— rPs 11 14 2015
“Lucky” . . .
Times gripped hand to hand are so deservedly storied that one just has to spill the secret into an ear, or onto a page, in order to keep the living images swimming in the full color flow of good memory.
The fish was silver and gold spotted red and black along its length: Salmo trutta; a brown trout. Why this one trout? All deserve to be celebrated more than most in this point of view. The answer may be traced to the person and place that made this fish a tale.
John, “Johnny!” is a competitive soul set at level BMX vertical drop hopper. Loud, happy, always holding a paperback in his hand. The other hand would hold up a water bottle or blunt. The guy could juggle roles and boom out in a voice matched with hardwood carpenter’s hands. He could fish, too, quick and precise casts of the fly rod.
Regular, he arrived disciplined as a clock, to drop in before drop off. I sat beside the 19th Street big window alone at a table spaced for three. My luck of place and time: John’s true tale came to my attention; I had been lucky enough to be reading alone at that table when his energized vibe entered the room and cleared away a rainy Tuesday evening.
John joined me with a mug of strong French roast and said: “You, of all people, ARE going to appreciate this.” I folded farther news, sat back. “Really? Shoot, or . . . Truit?”
John said his Memorial Day had begun uneventfully at La Colombe. Double Americano to stay. No regulars, including me, he noted.
“The usual urge to linger didn’t creep up and steal the morning.” He turned head on impulse to find a woman dressed in tight grey cashmere go by. His mouth shaped a whimsical sneer of a smile that was brilliant comedy. Everyone else grinned, too.
“I fueled up, circled once around Rittenhouse Square. Empty, man. No deserters. An older lady with a dog.”
North, he shot the short cycle over to Logan Circle where the parade could be viewed. The Calder fountain had been switched on with the unofficial start of the summer tourist season. The three reclining green bronze figures representing Wissahickon Creek, the Delaware River, and the Schuylkill River put him in a fishing mood.
She was with her family in DC. Whoa. No go to anyone else to mountain bike Wiss-ward with a plop into the secret pool in the park. He headed back to the crib and gathered his fishing gear to go.
Solo outing, quiet time, had evolved into a slow, fishless day along the water during one of the coolest spring seasons in his years of memory. The hillsides above the water had gone green, a line of goslings followed behind their mother goose. The river and its fish appeared, by their absence, to be still mired in late March. The list of fishes that normally wake in May water have a slower motivation rate when the thermometer continues to drop into the 40’s and 50’s, as it had that entire month, each and every time the sun sank below the horizon.
By four in the afternoon the incoming tide had reclaimed most of the rocks that make fishing a fly along the bank intermittingly possible. John didn’t bring the kayak and was in no mood to wade. He returned to where he had begun, and there remained just enough bank and time for a fellow shod in sneakers to make a last cast or two.
He checked his line and fly, added a second small bb to sink it more quickly in the deepening water, and sent out a back cast parallel to a current seam. The pattern went with the flow on a wet-fly swing and, once both line and fly were straight and hanging in the current, he began a retrieve with small, slow strips. The sky was becoming overcast, giving the river its most “fishy” of its myriad looks. Yoga with line and staff in motion and contemplation, dig?
The water’s surface reflected dark greens, liquid grays, and stony whites. Just as the fly pattern neared the one rock still partially exposed and dry, John lifted his rod into the high stick position, and there witnessed nothing less than an —
An aerodynamic fish launched out of the water, missile profile defying gravity by swimming in the air before his wide eyes, tenaciously chasing an evening meal that happened to be his feathered streamer.
A fish, and a very game fish at that. Action! At last! John had missed the grab yet, somehow, instinctively sent out the fly on an attenuated roll cast that placed the pattern just a few feet down from where the fish had surfaced. He was filled with the thrill, adrenaline surged, and yet.
He felt puzzled, too. The fish in the mental photograph he held was leaner than a bass and had a gold belly, and he swore he had seen spots as thick as a leopard’s, or a very wild trout’s.
