Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Messing about in boats

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

(Rat to Mole, from Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows")

I am supposed to be writing "How to" (and "When to" and "Where to") articles, but I've gotten side-tracked with stories, "How (not) to" articles, and other such crap.  My apologies.  Here's a "How to"...

Several years ago I was living in California, and regularly fishing harbors from rental boats.  This got too expensive, so I started fishing from a pontoon. A pontoon is great, in many ways, but it has some drawbacks as well.  For starters, one sits low in the water.  Personally, I don't care for this because it limits my visibility, but even more because I really prefer to stand up when casting or landing fish.  There's also a limit to how much one can carry along, and pontoons aren't terribly efficient to row, either. However, my own motivation for finding alternative watercraft was that I didn't fancy a 500 pound sea lion in my lap, and I'd come too close to realizing this possibility on several occasions. A kayak was simply out of the question (they're yellow). 

Very small (usually 8 feet long) flat-fronted boats, called prams, have a long history among fly fishermen.  These little boats are light enough to be loaded onto a car roof and to be carried (or wheeled) to the water, but large enough that you can toss all manner of shit into them.  And being of wide beam (usually about three feet), they are stable enough to stand in safely.  These features made them particularly popular among the salmon, steelhead and striper anglers of California.

Eel River, California (Photo: Conrad Calimpong; "Rivers of a Lost Coast" website)
Bill Schaadt with a large salmon (Photo: Dan Blanton)

The old prams were often wooden, then later aluminum, and now many commercially available ones are made of fiberglass and other modern lightweight materials. But these were beyond my reach, financially, at the time so a friend of mine suggested I build one.  Keith is, literally, a rocket scientist and when a rocket scientist says "It'll be easy", it's not entirely clear how you're to respond.  But he explained how it can be done, I became intrigued, and decided to give it a whirl.

I chose to use a method known as "stitch-and-glue".  Stitch-and-glue is simple in principle and in practice.  One cuts plywood panels according to established measurements, and these panels are then stitched together using wire or, in many cases, those tough little nylon electrician's cable ties. Then, fiberglass tape and an epoxy/sawdust mix are used to join, or "glue", the adjoining plywood panels.  Ultimately, these joints are smoothed and then the entire boat is covered in special epoxy, which waterproofs it.  I built mine in about five weeks, working mostly just on weekends.
Fitting a curve for one of the bottom panels

Sides and inside frames in place

The bow, showing the "stitches"; the gaps will be filled later.

Just waiting for the paint job

 I've since fished the boat on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as in a number of rivers, reservoirs and ponds.

Pacific Ocean

Releasing a largemouth bass on a California reservoir
Fishing for early spring stripers on a Connecticut coastal river
Waiting at river's edge, Connecticut
When I started to build this boat, my motivations were entirely practical. In the end, however, I loved the building process more than I could have imagined.  There is a satisfaction that comes from using things one has made oneself, and if you tie your own flies or build your own rods, you certainly know this.  I do both, but the satisfaction I get from those things pales in comparison to that I get from fishing from this boat.

[Follow-up post, with more building details.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Could it be.....?

I was enjoying this rather nice article in Sunday's New York Times. Then, in the third paragraph from the end, I darn near lost my breakfast.


How (not) to catch carp

Carp fishing and iMovie software: I am equally proficient.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea

I can count the number of times I've been out on my "new" kayak on one and a half hands. TJ and I had great plans to float a local river - a spot, incidentally, where reports now have it that 30lb stripers are "in thick" (this is a teaser to remind him to move the hell back to the CT coast) - but we got waylaid by instruments of torture. Todd and I have been planning a float for Lord knows how long, and  last night we got our shit together, motivated by the sight of The Yankee having all the fun. It was Todd's 40th birthday and we wanted to get him a nice fish. You're familiar with the usual ritual about wanting to catch fish, of course. It's always worth saying as a mark of friendly intent, but everyone knows it's a bit of an angling curse; a long shot at best, especially with the fly rod handicap. 

Those first few minutes afloat are always a little strange. Are those waves coming into the boat? If they keep coming at this rate, how long until I fill up and drown? Is it choppier where we're heading? Will this be the night I hurl?

Todd's boat is heavier than mine because he carries a lot more shit
We fished for a few hours seeing sporadic explosions of single fish (sporadic is a word anglers use to make "almost none" sound strategic). But it was great to be afloat and I was delighted with the performance of my kayak - a Chevy to Todd's Hobie Cadillac, but an almost perfect fishing boat. It was dusk before we saw the first action - we were just bobbing around wondering whether we should move, or go find a beer (stupid Sunday law that) when in the middle distance a 200 yard breadth of white explosions had us working the oars like men who have just seen a blitz would work some oars.  Then something cool happened. Todd cast out his other rod - I won't get all Prosek describing this thing: it has a big hook at the end. No fur. No fly. Anyway, first cast through the bait ball and the rod buckles over, and tows poor Todd a merry dance for a good while. I've never seen a bunker do that, but the snap that followed suggested a large blue had inhaled the bait as soon as it was impaled. We never saw the fish, but Todd celebrated anyway by losing his paddle. My stalk, sight and recapture where the finest of the night (okay, bar one).

