So it has been a while since I put this collaborative project into motion – but it is done. It is the Wintertime Blues. I won’t say too much about it you can read all about it in the thing itself…painting, poetry, essays, photography, comedy, drama and etc. and sundry….
There is a list of all 15 contributors at the end of the document…
Feel free to share, but only non-commercially of course. And all the rights belong to the artists and authors.
Click on the above picture to view and download….
Fortune smiled and gifted me with a delightful evening on the local small waterway. No insects of the biting kind were in evidence and the air temperature was of such a degree that it was warmly pleasant but tempered by cool crepuscular breezes. I found myself in successful contest with fishes of 5 species: Catostomus commersonii, Lepomis cyanellus, Micropterus dolomie, Ambloplites rupestris and Lepomis macrochirus. Except for C. commersonii they were all sunfish of the family Centrarchidae, C. commersonii being one of the Cypriniformes, an order that includes carp, minnows and loaches. What they all five have in common though, is that they are all native to my local environs.
When you use latin it makes everything classier right? Maybe not. Here’s what I caught in plain English; a white sucker, some green sunfish, a few smallmouth bass, a couple of rock bass and a bluegill or two. Woo-Hoo! It’s like a grand-slam(+1) right? But nobody brags about this kind of thing though do they? When you catch a trout grand-slam in a stream it’s pretty cool though, and you might mention it. A trout grand-slam would be something like brown, rainbow, brook and cuttthroat, right? Here’s the thing though – that combo is of course is not possible without stocked fish, or wild but non-native fish. It’s not natural. I could be wrong but I doubt that there’s any stream in which you could catch four native species of trout (if I’m wrong please let me know). Perhaps if you include salmon it’s more possible, I’m not sure.
The point is that I can drive a few minutes to small local warmwater stream and have an evening of catching fish on the fly rod (or tenkara rod as was the case). I can readily catch 5 or 6 species of native fish all in the same stretch of stream. And most put a nice bend in the rod. Pound for pound, the sunfish family fights better than any trout.
Is it a compromise? Or is it a promise. I used to think the former but now I say the latter. In the not too recent past I looked to the warmwater stream as a big compromise. Don’t get me wrong, I still love small stream, mountain stream, trout fishing. It is still my favorite kind of fishing. But I don’t view the local wamwater waterway as the compromise that I used to. It is a waterway full of promise. It used to be akin to an open sewer, a stream despoiled by industrial pollution, acid mine drainage, sewage. It still bears the scars of these former assaults, and judging by the presence of some high-water sewage overflow warnings it still suffers. But it has come back from the brink to be a decent little stream. The smallmouth aren’t huge – but they are there, along with many other fly catchable fish. Like the stream itself these denizens are survivors. They are natives. They belong here. Which cannot be said for many of the trout in Pennsylvania and all across the country. I don’t want to be preachy and I don’t mean that as any kind of indictment. Things are what they are. Some fish have been put where they don’t belong. Perhaps it was ignorant and in hindsight destructive but it is what it is.
The thing that struck me when I was fishing this stream and catching these fish is that, not only is it not a compromise but it is a privilege to be able to do so. These small streams and the native fish that live in them deserve our respect as tenkara anglers, fly fishers or whatever kind of angler you are. To catch these fish roots you in the present and connects you to the to the past.
Ahh…summertime. A bluegill says summer like blue skies and sun and thunderstorms and cool nights and sweltering heat and mosquitoes and baseball and the Fourth of July and black raspberry pie. Whether it’s caught on worms or poppers or hoppers or sakasa kebari tied on hooks from Japan or coated in fry magic and sizzling in a pan…a bluegill says summer. Playing right field and swatting at flies instead of catching them and sneaking down to the pond, scrounging rusted hooks from the ground and tying discarded mono to a stick. You can say a lot or you can say a little you can rank them on the top bottom or middle – long ear, green, pumpkin seed, bluegill, warmouth, red ear or whatever…nothing is like summer like sunfish.
I just started reading the 1999 John Gierach book Standing in a River Waving a Stick – I’m not all that far into it yet , but so far so good.
The first chapter is called, The Happy Idiot. In this chapter Gierach mentions a TV News program that he watched on which a monkey and an investment guru each chose stock portfolios – the monkey’s portfolio outperformed the professional’s. The comparision to fly fishing is of course the fact that no matter how much you read, practice, study, turn over rocks, cast in your back-yard, no matter how expensive your fly-rod or how many fly tying books you own, sometimes the monkey wins.
This got me thinking of those times when the monkey won. When, regardless how well prepared I thought that I was, my plans did not coincide with the fish’s – and dumb luck beat out my years of accumulated fly fishing skill and “wisdom”.
Most recently I remember a trip to Colorado’s Elk River not far outside of Steamboat Springs. A buddy and I were fishing up opposites banks of the river – I was catching fish here and there. I would have been having a pretty good time, but I couldn’t help noticing that every time I looked up my buddy was hooking, reeling in or releasing a fish. I know that I should have an internal locus of control, but…well it was getting to me. Every few casts I would turn back to the fly boxes, open and close one after another looking for that perfect fly. In between fly changes I tried to convince myself that I was just on the wrong side of the river – it was too sunny, all the fish were along the other bank.
Finally I cracked open a re-purposed Altoids container full of terrestrials that I’d gotten in a fly swap. I sorted through the ants, beetles, crickets, hoppers, and then in a sort of self-defeating irony and desperation tied on the biggest fly in the box – a fly that I would never use if anybody was watching. It was a multi-layered foam, rubber-legged affair about the size of a hummingbird, easily bigger than the rest of the flies combined. I tied on the monstrosity of trembling foam and rubber and cast it into the head of a plunge pool – it landed like a flip flop smacking the water. There was a second or two of placid drifting and then an explosion of fish and white water. I hauled back like I was trying to embed the hook into an the snout of an alligator gar – the 5x tipped did not hold. I am convinced that I would have really cleaned up with that fly. A fly that I would never have chosen based on any set of facts that I was familiar with, but a fly that a monkey would have probably picked in an instant.
Another time, I was fishing Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek in mid-summer. The section that I was on had grassy banks down to the stream with long stems of grass arching out over the water. I tied on a black LeTort Cricket and crawled up to the stream, pulled out some line, carefully rolled it out to the stream behind me before casting tight to the bank, brushing the grass. I had a nice long leader, I was careful not to false-cast over the likely bankside lies, the fly would bump into the grass and plop pleasingly onto the water. I felt like the cover of the summer issue of a fly fishing magazine. It was all so perfect…except for the catching fish part. Not a fish – not a flash, not a swirl…nothing. Time for a fly change, I let the fly line drift below me and went for the fly boxes. You guessed it, fish on. I brought in a nicely colored rainbow. released it and did what I wasn’t supposed to do. I cast the cricket downstream, let it drag, creating a v-shaped waked – bam! Another one, and another and another…the monkey won again.
I could go on. The monkey wins more often than I’d like to admit. It sometimes makes me wonder. All of those times when I did everything right and caught fish, when I was so self-congratulatory, was it all just self-deception? Is it all smoke and mirrors? Is it a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes? I guess I need to get a pet monkey and test it out.