If you don’t Spey, don’t start.

I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “If you don’t surf, don’t start.” Clearly the tone of the message was that of a territorial surf bum, verbally peeing in the sand to mark his territory because he didn’t want me to take up his sport and crowd his waves. Hang loose, dude–the thought never crossed my mind. The bumper sticker did, however, give me an idea to create a variation of my own, the intent of which is purely noble. If you are thinking of taking up the way of the Spey rod, I have several single words of advice: Stop; Don’t; Flee. 

I assure you, I am not being territorial. Like every other fly angler I’ve met, I love to share my passion with others. Just ask my wife and kids–they’ll tell you I rarely talk about anything without relating it to fly fishing (they are continually impressed with just how deeply the thread of fly fishing can be woven into the fabric of daily life). So even as many good fly-fishing waters have a tendency to get a bit crowded from time to time, I think everyone should partake of this wonderful sport. At least then we’d all have something we can agree on. That is, until arguments broke out about nymphing versus swinging, 4-piece versus 2-piece rods, and felt versus rubber-soled wading boots. No matter their differing opinions, those who are bitten by the fly bug tend to also become stewards of the resource, pumping time and money into much-needed conservation organizations (please see those listed in the sidebar) and projects, so the more the merrier (just don’t low-hole me on my favorite run, please). That being said, why would I want to discourage folks from taking up the way of the two-handed rod? The answer is simple: To spare you the suffering I’ve endured, or rather, am enduring. It may be too late for me, but the lessons I’ve learned could save you a lot of financial and emotional pain.

It all started innocently enough: I was perfectly happy, or at least not horribly dissatisfied with the 8 weight single-hander I’d had for a few years. It had been used rather sparingly on a few steelhead outings, but to be honest I never really hankered to get out more than that. I was becoming convinced that I didn’t enjoy standing in a river in January during a cold, steady rain, fishing in vain for a fish that only existed in the history books. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the thing I didn’t enjoy was standing in a river in January during a cold, steady rain, repeatedly casting a heavy single-handed rod in vain for a fish that only existed in the history books. Question my manhood if you will, but the sporadic tendonitis in my shoulder can be aggravated by repetitive motion such as repeatedly casting a heavy single-handed rod. When the weather is cold and damp, as it is guaranteed to be in January where I live, it only worsens the situation. As they say, ‘ignorance is bliss’ and I was rather content during those innocent years of yore. I wasn’t catching any steelhead, nor was I much bothered by not catching steelhead. I’d heard others speak of the Spey rod, but I could not imagine why I would want to venture into a new relm until I had actually hooked into a fish on my single-hander. I buried my head in the riverbank sand and stubbornly denounced the Spey thing as a foolish frivolity. But as time and steelhead seasons passed, I heard increasingly more folks talking up the merits of casting with a two-handed rod, and I began to ponder what it would be like to take a walk on the dark side of fly-fishing.

My pondering resulted in the realization that first off, one would need another credit card pa280439designated solely for this new endeavor. While your shopping list might be more or less damaging, mine looked something like this: A Sage Z-Axis 7136-4 Spey rod (and apparently they charge by the foot, so the longer the rod, well- you get it); pa280782a Ross Momentum LT reel to hold a half mile of backing, 90 feet of Airflo Ridge .030’ running line, and an Airflo Compact Skagit head, to which is attached any number of various rate sink tips (so that one can search various depths before concluding that there are no fish anywhere in the water column); a spare spool for another half mile of backing, 90 feet of Airflo Ridge .020” running line attached to an Airflo Compact Scandi head (for fishing smaller flies during summer flows when the water is so clear that any fish in the river can see your fly approaching well in advance and make an early decision to avoid it). All said and done it wasn’t so bad, since I was able to sell my very lightly-used 8 weight single-handed setup for about 20% of what I paid for it. That just about covered the sales tax on my new spey outfit. (Note to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler: I’m grossly over-exaggerating this for the sake of artistic drama).

