April 28, 2010


An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.
Pablo Picasso

The beauty found in becoming more proficient students of whatever it is we pursue lies in its procilivity to provide us with food for thought. And the 'better' we get at it, the more it seems to demand from us, although when we love doing and learning about that with which we are so enamored, it hardly seems like that. I am always amazed at my lack of anxiety concerning time's passing when it is involved with solving problems or conceptualizing solutions for catching fish with flies. And, given the constant fluidity consistent with the nature of flyfishing, there are few, if any occasions when I am prone to sitting it back and 'calling it good'. There's always something to be thinking about, to perfect, to postulate upon. There are always new ideas springing forth, indeed so many now that I've deemed it necessary to compile and keep a list. The list grows faster than my ability to explore these dark and mysterious avenues. That might seem frustrating to some. I can't help but think that those who would experience frustration over a growing list of mysteries associated with fishing with flies are equating that with some sort of drudgery. They should all be so lucky. In discovering this, another true source of enjoyment and satisfaction attained in my search to consistently bring trout to hand with flies, I must acknowledge my education so far. For without the ability to really understand what it is I have learned to this point, it would be very unclear as to where it is I wish to go, and what I need to do to accomplish that.

April 21, 2010


My life could have been otherwise but it wasn't.
Jim Harrison, Off to the Side

I think I was almost ten when my dad decided that he was going to teach me about flyfishing. In the process, I know I put his paternalistically low patience level to the test as we slowly proceeded through the casting and knot-tying. Soon I was allowed to accompany him on several local forays, eventually traveling with him to Canada.
And then, early into my teens, I put it all down. For close to thirty years I was away...

I'm sure that somehow, when human beings are confronted by the endless ways in which they might possibly wish to live this life, it could probably be fairly attributed to genes or the DNA within that effects(not affects) much of the process in making certain specific things happen that enables, or empowers, or just plain pushes us to step in the direction we see as our destiny. Right down to how we reacted to the thousands of seemingly meaningless events once taken for granted as being not life-changing, or to be so innocuous as to bear none but the most superficial of scrutinies in future retrospections. Maybe, after all is said and done, there really weren't that many options out there, many ways to go, given the fact that 'it was in our genes'. That would certainly nullify the need for a lot of unnecessary introspection as well as going a great distance toward understanding what it was through our lives that really should have given us the most reason for concern. It's almost as if in looking back at our lives through this 'new and improved' lense, we'd wish to have had this foresight earlier, to totally dispense with, or disavow ourselves from certain rituals, events, or most anything that caused anxieties dealing with our unknown futures.
Trouble is, we have no way of knowing any of this now, with the 'standard' lenses, while we're in the midst of our journey through all the ongoing circumstances that arise. There's just no way, yet, of seeing around corners. The forest is too thick, the tunnel has too many bends, to see clear on through to the origin of the light. So, we are dutifully instructed by those who have already basically shaped our fate, and we innocently, naively comply, eager to join in the parade and are soon off, skipping lively down a yellow brick road to somewhere, never realizing for so many years that it was all pretty much decided before we went skipping off.
At least that's how I look at my life, now, wishing I'd been more skillful at sifting through the crap years ago to have had this vantage point where the view on my own life is at last so clear.
But all that's neither here, nor there, either. I can now say with some conviction that my journey down that yellow brick road was an education, but while I was skipping along, I never had a vision,or a dream that drove me. At least not one that I could attach any significance to. I didn't seem to be magnetized by any particular objective. The road led me here and there, and I have to admit that while it was a lot of fun, it lead me nowhere. But, as is so often the case, it's hard to know where you're going if you don't know why you're going in the first place. There I was, skipping along like everyone else, the difference being that for me, it was all about the skipping. Soon enough, the road forked. Some went this way, and others that way, and then it forked again, and again, and pretty soon there I was, skipping along all by myself. Skipping and singing and having a great time, while the road kept on and on...
It's like this (I need to re-connect what I've been talking about to where I am now).
One day, there came in the road I was on, a fork, looking at first glance, not unlike so many I had not taken. But, for reasons that are now clear to me, I took it. And, in doing so, I saved my life. It led to my parent's cabin at Priest Lake. It led me out to the beach in front of the cabin, where I stood and watched a ring, and then another, appear on the water close to the dock. It lead me back into the cabin where I saw my dad's fly rod above the mantle. And it led me out to the dock where I stripped line off the reel as I approached another ring.
I finally saw a destination. The road had cleared my vision, as well as my head. I had arrived. I had a purpose now. I had my life. Finally, I had my life.

