I'm your worst nightmare

Bye Bye Fishy

After 22 seasons of guiding in Alaska, I can tell bad banana stories for hours. For a few years I laughed, but then I began to notice a pattern.  If you were to poll charter captains from Hawaii, to Alaska and all the way down to the Florida Keys, you would find a common theme.  Just ask Florida fishing guide “Bouncer Smith”.

The mere mention of a banana muffin on board was enough to send legendary south Florida fishing guide “Bouncer” Smith scrambling toward the cooler that held the offending item. With his face flushed and a vein bulging from his forehead, he hurled the hapless muffin overboard, much to the objection of its rightful owner. Was this the act of an isolated bananaphobe? Well you can forget about black cats crossing your path or broken mirrors, because to many fishermen around the world, there is nothing unluckier than a banana on board a boat.  (From Boating World Magazine)

Back in the day when I was still a skeptic, I actually hooked into a nice King Salmon while eating a banana.  It was mid May and we had to drag our driftboat over a shelf of ice to launch it into the Kenai River.  We were not expecting much in the way of success but were on a training mission. I was managing a lodge at the time and it was my duty to break in some new guides.  That meant I had to sit in the boat and direct the rookie rowers while backtrolling a plug.

I was hungry and the rookies had packed the cooler with some bananas.  I remember saying “What were you guys thinking?  I told them bananas were supposed to be taboo, but I was not really worried.  As I directed the first rower through a narrow slot, I went straight to work munching on a monkey pickle.  Before I took a second bite, my rod tip buried.  We laughed and joked about our powerful mojo that no banana superstition could overcome.  I happily landed and released a beautiful chrome, sea lice bearing, 35lb hen.

That evening, I called Andy Mezirow who is a captain and the owner of Crackerjack Sportfishing in Seward.  If you want to fish the salt on your Alaska trip, you want to be on one of Andy’s boats.  Just don’t plan on shoving off with any bananas. I told Andy of the scenario with my King and he did not skip a beat before replying in a grave voice. “Sorry to hear about your bad luck.  If you had not messed with that banana, then you would have hooked the 98# world record buck that was swimming next to that little rat you caught.” That’s an interesting perspective.  I have been haunted by it every time I have looked at a banana since.

I’m not afraid to admit severe Banana Phobia.

In Alaska, there was a crazy incident experienced by the guests and crew on a Saltwater Safari Co. charter out of Seward.  As I remember it, they had two full boats with a wedding party that ran all the way out to the edge of Montague Island at the mouth of Prince William Sound. It’s a run of 2.5 to 3 hrs and was considered the grail of halibut water at the time. Word was that the fishing would be off the hook, but after an hour, nothing was happening on either boat.  The captains were radioing back and forth as the guests got increasingly anxious and started to wonder if they’d been sold a long boat ride.  As another hour passed with no action, the frantic captains started in on bananas. Who has them?  Throw them over.  Apparently, someone did and after they were tossed, the fish began biting and both boats filled up on monster halibut.  I think it was considered to be the largest sport caught haul of halibut ever.

First King on the oars

No Banana in the Boat

I soon got serious about no bananas. I admit to catching a few fish with bananas on the boat or eaten by anglers, but only a few. I have a long list of days that went bad or started out bad when bananas were present or eaten by guests. One such incident was rather embarrassing.  I was running a boat on the Lower Kenai and it was mid July prime time for King Salmon.  I was guiding a mixed party with a couple from Oregon and a couple from Florida.  For the past week, I had limited every day on big fish.  The expectation was high for another fine day.

Before boarding this vessel, raise your right hand and solemnly swear…Yes, we have NO Bananas…oops 

I'm your worst nightmare

Bye Bye Fishy

We hit the zone I anticipated to be hot.  Other boats were hooking fish, but somehow, I was drawing a blank.  I was running the same gear through the same water as the past week, amid fish that appeared to be on the bite.  I was dumbfounded until Maureen pulled out a banana and began to munch.  I did not say a word, but her husband completely lost it.  He was a big game fisherman who traveled the world and wanted to add a trophy king salmon to his resume.  He started shouting at his wife for eating a banana and I actually had to take them to shore and drop them off for awhile to cool off.  When they returned, Joe claimed he had forced Maureen to puke up the banana, so the fishing should improve.  She looked ill.

We went on to land two Kings that day on the lines of the couple from Oregon, while Maureen and Joe continued to draw a blank. The next day, Maureen and Joe were back.  Joe claimed that Maureen had experienced a successful bowel movement that morning so we were banana free and the creepy episode continued.  Maureen landed the first fish that day and soon after I slid a net under Joe’s 60lb trophy.  I’m not superstitious, but what more sign does one need.  I’ve had a No Bananas sticker on my boat for many years now for good reason!

