Time

Some days, it seems the pendulum of the clock swings by in hours instead of seconds. Time accelerates through the seasons, leaving those in the fishing industry frantically pursuing what we never had time to accomplish. Finding time to remember what you forgot is another story altogether. Before we know it, the snow will begin to fall and we will be thinking about the spring and all of the things we want to accomplish next year. Which, at this rate, will be coming this afternoon.

Time spent fishing helps, being next to a lake full of cardiac-arrest inducing predator fish becomes counter productive. Musky fishing isn’t exactly relaxing. It is a sanctuary though. A calm relief from the typical, “what’re they bitin’ on?” Rhetoric. Replacing it with the sound of lapping waves is quite the relief. But those waves count the hours that tick away like seconds until both they, and time, freeze. I look forward to the coming years behind the counter I built from remnants of my childhood home.

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Here Comes the Ice Cream Truck!

When I was a kid, it was a bell, it was a child’s call to arms. These days it is bad digital music through a megaphone often precluded by a child’s voice saying “Hello!?”. A process that further complicated the simple world of the ice cream man. I do not wonder why hordes of kids carrying pitchforks are not chasing these big white box trucks around. They have gone too far trying to make the truck acceptable and cool. What ever happened to good ol’ bright colors? Unusual, bright color combinations that just attracted children. Blue ice cream and hot pink sprinkles!? Yes please! There is something otherworldly about the colors, as they are not commonly edible. Why do kids love them? The answer is ultra simple. Curiosity.

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It is common in science to conclude that animals have minds equivalent to young humans. They can accomplish seemingly complex tasks in the wild, but when it comes to processing new information or training, animals seem to have trouble. We can teach them to speak sign language, yet it does not give us much insight into the way they think. We can only observe. Maybe observing a young child’s behavior when it comes to food can give us insight into highly educated fish. Which takes me right back to ice cream.

When I was young, chasing after the ice cream truck was a habit. If my parents did give me money, it might have been a dollar. Enough to get an ice cream cone, probably bubble gum. Yes, I wanted something more than bubble gum ice cream, the coveted “Rocket Pop”. It was $2.50 if I remember correctly. Never had enough to buy one. Something about it called to me and I can’t quite pinpoint why. It just looked like unending bliss, or maybe I would fly to the moon after eating one. Who knows?

Nothing has changed over the years. I was digging through my materials one day, looking for some that were rarely used. I saw it. A hot pink northern bucktail. Not something I would normally buy, but this one was perfect. I proceeded to tie some muskie flies. For some reason, I combined it with chartreuse and my brain exploded. Working with the hair took too long and I needed a quick and easy go-to pattern for the times when I’m in a hurry to go fishing (always). I bought up a handful of materials and began to tie. What I came up with was an articulating and suspending, not really fishy looking fly. It was the colors that looked delicious. The “Rocket Pop”.

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I know, it doesn’t look like a fish, but it was never meant to. It was meant to tap into the brain of a child, to make things that looked delicious and unreal. It was the idea that maybe children also have the same primitive instinct and curiosity as a predatory fish. The same fish that spends his entire life hunting prey, knowing exactly which fish to eat. One with senses about as sharp as his teeth. One quick in his reflexes and right in his choices. One with a weakness, the ice cream truck.

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Lesson #20: Be a kid. You never know when it might come in handy.


The Beginning

For twenty years, I didn’t know this photograph existed. It was buried away in a shoebox time capsule waiting for a time when it may be of some use. The use was an ear to ear grin about a time when things were simple, unadulterated. Although it may have been just the simple act of fishing, life was easy then. No quotas or deadlines, no bills or worries, and no liars or thieves. As a child, nobody was out to get what they could from you, their only goal was to add what they could. It takes a child or mother or father to see the real beauty here. Not that I’m saying that those are the only people who will see it. Rather, you have an element of one of those within you. To others, it is a poorly handled and obviously dead, fish. I would sacrifice that fish again, if it meant that I could live it all over the same way.

That's me on the left!

That’s me on the left! Please also note that I have the same hairdo.

