Monday, June 30, 2014

The Photo Bin - April/May/June 2014

The title says it all. Three months. I've been woefully negligent.

Mostly, I've neglected the cameras themselves, which is a shame because I really enjoy tinkering with them. And I've been thinking about the art of photography (not that my work has anything to do with art, mind you) as some of my scribblings have recently been paired with photos by gentlemen whose work I have come to greatly admire; most notably Tosh Brown and Tim Romano. It's an honor (and quite humbling) for this shutter-challenged hack.

But it's not just Tosh and Tim that inspire me. I am lucky be able to refer to a number of unbelievably talented photographers, both professional and enthusiast, as friends; Louis Cahill, Russ Schnitzer, Alex Landeen, Jess McGlothlin, Thomas Harvey, Steven Brutger, Darren Doss, Dave Hosler (and, no doubt, others whom I'm temporarily forgetting - and to whom I apologize to now for the omission). It's an amazing list of creative individuals whose images of our sport fascinate me daily.

In fact, I'm so inspired that I'm considering updating my ten-year-old DSLR. You think that new Sage is expensive? You have no idea. Between fly fishing and photography, it's a good thing that I'm fabulously wealthy.

That made me laugh too.

Anyway, it's back to this belated bin (and back to earth) with a handful of my snapshots, often more talking points than things pleasing to look at. And that's okay because I like to talk too. But then you knew that.

The vast majority of what fell out of the camera these past three months originated on South Padre Island where I spent three frustrating days searching the Laguna Madre for redfish. Luckily, I had a pair of good friends along for the ride - Chris Hunt and Brandon Robinson.

We slew them, as you can plainly see.

Short of that trip, fishing has been slow. Thankfully, there's plenty of other ways to amuse one's self around here. A good example is the F3T tour that wandered through Asheville in April. It's always good to hang out with the Hunter Banks and Southern Culture on the Fly folks up there; especially when it's at the Highlands Brewery...

And I did sneak in a day, late in the striped bass spawning run, on the Roanoke. Launched out of Weldon, the rockfish capital... well, you can see for yourself.

But the most important outing of the lot was the 3rd Annual Live Free Cornhole Tournament, honoring the memory of my step-son and benefiting the Georgia Tech scholarship that we've established in his name. Friends and loved ones from around the country converged for a bit of competition and fun, and more than a few tears, with Freeman constantly in mind.

Not much to show for three whole months. I'll try to do better in keeping the bins full, buoyed by the inspiration of many; photographers, fishing friends, and loved ones alike. Maybe a little of each will rub off on me.

Smile and say cheese.

What is a Photo Bin?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moist with Plenty of Bark

Brandon wanted barbecue and he wanted it at Rudy's. He got no argument from me. We started south.

But the bottom dropped out and our weather apps flashed red, warning that between us and the Brownsville BBQ joint swirled an active tornado cell. As the rain lashed the YJ's loose ragtop, we pulled off the road and weighed our options. South Texas drivers handle rainy conditions like North Carolinians handle snow, Brandon relayed. Poorly. That sobering thought (along with visions of prairie twisters, made more plausible by the Jeep's fast-flapping fabric) turned us back towards the Queen Isabella Causeway and South Padre. Our caution overrode our appetites, but just barely.

I don't understand the near-religious warfare that exists between eastern and western barbecue followers. It's like fighting over the difference between bananas and doorknobs. I love me some good ol'e Dixieland vinegar-based pulled pork Q, but I'm all over that red Texas brisket when I can be. What's to argue?

Rudy's was out so we found a fallback. Lady and the Pit took care of us just fine, although Brandon had his concerns until we were sure that the smoker was out back. Good brisket and better sausage. The sides were a bit sweet (Who sugars their collard greens, anyway?) but they suited me just fine. And while the storm raged outside we had only to soak up the sweet tea and diet Doctor Pepper refills until it passed.

And we happily let that take a while.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Diablo Day

It was a tough three days on South Padre. Traveling a couple thousand miles for a virtual skunking puts a man to mumbling to himself. But the worst part was not that we struggled to find fish; it was that the conditions didn't allow us to spend enough time with the Diablos.

I was first introduced to Diablo Paddlesport's fine fleet of fishing kayaks a couple of years ago on the northern Laguna Madre. Thomas Flemons, co-owner of Diablo, towed a fleet of his boats out to a remote cabin outside of Baffin Bay where a handful of us gathered to spend a few days chasing redfish. I quickly fell in love with the Adios.

Diablo's craft are a hybrid of kayak and stand-up paddleboard, "thinner and wider, like a SUP board, but still has all the comforts, such as dry storage, wet storage, paddle and drink holders as well as a comfortable seat." I happily paddled about the salt flats, cruising for tailers, staking the boat out and wading when I wished. It was a couple of very good days.

Fast forward two years and I found myself back on the Laguna, this time further south, and was thrilled when Brandon arrived with a trailer of boats - his green Diablo Chupacabra and a couple of the new roto-molded Amigos. And not just any Amigos. Thomas's personal craft, complete with a couple of prototype accessories for us to fiddle with.

