Monday, December 30, 2013

Wind Chill

A gust rips up the glacial valley, streaking the emerald green water, and somehow wedges itself between layers of Gore-Tex, PrimaLoft, and fleece.  The weather window that looked so promising hours prior is now closing fast -  dark clouds billow up from the lake and race ominously across the sky.  It's one in the afternoon, but the fading light and polarized sunglasses create the impression of dusk.  But there's still time - the lack of feeling in my feet temporarily abates as I trudge along the bank to the next likely run.

I'm standing in uncharted territory - miles upstream from an old bridge - rarely used, largely forgotten.  I've long passed the steelhead version of Hadrian's wall in second century Great Britain - entering a section of river that few venture to.  Tucked away in the rolling hills of northeast Ohio, hidden in a gorge within a valley, lies this de facto steelhead sanctuary.

Snow falls and numbs the noises of the river and woods, broken only by the sharp crack of my line ripping off the water. A swift set drives the hook home into something beneath the wintergreen stained water - I'm unclear, and uncaring if it's slate or steel.  For a fleeting moment nothing moves, but just as hope fades, the line throbs violently back and forth, as a lethargic steelhead gives its first headshake.  After a spirited - but brief - fight, the fish succumbs to the cold and slides gently across the surface of the river and into the net. Its crimson cheeks gasp for breath, and with each convulsion the fish's powerful body flashes chrome.

With one swift kick of its large tail, the fish shoots back into the depth of the run in the fading light. Evening is coming - and with it the decision for any fisherman at the conclusion of a good day, at a time of year when good days are tough to come by.  As winter's grip clenches tighter, the reality is that days like this one are even less likely in the coming months. Caught between fading daylight measured against green water and willing fish - the angler faces a gut-wrenching, but inevitable reality.

Daylight wanes, the snow falls harder, and winter wins.  It's time to go home. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Have Yourself A Carpy Little Christmas

And you guys thought I forgot about those photo contest prizes, psshhtt. As they say, timing is everything in this life, and who doesn't need a couple extra presents under the tree? Just in time for, uh,  steelhead season...

What are you fishing for? Drumroll please;

2nd Runner up, a sweet H2 trucker lid and carp sticker pack goes to E.L.S. for this shot of a guide in action...

1st Runner up and a sweet carp fly selection goes to Jordan C. for a bonefish I wish I'd caught...

And for staying central to the theme, The CARP motherload goes to Todd V

Fellas, if you're out there, shoot me your mailing address so I can get your CARP booty in the mail ASAP.

Dreading that leather-wrapped trash can your mother-in-law picked out for you? Don't forget to purchase your own DW stocking stuffers. Still have CARP lids AND "What are you fishing for?" Koozies available. $20 cash or check will land one of each at your front door! Contact me on Facebook, or shoot me an email if you're interested. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Greener Grass

It's a little chilly in the Midwest right now. At least, that's what I'm hearing from the folks back home. I decided to follow the ducks south - Way south, to a  place where the beer flows like wine, and beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. Down here, the forecast du jour is 80 and sunny, and the chromers prefer the slow strip over the steady swing. You can leave the waders, and the boots, and the hat/gloves/jacket/shirt/shoes/pack/pliers and nippers at home. Just don't forget the shades and the sunscreen. Or the cervezas.

But as the reality of a long, cold winter draws ominously near, my mind can't help but wander to the fleeting opportunities for winter fishing that will see me through to spring.  The best of those opportunities will no doubt require some travel, and given my current circumstance, this week seemed a fine time to do some preliminary research.

I got the opportunity for an early look at the newest release from The Stonefly Press, The 50 Best Tailwaters To Fly Fish, by Terry and Wendy Gunn. Like most anglers, I've thumbed through countless fly fishers guides and "Umpteen Best" books in my day - they're always useful additions to the home library and great trip planning resources but they can be a little dry, to say the least. I can never help but wonder how intimate one author's knowledge of 500 different rivers, creeks and lakes could be. Those that are done well, though, are not only informative but enjoyable reads as well. Greg Thomas' collections of this ilk were always some of my favorites; his prose is colorful and steeped with insight that any hardcore angler would seek, focusing primarily on two critical questions - "Is this place worth my time," and "how's the local nightlife?"

