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


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.