Battenkill or Bust

I had to cut my vacation short to attend a client meeting in Manchester, Vermont. Since it was home of the famed Battenkill, I booked a guide, Ray Berumen, for a wet wading trip the day after the meeting. I really had just about 3 hours total to fish before I had to drive an hour to Albany for the plane home. Fortunately my guide was very flexible, even did some scouting. Turns out there was a early afternoon hatch of Cahills bringing fish up for some good dry fly action and so that would be our game.

Well my morning meeting went long and so I had to book it down to the river. On the way, I spotted a bear (or hell of a shaggy fat black goat) up in the foothills of the mountains and considered it a good omen. Upon arriving, I stripped out of my monkey suit and got to know Ray a bit. He’s a school teacher and guide, and used to work for Orvis just up the road. We donned our waders and made our way through some corn fields to get to a quiet stretch of the river on the NY side of the river near Eagleville. The sun was high but there were a few clouds and the shade was along the river left bank for the most part. Oh,  and the trout were rising. I took two small wild browns on a cahill but it got progressively harder as the hatch slowed down. I was using the guide’s 10′ 5wt Helios which was a dream to cast and now makes me want a longer rod (I usually use a 9′ 5wt hydros). We found a few good pools, one with no less than five trout rising, but I knew from their splashy rises they were small – more of the typical 6-10″ browns found on the Battenkill. No matter, I was going to enjoy this time and avoid the pressure of finding big fish by settling in.

Anyway, we were creeping down the river and the guide pointed to a big tree overhanging a nice hole and half-heartedly said that he pulled a 20-incher out that same spot a week ago. I was ready to dismiss that as just encouraging guide talk. The Battenkill is a very challenging river and though it has a few big fish, they don’t come out in the middle of the day, and you have to put your time in. Most anglers are skunked their first time. Well, not but a minute later at the same spot he pointed too there was a big splash. like the sound of a frigging toilet flushing. It was like someone threw a big round stone in the river. I froze. Ray froze. And next thing I knew we were slowly backing out looking for a better angle. The guide whispered, “dude, that’s a big fish, that’s him.” I said, “yeah, I know.” And it was on…

We got into position and tried the Cahill in vain for about twenty minutes. I was using the reach cast that the guide had tutored me in about an hour before. The fly was swinging over three micro currents and it took quite a while to get great drag free drifts, but when I did, the trout wouldn’t rise. But then came the toilet flush again as he snapped something off the surface. We pulled the line in and retied – working our way through a light Hendrickson and BWO. We fended off the “raft hatch” of canoers and kayakers warning them to go by behind us. I suggested we go with a smaller leader – we were on 5x and so we went down to 6x. Then the guide suggested, “maybe we put on a hopper, he wants meat, protein.”

Yet, we couldn’t see hoppers on the surface. Then the lightbulb went off – and he tied on a black ant. If we couldn’t see what the trout was taking, it probably was a terrestrial in the film, an ant. On the first cast the fish rose and snapped something off the surface, but I could see I was just a foot to the left from his snout. I let the ant drift by. Ray said, “You have to set the hook when he rises.” I said, “I know, but he didn’t rise to the ant. I was short.” He suggested I take one step forward. I took one step forward forcing myself to slow down.

“OK, deep breath, lets try again.”  I cast using the reach mend, I could see the line snake turning the cast into more of a slack cast, but no matter, it would do the job. The ant was barely visible but right on the seam, it would drift right over the trout’s head. Once again, the trout rose…

…and snatched the ant off the surface in a VICIOUS strike displacing water left and right. I set the hook, lifting the Helios up with a light but firm flick. And then the real battle began.

The headshakes were phenomenal. River brown trout this size in skinny water have a great deal of stored energy and he was going to use it. Remember, I was on 6x, so I had to play him carefully. When he ran, I gave him line, when he came at me, I pulled line in. I kept telling myself to remember to keep a tight line, no slack, but to play gently. Looking up stream I could see kayakers heading straight for us. The guide starting moving them to the right behind us, but they seemed oblivious and drifted right through the battle.

