A Missing Hatch

I looked at the clock and tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes. It was 3:10 in the morning and I had spent the last 5 hours burning through black thread, grey and black dubbing, grizzly hackle, and size 16 dry fly hooks. It was mid February and a mix of warm weather had brought the stone flies up to the rocks. With a trip to the Elk River looming in a couple of hours, I was spinning material faster as the minutes clicked by. My family was fast asleep, going to bed long before. I hummed to the soft beat of the likes of Johnny Cash, Montgomery Gentry,  and Other country songs playing over my phone and listened to the steady rhythm of my goofy St. Bermastiff as he was sprawled on the floor beside my bench sleeping.

We named him Sarge thinking he was going to be large and protective. He turned out to crave attention and piss anywhere he stood if you pet him to hard from excitement. His place is the rug beside my desk when I am spinning flies. Lifting his head here and there to make sure I am still there or if I am done to pet him. He is a big dumb ass, but he is my dumb ass and he makes my man room a little more enjoyable.

The excitement about the possible 60 degree weather and sunshine meant a stone fly hatch on the notorious river and a chance for me to get even with the river. The year previous the Lady (Elk River) handed me an ass kicking while I watched Blake toss size 20 elk hair caddis during a Grannom hatch and go double digits with a couple of decent 20 inches. I was spinning up size 16 stones and size 20 zebra midges. A group of four of us including Blake and Mike who I will refer to as Dirty (the dude has had the nickname since high school and no it has nothing to do with his hygiene) was leaving at 5:00 AM. I looked over the flies I had finished but still wasn’t pleased with the number, so I continued on. The clock ticked on and I continued spinning. At 4:15 in the morning I stopped after 18 stone flies, 16 sucker spawn, and 12 zebra midges. Just a mix bag but I was confident the stones would be climbing up the stones on the bank and the rise would be on, que the dry fly.

My eyes hurt from concentrating on tiny flies for hours, my vest and waders still on the hook by the door, rods still hung on the wall, and reels on the shelf. I realized I had done nothing to pack for the coming trip. The lack of sleep was creeping up but excitement soon took over and I started carrying my gear to my jeep. It was 45 degrees and climbing with no breeze and partial clouds hung in the sky around a quarter moon. Back in the house I went in one last time and kissed my wife good bye. She knew I wouldn’t be back until the moon was back in the sky.


I lit a pipe of Trout Stream tobacco, a luxury I had recently picked up when fishing trips or a little quietness was available. The drive was a short stretch across town to Blake’s house. Mike had decided to stay the night there so all we had to do is pack my gear, rods, and reels into Blake’s Dodge and we would be on our way. I pulled up to not a light on in the house. Meet at 5:00 in the morning they said, it be fun they said. I sent a short text to Blake to test the waters for a chance of him being awake. I knew the answer. He had recently took a promotion at work meaning more responsibility, earlier report time, and late trips home. So I didn’t mind and just laughed. I sent Dirty a message. Not a chance, he was like a stone when it come to sleep, dead to the world. I laughed and packed another pipe, this time a shot of Appalachian Berry.

We were suppose to be wheels up around 5:30 and when the clock hit 5:32, I was sitting on the bumper of my jeep. I felt like a stalker. I sent another text to Blake with something about them being horses ass’s and a light came on. Soon after a text came through. Blake was up and jumping in the shower but I was still sitting on my bumper. I noticed the outline of a middle finger in window, so kind my friends are. Blake met me at the door and I gave him a rash of shit for sleeping in. We went down to the couch and there was Dirty, sprawled out and still snoring. Blake shook him and I thought he had taken a swing at Blake. I shook him and said it was fishing time. Finally everyone was up and sipping on coffee. One cup for each and the conversation quickly turned to fishing. It is always funny how on our fishing trips that the subject of food is always second to the actual fishing. Many times lunch is skipped over for the chance of a rising trout and we spend the return trip grumbling how hungry we are and settling for a fast food restaurant. We always say that we will eat a hearty lunch in the Elk Springs Resort, but we never do. To busy with the constant motion of fly fishing.

Finally, the headlights hit Interstate 79 and we were on our way. Dirty, Blake and I all went to high school together with me being the oldest by a year. We talked about football, baseball, fishing, hunting, and old girlfriends and how we were glad we didn’t waste our time on them. Me and Blake were married but Dirty was still flying single and enjoying it. It’s a two hour trip to Monterville so we had lots of talking and laughing. At one point Dirty pulled Blake’s camera out and started making a video of the break down of of the upcoming day. Consensus report: A stone fly hatch, dry fly action, and the hope of lots of fish.

We met one of Dirty’s friends in Elkins and was back on the road. I had recently became a father to a little girl and Blake being married had not yet had a baby. So our conversation turned to family and having children. It’s a beautiful thing to start a family and pass on a life of lessons to a young child that you love with everything you are. Beauty of trout and beauty of children is the same thing just in different categories. Memories spun together to make one’s life a little more colorful, a little more memorable, and a little bit closer to happiness. My daughter and step-son are much like other kids. They hold the key to my reason for rising in the mornings and a purpose. They give me more happiness then any trout can and the excitement of passing on a day among trout rivers grows with each day they live.

The excitement always seems to grow around Valley Bend, West Virginia. Somewhere you realize that you are close enough that in a few short miles you will drowned in the sound of the spirit of the river and the motion of a fly rod.  The spirit speaks and amplifies its words by the sound of water pouring over the rocks. If anyone who has ever sat on a river bank and listened to the water, it speaks to you and tells you stories you do not understand, but you listen with all mind and body. Somewhere your come to love the river much as you love a person. This is where I believe most anglers who say they chase the fish, are actually chasing the rivers themselves with a slight hope of a hungry fish.

It always seems to be the angle pool that we start the day off. I don’t know if it is the ability to watch the water or the enjoyable walk from the road to the stream. It is just shy of 100 yards but a worn path leads you to the right fork of the river from where it splits near mill pool. Wading across the small stream to the far bank, the main river sits just on the other side of the bank. The angle pool is a long deep run. If a hatch occurs there is always a few fish rising that one can usually cast to with a dry fly. It is a great learning pool for beginners. We stood at its bank and slowly rigged up. Early in the morning’s we start out nymphing under a indicator. Usually a double rig where the dropper seems to always be a size 22 or smaller zebra midge. Blake in his usual was giving me a hard time about carrying two rods. I carry two rods to reduce my time snipping off and tying on. My Echo Shadow II is a 10 foot 3 weight that I specifically set up for nymphing. It is long for any short drifts I need to accomplish but also roll casts like a dream. My second is my dry fly rod, a 9 foot 4 weight Wright & McGill. Blake likes to be simplified with one rod. My dual rod arsenal works for me.

A small inspection of the stream gave the obvious nymphing rod the nod with no rising fish in view. Getting the nymphs to the lower water levels was my goal. We spread out and each took a small section of the pool and began roll casting due to the heavy vegetation around this section of the stream. Since this was my first trip with the Echo rod I became thankful I had recently purchased the rod. A small rock shelf that was just off the bank was usually a decent place to find a strike and I could high stick nymph this area with the extra length. I watched as no one found a willing fish. Blake began working his way down stream and I stayed in the angle pool. People began to arrive and fish the area. For me I had set it in my mind that I wanted to settle the score with the Elk with my poor performance the year before. As I continued to fish I noticed a change in the air around me. A few bugs were beginning to come into view, stone flies. Not a big explosion of flies, but a few that one could identify them.

There is was, just down from me about 20 feet out into the water. I had saw it just out of the corner of my eye. A small bull eye of rings marked the water where the fish rose to sip the stone fly off the water. Not wanting to mistake what I had seen I stopped fishing and settled into watching the water. Again the fish rose, sipped the stone from the film and went back down. I immediately picked up my Wright and Mcgill rod that I had already tied on a size 16 stone fly dry and slowly walked down stream to the best advantage. it was a small clearing of tree’s with just enough space to make a back cast. I started to cast to the area where I thought the fish was just below the green water and out of my sight. The water was slow and mending was sparse but good drifts came with ease which I was happy with. My fly drifted past the area and I brought the line back into a false cast and laid it out again up stream. I knew the fish was waiting, watching the water above him for any clue of a possible chance. My second drift came and went. I again brought the line back and back into the water above the fish. This time I shot the line farther up above so the fish could get a long good look at what was coming down the line. A shadow rose out of the green water and slowly climbed the water levels until I could plainly see the pink, blues, and silver of the rainbow trout just below my fly. Her nose was slightly pointed up toward the film. As the distance closed the whole world around me darkened and there I was just me, the steady current of the river, and a rising fish. I felt as if I was Neo in the Matrix, slowing time down and trying to bend it and the rivers current with all my will to keep the fly in the lane. As the distance closed so did the distance between the fish and the film….

