Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Friend

I thought I’d better get fully up to speed regarding the latest happenings at Project Healing Waters this evening, so I logged onto their site’s homepage, and what do I see but a story about one of my favorite people on the planet.

Back in March of ‘09, before I was even aware of Project Healing Waters, I weaseled my way into a fishing trip with my boss and his son to Big Cedar Creek up in Virginia.  As we were walking upstream we passed some folks fishing along one of the prettier stretches of the creek.  There was a guy fishing from a wheelchair and there was a film crew recording the action.  I thought no more about it as we went on our way.  Little did I know that the guy in the wheelchair and the guy supervising the filming would have such an impact on my life.

The guy in the wheel chair was John Bass, and the fellow doing the filming was Curtis Fleming.  Regular readers of this blog know them well, and I have been honored to know them even better.  In fact, just last week I encouraged everyone to vote for Curtis and his show Fly Rod Chronicles for the Sportsman Channel awards, and the week before that, my posting entitled “Thanks” talked a lot about John.

But this isn’t about my friend Curtis, it’s about John.  John Bass has just received the Patriot Award, Project Healing Waters’ highest honor, for his sustained support of PHW’s mission and activities, and no one – I mean no one – is more deserving.  Congratulations John!

Check out the smile on John’s face as our leader, Ed Nicholson, makes the presentation.  I have rarely seen John without that same smile…especially when one of the vets he has introduced our sport to is landing a big one.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I am pleased and proud to announce that I have accepted the position of Veterans Service Partnership Coordinator with Trout Unlimited.  I will officially start the position on January 3rd.  This once in a lifetime opportunity will allow me to put my passion for our nation's heroes to good use as TU seeks to further its involvement and participation with disabled veterans across the nation.  Please wish me luck, but more importantly, do something good for a veteran today!  We owe them more than we can ever repay.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


HOLY COW! My good buddy Curtis Fleming and his show, Fly Rod Chronicles, have advanced to finals of the 2010 Sportsman Channel Viewer Choice Awards for Best Fishing Show and Favorite Personality. Final round voting has help me make Curtis' head explode by going to the link below and casting your vote! He deserves it... REALLY!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Demise of Elbert Shostack

The man was a fine fisherman. Whether casting stink bait at catfish; daredevil’s at muskies or delicately depositing a size 22 Quill Gordon in the feeding lane of a wary brown trout, Elbert Shostack had few equals. Today Elbert Shostack is a babbling idiot, and this is his story.

Elbert’s path to insanity began early in life. The only son of Elizabeth and Oscar was born into a world of big sisters. He had six of them, and in no time at all he hated all of The Six. Oh, how he wished for a little brother, but it wasn’t to be. Pray as he might, mom and dad were finished with procreation. After all, with six beautiful and talented daughters, why keep going?

Oscar was an actuary for the Allied Insurance Company, and his idea of a good time was sitting in his easy chair and humming along with Mitch Miller, as Mitch and his bouncing ball led the national sing-along throughout the sixties. Other than that, Oscar’s recreational needs were quite simple...entertaining The Six with Ogden Nash limericks and ridiculously stupid and unending knock-knock jokes as they worshiped at his feet...and spending his weekends building them doll houses. Elbert was lonely.

Sure, his mom doted on him, but as for his dad, Elbert made the conscious decision in 1962 to exchange him for Ted Trueblood. And the rest as they say is history. The chance discovery of a Field & Stream magazine accomplished through a brief friendship with Ricky Peters led to Elbert’s glory...and his downfall.

One of the neighborhood kids, Ricky had all the makings of a good friend until Elbert’s mom got a look at him. Ricky was known to go home only when starvation was imminent, meaning that either the catfish weren’t biting or the squirrel hunting was bad. Ricky’s skills as a 15 year old woodsman were legendary amongst his peers, and as he patiently explained to the younger Elbert, those skills were acquired through the study of Field & Stream and the writings of one Mr. Ted Trueblood. The problem was that Ricky’s only exposure to water came from wading the creek. Ricky didn’t bath, and the scabs and sores covering his appendages were enough to insure that he and Elbert’s friendship would be short-lived.

And so with the introductions made, Elbert’s discipleship to the guru of the great outdoors began. After convincing the old man that a monthly allowance in cash could easily be replaced by a subscription to the magazine, Elbert began his studies. The studies included everything from chasing Chukars through the sagebrush of Idaho to trout fishing the country’s hallowed waters, and as Elbert grew older and opportunities to put his book learning to use came more frequently, he found that in many if not all ways, he was indeed an honors student. Especially regarding trout fishing.

A solitary childhood led to his entry into adulthood, where he discovered to his family’s disappointment that he had no need of female companionship. Or anyone’s companionship for that matter. As others his age were planning families and establishing lucrative careers, Elbert stuck to his study of the classics. Earning advanced degrees in Stream Reading, Bug Identification, Line Mending and the Double Haul did not impress his family, and the constant cajoling phone calls from The Six did nothing but drive him further away.

