What’s the Connection?

So what is the connection to some of the stories I share and what my blog is about? The answer is the Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu). It’s my favorite fish to go after. I have made many trips up North to fish for these guys and so I try to share a few of the trip highlights. Be they humorous or fishing related.

Pound for pound, this fish is a great fighter and a scrappy one at that! I have read that a Neosho-strain Smallmouth Bass that is between 12 and 14 inches long could be as a old as ten years of age. As its name implies (Micropterus dolomieu velox) “Velox” in Latin means swift or rapid. Research shows that they mainly inhabit swift flowing streams and have not been known to establish themselves in lakes.

The Northern Smallmouth Bass does quite well in lakes and is highly sought after. At least in the Lower 48. I’ve encountered numerous Canadians that consider it a trash fish and much prefer catching walleye or even crappie. To each their own!

I don’t mind catching either to be honest. I tend to over-glorify the smallmouth bass and definitely place it on a pedestal. Even to the point where I don’t keep them, instead, releasing them immediately.

When I’m up North I tend to target the Smallies almost exclusively. Sure I’ll keep a walleye if the opportunity presents itself, but the Smallies go back. A long time ago I read something about how old a trophy Smallmouth would be…(if I recall correctly) it was around the 15-20 year mark! To me that’s incredible…but I’m not a Fish Biologist. Knowing how many other toothy fish are swimming in the same lakes…living to that age says a lot!

And that’s yet another reason why I have such respect and reverence for the Smallmouth. In my mind, it is a worthy opponent that deserves my best efforts. And I’m grateful for each and every one I catch…dink OR donkey! Thanks for reading.

One Of The Best Men I’ve Ever Known…

My friend Dennis is a humble guy with a big heart and more patience than the law allows. He’s older than me, old enough to be my father in fact, but we’ve had a pile of adventures together. I’m truly blessed to know him and consider him a true friend. By his definition…”a true friend is someone you call for bail money in the middle of the night, a true friend asks ‘how much’ NOT ‘what did you do’?” He has a way with words that makes a guy think.

I was in the middle of a divorce and whining about how I never drank, didn’t do drugs, went to work everyday etc. And BAM! He dropped a wisdom bomb on me…he said, “those are things you’re supposed to do, you don’t get extra credit for THAT!” So true.

When it comes to politics we are diametrically opposed. And boy have we had some humdingers for arguments! But no matter what, I respect him and we end up realizing (somewhere in the political middle) that we’re really not that far apart.

I count my true friends on one hand…people I would take a bullet for…he’s one of them. Maybe in some weird way its a “Fishing Mafia” and since I’ll take a bullet for you…that extends to your whole family. Weird I know. But that’s how it is.

He and I have paddled all over the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) and had a blast during all of it. He was right next to me when I was handed a whiskey bottle and “you betcha” he took a long pull too.

I have no idea what he saw in me and it was fate that brought us into contact. But I count my lucky stars. He has a way of reading people better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

How he put up with my youthful arrogance I’ll never know. He wanted to take everyone to the Boundary Waters. I wanted to seal it off and only allow certain people in. I was one of them of course. Youth! He didn’t understand the depth of my reverence for the area. It was hallowed ground to me and I only wanted to share it with like-minded people. It wasn’t a trip to Disneyland like most people acted…I thought it was akin to visiting one of the Great Cathedrals and demanded they show respect.

Over the decades that we’ve been friends he has begun to understand my thought process on the subject. And for that matter I’ve accepted his position as well. I’ve taken all four of my kids and my wife up there so they could get a glimpse of the splendor and quite possibly a peek into how I think and operate.

Dennis and I had talked about a trip together, just the two of us for 20 some odd years. We finally pulled it off and it was amazing. One of the all-time best trips ever. We boated in, set up a base camp and explored new waters for the first time. No schedule, no itinerary…just an actual vacation. We finally felt that we didn’t have to “earn it” by only paddling our way in.

There is not another soul that I would hunker down with in the woods. A storm so fierce that it flooded our camp and forced us to seek shelter under the tree canopy. Cold rain water pouring down my spine from a defective rain jacket…laughing like mad men and passing a whiskey bottle back and forth among the lightning and thunder claps, and daring the storm to get worse!

Good Times with True Friends!

A Day in the Life of a “Guide”

I hope you dear readers don’t mind me sharing these memories. It’s the middle of winter and I’m stuck waiting for warmer weather and the fishing to kick off. So as I sit here sipping my coffee, I’m throwing some filler material into my blog.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not “Guide Material” but on this particular trip that’s what they called me. Turns out I was more of a “Navigator/Sheep Herder.”