I had spent the last year being like a sponge and soaking up any information, article, book, you tube, or hint up about fly fishing. I craved it and craved to become a better fly flinging fool. My wife many times had warned me that if I spoke of flies, rods, rivers, or trout anymore that I would be sleeping with my Saint Bermastiff. I knew that I may never become a world known fly fishing guru from the hills of Appalachia, but I wanted to be good at my craft and be good enough to help someone much like Blake had helped me. It had become my passion and a real love for the water. It was a mixture of river water, canyons lined with rock and tree’s, and a few rising fish. It seems that in those few seconds where my size 16 stone fly gently rested on the film of a river and a rising trout, everything I had taken in and soaked up flashed in front of me.

A rise…

The fish rose to the fly and I watched him open his mouth and take the fly. Time still was slow as I lifted the rod and pulled the slack line in my left hand. I watched the fly line pull up and out of the film and go tight. The hook pulled right into the corner of the fish’s mouth where I wanted it to. I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I hooked up and netted a beautiful rainbow, 16 inches and brightly colored and returned it to the cold water after a short admiration. One year earlier I was very new to the world of fly fishing and basically starving for information.

I breathed and smiled almost happy to the verge of a tear. I felt as if I was taking my first steps up a mountain of something I so greatly wanted. I wanted to fish and enjoy the world as it once was. Nature, a patch of woods, and the steady pouring of a river over smooth rocks, and the hope of a rising fish. I sat on the river bank for a few minutes taking in the country air, wondering what was next. But what dawned on me next left me both confused and bewildered. What happened to the great stone fly hatch that I had dedicated staying up all night tying flies for everyone for. I was strapped to the hill with stone flies in three different dark colors. Everyone knew what I had. Where was the big explosion of fluttering wings and boils of water that look like baseballs were falling in the water from rising trout. Where was the exciting dry fly action that all of us suspected! Blake had walked back up the stream and was meeting me to decide what the plan of action was next. His dismay was the same of mine, where was the hatch that we had so planned for.


Food is always an important part of any fishing or hunting trip. Problem is some people, like myself and Blake get to fishing, we forget to stop and eat. This day was different. A small grill with some hot dogs, a can of beans, and a can of corn was going when Blake and I strolled out of the woods. Some ice cold waters in the cooler sounded really good. Dirty and his friend were busy cooking up the little stream side meal while Blake and I sat down and pulled our waders down to air out. Dirty who was the photo guru that day insisted on a photos and one photos of us all, which turned out really good, now hangs on my wall in my fly tying room along with other once in a lifetime memories that I will never forget. While the main objective is to get lost among trout waters, I find that catching memories is just as fun. We enjoyed the food along with some jerky and cheese that Blake had thrown in the cooler. A few good jokes were also enjoyed, one of which I cannot write in this book but left me face down in the grass laughing to the point of pain. Here is to our life, our friends, and a chance of a fish my friends!

I returned to the water after a good rest and some food had be catching my second wind. I eyed a small pool just above the riffles that emptied out into the angle pool and started the short walk up the bank. I found a small run that fingered into two toward the tail in of the pool and could see a few medium sized fish in the run. There were no fish rising in this pool so I leaned my dry fly rod against the tree and eased my way down the bank into the water. This was a tight run with the river resting between two eroded banks from a previous flood that had raised the river over 15 feet and changed much of the make up of the river. Many runs that Blake and I had mapped out in our minds the year before now were either deep pools or riffles only a foot deep.

The current stayed steady throughout the run until the tail end where it started to speed up to the riffled section. Drifts were key and getting the double fly rig to the bottom was key. I spot fished to each trout I could see thanks to the Native Eye Wear sun glasses my wife had purchased for me the week before. cutting the glare of the water and defining the river bottom was a exciting view watching the shadows of fish play across the stream. This is a section of the Elk that gets fished hard due to the trail coming to the waters edge. Fish are picky from pressure but also a abundance of food that this area provides. I tied on a egg looking fly I call the bubble gum. It is on a size 16 Montana Fly Company egg hook and i use red 6/0 tying thread. It looks like a clear pink bubble gum with pink pearl Krystal Flash coming off the bend. I knew it was still very early in the year and egg patterns could be effective.

However when I brought my eyes to the same run, what I saw was not the few medium sized fish that I had spent the previous hour casting to. They had run off to the far side of the river where I could see them settling with 2 other medium sized fish. Now what was slowly treading the current was a rainbow trout that pushed the 20 inch mark. I could make out the beautiful highlighter pink mark on its gill and the streak of pink that ran down the side, a beautiful McCloud rainbow. In my time fishing for trout, my two favorite fish to catch as a personnel favorite are a McCloud and a Brookie. I love the color. As for size, a brown will always take that cake. The river was now populated with McCloud rainbows due to the recent floods that also flooded the Elk Springs Resort hatchery and teaching ponds. As a side note, if you should ever want to visit my great state and have a few days on what should be a blue ribbon trout stream, visit Elk Springs Resort, you won’t be disappointed.


Now it was game time. I had spotted the brute and was determined to find a fly that would connect us two together via my fly line. I slowly worked my way down stream below the fish so that it would not spook from my casting efforts. The water was clear and any flash of a rod or movement could spook it back into whatever heavenly place it had just came from. I ended up being directly below the fish. My leader was 10 foot long made up with Camillion 25 lb. test leader, 12 lb. test leader, 5X tippet to the first fly, and then 6X tippet to my dropper fly. This is a trick I learned from a guide from the North Fork. I am forever grateful for his tip that day earlier in my career.

I sent the line in a roll cast above the fish and watched it as the rig set up and began drifting. I was stripping in the slack line as the drift brought it down stream. The beautiful fish turned to the dropper and then back into its run. Attention was all I needed from the fish. If I have the fishes attention, then I knew it would be interested.My roll cast landed slightly further the second time and again, the fish swung out toward the fly and back in coming closer then the first. time flew by as I would cast, drift, strip, and cast again. Just as the year before with Blake and the 20 inch fish that made THE FISH. This was the fish. I readied to cast again but stopped and studied the water and the depth of the fish. The trout was literally resting on the bottom of the river, well below my dropper. It had to raise up off the bottom to even be interested in the fly, let alone decide to eat it. I believe trout are lazy. That is why they lay in slack water or places that food comes to them like being belt feed, a constant serving of food.

I adjusted my rig so that it would float with the drop fly ticking the bottom of the river. I moved my Airlock indicator roughly a foot higher. A good roll cast later I was again in the seam and waiting for the fishes reaction. Time again slowed and it was me and the river. the fish never moved. My indicator drifted by and I began lifting the rig for another run when it stopped and twitched. The fish and the egg were nose to egg and had taken it without having to move. I knew the fish would run so I immediately tried to get what slack I had on the reel. My fly line swung from left to right as I reeled in slack and found that in the setting of the hook, the line was now wrapped around the butt of the rod. Moving up the bank I was trying to get the line flipped back over and bring up the small amount of line I still had off the reel. The fish darted a crossed the water and toward where I now believe was her rocky fortress. Multiple rocks lay in a small semi-circle pattern. Knowing that if the tipper line came into contact with the rock, I would loose the fish.

It was like a slow motion car crash you know is coming. You try to redirect the car ( or in this instance a fish) away from the collision but it happens anyway. I thought I had heard Blake coming down the path behind me so I hollered knowing my net that was currently hanging off my vest was small and would be hard to land this fish and that the net hanging off Blake’s was much larger. Blake heard me holler and as he came over the bank, the tippet and the rock connected in the rudest of form, just below my point fly and my rod went straight and the tightness of the line ceased. Blake came over the bank a few seconds later and I was standing at the waters edge dumbfounded as I watched the fish took its victory lap back out into the run. Blake sat down and watched as I attempted for another half hour to hook up with the fish, but I guess one egg looking fly was enough. I climbed back up the bank and sat down and asked Blake. He had caught a beautiful rainbow below on a size 22 zebra midge but the look on his face told me different. He had caught a fish earlier in the day, but it was the fish he found just prior to meeting me that had left him in the dust.

Fishing the left finger of that section, Blake had found a small root system that had a nice under cut and run in front of it. It looks fishy as fishy can get so Blake being one who can pick apart a river with the best of them began nymphing the run. A few passes in Blake said a small 10 inch rainbow came darting out from under the root and hit me in the wading boot. Curious as to what would make a fish do that, he said what came out next was one of the largest Brown trout he had ever seen to date. The fish by his words, pushed close to the 30 inch mark and was as round as a football. I know Blake as a fisherman just as good as most people do. I know if he found a fish like that he would spend a great deal of time and energy fishing to that exact fish. Blake said the fish stayed in the open for some time but never paid attention to any fly that was drifted by and finally swam bark to his dark home. Blake would go on to reference this fish multiple times. One day I know I will find him knee deep in water waiting to say hello again.

