Tuesday, December 16

Chasing Unicorns

The garbage cans were out by the mail box, emptied, when I pulled back in the driveway this afternoon.  That must mean today is Tuesday. I don't seem to recall dragging them to the road yesterday. This time of year lags...and it's only December.

Today may have been the last "warm" day of the winter, so I had to skip out on work this morning and hit the river for a few hours.  I changed my plan last minute, afraid the road to the spot I really wanted to go would be washed out with the rain we've gotten recently combined with the snow on the ground.  The car thermometer read 37 when I got to the river...t-shirt weather.  The water wasn't as high as I had expected, and the rain was spotty for the moment. Perfect morning  to spend a few hours fishing.

Winter fishing for me is simply a form of life support.  I plan on catching exactly zero fish and almost always succeed in that endeavor.  I still hold out hope, I always do, but more reminiscent of the type of hope that I may see Sasquatch or glimpse a unicorn than an honest hope...it's a hope lacking in anticipation I think.

 Today...today though...was no different.  HOWEVER...I moved three fish.  THREE FISH in only a few hours. They were between 16 and 20 inches or so, and very well could have been steelhead.  Since this is my story, we'll call them browns...because that's what they were, browns.

I didn't really move 3 fish. The second fish I managed to move twice.  The second time he came out to play I was so sure of the impending hook up that I had worked out how to land him, where to take the picture, and what I would tell my grand kids about my rare winter fish, all in the split second it took him to change his mind and retreat back to his hold, taking my heart with him.  SHIT!

I was drenched and 37 degrees in the pouring rain feels more like 17.  I deserved that fish, I earned that fish!  Then it happened.  A hook up.  FISH ON.  I'm not really a "woo hoo'er" but I woo hoo'd. Out loud.  I played the fish for about 5 seconds, 5 drama filled seconds that bordered on eternity until I came to a horrible realization.  I was fighting a stick.  No fish.  How did I not know it was a snag?  My brain is a powerful weapon capable of cruel tricks, but on a positive note, it's also capable of some pretty decent delusions.  A half day fishing combined with a half day working kind of feels more like a whole day fishing.  Work doesn't seem quite so real, quite so serious, and the lingering image of a few fish from this morning are enough to take up most of my thoughts for the afternoon.

Chase contentment, chase trout, and fish on!


Wednesday, December 3

The master list: this year's Christmas wants and new year's resolutions

I've decided to do a list of what I'd like for Christmas, mixed in with a few new year's resolutions.

First a few disclaimers:  it goes with out saying that of course I'd like my family to be happy/healthy, world peace, and all of those other feel good things that are obvious.  So here it is, the real list, the master list:

I'd like to never talk politics again.  Or be forced to listen to other people talk politics.

In fact, let's eliminate small talk all together.  I don't care what you heard about the weather, or what you think about the school system, you don't care what my kids have been up to.  Agreed?  Maybe I'm just an introverted asshole and should work on my people skills.

I'd prefer to never step foot in a wal-mart again.

Some of those Steelhead Gloves from Kast.  I've never found a happy medium when it comes to gloves for winter fishing...maybe the problem is that I haven't bought an $80 pair yet, but alas, that will probably never happen.

A sign for everyone that prefers to do 100% of the talking during a conversation.  It would just make it a hell of a lot easier...that way I could just walk away.  They wouldn't even notice.

A drift boat.  What brand you ask...I don't give a shit.  Does it float?

I'll need a trailer to go along with the boat...and a trailer hitch for a Jeep compass.

One day, I'd like to have a best friend with a plow truck.  All of the benefits, none of the hassle.  I'd just take him fishing in my drift boat as repayment.

A $5.00 spool of amnesia, 25lb test, so I can bang junk in the Cheboygan river...and cry myself to sleep at night.

Also, someone to tie my egg flies for me.  I'm not sure what it is but I've never been fond of tying eggs.

I'd like 2 spare spools for my Allen reel.  I should have bought them a long time ago.  Why didn't I?  I'm to lazy to change out the sinking line for the floating...half the time I just convince myself I was going to throw streamers anyhow.

It'd be cool if Allen finally sent me my replacement rod for the one I broke...in September...but the loaner is working out ok.  I guess the replacement hasn't been released yet, I don't know.  Also, I broke the first loaner they sent me so they had to send another one, so all in all I'd say they're being pretty cool.

A replacement top half for my Redington Classic Trout that was inadvertently launched across the river into the great abyss... but I think I'm going to buy a Mystic rod to replace that one anyhow.

I know this is counter intuitive to me writing a blog, but I'm getting pretty god damned sick of reading the same fly fishing articles over and over. Social media doesn't help. Let's get some new shit this year!  Although, I found one of my grandpa's old fly fishing magazines...this thing was from the late 80's...guess what it talked about?  I don't hold out much hope.

I'd like to be nicotine free in 2015...except for hex season.  That doesn't count.  Oh, and my U.P. trip, that doesn't count either.

I'd like to spend a few minutes in a room where everyone wasn't vying to be the smartest person there.  We could just admit most of use are dumb.

I'd like to get my wife onto some really nice trout...maybe that's not it...maybe I'd like to be able to have her experience some of the emotional subtleties of fly fishing.  Yeah.  To watch the sunset as you cast to the last rising trout during a small hatch of drakes.   Bingo.

I'd be ok with another horrendous winter.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan, but last winter made for some ridiculous fishing this spring and summer!

I'd like a winter supply of Oberon.  Not for everyone, just for me.  I don't want to ruin the appeal, but a few months of the stuff isn't long enough.

I'd like to stop rushing.  I'm not sure why I rush, I don't really have that important of a life, but I'm always in a hurry.  I'd like to slow down, take a breath.

I'm going to throw in a custom bamboo rod for good measure.  I'd be too scared to fish it though.

I'd like to spend a week without the kids.  Perhaps even just a weekend.  I love those kids, but I'd really like to get away...from them...or stay in...just without them here.  It'd give me a chance to miss them!  That might make me a bad person, I don't know.

And I'd like to get out and FISH!  I spend half of the winter planning on going out, the other half telling myself it's way too cold.

There should be no snow on the ground by this weekend so the good spots should be accessible!  Maybe I'll see you out there...hopefully not though.

Have an amazing Christmas, keep your sanity, tie up some eggs for me, and fish on!


Wednesday, October 29

Alibis and Addictions

       It's a blessing and a curse...having the "fishing gene" as a friend calls it.  I have an unrest, there's something not right with me.   If I haven't been on the river in a while, people around me start to notice.  I can feel it right now.  It's been about two weeks.  Two weeks since I've stepped into a trout stream, two weeks since I've connected.  Not with a fish necessarily but with myself.  Connection with a fish is a bonus. Maybe it's why I haven't written much in the past month. I think fishing gives my life cohesion, allows it to have a natural ebb and flow.  Without it I spend way to much time with a 1,000 yard stare, trying to be somewhere else, conjuring up a new existential crisis.  

