Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Pleading our lives
like the woven intricacies
of two streams mixing
through rock and sand and wood
we reach out
ruminating on the iridescence of trout
can’t help but wonder at the mystery
as color’s shifting splash
and subtle shift in wave frequency
change in angles of light
nerve impulse stimulation
electro-chemical twinge light reception
measured in foot candles
in lumens all in
discrete packets, zillons of them
the photon, quantum of the electromagnetic field,
how then does it translate
Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year
Hyvaa joulua Onnellista uutta vuotta
Keep a tight line,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The eddy line where everything either gets swept under a low overhang of cedars or gets slammed by the whole of the main run taunted me from the moment I waded into the pool at 5:00 in the morning. I had cast into that magic suspension of currents, using at least three different strategies, for at least a half hour. Before you start accusing me of buggy whipping the hole, I'll say that at 5:00 in the morning its dark enough to cover most of my miscues (if any), and I gave pause enough for any beast to feel secure enough to venture forth.
The previous night I had held the canoe for a client in the press of the run so that he could skate a fly through the eddy line in hopes of moving a least one good fish. This place always holds good fish. However, it hasn’t produced anything for a number of seasons—not even a “drive-by," "how-are-you," or "No-I’m-not-interested.” I have reasoned over the years that when good spots stop producing, a big fish has taken over chasing out all rivals. This theory has shown some validity when big fish are caught from these previously quiet places. Usually big lake run browns. We worked the fly for a good half hour before we strung up the rod and headed down stream and into the night. So I returned after a few hours sleep to try and reconfirm the theory.
I stood and watched the eddy slowly push the foam up to the top of the eddy and then slowly swing it down along the undercut bank and back down to the end where it met enough of the push from the main current to start it cycling through again. Bemused by the movements of the river, I may have fallen sleep on my feet or somehow had one of those strange experiences where you find yourself loosing any sense of the passage of time. Driving to work comes to mind, where you discover yourself at work, but you’re hard pressed remembering the drive. A hot shower can spend time for me. What I thought was a few minutes turns into a cold shower wake-up.
The bump of a canoe hitting a rock at the top of the run brought me out of my trance. Surprised not by the canoe that was yet to make the turn into the final part of the run before the pool, but the sunlight pouring through an opening in the cedar canopy. What had been a dark, shadow-shrouded hole was now fully illuminated by the low angle of the sun reaching the over the top of the valley. Rocks, woody tangle and the sand spout of a bottom spring shown clearly. The shadow of the cedars had moved out into the run with the edge of the shadow hovering over the sweet spot of the eddy: the current break between the main thrust of water and the cycling turn of the eddy. How had I missed the transition from the nether world of the half-light before dawn to this? The canoe bumped another rock. I glanced up the run. As my head turned, I glimpsed, out of the corner of my vision, a large silver shadow dart down the eddy line, flash brightly through the sunspot on the bottom of the eddy and slide under the undercut and dissolve into the mystery of those velvet thoughts that are marked by the revolving question: Did I really see that? Or was that what I wanted to see?
I am pretty certain I said hello to the canoeists as they slipped by and rounded the next turn. The sound of the rapids rushed through my head for the whole of the trip back to the car. The rest of the day was bemused by the movement of water.
Keep a tight line,
Friday, July 17, 2009
Fly rodding involves a lot of waiting. Waiting for the just the right conditions: light, stillness in the air, humidity, time of day, feeding activity. I am always taken back by what appears to be. A stretch of river absolutely lacking in feeding activity can come alive in the course of a few minutes. Wait a few minutes and things can change. Where you'd think there couldn't be a fish-one appears.
I sit and drink tea while I wait. Will the wind settle down? Ponder the state of man? Did I remember the bug juice? Sip tea. Fight the urge to fish the water. Did I choose the right pattern? Sip tea. Check the sky. Not dark enough, yet. Wonder about whether I locked the car. Too bad, I'm not going back to lock it anyway. Stretch the shoulders. Think about who won the ball game. Check out the fish that rose next to the log upstream. Watch the mink as it snakes its way downstream, ducking under branches, submerging then emerging next to the moss covered rocks. It scrambles up onto the trunk of cedar that has grown curving out from the bank. Shaking its body body in a quick blur, the mink clears the water from its fur and moves on nosing its way through the ferns and sweetgale. Sip tea. The wind is calming. Mental flossing directs your attention to those occurrences that happen all about you. A mosquito flies off so heavy laden with my blood that it nearly drops into the river before it gains enough altitude to fly off--I usually feel their faint sting.
