Castwell’s Curse is Lifted

In the short story “Mr. Theodore Castwell”, by G.E.M. Skues, the aforementioned and deceased Mr. Castwell approaches the Pearly Gates and presents himself as a fly fisher. Escorted to a perfectly lovely cottage next to a perfectly lovely piece of water, he catches fish after fish from the same spot, over and over again. When he decides to move along to another spot, he is told he may not, and it slowly dawns on him that he won’t, after all, be spending eternity in the place he thought he’d be spending it.

Halcyon Days

After eleven years fishing the same small watershed and lake in Vermont, Quill Gordon could relate. Same water, same fish, same “fellow” anglers — not all of whom treated him well — year after year. It was a classic case of Castwell’s Curse, exacerbated by the fact that there is some stuff up with which he will not put, and so it came to pass that Quill Gordon broke down his rods, packed up his gear and, unlike Castwell, got the hell out of there, making his way to a cozy hibernaculum at the top of the hill in which to pass the winter while waiting for the sap runs of spring.

“F*ck trout, those dainty, speckled beauties, always delicately sipping in their cold, limpid pools,” he thought to himself. “And f*ck those who are obsessed with them, too.”

Quill Gordon was in a serious f*nk.

Then a mid-winter message arrived, an invitation to fish somewhere other than what had become his home water. Suddenly it made sense again to have all those books about bass on his shelves. Henshaw and Whitlock and Murray displaced Proper and Brooks and Wulff on the table; skinny hackle and tiny hooks gave way to buck tail and an old box of #6 Stingers at the bench; lines designed for delicate presentations were stripped from their reels, replaced by heavy-headed rigs meant for slinging big flies into places where a little commotion can be a good thing.

Places like western Virginia.

The morning plane to Boston flew 150 mph at 5,000 ft. Fortunately, the afternoon plane from Boston to Richmond did 600 mph at 34,000 ft and Quill Gordon soon found himself drinking bourbon, listening to whippoorwills in the Appalachian twilight. Having shipped a gallon of syrup ahead, the bourbon tasted of maple.

Appalachian Twilight

It was Thursday night, and plans were made to fish for bass on Saturday and Monday, which makes this a good place in the story to inform readers that Quill Gordon didn’t really mean it when he thought to himself, “F*ck trout,” although the jury is still out on the anglers.

On Friday morning, Quill rigged up his 6′ 2-wt while the morning mist rose from the folds of the hills and, after a healthy breakfast, he was off to wade small streams in pursuit of Virginia’s famed brook trout. Having shipped a gallon of syrup ahead, the bacon and grits tasted of maple.

Morning Mist

Brook trout may not be trout (they are char) but they are enthusiastic, and it was almost anticlimactic to hook the first “away” fish in a decade on the first cast.

Almost.

Standing knee deep in an unfamiliar stream on the side of an unfamiliar mountain, there was still something familiar about the whole thing. The glint of sunlight on the riffle and the spray of diamonds at its tail when the little fish struck the #14 Adams felt remembered, not as anything in particular that had happened before, but in a vague, vestigial way. Kind of like deja-vu. Kind of like finding home in a place you’ve never been before.

Regular readers know not to expect pictures of fish (unless it’s an old picture of someone else holding them) but that small brook trout was significant. Castwell’s Curse had been lifted.

A Very Heavy Fish

It was a heavy little fish.

Some more photos of small streams fished last week in the George Washington National Forest in western Virginia:

To Mark, Gary, Todd, Mike, and Doc, I say thank you for inviting me down and accepting me into the group. Our times in Vermont were always special and I am fortunate to have been included in your spring ritual.

To all seven of my loyal readers, I say thanks for hanging in there with me while I worked on removing the curse that had been placed upon my head. This little jaunt gave me plenty to write about and I look forward to sitting down to share more.

Tight lines, wubbas.

