Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rings of Salmon

A full moon rises veiled in winter's arboreal lace
Through thin high clouds, rings of salmon
Swim streams of light to the celestial spawn

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Day at the Beach

I close my eyes and stand, barefooted, a half-mile off the pristine shores of a lush south seas island, rocking gently on the forward casting deck of a brilliant white skiff, an 8wt in one hand, a Kona in the other. I lift my chin and savor the smell of salt, the sultry caress of light Pacific breezes on my tanned brow, and the balmy, soothing rays that radiate deep into my core. I’m at complete peace, drifting blissfully along, warm and toasty, here in this equatorial paradise. This heaven.

The sublime ruse implodes with a teeth-rattling shiver. I open my eyes to find that I’m still knee-deep in this dark Appalachian tailwater. Freezing my ass off.

The only things even remotely “tropical” are my Maui Jims.

I’m a long-time fan of Maui Jim sunglasses. I’ve worn a vintage pair of titanium Mauis on the soccer sidelines and while driving for nearly a decade and I have been fishing in Lahainas, non-prescription, for the better part of the last four years. Mary has a pair of MJs as well and loves them. They’re simply great glasses.

And Maui Jims’ customer service has been stellar. I've played hard and have done some pretty destructive (okay, stupid) things to my Mauis. In most cases they've absorbed the abuse but in the handful of instances where I have taken it too far the company has bent over backwards to help fix what I’ve broken, quickly, and with a smile.

So when the folks at Maui Jim, having somehow seen my earlier post about a competitor’s prescription fishing sunglasses, dropped me a line and asked if I knew that Maui also does prescription glass and would I be interested in trying a pair, I was thrilled. I've been thinking about a good pair of polarizers for low light situations for a while now and Maui's Evolution HT lenses looked just the ticket. I accepted their generous offer and requested a pair of Stingrays, so kitted. They arrived last week and I put them to their initial test on a dreary, snow-edged day on the Smith. They didn’t disappoint.

Maui says that HT is an acronym for High Transmission, but I honestly think it stands for Holy $#!T, the first words out of my mouth when I slipped them on in dim conditions. Tucked under the overhanging trees, in deep shade, these “sunglasses” seemed to lose nothing in the light department and their subtle green tint brought a sharpness that made my field of vision pop with surprising clarity. MJ’s literature says that they “embed (their) lenses with three rare earth elements and other compounds to enhance definition and contrast” and, as new-age-hokey as that sounds, it appears to work.

As I’ve gotten older, the amount of light available has become increasingly important for good vision and, to my aging eyes, there is little discernable reduction through these lenses. Quite the contrary, dark shorelines appeared to brighten, dim streambeds became crystal clear. The combination of contrast, clarity, and perfect polarization left me no visual excuses for missing fish, even in the dingy conditions.

Don’t worry. I have more than enough other excuses to make up for it.

Bottom line, these things are serious fly fishing tools and I look forward to them being an integral part of my gear from this point forward. They expand the angling day, providing polarization and clarity, early morning and late evening, when darker lenses are too much. More time to fish. Or, at least, to see what I’m doing.

So if you’re thinking sunglasses, don’t just think sunny southern surf and sand and fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas when you think of Maui Jims. Think daybreak assaults on overgrown eastern mountain trickles. Think rainclouds and snowfalls and fog-shrouded drifts down deep western canyons. Think catching that last hatch as the sun sinks behind the dense North-woods tree line. Think seeing clearly when things get dark, wherever, whenever you’re bending a fly rod.

Think this cold, dreary Appalachian tailwater.

But, if it's all the same to you, I think I'd rather be back on that skiff. Where I could feel my toes.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Photo Bin - January 2013

Welcome to Season Three of The Photo Bin.

For those of you who are new to the blog (or for you regulars with memories like mine, you know who you are), the Photo Bin has become my opportunity to wander through the odd images that have tumbled out of my camera during the past month and re-examine those that didn’t find footing in a post but still had a small story to tell. It’s fun, at least for me, to give them their moment.

