Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Black Bass Spring

Editor's note: I have some talented friends. Chad is one of them. Below is the last of three guest posts for a while from my buddy east of the Big River. His writings last year (herehere and here) were well received and different from what you typically find on this blog. I hope you enjoy Chad’s work and style as much as I do. 

As long as I have fly-fished I’ve been fascinated by bass bugs.  I appreciate the form and function of them, and the artistry of the flies.  Bass bugs are purely American in history as black bass are native only to the Americas.  References to fly fishing for black bass in America dates back as far as the mid 1700s when William Bartram observed Seminole Indians dap them up on a series of hooks wrapped in deer hair and hung off the end of a cut sapling.  By the early 1900s bass bugs were produced and fished widely in the United States.  They still are.

For me, the touchstone of true spring in Northeastern Connecticut is when I can begin fishing for bass in farm ponds.  It is when I know winter is truly over and there will be no more snow.  It is the first warm spell of over a few days, and the evening has stretched out and begun to linger.  It is the sound of peep frogs, untold and unseen thousands of them, singing in the low wet places.  Among those wet places first, a new spring green emerging from the grey bracken and underbrush. 

I love the flies used to fish bass.  The insane intricacies of color that a good fly tier can meld and pack in their making, and clip so perfect to form: frog divers, mice patterns, poppers, birds even.  I love the gear used, I often use a #7 glass rod that is older than I am.  I love it that it is substantial and weighty and off the business end a short and stout leader.  Much like the fish, bass bugging is not delicate.

Farm ponds generally warm quickly.  The best early spring ponds are exposed to full sun, and are shallow.  Any bay available, but a North bay especially.  Walking the bank, amazed at the life teeming in the shallows so soon.  Young of the year fish breaking, frogs, the dark wake of a good fish pushing off in less than a foot of water.  A hunting fish.

I love the strike.  It will surprise me always, the first strike of the year, and I will generally miss the fish.  Even if that mouse looks so damn good skating on the oil slick black water with its rabbit strip tail undulating like a snake, it will take me off guard.  When the violence comes and the fish hits it.  The key is to wait on the set, and not do it like you would any trout.  I love the boiling take, when the fish porpoises onto the fly perpendicular to me, exposing its size and kicking down the back end of its feed.  The deep bend to the glass rod, head shakes and runs.  The quick fight, no quarter given, pressuring on that short stout leader freely.

You can lip a bass, and should do so with authority, especially on a good fish. They’ll shake their heads and fuss, but soon settle.  I love the feel of their course jaw on my thumb and appreciate their dark lateral lines, dual dorsal fins, and broad tails.  Their deep green, the darker their water, the deeper the green, but generally in the early spring lighter as weed growth hasn’t yet shaded their homes.  

In the spring, on those first sweet nights where it is warm until it is full dark.  Fishing through full dark.  The deep flexing glass rod, hucking that bug out and letting it sit to settle as the rings of its landing dissipate out into the evening lake.  Bringing it to life.  Stripping it to be alive on the surface of the pond.  I love when the wake appears and follows.  Quickening the pace, the implied fear in the fly.  Then, the flash of the predatory mouth.

I associate this fishing with the first campfires and sweatshirts.  The static hush of the Fenway crowd and Joe Castiglione calling for the Red Sox on WEEI, “Now here’s the set.  The pitch…….”  Windows down on the ride home, sated.  Sleeping with the windows open for the first time, waking with a rough bass thumb in the cool April morning.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sometimes I Think About Dying

Editor's note: This is the second of three guest posts from my buddy Chad. This is a heavy one. The author is not dying, is quite well, and sometimes thinks about dying. Who doesn't? It is, after all,  an intrinsic part of life itself. Chad wishes to thank his father for taking him fishing, and his wife for giving him children to take himself. 

hot humid night already. late june, and already the dog days. 

the sound of his door opening, the handle. his small boy footsteps on the floor, towards the big bedroom. pause. she hears all this. turns. momma? his steps down the hallway towards the kitchen. she sits at the table, amidst the spreadsheet of all the bills.

hey buddy. he has the picture in his hands. has been carrying it since.

momma. he pauses. holds the picture to his belly. pauses. thinks. can i have a drink?

sure bud. what do you want? some juice? or some cold water?

yeh. cold water. could i have some?

sure buddy. come here. she scoops him up. his hair is damp. he holds the picture. 

he takes a long drink, the water sounds going down his throat. gasps. his breath fogs the inside of the glass, his breath moves over the ice water. he drinks again. her hands smoothing over his damp hair. what you got there buddy?

this? this a picture of me and daddy.

in the photo his daddy is holding a 2lb bass. his other arm is around the boy. taken what? a year ago. the boys hair is longer then, it is a cool march day and they are fishing together. the boy, he holds his fish pole in the picture. his own. they waited for a fish to bite his bite. the bobber jumped. the boy reeled in the fish all by himself.  the story she knows well, loves more for within it is her husband still living. 

i love that one.

me too. this one my favorite.

they sit quietly. his small body in her lap. his head on her collar bone.


yes river.

when he gonna come home? to our house. 

two tears run her cheeks. she swallows hard. again.

oh buddy. i love you so much. 

much later he creeps down the stairs to the fishing room. in the basement, so much cooler. laying there on the thin rug over the concrete floor. in the dark. with the exotic smell of fur and feathers and wool and dampness over everything. what he deemed the smell of his father, looking down from all the pictures on the wall. the great fish. the hero shots. the maps. the books on the shelves. 

