Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stop whispering, start shouting

H: November 28, 2012: I'm on the train home, chilling after a long day, listening to music on my iPod. It's on shuffle and Radiohead's Stop Whispering comes on... Well, Thom Yorke's lyrics struck a cord and inspired me to write this post—to start shouting the only way I know how, through this blog—even if few will hear, or worse, care.

Just after Thanksgiving, on my birthday in fact, my friend Craig unloaded on me (heck, that's what friends are for ;). He told me about some recent disturbing events that had transpired at the International Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF). It's Board of Directors (BoD) had wrongfully dismissed and stripped the credentials of Denise Maxwell and Dan McCrimmon, two long-standing and well-respected members of the Casting Board of Governors (CBoG), for launching a website that they claimed created a conflict of interest.

I wasn't sure what to make of it at the time or what to say to Craig that could possibly help. As a master certified instructor (MCI) and actively involved member of the FFF, he'd obviously been struggling with this for some time. It wasn't until the following morning that the plain injustice of it bothered me, even without having all the facts. So, I asked him for more info. He emailed me several links: to the Association of Certified International Casting Instructors (ACICI), to the Sexyloops forum, and to the Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors (AAPGAI). I first checked out ACICI to see what all the fuss was about, then I started reading the thread on Sexyloops. Now, I definitely can't let it go.

My initial response was to send an email to Denise Maxwell to express my support. I suggested an interview to at least give recognition to her numerous contributions to the sport of fly fishing (she's the first lady of steelhead, being the first female steelhead guide in British Columbia, plus a champion fly caster) and her years of dedicated service to the FFF as editor of the Loop and an international ambassador. But now that I think about it, Ms. Maxwell probably has so much to deal with, possible legal action to prepare for, that an interview with a stranger can't be very high on her list.

I will try my best to summarize the events as they've unfolded, but I strongly recommend reading the actual correspondence sent between parties involved and following the thread at Sexyloops. WARNING: your eyes will definitely glaze over, you'll get a massive headache, and I suggest having a large decanter of your favorite poison nearby. However, you'll be rewarded with lively and thought-provoking discourse on a topic I fear not enough people are aware of, and hopefully you'll be bothered enough to start shouting.

July 7, 2012: Denise Maxwell and Dan McCrimmon, members of the FFF CBoG launch the ACICI website, a forum open to all certified casting instructors worldwide as a means of sharing knowledge and information. July 25, 2012: Chairman of the FFF BoD, Philip Greenlee, emails the CBoG and BoD, stating that the ACICI site creates a conflict of interest and potential for copyright infringement of FFF materials. He refers the matter to FFF legal counsel, James Schramm. July 25, 2012: Dan and Denise respond to these allegations by clearly stating that the ACICI is not a competitive certifying body and that they have no intention of using any FFF copyright materials on their site. They invite all members of the FFF to view the site and judge for themselves. July 29, 2012: Dan and Denise are contacted by James Schramm, who once again repeat the accusations but this time in legalese. He concludes his letter by suggesting their resignation from the CBoG was a way to resolve the matter. It goes on and on... (Again, I recommend you read the actual history of communications).

Well unfortunately, none of their responses were satisfactory to misters Greenlee, Schramm or Diaz (Chair of the CBoG), and rather than have the Ethics committee investigate these allegations further, Greenlee summarily terminated their membership in the FFF, the CBoG, and stripped them of all their casting certifications. Denise and Dan were accused, convicted, and sentenced without a proper hearing. Needless to say, this injustice created an uproar which eventually resulted in the BoD modifying their initial judgment, giving Dan and Denise the option of retaining their FFF membership and certifications on a probationary and highly conditional basis. Basically, they can't do anything without direct supervision by a member of the CBoG (coerced confession comes to mind).

The only good thing to come out of this mess is that it's raised some critical questions about the structure and future of the FFF: should the Casting Instructor Certification Program (CICP) become a separate and independent entity? My vote (if I had one ;) would be "yes" because clearly the CBoG cannot effectively lead if it's at the mercy of the BoD and a professional certifying body is bound to eventually have real conflicts of interest with a nonprofit conservation group.

This incident has raised awareness for the need for organizational reform: The need for better transparency at the decision-making level (make documents, meeting minutes, and correspondence more accessible to members); Need for accountability (should the CBoG be elected by its membership: MCIs and CIs?); Need for checks and balances to prevent future abuses of authority; and most importantly, the need to give their membership a voice. My ultimate hope is that this will bring about some positive change.

