Friday, December 21, 2012

The Liberty Tree... The Patriot's Dream

On 14 August 1765, a crowd gathered in Boston under a large elm tree at the corner of Essex Street and Washington Street, originally called Orange Street, to protest the hated Stamp Act. It was the first public show of defiance against the Crown and spawned the resistance that led to the American Revolution 10 years later.

Because the Act applied to papers, newspapers, advertisements, and other publications and legal documents, it was viewed by the colonists as a means of censorship, or a "knowledge tax," on the rights of the colonists to write and read freely.

Back in the day I created a few different ancient coin replicas, and with what's going on in today's world the idea for this new one came to my wife. I created this to celebrate the ideals of our founders and to remind the current generation of their sacrifices and wisdom.  Not taking sides politically, I truly believe that we must re-embrace those ideals.  The pendant, the first in a separate line of jewelry titled, PATRIOT DREAMS (See America the Beautiful), is done in .925 Sterling Silver and is a one- of-a-kind.  I've signed it on the back and and its slightly larger than a US quarter.

If you are interested in this at just 75 bucks...just shoot me an email at

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth”
Geo. Washington in a letter to James Madison dated March 2, 1788

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Am I Obsolete?

Two posts back, in the one titled Back to the Future, I told you that I was re-entering the custom jewelry field after an absence of nearly thirty years.  Man have things changed!  As I made my way from one retail jeweler to another inquiring about their custom work and asking about the possibility of them casting up a few of my pieces (to keep my initial costs down I decided to farm out the casting process) I was amazed at what I was hearing.  Yes, a few of them did their own custom designs, but the idea of them doing them "by hand" was a quaint and ancient concept.

Nowadays, like so many things, the art of hand carving a piece of wax into a functional and beautiful design has been replaced by modern technology.  Have you seen those TV shows where automotive parts like wheels are made by a machine?  The ones where they simply enter a design into a computer, push the start button, and a few minutes later have a finished product?  Well, they are doing the same thing now with jewelry . . . rendering my hard earned skills obsolete.
Oh well – so be it.  Even if I could afford one of of those CNC machines, I would never consider using one – even on a rental basis.  There is something to be said for craftsmanship.  Will they someday invent a machine that can replicate Michelangelo’s work?  Let’s hope not.

What I’m offering here is jewelry done the old fashioned way.  The idea for these pieces came from my own imagination and their creation was accomplished with my own hands.  Sure, I use mechanical devices like polishing wheels affixed to electric motors to achieve the brilliant sterling silver shine, but these and the ones to follow will be done my way – the old way – the artistic way.

Each piece shown here is a one-of-a-kind creation.  No molds are used and each has its own personality and uniqueness.  They will never be duplicated.  They are each .925 Sterling, as marked on the back of each, along with my signature.
This one above, like the others, is one-of-a-kind.  This antiqued and highly polished pendant is an inch and three eights long and an inch and an eighth from the top of the bail to the bottom of the piece.  She weighs nearly 1/2 an ounce and is available for $80.00.
This one is two inches in length and weighs over 1/2 an ounce.  If you order soon it can be under your tree for a mere $110.00
This pendant, a fine brace of trout, comes in at over a half ounce in total weight.  The individual trout, all one-of-a-kind, measure, on average, one and seven eighths in length.  The entire piece is available at $140.00 and if you wish, the individaul trout are available for $45.00 each.
And finally let me stress that these are not "cookie-cutter" pieces, mass produced and taken from a well used mold.  Each was created by my own hands, at my jewelers bench from a piece of wax, a few carving tools, a few years of experience and a true love of the subject matter.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Today is cold, cloudy, rainy and very reminiscent of the days I spent standing waist deep in my waders pass shooting Wood Ducks with my buddy Roger.  We'd set a few decoys of course, but these fast flying little guys usually paid them no mind at all.  As they would come whistling through the trees we'd blast away, and I'll never forget the day that I got a triple - three shots and three drakes down.  Shown here is a detail from an oil painting I must have done 20 years ago.  Ah...the memories.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Back to the future


Except for a few old friends, most of you know very little of my previous lives, and that is probably a very good thing.  Way back in the olden days of the early seventies, when Ms. Shirley and I bid adieu to the US Air Force, we were faced with a dilemma.  How is Alan going to support us?  Well Shirley’s dad saw an ad in the paper for an apprentice goldsmith, and thinking that that that just might be the ticket to free up his spare bedroom and get us out on our own…he passed it on to me.
I applied for the job and lo and behold they hired me.  I went to work for what is called a trade shop.  That is a place that does ring sizing, stone setting and general jewelry repairs for local retail jewelers, and I was apprenticed to their senior goldsmith to learn the craft of turning precious metals into artful designs that the ladies would wear.  I got pretty good at it, but when my instructor began withholding information and techniques in fear that I might learn too much and be a threat to his income – I went out on my own.  That was back in the day when original, one-of-a-kind jewelry creation became the rage and I developed a good reputation for turning it out.  Which led to a rewarding multi- year career as a retail jeweler and wholesale supplier of fine gold jewelry.
Fast forward to the present.  As if I don’t have enough to do, I am revisiting my past.  Yes, I’m getting back into jewelry design.  I broke out the rusty old tools, grabbed some wax and started carving.  You may have heard of lost wax casting . . . well, what you see here are the original wax models - in various stages of completion - of some pendants that I will be soon casting into sterling silver.
So, stay tuned for the finished products, and if anyone knows of a good and cheap source of midnight oil, please let me know!  And know that the next pictures will be MUCH better.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Spring Creek Brown

