Tag Archives: Outdoor Blogger Network

DEAR ALASKA

(fp note: since this piece was published as my submission to the TU Blogger Tour competition, I was selected by a panel of magazine editors, writers and other industry folks as one of the two writers that will fly to the Tongass this July and experience it firsthand.)

Dear Alaska—

I’m writing to you because I’m at a crossroads…and quite honestly, it’s about damn time we met.

You intrigue me, Alaska. You have for a long time. As a kid you were stories of sled dogs and Native people, hunting and fishing and smoked meat, caribou and salmon and grizzlies, rivers and mountains and daylight at night. You were adventure and frontier mythology. Life and existence and culture as pure and honest and close to the bone as the tendons and muscles under my own skin. I loved you for that—all of it—and held hope that there would come a time when I was able to place my feet on your soil and add my own weight to the heartbeat of your landscape and story.

Today as I write this, I read about the struggle you bear, as I’ve read for years now, and my hope to see you is even more intense. There is no way to feign awareness. Your story echoes from dirt road to marble hall. The burden of special interest and ruthless speculation carried on the backs of your precious and pristine resources, and my hope to join you is even more intense. You rise immense and proud and rugged and brawling, while the shortsighted reach into your heart and take and take and take shovelfuls in their never-full gluttony, and my hope to protect you is even more intense. Your people stand together. Your cultures stand together. Your mountains and rivers and forests and wildlife fight on, only knowing existence and survival in a smaller and smaller universe. And my hope to stand and fight with you is even more intense.

I read about the Tongass and her 17 million acres of spruce and hemlock and cedar and thousands of miles of pristine rivers and streams and breathtaking runs of salmon and trout. Your gem. A gracious open hand, sustaining her people and the world that extends from her feet. I’ve huddled and discussed over beers with others who have witnessed her beauty first-hand—like Beat poets wrestling with the philosophy of words and immortality—the immense value of her resources and her conservation. The importance of the Tongass 77 and The Last Salmon Forest and Southeast Alaska raising their voice in one unified and vital cultural song. I’m thankful that history has given us the wisdom to protect what we have in her instead of waking to suddenly find that we need to claw and fight to restore a fraction of what we’ve lost.

Alaska, I am at a point in my life where fighting for what’s important is not simply a good idea, it’s a necessity. Surveying the landscape of the next 40 years of my life, I have finally made that decision. My kids are old enough now that they have their own dreams and understanding of who you are. They talk about your landscape and your wildlife. They talk about going there to fly fish and explore with me, and my heart soars. They’re learning—and value you—because you are in our everyday conversations about the importance of respect and passion and care for the natural world we’re blessed to occupy. I think about the idealistic perspective I held at their age. At the end of the day, I know that my actions will speak louder and influence them more than any amount of talking I do. That is the point I guess, isn’t it. Our actions do matter.

It’s time we met, Alaska. I hope to see you soon.

Respectfully—
Matt Smythe

 

This is my submission to the Trout Unlimited 2013 Blogger Tour, sponsored by FishpondTenkara USA and RIO, and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

Advertisements

26 Comments

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water

FILM PROJECT: A DELIBERATE LIFE

We’re going back to Idaho.

By “we” I mean Grant Taylor and me, plus a few others. To say that last year’s trip was a profound experience for us would be a bit of an understatement. The 10 days we spent fly fishing across the southern half of the state (you can read all about them starting here) marked a significant shift in each of our lives, having both just started out on new career paths.

Idaho, and the people that shared their time, stories and home waters with us, helped us see that our lives and this world are larger and more far-reaching than the routines we had become too comfortable with. In the end, we found that we all share essentially the same story – of taking risk and following our passions. Living life deliberately.

So, with special thanks to our gracious hosts – Rebecca Garlock (Outdooress and Outdoor Blogger Network), Colby Hackbarth (Kast Extreme Fishing Gear) and Ross Slayton – we’re going back the first week in September and we’re shooting a film to capture those stories. And fish, of course.

Special thanks also to Matt White and Dustin Lutt – our other two partners in shooting the film.

I’m proud to present the initial statement of intent for the project – A Deliberate Life:

33 Comments

Filed under The road

THE IDAHO TRIP: RIVER X

Looking out the window at 30,000 feet over the canyons and low-slung foothills of southwest Idaho, my brain still hadn’t registered the magnitude of the trip. As a matter of fact, that fog wouldn’t lift until my line came tight against my first fish the following day. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to scribble notes in my journal between touch-down and hook-up for reference.

Before any waders and boots were pulled on, before any rods were pieced together and strung, or flies selected, Grant Taylor and I met some new friends and soon-to-be guides for dinner–Jason Lindstrom from Flytooth and his wife Vicki, and Rebecca Garlock (of Outdooress and Outdoor Blogger Network fame) and her husband Robert. Pleasantries lasted about a second and a half before the table was thick as thieves and plotting the first four days of fishing over some seriously tasty Basque cuisine.

