Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Winter FlyTying

My friend Scott Hartwig and I enjoy tying flies on a cold winter day while sipping on hot coffee and reminiscing of past days on the river. We look forward to warmer days ahead and what flies might work. I must admit, this is one of my favorite winter activities. Of course there is a time to brave the elements;  hit the river or to ski the slopes but sometimes it is nice to just sit, keep warm, and talk about life, in one of the local coffee shops. Tying flies is part of the ritual and the preparation of fly fishing.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fly Fishing Deckers In Mid-January

It was cold with snow flurries but not as cold as last week when a friend said there was ice all the way across the river!  I was hopeful that the winter weather would keep other anglers home. I was wrong. I looked up river to the cable hole and I saw eight anglers. I looked down stream and saw 3 anglers. We were lucky to be in the parking lot hole and have some space. Hard to believe it was so busy on a mid-January morning.

We found the fish willing to take a variety of midges. To me, there really is not a lot of true science to fly selection while on the South Platte River in the winter. Midges, midges midges. There was no "secret fly."  Black, red, white, olive. They all worked and none of them worked. Some with beads and some without.  When none of them worked, we went smaller;  22-26 hook sizes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The South Platte River in Solid Form

It is a bit strange to look at the snow, or even ski or snow shoe on the snow, that will become the South Platte River. How strange to see the river in solid form; beautiful yet life-less, at the source.

Stranger still to look farther out into the clouds that seem to merge with the mountains. I think of a line from the book of Job, "Have you seen my storehouses of snow?"  I ask myself, Are these the storehouses of snow or are they still farther out, beyond the gray? 

The melting will begin soon forming rivulets moving down from the highest mountains, that will join and form the river that we will fish. How strange to be at the beginning of the river. It is quiet up here. Downstream, the noise has already begun. Fly-fishers, such as myself, looking for a hole to fish. I think I will sit here for a while; just a little while longer, and enjoy the quiet solitude. 

Snow pack is already exceeding normal levels. I try to picture what kind of a river we will be standing in and fishing in June.  We have had some dry years and the fires but we have also had some flood years. What will this year bring?

For now, I will imagine the fish moving under the snow.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Year in Review: Guiding the South Platte 2016

What a busy year of guiding!  I am so grateful we had fabulous fishing on the South Platte, from the Dream Stream, down to 11 mile canyon, Cheesman Canyon and down through Deckers,  to provide fulfilling fly fishing experiences to fabulous clients.

I was most impressed with the willingness of folks to “get out” and fly-fish; many for the first time. As a guide of almost 30 years, and an educator of 31 years, I think it is healthy for us, both kids and adults, at least at times, to find our way to a river.  We need a break from the madness of our culture and the madness of our lives. Too many of us remain “stuck” on our couches, and rarely encounter nature.

How wonderful it was to take many folks fly-fishing who were looking for a reprieve.  On the river, we talked about why the fish took the fly on one cast but not another, and countless other questions we might encounter, while dealing with an ever changing set of conditions on the river.  We also talked about life.  I remember many great conversations with folks about hopes and dreams, along with some heartache that is also often a part of life.  These intense feelings often have a way of surfacing like the emerging mayflies and perhaps the river is the best place to talk of such things.

As we casted in the river, my clients were willing to consider what would increase our chances of catching a fish. We tried to consider every variable under the sun; from accurate casting, to proper drift and the right fly, to knowing how to play a fish once hooked. We constantly problem solved. Sometimes we solved the problem and caught a fish and sometimes we did not.

We often considered psychological factors. Does it help to stay positive and hopeful? Did it help to believe we were going to hook a fish? Did it help to pray? It was so exciting and rich for me to stand with folks in the river and together, while working on fly-fishing technique to contemplate these questions which, at the same time, are probably also the bigger questions of life.  

And then how almost magical it was, even when we might have been doing everything less than perfect, and we couldn’t see a fish within the stretch of water we were fishing, and I, even as a guide was not very hopeful, a large fish found its way onto the line and was suddenly pulling out line.
Perhaps, in that moment, we were “receiving the river’s grace,” and we caught something and took home something that could never be counted, measured, or photographed.

What a great season of guiding and catching the immeasurable.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fly-Fishing Your Way Through the World

“The way through the world is more difficult to find than the way beyond it.”  Wallace Stevens

I easily get bored sitting around thinking about the world to come or to what lies beyond. I get even more bored when I have to sit in churches and listen to people pontificate on how to find the way to heaven and how great it is going to be.  I have little interest to sit around listening or discussing such matters.  

However, I think I understand why we might choose merely to sit around in heavenly contemplation.  Although terribly boring, it is far easier to sit around and talk about a way beyond this world than to find a way through this world. It can be easy to sit back, disengaged from life, trying to “save” others under the pretense that they must find the way to the heaven beyond with its streets of gold.

Nevertheless, to find a way through this world requires my full engagement, participation and that I am fully human.  It requires passion and a great love.  If I sit around, only thinking of lofty heavenly states, it disengages me from life. I have come to believe that finding my way through the world even by fly-fishing is far more difficult. Yet, this is the task granted to me and that I embrace.

