Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fish to catch before I die

A couple of weeks ago, just before the end of 2009, I challenged some fishing buddies of mine to come up with a fish “wish list” under the somewhat morbid heading of “Fish I want to catch before I die.”

I’ve had such a list for a while. It has gone through various iterations, as my fishing experiences have both multiplied and improved through time. Originally, it was just a listing of species, and now it’s grown to include specific sizes, approaches and locations.

Here’s what the list currently looks like:

African Pompano – 20 lbs, plus. A beautiful, mirror-sided member of the jack family, the African pompano can be caught off the coasts of southern Florida and in the Bahamas. There’s not a specific angling challenge I’m trying for here, and not many people specifically target them (or at least I’m not aware of many people doing it). I’d just love to catch one. Lists should start simply. I like this fish. I’d like to catch it. It would make a really cool trophy painting.

Bull Trout – The bull trout is one of the more elusive of its species, mainly due to vanishing habitat and the remote locations in which to fish for it. It’s also one tough customer, viciously taking 10-inch long furry flies as well as the 12-inch-long cutthroat that just fell for your dead-drifted nymph. All of my buddies had this fish on their list too, which tells you something. If you were advertising a fish, you’d want to put the word “bull” in front of it. Bull creek chub. Bull pumpkinseed. Bull shad. I should be a fish marketer.

Chum Salmon – Conversely, not every fish sounds good with the word “chum” in front of it. Luckily, chum salmon also carry the name “dogtooth salmon” which sounds way cooler. Regardless, this fish is on the list because a. it’s a salmon, b. you have to go to Canada or Alaska to catch it, c. I like the way it looks. In its best spawning colors, it mixes burgundy, hunter green, purple, various shades of blue and silver and the big males (we’ll call them “bull chums”) sport a mouth that is pulled back in a hideous snarl filled with menacing teeth. And, it’s a salmon, which means it will fight like hell. I’ll target this one with a fly rod, and hopefully have someone nearby with a rifle ready to take on the big grizzly hiding in the woods behind me.

Dogtooth Tuna – A big tuna with big teeth. That’s pretty much why it’s on the list. It lives in an ocean far, far away … but that just adds to its allure.

Giant Trevally – There are several fish in the jack family on this list, and this one is one of the biggest and best. Brutal takes, explosive runs and toe-to-toe brawling make this one of the toughest fish, pound for pound, swimming. These guys aren’t easily (or affordably) accessible for me, but they do frequent some of the most beautiful places in the world. Ideally, I’d like to hook one on the fly while fishing in the Seychelles, but as GTs live near the Niugini bass, maybe I’ll pick one up while I’m over there.

Golden Dorado – 20 lbs. or better, fly-rod or conventional tackle. God, these are the coolest fish ever. Beautiful violence they create. Complete with a head and a set of jaws that would make any bear trap envious.

Golden Trout – Depending on who you talk to, these guys are loosely related to the golden dorado. Loosely. The dorado grow to huge sizes and have been known to rip treble hooks from crankbaits. Golden trout grow to about 12 inches long and sip wet flies from the surface film. But, it’s a stunningly-beautiful fish found in some of the most picturesque places in the U.S. Think I’ll catch me one someday.

Jack Crevalle – 30 lbs. I know these guys are just about everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico (and, in some groups, considered a trash fish), but despite countless hours of surf-fishing and off-shore adventures, I’ve yet to tag a big one. The shark-fishing guys may use them for bait, but I sure would like to catch a good one from the surf. If I ever get around to building a “man cave,” a painting of a trophy jack has to adorn one of its walls.

Muskellunge – 20 lbs. or better. I hear it takes 10,000 casts to catch a muskie, and I’ve yet to rear back for cast No. 1. While the water wolf is typically thought of as a northern fish, we’ve got them in middle and east Tennessee, as well as just north of the border in Kentucky. It would be cool to pick up a big one close to home. On the fly would be great, but I’m really drawn to the enormous, chewed-up wooden plugs with all the cool names.

