Sunday, April 7, 2013

To Swing or To Dead Drift: A Late Winter, Early Spring Dilemma

When fly fishermen get into swinging flies on two handed rods for steelhead, they make a heavy commitment. Swinging flies is a sure way to find a true “player” but most of the time it eliminates your chances of hooking those fish that require the presentation to be delivered directly in front of them, like steelhead. To make matters worse for spey anglers, during the winter, as water temps plummet and fish begin to eat less out of instinct and more out of necessity, finding a true “player” becomes harder and harder.


These days two handed spey rods and swinging have become synonymous with steelhead, an already challenging enough species to chase. Steelhead often require precision presentations, often best achieved by using a dead drift technique with an indicator. Unlike Swinging a fly, using an indicator or “indie” fishing calls for an upstream cast, using weighted flies or split shot to slow the drift down to a natural speed. Swinging a fly calls for a cast across and downstream, allowing the fly to make its way back across the tail-out and eventually parallel to you, at a pace meant to entice predatory strikes.

The differences in these two techniques also translates into the flies commonly used for each. Spey flies are almost always meant to imitate bait fish or other similar fleeing prey, while flies used in dead-drifting are often meant to be just that: dead. Although there is no limit on what you can dead drift, the most common choice for steelhead is egg patterns or stone flies, you know, stuff that doesn't move much and can be easily slurped in by a lazy winter-run steelhead.

As the water temps drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and with steelhead already traversing the rivers in spawn mode, getting a fish to dedicate the energy needed to hunt down it's prey takes more than skill, it takes a little luck too. Many times steelhead caught on the swing didn't bite out of hunger but out of pure aggression. The take from a steelhead on the swing is incomparable to those taken by dead drifting with an indicator. Words like, “crushed”, “slammed”, or the ever popular “The Grab”, are often used to describe encounters with steelhead on the swing. It is certainly a more exciting experience than simply setting the hook at the drop or pause of an indicator.

So what's a swinger to do when the forces of nature have put the odds of catching fish against him? The answer all depends on what you want out of your own fishing experience. It's a proven fact that dead drifting with an indicator will give you the best chances of hooking fish, you just have to decide what's worth more to you: numbers, or finding the players that will give you the addicting “grab” associated with swinging a fly. For some people it's all about numbers, but if you look around these days more and more people are dedicating themselves to the swing, and for good reason: it is addicting!

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Fishing Life

A couple years ago I found myself getting tired of what people call the “real world.” I had become just another one of those guys that lives his life in between little spurts of working at one of those dead-end jobs you take just to get group discount health insurance. I fell into that trap seven years ago; probably as a result of some advice an elder had given the 23 year old version of me. Something about job security, retirements, pensions and insurance plans, and how important they are to have in today’s world. Or maybe they mentioned the fact that I didn’t have any kind of degree, and manufacturing might be a good lane for an uneducated career path, who knows. It all seemed like good advice at the time, and for many years it has worked out just fine. So here I am today, locked inside a windowless factory, working the cemetery shift every weekend, while the rest of the world barbecues and enjoys the ticking metronome of their “normal” lives. I had to make a change somehow, and I'm in that process, but there's still no escaping the “real world,” I'm afraid. 

During the week I roam free on empty rivers and streams. While the metronome crowds are in their respective cells and boxes, I'm in their favorite pre-dinner spot, undisturbed and unattested, sore-lipping all of their trout; this life isn't all bad.

This life isn't all bad, and I think Hemingway would call me a pussy if I was to ever complain about it, but even Hemingway would agree: a man can't be just a ghost in the machine forever. To turn a passion into a paycheck is truly a feat, but I'm not sure it has to be fully supportive to be living a true fishing life. In many ways, as busy as I am, I still feel like I am living a fishing life.

Some people literally live the fishing life. I know lots of fishing guides. Some make their whole living off of guiding clients, and some have an off season real world-job to survive. There's the fly shop owners, the lodge owners, the fly tying gurus. In the non-sporting sense, you also have the conservationists and biologists, who live closer to the outdoors than any of the aforementioned careers, and who literally get paid directly from the fishery, or the tax money used to manage and protect them, I should say.    

The last two years have been rather challenging. In 2010 I decided to go back to school to finish my journalism degree. Most of the decision was based on the fact that I hated my job, and needed a career I could have feelings for. The other part that pushed me to make the life change was a trip out west. When I returned home to the green mountain state, I felt like something had changed even though it hadn’t. I had simply gotten a taste of a new world, and a taste for seeing new places. I decided I needed a career that could possibly get me to new places, and it certainly wasn’t going to happen locked in a box every weekend making airplane parts.

Finding a job I could love is going to be a hard task, especially for a guy like me, whose list of loving career options sounds like young Paul MacLean’s in the movie A River Runs Through it, when Norman and Paul discuss what they want to be when they grow up.
“What are you gonna be?”
“A professional fly-fisherman.”
“There's no such thing.”
“There isn't?”
“I guess a boxer.”
“Not a minister?”
I wasn’t thinking about attempting a career in boxing or preaching, but I was thinking of keeping my head in the outdoor world, which is just as crazy of a thought, I'm told. While certainly not a professional fly fisherman (if there is such a thing), I may be able to study journalism and somehow make the outdoors my permanent office, using my writing skills to take me to the places I crave but cannot afford, like Montana.  

I had already started my college career back in 2000, when I spent three semesters at a state college studying broadcast journalism, before deciding to take a break, but never returning until nearly a decade later. I got to transfer most of what I completed the first time around, so it wasn’t entirely like starting from scratch.

I’ve been at it now for over two years and am finally a “senior” in college, at age 30. This last year has been eye opening, academically. As my professors prepare me for the “real world” of journalism, I find I am still trying to find a way out, a way to get out of all of societies boxes, even the boxes made for a journalist.

Journalism, I've found, is typically not a world for writers who romanticize with language.  The world of journalism prefers robots with mechanical reflexes, not story tellers or language artists. And as this education machine puts the final touches on the program its installing into me, I worry more about finding a place in this new world, without crawling into yet another box. 

In history, it seems that all the great writers are born into the writing world either as authors, or as journalists, although some great authors had to settle for being journalists until the world was ready for them to be great authors, like Hemingway, for instance.

These days I read nothing but fishing books: Gierach, Traver, Maclean, Mcguane, Harrison, Chatham, Hemingway...all the greats. Most of what I read is first person non-fiction, although I recently read Thomas Mcguane's 92 in the Shade and loved it, but that was loosely based on fishing, so that doesn't count.

For the last five years I have studied these writers, hoping one day to step into their circle, by writing a worthy, fishing based piece of work. And although I think the book is coming out quite nicely ;)  I still think I'm going to have to toe the line as a journalist to give it wings. It shouldn't be that hard right? Hemingway did it, Hunter Thompson did it, and neither one of them gave up until much later in their careers, ironically both by self inflicted gun wounds. Go figure! Of course I would settle to be a traveling journalist: paid to jaunt about the globe with fly rod and camera in hand, but that may be even a more far fetched idea than the first.

