Tag Archive 'fly fishing'

Sep 10 2014

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Woods Retreat

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FrHillBkCampMonday morning I stuffed a few essentials into my rucksack and headed for the hills. I had plenty to do at home, but when the wild beckons the work can wait. I was overdue for a night alone in the woods.

I had my canine companion Matika with me, of course. Together we humped up the Long Trail two and a half miles from the trailhead parking lot to a small stream called French Hill Brook. From there we bushwhacked west, following the stream until I found a nice place to camp.

I didn’t set up camp right away. Instead I left my rucksack leaning against a tree and fished the brook for a while. In most places the overhanging vegetation made it difficult to cast, but I stumbled upon a few large holes where I could present my fly properly. There a couple wild trout rose to it, taking me by surprise. I didn’t expect to find 7 to 9-inch brookies this high up. I pulled them out of the water long enough to admire their beautiful markings then put them back.

I set up camp as late afternoon shadows overtook the forest. Matika lounged about, chewing on some of my firewood. Then I settled in for dinner and a little campfire meditation. The fire burned away all my concerns as I fed sticks into it. After the sun departed, a full moon rose into the cobalt sky. It’s light filtered through the trees. A cool September breeze kicked up. In the cusp between summer and fall… I reveled in it.

Up at daybreak, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before breaking camp. The hike out was easy: downhill all the way. Soon I was back home and getting ready for a half-day shift at the store. No matter. I got my fix of wildness so I’m all set for a while.


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Jul 30 2014

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Brook Walk

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BlackFallsBrookAfter helping a friend move some stuff, I weighed my options for the rest of the day: do some work, sit and read in the backyard, or go fishing? I asked my dog Matika for her input. She made it clear that heading for the hills was the best choice. So off we went.

I parked my car along a dirt road then slipped into the woods. It was a short hike to the stream. With cool temps and a clear sky overhead, I expected the fishing to be half decent. But the brook roiled with runoff from two days of steady rain. The first few casts yielded nothing. No matter. I walked the brook anyway, casting into promising pools along the way.

Matika was in her glory. She ran through the woods, sniffed around, and negotiated the rock-strewn stream with surprising agility. I stumbled along feeling every one of my 58 years, thinking how much easier it was to brook walk back when I was in my 30s. No rises to my fly but I didn’t care. While grumbling to myself that fishing this brook was a waste of time, I listened to the tumbling water and inhaled the dank smell of the wet forest. My eyes feasted on the green foliage all around me.

Philosophers make lousy fishermen, I kept thinking. If I was serious about catching fish, I would have come out later on when the aquatic flies were hatching. But all I really wanted to do was walk the brook on a late summer day and contemplate the intricacies of wild nature.

The hours passed quickly. As I made my way back to the car empty-handed, it occurred to me that this would have been a great outing had I not been carrying a rod. Then, for a moment, I was almost as happy as my dog.


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Aug 05 2013

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Late Summer on the Brook

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late summer brookA few days ago I went to a favorite brook to do a little fly fishing. Trout season had opened three and a half months earlier. I hadn’t been out yet. An outing was long overdue.

My dog Matika was with me, of course. When I grabbed her leash, she knew it was going to be a good day.

It mattered little whether or not I’d actually catch fish. Like Matika, I just wanted to sniff around. Yeah, the smell of the forest and the sound of cool, clear water tumbling through it is reason enough to be on a stream.

A mountain brook in late summer charms a guy like me in a way that is difficult to describe. My mind empties as I scramble from one promising riffle to another, stalking the wild trout, until suddenly I am face-to-face with unspeakable beauty: a flume, overhanging cliff, waterfall, or some deep, quiet pool that I must show my wife Judy someday. Then a hungry mouth splashes towards my fly, yanking me out of my reverie.

I’m not a very good fisherman. The rising trout usually catches me by surprise. I am easily distracted by the call of a thrush in the distance, the rustle of a forest creature in the nearby understory, or a wildflower blooming along the rocky bank where only moss should grow.

