Monday, October 26, 2015

refurbished split cane

being a short story about the South Bend 359-9 split cane rod that took me all summer to rebuild. It was bought off ebay as a ratty not to say raddled set of tomato plant stakes; varnish peeling, guides rusty or not there, reelseat loose. The work included reset and reseat the ferrules, strip and revarnish the bamboo, new guides except for the agatine red stripper reused, rewrap all bindings, clean repair and reset reelseat. This is properly understood as a kind of occupational therapy rather than simply about fishing, though both are a mostly harmless form of self-medication.

Once I had it stripped of the old varnish, the ferrules polished and refitted to seat nicely, the job stalled for a month or more. The bare wood and silver was so simply beautiful I hesitated to inflict my workmanship on it. Experience has taught how difficult it is to get a good varnish job, without runs, drips, bubbles, or dust to mar its smooth finish. Many of the surviving older splitcane rods were made by the old masters, named and venerated: Hiram Leonard, Edward Payne, Goodwin Granger and later Bill Phillipson here in Denver.  Repairs on these are usually entrusted to skilled craftsmen,  among whom I am not numbered.  Nonetheless I wanted to honour the nameless workman who had produced this rod with my best efforts.  The tip of a splitcane rod is a thing of wonder, a piece of precision craftsmanship disturbingly frail in appearance yet strong enough to survive years of abuse and neglect.

Here it is on its first outing for largemouth bass. The fly is 5 inches long, a saltwater monstrosity on a heavy hook, tied by brother Charles many years ago. Bass like a big meal.

The reel is a Weber Kalahatch. In some ways it is the platonic fly reel, a nearly irreducible simplicity of design. They were rebranded versions of the Duncan Briggs reels from Rhode Island, made only for a few years in the early 50s. 

The weakness of the design is that retaining screw for the spool, which tends to loosen and fall out. As can be seen in the first picture, the screw is now a Phillips shoulder screw which doesn't quite fit. I contrived a washer from some milk bottle plastic, to get a yielding low-friction layer between screw and spool. This worked surprisingly well. Ideally the screw should be a slotted button or pan head low shoulder machine screw 10-32 3/8" long. For some reason this fully specified screw has been hard to source.

A few small bass in the dusk before dawn, then this handsome fellow in early light, from the black water. This pond has steep banks covered in bramble so it is difficult to cast a flyline and keep it out of the bramble behind. Instead the trick is to cast along the shore putting a hook on the last false cast, to drop the fly in deeper water. Adding the precise timing needed to cast a heavy bass fly made for an enjoyably technical morning of fishing. My fishing skills are much like my craftsmanship, at best serviceable: so that actually catching fish is an event happy and unexpected. This time a slight tension on the line signaled the occasion. Tightening on that suggestion brought a heavy boil welling up in the clear water, indicating a fish of real size.

This bass is 19" and 3 or 4lbs in weight, the biggest bass I've caught in decades. An auspicious beginning for the tackle, briefly reclaimed from time.

The pond went dead after this. I drove over to the river, to see if anything had survived the week of zero releases from the dam. There is a small flow from some ponds, plus a steady 5cfs or so from the sewage treatment plant, which prevent the river from completely drying up.  Two smaller walleye, released to take their chances in low water and winter coming on.

There was a tremendous hatch of tricos from the remnants of the stream, but sadly no trout to feed on them.

On a later morning I hooked a truly enormous bass. The fly stopped dead on the retrieve, apparently snagged on a silver and green beam of light embedded immovably in the water. Then it moved, ran and jumped several times, set off on a strong run and the fly came loose. At least I got to see those huge jumps. The problem is now I can't forget them.

Carp like it hot. In the deeper waters they have already retreated to the depths. Shallow ponds still have an occasional fish wandering the margins. The cane worked on these as well.

This picture seems almost a still life. The fish lives on, though.