I'm not sure Hemingway or Hunter would have a place in today's journalism world. I think it’s really hard for any writer to stand out when anyone with a computer can be a published author. People today are more compelled towards journalism than a good read. The brand of journalism today is also much different than Hemingway and Thompson's. Print is virtually dead. Ordinary, everyday citizens provide more news and content than reporters, and you got boat loads of guys like me, writing, filming, and taking pictures for free.

Movies and TV shows have killed people's desire to pick up books, and “books” are slowly becoming files stored in a computer. I know the idea of a digital book isn't an all bad idea, I'm all for saving the trees, but ask your self what happened when music made its debut on hard-drives? It was stolen, and the industry that provided music fell apart and will never be the same.

The most popular books today have accompanying movies. The people want the book, the movie, the website; they want to follow the actors, the author, and the publisher, all online. The days of book stores, newsstands’, and reading in bed with a flashlight are limited. (That last one won't be missed)

At this point, I make zero dollars off this blog. The videos I make are for my own personal enjoyment, and serve as a way to draw attention to the blog, that again, makes no money. I write for two online fly fishing news sites, both unpaid, and categorized as “internships.” All this goes along with a full time collegiate schedule, and my long weekends in the cell at the machine shop. I wish I could say that I'm at my apex of my busy-ness, but if I’m to make any money at this, I'm sure that won't be true.

I've often thought about the real cost of living a fishing life. It's not the money spent on gasoline traveling to famous rivers and lakes, or the flies, gear, and rods that we all know we “can't live without.” It's not the ever expanding collection of out of state licenses, stamps, and private access passes stuck to our vests and packs like badges on a boy-scout unifrom that really tax us into damnation. It's time. That's it, time. One of the most precious things we all take for granted. A life spent angling is a life spent consuming time, with very little to show for it. Very little to show except for that selfish sense of peace and placement in this world, a feeling many of us in love with moving water have come accustomed to, for sanity's sake. 

The people waiting at home for you know about time. The girlfriend, the wife, the son or daughter, your friends: They will probably want some of your time, and if they don't get enough of it, they will probably be gone. Most of us aren't thinking about time out on the river. In fact, time, or at least the ticking and counting of it, is often one of the things the river carries away from our minds. Time is expensive.  Don't be fooled by how easily it slides off a clock. One day you will have to add it all up to justify yourself, and chances are if you were a true trout bum, you'll only have yourself to justify it to. Always remember to think about those who are waiting while you’re wading.

I often wonder if I'm going about life all wrong. Should I have shouldered down and become the All-American father; fighting to pay a mortage, driving my Prius, and playing company league softball on the weekends? Instead of this guy trying to base his life on the media revolving around this trout-cult nation? Is there just as much valor in trying to make a living doing what you love, as there is in just buckling down and walking in line, for the benefit of those in your life? It’s a question the fishing guide and the fly shop owner must ask themselves as well. The lodge owners who manage the little fishing frat-house hideouts we all frequent when chasing out-of-town fish, they ask themselves if the trade off was worth it at the end of the day too, as they sort through the dishes and beer cans.

When I am at these out of town places I always miss my family, and I always wonder if these guys that are truly living the fishing life have any regrets at all. Many of these guys have no wives, no girlfriends, no kids... They are constantly surrounded by friends though, and life for them has turned into one big stretched-out fishing trip. I wonder but never ask them, if opting out of the family life was worth it. I just assume they are happy to be on a perma-trip of sorts, away from the real world as you can possibly be while still actually working for your money.

Ask me now and I will tell you that I do believe there is as much valor in following your passion and trying to make a paycheck from it, however, one has to be willing to compromise until it works and functions on its own. From the way I live my life now, and the many things I have to juggle and balance daily, it isn't hard to tell that I've learned to compromise. My GPA is “up there,” I still have a job, my son lives with me, and there's still a woman in my life; I must not be a genuine trout bum after all.

I complain about my job but at least I've got one. I don't make enough to cover all the expenses that my life has become but isn't that the American way? I get enough to maintain what I've got, and my work hasn't strangulated my schedule to the point where I never see the river, like a few people I know.

The one trout-bum gene I have retained is still putting fishing above many of my other “real world” priorities, or so I've been told on occasion. I've learned that real world priorities can be bent or stretched to accommodate for more time on the river, but not everybody is willing to do this, and I understand that.

One day, time on the river might be time at the office, which would make things a lot easier for me, and is, in the simplest form, my ultimate goal. My plan is to continue to guide and instruct, although at a higher capacity than right now. I'm not sure how much fly tying I'll do in the future after I graduate, although I can see perhaps putting a  photo-book of the patterns I've invented together for publication, which would be much more profitable than trying to take on orders by myself. I could patent the patterns and send them to China for production, but that wouldn't be very American of me now would it?

Above all else I'm going to write. I may not find a full time job writing about fishing, but I'm going to be out there—freelancing in the fly fishing world if all else fails, whether it's for the magazines, the newspapers, or the websites. Then there will be the book...which is sort of the reason I went off on this whole fishing life tangent in the first place. I'm afraid my days of blogging are limited, my friends. I should say my days of free blogging are limited. As I turn this final corner on finishing the education race, I find I have less and less time to put into what is essentially, just a public journal. For those of you who have completed your bachelor’s degree I'm sure you understand; senior year can be quite a challenge, and I've known a few people who spent two years being a senior, so here's to not being one of them! 

It’s not just the strain of passing these final tests as a journalist that has me closing the blogging chapter. It's simply just time to start thinking in dollars; time to start thinking about how I am going to be one of those people who truly lives the fishing life, and doesn't just embody it in spirit. There will still be short posts and updates, some photos, although the best shots I take from now on out may be up for sale on a photography website, and not on display in this blog.

I'm going to start submitting my writing to magazines. A typical article with photos can bring you anywhere from a couple hundred to a thousand, depending on the publication. I’ve been giving all my writing away to charity for the last two years, so as of right now, any money is good money to me. I'm also going to start an independent newsletter, both in digital and in print format, covering fly fishing news and stories in the New England area. There’s a few newsletters already in circulation in New England but none with a specific niche for fly fishermen. The newsletter will be free, but there will be money to be made off of sponsorships and advertisements. The newsletter also gives me the freedom to contribute whatever I like, whenever I like. I will also be taking on submissions, and trying my hand at editing. This project is something I am greatly looking forward to starting in the near future.

I will still be doing videos as well, but the format may be drastically changing. Instead of the music-video format I usually use, I may venture into guide videos and even documentary style formats. I will be seeking sponsors and advertisers for my videos as well.  Finding sponsors is relatively easy to do and adds a little more value to the efforts I’m putting forth in gathering footage.

There’s money to be made in the fly fishing industry, but in no way is it a place to get rich or famous. At best, it may be an outlet to live as a not-so-bummy trout bum, if that’s really possible. Regardless of what pays the bills I will pursue the true fishing life: whether I’m guiding, writing about fishing, or writing about shit I don’t care about, waiting for my next chance to don my waders and stand in a river somewhere: I will always live the fishing life.

