Thursday, April 24, 2014

Alone on the Road Headed Home

Hours to sift through the memories
Like photos in boxes
Faded as old Kodachrome, dogeared
Images too precious, too painful, to be examined in public
Waves of warm melancholy, serene and familiar
To accompany the night

No need to explain the laughter
No reason to speak to the tears
Just let them flow, interchangeably
And drive

Or hours to put the boxes away
Set all thought aside for the ride
Retreat from the memories, surrender
And merely follow the highway

Focused only on white lines and the orderly flow of traffic
Shut off but for the occasional shadow
Or courteous flash of running lights
Sparse encounters, forgettable
But just enough to break the hypnosis of turn signals
And the soothing monotony of mile markers

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Secret Waters

I had hoped that one of the “secrets” my friend Chris Hunt reveals in Fly Fishing Idaho's Secret Waters 
is that they are, in fact, not in Idaho at all, but surreptitiously hidden in some out-of-the-way corner of North Carolina. I was disappointed, of course. But, short of that one minor geographical issue, the book stood up to my every expectation. And I expected a lot.

But before we get started, let’s address one pressing issue. Giving away secrets, especially secret fishin’ holes, is frowned upon in many circles. We, fly fishermen, are as tight-lipped a lot as you’ll find and don’t cotton much to having our honey-holes exposed. Early on, Chris takes faces the music:

… our backcountry and backcountry trout deserve the appreciation of anglers who, without a bit of encouragement, might not venture very far from the blacktop to chase fish. The more anglers who experience the backcountry, the more allies our wild fish have when it comes time to beat back a bad idea or stand up to those who don’t share our conservation values. Anglers – and hunters – are more and more important in the conservation discussion all across America… If it gives one angler the motivation to write a letter to Congress or craft a letter to the editor of his local paper when that action is needed to protect the backcountry and our Idaho way of life, it’s worth it.

That being said, Chris doesn’t really give away the keys to the kingdom. There’s no maps with Xs where the trout are or detailed descriptions of trailheads or highlighted pathways into the backcountry. Instead, he gives the reader a starting point; or, as he describes it, a short head start on their own journey to discover backcountry treasures filled with wild fish and experiences we all thrive to uncover. At the end of each chapter (the book being divided primarily by region) Chris gets as close to “giving it away” as he will by providing a page reference in the Delorme’s Idaho Atlas & Gazetteer and an invitation to explore the small blue lines found therein. But, paired with the vivid descriptions and stories surrounding each of the Idaho gems, it’s a hell of a start for those with a true desire.

It’s appropriate that Secret Waters is published by History Press because it’s the history that the book contains that makes it so fascinating. The first two chapters put Idaho and its storied fishery in perspective. Papa Hemmingway, his son Jack, the incredible conservative contributions of Ted Trueblood, Carter H. Harrison. The stories Henry’s Fork, Salmon, Silver Creek, South Fork of the Snake. The Ranch.

But it’s the smaller waters, and smaller histories that make this book special. Each tiny creek and hidden tributary that Chris describes has its own stories to be told. And Chris tells them well. From geological origins to native American inhabitants to Louis and Clark’s explorations; Western outlaws to local politics to more recent legislative battles. Chris gives you the background. A trout is a trout, if you’ll pardon the generality, but it’s the places that sing to the seasoned fisherman. Knowing the past gives perspective - a look into the soul of a waterway that connects a man with his surroundings in a way that sticks forever.

And the history that’s the most comfortably relayed is Chris’s own, his personal memories of each blue line. The folks that he fished with, the color of the sky that particular day, the things that made each splash special to him. Family and friends brought together by a fly rod. This book is personal, not just a dry how-to; appreciated, here, for I feel the most boring part of fishing literature is usually the fishing itself.

And the book's far from boring, especially visually. It’s lovely to page through; full of colorful and inspiring photography. Grand vistas and tiny plunge pools. Wildlife and streamsides. Idaho in its glory. You can easily see the pull of the place.

Okay. A confession, I suppose, is in order. The realization that these streams are not in North Carolina was not my only disappointment upon opening these pages. There was another. After the first few pages of Fly Fishing Idaho's Secret WatersI found myself disappointed that I was unable to jump a westbound jet, right then and there, to explore some of these hidden gems for myself.

Someday, Mr. Hunt. Someday.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

When the Dogwood Blooms

The dogwood. It mocked me. Looked straight into my bedroom window and said “It’s just a little water, you pansy.

(For the record, the potted pansies on our deck are tough little buggers. They’ve withstood snow and ice and general neglect over the past few weeks and are still looking good. Their reputation of wimpiness is a bit harsh. They’d kick a begonia’s ass, that’s for sure. The dogwood should know that.)

The phone message said, “Hey Mike. It’s Troy. Want to go after some white bass in the rain? Give me a call if you get a chance.” It wasn’t raining. It was pouring! Go out in that for a few measly white bass? You’ve got to be kidding.

I stared out the window and the tree laughed.