Trout are my scape goat, my alibi.  I think.  Maybe that's why I have no real desire to keep a trout.  Trout have no dog in this fight, in fact they'd prefer if I wasn't there.  But I use them.  I use them to transport me.  To occupy my time, thought, feeling, and energy that would normally be devoted to such worldly things like:  bills, work, workplace drama, relationship drama, yard work, the leaking faucet, the strange noise coming from the Jeep, and the time bomb that is my septic system.

I use them.  Why else would a seemingly normal person spend every night not spent on the river in a space dedicated to the sole purpose of spinning falsifications of fur and feather designed for deception.  Designed to fool my excuse. It makes me wonder which one of us is being fooled.

       I've recently learned that it's easier for me if I get a clean break from fishing.  If I go a long period of time (generally 14-21 days) without fishing, I can begin to function as a normal person towards the end of it.  Here's my problem, my plight, my predicament:  if I fish once a week, the other 6 days are spent planning when I can get out next, maneuvering schedules and sidestepping responsibilities to try to make it happen.  This time of year presents a problem...I can only manage to get out about once every week, sometimes less.  It's not enough.  I should quit cold turkey and get the withdrawals over with .  When November hits I should clean and stash my stuff like a normal person...but I can't.  For the same reason (kind of) I've never really been able to quit nicotine.  I've quit smoking and used nicotine lozenges for four years, only to trade those for cigarettes and lozenges, back to just lozenges, and currently no lozenges but a pipe.  On a side note, I have to admit that smoking a pipe while tying flies feels ultra anti-authoritarian and hip.  Maybe I will try to get into scotch to round out the experience, but for now cheap whiskey will suffice.

Tying flies does help with the sting a  little bit though, gives me a reprieve from my insanity.  I tie differently in the fall/winter than the rest of the year.  Gone are the feverish sessions at the vice during the peak fishing season tweaking patterns, adjusting wing size, sparser hackle, slimmer profile, adding this, taking away that; sneaking a few flies in whenever I can if I'm not on the river.  The "off" season yields a much more calculated approach to tying.  I generally start with some sort of scribbled list of flies I'll need for next year.  I normally tie in the same order that the hatches occur, so first comes bwo's, hennies, then drakes, hex, isos, ephorons, terrestrials, etc. (streamers get thrown in somewhere in the mix, normally when I need a break from being so precise, and I never really stop tying mice patterns, just take week long breaks)

       I'm not quite sure why, but I always tie about 30-60 of each pattern, even though I know 3 days into the hatch next year I will deem the entire batch unworthy, and only fish with the flies I've tied right before leaping into the Jeep on the way to the river that very night.  Maybe that's weird, maybe not. I think it has to do with being tuned into the hatch.  You see, when you're in the zone you have to recognize it, and when you've been standing on a river every night chasing bugs and fish, you get tuned in to what they look like on the water, exact size, how they move, etc., and no amount of pictures or reading will ever compare to being in this "hatch zone" mindset.  I guess what I'm saying is, in my mind, those hastily tied patterns, whipped up in a blur before speeding off to the river, even if virtually identical to the winter tied patterns, are just better.  There's is something different about them, an unidentifiable, intangible quality that makes them superior.  Maybe it's that they haven't been "factory tied" by a fly fisherman in the depths of winter withdrawals, but rather by an all too excitable junky in the deepest thralls of his addiction...someone who is simultaneously at the top of his game yet out of his mind.  Deranged but astute and precise.

Over time, I've stopped using traditional dry fly patterns so to speak.  I guess what I mean is, I no longer google "gray drake pattern" and read everything there is to know about what patterns people like and use. I generally read more about gray drakes themselves and spend time looking at the bug and design my own pattern that way.  This does a few things, but I think what I enjoy most about it is I continue to learn more and more about the bugs I'm chasing from a technical perspective and also enjoy an ego boost when I catch a fish on not only my fly, but my fly pattern. Even though in most cases, every fly I tie is nothing more than stolen ideas of past greats, current innovators, and maybe the extremely occasional original idea from my own head.

It's time to go fish.  Time to cram way too much into way to little time before winter sets in.  A steelhead trip is only a few days away and I also promised myself I would find a big fall brown or two this year. Even if I don't, I refuse to spend the winter thinking it was because I wasn't out there in my element, wisely spending my time.  

Fish on,


Friday, October 10

Someone caught the biggest bass of his life last night.  And a few walleye too.  It definitely wasn't me though.  The picture has been cropped to protect the innocent.  Said individual may have had a lot of fun.

Why I Wear Waders

Monday, September 29

The Hipster Fly Rod: Grab your wood today, quantities limited

What do you do when you're 30 minutes into a 5 hour fishing adventure a few miles back in the bush and break your rod?

Introducing the new Sage line of Hipster rods:  The "Wood"

Are you tired of spending 3 months salary on a rod that is "just like everyone else's?  Well, sleep easy knowing you'll be the only one sporting a Wood on the river!

Most rods nowadays are measured in ounces...are you kidding me?  If you spend $500 on a rod that weighs 4 oz, that's $125 an oz!  The Wood is a refreshing trip down memory lane, priced at around $10 a pound.  That's right, per POUND.  You can barely buy a pound of bacon for that price.

The model shown is a 30 weight one piece, 8' 3 3/8".  A real back woods experience.  Guaranteed to not only give your arms the work out they need, but also to make your hands bleed within the hour. Not for the faint of heart, each rod is a "one of" and because of the quality, doesn't need a rod tube! The signature series will be personally inscribed with my initials, have a custom duct taped handle, and available only to the first 50 orders.       

For a nominal price, we'll also include a 12 foot section of old ratty fly line to tie to the end for ultimate fishability.  We've decided to do away with cork handles altogether, and are offering a whittled upgrade option.  The blanks are also available, but are the same price as the finished rod...you do the math!  The Wood comes in too many lengths and weights to ever list.  In fact, I'm even willing to do a custom length.  Weight may vary.  We've also decided to throw typical "action" descriptions out the window, as the Wood just isn't your typical rod and we didn't want to limit the possibilities.  I've included a list of our most popular models to help you in your selection:

broom stick   (our bare bones model designed with the hard core angler in mind.  a wonderful all                               around option)

tree stump     (great for those smaller rivers that still hold big fish)  

dad's wrath   (designed to compete with the fiberglass enthusiasts, very supple while still            
                       delivering an intimidating "sting")

car antenna   (are you all about presentation?  This is your rod)

carriage whip (like to beat the water to a froth, let the trout know you're there and mean business?                              This one's for you)

pole barn       (salt water, salmon, musky...pole vaulting)

splinter          (for the budget conscious, however this one will surprise you.  Think Harry Potter's                               wand meets Gandalf's staff and had a baby named Only in Orvis' Wildest Dreams.  

telephone pole (this is our Spey rod model...also, two people can fish this rod at the same time)

Again, you can rest assured that your Wood will stand out in the crowd!