Life beyond that moment was changed forever. In the following weeks, I would pick up fly fishing. For me, there were no hand-me-down rods and reels, no mentor, nobody to tell me right and wrong. Just magazines and books totaling endless hours at libraries and grocery stores. A kid dreaming about his first fly rod through a Bass Pro Shop catalog, asking his mom what we could and could not afford. In reality, we couldn’t afford any of it. Christmas that year would tell a new tale, beginning the life of a fly fisherman. Not one who entered by means of indoctrination, but one that entered by the majesty of the fish itself.

 

Through my pleading, my parents would take me to wonderful places. Montana, Colorado and Wyoming were some of the most memorable places. For some reason, New Mexico was where I could really get out and explore. It is where I felt the most comfortable. While looking through these photos, I realized that I had a fishing outfit. A very large white shirt. Most of my clothes belonged to older and larger people before they found their way onto my back, but no matter, I was doing what I loved to do.

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The first place I ever fly fished will remain in my heart forever. It was my companion and mentor. It was my teacher of life and self reflection. It was, in essence, a hero of mine. As the years passed, it remained a constant in my life and showed me some amazing fish along the way. The beauty of the canyon and the wildlife within it were my escape through high school and may have also been my saving grace from drugs and other crime amongst my childhood friends. The creek was there through it all. Rather than go to a party, I would find myself wanting to fish. Life just worked out. In the long run, everything was ok. I only ever saw one other fly fisherman on this creek one time. I think the creek knew me well and felt the same as I did. When I left for Florida, the creek died. It dried out from cattle ranchers damming up the springs and feeders. They killed the trout in the wake of it all. It died from lack of use, lack of people that loved it.

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What happened next, I feel is an odd turn of events. With the drying up of the creek, the white sucker and goldfish populations exploded out of control. The state had no other choice but to put a predator in to kill the rough population. With that, there was new life and a new species to fly fish for. They have grown to their full adult size around the time that I stumbled back to this place, the place that taught me that a river can be a friend too. The place where I found fly fishing. Is it chance?

Lesson #19: Secrets can be dangerous to some places. Without people, your secret can dry up and you will carry it with you to your grave. The real secret is sharing it with the right people.

Side note: One of the photos is of the San Juan LONG before any habitat projects. The hole I’m standing in is the “Kiddie pool”. I’ll try to replicate this image in another post to show you how much it has changed.


Seeing Red

The day started off quite well. I woke up early, took a shower, brushed my teeth and headed west. The brisk nature of high desert winter still loomed from the night before. The sunrise peeked assuredly from mountains slowly fading into the horizon. I felt as though I raced time herself, like the sun was setting again as I drove opposing the rotation of Earth. I was unknowingly driving back in time, back to the Miocene Epoch when ancestors of the modern Esox genus roamed the deep. Of course, this could have also been my imagination.

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These prehistoric critters have had a lot of time to become more and more efficient. If I was on the Earth for over five million years, I would be one hell of a fisherman too. Time after time, these fish remind you of how long their species has been smarter than ours. It only took us 20,000 years to develop the fly rod that we use today. Even after all of this time we have yet to develop polarized vision. They even have sensors on their bottom jaw that contain little tiny hairs that detect the signature of swimming fish. This is standard issue on these fish! We had to spend THOUSANDS of years just getting smart enough to figure out side scanning sonar! GAH! I digress…

These fish can present difficulties, they are even called the fish of 10,000 casts. There are intensely difficult days and I think I know exactly why. Have you ever brought a muskie up to your fly and it stares at it for a second, gives you a “Pfft” and a giggle as it meanders back off into the deep? Sucks, right? Let us say that someone drops a pink hat on the ground. Roughly 5% of humans would pick it up and wear it. The other 95% would look, but scoff at it instead. Due to the individuality among groups of muskie, they would also rather not wear a pink hat. At least not today. After all, it only took them five million years of being angry and territorial to become more individual. Although the group of fish has very common habits as a whole, each fish also has a set of personal tastes. Call me crazy…

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I looked over the partially frozen lake to find an ice free section of water that has been known to produce a handful of fish. I sat down to dig through my box for the weapon of choice. A green and blue double articulating streamer, deadly in the fall here. After one fish and a handful of follows, I gave up on the fly and fumbled through my box for other patterns. The idea here is common for me. Change flies, cast twenty times, count follows and takes, rinse and repeat. I tried many different patterns over the next few hours, ruling out common streamers and color combinations until one nearly punched me in the face. I felt stupid when I pulled it out of the box. Every other fly that day was weighted. This was not. Just simply a red and black articulating streamer. Armed with a sink tip line, this fly would suspend exactly where and when I  needed it too. Within ten casts, I was into two fish with no follows (follows are usually bad). This means the fish were taking the fly when they saw it. Red. It had to be red. Every other color did not produce results. I really think this was a sign. Muskies are, as usual, plotting against you.