Niugini Bass – The toughest fish to catch and probably the biggest “stretch” on the list. They live on the far-side of the world, in the remote jungle of Papua, New Guinea, and are a big-time test for any angler. Known to bust the guides off a rod, the niugini black bass are actually a type of snapper that has made its home in the rivers and brackish backwaters of New Guinea. They eat crabs, fish, small crocodiles and mammals. They eat freaking crocodiles! I have to catch one of these.

Peacock Bass – 15 lbs. or better, fly-rod or conventional tackle. The fish must be caught in South America (no offense southern Florida). It’s probably a result of watching too much “Hunt for Big Fish,” but the lure of chucking wood-chopper plugs into heavy-snagged Amazonian lagoons is almost hypnotic. I know I will do this someday.

Roosterfish – 20 lbs. or better. This morning in middle Tennessee, it’s snowing outside and the wind chill is 8 degrees. The thought of going to Costa Rica and casting big topwater plugs to angry roosterfish sounds like an incredible idea right now.

Permit – Size may be relative here, as I’d really like to catch a nice one on a fly rod. Rightly so, it’s considered a big challenge for a fly angler, as these fish are notoriously spooky and even more fickle than their flats buddies, the bonefish. But, I have to catch one before I assume room temperature.

Smallmouth Bass – I’ve caught plenty of smallies, and they are truly my favorite fish to catch … but I really want to catch a five-pounder from a small stream near my home. Luckily, I live right in the middle of Smallmouth Central, but a fish of this size will not be easy to find, let alone catch (“they’re that big for a reason,” a friend of mine says). It’s a quest. A quest for fun. It’ll happen, too.

Steelhead – Every fly angler who has a list, has this fish on it. Almost every gamefish has its loyalists, but few are as devoted as steelheaders. I’ve got a good friend who travels northwest every fall to target these rainbow-trout-on-the-cream-and-the-clear with the fly-rod, and he’s going to get a call from me at some point.

Striper – 30 lbs. plus. This one is coming. I live in an area that is surrounded by lakes and rivers which support this amazing fish, and I’m sure it will come in time. Ideally, I’d love to tangle with a big one on the fly, but a top-water-crushed redfin is an amazing thing to witness. For now, either approach will work for me.

Tarpon – 100 lbs. or better. I want to catch this one on the fly, preferably while being yelled at by a crusty and over-caffeinated guide who wants to catch it even more than I do.

Yellowfin Tuna – 150 lbs. or better. Just a cool, cool fish and one of the toughest fighters out there. Conventional tackle is probably a must on this one, but I don’t care. Just strap me into the harness and let me go. The pain will be worth it.

It may seem like folly, but I’m serious about this list. True, I’ll need to sell a bunch of paintings – and maybe win the lottery – in order to afford to travel to the locations that hold many of these species, but that’s all part of the fun in it.

Jimmy said it best:

Whether it’s big or small

If you have a passion at all

Just say, someday I will

What's your list look like?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking back

Each year, at the end of December, magazines, Web sites, blogs and newspapers are filled with retrospectives of the year that was. Most of these efforts focus on the dramatic events that helped shaped (at least in their editors’ eyes) the world over the previous 12 months.

My look back isn’t as dramatic (at least on the national stage), and honestly, it’s hard to remember what happened. I don’t know if it’s because I turned 40 this year, or because I’ve been so busy that everything has run together, but I’m finding it difficult to put together a list of great moments in 2009. But, here goes …

Betsy and I celebrated 10 years together in May. Neither of us could believe it’s been that long; probably because we’ve had such a great time over the past decade. Good times make the days, weeks, months and years go by awfully fast. I’m very lucky to have my wife … and I think she’s pretty fond of me too.

