Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Free Saturday

"Dad, run over that elk so we can get it's bones", came a plea from the backseat. A simple request that went unfulfilled, only to disappoint the five year old boy who was seeking the aforementioned elk's bony body. The disappointment didn't last long, as Rocky Mountain National Park opened up before us as we all looked down into Moraine Park. That was Friday.

Moraine Park

Blake and his family left early Saturday morning, something about a buffalo safari in Custer State Park. And as was the adventure in Colorado, the search for bones continues. The early departure left the afternoon wide open, and a brief discussion had Bridget and I heading back into the park where we had just been twenty four hours earlier. A book and camera for her, a fly rod and wild trout for me.

Sprague Lake and the Continental Divide

From the east side of Sprague Lake, the continental divide looms large in the western sky. Standing resolute, the mountain's help to define what some may call the American dream. And as Hallet Peak stands guard, millions of visitors each year come to appreciate Rocky Mountain National Park for what she is, beautiful.

The water had a welcome chill as I waded carefully into position.  The stream ran clear, and the small brook trout could be seen working the two seams created behind a small boulder midstream. Seeing a sporadic mayfly take flight from the water's surface, a plan was hatched. Equipping my leader with an unnamed stonefly that was trailed by a small PMD emerger, the first cast was made.

the spot

Working the two seams without so much as the curious turn of a fish's head, it was time to switch gears. Clipping off the emerger, a red san juan took its place. In position to work the undercut bank on the near side of the stream, I made a cast. Tree. Snapping off the two flies, a frustrated expletive left my lips. An ugly word for such a pretty place. I apologized to something unseen and moved on. Attaching the same two flies, the next cast hit its mark. A brown trout.

a reward

Two bull elk fed lazily downstream of where we were fishing, playing model to the throngs of curious spectators on the road. And as the paparazzi became too much, the elk made their way upstream in our direction. Deciding to give the wild animals some space, Bridget and I moved happily out of their way. It was time to head home.

gratuitous elk shot...

The tourist traffic of Estes Park greeted us as we left the park. A reminder that such a beautiful place was meant to be shared. And as the people were herded in and out of the t-shirt shops and bars, the small mountain town shrank unconcerned in the mirror behind us.

the reader's bench

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Fix

Having written "Obligatory Dog Post" and "It's Not You...It's Me", it isn't hard to see that a day on the water would be much appreciated. Like a drug addict slipping into withdrawal, the need to put my boots in a river has become unbearable. And with my hands unsteady, I need what I don't have. Time. So as is life, the need to fix a dog's broken eye, stay employed, and support a loving wife has taken precedent. So when the chance to string a rod arrived, I jumped on it like the junky I have become.

It wasn't a planned trip, so no itinerary had been set. But looking into the foothills that have become my compass, I knew where I needed to go. Unlike the flat prairies of North Dakota, the mountains make it possible to always know one direction. West. Well, as long as you reside on the front range. And typically if you are looking west, you are looking in the direction of the trout. A comforting thought.

Fighting the urge to check the flows, I headed out the door. Ignorance is bliss, and par for the course. But as I entered the canyon, I was struck by a sign, "No Tubing. $100 Fine". An ominous caution for a long rodder on a mission. Undeterred, I pressed on. Ignorant as ever.

Watching the river driving up the canyon, I couldn't help notice rafters being flushed downstream in some sort of cruel game of plinko. A sight that didn't brighten the hope of finding fish, but when I passed Mishawaka there was no turning back. I was driving straight into the belly of the beast, and as the Honda pressed on, the river grew in its rage.

Pulling off onto the gravel, the river looked as calm as it had in 30 miles. Not wanting to tempt fate, I turned off the engine and decided to string up. Watching the river from the high perch, I decided that a very large two nymph rig would be best. Besides, the fish were tired of trying to find the small bugs anyway.

