Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016: An Idiot Finds a Village

My year began cold, solo, and guilt-ridden.  A person really shouldn't feel guilty about what they've intended and planned for their blog, but a recovering perfectionist is subject to a different set of self-imposed standards.  I started a series in 2015 entitled, "Opportunity Knocks" and was having a hard time writing the conclusion.  There was an occasional acquaintance that dropped by to read some of my Entropy®, and Eddie Rivard had somehow managed to wander in and read a little.  But, given a general lack of audience, this was much more of a journal than blog at that point.

In March, I finished Part IV of the Opportunity Knocks series.  Miraculously, Howard Levett of Wind Knots and Tangled Lines stumbled across that piece and featured me on his blog a short time later.  I consider myself very luck to now have a core group of friends that drop by.  Thanks to you, my journal has been transformed into a conversation space.

I'm also very thankful to have had the opportunity to fish alongside many friends this year.  I am fortunate to be able to travel frequently, and even more fortunate to have made friends like this, some old friends and some brand new ones.

Click any image to enlarge
My wife has known Joe Bloomquist since a Montana Elk Hunt in 2010.  In 2011, Joe started teaching the fine art of fly angling to Mrs. Fading Angler and The Offspring.  We've fished with Joe (or one of his best guides) almost every year since then.  During our many hours of floating the Missouri River in Montana without another soul around, I'd like to hope that we became friends.

Joe, for whatever it's worth, this photo and the memory of that 20 minute casting lesson are one of my favorite memories and moments of the year.  

Mrs. Fading Angler is my most reliable fishing buddy.  We had an EPIC two days of floating with Joe in April.

It's difficult to imagine two better days of fishing.

After corresponding with Eddie, a fellow Minnesota resident, I managed to bribe him with a couple of bratwurst into letting me follow him around for a few hours.  We fished some water that was new to both of us and became a favorite stretch for me this past year.

Coincidentally, Eddie and I had another favorite angling spot in common: the North Tongue River at the north end of the Big Horn mountains in Wyoming.  And in another barely-believable coincidence, we discovered we'd both be fishing there on the same weekend in August.

Unfortunately, I can't find the photo that his father took of us together.  I guess I'll have to request it. again.  Oh, well.  Let's just say that I was pretty darn happy to fish with Eddie not once, but twice.

Clayton and I emailed back and forth for a while before we were able to find an opportunity to share some water.  Hoping to do it again sometime in January or February.  Winter season opens in one week!

One of the best things that's happened to me this year is this guy: Howard Levett.  Not sure what else to say, other than I was proud to appoint him the as the Grand Marshal of the Royal (P.I.T.A) Order of Fading Anglers.  May you fish for many more years, Howard!  Thank you for bringing me into your village.  Looking forward to seeing you at the Flyfishing Show in Denver.

Ralph is another member of the Fading Angler Pro-Staff.  He's been a rock for me.  An amazing, inspiring man with immeasurable talent.  I'm honored to have him alongside me as  Parkinson's Disease pushes further into my brain and my life.  I hope to be able to return the favor in some way.

Thank you, Ralph.

And thank you to everyone who has stopped here, left a comment, and added something to my life.  I've been an introvert for much of my life, but always looking for somewhere to belong.  I've told several people over the past couple of years that fly angling has kept me sane and probably saved my life.  Those of you who have taken the time to join my journey here or go fishing with me...

You've adopted a happy idiot.

I hope you'll stick around for 2017.  Please.

God, I'm a lucky man...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Another Angler's Thoughts and a Little Push

Thanks to some new connections on Twitter (@FadingAngler if you dare!), I was fortunate to wander across some recent writing from April Vokey.  April is one of those people who have found a way to successfully make their living in the outdoors.  She a guide, writer (I guess I mentioned that already), and the kind of adventurer I wish I could be.  She's also really into Swift fly rods, like my Epic 686.  Yeah, she's cool.  Much cooler than me.

Recent Swift promo on Twitter, featuring April.

Here's what caught my eye, my mind, and my heart when I saw this in her Twitter feed (reprinted with permission):

