Cool nights back at camp
Recounting victory and defeat
Good whiskey and better friends
Laughing in the dark
These times won’t be traded
Not for their weight in gold
Cool nights back at camp
Recounting victory and defeat
Good whiskey and better friends
Laughing in the dark
These times won’t be traded
Not for their weight in gold
In the state of Washington there is a body of water that stretches from Deception Pass in the north to the state capital Olympia, WA. At approximately 100 miles long and reaching depths ranging 200-600ft and a max of 930ft; The Puget Sound is a massive body of water teeming with life. Between Halibut, Crab, Ling cod, Rock fish, 5 species of Pacific salmon, and Steelhead Puget Sound is a fisherman’s Paradise. With most people trying to go big or go home with their fish they are missing one of the most fun, most exciting, line ripping fish that Puget Sound has to offer. There is a species of trout that most people don’t even know of that fish the vast waters of Puget Sound. The Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout.
The Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout is a species of trout that stays in Puget Sound, and is only found between south Alaska and North California. It does not travel out into the Pacific Ocean. It stays local and can be fished all year long. The nice thing about this fish is that it is extremely pron to hit flies. With streamers being the most productive of patterns that are used to catch these fish you know that they are going to be aggressive takes and hard fighters. Averaging from 12-15 inches and trophy fish that do reach18-22 inches in length. But there is something special about this Sea-run trout. I have had 15 inch Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout strip more line of my reel that 20 inch Rainbows. These fish are as if they are on steroids. Easy to find and easy to catch these Sea-Run Cuts stay close to the beach so there is no boat needed to target these amazing trout. Staying in 2-5ft of water and in normal conditions no farther than 20-60ft from the shore. Experienced or beginner it’s a great fishery and a fun way to spend your day. You can fish them any time of the year; personally my favorite time is the beginning of January through mid February and the end of march into May.
In the month of January Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout begin to stage outside of their home rivers, creeks, and streams for spawning. I love this time because you have your highest chances of catching trophies. This goes on through February. Last January I had Three days of back to back to back fishing were I landed 27 fish with 8 of them over 15 inches and 3 over 18 inches. 2 of which were on back to back casts.
In the Months of late March through May the trout are back from spawning and hungry….. VERY HUNGRY! and to feed them are thousands of Chum Salmon fry. The Chum Fry are fresh out of the creeks and rivers and swimming around the local beaches getting smashed apart by Cutties… (CUTTIES) WESTERN WASHINGTON SLANG FOR – SEA-RUN CUTTHROAT TROUT. This time of year is explosive with excitement. Casting into this massive mound of swimming bait trying to get one of the many Cutties in the vicinity to find and tear into the small fly that is attached to the end of your leader.
But even then the fishing is not done. Through the summer the fishing stays fantastic and as it goes on so does the entertainment. For those that are dry fly fishermen you are not left out. In the month of September there is a Termite hatch that breaks out and even the Cutties can’t resist. That’s right…. I am talking about dry fly fishing the beaches of Puget Sound. This orange Termite is one of our favorite hatches in Western Washington. The only thing you got to keep in mind is that light tippet won’t work. They hit them so hard that your tippet can snap with ease if you don’t use at least 6lbs test. My favorite fly to fish is a size 8 Elk Hair Caddis with a long dark wing and a bright orange body.
When it comes to fishing for Cutties; staying with in 70ft of the shore and your fine. Though when you start you need to make a few casts before you get too close because they will sit right up close to the shore. A lot of the time I end up walking out to knee-wast deep water and start casting parallel to the shore line. Rocky beaches are best, and those that have a creek, river, or some kind of fresh water trickling in just increases your chances. Moving water is also preferred. So check your tides before you head out to go fishing. Night fishing is also a great idea. In the winter time when there is little day light, hitting the beach with glow flies can be really fun. Remember when your fishing at night there are more things in the water around you. While using glow flies i have had nights were I got nothing but squid, and every now and then a Black Mouth. Ranging from 20 inches to 10lbs, and rarely some up to 20lbs. BLACK MOUTH: RESIDENTIAL CHINOOK SALMON.
GEAR: 5-6wt rod is preferable, at night 6-7wt. 8-11ft leaders, but if you use a sink tip then a 3ft tippet section is perfect. These fish are not leader shy. A net is also a great idea. Waders even in the summer are smart. Puget Sound is full of Jellyfish and it’s not fun when you get hit by them.
FLY BOX: Clouser Minnows in about any color that you can think of, Shrimp patterns, and Sculpins are best for year round averaging 1-2 inches in length. In the summer Sliders can be a great option. Watching trout fins come to the surface and chase down your fly like a shark. Its an exciting site to see, and if your not careful you can set to early and pull the fly from the fish before it even gets to your fly… I know because I have done it my self.
Remember… Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout are CATCH AND RELEASE ONLY. So please care for your fish and release all the Cutties that you catch.
