Posts Tagged With: Fly Fishing

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.



*the third hour*

TANT. Well played with the hammer, sir; that commode didn’t stand a chance. To think we nearly didn’t have this opportunity to fish from this small boat! In order to have just the right fly, I’ve brought along an entire bag of fly boxes to cover all situations.

CAST. As for the commode, you did your part, too, being so quick with the mop, but there is not time to tie on even a fraction of your collection!

TANT. You’ve caught a fish, sir. What delicate bit of art have you chosen from your tin that formerly held mints?

CAST. It is a size-14 cream-colored dubbing wad with crumpled deer hair legs.

TANT. But it looks like nothing!

CAST. It also looks like anything and anything will catch more fish than your fly, which is nowhere near the water.

TANT. But now we have drifted or they have moved and my fly falls short. In order to cast further I shall stand!

CAST. Then widen your stance and find your center before you pitch us both overboard! And observe, Nimrod, that the fish on your side have now seen you in the sun and are even further away. I choose to stay low and cast into the shade of the shoreline.

TANT. But you cast so close to the shore that your fly will surely land in a shrub! Hey! You’ve caught another fish with your cream-colored dubbing wad with crumpled deer hair legs!

CAST. No, I changed my fly while you churned the water with that ball of tinsel you lob so recklessly.

TANT. Did you change to an Elk Hair Caddis? Queen of the Waters? Hare’s Ear? Are the wings up or down? Did you select a Wulff style fly? Is it wet? Is it dry? Is it red or is it green? Yellow? I probably have one of whatever it is in my bag.

CAST. Same fly, but brown. I have a black one, too.

TANT. And another fish! How many is that?

CAST. This makes three and the rest are a given, as long as the breeze blows this way, so that’s that. There’s work to do before lunch and more to do after. Take us ashore.

TANT. But I do not yet know, precisely, what the fish are feeding on!

CAST. Something small, with crumpled legs. See? I’ve caught another one! Take us in now or you won’t get to clean septic filters later.


*the fifth hour*

TANT. There is no breeze and the lake is like glass!

CAST. A breeze would be a blessing, right about now. Or a thousand fragrant posies, of which this stench is the opposite. Be quick with that bucket and brush! The sooner you put that filter back in place the sooner we close the hatch on this foul portal.

TANT. I see a rise! And another!

CAST. Let me tell you there are no fish in this vault. You are overcome by fumes and we will both succumb to the miasma if you are not careful and quick.

TANT. Oh, sir, not in the septic tank. I speak of the lake. From shore to shore its surface is dimpled by rising fish!

CAST. Look at your work and watch which way you scrub and swish that thing. Gobs of grease and shreds of wipes spray in every direction!

TANT. I’m trying to be careful, I should have worn gloves, but the fish are feasting on something like children on candy!

CAST. I shall impart to you, Nimrod, that the trout are feeding on ants. I will also tell you my eyes are burning and I wish you would hurry.

TANT. Sir! Ants can not swim. Do they walk to where the fish are?

CAST. If you would only finish this task I would tell you of ants on their nuptial flights.

I would tell you of new queens, fat and tasting of lemons, flying for the first and only time on wings meant to last less than a day, each with a tiny consort, who hangs on for dear life until the ride is over. You would learn that sometimes they land on loamy earth and the two start a colony together, but sometimes their wings give out over water where they wallow helplessly until they are eaten by trout. Oh, never mind. Now that I’ve told you, put the lid back over this hole!

TANT. Watch your step, sir!

I am pleased greatly to offer my collar for you to grab onto. I am more pleased to see only one of your legs went in, and only part way, but you are choking me. Follow me to the ground and you will be clear. That’s it.

First, I will replace the cover so no one important falls in. Then I will bring my bucket and brush. I shall have your pants scrubbed clean in a jiffy and we can fish for trout. They still rise!

CAST. Take this rule with you: the busier you are, or the busier you should be, the more fish will rise within your sight. And remember this also: When ants sprinkle from the sky the fishing will go one of two ways. You will either have a fly close enough to the real thing and feel like an expert until you tire of the sport, or nothing at all will do and you will abandon your rod so no one will see you surrounded by rises yet fishless.

Stay away from me with that brush and gather the dirty linens from yon camp while I burn these britches and bathe. I shall return forthwith, bearing fresh sheets for the important anglers due to arrive this very afternoon.

TANT. The anglers just now pulling in, three hours early? Should we sing them a song? I will sing if you will sing but if you don’t I won’t because I’m not that kind of fellow.

CAST. There will be no singing and it looks for us like no fishing, either, at least not while these ants fall. I advise you to busy yourself preparing the camp until I return. I dread the wrath of anglers who find all is not in readiness.

TANT. But we are not late. They are early.

CAST. To men such as them it is much the same thing.

Men Such as These


*the seventh hour*

TANT. The waste lines have been cleared from inlet to outlet, the beds are dressed with fresh sheets that smell of lavender, and the anglers have all settled in. Some are in boats, surrounded by rises yet fishless, while others are in their cups, contemplating their own fishlessness. We ourselves enjoy small cups of barley wine here on the porch and I see, as the shadows creep out from the western shore, mayflies rising like upwardly trending snowflakes above feeding trout. What now?

