Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mess with perfection ... at your own risk

Some things are perfect left just like they are. No improvement necessary.

My Scott 3-weight 'glass rod, for instance. It's the perfect small-stream brookie-buster. PBR just out of the ice after a hot day on the water. Crunchy Cheetos. Jessica Alba.

And, of course, salmon.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Brookie Christmas

Mostly, it's just cold. Freezing cold. The water, black against winter's white, reluctantly follows its given course off the shoulder of the mountain.

There, finning quietly in the deepest, darkest pool in the tiny backcountry creek, a brook trout rests on smooth gravel. The spawn is over. The fall feed is done. Now, as the stream flows thick with chunks of ice, it's time to rest.

What little light there is filters through the cloak of winter in a blue-gray tinge. Days are short this time of year. Nights are frigid and calm, silent, save for the footfalls on snow above, which tremor into the midnight water just enough to keep the char on edge.

These are the nights that remind the fish of better days ... of warmer days when stoneflies hatch and caddis dance on the water's surface. When lunch is a tailslap away. Winter is long in the Rockies, where this imported salmonid thrives in borrowed waters. Proof of its resilience lies largely in its ability to displace the natives that evolved here ... thrived here.

The brookie's life force is undeniable. The diminutive exotic of scores of Western waters has the heart of a Russian weightlifter and the spirit of a nimble ninja. It might be the perfect coldwater denizen.

For now, as near-frozen water tumbles reluctantly by, the brook trout simply holds on, nose pointed into the current. Its heart beat slows. It moves only to breathe. Food is a distant afterthought. It nearly hibernates.

Above, the cold, clear sky soaks up the winter sun–what moisture lies in the air freezes in tiny crystals and falls to the ground. The meadows of high-country trout streams are fields of white, unbroken, unmolested.

In time, the snow will melt, and the brook trout will once again rise to the fly. For now, during the shortest days of the year the brookie rests. Warmth will come again, and the char will dance on a tight line in good time.

In good time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Secretary Salazar Takes a Swing at Bad Policy

Hey, it's really pretty simple. Habitat equals opportunity. Without one, you really don't have the other (unless you're dunking worms in a pay-by-the-pound trout pond or "hunting" behind a high fence, that is). Fortunately, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar understands this most basic of equations–today, he announced that the Bureau of Land Management would once again consider high-quality federal land for potential wilderness designation.

The Alpine Triangle in Colorado–some of the best BLM
land in the country.
For clarity, Salazar can't actually create new wilderness areas–only Congress can do that, and lately, that's no easy task. But Salazar can direct the BLM to once again identify the best of its 245 million acres of public land and designate these fine chunks of federal real estate as "wilderness study areas." This practice was trashed in 2003 when then-Secretary of Interior Gale Norton caved to industry and the extreme political right–she decided she knew more about the BLM's land than the folks on the ground and decided then and there that no new WSAs would be created. Period.

Kudos to Salazar for scrapping that wrong-headed idea. In the "habitat equals opportunity" department, anglers and hunters are among the first to be appreciative of the move.

"Whether they are called wilderness study areas, roadless areas or wilderness, sportsmen know that the best habitat for fish and wildlife and the best hunting and angling opportunity is found in the backcountry," said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

Indeed, the "controversy" surrounding wilderness (and wilderness study areas, for that matter) is largely due to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. My guess is that you'll hear a few folks from the foam-at-the-mouth crowd talking about being "locked out" by wilderness, or that Salazar's new policy restricts their "access" to public lands. That's simply not true. In fact, very little–if anything–will change. It would be largely inconceivable for Salazar or BLM Director Bob Abbey to approve a new WSA that would alter existing uses, including those designated for motorized access.

But what this new practice will do (and pay attention, hunters and anglers) is identify the very best of what's left and protect our access to some of the best fishing and hunting left on public lands in this country. You won't be locked out, but instead, the goodness that accompanies intact habitat will be locked in–you know, things like excellent water quality, diverse and native flora and fauna and high-quality sporting opportunity.

For that, Secretary Salazar earns a pat on the back. Good work, sir.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eat More Brookies ... simplified

Just a heads up for frequent visitors: The URL for Eat More Brook Trout is now simply've gone and sprung for an official domain name and am off the Blogspot nipple! It shouldn't matter much, however--typing in the old URL, complete with the Blogspot moniker, will still get you to the same old place, where brookies rule the roost and always will.

Happy Holidays to all in the blogosphere, and have a safe, healthy and prosperous 2011!


Save even more on Shin Deep

Eat More Brook Trout readers already get a 20-percent discount when they order their copy of "Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water" online. If you're looking for that last-minute holiday stocking stuffer, I've got more good news--the retail price of the book just dropped, meaning you can save even more. Just visit the book homepage and place your order--you can choose expedited shipping and have the book in your hands before the end of the holiday season.

Also, don't forget to enter the discount code (see the link to the right), and you'll get that additional 20 percent off the purchase. Enjoy the book, and good luck on the water!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sarah Palin ... the huntress?

Sarah Palin, the ideal example of an American sportswoman?

Uh, no.

Well, for clarity, let me just say she's not the complete package, anyway. And that's coming from a very casual hunter who appreciates the opportunity to get outside and chase game, but is more tuned into fly fishing the backcountry.

Take a look at the video above--it's a fairly accurate depiction of a novice sportswoman on a guided stalk-and-shoot hunt for caribou in Alaska. I'm certain Sarah and her hunting party were dropped in the remote tundra thanks to a TLC-funded helicopter ride (seems to be the preferred mode of transportation for the aspiring leader of the uber-conservative movement and the subject of that network's "reality" show focusing on Sarah and her family). And the hunt itself is probably not unlike any guided hunt for caribou in Alaska (save for the purists--and I know a few--who stalk and kill these noble animals with traditional longbows, not scoped rifles). Forgiving what looks to have been a poorly-sighted gun and the five shots Sarah takes to bring down the animal that showed virtually no fear of humans, I was actually moved by her father's exclamation when Palin finally connects with the caribou and kills it: "Der ya go, Baby! Der ya go!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Redfish memories...

I have no idea why Capt. Danny Wray decided to wait for us at the Bridgeside Marina in lonely Grand Isle, Louisiana, that chilly December morning. I just know that he did, and I’m thankful for that.

“You ought to be here by seven,” he said to me over the phone the evening before. I was bellied up to the bar with a pair of drinking buddies at Pat O’Brien’s in the heart of the French Quarter, and there’s a chance, given the two empty Hurricane glasses resting in front of me (you know, you really can’t taste the alcohol), I was overly optimistic when I said, “No problem. We’ll be there.”

I’m not sure what it says about my friends when, after hearing exactly when we would have to leave New Orleans in the morning in order to get to Grand Isle by 7 a.m. (4:30 a.m.--it's a two-and-a-half-hour drive) they both echoed my words to Capt. Danny. “No problem.”

So, when the three of us finally made our way south to Grand Isle and lurched into the marina parking lot at 9:30 a.m., I half expected Capt. Danny to tell us to take a hike. Late for a plane? Fine. Late to work? Easily explained. Two and a half hours late for a fishing trip? Get a rope.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God Smiled When He Created Brook Trout

A brook trout from a tiny creek in Colorado. Chris Hunt photo
God surely smiled when He put the finishing touches on the brook trout, for the brook trout is clearly His piscine masterpiece. 