They say “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.” Teach a man to fly fish and the world may never understand him fully again… OK, that wasn’t exactly what proverbs suggested but you get my point. I think anyone who falls in love with fly fishing has at some point wondered if there was a potential avenue for a professional career in it. We’ve all had that Paul Maclean moment; dreaming of being a professional fly fisherman, and subsequently being let down by the reality that there’s “no such thing,” at least that’s what Norman and the rest of the “real world” says anyways…

It wasn’t the movie A River Runs Through it that made me fall in love with fly fishing. That movie did have an enormous effect at bringing the sport out of the darkness of the angling world and into the light, right next to the race-car-bass-boat guys, and what I call the “NASCAR” of the fishing world. I am proud to say I was never one of those guys who let the romantic allure of that movie, or the book for that matter, force-plunge me into the world of fly fishing. I entered into this obsession at free will, and didn’t fall in love with Redford’s movie or Maclean’s book until much later, long after the sport itself had worked its voodoo magic upon me.

As I look back on my life thus far, I’m still trying to figure out whether I’m more like Norman, or more like Paul, or perhaps the perfect combination of both. In my younger days I was reckless like Paul, but that was before fly fishing took over my life. These days I feel grounded, which is more like Norman, although I still hold on to the crazy idea that professional fly fisherman have a place in the human ecosystem. Paul was known as “the fly fishing newspaper man,” a moniker I could certainly live with if I had to. Paul’s life, however much shorter than Norman’s, was a prime example of a fishing life not actually supported by fishing itself, which is more than I could ask for but less than what I am seeking.

So here it goes…I’m officially turning this blog into something more formal, it’s a little sad but it’s certainly time to move on to bigger and more profitable avenues. I appreciate the small but respectable following I’ve gained in the year and a half that I’ve been doing this. I hope some of you enjoyed the inner ramblings of my fish-controlled, totally-submerged, sub-conscience. And I hope some of you related on some level. I certainly enjoyed the experience and the practice this blog has given me. Here’s to living a fishing life! Tight lines all.



Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sharing the Experience

I enjoy introducing people to the world of fly fishing and all it entails: the fish, the flies(artificial), the fly rods, the bugs, and the moving music of a river. Rivers, and the outdoors in general, is the one place in this world I feel completely comfortable sharing with others; it’s the one setting I feel absolutely uninhibited. In the real world, I stay rather reserved, but get me out on the river for an evening and you may get an overdose of me.

Last week I took Vincent Daniello out on the Mascoma river in Enfield New Hampshire. Vincent is also a fishing writer and was sent to me by way of Steve Cole from Upper Valley Outfitters, for help on getting acquainted with the fly rod and local small-stream trout fishing. I told Vince I’d get him going on basic nymphing techniques as well as developing the beginnings of a basic roll cast; hopefully creating a little of a foundation for him to build upon on his own time.

“You never forget the first one…” a line often heard out of the mouths of murderers, executioners, and soldiers a like. You never forget your first trout on a fly rod, especially when you catch one your first time out, like Vince managed to do. I didn’t expect Vince to catch one his first time out, although I thought his chances were going to be good. I had showed up to the river early and fished a little before meeting up with Vince and managed to catch two trout in a matter of six casts, so I knew the fish were there and willing.

We were going over the technique of drifting through a run and swinging the fly across the tail downstream when the trout struck Vince’s fly. I had set him up at the end of a deep run that tailed its way out to the edge of a rotted fallen tree. Vince was drifting his presentation through the run, staying as close as he could to the edge of the fallen tree before swinging his fly across the tail-out, when the fish took. I netted his fish for him, snapped a quick photo or two, and filmed his release of the trout.

Over the years I’ve gotten a few people into their very first trout on a fly rod and I have to say, it never gets old. It brings me nearly as much joy seeing someone else have that experience, as it did having that experience myself. If fly fishing is religion, then guiding someone to their first trout on a fly rod is the baptism, and I the minister.

I was lucky enough to catch one my first time out. I caught it on a dry fly too!, operating off of a 15 minute casting lesson in the parking lot of Steve’s bait shop, from Steve himself. I still remember the pattern that fooled that trout: a red and orange stimulator. An unnatural affinity for that pattern, as well as an unnatural faith, derives from that first trout, and the experience I had in catching it. I spent the next year or two in the decade that I’ve been fly fishing, using only dry flies with obvious stunted successes. For Vince’s first time out, he learned to nymph, which is where you’re supposed to start out in the fly fishing world. It’s more productive, and it helps ease a new fly angler into the sometimes frustrating world of fly fishing, by rewarding him with a few easy trout, usually.

Here's a video of the trout we caught on the Mascoma last week. Enjoy.


I spent the previous week on the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock Vermont. The first day out I stumbled upon an epic dragonfly hatch. The dragonfly nymphs were storming the sandy banks of the Ottauquechee, climbing onto rocks and bursting out of their nymphal forms, drying and forming their wings, and buzzing off into the hustle bustle of a midday’s afternoon.

I was lucky enough to witness this an actually caught some of it on film for you to enjoy. Although the trout weren’t keyed in on this hatch, I did manage to catch a few once I gave up on “matching the hatch,” and stuck to what usually works in the month of may.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Chance to Say Hello Again

I nearly drove off the road the first time I saw the Black River after hurricane Irene had pummeled her.  The black is one of my favorite rivers, but last year, after getting sort of lost in New Hampshire’s water-sheds; I failed to make even one visit to the black all year long. After Irene hit, I sort of lost hope, if only temporarily, for Vermont’s rivers and streams. I fished more than most did after the hurricane, but it was more of a surveying of damage than actual serious fishing.

I imagined the trout’s lives were much like that of the Vermont’s citizens living on, or near, some of the rivers that blew over last summer; their favorite places swept away in the events of a few days; their safe places, their homes, their gardens, their businesses gone like the shady crevices of those big rocks in the center of the black river, now beached and fully exposed, where the trout used to find sanctity in the summer’s heat, refuge in high water, and an abundance of the easy-food that fattens trout up over the course of a season. The trout were in a state of despair, after all, this was their disaster too, and I never felt quite right hunting the rivers for the last known survivors, so I mainly stayed away from the rivers in the months after Irene, waiting for the stock trucks to replenish the populations.

As I rolled around the s-curves that trace the black river from Weathersfield to Cavendish Vermont, I felt not only shocked and awed at what I was seeing, and the sheer power and cruelty mother nature can have when she gets in the mood, but somewhere below the mushroom cloud forming above my head was a little excitement and enthusiasm for these changes.

The black was a lot wider now and could hold more water than before, allowing it to run clear when most of our other rivers and streams were high and muddy.  The black used to be notorious for swelling up quick and turning to chocolate milk, but now, after the flattening Irene dished out, it ran clear to light green, even on weeks of heavy rain. My only concern will be how it flows when the rush of spring’s water dissipates in the dog days of summer. Time will tell.

Matt and I spent most of our time exploring, changing flies, and hopping from run to run in search of a quick fish. Caddis were sputtering out from beneath the rocky river banks as we walked from spot to spot. There were small bright yellows and larger tan caddis coming off sporadically, but it was by no means a major hatch.