Two small trout landed in my lap despite my best efforts, not because of them. Then I meandered up the brook a while longer, rod in hand but no longer fishing, in search of god-only-knows-what. Deep within lies some vague desire to walk the brook for no reason at all. Sometimes I give into it.

I quit the stream around midday, hiking through the forest to the nearest road then daydreaming back towards the car. No doubt other motorists were cursing me as I slowly made my way home. Under the influence of the wild, I shouldn’t have been on the road.


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Jul 06 2012

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On the Stream

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Every once in a while, I get the urge to walk a mountain stream. I usually take a fly rod with me, hoping to get into a little trout action, but that’s not what it’s all about. I walk the stream to clear my head, to purge the negative energy from my system. Clear running water is good for that.

My tightly wound nerves start to unravel the moment I step into the woods and hear the rush of water nearby. By the time I’ve finished kneeling on the muddy bank and tying on a fly, I’m in a groove. The first cast separates my cluttered day-to-day life back in the developed places from the streamside here-and-now. From that point on, I’m home free.

After a few casts, I scramble over moss-covered rocks to the next promising hole. When large boulders or downed trees crop up, I step back into the woods, tramping through bracken, ferns and other understory vegetation. I often find a beautiful wildflower or some other delight along the way. My dog Matika often finds something interesting to sniff. Yeah, we’re both easily distracted.

Rock, forest and running water. Shadow and light. Keeping it simple. My tiny fly floats through the emerald pools, following the riffles, and I am ready to respond to the slightest splash. Sometimes it comes, most of the time it does not. The sights, sounds and smells of the mountain stream intoxicate me all the same.

A couple hours of stream walking and I’m ready to just sit and look around. That’s when I know I’m done fishing. I sit until I lose track of time. Then I tramp through the woods, daydreaming all the way back to the car. My boots and pants are sopping wet but I don’t care. The sun breaks through the forest. A thrush or other familiar songbird calls in the distance. I smile absently. I am in my element, and it feels good to be alive.


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Aug 04 2011

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Trout Hunting

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It’s been a year since I last fished this brook, yet I still remember this particular pool and where the trout are located in it.  Beneath the huge rock on the far side of the pool, there is ample cover for an aquatic predator to lie in wait for whatever the current carries downstream.

I crawl into position on the gravel bank, keeping my dog Matika behind me with a simple hand signal.  The stream is low and clear, as it usually is this time of year.  I draw closer than I would during springtime, confident that the August heat has driven the trout into the cool shadows.

Sure enough, I spot a tiny splash just beneath the huge rock.  I wait patiently and it happens again.  That has to be a trout sucking down flies just now breaking the surface, so I cast my trusty Ausable Wulff fly over there.  The first couple casts come up shy of the shadows, but I wait until my fly has floated to the shallows before lifting it out of the pool.  Try again.  A third cast puts the fly right on target and, sure enough, the trout gulps it down.  Seconds later I am landing a 9-inch brookie with all the delight that a trout hunter feels when a hunch pans out.

Matika dances around me as I remove the hook from the fish’s mouth.  She dashes into the shallows when my quarry swims free.  But the trout is lightning fast so it’s gone before my dog’s snout hits the water.  I can’t help but laugh.

I fish for another hour and catch a few more trout, but it’s all rather anticlimactic after such a perfect setup and resulting interplay.  On rare occasions, trout dreams are realized.  And the rest of the day is merely a long, lazy, summertime indulgence.  It doesn’t get any better than this for a brookwalker like me.

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Sep 29 2010

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Mountain Stream Philosophizing

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Sometimes I head to the mountains to escape my thoughts.  Other times I take my intellectual baggage with me.  The other day was a good example of the latter.

Even as the rush of the mountain stream filled my ears, and the intoxicating smell of autumn leaves tickled my nose, I brooded over a comment made by a world-renowned physicist a week or two earlier.  He had said that a Creator was not necessary, that the universe could have arisen spontaneously from nothing.  I immediately scoffed at the notion, but it ate away at me regardless.

