Monday, February 25, 2013

SCOF Tie-One-On-athon

A tip of the cap to the boys at Southern Culture on the Fly for a terrific day in Asheville at their Tie-One-On-athon to benefit Project Healing Waters. The project's dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings. That works for me.

A keg (or ten), fifty tiers, a couple hundred onlookers/kibitzers, and a thousand stories; too many to know where to start. So, instead, I'll just shut the up and let the pictures do the talking.

Special thanks to Dave, the swagmeister (above) and the whole crew at SCOF - especially Steve who let the hordes invade his space. Personal nods to Dave Hosler from The Pile Cast for making the long trek from Hoosierland and to Cameron Mortenson from The Fiberglass Manifesto for being such good company.

For more pictures from this terrific event, look here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The View From Coal Creek

The cane tells you what it wants to be… It’s length, space between nodes and bug damage, speak a natural inclination. Just like people, I think. Its soul not evident in perfection, but in its imperfection. Its character, shaped by scars.

Few hear the cane. Fewer understand it. Only a handful can translate, can pass along what’s said so that the rest of us can begin to understand. Erin Block is one of those handful and her debut book, The View From Coal Creek: Reflections on Fly Rods, Canyons, and Bamboo, is a Rosetta Stone carved in bamboo. More importantly, it’s a tribute to and celebration of the beauty in our natural imperfection, in “hand made,” and in all that is odd and unique in each of us. For me, and I suspect for many, that’s a great comfort.

Coal Creek is the story of the building of an eight-and-a-half foot 5wt Garrison 202-E taper, a classic bamboo trout fly rod, by hand. But really, it isn’t…

… it’s not about making a rod, it’s about seeing your life through the process. It’s about the journey… It’s about tradition and friendship and alchemy, and about not completely understanding why six strips of bamboo glued together mean so much to you… And at long last, it’s about the rough, ugly, and uncut, refined into something beautiful, through a hell of a lot of hard work. And that – that is life...

The View From Coal Creek spans the winter and early spring of 2012 as Erin travels the roads between her cabin in the mountains of Colorado and the shop and home of her rod-building mentor, Frank. The book is full of the comings and goings of friends, the passage of season in her remote canyon, and day-to-day alpine life as the snows obliterate, then surrender, her perch in the hills; all relayed with loving backdrops of local lore and family history, told with warmth and insight…

Dark eyed Juncos are out early this morning, getting their fair share of breakfast before the Jays wake. Landing on snowbanks, they make angels like children, imprinting their faith in flight.

…not to mention a healthy dose of self inspection and deprecation.

The snow has fallen evenly in no wind, as if a dump truck cloud has parked over the opening of pines above the cabin and evenly distributed its contents. A blanket on a bed with no lumps. No forgotten books, socks, or stocking caps. Smoothly pressed, tucked and trimmed as a bed always should be and mine never is.

And, to my delight, Erin also gives us scribblers some candid looks at the trials of a writer’s world…

Jay pecks behind me on his computer, like a chicken at grit and gravel, fed for digestion, editing photos and writing. It’s a comforting sound, that of writing. But I know better than to think it’s a comforting thing to actually do. Rather, it’s only comforting once it’s out – once you’ve thrown it up and are sipping ginger ale.

… and almost always with her delightfully quirky perspective on things.

I’d had nightmares about the glue not setting right and everything going to hell in a handbag. Which, I’ve always thought is an appropriate place for handbags to go, however odd the saying.

Erin writes like she builds a fly rod. She lets her materials, her stories, her bamboo, choose their weight, their length, and then carefully and precisely shapes them into perfectly fitting pieces. She wraps the guides, giving the book direction, in fine, tight analogies and strong insight, and varnishes the lovely thing with coating dips of humor and heart. Her cork, her prose, is comfortable in our hand and in our mind. It all casts, it all reads, like butter.

And then I switch out for my rod and write my name very slowly and thoughtfully on the flat and below that I pen the length and weight and taper. My hand begins to shake a little bit. Then the month and year – I’m nervous – whereupon I have the secret hope that several hundred years from now someone will find this rod in an attic, or woodshed, or closet with a secret door, and will wonder who Erin Block was.

If she keeps writing like this, they'll surely know.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Throwin' Chickens

The Fish of Ten-Thousand Casts, my ass. Darrin stuck one in two. Boated his first musky on the second pitch. While on the cell phone with his wife. With a trout set. No big deal.

