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.