Friday, December 30, 2011

Better Light

Have a good time and catch lots of fish.
Oh, we’ll have a good time, but if we catch anything I’ll be damned surprised.

A man out walking one night came upon another on his hands and knees under a street light. 
“What are you doing?” the walker asked. “I’m looking for my watch” came the reply. 
 “Let me help. Where did you drop it?” 
 “I dropped it over in that field.” 
 “Over there? Then why on earth are you looking for it here?” 
 “Because the light’s better, stupid.”

The last outing of 2011. An afternoon spent on the local reservoir with my poker buddy, Dan. I don’t fish lakes much, even though this one is but four miles from the house. Too much water. Too many places for fish to hide. Oh, and no boat. Give me a stream to wade, thank you very much. But his Sea Pro needed to stretch its legs and we had a fine Carolina day to give it its desire – and ours.

Dan’s thoughts were to do some jigging. Find some deep channels – 40, maybe 45 feet of water – and drop some weight in and wait to see if anything wanders by. It is, after all, winter.

But, for a fly fisherman, sitting and watching a jig is torture, even with a beer at your elbow. You want to do something. Fortunately, Dan’s a high-energy guy as well so we cruised the points – I pitching a white and grey clouser on a 350 grain sinking line with my 8wt and he throwing a spinning rod and small gold spoon.

Catch anything? Of course not. The fish were all sitting deep, in the channels, hunkered down for winter. Waiting for jigs. We had no chance fishing the points.

But the light was better.

Did you catch anything?
'Fraid not.
Did you have fun?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Life's an Open Bookshelf - Part One

There's something about the approach of a new year that sets a man to thinking - sets him to looking back over the year past and forward to the year ahead - to where he's been and where he's going. And to put each of them into proper perspective, past and future, he need also assess where, and what, he is today. It's not always an easy thing to do. Fortunately, this year I have my bookshelves.

You can lean a lot about someone by looking at the contents of their bookshelves. And it’s not just the book titles, though they are important clues, but it’s the mementos and pieces that a person chooses to place in constant sight that bear the inklings of identity. And my inklings are fresh. Our new abode is appointed with a space I can call my own – a man cave, if you will, though I dislike the term – and its pair of bookshelves - more display space than library - are newly populated. They're still neat. What do their contents reflect?

Indulge me.

The stuff on top takes me back. The Fender acoustic was given to me many years ago by my then best friend, now my wife, and still my best friend. I'd put the axe down years before but always admired the instrument, and she knew it. The gift awakened my interest and confirmed how much she understood me. Scary.

The photo, of course, is of Mr. Jimi and is particularly relevant in that it was captured on April 11th, 1969 at Dorton Arena in Raleigh, NC. Relevant, you see, because I could have taken it. I was that close. Fourteen years old, first rock concert, third row, stage right, blown away. Nothing like starting at the top. The print was a Christmas gift from my stepsons who share my love of music and, despite his being years before their time, also appreciate the Voodoo Child. How could they not?

The top shelves are "display" shelving and the right holds a vintage Time-Life Series book on the camera. It seems to me that there's a bit of obtuse circular logic about pictures of cameras, but that's for another time. The book's images are fascinating and its photographic advice - though predating the digital revolution and in-camera metering by decades - is what separates the point-and-shooters from real photographers. Just because the camera's smart, it doesn't mean you should let it do all the thinking. 

The plaque is a new acquisition - a memento from this year's high school squad. You'd have to look close, but the next-to-the-bottom-line reads 2011 NC 4A State Champions

'nough said.

On the other side is some very special literature. Calvin and Hobbes. The pages are dogeared from hours spent sharing with my two young sons, some thirty years ago. There are cartoons in these books that, even today, make me laugh 'till I cry and there are memories saturating the faded pages that make me cry 'till I laugh. In Calvin I saw each of my boys and in Hobbs I saw myself. Still do. No one has captured the raw energy and creativity of a young manchild any better.

