Monday, November 27, 2017

Water Valley ranch Encampment

Another retreat to the Water Valley ranch, for reflection and some fishing, late September. We got some colors on the drive, though in Wyoming and Colorado most of our colors are green with a bit yellow in the fall. Later arrivals had an inch of snow to get through on the slick muddy road, we were early enough to just have rain.

Greg and I headed out to the pond under pouring rain. The ranch hand said, 'true outdoorsmen' to which I replied, 'truly foolish'. When you are a city slicker with a chance at some WY fishing, weather don't matter, at least until your lips turn blue.

This brown hit a small olive streamer fly. He ran out to the backing and then flourished on the surface, way out in the dappled water.

Father Ted and Father Lou arrived a bit later on the road by the pond and didn't believe in my fish, doubting Thomases all.

Next day we did retreat things until mid-afternoon then headed upriver. Five of us, the other four at least are decent to good flyfishermen, accounted for just two fish, a 5" rainbow and a 10" brown. I nearly caught a small brown out of the white froth here. He rolled up to take the Crackleback but my strike was too late, too early, too sideways, who knows. 

The 70s vintage rod and reel, Browning Silaflex 322975 perfectly delightful, and Martin 67.

Next day we went downriver to work back up. I took the lowest beat which began with a half-mile of shallow water and no holding pools. Sometimes there will be smaller fish in the pockets but not today. I was almost resigned to another skunk when a 3' deep pool arrived. It had not much of anything for cover with two main currents plunging in. The skunk-buster, handsomely spotted 11" bow, took a #16 beadhead zebra midge. See below for its appearance at the end of the day.

A small brown came out of the slack water between the currents. Usually by now I'd expect to have spooked the pool and would move on, today the dearth of holding water kept me fishing carefully and patiently. In the end there were six takers in the pool, landed five, including a strong handsome 16" bow. Every fish today took the zebra midge and ignored everything on the surface.

The view from the pool, more discouragingly thin water. Jeff sits on a rock disentangling his line. I tried to guide Jeff to a fish but did not succeed, partly because I'm a lousy guide and partly for other reasons. He's a very driven guy, likes to move fast and fix things. 'Fast' doesn't translate well to fishing, as I observed to him. This gave his wife a good laugh later, when Jeff mentioned to her that I thought him not well suited to become Piscator.

Way up around the bend there was a bit deeper water in shadow which yielded two medium 'bows and a pretty little brown.

nothing to say here, but it is such a pretty speckled fish..

Lunched contentedly on a rock in the sun.  Still life with no fish. I love the industrial look of these Martin reels, solid functional US engineering.

The ranch owner is planning to start a restaurant in Cheyenne and had the chef working at the ranch in the meantime. Juan is a graduate of Johnson&Wales culinary school who produced spectacular meals three times a day. It was difficult to refrain from licking my plate. For lunch the sandwich was on a ciabatta roll with at least ten different flavors going on, I ruminated upon each mouthful.

After lunch I saw a big brown movement upriver, at first thought otter, but then realized it was a wader leg. Jeff was taking a restless little nap among the yellow leaves. He'd fished down some good water without moving anyone. We rested a bit and went back up. I sent Jeff up to the good-looking pool and fished a little riffle below it. After twenty casts or so the Crackleback stopped and this big 'bow came thrashing up to the surface, then bolted downstream.

Usually in these situations I apply side strain to persuade the fish into an eddy on my side of the river, then run around to get below while holding a light pressure. Often enough the fish will pause in the eddy and let me do this. The side water was so thin the fish didn't hold anywhere and ran back into the current each time, took me about fifty yards to finally wear him down.

We humped back up to the trail and walked back toward the ranch and a very Wyoming, very River Runs Through It kind of scene.

The pond above them is where the brown came from.

Here's the remnant of a well-chewed zebra midge, ready for its honorable retirement. Actually I'll probably keep fishing it until they stop taking it.

At one point in all our adventuring Fr. Lou wandered off and didn't show up for the evening service. Jeff the ex-backpacking guide and I the trail-runner, rambled off on the darkening hills to look for our lost sheep. Two young men in the company left behind, looked at each other worriedly, and came after us in case the old guys ran into trouble. We took this gratefully as we came out with Fr Lou, who had lost track of the time a bit.

