Saturday, March 1, 2014

Empty Pockets

Every year the end of January ushers in a sobering melancholy.  It marks the end of another bird hunting season, and this year a stark realization that there may be fewer days in front than behind.  Colored in consequence, this is a day of settlement.  I breath in deep to recapture the fragrances of fall but the grip of winter hinders the memory.  Warm fall mornings draped in shadow and the deep purples that paint the sky as the sun dips below the Bighorns are overwhelmed by stinging ice crystals in my throat and a deafening crunch of snowpack beneath my feet.  I trudge defeated back to the truck.

At the tailgate, the dogs are satisfied.  After all, they'll be more coveys tomorrow; little do they know.  Sharing the last sandwich of the season, in the quiet of the prairie, we peer back to the hillside in silent reverence.

In every season past I have celebrated its end.  It's a reflection of all things accomplished, an account of new species, new country, or a better understanding of the chase.  This year I am only filled with regret.  Rather than listing in my mind the things I did, I'm overcome by the things I didn't.  It starts innocently enough.

"Hey, my shell bucket has a lot less empty hulls in it this year," I say out loud.  Tilting their heads and perking their ears, are the dogs trying to understand me?  Perhaps they're just saying, "Well, that's because you shot like crap dumb ass."  I don't know.

"Boy, the birds sure weren't around this season," I warrant.  Suffering a down year is something all hunters must endure from time to time, but as I stare straight into a mirror of adversity, the reflection I avoid is completely without character.  "That's because you watched too much football," I reason.  If you don't cover enough ground, you wind up with empty pockets.  Was it really a down year?

This past season had its highlights but was tarnished by laziness, not enough homework, acceptance of circumstance, and general dissatisfaction.  A well broken in dullness from justification served over a long season settles in my subconscious.  Thought to be benign, on this day of discovery I realize in full color that I let my dogs, myself and my friends down.  Struggling to find comfort in memory, I bitterly accept the aftermath, that I am required to flip the calendar back to seasons long since expired to find warmth and consolation.

Cleaning out my bird vest at the end of the season is an annual ritual that's mournfully depressing and at the same time revitalizing.  Sifting through its contents and caressing the dirt, feathers and bloodstains is considered by some, my wife among them, disgusting.  For me, it's a moment of grace and humility, an opportunity to immerse my spirit in the benevolence of earthly pleasures.  I love the rich smell of loam, the tickle of fine dust wafting to my nose that makes me sneeze, the dirt that gets beneath my fingernails, and finally the feathers.  Each tells a tale of struggle in life and death, long before their owners fell to my gun to feed my family. 

The recipes of game are as cherished as the hunt.  I account for each throughout the season with great affection as I catalog each feather in my mind before it's removed from the vest.  No bird taken with arms has suffered an indignant demise.  Every one has taught a lesson to my children, not the least of which is that not all food comes from a grocery store, sterilized in plastic, styrofoam and chemicals.

This world is filled with empty promises.  I am ashamed to admit that I have made my fair share.  While I lament my failure to prioritize my passion above the mundane, there is a stirring voice somewhere in me that offers up assurance that this won't happen again.  There are precious few days on this earth and with the passing of each, I am starkly aware that nothing I can contribute in business will account for anything of value or be remembered.  The only thing that matters is the time spent with friends and family, the connection between myself, my dogs and the land, and the virtues that come from the anticipation of another season chasing the horizon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Echo Gecko - Get a Kid a Rig!

A job relocation to Sheridan, Wyoming and river research has dominated my summer this year.  I've started doing some guiding for Clark Smyth at Rock Creek Anglers.  They're mostly weekend wade trips, but I will be taking on some Montana floats next spring and summer on the Bighorn as well as North Platte Rivers in Wyoming. 

My son celebrated his tenth birthday this earlier this fall.  I had been chomping at the bit anticipating it for some time.  The reason is simple.  This turned into the summer of his introduction to full on DIY fly fishing.  Turning ten, I figured it was time we got on with it and outfitted him with a new rig that would perform as a kid would fish.  The result has been some high quality alone time for both me and the kiddo, and we're having a blast together on the water!  His birthday hadn't quite arrived when I got the call from the local fly shop that his new rig had arrived.  There are still skid marks in the driveway.

After getting home to "test" the outfit I had selected for my son, it quickly became apparent that I wouldn't be able to wait until his birthday, so I ruined the surprise, gave it to him before his mom got home and immediately departed for the river first thing the very next morning.  That first float was eight hours of bliss.  I'm still paying for it with Mom though.

A lot of thought and consideration was put toward the rig that would work best for him.  For most of the summer, he's been using a 9' Cortland #5, but it was proving difficult for him to manage and the grip was just too big for his small hands, particularly in a dry fly boat fishing situation.  After a good deal of time spent crawling around the inter-webs and talking with a few manufacturers, I settled on an Echo Gecko from Rajeff Sports matched with an Airflo WF5 40+ fly line (Rio Outbound would be the equivalent if you're a Rio Products fan).

