Monday, August 10, 2015

Mecan....Schmeecan

In my family, we are all separated by long distances.  We try to keep in touch, but it can be tough. Life gets busy, time slips by and suddenly it has been way too long since a simple phone call has been made.

As such, we have unofficially adopted the motto "If you haven't heard from me, I'm OK".

I suppose the same falls true with this page.  It isn't that I haven't thought about writing, because I have.  Unfortunately work, life, and everything else seems to always take precedence or more likely...straight up derails any chances I might have had to put some thoughts down.

Rather than bore you with the mundane details of a day in this glamorous life...I would like to share a few pictures from our recent vacation.  No, I wont show you any of the obligatory pictures of my feet propped up with the lake in the background and a drink suspiciously in view.  (You're welcome).  But yes, I relaxed the required amount. Yes, it was wonderful.  And yes...I tried to drink my liver right out of my body.

But along with the typical vacation stuff, something out of the ordinary took place.

You see, the Macloosh Clan vacations at a cabin a little over an hour north of the UnForest and dangerously close to the Mecan River.  The cabin itself sits on a beautiful and peaceful little lake, but for the last few years, my vacation fishing energy has been devoted to the Mecan River rather than the lake itself.

Spurred on by stories about how "the old timers used to take stringers full of HUGE trout out of the Mecan" and rumors of a hex hatch of biblical proportions. I have fished it hard.  For YEARS.  Without much luck.  

At this point, I'm so fucking tired of those stories and rumors that I am immediately turned off when I hear them.  In my efforts, I have used every trick and fly I know to catch trout, and to date...the amount of fish that river has given up to me is embarrassingly low.  In fact, I have decided that the Mecan hates me.  I'm starting to hate it back.


Realizing that I was starting to hate this river was an awakening.  I was suddenly free to explore other fishing opportunities.  So this year I concentrated my efforts on the lake that was 50ft from the door of our cabin.  You know, the fishing opportunity that was right in front of me the whole time, that I overlooked by fixating on the Mecan.

"The truth knocks on the door, and we say 'Go Away,  I'm looking for the truth'.  And it does, puzzling"  -Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pursig

Beating up on the bluegills has always been an amusing pastime, something to kill time after dinner, but before the campfire really gets seated into the logs.  But seriously chasing big fish??  On this lake?? Yeah, never really concentrated on it.

Until this year.

With the help of the neighboring cabin's canoe (which happen to be good friends of ours who also vacation during the same week), I set off for the cove with the lillypads.  The kids had gone the other direction in their paddleboats so I seized an opportunity for some alone time.

I have, in the back of my mind, developed a "bucket list" of sorts.  On that list, was a good sized large-mouth bass.  The problem has been that when I do have time to fish, I instinctively head to the cold water streams and  have never concentrated on really working a lake or pond.  Anyway, in my mind, I would be stripping a popper made by M-Works Custom Flies (Shameless Plug...sorry) across the edge of the Lilly pads or a weed bed, and a good sized large-mouth would smash it, then jump like a tarpon as I fought it heroically while a few people looked on in disbelief and amazement.  I could almost hear them saying "Holy cow, look at the size of that fish!  Is he using a fly rod?  Whoa..."

Well to my surprise, most of the above fairy tale came true.  Asside from a little technical difficulty exiting the canoe, and minus the crowd of amazed onlookers...or my Go-Pro running in full HD video.  None the less, it was a hoot and lived up to the picture in my minds eye.  There were others, but the fish below is the one that I will replay in my mind...


From there, I turned my attention to Pike.  A toothy fish that has somehow completely eluded my efforts for years.  Granted, I hadn't really focused on catching a northern...just thought it would be fun, so I had it on my unofficial list of things to catch on a fly rod.  I ended up catching several, the largest of which might have hit 24" (not quite legal on this lake...).  They too were a hoot, and what they lacked in high jumps or thrashing fight, they made up with in blistering top-water attacks on a popper.  The surface hits were the most fun, but the subsurface hits were also undoubtedly pure predatory instinct.  Either way. it's hard not to grin like Cheshire Cat when the bite is on.


And finally, on the brag board (because lets face it...bragging is all I am REALLY doing in this post...) is the smallmouth.

To be honest, all the press that smallmouth bass have gotten lately in the flyfishing media, blogs, magazines, etc... has piqued my interest.  At the same time, it has kind of turned me off.  It looked fun, but I viewed it the same way Carp were suddenly called "the superfish" and there were perfectly good filmmakers wasting their (and my) time on making videos about carp fishing at the flyfising film tour.

I figured smallmouth to just be the the next trendy thing.  Until last week.  The truth, as I have learned in the last few days: I honestly still don't understand the carp thing...but smallmouth??  DAYAMN...is all I gotta say.  The fight with a smallie is so good it could almost convince a confirmed cold water disciple to switch to the dark side and take up warm water fishing for good.

I did have to travel off of the lake to get into the smallies, but I am here to freely admit that I am hooked.  I was wildly unprepared for my first smallmouth encounter.  It was fairly small (10 inches or so), but hit like a bullet, then gave a pretty good wrestling match to get it to hand. Fun.  From there, I started to approach them like I would if I were on to a big trout.

A quote from the film "Off the Grid" or some other movie I have on DVD stuck in my mind.




"The smallmouth bass is like that big wiley brown trout that hides in the shadows and eats meat.  So we chuck meat into cover and look for a player".

That is exactly what I did.  I upped my tippet size (to 8lb mono), tied on one of those big as flies that I tied last winter in hopes of catching a big fish and threw it into dark places.  The payoff was a strike that was so hard, and so fast that it spooked me.  It took very little time to realize that I had just picked a fight with a VERY mean fish.  The wrestling match that ensued was sheer, unadulterated joy. 


