Friday, November 30, 2007

Paying the Piper

For every long, hot, and sunny summer day in Alaska, there is an equally short, cold, and dark winter day.

These days are rapidly upon us, with this weekend bringing the threat of single-digit cold, and the daylight hours waning to just about 6 hours per day.

This is the price you pay for living in WonderLand. You get your fixes from May to mid-October, then quit cold-turkey for six mind-numbing, DT-shaking months.

Remember these idyllic scenes?

Replaced by this.

This must be what jail is like. You can see it, you know it is out see media with folks doing what you used to do, back when you were free. You spend the day trying not to come unglued, and at night when your head hits the pillow, your full-color surround-sound movie plays over and over in your brain, lulling you into a reasonable facsimile of sleep.

What keeps us going? Knowing that in 152 days, we will once again be among friends.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

RoadFood, Vol. I


It can make or break a trip. Be it Burritos, 'Slawdogs, Ribs, Cheeseburgers and Fries, a Club Sandwich, or even an AM/PM MurderBurger, it can provide just the right touch to an epic roadtrip, or turn out to be the straw that broke the camel's back on a bad one.

When we were much younger, the whole family would pack it up to Eastern Washington's Yakima Valley for opening day of bird season. From the earliest time we could remember, to the last time we went with the family, there was one constant: Rossow's U-Tote-Em burgers in Ellensburg.

We have generally hazy memories of most of the hunting trips, but there are moments and memories of distinct clarity which, not suprisingly, have to do with the yearly stop at the U-Tote-Em. Sitting in the back of the station wagon noshin' on a humongous cheeseburger, trying to keep the dogs from gettin' in your food, throwin' fries our brothers, then messin' around in the little creek out back of the place...these things come into fine focus from the blur of many years, many trips.

Disregarding the "You Can't go Back..." saying, we returned recently to this burger wonderland of our youth. Still going strong, still frequented by the fragments of our family as they pass by singly and in formation, and still serving up a mean bacon cheeseburger, Rossow's is the very essence of RoadFood as it relates to the sporting adventure.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Things that make us go Hmmm, Installment #7

"...Hey, Bob."

"What, Larry?"

"Aren't these wires s'posed to be easier to string up?"

"Whaddya mean?"

"Well, I been winchin' for all she's worth, and it seems like sumpin's not right..."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Good Eatin' Day.

Like most folks, We here at Neil Creek have our holiday traditions, inherited mostly from our parents and the old, funny-smelling folks from our distant past. As y'all might already know, we ain't too big on most traditions, especially if they have to do with fishing or thinking...but sometimes, tradition is good. It keeps you in touch with an identity, a place you come from, and folks that did a whole lot so that you could be around to enjoy it all.

Gramps loved oysters, and every year on Turkey Day he had oyster dressing. It wasn't necessarily a hit, but by god he was gonna have it, no two ways about it. Over the years, we grew to appreciate the taste for the older-style touches in the recipe, and it is now a Neil Creek staple on the day of thanks.

We ain't gonna insult your intelligence by giving you step-by-step instructions. Assuming you weren't raised by wolves, are mostly bipedal, and can hold down a steady job at least 6 months of the year, you can probably figure out how to put together a dressing recipe.

1lb sourdough bread, cubed
1pt oysters with their liquor
1/4lb salt-pork
1/4lb butter
1 boiler onion
3 celery ribs
flatleaf parsley
some thyme
a little sage
salt, pepper

Thanks, Gramps.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Random RoadTrip Photos

Going through the digital archive here at the Neil Creek National Monument and Laboratory...gots some randomness that seems to be the hallmark of the digital age. You know the stuff We're talkin' about - Things you wouldn't even think of shooting if there were only 24 pics on each roll. Now, any fool with a digital camera and a 2 gig card (that'd be us) can take 1400 high-on-quality but low-on-content pics and not even waste a frame of film.

Droppings from the Neil Creek official Archiving Device.

The drive to the river went along another river...perhaps some of you have seen this place before.

The drive to the river also included a hair-raising 129 turn grade that dropped from 4000ft to 1045ft in about 9 miles.

Junior, discovering that wet wading boots are rather hard after a night in 20 degree weather.

We'd heard that there were some other turkeys that were on this river, but I think we were mistaken.

Roll on, Big River, Roll on.

Fed up with unresponsive fish, Shaky J wakes himself across a tailout. Junior watches.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chicks with Sticks vs. Geezers in Breezers

The Chicks vs Geezers game is upon us yet again...

The first year the Geezers won handily, as most of the Chicks were completely new to the concept of ice hockey while the Geezers were merely out of practice. Now entering its 4th year, the Geezers have to get their geriatric asses in gear to avoid a 1-3 all-time record.