As an animal lover, this whole hunting thing has been very emotional. Never have I felt so attached to the food I eat, or to the food I see so often go to waste. I feel a responsibility to know where my food comes from, and to limit my grocery store shopping when there's been an animal killed for my wellbeing.
It's been hard. I've lost sleep. I've had to take some very deep looks into who I am as a person. Yet, I've still decided that this is for me, that I will still eat meat, and that I will always feel a connection to nature - the day that I can't accept this, I will stick to eating fish... but I just don't foresee that in the near future.
Vic and Kath from @oceanhunter_sportsfishing have taken me under their wings to open my eyes to this new world. Kath has fed me some of the most incredible meals made with wild game, and Vic has taught me how to gut and prepare an animal. I thought it would be one of the hardest things I've ever been a part of, but while he and I were doing the stuff so many of us try to pretend doesn't happen, I kept asking myself, "would you still eat a pork burrito"? Why, yes I would. And until I make the decision not to, I choose to come to grips with the reality of where my food comes from, as well as all the pain, heartache, and hard work that goes along with it.
I think I'll always cry after a kill and I'm ok with that. I'm ready for it. You'll never see me smiling and posing with an animal (this is likely the most graphic photo I will ever post), you'll never see me sponsored by a hunting company (this time I'm keeping this sport as mine... there will be no career involved here. It's so exhilarating to be just as excited over a sport as I was when I first got into fishing), and I will always respect that not everyone understands where I'm coming from (I'm sorry mom and dad) ... but, for now, I'm still craving pork burritos. Didn't see this one coming. Xo
I'm going to assume that this was the first time that April had ever taken the life of a land animal with intent.  Regardless, her feelings rippled across a normally calm spot in my mind like a pebble tossed in a pond, and resonated.  I immediately admired April for her honesty and for her courage.  She had the courage to challenge her own beliefs and test her ethics.  This is the best kind of intelligence.  Her reaction feels raw and very genuine.  I believe that these words and feelings come from the core of who she is.  And I'm grateful she had the courage and desire to write publicly about it, because it's time I faced a lingering internal dilemma of my own, one that The Little Voices® and I have not been able to resolve on my (our?) own: the ethics and morality of catch and release fishing.

I'm hoping April would be willing to participate in a discussion with me.  I'm also hoping that I can spend some time chatting with my friend and frequent fishing guide Joe Bloomquist. I need other people's perspectives, and I need to challenge my own philosophy a bit, because I despise hypocracy and won't tolerate it in myself, even if it means I never catch-and-release again.

It might take a while to arrange these conversations, but I'll report back when I can. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

I'm not dead yet!

I was doing so well with my blog up until very recently.  I was actually a bit pleased with myself, how I'd managed to keep writing for most of the year. Then...

Well, we don't dwell on sad stories around here, right?  Nor should we!  Luckily, for the first fall/winter season in many a year, I haven't been experiencing a late-year affective downslide.  I will acknowledge that I'm facing some new difficulties with Parkinson's Disease.  Yet, other than some initial confusion (and perhaps a very minor freak-out), I'm surprisingly upbeat right now.  And busy!

Parkinson's gives me a very limited number of hours during any given day where I can operate a keyboard without experience a significant amount of pain.  Being an IT professional, I need to use almost all of this time for work, so blogging has somewhat become a form of "suffering for my art..."  Not that what I do could try be considered art by any legitimate measure!  At the same time, I'm also digging into some new computer skills, mostly just for fun.  Some of the basic neuroscience that I've studied suggests that this kind of learning has its own potential for dopamine rewards.  So, I'm choosing to believe that this nerdy exercise in learning some new programming skills is one of the things that's keeping my spirits elevated even though I haven't been fishing in about six weeks.

However, I recognize that I've got friends here and also that writing here is extremely helpful.  There are ideas in the pipeline and under development.  And on top of that, Howard and I are already planning a reunion in early January at The Fly Fishing Show.  He wants me to help him stalk John Gierach, but I'm not feeling comfortable with that idea.  Howard might be former law enforcement, but I'm afraid his judgement is compromised... and I know my wife won't bail me out if I'm arrested.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Personal Veteran's Day Salute

Trying to thank all of the women and men who are serving or have served in the U.S.A.'s military forces is a concept that boggles my mind.  I feel like saying, "Thank you, active military and veterans" or "Thank you for your service" isn't anywhere near adequate.  Instead, I'm going to thank someone personally and then hope that there are others who can personally thank the other individuals who deserve more than just our thanks.

I'd like to express my deep gratitude and admiration to Ralph Long of Ralph's Fly Box.  Ralph spent more than a decade in the military. He had one of those jobs that constantly put him in danger.

Ralph, thank you for everything you did and sacrificed to protect me and my family.

When I pour my evening beer tonight, I raise my glass to you, and also to your brothers and sisters in service.
(In case you're a new visitor or you just missed it, you can read about my recent trip to fish alongside Ralph on some of his home waters in Central PA.)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mornin' Ralph...

First hookup of the day
(click any photo to enlarge)
I can't claim to have traveled to a vast number trout venues, but inevitably it seems that someone will say "there are some big fish in here" about any given piece of water.  When Ralph told me that, I heard it.  I didn't NOT believe him... it's just that "big" is a relative idea.  As I started fighting my first fish of the day this past Saturday, it occurred to me that I had a BIG trout pulling on my little size 16 hook... on 5x tippet.  Uh oh.

I've been very lucky to share water with some great folks this year.  When Ralph and I managed to find an overlapping window in our schedules, I jumped at the chance.  I had no idea where we'd go, but I knew the day would be special.  I got up early last Saturday (10-29) morning to complete my travels to an undisclosed location in central Pennsylvania, stopping at Dunkin' for a few chocolate frosted donuts for me and pumpkin donuts as requested by Ralph.

