Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Escape to Supai, Arizona

My husband and I have been together thirteen years (yikes!) and married for seven. We've only had one real vacation together in all those years where it was just the two of us. All the other vacations we've taken have been separate of each other or together with friends. Until recently, our work schedules just never meshed well. When I had vacation time from teaching, my husband was in the throes of the peak greenhouse season. When he had downtime in the winter, I was in the midst of teaching biology to a bunch of pubescent teenagers. Once I left my teaching career to assist him with our small business fulltime, we finally were able to schedule in a real vacation....just the two of us.

I must admit I was a little nervous. We spend a lot of time together at work and at home, but we'd always had buffers when it came to extended trips together. What if we got bored with each other's company? It wasn't a serious concern, but it was something to ponder during lulls in conversation.  How would we get along together for a week without any traveling buffers around?

When it came to deciding where to go, I really wanted to take my husband to Supai, AZ, which I had visited in 2007 with a friend. It's an amazing place, as you can see from the photos below. My husband wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so I booked plane tickets to Las Vegas, which would be our jumping off point for the rest of the vacation.

We arrived in Vegas and spent the first several nights absorbing the overt stimuli of the Strip. I much prefer nature to nightlife, so it wasn't the best part of the trip for me, but the hubby got to gorge himself at a couple major buffets and check out a couple shows, and our visit to Hoover Dam was impressive. We left for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on our third day and spent the afternoon walking the overlook trails.  I had been to the Grand Canyon before, but it was just as magnificent the second time around.  We tried to take in as many views as we could, but it really is too vast to comprehend.  It's difficult to grasp how deep and wide the canyon is unless you actually hike to the bottom.  Luckily, we had plans to head west of the Grand Canyon National Park to the Hualapai Indian Reservation to take on that challenge

After staying a night in Tusayan, we loaded up our gear and set out for the Hualapai Highway, also called Indian 18. This is a dead-end road that brings you to a stark trailhead, which leads to the village of Supai. Supai is located in the bottom of a canyon, surrounded by red rocks and blue skies. It's populated by only a few hundred year-round residents, and it's only accessible by hiking, mule train, or helicopter. All of the village's supplies are brought down via helicopter or mule, and all the waste generated there is brought out in the same way. Havasu Creek runs through the canyon and results in beautiful, turquoise waterfalls a few miles downstream from Supai. The water gets its color from the loads of mineral deposits it accumulates from the surrounding rocks. Against the red rocks of the canyon, the water takes on an unreal color. I had taken the journey to these falls before, and I don't normally choose to visit the same place twice when there's so much to see around this country, but I thought the falls were spectacular enough to visit again. There's something about flowing water that pulls me near.  Maybe it’s a result of growing up just a stone’s throw from two great rivers—the St. Croix and the Mississippi.  Regardless, it was the moving water that was calling me back to Supai.

These waterfalls aren't nearly the biggest in the world nor the most beautiful, but there's something about the color of the water against the surrounding landscape, as well as their unique setting, that makes them so brilliant. Some experiences can lose their luster when repeated; the novelty wares off.  I was really hoping my return trip to the waterfalls of Supai would be equally as gratifying as my initial visit.

We set off from the trailhead around lunchtime and completed the eight mile hike down to Supai in three hours. The weather was perfect and the scenery was expansive. Once we arrived in Supai, we checked into the lodge and relaxed a bit in our spartan room before heading to the cafe for a filling dinner of burritos.
Hualapai Hilltop


The next morning we loaded up water, lunches, and cameras for our six mile roundtrip hike to three different sets of waterfalls.  We came into view of Navajo Falls just a mile outside of Supai. They had changed drastically since 2007 due to extreme flooding that hit the canyon in 2008 and 2009.  The Navajo Falls I saw five years ago no longer existed, and the Navajo Falls of 2012 were completely new to me. I think the floods actually made them more beautiful, and these falls definitely spoke to the power of water.  I tried to imagine a wall of water rolling through the canyon with enough force to literally move mountains and change the landscape in such a drastic way.  Evidence of the severe flooding was apparent not only in the changed water routes but also in the large amounts of debris strewn throughout the canyon.