“Couldn’t be” one of those. He half spoke out loud and half thought. “Not in the Schuylkill. Not here, man. Really?”
Maybe he had hooked grand –
The fish hit again in the same spot beside the rock, this time below the waterline. John set the hook and was suddenly attached to a taker that raced upriver, making a faster, longer run than most fish of size. The sky was mostly overcast now, an ageing, graying day, and the air and water were unseasonably cool, almost cold –
Meanwhile, John was battling a fish near a big stone, a fish that felt like a trout. But this was not possible, since he was also facing the skyline of Philadelphia, Philly and that cynical line he had endured at La Colombe, the performance that later gave the conversation a hilarious flavor .
“Hear it once and out the other.”
“Not this time,” Ronnie. “This one keeps. It’s a keeper.”
“No Sure Kill! of a river !” And, to Johny’s amazement, three runs later, he landed a brown trout, a Center City Salmo trutta. And he had brought a camera to provide.
He snapped as efficiently as he could change a tire on the circuit. “The fly fell out on its own, dude. Like perfect, man.”
John gently, respectfully, revived the trout; a fish that seemed to be less shocked to see and feel John than he was to see and feel it. He had to believe, though; the proof was holding, strong yet winded, between his two submerged hands.
John christened the fish.
“I was relieved I had caught it. Catch, and perform the release, not so much for pride, but for pedagogy.”
He hoped he had taught the fish a master class in selectivity. John wanted this one to never, ever, again encounter an angler feathered like the cormorant, or some hot shot named Ronnie who uses feathers bound on a hook.
Many anglers do fish for food to sauté’ or fry. Some even bake. Johny and I both bear witness to having seen most of it all. We saw hookers off the wall holding everything caught. Kept in a bucket. People minding rods beside the gazebo on the bluff across the river. Philly was going to be taking home some plump white perch for a Memorial Day backdoor fry.
“Who would have kept “Lucky” in a bucket?”
“Absolutely everybody, man. That fish would be bathing in steamed butter and onions somewhere.” Johnny just knew.
His keeper was a tale given to a fishing fan who fished only for stories to tell at the café.
John had a new one for sure, so he released his grip on the main character that slowly, almost hesitantly, cruised back to home stone, which now showed less than the tip of an iceberg.
“Lucky! Yes, you are!” John said, for both fish and fisher. “Lucky! Yes! Lucky Memorial Day!”
He was completely aware he was beginning to babble just as the tide was continuing to rise. The Schuylkill hugged him up to the knees and held his admiration; he had not yet considered moving from the “Lucky” spot. John could have stood there until the next day. Such situations often surround the satisfied. Damp was giving way to completely soaked as the reality he had caught a brown trout in Center City Philadelphia sank into permanent memory. Haloed in a soft rain, he at last waded, happy and a bit bewildered, out of “The Sure Cool!” river.
John slapped an envelope onto the worn wood tabletop in between us, breaking the spell of story.
“Open it,” he said with a smile.
I did so, and pulled out a 4×6 color photograph of his big right hand gently gripping a long brown trout. Pictured there also was a single liquid crystal of the river frozen in mid drip and the unmistakable painted gables of Boathouse Row in the blurred impressionist background.
– rPs 10 16 2015
Postscript: for John Mutone. “Ride in Peace, Guy.”
Fall, in Four . . .
Autumn has turned in step with a switch. The T-shirt, the staple of summer, becomes a core submerged in fall flannel surfaced by a heavy cotton sweater. The minimal rain or wading jacket covers the rest of the usual required reading of the weather. When you run to the water, sleeves long underneath a second with ones short fit well. Mittens? Not quite yet, but closer.