Not surprisingly, I begin the year by breaking the rules with the first two pictures. They were not taken in January. In truth, they were captured a scant few minutes earlier, just before the stroke of midnight, New Years Eve. We ended our annual progressive community crawl at the under-construction, river-overlooking home of neighbors Sam and Robin where we illuminated their fabulous greatroom-to-be with strings of Christmas lights and a wide array of candles, lending a festive warmth to the proceedings; a warmth also inherent in the fine company who attended.

Above, Mary lights up the room, as she does my life, and below, an exquisitely set table is prepared. The perfect start for a new year, each of them.

Of course, getting the first fishing trip of the year under my belt was an imperative in January and the shot above was taken a couple days later, along the edge of one of my favorite winter streams. The cold week that followed gave me time to play with the image, a shot of an abandoned mill, and create the moody tableau you see above.

Mary saw this view of the redfish flats I visited during a brief warm spell and commented “Oh, another of your twisted pictures.” What more needs to be said?

They don’t call it “shine” for nothing. A conversation on a fly fishing forum brought Carolina mountain dew to mind so I dug into the back of the pantry for my mason jar of pure corn-sourced sunshine and snapped this picture on the back porch. I caught the light just right, but the question is “Was the light outside, or inside, the jar?

And finally, apologies for my vanity, a self portrait. Generally, I hate pictures taken of me, just like I hate recordings of my voice, because they always deviate so radically from my perception of myself. They disappoint.

But this is different. This shot is me, in all my scraggly cantankerousness. I took it to be used in an upcoming Maui Jim sunglasses review but got sidetracked and ended up with this image instead. I friggin’ love it, though the asymmetries in the shot – the glasses, the nose, the lighting - both intrigue and annoy me...

...much like the man that’s portrayed.

Note: I think that most browsers will let you click on a picture to see it in a larger format. Give it a try, especially the black-and-white stream scene. You might, however, wish to skip the last one. It's scary enough as it is.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Fish Too Many

How do we get ourselves into these things? Okay, never mind that. How do we get ourselves OUT?

To a large degree, we’re redfish rookies, Bill and I, but enthusiastic ones. So when we saw two of the state’s best puppy drum guides scoot by us, five minutes apart, out on the vast network of salt flats and creeks that we'd decided to explore for the day, we congratulated ourselves on our ability to sniff out prime fishing habitat. But while we were busy stretching our casting arms by patting ourselves on the back, we should have been considering the fact that Lee and Seth, both, were headed in the other direction.

And so was the tide.

Now, despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re not completely clueless. We knew it was dropping. But we also felt comfortable that the main channels through these particular flats would hold up for a few more casts before things bottomed out and that Bill’s nineteen-foot Carolina Skiff would see us through some pretty skinny spots. We were right. Almost.

It's all this guy's fault

After what turned out to be one fish too many, we stowed the rods and successfully squeezed out of the creeks only to find that their northern egress into the intercoastal was shallower than the creek channels themselves. Our exit was blocked. We turned to try to run the flats and escape via the southern route, but by then it was too late.

Navigable water turned skinny, turned ankle deep, turned to wet sand and as the sea slipped away we found a soft run and let the boat settle. Casting decks became picnic plots, then napping platforms. We waded a while, casting casually at what little water was left and watched the mullet skip through the puddles while pipers overran the place. Afternoon faded to evening. Evening slipped towards night. The tides simply turned, slowly, with the rising moon.

But turn, they did, and in time we were gently lifted and pushed along from whence we came, back into the shallow bay. We headed home a bit later than planned.

Frustrating? Yes, but beautiful. The flats are a special place when the sun sets. And without a fish too many, we might have missed it.

Beautiful, but next time we're following the guides.

Monday, January 14, 2013


If you look closely, you will see that for much of the year I am a subtle shade of green. It is an affliction that I refer to as Montloradaho Envy and it's onset is caused by all my western "friends" who fill my browser with stories and pictures of their Rocky Mountain trout streams and high plains fisheries. Cuts, bows, browns, ad nauseam. BAH! It's tough to deal with, here in the eastern flatlands, and most of the time I have to pick my wardrobe carefully so as not to make my odd complexion quite so obvious.