Well, I see that getting through these bookshelves is going to take a while. So, with your permission, I'll stop here and return to it in future posts. One must do something during the cold winter months. I hope you don't mind the glimpse into what makes Mike tick.

And before I return, take a look at the bookshelves of your life. Appreciate what you find. Decide what they say about you - where you've been, where you're going, what you are. 

Let that self knowledge lead you into a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Photo Bin - December 2011

We traveled, this past week, to Mary's roots in the heartland of Indiana. Five gray days, outside, but full of warmth and joy indoors with the moms and dads and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and cousins and grands of every sort. It's what the holidays are all about.

But for all the merriment inside, my lens was drawn across the wintry fields to the small tableau of structures, visible off our front porch. Farm living, beautifully framed by a majestic stand of hardwoods. Dusky sunset, morning mists, or winter snow - it was a captivating scene in its stark serenity.

As the holidays take you across the country for family, across town for friends, or across the kitchen for another 'nog, may your travels be safe, your heart be light, and the stream of your life be filled with fat and happy trout.

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Backcountry Journal

If you've yet to discover The Backcountry Journal, I have a tasty holiday treat for you. Ben Smith from the fine blog Arizona Wanderings has created a superb new web outpost featuring original pieces from some of the most interesting and talented folks in the outdoor blogging realm. It's quickly become a must read for me.

And, in a stunning lapse of Ben's editorial judgement, I have been asked to contribute. I'm thrilled to see my short work, The Fine Line, appearing in todays's journal.

"There’s a fine line between adventure and madness. I’ve tiptoed it more times than I’d care to admit, never more so than in the gorge. The gorge, you see, invites you to the edge."

Stop by and read the whole piece as well as all of the fine offerings that precede it. Then, be sure to bookmark The Backcountry Journal for what will surely be your go-to spot for many terrific future outdoor literary and photographic offerings.

Thanks Ben!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Twas the Week Before... Yes, Johnny?

Gather 'round boys and girls, it's time for the reading of that beloved Mike's Gone Fishin' Christmas classic, 'Twas the Week Before Christmas. Grab a candy cane, get comfortable, and I hope you enjoy it.

'Twas the week before Christmas and down on the Haw
Not a fish was arisin', the weather was raw.
The water was frigid and brisk was the air,
Too chilly for fishing, but I didn’t care.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Fishing Post

Contrary to recent content, this is still a fishing blog. And if I’m going to call it one, I guess I’d better report such activity now and again. It’s not like I don’t get out – I do, fairly regularly – but not all fishing trips warrant a post. In fact, most don’t, and that’s the beauty of them.

Every trip to the water doesn’t need to be epic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Iron Aged

I love the textures and tones in weathered old-time farm equipment.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Day at the Maul

I could think of no better way to spend Black Friday than a day at the maul.
Far, far away from the shopping center.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We Went Awalkin'

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, along the narrow gravel road that passes our woods, across the ridgeline, and through the tunnel of redbuds, so robust and full in the spring yet now so gaunt and naked with the approach of our winter. We went awalkin', Sammy and I.

His vet would be pissed.

We’d taken Sammy to the local county doctor, fearing that age, arthritis, and the effects of a life-long liver condition had finally begun to squeeze the joy from the feisty little terrier. She made the expected pharmacological recommendations to ease his aching joints and suggested that, with limited activity, he should be comfortable for the foreseeable future. But she knew.

We know.

He sleeps a lot. And we carry him to the back yard – down the steps – so that he might sniff the 'coon tracks, stare into the woods, and unsteadily mark his now meager boundaries. It’s still his turf, after all, though he squats like a girlie dog, his leg-lifting balance gone the way of eyesight and stamina. And, at the end of each constitutional, he stands and looks up the drive, towards the road, up the ridge, to the redbuds, where we’ve walked together a thousand times - but walk no more.

But today, instead of just looking, he began to climb the hill, like before.

