Monday, June 26, 2017

The Plover

Last fall I was in the bookstore on Bainbridge Island when I saw a poster advertising upcoming author events.  I was beyond excited when I read that David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K, among others, would be visiting the store.  Joining him was author Brian Doyle, who I hadn't heard of. 

The event was held days after the Presidential election; the room was charged.  Brian addressed the elephant in the room as soon as the event started.  I immediately liked him - he was loud, energetic, sincere, hilarious, and didn't mind cursing.  The readings that Doyle and Duncan gave that evening were as good as any I can remember, and afterward I got a chance to meet the authors and chat.  Per encouragement from friends, I even wore sandals to show Duncan my River Why tattoo.  Duncan laughed and considered drawing a foot around the hook on the inside of the book.  I bought a hard-to-find Duncan book and one of Doyle's, Mink River.  He signed it, "Blessings and laughter."

A few weeks later, on my way back to the island from Thanksgiving in Maine, I started Mink River.  And ate it up.  When I landed in SeaTac, I checked my email and was shocked to see an email entitled "Brian Doyle" from a coworker who had also attended the readings.  The note shared the news that Brian had been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after the event at the bookstore.  The email was eerily coincidental.

Brian Doyle passed on 5/27/2017, a few days after I started reading his novel The Plover.  In his words, "Of course you do your absolute best to find and hone and wield your divine gifts against the dark. You do your best to reach out tenderly to touch and elevate as many people as you can reach. You bring your naked love and defiant courage and salty grace to bear as much as you can, with all the attentiveness and humor you can muster; this is, after all, a miracle in which we live, and we ought to pay ferocious attention every moment, if possible."

The Plover is a sea story that follows the vessel of the same name and her crew.  It's a wonderful read, and I recommend it to everyone. 


Last weekend I traveled South to Idaho to fish and to pick up my own vessel. This ship needed a captain.  I will be it.  I will call her the Plover, in honor of Brian Doyle.  Now accepting crew applications.

"Why did I name the Plover the Plover, you ask? says Declan to the gull, who had not asked. I’ll tell you. Listen close now, because I have not explained this before and will not again. Far too much repetition in life altogether. We should say things once and let them just shimmer there in the air and fade away or not, as the case may be. The golden plover of the Pacific, the Pacific Golden Plover, is a serious traveler. It wanders, it wends where it will.  It is a slight thing, easily overlooked, but it is a heroic migrant, sailing annually from the top of Pacifica to the bottom. It forages, it eats what it can find. It talks while it travels and those who have heard it say it has a mournful yet eager sound. This seems exactly right to me, mournful yet eager. We regret, yet we push on. We chew the past but we hunger for the future. So I developed an affection and respect for the plover. It’s a little thing the size of your fist, other than those long pencilly legs for sprinting after grasshoppers and crabs and such, but it can fly ten thousand miles across an ocean itching to eat plovers and reaching for plovers with storms and winds and jaegers and such. You have to admire the pluck of the plover. It doesn’t show off and it isn’t pretty and you hardly even notice it, but it’s a tough little bird doing amazing things. Also it really likes berries, which appeals to me. Most of them fly from Siberia or Alaska to Australia and New Guinea and Borneo and such but some of them camp out awhile in Hawaii and just cruise around in the long grass in the sun eating and dozing. This appeals to me. So when it came time to name a little drab boat that wasn’t dashing and didn’t weigh much and no one notices much, but that gets a lot of work done quietly and could if it wanted to sail off and go as far as it wanted way farther than anyone could ever imagine such a little drab thing could do, that might pause here and there at an island so as to allow a guy to eat and doze in the grass, well, that’s why we are the Plover. So now you know. Don’t keep badgering me with questions."

Friday, August 12, 2016

How often?

One of the many 4UR veterans who are now still working in the industry or on the water is my good friend Drew.  Drew is a Wisconsin native who now guides for the Tight Lines outfit, a group of great Midwest boys who are fishy as hell and super keen on their smallmouths.

I had the good fortune to join Drew and a colleague for a spell in Pembine, Wisconsin, where the Tight Lines crew lives for the summer season.  The owner of the shop, Tim, falls into the description above and was especially excited for me to experience the great fishery they have at their doorstep.  I arrived late on a Wednesday to find the beer and whiskey flowing.  With an early wake-up approaching fast, several times we all contemplated the beds that awaited us.  Tim has a particularly good line of peer pressure that whisks away most reservations about another round, another story, another anything:  How often?  How often do I find myself in northeast Wisconsin with two of my best buds?  How often do I get to smallmouth fish on the Menominee with two of my best buds?  How often can I have one more beer in Wisconsin with two of my best buds? 

Not very often, is the answer to those questions.  I encourage you to employ such a quiz when confronted with decisions over one more beer or staying up a little later.  If the answer is 'pretty often', maybe you can find a way to phrase the question to get the answer you desire.