Navajo Falls

We continued our hike and made it to Havasu Falls a mile downstream. These falls had also changed since my last visit. The rerouted water upstream has resulted in water flowing over just a third of the rock face it had covered before the flooding events. Even though Havasu Falls in now much narrower, it is still a beautiful waterfall with inviting side channels and pools.

Havasu Falls

After a lunch break and some gin rummy at the base of Havasu Falls, we hiked one more mile to reach Mooney Falls. These are the tallest of the falls we visited, and it was a precarious climb to reach them--one that required crawling through tunnels chiseled through the rock face and climbing down steps etched into the sheer cliff.
Mooney Falls

Later that night after hiking back to Supai, we fell asleep to the muffled sounds of three dozing yet alert village dogs lying outside our lodge door.  (Impressively, these same dogs were dozing in the shade at the top of the trailhead the next morning.)

We began the eight mile hike back to Hualapai Hilltop early the next day.  We fell into a good pace and were at the 6.5 mile marker before we knew it. The last 1.5 miles were the most daunting since they’re composed almost entirely of steep switch backs cut into the canyon wall. We took it step-by-step, rested when we needed to and reached the top without too much trouble. Surprisingly, we made the eight mile hike out of the canyon in the same amount of time it took us to go down. Our speedy exit was likely a result of my competitive nature coming out. When I have a destination to reach, whether it's by walking, hiking, biking, or skiing, I fall into a racing mentality. I end up in either an imaginary race with myself, or if there are people in front of me, in a race to beat them. Regardless of the pace I set, my husband was right on my heels the entire way and took the lead for the last, most difficult mile.
The final ascent to Hualapai Hilltop.  Notice the mule train, which provides a good scale for the size of the climb.
After celebrating our successful ascent, we hopped in the rental car and headed down the Hualapai Highway towards Las Vegas for our flight home the following day.

All in all, it was a great trip. My husband and I spend a lot of time together at work and at home, but it was nice to spend time together outside of our daily grind. It was nice to be on a solo adventure-- just the two of us--and my halfhearted fear of having no buffers along was totally unwarranted. Even after being together for thirteen years, I think our little vacation actually made our relationship stronger. We're sometimes a bit too competitive with one another; we frequently argue over which of us has worked harder on a given day even though we both regularly put in over seventy hours of work each week. During this vacation, however, I felt like we were a well-oiled team, especially while heading in and out of Supai. We accomplished the adventure together, and I think we both needed to temporarily escape from our day-to-day lives to gain an improved perspective on things.

I'm very glad I made it back to Supai. Not many people can say they've been there, let alone been there twice in their lives. In a way, I can't help thinking that it was a last hurrah for my husband and me. We've come to the consensus that we'd like children in our near future, so this might have been the last chance for the two of us to take a trip like this as a couple--at least for the next decade or two.  I realize that having children means postponing some adventures, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m okay with that.  I may never get back to Supai again, but I'm glad my husband and I made it there together.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Steelhead Strike!

I'm not accustomed to failure.  I'm accustomed to succeeding at things as long as I put in enough effort and hard work.  That's how it's suppose to be, right?  As long as someone sets realistic goals and works hard to reach those goals, there's no reason they shouldn't succeed.  At least that's what I thought before I started the obsessive pastime of chasing steelhead in Northern Wisconsin.  I'll admit that I became a little obsessed this season with steelheading.  Over the past three years, I put in close to a hundred hours on the water with only minor results.  Sure, I landed a steelhead last year, but being under 20 inches, it wasn't a REAL steelhead.  I had also had a fish on briefly before it broke me off, but neither of those events were enough to satiate my steelhead appetite.  I wanted to land a real steelhead--I wanted to feel its power through the zipping line and see its beauty up close.  So after getting skunked on my first trip of the fall, I pushed aside my swinging tunnel vision and spent time tying new flies and planning a new approach.  If swinging flies wasn't fruitful the next time out, I was ready to trail an egg pattern behind a weighted nymph and dead-drift the runs, even though this went against my stubbornly purist tendencies.  Desperate times called for desperate measures.