But in January my rosy hue returns when those "friends" begin to whine about what to do for the next couple of months as they huddle shivering in their homes or, when they do get out, whimper about dealing with -14 degree days and wind chills that are, frankly, obscene. And when they bitch and moan while I put together a few North Carolina days like this, I am positively flush.

January 4th
Brookies in the Appalachians
46 degrees with a 4wt

January 10th
Largemouths in the Piedmont
64 degrees, 6wt

January 13th
Down East Reds
74 degrees, you guessed it, 7wt

So, take that, you Montloradahoians. For the time being I'm good, and a positively delicious shade of pink, right here in the Old North State. Mountains to coast, it's damn hard to beat.

And I'm itchin' to get out the 8wt.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Blue Lines

Grasshoppers whirl at my feet like playing cards snapped into a stiff wind, a sound that is enough like a rattlesnake to skip my heart a couple of beats.

There’s this high lake in Montana, perched invitingly above the Centennial Valley, and at the bottom of this lake lies a swim fin. It belongs to Tom Reed. I know this because I put it there.

When I ultimately got the float tube back to shore, doing one-legged kick-circles all the way in, I breathlessly fessed up, apologized profusely for dropping the fin, and promised to replace it. Tom just laughed. With a warm grin he waved off my offer said it was just a damn good excuse to get a better pair. I like his perspective.

And I like his book.

The soul of the fisherman is filled with places like Cochetopa. Rivulets to streams, streams to rivers, time rolls on. But the heart of the angler remembers. It remembers places where sunlight slants to laughing water, it remembers perfect fish and precise casts and it remembers place. Years slip over life's smooth stone, and still the soul does not forget.

And Tom's soul remembers with an easy style and grace. Blue Lines is a simple gem. No earth-shattering revelations. No deep contemplation on why things are what they are. No new-age, belly-button examinations of the mystical powers of fly fishing. The book, like its author - or at least my impression of the man after our all-too-short two-day adventure - is focused on the celebration of the now. The short essays in Blue Lines are the honest, beautifully expressed observations of the sights and sounds and smells that surround someone immersed and in tune with the outdoors. They’re the lean-back-and-close-your-eyes recollections of someone who has spent a lifetime in a dogged (and dog-accompanied) pursuit of his hunting and fishing passions.

Sometimes, at a cost.

The carnival was in town when she moved out…

She left me a note, not an explanation. “Thanks! We had some fun. I left you the boat. Enjoy!”

I went off to work that morning and came home and she was gone. The only thing the note lacked was smiley faces and hearts. Lots of exclamation. No explanation. Maybe, I told my buddy, she ran off with the carnival. I was only half kidding.

“Dude. She left you a boat.”


Perspective, indeed, but done simply, allowing the reader to draw the conclusions. Or not. From the simple recount of day-to-day living during a summer spent on a grass farm in the plains and celebration of the hardy folks who live these lives (The Endless Thirst of Grass), to the earthly quiet of a late summer ride on the day the towers fell (Beneath an Untracked Sky), this book lays the day bare and lets the readers wander where they will within it.

But it’s hard not to follow along directly in Tom’s boot prints.

I have the afternoon and the river is just outside of town. It flows clean and cold. It is early yet and the water is too cool for a good bug hatch, but I go anyway, for I have the afternoon and when an afternoon is stretched out before you with nothing to do but fish, you should fish. You need to fish, if only for the fishing.

