The Last Grab

Strawberry MorningAs the twin engine Dash 8 slowly climbed above the beautiful valley I sorely looked down upon a river that I’d just walked out of before having to head to the airport to catch my flight. It will be another year, if I’m fortunate, before I’ll cast a fly here, wander these valleys, gaze upon these towering mountain peaks and immerse myself in these waters in pursuit of a mythical fish, a steelhead. At my age, that’s becomes a somber thought, yet I’ve been incredibly fortunate to fish for steelhead in British Columbia all the years that I have knowing many don’t have such opportunities.

Not long after take off my view was lost among a layer of low hanging valley clouds; something that we could have used more of during my stay, yet the pleasant sunny weather I enjoyed left little room for one to complain. No longer visually distracted my time here began to reel through my head. There were many notable moments, yet none more vivid than that last grab I had just before reeling in for the last time.

I’ve left this country before, sulking over lost opportunities, and  failed encounters.  They seem to linger as much as any steeheading recollection, especially when they occur on my last day or after suffering through a number of fishless days. It’s part of the game here when chasing these often elusive fish. They are moments that mess with my mind like only steelhead and swinging flies for them can.  Over the many years it hasn’t gotten any easier.

For those not familiar with steelheading there is a unique vernacular that accompanies these anadromous wanderers. Boils, grabs, pulls and squirts being some of the more common. None of them generally lead to a successful hook up if being referenced, although they can.  Those that don’t can get under your skin, especially those sudden grabs that take a few clicks off the reel, yet the reel goes silent just as quickly, eventually the spey line dangling  limp below you.  Over three decades of chasing these fish I’ve had my share of them all, and this years trip was no exception.

Hudson Bay Fall Foliage_

I was fortunate to get a late flight out of BC and had the last morning and early afternoon to find a fish. As the sun crest the eastern horizon the riverside poplars and cottonwoods burst into an array of fall color. It was another unseasonably mild day to be on the river. In late September they don’t get much more pleasant, and that only added to the angst of having to go home later today.

Two fishy tailouts into my morning swing without a sniff had me resigning to the notion that I may not find a fish, which isn’t unusual for steelheading or the waters I was fishing on this day. This is a game of hope and optimism after all, and these fish can and do elude even the most ardent steelheader, and depending the individuals demeanor sometimes for a long, long time. Given the day before treated me so well, I was content and pleased to just have the extra time here, and take what the river would give while doing my best to fish good water well.

After a slow walk under towering cottonwoods to the next piece of water I came to a classic run that I hadn’t stepped foot in for a few decades. Under the extreme low water conditions I barely recognized the water I was hoping to fish. Most of the structure was high and dry or so shallow it left little if any decent water that would hold a fish. Like much of my fishing this week, due to the water conditions, I had to change my game plan. So, before beginning I took a stroll to the end of the run to better read the water.

At the head of the run was a decent green giggle patch with a shallow seam of tittie water that looked as though it was part of the fish highway. After carefully running my fly through it, I was a little disappointed when I didn’t find anyone home, since this appeared to be the most obvious holding water.

Below that enticing little bucket two submerged boulders set up another seam that potentially contained a hotel or two. At the end of the second one I got a pull  before a familiar tick reached my finger tips from the fly exiting the fishes mouth. I smiled optimistically then made a second follow-up cast, holding my breath when the fly entered the zone in anticipation of what I hoped would come. Given the pressure this part of the river had been receiving I felt the encounter would be my send off, especially after my second cast didn’t produce any additional interest, yet I knew I still had to play the opportunity out.

Processed with Snapseed.

Backing up and changing flies was my next strategy. I clipped off the Thompson River Caddis and secured a small thinly dressed Doc Spratley to the leader hoping it would close the deal. Given the clarity of the water, small comeback flies had been relatively effective these past few sunny days. The grab this time was aggressive and solid. My old Hardy barked sharply in resistance, yet the line went slack just as abruptley. I hunched over, placed my hands upon my knees uttering in disbelief that the fly didn’t hold. I made one more cast before reeling in and giving the run a good rest. Once back on dry ground I lit my last cigar and went for a long walk taking in the incredible view, hoping to fill my head with the successes I had these past few weeks, but that didn’t help distract me from my despair. Half an hour later I covered the run again top to bottom. My tactic failed to produce, and given my past experiences I wasn’t surprised. Before giving up I changed flies one last time, more because I had the time than anything else, and headed to the top of the small bucket and finished out the run.  Even before making this final pass I knew that was my last grab. At the edge of the river, I took amoment to take it all in one last time, then bowed in appreciation for the grab and the opportunity to fish for these incredible fish.

