Archive for category fishing

Surfcasting In Nantucket

I caught one!

I caught one!

We spent a week in Nantucket in early October. Not too many folks around then, and I finally realized my dream of having a go at surfcasting. The first afternoon attempt was a complete bust. The inn provided an experienced guide at no cost who let the air out of his tires to 15 pounds and drove us on the sand. Nada for two hours. But I never give up.

Two days later I tried again, and this time I hooked five and landed three. Of course I wanted to eat them, but Captain Rob preferred to throw them back. It was very exciting to reel them in with the cold water crashing around and the nearby seals waiting to steal my hooked fish. I’m not much of a fishing enthusiast, but this was definitely a thrill.

And I didn’t mind at all that my guide knew where and when to go, what kind of pole and lure. I felt very satisfied and proud.

not too crowded

not too crowded

When I was actively turkey hunting with a shotgun, I use to make fun of those who hired a guide to take the hunters to exactly the right place, do the calling, bring the bird into easy shotgun range and then pat the client on the back when it was time to take a shot. I was doing everything myself: the scouting, locating the roosts, knowing when to arrive in position, calling after watching videos and hearing the hens in the woods. A long and challenging process.

But a few-days-a-year visitor to the ocean or the woods is handicapped. Can’t learn all it takes. Guides are good. I accept my limitations and have more respect for my colleagues from out of state. It was great fun, and much better when I caught fish, even if I had Captain Rob’s help.

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Who’d Have Guessed?

The other day I had a chance to talk over dinner with a woman (and her friends) I have met socially a number of times, but only chatted with briefly in the past. She is probably in her 60’s, affluent, elegant, well-traveled. I was shocked to learn that she has hunted deer with a compound bow, and has been an avid fisherperson her entire life!

I heard stories about bone fishing in the Caribbean, rainbows in Alaska, trout in multiple US streams, trips to South America. She fishes in rivers, from skiffs, from the sterns of sailboats on the ocean. She knows her flies, which weight lines and rods to use and was delighted to share many anecdotes. I was mesmerized.

She explained that her father was a serious fisherman and made an effort to fish the major trout streams in America. She learned to fish as a girl and has pursued this passion for decades.

What interests me most is that I am so surprised, respectful and awed. Maybe it is because of my limited background in the outdoors…and none of the girls I grew up with in Miami Beach did any fishing…and most women I have known my entire life don’t fish either. There was one, a philanthropist I met near where I now live who grew up fishing, and when she heard that I was going to fly fish some years ago (one of the few times I tried the sport) insisted on giving me a lesson at her pond. She may have been in her early 80’s at the time, and it was a windy day on her estate, but there she was, casting away and instructing me about details to improve my own casts.

I have many men friends and acquaintances who travel all over the globe to test their skills in the water and rave about how wonderful it is to be silent and alone in nature. They often catch and release the fish, so it is completely the opposite of my hunting code to eat what I kill. My woman friend at dinner NEVER eats trout she catches. But then again, these fishermen and women take care with their hooks and make every effort to not hurt the fish they catch, before placing them back in the water.

Am I just a sexist, unable to grasp that women can be every bit as enthusiastic about fishing as men? Is it that from my limited experience with city women and middle-class country/rural women, I think most females–and I guess there are millions of exceptions from developed countries–just don’t seem to crave the outdoors as often as men do? Do I, deep down, think of women as the frail sex? I am not yet sure.

But I loved being challenged by what I learned the other day and was definitely jealous that I have missed out my whole life on the joys, excitements and love of fishing that my friend shared so openly with us. She is very very fortunate…

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Early Life Of An Extreme Outdoorsman And Speed Junky (Part 1 Of 3)

idyllic cruising in the great outdoors

Met a new friend out West who described his life of total immersion in the outdoors and his love of fast cars and motorcycles. His stories were so astonishing and descriptive that I urged him to write them down. Who could have guessed that his prose would be extraordinary too. I told him he reminded me of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo style or other journalists I imagine writing about speed on speed…or some other hallucinogenic. You are in for a real treat! (I hope he doesn’t mind that I relocated the first paragraph from deep within the story to give you a perspective of what is going on)

For whatever reasons, not the least of which was my father having a triple bypass at 35, I always figured on needing to pack as much experience into one presumably short life as a person could. So I’ve had the pedal down as far back as I can remember. The joke is on me of course, I never developed heart disease, but I did break a few bones, lose a shitload of skin and probably deserve to be dead 30 times over doing various things. Also got a late start building a career, so I’ll probably be working until I am in fact dead—but I design/test outdoor gear. How bad can that be?

