Words and Images from Ed Felker

America

Smallmouth Fun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the 4th of July I spent a few beautiful evening hours on my home stretch of the Potomac River, and had one of the most fun outings I’ve ever had here. Conditions were perfect for wading. The level was low but not too low, and the water was crystal clear. Later in the summer, the grass will take over and the water temperatures will approach bath level. The fishing can still be very good, but it’s less pleasant to be in the water when it gets that way. But for now, perfect. Although the clear water has a down side. You can see below just how well the fish can see me, the camera was completely submerged here. So I find for the most part, some longer casts have good results. There is one notable exception described later in the post.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been really wanting to entice some smallmouth to poppers and other surface flies. I know lots of people who have great success on the top. But for me — and maybe it’s technique, location or both — I only catch sunfish when I try surface flies. Of all the smallmouth I’ve caught on the fly, I’d say less than 5 percent have come on the surface. If anyone has some advice on how to entice a smallie to the surface without having a sunfish feeding frenzy, please comment here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo after several sunnies in a row I went back to my go-to fly, the peach wooly bugger from Dead Drift Flies. On my first cast I brought in this beauty, and that was just the beginning. The smallmouth bite was ON, and it was a blast. By the way, this 5-weight Hardy rod is new, and I can’t get over how much fun this rod is. It throws line like a dream, but feels like a 3-weight with a fish on. You feel every tail beat and head shake. Fun, fun, fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was the first Potomac River outing this year where I had far more smallies than panfish. I always catch some tiny smallmouth, and quite a few were what I’d consider large fish for this stretch. But most were about this size, which you smallie hunters know, is plenty big to put up a nice fight!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe nicest fish of the day, though, was the last of the day. I had waded upstream from the house a ways, and then went across the river a quarter mile or so. It was so beautiful out there, far from either bank, cool water on my legs, the sun setting upstream and fish enthusiastically biting. But, shallow or not, I like to see my feet when I’m wading, and darkness comes quickly when it comes. So I reeled up, secured the fly and admired the setting sun one more time before wading back to shore.

Along the way, now close to the bank and walking parallel with it, I passed three or four holes I fished on my way out with not much luck. I thought I saw a shadow move in the current, but didn’t have a lot of faith in my eyes at dusk. I decided to toss a fly in. I totally half-assed it, though. I never stopped walking, and didn’t even take any fly line out. I just unhooked the wooly bugger from the guide where I secured it earlier, held the rod out to the side and let the fly drop in the water. The shadow immediately slammed the fly. I pinched the fly line to the cork and set the hook, but I think the fish had already done that for me. He jumped four times under the tip of my rod — I basically had only the leader and about a foot of fly line out past the guides. What a great punctuation to a fantastic evening of fishing!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s another shot of my shadow fish. It’s hard to compose these fish shots, but some of the ‘accidents’ end up growing on me. I like this one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that was it. Another 100 feet and an ice cold beer was waiting for me. Because I am an excellent planner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you enjoy fly fishing for trout and you go all summer just waiting for cool weather to roll around again, you are missing some serious fun with your fly rod!


Happy Father’s Day

fathersdayMy kids took me hiking for Father’s Day! Okay, so my kids are orange and furry and had no say in the matter, but still…

Our friend Jason joined us for the 8+ mile loop in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia’s beautiful Madison County. I’ve done this loop in the opposite direction before, but today, thinking White Oak Canyon would get more crowded as the day went on, we went up the Canyon trail first. Then at the top of the main falls took the horse trail/fire road a couple miles where it then meets the Cedar Run trail. This brings us down the mountain and back to where we started. I’m not sure I like this direction, the White Oak is moderately steep the entire way, then the horse trail is mildly uphill but the two together combine for five uphill miles without so much as a fifty yard stretch of level ground. Then the Cedar Run trail, about three miles, is extremely steep, giving back all the elevation it took five miles to gain. So it’s a knee-jarring, foot pounding adventure coming down that way. Jason and I both decided it’s better to climb the steeper Cedar Run, get all the elevation out of the way in the first three miles, then have a pleasant five mile return trip down the horse trail and White Oak. Next time.

Every time I spend a full day with my dogs like this, I’m just so proud of them. They are well behaved, polite on the trail, and I really do enjoy their company. This was a fun hike for them because there were pools of cool, clean water to drink from and cool off in. Finn did his trademark move, lying down in the water and drinking, at every pool we encountered. On a long hike it’s a huge bonus not to have to carry drinking water for the dogs, too.

Drinking water aside, for the last three miles or so, Jason and I were singularly focused on the prospect of an ice cold beer at the end of the hike. And as you can see by the look of affection on my face, that beer was everything I imagined it would be. We stopped here at my friend’s nearby farm to bask in the glow of accomplishment and good friends — both two- and four-legged.

Thanks to Jason Louderback for these nice photos.

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Antiques that Work

IMG_0053Yesterday morning when I went to Gladhill John Deere to pick up our tractor from having some repairs done, people from the Central Maryland Antique Tractor Club were setting up for an antique tractor pull and show. So a couple friends and I returned later in the day to check it out. I love old tractors, they just appeal to me aesthetically. I like to hear them run, but I’m just as fond of them silently rusting in a field. I used to do the vintage car thing, going to shows, etc. I have seen countless cars that are beautiful but are never taken out and enjoyed. What was neat about this old tractor show was so many people really putting their prized tractors to work in the tractor pull! Here are my favorite shots from the day.

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7th Annual Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament Raises $220,000

2F3Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing utilizes fly fishing and fly tying in the rehabilitation of disabled servicemen and women in Military Hospitals, VA Medical Centers and Warrior Transition Units all across the country. Their premier fundraising event is the 2-Fly Tournament held each year at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia. The farm, dedicated as PHW’s Home Waters, is owned by PHW Chairman of the Board Douglas Dear. Douglas, who also serves as the chair of the 2-Fly committee, graciously offers the use of this special property to numerous charitable organizations throughout the year.

douglasThis year was the seventh annual event and it was a huge success by any measure. Everyone had a fantastic time, many fish were caught, and over $220,000 was raised to keep programs running across the nation. The 2-Fly has grown from humble beginnings seven years ago to a full weekend of activities. Things kick off Saturday with a casual pond bass and bluegill tournament in the afternoon, followed by a riverside cocktail party and dinner with a full program of special guests and inspiring speakers. Then the 2-Fly Tournament follows on Sunday, followed by an awards ceremony. Below are some of my favorite photos from the weekend that I hope convey a bit of the heart of this wonderful event…

A great addition to our Saturday evening festivities the last couple years has been the Virginia Patriot Guard Riders. Each year more and more patriotic motorcyclists ride in behind the colors, and it is a sight – and sound! – to behold. As for the parking violation? Well I’m certainly not going to tell them!

IMG_1106Another tradition has been great music from the Gold Top County Ramblers.

IMG_1122It was an absolutely perfect evening for an outdoor cocktail hour along the Rose River, with dinner supplied by Gentry’s Catering.

IMG_1131The founder of Project Healing Waters and a man I am proud to call a dear friend, Ed Nicholson.

IMG_1140Co-chair of the tournament (and bamboo rod maker extraordinaire) Jerry Nonnemacher worked tirelessly to pull together staff, volunteers, sponsors and other contributors to make this the smoothest running event yet.

IMG_1166Former Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler is Co-anchor of the Fox 21 27 in Morning News in Roanoke, VA. Tara has been the MC for our evening program for three years now and is a cherished friend of Project Healing Waters.

