Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Photo Bin - November 2016

This month's photo bin is a bit of a departure, although, given the slippery nature of these things, it's difficult to define exactly what it's departing from. Doesn’t matter. Truth is, a significant piece of my past came to an end last month and I’m feeling a bit melancholy about it. The bin seems as good a place as any to pout.

To a large degree, I grew up in the place. Not your typical incubator, a bowling alley, but it was mine from the age of eleven. I spent my happy time there, every Saturday morning, in junior bowling league. We learned to compete. We learned to be good teammates. We learned that kicking the ball return was bad form. We learned to be ready when it was our turn. We learned that throwing harder wasn’t necessarily better. We learned to make adjustments in increments - five boards on the approach, three at the arrows – both a lesson in geometry and a life strategy, though on occasion you had to scrap it all and let it rip from deep inside. We learned to cope with winning and to handle losing, perhaps our most important lessons.

When I could drive, I began to bowl in the adult leagues and I learned the same lessons all over again, but in different contexts. I scrubbed my first fender in the underground parking lot. I went to the university across the street while participating in leagues three nights a week and working three others, tucked behind the pinsetters, fixing ball returns, clearing 180s and deck jams, re-spotting foul-fallen pins and pretending to study my calculus in between calls.

I got my only A, those first three disastrous semesters, in a PE bowling class. I called the instructor's bluff on the first day and picked off, cleanly, a ten pin, then a seven, and upon re-rack buried a strike. He penciled the grade in and that was that; the highlight of my academic career.

I left the university, for a while, but not the lanes. I met my first serious girlfriend there. I met my first wife. My boys slept soundly in their portable bassinettes to the lullabies of crashing pins and ran the concourse as soon as they were mobile. We just let them go, knowing that they were safe and that growing up there was good.

I threw a 300, August 10th, 1987 (it says so on my ring), back when a 300 meant something. Only the second in the house’s then thirty-year history. Back before the days of perfect urethane surfaces, blocked oil patterns, and space age bowling balls. Old school lacquered wooden lanes and beastly Brunswick machines built by the Otis Elevator Company. Back when anyone over the age of five put three fingers in the ball. I threw it on lanes 11 and 12, a pair that I’d never really cared for. To this day, nearly thirty years later, I can account for every moment from the eighth strike on.

The place was my haven for thirty years, but life changes and I let it slip away for other things. In truth, lots from that time has slipped away, I’m afraid. But I’ve always known it was there. Now it’s not.

Progress is a beast that preys on the old and the weak. An ancient alley, wood and old iron, ultimately gives way to our society’s insatiable need to consume. There’ll soon be a new, sterile Target for the college kids to buy their “stuff” in place of that touchstone for a number of generations.

The doors closed on November 28th. I went back one last time, the day before. Business had ceased, but the place was filled with folks, like me, coming back to remember. Most milled around the approaches, the lanes, the concourse. I snuck into the back, behind the machines, and sat for a while…

…feeling right at home at Western Lanes, once again.

Thanks, Mary, for this shot.

What is a Photo Bin?

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Photo Bin - September 2016

The Photo Bin series hit the jackpot in September. Not from a quality perspective, mind you, but from a quantity perspective as the camera got out a lot as I took on the Orvis 20 Days in September challenge. To date, I've shared one shot an outing, as you've seen in my previous quartet of posts, but there were a fair amount of interesting images beyond that. Here then, are a few.

Above, an abstract of the first signs of Fall, taken as I bushwhacked along the western edge of our neighborhood pond.

"I feel so relaxed here." - Marc Payne

Sometimes you just have to set up a slow drift, sit on a rock, and close your eyes to soak it all in. Then hope that the fish don't interrupt you. Dodging hurricanes, I escaped for a perfect visit to western NC waters, the Davidson River, with a good friend. Marc's and my fishing habits are diametrically opposed. I am a hit and run fisherman, constantly moving up/downstream. Marc can sit over a run for hours, patient drift after patient drift. He's able to narrow his focus, push everything out of his brain but the moment, and be perfectly content within it. I admire that in him.

But I'm still on the move.

