Thursday, May 26, 2016

Butter Side Up - Preview

It's no secret that I've finally gotten around to playing with my Redington Butter Stick here in the Minnesota Driftless Area.  I've been teasing that I'd write more about it soon, because I had actually planned to do so by now.  Truth is, I'm still learning NOT to cast this fiberglass rod like a graphite stick.  I even resorted to some lawn casting at the campground last Saturday afternoon before I trekked downstream past sundown.  I need one more weekend with my mellow, yellow friend before I start telling stories about it.

One quick tale:  While I was lawn casting out in front of the Mobile Hotel®, our campsite neighbor popped up from his chair and watched me for a few casts.  He and his wife, both retired, recently decided to take up fly angling.  He watched me make several casts and then asked, "How do you get it to unroll like that at the end?"  I was simultaneously pleased and horrified... Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Let's Get Happy, Part II - Fishing with The Driftless Legend

This is part II.  Do yourself a favor and quickly visit Part I if you haven't seen it.  No fair just jumping into the middle...

I sent Eddie a message early last week, and it turned out he was going to be taking a few days to go fishing before he gets busy again.  He was in the Wisconsin Driftless Area on Friday, fishing with someone else around Viroqua.  We had a quick chat on the phone Friday afternoon before I disappeared from the cell grid into the valley that protects our favorite campground from bothersome cell phone signals.  The battle plan: Eddie would arrive at the Mobile Hotel® at 6 AM, and we'd find something nearby.

Eddie looks to be former military but claims not to be. (I suspect CIA...) Regardless, he arrived at the campground with military precision and found me sipping a cup of coffee outside.  There was nothing moving around us, so we quietly tossed my gear into his rig and tiptoed up the hill out of campground before any Russian spies became aware of our covert mission.

Goodbye Skunk Stripe!  Getting Happy Early.
Photo by Eddie Rivard - Click any photo to enlarge

We made a flyby of a couple of nearby spots, quickly eliminating one I was familiar with.  Two vehicles parked already at 6:15!  We circled back to the first candidate and geared up.  I put the 4 weight Redington Butter Stick together and tried tossing one of Eddie's streamers for a few minutes... Let's just say I won't be using this baby for much streamer work.  It quickly became apparent that Eddie has plenty of skill and technique.  Many times throughout the morning I found myself ignoring my drift in favor of watching him cast.

After getting skunked the previous weekend, Lady Luck took pity on me and tossed me a double bonus:  1) First fish of the day, and 2) MY FIRST DRIFTLESS BROOKIE!!!

A nice, fat little Minnesota Driftless brook trout.
Photo by Eddie Rivard
Brook trout were (are?) native to the Minnesota Driftless Area, but populations are small and isolated (as far as I know) in comparison to the brown trout that now thrive in most of these spring fed creeks.  I have read that the Minnesota DNR have stocked brookies into the "headwater" springs of this river, which makes a 1.5 mile journey underground after mostly sinking and running through a cave.  It emerges as an ideal, cool trout stream where the State is attempting to reestablish brook trout populations.  I grew up chasing brookies in the Wind River and Big Horn mountain ranges in Wyoming.  I consider it a privilege to finally catch one from its native range.

Eddie soon evened the count.  He pulled a nice brown out of the next hole upstream.  That fish was featured previously in Part I.

Shortly after that, he pulled ahead for good.  I didn't mind.  I was still pretty darn happy about that little brookie.

We chatted about backgrounds and adventures as we hiked or watched each other fish.  Seemed like we took turns re-rigging most of the time, so we easily alternated casting time as we moved upstream.  I enjoyed watching him pull fish out of spots that surprised me.

Eddie out in front

Beware the dark side

A craftsman at work, but apparently not happy with this one?
Not too much time later, I hooked up again in a deeper hole.  It definitely felt bigger, but that could have just been the 7'6" fiberglass Butter Stick passing along the experience.  I was happy to see the largest trout I've caught so far in my 2 years of fishing the Minnesota Driftless.

My best MN trout so far
Photo by Eddie Rivard
Eddie did me the honor of formally measuring.  A solid 13 inches, and a trophy in my eyes.

