Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Life as a Stripper

I strip. I like stripping. Im a stripper, no doubt about it. I also
dead drift, jiggle and swing. That doesnt make me sound like a guy
youd find at church or someone you really trust or even like...unless
you too are a fisherman.

I find myself having to explain myself a lot, forgetting that everyone
I speak with doesnt spend at least 2-3 days a week in waders. The more
and longer Im throwing line, the harder it is getting to function
"normally" in the non-stream world.

Im not fishing right now; Im on a lunch break from my very non-fishing
job. But Im still thinking about it, talking about it, and planning
for it. There are such things as funtioning addicts, but Im not one.
Not anymore. I feel as suffocated and out of place when Im out of the
water as the fish I catch.

I fail more and more at understanding people who don't fish. They just
don't seem quite right to me, like something is missing about them or
a bit off. The irony is that I seem the same way to them.

The question Im most asked by "the normals" these days is: "How do you
go when its this cold?" I always answer: "Same as before--west on
I-44." I don't think that helps me fit in.

On the water, I am not explaining myself or apologizing for my
fish-life. Usually it's the other way around--I get to listen in on
the stream explaining its way of life to me and experience the way it
welcomes me to its repeating ritual of balancing upstream with down.

I have to go back to the country of Normal now, but Ill be thinking
about the riparian corridor that, I think, misses me as much as I miss

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ice Road Fisherman

I don't have much time today for a detailed report or in- depth stories, but I wanted to throw some photos up from Thursday's trip back to the Current. I hoped for some more Browns, but ended up catching nothing but Rainbows (what a bummer, right?). It was one of the good days of winter, and I left smiling and in a great mood.

There is a small population of wild rainbows that successfully reproduce in the stream, and these are always a pleasure and joy to catch. The difference between a wild and stocker is immediately recognizable in most fish, in both appearance and fight. Wildies...those're my drug of choice and completely dictate where I fish.

This male is in spawning colors and proved his bull status as I was unhooking him (see below). This is more than likely a stocker but could be a diluted wild (spots extend heavily below lateral line), but still beautiful in spawn colors.

Teeth! He intended to shred that Slump Buster!

No, I wasn't making coffee and spilled my half-and-half, that's milt from the male shown above. I've been...initiated. I wonder if it's any coincidence that the rest of the fish of the day were all female? Hmmm.

Stocker holdover, but still a pretty girl. The stockers from Montauk are really high-quality and well-bred. If I have to catch a stocker, those from 'tauk are pretty darn good. This one slammed my bugger at the bottom of a very, very deep pool. I thought it was a Brown for sure during the first minute or two until I saw her. She put up one very impressive fight.

She ate that fly!

A little moss forest that covered a log I rested on for a while. Couldn't help myself but to take a photo.

No idea how it formed, but these ice ribbons were amazing. They were just piled up on a fisherman path streamside. Pretty interesting.

It's winter, but there is still life everywhere on the Current.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


First things first, here is the latest build on my table. While I have three builds going right now (a 2wt, a Lamiglass 3wt, and this one), this is the only active one. The other two are waiting on either parts or motivation. Both have yet to arrive in the mail.

This build is for Chris B. who heard of Ronnie's mid-weight quick stick and wanted one. As soon as MHX opened their line to fly rods, I jumped on it and got his build started. From there it has taken some interesting design directions, since he wants it to be subtle, but attractive. Building on black blanks is limiting for varied design, but I think I found the ticket.

The Struble U-17HG seat came in the other day along with the thread, and they pair perfectly. I didn't want to do the standard black-black-black, so am using the grey U-17 seat and matching grey thread with a darker metallic for the trim. You all know my opinion on color preserver, but I think I may be forced to use it from an aesthetic position on this rod. I'll do test wraps and find out if I can nix it.

Next job is to finish turning the grip and fighting butt. I'll do it when I'm not fishing. Speaking of which....

I went as planned, well, sort of as planned. I didn't go overnight, or even dark-time morning. I woke up at 1am feeling very tired, a little flu-like, and not in any kind of mood to be frozen. I left, instead, at 7am feeling MUCH better. I made the right call. I'll do night fishing some other time.

I got on the water a little before 10am, and the temperature was hovering around 12 degrees. I dressed appropriately, and didn't feel chilly except during breaks when I took off my jacket, hat and gloves. It felt good to be cold for a while, but it was never a distraction during fishing! I spent the most time I ever have dealing with frozen-ness: guides, line, leader, fly, and reel all would ice solid without constant maintenance. My boots, still wet from the previous trip, went on frozen as well--that was a challenge.

This was a pure, hardcore Brown fishing trip. I wasn't interested in Rainbows, or any other fish I may run into down there. I love my 'bows, but I was a man on a mission. No matter what, I decided I'd not give up the go at catching a Brownie. It was gonna be a Brown or nothing! Expecting to catch none the whole day, I tried to enjoy it by really taking in the scenery. There were some great views, sights, and sounds--and I didn't take a photo of any of it! I just got in the zone, and waded slowly, fishing my way downstream in a very relaxed sort of mood.

I stuck to my streamers, having tied on a #6 Sculpzilla at the car. On the first cast across the current, a fairly nice Brown flashed over and up as the fly swung down and by him. This instant interest in my fly was crucial for my day, I think. Up until now, on my 10 or so trips to this river, I only think I hooked up with one Brown. I was convinced that I had some sort of curse or block against them. Seeing this early on gave me confidence to really fish my flies and be patient. For me, it's easy to lose hope after a while, and I definitely notice a difference when I'm presenting flies with confidence.

The Brown in the photo hit a ways into the day, but I knew it would come--and it did. I changed to a #6 Slump Buster after toying with some rising 'bows. At first, the high sink rate worried me because I had numerous snagdowns with the larger rocks on the bottom. I kept fishing and kept swinging as I went, focusing on deep, slow runs with good cover. It was only a matter of time.

She hit it hard, chasing it down from a few yards away and put up a great fight for being so cold. I was surprised by her strength and gusto, and had to quickly get my reel unfrozen so I could get on the reel. A few minutes later, she was in my net and ready for photos. While I was taking the last one, my camera died ("low battery") and she released a good number of her eggs all over the front of my waders. Preserving battery, I didn't take many more photos on the trip (I found out later that they were fine, it was just the cold that sapped them; I'll have to find a warm place for next trip).

The second Brown came a little while after, and actually was hooked in the right pectoral fin with the Sculpzilla. He put up a heart-stopping fight, jumping and running for at least 5 or 6 minutes. Foul-hooking has a way of making the fights more exciting...but what a bummer. During the fight, he scared two or three other Browns in the vicinity out of the water, so much so and so often that there were two points where I was very confused about what fish I was actually fighting--splashes in one direction and my line in another.

Some people think they're ugly and just good for a great battle on a rod. Well, they are great fighters as I found out today, but holding them and seeing them close gave me an appreciation for their beauty. They are certainly all business with their camouflage, gaping mouths, teeth, and sheer muscle. They're clearly smart, clearly spooky, and clearly great predators. I don't think they'll be topping my list and displacing wild Rainbows, but I do think I'll continue to target them purposely and specifically next time I return to this river where Browns and 'Bows live side-by-side.

I missed another two or three, and had at least that many more flash and refuse. Had I hooked up with every Brown I saw/felt, it would have been one hell of a day...especially for never having come close to bringing one to hand before. It's amazing what a little determination mixed with some patience and stealth will do....

I'm ready for more!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


After my trip to Eleven Point, I am feeling rejuvenated but also thirsty for another endeavor. Every good adventure has to have its certain elemental features. It must:
  • Require good planning that takes into account the fact you are attempting to predict what cannot be planned
  • Threaten sufficient danger and risk to cause the people that love you worry the whole time, but only so much as to make yourself worry occasionally
  • Contain the chance for utter failure, and the possibility that success will happen in the face of that chance
  • Be an objective based on a worthy ideal
  • Be in a beautiful, captivating setting
And so it is framed, this next adventure I've concocted. It seems that it will be solo; either that is what enhances the risk element or the risk element itself is causing it to be solo...I'm not sure which. I have the rare fortune to often have days off during the week, while the rest of the better-paid world is working and NOT fishing. Having water to myself is something I've begun to expect, but never take for granted.

I'll be heading about 2.5 hours south of STL hoping for my first Brown. I'm dying to get on one/some/tons and have done everything right, except land one. I'll be fishing my Sage ZXL 3wt on a familiar stretch of the Current River, but this time it will be overnight. What concerns me is not so much the isolation, the solitude, or the dark, but the temperature. The latest predictions have the mercury in the low teens.

I organized my streamers and buggers, and snapped a few photos to give a peek in my flybox.

The upper section of this box is pure poultry: Butt Monkeys, Double Bunnys, Fatheads, Sex Dungeons, several Sculpins, Beldar Buggers, Slump Busters, and a Peanut Envy for good measure.

Excited about these new Trout Minnows in a Rainbow scheme; they look just like the little teeny 'bow parr that skip around down there.

The mighty Clouser.

Now that's some serious flash right there. I'm planning on using these as attractors ahead of the bigger streamers or as trailers.

I have more marabou, feather and poof jammed in these boxes than a Vegas nightclub.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

As it Should Be

On one of our mid-fall outings, Chris and I headed to some bigger trout water where we'd had some success over the summer. It is a frustrating place, that challenges me as a relatively new flyfisher everytime I go. This day was no different, and I left the water exhausted, confused, and a little pissy. Chris was sicker than a dog, that day, and left feeling the same way, though less pissy.

Getting back to the car, we found another fisherman pulling on some waders. We said hello, and tried to be friendly. Though he asked how the fishing was and had originally started the exchange of words, he really had no interest in anything we had to say. He walked away silently after wishing him fun and luck, and being generally a rude guy before that. He just wasn't right, and Chris and I just didn't know what to make of it. It was strange, here is this guy who clearly is governed by the same noble passions as Chris and I are...but was unexpectedly unpleasant. It left both of us with a bad taste in our mouth. Forget the fishing, we were bummed out by our would-be fellow compadre!

A week or so later, Chris drove out after work to meet me on some different water. The backstory is that I had been up for almost 2 days straight because of work and decided to go fishing anyway. Waiting for Chris to arrive, I sat in my car and drifted off for a bit. I was awakened by the sound of a calm, but excited voice outside my door:

"How's the fishin'?"

"Pretty good, gotten a little slow. How are ya?"

As I tried to gather my thoughts and appear as if he hadn't just woken me up, I gave him the report from the morning and got talking with him. He was an older gentleman who had come out to meet up with a friend of his own: Rick. He had called Rick that morning and talked to Rick's wife; she told him he wasn't there. He figured from that situation that Rick was already on his way out fishing and drove to meet him.

Earl, as he introduced himself to me with a handshake and smile, had been fly fishing since he was 15. I asked him about his first rod, and he told me it was fiberglass job that I've now forgotten the name of. I asked him if he still has it, and with a great big, proud, and unashamedly nostalgic grin he said, "oh yeah, still have it." With his 50+ years of fishing experience and all the technological changes he'd seen and enjoyed, he was delighted to hear of my affection for 'glass and that I had just started a 'glass rod build of my own.

Chris eventually arrived, and the three of us stood talking water-side for a solid half-hour. We conversed, laughed, and shared a story here and there like we'd all known each other for years but hadn't talked in a while. He was a picture of what each of us wanted to be in life, to be as fishermen. Rick showed up too, and the meeting wound down as Earl paired up with Rick and got his very-not-'glass Sage strung up.

As Chris and I did the same, all we could talk about was Earl. How different he was than our "friend" from the week prior.

"Now that is what an old fly fisherman is supposed to be like!"

"I just want to go to a bar with him and listen for hours."

"I want to be like Earl"

"That's a perfect name, you know? I bet the other guy had a horrible, mean name like...well something awful."

"I'm going to name my kid 'Earl.'"

I'll never forget Earl, or his friendship with Rick. It was good to see two guys who had been fishing together so long that they didn't need to talk about going fishing--they just did and ended up there. There was so much to be admired about Earl; but we never did see him catch anything. I think about that every time I skunk-out. Earl wasn't caring,; it was another great day on the water for him throwing tight, effortless loops to the trout. Now that is wisdom, and he was a happy old sage on the water.

Fourth Blue

My past week or so has made up in full for my lack of fishing. Chucking most of responsibility to the wind, and not shedding a tear to see it temporarily blown out of reach, I got on four blue ribbon waters in six days. Not bad. Two of those waters were new to me, something I always enjoy. The freshness of the water, the fish, the scenery has a way of washing clean expectations and returning me to the core of why I am infatuated with fishing.

I ventured out this time, not solo as had been the case on the other three trips, but with a fishing buddy I don't get to fish with often enough. Of course, no fishing buddy--if he is a true buddy on the water--can ever be fished with enough. I am fortunate to have a great set of fellas that are as blown-out as me about fly fishing and all thing related. Matt called me up a few days prior aching for some water to blood his new 3wt TXL and Hardy Flyweight on. I convinced him that some skinny, new blue ribbon water with wild trout would be a fitting setting for such a task.

The day was supposed to be one of the coldest yet with the temps never rising out of the 20s. Arriving on the scene, we were delighted to find that while the weather was cold, and the predictions were correct--we were comfortable. I went without my sweater and gloves; Matt chucked his new gloves, too. The air was warmed nicely by the sun, but the water was still chilly in the mid-40's. Warm, fed, coffeed and ready to get some wildies on our line, we quickly came up with a plan of attack that consisted of a stealthly approach to the springs upstream.

Not quite as picturesque as Eleven Point, but still beautiful in its own wintery way, we waded quickly up, stopping every so often to fish a promising looking hole or seam. We figured we'd be nymphing and midging most of the day, so we both started off with dries for fun. I worked down through the water, searching each layer beginning with a #20 Bob's Fly. No action up top (except for some chub and shiners) moved me down to a Hares Ear and finally to a BH'ed soft hackle.

When the sun got high enough to light the water, I think the buggy action really kicked into gear beneath the surface. Matt had great success with a Brassy hung below a #12 Stim, blooding that Sage like a champ on wild rainbows. Doesn't get any better than that!!

My little soft hackle, swinging across and down, got pounded most of the time as it began to rise through the column at the end of the drift. I found that throwing it at the head of a deep pool and letting it sink and drift through it would usually result it a fish on at the tail of it. I had a lot of fun with this, taking 3-4 little McClouds out of each pool.

Whoever wants to write a book about a prototypical tight, skinny spring stream with wild trout--this is your subject water. It was a challenge. Trees overhung both sides of the bank for most of the run, and getting into a position for a good long backcast or tall steeple cast was difficult. I'm still terrible at rolling, but this stream taught me I need to get back on learning that one. The fish were spooky, as I'd heard rumored, and to get on them required either a long (and I mean LONG) upstream cast or an over-and-down search through a deep pool. There were some absolutely delicious looking pools, too.

No huge fish were caught, but I'd like to meet the guy who'd care (actually, no I wouldn't--he already sounds like a tool). Any chance to hold a wild trout in the Missouri Ozarks is a chance to go back in time. I don't think the fish know they're anything special, after all, all we did was to simply interrupt their day of eating and swimming (look at the belly on the one just above!). They don't know they're not stockers, or that they give guys like me occasion to laugh and smile.

I'll never be a hardcore, trophy fly fisherman. I'll never fill this blog with photos of massive hero fish. I don't carry a ruler. You'll never see me holding up a fish with a Boga. Sure, I enjoy big fish; they're fun. What I live for, though, is the clash of exotic and domestic...where I am the exotic surrounded by the domestic. When that happens, even just a little, well, does it really matter what number a fish reaches on a stick of wood? No sir and no ma'am, it does not. This little stream gave me another chance to experience the clash, and it was wonderful!

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Adventure Solo-style

This solo adventure took me about 30 minutes from the Arkansas-Missouri state line, and to new water. I have been curious to see the Eleven Point, having read and heard echos of its beauty and offerings. All echos were correct, but faded in comparison to the real thing.

It was another MO winter day; the temps hovered in the upper 20s until midday when it finally got to about 32. There is something I enjoy about iced guides, not sure what or why, but I like them.

The intense aquamarine glow of the water was enticing, calling me like a watery siren to its body. Being alone, though, made me err on the side of caution and I allowed myself to be restricted to the water I could access (safely). When I return, I'll have a float tube. The sheer beauty of the color, clarity, and really "glow" was nothing I've seen matched anywhere else. It is magic water, to be sure.

This is wild hog country and, of less concern, black bear territory. I saw numerous places which suggested that a hog had been around recently. I kept my eyes split between the water and land, and especially listened for bad sounds. Thankfully, I didn't knowingly encounter any of the destructive little demons.

Having failed to catch anything other than chub from the river and being unable to fish more than a few dozen yards up and down from the two accesses, I gave up on the river trout and was set to another fun-mission of locating one of the river's many springs. This took me up a hilltain (a Missouri mountain), and on one of the most enjoyable, interesting walks of my life. I found the original mill (for which the access is named), but somehow the wheel is situated backwards.

My mouth hung open further with each step and I climbed up the rocky hillside, following both the flow and rushing sound of the bubbly water that cascaded down. It varied from a single, purposed stream to a trickling from what seemed a hundred different places, but all fell back down together at the base of the hill.

I had expected a pool as the source of the water, but found that it instead came from the base of a sheer limestone cliff. As it poured out of a small cave, it began its journey down, pausing here and there for a small pool; each of these little pools held small fish.

I stood amazed at the mouth of the spring cave; I may have stood there for an hour, but I really don't know. I honestly just couldn't believe or take in all that I was seeing, and more than once I broke out and down in laughter and chuckles.

Figuring that I had to either drink the water and live forever or leave for the time being, I chose to leave and return later. I worked my way down the hill, weaving in and out of the stream at random and enjoying the view fore and aft with every step. I took over 40 photos in this one area, not wanting to ever risk ever forgetting it.

My troutless streak for the day ended abruptly when in one pool, this little McCloud accepted the offer of my soft hackle. This may possibly be my most beloved and special trout ever. I would not trade a 20" 'bow from the river for this little 4" caught from a pure spring-water stream pouring from a cliff. I have never felt so intimately close to or at ease with what is truly wild in this life.

I cannot wait to go back, but I know it will never be the same as it was this day, because this day I fell in love all over again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Rough Day of Fishing

There are those days which, to the optimist, make the good days of fishing better. To the realist, or at least to the poor fella who is living one of those days, these days are just rough.

Today was a rough day. Tomorrow it will be a day that makes the good days better, but's rough.

I planned to head out at 4am for an early, chilly arrival to a stretch of a good stream that is always challenging, holds still-elusive Browns, and hasn't been visited by me in months. This took me almost 3 hours from home, so a 7am on-the-water-time would have been perfect. My first alarm didn't wake me up at 3:30, my second alarm didn't wake me up at 3:35. I slept soundly until 7am, the time I was supposed to be stepping into the water. Oh well, so I'll leave late.

I arrived on the water to find another fisherman as surprised to see me as I was him--this wasn't a day that would have attracted too many others, especially to this secluded spot. Since we knew we were the only two out there, we exchanged some words and fishing reports and it was a friendly meeting. With his report of huge browns being hooked earlier still fresh in my head, I moved downstream to produce my own version of that report.

I fished streamer after streamer, working every hole and side of structure. With the recent heavy rain, the water was still a little off color, so I knew the Browns would be roaming a bit. I fished streamer after streamer, working every deep run. Nothing. Figuring that since I have a record of 0 on Browns this year, I switched to my happy dries and began hunting the 'bows that roam around there. Again, nothing. One small chub and I was done. Cutting my losses and scratching my head, I waded back (to find the number of fishermen had grown to 4; completely unacceptable) and decided on going to a familiar stream with a good population of small wild rainbows.

Arriving there, I found I was the sole rod on the water. I stepped into my waders already feeling the little wildies on my line. I didn't have much time, but figured I could work 2-3 of the better riffles before retreating before dark. I tied on my go-to fly for this stream these days: a #22 Griffith's. The first came slowly, but he still managed to save the day. I plunked him back into the water, telling him out loud that he was the salvation for the day. I brought only 3 more to hand, missing a nicer one, and left. The hour I had there wasn't quite the replacement I needed for the rough morning, but it helped ease the sting a little. At least for a while....

Rushing from spot to spot, I willfully neglected to get gas in the car. On empty, I drove back to the connecting town that sits on the highway home. Almost to the gas station (and coffee!), I stopped at a light and waited for the traffic to start moving again. I heard an odd sound behind me, and had exactly half the time necessary to realize it was screeching tires. By the time I began to figure that out, I was shooting forward at an unusual rate with an accompanying, distinctive "GRUNCH." Looking in my mirror, I saw the horrified face of a college girl. My first thought was, "The Sage is in the trunk--is it ok?"

Forty-five minutes, an inspection of my rod, and one police report later, I was back on the road and headed home. The Sage is fine, thankfully. The car is too, really; the bumper got a kiss that falls somewhere between a solid peck and half-hearted french one.

Rough day. One made better by today will soon follow, I'm sure.

Latest Rod Build

I am still building more rods than I am fishing these days, which is mostly OK with me. The nice thing about building is: 1) it's above freezing in my "shop" and 2) I can do it 5 mins at a time if needed. I finished this order a couple of weeks ago and snapped a few quick photos before delivery.

My friend ordered a 6wt that he wanted to be nimble, but a solid-performer on bigger trout waters and the occasional trip to some salt. He gave me a few ideas on what he wanted the overall look and feel to be, and I immediately settled on a blank and design: Batson RX7 8'6" 6wt with an R7 aluminum seat inletted to a full-wells grip and framed by a little 1" fighting butt I turned and mounted on the blank. To compliment the sleek look of the matte black blank, I chose black chrome guides from PacBay, using two strippers (16, 12) and wrapping them with black thread and no color preserver. The thread blacked-out as planned and the silver trims really pop sharply from the FlexCoat. It's nice when things go as planned!

The third guide fell dead-on the ferrule after load testing. I did a full underwrap for the ferrule and overwraps for the guide feet. I wrapped the 3-turn trim integrally with the ferrule wrap and started my guide wrap just shy of it inside the underwrap. When I applied finish to the wrap, it melded together well.