A look down the power lines. An old fishing haunt I hadn't visited in years. A skunk. Now I remember why it's been years.

September wasn't all fishing. Soccer season was in full swing, though "full swing" is a relative term, especially considering 8:00am games. Too early for old men to be playing kid's games.

And after such weekends, everything needs to dry out. Me included.

A bit more abstract. I've enjoyed capturing reflections while on the water. Odd, centerline compositions, but fun. Here, crooked shapes found while kayaking in local backwater floodplains.

I finished the 20 Days challenge, quite literally, at the end of the road. Old highway 64 disappeared into Lake Jordan Reservoir some fifty years ago...

...but still exists if you know where to look. Two lanes of blacktop fading into the woods, but kept alive by the boots of fishermen

Despite the dire warning (and the possibility of a crap soundtrack), I found the bass near Chicken Bridge both numerous and willing, though a bit on the small side. Let that be a lesson to you, hip-hoppers.

What, exactly, that lesson might be I'll leave to you to decide.

So September turned into a fun month with the camera, from foggy sunrise to brilliant sunsets. Just right for the Photo Bin. Hope you enjoyed the images.

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Orvis 20 Days in September: 16-20

Day 16 of 20 Days in September. Took a stroll through The Rock Garden, a few miles downstream of my usual haunts. The fishing's usually suspect but it's a rock-hopping paradise. A big kid's playground. Sometimes you go just because it's fun.

On the homestretch for my twenty days. Hoped to add a little saltwater action to the mix during this final run but the previous week's weather stirred things up pretty badly down east. The prime flood tides were thoroughly negated by the dirty conditions so we pushed our plans into this second week of October. Right into hurricane Matthew. We can't catch a break.

So I kept it close to home and mixed it up a bit more.

Day 17 of 20 Days in September. We danced around one another for more than an hour; he understandably uncertain about me and I unwilling to scare away the first fishing companion I've had in a couple of weeks. Here he poses on the Saxapahaw spillway.

Day 18 of 20 Days in September. Was supposed to be floating a downeast flood tide today, looking for tailers, but the conditions said otherwise. So, instead, stayed close to home and dragged the kayak back to those Lake Jordan flood plains. Fascinating waterscape.

Day 19 of 20 Days in September. I mailed one in today. Simply wandered down the hill to the neighborhood pond for an hour and pitched poppers to bluegill. Didn't stress over an image. Didn't chase the hawg in the back corner. Every day out doesn't have to be epic. A lesson worth learning.

Day 20 of 20 Days in September. Seems appropriate to finish the challenge down old Hwy 64, two lanes of ancient blacktop that disappeared into the waters in the late 60s as the reservoir filled. That part of roadway that held higher ground is still quietly melting into the surrounding woods after fifty years. Quite literally, it's the end of the road for this 20 Days in September.

Here's a huge thanks to Orvis for putting on this 20 day event. It put me back on local waters that I haven't fished in years and pushed me to places I've been eyeing forever. It challenged me to look for opportunities as I traveled with family. It stretched my fishing. It stretched my photography. It, simply put, was a blast. Hope it was for you too, whether you got your 20 in or not.

Couldn't end it any better than that.

Note: To see all of these 20 Days posts, look here. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Orvis 20 Days in September: 11-15

Day 11 of 20 Days in September. After a week on the road it felt good to be wading home waters once again. Bushwhacked a half-mile down an overgrown power easement, followed bouncing whitetails along faint, winding deer paths, to a section of river I've not fished in a couple of years, only to remember WHY once I got there. Skunk #3. Still pretty, though.
The problem with fishing almost daily at home is that you need to figure out a way to mix it up. It would be easy to wander down the hill every day for a few casts, but what's the fun in that day in and day out? To make this interesting I needed to find new waters, return to old waters unfished in ages, or do things just a bit on the odd side for variety. Thats how I'd get through the second half of the challenge. Doing things differently. So I did.

Days 12 and 13 of 20 Days in September. Clear skies and a full harvest moon could mean only one thing. Night bassin' on the pond. I slipped in the kayak, pitched poppers at the edges, and listened in the dark for the strikes. Best of all, since I fished on each side of the midnight hour, I got two days toward my twenty. Sweet!

