Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Photo Bin - September 2012

If you don't mind, I'd like to take this month's bin as an opportunity for a belated thanks to a couple of guys for a fine day on Tennessee tailwater - my blog buddies, now fishing buddies, Marc Payne and Steve Zakur. Steve came south from his Connecticut home to attend the annual Trout Unlimited national meeting in Asheville so I took the opportunity to wander the couple of hours west to say hello and to join him in a visit with his Yellowstone companion Marc for a day on the South Holston.

The shot above is how we found Marc, already on the river, trying to figure out what to tell us to tie on.

To get to the river, Steve and I tread a well worn path - an indication of plenty of fishing pressure - but we were surprised to find so few anglers around that Sunday morning. Marc suggested they were worshipping in other ways.

Instead, we marveled at the wonder of nature's canvas, few works so colorful as these lovely SoHo browns.

Thanks, boys. I had a fine, fine time.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Can Feel It In My Bones

Summer is turning to autumn. I can feel it in my bones.

Time flows downstream. The robustness of the dog day slips quietly into the cool, delicate crispness of fall. Lush green surrenders to subtle sage, then flames out in yellow, red, gold, ultimately capitulating in a gentle rain of husks.

Summer is turning to autumn. I can feel it in my bones.

The steadfast oak, imposing fully leafed, shrinks as its foliate armor, its bluster, dries and falls away, providing a glimpse of the inner structure, the branches, the trunk, the very skeleton of its being. It is the same, at its heart, as it was, but summer bulk yields to a visage of stark frailty as the year slips away.

Summer is turning to autumn. I can feel it in my bones.

But at its core, at its roots, the oak remains solid. Time exposes, weakens, but fall does not break. That’s winter’s work. But it’s not yet winter’s time, though all rivers flow ultimately in that direction. Fall is a reminder of that.

Summer is turning to autumn. I can feel it in my bones.

So while summer is celebrated, is clung to with the tenacity of youth, fall uncovers the
underlying landscape, the slope of the land heretofore hidden by the exuberance of greenery. The true nature of the oak and its world is unveiled. Visible then is the substance. Character is revealed within the inevitability of decline, within the arrival of this waning season. It is the way of things.

Summer is turning to autumn.

I can feel it in my bones.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Photo Bin - August 2012

It seems as though I spent the entire month of August on the road. Visits to family in New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois and a fair amount of traipsing about the Southeast piled the miles up on the Ridgeline – and on me.

It’s appropriate, then, that this belated August Photo Bin was shot from the driver’s seat as I wandered the early morning back roads of Wisconsin, escaping to a little Driftless trout water. A few of the images may seem abstract but, in truth, they are exactly as I see things at O-dark-thirty in the morning. Just a bit on the dreamy side.

As anxious as I was to get to the stream, I was almost sad when the drive ended. Chasing Len and the rising sun through the misty hills and fog filled valleys, past shrouded grain silos and down dark, dusty country roads, stirred my soul and awakened me to a new day.

But it sure felt good to get out of that driver's seat once we arrived.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You Can't Catch What You Can't See

Chris: Sheepshead. Three of them. Eleven-o’clock. Seventy feet out.
Me: Huh? Where?
Chris: Coming your way. Sixty feet. Fifty.
Me: I can’t pick them up!
Chris: Wait. They’re turning. They're gone.
Me: @#$%

Len: He took it! Hit him! Uh, too late.
Me: Really? I didn’t feel the take.
Len: Didn’t you see that indicator move sideways?
Me: No, I lost it in the wash.
Len: Too bad. Looked like a nice brown.
Me: @#$% *^%

Bill: Listen to them carp slurp. Oh. There he is. A bruiser. By that rhodo snag.
Me: What snag?
Bill: Seriously?
Me: @#$% *^% @#%$^)(*@!!!

It had been a few years since I’d had my eyes checked. My ophthalmologist of nearly thirty years passed in 2008 and I had not brought myself to find a new one. He was a good friend and I didn’t mind the annual long haul to Raleigh to avail myself of his professional skills and his good nature, but the trip was not so inviting once he was gone. So I let it slide. For years.

But in the past six months exchanges like the ones above have become annoyingly commonplace. Now, I love my non-prescription Maui Jim’s – they’re fine polarizers - but I was obviously missing details and missing fish as a result. Something had to give.

So I bit the bullet. A new eye doctor, a new prescription, and the birthday splurge of a pair of Costa Del Mar Joses with Rx 580P ambers. Take that, old eyes.

The first day on the stream was mind-blowing. I saw everything! I saw texture. I saw detail. I saw nuance. I saw every leaf, every rock, every ripple. I saw more than my poor brain could deal with. I saw too much. I was driven to near catatonia by information overload - by extreme visual stimulation - by clarity.

A glance over my shoulder to check clearance picked up things that, previously, my mind would have discarded as inconsequential (which, of course, they were) but, having snagged my attention on the distant perfect detail, I held the backcast and had to reset my spatial bearings.

It was disorienting. It was unsettling. It was overwhelming.

It was fabulous.

A couple more trips under my belt have calmed my consciousness and I’ve settled in on having more to assess. Extreme detail is now mentally filtered and the incredible clarity of my field of vision has become a delight rather than a distraction. I’m gonna love these things.

After all, you can’t catch what you can’t see.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bring It

Is that all you got? Really? You can’t rain any harder than that?
Bring it, motherfucker.


