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.