We worked our way back to mill pool which sets directly behind the resorts restaurant and fly shop. The fly shop is the largest in the state of West Virginia and brings the attention of fly fisherman and fly fisher women from all over. Mill pool had multiple people standing around it as it is a large pool and deep pool that holds a phenomenal number of fish. This allows for both dry and sub-surface fishing. Blake and I had came up from the split in the river and was planning on meeting up with Dirty and his friend who had made their way a crossed the pool and was fishing the opposite side. Blake was able to also see what fish laid in front of him with a pair of Costa eye wear glasses. I was trailing behind him when he stopped us both and turned to tell me there was a small pocket of fish in a deep run just before the tailing riffles to our right. I had a shot at the tail end and Blake could fish the head of the run. I could see fish darting in the 3 foot deep water and a few were rising. I chose to stick to the stone fly that worked for me earlier and spot fish the few I saw rising. I would wait til Blake had finished his drift and cast to the head of the run and then I would cast to the middle and drift the tailing. It worked for us as we could cover the entirety of the run without crossing line and also fish two different sets and find what the fish was striking.

Dirty and his friend were fishing the head of mill pool. In between cats I watch as Dirty’s friend went tight line on a fish. A good fight occurred and the fish threw the hook just at the bank. I love watching anyone cast, catch a fish, and then release it. But when someone who I have traveled to trout waters hooks up, its extra exciting. I suddenly heard the commotion of waders moving through the water and the “click,click,click” of a fly reel taking up line. I found Blake with a tight line and a bent rod. He had found a hungry fish and was reeling it a beautiful rainbow, around 15 inches long. The fish had came up and hammered one of the stone flies that I had spun up the night before. I was filled with accomplishment because Blake had always been the one to offer me a fly here and there before I had really dipped into the world of tying and fishing. He had helped me in many ways build the foundation that I have built my knowledge and abilities on in the trout waters. So to have him catch a fish on a fly I had tied seemed damn cool to me. A quick photo and the fish was back in the water and both of us was back to fishing.

The sun was slowly ducking behind clouds and making its way toward the canyon brim when a drift came to a sudden stop and a small pop of water in the tailing’s of the run. This happened so fast that the “time-slowing” I spoke of previous in this story didn’t happen. It was a quick pop and the fish was racing by me and into the riffles and I was following behind almost at a jog to keep up. I wanted to keep the fish out of the riffles that were to the left and keep it in the right finger of the river. We were right at where the Elk River splits before it reconnects just before angle pool. The left finger was strong white capped riffles that went into a serious of 3 plunge pools, each separated with white capped riffles. The right was slower water with a few boulder heads doting the water. Still easier to bring a fish to net. I followed the fish and was able to bring him to net just before the river split. A beautiful McCloud rainbow with a beautiful pink streak from the gill to the tail. A quick picture and I released the fish back to its waters.


The sun was slowly bringing a close to our day on the waters as it reached down and touched the canyon brim, there was a number of fish caught and a number lost but all returned to the water for another fisherman to enjoy the tug. As we walked back to the truck, we stopped and realized that there was no stone hatch, only the reminisce of a few and the luck of finding a few fish still looking for them. (It should be noted that within the month of February the weather had snowed and rained with a mix of 70 degree and 20 degree days, hatches were like the lottery, you didn’t know what was going to pop out.) We had prepared for the stones and came out swinging only to hit a couple times. Either way we stripped off our gear and loaded the vehicles back up and started to head back to Morgantown. It is always a mix bag of emotion on the trip back. Exhilaration, joy, happiness, sadness, excited all accumulates to being happy you got to stand among the river and fish with a few good friends, sad that it ended, but excited to do it again. As I sit here writing this story, I raise my glass with a shot amount of whiskey in it to my friends, here’s to you, my Band Of Brothers for another fishing trip, another memory, and here is to another day chasing the trout of our future.

 

 

Small Flies and a Rise


My alarm clock on my phone went off promptly at 4 o’clock A.M as I rolled out of bed to the early spring morning. I overheard the small grumble of my wife as she rolled over, annoyed with the alarm. In the past year my life had taken a sudden change. I had become a husband, a step-father and at the time this story took place, was becoming a father to my own little girl. My wife was just a shot over 5 months pregnant. We had dated for a while before getting married, but she was still learning that the man she married chased fish, deer, and turkey’s for fun. Yes she has her own opinions on how crazy I am, but I love her.

Fly fishing is a grand adventure when one can take the time to step into mountain rivers and chase beautiful fish. But when you have a new family at home, sometimes it takes the back burner and you have to bite your lip because family takes takes importance. However after some discussions with my good friend Blake, I had learned of new water that I had never stepped foot in Blake rated his favorite water in West Virginia. The only reason I believe I got out of the house without any physical harm for a fishing trip was because my wife’s morning sickness had went to the way side. The first few months of her pregnancy was rough and I love her even more today for it.

As a side note, anyone reading this who is a new father, father-to-be, or single and one day will have children, take note. There will always be fish, but there is only one happy wife. With the old saying that a happy wife is a happy life. Well, I went fishing once during her morning sickness days and it wasn’t pretty. There will always be trout in the rivers to enjoy. They forget when you hook them, but a wife won’t forget you taking a fishing trip. Moral of the story, stay home and be there.

I met Blake outside his home at a little before 5 o’clock in the morning. His wife Anna had baked cookies and pepperoni rolls so we enjoyed a few before leaving over a discussion about the possible hatches. Excitement was thick as we loaded up and climbed into his Dodge truck. A quick stop at the local gas station for water and coffee and we hit Interstate 79 South.

The Lady as guide Dave Breitmeier named it sits on WV Route 15 between Webster Springs and Monterville, West Virginia. The Elk River pours out of the mountain side from a system of under ground caverns and flow past the famed Elk Springs Resort, home to the largest fly shop in West Virginia. There is a large deep pool and many of the resort visitors usually in this small section. The river bottom is beautiful and free from trash due to fisherman who truly care for the river they stand in.   With beautiful deep pools, runs, and all the characteristics of a fine mountain trout stream. With it being a catch-and-release section with no delayed harvest, it allows trout to naturally reproduce in the stream and coupled with some of the finest hatches east of the Mississippi, it catches the aspirations of any true fly fisherman and pulls him to her waters in hopes of 20 inchers.

We arrived just as the sun was cresting the top of the mountains. With a quick stop to see the first few runs and pools at the resort, I immediately found why Blake was fixated on the Elk. With clear water conditions, little to no wind, and a good pair of sunglasses I watched dark shadows move from their runs to catch the drifting bugs and then move back to their run. I could feel it, something deep inside me. It was pulling me close to an uncertain passion. At the time I was hardly even an avid fly fisherman and this trip taught me a lesson and started a fire inside me. I had meddled around with a cheap fly rod and a small fly tying kit in high school but I hadn’t become addicted yet.I later found myself driven to learn about entomology, river characteristics, trout habits, trout habitat, and fly rods after this trip.

Blake had already been bitten. His love for the underwater world of trout and the thrill of catching them came from a lifetime of learning. His fly tying room includes multiple fly rods, reels, and hand drawn art that Blake has created himself. His bench is handmade, sanded, stained, and bleeds with pride. We have fished many times together on our local streams and have talked many times about traveling to search for fish in our teenage days. Now we were stepping into water hours from home as friends, married to wonderful ladies, and old souls searching for a fish.

We stepped into the first pool just down from the fly shop. Watching fish come up from the depths of the pool to take bugs in the upper levels of the pool and then swim back down pulled me in even farther. With each fish the more the excitement took over my fine motor skills and tying on became harder. The BWO hatch had fizzled out so we both went to nymphing a size 16 golden flash ( a little fly I had come across at the local shop) as the point fly and a size 22 zebra midge as the dropper. Blake set up the same nymph rig with a size 16 beadhead hare’s ear and a red zebra midge.

The weather was comfortable with few clouds riding high in the sky. Wind can sometimes hamper a cast but it had found some other fisherman to bother. It was a fisherman’s day and it was perfect. The pool was 30 feet long and wide. A small shelf just off the bank allowed for decent wading but with clear water conditions each of us took a perch 15 yards apart and began fishing for the day. The drift was easy which I was happy with because mending was not yet a strong point for me. Blake on the other could mend in mid-air as his fly line laid out.  Let’s just say I spent a great deal of time after this trip standing in the local stream casting at imaginary fish and mending so I would become proficient. Practice makes perfect, and practice makes a natural presentation.

I was excited as a kid in a candy store. The Elk is surrounded by tall, rocky, but still rolling hills. They are covered with pines, oaks, and spruce trees with greenery down to the rivers banks. My thoughts floated between the fishing and my newly formed family back home. I always thought my teenage years was the best and that I had learned so much then. But in reality I had learned very little about life. Even throughout my twenties I lived life in the fast line. To fast to slow down and to take life in and the people around me. This is why I believe that in my twenties I never picked up the tying vise. It took true patience for me to sit down and learn the art of fly tying and I learned it from my family.