Day 1 started at 7:00 with Robert and Rebecca picking us up at the hotel for an hour-or-so drive through the valley to River X. There are many reasons that folks like to keep certain gem-waters like River X nameless. Some like the clandestine-ness that comes with a small group who know the real name of the nameless water. Some don’t want their fishery to become a popularized and pillaged destination, even if it is already well known. Some simply don’t want any more Californians showing up on their shores. As for me, I’m keeping it nameless out of deference to the friends who were generous enough to take us there…and to establish my reputation as a fisherman that can keep a secret.

We made our way through the increasingly arid landscape. Fields of wheat, alfalfa, grapes, onions and potato slid by, interrupted by stretches of sagebrush, wild sunflowers and hill-sides of cottonwood groves. Eventually the road lost its shoulder as we sped deeper into the canyon–chalk, sandstone and volcanic rock cliffs cutting perfect lines in the cloudless blue sky above; chukkar, grouse and desert quail skirting the road and roadside rocks; the river winding its way along side us, keeping pace with the truck.

The 56-degree morning was already in the mid-80’s when we pulled off the road onto a field of white-washed riverbed stone and sand and parked next to the shade of some nameless, but tall line of scrub trees. The landscape that extended from where we stood out to the canyon walls was stark, raw and beautiful. Behind us, the river flowed, heavily lined with thick willows and brush up to 10 feet tall. A tangle of greenery that can hold a disturbing surprise for the unsuspecting angler busting through to reach the water: ant piles. Thousands–possibly tens of thousands–of black and burgundy ants invisibly cruising every leaf and branch of the willows and brush along random sections of the river.

Rebecca and Robert warned Grant and I about this seemingly anomalous insect behavior, speaking from experience about a time when, having traipsed down a thin trail to the water, she came out on the other side crawling with them and had to take the plunge before they all decided to start biting. I’m itchy just typing this. We took heed of their warning and rigged up.

The river was in great shape for having weathered a ridiculous spring run-off from snowpack that reached 180% of normal amounts. While it was still running a little high and milky, I managed to find my wading feet again after an hour or so of drunken stumbling and actually got to some serious fishing.

We were drifting dry/dropper rigs that consisted of a #12 or #14 hopper or stone fly pattern and a #20 bead-head zebra midge in red. Within the first hour, Rebecca had landed a “dinky brown” as she put it, and hooked-up another around 20″ that I, without the benefit of a net, promptly fumbled while landing for her.

A half hour later I got myself into position between the bank and the head of a narrow eddy that pulled up behind an almost submerged boulder and between two strong seams. A hit on my second drift sent confirmation that I was doing something right. Two casts later my line went tight on what turned out to be a beautiful 21″ brown. The biggest fish I’ve caught on a fly rod and one of the biggest fish I’ve caught ever. Holding the fish for a short time, the midge almost imperceptibly buried in the corner of its mouth, suddenly Idaho dawned on me. I’m not afraid to admit I was caught somewhere between speechlessness and tears for the rest of the day. It was perfect.

Later that day, and not to be outdone, Grant landed his first brown ever on a fly rod. Another awesome 21″ fish. We had moved to a flat-water stretch about 1/4 mile upstream after Robert grilled a ridiculously tasty lunch of brats and filets wrapped in bacon, with some cold beverages on the side. From our road-side vantage point about 20-feet above the water we counted more than a dozen huge browns–toads–holding in lanes between submerged boulders, rising to porpoise tiny spinners from the surface.

Handing the camera to Rebecca, Grant rigged up and boogied for the head of the flat section and a pod of steady risers. Robert hoofed it even further up into some choppy water. I took a stealth approach down the loose rock bank to the tail. I was a total ninja right down to the water’s edge through a couple bushes and off a big boulder into the water. Then I noticed that my arms, in short-sleeves not 30-seconds ago, were completely black with ants, as were my waders, hat and fly rod. I took to flailing/brushing/dunking as much of me and my gear as I could till I was clear while Rebecca tried to hold down her laughter from above, managing an are you alright? All I could manage was holy shit, and then a quick prayer that none made their way into my waders. All the fish had vacated my vicinity. Minutes later Grant hooked up with his brown.

With the skunk now off the entire group (Robert had already landed a few before lunch), Rebecca proclaimed with a smile that her mission was accomplished, followed closely by now it’s game on. With that we made another move about a mile or so upstream to a section that, as Rebecca and Robert describe, comes alive with rises in the evening. We burned the remaining late-afternoon sitting in the shade, eating jerky and enjoying some laughs and more cold beverages.

As the west canyon wall started to spill its shadow across where we were sitting, we geared back up and followed a trail to a 300 yard stretch of fast, slick water. Rebecca, Grant and I spread out and waded toward the middle of the river, looking in vain for the rain of rises that was supposed to happen.

Robert had retired to a chair on the bank to take pictures and watch the action, or lack thereof. Grant hooked up and lost two, Rebecca caught a decent rainbow and had a very big fish throw itself like a rock on her hopper along the far bank, only to come unbuttoned half-way back to her. I caught a bite-sized rainbow and found a hole deep enough to add some water to my shorts.