The mighty Menominee.
My prior experience with the smallmouth bass was largely in a couple ponds in the Camden-Rockport area, where Lefty Steele and I kept a canoe stashed in the woods when we were working at Maine Sport.  We found the fish agreeable to popper presentations there.  July in Wisconsin is topwater season for the smallies, and our bugs consisted of mostly the same, plus a local pattern known as Ol' Mr. Wiggly.  It's a quick tie that I plan to experiment for other species.  Perhaps you'll do the same.

So we were to float various sections of the Menominee in Drew's Clacka.  On the first day, ten minutes in, Drew pointed out a particular spot below a dam where a back-eddy turned into a downstream flow.  I made my cast with a yellow popper and this fish ate it immediately:

19.5" to start the trip.  Great!
Same fish as above.  Looks bigger here, eh?
Different fish than above, but just a bit downstream.  Twenty minutes into the trip.

I forgot how much fun smallies are.  They pull like hell, corking out 8-weights, eat topwater bugs like the dickens and love that warm water.  For a summertime fish, they're pretty rad.  I'm looking into my smallmouth locals out here.

Top.  Water.
Mahoney Thumbs-Up of Approval.

More.  Top.  Water.

Ate it good.
One last story.  We had pretty damn good fishing, but like any place you go, it'll slow down from time to time.  From what I've gathered, the gear and bait guys can really clean up on this river.  Case in point, on our final morning, while waiting on Drew to finish running the shuttle, I watched as a party barge (the river is pretty wide and slow) made its way up the middle of the river and then cut its engine directly in front of the boat launch.  Now I've heard of 'take-out fish', but rarely do I hear of boat launches being a fishing spot that one might target, or seek out.  Nevertheless, the captain of this vessel thought it to be a fine spot.
As the boat coasted to a stop mid-river, the captain grabbed the anchor and tossed it into the river: KABOOM!  The anchor splashed down, causing quite a ruckus, I thought.  I watched as the man then proceeded to remove his shirt, pull a beer out of his cooler, grab his fishing pole and head to the stern where he took a seat on a waiting chair.  He let fly his bait/lure and began a retrieve.  A moment later and he had one on!  Damn!  I guess that does work!  It would take us an hour and a half to get our first that day.
The big lake.

Cheers!  How often?!


Thursday, April 14, 2016


Twelve months. 

That's how long I've waited to be here again.  To stand on the platform, look into these waters and see them:  tarpon.

You will find them in a handful of different types of water and types of ways.  No matter how the shots come, they're all awesome, but the laid-up tarpon is especially exciting.  You'll sometimes stare for hours at a time at brown-green water; you'll stare so long it seems like you've forgotten what to look for, or what they look like.  Then, all of a sudden, there's one.  From afar, they're light-brown-tannish against the murky, backcountry Everglades water.  You inch closer and closer and slowly the shape appears.  Then it's glowing at you.  You can barely make out its head and its tail, but you know which is which.  It's just sitting there. 

It can be a battle just to find one, but when you do, another battle begins; this time with yourself.  Present the fly properly.  Drop it two feet in front of the fish's nose.  Maybe a hair across it too.  Not too hard. 

In a basketball game, when you shoot a foul shot, you have ten seconds.  You do your routine, and shoot.  Mine goes like this:  line up my right foot with the nail, hold the ball in my left hand, look at the front of the rim, and breath.  Two dribbles, then look again at the rim.  Breath twice.  Shoot.

The time from spotting a laid-up fish to making your shot can be a minute or less than ten seconds, but the procedure is somewhat similar in that there's a definite success or failure.  The fish eats (you make the shot), or it doesn't (you miss the shot). 

Two times today I was blessed with the quintessential laid-up tarpon shot.  Two times today I was polled closer and closer while I stared at the glowing fish, just sitting there.  I know where I want the fly to go (the ball to go through the rim), I can see it landing there (the ball hits nothing but net).  I know what I want the fish to do, I've watched them do it before.  Two times today I watched as my cast landed feet away from where I wanted it to.  Two times today I watched as the glowing tarpon disappeared before my eyes, never to be seen again.  Blown shot.  Brick.  Fail.

When you land the fly where you want it, this is what it looks like:



Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Last year a good buddy and I spent our first days on a tributary of some bigger water that we had frequented.  We were pleasantly surprised by the stream, its setting and the fish it held.  There were good number of 4 - 8" fish to keep us busy between the bigger pools, where we had encounters with fish up to 15".  Coming from a ~75 CFS stream, we thought that was pretty cool.  To add to that, the fish are all wild and from what we've gathered, the cutthroat are native.  As the first Saturday in June is the season opener for this, and a number of other small waters in Washington, the same friend and I made plans a while back to return to this little gem. 

I'm still amazed of the geographic diversity in Washington: a few months ago we were swinging flies for winters in the rainforest; now we're in a high desert, fishing what feels like a southwest Colorado trout stream.  Being that I spent a couple years in the latter, it's a great change of pace.  After a winter and spring of long rods and Skagits, it's also nice to break out the small sticks and get the rust off the trout-game again.

