Monday, November 19, 2007

The Times They are a Changing

At the risk of confrontation on many fronts I pursue a final outing that may lend some perspective to a troubled year. If you fish, I need not explain. With several incredible fall trips under my belt I thought I’d be content to hang it up. I underestimated my self control, which when it comes the potential for a road trip, I often do. This time however, there’s more than just fishing that’s driving me. Not that I wouldn’t mind one last tug, but as the years pass it’s not that simple any more.

For starters that bad taste left in my mouth from my final day of steelheading unfortunately lingers. Its semi ludicrous this offensive gesture would blemish all that transpired on that trip. Had it not been a last day my impressions may have been more tempered. Regrettably such is not the case.

A growing sense of urgency as another year comes to an end also adds to my mood. Not so much related to my advancing age, but driven from an apprehension for the future of our resources. One would have to be appreciably detached to not have concerns for the condition of our western waters; declining wild salmon and steelhead stocks, river closures, relentless drought, climate change, increasing water demands, fires, and invasive species. As of late the list deplorably is growing. After one of the most environmentally taxing years in memory, for the first time I seriously contemplate their future.

In the last two months I’ve flown across the entire country. Much of it at that vantage point resembles an old ball mitt. You may have come across such a relic among your dad’s or grandfathers possessions. One from the 40’s or 50’s in particular; dried, cracked, and dull. I don’t ever recall the landscape brown nor looking so beat down and trodden.

At the height of the season Yellowstone Park initiated a voluntary closure of its waters from noon until 6. Summers persistent heat led to these restrictions becoming mandatory. The Madison below Quake Lake incurred critical water temperatures of 70. At about this same time I was getting my head handed to me on the Henry’s Fork. As summers heat lingered these waters to were faced with similar conditions. On a recent trip through the Bitterroot and Salmon River Valley I was awed by the number of tributaries that ran dry. Not to mention the fires that pilfered the countryside for the second consecutive year.

In the west there’s a perceptions of abundance when it comes to natural resources. Trout waters included. Anglers, all methods, are not immune from this notion. As a whole there seems to be little concern nor knowledge of the knifes edge we walk. Life distractions that bear little significance on our true well being have led to a budding level of indifference and disconnect. I find this trend disturbing given our state of affairs.

Heading out of the river corridor where I spent my final day in BC I wondered if during my lifetime these wild steelhead would face a similar fate as their relatives in the lower 48. Their declining numbers leave little room for optimism. Exiting this wild river corridor I reflected on this and the future of those waters nearer to home. On the ride home as the rains continued I turned on the radio. Although the program was barely audible, the distraction it provided was an improvement over the disheartening realities that ran through my head.

As days and weekends pass my window of opportunity to head north is slipping away. Although, should my year end without another tug I know there will be occasions next year, or will there. For the first time there’s an awareness that our time on the water is in jeopardy. Given the start to winter in much of the west my anxieties continue to be reinforced. For your consideration, praying for snow is no longer an option.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Two Fingered Salute

Previously I composed a Blog focused on the lack of etiquette that's seems to be permeating our waters. Recently while steelhead fishing in British Columbia I had a run in with angler that underlines my position. This ill-mannered flyfisher was fortunate that I was a foot and a visitor to boot. Given recent disgruntlements between non-residents and locals on Canadian steelhead rivers his day could have ended changing a tire or two. Unfortunately in some instances that and other acts of vandalism are what it’s come to.

I had one remaining day to fish before flying home. My companions had already left, leaving me alone to ply for one last tug. Having fished this river for twenty-one years there were a myriad of familiar options to choose from. That was a problem. I spent a restless night muddling my choices. Walking would limit the amount of water I could fish. Still there were numerous opportunities.

By the time I woke I'd narrowed it down settling on a piece that I hadn’t had the opportunity to fish in a decade. Breakfast was on the fly as I prepared and packed. I was able to borrow an old Suburban for the day; two wheel drive, no power steering, cracked windshield, garbled radio. Inside it looked like the homeless had just checked out. The BC plates pimped out this steelhead poaching rig. Turning over the diesel and heading out I felt right at home. I noticed the tachometer. It read almost 300,000 miles.

Over the years the locals have grown tired of foreigners. Doors once open, have slowly closed, precipitated by an encroaching behavior that has brazenly eroded our once harmonious welcome. Having witnessed such inconsiderate actions in the past and again on this day, I can't blame them for their less than neighborly attitude.

It was pouring. The lush provincial valley lay enshrouded in a stratum of dark clouds. If there was ever a day in the week that had a steelhead sense, this was it. Leaving any semblance of civilization quickly I quietly followed the greasy two lane road that would lead me to my destination. There were few vehicles traveling at this hour. Given how my loaner wandered, I was grateful for this.

Trout Creek, a favorite piece off water for locals, was nearly deserted as I passed. So was where I needed to park. Should the spot have been occupied I would have put into effect, Plan “B”. Not being superstitious I took this fortuitous situation as being a good omen.

It didn’t take long to dress and be head down the damp dense trail to the river. The heavy rain continued. Entering the river corridor it was evident that spring floods had changed little here, but the yellow can that once lay partially buried in the sands for decades had washed away. Relatively fresh tracks occupied the sandy beach. Just because the can was gone, didn’t mean anglers didn’t know where this run was. The boot tracks made this obvious. I scanned the area, but saw no one.

Yellow Can fished so well, I had to fish it twice, not believing that there wasn’t a fish somewhere beneath its ruffled mirrored surface the first pass through. My extended effort produced the same results as the first, much to my chagrin.

The rain continued as I continued to fish in solitude, Ravens and Eagles being the only witness to my presence. Downriver I crossed a small channel to an island that historically has consistently produced. Where other parts of the river seemed unmolested by spring’s torrents, this landmark was totally rearranged. Not wanting the day to pass quickly I leisurely plied the waters and casually strolled from run to run. Besides, navigating greased ledges and loose rock isn’t the easiest going.

I hung my heavy pack on the end of a 100’ cottonwood. It was one of hundreds deposited in mass by the spring flood. I took a moment to ponder the significance of natures power. From this juncture to the head of the run at the top of the island was three hundred yards. The first hundred yards is easy. The second in knee deep water more laborious.

I wasn’t really attentive as I entered the water. The shimmering water, towering cottonwoods and snow laden peaks diverted my attention. Periodically I’d check my progress and make sure I was far enough from where these fish might lie. On one such occasion a hint of movement caught my eye. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks, the damp air distorting my aging vision. Moments later there was no mistaking the two boaters quietly drifting downriver. Unconcerned I continued.

Half way up the run I stopped to survey the intruders noticing one was nearing the head of the run I sought to fish. Knowing that I was readily visibly and the habits of most steelheaders I didn’t give this a second thought. From their perspective there was no mistaking my intent. Moments later he stopped. Dumbstruck I just stared, not believing that someone would so blatantly cut me off.

At this distance the evil eye generated little impact. To verbally accost him would only intensify the situation and further mar my day. After all, he was well aware of what he was doing. Verbal confirmation would not change the obvious. Dismayed I simply raised both arms with freak flags flying and bowed. “Fucker” quietly slipped from my lips before I rose. Smiling, I headed on knowing how spiteful the steelhead gods can be. Paybacks are a bitch.

I didn’t touch a fish that day. There have been many such days on steelhead rivers in my life that have ended this way. It’s part of the game. But, that which I experienced unexpectedly was something new. Given the growing lack of consideration on our trout waters I shouldn’t have been surprised. That single incident appreciably spoiled what could have been a perfect day. Regrettably even in steelhead country where we are often guests, self-serving interests are permeating a world where once semblances of order and standards were religiously followed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Migration Begins

I thought this summer would never come to pass. My first hint of its demise transpired one crisp August morning on the banks of the Henry’s Fork. While patiently waiting for death to reveal itself, a perceptible change in the air that wasn’t there previously suddenly gathered my attention. Although subtle, it was noteworthy. Back home falls first shades of crimson now randomly litter the valleys surround parched hillsides. As September approaches there is evidence of a change, but falls reluctance to emerge from summers grip yields a growing concern.

