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:::
Invoking the blessings of a prominent South Pacific weather pattern is not unusual for fishermen. Author Charles Sams nails the reverence, trade-offs and down-right fun of the Michigan "Christmas" experience.
God bless the child or Dios bendiga al niño in Spanish. Our local meteorologists here in Michigan call it El Niño, and when it develops, the far northern jet stream stays well north of the Great Lakes. It bottles up the super cold air in Canada and allows all the fly fishing fanatics and river bums an extended season. It keeps us off the ice and in the rivers, where we belong and where we long to be.
The appearance of the child means you need to adjust your fly fishing calendar. This year our normal cloudy and wet October was replaced with blue bird skies and temperatures in the 70’s F. The streamer guys, the dudes that like to toss six inch feather boas against the logs and banks, are bummed. The tradeoff though, can be epic dry fly fishing well into November. The type of fall dry fly fishing that you find in John Geirach books, where he and A.K. Best cast their lots as riverside Gypsies for a month or more. The type of fall dry fly fishing that allows you to camp in a tent, drink bourbon at night under the Milky Way, and land browns that measure in the teens fishing on top. The flies are small and tippet smaller, but the chance to fish a dry fly in October-shirt-sleeves only comes around once every few years, when the child shows up.
The streamer guys, the dudes that like to toss six inch feather boas against the logs and banks, are bummed.
It’s hard to hold back winter in Michigan, the streamer bite develops late in November and spills into December. But the beauty of the whole thing is, that come Christmas, you can still fish during the day without gloves and the river is still open and flowing. The trout are spawned out, put on the feedbag and large chunks of fur and feather that swim when stripped do the trick. The temperatures cool down and streamer fishing with its cast and retrieve can keep a fisherman warm while they wait for that epic follow and vicious take that hungry browns are known for.
It’s a thing of beauty in December that only the child can provide. We’ll take our chances into January and February because, after all, the child brings warmth and we have tons of water still open to fishing. But warmth is relative, the average high temperatures drop into the upper 20’s F and if we are making it slightly above freezing during the day then we are living large. The nighttime temps keep it cold and the fish’s metabolism slows way down, this is when a good nymph game can get you far. It’s often sight fishing and an eagle eye for spotting fish in the sandy river bends and a good high stick repertoire can make it happen. They won’t move far but they still got to eat. In the end it’s enough to make a man forget about tying flies and more than one person has sifted through a sparsely populated fly box on the last Saturday of April the spring after the child comes.
It was 56 degrees in northern Michigan on Thanksgiving Day. It felt more like steelheading weather than deer hunting weather and the long range forecast screams fishing weather for the foreseeable future. We passed around the turkey, the stuffing, and the pumpkin pie. There were peeks of sun outside and the Detroit Lions were actually winning a football game.
My mom finally went around the table asking each of us, "What are you thankful for?"
The young ones mentioned video games and some of the older ones mentioned each other. Somebody talked about their love of beer.
I answered, "I have a job and my health, but I am most thankful for the child."
My mom looked at my kids, her grandchildren, and said, "I know, aren't they beautiful."
"Not them," I smiled, "El Niño, we're going to be fly fishing all winter this year."
The article below was sent to me in an email by one of my readers. No copyright listed, author unknown. I've found it on an assortment of "patriotic" websites also posted as author unknown.
It is most likely a progression of both fact and folklore, sort of like a joke – the way the joke is originally told at the head of a table is very different than the way it's told at the end of the table. It is obviously intended as a metaphor for the treatment of fundamental terrorists who target Americans. The solution, especially for rattlesnakes, is disturbing.
Because of that respect I give them the fair justice they deserve...I get rid of them.
After the Boston bombing the news media has spent days and weeks trying to determine why these men did what they did. They want to know what America did to make these brothers so angry with us. The media is in a tizzy about this new era of home grown radicals, and about why they could live among us and still hate us.
A friend of mine from Texas explained it all to me: "Here in west Texas I have rattlesnakes on my place, living among us. I have killed a rattlesnake on the front porch. I have killed a rattlesnake on the back porch. I have killed rattlesnakes in the barn, in the shop and on the driveway. In fact, I kill every rattlesnake I encounter. I kill rattlesnakes because I know a rattlesnake will bite me and inject me with poison. I don’t stop to wonder why a rattlesnake will bite me; I know: It will bite me because it's a rattlesnake and that's what rattlesnakes do. I don’t try to reason with a rattlesnake…I just kill it. I don’t try to get to know the rattlesnake better so I can find a way to live with the rattlesnakes and convince them not to bite me…I just kill them. I don’t quiz a rattlesnake to see it I can find out where the other snakes are, because (a) it won’t tell me, and (b) I already know they live on my place. So, I just kill the rattlesnake and move on to the next one.
I don’t look for ways I might be able to change the rattlesnake to a non-poisonous rat snake...I just kill it. Oh, and on occasion, I accidentally kill a rat snake because I thought it was a rattlesnake at the time. Also, I know, for every rattlesnake I kill, two more are lurking out there in the brush. In my lifetime I will never be able to rid my place of rattlesnakes. Do I fear them? No! Do I respect what they can do to me? Yes! And because of that respect I give them the fair justice they deserve...I get rid of them”.
Maybe as a country we should start giving more thought to the fact that these jihadist's are just like rattlesnakes, and act accordingly.
Terrorists, jihadist's, whatever. My main argument here is mostly due to the unsettling western habit of killing rattlesnakes as though it is both an obligation and an act of virtue. It is neither. It should be obvious that killing them has had no effect on reducing their numbers. What, pray-tell, would be so wrong with simply walking away from the creature. Fear IS the root of all evil. - WES:::
Traveling tough terrain can be seen as a metaphor for life. And for fly-fishers it means going places few even think of.
Adventure fishing travel is one of those tough "terrains". Twenty years ago signature destinations like New Zealand, Kamchatka, Belize, Chile, Argentina, and the Seychelles were thought of as "out there" and they were - and still are - "out there". But today, off road means Tierra del Fuego, Georgia's rugged Caucasus Mountains, Turkey's Ihlara Valley (valley of the monks), and the vast glacial terminus of the Greenland coasts. It can also mean a tough, hidden part of your local home creek. I always recall Lee Wulff's poignant quote, "Going all over the world doesn't make you a top fisherman, it makes you a top traveler." Still, few anglers turn down the chance to test unfamiliar waters and today's mantra for the adventure geek is "further".
Today's mantra for the adventure geek is "further".
Species hunting is another off road "terrain", that is to say, chasing fish with the fly that are not on the usual smorgasbord of trout, salmon, bass and the menu of typical salt-water targets. In this realm fish like the Tucanare - the so-called "peacock bass" and the Arctic charr still hold my attention and a place in my future. But, further, off road fish like Inconnu, Aruana, Lenok and Masu salmon weave threads of wonder through my imagination. The mantra for the species hunter is "finer", not necessarily bigger, and aesthetics is still a primary consideration.
Well beyond adventure and species hunting I would encourage the new world fly-fishing guru to explore the ecology of your destination and the taxonomy of your target fish. As much as the two prior "terrains", this exploration may be the toughest because it will reveal to you the impacts man has made there.
And it may not be pretty.
The day of the vacationing fly-fishing tourist is over. The day of the knowledgeable fly-fishing advocate is just beginning. - WES:::
Only great things happen when poet, novelist and conservationist meet river.
As a fly-fisher I am always keenly interested in our sport's unique ability to inspire other fishers to poetry. I'm not surprised though, as I have done so myself. In contrast you just don't read a lot of poetry about golf, for instance. Putters aren't poets
I know the author of the particular gem below because it was signed but I don't know when it was penned. He was also, apparently, Catholic. The riverine subject of the poem is Silver Creek in Idaho. Ernest Hemingway fished here and he began hunting ducks at Silver Creek in 1939. The Silver Creek Valley remains much the same as it was when Ernest first visited here due mainly to his son, Jack, who convinced The Nature Conservancy to acquire much of the valley property which is now the Silver Creek Preserve. So, yes, here one can literally walk - and fish - in Hemingway's footsteps. - WES:::
The Eighth Sacrament
Into the heart of God for a timeless day,
I am unfettered by normal life
And begin to fly fish on Silver Creek.
Only His sounds call, echoed within a cattail corridor.
Only His peace I feel, as rhythmically I cast and retrieve my nymph.
Only He moves my body, as I float cradled in His arms.
I am called here to encounter my true self,
And as my subconscious releases its burdens,
My soul ascends to touch my Maker.
Red-wing blackbirds proclaim the glory of a life lived free of concern.
Wind moves creekside grasses in murmuring assent,
As water gently claps approval against my float tube.
Sleet or sunshine, I always am refreshed,
As each cast brings a promise of my largest fish...
A rainbow or a brown, the catching never satisfies as does the fishing!
Twin Falls, Idaho
"I am called here to encounter my true self"