Monday, April 11, 2016

The Photo Bin - March 2016

Crap! I almost forgot the photo bin for last month!

Actually, there isn't much to show. I was catching my breath from a busy February and really didn't spend much time with the camera. But in keeping with the program, here's a handful of shots that tell March's story, along with a couple of holdovers from February, bumped by the glut of Abaco shots.

They're my rules. I can break them if I want.

After stealing away to the Bahamas on my own, Mary and I wandered down to the Keys to escape winter's last push. A week in the chain and I didn't fish a day. Yes, I took a rod and reel (and a box of bonefish flies, or two) but I enjoyed my wife's company and lounged in the sun enough that they stayed in the back of the Forester. Next time...

The trip, however, started with a night in St. Augustine and the top picture comes from a gift shop we wandered through on St. George Street. The place was a delight for the eye and this shot captures the quirkiness of the boutique. The challenge was using the mirror to fill the shot with even more chaos and give the photographer a Where's Waldo cameo.

The bulk of the trip was spent on Key West and then a few days in Islamorada. (Huge thanks out to Mike Agneta, Mr. Troutrageous himself, for the pointer to the Cheeca Lodge & Spa. We had a great visit.) We finished our trip off with an evening at the Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar, the best sunset and good-time spot on the island. Some good blues and country music and the funky magic of Michael Trixx. The show was a gas, soundtracked by good old, kick-ass, big hair rock. I forgot how much fun that can be.

March means weird weather here in North Carolina. You never know what's coming. One thing you can count on are some early year storms and some impressive electrical displays. Always a bit scary sitting up here on the ridge like we do.

One thing that we do to keep in touch with the Chicago-based grandkids is to send postcards created from photos taken here around Camp Redbud. This particular shot of Zeppelin, with his favorite frisbee, went to young Carter who, not all that long ago, was deathly afraid of the dog. Reasonably so, as their first encounters went less than easily. A skittish four-year-old and a nervous Aussie with a drive to herd, anything and everything, made for an interesting couple of visits. But during last year's camp they came to terms and are now fast friends.

Carter still wears gardening gloves when playing frisbee with Zep. The dog's slobber is impressive.

And finally, another couple of days on the water, also without a fly rod. Our Georgia Tech Freeman York Memorial Scholarship recipient is a swimmer, a darn good one, and we were thrilled to cheer her on as she competed in the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships in Greensboro. I've never followed the sport but I have to admit getting into it as the weekend progressed and we were incredibly proud of young Chichi's performance. She's a special young lady and we are pleased beyond words to be a part of her college experience.

Guess that's it for another month. Cheers!

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Plans Are Overrated

My return to this hidden staircase of rock and water didn't go quite as planned. The intent was to nick a few brookies and take some long exposure images of soft falls and emerging Spring. I was ready.

But the brookies were absent (I saw nary a fish, much less caught one) and the day, forecast to be heavily overcast, turned bluebird bright, and windy. There's not an ND filter made that can fix dancing rhododendrons. I snapped a few shots but my objectives went pretty well unrealized.

No worries, however. The three-hour drive was saved by a quintet of rough-coated whitetails that passed within twenty feet as I sat on the tailgate enjoying my lunch, a leisurely mid-day nap in the bed of the pickup, taken between half-mile rock hops (the first with a fly rod and the second, a tripod), and, after each climb and descent, a cold beer, tucked snuggly in a trailside plunge pool. Nature's perfect cooler.

So while things didn't go quite as planned, it was a joy to be out. To be on the road. On the stream. On the trail.

Besides. Plans, as you well know, are overrated.

Note: Click on the pics for a better look. I'm often disappointed with how Blogger represents them.

Acknowledgement: Thanks, here, to the good folks at Upslope Brewing Company for sending a six-pack of their fine lager. A perfect summer beer, light and flavorful, that would be even more perfect if I could get it here on the east coast. Just another reason that Boulder rocks. Oh, and no small thing, one percent (1%) of revenue from sales of this beer is donated to local chapters of Trouts Unlimited where their beers are sold. Well done, boys.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The 6wt E

At the intersection of passions there often lies magic. Overlapping devotions compound and exponentiate in weird and wonderful ways, lifting each to stimulating new heights. But, just as often, at those same crossroads lies madness and the sad truth is, when in the throws of passion, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

My love affair with fly fishing is well documented. But those who know me best are also aware that I have been recently consumed by another old flame. The guitar. I’ve owned a trio of acoustics for decades, sentimental pieces more than musical, but the fire was reignited with the purchase, last November, of a Fender Telecaster and Blues Junior amp (electrified devices, for those of you uninitiated in modern six-stringed instrumentation). Our quiet hide-away in the woods has become a little less quiet and a little less fishing has been going on.