I was yelling, “what are you looking at, don’t stop paddling, keep moving, keep moving!” A bit rude, but I was not going to lose this precious brown. Finally, after about ten minutes we maneuvered the trout a bit downstream and I could feel him tiring, but he tried to shoot back to his hole at least twice more. Each time I told myself keep the rod tip high, turn his head, keep him on his toes. My arm ached and I could feel the pressure of the current on the fly line. Thinking of the 6x tippet, I kept thinking, don’t break, don’t break. And then it was over, Ray settled in downstream and netted him.

Battenkill Brown Trout
I hollared and hugged Ray. Ray noted that this was not the 20-incher he’d caught before, this was a new fish, bigger! This gorgeous 22″ brown was perhaps my second or third largest on a dry. What a true challenge – unsurpassed sport, and what a joy to be guided by someone who never backed down, kept working, kept narrowing the possibilities until we had an answer. Hell – I’d given Ray a tough job – to put me on the fish with just a few hours to spare – and he had delivered. Of course this doesn’t happen everyday, but the Battenkill really lived up to its reputation. I felt we had approached this trip with surgical precision and great patience and ingenuity – and it had paid off. I simply can’t wait to go back to the Battenkill again to pursue its legendary browns with Ray once more.

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10 min. in Nashville

Was in Nashville for a brief spell for work and managed to visit Imogene & Willie for a few minutes. Just lovely. I intend to replicate their beautiful store in my basement and just move in down there. I snapped a few quick pictures before my cellphone died. And yes, I copped the salmon chambray shirt. DOPE.

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After work I took the client down to Holland House Refuge + Bar where he swore his cocktail (a variation on the whisky smash made with Bulleit, lemon, mint and thyme) was the best bourbon cocktail he’d ever had. I’d say it was the 2nd best I’ve ever had – The Lamb’s Club (NYC) Gold Rush (made with Elijah Craig) is still the best smash I’ve ever tasted. The food at HHR did not disappoint – with lots of sous vide going the fish and lamb were tender and perfect and don’t sleep on the biscuits either.

Hopefully my next visit to Nashville won’t be so short and I’ll get to explore more, but for 10 min in town, I had a great time.

Prepping for Austin

So I’m off to my annual pilgrimage to SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. I’m hoping to steal Sunday to myself to saunter down to the Guadalupe River for some fly fishing on the tailwater. If I can’t book a last-minute guide, there’s always shorefishing on Lake Austin on the Colorado River for bass. Gonna bring the rods and be patient about it if it doesn’t come off.

I’m planning on hitting two places I’ve never eaten at before.  The group I’m heading to Austin with has scored a table at UCHI, one of the best restaurants in the country right now.

 

 

And yeah, gotta get my BBQ on… and hope to make it to Franklin BBQ this year.

 

 

Don’t know if any of my readers happen to be in the tech scene and are planning on hitting SXSWi–but if you are, hit me up! And if you need a local guide on how to make the most of your time in Austin, here’s one from my friends at Flow Nonfiction.

 

 

 

 

Escape to the Piedmont

Just a few miles away from where I stood on the banks of the Rose River, President Herbert Hoover fly fished on the Rapidan River in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in southern Appalachia to escape a depressing Depression. In the small feeder streams to the Rapidan, Hoover cast for living jewels, brook trout, most no more than 6 or 8 inches, and a trophy, just about 12 inches. And nearly 80 years later, I was escaping the crush of the inauguration of our 57th President. I’d come to cast on the subtle and sweeping Piedmont to rainbows nearly twice the size of Hoovers speckled trout.