Lastly;  if you're like me, you recently learned that if the broken half of your rod goes floating downstream making its way to the ocean, it doesn't fall under warranty!  Now you're left explaining to your wife why the lifetime warranty you raved about to justify the cost of your "typical" rod doesn't apply...and that no, you cannot in fact just "add some other section to it."  

To combat this problem, we've upgraded the Wood's warranty to include literally anything, at no charge.  Need to start a fire and the only wood you could find was your custom Wood...no problem!  Needed a wading staff and used your Wood?  No problem!  Got in a sword fight?  Needed to fend off intruders?  Scared off a bear?  Had to give pole vaulting a try?  NO PROBLEM!  We'll get a new Wood in your hands in no time!

disclaimer:  any likeness to an actual Sage rod is nonexistent and not implied, nor is it intentionally materially misrepresented and other things of that nature.  Please don't sue me.  Also...what the hell good was the broken section of my rod, Redington?  I tried to catch it, but it was a futile chase (and midnight).  You were just going to look at it, say "hmm", and send me some new pieces anyhow. Can I sleep at your house tonight?

other disclaimer:  warranty does not cover "incidental" damage.  Incidental damage is anything related to:  using your Wood to start a fire, using your Wood as a wading staff, using your Wood to sword fight, fending off intruders with your Wood, intimidating bears with your Wood, or attempting to pole vault with your Wood.  Other things not included under warrantly include but are not limited to: breaking.  

The Come Down

     I've never driven so slow in my life.  There were only a few cigarettes left in the pack and with the knowledge that I wouldn't be buying anymore, I reluctantly lit one.  There was an old guy, weathered hands and face, short a few teeth, changing a tire on the side of the road about a mile from my house.  I gladly stopped to offer my help, delaying the inevitable. He laughed and thanked me for the offer.

The worst and best part of fishing trips is getting so deeply immersed in what truly matters in life.    Maybe I should say "submerged" in what matters?  Or...maybe it's just being able to get away from what everyone else thinks matters.  Yeah, I think that's it.  In a few short turns I would be thrown back to the wolves, forced to smile as I returned phone calls, answered benign questions about insurance policies, and mostly, pretend like it all mattered.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great career.  One that affords me the ability to make my own schedule, answer to almost no one, and work at my own pace. Hell, I'm writing this in my office right now.  It's just that I'll never be quite satisfied with any career choice I guess.

I miss the kids when I'm gone, I miss my wife...but sometimes I miss myself when I'm home.  I know it's all fantasy...I couldn't stay gone forever and probably wouldn't want to.  I live in Northern Michigan to begin with, a place where most people go to "get away" and to escape the hustle and bustle of of yet another lost and wandering population of people.  Maybe it's the idea I'm in love with.  The idea of a life spent by the stream, around the fire, and smelling of fish, waders, and beer.  Contemplating only the next piece of water to fish.  Winter is coming soon...that'd probably make me change my tune a bit.  But still...the idea persists, no matter how many times I try to suppress it with common sense, beer, and manufactured agendas I can't seem to shake it.

I'm already busy planning the next escape.

It wasn't really a spiritually moving trip, no cosmic connections, rather a grounding.    A rekindling of feelings not often felt and rarely shared.  I was able to stretch my roots deep into the land, drink in the connection, and repair the scars that everyday life has a way of creating.  A reckoning of the year's ups and downs.

The drive up started at 3:30 am.  We had decided that if we leave at that hour we could arrive at the river by 10 am, hence losing no fishing time.  I crawled in bed that night around 9.  I'm not sure why. My eyes didn't close until about 1:30, but I was up with the first few rings of the alarm...an uncommon occurrence.  Most of the drive was filled with hopeful conversations of the rivers and lakes we would fish, the fish that may inhabit them, and past experiences in the places we would again ply our craft.  We were to meet my dad the following day at the camp site.  He happens to be sane enough to leave at a normal hour and also had a few extra days to stay so the urgency wasn't there.

The Jeep was packed to capacity and then some.  By the time we arrived in "town", nothing but two bars and a few closed general stores, the car smelled of enthusiasm, impatience, expectation, and stale cigarettes.  We dropped a few things at camp and made the 30 minute
drive to the first spot in 20.  It was a place I'd never been, a spot Alex had put in the leg work to find.  It was a hard two track to locate, if you can call it a two track.  It was shady at best...disappearing only to re-emerge as the jeep passed over tree stumps and rocked through wash outs and down a narrow, twisting hill to the put in. The type of place that makes you question how far you're willing to walk back to civilization when you get stuck. A track with branches and trees laying across the road, re-enforcing the idea that no one had been there in a long, long time.  Maybe they were just smart enough to walk...but its's a long ways back...and it's my story.

The water was roaring; a truly fast Michigan stream.  It was a fly fisherman's wet dream.  Literally.  The depth of the water was perfect, about 1 to 3 feet, but the rocks and boulders were not to be taken lightly...it was slippery and I'm clumsy.  The lay of the land made for relatively easy casting.  High steep banks on one side, a gorgeous rock cliff hanging menacingly over the bank on one side created an amazing undercut that occupied way too much of my time.  I know there was a fish in there, laughing as I changed flies to try to bring him out. I don't think I ended up in a tree the whole day, a rare occurrence.  The first fish took me quite by surprise.  A gorgeous 11 or 12 inch brookie in full fall splendor.  The next several hours were spent moving brook trout, landing several and missing many more.  I met up with Alex downstream.  He was sitting on the bank lost in the scene. It was pretty apparent he was in his element.  His childish delight radiating off the water was not hard to miss.  The fall colors were the perfect backdrop.
A little later that day and a lot further upstream, we were in a stretch with deep pools. I hooked into the first big fish of the trip.  At least a 15 or 16 inch brook trout.  I carefully played it being sure not to rush.  As I reached for the net, I glimpsed the fish for the first time.  It was all of 15 or 16 inches, but somehow, my trout had turned into a pike.  I felt a little guilty that my disappointment was so palpable.  I grimaced as I unhooked it.  No...I didn't take a picture.  The next fish was a 22 inch pike. It was time to head to camp.

We met up with my dad shortly thereafter.  A few beers in and during a nice fire I decided to say what we were all thinking.  "I'm too tired to go mousing tonight."  It was all Alex could stand.  "If you're to tired then I guess we don't have to."

The next day's adventure had been set in stone before the trip was even finalized.  The lake.  We all have a few spots we don't talk about.  We don't utter the real name under any circumstance and we don't take anyone there...at least not without the proper credentials and a blood oath.  This lake isn't really hard to find, in fact there's a sign pointing the way.  It is hard to get to however.  You almost have to fish it with a boat, and the long walk down a winding rooted disaster of a path is the perfect deterrent to keep out the unworthy.  Last year around this time found my Dad and I quite dumbfounded.  We weren't just catching brook trout...we were catching gigantic brook trout ready and willing to rise to a dry.  It was truly the experience of a lifetime and one I will never forget.