In it, He created not only the gorgeous shell of a char that can swim lean and shimmering in cold, clear water in May, and by September be bold and rich and brilliant as it prepares to do a little creating of its own. He also created a life force so strong, so resilient that, even after centuries of effort, man has yet to fully figure out a way to wipe brookies off the face of the earth.

In their native range, we’ve trashed their coldwater streams and introduced “bigger and better” fish on top of them—interlopers from abroad and from the other side of the country that, for some unknown reason, were deemed more desirable. We’ve logged the mountainsides—in some cases, we’ve simply removed the mountains—where brookies used to swim. We’ve altered water chemistry so the rains that fall atop their ancestral waters work against them. We’ve dammed their migration to the sea and back. We’ve trashed their home waters.

But they persist in isolated little pockets, where our equipment can’t reach—or our conscience won’t let it go. These diminutive fish hang on, perhaps just long enough for us to come the collective realization that losing them altogether is simply not an option.

Over the decades, while brookies were apparently reviled in their native waters, we shipped thousands out west, where they took hold and now threaten the native fish of the Rockies. In truth, they’re a pestulance in their own right—a scourge. But having them here means, worst-case scenario, we have them. I suppose that’s not much solace to the die-hard creek angler in Appalachia who’d rather catch a “speck” than a burly smallmouth, but it’s something. It’s hope.

Perhaps, if you’re a religious angler, you can see divine intervention in the life history of the brook trout. You can see divine inspiration in the lives of the men who stocked rail cars full of fertilized eggs and shipped them west where they hatched in cold, clear waters not unlike those in which their parents matured.

But the brook trout’s future lies in the effort to save it where it belongs. A truly religious experience for a Western angler who cut his fly fishing teeth on brook trout in black-bottomed beaver ponds at 8,000 feet is catching brookies where brookies belong on the slopes of the Appalachians or the Adirondacks. Coaxing a 10-inch char to a size 12 Royal Coachman in a tiny Shenandoah stream is a church-like experience that will, whether you recognize it or not, reawaken a part of your angling soul.

And that’s where we need the most help—with our angling souls. You may not be religious, but if you fly fish for brookies, you believe in God, and you can find power and grace in a very small package.

The next time you catch a brookie, admire the life resting in your hands. Then look to the heavens and offer a little thanks. I think He’d appreciate it.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

First Snow

There's something melancholy about the first real snowstorm of the year.

Certainly, with that first blast of cold, Arctic air through the Rockies a few weeks back, my backcountry trout fishing came to a screeching halt, snow or no snow. But that first significant dump ... that's Mother Nature's message of finality. It's her not-so-subtle way of telling us to start tying flies.

I recognize that, without winter in the Rockies, there'd be no stellar backcountry fly fishing in the summer--no quality fly fishing at all, really. Without a good pile of snow in the mountains over winter, there's no potential, no future.

But winter brings on those bouts with the blues.

We got our first real storm of the year earlier this week--maybe six inches on the lawn here on the Snake River Plain. Just up the hill in the Big Hole Mountains, the storm marked itself on the landscape much more dramatically--it'll be the first to fall, and the last to retreat come spring. Then, as runoff, it'll shelter the spring run of Yellowstone cutthroats into the South Fork tributaries, and it'll allow the big browns of the Henry's Fork to move in behind spawning rainbows as they work to steal eggs from the redds. I get it.

But on the surface, the storm is just an indicator of things put on hold ... frozen. Trails to hidden backcountry trout haunts are smothered in white, and it'll be months before they're navigable. High, alpine lakes are freezing--or frozen already. The ability to move along swift, high-country creeks is no more. Months of this lie ahead.

It's depressing. Even knowing the eventual outcome--open water, clear, cold, trout-laden backcountry streams--it's downright sad.

So I sit at the vise, dreaming about the fishing I have to come, remembering those days, just a few short weeks ago, when silly outback trout nipped at high-floating flies. Perhaps this Adams in the vise, incomplete just yet, but, like the snow and ice, offering potential, will be just the tonic for my winter blues when the sun once again warms the mountains.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tenkara Confidence...

I can remember back all those years ago when my wife assured me she'd packed my fishing rod for a little southwest Colorado anniversary trip--we'd been married for four years, and we were headed to Telluride for a long weekend.

At the time, I only occasionally fly fished--I simply had more confidence in my spinning gear, and fly fishing gear was expensive. And, the only fly rod I'd ever owned was stolen from my garage not too long before this trip to the San Miguel. My options were limited, and my fishing was generally recreational--not the passion it's become since, well, that very day.

After we arrived at the river, I opened the hatchback of our old Subaru station wagon and fished around for my spinning gear. My wife casually allowed me to dig around for a while before she pulled out a long green tube.

My wife, with the tenkara in the background, fishes with my daughter.
"Happy anniversary," she said, handing the plastic tube over to me. The tube, adorned with the name "Orvis" along the side, said it all. My first "quality" fly rod--an Orvis Clearwater nine-foot, five-weight instrument of graphite beauty. I knew then and there that my spin-fishing days were over. But I needed that push--I needed to be forced out of my comfort zone.

Today, as I look at my arsenal of some twenty fly rods of all different lengths, weights and speeds, I'm fairly certain my wife regrets that day long ago. That first rod still stands sentinel duty in the corner, and on the rare occasions I fish with it, it's like slipping on an old pair of shoes... it just fits.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When All You Have is a Cell Phone...

I hate being without a camera, and I'm almost never in a situation where I don't have one close by. But, last week, while on a quick little jaunt to central Colorado, I came across an absolutely amazing scene, and my camera was 100 miles away, tucked into a suitcase.

But I had my Droid, and truthfully, I've been pretty impressed by the phone's ability to take some decent shots, albeit in a very controlled environment. I wasn't sure how it would perform at about 20 degrees with morning light burning through thick lake fog over Blue Mesa Reservoir.

While the images don't do the scene justice, they are fairly decent, considering the medium. Had I even had a point-and-shoot, I could have manipulated better images, but I'll take these for what they are. If you're in a pinch and want to capture the memory, the camera on your cell phone can work if you're dogged enough to shoot enough photos and be patient with the light. See for yourself.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Torn Labrum, Lost Autumn

I tore up my shoulder at the end of August. I was coaching a flag football team full of eight- and nine-year olds, and as I was demonstrating to the diminutive running backs how to hit the hole quickly, I tripped over our center.

Rather than squash the kid, I tried to roll into the fall like a Hollywood stunt man. I landed on my shoulder, dislocated it and trashed my labrum. The shoulder popped right back. The labrum, I was told about six weeks later, was shredded, with pieces of it floating around loose in my shoulder. The labrum apparently acts as something of a rubber washer that encircles your shoulder around the ball joint. Do too much damage to it, and the shoulder will just pop out randomly, for seemingly no reason. When the orthopedic surgeon asked how I managed to do so much damage, I simply grinned and said, "Football injury."

I thought that was a pretty good explanation, given the circumstances. My eight-year-old son, though, had to go and spoil everything. He announced to his teacher and his principal at school that his dad was wearing a shoulder sling because he tore his labia. Good grief.

Surgery was no fun. Or, rather, the first day or two after the surgery were no fun. I've since gained quite a bit of motion back, and I'm healing, but those first 36 hours or so were hellish. And, I'm not sure if it was the residual pain of having an arthroscope punched into my shoulder from three different directions, or if it was the sad realization that I'd lost autumn altogether.

