Sunday, December 21, 2008

Staying in Touch

I've received a number of comments, e-mails,fly shop buddies and phone calls, on ways to get involved with various issues that revolve around our treasured resources. The Provo River development prompting the most recent inquiries. Over the years, I've written about issues here, but never have really tried to communicate or manage any actions through my Blog. After giving it some thought, I'm going to post issues and actions here, starting with our most recent endeavor to see if that is of help and allows those who are concerned to participate.

Starting with this years upcoming legislature, we have a significant issue that we are already involved in. I wrote earlier about the state Supreme Courts ruling on stream access. Several representative are drafting a bill that potentially will eliminate this recent ruling and possibly block off access to streams we already have. I warned of this in an earlier Blog, "Just Because we have the Right", August 26, 2008.
At the moment, there is no language written on this piece of legislation, but from meetings held over the past weeks, we have little support at a state level. Several concerned lobbyist have joined our efforts. At the first of the year Rep. Ferry, who will champion this bill should it go forward, has granted us a meeting. We are hopeful that we can make some inroads at this early juncture to avoid any confrontations and help draft a bill that is agreeable to anglers. For now we are encouraged by his offer.

In the infancy of this endeavor, we are looking for anyone who may know a friendly legislator. Once we get a feel for the language, or ideally, have a copy of the bill, we're going to need all the friends we can get. This won't be an easy battle, should the bill be drafted with the language we are anticipating.

If you know any one on the hill who can lend their support, this would be a big step. Our issues here are not so much the right to fish or access as much as the potential economic impact reduced access will have on the states angling revenues, revenues that have declined steadily over the years. If you would like to reach me and not share your comments with others who read my Blog, please feel free to contact me at:

We have another meeting before the year ends. I'll post updates or any new developments as they occur. Thanks to those who have gotten involved and those expressing and those wanting to help preserve those few precious resources we rely upon to cast a fly with hopes of catching a trout or two. As theyears pass, and with the current economy we are going to have our hands full.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Provo River Avoids Development

The Provo River is arguably one of the nation’s best fisheries. With recent work completed between Jordanelle and Deer Creek reservoirs it’s even better. This past week a decision to continue to put these resources recreational and wildlife values before those who would develop it was an significant.

Unbeknownst to many an application to rezone private lands on the Lower Provo River was put before Wasatch County Council (WCC). Should this request have been approved it would permit twenty residential units to be built. Four of those units would lie within the rivers riparian corridor. Even more critical, the rezoning change would open the door for other landowners in the canyon to develop additional properties.

Obviously given the sensitive nature of this resource, there was a lot at stake. As an angler, the trout fishing and those recreational values associated with it are significant. The wildlife values that this canyon supports are critical. Such a development, given its scope, would definitely impact these. Then there is water quality. Simply, it’s the lifeblood of all that is living.

After the first of two public hearings, the request was denied, but only due to the fact that the Wasatch County Planning Commission didn’t have enough members present. Those in attendance voted in favor of the rezoning request 3/2. A 4th favorable vote was needed to make the motion.

A second hearing for public comment was held before the Wasatch County Council, who would make the final decision. I entered this meeting with not much optimism given the Planning Commissions lean. I was even less optimistic given the lack of opposition that spoke before the Council; three of us all totaled. Given what was at stake it was disheartening to see a virtual no-show from the public and those who derive their livelihoods from this resource. Granted there were a number of apposing e-mails received by the Council and a few more in attendance at the first public meeting, but warm bodies in front of this Council would have carried much more weight.

I was relieved and surprised to learn, given the circumstances, of the Wasatch County Council’s judgment to deny the landowners request this past week. Their decision showed great vision. Anglers owe this group a debt of gratitude for efforts and judgment regarding this incredible resource. Their pronouncement will have a positive impact on the continued health of this valuable resource. Should it have gone the other way few would have noticed until the backhoes and bulldozers arrived.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Last Grab

I've fished Idaho waters when you were lucky to see a steelhead. For years the only fish we'd see had been caught by methods other than fly. Didn't matter, at that juncture you were just glad to see one. Such an occasion lent hope to the next run. A few years would pass before a tug brought me that much closer to holding a steelhead that had traveled over 800 miles to take my fly. That in and of itself is amazing!

Those early years in the Lower 48 were bleak. On many byways they still are. Were once the worlds largest run of sea run fish ran free, they now hang in the balance infused with fish of hatchery origins that only make their existence more tenuous.

Yet, in all of this, as an angler, I have great respect for these fish. They travel the same arduous journey and migrate through the same challenging gauntlet as their dwindling wild relatives. Although they don't quite measure up to a wild fish, they do command a certain respect and admiration, for they to are survivors.
My last outing of the year was one of my best. Sub freezing temperatures that historically freezes ones hands, guides and feet, were gratefully absent. It's been that way for several years now. And although the fishing has been good for the past several years, this year was more than generous.

My friend, caught his first steelhead. It came on the last day. He was already headed down the addictive road after our first trip. Once he landed his first steelie, he was history. I'm waiting to have to explain his delusional state to his wife, especially come next season.

On that last day, I drummed up a ghost in a new piece of water. Several head shakes later and a few clicks from the reel the fish was gone. It was rewarding confirmation that will serve me well on another day. Towards days end I briefly felt another fish. It was a solid grab that ended as quickly as it occurred. Know it was my last I thought the encounter was fitting. Looking back to those early years, an unmistakable grab would have been reason alone for joyous celebration. On this trip it was more than just.

