Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Study Break

My wife took the kid to work with her to leave me some peace and quiet so I could study. I was working on an advanced degree and no one had told me how tough that Masters stuff was. I needed all the study time I could get. They left out the door at 11:30, at 11:40 I had the pontoon boat in the venerable fishing car, along with a selection of rods and new flies to try out.
Got to the lake by noon. There was a bit of a wind picking up but not too bad, about 10 to 15 knots. I filled one bladder on the pontoon boat and while starting to fill the other, the wonderful, new car-battery-powered inflator crapped out. No worries Mate, I had a small hand pump for just such emergencies.
Unfortunately, I forgot the old trick of "try it at home first stupid." Pump, pump, pump.. gasp, gasp, gasp. It was like powering the QEII with a Briggs and Stratton.
After trying to beg a few shots of pure O2 from the paramedics having a picnic there (no dice), I was ready for another attempt. But first, I tried to convince them that I could fill the thing up with all that extra oxygen on the ambulance. Again, a big no.
As an analyst, I sat back and surveyed the situation, ran a Franklin T and chucked the whole damn thing back into the wagon. I would just fish from the bank.
This unnamed lake contained some state record size smallies that were stocked in there the previous year. I'd caught 4 in the 1 to 3 lb range earlier in the week in the shallows with a crawfish pattern. The water was very low and all the shore structure was revealed. I went to a point and climbed out on to an old, 3-foot-diameter cement culvert pipe to see if I could spot any fish in the shallows. I did see some movement about 20 feet away but couldn't tell if it was bass, carp or drum.
I cast to the spot with an unweighted size 14 nymph and stepped back. As I checked my footing I heard a muffled crack that I also felt through my feet. My movement must have broken loose the pipe from its position (it was just there as fill cement) and I immediately started an ESPN quality log rolling demonstration. The pipe started to spin down the side of the point and the water was coming up fast. With about 6 inches of pipe left above the water it finally stopped. Outdoor Games, here I come! I decided discretion was the better part of valor and attempted to vacate my post. I was thankful that I'd been wearing my new water shoes as opposed to my old clodhoppers. Gave me a much better feel as that monster rolled under me. I stepped off the pipe and the rock I stepped on rocked under my foot and I dropped straight down, straddling that culvert pipe like a bull rider.
Since I was wearing shorts, I immediately discovered what cement can do to the inside of your thighs. I also killed a ground squirrel when that disk went shooting out of my spine. I did find out that bone is actually harder than cement, because my tailbone imbedded itself in that culvert like a well placed piton.
By this time, the paramedic picnic crew was starting over to check on the old fart nailed to the pipe like a congressman on pork. I waved them away and stood up smiling. Well, at least I thought it was a smile, but probably looked more like the grimace of a rabid baboon. I finally got to my feet and moved to more secure ground.
During this whole thing, I still had my line in the water and noticed that it was moving of its own volition. I had a fish on the line and a fight on my hands. It wasn't moving that fast so I figure it was a drum.
I got the fish on the reel and fought it in. Turned out to be about a 14 inch catfish.
I got him up by my feet and reached into my vest for the pliers. At this instant, the little S.O.B. flipped over and spiked me in the ankle.
Gosh, I'm glad I was wearing my new water shoes as opposed to my old clodhoppers. My old clodhoppers would have stopped that little @$#%^& and allowed me to stomp it into fish meal. As it was, I reached down and unhooked the wretch and flipped him back in the water.
Again, the analyst in me took over and I sat back (well stood back, as sitting was out of the question), and surveyed the situation. Less than 15 minutes at the lake, my boat half inflated, compressor needs Viagra, hamburger meat for thighs, tailbone snapped with the Berlin Wall stuck to my butt, S shape of spine reversed, festering wound in ankle, one fish caught.
Then again, one cast, one fish. Makes the day a success in my book.

