Monday, December 19, 2011

20 Questions: Santa Claus

I first met that jolly old elf at the old Cinderella City mall in Englewood, Colo., where he occupied a gawdy throne and stat stoically and patiently, awaiting the requests of what I assumed at the time to be thousands of kids, myself and my brothers included. That was the G.I. Joe Christmas. Or maybe it was the hamster Christmas. I can't remember... It must have been 1974, give or take a year. I'm pretty sure it wasn't 1976--that was the bike Christmas. That I'll never forget.

But I do recall that odd mix of excitement and fear in my bones as I inched closer to this jolly fat man, dressed in a bright red velvet suit, trimmed in what I assumed at the time to be white fur procured from naughty polar bears, and sporting a beard so white and fluffy that I wondered if it could possibly be real.

It might have been my first-ever true experience with anxiety, not that I'm a frequent sufferer. There have been other moments in my life when I can recall that deep-in-my-soul feeling of gut-wrenching anticipation, but they've been few enough to where I can recall most of them. There was that definitive moment in sixth grade, when I finally mustered the courage to ask Chris Hawthorne to "go" with me--why she took so long to answer, I'll never know (but I do know that was 1981, not long after the Atari 2600 Christmas). She was gorgeous. Simply beautiful. From the time I handed the note to my friend Richard for delivery, to the time I got it back, complete with the "yes" box checked in purple ink seemed a miserable eternity. I remember, when I finally opened the note in sixth-hour social studies, how relieved--and then terrified--I was. It didn't take me long to realize that I was no longer single, no longer "on the market." At 11, I was spoken for. Talk about buyer's remorse.

Then there was my senior year in high school, a center on the varsity basketball team and on the free-throw line with the score tied against fourth-ranked Carthage. Seconds remained on the clock ... I've never been so nervous. Until the day I told my then-fiancee to "shut up," and that "I'd marry you today if I could."

Turns out, with 20 bucks, a witness and a county judge, you can actually make that arrangement happen faster than you might think.

Then there is the arrival of both my children--one horribly stressful and the other meticulously planned. Both were terribly frightening, and I can only imagine what their mother endured.

But that first visit with Santa... that might just take the cake. As the line moved, and my turn atop the old man's lap approached, I don't think I'd ever been that uptight.

As the years have passed, my relationship with Santa has gotten a bit less tense. He's been good to me over the years, and for that I'm grateful. I'm in his debt for that first "big boy" fishing rod, a white fiberglass pole equipped with a thumb-release reel and what must have been 20-pound-test mono. It yanked many a fat carp from the bottom of Stern Park Lake, and one fat rainbow trout from that little urban reservoir that stretched the tape to 18 inches.

I owe Santa for, of all things, a machete he somehow transported from the North Pole to our little house in east Texas without bloodshed in 1983. With that blade, I hacked my through some of the stickiest country in the Big Thicket as my brothers and I explored the river and creek bottoms in a place we thought was about as wild as it could get.

And I thank Santa for my first fly tying kit, the introduction to a minor obsession. I found that package wrapped and under the tree in 1994.

But mostly, I want to thank Santa for the visions of wonder and expressions of awe that he's put on the faces of my children. For years, as they followed Santa's annual journey around the globe thanks to NORAD and the wonders of the Internet, they believed. They believed that a squatty old elf from way up north could touch their lives and and their hearts, sometimes to excess. They believed that goodness existed on this earth and that it started and ended with a bearded sleigh driver being toted about by eight magical reindeer--nine when the weather was particularly nasty.

And, through their unquestioning love for this man they met once a year in a place not unlike the old Cinderalla City Mall, I, too, began to believe again. Thanks for that, too, Santa.

Merry Christmas to all... and on with the questions:

Friday, December 16, 2011

20 Questions: Erin Block

Erin Block
I love Erin Block's words.

I don't really have an explanation for why that is--with some of my favorite writers, I can nail down what it is about their prose that strikes me. Jim Babb, for instance, writes through poetic conversation that is riddled with regional verbiage that almost always pulls me into the pages of his books. It's almost as if I'm sitting on a rock next to the river, watching his words come to life before my very eyes. I think Jim Babb is today's Mark Twain.

Erin's writing is ... deeper, more seminal. It's rife with emotion--even when she's writing about the simple task of fishing. Her words convey a life spent working to live better, not only in the amount she pulls from breathing in and breathing out, but in what she offers to this world by just being who she is. Her words are honest, and more often than not, that honesty is directed inward, as if she's taken the time to step out of her body and evaluate herself from the outside in. It's a unique manifestation of introspection that just floors me whenever I find a piece she's written about her past, her family, her intimate connection with "place."

As I said, I love Erin's words. If you spend some time combing through her prose at Mysteries Internal, I think you'll come away with the realization that not every great writer sells a million copies in paperback; that not every accomplished essayist tackles topics that can only be filtered to the masses through the New Yorker. Erin, in my opinion, is gifted. And I think it's her love of the words of others that gives her such insight and inspiration to put her own words to such good use.

Erin, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions--even the answers to these kitschy, off-the-wall inquiries offer a glimpse into your soul. I'm proud to present Erin's answers. Let's get to 'em:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eat More ... Eurasian Collared Doves?

Eurasian collared dove, a beautiful scourge.
Editor's note: Apologies for the foray into the world of upland game bird hunting. I know this is a fishing blog, so if you're not into shotgunning, it won't hurt my feelings if you choose to skip this post.

The gravel crunched beneath my boots as I walked the lonely road down the hill toward the Snake River, my shotgun cradled across my left arm, and my tired old mutt wandering slowly by my side.

My feet were killing me. I had the makings of a couple of new blisters, and I'd managed to turn my ankle pretty good earlier that morning as we trudged across the steppe looking for huns. Then, as we walked an edge in search of the pheasants that taunted us by leaving behind very clear fork-shaped prints in the remnants of last week's snow, I tweaked it again. I was spent--four months spent largely sitting behind a desk had trickled the last of whatever was left of my stamina out of my bones. But I wasn't about to admit it. I masked the limp as best I could and powered through the pain in my toes (I learned later that I ripped one of my toenails completely off my toe).

"There are three things you need if you're serious about bird hunting," my good friend and an excellent wingshooter, Greg McReynolds, said to me as we walked slowly through the brush, half-heartedly hoping to move a flock of huns, and half expecting more of what we'd experienced most of the day, which wasn't much. "You need a dog, good shotgun shells and a good pair of boots. And I'm serious about the boots."

I looked down at my perfectly serviceable hiking boots that had taken me happily along trails all over the West. Then I realized my folly. Trails. Busting through brush and walking ditch rows behind eager dogs doesn't give the upland bird hunter the luxury of trails. Disturbed earth, rocks hidden under matted cheatgrass ... gopher holes that twist ankles ... they conspire against the tender-footed.

Boots. I'm in the market.

Friday, December 9, 2011

20 Questions: Tim Romano

Tim Romano
Tim Romano is a gifted photographer, and if I said nothing more about him, that would be plenty. His innate curiosity behind the lens is unmatched, in my opinion, and it shows in the finished product.

But he's so much more than that. He's an entrepreneur (he and renowned outdoor writer Kirk Deeter co-publish Angling Trade, the fly fishing industry's leading trade publication). He's a blogger (he and Deeter team up to do the Fly Talk blog at Field & Stream magazine's website). He's a conservationist (he's deeply involved in Colorado Trout Unlimited's unique Greenbacks group, a collection of younger fly fishers who are putting their passion for fly fishing to work protecting Colorado's rivers).

I would submit to you that Tim is what a lot of us wanted to be when we grew up--he's smart, talented and, largely, doing exactly what he wants to do to make a living. Every time I meet him, I come away thoroughly impressed that a guy so young can be so "together."

But I have a suspicion that that's all about to change. Tim's wife, Ellie, is eight months pregnant with the couple's first child--a daughter. When that little girl shows her face, the balance in Tim's life will tip drastically, and knowing Tim, he'll devote his existence to the girls in his life, as he should.

I think you'll be as impressed by Tim as I am. On with the questions:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another great book review

Thanks to Ben at Arizona Wanderings for this stellar book review. I am very grateful for the exposure on Ben's blog, which I have followed for some time and visit often. I hope you'll give Ben's site a look, and I hope you'll consider giving the book, "Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water," a read yourself. You can get the book at half-price through the Holidays, too... Thanks again, Ben.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanks to Jason at Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker, the heady and talented author of the blog Fontinalis Rising, just reported in with a review of my book, Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water, and I couldn't be happier. I've been a follower of Jason's blog for ages–he and I share what could be considered an inappropriate love for brook trout.

Jason, thanks a ton for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it. I'm glad to see my labor of love struck a chord with you. Thanks again.

Please check out Jason's review of the book, and, if you hurry, you might be able to get a copy shipped to you in time for the holidays. When you go to the page to order the book, simply enter the discount code TKRB8UHY, and you'll get the book for half price. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

20 Questions: Hal Herring

Hal Herring
If you met Hal Herring on the street, you probably wouldn't suspect that he's one of the most influential–and, I would argue, gifted–outdoor writers in the country. You might think he works a blue-collar gig somewhere, and that the smile on his face is always there, even as he's yanking the guts out of a tractor, hammering nails on a roof or mucking out a barn (and I would suspect that, at one time or another, he's done all three of those things).

That Alabama accent of his kind of woos you into a comfort zone, a place where candid conversations are the norm, not the exception. Discussions with Hal, sometimes over a can a beer or a glass of good whiskey, become infectious and animated–you don't want them to end, because they're so productive, so ... inspiring. He's got a bartender's ear. He looks you in the eye when he talks to you. And he's more contemplative than just about anyone I know.

And maybe it's that "Ah, shucks," thing... that down-home personality that put you at ease, but after a time, you'll come to the realization that you're in the company of a wise, sensible man who can quickly sift through all the litter that surrounds a complex issue and settle on the solution. He's a thinker. He's a doer.

And what I respect most about Hal is his uncanny ability–without reserve or hesitation–to speak truth to power. As an independent outdoor writer catching assignments as they come with some of the best-read publications in the industry, you might think that, in order to preserve the next job, the next paycheck, that he'd be cautious and maybe a bit reserved.

But like a good baseball umpire, Hal Herring "calls 'em like he sees 'em," and his delivery of factual information has more potency than 800 mg of ibuprofen.

I have had the good fortune to spend some time with Hal "in the field"–one of the benefits of my day job. He's been assigned to cover a couple of "Best Wild Places" tours through Field and Stream magazine over the last couple of years. The project–a partnership between the magazine and Trout Unlimited–is an attempt to shine some light on some of our country's best public lands sporting destinations and then describe the threats to the persistence of these places in their present state. Over the last two summers, Hal has visited Colorado's Roan Plateau, where natural gas drilling threatens a relict population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout, and the Clearwater country of north-central Idaho, home to the largest swath of unprotected backcountry left in the Lower 48.

Inspired by wild country, and a shameless advocate for wise conservation, Hal's work has very likely played an influential role in the effort to protect these and other "best wild places" around the country. If you have the chance to read some of his work, you'll quickly catch on to the fact that Hal has a knack for identifying solutions, not just lamenting the problem.

I hope you enjoy this chance to get to know Hal a little bit better, and that his work will inspire you, like it does me, to protect our country's wild heart so that one day, your kids or you grandkids will have the chance to experience the best of America.

On with the questions...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When the Tables Turn...

