Tag Archives: fathers and sons

THERE’S ALWAYS TIME FOR ONE MORE

The plan was to paddle our kayaks into the West River for bass. Jason and I made the same trip last year and have fished a handful of times in the past, including our practically-epic smelt trip. The last time Dave and I had fished together though, we were 10 or 12 years old. We had ridden our 10-speeds to Holiday Harbor and traipsed the muddy trail through some woods to fish for bass from a shale beach-point on the north end of Canandaigua Lake.

Dave and I were cousins by friendship. Our moms were simultaneously-pregnant kindred-spirits. Dave’s older brother Phil and I were actually the ones born in consecutive summer months, but we all grew up together. Some 26 years after our last time on the water, here we’re both married with kids and homes and jobs and other grown-up obligations, fishing the opposite end of the same lake from kayaks instead of shore, and still chasing the same quarry. It’s crazy how much life goes on in almost three decades, but how little things actually change.

By mid-summer this end of the lake is thick with lilly-pads and milfoil making it difficult to fish, even more so out of a kayak with a fly rod. This year however, a record rain-filled spring had awarded us with a couple extra feet of water which held the weeds to much smaller surface-clogging amounts.

Manageable weeds. Blue sky. Early-evening 70-degree temps. A few cold beers stashed behind the kayak seat for later. We shoved off to meet our piscine destiny.

Under the watchful eye of an American Bald Eagle, one of a few nesting pairs in the area, we paddled from the lake into the river–Jason and Dave with spinning rigs and me with my trusty 5 wt. It took us about half an hour to figure out what was getting the fish to look up. We traded bright top-water patterns for dark and the water instantly turned electric…well, for Dave and I anyhow. Every cast, every pop-strip and retrieve had the hair on the back of my neck standing like a jumpy kid watching the first Friday the 13th, waiting for Jason Voorhees to jump out of the water with a machete.

The Jason who was out with us, however, was a little slow out of the gate. So, he headed for another good-looking stretch of water back around a bend and promptly started sending texts with pictures of his catches.

“Should we head over that way?” Dave asked.
“Let’s get one more cast in here, they’re all over us.” I replied.

So Dave cast again and immediately hooked up. I elected to save my cast and get his battle on video. After a successful release and about a dozen more casts each, we paddled off to locate Jason.

Later, over a few dozen wings from Wally’s and the requisite beers to wash them down, Dave and I got talking about his dad, or Uncle Phil as I always knew him. He had passed away a bunch of years back now, and we reminisced about the funny stuff that stuck with us about him. I didn’t say it then, but I miss Uncle Phil. And I know his boys do too. Our laughs wound down to a short silence, then Dave said, “You know, one thing he always use to say is I‘ve always got time for one more.
“Always,” I said. “That’s how you got that last nice fish. One more cast.”
“Yea, that was a good call, bro.”

The bartender stopped in front of us, nodding at our chicken-wing-boneyard and empty beer mugs, “You want another one?”

Without missing a beat, Dave smiled, “Always got time for one more.”

Music credit: Etta Baker with Taj Mahal (Poem & Cripple Creek)

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

THREE DAYS & THIRTY NINE YEARS

This past Memorial Day weekend, I spent a few days camping in the Adirondacks with some new friends and fishing for native brook trout. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was not nearly as bright as our anticipation of catching a good-old-fashioned mess of of brookies on dry flies. Instead, we caught the brunt of three massive thunder and lightning storms that filled the fire-pit and kept us corralled under a very big and well-placed tarp. 3-plus inches would be a conservative estimate on total rainfall, which translated into 2-plus feet on the main river and trib stream we planned on fishing.

The third day, Alex (author of the blog 40 Rivers to Freedom), his son Cole and I elected to stay above the fray and explore a small spill-pool stream, which we followed from the river up into the fern, pine and boulder covered mountainside. As with any time spent in the giant solitude of the mountains, the mind tends to clear a bit. I let go of the responsibilities waiting for me at home and the ever-present weight of a schedule. I took in the heavy pine smell of the wet woods, the humidity of the (yet again) impending rain, the dull snap of branches between my wading boots and the peat, the repetitive mantra of the water on its downhill path. I got to thinking about fishing as a kid and realized that there’s only been a handful of times in my life that I’ve actually caught brook trout. Even fewer that I’ve headed to water with the intent to fish for them specifically.

My first introduction to a brookie was brokered by a small Mepps Black Fury spinner–a black blade with a couple yellow spots, a short brass-and-orange-bead body and a black/yellow tail with a single piece of red yarn extending from it. I was 8 and it was my birthday and not five minutes earlier I had unwrapped my first real tackle box and real rod and and about two-dozen lures–including the Black Fury. We were staying with friends in their cabin in Wanekena, a tiny Adirondack hamlet near Cranberry Lake. The Oswegatchie River flowed by the cabin, tea-colored and deep and slick with braids of current flexing and twisting around giant boulders and their forever weight.

