Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Fragments: Actual Fishing



Contrary to the run of play around here, this is a fishing blog. I suppose that a Fragments from the water should be included. Stay wet, my friends.

Q: So, Kevin, what makes a good carp flat?
A: Carp
Beaver Island, MI, June 2015

They were rising like porpoises in the Pipeline. Big, fat Elk River cutthroats. To what we weren’t sure but the first red-assed ant we floated through there got hammered so the game was on. Now, there’s no way there’d be ants riding that torrent, but the red-asses looked enough like something else to work so we went with it. - Elk River, BC, June 2014

“Technical.” “Presentation.” Scary words after four days of fat, stupid cutthroats on hoppers. - Missouri River, MT, June 2014

First fish in Alaska, a robust four-inch rainbow. Outstanding. - Agulapak River, AK, August 2015

An hour flight to the coast, slightly upstream, looking like tidal marshes of North Carolina but for the mountains on the near horizon. Nicked silvers as they came into the fresh water, sea lice still attached and bright as a new dime. Hooked up on my second strip and all hell broke loose. Flexed the Scott all day long. James said fifity fish. He might be right, though I stopped counting at three. - Bristol Bay, AK, August 2015

I couldn’t set a hook to save my life. A fish needed to be suicidal, impale himself on the fly for me to stay buttoned. Thankfully, cutthroat can be like that sometimes. - Caribou-Targhee National Forest, ID, August 2018

When you’re a rookie on the flats it’s hard to discern between not being able to see fish and there not being fish to see. - Long Island, Bahamas, June 2013

Grayling in numbers, a few rainbows, colored up silvers, a sockeye, and a lake trout. A variety on flesh and bead. Should have gone to the strike indicator earlier but James insisted on calling it a bobber and I couldn’t bring myself to it. - Wood-Tikchik State Park, AK, Sept 2015

Monday, March 11, 2019

Fragments: Alaskan Airspace


The journal entries from my Fall 2015 adventure in Alaska are rife with references to flying. They deserve a Fragments of their own. In chronological order:

As comforting as it is to have your gear with you, carrying on a rod case has its downfalls. You have to listen to everyone’s fishing stories at each gate.

7:30am - Sitting on the tarmac at RDU. “We have a minor maintenance item. Shouldn’t take too long.” Yeah, we’ll see. Visions of missed connections dance through my brain. I knew the day had started too well, skating through TSA as I did. Like catching a fish on the first cast.
7:35am – Rolling again. Just the gods tugging at my ragged edges. They do that when I fly.

I’m toast, though the sun has not yet set. I’ve gained four hours as I’ve flown to the west and I feel the weight of them.

Tantalizing peaks as we fly from Anchorage to Dillingham and seat 5F is a window. Unfortunately, it looks straight into the engine cowling of our SAAB 340. Shit. I get a good, brief view as we bank hard to the north but I don’t have the camera ready. As it turns out, the mountains are just getting started. But so are the clouds. There’s no winning.

There’s talk of the president’s arrival at the small Alaskan airstrip in Dillingham. Big news. Concerns about folks who live in the bush not knowing about the visit and trying to fly their small aircraft in for supplies. No radios, no warning. What to do? Escort with F15s? Shoot them down? It’s a worry.

Flying has been a bit of a nightmare for me. My Baja debacle two years ago (mostly of my own doing) got that ball rolling. Commercial flying is no fun anymore. At the mercy of the airlines. Delays, packed planes, tight connections or long layovers. Flying the Beavers gets rid of all that. Delays are elemental, quite literally; understood and more easily tolerated, and the flying is at levels that let you appreciate the world. Closer to the real.

I've been here but two days and I’d happily put down the fly rods and just soar for the rest of the week. Black spruce, juniper, birch, scrub willow, alder, fireweed, caribou moss, salmon and crowberries. The Autumn tundra is stunning when viewed from a De Havilland.

After flying back through iffy weather in the tiny puddlejumper, we prepare to load into the ground transportation for our return to the Dillingham airstrip and our departure for home.
Now comes the dangerous part of the trip.”
Statistically speaking?
Yeah, but not just that. Look at this VAN.
I see his point.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Fragments: On the Road


More of the Fragments series. Miscellaneous excerpts from my journals. Today, realizations that fishing travel is not without it's challenges.

3:30am. Alarm rings. Seems like I just closed my eyes. Probably did. But we need to hit the road north for our early flight out of San Antonio. Where’s your ruby slippers when you fucking need them? - South Padre Island, TX, April 2012

Four guys standing in front of the airport at 2am. Piles of gear. Crammed into a cab for the Days Inn at the truck stop. Crashed hard. Hotel at the intersection of interstate and industry. Woke to the sound of diesels. Shuttle back to the airport for our rentals, less than four hours after our arrival. Toasted already and we've just gotten started. - Missoula, MT, August 2014

The ferry is a roller coaster. Attendants running back and forth with crisp white barf bags, both empty and full. The Polish couple behind us is playing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on their cell phone. We all hope to God that she’s right. - Culebra, Puerto Rico, March 2015

Flew out of Raleigh at dawn. By 1:00 I'm nicking drum off the pier while waiting for the others to arrive. Buzzed on Kaliks by 4:00. Damn fine start for the week. - Abaco, Bahamas, February 2016

Destination fishing is not all sun and hookups. If you can’t find a way to enjoy yourself with your mates or the locale on a crap day, save your money and stay home. - Dulac, LA, January 2018

Hitting the wall on day seven. The roomy SUV that comfortably held the four of us has shrunk to clown car proportions. But I’ve been here before and know that it’s just something I have to push through. An inevitable part of the road trip cycle. So I grit my teeth and try not to lose it. Hang on tightly to my last nerve. By day eight it’s all good again and will stay that way. But, on day seven, I seriously hate my fishing partners - Location and time withheld to save a few friendships

Kilometers, not miles. Goddamn I always forget. - Fernie, BC, August 2014

Monday, March 4, 2019

Fragments: Self Awareness


More of the Fragments series. When reading back through old travel journals I regularly stumble onto things that shine a light into the dusty dark corners of my "self." Here's a handful that do just that, whether I like it or not.