I got an interesting request from my friend Kirk Werner the other day. He wanted me to take my own 20 Questions Challenge, and he wanted to host the inquisition on his site, The Unaccomplished Angler.

At first, I was a bit hesitant... I mean, these questions, essentially stolen from 150 years worth Proust profiles, couldn't possibly reveal anything interesting in me. But I'll say this... if nothing else, they forced me consider some of my history and some of my future (as dismal as that might be).

I've learned that I can be something of an asshole (as if I'd really send my loved ones all over Creation in order to spread my ashes exactly where I wanted them spread ... puh-lease!). I've learned that the hardest journeys in life have the greatest rewards. And, as I sit here in a Washington, D.C., hotel room, I am reminded of how much I miss being home.

Thanks, Kirk, for the suggestion. Here's to boosting your Google analytics, my friend.

Friday, November 25, 2011

20 Questions: Jen Kugler

Jen Kugler, aka, Flyfishilicious
Need proof that the fly fishing world isn't always snooty, elitist or exclusive? That some within this fraternity recognize the need to bring more folks along in order to ensure the pastime persists?

Look no futher than Jen Kulger. Six months ago, Jen had never touched a fly rod. Today, she's a bona fide fly fishing junkie. She hasn't become a full-fledged fly angler without help–particularly within the blogosphere, where fly fishing blogs are prevalent, and readers appear to be many. When Jen started her blog, Flyfishilicious, just a few months back, she was honest and contrite. She didn't know much about fly fishing, but she wanted to learn. She saw one of the trendy fly fishing flicks while visting a friend, and thought the sport looked like something she'd be interested in. She asked. Many answered.

Today, just a few short months after that fateful day spent in front of a friend's flatscreen, Jen is not only fly fishing, but she's evolving before our very eyes. I had the pleasure recently of writing a guest post at Jen's blog, basically in response to her questions about the role in conservation fly fishers must take, especially if they are to expect fly fishing opportunities to be something we can hand down to the next generation. That she was interested in conservation impressed me greatly. That she was busy trying to channel her energy, to determine how to put it to work for good, made me an immediate admirer. Often, the interest in protecting the places we fly fish comes later to the angler. But not to Jen. She's on a collision course with complete angler status, in my opinion.

I asked Jen to give me a bit of a bio ... something to let the world know who she is. It's apparent that, in addition to being contemplative, curious and thoughtful, she's also a bit modest. She describes herself as a "quirky, forever-29-year-old" who has become hopelessly addicted to fly fishing. She lives in the Denver suburbs, is a single mom and works full-time ... that she's found the time fish is impressive. That she's found the time to take in the big picture is simply magical.

On with the questions:

Friday, November 18, 2011

20 Questions: Kirk Werner

The Unaccomplished Angler
For the record, I've never met Kirk Werner. But I've met people who've met Kirk Werner, and I've yet to coax an ill word about the subject of this week's 20 Questions Challenge from any of those fine folks. 

But I do know the author and freelance illustrator possesses at least one flaw. He's never caught a brook trout. Never. 

Kirk is the author of the popular Unaccomplished Angler blog, and if you follow the fly fishing blogosphere, chances are you've seen some examples of his illustrative work in some the logos he's created for folks in this unique community (the Outdooress is a good example). 

He's a talented artist, and the creator of the Olive the Woolly Bugger childrens' book series (you'll see below that he's trying to turn the series into a film, an ambitious, but worthwhile endeavor--good luck Kirk!).

Kirk's an Eagle Scout who lives in Washington state, where he chases steelhead and has a self-proclaimed "love-hate relationship with the Yakima River" when he's not complaining about the weather.

Enjoy getting to know Kirk. On with the questions:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Half-off for the Holidays!

Get your own copy of "Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water," for half the cover price. Simply click here, and enter the discount code: TKRB8UHY.

It's a great holiday gift, a little avenue of escape during the long, cold winter. Spend an evening or two by the fire with this book that the late Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post called, "a lively yet soulful little book built from brisk vignettes that seem to end too soon, just like good fishing trips."

I hope you'll enjoy it. 

-Chris Hunt

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanks to Andy at Upland Equations

Well... I'm not sure how my head is going to fit through the front door tomorrow morning, what with all the flattery that was tossed my way by my new friend Andy Wayment today.

Get the book here. Yes, I
know... shameless. 
Andy blogs at Upland Equations and he lives here in Idaho Falls, but we'd only met a couple of times by chance. But, as he put it, bird hunting and fly fishing are two sides of the same coin, so we tend to run in the same big circle here in town. When he reached out to me recently asking if I'd be willing to give him a copy of my book, "Shin Deep," for a review on his blog, I of course was interested. But, with a crazy work schedule of late and lots else going on, I neglected to follow through and actually put the book in Andy's hands. Thankfully, he reminded me the other day, and we finally sat down for lunch and got to know one another.

And I gave Andy a signed copy the book, for what it was worth.

To my pleasant surprise, Andy's review, which he posted today (the book's only about 120 pages long, and I'm honored that Andy took the time read it in a single day) is extremely flattering, and I'm grateful for his kind words.

Many thanks to Andy for taking the time, being persistant, and making a little room over at his fantastic blog (to think he did this all with a days-old baby at home!) for a book review. It means a lot, and I hope his words encourage others to give the book a read.

Now that we've had lunch, it's time to spend a day afield with Andy, either fishing or chasing birds. I can't wait.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

20 Questions: Tom Sadler

Tom Sadler and a Rapidan brookie.
Lt. Commander (U.S. Navy Reserve, Retired) Tom Sadler is easy to be friends with. And we're great friends. I think that's because, in our hearts, we're after the same thing--the protection of the places that matter, and not just to us, but to the future of our hunting and fishing heritage. The thought of our kids or our grandkids growing up without knowing what the natural world has to offer is dead-on frightening.

