January2011

Elvis has left the building

Thank you. Thank you very much.

It was suggested, not by myself but by others, that last week’s Dirty Harry blog entry may have set the bar too high to ever be reached again, by the likes of me anyway. Now that’s not to say that I agree with the suggestion that it was a bar-raising entry, but given the depths of my mediocrity as both an angler and a writer, I believe there is much truth in the assertion that I may have peaked.  Long-time UA supporter Rebecca Garlock (keeper of the Outdooress blog and a Co-Chief Executive of the Outdoor Blogger Network) suggested in the comments section that I was, in fact, “toast”.

Many once-great professional athletes have hung on too long, only to end up tarnishing if not completely disgracing themselves and their legacies. Be the reasons what they may — the need for more lucrative paydays, a spirit that just couldn’t live without the competition, an ego too large for their own good, or perhaps a combination of them all — playing past their prime rarely if ever has resulted favorably for either the athletes or their fans.

As fans, nobody who witnessed these athletes at the height of their careers enjoyed seeing them wallow miserably in frustrating despair as their aging bodies were no longer capable of competing with younger, faster, stronger, better-dressed athletes.  Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Jordan, Roger Clemens, Brent Favre…the list goes on. The best way to bastardize an otherwise brilliant career, it seems, is to linger past one’s prime. I am of the opinion that it’s far better to go out while you’re on top – to retire with grace and dignity, and humility. If you don’t, that humility will inevitably be shoved down your throat with great force.

That being said, which is not to say that the Unaccomplished Angler has ever approached a level of brilliance with regard to anything, I do believe it is time to bow out gracefully, before someone suggests I do.

To my 8 loyal followers who stuck with me over the course of the past year and a half or so, thank you—your support has made it all worthwhile. And to the many who jumped on the bandwagon just recently and left comments, thanks for doing so. It helps ease the transition into retirement knowing that I had a thousand or so extra hits on my website in the end.

What will I do with all my free time now that the blog of Unaccomplished Angler will no longer be demanding the minimal effort required to produce marginally acceptable Weekly Drivel?  Hopefully something lucrative. I’ve got my kids fly fishing books to promote, and a couple more to finish in the hope that my publisher demands them soon. I’ve got fish to try to catch, and a job to look for (if you’re hiring, drop me a line. Seriously).

It’s been fun while it lasted—at least for me—but I smell burnt toast.

I’m going fishing.  Tightlines,

Fish flavored wine?

With all the odd flavored vodkas on the market these days, including Smoked Salmon vodka, it was only a matter of time before wine makers followed a similar path. I recently found myself in the wine aisle at the local grocery store—a place where I am neither comfortable nor familiar.  Surrounded by a daunting number of brands, a confusing array of different wine types, and serious looking people who appear to be right at home, the wine aisle is a scary place. I’m much more at ease in the beer section. The far end of the beer section to be sure, where Pabst Blue Ribbon and Bud Light reign superior. When I’m feeling all mature and grown-up I’ll spring for some Kokanee because it’s a bit more substantial and well, it’s named after fish.

When I do happen to buy a bottle of red wine on occasion, I generally shop by price. If it’s under $8 a bottle it captures my interest. But I am also influenced by wine bottle labels.  As an artist/graphic designer type, I appreciate a label that sets the brand apart from others. One of my favorites, for example, is Red Table Wine, which hails from the same winemaker as House Wine,  Steak House, and Fish House. I like a wine maker that doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

Aside from fancying a unique label I’m also a person inclined toward the sport of angling, so a bottle of wine with a fish reference on the label will grab my attention like the strands of flash in a marabou streamer. I pondered picking up a bottle of Coho, but it felt a bit out of season in the sense that the silvers have long since spawned; their carcasses by now completely decomposed and returned to the sediment of the river banks and bottoms. However, it is the heart of winter steelhead season, so one can imagine my delight when I happened upon Steelhead Red. It’s a Zinfandel, which means absolutely nothing to me. I called my sister-in-law to ask her what a Zinfandel is (it’s a red wine, apparently). Frankly I don’t I don’t even care how it tastes—it’s got a steelhead on the label. There were only two bottle left, so I grabbed them both. They were fin-clipped so I put a couple notches in my catch card and proceeded toward the checkout.

According to the website for Quivira Vineyards, makers of Steelhead wines:

“Steelhead is the first wine brand dedicated to fisheries conservation. A portion of the proceeds from every bottle of Steelhead Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and Steelhead Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc sold help fund Trout Unlimited’s creek restoration projects. Enjoy these delicious wines and raise your glass to healthier creeks throughout North America!”

Clearly I’m not one to judge whether a wine is any good or not, but after popping the cork, letting it breath, sloshing it around the glass and holding my nose over it before ultimately taking a swig, I can honestly say that I enjoyed Steelhead Red. Surprisingly, it tasted nothing like fish. More like red wine.

Actually, another reason I bought the Steelhead Red is so I could say I caught a couple steelhead today—a heroic if not completely impossible task on a wet, miserable day when our rivers are actually blown out and at or above flood stage. It seemed the right thing to do.

Fly Fishing needs Dirty Harry

Not long ago I posted a blog entry that essentially regurgitated others’ thoughts about the need for increasing participants in the sport of fly fishing. One idea was for some of the *10,000 fly anglers, who are also writers, to begin pitching articles to non-fishing industry magazines. I heeded that call and am happy to report that I’ve already been snubbed twice by certain publications that felt fly fishing was not a suitable topic. This got me to thinking, so I began to dig around for information on the matter of fly fishing’s declining numbers. (* courtesy Tom Bie, Angling Trade, December 2010)

Somewhere in my investigation I came upon some statistics indicating that participation in the sport of fly fishing is down from 6.7 million to 5.6 million since 2000 (see graph above). Based on these figures I did some math and concluded that there are 1.1 million fewer people fly fishing today than there were ten years ago. That represents a daunting decline in dollars for those who make their living in the fly fishing industry, but for the individual angler who thinks there are already too many people competing for a spot on the riverbank, that number can’t be high enough. We are an industry somewhat divided, and we must find unity if we are to succeed.

Let’s dismiss the latter point of view because that’s just plain selfish.  We were all beginners at one time or another. None of us alive and actively fishing today were the first angler to call a particular piece of water our own, and unless one fish’s private water it’s all public domain. In other words we have to share with others, and those who complain about overcrowding need to get over it. Stop with the territorial mentality already–we need newcomers to the sport. There’s plenty of secluded water out there for those willing to seek it out, so take a hike.

Back to the matter of declining numbers of fly anglers—why is this?  Certainly no single person has a definitive answer, because if they did then the problem would have been solved by now. I’m not going to speculate on all that may be to blame, instead I’d like to propose a solution that doesn’t require any amount of work on the part of the 10,000 writing fly anglers.

FIRST, THERE WAS THE MOVIE
One needn’t look too far into the world of fly fishing before coming across mention of the dramatic effect had by a certain movie on the industry. Following the 1992 blockbuster hit based on Norman MacLean’s 1976 novel, A River Runs Through It, the fly fishing world saw a dramatic influx of new people coming to the sport. The movie and book certainly paint a pretty picture of fly fishing in a natural and unspoiled Montana, so there was likely that romantically nostalgic attraction. Brad Pitt’s appeal probably didn’t hurt when it came to recruiting some ladies to the sport either, although I’m not sure what the rationale behind that was. Did the ladies really think they’d meet guys that look like Brad Pitt simply by taking an interest in fly fishing? Whatever the exact reason, there was a rise in the popularity of fly fishing for a period of time following the film’s release.  After realizing that not all or even many any fly fishermen look like Brad Pitt, interest waned and continues to do so today. The river that once ran through it has all but dried up and we’re desperately in need of some serious snow pack in the mountains of the industry.

A River Runs Through It, definitely.

THEN THERE WAS ANOTHER MOVIE, MAYBE?
In 2010 another fly fishing-themed-book-turned-movie was released, sort of. The River Why was released in April but only to critics. It made the rounds of the film festivals and reviews have been moderate for the most part (here is one review by Tom Bie of The Drake). There were legal wranglings between the movie producer, the book’s publisher and author David James Duncan before the movie was completed, and while the movie is out (sort of), it does not have the love and support of Duncan. Whether the fly fishing world is sitting on the edge of its seat waiting for the movie, and expecting a dramatic after-effect, remains yet to be seen. In order for the movie to be a mainstream hit and capture the allure of fly fishing like A River Runs Through It did, it needs to be better than just moderate.  As a book, The River Why is excellent, but will the movie, if it is ever released to theaters, offer a shot in the arm for the fly fishing industry? That is an unanswered question.

UPDATE: Since this report was published, the producer of the film stopped by the comment section of this blog (the reach and power of the internet never ceases to amaze). Thanks to Kristi Denton Cohen for chiming in with an update on film.

The River Why, who knows?

AND THEN, THERE WAS OPRAH
Recently there was a flurry of excitement on the internet over Oprah’s fly fishing escapades. While it provided something to talk about briefly, Oprah is probably not going to be the voice that will hook new anglers and keep manufacturers and retailers in the black, while also adding a valuable infusion of new blood to conservation efforts. As far as the fly fishing industry is concerned, the “O” in Oprah is probably just a big “zero”.

The River O, no.

AND FINALLY, THE ENLIGHTENMENT
One fateful day while seated quietly in the Lotus position and searching for more answers, I came across this YouTube clip of Clint Eastwood on the David Letterman show in 2006. They were discussing the likelihood, or not, of another Dirty Harry movie. Suddenly it hit me: Fly fishing needs a kick in the pants and Dirty Harry may be just the man for the job. Please take a minute to view this short clip – pay close attention at 1:12.

If we go back in cinematic history, we see that unlike A River Runs Through It, Eastwood’s Dirty Harry was no one-hit wonder. On the contrary, it was the first of five successful films featuring detective Harry Callahan: Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988). The span of years between the movies is indicative that the public waited eagerly to embrace the next adventure of Dirty Harry, so we have every reason to believe that after 23 years the public is waiting with outstretched arms for the return of Inspector Callahan. Absence only makes the box office grow fonder—heck, even Brad Pitt’s wife, Angelina Jolie, seems to think Dirty Harry is a hot ticket.

So, why Dirty Harry? How can he fuel an interest in a sport that seems to be in a tailspin? The reasons are many. Here are just a few:

1.  Callahan is not some rich guy. For example in Dirty Harry, rather than allow doctors to use scissors to cut off his trousers in order to treat a wound to the leg, Harry insists on removing the pants himself even though doing so will hurt. The pants cost him $29.50: “Let it hurt,” he demands. This dispels the notion that fly fishing is for the wealthy elite. If Harry were a rich man, he’d not have thought twice about ruining his trousers.

2. Dirty Harry is a real man. Men respect him in ways they could never respect, say, Brad Pitt. Gear chuckers and bait fishermen may even make the transition to fly fishing because of Dirty Harry: he’s a guy everyone can rally behind. Women like a real man, too, though for obvious reasons I personally wouldn’t know about that.

3. Detective Callahan is memorable. Several quotes that came from the character of Dirty Harry can be still be found in use today. For example, everyone has heard and perhaps even borrowed the famous call to action, “Make my day.” Name one memorable quote from A River Runs Through It, besides “I am haunted by waters.”

4. He’s straight-talking and authoritative.  When Dirty Harry speaks, people tend to sit up straight and listen, or get their butts kicked (or worse). A perfect spokesman for the industry, right there: anglers would wait with baited breath for Harry as the keynote speaker at a Fly Fishing Show, or as the emcee for the Fly Fishing Film Tour! Spey claves across the country would welcome Dirty Harry as a featured presenter and one can easily envision crowds of attendees raucously chanting, “Make my Spey!” as Eastwood takes the stage. Anglers and non-anglers alike would flock in droves to hear him, and the result will be more anglers. And when the law is laid down by Dirty Harry, those newcomers to the sport will listen up and take note when it comes to proper etiquette. It’s important that the industry not just attract new participants, but educate them properly: enter professor Callahan.

5. Harry is a man of conviction. Always standing up for justice in his movies, he was unfaltering and steady in the face of a chaotic world. That type of stability is what we all look for in a leader. Beyond attracting newcomers to the sport, Detective Callahan could single-handedly Stop the Pebble Mine, remove dams on the Snake River, and put an end to governmental mis-management of our state and federal fisheries. Hell, Dirty Harry could even reverse the Boldt Decision if wanted to.

6. Dirty Harry is a man for everyone, making him the perfect bridge for the generation gap that many claim exists within the fly fishing arena.  He’s a source of inspiration for people his own age and a beacon of admiration for everyone else. Dirty Harry is the guy who will make old folks get up off their butts, and he’s the guy who will make young people pull their pants up above their butts. Through either intimidation or admiration, Dirty Harry can provide the unity the industry needs.

The list could go on, but with your best interests in mind I’ll stop there.

Obviously, as Eastwood joked about in his interview with Letterman, the Harry Callahan of today is too old to be serving on any police force (except for maybe Twin Bridges, MT). But what about the same man, albeit aged and perhaps a bit mellower, embarking on a retired life of fly fishing with an occasional stint as a game warden? Through his travels he could bring the beauty of fly fishing to the masses, put to rest certain myths and misconceptions about the sport, and send a strong message to wrong-doers, law-breakers and low-holers. Eastwood could pull it off. He’s a man who can make any movie he pleases.

“I know what you’re thinkin…”

Imagine it: Harry Callahan along the edge of a river, clad in waders and wearing his trademark “squint” as he prepares to throw out a cast to a large, wary fish lying behind a distant boulder. He looks down the long graphite shaft of a fly rod and quietly growls:  “I know what you’re thinking—’Did he cast six times, or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a Brand X (manufacturers would pay handsomely to insert their brand and model here) fly rod, the most powerful fly rod on the market so you will not snap me clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, fish?”

It’s not difficult to see the potential for a great movie, but the clock is ticking. Yes, Eastwood appears to be in excellent physical health, but the man is 80 years old so we don’t have eternity to waste in getting this movie made.  While time is not endless, the possibilities are:

And if for some reason a new movie starring Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry isn’t in the cards, CGI technology is wildly impressive.  Maybe we can at least hope for a remake of A River Runs Through It starring a young Clint Eastwood, instead of that other guy.

Mr. Eastwood, are you listening?  Fly fishing needs you.  Fly fishing needs Dirty Harry.

Fly anglers, we need to spread the word if we’re going to get Dirty Harry on board. Eventually Mr. Eastwood will see the industry’s cry for help and hopefully come to our aid. Surely he’s got one more movie in him, and this one could be his magnum opus.

Now, we all realize that the above post was merely tongue-in-cheek humor and a fly fishing movie featuring Dirty Harry isn’t likely to be made. However, here is one that stands a very real chance: Olive the Woolly Bugger

The Rainbotox Trout?

Interestingly in the past few weeks I’ve stumbled upon a couple of different discussions about a book that was published in 2010, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World by Anders Halverson. The first discussion was on a very popular fly fishing forum, and as so often is the case on internet forums the thread flew off course and turned sour. By the time the discussion had spawned out I’d forgotten what the intent of it was in the first place.  Then a couple weeks later, The Trout Underground posted a review of the book and reeled me back in.  I have not yet read the book, but it’s on my list. Actually I was hoping to receive this book as either a Christmas gift, but apparently I was bad this year.

Because I’ve not read the book I can not speak to its essence, but in the meantime I’ve done a bit of reading about the book and listened to a Fish Explorer podcast interview with the author. To ponder the concept of the rainbow trout being introduced so widely to so many waters where it was not native is pretty amazing, and is as mind boggling as the quickness with which we settled the American West (and all the bad stuff that came of that, including the artificial introduction of the rainbow trout).  I fully admit that I did not know that the rainbow is native only to a narrow band along the Pacific Rim from Mexico north to the Bering Strait and Kamchatka. Today an angler can undoubtedly catch more rainbows in rivers across America than any other type of trout. In many of these waters, while not native, the rainbows are wild in the sense that they’re self-propagating and thriving. Unfortunately at the cost of some native species, both fish and certain types of frogs.

