Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It Must Be A Dream

…The new look “Colorado Rockies” looked woeful in the hot July heat. A once promising right handed reliever walked the bases loaded, only to give up a go ahead three run triple to a pinch hitting lefty that hadn’t been able to lift the bat off his shoulder, let alone lace one down the line in a clutch situation. I’ve seen enough. Taking the last big gulp of my now warm banquet beer, I remembered the days when a Coors label let you know that the beer was still cold, but that was a long time ago. I emptied out of my seat, only to wait in the aisle on my way out of the stadium, wishing I had ordered another dog and stayed put. I was frustrated enough. It is July in Colorado, and the only thing to do outside is watch less than perfect baseball. What happened to the days I used to wet wade in the Colorado River, chasing trout that used to call those waters home?

The boulevard showed off foreign grasses in brilliant green as I walked back to the parking ramp where I had left my car. Stone condos lined the street, a reminder that not long ago Colorado’s population had grown to unhealthy levels, before ebbing back a bit in the last few years. It appears that the brochure’s these transplants had received from the Colorado Chamber of Commerce painted a picture of what used to be, not the reality of the new Colorado that had taken advantage of its natural beauty to print an ideal. Propaganda that brought a new crop of people to a state that was known for its mountains, rivers, and availability to outdoor recreation. I should know, it wasn’t long ago that I was one of those transplants. After all, there are only two places people from Fargo move after high school, Denver or Minneapolis.  I just chose Minnesota before Colorado, but here I am.

I left Denver heading north, wishing I was home. Looking west I saw a hidden glimpse of Long’s Peak, a 14er I have always wanted to hike, but have never taken the chance. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in those hills. It’s been awhile since I’ve strung a rod. Nothing against carp, but I can catch those close to home. And when the water disappeared a few years ago, it took both the trout and my desire with it. Just take a drive up a canyon road and you’ll see ghost towns created by the greed and green grasses up and down the Front Range, displacing small businesses and families that loved a state that used to give so much. A state that used to care, not wavering to the highest bidder, no matter what their environmental impact study found. It'll be fine, we need water, but not in the mountains, "they" say. Our population is growing, and Greeley owns its rights to the Colorado, and Million traded the Green River for a pipeline that does nothing more than line his pockets. But who cares now? I just miss my trout. I miss Colorado, I miss the west.

It’s been a few years since Governor Hickenlooper effectively killed the Colorado River, but that’s his legacy. He chose to trade small business and the Colorado lifestyle for a few drops in the bucket. Doing nothing more than draining one of the West’s true wonders in response to a spreadsheet that warned of population growth in cities, not the impact it would have on a watershed that provides more to a state than insignificant fish. He had his chance, but listened to the wrong people. Just like many before him, and I’m sure a few after him. But that’s politics, and he wears his sponsors proudly on his sleeves. Just like a Nascar rounding the final turn as the winning advertisement. Who knew Cheerios were so fast?

I pulled into the driveway, only to find two three weights in the hands of the two little Sanders boys. They were laughing, playing two swashbuckling pirates, not worried one bit that dad would mistake two fly rods for swords. I smiled, happy that my boys never got the chance to see a trout, as I try to protect them from getting hurt and the disappointment I now feel for the loss of such beauty….

*I know that this is late notice, but if you are in Denver tomorrow (2/22), please join Trout Unlimited, the folks from Save the Colorado, and all the others that fight so hard to keep water in our rivers. The festivities start at 11am on the steps of the Colorado state capital, and each voice matters. It’s not too late for us to be heard, let’s just hope our Governor listens. It should be easy for him though...does he want to be the governor that saved the Colorado River, or the governor that watered all the lawns and golf courses in Denver?

See you there!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Remembering the Net

The rod bent uncomfortably as two excited sets of eyes watched the oversized brown shake his head in disapproval. Unfortunately for me, the rod I carried rested comfortably idle in my right hand, line and leader drifting somewhere downstream. I hadn’t even brought my net.

The brown made one last hard charge towards cover and deeper water, trying to release itself from the “Dungeon” that pinned him harshly to foreign bonds. But as quickly as he was hooked, he relented in a pile at the bottom of the only net between us, Jake’s. I looked at the giant trout and took a mental note to buy a larger net, preferably one with a longer handle, and one that I would remember not to leave in the trunk. Good thing one of us knew what they were doing.

