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

The Cremation of MMXVIII

We’ve used fire in the past, as a symbolic cleansing of the year gone by, and also as a welcome to the year ahead. A good fire also provides entertainment, along with the possibility of excitement.

MMX. Don’t worry, the excited-looking man in the foreground had no hair to begin with!

Continue reading

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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

Lapse

Time flies whether you’re having fun or not but, for a frog, time’s fun when you’re having flies. And never forget that, while time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

The subject of time attracts hyperbole, as when things take “forever” or when someone is “always” doing something, which you and I both know is impossible (reflexive, unconscious activities like breathing excluded).

I spent more hours fishing this year than in any of the past several, which is interesting, having spent those years living less than 200 feet from a lovely lake stocked with trout. No matter how much I did or did not fish, I could never have spent as much time fishing as the legends suggest (all of it), especially considering how much time some tellers of tales spent on the same lake themselves (hardly any).

It has been said that the time one spends fishing is not deducted from the time one is allotted on this earthly plane so, if the legends are true, some of us must be nearly immortal. Time spent in the company of cigarettes and whisky and wild, wild women* may be another matter entirely, so some of us will probably have to just call it a wash. Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

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. Continue reading

Categories: +Uncategorized, Humor, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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: , , , , , , | 5 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

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