I called to him, to steer him back to comfort and ease, but he did not hear. Maybe he can't. More likely, he pretended not to. I called again, more urgently, and he stopped, reluctantly, but did not turn. Instead, he paused, then looked back over his shoulder as if to say, “Are you coming?”

I sighed. And I came.

For a half-mile he was Wilderness Dog Sammy again - scourge of squirrels, chaser of deer, defiler of tall weeds. There was spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes – ears and tail pointed to the brilliant blue sky. He led and I followed, noticing that his haunches, once as sturdy and full as the redbuds in spring, were as thin and bony as the stark, bare canopy above. But, for a half-mile, he was the alpha dog once more. For a wonderful half-mile...

… until he slowed. I called his name, like before, and he stopped, waited, and allowed me to pick him up – a concession unimaginable in times gone by. His walk was complete, miles short of his good days, but he accepted my bearing without shame. His ears remained perked, his nose thrust forward as if to lead us along the path, his spirit taking us where his legs could no longer. We walked our old haunts together, one more time. Even in my arms, he was still the Wilderness Dog.

And, on occasion, he looked up and licked my face, his eyes still sparkling despite clouding lenses, and he seemed to say “Isn’t this glorious?”

It was.

This evening I expect that Sammy will pay for the excursion - the drugs unable to blunt the ache as it does most nights. He’ll lie in his bed, at out feet, and hurt a little more than usual, but I’m certain that the discomfort will be more than compensated by his restored canine dignity, by the walk through his old woods. I regret his pain, but I’m glad that we went forth for we both were able to remember the Wilderness Dog, if but just for a little while.

And, if you please, do the same for me. When my vitality wanes, when my life is diminished by whatever prostration chips it away, I hope that, on that day when the woods call to me once again, you allow me to answer. Allow me to follow that ridgeline as far as I am able - wisdom and doctor be damned. I will accept assistance, if offered, on return, but first let me go. I will accept the inevitable pain, the price, but first let me go. Let me relive the fullness of my spring, the redbuds in bloom, for just that little while, and then I will again accept my limitations, accept the arrival of my winter. But first, let me go.

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, through the tunnel of redbuds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Photo Bin - November 2011

A photo bin for November simply must be all about fall colors. Each of these three images was taken within spitting distance of the house. The scarlet dogwood, above, reaches for sun into the small clearing behind our home and, in autumn, really pops against the background yellow maples.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Speckled Trout

Sorry. I've offered three down-east fishing trip posts without a fish picture in the lot. We did catch 'em, I promise. This guy wasn't the biggest, by far, but he certainly had the prettiest smile.

And they loved the pink and whites, though olive and grey finished the day nicely.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Photo Bin - Emerald Isle Edition

A bonus bin! An extra photo triplet - scenes from our day on the marshes.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Bucks

A quick shot of two young whitetail bucks, taken from my window this morning.
How many times have I mentioned how much I love livin' here?
Not nearly enough.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not Much. What's Gheenoe With You?

"I'll head your way after training. Be there about ten-thirty, maybe eleven o'clock. Have a beer ready."

"Cool. I'll be here."

"Should I bring the kayak?"

"Nah. I've got an extra down here. Besides, we'll probably end up fishing the
Gee-Nu anyway."


Monday, November 14, 2011

A Departing Perspective

There's a line in an old Trace Adkins country western song, expressing an unabashed admiration of a certain young honky-tonk patron's "departing perspective", that goes:

We hate to see her go
But love to watch her leave

It's exactly how Troy and I felt - minus, of course, the lasciviousness - as we worked our way off the down-east salt marshes on which we'd just spent a fine Carolina autumn day chasing speckled trout.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Peletier Prep

Tied a quick dozen for reds and specs
Hope they like them
as much as the camera did

Monday, November 7, 2011

Something, Something, Something

Something, something, something.
Something, something.
Something, something, SOMETHING!

It ain’t working.