There's a chance I may have blocked it out of my memory, but I honestly can't recall a point in my life when I wasn't able to accomplish something I set out to do. Growing up in a family of strong-headed men and women, "can't" has never been in my vocabulary, and being the competitive person I am, I've just always worked at things until I achieved them. Quitting is rarely in my radar, but my steelheading failure was really throwing me for a loop.  I even began to question whether I subconsciously gravitate towards activities I know I'll excel at and avoid those things that don't play to my strengths.   Maybe I wasn't cut out for this steelheading thing and I should just stick to casting dry flies to Driftless trout.  So what if I can't land a worthy steelhead?  I can be good at other things.  I could tell the steelhead slump was really working me over because I was already making up excuses in my head for continued steelhead failure, which was totally unlike me.

With all these thoughts going through my head, I called up a good friend who lives near the river and arranged to stay with him for a few days. I had two full days on the water set aside.....three if necessary.  He joined me the first day, and we took turns swinging through the deep runs of our selected stretch.  A few hours into the day, I had a grab at my fly, which had never happened to me before.  The two fish I had had on in other years never took my fly with much power.  They certainly didn't hit like a freight train, as some people have described them doing.  Instead, they felt like another snag on the rocks; there were no huge tugs on the line.  One minute my line was swinging and the next there was a fish on.  In contrast, the grab I felt this time shook me to the core and got my heart racing.  I definitely could tell it was a living thing at the other end and not just a snag.  The power transmitted through the line was awesome.

After several more hours of inaction, I decided I had given the swing a good chance, but it was time to switch to the weighted nymph and trailing egg pattern.  I re-fished the runs on our return hike but still had no results.

After a tailgate lunch, we headed to a different stretch of water a bit further upstream.  We planned to fish each run twice:  once with his swinging and once with my nymphing.  We hiked down to the first hole, and my friend started casting to the top of the run.  After about the fifth swing of his fly, he hooked into a beautiful steelhead.  Neither of us had a net along, so I stripped off my gloves and waded into the water to lend a hand.  He guided the fish towards me, and it became the first real steelhead I had the opportunity to hold.  It was beautiful.  In a way, it felt like a shared fish.  I remember thinking that it was almost as good as catching one myself.  Almost.

My friend had been fighting a bad cold and decided to stay home on the second day, which meant I'd be fishing solo. I was actually looking forward to a day alone on the river. At this point I had seen a steelhead landed on the swing and knew where the fish should be. On the drive over, I was very confident that I'd finally land a true steelhead this day; I could visualize it in my head.  I also wondered, though, how I would react at the end of the day if I were heading home skunked once again, which was a very plausible scenario.   Would I give up steelheading because I can't stand to fail, or would I become even more obsessed with it because of repeated failure?   I had a keen sense that the day of reckoning was upon me. 

I pulled into the parking lot of my chosen stretch of river expecting to find too many cars, which would force me to decide on a plan B.  Amazingly, only one car was there.  I took my time gearing up and adding to my multiple layers of clothing.  My friend generously sent his switch rig with me, which meant I could swing flies the entire day.  It was a good feeling to have no backup plan this time.  I would swing my flies and leave the nymphs and eggs in my fishing bag.  I crossed the river and hiked past the other fisherman who was trying his luck at the first hole.  I skipped ahead further downstream until I came to a run where I had seen fish previously hooked.  I took my time and quickly got into a rhythm.  Glide the line back, roll cast, swing the fly.  Glide the line back, roll cast, swing the fly.  After fishing to the end of the first run, I continued downstream.  Being on a stretch of river that normally has a good number of fishermen on it at any given time, I felt very fortunate to have no one downstream from me.  I could take my time and make my way down river without wondering whether a run would be occupied or not.

