Tuesday, October 29, 2013

late season

Preferred time to go fishing is late September or early October, when all the other fishermen have started hunting and the crowds thin out. What with one thing and another it's usually late October by the time we actually show up, leading to crisp mornings at best and full flight just ahead of an incoming blizzard in most years. We had to stop at Albany County Weed and Pest in Laramie on the way out, to have the canoe inspected for invasive zebra mussels. The cheerful young woman in charge of pests cleared us for import at 6am, with a side conversation about pocket gophers, methods and techniques in control of.

This year the rains came late and hard, so there was still water in the rivers. This is of course Big Lost Creek, with Little Lost Creek coming in on the right. The 4wd road in was a mix of ice, snow, greasy mud, and ice-crusted puddles of indeterminate depth. Fortunately Ken has an actual fishing truck which is quite at home in these conditions. Coming over the top of the hills we found a recent hunting camp with a fine stack of cut wood from the beetle-killed pines. We inspected camp to find the gralloching crossbar in the trees with some tufts of fur beneath; concluding the hunt had succeeded and they would not be back, we salvaged the firewood. The deer watched us carefully. 

I fished all the way down that beautiful riffle without seeing so much as a fin. Despite years of experience to  the contrary I still expect trout to move to the streamer in three feet of clear water. In fact you need a large BB shot on the leader to take the fly down to just above the cobbles and sand of the bottom. Ken took pity and corrected my rig so it started working.  

This is the last legal pool on public land, with fiercely worded signs hedging the lower end, "Trespassers will be violated" or some such sentiments. Every year we contemplate tossing the canoe on the pool to take advantage of the strange water laws of the West, under which a legally navigable waterway cannot be closed and private: every year the fishing in this pool is good enough that we never quite take the trouble. 

That's the last grip-and-grin picture, I promise. The rest have only the beautiful fish and scenery unspoilt by some grinning ugly mug. Up on Little Lost Creek, Bucky and his friends had constructed a fifty-foot wide beaver dam across the lower end so the usual fall run of spawning browns up from the main river was blocked. Bloody engineers. 

There were still fish up there, but just the smaller resident browns and a few rainbows. This fine spotted fellow was in a small run, a sort of miniature steelhead pool, strong green currents folding into a deep obscurity at the bend from which he rose to savage the streamer.

Private property begins about a mile up this creek, beyond which is an industrialist's fortune invested in good solid Western land, plus cows. We fell back to the main creek in the late afternoon. 

This riffle always looks promising but it is quite shallow. Fished it at a hazard, hoping the good water year would provide some cover. By golly there they were, several strong silver red-spotted browns quickly, before I tangled the leader around the splitshot and broke everything off. It was late and we'd caught enough by then. 

An hour after dark the tent had between an eighth and a quarter inch of frost layered on, both inside and outside. Getting into the tent was accompanied by a sort of snowstorm as the frost showered down on my inadequate sleeping bag. That is the first time in my life I've had cold toes in a sleeping bag, even after wool socks. In the morning we left quickly, to drive up the greasy mud slopes while they were still frozen hard. Shortly after dawn back on the hills it was very Wyoming. 

Breakfast in a Riverside cafe, or was it Encampment ? One side of the river is Riverside town, the other Encampment. The prospect of uniting as a single town gives them something to argue about during the long winters. There are two establishments in the combined towns, one is better for eating, the other for drinking and fighting. We chose eating, with a comfortable table in the sun, where the nice waitress Rusty served us and a couple of hunters. 

On through Saratoga, once more surrounded by private property. On a bluff above the river a huge newish castle hangs over the waters, its copper roof now a subdued verdigris. The builder died recently leaving his acreage to a family indifferent to its prospects: the future's uncertain and the end is always near. In the old days the cowboys and ranch hands worked for wealthy cattle barons, now it is wealthy software barons, which is which. The Saratoga airport in July is choked with private jets up to and including Boeing 737s for which the runway had to be extended. We visited the Hot Springs free pool, but neither of the fools on this trip had thought to bring a towel, planning instead to cut our long underwear off just in time for the spring bath. 

Out on the plains the pronghorn mooned us, knowing full well the season was over. 

We made camp out at the implausible plains lake with the salvaged wood arranged for maximum sun and drying effect. It looked like we were preparing for a convivial evening with plenty of seating, instead of the two misanthropes grumbling like old dogs at the cold that in fact ensued. 

Fishing here was slow but good, fat happy rainbows swimming hard in the cold water. 

In the upper pool some huge brook trout were contemplating on spawning, insensible to anything we could offer. A fly tied for carp brought the biggest fish of the evening, 20" or so, lost near the boat when attention was not paid and I wrenched the fly out of its hold. 

