November2011

20 Questions: Chris Hunt, Eat More Brook Trout

Chris Hunt prepares to eat a Brookie

Paying homage to the man who originated the “20 Questions”series, we are gathered here today to boost the Google Analytics of the Unaccomplished Angler learn a bit more about Chris Hunt: the man, the myth, and the proprietor of the Eat More Brook Trout blog. In his spare time Chris also just happens to be the National Communications Director for Trout Unlimited. The biggest difference between what Chris does with his “20 Questions” series on his site and what you’ll see here today, is that Chris only publishes 20 of the questions he sends out to those he deems worthy can bribe to participate in his interview series. Conversely, I’m dishing all 30 questions. This may result in me falling out of favor with Chris, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to bring you the Full Meal Deal. Enjoy.

Chris Hunt is a former newspaper journalist who escaped the trade just before it imploded. He went to work saving the world, one trout at a time, for a well-known conservation organization (whose letters are TU–ed.). He does some freelance writing on the side, has penned a couple of books and lives in Idaho Falls with his wife, two kids and two unruly mutts.

Chris’ passion is fly fishing and he’s very evangelical about the need to protect wild country in order to protect sporting opportunity. He’s had the good fortune to fish all over North America from Alaska and Canada, to the tip of Baja and nearly everywhere in between. The mountains and the trout they shelter are his first love, but if a year passes without being able to dip his toes in the ocean, withdrawals set in.

His claims to fly fishing fame? He caught a northern pike on a Tenkara rod; he caught a migrating lake trout on a Tenkara rod. And he caught a muskie on his third cast (and has a witness!). Over the years, his writing has appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers and websites, including the New York Times and Field & Stream. He blogs somewhat regularly at eatmorebrooktrout.com.

Without further ado, let’s throw Chris Hunt to the lions:

 1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My head in the Rockies, my feet in the salt and a feeding fish within casting range.

2. What is your greatest fear?
Oddly enough, drowning. I became an excellent swimmer to ward this one off.

Mark Twain was a Tenkara man.

3. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Mark Twain. Honest. Concise. And just a little bit full of himself.

4. Which living person do you most admire?
Cecil Andrus. Idaho’s favorite son, and a guy who’ll tell you like it is, even if you don’t want to hear it.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I’m a closet narcissist, if such a thing exists.

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hypocrisy, and the willingness to use it for political gain.

7. What is your favorite journey?
This is a tough one for me, because, at the time, it was easily our most difficult journey. We once drove from Eureka, Calif., to Colorado and back to see family for the Holidays. Our Land Cruiser died. Our 3-month-old daughter did nothing but scream during a treacherous blizzard in northeast Utah. I became the owner of a mini-van. We got into a real trailer-park bust-up at a Motel 6 in Wendover, Nev., (dogs included). And I think I grew up. Finally. I look back on that journey all those years ago now and think, “If we can do that, we can do anything.”

Lake Trout caught without a reel.

8. On what occasion do you lie?
I did not fart.  And I did not play Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid.

9. Which living person do you most despise?
If I told you, the Wiccan curse I paid good money to have put on that rat bastard won’t work.

10. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
There are two. The first is, “What up, yo?” My son came home from school one day and laid this one on us. I’ve used it ever since. The other is “What are you wearing?” I usually save that one for answering the phone.

11. What is your greatest regret?
Quitting football after the ninth grade. I think I’d have made a hell of tight end in the NFL … but, on the flip side, I can walk, have both my original knees and I’ve learned to double haul. Life’s good… regrets probably come with baggage.

12. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The cliché thing here is to say my family. Clichés are clichés for a reason. My family. The country-fried steak and eggs Trucker’s Breakfast at the Ranch Hand in Montpelier, Idaho, is a close second, though.

13. Which talent would you most like to have?
It’s funny… I’ve been asking these questions to other folks now for months, and I’ve never really thought about this one. I’d love to be able to fly, but I’d feel compelled to wear a cape and save kittens from trees. And I’m a dog person. This will surprise some folks, but I’d love to be able to carry a tune. I just can’t, and I think it’s very limiting.