Fly-fishing requires that I make a commitment to journey, find my way through the world to a river, and learn of God’s creation and the world of fish. For it is while fly-fishing that I have to find my way through my fly boxes and find the right fly and I have to use the proper techniques and casting presentations that allow the fly to drift properly. Fly-fishing my way through their world, this world, allows me to stay focused on the fly as it drifts down a current seam-line.  Perhaps a fish takes the fly, and allows me to know, if only briefly, that I have found the way, my way through the world.

Sometimes, as I am finding my way through the world, fly-fishing, I contemplate deeper tugs that come from down in my soul. I do pay attention to these deeper tugs. These tugs help me better understand the way even if others might misunderstand me. If I talk about a spirituality and faith regarding fly-fishing, then some folks might assume I am only sitting around waiting for the next life to come. No, I enjoy this life too much and feel deeply responsible to respond to the beauty all around me in this world. Therefore, I fish and try to find my way to the fish.

I love to cast to the elusive beautiful forms swimming under the currents, as I try to find my way through the world. I prefer the wonderful sensations of this life; the strong pulsations of a large fish hooked on the end of my line, surging downriver. I choose to find my way through the world, this world; engaged in life, this life, reading the mysterious waters.   

Yet, at times, I know how difficult it can be even to find my way through my own home and life’s complications, to get to the garage to rig a fly rod. Harder still to turn the key to my truck and find my way to the river. And, then if I get there, I might take a fall or get in a tangled mess and catch nothing.

Yet, all of this searching, struggling, falling and rising, tugs or no tugs, catching and not catching, are finding my way through the world and perhaps in the world to come.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fly Fishing My Way into Existence

There is an existential choice that I try initiate within myself and I try to proclaim again and again. Quite simply, I try to say to life, to God, ‘I am here.’  If I can say ‘I am here,’ I acknowledge my existence.   

If I exist then a certain peculiar responsibility comes with that existence, the steps I take into the world, and the words I speak. I am responsible during the specific moments of time for my existence and the choices I make as opposed to being ‘checked out,’ and numb.

If I make this declaration then I can become more aware of how I am responsible for my life even when it seems that humanity ignores me, or I ignore humanity and I live in isolation.  I can declare my existence even when it feels as though nothing matters or my life does not matter. These can be challenging times to believe in my existence and the meaning of my life.

However, if during these difficult times, I can spend some time out in nature, casting on a river, I can some times find connection, a sense of flow and belonging. For me, it is while fly-fishing, that I can best proclaim my existence to the Earth and the creation even when I feel alone, insignificant as if no one even knows my name. As the poet says,

“And if the earthly no longer know your name, whisper to the silent earth I’m flowing; to the flashing waters say, I am” (Rilke).  

I can whisper to the silent Earth that I am here. I can say to the flashing waters, I am.  To say that I exist means I carry a certain weight; however slight, that leaves wandering footsteps along the banks of rivers.  As I fish, I may not see any other footsteps in the mud nor meet anyone I know. I cast and drift in the flowing waters. 

The fish might swim away from me in fear as I cast, ignore me for hours but sometimes one fish drawn to my fly enters my world and I connect.  I connect to the fish and watch it propel itself in the flashing waters as I contemplate my existence and place in the world; their world.   

Within the flashing waters of the silent Earth, I might dare to proclaim; I am, and know I exist as a small part of the creation.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Deep Snows of Winter: To Cover the Scars We Left Upon Eden

The Mountains need snow.  We need the water, and of course, so do the fish.

However, besides these basic needs, I think we also need the snow to block our way to the river.  The banks need healing along with the fish. We have left our scars upon the land and the fish themselves. 

Can I help it that I secretly wish for storms so heavy with snow that they deny us access to the river. Perhaps heavy snow is the only way to keep us out. Let the river, the fish and the land heal.  

Am I being too dramatic? Who has not seen in years past when sections of river were temporarily closed to fishing because of high water or threat of fire, how wonderful the fishing was when it reopened? 

With no closures in sight, I can only hope for heavy snow. I hope the snow falls and denies us access for a day or two. Or maybe a week.  Any break might help heal the scars.

Who has not seen the scars on the fish; the broken off flies in their mouths, and their tired response when hooked? Have we not seen every day and all day long the relentless pounding of our favorite holes? 

How many times can a fish be hooked, its feeding cycles interrupted, and still thrive (or even survive?).

I doubt the D.O.W.,  park service or the national forest agencies would ever propose rest periods for the fish by periodically closing sections of river. I doubt fly shops could collaborate and agree to limit guiding.  Could the fly fishing community ever agree to fish less?

How could I, as a lover of fly-fishing, during a 60 degree winter day, deny myself the urge to fish? Or, how could I not cast to a 30 inch fish that has moved up from a lake during the fall and Spring migrations?  

Therefore, come heavy snow and cover the river, the trails, and the roads. Deny me access if only for a day.

Heal the damage I have done. Heal Eden.

Heal my own heart.