Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful...

Perhaps inspiration is found in the bottom of a jug of homemade apple pie cocktail (thank you, Wisconsin), or perhaps it's just the season... but I felt compelled to sit and craft a tried-and-true post for the holiday.

Today, I'm thankful for...

Fishing buddies... 
My friends. A little social network time this morning convinced me that spending a holiday like this alone is done purely by choice. Just a few lines of text, some kitschy winks and smiley-faces, and I felt fulfilled... loved... appreciated. Thank you for that, my dear friends. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret, Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in a series focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here

Tourists watch dolphins hunting fish in San Carlos Bay.
The boatful of tourists watched with sheer glee as a pod of bottlenose dolphins frolicked along the edges of the Intercoastal Waterway. The big mammals put on quite a show, breaching regularly, sometimes completely coming out of the dark, tainted water of San Carlos Bay. 

Jim Martin, a lifelong conservationists, and the conservation officer for Pure Fishing, joined me and a handful of folks on the dolphin-watching tour, an offering given to attendees at the American Sportfishing Association Summit, conducted in October on shores of the bay.

Martin, who speaks passionately about issues impacting the environment--particularly as those issues impact fishing opportunity--remarked on the color of the water, and noted that, if something isn't done to remedy the frequent influx of untreated fresh water from Lake Okeechobee, this bay and others like around south Florida could be in real trouble.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part Three

This is the third in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, and Part Two here

A spotted sea trout breaks up a slow day of fishing in San Carlos Bay. The
bay is influenced by excess water discharges from Lake Okeechobee,
which turn the water brown and add pollutants to the estuary.
It's fashionable, among sportsmen and women, to point fingers at others when it becomes obvious that our fishing and hunting are suffering thanks to degraded waters or lands. Certainly, it's true that some who use our resources leave them in a state that makes our pastimes less productive, and it's perfectly all right to identify the causes of the problems that trash fish and game habitat and hinder our opportunity.

But unless we act, we're just a bunch of whiners. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's true. Complaining about a problem without offering a solution just makes for shrill rhetoric. It's unproductive, to be sure. For more, see: Congress, United States. 

I have a good friend who once explained to me how, traditionally, sportsmen engaged in politics, particularly when it came to natural resources issues that impacted their opportunities afield.

"If one day, you told a bunch of hunters that they had to wake up the next morning, report to the firing squad and be executed, they'd bitch and moan all night long," he said to me. "Then, the next morning, they'd dutifully report, and stand stoically in front of the firing squad to be shot dead."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part Two

This is a second in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, and Part Three here


You've heard of Big Oil. The Big Three from Detroit. And, of course, the Big Lebowski.

But have you heard of Big Sugar?

I have to admit, until I spent some quality time chasing saltwater fish in southwest Florida recently, I
An osprey surveys the stained water of San Carlos Bay in southwest
Florida. The bay turns brown when unnatural discharges of polluted
water are deposited by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' diversion
project to protect sugar cane crops during the summer wet season. 
hadn't. But, as I paddled the stained waters of San Carlos Bay and fished the chalky water off the beaches of Sanibel Island, it became clear to me that Big Sugar isn't as sweet as it sounds.

In Florida, this industry is source of great pride, particularly among those state and federal lawmakers who collect significant campaign contributions from companies like U.S. Sugar and American Crystal Sugar, or the collective lobbying group, the American Sugar Alliance.

For those living along both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of southern Florida, though, Big Sugar is a Big Problem.

This heavily subsidized industry is largely the cause of one of the most egregious environmental problems in the Southeast, and if you're a saltwater angler from Florida, or someone who travels to the Sunshine State to chase inshore trophies like snook, tarpon and redfish, you might already know the havoc Big Sugar wreaks on the state's southern estuaries.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part One

Note: This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of south Florida. Read Part Two here, and Part Three here


Tarpon Bay in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel
Island, Florida.
With each pull on the kayak paddle, I realized that, despite the abundance of life that calls Tarpon Bay home, something wasn't altogether right with this world. Decaying plant matter--likely dead seagrass and other native marine vegetation--hung suspended in the brackish water beneath the craft, and my paddle would disappear altogether once dunked in the drink.

I'd been hearing about this situation for the better part of a week before I took to the mangroves in search of salty fish--it's an odd dilemma facing both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of southern Florida. There's simply too much fresh water entering the estuaries down the Indian, St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee rivers. And, frankly, the word "fresh" isn't exactly accurate, either.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Beginnings



It's been a while. And much has happened. I'd like to apologize for my hiatus, but it would be disingenuous. I'm not sorry... I needed a break to focus on other things.