A good friend and gifted writer once told me that when the ideas or the words won’t come, just sit down and "start typing something.” Perhaps I’ve taken her too literally, but I have to do, well, something. It's been another full week without writing anything new.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Photo Bin - October 2011

Where the hell have you been, Mike?
This is still a fishing blog, isn't it?
And where have the Photo Bins been lately?

Legitimate questions, all.

Me? I've been right here, busy getting settled into the new surroundings. The to-do list has been, and remains, massive and would make interesting reading on its own. Sadly, I haven't been able to find fishing on it. I have managed to sneak away to the Haw just a couple of times in recent weeks, for a bit of sanity time, but the fly rods have, for all intents and purposes, remained tucked away in their new fishing closet. That should change soon and, hopefully, we can get back to piscatorial business.

As for the Photo Bins, those monthly trios of odds-and-ends images that I began in January, where indeed. The camera has gotten as little use as the fly rods lately and that too must change - starting now with the timely little Halloween pumpkin above.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Father's Gun

I have little in the way of personal effects by which to remember my father. Such items are, for the most part, unnecessary as I see his face each morning in the bathroom mirror. I do, however, possess one item that speaks clearly of him. I have my father’s gun.

The nine-shot, nickel and steel, wood-handled twenty-two caliber Harrington and Richardson revolver had a previous owner, as evidenced by the H. Smith crudely branded into its snug brown leather holster. The pistol was acquired, I expect, in barter for some service – the shingling of a roof, the repair of a transmission, the breaking of a horse. Whatever the task, you can be pretty sure that Mr. Smith received the better of the bargain.

Monday, October 17, 2011


A turtle walks into the sheriff's office. "I've just been attacked by three snails," he cries. "How terrible," the sheriff replies. "Tell me what happened." "Well, I don't really know," says the turtle, shaking his head. "It all happened so fast."

Confession: I totally nicked this joke from a New Yorker (April 18th, 2011) profile on neuroscientist David Eagleman who is studying the brain and our perception of time. His work would help explain why everything shifts into slow motion after your wading boots shoot out from underneath you on slippery rocks - a phenomenon I've experienced much too often. Cool stuff.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We're Home

We’re home.

The journey to this place began the day I decided that enjoying life was more important than earning more money. It might sound like an easy decision, but, six years ago, at the tender age of fifty, it took some thought. But that’s a story for another time. This is about our new place.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dog Days - June 2011

The summer swelters are here.
Days that make me want to burrow
deep into the earth, praying hard
for the wet blessing of a rain drop.

Here in the South, there's a certain pace to things - or perhaps more succinctly, a certain lack of pace - when the heat arrives. Ambition melts like a chocolate bar left on the truck's dashboard and time lies suspended, shimmering like the watery mirage on distant blacktop. Life sits on the porch and pants.

Dog days.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Which Way Would You Go? - March 2011

It changes at the old three-turbine power station.

Upstream there are miles of hard-ass rock hopping and wild browns. Downstream there are miles of easy roadside access and stocked whatever. Upstream there’s steep, skinny water and fish that flee at shadows. Downstream there’s wide, flat riffles and pods accustomed to pellets. Upstream the trout are as small as their habitat, and smart. Downstream they’re as fat and dumb as the day they poured out of the truck.

Now, I don’t mean to denigrate fishing for stocked trout. Lord knows, I do it often enough myself. But if you had the choice, if you had the chance, to chase the wild ones, would you? Would you if you had to sweat bullets and bang your knees to do it? Would you if, instead, you could catch eight, ten, a dozen stockers for every wild fish netted – that is, if you netted any wild fish at all? Would you if you knew with absolute, unconditional certainty that you'd get back to the car bruised and bloodied and spent?

It changes at the old three-turbine power station.

Upstream it’s lonely and it's wild and it's hard. Downstream, it’s not.

Which way would you go?