In anticipation of seasonal change we to alter our fishing habits spurred by the return of an anadramous fish whose journey near its end. Analogous to the timing of such natural phenomenon a small group of anglers appear in dawns gathering light at a near-by park. For several decades this congregations has assembled in anticipation. Approaching the water the parks resident waterfowl vocally voice their displeasure in their arrival. They gather at a safer distance to watch. Soon the still airs silence is broken with the resonance of their long rods as theses casters repeatedly work to hone their skills, their rods and techniques evidence of a time long past.

Greg Smith, who first introduced me to steelhead fishing with a fly emphatically stated while sipping a few cold ones, “When I get before the almighty the first question I’m asking the man is; why steelhead?” That was twenty one years ago. Collin Schadrech that same year said I’d never be the same after visiting the rivers of British Columbia that fateful fall. He was right. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours at day break in preparation of these mysterious travelers, an obsession that I now share with a growing passionate few.

Last evening at dinner with several staff members these fish worked their way into our conversation. At this late juncture in the year, that’s not unusual. Matt, who’s always wound tight, was seeking affirmation regarding his decision to get married. Coincidentally his matrimonial status would interfere with a trip to the Salmon scheduled for later in the season. Knowing his wife to be, obviously his better half, it took another couple of beers to convince him that he should stay the course. The fact that one would contemplate such is testimony to the addictiveness of fly fishing for steelhead. He wasn’t the first to surrender all aspects of reason to these fish, nor will he be the last.

As days pass and summers persistent heat reluctantly surrenders the frequency of such exchanges grows. My first of many phone calls from my extended family in British Columbia came around the same time as our sessions at the park began. It was one of many. Reports from various locations across the northwest precipitate many a conversation. For the past decade, with global implications affecting the world’s fragile ecosystems, these conversations carry considerable concern for on these waters there are consistently fewer fish. Yet, for those who pursue these fish, it’s not about numbers. If you can’t be content with a chance encounter, you should stick to other more predictable species.

After a concluding a recent early morning sessions in the park, and my last late night tying session I’ll soon be headed north. It’s what I live for and have since my first steelhead. Should I catch a fish or two, I’d consider myself fortunate after experiencing many a wet cold day on the water with nothing to show. But it’s that which often times seems unobtainable that I like the most about this game and most when it comes to fishing with a fly. It’s true also of the Henry’s Fork where lost opportunities create fanatical followers. Steelheaders are much the same. What other species of fish wills the angler to endure such challenges with hope as their only lure dangling form the end of ones line. In my experience, none.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Perfect Day

At 6:00am the air felt cooler than it had been the previous four mornings. Dew on the seasons dying grasses and the adjoining waters dense layer of fog visually confirmed what my body sensed. I was up early, this being my last day. The sun had yet to crest the eastern horizon. I quickly made coffee and took in little sustenance before heading out. The previous morning’s fish were up by the time I and my companions arrived. I wanted to be there prior to the rivers residents taking notice of the dying mayflies that would soon be floating overhead.

For the past several days fishing had been good precipitated by summer’s heat reluctantly yielding to cooler temperatures. A much needed reprieve for this and other western rivers that have suffered through another season of minimal rainfall and record breaking heat. The previous evening the heavens released a brief washing of refreshing rain. Something I hadn’t seen or felt since early June. The storms electrical intensity had my rod arching in my hand. The first subtle shock got my attention. The second sent the it off into the nearby sagebrush. As the air crackled I was wondering if I’d used up another of those nine lives. For a moment it wasn’t funny.

It was a short drive to the river from camp. Exiting my vehicle morning’s cool air was still damp from the previous evening’s storm. Overhead not a cloud littered the vast blue sky. For now I was the only person present. Other than a few vacationers, that’s how it’s been every day. Casually I began the ritual of suiting up while sipping the last of my caffeinated dregs. Before finishing, several of my friends casually began to arrive. Milling around in various states of consciousness, depending on how many beers one had had the evening before, the sound of a hastened vehicle disrupted any semblance of calm. A level of anxiety followed its arrival. Noticing our presence its occupants quickly exited their oversized truck and began to dress. It was obvious they intended to beat us to the punch. Already dressed, I casually made my way to the water, noticing the Texas license plates as I passed. My departure didn’t go unnoticed.

Having had four good days behind me, I wanted to enjoy some solitude for as long as possible. It was a short walk to the river from where we parked. By now each of us had our spots where previous days challenges had gone unfinished. Yesterday, I missed a very nice fish after a long patient effort. It took my Honey Ant as aggressively as it had the numerous naturals that drifted overhead. Setting the hook, only the slightest tensions was felt before the fly came free. I had hopes of having another opportunity this day.

Crossing the first of three channels, all was quiet. I cautiously made my way to the small island where I would sit in anticipation. Matted grasses showed where we’d patiently hunkered down previously. For now I was alone. Across the way a mature Bald Eagle leveraged its body into the nook of a dead tree as an irate Osprey assaulted it from above. It was obvious that neither was happy. After a while the Osprey succumbed to the futile situation. Noticing a return to calm a sibling joined the mature raptor. If this day should fail to unfold as the others, the view was worth the effort.

Before me lay a vista of ancient glass, the rivers current barely evident as it flowed around me. A random Callibaetis spinner lay dying on the water and slowly drifted by. Not enough yet to stir the rivers larger rainbows into taking notice, but it was still early. As the air warmed clouds of Caddisflies and swarming Trico’s gathered. The past mornings spinnerfalls had been excellent, extended by a calm that’s a rarity in this basin. For the past four mornings before the last dying mayfly floated by, we were treated to a shower of Honey Ants. This delicacy is cherished by angler and trout alike. My friends, having never fished this river before, were treated to something that I’ve rarely encountered here in thirty odd years of fishing these waters.

My buddies from Texas eventually emerged from the parking area again disrupting my mornings calm. Like buffalo they waded into the river oblivious to anything. Where they stood and flogged the water a number of nice fish had dimpled the waters surface the previous day. Such would not be the case today, at least anytime soon. Before long several other anglers came lumbering up from the parking lot, my friends interspersed among them. It looks like our visit to the local fly shops the previous day had tipped our hand. Where over the past days we seen virtually no one else, today there were ambling bodies surrounding us. I hunkered down.

It took sometime before the first nose rose to take morning’s first offerings. Typical of the sequence, it was a smaller fish and not what I was looking for. It soon was joined by several others. I tried to hold off the anxiety of last mornings as time passed and none of the larger fish who’d agonizingly inspected my imitations over the previous days appeared. Halfway through the morning a cool gust dispersed the mating insects. As time passed the wind increased, the gathering spinners scattered and never found the water.

Eventually I found a nice fish up at the tail of the island. I put one of my friends on the steady feeder since he’d yet to land a nice fish. Jon and some of my old high school friends traveled from Ohio to fish these famous waters with me. Given how challenging these waters are, we were fortunate to have the tides turn during our brief stay. We both had a date with a fish this morning. He eventually got his. I on the other hand was less fortunate. Three hours had passed with me hunkered among the islands tall grasses quietly watching. For the first time since arriving my reel would not disturb the stillness. If you fish here, you get accustom to such days.

Eventually I left my perch. I didn’t wander far. I noticed after a while that Jon had also moved on. I passed several other wandering anglers looking for the ants they’d been promised to find here: “you should have been here yesterday”. Reality was setting in. I smiled at the ambling scene before me feeling fortunate knowing that our stay could have been filled with fruitless wanderings.