OK, a quick bio: I’ve always been bipolar or multi-polar regarding outdoor sports, grew up at the beach but was sneaking onto the Irvine Ranch (before it was developed) behind our house with my .22 to hunt rabbits and quail (yes, quail, you just have to make a head shot, and I don’t mean when they are flying) and started fly fishing in the mountains around LA whenever my mom could drive me or with the Boy Scouts, then Explorer Scouts. Luckily the Explorer group I joined was the mountaineering group in Anaheim, which gave me my first glimpse of the High Sierra’s, and I got as interested in Golden Trout as I did in peak bagging.

As soon as I got my driver’s license, it was good bye to the scouts, and I was off every winter weekend to cross country ski tour/snowcamp in the San Gorgonio or San Jacinto Wilderness areas, often alone, which would drive my mom crazy, then backpack with a fly rod in the summer. Surf, ski, climb, hunt, fish, and of course getting around when younger I got everywhere on a bike, which became a nicer and nicer bike which became another, lifelong passion including a little bit of road racing in high school. I quit that because I kept getting clobbered by motorists who in those days weren’t used to seeing humans on road racing bikes out in traffic. Last crash involved being hit from behind by a car and flung through traffic across three fast lanes of the Pacific Coast Highway. It was like playing Russian Roulette with only one empty chamber and surviving without a scratch. The rear wheel and rear triangle of my bike absorbed most of the impact and I came to a stop on the center divider balancing on my crank set, still clipped in, cars whizzing by in both directions. I did not get religion, I just left the bike laying in the highway and hitched home. No more road bikes for me.

Then one summer I came through Ketchum on a fly fishing trip and saw my first mountain bike—one of Tom Ritchey’s first hand-made bikes at the Elephant’s Perch, and my life was wrecked. I was living in Laguna at the time and the steep coastal hills were crawling with jeep roads, single track and game trails.

In a fitting way I was wrapping up my involvement with motorhead activities. My first car was a red Alfa Romeo Duetto softail Spider which I rescued from ruin and re-built myself. My second car was a raging-fast Lotus Elan which followed the same pattern, find a junker and bring it back to life one turn of the wrench at a time. I’d had a go-kart my Dad built for me when I was about 7, motorcycles, etc. so high performance driving was written into the software by the time I was a teen, and I could really drive. At one point I actually thought about it as a career, maybe an F1 pilot like Dan Gurney, but as I started hanging out at various tracks I realized I couldn’t stand the people who were involved with the sport. They were like golfers on crack.

With some irony I had long been co-evolving into a leftist tree hugging wilderness freak motorhead. I joined David Brower’s F.O.E. (Friends of the Earth) when I was 16, was reading Abbey, getting pangs about joining Dave Foreman’s Earth First gang but didn’t like the idea of prison. Note that both cars I mentioned were small, light, fast, fuel-efficient machines. But showing up to a Sierra Club meeting with my Lotus (even though it got 30 mpg) didn’t go too well. Which I found really disappointing. The leftist tree huggers turned out to be like accountants on crack.