I made my way out onto a low boulder anchored to the shore, locked my lure into the swivel tied at the end of the line, pinched the line behind my trigger finger, flipped open the bale on my reel and pitched the spinner into an eddy just across and upstream from me. I barely had time to close the bale before my line went tight against my first Adirondack titan. All 6 or 8 inches of it. That fish was breathtaking, even to an 8-year-old.

23 years later I went on an actual brook trout fishing trip to the Rapidan River in the Shenandoah National Park. A friend and I fished the river from a pull off on Quaker Run Rd. upstream to the Rapidan Camp (or Hoover Camp) property line. Miles of plunge pools no more than 10 – 12 feet across retreated up into the foothill elevation toward the camp. Small chutes pouring between boulders. Blow-downs zig-zagged the stream every 15 yards, guarding pristine pocket water. Fish attacked every dry fly, wet fly and nymph that we cast. Pint-sized predators in black, orange, red and even a little teal. Bright, but not smart. We celebrated streamside with some jerky and a couple luke-warm beers while I enjoyed a pipe-full of slow-burning Virginia cavendish.

***

Back on that Adirondack stream, by around one o’clock Alex, Cole and I had fished our way over a quarter-mile up the mountain. Cole was a trooper for being only 10 years old and seemed to have the magic touch with the fish throughout the weekend, which is exactly as it should be. I on the other hand, had many bites and fish on-and-off, but landed my only fish just ten minutes prior to another thunder and lightning storm trouncing our valley. Electing to take photos all weekend instead of fish, Alex had said that he was happy to just help Cole learn more about fly fishing and enjoy his time as much as possible–that with all the fish (and big fish) he’s had the good fortune of catching, he might (might being the operative word) even be at a place in his life where he doesn’t have to feel compelled to fish just because he can. I understand exactly what he’s saying. I’m getting to that point with my own kids. And while he elected not to fish, and I simply did not catch fish, I felt the same zen-like satisfaction simply being out in it.

But I must admit that the euphoria I felt when I caught that perfect 6″ gem from a 5′ x 3′ spill-pool way up on that mountain was a mix of relief and child-like happiness and amazement. On one hand I didn’t get skunked. On the other hand, I could not get over the fact that something so perfect and giant (when you consider the scale of water vs. fish) exists in such a place, completely of its own accord.

That fish was breathtaking. Especially to this 39 year old.

 

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OF BLOOD AND BOWS

The family tree on my dad’s side is planted in Canada. Winnipeg specifically. But we’re only able to follow our blood back so far before the records and family get tight-lipped. See, my dad’s great grandfather took a Native American bride, and the marriage was considered a big no-no in their day. No one up that way will acknowledge or talk about it. So, I don’t know anything about my great-great grandmother other than she was full-blooded Blackfoot. I have no name, no pictures, no story other than what I can imagine about her and their life in the still-wild landscape of southern Manitoba…and a gut feeling that her spirit has made it down through the generations to me, and likely my kids. But that’s a story for a later date–I’ve got a lot more digging to do. Even so, I think our Blackfoot roots figure into the experience my dad and I had a couple weekends ago.

Saturday morning was cold and snowy. Grant Taylor was coming by the house with a collection of Black Widow custom recurves and longbows for me and my dad to try out. Grant had done a photo shoot for the folks at Black Widow and had been given the green light for us to give them some exercise. Since we were going to start the morning on a target upstairs in the barn, I plugged in a couple ceramic space heaters early, hoping to take the edge off the cold by the time we started. Grant arrived and, after some coffee and hunting conversation, we headed for the barn. The heaters did about as much good as a fart in a mitten. I think the barn might have been warmer if opened the hay door on the front.

Black Widow PMA

PMA Camo hunter

Grant strung seven or eight bows crafted from layers of exotic woods like Bocote, Honduras Rosewood, Tulipwood and Tiger Myrtle along with layers of red fiberglass and black phenolic. We put the shooting block in one corner and set up in the opposite corner, ten paces away. I was struck by the intricacies and beauty of the design and craftsmanship, their quiet strength and quickness, but it was the profound calm I experienced when I knocked and drew each arrow that made me feel as if I was uncovering some sort of truth in my soul.

Dad used to hunt with a recurve, but his last time in the woods with one was just before my mom was pregnant with me. Dad lost track of that bow when I was little, most-likely after a few years of hunting with his new compound. I, on the other hand, have never known a shot without cams, cables, sights, an arrow rest, and at least a 50% let-off when at full draw. I looked forward to shooting, but I was quietly glad to have the broad side of the barn as the backdrop.