A break to reclaim my backside

Encouraging, but we're not sure what happens next. It's a peculiarity of fishing from a kayak in open water that everywhere looks the same while the spot you're in is usually the least inspiring. If you just paddle further you'll find fish. So we paddled in a bit and started to see bigger fish having dinner. I pricked a few that could have been bunker, or were they bass phased by my wire trace? It didn't matter, because I wanted Todd to get a fish, and that's exactly what happened next. Having switched back to the fly rod - an inspired move! - for the next several minutes Todd lay siege with a brutish animal, which we assumed to be a bass by its deep diving and deliberate runs. He has a rudder on his boat, so at least he could dictate which direction to be towed in (just think about that - Todd may be slight, but his boat must weigh 90lbs. And they ask why we go fishing?) Finally the beast came up and we saw that wonderful big head and shoulders followed by three feet of glorious fish.

High fives were exchanged - don't ask, it was just the right thing to do, there was no-one about.  Fireworks lit up the long night sky as we paddled in - like the fish, just like I'd ordered. Sometimes it works out very nicely like that, and Todd was real happy. If you have to turn 40, this is about as good a way to do it, I guess.

Trolling is illegal in the State of Connecticut.

Kayaking on a calm evening. You just gotta do this.

What a beauty.

The Old Man.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Water-monks these...


On the river bottom,
the carp have blown out
all the candles.

They whisper along
over the closed, black
bibles of clams.

Water-monks these,
with mouths like those
of angels singing,

but not angelic,
so very naked now
in darkness,

their cool, hard bodies
touching, among
the tapestries of weed.

[From "Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985", by Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate of the United States, 2004-2006]

All the Old Feeling

He tried to read it. Nothing was clear.

He went to the fridge, the one with the beer. He picked one. It seemed like the right choice. It was a cold one. He was a better reader when he had been drinking. He felt all the old feeling. He said to himself, "Z, this one's for you." It all became so clear.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Partial Recovery

It's been several weeks now, since I returned from my visit with English Jonny, Anonymous, Z, the Fair River Maidens, et al., and I am partially recovered. A good ale is once again a treat to be savored. Unfortunately, a whiff of whiskey, or of whisky (Yes, both kinds. Kids, do not try that at home.), still does not sit well.

In fact, the smell of my banjo elicits a similar visceral reaction. It may be some time before I touch bottle or banjo.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Signs are good

You know you had a good night. It's 4am and you're punching your own face to stay awake on I95. It's real late, but it's Father's Day and you'll have their grace tomorrow. You are returning with the same amount of beer as you took. Fingers on your left hand are cut where multiple fish were brought in and you think about getting that Boga after all. Last night you did a headlamp check of knuckles and fingers to see they were not cracked or at unusual angles after that last fish defied your tight drag. The fish fought harder than I ever recall; all requiring the rod butt. Fisherman's Fall, in June.

You are returning home from Rhode Island with seaweed in a wash basin and some flies that have 50% less to them than they did earlier. Your greatest 'concern' these last 2 hours was keeping your hooked fish apart from your buddy's hooked fish. You are convinced, at least this time, that surf guys can keep the bigger fish because they're not having as much sport, pound for pound, as you are on a fly rod. Last night the fly rod was king.

Seaweed and beer - signs you've had it good.

A blur in Rhode Island


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carp Cathedral

We had quite the intense but brief storm last night, so I expected the water to be higher this morning, and it was. But it was manageable. Thick fog and near 100% humidity made for an interesting walk in the woods. I explored a lot of stream-side bottom land today, saw a lot of carp, missed one take, and found a large sycamore. I came home soaked to the bone and stinking of sweat and muck, but unfortunately, not of fish. But the new water I found has a lot of potential. I particularly liked the wide, flat pool with the high open canopy, where the sun tried to penetrate the fog. It had a cathedral-like feel to it...a carp cathedral.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Low Bred Grossness

I have a confession to make. In my last slurp* post, I claimed to have caught a carp during a quick trip to the grocery store. The truth is that I reached for the leader, at which point the tippet parted, sending both carp and my fly back into the murky depths. It just didn't seem like important information at the time, at least not information that you, Gentle Reader, needed to know. But the guilt has gotten to me**.

Plus, it makes the next story better. Two days later, I was back at the store and decided to take a peek: a carp! In the exact same spot! Could it be?

I scrambled over the concrete rubble, positioned myself, and pitched my fly. The carp took the fly, came to the surface, and in that brief instant I spied not only the fly to which I was currently attached, but also the rusty red fly from 48 hours previous!

No, that's not how it happened. I can't stand the lies any longer. The carp did take the fly, but it came unhooked immediately, and I never saw the fly. But it was probably the same fish.