The third hole I fished was the spot I had been subconsciously approaching.  A fishing partner on my last steelhead outing had caught several nice fish in this hole.  I began swinging my fly through the top of the run.  The repetitive rhythm of the casting easily allowed my mind to wander to other things.  After half a dozen casts, I felt movement at the end of my line at mid-swing.  I raised my rod tip and felt the fish on.  As the rod danced up and down, I caught glimpses of silver as the fish rose to the surface.  Because I had visualized this moment so many times, I was surprisingly calm after I realized there was a REAL steelhead at the end of my line.  I let it pull some line out when it ran towards deeper water, and reeled line in when it gave me the chance.  The 12' rod forced me to land the fish on the bank, and after a quick snapshot to make sure the moment was real, I thanked the fish and delivered it back to its watery world.
The feeling I had in that moment was pure elation.  I had finally accomplished something that had eluded and frustrated me for some time, and it made all the previous fishless days evaporate from my memory. 

Did I owe a huge portion of this fish to luck, persistence, or both?  With the number of hours I spent on the river, had it been just a matter of time before a steelhead connected with my fly?  If the parking lot had been full that morning, would I still be in a steelhead slump?  Would this fish have grabbed an egg if I had been nymphing rather than swinging?  Regardless of how or why I finally landed a REAL steelhead, catching one on the swing with one of my very own flies makes me a very satisfied girl.  I can now enter the real offseason of fly fishing in Wisconsin without any regrets.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Steelhead Slump


12 days on the water.
1 steelhead on.
1 (small) steelhead landed.

Depending on the reader, these stats will seem either pretty darn good or pretty darn abysmal.  Before my latest trip to the President's River, I was in the prior camp.  After seeing a large number of steelhead landed by everyone but myself last week, I'm now in the latter camp of statistical interpreters.  I was deeply humbled by the steelhead, and for once, even the beautiful surroundings weren't much consolation for a steelhead skunk.

I began making fall steelhead trips three years ago. It's about a five hour drive to the intended stream, so I usually stay at least three days and make the trip once or twice each fall. Like musky, steelhead are called, "the fish of a thousand casts," which seemed an accurate description after the first several years on the water. During my most recent trip, though, they seemed more like "the fish of a hundred casts," with everyone in my group landing multiple steelhead during our three days on the water. Everyone, that is, but yours truly.

There was a likely explanation for the zero steelhead stigma I earned this time out: pure stubbornness.

I haven't had enough success steelheading to warrant deep-seeded preferences, yet I still have a preferred method of fishing for them. If you've ever spey casted, you can recognize the Zen feel of the motion that goes with this type of fishing.  The President's River isn't as big as rivers out west where spey casting is more popular, but it can still be used effectively here.  Since trying it with some friends a couple years ago, it's become my favorite method of fishing for steelhead.  Swinging flies on a switch rod just feels right to me, and I know this approach works much of the time, as supported by the seasonal steelhead stats of friends who utilize it. Unfortunately, swinging flies were not preferred by the steelhead last week. Possibly due to a low flow and clear water, they instead chose snelled yarn, which was used by everyone in my fishing group who landed fish. As a result of my purist tendencies, I turned my nose up at dead drifting small lengths of yarn, which I guess is why I hooked into zero fish.

I started off the trip with high hopes. I had spent several hours tying up variations of the fly pattern that had successfully attracted the attention of the one and only steelhead I landed last season. I felt I had a good idea of where to find steelhead in the river, and I was confident they would choose my fly if I swung it past them. After the first ten hour day on the water with several hook-ups and steelhead landed by my yarn fishing companions, my confidence was deeply rattled. By the second day, I was severely questioning what I knew about steelheading. I even relented a bit and began trailing an egg pattern behind my original fly of choice, but I still went another day without even a grab. By day three, I gave up all my preconceived notions and dead drifted snelled yarn behind a weighted stonefly nymph. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. The fish had shut down and none were landed that day by my group, which made me wonder what would have happened if I had tried swinging my original fly through those holes........

Normally, I prefer to use particular methods of fly fishing that are most enjoyable to me even if that means catching fewer fish.  I still manage to catch enough fish to enjoy my time on the water, but will my preferences hold if it means zero fish in an indeterminable amount of time?  Apparently not because I'm planning on tying up some egg patterns today for a return trip to the river where I hope to redeem myself.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I'm happy I stuck to my guns the first two days, but I'm also happy I learned a new method of fishing for steelhead that can be tucked away in my growing fly fishing arsenal. I'm also kind of glad to be humbled. Sometimes it's the failures as much as the successes that keep steelheaders coming back for more. I think this past trip has taught me to be more flexible in my fly fishing methods. There's something to be said for being able to change the type of fishing you do to match the desires of the fish, which I'm sure is a characteristic shared by the most successful fly fishers.

