Saturday, April 15, 2006

New Flies

Fishing at night again has got me thinking about stripers looking through a fly to the moon or general brightness of the sky. To that end, I photographed a wide range of my striper flies both under and over exposed against a daylight-balanced light.

The photos are intentionally out of focus. I don't assume that stripers have vision that is quite like ours. I also don't own a camera that has a macro mode.

Abrames General Practitioner

Modified Abrames General Practitioner with Dee Wings and Jungle cock eyes rearward

Top to bottom: Abrames-style General Practitioner using burned-goose shoulder "spey" hackle as body hackle; The Five Color (my salmon-fly pattern of five colors of seal-fur dubbing...the recipe is too complex to list here); Ray's Fly with super-duper-awesome Japanese floss body (Alec Jackson floss and it is by far the best I have ever seen or used); extremely simple spey fly with whiting "spey" hackle body hackle; Modified Abrames-style GP with wild turkey wing and rearward "eyes"; simple salmon fly.

Another Grey Ghost Shad flatwing with a marabou throat/collar

An Abrames General Practitioner

Very simple, austere spey pattern with Whiting "Spey" hackle body hackle


Extremely colorful flatwing with golden pheasant crest top and lady amherst crest throat (not really a throat, but I cannot remember the real Salmon-dresser name for that position on the fly.)

The Five Color...notice translucence of seal fur.

Grey Ghost Shad


I must now buckle down for final exams. I wish the world well.

Seersucker Shorts (made by Keiko) and good vintage brown and white spectators make studying for finals a breezy operation!

Fishing Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point, Kent Island

The stripers are here. And big ones, at that. They are hungry and vicious.

The great tyer and fysher-with-an-angle, Paul Matthews, and I hit some of Pauls favorite spots for doing presentation fishing for stripers.

Paul and I were using two-fly casts, attempting to drift the flies naturally where we could and doing strip-retrieves where needed. We started fishing around 5:30pm and fished until 9:45pm.

Paul was using a nice, soft Temple Fork Outfitters 9' 9wt.

I was using a Bob Meiser 10'6" 8/9 switch rod with my friend Markus Rohrbach's absolutely beautiful swiss reel...but it has no all...just a very light click to prevent overrun when stripping. My hand is the drag. I love fishing for big fish with this reel, because once you are hooked, it borders on the kind of complete loss of control that I seek in fishing generally. I used a Rio Longcast 9wt line with a 40-something foot head that was really too light for that rod. Once the whole head was out, it was quite easy to throw the whole flyline, or spey-cast the whole head, though.

At Sandy Point, the current was moving a hundred yards out and the bait fishermen who could get out there were having good luck with nice, heavy. We had no luck, but the scenery was sublime. I angered an osprey at the end of a jetty, so I was able to intertwine with nature a bit. No baitfish on the surface that we could see. None. At all. Zero. Paul is a great raconteur and knows so much about the mechanics of the ocean that even when not catching fish, the fishing is very enjoyable. The moon was large, low and pink-orange. It was like an eye watching us casting against its own reflection on the water.

We next went to a lighted boat launch. The boats were already prepping for the first day of "Trophy Season" aka "You can keep big striper season." No luck, but we saw a beautiful and large great blue heron and a very drunk good ol' boy who asked me if I, "Every catch anything with that thing." I assume he was referring to my "brain" or "rakish good looks," but he could have meant my "fyshing rodd."

We then went to one of Paul's favorite and very secret spots. He chloroformed me and when I awoke, it was striper paradise There was a fine current from the tide going out. Paul spotted fish and with about 30 mins before I had to be whisked to the Metro station, we started casting to real fish. I hooked two strong fish and lost them both.

I had hooked them on a Grey Ghost-ish streamer tied Carrie Stevens style...tied on an 8XL looooooong shank size 2 hook. I used the UNI Glow yarn for the body and head and it did, in fact, glow nicely. Both hookups were on the swing, feeding line in and mending like mad. Both takes wereat the end of the swing.

