Monday, November 26, 2012

When Black Friday Comes

When Black Friday comes, I'll collect everything I'm owed
And before my friends find out I'll be on the road
(Taken from Steely Dan's supreme work, Aja)

I awoke to find the yard full of turkeys. I'd come down stairs first. It's cold to be sleeping in the yard. I was to meet the boys late morning on The Housatonic River and I passed Z Fisher on the road, traveling at about 60 mile per hour (my car, not Steve). He was parked up taking pictures of an icy pond or a graveyard or something of greater value than being on time. Not that we were rushing. This is as informal as fishing days get, which of course they don't, really. To test this we play a game of how long we think we enjoy talking to Torrey in the fly shop before we realize we came here to wade the river and not get deeper into leader tectonics and considerable debt (I spent fifty dollars on nothing whatsoever.)

We've been meeting on Black Friday to fish for trout since back in the early 80s. That's not true, I'm just practicing my veteranese. Other than on Facebook, this is the only day of the year we see Brother Don Jiskra in the flesh. Though I'm not sure we'd admit it, this trip is partially designed to follow our arduous November Steelheading. It's something of a recalibration, putting us back in the mindset of fishing for things that won't leave us ill at ease mentally and that we might even land. It's more akin to fly-fishing and I've found that it helps.

Not that I fished with a bobber. The Salmon River style works for Housatonic trout, it transpires. Chuck it upstream into likely lies, prospecting here and there. I landed 5 nice trout in short order from one of the deeper little channels mid river. Good fish too. Even at a seemingly plentiful 650 CFS the fishy water is obvious on the Housy. Four of the fish took a small, yellow sulfur nymph, which of course shouldn't really happen in November.

The woman opened the door in her nightgown. I thought: strange place to have a door. The turkeys were in the yard.

Mostly, we get together on Black Friday to eat my wife's cranberry loaf, drink whisky, and most certainly because the rest of America is somewhere else.

9am on a national day of rest, somewhere else on the way to the river.

Zero Weight after Thanksgiving. Not like Pulaski.

A trout with a green Elastoplas, which indicates that it is, indeed, a trout.  

Fresh coffee and The Blessed Loaf, several trout to the good.
Z fisher through my Polaroids as I ate a turkey sandwich.
Thy Annual Don Jiskra. I could watch him nymph all day. He's very good at it.

Z with a fat one, and a lovely trout he caught at the death throwing a big yellow streamer.
Last knockings. No trout, but we did see an adult Bald Eagle as it soared majestically above the river like a patty of butter with some feathers sticking out of it.

Good Shit.


Friday, November 23, 2012

No shame in second place

It was bitterly cold today, with a biting wind thrown in for good measure.  We saw what I think must have been at least a couple hundred sandhill cranes.  Sandhill cranes spontaneously generate, at least here where I live, only in bad weather.  They must spend the nicer days as spores in a state of suspended animation, because I have never seen a sandhill crane on a nice day.  Still, it's worth it to venture outside to see them.  Sometimes they're very, very high in the sky, but usually, they're much, much higher than that.  The most fabulous sound in the world is that made by a Common Loon on a remote lake in the North Woods, but the sound that sandhill cranes make during their fall migration is probably a very respectable second place.

Too small to fish, but it is running water.

Brayshaw, The Younger

Fly-tying material, on the hoof.

Sandhill Cranes.  South is to the right.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Limit your intake

It’s shortly after 5:00 am, and I am watching the butter on my toast slowly melt. It trickles down into the varied crevices in the toast, taking an unpredictable path in the hopes, I suppose, that it will eventually reach the other side.  The parallel to my own life isn’t lost on me. 

I finish the toast, load the car, and I’m on the road just as the sun rises and casts a butter-yellow burst across the sky.  I don my waders and walk the short path to the river, pausing momentarily to take it all in.  Flowers, buttercups mostly, dot the forest.  Mist rises off the water the way steam rises off of a hot, buttery biscuit.  As I start down the bank, my feet slip in the mud, as if I’m walking on melted butter.  I catch myself, only to hook my toe on a root, and I land face down, the way a piece of toast always lands butter-side down. 

I collect myself, tie on a fly (a white and yellow cone-head wooly bugger commonly known as the “Bread and Butter”), and begin casting.  Soon, I’m in a routine, my mind wandering through various thoughts the way a pat of butter slides over the surface of a hot skillet.  I feel the line stop, but not suddenly; instead, there is slight resistance at first, and then more – the way your knife cuts through thawing butter, only to reach the still-frozen core.  Only then do I realize I have a fish on – a large fish – which takes off upriver, my fly line cutting the water’s surface like a hot knife through butter. 

I take up the slack, and begin pumping the rod like a milkmaid churning butter. The fish rolls and it’s an enormous brown trout with flanks the color of butter.  But I apply too much pressure and the leader parts.  There is a bitter taste in my mouth, like the taste of burnt butter – the taste of defeat.  But I’m out of time and the sun, now high, has awakened the meadow. There are butterflies everywhere.  I’ve promised my wife that I will insulate the attic today, which seems only fitting. 