How about some science? “Ethylene is a hormonal trigger in plants that causes cells to degrade and fruit to ripen. A good example is the banana. The presence of ethylene is what causes the banana to go from hard and green to soft and yellow.” (quote from NASA)

If we can smell bananas, then what about trout and salmon that can detect chemical differences to parts per million?  Superstition aside, I would rather err on the side of science and caution.  I don’t think its crazy to want my flies, leaders, lines, cork grips and reel handles to remain free of banana funk.

No Banana Guides

It’s pretty simple people. Don’t mess with bananas when you are fishing or handling your fishing gear!  Just to be safe, don’t even talk about them while on the water. You should probably email this post to every angler you know for their own good and the sanity of any guide they might hire.

Some parting words of advice:

If you are fishing in the morning, skip the Bananas Foster for dessert.  I don’t even know why restaurants serving fisherman offer it.  My friend Dom had it on the menu at the Kingfisher in Cooper Landing, Alaska.  He took it off because all the guides were telling their guests not to order it.  Want a muffin for breakfast?  Go with chocolate or even poppy-seed, but never banana nut.  Don’t even think about bringing a banana muffin for your guide.  Be very careful of breakfast cereals, especially granola and watch out for that trail mix at lunch.  It’s very likely that PETA has learned about the negative power of bananas over fish and has a campaign to insert them into some of the products unsuspecting anglers might pick up on the way to the river.  If you do happen to slip up, carefully hide the offensive product and don’t under any circumstances mention it to those in your fishing party. Remain ever vigilant and may the fish reward you.

Yes, we have no bananas!

Now...safe banana free dining for anglers.


“Friends don’t let friends fish with bananas.” Alaska Fly Boy

Check out this post for more NB proof.

12 Step Guide

12 Step Guide

You’ve dropped a lot of money for your guided trip and you may still have some questions about the experience and effectiveness of the person you have hired.   Here are “12 Ways to Test Your Fly Fishing Guide”.

1 – At the beginning of the trip, ask what the limit is and what the biggest fish of the year has been.  Then tell your guide you would like both in a half-day.

2 – After receiving a new fly and listening to your guide expound on its virtues, complexity, and rare materials, promptly cast it into a tree.

3 – Hit your guide in the face with your line or fly every few minutes to be sure he/she is paying attention.

4 – After breaking off several large fish, complain about how slow the fishing is.

5 – Always wait until your indicator resurfaces before setting the hook and then complain about how slow the fishing is.

6 – Your guide suggests streamer fishing and explains how to “strip set”.  Ignore that advice and be sure to set the hook like bass pro Mike Iaconelly on “City Limits Fishing”.This man can set the hook

7 – When you hook a big fish, clamp down on the reel and don’t give an inch of line.  After breaking off the fish, you can blame your guides knot and then ask for a better fly.

8 – Every time you miss a fish, ask for a larger hook.

9 – Hook your guide or another angler in the boat to see if your guide knows the “loop trick” to remove a hook from human flesh.

10 – As soon as your guide gets done telling you about how good the next run is, take a break while you float by.

11 – Move from side to side to keep the boat off balance in order to test your guides rowing skills and patience.

12 – After your guide points out the ultimate spot, explains the presentation, positions the boat and says “make the cast”; cast toward the other side of the river.

At the end of the trip, tell your guide he/she worked hard, it was the best trip you ever had; truly the experience of a lifetime.  Then leave your leftover food as a tip.  Just kidding about this one; Really.

Note: If you happen to be planning a trip with me, don’t worry.  I’ve already been tested.  Its also important to understand that this list is by no means meant to make any previous guests feel inadequate or unappreciated.  I’ll always remember you fondly, even if you’ve tested me from this list.  Some of my favorite guests have done so.  If you test me on more than two or three of these however, be sure to book early as spaces are very limited.

This is a post inspired by a single photo.  I just became reacquainted with it the other day.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well I know my friend Stacy and I could probably each spout that many or more; especially around a campfire while drinking Glacier IPA and remembering the “Bug Eyed Sockeye”.  For blogging purposes, I will condense the story down to about 500.

