Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chasing Summer Steel

H: July 29, 2012: Wow, time sure flies when you're crazy busy at work. I can't believe I'll be flying out to Portland, Oregon in a few days (August 1st). I'll be chasing summer steel on the Deschutes river, August 3–6th with Kat, Michele, and George. Mark Bachmann from the Fly Fishing shop of Welches, OR will be our host and guide. My first ever steelhead trip! It still feels a bit unreal.

Am I ready? No, not really. I've been working on my spey casting every chance I've had for the past few months. But an hour or two, here and there, over the weekend, hasn't been enough to build consistency. I also picked up a copy of Dec Hogan's A Passion for Steelhead for some bedtime reading (not that I've had much time for it–I've been crashing as soon as my head hits the pillow these days). It's not a bad read.

Am I super excited? You bet! I still haven't finalized the second half of my trip. Right now it looks like hiking in Mount Rainier National Park. Perhaps I should just go with the flow... no plans... see where the river and road takes me... (Note: this is not an easy thing for a slightly type A, native New Yorker to do ;)

After the Deschutes, the only other planned excursion is a day of steelhead fishing on the Klickitat river in Washington with 2 bonafide PNW flyfishergirls–Mia Sheppard and Jennifer Mitchell. Hopefully the Klick will be in good shape. It's glacially influenced and can get blown from high temperatures or storms. I'm really looking forward to this! It's going be loads of fun and a tremendous learning experience for me. After that, who knows? I might be so obsessed with chasing steel, I'll dirtbag it on some remote section of the Klick or head back to the Deschutes for round 2 ;)

I need to thank Craig and Andrew for all their help–lessons, tips, lots of spey porn (good and bad), and most importantly for their constant encouragement. I also want to give a shout out to my good friend, the easterncaster, who will be participating in the 2012 ACA Nationals in Cincinnati next week. Luck!!!

Speaking of luck, please send some my way. I'm definitely going to need it pursuing the fish of a thousand casts. I'm certainly willing and able to make a thousand. But hopefully, it will take a lot less :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Spey Nation logo

H: July 16, 2012: Just returned from my very first spey clave this past weekend: Spey Nation V in Pineville, NY on the Salmon river. I had a great time! In fact, such a great time, I have no pictures to show for it. I was too busy trying to keep up with the easterncaster. He and his FFF buddies from D.C. (John and Lee) were on a mission to demo as many spey rods as possible. It actually worked out well. Three or four of us would take rods down to the river to cast. After a while, we'd switch and try someone else's rod. By the end of the afternoon, I had cast at least 9 different spey rods (6 to 8-weights): a couple of Sage Ones, an Echo 3, some Burkheimers, T & Ts, a Beulah, and a Scott.

Before Spey Nation, I mentioned to Craig that I doubted I'd be able to tell if one rod was better than another for me, since I'm still such a spey baby. Craig's response was that everyone has some Goldilocks in them, no matter what their skill level. So I tried to channel my inner Goldilocks ;)... True, spey rods are a bit more difficult to gauge than the temperature of porridge or softness of beds, but it turned out I had definite opinions about some of the rods. Of course, so much is dependent on the lines they are paired with.

At one point, I switched rods with Lee. He had an 8-weight Burkheimer with a skagit sinking tip and heavy fly on. I've never cast a skagit line before. Needless to say, I hated it. But I knew it was the line and my inexperience with it rather than the rod itself. I have since learned that with skagit lines, you need to slow down your casting motion. Of course I was doing the exact opposite–heavy line, exert more power and speed. There was another rod I tried. After the very first cast, it was obvious it had the wrong line on it. It just felt soooo wrong! Craig said the head was too long. With the right line, who knows, the rod might have been sweet. What's surprising is that some supposedly knowledgeable rod rep sent that rod out to demo with the wrong line on it. At the end of the day, my favorites were the Sage Ones and the Echo 3. 

Besides the opportunity to cast as many spey rods as your heart desires, there were some great presentations at Spey Nation. I learned that Mr. Simon Gawesworth gives even better demos in person ;). He's such an engaging speaker and natural teacher. It was a good thing they broke for lunch afterwards because he would be an extremely tough act to follow. I also enjoyed Topher Browne's demo–very cerebral, but unfortunately, he was hard to hear at times. I also wished he had done more casting. He made it look truly effortless–his casting stroke epitomizes efficiency and economy of motion. Tim Rajeff supplied the comic relief. When he started casting a rod rigged with 2 reels, 2 lines, and 2 flies, I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants! But I would have liked a bit more spey casting substance. 

Afterwards, I played tourist with the easterncaster. We drove to Selkirk beach on the shores of Lake Ontario. It was quite lovely. Almost felt like you were at the ocean...

Hyun Kounne on the shores of Lake Ontario, NY

Friday, July 13, 2012

Spey Nation, Here I Come...

H: July 13, 2012: What a Friday the 13th! I left work around 1 pm which was later than I wanted. But my alarm clock didn't go off this morning, so I got into work later than planned. Originally, I was going to stop and fish the West Branch for a few hours before driving up to Pulaski in the evening. Well, it wasn't meant to be. I had a slight accident with my car. Nothing serious. Just space cadet Hyun not noticing a big dip in a pulloff by the river, bottoming out the car, and having a large piece of plastic undercarriage covering fall off.