~QG

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Fly Fishing, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Stepping Out in Style (plus a little music)

Regular readers of these pages know how dedicated I am to style, as well as the dignity and respect with which I treat the subject. In fact, in 2013, an entire Flashback Friday post was dedicated to style — the appropriately titled Style Issue. Since then, we’ve covered style from head to toe, with posts about hats, men’s outfits, and even shoes, all with the seriousness such subjects deserve and the gravitas readers have come to expect from me.

The inspiration for today’s post comes from the pages of The New Yorker‘s recent Spring Style Issue — specifically, the third page in.

Occasionally bumps into things.

I have grown used to not being in a target demographic when it comes to such ad campaigns, and it’s probably just as well. The handsome young man in that Armani ad is wearing lovely shoes but I am struck by several things when I look at it. First, there is a smudge on the right side of the page. It’s barbecue sauce and, for that, I apologize. Second, that man’s britches seem a little short to me and, around here, anyone with pants that short and not wearing socks is bound to pick up ticks. Third, those shoes look expensive and I shudder to think what even a mild case of plantar hyperhidrosis might do to the silk linings. Talk about smelly dogs!

Things might be different if I lived in Rome, but those are definitely not the shoes for me or, for that matter, anyone else I know. I live in Vermont and, curious to see what kinds of fashionistas I’ve been consorting with, I set out with my camera last Saturday to record some of the fancy footwear I came across. Okay, I didn’t set out anywhere; I spent half the day and all damn night in a sugarhouse and took pictures of people’s shoes as they came through.

Shoes, but only because someone made them wear something.

Boots make sense this time of year but I know those children. Their feet are covered only under protest. I also have a feeling socks weren’t part of the deal, either.

Easy on, easy off.

A gently worn Carhartt barn coat is the pinnacle of style around here, especially with something you can kick off and slip on easily. For some, laces are superfluous.

Sturdy and handsome, just like their wearer!

When an angry mom tells you to stop taking pictures of her child’s feet, do so immediately and take a picture of your own. Those boots are laced tight precisely so they don’t slip off, especially as a hot iron door swings open.

Basic black is always in style.

If the shoes worn by the model in that Armani ad were to get dirty or, heaven forbid, scuffed, there would surely be a very expensive leather emergency and perhaps even some crying. As long as they aren’t too deeply gashed, most of the shoes I came across last Saturday can simply be hosed off if the dirt is bothersome.

Ready for working, dancing, or just standing around.

Even late at night, when the Beautiful People flit about, the footwear didn’t change much, proving that day-time classics work just as well in the evening.

Speaking of smelly dogs…

I’m not the only person I know in Vermont with a subscription to The New Yorker but, when it comes to fashion and style, we are a very underserved demographic. I hope magazine editors and “influencers” will see this and make some effort to include some maple chic in their next campaign. The real kind, just like our syrup; not that corny catalog stuff.

Meanwhile, we’re working on a food issue for those with especially refined palates.

Cover spread for the Food Issue

«——————–»

Now for some music.

It’s not every day that an old shuttle van with Kansas plates slogs through the mud and up the hill to the sugarhouse, but just such a thing happened last weekend. The occupants of that van were not a bunch of senior citizens out for a joy ride or a church group on a lark, no sir. Instead, it was Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy, a band from Wichita, Kansas, on their way to do a show down the road at Magic Mountain.

Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy

With an eclectic sound that has been described as “a stagecoach in overdrive”, they blend bluegrass and brass with ska, punk and dixieland, at times even sounding like Tom Waits doing klezmer. After a few maple dogs and distilled beverages, they played a couple of songs as the syrup boiled, turning a good Saturday afternoon into a great one. It was enough to make us wish the sap wasn’t running so we could take the night off to go see their show. Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy is on tour through June; clicking the link to their website will take you to their schedule.

I’ve shared a video of them at Bobo’s Mountain Sugar on my Quill Gordon Facebook Page and here’s a video from the show they did that night. Enjoy. I’m pretty sure they weren’t wearing Armani, either.

