The Dirty Fisherman

five2-2

Photo by Chris Kehres

I saw the truck when I crested the hill, but I couldn’t see Gabe.

Then the lean man sat up. He stretched slowly and slid off the truck bed, onto his feet and into his sandals. The climbing sun made the blue paint of the pickup bed too hot, and when the shadows were gone, the dirty fisherman’s rest was over.

It was a quick sleep: more than a nap, but less than what happens when consciousness fully drifts away, and Gabe never lost track of his thoughts as he lay quietly in the truck bed dreaming about the next stretch of river.

Gabe leaned back on the hot paint again and grabbed the duffel he used for a pillow. The faded bag was stuffed with clothes: some stained, some clean, and most half-worn-out. He pulled a thin, long-sleeved shirt from the bag and changed, tossing his wet shirt toward a damp pile of gear by the truck tires. The long sleeves were his sunscreen; the beard protected his face; the frayed hat covered his head, and the amber sunglasses filled a gap in between.

Gabe was a trout bum. Not the shiny magazine-ad version of a trout bum either, but the true embodiment of John Geirach’s term: authentic, dirty, and dedicated to a lifestyle without even thinking much about it. He fished on his own terms. He was a part-time fishing guide for the family business and a part-time waiter –or maybe he was a cook — something to do with a restaurant. We never talked much about work. I just know that Gabe’s life was fishing, and everything else was a cursory, minor distraction.

“Did you sleep?” I asked him, as I approached from downstream. Water squirted from the soles of my wading boots, and my creek-soaked pants dripped dark wet circles on the dusty road.

“Nah, not really, but I got what I needed,” he said, as if it didn’t matter.

I can’t remember the last time I took a nap by the river while I could have been fishing, but I had the sense this was a regular thing for Gabe.

As a daytime Dad, full-time musician and part-time writer, I have to make time to to fish. And when I finally get to the river, I sometimes feel like I’d better do it fast. I think a lot of people feel the same: “Here’s my one chance to fish this week, I’ve gotta make something happen NOW.” Trouble is, fish rarely respond to such impatience; I think they sense it somehow. Or more likely, the pace at which we rapid fire the casts, hurriedly change flies, and sprint to the next honey-hole wrecks our chances.

I learned the need for a fisherman’s patience very young, sitting on the bank and watching the stillness of a red and white bobber in my neighbor’s pond: Bump, bump — wait for it. I now have two boys, a wife and a job, so a fishing trip can seem less like leisure and more like a race to the river and back — a desperate attempt to stretch fishing minutes into something more. But Gabe? He has the luxury of patience.

He shifted. “It’s amazing out here,” Gabe said, smiling and stretching his arms to the sky again. He sighed and turned in every direction, as if seeing it all for the first time.

This was one of our favorite places, and we’d fished the section we call “The Long Bends” at least a dozen times together since we’d met. I tracked him down in this same spot one morning after watching one fish after another jump into his net. He stayed a hundred yards ahead of me, catching trout with a fluid routine: Cast. Set. Fish on. Net. Release — repeating through the fog all morning long. I fished fast, but in two hours I couldn’t overtake him. He later admitted that he knew I was there and had set his pace against mine, making sure I wouldn’t catch up or jump ahead to the trout in front of him. When he finally walked from the water and into the woods, I followed and then caught up to him in the small, dirt parking lot. I found a cautiously friendly, vigorous man who fished hard and loved it deeply — a dirty, down-home guy living simply … to fish. And I found a new friend.

The Long Bends will humble the best fishermen often enough that most guys won’t go back. It’s hard, heavy water that weakens even the strongest legs, and there aren’t many fish in the water either. But we like this stretch. Gabe’s thin frame is trained and athletic from wading, and I’ve watched him pick apart the water as efficiently as a wise brown trout. He rests in the pockets, and he narrows his body through heavy currents. He fishes the water like a heron: rod tip high, following his drift with patience and intensity. He’s stealthy — waiting for a chance to strike.

Under the shady hatch of my SUV, I sat on the cooler and tossed Gabe a beer.

“How long are you staying this time?” I asked. “Are you gonna fish this stretch out and then head back?”

Gabe made his home on the other side of the state, but he came to my area often enough that I felt like he was local. I think he did too. Then again, he probably had a lot of places that he called home and a lot of friends who thought he was local.