creditcardsThe unmistakable smell of burning plastic would be your super-heated credit card in the process of a meltdown. With annual interest rates approaching 20%, well, let’s not even go there. There’s more to fly fishing with a Spey rod than catching fish – it’s also about spending a boatload of money, so the financial suffering is just the beginning. Next comes the psychological damage. Now I’ve never professed to be anything but unaccomplished when it comes to fly fishing, but my casting doesn’t totally suck. In fact, there are times when I actually think I can lay out some pretty respectable casts (until one too many double hauls is used trying to push that last few feet of line just a little too hard and it all comes horribly undone). But I digress. When I first wrapped my hands around the double cork of the two-handed rod, everything I thought I knew about fly casting became pretty much worthless information, and any perceived ability I might have had with a single-hander was quickly forgotten. While Spey casting may have it’s origins in Scotland, it was all Greek to me: The language contains daunting terms such as “Bloody L” and “Dangerous Cast”. There are odd techniques that have no place in the vocabulary of the gentleman fly angler such as the “Perry Poke” and the “Snake Roll” (not to mention the “Flying Butt”). There is the “Anchor Point”, which is apparently the point at which one’s heavy “shooting head”, laying in a heap of slack at one’s feet, becomes incapable of being cast because it weighs as much as a drift boat anchor. Then you have the “Kiss” which I believe is when a heavily weighted fly brushes your cheek at 90 miles per hour (this is closely related to the “Dangerous Cast”). My favorite is the “D-Loop” which describes the shape of the arc that the line forms behind the caster and is key in loading the rod for a successful forward stroke. In my case, “D” stands for “Deformed” or “Droopy”. Or “Dork.” The whole thing is quite foreign and intimidating.

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I should also warn you that casting with a two-handed rod is a whole heck of a lot of fun. There are even get togethers where people venturing (and those who have long-since ventured) into the dark world of two-handed rods actually gather on a weekly basis to do just one thing:  Practice (and I assume, commiserate). Check out All About the Fly and River Run Anglers if you’re in the greater Seattle area looking for a local support group. It’s truly a sickness. So far I have avoided these congregations out of respect for the safety of others in attendance. When I feel that I am no longer a threat to anyone other than myself, I will foray into the mix. Until then, I prefer isolation.

Certainly I have always enjoyed casting with a single-handed rod, but rarely do I do so just for practice (although it often feels that way when I’m fishing). What I’ve found with the Spey thing is that I actually enjoy casting for the sake of casting, and I’ll happily hit a stretch of water with nothing on the end of my line but a piece of yarn, running through my repertoire of fine casts. The yarn can be either a measure of safety or compliance: Safety, because without a hook it’s hard to hurt myself (see recent post titled “The hat is lucky…“); compliance, because if I’m practicing on the water out of season it would be illegal to have a hook on the end of my line. Not that I have to worry about catching fish anyway, but it would be just my luck to accidentally tie into a fish out of season while a game agent watches through his binoculars. But the bottom line is that I enjoy Spey casting. As they say, practice makes perfect, or in my case, practice will eventually reduce the level of shame.

So, heed my words of advice:

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Yes, you can actually get one by clicking here.

And now a question(s) intended at get some comments from you, the reader…

With regard to the way of the Spey:

Do you or don’t you?

Will you or won’t you?

Let’s hear from you.


Coloring isn’t just for kids.

Here’s something you won’t be able to say after reading this:  “I’ve never heard of Fishy Kid.”

FishyKid.org is the brainchild of two dads who, like so many other responsible, tax-paying adults, share a common obsession: Fly fishing. While that obsession can, if left unchecked, be detrimental to a productive life, much good can come from it as well. Enter Fishy Kid, which takes aim at introducing kids to all that the great outdoors have to offer through the art of fly fishing.

In this day and age of virtual activities and video games, getting kids off the couch and outside is more important now than ever before. Too many kids (and adults for that matter) suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder” but all hope is not lost. According to a recent study conducted by the Outdoor Foundation, fishing is listed as the Number One “Gateway Activity” to getting kids involved in other outdoor recreation. That means if you take a kid fishing, chances are high that they’ll enjoy the experience so much they’ll want to partake of other outdoor activities as well.  The science is in: Unstructured outdoor play improves social skills, performance in math and sciences, and leads to a more well-rounded appreciation of not just nature, but life in general.

The guys over at Fishy Kid have done a very impressive job of lining up sponsors to donate quality fly fishing gear as prize giveaways for their ongoing coloring contests. Check out the rules– it costs you nothing and is a great way to get your little ones excited about fishing and the outdoor world.

But wait–just when you thought coloring was only for kids, think again.

November is a time for you big kids to show your long-dormant talents over at Fishy Kid. Dust off those Crayolas, test your artistic skills and enter the adult coloring contest right now. You might just win a cool stack of DVD’s such as Nervous Waters, Soulfish, Rivers of a Lost Coast, The Drift, No Sports Allowed, Once in a Blue Moon, and other gear from Mountain Khaki, Moffitt Angling, Buff Wear, and Cliff Outdoors.

Don’t let my coloring sample (below) intimidate you. I’m one of the contributing artists and therefore exempt from participating in the contest.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got crops to harvest over on Farmville.