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Rose River Farms is the beautiful and understated brainchild of Douglas Dear, conservationist, entrepreneur, farmer, vintner, and chairman of Project Healing Waters. Its a sylvan mile of private fishing with easy access and very well-managed riparian borders and endless trout pools, and it is no push-over. Educated would be an understatement, Rose River’s wild rainbows, browns and brookies have graduate degrees. They’ve seen it all in one-fly and two-fly tourneys and through the parade of upwards but no more than five rods a day year after year on waters most often no more than twenty to thirty feet across. The water is cold, clear and pristine and the trout can spot you for miles.

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That being said, after careful scouting and recon, I managed to unlock the keys to hook a few, but not after underestimating the ferocity of the rainbows, realizing that 5x though necessary during delicate dry fly presentations, was useless on the vicious grabs of subsurface fishing. I quickly moved to a 1X leader tapered down to 4x for all my nymphing.  A couple of holes I learned to call “don’t bother” because though they were rising to #20 emergers in molasses-slow tailouts, they naturally held the big’uns, the kind of fish you have to earn a shot on your SECOND visit.

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Eventually it all clicked, of course, they wanted green scuds, of course, they wanted a #18 humpy, bet they’d never seen that before, of course, they’ll hit my “fly formerly known as prince” nymphs, doubt they’ve seen those before too! And in the bright glare of a clear sky, of course, they’d hit a #18 adams if they were rising in the fast water. So, having the luck and good sense to sign-up for two days of fishing, I went back to the cabin, I mean “yurt,” and tied-up some more of everything. I even gave a few scuds away on the river the next day I was so proud of figuring it all out. It didn’t matter that the trout would have nothing to do with the same flies the very NEXT day requiring me to figure it all out again, which I secretly hoped would happen and delighted in.

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What a river, what a weekend of fishing! The companionship of my brother and handful of anglers made it sociable, but never crowded. Taking turns at holes, catching fish and maneuvering them to the shallows so as not to disturb the whole pool became an art form. My largest fish, a jumbo rainbow caught me unawares and without a netman, and took me fifteen minutes to subdue him and all the time fighting to keep him from going over the rapids down the near the rock wall (visitors will know what pool I’m talking about). He jumped not once, not twice, but by my count 10 times in an effort to shake the hook. And catching them on flies that I had tied myself seemed to complete the cycle in a way I’ve never experienced before. Even in rest, I took long turns not fishing, and just watching the trout be themselves in the pools and runs.

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In the evening, as I looked out the windows of Hilltop Cabin and watched the setting sun over the Blue Ridge, or in the mornings, when I spotted a bald eagle slowly making his way up the valley and downriver, I felt as if I’d come home. Rose River Farms isn’t just camp or a retreat, Mr. Dear has reached into our imaginations for the perfect trout stream, in the perfect valley, and brought it forth from the wilds. I simply can not wait to return.

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Decisions Decisions

Last week I returned to Elberton to my brother-in-law’s 400 acres to hunt whitetail. On the drive out, we sipped coffee and talked about our wives, lives and work, but when we pulled onto the red clay dirt road we got focused. We had decided to hit the stand after sun-up this time, to spare ourselves, it was a holiday after all. We sprayed down our camoed bodies with scent blocker then I took the Kimber into my hand and we walked down the trail. We could hear the forest waking up all around us and as we topped the ridge at the end of the trail, I was told I’d be in the treestand instead of the ground blind this year. Better angles, and less chance of my scent tipping the deer off. We walked down the hill and though my eyes were still adjusting to the light, I could see three or four grey shapes on the side of a dry creekbed no more than 200 yards away. I stopped and whispered, “Wow, they’re right here. There they are.”

My brother-in-law paused, let out an explicative and asked for the shooting sticks and Kimber. He set up and took the shot. He missed. And the deer barely looked up. He chambered another round and shot again. A deer collapsed, literally his legs fell out from underneath him, and finally the herd spooked. White tails started bobbing as the deer headed out in different directions. There were at least five, and one strayed on the edge of the treeline, pawing and stamping an alert. She fell after two more missed shots and more cursing. Clearly the sighting was off. My brother-in-law picked up his own AR and brought her down.