Friday, October 6, 2017

pummeling rain

We started out by doing some work at Ken's farm on the eastern plains of WY. On the neighbor field, three guys stood around a tractor, one opening the toolbox that took up most of the back of his pickup, another with his cap off scratching his head, neither a good sign. The pinto beans could not be harvested since the moist clay soil was clogging the harvester feeders, with more rain coming in the evening. Such is a farmer's life. Grandfather was sad and sorry when he lost his farm in the Great Depression though I suspect the family was secretly pleased. He found a salaried job with the bakery in town, where life was a little less hard scrabble and a little further from starvation.

Still life with 3 apples on a hail-damaged hood, against a field of alfalfa.

The apples are from a 100-year old (estimated) tree growing atop a nearby hill. The original homestead is long gone but the tree soldiers on, producing a decent crop of pie apples every fall for the neighbours. No-one knows what varietal it is but some samples are going in for DNA analysis this year. The apples were tart and crisp with a mild flavor, purely delicious. I think of the homesteader who planted it - a young couple, or a hopeful young man, in the good wet years of the early 1900s.

This is the old tree, with a small sickly companion out of sight behind it. The companion is its pollination partner without which fruiting cannot happen. Ken's off to poison some weeds around the companion.

Here are the flies I went fishing with. The backstory is that one of my imaginary internet friends on the fiberglassflyrodders forum, offered to send out some flies to us all, the payment being a fishing report.

First fishing stop at the pond. I can't find this pond on a map, probably a good thing since Ken is a veteran and could hunt us all down if I spilt any beans about locations. It's a strange spot since it has a thriving and varied set of bugs, scuds, damsels, etcetera, but the best fly is always a #18 or #16 Adams.

I started with a little green softhackle (not pictured) from the selection, which got one 9" and a series of bumps. Switching to one of the red softhackles produced an immediate gratification who took the fly as it sank.

I am usually a primitive savage when out fishing, counting the fish as, 1,2,3,4,many. We got to 'many' quickly this day, and even to 'enough'. 'Enough' is oddly harder to get to when not killing fish, as a pile of dead fish does rather dim the catching fever: but the thrill of the new hit persists through many fish. It's like drug addictions, the next hit is the only one that matters.

The weather moved in and it grew dim. The 70F at the farm 4299ft was only a warm remembrance in the rain of 38F at 6600ft. We declared it cold enough to head for a hotel, funky, cheap and clean in Medicine Bow, site of the first Western novel.

 Medicine Bow always cues up the Waterboys song for me,
"There's a black wind blowing
A typhoon on the rise
Pummelin' rain
Murderous skies!"
We had all that and more on the drive over, including a narrow miss of a black cow and calf in the black night on the muddy road, fishtailing between them by the grace of ABS, Ken's decades of WY backroad driving experience, and perhaps God.

This song evoked the American West and its bitter high prairie winters for me as a young man in Africa. It turns out Mike Scott didn't know the town existed when he wrote the song.
"I invented the place name "Medicine Bow", and discovered several years later that a real Medicine Bow exists in Wyoming, USA."
It surely was not an invention but a recollection of a memory forgotten.

There were some old books in my room, one of them "Step Right Up !" by Dan Mannix. That's a name I hadn't thought of in forty years. He was a freelancer of no fixed profession with independent means, wrote inter alia articles for Life and National Geographic about training and collecting animals for zoos. My brother and I were both going to be wildlife biologists when we grew up and read everything we could find by him, though Gerald Durrell was our real hero. Even as boys we could tell that the floating world of Mr Mannix required inherited wealth or some similar good fortune that we did not expect.

Next morning cold on the lake we prepared to try a canoe trip.

Tied on the big gaudy streamer, a Spruce fly with added bling, at a hazard. I decided this was as close as you could get to fishing a Mepps spinner on a fly rod. That worked, fishing it over the big black holes between weed reaching up to the surface.