I'm a die-hard fly fisher--I've been known to give it a whirl any time of the year, no matter the weather. But what really tore me up this year was the fact that I got a new rifle--a Winchester 30.06. I had grand plans for deer and elk, and that's just not going to happen. There's an outside chance that, if I can stay on a steady recovery path, I'll be able to get into some ducks in a few weeks. Right now, though, the thought of swinging a 12-banger after a flight of mallards just hurts.

My guns and rods rest harmlessly in the rafters of the downstairs man cave, content, it would seem, to wait another year. I, on the other hand, am not so content. I've lost a season. I'm looking forward to spring already--maybe I'll draw that turkey tag, and maybe I'll get back down to the Gulf Coast to chase reds again. Hopefully, my double haul will have returned by then.

For now, I'm on the shelf, a lot like my hunting and fishing hardware.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

OBN, the Secret and the William Joseph Chest Pack

My wife tells me it's called "the secret." You "put something out into the universe," and good things happen. I don't know if I buy the idea of "manifesting" what it is you want, but she might actually be onto something.

A few days back, when the Outdoor Blogger Network made its debut, the site owners announced a few give-aways. Enter your blog in the network, get an entry. Post about OBN on your blog win an entry. I perused the list of free stuff, and immediately was drawn to the William Joseph pack. I've tried a few different fly vest alternatives, but I almost always end up with my trusty Columbia vest stuck in the wader bag ready for action. The one thing I haven't tried is the chest pack.

So, in a comment to Rebecca and Joe, I said something like, "I really want the chest pack!"

Long story short, I got a note today from OBN... I'd won. And, in an odd turn of events, the chest pack was overlooked by the two winners drawn ahead of me (I was third). I took the chest pack.

The Secret? I might be coming around to manifesting what it is I want, after all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

EMBT joins Outdoor Blogger Network

Eat More Brook Trout joined the new Outdoor Blogger Network recently, and you can, too. Just visit the OBN site and you'll be channeled to dozens of blogs about the fishing and hunting you love to read and write about.

Good luck to the fine folks who started OBN--I think it's a great idea, and I hope it helps raise the profile for all the good work out there by folks to truly love the outdoors.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Canuck court throws the book at brook trout poacher

A court in Timmins, Ontario, fined a poacher $1,400 for an over-the-limit catch of seven brook trout, and it revoked the violator's fishing privileges for a year, according to an article in The Timmins Times.

Keeping in mind that the Canadian dollar is now virtually worth the same at the U.S. dollar (thank you, Goldman-Sachs), the fine is pretty substantial and essentially puts a $200 price tag on each brookie over the limit kept by Gary Martin, who, in addition to being a game thief, was also apparently uncooperative to the officer who cited him for the illegal taking of a native brook trout.

Brookies face any number of challenges in their native waters along the Eastern Seaboard and in southern and eastern Canada, and it's nice to see a judge with the stones to send a message to those who might kill brookies where their presence is a blessing. Congrats to Justice of the Peace Dolores Boyuk.

Way to go, eh.

God and Fly Fishing

I’m not a very churchy guy.

I’ll attend services a couple times a month with my family, but, generally speaking, the services are secondary—I get more out of those days by catching up with friends and being a part of a little community of folks, who, for the most part, don’t push God on anyone, but rather make Him available should we want a more direct channel to the Almighty.

Sounds corny, I know. But it is what it is.

So, I was a bit taken aback recently when a few folks at church asked me to help oversee the parish’s Christian education programs. My first inward reaction was, “You want the guy who thinks the vast majority of the Old Testament is poorly crafted fiction written by overly pious white guys with deeply seeded ‘issues’ to be your Christian education director?”

But after a bit of reflection, I agreed to do the job, largely because I think there a lot of people like me out there who don’t necessarily buy into the Biblical aspect of religion, but who value the overarching message of the faith that asks for good deeds, a life well-lived and a charitable heart.

And we get a sip of wine on Sunday mornings to take the edge off.

Part of this “appointment” by the church vestry (it’s like a board of directors) included a little sit-down with our parish priest. It marked the first time I had a candid conversation with a member of the clergy since I was confirmed as an Episcopalian some 18 years ago.

The conversation was pleasant—truth be told, I really like our rector. Even though she’s the priest, I never feel as though she’s pressuring any of us to really hone in on the source of our spirituality. Like most Episcopalians, she’s accepting, she’s patient and she understands that not everybody who fills the pews on Sunday morning has a really firm grasp of what God’s all about.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Book a must-read for "blue liners"

I've written about blue-lining a lot. Poking up unnamed creeks represented by thin, blue lines on the pages of a tattered gazetteer is a fly fishing artform. These little streams represent equal parts adventure and risk--there's no telling what you'll find in those journeys upstream. Sometimes fish. Sometimes nettles, bears or rattlesnakes.

My good buddy Tom Reed is a blue-liner. In fact, of all my friends, he's perhaps the only guy who truly understands what it means to be a blue-liner, and that blue-lining is only a little about the fishing, and a lot about what lies beyond that next bend, over the next rise or "up that little wash." As my wife says about Tom, he "gets" me.

Tom is also a hell of writer. He's an outdoors renaissance man--a horseman, a fly fisher, a wingshooter, a rifleman, a bird-dog trainer... I think I even remember him going on about some nonsense involving trail running. For fun. Yuck.

So when his latest book, "Blue Lines," hit the stores recently, I was beyond honored to be mentioned in the title chapter and flattered that Tom would credit me with finally explaining to him what it is he's spent a lifetime doing. I loved the book and I'm thrilled to be even a small part of it.

You'll love it too... get your copy of Blue Lines at Enjoy.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

EMBT in the NYT

Eat More Brook Trout has a mention in the New York Times online forum Room for Debate today. The issue? Catch and release fishing. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bummer for the Maine Brookie

George Smith of lamented recently the notable absence of his state from Outdoor Life's list of best sporting towns in America.

George agrees that Maine's big-game hunting resources are pretty thin, especially with the decline of the deer herd in the northern half of the state. But he's got one on Outdoor Life--a full 97 percent of the country's remaining native brook trout swim in the great state of Maine. That says nothing for the landlocked Atlantic salmon that call this wild state home.

I've yet to have the pleasure to fish in this remarkable place, but someday I plan to make the trip and chase brookies where brookies belong (and, no, I won't eat one).

Sorry, George. But in my book (the one where brookies matter), Maine's just great.

The High Country

Where will I fish today?

Upstream, where hard-bodied trout swim in tight water chilled by perpetual winter. Where wildflowers push the snow away, shine briefly and then retreat. Where spruces pierce the sky defiantly. Where I can cast ... alone.

At the river's head, where water can't wait to run off the mountain, life takes advantage of its few short weeks free from winter's cloak. It pulses. It revels in sunshine, soaking it in, for it has to last a long, long time. Bumblebees work tirelessly from flower to flower. Voles and chipmunks furiously gather stores to prepare for the season from which they just barely escaped. Wild trout rise willingly to false promises.

Some say they're easily fooled. Others dare not waste a cast on something they see as diminutive... not worth the effort they invested crafting a fly meant for something larger, something that looks better in megapixels. I disagree.

"Where wild trout rise willingly to false promises."

Touching their life force reinforces my own. Fooling them with concoctions crafted in a winter-shrouded basement while they fin, nearly dormant, in water covered in months of snow and ice is an effort to touch Heaven while remaining on earth. It's a religion. It requires faith.