As we reeled in our lines and made our way back to the truck, over a dozen mule deer feeding in the grassy area around where we parked, we all agreed that tomorrow was going to be stellar. Robert hustled down the canyon road in the dark, hell-bent for food. Jack-in-the-Box answered that call and probably undid everything good that years of cholesterol meds have done for me. I won’t lie, it was damn good. That night I was asleep even before thoughts of the day had time to take one more trip around my head.

7:00 the next morning Grant and I were waiting out front for Rebecca and round 2 on River X. As it turns out, Boise State had a #5 pre-season BCS ranking to protect against (unranked) Georgia that evening. In case you aren’t aware, every Boise resident is a Bronco fanatic under normal circumstances. But when their boys are playing on national TV, you best not get up for chips in front of people if you value your head. Needless to say, Rebecca gave us the choice of bagging it early to watch the game with her family at her parent’s house, or skip the game to fish through dark. In a show of amazing restraint and accidental intelligence, we elected to fish and then catch the game.

Rebecca started the morning with a nice brown, but before Grant made it to her to get a picture, a giant clump of weeds drifted downstream, engulfed the fish and summarily busted the line.

Further downstream, I was hard at work trying to figure out a single steadily feeding brown under an overhanging willow. I went for a big hopper. Then a #14 stimulator. Then smaller. Then changed colors. After a half hour and about fifteen more fly changes, I had to take a TV time-out (the effects of coffee) and waded to the bank. Wading back out to my spot I found what he was after, a tiny black-bodied spinner. Much smaller than my previously useless collection of #22’s. So I tied one on anyhow and proceeded to cast for another 15 minutes before I laid one where he wanted it. The fish rose, sipped and fell with the fly. The line came tight and it took the fish a few seconds before he figured out something wasn’t right. Rebecca came down to help me land the fish, but every time I got him close, he’d surge back into the current. Finally she got her hands under him and started to lift and the fly let loose. We gave him 23″, unofficially.

Later and further upstream, Rebecca hooked and lost two good fish. She would’ve written them off as simply unfortunate misses, but something didn’t sit right with her. Upon closer inspection of the dropper-midge she’d been casting, she found that it was missing its point. A pointless fly. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Not far up from Rebecca, Grant was able to coax a fish to an ant pattern from under an overhanging willow, but with roughly the same result.

We moved up to the flat-water section for one last shot at putting a spot-and-stalk on one of the bruisers we saw the day before. I made my way into the water without drawing the attention of any ants and started casting according to Rebecca’s clock-face directions. One o’clock about 30 feet and another at 20 feet. Twelve o’clock, well hell, there’s about six ahead of you at twelve o’clock. You’ve got one like four feet off your elbow, three o’clock. Whoa, now there’s two behind you to! By this time, Grant had joined her in the peanut gallery and added his own commentary, pointing out every rise that was going on around me. Ooooh! That was a GOOD one. Dang Matt, that fish is close enough you could grab him. Wow, he took the cottonwood fluff instead of your fly, and so on.

I suppose I’d had enough humble pie for the day, so I reeled in and headed for the bank.
Besides, it was time to go watch some football.

Photo credits go to Grant Taylor with one thrown in for Rebecca and one for Robert as well.

26 Comments

Filed under On the water, The road

NEW REVIEWS

As promised, reviews for the Shappell Jet Sled and SOG Aura hunting knife are up in the GEAR, GUIDES & TRACKS section. If you’ve got any questions about these two products that I may not have covered, please feel free to leave a comment.

Happy New Year everyone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

KNIVES, SLEDS & CUSTOM BOWS

In establishing a gear review section on here, I became immediately aware of the fact that actually having new gear to review is sort of a necessary component. Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a some very cool items come my way recently, which I will be writing about in the next few weeks. Here’s a brief preview:

The first two opportunities came through Rebecca and Joe over at the Outdoor Blogger Network via their well-built (and growing) gear review program.

This just in...

The first is the SOG Aura Hunting knife, which I just received in the mail today. There’s a couple weeks of archery and muzzleloader season left and I’ve got a couple tags left to fill. With any luck (and a W/SW wind) I’ll be putting this impressive knife through it’s paces.

Getting the dekes off my back

The second is the Jet Sled from Shappell. The snow is flying and late goose season opens Christmas weekend. In the absence of an ATV and trailer, I’ve humped enough decoy bags into the field to appreciate the benefit of a quality hunting sled. And it’s in camo, no less. Win, win.

Nothing but wood goodness

And finally, I’ll be spending some time at the archery range with a selection of BlackWidow custom recurves, and possibly a longbow. Thanks to my friend Grant Taylor, who is very well-liked by the folks at BW, we get to practice some instinctive shooting with these gorgeous, wood-works of art.

Looking forward to some quality time with some quality gear. Stay tuned.

6 Comments

Filed under Reviews