Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Her advance posters, displayed brilliantly up here on the ridge, were full of promise. The golds and oranges of her oak, maple, and sourwood vestments were adorned with dogwood red and holly green accents. Her wardrobe, exotic. And with the forecast calling for cloudless skies, it seemed the perfect time to wander down the hill to the river, to the big top, to gawk like a schoolboy as the beauty passed through.

There's one born every minute.

Along the river, Old Man Winter and his carnies had already started sweeping the debris of Autumn into the dust bin. Her costume, so full of paint on the ridge, stood threadbare in the river's basin, a pallet of tarnished gild. And the forecasted clear sky, that promise of stunning blue backdrops, was obscured by the pungent haze of wildfire smoke, carried the hundreds of miles from the western Carolinas and east Tennessee to settle into the cool trough of riverbed. I was late to the carnival.

But my disappointment quickly vanished as I opened my eyes to the awkward, tired beauty of it all. The closing stage of Autumn's striptease, that sideshow moment just before it all comes off. That final tired, smokey pause before all is revealed, the dingy curtain drops, and the crowd disperses into the night.

Fall's circus, as quickly as it had arrived, was on its way out of town once again.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Photo Bin - October 2016

Time moves at a breakneck pace these days. Weeks pass in a blink, months in a heartbeat. Years flow by like rivers swollen with frigid spring thaw. And by all accounts our sense of time's passing only accelerates as we gets older. Age, it seems, is anxious.

All this to say that it feels like last month's Photo Bin was posted only yesterday.

But Autumn's arrived, as evidenced by the Haw River's bright banks and thinning overhangs. The next week or so should be spectacular. But that's for the next bin, I expect. For now, the shot above, taken the final day of October, will hint to what's to come.

Part of why it seems only yesterday that the last bin was offered is that there hasn't been much else posted here. For that you have my apologies. I've been trying to wrap my head around why I've slowed down here on the blog, why my scribblings have been few and far between, and am beginning to believe that a large part is my diversion into other pursuits. Mary commented this morning at the time I've invested in my guitars, now joined by this shiny new Gretsch. They're as bad as fly rods, I fear. 4wt and 8wt. Single coil and humbucker. Reels and lines like amplifiers and strings. Fly fishing and music. It's easy to fall hard.

I'm not the only one noticing this change in timing. The past month we've been graced by a multitude of lizards, out catching the last of this year's warmth. They've been everywhere. Tiny anolis scamper around the garden and the larger ones lounge in the deck plants. Eastern fence lizards fill the woodpile as I begin to deplete it. We have to take care as we go in and out so as not to invite all manner of lizardry into the house. (Okay, lizardry's not really a word, but I like it.) What I haven't seen lately are the sleek five-lined skinks. Guess I'll have to ask my naturalist friends about that.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the passing of the year is the arrival of the holidays. To me that means Halloween. Living where we do, we no longer get trick-or-treaters (and for that I am sorry), but we do have the opportunity to visit the Bynum Bridge which, on every All Hallow's Eve, is lined end-to-end with a rich array of carved pumpkins. Simple to intricate, there's a little of everything, and the air is rich with the smells of burning candles, hot pumpkin flesh, and the sweet, damp musk rising from the Haw.

I guess that will do for this month. I'll see you again, it will seem, in a couple of days with another.

Time flies.

What is a Photo Bin?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Steve's Dahlberg

I don’t begrudge my fishing partners’ success when I’m struggling. Poor fisherman that I am, it happens most of the time. And I tend to not fish with folks who'd begrudge me mine in the rare event that I get a leg up on them. But I think that, after my seventh or eighth unanswered pike, Steve was getting a bit pissed.

Due to a snafu in weight planning, we were forced to leave a significant portion (actually, most) of our duffels and gear on the runway at the final outpost airport. We grabbed what was truly important for the day, our rods and some rainwear, and lifted off for the backcountry with assurances that the rest would be retrieved later that evening. Always uncertain about TSA’s disposition towards big, gnarly fishhooks, I'd buried my streamer boxes deep within my checked bag and didn’t relish the idea of throwing everything out on the hardpack to find them. Steve grabbed one of his more accessible boxes and assured me that he had us covered for the day.

After the final hop and a few moments for introductions at the lodge (without our luggage, there was nothing much else to accomplish) we jumped into the Crestliners and went in search of our first spring Northerns. As advertised, Steve had grabbed a well-stocked Bugger Barn and, after he took the first dig into it (selecting a shallow-running chartreuse streamer), I picked out a lengthy red-and-white Dahlberg diver, snapped in onto my wire pike leader and let it fly.

I'd chosen wisely.

The pike were all over the Dahlberg's action, that push of water and three-inch shimmering dive, and red-and-white turned out to be the color of the week. I was whackin' them, straight away. But Steve’s chartreuse just wasn’t cutting it and, after watching me boat a handful of toothy critters, he went back to the box only to find nothing like the fly I was throwing. I’d grabbed an anomaly from that particular box. A one-of-a-kind.

So he shrugged and started trying everything else, but nothing worked like mine. Each successive delve into the barn was accompanied with louder grumbling and an escalation in expletives. Of course, between fish, I offered to switch flies with him, but, ever stubborn, Steve grumpily declined. After a while, it got a bit tense so I returned to my casting and tried not to whoop too loudly as yet another pike crushed the Dalhberg. At the end of the day, the deerhair was in ragged tatters but the pike kept coming after it. Steve’s flies remained in mint condition.

Dinner was quiet that evening, until our abandoned gear finally arrived. Steve tore into it like pike on a red-and-white Dalhberg, digging out his other fly boxes and loading up all of the shallow runners he could find for the next day. And he wouldn’t take back the shredded deerhair that I’d plucked from his kit, the only fly I'd used all day. His pride, I suppose, would not allow it.

I guess that I should have felt bad about the whole thing, kicking his ass like that with his own fly. But, in the end, he fished circles around me - around all of us - for the rest of the week. He dialed it in and brought more to the boat than even the guides thought possible. Red-and-white, chartreuse, blue. He caught pike on them all. He was a monster. I like to think that I motivated him that first day.

As for me, I fished that poor Dahlberg until it was unidentifiable, no more than a limp red-and-white string, finally losing it in the jaws of a beast of a Northern when my leader failed, three days after our arrival and my fateful selection. It broke my heart to see it go. That fly was destined for permanent display when it got back home. Red-and-white remained my colors for the week, but nothing caught fish like that first diver.

And besides, it was Steve’s, making it all that much sweeter.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Indian Summer

The best thing about Autumn is Summer. Indian Summer, that is. Shorts weather in November. Blue skies and brilliant sun riding high over a freshwater flood plane filled to just the right level. All it took was a short drag of the kayaks down a winding wooded trail to a notch in the cattails and we had the day to ourselves.

It doesn't get much better.

Fat bucketmouths, white crappie, redbreasted sunfish, striped raccoon perch. All that in twenty minutes from a postage stamp-sized hole we've dubbed "The Aquarium." An eight-foot-deep divot in the middle of acres of skinny water. A southern swamp blue hole.

So here's big thanks going out to my buddy Chris for joining me on a day, and in a place, just too good to keep to myself. With some luck, this Indian Summer will hang on just a little bit longer and we'll do it again soon.