And further away he went. There was no river too far, no hunt too extreme, no woodland challenge that he was not up to. The legend began in whispers around back country elk camps and traversed from the banks of the Mirimichi to the shores of Coeur d'Alene. Soon he was taking on the life of the gypsy...not so much from wanderlust, but more from the desire to escape the writers and fly fishing groupies that hounded his every move. The occasional article or TV spot recounting his exploits, though always questionably sourced, only served to fuel the legend and drive him further into the wilderness. Until one day on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, when his world turned upside down.

Elbert had packed in alone, arriving just after sunset. The outpost cabin used by fire patrols was well stocked and furnished...not that he’d be taking advantage of their provisions...he was there for the bed and nothing else. Well, he might use the cook stove and supply of wood for his customary fresh trout breakfast. Sleep came easy, but not before some reflection on his circumstances.

Elbert was in his early sixties by now. He had “been there and done that” like few before him. He thought of his long gone and distant mentor, Trueblood, and the adventures that he’d led him on. He thought of what many called missed opportunities...the lack of family and the nagging guilt that The Six had labored for years to burden him with...unsuccessfully. He smiled. Not just at the thought of solitude, but that he was experiencing the solitude in the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness, the magical wilderness that Trueblood had lobbied so hard to have established.

Note: What follows is based on the one rambling interview the wizened and gray haired recluse granted me from his room at the Idaho Hospital for the Piscatorially Insane, so its accuracy is suspect and cannot be independently verified. The only thing known for certain is that Elbert Shostack never recovered.

A trout, a crazed hen Cutthroat with supernatural powers - perhaps demonic powers - came to Elbert in a dream...or so he thought.

“I was casting one of them Wulff flies. A big heavy floater, when out of the depths comes the biggest damn trout I ever saw. With total abandon she charges the fly and danged if she didn’t jump clean out of the water and over the fly...puttin’ on a regular porpoise show. She clears the fly, circles around and stops dead in the water, and with a pair of bifocals stares at it...up close and personal.

“I reckon I was shocked, but nearly as much as I was when she reared up out of the water and points a pectoral fin straight at me and starts talkin’. Said she’d been waiting years for me and that now that I was here she was going to see to it that I never bothered a trout again.

“Well, I wasn’t going to take no crap from a fish, so I asked her to please get her self back in the water and we’ll get on with it. With that she slips back down under the deadfall and dares me to try her.

At this point in the story it must be said that Elbert was a prideful man. No, not an ego thing...otherwise he wouldn’t have hid himself for so many was a pride sort of thing. Whether talking to trout or talking to himself, Elbert always had to win the argument. And to be challenged by a fish, well...

“So there I was, waist deep in the prettiest plunge pool you ever saw...talking to a trout. And not just any trout, but one to challenge the record books. A trout that had just dared me to catch her.”

Elbert had just seen that she wasn’t going to take the Wulff, so as he rummaged through his fly box looking for the biggest and ugliest thing he had, he was thinking tactics. He thought: big trout, big had always worked before. But obviously this was going to be different. To catch a fish that talks; a fish that even knew his name; a fish that had just shown him supernatural powers, was going to take all of the skills that he had acquired over the years. Elbert secured the largest and ugliest fly in his box, Howell’s Big Nasty, to his 3x tippet.

The cast was perfect. The drift carried it straight to the deadfall, and his nemesis, with no hesitation at all, took the fly and the battle was on. From one end of the pool to the other, she did all she could to defeat the fisherman. One powerful run led to two, then three. Wishing that he had a fighting butt on the 5 weight Sage, Elbert was weakening. As the fish hung in the current with his side to Elbert, there seemed to be little chance of moving her, but Elbert gave it his all. The Sage had to be near the breaking point, and the tippet, well even a 3x can only take so much.

Then the big fish started to move. Standing there at waters edge with his rod bent double, inch by inch Elbert was bringing her in. But as he reached for his net the fish went back to her supernatural ways. Suddenly the fish came up on her tail and started crabbing backwards across the pool. Just as Elbert was about to be pulled in he was hit squarely in the middle of his forehead by the fly. The long shanked hook, though obviously not firmly secured in the fish’s mouth just moments ago, was now firmly secured as a fashion statement in Elbert’s brow...right between his eyes.

The big fish laughed. She not only laughed...she insulted. She made fun of his skill, his technique and his name. She ridiculed his reputation as an angler and speculated that if he didn’t get off his ass and give it one more try he would forever be known as the guy that never learned a thing from Ted Trueblood.

Elbert was shakin’ mad. Sitting cross-eyed on the bank he watched the blood inch toward the tip of his nose and plotted his revenge. “No damned trout is gonna...”

Composing himself, Elbert rose to his feet with determination. He checked his line for abrasions and securely fastened a new fly to the line. With trembling hands he spent little time in selecting it. After all, the fish now seemed willing to take just about anything he presented.

And she did. With her normal gusto she slammed the offering and headed for the snag. But this time, rather than the head shaking frenzy of before, she just sulked. Then with a burst of energy she looked like she was trying to turn herself inside out. First spinning to the left then the right, and finally a series of frantic figure eights that turned the water to froth. The line went slack. How she did it without fingers Elbert couldn’t say, but when the water settled down and the fish rose slowly to the surface, there on her snout sat the fly...unattached to the tippet. The fish had untied the knot.