Ken built a fire buttressed with the large damp logs. The breezes funneled through the cracks between the logs to create a sort of blast furnace effect, all Halloween orange and chimney red under a band of stars. 

In the morning both sage grouse and  pronghorn wandered by. The grouse crossed the road ahead of us with that 'who, me ?' look about the eyes to show they weren't really there, just sauntering by actually, we were just leaving.. 

Private land again, here opened to the public via an easement which does not allow for driving to the reservoir. Instead we have to hike the canoe through sagebrush. While I hiked back to fetch the anchor, Ken dealt with two huge slab-sided rainbows,  the second on a #22 fly and 6x leader in among willow bushes, for extra credit.

The brookies here were smaller but more willing fortunately. Please to forgive my blurry one-handed picture, I just like the colours.

The sun down, the light in the water dies and turns a hard flat grey. It is time to leave before winter closes on us.

If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown. 
- Elizabeth Bishop, The Fish Houses

Monday, September 30, 2013


The black spots are cows. In between the cows are some white spots which are pronghorn alarm signals, or bottoms. Your task is to stalk to within 300 yards of these animals across the open plains..

We decided to try a pronghorn antelope hunt this year, instead of elk hunting, as the pronghorn are supposed to be easier than the seldom seen elk. This sure didn't look easy to me. Quite apart from the emptiness of the plains, the cows are even spookier than the game (which gives one to wonder what it is the cowboys are doing, that the cows find us so alarming). Ian and I dropped into an old water supply ditch, two to three feet deep, and followed its divagations slavishly, on hands and knees. Most of the pronghorn drifted off over the hill or down into little gullies out of sight, but one remained on the hill. We lay flat and watched. When the head dipped down to graze, we'd skulk a little nearer, freezing as soon as he looked around again. This got us within shot, but he was posed against the skyline. The hunter education course we both took is graphic in its illustrations of the horrors of skyline shots, where a missed shot could descend upon unwitting innocents out of sight below the hill. So, we waited, and waited, willing him to take five steps to the right where the shot would be safe: of course he took five steps to the left, and vanished over the hill. We sat up and contemplated the rich harvest of cactus spikes in our kneecaps. 

Empty empty Wyoming lands, miles of green rolling hills and not cover for an ant, anything not a pronghorn or cow gets spotted and spooked at instantly. Crawling doesn't help, they know full well what a crawling hunter looks like, and not so much as a sage bush to hide behind. Ian tried using cows for cover on one stalk, said that worked quite well to 400 yards out, then the cows got peeved and moved off. Apparently it can be helpful to have a horse, walk next to the horse and keep him between you and the antelope; they don't count legs, so a six-legged horse can get quite close. 

After the first day of the season, they figure out what is going on and no longer spook and bolt miles away, too exhausting my dear. Instead they keep a weather eye on you and drift slowly off, staying a safe 800 yards or so ahead. It's possible to cover a lot of country following a herd around, which we did before we figured out what was going on. I learn a little slower than the prey animals, no wonder I remain a hungry hunter. 

This is camp in the morning, after pitching the tent at 9pm last night. Two handsome beasts crossed the road a mile away in the first light, their white flanks absolutely glowing in the sun so they appeared spectrally large, spirit antelope in the dawn. Ian ran away from them and over a little ridge, hoping to sneak closer out of sight behind the ridge. About five minutes later both took fright at something in the unseen world and fled at top speed: a fine sight though discouraging. 

We breakfasted pensively. The Wyoming Game & Fish showed up in one of their monster pickups to check our hunting and camping permits. A different ranger had checked us the previous evening as I backed the minivan up a two-track road blocked by a couple of massive potholes. He said, "ah, just gun it, give it enough gas and you'll make it through". Neither of them said anything out loud about the minivan, but I could see them thinking. 

Parked on the side of the main county dirt road and wandered off again. Although the country is empty and treeless, there's a surprising amount of dead ground (US: dead space) where animals can be concealed. We found a nice big herd, ducked into a handy creek bed and ran two miles around, poked our noses out of the gully and there were 12 heads and 24 eyes all turned around and glaring straight at us. There must have been some noise or scent, fairly sure we were out of sight in the creek bed since I'd used the cows as height markers and couldn't see the cows, never mind the pronghorn behind them.

By this time the hunt area was being patrolled steadily on every two-track by some seven or eight trucks. We took refuge in our ditch again and waited to see if the other hunters would push some animals past us. There are three pronghorn in the picture above, which is why you carry 10x50 binoculars. It's also noticeable that I can no longer keep the camera level when taking a picture. EM Forster observed of Cavafy that the poet stood forever at a slight angle to the universe: in my case I appear to be listing slightly to the left as the years and I approach our meeting point. 