It was a day like many others only a little bit better.  We were splitting a party of eight anglers, with four in each boat.  It was mid September and the Silver Salmon were packed into large holding areas.  We decided we could spread the whole group out on one particular run and put everyone on fish.  It was working out well.  Stacy and I slogged back and forth, coaching the casts, tying on flies, shouting encouragement and netting fish.  Each angler hooked into at least a dozen fish and the atmosphere was giddy.   Or at least Stacy and I were.  I was on about day seventy-five of non-stop guiding and Stacy was not far off.  While we pride ourselves in being professional and I have never yelled or lost my cool with a guest, I have been known to get a little loopy from lack of sleep and general fatigue.  In the midst of my manic psychosis swam the “Bug Eyed Sockeye”.

The spawn must go on...

The Bug Eyed Sockeye of the Kenai

I was between netting silvers and tying on new flies when BES swam past me.  I gapped in awe and then did the only natural thing I could do; I scooped her up.  “Hey Stacy, you’ve got to see this.”  Then the blathering began. Stacy and I slid into our own little world of fishy wonderment and lost track of time, space and our amazed guests for several moments.  From our guest’s perspective, we’d probably lost our minds.   There was ooing and ahhing and fishy fondling amid chortles and mad laughter.  There were camera poses and funny faces and more giggles.  It’s hard to explain how some things just hit you as outrageously funny when you are weakened from the grind and short on sleep.  We had a merciless case of the guide jollies.

The BES sure gave us some comic relief that day, poor pitiful creature that she was.  We reverently pointed her on up the slough, certain of her untimely demise.  We wished her luck and wondered what crushing impact caused her eyes to bug, without shorting out her brain.  Maybe she swam too deeply into Skilak Lake and had the bends.  Maybe she was in the midst of some evolutionary jump where fish develop eyes on stalks.  Or maybe…she was in all likelihood the host to an alien that transferred into Stacy.  That would explain a lot.  We may never know, but we will forever remember that Bug Eyed Sockeye.

*It’s a fact that for more than 400 years people have reported seeing large, hair-covered, man-like animals in the wilderness areas of North America.

The real Big Foot photo

I'm no hoax!

According to the *BFRO, (Big Foot Research Organization), Vilas County Wisconsin has only had 2 documented Big Foot reports.  Since there was no internet when I was a boy and I’d have had no time for it if there had been, my experiences have gone unreported until now.  It was not until watching Eastern Rises and learning about Frank Smethurst’s fascination with Big Foot that I recalled my early interactions with the creature.

From the age of 6 until I started working in Alaska, I spent most of my summers along with a few other seasonal visits in and around Camp Manito-wish.  The camp is located on Boulder Lake, adjacent to the town of  Boulder Junction Wisconsin, which lays claim to being the Muskie Capital of the World.  My father was the executive director at the time and camp was home for me as much as or more so than our official residence in Whitefish Bay (Milwaukee).

*It is a fact that, for over seventy years, people have been finding, photographing, and casting sets of very large human-shaped tracks. Most are discovered by chance in remote areas. These tracks continue to be found to this day.

During the time when camp was in session, my dad was pretty darn busy.  I’d say his deal was a lot like mine as a fishing guide in that there is no down time in-season and something always needs doing.  Being a boy, I had unlimited downtime and a great big area to spend it in.  Fishing was often the mission, but I also fancied myself a woodsman.  I spent countless hours stealthily wandering deer trails and old logging roads.  I even made a sort of tree stand with a big 2”x12” wedged between the perfectly aligned forks of two oak trees.  I could lie across the board and silently watch as deer walked the trail and paused for acorns.

*It is a fact that the cultural histories of many Native American and First Nation peoples include stories and beliefs about non-human “peoples” of the wild. Many of these descriptions bear a striking resemblance to the hairy man-like creatures reported today.

I knew that I was the only human wandering the woods and I never saw any bear scat, but sometimes I’d come across other unexplained sign.  Tree stumps uprooted, huge rocks pulled from the earth and strange diggings.  Something else was out there in my woods.  Back at school, I managed to find some books at the library about Bigfoot and I was pretty sure there was no other explanation.  I read everything I could find about the creatures and did at least one class book report on the subject.  I’m sure the girls and some of the boys all figured I was a true nerd.

Then there was the incident that left no doubt.  I was poking along the lake shore, rolling rocks for crayfish and chasing minnows when it happened.  From out of the woods came strange grunting noises and as I turned toward the sound, a giant boulder whizzed over my head and splashed into the water.

A true believer.

*To many, these facts, taken together, suggest the presence of an animal, probably a primate that exists today in very low population densities. If true, this species, having likely evolved alongside humans, became astonishingly adept at avoiding human contact through a process of natural selection.

