Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"The Road Through Life is Long and Rocky..."

I'm wrapping up a trip to Sacramento, CA with Mrs. FA and Offspring 1.4.   The M.I.N.D. Institute is home to a wonderful collection of researchers and clinicians who've help us tremendously over the past eight years.  For supper last night, we headed down to Old Sacramento and dined at Joe's Crab Shack, right on the river.

A feast of shrimp, potatoes, and corn.  Non-Yankees know this as
"Low Country Boil".  Oops, it's missing sausage...
Lucky for me, it was Twosday Night: 2 lbs. of steamed shrimp for a reasonable price.  These are the peel-n-eat variety, requiring a significant amount of manual labor to peel before you can get to the "eat" part.

Parkinson's Disease has left me just enough manual dexterity in the fingers of my right hand to do this.  But let's just say it's not a rapid process.  It's requires surprisingly intense concentration and eventually causes lots of muscle tension.  Then a wee bit of cramping in other muscle groups.  This delicious meal eventually becomes a literal pain-in-the-neck.

The photo above was taken during a break about halfway through the bucket.  More beer was required.  Once Half-Time was over, I dug in again.  I love good shrimp, and this was definitely good stuff.  Unfortunately, I was slowing down the rest of the family.  Time expired before I could declare total victory.  Mrs. FA and Offspring 1.4 had consumed their main course, and the Mrs. was halfway through a big slice of Key Lime Pie.  I wanted some of that.

Peeling shrimp is worth the effort.  Occasionally during the meal, I would start to feel anxious about the future time when it might not be possible to do that on my own.  Age and arthritis will make this difficult for just about anyone who loves shrimp and lives long enough.  So I focus on this instead: eat the shrimp and enjoy it while you can.  Wade those trout streams, tie the fly on, and make awkward casts while you can.  None of us are guaranteed another 20 years of shrimp, fly angling, or time with family & friends.  But don't waste your energy on those things that aren't important to you. I like Alaskan crab legs, but not so much that the effort required to extract the meat from its protective shell is worth the neck cramps.

Figure out what's important.  Peel it.  Eat it.  Tie it.  Fly it.  Walk it.  Savor it while you can.  Even if it hurts a little, sometimes.

You probably know this song.  Take another listen anyway...

I like Joe's philosophy
(Replace "beer" with your own "Take Plenty" thing.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fly Rod Thoughts: Swift Epic, Redington Butter Stick, and Sage ONE

The hand makes things clearer


To quote our current POTUS: "Let me be clear: ..."  This is not a product review of any kind.  These are the observations, musing, and otherwise random thoughts of a guy with a progressive neuromuscular disease who knows very little about casting a fly rod.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Catches and Misses

"Gotcha!" I yelled to nobody.  As far as I knew, there wasn't another human within a quarter mile or so.  This can only mean one thing:  I've started talking to trout.  This particular one was connected to the other end of my fishing line.  I missed him (or her) a couple of times before I finally set the hook with decent timing.  The fish ran back at me after I pulled it away from the willow where I'm sure it wanted to hide.  My line went slack because I wasn't fast enough, so I was sure it had self-released when the tension was lost in the line.  In short order, the eight-inch brook trout was in hand and released.  Father's Day was shaping up nicely.  Much better, in fact, than the previous two days, where I'd only managed one little brown each day.  Those were short sessions with several brief hookups, but only one tally mark each day.  No worries.  We anglers can always formulate rationalization and tales of the ones that got away.  I don't mind them getting close and then escaping.  I prefer to identify the species, but I'm in it for the supplemental dopamine.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Driftless Thinking

I'm watching the sun climb reluctantly out of bed from an airport window in Syracuse, New York.  My mind is wandering elsewhere.  I dutifully checked my work email when I got through security and settled in with coffee and donuts (thank you, Dunkin'!)  Nothing I can do there, so I engage in one of my favorite pastimes: rereading some of my recent blog entries.  Perhaps an exercise in narcissism, but I enjoy reliving the moments.  If Delta Airlines do their thing correctly, I should be back in southern Minnesota in 7 hours, headed for one more weekend in the Mobile Hotel®.

Gimme the creek, boys, and free my soul....
Photo credit: Eddie Rivard
A bit more than two years ago, Mrs. FA and I made one of the best decisions of our lives when we bought the RV and started staying regularly at Maple Springs Campground near Forestville State Park.  We're on the western edge of the Driftless Complex that spans southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and southwestern Wisconsin.  Small creeks and cold waters keep the trout alive.  I miss Montana, but this place has filled the void.