It's why, during winter's grip, I glance often from the valley floor at the high country. I wait for the snows to retreat, for the green shoots of wild iris and columbine to shoulder through the moist, black soil. I wait for the water to clear and the mosquitos to emerge hungrily.

Then I become a temporary visitor. A tourist toting a stick and the simple desire to be part of this place. Just for a bit.

Upstream. That's where I'll fish today.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Little road trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota... Enjoy

The Task of Angling

Some days, fishing is easy. Willing trout come readily to hand, unable to resist the bugs danced across the water with a fly rod.

Some days, it's labor. It can be fruitless, or it can be rewarding, but work is involved. Sometimes a lot of work.

As I stood atop the Wabesha County Road 7 bridge over southeast Minnesota's Zumbro River, I had a feeling I was in for a little work. The river, a budding smallmouth stream north of Rochester, teemed with life. From my elevated vantage point, I could see dozens of large suckers in full spawn mode--everywhere I looked, the bottom-feeders occupied holding water where I might have expected to find bass. Big, pale sulphur duns hovered above the clear water, and swallows cartwheeled about, plucking up the tasty mayflies in mid-flight. Now and then, in the froggy water just upstream of the bridge, I'd see some nervous ripples and an occasional rise. Bass? Maybe. But northern pike and muskie also lurk in the river's nooks and crannies.

I've developed an affinity for smallies, particularly in moving water, where they behave a bit like trout, only with an attitude. They're burly fighters--even the smaller ones--and they can be hot and cold, just like their coldwater cousins. On a 6-weight rod, a foot-long smallmouth is serious entertainment.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blog post published in Colorado Central

A January Eat More Brook Trout blog post was published in a recent edition of Colorado Central Magazine. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Remembering a Fisherman

We only have a few really vivid memories we can recall from childhood. For some reason, I can remember walking across our back lawn at our house at St. Paul Street in Denver, my white sneakers leaving temporary indentations on the dew-soaked grass. I was 3.

It's an odd memory, but for some reason it stuck. I have no idea of the significance of that moment (perhaps it was foreshadowing--I walked a lot of lawns putting myself through college with Cub Cadet mower), but when I recall my earliest recollections, it's always right there.

Another early memory is of my grandfather, Ivy Garrett Hunt, who died on Friday at the age of 90. He was my last surviving grandparent. We were fishing.

Years ago, fishing was the center of our relationship. We explored the Colorado Rockies together, creeping up hidden canyons in the family motor home, or camping on the banks of an alpine stream. We discovered places together that one day, if I'm lucky, I'll get to introduce to my own grandchildren.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

God bless the Gulf Coast...

I’ve put off writing this, largely because I’ve been wrestling with my emotions stemming from the BP disaster off the coast of Louisiana. Maybe that’s not the correct phrasing—I’ve been, more or less, battling fits of extreme anger over what I believe to be an avoidable catastrophe, the corporate response to it, and the typical bureaucratic approach to holding those responsible accountable.

I was in South Texas last month, just a few days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, and a few days before we all realized the gusher at the ocean floor would eventually trash the Gulf of Mexico. I was chasing redfish and other saltwater critters with my fly rod for a couple of days, and I got the chance to dip my toes in the salt—one of my favorite things to do.

Fishing was largely uneventful, save for one Spanish mackerel that crushed a shrimp pattern off the jetty at Port Aransas and darted off toward the Yucatan. I cranked the drag on my heavy-duty reel, and, after a good fight, landed the toothy fish that, miraculously, didn’t slice my 20-pound bite tippet with its fangs. It was an idyllic coastal Texas evening, and as the sun set behind the little fishing community, I paused and soaked it all in—the next day, I’d be back on a plane, where more snow awaited me at home in Idaho. The water buzzed with baitfish and Atlantic bunker (these little guys would be a kick on a 3-weight). Brown pelicans speared the water, porpoises patrolled the water so close to the rocks that I could touch them with the tip of my rod and sea turtles cruised the riprap shore without a care in the world. As Jimmy Buffett would say, “This part of Texas is all new to me.”

The day before, I’d ventured to some remote redfish flats at the advice of a good friend of mine who grew up fly fishing these waters for reds and specks. The day was clear and still, and the water, upon first glance, was calm and nearly transparent. Green patches of turtle grass pocked the sandy flat, and mullet skipped across the surface. I stood ankle deep in the water, eyeing the expanse of green water before me for any sign of feeding reds. Finding none, but anxious to work the kinks out of my saltwater cast, I waded out into the sun-warmed water and began to stretch some fly line.

As I noted, the fishing was uneventful. But, as most fly fishers will tell you, casting in new water to generally unfamiliar quarry is exciting in itself. I’d fished for reds, with some success, in southeast Louisiana a few times before, but I am by no means an expert. Couple that with my insistence on doing this from a “self-guided” perspective, and I’m fairly certain my chances for success were limited to begin with.

I waded the flat for a good two hours, with no fish to show for my efforts. Days like these, my grandfather used to say, were days spent in deep thought. Meditation, if you will.

Feeling a bit hungry, and remembering the selection of restaurants ranging from good old Texas barbecue to golden-fried seafood that was swimming in the Gulf the day before, I turned my back on the expanse of green water and began to work my way back to shore, which, when I turned to face it, was a hell of a lot farther than I expected. Meditation, indeed.

Up to my waist in warm, brackish water, the walk back to the oyster-shelled bank took some effort, and I couldn’t help but stop and cast whenever I noticed a school of baitfish busting from the water ahead. Still no luck. I kept moving toward terra firma, not exactly frustrated, but a bit disappointed in the results, especially considering the quality of the day—light breezes, clear skies and temperatures somewhere in the 70s. I’d have bet on at least a fish or two.

As I got a little closer to the bank, I noticed what looked like a floating log, but, given my experiences as a kid tromping through the Big Thicket of East Texas, there was something eerily familiar about that shape in the water. Only when the log actually turned and started swimming toward me did it register. Alligator.

Now, I’ve seen my share of gators while casting for reds along the Gulf Coast. But I’ve never been standing up to my junk in the water, and generally sharing the same expanse of brackish flat with a reptile that, while generally non-aggressive, has been known to sprout an attitude.

Suffice it to say that, after a little harmless repositioning on both of our parts, the gator and I did not tangle on the redfish flat outside of Rockport, Texas. But it’s also safe to assume that the experience, while memorable, was not exactly comfortable. I managed to work my way carefully away from the reptile and hit dry land with nothing more than what I perceived to be a careful once-over from the predator. I even managed to shoot a few photos of the beast that probably pushed eight feet and, despite its rather calm demeanor, looked pretty damned menacing to me.

Later that evening, over a plate of pulled pork and an ice-cold High Life, something else registered to me. This little slice of the world is pretty special—it teems with life, despite the best efforts of industry and the generally boorish behavior of the tourist ilk who leave the beach littered with plastic Wal Mart bags and the like. That sea turtles and dolphins and Spanish mackerel will venture within reach of the land-locked visitor is a miracle in itself.

Now I realize the fragile resources of the Texas coast aren’t in imminent danger from the hemorrhaging pipe that once rested beneath the Deepwater Horizon rig a few hundred miles to the southeast, but I also know that the resources that “light, sweet crude” threatens are much the same as those I was fortunate enough to visit in mid-April.