This year the fishing was quite a bit more difficult.  The wind was up and over the course of 9 hours we managed to bring 3 fish to the boat, all on streamers.  The biggest of which was only (this lake is unique) 14 or 15 inches. The walk back was chorused by wolves...gorgeous albeit a little off putting. I insisted we go back the next day.  What choice did I have?  In fact, left to my own devices, I'd probably never leave the lake except maybe to chase some river fish from time to time.

The next day found the lake in much the same situation...high winds and a boat full of impatient anglers.  Finally, around 6:00 the lake started to turn to glass.  Good god yes...they would start rising any minute...and eventually they did.  There was about a 30 minute window where they were sipping the surface.  And damn were they fussy about presentation.  Fly choice didn't seem to be a huge factor, but fishing a lake is different.  You can never be quite sure about the best strategy:  are you fishing to cruising fish, in which case you should just leave your fly the hell alone and let chance do the work, or should you chase rising fish and put it on their plate.  We tried a little of both with limited success.  We both caught a few 9 or 10's, the biggest fish again being in the 14 to 15 inch range.  (A great brook trout I know, but still).  This is the LOST LAKE.  This is brook trout paradise. That was the last time we fished the lake.  It's a commitment to head in there and there are just too many places to fish to spend the whole week in the same spot.  I could however be heard muttering the rest of the week: "we should be there right now...I bet now would've been a good time". I've said it before, but having "catching" expectations shattered isn't a bad thing.  The uncertainty is what keeps us going.  It's why I'm salivating as I write this, and why Lost Lake will haunt my dreams until next year.

The next several days were spent trying to cram as much fishing into the little time we had.  Mousing unfamiliar and hazardous water at night, chasing brook trout during the day.  Eating way to much food.  Probably drinking a little too much beer.

It's shit like this that a successful trip is made of:  

and don't forget to cast your ballot for Glasscock! He won't go soft on crime, and refuses to pull out until the job is done, and done right...

The official trout season is coming to a close in a mere day.  Even though trout season never really closes in Michigan, I'm still sad about it.  It's the mark of another year gone.  A season that I may remember for the rest of my life, or may be pushed out to make room for others.  Other fish, other places, other experiences.  I hope it doesn't though.  This has truly been one hell of a season, and the trip was the icing on the cake, the rise in the riffle you've waited all night to see.

Go chase your contentment, chase trout, have an experience...this year I've had more than I deserve.

fish on,


Friday, September 12

Reflections From the River: The week in fishing Sep 6th-12th

I laugh to keep from crying.   Here it is.

Sep 6th- Sep 12th

 I'm not normally this type of person, but damn it I'm I glad this week is coming to a close.  I got out fishing 3 times this week, and strangely enough they were all for salmon. Not a single trout trip in the mix.  Not ideal, but acceptable.

There are a few reasons this week was such a bad week to get out, but the main one is my son.  Dealing with medical issues is never fun, and the poor guy is at the beginning of what may be a long road.  Tuesday we took him down to the children's hospital and received the diagnosis of tourettes syndrome.  He's 6.  My wife and I don't quite buy the diagnosis yet...it conflicts with the other pediatric neurologist, and something is still off.  Soon we'll be off to see another specialist, maybe at a different children's hospital, but we need to figure out what the hell is going on.  He's a different child than he was last year.  At best, it's something called "inattention adhd", a relatively unique disorder.  It doesn't entirely explain the motor "tics" he has though, but tourettes doesnt explain the "spacing out."  Not the worst diagnosis out there by a long shot, but it'll make life tough on him.  At worst, he's on the autism spectrum.

It could always be worse I guess.  I'm not sure why I say that.  I don't think anyone anywhere has ever heard someone utter those fucking words and felt better afterwards.  Fuck.  We've never really dealt with anything major like this before.  At one moment I feel like I may just physically let lose on the next person to cross my path, the next I want a hug, and for someone to tell me it will be all right.  It will all work out for the best.  It will be all right...right?  Maybe.  Probably.  Maybe not.  This is probably why I chased salmon this week.  The salmon can be a glorious fish for mindless casting...truly letting your mind go and losing track of time, waiting for the explosion of a fish or emotion, whichever comes first.

On a positive note, my buddy caught his first salmon!  A fantastically ugly and gorgeous buck that waited until the last second to attack. "Holy shit!  It's BIG.  Do you think it's a salmon?"  It was hilarious watching him try to hold it for the picture.  "It's too big, what do I do?"

The last two times I went by myself.  The first night a husband and wife parked their kayak 30 feet from me and proceeded to cast they're spinning rods (which they were holding upside down) in my direction.  Luckily, I wasn't really there to catch fish anyhow.

I finally got my hands on a salmon last night. Well...kind of.  I started the night by wading as deep as I could into the "serene" Cheboygan river. Within minutes I had my first fish on:  the second biggest walleye I've ever caught.  I slim 9 incher.  About 20 minutes later I was into my second fish of the night.  A feisty 12 inch rock bass...on 15lb tippet.  I was starting to feel like a real sport.

I swung an egg sucking leech for about another hour when I saw it:  A nice size salmon jumped right in front of me.  Then again.  Then it floated to the surface at my knees.  It slowly tried to get back down and began a slow course downstream, tail up.  I took a few steps down and casually grabbed it by the tail (a dangerous move in the Cheboygan river).

I spent about 5 minutes reviving the fish and contemplating the contradictory nature of what I was doing. I was overcome with the feeling of how futile this all was...is.  Not just the resuscitation of this particular fish.  But all of it.  The fishing...working...life.  I've modeled my fishing pursuits around a fly rod and around catch and release.  I stood there giving CPR to a half dead fish, who, for some reason or another thought I was a safe bet to die in front of; a salmon that, regardless of what I do, will be dead in about a months time.  A salmon that was probably so sick of seeing spoons and treble hooks ran in front of it that it may actually have been begging for a quick death.

The fishing was over at that point.  What else can you do?  Go on fishing like it hadn't happened, pretending like it actually mattered whether or not I caught a fish when one, literally, landed at my feet only so I could temporarily revive it so it could swim away.  Pretend like it was going to live or even make it through the night.  A temporary fix.  The salmon is almost certainly dead by now...but maybe the goal was to feel like I accomplished something.  Maybe I just didn't want to see it die and it was easier if it died out of sight...out of mind...not my responsibility.  It would have tasted fine on the grill, it wasn't decaying, relatively silver, a little green. Probably caught and fought until the last second only to have broken off.  Slipped away, temporarily escaping his fate only to come face to face with it downstream as we all inevitably must.   It's all downstream.

