Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Four to Go: Flatlining

The Rockies' answer to the bonefish
About this time of year, when days start to get noticeably longer and the snow doesn't stick around for weeks at a time, I start planning my assault on the flats.

Not those distant blue Caribbean flats I'm about to visit in just a few short days... the flats right here in Idaho, where the poor man's answer to the bonefish swims. Here on the frigid fringe of the northern Rockies, in storied waters better known for trout, swims Izaak Walton's "Queen of Rivers," the common carp.

After generations of unearned disrespect, carp are in the midst of becoming "the next big thing" among fly fishers. Over the last decade, they've inspired many a magazine article, several books and just a couple weeks ago, they were featured in the Gray Lady herself, the New York Times.

The attraction among fly fishers is the way carp behave in shallow water, where an angler can sight-fish for them. They will dip their noses in the mud in search of crustaceans and worms and whatever else dwells in the muck, often leaving their tails exposed if the water's shallow enough. They will cruise the flats in pairs or groups of three or four. They can be ridiculously easy to catch (although this is rare), or unbelievably wary (much more common).

On the prowl for carp
If I'd written the paragraph above, with no carpy context, most fly fishers would probably assume I was espousing the virtues of bonefish or redfish... maybe even permit.

And that's the pull, right there. It's saltwater fishing–complete with a reel-screaming fight–without having to venture to the salt to experience it.

Now, I am about to venture to those aqua-blue flats of the Caribbean, where I suspect I'll become enamored with the shallow-water denizens like bonefish, and, if I'm lucky, permit. It'll be my first trip in pursuit of these legendary fish, but I think I'm prepared.

And I can thank the common carp for that.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Six to Go: Trying out the new videocamera

For the upcoming trip to The Bahamas, I managed to get my hands on the new Go Pro Hero 2 videocamera, a nifty little creation that you strap to your hat, your chest... the hood of your car... you get the idea.

I've admired Ivan Orsic's GoPro videos over at Yukon Goes Fishing for sometime, and recently, Russ Schnitzer made a GoPro video from a recent trip to the Bahamas. I was seriously impressed.

About the only thing I don't care for is the underwater footage from the camera. It's just not in focus, so I didn't include any of it in the little test video I put together after a recently jaunt up one of the more storied rivers in my neck of the woods.

Keep in mind that the next video will be from the tropics, and not from the snow-lined banks of the Henry's Fork. And, after looking the snow-laden forecast the next few days, that trip south is going to hit the spot.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Seven to Go: Sullied Heroes

Henry Waszcuk.
Photo courtesy of Fishing the Flats
OK... heroes might be a bit much. But, for a time there, Henry Waszchuk and Italo Labignan were two of my favorite people (and, honestly, how much fun is it to say "Labignan?").

In the late 1990s, not long after my little girl was born, they were the hosts of "Canadian Sportfishing" (which was broadcast in the States on cable and titled, "Fishin' Canada"), a television show that took the two anglers all over the north country in search of everything from salmon to smallmouth bass. The two guys were mostly gear fishers, but they occasionally fished with fly gear, which was more in my wheelhouse. It was their show on fly fishing for northern pike that got me dreaming about casting to the water wolf, a minor obsession of mine.

Italo Labignan
Photo courtesy of World Fishing Network
At the time, my wife and I were parenting in shifts. She had a morning radio show in Eureka, Calif., and I worked the desk at The Times-Standard starting around 2 p.m. So, during the mornings, I had my daughter all to myself, and after feedings and diaper changes, she'd generally settle in for a little nap. About that time, "Fishin' Canada" would come on.

I never missed an episode.

Not too long ago, I was combing through the programming on one of the outdoor networks on satellite. I stumbled upon the show "Fishing the Flats," and of course, with my trip to The Bahamas only a week away, I've been trying to sponge up as much information about flats fishing as I can. So, naturally, I tuned in.

And, to my surprise, there was Henry Waszchuk, flinging hardware at bonefish and triggerfish on some far-flung Caribbean flat. Waszchuk is former football player--he played for the Hamilton Tigercats of the Canadian Football League in the 70s and 80s, and he still looks to be in pretty good shape, if a bit grizzled and gray (but who am I to talk?).