I took her to an auto shop to make sure everything was fine. By the time I was done, it was late, I was stressed out, and worried what else could go wrong on Friday the 13th. Oh, I did go over a rather large curb at the Fastrac but fortunately didn't get a flat. Honestly, I'm not a bad driver, normally...

I finally arrived (safely!) in Pulaski and checked into the presidential suite at the Super 8 ;). I'm sure after a nice glass of wine in the hot tub, today's mishaps will become a distant memory. Looking forward to Spey Nation tomorrow. Thank god it wasn't today!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

River Therapy–Does a Soul Good!

H: July 8, 2012: Work has been pretty crazy lately with rush projects and tight deadlines. I even had to work on the 4th of July—no beach or BBQ for this flygirl. A bit burnt out and burnt up from the latest heatwave (95+ degrees), I headed to the Farmington in dire need of some river therapy. The 50-something degree water cooled my body; the beauty and serenity of the river soothed my soul. I don't know what is it about a river that works this magic on me...

I love the ocean and it's so much easier for me to get to. But while the ocean soothes me in one way (I'm humbled by it's vastness, power, and mystery), a river rejuvenates me in another. I guess the ocean disconnects me. It's an escape that drowns my thoughts or worries. But a river—it grounds me. When I wade into a river I feel completely connected... to the slippery smooth rocks beneath my boots, the sultry flow of water against my legs, lush trees and tall grass lining its banks, the myriad insects, fish, and creatures that call it home, ...and most importantly, to myself. It heightens my senses and thoughts rather than dulling them. Ok, enough said... :)

I drove up Saturday morning to one of my old favorites haunts. I took both my 8-weight switch and 5-weight singlehand rods down to the river. I started out practicing some spey casts as there was nothing going on. I could feel my stress dissolve with every cast (good and bad) and despite some floundering, it was immensely enjoyable. I made one particularly fine cast that reached the far bank about 80 ft. away, and to my surprise, a fish rose to my offering, a large isonychia dun. I set the hook. It was a good sized fish but it ended in a long distance release as he/she broke me off. Good knot, rushed angler. I just laughed it off.

I had been practicing for about an hour when I noticed a fish rising right under my nose (at most, 20 ft. away). The water was so clear, I could easily make out the form of the small brown trout. But it paid me absolutely no heed as it aggressively rose to some small bwos. I decided it was time to start fishing. I walked to the bank, grabbed my 5-weight, rigged it up, and shortly afterwards, the feisty, foot long brown was in my net. Life was good...

Then Antoine texted me to say he was done with his morning guide trip. We met up for a very long lunch. We had lots of catching up to do. It felt like ages since we last fished together. There were major changes to his life, all good, which I was happy to hear about. As the skies clouded over, we tracked storms headed our way on the radar map. It didn't look good but you never can tell. Antoine said he wanted to show me a new fishing spot–a prime nymphing location, guaranteed to hold some really nice fish when you're desperate for a fix ;).

A few raindrops fell, but nothing significant, as we drove upriver. It turned out to be a challenging fishing spot—fast water, not easy to access or to wade, lots of obstacles. I dropped a pin to mark its location for a future desperate date. As we crossed the road back to the car, we both spot a completely flattened and dessicated field mouse on the pavement. Antoine grins and says "It's time to go mice fishing again..."

We drove back downriver to a spot near Greenwoods where we found numerous fish rising, even porpoising, in a deep channel along the bank. I had no idea what they were feasting on. Whatever it was, it was microscopic! Antoine however, with his hawk eyes, saw exactly what they were eating. He went back to his car to get another flybox. He returned and put on a tiny fly. Shortly after, he hooked one. Unfortunately, it resulted in another long-distance release. He gave me one of these flies which I put on a 15-foot leader with 7x tippet.

Antoine tells me there is another spot on the opposite bank that usually holds 4 or 5 really nice fish. I'm sorely tempted to ask him, "So, what are their names? How old/big are they? Male/female, rainbow/brown? :)" The Farmington is his river. He knows it as well as anyone can. We vigilantly watched the far bank. Sure enough, after a few minutes, we spot a couple of rises. We quietly made our way upriver. He advised me to be patient. Wait till I spot a rise, mark it's exact location, then cast immediately to that spot. He said I might get 2 attempts, tops, before putting these smart, spooky fish down.

Flygirl Hyun Kounne with brown trout, Farmington River
One fish rose not very far away. But with a 15 ft. leader, I have to make several false casts to get enough line out (should have been prepared). I drop my fly gently on the surface. I'm thinking I might be a bit short, but Antoine tells me it went right over the fish. Turns out he clearly saw the fish, but apparently he/she wasn't interested. We wait patiently. Antoine spots a rise near him and goes in pursuit. I continue to scan the bank in front of me. Suddenly I spot a rise. It's automatic. My fish radar is on. I cast—she takes it—fish on! This time, I don't rush it. She turned out to be spotted beauty.

It's an hour till dusk but Antoine is done. It has been a long day for him. Plus, he had driven back from fishing the Cape the afternoon before. We said goodbye and promised to fish again soon, perhaps some night fishing with mice patterns. I'm not ready for the day to end so I try one more spot. There are a few anglers there when I arrive. I settle into a spot between 2 of them. There are some very subtle rises on the glass smooth water in front of me. With the same tiny fly, I catch one last lovely brown before dusk—pure icing on the cake.

It's been a while since I've had such an enjoyable day on the river. Merci, Antoine, and thank you, Farmington river. The therapy did this flygirl loads of good!