Thursday, June 30, 2016


Photo courtesy of Steve Zakur

Here’s a dirty little secret about destination angling. More often than not, the fishing is disappointing. Contrary to what you might think, there is no correlation between how much you spend or how far you travel and your actual piscatorial success. If I’m wrong and there is some obscure equation, at its core there’s most certainly an inverse ratio.

Now there are lots of reasons for this – unfamiliar waters, new populations of fish, improper gear, unrealistic expectations – but the biggest, most frustrating factor is timing. We never seem to get it right.

We’ve arrived on The Gulf in the accompaniment of thunderstorms and tornadoes, spent entire Caribbean excursions under tropical rains, and trudged Baja shores mere days before the baitfish arrived (to be followed, shortly after, by the game fish we sought). With distressing regularity, the following week would have been better or the guide’s standard line that you should have been here last week applied.

So why do we do it? Why spend the time and the money, endure the travel, only to get it wrong time and time again? Why the risk? The rote answer is that there’s so much more to such trips than the fishing. The adventure, the companionship, the locations. Nice platitudes, and true to a point, but the reality is that there’s only one good reason to keep trying. Once in a blue moon you get it right.

Last week, we got it right. Really right.

We hit that sweet spot between upper Saskatchewan thaw and spring’s choking weeds, when the ice receded and the Canadian sun rode high and the big northern pike moved up into the shallow, open bays, hungry and mean from too long in cold, deep water. We chased out rain as we arrived and observed it returning in our wake, fished in shirtsleeves, watched big, bushy poppers get crushed by toothy finned dinosaurs, and wondered what we’d done to deserve such bounty. The answer, my friend, is that we’d simply kept at it.

So why is that man in the picture above grinning? Sure it’s a nice fish, but we’d caught lots of them, lots of them, with some a fair amount larger. No, he’s grinning because he and his buddies had just hit a hole in one. Teed it up nine months earlier, aimed at a cup the size of an eighteen-foot Crestliner, and let it rip. To everyone’s amazement and delight, it went in. We timed it right.

So now I sit here, back at home, having pike withdrawals, ready to head out again to be rained on, snowed on, blown off the water, or simply to be skunked day after day for no discernible reason in some far away hell hole. There’s dues that are owed and I’m willing to pay, because someday there’ll be another Saskatchewan…

…or maybe it’s all just the timing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Unpacking

It’s a common sentiment, written about with great regularity, that the packing for a trip is often as exciting as the trip itself. The suspense, the planning, the first steps into what one eagerly anticipates being a glorious adventure. The rod selection, the preparation of flies, the compilation of outerwear, underwear, footwear, and where the hell’s that bug spray. It’s heady stuff, previewing the trip as one counts down the days to departure, but I have a confession to make. I like the unpacking better.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the lead up, but it’s not without tension. Truth is, I tend to overanalyze. What will I need? Do I go with just the big duffle or split out the gear into a rod case and pack some contingency clothing? What’s the weather going to be like? Which waders? How do I keep the big bag under fifty pounds and not have to lug lots of carryon around? What will TSA think of those 2/0 stingers? Take the 8wt and the 6wt, or just a 7? Will I carry too much? Will I carry too little? What truly essential, lifesaving item will I completely forget? The preparation is fun, but it’s stressful.

And since my forays of late have been to a wide variety of locations for a wide variety of fishing experiences, it’s been tough to get a pat checklist in place. Every trip has its peculiarities and its special considerations. Alaska has one list. The Bahamas, another. (Yeah. I know. Big crocodile tears, right?) But take my word, starting from scratch every time has its challenges.

But when I get home, that load is lifted. There’s nothing to think about except unloading the bags and remembering the trip. I get to replay it all, what worked and what didn’t, as I dump the contents out on the floor of the office. I get to touch everything one more time.

I take note of what’s still clean and add that to the Exclude Next Time list, what’s well worn and dirty goes on the Frequent Flyer list, and what smells like fish on the Must Take Again. The new gear (for one must always take something new to try out) is assessed and what’s tried and true is once again acknowledged as the touchstones of my fishing life. And every item unpacked plays back into the adventure I’ve just experienced. Each piece bears a memory from the trip. Every object still resonates with the previous week’s travel.

And here’s where it gets weird. I get great joy from putting it all away.

You see, I have this obsessive/compulsive issue in which I derive insane pleasure in restocking the gear closet, returning everything to its proper place. The outwear hung in the right order, the fly lines stacked by ascending weight, the flies in their proper drawers or boxes, the rods standing neatly in the corner. Having that pile of dirty clothes laundered and hung gives me the giggles, the bags empty and stowed gives me peace.