Thankfully, Terry and Wendy didn't just set out to boost their egos or pad their travel resumes with this one.  Instead, they sought out the people with the most intimate knowledge of and unique perspectives on these amazing fisheries and had them write the entries. Among these personalities are a number of my friends, mentors and acquaintances from the industry describing rivers that hold some of my most cherished fishing memories. In the end, it makes for a much more dynamic, personal and entertaining literary resource. Most of these folks owe their livelihoods to the rivers they write about, and their passionate perspectives serve more than to educate - they inspire anglers to experience these places for themselves with honest expectations, which is exactly what a good  "Guide to"should do.

The book is organized by region, rather than arbitrary rankings, which makes sense to me; if you're going to plan a trip to one of these rivers, you might as well cross more than one of them off the list. Anyone who's ever floated a tailwater before can appreciate the importance of knowing release schedules and how they effect different sections of river (particularly on the TVA tailwaters of the Southeast), and most of the authors do a fine job of advising the reader which flows to look for depending on their angling preferences and watercraft options. 

The foreword, penned by the ubiquitous Lefty Kreh, makes some foreboding predictions about the future of tailwaters in this country and the world over, encouraging us to embrace them for better or worse as "the salvation of fly fishing for trout." Frankly, I'm not sure I completely agree with that perspective, but there's no arguing that tailwaters provide exceptional fly fishing in some of the places you would least expect them. Detailed maps, notes, and pictures conspire to tempt the imagination. Even as I look out at the beach before me, the thought of dry-fly caught steelhead on the Deschutes, sippers on the Mo', or big run-up browns on the Madison has me thinking about greener grass on the other side of the fence and hashing out plans for summer 2014....

Get the skinny here or call your local fly shop to get your mitts on this one in time for the Christmas holiday.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Passin' Through

A strong pull with my left hand torques the rod and fills my Skagit head with mechanical energy and fires it towards the far bank.  The pale orange rocket lifts off and carries my hope - in the form of fur, feathers, and flash.  The payload is a pattern refined and improved over-and-over by a tightly-knit group of fishing friends, and now a stand-by taking up a significant amount of real estate in "my" swinging box.

As the engine's momentum flames out, the head unfurls and delivers the fly on target, impacting the water with a dull-thud which carries over the sound of rushing water and wind blowing through the half-full trees.  A short pull-back mend positions the line, and the fly slowly descends, aimed at an boulder-filled shale slot beneath the walking speed, waist-deep water.

Despite the tea stain, the copper flash pulses like a homing beacon to it's living metallic counterpart.  As the fly swims though the dark water, the line slowly tightens, but then releases.  A pull? My fingers white-knuckle the cork, waiting for the fish to come back around to finish the job. Nothing.  I look down at the water and watch a yellow, red, and green mass tumble by.  Probably a fucking leaf.  

Step, cast, swing.  The repetitive motion is mind-numbing.  Every step brings the riffle below nearer - a foot closer to failure, one fruitless piece of river bottom at a time.  Every swing presents the fly in an unsuccessful bid to entice a grab - if the fish are even there. 

Another snap-T launches the line and tip into a backwater at the far end of the tailout.  A quick life of the rod puts a downstream belly in the line, and the fly begins this next pass across the boulder-filled shale trench. Zoned out, the first sharp pull catches me by surprise.  It's gone as quickly as it came. But within seconds, the fish strikes again. This time, it's a deep pull as the steelhead aims to finish the job it started seconds before.

