Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It Almost Shouldn't Work

In every fisherman there must be -- there has to be -- a speck of the possible. Like a scratch on the frames of your glasses: something you can’t help but see through. It’s not optimism, per se (or I’d never be able to consider myself one). Rather, the possible: that which can be. Not just what you hope, or believe. Confidence and conviction can only take you so far before you’re left in the empty lot of possibilities...the haunty what-ifs. And it’s those possibilities that fishermen hold near even if ever unspoken, dwelling in them as they hold their breath for more. Passing in and out of consciousness of time, losing minutes and hours. Sometimes days. To futile attempts, not for lack of any effort.

Because the probability is low. You know that. “It almost shouldn’t work,” you were told -- hot, tired, and mud-laced with a six weight.


Yet sometimes it does. Sometimes you watch a long managed cast to the shadow-with-a-tail, lay down smooth, quiet, and straight. Sometimes you see the shadow turn (almost too quickly, you second-guess) and then stop. And it works, you think, it works, as you watch him set the hook and smile.

And an old-woman-dog-walker in teal-blue says, cool

Possibilities are what keep you from giving up, from calling it quits when the fishing is hard or when the conditions are bad. And from giving up on life, too -- because there’s always the question of another morning. And another cast, both demanding an answer: like a job you’ve somehow mistakenly applied for and been offered. Yet in any case you’ve found yourself here, and you never know just what’s going to happen. Could be good; could not be. But you’ve got to give it a go because the possibilities are endless, even if the the probability is low -- driving you crazy if you think about it too much.

And maybe that explains a few things, because you do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


My mother taught me to always be observant of my surroundings. Especially once my sister and I started driving up to the big city Omaha by ourselves, she reminded us before every trip up the dirt driveway to lock our doors when driving and walk to the car with keys in hand -- one between index and middle finger -- “a good weapon” she’d say. And walk with authority -- walk as someone who knows where they are and where they are going. Even, if you don’t, she told us, because by convincing someone else, often times you convince yourself in the process.

I suppose that’s actually gotten my sister and I through a lot in life -- walking with authority. Through a lot and somewhere, too -- just walking on. And looking off to the sides, into our periphery -- which can start making you feel all googly-eyed and somewhat dizzy until you get used to it. But then once you do, you can’t stop. Perhaps that’s why we all eventually needed glasses.  

And when I’m out on a trail all alone, which I often am, I still walk that way out of a matter of respect for my mom, because I know she worries about me still (although more about lions and bears now than men). Briskly and looking ahead. With authority. Like I know where I’m going -- and these days I’d like to think that’s a lot closer to being true than it once was. But in all honesty, probably not much.

Come to think of it that might be why I’m always asked for directions. Even in the backcountry...“Excuse me, is this the such-and-such trail?”...“Wouldn’t happen to have a map on hand....would you?” I always do know and always do “happen to have” a map -- and always do fear for the safety of these people who probably shouldn’t be out in the backcountry, especially all grouped together. But that whole birds-of-a-feather thing, you know. Works kind of like buttered toast.

My mother also taught us that walks and hikes are not just for the moving of legs. They are to observe. Bird-watching, flower-identifying, scat-tracking. Sometimes who ate whom and when. The why is usually quite obvious. I believe her educational precept to be “inquiring minds want to know” -- and ours were made to. Where the waterways are and the draws -- where will the deer come down to drink at dusk. Where are the deadwoods for woodpeckers; berries for birds and fox, and good treetops for rookeries. And where the great horned owl lived that she’d call overhead as we stood, wondering where she learned all these things. 

If she was trying to impress us, it worked.

Thus long before I came to be a fly fisherman I made an observance of things, if only out of habit -- of creeks and streams, rivers and lakes. And so I’ve known more about where good waters and trout lie than I thought I did, if only through periphery. They’ve always been waiting there. Just waiting, for me to take up a rod. 

So I knew exactly where to go this past week when Jay and his father John were looking for a small stream. For a smaller group that day -- only the three of us (plus Banjo, of course). A thin, wiry bit, with lots of pockets, too. A place hard to get to and even harder to leave. A place to wet-wade and where -- like alcohol to memories -- the water would numb your feet into forgetting about the horsefly bites you’d gotten at a bass pond two days before. A place where the fishing would more than make up for a lost pair of sunglasses and where hummingbirds looked normal-sized hovering over the stream. A place where there would be brook trout rising to dries in pockets under willows, with an open meadow nearby where we could eat cheese and salami.

That’s all that was asked.

And yes.  

Yes, I said, I knew a place that would have all of these things.

And I’d like to think that if I was trying to impress them, it worked.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gear Review: Redington Sonic Pros

“Hey...so are those EJ-46s?” I'd be asked.

And double checking with the extras in my guitar case, “44s.”

“Spruce or alder topped?”

“Tuning fork or automatic?”

The questions went on as
murmurs in concerts and scuttle in masterclasses. And to be honest, I never really cared much (or perhaps that's just my excuse for not being able to remember the details). I’ve never been a gear head -- in music, in riding, in fly fishing. I’m far too “pragmatic,” I've been told. And just to prove their point, for example, the wading boots I bought at Goodwill for $4.99 have served me well for the past year. And the fact that they look like leftovers from the 70s doesn’t bother me a bit. Most of the rest of my wardrobe does, too. Plus I’ve always said that if you’re worried about what you look like on the river, you’re missing the point entirely.

Trout are like honey badgers, they don’t care.

Yet at the same time (and yes, I often contain these contradictions) I know that good gear does make a difference. Just as a $20 pawn shop guitar will make learning a much more frustrating experience than will a $200 one from Dietz -- a good rod, reel and waders make progressing as an angler a more efficient and enjoyable effort. It’s kind of like riding a highly trained horse -- you’ve got to learn quickly. Shift weight to your left sit-bone and you’re off on a right-going half-pass.

Now....how’d that happen, you're left wondering.   

So having good gear does in fact matter. Here the definition of “good” being: it doesn’t make you think about it. Gear you think about while using is not good gear. It’s needy gear. And just like fishing partners of that ilk, they should be traded in. 

I’m hard on gear, even the good stuff. Even my bamboo. It doesn’t matter how much it costs, it doesn’t get treated any differently -- doesn't just get hung up for display. If someday long after I’m gone, somebody finds my rod, my reel, my waders and pack, I want them to be scratched and worn and frayed. I believe it was Gierach who once wrote that is how you can determine the good gear -- the stuff that was favored and used above the rest -- by wear. The pristine rod hanging on an old timer’s wall may have been from a famous rodmaker, but the one stored in its canvans sack on a hanger in his closet -- with scratches and sweat marks on the cork -- that one...that one is the rod with the effortless cast.

Last season I went through two pairs of waders in six months as a result of bushwhacking and sliding (falling) down canyon sides; carping and spring bass fishing, too. I fish hard and I fish a lot. I kind of fish like a grade school boy. Which is why I always call fishing trips “adventuring," I suppose.  

And so after several months of wearing the same waders, I always get that familiar feeling -- creeping in while concentrating on casting and setting -- straining eyes behind copper-toned polarization. That realization that you’re drenched and have been for hours (which explains why you’re so damned cold) -- it’s like sharing a bed with a wetter. But once the realization hits, there isn’t much you can do besides make feeble attempts at patching seams and going to wash the sheets. Hanging it all out to dry. Again.

Yet, I’ve had the opportunity to wear Redington’s Sonic Pros this season -- in canyon streams, high mountain lakes, and on mud flats. And they’ve got a lot of river-miles in them now, they’ve got a lot of wear: you can tell they’re The Favored Ones, not just hanging on the wall. They’ve got the miles in them -- but you know what? They don't have the water.