I believe I lost those two nice fish because (A) 8XL hooks give large fish a lot of leverage for which to throw the hook and (B) I used Mustad hooks and forgot to sharpen and debarb. Lesson learned for about the 10th time. (C) is the dragless reel!

Paul was kind enough to drive me to New Carrolton where I caught the Orange Line Metro to Metro Center. Needless to say, I was the only person on any train carrying a bright silver spey rod case, dirty waders, and filing hooks.

A great time that I hope to do again as soon as finals are over...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Shrimp Patterns and Ray's Flies

A kind fly fisherman and tyer named Paul Matthews gave me one of his own Ken Abrames-style General Practitioner flies as well as a beautiful and sparse Ray's Fly.

The top four flies are variation on the General Practitioner, the three bottom are Ray's Flies.

Top fly is Paul's

Next is my copy of Pauls, but with the following variations: webby body hackle, cock neck hackle in place of golden pheasant body feather (rear support), small pillow of fire orange seal.

Third down is supposed to be a grass shrimp. It uses two jungle cock eyes rearward, a silver bodi-braid body, green and blue webby hackle body, and two dee-style turkey strip wings.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Long Long Rod

I love the roll cast. It was the first cast I could do. I broke my mother's windshield overhead casting when I was first learning how to cast. I lived in fear of overhead casting additionally because I often hit myself in the back of the head with clouser minnows when I fished the salt primarily with a Walmart 5wt and broken single action reel.

The double haul is a dangerous thing when the fly weighs more than the line beyond the tiptop!

I came to doublehand rods as a solution to the problems of constantly almost hitting people on my backcast while fishing in NYC.

I suggest you try them, too.

Songs about lust twisted for the consumption machine

The ultimate irony of rock and roll is the use of rock songs for the commercials of mass-marketed products and service. I hypothesize that the reason songs of thinly-veiled teenage lust work so well for selling things is that lust and consumptive consumerism are part of the same paradigm of human desire.

The words do not even need to be changed, especially because many/most popular rock songs were filled with the same sort of bawdy innuendo as the bawdy-blues race records of the 1920s-1940s. Often the innuendo is not as creative as in the antique, often it was simply stolen, word-for-word, from the antiques. The words work perfectly for creating a lust-like, horn-dog excitement for a cellular phone or a goddamned brand of chicken.

Don't buy products that rebadge the music of lust into the music of consumptive desire. Smash the corporations, make your own shoes, forage for food.

Monday, April 03, 2006

CrabFeast 2006

It is important to feast.

Other than the bland monotony of most Thanksgivings and Christmases and Hanukah's, feasting is a lost art. Where people used to have a big social eating harangue, they now go out for a quick drink. Screw that. I want to eat seasonal delicacies in large quantites over the course of a half-day to celebrate the zeniths of my life. And I want to do this with friends and family. And I want to make an unholy mess- leave behind a mountain of shells and carcasses and detritus. I don't want to celebrate my friendships with goddamned brunch.

I want good iced tea, strong limeade, hoppy near-beer (I'm a teetotaler). I demand a dozen different piquant sauces to smear on whatever I am eating. I relish not using the sauces if the food is fresh and good on its own. Give me oysters carefully cleaned by my own hands and opened the same way. Let me lick the oyster liquor off my palm. I want crab boil seasoning jammed up my fingernails and covering my arms up to my shoulders in a gesso of celery seed and chili. Potato salad with my hands and cornbread with my fingers. Let everything get cold- it tastes better anyway Let me pound away with friends at the carapaces of crustaceans, spit out bits of shell, not worry about the condition of my butter-stained pants. Let me huddle in the kitchen, after its cold outside, and eat pie standing up with good friends and a good wife. Let me open oysters for my chums and my sweet wife. Let me tip one oyster to my mouth and give the mineral-tinged liquor to my pup. I want to feast continuously and slowly, talking and smiling, smelling the breeze and the waft of dank seafood from a giant pot. Invite the neighbors, call the kids over, give the bums a crab. Let's steam some Maryland blues and while the day away.