Gabe opened the truck door, and it creaked a bit as he climbed in. He kept the door open.

The truck was dirty, because a fisherman like Gabe has better things to do. It runs. The wheels turn. It’s reliable enough to get him down the road and deep into places that don’t see many other people with rods, lures, flies or worms. He just fixes what breaks on the vehicle and moves on. Same with his utilitarian fishing gear — it’s sparse, lean and effective. Somehow, Gabe figured out what most of the rest of us cannot understand or will not accept: that nothing else is really any more important than what you’re doing right now. And that fishing is as good of a way to spend your life as any — probably better.

Gabe leaned back on the warm, ragged seat cushion and talked in his relaxed drawl …

“Yeah, I’m gonna fish the upper water, and then head back. My Dad has some filthy-rich guy he wants me to take out on the river tomorrow.”

Gabe propped his feet on the dash and looked at me sideways.

“You know what?” He paused. “There are no millionaire fishermen. I mean … no good ones, at least.” He shook his head. “Those guys have too many other distractions, man. Just imagine what it’s like to do whatever you want, and go wherever you want, and have whatever you want — anytime. How’re you gonna get down in the river hard enough to be any good as a fisherman? Nah … those guys don’t put in the time.”

He had a point. The best fishermen I know are all struggling with something: money, work, marriage problems, addictions, or the daily grind of a complicated life. They come to the river needing something. And they soak up all the things that fishing gives them back. Fishing seems to have an endless supply of those things if you dig deep enough. Wealthy men probably have too many distractions. Money provides the opportunity to pursue every whim. And you don’t become a good fisherman without giving a large part of your life over to it. Men with clean hands and no callouses don’t get dirty enough to understand the game from the inside out.

I drank the beer, packed the cooler, and closed the hatch. Then we shook hands, and I said goodbye to Gabe.

“Keep in touch, buddy.”

“You got it.”

I backed halfway down the dirt road and my phone rang. I stopped to talk with my wife for some time, and then my boys each wanted to say hello. As we talked, I watched Gabe at a hundred yards again. He walked to the riverbank and stood motionless — like the heron. Gabe was still there, staring at the water, when I hung up. Watching. Learning. Waiting. Because he has the time — because he has the freedom — to be patient.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
TROUTBITTEN
domenick@troutbitten.com

img_1870

img_1873

 

Their Heart in Your Hands

Fish pictures are the grand compromise of catch and release. An Instagram feed with a full gallery of trout is replacing the stringer of dead fish for bragging rights. And that’s a good thing. They look better alive anyway.

Would a trout be better off if we didn’t take its picture? Sure it would. Moreover, wouldn’t a trout be better off if we didn’t set a hook in its mouth and drag it through the water? Sure it would. So I think we have to be a little careful how self-righteous we get. Point is, we all draw the line somewhere, and I firmly believe that a quick picture, taken responsibly (I’ll get to that), won’t hurt a trout.

Most of the fishermen I know who’ve spent a great deal of time with their boots in the water have caught on to catch and release. The bare facts stare you in the face pretty quickly if you start keeping your limit on every trip. You soon realize that a good fisherman can thin out a stretch of water in short order, and a group of good fishermen can probably take down an entire watershed.

So we take pictures instead.

camping-9-2

Burke with another beautiful brown. Photo by Pat Burke

I’ve learned to play fish fast and hard, and even the Whiskeys are brought to hand in just a couple minutes. I rarely use anything less than 5X; I prefer a rod with a good backbone, and the average fight lasts less than, I’d guess, thirty seconds.

After playing a fish quickly, I scoop it in a rubber mesh net. I find an area next to the bank with cold, moving water about a foot deep and let the wooden frame of my net suspend the fish in the bag while I set up the camera and tripod. I have a routine for this, and it takes less than a minute. It’s important to keep the trout positioned Continue reading

Trail This — Don’t Trail That

Last week, my friend sent the picture of a plump, wild brown trout, including the caption, “He took the Green Weenie off the trailer, just like you said!” And I immediately cringed. I never run the Weenie off a trailer — unless it’s very small, beaded and tied with fine chenille instead of medium. Isn’t life complicated?

My friend’s catch demonstrates an important point: everything works sometimes.