I'd always enjoyed "Fishin' Canada," and, although I'm not a huge fan of baitcasting or spincasting, I did enjoy Waszchuk's episode on the flats, and it seems he's acquired a taste for the warm Caribbean over the chill of winter in Ontario. Who can blame him?

The next natural progression in this little saga though, was for me to get online and see if I couldn't find some of those old "Fishin' Canada" shows. This is where the story turns a little sad. It seems that, back in the late 1990s, when I was watching Waszchuk and Labignan a few times a week, they got busted for fishing violations and had their credentials stripped from them by the Outdoor Writers of Canada--the violations ranged from fishing out of season, rehooking foul-hooked fish in the mouth for filming and rehooking fish caught by other anglers and then recording the staged battle.

Pretty sleazy stuff, honestly, I would have been happy to remain ignorant of this dalliance from the ethical norm.

I'm not perfect, and I have no experience with television production or the trials of producing a fishing program where success depends on good fishing and good footage. And it's been more than 15 years since the violations took place.

Nevertheless, it demonstrates the power of the Internet, and the stigma that comes with getting caught doing something ethically questionable.

As a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, I completely understand OWC's actions all those years ago, and support them. I hope that, as both Labignan and Waszchuk have continued with their broadcast careers, they've become a bit more conscientious and they've managed to communicate their passion for fishing without compromising the ethics of sportfishing itself. Judging from chatter on the message boards as recently as 2007, folks are watching these two closely, and every move that's even remotely questionable is being challenged.

They're not the first from the sporting world to fall from grace. Remember Ted Nugent?

It happens, I guess. But there's one thing we should all recognize as fact: bad behavior by just a few hunters and anglers allows our critics to paint all of us with a pretty broad brush. It's a good reminder to always be on your best behavior, be courteous and be respectful of the resource. I now have a completely different opinion of the two guys who entertained me all those years ago while my daughter was an infant.

When I head to The Bahamas at the end of the week and I'm reminded of Henry Waszchuk fishing the flats, I won't be able to help myself... he just doesn't command the respect he once did. Fair or not, it is what it is. As Eddie Murphy once famously said about something else a bit unflattering, "It's like luggage. You keep that shit forever."

Photo courtesy of
Bonefish fact of the day: Bonefish can swim nearly 40 mph, which makes them the seventh-fastest fish on the planet. Which fish is the fastest? The sailfish takes top honors, swimming a scorching 70 mph.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eight to Go: A Little Head Start

Tonight in frigid and blustery Idaho Falls, Idaho, the Snake River Montessori School is hosting its annual Mardi Gras gala. This is an event we attend most years--this year, the lovely Liza Raley is the emcee.

The event is a great annual fundraiser, a lot of fun, and a chance to dress up and be seen dressed up (a rare event if you know me).

But not this year. This year, the table we're sitting with for the Mardis Gras festivities chose the "Parrothead" theme. This is just a fancy (God bless you, Jimmy Buffett) term for "socks optional." It's also good practice for the days I'll be spending on the flats in the Bahamas starting eight long days from now.

I'm lovin' it.

Photo courtesy of Long Island Bonefishing Lodge
Bonefish fact of the day: The bonefish's Latin name Albula vulpes translates into English as "white fox."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Nine to Go: That's Crazy, Charlie

A kid at Christmas? A sailor with a jingle in his pocket waiting in the parlor of a high-brow brothel?

Call it what you will... I'm excited.

Twenty-four merciless hours have passed. Another half-dozen flies–tied sporadically during lunch breaks, after breakfast ... in the wee hours of the night–now rest in the box, ready for saltwater.

Related? Uh... no.
I'm hesitating. Do I start packing "the bag" now? Or do I wait. I fear if I pack now, the wait just gets worse. If I wait, I'll forget something. I can only imagine my agony, unpacking at the lodge in the Bahamas only to realize that I've left something incredibly important behind. I don't want to take a stab at which item... I don't want to put that bad karma out into the universe.

Photo: Long Island Bonefishing Lodge
Bonefish fact of the day: Bonefish were first scientifically described in 1758 by the scientist Linnaeus. He placed them in the genus Esox, which, as you might know, includes the freshwater denizen, the northern pike. Bonefish are, in fact, in the order Albuliformes. Their latin description is Albula vulpes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ten to Go: To the Bones

I think I'm ready.