For the few of you who don't know who Ralph is, here's my attempt at an introduction:  author Ralph "R. E." Long runs the blog Ralph's Fly Box.  He's published at least four books and writes for other publications.  He's a veteran.  He's a survivor.  He's a SURVIVOR.  And a darned fine angler!  Ralph was first out of the chute with some words and lots of photos of our day together.  I'll try a few photos and lots of words, as usual.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Lost in Southern New York

The best laid plans often don't make it past step 2... So I find myself with a day to wander alone in a strange land, looking for water to fish and hopefully not get a violation from a New York State conservation officer.  (I was narrowly alerted that the water I wanted to fish is closed for spawning!)

Thank you Parkinson's Disease for the extra special gift called anxiety.  I've never been much of a solo explorer, but this is ridiculous.  Then I hear Ralph's pep talk from a couple of posts ago... Not today, Parkinson's.  Time to take a pill and find a fly shop.  Today will be good, right?

Tomorrow will be better.

Addendum, 8 hours later: I found a couple of spots to try on the East Branch of the Delaware River.  As I was gearing up gentleman who says he guides the river around those parts stopped.  He said that if the wind hadn't been blowing 15-20, there should've been a heavy hatch and lots of rising heads.

Instead, I waded out, tossed a streamer then some nymphs for a while. It was 38F, blowing, cloudy.  I waded back out when my hands hurt and my... well, some of my other pieces, were well chilled.  My casting was terrible and I could hear a few fish laughing at me.

Great day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wanna go fishing, Mike?

From CBS's The Good Wife
Yesterday, Mrs. FA was watching some episodes from the final season of The Good Wife.  I've been a fan of Juliana Margulies since E.R. back in college, and the team that picks her wardrobe for The Good Wife does amazing work.  Anyway, some of my favorite episodes featured Micheal J. Fox, undoubtedly the face of Parkinson's Disease today.  Mr. Fox's character, Louis Canning, is somewhat manipulative, using his disability by putting it on display.  I find it hilarious.  (But what's up with the sweaters, Louis?)  Some of his movement patterns looked familiar, because I've developed a few of them over the past 12 months.  I was fascinated to notice that this didn't scare me.  I instead found it comforting to see some of my exact movement patterns reflected in somebody else.

Also from CBS's The Good Wife
Mr. Canning intentionally overplayed some difficulty with his walking canes to drum up sympathy and influence the judge in a courtroom scene. One thing I don't use yet is a walking cane, but one of the louder Little Voices® came up with this line:  "That might not be very far away.  Grab thy (wading) staff and thy (fly) rod, and journey to a trout river Friday, while you can still drive and hike." Sounds like fear taking.  It also sounds like I'm overthinking things as usual.  Not today.

I'd love to go fishing with Micheal J. Fox one weekend.  It would be interesting to spend some time with a high-energy guy who's got a ten-year head start on me with young-onset Parkinson's Disease.  How did he handle his early fear and what does he fear now?  Would it be an opportunity to face my fear, in the style of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from Frank Herbert's Dune?
    "I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
If Mr. Fox ever wanted to go fishing, I know exactly the place and exactly the guide for a great day (or half-day) of fishing from a drift boat, no hiking necessary.  But, I'm sure the accomplished actor and advocate has better ways to spend his time.  Luckily, my second choice is available, author R. E. Long of Ralph's Fly Box (though I'm sure he also has much better ways to spend his time.)  And I think he meets all of the required criteria.  We meet up in Central PA in ten days to drink some coffee & annoy some trout.  With luck, maybe we'll get a little extra dopamine for our efforts.

Meanwhile, if I can just get over this little bout of exploration anxiety, I hope to be headed to the North Shore of Lake Superior Friday morning.  I need to get out of my head for a while and let the Little Voices talks amongst themselves.

"Only I will remain."  Unless MJF calls...


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Spiders and Quicksand

(Just a parenthetical advisory/warning:  I'm deviating from my usual theme of "positive outlet" today, but I will still attempt to comply with the "No Whining" prime directive.  Today's truth is that I'm confused, not thinking very clearly, and writing for therapy.  Feel free to join me on the shrink's couch and stare at the office ceiling as I mumble to myself and engage in a town hall debate with The Little Voices®.  It's not pretty, but it's honest.)

The 2000 movie "The Replacements" is one of my favorites.  The plot is inspired  by the NFL players strike in 1987, where most NFL teams brought in replacement players to finish out the schedule.  It's a comedy, mostly cheesy, but full of great quotable moments, not all of which are necessarily comedic.  Please take a couple of minutes to view the following clip of the movie from YouTube.

