Tag Archives: buddies

Green Brown

Guides

When I first started fly fishing I really didn’t have much use for a guide.  Given my age at the time, my macaroni and cheese, top ramen budget would not have allowed me to hire a guide anyway.  I learned how to fly fish using the scientific method; effectively identifying almost every way NOT to catch fish.  My lack of stealth coupled with a tendency to always find myself standing in the place to which I should be casting, and using tippet heavy enough to reel in a Land Cruiser, often times left me wondering why on earth I had given up the night crawlers and Balls of Fire that were so successful in my youth.  I looked upon guides as unreachable gurus who sold the experience that I so desperately pursued.  On occasion, I would come upon a guide carefully instructing a client, and sit on the bank just within earshot hoping to poach a word of wisdom or two.  While this made me uncomfortable, a feeling likely shared by the guide and his client, I was fascinated by a person who could verbally instruct someone from snapping flies off into the bushes all the way to the point of actually landing a trout.  Typically, it only took one sharp gaze from the guide for me to get the message and move on.  A couple of years later, a brother-in-law who was always gifted at catching a lot of fish became a guide.

Suddenly, I knew “one” which seemed to make them more human.  He and a couple of other guys took me on trips to places like the Madison and the Green, etching indelible memories on my very being.  Several years later I moved to Green BrownIdaho and met a coworker who quickly became a friend.  It turned out he was married to a guide who also became a friend.  Fishing with him in his drift boat was akin to fly fishing graduate school.  I learned how to read currents while floating on them, spot and identify raptors overhead, use the wind instead of fight it, how to row, the ever important skill of making a sandwich fit for a drift boat, and the value of a good straw hat.  Slowly I began to realize that guides are not riparian leprechauns fleecing the dollars from the wallets of unsuspecting, yet all too willing Sports.  These people are Sages of hard earned knowledge; passionate protectors of the very waters from which they have been taught so many valuable lessons. I recognized that they have forged a connection with the river that only dog owners can approach in understanding.

Most start guiding for a variety of reasons; the mystique, to get girls, chasing dreams, trying to find themselves, etc.  Most only last a few seasons before they either accomplish their goals, find that there are not many girls to be gotten (re: MANtana), or just get sick of what ultimately is a lot of very  hard work.  Others find themselves watching the years blow by like exit signs on a kamikaze cross country road trip.  I guess that is the point, they find themselves.  They become part of an elite group of our species that “just get it”.  No longer encumbered by the hollow or vain pursuits which infect and distract so many of the rest of us.  They take great joy in helping their clients to feel the joys of angling; appreciate the precious resource that make the art of fly-fishing possible, and form a personal connection with those who will allow themselves to drop the firewall for a few hours.

At the end of a day with a good guide, you feel like you have made a friend; having shared something that is truly special.  Good guides seem to have achieved something that is truly God-like; the ability to enjoy the very passion that drives them, vicariously.  To laugh, cry, cuss, and rejoice with a client as if they were the ones holding the rod is something that I am only beginning to understand as I guide my family in their angling experiences while seated on the sticks of my own drift boat.

To Mark, Ed, Leslie, Brian, Monty, Mike, Jimmy, Pete, Shawn, Marc, Steve, Dustin, Dave, Brian, and Craig; I thank you for your guidance both on the river and off. My angling journey continues to be a source of strength, humor, and inspiration as I navigate the turbulent waters of life.

Stuck in tree

On Friendship and Fishing

It’s been said that each day spent fishing is not deducted from a man’s life. I don’t know who first uttered those words, but I’d like to thank him. I might even buy him a beer, because that fellow, whoever he was, at least makes us all feel a little better about leaving the wife and kids at home for a day of cold feet and tired arms. I’m not sure how many days I spent alone on the water, my brain laser-focused on the goal of catching the next fish, before I realized that I was alone. Being alone wasn’t a problem though, because that just meant that no one else would have a shot at the fish in front of me. I didn’t have to trade pools back and forth and I didn’t have to share those short-cuts through the trails to the best water. I was a man on a mission, and that mission was always, ALWAYS to catch more fish, bigger fish,…the most fish.

Later though, as I got older and my personal case of fly fishing fever mellowed a bit, I started to notice the other things around me. Birds, animal tracks, and insect life for example…and rocks. Did you know that most rivers are absolutely packed FULL of rocks!? Well, it’s true! Big rocks, little rocks, medium-sized rocks, brown rocks, gray rocks, white rocks – even rocks with trees growing out of them! You just have to look around a bit and remind yourself that everything in fishing isn’t chasing the fish. And so I did, but I realized much more than rocks and birds and otter tracks and such…

You see, when you finally make the seemingly odd discovery that fishing is not just the pursuit of fish, you’ll no doubt find “fishing friends” along the way. Sharing the water with someone you like is always a pleasure, although it’s something that may push the actual act of fishing toward the proverbial back-burner. After leaving behind our salad days, time with friends on the water (or at camp) becomes at least as much of a reason to go fishing as the thought of hooking into your biggest rainbow ever. Let’s face it, most of the time the fishing we do on any given weekend isn’t usually World Class Angling anyway – so it often helps if there’s another reason we go – and it sure doesn’t hurt!

Which brings us to three sun burned, smiling, middle-aged fellows who are scratching their heads, looking sideways at each other, standing in a creek which holds only the smallest trickle of water. A creek that just a couple of years before was full of both water and fish. Between the three of them they caught maybe four fish while fishing all day. Wild, native brookies, none of them were over 12 inches in length. Somehow though, that hardly mattered later, sitting around a roaring fire on a cool spring night when the tall tales began. The size and quantity of the fish that day were forgotten a little more as the meager camp food began to taste like a five-star meal. The moon rose over blooming dogwood trees and towering tulip poplars, and laughter filled the camp. Those three have learned that although fishing is at the core of their adventures, it’s not always about the fishing. Sometimes, it’s just about the friends.

 

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.

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 ”

 

 

 

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”.