Saturday, 13 September 2014

Malcolm Brooks reading in Denver

Malcolm responding to a question at the reading. [Photo: Reid Farmer]
Malcolm Brooks is a friend whose first novel, Painted Horses, has been receiving a well deserved widely celebrated reception. His book has been included on many summer reading lists, he has been featured by Barnes and Nobel in their "Discover Great New Writers" series, and the book is widely receiving glowing reviews. Malcolm's writing is being compared to the best of the best: Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier, Ivan Doig,  and Michael Ondaatje, Wallace Stegner, Thomas McGuane, Annie Proulx and others! All favorites of mine - no wonder I loved the book.  Here's an excerpt from a review in Dallas Morning News.
Painted Horses reads like a cross between Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, with a pinch of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient for good measure. It’s an earnest, romantic novel that seems destined for the silver screen. review by WILLIAM J. COBB, Dallas Morning News.
 I won't say much about the plot except to note that it's a Western novel (with a capital "W") mainly set in 1956 (my birth year) with flashbacks to WWII.  Not only that, but there is a significant character named Caldwell. Malcolm assures me that the character is named for me.

Carlos and I drove down to Denver last Wednesday for Malcolm's reading and book signing at the Tattered Cover.  Steve Bodio flew up from NM for the reading and to introduce Malcolm.   Other Denver friends showed up as well.

Malcolm reading.
Malcolm read one of the most heartbreaking and dramatic pieces from the book. After the reading, Malcolm took questions from the audience. There were some wonderful questions about his process and the origins of the novel. Malcolm's articulate and deeply personal answers captured the imaginations of all of us there.  Aside from the compelling sweeping narrative, Malcom's book reads like a vocabulary of almost lost words, words describing western landscape, horse anatomy, and technical language related to horse tack.  The breadth and depth of Malcolm's experience and research is astounding.


Gathering of the clan: Carlos, OldGunkie, Reid Farmer, Malcolm Brooks, Steve Bodio [photo: Connie Farmer]
And for all of us who think we might just write more if we had the time, Malcolm wrote the book over a period of five years while working full-time as a carpenter in Missoula.  He puts us all to shame.

I took the pig over the door as a very good sign indeed and the menu and food did not disapoint.
After the reading, on Arthur's recommendation, nine friends retired to a fine Italian restaurant Osteria Marco to continue the conversation with food and drink.  I could not resist the Ciccioli Succulent Braised Pulled Pork appetizer and had the Rabbit Roman Gnocchi, Apple-Fennel Braise, Whole Grain Mustard Sauce as a main course.  Wine drinkers among us shared a bottle of red Tuscan wine recommended by the waiter though I do not recall the name.

Our group included:  Arthur (a friend of Steve's with expertise in rare antique military weapons), Arthur's sister, Malcolm, Connie Farmer's sister, Connie Farmer (Reid's wife), Reid Farmer (archeologist and contributor to the Querencia blog), Carlos Martinez Del Rio, Steve, and myself. The food and drink was excellent and then, of course, there was endlessly fascinating and wide ranging conversion; writing and writers (good, bad, and obnoxious), falconry, guns, pigeons, more guns, food, wine, and music. A woefully incomplete list of topics I can recall that were mentioned or discussed included: Annie Dillard, the post-punk band Mission of  Burma, mushroom hunting, Johnny Cash, the eccentric Oxford naturalist Jonathan Kingdon, Remington Model 8 rifles,  Mauser Broomhandles (especially regarding the merits of the 7.63 Mauser cartridge over the 9mm Luger chambering), Annie Proulx, the 1903 Mannlicher Schoenaur rifle, technical details (that were beyond my ken) of evolutionary biology of horses, dinosaurs, birds and lizards.

Our table at Osteria Marco.
A good time was had by all.  I can not imagine anyone who better deserves the astounding success Malcolm is enjoying and the wonderful reception of his exceptional novel.   Congratulations Malcolm!   ... and if you don't have a copy - get one. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Man Down

Antique Italian photograph of a man off his horse - dated  in pen 8.3.1926 
It's been some time since I posted here.  I spent most of my summer seeing a small army of physicians. They diagnosed an autoimmune condition as the cause of the peripheral neuropathy that has been affecting my feet and lower legs.  The experts will rarely say with certainty what causes this kind of condition, I am sure it is the result of a major viral infection in 2010 caused by Colorado Tick Fever.   For the time being anyway, I am mostly disabled. I'm able to get around with a cane and am wobbly from the drug therapy I am undergoing.  Nerves heal, but even in the best case it will take a year (or more) to regain my balance and strength.  For concerned readers I should note that I maintain what I like to think of as a realistic optimistism.

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Those of us who spend time in rugged country inhabited by large predators are often too keenly aware of the dangers posed by teeth and claws.  Being attacked by an animal that can kill and eat you is a primal fear dating to the very beginning of human existence.  Statistically, it is the tiny guys, the bacteria and viruses, that present the greatest threat, not the lions and tigers and bears. 

