Thursday, May 27, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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
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
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
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
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 ... weather.com. 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.