It's funny, too, because this endeavor was a "thing" in our marriage. A distraction. An interruption. Proof that I could find time for something I loved, and proof, to some, that I loved other things more than I should have dared. I fought for it. Clung to it. Depended on it.

And then I stopped. For almost two months, I stopped. Cold turkey. And, honest to God, I have no idea why. I guess, as I look back, it just didn't feel right to spend the time writing about fishing when our lives were crumbling like old stucco.

And crumble they have. But the facade is almost gone, and what's left is ... new, unfamiliar and a little scary.

Life awaits. Let's see what's out there.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Old Time Radio and the Elusive Bonefish

Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon
Years ago, when I worked as a journalist on the North Coast of California, I got into the habit of falling to sleep to the sounds of old-time radio.

Stan Freberg—a Radio Hall-of-Famer—hosted a nightly show on one of the AM stations we could pick up in remote Eureka, and my sleep began to depend on tinny voices blasting from the clock radio on the nightstand. Half-hour series like “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Life of Reilly,” “Boston Blackie,” “Dragnet” and my favorite, “Gunsmoke,” would put us to sleep, often before we could get through an entire episode. It was comical for a while—a novelty (I think it would be akin to my 11-year-old son putting his Xbox aside and taking up a game of River Run on the old Atari 2600).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This Land is Your Land...

The vintage DeHavilland Beaver skittered away into the slate-gray Southeast Alaskan sky, leaving us with a short hike around a small isthmus to the mouth of the remote creek. The drum beat of the tell-tale rotary engine grew distant and faded altogether as we geared up and readied for the walk along the shoreline to the mouth of the unnamed sweetwater stream coursing out of the rainforest. In the salt, staging pink salmon frolicked and jumped from the water, their short lives arriving at the beginning of the end.

Here, a short plane ride from busy Juneau (there were five massive cruise ships at the dock and thousands of tourists milling about downtown when we took off from the airport) and yet hopelessly out of touch with civilization, we landed on our very own piece of real estate. Mine. Theirs. Yours.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Angry Birds...

fly fishing, seagull, bahamas
In line for take-off ... and about to start dive-bombing
bonefish anglers.
It happened in a split second, and I'm sure it was karma jumping in to kick my ass.

For four straight days while wading the flats off of Deadman's Cay, we'd been hounded by nesting gulls--it's understandable that the screaming, squawking, black-headed birds would be threatened by us as we walked quietly among their nesting islands in search of bonefish, and I think it's understandable that, after a time, the birds began to drive us nuts.

In a fit of frustration, as a maniacal gull dive-bombed me and spooked a sizable school of bones headed my way, I took a half-hearted swing at the bird with my 8-weight ... and connected. It was a glancing blow, and I immediately felt terrible for doing it. The bird flew off unharmed--if a bit startled--and I shouldered a pang of guilt for the rest of day.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Digital Pulp, Part Two...



Years ago, when I was working as the city editor of the Times-Standard in Eureka, Calif., my wife and I rented a house with a view of the Pacific over Humboldt Bay.

That we first had to overlook the cemetery and suck in the fumes from the Louisiana Pacific pulp mill was trivial--and to be expected when our combined annual salary afforded other luxuries, like case upon case of Kraft mac and cheese from the local Costco, or dollar movies from the local rental joint (the first time we went to the store, we had to step over the chalk outline left on the sidewalk from the previous night's murder investigation--seriously).

But after a time, it was the odor from the LP plant that tarnished the otherwise spectacular vista over the ocean. It smelled like boiling cabbage cooked in a ripe outhouse. It was foul. And with prevailing winds coming in off the water, the rendering pulp out on the spit between the bay and the blue water delivered it's aroma right through the screen door.

The door remained closed most of the time.

Pulp in megabytes. Can't beat the price.
But pulp isn't always a bad thing. Consider the second edition of Pulp Fly, now available electronically throughout the web (OK... that's a tenuous segway, but I've been dying to use the cabbage-and-outhouse description for years). With discerning fly fishing writers and marketeers like Bruce Smithhammer and Michael Gracie behind this second edition of the project, we might well be looking at the future of the craft. Let's face it ... writing about fly fishing is as old as the pastime itself, and there are scores of worthy communicators out there who have stories to tell. Via the Pulp Fly franchise, identifying those writers and conveying their words to the masses is much easier than it was, even just a few short years ago.