See Eddie.  See Eddie hunt.  Does he look Happy?
Eddie has a Driftless soul.  Watching him, I get the feeling he's part of the ecosystem here.  He admires every little detail around him, from the 60-foot limestone cliffs towering above us to the wildflowers on the banks.  I've admired his photographic work since I started reading his blog last year.  He took some great shots of me that I look forward to dropping into random posts down the road.

Eventually, we got hungry and retreated to the Mobile Hotel® for some lunch.  I grilled up some fresh Brats and a few hot dogs.  Everything settled, and then the Eddie wit reappeared: as I was emptying my gear from his rig, he suggested that I could leave the Butter Stick exactly where it was.  He'd used it for a few minutes and I guess he liked it a little.

Huge thanks going out for Eddie for putting up with me for a few hours.  I had a great time shadowing the William Wallace of Driftless fly angling ;)  (see this blog post.)

I was happy, too.  But I forgot to ask for an autographed sticker before he drove off into the sunset.

Let's Get Happy, Part I - Guess Who?

If you haven't guessed by the title, then perhaps you'll recognize this classic pose from his blog:

How do you think this man feels right now?
Click any photo to enlarge

Yes, folks, I was privileged to spend Saturday morning fishing alongside Eddie Rivard, of the famed and beloved Eddie Rivard Fly Fishing blog.  And, true to all of the marketing hype, he is definitely an upbeat, happy guy.  And a fine angler.  Though I have to admit I was slightly disappointed that he didn't arrive wearing a fedora hat, well-pressed white button down shirt and carrying a Winston fly rod (see here for an explanation on that.)

I'm a bit pressed for time this morning.  I'm scheduled to cook brunch here at the Mobile Hotel®, so I have a date with my Camp Chef stove and giant cast iron griddle.  Yet, I couldn't leave all 3 of you wondering who showed up and what happened Saturday morning.  Eddie caught many fish, I caught a couple.  Later I'll explain how it was a record day for me on a Minnesota Driftless Area stream.

Ugg.  That grin could not be ANY cheesier, unless we were in Wisconsin...

Proceed to Part II for more photos and the rest of the story.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Oracular Fire

Friday night back at the campground.  A fullish moon creates pockets of shadow and glow.  I'm holding my feet a little closer to the fire ring while I type on my iPad and sip a New Belgium Fat Tire.

Tomorrow is an early start.  No lazy, unmotivated lingering.  Another Driftless angler has agreed to meet and fish together.  I've been  looking forward to this for a while. 

Who is this mystery guest? 

What will tomorrow bring?

Ask the campfire.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Little Sweetness


Two more logs go into the fire pit, stirring the orange coals and swirling smoke.  Embers become flame.  I take a sip of beer from a bottle while pondering the pack of graham crackers and pair of Hershey bars next to my chair.  My day has come down to this, next to a bubbling brook.

My daughter and I geared up to go fishing this morning, not late in the morning but certainly not early.  Her new waders fit well, along with boots borrowed from her Mother.  I tie a nymph for her and dry fly for me.  An hour later, her hands are freezing, even after I held them in mine to warm them, trying to extend our time on the water a few more minutes.  In between, we stumble, laugh, pause, and she hikes through the creek.  She's discovered a new freedom in waders and boots.  She's also learning new restrictions from overhead branches and trees lining both banks.  It's 38 F, and she's given me more than enough to to still my waters.

After a break just long enough to actually enjoy a cup of coffee and microscopic chocolate frosted doughnuts, I grab both rods and head downstream from our campground, abandoning the heated comfort of the Mobile Hotel® yet again.    I can't resist doing some compare-and-contrast casting.  I started out giving "lessons" on my 7' St. Croix Imperial 3 weight rod a couple of hours ago.  The world spun backward when I started casting a Redington Butter Stick.  This 7'6" rod in 4 weight makes my Imperial feel cold and uncommunicative.  The fiberglass is alive.

My last two logs go into the fire for some welcome heat.  It's 45 F, and I'm wishing I'd brought the bourbon.  This just isn't a beer night.  The Hershey wrapper opens because I can't resist the temptation another minute.  No messy marshmallow roasting tonight.  The rest of the family is hiding from the gray twilight chill.  Just me, the fire, graham crackers, and chocolate.

My neck and shoulders remind me how I arrived at this night.  A little more than two years ago, Parkinson's Disease backed me into the proverbial corner and I responded with whimper: I just want to go fishing.

