Tag Archives: fishing

FLY FISHING IN HOLLAND, Installment 3, Thesis

[10]

I once fished a brackish water lake in Holland near the Port of Rotterdam for rainbows. Bought a train ticket & boarded at Den Haag Centrum at 6:21 for a twenty-two minute ride to Rotterdam, catching a subway at Rotterdam Centrum bound for Spijkenisse to meet Harry, who would drive to Oostvoornse Meer & show me how to fish the lake.

Meer is Dutch for lake.

I traveled with my waders, boots, vest, rod case & wore my Stetson.

The train & subway rides were like this:
Buildings in their geometric slumber.
Steel wheels switching track, screaming & switching again.
Gray-violet sky & street lights over efficient cars parked in impossible spaces.
Graffiti. O the heavenly, decadent graffiti.
Tiny seasonal shacks & greenhouses splitting a canal with a factory, both
sending blooms skyward.
Bridges & irrigation canals & bridges & graffiti & clean architectural lines & a
low skyline & two white geese & poplar windbreaks & crazy single lane streets &
high voltage power line towers.
Light in the clouds like the blood of God.

[11]

Standing in saltwater that big, playing the odds with a bet that’s the size of a gorged mosquito, I felt pointless & foreign.

Beyond the dunes lay a highway, beyond that rail-cars carried armored personnel carriers to be shipped out of the port; ships moored on the horizon, stoic iron architecture below the labor of cranes & smoke stacks.
This lake is protected, the fish introduced.
I dipped my hand & tasted the water.
Here they are trying to find ways to include nature within the crowd.
Harry showed me a tern’s nest in the cattails, full of eggs–explained how the lake would be completely freshwater in thirty years due to springs throughout the shallows.
Warm air blew in from the east & emptied me.

The fish were immense & beautiful. We hooked them on size 16 green nymphs & hawthorn fly imitations.

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BY THE LAKE, Installment 2, Thesis

[51]

Deep evening.
I light my pipe & pull up a chair by the lake.
Geese are arriving, one pair at a time, sometimes two.
Their song in flight echoes as they pass
on my side of the island. It is different
than the song that signals their circling,
different still than their song as they finally descend.

Into the water they careen feet first, wings wide as spring,
breasting the water & pollen film, a cacophony
of clucks & growls & sharp honks,
haggling with geese that have already settled in the water.

To sit close enough at waters’ edge is to hear
their pinion feathers rattle like playing cards in spokes,
& with ample light, to see muscles working at their shoulders & breast,
to see the outstretched tongue of the loud lead bird as he wails,
to see each white belly feather as they arc around a bend,
to see water spatter ahead of their webbed feet on the still surface.

After a time they float, still & silent as decoys,
as the few remaining pairs arrive. Some land directly
on the island. Others sing & circle & sing & splash down.

8:45 & like clockwork they have all made their way to nests
in the shadow that is the island, have had one last blaze of voices
& assured that all are accounted for, have gone silent
or murmur beneath my hearing.
A bullfrog sounds.

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TOUGH TO SHAKE

There are few things in my life that I regret. That’s not to say there aren’t choices I’ve made that I would probably not make again if given the chance. I just find regret to be generally defeating, and thus try to avoid it.

But there is one regret I can’t shake.

I pretty much abandoned my love for fishing from 1990 to 2000…and hunting till 2004. When I say abandoned, I mean I completely. Poof. Gone. I lost touch with one of the most important elements of who I am – my love of the outdoors and being out in it. And the worst part? During those years I lived in places like Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Germany and England. Crap.

