Monday, January 30, 2012

Hand-Me-Down Bamboo

In the world of bamboo fly rods, mine is nothing special.  It’s an 8’ South Bend with interchangeable tips that allow it to be used as a two-piece spinning rod or three-piece fly rod.  From what I've been told, it was mass produced in Japan during the 1940's and 50's.  In terms of aesthetics, it’s seen better days:  some of the wraps are beginning to unravel, the cork grip has taken on an unattractive patina, at least one of the ferrules have come loose, and there's a noticeable bend at the end of the middle section.  I  don't have much experience casting anything other than graphite, but I took it out the other day and made some casts in the backyard with my 5 wt line and reel, which was probably too heavy of a setup for this rod.  Overall, the rod had a very loose feel to it and casted better than I expected it to, but the butt section felt a bit heavy.  Perhaps with a lighter line and reel the casting would improve, assuming the rod stays in one piece. 

Despite these faults, I take great pleasure in this rod because it was a gift from my grandpa   The rod was given to him by a friend that served overseas in Japan, and it apparently has not seen water for at least forty years.  Once I began fly fishing, my grandpa decided it should be taken out of storage and passed on to his oldest granddaughter.

Grandpa Jerry, and the rest of my family for that matter, takes great pride in the fact that I fly fish.  Being a tomboy is a commendable attribute in my family, so they were not the least bit surprised when I took up the sport.  My grandpa likes to tell stories about taking my brother and me out fishing when we were very young.  I clearly remember sitting on a padded bucket on the ice, pulling up blue gills and trying very hard not to complain about the cold.  I also remember staring at panfish flopping in the bottom of metal pails while we cleaned them in my grandparents’ basement.  My grandma would be upstairs heating oil for the imminent fish dinner.  Apparently my grandpa also took us to the Kinnickinnic as young kids to fish for trout, but unfortunately I don’t remember those outings.
It's interesting to contemplate the rod's history, and I hope to learn more details in the future, but what I find really fascinating are the accessories found inside the rod's box.  The rod is in its original case, which has the look and feel of balsam, and inside the lid are several compartments covered by two sliding covers.  These compartments contain the original silk gut, wired hooks, wooden bobbers, and flies that were sold with the rod.  Though the flies have become a bit disheveled over the years, they look very pretty in their small, individual quadrants.

Since this rod came into my possession, I’ve been content to keep it tucked up high on a shelf out of harm's way, to be brought out and admired occasionally when the desire arises.  Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that this has been a disservice to the rod.  Lately I’ve been thinking this rod deserves to taste water from a spring fed creek.  It deserves to feel warm sunshine along its length.  It deserves to cast a dry fly to a riser and to feel the bounce of a healthy, Driftless trout through each of its fibers. 

For these reasons, I've decided to fish this rod next season and land a trout with it.  Though it makes me a bit nervous to do so, the worst that could happen isn’t as bad as never realizing the potential of the rod. 

It deserves a chance.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Long Routes

Preceding wanderers.
I took advantage of a beautiful Wisconsin winter day today by going on a long hike through my backyard and onto the trails of my local county park.  It seems that we have only a tenth of the snow we usually have at this time of year.  The six inches of fluffy powder was not enough to make an adequate base layer for cross country skiing, nor was it enough snow to warrant snowshoes.  It WAS enough snow to soften the sharp edges of the landscape, brighten up the shaded culverts, and muffle the sounds as I followed the tracks of boots, hooves, and paws that came before me.

I really enjoy winter in Wisconsin and await the first snowfall eagerly like a child waiting for Christmas.  I love how the landscape is suddenly altered over night.  Plants in the garden that were looking worn out and dead suddenly are given new life.  The nocturnal wanderings of wildlife become apparent in the fresh white carpet.  The sunshine seems brighter and the sky bluer. Sounds seem to carry further across the landscape, and I cherish the feel of the crisp air against my cheeks.
Skeletons of echinacea.

I feel sorry for people who lament the coming of winter and focus only on the problems it can create with shoveling or hazardous driving conditions. If they took the time to get outdoors and open up their senses to the new smells, sounds, sights, and feelings that winter brings with it, maybe they'd dread winter less.  Though the trails were laden with prints, I only crossed paths with three other individuals during this particular hike. One couple was at a trail map kiosk looking for the quickest way to the parking lot.  The kickoff times of Packer games have a heavy influence on the Sunday schedules of most Wisconsinites--especially playoff games. The third individual was an older gentleman coming down a side trail wearing leather chaps, a hardhat, smoking a cigarillo, and carrying a chainsaw.   He quickly informed me that he was cutting snowshoe paths--not coming to cut me into little pieces. That was a relief. Nothing puts a damper on a nice hike like a rampaging chainsaw murderer.