I don't want to watch my son slip away.  I don't want him to have autism.  I don't want him to go through that and I don't want him to be "different." Not in that regard. I don't care how that sounds.  I don't pray and I don't believe in God, but right now I want to believe.  I wish I believed.  I want him to grow up, I want him to laugh at just how futile fishing is, and love it all the more for that very reason.  I want him to hold a dying salmon in his hands and embrace just how fleeting life is, how truly pointless most of life's pursuits are, and how the most pointless of those pursuits are often the one's worth spending the most time on.  I want him to swim upstream, against the current, not helplessly float down while I pretend like it will be OK.  I want him to be OK.

I want him to be him.

Friday, September 5

Reflections from the River: The week in fishing

Aug 30th - Sep 5th

Happy Friday!  I think in most parts of the state the salmon are trickling in!  Get out there and fish.   

Just not here!  My wife said someone was "kicking" a salmon they had caught to their car

Bridges are where I like to see people though. I think they keep the unworthy or unwilling from looking for different spots.

I kicked off the labor day weekend with a trip down below Mio with my dad for the weekend (I was only able to stay for 2 days).  It’s always a bad weekend for me, with the kids starting school, and the guilt of being gone just before it starts, but it's a great weekend for him:  he gets to be the hell away from the 40,000 intruders in Mackinaw set to enjoy the tradition of traversing the bridge...maybe it’s only strange to me since I grew up there, but I never did quite understand it. Maybe some day.

We arrived to the campground, expectant as you can be when it’s done nothing but storm for a few days, and nothing but storms are in the forecast for the next two.  Turns out, mother nature was on our side.  The impending storms kept the tubers out of the river, and we had a fairly uninterrupted day time float.  Not too many fish, but good company, cheap beer, and a few laughs.  We were hopeful we picked the right time this year, that the white flies would be delayed. You see, my Dad is the type of guy that doesn't care about "conventional" wisdom. He knows the white flies are prime a week or two BEFORE labor day, but he likes the labor day weekend. It turns out, it was great timing.  There was a good spattering on Saturday night, and it "snowed" on Sunday, but few fish rising.  

Fritz, the type of guy that’s so damned nice you hope he catches all the fish, DID.  A gorgeously fat brown of about 24 inches.  She was pulled from a fairly nondescript spot, just prospecting as there were no real rising fish to speak of.  Hell of a way to start the night.  We spent the next 4 hours mousing and throwing streamers without moving a SINGLE fish.  Strange, considering there wasn't much of a moon, but the barometer with the constantly changing storm fronts could have had a hand in it.  

That day I broke my 6 month old Allen 8 weight, so I was throwing some pretty beefy hairballs with a 5 wt.  So far, Allen seems to be a pleasure to deal with on warranty issues.  

Unfortunately I had to head home without quite getting my fill, so Monday night I had to get back out there.  I had my mind set on a tricky stretch of brook trout water that runs through a hellacious swamp.  The kind of place you don’t really want to walk to...especially at night...by yourself.  My buddy Alex was up for the challenge, as he almost always is.  He’s the type of guy that doesn’t really ask too many questions about where we’re going...mostly wondering if we’ll be back before sunrise, and if he should bring the 4wt or something bigger. After committing to the excursion, he'll then spend the rest of the day sending weather updates, breaking down the radar, barometric pressure stats, the moon phase, local folklore, a new fly pattern he'd like me to get tied by the time we leave, and last but not least his personal opinions of the likely hood of catching fish. I'm not sure why, he's going to go regardless of the supposed "probability", but it's fun to watch.

We had fished this spot 2 weeks previous.  The first time either of us had been there.  The evening fish was a little slow, both of us releasing 1 or 2 small brookies.  We were to hell and gone back in the swamp and decided we had better start the long walk back up the river...we tried the swamp on the way down and it was horrible.  The bugs started coming off just before dark and the river turned to a boil in no time.  We each took a few more between 6 and 10 inches, and just as soon as it had started, it was done.  Both being extremely fond of mousing, we discussed the prospects of tying one on and catching a brook trout after dark...on a mouse.  What the hell, right?  I had the mouse in the water for about 3 minutes, and BAM.  It was on.  I was in awe as i netted the 14.5 inch brookie (I only had the net because I forgot to take it off on the way in.)  Neither of us could believe our good fortune.  Within 15 more minutes I had lost two more fish which must have run at least that big.  Finally, Alex had a hook up.  He brought in a truly amazing specimen, just over 15 inches.  A sweet wild brook trout indeed.  

Long story short, we expected a lot going in the next time.  What we got turned out a little different.  The water was at least 8 inches higher, a lot for this little stream, and the fish were unwilling.  Two fish were rolled, not very big.  I think our biggest hurtle was that we expected to be fighting the fish off with a stick after such a good run the first time.  That's why I go back. That's why I love fishing.  I am not so secretly glad that we struck out.  What would've happened had we had the same luck?  Would we fish anywhere else?  Or would we never fish there again, having convinced ourselves that we had it “figured out?”  

Get out there this weekend, make some memories, and good luck!


Wednesday, September 3

Trout People Confessional


     The conversation normally goes something like this:

     "Oh you fish!?!  We limited out on walleye in 45 minutes!  45 minutes!  Hell, I was home in time to watch the news!"

or this:

     "You fish? I fish a lot!  I mean a lot!  Caught two "master angler" brook trout out of a lake in the U.P.  They didn't taste very good though  Strangest thing, never once pulled another nice fish out of that little lake.  Not even worth fishing anymore if you ask me."

orrr this:

     "Oh you fish?  Man, 54 blue gill out of lake Big Swingin Dick last Friday.   FIFTY FOUR!  Can you believe that?   I mean shit, 54.  My buddy caught 36 the night before, but yesterday we only caught 16.  Today started off good, caught 15 in the morning but only managed 6 this afternoon.  I'd really hoped to catch at least 54 again today, but it's looking like we'll only be bringing about 33 home. Can't win 'em all."

I've accepted that there is a chance I may be a trout snob. Could it be true? I probably am.  Bloody hell, I am. Not in the prick sense of the word, (most of the time) just in the sense that the trout is my fish.  In my world it is the most revered and profound of all the fishes.

In a nut shell my fishing philosophy, maybe life philosophy, is this:  More than anything I prefer to be fishing.  More specifically, I prefer to chase trout with a fly rod.  If that's not possible, I'd prefer to chase salmon with a fly rod.  If that's not possible, I'd prefer to chase any fish with a fly rod.  If that's not possible, I'd prefer to fish a spinning rod.  If I can't do that, I'd prefer to fish...any way possible.  If I can't do that, well, that's why I started a blog...so I can at least write about trout.

 I have about as much in common with a fish counter as I do with a cruise ship captain.  Yep, we both spend a lot of time on the water, but that's where the similarities end.  As most of us are, I'm guilty of having a bit of big fish envy from time to time (maybe more than that), and occasionally suffer from a case of big fish pride, but for me big fish and big numbers are not the destination, they are but an occasional byproduct of the journey.  They are an excuse to stay out all night, a reason to be unreasonable, and  the cause of  many an exciting predicament.  What they are not is the end all be all.

