Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ahab, You Complete Me.

     At the risk of getting all highbrow, I recently tapped into some really instinctual parts of myself while putting my entire life behind me and setting my priorities on the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine.  In the end, I couldn’t help my mind from steering its way toward a book, more so to the ideas it was created to give voice to, that once kept me holed up in a hotel room reading it for the first time while I should have been immersing myself in everything a wedding in Las Vegas means.  Some passages from that book kept popping into my head while I was in the car for hours on-end driving back to the rat-race accounting for a goal well met, a few things that suddenly made more sense than they used to, and some unfinished business.

     “Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”

     Yep, Melville, thou art quite right, at least when it comes to this crusty Bostonian who gets his back up every time his car is towed or ticketed, and he  endures every imaginable SNAFU that city-folk have mythologized the way apple pie is to normal people.  In deference to a deeply ingrained part of myself that gets just as annoyed as everybody else when people start quoting classics, I’ll just leave that one bread-crumb behind and let you figure out what book has laid more metaphysical eggs than I thought it had in my soul if you care.

     As I closed in on my destination, the Kennebago River was pointing the way alongside the road.  I had never seen it for myself and when there was a nice stretch of pavement without curves or other cars, I would undress it with my eyes for way longer than was safe at high speed.  In the fall, this is some hallowed ground, I would learn in only a few short hours, but my innocent heart was already thinking, “Fuck the hotel, I can sleep in my car tonight, there’s got to be some absolute pigs holding alongside these undercut banks, in these spacious nests of boulders, and where all of these riffles lay their tongues out into languid reaches of calm, deep, dark water.”

     Another voice won out (pretty sure it wore an eye-patch), though, and I held tight to the keel until I hit Rangeley, checked myself in, ditched a few things in the room, and set out for an evening hatch, somewhere, anywhere.  Mishaps, misunderstandings, some stand-offish natives, and possible car-stranding-ruin-your-trip dirt-roads landed me on some pretty famous trout water a couple hours before dusk.  I fished angrily, so the catches were small, na├»ve brookies and salmon, but once I chilled out, and actually pulled my head out of my behind mayflies were swarming/mating in the air all around me.  If I had more than a slim chance of finding my way out of there in the dark, I’d have gotten up on a classic March-Brown spinner fall!

     At what felt like zero-dark-thirty the next day, I met up with the first guide I have ever hired in my entire life. Gone forever are the days where I fritter away the first few days on a new watershed feeling around in the dark if I have anything to do with it. Normal reality involves long, unpredictable hours of stressful work with only my wits to ensure that the wallet stays fat, so I’m happy to line the pockets of somebody whose daily bread depends on how well attuned they are to their ecosystem.  Shit, at the end of the day, I want people like my guide to exist in every ecosystem everywhere in the world, because they are the first line of defense when some possible-bad-actor-of-the-future decides to turn an ecosystem into cash. I want stake-holders, vigilant and invested, armed with the required resources to stop it while the rest of the world merrily ruins everything else where it’s already too late.

     He led me across a river that isn’t exactly a secret, but I’m not about to be “that guy” either.  We got some nice face-full-o-spider-webs along a path that was travelled, but not daily, and not exclusively by people.  He put me on one of the few places the river flattens out, and we had a heart-breaking stretch of highly-oxygenated, cold water, with a strong flow filled with fish all to ourselves.  He rigged me up the way he wanted, and I was, literally, a good sport about it.  I got a nice brookie in comparison to what I was used to right away.  Once that fish was happily home (this river is fly-fishing only, barbless-hooks, catch-and-release regulated) I had another on.  Soon we had one in the net that I felt required photographic representation.  A few minutes later we had one in the net that dwarfed it.  The fishing just kept on being awesome, then we got hungry, fished more, bounced around some, then we got tired, and the day was over.  That dude was Santa!

