Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Four Anglers

Above, rainbow trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service as hosted on wikicommons. Copyright free image.

There are four anglers one meets with a fly rod.

The Infrequent Angler.

The infrequent angler is solely in the purview of recreation. We meet a great many of this sort. Unfortunately, we meet them in fleeting acquaintance too often. Mayflies share a great many traits with these folks.

The infrequent angler is usually recognized by new gear, squeaky boots, and a single-minded desire to wade directly into the water most likely to hold fish. They usually have a poor sense of space wandering through water they ought not to wander into, wading past anglers they should walk around, and crowding holes that "look fishy." 

They mean well. They false cast too damn often. 

Usually, they take to reasoned instruction like fly to flypaper though caution is needed lest the pursuit of fly fishing seem too much a mechanical process (tab A into slot B and ... trout!). You have to give them space for the mysticism of the water to take hold.

Sometimes it doesn't take hold.

Infrequent anglers are also full of the the enthusiasm everyone finds themselves envying at a later period of their angling career, even if the admission only comes under the influence of a substantial amount of whiskey.  

The call of the infrequent angler is known far and wide: 
"Hey, I got one!"  
Splashing and gregarious photo-ops follow sometimes to the fish's detriment.

I still love these guys though I've created too few. 

Fishing is a contact sport to infrequent anglers. Bigger is better and a fish is a joy. 

Isn't it always?

The Frequent Angler.

I, for example, am a frequent angler. 

Unfortunately, the label has too little to do with the presence of fish in landing net.

The frequent angler reads the trade literature. They cover the casts and techniques and can discuss the merits of a French leader on a ten foot four weight with a reasonably stiff tip. They can spell O.P.S.T and understand steelheaders as a special sub-culture of the sport who may or may not be expecting a fish on the line at any point in the season. 

The frequent angler considers the match-the-hatch and the presentation bias much as denominations of the protestant faith where, after all, isn't there a common end-goal?  Dry fly purists rate somewhere towards Catholicism. 

Wet-fly soft-hackle addicts? Welcome to temple! Mazel tov!

While we're on it, the frequent angler may proselytize angling as a near-religion. The fishing is an excuse to do something out of the day-to-day humdrum existence. 

It becomes a social bias and discriminator of affiliations leading to the spousal cocktail party opening question of "do you fly fish?" 

Knowing wives commiserate frequently with the one telling the other what a Bougle actually cost instead of what the husband said it cost. 

The "frequent" part of the label refers either to: (1) the rate of an individual's appearance in fly shops fondling gear; (2) the number of times "fishing" might come up in social conversation; (3) the occurrence of fishing related publications arriving in the mailbox or (4) all of the above.

Yes, there is an uptick in the number of fishing excursions of the frequent angler over the infrequent; but, fishing itself is merely an endgame whose anticipation is savored much as one might stretch the anticipation of an upcoming extravagant vacation they might not quite be able to afford. 

The call of the frequent angler is widely varied by geography and various seasonal factors but might be generalized as:
"Have you read Marinaro's In the Ring of the Rise?"
The Occasional Angler.

At the pinnacle of  recreational angling lives the occasional angler. The term comes from the west of my youth where severe understatement is a rule and is much a part of speech as the rhyme might be to a cockney cant. 

This individual is the one about whom it can be said "they can occasionally catch a trout ... out of a shallow mud puddle on a moonless night." These are anglers whom we mere mortals deign to imitate.

Unfortunately, the mass of internalized knowledge and experience --usually originating on several continents--from pursuing all manner of game-fish results in an unnatural sixth-sense about where, when, and what to fish. It is almost unfathomable as a science to the new angler.

Exchanges with them tend to be somehow exotic as if in a Tokyo whorehouse whose doorman has to recognize your friend only by face. Where else can you find a girl who will read German poetry all night wearing a Kimono revealing nothing but a smile with a ready willingness to pause in order to refill a masu  (that's a portioned sake cup for you old-school sinners)?  

Yes, you pay for her to read the German. No, you don't understand it at the time either.

The point here is that exchanges with occasional anglers can be surreal to the uninitiated.

"Hey, I just got this H2 lightening rod that'll cast a whole line in the lot over there. Want to try it?" 
"A whole line? Impressive. I'll just keep my Garrison here. Your rod might ruin me for the one just 20' away."
My favorite response from an occasional angler is the time I called over after a fellow I knew who hooked four fish in as many casts to ask "What fly are you using?"

The answer?
"I'm using the one that looks like what the trout are eating."
We went to the river together and the fellow had four flies on his hatband. That's it. No box. No bag. No net down a wading belt. A six weight and four flies on a sun-rotted Bailey hat. Kicked. My. Ass.

Of course, he wasn't even in the game I was playing. No point.

The Commercial Angler.

The fly shop owner, guide, instructor, boat builder, outdoor writer, or rod artisan. These sort of folks feed their family from the water. They're not messing around.

They're not recreational anglers any more. Sure, they love to fish. Tiger probably will say he still loves golf but on the course, you are never playing the same game he is. Not. Even. Close.

The game to the commercial angler usual has nothing to do about putting fish on the end of their line. They're so good, they can put fish on the end of your line even when you're not aware they're doing it.

I can't speak to the days and years on the water it takes to get the observational skill of the commercial angler.

Fish with one of these fellows socially and they'll say things you won't understand at the time.

"Wow, he almost closed on that one. Try that cast again and see if he take this time but slow down after every third strip."
You find yourself polishing your polarized lenses and looking through them queerly suspecting something amiss with the 3dx5 SuperClear coating this brand swears makes all the difference.

We've seen this most of the time when getting a new skill from a guide.

They'll tell you something like "Roll it into the foam line then count two-bugga-bugga after the indicator makes a half twist."

We look at them wondering what language that might be. We try the technique, hesitatingly. No joy.

"Here-- like this," they say taking our rod. "Right there, see that? That was the fish."

Blank stare.

"I'll do it again, slower," comes the assurance the guide offers and ... fish on. He'll then flick it off with a wrist move and presents the rod back to you.

"Like that," he says. Increasingly, she'll say it. Sometimes they smile sheepishly if they know you've paid a good used BMW in guide fees through your lifetime.


Like that.

We've all got places to go, just like the guys in the jet boats. I've an uncle that use to laugh at the jet boat guys.

"Where does a guy in a boat go?" he'd ask.

"I don't know," I'd say.

"Somewhere else," came the reply. Often, it came with a fish on the line.

I like days on the water best. Sent a buddy off to the coast this weekend. Probably won't get to spend very many more days on the water with him. Time. Distance.

Makes the days we enjoyed together special. At least he knows he likes water days too, now.

That's something.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Apple Bread, Tea, Sunday Evening

At left, fresh cup of tea, apple bread (think banana bread but with cinnamon and apples covered by a streusel topping) from my local cider mill, and prose.

I'm at the ink but it is a good night here. First real snow of the year this morning. We've had fall flurries but it is now working up to being serious about winter.

I got some new cdc today to try some flymphs tomorrow night at the grotto. There are some beautiful cdc spiders over at the Small Stream Reflections blog (link at right)  and that got me thinking about my early season flymphs.

I like cdc. I like how it moves in the water.

I have an idea for my early season using a parachute-style pheasant tail nymph.

My first thought driving down the road was that it was a stupid idea. I tie flymphs and fish them subsurface to indicate the larval stages between nymph and fly. I'm well in the water column with these "lures." That's how I've thought of them.

Cripples, drowned emergers, stillborn, and the other surface dwelling non-dun? I use a thick bodied soft hackle sometimes with a drop of floatant.

A nymph -- a subsurface imitation-- as an early season indicator? A post on a nymph?

I need something other than a big bushy dry as the early season/early day partner on a dry-dropper. So, I look it up.

Gary Borger has an example on his blog from 2012 (here) of a parachute pheasant tail nymph that isn't exactly what I am after but which contains a good recommendation. The professor states his parachute pheasant tail out performs any other imitation during Baetis hatches.

Sounds like my entire spring -- except for the "out perform" part, of course. I always feel I have to work very hard for cool spring trout. Opener was different last year with a nice warm spring afternoon before the cool spring deluge that followed the next day.

Right in my wheelhouse.

Hmm, here's a fellow whose books I own who fishes a parachute flymph and says positive things about it. Also, the PTN is one of my favorites. I tie them with greater precision than a hare's ear so there's that.

Time to smash together a buoyant, upright floating, white posted PTN flymph with some cdc feathers for the motive attraction.

I don't feel like a complete idiot now.

Wait until I post some pictures. You can laugh then. Luckily, trout enjoy being amused by my efforts. My flies are ... beguiling.

Tomorrow night flies. Tonight prose, tea, and apple bread.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Brook Trout of Unusual Size (B.T.O.U.S.)

Alright, I'll admit it is a Northern Pike as crafted by Robert W. Hines for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and therefor in the public domain as hosted on wikicommons.

R.O.U.S. => rodents of unusual size from The Princess Bride  published in 1973 by Harcout Brace as written by  William Goldman.

A buddy I'm going fishing with casually sentd me a picture of a 17" brookie this morning. Just another fish caught. Meh. [ Let's clarify: he's not a recreational angler. You'd say he was squarely in the "commercial"  category.]

Of course, like most of you I had to wait until I had my glasses, a proper monitor, and a couple cups of coffee to look at the snap.

It's a fish. You've seen them before.

The thing is, we get stuck on size as anglers. We drool over large fish.

I don't give a damn when I'm actually fishing if it is a 4" brookie or a 16" brown. I'm delighted for action.

When pictures come out, it is as if I'm in fifth grade and found a Playboy  [ okay, it was the interview with Jimmy Carter issue. They were everywhere]. Only then, I knew those girls didn't actually exist.

Show me a picture of a 24" brown out of a drainage canal and I believe I can go right out here to the ditch and get one myself.

It's a size thing. Pictures of big fish turn something off in our brains. Mostly, they turn off the spending control part of the amygdala.

I stopped by the fly shop today and made a payment on something beautiful. Useful; but, beautiful. It doesn't hurt that I just love Dirk and Lauren at my local shop. Great people. Friends.

I found out we're going back to the Driftless this year. Two trips. I'm going in the May run. Could use the outing. Hope Dr. Don can make it, too. And Jim. Be great if Jim can come.

I am definitely putting together a camping group on the Black river for opener. Several folks are interested either in camping or coming by for morning breakfast before heading out.

Makes me very happy.

Biscuits and gravy. Hot coffee. I'll probably cook both on a gas stove this year just so I can create a bigger warming fire without burning the grub. We'll need a good warming fire.

I could use a new gas stove for groups, anyway.

Something about turning the knob under a big coffee pot and starting the warming-fire when everyone else is still in their bags makes me feel good. I like the smell of a fire in the morning and the radiant warmth of the first hot cup of coffee. I have plenty of wool and down. I'm good for fire-lighting duty.

It's going to be a great opener. Yes, it is six months away.

I've got trout excitement bad. Watch out, it's catchy.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

No Boat for You

At left, the US Navy carrying my dreams away.

Actually, it is a RIB from Special Boat Team 12 is being airlifted. Either way, I don't get a boat.

I've had a couple conversation with U.P. folks in the past couple days as I try and assess a trip to the Fox, the Two Hearted,  and the Tahquamenon.

Verdict: no boat. One man portage from chest deep holes? No. Don't try.

So, walk in, fish a hole, move on to the next access, fish that hole. It's more a drive-in-and-walk than a float-and-fish type of operation.

So, I've learned something.

Looks like post-Labor Day is also a good plan for Black Fly control options as well.

All this means late season sees me in the U.P. sans bateau.

No loss.

I'm looking forward to putting together a camping group for opener on the Black for brookies. A couple of my trout friends are interested. Coffee, biscuits and gravy, and opening day trout.

I'm going to check out REI for a little better bag. Mine is rated to freezing and opener can demand something with a little more staying power. Hello, Marmot.

Yes, I do take a well sealed stainless canteen of hot water to be with me when it is really cold. Helps ... for six hours. I use a fleece bag liner too. Morning are cold in Michigan come April.


Monday, November 13, 2017

I Want a Boat

Stamp at left from the fallen Soviet Union. Image hosted on wikicommons. The soviets can sue me over the image's use.

It is sleeting outside this morning as I stay at home to take care of personal business. I guess this entry is now personal business.

I want a boat.

That is, I want the experience of traveling down rivers on a carefree current stopping at at the odd riffle or tongue of gravel to catch trout inaccessible to mere wading anglers.

I want to float the Two Hearted and the Fox weaving around the sweepers and past the odd rock or narrow run guarded by thick tag alders and briers.  I want to draw two inches of water on the Black standing to cast at nice cut-banks and holes dug by spring currents.

Watermaster seems great. A few pack canoes leap out at me.

I prefer the inflatable for stability. I prefer a hard-structure craft for timber and snags. Nothing is perfect.

I'll dump a canoe at the worst time. Same for a kayak.These rigid vessels are best used where recovery and support are at hand. They're not good for solo runs where the risk is a key piece of gear floating down the river from  "inadvertent bear roll."

Inflatables suffer punctures. I can patch anything. I'm a fan of marine epoxy. A meter roll of patch cloth covers many many ills. Still, critical gear floating a mile downstream requires my grossly inadequate spot-and-find technique to be pressed into service.

It is all for naught.

A boat requires a spotter run and that means other humans. There is nothing I can depend upon less than other humans.

Spotters are easy to come by where the aluminum hatch is heavy. Great!

That isn't water I want to be fishing.

Back woods, thirty miles into the forest, a slide down a bridge abutment: that's water I want to travel. It is not water supported by the local livery, fly shop, or even party store. I'm in the boonies and a boat is not a help.

I've thought of the bicycle routine - chain a bike at the run's end and peddle back to the vehicle at the start. Some do it. Has potential merit. Still considering the option.  It isn't like a twelve mile hike isn't out of the pale for me, either. Wouldn't hurt one bit to put on a pair of boots and leg it out. Time, effort. Those things I might find.

The fleeting problem with a boat is that the effort of using it is not equaled by the enjoyment I'd have.

I need a boat for a dozen trips a decade. Not really making much sense here. Of course, without the boat my dream of fishing the Fox next year is almost zero.

I want. That word usually leads to some sort of evil in my world. It wears on the ursine psyche.

An Old Town 119 is hard to beat for the price. Pack canoe. Heavy - but then cheap costs extra effort. Always has.

There are many other great pack canoes out there but they start at three times the price. I'd rather a plane ticket to a destination than a better canoe stored all summer on sawhorses under my spruce trees (and out of sight of frau bear!).

I haven't solved the mystery of remote adventure water yet. It is difficult to access for a reason. That's the reward: difficult. I know what the Holy Waters on the Au Sable becomes when June rolls around. It can be nearly combat fishing.

Three hours more in the SUV and the crowd is gone. The water isn't as well known. The fish are not as pressured. The canoes are few. The wilderness is wilderness except for a few seasonal grouse and deer hunters.

I have a few months to decide. Yes: you'd think there is the option of a guide service. Those fellows cover the known water around here: Manistee, Au Sable, Pere Marquette, the Pine, the Rifle.

Backwoods do-it-yourself is indeed backwoods do-it-yourself. Can't complain about the options if I pick "undeveloped" and "isolated" options for adventure.

Two-thirds of the trip's reward is figuring out how to make it work.

Hello Craigslist! Somebody has to have a pack canoe to trade for Christmas money. That new Cascapedia can wait a couple months.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Year Ahead

At   left, public domain image of Hemingway fishing in Key West in '28.  Image from the Kennedy museum and hosted on wikicommons.

Happy. Jovial. Looking forward to an afternoon of fishing.       

Putin fishing in Tuva, 2007. Image provided courtesy and hosted on wikicommons.

Happy. Jovial. Looking forward to an afternoon of mayhem.

I must not be taking my shirt off enough. Writers and despots get all the hot babes.

I'm looking ahead to '18. I can't believe I wrote that. I long anticipated being dead by now.

2018 goals:

(1) Fox and Two-Hearted, Upper Peninsula Michigan.

(2) Upper Columbia - American Reach, Washington.

(3) Yakima River, Washington.

(4) Outings to the Black River, Lower Peninsula Michigan.

(5) Jordan River and the Jordan River Valley, Lower Peninsula Michigan.

(6) An opportunity I don't expect.

It's a big brook trout year for me here in Michigan. I like brook trout, have the gear for them, and love to spend an afternoon watching them demolish a barbless wet fly. I'm going to do more of that this year.

The Senator won his election last night so I don't expect to see him fishing any time soon. Big Bear likes the camp (and camp cooking) more than the fish. Wilson is moving to Seattle. Mobes has a girlfriend.

It'll be a good year for solo adventure.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cat Heads

 The ground is sodden. The rivers are blown out and in the trees. We've had rain six of the last seven. Should end for a bit after tonight.

I needed an attitude adjustment.

My early streamer season has evaporated in the wet. The trout are on the beds and I'll hope for a nice Christmas week to try and find something anxious to chase my streamers.

In the meantime, cheese-y biscuits. Cathead biscuits with sharp cheddar cheese baked into them.

Here, the biscuits put to use as a bear's breakfast: ham on cheese-y biscuit.

Beargirl's dean gave me the coffee mug and as I was driving everyone around last night in the deluge, I used the mug this morning. Michigan played a night game in a storm's aftermath and so I was transport officer. Spousal duty.

I like biscuits in the morning when I'm camping.  I like biscuits when I'm not camping, too.

The recipe is idiot simple.

Six biscuits cooked for 22 minutes at 425 in a conventional oven.

1 1/2 cup of flour. King Arthur AP unbleached works.
1/2 tablespoon baking powder. (use a little more if yours isn't a new tin)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons dried buttermilk
2 tablespoons shortening
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water.

I mix the dry and cut in the butter and shortening with a fork until coarse grains form. I bag the mix.

In the field, I grease a Banks fry-bake pan, add the water to the mix until the biscuits are large crumbs of about ping-pong ball size. I give the dough a good minute to sit then mix again by hand. The minute rest allows the moisture to saturate the dough and with a good three or four squeezes it is ready to form into balls the size of a cat's head.

Too much kneading and the biscuit is tough. Too little and there isn't enough developed gluten to split them with a fork and have them stay together.

I use a generous cup of cheese when I decide to make cheesy biscuits.

My new OPST heads haven't arrived yet. I'm going to use them for some two-handed trout here this fall. I'll let you know what I think of them when they're here.

Brown ale. The weather calls for brown ale. And biscuits.