Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seize the diem!

My newest painting. It has nothing to do with this post.
But, it's my blog, and I'll do what I want.

This entire self-serving and self-deprecating blog post is born of my realization that I’m nearing middle-aged crazy and probably on the precipice of some sort of “phase.” The idea for the following diatribe hatched in the normal way, stemming from a conversation with my fishing buddies. Almost all of us are struggling with the same daily reminders of our increasing mortality, and realizing that we must seize what time we have left (and hopefully, for all of us, it’s quite a bit) to make the most of the lives with which we’re blessed.

It can be terribly depressing stuff, but like many things, it can also be just a matter of your perspective. As I’ve stated before, I’ve enjoyed some very good things in life and could argue that it’s been a very fulfilling existence … but I’m not satiated either, and want to make sure I take advantage of the opportunities – no matter how big or small – which surround me.

Life is good, but precariously short. In no particular order, life’s too short to …

  • Have sunburned feet.
  • Not have pancakes every once in awhile.
  • Not work hard.
  • Work hard everyday.
  • Spend your Sunday evenings worrying about Monday morning.
  • Not see a lunar eclipse.
  • Not see a double rainbow.
  • Not remember the most awe-inspiring sunset you’ve ever seen.
  • Not go a little nuts every once in awhile.
  • Pay so many taxes.
  • Eat peas.
  • And broccoli.
  • Watch Lonesome Dove and not cry when Gus dies.
  • Not fly-fish for tarpon.
  • Not stalk a school of permit and cast a crab fly to the lead fish.
  • Not go offshore.
  • Not fish with my Dad every time I get the chance.
  • Not call my Mom at least once a week and tell her thanks for something, anything, everything.
  • Not start and end my wife’s day by telling her how much I love her.
  • Not see a soldier and tell him/her thanks.
  • Not dream big.
  • Not fish a shad kill.
  • Not fish the spring stripe run.
  • Eat bad Chinese food.
  • Get a stomach virus.
  • Read a book you don’t really want to read.
  • Live vicariously through anyone.
  • Do math.
  • Not eat, drink and be merry.
  • Try to impress everyone.
  • Be rude.
  • Not learn how to make a good margarita.
  • Talk too much.
  • Not listen.
  • Not catch a big, angry amberjack.
  • Not go on an all-day float-trip with your buddies every once in awhile.
  • Worry about asteroids, aliens and global warming.
  • Not see the mountains.
  • Wear skinny jeans.
  • Have a favorite parking spot at work.
  • Not smoke a perfect rack of Memphis-style ribs on an old grill.
  • Drink cheap beer and crappy coffee.
  • Not to play my Fender Strat.
  • Not to have “Safety Dance” stuck in your head for a couple of days.
  • Not double-haul an articulated streamer, wrap it around a small overhanging tree branch that you didn’t see, only to watch the streamer yo-yo it’s way free, drop into the water and get inhaled by a big brown trout who watched the whole thing.
  • Not pay a ton of money to be flown into some remote stream to fish for big, stupid fish.
  • Dance in public.
  • Complain about the weather.
  • Not dance in the safety and privacy of your home. In front of your cats. And, maybe your wife, but only to make her laugh.
  • Eat something really fattening, then worry about it.
  • Not drive a truck.
  • Not walk on the beach at night.
  • Not sprint down the beach in order to cast to schools of little tunny feeding on glass minnows in ankle-deep water.
  • Not build a house.
  • Not have your favorite team eventually win it all.
  • Not toss a good spiral, make a 20-footer and groove a four-iron within two feet.
  • Not cry over losing a pet.
  • Not hear a baby laugh hysterically.
  • Not own an Orvis reel.
  • Not take a shot at getting Orvis to send you free stuff.
  • Not listen to Led Zeppelin.
  • To hear “Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay” on the radio and not whistle during the Coda.
  • Not go to a NHL Playoff game.
  • Not hire a guide once in awhile.
  • Not go to Vegas. At least once.
  • Lose your keys.
  • Drop your cell phone in the river.
  • Shart. At someone else’s house.
  • Not paint what you love.