Once I had it dialed in, I managed another 3 smallies like the one above and I figured I had found all of the good hiding spots for nice fish in this small creek.  Not quite ready to be done. I tossed the same fly into the eddies just below a small hydro electric dam and had a brief encounter with that northern that I was looking for earlier.  My son also saw the strike and we both had the pike at about 36".  I got two good looks at him before he spit the lure.  Just enough to whet my appetite for a big northern or musky...

Other activities for the week were pretty laid back.  Of note, my boy and I worked with my daughter and their buddies on their fly fishing techniques. I was damn proud to have a been able to help them out.



I stumbled on the drama below on the banks of the Mecan. No,I didn't kill the spider and neither did I save the monarch caterpillar.  


And finally, to wrap up....a couple pix of the MacLooshkins on our nightly pontoon boat cruise out to the "drop off" in the middle of the lake. 






Til later,

-M

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gratitude

The reason I am able to enjoy the the right to blog about fishing (and everything else), is because of the brave men and women who have served, and to those who continue to protect our freedoms.

A very special Thank You goes out to the men and women out there on the front line keeping us safe each and every day and of course, to the families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tenkara: I'm in.

Tenkara.  If you read this goofy blog even semi regularly, you have noticed lately that I have been dipping my toe into fixed line fishing.  Until last weekend that is. I can now say I've officially jumped in...cannonball style.



Not coincidentally, the inaugural Midwest Tenkara Fest took place last weekend  in Coon Valley Wisconsin, and as if that weren't enough....I also had the absolute honor to fish with a guy I have steadily stalked followed online for the last few years.  Michael Agneta from Troutrageous.

The Midwest Tenkara Fest was organized, and put on by the guys from Badger Tenkara.  Yeah, that's right...the same guys who went out of their way to help me get my start in Tenkara.   Matt, once again your passion for this sport has shined brightly.  Thank you for all the work that was put into making the fest a raging success.   

Oh...yeah...and it all went down in an area so rich in trout, stream access and beautiful country that some could almost consider the driftless a "Theme Park".  Actually, now also seems like an appropriate time to mention that the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources and Trout Unlimited have teamed up and done a world class job of managing these amazing resources.  It seems they have done such a wonderful job that all but the most negative of people can enjoy it to the fullest.  That, all by itself is GREAT for the sport of trout fishing.

(...and....exhale.  Yep.  I gotta admit...that just felt damn good to put in writing.....)

Getting back to Tenkara for a moment...it has taken a little time for me to really digest where I'm at with it.  Here it is:  I dig it.  A LOT.  I like pretty much everything about it.  In fact, over the last few days, social media and blog posts have literally blown up with posts from people who were involved with the fest. The community around Tenkara and specifically Tenkara in this corner of the world has proven to be one of the most fun, positive and close knit groups I've ever met in the fly fishing world. That alone is enough to draw me into Tenkara, but the simple fact that it is a ton of fun is what will sustain.

Troutrageous teaching me Tenkara without even realizing it...all while cracking the code on Timber Coulee
As for fishing with Mr.Agneta, I had a freaking blast.  Mike taught me more about Tenkara than I thought was possible.  He was also very patient with me as I asked stupid Tenkara fishing questions like "so....exactly what am I supposed to do with my left hand when I'm casting??" The answer, by the way, was dangerously simple--which I appreciated.  "Put it in your pocket".  Of course, I was tempted to follow up with "But...what should I do if my waders don't have pockets?"  But I quickly bit my tongue out of respect.  

One really dumb question was quite enough.  After all, he had traveled halfway across the continent to be there, on this stream with me and I didn't really want him to be left wondering if I was the kind of guy who eats cereal with a fork...    

As we fished, I recognized that while I really enjoy Tenkara, there are still several reasons and situations to warrant not to giving up my western setup completely.  In fact, I split my time between Tenkara and Western setup (4wt).  After using a fixed line, it felt a lot like cheating to strip off as much line as needed to make that hero cast upstream to that seam where a fish was happily slurping caddis...but that all went away when it was rewarded with a tight line attached to some sweet driftless brown.


The only real disappointment I had over the course of the weekend was a camera that was dropped in the stream even before I had wet a line on Monday.  As a result, the number of pictures I had planned to take was quickly curtailed.  Luckily the camera eventually dried out and works again  but it took a couple of days.  Thankfully Mike took plenty of his own and does a great job of telling the story at Troutrageous.com.  

After it is all said and done, I can honestly say it was a stellar fishing trip and I am fully sold on Tenkara fishing.  Mike, from me to you--thank you!  I hope you enjoyed the fishing as much as I did.  I will be keeping a close eye out for opportunities to make my way south...

To everyone who attended the Midwest Tenkara Fest...it was a great time, and I can't wait to see y'all again next year!

Til later,

-M

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Things that go bump

The conversation went something like this:

Wife:  I'm tired and going to bed.  You coming to bed soon?
Me:  (Carefully trying to evaluate if there was an implied hint of possible romance...) Yeah, soon.  I just want to finish reading this article.
Wife:  OK.  Goodnight
Me: (Confirming my gut feeling that this was NOT an unspoken invitation...)  Goodnight.  I love you.

--10 minutes later--

Me: (Sticking my head in the door and pulling a sweatshirt over my head)  You sleeping?
Wife: (Hint of agitation in her voice) Well, I was almost asleep...but not now...  Why?
Me:  Um...I'm going fishing.
Wife:  Fishing??  It's 10:00 at night!! I thought you were coming to bed?
Me: (Trying to sound as convincing as possible)  Well...yeah.  I just read an article about night fishing with mouse patterns.  And...well...you know I have made a bunch of mouse flies this winter....besides...I'm not really tired.
Wife:  You're crazy...but whatever...goodbye.  Have fun.
Me:  Goodnight.   I luuvv yoooooou...

