Saturday, March 11, 2017

retreat to Encampment

What water and sun are to the body, prayer is to the soul.
 - St John Chrysostom

outside in the light
the river prays without ceasing
trout rise and offer metanoias
to change without ceasing

In late summer last year, clergy and laity of the Metropolis of Denver beat a retreat to the Encampment river in WY, at a quiet conference center by the edge of the smallest wilderness. That starts in the hills beyond the lake.

There was some praying thinking teaching and learning done. However the real point was of course to go whistling and fishing..
Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven.
We head into the wilderness for meditation, carrying only water
(and the knowledge that the staff at the conference center is cooking a fine dinner for us).

Long reaches of thin water in the wild canyon, real pretty but not much cover for fish. We found a few handsome fellows even so.

I was fishing my $20 outfit, a South Bend 359 cane rod and Langley Riffle reel from the same era, each $10 off ebay. We won't count the hours of semi-skilled work I spent to recover them to fishable condition, since that was in any case another form of prayer.
I have rescued what I could of the past from the teeth of time.
- John Aubrey, 1697

At closing we talked about what Orthodox Christianity can mean after some thousands of years. I suspect it had not before occurred to the cradle Orthodox to think much about it. The converts like me however mustered tirades of eloquence. We had each spent years or decades thinking about it and had plenty to say.

On the way back, Fr Lou, Fr Dimitri, Greg and I had not had enough fishing yet, so stopped at Meeboer lake near Laramie. Brilliantly clear water over vividly green weeds produces bright silver dark-backed rainbow trout, we caught a few. I walked downwind to where the Wyoming breeze had raised 2-foot white cresting riffles.

There was a pod of huge trout feeding over the weeds in a little sheltered bay. Threw damselfly nymphs nada, Peter Ross nada, dragonfly nymph nada, caddis in all 3 stages nada, scuds nada, assorted desperation flies nada. The Hare's Ear emerger finally tempted one about 25", and the hook pulled out straight after 2-3 lumbering great jumps. Never seen that before except on the cheapest nastiest hooks. All the HE emergers I had were tied on that same hook, tried another and had another take hooked briefly and lost the same way.

Even after all these years and all the fish that have passed through my hands, I find it is still possible to be blinded by big fish lust. Pray harder, dammit. Even so going fishing is always a holiday and high day: the mistakes I make here don't matter and the sun and water are enough.
Fishing was fine, but fishing comes to an end
I'm coming down the mountain again. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

snow days

Last week I achieved an ambition of twenty years' standing, to ski to the top of the Blue Ridge forest road.

This starts from the valley at 8 500 ft, goes up an old forest road to 10 600 ft, a good pull. Twenty years ago when we arrived in CO, I could not ski more than half a mile without falling over. At that point it was more a fantasy than a goal as such. Then we had small children and I never had time to ski all the way up, though there was some excellent training to be had pulling them in a pulk.  Then I started getting up early in the morning to make my attempt, but those efforts were stopped a couple of times by bad snow conditions, deep wet heavy snow, like skiing through congealing concrete. Another memorable time I made it almost two hours up, then hit a whiteout blizzard. That was decided in favor of prudence (that delightful girl, who grows increasingly attractive as I grow older), and turned back.

There are probably only a few years left that I'll be physically capable of this trip. When a day of opportunity opened up on the Christmas week trip up to Snow Mountain Ranch, I seized it.

The first few miles were well packed and good going. The snow gradually got deeper and softer and less stable, with fewer tracks. After two hours I was on my own, breaking trail up the hill in 3-6" of fresh, real pretty but hard going. The skinny track skis would sink in, compress the snow, then slide off to the left or right into the soft stuff. The way down was even worse, couldn't control my edges at all, fell 6-8 times which is more than I've fallen in the past five years or more. Good exercise for the humility muscles though a tad bruising.

Making tracks:

Tracks to be made:

Somewhere up in the forests a couple of blue grouse exploded out of the spruce in a whirring of wings, like pheasants in camouflage feathers. I have hunted the elusive grouse many times over many miles, but never yet saw one while hunting. These looked plump and healthy, more strength to their wings. Above 10 000ft or so and over 2 hours it became necessary to take the occasional panting photo break.