I went into the Army right out of high school. Once I got my feet under me, I realized a level of freedom most 18 year olds probably shouldn’t. Needless to say, beer, partying all night, fights and not giving too much of a damn about anyone but myself pretty much took over. I think back to Germany. I remember one afternoon that my buddies and I had been at a beer fest in the small town we were stationed in. Wandering our singing, loud, drunk-American way back to the barracks, I noticed we were crossing a bridge, so I stopped, leaned over the stone wall and got a look at the river flowing below. The water was captivating. Gin clear with a gold-brown pebbled bottom. And there were fish holding in the current. Browns, just downstream from the shadow of the bridge. Effortless and almost perfectly still. Their thin shadows the only thing belying their camouflage. I’m not sure what I was thinking at that moment, but I can tell you that it never crossed my mind to have my parents send my fishing gear across the big pond. Never crossed my mind that I should be finding an entry point to wade in and cast. Never crossed my mind that these fish are the original strain that spawned the population of Browns my dad and I fished for in our Upstate NY lakes and streams. I exhaled and let my chest settle into the wall. I was content to stay, beer-and-summer-sun-buzzed, till the day I died. Then one of my buddies poured the rest of his beer off the bridge. The fish spooked. We moved on.

By the time I moved back home and started college, my priorities were a little better. A little. Beer and partying, yes. But I traded late nights and fights for lacrosse, classes and a girlfriend. I was a Conservation major to start, and the outdoors was making a bit of a comeback in my life. I took classes in wildlife biology, North American fisheries, woodlot management…I even had a class dedicated entirely to the Whitetail deer – an animal that I chased with my dad since I was 14 and could draw a bow. I went with a half dozen classmates on a three-day trip to the Adirondaks. We used two-man saws and axes and cleared 16 miles of marked trails of trees downed by the ice storm of 1991. But the comeback fell short in spite of all these outdoor influences. My time and attention stayed focused on partying and lacrosse, classes and girlfriend. Even after my she and I split, I had finished my degree and drove my truck to Texas State University in San Marcos to finish my undergrad degree, my tackle box, poles, and hunting gear were left to keep making nice with dust and cobwebs in my parent’s garage. Yes, I know. Texas…for Pete’s sake.

My then girlfriend, now wife, and I were married in 2000. We moved to Manassas, Virginia the day after our wedding for my grad school. We lived in a farm house in the sticks for six months before we found an in-law apartment in the downstairs of a house on a private lake in Falls Church. It was January. One newlywed couple + one primo apartment on a lake. We were pregnant with our first within hours after moving in (conservative estimate). When Spring broke a couple months later, I found a fishing pole and old tackle box while poking around in the shed, walked to the water and cast an old jitterbug toward some lilly pads down the shore. Two cast later the line had a birds-nest tangle that swallowed the entire reel and I had to quit…but the fishing fog had started to lift. It wasn’t until my parents had come down for a visit, and my dad and went to an L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School to spend some time together and learn how to fly fish, that the fog left the water completely.

I felt like I had just woke up from a long nap…the kind of nap that leaves you feeling worse than you felt before you closed your eyes. I learned more in the next six months about fishing than I had learned in the previous 30+ years. Suddenly, there wasn’t a body of water that I didn’t look at without thinking I bet there’s fish in there, or look at those blow-downs, or I could get a fly under that ledge. The world was one big fishing season. Fishing even found its way into my Masters thesis. And while I didn’t get back into hunting until we moved back home, the time I spent on the water had me more than ready to get back into the woods when that time came.

Maybe regret, in the end, isn’t what I should feel about missing all that time and opportunity during those years. If things had been different, I wouldn’t have the perspective I have now. Besides, there’s one hell of a lot of water on this planet I haven’t covered yet to lament the small amount I’ve missed. Maybe it’s OK to shake this one.

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TIME ON THE WATER

mornings like this
remind me that there is more

the world goes on and on
forever around the next bend

the next draw or downed tree
it’s own universe alive and unsolved

there is no possibility like this
to stand for a moment or longer

cast after cast an admission
how small a space my breath occupies

the sun follows its own arc behind the clouds
deliberate as my line now taut in the current

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HOOKY

I love to fish. Early mornings. Late afternoon to dusk. Lake, stream, pond, puddle…I fish for whatever’s swimming. And there are days when I’m just as excited to catch sunfish on a micro-popper with my 3-weight fly rod as I am to set the hook on a smallmouth with a 6″ Texas-rigged rubber worm. Summer is my primary season to fish, since hunting for deer and geese has my Falls spoken for. But the truth is, if I can get out and fish, even once during the “off” season (using that term very loosely), it’s a great bonus.