Day One started out normal. I was co-leading a youth group from a Lutheran Church on their first “epic adventure.” (Red Flag #1.)

As usual it took forever to get everyone off the portage and onto the water heading in the right direction. (I will speed this week up as fast as possible to keep from boring you to death.) End of Day One was uneventful and we made the 13.5 mile paddle to our first campsite.

Day Two started off in question. The kid in charge of navigation (Red Flag #2) informed us that he had forgotten the maps back in the van. Yeehaw! I must interject here that this was a co-ed crew and as such it had a Female Leader. You want to see a city person go off the deep end? Tell them we don’t have maps and we’re deep in the Wilderness. They absolutely lose it. My buddy, being the stoic he was…looked at her and said, “you wanted an adventure!”

Fortunately, I have a good memory and had a decent idea where we needed to go. So off we went.

I was doing “my thing” and we were heading where we needed to go. With all the muttering and second-guessing going on from the back of the group, I knew it was going to be a long day. And boy was it! After 8 hours of solid paddling we slipped through a shortcut that I remembered and tried to enter out onto the main body of water. Nothing doing. The wind was absolutely howling! The waves were huge. I paddled over to the co-leaders and said we need to find a campsite and sit this out. Nothing doing. They were hell bent on getting to the campsite that was on their itinerary. I cajoled them, I consoled them to no avail. (Red Flag #3)

I gathered up my flock and ordered everyone to cinch up their PFD’s and get off of their seats and onto their knees. I told them to buddy up, paddle hard and keep the bow pointed into the wind. Also, if they tipped, they needed to hang onto the canoe and let the wind push them to a shore and that I wouldn’t be able to get to them before the wind blew them out of reach. It was white-knuckle time!

The waves were so big that when I looked over to my buddy canoe they would drop out of sight after they crested a wave. What should have taken 25 minutes to cross ended up taking 3 hours. But we made it! I fixed dinner that night and made sure everyone was taken care of. I huddled with the co-leaders and voiced my displeasure at their decision. I ordered a rest day as these kids were done for and needed time. Not one single argument was presented. We had covered 26 miles of water from 0600-2115. Helluva day in anyone’s book.

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully until the last day. The weather changed big time. The temps were dropping and the rain was coming down. We were miserable. The only obstacle confronting us was the last portage. A half-miler uphill and it always turned into a muck-fest when it rained.

The kids shouldered their packs and paddles and headed up to the parking lot and the waiting van. I ended up making that round trip 3 times. Once with my gear and twice carrying canoes. My friend and I were whooped.

The rain intensified and I was struggling to get the canoes onto the van and strapped down. It’s really frustrating being cold and soaking wet trying to stow gear and lash everything down while 12 sets of eyes are staring at you from inside the warm, dry van. But it had to be done and we completed the task.

Then, from the distance I hear a voice shouting at me (Red Flag #4-or so I thought!) Standing 50 yards away was an older gentleman who was getting ready to begin his trip into the Wilderness. He and his crew had been watching us struggle to button everything up and finish our trip. He took one look at me and the van, which said “something something Lutheran Church” and asked my friend and I “are you boys Christians?” (SideNote: my teeth are chattering and I’m drenched to the bone. Picture the proverbial Drowned Rat!) I’m not going to lie…I was mad as a hornet at the lack of help from our own crew. I looked that man dead in the eye and said “not today!” He smiled at me and from behind his back pulled a big bottle of Hudson’s Bay Whiskey out and handed it to me. You betcha I took a long pull on it! I thanked the gentleman profusely and wished him well on his adventure. Finally glad to feel warm again, I headed back to the van to begin the long ride home. My friend and I agreed to down-grade it to a Pink Flag!

For the rest of you…be careful what you wish for and safe paddles!

Right or Left?

Let’s get this out of the way right now. All rights to this advert belong to Redington. I pulled it off the web and I must say…it’s the best damn advert I’ve ever seen! As a “tip of the hat” to them…I bought some Redington gear.

So anyway, back to the debate. Right or Left? And I’m referring to reel retrieval and whether its correct to reel with the left hand. According to my Dad “I’m doing it wrong.” According to another fishing buddy…”looks like you’ve got polio or sumthin.”

So what’s the big deal? ALL of my spinning reels are set up to be left-handed. (NOTE: the above mentioned experts have their spinning reels set up just like mine) The problem comes when I pull out my baitcasters, they’re left-handers. Talk about turning heads!