The black has always been a famous nymph-ing river anyways, and is home to some of the biggest stoneflies I’ve ever seen. Every season we marvel at the hollow, empty carcasses they leave behind, clung to the rocks and the flat concrete walls under every bridge on the river, their bodies drained of all color making them look more like desert scorpions than anything in my fly box.    

We ended up nailing two fish in one spot. Matt was the first to strike pay-dirt, and I followed suit after changing to the fly he got his fish on: The Prince Nymph. I had the same pattern but it was several sizes smaller. The water was high and slightly off color but the fly still took a fish, further proving that the pattern was indeed more important than size, at least on this particular day…

The season is really just starting to heat up. The beginning was a bit slow but we did manage a few good fish, mostly coming out of the sugar river in Newport New Hampshire, which was the first to get stocked in our area. We also managed to find some native brook trout in central Vermont that had somehow survived all of Irene’s wrath last year.

It appears things aren’t as bad as I thought they were going to be after Irene. All our favorite spots depend on state stocking anyways, with very little wild reproduction taking place (perhaps even less now). These new trout will probably never know the difference, or understand the changes in their surroundings. At this point, I’m sure the only ones grieving over the changes to our rivers are the fly fishermen themselves; trout have better things to worry about. I like to think they worry about me when I’m on the bank, or standing in the river waving a big stick (Gierach), but I’m sure they’re not. 

Videos from this season so far. Enjoy



Saturday, March 31, 2012

Winter's Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I just wanted you all to know I did not fall through the ice this year to a watery grave; I am indeed alive and kicking, still. My ice fishing season was cut short this year partly due to abnormally warm weather, and partly because I couldn’t pull myself away from the fly bench. I’ve never been super-gong-ho about ice fishing anyways, and this years season was cut short by at least a month for most of the people I know who are really into it. Most years you could ice fish certain ponds and lakes well into the month of April, not this year. This year most guys I know were done around the first week of March, others were done even sooner than that.

On the bright side, the fly fishing season should heat up a little earlier this year. Most years April is always tough for finding fish, especially with melting snow pack, but this year the snow pack is gone and we are just over the mid-March hump. So in all reality we could see May’s hatches come in April this year. I’m going to start monitoring the water temps in the three main rivers I fish to see how quickly they are rising. With plenty of beautiful days ahead of us we could see the waters hitting the 45-55 degree range very soon, which means trout will be comfortably on the feed…

The last fishing-report style blog I did I believe was the one on the salmon run back in October, after that was the post about wild brook trout titled “The Little Things”, but since October there has been a lot of fishing; let’s see if I can give you a recap of sorts.

In the late fall I decided to introduce my mother to the world of steelheading. She has always loved to fish but has never been a fan of the cold, so I was wondering how this experience was going to go. Typically, steelhead season kicks off in November, after the Salmon spawn. Steelheading requires you to adjust to the bitter cold that must be endured to play with this species. The area we fish is also part of a snow-belt known as the “Tug-Hill Region”. Let’s say we get hit with a foot of snow in Vermont, in the Tug Hill region, that same storm would probably equate to three or more feet. Luckily this year was an unusually warm one, and mom didn’t have to get the full winter steelhead introduction.

In early December, Mom, Matt(The guy who went to the Salmon Run), and I made the trek to Salmon River NY. The flows were abnormally high on the Salmon so a friend of mine, Shane, from Altmar Outfitters, suggested we make our first stop at a small Lake Ontario tributary called Sandy Creek.

The ride over was the usual coffee raging, slightly lost, midnight ramble that it always is. Matt had just gotten out from a 12 hour shift and slept cozily in the back of my mom’s flashy new Buick sedan. I had decided to give my truck a break and ride in style this time, something I’m sure my mom wanted anyways, considering her new car, with its gazillion electronic buttons and built in voice-command on-star makes my Chevy truck seem closer to a horse and carriage, than an actual modern day vehicle.

While Matt slept, my mother and I did about 4 hours of chatting, something I know she greatly enjoys, and I was just happy to have someone awake and alive to interact with, to keep me from swerving off the road at the wheel. Most times these trips are only two-man operations, with one, or both men “just getting off a work shift”. Naturally one man drives and one catches a brief nap, in hopes that at least one of them has their wits about them, by sunrise on the river. Over the last 5 years since becoming a steelhead junkie I’ve grown accustomed to these 36 hour fish binges. I get up around 9 AM and go about my day as usual, depart from home around 11 PM for the river, and arrive at the river town around 5 AM. The cashier that sells me my coffee can tell I’m in desperate need of sleep. When I return after a full days fishing in the bitter cold, she’ll look at me and wonder if someone opened up a meth lab in town.

Learn to ignore the things you see in this flashback town, like the midget carpenter that walks into the gas station with his morning work crew, the tool belt around his waist holding a hammer almost low enough to put the handle in his boot. You don't mention the weird shit you see to your fishing companions, unless of course you both see it simultaneously, like the guy at the traffic light in front of you, sitting in an IROC-Z, still rocking some kind of mullet influenced hair-style, with a license plate that should say “whitesnake”, if only New York would allow two more characters. The first day of any Salmon River trip is usually rough, and always ends with a hot meal and a few beers to ensure I reach R.E.M stage sleep as soon as possible. Staying up for 36 hours is a cinch, you just have to learn to ignore the minor hallucinations that start after the 24 hour mark and you’ll be just fine.

The first day out with my mom was spent on Sandy Creek. It was actually my first time fishing this particular creek and it was nice to see some new water. Sandy Creek is about 50-60 feet wide, and cascades over flat rock shelves and stone table-tops creating little pockets and plunge pools around every bend. It is the perfect place to bring a newbie. The wading is entry level, the water is easy to cover, and it's not as crowded as the World Famous Salmon River.

Quickly we got into fish. Matt wasted no time and hauled in his first chromer, a fresh male over the 20 inch mark. I raced to zoom in from the bank with my camera but the fish made off before I could even get the lens cap off, slipping out of Matt's hands and into the river. There would be more camera problems later on when Matt landed another fish, a nice fat domestic rainbow, and the power failed to turn on due to the cold temps. We didn't risk stressing the fish waiting for the camera to power up, so we just let him go. After that day I started packing the pockets of my camera bag with hand and foot warmers and haven't had a problem since.

We fished down to the first bridge and got into a bunch of fish. I managed to lose three in a matter of four or five casts: two spit hooks and a break off. When we reached the downstream bridge we decided to take a break, have lunch, and head to Salmon River to see what we could get into.

It was good to be back on the Salmon in familiar territory, but the fishing had already died down. My mom retired early and Matt and I spent the end of the day taking in the scenery, although from an outsiders view, it probably looked more like two men desperately searching for fish, covering as much water as daylight would allow them, and throwing “everything but the kitchen sink” into the river in hopes for a shot at the “day-breaker fish”.

The day-breaker fish comes mysteriously. In those last hours of daylight, after a million casts without a pull, you get that tug you've been looking for all day long. Perhaps that tug solidifies the days efforts for you. Perhaps it solidifies the days efforts for your entire party. In my early days of Steelheading there would sometimes be trip-breaking fish. To be shamefully honest, I didn't land a steelhead until my third trip to Salmon River. I had been beat by a few wall hangers and made a sore loser from my own bad knots on many occasions. So when we ended that trip and Mom didn't land one I wasn't surprised; nobody said steelheading was easy work.

