Fly Fishing

In Need of Improvement

If people want to do yoga with goats, or in hot rooms, or even on paddle boards, they should. If they want to put on kimonos and sit awkwardly in the woods, that is fine by me, too. At this point, anything that puts us closer to the better angels of our nature would be welcome. Peace and justice were the dreams of our ancestors and terrible divisions among us are the dreams of those who wish us harm.

Of an Evening

As has been implied multiple times in these pages, fishing is my goat yoga on a paddle board. I spent a decade fishing a private lake where, for some guys, fishing meant trolling in the morning, a nap in the afternoon, and then a quick toddy or two before motoring out to fish the evening rise with white Wulffs and cream-colored duns. For me, it meant finding odd seams of time when nothing else was going on, my work was done, and no one on the water would object to my presence. I fished a lot of hot Sunday afternoons and rainy Wednesdays (which were when the blue-winged olives came off.)

A BWO Day.

Booming long casts over still water while surrounded by trout is quite a thing, but I have always been fond of small streams and brook trout. The aforementioned lake is fed by just such a stream, full of rocks, shaded by hemlocks, with brush tight to the banks, and one day the chair of the committee in charge of improving the fishing by “improving” the ecology asked me, “Quill, how do you think we could improve that stream?”

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked in return.

“Well, you can’t fish it, for one thing,” she replied.

“But I fish up there and it’s full of little native brookies,” I said.

“That’s the other thing,” she said. “They’re so small!”

I tried to make the case for cold, clear water and tiny char, but to no avail. She ended the conversation, saying I obviously understood nothing about habitat improvement and her committee set out to see about opening things up back there by taking out the hemlocks and maybe dredging some pools large enough to hold proper fish.

Analysis Paralysis set in and that plan died on the vine. Benign neglect is still the best thing to ever happen to that stream.

Lately, I’ve been fishing nothing but streams like that, exploring a nearby drainage that was rearranged nine years ago by Tropical Storm Irene. A friend recently asked where I was headed and when I told him he said, “You can’t fish that, can you?”

“No, probably not,” I lied.

You can’t fish that!

It’s a little more tactical than sitting in a boat, waiting for mayflies, but it is fishing none the less. It is also more strenuous than sitting in a boat, waiting for mayflies, and this week I managed to explore less than half a mile of stream in just under three hours. Sure, I sat on a rock and smoked and I took a few pictures, but there were so many pools to sneak up on and so many runs to drift flies through that it took longer than expected. Also, skipping from stone to stone is not an option for hauling my no-longer-inconsiderable bulk through the jumble of boulders that distinguish this stream.

Trying to be sneaky.

Quill Gordon does not take many pictures of fish and posts even fewer. Pulling dinks out of their holes might be debatable sport and anything that can vibrate on the end of a line like a brook trout deserves to be returned as quickly as possible. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t keep count of how many fish were caught but I can’t tell you how many fish were caught because you would think I was lying. Three measured longer than six inches.

Millions of small, green, moth larvae are eating their way through the forest right now. Some cartoonishly chew leaves out from under themselves, falling to the ground or into the stream, while others descend on silken threads and still others simply fall. No matter how they got there, the brookies were eating them, and the savvy summertime small stream specialist always carries a supply of caterpillar patterns. I squinted at a #16 light green hare’s ear nymph and declared it close enough.

Left to right, through the sunlight…

Fifteen minutes and a world away, cold water flows through a narrow slash on the side of a very old mountain. Periodically churned to the point humans might consider it ruined, this stream has been through a lot, as have the fish and everything else living in and around it. Always changing yet somehow remaining the same, and not needing improvement.

Occasionally Rowdy

With my head somewhat cleared, I clambered out of this little mini-canyon and back to the car. Rod stowed, boots in the back and bag on the seat, I drove along a Forest Service road, trailing a cloud of dry dust despite my lack of speed. Windows down despite the dust, I turned left where I normally turn right. A stretch of stream I hadn’t noticed before emerged from a long heap of boulders, beyond a dozen downed trees. Putting it in my pocket for later, I turned around and slowly headed home, listening to the crunch of gravel beneath tires and the warbles of warblers in the understory.

A few hours in the woods did not change the world, certainly not in a way I would like — in fact, it had gotten worse, but the change of perspective did me good. Thinking of these small, headwater streams and their fish of appropriate size as I returned to the world as it is, I was not so sure it’s the land, water, and fish that need “improvement”.

I think it’s us.

Goat Yoga on a Paddle Board

 

 

 

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, politics, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

In Extremis

I worry about us people sometimes. In fact, way back in January, I started a post for these pages in which I expressed some of that worry. As keeping up with the news became like drinking from a fire hose, my worry did not decrease, and you don’t need me to tell you we live in interesting times. So interesting, in fact, that the aforementioned post was abandoned as a draft and it was only recently that I, myself, mustered up the courage to come back and make it look like someone lives here.

Pardon the dust. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Castwell and Tantalus go a-Angling

In a short story by G.E.M. Skues, Theodore Castwell is an angler who, after death, finds himself fishing the hole of his dreams, for eternity. In Greek mythology, Tantalus is such a jerk that he finds himself surrounded by things he desires, just out of reach, for eternity. Here at The View From Fish in a Barrel Pond, Quill Gordon finds himself relating to both predicaments although he eventually has the good sense to extract himself.