As I headed back my gaze took in the beauty of the area. Views that for the past thirty some years I’ve never tired of. Now only a handful of anglers worked the waters to splashy risers. Little did they know they were fishing to Whitey’s. The more experienced anglers sat and waited or cautiously made their way through the tall grasses that bordered this river in hopes of finding a rising trout feeding on the meager remnants from the mornings affairs. If you fish here, such is the game.

I relived much of the past days fortunes as I stowed my gear away for the last time. An old Neil Young album played in the background. It was an album that was cut when I first starting making the long trek to these hallowed waters. It brought back many fond memories. Morning’s cool breeze rustled the needles of the towering Lodge Poles that shaded my exit. After enduring a summer of intense heat the cool breeze was welcomed even though it stifled the days fishing. At the Park entrance a Red Tail hovered motionless several feet over its prey to my left, its tail and wings illuminated by afternoons intense sun. In an instant it pounced, simply retracting it wings. Proudly it inspected the kill. His success evidence of valuable lessons honed over the years. If one is to have much success on these waters, similar lessons and skills must be learned.

I half expected the day to end as it did. To have had a fifth incredible day would have been a lot to ask from a river that is reluctant to give up its bounty. The Iroquois say that when you see birds of prey you are doing what you like. Often I take this to heart. There are few things in life I prefer more than being on a river. Just to be in a place where trout live, is reward enough. To catch a fish, a bonus.


I wasn’t in the act when this notion came to be. No need to get personal just thought that fact was worth mentioning in. This piece was prompted following an evening jab session at the shop enjoying a few cold ones and of course discussing a favorite topic, fly fishing. Once the topic was breeched, we enjoyed some good laughs over various commodes we’ve encountered during our fishing excursions around the world.

I went back in the archives to drum up my first noteworthy recollection. If you ever fished Silver Creek back in the early 80’s you may remember the outdoor plumbing perched at the bend in the road just past Kilpatrick Bridge. Plywood painted mustard yellow made it hard to miss. This was before the Nature Conservancy put in their luxurious facility at the sign-in cabin.

I’d used this facility a number of times before the irony of it hit me. I remember the moment well. It was one of those very hot July days when nature called. Given there wasn’t anything higher than sage brush, the walk and use of this facility was your only option. It had been so windy that we’d finished fishing for the afternoon choosing to nap or tie some flies while we waited for the evening rise.

It was only a short jaunt to the facilities. Stepping inside most days in July the heat was immediately oppressive. This day it was particularly hot. I’ll leave the odor to your imagination. Looking around once seated for the first time I noticed the bullet holes that riddled the structure. They were accentuated by the sun rays as they penetrated each opening. For a moment my attention was diverted from the task at hand to my awkward position. I’m sitting in a rather vulnerable position at the end of a dry dust road in a sweat box full of bullet holes.

That was the last time I ever used those facilities. Even if the bullet holes had not been present, it wasn’t the most pleasant of circumstances. Talk about a sitting duck.

Steelhead camps predominantly are located in cold climates. Chasing these anadramous travelers has led me to some of the most beautiful places in the world. I recently traveled halfway around the globe to fish the west coast of Kamchatcka. I’d been to Russia previously so I had some gumption of what to expect upon my arrival in this remote camp. I was pleasantly surprised by the lengths our hosts had gone to make their outdoor plumbing accommodating. I still rate their showers as the best of all time….wood heated, incredibly revitalizing after a cold wet day. Wood to fuel the showers had to be flown in, as did everything else that was built here. I’ve yet to be in a more remote wilderness.

Situated some distance from our tents situated at the distal end of a long wooden walk were two outhouses. They blended in well with the rough landscape as did everything that had been built here. By the way it’s true what they say about Russian toilet paper. It takes a little getting use to. To our pleasant surprise our gracious hosts had gone to great lengths to make sure we were all comfortable, but none of us expected a porcelain throne lined with red velvet seat covers. Any short comings these facilities may have had, toilet paper excluded, were overlooked by all as a result of these luxurious accompaniments.

For some reason, steelead fishing latrines made the grade almost exclusively. These facilities are possibly more notable due to their artic quality that many of them posses. Can’t think of a more uncomfortable or shocking experience than a visit to one of many of these frigid boxes that acompany many of our north country’s steelhead rivers in late fall. They don’t exactly lend to jumping from the warm confines of a down relieve oneself when nature calls.

Without a doubt one of the greatest outhouses on the planet is an open door affair strategically located on the Bulkley River in British Columbia. Halfway through Driftwood Canyon is one of the most beautiful camps you’ll ever spend a night in. Part of Frontier Farwest’s steelheading opereation, Twin Camp is appropriately named for its twin shitters. The view from the seat of one is simply epic. I found myself more than once lingering before hitting the river. Before you lies the most scenic of river corridors laced with fir and birch resplendent in falls colors. If you’re fortunate, one of the canyons Balk Eagles will fly by before you depart. For those superstitious souls, always a good omen to start off your day.

To say a visit to this particular commode is a pleasant experience would not be far from the truth given the view. That which we experience on the Salmon River in Idaho provides yet another.

It’s not that the Forest or Park service hasn’t done a good job of building these facilities, typical of their efforts they’ve gone a little overboard. In a pinch there’s plenty of room for a cot with all that’s missing being the kitchen sink. They definitely have a zest of over engineering and design that’s true in the facilities that dot this beautiful river corridor.

Describing the effects of November’s frigid air upon some of your bodies more sensitive body parts first thing in the morning is not exactly the most enjoyable way to begin your day chasing steelhead. The updraft in these roomy facilities is enough to literally freeze one in place. I’m not kidding. Should a gust of wind pass overhead while you’re taking care of business the ensuing waft of frigid air can literally lift you off your seat. It’s always a kick watching the first timers return from this place knowing how chilling the experience can be. It doesn’t take them long to figure out a run to the North Fork is a far more prudent option given the opportunity. That said, we all know that when Nature calls, Nature calls.

We’re all familiar with the unmentionable ones. You’ve a lingering impression or sense of the ones I’m referring to. They are those where human repugnance is beyond comprehension. You don’t even need to open the door should the wind be blowing from the right direction. Should you, you’re faced with the most unpleasant of circumstances. I’ll refrain from such disgusting detail. If you fish, it’s more than likely you’ve been confronted by such repulsive road side or river corridor latrine. I’m sure the images I may have conjured up are sufficient enough to spare any further details.

Everyone who’s spent much time in the outdoors has had an experience with such places. I mentioned to several of the coffee crew about this Blog and the stories began. We shared in a good laugh or two. Given the number of us these days, we just can’t go out in the woods in most places without having an impact. Consequently were finding more and more of such facilities. Given the habits of most people, I’m glad they are there. However, I must say I still prefer a good old squat in the woods when Mother Nature calls. Ah!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What ever happened to just going fishing?

My last two outings I’ve had run-in’s with inconsiderate guides & anglers while fishing locally. That’s putting it politely. These irritating circumstances appropriately occurred while I was working on this Blog. Timely one might say. From the equipment and techniques we employ to catch trout, to our conduct on the water, fishing with a fly isn’t what it use to be. Personally I feel many of these modifications and behaviors are ruining our sport.

Since opening Western Rivers Flyfisher in 1986 I’ve seen considerable changes in how we gage success and in our fly fishing practices. Uneducated and poorly trained guides have contributed significantly to this current state of affairs, since they are oftentimes the first to impress many of our new participants. Fly-fishing competitions and their practices have accentuated current trends. Where in the past we’d go fishing with no real measure to the day in mind, today it’s strictly about personal numbers for a growing percentage of flyfishers. By the increasing number of complaints I hear, to the conditions of the fish we catch, if we have an interest in preserving that which motivates us to fish with a fly, we need to rethink our approach.