I am haunted by butter.

[Editor's Note:  A little explanation is probably in order.  But you're not going to get it.]

Monday, November 19, 2012

Golden Mountain Sky


The morning burned golden on the mountain in the sky.  In the semi-polarized light, Angus saw the wake and the fish rolled.  His line never tightened, but he saw the broad tail.  At that moment, his cerebral cortex said “Aww, fuck it” and his amygdala began the slow but deliberate process of taking over Angus’s brain case.


At first, it was just the fish.  Then it was the fish on that fly.  Soon, Angus could envision the cast, the mends, the take – and he became unable to distinguish his daydreams from his ability to predict the future.  Once, when a different fish took the fly and broke him off, he became despondent.  He beat his wife Sarah senseless, went on a three-day bender, and then decided it wasn’t possible for his fish to break him off.  The very fact that the fish broke him off became proof that it wasn’t his fish.  Angus was a true believer.


On the twenty-third day of the seventh month of the second year that he pursued this peculiar form of perfection, Angus needed money.  Although he hadn’t slept for several days, it was dark and there really was no excuse for the long piece of iron rebar that jutted into the parking space at the Quik-E-Mart. As Angus pulled into the space, the rebar punctured the already rusted floor of his car, just missing his balls.  He pulled the rebar from the car, and entered the store.  There, he explained what had happened. 

“Listen,” he said. “I could use about $50, and I could use it a lot more than you could use a lawsuit.”

The night manager, a pock-marked, pot-bellied greasy man, looked at Angus side-ways and replied “Listen.  I could use you to go fuck your…” but before he could finish, Angus’s cerebellum, now a servant to his increasingly reptilian brain, had instructed Angus to execute a perfect Single-Spey with the 7 foot piece of rebar, and this struck the night manager in the temple, killing him instantly.  Angus reached across the counter and began pulling money from the register.

In a back room, the cashier and the ice-delivery kid shared a joint. It took a moment for the cashier to process what he had seen on the closed-circuit television, but when he had, he grabbed the ice kid by the sleeve and together they entered the store and approached Angus.  At this point, Angus turned and this put the approaching men “river right”, so to speak, and the first motion of his Double-Spey caught the ice kid across the forehead, ending his ice-delivering days abruptly.  The second motion of the cast took off the cashier’s nose, which hit the glass door of the beer cooler and slowly slid to the floor.


Angus did not return home the night of the speying, nor the next, nor any other night after that.  Sarah found his fishing diary, the one labeled “VI”, but could make no sense of it.  Each day had an entry, but every entry was the same and contained just numbers separated by forward slashes: “Oct. 5: 6,788/10,456/1/0.”  It was only later, after Sarah had found the journal labeled “III” that she realized the first number was "casts", the second "mends", the third was "fished moved", and the last referred to the takes.  This number was always zero, because Angus didn’t count takes that came from other fish.


When the authorities caught up with him, he was standing in the same spot where he had stood virtually every day for the last three years.  They watched him from high on the canyon rim, two through binoculars and one through the scope of a Remington 700 PSS in .308 caliber.  They watched him make the same cast, over and over, and marveled at how, each time, the fly line landed in the same place.  Of course, that wasn’t entirely true because on occasion, much to his disgust, Angus did not make the same cast or the same mends.  But only he knew this because to anybody else, they were perfect replicates.  Even if somebody had seen all of them- all 9,936,506 of them – they’d have never noticed which ones were wrong.

The captain shouted at Angus to drop his fishing pole and freeze, but at that instant the line went tight so naturally, Angus set the hook.  To the captain, it appeared as if Angus were drawing a weapon, so he whispered to the sniper to “Take him”, and a loud crack split the air and echoed through the canyon.  Angus’s feet slipped from beneath him and he slid into the water.  The captain congratulated the deputy on a nice shot, but the deputy replied “I never pulled the trigger.”  Across the water, the lawmen saw a giant fish leap, the fly and broken leader clearly visible in the fish’s huge mouth.

La fine

High up in the trees, two jays are scolding a third, who is down by the river, picking at a piece of Gore-tex stuck in the river rocks.  A dipper leaps from his wet perch into the river.  The fading light reflects off of the water like the embers of a dying fire, and a heron wades the shallows quietly as night falls.

[This piece was published in a slightly different form in the Spring 2013 issue of "The Drake" magazine.  Thanks to Tom Bie and "The Drake" for putting it out there.]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Polar Bear Hunting

On Saturday I went to the North Pole and shot a polar bear. This is how my young son described my recent steelhead trip to Pulaski to his teacher, who felt the need to check with his mother, just to make sure. This theme is not going to percolate throughout or reappear at the end of this post. I just want to mention the effect that a visit to Cabelas, and a father's fishing trip, can have on a young mind.