There were times in my life that I’d have the luxury of spending entire days on the water. But, just like the shape of some streams change under the influence of current and time, my fishing opportunities too have changed. Kids, work, coaching, volunteer boards…no one season is long enough anymore, let alone a weekend or even a day. I am fortunate that my kids are getting to the age though where we can go fishing together rather than me taking them fishing – parents with kids that fish understand the huge distinction in that. But as for “me time” on the water – where I’m able to be as aggressive or slow as I’d like without having to maintain that extra level of kid-vigilance – my love for fishing, a certain personality trait I like to call “ingenuity” and a bit of good-luck has helped maintain a fruitful compromise.

The last two days I’ve been able to close my laptop at noon, announce that I’m heading out for a bit and then sneak off and play hooky from work for about an hour. I now have a co-worker-turned-fishing-partner as an accomplice who joins me too. It’s nice to have the comaraderie. We fore-go lunch. Eating is over-rated when you have a tremendous trout and fall salmon fishery not five minutes (or two miles as the crow flies) from work.

I say tremendous, not because it’s a blue-ribbon stream or because it winds it’s way through wild sweeping vistas – but rather, in spite of the sprawl of suburbia not fifty yards away, it might as well be fifty miles. I’m able to lose myself in the sound of the water, the reflection of the mid-day light on it’s roiling and determined surface. The gentle flight of my fly line finding it’s way silently above the flow. Heron, muskrat, squirrels, blue jays and cardinals busy with their day-to-day. Trees standing stark above the tangle of underbrush along the bank, waiting for winter. Waiting for the possibility of that electric shock when a trout picks my fly unceremoniously from some downward current off the near side of a boulder across and slightly downstream from where I’m standing.

For that brief time, that short respite from my desk and every other thing pulling me in every other direction, I get to breathe deep. I get to be a kid fishing away my summers. I get to recapture perspective and appreciation for what I’ve got. I get to be gone, gone, gone – even if it’s only two miles as the crow flies.

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ELEMENTS

4:45 a.m. last Saturday.

I rolled out of bed to turn off the alarm and got dressed in the dark. Long underwear, jeans, sweatshirt, heavy socks. With a half-brewed pot of coffee nearby, grumbling its way to being fully-brewed, I sat at the kitchen counter and rubbed my face and eyes with my hands listening to the wind outside. Rain in the forecast. Gusts from 16 to 25 mph out of the southwest. It was going to be a bitch sitting in the tree-stand this morning. I did one last inventory of my gear, filled my thermos and shut the lights off.

I’ve only become comfortable in the last few years walking in to my stand in the dark. I used to focus so much on every footstep, every shadow, every sound that I’d find myself frozen at times…caught in a stare, worrying about spooking an animal that really wasn’t there. Now I find it almost meditative. Beginning my walk in complete darkness, welcoming the awareness of the field beneath my boots, the smell of fall on the wind, the way my eyes adjust and knit together the silhouettes of trees against the skyline. My sense of direction operates unconsciously, and I find my stand most times without having disturbed the natural order that slumbers around me. The weather the way it is this morning though, I could’ve been dropped off at my tree by a helicopter and gone un-noticed. By 6:15 a.m. shooting light was still a good half-hour/forty minutes away. The rain began to pick-up.

Using my jacket to block the wind, I lit my pipe, then poured some coffee into the cap of my thermos. By 7:00, weak daylight filled-in the bramble thickets, sumac, black walnut and waist-high grass that cover the three acres in front of me. The pop of each rain-drop was loud with my hood up. My tree swayed with each gust. I decided to get down and find a worthwhile ground-blind.