I got into fishing with a fly rod some 44 years ago and just like everyone I wanted to catch fish. But, if it was just about the catching, I would have stuck to the worm and bobber I’d started with. After moving to Utah in the 70’s I was fortunate to be influenced by some of the west’s most skilled fly fishermen. These guys laid the groundwork for me; a foundations rich in the sports traditions, ethics, and sportsmanship. Under their tutelage I became a student of the sport. I was fortunate to have such mentors.

I don’t know about you, but I was drawn to fishing with a fly simply because it was challenging and more complex than conventional methods of fishing. Now some may dispute this position and for a small percentage of conventional tackle anglers you have a good case. Yet, arguably casting a fly rod to hook and land a fish is more difficult than other methods of fishing. Such was the case when I began my journey, but today this point is arguable given the techniques and equipment we no use.

Advancements in equipment have us catching more trout and fish than ever. In the world of trout the strike indicator has helped us put more fish to the beach than any other single piece of equipment we us. In most instances it’s latterly taken the rod and its function out of the equation. I’ve written of my feeling for strike indicators in past Blogs. I use to think these things had a place in our sport, but I question that tolerance at this point given what they have done to the sport and seeing the overall heath of our fisheries slowly deteriorate.

On our more populated waters we’ve got to put limits on our day’s successes. For every 10 fish we touch, one dies. Even as catch and release angers we have an impact. Often times these are slow deaths. I’m giving away my age, but in the good old days if you caught a limit of trout (8), that was a dam good day. By today’s standards a limit of 8 would be viewed as a rather meager showing. With frequency I listen to customers who catch 15 or more trout on a daily basis. I’m delighted with their successes, but given everyone’s ability to catch more fish collectively with the growing number of participants fishing our limited number of resources, something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it’s our trout that are taking the hit. Many look like heroine addicts with the hook marks that scar their bodies. And we often ponder the question of why our fisheries aren’t as good as they use to be.

One of the magical aspects of fishing with a fly rod is the cast. In a “River Runs Through It”, the cast was the mesmerizing aspect of the movie that attracted so many to the sport. Today, with the introduction of the strike indicator it’s rare to find an angler who can perform a cast with any type of proficiency, yet the cast is the defining aspect of the sport. That’s why most people these days fish with nymphs and not dry flies. They simply haven’t taken the time to learn how to cast or present a fly. Fly fishing is supposed to be challenging.

As I eluded earlier, guides have had their hand in the declining skills of many of today’s fly fishers. They often are the first to teach, that’s a novel concept, and impact our new entrants to the sport. The Bob Lamb’s, Greg Pearson’s, Jeffrey Cardenas’s, Emmett Heath’s, and there are many more, of the world are getting hard to come by. On the average, today’s guides rarely know enough to teach. They’ve made the strike indicator the crutch of our sport, rarely use a dry fly that isn’t made of foam, and will literally race you down the bank to get to their favorite run in quest of their life blood, the tip. Guides should be stewards of the stream. For that matter we all should. Unfortunately, most are far from that and are there to serve only their own best interests.

It’s apparent there are a growing number of confrontations on our waters these days. Come on people. I had a guy several nights ago jump in the water so close that before long he was actually fishing to my fish. What really pissed me off is he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. How could he not. Just a week earlier I had a guide walk himself and his clients down the bank that one of my students was fishing. Later, he crossed the river in the run my students were fishing to see if they needed a guide oblivious to the fact that he just trashed their water. He offered his card. He’s lucky he didn’t get punched. Unfortunately these are not isolated cases.

These days our streams are crowded. It’s only going to get worse. If we are to enjoy our days on the water, we are going to have to be noticeably more considerate. Share the water. So you don’t get your twenty fish that day. Who cares? It’s not about catching fish anyway, it’s about fishing.

In some instances we literally are loving our resources to death; from fishing to spawning fish, to the use of fluorocarbon materials to catch just one or two more fish, to the employment of bobbers, to the aggressive and encroaching behavior some of us are exuding. The extent we willing to go is pushing the limits of our resources and our sport. We fish to remove ourselves from the chaos of everyday life and to be in beautiful places, yet what I’m seeing these days is every bit as chaotic and stressful.

The length’s we’re going to catch a fish is getting out of hand. We can no longer afford to have unlimited catches. Challenge yourself. That’s what fishing with a fly is all about anyway. Slow down, leave a few for others, share in your experience with others, and most of all look around. Fishing with a fly is an incredible life sport. As stewards, which we all should be, let ensure that our resources and our sport are enjoyed by all for our lifetime and more importantly generations to come.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Good Friends are Hard to Come By

I first met Rich 15 to 16 years ago. He casually wandered into my shop to purchase some items to go fly-fishing. We hit it off the very first time. Hard not to given his infectious personality and enthusiasm for fly-fishing. Over time it was his passion for fly-fishing and the solace he sought in the outdoors that cemented our friendship. In this chaotic frenetic world in which we live, rivers and fishing were his sanctuaries. There he seemed to be most comfortable.

Since that meeting Rich and I have shared many days on the water that rarely went without an insightful streamside conversation. Two days before he passed away we had lunch. We talked of the rivers we were planning to fish this upcoming year. Although he was going through difficult times, which also occupied a portion of our conversation, it was always dialog that centered around fly- fishing that would balance his life’s challenges.

To the end Rich rarely confided in others. It had only been over the past several years that he had begun to open up some, but at best those windows were brief and unrevealing. For those that knew him he had been struggling with his health to the point of great personal frustration and discomfort, yet he rarely let on.

For a time his health prevented him from participating in those activities he loved. Only on rare occasions did he feel well enough to fish. Even though I tried as did others, he would seldom partake mostly not wanting to burden or be a distraction from that which we enjoyed. That was typical of him, not wanting to burden others.

Even though we still spent a great deal of time together over the past several years, I greatly missed his streamside absence. Our trips and travels regardless of timeframe always bore merit. Although since meeting we had ventured to many waters we were just arriving at a stage in our life’s where it was wade the waters of the west with more frequency. Selfishly our days on the water were as healing for me as they were for him. Looking back I wish I’d been more persistent in my efforts to get him out, even if it was to just sit on the bank of one of his favorite rivers to simply watch the world go by.

He’d recently gone through a second bypass operation that for the first time had shed some new light and optimism on his life. Shortly after this, we travel to the Green. It had been a while since we’d been able to fish together. Although brief we were both excited about the opportunity. We caught a few nice fish that day but, it wasn’t the catching of the rivers beautiful trout that was important, it was those moments in-between where we’d find a good rock to sit and watch eagles soaring overhead, relaxed and forgetful about the our often chaotic lives.

Over time Rich had become my fishing partner, mentor, and one of my best friends. Given recent turn of events I was looking forward with great anticipation to the year ahead. For the first time in years he was feeling strong enough to travel and again wade the rivers we loved so much. For now that will have to wait. Dam you!

With his passing one of my regrets is that I never took the time to fish his favorite waters, Buffalo Ford on the Yellowstone River. Whenever he fish there he’d call me to inform me of his experience. For him the Yellowstone country was not just a place to fly-fish, but a spiritual place. He’d tell me of the trout he’d caught, especially the ones that got away, and of all the amazing wildlife he would see.

I remember one event in particular that he told me of, where late under a dark sky brilliant with stars he sat alone with one of his amazing drums and drew in a pack of coyotes, their cries so close he could barely hear the deep rhythm of his native instrument. For all of his accomplishments in life, and there are many, this one is one of his fondest. We talked of it many times for there was magic in this moment. Often on our treks we’d sit up late and try to replicate this feat, however never with success.

Rich’s passions for the outdoors recently immersed him in an effort to preserve a parcel of Utah’s Green River from being developed. Many of you are aware of this issue. On May 11 this critical portion of the Green River corridor was sold to the Division of Wildlife Resources to be preserved and protected forever. I was in Florida, when the controversial transaction took place. Although, there were a number of individuals involved in this effort, it was Rich’s persistence, ethics, and professionalism that lead to this successful outcome and he alone. He never took credit for any of his contributions. He was humble in these efforts and passed praise unto those less deserving. Such was always his nature.

By accounts I was the last person Rich called.

Several hours after we’d hung up he took his life. Over his last few days he’d contacted many of his friends and family. Not a one of us suspected anything unusual, his efforts to not burden us with his suffering masked to the end. I’ve spent sleepless hours going over that last call. Even as I write I’ve paused to reflect on our final conversation.

In a selfish way I’m pissed knowing that we’ll never sit in the tall grasses on the banks of the Henry’s Fork again or float the Green together sharing a bag of lemon cookies as we always did and that I never took the time to fish Buffalo Fork or sit under the stars there in hopes of enticing the coyotes to join us in song. Dam you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The Fish Magnet"

By the fourth morning, we’ve got as much of a routine as we’re going to get. Unfortunately it’s our last day. I’m up before the alarm sounds even though it’s not yet six. Given how the previous day ended, I’m anxious to begin and slept little through the night. Not that I ever want to rush a last day, but since cracking last nights Red Stripe for the run home I’ve been anxious for this final morning to arrive.

Our long days on the water are showing as we meet outside the Cypress House. Bleary eyed and insufficiently caffeinated for this early hour we waste little time before heading to the City Marina. We’re working on that which we can control, Cuban coffees to go, extra shot and two cubes. The rest of the day’s rudiments will be subject to the whims of the tarpon gods.

After two semi productive stints at Tower Flat, we’ve given it up for hopefully greener pastures. This morning we run east and head up the Keys. I’m up first this morning and there’s a certain mix of emotion that I’ve not felt the previous two days. On the way we pass one of John’s confidants. Having left the City Marina before us John’s curious as to whether hell race us to the where we’ll begin the day. For a young guide, to poach more experienced water after they shared their success would not be advisable. To eliminate the potential threat, he adjusts the throttle. Moments later we overtake the slower skiff.

Unlike past mornings I’m much less observant and more single minded in the days approach. I don’t recall the morning sky or much else about conditions before dawn broke. Possibly, looking back on the day’s outcome, I should have. The back countries flat as we move towards the ocean. We pass under Highway 1 not noticing nor caring of those who travel overhead.

Some of the morning’s early anxiety is relieved noticing we are the first to arrive at this piece of water. The sun’s not yet crested the eastern horizon as John idles to the edge of the small flat. Yesterday’s smoke has yielded to a sky much more clear. As it did the previous day, that could change. All is quiet as our Captain climbs up on the poling platform. My Tibor, for now, is the only sound that disturbs morning’s calm as I methodically remove line from the big reel. I’m hoping before we leave that it will do so again, only at a much more frantic pace.

At this early stage of the game, it’s difficult seeing into the water. The first laid up fish John locates, I struggle to find. At about twenty-five feet a hint of purple eventually appears, yet I can’t make heads or tails of the obscured tarpon. My cast is as poor as my eye sight. Later in the day, John will elude to my early flailing. Deservedly so! This fish slides from sight, pissed at our morning intrusion. I have several more encounters with similar results and eventually offer may partner the bow having blown a number of ample opportunities.

It doesn’t take Kenny long to get a couple of toilet flushes several of these large Ma-moos. He’s had some difficulty getting a hook in them. Reflecting back, we all have.

As the sun begins to warm the cool air, company joins us. Unfortunately they’re not as considerate as our Captain. He cuts us off leaving a modest portion of the small flat to fish. By the time he and his dudes depart the damage is done forcing us regrettably to move on. John, being the consummate southern gent that he is, bites his tongue knowing that words would do little to impact the inconsiderate act. However, for our humor he does provide some graphic verbiage to express his displeasure.

I take two pulls on the bow over back country edges looking for any signs of life. A laid up tarpon here a slider there, but to my discontent nothing materializes. Again having done my time, Ken takes the bow on the next backcountry edge. “Tarpon”, it’s a big fish laid up in deeper water twenty feet from the boat. John’s not too confident in the opportunity given the tarpons location, but believes it’s at least worth a cast. Ken flips his fly, literally to the side of the boat. He’s hardly moved it when the big fish rises to inhale the tan laid up fly. She begins to settle, momentarily levitating in the water column as Kenny’s line comes tight. Instantly one hundred yards of backing and fly line leaves the reel. For the first time that I can remember, we take chase.

It takes some effort to leader this fish and regains the lost line. In doing so, the big tarpon stays fixed to the bottom. She responds to Kens pressure in a half hearted jump, saving her energy to again leave his reel void of line. That’s the last we’ll see of her, the leader wearing through the 60lb shock. The legend of the “Fish Magnet” takes form.

I spend another useless stint on the bow before my clock runs out and we head to Loggerhead Basin. At this point, the scenery is getting a little tiring. Simply, I yearn for a tug, unfortunately for me the “Fish Magnets” rightfully up. Before he can remove sufficient line, John’s on a tarpon. Ken manages yet another eat. This fish spits the fly shaking its head before Ken can come tight. I ’m coming to the understanding that it’s not going to be my day. Swallowing this, our Captain almost immediately finds yet another small school of juveniles daisy chaining. Ken gets another eat!

Tarpon fishing is a team sport. As much as I’d like to hook up, Ken’s success is shared by all, John in particular. He puts hard days in on the platform. By trips end we fish for him more than ourselves knowing our success is his just reward. After the “Fish Magnets” last chaotic episodes, I take the bow one last time. I know that our Captain wants me to get an eat before we finish out this last day. At a time when all other Captain’s are running for home, he idles up to one last flat.

Fires from the north have begun to erode afternoons light as John slides his pole from the cleats and takes the platform. I spot a slider before he manages to get his pole in the water. The tarpon immediately tracks the fly as soon as it hits: “He going to eat it” emanates from behind me. At the last minute the tarpon rejects the fly and quickly disappears. Retrieving the fly, I notice it was fouled. “That’s ok, we’ll find another”. Given the day and the hour, it’s not exactly what I wanted to hear.

As was the afternoon before, this flat is littered with tarpon. After numerous rejections, we finally find a dumb one that takes the fly; love those dumb ones. For a brief moment

the fly holds. It was difficult getting a good stick, the tarpon casually sliding in behind the fly after the eat. Several spectacular jumps and a series of erratic pulls that generates a little reel music from the Tibor, then the fly line goes slack, the fly falling from the fishes hard mouth. At this point, it matters little. I couldn’t be happier.

These last two evening provided incredible tarpon fishing. Over our years fishing with John, we always seem to find these fortuitous flats during dismal times. We take these fortunes to heart knowing the challenging circumstances. These thoughts and reflections of year’s past mingle in my head as we run through a labyrinth of mangroves on our way home. We’re all tired and quiet, no one’s more so than John, yet content with the days success.

Before we hit the mayhem that awaits us at City Marina, I realize it’s over. Other than a night out and good meal, the most important part of the visit has passed. For twelve month I’ll reflect back the events that transpired over the past four days; 365 tortuous days long days. .

Monday, May 21, 2007

That's ok, Well find another!

At 6am I’m numbly feeling my way to Dam Good Foods for breakfast and to retrieve our day’s lunch. Signs of the day’s emergence are just beginning to show. Harbor flags that adorn the tall ships masts, era of a century gone by, move softly in the pre-dawn breeze. Although it’s still cool for this time of year, the air temperature is perceptibly warmer. These are things one notices when strolling through Key West in preparation for a day on the flats.

The forecast has us starting a little earlier on this third day. Light variable winds from the west have precipitated this favorable change. I’m sure will begin our morning where we started the previous day. In anticipation, John’s already put the skiff in. We make the short trip to City Marina, restock our water and quickly are underway.