Shortly afterwords I chewed the fly from its leader, carefully placed it in it's box, and reeled in the line. Before leaving I took a moment to take in the canyon, it sounds and breath the damp smell of a river corridor that holds onto a certain rawness. It'll be another years before I fish these waters again. I remembered the grab and the years where a physical presence was only a figment of an imagination. Heading home, the rain darkens the desolate two lane road. We are fortunate to have fish in these waters now. We don't talk about it, but we wonder for how long.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Green River Looses a Friend

When one thinks of the great waters of the world where we cast a fly, we often associate those waters with keepers whose long association endures them to the waters their lives revolve around. On Utah’s Green River one of those individuals would be, Denny Breer. Since he and his wife, Gracie, established Trout Creek Flies in the remote corner of northeastern Utah, he’s been one of the Green’s unheralded champions. There’s not another person who’s watched over this prolific fishery with more vigilance than Denny. This past weekend a tragic accident ended his life. In his death the river and the fishing community lost a great friend.

Although others may carry on where he left off, you can’t replace the personality and the character he brought to the community of Dutch John and the river he’s associated with. The river, his shop, the meetings he so faithfully attended will all seem unfamiliar in his absence.

Those familiar to the Green River, his shop and guide service know that he offered a welcome matt to anglers from all corners of the globe. He was most at home on his beloved river or those waters he enjoyed when time permitted or with his pigeons. If you were fortunate to share a ride in his dory, count yourself as blessed. Over the past few years, such days were shared by only a few, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t where his heart lied.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Breer for his relentless persistence. Few know the extent he went to be a voice for this precious resource. The Green River, the health of this fishery, those who love and fish this river are all beneficiaries of his tireless efforts. His authority and knowledge commanded respect in the arenas he wandered on behalf of the river. As an outfitter and angler, he commanded respect as well. He wasn’t shy about letting you know that. I liked that in him, that frankness he often exuded.

Denny’s legacy will live on, his efforts, passion, and character forever recognized in the history of Green River fly fishing. In his passing our hearts go out to his family and those he left behind. I hope you’ll find comfort in knowing that Denny will always be warmly remembered. He will be greatly missed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Gift

Before me flows a river bathed in sunshine. Its size dwarfs any I’ve cast a fly in. Swollen currents toil a tainted brown from days of relentless rain. A condition that occurs with more frequency from years of clear cutting that now jeopardizes the heath of all waters in this province. A slim buffer of vibrant cottonwood, birch and popular radiate in fall color; accentuating the virile condition of the river. The immense landscapes towering snow capped peaks and unimpeded waters are impressionable.

Hidden amongst these murky waters migrates the majority of this regions wild steelhead, the names of their home waters legendary in steelhead lore. Given its current state it’s difficult to imagine these piscatorial travelers are present, yet these conditions will do little to deter a primordial instinct. Little does.

Two decades of fishing in British Columbia has yet to afford me time on this intimidating river since I first stood on her banks. Many of its famed tributaries have seen my foot prints, but never the Mother River. The last time I saw her was over a decade ago where several of her tributaries open to accept her offerings. Not far from that point of observation stands a row of native long houses and totems, a tribute to the Gitxsan People, and the spiritual powers this confluence holds.

After lodge life this year, an old friend invited me to poach some of the British Columbia’s other waters. After goodbyes were exchanged with our hosts and my fellow companions, Collin Schadrech and I headed north on Yellowhead Highway.

Gray skies clouded the landscape dropping a steady drizzle on the windshield and surrounding countryside. A perfect day for steelheading accompanied us to our new digs. Our base for the next few evenings was a stark contrast from that which I had enjoyed over the past week; cinderblock walls, well worn shag carpets, moldy towels and meals prepared over the tailgate of Collin’s Chevy. No plates, no dishes. From our front door, Stekeotin loomed ominously overhead. Steelhead paradise never looked so good.

That afternoon we spent the bulk a wet day slogging through marshes, deadfall and the provinces dense brush in search of legends and myths. Maps were of some help, but much had changed since they were drafted. We often paid for their inaccuracies.

Before darkness ended we pioneered a handful dirt roads, this time along the Mother River. In the waning light we searched for a descriptive boulder with a single cairn perched upon its top. We were unsuccessful. By the time we left the valley’s river bottom it was raining and dark, a darkness that’s difficult to find these days. In remote corners of the world removed from global sprawl you’ll witness such blackness. On this evening a low ceiling hid heavens light show intensifying the abyss.

The following day we arose early, beginning our day in darkness. By the time we headed out, morning’s sun still had yet to crest the snowcapped peaks that kissed a thin layer of residual vapor. Eventually we located the road that eluded us the evening before. The old track wound through long abandon fields, dull in dying weeds and tall grasses.
We parked a short distance from the river. Its banks lined in ancient popular, cottonwood, birch, and balsam fir. Below us the waters strolled leisurely for hundreds of yards among sizeable boulders. It shimmered, as only a steelhead run can. Towards the head of the run stood the rock with an unobtrusive cairn perched nonchalantly upon its surface. Our eyes lay fixed on the water, making mental notes as to where each fish may lie. As we drifted apart, the old man chose the head of the run, while I stepped in midway.

The rivers size yearned for long casts. I thought the same to hold true for the fly; big river, big fish, big fly. Yet I refrained, at least in first passing knowing that this was our water to fish alone. Dec Hogan’s words resonated through my fly box as I selected a pattern. Eventually I chose a preferred spey fly in hopes of taking my first fish on one worthy of these fish and the occasion.

About a quarter of the way into the run I had to calm myself. I had plenty of coffee this morning. I usually do, but that wasn’t the reason for my anxiousness. I started thinking of the famous tributaries that feed this big body of water, their names rolled through my mind along with the significance of their steelhead. A broad grin crossed my face as I scanned the snowcapped peaks that overshadowed the valley. Finally stepping back into the river, I knew they were there.

