Friday, June 29, 2012

The Weekend 10: Best Fishing Bars

A few years ago, I was sitting in the Moose Bar in downtown Dillon, Mont., with a group of friends after a day spent hiking into a backcountry trout stream south of town. We'd pulled native west slope cutthroats and not-so-native brookies from a creek that, with a running start, the average guy could leap across.

Then, sated by the tug on light fly tackle, we ventured back to Dillon in search of a cold beer or two.

As is usual, a beer or two turned into several beers. Eventually somebody brought over a round of shots. We eventually graduated to gin and tonics, and by the time the sun set over southwest Montana, we were a bit "over served."

It was then when I looked, bleary-eyed, across the table we'd chosen and noticed an older woman--not a lot older, but old enough to be described as older than me--looking me in the eye. I nodded politely and smiled, and continued some pointless conversation with my buddies. The lady stood and walked to the jukebox in the center of the room, and moments later, proceeded to dance by herself to some classic vinyl tune that escapes me now that I'm sober.

We continued our litte party... the drinks never seemed to get empty, and the evening stretched into the night. I lost track of the woman in favor of cracking filthy jokes with my friends.

A few minutes later, I looked across the table, and there sits a younger fellow--not too young, but young enough to be described as younger than me. Again, I nodded and smiled.

He nodded.

"My mom wants to dance with you," he said, gesturing over his shoulder at the older woman, who'd found her way back to the jukebox and was busy dancing solo to "Stairway to Heaven" and eyeing me again, somewhat seductively.

Needless to say, I didn't dance with this dude's mom (or anything else, for that matter). But it was the first time I'd had a woman and her son team up and try to get me on the dance floor.

And it's just one of the tales from The Moose that make it a great place to have a cold one after a day on the river. So... without further adieu, here are 10 "fishing bars" you ought to visit if you can:

10) The Moose Bar, Dillon, Mont. Right on the Beaverhead, and an easy drive from other famout southwest Montana rivers--the Big Hole, the Ruby and Madison are all within an hour or so, it's perfectly situated for that Montana fix we all need now and then.

9) Captain Tony's, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Twitter follower Dave Maynard of Fish the Baja nominated this iconic little tavern situated where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific within sight of the Drinking Dragon. It's a bit glitzy for me, but then, so is Cabo. The best part of Baja is along the Sea of Cortez side, past San Jose del Cabo, where the roosters run in the surf. That said, I caught sierra mackerel from a panga just off the beach within sight of the harbor, and my wife, kids and I enjoyed a few cold drinks in this fine establishment.

8) The Blackback Pub and Flyshop. Facebook follower Daniel Morgan nominated this fine establishment. If it has the words "pub" and "fly shop" in the name, it has to make the list, right?

7) The Lander Bar. This iconic watering hole is about as Wyoming as you can get. Not too from from the Wind and the Popo Agie rivers, it's a favorite stop on the way to points north and west, and a cold beer won't set you back a fortune. Plus, my friends Russ Schnitzer, Mike Sepelak and Sean Anderson wouldn't forgive me if this place didn't make the list.

6) The Murray Bar, Livingston, Mont. I've never been to this bar before, but, in an odd twist of fate, my family and I will be staying in the hotel above this fine establishment next week for a Paradise Valley wedding. My friend Todd Carter swears by it... and if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. Of course, he also likes the "bar" under the awning of an RV parked at the carp flat. No telling where he got that idea...

5) The Palm Street Pier, South Padre Island, Texas. We'd had a tough morning on the wind-swept flats of the Lower Laguna Madre earlier this year, and we were desperate for a little cold beer and whatever else we could muster up back in town. We wandered down the street from the Inn at South Padre (best hot tub in town), and ventured into the Palm Street Pier. There, overlooking the green waters of the Laguna, we salved our spirits with cold beer, fresh gulf oysters and a host of lunch entrees ranging from fish and chips to burgers. Oh, and they advertise one very cool amenity: free sunsets.

4) The Victoria Tavern, Salida, Colo. During my time as transient newspaperman "back in the day," I spent a few saucy nights at "The Vic." Situated a block from the kayak course on the Arkansas River, the Victoria is a great spot to get off the highway through town and really see Salida, which might be one of the most underrated fishing towns in the Rockies.

3) The El Rancho, Durango, Colo. "The Ranch" is often referred to as the "El Rauncho" by the locals, but don't let that fool you. They love it, and rightly so. After a day spent chasing trout on the underrated Animas River right through town, The Ranch is the perfect hole-in-the-wall dive to disappear into and get your drink on.