Order or chaos – it all comes down to that, doesn’t it?  Either the universe is organized according to certain immutable laws, or all events are essentially random.  Recent cosmological discoveries point to a Big Bang occurring 13.7 billion years ago, to a singular event giving birth to the universe as we know it, thereby ruling out the possibility that things are now as they have always been.  But that leaves the non-religious thinker no choice but to embrace utter randomness.  And that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Order or chaos?  While fly fishing a mountain stream, I see plenty of both.  All around me there are downed trees, rotting wood, and the quiet tumult of growth and decay, yet the leaves overhead are turning gold, completing a cycle set in motion many centuries ago.  Rocks are strewn about haphazardly, as are twigs and branches, yet the stream itself follows the inexorable tug of gravity.  Is wild nature ordered or chaotic?  A good argument can be made either way.

A small brown trout rose to my showy fly, an Ausable Wulff, then all was quiet for a while.  When I spotted a cloud of tiny, slate gray mayflies hovering over the water, I changed to another fly – one called a Blue-winged Olive – that better matched the hatch.  I was betting that the hungry mouths beneath the water’s surface would know the difference.  This bet didn’t escape the philosopher in me.  I was betting on natural order and was not disappointed.  Several trout splashed to the surface, chasing my tiny gray fly.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the eyes to see my offering on the water so I missed the strikes, leaving all matters philosophical unresolved.

Shortly thereafter, I resorted to my showy A. Wulff, which is much easier to see.  I soon hooked and landed a ten-inch brook trout.  It didn’t make any sense, really.  You’d think a big, old brookie would know better than to rise to something that looks as out of place as an A. Wulff.  Clearly Mother Nature was making fun of me, mocking my assumptions.  Or maybe we just don’t have enough information to really know what’s going on around us.  I laughed long and hard at that, while returning the trout to the drink.  There’s always a rationalization, isn’t there?

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Jul 26 2010

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Into the Clouds

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I headed for Smuggler’s Notch before dawn, hoping to hike up the short, steep trail to Sterling Pond and fish it before day hikers swarmed out of the nearby resorts.  Stowe is well known as a ski destination in the winter, but in the summertime it is almost as busy.  And the trails surrounding that resort town get a lot of traffic.

I usually avoid busy trails, but the one to Sterling Pond is an exception.  I hike it once a year, drawn to it by the many brook trout at the other end.  Sterling Pond is one of the few bodies of water in Vermont located above three thousand feet.  Wild and beautiful, it is well worth visiting even without a fishing rod.  That is, if the crowd there isn’t too dense.

At dawn I parked my car in the notch, grabbed my rucksack and charged up the trail.  My dog, Matika, led the way, of course.  A fierce wind blew through the mountains, making me doubt the wisdom of this outing.  But the weather forecast called for sunny skies later on, so I kept going.

Halfway up the trail, I slipped into the clouds.  That’s always a weird feeling.  I broke a sweat in the cool, wet air and kept sweating.  The wind died away.  By the time I reached the pond, the clouds started thinning out.  An unseen morning sun brightened them considerably.  I expected the sky to break open any minute.  But the clouds stayed with me while I fished.

I wasn’t really fishing.  It was more like practice casting.  Not one trout rose to the surface.  And when I switched from dry flies to wet ones, there was still no tug at my line.  Yet standing on the edge of that still pond was no less pleasant.  Even Matika got into it, occasionally looking up from her chewed stick to look around.  We had caught Sterling Pond in one of its better moods.  I stopped casting several times just so that I could groove on its wild silence.

Even as I descended the trail back to the parking lot, I braced myself for the hordes of hikers to suddenly appear.  But no one showed.  For the first time ever, I hiked up to Sterling Pond and back without seeing a soul.  Very strange.  As rare as getting skunked there.  Not that I’m complaining.  No people, no fish.  Not what I expected, but a good trade-off all the same.