In those years I tried everything that fit my personal ethos of small footprint, treading lightly, loving wild places, and having a fucking great time getting to those places. Think of hand-made (by me), aero cross-country ski racks and skis tucked behind the tiny roof line of a Lotus Elan howling through the desert North of LA at 2 A.M., on the way to Mammoth Tamarack lodge with the headlights off, navigating by the full moon at 120 mph with the Doors playing Riders on the Storm backed up by the sound of a nasty, tweaked-out twin cam motor pushing a low, smooth glass slipper through the void. Fuck the Sierra Club. (Continue to Part 2/3 in post below)

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Three Encounters With Animal Synchronizations And Freedom

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

Three animal encounters all happened last week that merge in my mind and involve coordinated movement of birds, fish and horses. You decide if my capture of “wild” horses qualifies as an “athletic achievement.”

The video above (start at 30 seconds) of a murmuration (flock of starlings) was sent to me by my cousin Alan. Of course I thought how much the birds looked like a school of fish, which also move together with millisecond feedback responses.

Then I reread the short story Mar Nueva by Mark Helprin in his collection The Pacific about an 11-year-old boy who fishes off a Mediterranean dock. Helprin writes:

“In the deep and luminous world of the sea, fleets of huge fish circle the globe, neither breaking the surface nor touching bottom but suspended in silent layers of shadowy green and blue, rising a mile or falling two, fighting noiseless battles in great societies of which we have never even dreamed.

school of bluefins

…a vast school of bluefin passed by…the waves were broken by their churning, and they crowded the entire bay, seething underwater for as far as I could see. For all I knew, the school was as wide as five days’ sailing and as long as ten…”

The boy catches 30 bluefin that he tethers to the pier. “They weighed as much as I did (up to 110 pounds)…I was afraid to fall among them. I even wondered if they might destroy the pier…I had a strong urge to let them go. Because freedom can be understood only as the absence of restraint…I valued freedom insufficiently…their movements were so sad and aimless that I knew I had to cut them loose…they had become as patient as dogs on a hot afternoon.” When freed, “they would circle in confusion among the pilings until they found an opening to the sea and sped away.”

Then two days ago I looked out my second floor window to the hayfield and saw two horses roaming freely in the five-foot high grass, giddy escapees from their customary paddock. Needing to corral them before they ran down the road to passing cars or into the forest to be lost for hours, I entered the field, while a friend with grain in flip flops at the edge told me where they were in the uneven terrain. With both arms out wide like a living cross, I attempted to aim them back towards the barn, but they kept turning in perfect synchronization, left, right, back, left, right. In the undulating terrain, they would disappear for long periods, and my higher-perched friend would yell me their location. A stranger appeared who though concerned was also delighted like the horses: “Free and wild, free and wild,” she sang out melodiously while smiling. She turned out to be a substitute vet.

imagine chasing two of these giants (5.5 feet tall to the back) in an open field

Though I did hear crashing in the forest, it must have been deer, because I eventually found the horses, who had exited one end of the field through a barway in the stone wall and were eating grass on the lawn near the vegetable garden. With grain in hand, I was able to seduce these giant Cleveland Bays to let me close enough to rope their necks and return them to their stalls. On the way, I could see the break in the fence, where they had pushed past a rotten post while leaning over the wood for fresh grass. The whole adventure lasted under an hour, filled with tension, beauty, and the sensation of being in a dream, a hair commercial, and an outtake for the movie, Horse Whisperer. Wish these magical moments of poetry and challenge had been filmed. Above is a generic photo of what these rare, endangered horses look like.

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An Unexpected Challenge

four fisher people and Jimmy the gillie

I went salmon fishing on the famous River Tay in Scotland. There are no nibbles when you fish like this. The prey takes the lure or not. I have very little fishing experience, and am never as interested in fishing as many others who hunt and love the outdoors and can forget themselves and relax in the off-season by fishing, when hunting is not allowed.

This sport is so special there that the rivers and streams are divided into clearly marked lengths called “beats,” and when you buy or lease a beat, you may only have it for certain days of the week, or maybe even for just the morning or the evening. The beat right next to ours was so desirable that people paid around $1600 per person to fish it for just one day! And eight fish have been hooked there all season, while only four of them were landed.

I went with a friend and his wife who fly fish some, have done it in Alaska and other places, were visiting us on their first trip ever to Scotland, and insisted that we all spend a day on the water. None of us caught a fish. I lost my lure (called bait) in the rocks on the very first cast. We all spent hours casting and casting…and casting.