When I head back up to the river next week, I'll still be swinging the flies I tied up with so much anticipation earlier this fall, but I'll also have a newly tied supply of large weighted nymphs and egg patterns for my fly box. I'm still not totally comfortable with fishing egg patterns, even though at their core I guess they're just matching what the steelhead are zoning in on---"matching the hatch" if you will.  Steelhead aren't really even feeding this time of year anyway.  Regardless of the flies I tie on next week, I know this personal conflict of mine will be forgotten the instant my line is zipping downstream behind a chrome torpedo (**fingers crossed**).

Monday, October 8, 2012

WI 2012 Trout Closer

Fall color is in full force in Wisconsin.  Who knew after a summer of so much heat and dryness that we'd be rewarded with such an amazing show.

I managed to squeeze in one more afternoon of Driftless fly fishing before the closing of the season.  The fish weren't real active, which seemed to be the norm the last few weeks of September, but, as usual, the surroundings easily made up for slow time on the water.

With the forced senescence that occurs every September 30th for inland trout fishermen in this state, it's now time to move onto fly tying, daydreaming, and steelheading (in no particular order).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Enchanted Run

We've all heard tales from fellow fly fishermen about an unbelievable run where big, fat trout were landed after every dry fly cast, and the fish were un-spookable.  I finally experienced this kind of magical run myself.

For about the third September in a row, I met up with some of my usual partners in the Driftless for a few days of camping and fly fishing. I love fishing this time of year. The red pigments of sumac have begun revealing themselves, the early morning air has started showing signs of frosts to come, hints of fall aromas fill the valleys, and the underbellies of brown trout have transitioned to a deep, buttery yellow. Though the fishing was slow for the most part of the weekend due to bright skies, warm daytime temperatures, and low water levels, as most fishermen will tell you during tough fishing: it was just nice to be on the stream.

It was during one of these slow days that I came upon a very special run; the type of run existing only in my daydreams up to this point; the type of run I may never come upon again; the type of run that warrants the line, "You shoulda been there last week/month/year!" 

It was an enchanted run.

I had been fishing hoppers most of the day with little interest from the trout.  I persisted despite the lack of action, assuming that things would eventually turn around, and if not, it was just nice to be on the stream. I've had days fishing hoppers where there was a trout under every undercut bank and below every overhanging branch.  The trout were where they were supposed to be, and a good cast--or even a sloppy one for that matter--was consistently rewarded.  I'm actually amused by slow days on the same water when the perfect cast goes unrewarded; when a hopper drifts tight along the grassy bank and there's no splashy grab for it.  I find it both amusing and reassuring when a particular stretch of water doesn't fish well every time and when trout are fickle and uninterested.  It's evidence that fly fishing isn't always easy and trout aren't stupid.

I began fishing a stretch of stream that flowed tightly against the side of a bluff, while one of my fishing partners hiked further upstream and the other fished below me.  This was a beautiful stretch of water with nice pools that required technical casting around and through overhanging branches.  Limestone rocks rose above the water and falling leaves made it apparent that autumn is on a fast approach.  At a certain point, the stream made a 90-degree left turn into a tall meadow filled with goldenrod, thistle, and asters.  It was about thirty yards from this bend that providence decided to reward me.  Perhaps it was a reward for my patience and persistence in the face of many challenging days on the water.  Perhaps it was a reward for my respectful attitude towards Mother Nature and her trout.  Perhaps it was just dumb luck that I found myself at the right place at the right time with the right fly.

