TroutSicle

Four-Legged Fishing Buddies

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:

  • You – Snag a tree branch on a back cast., Dog – Fishing a little high don’t you think?
  • You – Snag and reel in a piece of driftwood., Dog – Nice catch. Can I keep it?
  • You – Kerplunk, gasp! Followed by lying on your back, feet in the air, draining the water from your waders., Dog – Hey, now you smell like me. Now, shake off like this.
  • You – Staring a a fly box trying to select the perfect fly for the situation., Dog – Who are you trying to fool? Just pick one and go!
  • You – See a muskrat swim through the seam you are  fishing., Dog – Did you see THAT?!!
  • You – Another angler approaches., Dog – Shall I bite him? Swim through his drift? Go find his lunch?
  • You – If approaching angler is female., Dog – Time to break out the puppy dog eyes.

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.

Frigid in the shade

More Cold Weather Fishing Tips

Winter presents some of the best fishing all year. Less crowds, dry fly fishing, and you don’t need to be on the river at O’dark-thirty. What more could you ask for?

When asking anglers about winter fishing, one might encounter many different opinions. There are those that enjoy it immensely and those that believe winter fisherman are crazy. If you are of the latter opinion it’s in your best interest to make sure you understand how to dress for warmth and be comfortable on the river before you decide to spend the winter tying flies and hibernating.
Staying warm and dry by layering clothing is key to enjoying yourself while fishing on those cold winter afternoons. Layering gives you the option of adding or removing clothing based on temperature and activity level. Your basic layering categories are as follows:

Base Layer

Base Layer or “Next-To-Skin” is the first part and maybe the most overlooked part of staying warm. Base Layer clothing is designed to keep you dry by ventilation or by “wicking” way moisture. Not all Base Layers are made equal, material is what sets them apart.

  • Wool – Best – Provides the best breathe-ability and insulation
  • Synthetic – Good – Provides good breathe-ability and insulation
  • Cotton – Avoid – Provides some insulation and very little breathe-ability

Insulation

Insulator clothing should be worn over the Base Layer to provide warmth. This should also be non-cotton piece to still promote breathe-ability. The weight of your insulator pieces should be chosen by activity level.

Outerwear

Outerwear is the final piece you put on and provides protection from wind and precipitation. Choose your Outerwear based on conditions. If you are fishing in wet and humid conditions a heavy duty rain jacket will provide the greatest protection from the elements. If you are fishing in cold dry conditions a soft-shell jacket provides excellent warmth without bulk.

Gloves, Socks, and Hats

Don’t forget any of these. Your hands, feet, and ears are the first things to get cold. Taking care of these extremities will keep you noticeably warmer and on the water longer. Make sure you layer your socks by following the same Base Layer and Insulation system and discussed before, but still provide room for ventilation.

Winter fishing can be very productive and if nothing else it is a good opportunity to expose yourself to sunshine on short winter days. With the right clothing it doesn’t only have to be for the “crazies”.

Nautical Attitude

Nautical Attitude

I had a lot of success with Magpie Nymphs.  However, unlike its dry counterpart; the mosquito, a Magpie Nymph does not imitate a mosquito very well.  But this got me to thinking, “What wet fly does?”  Besides, the best places I knew of to fish for trout had lots of mosquitos.  I noticed in the horse trough that the larvae had only a few distinguishable features.  For example, the ones near the surface had a visible gas bubble, and they also had segmentation, but were so small that there didn’t seem to be much else to them.  Nevertheless, I observed that many larvae would hang vertically from the water’s surface, but I knew my Magpies did not.  I wanted a pattern that could mimic the larvae’s nautical attitude in the water.  By nautical attitude, I mean how the fly may float, drift, navigate, or is positioned in the water column.  I also liked the effectiveness of bead heads, but was uncertain with how the heavy weighted bead on a BH nymph may cause the pattern to ride with the head in a downward bearing, and the aft end slanting up.  I wished to maintain the effectiveness of a bead head, but I also wanted to manipulate its up-and-down position, thereby more closely imitating a natural.

I sought to employ my patterns’ nautical attitude as a “trigger” for its effectiveness, and this gives the design its name.  I also enjoyed the success of the old miracle nymph, or the more modern zebra midge or snow cone, but I wanted to modify my patterns to more closely imitate a mosquito or chironomid larvae.  The nautical attitude of the naturals is often in the noted vertical position.  In the article, Midge Fishing in Paradise, Brant Oswald agrees that, “…midge pupae often rise to the surface at dusk and hang vertically just under the surface film…”  Apparently I’m not the only one that has contemplated strategies for imitating surface-hanging midges.

Some of my more recent patterns employ a plastic bead for the gas bubble (which floats), with an ultra wire rib and/or a metal bead on the rear for my deep patterns; but a horse hair or thread rib for the surface-hanging pupa.  Consequently, I found that the plastic beads do not float well enough to consistently hold the pattern near the surface, so I’ve been experimenting with different materials for some time.  Subsequently, while browsing through the bait section at Wal-Mart, I spied some 1/8” diameter bobber stops.  Understand now that I was merely walking THROUGH the bait section–not shopping, so I don’t want to hear it.