I guess the excitement for those who love it is the hope that each cast will lead to a fighting fish taking the bait. The gamekeeper Craig summed it all up, when he admitted that “I’d strangle my mother, so I could go fishing.” But it wears thin for me. I don’t mind walking for hours to find some birds to shoot at. At least you see them. But fishing for fish who don’t nibble, just hoping they are in the vicinity of your bait as they power upstream and then not being able to see what is going on at all seems random…and it is a hell of a challenge. “It’s a lot of luck,” admitted our fishing guide (called a gillie) Jimmy, a Chinese Scotsman with a real brogue and an encouraging smile.

I didn’t think it would take so much effort to reel in the line, but the strong current created a huge strain on my arm and wrist. I realized how difficult it is, when I learned that people are lucky if they catch one salmon a day. I smiled when Jimmy said that women are better at salmon fishing than men…they have more patience. And after five hours of absolutely nothing, when a two-foot long salmon jumped up about five feet and landed just eight feet from the boat, I was determined to keep casting, keep reeling, keep trying, hoping, believing that if I hooked one—or more accurately, if a fish hooked itself on my line—it would be so exciting that I would keep on coming back for more and more and more…

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How To Catch And Cook A Pheasant

Went hunting for pheasant twice last week. With a double-barreled, side-by-side, 1929 American-made (an L.C. Smith), 20-gauge shotgun that has art deco, large-leaf engravings. Five and a half hours walking in swamps, mud, cornfields, hayfields, woods, brooks and briars. Joyfully watching two friends’ dogs sniff and search for birds. There are now two pheasants and a quail in the freezer that I prepared for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ira, Blitz the German Shorthaired Pointer, and shotgun get the birds—11/10/09

Ira, Blitz the German Shorthaired Pointer, and shotgun get the birds—11/10/09

Pheasants and quail caught for Thanksgiving dinner—11/10/09

Pheasants and quail caught for Thanksgiving dinner—11/10/09

Non-hunters can never know the glorious hearts of canine breeds that find those still and silent birds. These pets track bird scent with the grace of ballerinas and have almost inexhaustible energy. When close, some dogs freeze, point and wait for the bird to bolt…or the hunter to prod the prey into the air, where it rockets suddenly at 40 to 60 miles per hour. Hopefully a retrieval follows.

Other dogs, like my English Springer Spaniel, Bella, are flushers. They track and do the bump as well. You just have to keep them relatively near by, because the shotgun only has an effective range of 35 or 40 yards. The pointers can wander all over, maybe a football field away. Some will stay motionless with nose aiming at the pheasant for 20 minutes. Then the hunter has plenty of time to close in for the shot. But a flusher out of range is a real frustration. You just watch the birds fly away, and curse, and yell at your dog.

As I mentioned in my bird stocking post (, the pheasants have a much better chance than chickens raised for supermarkets. In fact on the second day, during four hours of hunting, my friend and I fired at five pheasants and a woodcock, but only took one pheasant home.

My English Springer Bella after a swim—6/11/08

My English Springer Bella after a swim—6/11/08

Bella was lame for many months, so she hasn’t hunted for two years. She now seems healed. Hopefully we can search the fields together soon. She loves to romp and jump. She gets so excited when I take out the neck bell that helps me locate her as she scours the bushes and grasses. It is grown-up Hide and Seek.

For the birds the stakes are high. It is not a game. Yet they would probably not be alive in the first place if there weren’t hunting clubs eager to purchase them. Over 10 million pheasants are raised each year. It is an annual ritual anticipated by two million American hunters. These sportsmen welcome the challenge, the camaraderie, the preparation of the birds and the various recipes. My favorite way to cook pheasants is double-basted in raw eggs and flour, sauteed and topped with strawberry liqueur.

art deco shotgun engraving

art deco shotgun engraving

I only learned to hunt as an adult after I moved from Manhattan to Connecticut in 1990. Read the rest of this entry »

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