Seven Steps To Successful Fly Tying

Take it one step at a time. Like me, I tried to do fly fishing on the cheap. I love the sport but, due to the nature of military service (ya think I was in it for the money?) I couldn't afford all those nice things right off the bat, so I've been slowly building up (read terminal gear whore after many years).
Tying flies. I decided to learn to tie flies 'cause it had to be cheaper than buying those little bitty things. If you get the urge to tie flies to save yourself some money, here is my foolproof 7 step plan to tying flies:
Step 1: Find a nice comfortable seat at a table. Put something like plexiglass over a 2x2 foot area of the table to protect it from damage. Do not use a clamp vise on your dining room table. The spouse will find the damage, trust me.
Step 2: Get something to keep yourself organized. I use an old ashtray (don't smoke anymore) to keep small things in 'cause it has nice little indents in the sides to keep all my tools from rolling around.
Step 3: Reach into your bag and get the duct tape that you keep handy for those fishing emergencies.
Step 4: Have some one (you trust) tie you to the chair using the duct tape. Ensure that all is secure and a piece goes over your mouth.
Step 5: Have that person (you really trust) reach into you back pocket, take out your wallet and burn all the money in there in the ashtray.
Step 6: Send the person off to the ATM to max out your cards. Please make sure he has your PIN numbers before he ties you up.
Step 7: Have your buddy burn all the money from the ATM in the ashtray while screaming "Fly tying, Bad!" over and over again. Voila! You're done!
This simple 7 step plan will save you the time that you'll spend hanging out in petting zoos trying to trim that yak, stopping for road kill collection of a charcoal black ground squirrel and expounding ad nauseum on how unfair the penalty for importing polar bear pelts is to a true fly tying artist. I won't even go into the prices that people pay for a chicken skin. Or the problems that can occur when an improperly stored road kill has its own "hatch" (never, my God, never mention maggots to my wife). Burning your money in one swell foop is also cheaper in the long run. It gets it out of your system quickly and is good for your neighborhood fly merchant.
The Reid Seven-Step-Method is available as a book on tape.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas for Fly Tyers

By Mike Connor

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, Two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Seven squirrel bodies, Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Eight hare´s ears, Seven squirrel bodies, Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Nine perfect moleskins, Eight hare´s ears, Seven squirrel bodies, Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Ten Brahma capes, Nine perfect moleskins, Eight hare´s ears, Seven squirrel bodies, Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Eleven prepared pheasants, Ten Brahma capes, Nine perfect moleskins, Eight hare´s ears, Seven squirrel bodies, Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Twelve Tawny owls, Eleven prepared pheasants, Ten Brahma capes, Nine perfect moleskins, Eight hare´s ears, Seven squirrel bodies, Six Golden plover, Five lovely snipe, Four Woodcock wings, Three Dun hens, two starling skins, And a partridge in a pear tree.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Full Combat Shopping, Part 2

On my trip to beautiful Montana, I have my tying kit with me, but after fishing all day and rehydrating all evening, I'm too tired to tie. So, in standard male shopping mode (get to the store, purchase, leave), we pull into West Yellowstone. I need to buy some flies, get a Yellowstone license and info on Slough Creek in the Park.
We hit the fourth shop on the main street of town. We figure that you don't want to go to the first place you see, as they are there to grab the truly desperate. So by going to the 4th place, we'll have weeded out the places catering to the wanna-be fly fisherman. Hmm, that brewpub is up the street a bit. Maybe we'll go there after we get the stuff we need. This should only take 5 minutes.
My fishing buds and I line up at the counter to get our licenses. There's a fan blowing from the back corner of the store. A nice... cool...breezeARRRGH! I can smell it! It's... It's FEATHER PHEROMONES!
A shudder runs through my body starting at my wallet. I.. must.. mall...uh, male shopping mode. Leave the store NOW! But I can't...A little switch has been flipped in my brain. My fishing buddies have seen this before and start screaming "INTERVENTION!" But it's no use. Jekyll and Hyde, Kent and Superman, Parker and Spiderman. They've all gone through it. I change. I am Fly Mall Shopper Man!
I shake off their restraining hands as I'm inexorably drawn to the back and sides of the store. Bins and bins of flies greet my eyes. Size 16 extended body grey drakes, tungsten cone head laced Autumn Splendors, even hair wing PMD emergers.
My fingers act on their own, pick up a gross of little plastic cups and proceed to fill them. Size 20 bead head pheasant tails embed themselves under my nails. I ignore the pain and follow the scent trail. There it is, the fan. It sits in front of the hackle display, seductively oscillating, calling my name "Frrraaaaannk, Frrraaaaannk, Frrraaaaannk" in a susurrating whisper. And next to the fan, the mother load. The discount bins. Oh, you evil fiends!
My bleeding mitts paw through the bins. 10 packs of chenille for 5 bucks, pink raffia for scuds, peach baskets full of half-priced hackle. Bwahahahahahahah!!!!
There is more. I move down the wall, grab two empty peach baskets and start pushing full skeins of variegated chenille into them. Suddenly, I now have two fly shop clerks as personal shoppers. They recognize the signs. Two others are restraining my buddies by explaining the Yellowstone fishing regs in extreme detail. A fifth keeps pointing the fan at me.
I turn the corner and confront a confused 6-year-old. He looks in my baskets. I can tell he wants my stuff. "Mine, Mine, all mine!" I gurgle as I get to the selection of plastic nymph body forms. I clear the rack. The small child follows. I run to the checkout counter, trampling the young man in my haste. I must put my scent on the items and mark my territory. Ah, time for the plastic.
The clerk swipes my card as 4 registers ring my purchases. I grab my loot, license and run. I have the scent now, it pours from the other shops. I run across the street and am struck by a chevy with Florida plates pulling a 5th wheeler. The bumper wraps around my thigh. I'm unaffected. I am Fly Mall Shopper Man!
In the next shop, the story is the same. The first shop has sent out the alert. I'm greeted at the door by the whole staff. Oval stickers with river names, a gourd with trout painted on it, a wading staff that doubles as a whiskey flask. I move on.
Ah, there's the microbrewery. Time to rehydrate. This also affords the local constabulary time to put up road blocks for all the streets I'll cross and get the parade permit for my growing troop of bearers.
I hit the streets again and find the specialty shop that sells custom dyed hackle, caribou, pine squirrel, even whole beaver pelts. As a bonus, they've cornered the market on Zelon. But no longer, its all mine. More peach baskets, the plastic begins to smoke. Time to go, time to rehydrate. Again and again, shop to shop.
Three hours later, the final shop, more flies. And then, there they are. My personal Holy Grail of Fly Fishing. Light falls on them through the skylight. It's a religious moment. I approach, touch, fondle... A bin full of, dare I say it, size 8 Kauffman's golden stone nymphs with Madam X-style rubber legs and custom angora/silk/Angelina fibre dubbed bodies (hook barbs pre-crimped). The credit card bursts into flame from the friction. My day is done.
(WARNING: This is a work of fiction. It is a federal offense in most states and a hanging offense in Montana to attempt to explain the Yellowstone fishing regulations to another person. Do not attempt this at home.)

