Top Five Must Have Rock Albums, If You’re Me

In an era where you are pretty much guaranteed access to millions of recordings in multitudes of different outlets for the rest of your adult life, if you’re ever stranded on a desert island the music will be the least of your problems. Still, there are  five albums that, if you’re me, you must have in your collection in some shape, form or playlist. Because, if you’re me, you can’t do without¹.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Fever-induced and with two of the best songs ever–Everybody Knows and Down By The River–plus the mellow Round and Round as well as the double-drop D tuned Cinnamon Girl that everyone with a pulse immediately recognizes. I also love that in Rolling Stone’s initial analysis in 1969, the reviewer wrote, “In several respects it falls short of his previous effort. Young’s new material is a little disappointing…” Stupid idiot.

The Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime

This might be  the most creative output by an American band I’ve ever heard.

Widespread Panic Space Wrangler

I won’t even pretend they’re the best band but they’re the first one I truly considered to be “my band.” During college my friend Rob brought home this cassette tape during Christmas break and we never stopped listening. We saw them in some 100-person club in South Beach when South Beach was still a dump and everything about them–the musicians, the fans, the atmosphere–fit like a glove. Because, especially compared to northeastern boarding school hippies, southern hippies are the coolest cats in the world.

Uncle Tupelo No Depression

Raw, awesome and the perfect antidote to some of the other over-hyped awfulness of the era. Too bad those guys hate each other.

Yellowman King Yellowman

Everybody always played Legends and then somebody put this on and it changed how we all thought about reggae. Growing up in South Florida we were soon obligated to go to Sunsplash every year. It also predated Run DMC’s Raising Hell in our consciousness by two years with the idea of spoken word as art form. Plus there’s the live show aspect.

UPDATE:  Emmylou Harris At The Ryman

Because everyone in my family knows it by heart.

(1. Nothing here is from the 21st century? Duly noted. When you come of age is when you come of age.)

The Alone Experiment

My friend Todd told me about this Swedish YouTube show called Experiment Ensam, where the protagonists conduct a social experiment by doing communal activities alone. He sent it because of the most amazing episode of the show, where Bob Dylan performs for an audience of one. That is insane.

But the series of YouTube episodes, which also involve doing things like walking on coals and karaoke, brought me back to my personal fishing habits, especially of the past  year. Recently, on many of the days where I  found time to fish, I fished alone. Due to whatever circumstance (and for God’s sake don’t register this as a complaint) most of my fishing came in stolen moments–times where I slipped out with a rod and a fly box and took joy not necessarily in the catching but just in being able to do it at all.

I posted several years ago about the virtues of solitude. I still dig it.

There is also no doubt that part of the appeal of the fly fishing community is taking part in the fly fishing community. Is fishing alone worth it? Is there value in experiences that are not shared experiences, that live and die within you? I say, Yes.

But there’s this new twist: In this era of social communication, does fishing alone and then posting about it constitute a shared experience? Maybe. After all, our man’s “solo” experience with Bob Dylan has (as of this typing) 502,420 views. But then again, according to this Rolling Stone article about the video, he refuses to watch it.

He doesn’t want to ruin it in his mind.

This One Time in Cuba

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When the rain stopped the tarpon started running along the edge of the mangroves in numbers so thick they looked like they were being poured into the water, shimmering in the current like a silver mudslide.  They were small, but I had never hooked a tarpon on fly prior to that moment, so I didn’t care. That I was there at all, about to cast a fly in the back reaches of Rio Hatiguanico in the southwestern portion of the island of Cuba…that was enough.

The news that we are normalizing relations with Cuba brought the memories of that trip rushing back: An expedition into Cuba as it emerged into the 21st century, still trapped in a geopolitical time warp that made little sense even in the spring of 2000. This was not supposed to be a fly fishing trip. I went there legally, on assignment for my employer Boating Magazine to cover the 50th Anniversary of the Hemingway International Billfish Tournament,  started by Hemingway in 1950 and still recognized by the International Game Fish Association.

We went by boat from Key West and sprinted across the Straits of Florida. Our craft was a 35-foot Donzi center console with triple Mercury outboards and bright day-glow graphics. When we entered Cuban waters we got stopped by a gunboat with a high-caliber machine gun mounted on a turret at the bow. They wanted to know why our boat was purple.

We arrived at Marina Hemingway and the customs agents asked if we wanted our passports stamped. You could say no–half the boats in the marina were Americans who came by way of the Bahamas or Mexico. But my being there was legit, I wanted the stamp. Mostly because no one else I knew would have one.

A man approached us on the docks and handed us his business card. It read: NAME REDACTED, and in quotations under his name, “Whatever You Need.” I still have the card.

There were Americans there for the tournament for various purposes that were legal in the eyes of the US Government. There was a U.S senator on a fact finding trip, a restaurateur from Arkansas who was a friend of Bill Clinton, a humanitarian group distributing educational supplies to local schools, and a reporter from The Miami Herald who was there incognito.

We had to pay cash for everything since we couldn’t use American credit cards but everyone accepted American paper money. We took cab rides in American cars from the 1950s and Eastern Bloc cars with weird dashboards and bastardized amalgamations of Studebakers and Trabants cobbled together to run. The cabs would take us  to paradores in Havana and we would enjoy table service in the living room of someone’s home.

Nobody mentioned Castro by name. In fact nobody mentioned him at all. We were told that locals would touch their chin to signify the bearded one. The only political statement anyone made to us referred to the expatriates living in Miami. It was about the idea that when Cuba one day became liberated, the expatriates expected to reclaim their old land. In an unguarded moment, a Havana resident talking to us said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

We did not feel watched. We could move through Havana rather freely except for once when we tried to enter a town square and were turned away by police. “Just for Cubans,” they told us.

We went to Finga Vigia and took pictures of Hemingway’s boat, the Pilar. We drank at La Bodeguita Del Medio and El Floridita and met Hemingway’s boat captain Gregorio Fuentes, who was 102 at the time. We had cigars at Hotel Nacional and listened to the house band play “Oye Como Va.”

We paid cash for a rental car and watched a Cuban Beisbol Series game at the stadium in Pinar Del Rio between the home team and Santiago. We unwittingly gave a beer to a missionary from Saint Louis who’d been sober for years and set him off on a bender. We were mistaken for major league scouts at the stadium. (The arena did not have beer and hot dog advertisements but slogans written in Spanish that translated to things like, “No obesity and sedentariness.”)

We had an off day and I wanted to go fly fishing. The recognized place for that is Jardines de la Reina, but that was too far afield for a day trip. I asked the concierge at the Marina Hemingway and she gave me the number of an ornithologist who studied the resident and migratory birds of the Zapata Peninsula. He could take me fishing. I called him on the phone and he spoke English. His name was Osmany and he could take me by boat on the Rio Hatiguanico for $75.

We rented another car (a Hyundai!) with cash and drove along the Autopista until we exited to head due south. The town of Playa Larga, at the north end of the Bay of Pigs, houses an International Bird-Watching Center, which is where we presumed Osmany worked. We picked him up in town and he directed us along local roads to pick up a second man he called Señor, who hopped into our car carrying a six pack of Cristal beer and a bottle of rum. Señor did not speak English but he smiled and held them aloft to us.

We drove west until we reached a pounding dirt road leading into the Zapata National Park. We finally reached what looked like a single-room house sticking out of the foliage on the banks of a canal. A woman came out of the house and offered us little cups of Cuban coffee. Señor jumped into the shallow water and pulled two green skiffs out of the reeds. Each skiff had a 10-hp Yamaha outboard and he yanked the pull cords and we stepped into the boats.

We pulled away into the tributary and headed along the Rio Hatiguanico as it flowed West into the Gulf of Batabaño. I showed Osmany my limited saltwater fly box and he picked out a yellow and white clouser and I tied it to my tippet. The little house on the canal would be the last sign of human activity, other than our two boats, that we would see.

The dense mangroves and tree canopies made the river’s shorelines seem impenetrable, reminiscent of the 10,000 Islands in the Everglades but with no channel markers or chickees. We flushed thousands of birds and Osmany started naming them. (I wrote some of them down once but have since lost the list.) We saw a tocororo–the Cuban national bird.

We stopped at a point along the mangroves and the water was so clear I could see several snook swimming along the submerged roots. The water held no tannins to darken their skin and they looked like sleek chrome missiles. I cast to the largest one and it turned to my fly and, before I could gain control, ran my leader into the roots.

We drifted and spotted a pair of jack crevalle swimming and I cast to them and one ate the fly and pulled the boat downstream. It finally tired and we released it and watched it swim away.

Living for a time in Florida I grew used to storms appearing out of nowhere so when the skies darkened over the swamp I knew we would get wet. We could see the sheets of water moving down the river and Osmany fired up the engine to outrun it but we could not. He and Señor aimed the skiffs into the mangroves, which held the deluge to a shower but we still got soaked. Señor threw us cans of Cristal and we drank them in the rain. When we finished the beer he cut a can in half and filled the halves with rum and handed one to me.

“In Cuba we drink rum for breakfast, rum for lunch, rum for dinner,” Osmany told me and I passed him the half-can of rum.

The rain stopped and we eased back into the river but Osmany didn’t start the engine. He grabbed my fly box and pulled out my last yellow fly–a yellow and white Deceiver. We sat there drifting and Osmany didn’t speak but he had a twinkle in his eye. “My friend,” he finally said. “The time is now.”

We heard them first, like a liquid stampede, and that’s when we saw the stream of silver. I cast along the edge of it, like I would have to a striped bass boil, and a small tarpon peeled off from the flow and ate it. He quickly changed directions and started running out the line on deck and soon he was reversing the reel and then I felt it the split second before it happened–he was going to jump.

The little tarpon rose into the air and fell back down and dashed toward the mangroves and jumped again and switched directions towards the open river and I breathed a sigh of relief–I would not lose my first tarpon. At that moment, the geopolitical status of this country–or anywhere else in the world–didn’t matter.

1101_fcuba_01

Matt Smythe’s “A Deliberate Life”

“It’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse.” –Charles Bukowski

When I think about my friend Matt Smythe I think of that line from Bukowski’s poem called The Shoelace. I’ve fished with Matt a few times and shared a Maker’s Mark or two with him and in my experience our conversations tend to sound exactly like his narration of the film he collaborated on called “A Deliberate Life.”

I call it Matt’s movie because I relate to it most through his eyes but it really came to pass via the joint efforts of him and Grant Taylor and the crew from Silo 4. By now most of you have probably seen the trailer posted above or watched the short version of the film at IF4.

I had the opportunity to view the full version and watching it reminds me of sharing a jon boat with Matt and realizing that he really did what the premise of the movie is about. It’s about real life, and holding that series of small tragedies at bay by following your passion. He actually did this, leaving the security of benefits and bi-monthly pay stubs that most of us cling to, to get after a life lived outdoors. And in doing that he actually did this, made a movie about five people who decided to go that way and see it through.

The cinematography is stellar and the subdued soundtrack enhances the reflective mood. Again, Matt’s narration sounds like having a conversation with him, while at the same time carrying a poetic rhythm that matches the visual flow of moving water. The film is in many ways set in the eternal present, this group of friends fishing together (in places we daydream about while typing on laptops) and talking to each other about how they all got to this point in their lives. I wish they all shared a little more about the before, about what they broke away from and some of the gritty details that led them to “a deliberate life.”

But then again, isn’t this what life was like before the dawn of social media, where everyone now feels compelled to share every detail about everything until mystery and discovery are choked away? This is what stories around a campfire used to be, revelatory yet at the same time incomplete. Maybe it’s enough to say, “I made a decision and I’m here.”

And the fact that they are “here” and not still “there” amidst the little tragedies–there’s satisfaction in that.

To get the full version of the movie, head on over to SILO4.

BOOKS: 50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast

The first thing I did, when I received a review copy of 50 Best Places Fly Fishing The Northeast by Bob Mallard ($34.95, Stonefly Press), was flip to the Montauk section. Because even though the book is dominated by the region’s top trout waters, when I fall asleep at night I dream about salt. So I was pleased to see that the person selected to contribute the Montauk intel was Brendan McCarthy. While I have never personally fished with Brendan, I know a lot of people who have and he has an excellent reputation. Next I flipped to the Maine chapter and the section on Casco Bay. Eric Wallace wrote that one up, and he pioneered sight fishing for striped bass there.

Knowing that Mallard’s choices for those two contributions are legit makes it easy to extrapolate that he picked people who know what they’re talking about to profile the other 48 fisheries. Stonefly Press has a stable of these 50 Best Places books, including the 50 Best Tailwaters To Fly Fish.

50-best-places-northeast-cvr-final

This installment includes several venerable locales from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Places like the Ausable, Salmon and all the Catskills spots in NY; the Housatonic and Farmington in CT; Cape Cod in MA, the Saco in New Hampshire and…well…there are 50 of them, you get the picture. So if you fish the Northeast or plan to, consider this a starting point, reference guide or inspiration to fish new waters.

The 2015 Comeback of the Connetquot River

The first trout I ever caught, in upstate New York, came courtesy of the New York DEC stocking program. The first trout I caught on fly came courtesy of the fish hatchery at the Connetquot River. I spent a lot of time in the  1990s learning how to fly fish by targeting those stocked trout.

Brown Trout Underwater

Though I agree with everything Kirk Deeter wrote in his Fly Talk post about hatchery fish, I was sad when the Connetquot hatchery closed in 2008. And I am happy with the report from Andrew Cuomo’s office that the hatchery is reopening in 2015.

I’ve listened to others mock the Connetquot for it’s prior reputation as a trout fishing fantasyland, and I’ve written about my own conflicted thoughts about it here before.

And of course you can take it deeper and delve into why growing trout in a hatchery only masks the larger problem about why wild trout populations in the region would be unsustainable. That is all true.

swirling rainbow

But for all that it is and isn’t, the Connetquot is an excellent resource as well as a learning ground for teaching angling ethics and stream stewarship. The place demands it, and the threat of a year-long or lifetime banishment for violations is not a vacant one. (Read about the rules and etiquette on the Long Island Trout Unlimited site.)  I look forward to taking my daughters.

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