Monday, December 30, 2013

The Photo Bin - December 2013

So far away from this Southern boy's place.
Snow. Ice. Big city lights.
Chicago on Christmas.

But intimate indoors, tucked away from the chill.
Grandkids. Family. Big time love.
Chicago on Christmas.

Cold on the outside, warm on the in.
Both the city and I, that night.
Chicago on Christmas.

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

It's an annual tradition here (and a cheap way to squeeze in a holiday post without having to actually work for it) to trot out my home waters version of Clement Clarke Moore's Christmas classic. I missed it last year, for some reason, but it returns now, "original artwork" and all.

Like Grandma's fruitcake and Uncle John's reindeer tie, it's awful but it wouldn't be Christmas without 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 fishin', but I didn’t care.

The browns were all nestled down deep in their pools
While rainbows and brookies were nobody’s fools.
And I in my waders and old fishing cap,
As usual, just couldn’t cast worth a crap.

When further upstream there arose such a crash,
I started, and slipped, and sat down with a splash.
My glasses went this way, my rod, it went that.
You know you’re in deep when you’ve floated your hat.

The gleam of the sun on the river around
Was lovely, but hell, I was going to drown!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a funky old kayak. (The end must be near.)

With a little old paddler, too fat for the boat,
Who was trying his best just to keep it afloat.
Through the rapids he teetered, bounced off every big rock.
The dude’s in big trouble, I thought with a shock.

But as he arrived at my favorite hole
He snapped it in place with a neat barrel roll
And glided in softly, as smooth as can be.
No fish would be spooked, except maybe me.

And then in a twinkling he popped out of his craft
Like a cork from a bottle, I shouldn’t have laughed.
He reached back inside and he slowly withdrew
A lovely old 4wt of shiny bamboo.

He was dressed all in Gore-Tex and looked straight from the pages
Of catalogs like Orvis’, Hardy’s and Sage’s.
A vest full of goodies encircled his frame
With gadgets and zingers, too many to name.

He spoke not a word but went straight to his fun,
Throwing laser-like casts, seeming straight from a gun.
His roll casts were graceful, his loops were so tight.
Presentations were flawless, each drift was just right.

He threw pheasants and hare's ears and woolies and strymphs,
Hoppers with droppers of copper john nymphs.
He had all of fly fishing's mysteries debunked,
But darned if old Santa Claus didn’t get skunked.

I felt sort of bad for the jolly old elf.
But why fish the Haw, I was asking myself.
He could have fished Battenkill, Madison, Snake.
It seemed that the Haw was a foolish mistake.

I needn’t have worried, I had nothing to dread,
For he gave me a wink and here’s what he said.
“We all should remember, and here’s what I’m wishin',
That it’s not about fish, but it’s all about fishin'.”

He sprang to his 'yak, to the rocks gave a push,
And shot down the stream with a splash and a woosh.
But I heard him exclaim as he drifted from sight
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all keep lines tight.”

Here's wishing the happiest of holidays to you and yours!!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Young Guns

Nothing energizes me (and makes me feel very, very old at the same time) like spending a couple of days with the young guns of our sport. No creel carryin', Thoreau spoutin', Tilley wearin' fishermen, these. I'll bet not a one owns a proper vest. Soft hackle nymphs and #24 midges? Ha! Let's tie the biggest friggin' musky chickens that will stuff into these Regal Big Game jaws. And let's put it all on the web. Realtime. And while many of the old guard shake their heads and mumble dejectedly about the direction of fly fishing, I damn well love it.

Okay, maybe I'm still trying to get enthused about video, but that's a small quibble.

I was reminded of all this as I spent a couple of days in Asheville, hangin' around with the SCOF crew (that's Southern Culture on the Fly, for those of you who've been hiding under a rock) at the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Expo and subsequent Iron Fly.

I've wracked my brain, since my return, to distill a story from the experience(s), but it ain't happening. So, to save myself the headache, I'll just dump a few pictures on you and leave it at that.

And, with this crowd, it seems completely appropriate.

Except that there's no video.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the expo and I'm proud to say that I didn't buy a thing. It took great restraint, let me tell you. But I also didn't take many pictures. I suppose that if you've been to one show... The casting pools always fascinate me, though.

For a better (yeah, video) feel for the show, check out Southern Fly Photography's quick treatment, here. Nice work, Thomas. My favorite part is watching TFO's Kent Edmonds tuning a really young gun's stroke at the pool, starting about minute 1:45. It's always good to see Kent as he passes through.

My Hoosier homey, Pile Cast founder Dave Hosler, made the long trip from Indiana and along with the intern (both pictured at the top of this post) held court at the SCOF booth - the busiest, and most entertaining, table in the place.