Time to turn more indoors. The view out a Manhattan window looks onto shaded brick holding ivy, a few trees tired of green, thinning below a blue lens of sky holding hovering glowing vapor trails. Or else the sky presses down, flat and white, with wind gusts up to thirty or so MPH. A spatter of rain sizzles on the glass still half open until late evening. That seasonal switch, again, in kinetic action.
Turned more indoors, a new bookcase gets assembled. Shelves, installed, meant to be filled. Time, then, indoors; time for letters: books, tying manuals, some poems or lyrics or lyric poems as well as stories, some classics matched with new ones.
Fallon’s Angler issue #4 begins the October reading list assured. The short story “Cliffhanger” offers my side of the tale alongside works by the likes of Dominic Garnett, Chris Yates, and the General.
Visit the fallon’s angler website: http://fallonsangler.net/product/fallons-angler-issue-4/
— rPs 10 05 2015
Better Late . . .
The clay bank, high and vertical, gives way at intervals over time. Trees do follow. The other side, temporarily bridged by timber, emerges as a shallow grade of washed gravel and cobblestone. Low water, dry stones, holding sprouts of green in the shallows and cracks. Crayfish abound in the back puddles as do nymphs of caddis, mayflies, and dragonflies.
Riffles call for some kebari pale and fluffy to the casual eye. Many tenkara anglers tie and fish one fly only. September finds me most often opening the wallet or bottle for one best knotted onto 6x or 7x tippet: a primitive September Trico Spinner of black thread and rabbit on a curved hook in some size between 18 and 22. Another choice would be a size 16 or 18 dry fly hook dressed in Olive and Rabbit with or without a thorax of Peacock Herl: the September White Wing X Caddis. A streamer for slower water and meatier game goes to my standard Green Guarantee, size 6, 8, or 10. The body of Leech Yarn gives the Bucktail added motion, as this fly begs to be twitched and animated in authentic tenkara fashion.
September Trico Spinner
September White Wing X Caddis
My target, the quarry, this time became the fallfish, Semotilus corporalis, the grayling of the Mid-Atlantic states. Ones of size, like a fish I just encountered along a freestone creek over Labor Day Weekend, gives dry fly fishing an ultimate experience. The fish, strong, attractive, over a foot in length, sipped in a size 18 September Trico, one tied in a Manhattan flat.
The other fish of late summer, the Smallmouth Bass, Micropterus dolomieu, made its presence known to me on the very next cast. This one fell for a Green Guarantee tied on after sighting a smallmouth bass twice the size of the one in net.
More fallfish and smallmouth followed into a still evening that grew at a quicker pace than in July. A few deer showed off white tail and flushed. The green canopy held a dark gray where rays of sun once streamed. By the bank, the spot where I chose to cross for home, came first a pause for a large snapping turtle. Slow, dark and cragged, a small dinosaur, basically, cruised down the steam’s middle lane until the turn for a tree fallen and half submerged.
For me, above the opposite bank, began the walk down a gravel road toward town.
Angler, prepared to say: “Better late . . .”
– rPs 09 15 2015
Two Days . . .
Clyde E. Drury, Jr. passed away at the age of 85 on July 31, 2015, the Thirty-first of July; a Friday.
Clyde E. Drury, Jr. He edited and introduced the standard annotated edition of The Autobiography of Dr. James Alexander Henshall.
Henshall in ways lasting brought the black basses of North America to codified attention. He was a nineteenth century angling author. Clyde devoted a facet of his long life of service to books of the black bass. His work reached my attention a decade ago as the smallmouth and largemouth bass receive a major role as characters in my two collections of stories. Stories, in part, of the black bass.
His mind was open to my work’s inclusion into his open-ended online bibliography. I consider that a high achievement in my life, as satisfying as knowing my name is included on a CD-ROM affixed to the New Horizons spacecraft that flew by Pluto and Charon in early July. Clyde, who served in the United States Air Force for some two decades, lived to appreciate American aerospace ability completing a survey of the entire Solar System. He witnessed all of the essential moments leading to the Moon and from the Sun itself passed Mercury, Venus, and comets, Mars, and the asteroid Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, all of the way on to Pluto and its moons orbiting at the far edge of the planetary property. That thought celebrates life and encourages happiness beyond the loss of a friend.