Spring Creek Brown
The original of this painting measures 16 x 20 and is available, framed.
If you are interested in a limited edition print they measure 11 x 14 and are printed on
100# Archival paper.  The edition size is 100 and they are available for $50.00
This series, entitled Native Faces, includes the Spring Creek Brown,
the Southern Appalachian Brookie, the Westslope Cutthroat and the Redband Rainbow.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


We were a pretty big crowd.  Including the 11 veterans, the TU guides, the supporters and donors, we must have numbered at least 75 souls.  The room was packed shoulder to shoulder.  We had gathered at a local restaurant on Friday night to get the introductions made and lay plans for a weekend of fishing in the beautiful north Georgia mountains around the town of Blue Ridge.

Amidst the noise and between bites of pizza and pasta, the local TU volunteers in our Veterans Service Program from the area’s four chapters engaged with the vets who had traveled from varied locales across the southeast.  Some conversation came easily and some did not. 

As with all of our outings, we had vets with visible injuries.  There was no shortage of canes, braces and other walking aides - and there were vets with the hidden wounds of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. For them, the dialog was protected.  Loud conversations and the general mayhem of big gatherings do not mix well with these folks.  Over near the wall sat a perfect example.

We had received an email a few weeks back from this veteran’s wife, asking if there was any way that her husband could get involved with our local chapters.  He had been suffering for years with the mental issues that so many veterans have.  The VA had an ample supply of drugs to ease his pains and they were all too willing to subscribe them.  “Here son, go down to pharmacy, get this filled, come back in two months and we’ll give you some more.”  The wife, his primary care giver, was dealing with a man in pain.  A man with issues only slightly masked by the drugs, so she bought him a John Boat with the hope that a few hours out on the local lake would bring some joy and relief.  Instead, it brought frustration.  He wasn’t catching anything and his depression worsened.  Then she saw a news article about Project Healing Waters and she reached out for help.

During this same period, final plans were being made for a veteran’s event in north Georgia to be named RIVERENCE.  A local business man, who just happened to be a TU Life Member, had an idea, and in coordination with the Blue Ridge Mountain chapter they partnered with Project Healing Waters, located some very willing donors and got the ball rolling for what everyone agreed was a worthy cause.

Over the course of this very special weekend our veteran came out of his shell.  Through the color guard ceremony, the concert, the stream-side casting lessons and the fish catching practice session on a well stocked pond on Saturday, we began to see a few smiles.  With each fat rainbow landed the smiles got wider and Sunday’s outing on the Toccoa River was equally special.  Teamed with his TU guide, our guy experienced in his own way the healing that all of the other vets experienced in theirs.

At the conclusion of the weekend as we were saying our good-byes, the wife – with tears flowing – told us that for the first time in many years they had hope.  She told us that the experience of being with and talking to his fellows in similar circumstances had a profound effect.  She said that the visibly real appreciation, love and concern they had received from the TU members was life changing.  And she said that there was not one bit of hype in the promise we had given about the healing power of the water.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Exploring the Rockies

Day One
All of us  involved in the Veterans Service Program- either working in partnership with Project Healing Waters or working independently - are constantly on the look-out for new waters. We try to take our vets out on the water at least once a month, and the opportunity to explore new venues that might provide the therapeutic healing that we are after is a treat. I know, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. We can’t just turn our vets loose on untested waters! Such was the case this past week for Ryan Harman and I. Though we weren’t heading to the Rockies out west, the “Rockies” we were headed to take no backseat to their western cousins.

A little over a year ago I was contacted by a Sister from the The Community of the Transfiguration, a religious order, inquiring about our Veterans Service Program and asking if we might be interested in utilizing a stream that they controlled. Of course, she had my full attention. I heard no more about it until two weeks ago when I received a call from our friend Tom Fanslow, Land Protection Director.from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, and we set a date to walk the property. Tom was the perfect guide for us as his group has worked with the Sisters to preserve the property and he was intimately familiar with the stream and its surrounding terrain.

Turns out the stream is only a few miles away from our PHW program in Asheville, and while both Ryan and  I were familiar with the stream, neither of us had explored this particular stretch of it.  We met up with Tom and the properties care-takers and headed down to the Rocky Broad.  The stream runs through the little North Carolina towns of Bat Cave and Chimney Rock (famous for the filming of Last of the Mohicans), carving out a beautiful boulder strewn gorge as well known for its flooding potential as its trout fishing and film career.  The Sister’s property was upstream, running for a couple of miles up to the headwaters.

The caretakers have done a fine job of maintaining the property and though we had no fishing gear with us, and saw no trout, we did see it’s potential. (Ryan later talked to an old timer that had sampled these waters many years ago and we’re confident, based upon his recollections and our observations, that it will sustain a good population of trout if seeded properly.) Access for some of our veteran participants – the ones with limited mobility – will be a problem, but for those that can handle a bit of boulder hopping it will be an ideal location to get out and enjoy. We were assured that the stream’s upper reaches hold a pretty good population of native Southern Appalachian Brookies and on our next visit – with fly rods in hand – we intend to verify that claim.