The most disappointing part in all of this for me, was the lack of communication and hence the seeming lack of leadership from the CBoG throughout this whole debacle. Where have they been this whole time? I'm not even going to address the letters written by the Chair, Mr. Diaz. Hands down, that man wins the prize, for using the most (vague and convoluted) words to say absolutely nothing of significance. I'm speculating here, but my guess (and hope) is that there has been heated debate and maneuvering going on behind the scenes at the CBoG and it's due to their protests that Dan and Denise have been offered this mitigated sentence. But none of it has been publicized (if a tree falls in a forest...). Dear CBoG: Thom Yorke is singing to YOU. Stop whispering behind closed doors, start communicating with your membership.

I recently joined the FFF when I attended a spey workshop given by two members of its CBoG, Al Buhr and Jim Valle (see The Tao of Spey), two gentlemen I have much respect for. Since then, I've seriously considered getting certified as an instructor, not necessarily to make a vocation out of it, but as a way to learn, improve my skills, teach family and friends, and who knows where it might eventually lead... But my primary motivation was to join a community of like-minded people who are passionate about fly fishing and casting and about sharing their knowledge and experiences with others (people like Denise Maxwell and Dan McCrimmon).

As of right now, I can't in good conscience support or condone this organization unless questions are answered and changes are made. If you have any interest in or ties to the FFF, I urge you to read the correspondence and the posts in the Sexyloops thread, do some digging of your own, then judge for yourself. If any of this disturbs you as it did me—start shouting! Write to the FFF CBoG. Show your support for Denise and Dan, your dissatisfaction with how affairs have been handled, and express the need for change.
Stop Whispering (Radiohead)
And the wise men say "I don't want to hear your voice"
And the thin men say "I don't want to hear your voice"
And they're cursing me
And they won't let me be
There's nothing to say
And there's nothing to do
Stop whispering, start shouting

And my mother says "We spit on your son some more"
And the buildings say "Let me spit on your face some more"
And the feeling is
That there's something wrong
'Cause I can't find the words
And I can't find the songs

Stop whispering, start shouting
Stop whispering, start shouting

Dear Sir, "I have a complaint"
Dear Sir, "I have a complaint"
Can't remember what it is
Doesn't matter anyway
Stop whispering,
Stop whispering,
Stop whispering,
Stop whispering, 
Start shouting

Monday, November 19, 2012

Expect the Worst but Hope for the Best

H: Just returned from my first steelhead trip on the Salmon river in Pulaski, NY. I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard so many horror stories, seen pictures and videos of anglers elbow-to-elbow on the river... I expected my experience to be marred by horribly crowded conditions and rude anglers. But somehow expecting the worst, yet hoping for the best, resulted in a great trip! I caught some beautiful steelheed, enjoyed the cameraderie of fellow Juliana's Anglers, Shannon Brightman and Kathleen Clayton, and made some new friends on a lovely river that I hope to fish again very soon.

We arrived late Friday afternoon and settled into the 1880 House, our home for the next few days. Linda Tarbox, the owner, her daughter Dawn, and granddaughter Hannah, are the nicest of people and made us feel very welcome. Later that evening, as we walked back from dinner at the River House, I was shivering in my usually warm and toasty down coat. I started to worry about how I would handle the cold temperatures on the river the following morning.

Got up around 5:40 Saturday morning, after Shannon and KC left to meet their guide. The two of them were floating the Salmon river with Paul Conklin. After donning every warm layer I had brought with me (5 on top, 3 on the bottom, plus waders), I met my guide, Lou Guerrieri (Linda's recommendation), and we drove to the Douglaston Salmon Run. Lou had forewarned me that it would be a good hike down to the pool we'd be fishing. It was chilly (high 30s) but not nearly as cold as I had feared. Still, I relished the thought of warming up with a brisk hike.

We parked in the DSR lot and Lou started assembling his gear. He grabbed a portable folding chair from the back of his SUV and began to strap it to a large, heavy-looking backpack. I was concerned he might have a hard time carrying everything down, so I said, "Lou, there's no need for you to bring a chair for me. I can sit anywhere." He replied somewhat sheepishly, "Actually, the chair is for me. I have a bad back..." I chuckled at my wrongful assumption and we began our hike to the Salmon river.

