Monday, December 7

My comprehensive fishing report which includes: locations, flies used, and what holes the fish are hiding in!

     I set out yesterday with one thing in mind...nymphing.  I do it a few times a year.  Probably a half-hearted attempt at becoming a more well rounded angler.   Every fall/winter I get to the point where I haven't caught a fish in so long that I'm willing to try anything...anything.  I made it a little longer than normal...about 30 minutes.  After that I tied a weighted streamer to my floating line and finished the afternoon out with exactly zero fish to hand.  On the bright side, it was 46 degrees, which meant most of me was toasty warm.  The downside is that now both feet in my waders leak, as well as the crotch. I should have gotten out of the river a little sooner...there was a painful thawing of toes on the drive home.  At this point, my waders are more aqua seal than anything else, but my wife's newest rebuttal when it comes to shelling out $300-$400 for new ones that I need (not want) is that...if broken down...costs "MORE THAN A DOLLAR A DAY FOR A YEAR...JUST FOR FISHING."  That's a new one on me, so we'll see where I get.

If I could draw your attention to the lack of ice in the guides  Fish or no fish, it was a good day...leaky waders and all.

Saturday, December 5

Found Wanting

     When I was a boy, probably 10, my grandpa gave me a fly rod.  Well, kind of.  He gave me half of a fly rod.  The other half had been lost on the way out of a god forsaken swamp somewhere in the middle of nowhere, never to be seen again.  To fix this, he had fashioned the top half of an old spinning rod to take the errant half's place.  It would have been fine with me if it wasn't for how beautiful a crimson color the blank was. I spent way to much time imagining how grand a rod it would have been were it whole again.  To accompany the rod, he gave me a reel and some fly line with a leader on the end.  This was also fine...except the reel was one of those automatic ones, which was a new concept to me, and really something...when it decided to work.  To practice casting, he tied on one of those rings that come off of the lid from a gallon of milk and I was off to the races.

If my memory serves me correctly, I can almost see the VHS of a fly casting demonstration, but of that I'm not 100% certain.  It feels familiar though.  If you've never tried to cast a half fly rod/half spinning rod combo I'd suggest that you ought to.  If you can throw a decent loop with that I'd be willing to bet you can out cast just about anyone.  Needless to say, I couldn't quite make it sing, and not for lack of trying.  To add to the frustration the concept of leader/tippet was foreign, so as soon as I had caught enough trees and retied enough times to eat up the leader, a straight mono leader was my answer.

I gave it a hell of a go, and even brought it along to the headwaters of one of the trout streams my dad and I frequented at the time.  I remember the excitement when a few small fish, chubs no doubt, chased the fly around the top of the water for the first time.  The problem was the trees...the god damned trees.  It didn't take long to realize that a spinning rod was a far superior method for the time least if you want to catch fish.  If you want to have fun in the backyard, a fly rod may be the right choice, but that was about it.

Fast forward a year, maybe two, and my dad and I started spending time in the U.P...together.  It started at a spot he used to camp while bear hunting.  A smallish campground...5 or 6 spots, with a water pump and later a pretty decent porta potty set up.  Our first several trips up were normally spent exploring water...canoes, float tubes, and eventually as the spots were narrowed down, just wading.  I was able to stay interested in fishing for about the average time for a kid my age, a few hours.  After that, throwing stuff in the water, speeding down the runs, and eating snacks kept me entertained.

The more we fished the more I began to realize that I was probably being treated a little differently than most kids and I didn't want that to change.  I had freedom.  If you've ever fished with my dad it wouldn't take you long to learn that he regards fishing as something best done with someone, alone. You should arrive together, work out a game plan together, go your separate ways, then talk about how the fishing was when it's all said and done. My dad and I may enter the river at the same spot, but he's going to fish up, and me down...or maybe he'll walk upstream a good clip and fish down to me.   Either way, I was given adventure with a sense of security.  I fished in the knowledge that he may be around the next bend, or might be waiting at the truck when I was all finished for the day. We fished together, alone.  A unique concept that I'm at a loss to explain, yet seems to have etched deep, defining consequences somewhere on the permanent version of myself.