First Brown Drake spinner of the night takes its clumsy flight over head then others appear, followed by more. Its getting darker and more still. Did I mention that I drink tea while I wait?
The first fish takes a spinner as it struggles in the surface film. I watch another fly flutter an inch, writhe, then disappear in a swirling rise that looks like a miniature toilet flush. Other fish join in. Each has its own distinctive take and sound. Splashy and bold, soft with a distinctive sipping sound, gentle dimpled ring. In the course of a few minutes there are more than a dozen fish actively feeding. I've waited long enough.
I've been away from the computer fishing the June hatches and guiding. The keyboard is foreign to the touch and being indoors is starting to feel confining. I gotta get out again.
Keep a tight line,
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
always narrow, weedy and mud slicked
boot polished smooth and sun baked hard
twisting through willows thick,
dip and shinnied around skin barking stones
crossing hot meadows and wind corroded snow
through cedar shade cool
in blackberry tangle grab
low under the alder rain drip
over wire fence cautious straddle
woven roots in the well worn
the direction of the imprints
of familiar souls
the path wear
points the way to where we came and
the other to where we can go
Keep a tight line,
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
the shimmering lace
the blooming transparency and
a tail shadow flies over
illuminated sand and gravel
dissolving in momentary
feathery whorls of
shadow cast one on
one to break as
the surface rolls and pushes,
divides and plunges into
darker quiet water
and in it
its ability to tell lies
and to reveal truth
finds comfort honestly
evades us easily
even though we traffic in
the best of human guile
they elude us
in the reflective glare
we are mere imitations
water ghosts locked up in
windowless rooms of our own reflection
bound to strong currents
Keep a tight line,
Monday, May 4, 2009
Opening weekend and Hendrickson hatches have always had a special place in fishing the seasons of the trout calendar. Everything about Hendricksons speaks to fly rodding for trout or at least what I envision as fly rodding for trout. Trout will feed activity on all stages of the insect's life cycle. I have even caught fish using a size 22 egg sack pattern--a tiny ball of yellow dubbing! Some of my fondest memories of opening weekend have been because of these storied of mayflies.
This past weekend, with the wind howling down the river, E. subvaria (old school latin name) came off at about two in the afternoon despite the wind. Many of the duns skated on the surface like iceboats racing with the wind until they fluttered off lost in the gusts. The number of insects coming off would have made for a perfect hatch by fly fishing standards enough to keep the trout looking up but not too many to make imitation an impossible feat. Mysteries of the behavior trout won out again. With abundance of available fodder and no fish feeding--not on the bottom either, I could see them still and lock jawed--the hatch continued for an hour while I looked on. Some times it is better this way. Waiting in humble silence, contemplating in the moment, knowing full well that fortune is a harlot.... It was a beautiful day filled with blue sky and clouds and small flights of ducks and the occasional flash of a spooked fish or those that drove by to have a look. Most of it familiar yet it still refreshes the memory.
After the hatch let up and with just a few bugs popped off the river, I moved down stream to a run that is some times the haunt of other fly fishers. Some that I have known for years. I am of that age that I can say that and envision a good hand full of people. A few of whom have passed away. Their presence is still sensed there and at times I can hear them as they back cast or wade slowly to the next position closer to the feeding fish. The local cemetery is just a hundred yards away so I am sure there may be a few haunting this run even as you read this.
The remains of an old bridge still stands on either side of the run as I looked up river. As the river glided around the bend and narrowed in front of me I thought I could hear voices up stream. It happens to me a lot lately. Running water speaks its language, and I forget where I am and suddenly I am hearing conversations that took place years ago, but only in bits and pieces. I even mistake them for voices that I believe are actually speaking in the here and now but are masked from recognizing because the rush of water over rock confuses my hearing...or the voice gets muffled in a gust of wind.