Continued from The Senex – Part 1
With the ease of decades of practice, he stripped three or four arm lengths of line from the reel, letting the current pull the slack form the line. With the quickness of a man half his age, the old man let loose a perfect roll cast, placing his bushy dry fly in the calm water behind a small, mossy rock protruding from the surface of the clear water. Within a second, the current grabbed the line and pulled the fly violently from the pocket of water. Another quick roll cast saw the fly land exactly where the previous cast had put it, clinging to the slack water momentarily before being pulled once more from its rest by the relentless current.
Taking a few sure but steady steps upstream, the old man took a moment to more thoroughly examine his surroundings. He stood in a shallow run at the tail of a small pool. While only a few yards long, the pool was deep, perhaps deep enough that only the crown of a man’s hat would peek through the surface should he decide to wade into its depths. Maybe it had been a swimming hole back in the days when people still lived in these woods, isolated from the hustle and convenience of the blossoming town downriver. At the head of the pool was a small waterfall, maybe three or four feet high, that would have provided the ideal platform from which the smiling, squealing children of the woods would splash into the icy water below.
I was brought back from my daydream by the glint of morning sunlight against the glossy bamboo of the old man’s rod. He had begun a cast, letting the line unfold gracefully behind him before moving his arm forward in a motion apparently executed thousands of time before. The cast was perfect, the loop as tight as I’ve ever seen, and the fly dropped so naturally just inches from the froth created by the falling water. I saw the old man bend slightly forward, anticipating the rise which he seemed sure would come, only this time it didn’t. He straightened his back, looking perplexed but not overly concerned, and began to unfurl another graceful cast as elegant as the last.
The soft light of the morning sun lit fire to the small droplets of water flung from the line before they found themselves extinguished once again in the current, brought back from a singular moment of brilliance to the anonymity of the unified motion of the current. I could hear the silk line cutting through the thick morning air. The line unfurled exactly as before, leaving the fly to drop softly onto the water at the base of the tumbling falls.
In an instant, I saw the bronze flash, the violent attack of an enormous brown trout unleashed upon the inanimate fly mistaken for an insect, surely disappointing the beast. The old man lifted his arm, and I saw the smooth, beautiful bend in the bamboo rod, probably grown accustomed to the tug of fish large and small. As soon as the rod had bent, it straightened back out. The fly was pulled from the depths of the pool, flying over the old man’s shoulder and left to drag in the current downstream.
It was at this moment that the old man turned his face toward me, smiling a large smile that told me he had been aware of my presence all along. He turned his eyes back to the pool with a look of serenity and satisfaction before making his way deliberately toward me. I stood as he stepped from the water, pulling my hat from my head and extending my sun-browned arm. He grasped my hand firmly, his paper-thin skin indicating an age even higher than I had previously thought.
“Yes, he certainly was a nice one. One of the larger fish I’ve come across on this creek,” he replied, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Been fishing here for a while?” I asked in a thinly veiled attempt at obtaining his age. His expression was one of longing, his eyes looking through me and into the dense forest behind.
“Son, I’ve been fishing this creek since before your folks were born. I was born in a small cabin not too far upstream of this very spot. The cabin is gone now, but the chimney is still standing. I visited once not too long ago, but my blood ran cold at the sight of what once was a small, struggling community.” I immediately felt sorry for asking the question, but a smile returned to his face as he placed the battered hat back upon his head. I asked the old man what fly he had been fishing, and he paused for a moment before pulling a slightly rusted and severely dented aluminum fly box from his vest. His gnarled fingers shook with the strain of age as he pulled a bushy dry fly from the box and deposited it into my waiting palm.
“You might not land as many fish as you are accustomed to, but you’ll surely fool a great many of them,” he said, returning the fly box to his vest pocket. I looked down to examine the fly he had given to me. I was an exercise in simplicity and grace, but something was wrong. The body was covered generously in grey dubbing, the tail a small bunch of what appeared to be squirrel hair. Long brown hackle nearly consumed the thin white wings below.
After my brief examination, the cause of my earlier confusion immediately became apparent, the most notable feature of the fly having gone unnoticed at first glance. The hook point was nowhere to be seen. The fly had been tied on nothing but a straight shank of metal, leaving no possibility of actually hooking and landing a fish. I was confused, and I looked up to question the man who now seemed slightly crazy to me. He was no longer standing in front of me; rather, he was walking slowly up the trail, and I caught just a glimpse of his hunched figure before he disappeared into the trees.