Full Combat Shopping, Part 1

Okay, I'll admit it; I'm your basic male shopper. I need a pair of pants, I pull into the mall, go directly into the one store that I know sells the ones I like, grab a pair off the rack in my size, buy them and walk out. Done. That's the way it should be.
Sometimes, I'm unable to walk directly into the store that I want and I'm forced to "walk the mall." Okay, eyes forward, ignore the cell phone salesmen, no I don't want rain gutter covers, no, my non-existent jewelry is clean enough, thank you very much. Get to the store, purchase, leave.
Well, in all honesty, sometimes the window displays do pique my interest. "We have Tank Bras!" Hmmm, I guess it would be nice to keep the bugs off the front of your M1 Abrams. I hold firm and keep walking. But sometimes, once in a great while, I'll get hooked.
On my recent trip to Montana, I only spent more than 20 minutes of my time in three towns (hey, it's a FISHING trip), Bozeman, Ennis and West Yellowstone. Let's throw out Bozeman 'cause I only used it as my point of entry and exit.
Note to self: check on validity of the TSA (Trout Safety Administration). These guys stopped me in the parking lot at the airport in Bozeman and went through my fly boxes searching for and confiscating any flies on which I'd not yet crimped down the barbs. They also took away my extra set of waders because of possible zebra mussel infestation. They looked official, so I guess it's for my own good. I did happen to see "Senior Inspector Mike Smith, TSA" the next day enjoying himself in a drift boat.
Makes my heart glad to know that even government employees can get a free day off to go fish, though I don't know how they afford it on their salaries.
Okay, where were we? Oh, yeh, we've chucked out Bozeman from this oh so scientific survey and that leaves us Ennis and Yellowstone. According to the sign entering Ennis, the population is 660 folks and 1,100,000 trout. Ennis has two major fly shops. West Yellowstone, according to US census information, has 1,650 permanent residents. It also has five major fly shops (hmm, all centered on a microbrewery).
A quick bit of math leads us to the conclusion that the mandatory ratio of residents to fly shops in Montana is 330 to 1. This holds true for both Ennis and West Yellowstone, so probably works throughout the state. As a comparison, within the city limits of Baltimore, there is one, count 'em, one fly shop for a population of 651,154 deprived souls. It's just not fair! Time for a full Senate investigation.
There is even one fly shop half way between Ennis and Quake Lake, in the middle of nowhere, that has more flies in one place than any other store I've ever been to, bar none. Mmmm, flies... Oops, sorry, drifted off for a minute.
As a final note, there are also fly shops in most of your lodges along the Madison, some of which are very good. This is a good thing. Lucky for me, at one of these lodges, I was even able to find some size 8 Kauffman's golden stone nymphs with Madam X-style rubber legs and custom angora/silk/Angelina fibre dubbed bodies that looked exactly like the ones that had been confiscated in Bozeman. Figure the odds (I knew they couldn't be mine as, on close inspection, I found that the tyer had crimped the barbs). They also sold used waders. Great shop.