I’m not talking about someone throwing a rock.  It was truly a boulder hucked into Boulder Lake and right over my head.  The intensions were clear.  Something did not want me there and that something was Big Foot.  Heart thudding and head buzzing, I crouched for a moment, ready to dodge the next barrage, but that was it.  My woodsmen instincts soon kicked in and I crept up the slope toward where the rock had been launched and there was nothing to see.  I was both relieved and devastated.  The ground in the area where the creature had been was packed dirt covered in a deep layer of pine needles.  My meager skills could not discern a trail.  One thing was clear however; there were no rocks on that slope.

*It is a fact that sightings of these animals continue today. Real or not, these reports are often made by people of unimpeachable character.

Spring is finally winning the battle in Montana.  Yesterday, I went out to help my friend Brian get familiar with his new boat.   I plan to help him get familiar with it as much as possible over the next month or so.

Now What.

No Oars? What do I do?

We bypassed three landings due to ice, before we hit one that was open.  The way the warm Chinook is howling today however, the lingering ice and snow will be sucked away very soon.  Due to increased daylight and warmth, I have been on the go (outside).  No blogging or writing this past week, so I am pulling out some notes I laid down in the middle of this cold winter (past?).  This is a trout fishing tip…

Use Your Imagination

To be successful getting bites, it helps to have an idea of where your line, leader and fly are within the water column.  Many inexperienced anglers just get their stuff out there and wait for or expect a bite.  Experienced anglers know there are many variables involved in the activity of fishing any given cast.  As a guide, I encourage anglers to imagine or picture in their mind what is actually happening under the surface.  Visualizing subsurface mysteries is a fundamental key setting great anglers apart from people who are just fishing.

Knowing when to mend to set up a dead drift or create the correct swing is important, but understanding what is happening to your fly is central to the process.  Currents are different from the surface to the bottom.  Changes in depth and structure create rivers within rivers.  Spend some time observing fish in clear moving water if you can.  Then try to target a specific fish if you can find one.  Pay close attention to your line, leader and fly throughout the drift.  Even if you can’t spot any fish, you can pick out a target and watch the drift of your fly.  Did the fly go where you expected?  Did it reach proper depth?   Watch what the current does to your fly as it drifts around rocks, over ledges and along the bank.  Build a mental file of these variables.  Now you have some background to imagine what is happening in stained water, deep water or larger rivers where you can’t see your target.

Fly tying and fly selection are both imaginative processes.  Fishing a fly should be as well.  When it comes to streamers, anglers will pick out a fly based on some criteria such as good looks or the fact that someone said it was a hot pattern.  Then they proceed to fish every fly the same way.  Flies have as many personalities as the tiers who build them. Pull each one through the water.  See what happens when the line goes slack.  Animate it with your rod.  Then cast it out there and sell it to the fish.

Winter Brown on a Streamer

I was sold out.

It was obvious I was in the middle of a fevered fish jones when I wrote this, but I think most people will either agree with these thoughts or be able to put some of these ideas into play.  Tight Lines!

Rory at R-Dub Outdoors came up with this writing prompt…

Everyone who pushes the limits to get the best experience in the outdoors has had a close call with death or injury. What was your experience, and would you do different if you could do it over again?

This got me to thinking which caused my brain to expel some long buried memories that got me to wondering how I survived to become a parent.  It only took about five minutes to come up with how I’ve used up 9 lives and I figured I’d better stop there or I might wake up dead.

1. Tight rope walking on a swing set and falling headfirst to concrete (first concussion) back in the day when playgrounds were hard core.

2. Sliding off an icy roof (I was up there throwing snowballs at pedestrians / mostly kids who deserved it) and falling over a stockade fence, impaling my arm and just missing my brachial artery (over 100 stitches and an ambulance ride).

3. Launching off a ski jump built over a snow fence on a bluff over Lake Michigan and doing a perfect half- flip (second concussion, a bit of a black out and a separated shoulder).

4. Overturning canoe in Lake Michigan while fighting three fish (nearly drowned / hypothermia).

5. Playing a pick-up game my freshman year with a bunch of drunk and rowdy U of Idaho Football players and receiving the kickoff (I survived with a broken leg and dislocated ankle).

6. Rag dolling down Corbett’s Couloir in Jackson Hole after breaking my binding and losing a ski on the drop in (shook everything loose but survived to drop in on another pair of skis). I don’t know Brandon, but at least he had some soft snow.

7. Mountain bike ride down Pearl Pass (story to follow).

Really Tall

Highest point from the center of the earth.