Ode to Mike Lawson

Mike on FenceI’m a little out of sorts when it comes to flies.  I know I’m not alone with this obsession. I tie, I buy, I hoard, I covet and I’m even somewhat superstitious about some of them. I’m driven to the point of being paranoid of not having the right fly for the often challenging and changing situations I’m confronted with that casting flies to fish presents. You would think after four decades of fly-fishing I’d be over this, yet I find obsession is one of the many beautiful aspects of The Game of fly-fishing. The problem, however with my mindset is on occasion it steers me away from patterns that have and continue to earn a place in my disheveled fly boxes because they simply catch fish.  The other evening a few of those old standbys produced yet again and in doing so coincidentally conjured up an appreciation and reflection for the gentleman who created them.

Over the years that I’ve been filling fly boxes I’ve gone through a few patterns, yet there are those flies that continue to stand the test of time. Since I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the Henry’s Fork, it’s no wonder that some of those patterns were created by Mike Lawson; one of the rivers truly iconic and respected figures.

What prompted this rant began at the shop when we were filling in flies one morning. We were out of Lawson’s tan Emerging Caddis, because we had decided it had fallen out of favor compared with other flies our customers preferred. As we like to say it had lost its bin appeal, even though it was still a staple with many of us who worked the shop. Before finishing up that fly order we briefly talked about what a great fly the Emerging Caddis is along with other patterns Mike put his name on.

After work that evening I headed out after work to cool off on a local water with some buddies hopefully to enjoy an evening PMD spinner fall or a late night caddis hatch. If not we had plenty to eat and drink. Fortunately when we first arrived we found a fish or two up. Ironically the first two fish caught succumbed to Lawson’s tan Emerging Caddis; the same pattern we talked about earlier in the day when ordering flies.  I tried several other patterns over the first nice brown I found rising to no avail.  The first drift I got over the fish with Mike’s pattern it gently disappeared before line began to rapidly leave my reel after I gently lifted the rod and set the hook.  Jimmy, one of my fishing buddies, stuck his first brown on another of Mikes flies that night, a #18 Spent Partridge Caddis.

Web Home Page (2 of 6)

That same evening as we were suiting up Tom Stormann, another good friend of the shops, drove by us with the same idea in mind as we had.  He stopped in the shop the following morning.  I gave him some shit for not pausing long enough to say hello, he was obviously distracted by the evenings anticipated activity.   When we got down to his fishing he mentioned he stuck a couple of nice fish, yet they weren’t easy.  After trying several patterns unsuccessfully, he was able to get them both to eat Lawson’s Emerging Caddis. That prompted the discussion with Tom about how effective Mike’s flies continue to be after all these years and to recognize his effective time tested flies that have earned a place in our fly boxes among other notable contributions.

I’ve known Mike for over three decades; about as long as I’ve been fishing and tying his flies. He’s been an incredible influence to me over the years in my fishing, tying and efforts to protect our incredibly fragile natural resources.  Of all his creative patterns that I fish I’ve probably stuck more fish on the Spent Partridge Caddis than any pattern.  I fondly remember my son sticking his first nice Ranch fish on this pattern as well after many years.  He earned that one.

Since then Mike hasn’t sat idle and has added his name to a few new patterns as well, yet, some of his earliest patterns that evolved from a storied life on the Henry’s Fork still prove to be as effective as anything that’s out there today, and in many instances even more so, yet often get overlooked for something that’s bright shines and new tied by someone who doesn’t have near he experience that Mike has.