There was a truck parked in the space where we all have parked our vehicles at this place. I stood looking up stream for awhile listening to the bits and piece of the conversations trying to recognize the voices. Then I heard it. The sound of a wading staff hitting a rock. Faintly at first then steady like an angler moving back down stream, wading through the run not fishing. The figure appeared at the top of the run, and I took him for the driver of the truck. I hoped that I would recognize him. He appeared ghost like in the shadows. "Well, it's all over they've come and gone. You 'miles well wait until dusk and see if there's a spinner fall," the shadow spoke in a loud and familiar voice. "Did you come with some one or are you by yourself?"
He stepped into the yellowing light of the afternoon sun and smiled. It was Dave, the fly tier, an old fishing friend. He said that it was his first time out, "Would you believe it?" He shook my hand with a familiar wry smile on his face and climbed the bank.
"I do," I said. "You're retired and don't have to pound the water like the rest of us on the weekend's"
"I gotta go to church. Michelle said I had to get out of the house for awhile," he added putting his rod down next to the truck. Dave is serious about his fly fishing and his Catholicism. "I've been retired nine years now and there isn't a retired person that I've met that doesn't pray." He paused and faced the river holding his hands above his head in praise, "Thanking God, for the time to do stuff like this. Opening weekend, for a few hours at least. I can go anytime, you know, but opening day..."
"Maybe there will be spinner fall."
"If the hatch has been on for a few days, it's possible and if the wind comes down. I gotta go," he replied
We chatted for a few more minutes about what we saw on the river and if we had seen or heard from any river people we knew. I didn't tell him about the voices I been hearing lately.
As he drove off, I thought about the possibility of fishing the spinner fall. I had heard voices in the water, then Dave appears. There are all sorts of emergences on the river. I let the spinner fall and fishing wait for another time, another opening day.
Keep tight line,
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
walking the river on the edge
of someone else’s trout boundary
temptation gets the better
so I cross barbed wire
pulled tight by hoist and muscle
ignoring the sign
makes the bending wire hard
complicated by fly rod
the hole widening in a fence line
becomes a wrestling of two egos:
those that build
those that want through
if the bending isn’t done right,
standing too soon...
a hand slips...
a tangled rod tip ...
a rusted point could catch your waders
with righteous indifference
could make it nasty later
but the wound
wouldn’t be much
to the thing that drives
the crossing of fence lines
laying on to the pulse of the forbidden
the effort and the risk of it
when someone slips through strands in a fence
then looking back over
where you’ve been
that is there
heart throb that
hums when the wind whispers through
and ripples the surface
of the transparent mysteries
that tempts us
that speaks through it all
below the surface
finning through the lacy eddies
that hug and caress river rock
ambivalent to the trespasser’s boot
With the opener (just around the corner), I hope this greets you well. I pulled this out of an old folder. It was from a time when my enthusiasm for the "quiet sport" would sometimes blunt my ethical governor. Today, I imagine the ghost of my former self beckoning me on from the other side of the wire. We all confront the sign sometime.
I hope you all encounter the tight lines we all dream on...
Keep a tight line,
Thursday, March 26, 2009
become well marked by
the river of boot soles that
have for the seasons marched
with collective calling
then the path submits to
muscular wrestlings of river
water and rock and trees
and the complexities that
mix and boil the possibilities
and the uncertainty of flux
a good crossing makes suckers of us all
a slow submersion can quickly disappear
in the midstream weight and
toe tracing boulders
unsettled footing erodes the sandy gravel
roils out from under felts and studs
and deepening press toward down river
baptism and transformation
mixed and bound
to river music
until the next fishable run
there are those where
“returning were as tedious as go o’er”
that squeeze time out
into those few moments when
we can embrace solitude by
making the other side
of mayfly emergence and
ants on the wing
in the small places
nothing is new
otters chew brook trout heads
steelhead crash the alders
but for the passage
of few whorling eddies
when we cross over
to something or from something
Keep a tight line,
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
finding the right drift in new water
tests one’s curiosity in the unknown
riffles and back eddies
fishing out what we want most
adjusting the perception of the mix
to trace the line just so the drift
might lure out the lie of those
who need convincing most
each step up against the current’s press
through rock and gravel, sand and mire
adjusting the cast to tumble down, mend line
to slow it against the arguments in surface tension
a repetitive exercise in patience
persisting in a lie, to be fooled
by the anticipation that something
in fortune might change
to see a slight pause or envision
through broken sparkle
shadowy movement toward the fly and
the sudden surge of line and rod
play upon the presentation
arch and pull
fish or hooked to the earth
the fish or the the fisherman
taken in by the lie
that a fly works as truth
that a fly is the truth and will be taken as such
for some, one swing through the run is enough
for others, getting the right drift is a matter of casting
over and over, until it is the truth
Keep a tight line,
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
“With more and more folks looking for the same thing, how we approach the water, as well as the attitude we bring to it, will go a long way in defining the quality of the outing, the height of its enjoyment, and the depth of its significance.”