I've had fish filled days on the water and weeks where I haven't laid eyes on a fish. What interests me about your "master angler" brook trout or your 50 fish days is not necessarily the size, not the number...but the FEELING.  Tell me about how your heart skipped a beat when you first felt the full weight of the fish and I will gladly listen.  Tell me about the rush of adrenaline when your walleye first broke the surface and you have my ear.  Tell me not about how many blue gill you pulled in, but what it FELT like to catch so many fish your arms ached, or maybe that your kid was there to experience it for the first time.  I don't want to hear about how quickly you can limit out (don't break your arm patting yourself on the back), but what I do want to know is how fulfilling it must have been to devote so much time learning a piece of water and reap the "fruits of your labor"...or maybe that it was at that old spot your dad used to take you when you were a kid...

I'm of the school of thought that most people are genuinely good and normally mean well.  People that would do the right thing when faced with the choice.  However, that doesn't mean that I feel it necessary to "suffer fools."

I can listen to most anyone talk about fishing, but it seems more and more that people don't want to talk about fishing, they want to talk about catching (I suffer from the malady myself from time to time too).  I think that's another reason why I'm a trout "snob"...I enjoy talking to other trout obsessed people.  Someone that can describe and understand the feeling of walking 3 miles through the swamp and the exhilaration of an 8" brook trout in the beaver pond his grandpa showed him.  What it's like to sit high on the bank of a winding creek, losing themselves as they gaze into the riffles that have a way of reflecting more than a mirror ever could.  There's something innately different about us.  Our obsession starts deep in the under currents of rivers and lakes, mystery and wonder, and works it's way up to the surface where a feeding trout breaks the boundary of what we had imagined was there and creates the tangible link in an otherwise intangible feeling.  Trout people understand that.  There is a love there, between trout snobs, trout bums, and trout, that few others can understand.  A one sided love, true, but a love nonetheless.

Friday, August 22

Private Water, The Problem with People, Too Much Beer, and a Heavy Heart

Private water...I can hear the mismatched and conflicting gears in my head turn at the mere thought.  I was recently granted permission to fish a 3 mile stretch of private water...water that hasn't been fished in 20 years.  Water that holds the promise of fish that have never seen a fly, much less a person...or a worm with a hook through it.  I'm torn.  I'm torn because I don't believe in private water...YET...I asked for permission to fish this water...however... I don't believe that a river can belong to one person or organization, so I shouldn't NEED permission.  I'm torn because I'm excited about fishing it.  In fact, I can't wait.  It was only last year when I heard myself utter these words:  "I am philosophically opposed to private water."  (I think I stole that from John Gierach though).  It was in response to a question posed by a friend whilst trespassing on newly purchased property.  Property that we used to be able to walk through to get to our spot. Our spot.  The question he asked was:  "how much would you pay to fish here?"  An innocent enough question I suppose.  But I'm sure he could hear the venom in my response.  "PAY TO FISH HERE?  This is practically my spot already!"  And there it is...ownership.  We all want it, we all have those secret urges.  (mine aren't so secret). If I could afford to purchase a section of a trout river and legally keep people out, would I?  Probably.  Why?  I don't trust my species.  I don't trust them to appreciate, understand, and conserve what is beautiful and worth conserving.

I am opposed to private watershed ownership, yet, my deep love of trout somehow reconciles that it may be necessary. To steal and paraphrase Harry Middleton:  the fact that we have to protect our natural resources is both sad, devastating in fact, and understandable.  Not only do these "private" places or "national parks" give us a glimpse of what once was, but more ominously, a sense of what could have been.  What could have been if we would have changed our course.  What could have been if we didn't have to fence off sections of wilderness, nature, so as not to be disturbed, not to be destroyed and sacrificed for the newest strip mall, walmart, coffee shop, or mining operation.

Why is private ownership necessary?  Well, I still don't know that is is, but what I do know is that it is amazing how many beer cans you can find in places that I consider hard to get to.  It's amazing how many favorite spots I've had that have been sacrificed in the name of progress.  (It happened again today.  Not entirely, but it's a start:  in the form of a "Logging" sign recently tacked to a tree  a few hundred yards from my put in.)  It is amazing how many rivers and their unwitting inhabitants have been destroyed by "safe" mining operations that didn't quite deliver on that promise.  By dams gone awry.  A few years back, 30 minutes from my home, more than 500,000 trout were killed due to negligence...neglect...of a dam that shouldn't have been there in the first place.

But here I sit with my conflicting views.  My conflicting views, trying to reconcile private waters, the nature of people, and writing about trout.  Writing about trout and other collateral damage when over 1.1 million children in the U.S. are homeless.  Read that again.  That's 1.1 million HOMELESS CHILDREN in our "great nation."  But I write about trout...conserving and protecting a fish I hold near and dear, and hope that I/we can help.  I write about trout, and at the same time, 16 million kids go hungry...16 million, in the U.S. Where do we go from here?  I don't know, but what I do know is that it's not the direction that we're headed.  It is not this direction.  But I write about trout.  I am conflicted.  But I write...I write about trout.

Wednesday, August 20

Long Lost Friend

     There aren't many places like it.  My safe haven.  You could spend the rest of your life getting to know it, getting lost in it, becoming consumed. Away from crowds of people, tourist attractions, forced small talk, and meaningless conversations, a literal breath of fresh air.

      Time seems to stop there, it ceases to mean anything, loses its power.  A clock is of little value.  It's as if it isn't counted against me, like I'm not getting older, instead I'm given a child like sense of wonder, given new eyes with which to see the world.  I guess the best way to say it is that the time I'm spending is free.  Maybe spending isn't the right word...I'm utilizing time.  It's far from perceptible, yet as recognizable as your own bed.  It is a cosmic connection.

As I sit at my fly tying desk and write this I can feel my blood coursing with anticipation. Anticipation. The trip is soon.  It's always bitter sweet,  the ending of summer, but it can't get here soon enough because with it brings the annual trek to the end of the world.  I would be almost hesitant to live there, too afraid that it may lose its charm.  But I don't think that's quite possible.

     I'm not 100% sure why the U.P. is so special to me, or why I hold it so close.  I've been going since I was a kid...maybe 12 or 13, fishing and getting to know my dad and getting to know myself. Myself.  Dads are different in the U.P.  Maybe that was part of the attraction.  Free from the confines of social norms and societal  influence, a kid has a chance to find out who he is and where he fits in the adult world.  No longer was I shielded from the stories my dad would tell his buddies, for I was an equal.  The curbed language more normal for a kid my age stopped at the bridge, and it was a new and exciting world.  I drove a car for the first time up there, had my first beer, stole my first taste of Jim Beam and then a few more, went to my first truly redneck party,oh, and I caught some amazing fish up there too.