To me it makes complete sense! I cast with my right arm and retrieve with my left hand. Simple enough. But that’s NOT how you do it! What you HAVE to do is cast with your right arm, switch the rod to your left hand and reel with your right hand. To me it’s inefficient. Why add an extra step to the process???

In truth I believe it boils down to Day One. How you’re taught with what’s handed to you. It’s part of the human genome to “figure it out and make it work.” ME? I just bought a left-handed reel and started casting. My Dad never realized that the Zebco 33 he bought me was a LEFTY! I was completely dumbfounded and uncoordinated when he handed me anything else. If you want to demonstrate a bird’s nest, just hand me a right-handed baitcaster. But hey…I could troll with the best of them.

So…I’m more efficient by eliminating a step, just as accurate, just as capable of catching fish and as a bonus…nobody asks to borrow my rod! Who’s doing it wrong???

Don’t Ever Tell Me I Can’t Do Something..

It’s April 1998 and I’m rapidly losing my ability to walk. Sciatica is killing me…pain in my back is excruciating. I was 27 years old and had recently passed my 6 months probationary period at a new job. I was left with 2 choices…put a gun to my head or go see a doctor.

The X-ray and MRI showed my back was broken in two places. I was involved in a head-on car wreck 2 years earlier, Valentines Day 1996. I just didn’t know it.

The damage was so bad that my Orthopedic surgeon pulled out his flip phone and called my insurance company direct. Surgery was the ONLY option. I remember him putting his hand over the phone and asking me if I needed time to think about it or if I was OK with surgery. This was a Wednesday. I said I was fine with the surgery (desperate for relief). I was on the operating table that Friday morning.

It was a 7 and a half hour surgery, everything a Neurosurgeon and Orthopedic surgeon could do to a lower back…they did! It took 29 staples to close up that 7.5 inch incision, the end result being that it looked like a zipper! I was classified as a 1 percenter. After I had healed from the initial surgery, the doctors said there wasn’t much in the way of physical therapy for it. They started listing off things I’d never be able to do again.

At moments like that a person has 2 choices…go with the flow or swim upstream. I mentally started swimming for the “spawning grounds!” If you’ve ever seen salmon trying to surmount a waterfall, you’ll understand. That’s what it seems like…an insurmountable obstacle. I started pushing myself HARD.

One year after the operation and I was back to playing soccer, rock climbing, backpacking and fishing. I was able to portage my beloved canoe again deep in the Wilderness (and a good fishing buddy put a handicap sticker on my canoe…lol). Six lag bolts and two rods gave me my life back. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Never tell me I’m done!!! I’ll tell YOU when I’m finished.

23 years later and I’m still going….

I Thought I Wanted to be a Fishing Guide

After my first fishing trip up North, I thought I “might” want to be a fishing guide. In my mind it was my dream job. On several occasions throughout the years I have been offered guiding positions with several outfitters. Believe me, it was tempting. I truly felt honored by their offers, but the timing was never right.

But the “timing issue” was a cop out. In reality, I just couldn’t stomach being around people who truly didn’t belong there, in what I considered God’s Country. They belonged in a National Park setting or KOA…not deep Wilderness. Ask anyone who has fished with me a full day and they’ll tell you that I don’t say much. I don’t suffer fools very well either. If you talk the talk then you’d better walk the walk.

I’ve seen a grown man throw a hissy fit because they didn’t have enough milk for their cereal. Nevermind that we’re 60 miles from anywhere. I’ve seen grown men sit in a chair for a week reading the same Wall Street Journal and drinking themselves into oblivion when they professed to be hardcore fisherman.

In 25+ trips up North, I’ve had the pleasure to fish with four REAL fishermen(women). They fished hard, all day long. They didn’t complain, they did what needed to be done and we had great days on the water. We bonded around the evening campfire by reliving the day’s events. Those folks passed muster! And to be clear, I made it known to any and all that went with us what was expected of them and what the conditions were like. Zero Lodges, Zero Room Service. Everyone had a job to do.

Our trips were Spartan affairs. We roughed it and earned every fish we caught. We portaged and paddled everywhere we went as if we had to pay our dues and show respect to the Fishing Gods. Those three gentleman and one lady earned my respect and gratitude. They earned every bit of those adventures. (In fact, I married that lady!)