But now I was standing in the middle of a river enjoying the slow-moving mountain water and the steady sound of a false cast as a father and as a husband. I was flooded with the love and hope of a rising trout and the love of my family. I was learning to become a man with a steady hand and while life still would throw me a curve ball and frustration over something would still be a reality, I was learning to lead from the front and be a family man at home and in the river. Fishing has a way of taming the soul and allowing the darkness of ones life to float down the river to the unknown. Thoughts fade to the existence of life and how we live it. Am I living my life so that my family is proud of who I am? How am I living my life? Is the man I have become who I wanted to be? I can only attribute some of my traits as a father and a husband to the outdoors and my time spent lost.

Even though I know Blake will always be a better fisherman than I will be, I can only be a sponge soaking up whatever information is in the world regarding fly fishing. While we fish, I always keep an eye on him. I try to learn something when we fish. While we were joking with one another I had taken my eyes off my indicator to crack a joke about him. Somewhere between shifting my eyes to crack the joke and bringing them back to the indicator, it became submerged. Shell shocked, I pulled the rod high and the line downward and felt the tug on the other end of the line signaling a hook up. Whatever was growing in me from the beginning of the morning exploded into a full on sprint to an addiction within that few seconds. The feeling was so raw and so different then any spin rod I had used to catch trout in the past. Every shudder, every turn, every attempt to throw the hook I felt.

I brought in my slack that I had out and brought the fish in to a waiting net. To my amazement the little zebra midge was what took the bite and not the golden flash. I dislodged the hook from the fish and was able to get a quick picture. A fine 16 inch rainbow trout with deep colors. I released the fish to watch him swim back into the pool and stopped to take the moment in. A quick handshake and slap on the back from Blake and we were back to fishing. 


A short time later I noticed Blake had a bent rod and was managing a fish toward his net. For some reason when those who I hold closest to me like my friends or family catch a fish, I get just as excited. I rested my rod on a small tree brand and let what line I had laid in the water drift past and walked over to Blake. He had hooked up and landed a rainbow around the same size as mine. Just as happy as I was, Blake dislodged the hook and held the fish up just out of the water for a quick picture.

Blake released the fish back to its home and we were back to fishing. For some reason I enjoy releasing trout just as much as I enjoy catching them. It’s damn fun if you ask me. I enjoy the fight to the net. Feeling the fish turn and sway to attempt to throw the hook. I am matching the movements with my own like a fighter pilot in a dog fight matching the movements of his enemy. But when I hold the fish up and am able to admire its beauty in the sunlight, excitement goes to contentment and happiness. I find a slow running edge of water and revive the fish waiting for its gills to kick a few air bubbles out and find its strength. It will begin struggling to swim out of my hand and I release my slight grip on its caudal fin (rear fin) and watch it swim away back into the depths of the water. I enjoy watching the sun shimmer off the fish as light slowly fade’s in the murky water until it again is nothing more than us and a river and the lucky chance at a fish.


Moving down stream into the runs and faster water, I began loosing a battle I wasn’t prepared for..Drift and mend. This is where Blake’s experience and knowledge of trout, entomology, and river characteristics took over and I watched an experienced fly fisherman school a less-then-average fly fisherman. I watched as Blake would stop and just stare at the river and read it, take it in, spit out what he took in and either tie a new fly on, cast in the direction needed, or keep walking. He systematically picked the river apart piece by piece where a fish could keep itself. Studying it I watched him go tight line time after time during that day. Decent sized rainbows and brown’s and one 20 incher from under a down tree found his offering welcoming.

Finally I stopped and asked for help and much like any other time we have fished or hunted together, it was given without hesitation. We found a long skinny run of fast water no deeper then 4 feet and we rigged up another nymphing set up. Much as it was before, Blake’s rod bent as it gave under the weight of another fish and I was left trying to deal with the fast water. He continued to laugh at me and after snapping a quick photo and releasing the fish he hoped over a downed tree and said one simple thing, “Hold the rod high when nymphing, it will allow for a much better drift and won’t keep slack on the water.” Trying to make English out of what Blake had just said, I gave it a try. I missed a beautiful rainbow on the first try. Just my luck that day.

We worked back upstream to an old train bridge that held a nice hole underneath of it. A Grannom hatch blew up in the little river valley and I watched in amazement as my first large real hatch was taking place. As I was to busy staring at bugs flying by in Blake had worked his way above the bridge, crossed the river, and down stream to the pool where a downed tree was resting partially submerged and was getting busy tying. He grabbed a size 18 Elk Hair and was allowing the current to take the fly past him and over the pool. Just in front of him was a large tree branch with all the bark taken off from time submerged under the river. I was able to catch a Grannom in my hat as it hit the water in front of me and I grabbed my dry-fly box to find something to match it.

Elk Hair Caddis….

Check…

Size 18 or smaller…

Shit.

Blake had tied his last small caddis on and was now seeing what I could see just under the tree branch. I continued to fish the size NotCatchingAnyFish fly to fish rising just downstream of Blake. I could see the slundger of a trout stalking the caddis flies that was hitting the water above. Blake was fixated and stopped casting to other fish now rising around us. He was casting to one certain fish. He had seen him rise. Hell, I saw him rise from my point of view. It took 45 minutes of cast, drift, retrieve and cast for the fish to decide if the small elk hair caddis fly offering looked good enough to eat with an explosion of water, Blake hooked up with THE FISH. It was 22 inches and healthy rainbow. The fish of the day.


Blake had accomplished what he sat out to do that day. Not to catch any fish, but THE FISH. He suddenly became content with the day and waded out of the water and up to the bridge to sit. I continued casting and tying different flies as the sun began to disappear below the hills. I hadn’t realized it but it was close to 5 o’clock in the afternoon. We hadn’t even stopped fishing for lunch.

As the sun faded from the river valley the urge to cast one more time faded. I snipped my fly off, placed it back into the box and stood in the river listening to the world around me. The soft crackling of the water and the sounds of the West Virginia mountains enveloped me and filled my soul.I allowed it to take me over and I found it grabbing a hold of me. I realized Blake was doing the same, taking it in. Pictures can only present so much. But closing you eyes to feel the rush of a rivers current, well, you can only find that in one place, knee deep.

 
 

 

 

A Fly Tying Bench Mindset


Just outside of my kitchen is a door to a small room. The room is painted a forest green with wood trim around the two windows that light the room during the early mornings while I enjoy it’s peacefulness. It is what my wife would affectionately call my “man room”. The walls are adorn with achievements, a few deer mounts, a few framed pictures of memories, and a small book shelf that holds my collection of bibles, outdoor books, and informative books.

 I have a rocking chair that my wife sits in and rocks my baby daughter. It is a way to share my time and experience with them. There is a gun safe and a large box I have used for many years to store my hunting clothes, different calls, and other gadgets for hunting. At first look it is just a ordinary regular box. But a closer look shows black spray painted letters on the side of the box. It is a addressed to my great uncle. It reads PFC Bragg, Vietnam. Need I say more. Let’s just say it is special to me. 


 In the opposite corner is a small bench. It is an old letter desk. An antique that was bought in Ohio and brough back to West Virginia. It has two drawers and a shelf below and a small desk top. Above the desk is a variety of little cubby holes and a small drawer. On top of the desk is a long list of fly fishing and fly tying books. Beside of those books is a small box that holds my different tobacco pipes. I tend to enjoy a fine sweet tobacco while spending time in this room. The desk is worn, wood is chipped, faded, and uneven. In the middle of the desk top sits a Wolff Atlas fly tying vise. This is my fly tying bench. 

 My chair isn’t special, just a old office chair. I plan to upgrade soon but for now, it works. After an hour of concentrating on different sizes of dry, wet, scuds, and nymphs my back tends to tighten up but I guess that comes with the property of getting older. I have a stacked Rubbermaid shelf that holds different size bins beside the desk that hold all my material to “tie my little bugs” as my wife describes it. 

 I picked up fly tying as a result of an ex-girlfriend in high school. Her dad was a fly fishing and tying enthusiast. He had a small desk in the basement of their house and would tie Adams, Bitch Creek (yes that is actually a name), and an assortment of midges and nymphs. Being that I was young and I liked his daughter I spent quite a bit of time there. I bought a small starter kit from the local Wal-mart which gave me a desk mounted vise and a small assortment of tools and material. It was accompanied with a small VHS that showed how to tie hares ear nymph, black nosed aces, and an assortment of other flies. Like most things that happens during a relationship after it ends, so did fly tying. It ended up in a bag in my bedroom closet.

 Fast forward over 10 years and I started hanging out at Sportsmans Emporium in Morgantown, West Virginia. Along with guns, bows, and hunting gear there was a section for fly fishing and fly tying. I had recently went trout fishing and admired a older gentleman fly fishing while everyone else had every invention known to man to fish with. He was calmly casting, watching the fly drift by and recast again. He looked so calm and relaxed. Not a care in the world and I watched his cast and then felt it was superior to mine. A old flame began to burn again and I bought a Griffin vise, better tools, a few hackles, and dubbing. I went home and dug the old bag out of the closet. I started trying to learn as much as I could by reading books and surfing the Internet.

