Saturday, September 22, 2007

Indiana steelhead: the Charles Bukowski of great lakes fishing

The highway hums persistently in the background. The river is flat and muddy mostly, yellow and brown mostly, sandy in some places. Beer cans, styrofoam worm containers, plastic bags, garbage can lids: various Michigan City cultural artifacts litter the log jams. It’s ninety degrees and humid. The ever present sheen of grease on my forehead does little to dissuade the multitudes of blood sucking insects that swarm exposed skin. My hands are exposed. I swat at the back of my hand with my other hand killing three and four mosquitoes at a time, smearing swaths of blood over my knuckles. They get into my nose. Stinging nettles rake my legs and with no balsamic Jewel weed around I plunge into the cold river to ease the burn. It’s better like this anyway. The mosquitoes can’t bite underwater.

Indiana is a pit of hell and despair. But there are steelhead here. And salmon.

I woke up at 3am this morning to drive more than two hundred miles to the shores of Lake Michigan where the anadromous fishes of autumn are beginning their annual migration up Trail Creek, Salt Creek, and the Little Calumet River, following their biological orders like good soldiers would. The commando is strong. Little do they know their efforts are mostly in vain. They too were once hatchery brood. They’ll spill their futile gametes all over the river in a sad genuflection to their native cousins swimming strongly in the Pacific. Then they’ll get snagged in the face, taken home on ice trying to breathe the thin, foreign atmosphere, feeling dizzy and disoriented. The youngest son will help dad with the “cleaning”, but while father’s sharpening the knife, junior pokes at the still gleaming eyes until one pops crooked, exposing plastic looking, layered white tissue underneath. Dad tells the kid to stop. Then sticks the knife in the fish’s asshole and cuts open his stomach and his guts spill out. Then he dies.

It’s a cheery day.

I arrived at Trail Creek around 6:30am. Still dark. I strapped on my headlamp, rigged my rod, and had filthy, sweaty unprotected sex with a disgusting 47 year old Michigan City prostitute behind the porta potty in the Public Access parking lot along route 20. Several people saw us.

The sun rised. I fell.

I raced up and down the dirt banks of the river, over tripping tree roots, cigarette butts, and half buried bottles of beer. The mosquitoes were horrible. The worst I’ve ever seen. They feasted on my fat blood. They feasted through my shirt. I let my hair down and tried to evenly distribute the tendrils over my face, forming some sort of faux mosquito netting. It worked pretty well actually, but was incredibly uncomfortable considering it was so hot. And I couldn’t see.

After several hours of racing around, possibly trespassing, I hadn’t seen a single fish of any consequence. Where were the forty pound Chinooks? The silvery Cohos fresh from the depths of Lake Michigan’s blue-green purity? Fresh from BP’s last illegal ammonia discharge?

I kept my muddy wading boots on and got back in the car. I ate three hardboiled eggs with Tabasco sauce and sliced ham. And some carrots. I drove to another Public Access parking lot further downstream. There were no prostitutes there unfortunately.

I walked through the woods to the translucent yellow-brown waters and immediately saw my first real fish. A behemoth to be sure. Thirty five, forty inches long? Twenty, thirty pounds? It was a big one and swam away rapidly like a log alive as I blundered in for a closer look.

I fished my way upstream through the swarms of mosquitoes, around impenetrable tangles of logs with cans and lawnchairs pushed tight against the upstream side. Eventually I stumbled across two dead steelhead. So they are here. One was still alive, it turns out. Belly-up in a stagnant pool, but still alive. I wrapped my hand tenderly around his massive tail and gently maneuvered him into cooler, clearer waters. I cradled his soft body with my left hand and held his tail with my right, keeping him upright, his gills pumping quietly while I absurdly sang to him in a low voice, “and I know loving you is not enough, and you know future is as future does.” When I gave up my grasp he turned over, fat white belly like a ball floating down the river over wood and rocks roughly.

A long green shape shudders on the shallow edge of that pool. I’m in a good position. I cast an orange egg at his nose. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Several more times. Nothing. Change flies. A red egg. Several times. Nothing. A chartreuse double bunny. Several times. Nothing. Turks Tarantula with a Caddis nymph dropper. Several times. Nothing. I’ll try my plastic eggs. Smaller than the glo-bug eggs. But when I have the new fly tied on the large green shape has disappeared. But then a pod of ten fish move into the pool, fish of all sizes, just like that. I sink the eggs into the pool for thirty minutes. Nothing.