Life’s too short not to make lists.

To end this, take the sage advice from the British philosophers Monty Python …

Some things in life are bad; they can really make you mad.

Other things just make you swear and curse.

But, when your chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble. Give a whistle!

And, things will always work out for the best, and

… always look on the bright side of life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Shad kill

As we drove across the dam, David and I craned our necks in order to get our first glimpse of the Caney Fork on this cold and miserable morning. It was 28 degrees, spitting snow and the 15-25 mph NW winds were vibrating David’s Ford truck and the drifter we towed behind it. We illegally parked on top of the dam and exited the vehicle in order to peer over the edge of the dam. Below, the Caney revealed a wonderful sight. The Corps had dialed up a couple of generators this morning, pushing an impressive flow down our favorite tailrace, and Mother Nature had cooperated by pushing schools of shad low into the lake’s water-column. The combination resulted in what’s called a “shad kill,” as large congregations of the baitfish get too close to the dam’s turbines and are “sucked” into the maelstrom of the generation. Most are killed, and those which hang on, barely do so … tending to float and twitch on the surface of the water. They’re helpless, and for the fish, birds and animals which frequent the Caney, deliciously vulnerable.

From a fly-fishing standpoint, this rare event can result in angling nirvana. It’s the southern tailwater’s answer to a western salmon-fly hatch. The river literally erupts in activity, as huge schools of predators – fowl, fur and fin – gorge themselves on protein-rich shad.

David and I got downright giddy at the sight. Dozens of seagulls circled above the fast-moving water, while several more waited on the nearby deflecting wall, perched in a Hitchcockian pose, waiting for their turn to join the fray. A few bank fishermen lobbed metal from the rip-rap, presumably targeting the large striper which can make their way all the way upstream from the Cumberland River in order to feast on shad, skipjack and trout.

If this had been spring, summer or fall, we’d be among hundreds of fishermen on the water, as the Caney has risen to impressively-high popularity in the past couple of years. Today, with heavy generation on the river chasing out any wading anglers and bone-cold wind keeping boaters from braving the elements, we were the only guys stupid enough to be out here. Dan the Shuttle Man called us idiots. That was hard to argue. We had an open spot in the boat, and I offered it to him. He said he had better things to do. Like take a nap on the couch. Eat a big lunch. Dan’s the Man.

So it was just the two of us. As we launched the drifter towards the chaos in the fast-moving water below the dam, David and I donned our life-jackets (no sense in being dead idiots) and slowly made our way to the fish. I was first up in the casting brace, and launched a white minnow fly (which also looked a heckuva lot like the shad we were seeing) near a current seam. Two strips. Fish on. A feisty skipjack crushed the fly, and then put on its usual display of tarpon leaps and head-shaking. I released it, being careful not to touch the fish, as skipjack, despite their brilliant iridescence and the spectrum of colors that reflect off their silver-scales, are slimy and smelly. Fun to catch, great to use as bait for big stripers and catfish, but it's not the fishstink you want on your hands for the rest of the day. At least not after fish No. 1.

After four more easy fish, I switched out with David and grabbed the oars while the Guide hurled a six-weight into the current. A few minutes later, we rotated again. This dance continued for the next 30 minutes, as we boated at least 30 good-sized skippies. Fun stuff, but we had trout – and maybe stripers – on our mind.

By this time, the generation had slipped by one unit, lessening the flow, but still keeping the shad kill going. As we made our way downstream, we floated shad patterns and giggled like school kids as browns and rainbows rose from the depths and smashed our offerings. The shad kill was in full force, and we had the river to ourselves, if you didn’t count the hundreds of gulls, the dozen blue herons, the murder of crows and the cats and minks prowling the shores and skies.