My dad always had a coffee cup in the truck.  Naturally, as my father's son, so did I.  Mine normally held pop or water, but it was the idea that counted.  Imagination is a gift I was cursed with, so it wasn't uncommon for me to work my mind into a frenzy if my dad wasn't back to the truck "on time". If he wasn't around the bend that I thought he should have been...panic.  I'm 30...this curse still haunts me.  This day was no different.  I had never been to this section of river before and didn't quite realize that I had taken the wrong fork.  When my dad said "I'll be upstream", there's not much that can be screwed up.  After what felt like hours and miles of heading upstream, and was probably more like minutes and yards, I decided I had best go wait at the truck.  Eventually no doubt, in my terrified young mind, I would have to walk to the nearest house as darkness set in, to report his disappearance or abduction.

After a few lifetimes of waiting, my dad's head popped out of the trees...instant relief followed closely by embarrassment of yet another unnecessary, imagined crisis.  As the situation was cleared up I decided to take a quick look at the forks that I had somehow missed on the way up while my dad took his waders off.

When I got back in the truck that day...this day...for the second time, still basking in the elation that is "life as I know it"...that is to say that the status-quo of my life had not changed in a significant way as I had feared, I grabbed my coffee cup...the one with the Colorado Avalanche logo on it...the one with the lid that never seemed to close right...and took a hearty swig...and promptly spit it across the dash as I yelled in disgust.  "Oh shit" was my dad's explanation. As I ripped off the lid, the lingering flavor in my mouth already told the story.  We used to keep fish...most fish...and there were two brook trout in my cup.  The flimsy excuse of not having a cooler and the badly hooked fish did little to ease the sting.

One of the things that strikes me most about these early trips to the U.P. was, on at least two occasions, my grandfather was able to come. He didn't necessarily fish the entire time, but he was there.  At breakfast, for a little while with a rod in his hand, and around the campfire that night.  As a kid, the passage of time doesn't mean a whole lot.  I'm not sure at what age I stopped hearing people say "you have your whole life ahead of you" but I can tell you without question, that I don't hear it anymore.  If I would have known...maybe appreciated the fact that never, as an adult, would my grandpa accompany me on a fishing trip...exploratory mission...or just an afternoon on the river, I would have...what?  I don't know, taken more pictures?  Watched his every cast?  Cherished those moments even more?  Maybe.  What I do know is that the idea of knowing when something good...something once in a lifetime is coming to an end, the idea of knowing it will be coming to an end seems incredibly important.  It seems to make the idea of that thing disappearing easier to swallow.  My guess is, in reality, it doesn't.  Ask any widow whose watched as Alzheimer's...or cancer...ripped their world apart.  It creates a new set of problems.  Is it really better to know that this may be the last conversation you'll ever have with someone or to carry on in ignorance?  Is it better to know that this may be the last time your child will ever fall asleep in your arms, forever to old to rock to sleep. The last bed time story you'll read.  The last time your dog will ever point a bird...better to know that this is the last campfire you'll ever share with both your dad and his dad...or to convince yourself that time isn't real...that good things do come to an end, but not today...not this day. Soldier on in the belief that things don't change, and when you need him, your dad will be waiting around the next bend, or just over that ridge at the truck.

Wednesday, May 13

River Temperature Beer and Bugs

I haven't really had time to write, or at least made time to write.  Instead here's a list of reasons I am chronically and hopelessly addicted to chasing bugs:

-it's not nymphing

-checking the weather and barometer every 10 minutes during the day's not nymphing

-hastily tying a few more patterns before I head out for the night

-the elation of finding bugs...followed by the devastation of watching them disappear into the trees

-sitting on the bank for an hour or two by myself, eyes to the sky.

-sitting on the bank for an hour or two with someone else of questionable sanity, talking about
 nothing and everything.

-the chance to catch fish above my skill level

-river temperature beer

-the assumption that yes, I'm going fishing tonight unless otherwise explicitly stated

-peppermint schnapps out of a flask

-the regret of drinking peppermint schnapps

-swearing to never drink peppermint schnapps on the river again

-an extreme lack of focus at work characterized by minutes of actual work, 10 minutes of reading and planning for the night, 2 minutes of work, an hour of reading and planning for the night...

-trying to catch suspended mayflies when they refuse to fall to the river

-deciding to become an entomologist

-deciding that I really don't care what the exact bugs are, I should just do my best to imitate them.  All  you need is an Adams or Borchers, really...right?