And we both love brookies so much that it's borderline inappropriate. Borderline.

For years, Tom worked the halls of Congress, first as a Senate staffer, then as a (gasp) lobbyist. He understands how the sausage gets made and, like me, deplores the process but values good results. Perhaps that was why he was able to stomach it for so long. It's also clear that he understands the essence of politics and what it means to be calculating and crafty (I looked everywhere for unflattering photos of him, with no luck. Even the photo I shot of him in an interesting little establishment on Bourbon Street has magically disappeared).

More recently, Tom began to put his passion for the outdoors to good use. He worked for a time as the president of the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, and then moved onto the Izaak Walton League and then to the Trust for Public Land. He understands the importance of protecting habitat if we're to hope for opportunity, now and years from now. And, as proof that he knows how those in Congress think, he's added what I like to call the "kicker" to my favorite phrase:

"Habitat equals opportunity ... which translates into economic activity." Brilliant. Maybe one day, when our elected representatives aren't too sidetracked by politics, they'll pay attention to those five words.

These days, he's the proprietor of the Middle River Group, where he "plays Doc Holliday to the Wyatt Earps of the fish and wildlife conservation world." He's taken up the Tenkara rod (another shared passion), and guides anglers from his Shenandoah Valley home in search of brookies in the mountains of western Virginia. You can lean more about him at his blog. You'll love it. Trust me.

On with the questions:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Conservation Update: Progress

For all those interested in conservation, particularly here in the West, here's a quick update on some recent progress hunters and anglers are making on the ground, even though things in Congress remain gridlocked.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A little Fishilicious love...

Visit Jen's site!
Jen Kugler over at Fly Fishilicious gave me the reins to her blog today, allowing me to make a guest post and offer some evangelical prose to her readers about brook trout, conservation and the cosmic insurance policy all fly fishers purchase when they join Trout Unlimited.

Give it a read, and start following Jen's blog. You can also find her on Facebook and stay up to date with her frequent posts that are both entertaining and contemplating.

Thanks, Jen, for the chance to write to your readers, and share what I think are some of the most important requirements for becoming the complete angler we all want to be. I really appreciate it!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

20 Questions: Tom Reed

Tom Reed
Tom Reed is one of my best friends on this planet. There might not another man I admire or respect more. He's also a hell of a writer, one whose words speak to the reader from the printed page. His latest book, "Blue Lines," is one for the ages. With colder weather settling in, and the idyllic evenings planned by the fire with a book resting on the table next to the recliner, I'm telling you now, this should be that book.

In addition to being an avid fly fisherman, Tom's a dedicated hunter, and you can read some more of his writing on the blog Mouthful of Feathers, and even more at his website. You'll recognize the prose as both poetic and succinct. Conversational, yet profound. The kind of writing that makes you think to yourself, "Damn... I wish I had written that."

Unfortunately, our friendship is well-steeped in dark liquor, so much of what we've shared over the years has been forgotten, along with the hangovers and the cottonmouth. But we work together, both as colleagues and as friends who love quiet country, away from the clamor of life that exists wherever power lines stretch. It's a low-maintenance friendship, the best kind, in my opinion. It's one of mutual respect, mutual understanding and lots of laughter.

For perspective, Tom's the first guy I think of whenever I hear a new joke that must be shared. It's reciprocal. Nobody--nobody--tells a filthy joke quite like Tom Reed.

I hope you'll get to know him a bit here on the blog, and I hope you'll grab a copy of his latest book, where you'll get to know him even better. But I really hope, one day, you'll get to tip a beer with TR and see, first-hand, what a good friend looks like.

Here's to you, buddy. On with the questions:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

South Fork Farewell

The braids below a snow-capped Baldie.
'Tis the season of finality.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to bid a fond farewell to my favorite little backcountry trickle for the season. Today, I waded the braids on the South Fork of the Snake River near the Spring Creek bridge, likely for the last time this year. The weather's turning cold, the day job is keeping me on my toes and I'm starting to find myself watching the skies for ducks instead of watching the next slick for trout noses poking through the surface film. 

This time of year is bittersweet. While it might be the very best time of the year to be in the field with a rod or a gun, it's also that time of year when you can sense change on the wind. Today, as the breeze blew in from the north and crossed the river, depositing what's left of the faded cottonwood leaves on the dark, frigid water, I knew that winter in the valley was on the doorstep, and a daunting, icy finger was reaching for the doorbell. It was a chilly, penetrating breeze that sliced through three layers, right to my skin and had me shivering in my waders as I cast streamers to brown trout in the fading November light. Ice formed in the guides of my fly rod as I stripped line from the water to the reel.

South Fork brown.
The fishing was fine, if a little slow, but I didn't mind. I was going through the motions, mostly, just doing that last check on my favorite stretch of river until I come back again. Everything was in order, it seemed. Everything was as it should be. 

I saw moose sign just about everywhere as I wandered through the cottonwood forest (no moose this trip, sadly). The resident pair of bald eagles flirted on the cold northern wind–they'll be mating again soon, and come spring, new eaglets will poke their heads over the aerie and gaze down at a river full of wild trout. 

Feels like winter.
The river bottoms are unique. Underrated. No, they're not really wild. Not anymore, anyway. Cows graze among the cottonwoods toward the end of summer and knock the undergrowth down. Makeshift duck blinds made of old plywood dot the sloughs and the backwaters. I picked up a dozen shotgun shell casings in one hundred-yard span of riverbank. It sees its share of use, both good and not so good.