 Fly tying is something that is primitive and unique. It combines different feathers, furs, thread, yarn, Wire, beads, and other materials togethor in ways to imitate different insects that trout enjoy as food. Flies can be tied for many different species of fish but I am strictly a trout bum from West Virginia so I will keep it to the field I know. 

 The art of fly tying is not only combining materials on a hook to launch into any stream, river, or still body of water in hopes to catch a fish. For myself, it is my place to step away from the hustle of life and my job in public safety. Especially on rainy days when the rain is hitting the metal awning that is just outside my window. It vibrates the room with the sound of rain on a metal roof. I sit down, pick a fly, pick a tobacco (usually Sutliff or Boswell brand), load the pipe, and get to tying. 

 If it isn’t raining I will turn on an old folk music song to fill the room. I come from West Virginia where Appalachian culture is still found bleeding out of her hills and hollers. People who are still proud of honest work for very little. I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and soak it all in. 

 I do not consider myself to be a good fly tier. I would say mediocre at best. If I find a fly I would like to learn I dig the ingredients and give it a college try. Usually tying multiple times until it resembles what picture or video describes. Trout can be picky about what they eat and take time to study it before deciding. Practice makes perfect and I have tied some ugly ass looking fake bugs but I keep getting better. 

 But when I sit down, I find myself relaxed and calm. I enjoy sitting in my chair spinning up whatever concoction of ingredients the fly calls for trying to do my best to imitate it. I find patience in everything that envolved that bench. The urge to hurry through the fly diminishes Taking the time to properly set wings, spin deer hair, find the length of the tail section, or challenge myself to smaller sized hooks like 22-28 size dry and midge patterns teaches a person patience. 

 While concentrating on what is in the vise is key to a successful fly, equally thinking about the sound and flow of a stream running over the rocks of a canyon comes close to second. As the fly takes form, my imagination floats away to the Elk River, Blackwater River, North Fork, and many other streams. I imagine myself standing in waist deep water listening to the whispers of the stream as it moves past me. I envision the streams make up and attempt to pick it apart finding the small areas that may hold a fish. I admit I am not the best at this but it’s half the fun. 

 Fly tying allows my state of mind to go wherever it is I find and stand in mountain waters. It resets my batteries while enjoying the sweet tastes of fine tobacco and the sound of good music. Everything about the room is primitive, archaic, slightly from a time period years past, and calm. 

 Many fly tiers I believe will express the same feelings that they find when they sit at their bench. It is the same feeling that one gets standing on the side of a beautiful free stone stream. It is enjoy full, calm, restoring, rejuvenating, and filling. But it also is artsy, crafty, and beautiful. My wife called it once my “manly crafty buggy eyed hobby”. Yup, if that’s what’s she wants to call it. 

 But it’s also fulfilling when you tie a fly and step into a stream. You tie it to your tippet and cast it into a stream. It is that feeling of “I created this”. The supreme fulfillment is when a fish takes the fly and you feel the raw and primitive strength of the fish. You land the fish to see your fly hooked slightly on its jaw and you are filled with achievement. It wasn’t a fly you bought for $3.25 at the local shop. You took the time to read and learn the pattern, practice it until you got it right, and took the time to know when to use it. Match the hatch I have heard. While that can make a person standing in the middle of a river go crazy, I say just enjoy life and love what we all do. 
 

The Junction of Rivers and Friendships


 I love to write and I love to fish. I equally love to sit down at my fly tying bench and get lost in feathers, furs, beads, hooks, and whatever concoction of ingredients calls for fake bugs. Fly tying is primitive in nature. Even if the vises become futuristic and materials become shiny, it still is taking a step into the past meddling into a art of years past. Fly fishing is like dreaming. Getting lost in the sound and shape of a river. Picking it apart by shape, structure, depth, and flow to become a successful fly fisherman. Some would argue that it can be defined scientifically and biological by big fancy names for each bug that hatches, but I am a country boy and a stone fly or mayfly will be just that, a stone or a mayfly.

Writing allows me to share my experiences of the great outdoors in detail so that someone may paint the same picture and enjoy the story. Their imagination will be formed by words, paragraphs, and pages. Stories capture a moment, place it over the pages of time to be enjoyed again by a intuitive reader seeking an imaginative place. This is why writing my experiences are just as enjoyable as living them. Writing about a lurking fish that I have thrown my whole box of flies at without even a hence of interest and bringing the reader along so that they to can experience the excitement when that last fly works and you begin the fight.

My life as an outdoors man is no different then the next. We all make foot steps in the hills the same. What changes for each of us is if we are listening to what the hills are telling us. And here we find the junction of many.

My stories would not be possible if it wasn’t for people who were willing to answer a question or throw a pointer out there when they noticed a struggle. They were unselfish to the fullest, a quality rarely seen. But one person I consider my friend is someone that every chance we get, we fish together. Our friendship was forged by many hot summer days in the heat of two-a-days playing high school football in West Virginia. We played beside of one another on both sides of the ball so we began striking up conversations about hunting and fishing which lea to many days afield.

Our friendship however solidified even more one spring. As a volunteer firefighter, I was alerted for a vehicle accident late one night. A truck had drove over a hill and hit a tree head on and the patient was still inside the truck. When we arrived I immediately recognized the old blue Ford F150 with the Morgantown High football sticker in the rear window. The truck was 20 feet over a bank and the front end was pushed almost to the dash from a large oak tree that was now buried into the dash. Blake is a rather husky guy, so getting him up the hill on a backboard was going to take a group of us.

Blake had sustained a severe injury to his hip/leg and to his right hand. I started talking to him letting him know what we were doing and working with the other firefighters to work him out of the truck and onto a backboard. I knew Blake was always cool under fire, many nights under the lights of Pony Lewis Field had told me that. He never got to excited, always ready to run down any running back or quarterback and willing to make a wager with me who would get to the ball first. So I knew when we began talking he had kept the same attitude.

Blake was taken to the hospital and I followed shortly and was there when they gave his family the news of his injuries. He would have several months of recovery and would be back on the field for the following football season. He later would return the favor by knocking me out in a football game with a concussion as we both closed the distance on a running back and collided helmet to helmet for the tackle. My lights were on but no one was home. I still don’t remember that game but they said I protested the trip to the hospital but it makes for good laughs now.

Blake and I are trout junkies, trout bums, whatever our wives call us, but we love to chase trout. While I love to write about being afield, I cannot help to tip my hat to my good friend for adding something to help make these stories. I am not the best fly fisherman nor am I the best fly tyer and many times I have become confused or stuck on a fly or stream and turn to my good friend for an answer. Blake studied entomology and wildlife biology at West Virginia University and has many more moons of studying bugs and fish then I do. While I got started late into taking in the underwater world of a trout, he has been my go to for answers many times. We have stayed friends because of the time spent chasing running backs to chasing trout but I believe what forges our friendship is we both understand the passion for trout and we both will fish when many others have gone home. We will chase fish when most have thrown in the towel because of weather and we both will hike to find the fish.

I have jumped into many rivers with a net to help him net a fish and gladly do it with a smile because I know he will do the same for me. I know if I get hung up on a fly or a river, he will gladly hand one over if I don’t have it. We have agreed that he is the fishing guru and I will lay claim to the deer woods. We give each other shit and it is returned in one way shape or form. So this short is a way to show thanks where it is due.

If you don’t have someone who you can call a friend, find one. There is a time and a place to fish alone, soaking in the life of the river. But don’t let the current of life pass by and not forge a friendship with someone. My wife gives me shit for talking to people in the middle of a sporting goods store because you never know what you might learn from someone. Blake is one of those people who if asked to go fish, I know there will be a story to tell about wet waders, fish, and cheap beer.

To my friend, thank you for the many years of memories as my brother from another mother, and to many more as we grow old and one day take our children.

Dad’s Gun

 In the 1970’s my dad walked into Heck’s Department Store in Morgantown, West Virginia with $100.00 in hand. He bought a 30-30 Marlin Model 336, a Weaver rifle scope, and a box of ammunition. The rifle had a wooden stock and neatly carved with the portrait of two bucks. A fine gun of the time that would later be iconic to many and passed on through generations. 

 For close to twenty years this was my dad’s deer rifle, carrying it into the small lot of woods in Preston County, W.Va and successfully harvesting a buck during the two weeks of antlered deer season that begins during the week of Thanksgiving here in West Virginia. Thanks to that rifle and alittle marksmanship from my dad, a special area now known as “Ol Faithful Holler” was born. Faithful in the since that in this small patch of woods no bigger then a football field nestled in between two cut hay fields a man and his rifle could fill his tag religiously. We still hunt this patch of woods and it still is as faithful as it was almost 40 years ago. 

 My father carried that rifle until during a gun bash at the local volunteer fire department he won a Remington Model 700 bolt action chambered in .270. It was a fine shooting rifle that carried alittle more punch then the smaller 30-30. So the Marlin was cleaned and retired to the gun cabinet for a few years. I would stand in front of the glass and look at the guns and always ask when I could go hunting. It was always answered with the same reactions, “someday”.