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The Hat is Lucky. Me? Not so much.


“Lucky hat.” Now there’s a term we’re all familiar with. Many of us have a hat we consider lucky, due to one fortunate thing or another that came our way while wearing that particular hat. Some folks have a particular hat they wear on game day to ensure their team wins. I met a guy who had a crusty black Stetson he wore whenever he played poker (my bet is that he was a lousy card player and couldn’t afford a new hat). When it comes to lucky fishing hats, obviously it means a particular hat has brought us prosperity in our pursuit of fish. I used to think it was a load of bunk and would grab whatever baseball style cap was my current favorite. There was no sentimental attachment as I jumped from one hat to the next without loyalty–whatever hat I wore on the water on a particular day seemed equally capable of insuring that I wouldn’t catch fish. Since those days I have changed my tune, and now whistle Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Superstition” when it comes time to choose my hat (Stevie Wonder’s original version just doesn’t cut it for me).

My hat of choice is a semi wide-brimmed model described in marketing literature as the style worn by “River Guides”, although I have never seen any guide on any river wearing a hat exactly like mine, which leads me to be suspicious of the claim. While I fully acknowledge that beauty is a subjective term, in the eye of this beholder my hat is both a thing of beauty and supreme functionality. p9220741I looks like it’s been run over by a truck, rolled in the mud, used for filtering coffee, soaked in the river, rode hard and put up wet (and it just gets better with age).

Obvious aesthetics aside, it also keeps the sun and rain off my face and protects my ears from being flossed–a term coined by an angler who was obviously a dentist (it seems a likely origin since I’m sure many dentists are fly fishermen, just like most attorneys are also fly fishermen). I assert that dentists must have been the first fly anglers, because an attorney would have likely coined the term, “cross-examined by a hostile hook”. At any rate, flossing is a kinder, gentler term to describe an otherwise horrific occurrence that happens when the wind destroys an otherwise perfect forward cast, sending the fly (with it’s sharp hook) on a collision course with one’s ear. This can be either self-inflicted or caused by a dentist fishing upwind. In the event of doing this to oneself, there’s not much recourse other than feel a certain degree of humility. In the case of the latter I recommend calling an attorney and pressing charges of negligent bodily injury. Flossing can also happen when engaged in the act of Spey casting. If you have an incorrectly placed anchor, abandon the cast immediately. If you don’t, you had better hope to be wearing a full coverage lucky fishing helmet.

While I’ve never had either of my ears flossed, I have heard of it happening to others, and I’ve seen the evidence. I was, in fact, fortunate enough to have some folks allow me the use their photos (thanks to Jarrod, Josh, Matt, and Moldy Chum), which I offer here into evidence as Exhibits A , B, C and D.

(Legal disclaimer: The images you are about to see would make Van Gogh cringe– consider yourself fairly warned)

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit D

It certainly looks painful, but I’m guessing it mainly hurts when one tries to remove the hook, especially when/if they realize they forgot to pinch the barb. Fishing with a barbless hook is required on many waters, though it is a common misconception that barbless hooks are intended to protect the fish. The reality is that these regulations are in place to protect the angler, however I’m sure the fish benefit to some degree as well. At any rate, I always pinch my barbs because if there’s one thing that scares me more than a visit to the dental chair for a root canal, it’s a visit to one of those places that administer body piercings.

Aside from keeping my ears safe from negligent anglers (dentists and attorneys alike) and wayward Spey casts (in my experience those are the only kind), the hat is also lucky in the sense that I’ve almost never had a skunking while wearing it (steelheading, doesn’t count). I’ve been skunked on the Yakima River a couple times, but that’s not the fault of the hat–I blame the lack of fish. I shudder to imagine how badly my catch record might smell if not for my lucky hat, so I am content to not mess with the status quo. As Stevie Ray sang, “Very superstitious, nothin more to say…”

Except that my lucky fishing hat also makes me look taller.

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I rest my case.

My 10 minutes of fame.

One of the best things that has happened to me as the author of a series of children’s books is that almost exactly a year ago today I had the opportunity to visit a grade school in Kansas City, MO. I was invited to give a series of presentations by Mr. Bob Dever, the PE teacher and a fly fisherman who had come to find out about my books the year before. Actually it was I who first contacted Bob after reading about a program he was teaching with grant money received as part of the Physh Ed program offered by The Future Fisherman Foundation. With this funding he had taught basic elements of spin and fly fishing as an after school activity at Gracemor Elementary. Kids who participated in the program also learned basic fly tying, and I thought my books might be something Bob would be interested in. Luckily I was right, and after sharing regular email correspondence over the months, we worked out an arrangement to have me come to his school. Airline reservations were booked and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler began prepping me for the trip: Buying me new clothes and reminding me of proper social etiquette. For some strange reason she seemed to have little confidence in my abilities, and reminded me to say “please” and “thank you”, and not to run in the halls.