I've been fishing a couple of these creeks on and off for two years.  It took me this long to find some brook trout, and I couldn't be happier about it.  The knowledge that I have abundant "creek time" coming has kept me motivated and productive this week.  And what I want more than anything this weekend is for my wife to catch a fish.  We tried last weekend, and I'm pretty happy about that.  She did well, but they weren't biting what we were offering in the stretched moments of twilight.  We had fun.  I remember her laughing as I tried diligently to thread some 5X tippet through the eye of a size 18 eye of a caddis fly.  Between the aging eyes and the mild Parkinson's tremor, it was mildly slapstick.  I'm glad we can both laugh.  Yes, it IS funny, and we both know it.

On the Missouri in 2012
Let 'em run!
I can't wait to see another catch-induced smile on her face.  You know, like the kind there was in April.

I'm flying over Lake Huron right now, and will be passing over Lake Michigan in less that 30 minutes.  Maybe I'll try to talk her into using her Sage Grace this weekend.  I might just carry another rod alongside my new Epic 686, just to get a chance to feel the difference side-by-side.  And I should have her grab the landing net before she leaves the house.

I'm ready to get my feet wet.  "Have fun storming the castle!"

Monday, June 13, 2016

Brookie Photo Refinery

I've been studying the techniques of some of the masters. You know who you are... The following photo was published in the previous post.   Here, I've zoomed and cropped. Thoughts?
Please click to view full size image

Looking at this is resurrecting memories.  My mother is sitting right next to me on the shore of Upper Brooks Lake in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains.  She's so young, 23, I think.  We're laughing at the little brook trout I'm holding, because I've caught 5 in the last 15 minutes and my poor father, 30 feet away, hasn't caught a single fish yet.  My two year old brother is chasing grasshoppers.

I love blue halos.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

And For My Next Trick...

Friday was definitely a good day of fishing.  Saturday was even better.  When the alarm nudged my consciousness around 5:30 A.M. I said, "Nope."  Alarm reset.  An hour later, I felt a little more like dragging my knuckles down to the Mobile Hotel®'s kitchen for meds and coffee.  I cringed when I glanced at the outside thermometer as I walked out the door: 70 F at 7:15.  The day was forecast to be more humid the previous one.  Uuug.

Short drive and gear up.  This time, hike back to point where I left off yesterday.  That wild parsnip is getting scary, between the density and height.  I've seen photos of blisters from that stuff, so get thee behind me!  I made it to the spot where I ended Friday's fun.  So, what pattern should I start with?  Might as well start with the old standby: parachute Adams, size 14.  I like this specifically because of its visibility in conditions like this: rippled water and a little morning light filtering indirectly through the full canopy over the little river.  Nothing rising within my sight, but it worked yesterday...

I don't have to "work" for long to hook my first fish of the day: a small brook trout.  Nice!  There are more in this river than I'd thought.  A few minutes later I'm pulling another fish in to remove the barbless fly.  Probably a little brown trout... No, another brookie!   Cue the smile reflex.  I'm elated to be catching something that's related to the fish that were native to these waters before brown trout were introduced.  I'd rather catch a brown trout than no trout, but the darn things are an invasive species in my mind.  Gimme an 8-inch "native" brookie and I'm happier than fighting a 16-inch brown.   I catch three brookies before a brown trout makes it to hand.  No way this day gets any better.

I stumble slowly upstream, working this stretch like I learned from a guide on Piney Creek in Wyoming last fall.  There's a lot of blind casting, with good results.  I spot a few risers next to an eddy swirling under a willow.  Time to play... I drop a couple of gentle casts at the tail of the eddy, and bring in two more small brown trout.  I guess the Adams is working this morning.  How about the caddis?  I select a size 16 grey body with light colored elk wings for good visibility.  On my third cast, I hook something that runs upstream over a shallow rocky stretch.  It's not small.  We've got a runner!

My first attempt to photograph my own catch.
I borrowed my wife's waterproof Olympus camera before I set out this morning.  The logistics of on-stream photograph are baffling to me.  I watched Eddie do it a few times, but I have a long way to go, especially without a net.  I settled on this:  get the fish in close, turn the camera on but leave it in the sling pack.  Pick up fish with left hand, pray it doesn't struggle.  Pull camera out and snap photo with right hand.  After the fish makes three dives into the water, I finally capture a poor likeness.  The photo doesn't do this beastie justice.  According to the markings on my new-and-very-blue (So Blue) Epic 686, it's about 14 inches.  My new unofficial Driftless record.