They both tie a mean musky fly.

And speaking of mean flies, there's the ultimate young gun fly tying event, The Iron Fly. The boys from Pig Farm Ink somehow found their way from Fort Collins, CO, to bring their unique brand of fly fishing insanity to Asheville. I don't know where to begin.

So I won't.

Sadly, I needed to put it on the road before the competition got started in earnest. Next time...

Gotta give a nod to our hosts, the brains (and I use that term with great care and affection) behind SCOF - Dave Grossman, pictured above in a rare quiet moment, and Steve Seinberg who somehow evaded my camera throughout the trip but who can be understood completely by the artwork in the background and the workspace below.

In the end, these young guns are irreverent, raucous, and riding an edge and it's a joy to see. They have a passion for the sport and a energy that's impossible to resist. Say what you want, old guard, but they'll outfish you, outdrink you, then outwork you when it comes to protecting all of our waters. They're the future of our sport whether you like it or not.

And I'm good with that.

Special thanks to the boys, most especially Dave G, Steve, Dave H, Alan, and Chris, for letting the old man hang around. I had a blast.

But now, I think, I need a nap.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Photo Bin - November 2013

This year's autumn colors flew by like a leaf on a rolling trout run, paused only briefly as it spun on the seam between summer heat and winter chill, eddied seductively for the blink of an eye, the rasp of a sharp, crisp breath, the click of a shutter, then tumbled away downstream.

I almost missed it.

I awoke one morning and the colors appeared, peeking through my bedroom window and in-between my quilt-covered toes.

But before I could gather my wits well enough to capture the grandeur it was gone. Caught the southbound and moved on. I could run these rails and try to keep pace with the extravagance as it moves through the South - freeze time with hot pursuit, ride that temporal contradiction to burn in Fall's flameout for weeks - but, instead, I think I'll wait. It'll be back next year

And with a little luck I'll still be here to greet it as it peeks in-between my toes once gain.

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

First Light

The plan was to pack up the gear and have the truck ready to roll the evening before, allowing me to stumble from bed and into the driver’s seat with a minimum of fuss and delay. But our neighbors from the lower ridge dropped by and a pleasant afternoon visit turned into an impromptu dinner, which then morphed into a late night shooting-the-breeze and solving-the-world’s-problems session out on the screened porch. Fine friends, good food, and regular refills tend to precipitate such things around here.

So, instead of an early departure, I awoke the next morning, fuzzy-headed, unprepared, and went about gathering the waders, rods, and piles of paraphernalia that follow me to trout waters. The task, and the fuzz, put me on the road an hour later than I had hoped.

Okay. Maybe closer to two.

On those days that I head west, into the Appalachians, I normally get away before the sun makes an appearance. Day trips that require a three or four hour drive, each way, demand a wee-hour start so the crossing of the bridge downstream of the house is typically done in darkness. It turns out, that’s been a blessing.

For what I saw this particular morning as the sun rose out of my truck bed made me question why I was leaving. I won’t try to describe it. I don’t have the skills.

Let's simply say that the old axiom “Don’t leave fish to find fish” seemed to apply to streams as well and I considered turning around, putting the pickup back in the driveway, and strolling down to wade my home waters. And while there’s no trout there, I felt certain I could coax a sluggish largemouth from the cool Piedmont flow. To be sure, I’d find no prettier surroundings to the west.

But I was already on the road and the trout stuff was packed. It seemed foolish, at that point, to return. In truth, it might have been foolish to have packed it in the first place. I spent the day wondering.

Wondering, and vowing that, next time, I'd be sure to be long gone before first light.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Direction Is Everything

Eight to twelve knots.

Not a particularly harsh wind, here on the Crystal Coast, except when coming dead straight from the west, giving it thirty uninterrupted miles to plow deep furrows in the emerald seas along these south-facing barrier islands, Onslow Bay to the Lookout Bight.

Direction is everything.

So we idled in the inlet channel, protected, a bit, from the churn by the distant confederate brick, stone, and barrier sands of Fort Macon, and we waited. Waited for the breeze to shift, if even a few degrees. Waited for the tide to change in hopes that it might smooth the ceaseless six-foot ditches dug into the brine and let us go chase some albies. Waited as boats full of anxious fishermen with similar motives motored out the buoy chain, then shortly motored back; captains grim-faced, sports thoroughly shaken.

Waited as the radio crackled a constant refrain; heavy seas and no fish to be found.

We waited because we saw no need in going out to get beaten up until there was a hint of something worth getting beaten up over. It never came. No albies for us, this fine Sunday. No albies for anyone.