Rerun Note: A short post, but posing a tantalizing question. It was one of those pieces that just popped out complete - practically writing itself. I wish more of them would do that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Snowfall - December 2010

Airborne, my light blue heron fly line disappeared into the thick, falling snow; slate grey strand invisible against the backdrop of heavy, leaden skies and white-coated tree branches. Without visual cues, the other senses are enjoined – feeling the flex of the rod, hearing the textured line whisper through iced stainless steel guides, sensing the gentle rhythms of the slow, steady tick-ticking metronome that is the cast.

There’s magic in fishing the first snow.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tippet Tantrum - September 2010

I hate 6X tippet.  It’s difficult to see, a pain in the ass to tie, and impossible to avoid wind-knoting within the first half-dozen false casts.

7X?  Forget about it. Spider-webbery.

8X tippet cannot be seen with the naked eye. One should take extreme care when purchasing 8X so as not to buy an empty spool by mistake.

9X is only one molecule wide and is often used by science fiction villains as a weapon to slice through everything – wood, steel, human flesh.

10X, I believe, is the basis for the particle physics string theory, hypothesizing the sub-atomic base material for all matter, space, and time.

Einstein loved light tackle.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Dead Drift - September 2010

The big brown moved slightly as my elk hair caddis rode the swift currents towards it’s holding place. The trout lay suspended in the soft pillow of water eddying in front of a mid-stream boulder, watching for food in the faster flow on either side – ready to eat. But, as the fly approached the eddy and the brown began to rise, my leader tightened, pulling the caddis a fraction of an inch, against the flow. Startled by the movement, the fish spooked, turned into the faster water, and was gone.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Counting Mississippis - February 2010

Huddled under the dense streamside rhododendrons in an attempt to escape the downpour, we tried to recall how many Mississippis there are in a mile. You know. Flash, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, and so on, until, Boom. Divide the number of Mississippis by five (or is it ten?) and you have an approximation of how many miles away the lightning had struck. Five or ten, it didn’t really matter, as our flashes and our booms were now just a startled heartbeat apart, indicating a distance more appropriately measured in feet than in miles. It was no time to be near the water.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Silence of a Solitary Fly Fisherman - January 2010

Silence. Crisp, wintery silence. No, not exactly silence. Something better. Silence gently wrapped around the soothing white noise of an icy, tumbling mountain stream. Silence overlaid by the soft swish of a fly rod, the hushed whisper of line sliding through guides, the occasional rasp of a reel feeding a hungry cast. Silence attained by the crunch of boots in a blanket of snow and the sound of misty breath in cold air. Silence filled with subtle sound. Silence, then, not for the ears, but for the soul.

The silence of a solitary fly fisherman.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Arkansas River Ambrosia - October 2009

A time honored, traditional recipe. Good for both body and soul.

1 medium sized Colorado freestone river
2 lifelong friends, aged and generously salt-and-peppered
2 large boxes of hoppers, humpies, and assorted terrestrials
1 flask of Kentucky’s finest

Reduce the river over a slow Indian summer heat and then cool with the first breaths of high country autumn frost until the surrounding aspen dazzle the eye.

Add the fishermen and sprinkle liberally with the terrestrial assortment until the mixture begins a slow boil of rising trout. Whisk lightly with 6wt utensils and carefully strain with a fine 5X monofilament mesh, removing the fisherman and a precious few trout after a long, satisfying day.

Clean and dress the fish - a simple field gutting is sufficient - and place them on ice. Marinate the fishermen with the contents of the flask to soften their grizzled flesh and set both fish and fishermen aside to chill for a couple hours.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Explaining Another New Fly Rod - October 2009

And now, the winning ticket for the TFO Lefty Kreh Signature fly rod is, number 4-1-8-7.

YES!!! It's MINE!!!

And, best of all, Mary was there with me at the annual club pig pickin' and saw that I hadn’t spent an arm and a leg on my newest fly rod, this time. All was right with the world until that all too familiar sense of deja vu began to creep in…

Friday, September 23, 2011

Explaining the New Fly Rod - July 2009

Mary just doesn't get it.

