Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to fall in the river.

Readers of this blog may be aware that from time to time, I toss a bit of barbed humor into the mix, and the most frequent target of that humor is myself. After all, if one cannot poke fun at oneself, then one may be in danger of taking oneself too seriously.

The other day I placed a loop of line over a budding branch hanging over the water. I rolled my eyes and tried to free it. It remained stuck like it was attached with glue. Instead of wading back to the branch and carefully freeing the line, I instead commenced pulling on it. Newton’s third law of physics states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thus, when I freed the flyline, I cart wheeled ass over teakettle backwards into the water. Unbelievable. I laughed and shivered all the way through the next two hours. It is amazing that I can wade through minefields, only to manage this Laurel and Hardy sort of act.
I hope someone got a good laugh out of it. I know I did!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Weightless Wonderod

A wee bit of humor for a Saturday:

In the never-ending quest for a lighter rod, the Sagorviloomiston rod company has come out with a revolutionary line of flyrods, the ‘Weightless Wonderod’ series.

These new rods are invisible as well as weighing nothing. Rod designer Mortimer Haggis says, “The Weightless Wonderod series is what anglers have been asking for for many years. The lighter the rod, the less fatigue placed upon the arms while casting. Since these rods weigh nothing and effectively don’t exist, fly anglers can fish whenever and wherever they like, without the least effort at all. This opens up whole new avenues to the fly such as couch angling, dream fishing, and standing in the river waving your hand.”

The W.W. rods retail for $999.95, are available from 0 through 000 weight, and come with a matching fly-line made of helium atoms. They feature reel seats made from a proprietary blend of unbelievium and nonsensium, and a fetching blank color of ‘oxygen.’

A ‘satisfaction or your hallucination back’ warranty is offered as well.

For more information, contact Sagorviloomiston at thelighterthebetternomatterwhat.clom

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The “Sport” of gravel raping

Well, here we are. Spring is in the air, the robins are singing, “Cheer up… cheer up…cheerily!” cardinals are calling their mating song, and ‘fly-fishers’ are on the gravel chasing spawning steelhead. In the past week, the water level has fallen and cleared enough to allow the use of those nifty polarized glasses to spot fish on the gravel. Guys with expensive cigars wade the shallows looking for bedding fish, hook them on nymphs and glo-bugs, and drag them away from their mates during the act of procreation. The poor fish flop around on the gravel until trapped in a net effectively damaging their protective slime layer, and then get to star in grip and grin ego photos.

Is this sporting? I guess the answer depends on what one considers fair chase. Would it be sporting to wait for a deer buck to mount a doe and then shoot it? That is effectively what is happening here.

To me, and this is my opinion, chasing steelhead, or any fish while they are attempting to build redds and spawn is the lowest form of ‘fishing’ shy of intentional snagging. Even the snagger is probably being honest in his or her game, however illegal it is. Gravel rapers on the other hand actually think they are fly-fishing. Sad.

After many years of swinging flies for steelhead, I can spot a gravel-raper just by looks.

Usually the most expensive vehicle in the parking area, Lexi, Range Rovers, and other obnoxiously large and irresponsible SUVs, will belong to them. Often they sport fly-fishing stickers, or even TU logos. The anglers rarely fish alone. They most often show up in twos and threes. It must have something to do with the glory photos, and the sense of camaraderie in pounding the gravel with your buddies ready to offer congratulations on your ‘catch.’ They wear all the latest gear, especially if it has a logo. They dress up to look like some image in their mind of how a fly-fisherman should look. They ask every person they come across, “Have you seen any fish?” They wander around the river in unpredictable directions, most often again, in groups.

Most of these guys are trout fishermen. That is sad in itself. Instead of learning the skill of reading water in a large river, they just do what everyone else is doing, and rely on sighted fish on gravel before they can make a single cast. I am a trout fisherman as well, but it just kills me to see people that I know from the small streams rely on these tactics for steelhead. Would they fish that way on a trout stream? Is that why the streams are closed for part of the year to protect spawning fish? If the streams and creeks were not closed, would these ‘anglers’ hook as many spawning trout off their gravel beds as they could?