And while that might seem odd, it makes perfect sense when you consider that this actually means that I’m just a bit ahead of you in the anticipation of the next trip. I’m poised, ready to start it all over, eagerly awaiting the time when I can pack it all up again and head out.

I’m ready to get ready to go. My pre-trip packing, whether I know where I’m going next or not, has already begun. I've just started early.

The unpacking simply closes my möbius fishing loop.

Note: This all comes to mind as I stare at the pile on the floor next to me. It smells of Saskatchewan here, and I know it was a good fishing trip because Zeppelin won’t keep his nose out of my duffle. Stick around for the next few days and I’ll tell you about it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Photo Bin - May 2016

It was a last minute decision to attend the event and, like most such impulsive endeavors, it would either work out or it wouldn't. As it turned out, my last-minute detour into the heart of Tennessee did both. Hell, I was halfway there anyway; that is if you consider three hours into an eight-hour road trip to be halfway. I assure you, when there's fishing involved the equation balances perfectly.

I entered the tourney without a seat in a boat, reasoning that somewhere, somehow, someone might not make it and I could slide into an open spot. Just as likely, though, I wouldn't, and that would be cool too, giving me the freedom to roam around a bit, snap a few pictures, and relax. Regardless, boat or no, I'd catch up with some old friends, make a few new, and generally hang out with the cool kids.

I got off the water in Kings Mountain, NC, three hours west of home, after a good day chasing carp, filled the tank and hit the road for McMinnville. Stopped but once on the way, in Asheville, for provisions. A box of Wheat Thins, a bag of Snyder's Pieces (honey mustard and onion), and a couple of sixes of beer. You know. The basics.

But construction delays around Knoxville put a kink in the works and I ended up late to the party on Thursday night and unable to hook up with a boat for the next day. But no worries. It was all worth it and here's a handful of odds-and-ends pictures to prove it.

Perfect Photo Bin fare.

Above, the centerpiece of McMinnville musky culture, Buddy McMahon's mural on the backside of Collins River BBQ and Cafe, painted during last year's event. Very cool.

While the musky tournament was competitive, it couldn't hold a candle to the Thursday night beer pong rumble at the Franzen cabin. Here Mr. Paul Puckett shows his perfect form, in a losing cause. He and Kyle would avenge this loss later, after a few more rounds (on and off the table), with the battle cry "The higher they get, the taller they fall."

By that point in the evening, everyone understood what they meant.

Friday, while the contestants fished, I wandered around the county, taking odd pictures around McMinnville and trying to catch the occasional boat floating down some Caney Fork tributary.

I got more than a couple of suspicious stares from the locals as I hung out on the bridges, but the views were worth it.

I also wandered around town and picked up some odd images, my muse apparently still inebriated from the previous evening's beer pong. The textures in this city dumpster were of particular interest and, honestly, this image may be my favorite from the entire trip. Go figure.

More detritus from the old railroad part of town. I'm easily distracted with a camera in my hands.

The best part of the event, of course, is the people. Musky fishermen are an odd and varied lot, and no one understands that better than our host and tournament director, Todd Gregory, the founder and head honcho at Towee Boats. At least half of the craft floating in the tournament came out of his shop. Bloody good boats.

Todd also puts on a damn good weekend, including three good feeds and a preponderance of swag to go along with the fishing main event that brings anglers from all over North America. And of particular interest, to me at least, is each year's trophy; a customized guitar, a nod to Nashville, just an hour-and-a-half west. Todd's got connections in that town and lures some fine musicians, each year, to join in the fun.

Of note in this picture is the lad standing in the background. He became a bit of a celebrity for, the day before the tournament began, he caught his first musky - a feat that the vast majority of the real fisherman failed to do over the duration of the tournament. Good for you, little dude.

Since I was late in arriving, I compensated by leaving a day early (which makes every bit as much sense as three hours being half of eight, but that's how I roll sometimes). Todd had found me a possible seat for Day Two, but rather than inflicting my meager musky skills and rowing chops on perfect strangers (you only torture those that you love) I hit the road early, having been called back home for another last minute impulse. I'm a slave to my whims.

And while I was in McMinnville but briefly, I got the lay of the land and am prepared, already, for next year's Hardly, Strictly Musky, including a seat in a boat. My buddy Pipes and I will be ready.

Maybe I can fish like the kid.

Note: I can't get away without extending my deepest gratitude to Guy Franzen and his "team" (sons Patrick and Chris, Alan and Abbi, and the unsinkable Peter) for putting me up during my all-to-brief stay. Your hospitality made the trip work and for that I am in your debt.