Thoroughly chewed and exhausted at noon I start to head back downstream to my car. I’ve had enough of Charles Bukowski’s great lakes fishing adventure. Screw Indiana. I trespass briefly to access a shallow bit of river so I can cross to the public side. I walk for ten minutes then cross the river again when the brush becomes thick. I walk another ten minutes. I don’t recognize anything. Where am I? That dark blue pine tree is very conspicuous. I would remember that. Am I lost in Indiana? In the Chicago metro area? Are you kidding me? I had lost the trail so I head away from the river and walk parallel to it hoping to hit the main trail back to my car. I do. I was actually nervous. What if I got lost in the woods in the Chicago metro area? After spending weeks in the western mountains this summer without incident? I thought about getting bit by a poisonous snake in Indiana. That would be funny. Kind of.

I’m relieved to find the trail and decide to take another shot at actually fishing, as opposed to walking around the woods getting progressively itchier. I tie on an egg sucking leech (black wooly bugger with a pink chenille head). I step into the river and think I see a large tail flick in a long, deep run ahead along the bank. I cast the fly several times and strip it back slowly. The marabou tail undulates like a hula dance or an experienced stripper with wide hips and a narrow waist. The silver flash tied into the tail throws light in a quick, disorienting pattern. It looks delicious.

I readjust the faux mosquito net and swat a fresh batch of mosquitoes from my hands, smearing their little crushed bodies with blood. I just want to catch a fish. A fish for all of this my wish. On the next cast a fish hit my fly with fifteen pounds of salmonid ferocity so stunning that I cried out loud, “holy fucking christ!” The fish made a long first run upstream, stripping forty or so feet of line from my reel, the drag screaming its scared little whine. I palmed the reel to slow the fish and eventually he turned and I took up the line as fast as I could. He was running for the log jam just ten feet below me. If he gets in it he’s gone. I hold him back and hope that the 10lb 2x leader holds. It does.

I capture many pictures of the fish during the fight as backups in case I can’t get a good one of him once landed. Turns out that was a good idea as he slipped away before I could properly photograph him. The last picture below is of the fish I tried to revive.

I’ll be going back as soon as possible. To brave the mosquitoes and tie into another beast of a fish. I have a problem with fishing.

Click all for bigger.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

rainbow hawk

Well, the new blog is coming along nicely. I've had to change the concept around some, but it will still probably blow your mind. Plans are under way for a rather extravagant MIP2K7. The steelhead and salmon are running into Indiana from Lake Michigan and my new 8wt arrived yesterday, so I'm headin' up to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Thursday night. I'll also post something about the rest of my time in England one of these days, new and improved with 200% more beer!

But now, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the toughest, the coolest, the rainbowest, the most well mannered raptor this side of Sesame Street: RAINBOW HAWK! (applause, applause) Click for full size.

Rainbow hawk was born in Columbia Missouri on the 16th of September, the year of our lord 2007. Rainbow hawk's father is Matthew D Dunn of Bloomington IN. Rainbow hawk's mother was copious amounts of beer and drugs and some crayons and a large beef roast. Also present at Rainbow hawk's birth were Robert "Bobby no no" Norris, MB Pell, D$, and Chris "Rasputin" Saunders.

Click evil Chris for bigger.

The birth of Rainbow hawk.

Rainbow hawk also had a retarded little brother called One eye fish. D$ drew a picture of me and Bob and Mike. I'm the short little red one. Bob is the tall green one. Kind of fucked up if you ask me. D$ was taking jabs at me all weekend. Insult after insult hurled from the catapult of her mind. I'll get even with that bitch. I'll send Rainbow hawk on a vengeance mission. He'll come streaking out of the clear blue sky, shrieking his shrill shriek and pluck out one of D$'s eyes. Sure, Rainbow hawk isn't much given to violence as he is a rainbow. But he's also a hawk so, you know, he has to kill little animals to survive.

Click for bigger.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

cleaning house, going corporate

Well, not quite corporate but I have big plans for a new blog. A brand new blog. Big plans. Have no fear. This one won't go anywhere. It will be mainly a repository for bad poetry. The new blog will be focused exclusively on Beer and Fish. Hopefully it will be exclusively Fancy Writing but I can't promise anything on that score. I'm definitely going to take it upscale though. Only post the best writing and photos. Quality over quantity. 18 year old biddies from Connecticut that drive daddy's Range Rover over slam pigs, as MB Pell might say. Get my own domain name. Make it respectable.

My brother, java juggernaut, Knight of the php, HTML pimp, said he can help me with all the hard stuff, like, you know, the code. I'm pretty excited about it actually. A radical new idea in the world of blogging sure to awe and impress, daze and bewilder, confuse and obfuscate. I'll be honest, it might be pure shit, but right now, in my head, it is the coolest thing I've ever thought of. Hopefully it will happen in the next month or so.

But in the meantime...we drank a bunch of hoppy beer Wednesday over at Y-to-the-niv's house.