 

Categories: +Uncategorized, Humor, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pictures Don’t Lie and Neither Do Fishermen

Digital technology has given us filters and apps that do all kinds of things to the images we share, making them “better” or even more “artistic” than what was originally captured. Some of us take liberty when sharing our surroundings, maybe simply tweaking the contrast or saturation, but some of us go so far as to create completely surreal, imagined landscapes to picture ourselves in.

Speaking of surreal, most of us, in our own heads, are stylized versions of ourselves (if not someone else altogether), and because we can alter the way we appear on a screen, humans being humans, we have done so to the point that “Snapchat Dysmorphia” is now a thing.

What’s next, digitally altered fish?

Now, before someone gets their knickers in a twist, I want to make perfectly clear that I am not implying in any way, shape, or form that a person who fishes might ever  present anything but the unvarnished truth. I’m saying it.

(Twisted knickers may be addessed in the comment section, below.)

Along with the digital wonders we can work with images, it is easy to take for granted that anyone, anywhere, can show a picture to everyone else in the world in a matter of seconds, something some of us do with alarming frequency.

There was a time we didn’t photograph everything, willy-nilly, and put it out there for all to see, as if it was interesting or important, fish included. Cameras weren’t part of our phones and we sure as heck couldn’t take our phones wherever we went. Instead of chips and a “cloud”, capable of holding pretty much everything there is, photos were recorded on a strip of treated plastic and the length of that strip determined how many pictures we could take.

The number of miles that film had to travel for a chemical bath and to have light shined through it onto special paper — which then got its own chemical bath — determined how soon we could see the pictures we’d taken. It was quite a process but my, how exciting it was to see those vacation pictures, sometimes weeks after they’d been taken!

With a fixed number of exposures on a roll of film, bad pictures cost the same as good ones, so every shot had to count. Companies like Kodak™ were there to help tell and preserve our stories, and if anyone can tell stories, it’s anglers.

Yeah, but I bet he’s going to tell you anyway.

An angler’s story, nicely told through photos. Handsome fellow gets in boat; handsome fellow nets fish; handsome fellow displays fish; handsome fellow ends up cooking hot dogs because that looks like a pike to me and everyone knows those things don’t taste good.

For less than $55 he could also have recorded 8mm movies, early precursors to modern video which, by the way, is much too easy to produce and distribute. Either way, it would have been days before he knew how his pictures looked.

Not that the aforementioned handsome fellow or his fish needed any work but, with all our opportunities to enhance, a modern angler might be tempted. With a little tweaking, that fish could become a good six inches longer and ten pounds heavier, but that was then and our hero is stuck forever with a middling 28-incher.

Not that the modern angler would need to do such a thing, especially with today’s cameras that can make any fish exciting. Miniaturization and advances in materials make it possible to take fish pictures our handsome fellow in the Kodak™ ad couldn’t even imagine. To think such a picture could be seen within seconds by anyone in the world would probably explode his tiny brain.

Such is the nature of modern life that we can present ourselves and our fish any way we want, any time we want and, in theory, our millions of digital fish pictures, doctored or not, will live forever out there in the cloud. But the truth is, despite their supposed immortality, most will never be seen again.

Old fishing photos have their own version of our modern cloud, consisting mainly of shoe boxes and old albums. Some are as faded as the memories they were meant to preserve, torn from their pages and consigned to dusty corners of antique shops and other such places frequented by the likes of me.

Most of the old photos I scan require a certain amount of doctoring to make them presentable but, no matter how much I struggle to bring out such things as the patterns of socks, there are some things I would never change even if I could.

Kodak print, 1949, location unknown

Handsome Fellow Displays Fish

 (cluttering up my own little corner of the cloud on Instagram)

 

 

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

1000 Words + 1 Picture

Startled awake by who knows what, Quill Gordon came-to face-down at his fly-tying bench. Slowly, he realized the wail he heard was not banshees at the door, just cold wind in the chimney. In the thin, feeble light of dawn, on the first day of the new year, he saw in his hand a Mason jar, the one in which he stored head cement thinner, now empty. Belching, he came to grips with the fact that, apparently, he had consumed the entire contents, no doubt in some sort of shack nasty-induced rage.