-deciding that I HAVE to know what the exact bugs are if I am to catch a fish.  Amateurs use Adams

-mousing or throwing streamers back to the Jeep if the bugs don't show up...sometimes...but mostly  giving up on them...because it's DRY FLY SEASON DAMN IT

-showing up at the river, even when you know conditions aren't right...because just maybe

-the unexplainable feelings that accompany seeing that first bug on the water

-wondering if you picked the right stretch of river

-changing locations, only to go back to the original spot after 15 minutes at the new spot

-wondering if mayflies taste good

-not casting to the little fish, or even the bigger fish, because you have become such a snobby douche...normally this phenomenon happens later in the bug season

-the inability to hold a normal conversation

-immediately becoming suspicious of anyone who asks if you've "been fishing much" or dares to ask "how the fishing's been."

-an eventual immunity to mosquitoes and the ability to tie a flawless knot regardless of the fact that there are 100 mosquitos per square inch on your hands.

-being able to fish every night without the guilt of missing out on time with the kids because they are already in bed.

-missing out on time with the kids because...based on temps/river conditions/barometric pressure/moon phase/water temps/farmers almanac/an old man's whisperings/gut feelings/male to female bug ratio...what if the bugs fall early?!?!  I should check the barometer again.

-questioning my sanity becomes a regular thing

-having days or even weeks go by without seeing a single fish rise

-spending countless hours on the river for what often times amounts to a 10 minute fishing window

-promising to try a new spot, only to find myself parked at THE spot later that night

-deciding to take tomorrow night off and finding myself on the river...again

-carrying bear spray after close encounters and being pretty certain that it will just make you taste  better

-knowing the local beavers by name

-driving as fast as possible to the I have longer to wait

Not infrequently I have to ask myself if this kind of behavior is I losing my last tenuous grip on reality?

There's a good chance, had I decided to put this effort into med school, I'd be a doctor by now, but who wants those kind of hours!

Chase contentment, chase bugs


Monday, March 23

On Time

Fleeting, fickle, and deceiving.

I struggle silently with many things, we all do.  For me, the focal point seems to stay the same: time. Eventually we will all succumb to it, but not before having been molded into a thousand different versions of ourselves.  Sometimes the change is immediate and lasting, oftentimes for the better but not always.  Sometimes the change is gradual, going unnoticed until we take stock in who we've been, who we are now, and just how far we've come.

There's not enough, there's too much.  I can't seem to strike a balance or reach an accord.  I don't get to see the kids it seriously not their bedtime yet?   I haven't fished in weeks...I should probably leave the river and get to know my family again.   Have I really been reading this same book for 2 months...I started this god damned book yesterday, I need more!  I'll visit my aunt next month...I wish I would've taken the time to drop by.

We are nearing trout opener and I'm nearing my 30th birthday.  It's been a seemingly long winter, bitter cold, unforgiving.   My first 30 years have been tenuous at best.  On a good day I was a poor decision maker...on a bad day, I had to put that "one phone call" to damn good use.  My late teens and early twenties were a battleground.   Later, a new father trying to reconcile a sense of wild invincibility with responsibility.   Not an easy task, nor one that I've found success after the first try. Or second.  Or countless others.  When I look back at the last 6, almost 7 years of being a father, humility is what comes to mind. I've learned more about myself through the eyes of my 2 children than I did in the first 25 years without them.

On the hunt for early chrome

I don't necessarily care about being "30", nor do I necessarily care about "trout opener"...I fish for trout all year.  But they are both torch holders for the same monster, the same sirens call.  Both ominously indicative of the same plague, the same good fortune that befalls us all...time.  They are both a mile marker on my hasty, clumsy journey I will never quite understand.

Contentment? I love to tell myself that my ultimate goal is be truly satisfied. And often times, I am. Is it often enough?

I approach my symbolic 30th like I approach the symbolic trout opener. With the unvoiced, reluctant hope that I will find what I'm looking for. That place where reality and a trout stream collide. And if I plan it just right...a setting sun, a rising trout, and a contented heart.

                                                 Aubri and her "Papa" headed to the river

 Chase contentment, chase trout.