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Photo Bin - April 2016

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. It's the first week of June and here's the April photo bin. What can I say? I've been busy. I've been slack. I've been... well, I don't rightly know what I've been. Let's just ignore that and get on with the pics. April.

Actually, I have some shocking news for you (at least those of you who know me at all). I've kicked Mt. Dew. Blows your mind, doesn't it?

If you've followed the blog for any length of time, you'll recall that images of Mt. Dew bottles are ubiquitous.

Unrelated Aside: I've always loved that word, ubiquitous, and I use it every chance that I get, no doubt to the annoyance of others. But it reminds me of a Phillip K. Dick novel, Ubik, that I'd read as a teenager, about a future (now a past as the book was published in 1969 and looked ahead to a visionary 1992) drug scene and the government's... wait. No spoilers. I'll let you read it. One of PKD's best. I promise.

Anyway, Mt. Dew bottles images are everywhere on this blog because I drank it all day, every day, probably since the mid-seventies, in volumes that I'd hate to admit. Quick math (forty years, three-to-four twenty-ounce bottles a day) puts that in the neighborhood of seven-thousand gallons. I've pushed enough brominated vegetable oil (the ingredient that suspends that eerie green glow and keeps The Dew from being imported to the rest of the enlightened world due to cancer concerns) through me to fry a million florescent french fries. And the caffeine... Oh, the caffeine.

I mentioned my abstinence to Troy the other night at the local TU meeting and he looked at me like I had two heads. He's used to my stuffing a six-pack into the the skiff's live well (which doubles as a cooler for us C&R practitioners) and he tolerantly ignores the empty green bottles rattling around on the floor of the skiff.

But no more.

You don't just kick such addictions without some help. It's the habits and routines that are the hardest to change so a replacement is often the key. For this difficult transition I fell into the prefect replacement. Kombucha.

More on that a bit later. Let's get back to some photos.

If my Mt. Dew abstinence isn't shocking enough, how about me in a tie? Obviously, I didn't take this picture (Mary did) so it violates the photo bin rules, but...hey wait, I don't care. I like the picture.

I hang up the ball cap and dig out my grown-up threads from the back of the closet just twice a year, each time to attend university foundation endowment dinners at which we get to meet the wonderful young recipients of the memorial scholarships we've established in honor of our lost sons. This year, we were thrilled to be able to support two talented engineers-to-be through the Andy Sepelak Memorial Scholarship in Civil Engineering at North Carolina State University. Brian and Chris are terrific young men and perfect examples of why we do this. I couldn't have handpicked, myself, any better beneficiaries. Andy would have liked them.

Funny, I don't recall them standing on standing on chairs when this picture was taken.

April also held one of our favorite events, a fundraising cornhole double-elimination tournament for our other endowment, the Freeman York Memorial Athletic Scholarship at Georgia Tech. Organized and run by Freeman's friends in Charlotte, it carries on an annual spring tradition that Freeman himself started a decade before. It's a joyful celebration, even through the tears, and now helps support his academic and athletic legacy.

Above, a little friendly competition between Mary and Ben; Free's mom and brother. Trouble.

A good crew turned out. Here's those who stayed to the bitter end. Just as many had slipped away throughout the daylong event for other commitments or to lick their wounds. Our profound thanks go out to everyone who participated. See y'all next year.

A special treat, this year, was that we were able to scoot down to Atlanta, pre-tournament, and bring back to the gathering this year's scholarship recipient, Chiara, a bright and talented swimmer who hails from Sardinia, Italy. We hope she had fun, though cornhole was certainly a new experience for her. Competitor that she is, she took to it like a fish to water.

Sorry. Go Jackets.

Even Zeppelin got into the mood, wearing Georgia Tech colors and a Buzz on his splint. Poor guy suffered a frisbee mishap, a few days before, somehow acquiring a deep laceration in his large paw pad as he flew back and forth up our gravel driveway and the surrounding woods. The pad was laid open badly, and bleeding like sumbitch, but he wanted to keep fetching the disc. I had to hogtie him. We play hard around here.

He's healed up nicely (now that it's June) and is back on the run.

I promised I'd get back to kombucha. It's is fermented sweet tea, usually black or green, brewed a lot like beer (so it has that going for it) but without any appreciable alcohol. And sweet it isn't, as the fermentation process chews the natural sugars up, as fermentation is prone to do. What results is hard to describe. Slightly sour in a rich and wonderful way, with a hint of tea and herbal goodness, largely dependent on formulations, added ingredients, and the brewer's craft.

This particular brewer is incredible and we couldn't be prouder of what he's accomplishing. Okay, full disclaimer, he's our youngest son.

Again, what can I say?

What is a Photo Bin?