Feasting on the East coast near the ocean means either clambakes or crab feasts. If you do not know an old, salty man who puts on these feasts using a rusty pickup and worn implements, you must do it yourself. For a similar tradition, see the section in Joseph Miller's "Up In the Old Hotel" about steak feasting in Tammany-era New York City. See also Euell Gibbons' works on wild seafood gathering.

Maine Avenue Fish Wharf

The DC fisherman's wharf offers good seafood and good prices. It is one of the few indigenous food markets left in DC and it is a rare gem. There is great bustle and throngs of people: all great signs of a fish market. The purveyors know their trade You *must* know what you are buying, though. The difference between the regular "no-name" oysters and the sparkling, green Chincoteagues is beyond striking. The sad-looking tuna and salmon is just as sad as the flesh sold in your supermarket (Whole Foods excepted).

Much of the seafood is merely thawed from a frozen state. While frozen seafood is often quite good, I can get much of that stuff at my supermarket and prefer to get it at Trader Joe's. The real reason to visit a seafood market is to get the oddities, the easily spoiled, the animate. The range of clams at Maine Ave. is great. From giant chowder clams to tiny cockles, with black clams (See also Miller's book re: black clams) a rare favorite.

I didn't see catch tags on the striped bass, so I sincerely question their credentials. Other local fish looked good.

Why a crab feast?

As a final celebration before the guilt of Final Exam season descends upon us law students, my former study group partners and we decided to have a good old fashioned crab and oyster feast.

Lee drove and made a near-unholy Key Lime Pie, Rob made amazing sweet potato salad, Nate provided beverages. Keiko came later and smiled a lot. Peanuts was happy to eat some carrots and bark at the feasters.

A half bushel of Chincoteagues, unscrubbed

Rob working with the local crabs

Me with my usual dumb look and some food in one hand

Just before the crabs had crab boil dumped in their faces
Crabs cooking, Lee Hepner holding a suave court
Rob's absolutely excellent sweet potato salad
First batch of crab...underdone and needing a second steam (not dark shells)
Nate trims a mean lawn
Lee is a man of precision and rare candor
A regular shore feast
Lee opens his first oyster
The feast wears on, Rob does not tire, he wants the meat
Peanuts is sore afraid of shellfish
the key to a sucessful feast is a wash bucket laced with well as cheap champagne

the old mountain of detritus

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Remembering Fishing in Manhattan

When I lived in Chinatown, I fished every day. Usually at night, I plied the structure along the rivers. I found good spots that required good casting and presentation. These spots yielded good stripers, some bluefish and one false albacore (I think it was...might have been a bonito.)

This fishing required a enormity of silence, patience and observation. I learned to watch water carefully before casting. I had little money and wasn't a good tyer at this point, so I was forced to buy expensive flies from Orvis. Losing a few flies meant that I might not be able to catch fish that week...or that I would have to eat less.

Manhattan's waterfront is placid at night. No one is there for the reasons of commerce or of the cult of personality. The people who are there are either fishing, exercising, committing crimes, picking up potential sexual partners, or homeless. I mostly communicated with the fishermen. Most of the fishermen were asian men fishing, I assume (perhaps wrongly), for food or to sell to markets. Most nights, I was the only sport fisherman.

Some nights, there was no wind and the sound of stripers thumping and crashing baitfish was deafening off of the sea walls. The odd school of bluefish would charge through the inlet, the smell of chum and cucumbers (why?) in their wake. I could see an eel slipping quietly through the green water, the vapor lamps of the street casting a somber tone to the snake-like fish.