Every year the spots changed a little, a few were added, a few taken away, and a few have remained constant. Constant. Some river systems have been abandoned entirely, too many people found out... roads where there used to be squirrel trails, trails where there used to be long walks through the deep woods with a compass.  Forests logged and turned unrecognizable, houses erected on the bank of the river, infringing on what was once wild and unmolested.  That's the nature of the beast I guess.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but for the most part I struggle to not be upset with the prospect that maybe time really does exist up there.  It must. If not, why do I wonder whether or not my son or daughter will experience those same spots, or if we'll be on to a new location?  Perhaps we're to blame...maybe no one...probably everyone. Everyone. Maybe blame is a poor word, and eventually I will have to resign to the fact that there aren't many untouched wildernesses left, and maybe the idea only ever really existed within me.  After all, if I really am the first to fish an "untouched" spot...it ceases to be "untouched"...it ceases to be what I loved...because of my doing.

Everyone deserves an escape, to have a place that is held so close you can feel its pulse, hear its breath, and exist not only within it, but as a part of it. Part of it.  It's sad to me that so many people grow up without even so much as a chance to experience their own version, but maybe it's sad to them that I don't have a coffee shop, book store, restaurants, or bars, within walking distance.

I spend at least 2 weeks in preparation.  Plans are carefully laid, no detail overlooked.  Never are my fly boxes more organized or line cleaner. Never is my mind so focused, content, and at peace. The process of preparing itself is something I look forward to with almost as much vigor as the trip. It is a religion...it is sacred.

Mostly, I will go prepared to relish in what can only be described as where I belong.  Relish in the feeling that I'm no longer trying to go somewhere, but that I have arrived. Arrived. Relish in the rivers, the trout, the camping, the adventure...but mostly, say hi to myself again, it's damned good to see you...the real you.  The real you.

Chase contentment, chase trout


Monday, August 18

Withdrawals and A Lesson in Hypocrisy

        I think I'm getting the shakes.  I haven't been fishing in at least 7 days...or has it been 8?  I decided to take a hiatus after over doing it for so long during the hex this year.  6 or 7 nights a week for that long can really take it's tole, but I think I'm finally recovered.  I anxiously await this time of year and now that it's here there is no excuse not to get out there...the winter tying sessions will be here soon enough.  I've been making excuses.  Well, getting a vasectomy is a legitimate excuse, but an excuse none the less.  The lawn needs mowed, the kids got a play set that needs to be set up, revived, and painted, the shed needed to be cleaned and organized, garage in disarray, fly tying bench is a nightmare, family needs to be visited, weddings attended, nighttime temps too low....anndd  CUT.

       I feel better already.  Most of that stuff is already done and the things I haven't listed aren't that important anyhow.  The lawn still needs attention, it's been a few weeks, but I'll leave work here shortly and get that taken care of.  Or not.  Either way, tomorrow night I'll get my fix (maybe head out tonight too). Going to hit a local trout lake in the early evening then off to throw some rodents.  

      Anyone else have a separate email folder dedicated to fly fishing?  Or maybe your whole email is.  Maybe you're one of the lucky ones that doesn't have to have an email!  My problem is I do a lot of my work through email, but I spend most of my time  in the fly fishing folder.  Blogs i follow, Allen's "deal of the week", Orvis's 10 emails a day, Kelly Galloup stuff, all of the local fly shops and some not so local, destination fishing trips, Feather Craft and J. Stockard deals, fly fisherman magazine telling me i need to re-up (I dont think I will).  I can only read the same article so many times.  I went through my phase with them though.  Tying every "hot new pattern" they threw my way,  planning trips to fish with April Vokey and moving to British Columbia.  Dreaming about Argentinian brown trout.  Learning the top 10 tricks most fly fisherman don't know, for Christ's sake it's like Cosmo for anglers.

      I guess I finally learned that I would rather read things like Fontinalis Rising, Michigan Fly, Living Fly Legacy, the Fiberglass Manifesto, Moldy Chum, Gink and Gasoline, Kype, Fly Fish Food, and a ton of other amazingly written REAL LIFE STUFF that I haven't listed including several saltwater blogs. They don't bombard me with the latest and greatest line nippers priced to sell at $50, or wading boots that will "put me in front of more fish." It's like the difference between shopping at a Bass Pro Shop or your local fly shop. They both have their place I suppose, but the fly shop wins every time.

        I get sucked in though...I love the NEW stuff just as much as the next guy, but eventually I start to lose sight of what I'm trying to accomplish here.  The more I get bogged down with having the newest most fashionable chest pack, the more I'm going the way of the rest of the world, which is contrary to the reason I fly fish in the first place...to lose myself and find myself in nothingness, oneness, quite contemplation and reflection, excitement, disappointment, relief, and countless other emotions. If you think about it, fly fishing is a way to practice feeling the emotions of the real world on a scale that really doesn't matter. Although...nothing reaaallyy matters, does it (I don't want to go down that rabbit hole).  But, one of the intrinsic traits of fly fishing is that it allows me to take a step back from everything I don't like about society, and I can't help but see the hypocrisy of that goal and obsessing over the newest fishing widget.

I think what I'm saying is...I'm a hypocrite.  I'm on both sides of this fence. Sometimes I feel bad about it, most of the time I don't. I try to balance the compulsion for more and newer with the real reasons that i fish, and sometimes they don't exactly match up, but that's OK.

Yep, I want to read about Sage's newest advancements in "Konnetic Technology", but God damn it I don't need to do it every single day, and with every turn of the magazine's pages.

Sometimes, I like to grab my 7 ft 5 wt eagle claw glass rod that cost exactly $19.99 and fish it like it owes me money. There.  I said it.  I have a nice expensive rod or two, and I love them.  They're light weight and make me feel like I can cast across the straits of Mackinaw, but I can count on 1 hand the amount of fish I've caught with a 70 foot cast...none...probably because I can't cast that far, but you get the point.  It drives me bat shit crazy that a $600 rod is now considered a "mid-ranged" rod price.  BUT, I had to have one, and it's a sweetheart. I also like to throw on my neoprene waders (especially this summer because it's been so cold at night) but I always feel a little odd, like I stand out in the crowd and maybe I should have worn my name brand pair with the latest and greatest seamless weld technology with the waterproof pockets, and adjustable upper section from chest to waist highs.

That new Fishpond pack is just so sexy though, and it holds so much stuff!  Maybe I could catch more fish if I had it...