So it boils down to people skills! I’m a loner by nature and changing diapers and wiping noses isn’t something I’m willing to do for an adult. Not happening. My initial thoughts of becoming a Fishing Guide were doomed to failure from the start. I’m just not Guide material. And realizing that was a good thing. And I’m sure it was a good thing for everyone else to. My passion for fishing is still intact and never became a job I hated.

The “Nutter Express”

As I mentioned previously…if you fish with me you’ll be laughing!

So there I was! I’m tired, flat worn out. But I have 4 miles of downstream travel to get back to the car. It sounds simple enough but in reality there’s a lot of wading involved and walking on gravel all day takes a toll on you.

As we started the slog back to the car in the afternoon heat and blazing sun we were not looking forward to it. But something had caught my eye on the way upstream. An idea began to hatch and a plan developed. Around the bend in a log jam was an air mattress I spotted earlier. Hmm, is it possible?

Now I want you to picture this in your mind. An air mattress, not just any air mattress I might add. This thing was HIDEOUS! It was pink…HOT PINK. And to top it off, it had something akin to fake diamonds glued to it. The Horror of it all.

But as I said before…I was tired! So what does any self-respecting fisherman do? (HINT: they walk on by and keep going)…but me? You guessed it! I fished it out of the log jam, cleaned the mud and slime off of it and headed to the water’s edge. Believe it or not, this little beauty was still full of air and floated gracefully…not with me on it, but still, I had a hare-brained idea that sounded perfectly feasible. To this day I still blame the heat!

To my credit (and my wife’s chagrin!) I floated (sort of) almost all the way back to the takeout. It was a race by the way, I’m sure the wife was trying to put distance between the “nut job” floating down the river on a pink air mattress and hoping nobody put two and two together.

But do not worry! We passed nary a soul on the way down and because I’m a “macho kind of guy” I pulled up short before the river bent around a wide sweeping turn. Out of sight, I secretively stashed my trusty craft and casually walked the rest of the way to the car…much to the relief of the wife. All’s well that… ahem…has no witnesses. Fish On!

Thanks Dad!

Maybe it’s COVID, maybe it is because it’s the middle of winter and I’m chomping at the bit to go fishing…I’m not sure. But I find myself deep in contemplation lately, reminiscing if you will.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my Dad. He was the driving force who got me into fishing…whether I liked it or not. In some ways I think he just needed a “first mate” to handle all of the little things on the boat that needed doing. But in other ways I could tell he enjoyed it tremendously and wanted to open up that world to me. I’m glad he did.

I remember the hours of casting practice in the front yard. Casting a hookless plug into a 5 gallon bucket until I could do it 10 times in a row. No mean feat when using a Zebco 33 on a limp noodle rod. I remember being woken up at 3am and handed a cold glass of milk and told to drink it. Standing like a zombie in the kitchen making cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches for the day. That’s ALL we ate while fishing. Throw in a Mason jar of iced tea and one of water and we were on our way.

I remember my Dad up front in the boat, casting away with his brand new Shimano Calcutta while I’m in the back with a squeaky 33 performing surgery on it just to keep it running, hoping one day for an upgrade to something better. The Oklahoma heat was so bad that it would melt whatever glue they attached the rubber grip to the rod with. Sometimes I really thought about just casting it over the side and being done with it once and for all. Maybe then I could get an upgrade.

I remember swearing in front of my father for the first time. I had hooked a monster bass off of a rocky point and it was too much for me to handle. I handed him the rod and the beast spit the hook. That swear word is still echoing across the lake. And I knew I was DEAD! Nope, he said “that was a really nice fish”, ignored my faux pas, and went straight back to fishing. That was my Dad at his finest…all business. Years later on a trip to Canada, we were sitting around the fire late in the evening and that moment came up. He professed such deep sorrow for losing that fish…he had carried that guilt for decades. A good man right there.

We fished together for years and I loved every minute of it. Wish we could still fish together in fact. But he lives in Canada and I’m here in Oklahoma. Age has taken his ability to fish but his mind is sharp as ever. Life happens.

Anyway, I’ll raise my glass and thank him…Love You Pop!

The Dichotomy of Fishing…

di-chot-o-my —n. A division into two contrasting things or parts.

That pretty much sums up fishing!

We go fishing to relax yet end up working our tails off. We go fishing to catch a bunch only to end up getting skunked. We gear up to go catch a trophy and only catch dinks. We praise the Heaven’s when we catch a stump donkey yet turn right around and curse Creation when a tail-walker spits the hook. THAT’S the reality of fishing…period.