8. Climbing in the dark up a steep exposed face, completely off the established summit route on Chimborazo Volcano in Ecuador.  After finishing the pitch,  I found our guide was belaying me from his own harness and anchored only by the tip of his ice axe in rotten dirty ice (If I’d have known, I probably would have slipped and fallen 5,000 ft. dragging him with me).  I set real anchors and belayed my partners for the rest of the climb.

9. Fishing for steelhead from a rock in the middle of Hood River moments before a water release (a long cold swim, nearly drowned).

Mountain bike ride down Pearl Pass: In early September of a long past year, I had just arrived back at school in Lacrosse Wisconsin for the start of my final full year as a college student.  I registered for class’s midweek I think it was and then got talked into a non-stop drive to Crested Butte Colorado.  “Let’s bike Pearl Pass before classes began on Monday.”  My buddy had spent the summer in Wisconsin and was dying for some single track mountain riding.  I had just returned from a month long back packing trip in the Beartooth Wilderness of Montana, where I had discovered dry fly fishing.  I was ok with chilling on campus for the weekend, but in moments, I’d racked my bike on his roof and off we went.

We were both in great shape back then and had a fine grueling ride to the top of the pass.  On the climb up, we met an enormous bull with horns as long as our arms.  I thought we might be in for trouble, but he lumbered off the trail.  We camped froze our asses off in lightweight bags without pads near the windblown summit at over 12,000 ft.  The next morning after heating up some Mountain House freeze dried treat, we pointed our bikes down the trail for the ride that almost took my life.

Gravity Works

Riding like the Devil said.

You know how it is, you start out cautiously, careful to check your speed to avoid catastrophe.  But the further you go without mishap the more the devil on your shoulder pushes you.  “Come on you wimp, you call yourself a mountain biker?”  “A four year old on a trike could take you.”  Pretty soon, you’re really moving.  “That’s a little better, but brakes are for sissies.” says your devil rider. Pretty soon, your tires are barely scraping over ground that’s only a blur.  At this point you know you’ve reached a tenuous equilibrium with the earth that could easily spiral out of control, so your focus is intense and you’re going to ride it out by devil.

I was in the middle of a Zen like, crazy speeding biker state when a yell shattered my concentration and I looked back under my shoulder for just a split second.  The next thing I knew, I was airborne and staring out into space toward a valley far, far below.   I may have skimmed my tires over a few jagged rocks, before my wheels wedged in a crack at the edge of a cliff face.  In front of me was a drop that now gives me vertigo just imagining it.  My bike was stopped cold, wedged upright in a perfect cleft, myself still seated with feet clipped in.  I peered up behind me to see the face of my friend high above.  “I thought you‘d be dead and much farther away he said”.  “Nope, I’m good.  Why did you yell?”  He said something about me getting too far ahead but at that point my body was buzzing with adrenaline and starting to shake.  I dropped down unscathed, but as I crawled back up the rocks, thrusting my bike above me, I skinned my knees and elbows.

I hardly remember the rest of the decent.  The next thing I knew, we were at the Wooden Nickel in Crested Butte and my friend was telling my tale and locals were buying us drinks and we were flirting with the bar maid and we ended up sleeping in beds that night.

On the nonstop drive back to Wisconsin, we blew a tire near Albert Lee Minnesota early in the morning and slid sideways down the interstate, tearing off the front axle on a median.  The bike rack launched off the roof and sped past us, the bikes remaining upright and unblemished. We biked to a service station for a tow and called a friend to drive over and pick us up.  We even made it back in time for classes.

If I had that ride to do over Rory; I’d not look back.

Riverside Ring Tone

Answer your phone...

“Thanks for getting right back to me.”  “No problem Paul.  Sorry I missed your call, but I had to release a fish.”  “Where are you fishing?”  “On the Missouri River near Cascade Montana.”  After finishing the call and arranging a booking for several days in Alaska, I got back to work fishing.  On Wednesday,  The River Damsel posted that her android smart phone was her favorite piece of outdoor gear.  Some readers appeared confused by that, but her reasoning was sound.  For me, when it comes to justifying a fishing trip mid week, I must concur.  I specifically picked my spot knowing that I had cell coverage and could answer calls and email between sessions of catching fish in my favorite office…outside on a river.


Streamer Eater

Caught Shadow

I had anther reason for being on the water yesterday besides it being a better office and the fact that I have an incurable fishing jones.  Rich Strolis from Catching Shadows sent me some streamers to try out on the Missouri and the Kenai.  If the fish above taken on my first cast of the morning is any indication, then mission accomplished I will have to keep testing them.  You can see great videos of Rich’s flies on his Catching Shadows blog as well as some patterns featured on Midcurrent.