Courtney was making venison and trout stew for her dogs. I am not kidding.

After six hours of drinking things deteriorated quickly. The once academic conversation collapsed in a fit of political rage and flying spittle. "The president of the IMF is, in fact, the devil. He skewers African children and roasts them over dung fires on the open savanna, slurping gristle from their bones, smearing his lava countenance with the fat of their millet fed bodies."

But we did manage to try some interesting beers from all over this fair nation of ours.

Mishiwaka Hop Head: this beer is from Indiana and I don't really like the labeling very much. The beer is pretty average. The palate is dominated by a harsh piney bitterness.

Hoppin' Frog IPA: I'm pretty sure this was the IPA and not the double IPA, but I could be wrong. This beer drives a rusty iron spike through my tongue with a large sledge hammer. Not a huge fan. Had it once before. Same opinion.

Founder's Pale Ale: skunky.

Ale Smith X: interesting hop character. Smooth, glassy, citrus.

Bear Republic Racer 5: a sunny, shiney Lake Tahoe fills my glass as I stand on the porch looking through fir trees. I had this beer for the first time in Lake Tahoe a couple years ago and was really quite fond of it. I still am.

New England Brewing Sea Hag IPA: this beer comes in a can. I love that. Good hop character. Big. I think pale ales from a can, e.g. Dale's Pale Ale, always taste bigger to me than they do from a bottle or a glass.

Highland Brewing's Imperial Gaelic: the truly incredible Dr. Sean O'Connell gave this very rare beer to me last Spring. This is Highland's anniversary beer. It was bottled in one liter swing top bottles. It's a big beer at 8.7% abv. Best nose ever? Warm, whole grain bread delivered in a basket made of fresh hop bines. Big barleywine-esque palate that is extremely malty and sweet up front but finishes abruptly with a strong hop bitterness. Excellent.

Moylan's Hopsicle Imperial Ale: what a stupid name. A skinny ice dancer falls. Her skate lacerates her tongue. She has a huge bruise on her ass.

Two Brother's Hop Juice: not a great name. Mellow compared with the others. Malty with a pleasant hop flavor. I like Two Brothers.

Founder's Devil Dancer: offensively hoppy. Talk about lacerating. But this beer comes prepackaged with a goopy salve that one can apply to the salty fire. However, take heed of the goop. It will suffocate you.

Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree IPA: I had this beer a couple years ago and loved it. I still love it. A malty mountain climbed with fresh hops in hand, spilling, crushed underfoot releasing pleasant resins.

Lagunitas Sneak Release Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale: what a stupid name. Good beer.

The beers. Click for bigger.

Other beers.

Yaniv with a glass from his new favorite brewery.

Chris with broom.

Rockit's Famous Pizza.

Phil discussing politics in his typically calm manner.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I feeshed for 11.5 hours today

chapter 1: bh = p

I realized something of great phonic importance this evening as I struggled to stay awake on my drive home from Brookville. I realized that if you pronounce the 'h' in 'Bhudda', it sounds like you're saying pooda. Of course then I realized that you don't spell the name of the Buddha 'bhudda'.

This thing of great phonic importance was on my mind because Ben, one of my now slightly less-new housemates (story at 6!), who you may remember from such classic posts as "the friday ramble" and "halloween 2006"! introduced me to a singer/songwriter by the name of Mason Jennings. I really like Mason Jennings. Another activity that kept me awake on the drive was thinking about all the people he reminds me of: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, a little bit of Jack Johnson for the kids, G-Love, and I swear to god Matthew Mcconaughey. But I also think Mason Jennings has his own style and it's hard to describe, but his melodies are particularly distinct, lots of small steps. Great melodies. And the way he blends the fantastic and metaphorical with mundane, modern life, e.g. "I went in to twelve bookstores looking for Ulysses, Motherwell led me to believe all my questions would be answered, Now i have it here sitting on the table, Another word for the universe, Loose green tea and a bonsai tree, an underground apartment, Check my e-mail and wash my clothes while my rice is cooking, Oh jesus christ, how I hate making phonecalls". Good stuff.

Chapter 2: we're on the watch list

Had a big party on Friday night. Good times, good times. I got very drunk and was quite "jolly", according to Grant, my other new housemate (story at 6!), that you may remember from such classic posts as "NYC Mayhem" and "holy shit I'm a slacker and my understanding of Indianapolis is still fucking iron clad bitches". And that's not all! For the same low, low price you can also read about Grant The Other New Housemate in that new new goodie mob "native brown trout and bovey tracy too!"!

Well, the cops came at 12:15am and issued myself and the housemates (story at 6!) $50 tickets and about half the party left. Which is actually a good thing because they wouldn't have all fit in the house. Cracking down. First weekend. Cops were younger than me. Everytime they have to come back this year the fine increases. $100 the first time. Up to $1000 fucking dollars. What a scam.