2) The Sip N Dip, Great Falls, Mont. I've never had the pleasure, but I've heard the stories. Mermaids, cheap PBRs and an apparent tradition of drunk dialing your friends at 2 a.m. (yep.. I'm a victim) give this spot, not too far from the famed Missouri River, a prominent spot on the list.

1) The El Paso Bar and Grill, Ellsworth, Wisc. A couple years ago, while on a marathon two-day tour through the Driftless Area with my friend Steve Kinsella, we stopped at this road-side joint for a burger and a beer. Inside, we found exactly what were after, and then some. To say that a nice, corn-fed, Midwestern waitress flirted with us is putting it mildly. Later that night, we both double-checked the lock on the door at the cheap motel we stumbled across, because one of us--ahem--gave her the name the establishment where we were resting our tired eyes after a couple days of fishing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

20 Questions: Steve Zakur

Steve Zakur
Steve Zakur is one of those guys I'm looking forward to getting to know. I'm glad I'll have the chance--he's one of two bloggers who won the chance to fish Yellowstone during this summer's TU Blogger Tour--he, along with Marc Payne of The Perfect Drift, was selected from over 30 entrants in what's become an annual essay contest conducted with the help of the Outdoor Blogger Network and other sponsors (this year, it was Simms and the Yellowstone Park Foundation). 

Read Steve's winning essay ... I think you'll see why he was chosen as one of our tour attendees this year. 

But, beyond the fishing angle--and Steve's already at the vise, tying up attractors and wisely getting ready for the four-day adventure (and I really do believe it will be an adventure)--is the guy I've gotten to know through his writing over at Sipping Emergers in just the last month or so. Steve is damn funny. He's not afraid of a little blue language, and he knows how to put sarcasm to work in order to make a point. In short, I find his writing refreshing and lively--both assets will come in handy when it comes time to explain to the world why the National Park Service wants to rid Yellowstone Lake of trophy-size lake trout in order to save native cutthroats... beautiful, graceful... and, some would say, dumb cutthroats. 

Then I found out what Steve does for a living. In his 20 Questions answer form, under profession, it simply reads, "IBMer." 

Hmm... let's Google this dude, shall we? 

Turns out he's a high-on-the-food-chain tech guru at Big Blue, and one of the first results on the search engine reveals a video titled "Controlling Network Complexity." I, of course, watched the entire video featuring a Mr. Zakur. I understood none of it. The product of going through life with a "C" in college algebra, I suppose. 

It shows the magic of fly fishing. It's proof that, no matter where our lives take us, through this craft, we all learn the same language, and, if we're lucky, we get the chance to speak it to one another. Where else could a copy salesman (you all likely know Sean Anderson, aka, Sanders, who was one of our tour attendees last year) rub elbows with a retired executive (Mike Sepelak) and become great friends in the process? This year, it's an "IBMer" and a bunch of fish bums. Let's see how this shakes out, shall we?

On with the questions...

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Warm, sunny mornings on the porch. A good book at hand. Endless coffee. Ann’s laugh; especially the evil one. That’s a perfect moment.

What is your greatest fear? 

That the movie Doogal will have a sequel and that I’ll be forced to watch it.

Which living person do you most admire? 
I admire people who are (or at least appear to be) successful and happy with their career/life choices. Some figure it out early and pursue it with passion. Others iterate over time and find the sweet spot. Guys like Tom Rosenbauer and Bob White come to mind. I suppose Gierach is in that mold as well. I work with people like this every day.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 
Let’s just say that if I ever submit myself to therapy, we’ll have plenty to discuss. 

What is the trait you most deplore in others? 
Bigotry. Especially the subtle stuff that gets wrapped in the cloth of tradition, religion or culture.

What is your favorite journey? 
Family adventures. Boarding a plane to see something new.

Enough said. 
Which living person do you most despise? 
Oppression really pisses me off. I’ll go with Bashar al-Assad. 

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 
I say “fuck” and it’s related family of words a whole lot more than I should. That said, it’s a great word.

What is your greatest regret? 
Whenever I consider this question I begin to think of the consequences of that regret, the things that would be changed, in the same manner one considers the implications of time travel. There are a few things I’d change but then I see how that change would have taken me on a path which would have eliminated a whole bunch of great stuff. And I wouldn’t change those things for anything. So, no regrets. Well, maybe there’s one. I wish I had come to fly fishing a whole lot earlier than I did. 

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Ann. The two boys that we made together are a close second.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 
Getting as far as I have professionally, though casting a No. 14 Rusty Spinner 40 feet to the far bank on Penn's Creek to hook a trout rising under an overhanging mountain laurel comes as a close second.

What is your most treasured possession? 
I used to think that I don’t have any; after all they’re just things. Recently I briefly lost a POW-MIA Bracelet I wear to remember Robert Raymond Duncan’s sacrifice for our country. Sam found it. I was very relieved. 