It's been great fun fishing with this older gear. The logical next step is to regress to Izaak Walton's equipment: cut myself a hazel wand, thread a berry on a braided horsehair leader, and call it tenkara.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
Song of Wandering Aengus, WB Yeats

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

weminuche wilderness

This was a backpack trip with a pack of scouts, plus a few other boys who aren't into scouting as such but like to get out nonetheless. The original plan had a summit day for attempting the class 3 scramble up the Rio Grande Pyramid. In the event the summit day was discarded but not the summit bid, which turned out to be the wrong approach.

The Pyramid is a 13er rather than a 14er, which thins the crowds something wonderful. I've never climbed a 14er only because recreating in a crowd is not that appealing. 13er peaks tend to have more ptarmigan than ptourists, better for grumpy old misanthropes.

We drove nine hours from Denver and started hiking by 2pm. The climb up to this beautiful valley from the Rio Grande reservoir was steeper than expected, a good 2000 ft pull.

The view up valley wasn't bad either. The saddle visible at the horizon seemed oddly close to have such a large stream flowing down from it. The explanation is another drainage that jinks to the right invisibly just below the saddle. This stream looked quite trouty but I did not get time to investigate.

The first view of the Window (the gap in the rock wall at left on the skyline) and that inaccessible peak, snowfields blocking the trails as we would discover.

Headwaters of a different pretty little creek, on the evening of the second day. Fishless. I followed the trail of a bear from the campsite down to the river. Since these are black bears, and hunted, they have a becoming modesty in the face of humans.

There were the usual consolations, acres of useless beauty. I took a skinny dip in these icy waters, contemplated on the sand in the sun until the freeze eased.

Next day we attempted an early start but did not start walking until 8am what with all the sodden camp-packing. Packs were ditched trailside, with a flu-ridden boy and my wife left on guard. Here we are wandering around, looking for a path up to the peak.

Lacking a path, we did the scree scramble instead. The actual faint trail cuts along the bottom of this slope, then rears up across another boulder field covered in snow and ice. My rule of thumb is to retreat from any snow/ice crossing with significant exposure, unless everyone in the party has an ice axe and knows how to use it. The scree scramble is tedious but a whole lot less dangerous.

Supervising the climb, from the top.

Someone here needs a haircut..

Portrait of the mountaineer as a disappointed young man.

Eventually we toiled up to the saddle below the last scree to the summit. At this point I put both my feet down, the father foot and the Scoutmaster foot, and refused to permit a summit bid - we could see the weather moving in, it was already 12:30pm, and we had another hour or two of hiking at altitude with no cover, once we got off the peak. Lightning danger was deemed high by me at least, though the boys were convinced we could do it, easy Dad, let's go..
I am surely a coward, but at least still a lively coward. 

The abandoned hikers are over near the lake in the top right. Here we meander back to them through the marshes. Don't follow the lights, silly hobbitses.

Continental Divide, 12500 feet, 10th July.. there's that weather I was talking about.  There is basically no exposure here, as the snowfield ends in a shallow grassy bank.

The picture at the head of this entry shows our reward - one of the best views I've seen in my decades of rambling around the mountains. The flowers do not show well in the picture, but the slope beyond this was covered with blooms. On this rocky slope there were plants I've never seen before, purple with tendrils, looked like Triffids.

No pictures of the gallop downhill from here, as we were trying to get to treeline before it all broke loose, and the hairs on the back of my neck were stirring. Upon reaching the first wizened pines so the thunder boomed. The show was continuous for the next half-hour until showers of hail brought the curtain down, followed by a mild persistent rain that wetted through all our raingear.

Luckily the scouts are helpful, friendly and courteous, so we figured out a strategy to pitch the tents without soaking the inner - several scouts on the flysheet holding it over the site, then set up in the relative shelter. The easy dehydrated meals straight from the pouch were very helpful tonight to get everyone fed and bedded down before 9.

Next morning we had a fragrant backcountry experience, sodden boots roasting over an open fire.

Look at those innocently blue skies - you would never guess they rained six hours straight yesterday, and were preparing a similar treat for today.