Matt had a good trip, but he got a great introduction to handling larger salmonoids during the salmon run a month before, so I was sure landing them wasn't going to be a big problem for him. He didn't land any real hogs but he got a enough of a taste to want to come back for more.  I can definately see he is starting to develop both a passion for these migratory fish, as well as a general love for the Salmon River.  God help him! lol

Matt and I would return later in the winter to find the river still at a raging flow. This years unusually warm weather has kept the Salmon River pumping at spring level flows. The fishing has been a little easier, at least on the human bodies out in pursuit of it.

I had psyched Matt up in the months before the Steelhead came in, about winter weather in western New York. Matt does some winter hiking in the mountains of New Hampshire so he was certainly well prepared, but the weather over there never showed it's true face for him to experience it for himself. I can't say I missed the weather, but the jury is still out on how the climate change will affect the spring steelhead fishing.

Matt and I will be finding out in about a week or so as we make what will be a first for us both: drop-back season. For those of you unfamiliar with imprinted tailwater steelhead, these fish spend all fall and winter making their way up into the tributaries of the waters from which they came from. They come in to “get it on” and continue their cycle of life. When they reach the end of the river, their spawning grounds, it's like a big sex party, and come spring, when they all decided they've either done the job or had enough, they drop back, as hungry as you or I would be after a three month sex binge. The fishing is supposed to be fantastic, but we will see.

Enjoy the fish porn....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Little Things

Long before fly fishing took over my life, before things had to be complicated to be enjoyed, and before the lust for trout in ever-expanding sizes dominated my dreams and nightmares, there were woodland brooks, filled with the smallest brook trout you have ever seen; it was the first of my many worlds of fishing.

As a young boy, before being granted the types freedom you would need to roam the woods alone, I fished with my parents, on small ponds and lakes in Vermont and New Hampshire, from a 12 foot aluminum boat, with trolling lines, spoons, and feather spinners. The fishing was easy, and you could daydream while cruising around, or keep your eyes alert for the animals living in, above, and around the body of water. We used an electric trolling motor. It was almost silent, and one could grow numb to the vibrations it sent through the structure of the boat after a while, not realizing the motor was on at all, until you beached it at the end of the night, and heard the propellar sputtering in the shallow water.

It was on these little ponds and lakes that I first fell in love with trout. My best memories as a child were those cool spring evenings, trolling in circles with my mother and father, taking turns reeling them in. The paint was still wet on my parent's relationship. They still fished together, and made use of their free time effectively, as young couples often do. They would go on off-road expeditions, hike, hunt, fish, and more. They were young, and life had not lowered it's jaws on them yet. There was no mortgage, no house projects, no big promotions with new strains of responsibilities; things were simpler. A couple of years later things would change. They would buy a house, get promoted, and have a baby. The routine of fishing after work on those quiet ponds would come to an end; but it was good while it lasted.

I was thrilled to not be the only child. I was also happy they did not have a girl, as at the time, at age 12, the company of girls was undesirable. I absolutely adored my brother Matt. I readily helped take care of him in his first three years, jumping at any opportunity to babysit him. I enjoyed it, and it made me feel more responsible and helpful in my parent's eyes. My only regret was the giant age difference between us; my childhood would have been much richer if we were only a few years apart, instead of 12. By the time he was six years old, I would be 18, and six is about the time a boy catches the fish-bug.

By the time he was three I was off to high school. I babysat when my parents really needed it, but no longer had the free time I did before my teenage years. I was consumed with the usual things that rule teenage boys: sports, girls, working, and getting behind the wheel of an automobile. Throughout my high school years I was so busy I became a ghost around the house: only present for short spells of sleeping, between sports, school, work, and chasing tail.

By the time high school was over, my brother would be ready to learn my little secret, and I would have finally slowed down enough in life to show him. See, in the three years before high school, when he was just a baby, and my parents no longer had the time to fish, I had discovered the magical world of woodland brooks, and the native Brook Trout of Vermont; it was my fishing salvation. Without those little trickles of water, and the abundant trout in them, I would not be as avid a fisherman as I am today.

My parents had bought a house in the country. We had moved from one of those big apartment complexes where you had to identify yourself over an intercom system to obtain entry into the building, to a small hunting town ten miles away. The only upside of living in the big complex for me was the amount of kids in the neighborhood, many of whom I got into several bouts of trouble with, over the course of our time living there.

This new house was in the country. It was surrounded by farms, woods, brooks and beaver ponds. I was no stranger to the country, I had spent the earliest of my years in a place that would make my new surroundings look like the burbs, before I actually moved to the burbs, of course. Now I was back in the country after a brief hiatus, and I loved it.

Before we had completely moved into the new house, my mother sprouted the idea that we should get a dog, and I agreed. I had already had a few dogs at this point in my life, but we had never stayed in any one place long enough to keep any of them. One had to be given away, one was shot after devouring an entire pen of rabbits, and one was lost in a divorce settlement; I had never really had a dog long enough to know what it was really all about.

My mother had an affinity for Black Labs, so when we went to the shelter to pick a dog out, I was pretty sure I knew which one was coming home with us. I hadn't paid him much mind that day. He was barking and keeping his distance from anyone who entered the kennel. I had several other dogs picked out for myself, one being a drooling, grunting Bulldog, but my mother had other plans, and we ended up leaving with a chubby, dopey, black lab named Bear, who turned out to be an excellent choice.

So at this point, I had a new house in the country, and a dog to help me explore my new surroundings; I was in heaven. All of this came at the head of a summer vacation. Bear and I would explore the woods, build forts, camp, and eventually fish our whole summer away. On my treks with Bear through the woods, I would discover Lull's Brook, which ran past our house, and went for miles throughout the town of Hartland, where we now lived. My stepfather would always talk about how they used to catch trout out of these little trickle streams when he and his siblings were kids. At the time I didn't believe him, and couldn't fathom the thought of trout living in such a small environment. All the trout I had caught had come from lakes and ponds, and the thought of them living here, in these tiny brooks, seemed impossible. I would soon find out the truth.

I had seen a couple older boys heading down the trail that leads to the brook by my house, fishing poles and worm-cans in hand, with a dog tailing them. I was the new kid in a small town, and hadn't made any friends yet, so I followed them, with my dog bear at my side. I followed them out of curiosity; “What are they doing?” I thought, “fishing in that tiny brook? And for what?Minnows?”.

Bear and I had spent the first summer at the new house trying to break off every dead tree branch from every pine on our property, using the big dead limbs to build tee-pees throughout the woods. We had been up and down the brook, and followed it's path deep into the forest, stacking flat stones from old walls meant for penning up cattle, to create dams in all the brooks deepest spots; this was an old Hartland tradition, among the town's boys too young yet to drive to the more popular swimming holes. Never once had I thought there were fish in these waters. And I had never seen them. At best, all I thought might become of the brook was a good place to cool off in the summer's heat; if only I had known...

That day when I followed those older boys into the forest I found out that there were indeed trout in these waters: lots of them. When I found them, I noticed they were dunking worms in the white bubbly plunge pools, as they meandered their way down the brook. The dog they had with them came rushing stoutly toward bear and I, barking loudly, but with the shrill pitch of a nervous animal. Bear was a hefty dog, and somewhere along the lines we had raised suspicions he wasn't of pure blood. The rumor around the shelter where we acquired him, was that there was some Newfoundland in him, how true it was we will never know. None-the-less he didn't back down from their dog, nor did he really get too aggressive; he liked most dogs, and most dogs liked him. Most cats never took him serious though, at least until he sped after them with the power of an ox. Bear loathed cats, enough so that my mother refused to get a house cat, until long after he had passed away; she knew it would never have worked out.

I introduced myself to the two boys. Being new in town I figured I needed all the friends I could find, and fishing friends were the best kind to have. Typical of fishermen, the two boys were not thrilled to see me on their water. I introduced myself, and told them where I lived. They told me about the kids that had previously lived in my new residence, making them out to be real oddballs, presuming perhaps that only oddballs would live there, and I being one of them, of course. I found myself with not much to say. I mostly stood there waiting for some kind of proof of life to come up out of that plunge pool. That's when one of the boys baited the hook with a fresh worm, hopped down to the next hole, and immediately pulled out what was the smallest Brook Trout I had ever seen, at maybe four inches long. I raced over to see his catch more closely. Indeed it was a trout, and not some sort of shiner, like I had originally believed it to be. I immediately withdrew from the boys, pulled Bear away from the other dog's asshole, and headed home to grab my rod, and roll a few rocks for some earthworms as bait.

It was already getting late by the time I made it home. I grabbed my rod, rolled one big rock, pulling from the soil beneath it the tails of two big night-crawlers, and headed back down to the brook. I fished every plunge pool on the way back to the spot the two boys started fishing, but did not catch anything until several holes past that point. I caught two trout that day, both of which were very small, but still came home with me for the frying pan. I rushed home with them, running up my long steep driveway and into the house panting, just to show my folks what I had caught. That night I ate those trout for dinner. I ate them not out of hunger, or lust for the taste of their flesh, but as some kind of sacrilegious ceremony; some kind of Indian “ode to the land”. My new ground was fertile, and that day marked what would blossom into a lengthy romance, with with a skinny, petite piece of water.

For the next few years I would spend countless days following the brook deep into the woods, going further and further down it's slope, until I started running out of the daylight needed to make it home. Some days I would skip right to the best stretches, and others I would meander slowly, fishing every possible trout holding spot in sight. The fishing was always easy, and the eager Brook Trout aided me in learning how to read water; something that would serve me well for a lifetime. There were the undercut banks, the plunge pools, the bend pools, and the big deep pools that always held the biggest trout. Eventually I stopped keeping trout. The decision came to me one day after I found that my favorite stretches were beginning to produce less and less fish. At one point I started putting fish in a bucket, and moving them back upstream, placing them in the deeper pools closer to my house, with hopes to have some sort of farm, or hatchery, full of my own fish.

Some days I wouldn't even fish. I would collect big night-crawlers the evening before, by walking softly and scanning the lawn with a flash light, chasing them down as they slithered frantically back into their holes. There were times I would fill a whole tomato sauce jar full of them, with what looked like a hundred worms, all writhing about in one big worm-ball inside the jar. The next afternoon I would walk the brook, tossing the crawlers generously into each pool and waiting for the darting shadows of Brook Trout to shred them apart, or carry them off into their dark hideouts. I always had more worms than they could eat, and at the end of the day I would toss the remainder into the fast riffles, imagining their bodies cascading down the river, one by one falling victim to a lying trout, until all were gone.

I was this brooks keeper, if only for a moment in time. As I got older, and my mind started gearing towards competitive sport, and pretty girls, I didn't fish that brook much at all. I had older friends with cars, and the means to find new and exciting waters. It was the mid 90's, and gas was less than a dollar a gallon. My friends and I would gallivant all over Vermont and New Hampshire, in search or fun and trouble, many times with rod-in-hand. My little stretch of brook did not get any rest, however. I started seeing a couple young boys, about the same age as I was when I first discovered the brook, roaming up my road and into the woods, buckets and fishing poles I hand. At first this made me mad, but I realized such a wild place could not be mine forever, so I let it go.

As the years went on, my fish, and the adventures that led me to them, got bigger and bigger. Every once and a while I would come back home and fish that old stretch. It was never quite as grand as I'd remembered, and eventually the stretch became barren for a couple years, and I wondered what had happened. Perhaps the boys fishing it never got tired of killing trout. Perhaps they emptied it early on in the season and moved to a different stretch; or maybe something else was to blame?

Eventually my little brother reached an age where he was old enough to roam the woods and fish. I showed him my old stretch and how to fish it. I dragged him on long treks, deep into the woods, and tired and exhausted him to the point of mental breakdown, on more than a few occasions; it was beautiful torture, and it was necessary knowledge for him to gain, as I was of age, and would be leaving him behind for college and adulthood. I knew he would find solace and adventure in these great little brooks running by our house, much like I once did. I knew it would be the first place he was allowed to roam free and feel independent, and it was. Whenever I would come home from college he would tell me about how many he had caught, or if the season was still open, we would fish that stretch together, or I would show him a new stretch he couldn't find without me. Today he is a teenager, and it makes me happy that he still fishes that same brook, for the same trout that I fell in love with so many years ago.

I haven't fished that brook in a long time. Lately I've been thinking about it though. So much so that I've ordered a 2-weight fly rod just for the occasion. I've never fished that stretch with a fly rod; it would be like fishing it for the first time, all over again.

These last 5 years I've spent primarily chasing big Pacific Salmon and Steelhead, and trolling bigger lakes in search of larger trout and Atlantic Salmon. I do find great thrills in the pursuit of brutish fish, but my heart still beats no faster for them than it did for those little, delicate brookies I grew up with. Those Brook Trout, as small as they are, were still truer fish than anything raised in a hatchery, and passed as wild. I appreciate them, and I relate with them, and as a small town boy from the country, I feel in-tune with them. No matter where life takes me, and whatever thrills I find there, you can still scrape my surface and reveal red dots with blue halos.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Salmon River Bloodbath

Salmon River N.Y.

Never has so little water, been so full of fish. This is Western New York, not Alaska, not British Columbia and certainly not Tierra Del Fuego. You won't find this river mentioned in the books by all the poetic, fish-loving writers of the world. You won't see this place on those filler fishing programs they air on sports channels, in the odd hours of the day, when demographics says nobody's watching. But don't let this fool you, this place, although not as pretty as some of the aforementioned locales, is home to world class fishing.

Every year, the biggest, and baddest, pacific salmon brutes, leave the comforts of the big water, following their hearts, or their noses, or their instincts, and head upriver to spawn and die. All we really know is they return home, and that this phase is the end of their life cycle. A process in which assures that new life will be promised for the next season.