Finally made it up and took the second selfie of my life. The road did not in fact go to the high point. Next time I'll bring a backpack and snowshoes, to buck up the last few feet.

Here is an attempt at the video vista.

A good day. Three hours up, two hours down, followed by total collapse of stout party. I'd taken only an expired Clif Bar and water with me, expecting to be up in 2-3 hours and down in one. The Clif bar was marked best before six months ago. Apart from being frozen solid so I had to smash off chunks and suck them until chewable, it tasted fine. One of the chunks fell into the snow. I grovelled shamelessly to find it, digging like my dog Artie in the snowfields. By the end I was well and truly bonked.

Last week there was an accidental snow run, a couple days before this scene.

Hectic day at work and did not check weather before heading out for a late lunchtime run. Foolish me believed the forecast which had said 28 for the high, fine for a run when properly dressed. It looked sorta foggy grey and cold out the office window, plus I was feeling tired and unwilling to tolerate the first few miles running cold until reaching operating temperature, so added a windbreaker over the 100wt fleece. Tights are the same Pearl Izumi Amphib used for x-c skiing, good down to zero or so. It was certainly not 28, nor anything near that balmy. I regretted not having a hat and buff as all that skin was burning cold for several miles. No gloves either, so had to pull the fleece over my fists and run like a prizefighter, indulging the Rocky fantasy. Actually as an effete skinny pseudo-intellectual my fantasies are more on the George Plimpton side. Grey low skies with swirls of snow, nothing much sticking but in the air with the fog and mist. Checked the weather after the 5 miles and 40min or so, this is what it actually was:

Notice the wind chill at -12.. that might be the coldest I've ever run in. The windbreaker was running with sweat on the inside, but the fleece kept me warm and only slightly damp.

#1 son is at school in Minnesota. He easily aced my cold-weather story. One morning returning from 5-7am swim practice, the wind chill was -44. Between the pool and the cafeteria his hair froze hard enough that some of it broke off. We are mere pikers in CO I guess. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

here at the end of all things

no Sam to keep me company, no MacGuffin to destroy thereby simply eliminating the armies of trolls and goblins, no Skywalker training in monastic isolation. The eagles are not coming to save us, though in fairness they tried.

Summer Brennan wrote
No one person can defend everything in America that will need defending in the age of Trump. What we must do, instead, is to find our particular hills to defend, and then to defend them as if our freedom depended on it. Even if these battles are lost, the very act of writing down the progression of that loss, as Winston did, is an act of resistance.
I'm having trouble picking a hill to die on, all look good, all are indefensible with my poor weapons.
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in
- Auden
I grew up in and studied the history of a police state run by white supremacist racists. It took some time after the election of the unreconstructed Nazis in 1948 for martial law to be imposed. That happened after the massacre of the Sharpeville protestors in 1960. It was called a State of Emergency, under which I was born. There was detention without trial and all the apparatus of the police state.

In the modern world everything happens faster, including the deconstruction of democratic republics once the neo-Nazis win an election. It has happened in Hungary, where Orbán is proclaiming and building an illiberal state. It has happened in Turkey, where Erdogan has dismantled democracy.

In Hungary Orbán won in 2010 with 52% of the vote, but a two-thirds majority of seats, which allowed changes to the Constitution and redistricting of parliamentary seats, ensuring a permanent majority for Fidesz. This is straight out of the Nationalist Party playbook in South Africa. Then of course the usual sequence of events,
"an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the packing of courts with political loyalists, a wholesale political purge of the civil service and the chief prosecutor’s office, new election rules that advantage the governing coalition and the intimidation of the news organizations (who can be issued crippling fines for content deemed “not politically balanced” by a government-appointed panel.)"

We don't even need fines for the US media, which has been constructing narratives of false equivalency all by itself for decades now. Even so, the Republican House has sneaked in an amendment to turn the Voice of America into a propaganda arm of the Trump administration.

In Turkey, an election in 2007 won by AKP with 47% of the vote, slightly more than Trump's 46%, started the ball rolling. Erdogan is now planning to change the Constitution to permit him to rule as an autocrat. Truth is lost.