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If you have been reading this blog for the past few months, you will know that the muskies and I are at war. Allow me to paraphrase, the muskie took flies and snapped hooks, I vowed to go after their entire race and here we are today. I should have known they were out for blood when they chose red as their feeding color. The bad color. When landing fish, I noticed they would tightly close their mouth. Unusual for all of these fish to display this. They were telling me something. Getting them to open up requires a simple trick, just put the fish underwater until they become buoyant. Their mouth will open right up. This puts you in a rather precarious position when fishing from shore. Crouched and unstable next to the subject who is in it’s element almost entirely. Mano a fisho. The last fish of the day went well. Quick fight, hook removed, easy release. Until I looked down. A pool of blood was gathering at my feet and the line was sticking to my fingers. I hadn’t injured the fish, the fish injured me. I did not feel a thing. I have nicked my knuckles and other parts of my hand on teeth before, but apparently thumb wounds are like head wounds. It was just bleeding and I couldn’t stop it. For a couple minutes I fished on. I never realized how important your thumbs are while stripping fly line. I had to stop. Since there was no superglue in my Jeep, I went home with my tail between my legs. The muskie won the battle that day, but I learned a very powerful lesson. Never trust a muskie.

Lesson #18: Although they appear soft and cuddly, the muskie is a voracious predator and a reckless surgeon. Try to keep your hands out of it’s mouth full of tiny scalpels or lose your scruples. And by scruples, I mean your digits. And by digits, I don’t mean your phone number.

*Warning!!! Graphic image below!*

Much like bigfoot, the culprit is always fuzzy.

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The aftermath

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The Burning Cold

Beyond the window sill, stained dark from condensed water, lies a world picturesque and seemingly frozen by the chill of the winter air. Perched atop a stool, aswoon for the thought of a pleasurably warm fishing day, I spun cord to steel. Although thoughts of thawing ice stood toe-to-toe with wetting a line on the coldest days, my thoughts were directed to the future. Looking back through my personal patterns, the future is where my sights are usually set. It is always the next change of season. No matter the time of year, if you ask, I will tell you the same thing. “Oh, I can’t wait for winter” or “The best fishing is in the fall” or “The summer season kicks ass!” Even though I am looking forward to the next season, I will tell you that spring is by far the most exciting and most difficult to anticipate. To quell my thoughts of spring, I figure now would be a great time to follow through with the thoughts I had during the fall, to fish the winter. My timing of weather patterns was off. Way off.

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Driving north out of New Mexico was as it usually is this time of year, cold and pretty miserable. The San Luis valley is by far the coldest area in the southwest, and close to the coldest in the lower 48. I know this valley well, for the past five years my journeys have skirted this valley and it has served as access to my favorite fishing destinations. I continued on, not thinking anything was out of place as the temperature varied about thirty degrees from hilltop to valley. The sun was out and that was good enough for me. Unbeknownst to me, a monster was working it’s way south that promised an icy temperature drop. Like fog, humans piled themselves into valleys and scurried about searching for gifts to present to loving families. I decided to pay a visit to some very good friends. The only gift I had to give was the gift of gab (aka “Shut me up before I overstay my welcome”). As I completed my final goodbye, I heard news of the coming storm. “Extremely cold with a little snow. Be safe out there.” I had to push south before the road conditions decided to get out of hand. My stomach growled as I passed through Colorado Springs and I figured it was time to find a rest area, eat some ramen noodles, and slip into sleep as snow began to accumulate on the highway.

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I was twenty miles from my destination and as short as it seems, twenty miles can quickly turn into an eternity with icy roads and fishing on the brain. In the morning, my eyes peeled open, they were out of focus and white covered everything. I thought the worst and as I slowly regained consciousness, I realized that my jeep had been idling for the past four hours. It was warm and the blurry white turned out to be only a couple of inches of snow. Alas! I could travel! The cold wasn’t an element for me to think about just yet. My mind was solely focused on fishing and driving. At least it looked warm enough. I pulled into my favorite little parking spot and sighed. “Finally.”