After a spirited fight, carefully crafted graphite and machined aluminum win the day.  After I place her back in the water, the fish kicks her powerful tail, soaking me with water and leaving me sputtering as she shoots back into the run.  Round one goes to the angler - but the fight is far from over.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Changing Colors

The consummate fly writing writer, John Gierach, nailed it - "fisherman know that autumn isn't really a season at all, just a time of year when the seasons change."  After the dog days of August, September marks the transition, and October brings this atmospheric metamorphosis to completion.   

Now, as our hemisphere tilts twenty-three-and-one-half degrees away from the sun, the heat produced by countless photons fades. Enter fall - the beginning of the end.  But even among this certainty there is no rulebook or set quota of days that qualify as autumn.  Instead, we're given Indian summers, or September snow.  Still, darkness comes earlier as daylight inevitably dwindles, and peak colors in the trees drop to the ground and give way to a grey winter's sky.


Despite the inescapable slide, all is not lost.  Under the water a different transformation gains steam - the fish that commandeer my thoughts to the point of obsession are on the way, chasing the promise of procreation from the inland oceans and into the arteries that feed them. For today, the sun and warmth remain; the leaves - just beginning to change to brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red - hold tight to the trees.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

No Love In The Heart of The City

The irony of my pursuit is not lost on me. You might even say that it enhances the experience. I fish for a fish that does not belong here. A non-native, one might even go as far as to call it an invasive. A piscine populous whose inhabitance of this waterway can be attributed entirely to the whimsy of man. I  fancy myself as a whimsical character, though, and despite my principles - "believies" as the great Louis CK might describe them - I am happy to share the water column with them. My K-9 companion,  unencumbered by believies, passes no judgement on the lifeforms that swim beneath my fly line.

The backwardness of the situation is multi-dimensional, extending beyond the idealistic to the cosmetic. Here I stand waist deep in a watershed boasting both a consumption advisory and a "wild and scenic" designation. A mere stones throw away, sheltered by a noisy highway bridge, last night's fire smolders. Alongside the smoke there is a torn and tattered box spring, a set of ruffled blankets and a pile of soiled laundry - the home of the homeless, presumably vacated in the early morning quest for sustenance. The water, stained and brown, masks the poetry of what lies beneath: A quest for sex damned by pollution, siltation, and the perfect presentation of my fly. And the colors... purples and reds, blues and greens, spots and stripes. And silvers.

I fold all of this into the corner of my mind and focus on the currents before me while I wade into position. The low flows of summer have stolen my wading legs, my hip flexors and quadriceps quivering as I make my way to the perfect casting platform. Feet firmly planted, the cast unfolds and the swing develops.

I picture every pulse of the fly as it courses through the seam, my chest and shoulders heavy with anticipation. Another step, another cast, the rhythm sifting the anticipation through bones and nerves until it settles in my right forearm. The sun squirms through the oranges and yellows and reds that remain of the hardwoods, conspiring against me as it finds it's way to the water. Another step, another cast, and I begin to grasp the reality of the circumstance. I'm early to the party. Guess I'd better make a drink.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Even in the mountains we couldn't hide from the deluge. Heavy rains foiled our plans to explore an unnamed blue line rumored to hold trout up to 20 inches, instead pushing us further down the road on a search for dry ground in a temperate rainforest. Mother nature did give us a few windows, brief as they were, to do some roadside exploring.

By now though our base camp was getting a little soggy. A pervasive odor of wet dog permeated all of our possessions, and with a forecast calling for humidity levels upwards of 90% we knew our state of mustiness was unlikely to change in the mountains. At the doorstep of the Smokies we decided to grab a motel room and air things out for a night. I've learned that on these extended road trips, despite well-intentioned efforts to maintain a sense of order inside the vehicle, you will inevitably reach a point at which the entire interior will have to be gutted and repacked from scratch. This is as much a matter of personal hygiene as it is an attempt to maintain a certain level of sanity.

The next morning we rose to a late summer sun fighting through thick haze - the proverbial "smoke" on the smokies. Rechardged and repacked, we headed into the park. We weren't the only ones looking forward to getting back on the water.