The truth is too precious to be beaten to death for such trivial narratives. I might forget some things or the facts might not quite fit the point, so, for expediency, I’ll just make them up. But don’t worry. They’ll be true enough. - McAllen, TX, May 2014

What do you do?” I’m never sure how to answer that. I’m retired? I fish? I write, though not professionally or seriously? The real answer is probably “I do nothing” but that’s harsh, both as a response and a confession. - Anchorage, AL, August 2015

Destination fishing trips only seem real while I’m in them. Not before. Not after. They’re a slice out of time, completely disconnected from the bulk of my life, but they teach me a bit about my life. Each trip seems to have a lesson. What lesson will this one bring? - Dillingham, AL, August 2015

Saturday night sick. Too many Kaliks, too much fried conch, a splash (or three) of Kahlua on ice. It all didn’t mix. Sat hugging the toilet thinking “What if I die here?” I seem to have that thought often on these trips, though seldom for this reason. - Abaco, Bahamas, February 2016

Headed out for Box Canyon. Snowing. Wet, nasty snow. Two weeks ago I was in the Bahamas, standing on the bow of a skiff under brilliant blues skies and warm, tropical breezes. At home, today, it’s 85. What the hell am I doing here? I know where I belong. And where I don’t. - Last Chance, Idaho, April 2017

I’ve decided that I’m not a particularly entertaining fishing partner. An observer rather than a participant, if that makes any sense. - Beaver Island, MI, June 2017

My father was the next thing to a hermit but on rare occasions he loved to be out. To visit. He was the life of the party but often in ways he did not intend or recognize. He was a one-off but did it with great enthusiasm. I suspect that I’m more like him than I'd care to admit. - Pittsboro, NC, date unknown

Lesson #3: Pack duct tape. I always break something. - Craig, MT, April 2017


Note: My thanks go out to my big brother, Chris Hunt, for the image at the top of this post, taken as we kicked around in the light surf off the back porch of the house we rented just outside of Nassau back in 2013. In truth, I have much, much more to thank him for than that. Get back on your feet soon, bud. There's more fishin' to be done.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Fragments: Craig, MT - Aug 2014


It exists for only one purpose. Trout. It wouldn't be here without them.

An easy vibe, older gents in their Simms and Patagonia puffies and quick-dries; younger wearing the same but somehow making it look different. Hats, sunglasses hung around necks. Three fly shops, a restaurant, a bar, a takeout breakfast. And cabins. Talk at Headhunters and Isaac's is easy and jovial. Everyone’s been or is going fishing so what’s there to complain about?

Mornings are abuzz with the comings and goings of drift boats. Anticipation of a big day. Whether it’s realized or not it’s all good, or it should be.

Big portions for big appetites. Dogs come and go everywhere making it a good place by my reckoning.

The world is away. Cell phone and wifi signals are scarce so you quickly get used to being disconnected, adding a small melancholy based in shared loneliness. An isolation.

At the bunkhouse:
“Got room for three people?”
“What kind of people?”

Do any other kind come to Craig?


Note: Not much going on, either here on the blog or out on the water. To jumpstart these pages I've taken to leafing through my ragged pile of old travel journals and attempting to decipher the barely legible notes scribbled within them. Low hanging fruit for a writer on the rebound. This, then, starts a series of brief Fragments. Unedited passages originating from hither and yon that might have evolved into something but were ultimately left to languish in their moleskines. Raw material relegated to musings, word pictures, and random odd thoughts. Unconsidered, undeveloped, unread fragments.

Until now.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Mike's Gone Missin'...


No one’s seen him ‘round these parts in months, nigh on a year. Not since McMinnville. Some say those Tennessee backwaters swallowed him up whole or that a big mama musky ate him as a snack, the bony little bastard. Others claim he’s giggin' with some skanky blues band, touring the dive bars and low places along the Gulf coast for gas money and beer. Getting thrown out of most. And there’s a lady in Pittsboro that swears he’s off working on the next Great American Novel. But, let’s face it, if he’s writing it ain't on no novel. More likely he’d be stuck in an endless editing loop on an obscure six hundred-word piece, hoping some fly fishing mag might lower their standards, just enough.

Sure, there have been sightings. Unsubstantiated, of course. Odd trickles of reports. Idaho. Michigan. The Louisiana marshlands and south Georgia swamps. Then there's the quiet suggestions that the fishin’s been shit around his home waters for so long that he’s given up the sport entirely - and with it, his soul. Who knows? One thing’s for sure. Wherever he’s been, it hasn’t been here. This blog's been silent as a tomb.

But lately, there have been whispers…

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...fish...total. 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

Laundered



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, you won't catch shit.

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...


...as 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?