Purple and gold wildflowers dotted the meadow as I crossed its expanse. An interesting sight considering some of the questions I have been asking myself over the last couple of months (see poll question on right side of the page). Maybe it was a sign, maybe not. Putting that thought out of my mind, I ambled forward with no sense of urgency. The water looked more like the heavily silted Red River of my youth, than the crystal clear Poudre that will reappear in a month or so. A seasonal cleanse that turns familiar into unrecognizable. But as quickly as the turbid waters rinse the scars from a hard year clean; the rocks, riffles, pools, and seams that have defined our relationship will welcome me back with open arms. A fisherman's rebirth.

Missing the slack water on my first few casts, I was entertained to see how fast the water would rip my line downstream. A funny sight if you actually had hopes of catching fish. Finding a groove, I fished unsuccessfully for the next couple of hours. So with my patience wearing thin, the day was over. No fish.

It wasn't the trip I had envisioned walking out the door five hours earlier. My trips seldom are. The river gives and takes when she wants, and on this day she wouldn't give up her bounty. But despite the unsuccessful outcome, I knew I'd be back. A more forgiving river would give me hope. And closing the trunk of the car, a smile creased my lips. I had gotten my fix.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Thank You

For some reason the post Up the Poudre was selected as one of the final four in the Trout Unlimited Blog Writing Contest. I am grateful that someone thought enough of the post to select it as one of the winners, I certainly didn't expect it. The writing in the contest was really fantastic, and I am humbled to have been chosen.

I just wanted to thank Chris from Eat More Brook Trout and Trout Unlimited for this opportunity. This will be a trip that I will remember forever. I can't wait!

Another thanks to Rebecca and Joe over at OBN for all of the support they provide for bloggers like me. I can't imagine all of the hard work it takes to keep a site like the Outdoor Blogger Network going. Thank you for all of your hard work, and for sponsoring such great events like this one.

Montana here I come...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's Not You...It's Me

The book was like any other you'd expect from this particular author. That is why I put it down after one chapter debating whether or not to continue. Luckily, Rex ended the debate by leaping onto my chest. His unusual way of telling me to stop what I'm doing and take him outside. A peculiar way of asking a favor, but certainly effective. Grabbing the leash and putting on his collar, we walked outside watching the door close behind us. As Rex took the lead, I started to think about the book I had just put down. My life had changed.

The title of the book in question is, "No Shortage of Good Days". You know the author.

Let me give you some background before we get too much further into this. I'll do my best to keep this short, so I am going to share with you my fly fishing life in 41 words or less: A friend, fly rod, reel, line, leaders, flies, waders, boots, box, Rush River, first trout, Fly Rod and Reel Magazine, Gierach, Trout Unlimited, tying book, vise, materials, my own flies, camera, move to Colorado, Up the Poudre, and here we are. There probably is more to it than that, but I promised brevity.

As you can see, John Gierach has clearly inspired my fly fishing exploits (he made the top 41). His writing is unequaled in the world of fly fishing, and his stories are as quotable as some movies. As surely as you'll hear me quote lines from "Caddyshack", you are just as likely to hear me quote Gierach. His writing takes me to places that I only dream of going, his writing leaves me wanting one more page, one more chapter, or one more book. And for most of my fly fishing life, I have been living vicariously through his books.

Reading the first chapter of his newest creation, the words felt like any other well written story Gierach has ever told. So it would make sense to jump head first into chapter two, but unfortunately I couldn't.  I fear his mastery has become to much the same, too much of a good thing. This is not what I wanted, this was not the book I had intended to review. Where was the book I would finish in one sitting (it happened once, and I think the book was "Where the Trout Are All as Long as Your Leg"...the shortest one)? Where is the John Gierach I knew from 2010?

Writing this now, I am overwhelmed with guilt over my stubbornness that leaves the bookmark securely placed at chapter two. I am sure that John Gierach has done nothing wrong. I am sure his writing is still the best, and his stories are as entertaining now as they ever were. It must be me, for there is no way I could be let down by one of my oldest fishing friends. This is my cross to bear. It's not you, it's me.

And Just like I will see any Indiana Jones sequel, no matter how horrible (Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls). I will ultimately read the rest of "No Shortage of Good Days", hoping to rediscover some of the passion these books inspire. This isn't a breakup, it's a break. Just two old friends needing some time apart.