Departing we notice a cumulus bank of dark clouds building on the eastern horizon. Nothing threatening but, a condition that will produce some minor inconveniences later in our day. The Gulf’s smooth as John brings the Dolphin up on plane. Calm enough to continue sipping my coffee. Although at thirty plus miles an hour I wouldn’t call the act of finishing the last of ones coffee sipping. I’ve been known on numerous occasions to wear most of the contents of my morning Java in a feeble attempt to ingest the last dregs. Today, I’ll arrive unscathed.

Ken’s up first this morning with hopes of replicating yesterday’s fortunes. To the east the sky now glows of burnt orange, a color enhanced by Florida’s widespread wildfires. It’s beautiful until you realize the significance of the situation. Pulling onto Tower Flat somewhat earlier than the previous day it takes a little longer for the first and only school of tarpon to show; again their backs reflect gold from the freshly risen sun. “Tarpon”, that magical word that transforms all thoughts to a solitary focus pierces mornings still air. Our game begins.

The eat materializes much as it did the day before, the difference, Ken’s fly never finds its mark. His instinctive reaction to the explosive take not serving his best interest. As trout fisherman we’ve all done it; the habits of our upbringings ingrained over decades are difficult practices to break. The school vanishes as if a figment of our imagination. Disappointment hangs in the air yet the fleeting opportunity instills some confidence and optimism. Before departing John exhorts, “that’s ok, we’ll find another”. A phrase over the duration of the trip we’ll hear often.

Although the back country has been fairly void of laid up fish, the warming waters hopefully will have lured a few weary tarpon into their protected basins for a brief pardon from their journey. This vast labyrinth of mangrove islands bordering the Gulf is one of our favorite areas. If our fortunes should continue to prevail we’ll find a laid up tarpon or two. To our disappointment such was not the case. Other than the abundant birds and the occasional Hawksbill or Loggerhead Turtle, the backcountry was regrettably empty. Begrudgingly we move to the Atlantic to join the rest of the tarpon fishing community.

Its late morning since leaving Tower Flat. In that time we haven’t had another shot. Out of nowhere a small string of blue backs moves onto the small isolated flat we’ve just poled up on. My tarpon partner of nine years is again up and almost immediately gets an eat, yet as before his line continues without perceptible interruption, the disillusionment from lost opportunities more noticeable this time. Silently we watch the pod of large tarpon swim past knowing there was nothing Ken could have done to have changed the outcome. We linger for sometime afterwards, but the flat goes uncomfortably quiet: “that’s ok, we’ll find another.”

If you choose to fish with a fly for tarpon, at some point you are simply bound to fail, sometimes with grace more times than not wretchedly. Regardless of ones abilities or experience it’s going to happen. Never was this more apparent than my next opportunity.

My day for the most part has been a combination of poor presentations and fleeting opportunities. Since my partners eat, we’ve again moved. After several failed shots at close range, John finds a nice string; “tarpon”. At twelve o’clock a small group of tarpon enters our field of vision, slow and happy. The shots at a slight angle, yet near perfect with ample time to determine speed and distance. After several false casts I lay a cast down. Perched high overhead John instructs me to move the fly as the group nears. His vantage point and focus prevents him from noticing my frantic attempts at locating the line. The string moves silently out of range before I regain control. “That’s ok, well find another”. Not exactly the outcome I was hoping for.

I’m humbled by my ineptness knowing that this may have been the best opportunity of the day. One never knows. Although we’re still seeing fish, we’ve all tired of these dour fish that have showed little if any interest in our flies. The best either of us can muster after several hours of playing this game is a perceptible lick, nothing more. Such an insulting gesture! Surveying the horizons it doesn’t take much of an imagination to know why. We’re third in line, and there were two more boats behind us.

It’s late in the day and most guides are heading in when we finally leave the Atlantic for one last opportunity. As we move onto our last flat, two Tomcats shatter the Key’s silence, their presence a brief and irritating reminder of a loathsome war. John takes the poling platform while Ken strips out line. We fished here earlier in the day and found just a few laid up fish. At this late juncture we’re just hoping for a Hail Mary.

John quickly positions his skiff before immediately spotting a tarpon, then another and yet another; “oh my God, there’s a shit load of tarpon here. They’re fucking everywhere”. Even at my low vantage point I can make out several laid up fish. With patience, John maneuvers the skiff from one to another; the first several tarpon rejecting the offerings much like we’ve endured throughout most of our day. Close and off the bow an ambling pair swings towards us. Laying the fly down the lead fish immediately shows interest and settles just inches behind the fly, yet only apparently to scrutinize the tie. After what we’ve been through the gesture is agonizing. John does his best to encourage the fish; “come on!” After letting the fly sit, Ken again moves the fly, instantaneously the tarpon accelerates, eats but misses the fly. The lost opportunity now has both tarpon frantically in search of the fly. Upon locating it, the lead tarpon again dives on the fly. Ken’s line immediately comes tight.

From thirty feet the tarpon explodes showering the flat then shattering the basins numbing silence. In late afternoons soft light the shows even more impressive. In seconds a hundred yards of backing and fly line disappears from the reel. Anxious Ken looks back at our Captain to see if he’s going to take up the chase. He reassures my partner that his Gulfstream has plenty of backing. We ended up not needing much more. In a brief struggle to regain control the line suddenly goes lim[. Upon inspection, the sixty pound shock tippet had worn through. That’s tarpon fishing.

My partner somewhat dejectedly steps down to replace his fly. In the interim I take the bow. I’m immediately confronted by several uncooperative fish. At this late hour I know my opportunities are dwindling. High up on the flat John finds three tarpon leisurely mingling. Silently we move towards them. Eventually running out of real estate, they’ve no choice but to turn. We’re in perfect position.

Measuring a cast to intercept their path, none of the trio seems to notice as the fly lands to their side and slightly ahead of their path. Unaware of our presence they’re barely moving. I do my best to match the speed of the fly with their lethargic pace. At thirty feet the second fish tilts up and slides in behind the chartreuse fly, yet agonizingly it doesn’t take. All’s deathly quiet. At twenty-five feet the fly hovers inches from the tarpons mouth. I accelerate the strip, the cat and the string, the tarpon rapidly accelerates taking the fly not wavering from its path. I feel nothing in my futile efforts to catch up with the fishes lunge. Eventually the boat spooks it, the trio departs leaving their footprints on the waters surface and gathering mud where their powerful tails propelled them from harms way. I exhale disappointed and audible sigh escaping from holding my breath.

I watched the trio disappear into the flats mirrored waters knowing that was my last chance. To be teased in such an objectionable manner was exhilarating, but so unfulfilled. I reel in. My hand runs across the shock tippet to find it’s rough confirming the failure of the fleeting encounter.

As we leave the flat we crack a Red Stripe for the long run home, the sun now dull in the smoky western horizon, each of us to our thoughts after this long day. Upon joining the rest of our crew well learn our day was far more productive than most. A hint of optimism returns for our last day however, the reality of failed opportunities not lost on the reality of fly-fishing for tarpon. Circumstances you’ll grow to appreciate only with time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sometimes You Get Lucky

Morning arrives at the same time around the world every day, but in Key West during tarpon season they seem to dawn a little earlier. No more so than for tarpon guides. It's hard work and as appealing as it may seem to some youthful souls, it's definitely a vocation not suited for everyone.

It's May in the Lower Keys, historically peak tarpon season. So far this year’s variable weather patterns have compounded the challenging circumstances one faces when pursuing these fish. The reality of fly-fishing for these prehistoric piscatorial swimmers perched on the bow of a small skiff, with a rather small fly, under often tumultuous conditions, is you’re setting yourself up to fail. Once you get over this fact, you’ll realize there are few experience in fly-fishing that rival this game.