I don't have much hope that resistance can be effective.
It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. - George Orwell
My father's best friend from high school worked with the SA trade unions. He was thrown off a sixth-floor balcony by the police - in this case BOSS, Bureau of State Security. The murder was covered up as a 'suicide'. Working with trade unions under white supremacist rule turns out to be a form of suicide.
My father's best friend from college had a mother living in East Berlin through no fault of her own. In the late 60s after Sharpeville he visited his mother, and came back to be disappeared under suspicion of being a Communist. After a week of his wife and child not knowing where he was, he was released, luckily only slightly bruised and bloodied. They emigrated to Canada. I should have learned from that.

It is likely there will be a major terrorist attack in 2017. Even without the inflammatory rhetoric, the simple fact that Trump and his administration are not taking security briefings nor paying attention to national security, is enough to make this probable. Similar behaviour in the Bush administration gave us 9/11. 9/11 begat a second Bush term, the second Bush term begat the Great Recession, the Great Recession begat 11/9. Even if the attack does not materialize, I would not be surprised by a false flag operation, mounted to allow for declaration of martial law. For these purposes, an attack on a Trump property outside the US would probably work just as well. 
The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation
Here are some members of the Trump administration.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, opposes the provision of health services to the undeserving poor. He also opposes vaccination like Mr Trump, believes that tobacco taxes harm public health, and that Medicare and Medicaid are evil and immoral.
Head of the EPA, Scott Pruit, is a stenographer for the oil and gas industry, and a climate change denialist, who opposes environmental protection regulations.
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, opposes public education and has used her money to destroy Detroit public schools. That money came from the Amway pyramid scheme, which seems to have been one of the models for the Trump University fraud. Ms DeVos also supports the Acton Institute, which advocates for the return of child labor, so the kids can learn skills on the job in Walmart and McDonalds.
Head of the FDA is currently expected to be Jim O’Neill, who opposes FDA regulation of drugs.
Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, the vampire squid company, will lead the National Economic Council.
The proposed Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will lead the department that oversees public lands. Rep. Rodgers plans to sell off the public lands.
Rick Perry is proposed to head up the Department of Energy. During the Republican debates in 2011, Mr Perry would have suggested eliminating the Department of Energy as being an exemplar of unnecessary 'big government', except that he couldn't remember what the Department was called. 

There are no exceptions to this iron law of opposition in the Trump administration. We await only the appointment of the horseman Famine as Secretary of Agriculture.

He's been clocked at 71 lph (lies per hour). It's impossible to combat this. The new censorship is to overwhelm your attention with a farrago of lies and misdirection, until truth lies full fathom five. As Dahlia Lithwick says about Trumps Tweets, "It’s irrelevant whether these tweets are the work of a cunning chess master or a damp TV-watching toddler who can’t control himself when his aides leave his side".

Fact-checking and struggling to maintain the meaning of words are irrelevant too. Karl Rove who informed journalists "we create our own reality" was a mere piker. The new truth is that facts don't matter because they can be drowned like helpless puppies in a flood of verbiage. Scottie Nell Hughes told us this, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” Ms Hughes is both a Trump operative and a CNN commentator, illuminating her own dictum nicely.
When conscripted into the armies of apartheid, I had the choice of jail, exile, or serving my time. Jail didn't seem reasonable at the time. As a white South African, exile would have required illegal immigration somewhere, and resources beyond my means. I chose to serve my time and consequentially to serve apartheid. My naive foolishness reasoned that maybe I could ameliorate the system by working within it and sabotaging it where possible. One midnight murky, at a roadblock looking for gunrunners bringing weapons in for Umkhonto we Sizwe, I found myself holding a rifle on two terrified little girls in the back seat of their father's car. There were also some insights into torture.  I realized then, and now, that I was a quisling. Masha Gessen writes about their great-grandfather who tried to work with the Nazis as a member of the Judenrat, to get his village fed. The end was "the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed."

Sarah Kendzior knows what it is like:
Authoritarianism is not merely a matter of state control, it is something that eats away at who you are. It makes you afraid, and fear can make you cruel. It compels you to conform and to comply and accept things that you would never accept, to do things you never thought you would do.
You do it because everyone else is doing it, because the institutions you trust are doing it and telling you to do it, because you are afraid of what will happen if you do not do it, and because the voice in your head crying out that something is wrong grows fainter and fainter until it dies.
The only way to survive a police state is to acquiesce in evil, or fight so ineffectually that they don't notice you. The police state notices a lot. My brother spent a year in the US in the late 70s. Upon returning he was interviewed by BOSS (them again). They knew the substance of conversations he'd had with NAACP members in New York. We suspected CIA involvement. During military service I worked with the CIA, defending against our common enemy Soviet Russia.