I’ll admit right up front that white bass aren’t my favorites. But how can you not chase a few at this time of year? Pull out a fly rod stout enough to push a well-weighted small clouser and intermediate line, yet light enough to make it sport, and you can have a pretty good time nicking fish flowing out of the reservoir and up into the bigger tribs to spawn. Catch a few dozen in a couple of hours, easy. Eight to fourteen inches, occasionally bigger, with some tug. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon, I suppose. Even in the rain.

And perhaps the rain was the reason to go. The run was on. The river, for the first time in weeks, had dropped to a level that made the float worth a try, but it wouldn’t be for long. The forecast suggested that there was at least an inch of rain, and probably more, on the way throughout the upper watershed, meaning another two weeks of high and dirty water. The spawn would be over. It was probably our last shot.

So I gathered the Gore-Tex and a layer or two and we went. You don’t know if you don’t go.

When the dogwoods bloom, the white bass run. The tree knew that.

I wonder if it knew what else was in store.

Note: Ten (at the very least) pounds of river largemouth on a 7wt, intermediate sink line, and a #4 chartreuse-and-white clouser. It don't get no better. Thanks, dogwood.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Photo Bin - March 2014

Simply put, March sucked

Sucked for the fisherman
Sucked for the gardener
Sucked for the photographer

Only the weatherman enjoyed the duration
And schoolchildren, bless their stay-at-home hearts
Just wait till those June makeup days, kids
See how much fun then

So I'm throwin' in the towel on this month's bin
Sharing only the very last click of the shutter
My way of saying good riddance, March

Don't let the screen door hit you
On your way out

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dew Buggers

If you've been around here for a while, you've come to know three things about me.

First, while I love to chase trout, I hate fishing nymphs. I’m an unapologetic, can’t stand still, gun and run streamer fisherman, period, and at times it’s put a serious crimp in my catch rate. That is, it used to. This recent swing in fishing fortune leads me to the second thing…

... I’m a Mt. Dew addict. While you probably wake up each morning and head for the coffee pot, I get out of bed and stumble downstairs to the basement fridge for some green lightning. It’s often what gets me from under the covers, thinking about how good that first slug will taste. It’s a sad thing to admit, but I’m hooked just as firmly as if by nicotine or hard drugs.

So how does my trout catch rate lead to Mt. Dew in a single step?

Late in the Fall of 2012 I visited my nemesis, The Smith, in southern Virginia. The river has kicked my ass again and again over the past decade, keeping a stingy hold on its numerous, but finicky, brown trout. Regardless, I keep going back. Stubborn, I guess, both the river and I.

That particular day, like most every other, I parked at the old mirror plant, dropped the tailgate, and rigged my gear. Ready to slip into my waders, I turned and hopped to a seat, clumsily knocking over the ubiquitous open soda bottle, dumping pop all over my boots and small, open Cliff Days Worth box of woolly buggers, soaking everything completely and cruelly wasting half-a-bottle of my green liquid crutch.

The boots would be fine but the flies were a mess. A quick shake was the best I could do, for that moment, so I closed the box, stuck it in a vest pocket, intending to rinse the whole shooting match once I got to the water. I forgot the cleanup, of course, once I stepped into the flow, intent only on catching that first trout. It didn’t happen right away, goddam Smith.

After an hour of frustration and a few changes of flies, I remembered the buggers. They were a sticky mess, as you can imagine, but I pried a mid-sized olive from the tacky blue foam and tied it on. First swing, the skunk was off as a nice twelve-incher came to hand. Second swing, another brown. And so on throughout the day.

The light bulb came on. A Eureka moment ensued.

To make a long story short (you’re welcome), after a lot of trial and error, Mt. Dew-soaked olive woollies have become my go-to trout candy; #8s with a lead wire underwrap and a bright red gill finish at the hook’s eye. “Untreated” olives don’t cut it. Similarly treated blacks or browns or whites don’t work. Saturated olives get attention.

I have a handful of theories as to why this works, but can prove none of them. Perhaps the brominated vegetable oil (BVO) that keeps that soda’s coloration so perfectly suspended (and causes most of the civilized world to ban this ingredient from human consumption) affects the viscosity or hydrological properties of the water around the fly in a manner that’s somehow appealing to fish. Maybe, because it only works with olive buggers, the eerie green solution generates a prismatic effect of some sort. Or it could be that, like me, the caffeine gets the trout’s motor running. I don’t know how, but it works. Consistently.

So now, before I head for the stream, I soak a handful of buggers in Mt. Dew (not diet or caffeine free – only the real stuff), then let them dry before putting them in my “sticky” Cliff box. I’ve even taken to carrying a small atomizing bottle of the soft drink to “re-energize” a fading streamer (or to take a quick, reviving sip myself). I’ve done it quietly, though. My fishing buddies don’t know what my edge has been.

Now I don’t want to get into a protracted ethical discussion about doctoring flies. The way I see it, if I’m willing to drink the stuff then it’s fair game to apply it to a streamer. It’s not like it's a scent or anything. Whatever the reason, it’s helped me tame that bloody Smith River and, as an amusing side effect, has my puzzled compatriots murmuring to themselves with great regularity.

Got a river kicking your ass? Give it a try.

But don't get hooked.

Note: Of course, the third thing that you have come to know about me by now is that I am not to be trusted on the 1st of April.