Just then, I start to feel just a wee bit smug.  Justifiably, the Universe decides to intervene.  The overhead tree (and I mean 100% directly overhead) starts a conversation.  "Oh, is that your ego?  Here, let me help you with that..."  My line is now a tapestry around an oak branch 15 feet above my head.  Then it gets weird.  The summation of  a large fish, a mental trespass into pride, and an errant backcast are too funny to hold back.  I erupt into a full belly laugh that rang with insanity and probably frightened several small mammals.  I can't remember the last time I felt this alive.  Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the tree.

I look at my watch, guessing that it's almost time to leave, but only 90 minutes have passed since I parked the SUV.  I'm shocked to realize I still have more than two hours before I need to turn back to cook lunch.  Pause for water and medication.  The only sign of Parkinson's Disease this morning is the wading staff I'm using to shuffle upriver.  It's tethered, so I just drop when I start casting, then pick it up when I'm ready to move forward again.

Not too much later, I have another photo op.  This frisky creature would not hold still, but I attempted an artsy shot anyway.  Glad I trimmed my nails on Thursday.

Blue halos and So Blue FastGlass®

I slowly staggered up river, blind casting and picking things apart, remembering how Eddie was pulling fish out of unlikely (to me) looking spots.  An unlikely spot yielded this:

Oops, camera shy!
The One That Got Away...
This brook trout spit the hook and bid me "Good Day" when it wriggled free and dived for the water.  I didn't get the chance to measure it with my rod, but I'll conservatively guess 10 inches.  It's girth equaled that of the big brown from the earlier photo.  Any way you slice it, that was a nicely sized brookie. NICE.

There comes a point when the catching is done.  Sometimes this happens before the allotted time expires.  I was soaked from the humidity, and it wasn't going to get any better.  Thank you, River.  Another day.  Thank you for the six Driftless brook trout.  More browns than that.

The thermometer in the SUV yelled  "88 F" at 10:45 A.M.  Air conditioning never works quickly enough.  Time for a change of clothes, better air conditioning and lunch.  Mrs. FA and I later hiked downstream from the campground with the Offspring to the remains of a beaver pond.  Felt like a jungle expedition.  When we got back, I was as soaked as if I'd showered in my clothes.  The instrumentation back at the Mobile Hotel® offered an explanation: 95 F and 86% relative humidity.  More air conditioning and a quick nap.  Around 2:30 P.M. I decided to go wet wading.  I found a new secret honey hole thirty minutes later, bringing brown trout of various sizes to hand with every other cast.  I tried repeatedly to get a photo of the other 14-inch brown I caught less than 200 feet from the Mobile Hotel®, but that slick creature wanted nothing of it.  Mores the pity, because it was a captivating gray color, no yellow, and only 6 or 7 red spots lined up along each side.

I really don't know how many trout I caught this day.   I'll give a 99% confidence interval of between 24 and 32 fish.  Nevermind that the water was stained to about 16 inches of visibility and the fish were feeding blind.  I'm not in the habit of looking a gift trout in the mouth.  Well, maybe just long enough to remove a hook and send it back from whence it cometh.  Came. Swum?

A good day, worth remembering.  Especially when things get dark and painful.

Now get the family catching, too.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Almost Not Incompetent

It's Friday night at the campground, and a little sadness has entered my thoughts.  Not because I'm sipping bourbon and nibbling on Hershey's chocolate and graham crackers.  Certainly not because we got here Thursday night, allowing me to fish this morning.  And not even because it's raining and there's no campfire tonight.  I remembered that Fathers Day Weekend is when we haul the Mobile Hotel® back home.  Our run of pre-summer camping and fishing weekends will soon draw to a close.

Ah, well, the time has been good.  How good?  The first weekend down here in early May left me with a skunk stripe.  This morning was different.  I spent about three hours on the water and managed to lose count of how many brown trout I caught.  I paid close attention to the brookie count (four!) but lost track of the other count after 4 or 5.  Many were missed and many self-released from the barbless flies.  For a brief time, I actually felt as if I knew what I was doing, especially when I managed to catch 3 fish that I missed the first or second times.