     I could go on forever, but in the interest of brevity:

     When you straddle a rotting deer corpse to hook a fish that just does what it pleases, rips off line over-and-over like you aren’t even there, wraps you around a boulder, and leaves you cursing yourself chest-deep in rapids while you demolish the loop-connector on your fly-line ripping the rig loose, that’s actually a fantastic series of bad events to have experienced.  You will wonder until the day you die why it didn’t even occur to you to tighten your drag down a few clicks, but then you will remember that you’re basically a chimpanzee and sometimes life puts you in a place where reason is subject to more fundamental urges.

     You may think of yourself as overweight and washed-up from day-to-day, but when you hook a giant salmon, and it leaps four feet out the water to show you how big and strong it is before it zips off with your 5x tippet downstream into a quarter-mile of uninterrupted rapids, you’ll figure out 200 yards later, when it’s all done in a patch of calm water the size of your desk, that you can still hop across raging torrents only touching the exposed tips of boulders with yesteryear’s agility, you can fall flat on your face against piles of granite and still keep the fish hooked, you can shove the badass prima-donna of a fly-rod that nobody else gets to touch under the sweeping boughs of streamside trees, and emerge bloody, bruised, but victorious!  After all of that commotion you carefully nurse the fish in slow water until it is strong and ready, then set it free….

     Back at the ponderosa with moths swarming about the few bulbs, bullfrogs crying into the void for love, geese, foxes, and god know what else making a song in the night the same as it ever was, it’s a place you can go to sleep and not care too much whether you ever wake up.

     I’m going back.  If you happen to see the remains of a fisherman lashed by the tangle of a million broken-off flies to the side of a giant brookie right before it crushes your dreams and swims away into the darkness, those are mine, and you found your way to my spot.
** ASO Prostaffer GW , our resident trout bum, lost his mind in the Rangeley area. And I'm happy for him

Friday, June 27, 2014

Maine Hunt Test

     The Maine Spaniel Field Trial Club hosted it's annual hunt test on the weekend of June 21st at Sugar Maple Farm in Hebron maine. The test saw a large variety of flushing dogs participating in every level. Saturday 45 dogs: 22 Springers, 19 Cockers, 2 Clumbers, 1 Golden Retriever, and 1 American water Spaniel took to the field for what proved to be a very long day. Sunday the entries thinned out a bit with only 37 dogs: 17 springers, 16 Cockers, 2 Clumbers, 1 Golden Retriever, and 1 American water Spaniel. Several of the entries were handled by junior handlers under the age of 14, all of whom showed an exceptional knowledge of spaniels and spaniel handling. In addition to being a test, the MSFTC was sure to keep this a social event too, and Saturday finished off with a pig roast, and refreshments.

     I learned a while ago that not all hunt tests are created equal. If you've ever really wanted to "test" your flushing dog, this is the event. The MSFTC really thought about what a spaniel should be able to do, and put together a challenging, yet fair test. The JH test was similar to most test; the land series being held in a field with adequate cover, and the water series being held on an open, slow moving section of a nearby river. Things got more difficult for the SH, and MH testing dogs. The SH test land series was held on a course in the woods with one gun walking the edge of the field, and the other in the woods. All the flushes were in the woods, but some of the marks fell in the field. The SH hunt dead was held in a reasonably thick section of woods, and the water mark held on a pond with a bit of cover in the water. The MH land series was held on a course with the centerline running along the woodline. one gun walked the field, while the other walked in the woods. To add to the difficulty, 10 yards inside the woodline was a stone wall which the dogs would have to cross as it quartered. The MH hunt dead was held in a depression with reasonably thick cover on Saturday, and across a slightly sloping, reasonably covered hillside with a stone wall on Sunday. The MH water mark was into the same pond as the SH test, but the MH water blind required the dog to swim across a pond with quite a bit of cover, and to continue it's search in the cover on the opposite side of the pond. While this test proved to be the toughest test we've yet to enter, none of the events were something any spaniel shouldn't be able to handle.

     Being a true test, things didn't go as well as quite a few, myself included, would have liked. For the most part, the JH dogs made it through. At the SH level we began to see a few more dogs getting dropped, but still a lot of qualifying scores. The MH level saw the most dogs being dropped with only 6 of the 14 dogs qualifying on Saturday, and 5 of the 13 dogs qualifying on Sunday. We failed to qualify on Saturday when Ginger could finish her hunt dead, which was in some cover in a depression with no wind blowing through to help out.

     Sunday we made it through, and Ginger earned her second MH qualifying score. Her land series wasn't pretty, and to be honest, I wasn't thrilled with her performance. She handled nicely, but I thought her steadiness could have been a little sharper. Moving on to the hunt dead, my faith in her was totally restored. The hunt dead required the dog to go straight out through a bit of a depression, over a stone wall, and then to carry a little further into the cover. Many dogs hang up when they encounter a wall, or any perpendicular changes in cover such as a hedgerow, or a stream, and will make a turn. Ginger took her line, crossed the wall, and disappeared in the cover, only to emerge a moment later, bird in mouth. I couldn't have been happier. Her water blind was almost identical with the exception of her getting a bit sideways off the line, and needing a couple of whistles to get her back on track. Our water mark was less than perfect, but I blame myself. Ginger marked the fall, and started off nicely. She was, however, pulled left by something about 2/3 of the way to the mark. Rather than letting her sort it out by herself, which I'm sure she would have quickly done, I pipped the whistle to turn her. As a result our score suffered because I handled her on a marked retrieve.

     When it was all said and done, I felt very satisfied with our result. This was a challenging test, and what I believe all tests should aspire to be. None of the events were anything a spaniel shouldn't be able to handle, and represents the type of challenges a spaniel hunting in New England is likely to encounter. I will definitely participate in this test again in the future.

Tossed a few bumpers for a bored dog between events.

Going out for the water mark, which is in the green cover.

MH qualifying score #2


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More Trout Fishing; Westfield River

     I suppose sooner or later we all pick our poison. No doubt about it, mine is grouse hunting and gun dogs. Regular readers of ASO know I'm a spaniel guy, and frequently campaign my FBESS (field bred English Springer Spaniel), Ginger. Unfortunately, the prime hunt test, and field trial season overlaps with some of the best times to be on the trout water, so my trout fishing escapades are relegated to the tail end of the spring, and the early fall. Fortunately, ASO prostaffer GW is a trout bum, and is frequently available to give me adequate tips and instruction when I have the time and notion to make a trip to the river. Recently, I've been on the water with both GW and BK.

     Massachusetts is an interesting state, and the right type of sportsman could do good here. I know many who enjoy regular success during the deer or waterfowl season, wild turkey are abundant, and both cold water and warm water fisheries are available. Unfortunately, ruffed grouse habitat has diminishing to the point where I don't even bother to spend any time hunting them, here. It's not become worth the effort for me to make a 2+ hour drive. And then there's the traffic. There are few things in life that I truly hate, but traffic is one of them. It really needs to be worth  my while to get me to drive in traffic. Trout fishing in Massachusetts, is in my opinion good enough to stomach some traffic.

     There are options, and plenty of them for the angler in search of trout in Mass. The Deerfield river is considered by many the states best cold water fishery. Other popular trout streams are the Swift, the Still water, the Quinapoxet, the Housatonic, and the Westfield. All of these rivers have their bonuses, and their draw backs. Making a decision can be difficult. But not for me. The Deerfield sufferes from unpredictable water flow, the Swift is too popular and crowded, and the Quinnie too boney this time of the year. So it was to be the east branch of the Westfield. I'm very familiar with the area, and the Westfield holds a certain allure to me. There is more to the story, however. You see, I haven't fished on the Westfield in several years. After many trips to the river, and countless hours trying, I'd never caught a trout on the Westfield. So I gave up. For some reason I thought I'd try again, and I'm glad I did. Not only did I catch a couple of rainbows, but I caught a decent Brownie, too.