And it was all over in less than thirty seconds and a mere minute or two from taking the field. Now, we’re meat hunters so there wasn’t need to examine rack size and we thought we were taking does. As we approached the deer, my brother-in-law was surprised and saddened to see one of the deer was a spiker, a young male buck with his horns barely visible. It seems there were less bucks on the property of late and he’d preferred to take does. I wanted to take a doe because they taste better than the hormone stressed bucks going through the rut. We removed the deer from the field and then decided to continue the hunt until I could take one. After about a half hour on another hill with no deer-sign, I was called back to the original site and to hit the stand. Two more deer had crossed from one side of the forest to another. An hour later, I saw two heads pop up out of the tall grass about 300 yards away and out of range for my level of shooting. I noticed my hand shaking, but forced a breath and calmed down. THEY WERE HERE! About thirty minutes after that, another deer came out of the opposite side of the forest at about 100 yards. I scoped the deer and took several deep breaths. THIS WAS IT. A nice-sized deer in range, and a clear shot I could make. And then I noticed the spikes, about 7 or 8 inches long indicated a young male. This deer would get a pass. But it was an opportunity to observe deer behavior, so I savored the encounter.

The spiker walked down into the gully, sniffed at the site of the other slain deer and decided to b-line it straight for the treeline. He dissappeared but only minutes later I heard him and then saw him walking to my right in the trees. He was just twenty feet away and oblivious to my appearance. He walked right underneath my stand. Then I got a text. It was from my brother-in-law on the ridge above me watching. It read, “there’s a deer right behind you!”

I texted back–“yeah I know, its a spike, he walks.”

About twenty minutes later I watched another spiker cross the field about 150 yards away. I made the same decision and didn’t take the shot. It was time to go but I got one more text, “just take the next deer.” Ha! If it had come in about 10 minutes earlier, I might have taken the spike, but no harm no foul, I had my decision that morning to take a doe, not a buck, and I was sticking to it.

Later it occurred to me that perhaps I had made a decision based on my station in life. Sure, I want to be a meat-hunter, but a hungry hunter, or a hunter putting food on his table for his family, would have taken the young buck. After all, we weren’t really “managing” the bucks on this property. Food is food. Maybe I had been a little high-fallutin’ with my decision. I pondered it and let it go. Nope, I think I learned a valuable decision out there on the fields of Georgia. Hunting is about making decisions. They aren’t right or wrong, but they’re yours. And I think I learned from my close in encounter, not to make snap decisions, to be patient, to go through a checklist and make a decision about what I was about to kill. Though I felt like a predator on that ridge, I was also a man who is nothing but the choices he makes. And without taking a single shot, I think I walked away a better hunter. I sure had a lot of fun too.

**UPDATE** I’ve since learned that taking Spikes is perfectly fine, that they indeed improve antlered populations according to studies, and could even be a sign of a lack of nutrition in the area. Texas Depart of Game and Wildlife suggests taking them when you see them because they have inferior genetics and aren’t likely to get “better” with age. A single buck can breed as many as 40 does, so one with superior genetics (antlered) could do the job with less pressure from spikes. Funny huh? Oh well, live and learn, I think a doe would be tastier than a rut buck anyway.

Hunting Black Friday

The rut is in full swing in Georgia with bucks chasing does everywhere according to the forum. So I’m going hunting with my brother-in-law in Elberton again this year. Its only fitting, while the girls hunt for deals on Black Friday, I’ll hunt for meat instead. Last Xmas, we gave it a shot only to find that every yokel in the county popping off their new toys which scared the deer away for miles.

I’m assured the stand has been productive as two nice does have already been taken this season. Apparently, venison burgers and italian sausage await me in Decatur.  I may just have to “finish” the sausages in my brother’s smoker too.

Not to knock shopping too much since I do enjoy it, I’ve got a backup plan in case we get rained out. With guidance from  Red Clay Soul,  I’ve got a few places I may have to wander in to.

Into the Backing

I was in LA this weekend and took a detour to the Will Rogers State Park Beach in Santa Monica. My guide Lee Baerman and I were a bit skeptical about the afternoon. The low tide was only a couple of scant hours away and it was in the middle of the afternoon on a completely clear day. Not the best conditions.

Still, I had several hours to work on surf casting with a full brand-spanking new Hydros 300 grain sinking line (thanks Dan Davala of Orvis Clarendon). I was worried my arm would feel like lead, but Lee (a FFF certified flycasting teacher) gave me plenty of instruction. The key–waiting until just a few feet of my line was out before casting, thus, I was really casting the leader and letting the weight do the work. Next we worked on reading the waves and when to set the line down–apparently just after the set of waves filled the target zone with enough water for the fish to hunt food–and then strip, strip, strip.

As the day wore on, we had bumps but few takers, just one small and feisty ray. Still the surf candy was a particularly pleasant distraction, I mean, its LA right? Lee quipped–where else can you fly fish and see bikini-clad beauties but the beach!

Finally, after about two hours, I let loose one of my longest casts and then felt a solid hit. I strip-set the hook, and away we go! I saw the flash of brownish dorsal fin and then the fish ran, and ran, and ran. I was into my backing in just a few seconds with Lee coaching me to play the fish gently, to bob the rod to keep the fish from sucking bottom if it was a ray or pick line up if it was a shark. I gathered up line as the fish came back into the surf, and boing–he was off. Examining the leader revealed the fish and bitten clean through it. Oh the pain, the joy, the pain. It was a big fish. Later, we were able to surmise that it was either a shovelnose ray or a leopard shark. Whatever it was, it was a great fighter–I’ve never been into my backing on my 8wt.

The rest of the afternoon was a lesson in “reading water” as we explored troughs, still water, rips, converging waves and perpendicular currents for Corbina. I had one more good hookup that got off, but Lee surmised we probably had foul-hooked a ray because we were able to retrieve the leader with one of his beautiful hand-tied flies on it. It was surprisingly not a sand flea pattern. To paraphrase, “If you walked into a room with a hundred gorgeous blondes and there was one brunette–you’d notice her.”

How can you recommend a guide if you haven’t caught any fish with him? Though we didn’t land anything, we had hook-ups, big ones, and the time was well-spent. I’d give five hours of guided instruction over an hour of heavy fishing any day. Thankfully, Lee obliged.

Shenandoah


I’m heading to Shenandoah Valley this weekend for three days of bonhomie, BBQ and fly fishing with the family. I couldn’t help but find myself humming the familiar tune that I learned in an Ohio middle school.

“The lyrics may tell the story of a roving trader in love with the daughter of an Indian Chief; in this interpretation, the rover tells the chief of his intent to take the girl with him far to the west, across the Missouri River. Other interpretations tell of a pioneer’s nostalgia for the Shenandoah River Valley, or of a Confederate soldier in the Civil War dreaming of his country home in Virginia. The song is also associated with escaped slaves. They were said to sing the song in gratitude because the river allowed their scent to be lost.”

Here are three renditions–which one do you like?







3 X Ben Gulliver

I am about to waste your Monday. After you watch these 3 films by Vancouver-based Ben Gulliver for Canadian surf/skate brand Sitka, you’re gonna wonder why the deck under your bed is dusty, the flyrod in the closet hasn’t seen a stream in months, and the board hanging above your sofa hasn’t been waxed in a dog’s age. Once this is over, you’re gonna want to pack the car and head north, or west, or south, anywhere but where you are. You will be dreaming of tall pine trees, golden bears, gorgeous barrels, and sun-kissed girls who skate better than you. You will want to light up and recall your halcyon days of youth when falling down and falling in love was the whole point. You might stand up at your desk and take a cheap shot at your boss and storm off heading for that forest you used to play in when you were ten before they bulldozed it to make endless tract homes.