Could've been luck, or the law of averages catching up with me.  And I have many bad habits to correct.  But you should have seen those little brook trout.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Present State of Grace

I'll open with this: the band "Flogging Molly" definitely ain't for everyone.  Irish punk is probably a long-tail, deviant fanbase.  At least I'd like to think so.  All that aside, they have produced some acoustic masterpieces.  The feature ditty here has lots of that "deeper meaning" stuff I'm not equipped to decode.  Yet, there's just enough on the surface to set a few neurons firing and evoke a mild-but-deep reaction:  this is goodness, beauty, humor, and irreverence.

The bridge invokes a bit of the spirit of St. Norman:
'Cause only life, yeah only life has loneliness to sell
So celebrate, yeah live your life, live it and raise hell
The true prophet never spoke
He just smiled and saw the joke
And this present state of grace we creatures need
If you'd like some insight into how I could possibly find the Maclean boys in that quote, I invite you to review this piece I wrote earlier this year.  And if you can bear one more acoustic wonder with a brief sprinkling of twangy, bluesy electric guitar, the following never fails to make me smile:

Hoping you find your state of grace, and wishing that your tomorrow is better than today.

--The Fading Angler

Thursday, June 9, 2016

49.9 Percent

Allegedly, the sophistication of the Homo Sapien's brain is among the top 5 on the planet right now.  Hmm?  Come Again? Another person died in Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday this week, June 7th.  From The Missoulian (newspaper in Missoula, MT):
Rangers suspended their attempts on Wednesday to recover the body of a man who wandered from a designated boardwalk and fell into an acidic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park, another in a string of incidents raising concerns over visitor behavior.
The full story can be read here.  It's just the latest in this year's growing list of demonstrations of the "power" of the human mind:

A few paragraphs from the last article in the list are worth quoting:
If last week's bear jam is any indication, no matter how much information park managers publish or broadcast about the illegality of such incidents, folks either aren't getting the message or just don't care about the rules meant to ensure their safety, as well as to protect wildlife and the park workers called to the scene of such incidents. 
Last week when the woman photographer boldly advanced across the narrow road, I thought for a second that I would witness a bear attack. Luckily the mama bear showed more sense than the woman and moved away from the crowd and up the hill, along with its cubs. 
Yet the incident makes many regular park visitors and staff wonder: What is going to happen next? Or maybe less politely: How stupid can tourists be? No wonder some park workers refer to visitors as "tourons," a combination of the words tourist and moron. Last summer it was bison gorings and people falling from cliffs that made headlines. This year is anyone's guess.

Perhaps the name "Yellowstone National Park" is misleading.  Too gentle.  In our modern world, a "park" is now a place where things are ordered, sculpted, domesticated, and sanitized for your protection.  It's a place for careless romping and playing, where the flowers lack thorns, playgrounds have soft, foamy landing surfaces and there are no sharp edges.  No rules are needed to keep us safe from ourselves in a park.  Maybe Yellowstone needs to be renamed to something more along the lines of "Yellowstone National Danger Area Where Lots of Things Can Kill You Because the Wildlife Are Actually Wild Not Caged or Trained and There Are No Safety Rails So THINK.  Also, Old Faithful Does Not Operate By Pushbutton or Computer Timer." (Yes, there is a story behind that last part, too.)

I will conclude with this fact:
49.9 percent of the population is, by definition, below average intelligence.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Before Breakfast

Wha...?  Oh.  Again?

Looks like I made it through another night.  Fingers fumble with the buzzing iPhone, trying to restore silence.  Establish context through mental cobwebs: daylight, 5:30 A.M., I'm in the forward bed of the camper Mobile Hotel®.  Conclusion: I made plans to fish this morning.  Re-evaluating the plan: struggling to be awake, sore, stiff.

I don't wanna get up.

Much easier to just drop the eyelids and put the mind back in neutral.

Don't be an idiot.  Coffee fixes many morning ills. Sit up and scoot!  Trout don't just catch themselves.

Yes, Master.  As you wish.  You're a real &$$#@!%, you know?

I slide my feet over the side of the bed and prop my self up.  Now comes the fun part.  It's a smaller fifth-wheel RV, so there isn't room to stand beside the bed.  I must scoot myself to the foot of the bed in order to stand and wobble for balance.  It's a three-foot chasm of struggle.  Parkinson's Disease somehow robs me of both strength and multi-limb coordination in the wee hours of daylight.  I push, lift, scoot, twist, push.  How the hell did I gain 40 pounds overnight?  Never mind.  Your feet are on the floor and you didn't fall down.  Congrats.  Where are my meds?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Come Monday...