Inspired by an old copy of The Compleat Angler and a jug of cider, what follows imagines Castwell and Tantalus as Piscator and Venator, in the style of Izaak Walton, Charles Cotton and oh, I don’t know, Ed Zern, I guess. Illustrations by J. Eyre, in a Collins’ Pocket Classic Edition of the Compleat Angler published in Great Britain in the 1930s(?).

~~~

*the first hour*

TANTALUS. Wait, sir! Wait! I can’t keep up with you.

CASTWELL. I hold back for your benefit but you’ve still not caught up. What’s keeping you?

TANT. Trout are swirling, right there, not fifteen feet from shore! A few minutes is all I ask, to ascertain what they feed on. After that, it won’t take long to bring a few to hand.

CAST. Spent mayflies, no doubt, perhaps a few cripples that never made it off the water last night. Or little brown beetles that crashed, trying to fly before they were fully warmed by the morning sun. Take your pick. The breeze brings them here, nearly every day at this time. But this is not a time to be fishing. There’s work to be done!

TANT. Half an hour at most! I see them right there! Twelve casts, and I will be all about business. Honest.

CAST. Your first business this fine day is a leaking commode but don’t worry yourself one bit; with each other for company, time for us will drag by only twice as slowly. Fishing may come later, after the commode. Bring a hammer, just in case. Continue reading

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From the Mixed Up Bookshelves of Quill Gordon: The Flying Fisherman

“The Flying Fisherman”

Roscoe Vernon Gaddis was born in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1896. When he was thirteen, his family moved to Great Falls, Montana, which is where, among other things, he caught his first rainbow trout and met Buffalo Bill. In 1915, he missed his chance to play professional baseball when he skipped a try-out with the St. Louis Cardinals because he heard the bass were running on the White River in Arkansas. Having passed up a career opportunity like that to go fishing, it is fitting that fishing eventually became his career.

Everywhere he went, whether working as a gandy dancer on a railroad gang in Iowa, selling vacuum cleaners in Minnesota, or driving mules in Louisiana, he fished. When the United States declared war on Germany, in 1917, he enlisted in the Army, signing up for the Signal Corps because that’s where the airplanes were and he had wanted to fly ever since he’d seen his first plane several years before. Shipped to San Antonio for basic training, while waiting for his air cadet application to be approved, he fished for bass in the Little Medina River. Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized, Fly Fishing | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Book Suggestion: The Feather Thief

“I don’t think you want to write that story… Because we’re a tight-knit community, fly-tiers, and you do not want to piss us off.” — Roger Plourde, quoted in The Feather Thief

“…The Feather Thief proves that the most obscure, “candy-ass” activities can be made interesting for the general reader.” — The Times of London review of The Feather Thief

Kirk Wallace Johnson served with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq, first in Baghdad and then in Fallujah, where he was the agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction. He has also worked extensively on behalf of Iraqi refugees and is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. If anyone ever could benefit from fly fishing, it was him, and it was while fishing that he heard a story that made him want to know more. The Feather Thief is the result of his investigation, which took more than six years.

Risking the wrath of fly-tiers and their tiny scissors, Mr. Johnson has taken a deep dive into the “feather underground” which, in this true story, consists mostly of people who tie Victorian salmon flies using authentic materials called for in the original recipes. Unfortunately, many of the feathers in those recipes are rare and expensive, heavily regulated by international treaties and acts intended to protect the endangered birds who possessed those feathers in the first place. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

A Visit to Mossy Creek Fly Fishing

One of the most important things to remember when booking a guide for a fishing trip is to make your reservation early, especially for popular guides on popular water at popular times of year. Still, it never hurts to ask, and the folks at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing couldn’t have been nicer while explaining to me, in mid-April, why a guided float down the Shenandoah for smallmouth bass in early May was out of the question, though they still had spots open for May of 2019.

A self-guided float down a nearby stretch of the Shenandoah, however, was more within the realm of possibility so, when rain chased us off the lake on Saturday afternoon, five damp-ish, possibly smelly, smart alecs mounted an expedition to Mossy Creek’s shop in Harrisonburg, VA, for advice and flies to use on Monday’s river run. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 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

Objects May Be Smaller Than They Appear

There are those who believe places like this simply emerge from the mist at the beginning of each season, like some rustic Brigadoon.

Fish in a Barrel Pond

Those people have never chased a possum from beneath a bunk with a broom. As long as the lights are on, the toilets flush, there’s a fire in the stove and — most importantly — the ice is off the lake, they are free to believe in magic but, just between you and me, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Getting six old camps up and running by the last Saturday in April is one thing; keeping them running is another. Throw in a bunch of anglers at the height of black fly season and May becomes a bit of a blur, even if one’s left eye isn’t swollen shut by a fly bite in the lashes. They can be enough to make a guy want to thrash his arms over his head and go running into the woods screaming but, deep in my heart, I love them and I try to remain stoic. For the flies, I just try to remember the bug spray.

Emerging

Continue reading

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