I loved the first edition, and I was honored to be asked to contribute to the second. The challenge to writers was to step outside the box and to push our comfort zones. After years of writing newspaper articles, features and editorials, and years more spent crafting press releases and doing the occasional blog post, I took the challenge seriously and crafted a short story about an angler seeking solitude in a remote Alaskan hideaway only to find that he wasn't the only two-legged critter wandering the bush.

Other fantastic writers contributed to this second volume, including one of my favorites, Erin Block, and others well-known in this incestuous little world of fly fishing media. Consider the opportunity to read the words of gifted photographers like Tosh Brown and Alex Landeen, or the chance to look behind the curtain into the minds of writers like Tom Reed and Will Rice, and you'll see that this second volume is a fitting sibling to the first.

Oh, and it's super cheap. Given that its only delivered electronically, it'll only set you back $6.95. Small price to pay for the chance to read some of best fly fishing writing around today.



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Recovery...

Marooned for three days... 
After a long week of relentless bonefish angling on Long Island in the southern Bahamas--and that's an accurate adjective--we thought it would be worthwhile to spend a few days in Nassau to let the trip sink in and to relax with a few glasses of rum punch.

And my miles ticket to the Bahamas took some alchemy to accomplish--flying out on a Wednesday was really my only option. So here we are, steps from the beach and steps from the outdoor tiki bar.

Chillin'.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sweet Redemption

The deck at Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, The Bahamas.
A little over a year ago, I stood on the deck of the Long Island Bonefishing Lodge overlooking the endless flats that extend into the Atlantic and off toward Cuba. I carefully tumbled a glass of good aged rum into the salt--my sacrifice to the fishing Fates.

They didn't answer. The wind and the rain continued, and a fruitless week spent chasing bonefish came to an end. I was skunked. Humbled. Fishless.

I was reminded by the gang at the lodge that bonefishing--especially the variety we were doing, where anglers fish solely on foot in the "do it yourself" spirit--is truly difficult. It's advanced fly fishing, where everything has to come together. The wind, the sun, the tides... even those maddening Fates ... all have to work in concert to ensure success.

Maybe the Fates listened after all.
bonefish, fly fishing, Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, the Bahamas
Markk Cartwright, fly fishing
guide: "Welcome to the club." 
I shouldn't feel so bad, they said. With the weather we had--overcast skies and wind that would have wrapped Marilyn Monroe's skirt around her neck and rolled her off into the deep--we faced long odds on the flats. But it was just salve. I was wounded. My pride took a serious blow that week--one that I never truly recovered from.

But you can earn some redemption... you can reset your fishing axis. Sometimes it takes a simple change in attitude. Sometimes it takes another trip to a remote Bahamian island where bonefish swim and taunt trout guys like me from afar. Sometimes, you have to hop a plane, suffer through a cross-country red-eye and then climb aboard a shake-and-bake
commuter to a little airport in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes, as my favorite Caribbean troubadour might say, you have to change your latitude.

So I did.

Fish on. Many fish on.

Redemption.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ashes

Alaska, Prince of Wales Island, fly fishing
A glimpse of the perfect place.
There's a little creek that feeds Sumner Straight at the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island. I'll never utter its name, save for in the instructions I'll leave behind to my children to be opened after I'm dead and gone.

Those instructions will put them on the island in late August, when the silvers are running and the Dollies are colored up. The words will direct my kids along the karst road system of the island to a bridge over this small, watery paradise, and they'll simply read, "Walk downstream from the bridge a couple hundred yards until you find a gravel bar. Spread my ashes there and douse them in a pint of Jameson. Then, go fishing."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Baja in Pictures... Download Numero Uno

As many of you know, my buddy Mike Sepelak and I paid a visit to the East Cape of the Baja in April for some saltwater fly fishing. What you might not know is that we're also both on an upcoming tour to Long Island in the Bahamas. I figured it would be a tragedy to fail to share more of the photos from the Baja before I returned from the tropics again and started uploading photos from the Caribbean.

Here are a few shots from Mexico... more to come. Enjoy.



Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez, Spa Buena Vista, Mexico.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gear Review: The Redington Link with Rise reel

The Redington Link
For a guy who lives on the edge of the Rockies here in eastern Idaho, I've become something of a saltwater junkie. When I leave for the Bahamas in three weeks, it will mark my fourth salty destination over the course of the last year.