His span of years marked by service and generosity reached and sustained me for years. When I contacted him first by email, Mr. Drury was kind enough to include my project within his authoritative online bibliography of black bass books. Our mutual affection for the black bass in part brought Small Fry: The Lure of the Little into print in 2009. Our interaction became a friendship, a conversation, a seed sprouted into occasional notes, Holiday Greetings, and mutual appreciation.
A forthcoming print edition of Clyde E. Drury’s collected Books of the Black Bass may be a book written, compiled, conducted in an ongoing manner, composed of a planet of authorial voices. My own was one shared with him through his gifts of direction as well as a bibliography to keep my life busy until I myself am 85, even beyond, maybe.
Thank you for your service, Sir.
Clyde E. Drury Jr.
March 21, 1930 – July 31, 2015
The First of August, a Saturday, the day after Clyde E. Drury, Jr. passed, marked an anniversary milestone having been reached. My first book, Philadelphia on the Fly: Tales of an Urban Angler entered the “Published” category on that date a decade ago and the title remains so. Websites online list the official publication date as August 1, 2005.
Ten years is often quoted as span of time required to integrate mastery of a subject, a sport, a discipline. Perhaps the tenkara rod in my hand is a kind of baton. I shall honor the angling and writing craft, as did Clyde, and keep the illustrated angling book a living, growing body of Literature with a capital L.
The tenkara rod: this tool, this baton, like a pencil to paper. When put to water one encounters pools of stories to be pulled from the clarity. Lines are necessary. Body and mind, combined in tenkara’s case, serve as the real reel. My mountain bike, back cover star of the first edition of Philadelphia on the Fly, still in service ten years later, carries me to the water unless a Manhattan subway shoulders some of the commute, or on a day like today, after writing in rumination, I get up, get shoes on, and go off, running . . .
. . . On The Fly.
– rPs 08 07 2015
The Autobiography of Dr. James Alexander Henshall: The Father of Bass Fishing in America, Annotated Edition. Edited and with an Introduction by Clyde E. Drury
Philadelphia on the Fly: Tales of an Urban Angler by ron P. swegman
The Girth Hitch . . .
When is a knot not? The knot of and in itself, an infinite loop object, that meets the immovable object. The Lillian end, the knotted silk tip of a tenkara rod, offers its utility of simplicity to the loop as one meets the other in an essential equally blended architecture.
The Girth Hitch; this one gives traditional tapered line, with its silken loop and double helix weave, an impressive connection to a tenkara rod’s tip. The head yank of the trout and the pounce of the bass all require secure connection: The Girth Hitch.
“The Girth Hitch Gives Hedge. “
I pointed to the glass countertop, passed an open hand over the open tube with its cap set to the side, the rod, and the rod’s tip plug set aside on the unknotted sock. Father and Son, their eyes followed my hand like two in study of a wily card trick magician. “The tenkara rod held in this travel tube makes a great academic introduction to flycasting types and rod action as it relates to the artificial fly.”
Father and son were entertained. The flybox was clipped closed.
“Tether the three together. Rod, Line, Fly: The Angler Knots, my pun on tethered astronauts. Your main option here out may well be the line. I am on the level when I say I’m happy to see you have started with traditional tapered.”
Father asked for more, suggested as his son hugged a stuffed toy snook. “The black line looks like one on a largemouth bass.”
We knew local pond water offered plenty of largemouth bass and sunfish. “Have fun. Use the pattern your son insisted upon. Yours, right?”
The son hugged snook and raised up his free thumb. Thumbs up.
Several hours later the father emailed a photo: youngster, smiling, tenkara rod perpendicular, line tight to a grip holding up a planed hand of barred brass and blue. “Tenkara Bluegill.”