Where would you like to live? 
As retirement approaches this is something Ann and I talk about a lot. Right now, I’d like to split my time between the summers of Montana/Wyoming and winters in North Carolina. But that’s open to change. We’re visiting Denver this summer. I expect it’ll get high ratings as well.

A fantasy fan...
Who are your favorite writers? 
John Gierach, John McPhee, Stephen R. Donaldson, Isaac Asimov, R.A. Salvatore, Stephen Ambrose, Douglas Adams, James A. Michner. In the blog realm I enjoy Mike Sepelak, Erin Block, English Jonny and T.J. Brayshaw and, until recently, Keith Barton.

Who are your heroes? 
People who serve. When most sane people turn to flee war, crime, fire or some other catastrophe, these people run towards it. They’re incredibly brave and selfless. 

How would you like to die? 
Also a topic of conversation between Ann and I. We both agree that instantly vaporizing while walking the dog is preferable to just about anything out there.

If you were a pet, what would your name be? 
Champ. My late grandfather, a former boxer, called everyone “Champ." It was a phrase of affection and respect. For some reason it strikes me as a good dog’s name. 

What would your profession be if you couldn’t do what you do now? 
I’d like to work in conservation either directly or for some company helping to direct their conservation efforts. If Orvis wanted to offer me a job, that would be fine too. 

What’s the favorite of all the cars you’ve ever driven? 
Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Blue lights blazing. Pure Power in so many ways. 

Starring in the "Steve Zakur Story."
Which actor/actress would play you in the movie about your life, and why? 
Jeff Bridges. I like to think there’s a little of The Dude in all of us. And a little Rooster Cogburn as well. 

BONUS QUESTION: What’s the closest you’ve ever been to dying? 
Landing in San Juan back in ’97. It was a perfect day for flying; blue skies and such. I think the pilot was either a monkey or a Labrador Retriever. Three tries to get on the runway and the third was more of an elegant crash than a landing. I don’t mind flying, I just don’t like it when they hire monkeys to drive the damn things. That’s probably the closest I’ve come to homicide as well. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All Grown Up...

"Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express." 
 - Joseph Addison

I don't know that I've ever felt older... more mortal. As I watched my 13-year-old daughter pluck bright native cutthroats from the waters of a small stream in the eastern Idaho backcountry, it became obvious that our relationship was changing, and that my time with her is becoming gemstone-precious.

It won't last forever. I can't will it so.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weekend Ten: Oddities on the Water

I've been fly fishing for the better part of 20 years, and I've seen some odd things over the years, and heard some funny stories in the process, too.

A few years ago I was fishing the Snake River outside of Jackson Hole before spring runoff when an osprey dove into the water 20 feet away and began what turned into an epic struggle with a massive Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout. The bird, talons firmly connected to flesh, was pulled into the fast water and sucked downstream.

Photo: National Image Library
Not knowing if I could help--or if I should help--I dropped my fly rod and ran along the riverbank, watching as the osprey flapped its wings furiously against the current. I don't know if the bird was simply stuck on the fish, or if it refused to give it up, but the glimpses I caught of the big cuttie showed the fish fighting furiously.

It might have lasted 10 minutes ... by the time I saw the bird finally drag itself--and the fish--out of the cold water of the Snake and onto a small gravel bar, I was a good 500 yards downstream from where it all started. Now for the heartbreak. I never found the fly rod I dropped as I gave chase.

Here are 10 other oddities reported on the river:

1) Rob Snowhite, an EMBT Twitter follower, recalled seeing a dude "catch" a four-foot-long invasive snakehead... with a pitchfork. Along the same lines, a friend of mine in DC was fishing at Chain Bridge on the Potomac when a young kid hooked up with something massive. After a spirited fight, the kid waded into the Potomac (vurp) and hefted a mighty snakehead out on the bank. Ugh, seriously? So gross.

Photo: National Image Library
2) Twitter follower John Brown was fishing from a float tube when he hooked up. He fought the fish for awhile, and then had to fight the blue heron that grabbed the fish at the end of his line.

3) Erin Block, the gifted writer of the blog Mysteries Internal (and an out-of-the-closet carp junkie), was wading a carp flat when she came upon a handgun in the water. Can you imagine the dilemma? Do you pick it up? Do you call the cops? Do you ignore it and just imagine that it was tossed into the water after a mob hit in the foothills of northern Colorado and the less you know the better? To her relief, it turned out to be a kid's toy gun. Now, as for the body she discovered on the way back to the car...