If you don’t know what a Green Weenie is, by the way, this may not be the post for you. Tune in next time for a story about fishing. This one’s about tactics.

In these posts, I try to dig a little deeper than the “Nymphing 101” kinds of articles that you might find elsewhere. In fact, the small intricacies of rigs and methods that I write about are often the kind of things that will help catch just one or two extra fish in a full day. But I forcefully believe that many of these small adjustments add up to big results. Put them all together, and you’ll catch many more trout in a day.

A while back, I posted about Tags and Trailers. Going back to read that one will really help in processing this one. Please note: I prefer tag droppers in most situations, but I run trailers for a variety of reasons.

Final (Trailer Dropper)-R2

Trailing and egg pattern works best if the egg is kept small.

A trailer is a nymph that rides along with its parent fly or anchor. It is lighter than the parent fly and Continue reading

How It Started

IMG_1827

There was a small shop attached to the house where he tied flies and built fly rods. Everything was a mystery when I opened the screen door, but I recognize the smell of cedar once I walked in. I knew nothing about leaders, tippets, tapers or nymphs. I just knew that I wanted to fish dry flies.

I was turning sixteen that summer and the fishing had slowed — again. It always did. When the sun climbed higher and the freestone waters grew clearer (dropping into their summer flows) the minnows that I’d learned to fish so well just stopped catching fish. It happened every year, but I was old enough to be aware of the shift this time.

When I got my driver’s license, I discovered that traveling further to new creeks didn’t solve the problem; the minnows still didn’t work. But I knew I’d found better water when the trout rose all around me. They delivered a message. They wanted nothing to do with my minnows, and now I understood why.

So the gentle, bearded man sold me a hand crafted fly rod — and a fly line, a reel, a leader, some tippet and a box full of hand tied flies, all for a price that must have actually cost him money. It was more like a gift to the curious young man in his shop. Continue reading

DIY Spool Tenders via Tightline Productions

IMG_1741

A plastic tube, some elastic braid, and some heat shrink tubing. After a quick trip to the hardware store and a little time with a glue gun, I’ve now resolved a problem that has plagued me since I was ten years old. Thanks, Tim Flagler.

Tim’s growing collection of videos (284 and counting) at Tightline Productions is arguably the best and most comprehensive video resource on the web for tying flies. Thrown into the mix are helpful videos on knots and other such things as the DIY Spool Tenders.

There are other ways to hold your tippet to the spool. I’ve tried a lot of them. The elastic bands that manufacturers include Continue reading

The Perfect Parachute Ant

What’s your favorite hatch? Sulphurs? Drakes? Tricos?

Mine’s the ant hatch.

Every year I look forward to the end of Spring hatch season. In Pennsylvania, mayfly activity tapers off in June, and so do the crowds. The free-for-all is over. The high sun and low water shifts the trout into a more careful, cautious routine, yet they respond eagerly and (almost) predictably to a good ant pattern. It’s my favorite time of the year to fish a dry fly, and it lasts until some time in October.

IMG_1780

I don’t post many fly patterns here on Troutbitten, probably because I don’t think they matter all that much. I’m solidly entrenched in the presentation-over-pattern camp. But I feel a strong urge to hedge that statement with “sometimes,” “although,” and “on occasion.” The fact is, I wouldn’t want my confidence patterns tied any other way. I have a small box of dries, a handful of nymphs and a couple of streamers, all of which have specific twists that make them mine.

The Perfect Ant is one of those patterns. Is it mine? No. It’s a Ralph Cutter pattern. Years ago, I found his article detailing this little gem. I tied and Continue reading

Stop the Split-Shot-Slide

Why so much hate for the split shot? Guys grumble about putting it on; they have trouble taking it off, and they snarl when it slides. There’s too much hate for such a timeless and effective tool.

Here are a few simple tricks about split shot. Learn them. Then go fishing and love your life.

IMG_1708

I prefer fishing weighted flies rather than split shot for one reason — strike detection is better. That’s the bottom line. All the other reasons anglers avoid using split shot are bad ones, because the troubles are easily overcome. Loss of strike detection is valid, though, and there’s not much you can do about it other than keeping the split shot close to the point fly. I like 4-6 inches. (You can drop-shot to improve strike detection, but that’s a topic for another post.)

