stuff, you've asked for it.

Legit cave.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

On Appeal

Hi. Remember me? I used to write with some regularity in this space. It’s been a while, but now the silence can be broken and the truth behind my absence may finally be told. I was sued.

It's not a pretty story. The RFA (Real Flyfishers Association) slapped me with a cease-and-desist order alleging that I was fraudulently posting as, well, a real fly fisher. Apparently they found a sympathetic judge who had actually seen me cast and the lawsuit was on.

It’s been a long slog, fighting the deep pockets of the RFA, but after numerous appeals and a rigorous climb up the judicial ladder, none other than this great land’s Supreme Court vacated all of the lower courts’ judgments, citing as precedent our present “state of affairs.”

Ginsburg (who throws a pretty mean spey) wrote for the majority:

Given the suitability of the current holders of many of our top governmental positions, Mr. Sepelak should reasonably be allowed to assume the role of a fly fisherman, a brain surgeon, or a ripe avocado for all we care.

Alito (trout-setter) for the minority:

WTF were we talking about?

It was a landmark decision, but a close one, won only because Gorsuch (a notorious low holer) is still having trouble with his buzzer.

However it happened, the result is good news, presumably, to my half-dozen followers here at Mike’s Gone Fishin’, and I hope to be back posting shortly. At the very least, the Photo Bins should get started again, though Photographers United is watching me very, very closely with litigious intent.

Needless to say, it’s good to be out from under the oppressive cloud of adjudication and back to the business of dispensing some serious fly-fishing false news.

Stay tuned, comrades.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


The twelfth time’s the charm.

I know it’s the twelfth because it wasn’t the eleventh. No, it most certainly wasn’t the eleventh.

I was trying to remember the right number. I thought, at first, that it’s the third time that’s the charm, but the third time I only hooked my first White Oak bowfin. It came unbuttoned in a decidedly uncharming tarpon-like cartwheel. So the third time’s actually the tease, not the charm. It’s the twelfth that’s the charm. Yes, now I’m sure of it.

Coincidently, twelve’s also lucky. Lucky twelve. Not seven, like many people think. Seven was the second hookup, lost when the beastie folded my 8wt and dove into a tree submerged underneath my kayak. Left me hopelessly hung-up. No, seven’s not lucky. Seven’s mocking. Mocking Seven. Twelve is the ticket.

All the rest are just numbers. Fruitless days on the water in dogged pursuit. Unable to find fish or unable to make them eat. Musky fishermen know them. Permit and steelhead guys, too. White whale days. It takes an angler with a short memory and a mathematically-challenged, non-quantitative disposition to keep at it. To push through the numbers. To endure those teasing and mocking and empty digits. To summon that long-suffering, analog optimism that defines us as fishermen. Normal folks would just move on to something else, undone by the numbers. For the rest of us there’s always tomorrow.

So I’m ready for my Lucky Twelve. My charmed time. It’s in the bag. I’m going to get one of those big bowfin the next time out.

Unless I don’t. Then maybe it’s actually Lucky Thirteen, though somehow that doesn't sound quite right.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

One Bug, Now Two

A repeat, here, of a piece that I posted nearly four years ago under the title One Bug is Quiet.


We stood back and watched as she roll cast the slow, shaded run that tucked tightly under the thick rhododendrons. Cast, drift, cast again; avoiding the encroaching branches with a quiet ease. “And she’s just getting started,” he whispered with a subtle hint of pride. “She’s figuring it out.”

I hadn’t seen Brandon since our week chasing redfish on the Laguna Madre, a year-and-a-half past, but had followed his exploits through One Bug is Fake, his online journal of fly fishing, survival, and whatever. I kept up with his angst through job changes, moves, and the generally painful business of sorting out what was important in his life. Kept up, that is, until the blog fell silent earlier this year. I worried a little.

So when I caught word that he’d be in my neck of the woods for a family Thanksgiving gathering, I wandered westward and reconnected with him on a chilly Appalachian trout stream. There, I came to understand his disappearance.

“Have you been writing?” I asked, thinking I knew the answer. “Not really,” he replied, watching her swing the fly once again. “I’ve been happy.”

Those who write understand. Words, all too often, come from deep, dark places and passages born of hurt carry a weight and an edge that can resonate. It’s been suggested that contentment is the death of good writing. I’m not completely convinced, but do know that it’s easier to express when things are broken. Through the cracks seep emotion and heart and, inexplicably, craft. It’s a gruesome tradeoff.

“But I’ve been thinking on a piece for a while now,” Brandon added, as his companion concentrated on her next drift. “About what’s changed.”

I nodded, and smiled, and thought to myself that there was no need to hurry. No need at all. I’d be glad to not hear from One Bug for a while.


Since that time I've heard very little from One Bug, for all the right reasons. And it's quite possible that today ol'e One Bug will be struck permanently mute as he and his companion on that chilly North Carolina stream, the source of all that hushed happiness, will be tying the knot.

Heck, I'm so happy for them that I'm having trouble with the words myself.

All the best to you, Courtney and Brandon. All the very best.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Creepy, In a Good Way

The plan was to knock around The Big Easy for a few days. Wander the Garden District, the French Quarter, and maybe a bayou or on the outskirts of town. Eat and drink too much. Listen to some good local blues and jazz. Take lots of pictures. It was a good plan. Hell, it was a great plan.

Mother Nature laughs at my planning.

Shortly after we arrived, unseasonal rains dumped eight-to-ten inches on NOLA in a short few hours, flooding The Bowl and many other low-lying areas within the city. Clubs along the Quarter found waters coming over their steps and seeping into the venues. Travel around town was a disaster, where you could drive at all. It wasn’t pretty. And then it kept raining.

This mess left us to while away a large chunk of our time in the hotel, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We stayed at The Columns, a gorgeous old turn-of-the-century boutique boarding house, now twenty-guestroom hotel, that offered a dark, mysterious charm. And by mysterious, I mean creepy.

Creepy in a good way.

Adding to the creep factor, for much of our stay we were the only guests in the place. Quiet dark halls. Empty staircases. Rows of closed doors. Were one to be effected by such things, there was some serious malevolence brewing.

Did anyone see The Shining?

But we loved the place. While Mary napped or read in the room (number 25), I happily puttered around the haunting hallways and climbed up and down the incredible spiraling staircase to capture a few images, fully expecting to get back home to find soft spectral streaks in the photos. Ghosts of old New Orleans, peeking through.

They were most certainly there, visible or not.