Another Ice Pick Eater

Ice Pick Eater

Thanks for the great flies Rich.  If you need to R&D any new patterns in the west and/or Alaska, I’m your man.  I’ll let you know how the caddis fish come May.

Cold and Hungry

Ice Pick Eater off an Ice Shelf

Look out for the frozen "jaws" of the Missouri River

Ice Fish - Look out for Frozen Jaws


Get outa my face!

Splashes with Fishes

Turn and Burn

Colorful Shadow

Vibrant Rainbow

To anyone reading this post who might be momentarily envious of my office work yesterday, let me tell you about my karmic payback.  In my mad dash to quickly access the river, I plunged (glissaded) down a long steep hill to maximize my fishing time.

Bring crampons next time dumb ass

Payback Mountain

The trek back was anything but quick and accompanied by cursing and peppered with crazy giggles followed by more cursing.  I wondered if anyone across the river was witness to my madness.  I imagine a retired couple drinking tea and playing cards, suspending their game to gap in fascination at my plight.  In the time it took me to ascend, they could have called the neighbors and started a betting pool.  Will he or won’t he make it?  How long will it take? Oh, he went down hard.  Should we call 911?

I can clearly state that un-studded rubber soles worn smooth from too many trips by a cheap ass angler, are not great for steep snow covered hills (without crampons). I would guess that felt would work about the same, but you could not pay me enough to test that theory. To say that I slipped is laughable.  I went down at least a hundred times.  My fly reels looked like giant snow balls.  I slid around like a clown on a banana peel, changed course, post holed up a gully until I hit smooth rock, lost elevation, grabbed some prickly bushes, slid down ten precious feet on an old Bud Light can, froze my fingers, cut my jacket on some barbed wire and finally summited the meager hill, sweating like it was July.  It was great exercise.  When I tell my wife I am going to get some exercise, she gives me that knowing look that say’s; Nice try lazy fisherman.  She has no idea.

Back when I was a young boy, there were two things that occupied my time and my mind.  Fishing and stomping around the woods with my bow and quiver of arrows.  This worked out really well during summer vacation while living on a lake in Northern Wisconsin.  I had access to both water and woods on a daily basis.  I used to cast for hours from my dock or paddle for miles in a canoe.  Sometimes I’d row for hours in a leaky old canvas boat.  I’d try to cover the entire lake, while dragging a big brown bucktail for muskie, before my feet got wet from the rising water.  I landed muskies up to 44″ from the boat and 42″ from the dock.  Legendary.

Because my younger friend was not allowed out in the boat with me, we’d go on hunting safari for chipmunks.  We never actually shot one, but once my partner shot some bigger game.  I came running to his jubilant war cry, just in time to get blasted by an angry skunk with an arrow protruding through its belly.  Soon we were on our bikes, tearing down the one lane track to the town of Boulder Junction.  At the grocery store, the clerk took one whiff of us and sent us out with all the free tomato juice we could carry. Legendary.

During the school year, times were often tough.  While I was only a block from Lake Michigan, wind, weather and winter pretty much took shore side fishing out of the picture.  In the spring though, when fair weather arrived, I’d hike 12 blocks to the park and walk the many stairs down the bluff to the great lake.  Then I’d traipse home with a stringer of big lake trout, longer than I could lift.  It was a long trip made longer because cars would stop and pedestrians would want the word.  Where did you catch those fish?  I thought this an odd question to be asking a boy walking down Lake Shore Dr.  My fish’s tails would be nubs by the time I made it home.  Legendary.

When I could not fish, I’d tie flies in the basement on my dad’s vise grip with liberated materials from my mother’s sewing room or target shoot in the back yard.  For some reason, stomping around town with my bow and arrows was pretty much frowned upon in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  Fortunately we had a 5 foot tall stockade fence around the yard that saved my parents from a lot of grief, chief being that of the great “Arrow in the Cop Car” incident.

Target shooting is only entertaining for so long.  They don’t run away and you can only try from so many angles before boredom sets in.  My young fevered mind soon wondered at the distance an arrow might travel without a fence to stop it.  The only way to work out this problem was to fire the arrow straight up.  I started with a moderate draw, marveling as the arrow sailed up into the blue sky.  Then I’d duck under the second story balcony, as the arrow sailed back to earth, burying itself in the grass.  How high could I get?  How deep would the shaft burry into the soft earth of our back yard?  Soon I was drawing for all I was worth, touching my shoulder with the bow string.  As the arrow released, I just knew it was in for a special flight.  It all but disappeared before turning downward and landing not within my yard, but instead piercing the hood of a police cruiser making rounds down our quiet suburban street.