Mike Lawson’s legacy and impact on fly-fishing has been significant as a passionate conservationist, fly tier and educator.  I’m reminded of that every time I tie one of his flies on and watch it get eaten by a wily trout.  It a habit I do with some frequency. Unlike todays social media influencers, who do little to contribute to fishing with flies, Mike has been and counties to be a true influencer.  I for one am very grateful for that. Many others are as well.

A Friends Journey

The ocean before us glowed as the horizon  swallowed the setting sun.  After a short run out of Key West we idled over an amber colored mirror as a tarpon slowly rolled up ahead on the approaching flat.  Jeffrey asked if I could pole a boat as he killed the engine.  Not wanting to sound like a total neophyte I told him something like I could figure it out.  I would come to discover over the years that it wasn’t as easy as it looked.  Another solitary fish porpoised as we drifted silently onto the smooth flat; a distinct sucking sound filling the silent void.   All present took notice.  Jeffrey grabbed his push pole and gracefully took to the skiffs poling platform while explaining what was going to go down if this game played out according to plan.   In strained vigilance we waited in silence. Morning Rollers

Several other boats had now joined us for the evening phenomena: guides and locals that work and live here to take advantage of such moments.   They too waited with knowing patience on the peripheries of this broad flat for the worm hatch to begin and the ensuing feeding frenzy that all hoped would materialize on this still June night.

To our left several tarpon rolled sliding effortlessly in our direction before vanishing their lingering footprint dissolving into the reflective waters.    Jeffrey instinctively nudged the skiff forward while instructing me to cast then to slide the fly slow and steady.  I had stopped breathing in anticipation.   At the end of that empty retrieve Jeffrey redirected my efforts in hopes it was a string of feeding fish we had seen and not just a happy pair sliding by.  Several strips in on the second cast the line came tight and I was fast to a fish the likes of which I’d never experienced.  After landing that first tarpon Jeffrey and I took turns as the flat abruptly came to life with tarpon gorging on the worms. Before it ended we each jumped a number of fish, landing several.  When it was over we idled off the flat under a star studded sky before putting the small skiff on plane to head back to Key West.

Over a decade now removed from that evening when I hooked my first tarpon I was trying to remember when Jeffrey Cardenas and I met.  Although I don’t remember that particular moment I do recall with great clarity that memorable evening when he took my young son and I out on waters that I have now become quite familiar with.   It was an experience and gesture I won’t ever forget.

Since that night I’ve been fortunate over the years to spend time on and off the water with Jeffrey and have come to truly appreciate and respect his many talents as a extraordinary guide, writer and photographer.  Yet, of those times when I was fortunate to be in his company it was when we were on the water together that I enjoyed the most.  It’s a place were both of us are most comfortable and in some regards truly at home.

This year when I head to the Key’s for my annual tarpon trip Jeffrey won’t be in town.  Not that him being gone is unusual since his restless nature leaves him prone to wandering, but this current venture is a rather noteworthy undertaking.  At the end of 2017 he set sail from Key West on his custom built boat, the Flying Fish, designed with this very voyage in mind.    He’s headed to where his sails will lead him on a three year trek around the world.   For the most part solo.  It’s a dream of his that almost never came to fruition, yet fate intervened and his dream became a welcomed reality.

Several years prior to his December departure Jeffrey put up a Blog named,  Flying Fish, to document and share in this incredible journey.  He launched it in March 2015 appropriately with the first post being the Birth of a Boat.  The title and content of this initial piece bears significance since the construction of this vessel turned into a major fiasco with it’s completion and the subsequent voyage hanging in the balance for years.  When it finally was finished it he wasted little time in preparing for his adventure.

If you’re looking for a pleasant distraction from the chaotic nature of life these days or simply a good read I think you will find Jeffrey’s writings and accompanying photography entertaining, insightful and worthy of your time.  Knowing Jeffrey it will be quite a ride.  I’d be shocked it if wasn’t.

Lets Begin

I feel guilty for not posting to Schmidt’s Walkabouts for some time now, especially given my son’s contribution to encourage my efforts. For Christmas in 2016 he updated my blog to its present format.  If you’re new to my blog, welcome, but for those who have read a few of my past posts I think you’ll find his design much more appealing.  The writing, we’ll that’s still to be determined.