Shaking off a shaggy coating of cobwebs and dust, he sat up. Clipped deer hair covered the floor like whiskers in a sink. Afraid it might not actually be deer hair, and fearing the influence of such volatile fluids as blackberry flavored head cement thinner, he felt with his hands for his beard. It was festooned with hackle feathers but, much to his relief, largely intact, though noticeably grayer and longer than he remembered, as if an entire decade had passed. Continue reading

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Harder Than Counting the Stars

 

 

“The only thing harder to count than the stars is baby spiders.” — Natty Bumppo in “The Pathfinder” by James Fenimore Cooper, 1840

 

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Categories: Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Even More Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem (But Is It Art?)

Some say a well-cast fly line is art. The graceful flex of a rod and a tight loop unfurling is exquisite unless, of course, someone is using their “art” to poach your hole while you’re still fishing it; then those 80-ft casts are something else entirely.

Some say a well-tied fly is art. There is certainly skill involved, getting everything just-so but, from personal experience, I say the fish don’t give a fig about thread wraps or the number of tails an imitation has. There is also the question of “imitation of what?” but even so, you have to hand it to folks who can wrap some feathers, tinsel, and what-not onto a hook and create a marvelous thing of beauty.

I, myself, tend to rely on rough deer hair, bunched-up dubbing, and tufts of Antron® to achieve my results, choosing representation and function over beauty. Some people go the other way, creating as close to an exact copy of a food item as they can produce. Still, even the fussiest among them probably leave out little details in their replicas.

Details like the moustaches of mayflies.

Mayfly with a Moustache

They are actually antennae but their position, in front of those compound eyes and above that (non-functioning) mouth, makes them look like a moustache to me.

Another Mayfly with a Moustache

As adults, mayflies don’t generally live more than a day. There are some exceptions (not by much) but, by golly, you’ve got to admit that they spend the time they have looking good. There might just be some art in that.

Not Around for Long, but Looking Good While I’m Here

There might even be some art in these photos but who am I to say? They do, however bring art to mind, especially when I realize what those mayfly moustaches resemble.

Salvador Dali

Say what you will about his paintings, that moustache is art.

A surrealist in life, in death Salvador Dali has become the subject of a nearly surreal court battle in Spain, with Madrid’s Supreme Court recently ordering his remains to be exhumed in order to settle the paternity claims of a woman born 61 years ago.

Unlike Salvador Dali’s tightly waxed lip hair or the antennae of mayflies, my own archaically spelled moustache is bushy and a bit droopy but, in my own special way, I consider it art.

Not everyone agrees what is and what isn’t art. Some people think The Who were artists. Others believe Johnny Cash to be an artist unsurpassed. Heck, some people even find clowns and clowning to be high art, although I think we can all agree that paintings of clowns are, to say the least, a little creepy.

If only there were a way to combine The Who, Johnny Cash, and a clown. Now, that would be art, even if it didn’t include moustaches. Fortunately, just such a thing has occurred, thanks to Big Mike Geier and Puddles Pity Party:

Again, you’re welcome.

Categories: Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Neatly Trimmed and Ready for Inspection

Don’t worry — it’s been a very long time since Quill Gordon was neatly trimmed so this post is not about that. This post is about cutting the vegetation on an old earthen dam, something that must be done at least twice a year to inspect the embankment for animal burrows or changes that might go un-noticed if hidden beneath vigorously growing grass and pretty flowers.

There is always an outcry from certain quarters when the wildflowers get cut but the rule is that the person operating the machine gets to decide what stays and what goes. I’ve even offered to help get them geared-up but, so far, not a single 80 year old woman in a floppy hat has taken me up on it.

