Friday, March 18, 2016

The Moment

The new day is but an idea beginning to form under the horizon to the east. The air is still, the water seamless and polished, the world still silent in sleep.

Waist deep in the brine, progress is made across the flat. Slow deliberate steps through the mud spark memories of flushing woodcock in a distant covert and tracking deer along the brook in the hollow below the old farm.  Primal instincts not yet bred out of genetic code passed down through a lineage who survived by their own leave.

A slight rise in the flat and hard bottom offers a perfect vantage point to wait. The eight-weight is held ready in the right hand, the fly, leader and twenty feet of line in the left. Minutes go by that seem like hours.

In the gray light of fading dawn their bodies cannot be seen. Their location and movement are given away by the subtle wakes left on the surface as they maraud back and forth in the shallows. Tails begin to slap and shoulders roll as they feed on baitfish corralled against the sod bank seemingly unaware of the lone figure standing sixty feet away.

A roll cast straightens the line out and the fly is water-hauled into the air. Two false casts put a pair of feathers shrouded with bucktail on a hook just past the disturbed water. The fly is retrieved with short staggered strips but receives no attention. Another cast delivers the fly within inches of the last. Almost instantly the water erupts as the fly lands and the line goes tight.  

The fish immediately runs for deeper water of the river proper, the line humming against the water's resistance. The fish is quickly brought to hand and cradled wet as the hook is removed. Eyes lock between the catcher and the caught. In that moment it's not entirely clear who is who. Perhaps they are the same.

The first rays of sunlight touch the marsh and then the moment is gone.

But not forgotten.

From somewhere in the moment
18 March 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

'Yo, Paulie

Instead of going apple picking one fall weekend in 2013, The Beast and I went albie fishing off Montauk with Bryan Goulart of Point to Point Charters. Bryan had told us that the albies had not shown up yet in typical Montauk fashion but that if there were any around, we would find some. I’m confident that Bryan put us on the ones that were there.  The Beast and I each caught a few and the day was, for lack of a better word, perfect. Bryan was up for staying out longer but we had a boat to catch so we headed back in to Star Island. Once we got back to the marina it was a mad rush to hose off the gear, break it down and load up to get on the road to make the ferry.

Looking up from the pile of gear at my feet I saw Bryan talking to someone as he washed his boat down. If a fifty year old man can still have idols or heroes, Capt. Paul Dixon is on my short list. There was no way I was leaving Montauk without meeting him. I grabbed Beast’s arm and said, “That’s Paul Dixon, I gotta’ go talk to him.”

I walked over and as I got close, extended my hand to shake Paul’s and began to introduce myself.

“Paul, I’m…”

“You’re Mud Dog,” he said as he reached out to shake my hand, “Steve Bechard gave me some of your flies and they’ve been fishing well, you got some more with you?”

For the next few minutes we went through my personal fly boxes talking about profiles and colors and what the albies had taken earlier in the day. For those who don’t understand what this meant to me, it would be like if you made baseball bats and Ted Williams asked if you had a few lying around that he could hit with. What I thought had been a perfect day turned into one I will never forget.

Capt. Paul Dixon grew up surfing and fishing in southern California and started his fly fishing career while working a summer high school job in Idaho. Paul came east to Long Island in the 80’s with throwing flies at striped bass on his mind.  The problem was there were none, or very few, to be had. Eventually the striper population rebounded and the moratorium on fishing for them was lifted. In the years since, while working for Orvis New York and later running Dixon’s Sporting Life in East Hampton and To The Point Charters, Paul has been instrumental in developing fly fishing for striped bass and false albacore and making the sport what it is today. He may not have been the first to target stripers in skinny water but he is the one who spent the time studying their behavior and movements and pioneered sight fishing for stripers on northeast flats. Along the way, through his efforts promoting the fishery and training and mentoring many local guides, Paul has helped make Montauk and the water around it a world-class destination fishery.
Photo courtesy of Rise Fishing Co.
Paul now splits his time between Long Island guiding clients for stripers, albies and bluefish during the northeast season and the winters in Key Largo chasing tarpon, permit and bonefish. In the midst of all that he guides and fishes in the Redbone Tournaments, works with Rise Fishing Company to develop high performance fly rods and is very involved in fisheries conservation with The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the plight of the striped bass and the restoration of water into the River of Grass and the Everglades. Having seen first-hand and up close the historic restoration of the striped bass population and the gradual slide back to the brink of collapse he is deeply concerned for the life of the waters that he not only guides clients on, but waters of which he has become a part of.
Photo courtesy of Rise Fishing Co.
Since our first meeting I have had the chance to talk with Paul in person a few times about all things from fishing to being a dad. A few weeks ago I sat with him at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ while he ate lunch and listened to him talk about what he has seen on the water over the years. He told me about the first time he cast to stripers on the flats and his realization that they could be sight cast to similar to a tarpon or redfish. The conversation then drifted to how he learned to navigate the Everglades by trading boat time with a seasoned guide down there for boat time with him back on Montauk. I sat spellbound listening to him recount learning areas in the Everglades I have fished myself. He learned them a little at a time, sometimes by getting lost and finding his way back, no GPS or chartplotter backup…Hansel and Gretel style.
At AMFF, photo by Mud Dog Saltwater Flies
Paul is included in the saltwater portion of the “Wonders of Fly Fishing” exhibition at the American Museum of Fly Fishing which documents the evolution of fly fishing.  Each time I talk with him I am humbly aware that this man, my friend, is a large part of the history of the sport I love. Like Lefty, Bob Clouser, Flip and Pops, it’s not just the technical aspect and fishing side of things Paul brings to fly fishing, it’s a bona fide love and respect of the sport and genuine personality that have helped make it what it is.