Scientific Study Reveals Hypnotizing Feather Effect

A recent study has indicated that chicken feathers give off certain pheromones that can actually hypnotize men and women, causing them to purchase ungodly amounts of fluff at outrageous prices.
When stored in large quantities in enclosed spaces, the pheromones (from the feathers) cause memory loss and induce the nesting syndrome (similar to the one squirrels have before the onset of winter, i.e. storing food), therefore perpetuating their species. This "nesting" leads to very large agglomerations of feathers. It is posited that the pheromones may come from a symbiotic bacteria and these agglomerations serve to gather large quantities of bacteria together where they breed and further affect the afflicted with memory loss.
Additionally, anechoic chamber tests have also revealed that these feathers emit a very high-pitched sound, heard only by a select few breed of men and women known as "fly tyers." One researcher commented "It's like some ungodly siren song. I was almost lured in myself until I saw the price tag. I could have spent 85 dollars on a chicken neck and not gotten enough meat for lunch."
When recorded and played backwards on an LP, the sounds are heard as chants "buy me, cut me, whip me, tie me!" In order to overcome the so-called "feeding frenzy effect" that these feathers cause, one must wear a full, military-grade gas mask when entering a storage facility and use ear plugs to avoid being pulled into their grip.
Studies have also indicated that aliens have inhabited the earth, helping to spread the effect that these feathers have on the human population. They are called FLY SHOP CLERKS. They can sometimes be heard babbling in their own language, using words like isonychia and meniscus.
One surprising find in this study is the affect on the integrity of those affected. It was found that these same pheromones cause a pathological need to secret these feather purchases away when taken home (or at least blend them into the existing stash), and when asked by a significant other if the feathers are new, the reply is "I've had them for a while."

Felonious Flymphs

(With apologies to Johnny Carson and Jack Webb.)
"Excuse me officer, I need your help."
"What's the problem, sir?"
"I've been fleeced."
"Fleeced? "
"Yes, some one stole my flymphs."
"You were fleeced of your flymphs? What are flymphs?"
"Fly fishing flies."
"You were fleeced of your fly fishing flymph flies."
"That's right, and they were my favorites."
"Where were these flymphs?"
"Flat on the floor of my Fleetwood.
"Okay. You were fleeced of your favorite fly fishing flymph flies that were flat the floor of your Fleetwood. Is that correct?"
"Do you have any idea on who may have fleeced you of your favorite fly fishing flymph flies that were on the floor of your Fleetwood?"
"Floyd Fleming."
"Figures. Do you know where Floyd Fleming is?"
"He flew home to Flat Key, Florida."
"Do you know what Floyd Fleming, who lives in Flat Key Florida, does for a living?
"Yes, he works for the whaling fleet cutting blubber from whales. He's the fleet flenser."
"Let me summarize. Fleet-flenser Floyd Fleming fleeced you of your favorite fly fishing flymph flies that were on the floor of your Fleetwood and flew home to Flat Key, Florida."
"That's correct. One more thing."
If I ever catch fleet-flenser Floyd Fleming who fleeced me of my favorite fly fishing flymph flies that were on the floor of my Fleetwood and flew home to Flat Key, Florida..."
"I gonna flay him."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Warp Drive Chocolate Pie

Many moons ago when I worked for a super-secret government agency, I was going through the directories (this before the era of computer security) looking for new applications. Found a directory aptly named "menus." Hmm, thinks I, this could be the gold mine I was looking for. I open the directory and what do I find? Recipes. Oh well, lets check them out. One nugget I discovered was the recipe for Warp Drive Chocolate Pie. Five minutes to make, a lifetime of creamy chocolate memories.
I wrote down the recipe and smuggled this top secret piece of information home. Made it and found out I'd made one huge mistake. Do NOT try to eat a normal size piece of this pie. You have to slice it into 1 1/2" pieces. Too rich.

Take one 12 oz pack of semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips and put in a blender with 5egg yolks. Remember, just the yolks. Add in three tablespoons of brandy, kahlua or Gran Marnier. Blend this mixture on low for one minute.
Heat 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream just to boiling (about 3 minutes in the microwave). Pour this into the blender with the chocolate mixture and blend on high for one minute.
Pour this into an Oreo cookie or Graham cracker crust (8" available from most grocery stores). Chill three hours uncovered in the fridge.

A caterer friend of mine in the UK served this to the House of Lords. For the first time ever, he was asked for the recipe of one of his items, this pie. He also made a rasberry drizzle out of fresh rasberries and powdered sugar (just heat, mash together and sieve) to drizzle over the top. You can do this with an orange flavored one too if you use the Gran Marnier.