I have my excuses: life, business, politics, conservation and an aging mother enduring the late stages of Alzheimer’s.   I’ve made dismal attempts at putting a few pieces together over the past few years, but they remain hidden in folders incomplete.   After enduring a particularly frustrating year of being somewhat obsessively consumed by the chaotic and frustrating nature of our political climate I’m going to make an attempt to divert from those profligate distractions and channel misdirected energy into something that is productive.

Road HomeThis new direction won’t distract me from recognizing that much of what I appreciate and enjoy is under assault often undetected as a result of the pervasive distractions of certain Twitter feeds and other media outlets. Or involving myself in actions that hopefully will have a positive impact on these attacks.  Instead I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be effective I need to push aside the noise and spend time contributing in more meaningful ways; my Blog being one of them.

So to my son, thank you. If it hadn’t been for your gift I would have probably let Schmidt’s Walkabouts die. Instead I realize that I enjoy putting together these pieces and miss doing so.  Moving forward I hope you approve.

Glass is not Dead

Lately in the social media ‘Glass is Not Dead” is a common hash tag that’s used regarding the recent resurgence of fiberglass fly rods. I know that since I’ve used it with some frequency as of late. Long before this phrase became popular in fly-fishing circles I have been an advocate for the benefits of fishing with fiberglass, especially here in Utah where many of the rivers and streams that we fish are medium to small in nature.   Although most of the major rod manufacturers make excellent graphite fly rods in shorter lengths for lighter lines, these rods don’t have the advantages or feel that glass rods do. They are smoother, have more presence in your hand and are simply more fun to fish in the right situation.

Kyle Weber

In the 70’s graphite took over as the material of choice in fly rod design and function as a result of it’s  length to weight ratio. Graphite allowed rod maker to develop rods that were 8′ and longer, were incredibly light, quick and accurate compared to glass and bamboo. Conversely, fly rods built with fiberglass became quite cumbersome in longer lengths, were doggy to cast and control. Given many of the waters that we fish here in the west, having a longer fly rod led to some distinct advantages on bigger waters or when fishing from a boat. In my life time, graphite fly rods have made a significant difference in my fly-fishing experience, yet recently so have glass rods.

Not all rivers are broad, demanding and require long casts, in fact many, especially where I live are quite small. They can be densely vegetated waters where controlling a short cast is a necessity. They can present casting challenges that can’t be adequately addressed using a longer graphite rod and it’s under these conditions where short flexible glass rods really shine.
These rods are very comfortable in the hand, almost crisp and are effortless to cast in tight quarters and short distances. They also have considerably more feel when casting and are game changers with a fish on. These are qualities that I find inherent in a fiberglass rods that I don’t find in shorter light line graphite fly rods and it’s the reason why I’m so enthralled with fishing fiberglass on many of Utah and the wests less
traveled streams.

For those who have never fished or cast a short fiberglass rod, the first time you put one in your hand you’ll notice they have some weight to them. In shorter glass rods that’s an advantage when it comes to casts that are in close or when fishing lines that are light; 4wts and lighter.   Once you flex these rods that weight helps create and deliver your cast and unlike graphite rods they are effortless to put a bend in. Personally I prefer a double taper fly line on these rods, but there are a number of weight forward lines that will work well also. In tight quarters, a glass rod will turn over long leaders, roll cast or even throw bigger flies easily.

In this day and age of new fly rod technology we’ve lost sight of the advantages of fly rods that are made from fiberglass or bamboo for that matter. In fact I’ve found that they not only make fly-fishing on streams where they are appropriate more fun, but they are superior performing fly rods. They have broadened my horizons, have me exploring new waters and rejuvenated many of the emotions that I felt when I first started fly-fishing.

Victory for the Skeena Watershed

“We did it” proclaims The Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition header on their web-site. A decade long battle to preserve the Sacred Headwaters ended favorably 12-18-2012.  Couldn’t think of better Holiday gift.  As the Coalition proclaims in their press release; “Coalbed methane development to be permanently banned from headwaters of major salmon rivers VANCOUVER – The B.C. government announced today that Shell would be withdrawing its plans to develop coalbed methane in the Klappan-Groundhog tenure area in northwest British Columbia. The government will also not issue oil and gas tenures in the area in the future”. Read more…. This is an epic bit of news.  It’s nice to win one for a change…..

