Monday, March 18, 2019

Can you believe that?

Fall.  Senior year of college.  Fall break.  A week dismissed from academia.  Read: go do something awesome with your best buddies.

Five of you lash two canoes to two station wagon roofs and head for a deep lake, at the northwestern end of which sits a campsite that one has been to before.  The supplies are, to use the word that you adopted then for its cliché, absurdity and appropriateness, “fratty”: twice as much bacon and eggs and potatoes as is necessary, a large bag of Cajun trail mix, other various bars and backpacking foods and two glass gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi wine, which has come to be one of several signature drinks of the college fishing club, of which you are all very, very important members of.

The second night around the campfire.  The remaining jug is passed around, and around, and around, until its location and existence is forgotten.  And then, disaster.  Where is the Carlo?!

How can you lose, misplace a glass gallon jug of wine in a 20’ wide circle?  Did it walk off, to take a piss in the bushes and forget its way back?  Did it evaporate, the same way the last two days did?  Did someone hide it, as a joke, and then have their memory of its location disappear like all the answers to the midterms you all just took?  Was it burned?  Five stumbling, mumbling, jumbling college kids, on top of the world, cannot find the wine, and it is a serious problem.

One guy looks in the tent.  One guy looks in the canoes.  One guy looks so far away from the campfire that it’s a joke.  One guy doesn’t get up, just looks behind his stump seat.

The last, the one sitting only a few feet from the lake’s edge, yells.  Everyone looks.  Reaching into the lake, as if grabbing a fresh born baby, as if landing a giant trout, as if pulling a piece of bacon that fell into the fire and that shouldn’t have, as if finding a single piece of agate on a gravel bar a quarter-mile long, he has the jug of wine in both hands and raises it above his head, yelling, “I got it!!”  By some absurd chance, the jug has rolled and fallen into the lake in just the perfect way that the opening landed perfectly downward so that the air inside the jug has held the wine inside, lake water creating a seal preventing any from draining.  No one can remember how much was in it when it was lost, but there is enough left that it’s enough for the rest of the night and also just the most recent of countless, tiny but unbelievable events that happened that make this trip story-worthy. 

Your hangover the next day makes you wish, slightly, that you never found the jug again.  But, what a story.  Can you believe that?

Friday, March 15, 2019

We had the bugs on the wall dying.

A plan is hatched: meet up, drive there, go fishing. 

“You wanna?”
“Yea, let’s.”
“Cool, I’ll pick you up at the airport.”

Las Vegas, an unsuspecting hub for outdoor recreation, especially fly fishing.  The drive to Lee’s Ferry is only four and a half hours from there though; an easy shot for two old friends.  The Strip in the rearview, a glowing dome in the middle of the middle of desert, as you speed away.  Remember the last time we were there?  Barely.

A motel room awaits you and a late night arrival is expected, so when you get there before you think you would, it seems early.  Too excited and wound up to sleep.  The old friend has an old reel that’s really loud.  The two of you wind a new fly line onto the old spool and it echoes off the motel room walls.  You both cringe and giggle as you do this, because you can imagine what it sounds like in the neighboring rooms, but hey, you gotta do it now, you can’t do it in the morning.

Rod pieces are put together, reels are screwed onto reel seats, fly lines are strung, leaders are looped, even flies are tied on.  Packs are packed, water bottles are filled, articles are placed neatly and precisely by the door, so you won’t forget, even though you wouldn’t.  It’ll save you four minutes in the morning and since you only have 12 hours to fish, you do it now at – what time is it?  You need to sleep.

Alarms awake.  Disorientation.  Sit up and stare at each other from your motel Queen beds.  Let’s go!  Quick!  Get to the car!  Don’t let the others get there before us! 

A long day on the river.  Then, back to the motel in time to watch the sun go down from your patio.  Après-fishing.  Each moment more than the last.

It’s barely dark and you’re beat.  Tomorrow you will do it again.  In bed, sipping whiskey, watching bad television.  In the morning, you’re told that you fell asleep mid-conversation.

Again, alarms.  As awake as you were when you arrived; it’s 26 hours later.  You realize you don’t have to meet your guide for two hours.  Spend the next 90 minutes pacing, chatting, puttering, packing, checking gear, re-packing, watching the clock, killing time in pre-dawn excitement as thick as when you met at the airport.  We fished for 20 hours over two days but it’s this one specific hour-and-a-half in the motel room, awake early because you went to bed early because you were beat because you stayed up late then got up early, waiting for the right time to go fishing, having a conversation that’s half-incoherent, half-profound, full-hysterical, that I remember most, even though I don’t really remember any of it.  We had the bugs on the wall dying.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

It's 4:00 am and you're a hundred miles offshore.