“Holy shit,” I said softly, watching Jake tail the fish and lift him proudly from its cradle. The look on his face confirmed my words. Making me feel better, not wanting to tip him off as to the size of fish I’m used to catching. But one look at the crazed smile on my face would reveal the truth, it was unavoidable. I couldn’t help it, it wasn’t even my fish.

Yep...the trout in question

I met Jake a couple months back at the Elkhorn Flyshop in Loveland. He was conducting a fly tying demo, trying to show a few of us weekend warriors the “go to” patterns for the Big Thompson, Poudre, and beyond. Something he has wired, but something I’m in the early stages of trying to figure out. Needless to say, he had my attention. We talked briefly after he was done, and tentatively made plans to fish one of the local waters when we both had the time. It’s the kind of thing you say in a fly shop, but understand if it never happens. Not unlike passing an acquaintance on the street and saying, “let’s grab a beer sometime”, only to leave and go your separate ways.  But we stayed in touch, and a few months later, we found a cold river waiting for us on Super Bowl Sunday.

Cars passed quietly as we strung our rods. Four rods were rigged, two for each of us, streamers on one, with the little stuff on the other. I was hoping to throw streamers most of the day, if for nothing else than a way to stay warm. But most likely we would fish both hard, trying to figure out which way the proverbial wind was blowing. I just hoped it wouldn’t take too long. My fingers were cold.

There was a time in my life, not too long ago, that ending up in Colorado seemed unimportant. I did after all, turn down a golf scholarship to my newly adopted city’s University in order to stay closer to home. Opting for colder weather, a shorter golf season, and the friends that seemed to make this whole thing turn, I didn’t even own a fly rod. And as the confidence of youth showed in some of my decisions, not knowing the future was as comfortable to me as any barstool in St. Paul. But hindsight allows for that kind of romance, the kind that lets you ask what could have been. But I was unapologetically happy not knowing who I was or where I was headed. No wonder I ended up selling produce, or giving financial advice, or now, selling office equipment that no one seems to want. But as it turns out, life isn’t about looking back. It’s about finding something you love, pursuing it hard, and accepting who you are, not the guy that you think you need to be. It’s just too damned short. And looking at Jake, I’m reminded that life was never meant to be quite so complicated. Decisions are meant to be easy, kind of like deciding to go fishing, instead of watching the commercials on the biggest ad day of the year.

The thrust of the heavy trout’s tail kicked water into the air, a final act of defiance as the tired brown slipped deep into calmer water, trying to reassess what had just transpired. The bend in the net’s basket was still bowed deeply, leaving an imprint that seemed appropriately frozen, either by temperature, weight, or time. And with a smile and a fist bump, we kept fishing, just like we were supposed to be doing.

Working it...

*Check out Jake's blog at Fins on the Fly. It is a great blog to follow, as it hits everything from tying flies, fishing adventures, videos, and anything else fly fishing related. Jake is as nice a guy as you could ever hope to meet, on or off the water. It was fun to watch and learn some new tricks, proving once again that age has nothing to do with knowing what the hell you are doing.

I couldn't let you think Jake caught the only fish...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Purpose of Land

"There is not in all America a more dangerous trait than the deification of mere smartness unaccompanied by any sense of moral responsibility." -Teddy Roosevelt
The roosters flushed fifty yards ahead of the Honda as I tore through the vast North Dakota countryside on my way back to Colorado.  The early morning sun rose in my rearview mirror, as I watched the birds scatter when they hit the ground. Leaving their grit in fear, they now ran for the protection of a shelter belt that seemed ill equipped to protect an aging farmhouse from another honest North Dakota winter. But what do I know? I had just finished a cup of Starbuck’s coffee and a couple of doughnuts. It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that I have been removed from this place for too long to have the first clue of what it takes to survive on the prairie. I have lost that privilege, and time has left me acutely aware of that fact. Maybe that’s why I choose to appreciate this landscape now. Or even more to the point, the landscape in which direction the Honda was running frantically back to.  

