Coming Off Montana

A couple of things announced their need for me to post this item. I was dreaming of another fishing visit to the western part of the country, knowing that it had to be on hold. Also, I had just finished rewriting a memoir called Beautiful Like a Mayfly, which I hope to have published in the next year or two. One chapter of the book, called “Coming Off Montana,” contains the following excerpt, a piece that helps me remember what the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfishing was like in southwestern Montana and the Yellowstone country a few years back. Please enjoy.

“… I wanted to fish the feeder creek flowing past the camp site, so I grabbed a small cane rod and a four-weight line. Sure enough, cutthroat trout began to rise for a Stimulator laid down on the surface of this stream. I expected fingerlings or stunted fish, not the big ones averaging nearly a foot in length. These cutthroats, possibly remaining from the spawning season earlier in spring, were far more colorful than their noted Rock Creek brethren down below the camp. This stream that averaged maybe 10 feet wide, along with its plentiful fishery, reminded me of the Pecos River headwaters in New Mexico a couple of years before. It was that sublime. It was that challenging and wild, although this stream had a quiet gravel road nearby.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tributary had its share of log-jams and inviting holds for trout as it poured off the mountain slopes through spruce and fir and aspen forest. I returned to it for a second day of fishing, after hitting up Rock Creek in several more locations.

The wind was horrible on Rock, so I looked forward to bushwhacking the feeder stream above camp. I caught the first 10-inch cutthroat just a stone’s throw from my tent, then headed upstream casting a Yellow Sally. I plied the pocket water, undercuts, and quiet spots behind gray boulders. I hooked, in addition to foot-long cutthroats, a massive brown trout in a piece of fast water locked between boulders and a fallen tree. The little cane rod took a deep bend as I held the downstream trout at the bank and then approached it. Unfortunately I didn’t have my net along. The trout looked to be 18 inches long, but the fly popped out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Later, as I climbed to the roadway through this splendid valley, I looked to where the creek flowed out of wooded slopes and scattered meadows. The sun was setting and reflected a golden glow and fresh tranquility from the great escarpments of rock and talus. Everything was trout-colored and new, and I gave thanks to the 14 cutthroats and five wild browns that I captured and released this day. With a final glimpse at the upper valley, I imagined swimming toward the source like a trout on a mission. Given the restraints of time and muscle, I could never walk there on my own. All of a sudden I had fins and I could swim. It might have been a dream, but it was Montana….”




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“Never Felt No Fishing Blues”

I almost called this post “The Soul-butter Fishing Blues.” Samuel Clemens used the term “soul butter” in Huckleberry Finn, but I think the term had a negative connotation, as RSCN4559 when the king and duke defrauded villagers with their version of reality and sold them some imaginative snake oil.

I was feeling the soul-butter blues, that mean low-down feeling that can build inside your tissues when you need to fish but the world of labor, mundane or otherwise, has you shackled. Relatively speaking, the soul butter, as I know it, is a mild malaise. You know that things could be much worse, but then again, what’s worse for an able-bodied angler than to be tied up when the wading shoes are parked beside the door?

DSCN4641It’s as if the angling spirit awoke at 2 a.m. with the gout, to toss and turn with big toe misery, knowing that the fishing trip next morning would be squelched again.

…I ain’t never felt no blues like this before…

Damn it all, I’ve found another piece of music that’s possessed me. I accidently bumped into Karen Lovely’s “Never Felt No Blues” and it floored me. …I ain’t never felt no blues like this before… Had my share of black, black nights… I’ve been pacin’ the floor… It seems that Karen is a rising queen of the blues, and I like her sultry voice and unpretentious style.

When I checked into the history of this song, I found an original version by B.J. Sharp, DSCN4682recorded in the late 90s, about a decade earlier than Lovely’s cut. It too sounds terrific to my blue-veined ears.

I’ve been playing both versions of the song repeatedly and can’t decide which one is better. Each one has a different punch for that soft spot at the core of me. I was overthinking all of this, of course, and knew I had to simplify.

Yeah, I’ve got the soul-butter blues, the temporary no-fishing blues, and luckily nothing more. It’s not the real blues, with its biblical heartbreak and black-night pacing of the floor, the kind I remember all too well from the years before my marriage.

DSCN4465Who needs such a gut-wrenching heart explosion? The kind that makes soul butter look like picnic fare without the trouble of ants. Nonetheless, the song moves me out of darkness toward the light, as if to say, I’m glad it ain’t me who’s involved!

It’s the deep blues from a woman’s point-of-view, from entanglement and despair, and if you think it’s simple, guys, well, try to sing a few bars. It ain’t soul butter, if you do it right.