It’s 4:00 am and you’re a hundred miles offshore.  You left the dock 14 hours ago, you and three of your best.  After a four hour run, you reached The Edge and your captain pulled back on the throttle for the first time since leaving the inlet.  Everyone stands up and stretches, relieving their bodies from the tensed, flexed positions you held for the run.  Four young men relieve themselves and then four beers are produced from the cooler, which looks like it’s about to be brought to a party that you all had attended in college only a few years prior.  Beer cans are touched, nods and smiles are passed, and cold, light beer is chugged.  Then the work begins.

Bait is prepped by two while the other two begin setting outriggers and placing rods in specific rod holders.  Soon, six rods are in.  Big, bright gold Penn Internationals reflect the setting sun.  The engines are again put into gear, this time at a slow, calculated pace.  You assume the positions – captain at the helm, first mate behind him, leaning against the bait prep table, and you and the remaining mate taking places alongside the cockpit - and you are fishing.

You troll until after dark, taking passes along a length of The Edge, and then call it for the evening.  Lines are reeled in, the Penns making their unmistakable, mechanical retrieve sounds.  The handles are as big as car door handles, and they fit your hand well.  A few more rounds of beer are consumed and without discussion, two guys take to massive bean bags for a few hours of restless sleep.  The air is warm and humid, but cooling fast.  The sleep is barely that.

You and the fourth guy sit next to each other in the cockpit, softly discussing the morning’s fishing to come, catching up on some of your recent fishing trips, and what you have been doing since the last time you saw each other, which was a week ago.

An iPod is produced from a hatch, and plugged into the vessel’s stereo system.  Robert Earl Keen’s album “Gringo Honeymoon” is played in its entirety.  When the title track comes on, the boat goes quiet, and the two of you just listen.  You listen to every word as close as you ever have.

It’s 4:00 am, a hundred miles offshore, but your mind has taken you to some western oasis in another time, where “a crusty caballero” plays “an old gut string guitar” and “sang like Marty Robbins could.”  You are fishing, with your best buddies.

Friday, March 8, 2019

You're Nine Years Old

You’re nine years old, on summer break.  You’re an only child living in a small town and you don’t have many friends around.  But you’ve bushwhacked to the river behind the house enough times that you know the way to a few deep holes and you just got your first fly rod and reel for Christmas, so a lot of your summer days are spent on the river, by yourself.  You can’t name any of the two dozen flies in your one fly box except the three that you tied: a Mickey Finn, a woolly bugger, and a hare’s ear nymph.  You tie on what you now know as a spent-wing wet fly, for no other reason than you haven’t ever tied it on; you don’t know where you got it.

You also don’t know about water levels and temperatures and how they affect a trout’s willingness to bite, so even though the water is low and warm, you just fish.  You make the boring roll casts your father showed you, but soon you’re trying to aerialize line and false cast, even though you don’t really know how to.  There are wind knots up and down your leader, but you don’t notice or don’t care.

You’ve been crashing around in the river for a while, not seeing any fish as per usual when, out of nowhere a trout that’s probably 8-inches but might as well be 30 chases your fly at the end of a retrieve.  As soon as it appeared, it is gone.  You repeat a curse you heard someone at school say, then look over your shoulder to see if anyone heard you.  You’re now as excited as you’ve been in weeks, and you can’t wait to tell Dad that you saw one.  Maybe you’ll tell him that you caught it.  You spend the next fifteen minutes casting to the same spot expecting, hoping, wishing with all your might that the fish will come back and take the fly.  It doesn’t.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Rippin Lips in Wyoming

Greetings from Wyoming! I put together some fish porn from last season for your viewing pleasure. The first 20 seconds is pretty awesome. On a trip last Spring, we hiked into a remote little cutthroat river and spotted some fish rolling on the surface from the cliff above. There were stoneflies all over the bank so we tried a few big dirty nymphs and dries to start out. One BIG ol cutty came up to look at a few offerings but never really committed. After many more casts and no takers, we hung out for a while then ran another drift through the pool. Again he rolled up, looked closely, and refused to eat. After that we basically committed to ignoring him for the better part of an hour and poked around elsewhere. On a last ditch effort before heading home, we stepped back into the run with a fresh ugly hunk of leggy foam and the fish absolutely annihilated it. It was so memorable because the 3 of us knew exactly where he was sitting and he had jerked us around for so long and refused so many offerings so it was a bit of a shock when he ate.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fishing and Hot Dogs

Hello folks! It's been a while since I've posted on the old Solid Hookups. I guess I have no one to blame but myself for that... Actually, that's a lie. It's more my family's fault. Don't get me wrong, they're the best, but family limits the fishing and limited fishing leads to limited posting. But I did fish over the holiday weekend with Clark. And it was a lot of fun.