I never heard the starting pistol but clearly the race was on, as every angler in the lot rushed down to claim the best spots on the river. Lou is no spring chicken and years of smoking has taken its toll on his health and fitness. Hunched over with the huge pack and chair strapped on this back, he reminded me of a giant tortoise, slowly but steadily walking the trail. I stepped aside numerous times to let other anglers pass by (slow and steady wins the race... ;). We talked most of the way down and I knew right away that we'd get along. Lou is a direct, no nonsense guy with a quick sense of humor.

20 mins. later we arrived at the Meadow. It was already filled with 8-9 anglers. Fortunately, Lou knew a contingent of them, a group of 5 italian gentlemen from Montreal and Miami: Pietro, Nuncio, Fabio, Claudio... They were old clients of his who he'd become friends with over the years and they had claimed a prime stretch of the pool. I was pleased to see several of them fishing with two-handed rods. Lou spoke with a couple of them and they shifted positions to make room for me. It took a while for me to feel comfortable casting in such close quarters with anglers above, below, and directly across from me.

I'd already told Lou that I wanted to swing flies with my switch rod. He attached a tippet ring to the end of my leader then tied on the first of many, many flies I would cast that day: an orange flesh fly to start with. For the first couple of hours, the only hook-ups were by Pietro, who due to a bum shoulder was using a spin rod and egg lure. He hooked three and landed one. I fished the same 40-foot stretch of river for quite some time, granted I had swung at least 6 different flies through there. I found it odd that none of guys were interested in moving and covering water. They were content to stay in one spot. I asked Lou about this. He spoke to Pietro and we switched spots.

Flygirl Hyun Kounne with first Salmon river steelhead
6 pounds of fresh chrome from Lake Ontario.
Lou tied on a big white streamer which sucked up water like a sponge. It was a real clunker to cast with my compact scandi line. But several swings later, I felt an aggressive take. 10 minutes and several jumps later, I landed my first Salmon river steelhead, a 6-pound silvery male, fresh from nearby Lake Ontario. As Lou netted the fish, I noticed "Team Italia" had gathered around me. I received 6 very enthusiastic high-fives, as they admired my catch. His fins were pale and translucent! Afterwards, we celebrated with some hot freshly brewed espresso along the river bank. I can definitely get used to fly fishing, Italian-style ;).

We stayed at the Meadow all day. I didn't really mind. It seemed an ideal ambush spot for fresh steel entering the river despite my seeing only 6 other hook-ups all day. Later on, I played another steelhead, this one hooked on a silver doctor fly. It took me into my backing as I walked down river after it. I knew immediately that this one was big brother/sister to the first. Unfortunately, it resulted in a SDR (short distance release), about 10 feet from Lou's net. I rushed it, lost focus for a moment, and the hook came out. Lou said it was about twice the size of my first fish.

After making over 200 casts and swinging at least 15 different flies, I was done. Plus, I looked forward to sharing some good river stories with the girls. Thank you Lou (and Team Italia) for a very enjoyable day on the river!

I returned to find Shannon taking a well deserved nap. KC had apparently gone back to the river for round 2. I was disappointed to hear that neither of them had caught a fish and that there had been some miscommunication with Paul about needing our car as a shuttle. Hence, their trip had been cut a bit short. Plus, they had nymphed all day (not exactly my idea of fun ;). Dinner that night at the 1880 House was a veritable feast—some of the tastiest prime rib I've ever had—along with great company from fellow anglers staying at the inn. I went to bed completely stuffed, exhausted, and dreamt of steel :).

Shannon Brightman and Paul Conklin floating the Salmon river
Shannon and Paul (our guide and taxi driver ;).
Sunday was my turn to fish with Shannon and Paul. We met at 5:40, dropped off my car at the take-out point, then drove to the put-in at Pineville. It was still dark when we boarded our "river taxi." It was incredibly peaceful drifting down in semi darkness. It wasn't long before we made our first stop. Paul set Shannon up to nymph from the raft. She had left her wading staff back at the inn, and with a bad knee, she wasn't very comfortable wading. I walked below them and started to swing a fly that Paul had tied on. He called it mahagony.