14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ve been lucky professionally. As a journalist, I won lots of awards for my work, and I always took great pride in that. But I think what I’m most proud of was having the late, great Charlie Meyers, the best outdoor writer ever to grace the pages of a newspaper, review my book and praise it. Charlie was a great man of many talents and he lived a life of adventure. For him to take the time to read my book and then tell others how much he liked it meant the world to me.

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Again… I’ve never given this much thought. When I was a kid, I was enamored by dolphins. In my 20s, I wanted to be Bourbon Street strip club owner (don’t judge… I like boobies*). Now, at 42, I think I’d like to be a vagabond fly fisher wandering the beaches and flats of the Yucatan.*No judgement here, just agreement–ed.

16. What is your most treasured possession?
My grandfather’s bamboo fly rod. My uncle gave it to me a year or so after my grandfather died. One of these days, I’ll have it restored. For now, though, it’s comforting to look at the old aluminum tube in the corner of the fly tying room and remember the feeling of the old man standing over my shoulder while I cast to rising brook trout.

17. Where would you like to live?
Craig, Alaska, from July through September. Then … maybe South Padre until, say, January. Then New Orleans through May. I’d spend June in Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan. But here, just a stone’s throw from the Yellowstone Caldera, isn’t too shabby.

18. Who are your favorite writers?
Robert Jordan, Mark Twain, Aldo Leopold. Jim Babb (if you’ve never read River Music, you’re missing the best fly fishing ever written), Tom McGuane. I used to put Geirach on the list, and probably still should for old time’s sake. I just think … I’ve outgrown the introspective fly fishing essay (and, in case you haven’t, get your copy of the ultimate collection of introspective fly fishing essays here!).

19. Who are your heroes?
My grandfather, Bill Muller, who slogged through hell during World War II in the Pacific. Theodore Roosevelt, for recognizing the need to keep our country’s natural resources intact. And Howard Zahniser, the author of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Each of these men saved the world, as I know it.

20. How would you like to die?
Jeez, you’re damn nosey, aren’t you Kirk? I mean, these questions are really personal. Let’s see… again, very little thought to this one. I’d love to die on the river, but then I would probably drown, and I don’t want to drown. I do hope the good Lord takes me quickly and after a great day of fishing. And maybe he’ll come collect me from an Irish pub after one last taste of Jameson.

Hey, so the man likes Lady Ga Ga. Don't judge.

21. What’s on your iPod?
Sadly, I don’t really have one. I’m a satellite radio guy. But… if I did load an iPod full of tunes, it would include a lot of Jimmy Buffett, a little Lyle Lovett, country when country was a lot more raw (I mean, “Holes in the Floor of Heaven?” “Christmas Shoes?” Where have all the real country singers gone? This blatant pandering to the blubbering masses makes me want to puke). I guess I’d have some Toby Keith on there—or at least his song, “I’ll Never Smoke Weed with Willy Again.” I’m diggin’ Mumford and Sons. The Clumsy Lovers make the cut for sure. And Lady GaGa. Seriously.

22. What’s the title of your autobiography?
Oh, that’s easy. “20 Questions.”

23. If you were a pet dog, what would your name be?
Bronco.

A math under-achiever.

24. If there’s a Heaven, and you’re lucky enough to make the cut, what would you like to hear God say to you upon arrival?
“Look at you. You’re proof that you can live a long and happy life with just a C-minus in college algebra.”

25. What was the most significant moment in your life?
There are two. The first was when my daughter was yanked from the guts of my wife during an emergency C-section. Nothing prepares you for the love you feel for this tiny person you’ve only just met. The second was when my son emerged in roughly the same fashion. He pissed on the doctor and the nurses and he’s been making people laugh ever since.