the rods in the racks, the reels, the machinations and results of his fathers heart there together in the cool late dark.

this is the place, he thinks in his boy thoughts and curls up on the floor.
he isn't in his bed the next morning. a thousand heartbeats as she calls, carrying the girl more tightly to her breast, racing now. she finds him there in the morning.

and so it goes. he still has that picture with him and she doesn't know what to do about any of it at all. but she finds him there, in the morning.


she kneels to him. touches his arm. she's holding the girl cradled in her arm. as the panic crests and the relief rolls over her. and she takes him up as he wakes. takes him up with her and holds the parts, the pieces, she has left.

and he senses her heart there in the fish room and he holds to her tighter in the gauzy morning light. and he says good morning, momma.  and the girl reaches for him and pats his head.  

later that day, she don't know a damn thing about it, but later that day she takes down the rod he told her was the one to start with.  it being one of maybe 12 or 15 rods that hang in the fish room. and she takes the boy and girl down to the hipskies ponds and they try together and laugh at the outcome. but they try. and they laugh.

and he is then tired after fishing. and they both fall asleep on the ride home. and she weeps to his ipod and due tramonti plays. and in that quiet car, with the air conditioning running, she remembers and she steals that moment of weakness she rightly earned.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Black Sheep Boy

Editor's note: I have some talented friends. Chad is one of them. Below is the first of a three-piece series from my buddy east of the Big River. His guest posts last year (here, here and here) were well received and different from what you typically find on this blog. I hope you enjoy Chad’s work and style as much as I do. 

He takes 2 hours to go to the dump which is 10 minutes away.  He shows back up sheepishly.  He told you he was going to stop for a couple casts. 

He washes up in a gas station bathroom and liberally slathers his wind and sun burned skin in aftershave.  He changes into presentable clothes and arrives late for the family dinner.  How was fishing?  It was good.  A bald faced lie. 

He can always rig up something to fish from what is currently stashed in his car.  While on a reasonable binge, the gear in the car has a much, much greater resale value than the car itself.  But not so when valued in emotional currency since this car has taken him on many roads and many of them ended at waters where he’d fish.  On this plain the gear and the car have equal value.

He can’t drive by water, any water, without wondering what fish swim within it.  His wife will grab the wheel and panic as the car drifts over the center line on a back road as he gazes out at a distant farm pond.  What?  He says, No one is using that side of the road.  He thinks about bass bugging.  If he hasn’t been near it, he grows cross and short.  He feels bad about this, and even if he says what is wrong with him others can’t really understand.  He gets distant; it’s a fickle mistress and tempting.  Always game in the field, not always on it, a bitter pill, to the black sheep boy.

For it is the only place he finds true quiet in an utterly incomparably loud world.  Where he finds his piece of the peace.  You wouldn’t understand unless you found it out there too.  Throwing the lines into the waters, it ain’t never the last cast until it is the last cast. 

He will fish for literally anything in whatever hours he can get to do so.  It doesn’t matter if it is going to be good fishing, it will be good.  If it is good fishing, it is fucking insanely awesome.  It doesn’t matter, but to be near water after all.  This is the thing that must be kept in the sights, not to lose sight of what is really important.

Sunfish, crappie, dace, pike, carp, suckers, eels, or perch.  Stocked trout, fine.  Strip them a streamer. Bass?  Of course.  Fish them a bass bug near the green weeds when the sun sets down.  Stay there through full dark when the negative space is full of nothing but possibility and the night animals come out.  A rustling comes in the underbrush, alone with the owls.  The kids at home are asleep anyhow, he thinks.  Now is my time.

Midsummer swims in the trout stream, letting the water envelop him as he wades in from the shallow shoal of gravel to the chest deep heart of the hole, then falling forward into the blessed cool.  He thinks of the fish and is glad the stream still feels so cold in the slow dripping humid days, true to this.  He dives down and they hide beneath rocks.

And always it will be, the mistress will stay true to him as it will to so many others.  And make them black sheep boys who are late for dinners.  Who need short leashes when the real other life comes calling with its obligations and deadlines.  Putting them off in the fall to watch maple leaves drift in the wind, to touch down on the flow of the trout stream.  Such brilliance and grace with the rod laid out across the resting knees.  Such eloquent silence.

It has carried him through the worst of the worst, and blessed him through the blessed of the blessed. It has always been there and will always be so.  He’ll pull on waders over his work clothes for a half an hour and show up for work an hour and a half late after it’s over.  He’ll be out there in the dark casting mice patterns for predators.  In the winter he will open it up with a drill to get to the water below where he will drop his chances down into the cold water like precious coins into the wishing well. 

He’s the child in all of us who wants to explore the shallows, to dive into the depths and swim down to see what is found there.  He’s just as fickle as a child, and for it all he is also just as beautiful since he is always exploring and delving deeper into what he inherently is.  He is true to this and if it makes him a black sheep boy who smells of the field, wood smoke and beer and fish, so be it. 

He will pass it down to his children that they should never be lonely, nor bored.  That they could learn new knots with which to tie their hopes and dreams and drift them down the current like small burning ships and carrying with them all that will be.  Go on, be a black sheep boy.  Fly them.  May you also know the eloquence of that beautiful silence.