I also realize that much of the Gulf Coast economy rests on two economic drivers—the natural resources in the water, and the natural resources buried under the sea floor. To date, they have coexisted remarkably well, with a few exceptions. The unfortunate reality, however, is that accidents happen, and the scope and scale of those accidents determine the severity of the impact. The ongoing crisis in the Gulf is a tragedy of the highest order—even the “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd would concede that.

But it’s more than that. It’s a demonstrative reminder of the devastating footprint we can leave behind when we cut corners, when we don’t respect the resources we’re sure to impact should something terrible happen. I would hope this disaster encourages all Americans, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, Blue Dogs or Tea Partyers, blue-collar laborers or white-collar office-dwellers, to reconsider the ugly and bad that comes with the good as it’s pumped into our fuel tanks. As a nation, we must move away from petroleum, not just as a source of fuel, but as the preferred source for plastics and other materials that, once they’re created, just don’t go away. Ever.

The Gulf will never be the same, at least not in our lifetimes. Let this be our difficult lesson. Let this be our greatest sacrifice in our search for alternative energy sources. Let this be the constant reminder of our folly when we fail to do things correctly.
God bless the Gulf Coast.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Next up: Florida

Bonefish. Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

With 200,000 gallons of the Gulf of Mexico's finest light, sweet crude still gushing from a hole in the ocean floor, biologists from all over America are busy prognosticating. One thing is certain, however: should the ever-growing oil slick enter the circular current of the Gulf--which appears imminent--the pristine fish and wildlife habitat of southern Florida lies in the crosshairs.

Now, nothing is certain. But that current, which wipes itelf across the Gulf in a huge clock-wise pattern, comes within miles of the penninsula's beaches, and could wash into mangrove forests, into the Everglades and even into the premiere fishing grounds of the Florida Keys. At risk and of key concern to region's recreational and commerical fishing industry are huge populations of snook, redfish, sea trout, bonefish, tarpon, permit, jack crevalle and even bluefin tuna.

On a larger scale, endangered critters that depend on the health of their habitat--like American crocodiles, loggerhead turtles and manitees--stand to lose ground should the oil find its way into the watery nooks and crannies of the south Florida coast.

One thing is certain. As Gulf Coast residents continue to develop an inventory of damages--and as the oil slick continues to grow--the cause of this catastrophic event must be fully determined. First, this must never be allowed to happen again. Second, the damage, which could last a lifetime, must be completely paid for by those responsible.

If this event doesn't make every American--regardless of their political affiliation--aware of the need to develop renewable and clean sources of reliable energy, nothing will.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The real culprit?

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Anglers the world over have been following the heart-wrenching news from the Gulf of Mexico--not only is the region's seafood industry in long-term peril, but some of the best recreational saltwater angling in the world is at stake thanks to a leaking oil well caused after the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers.

The loss of life alone is tragic, and, according to new reports, possibly avoidable. Apparently, there are now allegations of faulty practices against, of all maligned oil and gas industrial partners, Halliburton. It seems the giant oilfield servicing corporation (Hey, Dick! How was the fishing on the South Fork? Dick!) was in charge of the "cementing" process, during which cement is pumped down to the ocean floor once the drilling has ended, but before production begins. The cement is supposed to plug the well until production can begin and oil can be safely transported to the surface.

A lawsuit from the family of one of the dead workers alleges Halliburton was negligent in its cementing efforts, and the faulty result might have caused the explosion.

Already, BP (British Petroleum and it's new Beyond Petroleum motto--it has clearly gone Beyond Petroleum in this intance) is busy pointing the finger at the owner of the Deepwater Horizon (BP just leased it). Give BP some credit, however--they continue to say they'll pay for the cleanup of the huge mess they've caused, although it was just reported that fines and penalites for the spill could be minimal if the federal Minerals Management Service remains true to form. Keep in mind, too, that we haven't seen the full effect of this oil spill--while drilling has begun in order to properly plug the well, some 200,000 gallons of oil continues to surge out of the ocean-floor well every day.

We're hearing now that the oil slick has entered the Gulf's circular current, and that southwest Florida is now in the crosshairs. We could actually see oil washing up in the Florida Keys and adversely impacting the coastal Everglades, not to mention the region's priceless commercial and recreational fisheries. Can you imagine that "oily sheen" on your favorite bonefish flat. Already, oil is hitting barrier islands along the Gulf Coast. Awesome.

Remember, this is the very same industry that has, for decades, wanted to drill for oil in the Arctic, punch holes in some of the most treasured landscapes in the West (Roan Plateau, anyone?) and trashed perfectly good landscapes just to boost a bottom line. Drilling domestically has little or no impact on the price of oil or natural gas commodities at the pump or the pilot light. The U.S. simply lacks the oil resources, onshore or off, to alter the economic reality that the bulk of the world's oil is produced elsewhere by not-so-friendly emirates, dictatorships and zealot-led nations.

Natural gas? There's a glut on the market, and we already produce 85 percent of our own marketable fuel. The other 15 percent? Thanks, Canada.

So, we're drilling offshore... why? Good question. Wonder how much Halliburton made when it "plugged" that well...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Seasons change...

The only proof winter was actually on the run circled above me, scanning the very same water I was plying with a fly rod. The osprey, home after a long flight north from those warmer climes way down south, was on the prowl over the Snake, hoping to snag a meal and keep its energy up as it reinforced its nest in preparation for the new family.

Walking on the flat in the cold wind, with a gray sky overhead and black clouds on the horizon, I was reminded yet again that winter in Idaho can shrug its shoulders just about whenever it pleases--even on the first day of May. Two weeks earlier, I plyed the same flat for pre-spawn carp and enjoyed a day with the warm April sun on my bare arms and a good showing from the exotic torpedos of this mighty river. This day, though, the fish were wiser. They didn't brave the white-capped flat and likely sat stoically on the river bottom, waiting for a brighter day.

It should have been a trout day--the Henry's Fork and its hungry rainbows and browns wouldn't have been put off by the wind and the hail. But spring beckons me to lower, greener landscapes for some reason. And I won't lie--carp have gripped my angling soul of late, and it just doesn't feel like spring without the saltwater pull of the imported freshwater omnivore. I can't explain it, I guess. It's like a job, or being a parent. You just do it, because if you don't, you quickly realize you've missed something. Something important. Something irreplacable.

It's odd to think that I've begun to mark the season's change by the mass migration of a bottom-feeding cretin to the soupy flats of our lakes and rivers. I used to watch for signs much more practical--thermometers, barometers ... I knew that when the osprey returned, the big cutties on the Snake would be in full pre-spawn frenzy in the braids below Wilson Bridge. I knew that three or four March days in a row with highs over 35 would put the rainbows on the bite above Ashton Dam.

Now I watch for breaching cyprinids in the shallows, and the "redneck run." Years ago, as a kid, I chased these same fish with a concoction of flour, water, sugar and cinnamon mixed with care in Mom's kitchen. Now I spend my Februarys and Marches hunched over a vise tying crawfish patterns and dreaming of screaming reels and backing escaping out of my tip-top. Spring has taken on a new meaning altogether.

On this day, there would be no tug. No blurry reel spool. Even the osprey went hungry as it hovered in the easterly wind overhead. No, this was yet another day of dreaming. But I know, thanks to that kindred spirit who dances between hemispheres in search of fish, that spring is coming. Soon, dreams will be reality.