The plan was to paddle the flats as we had two years before, but the wind had other ideas. Blowing a steady 20 knots out of the south, it chopped the water severely making sight fishing impossible and paddling a challenge, even with the low-riding, sculpted Adios.

We did get a morning in, paddling around the waters just north of South Padre, and reacquainted ourselves with these sleek, sturdy craft that floated easily in a couple of inches of water. They were as good as I remembered.

I just wish that we could have done more.

Note: A huge thanks to Thomas Flemons for the loan of the craft. Diablo sits at the top of my list of personal fishing boats and I look forward to their continued evolution and success. If you're thinking of getting into a kayak, this is the place to start looking.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Walk in the Dunes

Mark Twain has been credited with calling golf a "good walk spoiled." Seems, now, that he didn't actually say it, but he should have.

Similarly, our sojourn across the dunes at the Padre Island National Seashore was a good walk spoiled by the absence of redfish, but the company and the place more than made up for it.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Where the Redfish Are

Can you keep a secret?

It's always good to get the skinny from the locals - to get the inside poop on where to fish in an area that's new to you. And whether it comes in the form of a GPS coordinate, the description of a landmark, or a scribble on a bar napkin or hotel scratchpad, it's welcome insight. There's a lot of water out there, particularly when you're searching the salt, and it's nice to have a clue where to start.

So just between you and me, here's where to find the reds in South Padre, shared in confidence with us by Shane Wilson, founder of Fishing's Future, SPI resident, and all-round good guy.

Keep it to yourself.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Jetty

When you get blown off the water you’re forced to get creative. After months of anticipation, our first day’s disappointment at being unable to sight fish the wind-chopped flats could only be overcome with a little initiative and a serious reduction in standards.

Let’s go to the jetty.

We hemmed and we hawed for a moment or two until Chris free associated the possibility of finding migrating tarpon and, with that pretty delusion as quixotic motivation, we jumped in the jeep and drove south.

Our lofty ambitions of bowing to tail-walking kings from majestic rocky positions (as waves crashed dramatically with each silver leap) quickly degenerated into attempting to snag sea slugs as they drifted past on the outgoing tides.

We fishermen are nothing if not flexible.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Finding My Texas

Four days in McAllen. Might as well have been Cleveland.

Airport to hotel on the shuttle. Hotel to convention center by air-conditioned bus. Return and repeat. Views of the city through dark safety glass. Interior courtyard and square meeting rooms. Southern climes masked by thermostats set to “Icebox.”

I longed for the Lone Star vibe.

So as the meetings came to a close it felt good to get in the rental and go. To head east out of town toward the Gulf. But I wasn’t in Texas even then. Seventy miles-an-hour on Interstate 2. San Juan, Weslaco, Mercedes. Southwestern labels, but indistinguishable from anywhere else with their end-to-end Home Depots, Burger Kings, and La Quintas. The ubiquitous acres of Wal-Mart. Only the occasional HEB gave a clue.

So I tried to shake my case of the “wherevers” by turning on the radio. Satellite XM, Outlaw Country, seemed a good place to start. But it was country as generic as the asphalt I traveled. Corporate cowboys, polished and precise despite the clodhopper drawls. Sterile. I was looking for roots, dirt and all.

I-2 dumped east into Texas 83 and I switched to FM. Began to feel the southwest sun and attitude creep into my bones. Strip mall sprawl gave way to cattle land, manicured six lanes to concrete divided four, and meticulously mastered rock to something more earthy. Something more don’t-give-a-damn. Digital perfection acquiesced to analog authenticity. Big stage to front porch. A grittier sound on a grittier track.

But I wasn’t there yet.

I escaped the expressways onto State Road 100. Shook off the highway and found my two lane. Rolled down the windows and punched up AM. Sagebrush and mesquite flew by never-ending. Fruit stands, flat land and big sky with a soundtrack of scratchy mariachis. The soft background hiss of carrier wave, like tires on pavement, lent texture and life to squeezebox and guitar. White vinyl noise swaddled voices in cotton as if they’d been packed away for generations like precious artifacts. CanciĆ³nes that crossed cultures and borders and time.

I understood little of what was sung as I drove, but that didn't matter. Enough of the words were transcendent. SeƱorita. Bonita. Cerveza.

I’d finally found my Texas.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Into the Backing

Let's start with an apology.

I haven't been around much of late. The blog has been quiet and I'm sorry. There are a handful of factors in this vacancy; some good, some not so much. Simply put, life and times have taken me deep into the backing and, for the moment, that's enough said about that. It's time to tighten the drag and start recovering some line before the next inevitable run.

Spending three days with good friends and a Jeep full of fly rods is as good a way as any to stall life's headlong race, so we'll start there, in the southwest, Texas-way, where we tried once again to coax Gulf Coast reds from the shallow warm waters of the Laguna Madre. A smattering of scenes should do nicely. From there, we have some catching up to do. We'll get to it all in due time.

So thanks for sticking around in my absence and for helping me start to reel things back in. Let's put a bend in the rod, crank on the largest arbor we've got and wrestle this thing to the boat.

Let's go to Texas.