I had been fishing earlier in the day, and my rods were still strung up.  I quickly toss them in my truck and head out for the home-water.

I90/94 westbound was all settled into its night rhythms.  At 10pm on a Wednesday night, the interstate is filled with semi's heading to their destinations.  They are probably for scheduled deliveries in the morning in either La Crosse or the Twin Cities.  The Chicago crowd heading to Wisconsin Dells for the weekend won't hit for another 2 nights, so right now the traffic is light.  The drive is easy and enjoyable.  I jump off at Hwy 60 and watch for deer on the last couple of miles to the stream.

The look on my wife's face when I left that told me she thought I had lost my marbles. It had stuck with me and I was starting to question my sanity.

On arrival, the stream is in perfect shape with a blanket of stars above that stops me in my tracks. As I am getting my gear out of the truck I see a shooting star.  Silently, I make a wish (that has nothing to do with fishing...) and think to myself: "with this kind of start, I'm pretty sure fishing tonight was a good idea".

Once In the pasture, I realize quickly that the cow-patties are REALLY hard to avoid in the dark.  At least the cattle aren't on this field tonight.  Bulls and brown swiss cows are enough of a challenge in the daylight. I can't think of a good way a confrontation with either would end well for me if they were here tonight, so I'm relieved.

I start a cast and work out what I think will be enough line to cover the pool.  The cast lands with a slight splash and I start to strip the fly in.  I'm holding on tight.   To be honest, I don't think I have EVER caught a fish on the first cast, but endless optimism prevents me from taking it for granted.

Nothing.

For nearly an hour, I cast without a single strike or even the sound of movement in the water.  Hell, even the stars appear to be fading, and my short attention span starts to work on me.  Once my attention starts to fade, it is a slippery slope and I typically start to throw flies that make absolutely zero sense.  I do it just because it breaks the monotony. And...because I am not unlike a slot machine gambler who hopes against hope that this one pull will win the jackpot.  Tonight, however, I have determined that there are no fish in this section of the stream so I hop in my truck and head in the general direction of home.

As I drive through town, I decide that an urban fishing adventure is in order.  Since I'm already not catching anything, at least I wont be squandering quality fishing time. Besides, I am way too awake to go home yet. Under the glow of street lights in deserted parking lots, the town has a funky feel to it that I like. The mix of concrete, power poles and general city grit gives me a little giggle as I juxtapose it against the solitude and quiet beauty of the pasture section downstream.

I pull into a parking lot behind main street and park next to a dumpster.  I get out and rig up again, keeping a watchful eye out for rats or racoons.  I don't like either and if I were to imagine a good place for both...this is it.  The parking lot borders the stream so it is short trip from the asphalt to water's edge.


The only traffic is the local police officer (who has already taken note of my presence and manages to find multiple ways to keep an eye on me as he drives past on a regular beat).  The sounds of a few revelers at the local watering hole down the street is the only noise. It sounds fun, but nothing too rowdy.

At this spot, this creek happens to run directly underneath of the main street and even under buildings before it makes a hard (man made) left and eventually flows out towards the pastures.  The banks haven't been natural in this area for probably over a hundred years.  It has the look of an urban aquifer more than a spring fed creek


I decide that mice patterns are no longer on the menu.  I'm bored with them.  It's streamer time.  I tie on a big ass streamer that roughly matches a crayfish and set to the task of covering the water.  After a few casts, I get the signature "bump bump" of a trout that has taken a short strike at my offering, but failed to commit.  I'm back on pins and needles just like when I started in the pasture.  I can feel that even my body language has changed and I am on point with each cast.  I must look like some sort of freakish blue heron wannabe.  I cast more, and am rewarded with more bumps.

The constable also seems to have also taken notice of my posture change.  With lights off, he has crept into a parking lot on the opposite side of the creek and into a dark parking space.  His cruiser is pointed directly at me.  He is obviously watching me, but with fish biting...I couldn't really give two shits.

A few more casts and another "bump", then my line goes tight.  I pause for half a second, forcing myself to not jerk the fly rod up.  After that agonizing half second, I set the hook.   I'm fishing a (relatively) new 6wt rod, that feels more like a 7wt.  I bought it last year to throw streamers and/or poppers for bass so it isn't terribly sensitive.  The rod bends hard towards the water and the calm of the night erupts into splashy chaos as the rod bounces in time with the movements of the fish.  I swallow hard and realize that the fish is shaking it's head.  Head shaking is that wonderful hallmark of a trout that has outgrown fear and is big enough to be angry about having been hooked.

I'm tight to a very nice fish and my heart rate is all sorts of jacked up. I look up briefly to notice that Barney Fife has come out of hiding and is sitting on the bridge...he is now blatantly watching me from a better vantage point than the dark parking lot.   After wrestling the fish to the water's edge, its a mad scramble to take an acceptable photo and then release the fish in as little amount of time and handling as possible.


I expected a brown trout, but am floored to see that it is a brook trout.  About 15" of the most wonderfully colored fish in the world.  I love brookies, but this isn't a stream known for them.  IN fact, I have only seen one other in all my years fishing this creek. I've heard stories of large brookies in the headwaters of this stream, up near all the springs, but the water usually isn't clean or cold enough for them down stream.  I suddenly feel honored.

The cop seems to be satisfied.  Both with the free show and (I speculate) the fact that I released the fish.  It must seem logical that anybody who releases a nice trout like that can't be too dangerous, and he moves on.

I take a few more casts (just to settle down) and decide that sometimes a fella needs to know when to pull the plug.  After a decent brookie in such an unlikely place, I figure my luck has met its limits. Besides, I am suddenly very tired and still have a bit of a drive to get home.