Grant had given me a brief lesson about instinctive shooting–the art of hitting a point on a target using no sights or reference, relying only on one’s spatial capacity to judge distance, speed and trajectory. Grant instructed that I needed to pick a very small spot on the target, focus on it and trust my gut on when to release. He had learned in an instinctive shooting course taught by G. Fred Asbell out in Nixa, Missouri that this method uses the same part of the brain that tells you how hard and high to throw a ball to someone at different distances. With practice, finding that small spot on the target, whatever the distance, becomes second nature.

We each shot at least six arrows from the seven bows Grant had lined up. Another couple dozen from the two that felt and shot the best for each of us. In the entirety of my years flinging arrows into haybales, 3D targets and shooting blocks with my compound, I have never felt as confident or calm at full draw as I did during those 70+ shots I took. There’s an honesty and strength about it. A physical and spiritual connection. It’s trusting in something that I can’t control, but must pay serious attention to. Instinct, man. It’s crazy.

Now, I’m not sure whether flint spear/arrowheads can be given credit for the advent of bowhunting, or hunters finding themselves having to now chase down quicker/smarter/farther-ranging quarry in a post-mammoth world. Regardless, I’ve come to see that there is nothing more simple or brilliant in design and function than a recurve or longbow. They are utility in its purest form. The poetry of necessity.

Black Widow PLX

Dad, longbow and arrow in flight

Dad fell immediately in love with a longbow (the PLX, in Honduras Rosewood), smiling after every arrow found its way into a tight shot group. After shooting it myself, I couldn’t have agreed with his sentiment more. But, not wanting to limit myself, I also chose a handsome take-down recurve (the PMA, camo hunter). Even though there was only a pound and a half difference in weight (1.75# vs. 3.25#), it felt much more substantial. The recurve seemed to hold steadier for me…most-likely a product of having only ever shot a compound. That said, I could absolutely see myself holding steady with the longbow and more time shooting…and eventually taking that prowess from the target to the woods. In the meantime, we took them out to the backyard and a 3D target so Grant could get some shots of them (and us) in action.

Black Widow PLX with beavertail grip

Longbow with beavertail grip

take-down PMA recurve, camo hunter

Camo Hunter, taken-down

Standing outside, snow falling, geese honking in flight north from the lake to corn stubble. Ten paces from a 3D target looked twice that with all that open space behind it. Even so, I felt more in tune with that distance. As if shooting these bows, learning to trust my instincts, helped me get a little closer to our family’s story.

On my way

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Filed under In the woods

SHOOT, SHOOTING, SHOTS

I had the rare opportunity to spend a day shooting custom-made exotic-wood Black Widow recurves and longbows this past Saturday with my dad and Grant Taylor. Grant was enlisted to do some higher-end product photography for BW and was sent almost 10-grand worth of these amazing bows to work with (and shoot while he was at it).

This was only my second time shooting traditional. Ever. The first being two weeks earlier. I will hunt big game with one of these at some point. It was that solid of an experience. I’ll figure out the whole how-to-afford-it thing later…

While I work on the story, I thought I’d share some of Grant’s shots of our… shoot.

Focusing on a very small spot

Dad and longbow

Beaver tail grip on the longbow

Grant taking aim with a recurve

My favorite...the Camo Hunter

Arrow in flight

My last group. I'm beyond sold...

I just really dig this shot of dad and I

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Filed under In the woods

LATE GOOSE, DAY 2

There’s a measure of insanity, I suppose, in the psychology of the late season goose hunter. The first couple days of ridiculous wind and nose-numbing temps are warmed with the honks, circling and set wings of naïve birds. By day 3, the masses have been shot at enough that they now fly twice as high and scrutinize each decoy spread as thoroughly as Gert Boyle does a Columbia jacket.

Hopeful

But the chance of knocking down a few more, even when the going gets down-right silly, is simply too much to resist. And so we press on into the corn and winter wheat.

Still hopeful

It’s a disease called just 5 more minutes. You may have heard of it. Every hunter and fisherman worth their salt wrestles with it. You are absolutely certain that the next bite, the big buck, or the willing flock of geese are moments away. Just 5 more minutes turns into a half-hour, a couple hours, an royally angry spouse…

As for my dad and I (Cam stating “I’d like to go, but I’m warm right now”), the birds didn’t start flying in any numbers till close to noon…a full 4 hours after we first placed our decoys. When they did, the neighboring field was where they looked, circled and left. Small consolation that the birds didn’t like the spread that the six hunters had over there either. Of course, having exhausted almost two hours of just 5 more minutes, as we were packing up, seven or eight groups passed low overhead and we watched a decent flock gave in to better judgment and careened into the corn stubble of that adjacent field. Bang, bang, bang…

They'll be here any minute

Well, Day 2 saw no birds in the truck and will probably be my last time out this year. Which is OK. Even the most die-hard outdoorsman needs a break.

Besides, I hear the Lake Ontario tribs are still open, and full of steelhead.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods