With three words their worlds changed forever.
Some say it's the way their ID's clashed like badly shifted gears when they fished together. But, the truth is Kaine and April are fraternal twins - brother and sister - and they're the rare kind that look alike.
Today it started over drafts of Bellaire Brown served at Shorts Brewery after a tough day of fishing the Cedar River, trying to pull trout from undercuts along the bank, and from the several eddies that formed where the river bends and the current is broken by dead-falls. They had been successful, but only in the sense of having brought a meager few to net - two rainbows and a creek chub each. It was not as productive as they had hoped. They wanted brook trout.
The banter began with laments of the fishing's "would-have-could-have-should-haves" and progressed to critiquing one-another's choice of flies. It was a typical "blonde" vs "redhead" type of discussion that turned heated, whimsical and finally into a contest to clearly acknowledge the better technique...and, of course, the better piscator.
They talked alike, they cussed alike, they even dressed alike...
Kaine, the "blonde" was adamant that the only way – and best way - to produce trout, was with a dry fly cast to a rising fish. The "redhead", April, scoffed at the puritanical attitude, denouncing it as "a ready-made excuse for someone used to making excuses." Pow!
By the time the fourth round of beer arrived, the discussion had turned into near argument, culminating in a wager for tomorrow’s trip to the Jordan River. A wager to prove whether fishing with a wet fly would produce more and bigger fish than those produced with a dry fly.
The terms of the wager were simple: They would fish the same water at the same time. The bet was for bragging rights, but just to make it interesting, the loser would man the sticks for an entire float trip on the winner’s choice of water in their jointly owned drift boat.
Yep, fraternal twins – and some would even say nearly identical. They talked alike, they cussed alike, they even dressed alike as far as a guy and girl can without seeming like cross-dressers - boy boots, tight jeans, sleeveless cable guy shirts and straw cowboy hats. For both it was more of a comfort thing.
Given their different hair color (which is the same as when they were born), and fly-fishing preference (which was also the same until they reached thirteen) their fishing styles are as unlike as any two siblings can be. And their clashes were legendary.
You just keep flipping that poofy thing you call a fly at them there fish.
From the moment they both stepped into the sweet, honey-colored waters of the Jordan one could see the steam begin to rise. Glancing each others rig askance prompted a wrinkle-nose sneer. It's not like they didn't know what to expect. But there was always that dumb-shudder of disbelief.
Why does he fish dry-fly?, she thought with a mental thumbs-down.
I can't believe she fish's nymphs, he convulsed.
It wasn't any different today. April, began by tying on a pheasant tail nymph weighted moderately with lead wire. On the first cast the fly hit the water and began to sink in front of a submerged log that protruded about six inches out of the water with branches stretching and resting on the bottom, creating a fish-hotel of sorts. Nothing happened.
The cast was made again after the nymph straightened in the current and this time hesitated on its way down the length of the log. She lifted the rod in anticipation and instantly felt the tug of a fish. After stripping line, the tug stopped and it was clear the fly was now snagged on one of the arms of the submerged log. Shit happens.
Bah! That's the trouble with nymphing, Kaine thought, Yur always hangin' up.
There are many maneuvers that can free a stuck fly, but none consists of grabbing the rod with both hands and yanking repeatedly. On the third yank April lost footing and fell backwards, regaining it just in time to keep from getting a total dunking. Her sigh of relief was short lived as in her hands was a broken three foot section of her eight foot fly rod. The rest of the rod was dangling by threads of graphite.
Kaine couldn't contain his most practiced evil blast of laughter, "Haahaaaaa! Skues would be proud of you! But, you did manage to stay dry...barely."
Undaunted April gave the line a quick yank, collected the rod parts and stumbled from the river, Kaine detecting her every slip – weird, she's as sure footed as I am.
"Gettin' the backup. You just keep flipping that poofy thing you call a fly at them there fish. We're hardly done, bastardus."
He expected a firestorm...
Uneasy with April's unsteadiness, Kaine flipped the observation away – coffee shakes, he thought. But on her return April waded around a low cedar-sweeper and again she slipped and nearly topped her hip-boots.
Back beside Kaine April sensed the question in his eyes.
"I'm slightly pregnant", she said.
Kaine stood motionless as her three words penetrated his head. The first two were like a shotgun blast. The third was worse; it was like the whole Hiroshima boom complete with mushroom cloud and scorched earth. He looked up and stared at the sky a few seconds, then doffed his straw hat in recognition of her new condition. Or it might have been respect, or a simple salutation between two persons once so genetically indivisible, now forever parted.
He then blurted out the only thing he could think of to say...
"And here I thought you were just gettin' a beer belly."
Kaine leaned down, dunked his straw hat in the Jordan, scooped up a brim-full of its cold, crystal water, and dumped it on April's head. He expected a firestorm but she just laughed, they laughed until they cried.
"There!" Kaine said. "If it's a boy call him Jordan."
April snapped back, "Hell, if it's a girl I'll still call her Jordan!"
But with three words the world changed. From the color of the sky to the shadows of the sun, it all changed.
And all bets were off. - WES:::
That single silver moment that calls to us.
In the dense cover of the early season one can spook-up and never see a half-dozen or more grouse for every bird you may be blessed to actually lock eyes upon. And for that one well-camouflaged bird, in the still-green thickness, you may not see it in time for a decent shot. What one will most likely experience is the sound and whirr of wings and, if you are lucky, the brief blur of a gray-brown projectile just as it disappears from your sight.
Such are the frustrations of hunting for the ruffed grouse in the early season.
It may be whatever you dream. The sporting life calls to us in such ways.
Yet such are the true rewards. When on that rare and sunny day, and when all goes right, there happens a good and noisy flush, and the gun comes up, and a bird, no...a myth...goes down. Perfection.
Such silver moments call upon men over and over again. And he will re-enact his quest for years perhaps, maybe for a lifetime, to achieve that single ideal. It may be the perfect shot on a perfect day. It may be the rise of a trout on the perfect river. It may be the cedar arrow nocked, loosed and that seeks its target as if on a beam of heavenly light. It may be whatever you dream. The sporting life calls to us in such ways.
Nature calls too. Listen to the wind hiss through the tops of tall pines for very long and it will evoke an essential wildness in men that will call to his heart for the rest of his life. And it will be perfect. - WES:::
There's an old maxim that says "Sometimes you have to leave home to truly see it." That can apply equally as well to fly-fishing.
Author Chuck Sams tells it like it is.
The long Michigan winter and Saturdays watching Major League Fishing almost had me convinced to abandon my fly rods this year. In fact, I had vowed not to pick one up, not even for the run of Lake Michigan salmon on the Pere Marquette River this coming fall. I was fat and happy following MLF - the soap opera of bass fishing - and stocking up on plastic worms and bullet weights. I was going to abstain from something I’d been obsessed with for more than fifteen years, and to be honest, I was feeling good about it.
Then the text message from C. T. came, "I am free this weekend. It's late June, it's going to be 90 degrees out there, and we've never hit the Hex quite right. Let's go." He was right; we'd never hit the Hex quite right. We'd always been too late or too early. Hell, we'd never really hit the trout all that right except for an odd fish here or there that we'd figured had been dropped on its head during a release by another angler. I balked at first, thinking about MLF and all the bass out there in the local lakes just waiting to be caught. I'd call up C. T. and say, "No, got too much going on let’s just stay local and hang a few bucket mouths." But then my mind started to work; last weekend in June, warm outside, Hex reports are good, the timing and conditions have never been better.
...there was no doubt that my love affair with the fly rod and trout had been rekindled right then and there...
The first night we got in late and set camp, decided to fish a familiar stretch. There were a few clouds around and I prayed for them to stay and increase. A clear sky can spell doom. With no insulating blanket the heat escapes and the bugs resort back to the bushes and treetops. We stood in the river and waited, the sky getting clearer and the stars getting brighter as the night wore on. A cottage dweller left in a car and his headlights swung out over the river to reveal a swarm of what we figured for Brown Drakes dancing ten feet over the river. We smiled in anticipation, it wasn’t the Hex but there was still hope but I knew it was fading fast. Hope was fading with whatever warmth was left over from the day. We waited a long time and finally I walked down and checked the river for bugs with a flashlight. They were gone and we retreated back to camp thinking about ghostly wings dancing above the water, haunted once again by the Hex that never were.
I’d made a few casts that first night but we all know that casting isn’t fishing and I still wasn’t sure exactly how I was feeling about the fly rod. The next day was long and hot, a bright orange sun beating down on the river. The tubers and canoe renters liked it, floating by with their flesh burned pink from the sun. We sat in the shade on the bank and watched a fish rising to damsel flies on the far bank between flotillas. We figured if we could put a bushy fly over that fish it would eat so we rigged up and gave it a try. It was a difficult drift, behind a log and around the corner of a set of bulrushes along the bank. We took turns standing downstream and trying to spot a cast. We hung the log, hung the grass, hung the rushes, and eventually put the fish down. I went over to retrieve my fly from some grass and saw it finning there for a split second before it bolted for the cut bank with another fish. And there was no doubt that my love affair with the fly rod and trout had been rekindled right then and there with that little riser.
It wasn’t the Hex but it was good, perhaps the best one hour of trout fishing of our lives.
Air temperature and water temperature are two different things and despite the heat we knew we were too far upstream. We had to move down if we wanted to find the big bugs. We crossed Wakeley Bridge on our way down to Connor’s Flats. The flats turned out to be a wide slow guide, a fisherman standing waist deep not even in the middle of the stream, cars squeezed into the lot, picnickers on the bank, and more foot traffic than we cared for. We decided to head back to Wakeley. I’d driven over that bridge a thousand times but never stopped to fish it.
An old man with wool socks pulled over his Khaki pants, piercing blue eyes, and a set of pipes to rival old Tigers announcer Paul Carey sat one leg over the other in a drift boat at the launch. I distinctly remember wondering if his feet were hot. He pointed a crooked finger at a stump across from the access and told us in his deepest bass, "Just put your stuff on and stand there and wait." He looked skyward, "Iso’s will come for sure. They'll be first and that fishing ain't half bad."
We split up. C. T. went upstream and I stayed down by the stump. The sky above the river filled with Iso’s as the old man predicted and eventually fish started to rise, but not at the stump. I could hear C. T. landing fish in his glide up stream and made my way there to join him. It wasn’t the Hex but we had finally hit it just right and for a solid hour landed one fish after another. They were the best trout of our lives but we had both left our cameras in the truck. Finally, we couldn’t take it anymore. We needed to document it for posterity and my partner headed back for a camera. I landed one more trout while he was gone and just like that it was over. The glide we were fishing went still and the temperature began to drop. I looked up and the stars were bright in the blasted northern Michigan sky. We sat around for three more hours, happily drinking warm beers from the back of our vests and waiting. But nothing showed.
Still, we had finally hit something just right. It wasn’t the Hex but it was good, perhaps the best one hour of trout fishing of our lives. For me, it was a Wakeley Bridge revival, and thoughts of fly rods and trout dancing through my head once again crowding out plastic worms and bullet weights.
There are 19 spring fed trout streams that flow through the heart
of Iowa's Driftless region.
Winnesheik County boasts 10 of the best.
What makes Iowa's Driftless area what it is? - Sure, we know that the last North American glacial episode that ended 12,000 years ago just went right around this vast region leaving its high hills and sleepy ravines virtually untouched. Some say the remains of a giant meteor impact crater rest on this very spot. There are bald eagles here, lot's of them, and a list of rare birds you've probably never heard of before. Beyond that there's something mystical about the region difficult to put your finger on.
Many very experienced western guides who fished once in the Driftless never left.
Winneshiek County's spectacular agricultural landscape attracts more trout anglers than any other region of the state. Why? Because its rivers hold fish that are big, plentiful and astoundingly beautiful. Rivers with names like Coon, Bohemian, North Bear and Bigalk (pronounced bee-yalk).
But of all of the trout streams in Iowa, there are only a few as beautiful as the upper mileage of Trout River.
Here, scores of mature brook trout can be stalked and you might even be so lucky as to net a trophy wild brown.
And, although much of the land is private, there is plenty of public access and there are a couple of "systems" that allow opportunities for fishing on private property.
I've heard it said that there are many very experienced western guides who fished once in the Driftless and never left. I've also heard it said that the rivers of Iowa's Driftless area might just be paradise.
That all taken into account, I've certainly added the rivers of Winneshiek County to my list of fly-fishing meccas. - WES:::
You probably haven't heard of him. And he hasn't been inducted into
any fly fishing halls of fame to my knowledge.
The question is: Why not?
One of my heroes and a personal guiding star is Robert H. Smith. You might presume Smith was a fly-fisherman, and you'd be correct to, but he was far more than that.
Basic biography: Born in 1908 Smith graduated from Dartmouth College in 1932 where he studied zoology, botany and geology, three areas of interest that would resurface again and again in his adventures and writings. That same year Smith took work with the old Biological Survey, later to become the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His work was waterfowl research and for 35 years he surveyed their breeding grounds and flyways on foot, canoe, horseback and airplane documenting almost the entirety of the U. S. down through Mexico and up through Arctic Canada.
Now this is when things get interesting. In 1967 he retired from USFWS and changed his focus entirely from ducks and geese to fish. With the help of fisheries biologist Dr. Robert J. Behnke, Smith set out on an epic quest to catch (on fly gear), photograph and document ALL 34 of the then recognized species and sub-species of trout and charr on the North American continent. He had no interest in stocked, hatchery raised "rubber trout" as he called them - Smith was after native fish in their ancestral habitat. It was a pursuit almost impossible, but after many years of stalking these endemic fish, usually in isolated mountain brooks and hard-to-reach headwaters, and often alone and on horseback, he was finally successful. He even caught trout new to science.
He had no interest in stocked, hatchery "rubber trout" as he called them.
As fortune would have it, he was convinced to write a book about the native trout and charr he sought and his struggles to find them. But what a book! The title of Smith's book is Native Trout of North America first published by Frank Amato Publications in 1984. The book, you could probably say, is my bible – I've read it cover-to-cover at least six times and I've spot-read it hundreds of more times.
Native Trout is also a prophetic work. The final paragraph of his book goes like this, "If enough of us choose to be heard, future generations will have the opportunity to fish for beautiful, wild native trout in their ancestral streams, high in the alpine meadows amidst the grandeur of the mountains and among the rimrocks of the high desert."
Choose to be heard.
This is fly fishing hall of fame stuff, folks. Saint?...probably not.
Hero?...absolutely. - WES:::
Handing off the torch, passing on the flame.
In today's world we must foster a fluid identity to survive as part of modern society. For many, if not most of us, it is an unsettling and sometimes coercive society we live in to say the least. Tradition has been used negatively as a contrast to being original and unique, but innovation, in fact, is how many traditions originated. Yet the concept of tradition, as the notion of holding on to the customs of a previous time, persists. Fly fishing and wing shooting are loaded with tradition, as is cooking, the arts, science, farming, the holidays, and sports.
Tradition is not to preserve the ashes. But to pass on the flame. ~ Gustav Mahler
Recently, I asked some friends the question: "What are the first words you think of when you hear the words "tradition” and "heritage"? I received a variety of answers.
One replied, “Tevye, the word appears and the song is in my head.” Another said “MSU football and Oktoberfest”. Yet another said, “The Last Weekend of April on a special little stream.” Then finally, “Tradition = family celebrations, Heritage = something inherited from the past and stewarded for future generations.”, which was more like what I was expecting.
The fellow in the photo above (on right) is a true traditionalist - former cowhand, horseman, hunter and trapper, rode in the rodeo circuit for years, now lives in a wood-warmed adobe house in the Datil mountain foothills. No electricity. Outhouse. His name is John. He loves the old saloons. He still has skirmishes with local Indians he says. They steal his horses. He steals theirs. Things get heated but nobody gets seriously hurt. It's kind of a tradition he says.
The broad scope of answers and experiences underscored that “tradition” means many things to many people. Tradition is the here and now linking a revered past to an unsteady future. Tradition is the fletching on the arrow that stabilizes the flight of our lives and times. Tradition celebrates. - WES:::
Winds, mail, taxes, 5 bucks and Arizona.
The response was overwhelming. The question was simple: Which would you prefer? Write "River Gypsy" as one complete edition to be released 2018 (or beyond), or as a three volume set?:
Volume 1 - The Rivers of the Rocky Mountain West
Volume 2 - The Rivers of Appalachia
Volume 3 - The Rivers of the Cascade Range & Sierra Nevada
It was almost unanimous - there will be three volumes.
But as eager as I was to launch the 2016 Appalachian tour, several false starts had to be endured mostly involving package deliveries and mail. 2015 Tax returns had to be done and filed. My driver's license, RV registration and plate tabs had to be renewed and physically delivered to me - some of the few things one simply must possess on the road. Magazine articles had to be completed and e-mailed. March, it turns out, is a very busy month.
And before I could wrap up Volume 1 I still had to fish and journalize the rivers of Arizona - Oak Creek, Tonto Creek, Christopher Creek, Silver Creek and Little Bonito to name a few.
Apache trout were calling my name - and that name is Coyotero.
And the thought haunts me - would I be quite so lucky pursuing Volume 2?
Add to all the above was that lovely RV park in New Mexico; at just $5 per day it is an expense saving attraction easy to try to prolong. And there were local villages, vernal streams and ghost towns yet to explore. Living in the desert southwest is like living in a windy, dusty history book and the winds at camp this spring are the worst I've experienced making driving the 30 foot "River Gypsy" inadvisable. Delays, delays.
One other thing; as I sit here, only miles from looming mountains that are my front yard, I have also come to appreciate the happy fact that the 2015 Rocky Mountain tour went wholly without a major incident. And the thought haunts me - would I be quite so lucky pursuing Volume 2? - WES:::
Escaping "The Pipeline" was just the beginning.
If you don't remember The Pipeline from the July 2014 QE Journal post "Frontiers" let me jog your memory. It's 'that long dark tube called birth, education, career, marriage, mortgage, children, empty nest, living your golden years babysitting grand-kids, assisted living, death.' Boom! - it’s over. You made no Earth-shaking decisions in your life; you just went with the gnarly flow - a tourist in life. On the bright side you're not alone - untold millions did the same. Some birds flock - some don't.
I was lucky. I escaped the black hole of oblivion. Not only did I escape the dark sewer but, on my journey, I have now met dozens of others that in their own ways also broke free and re-claimed their lives and happiness. They validate my suspicion that it's possible to 'return'.
You must understand one other thing - the eyes of your truth are always watching you.
As for me the ravages of loves gone bad are now nearly forgotten. I now understand why. The horrors of corporate strife just a whisper in disturbing dreams. I now understand the reasons. The disillusion of wanting many things because things are so easily acquired is a memory. I'm no longer a collector. These were the cuttings - the prunings if you will. All cuttings are painful. Now regrowth begins.
With understanding I believe it is possible to achieve a lasting inner peace and, with a few steps more, a renewed innocence. I believe it can be done but it takes work - and time. It also takes the will, perseverance and gumption to return to your purest self. Perhaps it takes many "lives" until we succeed - and clear the debts of many years. But it's possible.
Of course fly fishing is a constant source of renewal for me. It always has been and forever will be. It is the golden core of everything I do. I know I'm lucky here - and I'm grateful. My art has been a source of endless surprise since an early age. But the photos, writing, and now film-making are new revelations to me. All firmly founded in the sport that never grows old.
Don't miss your chance to understand, to break the bonds of The Pipeline, to find your solid core - your happiness, to re-grow, and return to innocence. It's not terribly difficult when you understand one other thing - the eyes of your truth are always watching you. - WES:::
Innocence is instilled in us when we're born. If we're very lucky we have someone to guide and inspire us - someone that will help us make important life decisions. Hannah is one such girl and she is guided by her Grandfather to make a painful decision beyond her years. Check out The Cecropia at Amazon.com by clicking on the cover image left.
"I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience."
William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act III, scene 2.
I'll come to the point: I have changed my mind about a once unquestioned fishing ethic.
Like most fly-fishermen I had unswervingly supported the traditional "Catch and Release" ethic for decades. Lee Wulff espoused it and that was good enough for me. But now I'm dumping it.
Bear with me. Let's present a few facts.
The first thing I had to realize is that most of our country's ecology is nearly devastated, it has been nearly devastated for decades and it's probably only going to get worse. I've come to this realization by decades of study, research and travel; first reading about the tortured history of fishing in Michigan and then other states. Consequently, the second thing I realized is that almost every hunt-able animal and fish-able fish is now "managed" by a State wildlife department. For example: from whitetail deer to crows to trout, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) is "committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations" (source: MDNR mission statement). And, in the name of the public (that's you and me), the MDNR has set up an enormous assemblage of staff, management units, regulations, licensing, etc., etc., to ensure the use and enjoyment of the state's game and wildlife. And they'll create that wildlife if they have to.
All trout are aesthetically stunning, but so are wood ducks and they're tasty too.
Alas, for trout unlimited (uncapitalized "tu") we can thank Michigan's DNR for the state's unlimited trout. The massive state operated fish research and production system (i.e. hatcheries) that cultivates rainbow, brown, brook trout, splake, steelhead and salmon staggers the imagination and their fish-farming and stocking efforts in Michigan's lakes, streams and rivers dates back more than 100 years. Think of it as a business.
The third thing I have known for years (and common sense tells us) is that a body of water can only support a limited number of fish. So how do you help manage that number? (which is the State wildlife department's job, who would rather be criticized for over-stocking than under-stocking). You simply put appropriate creel limits in place that allow fish to be taken out of the population before they starve to death or die of disease. Those "Daily Possession Limits" in the fishing regs exist for a reason, especially for over-stocked and often overpopulated waters.
Don't get me wrong - the old "Catch and Release" mantra is fine and it's still going strong. Do it if you like to preserve trout and believe "trout are too pretty to keep". There's no argument from me that all trout are aesthetically stunning, - but so are wood ducks and they're tasty too. The C&R practice, in all due honesty, benefits mostly one culture group: the Fishing Guide.
So, here's my revised reasoning:
1) IF a stream is not designated a quality catch and release stretch of water and has a Daily Possession Limit of at least one trout
2) IF the water is stocked by a State wildlife department (is not a self-sustaining population), has a published creel limit and is open to catch and keep
3) IF discussions with friends in-the-know concur that keeping a trout or two will actually benefit the stream's trout population
I will, from now on keep trout for their extreme culinary taste. You heard it. I'm going to eat 'em! And guess what? I'll enjoy eating them with a clear blue conscience. - WES:::
Listed below are six worn out words and phrases I'd like to see phased-out in 2016. And I'll do my part.
Gotta love (fill in word or phrase) - Gotta love this, gotta love that. Are you happy about something, even ecstatic? Fine, but at least tell us why. It's really hard to love something because you gotta. Be specific.
Getting it done - Think about it. If anyone out there were NOT getting it done... it's a fail. So is this phrase when used too much.
Badass - It's vulgar, it's not polite, it's not professional and it conjures up an unsightly mental image. Unfortunately there's no real synonym for it (except Sick). If you still want to be tagged as vulgar and looked upon in the same context as a dirty butt continue to use it.
Sick - See: badass.
I'm sorry, but going to Disney World for a few days is not epic.
My office - There's nothing terribly wrong with this boast. It's just that it's been used by too many guides, too many times. The same for My commute. There has to be a dozen new, inventive ways to say, "I'm so way better off than you cubicle prairie doggers". You probably are, but let's move on.
Epic - A way over-used term. I'm sorry, but going to Disney World for a few days is not epic. Neither are the photos of your new puppy. Save the word for truly world changing accomplishments. Newsflash: If everything is epic, nothing is.
Granted, the world's small flaws always seem to self-correct. But, occasionally they need a little nudge. Here's the nudge. Another word that’s sneaking up from behind is "Boom!", used as an exclamatory that something just happened when nothing really just happened. If it get's out of control we’ll slap it down in 2017. Like I said, I'll do my part. - WES:::