Each swing of the fly I expect a tug. In disbelief the governors removed from my cast. I tack on another ten feet or more. Several casts later a fish boils below me. A second passes before realizing it had moved to my fly. The additional length of line momentarily skewed my judgment. I focused, waiting for the line to come tight, which never did. Sliding further into the river not taking my eyes from where the fish showed, I cast again in hopes that a slower drift would entice a grab. My breaths held as the fly entered the zone. The line simply stops. All is motionless until the surface erupts below me as the hook solidly finds its mark.

Behind me the fish breaks the surface, as fly line exits the rod in the opposite direction. There’s a power and weight there that I’ve yet to experience in days past. A second and third jump shows it’s a sizable buck. A hint of rose can be seen along his gill plate and flank. After the aerial assault he surges upstream as if unencumbered. By the time I’m ready to land him, Collin’s beside me, cradle in hand. We share in the special moment together as the buck slides into the net. The barbless fly easily comes from the corner of the buck’s mouth. I’d hoped to hold onto the steelhead for a moment before it continued on the journey, but our reunion would be brief. He had other things on his mind. I tried to visualize his character; color, spots, scars, bulk and the power of the creature that rested in my hands, before he disappeared into the depths knowing this could be my last fish. Even though this one bears special significance, I treat them all in this manner. With one power beat of its broad tail he slides away.

Content with my fortunes I settled on the bank to watch Collin wander slowly up to finish his piece of water. It didn’t take him long to hook up. I amble up the bank to return the favor. It’s another broad fish, but this time a hen still bright with sea lice clinging to her. As Collin prepared to send her on her way you could see his hand through the hen’s translucent tail. With the flick it, she too vanishes.
This perfect pair would be the only steelhead we’d encounter during our brief time together. As their habitats erode and these fish continue to decline you wonder at what point you’ll embrace your last wild steelhead. I recently heard Russell Chatham say that steelhead anglers have become complacent by equating the success of a day, a week or a year with as little as a single fish. By doing so we’ve accepted the doomed blight of this great fish. For those passionate about steelhead, I don’t think he could be further from the truth. With each fish, there is confirmation that they still travel the great liquid highways of their origins and avowal hope that future migrations will continue to exist. Without that connectivity, regardless of its frequency, all hope would be lost.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Steelheaders Remorse

Having just gotten back from my annual trip to British Columbia, I'm struggling getting back into work, home life, and just about everything else that isn't related to fishing for these mysterious fish. But, in reality such angst is something all of us who fish with a fly go through. I'm not alone, I know that.

Most of my companions on this trip are suffering equally. Since returning they've spent a fair amount of time manipulating their lives to accommodate one last opportunity to hook up with one more steelhead. Should it be just a tug, a sign that they are still there, that would be enough. Just to fish their rivers would be sufficient.

Since I'm having trouble writing anything worth reading, here's a few photo's from BC. It was a good year, better than usual.

Friday, September 12, 2008


For the first time in recent memory a cool rain greeted the morning. Its arrival punctuated yet another long dry season in the west. Layers of white vapors shrouded the foothills, the valleys towering peaks looming above lost among gray layers of moisture laden clouds; a stark contrast from summers heat, haze and dull blue sky that’s beat upon us for the past months. Before me the Bitterroot River flowed, a ribbon of black viscous through a valley of dying grasses, dull cottonwood, willow and river birch. I looked to the currents for signs of life. None were immediately visible.

Exiting my vehicle, I walked down the steep bank to the rivers edge. The Bitterroot is a big river. Expansive reaches of bleached rock lay exposed on inside corners, evidence of immeasurable power and more turbulent event. An eagle cried in defiance of the weather lost somewhere among the corridors damp cottonwoods. Before me a broad river flowed; riffles drained into smooth long runs resembling those waters of the great Northwest where the oceans anadramous travelers have begun to arrive home to their native rivers. A small group of geese restlessly took to the air in preparation for a journey that would take them to warmer climates.
At the head of the run before me, I envisioned where to begin working a short length of line, eventually extending the cast to sufficient cover the water; lessons drummed into my skull from those initial days of steelheading with Collin Schadrach and Greg Smith. Years of trout habits initially muddled a view that was far different for a fish that often wanders thousands of miles before returning home. With no wind the rhythmic cadence of a single spey would adequately cover the broad rivers currents. A greased line fly led by the pull of a soft line sufficient to entice any willing taker.

Rain continued to drive the illusion. The valley’s damp ceiling and chill fed the impression. The air smelled of dried and decaying vegetation. For the first time since summers PMD’s appeared there was a presence that wasn’t there before. The change symbolizes a reluctant end to summer’s aquatic emergences and an anticipated shift for me to the great waters of the northwest. For the first time there was pause for reflection of a season coming to its end and one just commencing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just Because We Have the Right?

Recently the Utah Supreme Court ruled to allow anglers access to any river or stream where there is public access. This decision received a mix of emotions. On one side you have anglers, who couldn’t be more elated about the opportunities this created. Yet, on the other hand you have developers, land owners, and businesses who aren’t too excited about the prospects of having unwelcome visitors on their property. In many respects I can’t say that I blame them.

Back in the day, before the big western land grab, it was common as an angler to walk a dirt driveway to a farmers or ranchers home and asked permission to access waters that may wind through their fenced properties. Most times consent was granted given that a certain respect was extended in exchange for the privilege. Over time on occasions these impromptu and casual introduction spawned lasting friendships. Such instances are rare occurrences these days.

