Sunday, September 13, 2009

The quintessential moment

 The last post for awhile as I will be off making memories casting a long line on big roaring rivers.

The moment

It is what wakes us out of a sound sleep, and fills out thoughts throughout the dark winter, as we tie flies and dream.
The take. The pull. The grab.
The first sensation of connection to an electric living thing. An unknown. An unseen. A hope.

Halfway down the gravel bar I spotted the power-lines, and smiled. There is just something about power-lines that seem to attract fish. Quite a bit of silly speculation has occurred around campfires as to this phenomenon. One angler explained to me that it had something to do with the fish’s homing sense and the magnetic field of the earth interacting with the overhead electric power. I speculated that it had to do with where the lines crossed the river; that usually being near a narrowing chute of oxygenated water.

Whatever it was, it seemed rather universal. I have found it on smallmouth bass rivers, trout streams, as well as big roaring steelhead rivers.

My fly was swinging well that morning as I cast a long line effortlessly with the two-handed rod. A size 4 autumn twilight was the offering of the moment, and confidence was at a high. I could almost feel the tension. Something was about to happen. The sun broke over the canyon walls just as I reached the power-lines, and the water began to slow and deepen. Expectation crawled up my spine like the electric current overhead.

My next cast was about half way through its swing when I felt the slightest tap. It was a delicate little pianissimo thing, like an angel alighting on the head of a pin. Twenty seconds later I almost disbelieved that I had felt it at all. Two more casts in the same place produced nothing but nervous tension, so I took a step down and cast again. Then the wind changed and began blowing upriver. “Crap,” I thought, “now I am screwed.”

It was that last long cast before the wind got me that was tapped subtly but authoritatively way out in the river.

I felt some slight resistance, dropped a loop of line, and let it tighten against the reel before lifting the rod to set the hook. A pulsing resistance raced down the line as the unseen fish began to realize that the pretty little thing he just ate had a pointy end.

The fight… the fish… all memorable.
However, it was that subtle grab, like the kiss of a small child upon my fly, way out in the river, which shines forth brightly in my memories.

It is rumored that the famous steelhead angler Harry Lemire used to cut the point off his hooks if the fishing was good. He just wanted the grab. There was a point to his enjoyment, but not to his hook.

The grab… the moment of bright connection when our dreams meet the river, and fantasy becomes reality for a tiny but sweet moment in time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A first...

A first

Firsts… The first time you tasted a wild strawberry, your first tentative teenage kiss, the first wild brook trout on a dry fly..
We often remember these first experiences far better than those that follow. Perhaps we crave the newness. As we accumulate years and experiences, firsts are hard to come by, and like an unexpected patch of wild blackberries, are to be savored and enjoyed.

First times are refreshing and different.

This past year has seen a number of firsts for this angler. I caught my first carp on a fly. Making it even more memorable was the five-weight rod and Hardy gear and pawl reel I used. The carp was a surprise while fishing for panfish in the Kettle Morraine State Forest.

I saw my first bald eagle over my local river, a signal that the watershed is healthy.

I caught my first real wild brook trout in northern Wisconsin, a unique strain bejeweled with color: all five inches of them.

Some firsts are memorable because they are out of the ordinary. Earlier this year I caught a clam while casting for carp. The clam actually ate the fly, and I had a difficult time extracting it. I wonder how it digested marabou and crystal flash?

Then, last evening, came the all-time bizarre first.

I was fishing for smallmouth bass and casting to the occasional carp in a local river. I had some demons to exorcise, and I thought a few bass on poppers and a long walk up the river might just do the trick.

Around dusk, I began casting to a flat shallow area strewn with boulders where hungry smallmouth often ambush their prey. It was a cool evening, but a mixed hatch of black caddis and white mayflies might get the smallmouth to look up, allowing me to use a popper.

I spotted it when its back slightly broke the surface near shore in a slack water pool. I say ‘it’ because it seemed to me that it was either a carp or a large bass nosing for crayfish on the bottom of the river. If it was a smallmouth, it would be huge, and the popper would be just the trick. If it was a carp, then at the first ‘pop’ of the fly, it would spook and swim away. At this point, it was just a dark form.

I lead the fish by about a foot or two, let the popper come down on top of it, and gave it a chug.

It didn’t swim off.

In fact, what it did do was slowly follow the progression of the fly down the river and towards me. As it got closer, I knew it was no smallmouth. Instead, it looked more and more like a huge dark carp or even a catfish. Whatever it was, my popper captivated it. I cast again and began to work the popper like a wounded baitfish, skittering and chugging it seductively. It followed and quickly closed the gap.

The large head that came out of the water and engulfed the fly did not belong to a carp or a catfish. It was altogether a different species. Fifteen pounds of pissed-off snapping turtle was swimming directly towards me, my popper lodged between its lethal jaws.

What to do?