Once in a long while, I would keep a keeper-sized striper. Since I lived in a commericial loft without a kitchen, I developed a relationship with the Marco Polo Chinese restaurant on Baxter Street. I brought them a big striper, they cooked it. I payed $5 for this service. I always invited the entire kitchen and staff to eat the fish with me. They always did. No one spoke much english, but we smiled over the sweet flesh that was kissed with rice wine, ginger and scallion. One woman talked about fishing for carp as a child and how she always felt bad for the carp...until her mother cooked it. Then she felt bad that they had not caught more. Most of these people lived in oppressive boarding houses, their wages going to the owner of the boarding house to pay off their immigration debt and rent. Most worked 7 days a week, for little pay and no benefits. Their faces looked so tired and worn. I do not know the region in China where these folks came from, but the women were uniformly large, husky and bold. The men were smaller, more delicate. Everybody had terrible, rotting teeth- among those who had a majority of their teeth.

One man, a waiter who I befriended, said that he got 1 day a month off and he usually slept all day. It was an honor to be among these hard-working people, making the best of their meager situation in the same way that my people had a hundred years ago. They carried themselves with pride in all their doings. The food they made was delicious and they took great pride in its creation. They served their customers with empathy, patience and kindness. The oppressive enterprises of your fellow countryman in a foreign country is a technique as old as man and as evil as man. I hope to do pro bono work against these sort of white slavery operations, wherever Keiko and I end up.

There was once day, as the sun was going down, that I was near the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn. I was casting to a somee schoolie stripers who were taking wooly buggers. All of a sudden, the schoolies dispersed. Slowly and deliberately, the largest fish I have ever seen moved through my view. The size of this fish was enough to bring a cold sweat to my back on that fall day. I could not make out what sort of fish it was, but it was deep-bodied and at least 5 feet long. I have always thought it was a giant tuna, but it was not moving fast so that is probably not possible. I had only a little wooly bugger on my line and I cast it in front of the giant fish. It paid no attention and swam slowly out of sight. The schoolie stripers didn't return. The image of that fish solidified my love of saltwater fishing. That kind of beast ranges the ocean and with every cast I may tie into him. The kraken lives.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Secret Fishing Disguise

The bonefish will never guess it is me, a Predator (anyone get this reference?)

And when the above is ineffective, I tend to retreat into a penumbra of coyote fur.

The glory of the power

Even if the fishing sucks, there's always r-ball with Lee and Trebor. This photo captures the diorama of...the pastiche that is...the bombed out caverns of...rball.

The Game

I think of fly fishing as a game with rules, not as an open-ended pursuit. Other sports are very careful to allow changes to the basic tenets of the game. We don't want the rules to change so drastically that we are not playing the same game. I take the challenge of fly fishing, especially in the salt, very seriously. It is hard work and it can be very frustrating to fish in a constant 30mph breeze. But when you catch a fish after having stood in the wind and screamed back at it with a well placed fly and a yell, it is a savory moment.

I must mention that I am concerned that most salt water fly fishermen are now fishing with jigs (clouser minnows, et al) Part of the "game" in my opinion, is creating flies that require some measure of skill in the appearance of that designed-in at the tying table or during presentation. Clousers and other jig flies are a "cheat" in my opinion. They are also devoid of beauty both in construction and fishing methodology. Finally, the darned things are hard to cast and are much more dangerous than an unweighted fly. Use split shot if you must, but keep the weight off of the fly itself.

Fly tying is one of the few visual arts that allows one to USE the thing made. If I am throwing simple bucktail jigs, am I honoring the fish? Am I honoring my own time at the bench? Am I honoring the money and time I have spent understanding the sport in its historical context?

I try to tie strictly with natural materials. Save for flash materials, I use all natural materials in my saltwater flies. The art of materials is becoming a lost one. Fly tying products are sold with such specificity (fish scale powder to mix with epoxy, gummi minnow, crystal bugger material) that there is little creativity left for many folks. IN the same way I like utility rods, I like utility fly tying creatures and materials. A single pheasant can tie an enormous number of different types of flies and each feather can imitate a different element of a natural insect or fish. I say down with single-use tying products and up with nature's overflowing larder of birds and beasts!