Fishing was excellent, and David and I kept it in glorious perspective. These types of days don’t come around too often, as shad kills are frustratingly difficult to predict. Sometimes, it just works out the way you want it to … most times, it doesn’t. Today, we were blessed, and we made the most of it, catching and releasing several trout – including a few rainbows, which were grotesquely obese as their bellies were nearly bursting with shad. I swear one 14-inch trout weighed two pounds. We joked that it was a triploid. It definitely had an eating disorder.

After the generation ceased, the shad kill did too, and our crazy fishing day was pretty much over. We still had most of the river to float, and we spent the remaining part of the day hurling obnoxiously large streamers in search of big trout and stripers. A couple-dozen browns showed up, but not many wanted to play. But, the lack of success didn’t bug us. We were as fat, dumb and happy as the chubby ‘bows we caught upstream.

As we loaded up the drifter in the increasing gloom of twilight, we didn’t say much. It was combination of exhaustion and silent satisfaction (along with frozen toes and numbed fingers). As we cruised down the interstate towards home, the truck's heater thawed our digits as we replayed the day, analyzing what went right and what went wrong. A Sam Bush CD provided the soundtrack to the discussion, which inevitably got around to “Hey, you wanna go again tomorrow?” We both knew the answer to the question, but we silently went through several scenarios which could get us out of Sunday responsibilities. In the end, responsibility reigned, and we deferred that dream to another day.

Lastly, a plug for my buddy ... If you want to get out on the Caney, the Elk or the Obey to catch middle Tennessee trout, please give David a call ( Hire him to take you fishing. You will NOT be disappointed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Baby, it's cold outside

“Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Thus spake Floyd the Barber.

Betsy and I are in the middle of building a house. It’s an endeavor that’s been in the works for nearly a decade, although the actual construction has been limited to the past seven months. We’ve been picking out everything from cabinets to paint colors to light fixtures to siding styles for weeks, while paying very close attention to the all-important bottom line. It’s been both fun and stressful, and I’m sure I’ve got a few less hairs on my head as a result of the experience. But, we’re nearing the home-stretch (pardon the pun) and should realize the fruits of our builder’s labors by the spring.

Speaking of spring, it's not here. Not by a long shot. We’ve already “enjoyed” four rounds of snow (way more than normal for middle Tennessee), with additional accumulation predicted for this week. Friends from the north probably don’t understand this, but I actually do love the snow. It’s wildly-entertaining, because in the south, even the prediction of snow makes everyone go completely insane. First, it’s the dramatic, foreboding forecasts from meteorologists, which track the impending doom with a fearful arsenal of increasingly-silly technology. This royally kicks things into gear, as droves of panicked people flock to the nearest Kroger or Publix for key foodstuffs to stave off probable starvation from being forced to stay in the house for a day-and-a-half. Well before the first flake drops from the sky, road crews blanket highways and intersections with several inches of rock-salt. Motorists, who previously rocketed through school zones while talking on cell phones, now death-grip the steering wheel in a fundamental 10-2 position, and crawl down well-brined streets at 30 mph BELOW the speed limit in order to avoid unexpected encounters with the dreaded black-ice. Lastly, if you're brave enough to turn on the TV, you'll notice that each program is permanently framed in blue, as a scrolling ticker lets us know that every school or day-care in Tennessee is closed due to the impending Ice Age.

I blame the Weather Channel for the insanity, but in the end, it’s all fun. Yes, it eventually makes a horrible mess, but a good dumping of snow brings out my inner-eight-year-old. It makes me want to build a snow-fort; to pummel passers-by with carefully-packed snowballs; to flop on top of a sled and rocket down the nearest hill or inclined-driveway; to stumble back home at the end of the day, cold and wet, with bright-red cheeks and a huge smile on my face. Southern winter-storms are frozen fountains of youth. Just make sure you wear your mittens. And, don’t eat the yellow snow.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Only the shadow knows ...

I'm reliving the same day, over and over again.