Soon, I'll feel the pull.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blue Lines

Blue lines beckon this time of year, weeks before they'll be able to actually deliver on promises sketched on a tattered map. Their real-life versions are still smothered in winter, and the fish they harbor rest on the gravel waiting patiently for the sun to sink its rays through the ice and into the water.

But we hunker over maps anyway, dreaming of the high country as the valleys get a dose of real spring. The sun warms the grass, and the trees show a tinge of green. Winter is all but over, and our thoughts turn to wild, spunky trout.

Those maps are gateways to the little waters of our childhoods ... the quiet, willow-shrouded beaver ponds, and the tiny mountain brooks that hide wild, opportunistic fish behind every rock and under every cut bank. They help us recapture those earliest memories. Through dusty pages, we can smell sweet willows and hear the gurgle of trout water. If we listen carefully enough, we can hear the swish of towering firs as their branches push against one another in the Rocky Mountain breeze. We can feel the sun on our skin. We can hear our footsteps on rocky trails as we hike in search of the next little creek to pioneer.

Those blue lines across green paper satiate us, keep us sane during this shoulder season. Yes, we can hit the big water--everyone can. It's a welcome opportunity, and occasionally we can feel as if we're walking where others haven't. But it's not the same. It's not as pristine. Not as remote. Not as ... wild.

That's why, as we shoulder our way to the water and seek out a few hundred yards to claim for ourselves, we can handle the humanity. There's promise of solitary days on the water just a few weeks away, where the only interruption will come from wild trout crashing high-floating dry flies in a stretch of a stream only a handful of die-hards will fish all year.

Yeah, those maps give us directions, but, for blue-liners, they're more than that. They're conduits to warmer days, when a stretch of the legs will take you to places yet uncovered.

To wild trout country.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ode to the Adams

It's nothing much to look at. Gray. Drab. A little fuzzy.

Anybody can tie it, which means it turns up in various stages of gray, and in various stages of quality. There's solace for even the ham-handed tier, however. Even in its finest condition, the Adams is a bit underwhelming.

But not to trout. To trout, it's a magical meal that doesn't match exactly anything on the water, but it sure appears to be close enough. It's a classic attractor. A fly for all seasons.

Oddly enough, it was tied to match a hatch, but, according to fly fishing historian Paul Schullery, it was never actually used on the water it was created to fish. The first Adams was tied by Michigan's Leonard Halladay, who created the fly based on a description by Charles Adams in the 1930s. Adams saw the "natural" on a pond in Halladay's yard. The natural? Nobody knows, but it was likely a mayfly--perhaps a March Brown or just a big gray drake.

After giving Adams the fly to use, Adams took the fly to the nearby Boardman River (not the pond), where he determined the fly to be a "knockout." Halladay promptly named the fly the "Adams" in honor of the first man to put it through its paces. And, to this day, the Adams and the Boardman River are often mentioned in the same breath. Unfortunately, it's creator, Leonard Halladay, is hardly ever mentioned at all.

The Adams occupies a prominent spot in my dry fly box. Unlike the Elk Hair Caddis or the Blue-winged Olive, the Adams is always in the box. It's not seasonal. It's not situational. It's a necessity. In smaller sizes, it'll pass as a midge. Bigger, and it'll work during a caddis hatch. It's a great generic mayfly match.

On smaller water, where wild trout are more opportunistic than cautious, an oversized, bushy
Adams should be the first choice of any blue-lining angler. It's easy for both angler and fish to see in varied light and fast water. It might well be the perfect dry fly. I certainly think so.

But I've made one vow... no longer will I call the gray, fuzzy creation the Adams. To honor the fly's true creator, not the fellow who was fortunate enough to be the first to fish it, the fly, to me, anyway, will be called the Halladay.

After all the fish the fly has managed to catch for me, much like it did for Mr. Adams, that's the least I can do.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rain in the City

The siren sound of running water can never be perfectly replaced by actual sirens and the bustle of a crowded and jubilant city. But rain on pavement, I have to admit, is a close second to a trout stream tumbling over a cataract.

As I lay in bed in New York's Mansfield Hotel, the window open to the courtyard nine floors below (is it a boutique hotel feature--windows that open to the world?) the sounds of the city slip slyly into the dark space where I sleep. Horns. The distant rattle of a subway. And sirens. It's not an unwelcome atmosphere--it's oddly soothing, knowing that life in the country's biggest collection of humanity carries on nine floors down while my own life slips into neutral for the night.

Throw in the rain, sometimes torrential, and the white noise of New York capably lulls me to sleep.

No, not a fishing trip. Not exactly, anyway. But business, and a recreational study in all things classically urban. A jazz show. Comedy. Pricey cocktails. Food.

(Holy shit, the food).

I watched one night as a young man fidgeted at the hotel bar, his stir straw slowly circling a tumbler of $20 bourbon. He would glance at his watch, look at his drink and search the room. Moments later a young lady entered the bar, an inquisitive look on her face that perfectly matched that on the fellow. Their eyes met. They both smiled, somewhat awkwardly.

Then the introduction, equally awkward. They walked off to a nearby table and proceded to put to the test the latest effort.

For a long-married guy for whom such awkward moments are long past, I immediately translated the scene into a fisherman's language. New water. Unfamiliar quarry. And the nervous excitement of it all. Perhaps one day a long, long time ago, in this very city (before it became what it is), some anxious angler carefully baited a hook before dropping it into one the brook trout streams that, centuries ago, flowed from this island and into the Hudson.

I kept a distant eye on the young couple as they tried each other for size for the first time, and it seemed to be going well when I drained my glass of sweet Southern Comfort and called it a night. Outside, on 44th Street, just a couple blocks off Times Square, it rained.

I wonder if I witnessed a bright beginning, where two young city souls finally found each other and embarked on a long and lovely adventure together. I wonder if, deep down, they'd both like to throw in the towel and escape to Idaho one day, or if the city and its constant heartbeat is too magnetic, too challenging to leave without a good try.

I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of rain on the windowsill, knowing that to some, the city has a real pull, an irresistable attraction. "You don't understand it," they say. "You don't get it." They're wrong. Standing in ice-cold water as it pours over time-smoothed rocks, that feeling becomes all too familiar.

While I don't have that feeling in the city, at least I have the rain.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Henry's Fork

There'll be days like this. If you're lucky.

But you have to wonder what turns a perfectly normal late-winter day--spring is beating at the door--into a fish fest, an outing on a world-famous river that will live on forever.

"I remember a day on the Henry's Fork way back in '10 when no matter what I tried, I couldn't keep the fish off the line."

Karma? Clean living?

I can't pin it down. I even considered the moon phase, and would have looked at tide charts for the answer if I could have found any handy here, 1,000 miles from the sea. After an afternoon fishing the storied river turned out to be what I hope stepping into Heaven is like, there remains a mystery. A pang. What had I done to deserve this bounty, and what equal and opposite reaction awaited me for the pleasure? Certainly, this good deed will not go unpunished.

Let's start with the midge hatch. There are almost always midges on the Henry's Fork--it's a productive river that runs through prime trout country. But these midges were ... huge. Size 16. Seriously. And they peppered the streamside snow, which is stubbornly refusing to disappear altogether. The bugs were everywhere. In the air. In my ears. On the water.