It’s interesting. I enjoy long, foul-weather days, as long as I’m out in it to hunt or fish.  There’s clout and respect that come with being able to rise above the elements and normal measure of patience and take a nice buck or land a hard-fought fish. Earning the right to tell that story takes a level of due diligence that fair-weather sportsmen simply can’t claim. By the same token, I could see no deer or catch no fish and still have a worthwhile story for having spent so many hours in crappy weather, voluntarily.

I took my time moving to a tangle of a couple old downed trees. Comfortable with visibility and cover, the wind proved frustrating though and I figured my morning’s story would fall into the category of having seen nothing, but yea, I was out in that crappy weather. I looked up and froze.

A raccoon had just crawled out of a thick tangle of underbrush not five paces from where I stood. A fair estimate would put him at 40 pounds, and my first thought was are raccoon in season? I decided to just watch him as he stood still, nose up, testing the wind for smells that would suggest he do an about-face. He began rambling slowly over the wheat grass toward me. Right toward me. I did an inventory of how many layers I had on my legs…heavy socks, long underwear, jeans, camouflaged hunting pants, boots. I’d definitely be able to dispatch him before he got through all that. I held still.

He walked up to my feet. I looked straight down at him. He sniffed at both of my boots, turned and rambled back into the underbrush he had crawled out of. No hurry. No fear. I was just another odd smelling downed tree in the universe of his daily trek to wherever. I gave the deer another thirty minutes to show themselves, but my heart was full enough with such a cool encounter that I didn’t care if I didn’t see anything else all morning, or if the weather was crappy.

I had a great story.

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Aleida

I just spent this past Sunday with my 7 year old daughter at a lacrosse tournament. She was playing with the 3rd and 4th grade girls team, invited because their numbers were thin and she’s tall (and quite coordinated) for her age – and I was asked to help coach. I worried a little that the age/skill difference (and the fact that she had never played a real game before) might make her shy/pensive/un-assertive. Quite the contrary. She had a ball, and I found myself uncharacteristically silent several times throughout the day, just watching her run, laugh, scowl and chase the fast-break, take a breather on the side-line with her goggles on her forehead and a Gatorade in hand. At those specific moments, had I tried to offer some sort of instruction or encouragement, I’m sure my voice would’ve cracked (that’s a no-no, by the way. No emotional stuff, dad.). I did holler though when she scored a goal, her first, and my voice cracked like puberty had made a comeback.

The last couple days I’ve been thinking about how far she’s come from the pudgy bundle we brought home that cool Virginia November almost 8 years ago. Throw in any number of Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Augustana, Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake tunes that happen to be playing on my iTunes and voila! I’m suddenly up to my eye-balls in nostalgia. We had Aleida while I was in grad school at George Mason for poetry. A good deal of my writing was about my every-day…trying to make connections between my past and my present. Having our first child made for a pretty deep pool of “writing matter.” Here’s a section from my master’s thesis (a book-length poem about fatherhood, fishing and the landscape(s) of America) that I just re-discovered, in which I talk about Aleida:

[34]

Most pools have been filled in with concrete to keep
kids from swimming. Suckers run in fractional numbers.
Land around the cemetery has been cleared. Wooded places,
have been cleared that used to feel as if, in being there,
your steps were the first. Dogs are not allowed.
Plots are allowed only two arrangements per—
tasteful, modest arrangements.

Dad took my daughter to look for suckers this spring.
In a small piece of slack-water above the fourth bridge
they found three fat lakers holding in the shade.
He lifted one toward my daughter, her eyes wide
& then wider, the fish working its mouth, waving its tail
back & forth. Not sure what to make of this creature,
she screamed when she touched it, laughed her child-laugh,
wiped her hands on her pants as dad returned the fish to the water.

Yep, connections between my past and my present. Fatherhood, much like fishing or poetry I’m realizing, is about paying attention to the small things…before those small things grow up and head into the current of their own life.

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