The wind rose and drove us off the water. Fish rising between us and the shore were also a strong persuasion. I hooked a good rainbow on the Mepps fly but an unseen windknot terminated our connection. The closest thing left in my box was a Platte River Special, though my tie looks nothing like the fly in that link which is closer to the Mepps fly. Lashed that on and walked up the shore a bit, made a cast on a whim and found a teeming horde of 12-13" brookies, presumably attempting to spawn in the shallows.

The green life of the lake persists, in fish and weed, though the sedge is withered from the lake and no birds sing.

Further up the shore Ken caught 16-17" rainbows steadily, as I caught everything steadily except the larger rainbows. It seems the Wyoming Game & Fish threw everything from the kitchen sink in here, rainbows, brookies, Colorado R cutts, and even a fine-spotted Snake R cutt. No pictures of these as my fingers were too cold to operate the camera. The coots are always a good sign for me, if there are coots feeding then I'll hie over there to fish. 

The clouds lifted briefly to show us the early snows over the wind farm.

More weather, we had reached 'enough' and packed out just ahead of a blast of sideways rain.

We kept a couple of fish each, the first time in years that I've knowingly killed a trout. Sauteed with a lemon butter sauvignon blanc sauce, they passed muster and the family ate them right up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Leadville 100 mile run - pacer report

Mauling John Fogerty's lyrics, I kept singing in my head,
          You got to hidey-hidey-hide
          You got to jump and run
          The old men.. go down the road
It was a new experience for me to confront an endurance event where I was not at all certain I could finish. That's just the last 25 miles of pacing too, the whole 100 is beyond imagination. Naturally I projected calm confidence at all times in the buildup to the race and during my pacing stint, though our wives were not fooled I can only hope runner Carl was.

Here he is on the top of Hope Pass, completely focused. It turns out old ski poles are functional as running poles, cheap (free) and lighter than many of the adjustable running poles. Of course there  are carbon-fiber folding running poles for hundreds of dollars but we are pragmatical functionalist old guys, who like to use the stuff we already have.

When I signed up for pacing, only slightly inebriated, I had visions of running over the mountains in the sunlight. Instead the section from Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery to home went on from midnight until 8am, deep in the darkest moonless night. There were shooting stars for consolation, and we did get to see the morning come up over the Rockies like hope and glory.

Start happened at 4am but I did not attend, instead concentrating on sleeping late. That didn't work but at least there was time to think. Carl hit May Queen aid station, 13.5 miles of rocky trail at 10000ft plus, in 2:09. My current half-marathon best expected time is just slightly faster than that.

Here's a pic poached from Instagram of the runners heading out from Outward Bound aid station in the morning. That is a different year I think, we did not have so much snow on the peaks.

Six hundred-odd runners started, most of them only slightly odd, and headed up to Hope Pass. At 12600ft any kind of weather is possible. Carl reported flurries of sleet which turned the already treacherous scree slopes into a bit of a nightmare. The Denver Post had this picture of snow on the pass.

Down around the turnaround in Winfield construction added some 0.8 miles to the race distance, for extra credit. There isn't anywhere to modify the route to take away the added distance so this year's edition went long. The cut times at some of the aid stations were adjusted but the 30-hour finish cutoff was not. Brutal.

I showed up late but in earnest (sero sed serio, the motto of the Kerr clan, my Scots ancestors) at the Twin Lakes aid station on the inbound evening leg.

Parking went on for a couple of miles out from the aid station itself. There were shuttle buses, for which we were most grateful, lugging coolers and gear wasn't the warmup I was looking for. Carl and pacer David ran in like heroes. By this point the attrition had started with many runners behind the cutoff time, others puking and dropping out, yet more injured and limping into the hills with a desperate sort of hope. Our man looked tired yet strong and quite coherent after sixty miles. His feet were cold and wet from the last stream crossing so his family/crew took care of the disgusting task of rubbing Glide over his dirty cold toes - greater love hath no wife than this.

What I noticed about the women running through, and the women pacers, and the women crewing, is that they looked like anime characters - slim, bright eyes full of humor and intelligence. Really I was quite smitten. This is from Camille Heron's Instagram feed, just before she had to drop due to hip problems. This picture has not been photoshopped.