4) From the potentially terrifying to the truly scary ... Twitter follower Bob Diefenbacher mentioned a swarm of bees that descended upon him on the river. New addition to my list of Ways I Don't Want to Die: Swarmed by killer bees. It's right up there with:
  • Naked on an Asian massage table
  • Eaten by a saltwater crocodile
  • Shot dead on the banks of a foothills carp flat
Art by Daniel Eskridge
5) My buddy Tom Sadler and I were fishing the Rapidan River in Virginia last fall--the foliage was thick, the day was steamy... everything was quiet. Not knowing I was so spry and quiet on the water, I managed to walk right up behind Tom as he was fishing and unintentionally scare the hell out of him. Had he been wearing waders, he would have filled them up. "I thought you were the Shenandoah National Park version of Sasquatch," he later said, after we got his heart started again.

6) Jen Kugler Hansen and her new husband Zach Hansen were fishing in a high-mountain lake in Colorado when Zach hooked up. Then, after a short fight, the line went limp. Thinking he'd lost the fish, Zach began to reel in the line. Suddenly, his line went tight and started peeling off the reel. When he was well into his backing, and realizing he walked out into the lake over the top of his waders, Zack finally broke the critter off. Seconds later, a beaver surfaced and slapped the water with its tail. 

It's kind of fuzzy after that. Some say the beaver attacked the fish... some, like me, are convinced that Zack foul-hooked the beaver. You never know. As an aside, Zach spent the next 10 hours sick as a dog--I'm going with mad beaver disease.

7) Cameron Mortenson of The Fiberglass Manifesto was night fishing for big browns on Michigan's Au Sable. Here's the story:

"One night on the Au Sable River years ago, I was fishing after dark on the Holy Waters when the sounds of a cello began playing softly in the growing darkness. I don't think I will ever forget the haunting strings echoing through the woods and trout rising to large dry flies on that pitch black moonless night."

F'ing creepy, dude. Keep that crap to yourself from now on... that's the stuff nightmares are made of. I need to go watch Mary Poppins to get that out of my head. 

8) My pal Rich Sinatra (no relation, and I've been saying "no relation" for 20 years) was battling a 15-pound Lake Erie steelhead on a 6-weight rod. Here's the tale, unedited, uncensored. Earmuffs, Max!

"I had a 15 pound steelie on a 6-weight fly rod. Battled it for 10 minutes and the bastard did not want to come out of the rapids. It was spring and the geese were in full mating mode.
Two of them finished doing the dirty right in front of me. One went downstream a bit, cranked up to fly, and flew right into my line and snapped me off. Bastard cost me a 30-inch fish. You want hear about the time I came up on the couple humping in the woods while I was smallie fishing?"

I did. And he told me. Not for sharing.

9) Emily Blankenship, aka, The River Damsel told me of a night she spent on the Provo River in Utah--she was hoping to fish mouse patterns for big browns and rainbows. Instead, once she got into the water, someone (see No. 5, maybe?) started throwing rocks into the river from a bluff up above. Not sure what to do, Emily and her friends pulled out a cell phone and called the sheriff--who was about 30 minutes away. The rocks kept coming down, and Emily and her friends kept getting more and more frightened. Finally, one of her friends declared that he had a BB gun and wasn't afraid to use it (even though he didn't actually have one). 

I'm not sure why he started with something so small--had it been me, I would have gone straight to "Hey, Jackwagon! I have a bazooka, and I've been waiting since I got back from 'Nam to use it!" 

Apparently, in Utah, a BB gun is enough to frighten off your average Sasquatch--the rocks stopped falling, and a bit later, the sheriff and his rescue dog showed up to save the day. The "perp" was never found. Insert Twilight Zone music here...

Austin, please give the young lady
her top back. 
10) And finally, there's my buddy Austin Orr from the Texas Hill Country. Austin's quite the stick, and when asked about his weirdest fishing experience, here was his answer: 

"Caught a girl by the bikini strap one time. Not weird... just a damn good cast."

That's what I like about Texans... they're so damn humble (but I've seen Austin cast--I think he can do it). 

"That's the first thing that came to mind," he said. "She was built just right ... and she was damned impressed."

As am I. Happy weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

20 Questions: Tom Bie

Whether he would admit to it or not, Tom Bie led a revolution in the fly fishing world--he gave credence to scruffiness and self-imposed indigence, made it cool to be a trout bum and gave the world The Drake

Through its pages, many of us get to see beyond the cast and the haul to the heart of the sport that grips our souls and leaves our friends, our wives ... even our employers, wondering where in the hell we are at 3 o'clock on a Thursday.