I had covered about 80 feet of river, slowly working my way down, when suddenly an angler stepped in about 40 feet below me. I stopped in my tracks but continued to cast, waiting for him to do his thing. He made a couple of casts, fussed with his fly for a bit, then he didn't do much of anything for quite some time. I realized he was now a permanent fixture, a river obstruction, so I walked back up to Paul and Shannon and we boarded the raft in search of our next fishing spot. As we're drifting, Paul pointed out steelhead after steelhead spooked by the raft. We passed one section where apparently quite a few fish were stacked. It was too good to pass up.

Spey mistress, Shannon Brightman on the Salmon River
The new Mistress of Spey, Shannon Brightman.
I had mentioned to Paul that Shannon had taken a spey lesson with me and that she had picked it up very quickly. He rigged his Echo 3 spey rod and worked with her on her casting. I hung out with them for a while and watched Shannon double spey. Once again, she exhibited a natural aptitude for casting a two-handed rod and Paul turned out to be a good patient teacher. Eventually, I decided to get back to fishing. I walked well down river from them and proceeded to swing the same mahogany fly. I'd covered about 120 feet of water when suddenly I had a take and my line started flying off the reel. Before I knew it, I was into my backing.

Paul came down with his net and we walked down river in pursuit. My amazing steelhead jumped at least 5-6 times for me. Everytime he jumped, my heart jumped, too! He displayed some serious acrobatic prowess. I found myself cheering for him like a fan. Woo hoo!!! Paul gave me a few funny looks after that ;). Memories of yesterday's SDR fish prompted me to take my time with this one. I was completely focused yet surprisingly relaxed. Somehow, I knew I was going to land him. Besides the physical fly line connecting us, I felt a strange bond with this fish. Can't explain it... About 20 mins. later, I maneuvered him into Paul's net. (Just writing about this makes me smile! :)

13 pounds of pure fun! My handsome 34-inch Salmon river steelhead buck.
He was big, dark, and handsome: a 34-inch, 13-pound buck. But he had a bit of a gut ;). His stomach must have been stuffed with salmon eggs. I had a hard time grabbing hold of him. I'm still amazed he was able to perform those incredible acrobatic feats.

The rest of the day passed by in a blurred state of contentment. I enjoyed drifting the river and discovering her many different sides. Paul seemed to know every run, pool, tributary, and guide that we passed by and his raft was the sweetest ride on the river, as other drift boats clanked their way down due to low water. I enjoyed watching the new Mistress of Spey, Shannon, make leaps and bounds in her casting. I was thrilled when she caught her first steelhead, a petite silver beauty, but I had hoped she would experience the rush of landing a buck like mine. I was happy just working on my spey casting and made major progress towards earning my CG badge ;).

I don't think anything could have ruined that day on the river for me, not even the smell of death all around me (the putrid stench of decomposing salmon). Perhaps if I'd been elbow-to-elbow with rude anglers... But then, I would have just left for another stretch of river. Thank you Paul, Shannon, and my magnificent steelhead! It's funny how a day on the river and a couple of beautiful fish can make everything seem right for a moment in time.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'm Outta Here!

H: November 8, 2012: Woke up to 7 inches of blinding white snow blanketing the ground and draped heavily over trees and bushes outside my window, compliments of nor'easter Athena. Talk about adding beautiful insult to injury! At least I still had power. I was exhausted from a hellish wintry commute the night before due to downed power lines on the LIRR. But train service had been restored, so I put on my snow boots, winter coat, gloves and hat (all of which I could have used last night walking home in a blizzard!), and headed into work. I had several things to take care of before I left on my first fall steelhead trip on the Salmon river.

snow covered downed power lines and trees from Hurricane Sandy and Nor'easter Athena
Snow covered, downed power lines and trees at my street corner.
It's a trip organized by my women's fly fishing club, the Juliana's Anglers. After Hurricane Sandy, it was completely up in the air whether we'd continue with the trip. I've had mixed feelings about it. Some days, I craved to escape the disheartening reminders of Hurricane Sandy. But other days, the thought of fishing, even for steelhead, seemed frivolous and failed to arouse any excitement.

Today, I can't wait to go! I've had just about enough that Mother Nature can dish out. Surely she will ease up now that Obama is in office. Tomorrow, it's off to Pulaski, NY and the Salmon river with fellow Julianas Shannon and KC. Wish us luck--a brief reprieve from any more natural disasters will do, forget about catching steel. I'm outta here!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Back to Normal?