“Small Fry” . . .
– rPs 07 29 2015
Postscript: Small Fry: The Lure of the Little
The Whitefish Press
Tippets and Tibbetts . . .
George Tippett, a colonial loyalist, lost his land where a major skirmish in alliance with native tribes was waged against the British crown during the American Revolution. The battle was lost, the war was won. The outcome turned the land over and again, a name alteration emerged into a new standard, and land acquisition through marriage came to Jacobus Van Cortlandt.
Tibbetts Brook flows, rather meanders, meanders down through a forested vein in The Bronx. Two parks: Tibbetts Brook and Van Cortlandt, give the northern frontier of New York City freshwater fishing as close as the salt of the Hudson River where the striped bass swims.
Water Lily, Spatterdock, and sediment flats offer a few fit and fat Centrarchidae with an appetite. Females, finished doing duty and ready for a meal, make up the bulk of the menu in June. Scattered few have fallen for a kebari. Others have been and may be in future flushed by frisky waterfowl or a passing cyclist if one pauses to inquires “How’s the fishing?” or “Catch any?” The most polite individual encountered, the one I ally with, is instead the semiaquatic genus Ondontra. The only one of its kind, the Muskrat deserves a most elevated status for its humble, pleasant nature and mild, herbivorous ways.
Calm water, or perhaps rippled from a sustained breeze, both enjoy the presence of the solitary bass of several pounds lurking below. Patterns may take the form of a size 6 Green Guarantee streamer or perhaps a kebari of a different kind, such as the foam Panfish Spider. Experiments on the latter pattern using all game feather and fur remain ongoing and make for awesome time at the vise.
Tippet, here in 2015, takes the form of three to six feet of 4x monofilament knotted to a twelve foot Level Line or Traditional Tapered Line. The less opaque Level Line makes a better choice in skinny water and finds itself used more often for this fly fishing. The line and leader formula gives a surging bass of three pounds sporting opportunity to break free into cover. Fishes with a face full of weed can come with this territory, making a stiffer 7/3 flex like that of the Tenkara USA Yamame rod a prudent choice.
Fights are fun, and fishes landed by bending rod and body in the protracted wrestle strike the profile of a true football. Nerf nerds might appreciate a comparison in the mix as well. A female, long and muscled, at this time of year will feel deflated and seem somewhat airy next to an earlier one heavy with eggs, the kind of bass an angler with a soul let rest, as she is best then left alone.
Aggressive females: the after party is a second story. Hungry, collected, they strike if presented a morsel of opportunity during a cruise in open water. A big girl emerges from cover with a slow, confident pulse that excites. Casting form may suffer from adrenaline jitters unless absolute focus is maintained.
The female Largemouth Bass now wants to bite, to pounce on prey lingering too far from a green algae mat or lily pad or stand of pickerel weed. The pond permit, the Bluegill, shares the pattern. Olive and silver in tone with distinct vertical bars, the ladies inhale a fly, hold it in mouth often without the hook penetrating, making release easy if forceps have been brought along.
Meanwhile, male Centrachidae are too busy to bite. Young bucks are swift, nimble, and chase instead of take. Try your best. The men are interested in pushing you away, not pulling. Noses nudge a fly pattern along, far away from nests full of fry, far from from a potential hook set. Smart behavior expressed by strong fish.
From bottom to top, from end to end, full fishing reportage takes at minimum a full day to cover. The explorer angler’s hike, jog, or bike best includes some time in between to stop and read the informative historical markers and enjoy the wildflowers. Tippett’s land has changed, as has the legacy of his name. Still, scattered spots along this namesake brook in the Bronx may offer encounter with the kind of Largemouth Bass that can begin and end a memorable day in one respectable cast.
– rPs 06 12 2015
Postscript: In Memory of Andrew Victor Amici, United States Navy, 1950-2015