Day Two
Then on Friday, Ryan and I grabbed our fishing gear and met up with Damon Hearne, TU’s Southeast Land Protection Coordinator, to travel up to the Tennessee border to check out what's known as the Rocky Broad property. Damon and TU members throughout the region have been very active in preserving this marvelous property and to quote from our TU website, “Rocky Fork, a 9,624 acre parcel named after the pristine trout stream that runs down its center, creates a vast, unfragmented haven with over 16 miles of stream, approximately 4 miles being classified as a hybridized population of Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the property is the largest unprotected high-elevation tract of land in the southern Appalachian Mountains.”

Well, Ryan and I have fished a lot of waters and we both agreed that neither had ever wet a line in a more beautiful location.  This place is incredible.  A recent episode of TU’s On The Rise program featured Damon guiding the host on the Rocky Fork, and the scenery they captured on film was impressive.  But that viewing and my weak efforts to capture it with my cell phone camera do not do it justice.  Yes, the place is amazing.

We caught numerous wild rainbows up to about 10 inches, and even though told that we were not high enough to expect the native brookies, Ryan did catch one little one.  If we can con Damon to take us further up the mountain – and if I can handle the hike – we may yet get into the thick of the natives.  In the meantime though, like the Rocky Fork, with a bit of a climb and a lot of rock-hopping, we’ll try to get a few vets up to sample this fantastic place.

A nice Rocky Fork Rainbow

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cherokee Fly Tyers Challenge

This year’s very special veteran’s event in Cherokee, NC comes with a new twist!
Each year the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation celebrates their culture, history and crafts with an Indian Fair, and to help them celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Fair, Project Healing Waters and Trout Unlimited will be featured guests as we provide demonstrations and workshops for fair goers and some great fishing and tying opportunities for Project Healing Waters veteran participants.

But there’s more. We have cooked up a fly tying competition for any current participant in of a PHW or TU Veterans Service Program. On Friday, October 5th a select group of judges will crown the first Cherokee Fly Tyers Challenge Champion.

Here are the rules:
Participants must submit hand tied flies of any type ( dry, streamer, nymph, etc.)
Each submission must be 3 of the same pattern.
You may enter as many submissions as you like.
Flies must be received by September 30, 2012

Judges will score the flies based on the following:
Fishability – Is this a fly you could fish with (floatation, use of weight, etc.)?
Use of materials – creative use of materials
Creativity – imaginative design
Technique – basic tying skills (size, proportion, spacing)
Overall Effect – Would this fly catch fish?

All flies submitted will become the property of PHWFF for distribution and use amongst its programs nationwide and at its discretion.

Send entries to PHWFF / Attn: Ryan Harman / P.O. Box 1400 / Flat Rock NC / 28731
Include your name, contact info, PHWFF program affiliation and of course FLIES

Including prizes from Vedavoo, TFO, Metz, Trout Unlimited and many others

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Southern Appalachian Brookie

So, here's the brookie.  Next on the list for this 4 trout series will be the rainbow.  I've collected all the reference material  - it'll be a Redband Rainbow - and will get started putting some paint to canvas after the holiday.  Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012's a start

There is always a risk in showing a work "in progress" but hey, why not?  You might be looking at this Southern Appalachian Brookie and be wondering, "What is this crap all bout?"  But the upside is that you might look at the finished product in a few days  and say, "WOW!"  

The purpose - at this stage -  is to get some paint on the canvas and color over all of that intimidating white space.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spring Creek Brown

OK...I know the photo is lousy.  Cell phone cameras have their limitations.  But until I get a response from Pentax regarding my broken shouldnt' be broken camera, it'll have to do.  As soon as my friend and neighbor Chas, the greatest photographer on the planet, (see Shoot the Light) returns from one of his international photo seminars and can take a shot of this, I'll have something very professional to post. Until then, I hope you enjoy my very unprofessional effort.  I'm thinking of naming this series "The Blue Collar Series" after the comment from my blogger buddy Howard from Windnots and Tangled Lines, after my last post.  I think he nailed it.  I can't wait to get started on the brookie...or maybe I'll start the rainbow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New project

This will be a series of four paintings - a cutthroat, a brown, a brook and a rainbow - and they aren't going to be the hook-jawed monsters that we all dream about catching. Nope, they are going to be the more common everyday varieties. The beautiful 10 inchers that frequent our nets more often.

The top painting, a Westslope Cutthroat, is about an hour from being finished, but I was so pleased with it I couldn't wait to start the brown shown below it. The brown has a long ways to go. I've got learn to focus! One at a time Alan! One at a time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spruce Pine Veterans Outing

Last Friday afternoon our special guests began arriving at our lodging place in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, a repurposed schoolhouse from the 1930’s now known as the Pinebridge Inn. We were to greet vets from our TU VSP/Project Healing Waters programs from the Carolinas, and Tennessee.

A few weeks earlier, Ryan Harman, a PHW Board Member, Pisgah TU member, and the Program Lead of the Asheville PHW program put the word out that a select few veterans from the area were to be invited to spend a day on Rock Creek, a beautiful little stream hiding in the shadows of Roan Mountain in western North Carolina and managed by the guys at River's Edge Outfitters in Spruce Pine. As most of the vets had heard of the place from the reports of prior outings, filling the nine veteran quota was easy and quick.

Friday night’s creek side dinner was spoiled when we received a call from the caterer that due to a quickly passing thunderstorm her set-up on the stream was being threatened by rising waters. No problem. We’ll eat at the Inn. And as it turned out, those rising waters were a blessing in disguise.