Before we could wet a line, we'd have to wade through a cesspool of Made-in-China Americana in the gateway tourist trap of Gatlinburg. Thankfully, once we found ourselves between the stream banks, that scene quickly faded to memory.

As is almost always the case, the further we got from the road, the better the fishing. With dusk settling in and a fish ready to eat behind every boulder, I wondered if perhaps we should return the next morning to test the theory further down the trail. But at the bottom of the mountain there was more exploring to do, and the luxury of returning to the drift boat was too much to resist.

Friday, August 30, 2013


We left early enough that even with an 8 hour drive, catching the evening hatch was still a possibility. The only problem was that we didn't know what the evening hatch was, or where it was happening for the matter. We also didn't know where we were going to be staying, err, parking. Rather than do anything rash, we figured we'd better get the lay of the land from the guys who knew it best. It began with standard shop talk and a request for some information. In fairness, we didn't really give the guys much direction...

"Where were y'all wantin' to fish?"

Mmm, we're not really sure... we have a boat though!

"Well, what were y'all wantin' to fish for?"

Well, we came down here to catch carp, but we hear the trout fishin' is pretty good. And you guys have good smallmouth fishin' too, right? We love smallmouth fishin'.

We danced in circles for a bit before deciding that trout fishing was a good place to start. And then somebody mentioned something about some 30 pound streamer-crushing battleships that were hanging out in the lower river, which got us all screwed up in the head. Not surprisingly we fished with a severe case of ADD on the first day, torn between casting giant streamers or trying to feed dry flies to the oodles of trout that were set up on the surface, gorging on sulphurs. At day's end the results were proof of our lack of direction.

On day two though, with a little help from our friends at the fly shop, we set out with a solid plan: Big flies on sinking lines for big fish. I'd never caught a striper, or even seen one in the water. I had caught their white bass cousins though, and I figured if the aggression/power/size ratio translated.... I shuttered at the mere prospect of such a fish. We angled with focus and patience, re-rowing sections in order to cover both banks, casting to all the likely holding water, working the flies slow and deep and moving a few nice trout. As evening came on though, we'd yet to find any linesiders and with a thunderhead moving in we decided to take a break for dinner and let the storm pass. We hoped that the dusk hour would change our fortune.

The rain came in buckets. We tried to take shelter under an old railroad trestle, which did little to keep us dry. The dogs shot me looks of resentment as the rain spattered against them relentlessly, as if this was my doing. I wanted to tell them that, save for the cold Budweiser in my hand, I wasn't faring much better, but I don't think it would have changed their minds. After 20 minutes or so the heavy stuff had passed, and fishing seemed like a feasible option. We bailed a couple inches of water from the boat and Alex went back to casting as a dense fog settled on the water.

The river was losing it's current as it was swallowed up by the reservoir downstream, and we crawled along at a snails pace. The fog seemed to muffle all the outside noise, and as the day light continued to fade, it captured and reflected the oranges and yellows of the parking lot street lamps that marked the end of our float. It all had an eerie feel to it. I looked left while Alex cast right, looking for some sign of fish but seeing nothing. We weren't waiving the flag yet though. Everyone we'd talked to said if it was going to happen anywhere, it was going to hap-

"Holy shit!"

I snapped my head back to the right just in time to see a massive swirl of silver and iridescent purple all twisted up and thrashing on the surface, the 8-weight rod jolting toward the water. Victor, who'd been sleeping quietly in the back of the boat most of the day, vaulted the rowers bench to get a better view of the action. He knew - we all knew - that this was a big fish. 

When it finally came boat-side, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The twilight seemed to make the faint purples and blues and greens glow against its mirrored silver sides. I broke my daze long enough to net the half of the fish that would fit, and corralled it into the boat. 

It was just one fish, but after a summer of hearing "you should have been here yesterday," it would feel pretty good to feed somebody else that line the next day; The heavy rains persisted throughout the night and into the following morning, and a hundred miles down the road we learned from our new friends that the rivers we'd left behind were running red with Tennessee mud. Heading for high ground seemed like the best thing to do...