Further down the drainage were some beaver ponds and plentiful trout. I guess this is a Rio Grande cutthroat, but it is hard to be sure, the spots look like a Colorado River cutthroat instead. Distinguishing the two is a question like angels dancing on a pinhead, or maybe atoms waltzing around a helix..
Colorado River Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus)  - Behnke (1992) and Baxter and Stone (1995) observed that this subspecies had 170-205+ scales in the lateral series, and 38-48+ scales above the lateral line, which were greater than counts in all other subspecies except greenback cutthroat trout.
Rio Grande cutthroat trout possess similar coloration, but usually have fewer scales in and above the lateral line and more irregularly shaped spots on the caudal peduncle.
That peduncle thing would be a tail, to the rest of us. You could count the scales; or you could count its teeth, which are not there.
Rio Grande cutthroat trout have irregular shaped spots that are concentrated behind the dorsal fin (largest fin on the back), smaller less numerous spots located primarily above the lateral line anterior to the dorsal fin, and basibranchial (located on the floor of the gill chamber) teeth that are minute or absent.
So I will boldly proclaim that we caught some Rio Grande cutthroats in their native drainage. At the very worst that statement is nearly right, which is as close as I expect to get to the truth in the time left to me.

We caught a couple.

Then we ate them, fried up with a little salami for the grease. Delicious. Normally I would not kill native trout like this, preferring to slaughter the invasive Eastern brook trout, but the boys wanted to eat their catch. The ethics of catch-and-release fishing bother me every time though admittedly not enough to actually stop fishing. It seems unpleasantly close to torture as I pull in a struggling frightened creature, for nothing but my entertainment: in a way it's a relief to simply kill and eat, putting our needs above the trouts' needs as they put theirs above the damselflies'.

Trout for lunch also simplified waste disposal, as the skellingtons and body parts could simply be tossed in the river for damselfly nymph food. At dinnertime these morsels would have to be taken far from the campsite, in case a bear came to investigate, then stick his head in the tent to see if we had any more of that delicious-smelling salami.

Shortly after lunch and stream crossing storms rolled over the valley to begin that mild persistent rain once more. It escorted us personally all the way down, sun on the hills around but a damp cloud for us. A second stream crossing required a little pioneering with some handy driftwood logs. At that night's planned camp after three more hours of rain, we found a mutinous crew ring-led by my wife, who all wished to hike the remaining miles out. We did that, ending up with 11 miles and 2500ft of descending for the day. Unexpectedly fine dinner in Creede, home by 2am more than somewhat shattered. Never did get a second look at that trouty stream: I will have to go back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Greece again says όχι to the tyrants and despots who wish to rule their country. Bravo to the Greek people, who despite all temptations to fascism still think that democracy would be a good idea.

The story is long, complex and sorry. I can't pretend to understand it fully. Now the debt has to be understood as a political quantity, not a simple heap of euros. Economics used to be called 'political economics' - it seems to me a great deal of damage has been done by the divorce, when economics tried to become a mathematical instead of a social science.

There seem to be no innocent parties except perhaps the poor and new poor of Greece, driven to suicide, dying for lack of medication, starving quietly. However the profligacy and corruption of the previous governments caused only debt: whereas the austerity imposed by the Troika, in defiance of common sense and elementary economics, has immiserated the country and punished the innocent. The Troika has had five years of austerity which has utterly failed by every metric conceivable, even their own forecasts. Via Felix Salmon on Twitter, here they are.

Notice how as the situation gets worse, so the forecasts detach further and further from reality. 

Syriza has had five months of desperate fighting in a rearguard action to preserve its country and people. After these five months, the Troika decided the best bet would be to propose a deal that would discredit Syriza and render them unable to govern. As a bonus, this deal would enforce the austerity policies that have been failing for five years, and guarantee more needless deaths.

Some extracts follow. I particularly like the morality tales of the first one.