Jerry Kustich—At the River’s Edge
The fly angling world has become more crowded. More people are fly-fishing in a variety of waters. More information about where to fish and how to fish is shared freely. Because of the way we share information, the community of fly fishers has the potential of being brought closer together. In all things on and off the water we should learn to share our understanding, the resources, and most importantly ourselves. However, it seems that the very thing that could bring us together has distanced us. The phrase used in a lot of the literature I read as I grew up in the sport, “the fraternity of fly fishers,” seems to be disappearing.
Car rides to the river have their own mental rituals for me. I always run through the mental checklist: gear, where to fish, what flies I’ll use. The anticipation can brew a strange mixture of expectation of fish rising and the steady and strong pull of a good fish. After about ten minutes, I can catch a half dozen good fantasy fish in those special places with that certain fly all placed by perfect casts in the slow motion only my imagination can supply. Turning off the highway onto the dirt road to the river I get pretty wound up, and an odd feeling of entitlement starts to grow within me.
I don’t think anyone starts a trip to the river with the idea of getting into any conflicts. To assume that all fly anglers are righteous people is naive. If we believe, only a few muddy the waters for the rest of us, we are being equally naive. The growing lack of civility in the world and the conflicts it breeds is also evident in our sport. It certainly isn’t just the actions of “those other guys.” The rest of us have to take responsibility for a growing lack of civility that has emerged (pardon the pun) on our waters.
The parking lot was empty when I arrived. Late July fishing on this river is mostly an evening affair. I wanted to get to a series of turns in the river that started at a wide sandy spot and to fish down through the turns then walk back to the car after dark. The high banks all through this stretch of the river valley grow stands of red pine. The under story near the river is punctuated with cedars and alders, willow and sweet gale, and ferns. The turns in the river cut deep bank holes that are littered with sunken logs and rock. The long shadows of the setting sun, the sounds of the river settling into dusk, the smells, of humid earth peppered with sweet pine resin, invigorated the car ride’s mixture of anticipation, expectation and daydream.
Even though it is thought of as the quiet sport, there are a few recognizable sounds in fly-fishing. The sound that a rod makes as it cuts the air can carry a good distance in the right conditions. Hearing it halfway to the river was the most unwelcome sound. I was angry.
I’ll call it anger because I am not sure what else to call it. I know this moment well because over the years as a fishing guide I’ve witnessed it in the actions of other fishers and myself. A frustrated boot kick in the shallows of a back eddy, a rock thrown into a pool of holding steelhead, a canoe purposely paddled over a fly line are just outward manifestations of strong feelings. I know we all have been to this place where our behavior should take a right turn, but it doesn’t.
I was frustrated and disappointed as I stood watching what turned out to be a father and son fishing through the spot that I had already mentally claimed during my drive to the river. Father and son were enjoying their moment on the water, catching and releasing trout. The sight of it made me upset. How different would it have been had I arrived fifteen minutes later and they were out of sight? No trace of their being in the same stretch of river but a few current eroded wader prints.
The passion that we bring to our sport is often our undoing. We often fish by ourselves to be in those places where our solitude and the flow of the river can renew us. I wanted the chance to catch a “mermaid” as the poet of Frenchmen’s Pond once said. While I watched the father and son disappear around the bend of the river, I came to realize that it is not just about the desire to fish. It is about the disappointment when the fantasy-fishing daydream doesn’t match reality. This sets us up for conflict.