What more needs to be said?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Marking Time

They’re finally gone, the dark numerals on my watch
Faded to gray nothingness as the lithium's given up the ghost
They’ve been slipping away for a while now
Five years is pretty good for a battery
I guess

But the face is now blank
Like the faces of many when I tell them why I do this
Drive hours alone in the darkness to wade a cold stream
Coming home with nothing more than I left with
Or so it would seem, to them

I go on without the dead timepiece

I ditch the GPS as well, driving timeless into the wee dark hours
Not tracking the incremental changes in my ETA
Not agonizing over a minute lost or fist-pumping one gained
Like it mattered
Suction cup smudges on the windshield, the only evidence of this folly
The road doesn’t care
I just drive and get there when I get there

It’s my first outing of the year
But that’s as artificial as the numbers now absent from my wrist
So I put it from my mind
It’s just another trip, like a hundred others past
And, with good fortune, a hundred to come

With no watch, time on the water is marked differently
Measured in the arc of the sun, the shift of shadows, the drift of clouds
The growl of my stomach and the steady depletion in the contents of a silver flask
Time is reflected in the next run, the next pool, the next seam

The temporal flow slows with the lingering of trout released at my feet
Accelerates as they gather their wits and dart away, free once again
Fluctuates in the ebb and flow of energy, in a yawn, in cold fingers and toes
Tracks true in the movement of cast, the precise tic-tock of ten and two
Meticulously marked by metronomic muscle memory

Without the hour, I’m done when I feel like being done
Not when I plan to be done
Perhaps earlier, perhaps later
Predicated instead on alarms set in knees, back, and shoulders
All trumped by the desire to be here
To be here every moment I can

But, in the end, I’m chased from the place by the setting sun
Back onto the road for home, once again in darkness
For time does move on, no matter how marked
I don't need a mechanism to feel it

I’ll get another watch, soon enough
Deference to man’s metered imposition is unavoidable, sad to say
But after today I’ll look at it differently, the new one

If I look at it at all.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Good Start

Shit. I don’t want to do this. Five years is enough, isn’t it? When can we stop this craziness? When do we freakin’ grow up? Shit. I don’t want to do this.

Out of bed and dreading another New Years noon dunking in the neighborhood pond. Forty-four degree air temperature. Water temp's not much higher. Leaden skies. Spitting rain. Only the diehards will keep the string going this year. Only the fools.

Everyone’s waiting for someone else to flinch. To say that this is a bad idea and bag it. Everyone’s hoping, but not wanting to be the one. The one to crack. The one to balk. The one to be mature. Someone. Please. Save us from ourselves.

But tradition is tradition. Such a stupid statement. Who the hell’s idea was this anyway? Oh, yeah. I remember. It came up six years ago. In coincidently close proximity to the keg at Rich’s. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

No. Not going to take the fire pit down there this year. Don’t plan to stay that long. Get there at 11:55. Keep the truck running. Jump in. Leave. Hot shower. Hot chocolate. Hot toddy. Hot anything.

Better crowd than I expected. Down a little for the crap weather, but a good group. At least we’re not clearing ice from the edges this year. But then, maybe that would push someone to stop this madness.

Everyone seems happy, though with a nervous edge. No one’s overtly hung over, but I know better. There’s at least one of us here that’s hurtin’.

Shit. I don’t want to do this.

Countdown takes us by surprise. Thirty seconds! Strip the warmups off quickly.

Twenty! Quick count of noses to be sure that the same number that goes in comes out. Thirteen. Great.

Fifteen! The clock keeper’s enjoying this too much. But then, he’s bundled up, not going in. Wuss.

Ten Seconds! Kick the crocs and start looking for a lane down the small sand beach.

Five! Smile at Mary. Here we go again, dear. Together. I am so incredibly proud of you.

Four! I don’t want to do this.

Three! Shit.

Two! Shit.

One! SHIT!

Five running steps and a headlong dive. Crushing cold. Icy lock on chest, southern regions. Bodily functions start shutting down. Time stands still. Swim, dammit. No, the other way. Back to shore! Legs don’t want to work. Feet strain to find bottom as I get close to the edge. Torture.

And it’s over.

And it feels great. There's no rush to wrap up. It feels positively balmy out here. Even the rain’s okay.

What do you say we hang around for a while, dear?

2013’s off to a good start.

Note: Thanks to my good friends and neighbors Martha and Paul for the photos. How they got such steady shots of this insanity while laughing so hard is beyond me.