The unfortunate hunted beasts were by now thoroughly alarmed not to mention absent, so we quit and went home. They were all lined up along the main road to wave goodbye, standing safely on private land. 

Some weeks later Ian had Friday off school, so we drove up Thursday night in pouring rain and wind for the last weekend of the season. Since I am now old and weak we did not camp but instead stayed in the cheapest hotel I could find. In the case of success, we would have to stay in that hotel for all future hunts, by way of a talisman. This is a sort of hedging the bets: either we'd endure a cheap hotel night and have luck in the hunt, or we'd be able to pick a better hotel next time. If you don't have skills you have to bargain with the hunting gods as best you can.

Friday pre-dawn drive through the mud to the ranch was interesting at 10mph, fishtailing through the slop. If I could have seen the road conditions I would not have driven the minivan down there. We tried for a herd of a dozen or so, but they were using the ranch cows for cover. As we crawled through the snow in the ditch for half a mile, they just faded away to stay the regulation half-mile out. On the plus side, the snow protected us from another injection of cactus spines. 

Back over the hill and into the ditch on that side, there were three getting ready to bed down in the creek bed. I stayed back in the dead ground and sent Ian to crawl up on them. Again they drifted off, not spooked but not staying to be stalked either. After an hour Ian fired a warning shot in frustration. They trotted up the ridge, stopped to look back, then went over. Ian ran up a mile or so of uphill, used an old water tank on the top of the hill for cover, and approached keeping the tank between him and them. As he came out from behind the tank they started running, but he took the shot and got it. GPS showed it was a running shot at a hundred yards plus, in 25mph gusting wind, after dashing a mile or so uphill. The shot was about 3-6" back from a perfect hit. Clearly I just need to drive Ian to the hunting grounds and then get out of the way. 

Later we had pronghorn backstrap medallions for dinner. The Latin name for the pronghorn is Antilocapra americana, which means American goat-antelope, although it is neither a goat nor an antelope but sui generis. They are affectionately known in Wyoming as speed goats. The choice of wine was therefore obviously a nourishing gulp of Goats do Roam blend (Côtes du Rhône). 

The estate used to be known as Fairview, but this wine succeeded to such an extent the company became eponymous. They always had goats on the farm, for the milk to make artisanal goat cheese. I remember visiting the estate and its goat tower, buying some wine and cheese to have a pleasantly befuddled afternoon. They now have resident springbok as well, though the winelands of the western Cape are far from their native heath. 

These look much like pronghorn and occupy much the same ecological niche, though as the name implies their specialty is leaping rather than the straight run of the speed goat. A nostalgia for springbok may be one of the reasons I love to see pronghorn on the plains. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

loafers and idlers

Those are my pet names for the carp I watch. Ideally they would be feeding when I go fishing, but loafers and idlers are all I usually see: loafers being the fish hanging quietly a couple of feet down, moving only occasionally; idlers cruising slow along the bottom looking mildly interested in the passing show, but not actually feeding. What you want to see is them nose down and tail up, rootling happily for choice morsels in the mud. Two weeks ago found a couple of actual feeders to my considerable excitement, could have sworn this fine young mirror carp had taken the fly:

However he was hooked about 2" behind the mouth, underneath. Presumably my vigorous trout set as he moved forward feeding actually snagged him, dammit.

Blind fishing hopefully got a 16" trout ? dunno what he was doing up around the flats, maybe chasing the balls of gizzard shad that are flipping around in the shallows. The shoals of the shad younglings band together in tight formation, each individual swimming hard to attain the center of the shoal for safety, but getting ousted by the movement of the others and the shoal; forming a kind of natural kinetic sculpture.

Three big fish, one a mirror, were watching over a dropoff into deep water and moving around, not feeding though looking very predatory. Tossed a leather worm at them and a fourth fish came out of the gloom to inhale it. This was certainly a fair take, as I saw the fly vanish into his maw.. 
Good fight, long run, biggest carp I've hooked in a long time, probably 32"+. This is as far as we got though,

He was wallowing in the shallows and glaring at me when the hook pulled out. Bah.

Cast at two smaller fish that were lurking in the green haze just outside the clearer shallow water, which turned out to be 15" smallmouth bass, oddly. Those shad bring everyone up out of the deeps.

This week in the apocalyptic rains, the fish were all happy and feeding hard in the shallows. There were tails just a few feet offshore, plumes of mud drifting downwave. Presented a McSculpin to the other end of a tail, the strike indicator shot a good foot forward, even I could hook that fish. 