As we begin our second day the winds have died from yesterday. More importantly the waters surrounding Key West have warmed some. It’s cooler than normal, but given climate change what’s normal anymore. Religiously we monitor the weather, but have paid little attention to the water temperatures in the past. This year different. Leaving the dock John takes his first reading. It's improved, but still several degrees from where he would like to see it.

Idling from the marina, skies are clear, winds are calm, and again there’s a slight chill to the air. We head to Tower Flat, hopefully for some dawn rollers. In the past we've had great success on this flat. Given yesterdays gauntlet of guides oceanside we're taking a bit of a gamble hopefully in exchange for some tarpon that have yet to encounter the masses. As we pull onto the flat, we're alone, except for a few cruising Brown Pelicans and the ever present Cormorants.

John’s willing to take a chance now and then, a quality of many he posses that I respect and enjoy. He’s not afraid to change and break his daily routine. Nothing like rolling the dice once in a while! Any ardent gambler knows you can’t throw 7’s if you don’t let them tumble now and again. In the past his hunches have led to some of our most memorable and successful days. As we begin this day, we’re hoping to add to those recollections.

Ken and I rotate morning shifts and I’ve the satisfaction of occupying the bow on this beautiful morning. The oceans relatively calm and we’ve all seen it far worse. There have been times when staying upright was challenging. Enduring such circumstances makes one appreciative of these more pleasant circumstances. Tower Flat’s shallow waters shimmer before us. Its dimpled dark surface stands out from the oceans surrounding chop. Even Ken and I can easily deduce its boundaries.

First light on a tarpon flat before suns penetrating rays offer a window into their world is exhilarating. Cuban caffeine laced with raw sugar heightens the morning’s intensity. There’s always an electrical aspect to this game, yet at this hour it always seems to go up a notch or two.

John has us on a clock after we’ve seen nothing. It’s an expression he uses when he’s lost confidence in our location. We’ve all been relatively quiet in anticipation when a single word breaks mornings silence; “Tarpon”! It’s a magical word spoken with a slight edge. At the back of the flat the sun catches the backs of several rollers as a school lazily moves onto the edge of the flat. Cautiously we move towards them.

Not having the advantage of visible light adds a level of vigilance that dissipates later in the day. Time passes slowly as we maneuver into position not knowing exactly where the school lies. Several others roll slow and easy before one at the head of the school pops up within casting range. A hint of purple now is visible, the only thing I’ve to go on as the school slides toward our position. My first cast moves through the school affecting no interest. Another lazy roller reflects the suns yellow rays. I try to relax, and slow down before making another cast. John’s in the process of guiding me yet a third cast. Mid sentence “ keep stripping” ends the notion, “you’re in ‘em, strip”. I can feel my pulse and notice I’ve stopped breathing.

We fish for tarpon to watch them eat the fly. After that, the chaos than ensues shatters gossamers of monofilament, splinters rods, and leaves your whole body shaking. But, it’s the eat that sets this fish apart from many game fish. The combined experience is one of the most exhilarating in fly-fishing.

Out of dawns blackness an explosive flash of light the magically materializes. It’s all I can do to keep from habitually lifting my rod, a trout fishing habit that’s cursed me on numerous occasions. A brief moment of emptiness passes before the line becomes taught. It seems like and eternity. The 80lb fish erupts from the flat, crashing back to the security of the oceans dark waters. Mornings silence is shattered as fly line rapidly leaves the reel. Four more times the tarpon catapults itself above the dark surface of the flat. Four times I bow.

John and Ken are mocking my silence as I concentrate on the bolt of electricity I’m tethered to by a thin wisp of monofilament. John stakes out the skiff and prepares to land the fish. At this early hour my day is complete having landed a tarpon, knowing that I’ve gone weeks without so much as a sniff from one of these amazing animals Quietly I watch the tarpon disappear, replaying that which just occurred before reveling in my good fortunes, Captain John remarks that this tarpon is his years inaugural Tower Flat fish. That puts the season in perspective.

Although we had a number of opportunities throughout the remainder of the day, neither of us touched another fish. We had our chances, but for the most part many of these tarpon have been around for a while and given their lingering presence they want nothing to do with our offering.

Eventually our day comes to and end. They all end much too soon. Running across the backcountry late in the day we begin the long run optimistically hopeful for the days that still lay ahead. Given our day’s success and the weather that’s predicted for the remainder of our stay, we’re all enthusiastic.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It's been Worse

Tuesdays forecast; winds out of the NE at 13 knots changing by the afternoon to the NW. Highs for the day near 80, which it never reaches, clear skies. The Weather Channel monotonically yields our first window into the day. Before collapsing last night the weather was one of the last things we checked. Given the conditions we arrived under we had some legitimate concerns. Simple changes in the weather can make or break a tarpon trip. With these elements bearing significance, all anglers and guides manically monitor these elements.

At 7am our Captain, John O’hearn, pulls up to the Cypress House. At this hour when most tarpon fishermen begin their day, the streets of Key West are quiet, void of those pale tourists who will crowd these sidewalks later in the day. Although they are entertaining to watch, they are a noisy distraction from all that Key West once had to offer. Several houses down, one of islands notorious roosters breaks the silence. That’s a whole other but related Key West story and debacle.

After a casual but warm greeting we pile into our Captains truck and head to Sandy’s for Cuban coffee and a quick breakfast sandwich to go. Sandy’s is one of those obscure local holes in the wall that’s reminiscent of the way island life once use to be. Since its inception much has changed on this island. This and a few flavorful places like it thankfully haven’t been tainted by those that drive this burdening tourist economy. Consequently more and more of our countries corporate commonness erode this islands and our nations character.

The suns yet to crest the eastern horizon as we launch from the City Marina. Being our first morning, it takes a moment to put our rods together and get settled. It’s always kind of a cluster fuck getting situated on first days. There’s a definite chill to the air that we’ve seldom experienced here in the past. Under a sky clear of clouds John quickly has his skiff on plane. It doesn’t take long for Kenny to don his Buff Ball Vest. Between the cool air and Cuban coffee our senses begin to finally come alive.

Entering Boca Chica, boats are already stacked up on the first flat we were hoping to fish. Not wanting to take a number John’s assessment of the crowd has us back on plane and moving oceanside up the Keys. Now sometimes when you’re the only one on a flat, it’s for good reason. Other times it's just good fortune. Such was not the case here. We see one lazy roller, but the fish never gives us a shot. Being early on the first day and still untainted by any sequences of events we optimistically leave and continue our quest.

Terminal tackle takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to these fish. Having my fair share of failures, until I learned how to tie my own leaders properly, there’s still lingers some subliminal uncertainty. That first year I tied all my own leaders, every single one failed. Some frustration came with those failures, but I still wanted to learn to tie my own. If you tie flies, you remember that sensation of catching your first fish on a fly you tied. The elation from landing a tarpon on my own leaders was very similar. I’ll never forget that success.

About mid day, Kenny gets the stink off as a small string of tarpon moves onto the flat. Up to know we’ve seen only a few sulking fish. These guys are lit up, happy and lazily. Their dark bodies are easily visible as they move over a bottom of mostly white sand. As the string gets within casting distance their brown backs are out of the water.

The first cast produces an eat, but the fish is so aggressive it out runs Kens ability to strip the fly fast enough to make contact. The string slides away from us, but still at a leisurely pace. With some work our Captain keeps us within the school, eventually Ken gets another shot. We all see the fish flare, than the brilliant flash as it takes the fly. This time the tan fly finds it mark. The initial surge is quick but powerful, before the tarpon shatters the silence with its first and only jump. Somewhere in the next few seconds of mayhem Ken’s line goes slack. The fight ends as quick as it starts, the leader parting at the knot. Although disappointed, were all energized by this short success.

