Friday, April 18, 2014

Flood Waters, Long Winters & Rumor Control

Winter in the mountains is longer than I remember them being back when I lived on flat land. When others are planting spring gardens and going bike rides, I am still shoveling snow and hauling in firewood. This winter has been exceptionally long, however. My "winter" started last September 11. My parents flew in that afternoon (they got great deals on tickets, for some odd reason...) I picked them up in the rain at a park-n-ride down the hill from the fly shop and I did my best to reassure my dad that the rain shouldn't effect the fishing. As I drove them home up the canyon road the little creek looked like it was going to burst over the road at any minute. "That doesn't look promising," Dad said... Oh, it will calm down by morning. Sheesh!

Well, it did not calm down. As it turned out, I was one of the last to drive that canyon road for a long time. A 1,000-year rain event they called it once it was all said and done. Roads got washed away...houses, cars, boulders, pets and even a few people got flushed away. I did not get to fish with my dad, as we were stranded at the cabin for several days digging trenches, helping neighbors and cooking on a propane backpackers stove whatever we happened to have in the cupboards.

The two weeks that my parents were visiting was supposed to be my last big fishing hoorah before I knuckled down and got serious about the massive writing/photography project I had on the docket. (The down side to excepting an advance check from a publisher is that they usually make you except a deadline, as well.) But, there was no last hoorah. Once things settled down and my parents were able to escape, there were months of round-about, back-country detours just to get to the fly shop and back. Two hour drives one way on nearly washed out gravel roads and switchbacks. And once the canyon was open again, there was still the damn book to write. It was a long, long winter...

But this too shall pass, and it did. It is spring again. I am no longer burning every night to keep the cabin warm and Erin and I are starting to plan for another failed attempt at a high-altitude garden...again. And I am back to writing drivel for free...again. And fishing. I had been told by a UPS delivery man about a small lake out on the plains that held big bass and maybe even some northern pike. I did not know the guy, not even his name. It was just a rumor. But rumors like that beg to be looked into...just to be sure. So, Erin and I packed up our heavy rods and rose well before dawn. The morning was cold and Erin lamented not bringing gloves or a hat. But the mild suffering would be worth it if things panned out... But they did not. The water was shallow and seemingly void of any life at all. Chalk it up to rumor control and an elaborate ruse to entertain the dog for awhile. 

On the way back to the truck we stumbled onto a smaller pond full of very actively feeding carp, however. And we always pack our six weights and a box of Backstabbers! After a quick trot up to the truck to switch out rods and re-rig for carp, a rather pleasant day began to unfold...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pulp Fly (Volume Three)

Contributors include:

Michael Gracie
Erin Block
Alex Landeen
Pete McDonald
Miles Nolte
Tom Reed
Tom Sadler
Bruce Smithhammer
April Vokey
Bob White
Steve Zakur
Jay Zimmerman

It's an E-book: Purchase and support the writers!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Walking the Dog

Today was far too nice of a day to be inside or do chores...even if they were piling up as fast as the snow drifts were melting. It was hot even up in the canyon. I lay in bed this morning and tied to remember if I still had enough kindling to start a fire, or if I was going to have to trudge out back in my knee boots and pajama bottoms looking like a mountain bumpkin. But it was not even chilly enough to warrant a fire...

Erin and I both tried to get some odds and ends done around the cabin and even sat down around lunchtime to get some writing done. Erin grueled through some more footnotes for a book she is wrapping up and I tried to focus on a project that is in that scary stage of barely being started...but the first half of the advance on royalties has been spent. So my bills are payed, but I am now kinda committed. Enslaved to the keyboard. But we both looked outside, looked at each other...and then at the dog. We should really take him for a walk, we agreed.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Opening Day

When I was a kid "opening day" was as exciting as any good holiday with all the same build up and anticipation ..and staying up late the night before. That ended with the usually and similar over-expectations and let downs. Opening day meant the first day of trout season in western Pennsylvania when I was a kid. Happened about this time of year, too...mid April. The nights and waters were still cold, I remember. And the opening day usually found me and friends standing on the banks of a creek, nursing under-aged hangovers (Busch Lite bought by a friends older brother) and gazing hopefully and dumbfounded out over a a body of trout stream brown and bursting at the seams from run off. Rarely was a fish seen at all.

The idea of an opening day or even the concept of a trout season is so foreign to any fly fishers who have never lived outside Colorado or elsewhere here in the Rocky Mountain West. It seems even a bit silly. And it was... especially because it usually was stocked trout we were looking for. Checking stocking reports, listening to the Weather Channel  eavesdropping on bait-store gossip... Yes, it all was a bit silly now compared to the 365-day binge we enjoy out here. And wild trout. But there is still something that gets me pumped up about being told you can't fish...and then, NOW you can! Go! Like a dog obediently drooling and staring cross-eyed at the Milkbone balanced on his nose. Or the first time that cute girl doesn't back away when you lean in for a kiss. The build up makes the reward so memorable.

These memories of the PA trout openers of my youth are the reason I still wake up early and drive down to Denver and fish the Rocky Mountan Arsenal on opening weekend. There are other, less crowded pike spots and a hundred other great (and better) bass lakes on the Front Range, but that ain't the point. The gate opens at 6 o'clock and everything is prepped ahead of time...flies are tied, rods are strung and resting in the bed of the pickup truck. Radio belching some old Chris Ledoux. Lets drive up get out and get on another one and boy you better win...Warm gloves. Hot coffee. Spare wire leaders. Here we go!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Interview With a Potty Mouth

I've only shared time with Jay Zimmerman once--we tipped a few beers in Denver during a gathering of writers and bloggers a few months back. But Jay is one of those guys who's simply hard to miss in this incestuous little community we've chosen. He's outspoken. He can be a little crass. But he's thoughtful and I think he's really smart.

One minute you're thinking, "Dude, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" and the next you're wishing aloud, "Damn, I'd love to be able to enunciate my thoughts that profoundly ... at least once."

A lot of you may know Jay as the significant other who's attached to Erin Block, the fine young writer who's recently penned a book and whose work appears regularly in TROUT Magazine. But Jay's carved a niche in the fly fishing world all his own--he's a hell fly tyer, and he's not a bad writer in his own right. He has his own following (and his own book on the market), and rightly so.

I feel fortunate that I got to spend some time with Jay and Erin in Denver a few months ago, and I look forward to the opportunity to share a drink with them again sometime soon.

On with the questions: Eat More Brook Trout

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jumping the Gun...?

At our cabin up in the canyon there is still a foot of snow by the wood pile, and we have fires even during the day. It is cold enough at night and the dog doesn't linger...a fast pee and he is back at the door. But it is to be expected. It is late March and we are in Colorado. And we live at 8000 feet. I am reminded of the end of Jeremiah Johnson...when he and Bear Claw discuss over a rabbit what month it might be. March? April maybe? Winter stays long up this high... But I work down in the flat land and it has been nice down there. Sunny and worm. Hot even.  So the urge to get a crack at some early season bass has been brewing for days now... So today was the day we decided to pull the trigger. As we rolled out of the mouth of the canyon I realized that there was still a lot of snow on the ground even down low. I thought it all had melted. Where we way too early for bass yet? Where we totally jumping the gun? Once we got to the water the first thing I did was dip my hand in to gauge just how much gas money we had wasted... But the water wasn't too bad. Cold, but not frigid.  A promising sign. So we did what you have to do in the early season if you want to find bass...we fished heavy, dark flies on long leaders. Deep and slow. Erin picked up a couple small crappie right off, so I knew we had a chance! And sure thing...the bass came soon after!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Represent Your Mud Flat!

Rep Your Water is not just for you clean water, trout heads anymore...! The new logos are out now for the 2013 season. And you know which one I was rockin' this afternoon on the mud flats!

Check out the new Carp/Backstabber logo from the cool cats over at Repyourwater....

Friday, March 15, 2013

South Boulder Creek

My home water, South Boulder Creek, is very low...hardly a trickle, but the last few days have been so warm and beautiful it has been impossible to stay indoors and labor away at tying or writing projects. Nothing seems more important than being outside with a rod in hand. So Erin and I saddled up and hit the creek for a few hours in the afternoon. In the truck and past Carl's Corner and the canyon liquor store...down the bumpy red-dirt road and on to to the creek. There were a few others down on the water, but is did not deter us as it sometimes has in the past. We were just "glad to be out" as people say. (People we usually make fun of.) Midges were hatching and there were a few trout rising to them...but we took all of our fish below the surface, on small stuff like beadhead Juju's and a fly Erin calls the "Queen E". It was a good day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Guide to Fly Fishing (Lyons Press)

One of the most accessible guide books on the market, this guide not only provides all the information beginning and intermediate anglers need in order to start catching trout, the information is also presented in a quick and easy, highly-browsable format of top-ten lists.

Curious how to tie and use the ten best knots and rigging techniques? Ever thought about the ten most essential things to look for when selecting a new fly rod? What are the top dry flies for trout? What mistakes do most new anglers make when learning to cast?

A fun conversation starter and a set of streamside tips rolled into one, this lighthearted look at a serious sport will give beginners the value of solid instruction while more seasoned fly-fishers will enjoy quibbling with the author’s rankings and choices.

"I've never seen so much good advice in one place. All how-to fishing books should be written by people who work in fly shops." --John Gierach

Order A Copy Today!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Dumb Shit Asked At The Fly Shop (2012)

He who said "There is no such thing as a dumb question" has very obviously never worked in a fly shop. I love talking to those who love to is my job and I look forward to it every day. The things I enjoy the most are the questions. I never know what I am about to get. I take it as a challenge to have the answer. Like playing "Stump the Band". Often I am clueless, and I will admit defeat (instead of lying or making something up) but more often than not I am able to help, or redirect the fisherman and that gives me great satisfaction. But sometimes I am left speechless...  This past year was an exceptionally good one. I collected (verbatim) all of my favorites! Enjoy!

"I heard animals act weird when there is a lot of smoke in the air. Do you think the trout in the Big Thompson are being bothered by the smoke from the High Park fire?"

"Do you guys sell salmon fly midges?"

"I want to stick a couple flies in my hat. Are there special flies for that?"

"I'm constantly loosing flies. Do you have flies that don't keep coming off?"

"This leader is new! I've only been fishing with it for a month or two!"

"When you say this bead-head fly will sink...what does that mean?"

"Is this Colorado fishing license good for other states?"

"Hey, will you guys honor a $100 Cabelas gift card?"

"I need a new leader. My last one was had one end that was really thick and the other end was really skinny."

"If my dry fly is dragging on the surface, does that mean I have on too much floatant?"

"So...the dry fly hooks you sold me. I tested them at home and they all sink."

Woman pointing to photo of a tigerfish hanging on fly shop wall: "Is that a snapping turtle?"

Favorites from past years:

"Why do you guys sell a snowshoe rabbits foot...for good luck?"

"I'm fixing my septic system. Do you guys rent waders?"

"What fly should I put the floatant on? The dry fly or the leech?"

"Why is it so important that waders be waterproof?"

Best of all time!

Dude: "Excuse me, this may be a dumb question..."

Me: "Aw hell, dude...I guarantee it won't even make top three of the week! Shoot!"

Dude: "Is this the Frying Pan River and am I in Basalt?"

Me: " That is Boulder Creek and you are in Boulder."

Dude: "Oh shit. I was supposed to be at my buddies wedding in Basalt ten minutes ago."

Me: "I take back my previous statement."

Dude: "But...I was in Aurora, typed it into my phone and Google sent me here."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The View From Coal Creek (Reflections on Fly Rods, Canyons and Bamboo)

Noted blogger and fly fishing writer Erin Block just had to make a bamboo fly rod from scratch. As she writes:
Although I couldn't put my finger on just why, exactly. This, unlike most emotions regarding fly rods, wasn't a want, it was a need. To find out for myself why people fish bamboo, and why when they do, it verges on a religious experience. And also, to discover why, in a society that measures worth from profit and efficiency, do people still build bamboo rods. Bamboo rod makers appeared to take the long way around -- putting more miles on the odometer, so to speak...But as I came to find out, they also happen to have very rich eyes, and very full hearts. And as George Black writes.."Once they've put down roots, they tend to become trees."
What resulted is a personal, passionate, and unique journal of not just how a bamboo fly rod is made, from culm to varnish, but the motives of the people who make such works of art. The View from Coal Creek is a reflection on fly rods, fishing, and life seen from the vantage of a canyon in Colorado, but these are props in a larger story about life, love, and tradition. Erin Block is a young, powerful voice carrying the torch and passing on lessons, values, and history of this great, literary and vibrant sport.
If you love fly fishing, bamboo fly rods, and the long way home -- you will love this book.

December 2012, Hardcover, Limited Edition
$44.95 Retail Price -- SPECIAL $39.95

December 2012, Softcover
$21.95 Retail Price -- SPECIAL $17.50

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Big Thompson Mid-November

Erin Block, David Goodrich and I fished the Big Thompson River yesterday. David came up from Colorado Springs the day before and spent a half day fishing the Thompson directly below the dam at Estes Park. He had a good day, so we went into our day with a fresh and reliable fishing report. Small stuff below the surface. Water way low…17 cfs. David had stayed up high, so I figured we would mix it up a bit and drift farther down the canyon (along highway 34). It would prevent a boring repeater day for David and possibly avoid other fishermen.

We spent the majority of the day on the water, and it was low and cold and the trout wanted the smaller stuff sunk down to them. For the brief period during the day when the sun was reaching the water a nice cloud of midges appeared over the pools, but I only saw two trout rise. Two different fish, neither one came up a second time, which would have possibly tempted me to discard my nymph rig. The water was a tad off-color, due—according to rumor—some construction going on in or around Estes Lake, so a midge pupa with a bit of flash seemed to work better.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Demons and Promises

Not long ago I was asked if I believed someone could be possessed by a demon. I shrugged and wondered where exactly the conversation was going and if there was enough wine left for me to get drunk or if I was going to have to move along. There was enough wine so I stayed for the story that followed the question. A spooky, first-hand account of a young man suddenly jumping to his feet and yelling during a Sunday school lesson. I guess the lesson was being conducted in an old, remodeled trailer and the room had gotten suddenly chilled before the outbreak...all poltergeist like...and the man's voice was deep and sinister and not his. It was a chilling story and I think I said something dumb to ruin a perfectly great ghost story, like most atheists do...did he have tourette's or something?

I then promptly forgot about the story. As most drunks do...

I forgot because I had to move on. I had a promise to keep. To take a friend out to catch her first carp on a fly rod. We had made vague plans earlier in the summer but, because her and her husband were busy running a well-known meadery in town, we just danced around the idea for so long that summer turned into November before we locked down a date. Friday morning. The day before a whopper snow storm was scheduled to slam into Colorado, so it was then or never...or, at least next spring, that may as well be forever away. But I had already hung up my carp gear for the year, at the end of October before the last bout of cold weather hit us. And I waited a bit too late the night before to go down into the basement to resurrect my carp rod and find my box of carp flies. I couldn't find it and I was tired and impatient and in a hurry and got tangled up in a pile of loosely-tied bags for recycling and next thing I know I'm curled up in the fetal position with my right leg sticking out at an odd angle.

My right knee has haunted my entire adult life. As I squirmed around on the cold, concrete basement floor trying my best not to pass out/scream like a dying rabbit/chew my own leg off...I had one of those movie montage flashbacks. My last year in an Army airborne unit, when I successfully convinced everyone around me that I was healthy, when I had only one knee. The right one had no ACL or meniscus left. I stayed drunk as much as I could and when I couldn't be drunk I would act so crazy no one noticed when I sprawled out under a log obstacle or on a darkened drop zone writhing around and making horrifying animal noises. It was just "Zee" and that fucker's crazy! Neither I nor the Army new any better and they let me back out to try to make a go of it in the civilian world as...basically a one-legged, violent drunk. My temper wrecked any relationships I made. My drinking destroyed my pickup truck and an innocent ash tree. And my intolerance for idiocy caused all of my G.I. Bill to get wasted on classes that meant nothing to employers. I did manage to survive, make enough money to eat, ending up in strange places with odd jobs. A carpentry gig for a log home company... hoisting 20-foot logs, hoping my legs would hold. Sometimes they wouldn't. Kodiak Island on a fishing boat, where I would have to tie myself to the gutting table to keep from being thrown from the fish-slimed deck into the Gulf of Alaska and a sure death.  And remote villages along the Yukon with one-armed native postmasters and dark-eyed meat thieves... guiding moose hunters.

Standing beside the Kateel—
rod in hand, wool hat on head
and chilled through to the core.
Crunchy tundra underfoot.
Snow dressed domes of beaver huts.
Frozen chunks of river foam.
The meat pole is standing bare.
The canned beans have long been had.
And the grayling won’t bite anymore.
Stuck alone with a wall tent
somewhere north of Galena—
closer to Russia than home.

It was at the end of the last moose hunt that my right knee finally ended my run. The freeze had come earlier than expected and we had to pack up camp into a couple boats and journey down a remote Alaskan river in search of a straight enough and deep enough piece of river to safely call in a float plane. In a day or two we did, but when hauling the boats up into the tree line above the high water line, to chain them to trees for the season, with the sound of our ride out getting louder and knee gave out. That demon reared its horrid head and shook me until I swore my leg had been torn completely off. As the float plane could only handle half our gear, the pilot and one passenger, I was forced to be on the first flight out, limping into the swift, frigid river with nothing but a two-piece fly rod tube for support. I was drenched, hypothermic and in total agony. But the pilot still had to taxi down river a ways, turn around and blast off back up the straight-away. It was when he tried to turn around that the floats got caught on a shallow gravel bar. He did his best to erratically gun the engine, rocking us back and forth to free us. But to no avail. The pilot turned to me and did his best to clearly explain what the situation was. It was simple; I get out of the airplane, unload gear on my own until we were light enough to rev off the sand bar…and then reload all the gear. Accomplishing this by crawling from the float plane to shore with loads of gear because I could not walk. Or I could real quick learn how to drive a float plane. He was serious. He was prepared to teach me to operate his cab. Right then and there. I considered it, but seeing as I had larger balls than a brain and that the effects of hypothermia had already begun to effect my hearing and other acute functions (and, the last time I drove I wrapped the vehicle around an ash tree) I elected to face the ice-cold river on my wounded knee. My memory of the event becomes blotched at best from this point forward. I remember being dropped off at a dock somewhere and low crawling down a dusty gravel road. And I remember attempting to bathe myself in a sink before catching a ride in the bed of a truck to the village tarmac. And being hit on by a native girl at the Anchorage airport. She was tending bar, but apparently was willing to do anything for a box of moose meat. I had no moose meat and doubt I could even understand English or Athabaskan at that point.

I, again, did learn to survive. With help. The VA hospital in Cleveland spent seven hours on my knee and sent me back out into the world with crutches and a bottle of pills. But they had exorcised at least the one demon.

That was nearly a decade ago.

I remembered all of these things lying on the cold basement floor…once again not able to stand. And it terrified me. But I had a promise to keep. A girl and a carp. And some lost box of flies somewhere on some shelf to find. Because, through agonizing trials comes perseverance. And endless tribulations comes stubbornness. And the best way to deal with promises is to keep them. And the best way to deal with demons is to, well…deal with them.

Madoka Myers with her first carp on the fly! 
(Helped only slightly by her gimpy guide on crutches.)