The brainchild of Juneau artist Bill Spear, the annual game is a benefit for the Dzantik'iHeeni Middle School's "Culture Club Hockey Program", a group of kids that without patronage probably wouldn't have access to the city-owned rink. The other program it benefits is that of the "Godfathers of the Ice", Marc Scholten and John Ingalls. Scholten and Ingalls tend to the local lake ice in an almost religious manner, shoveling, flooding, providing floodlights, anything to get folks to come out and skate with them.

If you happen to be in the Juneau area on Sunday, Nov. 25th, come on down to the rink to watch some hockey. We'll be there, in our usual spot...on the Glass, left side icing line of the home team end.

Keep your stick on the ice.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Decompression Time.

9 Days.

1800 Air Miles, fortified by a bag of pretzels, a cookie, and 2 beers.

1100 Road Miles.

4 different beds.

Snow. Rain. Fog. Wind. Flooded rivers. Low rivers. Deer, Turkeys, and Lockjawed fish.

RoadTrip '07 came to its sordid conclusion this morning. 9 days, logging more continuous ass-time in a car that we have in 15 years, all to chase one more fix.

After the initial delay, things got started in the FanzMobile, tootlin' up I-5 headed to an area that we haven't seen for 18 years. As we got close to the destination, certain facts became clear:

1.This valley got waaaay more rain that was called for...
2. That rain had made it to the river, in the form of 3000+ cfs additional flow.

Oh well. Run what ya Brung, huh?

The first few holes had less than 8" of vis, so we decided to head downstream to some feeders to see if we could find a window in the dim torrent. The next stop had some promise, a little slow braid with chums zipping over the tailout, but nary a trout to be had. Figuring it was the low vis and not the absence of our finny friends, we Fired up the AK Mojo and threw some SE love at the hole... Nuffin'.

Next stop had a little more promise.

Nice feeder, good clear flow, little bucket on what used to be a gravel bar 5 hours ago. We worked it over with the Love and got a taptap on one drift, and a wicked takedown on the next. A few headshakes, a run, 2 feet of trout thrashin' on the surface...slackline.

Mustad hooks suck.

After a few more runs and one "Hey, why is my leader moving back upstream, and what is that fish jumping for?" moment, we decided to throw in the towel, beaten down by the river, getting nothing but fin from our cold-hearted lovers.

Fish: 2.
Us: Goose-egg.

The next fishing day was called off in the middle of that night's long beer session, and it was decided instead that we would sleep in, then hit a Dim Sum joint with friends and shake off the fog of weissebier and bad bar food...

Note to the Itinerant Fisherman: Fried Chicken Feet and Tripe is NOT the way to start the day. The Pork Intestine Noodles, however...those were delicious.

Day 3 involved driving more ridiculous distances, this time to a small college town to meet up with Shaky J and Junior and hatch a plan for a full-frontal assault on yet another river. After yet more beer and bad bar food, it was decided that 6 am was as good a time as any to get rollin'.

We arrived at the river a little before noon, only to hear that the rains we had been so anticipating had, in fact, come and gone. The river was "in great shape this morning", according to our cheery host, but had since fallen 200 cfs and cleared a little...

Bad Sign.

But hey...Run what ya Brung, right?

We hit the river for an optimistic session of swinging with the 2-handers, but after an hour or so, it became apparent that these fish were not in a swingin' mood. A quick dip of the fingers provided more evidence of this fact, as the water temp was rapidly falling towards the south side of the 40's. Heedless of the signs and deaf to the murmuring of the fish, we soldiered on, swinging stuff that these finny folk would probably love to eat, had they not been wearing sweaters to ward off the chill. After 3 dumb hours of huckin' the 6126 around in a 25mph breeze, we gave up and went in search of more beer, the required fuel to hatch more plans.

In the chill of the clear night, Beer was drunk, Poker was played, and plans were hatched. No more Mr. Nice Guys. Tomorrow would be the day of reckoning for the fish, and we were abandoning all pretense of the swung fly. Dredge was the philosophy, dredge and nook and cranny with lead, weighted flies, and long leaders. No fish was safe. We were going to their home, and we meant business...but first les' have another beer.

Shaky J, finding out the hard way that Beads are Legal Tender at steelhead camp. Do not lose your Beads, lest ye be required to perform acts of silliness.

If we had more sense, we should have just stayed in bed.

When it is 20 degrees outside, dawn breaks with a particularly tinny is the song of the cold, sung in shrill tones of frozen lines, iced-up guides, stiff waders, and runny noses. As we crackled our way through the frosted grass flats that led to the river we understood that this day was going to be a knock-down, drag-out affair, and the fish were going to be hard to move.