IMG_1185The only way to truly know how this program changes lives is to listen to the words of those whose lives have been directly impacted. Each year a handful of participants take the podium to share their deeply personal and sometimes painful experiences. CPT Eivind Forseth, US Army (Retired) is one of the first participants of the program. Eivind is a good friend and a powerful speaker. I know his story well, but hearing it again after not seeing him for a few years was quite emotional for me as well as the rest of the audience.

IMG_1194I met MSG John Paramore, US Army (Retired) at last year’s 2-Fly and got to spend a bit more time with him this year. His story of challenge, courage and triumph is truly inspirational.

IMG_1201After a special evening program and a silent auction that raised over $34,000 thanks to the generosity of those in attendance, and perhaps a little sleep, it was time for the Sunday tournament to begin! Ed Nicholson and Douglas Dear go over the rules.

IMG_1259I love this shot for one reason: Hats. Despite the fact that everyone has a hat in their possession, you won’t find a single hat being worn during Lisa Mei Norton’s beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. A wonderful display of shared respect and patriotism.

IMG_1270Alright, let’s get to some fishing! Thanks for hanging in this long if you have. Kiki Galvin was named PHW’s National Capital Region Volunteer of the Year this year. Here Kiki nets a nice rainbow caught by SFC Aaron Morse, US Army.

IMG_1275Long time supporter Harold Harsh oversees a drift from fellow Marine LCpl Ryan Wightman, USMC. Douglas Dear’s son Kyle built two of these ramps as an Eagle Scout project, and they help many wounded servicemen and women access water they would have difficulty reaching otherwise.

IMG_1296Guide Eric Stroup lends a helping hand to SSG (ret.) Rhonda Burleson, US Army as they try to find some nice fish.

IMG_1304Looks like they found the fish! Great job, Rhonda!

IMG_1352Look at the colors on that Rose River rainbow…

IMG_1427…as bright as the smile on the face of the man who caught it. Josh Williams, along with his wife Lisa, have become great friends of mine over the years, and I always look forward to seeing them. Josh gets a hand here from guide Phil Gay.

IMG_1429Harold Harsh lends a hand to Jessie Oliff, who came all the way from California to fish in the 2-Fly. Jessie and Josh teamed up for a third place finish in the tournament. Congratulations, Jessie!

IMG_1439SPC (ret.) Andrew Pike, US Army, who claims to have never fly fished before this week, fights one of many, many fish during the tournament under the guidance of pro guide Brian Wilson. Andrew is a great guy, I enjoyed spending some time with him and hope to see him back next year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring lunch on Sunday, PHW President Ed Nicholson asked everyone in attendance who has ever served in uniform to gather around for a special presentation. Lefty Kreh served this country with honor from 1942 to 1947 and is a combat veteran from the Battle of the Bulge. He continues his service today as a generous supporter of Project Healing Waters, selflessly giving his time and sharing his talents and knowledge with our disabled active military and veterans. Thank you Lefty, what a great American.

IMG_1478Having experts like Lefty and Ed Jaworowski on hand all day to instruct participants is an invaluable service. I watched Ed teaching casting to this group and others in a steady rain for hours, never once suggesting they take a break or wait till things cleared up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWashington Redskins safety Reed Doughty (#37) was on hand all weekend spending time with the participants, signing autographs and even catching a few trout. Reed, originally from Colorado, is a passionate fly fisherman. He’s also as friendly and down to earth as you can imagine. I’m a huge Skins fan anyway, but meeting someone you admire as a fan and finding out they’re a great person too, makes it even easier to root for them on the field.

reedYou remember Andy Pike from a few photos ago, the one who had never fly fished before? Well not only did he and his teammate SGT (ret.) Michael Davis, US Army win the Pro/Vet category of the tournament, Andy picked up this trophy for the biggest fish of the day, a 19″ rainbow. Congratulations Andy on a great tournament!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs successful as this event was, Project Healing Waters needs the support of donors and volunteers throughout the year to continue healing those who serve. Visit the PHW web site here to find out more about how you can help.


The Appalachian Trail in Virginia: Miles 1 through 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Appalachian Trail reaches from Maine to Georgia and takes 2,200 miles to do it. Like most things that go from Maine to Georgia, the historic trail passes through Virginia. Anyone who thinks Virginia isn’t a large state has never had to walk it, as 550 miles — a full 25% of the trail — falls within the Commonwealth.

At the northernmost point of that 550 mile stretch, the trail leaves the rich history of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and crosses the beautiful Shenandoah River (shown above), then slips unassuming into the Virginia mountains. I have hiked bits and pieces of the Appalachian Trail here in Virginia, but I think it would be a worthy goal to accumulate all that mileage at some point. Or at least the not insignificant portion that passes through the Shenandoah National Park (101 miles). But that’s a bit ambitious with winter and all the extra weight gained therein so close behind us, so let’s table that discussion for the time being.

This first two miles of the AT in Virginia is the beginning of one of my favorite local hikes. I like and always photograph the iconic white blaze that tells you that you’re traveling the way of countless hikers before you. Mostly day hikers like myself but plenty of through hikers too, who have done the entire 2,200 miles. I’ve run into several in my travels and they tell stories of terrifying thunderstorms in thin, summer tents, encounters with snakes and bears, and losing forty pounds along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo two miles up a hill and we let the AT go on to Georgia while we take the blue trail along the ridge to the east. This is a very well maintained but lightly traveled trail, with plenty of scenery changes along the way. Even a few spots for dog posing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two overlooks along the ridge that are worth checking out if you do this hike for the first time, but I find that I pass them by in favor of spending more time at this spot at the end of the ridge overlooking the Potomac River. This is looking downstream, toward our house (six miles maybe?). See the black object in the middle of the frame? That’s a black vulture, who shared the spot with Team Orange and I until I got too close with the camera. I snapped this just as he took off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the same spot from the other direction. You can see the Shenandoah River coming in from the left to the confluence with the Potomac, and beyond it is the town of Harpers Ferry, WV. That’s Maryland across the river from us, so three states all come together right here. For those who aren’t already familiar, that’s Team Orange, my Wirehaired Vizslas. Winnie in front, Finn in back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAComing back on the blue trail, there is a different route you can take, the orange trail. I mentioned earlier how well maintained it is, but this intersection of trails is much better marked than last time I did this hike! I’ve missed it before, but I like what they did here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe orange spur seems to be the least used of the trails I’m talking about here. Which may explain why this old, chewed up antler shed went unnoticed alongside the trail for so long! It’s actually the first antler shed I’ve ever found that wasn’t still attached to a skull, so it’s pretty special to me even if it is all chewed up.

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If you’d like to try this hike, which ends up around 6.5 miles from the parking lot just across the river from the trailhead, this map will help. And if you see Team Orange out on the trail, please say hello!


Frisky Eagles, Wary Ducks, and the First Day of Spring

IMG_0058After clumsily flushing two pairs of wood ducks from the bank of the Potomac last night, I decided to return tonight and stealthily approach with my long lens and see if I could photograph them. I love wood ducks, but have never been able to get a decent shot, and have never even had a chance at a bad shot of a male. It was harder than I thought, and I thought it would be nearly impossible. The woods along the river at our place are pretty dense, even with no leaves on the trees, so I almost had to be standing on the bank out in the open before I had a clear shot. Focusing through all those little branches is not easy.