Then she slowly circled the pool with her head out of the water bouncing the fly like a miniature soccer ball on her nose. At the end of the lap she stopped in front of Elbert, flipped the fly high into the air and gobbled it down just before it hit the water.

From this point on the interview became a bit deranged. As he recounted the rest of the story his words made less and less sense. There were other battles with the fish...battles that apparently included the fish speaking at various times as each of The Six. There were battles with the fish imitating Mitch Miller and encouraging Elbert to sing along. There was even an attempt at seduction. The fish even managed to coach Elbert in Trueblood’s own voice, followed apparently by more ridicule. But Elbert never caught the fish.

According to a press report, Elbert Shostack was found a week later setting on the steps of the fire cabin. His face bloodied, his waders torn and his hands clutching what had been a fine fly rod, he mumbled something about a large fish and a story about Mitch Miller.

Somewhere deep in the Idaho mountains a large fish swims...or maybe not. A fish that bested the best of us...maybe. And somewhere in a lonely hospital room sits a defeated man. He stares blankly at a mirror and dreams of who knows what. He raises a wrinkled hand, a hand that had held many a fine fish, and brushes the long gray bangs from his forehead...revealing three of the prettiest flies you ever saw...and cries.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mike's Simple Shrimp

Here is the next fly in the series I did for the book Fly Fishing the Mid Atlantic.  Each fly print will be 8 X 10 and printed on 100# Bristol Archival Paper, and will sell for $20 with FREE shipping.
This second one is Mike's Simple Shrimp.
(That border you see around the fly is there only to show how it will look when matted.) 

Sunday, November 28, 2010


It’s amazing that a trip that started out so badly could end up so well.  Ten miles from Lebanon my windshield wipers lost their minds.  What had been a monotonous swish, swish, swish became a violent struggle for dominance as each blade sought to overpower the other in a death match that ended with them wedged together in a teepee right before my eyes.  Well, at least it wasn’t a pouring rain.  The final ten miles involved periodic stops to clear the view but eventually I arrived for my third adventure on Big Cedar Creek.
John Bass had invited me to join him, Billy Davis and Shawn Dejean for three days of fishing on that marvelous piece of water in southwest Virginia.  We were joined by John’s intrepid guide, Bill Nuckols, and one of our old buddies, John Flannigan.  I arrived just after noon on Friday.

The guys were already fishing when I pulled up to the stream.  John and Bill were plying the depths of the Sycamore Hole to no avail while Billy, who had been assigned to Shawn, was trying to teach the finer points of fly fishing to that crazy Cajun.  “Billy, You got any more bait?  I just lost mine in that there tree!”  If you’ve ever seen the TV series, Swamp People, you’ve heard the accent.  Shawn and John Bass go back a long ways, to circumstances that are still not clear to me, but just know that Shawn would have been much more at home catching thirteen foot gators than he was on a trout stream.

Another unexpected treat was the opportunity to meet Phil Balisle, (see photo below) a retired Admiral and current EVP of DRS Technologies and supporter of Project Healing Waters, who was down for a day of angling from his home in DC.  Phil was kind enough to impart some of his extensive Big Cedar knowledge, which served me very well in the coming days.

I thought I had prepared well for the weekend.  Remembering that the stones were just a bit slippery from my previous trips there, I had attached some lugs to the felt soles of an old pair of wading boots.  The verdict is still out on the wisdom of that exercise, because as I had walked downstream to one of the lower pools for my first venture into the water, I immediately slipped and went in up to my chest.  Off to a good start.  Since I was there anyway, and fighting the temptation to go back to the car, I cast out my crawdad imitation and got an immediate strike.  A few minutes later I beached one of the larger trout that I’ve ever caught.  That guy completely wore me out…had me wishing for a fighting butt on my rod as he fought for survival in the swift current.  He would have easily gone eight pounds.

OK…now I’ll go back to the car.  One fish like that is enough to make my day…heck, it’s enough to make an entire season! Seeing that my line was tangled, I slung it back into the current to get it straightened and what happens, but the fishes twin brother jumps on it.  Another five minutes of two fisted fighting and he too was in the net.  Thus began the most amazing three days of fishing that I have ever experienced.

Saturday morning was cold.  The temperature gauge in the car told me that it was 26 degrees when I arrived at the stream.  Not a problem.  Although I swore off winter fishing forever last year after a day on Duke’s Creek in the north Georgia mountains, after the two fish I caught yesterday I wasn’t about to lay out today. 
As I dug into my gear bag I realized that there was a problem.  Everything…gloves included…was frozen solid.  Yes, there was a perfectly good heater in the Super 8, but my gear did not experience it for even a minute.  I managed to get into the waders and the boots, but the gloves were a problem.  Thirty minutes later, after running the car nearly out of gas, they were wearable.  Note to self:  Share the overnight heat with your gear.

I won’t bore you with a play by play of the days fishing (well, I will in a minute), but let me say that the day was magical.  By three o’clock I had caught seven trout …all between eight and ten pounds.   All except one were caught on a brownish Woolly that had two ostrich herl “pincers” trailing off the tail…what they called the “crawdad” pattern.

