Sunday, January 12, 2014

Snapshots of 2013 - Part 3

October 6th
Western Maryland

We dodged a near disaster getting there.  While gunning it up a mountain on the way to our destination, I looked in the mirror to find my Jeep Commander leaving a trail of thick, ominous, white smoke. After stopping at the most podunk garage I've ever seen and getting a shockingly clean bill of vehicular health, we headed to the nearest truck stop and brought enough oil and transmission fluid to drive cross-country five times over.

Karma came through for us in the end.  Brookies were colored up as they prepared for their spawn, and the rainbows and browns of this rugged mountain tailwater were hungry and waiting.  We were happy to oblige.

October 12th
Western New York.

A good friend told me that the Cattaraugus is like a beautiful woman - she only let's you play with her when she wants to.  This year was no exception to that rule.  Bluebird skies, low water, and a beautiful day in October was the only day I had on what has undoubtedly become my favorite piece of water in the Great Lakes.

We fished from dawn to dusk.  Every fish we hooked kicked our ass.

October 26th
Girard, PA.

We'd timed things well enough. High water on Elk brought silver fish along with it.  Late October - one of my favorite times of the year to be fishing - brought peak fall colors dotting almost every tree.   The fishing was good, but the company was even better.  

Every year I'm reminded that my best days on the water are those where I'm fishing with good friends.  2013 was no exception.

 November and December
Steelhead Alley - Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

After a few strong blows, and some significant rain, most color left the woods.  Weather varied between seventy degrees, and Canadian cold fronts that brought frigid lake effect snow.  Another season of guiding carried on strong, and despite challenging conditions, we did pretty damn well.

At the end, the rivers were beautiful wintergreen, fish were in the creeks, and a few times it snowed so hard I could barely see.

December 28th
Conneaut, Ohio.

It wasn't all that long ago when I had to beg my parents to take me fishing - or at least to drive me down to the river for a day.  A decade and change later, roles have reversed. At the end of my guide day, he met me at an exit not far from one of the most productive runs on the creek. On his first pass through the run, his line jumped twice, and then the fish came back for the kill with an arm-wrenching grab.

After one of the best fights I've seen from a fish all year, he landed a beast - and his first steelhead swinging a fly.  I don't know who it meant more to.

Even now, a couple weeks later, that moment remains fresh in my mind - a brief snapshot that was representative of the larger body of time and fishing that made up my year.   I wish I could say that these are the result of finely-tuned skill, or hard-earned only after exhaustive effort - but both couldn't be farther from the truth.  Sure the fish will always be there (to a point), but I can't say the same about the time and the company.  It's just luck - and let's hope there's even more of it this year.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Snapshots of 2013 - Part 2

September 9th
Land of the giants, central Wyoming. 

The sun is starting to slip behind the canyon wall, and the shadows grow with every minute that passes.  I'm walking up the bank, and Ben is walking the railroad tracks above.  He calls down from the tracks -  "there's a ****ing huge one about two feet off that square-looking rock."  First cast? Almost lined her.  Second cast? On the money.

September 10th
"No-name crick," - middle-of-nowhere, Wyoming. 

We set up camp right next to the river.  The area is a holy ground - frequented hundreds of years ago by Indian tribes that are now long gone.  The cliff wall we're sleeping next to remains a reminder, though - decorated with petroglyphs and pictographs commemorating the Indian's own adventures centuries ago.  As we prepared ourselves for another night of sleeping in the dirt, I couldn't help but think that in some small way I knew exactly how they felt.

Our steaks are marinating, so we decide to hike up the creek as the light fades and fish.  In this tiny little finger of water that winds through one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever laid eyes on, I found what probably was my favorite hour of the year.


September 11th-September 13th: not as long as we would have liked. 
Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.

A long winding gravel road shows the way to the place where I spent five summers of my life. A special homecoming to an even more special place - old friends, some new faces, but still the same incredible time.   

From there on, it was largely a blur - but after a careful reconstruction of events, it seems like we managed to catch more than just a buzz.