I've subjected myself to a crash-course in saltwater angling, and while I clearly have a lot to learn, I've come to the realization that nothing--and I mean nothing--beats good equipment when you're chasing fish that, with a bit of effort, can run the average angler into the backing... several times. When that first salty critter hammers a Clouser, you immediately know that you're not chasing brookies in some backcountry haunt.

This is big boy fishing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Now's the time...

Comment and help save Bristol Bay.
The EPA has released its updated watershed assessment for the Bristol Bay watershed, and it says exactly what you might think it says: Pebble Mine would endanger the drainages irreplaceable salmon runs, and put 14,000 commercial fishing jobs at risk in the process.

Now's the time to comment on the assessment and let the EPA know that American sportsmen and women aren't about to stand idly by and watch one the world's greatest treasures be trashed forever.

Pebble Mine, you'll recall, would be the largest open-pit mine in the world, and the multi-national conglomerate of corporations that wants to construct it would dig it in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the world's most economically vital salmon system.

Common sense says this is the wrong mine in the wrong place. Greed and the desire for short-term gain says the gold and other heavy metals buried beneath the permafrost more than excuse the mine's construction. I suppose if you're sitting in a high-backed leather chair in London or Johannesburg counting the profits before the mine is even approved, the latter might make sense, especially if you've never gripped a fly rod, or dreamt of casting to the massive rainbow trout that depend on the millions of sockeye salmon that migrate up the watershed every summer.

The Bristol Bay drainage is an American icon. The lands and waters of this amazing place are truly wild, and most of them belong to all of us, as a birthright.

Don't stand by and let our resources be turned under for short-term gain. This place deserves better.

Tell the EPA to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all.




Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sunburn...Unburn...

You know when it's happening, but if you're busy gazing into the emerald green waters just off the beach of the East Cape of the Baja for roosters and jacks, you don't really care.

I got cooked on the beach during my recent trip to the Baja. I got cocky. I got careless. I might have gotten melanoma--only time will tell, I suppose.

But there's a modestly happy ending. Purely serendipitously, I got an e-mail from Rachel Wepler, who reps for the product Unburn. The timing was ideal--I knew the Sea of Cortez sun would eventually get the best of me, and I figured having a bit of sunburn tonic couldn't hurt. I hit Rachel up for a bottle of the product and it arrived just in time to make it into the travel bag.

And I'm glad it did. While some sunburns are too far gone to really treat with topical ointments like Unburn (the blistered mass of goop that was once my right foot became evidence of that), the ointment--which is 25 percent lidocane--did the trick to take some of the pain away from a burned face and scorched arms and legs. It helped cool the skin and I know it helped make sleeping easier for the first couple of nights after incurring the careless injury.

So, thanks Rachel, for shipping me the bottle of Unburn--I'll buy my next bottle with no regrets.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Promises...

Mike with the first of several triggerfish.
For me, the good thing about making vows about fishing is that I can qualify them. You know... "If I catch a roosterfish, I'm stripping down and running into the surf."

If...

Now, for clarity, I think I'm a fairly solid fly fisher, all the requirements that come with casting to saltwater critters aside. Put me on a trout stream, and I'm in my element. Put me on the beach, and my now-serviceable double-haul will stretch a fly line adequately. Put me in the bow of a boat, and I'll put a fly generally where I want to put it, within reason.

But I'm not going light your hair on fire--just because I'm passionate about something doesn't mean I'm some kind of tournament pro.

So, deep down, I knew that my chances--on my first shot at them--of actually catching a roosterfish were slim. Hence, the naked dive into the Sea of Cortez was likely not going to happen. And, trust me, that's to the great relief of all those within eyeshot.

Trust me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Variety...

The nice thing about fishing is that you never know really what's going to be thrown your way when it comes to the weather.

As I stepped from the shade of the mini-super just outside the little village of Buena Vista with a case of Pacifico, a bottle of blanco tequila and two bottles of juice--one orange, the other pineapple--I was preparing to tie on a little varietal mind-melt. The wind, coming from the north for two days straight had encouraged me to move on to Plan B.

As in, if the fishing is going to suck--and it generally does on the East Cape when the wind comes from del norte--the drinking is going to be epic.