“Is that your new fishing pole?” she asked as I excitedly opened the Cabelas package that the UPS guy had just dropped on our doorstep.

“It’s not a fishing pole, it’s a fly rod”, I replied. “A Redington Predator”.

“And why again do you need another fly rod?”, she politely asked.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Fish - January 2009

The boy in the grainy, sepia-hued 8mm home movie can’t be more than four, maybe five years old. Frayed dungarees, flannel shirt, crew cut, freckles, ears and teeth he'd one day grow into. But you don’t catch these details right away because your focus is first drawn to the fish.


The boy loved being at the Camp, a remote three-roomed cottage overlooking a woodland creek, somewhere in upstate New York.  Downstream, the water split into channels, shallow and brimming with cattails, full of the chain pickerel and bass that loved the cover. Above Camp, the water was faster, rockier, and home to bluegill and sunfish whose colors made one shade their eyes. At the cottage, the stream grew slower, wider, deeper, and held spiked bullhead - white catfish, but the old name fit perfectly - and huge, lumbering golden carp. Here he learned to fish for them all, and learned to love doing it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mike's Gone AWOL

At least it seems that way.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of real estate and handyman madness as we prepare to sell our house, purchase a new one, and get moved from one to the other. Those of you who have followed along here for a while will be shocked to hear this, knowing how much we adore our little slice of Piedmont heaven. But don't despair. I'm not going far and I'm going someplace good.

Someplace really good.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Homeward Bound

We knew that leaving Yellowstone, the Tetons, and our whole Montana experience would be difficult, but we didn't know how difficult. It seems that the place did not want us to leave any more than we wanted to go for our path through the Teton National Forest was delayed a few hours by road construction. With no other way to get from here to there, we simply waited. At midnight, WYDOT led those of us who had accumulated through the pass and sent us on our way. The next group would not be allowed through until 4:00am. I hope they had comfy car seats.

With the delay, we once again rolled into Dubois, Wyoming in the wee hours, looking for a hotel room. The Super 8 accommodated and we spent another fall into bed late and hit the road early cat nap. We had to keep going.

I had a plane to catch in Denver.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Day in the Park

A late departure from Centennial Valley - it's hard to say goodbye to such a good gathering of guys - put us back in Yellowstone later on Tuesday than we had hoped, limiting the time we had to be on the water. At the confluence of the Firehole and Nez Perce, amid the vacationing hordes, we rigged up and headed up the NP, hoping to put some distance between us and the crowds - it's said that 90% of Yellowstone visitors get no more than one-hundred yards from their vehicles during their entire stay - and to gain some elevation in order to find cooler water.

The Firehole is aptly named.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Two Monkeys Walk Into a Bar

We reached a point during our last night at the Elk Lake Camp that every joke opened with the phrase “Two monkeys walk into a bar.” What followed may or may not have made sense with that particular opening line - it usually didn't - but you can be sure that it was uproariously funny and unrepeatable here.

Fish camp evenings - particularly when the week's fishing is done and the next day’s agenda reads clean up and depart - get a bit, well, sloppy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Yellow Stickies

Being away from home - even fishing - is not always easy. But the distance is often diminished by the yellow sticky notes I find scattered throughout my gear box, my duffel, and my kit - secreted there by my wife before my departure. I'm not sure how she does it, as I am typically packing at the very last minute, but somehow she manages.

Discovering one never fails to bring a smile - just like a nice, fat trout.

Thank you, my dear. This much.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sexy Beast

There's simply no way to explain this. I refuse to try.
Let's all just nod as if we understand and move on.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Upper Ruby

Sometimes words just get in the way. Mindful of that, I'll simply let this handful of images depict for you a day on the Upper Ruby River. I struggle to recall time on the water spent any more pleasurably.

Heading for the Distant Hills

Up from the Reservoir - A Surprise Cutbow