The banks of the Salmon River in Pulaski are covered in shit. Balls of nylon, hooks everywhere, polystyrene cups, pink rubber worms. Most of the rocks on the riverbed are scarred not by ice or saltation, one of two terms (drumlins the other) I now recall from geography class, but by Corkers and carbide boot studs. You're as likely to get hung up on someone's lost rig as you are a rock. At some point this past weekend, Steve Z and I wandered into a conversation about what the fish must think of the riverbed littered with sinkers and other dense junk. 

Sunday was a bust, but the fishing was nice. Zakur and I fished the runs behind the place, while Todd and the other Steve walked north. Fish weren't in the usual places and a man from Korea said that four week's ago you could walk across them. A bastard, that. Still, with a morning cigar to take away the taste of plastic breakfast, and Zakur's JetBoil for real coffee by the river, we were quite happy. That day I hooked two steelhead, one of which I fought for a while, and foul hooked a large brown. Across the party our numbers were very low, but the weather was warm. 

Monday was a great day. We'd walked into the place where it all went right in 2010 and found it packed with anglers. But fish were said to be holding in the transition water, whatever that is, so we walked and found room at the top of Bob's Honey Hole. It was in the mid-60s and the fish began to bite late morning and kept our interest until dusk. I hooked 8 fish and was lucky to land two. 

- o -

Pulaski is the most beautiful place on earth and I want to live there. It has everything I need. The first steelhead went about 7 or 8 pounds. It jumped, ran, and pulled hard. I played it gently down the run and into the belly of the pool as other gentlemen stepped aside to let us pass. At some point I realized I was still connected to the fish (this hadn't happened last year), and I saw the top portion of its spotted tail emerge from the water a good distance behind my line. Z was the perfect partner with me all the way with the landing glove and camera on hand. 

Among the other fish I hooked and lost that day I remember one. I hooked it at the top of a fast funnel of water and it turned downstream and took my whole fly line with it in no more than four seconds. It jumped twice and was big. I remember setting my drag tight but I'm coming to realize that the pull I give my line to test it just isn't enough. Many of the steelhead you hook on the Salmon are wonderfully un-catchable. 

Later that day I landed a better fish that was going on 12 pounds, give or take. It was a carbon copy of the first, though I noticed I'd gotten better at playing them, adding side-strain and the like. Its tail was even further from the fly and my legs were shaking the way they do when you're in trouble.  I also have a fond memory of two grown men trying to contain that fish in the shallows. And ultimately failing.

- o -

The last day it was gray and 36 degrees. We got to the river at 6.30am; the same pool as the day before, obviously. Two men picked up their pace to ensure they beat us to the better runs. I hooked and landed a brown of about 3 or 4 pounds; an otherwise glass case specimen that I dragged in with little ceremony. The boys below reported slow going. At 10.15am some cigars and coffee were taken streamside. We would give it another 15 minutes then end the trip. We re-entered the water and on the first cast I hooked a fine steelhead, which I was able to play down once more to the belly of the pool, where Zakur gloved it. I wish it'd been his. It was around 6 or so pounds and quite the most perfect looking thing you’d ever dream to catch.

Shit Food
The hardship of shit food and living in a single room with 4 guys becomes enjoyable enough that I feel quite despondent to be back at work, and it’s all because of these fish. They are the best I will ever hook; better fighters and every bit as pretty as the most pristine Atlantic Salmon. They make re-entry hard. My enthusiasm for career wanes and I wonder out loud if my kids would like to grow a little quicker so they can tag along to legitimize my weakness. 

Just another 15 minutes
Z Fisher Fishes
Thought he was mine
A crooked line
The Salmon River, Pulaski.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Old Photos

I like old fishing and hunting photos, and I like the oldest ones the best.  It's impossible to deny the wonder of the digital camera, but it takes something away from fishing and hunting photos.  I don't know what it is that it takes away, but it's real.  I think it's the smell of cigar smoke, outboard exhaust and Hoppe's No. 9 gun cleaning solvent.  I can smell those things in these old photos.

Father's mother's father - my great grandfather - second from right, in glasses.

Grandpa Brayshaw

Brayshaw, Sr., circa 1970, in Colorado

Grandpa Brayshaw: always photograph the first fish of the trip.

Brayshaw with freezer-burned big bass, circa 1988 (bass caught in about 1983)

Brayshaw, Ontario Canada pike, circa 1985.

Brayshaw, Sr.  One for the freezer, Ontario, Canada.

Hair: thick, lush, no more. Indiana, circa 1988

Brayshaw & hunting pal, Phragmites the Dog, rabbit stew, circa 1989.

Four fox squirrels, four shots, .22 caliber Ruger 77

Jonny: Successful fox hunt, two shots (one to make sure), 12 bore AYA.
Brayshaw is foxy too. Large hammer, two hits (to make sure.)