In advance of my visit, the kids had read the stories of Olive the Woolly Bugger, and some of the younger students had even gracemor4“tied” their own versions of the woolly bugger using clothes pins and feathers. The weekend prior to my arrival marked the school’s trip to Bennett Spring State Park, which gave these budding young anglers an opportunity to put their recent training to use. With all this fishing-related excitement still fresh in their minds, it’s safe to say that these kids were eager for my visit, and their enthusiasm was surpassed only by my own. I’d never done anything like this, so getting on a plane and flying halfway across the country, masquerading as some sort of hot-shot author was a big deal to me. Admittedly I was also a bit nervous, and as I sat on the plane sandwiched between two red-headed, cornfed brothers returning home to Wichita, I worried about the normal things anyone in my position would worry about: Would my PowerPoint work? What if I woke up in the morning with a case of laryngitis?  What if the kids are mean to me? I wonder what’s on the school lunch menu? Maybe pigs in a blanket–those were my favorite when I was in elementary school. And chocolate milk.

I was relieved when my plane touched down safely, and I was greeted at the security gate by Bob. I would be staying with he and his wife at their home, so I didn’t have to deal with English-challenged cab drivers, bad directions, or non-smoking hotel rooms that weren’t quite what they were advertised to be. It was a nice relief to know that all I had to do was be ready to leave for school at 7 o-clock the next morning, and after a decent night’s sleep I managed to do just that. And so began my big day.

gracemore1During the course of the day I talked to over 700 students (Kindergarten through 5th grade) about being an author and illustrator. Most of my young audience seemed more interested in the drawing aspect of my endeavors, which seems appropriate since writing is something kids are forced to do, while coloring is fun. I shared information about the adventures to be had while fly-fishing, being careful to point out that there’s more to fishing than catching fish (which was met with blank stares). I showed slides of beautiful mountain lakes and streams, broad rivers lined with magnificent fall colors, and a wide array of wildlife. These were inner-city kids and most, if any, had never seen anything like the images in my presentation. Kids that age rarely appreciate scenic photographs, no matter how stunning, and while they enjoyed seeing photos of deer, moose, beavers and bears, their eyes really lit up when I started showing slides of fish: Big and small, salmonids and rough fish, warmwater species and Arctic char. Hands shot up in the air and I was peppered with questions about the many different fish:

“Did you catch that huge fish?” Uh, no.

“How much did that fish weigh?” Don’t know. I didn’t catch that one, either.

“Do you catch lots of fish?” Next question…

But my favorite question was asked by a cute little girl who was about 7 or 8 years old: “How long have you been famous?” I smiled, looked at my watch, and replied, “About ten minutes.”

gracemor05Their curiosity and enthusiasm was infectious (as were the germs they sent me home with which resulted in the worst sinus infection I’ve ever had). Most every one of the kids seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, and except for when the lunch bell rang I had a captive audience (and they truly were captive, because they couldn’t go anywhere). To these kids, I was something special: A real live author and seemingly accomplished fisherman that lived in a far-away place called Washington (no, not where the President lives), where there were high mountains and lots of evergreen trees and water and fish called salmon and steelhead that swim from the rivers to the ocean and back again. Luckily for me my visit was brief. Had I spent much more time with these kids they’d have figured out that I’m just a regular guy who just happens to have written a couple books about a woolly bugger named Olive. And I don’t catch many fish.



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“They’re sure beautiful!”

That’s a phrase used to describe small fish and is usually muttered in the same breath as, “There’s more to fishing than catching.” I employ the use of both quite often, and while there is some truth to each statement, it’s usually just an excuse. As pertaining to little fish, yes–any fish on the end of your line is better than nothing at all. To a point. Then after a while it just gets depressing. Well, maybe not depressing, but demoralizing. Anglers like me who have muttered those words countless times before are simply deprived in the large fish department.