Luckily, the Internet service at our campground was misbehaving most of the weekend.  Fine with me.  But, now that I'm back in the chair for another four days of punishment work, some of the Little Voices® won't let me focus until I toss something into the blog.

The fishing was great on Saturday.  I spent a few hours back at the stretch where Eddie and I fished a couple of weekends ago.  A couple of trout did me the favor of self-releasing when pulled in close, which is surprisingly easy with crushed barbs.  Two more came to hand, including another MN Driftless brook trout.  I had chef duty at noon, so I hiked back to the vehicle, cringing as I tip-toed though a large patch of blooming wild parsnip.  Danger, Will Robinson, danger.

Brats and hot dogs were grilled and consumed, then a 90-second walk down the creek to the "dog leg" hole.  A few casts, a nine inch brown, and a satisfied stroll back to the Mobile Hotel®.  Two waves of thunder and rain turned the nearly-clear creek waters into chocolate milk.  No worries.  I'm pleased as punch that my new toy angling tool was properly "broke in" on its first outing.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Butter Side Up - Perpetual Motion

I spent a few hours last weekend fishing with my 7'6" Redington Butter Stick on a small creek in the Minnesota driftless area.  My goal was to formulate and solidify some thoughts about using this little 4-weight throwback from modern fast-action graphite.  My first actual use of this rod was two weekends before that, when I took my daughter with me on a short morning hike.  I had her set up with my 7' 3-weight St. Croix Imperial that I purchased exactly for these streams.  While demonstrating some "technique" for my daughter, I was mentally struck by how lively the Butter Stick felt in comparison to the Imperial.  I was impressed with the feel, and with how I was still able to lay some casts into a mild breeze later on in the day.

Over the next two weekends, the Butter Stick became something of an enigma for me.  On occasion, I would lay out the most beautiful (for me) dry fly cast at 30' to 40' distances.   Others, I couldn't get line to shoot, or forward casts just piled up instead of rolling out.  I also determined that I wouldn't be using this for any kind of nymph fishing other than single-nymph.  But you really can't complain when it allows you to pull 3 brown trout out of a crystal clear hole in 15 minutes with a size 18 dry fly.

I'm certain I will spend more time with the rod I now call Mellow Yellow.  But I am reminded of an old joke:  Cats always land on their feet, but toast always land butter-side down.  So, what happen when you tie a butter-side up piece of toast to the back of a cat and drop it out a window?  It spins about a foot off the ground.

I feel a little like that cat right now... dizzy and confused.

Anyone reading this should grab their salt shaker and remember a couple of facts:
  A) I am not an accomplished fly caster
  2) I am brand new to fiberglass.  Just experimenting.

This is just a story.  A very sad little story.  Or maybe a cry for help.  Do not hold this rod responsible for my inadequacies or arrogance.  Renowned dry fly casting expert Eddie Rivard liked the Butter Stick when he tried it.  I will come back to this and try again.  I probably need to concentrate more on the cast than on the fish.

Besides, I have a new fiberglass toy to play with this weekend.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Recipe - Less is S'More

Here's a little something to keep you warming on those cool evenings when you're camping.

1 regular Hershey chocolate bar, whole
1 graham cracker rectangle (4 small sections), whole
1 marshmallow
3 fl. oz. Knob Creek bourbon, 100 proof*

Pour bourbon into small cup.  No water or ice allowed.

While seated next to a campfire, break graham crack and Hershey bar in half. Sandwich half of Hershey bar between both halves of graham cracker.

Toss marshmallow in fire, grin while it burns.  Take a small sip of bourbon, swallow & feel the burn. Take a small bite of chocolate/graham crack sandwich, chew slowly & swallow. Remember to enjoy delicious taste.  Sip bourbon, then take another small sandwich bite.  Enjoy the pleasant synergy between chocolate, graham cracker, and bourbon.

When sandwich is depleted, holler for spouse/significant other to bring another graham cracker for leftover chocolate. Get up and get it yourself when spouse/significant other ignores your desperate plea.  Continue alternating bites and sips.  Consider tossing another marshmallow into the fire for entertainment.

* Those of you who wisely avoid alcohol can substitute a small cup of fresh coffee.  The experience is nearly as good