H: November 4, 2012: I've written pages and pages of observations and my experiences these past 6 days since Hurricane Sandy struck. But they will remain on the loose scraps of paper I've scrawled on—most are just the ramblings of an emotional flygirl in crisis. I've always maintained that this blog should be first and foremost about fly fishing. Those who find their way here are interested in fish tales, not social commentary or politics. There are more compelling stories out there being told by more qualified and superior writers. But I can't leave it alone... So, please bear with me.

I am one of the fortunate ones. I lost power for just 2 days. My home and property are intact. But more importantly, my family and friends are all well. Some suffered more than others, but they're surviving and getting on with their lives. Sandy's aftermath has been an inspirational reminder of our resiliency and has done much to restore my faith in human nature.

I stopped by my parents place the day after and watched as my mom busied herself trying to cook a good hot meal for my dad and I. As the perpetual caregiver, that's just how she copes with crisis—planning the next meal, being resourceful, wondering how long before power is restored and how many days she can stretch out her pantry. As we ate, she and my dad talked about how things were like during the Korean War…

Afterwards, inspired by easterncaster, I went to my local park to cast for a bit. I know, that sounds crazy. I guess it was an act of defiance (or denial) to prove that things were not that far from normal. The usually crowded park with baseball and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts was deserted except for me and 3 guys tossing a football around. I guess they too craved a moment of normalcy. It was still very gusty but I couldn't have cared less. Casting my fly rod felt great!

These past several days, I've watched Sandy bring out the best and worst in people. I won't soon forget the story of a Staten Island mom desperately holding on to her 2 young boys for dear life, screaming out for help, breaking a window to get the attention of a nearby resident, imploring him to let her in, and having her cries fall on deaf ears. I understand that in the chaos of the storm, the safety of one's own family comes first, but that person will have to live with this for the rest of their life. Thankfully, it's mostly been good. I've witnessed communities come together—people opening up their homes to friends and even strangers in need, offering food, shelter, generators to charge their phones, and much needed comfort.

While things appear to be slowly getting back to normal, there are still millions without power, tens of thousands without homes, the death toll continues to rise, 100+, and it's starting to get cold. When Mayor Bloomberg first announced that the NYC Marathon would go on, I was shocked but ambivalent. I imagine Bloomberg and his advisors weighed the pros and cons of proceeding with the race and made a business decision coupled with a desire to restore normalcy to the city. But when I learned the extent of the devastation in Staten Island, the starting point of the Marathon, I was furious. Thankfully he reversed his decision and cancelled the race. If he hadn't, I would have hit the streets in protests, seriously! And I haven't done that since my college days. To divert scarce resources and manpower to operate a sporting event, regardless of the revenue it generates for the city, is unconscionable!

But the show does go on. The Knicks had their home opener at the Garden. The Nets opened the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Tomorrow, the majority of NYC schools will reopen. 80 percent of NYC subways are operational. More importantly, in 2 days time, we will have a critical presidential election. To those who are still without power, who have lost their homes, the responsibility of voting is naturally secondary to providing food and shelter for their families. But even the remotest possibility of NY or NJ's electoral votes being won by Romney is frightening and may prove more catastrophic than the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

I implore everyone to make a concerted effort to vote on Tuesday. Governor Christie is allowing displaced citizens of NJ to vote electronically via email or fax. How worse off would the residents of NY/NJ be right now if Mitt Romney was in office and had dismantled FEMA and privatized disaster relief? Surely, a "Mayor Romney" would have let the Marathon go on. I'm not even going to get into all the falsehoods and half-truths he has spoken, that's sadly a reality of political campaigning. But the fact that Romney seems to change his position as quickly and as frequently as the winds and tides change is a clear measure of his character (or lack thereof), one based on expediency rather than principle.

I confess, I've been disappointed with the job that President Obama has done these past 4 years. But those hoping a vote for Romney will bring about positive change are misguided. A vote for Romney is a vote for another Bush, albeit more articulate and polished. It's a vote for the same ideology that got us into this mess in the first place, an ideology based on greed and profits at all costs including the environment and the 47 percent. It will endanger all manner of civil rights including a women's right to choose. This election is critical… Please vote!