April 20, 2010

Fishing with Frank

Without deviation progress is not possible.
Frank Zappa

I think it was 1970. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was the year, although it could have been a year earlier. Or, maybe it was '71. Doesn't matter. It was on a very warm September evening, and it was the first of many times I was to see Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention perform. After it was over, I remember coming out of the old Barn with hundreds of others, all of us quietly shuffling along lost in a stunned silence, back to our cars, or wherever. I was so thoroughly amazed, humbled even, by what I had just witnessed. And since that night, and on through the days of my life, through all of the changes that have occurred, he has been a constant, perfect companion.
And several years later, when I rediscovered the gift my father had given me, the magic of fishing with flies, I found to my delight that it was a most perfect fit for me to include Frank on my journey.
For so many more reasons than just his music.

It was his attitude. How he saw through all the crap, flash, and bravado. How clear his vision, and his mind, despite what most people thought, were. And, as I move further down my road, I would have a hard time pointing to many people who have had, to this day, a bigger influence on my overall viewpoint. His uncanny ability to see right through what it is that most of us blindly accept as our reality makes him a profound and yet personable fishing companion. And then, there's his music.
I tie flies with Frank's mind in mind. Casting soft hackles with Evelyn, the modified dog, at my side. Taking in the hills as night approaches, wondering if a vehicle came from somewhere out there just to land in the Andes.