Warning: Do not try this at home!
I was showing the ease of this recipe to my family at my mother's house. She had a square blender and the mixture was sticking in the corners after I put in the heavy cream. I used a rubber spatula to try to get it to mix better. Oopsy! The spatula caught in the still moving blender blades, the full contents of the blender exploded skywards, rendering a perfect outline of my head and shoulders (I was leaning over the blender trying to avoid this by watching what I was doing) on the acoustical ceiling of my mother's kitchen. That outline is still there, 15 years later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Full Combat Fishing

There I was at 30,000 feet without a parachute. The flight attendant was out of olives for my martini. Oh, wait; this is a fishing war story, not an Air Force one.
Okay, I'm on a nine-day pilgrimage to the storied waters of Montana. Salmonfly hatch on the Madison just below Quake Lake. Just gonna wade out here to the middle of the stream, what the? Wade? WADE? If I wade out there, they'll be rifling my vest on my bloated body in Ennis, 40 miles downstream. This is definitely "big water."
Okay, so I'll fish from shore. I'm gingerly sitting on the bank (I'd broken my tailbone the week before I left whilst falling down the stairs) and a salmonfly lands on my shirt. I pick him up, examine him, weigh and measure (about 6 pounds and 27 inches), photograph and then play catch and release. In this case, catch and release means chuck him in the river. Well, I guess this is like chumming, 'cause a huge brown slams it after about 10 feet. Hmmm. Momma Reid didn't raise no dummy. I tie on a salmonfly dry with a Kaufmann's Golden Stone dropper on 2X tippet. Pull out some line, drop the fly into the current, and WHAM!
Now, Bubba Brownie ain't dumb either. He wants to show off his catch to all his buds that live downriver. He proceeds to take off at a 45 degree angle into the big water, heading for the opposite shore. I decide to follow and do a "River Runs Through It." Useless wading staff in my left hand and rod held high in my right, I'm heading north at full tilt.
By the way, what's with this river running north stuff? Seriously screws with your sense of direction.
'Bout this time, my buddies call me on the walkie-talkie and say its time to go. They get no answer from me, as I'm now water skiing behind this fish, a Montana sleigh ride. My silence worries them, as they believe I may have a penchant for falling in the water. Don't know where that comes from.
I endeavor to get below the fish, but between the 800 CFS of the current and the snot covered bowling balls I'm wading over, it's a loosing cause. I ship a little water over the top of my waders. No, make that a lot of water. I now have three rainbows and a Rocky Mountain Bonefish nipping at my shirt buttons. Step, slide, step, step, YEHOOO. We're going in boys!
Found a hole. Now I'm floating. The wading staff makes a lousy tiller. Got. To. Keep. Tension. On. The. Fish. I lift my feet up and head downstream in the proper whitewater safety position. I don't worry about sweepers because I'm now about 20 yards from shore and speeding up.
I pass three drift boats and get a thumbs up from all the guides. I grab for the gunnel of the front boat. It's my last chance at salvation. As my outstretched fingers reach for the prow, the sport in the front gives me a high five, slapping my hand away. "Great fish, fight 'im bud!" he hollers as I slip past my last hope of not inhaling the whole river.
My life flashes before my eyes. Most of the scenes highlighted are similar to this, i.e. up to my eyeballs in water. Hmm, sounds like a trend.
Just then, my heels hit bottom. I'm not out of the woods yet, as the current is pushing me towards my lunch date in Portland, Oregon. I jam the wading staff into the bottom, get my feet under me, and stand up. Ops check, all parts attached, fish still on the line. I fight my way to the bank and drag the fish with me. If he thinks he's gonna pop my tippet after all this, he's wrong. After four tries, I get him close enough to net. I pop out the fly, hold him in the water, get out the camera (waterproof) and try to sit on the bank. EEEEYOWWW!!!
My body uncoils like a switchblade as I remember that busted tailbone that is now bearing my weight. 24 inches of brown trout flies through the air like a flapjack. I spin back down the bank, catch the fish in the net, plop him down for three seconds on the bank, snap a pic, and then hold him in the current as we both huff and puff for five minutes.
About this time, I recognize the plaintive calls for me coming from the walkie-talkie in the Ziploc in my wader pocket. They're ready to call out search and rescue. I tell them that I'll meet them on the road. They drive up, only to be greeted by my soaked self, 300 yards downstream from where I started. Then again, these guys have both fished with me before. No surprises.
"Didcha land 'im?"
"Get in, its beer time."
Hmm, this is only my first fish of the week. Wonder what the rest will be like.