I stop at the local Kwik Trip for a celebratory bottle of chocolate milk, and the police officer is inside talking to the clerk.  He and I make brief eye contact and he gives me an approving nod.  I smile and nod back.  Life is good indeed.  He can now also cross off whether or not I was a drunk or troublemaker, and I can walk away knowing that for a nice a change of pace...someone was actually there to witness me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

Turns out, that shooting star was a good omen indeed.

Til later,

-M





Sunday, April 12, 2015

(Re) Learning to fish

Looking back on my last post and the comments, it appears that both of my readers are interested in how this Tenkara thing is working out for me.  I'll try not to disappoint...

I found myself feeling pretty cocky going into it.  (This *might* be a re-occurring theme in my life...) Anyway, I figured that I do fairly well with a traditional fly rod, so how much different (harder) can it be?  Fewer moving parts, the simplicity of the fly connecting almost directly to my hand without a reel or line strewn through guides...   Clean and simple.  Right?


.....Right.

Out of the gate, its harder than I though it would be.  A LOT harder.  I have had to revisit some of the basic tenants of flyfishing in order make a go of this.

Lets start with the whole idea of a fixed line.  On my usual equipment, I can (occasionally) compensate for a lack of stealth by extending my cast.  Low clear flows that have been the prevailing conditions this spring have the fish on edge.  Add to that my usual lack of delicacy when approaching a stream, and things can be very tough indeed.  The inability to stretch the cast out has caused me some serious consternation as the shadows in the water dart away from me at lightening speed.

Then there is the wind.  Tenkara is ultra-light, almost by definition, so the idea of picking a heavier line weight to help compensate for breezy conditions is thrown out the window.  In fact, dead calm would be nice but doesn't seem to mesh with my reality.  Dry flies (my preferred way to fish) have the feeling of a piece of lint tied to a strand of silk.  As such, line control is an illusion (delusion?) that is relentlessly pursued.  Weighted nymphs seem to offer a little more in the accuracy department and as usual, what they lack in aesthetically pleasing strikes is made up for in actual productivity.

Thank god for Bethke's Pink Squirrrel.

The wind, and my fear of breaking the rod (again) have conspired to drive me f%!king mad when the inevitable happens and I hang up in the only bush, branch or overhanging weed that keeps an otherwise acceptable cast from giving me a good drift.  After a few of these, I've had to exert a lot of extra energy into controlling a natural tendency to have a complete and total temper tantrum.


On those few occasions where I HAVE been able to hook up with a fish, the play of a tenkara rod is nothing short of awesome!  As was pointed out to me, even little fish feel like wall-hangers...but get a moderate sized fish on the line and holy crap!  (Just don't be like me and forget your net...)

All of that said, what is my "first-in" report on Tenkara?  The simple fact that it is challenging me in ways I hadn't considered, has me drawn in like an addict.

I hate it.  No, I love it.  No, I.....well.....maybe I better spend some more time tenkara fishing to find out exactly how I feel about all of this...

Til later,

-M

**Note: the fish in the above pictures were caught within 10 minutes of each other and less that 30ft from one another.  Amazing how a single stream can produce such variations of the same species, eh?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tenkara, here I come...

So I did it.  I took the leap.  I bought a Tenkara Rod.

It was an easy jump really. Tenkara has proven itself to be less of a fad than originally anticipated (by many) and is taking root in the fly fishing world.   For those of you who read this but maybe aren't familiar with all things fishing...Tenkara is ultra light, reel-less fly fishing.  There is of course much more to it, but that is the simple definition.

I'll admit, at one time (maybe not so long ago) I figured Tenkara to be a bit of an oddball offshoot. Raise your hand if you too thought it was ultra purists taking the cane pole idea and making it trendy. In my mind, it was hipsters, wearing skinny jeans and loafers, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and wandering the waterfront running paths acting like they were fishing, but were really just trying to "out cool" each other.

Laugh if you must, but I live in the Madison (WI) area and downtown, this is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

But as time wore on, more and more of the fly fishing blogs started to pick up on the idea.  Still...I wasn't sold even though the simplicity of Tenkara kept my interest piqued.  More and more articles about Tenkara popped up, and more and more people were apparently giving it a go and deciding that it is fun.  Anyone who reads Troutrageous knows that Michael Agneta is now a full blown Tenkara aficionado.   I've been a fan of T! for a few years and watched quietly from the sideline as he dove further and further into the world of Tenkara.  Via a conversation with Mr. Troutrageous about getting started in Tenkara...he even offered to send me one of his rods to "try out".  Thanks man! But read on and you'll be glad we didn't go that route.  :)

http://www.badgertenkara.com/
It all started this past February, when I went to the annual Badger Fly Fisher's Spring Opener in Madison.  It was their biggest venue ever and they had more vendors on hand than I had ever seen before.  Among those vendors was a local company called Badger Tenkara.  I spent quite a lot of time talking to one of the co founders of Badger Tenkara, Matt Sment.  He was patient, clearly full of passion for not only his rods, but teaching people about Tenkara fishing in general.  The more he explained, the more interested I became and while I did leave the show without a Tenkara Rod in hand, I knew it wouldn't be long before I had my own.  That day, I decided that I was not only going to try Tenkara, but Badger Tenkara would definitely be my rod of choice.

Somewhere in the mix, I also learned about an upcoming event called Midwest Tenkara Fest.  Now I was hooked (pun intended).  Tenkara fishing is finally sort of breaking through here in the driftless and it is time for me to be a part of it.  Plans are currently being worked out to attend the inaugural Midwest Tenkara Fest, if even for just one day.  

Midwest Tenkara Fest
So when the family budget finally found that opening to pick up a Bad Axe rod from Badger Tenkara, I jumped.  A look at my schedule and I realized that in a couple of days, my shift swing at work would offer a chance to do some fishing.  I also realized that it would be great to do that fishing on a Tenkara rod, but I didn't think I had enough time to order it online and have it delivered, so I took a long shot and called Badger Tenkara.  Within minutes of leaving him a voicemail, Matt Smet had called me back, understood my sense of urgency and was willing to meet me in Madison later in the evening to get a rod into my hands.