When we arrived at the creek early Saturday morning the well drained grounds were fine, and due to the slight coloration of the water, the creek was even finer. That little touch of color should have put the normally leader shy trout on warning . . these fishermen meant business and with the ability to be armed with 3x tippets . . . landing a few of the creek’s bruisers was a certainty.

But turning our vets loose on those big guys would have to wait until the completion of the three seminars that we had planned - Jesse Connor from Trout Dancer Rod Company conducting a dry/dropper seminar, Dick Engelhardt sharing his expertise on streamer fishing, and Paul Bourcq from the NC Fly Fishing Team, passing along his line management techniques. Each veteran had the opportunity to sit in on each seminar and when it came time to practice their new skills it wasn’t long before the words, “Fish on!” were heard up and down the stream. By days end each of our vets had landed his share of rainbows – most of them in the 18 to 24 inch range. The smallest fish landed (not counting a horny head or two) measured twelve inches.

Paul Bourcq's line management seminar

Dick Engelhardt's streamer fishing seminar

Jesse Connor's dry/dropper seminar...and the results

We all had a fantastic time. The weather finally cooperated and the fishing was great. Best of all - that "winding down" time at the end of the day and the fish stories that were shared. The ones caught and the ones that got away. The memories, the camaraderie, the sharing.

Special thanks to the Pinebridge Inn for their great hospitality, and to Joe Street and Steve Mingle from River’s Edge Outfitters for making the water available. Our thanks to the seminar leaders who so freely shared their skills with our veterans, and the TU volunteer guides and mentors that made possible our one-to-one ration of guides to participants.

Outings just like this one are taking place across the country nearly every week. With over seventy of our TU chapters involved in the Veterans Service Program now, you can be sure that hundreds of our deserving veterans are experiencing the thrill of landing trout as they enjoy a holiday from their ongoing recoveries.

Monday, June 4, 2012

They made me do it!

Both of our daughters and their mates have gotten into camping – well, it’s sorta like camping. They each are proud owners of 30 plus foot travel trailers, campers, and for a few years now Shirley and I have been able to pull off a major coup. Just a short 14 miles from our home lies a beautiful little lake and campground that we discovered a few years back, and of all the camping sites available in Western North Carolina we’ve been able to convince the girls that this is the one spot that is worthy of our annual Memorial Day Rendezvous. There are a number of reasons why we are partial to the place. First and foremost, the fishing is good. The water is clear and the wooded shorelines are free of houses and boat docks; the separate spring fed swimming lake is great for the grandkids and the campsites are clean, bug free and well maintained.

But back to the fishing. I have fished for trout in some pretty special places. I have hiked in, jeeped in and driven up to the banks of some fantastic waters, but I have yet to discover a more enjoyable way of casting a fly line than while dangling my legs in the cool waters of Cascade Lake on a hot spring or summer day in my float tube. Cascade Lake is formed from the clear waters of Little River, which flows from the DuPont State Forest in WNC. The upper end of the lake below Hooker Falls has a decent population of rainbows and I’ve seen photos of some pretty nice largemouth that have been caught down lake. Most of the angles are after these. I aint. No sir, Chad and I go there for the bluegills.

As we watch boat after boat heading out with their bass gear, Chad and I just chuckle as we land one ‘gill after another within shouting distance of the boat ramp. This year was no different. At midday on Friday I inflated the float tube, grabbed my 2 wt. and a selection of flies and headed for the water. That first immersion in the cool waters of the lake, no matter what the ambient temperature is, gets your attention. I eased into the craft and kicked my way to the far bank about 100 yards away. By the time I arrived, the mix of cold water and hot sun had reached the perfect comfort level.

I tied on a little yellow chenille bodied, rubber legged fly and by the 5th cast I had released three pretty fish back to the depths. The average size of these blue gills runs around seven inches, and occasionally we catch one of hand size – say around ten inches. Cast after cast, as I kicked my way down the shoreline the fish were very cooperative. Within two hours I had managed to catch around fifty of them. Great fun on a two weight.

Chad joined in on Saturday and the action continued, but at a little slower pace. Meanwhile back at camp, the kids were having a blast with the swimming and the science experiments that daughter Melanie had brought along. All four grandkids, donned in their chemistry lab smocks had great fun making fake snow, creating slime and who knows what else. It was to be a fun and educational weekend for all of them. By the end of the holiday I would come to regret the educational part of the deal.

On Sunday afternoon it was decided that our daughters, the grandkids and our non fishing son-in-law Jonathan, would rent canoes and paddle up to Hooker Falls for a picnic. As they paddled past Chad and I along the shoreline they had what they thought was a great idea. They figured their science projects should evolve into a little biology lesson, and that we should keep four fish for them to clean and cook up for dinner that evening. Well that turned out to be a curse of sorts. From that moment on the bite was off. Cast after cast and no fish. Chad had drifted away from where I was working the shoreline and he wasn’t having any luck either.

I had tried just about all of the traditional bluegill flies and in an experimental mood I tied on a size 12 Humpy. A couple of casts later I saw a flash of color dart through my sunken fly and I was hard onto a decent fish. I had seen more bass on this trip than ever before and I hoped that I would get lucky and catch one of them, but so far, they had rejected my offerings. If this was a bass though, it sure acted strange. Instead of thrashing around on the surface with a jump or two thrown in, this fish headed straight for the deepest water in the lake. My 2 wt. was double for a good 4 minutes until he finally came into view. It was a bluegill…and a larger one than I had ever seen, much less caught. As I measured the big guy’s length, I hollered at Chad to come my way with his camera.