After 2 hours of numb fingers, frozen flylines, and spitting on the guides to get the icebergs out, we reached a run that HAD to have fish in it. If anywhere on this desolate, frozen wasteland of a river had fish, this slot was it. If there wasn't a fish here, it would be a soul-crushing event.

And there were. Steelhead, mindless of the high 30's water temp, were rolling in the tailout. We threw big. We threw small. Bright. Dark. Neutral. Weighted.

Nothin' but fin.

At this point, Shaky J suffered an existential meltdown and stomped off across the desert in search of fish that were interested in eating, or moving, or anything besides flaunting their finniness to us in such blatant fashion.

We followed to the next pool, but the siren song of the fish had us turning back to the soul-crusher, not willing to admit that we could be bested by some genetically aberrant hatchery beast of suspicious origins.

We let Junior fish the pool out, then started in with the focus and intensity of the tardy junkie, looking for something, anything to get the angle to the next fix. Weight was added. Flies were changed. Then we got the takedown.

After a little meet n' greet with our new friend, we parted ways. We fished the pool out with one more takedown, then went to find the Old Man, Junior, and Shaky J. J was in good spirits, after getting over his crisis with the help of a few hookups and a fish to hand. Junior and the Old Man had no fish love, but were not to be dissuaded now that they knew in their hearts that fish were to be had.

We went downstream to some new water, a riffle/drop/pool that had all the trappings of fine steelhead H2O. Shaky J and Junior opted to leave it to us, while the Old Man went in search of his own water.

We fished through the pool with some very suspicious takedowns, as if the bottom was spongy...after one particularly odd touch, a closer examination of our terminal rig revealed part of the reason: the hookpoint of the fly had broken off at the barb. A fly-switch was in order, along with a reset upstream to further investigate the "spongy rock" phenomena.

2 casts in and Takedown. Quick headshake, pull, gone. A heartbreaker under most circumstances, we chalked this one up to hubris and inattention. With the light failing, we rendezvoused with the rest of the party to swap lies, tell stories, and drink beer.


Next morning, We dropped Shaky J and Junior off upstream with a plan to meet in the middle.
We went back to our drift of folly, only to find lower, clearer, and colder water that the day before. Switching up, we stepped in with a new game plan, one that we were sure no fish could resist.

As it turns out, they couldn't... but they weren't really the right fish.

We were under the impression that all of the smolt had left the building, so it was with surprise that we set the hook on these tykes. Scrappy, they even had a 1/0 lodged in its head, but appeared no worse for the wear. Leaving the small, we soldiered on.

Riffle...pool...glide...slot...bucket...nothing. Met up with Shaky J and Junior to listen to the tragic tale of woe, one that starts with J getting a fish to hand in the first 10 minutes, and ends many fishless hours later, cold, wet, tired, and hungering for more. All manner of flies had been used, all sorts of incantations uttered, but the first hole/first fish feat was not to be duplicated.

With the clock ticking, we changed locations yet again, to what was to be the last pool of the trip. Frantic searching, the closing time upon us...and one last cast. A no-salt, this one probably got a few hundred miles away and started pinin' for the home-pool. A fitting end to the journey, both his and ours.

Just like in the epic safari stories, as we parted ways with the river, the rains began. One last furtive look over the shoulder, one fleeting thought of connections that could be missed...and then it was time to go.

Blurred memories of the long road back, mired in the mist of mentally processing all that had taken place. A new river, a new challenge. A night, a morning road out of the desert, punctuated by a somehow-quite-appropriate fog as if we were trekking out from some forbidden hinterlands... and we returned to civilization.


We know where you live, fish. We can feel you, hear you. We know what you like, and we'll be back.

Someday, we'll be back.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Update from the Road.

Day six.

Mother Nature, She hate us.

Fog delay, then flooding on the first river, then drought on the second...

If we wasn't superstitious, we would think that she was out to get us. But, looking back, we were jinxed right from the start.

Never, and we mean NEVER, start a trip on a friday. Any fisherman worth his salt will tell you that.

We didn't get skunked, be we smelled that bastard comin' downstream. Shaky J came through, and we got fish when everyone else on the river got fin. Props, J, for the 3 cast wonder this am.

Tired, road-weary, we are halfway between the Blue Mountains and the Emerald city...a bed awaits.

Pictures and backstory by monday, peeps.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ok, Let's try this again.

After an agonizing night of waiting, our flight was finally cancelled. 15 minutes after it was cancelled, the fog cleared and the airport reopened...


The one day we try to go Outside, the weather and AK Air conspire to keep us here. This must be part of a Master Plan, hatched by Bull Trout and Steelhead in Washington, intent upon saving their finny souls from the pitchfork of fire and brimstone that is our flyrod...

Then again, it could have just been the fog.

Oh well. We're tryin' again tonight. Shouldn't be a problem (knock, knock) as the weather is fairly clear, and the cries of anguished travelers have diminished from the roar of yesterday's cancellations.

The monkeywrench of a 24-hour delay has caused a wrinkle in the "Ideal Schedule", to wit: only one day of fishing on a bull trout river in WA. The next day has now been consumed as a travel day, with a stop at some as-of-yet unidentified "trout water" on the way to the dry side.

As if we didn't pack enough crap already.

As for the Steelhead portion, it seems that the beatified gaze of Lady Luck might have fallen on our motley crew. Rain is forecast to fall in the river valley for the 3 days before our trip, and no inclement weather is expected for the duration of our stay...once again, Knock, Knock.

We get our steelhead thang on in the too-short 3-week season here...the fish are big, bright, angry, and less than 10 miles from the Ocean. The fish that we are flying to are small, dark, mellow, and about 400 miles from the ocean...but they are steelhead, and that is reason enough to go chase them.

What we want.

What we will probably get...minus the proud adipose.

We just need a fish fix. Shakin' like a junkie with an overdue score, just let our plane be on time so we can feel the sweet release once more.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Later, Baiters.

If the fog ever clears, We are gonna be so outta here...

Alaska Air has a hell of a time in the fall. Almost all of its airports are at the foot of coastal ranges, where large masses of cool air meet the great warm homogenizer of weather, the sea. The result, when you mix in a little wetlands and a river or two, is a carpet of groundfog for about 2 months out of the year.

The impact? 6 cancelled flights today, and our flight changed by about 3 hours...hopefully the rising barometer will bring a north wind, and that will push some of this fog off the runway so we can get the hell out of here.

The good news is, we wangled our way to a first-class upgrade, taking advantage of the Yakutat-Cordova cancellation.

We're gonna need the free beer to settle down. We will post from borrowed laptops, on borrowed connections, with borrowed passwords when we can, but for now, we are incommunicado for the next week and some.

Road Trip '07 begins.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Kitchen Sinkin'

Whaddya do when you go to a completely new system?

When fishin' the locals, We generally don't leave the house with more than one small box, 4 different patterns, or 4 different color beads...the less crap to tote around, the better. Plus, we have the added advantage of the whole first-name-basis with our friendly neighborhood anadromous denizens, so we already know what they dig, and what they give the fin to.

Not so on this road trip.

Well, the rivers on the WetSide are pretty similar to the small coastals that we fish...just a few thousand more cfs. Those don't have us diggin' through they flyboxes like some Orvis Queen in the middle of a hexagenia hatch, hopin' that the fish won't notice that the sulphurs he has only have 2 wraps at the thorax...

We might be overthinking this a bit. 8 Different silhouettes, 3-5 color variations, topwater, midwater, rock-crushing dredgers...Big, Small, Tweeners...purple, cerise, black, olive, grey...

F'r chrissakes, they're just steelhead. And Hatchery brats, at that. B-run retards that think irrigation ditches are a pretty happenin' place to swim. How smart can they possibly be?

But if there is a smart one in the bunch, we're gonna be ready for him. We got the bases covered, Jack.

48 hours to go.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tools of Abuse

Got the quiver ready...Had it narrowed down to 4, but in a moment of weakness we borrowed Big B's sweet little 6126 and a 350 skagit.

3 more days of gear prep. We might burn out on geekstuff before then. So many lines to choose from...

Like It or Not...

...Winter is here. Officially, with more than 50 days left in Autumn's run, Winter is sort of intruding on another season. But Winter, with it's cold and snow, is the kind of butthead that will do things like that.

Today, the RedNeck Ride goes into storage. With 200+ inches of snow last year, and 200+ forecast for this year, We ain't shoveling out another boat. Ever.

Only 3 more tying days 'til RoadTrip '07...

Friday, November 2, 2007

"Flies" - Quaint, but Anachronistic.

Here at the Neil Creek labs, we manage to consume a massive yearly Tying R&D budget, probably close to or exceeding the GNP of most small Third World Countries if you exclude Canada.

One thing that the balance sheet hasn't been showing lately is a surfeit of natural materials past the standard Rabbit and Marabou. If we fished for itty-bitty fish, we might need more...well..whatever it is that tweedbags tie their itty-bitty-fish flies with. As it stands, we fish for large, ultrapredatory fish, and these fish are caught on stuff that would defy categorization if it ended up in some hapless entomologist's net.

Which begs the question...

When do we quit calling them "Flies"?

If this was buzzin' round our picnic, we might consider moving to a different landmass.

So what should the new generation of "things tied on the end of a leader attatched to a flyline" be called?

We vote for "Kittens".