Late in the day I met up with John Bass and Bill Nuckles at the low water bridge.  As long time followers of the blog know, John is the Regional Manager for Project Healing Waters and is somewhat limited in the waters that he can fish.  John is wheel chair bound.  He was casting downstream from the bridge.  We shot the breeze for a few minutes and I mentioned to Bill that it was time for me to tie on the Nub Worm.  I told him that on every outing I do my best to land a fish or two with it to honor its creator, my oldest and bestest buddy, Jerry “The Mad Cheese Scientist” Felts.  Bill, who happens to be a bit of a purest when it comes to trout flies laughed when I showed him Jerry’s creation.
The Nub Worm
I walked a few steps down the bridge and cast it upstream.  Billy Davis, who was standing on the bank, told me that there was a nice fish in the area.  Indeed there was.  The trout gave his best imitation of a Great White slamming a hapless seal and took off for the headwaters of the creek with the Nub Worm firmly implanted in his massive jaw.  We later measured his run and it was nothing less than 150 feet.  He plowed through the water in a perfectly straight line, throwing a size-able wake behind him before stopping for a few head shakes and a top water pirouette or two.  

By now, Bill had seen what was happening and came running with his net.  With one expert stab…the fish was mine.  Bill, who has landed many a trout on Big Cedar, estimated his weight at 12 pounds and snapped a photo of the proud angler before releasing the beauty for another day.   It was the largest trout I have ever caught.

John and Shawn, with long rides ahead of them, left early Sunday morning.  Billy and I went back to the creek.  We fished the lower holes where I had done so well on Saturday and did just fine.  Billy landed this nice one and I managed to net three others of equal size.  The weekend ended with a couple of more before Billy and I headed for home.

Billy Davis with a nice Big Cedar Rainbow
It is only fitting that it was Thanksgiving weekend.  On Wednesday Shirley and I enjoyed the grandkids…along with a great meal prepared by our daughters.  Thanks were given.  And as Shirley had to work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, she allowed me to have an unforgettable weekend away from home with the guys.  Thanks were given.  And as John Bass, through his friendship and generosity,  had made the entire thing possible, thanks were given again.

And as God had blessed me with three unbelievable days to enjoy His creation and a ridiculous number of His creatures…just saying thanks seems so insufficient.

(Oh, and one other thing…that crusty old guide Bill Nuckols, asked me to tie up a few Nub Worms and mail them to him.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Playin' Hooky

I got a call from Ryan asking if I could help out on Thursday. He had arranged to take some vets up to the West Fork of the French Broad for a day of fishing and as the plans were finalized he realized that he was short handed in the “guide” category. Told him I’d have to get back with him on that one.

Thursdays are work days around here, and business being slow as it is, taking off for a day of fishing is frowned upon. I pondered Tim’s reaction to my pending request. Ryan knows that a weekend outing will find me there with bells on, but a workday...its iffy.

Tim said OK, but he made it clear that he wasn’t doing it for me or Ryan...he was doing it for the vets. “Thanks Tim, I owe you one.”

After loading the car and scraping the windshield to remove a thin layer of frost I headed out on the ten minute drive to Davidson River Outfitters – our rendezvous point for the days activities. I was early of course and spent the time rummaging through their fly inventory as if I might actually buy something. The clerk was new to me and was unaware that a purchase was highly unlikely. I inspected their selection of fly boxes; I perused their waders and used their bathroom. I was getting antsy.

Finally I thought I’d better go back out to the car and get my gear ready. As I had already decided that I’d be using my 2 wt., I grabbed it from its bag and went to my vest to get the reel. No reel. Damn, where is it!
Then I remembered that I’d put it in my wader bag after the last outing. But where was the wader bag?

I had brought an extra rod and reel (my 5 wt.) just in case we needed it for one of the vets, so that would have taken care of the reel problem, but the REAL problem was that I had to have the waders. Back to the house.

Twenty minutes later I was back at the shop just in time to greet the vets. There was Nancy and Harry...both in wheel chairs...and Jamie, the absolute best crutches wielding, rock hopper you’ve ever seen. Off to the creek we went.

The water was down a few feet but as pretty as ever. The guy at the shop had told me that it hadn’t been fished for at least a week, and I later learned that he had told Ryan that it wasn’t fishing well at all. Huh? Wasn’t fishing well a week ago? Any creek, lake, river or pond that I’ve experienced can have good days and bad. Heck, they usually have good hours and bad, so I wasn’t worried at all. What happened a week ago was of no concern. At least we wouldn’t hear, “You should have been here last week!” Today was gonna be gang busters...I just knew it.

We rigged Harry and Nancy up with a couple of ten foot Project Healing Waters TFO’s. Those ten footers are a great help to beginning fly casters, especially if they are wheel chair bound, and they began slinging weighted nymphs into the pool right at the end of the meadow. Then Ryan insisted that I walk downstream to see if there were any other spots that were accessible for the chairs. I took my rod with me of course.