*I was not asked or paid to write this review, especially by John Gierach or anyone else in the fly fishing community...The reality of this review lies squarely in the blog you are reading now. This outlet has introduced me to countless great writers, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The stories and pictures I see and read everyday have become my new outlet. So I guess what I am trying to say is...thank you for ruining Gierach for me...

I am fully prepared for the wrath that may ensue, kind of.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Obligatory Dog Post

No need to beat a dead horse by telling you that an English Bulldog does not make for a good fishing partner. In fact, an English Bulldog is not good for much of anything having to do with the outdoors. And I would be lying if I told you that an English Bulldog did much more than eat, sleep, and well, you know. But despite the inactivity that blankets my couch like passed out college kids from a raging keg party, I love my dogs.

A pet of any make connects with their owners on certain levels. Mostly in the form of love, loyalty, and friendship. Why else do you see a bad ass biker dudes walking toy poodles? And in the case of these two bulldogs, I am no exception. Except for the fact that they are walking me.

Rex doing his best Gene Simmons impression.

Rex the oldest, was an impulse purchase new homeowners sometimes make trying to fill some space. Arriving via Delta Airlines, he crept out of his crate with a bashful smile on his face. Little did we know, he was just trying to tell us that we had no idea what we were getting into. Tables, chairs, rugs, window sills, pillows, and cabinets were no match for his resolve. He is a walking, slobbering, lovable menace. 

CiCi checking things out.

CiCi arrived as a surprise from my wife after a bird hunting trip in North Dakota. Walking through the front door after an eight hour drive, I was welcomed by a fiery, loving, unafraid little girl. Friends from the moment we locked eyes. She had me right where she wanted me, still does.

Her older brother was a little more skeptical of this new intruder, kind of like an older employee unsure of the young gun that was just hired. But a pat on the head and a scratch behind the ear, was all the reassurance he needed that he wouldn't be replaced.

The four legged members in our house have become inseparable, kind of like Lloyd and Harry from the movie "Dumb and Dumber". Two goofballs united to wreak havoc wherever they go. A perfect union. A "wolf pack" pack of two.

A full backseat.

The dogs had spent the weekend at the spa (kennel). Their weekend consisted of playing, scratching, sniffing, rolling in the dirt, ice cream treats, and most importantly, no Sunday bath. The were living the life they thought they had signed up for when they were born. A dog's life.

Pick up was scheduled for Monday morning. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a quick piece of toast , I left the house excited to get the band back together. Something about an empty feeling when the four of us aren't together spurred me out the door. So when CiCi came bolting out to greet me, I noticed right away something was wrong. My heart sank as I looked at her playful face. The usually mischievious right eye looked off. She had the look of being the unfortunate recipient of a Mike Tyson uppercut. Although no punches were thrown, the verdict came back as cherry eye. And the appointment for a quick surgery was set for Tuesday.

You'll get him next time CiCi.

CiCi is home and doing well. Nothing you can do but roll with the punches. When one of the tribe is feeling down or sick, the rest are there to pick up the pieces. A brother that won't leave his sister's side says it all. Family.

The new eye and a best friend.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Up the Poudre

Ted's Place was empty when I filled the tank with gas and refilled the cup of coffee now resting in the cup holder beside me. It was ten past six in the morning, an early rise for a wannabe trout. Looking to the east the quiet of the Saturday morning hung in the air, the city was asleep. Pointing the nose of the Honda west, I said a quick prayer in hopes of finding the fish I had come so far to see. I was going up the Poudre.

The Cache la Poudre is an unapologetic river.  A wild river defined by the canyon it created, slicing its way through Roosevelt National Forest on its seventy six mile journey east. The river falls 7,000 feet from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, finally pouring into the South Platte on the high plains of eastern Colorado. A life giver to a part of the country that fights hard to survive. The Poudre flows free, and asks for nothing in return. She's selfless.