An Environmental Fiscal Cliff

Before the Senate this December, among other stuff, is the Sportsman Heritage Act; a “Fiscal Cliff” of its own regarding the impact this bill will have on wilderness, wildlife and the outdoor experience. Fortunately given the significance of fiscal matters before the Senate they may not have an opportunity to put this controversial bill on the table. On the other hand, it may pass unnoticed under the shadow of other more pressing matters. That would be unfortunate and significant. Although the bill pertains to hunting, shooting and fishing specifically this ill conceived bill will affect a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts.  If you haven’t read or followed this bill, which I’m finding few have, and you fish or simply enjoy quiet places you’ll want to pay attention.  Better yet, get involved. 

The most significant problem with H.R.4089, the Sportsman Heritage Act, is the impact it will have on the way federal agencies make management decisions on public lands: Forest Service, BLM, wilderness, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic and national monument lands; decisions that affect wildlife, their habitats, and the outdoor experience. As it stands now the appropriate agencies analyze the effects that activities such as hunting, fishing and shooting have on public lands.  The analysis is done according to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  For those not familiar with NEPA, the process requires that the cumulative affect from activities such as these that occur on public lands be analyzed.  This critical and in-depth process is vital in managing public lands to preserve and protect wildlife and their critical habitats.   In other words should H.R. 4089 pass those agencies that have been in charge of evaluating and implementing best practices to protect and preserve wildlife will no longer do so.    

If you read the second statement in the bill Section 102 under Findings it states, “recreational anglers and hunters have been and continue to be among the foremost supporters of sound fish and wildlife management and conservation in the United States”.  Again under Findings Section 102 the third reference states, “recreational fishing and hunting are environmentally acceptable and beneficial activities that occur and can be provided on Federal public lands and waters without adverse effects on other uses or users”. These are simply egregious statements.  To say that hunting and angling have no significant impacts on wildlife, habitats and other users is not correct.  I have been in the outdoor business for 25 years and have spent a lifetime recreating.  There are few places left on this planet, let alone this country where we haven’t had significant impacts to habitats and those wildlife that depend on them for their existence.  

Also of concern in H.R. 4089 is the Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act, which is one of the firearms industry’s top legislative priorities. The bill amends the Toxic Substances Control Act to clarify the original intent of Congress to exclude traditional ammunition; ammunition containing lead components and fishing tackle from regulation by the EPA. 

There’s a reason that lead shot and sinkers have been banned in  some states, several National Parks such as Yellowstone, because lead shot and sinkers when ingested by waterfowl and raptors is lethal. On the east coast prior to the ban of lead sinkers for angling 50% of all Loon deaths were attributed to the ingestion of lead sinkers that were left discarded by anglers.  In the west desert prior to a federal ban on lead shot when hunting upland game and waterfowl, 30% of all Golden Eagles tested were found to have ingested lead shot.  The impact these lead products have on waterfowl and raptors is devastating and well documented. 

This bill was crafted with the hopes of enticing more users into hunting and fishing and raise badly need revenues.  In the short term,it may have some impact on increasing the number of those who recreate,and sell more hunting and fishing licenses, yet I would suspect those increases will be incremental if at all.  Those benefits from additional revenues, however will be short lived. Without the ability to regulate the impact of these uses and users and implement sound environmental practices to preserve and protect these critical habitats they will surely decline, the experience for those who now push to open these areas eventually eroded.  

There are other aspects of this bill that are also concerning. There is a potential for more roads and structures to accommodate access in wilderness where deemed necessary, but the main points I’ve raised are what concern me and other the most.  I urge you to write your senators and have them vote against this poorly crafted bill.  Time is of the essence.  Here is a link: to the bill in its entirety. Like all bills you may need some help in deciphering it.  I did.  If you Google H.R. 4089 you’ll find plenty of viewpoints.  As an angler and outdoor enthusiast, I feel H.B. 4089 will lead to the loss of critical habitats that are the lifeblood of our nations fisheries and over time significantly impact my fishing and outdoor experience.  These areas need to be protect, need to be regulated not only for wildlife, but for those fortunate enough to experience them, today, tomorrow and in the future. 