So I slowly and quietly edged closer, still too far away for a photo when the first two exploded out of the water with a shrill, sustained warning for the other pair about thirty yards upstream. Swing and a miss. Never even raised the camera to my eye. But the other pair did not heed the warning, so I had another chance. I painstakingly moved their way, picking muddy patches to step in when I could find them, rather than the flood debris of dried and brittle sticks. But I could only get so close before they, too, had enough of my games.

I found a good vantage point out of sight in case they returned and waited. Instead of the shrill call of the wood ducks, however, I heard overhead the distinct cackle of eagles. The pair flew directly over me but I couldn’t get the camera up in time. As they landed in a high branch nearby, I tried to focus on them through the infinite maze of twigs between us. I snapped a few photos I knew would be no good and was about to hike up the hill to the house, defeated, when the cackling picked up and I took another look through the lens. What happened next, well, let’s just say there will be the pitter patter of little eagle talons around the nest in about forty days.

While I wished I was closer, or at least had a clearer path through which to shoot, I didn’t dare take a step for fear of giving away my position. So I watched, and shot, with the utmost respect and awe, at a truly remarkable natural wonder. So here are fourteen crappy pictures of bald eagles making little bald eagles, and one crappy picture of a wood duck. Maybe the best day of poor photography I’ve ever had, and a first day of spring I’ll remember for a long time. I will be watching out for the juvenile eagles this summer, soaring above, learning to fish, finding their way. They’re always wonderful to see, but this year’s babies will be most special.

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IMG_0078The best of my blurry wood duck photos, and the first male I’ve ever been able to photograph. They seem to like it here, so perhaps I’ll get a chance to do better next time.

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The Wine Kitchen Pairs with Goose Island for a Beer Dinner to Remember

I had the privilege of experiencing a wonderful beer dinner at the Wine Kitchen in Frederick, MD. Five courses, paired with five beers from Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co.

One of the advantages of a beer dinner like this is it makes you explore food and drink that you may not otherwise consider ordering. I’m quite fond of a couple of Goose Island products, but had not sampled any of the five here. And regardless of what food I was ordering, I would probably order the type of beer that’s more in my comfort zone, an IPA perhaps, with no consideration given to which beer would be best paired with which dish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese culinary creations come from gifted Chef Adam Harvey. I don’t know a lot about food and what makes things taste great together, and I thought “pairing” was something you did with wine and food. But I was highly impressed with these beer pairings put together by Chef Adam. A handful of my very favorite meals of all time have come from his kitchen, and I would certainly add this one to the list. So let me take you on a tour of my meal to remember…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst Course: Crispy oysters, with vanilla and apple soubise, toasted hazelnuts, lemon confit. Paired with: Sofie Farmhouse Ale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis course really got my attention, as immediately the lemon and vanilla flavors, the caviar and the nuts combined with the Sophie Ale just went perfectly together. I knew right away I was in for a fun meal!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASecond Course: Speck wrapped halibut, pumpernickel, pickled radish. Paired with: Matilda Pale Ale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flavor of this halibut, and the texture of the crunchy pumpernickel and pickled radish were just fantastic together, and were beautifully complemented by this truly delicious pale ale, one of my two favorite beers of the night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThird Course: Charred pork belly, romanesco, burnt brussels, dirt roasted beets. Paired with: Pepe Nero Farmhouse Ale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOh my, was this delicious, every single bite. Whatever that orange rectangle of deliciousness was on the plate was a little spicy, again all these flavors worked brilliantly with each other and with the excellent Pepe Nero.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACheese: Noble cheddar, huckleberries, coffee crumble, red ribbon sorrel. Paired with: Pere Jacques Abbey Ale. This was utterly sublime. The flavors of this wonderful cheddar and the huckleberries, with that little crunchiness of the coffee crumbles was the tastiest dish of the night. It was paired perfectly with this malty Abbey Ale, my favorite of the five beers. If the previous courses were all home runs, this was a grand slam.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADessert: Bitter chocolate mousse, yeast crumb, salted toffee. Paired with: Big John Imperial Stout. Wow. What a way to end this meal. The Big John Stout would have sufficed as a dessert on its own, with plenty of chocolate flavor and aroma, but like all the courses before it, this mousse and stout, when paired, become more than the sum of their parts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope you enjoyed the tour of this special meal! For my local readers, I simply can not recommend the Wine Kitchen strongly enough. And if you are a brunch fan, their Sunday brunch is a meal that has made my top meals of all time list more than once. Also look for these fine beers from Goose Island. Their seasonals, as well as the more widespread Honker’s Ale are delicious, but if you can get your hands on some of these Ales (the first four of these are all part of what they call their Vintage Ales), you will not be disappointed. Thanks to the Wine Kitchen and Goose Island Beer Co., and as always, my compliments to Chef Adam.

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2012: My Year in Photos

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My favorite photos from this year feature more birds than dogs, surprisingly, and more dogs than people, not surprisingly. The picture above, a wild brook trout being released into the cold, winter waters of Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park early this year, is my favorite. Holding a slippery trout in one hand while operating a DSLR with the other is a low percentage proposition. But luck is a big part of photography. At least it is in my photography. The best of the rest of 2012 are below, in no particular order.

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This misty photo of the so called Platform was one of the most popular images I shared on facebook this year. In fact, a few friends now have the print hanging in their homes, which is a great honor to me. This grownup tree fort is one of my very favorite places, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word.

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I chased this impossibly vibrant sunrise around for a half hour before work one morning, looking for an interesting foreground to silhouette against it. When I came across this tree with a group of black vultures perched in it, I hurried to get this shot as the fleeting, red was fading with each passing moment.

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The blog post that featured photos from the falconry event I attended was featured on the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ page, an incredible honor that brought many new viewers to this blog. Welcome and thank you to those who still follow from first seeing it there.

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Something about grey, snowy days make me want to capture them with the camera, but it’s challenging. I’m really going to put an effort into photographing some winter scenes this year.

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We are lucky enough to see bald eagles regularly where we live, but they are hard to get good pictures of without a zoom lens. I got lucky as I had borrowed a nice lens from a friend and had it when this eagle came around. Taken from our back yard in Virginia, that is the town of Brunswick, Maryland across the river in the background. I’m happy to report that my wife got me a 75-300 lens for Christmas! So look for more eagles and other wildlife pics in the future!

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A brown thrasher sits on her nest protected by the thorns of a lemon tree at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia.

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None of my photos are technically perfect. But sometimes they are so flawed that they become interesting in a more abstract way than was originally intended.

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Low light photography is equal parts fascinating and frustrating to me, and extremely rewarding when it works out. This is an evening shot from our place looking out over the Potomac River.

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I wrote a blog post I’m pretty proud of about the space shuttle Discovery and what it meant to be present for this historic event. You can read that post here.

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Oddly, my favorite photo from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum shows neither water, nor a boat.

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I have better pictures of ducks, and better pictures of snow. But I love the mood of this picture of ducks in snow, taken at my next door neighbor’s pond.

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Same pond, different time of year. Here a green heron is chased by a female wood duck as they both try to escape a clod without a zoom lens trying to get close enough to take their picture.

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This is one of those technically flawed, lucky shots that turned out nicely. I was unaware as I was composing the photo in the viewfinder, that the balcony rail was aligned with the line in the background where the snowy foreground meets the woods. The result is an interesting effect, I think. I’m surprised at how many of my favorite shots came on less than pleasant weather days.

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These amazing miniature donkeys are hard to photograph in the same way puppies are: They are affectionate and curious about the camera, so by the time you get down to their level, they’re in your face wondering what you’re doing and if you have any treats.