 I started out carrying a New England Arms .410 single shot slug in my early youth. I can still remember the trust I felt when my Father and Uncle taught me how to load and shoot. It was the early 1990’s and I had spent the previous two deer seasons walking behind my dad or uncle just listening. I was 8 years old and for the first time, I felt like I was a bonafide Hunter. 

 I never fired a shot in the 2 years I carried that gun. Maybe it was becuase I had the attention span of a mouse or maybe I needed to mature as a hunter but I never saw a stitch of hair those two years. I didn’t care because I was out hunting like a man. I am sure more deer walked past my stand then I would like to know. But I don’t want to think about that. 

 When I was 10 years old I traded in the .410 for a New England Arms single shot 12 gauge. It had one small bead at the end of the barrel that was painted red and to aim you lined up the top of the barrel with your eye and the bead was put on to your target. It was all lined up with your eye.You pulled the hammer back and slowly squeezed the trigger until the gun went off. I carried that gun for one whole deer season without firing a shot. I had a few come by my treestand that year, but it was only a few does and fawns. Even then I got excited to see deer. 

 Two years later my parents filed for divorce. It was down right one of the most horrible times I believe a young boy just on the verge of coming into puberty could have. When your 12 you are in the early stages of becoming your own person and identity. And when your home life is in the pits, well it’s just tough. I fought the urge of wanting things to be different, a different life, a different family, anything to change the unhappiness and emptiness that now filled my big farm house. My dad moved out and all that was left was my Mom and two sisters.

 Hunting season came and went that year.  Due to going to my dad’s every other weekend and also having two younger sisters there was no chance of going deer hunting. My dad lived in a small apartment above a gas station. But in the corner, was the gun cabinet. Inside was that Marlin 30-30 and his other guns. I spent much of that time trying to understand being a teenager, why my family had broken up, and when I would be able to go hunting again. 

 The following year I was 13 and hunting season was just around the corner. And again, it came and went. I felt I was loosing the want to even hunt again. My own world was changing and signs of frustration were starting to grow at home. I missed the woods and everything that was in them but I never thought I would hunt again. Hell I even missed using the bathroom over an old fallen tree! As much as I yearned to step foot in the woods and the frustration of never getting the chance. That year came and went. 

 During that time my dad had moved my Great Grandfather and Grandmother’s  farm after they passed away. It was 63 acres, two barns, and enough woods to keep me occupied. Deer, squirrel, and turkey were regular sightings in the field. It was a older home, but it was comfortable living for the weekends I was with my dad. 

The following year I made a decision that would change the shape of the rest of my life. While on my way back from spending the weekend at my father’s house just before deer season, I made the decision to move to my Father’s. It was the beginning of November and things were no longer comfortable for me. We had been living with my mom’s boyfriend and I no longer wanted to be there. The next day I was sitting in the old farm house with bags of clothes and a few belongings. I still had things. The discussion was brief between me and my dad. He knew I was hurt for how my mother had dropped me off without speaking. He asked me one question that made me perk up.

“Would you like to go hunting?” He asked.

I didn’t have to answer. He already knew. It had been a few years since I had stepped foot into the woods and he knew I missed it. However there was a problem. Over the course of two years I had hit quite a growth spurt growing out of most of my hunting clothes. 

 The trip to Wal-mart was brief but I got a new coat and pants for the upcoming rifle season. I got a some hand warmers, a new hat, a doe in estrus bleat call, and the customary doe pee bottle. While my mind was still thinking about the recent feelings regarding being in between two parents and moving to the other ones house, I was excited. 

 That Saturday we bought a box of ammunition so we could site the rifles in, but my father didn’t buy me shells for the 12 gauge. He bought 30-30 ammunition. The gun that was so iconic to the deer woods was being handed to me. The one that had put deer steaks, burgers, and jerky in my stomach for years was being handed to me. He told me it was time to start hunting with an actual rifle. It felt good in my hands, like it belonged in no other place. The wood was worn from years of weather and use. The barrel cleaned from years of hunting season passed still held its glint. The lever action rifle smoothly cycled and the old Weaver scope still held true. One inch high at 100 yards and a group that you could cover with the bottom of a pop can. I felt confident and I felt proud. 

 Monday morning could not get here fast enough. I checked and re-checked my gear, stayed up on sweet tea and hot chocolate, and watched every vhs hunting tape we had. When my dads alarm went off at 5 o’clock in the morning, I was ready to go. Much like I had been when I was a kid, I was dressed and standing by the door. Except there was two rifles by the door now.

 My stand had been built by my uncle two years before. I had hunted in it alittle the week before. It was an old pine tree that split into three sections 15 feet off the ground. There was seven 2X4 boards nailed into the tree that led you to two 2X6 that made a platform, just big enough for your feet to stand on. It was at a crossroad where three used deer paths came togethor. It was perfect. 

 It wasn’t long and I was climbing the boards up to my perch. In the moonlight I sled each round into the magazine tube. I quietly rifled the lever action to load the first round of ammunition into the barrel. Placed the gun on safe and hung it up on the nail my uncle had placed on one of the forks. The sun was just creeping up and over the hills. I was already filled with the warmth of being back into the woods. 

 It was a balmy 26 degrees with a chance of snow. I prayed for snow, snow made everything better. I hated when it was hot. Snow made snow days for school. Snow made snow balls. But snow made seeing brown fur and movement easier. Snow made deer get up and move. Once sunlight broke the tree line, so did a steady fall of snow flakes. I smiled and took what mental picture I could wanting to stay in that moment forever. 

 I began scanning the area for any movement. Constantly studying and taking in my environment. A small creek layed to my right in the bottom of a small ditch. A large sycamore tree known as TV set for the old TV smashed at its base was at the lowest point of the creek. The large pine tree was to my left and a briar thicket was directly in front of me. Behind me was a flat of sapling trees with a small break. 

 I turned to see a deer slowly feeding in the break in the saplings. Excitement grabbed ahold of me and I fumbled to reach back for the leather strap over the nail. I found it and eased the gun off the nail. Snow had begun to gather in all small little areas on my jacket and on the scope cover. I slowly brushed it off, popped it off and shouldered the rifle. The deer had continued feeding never knowing that a young Hunter was just above him not thirty yards away. 

 I brought the deer into focus with the Weaver scope. Feeding and grazing the ground I caught a glimpse of horns moving with it. Immidiatly my heart started throbbing into my throat. My hands became sweaty and I began to shake. Every movement was multiplied inside the scope as I worked to steady myself. Dropping the crosshairs to just behind the buck’s right shoulder, I eased the hammer back. Taking a deep breath in and slowly letting it out, I pulled the trigger to the rear. 

 The Marlin has a distinct sound to it. I guess from years of carrying it into the deer woods, my dad can recognize the sound of the gun. Maybe it was the way the sound reverted through the woods. But shortly after the gun barked, my radio started vibrating. He had heard one shot and later told me he just dropped his head and smiled. He told me he already knew the 30-30 had done its job. 

 Slightly surprised by the guns sound I had to focus quickly on the buck. He had hunched up slightly and took off up toward the old pine tree. I saw no blood when he took off so I didn’t know what I would find, but waiting was no option. Scrambling to get my radio, I could hear my dad trying to reach me. 

” Joe,” he whispered “what did you see?” 

“Dad I shot a buck, but I don’t know if I hit him!” I answered. My nerves were still  racing .

“Just give him some tim,” but snow had begun to really fall and my anxiousness was already taking the best of me. I was down on the ground looking for any sign of a ethical shot. I walked circles where I thought the buck was standing when. Immediately fear started creeping up on excitement and the thought of missing the buck or only wounding him made me sick. 

 I looked toward the direction he had run. The big old pine tree just over the hill from where I was standing. I scanned the top of the little hill and saw two rear hooves from under a small sapling tree. He had piled up and came to a stop only 50 yards from where I took aim at him. My very first buck. Not a large deer by some, but it was an accomplishment years in the making. A basket racked 8 pointer with dark chocolate horns.

 Some people don’t understand the accomplishment of a young man of women when they harvest their first deer. Matter-of-fact, some people don’t understand hunting at all. It is a right of passage for some. A “welcoming to the table” if you will. Years of watching my dad, uncles, and grandfather drag deer in lit a fire in me to want to be a hunter. It is something primitive to hunt for your own food. To weather the cold, the rain, the heat and sit among the forest taking in all that the good Lord created. 

Last season my younger sister expressed interest in going hunting. But I’m not sure if she was wanting to shoot a deer or shoot a selfie considering how many of them she took. But over a discussion she asked my father what gun would she be using. My father strode over to the gun cabinet and pulled out that old Marlin. Much to the surprise of all she protested taking it! Said she wanted to take the 30-06. I just laughed and explained that old gun with its faded stock had put more deer on the table then the rest of them combined and harvested deer just as good if not better. But she continued to protest. Damn ignorance if you ask me. 

 Since that first morning in the deer woods with that gun I have taken 6 other bucks with that old Marlin and never missed. It is now retired and took its place back in the gun cabinet as I was given a Remington Model 742 Woodsmaster 30-06 for a graduation present from my Uncle. Cleaned after many years of hunting seasons it rests in the cabinet, a legend. A few more marked on the wooden stock and alittle faded, but I don’t think me or my dad would have it any other way. That old Weaver scope did succumb to many winters and rain storms one year and we replaced it with a Simmons. I look at it like an old friend who still lives right down the road who you know with a phone call would give you his last dollar to make sure your ok. Trustworthy and unwavering in everything that surrounds it. It means more to me then many of my posessions and I would gladly give them up to make sure that rifle stays in my family.

 

 

 

Step-Parenting and Trout 2

While my step-son was still reeling over his first Rainbow, he asked if he could wade into the stream with me. I knew the stream had larger rocks that were just under the surface so I was reluctant but I knew one way or another he would find a way to get his feet wet. He is tall for his age and fairly strong, so I ablidged. The portion of the stream I was standing in was just over a foot deep, which came to his knee. I helped him step into the water and begin taking steps out into the stream. 

 We caught another decently sized Rainbow after a few passes in the run. Just as it was for the first fish, Anthony’s excitement over took teaching but I was able to net the fish. With each fish I could see Anthony start to understand why I chase fish as beautiful as trout. He told me how he to thought they looked pretty and I agreed.

 While the portion of stream we were standing in was easy wading. I knew there were larger rocks with uneven sides and some that would give to the weight of any fisherman standing on them close so I had him stand next to me. The weather had warmed up a bit but still held a chill and I did not want to get him sick. It would only mean that I would have to try twice as hard to get his Mother to let me take him again.

 A golden trout came to just below the surface and my step-son saw it. Knowing that I had mounted fish at home he asked “if I catch one of those can you put it on my wall?” 

 Knowing that it would be a fine fish and partially filled with the thought of his Mother having to look at what her son’s walls were adorning made me chuckle. 

“Sure buddy, we can do that!” I couldn’t help it. 

 I watched the fish for a breif amount of time watching it swing back and forth on the run feeding on whatever came down the current. I adjusted the float to 3 feet and feathered the cast to above the run. The first pass curved to the left of the fish. I placed the float further up stream and deeper into the run. On target and floating the way I needed it to. As the distance between the float and the fish diminished, my excitement grew. The fish twisted itself just below the egg, darted toward it and then deep into the run taking my float with him. He had taken the egg! 

 I raised the rod and saw the deep golden flash. My rod danced and bent as the fish aggressively fought the tension. I looked over my shoulder to only see my step-son now dancing, diving, bobbing, and weaving on the edge of a rock he had found when I hooked the fish. Knowing what was about to happen I kept the rod tip high and tension on the fish while using my other hand to try and stop the inevitable. 

 The look of terror on his face as he made his last spin was much like the look a dog gives his owner right before a bath. Not saying my step-son looks like a dog, but the thought process was about the same. With one last spin and much to my efforts to try and right him in the water he landed on his back which enveloped him from head to toe in cold water. I struggled to get him on his feet and at some point both him and the fish shook my grasp. I felt the tension go on the rod and it straighten out. 

 I helped him to his feet only to find him laughing but cold. We sledged back to the bank and up onto the rock he had perched himself on when we first got there. We were laughing at the fall which made me feel good. I was afraid he would be upset and never want to fish again. But much to my surprise he took it with joy. 

 I knew he was done. With cold water now in every part of his clothes and a small breeze I knew it was time to go. He protested and told me I could still fish. He was 8 but showed signs of modesty and kindness but I explained I did not want him getting sick. I stepped out of the stream and we both walked back to the truck still laughing about what just happened. With each step we sounded like a swamp thing with the squishing of our water soaked shoes. He found that hilarious for some odd ball reason.

 I carry a duffle bag of soaks, boxers, a change of clothes, and an assortment of other need-to-have items during the hunting season and any time I go fishing. One to many times I have been caught soaked to the bone, dirty, or needed toilet paper and the only thing I had was an extra shirt so it’s kind of my essentials bag. I pulled a pair of socks out for me. By this time my feet had started to succumb to the cold water. I then pulled out a sweat shirt that was about 3 times to big for Anthony but it was warm and would keep him from getting sick. 

 We drove away from the stream and up the dirt road toward home. Things got quiet and Anthony asked me, “can we go again sometime?”

“Absolutely buddy,” I said with a smile.

 He looked out the window and said, “cool.”

 That is all it took. I was reeling in the moment. 

 Since then I have become a father to a little girl. Jokingly I tell my wife that she will grow up and be just like me. She will want to hunt and fish and walk in my foot steps. I have the ability from birth to enfluence her and teach her. Introduce her to different things like hunting and fishing. 

 Parenthood for a child of your own is like starting a book from the beginning. You have a better understanding of it and are able to follow it. You understand the story line. You are able to use your imagination and picture it in your mind. You know why the title of the book relates to the book.

 Step-parenting is like taking the same book and picking a page. You start reading the book from that page on. You don’t know or understand the beginning and may miss the reason the book got its title. You play catch up and no matter how hard you read you feel you missed a important part. But you enjoy the books remaining pages and paint a picture in your imagination with what little time you have with the book. 

 This is how I picture my step-son. When I met him he was 8 years old. He had likes and dislikes. He had a list of hobbies he enjoyed. Might I add that most of them were things I had never done like whitewater rafting and ziplinning. We even liked different music! His mom had swayed him to metal and rock and I came from a country background.

 I had to work hard to earn his trust but to connect with him. I had to work to find things in the outdoors he thought was cool. It was frustrating at times, like the time I took him deer hunting and he got so upset that it was cold. We hunted maybe a whole wopping 30 minutes before we were walking back to the truck. Even though I was frustrated I knew I had to learned understanding. Plus alittle dose of my Father laughing at me and letting me know I was the same way at 8 years old helped me.

 I love my step-son as if he was my own blood. Blood does not change the fact that each day I have a choice to lead him the way a father should. He does have both me and his biological father in his life. But I take the role of the outdoorsy dad and some other roles. I want to teach him the way of the outdoors. To provide for his family at all costs. To enjoy and respect what this life has to offer and what the good Lord has created. I want him to learn to love the outdoors and to take the good days with the bad and to see that they are both special. 

(A special thanks to my good friend Blake for this story) 

Step-Parenting and Trout

Trout by nature I believe are one of the most glorious fish to catch. They are brightly colored, beautifully designed, and a hell of a lot of fun to catch. They are adorned with bright pinks, reds, greens, silver and the colors flow into a admirable fish. So as it would be, in my teenage years I was introduced into the world of standing in cool running mountain streams with water up to my rear chasing them.

West Virginia in comparison is no Colorado or Montana when it comes to trout waters. But we have the great rolling Appalachian mountains and the waters that spring forth allowing for beautiful scenery and wonderful fishing. I live at a crossroads. A good hours drive from my house in any direction can land me on many fine streams and a few fine native streams (but those are for me to know and anyone searching them to find and respect) and a 2 hour drive North can land me in Erie, Pennsylvania for great steelhead and Browns. But let’s stick to my home waters for this story.

I married late in my life, and with that gained not only the title of husband but step-dad. He was 8 and I had just crested 30. I had met his mother a year prior while at work and after a few bumps in the road, decided it was time for myself to settle down. I had spent most of my twenties on the go and not stopping for anyone or anything unless it was work, food, sleep, or dealt with hunting or fishing. And like many men like me I had a pile of every gadget and invention the hunting industry had put out for the last 8 years, a pile of hand-me-down hunting clothes not to mention the stuff I had purchased on my own, a handful of fishing rods, and all the lures to go with it.

So when I moved into my wife’s house just prior to our wedding, I’m sure I looked like a redneck Santa Clause along with my huge bag of hunting and fishing toys, oh and also included was the deer heads and fish mounts. I can only imagine the thoughts my step-son cooked up about me and if he was questioning his mom’s sanity for saying yes when I asked her to marry me. Like most children, he would ask questions  but his favorite thing to do during the holidays was secretly decorate my deer head which I always acted like it infuriated me but he always got a laugh out of it and so did I. But he doesn’t know that.

My wife on the other hand didn’t know what she was signing up for. She knew I loved the outdoors, but I think she under estimated me. Which led to many late night spirited conversations regarding my spending habits on hunting and fishing gear and my dedication to it. But love prevailed and we all made sacrifices. I spend equal amount of time with the family and each week we try to do something as a family. Except for Thanksgiving week, that’s the opening week of rifle season and well, she knows not to ask. I try to fill my tags as soon as possible. If not she knows it’s a promise I will make Thanksgiving dinner.