     Before I go on, too much, I should explain a little about my fishing philosophy. I'm not in any way, shape, or form a purist. I seldom fish dry flies, and when I do they're usually terrestrials. I like nymphing, and recently have been playing with some traditional wet flys. Strike indicators don't bother me, and I've even been known to Hi-stick a few riffles. I measure success differently, too. Like my bird hunting where success isn't measured by birds in the hand, but by total flush count, my trout fishing goal is to have my rod bent. If a fish makes it to the net, great. On the occasion when the trout spits my barbless hook after a short fight, I'm fine with that too. Hey, I fooled 'em. My recent trips to the river was marked with both nettings, and "remote releases." Enough of both to, not only restore my belief in the Westfield, but to make it exciting, too. My day on the water with GW was not only a day that saw good action, but afterwards GW and I realized that we'd caught fish in every pool and riffle we'd fished. Yet another measure of success. And today saw both BK and I hooking up and netting Rainbows within minutes of getting on the water.

     Today was probably my last day on the river until the fall. It's really the tail end of the prime trout season, and the water level today was noticeably lower than last week. More exposed rocks means the water heats up quicker, and the trout go deeper or die. Unfortunately, I also had a lot of trouble with my GoPro camera, most of it operator error, and have neither photo, nor video of any of our fishing. Fortunately, both of the ASO prostaffers I fished with are more tech savvy than me, and photo evidence should surface shortly.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Reminder; ASO YouTube channel

Just a reminder to check out the All Seasons Outdoors Youtube channel.

All Seasons Outdoors YouTube channel

As I've been getting better with my GoPro, and have learned how to edit the videos, I've begun to add more content to the channel. Check it out.

Trout camp '14

      "Freeze your knees" is what they call it up north. I'm talking about trout fishing the northern reaches of the Connecticut river where it flows out of Lake francis, and the areas between the lakes. The wilderness is pristine, and the water sufficiently cold. Brook Trout were the main course, a pleasant departure from the many local rainbows. Pretty, adult sized Brookies, not the little pint sized Brookies found around here. The fishing, quite honestly, wasn't very good. But when you're as far north as we were, nothing really suckes, either. We'll be back, and BK and I even had a little chat about heading up for a little cast-n-blast in early October when the beginning of grouse season overlaps the end of trout season.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Group Therapy

Some times you've just got to get it all out; laugh, cry, rant, & rave. Of course, when you're group session involves both man and dog, it's mostly smiles, and the occassional run down. But it's all good in the end.

Don't forget to check our YouTube channel for more videos.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Central Ct Spaniel Club Hunt Test Success

     The Central Connecticut Spaniel Club hosted a hunt test at Nod Brook management area in Simsbury Ct last weekend. The two day event saw lots of JH, and MH dogs, and a handful of SH dogs all working towards their appropriate titles. While Springers were the most represented breed, various Cockers, Boykins, Labs, and even a Flat Coated retriever were in attendance.

     The weather was beautiful, though a bit warm and humid, and the cover nice and full. The birds, despite their being wet with morning due for the early land series' cooperated and flushed nicely. Often at hunt tests Chukars get trapped by a hard charging dog before they get airborne, some where on the order of 50% of the time. This test saw a much lower percentage of trapped birds, with birds being flushed 75-80% of the time.

     This hunt test proved to be unique in the large number of dogs that earned a title, and moved up to the next level as well. While I failed to make notations, I'd guess that better than 50% of the dogs that made it though earned a title. And Ginger was one of them, earning her Senior Hunter title on Saturday, and moving up to the Master level, where she earned her first Master Hunter qualifying score. I couldn't have been any happier with Ginger's final Senior Hunter run, turning out what I think was nearly perfect. Day two, as is prone to happen, proved to be a bit more difficult (not only because we moved up to MH level), but she made it through.

Starbury Ponkapoag Ginger Snap SH