Bravado. Irony. Jinx. Stupidity. Reverse logic. Whatever. Soaked to the skin. Soaked to the bone.
Water pours from the brims of our hats like wedding veils. Drowned rat nuptials.
Betrothed to the tug. For better or for worse.
What the hell.
I do.


Hit a clear stretch. Fish it hard. The murk arrives. Move higher. Get above the mud. Not for long.
Move higher. Closer to the sodden clouds. No. Deeper into them.
Do it again. And again. And again. And.

Just one more pool. One more stretch and we’ll call it a day. Get out of this shit. Get dry.
But damn it looks good up there. Back to the truck after that. One more pool.
Where’s the road? Doesn’t matter. Look at that next run.
Can't get no wetter.
One more pool.

Shiver. Cast. Laugh. Rinse. Repeat.
Shake your fist at the sky.


And it does.

My thanks to fellow rat Alex Landeen of Fat Guy Fly Fishing for stopping by while visiting friends in the area. The remnants of Hurricane Isaac blew out the local water so we headed west to find some foothills smallmouths, not quite sure what to expect. We should have known.

Okay. We knew. But we went anyway.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On Reputations

Odd. It appears that I've somehow acquired an undeserved reputation as a drunkard beer lover. This misconception crystalized last week in, of all places, the wilds of Wisconsin when my brand new fishing buddy, Mac, upon the end of our first day on the water together, reached into the back of his truck and pulled out a six-pack, saying "I understand that you're into beer."

I, of course, was dumbfounded. Where'd he get that idea? I started to protest, but thought better of it and, unwilling to hurt the dear boy's feelings, reluctantly accepted his largess. It was quite the sacrifice, I assure you.

But I'll give Mac some credit. He picked the wares of a fine small local brewery, The New Glarus Brewing Company, a delightful little summer seasonal, Totally Naked. The bottle says:

Pure and crisp, this is a beer with nothing to hide. Wisconsin two-row barley malt insures a mellow and smooth body. We import Noble hop varieties from Germany and the Czech Republic to insure a fine mature aroma with no course bitterness. Expect this beer to pour a delicate golden hue that sparkles in the summer sun... Kick back, relax and enjoy the simple unadorned flavor. This is beer at its most basic.

I don't know about the pour or the summer sun sparkle, but it damn sure tastes good straight from the bottle, sitting on a tailgate, watching the moon rise at the end of a fine day of fishing. So next time you find yourself in southern Wisconsin, hopefully chasing Driftless trout, be sure to look up New Glarus. Kick back, relax, and get totally naked.

Wait. I mean get Totally Naked.

Crap. I'm sensing yet another undeserved reputation in the offing.

Blogger Geek Note: It will be interesting to see the keyword hits that this posts brings.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Deep in the Weeds

I fully expected to bump into Mowgli and Baloo, bopping their way through the jungle. Or to have some hideous children-of-the-corn moment. Or to simply lose my way in the sea of seven-foot black-eyed susans, never to be found again. It was delicious.

I'd asked Mac, somewhat skeptically, if waders were really necessary. My early glimpses of the sweet little stream seemed to belie the need to get wet, and it was bloody hot, but he had nodded and I reluctantly suited up. Good thing too, for without that slick outer surface I might still be out in that deep Wisconsin meadow, tightly wrapped in bright green tendrils.

Instead I slithered my way through the growth, pausing in the occasional gaps of matted grasses formed the night before by bedding deer, listening to the constant drone of bees, enjoying nose-to-nose stare downs with curious hummingbirds, and following the sound of running water - often the only clue that a stream was near.

Mac and I had arrived late on a bright afternoon to my favorite kind of trailhead (an empty one), strung our rods, and continued on foot down the dirt track that bisected the small Driftless area valley. In time we turned off-road and waded into the lush deep grasses, bushwhacking our way to the small spring-fed stream that also split the area, though considerably less directly than the roadway. Waterways scoff at straight lines.

From deep in the tall grassed edges we drifted dries in the occasional pools and three-foot wide runs, Mac floating his nice little hopper ties and I with a tight-cut, tan caddis. Often the stream would disappear under the grasses, usually to reappear as it gathered itself in troughs created beneath tumbled trees or where it pushed up against the valley’s western walls. It was tough sledding early, while the sun lingered high, but as it dropped and the shadows deepened, life returned to the pools, rewarding our stealth and steeple casts with a few tentative strikes, then more vigorous interest in the terrestrial imitations we offered.

The final hundred yards of water, below the feeding spring, yielded us three nice brown trout, skinny as their home stream, the last a surprising twelve incher that, despite the narrowness of the waterway, danced acrobatically in the fading light.

We ended our fishing day back near the trucks, absently pitching bugs under the bridge, nicking small brookies as they dimpled the stream in the bright moonlight. Having satisfied ourselves that enough was enough, we wandered back, dropped a tailgate, and sat in the dark with a warm Wisconsin ale. I had a three-hour drive ahead of me that evening, back to Chicago, and Mac an hour return to his Madison home, but neither of us felt the immediate need for the road, happy to spend a moonlit hour listening to the gurgle of the stream and talking quietly of nothing in particular. It was the end of my trip, my short two days on Driftless water, and I was in no hurry to leave - delighted to have just spent a casual evening on a truly unique trout fishery with a fine new friend.

And thankful to have emerged from the Wisconsin heart of darkness, alive, and able to fish another day.

A huge thank you to my new friend Mac of The MacLoosh Chronicles. I invited myself into his region and he kindly put in a day on his favorite Driftless trout water with me. And a mighty fine day it was.