Good joke: Great MacGyver Cookie Recipe

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lyin' in Winter

Okay, there are folks who enjoy fishing in the middle of winter. Some are called "ice fishermen," others "steelheaders." I use the collective noun; insane masochists.
I've been ice fishing before. I was the third man in a two-holer ice tent. If you've never seen one, imagine a nylon-fabric porta-potty on the middle of a frozen lake, all surrounded by little flags stolen from a Smurf golf course. At least, that's what it looks like. Some of these tents and shacks are very fancy, with solid sides, sofas, TV and hot and cold running maniacs. More on that.
It was Nebraska in late January. I was invited to join Henry and John to fish. As a fly fisherman, I show up with my fly rod and a chainsaw. I figure I can cut a long, keyhole shape in the ice and get two or three casts before the guides freeze up.
The guys invite me into their tent. My 8'6" five weight won't fit, so I leave it at the door. I keep the chainsaw, noting the crazed look in the eyes of these erstwhile "friends." Self defense, 'doncha know.
The interior is sparse. Two upturned 5 gallon buckets in a line with a kerosene space heater in the middle. They are facing two holes in the ice. Two fishing rods that have been taken away from their mothers too soon sit on little stands; the lines go into the water.
I need a hole. Hmm, never had cause to utter that sentence before. I mention this to Henry, he steps outside the tent and brings in "the drill." This isn't your standard Black & Decker. The drill has a 2 horsepower gas motor on the top, handles designed for hands wearing boxing gloves and a 9 inch bit. Not 9 inch long, but 9 inches across. This is the WMD evidence that we were looking for in Iraq.
John pushes things back and Henry pulls the rip cord, the tent fills with smoke and noise. Okay, we got your basic shock and awe going here. I'm shocked that the thing will start in the minus fifty degree temps and awe gonna get out before I'm overcome by carbon monoxide.
Henry centers the bit between the other two holes, pushes a lever and poof! We have a three-holer. 14 inches down and he's into the lake. He takes the drill outside and then starts to explain the technique.
"Okay, those holes outside are John's and mine. You fish out of your hole here. We don't have the gear to set you up outside."
"Those are more fishing holes? I thought the local CSI had been out here tagging evidence from some bizarre Inuit gang war. How do you get the fish in? You've got no fishing poles."
"Well, the flags are tip ups. When the flag goes up, we run out and pull up the line. Right now, we have them set for bigger, cruising fish. We don't want to catch tiddlers."
"You catch tiddlers on your tip-ups?"
"No, we don't want to catch tiddlers on the tip-ups. That's why we use a flasher."
Okay, thinks I, these guys are suffering frostbite between the earmuffs. I warily eye my two tentmates in their knee-length parkas, as I slowly move to the back corner of the tent.
"You flash the fish?"
"Yes, we put the probe down the hole and we can see the fish with the flasher."
"You put the probe down the hole so you can see the fish with the flasher and not catch tiddlers with the tip-ups."
"Okay, I think I've got it. What I've got, I've no clue. What do you use for bait?"
"Wax worms."
"Those look like maggots."
"No, no. They're totally different."
"Well, they don't seem to have much action."
"You have to warm them up."
"How do you warm them up?" asks I.
"Just pop a few in your mouth and hold 'em in your cheek." He then raises his mitten to his mouth and coughs up four wriggling worms into his palm.
"I think I'm gonna spew!"
"Don't worry about it. They're wax worms. Perfectly clean."
"You're sure about this?"
"Of course, been doing it for years. Since I've started warming up my bait, I've trebled the amount of fish caught."
John is besides me nodding seriously. He opens up a little cardboard can and shakes a tablespoon full of chilled, flesh colored rice krispies into my glove. I summon up my courage and pop them into my mouth.
"Mmbule, mrammblu bebeme nbm mammods?"