Airflo 40+
I'm not a supporter of most outfits available for kids today.  This is for a variety of reasons, but primarily they don't address the key complications children face when learning how to cast a fly rod.  Among them, turning over a fly and feeling the load of the rod during the back cast so as to grasp the mechanics of the stroke.

Choosing a fly rod for a kid is no different than selecting the right combination for an adult.  Once I determine a specific fly fishing application to assemble an outfit, I start with the most important ingredient of the system, the fly line.  Then I build it out from there.  In this case, I wanted something with a short belly and reasonably heavy weight forward taper that would move the weight of the entire cast forward.  This accomplishes two things.  First, it allows the caster to load the rod quickly and feel the deep bend of the rod on the back cast.  Second, with a youngster, casting distance will be shorter so I wanted the belly of the line to be deployed in the cast at a shorter total length.   To accomplish both of these objectives, I settled on a line that is considered to be an extreme distance casting line.  This may seem like an oxymoron at first, but upon closer inspection, the short belly of 30' on the Airflo 40+ combined with the heavy tip generated the feel and load of a full length cast that I wanted when reaching out only 20-30' from the boat.  In addition, a line that is designed to cast big bait plugs turns out to do a wonderful job of turning over great big Chubby Chernobyls trailed with a heavily weighted tungsten nymph.

Rajeff Sports Echo Gecko, 7.9' 4/5 weight
There are a couple of other attributes of the Rajeff Echo Gecko rod that I have found very appealing.  First, the length is 7.9' and it's designed to carry #4 or #5 weighted lines.  The shorter length and relative stiffness (medium fast action) of such a short rod makes it easy for a kid to manage line in a dry fly casting situation.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that with only a little practice, my son was able to begin throwing reach casts to effectively deal with micro currents from the front of the boat.  Second, this rod has a great little 2" fighting butt that proves very useful.  On long fishing days, the fighting butt enables the caster to use both hands to complete the cast when fatigue settles in.  As near as I can calculate, this will add at least two hours of true enjoyment to your outing alone.   The fighting butt also comes in handy when teaching proper fish fighting technique in the event you get a sizable fish on the other end of your line.  It allows a kid to place the rod against their belly and more easily get the fish on the reel to do battle.  The last and likely most exciting element of the fighting butt is that this rod will make a great little first step spey casting rig!  I can't wait to throw on a 40+ WF6 to get my son started on his spey casting once he's developed a proficient single handed cast.

The last and most important quality of this rod is in its handle.  Small hands simply demand a smaller grip.  This rod has a very durable wildly colored EVA full well handle.  The full well encourages proper grip holding technique and its small diameter makes it incredibly easy to cast the rod all day, even for a ten year old.

The Rajeff Sports Echo Gecko is priced right at $100.  The Airflo 40+ WF5 is priced at $80.  Before a reel is selected, this starts getting a little expensive.  Luckily, I had a good quality Orvis Battenkill BBS III sitting around that I never use which has adequate drag for the size fish we're likely to encounter on our rivers.  You may fish water with smaller fish, in which case, you could sacrifice reel and drag quality to save some money or free up budget for exceptional quality fly line.  Reel included, the rig is probably about $75-$100 more expensive than going out and purchasing an outfit style rod from most of the major manufacturers.  That said, I want my son to enjoy fly fishing and get the feel for what a proper cast looks and feels like.  In order to accomplish that, I felt it was important to spend the extra money on a rod specifically designed for how a kid will fish, and I wanted him to have a very high quality line that will help him accelerate his learning curve.  Having held and cast many of the outfit style youth rigs from the major manufacturers, it's my opinion that Rajeff Sports is the only company out there that has taken into consideration how a youngster will fish and designed a rod that will help them learn.  Long story short; the Echo Gecko is the right tool for the job and will set the foundation for a lifetime of enjoyment flinging fur and feather.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Autumn Grouse Encounter

Those trees, dark and firm, frame an accent of yellow and orange, calling my return.

Aspen flicker in a subtle breeze, beneath my boots, a slender ridge whispers through the trees.

The descent is gentle, and so I am lulled, into its vastness, the return punishing and judgmental.

When river flowers wilt and berries shrivel, the oven bird marches higher, passing in the middle.

Each step qualifies my years, lungs bursting, knees aching, my body is tormented yet my mind perseveres.

Slave to a fall-time passion for the earth, jewels of mottled blue lie in waiting to define my worth.

  A moment captured in scent from the hound, my senses tingle at the thought of what might be found.

An exploding rock takes flight just two steps down.  Look toward the heavens, framed in blue is a perfect bird greyish and brown.