Book Review–Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher’s Love for Living Water

Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher’s Love for Living Water by Chris Hunt

I received a copy of Chris Hunt’s book for Christmas, which wasn’t entirely a surprise given that I sent the specific link to my kids with very clear instructions that if they wished to appease their father, they would see to it that this book ended up under the tree. My kids rarely listen to me, but this time they did and for that I am grateful. FYI, here is the link I sent them which produced results: Get the Book.

Before we dive into all that I liked about Shin Deep, I feel I should divulge a little background about me, as a reader of books. I’ve always enjoyed a good book, and I really enjoy a good book when it has something to do with fly fishing. And it used to be that I was a rather compulsive reader. By that I mean that reading would throw my life out of balance: when I started a good book, most everything else in life would be neglected until I’d finished the last word (that neglect included things such as personal hygeine and basic nutrition). However, time changes a person and I have discovered that in recent years I’ve mellowed a bit when it comes to my voraciousness as a reader of books. Actually, I find that I’ve become more easily distracted by myriad other things in life, and thus am not good at taking time to sit down and finish books that I’ve started. As an example, I have 5 4 fishing-related books in a stack that I have every intention of finishing, some day. And I will get to them, eventually. Hey look–a squirrel!

"Who, me? I'd like to speak to an attorney."

Such was not the case with Shin Deep. While I did not compulsively tear through the book in one sitting, I did set aside time to read at least a couple of chapters each night and I got through the book in short order. My dog, Eddie, also gave his early approval of Shin Deep. I fact, he literally drooled over it. You see, Eddie has a certain affinity for eating kleenex and toilet paper. He must like the soft texture, or the fact that when he passes it there’s no need to wipe.  At any rate, I had just recently begun wading into Shin Deep and was using a square of TP as a book mark (what–doesn’t everyone?). One evening while Mrs. UA and I were out to dinner, Eddie decided that my bookmark would make for a nice snack. Upon returning home that evening, Shin Deep lay on the floor next to the coffee table. The cover appeared to be slightly water-damaged (from canine saliva) and the edges of the pages bore the gentle teeth marks of a particular chocolate Lab. To his credit, Eddie is very soft-mouthed and was therefore remarkably gentle as he extracted the bookmark. Luckily I had dog-eared the page where I’d left off in my last session and was able to easily resume reading.

The author takes us on an intimate journey to a wide variety of destinations that span Connecticut to Montana; from West Virginia’s Potomac River to Henry’s Fork in Idaho, Hunt writes in an easy manner that makes one feel as though they’re sitting down over a frosty beverage around a campfire, listening to him tell stories. Each chapter is a personal reflection of a particular outing delivered without a hint of bravado. Hunt is not attempting to impress with awe-inspiring tales of catching trophy-sized fish in far off and exotic locales, but rather he shares his thoughts and appreciations for all that makes fly fishing so enjoyable, in places the average angler can imagine themselves fishing. From catching 7-inch brook trout in Appalachia to admittedly posting up on a pod of rising whitefish during a snow storm on the Snake River, Hunt reveals something about himself: he’s just an average Joe. In Hunt’s defense with regard to the whitefish, he proclaims, “some of them were respectable fish.”

I was particularly able to identify with Chapter 6: Prince of Wales, in which the author confesses to doing something I’ve never done we all have nightmares about. While on a trip to Whale Pass in Alaska (which is apparently a long way from any fly shop) Hunt leaves his fly box behind and must go on a quest for replacements. His recount of having to scrounge for the only available flies in town is worth the price of admission ($14.95, with a 20% off code if you hurry); the sense of desperation to find any fishing flies emanates vividly from the pages and I felt as though I were right there with him (laughing). After snapping-off every fly he was able to scrounge up, Hunt ends up fishing a rusty orange Rapala lure that he finds only after nearly sitting on it. Good stuff.

What becomes apparent in the book is that Hunt absolutely loves fish and fly fishing. At the beginning of Chapter 3 the author recalls an exchange between he and his wife as he is preparing to leave on a trip in the nation’s capitol. While the trip for was business purposes, Hunt was keenly aware that he would be only 90 minutes from Shenandoah National Park and it’s native brook trout waters:

“You’re traveling to the cradle of the Republic, and you’re going fishing?” my wife asked, as I tucked a four-piece three-weight into my suitcase. “You’re pathetic.”

Amen to that.

In addition to being an author, Chris Hunt is an award-winning journalist and keeper of the Eat More Brook Trout blog. When he’s not doing all of this, or fishing, Hunt is the National Communications Director for Trout Unlimited.

Bring on the skunk

Strikeout. Goose eggs. Whatever you choose to call it, a skunk by any other name still stinks. And I’m no stranger to defeat, especially when visiting the evil and cold-hearted temptress known as the Yakima River. Because of that I’m always looking for something to increase my odds of success reduce my odds of failure. Shy of power bait, I’ve not come up with many solutions.

However, I recently stumbled upon (not using Stumbleupon.com, mind you, but rather just surfing the old-fashioned way) something I felt compelled to share with the ten of you.

Something about this pattern stinks.

The image comes from a website titled, PikeFlyFishingArticles.com. Now, I’m not a pike fisherman. Never even seen one of those toothy critters, although I did fish the lower Bitterroot River this summer, where Pike are known to be found. I did not find one. But to say I got skunked while pike fishing would not be accurate, either. We were fishing for trout, in water that just happened to also have pike. I did not get skunked while trout fishing, fyi.