I think the only way we balance “the equation” is by holding onto our sense of humor. If you fish with me you’ll hear a lot of laughter…and cursing…but mostly laughter. If we look at the difference between brain sizes of fish compared to humans it truly is comical. But how many times has “pea brain” handed you your ego? So laugh…its OK to laugh. It sure beats crying! Or getting the dreaded “middle fin!”

I go fishing with ZERO expectations. I just roll with it and see what things look like at the end of the day. It makes things a lot easier on me. Try it

An Ode to Frank.

Back in the early 90’s I had completed my military service and had enrolled in college. I was working 3 part-time jobs trying to keep my head above water. One of the jobs was working in the fishing department of a local outdoor store. The Manager of that department was a man named Frank. The guy was a Fisherman’s fisherman! He was the consummate angler we all wished we were like. His entire life revolved around fishing.

Frank never wore nice clothes…ever. Half the time I think he lived out of his car…which was a rolling tackle box. He was a man of few words but knew his craft. The sacrifices he made were enormous and few people understood him at all. I don’t think he ever pondered the meaning of life while sitting around a fire chatting with friends. Rather, I think he sat on a river bank all night by himself only thinking about fishing.

Frank taught me a lot. And I mean A LOT. He sold me my first “good” rods and reels ( the Shimano TX spinning reels and matching rods) if that says anything. I was on a tight budget and so was he. He knew exactly what it took to get the job done. I still have those reels in my display case.

When you’re trying to get established in life and move up in the world, its easy to dismiss people like Frank. Most people did, they thought he was odd, and he was in a way. He always wore a smirk…I think he knew what everyone else was missing and was OK with that. Looking back after all these years…I think he was a genius! For those who like to fish as much as I do, I sometimes lament the path I took which required way too much work and not enough fishing time. Frank lived the dream, or at least his dream.

Frank will probably never see this blog post. But if he does I’d like to tell him Thank You and I hope you are doing well and still living the dream!

The Wife is Frustrated…

I’m not sure that I should be writing this, in fact, I tried to get her to do a guest post but she declined.

Her frustrations revolve around the availability of fishing goods and apparel specifically for women. Or should I say, “mature women.” She’s not a fan of “pink it and shrink it” that so many gear manufacturers do. It comes across as a lame and half-hearted attempt to appease women. She is technically proficient at fishing. She KNOWS what she’s doing and KNOWS what she wants when it comes to gear and apparel.

She has class, poise and grace! That usually comes with age. “Booty shorts” and “low cut tops” are not her thing. She wants form and function…NOT FASHION. She completely understands the economics of fishing. She knows that the majority of humans live along a coastline. She “gets” it! Pink, Yellow, Turquoise etc etc do not blend in to the areas we fish. Muted, soft, earth tones do. That’s what she wants…that’s what she can’t really find.

Make no mistake about it…she has a discerning eye and knows what she likes. She’s not a fan of wearing Men’s stuff as it doesn’t really fit. (NOTE: Me…waders are not sexy, never have been, never will be.)

Admittedly, some manufacturers are getting the picture and starting to take women seriously. All I can say is…ABOUT TIME. I’d bet a paycheck that there are women out there just like my wife…wanting quality gear for mature women and not having to buy it at the “Victoria’s Secret Women’s Fishing Department!” End of Proxy Rant.

This blog post approved by Mrs. Velox Seeker….. : )

I am a Lucky Man!

Why do I say that? Because I am married to a beautiful woman who loves fishing as much as I do! We plan trips together, research gear together and shop for gear together. I admit…it’s kind of weird buying two of everything, but hey, it’s worth it.

The trust level we have in each other is amazing. When I wander around the next bend leaving her behind, she knows I’ll either return or will be waiting for her. Usually I’ll scout out a riffle or pool, make a cast or two and wait for her so she gets a shot. If there is a tricky river crossing she knows I’ll stop and help her across. Her comfort level at stream crossings isn’t the same as mine.

Above all, she is patient with me. I am not a great teacher and she knows that. She also knows how to ask the right questions to get the answers she needs. Many times I stop just to watch HER fish. Offer up words of encouragement or pointing out prime spots for her to cast to. And for the record…she caught the biggest Velox I have ever seen (a little over the 3lb mark-a real trophy for these waters). The smile on her face was worth more to me than the fish! Needless to say, there’s a framed picture of the moment hanging on the wall.

Imagine fishing several miles of river…just two people who deeply love each other, not another soul within miles, in-tune with each other, laughing together, immersed in the moment and focused on each other and knowing that nothing else matters at that point in time.

So yes…I consider myself a lucky man.