What makes this particular river, and all the great lakes tributaries special, is the fact that they are so short. The places that lie on most salmon and steel headers “bucket” lists, involve fishing on rivers that span hundreds of miles in length, whereas, the Salmon river is approximately 16 miles long, from pour out to hatchery, at which point the fish cannot move any further.

This river floods with fish, and anyone who has ever read a story about how hard west coast salmon and steel heading is, might scratch their heads after spending a few days on this river. I myself, have read many a tale of single-fish weeks in British Columbia, or trips to Alaska that had to be salvaged when the Salmon didn't show up as expected. Stories about guides opting to take clients expecting 40-60 pound kings, out to fish for five pound char and gray ling. Anyone who wants to make the trek to the final frontier for gray ling and char, is certainly a sicker patient than I.

For guys in the northeast, making a trip to New York can be just as rewarding, if not more, than a trip to any of those places. However, if you're the type that needs a beautiful change of scenery, this place just won't do it for you. Western New York is as flat as the northeast gets; the only thing around there that will captivate you is water-related. The fishing here however, will change you, in the same way passing over the continental divide for the first time in your life, burns a haunting image in your mind of what's out there, beyond the clear blue: these waters will haunt you.

This place can ruin any man used to everyday stream trout. Lake Ontario, the Great lake that supports these tributaries, can do the same to any boat fisherman as well. Depending on your personality, and degree of love for the sport, this place can turn what used to be your glory days, into just an act of leisure. I say this because it has happened to me to some extent. If it wasn't for my devotion to fly fishing, and catching trout on dry-flies in particular, I may just have been sucked into the vortex surrounding this mystical river, and salmon and steel heading in general.

Those who do get sucked in, have a hard time coming home and finding pleasure in pulling stream trout to the net, without much struggle, and with very few heartbreaks, as I call them. The heartbreaks usually involve snapped line, spit hooks, or just plain getting beat by the fish you're attached to. I sit back and wonder sometimes if it's the heartbreaks I'm addicted to, and not the “winning” moments, as Charlie Sheen would say. Your average angler, after spending a day in search of winter steel head, might begin to wonder who's crazier, steel headers or Charlie Sheen. I know I've had plenty of days when I've questioned my own sanity, out wading the river in February, casting for hours just to get one or two players.

This place can get to you, especially if it doesn't meet your expectations, and you've invested more than a few bucks to ante up. You've driven hundreds of miles, spent a few hundred dollars, perhaps taken coveted vacation time to chance it...and you come up short. The 5 hour ride home is a silent one, tiredness catches up with you, you start to think about what you could have done with two days on your local waters. There is no singing along with the radio, no joking, no recounts to be glorified; you've been beaten. This is the game though, and like all games, you have to play to win. The following story is about winning.

WINNNNNIIIIING! (Charlie Sheen Voice)

All season long I had been throwing out one liners to various anglers I knew, both in “Real Life”, as well as those I am acquainted with through various social networks. The forums, by which many of us out-of -towners base our frenzied lunging upon, would light up once a week, with reports heavy on the fish porn. The three, folded up,100 dollar bills I had hidden in the belly of my wallet, would begin to warm, and slowly eat through the leather. I emailed the people I thought could get sucked into this kind of thing; this mad plan to chase running fish. The messages were sometimes detailed, if I thought severe convincing, and logistics, need be applied. Sometimes, it would be as simple as two words and a punctuated cat tail: Salmon Run?

The responses I got back varied from family events, work obligations, lack of funding, even probation conditions. The reports kept piling in, I was anxious, the three hundred dollar bills had turned into two hundred dollar bills at this point; I could not afford this trip without a sidekick...

Earlier this year I had met a friend of mine on the Mascoma river, in Enfield New Hampshire. He had brought a friend of his along that he had put on to fly fishing, and we all fished a tough-luck, evening micro hatch, of tricos (size 22), with scattered tan caddis coming off sporadically. I was the only one out of the group who managed to hookup, going 2-2 on a brookie and a rainbow. I was using a white wulff, with a green pupa dropper, eighteen inches from the wulff's hook shank. One fish came on the dropper, one came on the dry; it was a classic affirmation of why I almost always rock tandem.

I always like to see other anglers in what I call the coital phase of fly fishing. This term refers to that period of time where an angler must become one with his fly rod. If an angler never makes it out of this phase he is doomed. Many people buy into the mystique surrounding fly fishing, only to get turned off by the whole process of it and give up, going back to conventional methods forever. For me, the coital period lasted nearly five years. Fly fishing remained in constant competition with spin fishing, and lake trolling, for some time. By the fifth year, I dedicated nearly all of my fishing time to the fly rod. I said to myself “time to stop F**cking around, and get GOOD at this”. In that year I noticed myself improving, others noticed as well; I was finally making love to the fly rod. Both my friend, and his friend ,are in the coital phase, and I hope they make it out alive. Buying into the whole fly fishing “thing” is the first step, and it's a big and bold one.

I had nobody else to poke and prod into making a trip. I had already suckered one person into buying a ticket to the salmon show a month earlier, only to spend three hard days searching the vast salmon river estuary, managing only to hook a few fish, in the last hours of the final day. A heavy rain had pounded us suddenly, and we almost retreated with the rest of the anglers. But as I watched the area become vacant, I saw opportunities open up, so I slid the anchor back down into the muddy bottom of the estuary. For an hour we took turns tying into king salmon, only to be beaten by each one. 72 hours of out of town angling. for one hour of angling glory; it was the rivers way of saying “thank you, please try again”.

Exhausted of recruits for the fishing trip, I remembered the friend of a friend. I messaged my friend, and asked him if his buddy would have any interest in something like the salmon run, he said “ask him, I bet he's down”.Times like these remind me of why I'm part of the social network movement at all. Finding my friends buddy Matt was a cinch using Facebook, what was even easier was getting Matt sold on salmon fishing; the trip was on!

We met up around 9 pm, packed the truck with all our gear and departed west. The trip takes us through western Vermont and eastern New York, right to the shores of Great Lake Ontario. I've made this trip too many times now to count, and put enough miles on my truck doing so, that I could have made it back and forth to Montana four or five times already.

Within a few hours you find yourself on I-90w, a highway that stretches from here to the coast of California. Every time I get on I-90w, something inside of me wants to forge on past my destined exit, and keep going until I see the continental divide. Then I’m reminded by my wallet that I only have enough money to get me somewhere inside of Ohio; and nobody wants to be stuck in Ohio!

During the ride over I tried to get Matt up to speed regarding the Salmon River. Perhaps I just wanted to fuel his anxiety and excitement, or keep him from the shock of having to fish next to 100 other anglers. Most people won't endure this for anything, not even giant salmonoids! This river initially sucked me in by way of the steel head that inhabit it, after the salmon make their run. I had seen the pictures of the combat fishing lines, and heard the stories of people snagging fish in their tails and backs. For a while I decided not to pursue these fish, but curiosity killed this cat, and I eventually caved in.

The first day we ended up getting to the river late, and had to squeeze in between other anglers in line. The spot we held wasn't bad, it just wasn't where you wanted to be, and much of the day was spent watching other people catch fish. We had a few hookups, but not many, and all of them managed to get loose. Fish were everywhere though, and we knew that the second day would require us to get up very early, if we wanted to get a prime spot.