I move the wax worms around with my tongue playing sheepdog and finally herd the suckers into my cheek. "I said, what's the difference between wax worms and maggots? You said they were totally different." The wax worms are starting to wake up and one escapes out the corner of my mouth, plopping onto the ice and squirming away.
"Marketing. No one in the US would buy maggots so they changed the name to wax worms."
John takes the pepper shot full in the face. He now looks like a genetically altered Medusa with maggots instead of snakes. None the less, they are both laughing hysterically.
This is the ice fishing initiation. Henry just had a few "wax worms" in his palm to keep them warm. With a bit of slight of hand, just spit into the mitten and voila, there they were.
I, on the other hand, am not laughing. I still have one little bugger caught behind a crown and a second is heading for my sinuses. Now I know where they got the idea for so many movies along the line of Alien. That sucker nested up there. Finally hatched out during a big presentation I was giving at work.
Time to get down to fishing. John hands me a spare rod. It's about 18 inches long with a little bitty reel attached. I remove my gloves to bait the hook, picking a couple of live ones out of John's hair line.
Since there is no room up front, I lean over the space heater and finally set up on my hole. Plunk, in the water with a bobber the size of a kidney bean. Hey, this isn't so bad. A couple of "friends," we're fishing and chatting away. Even after my appetizer, I'm starting to get hungry.
As a matter of fact, I smell something cooking. Doesn't smell very good. More like burning plastic bags. Smoke curls up around my face. John looks over and casually comments, "fire."
"You're on fire."
I look down, and my parka is up against the space heater. Flames are licking up from my groin to my chest. I calmly assess the situation. Ah, yes. Stop, drop and role. I remember that from kindergarten. Unfortunately, there is no room in the tent for this maneuver. I believe its time to quietly exit the facility and find a snow bank.
Translate: The scream that I emit draws sharks in from the South Pacific and sets off car alarms for a 50 mile radius. Many Nebraskans head to their tornado shelters. I throw the rod and reel, which takes the path of least resistance and drops straight down through the hole in the ice. I proceed to beat myself across the stomach and chest whilst doing a great impression of the Tasmanian Devil in a confined space. I finally head for the exit.
I hit the door doing about Mach 10. The Velcro closure decides to hold fast. I, and now the whole tent with me, am now moving across the windswept lake. The tent finally catches on its two other occupants. It molds around them like a second skin. They don't move, John thinks he has a nibble. The Velcro gives and I burst through the door.
As I exit, I figure out that the flames were oxygen starved in the tent. I know this, because as soon as I hit the outside air, I turn into a human comet, a flaming blue head trailed by a stream of grey smoke. I head for the nearest snow bank and discover the true meaning of windswept. Ain't no snow banks for hundreds of yards around.
Kids are playing hockey. I head out, head down and hip check a ten-year-old into Kansas. I enter the flagged minefield of Henry and John's tip-ups. Slaloming through, I manage to snag every one of them with my mukluks. I look like a Wisconsin limousine kitted out for a wedding. One tip-up is attached to a state-record walleye that flies through the air, flash freezes, shoots across the lake, and trips a figure skater who does the first ever quadruple Lutz. Unfortunately, she lands in one of John's ice holes and is never seen again.
I finally dive for the ice, rolling and spinning in inaugural Winter X-Games break dance competition. The officials hold up their signs, 2, 1.5, 2 and a 0.5 from the French judge.
The flames out, I look back and Henry and John haven't moved. The tent site looks like a plane crash debris field. My 5 weight is broken and forms a cross over the hole that the skater disappeared through. John raises his rod and brings up a 6" yellow perch.
I think I'll stick to fly fishing and class V rapids, it's safer.