Then the fish. Rainbows, dark and ominous in preparation for the spawn. Deep pink bands lined their slab-like slides, and holographic colors resonated from their cheekbones. Browns, clearly waiting for the rainbows to begin the spawn, if for no other reason than to steal eggs and generally make a nuisance of themselves, busied themselves with the bugs. Even whitefish, the disrespected stepchild of most Western rivers, tested the riffles during this epic hatch.

Truthfully, when I think of midges, I think of tiny, tiny bugs, long, light leaders and a day spent casting over finicky and winter-slowed trout. This day, though, as the encroaching spring sunshine warmed the water just enough to get the river's fish thinking of food, I got cocky and tied a fly on my tippet that was just as visible to me as it was to the fish--a size 14 Parachute Adams.

No. It's not a midge pattern. But these midges weren't ... midges. They were the Barry Bonds version of midges--they were juiced up. They were ... enormous.

In keeping with winter fly fishing, I stuck with the light tippet, which likely cost me at least one trophy rainbow, but I need to get back to the bench and tie up more Adams.

Like I said. There'll be days like this. But I doubt the kids and grandkids will believe me.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Thank God for trail-blazing snowshoers. Without them, the mile-long hike in March down Beaver Creek to the ice-free banks of Quake Lake would be a slog through thigh-deep snow. As it is, even with trail of packed snow and ice, falling through the crust is a frequent hazard. 

And why make the hike? Fish, of course.

Although, today, the pickings were slim, thanks largely to a tactical error only a fly fisher would make. While at the pullout near the Beaver Creek bridge, I debated on the tackle I'd need to match wits with the lake's brown trout. With "lake" being the operative word, I strung up a 7-weight, put a spool with a sink-tip line on the reel, packed a box of  streamers in my vest, and started down the trail to the lake. 

Half an hour later, with my feet planted in the gravel where Beaver Creek enters the lake, and after shedding my fishing jacket, I realized my mistake. With the temperature hovering near 50 degrees, I'd worked up quite a sweat punching my way into the lake. And the same warm weather that caused me to sweat through my turtleneck had triggered a surface midge hatch. 

My sink-tip line and my box of heavy streamers ... well, let' s just say I chose poorly. Watching big trout gulp surface bugs while I dredged the bottom was beyond frustrating. Fortunately, I did manage to hook a couple of decent fish in spite of the obvious preference for the surface action. 

But the real adventure, as is the case more often than not, was in the journey. There's something that makes fishing more rewarding if you have to really work to accomplish it. busting along a partially broken trail into water accessed only frequently this time of year was certainly rewarding, even if I guessed wrong on the tackle. 

And when I hit the Madison a couple of hours later and landed a handful of very nice trout, I felt those fish were my reward for my sacrifice, my earlier penance. I paid for my success in sweat and spit, in throbbing knees and ankles. Time. Energy.


The Madison, of which Quake Lake is a part, can be a finicky river, especially this time of year. But when you get it right, you know it. For a short time today, even though I guessed wrong, I got it right. That's all I need.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


The cold Rolling Rock and the roast beef sandwich were consolation enough for a slow day on the river. My wadered legs dangled off the tailgate as I watched the water below. Traffic cruised down I-15 over the Grasshopper Bridge. How the drivers could restrain from slowing down to look at the water was beyond me. Fishermen are the reason they invented guard rails, right?

An early March midge hatch was in full bloom, but the Beavehead's trophy trout remained tight-lipped. The river, like a dog stepping from the water, was busy shedding itself of winter, but its fish hadn't gotten the memo yet. 

I watched as clouds of midges and the occasional blue-winged olive mayfly hovered over likely runs. I kept a close watch on the water, looking for those tell-tale dimples of working trout, or even the swirls of fish focusing on emerging bugs. Nothing. 

But, oddly, I was sated. The sun shone bright all day, and what's left of the shelf ice along the Beaverhead was busy beating a hasty retreat. Yeah, it's only early March. But spring made an appearance today, and after a long winter, a taste of spring--a reminder of what's yet to come to the Rockies--was medicinal.

I left my jacket in the truck today and fished in a long-sleeved shirt and my fishing vest. Having so little between me and elements was liberating, and even with ice-cold river water embracing my calves, I cheerfully persevered without additional cover. Pushing the season? Certainly. Shoving it... putting some shoulder into it. Whatever it takes.

Tomorrow, the Madison. And, if it's anything like today, I honestly don't care if I catch a single fish.

Yeah. Right.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

First Annual EMBT Cabin Fever Fishing Tour

First, a shout out to the wife. Yes, I assembled half a dozen pieces of Better Homes and Gardens furniture over the course of the last week (you know--it comes in a corrugated cardboard box, weighs a ton, and includes instructions in English but written by someone for whom English is a second language? Oh, and the diagrams? Sketched by someone who could make a good living tying size 26 Zebra Midges). Yes, I invested a small fortune in new paint. And, yes, I painted a wall while watching 'Amelia' on DVD.

But do those small sacrifices translate into this?

"You've been cooped up all winter, and you've really worked hard lately. Why don't you take off over the weekend, and go fishing. Stay in a hotel. Drink scotch with your man friends. Fart. Tell dirty jokes. You've earned it."

Thus, the First Annual Eat More Brook Trout Cabin Fever Fishing Tour was born. Starting Saturday, I'm on the road for the better part of a week--I'm headed to southern Montana (destinations to be revealed in frequent blog posts--stay tuned) to chase wiley late-winter browns and rainbows during the fly fishing shoulder season. I'm packing a camera (and probably jinxing the whole damn thing), a pickup bed full of beer and a surly attitude to match minds with grumpy trout in some of the best fly fishing waters this side of Paradise (there's a hint, right there).

Keep an eye on the blog, if you're interested. I hope to keep it updated during the adventure.



Monday, March 1, 2010

Protecting brookies where brookies belong

Congratulations go out to the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, which voted unanimously in a general membership meeting to cease natural gas leasing on the Monongahela National Forest, home to much of the state's remaining native brook trout fisheries.

The Monongahela sits atop the huge Marcellus Shale natural gas play that is causing quite the ruckus back east, where native and wild trout fisheries stand to take the brunt of the impacts from this troublesome industrial development. The biggest rub, of course, has to do with water, which must be pumped down into the rock formation (along with a cocktail of other "proprietary" chemicals) to force the pockets of natural gas to the surface. In many cases, industry is seeking to use water from surface sources, which naturally puts fish--and primarily native brook trout--in peril.

TU has been dealing with this issue in the West for some time and with some success, but the natural gas game is still quite new along the Eastern Seaboard, so the last couple years have been interesting, to say the least. Here in the West, intrusive an unnecessary drilling is threatening native cutthroat trout streams in places like Colorado's Roan Plateau. TU, its members and its sportsmen allies are trying to beat back irresponsible industrial incursion into priceless landscapes. On the East Coast, TU, as illustrated by the bold move undertaken by the West Virginia Council, is mobilizing.

Now, of course, the council's vote is hardly official, but it does carry the weight of anglers and hunters who have a very real connection with the landscapes of the Monongahela. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to fish a native brook trout stream in West Virginia with friends--catching brook trout where brookies belong is a pilgrimage every Western blue-liner ought to undertake.

Congratulations again to the West Virginia TU Council. Protecting native fish, given their fragile state, is vital. Hopefully, the Forest Service and others in government are listening.

Friday, February 26, 2010

When's a bull trout not a bull trout?

When it makes life a little more challenging for a high-desert cattleman, apparently.