September 22nd
Girard, PA.

The skies opened and dumped a long, cold, soaking rain.  Rivers peaked, but by Sunday they were still up, but starting to approach fishable levels - bringing the potential and promise of the first decent steelhead fishing opportunity of the year.

To be sure - there were expectations.  But for all present, the fast, furious fishing exceeded our highest hopes and wildest imaginations.  At the end of the day, I opened my recently filled box, only to find it half-empty - I'd never been owned by so many steelhead in one day on the river.

Part 3 - coming soon.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Dead Metaphors: A Look Ahead To 2014

For some time now, I’ve thought about writing a book. During my high school years, when the extent of my writing portfolio consisted of a collection of English essays, I didn’t care what the book would be about. I knew that I wanted to write one, though. Articulating ideas on paper was a task that cost me little effort. There were times that I actually enjoyed it.  I decided to test the water by joining my high school newspaper staff, served as Editor in Chief and even did a brief internship of sorts with The Cleveland Plain Dealer. What I discovered was that, at a time when fewer and fewer of my peers were reading anything, much less their high school newspaper, many of them seemed to enjoy my writing. Some even claimed to look forward to my columns. So I was decided: I would go to college and become a journalist.

But that didn’t happen.

I never forgot about the book though, and I kept writing. During my brief stint in Idaho I got the opportunity to author a short-lived column/fishing report fort The Teton Valley Citizen, which I dubbed, Fish Fodder. I don’t know what that paper’s circulation was, but it made its way around a small community where people actually seemed to care about the local fishing report. Every once in a while someone would bump into me around town and reference something I’d written. I didn’t get paid for the column, but I never thought about that when I was writing it. The fact that someone else was printing my words for others to read was validation. At 22, fresh out of college and without a career “path,” I didn’t necessarily need validation, but it didn’t hurt either.

When 2013 began, I was 26 years old, and I’d added a few new chapters to the would-be narrative. Cancer, marriage, and home-ownership had thickened the plot. This was the year, my bride and I agreed, that we would restore some normalcy to our lives. Maybe ease off the gas a little bit with the whole coming of age process…“take a deep breath,” as they say. I’m not entirely convinced that 'normalcy' has any real meaning any more – if it ever did. But, the steelhead streams of my native northeast Ohio seemed a good place to start looking for it.


It could be a personality flaw, a comment on my generation, or a more pervasive human characteristic: Inevitably, when I stumble onto something good, I soon after start the search for something better. Right about the time I started developing a certain knack for watching a bobber tethered to a spinning rod, I decided that it would be unequivocally more awesome to watch that bobber if it were tethered to a fly rod. And when that bobber started going under fairly consistently, it was brought to my attention that doing away with the bobber altogether would produce infinitely more rewarding results. And when my swung fly began intercepting steelhead with some regularity, I couldn’t help but fill my head with visions of 12-pounders boiling behind skated dry flies (no such luck in this department to date). So it stands to reason, I suppose, that as one season is reaching its zenith, my natural tendency is to look the horizon. With the spring run peaking, I’d already begun the search for suitable quarry in places both near…

And far.

After consecutive summers of cross-country road-trips covering thousands of miles and multiple mountain ranges, in the back of my head a quiet but persistent notion was developing. Perhaps I was missing some opportunities closer to home. Perhaps, if we broadened our horizons and took the trout goggles off we could find fish, landscapes, & experiences to whet our appetites without the 3,000 mile round-trip ticket. But first, I got an unexpected invitation back to Montana to catch a few fish and take some pictures.

When I got back to Cleveland, Alex more or less had the Big Orange saddled up and ready to go. I punched the clock at work a couple times, threw some bags together and by 6:00 AM that Sunday we were barreling north.

I’m an Ohio boy through and through, but I’ve got a not-so-secret crush on the state up north. Simply put, Michigan is an angler’s paradise. Our visit left me with such an impression that I couldn’t wait until I got back to start telling the story; I began punching keys right then and there in the back of the Big O as a constant wave of asphalt-warmed air poured over me. As it turns out, that story should be hitting the shelves any day now in volume 5.2 of The Fly Fish Journal.

In July I got my ego checked by some big wild browns on the West Branch, followed by a cannonball run to Maryland to tune-up for the Southern Comfort Tour. Arriving to the Volunteer State without much of an itinerary, we dabbled: Trout, stripers, carp, life-changing barbecue and a whole lot of whiskey. We also crossed paths with some pretty awesome people and had one helluva good time before we had to head back to Cleveland, where wander withdrawals and the end-of-summer doldrums awaited. 

Having exhausted my PTO reserves, I needed something on the home front to keep my motor running until the steelhead circus made it back to town. I started tying really big flies, conjured as much blind faith as I was capable of and took to casting until my shoulder hurt. Finally seeing that first snaky set of teeth and fins behind one of those flies was reward enough, and it changed the angler in me in a way that I doubt he’ll ever recover from.

So often in life, in an effort to encapsulate our experiences into easily digested doses, we turn to metaphor. We do this quietly and privately in our own minds, publicly in conversation, or in the case of the writer, on paper for others to absorb as it suits them. Metaphor offers a means of distilling a world so vast, so complex, so utterly mystifying, into perspectives that add direction to directionless lives. The circle of life, The river that runs through it, the birds and the bees, etc.  On a day-to-day basis, metaphors allow us to explain ideas or experiences we don’t understand by relating them to those that we do.

In order to have the proper effect though, metaphors must be used in the appropriate context. As cultural contexts shift over time, many commonly used metaphors separate from their original meanings. Literary scholars refer to these figures of speech as “dead metaphors.” We go on using them in everyday conversation, oblivious to their origins or intended meanings.

By October of this year, after another summer punctuated by memorable fishing trips, I was feeling pretty good about the way my narrative was taking shape.  I saw my life as a metaphor for something bigger - not that I necessarily knew what that something was, but that I could find it if I looked hard enough. I even thought about that book from time to time.

And then my wife handed me this:

My brain surged with electricity as a tidal wave of emotion crippled my logic machine. After a frozen moment I began to comprehend. I exclaimed my elation, gave her the biggest hug I could muster, and politely requested that she head upstairs and take another test: it was positive, as was the third. A quiet chaos began brewing inside of me, born of a rare concoction of joy and fear that few life events are capable of inspiring. The insular worldview I’d built my life around to this point had just fallen victim to a car bomb: Whatever metaphor I’d planned on using to tell my story was now dead, its context shattered into cavernous oblivion by a seismic shift. I’d need a whole new set of analogies to distill any sort of perspective from the maze of questions that now entrapped me. I found myself confronting my own mortality, even as I was about to bring new life to the world.

I’ve spent the last few months preparing my psyche for the sea change that lies ahead and revisiting my college-aged quest for enlightenment. I even dug out a few of my old notebooks. Just the other day, I came across some notes from my Philosophy 201 class relating to the science of understanding. I could even read my own handwriting:

“Understanding a phenomenon involves perceiving that phenomenon as a part of a pattern with which we are familiar.”

My notes tell of the different causal patterns through which we might come to understand various phenomena. I had to re-read one description in particular:

“Final Cause: An object or event is understood if we know what its ultimate “end” or “telos” is: that is, to what fully developed form it is heading, or how it is part of a larger whole which is heading toward the same end. (Note: the “end” may just be stability in its current form). This kind of understanding is based on a worldview in which everything has a purpose or end.”

The death of a metaphor is not a sad story. It begets new metaphors with new meanings, even as we struggle to define them. I once fished worms for panfish and now swing flies for steelhead. I’m not sure what the fully developed form of either endeavor is. Perhaps, the end is just stability in it’s current form.

The book will have to wait. Baby Lampros is expected to arrive on June 21, 2014 – the longest day of the year. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m sure it’s a metaphor for something.