Worship on the Upper Delaware

I woke up two hours before my alarm was set to go off. The faint hint of dawn lay over the horizon, but slowly creeping through a crack in the window shade. The birds hadn’t even started to chirp. In the stillness before daybreak, I puzzled it out. Should I just bag it–skip the Upper Delaware and drive up to the Croton instead? Wouldn’t it be nice to just…sleep in and hit my homewater at a more reasonable hour? Wouldn’t it be easier to go get some guaranteed action instead of wandering around the East and West Branches of the Upper Delaware hoping I would stumble onto a hatch? I grunted, rolled over, scratched myself. No, no…it wouldn’t be easier. I’d lose the chance to visit the Delaware in exchange for a few measly minutes of comfort. That ain’t fly fishing, in fact, I grew angry that the immortal monster of laziness had dared raise its gnarly head in the midst of my new found religion. I pulled myself out of bed, kissed the wife goodbye and hit the road. Two days later, I found I had some familiar experiences, the frustration of poor casts and spooky trout, the feeling of ineptitude and inadequacy before Nature, but alas, I also felt the reward of courage, hard work, and penitence.

Thom McGuane writes, “the motto of every serious angler is, nearer my God to thee.” If this holds true, then my visit to the Upper Delaware was like visiting a cathedral, where one is surrounded by inordinate beauty and the sublime, but not always knowledgeable enough to decipher the signs embedded in every ritual, knave and stained glass window. Yet in the inspiring beauty, one senses great wisdom. I’ll admit, the first few hours I felt like a tourist, flogging water, missing the point. And then, as the afternoon swept into that dusky time of day’s end, I felt as if the Catskills sighed and took pity and sent along some help to this new congregant. I met Ron and Frank on the banks of the West Branch under a large lone olive tree on the Balls Eddy. Angling buddies since age 7, and frequent visitors to the river, they were happy to dole out some religion. First, they fished three times a week minimum, the wife would have to go… Second, I should have been here back in May (of course). We leaned back in the grass under the shade of the tree and talked flies, hatches, pools, and good times and bad times to fish the Upper. We shared pictures and jokes. Ron, a onetime player for the Mud Hens, gave me two beautiful Isos of his, and bade me cast to the large rising trout on the far bank. Unfortunately, the middle of the pool was deep and my cast too short. Another time then…

The next day I woke early to the sound of the Beaverkill gurling outside my window at the Roscoe Motel in said town. Too low and hot to fish, I sat in the swirl of fog at 6am and watched trout rise on the junction pool. After a quick retrieve of coffee the fog had lifted and the trout had already gone to seek cooler waters. I made my way back to the West Branch and summarily fished the junction pool of the east and west branch after a half-mile wade upstream from the public access in Hancock, but couldn’t get in place in time before thirty kayakers raced over the riffle and into the pool. I knew enough to reel up and wade back. I drove upstream and fished the Gamelands pools in perfect solitude–but lost my rod tip trekking down the path to the first pool and raised nothing with my backup rod on the second. I hiked to the bottom of the riffle of Ball Eddy and back–a real trudge upstream that wore my legs out. And somehow I climbed back onto the bank to marvel at the strength of the river at fairly low flows.

The riddle began to unfold. This river deserves time, serious time, far more than I had, I was saddened by the fact that I hadn’t given it more of mine when I had the chance, especially knowing I might not be back here for quite a while. And therein I found enlightenment from a lesson I already knew but had not heard in this particular language before. All good things come… Though I managed a few small wild browns in the end, the Upper taught me, reminded me, that I had to earn my knowledge. It could not simply be told in guidebooks, blogs and online forums, even great conversations streamside. Like attendance at any church, only through study and hours at prayer does one find revelation on the Upper Delaware, and all waters we seek to worship at.