It is getting to the point that an ingrained belief, culture, or even tradition surrounds the use of single-hand rods: nymphing, or glo-bugging over gravel. Swinging streamers seems to be relegated to spey rods now. This is sad too. The single-hand rod is an excellent tool for streamer fishing, if only this method would catch on here. If only these legions of anglers in the Midwest would depart for a day or two and not rely on sight-fishing, the sport that would be discovered by them would be enough to put them off the bedded fish forever.

Alas, this takes a leap of faith, and the ability to appreciate a single fish caught fairly after a full day of wading and casting, versus tallying numbers and measuring the skill of the angler by the sheer number of fish to hand, however crude the method. That leap of faith, and sense of fair chase seems to be beyond most anglers. Indeed, they often defend the practice, and I have been told by one fisherman that “He feels sorry for me, if I don’t get enjoyment out of sight fishing for steelhead.” Sight fishing and gravel raping are not necessarily bonded together. If a fisherman walking the banks and looking down into a pool spots a pod of fish holding in the water, and then swings flies or nymphs for them, that is different than fishing bedded fish. In our rivers, 99% of steelhead spotted are on the gravel.

The thing that really bothers me is that these gravel rapers think that, because they are using a fly rod, they are somehow elevated above the gear fishermen or center-pinners that are legitimately hooking their fish. This very deservedly gives fly-fishing a bad name. Being snobby about an abominable method of fishing is just sad. This is sad, and a disservice to all the other anglers, whatever the method or gear, who are actually fishing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An ode to our river at spate

*Spate: A U.K. term meaning flood, large influx of water, full of water, freshet, etc.

The river is deep and dark with mystery, danger, and expectation. It presses on your body and moves you. It surrounds you. The trees in skeletal state stand as patrons, ever watching. Voices come and go, created and swallowed by the black water.

Somewhere in that cold river waking from winter’s sleep moves a sleek form. Born to wander, the prodigal fish returns. So too, does my joy return. I immerse myself in the vast emptiness, and in that dark forbidding and cold water, find renewal. I cast my long line over the water with an offering, a hope of a connection to nature and some hidden or forgotten part of myself. Snowflakes tickle my nose, melt into drops of water, and join the billions of others flowing with authority to the lake.

My boots shuffle off the gravel and cobble. I bob through hidden holes as the water hisses around my waders. Where others find loneliness, I find harmony, in those waters as deep and dark as our souls.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Production salmon and steelhead fly dressing

Cooped up in the Midwest winter, I decided to practice a bit of production tying. The aim was to produce a set of sample flies to display at shows, and barter for dog-food sell.

First off, I discovered to my dismay that this kind of tying can be tedious. In a production or commercial run of flies, every fly must be almost exactly the same. That means heads must be uniform, hackle and wing lengths measured and trim, and proportions correct.

Until one tries this for real, it seems easy. Take ten flies and look at them separately, and they look fine. Then place them close together and voila! we see differences. The old Sesame Street game of “One of these things is different/not quite the same” comes to mind.

I frowned and scratched my head. When I examined the ever-so-slight differences in the flies, I discovered that often it was related to selection of materials. One wing was tied denser than another due to a few too many black bear hair fibers, or the hackle lengths were not uniform. There was also the human factor at work, but the pre-selection of materials, and laying things out properly solved the issue of my mind wandering when reaching for fur or feather while contemplating Mahler’s ninth symphony.

So here is what I learned:

Choose the hook sizes first and lay them out.

Pre-select the winging material and collar or throat hackles. These are the two material areas where careless prep work can sink a fly.

Place a piece of cork or Styrofoam near the vise, and place the completed flies there before lacquering. This will allow one to check exact proportions.

Dress at least half a dozen flies of the same size and pattern at the same time.

Do not answer the phone or get distracted.

Too much sniffing head cement coffee leads to errors.

From the left: Rusty Rat, Will Taylor Special low water, Silver Doctor low water, Laxa Blue varient, Unnamed winter fly, and the Blue Bear. The last two are winter dressings, while the others are intended as summer flies.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Exercises in Critical Thinking

A short exercise in thought, or inside the mind of fly-fishing marketing.

“The ABCDXYZ flyrod is the lightest in its class.”