CAST. My friend, you have kept time with my thoughts. But with conditions such as these, the fishing can go one of two ways…

TANT. I am confident which way it would go, with your guidance and sagacity and what not.

CAST. Another cup to seal the deal, then you will procure a boat and again you’ll do the rowing. We’ll find fish, fret you not. Now, take your nourishment.

TANT. I would like to think I have just the right fly. I’ll bring my bag.


*the eighth hour*

TANT. You had me row all the way to the far end of the lake and now we must sit and wait? My hopes of catching a fish fade with the light.

CAST. Fishing for trout requires patience and fortitude, Nimrod. One must study to be quiet.

Look to the east, atop yonder hill. The moon rises there and the fish rise here.

TANT. Indeed they do! Dainty sippers in all directions and did you see that mayfly? The one the size of a small pterodactyl? I know for a fact I have a pattern for that in a box at the bottom of my bag. At last I am witness to a legendary hatch, at the right place at the right time and with the right fly!

CAST. You would do well to look again and perhaps reconsider.

TANT. No, I’m sure of it. You go ahead and cast while I find that fly. Oh, I see you already are. I see, too, that you’ve caught a fish. I’ll join you shortly and we can both relish such merry making sport.

CAST. I’ve caught another while you rummage.

TANT. So now my knot is tight and my fly is there, to the right of where that fish just sipped. Another fish missed my fly, this time to the left! I see my fly but the fish evidently do not. Nor do I see your fly, obscured as it is in the mouth of that trout you’re bringing in. Oh, another close rise to mine and now two more! Mayflies emerge on all sides of our boat but the fish seem blind to everything but your fly, about which I hesitate to ask. Another size-14 dubbing wad, no doubt.

CAST. Do not forget the crumpled deer hair legs, but in black, imitating adults of another, smaller species, landing exhausted and spent from the exertions of propagation. They are easy pickings as they lay prostrate on the surface while what you refer to as pterodactyls launch themselves into the air. They, too, will return, exhausted and spent, in the hours before sunrise and truly large fish will come out to gorge on them in the dark. Until then, a black dubbing wad with crumpled legs will do, but when things are like this the fishing can go one of two ways…

TANT. Before sunrise you say? ‘Tis a match, sir: I’ll not fail you, God willing, to be at this very spot tomorrow morning before first light. Surely I will catch a trout then!

CAST. You’ll not fail me if you’re not here, for I won’t be either.

Tomorrow is another day in a long succession of days. Something will need scrubbing while, not a hundred yards away, brown trout chase minnows. Something else will require percussive maintenance and, while you pick up the pieces, a pod of rainbows will swirl past, plucking at midges. And I know, as I bring in one more fish, there will be no shortage of sheets that no longer smell of lavender. Now row us away from here before my drifting fly snags another one right in the lip.

TANT. Where to, sir? Shall we go ashore and bide time until the pre-dawn pterodactyl spinner fall? A quaff and a song or two, perhaps?

CAST. A quaff, yes, and who knows what we may bay beneath the moon. But your task now is to stop rowing in circles and find the dock.

We’ve Lost the Cork


*the eleventh hour*

CAST. Aw, look at you, with your head on the table! Pick yourself up and go to bed.

TANT. What? I was visualizing the pre-dawn pterodactyl fall, sir. Besides, this bottle is not empty and we’ve lost the cork!

CAST. Then slosh some more in our cups, Nimrod, not on the table this time, and let me tell you that when it comes to pre-dawn pterodactyls the fishing can go one of two ways…

TANT. Sir, you’ve slumped to the floor again.

CAST. Well, hand me my drink; I can sing just as well from down here.

Mayflies in the mornin’

Mayflies in the evenin’

Mayflies at supper time!

Dubbin’ wads and crumpled legs!

Spinners done layed their eggs!

TANT. Sir, that song is just as bad as the one you sang last night and the one the night before that but I thank you heartily for it. Let me help you to your room and we’ll get a fresh start tomorrow. Things will be different then, I’m sure.

∼∼ END ∼∼



Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fishing Indoors with Cocktails

There are those among us who believe they are not properly admired when they catch a fish, nor are they showered with proper adulation. No crowd goes wild and no drums are beaten when they bring a fish to net.

Nimrods who release their catch might get a photo or two, nearly identical to the thousands of others floating by on social media, and can spend the rest of the weekend hounding their friends for “likes” and their friends can spend the rest of the weekend avoiding them.

Under some circumstances, fish may be kept and consumed. One of the most iconic images associated with fly fishing is that of fresh fish, fried over a streamside fire. Brookies for breakfast beneath pines dripping dew.

Sometimes, where it is allowed, larger fish are brought back to camp and laid out on a table for all to see before being prepared in such a way that they become unrecognizeable. Pieces of skin adhering to the hard crust of burned corn meal stuck to a cast iron pan are sometimes the only clues remaining as to why the pan was in the trash. Continue reading

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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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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

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

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