A rancher in the Little Lost Valley of east-central Idaho says he's on the verge of challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to protect bull trout in the Little Lost River because, he says, the bull trout isn't native to the drainage. He might be right--it's possible that bull trout were transplanted to the Little Lost from the nearby Pahsimeroi River over a century ago by Nelson's predacessors in the valley. It's also possible that bull trout from the Pahsimeroi ended up in the Little Lost thanks to some ancient geologic event that separated the two rivers that were, at one time, presumably connected.

The rancher, Garrett Nelson, has some anecdotal support for his claims from local fisheries biologists who concede the former of the two theories is likely correct. Early pioneers to the Little Lost Valley likely put bull trout in their own river because, as was historically the case with other streams in the Idaho Sinks (Big Lost River, Birch Creek, etc.), trout weren't native. Only mountain whitefish were present. Bull trout were introduced likely as a source of food, and certainly as a source of recreation.

And Nelson's predacessors weren't too picky. Today, the river and its tributaries hold bull trout, rainbow trout, brook trout and holdover whitefish. It's a great recreational fishery, and its upper reaches flow through some of the area's most beautiful alpine country.

Nelson's big complaint? The presence of the federally protected bull trout hinder his and others' ranching capability. Because of the bull trout present in the system--and they're there in good numbers in the pristine headwaters of the river--he has to move his cattle off the range earlier than he would like and then provide hay for feed while the bull trout are spawning.

In recent years, any astute angler has come to the conclusion that grazing, while certainly a worthy use of public lands in moderation, can be detrimental to trout water if cows are allowed to linger and wallow. For ranchers, moving cattle on public leases is simply good practice--the fact that ranchers have had to remove cows from the river at certain times has, from an anecdotal perspective anyway, helped the Little Lost River on its public land reaches. If we, as anglers, have the "exotic" bull trout to thank for that, so be it.

I realize ranching and grazing is a historical use of public lands in the West, and in the Little Lost in particular. But it's not the only historic use. The area is well-loved by folks who fish, folks who hike (the ascent to Mill Creek Lake is remarkable) and folks who ride their ORVs and motorbikes on legal trails in the area. It is public land, after all. If we can thank Nelson's forefathers for introducing bull trout to the drainage and creating this wonder recreational resource, think how ironic it would be for the land to become less valuable to all others by the same folks who helped make it what it is today.

Weird juxtoposition, I suppose. But from a recreational fishing standpoint, the introduced trout in the Little Lost--bull trout or otherwise--deserve better. Let's keep it like it is. I, for one, am more than happy to pretend the bull trout in the Little Lost are there thanks to the whims of nature. But I'm just as happy to pretend Nelson's late neighbors in the drainage plopped the fish in the river so they, like us, might be able to spend a day with their kids casting for wild trout in a great place.

Bull trout--all bull trout--deserve federal protection thanks to their precarious condition these days. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sentinel Duty

Sometimes you have to push the season, if for no other reason than to protect your sanity.

For a committed fly fisher, casting through frozen guides while it snows sideways isn't unusual--winter fishing can be quite productive. But it takes commitment and discipline, like sticking to a diet ... or a budget.

Winter's long in the Rockies, and most of us will cast aside better judgment in favor of stretching some fly line in inclement weather. Success is hardly guaranteed. Gearing up is a process, and you often wonder if it's worth the ordeal of donning layers, and fingerless gloves and tying tiny, tiny flies to tiny, tiny tippet.

Oh, for a summer day, 3x and a Chernobyl.

But then, after you've post-holed through thigh-deep snow to the river, and you've worked up a good sweat under your layers of fleece and Gortex, the just-above-freezing water embraces your ankles and your shins. The water seems ... thicker. And, save for the sound of the river moving reluctantly downstream, it's quiet and calm. It's cold.

Somehow, before that first length of line is pulled from the reel, before the first tentative tug from a February trout, things feel balanced again. Centered.

Then the snow starts, light at first. It arrives whimsically, almost playfully. Fat flakes settle on the dark water and wistfully disappear. Just minutes later, the wind starts, and flakes turn to BBs of ice that sting the face and hands upon impact. Then it stops, and the sun bores through the clouds pushed by a patch of blue sky. Winter in the Rockies.

Chasing trout this time of year is more of hunting endeavor. Like a Midwestern whitetail hunter, sometimes it's best to park it in a stand and wait for the quarry to come to you. For fly fishers, that means settling over a likely run and waiting for whatever it is that triggers trout to move and feed during this austere season. Sometimes it's a dose of sunshine. Others, the snow does the trick.

This sentinel duty can be a lonely job, and there's no guarantee the fish will bother to awaken from their cold-induced slumber to do battle. There are diversions, though. Mallards and goldeyes cruise the bottoms looking for slow water on which to land. A bald eagle soars over the river, perhaps watching those ducks, hoping they get careless. A moose crashes through the river, spies the waiting angler and eyes him carefully before moving on. Then the fish come to life, and a slick starts to boil with feeding trout plucking midges from the film. The time spent waiting and watching pays off.

Now it's time to wade quietly into the water below the feeding fish. Rises are random, but they're frequent, so a target isn't vital. It's fly fishing horseshoes. Just get it close.

That first cast is emancipating. It's been weeks, maybe months, since the last time. It feels ... foreign. But as the rod loads, and the line carries through the guides with a cold hiss, the familiarity returns. When the tiny dry fly lays out on the calm water amid the rise rings, you're ready. You're a drawn bow.

Then the sip--because that's what winter trout do. The light tightens, the rod lifts. There's life at the end of that tiny tippet, and it feels good.

You can't wait for spring. It'll come on its own. You have to fish.

Friday, February 12, 2010

TU's Sportsmen's Conservation Project

Check out the latest video from Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project. The SCP consists of hunters and anglers who work with fellow sportsmen and women to protect intact fish and game habitat in the West.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Kind of Guy

I just read John Corrigan's piece in the Concord Monitor about Tim Savard and his talk to the Basil Wood Jr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited last month. Passionate brook trout anglers will recognize Savard's name--after all, he wrote the book on brook trout. Literally. The book is titled, "Brook Trout" (sadly, Corrigan reports, the book is out of print).

Corrigan attended Savard's talk to the local TU chapter (seriously, folks, if you're interested in trout or trout fishing, wherever you live, get your tail down to a TU meeting and just sit in--you won't be sorry), and notes that Savard "talked about brook trout for nearly an hour and a half without using either notes or a PowerPoint presentation." Oh, to have been in Concord on Jan. 28.

Many closet brookie anglers have taken the time to get to know their favorite quarry, so much of what Savard had to say wasn't new information. But for casual anglers, especially those of us out West, brookies are nothing more than an introduced pest--a stunted, easy-to-fool fish that's hardly worth chasing. They probably know very little of the natural history of brook trout, including that, prior to the European invasion of the New World, brook trout thrived happily on Manhattan Island, where they likely migrated to and from the Atlantic via the East and Hudson Rivers. The only brookies on the island today are in the Museum of Natural History.

If you're lucky enough to find a copy of Savard's book, snatch it up, especially if you're interested in learning more about the brook trout and how it came to be the much-loved/hated fish. In many was, it is America's trout (or char, should you be a taxonomy stickler).

Great job, Mr. Corrigan--good to know you're lurking around  TU chapter meetings. Your work is spreading the gospel. Keep it up.