Like many other places, we're a little short on water at the moment here in the Pacific Northwest.  The story was the same for this little stream.  Looking at flows before we arrived, we knew it would be lower than it was the last time we were there, but what that would look like or what that would do to the fishing, we didn't quite know. 

Fish Dat.
The fishing started great and only got better, but the catching started slow and declined from there.  The smaller fish we expected to find in the pocket water weren't around.  We fished our way upstream to the first deeper pool, where we had found our first bigger fish last year.  The pool itself looked pretty rough and we couldn't find any fish in it.  This was disappointing, but we kept going.  Soon after we reached a stretch of water that borders some farmland.  Massive sprinklers sprinkled as we fished by.  Upstream of the sprinklers we came to the first of two sets of pipes pulling water out of the stream.  It was a sobering moment and we passed by in silence. 

Eventually we came to the pool where we had stopped last year.  Unseen water lay ahead and we were excited, but to this point we hadn't seen any bigger fish, afternoon was coming on and it was very hot.  Hope for the bigger fish was failing, but on we went.  Finally it happened and out from the depths of a nice pool came a rise of no mistake: the distinctive, slow take of a nice cutthroat.  I was half surprised I had waited long enough, but I guess I'll say instinct took over and the hook-set was solid.  It would be the fish of the day.

Adams eater.
The walk back to the truck, for lack of a better phrase, fucking sucked.  It was very hot, pushing 90 degrees and because we got started early in the morning when it was much cooler, we were in waders.  I was also donning my fishing vest which, simply put, holds too much stuff.  I had fished four flies with two different tippet sizes that day yet carried six boxes' and eight spools worth.  Habit, possibly; stubbornness, perhaps.  My father gave me this vest for Christmas when I was nine years old; I'm 30 now.  I've worn it in countless states and five countries across four continents.  Needless to say, I'm pretty partial to it.  But as I sweated it out on the way back to the truck, I conceded that my approach to walk-and-wade trout fishing needs changing.  The next day I ditched the waders, put two fly boxes, two spools of tippet and one extra leader in a waist pack and went for it.  I fished a whopping three flies that day and the two not in use were stuck in my hat.  It felt like I had lost 50 pounds of gear.  I was a brand new man. 

The day's fishing activity was as refreshed as I was.  Instead of fishing first, hiking later, we hiked first and fished our way back to the truck.  Walking by pool after pool was a little difficult but when we did get started, two of the first three pools produced the bigger fish we were after.  The fishing turned out to be really good. 

The first good one I got was a ~14" rainbow that was super hot.  It jumped a half dozen times and ripped line off my reel.  It was a great fight on a 2-weight and a click reel.  A while later I came to a pool and started false casting while my buddy took a seat and watched.  I was fishing a parachute hopper at the time and the first cast in the pool brought up a gorgeous, healthy cutthroat around 8"; not quite the size we were looking for, but still a good one.  The very next cast, a very big fish porpoised on the fly.  We could tell it was a very nice cutthroat.  I was trigger happy though and pulled the fly away too soon.  Luckily, so soon that I hadn't stung the fish.  I made one more cast with the same fly to no avail then let the fish be.  For 10 minutes we chatted about my next move.  I finally tied on a parachute Adams, the only other dry fly I had needed that weekend, and made my way back into the pool.  The first cast nothing happened, and the second cast, the same.  Then on the third cast, the fish appeared and refused the fly.  I put the parachute hopper back on.  Again a refusal.  I then took my buddy's rod and cast his orange Stimulator several times with no sign of the fish.  I was beginning to admit defeat as I tied on a single tungsten stonefly nymph and started working the pool.  The first casts to where the fish rose came up empty.  I moved up into the eye of the pool and there, in the deepest, heaviest water the indicator went down.  I set the hook in disbelief, but the the head shakes that came next gave me no doubt what I'd found.  It was a good one, and oh so satisfying.  Ain't them cutties purdy?

This morning I received a text from a buddy in the Keys with a picture of him holding a permit pushing 30 pounds.  After exchanging expletives, I passed along the above picture, a brief recap of the encounter and added, "It's no 30 lb permit but hey."  His response:  "If you worked for it, then it's a great fish.  That's the best part."  True dat, Nat!


No wonder the orange Stimulator worked!

'Til next time...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I'm going on a trip in August.

To a place I've been once before. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


there are salmon around the sound right now.  this spices things up for the Bainbridge Island angler.  being away for July and half of August, I hadn't fished the beaches since June.  James had been though.  my first trip back on the beaches, I stuck one nice coho on a pink clouser.  welcome back!

I wasn't prepared with the rock shampoo for that fellar, so back he went.  but now we're fishing for meat.  it's like they know it's coming.  I've hooked three since landing that one, and they've all spit the hook.  a couple of those I thought I really stuck, too.  so it goes.  they're around, and we're after 'em.  more to come on that.