April 16, 2010

Lumpy Gravy

A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.
Frank Capra

Think off-center.
George Carlin

As often as I have walked away frustrated from a day's fishing, there have been those days, albeit too far in between, that will bring fond memories and grins when they come back to me.
I had one of those days this past week, but I'll spare you the superlatives. Suffice to say I managed to stay 'ahead of the curve'. Those of you who know what I mean will either understand and smile, or move along to something else, and that's fine. Depending upon your recent experiences, this will either be a fun read, or, if you've run into a dry streak, it'll probably engender a little disbelief. I know, it's always easier to laugh along and agree when things are going well. I've been prone to wrinkle my nose and throw a few stones myself when Lady Luck takes an extended vacation.
Until I either win the lottery, write a best seller, or somehow stumble into an inordinate amount of cash, my fishing exploits are pretty much limited to local excursions. Places pretty local that it doesn't cost an arm and two legs just to get to. And since I don't do lakes anymore, that really cuts a swath through the available opportunities until my home water, the Spokane River, which won't actually be fishable because of the flows until July, re-opens in mid June.
So, through the winter and spring I hop in my little red Honda and make the two and a half hour drive west to Rocky Ford Spring Creek a couple of times a week. If I had a vehicle with a more voracious appetite for fuel, well, let's leave that right where it is. For that I will always be indebted to a woman who really opened my eyes several years back, although she did see fit to break my heart. Over the phone, no less. But again I digress.
The creek is in the process of shedding its previous year's aquatic growth. As the daytime temperatures inch ever higher, more and more old growth is released glutting the flows with a primordial stew of gooey green detritus. Anyone who fishes spring creeks with any regularity has probably been witness to this process. It will continue for the next few weeks, making afternoon fishing a tediously patience-wearing process, in that it totally rules out a few popular fishing techniques. Actually, it can prove disastrous to almost any method where and when you drop your fly into that morass. But, beyond limiting yourself to fishing in only the wee hours of the morning or waiting until long after dark to strip leeches or buggers, there are a few things you can try.
In the morning of this particular day my fly of choice was the scud. A heavily weighted scud. If you can cast with a little dexterity, it's possible to land your fly in areas that are more or less void of the green stew. And the weight in the scud will get it to the bottom in a hurry, sparing you the task of abandoning the effort because it too slowly sank and therefore collected crap, demanding a stripping of your fly back to clean it off, and trying again.
As with all things, though, there simply are no guarantees for success. That's why, especially at this time of year, I tend to be a little more stealthy in my approach to the area I'm interested in fishing. That's one thing that always will amaze me when I fish here; how many guys have no idea how to just plain old slow down, be quiet, and maybe even stand still!! It's always fun, or maddening, to watch them tromp in through the cattails, stripping line off their reel while furiously false casting, totally unaware of all the bow wakes heading in every direction away in a hurry from the area! And it doesn't end there. I call it the domino effect, because those freaked out fish will fan out in every direction, in turn causing panic in the fish they intersect. And so on and so on. So, I make it a point to be careful in my approach. That way I've got more fish, more calm fish, in closer proximity to me. That often equates to some awesome sight-fishing and means more, shorter, sometimes much shorter casts to fish that aren't worried about their security.
That system served me well on this day. After maybe two hours of cautious, intelligent approaches and short, well-placed casts, I'd landed several very nice fish, close enough to observe many of them as they first investigated, then ate the scud. Sight fishing in this manner is like counting coup as far as I'm concerned.
But it was later in the afternoon that really made my day. I had moved a good distance upstream, to a narrower, deeper section of the creek. The flow here, because of the constriction, is quicker, bending through a channel bejeweled with very large, round granite boulders. Just upstream of the bend is an eddy, where, in my approach from downstream, I saw many large noses breaking the surface. I stood silently for a few minutes, counting three of four separate fish, all totally engrossed in the midges coming through the rocks to their position.
I've been working on a derivation of the Griffith's Gnat for some time now, not being really confident with the original. So I made a few alterations. I added a tiny shuck using a feather from a fine grizzly cape. I used a dark dun hackle through the black-dyed peacock herl, rather than the standard grizzly. And I tied it very sparsely on a Dai-Riki #24. Test time.
The closest I dared get left me about a fifty foot well-placed cast. I only had about three feet of space between the bank and the rocks that bent the current. But I also had no wind to adjust to, and lots of space just off to the bank side with which to measure my cast.
It was one of those times, and there really are so few, that I wished some one would have been there watching. My Gnat landed softly, following the swirls in the eddy, and then a nose emerged from the water. My Gnat disappeared. I raised my rod carefully, not wanting to explode the seven x tippet, and the twenty-two inch male responded with a leap that made my heart stop before running right past me downstream through the channel. I had to go quite a ways downstream after him, no easy task, while he continued on his way, with me by now well into my backing.
That took several minutes. When I returned, I was appreciative of the fact that the fish were still bumping the surface. After a quick examination of my tippet and Gnat, I cast again into the eddy.
And was rewarded again, this time with a smaller, but no less energetic male, who went upstream for quite a distance before I was able to take his head away and turn him.
Then, as is so often the case when I tie only one prototype, the next fish to be tempted got a souvenir. I hope he wears it well. I'll be back, with more.

April 13, 2010


Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin
Herman Hesse

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
Martin Buber

Control thy passions lest they take vengence on thee.

There are those experiences, those times, those occasions wherein we are brought to our respectful silences when they come back around to visit. And they do, every now and then. They become our closest friends with the passing of time. How could we have foreseen such redemption in the shadow of our exploits?
Do they drive us? Do we seek to extend our catalogues in hopeful pursuit of yet more? Maybe. Maybe not. I admit to not thinking about them much, preferring to let them come, unannounced, to my camp, where we share a brief, but very intimate time together. Just me, and my memories.

April 8, 2010

On being refused.

You've got to really be able to accept the rejection.
Barry Mann

It's a part of life. Being rejected. Refused. Being told 'no'. Sent back to try again. Re-write this, re-build that. The all too infamous 'no, I won't go out with you...'
It's also a familiar, and oft-repeated circumstance when we pursue our passion of catching fish with flies, although we tend to downplay its significance the more often it occurs, unless of course it serves the loftier purpose of adding a dimension of intrigue to our recounting of certain accomplishments.
It sometimes seems to me when thinking of some of the more classic instances of their rejection of my offerings, that trout seemingly have as many ways to refuse a fly as we have flies in our boxes. There are several types that have been observed, or suffered through often enough to warrant being given a specific name, some of which are not at all repeatable in mixed company.
But, hardly a fishing day will pass by without there being a beautiful cast made at just the right moment with what is thought to be the perfect fly to the exact spot where it drifts drag free into the strike zone and you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up and there's this tension in the air and you just know that something's about to happen and sure enough wham there's a savage splash where your fly is and you lift your rod... and have to duck as your fly line attacks and drapes itself around your head and shoulders in a most complex macrame' and there's your fly staring at you as it dangles from the brim of your cap. Hmm...
I've had many refusals that I like to call 'excuse me's'. This phenomenon usually occurs when I fish to pods of feeders. I also call it 'running the gauntlet', because my fly will travel serenely through a slot inhabited by many noses, most of them at some point breaking the surface of the water in such close proximity to my fly as draw first a gasp, which is followed in short order by a sudden nervous twitch on my part because I'm so damned sure that it was my fly that disappeared. It's only when I see the wake the fly created with my sudden twitch that I am embarrassed once again. I've had days when 'running the gauntlet' got to be the challenge, due to a dearth of interest in anything I offered. In that regard, I've had some extremely good days.
A sunny morning two years ago in mid-August comes to mind. I was just downstream of the Hardy Bridge on the Missouri River fishing an Elk Hair Caddis to a couple of large dark shadows that hovered in slow water to the inside edge of the mouth of a fast moving channel. My first cast got what I thought was a nod of approval. The larger shadow broke rank as the fly neared where I thought it to be head high. Indeed I was tensed and ready when the brown suddenly accelerated, broke the surface, and in an amazing show of athleticism, flew directly, gracefully, over my fly landing nose first, turned, and swam lazily away downstream, taking his partner with him. Ole'!
Maybe that's why I sometimes prefer fishing subsurface. At least that way I can't see them refuse my offering.

April 5, 2010

True Madness

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain

Reasoning draws a conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience.
Roger Bacon

When I decided I wished to learn how to tie flies, I had no idea as to where it would lead. I don't even remember why I wanted to learn. Well, looking back from here, how could I possibly imagine all that? All I knew then was the immense pride I felt as I viewed that grotesquely huge, awkwardly primitive pheasant tail nymph sitting in my vise. I've still got it, although it never did get to the business end of my tippet.
Years later, sitting back after another lengthy session at the vise in search of yet another possible solution to a riddle I've struggled with for years, now, I silently ponder the soundness of my mind. But not for too long, as I know I must certainly be approaching that certifiable stage.
As my skills at the vise and with the rod progressed, I soon was fishing all year long. My interests changed, revolving, dependent upon time of the year and type of water. For several years, stillwater fishing captivated me. And, because I live and fish in the Pacific Northwest, it was a pretty natural course of events that lead me to try to understand the most prolific, widespread trout food there is. The midges, or chironomids.
I don't have to tell any of you about the numbers and varieties of chironomids that are found in any given body of stillwater. The lakes of the Pacific Northwest are no different. They abound with them. From three quarters of an inch in length down to less than a sixteenth. In every conceivable earthy-toned color (and some that are downright gaudy). And they are a constant, year-round source of sustenance for fish, with hatches that overlap each other per specie. That's what can really make it interesting. Or drive you nuts. Or both.
As my focus began to be trained more and more on moving water, I was able to take what I'd begun to understand about the chironomid with me, to a certain point. But with moving water, I soon discovered that it wasn't enough just to be adept at replicating the naturals I found, that it was paramount that I understand how I should fish them. And when. Specifically, time of the year is most important, but also keep in mind time of the day. As my knowledge base expanded, I observed that even in the warmer months when the vast majority of aquatic insect life is most accessible for the fish, there are still those times of each day when they will seek the midge. This became readily apparent to me late one warm August evening when I observed fluttering caddis, and an Olive hatch sprinkled with midges, and neither the Olives nor the caddis were the top menu item. I can say this with some conviction after each of the olive and caddis imitations I fished managed to with each drift miraculously wend their way through a serious pod of fish feeding just in or under the surface. Finally, after fooling one male with a small (#24) brownish pupal imitation of a chironomid under an indicator I pumped its esophagus and was quite amazed at just how many similarly-sized naturals it contained. Some time later, as darkness descended around me on the Missouri River a couple of miles upstream of Cascade, I was reminded of this experience and brought several big Browns to hand with a chironomid drifted in the surface film through rings that were occurring just below the surface. What I found in the esophagus of the first fish astounded me. It was a virtual potpourri of food items, all surely taken in and around the time I fished. But one thing was for certain, that midges were a constant, either as the sole item, or, if the fish was foraging, mixed with any number of easily accessed nymphs, stillborn, or trapped emergers of many different species. I found no healthy mature adult forms of any of them in this particular sampling.
My son and I took a few samples from the bottom of Michele Creek, a tributary of the Elk River B.C., late last August. We found several tiny dark worms and chironomids mixed in with different immature nymphs of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies. Midges are everywhere there is water, moving, or still, and thus occupy an important niche in the feeding habits of trout.
It's frustrating sometimes, or should I say many times, but I'm striving to gain a better understanding of this sometimes microscopically small organism. They will make me a more successful fisherman, or drive me completely insane. Or both.