It Ain’t Easy

I began this piece in August fresh from the showroom floor kicking it in a cheesie hotel room trashed like all who attended three days of Fly Tackle Dealer in Reno somewhat perplexed. For over two decades I’ve attended our industry trade show.  It’s always left me with a renewed enthusiasm for our industry, its people and fly-fishing in general. Annually it’s the only opportunity we: manufacturers, retailers, media and others vested in the lifestyle of fly-fishing have to gather.  Over the past decade, possibly longer, there has been considerable discussion and emphasis on growing our sport and again this topic occupied a fair amount of the daily dialog on the showroom floor, in hallways and during the last forum that I attended on “Women in Fly-fishing”. 

First off, I’m not a typical shop owner or flyfisher who advocates mainstream philosophies.  I’m concerned theses days for what’s in the best interest of our industry, fly-fishing in general and most of all your experience.  I understand the need for growth as a retailer and industry, but I’m also very cognizant of the fact that the lifestyle we pursue with fly rod and reel is resources limited. Looking ahead I’m less concerned with growing the sport or seeing more fish being caught than I am with making sure we preserve the integrity of fly-fishing, the experience, the health of our fisheries and maintaining access to the waters we fish. 

Over three decades have passed since I got serious about fly-fishing. When I started there were no strike indicators, Al Gore had yet to invent the internet and in general there were fewer bodies on the water.  Much has changed since then and some of it I find rather concerning, especially the short cuts we condone in an effort to make fishing with flies easier and more effective without regard for the affect some of these practices are having on the fly-fishing and the waters we fish.  

In an effort to make fly-fishing easier, especially for those just getting started, we have adopted the strike indicator: bobbers, balloons, hunks of yarn, foam, all that take the skill or need of casting a fly with any proficiency out of the equation. On most trout streams flyfishers no longer cast, but lob their flies, wash windows, or chuck and chance.  I don’t fault or criticize those who use these techniques, since most have been lead down this path as a matter of convenience, profits and lack of forethought, however I am critical of an industry that has taken the very essence from fly-fishing in order to attract more participants rather than promote fly-fishing for what initially attracted us to it in the first place:  the challenge of the game, its grace and eloquence when done right, the sense of accomplishment on a variety of levels, all executed among some of the worlds most incredible landscapes. I don’t know anyone who was attracted to fly-fishing because it was easy, or as a means of catching more fish, yet we’re on this tangent that rarely reflects any of the sports attractive qualities.

We all have our stories of what prompted us to pick up a fly rod initially.  In my early youth I would ride my bike to a friends bass and bluegill pond almost daily.  They happened to have a fly rod hanging with their conventional tackle; a Shakespeare Wonder rod with a Perriene automatic reel, that I randomly picked up out of curiosity. On that day my fishing changed forever. The attraction and fascination had nothing to do with its ease or for that matter even catching fish, it was the feel of the rod, the challenge of casting, being mesmerized by the visual display of the fly line unfolding in front of you and the command of it all when it rarely felt right.  The fact that it required skill to use only made it that much more appealing.

Fly-fishing has taken me to places that few other ventures could have.  It’s been a life long learning experience that I now have the fortune of sharing with others.  Over the years I’ve put a lot into learning to fly-fish.  On many fronts I still do and often I’m still not where I would like to be.  There has been frustration along the way, and I still have moments where it all goes helplessly wrong. 

All said and done, fly-fishing can be quite simple,  that’s its beauty. As long as your fly is in the water you have an opportunity to catch a fish regardless of your abilities.  In the grand scheme of things, if you are having fun that’s what matters most, yet if you want to truly reap the sports greatest rewards you’ll need to put your time in.  The fact that it is challenging has a great deal to do with its appeal.  Personally I can think of few things in life as enjoyable as spending time on the water, playing this game, casting fur and feather to lure a fish to take a fly, and when that happens because of the essence of it all its magical.