In my mind I owned that stretch of the river. Finding myself in an odd feeling of territorial encroachment, I decided to wait silently and quiet myself. I sat on the high bank looking down on the currents and “read” the water, to rest it, to watch and listen as the Bible instructs us to. Tom McGuane in his book, The Longest Silence, notes “...the best angling is always a respite from burden.” Why had I come out to the river in the first place? Over the years of fishing and guiding fly fishers, I have personally gotten away from the pursuit of catching every fish in the river and the pursuit of the monster trout. McGuane also points out that fishing is a source for renewal. When we go to the water, we should, of those uglier motives we carry around in the world, “Leave as much behind as possible... if we expect to be restored in the eyes of God, fish, and the river, which reward you with hollow waste if you don’t behave.”
We are visitors regardless of the notions of ownership that we bring to the water and in that sense our best behavior is expected. Expected not because it is written in the fish and game laws but because it rises above law and helps us gain a deeper insight into why we fish.
Fly-fishing has evolved through the hard work of some its more ardent proponents. As a whole fly anglers have grown up. Progressing beyond the “put and take” ethic of perhaps a generation or so before, our collective understanding of the sport has been made richer because we have recognized the contributions of those who came before us and learned from them.
A generation ago fly anglers were primarily brought to the sport by mentors--a family member or friend who showed the way. Much of my early development as a fly fisher seemed mysterious. A fisher’s mentor took the time to demystify fly fishing and to pass on much more than “how to” information. The traditions of the sport and the rivers we fished were incorporated along with casting and presentation instruction and yet an understanding of how to conduct oneself on the stream was never left out.
We come to the sport differently today. Fishing clinics on DVD, the local fly shop, and a whole host of regional and local publications have revolutionized the way a whole new generation of anglers discover fly fishing. We are knowledgeable and skilled fly anglers today. The Internet has helped in ways that my mentors in the sport could never understand. Message boards and blogs, e-mail and web sites, have elevated the amount of information available to fly fishers. As a fishing partner of mine said, “You can’t be too ignorant about how to catch trout with a fly these days.” There are very few secrets and that includes where to fish. GPS devices and guidebooks have all helped pull back the curtain on the secret locations. In the rush to get the latest new technique, hot fly (don’t forget to trademark them), must fish locales, and the absolutely “cannot do without” new product, we’ve forgotten to pass along how to conduct ourselves on the water. Humanity and civility can’t be taught on a DVD or weekend class. It is the relationship with the rivers and the people who fish them that teach us over time. How to conduct ourselves, wisdom and civility take time.
Sometimes it’s better to sit and watch the river move on, let the water rest and see if something will happen. The father and son were around the turn and the smaller fish in the run had started to work again. A few of the larger fish showed themselves chasing smaller fish in the shallows on the far side of the river under the overhang of an ancient cedar.
I had taken my time to string my rod and tie on a leader and fly. I like fishing small streamers just under the surface. The low light of dusk is perfect for it. Easing into the river and slowly moving into a good casting position, I stripped enough line to get the streamer to swing under the cedar. One false cast down stream to check the distance ... a stick snapping in the bank down stream and noisy entry into the river... a pile cast short of the cedar and a large trout racing through the sand shallows and into the deep snag filled hole up stream.
The son, from the father and son pair, had crossed over the hog’s back on the opposite side of the river, proceeded down the path and marched into the river. He crossed the river and took up a position twenty-five yards downstream from me. While I watched with mild interest, the boy started fishing up stream toward me trying very hard not to make eye contact. I got the impression that he really didn’t believe I was standing up stream. When his cast got within range of the end of my drift, I reeled up and backed out of the stream. I noticed his father watching his son from the top of the path on the hog’s back. I am not sure if I was angry or just deeply disappointed.
Rules of conduct don’t always apply in every situation. The unique nature of each fishery sometimes helps to develop local etiquette. The Atlantic Salmon Fisheries of the world are notable for their regulations and their own unique fishing protocols. Our local rivers often develop their own unique protocols as well. In Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior, the rivers run a short distance up stream from the lake before encountering an impassable falls. Migratory trout and salmon running into those streams stack up in a small number of holes and holding spots. Over the years anglers there have developed an understanding that they fish very close together, helping each other to net fish and reeling up and getting out of the way of an angler moving down stream to play a trout or salmon. These are understandings we come to as a community.