I think I've been avoiding my fear.  I am afraid of the day when I can no longer visit a cold, clear trout creek, cast a fly line, and watch a small trout disturb the surface to pursue the drifting fly.  A couple of years ago, I started fishing again.  I don't go after it "like there's no tomorrow."  Perhaps its more like I probably have tomorrow and next week, but I might not have next year.  This felt good.  It's a positive approach.  "I'm going to fish whenever I can go, within reason, because my time might be limited."  It felt like a positive and constructive way of dealing with a difficult situation.  I'm beginning to wonder if it wasn't just an easy way of burying fear, procrastinating the eventual moment when I'll actually need to face it and deal with it.  I'm no psychologist, but I'd bet this is "a thing." Avoidance, mental misdirection, refusal to deal with the real issue?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Four Months with my Swift Epic 686, plus Backstory


Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for August, 2015.  There were two historically significant events at this temporal nexus:
  1. The Fading Angler spends a day with a guide in southern Minnesota's Driftless Area.  Guide Dan brings along a 4 weight TFO Finesse rod that seems to mesh better with my casting "skills" than the stiff 7-foot Sage Approach 3-weight I brought along.
  2. The Fading Angler gets a chance to test-cast the brand-spanking new Sage MOD at Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig, MT.  The MOD is Sage's "moderate action" rod, sitting somewhere between the actions of the fast ONE and "advanced slow-action" CIRCA models.  Very quickly, something amazing happens:  I am able to shoot line at the conclusion of forward casting strokes.  I'd never been able to do this before.
This was chronicled in more detail here on the blog last year: Fly Angler: Headhunter or Head Case?

Being a scientist (at least in my own head), I immediately implemented a new top-secret operation and intelligence protocol:
Fading Angler's Cientific Exploration Purporting to Learn Actual Nowlegde and Truth, better known by the codename FACEPLANT.
(You might want to grab a coffee, Diet Mountain Dew, pint of beer, or a double bourbon before continuing. Oh, and a grain of salt.  Bring the shaker...)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

If You've Never Heard of Bull Trout...

I'd never heard of Bull Trout until I moved to Montana in 1998.  Then as now, they are a Threatened (not quite qualifying for "Endangered") species that cannot be targeted by anglers, except for one river and lake in  NW Montana and only if you have the correct paperwork.  They are a char, more closely related to brook trout and dolly varden than cutthroats (who share their native waters) or rainbow trout.

They are aggressive predators.  I've seen one, on the Blackfoot River.  It was over 30" long and seriously considering snacking on a 14" cutthroat that I'd foul-hooked.  Fascinating beasties. John Arnold of Headhunters Fly Shop and Scumliner Media fame recently published this gem in cooperation with another photographer/producer, Pat Clayton of Fish Eye Guy Photography.

Notice the deep turquoise hue of the water in some of those shots?  I love that color!

Hats off to John and Pat. Very cool collaboration.

Friday, September 16, 2016

MN Mountain Man: A Trout Hunting Machine

It was a great stroke of luck that I found the Driftless Trout Anglers forums earlier this year.  One of the regulars there is a guy with ties to Montana: MN Mountain Man, aka Clayton.  He moved from the Kalispell/Whitefish area and now pounds the banks of the Driftless Area's cold water creeks.  He runs a couple of blogs/sites:
 After exchanging messages over the summer, we were finally able to sync schedules and meet up for some angling the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend.  We met early and I followed him to a stretch of water he'd gotten permission to access.

As we geared up, it was impossible not to notice that he's ready to fish at a moment's notice. No waders, no boots, no vest.  He swapped shoes, grabbed a rod, and maybe had a small sling pack for his tackle.  Lean, mean, optimized, and ready to go.  Then there's me... classic hare and tortoise.

He's also a very focused angler.  He moves efficiently upstream, methodically working the water.  He says that most days, he fishes deep.  I don't think he changed flies at all during our morning trek upstream.  And why should he when fish after fish take what he's selling?

This man is zeroed-in on catching fish, and knows how to bring in the big ones.  Take this one for example:
This was one of the fattest fish I've ever seen.  I could just barely get my hands all the way around the back and belly.  If you look at photos on his blog, this looks like a normal everyday ho-hum fish for him.  It's a good thing he lives close to a collection of great trout streams, because he's got a stressful job.  To blow off steam, he hits the water often, ties flies, and builds custom rods.

It was a great opportunity to fish with Clayton.  He didn't laugh at me when I made one of my signature Parkinson's Moves (falling down the bank) and wasn't in a hurry.  Like fishing with Eddie, I had the opportunity to learn some great stuff just watching him fish.  In fact, I used some of his techniques to extract a few browns from a tough spot the next day.  Thanks, Clayton!

Great morning with great weather.  Great angler and great company.  I hope we can do it again soon, and not just for the obvious reason:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bigfoot Found! Nessy Exists! Howard Smiles!

Next, I hope to flirt with the Tooth Fairy, ride a unicorn, and fish a 5-weight flyrod rolled from quantum-aligned pure unobtainium nanotube matrix (with stripping guides made from dilithium crystals.)

Beauty and The Beast
(click to enlarge, if you dare)

I think I like posing for photos with Howard.  I look AT LEAST twenty years younger than I normally do.