But the smell of the river is overpowering. It's a dirty sort of clean... fetid black mud mixes with fresh, cold water and the gamey smell of well-worn waders. It's a smell that takes me back a dozen years, when I first met this river and began what would be come an autumn ritual. I've come to know this little stretch of real estate pretty well over the years, yet I'm always amazed at how it evolves with each passing season. Channels move and shift, carved by water, which flows at the mercy of the season and downstream demand or upstream storage regimen. As it should, water dictates the river's mood.
The underappreciated whitefish.
The fish are seldom in a foul mood, however, adapting nicely to the subtleties of the river. This time of year, a day spent fishing here consists of casting tiny dry flies to rising trout, drifting nymphs through deep runs and then dredging the seams with fat streamers. It's a day of fly fishing diversity ... of variety, change and adaptivity. 

I used to think the fish just changed moods on a whim, but now I know the truth. It's the angler who truly changes on a day like this. The river tests you. It pries and pokes and looks you over. It makes you decide how to approach its riffles, its long slicks or its fast water that tails out into runs so sexy and seductive that you'll want to sit back on the bank, tip the flask a few times and just watch the water flow on by. 

I fished until damn near dark today, squeezing every minute from the last hours on the river that I could manage. Farewell, South Fork. Until we meet again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

20 Questions: Kyle Perkins

Kyle Perkins
I don't technically know Kyle Perkins, but in recent years, I've truly come admire and respect him. Through his website, Compleat Thought, Kyle has become a force for conservation, particularly here in the West.

He's also an accomplished fly fishing guide, a devoted husband, soon to be a father and, if the chatter on the Internet is to be believed, one of the most respected guys in the fly fishing community. He lives in Denver these days, where he freelances in marketing strategy and copywriting. He fishes the Colorado Rockies often, and volunteers for Trout Unlimited, both in Alaska and through the unique Greenbacks, a Colorado TU chapter consisting of younger, energetic anglers with a passion for conservation.

On with the questions:

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Land of Living Skies

When I saw the phrase on a Saskatchewan license plate at the airport in Saskatoon, I wasn't sure what it really meant. I mean, who lays claim to the skies? Living skies, at that.

But a week later, I knew exactly what the words meant. About half-way through my fly fishing adventure at Blackmur's Athabasca lodge in the far northwestern corner of the province, as I walked from the lodge to my cabin around a 11 o'clock one night, I fortunately looked up into the heavens to see if the day's clouds had cleared and the light from the stars was able to reach the lake.

What I saw amazed me. A vivid band of powdery white light streaked across the northern sky, and I realized that I was seeing, for the first time, the aurora borealis ... the northern lights. And, yes, the stars were vibrant against the darkness that dominated the rest of the scene.

But the night sky, while amazing and touching on a deeply personal level, was not what "living" skies meant, at least not to me. The daytime views of the upper half were equally, if not more, impressive, with abundant cloudscapes that blended and contrasted with the lake, with the woods ... with one another.

We could be fly fishing in a torrential downpour and look off to the west to see blue sky approaching, banded with bright, white cumulus clouds or streaked with high cirrus clouds. Morning and evening light brought colors so vivid and brilliant that I questioned their realism. Even gray skies with low tendrils of fog had character and personality. And bright blue skies were unimaginably bright and amazingly blue.

And as we left the lodge in Cliff Blackmur's float plane, we skirted above dancing rainstorms that punished the black spruce forests below with quick, violent bursts, only to diminish and reveal the the blue heavens.

Romantic? Sure, I guess. But as I sorted through the hundreds of photos I snapped over my week in Saskatchewan, a good many of them  were simply photos of the sky. Others were reflections in water of the heavens above. And still others placed the sky in the background, where it often stole the show.

Land of Living Skies, indeed. I'm a believer.

20 Questions: Russ Schnitzer

I've known Russ Schnitzer for years. For a short time, about six years ago, we actually worked together for Trout Unlimited's Public Lands Initiative. Russ was working on TU's abandoned mine reclamation program, doing the Lord's work on behalf of coldwater fisheries in the West.

But Russ is much more than a conservationist. He's a hell of a photographer, and his work for more than a decade in conservation has clearly sparked his passion for shooting the outdoors in a unique light.

Russ Schnitzer
Russ left TU not long after I joined the organization, and continued his good work with other organizations that work to protect some of the best resources the West has to offer. Our good fortune brought Russ back to TU not too long ago--he's now the senior policy advisor for the organization's Western Water Project, a progressive arm of TU that works to reconnect and restore fisheries habitat in conjunction with private and public partners, including ranchers, farmers and state and federal agencies. His work these days deals specifically with the Colorado River basin.

Photographically, his work concentrates on outdoor adventures, lifestyles, travel, and, substantially, fly fishing. Drawing on experiences across diverse western landscapes, Schnitzer’s independent photography strives to make a connection between people and nature. He believes that these unique relationships are fundamental to a conservation ethic that works in a West valued deeply by many disparate interests. Recent gallery shows have been in Jackson Hole, Denver and Kansas City, with awards received for both color and black-and-white images. He is a regular contributor to Trout Magazine, Catch Magazine, The Flyfish Journal and The Contemporary Sportsman. His work has also been seen in Patagonia catalogs, Fly Fish America, Fly Rod & Reel,, and several conservation titles, including 2008’s “Rivers of Restoration.” Recent clients include The Nature Conservancy, Brunton Outdoor Group, Portis Group, Wyoming Department of Tourism, and Western Rivers Conservancy.

In addition to photography and fly fishing, Russ's interests include hunting, road cycling, running and gardening. Schnitzer grew up in northern Minnesota, and has lived in Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Colorado. He and his wife Kelly Conroy currently live in rural Wyoming with two dogs, a cat and some chickens.

On with the questions:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Early morning stop

The McRib ... thank God it's back, right?

Well, maybe not. I noticed this on an early morning stop to go and fish a semi-famous river in southeastern Oregon that rhymes with, um ... well, it doesn't really rhyme with anything.