Eventually I emigrated to the US, when I couldn't stand it anymore. Peter Beinart writes about his father, who took the same path some years before I did - "What he found in America was not a culture he understood, but a state he did not fear and revile."

Now what I wonder. Resolved: try to remain patient and cheerful and help where I can.
The best way to avenge yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer.
- Marcus Aurelius
In any case all this agonizing is irrelevant at best. Trump's plan for global warming is apparently to initiate nuclear winter.  Most likely this will take only one bomb. Mathematician and previous Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, with decades of studying nuclear war, thinks "Even a single nuclear explosion in a major city would represent an abrupt and possibly irreversible turn in modern life, upending the global economy, forcing every open society to suspend traditional liberties and remake itself into a security state."

Jan 26: It is now two and a half minutes to midnight.  For the first time in the 70-year history of the Doomsday Clock, the Atomic Scientist's Board has moved the hands of the iconic clock 30 seconds closer to midnight. In another first, the Board has decided to act, in part, based on the words of a single person:  Donald Trump, the new President of the United States. 

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodontic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
"Cheer up, sad world," he said, and winked—
"It's kind of fun to be extinct."

- Ogden Nash, Fossils, for Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

happy hour

One evening last week I had a happy hour. The timing was much the same as normal though the place was not. This is happy hour for introverts - alone, up to your waist in cool lake water, with bats beginning to flitter overhead. I don't try to be eccentric, it just seems to pan out that way.

The smoke hangs over water as it usually does here in the Western US late summers, since we broke the weather. There's always a wild land fire burning somewhere by September, and typically more than one.

The hours started unhappy. I've been slowly catching and transferring some carp trapped in a pond by receding waters, over the summer. This is the same pond as the last carp rescue of 2014.  The carp fly-fishing forum used to rally the troops for that rescue is now defunct, so had no way to roust anyone else to help. On Monday evening there were more carp than water in the pool, netted four out on my way home after walking the dog. Then life got in the way and I didn't make it back until Thursday which was too late. There were four alive with their backs showing dry above the water. Those were retrieved and transferred to the main lake.

Being of a neurotic tendency, waded back through the ooze and counted 26 dead. Previously had caught eight on fly through the summer while the pond was high, so sixteen saved, twenty-six not. On the other hand the great blue herons were happy. Two of them were feasting on the remains when I arrived, and circled back down when I left.

After that I was a bit downcast. Drove around to one of the inlets hoping for carp or maybe a stray bass or walleye, waded through weedbeds out to rib-deep in the main lake.  A couple of little bass took the carp fly, so switched to a big Gurgler fly with foam and hair and lots of legs, just for the fun of watching the bass attack it on the surface. Every cast after that got a take.

Missed quite a few big splashy aggressive takes as their handsome broad green backs broke the water around the fly. Hooking these surface takes can be tricky, as the fish will hit the fly hard just to cripple it, rather than take it into their mouths. A variety of theories did not help - tried an immediate strike (well not 'tried' frankly, just reacted and yanked back on the first few, in blind frenzied excitement); tried waiting for a pull but never got one; tried counting one before striking, then count for two, then count for three. Eventually just kept a slow steady retrieve continued until the fish was felt. This required the difficult exercise of impulse control, adding an element of virtuous smug self-satisfaction when it actually worked. The bass were attacking shoals of shad on the surface, plop Gurgler near that and someone would immediately show up. At dark was still getting hits on that fly,

but switched to a big white streamer hoping for a walleye. A couple more bass, biggest of the day at 14", then quiet for a while with only a few little 'uns. 

An astonishing evening until then - fastest fishing I've ever experienced, first time ever catching Chatfield bass in the fall, first time in my fishing life of several decades to see the aggressive bass of myth and legend. Guess that's why we go fishing, to see what happens. As John Buchan wrote,
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

Tried again last night and got the skunk. The problem with big water is the same as with sea fishing – with all that water, most of it is empty, most of the time. Usually I come home from a big water skunk with the sneaking feeling that I might as well have been soaking flies in the bathtub, for all the fish that saw them. The consequence of this is that it’s impossible to be a successful casual big water fisher. It takes large investments of money – for the boat, depthfinder, gas money for outboards, guides etc – and time, to figure out where and when the water will actually be holding fish.

This day showed the typical fall pattern for this lake. That is the shallows pullulating, thrumming, and seething with small young of the year shad minnows, with none of the predatory fish feeding on them. The best theory I have is there are so many shad, the predators only need to swim around with their mouths open for an hour or so, to fill themselves to satiety. The trick is to be on the water in those few unforgiving minutes.

In the gathering dark two great horned owls flew a pattern overhead for which there must have been a purpose and reason, though I could not understand it. Between the harvest moon rising and the sunset it was almost worth it.

Monday, August 8, 2016

a voyageur abroad - Water of Leith


We took a family holiday with 2 weeks in Scotland. There wasn't any dedicated fishing time, but I snuck out early and late whenever possible. Here's the first episode.

For the fly rod, I packed only a Fenwick FF75-4 Voyageur, 7.5' for 6wt. A graphite Redington 9' 5wt in seven pieces would have been a more rational choice, but given that I barely restrained myself from taking a split cane rod, it was clear I was operating outside the consensus reality anyway. As the trip approached I realized I'd never actually fished the rod. Close inspection found a couple of contusions in the glass in the first section and another in the second. These were re-inforced with an overwrap of Gudebrod brown thread. The color didn't match the original wraps, but blends with the rod quite nicely. For stress testing, we went after some carp of 8-10lbs, just to make sure nothing was going to disintegrate. Here the overwraps can be seen just below the ferrule, with a carp at the other end, about fifty yards out. Stress was applied without problems.

Some fisherfolk call the carp a trash fish. This broad tail in beautiful colors doesn't look like trash to me. Long may they believe it though, it reduces the competition on the carp waters. I've largely given up on trout fishing in Colorado. To get to a relatively uncrowded water with decent fishing is a 6 to 8 hour round trip from Denver. The travel time may be by car or on foot - one hour driving and three hours hiking, or four hours driving, etcetera - but the time itself is constant. This means a dedicated weekend or more which is seldom available. 

My first plan was to use a Hardy Viscount 140 for the reel. A lucky bid on ebay secured this fine Hardy-made Orvis Battenkill Mk III, which is my new favorite trout reel. The Hardy-made Orvis CFO III was my previous preference, but it is in fact a little small for a DT5 line. As a result I've lost several good fish as they ran, the reel emptied, and the drag increased due to the small spool diameter. The Battenkill's click/pawl is lighter in action, and the reel just enough larger to fit the DT5 with a comfortable amount of backing: so the effective drag when a fish runs into the backing is significantly less.

This line though is a WF6 Scientific Anglers Mastery in good condition. I detest orange lines, but it seemed a shame to throw away a perfectly good line just because of my color prejudice. Follow that link for an explanation of the prejudice (note that I am still irrationally irked at Kirk for not awarding me a line, as I'd answered his original contest post with effectively the same answer he gives here). 

Also, I have never bought a flyline as expensive as this, and wanted to fish it for a while to see if there was any detectable difference between this and my usual lines (nope). Later in the vacation the family was out in a rowing boat on a loch where I was fishing for pike. My wife commented on the line, "I've never seen you fish with an orange line before." I had no idea that she noticed the color of my fly lines.. must be true love I guess.  

Finding fishing in Scotland is a trap for the unwary. They have laws of open access, also known by the charmingly evocative term 'freedom to roam', which allow you to walk about nearly anywhere (do however read that website as there are all kinds of caveats). There is no fishing license required. This sounded like glorious freedom to fish, until the discovery that all fishing is by permission only. Fishing on a Sunday used to be agin the law, and is still frowned upon in the remoter locations. On the isle of Mull it is not possible to get a permit to fish on a Sunday, except in a stocked pond.