My friend Kirk Deeter gave me perhaps the best advice during this agonizingly long wait for my first-ever bonefishing experience: "You'll be a lot more fun to hang around with at the end of the day if you wear some quick-dry underpants."

Wheels are up here in Idaho Falls on March 3, giving me precious little time to finish tying bonefish flies, the patterns to which were shamelessly pilfered from the internet (I dug deep and Googled "bonefish flies"). I don't get to the Bahamas until March 4, and my penance is an overnight stay in the sketchy environs of Newark Liberty International Airport.

Photo courtesy of Long Island Bonefishing Lodge

From there, it's a three-hour, early morning hop to Nassau, and then a shake-and-bake to Dead Man's Cay, the lodge, and something with rum in it.

And then bonefish, of course. I can't wait...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

20 Questions: Ivan Orsic

I don't officially know Ivan Orsic, but over the last couple of years I've become increasingly enamored with his use of the GoPro videocamera–he's extended the boundaries of small-scale fly fishing filmmaking, and with each effort, I've seen a notable evolution, both in terms of quality and creativity. 

King of the Herd from Yukon Goes Fishing on Vimeo.

You've probably noticed it, too, especially if you've wandered by Ivan's blog, Yukon Goes Fishing, or if you've curiously clicked on a shared video from Ivan's growing film library. His use of music and the unique GoPro perspective make his films something to behold. I enjoy each film more than I did the last.

Ivan was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. The first state in the Union, Delaware is well-known for being close to a lot of places. He grew up playing “Pooh (of the Winnie variety) sticks” on the bridges of Ashland Nature Center, body boarding down at the Delaware beaches, and playing all varieties of sports and sports-themed games as a youth.

He graduated from Denison University with a B.S. in Geosciences and is now a masters student at the University of Montana studying fluvial geomorphology and environmental geochemistry (just another term for a fly fisherman who's looking for something to do with his life that lets him fish a few days a week. -ed). 

Discovering the joy of fly fishing as a teen, he picked the sport back up in Montana. Now fully addicted, he is not willing to admit that it has effected the timeliness of his studies. But, all evidence points to his full-fledged fly fishing addiction as one of the main reasons his thesis has not yet been defended. One of these days. 

I hope you'll get to be in front of Ivan's camera one day. Here's a glimpse of the dude behind it:

Friday, February 10, 2012

20 Questions: Tom Chandler

Tom Chandler is, if nothing else, busy. I know Tom through Trout Underground, his well-read blog that channels his passion for fly fishing into words.

But if you spend a bit of time at TU (Chandler's TU, that is), you'll come to realize that this dude is more than just some clever fly fisher who occasionally writes. In fact, you might have to reverse the description. Tom is a writer who occasionally fishes. He writes for a living--although he claims to be a consultant. He writes ad copy, does marketing work and, through his other blog, Writer Underground, espouses advice and offers up some tips of the trade to others who are working in the ever-growing field of writing for today's quick-hit consumer.

He's witty and maybe a bit of a cynic--if you've ready any of his posts at TU, you already know that his writing has an edge to it that does one of two things: it either makes you think to yourself, "Damn, I wish I had written that," or, frankly, it turns you off. It's honest writing though, and even if you don't like the message, I think, deep down, you likely admire the way it's delivered.

Tom's pretty unique among bloggers these days. He engages on everything fly fishing touches, from the industry to conservation to how to best consume hatchery steelhead. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's the ultimate fly fishing diletante ... and who's to say I don't know better?

I'll say this (and then I'll let you figure out Tom Chandler on your own), I enjoy Trout Underground. I find myself straddling the fence sometimes when I read what Tom has to say on certain topics, and that's probably because I'm not always comfortable with such honesty. The ultimate convenience, I've always thought, is to be able to (or be brave enough to) write exactly what you think.

Tom does that, and that's why I keep going back for more.

On to the questions:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hell of a year...

Editor's note: This story first appeared in Bloodknot Magazine

It had been a hell of a year.

In March, just as Appalachia began to spring to life, I was there, casting dry flies to Rapidan brookies. I hiked up to President Hoover’s Brown House—his mountain retreat during the Great Depression—and fished the cold, clear water among the barren dogwoods and redbuds of Shenandoah National Park.