Connecting with my step-son was at times an uphill battle. He liked video games and different things and I liked chasing whitetails, long beards, and trout. The thing that most step-parents to older children have to remember is that they won’t always like what you like, but don’t give up. They will eventually find something about your hobby they find cool.

My wife and I had discussed on occasion taking my step-son along hunting or fishing to try and build a stronger relationship. She knew how important it was to me to be a good parent so she reluctantly agreed. I promised to keep a watchful eye on him at all times. I think she knows how excited I still get over trophy fish or big bucks. I wanted to teach him the way of the outdoors like my Father taught me. Blood didn’t change the way I felt for him. I recognized that I could step in and still teach him about life, be a role model, and guide him to make the right choices and I gladly stepped up to that challenge.

While at home on one of my days off I found that a stream locally had been stocked days prior with fine Brook, Rainbow, and Golden trout. Knowing of a pool that not to many people but a few locals fish and would be holding not only the new fish but holdovers, I called my wife at work and let her know my plan. I gathered up my vest, an old pair of Nikes I used to wet wade on small freestone streams, a micro-spin rod, and jumped into my truck and headed to my step-sons elementary school.

I used a small fib to get him out of class around noon, saying he had a doctors appointment. The look on his face was mixed with confusion and fear wondering what appointment and if he had forgot something. We quietly walked out of his school and to my truck. Immediately he began asking questions as to the reason why I had picked him up so early.

“Anthony, you do not have a appointment,” I said.

“Ok so where are we going?” He replied.

I told him we were going to stop and get lunch. We stopped at the local Burger King and woofed down a whopper over a conversation about school. With a small break in the talking, I asked, “Anthony, would you like to go fishing with me?”

He replied, “I don’t know, will it be fun?”

I smiled and told him that it was only fun if he enjoyed it. I described the different trout and showed him pictures on my phone. He asked a few questions and I answered them. I wanted to connect with him with something we both could enjoy and as we talked I noticed his curiousity change and he began smiling. I wanted him to think it was “cool” to go with me.

We exited the Burger King and when I turned right instead of left and started heading up Interstate 79 toward Bruceton Mills, W.Va. he asked if we were going then. I told him about what I knew regarding the stocking a few days before. He turned looked out the window at the rolling mountains and said “cool” and smiled. I smiled to. I was filled with excitement not just because I love to trout fish, but because I saw a glimmer of excitement in his eyes to. A hope that a step-dad and his step-son would have a fatherly “dudes day” and I might be able to teach him something.

Pulling up to the bridge that crosses Big Sandy, I slowed down so he could look at the water. He asked, “is there fish in there?”

“I sure hope so buddy!” I said.

I pulled off the shoulder off the road and slipped on my old Nike’s. On smaller freestone streams that don’t cause so much of a slippery fall, I use old sneakers if the water isn’t to cold. We walked down a short trail to the waters edge and I found a large rock he could sit on while I tied on. I instructed him to watch the pool for any fish that may rise. It didn’t take long for a nice Rainbow to rise from the depth of the pool. The water had a dark green tint so the first level of the flow was fairly visible. The stream is surrounded by cut timber woods with enough bank to wade a good ways.

The pool from riffles to tail out is approximatly 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. The deepest part is around 5 feet at normal flow. With a good pair of polarized sunglasses spotting fish is not hard. It is a fairly easy river to wade as long as one see’s the larger rocks.

Knowing that most of the fish would be laying in the deepest part, I decided to use a float with a split shot and a Pautzke salmon egg at a adjustable depth. The float would keep it in a drift and the split shot would help it to sink. I would cast it above and let it naturally drift through the run, much as a fly fisherman does with nymph fishing. I figured this would be the best chance to hooking up for my step-son.

I stepped out into the water and immediately felt the cold water fill my Nike’s and around my ankles. It was mid-Match and the water still carried a bite of cold with it. I told my step-son to stay on the bank and if we got a hook up I would give him the rod to reel the fish in. Knowing his casting ability I also knew that the monofilament line would be everywhere but in the water.

I waded out a few feet and took a minute to watch the flow of the stream. I set the float for 3 feet and cast above the run. I let it natutally float the run even mended line so the egg wouldn’t drift out of the run. I took three passes before I adjusted the float.

I adjusted to 4.5 feet so that the egg would float just above the stream rocks. I had looked over and realized I was loosing my step-sons interest. I placed the float above the run again and within a few seconds my float submerged! I pulled the rod high and the twitch on the other end told me my adjustments were right! I stepped back toward the bank and looked over my shoulder to see my step son dialed in to the bent rod now dancing in my hand. I stepped back again to his waiting hands.

Excitement and anxiousness took over any instruction I had previously given him, he reeled furiously and shook the pole back and forth. I instructed him to calm down or the fish would throw the hook. The fish made one last run when it got close to the bank but with alittle help, I was able to guide it back in and net my step-sons first trout, a fine 14 inch Rainbow. I instructed him how to properly hold the fish and was able to snap a quick photo. His smile sayef it all. A proud little boy of his first trout and behind the camera, a proud step-dad.

I told him about how important catch and release is to letting other people enjoy catching such fine fish. We talked about if we decide to keep our catch to only make fine meals with them and we released the fish back into the stream.

To Be Continued..

New Beginnings

Many of my memories as a young boy circulate around being outside. The view of the world was endless, and I was in it soaking up every minute that I could grab. So when my dad asked me if I would like to go hunting with him sometime I jumped at the thought. These are my first memories of going afield.

When my dad opened my door and the light flooded my bedroom at 5 o’clock the next morning I was wide eyed and waiting. Hung over my desk chair was the army fatigues my Dad had found at the local army surplus store, three pair of socks, blue jeans, sweatshirt, blaze orange coat, thick wool mittens, and a extra shirt. A fresh blanket of snow had painted the area so my thick snow boots lay at the ┬ábase of the chair. I jumped out of bed and fought the multiple layers of clothes until I was wrapped head to toe. I made my way to the kitchen where my mother had a thermos full of hot chocolate and a few snacks in a brown paper bag. Excitement and anxiousness took over and I stood by the door ready while my Dad still fought a pair of old hunting boots on.

I began admiring my Dad’s hunting rifle that was leaned against the corner by our front door. A Remington Model 700 .270 bolt action with a Simmons scope. I admired its craftsmanship in the stock and the power it had. I admired the small scratches that adorned the wooden stock knowing that they were from the years my Dad had slung it over his shoulder into the woods. I pictured my Dad high in a tree like a modern day Davey Crockett taking aim at fine whitetail deer. Years of seeing deer hung in my Grandfathers garage ready to be cut down had told me that his rifle did a fine job.

When my Father had gathered his gear and picked up the rifle, we stepped out into the darkness and walked to his 1993 GMC single cab truck. The wind carried the chill off a fresh blanket of snow and I was glad I had so many layers. Although I felt like the little kid from The Christmas Story I was happy to being going on a adventure. The heater in my Father’s truck didn’t have a time period that it would start pushing heat. You just crossed your fingers and waited.

After a short drive down State Route 92 we turned right onto Gladesville Road. We pulled off the road and waited for daylight. My Father started to give me my first lessons of the deer woods. He explained that deer are camouflaged and hard to see. He explained that I had to be quiet because the deer could hear and see every move. I listened intently to every word wanting to learn but also make him proud. I was holding a cup of hot chocolate that was started to loose the emphasis on hot so I took the last gulp. My Father looked out his window and noted the light starting to creep over the hills and he signaled it was time to go. I would later learn to use snow to my advantage as it would multiply the moons light and many times I would use it to make my way to my deer stands.

My Father spent the next few hours watching over me, walking a distance then turning around watching me as I caught up to him. The cool air filled my lungs, and I tasted nature and took in the woods. The strong smell of wood and leaves from many years of seasons changed. I listened to the world as it spoke and it told me my first stories. What felt like miles, we walked. We walked and many times my snow boots found holes and I would struggle only to have my Father make his way back to me to dislodge my boot.

Mother nature and the traditions of many before me reached into my young soul. When she whispered I listened and the makings of my outdoor career. I began to enjoy the quietness of the woods and listening to the whispers of my Father. He showed me deer tracks, buck rubs, scrapes, and we saw some deer. The deer was more so just tails as many of them were high tailing it away from the two unknown figures of me and my Father. We made our way back to the warmth (at least when the heater decided it wanted to work) of my Fathers truck. The hot chocolate was no long hot, but still sweet. I had burned any snack I once had in my stomach so we shared a cookie and a pepperoni roll.

On our way home my Father asked, “did you have fun today?” I answered yes.

One day I know I will follow my Father into the woods and it will be our last. Much like the woods, time changes everything. Like the trees in the Fall, the old will fall and decay and the new will grow with the Spring and my Father will pass on and I will walk alone. I will walk behind my Father in his footsteps as a Father, a Husband, and a Hunter with open ears to hear one more whisper. His teachings will be passed on through me and to my children with hopes that they listen just as intently.

But for now, we wait for the Fall and the chance to hunt together one more time..