But I'm not going to rant about this mistreatment here despite the myriad ways injustice was served. People at the party voluntarily took up a collection and we have enough money to pay all the tickets. Which is pretty freaking cool. Good people here in Bloomington. Good people. Someone also put a blunt in the collection jar. Feels funny to type 'blunt' so bluntly. Get it? That's ambiguity kids. And use/mention distinction all in the same sentence. It will be on the first exam. Study hard.

Chapter 3: it could be worse, at least I'm not a Michigan fan

Suffice it to say that watching Michigan football at the bar with [EDITED] is a risky proposition, particularly when they lose. Particularly when they lose to Appalachian State. He was three or four shots of Wild Turkey deep at half time and by the fourth quarter was berating a fellow Michigan fan at the next table for not "believing hard enough," slurrily threatening to "stab him in the heart with this fucking knife" (holding butter knife in air, making stabbing motion). Needless to say I got the hell out of dodge as soon as the clock ticked down to 0:00. No reason to get involved with what would surely be an ugly scene.

Chapter 4: southern Indiana sunrise, fly fishing in the heart of America

Left for Brookville today at 6:00am and watched the sunrise over cornfields in the glorious very early fall weather. A swollen blood orange fresh squeezed rich fuzzy velvet red juices dripping and bleeding onto the horizon as the half-crispy tall corn stalks stood guard by the highway for miles (I also came up with this last sentence on the drive to stay awake).

The Tricos were hatching, the hoppers were hopping and the tailwater called my name with its sweet siren song from across the state: "come waste a day with me Matthew, we know you're addicted to fishing". Indeed.

I caught somewheres around 10 fish which isn't so good for 11.5 hours of fishing, but I did take an hour break for a turkey sandwich and carrots. But still, the fishing was slow. The water is extremely low and the fish are extremely selective. They were feeding voraciously all day long but only occasionally deigned to sip my offerings. The Tricos were coming off but they didn't want the females I tied. Perhaps they were too big? #18 and #20 were probably too big. Perhaps the parachute style wasn't right? The tails were probably too long. So many variables. I tried the flat wing spinners to no success and they're just so freaking hard to see. Luckily I tied two all-black #24 flies and they liked those good enough. But fishing for good-sized browns with #24 flies and 7x tippet means two flies aren't going to last very long. And they didn't. But luckily I managed one fat pig of a brownie before I broke the second one off. The Brookville tailwater is going to hold some very large fish if things stay on track for the next few years.

I caught most of the others on #24 parachute ants (yes I'm way into tying parachute style dry flies these days, they just look cooler than the standard Catskill style) and a tiny, #28?, rainbow-sparkle midge emerger thing that a guide in Colorado gave me this summer to use in the lakes in the mountains for the Greenbacks. Only had one and broke it off as well. I also tied a bunch of Turck's Tarantulas for grasshopper imitations and broke one of them off on what seemed like a very large fish. That was early this morning and they showed no interest in that gangly, behemoth of a fly for the rest of the day. Grant was worried the Tarantula might scare the fish. Maybe that was it?

So I'm getting to the point with my fly tying where I think I'll try taking some pictures and posting them here. A new stage in the addiction? Photographing your flies? It's a slippery, slippery slope folks. Best to just stay off it altogether.

A #24 parachute ant pattern I tied. I like using just thread for the body of such a small ant and the fish seemed to like it pretty ok.

A #20 (?) female parachute Trico I tied. Tails are long.

A #6 Turck's Tarantula I tied. Spun deer hair heads look much better before you chuck around through the air, slappin' the water, etc. Now it looks like I deliberately shaped it to look like a dog's head.

The fat pig brown trout and its rippling blubber. Maybe she's full of eggs? That would rule. I hope I didn't mess that up. I'm not sure when Brown trout spawn in Indiana tailwaters. My giant paw and tree limb forearm make this trout look smaller than it really is I think. I'm just sayin. Click for bigger.

Hello little buddy.

Caught a nice rainbow which is a bit of an unlikely bonus as you're allowed to take up to five a day and most have gone the way of worm and bobber fisher dinner. Say that five times fast. Worm and bobber fisher dinner.

Ahhh trout fishing in picturesque Indiana. This is just below the dam. Obviously. Most of the river is actually bearable what with the trees and more or less natural banks. But this section is loaded with fish. Note the rise.

Now let's make some fun and easy fish art! Here's how: release fish and photograph under riffly water in full sunlight. Voila! Poppin' fresh dough! Click all for bigger.

The last one is my favorite. Make sure to check it out full size, particularly the top of the photo. It kind of blew my mind. Dude.