Yes, the Greek state was an unworthy and sometimes unscrupulous debtor. Newsflash: The world is full of unworthy and unscrupulous entities willing to take your money and call the transaction a “loan”. It always will be. That is why responsibility for, and the consequences of, extending credit badly must fall upon creditors, not debtors. There is one morality tale that says the debtor must repay, or she has sinned and must be punished. There is another morality tale that says the creditor must invest wisely, or she has stewarded resources poorly and must be punished. We get to choose which morality tale we most use to make sense of the world. We do, and surely should, use both to some degree. But if we emphasize the first story, we end up in a world full of bad loans, wasted resources, and people trapped in debtors’ prison, metaphorical or literal. If we emphasize the second story, we end up in a world where dumb expenditures are never financed in the first place.
Pre 2009, financial markets were happy to hold Greek sovereign debt at rates not much above German. Either
(1) financial markets reliably aggregate all available information, in which case the Greek government was correct to trust their judgement that its borrowing was cheap and sustainable, and was subsequently the victim of an unforeseeable shock. Or else
(2) financial markets do not send reliable signals about social costs and the probabilities of future states of the world. In which case, the commitment of the euro system to maximum freedom of financial flows is fundamentally flawed and will inevitably produce crises.
I don’t think there’s any way, even in principle, to tell a story in which the Greek debt crisis is mainly attributable to the actions of the Greek government.
Nobody denies Greek governments were profligate. But reckless borrowers require reckless lenders. It is those reckless private creditors who were bailed out by eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund in 2010: nine of every ten euros lent to an insolvent Greece since then went to pay back debt that should have been restructured. Because of eurozone governments’ refusal to accept a restructuring of Greece’s debts in 2010, the austerity subsequently imposed and the depression that this caused were unnecessarily great – perversely causing public debt to soar as a share of Greece’s shrivelled GDP. One quarter of positive growth after a collapse of GDP of 21 per cent over five years – a cumulative loss of more than 100 per cent of Greek output – scarcely vindicates the creditors’ strategy.

Update: ex-finance minister Varoufakis on the deal of July 13:
‘This has nothing to do with economics. It has nothing to do with putting Greece on the way to recovery. This is a new Versailles Treaty that is haunting Europe again, and the prime minister knows it. He knows that he’s damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.’ 
‘In the coup d’état the choice of weapon used in order to bring down democracy then was the tanks. Well, this time it was the banks. The banks were used by foreign powers to take over the government. The difference is that this time they’re taking over all public property.’
‘In parliament I have to sit looking at the right hand side of the auditorium, where 10 Nazis sit, representing Golden Dawn. If our party, Syriza, that has cultivated so much hope in Greece ... if we betray this hope and bow our heads to this new form of postmodern occupation, then I cannot see any other possible outcome than the further strengthening of Golden Dawn. They will inherit the mantle of the anti-austerity drive, tragically.
The project of a European democracy, of a united European democratic union, has just suffered a major catastrophe.’

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

the far side of the world

Brother Charles is working on a water project in Kununurra, the far north of western Australia.

I like to imagine if I dug straight down from my back yard, starting from one of the potholes the dog has inflicted on the lawn in his boredom, we would come out somewhere in that vicinity.

There the sun is shining. We could then go fishing together, perhaps for these cute baby barramundi.

Or, we could find sun and solitude on Willies Creek.

With luck the queenfish and oxeye tarpon might be around.

Here on the far side of the world I had to take a day's leave or lose it, so went up to the inlet of the reservoir. There are persistent rumors of a run of both trout and walleye in the spring up there, but I've never seen either in twenty springs of trying.

Didn't find a run as such, still got one hook-jawed 21", as big as I've ever caught in this drainage. Fishing a 7-wt with 3x leader hopefully for walleye, he still ran me around quite a bit.

Then the snow came pelting down again. I left to get the oil changed, a haircut, and made a dentist appointment to deal with my broken molar. Will this mad gay whirl ever cease ?