The rod made it home unscathed and I was a (very) happy little camper.  Then, the following morning, like the dumbass I can occasionally be...I promptly broke the last section of the rod while learning to set it up.  I can be moody anyway...but after this bonehead move, I was an ugly, ugly man for quite a while.  I did contact Matt right away, tucked my tail between my legs and explained that I needed to order a new tip section.

Matt's calm and understanding approach was WAY above and beyond what was necessary.  He immediately set to work trying to get a new tip section to me so that I could still fish it on my upcoming days off.  We set up a time later that day and he offered to meet me near where I work because I only had a small window of time between end of shift and meetings.  Again, this is a guy who did not have to be so helpful in the first place, but is so passionate about his product and fishing that he didn't even think twice about any of this.  Because in my world when things start to go wrong...they go horribly wrong, I had to call Matt (who was likely already en route to meet me) and cancel again.  This time, work was getting in the way.

I was starting to think that maybe God didn't want me to learn Tenkara.

Without blinking an eye, Matt said it wasn't a problem and launched the part via mail.  I didn't get to fish it on the days I had planned, but it certainly wasn't for lack of effort on Badger Tenkara's part.
The rod section arrived exactly when Matt said it would, and after another couple of days full of crazy scheduling, I finally put it together today.  I'm proud to say that my Bad Axe Rod is ready to rock!

As I was putting thoughts together for this post, I was thinking about how many times I have gone to the grocery store, department store, a restaurant, or wherever, and was treated by the employees like they HATED me for being there.  I was starting to believe that true customer service and satisfaction was dead.

Matt Sment and Badger Tenkara have absolutely restored my faith that there are still people out there who not only want to sell a quality product, but back it up with superior service.  And really, in a sport with as great of a brotherhood as fly fishing has...I sure am glad to have people like Matt Sment out there supporting us, and will be Badger Tenkara's biggest fan and cheerleader.

Now...to start figuring out where to fish this bad boy on its inaugural trip.  (after all of this...I feel I owe it to Badger Tenkara to make sure I do the rod justice...)

Til later,

-M

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Crazy Is As Crazy Does (or...an installment of: Winter and its associated mental health issues)

Today is March 1st.

In less than one week, the 2015 Wisconsin Early Trout Season opens, and its about f#@*king time. Opening day is coming at a critical time.  Not a second too soon.  My mental health is starting to suffer, and this past February's never ending cold spells haven't helped matters at all.

I'll admit, aside from the cold snap that is currently vexing the upper midwest, this winter hasn't been terrible with regards to weather.  Maybe even a little bit on the low end for snow cover.  However, in terms of the cosmic tumblers all lining up to make life unnecessarily miserable; this off-season has been awful.

As I type, my wife's van sits in our garage...unmovable until I limp it over to the repair shop (where I am quickly earning the customer of the year award) later today for somewhere between $600 and $1000 worth of parts and labor.  Again.  This time, a new power steering rack is on the menu, and is just is just the latest in a string of ugly little surprises for the MacLoosh clan.

(Surely you'll understand as I find a plastic spoon to slit my wrists with...)

The sum total of financial set-backs, cold weather, never ending workplace drama, and a dangerous lack of fresh air leaves a fella with a severe case of cabin fever that sometimes manifests itself in weird, and possibly unhealthy ways.  Couple that with an always ready internet connection, and you end up watching a video like this and saying to yourself  "I wonder if I am related to this odd, wonderful, and talented dancing queen":


And then there is all that time spent playing Boom Beach.  A truly addicting game, whose tagline should be:  If I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't understand anyway.


Fortunately, the New Glarus Brewery seems to implicitly understand the mental health dangers associated with winter, and has an offering that is among the things that are helping to keep me as close to "balanced" as I get.

So in-between the manic mood swings, internet distractions and financial head scratching that accompany such joyous times, I have managed to ready all of the necessary gear for the upcoming fishing season.  Flies are tied, boxes full and organized, gear cleaned, reels lubed, and everything seems to be prepped. I think I am actually in pretty good shape.  Despite the shit sandwich I've been chewing on all winter, I feel like a tipping point might be coming. Things just HAVE to get better eventually...right?  Why shouldn't that happen during fishing season?

(Foolish optimism is sign of madness)

Usually at this time of year, I start thinking of getting some of the latest greatest new gear for the upcoming fishing season. But, due to the above...that leap I was thinking of taking into the world of Tenkara is just going to be put on hold.  Sorry Badger Tenkara, that BAD AXE rod and starter kit is just going to have to wait.  There is also a brand new Cabela's set to open next month, a scant 10 miles from my front door.  (...uh oh...) Both were a factor in all that drunken spending I had planned to do, but have been squashed by the car repairs.  Retail therapy just isn't in the cards.  For now.

Instead, I have turned inward, and employed a little redneck engineering to settle that new gear fix. With the help of Pinterest, YouTube, manic blog reading, and several other social media websites, along with scrounging spare parts from around the house (with an occasional trip to Hobby Lobby for things like a $2 roll of 1/4" elastic)...I have been busy in the Do It Yourself  category and I'm kinda proud of my efforts.

Here is a little peak at some of my "new" 2015 gear:

A re-purposed (and modified) "Bucket Boss" beats buying a $80 Umpqua Tailgater Every.Single.Time.
Bombproof PVC Rod case (approx $7) vs. store bought storage tubes.  Yes Please.
Tippet spool minders? Approx. $.25/ea to make.  Foggedaboutitt.
Tippet Caddy.  Sorry Orvis...free garage scraps will work just fine.
I have, of course, also done some stream scouting and have a list of places that I've added to my hit list.  Included among them are several streams that have been the beneficiaries of improvement. Added bonus:  At least one of those improved streams is very close to the MacLoosh World Headquarters.