Just in case you missed the report on our Saturday fishing adventure in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, go back and read about it!

(oh, yeah... Howard also has his own version of the story.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Wind Knots and Fading Anglers

Howard found my blog earlier this year, and we started a conversation.  It wasn't long before one of the Little Voices® told me that I needed to go fishing with this guy.  So, we've been talking about it for quite some time.  Emails, phone calls, smoke signals, maybe even a little bit of telepathy.

So, there's talking, and then there's making &$@# happen.  If you're reading this, there's a decent chance that you also read Howard's blog.  And you might be aware that our friend Howard has had some challenges getting out to fish.  No doubt, this has been frustrating and painful for the man.

This is where my Messiah Complex kicks in, or some other form of narcissistic delusion.  Hertz certainly agrees.  When I arrived at the Denver airport Hertz location, they had truncated my first name on their pickup board from "Christopher" to "Christ."  And I must be intimidating, because it took extensive negotiations just to arrange a meet-up Thursday night.  (Real story, I had told him that I would track him down and bring the party to him even if he was impounded in the hospital for some reason.  He momentarily made me think that we'd be watching the Broncos defeat the Panthers in a hospital room, but he let me off the hook pretty easy.)

Our paths have been proximate before.  When I worked for the University of Colorado from 2008 to 2011, I had an apartment that was probably less than a mile from his house.  I suggested we meet up at the Old Chicago restaurant where I used to watch Monday Night Football, so of course he knew exactly where I meant.

Blah blah blah, I hear you say.  You went there to fish!  And fish we did!  We had talked earlier about perhaps trekking up to Rocky Mountain National Park, and when he'd shared photos of the Blue River in August, I fell instantly in love with that.  Then he mentioned Clear Creek.  Howard loves Clear Creek, where you can catch a trout and get hit by a car while standing in the river.  After scratching my proverbial head for a few seconds, I could see on his face and in his eyes the depth of his connection with that water.
Clear Creek and the highway
Saturday morning, we ran to Wal-Mart so I could grab a one-day non-resident fishing license, then headed south to Golden.  From there, it was uphill and west, following Clear Creek.  When we made that right-hand turn, I could see and feel a change in Howard.  Part of him lives there, and he's a more complete person when he gets to meet up with that part.

We bypassed his (formerly?) favorite spot because of ongoing construction and eventually found a spot that wasn't too difficult to climb down to.  We stopped and geared up.
Tangled up, right out of the tailgate
Howard made one thing clear: "I'm not here to catch fish, I'm here to test this new, slim profile fly line."  OOOOooooookaaaaaayyy.  Excuse accepted and filed.  :)  I rigged up Monday (see Glossary), put on my "guard socks" and boots, and went wading.  (The wading was almost a little too deep for male comfort, for a moment.)  Along the way, I kept an eye on my companion.
Uh-oh, a wind knot?
Howard at work, product testing...
After lunch, we back-tracked to his favorite spot.  I was impressed with the holes and runs on this wide stretch, even though he said the water is the lowest he's ever seen it.  It made for good wading and even some catching.  And I got to unleash Monday's full potential.
If this was hockey, I'd get called for high-sticking.  Nah, I'm actually
playing Luke Skywalker, holding my blue lightsabre over my head!

The weather couldn't have been better.  And I am now officially in love with Monday, my Epic 686 combined with a 406 Fly Lines DT.  I hit every spot on the river I wanted to hit, even with a breeze.  I think I'm finally ready to do a full review.  Soon.  If my neck quits hurting.

Today, a pair of Fading Anglers shared some time and some water.  And, just for a moment, the hourglass paused.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fiberglass Fishing Cures Many Ills

Last Thursday 9/1, we fled life in central Minnesota to reestablish sanity near a trout stream in southeastern Minnesota.  We went back to the Minnesota Driftless.  After parking the Mobile Hotel® and completing a few chores, I grabbed the 'glass and headed for the creek.  I reached for Mellow Yellow (4 wt Redington Butter Stick) without even thinking and tied on my favorite low-light dry fly: a size 14 parachute Adams.  Ten minutes later I brought a 10"-11" brown trout into my net, right behind campsite #15.  I thanked the creek as the fish swam from my hand, and headed back to the Mobile Hotel® for s'mores and bourbon.  All of life's problems had faded, if only for an hour or two.

Friday saw 3 short outings within the vicinity of the campground.  Recent flooding has very much altered the character of the creek.  I couldn't even scare trout out of my most productive runs and holes from May and June.  They were devoid of macroscopic life.  After much experimentation with dry fly refusals at the Bottomless Pool, I got a few takers on a size 18 red lightning bug.  Wait, there was one impressive swipe at a hopper on a random toss to he head of the Pool, but only one.  Large fish don't get large by being stupid.

Saturday was a graphite day and will be discussed at another time.

Sunday morning, I headed out with two 'glass rods in hand (hands?): Mellow Yellow rigged for little dry flies, and Monday rigged with indicator, weights, and two nymphs.  With no surface action to be had, the 6 wt Epic saved the day, fooling several browns deep in the Bottomless Pool with lightning bugs and zebra midges.  Color mattered.

The fiberglass felt good.  Slow down, you're casting too fast.  You need to make the weekend last... After all, it's both physical therapy and psychotherapy.  I should totally bill myself $250 an hour.

Photo by Eddie Rivard

#glassisnotdead #feelingroovy

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thinking Deep

I'm not a deep person.  My emotions and thoughts tend to run close to the surface.  I'm so driven to gather and assimilate data and connect facts that I miss the opportunity to make deeper connections.  Except with math and physics.  But that's a completely different and nerdy tale that would scare real people away.  So I'll let it go... I guess.  Classical literature also escapes me, though I was a fan of "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey" on Saturday Night Live.  Mr. Handey even had some thoughts about his Grandpa going fishing, but the ending just wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to risk including here.  Google at your leisure.

I even consider myself to be a shallow fisherman.  It's still unbelievably rewarding watching a trout swipe a floating dry fly, even if it misses.  Going under the surface requires a whole new set of skills, which sounds like work.  Do I really want to work when I'm fishing?  Also being male, I'm not exactly predisposed to being a deep thinker.  Scratch, scratch.  Grunt.  Ooo, shiny!

Lately I've been faced with some challenges and choices that have required me to think deep.  Those of you with degrees in English or Journalism might be twitching and barely suppressing the urge to attack with a red pen.  You might be thinking, "You idiot.  You should have written 'required me to think deeply.'"  And you would be correct, yet wrong.  The grammar police might issue a ticket, but I'd convince the judge to dismiss the charges, kinda like that speeding where I play-acted as my own attorney.  Instead of thinking deeply, I've been considering Deep Brain Stimulation, a surgical therapy for Parkinson's Disease.

Here's the ten-thousand foot overview of Deep Brain Stimulation: your head gets locked into a "halo" to make sure you can't move while a neurosurgeon drills a hole in your skull and threads some electrodes down into a targeted region deep in your brain.  These electrodes are then connected to a small device that gets implanted in your chest.   The device applies an electrical signal intended to disrupt a malfunctioning part of the brain that contributes to the muscle rigidity, slowness, and tremors of PD.

Then there's the terrifying bit: most of the surgeries are done with the patient conscious and aware.   The final placement of the electrodes usually involves patient participation, with a test signal being applied as the surgeon moves the leads a fraction of a millimeter at a time.  I have avoided going to the dentist for more than 20 years simply because I can't face the thought of having a tooth drilled.  My skull?  I've cried when discussing this with neurologists.

There are also non-trivial risks associated with the surgery.  Some statistics show a 25% chance of significant "adverse events" during or immediately following surgery.  2% chance of stroke that causes permanent damage or death.  I'll stop the risk analysis here.

Why consider doing this?  As I sit in front of my Macbook, my neck and upper back throb in pain.  Since my meds have worn off for the day, my typing rate is reduced to maybe a quarter of my usual speed.  It would be nice to have some balance again, and not limp around.

Fear has been eating at my energy and self-control.  One of the absolute worst problems that Parkinson's Disease has brought me has nothing to do with movement.  Loss of dopamine has sometimes paralyzed me with anxiety, and that can lead to severe mood problems.  Getting angry with yourself because you see how it affects your family just adds fuel to the fire.  I'm sometimes able to find my way out of this mental maze, but not before accumulating some serious shame baggage.

I arrived at the conclusion that we (Mrs. Fading Angler and I) are going to at least learn whether or not I qualify as a candidate for DBS therapy.  I've had some symptoms that might disqualify me, and if so, I can dismiss the risks, anxiety, and decisions.  For now, I need to go fishing.  I'll be spending the next few mornings and evenings chasing brookies and browns.  Maybe some trout therapy will loosen my knotted psyche.

Safe weekend and tight lines, folks.  I'll be fishing on top.

Epilogue: I have a "no whining" policy for myself here on The Fading Angler, and it looks in retrospect like I came perilously close to violating said policy.  Here's my attempt to make it right without rewriting history: the weekend of fishing helped.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Retreat into Memories

I'm nearly out of words for the week.  I'm confused and knotted up.  So, time to throw up the shields and surround myself with the good thoughts, before Daily Affirmation #7 takes over:
I can change any thought that hurts into a reality that hurts even more.
Let us now mindfully retreat into our happy place: a few fishing memories.  Eddie Rivard composed these photos of me when I was lucky enough to meet up with his brother, his father, and the artist himself on the North Tongue River in Wyoming last week.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Eddie Rivard.  As always, click any photo to enlarge.

(Thank you, Eddie.  I don't know if you can understand what these mean to me.)