Day 14 of 20 Days in September. Caught the last rays (and a few small bass) upriver at Chicken Bridge. The way it stormed all day, I would never have guessed that I'd be on the water this evening in such beautiful conditions. Persevere.

Day 15 of 20 Days in September. Can't get to twenty if you won't fish in the rain. Dodged intermittent showers all afternoon on the Rocky River. Nothing beats a good rain shell.

Heading into the homestretch...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Orvis 20 Days in September: 6-10

Day 6 of 20 Days in September. Paint Creek, WV. I've driven along this stretch of water a hundred times over the past couple of decades, cruising along I-77 to/from Chicago and Indiana. Daydreamed about it at 70mph. The 20 Day challenge finally made me stop. Having no clue what might be in it (if anything) I went with my if-something's-there-it'll-eat-this pattern, a #8 olive woolly bugger with red gill wraps, and, as the 18-wheelers whizzed by overhead, picked up a red-eyed bass on my third swing. Mission accomplished.

I feared that this week would be my real challenge, traveling north for a family visit and Mary's high school reunion. Packed my Orvis Safe Passage Carry It All with a 4, a 6, and a 7wt and hoped for the best. As it turned out, I need not have worried. I managed to sneak in some water on five of the six days we were on the road, including a couple of unique places.


Day 9 of 20 Days in September. Can't let non-fishing travel get in the way of a good challenge. Borrowed a bike and cruised the Lake Michigan waterfront in search of feeding carp, freshwater drum, and smallies. The Windy City skyline is quite the fly fishing backdrop, don't you think? My thanks to Jon at Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters for the great intel.

Day 8 of 20 Days in September. Four days, four states. NC, WV, IL, IN. Checked in on sister-in-law Margie's backyard pond and found that 2014's stocking has been wildly successful. A quick circuit picked up four 14-18 inch bucketmouths who had never seen a fly before. Fun stuff!

Day 9 of 20 Days in September. In between t-showers, reunion social commitments, and the Manchester Derby, I introduced a few more of Margie's fish to the ways of the popper. I could get used to having a bass pond ten steps out the back door.

Day 10 of 20 Days in September. Last day on the backyard bass pond. Halfway there.

So I came home with ten outings under my belt. Much better positioned than I'd imagined. Maybe I could do this!

Mother Nature, however, decided she'd not make it easy...

Monday, October 3, 2016

Orvis 20 Days in September: 1-5

Day 1 of 20 Days in September. Nothing epic. Just a saunter down to the pond. Low hanging fruit. But then, that's what this is all about, isn't it? A chance to rediscover those neglected local fisheries. Yeah. I'm in.

Orvis called me out. Called us all out. Could we manage to go fishing twenty days in the month of September? With travel commitments and the arrival of hurricane season and, let's face it, life in its infinite uncertainty, could I get on the water two out of every three days for a month? That's what Orvis suggested in its 20 Days in September challenge. Fish, take a picture, and share on Orvis's Facebook page.

What the heck. Figured I'd give it a try.

So for the next few days I'll share my efforts here. Parcel them out a handful at a time and include the text that accompanied them on my posts. I hope you enjoy them.

Day 2 of 20 Days in September. Tucked underneath some stream-side cover. Sneaking in a birthday tradition, morning's first light on the Haw, before Hermine arrives in earnest and blows this place out.

Day 3 of 20 Days in September. Put a few hours between me and Hermine and hit the Davidson with my good buddy Marc Payne. Perfect day for western NC waters.

Day 4 of 20 Days in September. A gift. Hermine wobbled east and spared the Haw and its watershed, giving me an afternoon on my home waters that I didn't expect for a while.

Day 5 of 20 Days in September. Spurred by this challenge, I hit some Lake Jordan floodplains that I've been eyeing for years. Sorry I waited so long. Shadows are as close to a selfie as I try to get.

A quarter-way there. It's a start. But with family travel on the horizon, things get more interesting...