Tuesday, August 12

Night Blindness and Sasquatch Sightings

         There’s something subtly special about driving home down an empty road at 2 in the morning (even more special if I have a cigarette hanging out the window, but the hex is done so my smoking is too). The first part of the drive involves no houses, no streetlights, the only sign of life is me and the occasional deer, low flying owl, or porcupine lumbering across the road. It is freedom at its finest. I find myself overcome by a feeling of superiority at times like that.  It's hard not to.  The feeling that I have life figured out. Like I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world, western rivers be damned. I think that feeling is what I’m really chasing when I fish and the reason I continue to do it. When most other people at that hour are terrified of passing cops, silently recounting how many drinks they've had, I smile at the thought of explaining why I'm out this late, proving that not all things that happen after 2 am are mischievous. Well, maybe they are. I like to drive slowly through my neighborhood. I enjoy the sight of my seemingly lifeless house as the headlights wash over it and the idea that everyone is comfortably sleeping inside. I’m always greeted by the dog, but he has long since given up barking and lumbers out of the bedroom, eyes barely open, acknowledges me and my stupidity, then drags himself back to his warm bed. I always spend at least 30 minutes unwinding, recapping the night. If I've lost a nice fish it’s more like an hour maybe more. If not much has happened I watch the DVR’d Daily Show and if I can stay awake, the Colbert Report. Sometimes my wife manages to wake up long enough to ask how the fishing was and falls back asleep during the answer. I appreciate the gesture, it doesn't go unnoticed.

      Night fishing in Michigan. Sometimes I like to fancy myself as the hardcore elite, one of the dedicated few who soldiers out at night to chase big browns. Since I don’t have direct access to a drift boat I give myself even more points for being a dyed-in-the wool extremist. Actually though, night fishing suits me perfectly. The kids are in bed by about 7:30, leaving the rest of the night open for anything, assuming my wife hasn't made other plans.

      Mousing is of course different than chasing hatches in a lot of ways, but for me the biggest difference is urgency. I no longer feel like I have to be on the water 3 hours before dark with my spot staked out, ready to defend it. No longer feel the need to painstakingly analyze where the most likely rise will happen, where the most fish are holding, and where the least people will be. It is truly easy going. Packing up the jeep to head out only takes a few minutes and normally only entails grabbing my waders and boots that were hanging out to dry. Since the desperation isn't there, I often times don’t
even leave until just before dark, getting a good hour or two in with my wife so she doesn't entirely forget who I am. I like to mouse with another person, but enjoy having the river to myself as well. Arriving at the river,  I take the time to survey the water, often catching the tail end of a decent amount of sulphurs, whiteflies, or any other number of unexpected hatches, but normally they don’t amount to much. On occasion, I have to furiously re-rig to cast at a nice riser before the setting sun takes the bugs with it. I used to use 3x to 5x tippet when mousing...I’m not really sure why, I guess I didn’t know any better. Thankfully, I don’t use much less than 0x anymore, sometimes forsaking even that for something bigger and stiffer. Also gone are the days when I used real mice. Ornately tied spun deer hair creations with eyes, 4 feet, 20 toes, whiskers, 2 folded ears and tapered tail...the whole nine yards. I really went all out. I still occasionally tie one on, but mostly it’s some rabbit zonker foam creation with too many legs...and not enough heart.


        If I’m fishing with someone else, I always prefer to let them go first. I like to watch other people’s techniques, and would rather give them first chance at fish. There are so many different ways to mouse that I don’t think there is a prevailing method anymore, or maybe never was.  Swinging, dead drift, swinging with occasional plops, or just plopping it all the way back in. Everyone has their preference, and I suppose they all work best at different times. I change my approach quite often, and if I happen to hook a fish on one method, probably purely by chance, I keep that method for waaay too long afterwards.

     It’s also worth noting the way in which people will re-tie or re-rig. I fish with one person who doesn't use a light, even to re-tie. All of my attempts at such masterdom have fallen way short. Other people have no problem shining their light all over the god damned river, like the fish are blind deaf and dumb, inducing night blindness on anyone within a half mile. Others will sneak off near the bank, and, shielding the rest of the river from their disruption, quietly tie on with the utmost care, trying to use the red light on their lamps which supposedly is less likely to spook the fish. I subscribe to the latter, but have seen people catch fish after destroying the good lies with their light pollution...who the hell knows.

    There is also a difference of opinion when it comes to how much river to fish. One night time companion generally fishes a shorter stretch of river, spending the time and truly fishing each spot with the patience of a thousand monks. Others use the blanket approach with the goal being to cover as much water as possible, more reminiscent of floating. Sometimes the spot is famously hard to get to, other times I’m parked feet away from the river. That’s part of the beauty of night fishing...even the most practiced day time angler doesn't have access to the fish an amateur does at night in Michigan. The scale has evened and hacks like me get a chance at a few big ones as long as we’re willing to pay our dues, which can include but are not limited to:

broken rods, taking a swim (some more than others), ripped waders, ruined smartphones, lost hemos, dropped fly boxes, catching mice and streamers with your face, deciding how to take a bat off of your hook, torn up arms, the occasional dead flashlight or headlamp immediately inducing panic, bad compass routes and long roundabout walks back to the jeep, dead car batteries and no cell signal, warm beer, and a hell of a good time that most will never experience.

     There are a few demons that I have to overcome more often than I’d like to admit. It’s strange how similar a raccoon can sound to what I would imagine an impending alien abduction sounds like. For me, I have to manage fears. That includes fears of things I know exist...like bears, cougars, pissed off elk, AND things that probably don’t exist...like big foot, river monsters, someone waiting for me to get around the next bend so they can rape me, and alien abductions (not that I don’t believe in aliens, but maybe not so much the abduction part.)  I've seen and heard some strange things night fishing...a time when I should be in bed.  What I swear were muskrat fornicating on the bank, what I can only assume was a rabbit being eaten alive by a pack of rabid coyotes, my buddy trying to convince me that we heard a ghost, deer stamping and defending territory, menacing bear grunts, and what I will officially go on record as saying MUST have been a band of 20 raccoons being tortured  by god knows what...I'd put my money on a soon to be discovered swamp creature...or a squatch.  Probably a squatch.
      Beavers are a whole different subject, probably deserving their own book, but I'm always shocked at how many times the same beaver can make my ass pucker in the same night. I don’t care who you are, when a beaver slaps his tail 10 feet from you in the pitch black, you’re ducking for cover and imagining the worst. The way my heart races can’t be healthy and I’ve since concluded that this is the way I’ll eventually meet my end...heart attack set off by a beaver’s displeasure that I was infringing on his space.

       It’s amazing how focused you can become fishing in the dark. About an hour or so in, you start to forget what you’re doing.  Your body knows only the familiar motions, temporarily on auto pilot. Some nights it is so dark you begin to wonder if the night will just swallow you, or if the profound depths of the water will do it first.  Eventually you have to take a short break so you can remember where you are. You can really become disoriented in no time at all.  (It's normally at times like that you hook a fish and subsequently lose it because your line is caught around your chest pack, wrist, fighting butt, or a surprising number of other options.)

Sometimes, you start to question your sanity...do normal people find themselves standing in the middle of a river at 2 am throwing fur and foam at the riverbank?  I don’t think the answer to that question is yes.