April. South Texas. Redfish and a surly guide who actually yelled at me—yelled, I tell you—for my pathetic saltwater cast and my insistence on actually fishing inside the 30-foot radius of the flats boat that he deemed unproductive. I figured, with a 25-knot wind in my face and, with a little luck, a 50-foot cast that could be accomplished only with a few creative gyrations and whispered “Our Father,” I was going to fish that Clouser all the way back to boat.

Yell all you want, Cap’n. This trout bum is just glad to be wearing shorts and fighting through a piña colada hangover. It’s snowing at home, and if I wore this get-up outside my front door, my nipples could cut glass.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why in Winter?

Cold fingers sting back to life, pressed firmly against the vent as warm air, fresh from the engine block, puffs on pink digits. The heat reawakens icy toes, and what was numb is now just painful.

I gobble a sandwich. Greg is lost in his Blackberry. We don't speak.

It's the wind, really. It's not terribly frigid out there, on the other side of the glass. But with a steady gale blowing up from the south and armed with a cleaver's edge, it feels cold. Bone cold.

As the blood begins to run from the heart out into all the little tendrils of capillaries, far into the hinterlands of our bodies, feeling begins to return. It's a crisp burn ... a sharp "remember me?" from the toes and the fingers and the ... other distant places that feel abandoned on frosty days like this.

The winter-brown grass along the river's edge bends stubbornly in the steady wind. Lingering January snow is crisp and crunchy underfoot. But the river is wide open, and, when the wind stops blowing, the hungry noses of rising trout appear in flat water. The midges are popping. Even in this god-awful wind.

Earlier, those noses were enough to make us ignore the wind, even as it poked through thick neoprene and fingerless wool gloves. But with so many naturals on the water, it was tough to get those noses to rise under the carefully tied flies attached to delicate tippet. We caught a few. Missed many more. Finally, we succumbed.

This is why...
Now, sitting in the idling vehicle and rummaging through paper bags for lunch and snacks to restore some of those calories spent trying to keep the body warm while standing shin-deep in the icy flow of the Bear River, it doesn't look that bad out there. As the truck's heat pushes away the chill and warms us throughout, our glances steadily shift from sandwiches and a flask of whiskey to dimpled water, where rises and tail slaps still break through the wind-rippled river.

Thoughts of fishing begin to return to our winter-numb brains. A streamer, I think to myself. Time for something big and meaty. I'm done with trying to find my size 20 Griffith's Gnat among the hordes of real midges floating helplessly on the water. I'm done squinting and guessing.

Our eyes are now solely on the river, staring through the glass of the windshield. An occasional grunt escapes our lips as sizable noses or massive dorsals break the river's surface. Our doors open simultaneously, and the wind reminds us why we left the river in the first place. We pull our hats low. Tighten our gloves. Zip up our jackets. Fly rods in hand, we start toward the water.

Yep. Time for a streamer. Time to go fishing. Again.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Don't let Idaho's Wildlife be sold to the highest bidder

I don't often use the blog to promote political issues--I figure this to be my creative outlet, an avenue that I like to use to share my perspective on fishing (and a little hunting now and then). But recently, an issue has come to my attention. Idaho's hunters and anglers need help.

A bill in the state Senate would allow the state to auction off up to a dozen big game tags to the highest bidder at trophy conventions around the country. This, in my opinion, violates the unique North American model of game management, where the fish and the game belong to every American regardless of social status and that hunting and fishing on public lands is open to all for the cost of a license. It also allows wealthy out-of-staters (or wealthy foreigners) to cut to the head of the line and obtain a trophy game tag before a licensed hunter (resident or non-resident) has an opportunity.

I understand the need to raise money for game management in Idaho, but similar efforts in states like Utah have gotten completely out of hand, and effectively taken away a key management tool from state fish and game agencies.

I don't care if you live in Idaho or not. Our state Legislature needs to see that this bill is wrong and transfers the ownership of our wildlife from the citizens to the state (remember the phrase, "the King's deer?"), and then to wealthy hunters who have little or no investment in protecting habitat and ensuring opportunity for all licensed sportsmen in Idaho. Bottom line: if this happens in Idaho, your state could be next.