The “American West” wears many different hats. To some, the west is an iconic landscape that defines the American spirit, to others it is home, while some rely on the land as a simple way to earn a living. The west is gracious in its generosity, offering life through its toughness to those willing enough to appreciate its gift. And selfishly, the west offers something I couldn’t find or wasn’t looking for back home, opportunity.

As a fly fisherman who relies on public land to fuel his passion, the west feels too big to comprehend, maybe even too big to fully appreciate. But that doesn’t mean the trout that call these blue lines home aren’t appreciated. And as maps have been drawn to show such lines, a fisherman has surely strung up a rod to prove himself right.  And who can ignore the fact that most of the wild fish we catch from the west reproduce in public water, we own that responsibility. That’s a humbling thought for those willing to care enough to make sure the next generation has the same amount of, or more opportunities than the one’s passing through before them.  Needless to say I care about these fish, and I care about our land. After all, I have shared ownership. 

Political winds blow hard during election years, and seldom align perfectly with the values of the people for which speech writers and pundits entertain. Red, blue, green, or other, it doesn’t matter. Common sense needs a place at the table. It was disheartening to listen to Mitt Romney last week, discuss his idea of value as it pertained to public land in the west:

“…“I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land…I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada.  And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there.  What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” — which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves — “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.”  I mean, it drove the people nuts.  Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this landSo I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable…”  
Forget about the thousands of jobs that rely on these public lands, the tourism and recreational dollars that are spent appreciating these places, and the western way of life which helps define us as a nation. If small business isn’t big business, it goes unnoticed, unless spoken at some town hall political rally. What we own is more important that. These public lands are more important than dollar signs waiting to be further exploited by special interests and political favor, and our natural assets should not be leveraged on the backs of a generation yet to experience places like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Moab, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, the Poudre, or any of the other places that capture an imagination as to what America is supposed to be.

My name is Sean, and I’m a fly fisherman from Colorado. I take advantage of the opportunities provided to me through the taxes I pay to fly fish here in the west. For that, I am thankful.

Watch Mitt Romney discuss the west here (19:30 is where the quote from this post comes into play): Video
Or, read his quote here: Article

*This blog is not intended to be my outlet for political commentary. As someone who occasionally watches the news and reads a newspaper, there are things I read or hear that I can’t shake, for one reason or another. This just happened to be one of them. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, it doesn’t matter, we all fish the same water.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting Older

The white around his eyes could be seen as he sat motionless under the soft light of a street lamp on our dusty boulevard, while the thinning of his face wore pronounced wrinkles unnoticeable to the uninitiated, as he looked beyond the obvious. This new face had stolen the puppy I used to know, and was defined by a sturdiness and peace that had replaced the wildness of youth.  And now, any object directly in front of his nose seemed less important than the time and space that lay somewhere beyond Petsmart and the street he knew he couldn’t cross alone. We stared together for a few minutes, looking for something we used to understand, trying to figure out where the next step would take us. Most likely, his four legs would dig in hard if I asked him to move before he was ready. So we sat. Bulldogs have an honorable disposition, but tend to travel to the ticking of a clock that isn’t set to Mountain Standard Time. They move when they want to move, and in some ways, they resemble the mountains that anchor the landscape forty miles to the west of the patch of grass on which we sat. They are stoic.

Hopping over the curb, we found ourselves in an empty street, stopping a quarter of the way from its opposite bank.  Apparently, we needed a break to regain our bearings. The good idea from a minute earlier was now in question, as he looked around to make sure that the grass on the other side of the street was still his intended destination. Never mind the possibility of a texting driver. So we took our time, not wanting to rush into anything. Why rush, have you ever seen a grown man try to carry a 65 pound bulldog? I save that for snow days. Rex has very sensitive paws.

We got Rex seven years ago this May. A housewarming present of sorts, as we closed on our first home in St. Paul on a wet Friday afternoon at the end of April, only to receive our special delivery two days later on the first of May. He arrived with soft eyes, wondering where he was, and why his brother wasn’t with him for the first time in ten weeks. But with a knuckle rub to his temple, a happy smile creased his lips, and our house was complete.