Which brings me to say: I really need to fish again. The heavy rains have kept me off the stream at times; I’ve had work both here and there, and minor ailments have raised their ugly faces on occasion– all of which is good– to a point. But when a guy needs to fly-fish, hell, he needs to go!

RSCN4564By the time you read this, I’ll have tried the water again. I’ll be moving on to Cedar Run and, next week, the Yellow Breeches. I look forward to that mix of free and limestone water on the Breeches, even though the fish are mainly stocked. I’ve fished that creek only once before, and I know there’ll be a set of challenges.

I’ve wondered how the Yellow Breeches got its name… Apparently, British soldiers during the Revolutionary War scrubbed their white leggings in the tannic water and got them stained… yellow. Like soul butter… We can chuckle and imagine their surprise. And we can listen to the problem once again…

I ain’t NEVER felt no blues like this before….



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The Home River News

Every time I feel that I’ve neglected my home river this year, I pinch myself and say, hold on. Typically, I don’t get to fish the main stem of the Genesee in New York ’til late May or June because I’m busy on the headwaters and the PA streams till then.  This year, whenever I’ve made a periodic check, the river has been flowing high and muddy or there were other OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA circumstances barring my entry there.

Yesterday we enjoyed a rare day of summer beauty in the region, with sunshine and atmospheric clarity, so I decided to look at the river early in the evening– just in time for that “rare day” to become suddenly overcast and showery. Go figure.

Maybe the shift to darkness helped the fishing, maybe not. The flow remained high and turbid from recent rains, and I knew I wouldn’t be wading around much in that water, so I focused on a favorite pool and riffle and got to work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall mayflies, plus some larger Cahill and Yellow Drake varieties, were coming off sporadically, and the cedar waxwings had a buffet offering from their high perches along the bank. I love the way they swoop down and make an effortless catch of mayfly or caddis somewhere over my head.

I began with a Light Cahill dry fly trailing a soft-hackle dropper underneath it. The trout preferred the dry fly. When I switched the flies to a single offering, a Yellow Drake comparadun tied for me by Bob Stanton, the fun began.

I caught a lot of standard brownies on that fly, and lost a dogger that rose near the far bank and didn’t want to venture any closer to me than it had to. It was probably in the 15 to 18-inch range.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So it’s mid-July, and the summer prospect for the Genesee looks better than it usually does at this point. The cool night temperatures have helped. My water temperature was 62 degrees, not bad for a late day on the Genny. With luck, the rains will ease a little and the daytime air temps will stay in the comfort zone.

I hope that your own home water, wherever it is, has a similar prospect, with the promise of good fishing and exploration ahead.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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In the Name of Trout

I discovered modern music about the same time I discovered the joy of fishing. Since my age hit the double digits, I’ve had a lovely run with both.

As a kid, I used to lie awake at night with a small transistor at my ear. I’d wait for a replay of a single tune, the one piece in a Top 40 rotation that meant something different to me than the 39 other pieces of crap. That song might have encapsulated the suggestions of beauty and wildness in the world.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I used to walk my fly rod to the farthest point that I could walk it to– away from the bridges, out around the bend, beyond…

I would dream of fishing water new to me, places where the trout would be larger or more radiant, where the world would show me something I hadn’t seen before.

In the decade from my middle teens to my middle twenties, I would buy record albums, vinyl, based on possibilities– on what new world of music they might offer.

Sometimes there was little way of knowing what my hard-earned dollars were purchasing, unless I knew something of the group or artist from the past. It was a different time, for sure.

By hit or miss, I found a brave new realm of music, fitting my inquisitive nature. Since then, I’ve done the same with trout streams and the world around me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes I worry that I’ve missed something significant along the way. It might be a terrific blues band or progressive artist known to only spiritual explorers. It might be a neighborhood trout stream nearly forgotten, still thriving with fish and beauty.

Just the other day, I found the music of Walter Trout (a great name, huh?), a blues guitarist whom I’d heard of but had barely known. Before going solo and producing his own bands, Trout played with Canned Heat and, more importantly, with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at a time when I loved to hear that group but hadn’t checked out who was playing what.

For me, finding Walter Trout through satellite radio and the Internet is like finding excellent new trout water in easy striking distance from home. Good work, like good water, is always out there if you take the time to find it.

So where have I been without this stream of music all along? Who knows.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Walter Trout, who played with great animation, feeling, and humor, recently had a liver translant and is hoping for recovery from a near-death experience.

Trout has an album called “Live: No More Fish Jokes.” And his recent tribute album to the late Luther Allison (a main influence) includes a decent cover of the blazing “Cherry Red Wine,” an Allison classic.