Now, I have lost two fish from the same spot. This won't do. To a new spot I went, where soon I spied a feeding carp. I got a good slurp from this fish, but the shakes revealed this carp to be very small. Until it wasn't. After an initially uninspired fight of a few seconds, this carp made a bee-line for some very thick cover - a series of partially submerged trees, really. If I could turn this fish, it could be mine. But I couldn't, and it wasn't. When the carp finally surfaced to thrash about, it was so far back into the trees that I knew immediately that this was soon to come to and end, and so it did: pop goes the tippet, and another carp now swims adorned with a Brayshaw lip ornament.

Today, during my lunch hour, I returned to this place but found nobody home. A hike upstream, to new water, eventually revealed some carp. A brace of carp spooked, but then a bit upstream I spotted this shallow-water feeder.

I got above this fish, crept low, and knelt within range. It was feeding in just inches of water, and inches from the bank, such that the cast that produced a slurp involved no fly line in the water at all. An explosion of water, mud and scales followed but despite the gesticulations, this fish decided not to break for cover, and was landed in short order. I know that the appeal in carp fishing for so many fly fishers is the potential for long, fast runs but those of you who have tangled with carp in small water near tight cover know that this is really good shit.

[Editor's Notes: * carp do not strike flies, they slurp them: see minute XXX of the Brayshaw interview; ** it's interesting that he feels guilty about this, but not about deceiving his wife, isn't it?]

Monday, June 13, 2011

What good is a cat?

Some time ago, English Jonny asked me a very good question: "T.J., you have a cat. Why? A cat provides nothing but hair everywhere, and the untimely view of an anus at the breakfast table. What good is a cat?"

Before I could answer, his wife replied: "Ha! The answer then must be the same to 'What good is a husband.'

I spit out my toast and jam, but promised to ponder the question.

Now, I have a good answer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Low breeding and vulgar quality

"It is self-evident that no fish that inhabit foul or sluggish waters can be 'game-fish'. It is impossible from the very circumstances of their surroundings and associations. They may flash with tinsel and tawdry attire; they may strike with the brute force of a blacksmith, or exhibit the dexterity of a prize-fighter, but their low breeding and vulgar quality cannot be mistaken. Their haunts, their very food and manner of eating betray their grossness."

C. Hallock, author of "The Fishing Tourist" (1873)

I mean no offense Brother Hallock, but that's just rubbish. Take, for example, the last carp that I caught. Here's how it happened. My wife and I were planning the birthday party of my 5 year old son. The party was scheduled for 2 pm. At 9 am, my wife sent me to the grocery store to fetch a few last-minute items. As it turns out, the stream runs just past the grocery store parking after picking up my items, I naturally detoured across the parking lot to take a look. There, under a some over-hanging branches (which, I later learned, held mulberries...Oh! What joy!), were three feeding carp. My vittles were frozen, so I could only sigh, avert my gaze, and head home.

But! At 11 am, my wife asks if I wouldn't mind running to the store for just one more forgotten item. "I know you were just there, Honey, but I really need just one more thing," she pleaded. I hemmed and hawed a bit, rolled my eyes appropriately, then sprinted for the car, but not before a quick (but unseen) detour to grab the fly rod.

When I smelled the diesel fumes of the delivery trucks, I knew I was close.

I crept to the edge, peaked over, and there 'twas, the most wonderful of sights: low-bred, vulgar scaly grossness, actively feeding and oblivious to my presence. Who needs crystal clear mountain streams when you have this?

The water was so off-color (though I now refer to this pea soup as "on-color") that I was able to creep to within just a few feet of my target, and it took just two or three casts to get the presentation I wanted. The carp slurped the fly in, I set the hook, and it shot across the stream, leaving a groove in my line-hand that it still evident today, several days later. Once across the stream, the carp nosed up under the opposite bank...and would not move. When finally I managed to loosen my line, I could no longer feel the fish but instead only a branch. Defeated...or so I thought. But when I untangled the branch from my line, I saw that the leader continued upstream, and soon the carp was fighting again. Up to the rubble it came, a quick release followed, the fly rod was stashed, item purchased, and I returned home, my wife none the wiser. I had pulled off a double deception in less than fifteen minutes. If that's not 'game', I don't know what is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fishing Covered Bridges

"Come down here Jonny, by the river. There’s plenty of room,” I said to English Jonny on a recent fishing trip.

“Why?” he replied. “I can fish just fine from up here. In fact, from up here I stay out of the sun, but what’s more, I have a much better view of the fish. Why, there’s one right there…got ‘im!!”

“Jonny – that you caught that fish is fairly remarkable, but what I find astonishing is that you can make such long, graceful casts from inside that covered bridge. How do you do that!?” I inquired.

“T.J.,”, he replied, “I have been fishing covered bridges for decades. It’s really quite simple. You see, this bridge is built with windows on both sides, aligned perfectly. I simply stand in the center of the bridge, place my back cast through the window behind me and my forward cast through this window here in front of me.”

“And if there isn’t a window behind you for your back cast?” I asked.

“Oh, then you must use a roll cast.”