Rex arrived at a time in my life when I was still learning how to take care of myself. And depending on whom you might ask, I still am. But that’s beside the point, and probably better reserved for a psychiatrist, or someone who can still look at me and objectively ask, “Can you start over?” But as far as Rex goes, he was entrusted to me by the signing of a check, and up until this point, he’s been the best investment I have made. There’s something to be said for that, right? And between my wife and Rex, things always seem to work out. I’m a lucky guy, what can I say.

Rex has a way about him, as I’m sure most dogs do. He is excited when we come home, or start chanting something that makes no sense. He is caring when one of us hasn’t had our best day. And he has grown to love the little intruder that we brought home a little over a year ago now. But more importantly, he is as gentle as one would expect from a guy who chooses to nap seventy five percent of his life. There are however, little reminders of more youthful days, as our dinner table will never be the same.

We used to stress about every little thing. A bump on his leg, his crusty nose, an abnormally large tongue reminiscent of Gene Simmons himself, the times his leg would pop out of joint while running, only to leave him a drooling, smiling, and hobbling mess. But now, we’ve learned that these things are out of our control, no matter how much we try to prove ourselves wrong with eye popping vet bills. Even the time we were both bitten at the dog park. He was happy for the attention from another dog, oblivious to what had just happened, while his two horrified parents bled and fought for the best friend in their lives. Can you tell who was more scarred?

It no longer bothers me when people say, “Oh…now that’s just a face only a mother could love”. Maybe it’s a compliment, I’m not sure. I’ll have to try that one out next time I’m at Target, and happen to sneak a look into an oncoming stroller. Regardless, it doesn’t matter because love isn’t disguised by looks, it doesn’t need to be. And more often than not, it happens in the blink of an eye, at a bar with friends, or the first time you open a kennel door and watch what walks out.

Life is just a blink anyway. One day you’re running on all fours, tearing holes in dry wall, and wondering if you’ll ever grow up. The next day you’re resigned to the couch, sleeping away playful hours, waiting for Thursday night TV and your next meal. It happens that fast. A blink.

It’s hard to accept Rex getting older. I still like to think that we’re growing up together, two friends adjoined at the hip, six legs on the same path. But for some reason I still need help, and he’s all grown up. And it appears now, that he’s looking for something that I can’t help him with. But I’ll try, I'll always try.

We made it across the street after a little high pitched enthusiasm, letting the spotlight of the street’s lamp guide our safe passage. So after a few bushes were claimed and properly hydrated, Rex looked up at me and sat down in the grass. This new street light brought life, as his tongue dropped further out of his mouth, and soon, some heavy panting raised a playful smile in accomplishment. We had made it. And now, sitting in our new spot, we both stared longingly back to the boulevard from which we just came.

To aging gracefully…Happy Birthday my friend.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

No Sports Allowed

I received a care package in the mail from a friend who must have realized that cabin fever had started to set in a couple thousand miles to the south and east of where the mail had been sent from. I’m not one to sit around and feel sorry for myself, as I tend to find little escapes to ward off such a condition. But over the last week or so, I’ve been pacing a little more than usual, and have kept the hopper box open as a reminder that better days are certainly ahead. It is after all February 1st, and the days are starting to lengthen, if only for the short commute home from work each evening.

The package which was sent to me, contained some interesting medicine, two non-descript DVDs entitled “No Sports Allowed”, volumes one and two. And having a good idea of the content in which each DVD contained, these discs helped to take the escalating pressure off of my self-induced fever down to a tolerable measure.

Watching the DVDs for the first time, you can’t help but think of the friends you fish with. The group of angler’s that are featured in the film take you on a series of fishing expeditions that are filled with fish, laughs, and most importantly fun. The movies are relatable from that aspect, as they each feature experiences that are familiar enough to let you know, that as long as you have a few good buddies and some fishable water, the most important part of the journey has already been reached.

Despite nonstop action of fish being caught and great music, the highlight of each video for me was a few minutes out of each film named "Traditions". I might smile each and every time I catch a fish, but not like this. It is a great reminder of what this sport is, and what it is meant to be. I won’t get into details, you’ll just have to watch the movies and see for yourself. I can assure you that it is worth the price of admission.

“No Sports Allowed”, is a welcome addition to the collection. It is fly fishing at its very best. Now, if I could just find my way to Idaho...

Cabin fever be damned!

Go check it out at: www.nosportsallowed.com