I hadn't been on the water in a month. Something about a promise I had made to my wife after our move to Colorado. We had left Minnesota in a hurry, leaving two jobs for one. A choice that left me unemployed, and her nervous about paying the bills. So not unlike a gambler, we doubled down, packed the car, said our goodbyes, and left. We ventured off into the unknown, no expectations, nervous, and happy.

Pulling off to the side of the road, I found myself looking down into a small valley tucked between the highway on the north and rolling mountains to the south. The river fed lazily through the middle, looking more like a spring creek in western Wisconsin than the charging river I had been following for the last twenty miles. But for the first trip, this spot felt right. I opened the trunk, rigged up, and walked down the path to explore my new river.

I walked contently through knee high grass to a bend in the river I had seen from the road. The warming sun could be felt touching my neck, and played reminder to the sunscreen I had forgotten to apply in the rush to hit the water. Fish could be seen kissing the water’s surface, chasing a bug yet to make an appearance. An insect only visible to the fish whose life depended on them. Watching intently, I searched my memory trying to decipher a code in which I had no clue. PMDs? Who knows?

Carefully wading directly downstream from the dining fish, I checked my flies and leader for imperfections. I had tied on a stonefly pattern of which I was not familiar, but was assured by the kid at the fly shop it was a “sure thing”. The fact that only a few flies were left in the bin helped to ease my suspicions. Off the hook bend was tied a size 22 BWO emerger, a pattern that would work anywhere.

The first cast landed about twelve inches right of target. Rust I thought, stripping in the slack line as the newly wet flies drifted towards me. The next cast landed left, an overcompensation in my already poor stroke. So when the strike occurred, I was caught off guard. I missed. The fishing continued this way for the next hour or so. Missed strikes, bad casts, and poor drifts defined the morning's fishing. I was searching for some rhythm, something I had apparently forgotten to pack in the move.

Switching locations, I was blissfully optimistic of finding my first trout in over a month. Wandering upstream, I stopped at a deep pool that was being fed from a shelf at its head. Debating whether to fish or move on, I saw a fish rise confidently and the easy decision was made. The first cast hit the water just in time to throw an upstream mend in the line. A good drift. The line hesitated in the water for a split second, hanging in the moment. I set the hook. I was home.

Having lived in Colorado for the better part of a year now, I have become more aware of the struggle it takes to protect a watershed like the Cache la Poudre River. Unfortunately, It isn’t as simple as protecting the trout that call this river home. The Poudre is also a producer of life for much of northern Colorado. It feeds cities. It gives farmers hope.

The Poudre was officially designated a National Wild and Scenic River System by congress in the fall of 1986, becoming Colorado's first river to receive such recognition. In a letter written to congress, Ronald Reagan stated the following;

"...Balancing the development of our Nation's many natural resources with the need to preserve our national treasures is a formidable challenge. Continued economic growth depends in part upon prudent use of our natural resources. At the same time, we must protect wilderness areas and wild, free-flowing rivers for this and future generations to enjoy in their natural, undeveloped state."

People talk about the “good old days”, remembering much different times. They tell stories of hundred fish days, pristine waters, and natural beauty that will never be seen again. Trying to balance economic growth and an encroaching human population on these fragile resources has become painfully tricky. Our generation does not have the luxury of being lethargic, we have an obligation to act. We as fisherman are not entitled to the fish we catch, but rather expected to earn them through hard work, proactive conservation efforts, and compromise. Future generations need to be promised good days on the water, not stories from our past.

***I would like to thank both the OBN and Trout Unlimited for sponsoring such a great contest. A chance to visit Montana and learn more about TU and see some of their current projects would be an opportunity of a lifetime. I enjoyed being able to share the story of my favorite fishing trip, I had a ton of fun reliving it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Owl's Request... honor of Owl Jones and his love for the 80s, these are a few of the things that helped shape the man I am today (figuratively not literally).

 Ground Breaking Technology

Inspired Cartoons

Great TV

Amazing Movies

Interesting stuff....

And Lasting Fashions...

I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Note: All the pictures of me from the 1980s are in Fargo, but if I can somehow scrounge up some pictures and the video of me break dancing...I promise to post