There are a couple of examples that come to mind, one fictional and one not.
Hemingway on safari in 1934
Hemingway's story The Snows of Kilimanjaro is structured around the irony of a seemingly inconsequential event resulting in the most dramatic outcome. Harry dies on safari, not killed by dangerous game but as the result of an infected wound caused by a thorn.  

Egyptologist Lord Carnavon, died from a mosquito bite.
The genesis of the Curse of the Pharaohs rests with a mosquito bite. What could be more inconsequential? The extraordinarily wealthy British adventurer George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, financed the expedition to excavate King Tut's tomb in the valley of the Kings.  In 1922 Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb. In 1923 he died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo from a mosquito bite infected by a shaving accident.  His death, and others, spawned the legend of the curse on those who disturb the tomb of a mummy.

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While I was laid up this summer I spent far too much time looking at vintage and contemporary photographs online.  I looked at thousands of photographs but I did not know what I was looking for until I saw it, an antique Italian photograph of a horse and rider going down in a cloud of dust. In a rather stunningly symbolic way it represents my own situation. Man down.

The author with the Man Down photograph.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Swing the Fly - The Voice of Spey


Ran across this excellent (and free) online magazine today http://www.swingthefly.com/.  Just plain honest, unpretentious talk about fishing long rods.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Eating Around / Le Pigeon

Chef Gabriel Rucker at Le Pigeon.
Had a wonderful meal at Le Pigeon last night. Chef Gabriel Rucker was cooking and we sat at the bar giving us a birds eye view of preparations.  Le Pigeon is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Portland.

 I had the Pigeon starter which was served on a plate of cold blood sausage puree, with cipollini and shaved asparagus, sprinkled with egg yolk.   It was rich a rich sauce and the pigeon breast was perfectly cooked medium rare.  I quaffed down a good class of Coteaux du Languedoc -- Podio Alto -- Domaine du Poujol -- '09.  For her starter, P had the Crab and Artichoke Toast with arugula and fried artichokes.  She had a glass of Greek white wine, Roditis/Malagouzia - Petra - Kir-Yianni Estate - ‘12 Amyndeon.  The crab toast was a bit uninspired, but the batter fried artichokes were amazing.  We shared an entree of Corned Lamb Shoulder served on a bed of potato with cabbage cream, huckleberries and horseradish.  I'd never heard of corned lamb but could immediately imagine it.  I asked Gabriel about it.  He said, "I had an idea. I'm not the first to make it and won't be the last."  Like corned beef, the meat is brined for four days and then cooked sous vide for most of a day. To plate the dish they chopped a hunk of the corned lamb and sauteed it in a pan to heat it up. They sliced it, stacked it on top of the potatoes, sprinkled with huckleberries and shredded lots of fresh horseradish on top. The lamb was surprisingly ham like.  It was a really unique dish, the kind of thing I expect at Pigeon.  For dessert we shared a carafe of Stumptown coffee and a Crème Brûlée which also came with a Vietnamese coffee pot de crème with whipped cream, amaretti crumbs.  I have no idea what made it Vietnamese, but it was excellent.



Gabriel Rucker has been nominated for, and has won, numerous awards from the James Beard Foundation, including: Rising Star Chef of the Year 2011, and the 2013 Best Chef in the Northwest.  Thanks for another great meal.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Blue Winged Olives on the Green

A Rainbow that took a Blackback WD.
The springtime Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatch on the Green River in Utah below Flaming Gorge Dam can be epic. It takes place in March-April and provides some of the best dry fly fishing in the Rocky Mountain west.    After years of trying to catch the hatch - I finally did on  Easter weekend April 19th and 20th.  Brad could not go, Carlos could not go, Jeff could not go, nor could Mike go; so I went alone.  Glad I did.

The thing about BWO's is that the hatch comes off if the weather gets rough.  Rain or snow and a bit of wind brings on the hatch.  A sunny day and the olives wait. I was lucky enough to get it all, rain, snow and wind. It's simply amazing to see the bugs start popping up to the surface like clockwork when the weather changes. And then the fish start rising, mostly in the back eddies and along the banks where the duns float lazily waiting for their new wings to dry.  If you watch carefully, you notice a single rise, and then a few more. Before long, you're tying on a dry fly watching pod of a dozen or more rising fish in the clear clear water.

Blue Winged Olive dun - nicely matched by a size 18 parachute dry.
On Saturday April 19th I floated the "A" section of the river.  It extends from the dam, 8 miles downstream to Little Hole.  Though I've fished the Green many times, I'd never floated it before.  The raft is a relatively new addition to my fishing arsenal and I floated it "alone" never out of sight of three to five other boats.  On Sunday I hoped to float the "B" section, but the shuttle is expensive and it adds at least an hour to the drive home so I hiked downstream from Little Hole and fished my way back up.