26. What’s your favorite film?
Silverado. Best. Movie. Ever.

27. Where would you want your loved ones to spread your ashes?
I’m sending those greedy little shits on a wild goose chase. They can leave a bit on the banks of the Crystal River above the town of Marble, Colo.; they can sprinkle a bit in the South Fork and the Henry’s Fork. A handful will have to go along the banks of a little creek on Prince of Wales Island, whose name I will reveal in my will, and not a second sooner. Some will go to the grayling in the Grease River before it enters Lake Athabasca. A little bit will have to go to the upper Gibbon River. And the last of it can go in the garden under the cilantro and the garlic chives.

Chicks dig the 1980 Corolla.

28. What’s your favorite car of all the cars you’ve owned?
We had a 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser that got to know the central Colorado mining roads pretty well. And I’ve loved my Dodge Dakotas over the last 10 years or so. But I’ll have to go with a 1980 Toyota Corolla. Craven yellow. Mabye two oil changes in five years. It bore a dent from my then-girlfriend’s step-father who backed into it with his truck one morning, not realizing that I was, ahem, sleeping over. It took me all over the country and I loved it to death.

29. What word do you have to look up in order to know you spelled it correctly?
Knowlege. Or is it knowledge? Oye.

30. Who’s your favorite cartoon character?
Jessica Rabbit. Hubba hubba.

Jessica Rabbit, eh? Whatever you say, Chris...

 

 

 

There’s no excuse for fishing without a reel

Tenkara.

I don’t pretend to know much about it, but for those who know even less, allow me to offer forth a nutshell description: Tenkara is a form of Japanese fly angling developed centuries ago, using a long rod, a section of line, and a fly.

What Tenkara does not use is a reel, and it’s easy to understand why: reels probably weren’t invented at the time early Tenkara came to be. And the art hasn’t evolved much since then, save for modern, telescoping graphite that has superseded the original bamboo rods; and monofilament or fluorocarbon that has replaced the original woven horsehair lines.

As our world grows more technologically sophisticated and dependent on gadgetry, many people long for simpler times, harkening romantically back to the good old days before electricity, life-saving vaccinations and fishing reels. Because of this, Tenkara has enjoyed a resurgence, or perhaps more accurately it has gained a certain following in the Western world in recent years. Tenkara USA is an authority on the matter, so if you’re interested I recommend you check them out. Don’t come here looking for any helpful information because I know nothing about it other than what I’ve read. I’ve never seen a Tenkara rod, nor have I observed a Tenkara angler in action. It’s all Greek (or, Japanese) to me, but here are a couple of Tenkara videos to help you familiarize yourself.

So why, you may be asking, am I even taking the time to discuss Tenkara here? Well, it all came about innocently enough. A while ago I commented over at the Lunker Hunt blog. The blog topic was These People are Liars, and the discussion dealt with the reasons why people fish. It was stated, in the first sentence, “From time to time, I hear people say they don’t fish to catch fish. They’re out there soaking up the sun, unwinding, enjoying scenery, building friendships, exercise…that sort of thing. Catching fish is unimportant to these people and I’m here to tell you these people are liars.” Essentially I agreed, by leaving the following comment:

I’m not saying I don’t agree with you, but when you come out west and fish for native winter steelhead, you’ll come to realize that not everyone fishes to catch fish, because these are mythical creatures akin to Bigfoot and unicorns. It’s the love of standing in a cold river while rain beats you into submission and you get better at casting. But yeah, I call B.S. too.

Still, nothing about Tenkara. But then my comment was responded to by none other than Troutrageous! himself:

Kirk…you folks out West need tenkara rods. A most excellent tool especially devised for catching Bigfeet & unicorns.

To which I replied:

I am not opposed to Tenkara specifically, but I am opposed to fishing without a reel. Once I took an afternoon off work and drove a fair distance to fish in seclusion on a beautiful afternoon, only to gear up and realize I’d left my reel at home. Never again.

That was not some sort of conscience-cleansing statement intended to reduce a certain burden of guilt I’d been carrying around with me for a long time. On the contrary, I outed myself publicly after said incident of slack-minded stupidity here. Furthermore, on a steelhead trip last winter with my son, Schpanky, the Unaccomplished Angler left behind not one, but two reels. I came clean about that, here.