If you get a chance to talk with Paul on the water or at a show, take advantage of it. If you get a chance to fish with him, do it.

Paul Dixon. There are none better.

North River, MA
15 March 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

a night at the museum

Yesterday I had the privilege of tying at the American Museum of Fly Fishing “Fit to be Tyed” program and talking with folks about saltwater flies. Being in the heart of trout territory I didn’t think there would be a lot of interest in striper, albie, redfish and tarpon flies or my explanation that bass, pike and browns will eat them as well. I was wrong. I had a lot of conversations with some great people about the tying process and applications in both the salt and freshwater environs and learned a few things to carry into my own tying.
Photo by Mud Dog Saltwater Flies
As darkness fell over the mountains of southwestern Vermont we all made our way upstairs where everyone mingled and talked over pizza and beverages. I talked with guys about throwing some of my saltwater flies for pike, listened to people new to fly fishing talk with people who have been “in the business” for a long time and watched as people who had just met at the event exchanged contact info and made plans to share some water this season. For a few hours, shielded by the walls of the museum and the history inside them, we all escaped from the insane world outside. Sharing stories, access information and fly patterns, offering places to stay and help in learning new water and planning future events…Americans being Americans…it was nice to see.

The second half of the event was an Iron Fly contest put on by Pigfarmink Nor’eastah and the Vermont Fly Guys. For the uninitiated, Iron Fly is based on the same theme as Iron Chef. Fly tiers are given a bag of miscellaneous materials and are told to tie a specific pattern with what they have. Blindfolds may be used to increase the difficulty factor, instructions midway through the tie such as move to the vise across the table or tie with your opposite hand may be given. I could write pages about what went on during the event, and perhaps I will soon, but as I stood watching nearly two dozen fly tiers jammed into the library at the museum I saw something that intrigued me.

Seated at one of the tables in the back corner was a young girl flanked on either side by who I assumed were her mother and father. The first round of the night was going to be a San Juan Worm tied with a blindfold on. I watched the girl’s face as her parents helped her get the vise and blindfold set. Her eyes were bright with excitement and her expression determined and confident. Once the instruction to start was given I watched the girl quickly and aptly spin up the worm. The kid knew her away around a vise.
Photo courtesy American Museum of Fly Fishing
While the first round of flies were being judged I went over and introduced myself and asked if I could talk with them after the next round about the event for this piece. They happily agreed and then put on game faces for the next fly of the night, a Wooly Bugger. Nell twisted a great looking Bugger with ease.

While the Wooly Buggers were being judged I talked with Nell and her parents, Kim and Reid Bryant of Dorset, Vermont. I learned that Nell is nine, went fishing for the first time at age two and began learning to cast when she was four. About this time I recognized Kim from an article by Kristyn Brady in Field & Stream entitled “The Real Fly Girls” and from the Women’s Fly Fishing Showcase held recently at The Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, New Jersey. Kim is a New York guide, a fly fishing instructor for Orvis, does some affiliate guiding on Vermont and Massachusetts water and has fished and hosted travel trips in the US and abroad for a multitude of species in fresh and saltwater. Nell’s skills at the vise have obviously been learned at home.

As Nell prepared for the final round of Iron Fly I asked her what her favorite part of fly tying is. Her answer was the same as my daughter’s; the colors. I had time for one more question before the winners of Round 2 were announced. I asked her if she had any favorite fly patterns or if she liked to tie freestyle with whatever she felt like tying. Without hesitation her answer was, “Freestyle. Definitely.”
Photo by Mud Dog Saltwater Flies
The winners of Round 2 were announced after some deliberation. In a room of older people, some who are guides, some who tie commercially and many with more years of tying under their thread, Nell’s Wooly Bugger took second place. The smile on her face was out shined only by those on the faces of her parents.
Photo courtesy of American Museum of Fly Fishing
The final round was right in Nell’s wheelhouse. A mixed bag of materials and no specific pattern…total freestyle.

She totally freestyled it.
Photo by Mud Dog Saltwater Flies
I’d fish that.

History and tradition. Being made, taught, learned and lived.
Keep at it, Nell!

Bob's Diner, Manchester, VT
28 February 2016