Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pre-Season Jitters

 I call it stress tying. You know: that period between when you really want to be on the water and when the season opens. That's stress tying season.

At left, a highly buoyant Coachman. I've concealed a strip of closed cell foam down his spine.

Yea, looks like it too. Call it a Royal Porkman fly.(well, need some true white and ...)
 My size 17 BWO soft-hackle. Yes, I have  a ton of CDC soft hackles in five (!) colors lined up ... not that I have a clue on the colors. I can't see color so I have no idea why I even bother. Usually, I can remember if I sort my fly box which is where. With five colors all tied on a snowy Saturday in January, I've no chance at all.

Nevertheless, a soft-hackle BWO. Yea, I'll work on it. #17 though. With the right presentation it will work.
 Soft hackle hare's ear flymphy tung-head.

I might need 'em and so I tied 'em. I am not a real fan of contact nymphing. Yes, I can freestyle nymph pretty well. Yes, I'm always rusty on the first outing. Always.

Why is that?

Anyway, I might need something if it is cold and dreary and my fish want something ticking on bottom.

That's not going to be my opener, though.

I've got a bug up my ass about making a couple epic trips this year.

I'm going to Wabakimi and one never knows if it might be my last trip. One of these days, I'll be flying in to spread some of Mike's dad's (also know as Old Guy) ashes in lower Wabi. He stopped going when he turned 80 and couldn't pack his own gear. He didn't need to pack gear at all but you try telling that to one of those old hard as nails bastards. Go ahead. I dare you.

Anyway, one day I'll be flying-in to spread Old Guy's ashes.

Then I'll be flying in to spread Mike's. We've had some of the best days of our lives sitting in aluminum islands on a place damn few people ever go. I love the Ontario wilderness. Stunning.

I fell in love with Wabakimi on my first day there in a boat with Reagan. His last Canadian trip at 78. My first.  Thank you Reagan, where ever you are.

I want the Amber Liquid guys to have this joy. Now, I'm too much of a hard-ass and an asshole-first-class for these fellows to listen to me. Different lives.

Nevertheless, I want them all to know "epic."

Yellowstone offers some of that. I want them to go to Yellowstone.

I want the Lamar. The Yellowstone. The Madison. The Gallatin. The Firehole. Cache creek. Soda Butte creek. Slough creek. The Gardner. There is a decade of fishing there for me.

There's a decade of fun for them. How many evenings around campfires are wasted evenings?


No worries about bears. We share the same temperament. Best to give us both a wide birth.

Opener is next week. I'm building a heavy camp. I'm feeding breakfast. I'm fishing. I'm thinking good thoughts about the fellows who can't make it. Who knows how long any of us might have?

I miss my buddy Dean every week. Maybe I can get Mike to come to Yellowstone, too. I won't let him fish with leeches. I promise.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Early Spring Flies, Opener Part 2

 More flies from the recent bench in anticipation of a cold opener.

At left, a coachman style streamer using a dyed guinea fowl as a outer hackle. It's tied on the Alec Jackson 7 1x short, 1x heavy "irons" hook.

Coachman streamer with a blond ginger hackle. It probably is the wrong style for the early/dark theme but it will come in handy soon.

The red ass in size 15. This version uses the red wire abdomen.That's dark claret SLF as the thorax.

I'll us this fly as the deep-point in combination with ...
The Stewart spider in 15. Simple and effective, the Stewart spider with its palmered hackle is a favorite early season choice.  There is a lot in the drift that is dark and lively.

 Grouse and Purple soft hackle. Also size 15.

I bought a new sleeping bag today, A zero degree bag. It's going to bloody cold at night and my thirty degree bag won't be enough.

It snowed again today. Fourth day in a row. More tomorrow.

Might be nice next week. Might not. We'll see.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Opening Day Flies: Michigan 2018

At left, public domain image of Alanson Dunham of Norway, Maine and snowshoes he's made for the Peary expedition (North Pole, 1909).