As Chad’s eyes grew bigger looking at my fish he says, “We gotta keep that one!” to which I replied, “No, we don’t even have a stringer.” But of course, as the flotilla of grandkids passed Chad on their way to the falls, they managed to find a piece of wire on the bottom of the canoe and passed it over to him with instructions to keep some fish for the kids. So here I sat in my float tube, holding in my hand a 13 inch bluegill that I, by way of Chad, had been ordered by my family to keep. I tried to recall the last time that I had kept any fish, much less a bona-fide lunker. It had to have been at least 45 years. As the day was growing short and the fishing had been slow, I relented and slipped the wire through the fish’s lips.

The fish cleaning exhibition later that night went reasonably well and the fish did indeed taste very good, but still I was tormented by my decision to keep him. I did a little research on the average growth rate of bluegills when I got home and learned that the fish was at least 10 years old . . . and certainly near the end of his reproductive life span, which made me feel a little better. He went out like the lunker he was though. I don’t think I’ve ever had that much fun from my end of a fly rod.

Over dinner there was serious talk about changing the rendezvous location for next year. Seems there is a great little island off the Carolina coast that has a lot to offer. Supposed to be great for crabbing. Wonder how deep a bend a crab will put into my 2 weight?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Triumph of the Human Spirit

Our TU volunteers within the Veterans Service Program are very good at teaching disabled veterans the sport we love, but the activity I witnessed last Friday will never, ever, be replicated in our Veterans Service Program. I’m referring to a very special part of the groundbreaking ceremony I attended for the Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont, Virginia.

Ken Falke, a 21 year combat veteran of the U.S. navy and retired Master Chief Petty Officer, has provided his beautiful 37 acre property to create a free, first class rural retreat for America’s seriously wounded warriors and their families to reconnect and recover from the injuries of war and we were honored to be invited to the ground breaking ceremony. Our opportunity to partner with Ken and his organization is what the VSP is all about.

After the obligatory speeches and expressions of gratitude we were invited outside to witness one of the more impressive sights that I have ever seen. There at 12,000 feet, circling this little piece of paradise in the Virginia Mountains was a small plane, and right on schedule a small dot appeared in the sky behind it. That small dot was Dana Bowman. You might remember a news story about Dana.

He is a retired Sergeant First Class with the U.S. Army where he was a Special Forces soldier and a member of the U.S. Army’s elite parachute team, the Golden Knights. Dana didn’t make the news for his combat exploits. Back in February of 1994 Dana and his partner were practicing a sky diving maneuver known as the Diamond Track. The maneuver calls for the jumpers to streak away from each other for about a mile and then turn 180 degrees and fly back toward each other crisscrossing in the sky. Dana and his partner had demonstrated the Diamond Track more than fifty times without a mistake, but this time was different. Dana and his partner collided at a combined speed of 300 mph, instantly killing his partner, who, when he passed by Dana severed both of Dana’s legs with his outstretched arm.

As told on his website,, nine months later he turned this tragedy into a triumph when he became the first double amputee to re-enlist in the United States Army. Bowman re-enlisted in the United States Army airborne style, skydiving with his commander into the ceremony. After Dana’s re-enlistment, he became the U.S. Parachute Team’s lead speaker and recruiting commander.

I and the 200 attendees at the Boulder Crest groundbreaking event were honored to be in his presence. While we will never replicate his sky diving performance with the veterans that we serve, we can all take from Dana’s life story . . . he is but one of many that have an incredible story of triumph of the human spirit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Simple Pleasures

At the FFF Southeastern Rally last year the always thoughtful Shirley raised her hand repeatedly during their live auction to purchase a guided trip on the Soque River in north Georgia. Ever since moving to the southeast I have seen the pictures and read the stories of the monster trout that are found there, so I was naturally thrilled with her good sense and her persistence to win the thing. The package she won was donated to the auction by Charles Henderson of Southern Sweetwater Anglers, and it was a half day trip for two anglers on Charles' trophy section of the famed river.

It was a no-brainer that this trip was going to be son-in-law Chad's birthday present, and since his birthday back in September, we have anticipated heading into those beautiful north Georgia mountains to meet up with a toothy, hook-jawed rainbow or two. We had a year to redeem it and the year was ending on Memorial Day, so what better way to spend Mother's Day weekend than packing up our families - mothers included, of course - and heading for the river?

A few nights before leaving I spoke to Charles about the river conditions and to pick his brain a little on what we could expect. He said if we were lucky we might get some top-water action with hopper patterns and he recommended nothing smaller than 5 weights and 4x tippets. I'm likin' it already.

When we arrived at his lease - just a stones throw from the Batesville General Store - I was a little surprised at the size of the water. This so-called "river" would have barely qualified as an Ozarks "crick," but it was wild and beautiful, crystal clear and as fishy lookin' as any water, anywhere. Charles and Chad headed downstream and I headed up. I hadn't been in the water but a few minutes and I noticed a trout rising no more than a good double-haul upstream of where I entered the water. As the place was too canopied for a double-haul, and I can't do one on a spacious football field anyway, I went into my excuse of a stealth mode and headed up to his position.