Stress Relief

I use one of two techniques to relieve stress, exercise or alcohol. This is especially important in Nebraska in the Winter when you need a chain saw to fly fish. Learned a valuable lesson, do NOT mix these two techniques. Whatever you do, DO NOT drink a half a bottle of single malt and get on a BowFlex.
By the way, anyone know of a good source of cheap ceiling tiles?

The Float Tube

A few years back, I got my first tube. It was a "surprise" birthday present from my loving wife (I suspect she had a boyfriend and wanted me out of the house or she had gotten my signature down well enough for the insurance papers).
I say surprise because it truly was. I had filled out the order form and used one of my daughter's alphabet magnets to secure it firmly to the fridge. This had been a standard, if useless tactic of mine for years. A very subtle hint on my birthday wishes. My lovely bride of course always knew me better than that. Saw right through this clever charade. Normally got me things she knew I really needed and wanted. Like that bathroom cozy set that can turn a toilette seat cover into a bear trap.
When she trotted it out for my birthday, well actually, she came in to the living room, dropped the form in my lap and told me to "order the damn thing," I boldly informed her of the extra costs associated with a tube, i.e. breathable waders, vest, flippers. She immediately agreed that these items had to go with the tube. Well, not immediately. I first explained the purpose of the different items and she gradually built up a mental picture of her masterful husband in waders, flippers with brand new float tube firmly ensconced on his hips.
I did have to get the less expensive waders though. Had to pay for that emergency room visit for her right about then. She had this terrible episode characterized by hysteria. Almost couldn't breath, it hit her so hard. Kept saying something like "donut hole."
When the whole package arrived, I immediately took the whole kit and kaboodle down to the lake. On the way, I stopped off at the gas station and gave my tube its first breath of air. Just left it in the trunk, didn't even bother to take it out and inspect it. Filled and off to the lake! Fish beware!
When I got to the lake, I pulled my waders out of the back seat and quickly donned them. Put my rod together, hooked up a crawdad fly and finally, the last step, I put on my flippers. I then went to the trunk and got the tube out. Well, not exactly just then. See, I'd filled it while it sat in the trunk of the car. It was now too large to get out of the trunk. All's I wanted to do was a bit of fishing, but my spatial cognitive skills had been less than perfect. That's something else my bride always told me.
I found that if I deflated the float tube about 1/3 of the way down, I could get it back out of the trunk. Didn't really have to deflate it that far, but it took that much air out of the thing before I figured that one of the "D" rings was caught on the trunk spring. I could go back up the road to the gas station and fill it back up, but it still looked pretty full so I decided to go for it.
It was about 200 yards from the parking area to the lake. About 150 yards across the field, I discovered that you can walk much better if you carry the tube over your shoulder and take off the flippers. You can understand my need to get at the fish had slightly clouded my judgment. No more hanging out on shore with those other slobs, I had a boat.
I finally got down an area that looked like a good place to launch. I had talked to a friend with a float tube and had heard of the problems with mud at a launch site. Not this bubba, no sir. Found a good rock ledge to launch from. There was a rock in calf deep water that dropped off to about 12 feet. You couldn't see the bottom but I figured it was the same distance swimming to the bottom as at my high school swimming pool.
I stood on the ledge, had my tube around me, my rods in my right hand and I launched. I needed a bottle of champagne to drink or break on my tube. It was a joyous feeling. Right up until I found out what that little crotch strap is for. See, when I stepped out off that rock, my butt hit the saddle of the tube, the tube folded up like a chocolate taco and I shot through the bottom, right past that dangly little strap. Didn't even have to worry about a life vest to slow my hi-speed passage through that torus from hell.
Had to let go of the rods as I felt them flex in my hand and was afraid to break them. Came up struggling for air. Be amazed at the water temp in Omaha, Nebraska in the third week of April. I now know how Jesus walked on water. The water was cold as ice and as soon as he hit it, he was on his feet moving. Felt like I was in one of those "polar bear clubs."
I reached out and quickly grabbed my tube and dragged it back with me to the rock ledge. One of my two rods had caught on the right side handle by the reel and I was able to quickly retrieve it. Unfortunately, it was the cheap rod. The good rod was at the bottom of this rock ledge somewhere. This is how I learned how deep the water was.
I stripped off my boots and waders and dove in before I realized how cold, cold could get. Water was a bit chilly to say the least. On my fourth dive, I found a rod and brought it to the surface. It was a wonderful three-dollar Zebco. Went back down and finally found my rod after about two or three more tries.
Now I had a bit of a problem. Hypothermia was setting in. An inability to stop shaking was my first clue. But ever the fisherman, I thought, "wonder what other rods are down there?" I shook off that thought put my wading boots back on, piled my stuff in the tube, SECURED IT WITH THE CROTCH STRAP, and headed back up to the car. The air temp was a brisk 40 degrees with a good wind. I did have to stop after about ten feet and drain the water out of the float tube cover. That area not filled with inner tube from the deflation was now filled with water. Added about 60 lbs to the whole package.
When I got to the car, I dumped my stuff in the trunk but didn't have anything to dry off with. My jeans were soaked and the only thing dry was my sneakers that I'd left in the car.
I now knew there were three opportunities to die on this day. I'd just lived through one, a drowning. I was in the middle of another, hypothermia. I got my clothes off and covered myself with a small rucksack. I then found a rag t-shirt under the seat that I used to check the oil. I turned the engine on and luckily, the car hadn't had much of a chance to cool down and the heater was soon up to full speed.
Now, I figured there would be one other way to die on this day, the most horrible of the three. Not the panic of the drowning, not the slow loss of consciousness of hypothermia, but the death of a thousand I-told-you-so's. If the mother of my children found out about the fact I couldn't get more than three feet from shore without killing myself, what chance would I ever get to go out on a quiet morning and go fishing by myself? She had already insisted that I wear an international orange hat to keep me from turning into the marine version of the lane turtles on the interstate, on a no-wake lake no less!
Couldn't go home. Explain my new oily-t-shirt-and-wet-underpants outfit to the wife. Not on your life. Couldn't go to a laundry mat. The mid-west populace does not look kindly on some shirtless blue Pict in chest waders wandering into the laundry mat and scaring hell out of old Aunt Sally.
But, as a fisherman, I had the answer, duct tape. I had to get my pants and shirt dry. I duct taped my blue jeans to the inside of the hood of my car. This was rather fun as I was now wearing the t-shirt as a toga wrap-around. I then duct taped my flannel shirt to the heater underneath the passenger seat dash. I closed the shirt up with tape so all of the hot air would have to go through the shirt.
Hopped on the highway and took an eighty mile drive to Lincoln and back.
Got back to the lake and in a secluded area checked out my handy work. All, except for the seams of the shirt collar, was dry.
I went home and strolled in, bold as brass (and smelling of gas). My wonderful wife queried me about my fishing. I answered quite honestly that I'd not gotten a bite all day (except frostbite). The poor woman will never really understand me as a fisherman. Her next comment was "I don't know why you just don't fish from the bank. That outfit looks like more problems than its worth."
Ah, but I got a tube!