Mr. Dunham's creations may have a use come open the last Saturday of the month. Right now, I'm sitting out an ice storm of minor proportion (only substantial power outages and downed trees in my neck of the woods, much as you'd expect). Up north in trout country, they're getting hammered.

I might haul my chainsaw north as I'm expecting the campsites to have received very little in the way of clearing downed timber. We'll see.

Yesterday, attended party at my local to celebrate Dirk Fischbach taking over as the Winston area rep. Dirk's been on their pro-staff forever and is the sort of fellow you want to see do well in the industry. He's a consummate commercial angler always ready with a word of encouragement, knowledge about our sport, or a ready smile. Sometimes all three.

I'm also putting together my year. I'm hoping some of the Amber Liquid guys might go to the Colorado front-range for instructional fishing -- the "learn a new approach" style rather than the "let me put a bobber on that" style. I want these guys to have a blast in a new local scene (they're far more social than I am), gain a new skill and the confidence to use it, and see someplace new. If not Colorado, then maybe YNP.

I'm going to RMNP right before July 4th. Canada on the first week of August back to the wilds of Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou National Park on a fly-in,  somewhere in September after kiddies return to school (maybe the epic Michigan UP trip), and in early October out to points west.

I've got a good year lining up.

Flies for Opener

Opener in Michigan looks tough. Entomologically speaking, we are behind on the seasonal development of aquatic insects. Prospects for the Hendrickson hatch are poor.

Subsurface: streamers under and along downed timber (of which I'm sure we're adding inventory this very second), small nymphs and soft-hackles in the flow and eddies, sculpin and crayfish patterns low and slow.

Hendrickson nymphs will be active. They "practice" in the flow sometimes for several weeks before hatching. I just doubt we'll see dry fly action this year. 

I'm tying accordingly.

I started this effort in the middle of last week as the long-term forecasts and the water temperature survey information started popping-up. Snow in Grayling last weekend and this weekend didn't help much (looks like 6" of accumulation in the past 48 hours). Snow is also forecast through Tuesday up there.

The water has been low but ice run-off is still a great deal of very cold water going into the rivers. It might warm quicker with the lower flow rates but that's a process.

I'm still expecting the fly shop reports to contain "saw some BWO and a couple Hendricksons" three mornings this next week because: fly shops. You don't attract patrons by saying "snow chains required on river access roads."  It's money.

You might see some bugs too if it were your money riding on it. Not faulting anyone.

The good news: the rivers are still full of fish and if you can get on them without combat fishing, so much the better. Nothing wrong with catching fish on streamers and nymphs.

I'm going with attractors: coachmen in soft-hackle wet and streamer varieties; Stewart spiders lightly wrapped with a little non-lead; some hare's ear streamers and flymphs.

Twist my arm and I could spend the entire year only fishing coachmen-style flies. I've tied some royal trude based on what I've seen over on Alan's Small Stream Reflections site (link at right). I'm still working out the proportions.  Look at his. They're lovely.

Friday night lubrication. With the bucket of cold water I dispensed on the opener hopes up above, one can use the liquid courage. Gin, gin, gin, and bitters.

Royal Coachman with a dun hackle. I'm reflecting on early season meaning subdued, darker, and largely smaller. This is a size 15 barbless Tiemco.

 Alec Jackson "irons" hook in 7 1x short 1x heavy. I think these are perfect for early streamers that I won't have to weight.

Nice hooks. I'm using them for trout but I understand one needs to be careful debarbing them (if one does) for steelhead and salmon as the debarbing can stress the hook at the barb and weaken it.

A buddy who now uses "debarbing" pliars and is a steelhead junky says he's never broken one since become aware that his water-pump-pliers method of smashing the barb was stressing the tip. Good to know.

A Coachman streamer tied on the above hook using a large dark orange-dyed "crawfish" colored hen hackle.

I think this is a good search streamer for holes, banks, and timber given the seasonal set-back in the fishing calendar.

I can easily be both stupid and wrong. I'm a rank amateur, remember. Always consult your local commercial fisherman for advice

A more traditional coachman streamer tied with a flag of dyed bucktail tied-in under and behind the dual hackles.

I'm using raspberry dyed coastal deer hair for the tails on this series. Seems to fit the "dark, early" intent as well.

Why the yellow bucktail?

Attractor-style streamer. I'm attracted to it.

I've also been tying some Gartside style maribou soft-hackled streamers in small (10-12) sizes. Meh. Mixed results.

I'm learning to master the materials. Some ways to go.

At left, mating some barred maribou for the micro-streamers in neutral colors.

Practice, practice.

I need to tie up some of Steve's scuplin patterns this week as well. Big soft-hackle heads making the sculpin wake as drawn along the bottom on a tight line could save the day.

There are some fish on the other side of the gloom. Let's be ready for them.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trout Camping: Nemo Dark Timber Wall Tent

At left,  a hare's ear dubbed body variant of Steve's "Swing for Trout" style of flies. Pheasant hen tail. Hare's ear+SLF spun in a dubbing loop and secured by wire. Ginger hackle wrapped full.

Size 10 3 xl.  I'll be using these through the spring. I should probably tie a herl abdomen and then the hare's ear+SLF thorax. I'm lazy right now. This is a utility fly. Probably gets the job done. I'll be finding out shortly.

My library desk for the last two weeks. Does everyone else's desk look like this ? (The stack of books are from my trout library and are reference for a work-in-progress ... just like everyone else).

Robert Smith's book open as a visual reminder to tie sparse soft hackles. Sparse.

And sparse. Tried ribbing with floss. Meh. Don't like the outcome but my vote doesn't count. We'll ask the trout. Datus Proper taught us that.

The tent: Base Camp.

I chose a new base camp tent this year as most of Michigan's campsites are drive-up affairs. Maybe I have to pack gear 100 meters. Maybe. Most of the time the tent pad is adjacent to the fire pit adjacent to the gravel pull-in for the 4Runner.

So, where I'm car camping and making a base for a couple days or a week, I'm expanding my footprint. Last fall I crawled across a campsite to use a tree as a support to stand-up in the morning.  Sitting up on a cot has some merit right now.

Here's the final product:

So, the Nemo Dark Timber is a substantial tent consisting of an A-frame shelter and a wall-tent style insert which buckles into the outer shell. This will be clearer in a minute.

First, the set-up.

Tent duffel. About 19 lbs. Packable on a purpose-driven trip. Say, camping a half-mile from the parking I'd make three trips: shelter, sitting, and sleeping; camp kitchen and foods; and fishing gear + utility items.

I'm not opposed to packing a bit on multiple trips for comfort and/or isolation.

The "pile" of gear I'll use in my illustration.

Nemo Dark Timber on left, 2 Byer easy-cots, an REI collapsing table, a canvas dropcloth "tent carpet" and a folding camp chair buried in there.

Everything one needs comes with the tent.

The stakes are massive. I could tie-down a light aircraft on a turf strip with these and have with something similar.

That's a $16 hardware store hatchet. I leave things at the campsite sometimes so hatchets are pure functional items. I sharpen it with a file.

I carry a Randall knife. I carry a hardware-store hand-ax. Go figure.

The A-frame tarp.

A-frame tarp erected. Still working on tension. First pitch tonight and you can see I botched the front corner stake placement. Tension on a tarp should bisect the angle formed by the corner.

My uncle George would be disappointed. In my defense, I haven't set an A-frame tent in twenty-five years. It does come back.

Those poles are massive DAC aluminum. The ridgeline-to-pole connectors are machined stainless. No chance of some sort of grommet failure there. No grommets to break out.

Interior. Floor. Still working on its tension. I don't have a picture of it; but, I did align the force vectors of the out-stakes of the floor segment before proceeding. No pull lines.

Took a minute to get right.

Floor of tent with canvas drop-cloth tent carpet.

Interior in "solo bear" configuration. There is a central lantern hook. It's easily got room for a camp chair, a work table for tying, writing, drinking, and a bunk. I like to write late into the evening when camping.

It brings me closer to Hemingway. I'm sure he sat up late at night on fishing trips and wrote because as he lay on his bunk he thought "what a lazy bastard I am lying here when those stories will not write themselves."

There's a lot of angst and guilt in this racket.

Two bear configuration. Plenty for room for two full-sized cots.

Room between cot and wall for storing.

Access into and out of the tent in two-cot configuration without bothering any other occupant in hibernation mode. Our crew sleeps very soundly when we camp. Not sure about yours.

Interior, two cot mode. I almost brush the ridge line and I'm just at 5'9". Note the huge door. Door storage pockets inside on the "centerpost". Window on the right and I've poorly secured the window covering. Both ends of the tent are of like configuration. It'd be easy to leave the screen open on both ends in August and have great ventilation. It'd be easy to have both windows open in all other months for a bit of the same.

The A-frame ridgeline tarp overhangs the interior tent by two feet on each end.

Another door image. In the right side of the picture, you can clearly see the buckle attachment system which connects the interior tent to the exterior ridgeline tarp.Look at that separation! The air circulation must be amazing and the tent must dry very quickly.

Nemo. Dark Timber tent. It's running about $225 on clearance from Nemo right now. I think the tent market doesn't stand such heavy gear very well. Backpackers want light. Families want cheap. This is a substantial piece of gear that went for $500 list originally.

The tent provides room for base camp and eliminates the need to upgrade to a trailer.

In storms, the tent has 4 guy-outs for the ridgeline (duh), 6 additional side guy-out points for the outer tarp. There are also 8 guy-out points for the inner tent to secure the bottom tent section.

You will have to re-tension the guy-outs in high wind throughout the night. It's the nature of such a tent design. We've all had to do it on classic canvas and yes, I'd suspect you'd have to keep a taught pitch on the Dark Timber.

A Tungsten 3p or 1p  from Marmot both handle 45 - 60 mph straight-line winds. I fully guy-out my tents by habit. Has saved me. I'd use those smaller profile tents should I be expecting thunderstorms.

Will the Dark Timber take a bad storm? I'll let you know.

I have enough confidence to try.

Oh, first pitch with pictures and staging: 35 minutes. I think I could get it up and configured in under 15 minutes next time if I remember all the tensioning tricks.

In rain, the tarp-then-tent set-up would be sweet!

Nemo Dark Timber: Tent


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Camping for Trout, Almost

At left, public domain image of a German Enigma cipher machine.

I'd intended to show pictures of my new base camp set-up complete with safari wall tent, cots, table, field chairs.

In the practice of erecting the tent for the first time,  two critical bits are missing. The sleeve spikes which go into the tent poles are missing meaning the poles cannot self-stand supporting the ridgeline.

So, nojoy.

I'll call the manufacturer tomorrow and get it sorted. It's why we practice these things. I'm not sleeping in the back of the 4Runner angry at the incomplete status of my tent. I'm merely disappointed not to have the pictures to show.

Steve is tying exciting flies over at the Soft Hackle Journal for the trout swing effort. Alan is a demonstration tyer at a Connecticut Fly Tyer Associate event. We're lucky to live in these times.

Monday night is the last of our off-season fly tying sessions at the Beer Grotto in Dexter. If you can stop by, please do so.

Opener is around the corner. Make sure the soft-hackle box is full.

Make sure you have all the parts to your field gear.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Taking the Show on the Road

At left, overloaded truck from the Beitbridge highway (Zimbabwe) as photographed by Macvivo in 2006. Image hosted on wikicommons.

Thanks, Macvivo.

It's time to address the baggage issue and get the Amber Liquid show on the road.

I've been hiding from the ink pot. I've a lot of work to do finishing some fiction projects and then there is a non-fiction bit that needs attention.

Nothing for it but to get to work and churn out prose line by line.

Writing is a type of disease that infects your soul. It's as bad as rain on Saturday three weeks ahead of the opener.

The river pulls to you and you find your hand forming a grip around cork as you drive to the hardware store. Maybe your off hand makes a gesture of handling line while you're at your desk.

You stop on the bridge and look at the river until the minivan behind you provides the "blatt" of encouragement to move on ... You relive that one fish from last fall you should have landed but who  won the fight of the driftwood snag above Daisy Bend.

The stories come back. I find myself with works from two decades ago in my head and the prescience of writer-ly tricks I will use to resolve the flaws that relegated the story to the "later" bin of the great incomplete. 

I've got work to do.


I'm having an additional batch of winter here in lieu of spring. Snowing this morning as I write this.

I've been wallowing with the Amber Liquid dilemma. Our group covers a wide range of competencies and interest. I'm pretty much "trout happy" and define my year by time on the water.

Not so with everyone.

Trout outings need to hold more than "fishing with Jack" to really generate interest. Part of that is our level of mastery. Part of it is the pressure of vocation, family, competing interests.

Everyone loves a good time. Trout angling needs to consistently be that good time to justify the continued investment by our crew. These guys don't know yet why old bears end up solitary figures ... the connection to others of their kind naturally wanes with age. You have to fight that tendency. You have to work to maintain connections. Otherwise, you sit in the cave with a pocketful of "I wounder where Stu ended-up ?" questions.

I'm turning to professional help.

Turns out, there is a a whole profession of highly skilled commercial anglers who provide coaching and a mix of guile and local knowledge necessary to create the "happy outing" in fly fishing.  (There's an entire other profession dedicated to happy outcomes who are not commercial fisherman. Mostly, this second group works for a set of Scottish distilleries.)

I'm going to co-opt these commercial angling individuals into my plan to turn treasure and time into happiness.

It helps that trout live in "happy places" to borrow a Bob Ross-ism. There are often bars close to these places, too. That helps.

We'll make new stories and disrupt new civilizations ... 

We're going to go to beautiful locations. We're going to sample local culture and meet new eccentric people. We're going to catch fish.

I think that last part is probably the least important for the Amber Liquid crew. They like "catching" but they like a good time more. Catching is merely the justification for the time on the water. The stories off the water hold more interest.

Hey, something for me .... something for them.

We can have adventure and find a few minutes for fishing, too.

Maybe some of that leads to photos they can share on the social media pages. Yea, clearly there's something to that I don't understand in that. I don't have a "social" media account. I favor the monograph as a preferred means of communication.

As a bum writer, I'm fine locking myself in the laundry room late at night toiling alone in obscurity in order to convey deeply personal sentiments to a mass audience I'll probably never meet. Yep, something very wrong with us. Very, very wrong.

I have a wife. Pretty much covers my social media exposure because there's nothing like a wife to relate details of the lives of others which you just don't give a shit about.

I mean, do I really care about someone else's cat? Really? I hear about it though. Just like you.

Probably the bear genes again.

I'm not going to my grave saying that the most memorable scenes of my life came as I drove by something on vacation. 

Mine will be the smell of spruce before dawn in the still morning on a Canadian wilderness lake. Maybe the knowledge of how loud rapids really are when you try to sleep beside them. Oh, the sound downed timber makes when a black bear rends logs to splinters just over the hill.

I'll have to include the feel of a horse dancing six feet to the right under you as a pheasant flushes in the hanging fog and you're half-asleep in the saddle.

I'm getting the boys on the road. I'm getting help from professionals.

People have told me I should turn to professionals for help.

I'm taking the advice.