Photo by Mrs. Fading Angler
Taken near the Big Horn Medicine Wheel
Elevation approx. 9600 ft.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Road Trip Therapy

We've completed our version of a Great Circle.  The Offspring, Mrs. Fading Angler, and I arrived home last night around 9:45 PM CDT.  I must note for everyone's benefit that 95% of the total miles and 100% of the miles towing the Mobile Hotel® were driven by Mrs. FA.  I haven't been allowed to be in the driver's seat when towing this RV.  This is probably wise, but not fair that I'm unable to share the burden of driving on a 17 day round trip.  She's amazing.

The Great "Circle"
(click images to enlarge)

Some facts from the trip:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Into Dark Territory

At long last, I'm headed into a place with no cell service and no readily-available WiFi.  We drove out the East Entrace of Yellowstone a couple of hours ago and are now headed up to the North Tongue River in the Big Horn mountains.  With any luck, I might get schooled by the great Eddie Rivard tomorrow morning, as we are coincidentally both vacationing in the same area at the same time.

Should be back in reach of the digital universe Sunday night.  Set your VCR, don't miss an episode!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fear and Loathing in West Yellowstone

Monday was Day One of the Yellowstone National Park portion of our trip.  We've planned to spend a total of 3 full days in the area.  Monday started slow, and I made a quick trip over to Blue Ribbon Flies and met up with Tom Brodhead, creator and proprietor of 406 Fly Lines.  Tom drove 2.5 hours from Livingstone just to chat and let me try a demo of his 6 weight double-taper for my Epic 686.  Impressed, I purchased one from Cam in the Blue Ribbon Flies store.  More on this in the future after I have a chance to spool up the new line and use it on the water!

When I asked for a little guidance on what patterns to try on some specific Yellowstone Park streams, a gentleman named John pointed out a few things that ran counter to some of the tribal wisdom for a warm August.  When we were done picking flies, I introduced myself, and found that I was being assisted by none other than John Juracek.  Overall, an impressive start to the day.

I met the family at DQ for lunch and we proceeded into the park.  The general idea was to get a couple of the crowed beaten-path sights checked off the list and try some less-crowded placed for days 2 and 3.  We spent a good amount of time driving and stopping along the Firehole River, then made our way into Old Faithful village.  That's when things started to unravel.

We explored acres of parking area in hope of finding a space long/wide enough for a crew cab, long box Ford F350.  Just before parking, the "service engine soon" indicator appeared on the dash.  This truck is  just a couple days short of one year old.  My mind immediately flashed through the next 24 hours, and The Little Voices® began screaming.  Clearly, Mrs. Fading Angler was not pleased.  I entered Stage 1 of Fear-and Loathing.  A dark cloud hung over our viewing of the eruption of Old Faithful and the subsequent drive out of the park back to the Mobile Hotel®.  During that drive, the engine also developed a low-rpm knock/rattle.  The Diagnostic Department in my head crunched the limited data and computed a list of likely cause for the idiot-light and knock/rattle.  The most-probable cause: bad fuel injector.  Less probable: bad piston ring, main bearing, or piston rod bearing.  Please welcome, if you will, Stage 2 of Fear-and-Loathing.

During a brief window of cellphone coverage in the park, Mrs. FA called the Ford dealer in Bozeman.  The service department there was EXCEPTIONALLY unhelpful, despite the fact that she told them we were in Yellowstone, on vacation from Minnesota, pulling a fifth-wheel RV.  She was told they wouldn't even have time to read the diagnostic code from the engine computer for at least 10 days.  The Offspring and I could feel her blood boiling, so we elected to remain as quiet as possible while she drove.  I grabbed a beer and sat outside at the picnic table when we arrived back at the Mobile Hotel®, and contacted a retired heavy-equipment diesel mechanic: my father.  His most-probable-cause analysis was the same: if our anti-freeze reservoir was full, it's probably a bad injector.  Fear-and-Loathing Stage 3 whacked me on the back of the head.

If you've not seen the engine compartment of a Ford "Super Duty" truck lately, it looks like 10 pounds of material stuffed into a 1 pound box.  There is no room to perform any maintenance other than oil check, and coolant fill, and maybe air filter change.  Just about anything else requires the CAB TO BE LIFTED OFF THE BODY.  This is time-consuming.  Who knows when a shop will be able to fit us in.  And RV spaces are hard to get around here at this point.  We made our reservations back in April, and we're supposed to check out Thursday morning.

Mrs. FA is driving the truck down to Rexburg, Idaho right now.  The Offspring and I are "stranded" in West Yellowstone at the Mobile Hotel.  (Laundry day!)  Maybe everything will be super simple and we can get back on schedule.  And, after all, we're still under warranty.  With a little good fortune, we might be able to meet my family (and the famous Eddie Rivard!) up in the Wyoming's Big Horn mountains by Thursday night.  If not, I might run out of anxiety meds.

Into every angling vacation, a little rain must fall...

Update - 9:53 AM MDT : Ford dealer in Rexburg is being extraordinarily kind to Mrs. FA.  They read the computer diagnostic code: Failed injector.  They need to perform 5 or 6 more diagnostic checks before we can make plans, and this is expected to take until at least 3 PM.