I got the stink-eye when I grabbed a pack of graham crackers and TWO Hershey bars for my sunset snack.  Totally worth it.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Dear Daughter, on Your 13th Birthday

Dear Daughter,

You turned 13 years old yesterday.  In my usual fashion, I’m catching up a day late.  I wanted to say some things that feel important right now.  Sometimes I remember that now is better than later.  And I want us both to remember some other things.

I remember an evening thirteen years ago full of intense moments.  It was intense when your mother went into hard labor in the truck, 19 miles from the hospital.  I was driving over 100 miles per hour for quite a while, and every stoplight felt like a new definition of eternity.  I bet it was a little stressful for your Mother, too.  Despite that drama, you were born in a hospital delivery room 12 minutes after we burst through the doors of the Emergency Room.  When Mom handed you over so I could say, “Hello,” you made yourself comfortable and completely soaked me.  I’m pretty sure that was your early way of saying, “Hi there.  You’re MINE.”

I as write this, photos of your early life flash through my mind.  A spiky-haired baby sitting in Grandma’s kitchen.  A toddler crawling around with a blanket in her mouth.  Saggy-bottom diapers, and tiny Broncos’ cheerleader outfits.  Then it all rushes forward to the blue eyes, long blonde hair, and a dazzling smile that greets me nearly every morning when I’m home, along with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Things have changed for both of us in 13 years.  Back then, Parkinson’s Disease was something that Micheal J. Fox was fighting and I had more hair.  Now, Parkinson’s is my daily companion and who knows what happened to the hair.  I’m not afraid of it, really.  (Parkinson’s, not hair loss…)  What scares me is the thought that even now, you can barely remember me in my “normal” state of health before Parkinson’s Disease started damaging and changing my brain.  Five years from now, you’ll be a very different person, a woman.  Try to remember me as I am now.   Because right now, we can still laugh.  Laughing with you is the best.

Remember that your mother is a brilliant woman.  She was a National Merit Scholar and has an engineering degree.  It’s a blessing that you inherited her intelligence instead of mine.  Hers is kinder, compassionate, patient, and more tolerant.  Mine was brash, overbearing, impulsive, and narcissistic.  But this is changing.  I didn’t understand when I was diagnosed 5 years ago that Parkinson’s would affect my intellect, because it was considered to be a “movement disorder.”  Ever the student and scientist, I can see the slow changes in my thinking and memory.  Sadly, it took something like this to shift my perceptions of the world around me, and now I can begin to truly appreciate just how amazing your Mom’s mind is.  Over the next 5 years, you will come to rely on her less and less, but I will be needing her more and more every day.  Be kind to her, even when it feels like she (we) are ruining your new life as a teenager.  She will need this kindness.

I have one request for these coming years: please fish with me.  There are few things I look forward to more these days than fishing, except for fishing with my family.  Walk some streams with me and let’s take some photos.  Maybe we’ll catch a fish from time to time.  I’d really love to have those memories, just in case my fishing days are numbered.  And as a former teenager, I’m planning for a time in the not-too-distant future when you’ll be wanting to spend more time with your friends than your family.  Don’t worry.  It’s not cruel or unusual.  It’s life.  But I'd love to build a few more memories before both our lives inevitably change and you don't automatically reach for my hand when we're walking side by side anymore.

During these years of metamorphosis, I will enjoy experiencing a “new” daughter every day, one that’s just a little different than the one I met the day before.  Life is teaching me that efforts to predict the future are not only futile, but also wasteful and sometimes painful.  Planning is important, but making predictions is just plain silly.  So, instead of offering predictions for your future, I offer hope.  I hope you’re able to realize some of your dreams.  I hope you get to ride in a cab in New York City.  I hope you get to pursue elk with a bow.  I hope you discover many more things that make you happy in life.  I hope that you make lots of small mistakes and very few big ones.  I hope you always shine the way you do now, you crazy lil’ diamond.

Thanks for being my movie buddy, my elf, my "Murph."  And thanks for helping with my shirt buttons from time to time.

Love Forever,

Your Weird Father

Editorial Note:  A few years ago, my daughter and I were talking and I said, “Yes, your father is weird.”  Her response will stay with me forever: “That’s okay.  ‘Weird’ is just a side-effect of ‘AWESOME’!