Here's the text from the Idaho Wildlife Federation (of which I am a board member). If you agree that this bill sets a bad precedent for Idaho and other states, please contact Sen. Monty Pearce, chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee at Thanks:

Dear Idaho Wildlife Advocates~

Idaho Wildlife Federation's (IWF) legislative committee is at work again during the 2012 session and needs your help on wildlife conservation issues. During the session we will send you legislative alerts to keep you informed on the issues. The alerts will include a brief overview and the best way to contact various public officials.

HIGH ALERT: Currently there is a private bill that if passed can auction off up to twelve wildlife tags at trophy conventions rather than for use in the usual license sale of the state's non-residence tags. Last year IWF, and other dedicated individuals help defeat the predecessor of this auction tag from moving forward. This year IWF and other sporting conservation groups testified January 25 against the auction tag at the Fish and Game Commission Meeting.


TAKE ACTION: Right now over the next two days work with us and reach out to across the state legislative officials:

1. Senate Resource and Environment Committee Members

2. Your district legislators.

TIME LINE: Starting immediately through the next two days please contact all the committee members for the Senate Resource and Environment Committee by Email. The auction bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday 1:30 PM. Committee members will take a vote on whether to support the bill and reaching each member is critical! This is the best chance for the bill to die in committee. If you can take a step further contact your local legislators as they will carry the message back to the statehouse floor. If you feel impassioned on this issue and would like to testify before the committee Monday please contact and schedule:

Please reach out and let them know you oppose the auction of wildlife to highest bidder. We are trying to generate an outpouring of comments from the people of Idaho. The more our officials hear from the people the more likely they will consider the ramifications of this issue. Listed below is the contact information for the Senate Resource Committee Members and the pertinent status of the private auction bill.
Critical Contact Period over the next two days February 3-February 5, 2012 
 Senate Resource and Environment Committee Members:
Chairman - Senator Monty Pierce (opposed 2011)
Vice Chair- Senator Steve Bair
Senator - Dean Cameron:
Senator- Jeff
Senator -Lee Heider (opposed 2011)
Senator- John Tippets (opposed 2011)
Senator Elliot Werk (opposed 2011)
Senator Michelle Stennett (opposed 2011)
For more information about the 2012 Legislative Status and to read Bill S1256 visit our web site or simply click here

The Idaho Wildlife Federation

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

20 Questions: Mike Sepelak

I knew I would like Mike Sepelak the minute I met him for the first time last summer in the heart of southwest Montana's trout country. He was gracious, thoughtful and genuine. He smiled easily and listened intently. And when he spoke, he had something to say (a trait I, unfortunately, lack). 

One day during our visit to the Centennial Valley, we hiked into a hidden lake where rainbows in the 20-inch range were common. We donned waders and slipped into float tubes and furiously beat at the water for a few hours with marginal success. Mike and I worked the same end of the lake, and neither of us was doing much good. We'd land a fish now and then, but the action was pretty slow. 

Finally, after a few hours, I dialed in a mayfly hatch and started catching fish–some nice ones, too–on top. I looked over at Mike, who really seemed to be struggling. 

"I lost one of my fins," he said, matter-of-factly. "It's at the bottom of the lake."

I couldn't help but laugh. The thought of some pour soul kicking his way around the lake in slow circles was simply too much. And Mike laughed, too. I shared my secret mayfly pattern (a No. 16 Adams), and, one fin and all, he started to catch some pretty nice rainbows, too.

But perhaps the funniest moment of that trip was "the joke." To Mike's ears, the joke was told in stages throughout the three-day adventure. He'd miss the set-up, catch the middle and then miss the punchline. Or maybe he'd catch the punchline, and miss the introduction. On the third day, he finally caught the whole joke, and busted out a deep belly laugh that was simply infectious. Then he said:

"I couldn't figure out what that joke had to do with monkeys."

In addition to being perhaps the greatest, low-maintenance fishing companion, Mike's also a hell of a writer. His work is what landed him in Montana for our little junket after all. But, more than that, Mike's a good man. He's a loving, caring husband, and, even through unjust tragedy, a father any son would be proud to claim.

Today, he's retired (early), spends his time chasing trout in North Carolina's Appalachians and bigger, toothier critters in the state's saltwaters. He doesn't work 60 hours a week anymore... instead, he writes about and photographs his adventures afield.

Lucky us.

Get to know Mike. I'm glad I did, and I can't wait to fish with him again. On with the questions: