Thursday, June 25, 2009

Emergency Call

It was one of those calls that comes in the middle of the night, about 9:30 p.m. in my case. I had just finished a fairly descent glass of Riesling; it was perky without being pretentious. We were sitting on the deck enjoying the reluctant sun as it headed for California, when the phone rattled and danced on the patio table.
Caller ID said it was Tom, which meant it was probably fishing related and safe to answer. He had an emergency brewing. Dinner guests would be arriving at his place in less that 24 hours and he was under the gun to have some trout on the table. Could I make a supreme sacrifice, tomorrow morning, and go fishing.
Hmmm, this was a tough call. I made a mental rundown of the things on my to-do list and told him fishing might fit right in. I had planned to rearrange my sock drawer on Thursday, however, for him and the cause, I’d bite the bullet and pack up my rod, etc.,
After I committed to go he told me John would be going along, too, and, by the way, could I bring that bamboo rod I had restored this winter. They felt the rod needed some thorough testing on some real fish—trout in other words.
The rod is a real beauty. My guess is, it was built in the early 1900s and It is destined to go on the wall as an art object, like several other restored bamboo rods I have. I have a lot of mixed emotions about antique rod restoration: these things were made to catch fish, not hang on the wall. However, a lot of hours (pleasure-filled hours I should say) go into a project such as this and … What the heck. Better to burn out than rust out, I say.
There was a lot of the good-natured joking around as we lined up the rods in the parking lot at Rockwell Springs early Thursday morning. The bamboo rod (a gift from Susan) is a three-piece, 10-footer, not built in the usual hexagonal form, but in a round shape. Like a really long willow branch. Rods and lines of the past do not match up with current equipment. I was guessing at the proper line weight for this baby, but felt I was in the ballpark by choosing a line from the middle of my collection of reels and lines.
The best way to describe casting with this beauty is to imagine throwing a line with a 10-foot-log piece of spaghetti. And that noodle would weigh three or four pounds—or so it seemed. After three casts I knew why fly fishing was slow to catch on in the last century. It was proof that it’s not always about catching fish. Sometimes it’s about the beauty of the day and the tackle …
After managing two rainbow trouts, I deemed the rod well broken in and ready to take its place on the wall. Tom and John each took a turn and we all agreed, fishing with today’s stiffer, lighter rods made the sport more enjoyable. These fine old bamboo rods fit the era in which they were designed, when the pace of life and the pace of living were slower and more deliberate. As best we could tell, the fish didn’t seem to react any differently, no matter what we used. And our skills, as fishers, had to be the same as the person who lined up this old rod—when it was the new rod.
I thought about how the original owner, maybe 100 years ago, faced the same challenges we face today, which is another part of fly fishing’s appeal for me. Our tackle, today, is certainly technologically superior, however, the fish don’t know that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Deserved Recognition

Well, it’s been a long time coming, four billion years or so, however the stick has finally been recognized for what it is—and made it to the Hall of Fame. That’s the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.
Let me back up a bit. Sometimes news is slow getting out here to Ohio. Just today I learned that the stick was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame last November.
Right, the stick, the play toy of millions and millions of generations of kids. Now it’s right up there with the heavy hitters like Mr. Potato Head and Barbie. The stick. Any stick. The toy that can be anything to any one.
I am a bit upset that the Toy Hall bestowed the honor before the American Museum of Fly Fishing had a chance to recognize the stick for virtually the same reasons. I’ve had many a day when I caught more sticks than fish—and was happy for the tug on the line.
It often works like this: You’re up or downstream from a fishing buddy. You hear his occasional whoop and holler and see his line dancing all over the stream. You’re doing nothing. Then you feel the big strike! Whoa there, this is serious stuff. The fish swims out into the stream and is headed downstream with huge effort. You fight as carefully as you can, hoping the tippet will hold because this lunker certainly surpasses whatever rating the manufacturer had written on the spool.
Even with your best efforts you can’t turn him. He keeps heading downstream. That should be your first clue. But you’re Fishing the Denial River and disregard the obvious. You're making progress. You have him on the reel and he’s moving closer. Out of the corner of your eye you’ve seen your buddy casting a glance in your direction, hoping to see the fish. You fumble around your back for the landing net as you control the line with one hand. Your first glimpse of this whopper makes your heart sink. It’s a stick. A stick. My dad used to tell us kids it was a grass pike he had on the line. We, of course believed him.
Your mind kicks in as you realize you have to save face with your buddy. The best strategy is to get your body twisted into a really awkward position, hopefully with your back to your friend. You lunge for the “fish” and break it loose with the top of the net. Sometimes this means sacrificing the fly, however, you also salvage your reputation. Cursing and swearing, even pounding the water with the net is required at this point.
You turn to your friend, who has been watching all of this, and shout, “Huge brownie! Broke him off with the damn net!” A bit more pounding the water to emphasize your frustration might be required.
Tie on a new fly and hope for a return of another big one.
So, while it’s great that someone has recognized the stick’s ability to fill the imagination of children around the world since forever, it’s equally important for the fly fishing community to rise to the occasion and give the stick it’s due for it’s ability to raise the expectations and fill the imaginations of fly fishers the world over.

A Future Hall of Famer

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just Another Day at the Office

The sun was lightening the sky as I backed out of the drive. The brightest object in the sky, however, was the last quarter moon about 30 degrees above the horizon in the southeast. It looked like a great day to be heading for the office.
I tuned in the local NPR station to catch up on the latest world trauma I can do nothing about. Sounded like the same news cast that’s been going on for 10,000 years. Will we ever get smart?
As I cruised down Oak Hill Road in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park I caught the local traffic report. Jams here, problems there. My traffic stopper was a Wild Turkey that dashed across the road. Then two white-tailed deer, a button-buck and a doe, politely waited for me to pass before they crossed. Did those deer look both ways before crossing? I think so.
I love traffic problems like this. As I unloaded (Or is that uploaded?) a backpack filled with camera gear in the parking area near Everett Road Bridge, a guy in a really cool Lexus convertible, red, slowed and looked (wistfully?) at me. His white shirt and tie told me he was not going to be heading for the back country this morning as I was about to do. The temperature had dropped to 48 degrees, great for hiking.
The first half mile is all uphill. I worked my way up and over to where Susan and I had spotted a family of Scarlet Tanagers yesterday. We had watched as the parents fed three youngsters—and me without a camera! We found the nest by accident. We had been led to the spot by a Veery, singing. The flute-like sounds of a Veery are not common around here. At Susan’s suggestion we sat on a log and waited as the Veery moved up the ravine and, eventually, to within 20 feet of our spot. I nearly ground my teeth down to the gums as the bird performed for us. It was activity almost above our heads, however, that distracted us from the Veery. We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw a pair of tanagers. We watched as they cautiously took food to their nestlings. After 15 or 20 minutes, one of the nestlings left the safety of its home and ventured out into the world. The parents were not happy about this, however, they continued to feed the brave one.
I feared that they might all be gone when I returned Monday morning. Grrrr, I hate it when I’m right sometimes. The nest was abandoned. The female and one of the youngsters were high in the canopy above me, too well hidden for a decent shot. The Veery, however, was singing like a champ. In fact, there were two songsters, joined by a pair of Wood Thrushes, numerous Eastern Wood Pewees, several species of vireos and plenty of percussion provided by woodpeckers. I sat on the log for 45 minutes as the sun pushed through the leaves, warmed the bugs, which in turn got the birds feeding for the day. It was the final movement of the dawn chorus.
I might have briefly thought about the guy in the red Lexus, probably stuck in traffic on I-77.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Rewards of Getting Lost

Well, I wasn’t really lost. It’s tough to get lost in a park in America. There’s always a road or path intruding on what passes for wilderness. Besides, I was virtually in my own backyard, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I knew if I headed west I’d run into the creek. If I headed north I’d eventually get to Route 82. So it was more like I was hiking in an area yet to be mapped—not lost.
Here’s what happened: I had to make a deposit at the bank (like they really need my money), which is about three miles from home if one wants to burn some fossil fuel. I was looking over a map, as I’m want to do, and decided it would be more fun to just head out through the woods, cut here, climb there, pop out on a trail near that spot and eventually work my way back to the parking area near the bank.
I grabbed my gear and went, fully expecting to do six or so miles round trip. The end of the story is that I did more than 10 miles. I sort of miscalculated all the twists and turns, and side trails to interesting sounds in the woods.
Getting off the beaten path is well worth the effort. I was in a park, in a metropolitan area and yet, the woods was as dense as one could wish for. A Hooded Warbler sang from a nearby bush. I stood still and he eventually worked to within 10 feet of where I watched him. Gorgeous views of a bird usually found in the tree tops. And more often heard than seen.
A Scarlet Tanager flash in front of me as I stopped to consider how wet I wanted to get crossing a creek. He landed on a branch on the other side and watched as I splashed through ankle-deep water, minnows scattering in all directions.
It was the singing of a Swainson’s Thrush that stopped me short, however. The fluting, smooth sound is rarely heard in this area since most of this species nests much further to the north. I followed the unmistakable sound of a thrush singing, deeper into the woods. And there he was, at eye-level, not 20 feet away. He seemed not to care that I was listening to his concert. His song was rolling and complex, not something I could whistle as I bushwhacked back to so-called civilization. It is a tune I’ll long remember, however.