 -Ian Bancroft

Sunday, February 22

Opinions are Like Ice Holes

     Today was the day.  It was now or never.  Get out and fish, or continue to wait for the weather to turn.  It had to be done.  I could have stayed at home sulking again, maybe tried to write about cabin fever or something, but I've already read some pretty sweet write ups on the subject and I don't really think I could capture the feelings any better than has already been done. I could have tried to tweak some fly patterns for the thousandth time or finished my hex patterns for the year, but my last calf tail was eaten by the dog and I haven't made it to the fly shop yet.  I could have re-organized my boxes, or cleaned my tying bench...again... or read another book about the pursuits of a trout bum, but instead I said yes to the invite.

Fly fishing in itself has made me a different person, a better person, but there are a few bad qualities that is has drawn out of the closet and shed some light on.  As it turns out, I kind of enjoy snubbing my nose at "lesser" or more base forms of fishing, such as, but not limited to:  anything involving fish but not a fly rod.

Ice fishing is sort of like when the best looking girl at the bar FINALLY comes to talk to you, but only to ask if you'd like to dance with her frigid, ugly sister.  It's ok if you're several drinks in, but you certainly don't want your friends to see you doing it, much less sober, and aren't going to tell anyone about it.  That said, when you have an itch you have to scratch it, and when it boils down to it I'd rather have a jigging rod in my hand than no rod at all.

Alex is an old school ice-aholic. (You can tell by the picture) In the last few years he has seen the light and been saved by the grace of Trutta and Fontinalis, but he still spends most of his winter, when possible, on the ice.  By the time I got to his house the thermometer was already reading 8 degrees.  Balmy.  I wish I could say I have some cool ice fishing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling gear, but alas, I could be seen wearing my old school puffy black snow pants.  The kind that feel more like plastic bags when you're actually putting them to the test out on the frozen tundra of a northern MI lake.  The snowmobile ride out was pretty quick, but I could already tell that I may not be quite as tough as I'd like to think.  After drilling the first few holes my nostrils were frozen shut and I couldn't have closed my eyes if I wanted to.  It should be noted that Alex is a tough bastard who probably wouldn't admit he was cold even as he drew his last hypothermic breath.  He works outside all winter long, currently on the shores of Lake Michigan. The wind picked up, temps dropped, and we were both in silent agreement that we would spend the afternoon tucked away in the portable shanty, to hell with checking flags and freezing fingers.

I have a few rules about ice fishing.  I'd buy the minnows this time as long as he doesn't EVER bring it up in conversation, especially not within 20 miles of a trout stream.  Secondly, any brown trout caught through the ice immediately loses 50% of it's length for the purpose of bragging rights and should never be brought up during talks of browns caught honestly on a fly rod.  Any legal walleye (I think 14 inches) are all the same.  A 12 pounder holds as much "weight" as a one pounder.   I haven't developed a rule for perch just yet, but I'll get there.

At this point, I should probably back track and admit that I had a hell of a lot of fun. We didn't catch a single fish, it got as cold as -4, I thought I would cry when my fingers thawed out, but it was exactly what I needed.  5 hours talking about this spring's streamer trips, the hendricksons that would follow, drakes, hex, way too much mousing, a few U.P. trips, a few beaver dams, and a brook trout lake or two, while having a few beers can do wonders for your mental stability.  Being cooped up for so long can take it's toll but the beauty of living in  Northern Michigan is that the winters bring a sense of urgency to the short spring, summer, and fall.

Chase Contentment, chase trout (if you can find moving water), and fish on!


Monday, January 26

A grinding halt

    If  stretch my mind a bit, I can vaguely remember a time or two sneaking around late at night with my dad.  We were in the old truck, a brown Ford Ranger, the one I rolled 2 weeks after I got my drivers license.  The one with a giant plow frame that never seemed like it belonged there.   The cab smelled like him.  There was always an old peanut butter jar, washed, then filled with chocolate and other candy for "emergencies".

The late night run was for my great uncle.  He was terminally ill with little to no time left.  I wasn't sure what we were doing at the time, but we would stop at the store first, the one that had the bottles in the back.  My dad would pull in the driveway and leave the brown paper bag outside, near the basement window.  I'm not sure if he hid it under some leaves, or left it out in the open. I don't know if it was a time sensitive mission or an "I'll drop it off one night this week" sort of thing.

I don't remember exactly how my dad explained to me what we were doing, but if he were to explain it now I'd imagine it would go something like this:

Life is complicated.  It's not black and white, and people don't always agree on what is right. Life is short...but it doesn't feel that way until it's too late.  