I think I get it. We as a civilization are at a point where we’re reflecting back with shame for all the bad stuff we’ve done to our world and the environment over the past decades. We’re the “guilt generation” trying to undo what has been done by generations before: there’s a lot of habitat restoration being done in an attempt to help recover fish runs that we as humans have nearly wiped out in many places. Dams are being torn down, rip rap banks being removed so flood waters can reclaim their natural floodplains and provide safe haven for fish during high water, trees are being replanted along riparian zones previously cleared of all vegetation, etc. The list goes on, and it’s good that we’re doing something about it. As part of this attempt to undo what has been done, hatchery fish of all kinds are being given a bad rap because, well, they’re not “wild”, in many cases they’re non-indigenous and frankly by nature’s design they don’t belong. Kinda like the white Europeans when we they landed on the east coast 513 years ago.

But what of the homogenous rainbow trout, specifically?  They’ve been around in so many waters for so long that we’ll never get rid of them, and many probably don’t want to. From what I’ve gleaned, this is not the point of An Entirely Synthetic Fish, either. Personally I treat a wild (not the same as native) rainbow or brown trout with the same care in handling as I do a cutthroat or a bull trout. If they’re thriving, for the most part, in most areas where they were introduced, should perhaps we not simply embrace the rainbow for the aerobatic, strong fighting fish they are?  It’s not their fault we put them where they never would have been on their own: they had little say in the matter.  Yet here they are in lakes and streams and rivers across the country and the world.  Can’t we just show them a little love? If these non-native rainbows find out how we really feel about them, they’re likely to become resentful and dour, and may resort to even more hideous means of damaging self indulgence as they seek our acceptance. They may not be the au natural, Birkenstock-wearing native cutthroat or the prestigious eastern brook trout that we love to romanticize about, but completely synthetic?  Come on – isn’t that a little much?  A little cosmetic surgery never hurt anyone. They just want to be accepted, if not loved.

Heck, even the hybrids are doing it.

Cuttbotox Trout

My word, what is next—pectoral fin augmentation?

PS- My apologies to Mr. Halverson for the content of this article.

Yes, I’m feelin’ lucky.

One of the best lines ever delivered in a movie came from Clint Eastwood’s famous character, Harry Callaghan, in the 1971 hit Dirty Harry. Looking down the 8-3/8 inch barrel of his Smith & Wesson Model 29 at a fallen, would-be bank robber, Detective Callaghan inquires:

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

While I do not appreciate being addressed as “punk”, I would like to field the question and respond with a resounding, “Yes”.

Recently I took the bait dangled by an associate on a particular social networking site (aka Facebook friend). This individual was doing what many of us bloggers do, and cross-posting of a blog topic to drive more traffic to their blog.  And I’m glad they did, because otherwise I would not have known of the Clif Bar giveaway taking place over at Fly Fishing and Tying Review. I played along and left the following comment:

“I’ve enjoyed Clif bars in the past and I would like to continue enjoying them by winning an entire box.”

And I did not embellish for the sake of schmoozing the makers of Clif Bars: I often buy them to take with me when I go fishing. They stick with you a little longer than a candy bar and are better for you than a bag of beef jerky (not that I have anything against candy bars or beef jerky, mind you).

As luck would have it, my comment was randomly selected as a winner and I became the recipient of a box of Clif Mojo Bars. Now this may not seem like much to some of your luckier types, but I’ve never considered myself much of a lucky person. Seldom if ever do I win raffles and the like, and certainly luck evades me when fishing (even when wearing my lucky fishing hat). Lately, however I’ve been on a roll, winning the Clif Bars and before that a free subscription to Flyfishing & Tying Journal courtesy of a giveaway at MK Flies. I feel like I’ve hit the jack-pot.

With my recent and abundant luck, I’m not going to tempt fate and willingly stare down the barrel of a loaded gun, but maybe I should get on a plane to Vegas. Or better yet, go steelhead fishing.

Thanks to Fly Fishing and Tying Review and MK Flies for making my day.