The West Fork is a small stream even when running normal, so I was quite pleased with my decision to go with the two weight, and fishing downstream is right up my alley. Tying on a marabou, I gingerly entered the stream being careful to make no waves. I saw a few 10 to 15 inch rainbows working and cast well ahead and upstream of them, hoping that on the swing they’d find the marabou right at eye level. They did. They ignored it. A few casts later one of them looked its direction, but that’s all. I tied on a small midge dropper and headed on downstream. Two casts later I lost the entire rig in a tree. Was it gonna be one of those days? Naw, keep fishing Alan, and when in doubt go to the old standbys. I tied on a bright yellow woolly.

I spit on it, I dunked it, I cussed it...and it wouldn’t sink. What the heck, I didn’t want to spend any more time tying on another fly, so in frustration I cast it out and down and what do you know, the second it hit the water a fish slammed it...or so I thought. I felt nothing as I lifted the rod. A couple of casts later...the same thing...big splash...lift rod...nothing. So they liked it. But why weren’t they taking it? I tied on a dropper, hoping that as the bright yellow, high floating attractant got their attention, maybe they would inhale the dropper.

Sneaking into the head of the next pool I tested my theory. The third cast brought the same reaction that I’d seen in the last pool, but this time I felt the weight of a nice fish. A few minutes later he was in the net. He had hit the wooly. I snapped his portrait and decided that I’d better get back to Ryan and report on the lack of wheelchair access that I’d found.

“How’d you guys do?” I asked. Ryan reported that Harry had caught a good one and that Nancy had blanked.
I told him that they were hitting on top downstream, and true to form, Ryan said that they were hitting emergers. You see, Ryan is one of those guys that looks at fly fishing a little differently than me. He can name any bug, tie up an exact replica and catch more trout with it than I ever will. He’s a scientist on the stream. I’m just a fisherman.

“Emergers, hey? Well I’d hate to see what these guys emerge into,” I said as I showed him the bright yellow fluffy thing that they were hitting. Ryan just shook his head in disgust. “I should have known,” he said.

I’ll never out fish the man; after all he has the trophies and reputation to back up his theories, but I like to do it my way. I firmly believe that confidence is just about as important as having an honorary degree in entomology and my confidence (and 50 years of experience with this particular fly) usually gets me a fish or two.

As the day progressed everyone but Nancy managed a few more fish. This was only fitting, because on the last two outings Nancy had out fished everyone...both in numbers and in size. Everyone is entitled to an off day. She did however manage to land a nice rock. How she was able to hook and bring to net that nearly round and featureless chunk is unknown. But it made her day! Such is the way of fishing with our wounded warriors. It’s not the fish (but they do help), it’s just getting out there with your fellows and enjoying the quite...the solitude...the beauty. It soothes.

I beat Shirley home. As I was relaxing on the couch the phone rang. “Open the garage door and help me get these groceries in.” As I was opening the tailgate to secure the vittles she asked, “Did you catch any fish?”
“Sure did.” I replied.
“Did they get cold?”
“Not at all, those fish are used to the cold water.”
“I meant the vets! Shut up and get those bags into the house, smart ass. You’re going to work tomorrow!”

Reality sucks.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Anderson's Bird of Prey

Beginning today I will be posting and offering for sale, the fly illustrations that I did for Beau Beasley’s soon to be released book, Fly Fishing the Mid Atlantic.  Each fly print will be 8 X 10 and printed on 100# Bristol Archival Paper, and will sell for $20 with FREE shipping.
Starting in alphabetical order, this first one is Anderson’s Bird of Prey.  A popular caddis pupa/emerger pattern, the Bird of Prey was designed by Rick Anderson.   Your local fly shop probably has a few on hand, but they’ll be a lot smaller than this one – and they won’t be ready for framing.
(That border you see around the fly is there only to show how it will look when matted.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Shame, shame shame

Those of you that have been following my blog are aware that my boss is running for the NC House of Representatives.  And as I have been helping him in that effort there has been absolutely no time available to wet a line and precious little time to devote to my artwork.  Virtually every waking moment has been spent on politics and I've just about had enough of it.  What a dirty enterprise it is.

I remember the days when individuals considering a run for elected office were fearful of the skeletons in their closets.  I’m sure that that fear eliminated many potential candidates, and for some of them that was probably a good thing.  I long for those days when a youthful indiscretion or a period of financial hardship was all that potential candidates had to fear.  Times have changed.

Today’s candidates must fear much more.  They must fear the lies that are told; the total fabrications and half truths that are pulled out of context from anything they have written or spoken in the past.  All of us have seen this total disregard for the truth on display at the national level, but now it has reached the state and even local level.

The "win at all costs" philosophy has become the norm and it makes one wonder why anyone, no matter how noble their motives, would ever submit themselves to this stuff.  On Tuesday night, November the 2nd, I'm going to take a very long shower.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pssst...Hey buddy, wanna buy a trout?

With the street value of powdered and rock trout reaching astronomical levels, it is no surprise that trout farms are being targeted by enterprising thieves. According to the October 2nd Asheville Citizen Times, “A brazen thief or thieves broke into Sunburst Trout Farm in Canton and stole 600 pounds of fish. Farm owner Sally Eason said she and her husband saw some fish entrails near one of the trout ponds Wednesday. The guts were out of place, but neither of them investigated.On Thursday, they went to harvest the pond.
“There should have been around 600 pounds in the (pond), and there was virtually none,” Eason said. She thinks the theft probably occurred Tuesday.

The abduction was well-planned. Eason figures a truck was used to commandeer the large quantity of fish, but that required getting into the facility, which is fenced. The gate showed no sign of forced entry and the lock was not damaged.

“How they got them out is beyond us,” Eason said.

With increasing regularity, on my visits to local streams I have found the same situation. A beautiful stretch of water...a clear fall day, and stretches of water that in the past have been quite productive. What else could explain my having gone fishless? They too, must have been abducted.

Try as I might, there is no other explanation. I have good if not great tackle, a fine assortment of flies and over fifty years of experience. Yet no fish to show for my efforts. I’m left to believe that the miscreants responsible for the theft at Sunburst have depleted our local waters and have lowered their standards and begun to target farm raised trout to meet the burgeoning demand.

It couldn't be anything else.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Casting For Recovery

As we have traveled the fly fishing festival circuit over the past couple of years Shirley and I have made the acquaintance of a very nice lady named Lindsay Long.  Lindsay is the Eastern Tennessee Coordinator for the organization, Casting for Recovery

CFR is a national non-profit support and educational program for women who have or have had breast cancer.  They provide an opportunity for women whose lives have been profoundly affected by the disease to gather in a beautiful, natural setting and learn fly-fishing, "a sport for life."

During one of the recent shows Lindsay and I got to talking about the possibility of me doing some artwork for their organization and what you see illustrated here is the beginning of that project.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I plan to have the piece finished for a meeting that they have scheduled then.  When I post the finished piece, don’t be alarmed by the color.  It’ll be a little more “pinkish” than any rainbow that you’ve ever seen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sometimes it all comes together...

Your humble correspondent, plying the waters of the Raven's Fork

This past weekend 55 disabled vets gathered for camaraderie, good times, good food and some unbelievable trout fishing. Joined by professional guides and numerous volunteers, this collection of heroes was the largest in the history of Project Healing Waters.

A special “THANK YOU” goes out to Rivers Edge Outfitters and Joe, Steve and Chris – the proprietors of that fine establishment in Cherokee, North Carolina - for the hospitality they offered us over the weekend. Their beautiful shop was the gathering point and supply center for the weekend and they were the best hosts that one could imagine. Each of them shares a passion in seeing that our vets are rewarded, honored...and put on fish!

The vets split up on Saturday morning and headed for the waters. I say “waters” because the Eastern Band of the Cherokee nation had made all of their waters available to us. Some fished the Oconaluftee, some fished the Raven's Fork (including the Trophy Section) and some fished the fantastic little stream right behind the shop. Every vet was teamed with a volunteer guide and everyone caught fish, including some very nice ones.

I was left to my own devices on this first morning so I teamed up with a few of our wheel-chair bound folks and we headed for “The Island.” In no time at all everyone was onto fish. Beautiful Rainbows and brookies were caught one after the other, including what might just have been the largest fish of the weekend. Nancy was positioned at a promising looking run when her line went tight about the time that the guides starting hooting and hollering those sought after words, “It’s a PIG!"  Her rainbow went every bit of thirty inches.

I headed a bit upstream to try my luck. The water was low and clear, but with the canopy of trees and the early morning sun angle, it was hard to see if any fish were there to greet me. I decided to go with my old standby...the Yellow Wooly, and soon was landing a brookie of 20 inches.

Shirley had bought me a new camera, one of those water and shock proof jobs that you can even use underwater. It had arrived the day before we left and I couldn’t wait to try it out. As the rainbow was catching his breath I fumbled through my vest to find it and by the time I got it out I was afraid to use it. These Smoky Mountain trout give their all in trying to evade capture and I just can’t stand the thought of one going belly up just for the sake of a picture. So I left the camera alone and went to work reviving the trout. I’ll have to quit fishing alone if I’m ever to get some good shots.

The run provided a few more good brooks and a rainbow or two before it was time to load up and head for the shop for lunch. All of us met up to swap fish stories as we enjoyed some delicious grilled burgers and dogs. I pretty much chilled out the rest of the day, watching some vets fish the run behind the shop, as Shirley and Billy Davis’ wife Brenda tried to take some more money from the tribe’s casino. (Their morning adventures there had proven effective, and ignoring my advice to quit while they were ahead...they went back.)

Saturday night we were treated to a banquet and auction at one of the town’s larger community centers. The festivities began with an inspiring presentation of the colors done by the local VFW, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by a group of young Cherokee children who followed that by singing the National Anthem in their native language. We had a Cherokee Indian story teller who entertained us with a bit of their history, including some very interesting stories about their ancient ways and legends.

The evening’s meal was provided by Lawrence Krump – an amputee that I had previously fished with on the upper French Broad. I had no idea that he was a barbeque master, widely known for some of the best BBQ in western North Carolina. Lawrence’s reputation is well deserved. The raffle, the silent auction and its live version went well, with a good number of our guest opening their wallets in support of the cause.

Sunday found me on the trophy Section of the Raven’s Fork...on the same section that I had “judged” in last years Rumble in the Rhododendron. At that time I of course couldn’t fish, I just got to watch. Sunday was to be different. The stretch of water was gorgeous... perfectly suited to my preferred style of fishing. A long run with varying depths and structure, well shaded with just a bit of a ripple on it. Absolutely perfect for swinging wets and streamers.

What to use...what to use? Well, a Nub Worm of course! I tied on one with a green chenille body wrapped with black hackle trailing an orange tail. The upper end of the run gave me no action, but as I approached an overhanging Chestnut tree my hopes rose as I saw a small dimple up against the far bank.

My first cast brought a strike. The fish had grabbed just the tail, managing to avoid the hook’s barb. After a two minute wait, on the second cast he found it. I still hadn’t seen him but there was no doubt that he was big, and when he went into the backing on his first run there was no doubting it. Well into twenty inches, when he came within eyesight I saw a beautiful rainbow, and after a few more runs I held in my hands a wonder of Creation. A swimming silver bullet of muscle and guile.

The weekend was as perfect as one could be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Big Sugar Creek

When talking to my buddy Jerry the other day, he directed me to his local (Rogers. AR) paper and a story they ran about one of our favorite streams from days gone by. Big Sugar Creek.

I’m not sure how we came to know of this beautiful little stream located in southwest Missouri, but for a number of years his family and mine spent many days enjoying its beauty and its fishing, and thanks to Jerry, the reading of the article filled my day with memories of the times we spent there.

A few years ago I learned that it had become a state park, and while that designation surely was deserved, I just know that a “someday” repeat of those quite days will not be possible due to the crowds that must be there now. In all of the times that Jerry and I fished it, I cannot recall ever seeing another angler. Sure, the creek had its share of picnickers on pretty days, and of course it had its share of canoeists when the water level was high enough, but the average weekend was just about as empty as the picture above. (And speaking of that picture...back in the day there were no digital cameras, so I could dig out no shots from the archives to show you. This one was copied from the article that Jerry directed me to.)

The guy is standing at the low water bridge near the community (if you can call it that) of Cyclone, and just upstream of where he is standing is a long glassy pool, whose “glassy-ness” is perfectly matched by the streams bottom. “Greasy” might be more descriptive. This spot was our starting off point for fishing the upper reaches of Big Sugar, and stepping off into the water in tennis shoes was a sure way to test ones coordination and balance. We had never heard of studded wading shoes at that time, so negotiating the algae covered, fifty yard long slab was the price we had to pay to get to the better water.

I’m not was slick. So slick that more often than not I would be on my hands and knees at one point or the other, trying to get across it. But it was worth it. Whether we were outfitted with our fly rods or our ultra-light spinning gear, we always managed to catch fish. And some nice ones too. Four and five pound smallies were not unheard of, but Big Sugar’s bluegills and smaller bass were great fun on the light tackle as well.

On another front...
The evening skies have been reminding us daily of the coming winter weather. The past few days have shown us not the more familiar and recent summer-time skies of puffy cumulous clouds, but the stratus clouds so common in the winter months. Looking toward Mount Pisgah in the west (12 miles as the crow flies) we have seen some beautiful sunsets...each one reminding us that cooler weather and better fishing is right around the corner.

And speaking of seasonal changes...
I don’t want to hear any whining from the black bears this coming year. In recent years they have complained constantly about their lack of if their dietary deficit gave them license to raid our trash cans and bird feeders. This year’s mast crop should keep them close to home (their home!)...content to gorge themselves on natures bounty instead of ours. Check out this photo taken right out of my office door. For the past week the acorns have been falling like rain! This shot, taken beneath one of the larger oaks on the property, was not staged. The entire ground beneath this huge trees canopy looks just the same.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The next PHW Cherokee Event!

WOW! 50 of our nation’s heroes are set to join us on the spectacular Cherokee Nation waters for an unforgettable two days of trout fishing. There will also be fly fishing clinics, a banquet, a raffle and a silent auction. The event takes place September 18th, 19th and 20th.

Thanks to Project Healing Waters and a lot of good folks who have donated their time, talent and finances, we’ll be showing our veterans that their sacrifices are not forgotten!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Soft Hackle

According to the late legend and member of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame, Jack Gartside, the soft hackle wet fly "is quite simply, beautiful. In its bareness, in the liveliness of its soft hackle fibers it suggests all that seems necessary to tempt fish. Because of its simplicity it's also one of the easiest flies to tie—and often one of the deadliest."

Monday, August 23, 2010

WHEW! Finally finished all 40 flies for the upcoming book, Fly Fishing the MidAtlantic. Beau Beasley, the author, seems to be pleased with my efforts and I know that I am. Prior to this project I had sketched out a few of my favorite flies, primarily for my own enjoyment, but this was different. I had to illustrate flies that I’ve never used and probably never will, and flies that were nothing like the classics that I grew up fishing and admiring.

I had my favorites and my not so favorites, but topping the list of favorites were the two flies designed by my buddy Kevin Howell, of Davidson River Outfitters. Perhaps it’s the friendship that swayed me. Of perhaps it’s because his shop is just about 15 minutes from my front door. Then again, maybe it’s because these two flies catch fish! All of the above, for sure.
The one on the left is "Kevin's Stone" and that ugly thing below it is "Howell's Big Nasty."

Hope you like them!
(Prints ARE available...)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cooler than the other side of the pillow

Heading up the mountain from Lenoir we watched the temperature drop at least one degree per mile, till it registered in the mid 70’s when we rolled into Blowing Rock.  Ahh...the mountains!  It was great to be back.

Shirley and I took the weekend off and headed for the High Country of North Carolina over the weekend.  Well actually, we were working...sort of.  Scott and Dottie Farfone, the owners of Foscoe Fishing Company, were hosting a special fly fishing event on Saturday at their beautiful log cabin shop in the Foscoe area, and they were kind enough to allow us to set up our display on their front porch.
Tim Cummings (see below), our fellow Project Healing Waters volunteer, heard we were coming their way and offered to share the house he and his wife Melinda were occupying just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, so with the promise of their hospitality, some cooler weather and the chance to meet some new trout art aficionados...we jumped on it. 

Scott and Dottie put on a great event and we had a great time meeting some of the local, and some of the not so local, folks.  (Seems we weren’t alone in our efforts to escape the heat.)  It threatened rain through most of the day but it held off till later that night.  Going to sleep to the sound of a billion little forest critters, then awakening to the sound of rain pounding on the window panes sure was more restful than the constant hum of our air-conditioning at home.

We made some sales; we ate some great meals and managed to spend some time strolling the streets of Blowing Rock, revisiting many of the shops that we knew from years ago.  The Cummings’ hospitality was more than we deserved and the ride home on Sunday was without incident.  Except for one little thing.  One little helmeted and goggled thing that passed us on the highway.

There on the back of a fully decked out Harley sat the coolest dog you’ll ever see.  With his master in the front and his American flags fluttering behind him, this guy was the epitome of cool.  As he passed us he glanced our way with a “Don’t you wish you were me!” look, and sped off to parts unknown.
We were still laughing as he pulled in front of us, turned around, and graced us with one more “Ain’t I cool” look. 

Friday, August 13, 2010


Another fly for the book, Fly Fishing the Mid Atlantic, the Letort Hopper originated in Pennsylvania where it was designed by flyfishing legend Ed Shenk in the late 50's.  As realistic as the new foam body hoppers look, they loose their effectiveness when underwater.  Not so with this bug, which can be fished with three different techniques on each cast.  Starting off with a dead drift on top, you might give it a twitch or two.  Then allow it to sink on the swing to represent a drowned hopper, and finally strip it back for the next cast.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

At last...

Finally finished up the C&R Brown for Chris.  What a fun project.  22 inches is a good sized trout and if you don’t think so, just try drawing one at actual size!  A gazillion dots of stippling and a dozen layers of color later, here it is.

Laying here before me on paper, it looks huge...maybe even larger than it seemed to Chris the day he pulled it from the Missouri River.  Gosh, I wish I could have been there to see it.  As Chris gets this framed and hung on his office wall, I hope that every time he sees it he travels back to that day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A little color

Here is the latest version of Chris' Brown Trout.  I have added a couple of layers of color, but before this guy starts to look as it should, I'll have to add at least half a dozen more.  So far, so good.

On another front, I have now completed twenty new fly illustrations for Beau Beasley's new book, Fly Fishing the Mid Atlantic.  Here are two of the latest ones.  I only have another twenty to do.
This first one is Cowen's Baitfish...a pattern that presents a realistic baitfish pattern when in the water.  It probably wouldn't do the trick with our local trout, but the sea going variety would gobble it up for sure.

And here we have Chocklet's Gummy Minnow...a pattern that even our locals would appreciate.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The names have been changed to protect the innocent...

There is a creature, lumbricus terrestris, that is found in or near virtually every trout stream. A trout dietician’s dream food, this tasty morsel and its imitations have probably caught more fish than any other Latin named fare. Yet few of us, until quite recently, would have admitted to using them...especially the “natural”, but also its many imitations.

Deep in the hidden away pockets of your fly vest, you probably have such imitations, and when the fish are not cooperating you have been known to use them. Lumbricus terrestris is an earthworm. Of course there are more popular variations which include Paleacrita vernata, otherwise known as the Inchworm, and perhaps the most famous of all to trout fishers, members of the phylum Annelida and the class Oligochaeta, the San Juan Worm.

For those of you relatively new to the fly fishing game, in days of old no self respecting fly fisherman would have considered using these imitations...we fished with FLIES! Nor would we have attached split shot to a leader. We would have used wire weighted nymphs, but the thought of using split shot was as unthinkable as adding tap water to a fine single malt Scotch.

Years ago I would cuss the guys catching all of the trout using little pink rubber worms with their spinning gear. Imagine the horrors!  Some were drifting these weighted worms to the dark depths of the stream with little bobbers firmly attached to their line! What they were doing was unfair, un-sporting and downright redneck to the core!

Sound familiar?

We’ve come a long ways, but we still have our biases. We use “strike indicators”...just a fancy name for bobbers, and the angler without a full assortment of split shot sizes is severely limited in the number of trout he will catch. In other words, “Trout Flies” have come to mean many things. Some are made of plastic; some are made of beads; some are made from anything the imaginative angler finds at the local crafts store. And we...unlike the trout...are all the better for it.