He too ran long, as the line streamed off I remembered that Orvis had mounted the line and backing, and I had not checked the backing knot. Luckily it held. They had made a competent nail knot to join the Dacron to the flyline, but had not run the Dacron through the flyline core first. As a practicing neurotic, I'll have to rebuild that - you only hook the fish of a lifetime once, all the details have to be right all the time. It's a hard life keeping up with my delusions.

That's the first honestly-landed carp on a fly for me. As can be seen, I was sufficiently optimistic about the prospects to buy my first new fly reel in twenty years (on sale, dear). The Orvis Clearwater LA IV is recommended: light weight, good size to hold plenty of backing, closed drag though not sealed, with quick adjustment and smooth performance. So at least I'll have the small pleasure of fishing with nicely-made equipment, while the future fish ignore me.

The rest of the lunch-break the fish performed as usual, treating the fly with disdain if not outright scorn. Oh well, it's a start.

Friday, July 5, 2013


This streak goes to 11.. unfortunately it's the wrong kind of streak, the not-catching not-seeing fish kind, not so much as a sniff.. skunked on the last 11 attempts.

On one, took the canoe to Chatfield cruising the extensive flats around the Plum Creek inlet, water 47 and very clear, pelicans sailing overhead: no fish was no surprise. Lots of different ducks, as well as both Great Western/Clarke's and Little Eared grebes watching me suspiciously, doubtless fearing I was going to steal their carp.

Another afternoon went to the 'water treatment' (sewage outfall) ponds, never mind the smell, there's fish out there. The first carp seen this year, some good-size carp leisurely patrolling the mud (I hope it's mud) flats, but no response to my offerings. Eventually a stiff cold wind came up, the fish shivered and faded back down into the murk.

Out at the suburban pond, some truly huge fish were browsing along the dam wall. The stalk and cast went fine, but as the fly sank to their level, each in turn reared up on its tail and fled in horror. Apparently I tie an absolutely terrifying carp fly.

In despair I resorted to bait, which worked sporadically.

Those center-pin reels had not been exercised for thirty years, so at least they got out of the house for a bit.
I find that catching these on bait in no way shape manner or form, assuages the desire to catch one on a fly. How perverse.

Friday, June 14, 2013

unfinished poetry

My Craigslist RSS feed for canoes showed up today with this, 

This is a project my dad was working on that has now gone unfinished. His dream was to strap the canoe on top, and take it down the Colorado River to the Baja. Both the canoe and the bus have a little ways to go. The interior still needs work to be livable. Comes with a refrigerator and a toilet and has the pump and tank in place for a sink. Also has redwood, butcher block, countertops in the kitchen area. It still needs a futon and carpet and it's ready to go. It runs and drives well, it was previously owned by a church who took very good care of it. He has hardly driven it since then. He painted the outside faux-finish to look like an old surfer woody.

Canoe also included if you want it. It also still needs quite a bit of work. Inside needs finishing and the outside needs sanding.
We really need Richard Brautigan to tell stories around this, but he's gone too.

It occurs to me that an RSS feed from Craigslist for canoes may qualify as a tiny implementation of a Machine of Loving Grace..
 by Richard Brautigan

I'd like to think
  (and the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
 (right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
 (it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Instead we have PRISM. So it goes. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

at a slight angle to reality

Visited seven ponds here in S. Denver this last week, looking for carp, so far 0/7.. did see two fish lying  close by the bank in the S. Platte near Overland park, but they faded away quietly and comprehensively when I clumped down the bank to get  around some trees. There were 4 other flyfishers on this stretch at 11am on a weekday morning, don't they have jobs to go to ? ha. 

Meantime the Public Domain Review has some sketches from a painter of the floating world (ukiyo-e) of Kintaro riding a carp,

Kintaro is a kind of superbaby from Japanese folklore, who seems to like carp. Here's another pic of him wrestling an alarmed-looking big carp, from the Metropolitan Museum collection,

But my favorite is the one from Wikipedia's page on him,

The weary mother scanning the horizons for her renegade baby, who is happily plunging with the fish, strikes a note that my mother would recognize. The mouth of the fish is portrayed in feeding mode, so I guess he isn't much bothered by his rider. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

wealth creators

and the poor were, what they were used to being,
the creators of wealth not, as now they are,
      an expensive nuisance.

 Letter to Philip, W.H. Auden. 1969.

This echo sounded by the modest proposal from the Tennessee legislators, using school test scores to deny welfare to families with underperforming children. Dickens would not have thought to make a villain so cruel.

The bill was withdrawn when its author was shamed by a little girl following him around the Capitol. He's still keen on punishing the poor, though:
"Stacey Campfield asked the state Senate to further study the bill, giving him the opportunity to bring it back up next year."
Watch for him to sneak it through in a midnight session, after the children have all gone to bed in their cardboard boxes.