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I knew it was cold, after all, there was snow on the ground. Regardless, I stepped out to retrieve my waders from the back of the truck. It only took seconds before the cold seeped in through my jacket quickly enough for me to let out a “holy crap” and scurry back into the jeep. I sat there with my waders in the floorboards. With my hands on the steering wheel, I convinced myself it wasn’t that cold so long as I did not look at the thermometer on the dash. Curiosity killed the cat and it was 14. Fourteen! I have fished the Taylor in early February, the Pan in late December, the Blue in January, I know this game. By noon it would be 30 and everything would be fine. I’m fine with the cold, but here, it isn’t supposed to be this cold. I briskly hiked to my favorite spot and fog rolled off of the water, it was warm and loaded with actively feeding fish. Standing in the water to stay warm, my facial hair began to freeze with aid from my breath. The snow rolled in and as impossible as it sounds, it became colder than anticipated. It was time to eat something warm and warm myself in the process. The thermometer now read 15. It was noon. When my fingertips came to temperature, they started to itch, a sure sign of frostbite. I am rarely ever done until the day itself is. Returning back to the water, my thoughts drifted back into spring.

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Thinking about spring didn’t keep me warm. Inward, the coming year had a warming sensation. A warming of the heart. The future is always at hand. Like the cold, the fear is nearly crippling. As much as I would hate to admit it, the anticipation of spring scares me as much as publishing this. The fear of rejection in both cases makes it difficult to move forward, yet excitement of the anticipated end product pushes me to keep going. The burning sensation wasn’t just the cold air and frostbitten fingertips, it was the warming feeling of the coming future.

P.S. Here are some more pictures from the trip!

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More Video!!! Hooray!


Reflection

cbwThey say the eyes are the window to the soul. When, if ever do we see our own? Throughout life, our shortcomings and judgment from others shapes our self image. Those things that we may think we really are. Who are we?

Staring down at the cold, moving water of the river, it began with a simple question. The journey to this water was difficult. As all “uncharted” sections of river are. I asked, “Why?”. Why did I drive for three hours to get to a place that required over an hour worth of hiking to get to? There was not a person to be seen in the canyon, not a single car in the parking lot. Emptiness. The river rushed through a place untrodden while a similar river rushed through my heart. I was here not because it was exciting, but because I needed to connect with something so similar to who I am. Searching for fish is only an excuse to search for something within myself. For the first time this year, I was able to think.

My fingers dipped into the river, the cold water like refreshing air, a gasping inhale after holding your breath too long. It brings to mind those visionaries whose psychic abilities only function upon touch of an old item to see if it has spirits attached to it. That water moving against skin flashed visions of those spirits. Among all of this, this canyon, the coyotes, the eagles, the heron, there is a river that represents life. More importantly, it bore my own reflection. Looking upstream to waters I have seen before, this day I had to move beyond my comfort zone. Downstream, to the future, to the heart of the river, to the heart of me.

I hiked down in an attempt to wear myself out, to get the feeling that I would never make it out. I needed to feel like I was alive and that life is fragile. Continuing on, I passed beautiful sections of water that held fish, passing bend and pool, log jams and riffles for no reason but to get to a destination that I never knew existed. To see if the river stopped where no one was looking, to see if it ever gives up or gets tired. What I found is that the river is absolute, it is relentless, it shapes the world around it yet allows the world to direct it.

Even though I was not aware, I had stumbled upon what I was looking for. It was a hole containing an abundance of fish. With every few casts, the river began to yield the treasure it held beneath that magical separation of water and air. As good as it seemed, above and below this hole seemed to be dead and void of fish. Even hiking out from the canyon I fished to no avail. Looking back at the path I had taken, I realized what the river was trying to say. I had taken this path that lead to a place. That path is where I stand now and looking upstream at the sunset, that path is directing me to a new horizon. To a sunrise that never seems to lose her grandeur. Reflecting upon the looking glass, I saw my reflection conjured by the river. Maybe I had found what I had been searching for all along.cbrowncbow


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