My dry landed perfectly, drifted over his position - and nothing happened. After three more reasonable casts I reeled in to change patterns, and as if to mock me, the trout rose two more times while I was fumbling through my fly box. Over the next little while I tried a couple of more patterns to no avail and finally conceded defeat. I gave him a wide berth and headed upstream with the intention of fishing my way back down to him with a wet. Hugging the far bank, I moved about fifty yards up and sat down on a mid-stream rock to take in the beauty and allow the fish to settle back in.

As any painter would know, to make "green" you mix up a bit of blue and a bit of yellow. The shades of green that you can create are virtually endless, and thanks to an early spring and ample rains, they were all on display on this overcast late May morning. But for the patter of a light rain and the ocassional crow calling out to his brethern, I was surrounded by the beauty and the silence that we all cherish when on a trout stream. That is, until the dogs started howling. Distant at first, the ruckus was becoming louder, closer, and more frantic as the hounds chased what was surely a 300 pound black bear towards my little slice of peaceful paradise.

Of course it was a bear! What else could rile up every dog in the county? The more I thought about it, the surer I was, and the larger the bear became. I was imagining the headline . . . "Headless North Carolina angler found floating in north Georgia trout stream." Well, I wasn't going to sit on that rock and let him have me. No sir, if I'm going to be attacked by a bear I'm going to be fishing when it happens.

As the dogs and the bear changed course at the last minute and faded off into the distance from whence they came, I was back in position to make a presentable drift with the black Woolly to my real nemesis, and sure enough, on the first swing through his lair he was on! After a few moments I brought him alongside, slipped my forceps around the Bugger and released him back to the river. Though certainly not of local bragging size, the little 12 incher was beautiful. I continued on downstream and had a few more hits, but other than seeing the flash of one nice fish - one very nice fish - the lunkers of the Soque had eluded me. So be it. My back was hurting and I headed back to the truck about an hour earlier than planned.

Earlier that morning when we arrived at the parking spot, in a silly mood for sure, I asked Charles if there really were huge trout in the little pond that adjoined our parking area. With a raised eyebrow and a smirk he said, "Sure Alan. Go have a go at 'em. Chad and I are going over here," as he pointed towards the river.

Well, after stretching out on the picnic table for a while I couldn't resist the temptation of the pond. A few weeks ago at the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival I got to know one Mr. Steve Vorkapich, the creator of the Float Master strike indicators. I had met Steve a few years earlier, but other than exchanging pleasantries when our paths crossed at various fly fishing shows, we really didn't know each other. That was my loss. Steve is without doubt one of the nicest guys I know, and spending some time with him at The Speckled Trout B&B in Waynesboro was a highlight of our trip north. Before parting ways at the festival I convinced Steve that we needed to do some product swapping. (For the uninitiated, Sunday afternoons at most fly fishing shows see frantic activity among the vendors as they wheel and deal to carry home items that they've admired all through the weekend but were to cheap to buy.) I left with Steve's strike indicator selection and he left with a few of my prints.

So here I was on a premier southern trout stream, rigging up one of Steve's indicators with plans to try them out on the little pond's bream population. I selected a small yellow one and placed it about a foot above a brown Girdle Bug. Wham! The minute the rig hit the water it disappeared, and shortly thereafter I had in my hand a pretty little bluegill. I won't try to convince you that every cast had the same result, but I will tell you that over the next hour I landed at least three dozen of the little guy's neighbors, including the nice one shown here.

I found the Float Master easy to cast and wonderfully easy to re-position for different depths. And when I finally had enough and broke my gear down, I saw not a single kink in the line from its usage.

They say that fly fishing soothes the soul. They say that it's not just about catching fish - it's about the experience. They say that standing in a clearwater trout stream and soaking in Creation is good for you and your relationship to it's Creator. All true. Chad and I got to do all of that on Saturday. I got to do that before hiking back to the truck and the pond, but I sure am glad that I got to experience the simple pleasure of landing a mess of bluegills too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Drift

It could have been a trout - more likely, the fading light playing tricks through the leaves. Evenings like this mess with the mind.

I was awake before the alarm went off. A normal occurrence these days. Used to be that I would lie awake on the “nights before” imagining the fish I would catch. Half afraid that I’d miss the alarm and oversleep, I’d play fish after fish until nothingness overtook me, then with the alarm sounding I’d rise from bed in a manner unknown on days that promised nothing but work. Now, in my sixties, sleep still comes slowly. But for different and unexciting reasons. Yes, I’ll play a few trout before it comes, but only to pass the time until it does. I miss those nights of eight hours like I miss so many other things that age brings our way.

I know this place well and my father knew it well before me. He was raised within an hour of the place and he had the good sense never to move far from it. I wasn’t so lucky. Careers can be cruel like that. Tonight I’m back, and as I approach the pool I’m swept away with memories. Dad used to say that there was a big brown back under the trees at the far bank. He said he would never see him during the day, but in the twilight, occasionally, if the river was really still, he might see his nose appear from the rock, waiting for the darkness that big browns are fond of. He said if I can get the drift just right I might catch him one day.

It’s getting darker.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Greenback Cutthroat

A few posts back I mentioned that I am revisiting the paint brush, and since then I have been burnin' the midnight oil, as they say, to complete a few new pieces to show at the upcoming Virginia Fly Fishing Festival. Well, here's one of them. I haven't taken the time to title them, just as I haven't taken the time to plant all the flowers that Miss Shirley has been buying to spruce up the yard. Sorry dear.

My plate is rather full at the momment. This weekend I'll be presenting the details of the Veterans Service Program to the attendees of the Trout Unlimited Southeatern Conference, and immediately after the conference I'll be headed to Harman's Northfork Cottages up in West Virginia to shoot a video with Curtis Fleming from Fly Rod Chronicles, followed at the end of that week with the festival in Waynesboro. Then the week after that I'll be back to Virginia for the infamous Project Healing Waters 2Fly Tournament. It's a wonder that I get anything done!

I think that the Greenback Cutthroat, which this "skin" illustration represents, is just about the prettiest thing that our God has ever created (my apologies to Miss Shirley again), and it was done with acrylics on a 5 x 7 inch canvas. Hope you all like it....Prints are available!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ft. Jackson Warrior Transition Unit, After Action Report

My friend Bobby Sutton from the Saluda River TU chapter in Columbia, South Carolina has filed the following AAR. Way to go Bobby!
My name is Bobby Sutton and the Project Healing Waters stories I have heard from my father have always held a special place in my heart. The Founder of PHW, Ed Nicholson, has been a family friend for a long time and has included my father, Bob Sutton, in many PHW trips. Being a Columbia, South Carolina resident I began to ask myself why there was not a PHW Chapter in Columbia. Geographically it is perfect, with the Saluda River winding through Columbia and with Fort Jackson and the VA hospital just a few miles away. With help from our chapter president Shawn Kenney, Alan Folger (VSP National Coordinator), John Bass (PHW Regional Coordinator), and all of my great friends at Saluda River TU, Project Healing Waters Columbia is now a Chapter!
We have received great support for Fort Jackson and have had 2 events on the Fort so far. Our first event on March 1st was a 3 hour Adaptive Fly-Fishing Clinic and we had about 30 soldiers in attendance. We held tying demonstrations as well as basic casting, and showed videos as well. We had 15 or so soldiers from the Warrior Transition Unit sign up for our six lesson Fly Fishing 101 course that we began last week. The excitement and enthusiasm of these heroes is truly amazing and we look forward to great friendships as well as furthering our partnerships with the facilities as well! Thanks to all my TU and PHW Friends for helping us get this great new chapter going!
Bobby Sutton
Program Lead
Saluda River TU

Sunday, March 18, 2012


This is the first full-bodied trout I have painted, and I think I'm startin' to get the hang of it. Going back to my roots with a paint brush is challenging after spending the past few years trying to figure out pen & ink and colored pencils, but I'm starting to see the potential of it.

This rainbow was done with acrylics, and the image you see above is from a scanner. With a heavily textured base, getting a good scan is problematic. The scanner lights can do some pretty weird things with the bumps and ridges, but it came out pretty true to the original.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gettin' Ready

With the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival coming up on the weekend of April 21st in Waynesboro, Virginia I had better be doing one of these a night. Of course I can't, but I do hope to have a few of these acrylic paintings done by then to show along with my colored pencil illustrations.

This Rainbow "skin" was done with nothing but a palatte knife and a broad brush, using primary colors right out of the tube. It measures 18" x 24". And for those of you that might wonder "how can this guy who is so persnickety and detail oriented do something like this?" . . . well, I'm wondering that myself. I'm not wondering about the fun level though. This was a blast to do!

And my apologies for the picture quality - I had to shoot it with my phone. My $400 Pentax - the one that is shock and water proof - isn't "rub" proof. While at the TU Veterans Service Program dinner in DC last week (more on that to follow in a future posting) I had the phone in my pocket and something rubbed against it, crashing the thing. Pentax said "sorry." Will I be buying a new one? I think NOT!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Back to the brushes...

I’ve been working with pen & ink and colored pencils for too long so I decided to break out the brushes and revisit my old friend…acrylic paint. This little study was done on a heavily gesso’d 5 inch square gallery wrapped canvas, and considering its been so long since I’ve done anything like this, it turned out OK.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mayflower

In retrospect Larry B. was a pretty good fishing buddy. Well, make that an adequate fishing buddy. In fact, if Larry B. hadn’t been adequate and hadn’t owned a car he wouldn’t have been a fishing buddy at all. But having a car made him, for awhile, my best fishing buddy of all time. I had heard that there was fishing to be had beyond our little neighborhood –fishing that required a bit of travel, so “Hey Larry B…wanna go fishing?”

We called his car the Mayflower. It was red and had those huge fins that cars of its vintage were known for, and best of all it had that modern, hi-tech push button deal on the dash that you used to change gears. Very cool. And if cars had been equipped with cup holders back then, the Mayflower’s would have held a can of ether. No, we weren’t abducting was to start the car with. A squirt down the carburetor and off we would go. The Mayflower usually got us where we were going, but not without a little chemical assistance. The transport known as the Mayflower was a 59 Plymouth and we would have probably done better using it to chase cheerleaders than fish.

As I said, the Mayflower usually got us to where we were going. It was getting home that was troublesome. Take that day after school when we headed for the strip pits. East of town there was an old mining area and long before the idea of reclamation came along these strip pits had turned themselves, all by themselves, into an exotic fishing paradise. Of course, just about anything would have been exotic if compared to our other nearby fishin’ holes.

There are abandoned lead, zinc and coal mines scattered about northeastern Oklahoma, and the ones we were interested in, if seen from a satellite, would look like a miniature version of New York’s Finger Lake region; one long skinny lake after another, each about a quarter mile in length and separated by equally long piles of tailings grown over with years of vegetation. The “pits,” as we called them, were an irresistible temptation to a couple of sixteen year olds, and if the pits had minds to wonder, they would have wondered just exactly what two teenagers were doing there during the daylight hours. We followed the well worn tracks made by the Saturday night crowds (avoiding the empty Coors cans as best we could) into the bowels of the place, and through no fault of its own – this time - with a lurching stop the Mayflower parked itself squarely on top of a rise. Business as usual, but we weren’t about to let a problem that could be solved later interrupt the present, so we hurriedly retrieved our rods from the back seat and got on with it.

The “pits” were inhabited by exotic, funny colored blue gills and bass the size of – well, the size of – we didn’t know. We’d heard that there were monster bass in those waters, but to date, except for the occasional large rise-form, we’d yet to see one. One of the guys that I worked with at the Phillips 66 station when pumping gas on weekends, Dillard the tire changer, had caught them there by the bucket load . . . or so he said. Of course he said that he’d caught a five pound trout there too.

The water in the “pits” was clear as a bell, but then it would have been since there was so little run-off to color it. Each of those skinny strips of water were totally supported by the rain that came straight down on them, and perhaps by the waters that bubbled up from some underground cavities left from the mining days. Thinking back, it might have been that bubbling up action that tinged the water a nice light blue and contributed to the coloration of the blue gills. Might have been just as well that we never caught anything of eating size out of the place.

I was armed with my fly rod, and Larry B. had the old steel bait caster with the free spooling Pflueger reel that his old man allowed him to use. Casting poppers along the bank I was having a blast with the bluegills when Larry B. let out a whoop, screaming something about a big bass. The whoop had an entirely different tonal quality than the one he used for backlashes so I half believed him and headed up the bank to see for sure.

Sure enough, he had a bass on, and just as he was dragging it onto the bank the sky busted loose with the kind of storm that would make an Oklahoma plains storm chaser drool. Well, it scarred the crap out of us and we high tailed it for the Mayflower. Soaking wet, we were grateful to get out of the storm, and storm it did for the next two hours.

You’ll remember that the Mayflower was high centered, so all we could do was sit and stare at the storm and plan our eventual exit from the place. It rained and rained, and rained some more, and we figured that if the tide kept rising we could float her off just like her namesake might have done to escape a sand bar grounding. But it wasn’t to be. When the rain finally quit we were ankle deep when we stepped out of the car. It would have taken Noah’s flood to free the Mayflower from her perch.

We tried everything we could think of to get her back on all fours. We tried the time tested teeter-totter trick and she wouldn’t budge. We pushed her we every which way but loose. We thought of sloshing underneath through the water and mud to dig away the mound that had her suspended but realized that our digging tools consisted of two fishing rods. We finally had to admit that we were beaten and headed up the dirt road to civilization and some help.

Some thirty minutes later we came upon a phone booth and as luck would have it, I had the right change to place a call – but only enough for one call. By now our dads would be home from work so we spent a few minutes arguing over which one we’d hit up for help. My dad had warned me about the “pits” a thousand times with some quaint stories about teen age couples disappearing down sink holes, so I wasn’t about to call him, and Larry B. just trembled when I casually suggested that, after all, since it was his car, his old man needed to rescue us. He finally stopped shaking when I started looking through the tattered yellow pages for a wrecker company.

Then it dawned on our teen aged brain trust, that between the two of us we had only two bucks to spend on the tow truck, so that was out. Then it occurred to my half of the trust that Dillard would be getting off work about then, and that of all people, he could find us and he would probably keep his mouth shut concerning our little fiasco. I found the number to the station and rang him up. Sure enough, he was still there and he agreed to meet us at the car.

Dillard was a bit unusual. One day when the station’s hydraulic lift was broken down and he was helping with my wipe the windows, check the tires, check the oil, a dollar gas routine, he told me he dropped out of school on the day he figured out “cipherin’. He had no intention on that momentous day of his eighth grade year to use this skill to decode the Ruskies’ secret cold war communications – nope, Dillard was a bigger thinker than that. He figured that he could figure out, or cipher, just about everything, and such a skill was sure to propel him to riches - which he proved by landing the tire changer job at the Phillips station.

Dillard beat us back to the Mayflower and as we sloshed up to the car he was going on with a treatise on “how to remove a car from a pyramid of muck.” Dillard explained that the fulcrum created by the “pyramid of muck” was nothing but a device intended to spoil our weekend plans and protect the girls from our nefarious intentions, and that if we were to give him just five minutes he could cipher us out of the mess we were in. As he rambled on about levers and such, detailing his intricate car removal plan by scratching about in the mud with the butt section of my fly rod, Larry B. and I seriously considered borrowing a dime from Dillard, going back to the pay phone and calling our dads. As a tire changer he was superb, but as a practitioner of bovine excreta, Dillard had no equal. So, a half hour later, as he began cipherin’ on “Plan #7,” we decided that our best bet was just to have him drive us home.

“How was school son?” was the usual greeting I heard from mom when entering the house, but that was usually well before dinner, and certainly well before dark. On this particular evening dad met me at the door. With a raised eyebrow and a look down at my mud covered Levi’s, he just shook his head and said, “Your dinner’s on the table. Where’s your fly rod?”

“Oh, Larry B.’s got it. I left it in his car. I’ll get it tomorrow…if I can.