Eventually...we will all meet our end.  Nowadays it is rare to meet your end with the dignity we all had imagined we would take our last breath with.  Loss of mind, loss of body, loss of control...a complete and utter decimation of the person we used to see in the mirror.  This man deserves a god damned drink if he wants one, and that's what he's going to get.

My dad provided reprieve.  A simple pleasure to ease suffering, and for that I am proud.

My aunt passed away a few days ago, and my heart aches for my mother.  When I was a kid my aunt lived across the continent.  One of my first memories of her was dropping her off at the airport with my mom.  Everything seemed fine. My mom bought me a can of mini coke at the Canadian airport cafeteria.  I remember because it was the first time I had seen a miniature can. It wasn't until we were in the car that my mom let her tears fall.  Being a kid, I had to ask why she was didn't make sense. When a continent separates you, visits are few and far between, and always too short.  Time was never on their side.

Today while writing this I got a phone call from a client.  A newly discovered lump, desperation and disbelief in her voice. Yesterday she was just like me, just like us...oblivious.  Today, life has taken a decisive turn, a more ominous urgency rather than casual certainty.

I saw a client at the grocery store...not an hour after getting off the phone.  After the normal pleasantries he informed me that his wife was in hospice care.  She was at home, but her lungs were failing and that it wouldn't be long.  I didn't know what to say.  I never do.  What are you supposed to say?  I heard myself blurting out how sorry I was before I could help it, but what I really wanted to do was give him a hug, lie to him, and tell him it would be OK.  Tell him that eventually the sting would lesson and life would once again appear normal without her.  It just so happens that this man possesses more grace than I could ever pretend to have, and his response of "it's ok...this is part of life" was almost too much to handle.  His face.  His god damned face. His wife.  His god damned wife.  We all make this deal...but it's not really a deal.  It is a mutually exclusive relationship, life and death.

One of my greatest fears is that as I lay on my death bed I will be haunted by my decisions.  Not the little decisions, but the ones that matter.  Have I been myself?  Have I let anyone know who I am?  Do my kids know me, does my wife know me?  So much time wasted on trivial things, too many harsh words, not enough patience.  To many "I can'ts" and "too busys"  and not enough "why the hell nots".

My grandpa is sitting in a nursing home as I write this.  He's been there about two weeks.  Of all the people I've known, he may be the grumpiest.  He also happens to be one of the quickest people to tell a joke, embellish  a story, or try to get a smile.  In all the years I've fished with my grandpa, I don't think I ever saw him once catch a fish on a fly rod.  He was the first in our family to pick one up, and may have been throwing dry flies at salmon for all I know...but he never gave it up, never complained that the fish weren't biting, and never resorted back to his spinning rod.

I took my son in with me to see him the other day.  Within minutes he was sharing one of the coolest stories I think I have ever heard.  How much of it is true, I don't know, but I choose to believe it all.  I will do a poor recording of the events here:

The person he was sharing a room with at the hospital the week previous was "a goofy bastard....nice...but different."  It was about the second night there that they hatched the plan.  "Want to blow this joint with me tonight?"  the roommate asked.  "Damn straight." my grandpa grunted.  They set an alarm, 2 am sharp.  Their bags were packed and they were primed.  My grandpa had a car but no license, the roommate had a license but no car...a  match made in heaven.  My grandpa was awoken that night by the roommate, "still comin'?" and they "crept" out of the room and down the hallway.  They made it about as far as the nurse's station where they were inevitably stopped.  "What in the hell do you guys think you're doing?"  they were asked.  "It's time for us to go" was the reply.  "We're going to have to call security if you don't get back to your room" the nurse replied.  "I don't give a good god damn if you call the National Guard, we're getting out of here!"  A battle cry.
  Eventually, after enough threats, the roommate was convinced to head back, so my grandpa was left with little to no choice but to retreat as well.

I couldn't stop least at first.  Later, I couldn't get it out of my head.
Relentless, determined, single-minded and unwavering...disheartened, defeated, crushed...despair. Too many feelings.  Fleeting and temporary, the body betrays the mind.  Even more devastating to watch, the mind betrays the body...and there you are.  

Chase contentment, chase trout, but don't wait.