It was at this moment that the true meaning of the encounter hit me. The old man had no interest in hooking a fish and watching it struggle in fear as it was pulled from the water and into the waiting hand of a violent intruder. He had no desire to conquer nature, but only to become a part of it. The satisfaction was in the act of fooling the trout into taking the fly. I laughed silently to myself, thinking that perhaps both he and the fish gained from the encounter instead of the zero-sum game so often practiced by those of us who intrude into the wilderness with visions of the pioneers in our heads, exercising our strength and sublimating the forest to out desires. I laughed once more, this time audibly, before clipping off my Stimulator and tying on the old man’s fly as I slid into the current, moving slowly and peacefully toward the pool.
It’s funny how certain sounds and smells can remind you of a place. There is one song, for example, that brings to my mind late nights on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, driving too fast with no lights on and all the windows rolled down, the stars shining like millions of eyes looking down at me. I can’t walk past a Middle Eastern cafe without thinking of the roast lamb I ate at a street stand in Cairo while I watched a friend play soccer in the street with a dozen children half his size. And I can’t smell honeysuckle without remembering a morning I spent on my favorite mountain stream.
I have never been an early riser, and there are few things which will pull me out of bed before the sun, but the thought of rising trout is one. On this particular morning, sometime in early spring in western North Carolina, I was out the door just as the first light of the morning was peering over the eastern horizon. There was a chill to the air in the cover of the early morning fog, but it was the sort of morning one knew would soon make way for a prematurely hot afternoon. I broke the stillness of the quiet morning with the slamming of the rear doors of my slightly rusted, forest green 1962 Land Rover. The air conditioning doesn’t work and the engine sometimes overheats on the hottest of summer afternoons, but I’ve never loved a truck like this one. I opened the driver side door and allowed Tucker, my young Brittany Spaniel, to hop across into the passenger seat. He was young, but he had realized that obedience to my commands would be paid off in my affection.
I leaned over to roll down the creaking passenger window so Tucker could poke his floppy-eared head out of the window to bark at anything we might pass. Although we had an hour drive, followed by an hour hike, before we would get the first cast of the day in, I felt that familiar feeling of excitement and anticipation tightening my chest as soon as I turned off of the gravel driveway on onto the smooth, newly-paved road upon which our house sat, hidden back from the road behind a stand of old growth timber. Soon, we had made our way to the interstate and headed west, racing the sunrise. Having had enough of the morning chill, and probably frustrated at having been so unceremoniously risen at such an early hour, Tucker had curled up on the seat with his head resting on my leg. I leaned over to roll up the window and settled in for the easy drive ahead.
The Land Rover is a fantastic truck on abandoned logging trails and forest service roads, but she feels out of place and a bit frustrated when pushed to her maximum speed, which isn’t fast enough to avoid the condescending states of the tourists and new money folks in their shiny black sedans. They treat the roads as their racetracks in a vain attempt to prove that their over engineered, track-tested luxury cars are worth the inflated prices they paid for them. They rarely are.
Some time later, I saw the sign for Bryson City and exited the interstate, thankful to be back at speeds more reasonable for my machine. I wound through town, stopping briefly at a favorite coffee shop to top off my thermos and remark briefly upon the weather, before making my way toward the Road to Nowhere. Originally intended to circle Fontana Lake, the road dead-ends before entering some of the most pristine wilderness left in the Eastern United States. As much as most people want to see the road completed, there is a small, eco-terrorist voice deep within me that screams every time I come to the place. I tell myself that if I ever see a bulldozer up here, I’ll fill the gas tank with sand. Maybe I’ll do worse, placing a small bomb underneath the machine to put it out of commission permanently. I don’t know if I’d be capable, but I suppose we all like to think ourselves revolutionaries when something dear to us is under threat.
The road ends abruptly not long after passing over Noland Creek, one of the half dozen or so streams that flow down from the upper slopes of Clingman’s Dome before emptying into Fontana Lake below. Even with such easy access for a determined trout-seeker, Noland Creek provides a fantastic window into the world of small stream fishing, where any fish over 10″ can be considered a trophy. Those of us who frequent these waters find satisfaction in the solitude, enjoying the brightly colored brookies that look like they’ve been painted in the most brilliantly natural hues.
After parking my truck under the branches of a young oak at the edge of the poorly maintained dirt road, I stepped out into the sunlit morning, followed by Tucker. According to the local regulations, dogs aren’t welcome these parts. Tucker isn’t like other dogs, though, so I let him walk without a leash, knowing that the smallest snap of my fingers will bring him quickly to my side. I unloaded my gear, pulling on a pair of waders and double-knotting my wading boots. All the water worth fishing requires a degree of effort which I’ve found most weekend fisherman unwilling to exert. I usually end up replacing my boots each season after putting well over one-hundred trail miles on then in addition to wading.
I carry a large pack when fishing, keeping all of my supplies directly related to the task at hand in front and all of the equally important, yet less frequently used, gear in the back, such as rain slicker, thermos, water, first aid kit, and food for Tucker and me. For this type of backcountry fishing, I fish a Scott fiberglass rod, a 7′ 3 wt. with a beautifully balanced feel and the delicacy needed to land active fish on light tippet. I paired it with a little green Galvan reel and a dark green fly line, giving myself some small illusion of stealth and camouflage.