But there are worse starts to a day than idling these sweet southern waters and watching the sun rise. Worse places to be skunked than outside the lazy docks and quaint streets of Beaufort. Worse ways to misplace a bright fall weekend, the coming and the going for a paltry couple of hours bobbing like corks.

And as an early return is always appreciated, by both the wanderer and she who keeps the home fires burning, I packed it in and headed back before noon. Back towards my safe harbor. Back towards my shield from the winds. Back towards where my real happiness waits. Dead straight to the west.

Direction is everything.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cold Nights To Come

It came downstream quietly
Slipped in unnoticed from the north
Veiled in cool, gentle rain
Obscured in blankets of mist
Cloaked in the white noise of rolling waters, rustling winds, and distant rumbles

As I fished, it took me by surprise

In truth, it was not unexpected
But its arrival was stunning just the same
On muted owl’s wings, in silent descent
Claimed its prey
The scrap of summer that lingered too long

The transition occurred between casts

It painted the river with a deep golden stain
Saturated and heavy in dew and dim light
Dampened slick rocks to obsidian black
Against which mats of maple, hickory and sourwood coalesced
Fluid colors on liquid surface
A vivid mosaic floor of leafy tile, substantial only to the eye
That rippled hypnotically as I waded near

While the banks softly burst into flame

Tonight the stove holds its first blaze of the season
Row covers will drape o’r the garden’s remains
And mothballs and cedar will tickle our noses
As we burrow down deep under long-stored patch quilts
To dream about cold nights to come

For, today, Fall quietly arrived on the Haw

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Photo Bin - October 2013

I've been up to my ears in pictures, these past couple of days, putting together a slideshow to present to my buddies at this month's gathering of our local Trout Unlimited chapter. I've enjoyed a particulary fun and varied fishing year, so far, and hoped to rub their noses in it entertain the membership with some colorful images and a few mostly-true stories.

The pitch was organized chronologically and needed some transition images to move things along from month to month. Being the digital graphics wizard that I am, I used what I know best.

Yellow stickies.

The results were fun, I think. Dark Sharpie® scribbles on faded Post-its®, slapped randomly on various items lying here about the office. Start to finish, an hour well spent.

So since the fall colors have been a real bust, here 'bouts, I forfeit this month's bin and fill it instead with these colorful little vignettes, these dated keyhole peeks into my surroundings.

I hope you don't mind.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


If redbreasts grew to be five pounds, I wouldn't go near the water.

When bass fishin' around here I throw big flies, big poppers, #2 at a minimum, so the bluegills and sunnies can't get ahold of them. But it doesn't stop them from trying. Blip. Blip. Blip. It's maddening.

And with all due respect to my buddy Cameron, The Year of the Bluegill? Really? More like Year of the Creek Cockroach. Pond pestilence. River vermin. Stealers of flies from the mouths of real fish.

That having been said, you do have to admire their ambition.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Spring Tide

The sun and the moon aligned, but, sadly, the stars did not.

This week’s spring tide - the exaggerated tidal ebbs and flows caused when sun and moon fall in line and compound gravitational forces - pushed waters higher into some of our favorite grass flats than they'd been all year. We waded those tufted edges, along seldom-submerged wildlife trails, chased clattering crabs in all directions, and hoped for some solid chances at tailing reds.

It wasn’t to be.

The one good fish we saw slipped away as Troy and I stubbornly politely insisted that the other take the first shot. We were idiots, though well intentioned, and a subsequent opportunity never materialized.

But a weekday spent walkin’ shin-deep salt waters, even with a pre-dawn start, beats the bejeezus out of one spent doing most anything else, fish or no, so there’s no complaining here.

We just need to work on them stars.

And our manners.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Photo Bin - September 2013

Some months the Photo Bin is easy.
Lots of odds-and-ends images to choose from.
Lots of things to share.

This month ain’t one of them.

This month you get one.
One that reflects precisely how I feel about the dearth.
Me, and Wilderness Dog Sammy.

Perhaps next month's selection will be better.
How can it not?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Forget

I forget how pretty this stream is.

How climbing this stairway of rock and flow pushes everything else from my mind.

How plunge pool follows plunge pool follows plunge pool...

How wild and willing and feisty the fish.

How each tug on the line might be a brown, a rainbow,
Or one of the incredibly ornate brookies that inhabit this place.

I forget how peaceful and quiet it is here.

But what I don’t forget is how good it is to share such places with a friend
And how much that friend will be missed when he moves.

Safe travels, Ken.

And thanks for the stream.

Note: For a fascinating academic perspective on our sport and its classic literature, check out Ken's blog, The Literary Fly Fisher. Good stuff.