And while the Telecaster has gotten the most attention, the increase in musical interest has blown back on my acoustics. I pick them up much more often now, especially when the urge to make noise surfaces and there’s too little time to set up the electric, or when Mary has the girls over and I must be sonically restrained.

Such was the case yesterday as Mary and Susan and Sherry were downstairs, working on their basketry. I picked up the quietest thing I owned, my Yamaha G-231 classical, a box that I hadn’t played in a while, and gave it a good strum. But, with that single rake of the pick, the top nylon E-string pinged at the bridge and I was down to five, the final string left hanging loosely from the headstock like some poor tenkara offering.

At that point, I could have easily set the Yamaha aside and picked up another guitar, but it’s not in my nature to leave things in such awkward states. My OCD won’t allow it. And a quick rummage in the case failed to produce the new set of D’Addarios that I was certain had been there. I had replacements for the Fenders, my steel-stringed acoustics, and a variety, 09s-to-11s, to try out on the Telecaster, but none for the 231’s nylons.

If the strings were not in the case, then they had to be in my toy closet - that cluttered hole in the wall filled with guitar accoutrements, camera gear, and all things fly fishing - and it was there that the passions overlapped. Once the nylon set couldn’t be found, my eyes fell on the carefully stacked boxes of fly lines.

Do you think...

I grabbed an old RIO bass line, a 7wt that I’d had for a while and was likely not to use again, cut out a four-foot length of running line and strung it up. It easily tuned to an E and I got a soft, mellow note, but it couldn’t be held for long. After a bluesy Stormy Monday, it went flat as a Lefty Kreh loop. And I didn’t like the feel of the textured line or the “round-wound buzz” that I got as I slid between notes. That sound’s okay down low, but not acceptable in the upper registers. A four-foot length of the tapered head faired a bit better and had a bit more warmth of tone, but also quickly lost tune after just two bars of an acoustic Layla. That and it felt a bit bulky for the top end. All-in-all, the 7wt was unsatisfying, but the concept showed promise. A more scientific analysis was needed.

Tension was not an issue. Guitars are normally strung in the neighborhood of fifteen pounds tension and a fly line should handle that and more. I’ve broken off enough 20lb floro tippet on bonefish and reds to know that to be true. Size and texture were next to be considered and the possibilities that lay between 5wts and 8, especially when factoring in the tapers, would give me plenty of options. Perhaps a newer line would help address the tuning issue as well. But in the end it would all come down to tone. It’s all about tone.

So I started experimenting. I grabbed a fresh box, a RIO Outbound Short Freshwater 8wt intermediate sinking line, thinking the running weight would be about right. In addition, the untextured, slick finish should reduce the buzz and the sink line might add some weight for a fuller sound. I hacked a few pieces, strung them up, and saw improvement, but the tuning issue remained. One full play of Down By the River and it was flat again. Worse, the coldwater coating began feeling tacky as it warmed under my fingers. Great for avoiding coiling issues in cold weather. Bad for warm hands and hot licks.

A tropical line, then. Snipped up another Outbound Short, this time a 9wt intermediate, but with a saltwater coating. Better texture under my fingers and a decent tone, but the bothersome tuning issue remained. Didn’t hold up through Day Tripper. Barely got through the intro. It was beginning to look like a show-stopper.

Another look into the closet and the light bulb went off. The lines' core was the key. If I could find a more stable core, perhaps it would hold. RIO’s low stretch ConnectCore might be the answer and I quickly took the scissors to a new 5wt Xtreme Indicator line. The running line proved a bit light, but a length of the head – the cool orange front taper – seemed closer. A rousing ten minutes of twelve-bar-blues jamming, bends not normally heard from an classical guitar, didn’t budge the tension an iota so the tuning issue was licked, but I’d lost the tone with the lighter line.

A 6wt InTouch Grand, then. The trimmed out green front taper wasn’t quite as cool, visually, but the tone was better. Not just better. Fantastic. Buddy Guy’s upper licks never sounded so good. Downright buttery.

I’d hit the sweet spot. Beautiful sound. Tuning stability. Silky feel. I’d solved my E string problem...

(with $400 worth of fly line)

…and wondered how fantastic it’d sound if I replaced the G and B strings as well.