This shit’s easy.

Easy, except when you’ve been dreaming of musky for fifty years and now the beasts are right under the boat.

...except when you’re chunking eighteen-inch drag-queen feather boa chickens on 400 grains of cold, stiff fly line after months of twitching 4wts with #20 nymphs.

...except when a saw-toothed wind is somehow hitting you full in the face no matter which direction you turn and the six insulation layers that you’re bundled up in are not getting the job done.

...except when four feet of torpedo-sleak, tiger-striped, waterwolf glides up behind your pink bird, five feet off the boat, and every orifice puckers, watertight.

...except when it unhinges its jaw, and time stops…

...except when it starts again as the fish shuts its maw, turns slowly, and slips away because you do something, always something; pause the fly, raise the rod tip, fail to switch directions abruptly enough, or simply hold your freekin’ mouth wrong at the worst possible moment.

...except when Blane says it’s 50/50 whether the beast will hit during the retrieve or need to be enticed at the boat and you find yourself praying to God for the former so that you won’t see the approach and freeze like some scared little bitch...


...except when you move another fish and Blane pleads, “Get it back out there. That’s the biggest muskie I’ve ever seen,” and you can tell by the tremble in his voice that he means it.

...except when your wrist and forearm and shoulders and traps scream from burying the rod tip, deep, and sweeping-right, sweeping-left, doing it again and again and again. Stirrin' the river with a swizzle.

...except when Darrin nails one in two goddam casts, putting it all on you to bring the boat's average back to ten-thousand.


Yeah, this shit’s easy.

Note: My thanks to Blane Chocklett and Jake Grove at New Angle Fishing Company for a mighty fine day on the water, chasing the big uglies. Can't wait to get back on the bow. And thanks as well to my traveling companions, Bill and Jim. Always a pleasure, boys. And finally, to my buddy Darrin Doss, for joining us short notice and for some great pictures, including the bottom one in this post. Nice fishin', dude.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hitting the Glass

I hear the thunk from two rooms away and my heart jumps to my throat. “This window here,” Mary calls from the bathtub. “He hit pretty hard.” I worry that it was too hard.

Sitting here, high on the ridge with lots of birdfeeders and lots of glass, window-rattling collisions are not uncommon. They’re mostly glancing blows, but occasionally the contact is solid and we fear the worst. In this new year I have surrendered a winter-tarnished goldfinch and a dipped-in-grape-juice house finch to their final nests, carrying them gently to the top of our ridge where they're forever surrounded by blue sky, placing their humbled husks in the depression left by a fallen oak. Back to the roots.

I seldom return dry-eyed.

The past few days we’ve been host to a swarm of pine siskins (my naturalist friend calls them an eruptive species; the term, perfect) and the envelope around the thistle feeders has been an air-traffic controller’s vision of hell. It was only a matter of time before bird met glass, at pace, and I’d be walking around outside, once again. Checking the ground.

This window here. He hit pretty hard.

Sure enough, under the large bathroom window, a small, unkempt wad of feathers lies in the leaves, blending into the woodland floor, but visible, nonetheless, for its awkward angles. With a sigh, I resign myself to another solemn procession up the ridge, but then feel the slightest of movements as I pick up the crumpled bundle. There's a flicker of life in the eyes, but no comprehension. Maybe there's hope.

I place the small siskin on the back woodpile, on some freshly split pieces so that I can see it easily from my desk, its tiny brown body more evident on the fresh, yellow grain than on more weathered wood, and leave it alone to recover, if it will. An hour later it's still there. Two hours, unmoved. With a heavy heart, I step outside once again and prepare for the somber climb.

It’s just a bird, you might say. Why the funk?

It’s not just the creature, you see, though there’s that too, but also the thought of being young and vibrant, riding the winds, gliding, soaring, to be dropped to the earth in the blink of an eye, by the unseen, the unexpected, the unfathomable. That strikes a little too close to home. That stabs a little too deep. For I’ve hit the glass in the past, a glancing blow, and survived. But there are those I have loved who have struck it full on. They've returned to the roots much too soon.

I reach for the bird, to carry it to its final rest, only to have it spring to life and take wing as my hand draws near.

And my heart takes wing with it.