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The Virginia State Police would surely be alarmed to know how many photos I have tried to take of my dogs in the rear view mirror. This is a challenge while parked, never mind while driving. But I love this one of Finn and remember exactly the day I took it because that’s my 3-weight Scott fly rod in the rack. We were on our way to the Rapidan.

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I love this photo of Winnie, taken on a summer kayak outing. You’ve seen a cropped version of it before, it serves as the masthead image for this blog, but I thought the entire image warranted extra mention here.

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My first, hopefully of many, trip to Yellowstone National Park was a life changing event. It is an extraordinary, magical place I will never forget, and a place I will long to return to more each day until I drive through its gates again.

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Another gloomy, blue-grey day, in the woods near our house.

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Ever tried to take one picture of four dogs? It’s not easy, but I’m really happy with this one. Clockwise from top left: Finn, Petey, Monkey and Winnie.

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2012 had a few amazing lightning shows. I was lucky enough to capture this strike from our deck. The rain had stopped but the lightning continued for more than an hour, the perfect opportunity to try to capture it.

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I love this little bird, walking on his tiptoes on a sun bleached dock at St. Michael’s, Maryland.

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A bull elk bugles in Yellowstone. I had never seen elk before this day, nor heard their bugle. I was very lucky to capture this on the first day I experienced both.

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My friend Anna and I stood in the bitter cold trying to capture a meteor from the Geminid shower in December. This was one of the brightest of the night.

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Driving on a Montana highway, when we saw this amazing old car with a tree growing out of the roof, my friend Joel turned the car around so I could get some pictures of it.

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We had the privilege of attending a local Mexican Rodeo, an incredibly fun day immersed in culture, food, drink and awesome people.

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In Washington, DC for Memorial Day and the mind blowing Rolling Thunder rally, I took hundreds of photos. But I like this one best.

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Fun with dogs, fly rods and waterproof cameras. I’m fascinated by the turbulence in the water and how the camera captured it.

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Another low light image I’m pretty happy with. This was taken from our yard, my guess is probably some time in early July.

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Nature is full of surprises. Who knew butterflies looked like this close up? Not me!

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Finn and I are similar swimmers. We dog paddle, poorly, and never open our eyes under water.

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Another accidental photo I ended up liking. While fishing for smallmouth, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. I had it set on macro, so it kept trying to zoom in and focus closely. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire fish, but I love the textures of the fish and water here.

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It was hard to choose one photo from Slough Creek in Yellowstone. Simply the most beautiful place I have ever had the honor of being. We hiked in about six miles to get there, and the moment we arrived, I was sad at the thought of having to leave it later.

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Hiking with ‘Team Orange,’ my two Wirehaired Vizslas, has been a recurring joy this year. But I seldom come back from a hike with a photo of them I’m crazy about. This is an exception.

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On the same night as the meteor shower, I captured this peaceful image of a vintage tractor, quietly rusting beneath the winter sky.


We Want Dallas.

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In January of 1983, the Washington Redskins met their rival Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium for the NFC Championship game. At stake was a trip to Super Bowl XVII and the biggest notch in the rivalry belt to date. Before kickoff, fans shook the stadium with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” Washington won the game, and went on to win the Super Bowl. The next decade saw quite a bit of success for both teams, as they sustained a generally high level of play. Skins fans my age refer to that ten year span starting with the 1982 season, the Glory Days.

Since then, Washington has seen a steady and sustained decline, winning the NFC East title just once since 1991 (1999). And while the rivalry with the Cowboys lived on, it surely lost its luster after years and years of seasons ranging from mediocre to flat out failures. But through it all, through countless personnel debacles, through dozens of quarterbacks, a revolving door of coaches and no real kicker since Mark Mosely, I remained a Redskins fan. And like all Redskins fans, there is hope in the off season. Whether we would mortgage the future to pay cash for a has-been, or let Vinnie Cerrato choose draft picks like he’s playing in a low stakes fantasy football league, there was always hope. The games, after all, had not yet been played. Who’s to say what can happen? Maybe Jim Zorn will be a great coach! Maybe Albert Haynesworth will work hard! Maybe picking two tight ends with your first two draft picks will sound smart come September!

This past off season brought more than the usual dose of optimism though, with the decision to secure the 2nd pick in the draft and use it to get Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. By all accounts he was the real deal, and our future was looking bright. This, everyone was saying, is a young man you can build a team around. An unexpected surprise later round draft pick running back Alfred Morris, and the addition of rookie kicker Kai Forbath had fans thinking the future was not only bright, but that maybe the future was actually here.

When this season’s schedule came out, before RG3 ever took his first snap in practice, I saw that last game of the year — a December 30th matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at home — and thought, how great would it be if that game actually meant something. And now, thanks to a gritty team effort that has put together six straight wins, our wish is coming true. It has all come down to this: When the Skins meet the Cowboys in Washington this Sunday, the winner will come away with the NFC East crown and a trip to the playoffs.

My wife Sandy commented earlier this season as some friends and I suffered over a particularly unjust and painful Redskins loss, “I don’t know how you do it. Why do you torture yourself like that?” It’s a fine question and not an easy one to answer. But for me it comes down to Moments. High highs are not attainable without the risk of low lows. You can spend decades not caring all that much about your team, and if they come through with a big moment at the right time you will cheer and be happy. Or you can sweat and curse and pull your hair out, you can ruin your mood from Monday to Wednesday most weeks in the fall and winter. But then when the Moment comes, you own a piece of it. You’re a part of it. There are moments like this one that I will never forget. John Riggins, my favorite player of all time, rumbling 43 yards on 4th and 1 to secure the Super Bowl win and his place in history as Super Bowl MVP. That was thirty years ago and I can’t think of a Redskins Moment since then that I enjoy as much.

I love RG3, he is my favorite player since Riggo. And he will produce breathtaking moments for this team hopefully for years to come. But for there to be a truly huge moment, there needs first to be a huge stage. Well now the stage is set. The NFL saw the enormity of it all and moved the game from 1:00 pm to prime time, 8:20 pm. I will be in the stands with tens of thousands of people who will all be hoarse on Monday. The stadium will rock with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” And if we come away with a win, it will be a moment that everyone there in that stadium, with frozen toes and fading voices, will be a part of. It will be a moment we will never forget.

I heard a story of a kicker, I actually think it was a Cowboys kicker, who was struggling and had missed a couple short ones in a game. The special teams coach said on a subsequent drive, “how do you feel?” He told the coach, to be honest, he didn’t feel very confident. The kicker was fired on the spot. A player has to want the ball when the pressure’s on. And as a Skins fan, you have to want to play the Cowboys in the last game for the NFC East title. Securing a wildcard spot two weeks ago would have been nice, yeah. But sometimes you have to push all your chips to the center of the table, embrace that feeling in the pit of your stomach and ignore the pounding in your chest. Someone will go home heartbroken Sunday night. I hope it’s the Cowboys. But if it’s us, I will remember that the Moments will happen for us, that things are turning around for us and we’ll have more and more chances like this, and that maybe the Glory Days aren’t just something old guys talk about at barbecues. Maybe, just maybe, these are our new Glory Days.

We Want DALLAS!!

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My Deer Season So Far

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My deer season began about a week ago when, while hunting on my property I slipped, fell and slid on my ass down an embankment of jagged shale. The slide, which took place as I was stealthily working my way down to a well traveled deer path behind my house, took long enough for me to go through every curse word in my extensive list and part way through the list a second time. When gravity was done with me, I sat on the ground amid crumbles of shale trickling down the embankment around me, and had two immediate concerns: My rifle, and my ass. The rifle, a Winchester Model 70 I purchased after last season and had brought into the woods for the very first time, was slung over my shoulder behind me when I fell. Miraculously, it was not scratched (although the scope was scuffed pretty badly). My ass, I could tell by the excruciating, take-your-breath-away pain, was not as lucky.

I gingerly limped around the woods until dark, but there were no deer to be found. I’m sure my earlier ‘stealth’ sent any deer in the area into the next county. I tried again the next day, and the next, and was starting to feel like that nice deer wasn’t going to come this season. But I have venison recipes I want to try. I bought two extra trays for my dehydrator and ordered four new flavors of jerky seasoning. I needed a deer.

Every evening this time of year, like clockwork right before dusk, between 7 and 12 small deer enter our front paddock nearest our barn, and work their way down the hill where they graze until dark. I’ve watched them for weeks and rarely have seen a medium sized deer, let alone a large one. But I wanted meat in the freezer, so I decided to take out the biggest of the small ones. Last night I took the Model 70 to the far corner of the paddock, hid behind a pine tree and waited.

Right on schedule, they arrived. A few about the size of my dog, Finn, came first. Then some others followed. Darkness was falling, but there were a few still on the far side of the fence I couldn’t get a good look at, even through the scope. I thought one might be larger than the others, so I put the scope on her and waited till I could get a good look. I had just about decided she was the one, when I heard a truck coming down our driveway. Hay delivery. It was almost dark so I had to either take the shot, or wait for another day. I took the shot.

The hay arrived, the deer left, and after an extensive search for any sign of a hit, I determined I just plain missed. As I put the Model 70 back in the safe I looked at that scuffed scope and wondered if maybe the fall knocked it out of alignment. I would have to sight that in before I brought it out again.

This morning, I reluctantly took a backward glance in the mirror to ass-ess the damage from the other day. A shocking, dark, multi-colored bruise had taken over the entire surface of my butt cheek. And every time I sit down I am reminded of my less than successful attempts to stock my freezer with venison. So when I got home from work this evening and saw a couple good sized doe in the paddock, I went to the safe, reached past the Model 70 with the suspect scope, and grabbed my Winchester Model 94. My father’s rifle. Short and thin and heavy, this rifle feels good in my hands. I fed two 30-30 rounds into the loading gate, eased the hammer down and walked outside to the paddock. Five deer had worked their way down the hill, about 75 yards away. They saw me and heard the dogs in the yard but they see people and hear dogs all the time. They were far enough away they were not concerned with me.

Seventy five yards out, with dusk rapidly thickening, I chose the largest deer at the base of the hill. I pulled the hammer back, leveled the sights on her front shoulder, breathed, and squeezed the trigger. With a flash of orange from the end of the muzzle the shot rang out, echoed and faded. As the smoke cleared, the four non target deer bolted toward the woods beyond the fence, and my doe just stood there.

Have you seen movies where someone gets shot and stands there for a moment, before crumpling to the ground in a delayed heap? Yeah, me too. Anyway, after a few seconds, the doe, unscathed, turned to follow the others. But they don’t call it Winchester Repeating Arms for nothing. Sights still leveled on the doe, I pushed the lever forward and heard the hollow, metallic ting as the spent shell ejected and flipped end over end past my right ear. The second round slipped into the chamber as I brought the lever back and my finger found the trigger again with ease. Swinging right to left, the gun felt light and comfortable in my hands. This is a fun rifle to shoot. I squeezed the trigger again. I felt certain this shot was on target.

I didn’t have to wait for the smoke to clear this time. In the dark shadows of the treeline I saw her healthy, white tail bounding innocently through the dense brush. Three shots at two deer in two days, each bullet whistling by their target by a safe and unknown margin. My freezer remains empty, but as I wiped down the Winchester tonight I had to smile. I’ll be glad to get that scope on the bolt action Model 70 sighted in again, Lord knows my eyes need a scope. But it was fun as hell to shoot that old ’94 tonight.


Dispatches from the Potomac on Instagram

instaI’ve entered the world of Instagram and have been enjoying it! If you would like to follow me, the username is dispatches_potomac. See you out there!


The Nation’s River: A New Documentary will Examine the Potomac

Anyone who sees the title of this blog would deduce that the Potomac River is a big part of my life. Last week I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post, about the Potomac River, the Clean Water Act, and the announcement of an important documentary series focusing on the health of our nation’s rivers. Below is an excerpt from that article:

The Nation’s River (working title), from producer/director Hunter Weeks and Washington, D.C.-based producer Joe Cantwell, along with presenting sponsor Trout Headwaters, Inc., will focus on this important watershed and the challenges the Potomac has faced – and still faces. The film will also set the stage for a series of river-based films. Weeks’ last film, Where the Yellowstone Goes, a poignant portrait of the longest undammed river in the continental United States and a film I admire a great deal, will be showing November 17th at the Alexandria Film Festival. After the film, Weeks will officially announce the new project and launch the series of river-based films exploring, in the words of Trout Headwaters, Inc.’s Mike Sprague, “how important healthy rivers are to the health of our nation.”

The film, slated to begin production next spring, may surprise some who view the past 40 years of the Clean Water Act as an absolute environmental success. The balance between growth and the protection of natural resources is delicate and never-ending, and the stewards of those resources fight an uphill battle. Weeks, in his signature artful, thoughtful and compelling way, is sure to shed some interesting light on the CWA in what he calls, “The Food, Inc. of water films.” (Food, Inc. is a 2008 documentary about the food industry. It is not a flattering portrayal.)

The screening and a lovely reception sponsored by Trout Headwaters, Inc. took place on the Cherry Blossom boat docked on the Potomac.

It was a beautiful and unique venue, and the movie was well attended by close to 150 people.

Producer Joe Cantwell announces the river-based documentary series.

“I’m excited for this story on the Potomac River,” Weeks said. “This river represents our nation in so many ways, from its rich historical perspective and pure individual beauty to the ways it has fought to be cleaner during a time of massive urban growth.”

UPDATE: Where the Yellowstone Goes was awarded crowd favorite at the festival! Congratulations to all involved with the film.


Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane/Superstorm/Frankenstorm Sandy has come and gone, but all that water has to go somewhere. The Potomac reached and surpassed flood stage yesterday. It’s already on its way down, but I snapped a few photos while it was still pretty high. The gauge at Point of Rocks, Maryland was at about 17 feet when these were taken. Flood stage is 16. For perspective, during the summer and fall when I wade fish or kayak, the river is between one and two feet at that gauge.

The parking lot and boat ramp at the C&O Canal in Brunswick, MD. The boat ramp goes downhill from those parking signs and normally hits the water well past that concrete bridge abutment.

Even the local news came down to see the high water.

The view from our yard on the Virginia side. When the rains come hard, the far bank of the river gets muddy first for some reason. Different sediment over there I guess. But before long the entire thing is the color of chocolate milk. And when it gets past about ten feet, when the water reaches the woods and pulls out debris, we start to see logs floating downstream.

The Platform survived without a scratch. And some ugly broken tree limbs that have been bugging me came the rest of the way down in the storm, improving a view that was already pretty great.

This is not really related, but heading down to the river I tried to get a picture of this weed. I don’t know what it is and I know it’s not in focus, but if I lived in rattlesnake country, these things would give me a heart attack! When you brush past them, the dried seed pods rattle like an angry rattlesnake!

Again, not a great photo, it was getting dark. But the water’s supposed to be on the far side of those trees. When things recede, it will be too muddy to explore probably until the ground freezes. Then I can go back down and find what the river has brought us. Usually nothing good. Broken coolers, plastic barrels, jugs and bottles. Once she brought me a safe, which got my hopes up briefly until I turned it over and found it was open and filled with mud.

A final note about Sandy. We were so lucky with this storm to escape with just a one day power outage. So many in New Jersey and New York are going to be struggling with the devastation for a long time to come. I have the luxury of beholding the wonder of nature’s Perfect Storm from a relative distance. But I do not take it lightly. I extend my sincere condolences to those in the storm’s path who have lost family, homes, pets and businesses. There but for the grace of God…


All the Best Colors


Fall foliage, Team Orange, and the Red, White and Blue. God bless America, my home sweet home.


High Highs, Low Lows and Brothers-in-Law

I have been to some remarkable sporting events in my life. Every May for more than twenty years, chills run down my spine as the best racehorses in the world roar past me down the stretch at the Preakness, the middle jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. I have twice seen the best golfers in the world compete for the U.S. Open title. I sat courtside, first row, and watched Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. I have screamed myself hoarse at NHL and NBA playoff games. I sat in the upper, upper deck of RFK Stadium and watched the great Walter Payton almost single handedly knock my Redskins out of the playoffs in 1984, and more than two decades later with thousands of other fans I ran onto that very field after the very last Redskins game there, an epic trouncing of our rival Cowboys. And, just a few days ago, I went to the first postseason baseball game in Washington since 1933, shown above. But I’ll get back to that.

I freely admit that baseball is not my sport. I’m an NFL guy. But I’ve been to a few Nationals games here in DC and many Orioles games in Baltimore, first long ago at Memorial Stadium and then later at Camden Yards. There is a home run marker at Camden Yards, a Mickey Tettleton blast that landed right in front of me as I walked along Eutaw Street. Full beer in one hand, sausage in the other, I was powerless to think or move quickly enough to scramble for the ball, but I look for that plaque every time I’m there and smile. A connection forever to that place, to the game. But live baseball has always just been about the day, spending time with friends, being out at the park, drinking too much, eating too much and spending too much on souvenirs I don’t need. The game itself never really clicked with me. Part of that is because even though Baltimore is almost exactly equidistant to where we live than Washington is, I grew up just outside of DC, it’s my city to the extent that I have one. I am home in Washington, I am a visitor in Baltimore.

Even the Nationals games I’ve gone to, though, have lacked something. At Camden Yards I felt like I was in someone else’s city. And at Nationals Park I still felt like I was visiting someone else’s sport. But when Brian, my brother-in-law, called me the other night to see if I wanted to go with him to the game the next afternoon, I immediately told my boss I would not be making it to work.

The Nationals were never in that game, and lost 8-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals. But it was historic. And despite early signs the game would not go well, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Brian and his friends are huge Nats fans, and spending the day there with them I learned a lot about the game and this team. And the next day when I watched the players I had gotten to know and had grown fond of the previous day, I realized how vested I was in their success. I was nervous as the 1-1 tie went late in the game. Jayson Werth stood at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, quickly down two strikes after two pitches, but battled back to a full count. Then, on the 13th pitch, jacked a home run to left field to tie the series. I celebrated in my living room like I was in the bleachers.

The deciding game of that series was last night. The momentum of the previous game carried the Nationals to an early 6-0 lead. But St. Louis has been here before, St. Louis knows how to win the Big Games. And with a late, heartbreaking rally the Cardinals crushed the spirits of Nats fans and ended their magical season. Twice the home team was within a strike of advancing to play the Giants for a shot at the World Series, but it was not to be. I felt like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. And it wasn’t until I found myself wishing I didn’t care so much, that I realized I cared so much. Something about being at that game a few days earlier, surrounded by true baseball fans in that historic, electric atmosphere, sealed the deal for me. I think this postseason series has done more than make me really love the Nationals, it made me finally see what so many have always seen in the game of baseball.

Which, and I apologize for rambling on, brings me to one final point. I have two brothers-in-law. The other is named Fred and he is married to my sister. He, too, is responsible for shaping my life as it relates to sport. On a Sunday in April of 1986, the family was gathered at my Mother’s house. Fred, a golf professional at the time, was in the den watching golf, a sport I never played or thought anything about. He came into the kitchen, grabbed us a couple of beers and said, “Hey. Come watch this with me. Something really special is happening.” And there in the house I grew up in on Buchanan Street, I sat with my brother-in-law as he patiently explained the game, how tournaments worked, what ‘majors’ were and what it meant for Jack Nicklaus, at age 46 to shoot a 65 – including a back nine 30 – to win the Masters. That was the day I became a fan of golf. That was the day, even though I did not yet own golf clubs, I became a golfer.

So as the wind that got knocked out of me last night slowly builds back up in my lungs today, I fondly reflect on the glory and torture that is being a sports fan. Imagine the jubilation the fine folks of St. Louis are feeling today! That intense, uplifting high – and I’ve felt it before and I WILL feel it again – can only exist because of one reason: the lows are equally low. But sport isn’t life, and life goes on. As does the ageless mantra: We’ll get ’em next year.


A Mexican Rodeo

My wife and I were invited to a Mexican rodeo event very near our home, and it was a fun and fascinating day of authentic Mexican culture, food, music and sport. I hope you enjoy these, my favorite images from the day!


Yellowstone: A Day of Grandeur


I am normally very content to remain in my beloved Virginia. But every now and then, something in my brain clicks and I need to go west. It’s as if some sort of internal GPS needs to be reset and I can only do it in Montana. I am happy to accommodate this particular quirk of my brain every couple years, and am blessed to have a loving wife who is happy to support my pilgrimage.

On this trip, I wanted to dip south into Wyoming and explore Yellowstone National Park for a couple days. I had heard about Slough Creek, a special creek that takes a good hike to reach and holds some beautiful Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. So I decided that’s where I was headed.


I recruited some company for the journey, my good friend and Missoula-based fishing guide extraordinaire Joel Thompson for three very good reasons: One, he knows western water and bugs and trout like nobody else; Two, I very much enjoy his company; and Three, Slough Creek is firmly located in an area where it’s not wise to hike alone, an area teeming with wildlife such as elk, moose, wolves, bison and there’s one more, what was it? Oh yeah. Grizzly bears.

I’ll be honest here, I consider myself relatively ‘outdoorsy.’ But I admit that my particular brand of outdoorsy is a far cry from Yellowstone bear country outdoorsy. Joel, on the other hand, has spent a lot of time backcountry hiking and camping in truly remote, potentially perilous locations and conditions. So when he gave me a lesson in bear encounter body language, I listened intently.


I also made the mistake of reading the booklet that came with the bear spray I bought for the hike. This ‘helpful’ guide is loaded with things like a list of ways to avoid a bear encounter, and then a disclaimer saying that might not work. Or a list of bear behaviors that may indicate aggression, and then, “or, a bear may not exhibit any of these signs and attack without notice.”

So while the pep talk at the trailhead was not a big confidence booster, I felt a little better with the bear spray on my belt and the knowledge that encounters are rare, even in areas thick with bears. Backpacks were packed, and I felt anxious and excited and ready to go. We toasted our adventure (and settled my nerves) with a Moose Drool Brown Ale, an excellent choice in a Montana breakfast beer, and hit the trail.


Within 300 yards of the truck we encountered our first sign of bear activity. A huge, steaming (okay, not actually steaming, but unmistakably fresh) pile of bear scat. Soon after that we saw tracks, thankfully headed in the opposite direction we were hiking. But Joel’s relaxed conversation put me at ease and soon I was focused on the hike and scenery.


Slough Creek meanders through a series of meadows. A brisk 45-minute hike beginning with a moderate uphill climb brought us to the first meadow where we saw the creek for the first time.


It was beautiful, no question, and I could have easily spent the entire day there. But we were both looking forward to a longer hike, and had our sights set on the second meadow, about five miles from the trailhead.


These were, as it turned out, easy miles. As we encountered more open country, my bear anxiety lessened. And my fitness efforts over the summer paid off as I felt comfortable hiking at a quick pace with a considerable pack on my back.

When we arrived at the second meadow, the trail had taken us well wide of the creek. A smaller path led a half-mile or so north to the water, and we quickened our steps in anticipation. As we reached the creek and shed the backpacks we spotted a large trout holding in a huge, deep pool below us and our excitement grew. We assembled our fly rods while discussing strategy. Joel was going after the big cuttie in the pool we were watching, and I headed upstream to explore.


Here, a half mile from my friend, I had a clear view in every direction, thousands of acres of grassland spotted with sagebrush surrounded by rugged mountains along the entire horizon. I stopped walking, stopped looking for rising trout, stopped thinking about catching them, and said to myself, “Look at where I am.”


A lone bison grazed in the quiet across the creek from me, and I sat on the bank and watched him. On our drive to the trailhead we saw hundreds of Yellowstone’s bison, but this solitary beast, so peaceful in this spectacular setting, triggered something in me. I was overwhelmed with the grandeur of it all.

It was more than the beauty of the place. It was working hard all year to save for the trip. It was sweating all summer to shed 25 extra pounds so if I got to a place like this I wouldn’t be worried about the hike back out. It was that rewarding burn in the legs from the walk. It was the easy comfort of a good friend nearby and the pleasant mix of adrenaline and Moose Drool in my stomach. It was the sandhill cranes above, the bison in the meadow and the trout below the creek’s surface. It was the aroma of sage with a distant hint of wildfire smoke in the air. It was a landscape unchanged for thousands of years, yet somehow utterly American. It was everything I ever could have imagined in a place, and it was more. It was emotional, spiritual and physical. It was timeless.

I could have wept. And, truthfully, that bison across the way did go blurry for a moment or two.


But there was fishing to be done, and only two of us as far as the eye could see to do it. So I took a few photos of this powerful place, knowing full well that even if I could somehow capture the beauty of it, the images would only tell a fraction of the story. But if nothing else, the pictures would serve as a reminder to me that special places and moments are out there, and that the ones you work hard to reach are made more special by the effort.

So I shared space with my bison friend for a while but had no luck fooling the cutthroats, so I walked back downstream to see how Joel was doing.

He was, predictably, having more success than I was. He had found a tight series of turns in the creek, with gravelly little beaches and rock formations forming a stunningly beautiful collection of promising fishing spots where both of us could fish on our own but still be nearby if one of us needed a hand landing a fish or taking a photo.


Joel loves to fish, but he also loves to help others catch fish. He spotted a feeding trout in a pool and carefully waded across to climb the rock face on the other side so he could look down and direct me where to cast. It worked, and in a few casts I had my very first Yellowstone cutthroat on the line. Joel hurried back across to make sure we got a photo of me with my fish. This is special to me not just as my first fish of this species in the most special place I have ever stood, but because Joel worked hard to help me get it.


The fun continued throughout the afternoon. Spotting fish, catching fish, taking breaks to just soak in the scenery and all the while those words kept coming back to me: “Look at where I am.”


But we were five miles from the truck and wanted plenty of daylight to get there. Animals move at dusk and if bears were going to return to the path, it was my preference to be sitting safely somewhere enjoying dinner and a beer or nine by then.


The trail going back seemed different, partly because I was pointed in the opposite direction of course, but partly because I was more relaxed. I was still alert for big things, but able to look around and enjoy the little things we encountered along the way. A grouse tried to startle us from the trailside brush. We watched a Clark’s Nutcracker (named for explorer William Clark) hunt for grasshoppers just a few feet away. Odd insects caught our attention like the bizarre and repugnant Mormon Cricket. And conversations abut these encounters and everything else under the sun were not only enjoyable, but also served to make a little extra noise on the trail so we didn’t surprise any Grizzlies.


But the packs were getting heavy, and we were parched and hungry. We had plenty of water, but it was packed away so we decided to just push on. We got to the truck without incident, and as I shed my backpack I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I had traveled a greater distance on foot than on any other single day in my life. I had stood in a place I will never forget, with a fly rod in my hand, and fooled a new species of fish to my fly. And I had not been mauled by a Grizzly bear. Pretty good day. One of the very best days, in fact.

In the uniquely charming town of Gardiner, Montana, just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, where elk walk the streets and graze on lawns between swing sets and recycle bins, there is a bar called the Iron Horse. We spotted it the previous day and declared when we returned from Slough Creek we would sit outside on their deck overlooking the mighty Yellowstone River, toast to our day with fine Montana brews, and shovel absurd quantities of food into our faces. It was another in a long list of excellent decisions we made all week long.


We refueled our depleted bodies with bison burgers topped with bacon, kielbasa sausage, caramelized onions and cheese. I washed mine down with several Bozone Amber Ales, Joel went with his beer of choice, an IPA.

And then it was over. Days just like it happen one after the other in this special place. The elk bugle, the bison graze and the cutthroat feed whether I’m there or not. But I am humbled, honored and privileged to have been able to stand in that meadow, to reach into that cool, clear water and touch those beautiful trout first described to science by Lewis and Clark, to be a part of this place for a day. And I’m not overstating it to say that all my days from now on will be a little bit different, a little bit better, for having been there.

If you are looking for a fly fishing guide in western Montana, look no further than Joel Thompson at Montana Troutaholics.

Note: All the above photos were taken with the Olympus Tough Series TG-1, many with the optional Olympus FCON-T01 Fish eye converter lens.


Neil Armstrong, American Hero


Since the dawn of man, humans have looked up at our moon in awe and wonder. Whether for science, discovery, mystery or romance, almost everyone to have ever walked this earth has been transfixed on the orb, at once tantalizingly close and impossibly distant. July 20, 1969, the day Neil Armstrong, American hero, set foot on her surface, marked the point after which no one would ever look at the moon the same way. From John Kennedy’s declaration that we must reach it ‘in this d
ecade,’ to that triumphant moment makes up one of my two favorite chapters in American and world history. Half a million people working together, inventing materials that did not yet exist, solving unsolvable problems, pushed by pride and politics and pressure, we prevailed. America has lost one of her most treasured citizens of all time today. God bless Neil Armstrong, his family, his friends, everyone associated with the space program, and God bless America.


The Chesapeake Maritime Museum


I found myself in St. Michaels, MD last week with a few hours to kill. I had food and beer at the Crab Claw on the itinerary, but had to wait for them to open, so the nearby Chesapeake Maritime Museum was a perfect field trip. I love old wooden boats, and while a pristine, polished vintage Chris Craft is my lottery fantasy, there’s just something special about these historic old vessels seemingly held together with equal parts inertia and character. I hope you enjoy these images from my visit.


Wet Dogs, the New Olympus and Kayaking at Dawn


Regular Readers here will recall my saga with Pentax and their Optio WG-2 “waterproof camera.” After two failed cameras I went back to the Olympus brand from which I regret straying. My beautiful new TG-1 arrived late last week, just in time for a big Saturday on the water.