The highlight of the first day was watching a woman cast her switch rod. She was fishing with several other male anglers and each one was as fascinated by her methods as I was. For those of you who don't know, a switch rod is a fly rod that can be cast with two hands, or just one, depending on your needs at the time. It's refereed to as Spey Casting, however there are rods that are only meant to be used with two hands, whereas the switch rod gives you the option.

This woman put on a clinic. She could cast virtually anywhere she liked; her reach was only fenced by the opposing riverbank. Not only was her casting amazing, but she was catching fish, enough in fact, that she had no problem hooking up her male counterparts, who had been struggling all day, with a fish or two to soothe their frustrations. In my circle, we call this a “hand job” or “hand off” if you're in the presence of a lady, or someone so square they would be offended by the term. It's a fun little saying to use when telling a fishing story. The look on the listeners face is usually priceless. For a brief second, they're visual imagery is corrupted, by the thought of two men doing something entirely inappropriate for the stories setting. Most times, people get it without me having to explain things, other times I have to define the term in order to wipe the disgusted look off of their faces. Later, at the lodge, I would tell her story to the other patrons: “there's was a woman putting on a clinic in the fly zone, she was giving everyone hand jobs!”.

When I bring new people to this river, there's usually a hand job involved. Most times it's tough fishing, or at least the method is so foreign to them it becomes tough, and I hate to see someone go home a sore loser, so I get a fish on, and hand them the rod like “ go get um”.

Day 2 started at 3 am, or at least it did for me. I was haunted by the few fish I'd tango'd with the day before. Nightmares of spit hooks and snapped line, I woke up in a sweat, long before the alarm clock got its chance ruin my slumber. I powered up my laptop, and scanned the fishing forums, while Matt lay sleeping. I finished reading the posts of the day, and began packing the truck for a quicker decent, after the days fishing was over.

The spot we were fishing was literally 50 yards from the lodge we were staying in. As I packed the truck, I could hear what sounded like someone dropping cannonballs into the river. I shut the truck door, grabbed a flashlight from the utility box, and took a walk down the street, to the bridge over the river. When I reached bridge, I pointed the flashlight down into the dark water, exposing the backs of what appeared to be a pod of about 50 salmon. I raced to the other side of the bridge, and repeated the process, only to see the line of salmon extending another 200 feet, maybe more; as the flashlight can only reach so far.

A week earlier, Shane Muckey, the owner of Altmar Outfitters, had told me they were “stacked up like cord wood”. Our first day on the river, I would have said the fish were numerous, but not exactly stacked by any means. What I was seeing now WAS, indeed, salmon stacked like cord wood, although I would acquaint it to something like: the line at a Harry Potter premier, or perhaps what if Woodstock had only one Porto-potty; the salmon were definitely occupying the river like Wall Street.

I hoofed it back to the lodge, got fully geared up, and began pestering Matt out of his slumber. I contemplated skipping the process by rigging the alarm clock to go off, and waiting to explain things, long after he had realized my dirty trick. I always hate doing this, and I'm never sure how my friends will take being woken up at 3:30 in the morning by a guy in Gore-Tex overalls, but Matt didn't seem to mind, and simply said “you don't sleep do you?” I replied “not when I'm near this river”.

We got geared up, filled ourselves with donuts and coffee, and hit the river. It was around 4:30 am at this point, and not surprisingly, we weren't the only ones there. Matt and I looked down from the bridge one last time before going to our spot; they were still there, but it was still a good hour and a half until legal fishing time, and all their was to do was sip coffee and wait.

When the sun started to creep up, a heavy fog had blanketed the river. We had spent the last hour and a half watching salmon splash around in the dark, their tails and fins coming out of the water like sharks, or schools of tarpon. We waited until it was close enough to legal fishing time, which either pertains to the actual time, or the point you look around, and realize people are already fishing, the latter of which almost always comes first. It was too dark to fish, but we did anyways, and by my third cast I was on to a 10 pound salmon, commonly refereed to as a jack. Somehow, by way of luck, Matt managed to net the fish in the dark. I unhinged the hook from its jaw while it was still in the net, and Matt took a picture that not even a flash could enhance. It was a small, ugly fish...but it was a fish, and a good sign of how the day was going to go.

I started off with the hot rod, having landed something like 6 salmon in a couple hours span. Matt had hooked up a few times, but had been beaten by them all. I had landed 6, but had hooked into probably 20. For a good stretch, it seemed like I was hooking up at will, and seeing my counterpart go fish-less only brought about ill feelings. I connected again and walked over to Matt “you want it, go ahead” I said “no, that's alright” he replied. Stubborn, I thought, I like that!

Another hour went by and I was still killing them. Matt was having a tough time landing fish, and had even resorted to getting a “hand off”, only to have the hook spit. He was under-geared for this trip, to say the least, and I had thought it might have kept him from the success I was having. We switched spots, just in case it was location, that was keeping me on fish. I still hooked up in Matt's spot, however Matt seemed to be hooking up more than before, so my guess is that the spot had something to do with it. By the time 9:00 rolled around Matt had finally gotten into his groove, by landing his first King Salmon: a good 15 pound male. I was finally the one holding the camera, and a sense of relief had come over me, relief that my guest wouldn't go home, completely chewed up by this river.

The rest of the day was a slaughter. The type of day where you lose track of the numbers, and time melts off the clock like butter in a microwave. We had fought many, many salmon, so many in fact, taking pictures of the fish that had become ordinary seemed redundant, so we didn't. The camera only came out for the hogs, which was any fish over 20 pounds. Sometimes we would snap a photo of one that was particularly ugly, or beat up. The clinic we were putting on, had drawn spectators, and evil eyes from across the river; we were those guys, if only for a day.

One of the more memorable fish was one that had gotten away, (which is the oldest fish story in the book, I know), however, the fight was witnessed by nearly 60 other people, some of which had a bird's eye view from the bridge, down to the pool we were fishing. One guy made a remark that it was “a big coho”, what he guessed to be about “20 pounds”, but the fish got off, after a valiant battle, that kept everyone fishing the pool, with their lines out of the water, impatiently waiting.

It was perhaps the most successful day I've ever had in my fishing life. If I added it up in pounds, like a bass-guy would, it would probably be my high-water mark forever. Fortunately, I measure success a little differently, and there's still a chance that day will not be my “Apex”.

The ride home wasn't typical of two guys who just caught 60 salmon. We were tired. Beat from having no sleep, and spending 10 hours constantly connected to thrashing salmon. It was a slog back to our point of origin. My eyes wanted to close; coffee, and cold air from a cracked window, was the only thing keeping me from crashing. When we finally hit the Vermont welcome sign, I got my bodies last rush of adrenaline, and it pushed us home.

A day later, I recharged, and began uploading hero pictures, and posting victory reports of my own, on various internet forums. The folks outside of “the know”, thought Matt and I had gone to Alaska, judging from the pictures of the trip. I wish...although I’m not sure if that type of success would be guaranteed, even in Alaska. Two days later Matt and I started plotting for a return to the river, this time on a quest for STEEL.