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Jul 05 2010

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Pagan Fishing

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This is more hunting than fishing, really.  The trick isn’t trying to hook the trout, but sneaking into position without spooking it.  The water in the pool is crystal clear and the bigger fish in it are wary – especially this time of year.  Oh sure, you can walk along the edge of a pool, casually cast your fly onto it, and most likely get a fingerling to rise.  But if you want the big guy in there, you’ll have to try harder than that.  You’ll have to sneak up on the pool on your hands and knees.

While you move into position, mosquitoes and other biting insects have their way with you.  Sweat drips from your brow.  Negotiating the jumble of rocks that define the brook is harder than you think – especially if you’re trying to keep a low profile.  If you’ve been at this more than an hour, your boots are wet and your pants are muddy.  Not that you care.  You’re immersed in the wildness all around you now, so being wet, dirty, bug-bitten and sweaty feels right.

Yeah, the boundary between self and other began to blur the moment you set foot on this brook.  The forest embraced you, the rushing water sang its Siren song, and you forgot about that other life back in the lowlands – if only for a few hours.

At first you stood tall and proud next to the brook, casting your line with benign indifference.  But now you are hungry for it.  Now you are down on your hands and knees, creeping forward like a predator.  The one you lost a few minutes ago awakened your senses.  The unexpected splash that soaked your floating fly stirred something deep within you.  So now you are creeping forward, praying to the gods of moss-covered rocks and fast-moving water for one more chance to match your reflexes against those of that aquatic phantom.

When a torpedo-like shadow darts across the pool then disappears, you know you’ve missed another one.    But there’s another pool just above this one where you can try again.  So you get up and move forward as slowly as possible, slipping into position once again, studying the intricate details of yet another beautiful pool.  Then you launch your line into the air, sidecasting back and forth beneath overhanging branches, finding your mark before dropping a fly on it with all the hope that exists.  And for a split second you are that fly, gently floating with the current until wham! a toothy mouth breaks the surface and clamps down.  Then the fight begins.

It’s more religion than sport, really.  You call it recreation but deep down you know it’s more than that.  Much more.  You don’t just ply the water for trout, you worship it.  Every cast is a leap of faith.  Every new pool is fraught with possibility.  And as long as you keep moving forward, everything is right with the world.

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Aug 04 2008

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Wet-wading a Mountain Stream

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Sometimes I get into such a funk that I have to grab my fly rod and head for the hills in the middle of the day even though I know that summer afternoons are a lousy time to fish. While driving out of town, I make a short list in my head of the reasons why I’m in a funk. Fact is, though, I often reach a point where I just can’t handle the layers of bullshit that pass for daily life in these modern times. In the middle of winter, I use a strong cup of coffee and thoughtful essay by some dead philosopher to keep the funk at bay.  But in the summer, it makes more sense to simply get away.

Above a series of deep pools just east of Montgomery Center, the headwaters of the Trout River flow out of a forest that’s surprisingly wild for being so close to a major ski area. I prefer fishing other places when I’m serious about catching trout, but this is a good place to lose the funk. The sheer volume of water passing through this rugged terrain makes it nearly impossible to walk this stream without crossing it and getting wet, and that’s a good reason to come here. It isn’t easy to dwell upon the sorry state of human affairs while cold mountain water is rushing hard against your thighs.

Wet-wading a mountain stream, fly rod in hand, is an exercise in humility. This isn’t the idyllic fly-fishing experience painted by Maclean in A River Runs Through It, where skill, knowledge and grace induce a communion with nature reminiscent of simpler times. This is wet, sloppy, pointless fishing where the trout run small, your backcast often catches in the overhanging branches of trees, and you slip on the rocks and fall down. Perfect! Now I’m getting somewhere. Now I’m learning, once again, that the bullshit of the world is rooted within.

I curse the tree when my fly is caught in it. I curse the stones underfoot when I fall down. I curse the river when I can’t entice the big fish to rise to my offerings. But eventually I stop cursing. Once I’m wet to the waist, after I’ve stumbled up the stream long enough and lost enough flies, I stop cursing. And the whimsical catch-and-release game that I’m playing with 6-inch brookies seems pleasant enough.