I got to fish on Saturday with a couple of Outdoor Blogger Network stalwarts: Rebecca Garlock, aka The Outdooress, and Emily Blankenship, aka the River Damsel. We were joined by Michael Bantam, a great casting instructor from Boise, Idaho.

Stay tuned for photos from the fishing adventure. Until then, know that the McRib is only here for a limited time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stay tuned... 20 Questions coming...

For those of you waiting for the next installment of 20 Questions, stay tuned... I'm traveling and unable to update the blog promptly, but I will as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

OBN's big day...

Congratulations to the Outdoor Blogger Network on its first birthday. Many of us in the outdoor blogosphere were rudderless, without direction and guidance and possessing very little expertise a short 12 months ago. Today, a year after climbing on board with OBN, adopting some best practices and learning from one another, we can say, if nothing else, our voices are legitimate.

For that reason, I feel compelled to single out two people who have assisted the outdoor blogging community in finding its voice and giving each of us an opportunity share our stories, chime in on issues, review the latest in outdoor gear and, of course, come together as a community. Joe Wolf and Rebecca Garlock deserve our collective thanks.

Most of us will never expand beyond the level of hobbyist blogger–most of us have jobs and lives and other obstacles that get in the way of really devoting the time necessary to take our blogs to an increased level of relevance. But some who found OBN and have the time to invest in their writing, editing, photography, videography and web skills are becoming important voices in this arena. I hope they take the time to thank Joe and Rebecca, the co-creators of this venture, for helping them find their voices and then amplify it to the world.

On a personal note, my little blog was (and, some would argue, is) a little vanity project, something to sate the creative urges deep within. Since joining OBN last October (I'm not sure what number I was, but I think I was among the first 10 blogs or so to be categorized), I've learned things about traffic and content that have actually helped the blog pay for itself. I bought my own URL, and paid for it with web traffic from the blog. My statistics have multiplied exponentially. When I first joined OBN, I was happy with a dozen pageviews a day. These days, I'm seeing hundreds, and the writing and photography I create with the most basic of digital equipment has clout.

And, if you blog through the OBN, so does yours. We have Rebecca and Joe to thank for that.

Congratulations, you two. We're in your debt, and we can't thank you enough for bringing us all together.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

20 Questions: Michael Agneta

Michael Agneta is a life-long resident of Philadelphia and a relative newcomer to fly fishing, but throughout the blogosphere, he's well-known as the author of the popular Troutrageous! blog. The blog, now four years old, is a mix of fishing and pop culture peppered with frequent references to Lilly, Michael's 5-year-old daughter (poor Lilly... the world will know her too well!).
Michael and the famous Lilly.
Michael's married to K.C., his wife of 11 years, and he's the treasurer of the Stony Creek Anglers fishing club in Montgomery, Penn. He started fly fishing in 2008, as has "been hemorrhaging money ever since."

He's a small-stream junkie, and he's fond of the Tenkara rod, but no so fond that he's jettisoned his complicated life in the 'burbs to live a simple Buddhist existence on the banks of some Appalachian brook trout stream. In his words, he "evidently forgot to drink the Kool-Aide."

As an aside ... Michael's responses to the EMBT 20 Questions Challenge were exactly what I had in mind when I started this little weekly feature a couple months back. The bar's been set pretty high. Good luck, future participants... you're going to need it. On with the questions:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Last Day

Something in your gut tells you when it's almost over, when the sun isn't quite as warm and when the days wane just a bit too early.

Soon, those big, fat dry flies of summer will gave way to dead-drifted nymphs, size 20 blue-winged olives and microscopic Griffith's Gnats. The deep green of summer's flora will explode into autumns light show, and then sizzle into winter's dormant nudity.

As I walked along my favorite little backcountry creek late last month, I knew I was fishing on the last day. Tomorrow, I knew, would bring blustery autumn winds, rain and maybe even a little snow. I knew that this particular day was the last day I could sling a 'hopper into familiar holding water and count on a fat cutthroat to come to the top and slurp it in.

Already, the leaves along the creek were abandoning their summer green. The late afternoon light shone from the deep blue sky through a distinctively autumn filter. The season was changing before my very eyes, and I fished hard, as if summer was going out of style.

And it was.

But on this day, the fish didn't seem to care that summer was ending or that fall was pushing its way into the backcountry. They simply wanted to eat, and I did my best to feed them. Throughout the day, spirited Yellowstone cutthroats came to the top after Chernobyls and 'hoppers and beetles. And while I was thrilled with the results, the melancholy pull at my soul weighed me down. A summer spent largely on the road kept me from places like this, and now that summer was down to its last hours, I couldn't shake the regret. 

Where had it gone? 

I'm sure it had something to do with the fact that summer started so late this year. Heavy winter snow (and spring snow) pushed summer back at least a month in mind, and when it arrived, I found myself in far-flung places catching strange fish on big, fast fly rods. My glass 3-weight hadn't seen the light of day all summer, and my boots hadn't walked across Idaho rock in months.

It's disingenuous to complain. My year had taken me to south Texas in April, when I needed 85 degrees and a sea breeze in the worst possible way. It took me to Appalachia in March and again in September, where wild brookies swim. It took me to the marsh of south Louisiana, where I cast through a steamy haze to massive redfish. It took me to Montana a couple of times, where I played with wild backcountry cutthroats and lake-dwelling rainbows. And it took me to northern Saskatchewan, where vicious northern pike chased flies like linebackers chase quarterbacks.

All the while, my favorite little trout haunts here at home rested, unmolested, at least by me. 

So, as I walked along the slippery rocks of my favorite little stream, the one I know so well, so intimately, it was more of a procession than a fishing outing. It was a farewell... a "see you next year." 

And next year will likely take me to more amazing destinations. But the one I yearn for, it would seem, is the one in my own backyard. 