Before starting the hike, I tied on a small Yellow Stimulator, one of my favorite flies for these small, backcountry streams. With Tucker at my side, chasing the shadow of a bee flying above him, we set out on what might one day become, God help us, a road to somewhere. An easy thirty minute hike led us to the point where we would drop off of the main trail and do a bit of bushwhacking as we made our way upstream. I suppose I should mention, at this point, that I am intentionally leaving the name of this particular stream from my tale, choosing instead to grant it some degree of anonymity, although quick investigative work would surely reveal a few likely candidates.
On this stream, I like to head to head upstream for half of a mile or so in order to achieve the feeling of true solitude. I’ve always been uncomfortable in crowds and utterly disgusted by close proximity to fisherman who didn’t arrive with me. Upon reaching my favorite starting point, I stopped dead. I saw an old timer lining up a gorgeous amber-colored bamboo rod with silk line. My frustration at finding another angler in my favorite spot began to subside as I observed the gentleman make his way carefully into the shallow stream. Not wanting to be seen, I found a fallen tree on which to sit and observe. A snap of my fingers brought Tucker to my side. He looked up at me, slightly confused, before making himself comfortable on a bed of bright green ferns.
The old man’s movements were deliberate and carefully considered. He moved with the ease of youth, albeit slightly tempered by the weight of age. Settling in the quick current, he paused, standing motionless for a full minute before moving again. Maybe he was acclimatizing to his surroundings; maybe he was letting the trout become accustomed to his presence. Either way, he had become, in just a moment, a fixture in the stream as seemingly permanent as a fallen tree or water-rounded boulder. His face was emotionless, calm but for a flaming intensity in his gray eyes. He didn’t act as though he owned the stream; rather, he had become part of it.
Continued here: The Senex – Part 2
I have so much junk in my fly boxes. I have a collections of odd flies I have tied that have never been used, and unless I have a chance encounter with a trout that is fond of the works of Salvador Dali, it is doubtful that I will ever use them. Most of these freak show oddities were tied at the end of a late night when I was tired; and it shows. Flies tied with every type of material known to man, these missing links contain bits of Care Bear fur, Parakeet feathers, even some puffy stuff that fell off of one of my kids shirts. Like I said, these things are odd.
But occasionally, when the fishing has been so exceptional that it really doesn’t matter if I hook another, I will tie on one of these flies from The Island of Misfit Toys. And once in a very blue moon…one of them will actually catch a fish.
Case in point. I was on a trip to the Nantahala Gorge in western North Carolina and the fishing had been epic. Nearly every cast brought either a fish or a good natured attack. I had pulled the Nantahala Hat Trick (Brown, Bow, and Brook), and it was getting late in the day. As with most trips that I take with my friends, the point in the afternoon had been reached when the conversation started to override the need to catch anything. So, I tied on this ugly fly that was made with black Ostrich and hot pink marabou from a Barbie evening gown (the advantage of having three daughters) with a crystal flash beard and red rubber legs. Honestly, it was gaudy and gross. As I recall it was tied on a size ten hook. No weight.
I couldn’t keep the Brook Trout off of it. I guess they were trying to induce a mercy killing. Strikes prompted by pity. The fish hit it so hard, and so often, that by the end of the day it looked more like something that had been coughed up by a very sick cat than a fly. As a matter of personal principle, I did not tie another one. Actually, I don’t think that I could duplicate the thing. Sometimes when you play Dr. Frankenstein at the vise, you only get one shot.
I have a few other knick knacks in my box that have worked quite well. One is called a redruM (those who saw The Shining will get it) Black marabou tail, red wire body, black marabou at the head. That fly saved me from getting skunked on the Caney Fork River two years ago, and later on that year it hooked the largest brown trout of my fishing career (26” but who’s counting). People all around me were casting to these monstrous Browns with no success. I cast maybe three times and got the hook up. When they say that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good…they speak truth.
Then I threw together something that I called The Church Fly. I really don’t feel comfortable saying I came up with this pattern because it no doubt has other names and I have seen variations on the theme in fly fishing catalogs from everywhere. It’s nothing more than a soft hackle zebra midge using starling as the collar. This fly caught fish for me on a day when no one was catching anything. It was so successful that a gentleman came up to me on the river and asked me what I was using. I gave him a couple. He caught the heck out of the trout too. Several months later my buddy Brad called to tell me that some guy was in his fly shop asking for Church Flies or if Brad knew how to tie one. He laughed, told the gentleman that they were not a stocked item, but he was kind enough to provide the man with everything he needed to tie his own. Now my Church Fly is legendary, even if I can only take credit for the name. I first used it while fishing in front of a church on the Clinch River in East Tennessee. Not very creative in the naming department, but, for me at least, it fits. With this little fly I have pulled trout from nearly every tailwater in my area and in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Proof is in the pudding. I always have a bunch in my box. The odd thing about this fly is that I have experimented with different types of soft hackle material and not one time have I caught fish on anything but the original. If you are going to tie one, you must have Starling. If not, you might be in for a long day.