Potomac River: Shad spotted, not caught, Utility examined

I am an amateur tackle tester. Unfortunately, no one pays me for this service. In fact, I usually end up spending my meager allowance (I'm in law school and on a fixed budget) on tackle of various sorts.

Someone once said that every fly is an idea (It was Kenney Abrames
quoting Roderick Haig-Brown
, Striper Moon
, Frank Amato Publications 1994.) It is a solution to an angling problem. Additionally, every piece of tackle is a solution. I find the tackle created to allow intrepid anglers to fish from shore, as opposed to by boat. the very most interesting. I also believe strongly in utilitarian tackle. We do not need fly rods for every species of fish. What we need are more rods that are good casters with a large range of line weights. Fast rods generally aren't great at casting line lighter than they are rated for and the prevalance of those types of rods is a loss in the face of the utility of slow to medium-fast rods. I like utility rods - for the salt and big rivers, I like two-handed rods that are light enough to allow the occasional one-hand cast; for most trout fishing, I like a medium-action, 7.5-8' 6wt rod. I can fish everything from tandem streamers to midges with this rod.

I gave the first thorough fish of my R.B. Meiser 10'6" 8/9 wt Fast Progressive switch rod. Mr. Meiser made it for me in trade for a bamboo spey rod blank I made.

It's a superb rod in every way. It is very much a spey rod taper, but one that excels at overhead as well as water-based casts. I used a Rio Outbound clear intermediate "10wt" line (425gr). Perfect line for this rod. I still wish that line manufacturers could conceive of a way to put slickening agents in the clear portion of flylines. If the clear part of this or any of the standard clear linesis not wet, it doesn't shoot well. If you dress it, it becomes a floating line...not always the right option.

Since I live in Washington D.C. and do not have a car, my fishing options are quite limited. The most interesting fishing area within easy reach is from Fletcher's Cove up. The Potomac goes from being a giant tidal basin to a river with defined current in a few miles.

I've come to the conclusion today that shore fishing from Fletcher's up to the bridge sucks in high wind. The wind always comes across my right shoulder necessitating akward off-shoulder spey and overhead casts.

I saw small Hickory shad and saw a few guys catching, but the bite seemed to be more than a little off. I fished from 10am-6pm over a 1-2 mile stretch of the river and only saw one guy do well. Unfortunately, he also poached 15 or so shad. I hope he chokes on the bones.

Todays flies were mainly atlantic salmon flies. I've had my best luck on small salmon flies with long, soft hackle. Spey flies have been good producers. I have had no luck on "shad flies" of the kind usually use (barbell eye with bright body and marabou tail; no wing). Even if I did, I like fishing with flies of complex, traditional construction. I feel the power of the 30 mins it took me to tie each salmon fly and it buoys my spirits even when the bite is off.

I threw some Kenney Abrame's homage flatwings for an hour, but the stripers don't seem to either be there or biting at midday. God, are those flies awesome. They look like real fish in the water...clousers and deceivers look like, well, clousers and deceivers. Flatwings are my new tying passion b/c I can bring a lot of what I've learned from atlantic salmon flies and apply it to them.

Unfortunately, the Potomac shore in the area I like would be quite dangerous by night or I would try for some stripers at night...maybe early morning?

And today the bite was off for me. Nada. Nothing. But...a beautiful day!

The Rio Outbound line rocks. It requires so little effort to do easily repeatable 60-70' casts and just a bit more careful power to get to 100'. I like the way this line turns reminds me of the old Rio Accellerator spey line. I wish they still made that one. I used to fish that on an 18' 11-12 wt Daiwa salmon rod in the east river for stripers and for this one spot in brooklyn where there must have been some structure about 100' out, it was money. I could hit that spot over and over again with underhand power and no shooting...with gigantic grocery-type flies.

The best part about fishing in the Fletcher's Cove area is the relaxing time stowing my gear at the end of a day's fishing. There are always children about and usually strutting fisherman. That, with some ice cream and a Pepsi, makes me smile.

And my greatest thanks to my dear wife, Keiko, who works on the weekend so I don't have to.