I don’t know how other people do it, how they manage to keep their wits when the world around them is going crazy. My wife works for the State and deals with more bullshit in a week than I do in a year. A friend of mine seems to thrive on the kind of bureaucratic madness that would make me go postal. My stepson is doing well for himself in Washington D. C. – an environment that seems utterly toxic to me. Different people have different coping mechanisms, no doubt. Mine is an afternoon on a mountain stream when I can’t disappear into deep woods for a longer period of time.

The hike back to the car is often the best part. This is especially true when I’ve followed the stream so far back that I’m not quite sure where I am, or when retracing my steps seems like too much work. Then I climb away from the water and tag some kind of trail. With soaked boots squishing and my rod pointing the way, I tramp out of the woods with a stupid grin fixed on my face. The brush along the trail whips against me but I don’t care. An ovenbird is singing, spotted touch-me-not is blooming in the wet places, and smell of the forest is intoxicating. Yessir, life is good when you can shed the bullshit. I unload mine whenever I can.

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Jul 11 2008

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Back to the Wild

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Yesterday I went back into the Green Mountains to regain some semblance of sanity. A series of events, largely out of my control, kept me away from them for over a month. That’s way too long. A great weight lifted from my shoulders the moment I stepped out of my car and into the woods. I looked around long enough to notice daisies, buttercups and tall meadow rue in bloom nearby, then shouldered my rucksack and charged up the logging road. My dog, Matika, was already twenty yards ahead of me – no doubt as glad as I was to get back to the wild.

A mile up the logging road, I tagged the Basin Brook. I followed it into the green infinity without as much as a deer trail underfoot. When the brook forked, I took the tributary leading back to a series of beaver ponds that I had visited a few years ago. There I would put the collapsed fly rod in my rucksack to good use. But first I had to reach those ponds. That’s easier said than done, as any seasoned bushwhacker will tell you.

The Vermont woods are lush this time of year. The extra rain they’ve seen recently has made a lot of plants and animals happy. Mosquitoes greeted me while I flailed through thick entanglements of hobblebush, but I was happy enough tramping across the forest floor, listening to the stream’s song and breathing in the dank smell of a wet forest. For a few hours, I was off the grid. And that’s a feeling you can’t buy at your nearest superstore.

Matika was a knot of exuberance, running back and forth through the woods just to be running. More than once she leaped over blowdown only to land chest-deep in a mud hole. She didn’t care. When I crossed the brook, she bounded past, splashing me in the process. I think she did that on purpose.

It took a couple hours but eventually I found that old beaver pond I’d fished a few years back. The newer ones below it had broken and drained, but the old one still held firm even though there was no indication that any beaver still lived there. From the beaver dam, I waved my fly rod a few times and landed a fair-sized brook trout. I didn’t let Matika wade into the pond so she sat on the dam looking rather bored while I fished. She pulled sticks from the dam and chewed on them until she caused the dam to leak. That and the gray clouds overhead cut my fishing short. No matter. I had reached the pond and, quite frankly, that was all I really wanted to do. The pond was just a destination – something to aim for while wandering around the woods for a day. The way I see things, it’s all about the journey. The destination doesn’t really matter.

I bushwhack through life. Show me a trail and I’ll follow it for a while but not forever. I’m not a big rules kind of guy. Some people live their lives in a box; others think outside of the box; I can’t even find the box and don’t know what I’d do with it if I could. So I go into the woods on a regular basis, finding there the kind of meaning and purpose that most people find in credos, scientific facts or sacred texts. I walk streams, hike trails and generally wander about the woods, looking for insights into the real. I’m rarely disappointed.

The hike out was easy – downhill for the most part. When I got back to the car, I realized that I hadn’t seen another human being all day. Just what the doctor ordered. Matika climbed into the back seat and slept all the way home. I basked in the glow that always follows a day spent outdoors. Returning home, I hooked myself back into the grid. But I’ll be out there again soon. I hope to return to the woods before my mud-caked boots have a chance to completely dry out.

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