A local angler has a pattern he calls the Smoky Mountain Blackbird. He guides throughout East Tennessee and at some point in the trip, he’s bound to tie one on for his customer, and it isn’t often that they fish it without success. This fly uses the same theory as the Church fly, but still a different and unique pattern of its own merit. This gentleman is a master at the vise and he has created more original patterns than I could fish in a lifetime. The Blackbird and the Church fly both use Starling, it is in the application where the two diverge, but the premise is basically the same.
T-Dub, one of my fishing friends, fishes with flies he has made up almost exclusively. He will be catching fish like crazy and if you ask him what he is using, he won’t be able to give you a name. There are beautiful little twists in his tying that make them his own. The one fly that he has made legend is called the Pink Harlot and it is without a doubt one of the wildest looking fish attractors I’ve ever seen. Hot pink, body made of glass beads. Looks more like it should be hanging from a spinster’s ear as she sits in front of a slot machine in Vegas than in a mountain trout stream; catches some big fish though. He wisely maintains that as much pressure as the trout streams in the Southeast receive, you almost have to show the fish something it hasn’t seen before. T-Dub is an exceptional fisherman and I have watched him take these flies and absolutely rock the socks off the river.
The purist in me wants to fish only with tried and true patterns that are tied with the utmost of skill; flies that have earned their place into nearly every fly box in the known world. The purist in me wants flies that are proven and no matter where you are, if the water is cold and trout are on the prowl, you can take it to the bank that these age old fly patterns will work.
The Pheasant Tail nymph, The Hares Ear nymph, Adams dry, Blue Wing Olive dry, Elk Hair Caddis. If you were to go right now to your fly box and inspect its contents, I would venture to guess that you have some form of each one of these flies in stock, and in a variety of sizes.
“Nice fish. What do you have tied on?”
“Size 10 redruM”
It is at this point in the discussion that I free the fish and show the fly to them. I have heard the following statement several times on the stream.
“What in the world is that?”
I now have several fishing buddies who have redruMs and Church Flies in their boxes, which is something that brings an odd feeling of pride. It’s kind of like having a dog with three legs that is an expert at catching a Frisbee. It is doing what countless other dogs do…it just looks a little odd in the attempt.
In a recent discussion with some friends about our fly boxes and what we use the most, I commented that if I could boil my box down to what I use the most, I would have nothing but Pheasant tails- weighted, unweighted, soft hackle, Sulphurs- soft hackle and comparadun, Zebra Midges, Church flies, Adams and Elk Hair Caddis and a few redruMs. There are situations where I might wish I had something other than the aforementioned, but year in and year out I use these patterns more than any other.
I may, by this writing, imply that I am a traditionalist who does not deviate from the established form of historically productive patterns, but no matter what, I will always have the few odd balls. Who knows, one of those unfished oddballs may someday get rid of a skunk or become a local legend.
Dry flies are congruent, poised, and angelic. Nymphs and soft hackles are chaotic, archaic, and wild. Perhaps this speaks volumes about me.
A dry fly is pretty much predictable. It floats, with a few exceptions can only be fished one way, and represents the end game. Maybe that is why I have never been much of a dry fly angler. It requires a level of grace that I dream of but never quite achieve. Its movement across the water, barely dimpling the surface film, is a ballet of sorts. Nymphs/ soft hackles are always working under the surface. You can only guess what is going on, and the predictability of its meanderings down the river is purely conjecture. You can dead drift it, swing it, strip it, but in the end you have only limit control and you have to watch your line very carefully because anything could happen at any time.
Dry flies dance to Mozart, George Winston. Nymphs and soft hackles dance to Coletrane, Muddy Waters, and The Allman Brothers. And while I am making this comparison, it should be noted that streamers dance to anything that would be found in a mosh pit, college frat house, or sleazy strip joint.
I do not like streamer fishing. Perhaps it is just a little more aggressive than my style will permit. These flies, monstrous looking piles of fur and flash with hooks just come across as menacing. The unhidden splash they make as they find the water only to by yanked back to the rod tip. To be certain, if you want big fish, or if you want to cover a lot of water, streamers are the way to go. But for me…it’s just not my style. If I wanted to fish like that I would hang up my fly rod and throw jerk baits with a spinning rod.
I have fished Dries, and on some occasions I have fished them exclusively with much success, yet the whole time I felt like a kid in a new suit for Easter. I just never can seem to settle into the comfortable rhythm or pace of the dance. I have friends who, when fishing with a dry fly, look as if they were part of a painting by Michelangelo. I watch them and think to myself…”There can be no other way for this man to fish…he has reached perfection.”