Sadly, my traveling buddy Mike was running behind schedule thanks to weather and a host of other challenges that come with traveling across the hemisphere on a jet plane. I'd have to start Plan B solo--and with a hammock stretched between two palms just out the back door of the villa, I knew just where to start. I know... drinking alone is a warning sign. But then, so is not drinking at all when there's a hammock strung up between two palms right out the... ah, hell. You get the idea.

First things first. Ice. Procured at the swim-up bar at the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort. The sink becomes the beer cooler. A little glass from the hotel room becomes a tumbler. One part Brendain Blanco, one part OJ, one part pineapple... delicious.

Epic. 


Friday, April 12, 2013

The North Wind

El viento del norte no es bueno.
pompano, fly fishing, baja, East Cape
A pompano comes calling on a windy day.

It's a theme with me, unfortunately. If the weather can suck, it will. Here on the East Cape, if the wind blows from the north, the fishing is pretty much a non-starter. The north wind pushes big breakers from the Sea of Cortez up against the abrupt edge of the coast, churning the lime-green waters into a froth and generally making a mess of things.

And so, for the better part of two days, the wind blew from the north. It blew so hard that the fishing guides at the Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort simply gave me sympathetic looks as I wandered down the beach at the crack of dawn on Thursday, hoping against hope that I'd be able to convince a fishy denizen to hit my fly before the wind got out of hand. The looks were telling. That poor bastard... all the way from Idaho, and then ... this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Salt

Make no mistake about it--my feet are firmly rooted in the black soil of eastern Idaho, within sight, on a clear day, of the Tetons to the east and the Lost River Range far across the Big Desert to the west.

But now and again, the ocean beckons.

Possess the slightly twisted desire to stand barefoot in the surf line and watch as the ocean tries to claim me, slowly but deliberately, from the comforts of dry land. Many times I've stood in wet sand and slowly sunk up to my ankles, wondering just how long it would take for the sea to bury me whole.

Weird, I know.

I'm headed to the famed East Cape of the Baja California Sur this week--the fishy denizens of the Sea of Cortez have taunted me since my first brief visit a handful of years ago. This week, I will cast to them in earnest. I'll battle the southern wind, spot for roosters and jacks in the surf and happily take what comes, even if it's nothing much.

And I'll get my feet wet.


Monday, April 8, 2013

20 Questions: Jay Zimmerman

Jay Zimmerman
I've only shared time with Jay Zimmerman once--we tipped a few beers in Denver during a gathering of writers and bloggers a few months back. But Jay is one of those guys who's simply hard to miss in this incestuous little community we've chosen. He's outspoken. He can be a little crass. But he's thoughtful and I think he's really smart.

One minute you're thinking, "Dude, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" and the next you're wishing aloud, "Damn, I'd love to be able to enunciate my thoughts that profoundly ... at least once."

A lot of you may know Jay as the significant other who's attached to Erin Block, the fine young writer who's recently penned a book and whose work appears regularly in TROUT Magazine. But Jay's carved a niche in the fly fishing world all his own--he's a hell fly tyer, and he's not a bad writer in his own right. He has his own following (and his own book on the market), and rightly so.

I feel fortunate that I got to spend some time with Jay and Erin in Denver a few months ago, and I look forward to the opportunity to share a drink with them again sometime soon.

On with the questions:

Monday, March 25, 2013

No expectations...

Obviously, Charles Dickens was not a fly fisher. His epic tale of love, greed and manipulation was written through a completely different prism than it would have had it been penned by this wandering angler, even if the outcome is, unfortunately, somewhat familiar.

bahamas, fly fishing, bonefish, Long Island
Beautiful, but no fish.
I was just telling a friend at lunch today that most of my "big" fly fishing trips tend to be impacted in one fashion or another by elements beyond my control. And I tend spend the days and weeks leading up to "epic" trips counting my catch before a single fish comes to hand. 

Some "for instances":

Last March, I was invited to attend a writer's week at a lodge in the Bahamas. It's a far-flung place that not only requires you to get to Nassau, but then to a tiny little airstrip on at Dead Man's Cay in Long Island. The fishing was supposed to be simply outrageous. The lodge was great. The island was beautiful. But the wind blew and it rained, damn near the whole time. How many bonefish did I catch? Uh, never mind.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pressure

Rio Grande del Norte, Trout Unlimited, Obama
The Rio Grande del Norte. Image by Josh Duplechian.

Sometimes, to get around the quagmire of politics, you have to be political. Such is the case these days with the U.S. Congress and the ideologues that can't seem to see the forest for the trees.

Thankfully, the American people still have a say, and in five locations across the country, they're getting their way. On Monday, President Obama will use his executive power to designate five new national monuments--the Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico; the San Juan Islands in Washington; the First State National Monument in Deleware; the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio; and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railway National Monument in Maryland.

In fall five cases, local citizens had to rise up and make the ask--Congress and its politics made protecting these special places and their intrinsic values through the legislative branch of government virtually impossible. There are more lawmakers in Congress more interested in adhering to their steadfast ideology than they are to the will of the people.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Getting to the End of the Road

As the snow lingers, now officially into March, it's easy to let the mind wander to days past when a lonely gravel road gave access to some of Idaho's wildest country.

And it's big country, too. Tall. Empty.

It's a haul from the house. A couple hours, at least, although, when you explain that to a 10-year-old boy, it's easier to just hand him a smart phone loaded full of videogames and simply say, "Oh ... 45 minutes."

Moose, Idaho, fly fishing
One family checks out another.
The family bears with me on days like this. For me, a drive across the Big Desert to this lonely, yet fishy, destination doesn't seem to take so long. As I count the white hindquarters of a hundred pronghorns among the sage and enjoy the view of the Centennials as they rise along the Montana border, time passes quickly. The wife snoozes. The daughter, too, albeit restlessly, because there's a chance, she thinks, that she might get to drive once we get to the backroad biway that lead into the wild. The boy? Eyes glued to the lighted screen of a piece of East Asian technology--the world in a box.

Damn it to Hell.

Monday, February 18, 2013

20 Questions: April Vokey

April Vokey brown trout
April Vokey with a sea-run brown trout.
If you think April Vokey is just another pretty face, you can stop reading now. Oh, she's a looker--no doubt. But she's also among the most important movers and shakers in the fly fishing world today. The cute face and the fact that it blesses countless images and appears alongside so many big fish is just a bonus.

April's real assets lie behind the mascara (and yes, girls, you can wear mascara to the river). She's a rare fly fisher whose cathartic moment came early in life--she damn near died in a head-on crash with tractor-trailer rig a few years back (and still has the mangled foot to prove it) and came out of it ready to grab the tiger by the tail.

Today, she's a tireless ambassador for the fly fishing craft, and she's an outspoken critic of the seemingly never-ending wellspring of bad ideas when it comes to abusing our rivers, our fish ... and our fishing. In doing a touch of research for this piece (I mean, the whole idea behind this series was the notion that I'd have to do precious little to see these posts come to life, right?), I listened to a couple of podcasts featuring April, and I read a few articles by authors who appear--and rightly so--in awe of this young woman with an ever-so-subtle bad-girl streak who talks so passionately about what she believes in.

Filter the words through a Canadian accent, realize that April grew up the daughter of a couple of B.C. hippies and imagine a spey rod in her hands, and suddenly, you've got one of the most powerful sources of inspiration in the fly fishing sphere of influence. When she realizes just how much of that influence she can wield ... well, watch out.

As a good friend and a big-time player in the fly fishing world said to me a couple of years ago at a fly fishing expo where April was speaking, "That chick's the real deal." I sat quietly in the back of the audience and just listened. The real deal? No doubt about it.

April Vokey fly fishing
Thanks, Jeremy Koreski for the photo. Great shot.
An in-your-face conservation advocate for her beloved--and troubled--Thompson River in British Columbia, April has likely done more to educate Northwest steelheaders than ... well, Northwest steelhead. She speaks with knowledgeable passion about the follies of gravel mining and salmon farming and netting. That passion comes from a base of understanding that was crafted while standing hip-deep in the icy flows of B.C.'s famous steelhead rivers, casting a spey rod into the current and waiting ever patiently for that one fish... that wild, free, ocean-going rainbow trout of legend... to grab some gawdy fly and leap into a slate-gray sky.

April Vokey's become a true fly fishing guru, traveling the world and taking part in all the craft has to offer someone with a spirit bent on adventure and feet that don't like to stand in one place too long. I'm grateful she's on our team, and I think fly fishing--and the waters we love--has a future so long as she's willing to keep a hand on the wheel.

So, yes, enjoy the pretty face. But don't be fooled. She's the subtle, calculating genius of the fly fishing world, working to protect our rivers, our fish and our fishing from those who would trash them for short-term gain

Enough of my flattery... I'll leave the rest to April. On with the questions:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Don't ruin it...

I suppose it was bound to happen, and I really shouldn't be surprised. I guess I'm just a little disappointed, is all. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Just a few years ago, when Tenkara was still a relatively new concept in the States (belying its ancient roots in Japan), it was the simplicity that attracted me to it. It seemed so slimmed down... so clean and unfettered by all the trappings that can tend to mire the craft of fly fishing. It was the perfect method (and likely still is) with which to approach the backcountry trout stream--it broke down into an easily manageable little tube and actually encouraged the minimalist in me.
Simple, clean ... and affordable? Not so
much any longer.

With my Tenkara rod--a Tenkara USA 11-foot Iwana--a lanyard with the basic tools and a pair of wading sandals, I could disappear for hours into the wild and not be burdened with too many moving parts. What's more, the rod--the simplest of creations ... tubes of graphite in descending sizes sliding neatly into one another--was an affordable tool that actually let me drag the entire family into the craft without having to consider a second mortgage.

This morning, out of sheer curiosity, I did a little Google homework on Tenkara.

My motives were simple--I've been pulled away from my backcountry trout water by the siren song of the saltwater flats and marshes over the last couple of years. I've learned (although that's debatable, really) to double haul and strip-set. I've developed a much sharper "fish eye," and I honestly love the "big" feel you get when you're standing on the flats and the there's nothing but water in every direction.
But recently, the trout are starting to pull me back. I yearn for summer days spent standing in cold water that's in a hurry to get somewhere. And that, of course, has translated into a desire to pull out the Tenkara rod and go fishing.

Unfortunately, two of the family's three Tenkara rods are in various states of disrepair. My trusty Iwana has a broken midsection, a casualty of a Lost River willow. My wife's Fountainhead has broken tip section. Our Amago is in good shape, but I think it has too much backbone for backcountry trout water, and is more suited to bigger water and bigger fish.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Penance

fly rod, winter fly fishing, fly fishing, trout, fly reel
The price we pay.
It's the price we pay for summer, I suppose.

Those bright sunny days spent casting over hidden backcountry waters to naive wild trout come with a debt that can only be collected in large doses of winter. And it usually comes with a hell of a vig... interest rates for such a loan aren't manipulated by the Fed.

Instead, summer's debts are paid down slowly, over months of subzero temperatures and brown grass hidden by deep snow. We chip away at them by shoveling the walks and writing checks to the gas company. We cut into the principle by marveling at the hoar frost on the front-yard birch, or by taking a bit pleasure in untracked snow... before the postman arrives and trashes perfection.

We endure our debt by flipping through the pages of the gazetteer and following our fingers along obscure blue lines, wondering what really lies in wait when winter's worst retreats and cold, clear water flows down the shoulders of hidden slopes.

It takes effort to hang onto the last threads of sanity when winter's grip seems so firm ... so relentless ... come the first week of February. Knowing that summer will come isn't the same as its arrival. As we pay and pay in both real and emotional currency for green grass, blue skies and rising trout, we know that we're only working our way out of debt before we take out yet another loan from Mother Nature.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

20 Questions: Dave Hosler

Dave Hosler
Dave Hosler is a fly tying innovator. Take one look at his site, Pile Cast Fly Fishing, and you'll see that the creativity behind the flies at the vise likely gets its genesis from Dave's unpredictable personality--the dude has an eclectic taste when it comes to music, his photography is unique ... oh, and he's a bass angler.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I love me some bass, too. But Dave's got bass on the brain. His flies are clearly meant to incite ... to irk. Bass are easily excited, and Dave's flies seem to do the trick well enough.

I also think Dave's compensating--his job title is "systems administrator." For what little excitement that title inspires (and I'm just guessing--it could be the best job out there, save for the wardrobe manager at the Ba-da-bing!), it would seem Dave does his best to make up for it at the vise. He's an artist, really. A fly tying visionary.

Get to know Dave a bit, and if you ever need a killer smallie fly, you know where to go. On with the questions.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Weekend 10: Trips of a Lifetime

I'm headed to the International Sportsmen's Expo in Denver over the weekend, both to catch up with some folks for work, and to take in the show, which always inspires in me the desire to visit far-flung places where big fish lurk, awaiting a fly. Outfitters and guides from the world over convene every January in Denver, offering trips to places most of us only get to dream about... places like Bolivia to chase golden dorado, or Nunavit to cast to massive Arctic char. Africa and tigerfish. Bonefish on some newly discovered South Pacific pelagic paradise.

Honestly, is there only one "trip of a lifetime?" I hope not... I hope there's more adventure ahead of me than there is behind me. Time will tell.
So, in that vein, I thought I'd ask EMBT readers about their own dream adventures... their own fishy journeys to far-off piscatorial wonderlands. Here are their favorite fishy escapes--whether they've actually pulled the trigger on them, or not:

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Weekend 10: Things to do when it snows sideways and your nostrils freeze shut

It's been a bit chilly here in eastern Idaho, and the week ahead looks downright dismal, with lows really low and highs ... really low, too. One look out the window reveals horizontal snow, pushed by a north wind that cuts right to the bone.

To put it succinctly, "It ain't fishing weather." Or to put it like I've been putting a lot of things lately, "I'm too old for this shit."

A few years ago on a spring steelhead trip to Stanley, I remember the dashboard thermometer on my truck reading a crisp 11 degrees. Later that morning, I hooked one of only two steelhead I managed to hook on the entire three-day trip.

'I'm damn near at the phase in my life where all fishing should be "sock-free" and anything frozen better have rum and an umbrella in it.'


Then I promptly lost the fish because my reel had frozen solid--I'll never forget the "ping" of my tight leader snapping back into my face while the massive buck took my fly and retreated to a lie beneath a snow shelf. That's when I realized that, as hardy as I was as a younger man, the farther north of 40 I get, the less I want to climb into layers of fleece and Gortex and go chase fish. I'm damn near at the phase in my life where all fishing should be "sock-free" and anything frozen better have rum and an umbrella in it.

Honestly, had I not driven four hours to Stanley, I probably wouldn't have bothered with fishing that particular day--I would have curled up in the cabin and watched reruns of "The Unit."

So, as it snows sideways here on the upper reaches of the Snake River Plain, I thought I'd offer up some weekend possibilities that don't involved shaking ice loose from the guides of your 5-weight, or plucking frozen snot from under your nose.

Here goes:

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Deliberate Life


"A Deliberate Life" (Trailer) - Official Selection, IF4 2013 from IF4 on Vimeo.


As a fly fisher, I'm inspired by wild country and hidden waters. I'm turned on by lonely places where footprints in the gravel aren't shaped like wading boots, but by the creatures that live in these quiet, backcountry retreats.

It's rare that people inspire me.

But when they do, it's an acute inspiration ... the head-over-heels variety that floods my being with energy and moves me.

I'm inspired by the people who put together the new film, "A Deliberate Life." It's simply beautiful, and I think it touched me because the people it features are real people who have turned to fly fishing for many of the same reasons I did all those years ago. It's a film about passion... about love and devotion and faith. But first, it's a film about people who lean on fly fishing for their own salvation, and then find it in the waters they visit and the fish the love.

The film debuts tonight in Denver at the Fly Fishing Show (6:30 p.m. at the Denver Merchandise Mart). If you're anywhere close, this is a film you need to see. You'll leave the theater drunk on imagery, energized by what fly fishing can do for the soul and inspired ... by people.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

20 Questions: Rachel Morgan

Rachel Morgan
I love Rachel Morgan's passion--for fly fishing and for the rest of what she does, too. She's one of those rare people who smiles first and asks questions later.

I had the privilege of meeting Rachel last fall when I went to Boise to attend a meeting of the Boise Women Fly Fishers club. My friend Rebecca Garlock was invited to speak to the club about her trip this past summer to Yellowstone, and she called me in for backup (as if she needed any). Rachel met us at the door and immediately made us feel at home in a room full of strange women (hold the applause, please). 

After the meeting, we met for a drink and I got to know Rachel a bit better, and over the last few months, we've stayed in touch because she's part of a group of women who have launched a new website, Fly Fishing Ventures, for women who fly fish. It's over these last few months that I've come to realize just how passionate Rachel is about fly fishing, and it's something I can really appreciate.

Like all of us at one time or another, she's in the midst of some significant changes in her life, and she told me as I prepped this piece for posting that fly fishing might have been her salvation. As she dealt with some really heavy personal stuff, she turned to fly fishing to salve her spent emotions and her frustrations.

"It's like I owe it my life," she told me.

Many of us who fly fish can be somewhat flip about the craft and what it means to us, even if it truly is the fabric that keeps our being together. But Rachel's comments aren't flip--she means it. She fishes. It's who she is. 

Enjoy getting to know her... on with the questions: