Category Archives: Fly Fishing

The Art of Catch and Release

Sovereign

Save The River, the organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the St. Lawrence River, is offering the above pretty awesome Michael Ringer print to anglers who catch, then release their muskie.

That’s way better than a skin mount. Or pretty much anything you can do with a dead muskie.

Here’s the full story from Save The River.

Sweat Equity

The land used to be pastureland, purchased by my father’s family in 1841 to graze dairy cows. In the early 1900s they converted it for recreation, building cottages along the banks of the river in sight of the rapids that existed before construction of the Seaway.

Two islands that were named for dad’s ancestors have been disappeared under the surface since the Authority raised the water levels for the shipping channel. A hazard to navigation buoy marks their presence.

My grandmother planted pine trees in the boggy land between the road and the river and they’ve grown tall in the decades and harbor deer and the occasional family of red foxes.

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A nesting pair of bald eagles has made a home in the islands across the river and loons come in the spring before the boat traffic gets too heavy. Wild turkeys run on the islands too and when the great blue herons spread their wings overhead they look like flying dinosaurs.

The water is as clear as it has ever been and you can see the pike waiting in ambush or the bass hugging structure by the dozens or  the giant carp or the chub schooling on the shoals like bonefish. Put in the time, you think, and they’ll be there. They’ve adapted and survived over the centuries but you can never shake the feeling that at any moment one doomed freighter can take it all away.

Going Sideways

There is always that moment, upon first contact, where it feels like it’s going to be a much bigger fish. These panfish with their broad profiles are wont to do that, to turn against the pull and create drag…like a drift anchor. The Mayans down in Florida do it and then they wedge their bodies into the weedy growth on bottom and it’s like pulling a stuck Danforth. Hope the knot’s 100 percent because it’s a shame to lose a fly to a bastard little widebody.

Overall, going sideways would be a pretty good life lesson if you’re inclined to think of it that way…fight the power in panfish metaphor. I’m not so inclined; I’ll take the jumping bass and whatever meaning goes with that.

Go away or I'll shall taunt you by jumping a second time.

How To Make Cuban Coffee

The convenience store at the gas station had an aromatic little kitchen tucked into the corner, behind the registers, so there was no way to resist buying an empanada.

I have heard two working theories about the prevalence of spices in meat dishes of tropical origin. But whether the spices harbor antibiotic properties or trigger cooling perspiration seemed beside the point: I’d already built a sweat from walking the canal perimeter.

peacock water
Hit them where they live.

I like to fish the culverts and the dead ends where the water is a mirror that shatters upon impact, after the fish jumps out of it to escape what’s fighting against it only to be pulled back under by gravity. Five minutes later it is a mirror again. (Thank the miracle of surface tension.) The next interruption comes from the far gentler landing of a size two ensconced in craft fur. It causes tiny ripples to pulse outward in concentric circles.

Fresh water is the most under-appreciated aspect of the Florida experience. (They wanted to drain the entire swamp in the 19th century, the sonsabitches.) But there’s also food. Key lime pie made with real key limes, moros y cristianos, ropa vieja, country grits and collard greens, Bahama bread and cracked conch and grilled pompano that your neighbor gave you.

The trick to Cuban coffee is the espuma–the foam they make with sugar and a little just-percolated espresso. This little cafe next to a barbershop in Miami Beach makes it perfect. They pass it over the counter with four plastic shot glasses but I just drink it straight from the styrofoam cup.

Hey, It’s World Pertry Day

I follow the PEN America Center on Facebook and the organization posted this great quote last week:

“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”

― Galway Kinnell

Poetry gets a bad rap for being soft, or whatever, but it stuck for me in college because of a professor I had named Peter Balakian who was such a cool cat in that he liked watching the NY Giants and fishing for fluke and was friends with Ginsburg and Derek Walcott and showed there’s no one way or the other you have to be. Plus he touted Bob Dylan as a great American poet.

On that note: He’s talking about songwriting, but this quote from Steve Earle in the Nashville episode of Sonic Highways struck too in how words can work in the way Kinnell expressed it. Earle said,

“The only part of your experience that anybody gives a shit about, is the experience that they go, ‘Oh, yeah, that happened to me and that sucked..or, that happened to me and it was great.”

With that in mind here’s a couple links to some people putting it down about fishing. A couple are not poems in the technical sense but to me they read like poetry:

Welcome To Texas

North and South

The Traveler

Technically Salmon

Wants and Needs

Solitaire for Two

 

Transaction

The fish on the edge
of the weeds
is not thinking about me
in the same way
that I am about it.

Unless it felt the vibration
of my footsteps
on the bank
it is not thinking about me
at all.

There is no apotheosis
in making the loop
unfurl over the surface
of the water.

But I like the spike
of electricity
that shoots through the back
of my head
in the instant between
when the fish meets the fly.

And I like the kinetic energy
in the high modulus carbon fiber
when the line comes tight
in my hand.

The reasons for this
lie encoded deep inside
double helix patterns
assembled in strands
born of ancestors
from before the era
of recorded history.

The fish has it, too,
which is exactly why
it explodes in ambush
on my mimic that twitches
past it.

And why, after,
it uses every cell
in its body
to move fast away
from death.

Ghost of the Hippocampus

It was an overshoot, a lousy cast, and it scattered the fish but they quickly regrouped and the guide told me to keep stripping the fly and two started competing for it and one beat out the other and then I had to clear my line.

I remember that moment in Andros South because, like a lot of my fishing, it was mechanically less than perfect but the connection still packed a physiological charge, like lightning seeking a path to ground. And because, for whatever reason, it was the last time I felt and saw a bonefish eat a fly.

That happened about five years ago. Before I caught my first bonefish, in 2005, it seemed like such an important thing to be doing, to need to have done, that now it seems odd that it took someone else’s recent post about Andros South to realize that somewhere along the way, fishing for bonefish transitioned from something I do to something I did.

boneflies2

There are plenty of things I used to do, like play ice hockey or drive stick shift, but fly fishing is something I still do, and probably the thing I have done for the longest amount of time. But what to make of the parts of it stuck in the past tense?

Maybe it circles back to what it all is to you in relation to everything else. Is fishing linear, a list of accomplishments to check off in succession? (That’s a hard thing to quantify anyway–in 1999 I caught a blue marlin in Hawaii but that qualifies as an experience rather than an achievement.) Or is it more of a fluid thing with ebbs and flows or does it evolve into  Wordsworthian spots of time?

Either way it’s not like “did” in this case has complete finality because there’s still the attainable possibility of “will do.” I don’t know when or where yet, but one day a bonefish will swim onto a flat,  unaware that it is moments from mistaking my fly for a fleeing shrimp. When that happens, I’ll ride that lightning.

bonefish-flat