A true statement no doubt. However, the critical thinker ponders, “What class?” “Who defined the class?” “What are its boundaries?” Is it weight, price, length, intended use, type of fish pursued, water type, or what? It turns out in this case to be price point. Reverse-engineer the thinking, and we see how marketing is applied, and how it can be a bit deceptive while still being absolutely true. The rod is the lightest in its price class, as no other rod costs exactly $265.95. See?

“This rod will throw a tighter loop at X distance than ‘insert competitor here’”.

The critical thinker wonders in whose hands the rod throws a tighter loop? What about a neophyte looking to improve his or her casting? Is this a rod designed for experts? Will the inability to cast such a fast rod with minimal feedback actually result in sloppier loops at distance in the hands of inexperienced casters?

Avoid the word “best” like the plague. If you see it used, discount the claim in entirety. There is no ‘best’, it is all relative.

“New lower price!” This translates to “It did not sell too well at the old price.”
“20% lighter than the old model” translates to “The old model was too heavy.” Or possibly that the manufacturer had to keep tweaking the product to keep it new and cool, and actually has made it too light now.

“More durable than ever” equals “The older models got returned too often for warranty.”

“World’s finest!” equals “World’s most over-priced.”

“Traditions of English design, but with a modern twist.” The twist is that it is made in China now.

“Hot fly of the month.” This often translates to “The fly we ordered way too much of last year, and have too many of now.”

“Save money!” This usually means you will be attaching a vacuum to your wallet soon.

“Beginners and experts alike will appreciate this widget.” This translates to “The product is priced for experts, but we want to sell it to wealthy beginners too.”

I bet the readers have examples too. Please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An inspiring commercial

Yvon Chouinard for AMEX and the earth. A beautiful little piece including his being a dam-buster.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Being Challenged

Here is an interesting topic for thought…

Many of us progress down a path and become stuck in our ways. We do the same thing in the same old way at the same time over and over. We become ‘good enough’ at something that we can achieve decent results, but often lack the inner strength, passion, or drive to question our methods or evaluate our accomplishments objectively. We have reached mediocrity, drank of it deeply, and sleepily poured ourselves into the couch of laziness.

Then someone comes along who looks at us and says, “You can do better.” Sometimes that person is an inner voice of unresting perfection, and sometimes a human colleague.

If we think back on our activities, sports, crafts, arts, etc., I think most all of us at one time or another had someone poke us with the cattle-prod of challenge. Yes, it is ‘good enough,’ but it is not ‘right.’ That cast was just not quite right. Do it again…. and again. The head on that fly could be smaller or tighter, that wing straighter, that popper closer to the downed log.

Great practitioners of a sport or art, be they musicians, dancers, painters, sculptors, fly tiers or casters have one thing in common: an almost obsessive drive for perfection. Want to know how someone got so good? Ask them. Chances are that they challenge themselves every day, or are challenged by their peers.

The peer group we place ourselves in is also important to this concept. Is it no wonder that so many good casters came from the Golden Gate Casting Club? They inspired and challenged each other. They grabbed the whole collective by their bootstraps and raised the bar.

I have fished with some amazingly good anglers over the years; people whose abilities far exceed my own. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but it also can lead to inspiration and a rolling up of the sleeves as I strive to achieve a higher level.

This ‘challenge or inspiration’ cake must be devoured in small slices. If one is new to an activity, and watches an acknowledged expert perform, and then tries for all he or she is worth to mimic the level of performance, one is setting up for failure. Baby steps first. Small bites.

To those that challenged me to make my fly heads more even and tighter, my mends in the flyline more exact, my single-spey more precise, thank you. Most of you won’t know who you are, as you led by example, and I merely followed with inspiration born of your prowess.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ad augusta per angusta

The latin quote found on the top of the page translates roughly as “To high places by narrow roads.”

The path less taken can be a lonely one filled with rocks and brambles, sheer cliffs, and rough going, but when one finally climbs to the top, the entire journey is worth it. All the lessons learned along the way are yours - wisdom.

We all come to forks in the road of life. 90% of us will look to see what the rest of the sheep are doing. 5% of us will never be able to make up our minds and be swept away or sit on a rock at the crossroads for eternity.

The remaining 5% will branch out onto deer paths, dry creek beds, country roads, or mountain passes, and discover the essence of life and living.

That 5% will never be famous. They march to their own drummer.