The Drake, over the last decade or so, has gone from a small, obscure publication printed on a shoestring budget and consumed greedily by an enthusiastic--yet fringe--sect of fly anglers to perhaps the most influential periodical in the business. Rather than follow the established--and somewhat stuffy--formulaic approach to publishing a niche magazine, Bie wrote his own set of instructions. Today, when The Drake hits newsstands, it's an event. The world stops when it arrives in the mail. Wives fade into the wallpaper ... kids stand lonely in the backyard and dogs with tennis balls slink quietly into kennels to wait it out.

And that's all on Bie. I'm guessing his product--and the imagination contained within--has been cited in more than one divorce case. That's because The Drake focuses on the experience of fly fishing and the people who make the craft function in an odd world that's centered around hatches, migrations, tides, weather and a healthy dose of creative, booze-infused concoctions. It's an all-consuming instruction manual to an all-consuming craft that, when done to excess, can be as addictive as any opiate and just as unforgiving with the withdrawals.

For the hour it takes to thumb through the magazine--maybe longer, if you stretch the experience out over a week's worth of bathroom constitutionals--we are the fly fishermen we've always wanted to be.

But if you meet Tom in person, you get the sense that he's somewhat bewildered by the success and the influence the magazine has collected in just a few short years. He's humble and genuine and almost uncomfortable with the idea that he's pretty damn cool in his own right. Instead, you see a guy who's surprisingly businesslike (maybe it's the glasses?), occasionally serious and always up for a laugh. Most of all though, you'll sense his unquestioned devotion to the craft of fly fishing, the places it's taken him (and can take you through the pages of his magazine) and the people he's met on his journey.

Here's hoping you get the chance to cross paths with Tom. Chances are, you'll be someplace remarkable. Tell him I said hello, and buy him a drink. I'm good for it.

On with the questions:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Colorado Changes...

Sunset atop Rabbit Ears Pass.
I'm not a climate change zealot--I believe it's real and I try to base my beliefs in science and what little anecdotal evidence I can gather on my own. But I'm not out to convince those who believe otherwise that mankind has had a significant impact in the way the world's weather is changing.

Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say that--regardless of the cause--most folks are coming around to the idea that something funky's going on. Even Sarah Palin recognized climate change--recently uncovered memos between then-Gov. Palin and the late Sen. Ted Stevens discussed relocating coastal Alaskan villages in preparation for higher sea levels.

But today, I've become a bit more concerned about the climate-change phenomenon. I don't have any more hard data. I haven't uncovered some new climate model that predicts doom and gloom for everything from trout to grizzly bears.

I just went fishing.

High-country brook trout.
I'm in Colorado this week, squeezing a quick vacation around the day job and generally trying to spend some time with the family that doesn't revolve around little-league baseball, the Xbox or iCarly. After a full day in front of the computer, and an hour or so in the pool this evening, I ventured to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass in search of some little out-of-the-way creek that might tolerate my presence until it got too dark to fish.

Mission accomplished.

But here in Colorado--where the worst wildfire in the state's history rages out of control just over the Continental Divide--I'm seeing unsettling things. Today, I fished a gorgeous high-mountain meadow--a tiny trickle of a stream pushed its way through hip-high willows, meandered around bluffs and the disappeared into the lodgepoles on its way down the mountain.

Dead lodgepoles. Almost to the tree. As the sun set over the meadow, the rusty, orange hue off the beetle-killed trees was almost beautiful and completely sad. Pine beetles have had their way with Colorado's forests, and it's devastating to see.

I managed to catch a few spirited brookies from the little creek--I have no idea what its name is--with my tenkara rod, and when the sun dipped below the skeletal trees atop the ridge, I wandered back up the trail and back to the car. As I topped the pass and looked out over Steamboat Springs far below, I became more aware of the dead trees surrounding this amazing place. Everywhere I looked, I saw patches of barren lodgepoles--some gray and long dead, others brown and orange ... the more recent victims.

Dead pine trees ... a Colorado crisis.
One day, just like the trees to east, they'll burn. And when they do, it's going to hot and fast. It's not "if." It's "when."

Unfortunately, for the lodgepoles of the Rockies, we've likely passed a tipping point when it comes to climate change. They're not likely to recover. Years of fire suppression have likely contributed to this problem, but other signs indicate that we can't just point the finger at suspect forestry on our public lands, and explain the beetle kill that way.

When I stepped into the creek this evening, I was expecting the bone-chilling cold water that is synonymous with the high country. The water was cold. But, at well over 10,000 feet, it wasn't as cold as it should be. And that's a theme across the state. Winters, which used to be cold enough long enough to keep pine beetles in check, are now shorter and warmer.

And, again, anecdotally, I can tell a difference. It's the little things, like the general lack of an evening chill that used to accompany the setting sun here in Steamboat at 7,000 feet. Or June temperatures that tickle 90 in Colorado's northern high country--unheard of even 30 years ago.

There are steps we, as a nation, can take to combat climate change, but first we have to get past the politics of it. And, frankly, I don't care what's causing it. I just want to know what we can do to make its impact less dreadful ... today, and when my kids inherit what we've left behind.

For the lodgepoles of Colorado, it's too late.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Weekend 10: The Fish Pose

Editor's note: This is the first in what I hope will be a weekly series, appearing Fridays, called "The Weekend 10." It's not your typical "top 10" or "10 best" list... just a list of 10 items that might spur some discussion and debate among the fly fishing crowd as the weekend approaches. Feel free to chime in with ideas... and, as always, thanks for stopping by.

For the inaugural Weekend 10, let's discuss ... the oft-controversial, sometimes weird, sometimes awesome act of sporting the catch in front of the camera's lens. We're not all pros at it--I'm guilty of some pretty silly antics in front of the camera with fish in hand (see below). I'm thinking, at the very least, we ought to give names to some of the more prominent poses and call out a few folks for engaging in behavior generally unbecoming... or least a little embarrassing.

So, as a mea culpa, I offer the following photo and promise some introspection. In other words, I've kissed my last Big Horn River sucker... at least in megapixels.

Why kiss this fish? Because it fought like a 26-inch brown!

So, without further adieu, the first Weekend 10:

No. 1: The Sepia Pose. We know that fishing was great back in the day. And we know why, in some places, it's not so great today. Thanks for that, Jackwagon.

No. 2: The Overcompensation Pose. I'm guilty of this one, as is Daniel Galhardo, pictured here. I think it's a byproduct of fishing small water, where big is in the eye of the beholder. Say it with me: "One hand is plenty for a fish less than twenty." Just sayin'...

No. 3: The Blind and Dumb Pose. It's not enough that you've bloodied the lip of this man-eater ... before knocking it over the head or simply removing the dorsal fin, you feel the need to blind it, as well. And the vest parka and short shorts? You gotta love 1979...

No. 4: The Toothy Grin Pose. An hour, and 37 stitches later, we know why the fellow on the left is sporting the evil smirk. When in doubt, hold the end without the teeth. Common sense, really.

No 5: The Fish Beater Pose. I can't tell if the dog looks hungry or if he's in fear of being the next critter grabbed by the lip and put in front of the camera for a really swank self portrait. But, hey... the shirt looks clean.

No. 6. The Ugly Pose. First, am I alone in thinking that Jeremy Wade looks like the Grinch? The Grinch with the coolest job on the planet? Second, if you look like you wish you hadn't caught the  fish you're posing with, what's the point?

No. 7. The Inclement Weather Pose. Yeah, the weather sucks... but you're holding a toad. Toughen up, Buttercup. 

No. 8. The Shameless Plug Pose. I'm sure your clients love being part of your awesome ad campaign. Maybe something a little less obvious? And you're welcome Hooked-up Sportfishing.

No. 9. The Back-at-the-Dock Pose. I never quite get this one--it seems counterintuitive to me. Why not snap a shot of the big striper while you're on the boat and before the trophy fish that has seen its last run by the point at Montauk is put on ice? At least you didn't take the photo in the kitchen...

No. 10. The PETA Pose. Chard. It's what's for dinner. 

Did I miss any? Feel free to share... 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

20 Questions: The Fly Fishing Rabbi

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
I've always considered my fly fishing habit akin to religion. I lean on it for comfort and peace when others might venture into a chapel or a temple and pick a pew. I feel closer to God when I fish, and I think I'm most spiritually tuned in when I've got a fly rod in hand and my eyes on the water in front of me. In my mind, God and fly fishing go together like like peanut butter and jelly--if you mash the two together, they mingle perfectly, each complimenting the other.

I think that's what's also unique about Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, aka, the Fly Fishing Rabbi. Rabbi Eisenkramer partnered with Rev. Michae Attas and wrote "Fly Fishing--The Sacred Art: Casting a Fly as a Spiritual Practice." The book's title says it all, really.

But a few page clicks on Eric's blog is all it takes to realize that he's more than just a man of God with a fishing habit. Like a lot of fly fishers these days, "the movie" whet his appetite for the craft, and he's since gone from an admirer to a full-on angler, complete with an acute understanding of how intact habitat translates directly into fly fishing opportunity. That he applies a spiritual filter to his fishing is proof that he's a thinker on the water, not just a fisher.

And, truth be told, we have plenty of fishers. We need more folks with some introspection and a conscience when they fish. You'll find that Rabbi Eisenkramer is one of the latter.

On with the questions:

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Dare mighty things..."

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." 

 -- Theodore Roosevelt

The Great Works Dam ... coming out in Maine.
On Monday, work to remove the Great Works Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine will begin. When this dam and a couple others like it have been removed or retrofitted over the next few years, ocean-going fish like the Atlantic salmon, the striped bass and the American shad will again have access to about 1,000 miles of the Penobscot River and its tributaries.

The river's upper reaches have been blocked to these migrating fish for generations--the river was deemed more important for other uses, and the fish--and fishing--suffered. But the urge to see things set right (and I suspect the primal desire of many to feel the tug of a massive stiper or a kype-jawed salmon at the end of a tight line) proved too much for one-sided progress. After decades of debate, compromise and political maneuvering, dams are coming out, fish passage is being installed, and fish are coming back to this once-storied river.

Too bad it took so long--people have lived their entire lives never having seen this river in its fishy prime. That's a damn shame.

And, just in case you're of the mind that somebody lost in this amazing development, you'll be pleased to know that the river will actually produce more hydropower than it does now, when all the dams have been removed or improved. Amazing what we can do if we just open our eyes a bit, welcome new ideas and take advantage of the technology at our fingertips, isn't it? It's incredible what we can do when we invest in efforts to make our world better ... to make thing right again.

Wait... I guess there were some losers. Those who figured this would never happen ... that it might prove too expensive, or impractical ... they lost. Those who wouldn't dare step outside their comfort zone for fear of failure, or who put their faith in their deep-seeded political mantras rather than the data and the bold ideas of others... they lost, too. Those who's ideas are derived from bumper stickers and one-sentence slogans ... yeah, they lost, as well.

The four dams that keep salmon from Idaho.
But ... I don't live in Maine. I've never been to Maine. My glee over this development is purely voyeuristic. When I first heard that the dam was coming out, I was, in truth, quite jealous. Here in Idaho, we have great habitat for long-swimming salmon and steelhead from the Pacific, but with four-old-school dams along the lower Snake River blocking their path, we may never see fish in numbers that even approach those seen by my elders.

We have the same kind of data that those in Maine possess today. We have the technology. There are scores of folks like me who'd love to see the Salmon River awash in mighty chinooks rather than the hatchery born clones that struggle to come back every year in seemingly fewer and fewer numbers.

I guess we simply lack the boldness they've tapped into in Maine. We worry that the status quo might be too tough to combat, that stepping out onto a limb and working to set things right might be too costly politically, or go against our own deep-seeded beliefs, no matter what the numbers say, or what the technology can offer.

The product of boldness.
Yesterday, I got to see the fruits of such technology, and the benefits of boldness, albeit on a much smaller scale. I saw a rancher and U.S. Forest Service biologist grinning from ear to ear as a wild, native Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawned on a redd in a little stream that, two years ago, was a wasteland. I caught fat cutthroats from a stream that just a year ago had been put back into its natural channel after decades of enduring the misguided wrath of "progress."

These wonderful developments didn't happen overnight. They took will. They took the uncanny ability to bend a little, to listen and analyze and think. Folks had to look beyond the bumper stickers and their preconceived notions of what could be done, and who could do it. They had to put their politics aside and take a leap of faith.

I'll take our little victories in Idaho, at least for now. But I'll remain jealous of the people of Maine ... the courage, the boldness and the unwillingness to let small people with small ideas and misguided notions ruin their dream gives me hope.

I have a dream of salmon in Idaho ... millons of them. I think we can do it.

Put that on a bumper sticker.

-Chris Hunt

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Carp Spring...

Mirror carp
Say what you will about the carp, but you're reading words from one trout bum who, on any given day, would rather catch a rubber-lipped "trash fish" than a big, fat brown trout on a dry.

I know... priorities.

Oh, I love me some trout. Trout fishing is my passion--it started it all for me. Cold, clean water meandering through a backcountry meadow in the middle of nowhere ... that's Heaven's doorstep in my book. But carp ... well... carp pull hard.

I've given this a lot of thought. And I think it boils down to that. I've never had a trout take me to my backing. Carp expose my backing regularly.

Better test your backing knot
I've also come to appreciate the non-native, exotic invader for what it offers the angler who can get past the bucket mouth and the sometimes-soupy water in which they swim. Carp, simply put, offer opportunity. Here where I live, the backcountry trout water is generally unfishable--if not completely inaccessible--until June most years. Last year, with so much water, our rivers were raging with runoff until August. Once summer finally arrived, it was almost over.

But carp water... most years around here, the persistent fly fisher can get on carp as early as mid-April, if we can get a couple of warm days in a row.

In addition to opportunity, carp in this corner of the world are truly unique. In a landlocked state with no salty shores to readily visit, carp offer fresh water's best answer to saltwater fly fishing. I've done my share of salty casting lately--I'm basically addicted to it, largely because of the challenge and the fact that I have so much room for improvement. Carp offer a salty fix without ever leaving Idaho. Or having to mess with sharks.

Salty ... without the salt
How do they stack up? I'd put them above your average redfish, if that helps. Bonefish? I, uh ... wouldn't know.

So, continue to discount carp at your own fishing peril. No, they're not much to look at, and the grip-and-grin at the end of a battle is a little underwhelming. But the take, the fight and the experience of it all--especially when the backcountry is still cold and foreboding--make the carp a worthy fish to pursue.

-Chris Hunt

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

20 Questions: Howard Levett

Howard Levett
When you think of the stereotypical fly fishing blogger, you might picture Howard Levitt in your head--and I mean that as a compliment. 

Howard's a very prolific blogger who writes the popular blog Wind Knots and Tangled Lines. And, in addition to writing his own blog, Howard might be the most devoted blog reader I know. I read my share of blogs, and if I find a post I'm drawn to, I almost always arrive to find that Howard has been there before and usually left a thoughtful and encouraging comment behind. He's a blogger's best friend--the guy who continually pats you on the back and keeps you writing. 

A former cop, Howard's a passionate fly fisher who came to the craft later in life (and regrets he didn't pick it up earlier). He's a collector, a fiberglass rod fisher and a Beatles fan. Howard's the kind of guy I'd like to sit down with and enjoy a few beers with--hopefully that happens sooner rather than later. 

Get to know Howard. You'll be glad you did. On with the questions:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hot Water...

Hot tub, anyone?

It's an odd primal urge. I get that.

But when I stand next to one of the dozens of crystal clear--and scalding hot--pools of magma-charged water that gurgle and simmer along the banks of the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park, it's all I can do to keep from jumping in.

The Firehole, too, is a primal body of water. As it flows through geyser basins inside the park, it picks up steaming rivulets of water that, later in the year when the air temperatures climb a bit, make the river so warm it's virtually unfishable. The fish simply move up into the cooler tributaries of the river, or they hunker down and wait it out in water that is barely habitable. But now, early in the season, it's as close as a dedicated trout angler can get to a sure thing.

The best of Yellowstone
So, earlier this week when a colleague and I had a few hours to spare one afternoon, we ventured into the far reaches of the Firehole as it flows through the fabled Midway Geyser Basin. We figured if we got away from the road and all the tourists marveling at the herds of bison guarding newborn calves that we might find some solitary fishing for the river's legendary brown trout.

Turns out, we had a to walk quite a ways. We weren't the only anglers with this brilliant idea.

Walk farther
But we did eventually outwalk our brothers--and this is the key to the best fishing in Yellowstone ... just stretch your legs a bit. And when we did, the fishing was predictably great.

The Firehole's hatches this time of year are also pretty predictable. It's the weather you have to keep an eye on--just ask my friend Kirk Werner, who was on the river just a few days before we were, and had to trudge to the water through a foot of fresh snow. Even so, I'm betting he enjoyed some blue-winged olive hatches and some pretty lively streamer action.

Typical Firehole brown trout
We also had a few blue-wings, but with air temps in the 50s, we also enjoyed a pretty impressive caddis hatch, and dry fly fishing most of the day. That's not to say we didn't go after the big boys in the river's deeper reaches with streamers--I caught a couple of nice browns that might have pushed 18 inches with a weighted black Woolly Bugger. 

But the fishing, truly, is only part of the Firehole experience. There's something unique about having to squint through clouds of sulfurous steam to see your fly, and there's something amazingly wild about casting to river-born trout and having to watch your backcast to ensure you're not inadvertently snagging a wandering bison.

Wild brown trout
There's also the magic of Yellowstone, and that fact anglers, above anyone else who visits the park, get to see what's it's all about, mostly because we, like the bison along the river, like to wander... explore. We'll get off the road. We'll venture off the trail.

We'll see a place that hasn't change much at since it was "discovered" around the time Lewis and Clark ventured across the Northern Rockies.

Wild, desolate, sparse ... and perfect
If you've never experienced the Firehole--with a fly rod in hand, or otherwise--you need to. It's a seminal part of a Yellowstone visit, and is not to be missed. If you want to fish it, you need to get there pretty quickly (I'd recommend by mid-June), or wait until the end of September, when the water cools and the fish come to life again.

You'll see a fabled river in all its glory, and you'll meet wild trout that thrive in a place that is wonderfully desolate, wonderfully sparse.

And among the most amazing fly fishing destinations on earth.

-Chris Hunt