I had one thing going for me; I never set the hook. If possible, I wanted my popper back. I can be a bit sentimental and even more stubborn at times, and the yellow foam popper that I had adorned with a smiley-face was my favorite. I sort of roll-cast the line forward to try to dislodge the popper, and after two or three attempts, the turtle simply opened its mouth and the fly popped out.

The snapper just sat in the water looking at me. If it was eyeing up my gonads for an evening snack, the large rock I threw at it put it off its appetite.

Firsts can indeed be memorable. Turtle soup anyone?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gastro Fantastic

 I have no idea how I came up with this, but I thought you might get a kick out of it.

Copyright 2009 by Erik F. Helm

I took a shortcut through the woods. The path curved through the forest floor, and I followed it with some recollection or intent to fish a Hendrickson hatch. It was a strange wood, and under the deep beds of ferns grew colorful mushrooms and flowers that reminded me of candy-canes. It all seemed so familiar, in a bizarre way. I had been here before a long, long time ago.

As the path led through a grove of unusually crabbed and ancient oaks, I spotted a cottage.
It was a small dwelling, but lit with color. Moving closer, I realized that the structure was constructed entirely of various cans of beer. “How strange,” I thought as I found myself knocking at the door.
It soon opened, and I was confronted by an old woman with a long nose complete with warts, and wearing a big floppy black hat.
“Come in my pretty,” she said. “Have a beer.”
“No thank you,” I said, as my eyes adjusted to the brightly-lit interior. The old woman held out a can of Hamms, and with a grin that revealed her missing teeth, popped open the beer.
“Mmmm, good beer…, nice and cold!” she cackled.

As I refused her offering for the second time, I noticed that a large cage stood in the corner, and that an enormously rotund figure was seated in it drinking a beer. The floor of the cage was littered with empties.

“What’s going on here?” I asked, turning to the old woman.
“Oh never mind him,” she replied, “That’s just our Christmas dinner. We’re just fattening him up.”

“Hey,” I exclaimed in sudden clarity, “You wouldn’t happen to be a witch?”
“Of course!” she stated, “Everyone knows me. I am the wicked witch of the forest. I live here with my husband. He cooks meth in the back shed.”

As on cue, a huge figure of a man in faded and stained bib overalls came into the room through the back door. He looked exactly like Boris Karloff playing the Frankenstein monster, but sported a NASCAR ball cap. He made a mooing noise as he walked.

“Say,” I began, “ you’ve got it all wrong. The house is supposed to be made out of candy and gingerbread, and you are supposed to be eating Hansel and Gretel after fattening them up on candy, not beer. And Lester or Zeke over there, whatever his name is, is a woodcutter, not a meth cooker.”

“Oh, we used to have a candy house many years ago,’ she reflected, “But we updated it for modern times.”

A knock sounded at the front door, and I stood aside as the witch opened it to reveal a family of bears, all bearing a striking resemblance to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

“Not you again!” the witch cried. “I’ve told you before a hundred times, you have the wrong house!”
“We have no porridge here.”

This was getting stranger and stranger, and a funny sort of boiling and churning feeling was coming from the pit of my stomach.

Another knock sounded at the door, and with an exasperated sigh, the old woman opened it a second time.

The three bears were replaced by a tall figure in a red cloak and hood. He carried a fly rod and creel, and looked exactly like Issac Walton in drag.

“What the ‘ell do you want?” the witch asked.

“I have come from the temple of Moron,” he stated loudly. “Have you heard about the end-times?”

He opened his creel to take out a religious tract, and out spilled hundreds of cans of chili. They were covered in hatching mayflies.

“Hendricksons,” I said aloud, waking to an aching in my gut.

I was in my tent, back in the real world. It was three in the morning and halfway through an epic trip for trout. As I unzipped the rain fly and made my way to the porta-john, I reflected that Rob was right in his warning to me late that evening.

Canned extra-hot chili and discount beer is a lethal combination.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Handmade fly reels by Stefan Brusky

Handmade fly reels by Stefan Brusky:

At a meeting of local steelhead fishermen last year, I was introduced to Stefan Brusky. Stefan is a near neighbor of mine here in Wisconsin. For the past ten years or so, Stefan has been building, testing, and perfecting bench-made fly reels in the classic American style of Bogdan and Vom Hoffe. I took a tour of his basement workshop and I must say that few machine shops could hold a candle to his. His reels are works of art, as well as functional. His hollowed s-curve handle is his trademark. Stefan makes the reels in all shapes and sizes and configurations. He produces gear and pawl as well as disc-drag models for both single hand rods and two-handers, all the way from trout to salmon.

Milwaukee used to be known as “The machine shop to the world” for its skilled machinists, factories, small shops, industries, tool and die makers, etc. Stefan has brought Old World tradition through to the modern world.
In a time in which quality classic reels are running up to $1,200 for a factory production model, hand made reels are becoming a choice for the discriminating angler. Why not own a piece of art?

You can view Stefan’s reels at his website here.