We went back to the hotel, ate, and lay down for a bit: while the runners ran on. Back to Outward Bound in dark midnight hours with bonfires at each end of the station and crews singing merrily to keep spirits up. Our indefatigable crew had a dusty blanket for my legs as we waited, since the fleece-lined tights adequate for running in the low 40 degrees were not enough for waiting in the cold. Runner lights stretched out over the inbound field to the limits of perception. The runners here appeared generally in better shape than at Twin Lakes - the cutoff times are mercilessly efficient, leaving only the runners with a real shot at finishing. Pacer David looked as if he'd just had a pleasant warmup after 25 miles of rough trails including some thousands of feet of climbing.

We shuffled off into the night, not feeling 22. Selfishly I was glad that the fantasy schedule of 25 hours for the big belt buckle, was out of the picture. The Army taught me I'm not much good at barking commands and dispensing tough love. Once I tried to pace brother Charles to a sub-4 Two Oceans finish and was afraid I was going to kill him in the later stages. We finished there in 4:00:48 most frustrating.

The first few miles here are on the road past the fish hatchery where it was possible to keep up a 13-minute mile pace. We had matching Garmin 205s. Carl's died later in the night, I had forgotten to turn off autostop which meant mine was wholly inaccurate. By the finish it was an hour off the actual running time and nearly five miles wrong. Oops. That day I learned. Luckily my runner was keeping track of the miles and knew where we were at all times, a deeply impressive feat.

The despair that takes hold in the wee hours of the night after sixteen hours of running did show up once we hit Powerline climb and dropped to 20-min miles.  There were comments to the effect of, "we'll be the last ones in", etc. I mentioned that I'd reviewed the board where the numbers of the incoming runners were written at Outward Bound and there were not more than a hundred of those, plus the Athlinks updates had consistently placed him around the 115 mark. This produced silence if not consent and we moved on to happier subjects, such as our kids' college swim careers. Powerline is a grim climb up a deeply rutted jeep track with poor footing. My 200-lumen headlamp was not enough to keep me from stumbling. Next time (may never happen) I'll invest in one of those ludicrously bright 500-lumen light-up-the-night portable searchlights. No pictures here since I was concentrating on moving on and feeding/watering my runner.

At the top of the climb there is a somewhat unofficial aid station sounding off a vuvuzela or similar air horn, a horrid noise but most welcome to climbing runners. They had cookies, gatorade, and 'sweet green buds !' which were sold hard. "If you're having stomach trouble, these sweet green buds are the best thing !" quite true but fortunately unnecessary. It is essential to eat and keep eating, though the stomach is not very willing to do its digestive tasks while the selfish legs are taking all the blood and oxygen. It burns about 16 000 calories to run for 100 miles. Carl was tired of EFS shots by now so I fed him whatever he would accept, ramen noodles and warm mashed potatoes at the aid stations, handfuls of bite-size Snickers and Kit-Kats on the run, cookies, Fig Newtons, etc. I'm not a forceful personality, preferring discussion and consensus to bold decisive proclamations, but stopped asking for his opinion about eating and drinking. "Here ! drink !" or "eat !"

A steep winding descent on a slightly better jeep road offered some opportunity for running. We tried a shuffle until Carl stumbled and fell. His headlamp was shining like a pair of anemic glowworms by this time, which I should have spotted but missed. We exchanged lights and I dug my spare out of the pack, plus a hand-held flashlight with a bike tube/duct tape handle, to give a better foreshadowing of the roots and rocks. On down the hill to a mile of actual dirt road, more run/walk, then plunge like fate into the blind Colorado Trail. This section is a kind of tunnel through the trees, black night and evergreens unrolling over grey rocks. The course was beautifully marked, glow sticks hung from the trees at regular intervals with streamers of pink tape in between. Thank you the organizers.

Out of the woods and onto the short road into May Queen campground and aid station. The crews waiting for their runners applauded and cheered our every step, fortunately it was dark to cover my few tears of emotion. The night skies opened up to a broad brilliant dome of stars, a line of lights snaking down from the 11 1600ft of Sugarloaf. This was proof visible that we were not in fact the last ones out there.