Figuring out where and how to get the permission is non-obvious as all such knowledge is local. The best information I found on the internet was to buy the book 'Rivers and Lochs of Scotland' by Bruce Sandison. It has all the details. The 2013/2014 edition is the latest, available on horrible old Kindle for $8. It was accurate for all the waters I got to. Thank you Bruce, the information was invaluable.

Edinburgh has the Water of Leith right in town, with a few small brown trout remaining from earlier stocking efforts. There may also be the odd salmon and seatrout which you aren't allowed to fish for, £100 fine if you are caught pestering them. This was one of the things I learned from the Sandison book. There are also salmon returning to the Clyde in Glasgow, as it has de-industrialised. It is possible now to fish for salmon in the suburbs of Glasgow where my ancestors lived. Of course such fishing is unaffordable for me, still it made me unreasonably happy to know the beleaguered Atlantic salmon is getting a fin back into Scottish water. The sadness is all the Scots who used to have decent jobs building ships, now gone forever. 

Brown trout fishing on Leith is free with a permit, obtainable from fishing shops or post offices in town. I got my permit at an Orvis shop selling mostly globalised clothes with a few oddments of fishing tackle in the back. This seemed to be all wrong somehow, would have much preferred a permit from a cheerful Scots post office lady; but time pressed and the shop was right by our hotel.  

It is a pretty stream, in this section running through a kind of green canyon of vegetation. No idea what the statuary is about in this picture, though it certainly contributed to the feeling that we were not in Colorado anymore. The book had suggested tiny dry flies or nymphs. Given the stream conditions, strong flows of unclear water, I thought these would not be useful. Actually throughout this trip I fished with a team of traditional patterns, Invicta and Peter Ross, everywhere, and caught fish everywhere. 

Both of these are tied with seal's fur, which is now illegal and unobtainable in the US. My stash came (legally) from Veniard's in the 1970s. There's nothing quite like it for translucency once wet, plus the spiky ends capture little air bubbles that both mimic emerging caddis and mayflies as well as adding sparkle. The usual substitute for seal is sustainably harvested angora goat fur. What I have will last to the end of my fly-tying years though, so I haven't experimented with goat or the other synthetic replacements. The Peter Ross also has a dark iridescent blue/green pheasant neck hackle in place of the usual black hen. This hackle came from one of the birds shot at Ken's farm, a little bit of Asia via Wyoming in the Scottish waters. The Invicta uses a brown hen hackle in place of the beard of blue jay or blue-dyed guinea fowl, and a red tail instead of golden pheasant. The red allows this tie to suggest both caddis ('sedge fly' in English) and hoppers. It's likely the catching would have been better with more modern patterns, still that was hardly the point of my sentimental journey.

The look of the stream made me hopeful - in my experience a river that is dropping in level and slowly clearing after rains is optimal for fishing. What I didn't reckon with is that it is always raining here and the fish are thoroughly used to freshets. Here I had the first of several encounters with stinging nettle. It's not nearly as bad as poison oak or poison ivy, an immediate sharp tingling pain that is almost bracing, and only lasts a day.

Thus quivering with expectation and the nettle stimulus, stepped into the river and began. Quite soon I was encouraged by this wee fish. 

Fished carefully on for 2 hours through some handsome pools and runs, to no effect. Nonetheless I was delighted to find a Scottish brown trout in the heart of Edinburgh. He vanished with a wink of his tail back into Leith water.

Monday, June 6, 2016

lucky 13

Spring fishing was mostly done with the new-to-me Heddon #13 split cane rod. This model is known as '#13 Lucky Angler'. Mine is from either 1940 or 1941, as these were the only two years to use the orange wraps with black trim. The varnish had deteriorated, peeling and sticky, though everything else was in good nick. The first refurbisher had stripped the nasty old varnish already, so there wasn't much to do. A couple of fresh coats of spar varnish had it looking near-new again.

We have been out a number of times and I did not live up to it, getting skunked many times in many trips, on trout and bass then carp. The long winter of fishless discontent finally broke on a warm spring day, with the fish moving and feeding. First three little bluegills, tremendously handsome little fellows but rather overmatched by the rod.

Then a bass came roaring up from the deeps, hammered the streamer just below the surface, ran and jumped several times, a good start to the warmwater year.

A second bass, smaller but still a most welcome acquaintance.

The first bass plug I ever owned was a Heddon Tiny Lucky 13: "owned" rather than "bought" since at the time my brother and I were boys with no money. We fished the local pond for the vlei kurper, a small species of tilapia much like bluegill, and aspired to catch the monstrous great carp we saw. Those carp were well-educated though, and not easily fooled. One day I saw the plug hanging on a weeping willow some 30 feet out, swam out and retrieved it. This gave us the idea there might be bass there - turned out the pond had just been stocked. They were mostly small, but flinging home-tied bugs on spinning outfits with ultralight lines got enough distance to catch numbers. That's where my bass fishing started; Heddon Lucky 13 evokes a multitude of happy involuntary memories for me, a sort of fish-flavoured madeleine, as it were.
And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.
Shortly after writing this I came across EM Forster's comment on Proust in the Moncrieff translation, which is a marvelous thing. 
A sentence begins quite simply, then it undulates and expands, parentheses intervene like quick-set hedges, the flowers of comparison bloom, and three fields off, like a wounded partridge, crouches the principal verb, making one wonder as one picks it up, poor little thing, whether after all it was worth such a tramp, so many guns, and such expensive dogs, and what, after all, is its relation to the main subject, potted so gaily half a page back, and proving finally to have been in the accusative case.
Returning to our muttons, I still have that plug, since I have swum out to retrieve it from trees or underwater stumps every time it snags or hangs up. At first it was out of necessity, having no way to replace it. Now it is out of sentiment alone. I'm a bit embarrassed about it actually, an old man swimming out to retrieve his lures is on the pathetic side. Maybe the next time it snags in an obvious place, I'll break it off and leave it there for the next boy to retrieve.

Earlier we had attempted trout, in a painfully clear and empty stream.

The only trout of  the year happened just before finishing the Heddon, so it was taken on the South Bend 359 instead. A sturdy strong rainbow, returned with thanks. In the picture I got the rocks beautifully sharp in focus, the fish not so much.

A long streak of skunks on the carp dropped me back to a graphite rod, just in case it could help change my luck. It was the warming weather rather than luck in the end.

He was caught in an urban pond with a walking trail nearby, on a Sunday afternoon. A large audience gathered. One little boy retreated in horror and took his mother's hand, when I lifted up the fish to show him. Clearly it was a fearsome great carp. A conversation earlier that day with a little boy on a scooter: him, excitedly, "oh ! a fishing rod !" sadly, "I had a kids fishing rod once, but it broke." cheerfully departing, "Good luck, I hope you catch something."

As a bonus that day, the crappie (no really that is the fish's name) had moved shallow, caught a number of them mostly by accident. They would grab the fly as it sank in front of a carp that was the real target. I didn't mind a bit, like to see these bright creatures. Never caught one there, before or since - suspect with a relatively large lake and no-boating regulations, the deeper water functions rather like a sort of marine reserve. Fish can feed and grow unbothered in the deeper water, where they are quite inaccessible. This makes for good fish but sporadic fishing.

The carp spawn started up at that pond, so abandoned it and tried at a larger cooler lake. I prefer not to bother the spawners - how would you like it, after all ?

Started at the inlet which was cold and carpless, 56deg water. Moved on to the flats, warmer and carpless, 62-3deg. There were lots of bass though, a few nice 12-14", so that was just fine. 

This was the first outing for this Browning reel, which is a re-badged Martin LM 78. It came off ebay pristine, with the original grease still sparkling clear. A good solid US-made reel, for less than $20. Really I cannot think of any reason to buy Chinese-made reels for hundreds of dollars.

The first fly was a Sculpiny Mcsculpinface intended for carp which worked well on the bass too, but broke it off stupidly on a backcast into the woods.

Not skunked today, not at all. It was in fact a perfect hour: cottonwoods alive with birdsong, clear green water and plenty of fish, flashing in and out of view in the sunny water. The only blot on the landscape was the imminent necessity of returning to work.

The state of the skunked is pitiful at best. As singlebarbed observes,
"I realized that “getting bit” was akin to Popeye’s Spinach, how without the ability to torture things smaller than me, I was a caricature of my former self."
Sad but ineluctable, as I noticed myself, in the last paragraph here.

Life involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis.
- William Empson, note to the poem "Bacchus".