So you see, I don’t attempt to hide my imperfections (it would take a warehouse to store them all). As a matter of fact, the Unaccomplished Angler is more than willing to profess his many shortcomings (after all, if I run for public office it’s all going to be dredged up anyway). And there’s another benefit to admitting when one does something insanely stupid–it affords one the perfect excuse for not catching fish: “Hey, I didn’t have a reel!”

And that is why I am not likely to take up the way of Tenkara anytime soon. If I were to be stripped of all but a rod and line (and my clothes–I’m not giving up those, either), there would be little to blame for my angling unaccomplishments other than lack of skill. With Tenkara, it’s just you and a rod and some line waging battle against the fish.

I don’t like those kinds of odds.

Disclaimer: I have every reason to trust Aileen Nishimura of MK Flies that the Japanese characters used above actually mean Tenkara (“in the heavens”) and not something socially inappropriate. I recommend you check out Aileen’s fly tying artistry.

Separated at Birth?

 

Top: That guy from A River Runs Through It; Bottom: Some Bubblegum Pop Star.

Is it just me, or is the resemblance uncanny? Maybe it’s the fish in the photos that’s influencing my perception.

Elk Hunting: Part III of definitely III

I wouldn’t call it sleeping in, but we didn’t get up as early as the previous day because we didn’t need to rendezvous with Jawn’s dad on this second morning of the hunt. Having successfully filled his tag the day before, Jawn’s dad was doing what any smart man would do on a Sunday when the rain continued to fall: he was not getting up at 3:30AM.

As we drove into the hills above Kendrick we accepted the fact that it was going to be another wet morning, but we hoped that unlike the previous day, it wouldn’t be foggy. And then we ascended into a fog bank so thick that we couldn’t have seen a white fogline on the right side of the road even if there had been one. Jawn moved his foot from the gas pedal to the brakes and we slowed to a crawl, meandering up the twisting road toward the ranch. With our hopes of a fogless morning dashed, we parked and napped for an hour or so as rain pelted the roof of the truck. When the sun came up the sky lightened enough to make out shapes in the dim light of dawn, we pulled on our jackets and faced the inevitable fact that we were going to get wet, again. I knew that my boots, which had dried out overnight, would not resist the moisture for long; my rain pants, ventilated from having waged battle with the rose hips and Idaho Mesquite from the day before, didn’t stand much of a chance as a waterproof barrier.

Suck it up. Proceed. Complain silently.

Not too long into the morning we hiked the ridge above a stand of timber, and in much the same fashion as the day before, Jawn’s eagle eye picked out a heard of elk bedded down in the timber a couple of hundred yards below us. His keen vision picked out a spike bull that I shortly thereafter determined to be a spike bull with a few extra branches: a 5 point…

But first let’s jump ahead a few hours to the drama of afternoon. The rain had subsided and the clouds lifted, making for an overcast but not unpleasant day. Micro, Jawn and I hopped on the quad so that we could cover ground more efficiently as we sought a particularly remote corner of the ranch to scout for elk. There was a very good chance that the remnants of the herd that had scattered earlier in the morning may have high-tailed it to this area. We held out hope for another shot. Another elk. With Micro and Jawn comfortably enjoying the padded seat of the Polaris, yours truly was perched on the front rack, the steel bars of which conflicted with my boney arse as we bounced along a “road” through the woods. I’m not convinced that being seated up front and therefore able to anticipate every bone-jarring bump before we came upon it did me any good or not. I’m thinking ignorance may have been bliss as I acknowledged my fate several times, “This is going to hurt”. It was a relief when we reached our destination and set off on foot. Even on legs weary from having hiked many miles already, walking was a welcome change.

"That's not an elk, is it?" "No."

There are no elk in this photo.

The country surrounding us was thick with brush, and  looked like a great hideout for a herd of elk on the lamb. For several hours we walked and stopped. We checked natural watering holes, glassed hillsides, and peered into steep draws that pointed downward toward one thing: that damn river. The Potlach River, named for a Native American ceremonious feast. When the wind silenced itself, one could make out the whisper of the river. It called out to me, tauntingly. What are you doing up there with a rifle, you silly man? I’m sure that Micro and Jawn heard nothing but the voice came to me again. You ought be down here with a fly rod, for I have many fish eager to accept your imitation bugs. I tried to block out the voice and concentrated on looking for elk, but the river was unrelenting and hurled one last insult. You know, there may even be steelhead in my waters. We didn’t see an elk all afternoon, and in fact the ranch seemed strangely devoid of any animal activity save for the raucous celebration of the crows that had found the gut pile from the day before. And a distant voice from below that seemed to be laughing.

The river taunts...

Jumping back in time a few hours to the morning. The bull was bedded down with his body at a angle to us such that it didn’t present the perfect shot. No problem, as rarely do game animals present the perfect shot. I took my time and rested the forestock of my rifle on a rock ledge, giving me a nearly perfect, steady rest. Looking through the scope at 9x power, I could count the tines on the bull. He wasn’t any sort of Boone & Crockett record, but I was neither Daniel Boone nor Davey Crockett. I dialed the scope down to 3X and the bull became smaller, but not too small: he was only about 200 yards away. Steelhead. As I lay the cross hairs toward the right side of his body, between his shoulder blades, I took a deep breath. Come ply  my waters. I exhaled slowlyThere are many naïve trouts for you down here. All tension left my body. Visions of fruitless elk hunts past flashed before me. Not many anglers take the time to fish my waters. I was calm, collected. There would be meat in the freezer this winter, and a handsome rack above the fireplace mantle. I was steady as the rock upon which rested my trusty 7mm Magnum. At the same time my index finger pulled against the trigger, a Potlach River steelhead rolled before my eyes, taking a skated October Caddis before running downstream toward the Clearwater River…

My shot flew an inch too wide to the right. The bull, and the rest of the herd, was gone.

And I finally know what Norman MacLean meant when he wrote, “I am taunted haunted by waters.”

 

 

Part I

Part II

Elk Hunting: Part II of II or maybe III

We pick up where we left off with Part I: The rain had tapered off and the fog was lifting, allowing us at least the hope of being able to see any elk that might be bedded down or just hanging out in the distance. We devised a plan whereby Jawn, Micro and I would make the easy hike to the edge of a bluff overlooking a stand of timber below the wheat field, which was below the stand of timber below the bluff where, thanks to fog, nothing had been seen that morning. No shortage of bluffs and timber stands here. Once we were in position, Jawn’s dad would be walking the course of well-worn game trail far below us, pushing through the thick brushy draw. It made sense to have a guy who’s almost 80 do the hard work while we young middle-aged men sat and waited. So as not to rile the AARP it should be noted that Jawn’s dad could very likely out-hike any one of us, so he was the right man for the job. Any elk he kicked out would run directly below our location. With our keen eyesight the aid of binoculars we’d see them and have plenty of time to set up for an accurate shot.

Let's send the oldest guy in to do the hard work.

Once we were in position, Jawn’s eagle eye picked out a small group of elk casually going about their day in the timber. In clear view was the body of a large animal that would eventually reveal itself to be a cow and a couple of other smaller animals, though not an antler amongst the bunch. Jawn radioed to his dad, “We have elk. Stop.” Then he turned to me and asked, “Want to shoot a cow?” Apparently the guy with the out-of-state tag got first right of refusal, or acceptance. I decided that while I am certainly no trophy hunter, I wanted to wait until we hopefully saw a bull. I harkened back to Mrs. UA’s parting words as I left for the weekend hunt, “I’d really like you to bring home some antlers for the fireplace mantle!”  Micro echoed my sentiments just as a shot rang out below. Followed by a few more shots. Maybe as many as 7, or 8. That was either a good thing, meaning an elk was good and dead, or no elk was dead and hope shots were being fired in desperation. After the barrage of shooting subsided the two-way radio crackled with news that Jawn’s dad had one down. Jawn’s dad must have known that neither Micro nor I had wanted to shoot a cow. Then again he is the landowner, so he can do whatever he wants.