There were a lot of individuals who were involved in this recent ruling. In this age of information, news spread rapidly regarding this landmark decision and anglers rapidly began exploring those waters that had been closed and with that an imminent collision of apposing parties.

As anglers enjoy their new found freedom, those who adamantly oppose the current ruling are working on legislation that will negate this privileged opportunity. A Bill drafted for the upcoming Utah Legislative session has already been introduced. This bill single purpose will be to minimize our access opportunities. I’m sure they are looking at other ways to impact and negate the courts ruling. Only a well orchestrated front by those serving anglers interest will possibly defeat it.

As an angler, I’m very concerned how we have conducted ourselves in this short period of time. Where we may be within the law, we have shown in many instances total disregard and respect towards landowners who are disgruntled by the unwelcome visitors into their backyards: Property lines have been crossed, fences cut, verbal abuses exchanged. Such confrontations will only fuel their animosities, one that definitely does not need stimulation.

We have an abundance of water to fish without pissing people off. As many of us continue to work with landowners to gain access and improve the states fishing opportunities our ill mannered behavior will make future negotiations more prohibitive. Having been involved in such efforts for over twenty years, these efforts are already challenging enough.

I’ve always felt that as an angler we should become worthy stewards of the water ways we fish. If you are out there taking advantage of the new Trespass Laws be overly grateful to those who grant you access without resistance. For those who are agitated with your presence, be respectful enough to take their angst into consideration. And Let’s work on mending fences, not building bigger barriers, it will go along way towards keeping our waters open in the future and to ensure we have miles of available water for the public to fish.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Game:

At the tip of the island, I paused to scan reflective waters before moving; a habit ingrained from decades of stalking trout on this river. Scanning the stream, morning’s clouds cast illusions before me. Gently stepping from the lush grasses I tentatively entered the river. Fine gravel afforded easy wading permitting some degree of vigilance, still I almost failed to notice the imperceptibly break of the surface meniscus, the residual bulge nearly blending with the waters disheveled surface. In that brief instant “The Game” had begun.

Understanding the consequences of haphazard wading, I froze. The trout arbitrarily rose taking in mornings profusion of dying mayflies. Looking to the current for clues, PMD, Drake and Flav spinners floated haplessly upon the waters calm current adding to the complexity of the situation. The frequency of the trout’s rises lent some insight into the rainbows partiality causing a change in flies.

Cautiously wading into position I knelt in ankle deep water waiting for the trout to again show before making the first of what would be numerous casts. Visibility hindered by morning’s reflective glare added to the challenge. Another fly change lent renewed optimism. The trout rose near the artificial, bouncing the fly in the undulating residual ring.

For what seemed to be a long moment the large rainbow failed to rise. Dejection from an opportunity concluded crept in. Motionless, I waited sometime. Downstream the rainbow rose again. Either a lack of stealth, the presentation or the trout’s own indecisiveness had it invisibly slide out of casting range. Such antics occur with some frequency on these waters, “dog on a lease”.

Chris, who I’d joined that morning, had settled among the tall grasses to watch the antics. He too had been playing a similar game. I turned to acknowledge his presence. He smiled knowing all to well my predicament, offering some encouragement before I returned my attention to the task at hand.

Eventually the trout settled near a grassy bank, pinning it in some regards. On a rare drift, I could see my fly. The rainbow rose, the imitation disappearing below the residual ring. As the line came tight, the trout cart wheeled across the shattered waters. As it settled the fly came free, my line went slack, my heart raced. It was a trout worthy of such an effort and emotion, but how worthy I’ll never truly know.

Its unfinished endings that drives foolish passions, this “Game” we play on rivers between man and fish with wisps of feather and fur. I derived some contentment knowing that I’d fooled the trout into taking an impostor, yet under the circumstances the results felt incomplete. Had I landed that fish or stayed connected just long enough to affirm its size and power, “The Game” would have been over and with that a certain satisfaction.

A week later I returned in hopes of finishing “The Game”. I found the crushed blades of grass where I stood before entering the water and sat among the lush vegetation and waited. An eagle cried, shattering the early morning silence somewhere off in the forest. The sound of the river lent a soothing quality as I sat in anxious vigilance. Like clockwork spinners gathered overhead, sunlight shimmering from their translucent wings.

I walked out that morning having not made a cast. Other trout rose to morning’s offerings, but the trout I sought never rose. “The Game” was over. There will be another, but for now it had come to an end.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Stocking Fish

I’ve fished the Henry’s Fork for over thirty years. It’s a long time, yet I know of many who have fished it longer and with more frequency. Over that time I’ve been witness to its many mood swings. They run the gamut. But, never has it disappointed, even in the most meager of times. I remember several years back where I failed to land a trout and if truth be told only momentarily hooked one. Sitting on the banks among the tall grasses surrounded by a cornucopia of wildflowers in anticipation of what this river reluctantly yields reaches out to a hundred emotions. One should ask nothing more of a river and especially this one.

Upon leaving the famous Ranch section of the North Fork, a Henry’s Fork Foundation intern conducted a survey regarding whether these waters lived up to anglers expectations. Numbers of fish are down and have been for some time. For a growing number of anglers, they’d like to see something done about that. I told the intern that I felt there were just as many trout per angler now as in the glory days given that numbers of both had declined. Due the current state of the fishery, which is a matter of opinion, there are rumors regarding the possibilities of supplementing the existing wild population of rainbows. I ponder this recent impetus uncomfortably.

The Henry’s Fork, in particular the Ranch section, has such unique qualities that separates it from many of the other western waters. For one, they’re the rainbows: big, powerful, scarce and mostly hyper-selective. Laid before them is a daily profusion of insects, which only complicates the complexity of the game one must play to fool them. Then there’s the water; deceptively placid in appearance, but wrought with disorder and misdirection. The fact that there is solace in its beauty and the surrounding scenery only adds to its qualities.

For those not familiar with this river, being successful takes on a whole new meaning. On some occasions, just hooking a fish can be considered a favorable outcome, on others a fish or two. It’s not a game of numbers here; the challenge this river presents is more personal than that. However, a short distance from these waters there are plenty of other rivers where you can get your fix should your time on the Henry’s Fork not live up to your expectation.

Man has a history of being impatient with Mother Nature. After almost a decade of drought, there’s little wonder the Henry’s Fork is struggling. Tons of silt that found its way into the river when work was being done on Island Park Dam has added to the rivers struggles during this time. I know of few waters in the west that have not fallen victim to Mother Nature’s recent wrath.The Henry’s Fork Foundation and others have invested a significant amount of resources over the years addressing the issues that face this complex river system. Simply, there are no easy answers. But, given the opportunity Mother Nature has shown throughout history to rebound under favorable conditions to a state of healthy balance. Sometimes this takes time and patience, qualities as two leggeds we struggle and eventually succumb to far too often. Although stocking the Henry’s Fork may put a few more trout on the end of ones line, it doesn’t solve the problem.

That which eludes us only adds to its addictiveness. Changing that simple fact simply diminishes the desire. That’s a significant part of what makes the Henry’s Fork rainbows and this river so enthralling. That fact that it’s difficult to catch a trout on these waters only adds to its mystic. Looking at short term solutions with long term consequences that are not known historically has gotten us into trouble. I’d hate to see that happen here at this juncture.

I once heard someone state that the “Henry’s Fork is a magical place” in describing his affection for this river. Those comments sum up mine and others feelings for these waters. Since then the river has been through some challenging years. Through it all the Henry’s Fork has shown resilience. It may not be were we want it, but it’s better than what it was a decade ago and given the health of the fishery this year, it appears to be continuing to improve.

I hope when all is said and done that we have the patience to let Mother Nature run its course and we exude the same level of fortitude that it takes to be successful on the Henry's Fork. At the very least the river deserves that consideration.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Moments Reflection

After an uneventful landing, the twin engine eight seater abruptly exits the abbreviated runway. Moments later the props last turn winds to a throbbing halt. Looking from the crafts aged windows one may notice, “Welcome to the Conch Republic” emblazoned across the terminals second floor. Prior to the gangway opening the tropics dense humid air engulfs the planes poorly ventilated cabin. In this instance the slight discomfort is a welcome stimulus of an uneventful arrival and of climates unlike those left behind.

After taking the islands greeting to heart, I gaze at the terminal flag. Lethargically it unrolls from its tethered perch; a welcome sight when traveling with a fly. Once in town, there are similar indicators as to conditions one will encounter before the day unfolds that habitually are checked. Such habits are part of the antics played out when fishing where and whenever I get the opportunity to cast a fly. A lifetime of fly-fishing has taught me the value in such noticeable observations. Yet, the calm emerald surface on this days Gulf crossing and limp flag lend only temporary occasions for hope.

Although it’s human nature to yearn for that perfect trip, several decades spent chasing migratory species has taught me to put my fly fishing opportunities into a more humbling perspective. Pear Jam summed it up well, "Mother Nature has it's own religion, gospel of the land". To become disgruntled over fickle elements that are out of ones control has wasted many a day where opportunities exist, but never realized. Age and valued mentors have slowly helped me to understand there’s far more to a day on the water than the narrow focus of what’s on the end of the line.

Like most, such lessons were learned the hard way. There was however, a turning point. It occurred over a decade removed after seven painfully unproductive September days in BC. While on the river I barely noticed the vibrant cornucopia of fall colors or the surrounding grandeur of the glaciated peaks that stood sentry overhead, or took into consideration that I did after all land a steelhead. On the flight home, sulking, a reluctant conversation changed my narrowmindedness.

Upon taking a seat for the return flight home, I barely noticed the older gentleman seated at my side. He was tall, fit, had a good stock of gray hair and by the rods he carried on board obviously had been steelhead fishing. Reluctantly, due to my demeanor, we struck up a conversation. I was barely from the womb when he first began his jaunts to BC. “Back then” was often iterated through his reflective conversation. Having gotten older, I’ve noticed that I too use this expression far more frequently. Considering many of life’s harsh alternatives, I surmise this to be good thing.

Over our discussion, we talked of his passion and concerns for this noble fish. Like any fly-fisher, he’d ebbed and flowed through techniques, focus, and priorities as he ventured into steelheading. Similar to anyone who has fished long enough, he’d developed great passion and concern for the future of these and other great waters of the world. Eventually, he realized that the method in the madness bears far more significance than the tally at the end of the day. He admonished that he now only fishes with a waking fly. Given the periled existence this fish now lives, he didn’t need to wack a bunch of steelhead to enjoy success. At this day and age, given their perils, just to touch one once in a while was all that was needed to fulfill the circle of life that connects the dwindling wildness that makes one feel so alive. By his standards his week was better than expected, yet his numbers were similar to mine. By the time we departed, I learned yet another one of life’s valuable lessons; simply we live a privileged life. Just to have the opportunity to fish for these and other fishes of the world should be enough. To catch a fish or two along such journeys, simply a bonus.

Ironically, this May upon releasing the first tarpon of the trip, I reflected on my conversation old friend. Should he be fortunate to still wake a fly, he’d be in his mid nineties. I was hoping his travels kept him young beyond his years and he was still active. Waters of the world where anglers cast a fly need such mentors. While watching this lone piscatorial traveler back into the calm rich waters of Mooney Harbor, I wondered how many years I had left to fish. In the past few years it wasn’t the first time this thought crossed my mind.