To the winter of my discontent, I heartily say: Piss off.

To the start of a new fishing season, and hopefully getting past a slump...I enthusiastically say: GAME.FREAKING.ON.

Til Later,

-M

Monday, January 26, 2015

Easy like Monday morning

I remember as a kid, reading the Sunday cartoons and always thinking it was funny that Garfield hated Mondays.  I’m not sure if I was influenced by the sentiment, or learned the hard way through my professional experience (yeah….smirk all you want….), Mondays definitely suck.


Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  I'm talking about the smart kid in the back who skews the curve because he aced the test that everyone else bombed.  The short dude on the basketball team who ends up going pro.  The Monday morning where everything seems to be OK instead of turning into a shit sandwich.   You know, Outliers.  In the same way you have to admire nature’s way throwing a wrench into the usual patterns, I am forced to admit that this Monday isn't shaping up too badly.

As I grab my first cup of coffee, Charlie (the local weather guy) keeps interrupting the Today Show with updates about “a low pressure system that is sweeping across Wisconsin and likely to drop approximately 1” of snow that will make the morning commute slippery”.   It’s clearly been a while since Charlie has had any fun weather to report because he seems uncharacteristically geeked up for such a weak storm.  Lucky for me, there will be no commute today thanks to a rotating shift schedule.  Today is my Saturday.  Let it snow!

Take *THAT*, Monday!  BAM!

The kids have left for school, and my wife is at work.  The house is deliciously quiet, so a cup or two (maybe more) of coffee, a couple of eggs and I set to the task of figuring exactly how I should best enjoy this snowy day.  Hell, I’m in such a good mood even the kickmeanklebiter dog gets an egg.  Not one of the organic eggs though, I still have a few store bought eggs, and those are the ones he gets.  He is, after all, just a dog.

Methinks that today, some quality time at the vise is in order.  I have been slowly getting everything together and ready to go for opening of the upcoming season.  My sling pack has been cleaned and re-organized, reels cleaned and lubed.  Fly lines have been wiped down and line conditioner applied.  Hell, I even found a DIY tippet spool tender while surfing Pinterest (go ahead…make fun. And NO, I didn't pet my mangina while on Pinterest). They work like a charm, so I made enough to cover me for the next to couple of seasons.  Of course, I've been filling the flyboxes in a slow, methodical manner.  It can be a big task just making sure the basics are covered: A bunch of my new scud pattern (that I have unrealistically high hopes for), a batch of back-up pink squirrels, and enough bead head pheasant tails to help offset my poor casting and risky placement habits. 

Today, I’ll be working on hoppers.  I smell a foam hatch in the air.  And coffee.  The irony of tying hoppers as the snow flies pleases me. I’m tying flies in January that I am guaranteed not to fish until at least July, Probably August.  That doesn't stop me from picturing one of these bad boys on a slow float along an overhanging weed line.  Then, all hell breaks loose as a wiley brown trout suddenly realizes that this "easy" meal has a price.  

Good stuff man, goooood stuff.   


Another sip of coffee and as the dog settles up next to my fly tying desk, it occurs to me that I’m not sure if this morning could be any better.  Big, chunky flakes are falling outside the window, the house is still silent and I’m lost in the peace of mind that only comes from immersing yourself into a task. 


Yeah, this definitely feels like the kind of Monday even Garfield could wrap his arms around.

Til Later, 

-M  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"In order to see tomorrow, you have to survive today"

Sometimes, having a blog leads me into things I hadn't really expected.  That said, occasionally those things come from places or people that are closer to the heart than others.  

Perhaps I should back up a bit: Years ago, I met an incredibly cocky young man.  At the time of our meeting, he was a cadet at the fire department where I was working.  My “role” was to teach him the ropes.  Keep him safe, but introduce him to the job.  Believe me when I tell you, bringing a cocky teenager into a culture and lifestyle where egos run rampant was no easy task, and we both took our lumps.  But, my gut told me it was worth it. There was something more to him than false bravado and testosterone; I liked him.  I think he reminded me of myself when I was younger: a guy who had figured out all the answers without having bothered to consider the questions. 

During his time in the fire service, he proved himself as a very competent and capable member of the team. He responded to some ugly calls and even survived few run-ins with the workplace toxicity that only adults can inflict on each other.  

To my dismay, not long after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the military.  It was not the military that I was against; it was the idea that I knew he would be deployed to one of the world’s shitholes.  It was the idea that over time I had sort of adopted him as a son, and I was scared he would come home in a box.  Firefighting is gritty work, but having some politician put him in front of bullets for reasons that may or not make sense? Yeah, I wasn't thrilled at all with his decision to enlist.  I was worried that his mom (whom I had once promised that I would make damn sure he was kept out of harms way) would be left with a neatly folded flag and a broken heart. 

As it turns out, despite my worries, he has not only survived his deployments and battlefields, but along the way he has proven himself as one hell of a good man and a tough soldier to boot.  I am proud to call him a cherished friend.  

What I didn't know, was the toll his service was taking on him and his growing family.  He is struggling right now and has taken to writing as a means to work through some personal challenges. So when he reached out and asked if I would publish a piece of writing to help him work through some tough times, I was floored and honored.   I couldn't be more proud to help my good friend.

I have consciously chosen (with permission) to post this essay with minimal edits.  It is raw, full of pain, and so honest that it hurts.  To edit for grammar or content would be disingenuous.

I ask that you read this post with an open mind and open heart.  If any of you out there are veterans, I would encourage you to share ways you are coping with reintegration.