The three of us descended the steep slope, complaining about our knees the whole way, until we met up with Jawn’s dad. We admired his harvest: it was a big cow (elk, to be sure). She was dead, and amazingly not riddled with multiple bullets. We weren’t sure what the additional shooting had been all about.  Jawn’s dad didn’t wait around to explain, as he quickly headed downhill toward what was apparently some sort of road. He’d hike back to the ranch and return with a tractor to make the job of hauling the big cow out of the woods a bit easier. Jawn, Micro and myself were tasked with getting the animal down to the road. Shouldn’t be too hard, after all it was downhill and only a hundred yards or maybe a bit more. It would feel like “a bit more” by the time we completed the task.

What a drag.

Once the cow was field dressed, rather than quartering her out we decided to leave the hide on and drag her by her hind legs. Being that it was down hill the entire way, gravity would do the bulk of the work. It would be like dragging a sled. The only problem was that the cow was nothing like a sled, and we had logs and trees and slippery rocks and mud (it had been raining, you know) that made footing precarious at times. At one point we looked around and couldn’t see Micro, who had disappeared backwards into the brush. Between the intermittent clapping of his hands, Micro’s voice rang out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Clap on, clap off...The Clapper

If the terrain wasn’t challenging enough, there were thickets of the nastiest, rain-gear and flesh-shredding-vegetation that grabbed hold of anything possible and threatened to poke an eye out if one weren’t careful. A kevlar body suit, helmet and safety goggles would have come in handy.

Rose hips, every hunter's friend.

Whatever it is, I call this stuff "Idaho Mesquite"

Finally, soaked from the inside out from sweat and from the outside in from rain-soaked brush, and bleeding from superficial wounds, we emerged onto the road which was really little more than a two-track depression through the brush. With the cow out of the woods, Micro and I headed back uphill from whence we came to retrieve guns and packs. Following the fresh skid trail was easy and revealed that we really hadn’t traveled a great distance at all. But dragging a 450 lb animal (field dressed) had added what seemed like miles to the task. During the ascent I was motivated by the promise of the hydration bladder in my pack which was full of fresh water. Unfortunately the musky taste served as a reminder: when you loan your pack to your son for a summer hike, remember to have him drain, rinse and dry the water bladder before putting the pack into storage. I’d rather have rung the water out of my socks into my mouth than consume the foul contents of my pack bladder. Oh well, there was a cooler of water and beer back at the truck, which would be available for consumption within an hour and a half. Jawn’s dad arrived with the tractor and we loaded the elk into the front bucket for the trip back uphill to the ranch. From our location we were within earshot of the river, and it called to out me. But I was not here to be distracted by a watery temptress. My legs were tired and I opted to save my energy for the hike out, rather than making a side trip down to look at a river I couldn’t fish.

A convenient way to pack out an elk.

We spent the remainder of the day at the Wilson’s enjoying the company of Bill, Darlene and Alvin. These local folks have quite the meat cutting setup on their property: they used to butcher hogs on their farm so they made short work of single elk. I did get to run the electric bone saw for a spell, but mostly I stood around feeling worthless and wishing I had a video camera as I tried not to laugh out loud as the Wilsons bickered between themselves about where to cut and how to do this and “hand me that damn knife I’ll do it myself!”. At one point I took a couple of steps backward to make room should Alvin and his mother  come to blows, which thankfully they did not. I couldn’t help but see the potential for a reality show.

Hanging meat with the Wilsons

At the end of the day we had an elk hung and cooling and I captured my finest-ever photo of a cow (not an elk, but the slow variety). Not bad for a day’s work, though I still hadn’t pulled the trigger. That opportunity would come the next day.

Best cow photo ever.

Part III