One look at the “Feathered BW Streamer” tells me two things:  First, while descriptive, it was misnamed; and secondly, it looks like a pattern that would catch fish. Big fish.  After all, it takes a big fish to munch on an animal the size of a skunk. Even a baby skunk would be a mouthful for all but the nastiest of carnivorous trouts, like, say, a Hawg Brown.

I realize that using artificial scent on an artificial fly is either illegal (depending on regulations) or at the very least frowned heavily upon, but a little dab of something from the south end of a skunk would really be icing on the cake when fishing with the Skunk Express “Feathered BW Streamer”. Luckily you won’t have to go out and harvest the stuff yourself–you can buy it in a bottle. I imagine you wouldn’t want to spill this stuff in your waders, so be careful when you use it.

The best way to fight fire is with fire. The same should work for fending off a skunk, right?

And so it begins…

2012 started with a bang, and a sneeze and a cough.  Yes, I awoke on the first day of the New Year with a head cold, and I didn’t even punish my body the night before. Upon cracking one eye open and acknowledging a sore throat, my first thought was, “No freaking way.” I usually get sick once a year, and almost like clockwork this happens each fall.  2011 did not disappoint in that regard because you see, I had a nasty case of of the head/chest flu back in November. So, apparently sick again, I questioned how could I be not only soccumb twice in one year, but within a mere month and a half of my last bout with less than perfect health? Then someone reminded me that this is a new year, and thus I did not catch a bug twice in the same year. AND, since I only get sick once a year, I’ve got 11 months of cold-free existence to enjoy. Life is good, or rather it will be after I get rid of this annoying cold.

The Skykomish War Horse

Not one to whine be deterred by a little cold, I accepted an invitation to go fishing on January 2nd. Steelhead fishing, to be sure. On the Skykomish river with my friend Brian Page, who, until he recently got a job at Boeing, was a full-time fishing guide (Steelhead Fly Anglers). He hasn’t abandoned that, but putting rivets into 777’s has dramatically cut into his time to be on the water. Knowing that time on the water is a precious commodity, I felt pretty honored to be invited along. After I realized that he really just needed me to be a shuttle driver, we put in at the town of Sultan and floated downstream in The Skykomish War Horse (Brian’s boat). The boat isn’t really named that– I just added War Horse to pick up a few Google hits based on the popular movie currently out in theaters: War Horse). But Skykomish War Horse has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say? War Horse.

Brian was the one to teach me Spey casting a few years ago, and each time we fish together I’m sure he’s rather proud of his student he rolls his eyes and wonders how he could have failed so miserably. I get the fly on the water, mind you, but it’s not pretty.  At one point  during our recent trip, Brian was fishing the tail of a run, some 30 yards below me.  On a particularly bad cast I blew my anchor and there resulted a collision between my backside and the fly. Goretex makes for superb accoustics and the impact resonated downstream, yielding a snicker and, “I heard that one!” from Brian. To my credit, it was the only time I hit myself with a fly all day long.

There is an eagle in this photo.

As we floated from run to run, where we plied the waters for fish that weren’t apparently there, we observed numerous bald eagles perched lazily in trees. The magnificent scavengers didn’t appear to be actively searching for their next meal, and I’m always amazed that these birds find enough food to sustain themselves since the last salmon carcasses have long since washed away and the nearest land fill is nowhere near. As evidenced by the photo above, it was a cool, gray day. Typical of Pacific Northwest winters. Typical winter steelhead fishing weather, if not a little bit warmer than normal. The air temperature wasn’t terribly unpleasant as the day topped out in the mid to upper 40’s. It rained on us, but not until the last hour of the day and even then it wasn’t much to note. The water temperature hovered right at 40 degrees, which isn’t terribly cold until you’ve stood in it for an hour, taking only a couple of short steps every other cast, which isn’t enough movement to keep the toes from turning numb. The good thing about cold feet is that it takes your mind off how cold your fingers have grown. Luckily, hand warmers in the pockets of your jacket are a welcome treat, until the dampness of one’s fingers renders the hand warmers useless. Oh well, there’s still the full thermos of hot coffee to look forward to, until you’re reminded that caffeine is a diuretic. Thank God (or Dan Bailey) for zippered waders.

My fly box, minus a few deductions.

Being a holiday for apparently the entire state of Washington, the river was not devoid of other anglers. Still we were able to fish all but one run we wanted to. This particular run–the one I wanted to fish–has been good to me, or at least it was on one occasion a couple of years ago when, on Superbowl Sunday, I landed a bright 28″ hen within minutes of my buddy yarding a 39″ chrome buck out of the same run.  I’d liked to have fished that run, but Brian and I set up on the opposite bank and fished another run that is known to hold fish. This particular run is named after a government agency tasked with collecting taxes, and from what I can tell it’s aptly named because it will collect your money, or at least your flies. To that end I was audited and effortlessly signed over a handful of my flies in very short order. At least the guy fishing the other run, on the opposite side of the river, where I wanted to fish, wasn’t having any luck either.

A taxing hole.

A such went the remainder of the day:  cast, swing, strip, step, and repeat. Catching fish isn’t part of the steelhead angler’s expectations, so when it does happen–if it happens–it’s pretty special.  I’ll hold out for another time. The year is young, and I’ve already got my annual cold behind me.

By the way, I think I may need one of these to stave off the cold weather and keep me healthy as winter trudges on. I may not be able to grow The Beard I want, but now I can have the next best thing.