A nice brown 18" that took a BWO dry in shallow water - perfectly hooked in the neb.
On both days I spent the morning throwing nymphs and wets and did very well.  The water near the dam is colder and there is less BWO activity in that section.  More rainbows than browns in that upper section. I fished classic style winged wets on the dropper and a Black Back Wet Dream on the point.  The BBWD took lots of rainbows in the first couple of miles below the dam.  As I got downstream, the winged wets started taking more fish - and the takes on that fly were aggressive.  In one deep run I had a violent thumping take, and was broken off - perhaps the best  fish of the day.

On both days, by late morning, the weather kicked up and the olives started coming off which meant re-rigging to throw a dry fly.  Its been so long since I did any real dry fly fishing it's hard to relate how much fun it is, especially in the clear clear water of the Green.  What I mean by "real dry fly fishing" is fishing to a mayfly hatch, not throwing monstrous foam terrestrials or midges.  The BWO's are small, but not tiny, a solid size 18 is a good match for the hatch.  

A nice brown that took the dry fly from my raft anchored in the current.
I started fly fishing when I was a graduate student at Cornell. There is a popular bumper sticker in the area that says "Ithaca is Gorges". It's a great place to learn to fly fish with many streams flowing down into Cayuga lake. They support terrific runs of landlocked salmon, spawning browns in the fall, and rainbows in the spring. After building competency in basic skills (including a fly tying course offered through Cornell and taught by Lee Multari) I started driving south to fish the Delaware, the Beaverkill, and the Willowemoc. Hallowed waters in the history of American fly fishing.  These rivers and streams support prolific hatches, from early spring until fall, and it was there I learned the practice of fishing the dry fly.  

Walking back toward Little Hole on Sunday, the weather got bad and the hatch came off again.  I was fishing the pool at the base of a wide riffle when I noticed three or four excellent fish feeding on Baetis duns in water so shallow their backs were frequently exposed.  I tied on a dry and on the third or fourth cast was into a beautiful fish hooked perfectly in the neb.  It was getting late and so I headed back to the truck for the long drive home.  I was happy with y success and what better way to end the day.  

As I walked upstream I met two young anglers frantically fishing to a pod of fifteen or more fish greedily feeding on the surface.  The two young anglers had been there for more than an hour, unable to hook-up. They were throwing size 18 BWO dries. I gave them some advice and headed on, and as I moved further upstream I found a similar pod of fish and decided to try for them. Try as I might, I could not get them to take the dry fly that had just been so successful!  I switched flies, eventually trying every fly in my box that remotely resembled the BWO duns so obviously floating on the surface. Nothing worked.  Eventually, I tied on a size 16 parachute sulphur, a fly that was clearly not a good match.  Inexplicably, I hooked up right away.  After that fish, with a long drive ahead of me, I headed back upstream to the truck. As I walked the bank I was engulfed in a flight of spinners.  If I'd had more time I would haves tested my new theory, i.e., that the fish were taking spinners and not the duns.  The ginger hackle on the larger sulphur pattern that had proved successful was a near perfect match for the wings of a spent spinner.   A masking hatch, not the first time I've run into one, and always a revelation to realize what is really happening.


Final fish of the day that was feeding on spinners.




Saturday, 12 April 2014

Winged Wets

"It has been advanced as an argument against the use of the wet fly, that duns and other small insects which drift drift down upon the surface of a stream are never seen by the fish underwater, and that a wet fly is therefore an unnatural object, especially if winged. 'Never' is a big word and I venture to think the case is overstated. I have watched an eddy with little swirling whirlpools in it for an hour together, and again and again I have seen little groups of flies caught in one or other of the whirls, sucked under and thrown scatterwise through the water, to drift some distance before reaching the surface."
Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream Angler and Kindred Studies, G.E.M. Skues, 1910

Plate from W.-C.-Stewart's book The Practical Angler. 

    The winged wet fly is only uncommonly found in a modern fisherman's fly box.  In the 1950's and early 60's they were standards, but today they are essentially gone.  G.E.M. Skues developed modern upstream wet fly fishing techniques for English chalk streams and accompanying patterns in the early part of the last century.  Chalk streams provide notoriously technical fishing because of the clarity of the water.  They provide an ideal environment that produces abundant insect life and hence large trout.  The Scottish fisherman and writer W. C. Stewart anticipated Skues by more than 50 years, in 1857 he published his book The Practical Angler -or- The Art of Trout-Fishing More Particularly Applied to Clear Water.  I find it astounding to think that Stewart's book was written before the Civil War.  Stewart's book reads as an exceptionally modern account of fishing upstream with the wet fly.