Distances that on other streams would definitely result in harsh words are not a problem for these North Shore anglers. However, miles south of the North Shore of Lake Superior, on the Bois Brule River in Wisconsin, distances anglers give each other are considerable by comparison. How much space we’d prefer giving each other on the water is relative to the situation and the region. One fisher’s too close could be close enough but not a problem for another. Damian Wilmot, a guide on the Brule and a good friend and fishing partner said it best, “If you think you’re getting too close you probably are.” We can’t know every nuance of etiquette for every new stream we encounter. We can however try to discover them through the same resources that anglers today use to become more skilled and more knowledgeable about the fisheries we visit. We could try a novel approach and talk to each other.
I watched the father and son pull a canoe out of the brush. They both ignored me as they paddled past. I tried to make the best of the situation by waving. No response. The hull of the canoe and the paddle stroke of the father in the stern were the only visible movement. Making the turn, the canoe left only a thin visible wake as it too faded into the darkening backdrop. As the canoe disappeared it came to me that I had encroached on the water they had left. Although no heated verbal exchanges took place, being ignored was a bitter pill.
In a phone conversation with a good fishing friend the other day I heard a similar tale. This time the conflict was between two old friends. My friend on the other end of the phone drove to a series of holes in an S-turn of the river. The familiar truck in the parking lot indicated that his old friend was there already. Instead of moving on, he pulled in thinking friends share.
It is a big place with enough space for two even three anglers to fish sometimes out of sight of one another. My friend was surprised when his old friend shouted his disapproval instead of a greeting—apparently feeling he should have the place to himself. The story of their verbal exchange made me wonder about where the fraternity of fly fisherman had gone.
After further thought I realized it was still there, fly fishers have to keep encouraging it. Relationships need to be maintained. We can take for granted almost anything that gets too familiar. I have to believe that when we are agreeable and show respect and try to be inclusive we are maintaining the relationship we all have as the result of being involved with the sport. Regardless of what level of development we may find ourselves, we should always remember to share.
Fishing the Buffalo Meadows section of the Firehole in the late 70s, I felt overwhelmed by what I encountered on the water. Elk and buffalo grazing directly across the river and mountains in the background not to mention the phenomenal caddis hatches that occurred every evening the week that I was there. I struggled the first day. Wading, reading the water, casting in the wind, it all took getting used to. Though I tied my own caddis patterns, none that I thought would work actually did. I didn’t want to bother anybody or embarrass myself by exposing my ignorance. These were obvious master anglers who didn’t need to be disturbed by the likes of me. I finally mustered up and walked to the closest angler while he sat on the bank tying on another fly. As I approached he looked up and smiled and asked how I was doing.
“Not good,” I replied.
“Really?” the question had a little disbelief in it. He must of sensed my lack of self-confidence and offered to show me what he was using. It was about a size 16, dark-brown elk hair caddis. The first I had ever seen. He demonstrated how to fish it in the complex currents using a series of up stream mends. When the fly rode high in the water, the rainbows took it greedily. He gave me a few samples, and I went back to the river and caught fish. My first trip west was made memorable by the sharing of a little time, a little knowledge and a few flies.
I haven’t lived up to that example of generosity and kindness very well. I will try to honor all acts of kindness I have received from other anglers. These simple offerings have stayed with me and have remained woven among my life experiences. They have contributed to my development as a fly angler and in retrospect made me a better person. I hope I can be worthy of all those unselfish attempts to give back to the sport that has given me so much.
If you have comments for me please feel free to post them.
Keep a tight line,
I come to this as a frustrated free lance. At a recent writer's workshop the discussion turned to who is the audience that we are writing for, the publisher as the gate keeper to a larger audience or kindred spirits looking to find a different audience or better yet a more flexible and fluid audience. On the trip back home it occurred to me that I had a number of nonfiction and fiction pieces that haven't been read by anyone but the editors that rejected them. Some of those pieces were fed to me by the editors themselves only to be rejected after many hours of work.
Keep a tight line,
My idea is to offer some of my rejected and new work from time to time as a way of casting them out there on the river to see if they can catch a reader or two. So I take this plunge into the river of online publication without any idea where it might lead. To be swept up by the currents' push and delivered down stream somewhere has an appeal that waiting for what the mail brings will never have. If you see me float by, could you give me a hand and pull me into quiet water and let me know what you think?
Keep a tight line,