April 2, 2010


I don't remember where I was, or who it was I was speaking with. I was seated at a long, low table, like the tables we had in our grade school library, across from a chubby, bespectacled gentleman who was in the process of querying me about my current state of health. He was recording my responses on a very official-looking document with a very expensive pen as he proceeded through the form.
At the end of the last page, he coughed, rubbed his nose, and asked me what I did for a living.
I remember looking at the clock over his left shoulder for the longest time while he sat, eyes down, pen on paper, waiting for my answer. I watched the second hand as it swept upward to the twelve and then started on its way down again. It was nearly to the six when I realized that he was now looking at me. My eyes met his.
"I am a flyfisherman," I replied.
"You are. That's wonderful," and went on. "My grandfather worked for the railroad for forty-five years and fly fished, too. Such a poetic way to fish. But, I need to know what you do for a living," he stated, eyes going back down, pen again poised.
"Yes. I know you do. And I just told you. I told you what I do for a living. Now, if you were to ask what it is I do that is slowly killing me, or taking time from me never to be returned even in memory, then I have no answer. And that is because I no longer do those things which would slowly kill me, would rob me of precious time, or that simply do not mean anything to me other than as an alternative means to an end that befalls every one of us no matter how well spent or miserably squandered our lives have been. So, if we're done here now I'll go."
I smiled back at him as I stood, noticing the redness in his cheeks, and that the point of his pen had wandered down the rest of the sheet leaving a blue trail of ink as it went.
"Mr. Moss...", his voice trailed off as I turned and started back down the hallway,"I still have a few more questions... Mr. Moss? Mr. Moss?"
The snow was wet and coming down thickly in huge, misshapen flakes by the time I reached my car. I sat there for a while, watching them slide down the windshield, and for a few moments regretted what I'd just put that gentleman through.
I told myself that he was only doing his job. Gathering information is what he does. Other than that I know nothing about him or his family,or if he has kids. I know nothing of his dreams, his plans, his past, or what kind of day he's had. And then, just as quickly as I thought that, I had to smile. I probably made his day. Something out of the ordinary had happened to make this day memorable for him. A guy sits down and tells him he's a flyfisherman and that's all that matters and then he stands up and walks out.
I sat, watching the falling snow, and nodded my head.
That is all that matters. Not the years spent doing this, or that. Not the time accrued performing menial, strenuous tasks here and there. Not the life wasted in frustration trying to solve problems that were never going to be solved, or the years spent in search of that which other people thought I should be pursuing.
That which is good for one man is not that which is good for another.
I make it by. I provide for myself enough to survive. I will never be a rich man in terms others would define as wealth. I understand where it is I am in my life, and I am richer than most for the comfort I gain from that knowledge. I have known for awhile now what it is that is most important to me. I know what is precious, and worth my time, and I know what I do not need, or have use for.
It is so simple. It has always been that way. It took time, but the years have educated me well. Turns out that time has been, after all I have been through, well spent.
Much like the loop of the cast, my life reaches out, turning over into the years my fly, upon which rides the pursuit of something that I do not yet know, and cannot possibly at this point comprehend. Each day is an expanding ring into which I look for the answer to questions I have yet to formulate.
When all is said, and all is done, we, as individuals, are the only ones who can really know if how we lived our lives has been worth our while.
The snow falls steadily as I pull out into traffic, lost in thoughts of flies, fish, and clear running water.