Summer's over. Damn.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

20 Questions: Brett Prettyman

I first met Brett Prettyman in Lake Charles, La., at an Outdoor Writers Association of America annual meeting. That was in 2006. But I've known Brett Prettyman's work for years. He's among the last of dying breed–the outdoor writer for a metro daily newspaper. Back in the days when I was a journalist here in eastern Idaho, I'd read Brett's work and, from afar, try without success to match the quality of it. His work in the outdoor arena is unmatched. I hope you'll take the time to check some of it out.

Brett writes about hunting, fishing and the outdoors for the Salt Lake Tribune, where he's worked for over 20 years as a journalist covering everything from minor league hockey to the 2002 Olympics. While I've known Brett's work for years, it's only been in the last five or six years that I've come to call Brett one of my most trusted friends. He's the real deal, a hunter and an angler who understands the connection real sportsmen have with the outdoors. And he balances his life as a professional journalist of the highest repute with a wonderful family that includes his amazing wife Brooke and a houseful of great kids that will one day realize just how fortunate they are to have they parents they do.

Brett's on my short list of folks I truly admire and respect. I hope, after you read his responses to the Eat More Brook Trout 20 Questions Challenge, you'll come to admire him, too.

On to the questions:

Winter arrives ...

Let it be known that Oct. 6 is the first day of winter in eastern Idaho.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


When you travel like I do, miles mean something.

My "miles" are split between two different airlines, and, while they are basically an arbitrary number conjured up by some corporate formula, they matter in the grand scheme of things. Miles are currency. Miles are metrics. Miles are ... a passport to a bit of freedom.

So, as this day slips into the next, I'm forced to measure the value of a night's sleep in miles. Odd, huh?

I'm a sleep apnea sufferer. I stop breathing in the middle of the night, and not just for a few seconds. My last sleep test revealed that I sometimes go 90 seconds without a breath, and then I gasp for air and start breathing again. Until the next gasp.

I made a mistake today. I trusted United Airlines with my continuous positive air pressure machine, a small-ish device that's just a hair too big for the carry-on, and maybe a hair too important to entrust to the braindead folks who apparently think DRO (Durango, Colo.) some how translates into ORD (Chicago-O'Haire). Hey... I get it. We're all human. Some of us are dyslexic, that's all.

Trouble is, as I write this, it's 12:30 a.m. Monday. I have a meeting at 9:30 a.m., and a phone call an hour before that. My luggage, and my machine, won't arrive until sometime tomorrow. I'm screwed.

Why? Because, try as I might, I won't sleep tonight. I'll lay awake. I might occasionally drift off, but I know I'll snap back to consciousness, thanks to this condition and my stupidity.

But, hey, United is giving me 9,000 miles for my trouble.

What does that mean? It means, with 9,000 miles and $2.50, I can buy a pretty decent cup of coffee that might keep me awake through my phone call and then through my meeting, which was set to last most of the day.

The lesson learned? My condition is sleep apnea. The person in charge of luggage at United suffers from dyslexia. I guess, I'm to blame for trusting that someone at this huge airline would double check my luggage before they sent it off to the Windy City.

My bad. Goodnight (or good morning), United. Thanks for the miles.

Friday, September 30, 2011

20 Questions: Cameron Mortenson

The first time I realized just how influential Cameron Mortenson has become in the fly fishing world, I was attending a Trout Unlimited chapter meeting outside of Canyon, Texas, on the banks of the Guadalupe River. The TU chapter down there is one of my favorite chapters in the country, because those guys have such limited trout-fishing opportunity. That doesn't stop them from loving their river, though, and the Guadalupe is a very respectable tailwater trout destination, made special by the caring group of TU members who work constantly to ensure habitable conditions for trout that actually enable year-round trout production (if not fishing) on this river in the middle of the searing Texas Hill Country.

The "glass geek" himself.
Anyway, at the chapter meeting last spring, I noticed a TU member sporting a Fiberglass Manifesto t-shirt, and we struck up a conversation that led to some fascinating talk of hidden creeks bristling with wild and native Guadalupe bass, a species that's on my "to catch" list, hopefully in the coming years, and hopefully on a supple and sensitive fiberglass rod. The Fiberglass Manifesto is Cameron's blog, and over the course of the summer, I noticed a couple other TFM t-shirts out there, the last of which I found on the back of Mike Sepelak of Mike's Gone Fishing ... Again, while chasing trout in southwest Montana.

Finally, in New Orleans, of all places, I got to meet Cameron in person at the International Fly Tackle Dealer show, where a lot of the fly fishing movers and shakers gather each year to gawk over geer and share a drink or two. We chatted briefly over a bowl of gumbo and beer, and promised to stay in touch. This blog post is the first realization of that promise.

Cameron's a self-described "glass geek," a devoted angler who fly fishes with fiberglass, an old-school material that has faded in the minds of the fly fishing masses (unfortunately) with the advent of graphite and all the new materials the big manufacturers are finding ways to fuse into finished rods these days. But glass maintains a following (I am among them). If you like to feel fish on the line and you like a softer, slower cast that makes delicate and accurate presentations, glass rods have a place in your quiver. If you're like me, and you cut your fly fishing teeth on old, bulky glass rods, you also know that nostalgia and fly fishing go together like Brad and Angelina. 

Cameron gets the glass attraction, and has devoted his blog to glass and the people who help it persist. As an aside, he's also a husband, a father and a vice police detective. Cross him at your own risk. 

Enough chatter. On with the questions:

Saturday, September 24, 2011


If you look closely, it's red, white and blue.
It wasn't an intentional oversight, and when it dawned on me that I was spending the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks fly fishing for native brook trout instead of honoring those who did nothing more insidious than show up for work that awful day a decade ago, I felt a little guilty.

I even drove right by the Pentagon on my way out of town and didn't give the date a second thought, or the giant concrete behemoth off to the left a second glance. I had brookies on the brain.