I guess at the end of the day, I am a nymph/ soft hackle guy who hopes someday to have the grace to be a dry fly guy.
But then don’t we all?
Grace is a pursuit that we may touch, but will never fully achieve. It is the point where all the poor mechanics and technique are put aside. Grace is a gift. One we don’t deserve in our fallen state. But with a little help, we may find ourselves granted its music. And then we not only dance, we fly…..
It has been said that a dog is man’s best friend. Never has this adage been more true than with the relationship between an angler and his/her dog. Fishing dogs are loyal, willing partakers of the adventures we pursue as anglers. The connection is deep enough to wonder if dogs inherently understand angling. Most love the water, are seemingly oblivious to inclement weather, and are perfectly happy when wet, cold and hungry regardless of the fish count. When I begin packing for a fishing trip, my dog exhibits behavior that can only be described as sincere hope that her name and gear are on the packing list. If she gets to go she expresses something rare and precious in this world; pure joy. If she is left home she creates a list of her own, household items that must be destroyed before I return. Upon arrival at our angling location she will scout the immediate area while impatiently waiting for me to prep my gear. I must admit that I am a bit slow in getting ready to hit the water. My dog always gives me the look that says “c’mon buddy let’s go already!” When I sense that particular gaze upon me, I always reassure her that the better prepared I am now, the longer we can stay. She then sets about occupying herself with predatory preparations. Rolling in the nearest cow pie in order to disguise her scent is a favorite. The fact that trout don’t smell cow pies is somehow irrelevant.
The connection between man and dog runs so deep that we are inclined to anthropomorphize their thoughts. Below are some examples of “thoughts” that I’m sure have occupied my dog’s brain between squirrel sightings and manure anointings:
Some people believe that the blank stare is all there is to a dog. Those of us with fishing dogs know better. Note, there is no such thing as a fishing cat, goldfish notwithstanding.
We enjoy our canine companions in nearly everything we do. We share our experiences, our food, our accommodations, our feelings, indeed our very souls. This connection runs so deep that when the tragic day we lose them arrives, we experience a profound sense of loss. We have truly lost something that is irreplaceable. When the editor of my favorite publication lost is four legged companion of 15 years, he wrote a wonderful tribute that touched the hearts of all who read it. He ended the piece with the words “We had a snowstorm a couple of weeks after his death. When I looked out the window that morning, there were no paw prints leading away from his doggie door. No paw prints at all, just perfect untouched snow in a suddenly empty world.” I’m confident that Tom will see Trask again, just as I believe I will see Boscoe, Sam, Jed and Maggie again. I have always said that if dogs don’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go either. After a time we start again, obtain a puppy, lose some furniture legs, boot linings, cork, and begin to embark on new adventures, despite knowing where it will ultimately lead. Why? Because it is worth it, totally worth it.
I’ll emerge from my tent as the morning sun rises,
The day full of promise and lush with surprises.
The glow of a fire once reaching skyward,
Will sizzle and steam under black coals interred.
I’ll wipe haze from my eyes and shake sleep from my limbs,
No plans for the day and lost to my whims.
In an old, battered vessel, hot coffee will hold
The elixir that frees me from the chains of the cold.
I’ll sit in the stillness as the foggy woods cry
With the sounds of new life and I’ll wonder why
We bring destruction to this place,
Leaving scars and remorse that can’t be erased.
With a somber alertness I’ll survey my hideout
And feel like a traitor, a liar, a sellout.
I wish I could stay, never go back,
To the real life I live, but the courage I lack.
I’ll string up my rod and decide on a fly
And slide into the water feeling brave, feeling sly.
In my hand I’ll hold instruments designed for deception,
My surroundings are natural and I’m the exception.
Feather and fur and the sharp sting of steel
Will bring trout to my hand, and I’ll start to feel
As though I belong, or, at least, I can play
The part of a predator, at least for today.
The fresh smell of rain and the soft smell of hay
Will spark a response and I’ll start to say,
To no one but me, no one to reply,
“I feel at peace. I feel alive.”
When the evening thunder shatters the calm,
When the sky explodes and the rain falls like napalm,
I’ll hide in my tent and peer through the door
As raindrop bomblets clean the forest floor.
I know the rain can never wash away
The pain that I feel or the wounds in this place.
I know it won’t be long before intruders arrive
To clear cut the trees so the backhoes can drive.
I’ll stay in woods as long as I can.
I’ll dream of resistance and I’ll think up a plan
Of how I can stop them or maybe just delay
The imminent doom, but that’s a fight for another day.
As for now, I’ll sleep under a sky
Flush with stars and with wind like a sigh.
I’ll ponder these times, and when I sleep I’ll dream
Of the swarms of evening hatches and painted fish hiding in seams.
I’ll be back before long, the next chance I get.
I know I must leave now, but I’m not ready yet.
I’ll linger for a minute, for an hour, for a day.
“I’ll be back soon,” to myself I say.
“I’ve got him! Ohhhhhh, man…don’t go into that log….come on, baby….come on….hold tippet! Hold!” It was fourteen inches of angry brown trout in two feet of clear, cold creek. The thing wasn’t giving up without a fight, even though Tommy was putting on the pressure as best he could. “Whaddya got on there? Is that 6X?” I yelled. Tommy was too busy fighting him to reply, but I knew we’d both decided that 6X was the only way to go in this gin clear water.
“He keeps trying to drag me into that log!” Tommy shouted. “Hang on, I’m comin’…”
“Bring the camera!”
“ Aaaaaaahh…man…he’s off. He’s off….”
And so it goes with summer trout fishing in the Appalachians. Early to rise and fish until your feet get numb. It’s not that the trout “turn off” come mid-day. They really don’t. It’s that you know darn well how hot it’s going to be later on, and any extra time you can squeeze into the early morning hours well worth the effort of doing some squeezing. We pushed further up the little creek, dodging hornet’s nests and spider webs the size of dinner plates. “No one has been through here in a while” I said has I gently pulled line out of a reel three times as big as anyone could possibly need for this kind of water. Under my breath I told myself…“There should be one under that far bank, near the rock…”
The fly sailed through the air in a perfect little loop for all of six feet. Exactly one inch into the drift a slender, dark form sliced up from beneath the overhanging rock ledge and slammed the fly so hard it flew up and into a tree branch hanging overhead. It was stuck solid; wrapped around that limb twenty different ways. “Now what?” I thought. Tommy nudged me with the butt of his 3 wt. rod and extended the handle. We traded rods and he held the still attached line out of the way so I could make another cast under it, just inches off the water.
Another small, tight loop… another plop…and that son of a gun rose again. This time he sucked it in, and the fight was on! It took me nearly twenty seconds to land him. Nine inches of green, wormy-backed brook trout with a mouth so big it looked as if it belonged on a smallmouth bass. “Nice” said Tommy. “Yeah, he’s pretty big for this creek” I replied.
“Yep. This is why we do this, isn’t it? The pre-dawn drive and the hike and the bushwhacking…”
“And the climbing. And the snakes.”
“You know it.”
“ Alright…the next run is yours…gotta be another big one hiding ”
I met my new fishing buddy, Ken , during a 3 month stay in Rexburg, Idaho. We were thrown together by some mutual friends that knew we both enjoyed fishing for trout. The story I want to tell you is why Ken was undoubtedly the ultimate fishing buddy.
Ken is not an early riser and that suits me just fine. A nine o’clock start on a fishing journey is a civilized time to start especially when the streams are only an hour away and you are both on the plus side of sixty. We usually would meet at my truck and after tossing most of his gear into the bed Ken would jump onto the bench seat of my truck and wrestle with his landing net that is always attached to his left belt loop. As you can imagine, the 2’ long net would get trapped between the seat and his buttocks. He would pull and tug until he dislodged it and finally just sit up and let out a big sign of relief. He would never discuss why he didn’t leave the net in the back of the truck. He would just sit back , mildly enraged by the incident, With Ken a tiff is easily forgotten as quickly as it flares.
The trip to the river is usually uneventful. Just a calm mention of where he will be taking me to fish. Not much other conversation, just jointly staring out through the windshield. A rational conversation is something that Ken doesn’t bother with.
Once on the stream, we split up. Ken always offers me the upstream approach and he heads down the path or road for the usual upstream approach back to the car. Before he leaves he always says” see you in about a half hour unless the fishing is good”. Once I followed Ken just to see how he fished so fast. He jumps into the stream and quickly works the backwaters, the nervous waters, the soft seams and sometimes the riffles. If he doesn’t hook up in just a dozen or so casts he will claim the water “fishless” returning to the truck to move on to another destination. Fast fishing is Ken’s specialty. His short attention span requires it.
My partner, unlike many of the fisher people on the stream today, does not look like he appeared out of an Orvis catalog. As a matter of fact, his equipment and attire are rather basic. He’s clad in a generic baseball cap, standard non- polarized spectacles; a blue cotton shirt riddled with holes from errant attacks by size 10 Mustad hooks, worn Levis and studded felt sole boots. His fishing arsenal is an artic creel splattered with fish blood, an 8’ fiberglass fly rod with a floating line and 6 feet of 10 lb test material to which he attaches his beloved red bellied humpy. The rod and line are matched with a classic bright green automatic fly reel, buzzing and sputtering water as he retrieves line. All of his equipment is out of an Orvis catalog, circa 1950. Now you might think as I did that Kens attire and tools are a bit old fashioned, but when he returned one day with a bulging creel topped off with a 17” cutthroat, I was impressed with his ability to catch fish with such “antique” equipment. Although I personally don’t kill my catch , Ken is of the old school that believes he is a game fisherman and the game is to fill the frying pan. He won’t change. He has no time to learn a new way.