Turquoise Lake trail is mostly runnable if you have light and strength. We having neither kept up a stiff walk, 16-18min miles, Carl's poles clicking off the steps. Several young teams of runner and pacer passed us along this stretch, motoring along at 15min miles or better. I pointed out that even if you added the age of the runner to that of the pacer, it still wouldn't add up to even one of us: a century of life lived moving down the trail, ghosts driving meat-covered skeletons yet made of stardust.  It gets kooky out there in the bleak pre-dawn hours.

Light grew as we came off the dam wall and down the last steeps onto the dirt roads home. We began to suspect that we might even survive. Bright sun in our eyes as we moved up the Boulevard, a 3.5 mile climb to the finish. Two runner/pacer teams and a single runner passed us and we kicked up the pace to 16min miles. The family came down to the last mile to walk and run in. We were discussing how far it was and if it would be possible to get to the visible banner in the minutes left before 8am, when a bright-eyed spectator chimed in, "zero-point-three miles !"  Carl started to run, I ducked off to the sidewalk and watched his finish in 27:58, 121 (I told him so) of 287 survivors. Here we are, holding each other up.

Thank you Carl, for the opportunity to run with you into the night and through.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

now bid me run

On Saturday night I am pacing the last 25 miles of the Leadville 100, from Fish Hatchery/Outward Bound aid station to the finish. My expected start time is somewhere between 10pm and midnight, expected finish between 5am and noon, depending on how my runner Carl is doing. So I thought I'd better go run up a mountain to check the legs and lungs actually function at that altitude. Also wanted to test out another backpack as the one I'd tried last weekend was a bit bouncy. Check - legs and lungs function, though not as well as our friends would like.

Climbs on route: just one but it's a good pull.. 9% average gradient, says mapmyrun.
My topo map measurements said 4 miles, the trailhead marker said 5 miles, my GPS did not work, and mapmyrun says 4.5 miles. I'll take that as a good average.

We are going U-P, up, to those distant ridges..
The trail was extremely rugged, roots and rock (but no reggae) all the way. On the way down there was rain to make it slippery, for extra credit. One guy said, "I might as well be back in New Hampshire!"
Plenty of company on the trail, numbers of overnight backpackers, photographers, but only one other runner. She passed me as I walked one steep bit, must have taken a break later since I caught up. When the trail was runnable she pulled away, on the bits we had to walk for steepness or rock-hopping I'd slowly catch back up. An hour and a quarter to get up there with more walking than running.

Once at the lakes the crowds had thinned out well, only a few folks who had overnighted. Perfectly gorgeous as usual in the CO high country: whenever I actually get up there I regret not spending more time at altitude.

Not only that, but wildflowers too. The bluebells aren't visible in the pic but I could see them as I bent over gasping for air.

The Continental Divide is just a few hundred feet more climbing, chose to go fishing instead. A young man galloped down from the Divide trail and shot down the hill, probably doing one of the fine loop runs available here. The other trailhead is so busy, there is a shuttle bus to get there with a park-and-ride in the nearest town.

My orange fly line is on the right of the pic. Click on the pic to enlarge and there may be seen a little white fleck in the middle. This is a Royal Coachman fly bobbing in the wave over the deeps, as I hopefully wait for a cruising fish to spot it.

One showed up like a surfacing submarine, black in the green water, missed him entirely. The one in the picture above first rose in the shallows near me. Presented the caddis fly, which he took though we missed each other again. Another cast to the same place and he roared up to savage the fly. He seemed as annoyed to have missed out on a tasty morsel as I was to have missed the strike, though I didn't hear him cuss.

By now the hikers were showing up - lots of spectators now, dogs barking, people swimming. A small emerger fly was taken as it lit upon the water by a handsome 18" fish.

The wind would gust up to where a cast flyline would blow back to my feet. In the waves and murk as the clouds raced over the sun, there would be dark shapes of fish coming up in the waves then fading back. The water went from clear to green, then black as the clouds tore off the mountain.

A big fish patrolled by and doubled back. I put a Goddard caddis fly out 20ft ahead of him, he accelerated up instantly then the take was surprisingly gentle.