I was to meet up with one of my best friends in the world and boulder-hop along storied Appalachian waters in search of late-summer brook trout in the waters in which they belong. But it hit me as I got out on the freeway and turned on the radio. The haunting din of bagpipes coming over the airwaves washed through the rental car as NPR broadcast the memorial service live from Ground Zero in New York. Moments later, "Taps" played, and my eyes watered up.

And as I exercised the freedom so many have sacrificed so much to achieve, and drove a few miles per hour over the speed limit on my way to a Sunday fly fishing trip–because I wanted to go fishing, and because I could–I said a quiet little prayer in my head for all those still dealing the senseless loss inflicted upon our country 10 years ago. I reminded myself that it was that freedom, that liberty, that made us so vulnerable to those who are blinded by hate and fueled by uber-religious despots with evil agendas.

And, 10 years after the attack, and in the midst of the most divisive political atmosphere I can remember, we were all Americans again. Some of use were mourning next to the places where the zealots found us vulnerable one sunny September day and others were simply busy being the Americans we've always been. In our own way, we were honoring those who died without cause and showing the rest of the world that our way of life isn't something they can change with a few hijacked passenger jets.

And, later, as I cast to rising brookies and plucked the gorgeous fish from the cold, clean waters of Shenandoah National Park, I remembered again that fateful day a decade ago, and was thankful that those attacks didn't alter our lives enough to keep me and my friend from the water on this particular day, or to keep those in such pain from being at the sites of the attacks a decade later.

The unity, unfortunately, proved short-lived, but in today's heated, partisan environment, I'll take the day.

God bless those who died on Sept. 11, 2001. I didn't forget. And I never will.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

20 Questions: Rebecca Garlock

Photo courtesy of Grant Taylor.
Like a lot of people over the last year or so, I first met Rebecca Garlock through what has become a vital clearing house of outdoor blogging information, the Outdoor Blogger Network. It's no coincidence that Rebecca, along with Joe Wolf, created this virtual hang-out for outdoor bloggers, and I like to think that it's Rebecca's drive and passion for the outdoors that made the OBN what it is today–highly relevant, informative, entertaining and an irreplaceable gateway into the outdoors for both bloggers and blog-readers.

But Rebecca, aka "The Outdooress," is much more than just the creator of this important new (it started 11 months ago) tool for the outdoor blogging community. She's a successful blogger herself, and she's a very influential outdoorswoman in her own right (we'll forgive her for the chucking hardware for salmon--nobody's perfect, right?). I have the utmost respect for Rebecca, and I've enjoyed getting to know her over the last year or so. I look forward to working with her again soon.

Now, onto the questions:

Friday, September 16, 2011

20 Questions: Craig Mathews

Craig Mathews
Craig Mathews is one of my heroes, so when he agreed to be the second victim of the Eat More Brook Trout 20 Questions challenge, I couldn't have been happier. In addition to being one of the country's fly fishing elite, Craig is a staunch conservationist who, over the years, has been able to speak truth to power in a way that is constructive and helpful. And he puts his money where his mouth is--in partnership with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, Craig helped start the "1% for the Planet" program, where businesses and industry could earmark 1 percent of their profits to conservation-centric the non-profits of their choice. 

To date, the effort has contributed over $100 million to the environment. 

When I first moved to Yellowstone Country in 1999, Craig's book (that he wrote with Clayton Molinero) was one of my first purchases, and I kept that copy in the glove compartment of my truck for years, until one day, during a sudden rainstorm at Cave Falls, the book just fell apart on me. Craig was key to me venturing into the Yellowstone backcountry, and I'm forever grateful for that education. 

Craig lives near West Yellowstone, Mont., with his wife Jackie and stable of dogs. You can find him most any day at Blue Ribbon Flies in West, sharing information with anglers. He'll be the guy with the smile on his face.

Now... on with the questions:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Twenty Questions: Owl Jones

Here at the worldwide headquarters of Eat More Brook Trout (you should see the little space the staff and I have carved out of the store room), we're constantly looking for content that will keep followers coming back for more. And, frankly, unless I'm either on a fishing trip or just back from a trip, it's tough to keep the blog updated with fresh information. With that in mind, I thought we'd start a new weekly feature that requires precious little effort on my part, and a lot of thought and contemplation on the part of the folks I plan to pick on for the next 52 weeks.

It's called "Twenty Questions," and it's inspired by one of my many vices--reading the back page of Vanity Fair magazine while "browsing" airport newsstands. With apologies to the wonderful magazine, I rarely buy it, but I often "steal" it while I'm waiting for a plane. The back-page profile consists of a Proust questionnaire (made famous by French writer Marcel Proust, who delighted in questions like those below, and answered several such queries over the course of his brilliant career).

Jeff "Owl" Jones.
I thought it might be interesting to take that venerable Vanity Fair questionnaire, trim it down somewhat, and present the questions to a handful of folks in the fly fishing world, just so you, as readers, can get a better handle on the folks who are moving and shaking in our tight little community.

For the first victim participant, I've chosen Jeff "Owl" Jones.

Owl Jones is a something of polarizing figure among the fly fishing community. He first came on the scene during the message-board craze of the mid-90s. Since the late 90s, he has been banned from most of the larger forums due to his unwillingness to sugar-coat his opinions, and his ability to ruffle the feathers of  fellow anglers and state wildlife agencies alike. In late 2010 he started his own blog which is now called "," where he has not yet been banned (although, by the time this runs, you never know). Owl currently lives in Gainesville, Ga., with his lovely wife and their invisible dog "Snickers" who always does what he's told and never barks at night. His goal is to get famous, take over the fly fishing world, and someday have extra-large zingers with his face on them. 

As an aside, Owl is still smarting from the hurt put on his Bulldogs by some lowly community college from Boise, Idaho, last weekend. On with the questions: