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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Better View...

My apologies for the previous images.  My local printer was having installed a new scanner that could handle the 22 inches of Chris' trout, and I guess before posting anything I should have waited for the final installation.  Anyway, I couldn't wait to get some images up as I completed them.  I know that Chris wanted to see them, but I guess I should have waited.  The above image is from the new scanner and it will show - especially if you click on it - the details I've written about in the previous posting.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Next Steps

OK...just about ready for color. NO, as I slap myself, it IS ready for color! At this point with every piece I could go on and on with the detail. If this were to remain a pen & ink drawing I would spend a few more hours – maybe days - getting everything just right, but since it will be colored I had better stop. After adding the color I can always go back with the pens to touch it up here and there.
Comparing these views to the previous ones you can see that I’ve added a couple of thousand more dots to it. My stippling technique is a little hard to explain. I’ll work on the piece in segments...going back and forth from one section to the other, all the time trying to keep everything in balance regarding density and strength. I’ll work a section with the .25 pen, keeping everything pretty consistent and orderly...meaning dot placement and strength, and then with the same pen I’ll get a little crazy. I call it “planned randomness.” I’ll grab the pen at an angle (as opposed to my first work with the pen pretty much upright) and go at it in a more haphazard and heavy handed manner. Angling the pen slightly will make the marks a little irregular, and I’ll place the marks when looking at the piece from my peripheral vision. At this stage I do not want to consciously place the marks with any sort of precision. I want them to be random. In the deeper or more shadowed areas I’ll then have a go with the .35 and .50 pens to give the drawing even more strength.
And finally I’ll go back with the finer pen to fill in any spots that need touching up. This last step is very precise. It’s amazing what one little dot in the right spot can do.
So now comes the color...the hardest part for me. Being colorblind doesn’t help...and having no training complicates things even further. There. My excuses are made. Time to break out the pencils.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beginning stages

OK...Here we go. As promised I am going to be posting some “in progress” images of Chris’ beautiful brown trout. You may recall that Chris was the winner of the drawing last month for the free Catch and Release artwork.Most of what follows may be pretty boring to those uninterested in how I do these illustrations, so my apologies. With the workload that I currently have, it may be a few weeks before there are any fishing reports or recollections seen here. I am still working on the fly illustrations for Beau Beasley’s upcoming book and I have to get started on his double truck painting also. That, and finishing up Chris’ brown is going to keep me pretty occupied in the studio.

What you see here today is the beginning stages of the artwork. I began by drawing the fishes outline and a few other details in pencil. I decided, with Chris’ OK, to do the illustration at actual size...22 inches from head to tail, and quite frankly, that is a challenge in itself. Most of my work is quite a bit smaller so takes up less space on my drawing table. The smaller pieces are easy to turn sideways and upside down as I work on various sections of the fish. That aint easy to do when working at this size.

Once I am satisfied with the general shape and size of the fish I begin work with the pens. Starting with .25 size tips I draw over the pencil work and then begin the stippling process. So what is stippling, you ask?  Anyone that has ever seen an edition of The Wall Street Journal has seen stippling in one of its forms. The Journal has long had a practice of avoiding photographs...instead they rely upon the work of Randy Glass.  All of the “portraits” you see in their paper are done by him.

His technique in these portraits is more akin to medical illustration. Very precise. My technique is a little different...for sure! So stippling is the application of dots of ink to show contour, depth and detail. Rather than drawing lines (such as cross-hatching) stippling uses tiny dots. It’s that simple.

So, at this point in the process I have spent four evenings working on the image, and there is a long ways to go.  So far the only thing finished in the shot below is the can of beer.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ancient River Smallies

Although I live very near the banks of the French Broad River, known for its excellent smallmouth, musky ...and in its upper reaches, trout fishing...until Saturday I had not wet a line in the lower sections of this ancient river. I say ancient because it truly is. Only the Nile and another North Carolina river, the New, predate it.

The section near my home is narrow, fast, deep and filled with snags so wading it would be suicidal. It’s very near the famous Musky Mile and if I can ever con a buddy with a boat into testing it, I’ll find out if those toothy monsters are in residence there. In the meantime...

Saturday’s smallmouth adventure was exploratory. I drove up north of Asheville to the area known as The Ledges. The French Broad meanders through our foothills passing mile upon mile of fertile farm land, meaning that even the briefest shower can turn it to chocolate milk in a hurry. Knowing that we hadn’t had any rain lately, and knowing that the water was low and clear I figured that it was the perfect time to try out the smallmouth fishing.

I rigged my 5 weight with a bright yellow Clouser and stepped from the bank into surprisingly warm water that was very different from the more familiar Ozark smallmouth streams. The shoals, the mini-rapids and eddies reminded me a lot of the Flint River down in Georgia, but on a much larger scale.

I love the way a Clouser negotiates pocket water. Dipping and diving, darting and dashing from one current to the next...and to my good fortune, two smallies thought the same thing. Both were about a foot in length and in the fast water they put a good bend in the TFO.

As I’ve mentioned before, rock hoping and deep wading in fast water is best left to the young, so as I feared before arriving, my fishing options were quite limited. I watched a couple of agile spin fishermen further out in the river as they negotiated the shoals with ease, and if I was not alone I might have tried some of their less adventurous techniques. Probably not.

I spent more time walking the trails along the stream looking for better access than I did in actual fishing. If I can ever break the habit of wondering what’s around the next bend, and just stay where I am and FISH... I’ll probably catch a lot more. But old habits are hard to break, and besides, I just know that the next hole will be better.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Marshall Fry

There was a time when catching a lot of fish was important to me. A long ago day on Roaring River comes to mind. Roaring River was one of the Folger boy’s training grounds...close to home and the fish would usually bite... obviously, very important to budding young fly fishers. And if not biting, there were usually some girls around, bored to death, having been drug on yet another camping trip by their dorky dads.

I had challenged my dorky dad to a contest. We’d start at one of the lower holes and fish our way up to the lodge and see who could land the most trout. A small crowd of tourists (there were always tourists around getting in the way of our back-casts) followed us, and as I recall we each caught and released thirty-some trout. Yes, we were showing off. I can’t remember who won, but it was one of those magical days when the fish were especially active and my hook-set timing was perfect. We caught and released a lot of fish. On other days the fish weren’t so lucky.

Back then my brothers and I were under a lot of pressure to bring home the bacon. There was always a good crowd at camp and we were the designated providers for many campfire dinners – meaning we each had to lug a stringer from pool to pool. As no wading was allowed, we would secure our stringers to rocks along the river’s edge, fish the pool, move on, catch one three pools later and spend the next fifteen minutes backtracking to find our stringer among the dozens of others along the stream.  Five a day was the limit, so every day we’d each string four and keep fishing and releasing until we had a worthy specimen to fill out our quotas...always under the watchful eye of Marshall Fry.

Marshall Fry was the Game Warden. A wiry little bespectacled guy with binoculars, he was always in uniform and always on DEFCON 1 alert. Lucky for us, his investigative skills and sleuthing techniques were patterned after Barney Fife, so spotting him on the stream was rarely a problem. Fry’s duty in life was to enforce the catch limit and especially the “artificials only” rules of the stream.

Uncle George didn’t like him at all. Arguably one of the best fly-fisherman of his day, my uncle was always on the Marshall’s radar. Uncle George was old school in every way. If he was going to go fishing, he was going to bring home fish. Lots of fish. It was a source of pride, but before you condemn him, remember that this was back in the 50’s and early 60’s...long before catch and release became the norm and we were on a put-and-take stream.

My favorite uncle was an enigma. As the long-time Superintendent of Schools for a major Missouri school system, he was one of his cities more upstanding citizens...but there was a rebellious streak inside. Among his so called faults, he refused to put a nametag on his stringer and one day he got busted for it. The ever vigilant Marshall Fry arrested him on the spot and hauled him off to court in Cassville.

They met the magistrate and a fine was assessed. Always the gentleman, Uncle George agreed that it was a fair amount and that he would pay it...but only after he and the Marshall returned to the river and arrested each and every other criminal that was brazen enough to use a stringer sans nametag. Marshall Fry was furious. He knew that at least a fourth of the stringers would be without tags, and he knew that Uncle George had him. The charges were dropped and the trout dinner was especially good that night. But we knew that our nemesis would pull out every trick to get even.

We heard that he was offering bribes to other angles to rat out my brothers and I. He suspected that we were stringing four, returning to camp to unload them, then returning to fish for another four, then another four, etc.  At least that was his theory. Now, if we had been night fishing in the off-limits spring lake for the retired brood stock I would have understood his obsession...but we never had the nerve to do that.

On another occasion, one of our neighbors that had had about enough of the Marshall’s constant presence around the stream cooked up a plan to mess with him. Frank found an empty coffee can, filled it with dirt and then added a handful of worms to the mix. All that was needed was to be sure that our nemesis could see Frank’s plan unfold. Now, one of the Marshall’s favorite observation hideouts gave him a good view of the lower pools, and sure enough that’s where he was...surveying the fishermen with his binoculars. Frank sauntered to the selected pool, set the can down, rigged up his rod and reached into the can being careful to sling some of the dirt out as he dug for that perfect worm, all within view of the Marshall. With the worm secured to the hook, Frank slung it to the far bank, sat down and began a slow retrieve across the pool.

About the time the bait reached the middle of the pool a siren was heard. Looking towards the hideout, Frank saw the dust and gravel fly as Fry headed towards the stream. Coming to a stop behind our blatant law-breaker, he shut the siren down and exited the car in his normal self important fashion. Straightening his tie and hitching up his trousers, the little banty rooster pulled out his ticket book and walked towards Frank.

Nonchalantly reeling in his bait, Frank acted shocked that he was doing anything illegal. “All I’m doing sir is fishin’ with worms!” Well, Marshall Fry demanded to see Frank’s license...all in order. Then he picked up the worm can with a self-righteous grin on his face, certain that he had busted another of the more flagrant miscreants on his hallowed waters, plunged his hand into the mix and pulled out a fine example of the injection molder’s art. Yep, Frank had filled the can with plastic worms. Digging deeper into the can he found nothing but plastic. Marshall Fry lost it. Slinging the can down he retreated to his car and just sat there steaming. Stifling laughter, Frank continued fishing ‘til he finally drove away.

There are other stories to be told of our days with the good Marshall, but just know that he led a very frustrated existence for a few years there. But he gave my brothers and I a gift. That gift was the motivation to lift our eyes from the water now and be take in our surroundings and be aware.

With the passage of time it’s doubtful that Marshall Fry is still with us. Perhaps I’ll see him again someday hiding in the trees along that great trout stream in the sky. If so, he’ll be wasting his time (as usual) ‘cause that particular stream is bound to be free of all earthly rules and regulations.