W.C. Stewart and his mentor James Ballie
Years ago I managed to find a fifth edition of the book published in London in 1907 by Adam and Charles Black.  A.C. Black published many of the classic British fly fishing books including Skues' books.  Stewart is famous for his "spiders" which are the ancestors of modern soft hackles.  The plates in my copy of his book [photo above] also show many winged wets.


Some Stewart inspired winged wets for the BWO hatch.
I am tying some flies in anticipation of a trip to the Green below Flaming Gorge reservoir next weekend. We're hoping to catch the famous BWO hatch.  Inspired by winged flies of Stewart and Skues  I have tied a few winged wets.  Stewart's stream flies do not typically sport tails while his loch flies do.  It may be presumptuous to publish my pattern here before I test it - but here it is.
                      BWO Winged Wet
         Hook: size 16-18 Dai-Riki #135
         Thread: brown olive thread
         Body: Golden Olive SLF squirrel spikey dubbing
         Tail: a few fibers from a Wood Duck flank feather
         Wing: light gray tips of Blue Grouse tail feather.




Saturday, 5 April 2014

Trout Fishing in America Terrorists


"One of us had a piece of chalk and as a first-grader went walking by, the one of us absentmindedly wrote 'Trout Fishing in America' on the back of the first-grader."  ... "We watched the first-grader walk away with 'Trout Fishing in America' written on his back.It looked good and seemed quite natural and pleasing to the eye that a first-grader should have 'Trout Fishing in America' written in chalk on his back."  
Trout Fishing in America, 1967 Richard Brautigan 

Portrait of a trout No.1
The rainbow spawning orgy is still underway on the North Platte.  Jeff, Brad and I fished from about noon until 5PM.  The fish eagerly gobbled size 20 or 22 WD40's and a size 18 red midge larva all day long.  The mob chucking eggs  had far less luck than we did.  Of course, there are eggs being dropped by the hens, but the eggs were just not as effective today as the midge patterns.  When an egg pattern finally did prove successful to the downstream group, I overheard excited hollering from the group on the opposite side of the river "Was it one of the ones with a red dot?"  This would seem to be the fine point of egg pattern fishing; red dot or no?

When we pulled up  I talked to a fisherman eating lunch by his truck wearing Colorado plates. I asked him what they were taking - he said that the fishing was tough - so I asked him what they weren't taking.  He replied, "Bacon and eggs."  A rig consisting of a San Juan worm dropper with an egg on the point.  This is the standard  recommendation from the flyshops to the tourists. It does catch some fish, but this is the standard recommendation largely because so many people just don't believe the small flies will work or they think they won't be able to tie them on.  Carry a cheap pair of reading glasses if you must.  To me, an inveterate tailwater fisherman, a size 18 is looks huge a size 20 seems standard. Size 24's are small.

Portrait of a trout No.2
On technique:   A good dead drift can only be beat by a dead drift augmented with the occasional twitch. Most of my takes were on the twitch.  After I showed Jeff the technique he started hooking up consistently. Cast upstream and across.  Keep mending line upstream to establish a good drift. Once the fly is down and the drift is perfect - give the rod the a wiggle and a slight lift to move the fly in the water, halting the drift for just an instant, before  lowering the rod and resuming the drift again.  This is the old Leisenring lift scaled to midge fishing.    The WD40, with it's oversized hares ear thorax, is an emerger pattern and the fish are keyed into the upward movement of the emerging insect. It's a wonderful BWO pattern, but I've found it to be very effective when the midges are hatching.   Many patterns go by the name WD40 (just do a google image search to see them) - the real ones look like Ed Engle's pattern (on page 86) in his book Tying Small Flies.

I watched many of the fishermen (and women) on the river expending huge effort false casting.  You can spot the experienced fishermen because they keep their flies in the water more than they do in the air.  Often, false casting is just unnecessary.  It takes practice to develop a well timed crisp casting stroke, but it is far more effective than the long arm full body casts so many resort to when trying to get a few feet farther out.

Another mistake I saw throughout much of the day was that folks tend to wade right out into the best water. Of course this is partially related to poor casting skills - you spot a fish and can't quite get your fly out to it - so you wade a little deeper.  But often, in response, the fish will just move a bit deeper into the run. So you wade a bit deeper still.  Very quickly, you're standing waist deep in the middle of the run.


Brad Watson with a beautifully spotted  fish that took the red midge larva.
 The river was crowded and I started by moving into an inauspicious looking open slot thirty yards downstream from the next man. I intended to cross the river to fish the less crowded side but I ended up fishing my short beat all day.  I lost count of how many fish I hooked but I counted 17 landed.  All the ones I landed were cleanly hooked in the mouth and released as quickly as possible. On the way home Jeff read the regs and we realized we could have kept six fish apiece.  Had we done so - it might well have caused a riot ... and I would have had to buy finally spring for a smoker.

Jeff with a fish that took on the twitch.