Thanks,

-M



A Beautiful Death

Before I get into too many details I want it to be known that I am not searching for pity, a shoulder to cry on or advice. Rather I’m using this as means to alleviate the pressure and pain I feel. Please don’t assume that my views are the same as MacLoosh’s but rather he has let me use his blog as a way to express and reduce my stress and pain. The pain I hold inside is real and it is a pain that so many Americans feel but we rarely talk about. MacLoosh has given me the opportunity to share the pain of many through the eyes of one. Again, please don’t assume my feelings and beliefs are that of MacLoosh or the military. Feel free to comment and share any struggles; writing might be the outlet that keeps you sane too.

A little background about me. I am a member of the greatest, most honorable and exhausted military in the world; the United States Army. I have been in the Army for almost 6 years, I have deployed to Afghanistan multiple times with multiple different missions. My first deployment was the most difficult by far. Multiple times we were shot at, mortared, ambushed and pushed to our mental and physical limits. The longest firefight I was in lasted 14 hours. I remember being shot at by an enemy marksmen who was trying to shoot me in the back from the other side of our outpost. I had to keep my back to the enemy that was shooting at me to maintain the security in my sector. Try to imagine knowing that the enemy has you in their sights but just can’t quite dial you in. Rounds were impacting within 5 feet of me and RPGs were flying just right over my head. Helicopters were bringing in ammunition that we ran out of and helicopters were taking our wounded. 14 hours this lasted for, the longest day of my life.

After just over 1 year of being home I deployed to Afghanistan again. This trip was far easier. It was shorter and I didn’t get shot at quite as much. I had a chance to work with a couple Special Forces groups from around the world and loved being there. This was when it really dawned on me that I loved being at war so much and I knew I wasn’t alone. When you deploy you always have someone who is there to watch your back. The bonds that you form with the soldiers to your left and right is unreal. I’m sure you have heard, and I will tell you again, you will never find friends like those who you have been shot at with. I am on my third deployment but so far from the front lines it kills me. There are firefights in Iraq, Syria, Africa and Afghanistan and I’m not there. If you have been keeping track, 6 years in the Army with 3 deployments. After so long you just cannot pretend to be a devoted husband and father. The Army took my ability to watch my son grow up and my ability to make my wife happy.

I can honestly tell you after coming so close to death, after so many times I should have died my soul become cold. I became numb to how my parents felt, how my wife felt and how the rest of my family felt. A big part of me was left in Afghanistan, a part that will never come back. When I was home the only thing that kept me going was knowing I was going to deploy again and I could once again feel the thrill of being shot at. Most would say I have a death wish, I would argue and say I have a way to die wish. I don’t want to die of cancer or a single vehicle rollover or a heart attack. The only way it makes sense for me to die is at war and then be buried underneath the American Flag. Life seems pointless to me unless I am able to die for what I believe in and die fighting for global freedom. Over and over again I think of the scene in the movie “300” where a Spartan is questioned about his smile looking at an overpowering enemy force. The Spartan replies that he has been to battle numerous times but has yet to meet an enemy that could offer him a “beautiful death”. He then says that he hopes one in the army that they are looking at will give him the honor. Maybe I just want to be remembered as one of the fallen that made a difference or maybe I feel that during my last moments that my sacrifices were justified knowing I died for my country and for my brothers.

Like many returning from Afghanistan I turned to booze to numb any feeling I had left. I was young and addicted to alcohol waiting to go on my next deployment. Life seemed empty when I wasn’t at war. What is the meaning of just laying around accomplishing nothing? I don’t know but what I do know is I would rather be at war then at home. This is where most of my pain today comes from. My wife and family just cannot comprehend my need to be at war. There is no doubt in my mind that I am miserable to be around. My wife recently told me that her and my family had to walk on eggshells around me because they were so afraid of me freaking out if I disagreed with what they had to say. I’m not physically violent towards my wife or family but I will become verbally hostile. This addiction to serve has separated me from my family and is ultimately the reason why my wife is leaving me. My wife told me she was unhappy and wanted to leave and I couldn’t think of any reason to convince her to stay. I have tried for so long to pretend to fit in the mold of a loving husband but I know that inside I am an empty cold hearted asshole. Now I’m not saying I don’t have the ability to love because trust me I do. I love my wife, my son, my family and friends. What I don’t have is the ability to care if my wife leaves, I alienate my friends or my family has to walk on eggshells around me.

So why am I in pain? It’s because I’m trying as hard as I can to feel again. Trust me, I don’t want my wife to leave. I know she is going to and I know she needs to, it is truly best for her and my son. I want to care about how she feels and how my family feels. A quote has been keeping me moving forward even though I feel so empty. “In order to see tomorrow, you have to survive today.” (Unknown). I survive every day to see if the next is better or if the next holds the answers. My wife deserves so much better. I pretended for so long I could be better but at the end of the day I know I’ll never be. I know I will never make her happy and I know there is nothing I can do to prove it to her.

When I started writing this I was not really sure where I was going with it. I wasn’t sure where it was going to end up. Maybe this is the start of my recovery, maybe this is how I can start to feel again by connecting through writing. Take what you will from my story. In the beginning I described the Army as being exhausted. Folks, I’m not alone in this. There are so many who are trying to deal, trying to cope and trying to pretend to be normal. The recent film “American Sniper” depicts this well. There are so many of us who feel this need to be back at war. We are drawn to combat. We feel empty without the group of people who went through hell with us. Don’t take this as a cry for help but maybe as a manual for dealing with a veteran. If we seem cold and cut off, we are. We are all just trying to feel again. We are all trying to understand how to reintegrate back into a life without war. Some have a desire to reintegrate. Some, like me, are simply not ready to be normal. We are not ready for a life without battle, we still seek a fight and are willing to go anywhere to defend freedom. With the recent acts of terror from ISIS/ISIL there are so many of us who are jumping out of our skins waiting to be told we can go back. Nothing would make me happy like the opportunity to go to the frontlines again and fight those cowards.