I spent several hours, huddled in a dark and dank garage, just certain that the whole police force must be searching the neighborhood.  For the next two weeks, every time the phone rang or the doorbell buzzed, I was just sure that they’d come for me.  I don’t think I walked down to the lake for three weeks.  I figured my skulking guilty look would get me busted for sure.  I sometimes wonder at the discussion back at the motor pool when my vanquished police cruiser was returned. Legendary.

As I got older and my best friend got a pick-up truck, our fishing options bloomed.  On weekends, we’d chase trout and salmon up and down Sauk Creek at Port Washington.  At times, the fishing was ridiculous, with multiple steelhead, big browns, kings (we called them Chins) and colorful coho all splashing around the small creek.   I pulled hundreds of fish around in that creek.  While most were released, not a single party went by without me slapping a whole smoked salmon down to the admiration of the guests. Legendary.

During calm spring weather, we’d sling my canoe over the top of the truck and drive to one of the north side parks. Then I’d portage it down the bluff amid strange and fearful looks for our launch from the beach into Lake Michigan.  I soon added an electric trolling motor, a rack built in shop class with four rod holders and a cooler to the outfit.   We spanked fish from just off the beaches dragging Rapala’s on our slender custom built Fenwick rods.   Multiple hook-ups were common.  Sometimes we’d have three on and have to drag one while landing the others.   Shore bound anglers looked on in envy and large charter boats fishing deeper waters could only watch in awe. On one occasion, we ran five lines just to see if we could hook them all up. We did, and while we did not land all five, it was still legendary.

Once we hooked into a big King that decided to head toward Michigan.  We chased that King so far out that we almost lost sight of shore.  He barely fit in the net, but we landed him. On the way back to Wisconsin with our prize, we passed two whitetail deer swimming the other way.  Not sure why they were heading toward Michigan, but we wished them luck. Legendary.

Things were great until one weekend the water built up from a strong easterly wind.  The fish were in and slashing through schools of alewives.  It was too much to resist.  We were in the middle of a triple hook-up when the boat rolled and we were thrown into frigid spring waters.  My friend wanted to stay with the boat, but I said no, we must reach shore as fast as we could.  We made it, but barely.  Several waves washed over me near the end and I almost gave in to the numbing cold and weekend limbs.  We crawled onto the beach just as paramedics were running down the sand and a Coast Guard cutter arrived.  I watched as they salvaged my canoe and took off for South Milwaukee. I’m a legend in Whitefish Bay and no one even knows my name.

This post was prompted by Wind Knots and Tangled Lines We are asking everyone to write and post a story with the following premise, “I am a fishing legend in my own mind because”.  Larry Snyder, owner of Flyfishingcrazy.com and I will will judge the winners based on originality. Your post can be humorous, serious, whatever you think will give you the best chance to win.

While my story may not be as legendary as some and contains activities peripheral to fishing, it is true and thus… Truly Legendary.

This is part 2 in a series on understanding Alaska Fly Fishing, starting with the Salmon Cycle.  Alevin are not hugely important for most anglers, but are part of the complete picture.  As Alevin transition to become fry, their likelihood of becoming fish food for predators increases.

During the winter, the salmon eggs that survive are mixed within the gravel.  As time goes by, the eggs develop and hatch.  Alevin are the first stage.  Alevin are incomplete little fry still emerging from their egg sack.  In fact, some people refer to them as sac fry.  They are carrying their food supply (egg sac of yolk) attached to their bellies.  They generally do not leave the protection of the gravel until the yolk is absorbed.  However, trout sure seem to recognize alevin fly patterns, so a few must get washed around the stream bed from time to time.

While salmon alevin are primarily available to trout in late winter, the pattern can be effective well into June.  Beyond salmon, trout (which are basically resident salmon) have their own alevin stage.  I have found alevin patterns to work for both brown trout and rainbows on Montana waters in the spring.

An alevin is basically a pair of eyeballs with a yolk sack and slender body.  They are relative in size to the egg they are forming from.  They are capable of wriggling, but not able to swim quickly.  They are somewhat similar to nymphs in their ability to move.  As such, they are best imitated by dead drifting with either an indicator set up or sink tip.  Fish will also take them on a tight line after a good drift and on a moderate swing.

Kenai River Alaska Rainbow Trout

I eat salmon.

As spring unfolds, the alevin absorb their egg sac and begin to resemble a small fish.  They have now entered the fry stage.  With the exception of Pinks and Chums who migrate directly to the ocean as fry, the other salmon typically spend one or more years developing in fresh water.  This means that they are always available to trout and other predators in a variety of sizes.

When fry first emerge from the gravel, they seek the surface for a gulp of air to fill their swim bladders.  For this brief time, they are vulnerable just like emerging nymphs.  Because they are not yet strong swimmers, they stay to the edges and calmer waters.  Fry can often be seen in small clouds like baitfish in the ocean.  They are easy targets for trout and birds.  Fry patterns can be fished on floating lines and sink tips.  Drifting is best in moderate currents and strip retrieves along the edges of seams and even in slack water areas can be effective.  A simple productive fry pattern is the good old thunder creek.

On the next series post, we will be looking at salmon parr and smolts.  These larger morsels get serious attention from trout and dolly varden.

Soup of the Day

I enjoyed an excellent day yesterday.   My friend Brian Neilsen of Fin Fetchers Outfitters picked me up and did the driving.  He was hosting Kevin Jergens of Fisheyesoup and the three of us went to Showdown for a Powder Wednesday.  Showdown has received almost 200” of snow already this year. With nearly a foot of fresh powder on slopes closed Monday and Tuesday…well, you get the idea.  Sam Wike from the Big R Flyshop loaned Kevin some twin tips and he was pretty excited to be hitting the slopes.  He has been living in South Carolina and was quick to let us know he was heading home to 70s and golf today, while we are presently sub zero again in Great Falls.

Showdown Montana

It’s always funny how many fish heads love to ski, but all we do is talk about fishing on the drive, on the chairlift and in the bar.  It’s actually kind of perfect.  Unless you happen to be joining parties of fish heads (so I’ve been told) for a non fishing activity and are forced to listen to it.  Spouses, girlfriends, children, relatives etc., are often marooned in the land of fish speak.  So going skiing and getting a perfect drift on the hard water with a couple fish heads, without distraction from non fishing associates is pretty sweet.

Here is the ultimate tune to listen to or at least play in the internal soundtrack when ripping through the trees (@showdown) or battling that huge fish.


Daily Call to Action

Not a day goes by without news and calls to action.  Next Thursday, I’m planning to go to Helena to raise voice against HB309, Montana’s special interest bill to restrict public access on a ridiculous amount of water.

From TU

In a five-day span last week, the House drafted a bill that would wipe out years of progress that TU – its volunteers, staff and partners – have made on some of our toughest habitat challenges, and cut severely into federal resource agency funding programs just as the field season is about to start.  A funding bill should not contain them, but the bill’s ill-conceived legislative provisions contain the following harmful items: Follow this link for your daily call to action. HR1Action Alert.

While you are doing that, lets hope this goes well.  National hunting, angling and sporting groups will call on Obama administration during a press conference on the protection of Bristol Bay, Alaska

From Scott Hed Director Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska


Rory @ R Dub Outdoors commented on a post yesterday.

Hey I noticed you guys catch big rainbows up there. I am giving away steelhead flies on my page and I am sure they will work great for your fishing as well.

Rory: Yes they would likely work for big rainbows in Alaska and I also fish for steelhead a few times a year.  As a guide, I tie hundreds of very specific flies for the guiding I do.  While I love to tie, time does not seem to allow me to create or tie much beyond my guiding needs.  When I get to fun fish, it always seems like I come up short with flies for my own needs.  I would love to have some new quality flies, tied by another guide and passionate angler and of course I will sing your praises when I land Troutzilla on one of your creations!


Its damn cold here in Great Falls, MT and some forcasts are calling for -25 tonight plus windchill’s going horribly wrong.  It keeps snowing just enough to freeze on the windshield as soon as you turn your car off.  I checked out Deneki’s Bonefish 101, as I am thinking a bit about fishing in a warm ocean right now.  Just putting the finishing touches on our Florida trip during the first week of May.  We are going to be staying at Roland Martin’s house in Islamorada.  My buddy Eric just poled a friend into an 80lb Tarpon right out front on Tuesday.  Its always great to have a trip on the horizon.  Late Addition: Eric just called today to say that while staked off eating Dion’s Fried Chicken and drinking cold beer, they had a nice shot at a tarpon.  The shot was good and they hooked and landed a 100lber.  Why do you always call when its colder than cold to tell me about another fish Lundy?

Well, there is today’s soup. I actually took some hot soup to school and had lunch with my wife, braving the sub zero cross town trek.  Now its time to clean up the house, I mean I did go skiing yesterday.

Ultimate Showdown

Ultimate Showdown

Tight Lines or Deep Turns or Good Shots…Kevin (or whatever they say in golf when not swearing about shanking it into the trees)!

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