Thursday, August 30, 2012

Give It Some Action

“I don’t dead drift anything. Give it some action and make 'em come after it.”

With that, Len twitched his wrist and sent the silver panther martin upstream, dead center, in the seam, fifty feet out, then ripped it back, damn near as fast as it had departed. Predictably, it arrived home with a brookie attached.

Little has changed in the two years since I'd last fished with Len Harris. The Wisconsin countryside is still beautiful. Its spring creeks still flow clear and full of brown and brook trout. It still gets bloody hot in August. And Len can still drop a spoon into a teacup from seventy feet.

Even the photos I took last week look like the ones I brought home way back then.

Len and I resumed our acquaintance in the dark, pre-dawn parking lot of a Mobile station, across from the Richland Center American Legion, shook hands, and picked up right where we’d left off twenty-four months earler - scooting through the Wisconsin countryside, chasin’ trout.

We drove west, heading for the upper trickles of Kickapoo River feeders. Lazy spring creeks, quite different from the tumbling mountain trout streams I'm used to. Len still bristles at the tell-all destination book that leaked the sweet little waterway we were to spend our morning on, so I’ll decline to agitate him further here. Suffice to say we bushwhacked the creases of some dense private farmland - with landowner’s permission, of course - and waded some lovely Driftless water. Beaver country, it seems. Their handiwork was everywhere.

Now, I’m an unapologetic streamer guy. Dries are nice, but too often they require patience (strike one), concentration (strike two), and skill (a big whiff! Strike three! I’m out!) So when Len suggested that I throw dark size 10 woollies directly upstream and twitch them home, I was all over it. The caddis and hoppers could wait ‘till tomorrow. There wasn't much rising, anyway.

We brought a couple dozen feisty trout to hand during our morning out - eight to fourteen inches, browns and brookies, no tigers. I probably missed twice that number to old reflexes and older eyes. I do, however, suspect that I caught more than Len, but only because I did 90% of the fishing. Len was happy to point out the lies and watch me spook ‘em. For the most part he only fished while I was retrieving a fly from foliage – an occasional hazard in these tight spaces, even with my favorite little 7’6” 4wt - or after I’d declared a pool fishless. Such statements were usually proven inaccurate with a single snap of the wrist.

“You’re up,” he’d say, often and with genuine delight. I typically didn’t decline, sending another cast upstream, letting the bugger settle.

“Now. Give it some action.”

Yes sir. Gladly.

Note: Be sure to see more of Len Harris at his blog The Stream of Time and on numerous mid-western fishing forums. He's an angling machine.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Simply How It's Done

It felt awkward, I must say, walking into the restaurant wearing my waders, but I followed Len’s lead. He hadn’t steered me wrong yet. Well, there was that bridge pool that he said was only “waist deep," but that’s a story for another time.

As we finished wading our day's second lengthy stretch of spring creek, the sun began to push the trout we were chasing into deeper cover and it made good sense to call it quits before it was straight up and seriously hot. The forecast called for low 90s, wicked for this part of the country, and it was well on its way. We climbed a makeshift tree root ladder out of the streambed, crawled into the Ridgeline that we’d shuttled earlier that morning, and drove the dusty farm roads back to Len’s Mountaineer, parked downstream, at our starting point. Four miles of side roads, one of water, or a half-mile as the crow flies. Measure how you will.

Back at the truck, I reached to drop the tailgate for a seat to pull off my wet Freestones, but Len paused only long enough to toss his rod and huge salmon net into the back of the Mercury, then slid into the driver’s seat and cranked it up. “Let’s go get some lunch.” I scrambled to follow, five-point turning the Honda on the narrow track and hustling to stay close enough to his rear bumper to see where he forked, far enough not to choke on his dust.

Fifteen minutes of country dirt and a half-hour of county asphalt carried us back into the heart of Richland Center where we parked on Main Street, a block from the middle of town, in front of Gables restaurant, regionally known for its Friday night bluegill fish fries. Once again I thought to drop the waders, but Len went straight for the front door, unchanged. I shrugged, and joined him. We smelled of late-summer sweat, rich Wisconsin creek bottom, and bushwhacked wild mint - with a low note of fish. A not altogether unpleasant bouquet, to my unsophisticated nose, but one that I feared our fellow diners might not equally appreciate.

I needn’t have worried. The handful of lunch patrons that sat scattered about the small dining area gave us scarcely a glance as we slipped into a booth – slick waders gliding easily over the smooth leather benches, exquisitely polished, no doubt, by several decades of the in and out of workingman’s denim. It was all I could do to keep from sliding onto the floor.

Our waitress arrived – that is, if it’s proper to refer to someone’s grandmother as “waitress” – and without a hint of irony inquired “You guys been fishing?” The room grew silent and every head tilted in our direction like some old E.F. Hutton commercial. Before I could wrap my head around what other possibilities there might be for our current attire, Len spoke up. “Yep. We’ve been trout fishing up in the hollow.” Heads nodded in silent approval. Eyes returned to their plates. Life was good.

We ate our hearty breakfast-for-lunch casually, exchanged a few pleasantries with the folks at the nearest table, and, with a firm handshake and promise to do it again, parted ways - Len for home and I for Spring Green and some old friends. And we stayed in our waders until we arrived at our destinations – at least I did. It seemed that it was simply how things were done here on the Driftless.

I wonder if he sleeps in his?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Where's Mike?

He's off somewhere, probably feeling a bit driftless about now...

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Been Too Long

What the….

I punch the snooze, roll over, and burrow deeper under the covers, trying to recall the last time I was roused by an alarm clock. The recollection won’t come. Instead, a number of plausible explanations as to why I can’t remember begin to solidify in the sleepy haze, gaining substance while last night’s odd assortment of inadequacy dreams dissolve to nothingness. Two trains of consciousness, passing in the dark awakening.

Why can’t I remember? To be sure, my memory isn’t what it once was, but that’s too easy an answer. It’s also true that I now live a life unfettered by rigid schedule, scorning all “must be somewhere” situations that require unnatural temporal intervention. A clock, much less an alarming one, is a tad incongruous and easily forgotten. But it’s not that either. The real reason takes a moment to surface and, when it does, it’s enough to push me from under the covers and into the quiet darkness of the house.

It’s been too long since I’ve been trout fishing.

Now, I’ve been on the water my fair share this year (forty-four days, according to my journal) but it’s been months since I’ve been out for trout. Instead, it’s been largemouths, smallmouths, carp, redfish. Fish that live close by. Fish that don’t mind summer heat. Fish that move in patterns independent of their orientation to the sun. Fish I can get to at my leisure. But not trout. Unlike the others, trout conjure alarm clocks. You see, the closest cold water is a few hours away and I like to be in the stream to watch the morning mists rise.

So I get up and move quietly through the dark house, bare feet on cool concrete. Dress. Eat breakfast. Slip out the side door. The truck is packed and I'm on the road as light begins to bleed into the rearview mirror. Two hours on the road in deep contemplation of nothing in particular - certainly nothing important. Two hours that pass in a heartbeat. A sunrise walk along the tracks. A quiet, careful wade down a feeder creek as morning rays begin to filter through the trees. The feeder empties into larger water and I’m on a trout stream once again, watching it come alive. Here early, thanks to the almost forgotten clatter of an alarm clock.

Yeah. It’s been too long since I’ve been trout fishing

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bacon Beer and Belly Dancing

HOGWASH hickory-smoked brown porter
Bacon beer! We house-smoke malted barley over hickory wood, imparting a sweet, subtle smoke to our hickory-smoked brown porter. Depending on your comfort level with smoked beers, you may find Hogwash subtle or overwhelming. Try it with North Carolina barbecue for some smoke-on-smoke action, or go for the Trifecta of Awesome: bacon, beer, and chocolate! 5.5% ABV
Availability: YEAR-ROUND, mostly.*

Good copy, but they had me at "Bacon beer!" Sadly, we missed the "mostly" this time and settled for corn-brewed cream ale and a solid southern lager. Mighty fine fallbacks.

And, after a couple of pints, the strangest thing. A belly dance recital broke out.

Just shoot me now.

That's odd. This picture seemed in perfect focus when I took it.

* Text from the Fullsteam Brewery website. If you're ever in Durham, their sweet potato beer is amazing.