With that said, sometimes using split shot makes the most sense. In a variety of situations, I use shot for both nymph rigs and streamer rigs. What’s the main reason? Some patterns really fish better when they’re unweighted. Shhhhhh. It’s true.

Split shot is an outstanding tool, and I have two main tips for using shot: one to stop the split-shot-slide and another for applying and removing it. Let’s start with the simpler one. Continue reading

100 Tips from the Comp Scene via Trout Legend

TLegend

Dejon Hamann, from Trout Legend, is on a fishing-tips bender right now. Day after day, he’s delivering tactics and ideas from the competition circuit with his series, 100 Tips and Tricks, on the Trout Legend site.

Nearly a decade ago, I learned about long leader presentations from a few guys I knew who were into the fly fishing competition scene. Over the next couple years I dug in hard and learned everything I could about euro nymphing. I combined it with the fishing styles I already used and worked it into a hybrid system that fits me.  I’ve learned more than I’ll ever have a chance to process in this lifetime. And I’m still learning.

To be candid, when the competition scene took off, I wasn’t a big fan. As my friend put it the other day, “I don’t want to add stress to something that I do for relaxation.”

Good point. But I’ve learned too much from competition fishing not to have tremendous respect for it. These guys fish hard. The comp scene will never be my thing, but competition fishermen keep innovating. They come up with new ways to catch trout, and that’s helpful to us all.

Here’s an excerpt from #6: Junk Flies about Continue reading

The Shallows Below

IMG_1585

— This is the companion chapter to The Shallows Above, published a few days ago.

… I’ve done this nighttime thunderstorm thing before. Two summers ago, on a dark night in July, I was surprised by another thunderstorm. And once again, it was one of the most memorable nights I’ve had.

Everywhere, the fish were moving. The network of river life seemed to be in motion: minnows, sculpins and crayfish scattered through the shallows when I scanned with my light; I saw a pair of muskrats scamper off as the light hit the bank, and something large and living bumped my ankle in the dark, shallow water. Everything alive was moving during the thunderstorm.

The wind pushed through the treetops with enough force that Continue reading

It’s a Suspender — Not Just an Indicator

Bobber, foam, cork, yarn, dry fly. Those are my categories, but who cares? If you’ve been fly fishing for a while, you’ve probably tried all of the above. You have your own categories and your own preferences. That’s great.

I don’t want to argue about which one is better. Instead, let’s talk about what all of these really are. They are suspenders. Does it matter? Maybe. I’m not trying to change the world here. Use the words you want, but I do think that defining a simple difference can be helpful.

“Strike Indicator” is the common term. But in his book, “Dynamic Nymphing,George Daniel introduces the term “suspender.” It’s a brilliant distinction that eliminates confusion and defines the purpose of these small items that we attach to our line.

IMG_1652

Indicator or suspender? The meanings of these terms help identify the jobs they are doing and clear up some confusion. Wait … something is confusing in fly fishing? Yup. All too common, isn’t it? Try this: “As the indy rig floated downstream, the bobber slowed, indicating that the nymphs were now suspended.” See what I mean? It’s a complicated world out there. Continue reading

The Shallows Above

IMG_1591
The thunderstorm came from nowhere.

I’m not much for weather reports, and I hadn’t checked. I’d simply walked out of my garage and looked at some clouds in the sky at dusk. No moon, either. So it would be a dark night with only patches of starlight between the clouds: my favorite kind of sky for night fishing.

I hopped the guardrail. I was through the woods and down in the water just a few minutes later. My objective was to walk all the way to the bottom of the long pool, keep walking to below the next run, and then fish my way up through the pockets. So I walked. This part of the river is remote enough that there’s no path. The surrounding forest was too dense for a night hike, so I walked through the skinny shallows. Places that are usually knee deep had just a trickle of water bordering the dry stones. Summer drought can be devastating.

Twenty minutes later I was in position and rigged up. Then the thunder started.

I’m not afraid of thunderstorms. In fact, I kind of enjoy violent weather, and I have some lasting, burned-in memories from summer rains and winter blizzards. Violent weather reminds us that Continue reading

Calculated Fun

IMG_1602

The other day, my friend, Austin, mentioned something about me being a calculated fisherman. I guess I come off that way. The real truth is that my planning and plotting and theory building mostly happens while I’m not fishing. When I’m on the water, a lot of that calculation gets tossed away. It’s left on the bank, still packed away with the gear in the truck or I don’t really know where it is.

… I make a plan to fish the left-side rocks, no more than ten feet off the edge because that’s how far both the shade line and the weed line extend. I’m going to methodically fish the whole stretch, all the way up to the bend. Then I get about thirty yards upstream and cannot stand the allure of the big oak logjam off the opposite bank. There’s a soft slick among the backside branches with some deep green holding water. It’s perfect over there. Why not try? Just twenty feet further into the midcurrent, and I can reach it. So I wade. And I cast. God knows if I turn a fish in that water my whole left-side bank plan is shot.

It’s tough for me to stick with a strategy while fishing. If I did, I think I’d do better.

During the day I am, by no honest measure, a Hip-to-the-Strip guy. Sure, I have my experimental phases where I try to force-feed the trout a streamer dinner. But by and large, the good fishermen in my area are nymphers — meat and potatoes are Hare’s Ear’s and Pheasant Tails, not Zoo Cougars and Circus Peanuts.

At night I turn into somebody else, though. The nucleus of my night fishing strategy is built around swinging flies on the surface or in the top third of the water column (yes, the top third. I’m a calculated man, after all). Why have I committed to that strategy? Continue reading

Wait For It

WaitingForTheMoment-3
The pivotal moment when everything changes. The event that makes the trip. The defining instance that separates all the memories that come before from the ones that come after. It’s what I wait for — what I look for every time I’m out there — and it’s why I keep fishing.

These moments happen in sports too. And watching for the one play, one shift, one slice of time that changes the momentum, is the best thing about following a team through a full season. In every memorable win — in each campaign — there’s a low point, and then there’s an event that acts as the hinge between all that happened before and ultimate victory.

A few weeks ago the pivotal moment snuck up on two tired fishermen and left a lasting memory.

Pat Burke and I have floated down rivers together in his two-man pontoon for about five years now. He’s a good friend, and a good fisherman with the ambition to fish long enough and hard enough to get to the next defining moment — it’s hard to find sometimes and easy to miss if you give up too early. Burke and I each have two tenacious young boys, yet we still find the time and the right water conditions to float pretty often.

Anything you do a lot becomes commonplace. It can start to seem plain — boring even. For floating, though, I think that’s part of the charm. Burke and I often drift long stretches of water without saying a word. I know the best lanes on our favorite river, and I know the kinds of bank structure where Burke wants extra time to present a streamer — so I backrow. He knows what kinds of conditions prompt me to change rigs and how long it takes me to tie the knots — so he drifts for a while and lets me adjust. No words. Just experience and a longtime friendship dictating the next move. We know each other well enough that by mid-morning we’ve usually shared all of our new stories; we’re all talked out and caught up. Nothing left then but to fish. So we do. Yes, it can seem common, and that’s a good thing.

Burke called me a few days earlier: Continue reading

Posted | Club Fish | 2065

wpid-20141229_1447092-jpg
The small freestone stream where I learned to trout fish in Indiana county, Pennsylvania is posted against trespass. It has been for a couple decades now. So too is the wooded hollow with the broken splash dam where I chased brook trout as a young teenager. In fact, nearly all the water I fished as a child is now posted or privatized.

My move to central Pennsylvania in 2003 opened up new waters and opportunities for wild trout fishing that seemed endless at the time. But there is an end, and I realize that now. I’ve seen the privatization and posting of trout streams grow by miles every year. And the recent transformation of my favorite small wild trout stream into club waters with fake, stocked brutes is hard to watch.

Sometimes, the end of public access around here seems inevitable, just like it was back home.

The current issue of Trout Magazine includes an article by Greg McReynolds titled, “2065.” McReynolds well captures the feeling of desperation suffered when we lose access to water that we once called our own. Continue reading

PSA – It’s Hot Out There

IMG_1357

It’s really, really hot this summer, and it’s very dry in most areas. I haven’t mowed my grass in about three weeks, and it crunches when I step on it.

As I backed into my driveway the other night, I glanced at the outside temperature reading on the rearview mirror. 81 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 11:45 pm.

For trout streams, perhaps the worst part of this heat wave is the high overnight temperatures. When the mercury dips only into the low eighties after dark, the water doesn’t get a chance to release much of the accumulated daytime heat.

If you’ve been in the trout game long enough, you’ve probably already gotten the message about what high temps do for trout fishing. You’ve either read it somewhere, someone told you about it or you caught some lethargic trout and they delivered the message to you first hand. Anything over 69° is really too hot for safely catching and releasing trout. That’s my number, but with a little research you can find it supported through scientific studies. Trout in warmer water may swim away when released, but they don’t always live.

In many parts of the region, your best choice for keeping your rod bent is to target different species. Try picking on some smallmouth bass for a change or read up on the Rocket School of Carpin’, and take on that challenge.

But if you are a die-hard trout fisherman, you’ve probably learned how to find cold enough water to keep fishing for trout even in the hottest summers. Opportunities for safe trout fishing are available Continue reading

Night Shift — This River and the Other River

IMG_0947

I think I’ve night fished often enough now to make some conclusions — not many, but a few basic determinations that allow me to have confidence in laying out a few principles.

Here’s one: night fishing around here is hard. It takes dogged persistence over many seasons to get anywhere with it. If you get thirty hits on a top-water pattern one night, go out and try it again the next night — you’ll see what I mean. The night game is so inconsistent it’ll drive you mad — and then it will draw you in.

Here’s another: night fishing is drastically different from one river to the next. The extent to which this is a fact has surprised me.

Last one: slow night fishing on a river doesn’t have to make any sense.

I stubbornly resisted these truths through many years of night fishing one favorite lonely river, in particular. It’s far more stingy than the rest. Over and over, I’ve waded the cold dark waters that produce for me in the daylight, and yet I cannot crack the code in the darkness. Sure, I do catch fish there, and I’ve caught some large ones, but over half of my 50+ night trips there have been a shutout. Maybe there is no code. That’s what it’s really coming down to. Maybe night fishing there will simply be a low reward proposition. And maybe that’s good enough.

IMG_1167

20160711_010257

Sunday — 9:45 pm | This River

I drove down the narrow lane and turned into the parking lot so slowly that I left no dust cloud above the parched, summer dirt road. I was in no hurry.

I love that about night fishing — I don’t feel rushed. Continue reading

The Rocket School Of Carpin’ | When it’s too hot for trout …

Water temps are climbing around here, and projected forecasts show no relief in sight from the hell-hot summer heat. Trout fishing the long summer months means deeply shortened hours and far fewer opportunities.  Finding cold enough water can be tough, and a stream thermometer becomes the most valuable tool in your pack.

Even on my night trips, lately, I’ve had to wait until well after dark (toward midnight, on some of my favorite rivers) before I felt that I could fish for trout with a clear conscience.

69°f is the water temperature I look for. When the mercury climbs above that , I don’t fish for trout. Every angler needs to make his own decision, but it should be an educated one. A quick search through legitimate scientific studies will show that temps in the seventies are known to be a stress point for trout. In my younger, dumber days, I fished for trout in higher temps, and the response from the fish provided me a clear signal to stop it. Fish landed in the seventies are lethargic — they just seem tired.

When you do fish the summer waters, please play a trout fast and release them quickly.

Summer trout fishing is difficult and often disappointing, in large part, because of the warm water. Even the cool, spring fed, limestone waters of PA have some trouble holding water cold enough in drought conditions, and the best, coldest spring creek trout still don’t feed much after mid morning. Another species, though, usually found in the same waters we trout fish, provides an excellent, exciting fly fishing opportunity all summer long. The carp.

My friend, Chris Rocketship has recently shed new light on what I previously considered to be a trash fish. Carp are a wary, difficult fish to catch, and more fishermen are starting to realize that targeting carp with flies will make you better at every other type of fly fishing.

Think carpin’ is easy? Think carp are dumb? Think carp are no fun? I dare you to give it a try.

Here’s Chris Rocketship Kehres to tell you how …

— — — — — —

The Rocket School of Carpin’

Sooo, carp. Some of this is just logical stuff, but some of the techniques should be helpful to those with no prior carpin’ experience. I’m just gonna go over the whole deal.

The Rig

Nothing special. You’re rarely going to be making normal casts. I wouldn’t go lighter than a 5 weight if you’re being serious about it Continue reading

I’ve lived, and I’ve left some good things here … that is enough.

LeavingSomeGoodThings22

Photo by Austin Dando

His mother called him “Will,” because “William” was far too big of a name for a small boy, but when his father needed to make a strong point, he was called “William.”

On a large tract of farmland, stretched along a rocky shelf, high above the river, Will and his brother roamed through hundreds of acres, across unkept wheat fields and into the wooded hills. They made forts from fallen tree branches and swung on grapevines across the valleys.

The eastern flank of the property held a canyon of limestone and dolomite, smoothly carved by the cool and clear waters of time, originating from underground springs in marshy headwaters long miles upstream. And the deep, mid-sized river was blessed with wild brook trout.

When Will was eight, his grandfather came to stay with them, and three of the four sunroom walls in their small family home were made solid. A bed and a chair were added, and Grandfather placed an old wooden desk by the remaining windowed wall where he sat and tied flies for what seemed like days at a time to Will. In between each fly, the old man raised his head to scan the landscape.

Grandfather brought along chickens: ten hens and one rooster. And he promised Will and his brother that if they helped him build the chicken coop, he would teach the boys to catch brook trout at the bottom of the canyon using the feathered, hooked creations from his desk.

They built a fine chicken coop with scrap lumber, and on one late June evening, Grandfather told the boys, “We’ll walk down to the river in the morning and go fishing when the rooster crows.”

Will tossed in his bed that night, Continue reading

Net Fix

IMG_1005

If I had a million dollars I would still approach fly fishing with a low budget mindset. I guess it comes from my fishing roots as a boy: cheap spinning tackle, rubber hip boots (big enough that I would “grow into ’em”), minnows and some Berkley Trilene.  We used 6lb test, though — we weren’t savages!

However, I suppose my ownership of a Sage rod and Patagonia waders drives a wedge of hypocrisy right through my opening statement.  Some things are worth investing in, I believe, and some deals (like the one I got on the Sage) are just too good to pass up.

I hate the look of brand new, creased waders. I like my old things, and I hold on to gear with rips and tears, cracks and stains and fraying, faded cloth.  It reminds me that I fish a lot, and it somehow reminds me to go fish more.

So, I guess everyone draws their own lines in the sand. The same guy who will never drop $500 on a pair of high-end waders may have no problem spending two bills on a custom net.

My own lines are drawn inversely. I won’t spend big money on a net.

I carry a $28 dollar wooden net with a rubber mesh bag.  The bag is deep enough and the hoop is wide enough to land the next namer and maybe even the next thirty-incher. That’s important.

Remarkably, this net is into it’s third season — and I fish hard.  Here’s how I’ve kept it going.

When the laminated frame pieces start to separate, I use Zap-a-Gap and Continue reading

The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It

IMG_0916

The advantages of a Tenkara presentation are not exclusive or unique to Tenkara itself, and in fact, the same benefits are achieved just as well — and often better — with a long fly rod and (gasp) a reel.

I bought a Tenakara rod for my young boys about a year ago, because the longer a rod is, the more control the boys have over a drift. And the lighter a rod is, the easier it is for their small arms to cast. As George Daniel recently wrote in the Mid-Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide, “The long/limp rod requires little power to load, and it is easy for a young child to make the short casting stroke required.” Exactly.

The same benefits apply to adults.  I’ve used the boys’ Tenkara rod extensively — long enough to understand exactly what I don’t like about Tenkara and to understand that a fisherman can achieve the same things with a standard, long leader (long mono-rig) setup.

Present the fly, not the line …

The main asset of Tenkara is the ability to present the fly and only the fly — there’s no fly line or leader laying on the water complicating or destroying a good drift. But is that exclusively a Tenkara advantage? Certainly not. Long leader tactics and all-mono rigs are now commonly seen on many streams, and not just in fly fishing competitions. I fish with a system that keeps all fly line completely out of the equation while fishing wets, nymphs and streamers, and I usually incorporate fly line only when I’m casting dry flies at a distance.

My primary rod is a four weight, 9’6” Sage Z-Axis, and the only advantage that the Tenkara rod gives me over the Sage is length. Make no mistake, the extra length of the Tenkara rod is significant, Continue reading