So now I’ve found another trout stream and another mine of music. Better late than never, I say.



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Cedar Run (The Jazzway)

As promised, I returned to Cedar Run to cover that half mile of unfished water between the two pools known as “Blue” and “Little Blue.” Visiting the stream was my next step OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtoward completion of an eleven-mile walk along the run’s entirety. My report would also be known as The Cedar Run Experience #9.

I intended to enter the gorge and carry an old Reuben Barkley fly rod.

Driving down from NYS I listened to a Miles Davis CD, that cornerstone of jazz called “Kind of Blue.” A voice from the subconscious mind suggested I play it once again. A jazz favorite, for sure, but maybe there was something more. That half mile stretch on Cedar was a place between “Blues,” so maybe it was… kind of blue? The voice said, go with it, the flow, a feeling from the gut.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe morning sun was just beginning its stretch into the glen. The sky would be cloudless; the air temperature would climb into the 80s. The water temperature would hit the 60 mark, but Cedar Run was low and clear. It had thinned down considerably from its form two weeks ago.

The fishing would be difficult. I would see no creature larger than a trout or a bird. From Little Blue down to big Blue I would find enchanting water, pools and riffles alternating in subtly shifting rhythms, and I made a mental note to fish this place next spring when the major hatches reoccurred.

“So What,” I hummed. And “Freddie Freeloader,” too, which I improvised in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsnippets. It was music from the stream of life, although my sludgy notes were a lowly counterpart to the songs of thrushes and warblers hidden among the leaves. This section of the stream was like a Jazzway.

Trout were rising at the upper end of Blue. But what were they taking?

Not a Blue-winged Olive, not a Pheasant-tail nymph.

The water was remarkably still. I inched my way forward and made a long cast of a small dry Stimulator. I saw the trout rise but struck too quickly. Its weight was noticed all too briefly, three or four seconds at best.DSCN4597

What was Miles Davis doing in this wild, remote area? Wasn’t it a strange place for a private concert? Ah, the music.  The gentle flow of water in July. The sliding down, the gathering force. The song. The song with its deep pools, undercuts, and riffles. The framework of a Pennsylvania gorge and vast green forest.

And Reuben Barkley. I had mentioned the maker of this old cane rod I was casting. Why did I mention him?  Why not. I know so little about the guy. I think he lived in Oregon and built bamboo fly rods while tending to his funeral home.RSCN4550

Fishing in the Jazzway, I felt free to wonder. I’ve read that Barkley’s fly rods were, for the most part, only mediocre instruments, but a few of them were very good to fish with and to look at. My 7.5-ft. five-weight is a pleasure to cast. Maybe it’s one of Barkley’s better efforts, one created in a stretch of time when the funeral business hadn’t hung around him like an albatross.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fishing was summer slow. A few brooks and a wild brown came to hand but that was it. The fly rod was an instrument with human history behind it, with a shade or two of mystery, as well. To cast it was to hear a seasoned trumpeter, a jazz musician, improvising on a theme and recognizing an ocean in the flow.RSCN4557OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Ausable on the Skids

The West Branch Ausable River, in the Adirondacks of New York, isn’t really on the skids, it just seemed that way the past few days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As the summer days heat up, the temperature of the river water naturally rises to the point where it stresses some of the trout, so the fishing starts to wane, even in the morning and evening hours.

In early July the river level was dropping toward the normal zone as the late June flush began to pass. Two young men had recently drowned while testing out the waters of the Flume above Wilmington. Peering into that gorge while passing by with a fly rod in hand, I wasn’t surprised that another tragedy occurred.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Monday evening, in the tannic flow of the boulder-studded catch-and-release water near the Flume, I missed the rise of a large trout leaping for the fast drift of my Rusty Spinner dry.

Next morning, my friend Walt came to visit from Vermont and we hit the river without delay. I caught a small brown trout below the dam at Wilmington but the water temp had risen to 70 degrees, so we decided to head upstream. The special regs water begins near the Lake Placid ski jumps, and the river there was more congenial to our efforts. It was cooler and very comfortable in the fir-scented air. The songs of white-throated sparrows punctuated the mountain scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was comfortable, but there was little sign of hungry trout. We decided to try a small feeder stream nearby, a brook choked with fallen trees and boulders. Exchanging my “Founders’ Rod,” an 8.6-ft. bamboo, for a tiny stick of Fenwick glass, I followed Walt into the wilderness. We didn’t get far but we each managed to fool a brook trout.

Traveling toward the headwaters of the West Branch, we stopped to fish a section near the highway. Again, the fishing was slow. Persistence was the key to Walt’s success while working a deep hole from his stand behind a boulder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had taken a seat on a nearby rock to remove the water from my leaking waders. I had just removed my shoes when a brown trout took the beadhead nymph that Walt had OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoffered. He hollered for the use of my net, but it was in the car. I rushed from my position on the bank hoping to get a decent photo of the fish. I learned that neoprene socks do not get a solid grip on glacial stone.

On the skids, I fell forward and down. Between rocks the size of chairs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI tore a thumbnail, scraped an arm and hip, saw my life flash by on another planet, and put a small dent in the little camera I was holding. Luckily, my head missed smacking into granite, and yeah, I did get a couple of smiling Walt pics on my trusty old Olympus.

My friend hit the homeward trail that evening after our Switchback Ale and burgers in Saranac Lake. I went back to pounding the Ausable, missing a couple of large fish at dusk, despite an apparent lack of hatch activity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning I made a reverent approach to the renowned pool at Shadow Rock and finally caught a nice brown on a tiny beadhead. As I said, the fishing was slow, but the outing itself (although a bit treacherous at times) proceeded at a happy pace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN4506

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The Cedar Run Experience, Part 8

I got a late start on Cedar Run this year, but it felt good to return to my year-old quest of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfishing all of this remarkable stream in northern Pennsylvania. My last visit was in mid-November when I broke a bamboo rod while fishing in the gorge (see “The Blue Pool,” aka “The Cedar Run Experience, Part 7,”  11/13). I had the rod repaired over the winter and have been anxious to resume the upstream journey bit by bit.

I had fished up to the Blue Pool in November, but on this occasion it wasn’t easy picking up the slack at Blue so I decided to access Cedar where the road passes over Tumbling Run. From there I’d walk down to Blue and gain some new ground near a pool known as Little Blue.  I found the Little Blue within a quarter mile of downstream fishing, but that’s as far as I traveled this time out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was getting hot and humid and the clouds became dark and threatening. According to my topo map, I was still about half a mile above the big Blue Pool, and I promised myself that on the next visit I would fish that stretch between the Blues and then be ready to push to higher ground.

The stream was in good shape for late June, with plenty of water and a temperature in the low 60s. Despite the presence of a gravel road somewhere in the woods above me, I felt a touch of wildness in the gorge. The dripping cliffs, the large white pines, the chattering of a winter wren, etc., penetrated my senses and provided that fix of wildness that allows me to feel more than a lame monkey in a world of commerce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought of that concept, independence, and the impending U.S. holiday. Being on the stream felt like being free, but freedom is a relative word describing our potential for making choices. I felt a love for this place where politics and patriotism did not enter, but where behavior and imagination were accounted for.

The fishing was slow, as can be expected in early summer, but I managed to catch and release five wild trout– four browns, one brook, all rather small but brightly colored.

I saw a group of four mink hunting along the rocky bank beneath a cliff. The four OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmembers of the weasel family bounced among the rocks, reversing their course and then proceeding upstream once again, perhaps enjoying the day like a wayward human with a fishing rod.

A porcupine stood dining among the grasses near my feet. I moved for my camera in a vest pocket, and the porky headed for the nearest tree. I doubt that it enjoyed being interrupted at its meal. I took a couple photos and returned to my fishing. The quill meister backed down from the tree and headed for deeper woods.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo minutes later I was in the stream, fiddling with fly and leader, when I heard rustling at my back. Porky? Perhaps with a couple of bully friends to confront me? I turned to see a young fly-fisher looking at me with a sullen eye.

“Oh, heh!” I uttered, giving away my shock. Seeing another fisherman here was the last thing I expected. “For a second, I thought you were a porcupine. I saw one right there a few minutes ago.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe guy looked like a model angler from a new Cabela’s catalogue, with vest and waders just a few days old. “Any luck?” he asked. He still wasn’t smiling. I wondered where his model angler wife and daughter were– the ones in the catalogue beside him, the ones sporting the lastest gear and clothing for the missus and the missy. I guessed that he had begged for free time and a bit of solitude today.

He told me that the trout seemed few and far between on Cedar. I disagreed politely, saying there were plenty of wild brooks and browns; it was just a slow time to be fishing. The trout were probably napping in their version of the Day Room, watching piscine television, or playing cards. The angler didn’t crack a smile. “This is only the second time I’ve fished this stream,” he said. “I’m heading out. Good luck to ya.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The porcupine who became an angler walked away forever. I went downstream and hooked up with a brown that nailed my Stimulator.

I thought about the four mink that I’d seen, and wondered if, on getting back to my car, I would see four gentlemen suiting up beside their vehicle. I would look for evidence of fur and claw. I might ask them if they’d seen anything while checking out the cliffs below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



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