I remember painting several paintings of which I’m proud. My saltwater fishing buddy, Fred, got a big surprise this past spring when his wife commissioned a portrait of a huge red snapper (36 lbs) that her hubby caught on a deep-sea fishing outing several years ago. I had blast working from a couple of bad photos to recreate this reef-monster, CSI-style.

Another good friend, Anthony, landed a trophy-sized rainbow from the Missouri River in Montana during early summer, and … well, one thing led to another and I ended up painting that fish too.

After what seemed like years of planning, I finally got around to executing the long-dreamed-about painting called Seventeen. I finished it in late summer, and it’s one of my favorite paintings.

There were two big art shows (well, big for me) that I was particularly pumped to participate in during 2009. The first was Troutfest ’09, in Townsend, Tenn. As I wrote in my blog entry around that time, it was a very successful event, leading to a bunch of new customers and friends and few sales to boot. I’m really looking forward to going back in 2010 and I hope to see some familiar faces when I’m there.

The second art show, the annual Greenway Arts Festival, was supposed to take place in September on the banks of the Stones River. Before I go any further, let me note that 2009 was a really wet year. After several years of drought, things caught up in a big way as we were pounded with rain on several different occasions … including the month of September. The Stones jumped its banks, the festival site was submerged with several feet of water and the show was canceled. That was a bummer.

Speaking of bummers, two of my galleries – including my main gallery in Murfreesboro – fell victim to the rough economy. The Art House closed its doors in December, ending a five-year relationship that was an incredibly positive experience for me. James and Will Duncan helped me so much with my art and with my business, and while I’m sad to see the Art House close, I’m also happy that both of them are moving on to bigger and better things.

Earlier this week, I read on the Little Red Fly Shop’s weekly report that they were closing the shop in January. Jed, Pam and Mark were great partners for me for the past few years and I’m sure many anglers who travel to Heber Springs to fish the fertile Little Red River are sad to learn of this news.

On a more uplifting note, I got some good press in 2009. selected me as their featured artist in June, and I enjoyed over 30 days on the main page of the most visited fly-fishing Web site in the world. On a more local level, the weekly magazine The Murfreesboro Pulse did a really nice article about me in early September. I was flattered and honored by both.

Speaking of honored, it was huge personal highlight for me to be inducted into the University of Dayton Hall of Fame in February. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did, when I found out the 1989 team – the one that won the Div. III National Championship – was being inducted in November. Getting to see many of my teammates (over 60, in fact) after all of these years was an incredible thrill.

My list of friends is thankfully quite large. This list includes a group of guys known as the "Liars and Tiers," a devoted and slightly-crazy bunch who love fly-fishing as much as I do. We fish together quite often and even took two road trips to Arkansas this past year to fish the Little Red. We all caught fish, ate and drank too much, got little to no sleep, tested the patience and understanding of our wives and families ... and obviously had a great time. Special thanks to David and Mark for stepping away from their Tennessee-based guide businesses and towing their boats all the way to Heber Springs and back.

Betsy and I also added a new member to our extended family by presenting my parents with a new puppy a few months ago. Bumper, a spry and extroverted Schnoodle, spent his first weekend with his new family on the banks of the Little Red River and they’ve been inseparable since. Mom, Dad and my brother Tim absolutely live for their new best friend.

Speaking of family, I’m very fortunate to have spent several days with them over the past year … including quite a few days on the river. I always enjoy fishing with my Dad, who continues to teach me volumes about the art of fly-fishing, and any type of sibling rivalry disappears when my brother and I coordinate our efforts to dissect a section of a trout stream. Mom, while she enjoys fishing, seems to take greater enjoyment from watching all of this take place from the security of their cabin's deck overlooking the Little Red River. Just imagining this scene makes me sentimental, but it also makes me look forward to more opportunities in the coming year.

I’m sure I missed some other key events, but I’m awfully lucky to be able to look back and say that there were so many good things that happened in 2009, that I can’t remember them all. I certainly hope the same for all of you.

Happy New Year … and tight lines.