The area of Wisconsin I reside in is known for its hilly topography.  The biking portion of the Iron Man actually passes through my community each summer as a result of the challenging peaks and valleys.  These peaks and valleys also provide a nice challenge to my hikes, as well as intimidating challenges to those learning to drive their husband's manual transmission pickup.  (Don't even get me started on the five roundabouts in town!)  The path I chose through the park today provided several steep ascents that got my heart rate elevated and my legs burning.  At the top of an open vista, amidst steady clouds of exhales, I mused about the benefits of winter hiking and how people unexposed to this pasttime are really missing out.  I wasn't just out for a walk.  I was getting in the day's workout, absorbing sunshine for my body's vitamin D production, clearing my mind,  relieving stress, and appreciating the nature around me.  It felt fantastic!

As the sun began to dip below the canopy, I heard the punctual melody from the church bells on Main Street traveling across the snow covered hills, indicating that three o’clock had just arrived.  I was presented with a choice:  the short route or long route.

I tend to take the long route on hikes as well as in life.  The long route allows you to appreciate the journey.  The long route makes you appreciate how far you traveled to reach your goal.  The long route usually requires hard work.  I guess I'm a huge advocate of delayed gratification.  My preference for the long route often becomes apparent in my trout fishing.  When I see a rise at the head of a riffle, instead of casting immediately to the rise, I begin casting my fly to the bottom and sides of the riffle, working my way carefully to where the trout in question lies.  I may hook a smaller fish before making my way to the head of the riffle and spook the pool, but I may also reach the top of the riffle, hook the riser, and end up appreciating it all the more.  It drives some of my fishing partners crazy, but when it works, the delayed gratification is worth it to me.

I'm looking forward to more snowfalls this winter so I can get out the cross country skis and snowshoes I enjoy, but until then I'll keep my boots and gators handy for more winter hikes.  There's nothing like the quiet, crisp air and blue shadows falling in the woods to decompress one's mind and open one's thoughts to the smallness of mankind and the grandeur of nature.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


When I do things, I like to do them well.  I also have the need to soak in as much information as I possibly can about a topic before jumping in.  So a few years ago when I decided that fly fishing was to be one of my major hobbies, I began devouring information about the sport.  I hoarded library books on streamside entomology and knots.  I watched Internet video after Internet video on casting and reading the water.  Most importantly, I began weaseling my way onto fishing trips with seasoned experts.  At times I felt like a pesky little sister refusing to leave her older brothers alone.  Many thanks to Al, Tom, Eric, Tim, Joe, Bryan, and Matt for their patience with a beginner and their willingness to help a beginner stand on her own neoprene-clad feet.  (My husband continually wonders why I don't find a couple female fly fishers to tag along with, but lucky for me he's a pretty understanding guy:)

So when it came time to tackle fly tying, I once again devoured information on the topic and found a group of seasoned experts to learn from.  These experts were found in a free tying class offered through my local TU chapter last winter.  The class met every Wednesday night from January to March, and there was nothing I looked forward to more during those ten weeks.  I was immediately taken under the wings of two gentlemen who, though they may deny it, were both old enough to be my grandfather.  Each class consisted of Barry introducing a new tying technique followed by his demonstration of a new fly pattern or two.  The students would then have time to practice the new patterns under the supervision of the instructors and volunteers.  Bob, a volunteer in his eighties, always sat close to me in order to critique my tying and provide pointers while I worked.  There were two other women in my class, and every week Bob and Barry would have little gifts for us.  One week Bob brought packets of fly patterns he recommended, which he printed off his home computer.  Another week he handed out new fly boxes.  Barry passed out extra books on fly tying that he no longer used.  Most coveted of all, they often brought extra materials, which were always neatly packed and labeled in small zip lock bags.  Some girls get excited about new shoes, but I get excited over new hooks, thread, hackle, dubbing, and beads.  Between each tying class, I studiously practiced tying the assigned patterns at home.  As the next class neared, I would be giddy as a schoolgirl to show Barry and Bob my finished flies.  Witnessing their excitement and pride over my work was truly priceless.

I've always been a pretty crafty girl, so fly tying has come relatively easy to me.  Given a fly pattern, I can follow it fairly well and even improvise if needed.  My resulting fly will look like it should, and most importantly, it will catch trout.  But being a left-brained person, I will not be designing my own patterns any time soon.  I am entirely happy using other people's patterns and will leave the creative side of fly tying to the right-brained thinkers out there.

I think the most important things I learned in last year's tying class were: 
  1. During most situations on the water, a variety of flies will catch fish, assuming there's good presentation. 
  2. When tying flies, old men are extremely good at substituting household items for the expensive store-bought materials.
When I began learning to tie, I was at a point in my fly fishing journey where I was overwhelmed by the huge variety of different fly patterns regularly used for trout.  How could I possibly carry enough fly boxes to cover all my bases?   Acquiring a supply of flies that matched all possible hatches throughout a season in the Driftless, not to mention streamers and terrestrials, seemed quite daunting.  It was through my tying class that I realized trout may not be as picky as I once believed.