Our office was open during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. None of my employees were in, but I was, and that gave some time to organize the office, and of course search the internet for native trout spots. I've recently become a little bit obsessed with miniature brook trout. I don't know why. I guess I just think that they're pretty cool looking and I know that they are hard to come by in the greater Boston area. There are very few streams that hold wild brookies in the eastern half of the state and those that know about these streams are fairly tight lipped about their existence, and rightfully so. With so few healthy cold water trout streams close to Boston, the last thing you want is a secret to spread and guys to come through and clean the fish out on trout worms. But I've been working a desk job for 15 years, and I can google search with the best of em. So with Google Earth open on one of my external monitors and the search engine open on other, I got after it hard, fingers blazing, because everyone knows the best way to find a wild brook trout is using your computer.

My goal was to find a wild trout stream that I could fish without traveling far from home, minimizing time away from my family. This meant I needed not only to find the fish, but also to make sure the drive to the river or creek was less than a half hour from my house. Unfortunately typing "native brook trout" into the google search box wasn't getting it done. When these traditional search efforts failed to yield the results I desired, I had to think outside of the box. The most encouraging candidate locations came from student PhD reports, town meeting archives, and trout unlimited fund raiser pages from years past. I reviewed summertime water temperature assessments, proposals for culvert and dam removals, and, when really lucky, elctro-shocking reports from the Mass DFW. In the end, I identified 5 spots, all with public access, all within a half hour drive from my house, and all, theoretically, harboring native brook trout. I wrote down addresses associated with access points and made plans with Clark. Meet at Location Number 1. We'll try that, and if it doesn't work out, we will try a different spot.

On Saturday morning, I met Clark at Location Number 1. Located in a public forest, we had about a half mile hike in before we reached any fishable water. I was fishing a bead head nymph with a small streamer trailing. Clark was fishing a bugger. the water was small and casting was pretty challenging due to tree cover. It looked fishy though, with a number of nice bends and pools that looked like they would hold. We worked our way up the creek fishing every tempting spot, but after an hour and a half, we had little to show for our efforts. We had a quick discussion, and we elected to take a look at a different spot. On our hike out we crossed paths with a guy walking his dog. "There are trout in there?" he asked when seeing us with rods and waders. "Not today there aren't," I shot back with a smile. But I was, of course, lying. I had read on the internet a student report looking at the genetic variation of the brook trout in Location Number 1 compared to brook trout from western mass, so I knew that there were indeed trout in there. And if Dog Guy had done his research, he would have known that too, but I wasn't going to give him any freebies...

We arrived at Location Number 2 after a brief drive west. This spot was quite close to my house in Stow, maybe 15 minutes away, so I had high hopes that it might produce. It was located relatively close to a major road and there was a hot dog stand in the parking lot of the town park that we would use to access the creek. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. This location had previously been a pond that was created through the damming of a cold water stream. The dam had been removed three years ago, after standing for over 100 years, to restore habitat and allow the stream to flow freely down to the Nashua River. Clark and I were fishing the area where the pond used to be, which had now become a field with a small meandering stream and some very deep cut banks. There was a little more water here than at the first location and it was a bit easier to fish. The stream itself looked very fishy, but I tempered my expectations given that this was the middle of the winter, after all. Native trout are rare around these parts and who knows if they are hungry end of December. Clark suggested a hot dog fly, given the hot dog stand nearby. I when with a white wooly bugger, and Clark an olive one. We worked our way up the stream, fishing it with the buggers similar to how I fish the trout streams on cape cod, sending the streamer way downstream than slowly bringing it back. Many productive spots were tested with no luck. After about an hour of fruitless effort, Clark got a bite. the fish struck short, but came back on the next cast, and Clark made him pay.
A wild brook trout, savagely impaled in the back, by a savage angler. We had successfully found an eastern mass trout stream! Clark would get several other short strikes out of his honey hole before the bite shut down. I would ply the waters without success, but nonetheless pleased with what we had encountered. 

As our time grew shorter, we worked our way down stream back towards the parking lot. I noticed out of the corner of my eye, an off white object partially obscured by mud. Closer inspection revealed a dead snapping turtle. I quickly beckoned Clark. Flipping over the carapace revealed a relatively well preserved shell without much stink or rot. I mentioned during Clark's wedding that he is a collector of artifacts, and while he was initially reluctant to take this shell, the fact that he already had a snapping turtle skull preserved at home made this potential acquisition too desirable to pass up. The shell was collected and brought to his vehicle for a trip back the the Newton processing facility. We shed our waders and did the only thing that seemed appropriate at that point. We hit up the hot dog stand. The proprietor asked us how we made out with the fishing. I told him Clark got one and missed a few others. He seemed surprised that we only caught one fish and suggested that next time we work downstream rather than upstream. Duly noted, sir. I quietly thought to myself, "Sometimes the internet can get you 95% of the way to where you want to go, but it takes a local hot dog vendor to fill in the missing pieces..." 

I plan to go back to this Location Number 2 creek soon, but I have 3 other spots to try first. The search for wild brookies continues... Meanwhile, Clark is creating his art. I look forward to seeing the final product!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Plover

Last fall I was in the bookstore on Bainbridge Island when I saw a poster advertising upcoming author events.  I was beyond excited when I read that David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K, among others, would be visiting the store.  Joining him was author Brian Doyle, who I hadn't heard of. 

The event was held days after the Presidential election; the room was charged.  Brian addressed the elephant in the room as soon as the event started.  I immediately liked him - he was loud, energetic, sincere, hilarious, and didn't mind cursing.  The readings that Doyle and Duncan gave that evening were as good as any I can remember, and afterward I got a chance to meet the authors and chat.  Per encouragement from friends, I even wore sandals to show Duncan my River Why tattoo.  Duncan laughed and considered drawing a foot around the hook on the inside of the book.  I bought a hard-to-find Duncan book and one of Doyle's, Mink River.  He signed it, "Blessings and laughter."

A few weeks later, on my way back to the island from Thanksgiving in Maine, I started Mink River.  And ate it up.  When I landed in SeaTac, I checked my email and was shocked to see an email entitled "Brian Doyle" from a coworker who had also attended the readings.  The note shared the news that Brian had been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after the event at the bookstore.  The email was eerily coincidental.

Brian Doyle passed on 5/27/2017, a few days after I started reading his novel The Plover.  In his words, "Of course you do your absolute best to find and hone and wield your divine gifts against the dark. You do your best to reach out tenderly to touch and elevate as many people as you can reach. You bring your naked love and defiant courage and salty grace to bear as much as you can, with all the attentiveness and humor you can muster; this is, after all, a miracle in which we live, and we ought to pay ferocious attention every moment, if possible."

The Plover is a sea story that follows the vessel of the same name and her crew.  It's a wonderful read, and I recommend it to everyone. 


Last weekend I traveled South to Idaho to fish and to pick up my own vessel. This ship needed a captain.  I will be it.  I will call her the Plover, in honor of Brian Doyle.  Now accepting crew applications.

"Why did I name the Plover the Plover, you ask? says Declan to the gull, who had not asked. I’ll tell you. Listen close now, because I have not explained this before and will not again. Far too much repetition in life altogether. We should say things once and let them just shimmer there in the air and fade away or not, as the case may be. The golden plover of the Pacific, the Pacific Golden Plover, is a serious traveler. It wanders, it wends where it will.  It is a slight thing, easily overlooked, but it is a heroic migrant, sailing annually from the top of Pacifica to the bottom. It forages, it eats what it can find. It talks while it travels and those who have heard it say it has a mournful yet eager sound. This seems exactly right to me, mournful yet eager. We regret, yet we push on. We chew the past but we hunger for the future. So I developed an affection and respect for the plover. It’s a little thing the size of your fist, other than those long pencilly legs for sprinting after grasshoppers and crabs and such, but it can fly ten thousand miles across an ocean itching to eat plovers and reaching for plovers with storms and winds and jaegers and such. You have to admire the pluck of the plover. It doesn’t show off and it isn’t pretty and you hardly even notice it, but it’s a tough little bird doing amazing things. Also it really likes berries, which appeals to me. Most of them fly from Siberia or Alaska to Australia and New Guinea and Borneo and such but some of them camp out awhile in Hawaii and just cruise around in the long grass in the sun eating and dozing. This appeals to me. So when it came time to name a little drab boat that wasn’t dashing and didn’t weigh much and no one notices much, but that gets a lot of work done quietly and could if it wanted to sail off and go as far as it wanted way farther than anyone could ever imagine such a little drab thing could do, that might pause here and there at an island so as to allow a guy to eat and doze in the grass, well, that’s why we are the Plover. So now you know. Don’t keep badgering me with questions."