One afternoon Ken was not hooking up with his dry fly system and I was pounding them on a rubberlegs nymph. He would not acknowledge the fact that I was catching fish. He saw me catch fish but I know he never saw me release them. I finally walked up stream to him carrying a net full of rainbow and said “Would you like to take a fish home for dinner?” He ignored me, but as soon as I lowered the net into the water and released the healthy trout he looked at me for the first time that day and said with disappointment in his voice ” If I knew you were going to throw it back I’d have brought it home to Vivian”. My action just didn’t make any sense to him. But Ken is quickly releaved of any anxiousnes and competitiveness. He is just plain happy to be on the stream.
On each fishing day, Ken’s wife, Vivian, packs him a change of clothes, water and a sandwich that Ken completely ignores. He doesn’t know why she pampers him so and becomes agitated when she demands that he carry all this “unnecessary stuff” He usually ignores it all and leaves in the bed of the truck to get squashed, mangled and hot. His biggest concern about his wife’s pampering is that she will not let him drive any longer. “She says I can’t drive any more. Well, I can drive just fine”. I personally know that’s not true because every road construction flagperson that brings us to a stop must endure the rath of Ken. “Why can’t we just go around? No ones coming. Go ahead. Just go around these cars. We don’t have to wait.” Ken’s impatience sometimes shows but wanes quickly and is forgotten even sooner.
As the day wears on, Ken will eventually get hungry and thirsty. He will usually not eat or drink anything until about 1:30 in the afternoon. Dehydration or hunger do not seem to affect him very much . He prefers his nourishment to come from the small bars and burger joints he has become accustomed to visiting over the years. All the employees know him by sight and are kind to him even when he bosses them around , complains about the prices on the menu and constantly asks them where the best fishing holes exist. They don’t even get upset when he clatters in with his studded boots that are always trailing some sort of mud, moss or slime. He’s accepted as a regular and they accept him for who he is.
If the fishing is hot we will pass up the usual lunch stops. Of course, we get a little peckish on our ride home about 4 o’clock so Ken will say “ If you see a drug store, pull over” When I ask him why, he’ll say “ because I would like a chocolate milkshake”. We will invariably find a small dot in the road that will mix up vanilla ice cream and Hersey syrup into a delicious cold swill. Again after complaining about the small portion and the high cost ,Ken with a childish grin will put a straw into the container and suck until the noisy slurp at the bottom signals me that he is done. Certain things pass Ken unnoticed but the childish pleasure of a chocolate shake can easily be experienced.
The favorite part of my relationship with Ken is rather selfish on my part. He knows secret fishing places. These locations are surprisingly embossed in his deep memory. We’ll be barreling down a country road and he will quietly say” go left through this gate “or “follow this potato field to the red windmill and then we’ll get out and walk awhile.” He has taken me to wondrous places that I will never be able to find again. I’m glad of that because I was able to share them only with my fishing friend. These magical places will occupy my dreams for years to come.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, my friend Ken suffers from a disorder. He has Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Some days are better than others. Mild forgetfulness sometimes escalates to bad decision making and even mild aggression although he has never shown aggression toward me. I think our bond as fishermen makes us more like brothers and this fact relaxes my friend.
I have a feeling that this year may be Ken’s last year of fishing .As a matter of fact, because of the shortage of housing in our small town of Rexburg, Ken has been telling everyone that he will never be returning to Idaho. Maybe somehow he knows the real reason.
We all have an idea in our heads of what a great fishing buddy is. Some do the camp cooking and chores while you fish till dark. Others will tie flies for you when they know you have been losing more than your share. And others again will go so far as to offer you the front of the drift boat while they row you into position to cast to a giant trout sipping emergers. Ken has all these guys beaten hands down because he has taught me something that no guide or fishing expert could ever teach me. For fear of sounding too philosophical, I must tell you he has taught me a lesson of life.
Most of us realize that we are only on this planet temporarily and at times this can be distracting. Dogs and cats carry on their lives not worrying about such things but we humans have the ability to understand that one day our bodies will fail us. A question in my mind has always been how do I leave this world with so much unfinished business to do. Ken has taught me that if even when your body begins to show signs of fraility , your inner self will push you to continue experiencing that which you cherish. We are unstoppable machines finishing our business. A prime example of this are the words Ken would say to me each day before we went fishing . He would say” Are you John, the guy I go fishing with?” I would reply “Yes” and he would get a giddy crooked toothed grin on his face and say” Let’s go catch some trout”.