That fleeting moment of chaos was the cumulative success of our day. There were a number of other opportunities, but none that produced the optimism and confidence that this one little string of tarpon did. Having had days and trips where such single success never materialized, we eventually yet optimistically headed in knowing that tomorrows another day.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Journey Begins:

It’s 11:30pm in short order I’ll board a red eye that will eventually take me to the Lower Keys. Like the giant Tarpon that annually migrate through those waters, myself and several afflicted souls migrate south to pit our fly-fishing skills against the elements and a fish that has captured my imagination since first being exposed to images and writings of there existence.

All trips have roots. As the days passed prior to my late night departure I pondered them. Really this journey and quest began decades ago without me really being cognizant of this fact. My first boss in the fishing industry, Gene Snow, had the tarpon bug bad. Until he’d met this creature he’d quite easily conquered many a species with his fly rod. Such was not the case with Megalops atlanticius. Gene’s animated frustrations and misadventures brought this fish and its reluctance to eat a fly to my attention. I remember him being 0 for 10 at one juncture. Not ten days but ten enduring frustrating trips without a single leadered tarpon. Yet, the illusiveness that these fishless days created led to his obsession that now has crept into my soul. Subliminally seeds were being planted, but it would take sometime before those seeds germinated.

Impressions left after reading Lefty Krehs, “Saltwater Fly-fishing” are the first conjuring images I recall that elevated a certain curiosity and astonishment that has led to this now growing obsession. Actually it wasn’t the text of the book that created this sensation, but a photo, and the cover photo to be precise. If you’ve read or picked up this book you know the image I’m referring to. Little did I realize the impact that photograph would have.

At first, I thought that the quest for these ocean travelers was precipitated by the sheer size of these prehistoric creatures. Billy Pates videos and his documented quest for a world record tarpon more than peaked my curiosity. These videos brought the emerald waters of the Florida Lower Keys and it Silver Kings to vivid life. Yet as incredible as these images were, being tethered and towed by one of these migrating giants didn’t quite appeal to my sense of sport. All that changed eight years ago on a family vacation to Key West.

My early business travels introduced me to, Jeffrey Cárdenas. His shop, the Saltwater Angler was Key West’s gathering place for migrating tarpon anglers. His warm personality and enthusiasm for the Keys raised my curiosity enough to lead me south to the southern most point in the US. On a Thursday evening during that family vacation he called to invite my son and I out for and evening of “Splooshing”; when Tarpon eat migrating shrimp like trout eat giant mayflies. I’ll never forget when Jeffrey hooked the evenings first tarpon. That evening and it’s events changed me forever.

One cool spring morning, over a cup of strong coffee, Ken Louder and I cast into the mirrored surface of a local pond in preparation for this years trip to the Keys. A light rain accompanied our effort. The locals, Green Heads and Honkers, rejoiced in the reprieve from last weeks heat. This ritual of meeting in the predawn hours helps us shift gears from everyday life to the incredible world of the tarpon. Some years that transition is smoother than others. In most instances neither of us has any control of that. As we both head south via differing routes today, we anxiously await to see what this years trip will have in store. Only time will tell.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Read a Reliable Product Review Lately

Not long ago I received another poorly done fly-fishing product rating and review publication. Lately these appear to be growing in popularity. Between the internet, chat rooms and a number of in-depth magazines such as this, there seems to be a lot of experts crawling out from the woodwork. Conceptually, product analysis and rankings can provide valuable information. Unfortunately since the majority of the reviewers lack professional expertise and are often motivationally influenced their printed word often falls short of any substantial credibility.

Most of those who analyze fly-fishing products get it for free. Wouldn’t that be nice, free inventory to use at my discretion? The concept of free definitely creates impetus towards a biased response. Should you have personal interested towards specific companies or products that may slant your review even more? When it’s all said and done, there’s even and opportunity to make a little extra money off e-Bay from those excesses acquisitions.

If you’re publishing your findings and seeking advertising dollars, the significance of a manufacturing account may have an influence on your findings, especially in the early stages of a publication. One would be reluctant to piss off a key account by giving their products an unfavorable review. It’s also common knowledge in our industry for manufacturers to pay to have their products favorably reviewed. If it works for politics, it only seems unfortunately natural here.

I found it interesting that rarely do you get any background information on the testers. In fact in the last publication I received, I’d never heard of the guys. Having been in the business for 25 years, I don’t know everyone, but I have a pretty good handle on most of the key players.

In another recent publication the testers were listed as a saltwater guy, steelhead guy and a guy from Salt Lake City. There were some other testers as well, but no mention as to their background or credentials quantifying their participation. What makes these guys qualified testers? They fish! So do a lot of people. In fairness to this particular review I know several of the testers, and they have significant pedigrees. It would have been nice if the general public had been privy to this.

George Anderson did a very good review on 5 wt. Rods. He dedicated a fair amount of space to qualify his expertise and validating his opinions. The outcomes of his rod choices were fairly obvious since he worked with a number of the top rod companies. Of course those rods being influenced by his preferences rated as some of the best rods in his ranking. His biases were identified and his choices only seemed natural.

As I read this new publication and shared it with my fellow employees, including a number of valued customers, we were most perplexed by the rod reviews and rankings. I must say over the years that in most systematical reviews involving rods that I’ve found their analysis to be puzzling. This one to seemed to follow this unfortunate path. Point and case!

The SAGE TCR 905-4 was rated as the best all around trout rod of those tested. The review included Winston, Scott, and several other very reputable rod manufacturers products. After looking at the rankings from best to worst, I then read the accompanying analytical review written by the testers. Remember when you where in grade school and had to match a description to a specific object? If you had done this simple grade school exercise with this publication you would have flunked.

The TCR is a fairly straight forward specialty rod. If you asked 10 shop owners who handle the line, I bet you’d get at least 9 of them to agree on its qualities and attributes. I would guess that none of them would have described the rod as it appeared in this review. Makes you wonder what these guys were smoking.

Before I continue and get my head handed to my by Bruce, Mark or Jerry from SAGE, should they stumble upon my Blog, I better clear the air. First off, the SAGE TCR is one of the finest rods available and SAGE Rod Company is unquestionably one of the leading rod manufactures in the industry. For some the TCR would be a great all-around rod. However, so would the SAGE SLT or TXL along with many of the other rods that were included in the publications testing. It truly depends on ones casting abilities, the way they fish and the techniques they employ. To emphatically rank a rod as being the best for you just because it tested well for those who reviewed the product bears no merit. I am sure that Bruce, Mark, and Jerry equally been perplexed by such reviews on more than one occasion.

In another series, a magazine reviewed and rated the leading waders. One of the testing categories was the ability of the wader to with-stand DEET. What they neglected to inform the consumer of was the amount of DEET, applied to the waders for an extended period of time had a toxic rating of 100%. A puddle would accurately describe the application. An unrealistic proportion at best. This part of the test carried a significant amount of weight as it pertained to the waders ranking and those that tested poorly were reviewed rather poorly. Personally, I’ve never used any product that carries a skull and crossbones warning on the label.

The point is, if you’re in the market to choose a fly-fishing product, the majority of these analytical reviews are biased and very misleading. They may offer some valuable data and insight, but in most instances are filled with a fair amount of individual bias and misinformation to appease those who provide them with their products and dollars. If it can be helped you should never invest in a product, especially rods, without being able to get a hand on one or two.

I’m sure I’ll get some feed back on this piece, but my motivation is simply to enhance an anglers fly-fishing experience. If you ask me what product is the best, my answer most times is the one you like. That’s one of the very cool aspects of our sport, from the style of fly-fishing you prefer to the equipment you choose to pursue your quarry with. Those who write reviews and rank fly-fishing products do not do the equipment they analyze justice and rarely rank equipment based on how it would suit a style of angler. At times, and more times than not, it is obvious. Their inconsistencies leave consumers making in appropriate decisions and confused. Should you consider the motivation and influences behind the process, it’s easy to see how opinions can be compromised. As they say when making an important medical decisions, “get a second opinion”.