I know by putting the following events into words that some of the brilliance of the run will be tarnished, and I know I won't find the appropriate words to convey the magnificence of the run to its fullest, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

I carefully approached a nice looking bend with a textbook riffle and run below it.  The outside corner of the run was fairly deep and shaded by overhanging vegetation.  I was fishing a hopper with a mayfly cripple trailing behind it, and I began casting to the lower end of the run along the bubble line.  On my first cast I landed a plump brown trout on the hopper.  After powdering my two flies in desiccant, I casted again into the bubble line.  I saw two splashes just as the flies hit the water and was shocked to see two trout at the end of my line.  I had heard tales of such doublers from other fishermen, but had never seen it firsthand, let alone at the end of my own rod.  After releasing both trout, I took a minute to appreciate the milestone and consciously decided this event marked a great day of fishing.  I could go the last two weeks of the season without catching another trout and hang up my waders on a high note.  With that feeling of contentment enshrouding me, I dried my flies again and casted further up the run.  I got a nice drift along the outer bank with no interest, so I assumed the two previous trout spooked the run with their splashes.  I casted again to the bank and floated my flies under an overhanging branch.  I saw a rise and set the hook, which resulted in a buttery brown in the net that was too large to hold with one hand.  At this point I began looking up and down the stream, hoping one of my fishing partners would appear to witness the events.  During the course of landing the last fish, the trailing fly had wrapped around its body, so I snipped it off leaving just the hopper.  I dried the fly once more and casted closer to the head of the run.  I was sure the last fish was the biggest of the run, so I was completely flabbergasted when the fly hit the water and I pulled in an even larger trout.  At this point, I was probably in mild shock and thinking there couldn't possibly be any more willing trout in there, but just to be sure I casted the hopper into the head of the run.  Unbelievably, I landed another brown large enough to have a hooked lower jaw.  After releasing this fish and watching it disappear into deeper water, I sat down on the bank in utter disbelief.  After a few moments, I reeled in and headed upstream.

In the untruncated version of the story, I landed about a dozen trout in fifteen casts, the smallest of which was 14" and the largest pushing into the 20" range.  I caught the three largest Driftless trout of my season there along with my first double take.  There are no pictures to prove the existence of the larger trout and no witnesses to corroborate the events.  Like the best fishing tales, the story sounds too good to be true, and as the details become fuzzy, the size and number of trout may slightly increase over time.  One detail I hope will never become fuzzy, though, is the elation I felt during that moment in time on that stretch of stream.

Some fishermen would immediately make plans to return to this enchanted stretch of water, but I'm holding off from doing so any time soon.  I know some of the magic will ware off from the experience when I return, since the run is unlikely to fish as well next time.  And why should it?  The stars only align so often, so I won't be pushing my luck.  I know I'll make it back to this stretch eventually, maybe even as early as next season, but I'll approach it cautiously and surreptitiously.  I'll keep my curiosity subdued and work my way up to it slowly from downstream.  When I reach the bottom of the run, I'll treat it like any other stretch of Driftless water.  I won't expect it to fish exceptionally well again and, honestly, I'll be a bit disappointed if it does.  These moments should occur serendipitously--when your guard is down and your mind is open. 

That fleeting hour on the stream is gone, but I'll keep it logged in my memory to be pulled out now and then for my own revelry.  I'll bring it forth to share with other fishermen around tailgates and campfires when prodded or bolstered by inebriation, and I'll savor the memory this winter when the season is closed and I'm daydreaming of hoppers and buttery yellow browns.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Low-end Gear. High-end Enjoyment.

The opening of inland trout season in Wisconsin can be a bit stark.  Picture snow, bleak skies, an openess of the landscape, stinging fingers, numb toes, and frozen guides.  The last month of the season is quite different with its high grass and weeds, bright blue skies, constant snags on surrounding vegetation, mosquitoes, and sweat trickling down your back.  Since my summer months are filled with keeping our greenhouses running, these are the two periods when I do most of my trout fishing.  Therefore, I love both March and September fishing, though I think I'd still love these two months of the season even if my fondness didn't grow out of necessity.  So when I managed to fit a rare day off into the work schedule last week, I jumped at the chance to head to the Driftless for a day. 
The trout weren't very active, but when they hit a hopper pattern they hit it hard. I found myself totally zoned out, just going through the repetitive motions of casting upstream, stripping line, taking a step, and casting again. The only thing that would disrupt my trance would be snagging my fly on one of the inumerable overhanging weeds in an attempt to float the hopper as close to the undercut back as possible, or by a sudden, splashy take that would snap me to attention.