I reeled in, placing the slender tarpon fly into the base of my aging Gulfstream. My fishing partner took the helm while I relaxed and sought solstice within this ocean refuge. I image what it must have been like when Jeffrey made those early runs across dark waters under the light of a full moon to discover new uncharted waters. I ponder on a similar crossing when I made a similar journey of discovery and realize how fortune I’ve been to have fished in the Conch Republic and other places of such beauty where wild fish still exist and on such chance occasions take a fly.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Last Minute Contemplations

Shortly before midnight I’m anxiously waiting to board a red-eye flight that will depart a little before one in the morning, eventually transporting me to warmer climates. Although personally partial to the cold, the Silver King would find the weather of my home state rather uninhabitable most months, even though Utah has an infamous saltwater landmark. It snowed on this day. In the Rockies, such is not an uncommon occurrence for May and makes Key’s weather rather inviting. This day’s flurries ideally suite the west’s spring mayfly hatches, yet lends a stark contrast to the emerald flats and tropical temperatures where tarpon call home.

I inventory my gear before boarding, as if at this juncture it’s going to do much good. Typically such gyrations are contemplated well in advance, yet circumstances prohibited such preparedness. My attics provide a source of entertainment for my fellow passengers. Given their expressions I wouldn’t be surprised to find a TSA agent or two sauntering my way to further inspect my assembled arsenal given the neurosis that now permeates our society. God knows my gear appears far more hostile than the tube of toothpaste the agents confiscated from me earlier. Shaking my head, they were kind enough to let me keep my razor. Go figure!

Normally, a row of freshly tied flies adorns an area above my fly tying table affectionately known as the Flight Deck. Those neatly assembled patterns serve as a visual reflection of my readiness. Only a handful hung on the Deck when time came to pack. A bag of hand tied leaders neatly labeled normally accompanies the selection of newly tied creations. All I managed was to purchase the hard mono needed to build them. Fortunately I’ll have several days to prepare before that first cast is made.

Then there’s that preparation that accompanies the first cast. Either the previous year or the one prior to our Captain elaborated on the complexities part time tarpon anglers are confronted with, that would be me. Out of respect, knowing the similar challenges a boat Captain faces when fishing for these piscatorial giants, normally there’s time appropriated to re-familiarize myself with my bigger sticks. It’s not that the practice doesn’t help, you simply can’t replicate the gyrating conditions that flats fishing confronts one with: tides, wind, moving boats, moving fish. For some reason the ducks and geese used to impersonate the Silver King’s habits don’t quite assimilate the real deal.

Just having the opportunity to fish for theses giants creates a level of significant contentment. There are so many variables that contrive to ones fortunes when fishing for migratory fish. Putting the variables into a simpler context I’ve come to the realization that “you get what you get when you get there”. It’s no more complicated than that. My mantra flashes briefly through my cranium while rummaging through my carry-on having little effect on the anxiety spawned by my lack of preparation.

Shortly after midnight the loudspeaker projects a shrill voice alerting most from their stupor, announcing the initial boarding of the flight. My quick survey shows nothing critical has been left behind. Given the lack of efficiency in most airlines there’s a 50/50 chance my bag will even arrive at my final destination. Fortunately you can travel with most of the items that are critical to your fishing trip: rod, reel, flies and a well traveled coffee cup. Making my way down the gangway I take comfort in that notion.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Growing Addiction

Poling onto the flat long after Lower Keys guides have headed home the Gulf’s placid surface lay silently crimson before us. Back on the island clusters of pink tourists gather in Key West, ceremoniously watching the setting of the sun; a tradition here that transcends time. Their disillusionment grossly detached from that which we have come for. Such disparities have juxtaposed since the first tarpon anglers ventured to the Conch Republic in search of this shallow water leviathan.

Ahead the evening’s first roller breaks the meniscus momentarily levitating before slipping back into the oceans reflective waters. Its body uncharacteristically black against the copper hue of the Gulf; accentuated by the glowing orb that now dominates the western horizon. A distinctive suck reverberates through the heavy tropical air filling an unfamiliar silence as this prehistoric fish secures life sustaining air. We stare transfixed as if not to disturb that which has played out before us. An explosion on the flat breaks the breathless tension. The violence shatters the Gulf like a rock breaking a single pane of glass. The feeding frenzy has begun.

Jeffrey climbs from the poling platform and removes several rods from the gunnel of the skiff simultaneously pulling line from the reel in preparation. Another violent attack resonates within casting distance of the boat. In seconds the shrimp pattern lands within the tarpons dying footprint. For thousands of years these mysterious predators have plied these waters. They’re not here by accident. Neither is Jeffrey whose predacious nature mirrors the quarry he passionately pursues.

The fly lands yet briefly before the line stretches tight the hook finding its mark. Seventy-five pounds of gyrating electricity erupts from the shallow confines where this and a growing number of predators have gathered to feast. The beige fly line instantly vanishes yielding a thin tether of connectivity. In the distance the fish catapults from it liquid environs, momentarily suspended r before gravity sends the tarpon crashing to the darkened waters. This first personal encounter with a tarpon still almost a decade later unforgettably remain etched in my mind.

The tarpon makes one final lunge to break the proportionally thin leader before sliding defiantly alongside the small skiff. The diminutive hook wrapped of feather and fur easily falls from the cavernous abyss that constitutes this unique fish’s mouth. Jeffrey marvels at the creature he’s briefly been connect to even though he’s enacted out this situation thousands of times; his genuine allure impressionable. With one purposeful tail flick the tarpon disappears into the deceptively placid waters continuing its quest for oceans yet unknown.

This dusk escapade forever changed my notion of fly fishing for tarpon. Even had I not hooked a fish, where once I thought being connected to such giants required more machine than manpower, I now know the converse to be true. In the footsteps of Hemingway and those before him, I now know the purpose of their habitual journeys. Had it not been for the gracious guidance of Captain Jeffrey Cardenas that led to that fateful April evening, I may never have known what drives the passion of such men. As Neil wrote in the “The Needle and the Damage Done”, I too have succumbed to an addictiveness of sorts, yet for those who yearn to catch fish on a fly that urge is no less powerful.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Void

Coincidentally, this absence in Blogging is juxtaposed to a deficiency in fishing. Not that days on the water are the sole inspiration for babbling, but days casting a fly or wandering through open spaces definitely correlate to my sense of creativity, or lack there of depending on how this gibberish is view.

A Blog on the state of affairs of rods has been in the works over this lapse of time. Typical of such undertakings, re-reads and writings left me with little enthusiasm for the subject matter. Towards the end, rather than finalize the endeavor, I’d convinced myself that most don’t care anyway. Other tainted influences also led to the termination of my last efforts: death, graduation, ailing parents, work, all drubbed any peripheral pleasures and justifiably so.

It’s been over a month since I was near enough to water to hear its movement. It was a beautiful Sunday; overcast, cool and snowing. Blue Wings were hatching, and this early season mayfly prefers such weather. For the vast majority of those who recreate just the opposite can said. Such in-climate days leave the most longing for fairer weather, an added bonus for those who venture out on days when the skies spit a bit of moisture.

I met “Snake” about a half mile down river. Discounting our vehicles there were only two others in the lot by the time I arrived and rain had turned to snow. Given the dense stratum of aging snow that still covered the valley, their occupants didn’t wander far.

We worked our way a mile or so further before we found a perch somewhat sheltered from the wind and increasing flurries. Before departing a plethora of waterfowl would parade before us on the placid pool that lay before us: Mallards, Geese, Goldeneye’s and Northern Pintail’s. Several Red-tail’s occupied the rivers towering yet naked cottonwoods, their voice distinct from other species in the family. A group of disgruntled Sandhills beckoned as if defiantly questioning their arrival into this wintry scene, given the warm confines they left in milder climates. With such distractions, as time passed intent conversations and observations took over as fishing became an afterthought.

By the time we’d headed home joints had become stiff, neither of us making a cast. We’d arrived optimistically hoping to encounter a quite stormy afternoon and a river laced with emerging mayflies, yet not a single delicate sail drifted aimlessly upon the rivers mirrored currents. Even under our most scrupulous glare could a single trout be willed to the surface.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate such days; to be with a friend, to sit on the bank of a trout stream in solitude, to witness life in a simpler setting. Fishing brings one to such places, a harbor from life’s distractions. These days to catch a fish only adds to the cornucopia of life experiences when one’s attracted to water. To ask more of a day on the water would only take away from what fishing with a fly has to offer.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

First Temptations

Winters frigid cold and snow reluctantly took the day off. From the south evidence of its next assault drapes lazily from the mountain tops like a dark veil. For the moment sunshine lends a sense of false comfort to the afternoon. Even with snowshoes travel along the river was relatively cumbersome. A short distance from the parking lot the last struggles of a determined angler are soon behind us. The deep depressions left in the snow gave good reason for their going no further.

Traveling among the shadows of the corridors bare cottonwoods any comfort from the sun quickly dissipates. Other than those early remnants of struggling anglers, the rivers cold clear currents are void of two legged’s; a rarity over this past decade even this time of year. Encountering the occasional sign of deer and possibly moose, it’s evident they too struggle. Their bellies drag through the powdered surface where snow is deepest. Winters harsh qualities show no regard for such creatures labored efforts, which for many unceremoniously end in death.

The river winds through the valleys bottom black in contrast to the enveloping blanket of snow. Ancient cottonwoods stand as bare sentries over its meandering course. In the distance a lone eagle sits perched enjoying winter’s temporary reprieve before nightfall’s cold and approaching storm assaults all things living left exposed. It’s a tranquil and somewhat foreign scene compared to recent winters past.

Pausing at the head of a run, several minute rings form as some of the rivers lesser occupants dine leisurely on those few drifting dipterids left vulnerable. Judging the current and drift, all defined by waters hidden structure, mental stock is taken as if to fish. Being without rod or reel the process is imaginary, yet natural for most that pursue this game when presented with water regardless of the opportunity.

Scanning the run before departing, a dissimilar rise catches the periphery of my eye. The tell tale sign of a larger fish still remains, yet rhythmically disperses as I stare. Several minutes pass before the brown takes another hapless midge confirming the illusionary will of false hope. Its broad shoulders break the dark meniscus briefly lending a porthole to its size. For a time all senses are magically consumed.
The brown never rose again, yet its image remained transfixed. Prior to leaving mental notes marked the run and trout’s location in preparation for a next visit. Unlike this leisurely day there will be more purpose upon my return. Given this temptation, that won’t be long.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter Reprieve

At three in the morning the screen to my bedroom window began to whistle as winters first storm rolled into the valley. Several freshly torn branches from the century old poplar that sags dangerously close to my home rattled across the roof. That was late December. Given winter’s tardy arrival, those who fish, greeted this storm with a sigh.