If I want (and that’s the key word) to catch dinks, I’ll hit either the South or Middle Forks of the Snoqualmie. These are small fish waters, so one knows what one is getting into ahead of time. Using the universal “Fish Weight Formula” (girth x girth x length divided by 800), I’d wager that the average weight of these fish is .0675 lbs). That’s not to say that the rare 12 incher (or bigger) doesn’t lurk in these dscn1126relatively small, relatively sterile waters, but the norm is to catch 4-8 inch fish, mostly coastal cutthroats with the occasional rainbow or Westslope cuttie, and in even more rare instances a brookie. I’ve always had more plentiful catching on the Middle Fork, as it’s a bigger river, and in my experiences the fish are a bit bigger overall than on the South Fork, which is not saying much. But in either river the fish tend toward smallishness because the rivers lack sufficient biomass for prolific insect populations, and they get scoured with heavy winter floods from multiple storms each year. dscn0545The limited supply of food in these waters doesn’t allow for fish to gorge themselves into impressive proportions, but in spite of, or perhaps because of this, during the summer months these little fish are definitely game, and will attack large attractor patterns if you can place the fly near their noses. The bigger fish in the Forks are not easy to come by and are much harder to entice—they don’t get to be 12 inch hogs by being stupid. For example, two years ago I was fishing my favorite run on the Middle Fork, catching a few 6 inchers here and there, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and reminding myself that there’s more to fishing than catching big fish. Behind a rock in about 5 feet of gin clear water, I spied a monstrous fish in the 12 inch range. Water magnifies things, so I’m being honest and accounting for that when I say this fish was 12 inches (he looked much bigger). I tried everything possible to get him to engage me in a bit of gentlemanly sport, and ended up working myself into a frenzy trying to fool that fish with streamers and nymphs. But he would have none of it. My offerings didn’t spook him, rather he just looked sideways at them as if so say, “Pppffft–silly imitation made of synthetic threads and feathers…” After 45 minutes of attempting in vain to fool the fish, the reality of the situation became as clear as the water in which I was standing: There was but one fool, and it was not the fish.

This past summer my son, Schpanky (see previous post: “The Kid never listens”) and my brother Hal (could be his real name) joined me for an early evening on the Middle Fork. We rigged up and walked a short distance to my favorite run–the same run where I’d been shunned by the big fish two years earlier. Hal walked upstream to work the head of the run, careful not to get his Kindle™ wet as he fished (I’m kidding–Hal didn’t really have his Kindle with him. I just like to tease him because he’s a hardcore bookworm and gadget junkie). Schpanky took the next position in the middle of the run where the best water is, and being the good father I am, I took the leftovers at the bottom of the run. On my third cast I hooked into what would prove to be my best Middle Forker to date: A solid 12 inch coastal cutt that was more fun on my 4 wt than any fish had the right to be. One would be better off with a 2 or 3 weight rod on these waters, but using a 4 weight gives me the false sense of confidence that I am really stalking bigger fish, like the one that I had on the end of my line at this particular moment. He hit hard, and ran fast- actually taking line off my reel. With my highly developed brain and opposable thumb, I made it very clear to the trout who was at the top of the evolutionary ladder as I played him with skill and patience. p7140434As I imposed my angling will upon him, I also taunted him in a manner similar to scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail where the French soldiers rained down insults upon King Arthur. When I brought him to hand there was something immediately familiar about the fish, and I hearkened back to that day two years ago: We were both older and wiser, and he was no bigger for reasons mentioned in the paragraph above, but it had to be the same fish. He was silvery and covered with spots, and had vibrant red slash marks under either side of his jaw. The resemblance was uncanny, and I determined that it was the same fish. Seeing this handsome trout again brought back memories, but on this day it was I who was Lord and Master.

And while you may be astonished to learn that once in a while even the Unaccomplished Angler is shown some respect by his quarry, I feel compelled to tell you the whole story: Schpanky had actually gotten his fly hung up on a snag in the river, and like any dutiful father I selflessly came to his rescue (afterall, I’d paid good money for that fly and was not about to have the boy lose it to the river). I handed him my rod, grabbed his, and waded out to free his line, grumbling the whole time about being interrupted from my quiet time on the water. When I freed the hook from the snag I laid out a short cast, mainly to straighten out the line, and walked slowly back to the bank. And that’s when the big fish took the fly. So, while yes, I had caught the fish, it’s not as if I was employing my keen angling skills–it was pure, dumb luck. No matter. I’d caught a nice fish, and nobody in the outside world needed to know the circumstances. The next day I called Marck to share the news. He lives right on the banks of the South Fork, and often goes out after dinner to entertain himself with his 3 weight. Certainly if anyone would appreciate my accomplishments it would be Marck. Upon hearing the news of my 12 inch trophy, his reply was, “I caught a 15 incher behind my house last night.”

Not to worry, as I’m sure my fish was more beautiful.

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