Nevertheless, the old standbys—spun deer or antelope hair, continue to be a viable solution.  So, these alternatives will have to suffice until I can talk Brian Westover and Westwater Products into making Unibobbers specifically for tying small flies…

A key feature of some of these designs incorporates one wrap of ultra wire on the rear of the hook for nautical ballast.  The remainder of the fly is then ribbed with a lighter material.  The weight of the hook bend also serves as counterweight.  When cast, this pattern plops down under water, then the floating bead “bobs” it back to the surface, which effectively imitates an emerging insect.  The bead in one of the photo examples is a painted bobber stop.

Hook: Mustad 94842, TMC 101 or similar work well.
Bead(s): use a plastic bead or bobber for the head, and/or a metal bead for the rear.  The theory is that this configuration gives the pattern its head-up and tail-down nautical attitude in the water column.
Abdomen: White or translucent thread
Rib: One wrap of ultra wire on the rear, and thread or horse hair for the rest of the fly.

Keeping Your Feet Warm

Let’s talk about keeping your feet warm. This discussion always comes up this time of year, and a little bit of planning and foresight will really go a long way toward making your winter days on the water much more enjoyable. First, we will develop a strategy for warmth, and then we will talk about what equipment will get you there.

Three things really stand out as important when discussing this topic: pre-fishing warmth, moisture, and insulation.

Pre-fishing warmth: Your feet need to be warm when you put them in your boots. No matter how dry and insulated your feet are, you will have a hard time warming up your feet once you step into the water.

Moisture: Moisture is the enemy of warmth. Check your waders frequently for leaks, as even a pinprick leak in your neoprene booties can spell disaster for warmth. The seam between the neoprene and wader fabric is one of the weak spots when it comes to leaks, so pay particular attention to that area. Even in the absence of leaks, however, feet can become wet with sweat. One of the best ways to deal with sweat is through the use of a polypropylene liner sock. This may be the most commonly overlooked weapon in the arsenal against cold feet. If you’ve never worn them, you’ll be amazed. Buy some. Today.

Insulation: The final important consideration is providing your feet with enough space in your boots to be properly insulated; this means buying wading boots that are large enough to accommodate neoprene booties and multiple layers of socks. All of the preparation mentioned above will be meaningless without enough room for an insulating layer of air to surround your feet. Further, tight-fitting boots may restrict blood circulation to your feet. Obviously, multiple pairs of socks will help to provide this insulting layer around your feet. Avoid cotton as it tends to collect moisture much more easily than wool or fleece.

There are a number of other recommendations that I have heard over the years and never felt compelled to try. These include such things as rubbing down your feet with petroleum jelly before putting on your socks and wearing plastic bags over your feet. The plastic bag idea would seem to trap moisture around your foot, so I would advise against it. Besides, following the advice above should prevent you from needing to resort to dipping your feet in Vaseline before fishing.

As far as equipment goes, make sure you have the following items on hand:

  • Polypropylene Liner Socks
  • Quality Wool Socks
  • Fleece Pants – I’d recommend finding a pair with stirrups to make sure they don’t ride up throughout the day.

I hope these tips make your winter days on the water a little more pleasurable and a lot less miserable.  No use sitting at home while some of your favorite waters are devoid of other anglers on chilly winter mornings, right?

 

Product Review : Dakine Waterproof Duffel

Most people don’t think of Dakine when they think of fly fishing gear, but I am here to tell you that they should. A perfect example is the Dakine Waterproof Duffel. This gear bag is made of waterproof fabric and all the seams are sealed. It features a roll-top that runs along the long side of the bag and a small zipper pocket on the outside. The roll-top closure can be secured to clips on the side or by clipping both ends together.

Fly fishing isn’t always perfect sunny weather and, frankly, I don’t think we would want it to be. Fishing takes us to tropical climates where afternoon rain is expected and to rivers where steelhead swim and often times we are hoping it rains. Honestly, we would be surprised if it didn’t. In the modern world, most of us are packing electronics (phones, cameras, etc.) and, if we are smart, carrying a dry change of clothes…for that unexpected swim. A good dry bag should be of extreme importance and there are plenty of choices out there. The Dakine Waterproof Duffel is the most simple and well thought out one I have found. The biggest problem with most dry bags is that they open on the small narrow end. This means it is difficult to rummage and find what you need. This bag opens on the long side, providing better access to everything in your bag and allowing it to stand on its own while you are working inside. At 23″x16″x12″, it is a great size for stowing in the bottom of the boat or tossing in the back of your truck. It can also adapt to bigger or smaller loads by simply rolling the closure a few more times.

Pros:

  • Easy access: Wide opening on the long side of the bag.
  • Waterproof: As long as it is closed.
  • Adjustable size: Roll more to take up excess space.
  • Multiple carry options: padded shoulder strap, carry handles or by the roll-top clipped together.

Cons:

  • Side Pocket: While it is a zippered closure, it will allow water in under extreme conditions. Don’t learn this the hard way (like I did). The pocket is so small that it is almost inconsequential.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I am a huge fan of this product.  If you ever intend to fish when the weather might be less than ideal, I highly recommend this bag.

 

 

Lost In Dreams

The fishing trip of which I dream
Will find me waist-deep in a stream.
With a long rod in hand and a fish on my fly,
The wind will blow calm and the trout won’t be shy.

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.

 

The Magpie Nymph

The Magpie Nymph Fly Tying Tutorial

I enjoyed a lot of success as a kid one summer with a traditionally tied mosquito dry fly, but then one day it stopped working, just like that.  Ah, such is trout fishing!  Further observation revealed that the fish had switched to sub-surface feeding, so I was forced into fishing nymphs.  I caught a few fish with a hare’s ear, but thought that I could have achieved more success with a nymph that featured the same color scheme as the mosquito dry, since the trout were already keyed into that.  Therefore, I designed a nymph that was comprised of white and black, like the dry.  I used to call it the Grizzly Nymph, which delineates the color scheme of the popular barred rock feathers, as well as the colors of the traditional dry mosquito dressing.  More recently I refer to it as the Magpie Nymph, since these birds offer good wing case material.  The design is actually the same as any other nymph pattern, aside from color.  Consequently, I think the eye-catching color contrast is what makes the pattern successful.  Since a standard nymph pattern does not look much like a mosquito larvae, I did not want to call it a mosquito nymph.  I’ve been fishing with this fly since the 80’s.  Subsequently, the pattern is so simple and effective that I’ve often wondered why it had not been popularized much earlier.

Dressing guidelines:
Hook: your favorite nymph hook
Bead: (optional) white, black, or silver bead.
Thread: Black with white bead, or vice versa; 6/0 or 8/0.
Abdomen: white and black ultra wire, wrapped together; or one strand each of black and white dubbing.
Ribbing (optional): silver wire or tinsel
Thorax: white and black dubbing mixture; maintain either mostly white or mostly black in the mixture, or, like the abdomen, twist a white and a black dubbing strand separately, then wrap them together.  If black & white are blended 50% each, the outcome tends to be more gray in appearance than grizzly.
Wing case: white & black barred feather section; or latex or other synthetic material speckled with a permanent marker.
Hackle/legs: (optional) grizzly hen, or another black & white barred feather such as guinea, starling or partridge.
Author’s note: I have also found it useful to focus individual patterns with either the white or the black.  For example, a predominantly black pattern should be highlighted by white streaks, or vice versa.  Along these lines, a mostly black wing case should be contrasted against a white thread head.

 

Hot Summer Trout

It’s 7 a.m. on a foggy Blue Ridge Morning

“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!”

“Almost there…”

“ 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 ”

 

 

 

Esox Essentials : Don’t Fish For Long Fish Without These Items

Being prepared and on point while fishing for esox is paramount. Over the years here is a list of essential items that I keep accessible and ready at all times while fishing for Tiger Musky.

William Joseph Hemocuts – Great for cutting leader, tightening knots and removing hooks.

Fluorocarbon and Hard Mason (or Hard Mono) – Fluoro for leaders and  bite-guards, I usually have 20 – 80 LB on hand. Mason for use as a breaking section in your leaders, I use 20 and 25 LB. My typical leader set up is 60lb fluoro butt section of 2′, 20 lb section of hard mason of 2′  and 2′ of 40-80 LB bite-guard. Since hard mason is much thicker, 20-25 lb can easily be tied to 40-80 fluoro, resulting in a powerful leader that can turn over large flies easily.

Jaw Spreaders – Having two on hand for difficult hook removals is always a good idea.

Large Landing Cradle Or Net – I usually tail most of the fish I land but having one of the two is always nice to have as a option. Which ever one you decide to use make sure it’s rubber or has a coating since traditional nets with knots can seriously damage a fishes fins and eyes.

Rising Lippa – Great for lipping a fish when needed and does not damage fish like a Boga Grip. It’s also a good idea to tie a strap with a float to the handle because eventually you will drop it in to the water.

Long Nose Pliers and Berkley Hook Remover – I always have 10” long nose pliers and a pistol style grip hook remover on hand for hook removal. I use the the Berkley hook remover mostly since it’s easy to use and is gentler on flies.

Super Glue, Scissors and Markers  – I often color, enforce, trim and repair flies on the water. Sometimes a trim and color job can make all the difference in the world.

A Pliable Tape Measure – Easier to handle and on the fish in addition to measuring the girth of the fish more accurately.

Hooks Cutters – Sometimes the best choice is to cut the hook instead of removing it. Make sure you have something strong enough to go through heavy gage hooks.

Two Small Bags – One bag for all your retying and rigging items and one for all of your handling and releasing tools.

The Best Fishing Buddy

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”.

 

Cold Feet, Forsaken Fish and the Morning After…