A fine handsome cutthroat trout pushing 20", returned to the water with thanks. I took a short nap in the shelter of some bushes after this. At 11 400ft it is still cold in August, the sun was most welcome. Thunder rolled in the distance and I chose discretion over valor, ran back down the hill. The way down was only 10min faster than going up, due to rocks roots and general slipperiness.
There was a half-hour before needing to meet my wife, as well as runner Carl and his wife, down in Boulder for the Shakespeare festival - we went to see the tragedy of Julius Caesar. So of course I stopped to have a look at the creek, clambering down from the trail. It is tiny but in good shape with small brook trout everywhere they could reasonably live. Back in N.Carolina there was trout fishing in tree tunnels, the streams overhung by rhododendrons and the wild variety of temperate rainforest growth. Here in CO we have tree canyons instead.

In this one eddy alone there were three different small fish that tried manfully (fishfully ?) to attack a dry fly too large to fit in their mouths.

The larger fish (relatively speaking) absolutely glowed with health.

Back down to the Shakespeare, pausing only to inhale a burrito.
Early in the first act, the line
now bid me run
and I will strive with things impossible
made me think of trying to pace Leadville on inadequate training.. oh well.

Then there is Cassius, my lean and hungry brother.

CAESAR (speaking so that only ANTONY can hear)
I want the men around me to be fat,
healthy-looking men who sleep at night.
That Cassius over there has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much.
Men like him are dangerous.
He reads much.
He is a great observer, and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men.
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mocked himself and scorned his spirit
That could be moved to smile at anything.
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease.

It is true, we are not. On the other hand a good run up the hills, gives a certain pleasant fatigue and calm. I should do more of that.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Greek music by Borges

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward gives us a poem of Borges for which no English translation exists. I did not know there was such a thing.

Música griega – Jorge Luís Borges
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos del amor de Helena de Troya.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos de haber muerto en Arbela.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     creeremos en el libre albedrío,
     esa ilusión de cada instante.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     sabremos que la nave de Ulises volverá a Itaca.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos la palabra y la espada.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos del cristal y de la caoba,
     de la nieve y del mármol.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos de las cosas comunes,
     que ahora no lo son.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos en el aire la flecha.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     creeremos en la misericordia del lobo
     y en la justicia de los justos.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     mereceremos tu gran voz Walt Whitman.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     mereceremos haber visto, desde una cumbre,
     la tierra prometida.

Digging around finds jbrignone in .ar with some background, 
(Published in the newspaper Clarín on April 11, 1985)
(It should be noted that at this time Borges frequented not only the office of the Greek Orthodox Church, but also the taverna of Takis Delénikas and accompanied his partner to the classes of Greek dance of Jorge Dermitzákis. Although this is not one of the best of Borges, nevertheless it gives a good account of the climate of enthusiasm that permeated these eternal philhellenes in those evenings. JB)

I have always found Greek dance tremendously moving and powerful though I cannot dance. Alex likes to quote his grandmother, Nadie te quita lo bailado, which is approximately, no-one can take away from you the dances you have danced. In the case of no dances, perhaps the memory of watching dancers is enough. There is a fragment of a poem I wrote for my wife after watching her dancing with her eleven girl cousins, written down somewhere.

In the meantime here is a rough translation of the poem - shoved the música through Google Translate and tinkered a bit around the edges, to produce a sort of Tom Waits cover version, all rough growls and sounds made by hitting something metal with a stick. The tinkering is based on my understanding of Borges which is itself dependent on translations by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, W.S. Merwin, Alastair Reid, and others: to whom my debt is great.

I did not know why we might have died in Arbela. That was the Battle of Gaugamela, where Alexander with vastly inferior forces and a brilliant dangerous strategy, defeated Darius of Persia and ended the Achaemenid empire. Though the Greeks did not know mahogany or Whitman or a promised land, and our unworthiness of the common things is a very Borgesian idea, for me these only strengthen the message of eternal philhellenism.

Musica Griega - Jorge Luis Borges

While this music lasts,
we will be worthy of the love of Helen of Troy.
While this music lasts,
we will be worthy to have died in Arbela.
While this music lasts,
we can believe in free will,
that illusion of each moment.
While this music lasts,
we will know that Ulysses' ship returns to Ithaca.
While this music lasts,
we will be the word and the sword.
While this music lasts,
we will be worthy of crystal and mahogany,
snow and marble.
While this music lasts,
we will be worthy of the common things,
which now are not deserved.
While this music lasts,
we will be in the air the arrow.
While this music lasts,
we can believe in the mercy of the wolf
and in the justice of the righteous.
While this music lasts,
we will deserve your great voice Walt Whitman.
While this music lasts,
we merit a view, from a summit,
of the promised land.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

bluegills !

Please to excuse the excitable post. Bluegill fishing according to myth and legend is easy, and they spawn prolifically. By these lights, it is one of the few fish species remaining where you can catch and kill a mess of 'em for a fish fry, guilt-free. In twenty-seven years of living in the US this would be the first time I've found bluegill as described in these foundational myths of US fly-fishing. So yes, I am excited, sufficiently to put up a post to commemorate this possibly singular occurrence.

John Gierach, himself something of a legend, got his start in paid writing with the aid of bluegill.
"I wrote a story about fly-fishing. I think it was about bluegills, because I used to go out to the ponds and catch bluegills for food. And I sold it, and I remember it was like, $75, which was huge money back then. And I just thought, “Well, maybe I can do this to finance my ‘real’ writing career instead of driving a garbage truck.” "
Paid writing is of course very different from writing, as witness this. An opportunity for gratitude, since I have derived tremendous pleasure and consolation from John's books over the years: thank you the bluegill.

An elderly fisherman needs elderly gear, a 1941 Heddon cane rod, and an English reel from the 50s, JW Young Landex. For me there is a small but constant pleasure to be found in fishing this outfit. The reel is nicely engineered and solidly built, long outlasting its owners. I confidently expect it to outlive me and hope that my sons will sell it on through ebay, to another eccentric. There is an element of pity and terror in this new enthusiasm for old fishing gear - like Frodo speaking of Gollum, "I have to believe he can come back." - if I can save these oddments from the teeth of time, perhaps I too may yet be saved. Perhaps not, but at least the fishing has been fine meantime.

The biggest bluegill I ever caught, some 9" or so. That's not large enough to qualify as a 'bull' bluegill which is 10-12" but quite big enough for who it's for. Bull bluegill indeed, it is impressive how fishermen can find a way to be macho even about little fish.

This is not a bluegill but some other representative of the glorious panoply of sunfish native to the US. First guess was a punkinseed but those have orange markers on their black ears (the little black tab at the top of the gill cover or operculum). 

I was standing in the shade, casting to fish in the shade. Upon hooking one it would dart out to deeper water, flashing in the sun, suspended in clear water above the dense green weeds. That much I remember.

The original plan was to catch bass, some hawgs as we fishermen like to say, but did not manage that. The bass were all fun-size like this one.

OK back to the bluegill, I may have been wandering a bit. It turns out that killing a mess of 'em is most likely counterproductive. An enterprising fisheries biologist in Wisconsin questioned the conventional wisdom than overpopulation produces stunted fish. Andrew Rypel set up a study using the ponds under his management. More restrictive size and number limits allow the 'stunted' populations to start growing again. Not only that, but the limit reductions will produce more fish flesh. As the bluegill get bigger in length, they get exponentially bigger in weight, so a few bigger fish weigh more than many small ones. The next step is a ten-year study in Wisconsin using varied regulations across many different ponds.

Later found another study which gets into the deep weeds of bluegill sexuality. The tale of big bull bluegill getting the babes is simple, clear, and wrong. There are two approaches to spawning. The second one is the sneaker or satellite male, who puts his efforts into growing massive gonads instead of simply growing massive. Then he waits for the rapture of the breeding pair, darts in and spreads his seed across the eggs, and escapes before the bull notices. These males are smaller but tend to produce larger offspring. The sneak then runs off to enjoy life, while the bull is left guarding his (and other fishes') progeny. Once the sneaker gets too big to sneak, he starts cross-dressing, and becomes a satellite breeder. These imitate the female colouring and hang around the breeding pair. The bull probably thinks he's getting some hot two-girl-fish action and feels all manly/bullish/bluegillish. Nature is always weirder than I imagined, it's wonderful.

Another tweet about why the panfish ingloriously named 'crappie' gets pronounced 'croppie' reveals that the French for bluegill is le crapet arlequin - the harlequin croppie. How delightful.