Before

For some, work is a spectator sport and some folks can watch it all day. I appreciate that not everyone has that much leisure time to spend watching someone else work so, with the aid of my trusty tripod, several hours of work has been compressed to less than two minutes for your enjoyment.

There are a some breaks in the action, though, for things other than refueling or getting a drink of water. The first one, early on, comes as a very nice man shares an important tip about using charcoal grills, having to do with the way Pyrex glass baking dishes can explode over such intense heat.

The second passes quickly and is not easy to catch from a distance so I’ll zoom in on a couple of frames and explain.

A Man with a Bag of Wet Clothes

As grandchildren will sometimes do, this man’s had “accidentally” gone swimming, fully clothed, and now he needed a dryer. Not the clothesline on the porch of his camp, a dryer.

Of course, I was happy to oblige.

Same Bag of Wet Clothes, Different Man

In other words, just another typical day at Fish in a Barrel Pond.

Now, take a little break from your work and watch someone else do theirs:

Yep, that darn Quill Gordon, fishing all the time.

After

 

 

Categories: Humor, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

More Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem

As if making the transition from aquatic nymph to airborne adult (imago) wasn’t enough, mayflies do so without passing through a pupal stage. Instead, they emerge from their nymphal shuck with fully formed wings as a subimago, somewhat drab and not yet sexually mature. After a short rest with nothing to eat, they shed their skin one more time, spread their clear wings and join others of their kind for the first and only sexual experience of their lives.

Long Arms for Grabbin’ the Ladies

Random handing-off of sperm packets is probably more like it and there’s no regretting one’s choice, for they all soon will be dead. Such is the life of a mayfly. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem for Your Monday

People come to these pages for many reasons. Some actually subscribe and come on purpose but others simply stumble in as the result of tragic search engine accidents. Either way, many go away confused, some even leaving before they get to the good stuff.

Short-form posts are not our forte here at Fish in a Barrel Pond. A thousand words is never out of the question, meaning someone could spend four or five whole minutes reading these ramblings. We do our best to reward intrepid readers and most posts end with a treat, whether it finally be the punchline or an interesting photo or video.

No guarantees as to word count, since we’re just getting going, but the plan for this post includes multiple treats. We’ll let you decide for yourselves which are the treats and we’ll also drop the pretense of referring to myself in the third person.

An Unblinking Stare

The so-called “major” hatches of mayflies have begun for the season. Some are sporadic but others come off like clockwork, albeit a different clock than we puny humans watch. Intricate, delicate and very nearly absurd, they exchange the drab coloration and digestive tracts of their nymphal stages for the reproductive organs and gaudy apparel of adults. I find them in boats, on porch screens, clapboard walls, and in spider webs. When someone asks “What’s hatchin’?” I know, and not because I’m fishing all the time. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Correction and an Earworm

I stand corrected. It is not, as I wrote in my previous post, the town of Glocca Morra that mysteriously appears every 100 years. As anyone who has not had three glasses of whisky knows, it is Brigadoon.

This error was delicately pointed out on my Facebook page by a dedicated reader and friend who not only called me “dude” but also suggested a Lerner and Loewe marathon as penance.

The post in question has been corrected, of course, but this penance thing might be going too far. Isn’t it enough to have had “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” stuck in my head for three days? Must I also suffer the repetition of tunes from musicals like “My Fair Lady” and “Paint Your Wagon”?

Never mind the fact that I already do.

Making mistakes is a part of life. Owning up to, and correcting them, is the right thing to do but this situation also presented me with the opportunity for some seriously manly introspection. In this case, such manly introspection was facilitated by a walk in the woods and, as fate would have it, another Lerner and Loewe song got stuck in my head.

Mark Twain, in “Punch, Brothers, Punch”, suggested that the best way to get rid of an earworm was to transfer it to someone else. With that in mind, I am happy to share that song with you, featuring Clint Eastwood, walking in the woods and doing some seriously manly introspection of his own (after the ad, of course).

You’re welcome.

 

 

Categories: +Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments

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