My tying mentors also revealed the wonders of material substitutions. 
  • So, you don't have the ParaPost material for a BWO parachute on hand?  Why not use the grey fibers of seat belts cut from a 1980 Buick found at the junkyard? 
  • So, you don't have sheets of the new wing materials sold in all the fancy fly tying catalogs?  Why not use cuttings from candy wrappers? 
  • So, you don't have any scud backing left to tie your favorite super scud?  Just cut out the clear rubber straps now commonly used for hanging women's shirts.  

I've tied a lot of flies since last year's class ended, and I've caught many trout on my own creations.  This year's class is just weeks away, and I'm very much looking forward to it.  Though Barry and Bob will not be instructing my class this time around, they deserve all the thanks I can possibly give them for their generosity and time.  They gave me the instruction I needed and showed me that fly tying doesn't have to be as serious as some people make it out to be.

Instead of meeting my girlfriends for drinks on Thursday nights this winter like some young women, I'll be faithfully meeting up with a bunch of old men for two hours of lying and tying.  What could be better than that?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Phase 1

My husband and I have made a decision:  It’s time for us to throw our collective hat into the childbearing ring.

We’ve been married for six years now but have been together for over twelve.  During that time, children were something we said we’d think about later or avoid entirely.  It wasn’t until this last year that we began considering the topic more seriously.  The time has now come to either move towards or around the process of reproduction.

For years, my husband and I both insisted that we’d be content never having children.  We’d squirrel our money away, have more time to devote to our small business, and take more opportunities to travel.  Slowly but surely, we both began to falter at different points this past year.  Now we both agree that children will bring us a different type of contentment down the road.  We’ve also begun to consider our own parents’ futures.  My parents are both relatively young being in their mid- to early fifties, but my wonderful in-laws are already in their mid-sixties.  If we wait much longer to start a family, that severely reduces their time to influence the lives of their grandchildren.  My in-laws support everything my husband and I do, but they very much deserve to have grandkids in their lives, and they will be the most loving grandparents a child could ask for.  We owe it to them to begin the process.  I also think about my husband’s future.  If something happened to me somewhere down the road, I’d hate to think of him being alone.  I don’t think he would handle life on his own very well if I was out of the picture, but having children around could ease his pain.  My husband thinks this is a very morbid reason for having children, but it’s a reason nonetheless.

I’ve never felt any motherly instincts towards children, though I am very nurturing towards my cat.  It’s amazing how the baby talk that used to repulse me comes very easily with my animal companions.  I am also not one of those women who look forward to pregnancy.  I’ve always had a very athletic build and would’ve been happy keeping a slim, boyish figure throughout my life.  Perhaps partly because of athletics and partly due to genetics, I didn’t even start menstruating until college, which was wonderful and embarrassing at the same time.  In middle school gym class, the girls were required to line up at the start of the period and count off for roll call.  We were all assigned numbers to call out, and if anyone was having their period that day, they would add a “half” after their number.  I was never able to call out “seven-and-a-half” because I never had my period.  Menstruating, breasts, and curves were a scary, foreign concept to me at that age, yet I was also self-conscious of not being like the other girls who were going through puberty.  There was always a question on the form I filled out as part of an annual physical that asked the date of a girl’s last period, and I would inevitably make up a date.  Looking back at this time of my life, I wish my mom had shared more information with me, but I know I would have died from embarrassment if she had tried.  Instead, I didn’t ask any questions and my mom didn’t volunteer any information.  It’s hard to believe that she would have been my current age at the time I was going through this stage of life.

I finally started menstruating regularly at the age of twenty once I began taking the pill, and have been on the pill ever since.   When my prescription ran out last month, I officially began Phase 1 of this childbearing process:  I stopped the pill, began taking prenatal vitamins, and started researching ovulation.  Though I taught human anatomy and physiology for years to juniors and seniors in high school, and I’m very much familiar with the textbook process of conception, pregnancy, and birth, I can’t quite fathom going through this process myself.  I assume that it will be difficult for my husband and I to conceive, even though people get pregnant everyday when they’re not even trying.  I guess this assumption stems from the disconnection I have with my own femininity, and also from the newly acquired knowledge that mine would be a “geriatric” pregnancy, as loudly stated by a registered nurse acquaintance.

My husband has also started his own Phase 1:  he’s begun the nesting process of removing extraneous “stuff” from the house and reorganizing the garage and basement.  Though he genuinely worries that he won’t be a good parent, the amount of love he’ll have for a child will be immeasurable, which is really all that matters.  What he lacks in parenting skills will be made up in love.  He worries that he won’t be good at setting boundaries, but from my years of teaching experience, I know how to set expectations and follow through on discipline.  I accept that he will be the good cop and I the bad cop.  I still worry how a child will impinge on my independence and how we will continue to have time and money to invest in our small business, but I guess we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Phase 2 has yet to begin.