Like most outdoor recreational activities, fly fishing lends itself to the accumulation of gear.  Anyone with some money in their pocket can quickly spend mad cash on fly fishing "stuff."  I have a couple friends who are true gearheads, and buying new fly fishing gear makes them happy. More power to them, especially when they occasionally let me borrow said gear.  I, on the other hand, seem to rebel against the newest and greatest fly fishing paraphernalia. It was the same way during my college softball days. The newest and most expensive bats might help a bit with distance, but they weren't going to turn a good hitter into a great hitter. I stubbornly stuck with my dinged up bat and re-laced glove, and I did quite well with them if I do say so myself.  I've ended up doing the same with fly fishing gear.  If your casting is lacking to begin with, the newest and greatest rod isn't going to make you a great caster.  I think my avoidance of new, high-end gear is in part due to my own frugality and in part my desire to avoid the accumulation of "stuff."   I like simplicity.  So I enjoy getting by with average hand-me-down gear.  Perhaps a better rod would help get me get more distance and accuracy, but it wouldn't necessarily make for a more rewarding experience.

My husband and I recently visited my brother and his family for a grill out of wild turkey and venison kabobs and fresh corn on the cob.  It was delicious.  My little brother and I share a lot of commonalities:  we both love the outdoors, we're hard workers, and we'd look like twins if I shaved my head and were six inches taller.  Yet, whereas I appreciate a Spartan-like lifestyle, my little brother definitely likes "stuff."  He already owns enough hunting and fishing gear to last three lifetimes.

Despite my aversion to extra gear and because he has more than enough, I took the opportunity during our visit to snag a special fly rod from his garage.  My brother doesn't trout fish much, but he spends fifty times more days on the water than I do.  As a graduation gift several years ago, I had a friend build him a fly rod.  My brother uses it quite a bit for pan fish, but I wanted to take it back to its roots as a trout rod.  The friend who built the rod actually took me out on my first fly fishing adventure before I knew anything about the sport let alone owned a pair of waders.  I basically tagged along and became overwhelmed with all there was to learn, but I came home knowing it was all something I wanted to learn.  We get chances to fish together now and then, and it's always a nice reminder of how far I've come in a short amount of time.  Living five hours apart, we don't get to fish together as much as I'd like to, so I figured taking this rod to the stream for a day would be the next closest thing.

The rod casted like a charm.  Technically, it may be no better than my regular rod, but because of its origin it was like having an extra friend on the stream with me for the day.  I'll continue using it during the last month of the Wisconsin trout season or at least until my gearhead brother asks for it back.  I'll be the one enjoying my time on the stream despite (and in part due to) my leaky waders, rusty reel, and other low-end gear.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fly Fishing Under the Big Sky

I recently returned from my third annual trip to western Montana for a week of fly fishing under blue skies and mountains.  Being a relative newcomer to this sport, the first couple trips out West were great learning experiences for me.  Fishing at least eight hours each day for a week straight caused me to pick up some good habits and fed my addiction to become an all around good fly fisher.  These extended trips also allowed me to absorb as much fishing knowledge as I could possibly retain since I was spending lengthy time on the water with very experienced partners. I think my casting, ability to read water, and overall knowledge of fly fishing improved tenfold on each trip to Montana.

My latest trip to Big Sky Country was the most rewarding so far because I was able to see how far I've come as a fly fisher over the past couple seasons.  I'm much more independent than I was two years ago, and I'm more confident in choosing my flies and my water.  I can now get my fly where it needs to go.

And I catch more trout.

Though there may be some big changes coming to my life over the next couple years, I hope to keep fly fishing as one of my central pillars of happiness.  It fills a void that had begun to develop in my late-twenties when old hobbies and friendships started to wane.

In the end, I fly fish for the challenges it presents.

I fly fish for the beauty that surrounds it.

I fly fish for the unending learning that comes with the sport.

I fly fish for the friendships it creates.

I fly fish for the connection to nature it encourages.

I fly fish for the way it silences everything but the rushing water and the line through the air.
 I fly fish because it makes me happy and content.