Winter’s critical snows arrive as if to wipe a season’s slate clean. Its dismal showing over the past decade have left many with significant trepidations. No more so than at the end of this past trout season. Recent western storms and ensuing artic temperatures have shaped a level of optimism that’s been absent through much of these past years.
Towards year end, winters onslaught has lent a mixed silence from a pastime that consumes us during the fly-fishing season. For many enthusiasts it’s a comforting reprieve knowing the sustenance that winter yeilds. Others perceive this frigid intrusion as an annoying distraction. For those finned creatures we stalk, it’s the first semblance of calm they’ll enjoy after a season of daily intrusions. Given this century’s persistent drought, they could use the time off.

One would think that given my profession and passion for fly fishing that winter’s intrusion would be annoyingly received. Instead, like the trout I pursue, I welcome the respite from summer’s heat. If it wasn’t for fishing and the opportunity to be submerged in cool waters, summers persistent heat literally saps the life from me. This year it came close. At one point waters therapeutic currents did little to relieve one of the miseries of summer’s lingering inferno. At such times there’s a longing for cooler climates and the need to don a layer or two to stay warm. As the season came to an end my thoughts traveled from home waters to the steelhead rivers of the great northwest.

I remember the previous year’s first outing. It was the last day of fishing I enjoyed with my good friend Rich Seamons. It was early February and winters artic temperatures broke to a balmy forty degrees. We sat that beautiful afternoon bathed in sunshine, alternately taking a handful of nice Browns that were delicately sipping on the smallest of midge. We never rose to take a fish, choosing instead to cast from the comfortable berth of several smooth rocks. Across the river a lone eagle perched in a solitary Ponderosa watched our antics. Towards the days end a solitary angler passed us. We exchanged pleasantries before he went on his way. Such are the pleasures of winter.

This morning’s reading from my porch thermometer dipped to zero. At elevation where our trout live, I’m sure it’s a few notches colder. Given the weather forecast and temperatures it’s probably going to be another week before I’m motivated to dust my rod off, put a fresh leader on and possibly tie a fly or two in preparation for my first day. For now that’s fine. I just as soon see the snow and cold keep me at bay for as long as Mother Nature has in mind. My fishing requirements, at this juncture, fall behind those acts of nature that are critical to our water resources health. For now I'm content to watch it snow, but before long that will change.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Disappearing Art of Flyfishing

Those who know me, acknowledge that I have a preference to fishing with dry flies. That was not always the case. Similar to most that have progressed through the sport I’ve managed a cycle of fishing with a fly. Initially I tried to just catch a fish. Then I worked on catching my fair share. During those early days I didn’t put much thought into the methods I employed, yet options by today’s comparison were few. Like everyone who initially enters this sport, there’s a natural yet personal progression; one of the beautiful aspects of fly fishing.

I was blessed having been mentored by some of our sports more ethical predators; Emmett Heath, Reid Bonson, Reme Harrop, Mike Lawson at a time far removed from the sport taking center stage. To this day these talented fly fishers and others continue to mold how I approach my days on the water.

Today my fly boxes contain a cornucopia of dries, emergers and soft hackles. Now and then lost among those patterns you’ll find a nymph or two, but not always. These random stragglers for the most part are left over from the numerous classes I teach.

I did hook a rather large rainbow on a nymph this year, which in some regards is a milestone; one that there was one in my box and two that I tied it on. It was the largest trout I was tethered to all year. I recall reading at one time on the disparity of nymphs compared to dries. The former being the most preferred. Those authors may have been from the early writings of Skues or possibly the more recent publishing of Charlie Brooks. For some reason pragmatic premise never stuck with me. To a fault I’ve never done things the easy way.

On those occasions when I fish the sunk fly my approach resembles that of dries and emergers; visually without the aid of strike indicator or dropper fly. When you’re close enough to see the fly being taken there’s no need for such visual distractions; the stalk being another challenging game in and of itself. Conditions on that fateful day when I took the rainbow permitted me to fish this way. After several searing runs and a spectacular jump the hook pulled free. Ascending the basalt ledges from where I first spotted this fish I again found it resting. As much as I would have liked putting this beautiful rainbow to hand, in the end I was accepting of the outcome feeling in some regards that I’d been disrespectful of this beautiful trout.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with those who fish the sunk fly. In fact “Snake”, my fishing companion, has a penchant for fishing nymphs. He’s a tight liner and I marvel in his skill at fishing the sunk fly. Although our techniques may vary on a given river we both have issues with the apparatuses used today to fish subsurface flies and the gluttonous results that incur from the use of such gadgets. Just because one uses a fly on the end of their line doesn’t mean their methods equate to fly fishing.

Like much in life I’m slow to the take. I use to believe that everyone should fish dries, just like I once believed that every trout stream should be catch and release. Both of these ill conceived wisdoms have since fallen from my grace. If the masses fished dries than much of the water and those trout that occupy such nooks and crannies would be frequently occupied. With anglers preferences towards techniques and methods that employ the sunken fly there’s a rather significant amount of open water available to explore.

It may seem like I’m being intolerant of those who fish nymphs, which is not the case. One of the great aspects of fly fishing compared to other sports is the option to pursue it in a myriad of directions. Such freedom permits one to enjoy the sport for ones own personal gratification. My disgruntlements are not with the participants or the way they have chosen to fish, but with many of those who make their livelihood from the sport and what we’ve allowed the sport to become. What once was promoted and taught as a beautifully challenging game now has become lost in an obscure practice that at times rarely resemble fishing with a fly.

I look back at my early mentors with great appreciation. They were teachers, philosophizers, hunters, conservationist and students of the sport. Today, these exemplary qualities are a rarity in many of the sports professionals and would be experts. In many regards I feel we’ve cheated the masses in an effort to get new entrants into the sport and in doing so have blurred the edges of what our sport is.