In the meantime, I just remembered that Mrs. FA and the Offspring bought me a t-shirt yesterday.

There are worse places in the world to be stranded than West Yellowstone.  Time to make some lemonade.

Update - 11:47 PM MDT : Either somebody was praying for us (not me, seems too vain, praying for my own benefit) or else I just cashed in a serious amount of karma.  Mrs. FA was back in West Yellowstone by 2 PM MDT.  The big diagnostic computer at the Ford dealer had a conversation with the little engine computer in our truck.  The truck computer was complaining that our fuel was bad (cetane levels too low) and was trying to compensate by pushing more fuel.  Eventually, out fell too far out of spec and threw the trouble code.  They reprogrammed the truck computer to a lower tolerance than the original factory spec (part of a factory TSB update, so still under warranty), tested it on the road, and meekly declared it fixed, much to our surprise and that of both diesel mechanics on duty.  They spent a good amount of time chatting with her, perhaps surprised at her level of knowledge.  When the block cracked on the Cummins engine in our '99 Dodge Ram, she helped her father strip the old engine and build the new one on the new block that Cummins provided for us.  But I digress.  Fresh fuel and a cetane booster we added to the half-empty tank, and back on tour we went.  Try not to buy diesel from the Town Pump/ExxonMobil in Ennis, Montana if you can avoid it.

Crowning jewel of the day, and perhaps the trip:  we watched a pack of three wolves trek a mile or two along a hillside in the Yellowstone River valley until it was almost too dark to see.  I was almost as excited to walk through the Norris geyser basin.

Yes, I forgot my lessons from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Seeing Myself

Editor's Note, August 9, 7:47 AM - After reviewing comments, it appears I missed the mark when I wrote this.  The Fading Angler Blog is a NO WHINING zone.  This is not meant to be a tale of woe.  It's a story of a bit of struggle, followed by some unexpected redemption.  I'm always trying to improve faster than I'm decaying.  Sometimes Parkinson's Disease wins the battle, but I'm still winning the war.

It's not often we get a good look at ourselves.  That passing glance in the mirror in the morning is an illusion of a reflection.  I'm talking about the kind of vision where you're actually able to see yourself for what you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Sometimes it's a health crisis that brings things into focus, and sometimes it's simply the focus of a camera lens held by another person.

When I fished with Dan Milligan of Blackfoot River Outfitters last Friday, I had a really lousy casting day.  I couldn't seem to get my body to manipulate the rod and line the way I wanted to.  Dan gently made suggestions all day, but I'm pretty sure he thought I was ignoring him.  I was trying, but I was frustrated and tangled up in my head as well.  I am thankful that I've nearly shed any feelings of pride or embarrassment when it comes to casting.  I am what I am.  I do what I can, including trying to get better.  And, no matter how ugly or dysfunctional my casting looks, I am getting strikes and catching fish.  I care less and less what other people think of my ugly form and amateurish technique.

I did feel bad for Dan, though.  He endured this ugliness for hours.  One thing he repeated several times throughout the day was, "Try to keep your elbow down."  I tried, but felt no success.  I felt like I failed him.  But it turns out that he gave me a better gift that any piece of casting advice: photographs.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

And Now, Back to Fishing...

We just rolled into Ennis, Montana and parked the Mobile Hotel® a couple of long casts from the banks of the Madison River.  It's currently raining and gusting 40+ here, plus the Madison is under "hoot owl" restrictions, so no angling after 2 PM because the heat is hard on the trout.  It's nice to get a little moisture and cooler temps.

Yesterday was a designated angling day for me.  Mrs. Fading Angler and The Offspring went panning for sapphires in (surprise!) the Sapphire Mountains east of Missoula.  Lest you begin seeing visions of grey beards and pickaxes, this is a tourist trap commercial establishment that is happy to loan you equipment when you buy buckets of dirt ore mined material to sift through.  I think they had fun.  Here's what happened to me on Friday, wading on Rock Creek:
  • Big Horn sheep
  • Brown trout
  • Cutthroat trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Cutbow trout (no, I was not fishing with Hank Patterson...)
  • Bull trout (sadly, found deceased in the creek)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Forget fishing, there's beer!

Occasionally, an angler needs a day off.  One of those days usually follows a day of extreme hiking (extreme for a 43 year old dude with Parkinson's Disease), falls (not the water kind), bruising, sliding and climbing steep off-trail inclines, and mild exhaustion.  We prepped to move to a new campground this morning, then I slept from noon til 2.

No fishing today, but I'm sitting at a picnic table under a cloudless sky, watching the last rays of light climb the peaks to the east.  And I'm enjoying one of my favorite things from Montana: local beer.

Tonight's write-up features a couple of my favorites: Yardsale Amber Ale from Tamarack Brewing Company, and Cold Smoke Scotch Ale from Kettle House Brewing Company.  I love it that they come in pint cans.