What’s next? Where do I go from here? The Wisconsin motto is “Forward”. I guess I will start there. I feel like I have found my purpose in life. I feel that where I am is exactly where I was meant to be. I’m simply not ready to be “normal”. I’m not ready to leave the Army. You might not be able to comprehend my need to serve, and I don’t expect you to. In fact don’t try to understand, you will never get there. Don’t think negatively about the military. We are not all crazy like me but some of us love what we do and what we protect so much we would rather be away fighting than at home.


Again, please don’t feel bad for me. This is the path I have chosen for myself and this is where I want to be. There are 3 types of people in the world; sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Wolves are the terrorist that constantly try to destroy freedom and our way of life. Wolves pray on the sheep. Sheepdogs defend the sheep, they will die to protect the sheep. I am a sheepdog. I will gladly sacrifice my life for anyone who lives under the American Flag. Rest easy tonight knowing me and the rest of the military is standing guard. We will always be here defending freedom and defending America even if it means we have to sacrifice everything. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Streaming

The speedometer reads 72.  That's 7 mph faster than the State of Wisconsin has deemed safe and prudent for Hwy 151.

Historically, I disagree with their assessment.  I'm pretty confident with that I am neither risking my safety nor the safety of those around me, any more than the farmer in the truck next to me who just ate a booger as I passed him.  We made brief eye contact, me and the farmer.  And he seemed oddly unashamed  (almost proud...) that I just busted him eyeing that goober up, right before shoving his finger in his mouth. Farmers march to the beat of a different drum, don't they?

Anyway, I'm immediately reminded of an old joke:  What do you find inside of a clean nose?    Fingerprints.  ............duh.

I'd go faster, but the Wisconsin State Patrol and I have had roadside discussions about this before. To date, I have lost each and every one of those arguments. I've learned over time that differences in opinion like this rarely end in a mutually acceptable resolution and I'm not much in the mood for the trouble today. So I keep my speed (relatively) in check.  Besides, the last time I had one of these roadside chats, I texted the picture below to my wife, and she immediately responded by asking if I had shown the cop my boobs to get out of a ticket?


She is always a big help, and these things can be incredibly difficult to live down.  Now that I think of it, I'm not sure who has a longer memory: My wife? or my insurance agent?

So I am focused and cruising along through part of the Driftless, an area of the state that I usually reserve for more distracted driving as I crane my head in hopes of catching a glimpse of a fish rising in the downstream pool at each bridge crossing.  The odds of seeing this are slim, but a fella has to dream and no one's gonna take away my foolish optimism.

This time, however, we are on our way home from a visit to the homeland and I am vexed by the fact that I desperately want NEED to go fishing.  When a slump like this hits, and the odds of wetting a line or feeling that tug are next to impossible for the foreseeable future, the faster I get through this trip and back to suburbia, the better off my mental status will be.

Random thoughts stream through my mind, and I glance over at the dog who is sleeping like the dead on my wife's lap.  Apparently, while staying at my nieces house for the last couple of days, he took multiple (severe) beatings from a cat named Ladybird.

Just let that sink in for a minute.  The cat's name is Ladybird.  And Ladybird beat his fool ass. More than once.  Delicious, eh?

It's clear to me that the nap is a way to hide from the shame.   I smile as I think of it.  I wish I had a video of the battles, but the truth is I'm not sure they would live up to the image in my minds eye anyway.  It does give me some satisfaction that my niece and her husband were able to witness the fracas...and both admit that the dog deserved every hit he took.

Rumor has it that he yelped and carried on like a little bitch after each beating.  ...Typical.

(Suddenly the bottle of wine and 6 pack of craft beer we brought them for their troubles seems a little chintzy)


Along with excessive speed and awesome mental images of Ladybird, music helps ease some of the angst.  When a funk like this hits, hard music has to be part of my therapy.  So with earbuds securely in place, and volume adjusted to drown out the sound of arguing children, I zip along and happily hum Pop Evil's latest offerings.  Followed by My darkest days, In This Moment ( .......Maria Brink.......yum), BuckCherry and the list goes on.

Somehow, the timing of Avenged Sevenfold's song Bat Country is perfect and offers another small amount of solace as I look to the west and see the  turbines of the wind farm (about 15 miles out) that marks right about where I turn north off of Hwy 18 to get to the Blue River.

The opening lyric goes like this:  "He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man"

(Its actually a Samuel Johnson quote...as if anyone cares, or even knows who the hell Samuel Johnson is....)

I've already passed by, or crossed over several trouty drainages with more to come, and more familiar exits to other fishy haunts.  The music builds to a crescendo and I finally turn north off of Hwy 151 and onto County Road P, which runs us along the western edge of Madison .  Rob Zombie is absolutely killing it with Superbeast.

At Klevenville there is a building that has gargoyles on it.  I love this building.  It's one of those landmarks that I look forward to.  It's fitting that Judas Priest's Living After Midnight ques up and I decide (again) that want gargoyles on my house. But...something tells me that they wouldn't look quite right on a raised ranch in a neighborhood not altogether different from the one in Edward Scissorhands.  So for now, I've decided against adding gargoyles (again).  Besides, the neighbors would start to talk...and nobody needs that.


A final crossing at Cross Plains, and I wonder how the trout are adapting to the stream re-route and bridge construction over the last couple of years on Black Earth Creek? Gonna have to find out this coming season.

We climb up and out of the watersheds into ag country for the final few miles to suburbia.  Soon this trip will be done.  Thank god.

As I pull into the driveway, Clutch sums it up perfectly....

"So I take a deep breath and count to ten,
Aint gonna let it get under my skin.
Take a deep breath and count to ten, 
Think of all the nice places that I've been"

Til Later,

-M