A friend and I chose a nice spot about four miles upstream from our place to put the kayaks in, and we chose first light because the river is never more beautiful or less populated than it is at dawn. But the spot requires a portage of kayaks and gear over four sets of railroad tracks, a couple of narrow, windy paths and a stretch of the C&O Canal Towpath.

But the sore shoulders and face full of spider webs (Note to self: Do not volunteer to be the first one down the path next time) are quickly forgotten as the sound of the rushing river nears and the spot is just as we had remembered, just as we had hoped.

Dawn came, not with a red skied bang, but rather with a breezy, blue whimper. Cooler than I expected but the breeze brought a promise of a warm day ahead.

In an hour the breeze and water had calmed and we settled into a steady downstream mosey. The smallmouth were biting but not enthusiastically and only little ones.

This bridge between Lovettsville, VA and Brunswick, MD marks the one mile point to home. I love the rippled reflections here.

It was still pretty early in the day when we got off the water and I hadn’t given the new Olympus much of a waterproof workout. So once the kayak was put away I brought Team Orange down to cool off. This is Finn, who I think would stand in this river all day in the summer.

Underwater pictures are fun, but you really don’t know what you have while you’re taking them. My method: Stick the camera underwater, snap away, then get them on to the computer later and throw out 99% of them.

I love the abstract, colorful images you can get by shooting up at a subject (Winnie, in this case) with the lens just barely submerged.

Water plays crazy tricks with light!

Finn doing his thing.

I hope you enjoyed these images from a fun day. I appreciate you all taking time to let me share it with you.


One Fly Rod, Fifteen Anglers: A Journey


I recently had the privilege of participating in a unique and special project put together by the folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network. Fifteen bloggers from all across the United States were selected to receive this custom-built bamboo fly rod made by Fall River Fly Rods, fish with it, write about it and pass it along to the next blogger on the list. The South Fork model 5-weight rod comes with a beautiful reel from Montana Fly Company loaded with Rio line, and after each has had a turn with it, one participant will get to keep it!

When the rod arrived at my post office, having only made three stops so far (Arizona, New Mexico and Alabama) the shipping tube it came in was already getting the look and feel of a world traveled suitcase with stickers and labels all over it. Inside, the rod case alone is a thing of beauty, but as I took everything out and put it together I was really impressed by the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the rod. I had known for some time that I would be taking part in this, but now it was here, it was real, and it was exciting. I couldn’t wait to get that line wet and fish with this piece of art!

I had to bring this rod to my favorite trout fishing spot in the area, Rose River Farm in scenic Madison County, Virginia. I arrived in the evening, with just enough light left to try for one of the many rising trout I could see along the entire stretch of river at the farm. So I carefully assembled the rod and realized I had a new top priority above even catching fish: Do Not Break This Rod! So, slowing down, methodically stringing the rod and making sure I didn’t do anything stupid like leave the spare rod tip partially out of the case where I could sit on it or something, I was finally ready to fish.

This was my first time fishing with bamboo, and it took a few minutes to get a feel for it. But the learning curve was not as great as I had anticipated. Short casts were difficult, I found, but once I got some line out, I was comfortable with the rod in no time. And with the June light fading in a pink sky, the black water around my fly broke in a burst of life as a rainbow rose to it. Fish on.

This rod is not light, in fact it feels quite stout for a 5-weight. But the tip is very responsive to a fighting fish. I really loved having this rainbow on the line and wanted to savor the moment, but I also needed to make sure I got it all the way to hand so I could get a picture of my first fish on bamboo. My first fish as my part of this rod’s journey.

The next morning brought perfect conditions, a few friends and one very special guest to the farm.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

I had met General Conway (left), retired four star general and the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at a Project Healing Waters event a month earlier, and his speech was awe inspiring. This man simply exudes leadership, and it was an honor to spend time with him.

I told the general about the bamboo rod project and asked if he would fish a little bit with it. He graciously agreed, and it was fun to watch him cast this rod so beautifully.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

Here he is with the Outdoor Blogger Network South Fork rod. A big thanks to General Conway for helping add some unique history to the path this rod will take before settling down in one of fifteen permanent homes.

Photo by Steve Hasty.

After a nice lunch with the general, it was time to have some fun with this rod and try to get into some more fish. The dry flies weren’t working anymore, so I tried nymphs and even some streamers. I got very comfortable with the rod trying many different styles and approaches to casting and fishing.

This nice Rose River rainbow fell for my antics and was kind enough to stick around for a photo.

And another.

I released my last fish of the day back into the cool Rose, and closed the book on a fun and memorable day of fishing, thus ending my chapter of this rod’s story. Unless of course I am lucky enough to end up with it in the end, in which case you will see a lot more of this bamboo rod here!

Let’s have one last look at the beautiful Montana Fly Company reel under the water’s surface. Good luck to Joel in South Carolina who has the rod now, and to everyone who will share and add to its unique history. Waters in Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Utah, Washington and Oregon will see this rod before it’s all said and done. I am proud to have been a part of it all. Thank you to the Outdoor Blogger Network, Fall River Fly Rods, Montana Fly Company and Rio for conceiving such a fun and different project.


Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry

I’ve been trying to condition myself for some vigorous hiking when I get to Montana in a few months. But so far this summer those conditioning attempts have been mostly limited to buying new hiking boots and looking at pictures of Yellowstone National Park. So today, after having spent a couple days away, I thought I’d take Team Orange (my two Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas, for those of you not already familiar) on a nice hike.

The Maryland Heights hike has two variations. The shorter, red trail ends up at an amazing vista overlooking the town of Harpers Ferry, WV and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The longer, blue trail is much less crowded, more difficult and has a lot of neat Civil War history with educational markers along the way. I planned on doing both this morning, but by the time we got to the overlook, each of the dogs drank an entire bottle of water and I didn’t have enough water for them to tack on the longer trail.

Here you can see the town of Harpers Ferry. Note the clearer Shenadoah (from top of photo) running into the muddy Potomac (right to left).

What a view from the top! Taken from Maryland, the photo shows West Virginia on the right, and Virginia on the left.

Team Orange enjoying the view.

I can’t explain why I love this picture, I just do.

The Yin and Yang of dog tongues, on the bridge over the C&O Canal.

The view doesn’t suck from the bottom, either.

These dogs are my shadows, I genuinely enjoy their company.

Okay, most of the time.


Memorial Day in Washington, DC


I spent the day yesterday in Washington, DC to soak in some sights on this Memorial Day weekend. From the glory of the World War II Memorial, to the spectacle of Rolling Thunder, here are some of my favorite images.



















Act of Dedication

This is my submission for the Trout Unlimited, Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger NetworkBlogger Tour 2012 contest.

History was never a strong subject for me in school. It just didn’t interest me. I liked science, and have always been curious about the natural world around me. But, I thought, I had no use for history.

It wasn’t until, oh, around age 40 that I found myself seeking out books about history to read recreationally. The brilliant HBO series Band of Brothers single-handedly sparked an appreciation and fascination of the immense efforts and sacrifices made during World War II. When the series was over, I hungered for more. I started by reading the book by Stephen Ambrose upon which the series was based. And then, having discovered for the first time a teacher who brought history to life for me, I craved and read more Ambrose.

While preparing for a half-work, half-fishing trip to Montana several years ago, I purchased Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. For some reason at that time, and on two more attempts in the years to follow, the book just didn’t grab me. But a few months ago, as I began making plans for a September return trip to Montana, I picked up the book again. This time, like a trout finally taking a fly after having refused numerous similar presentations, the story hooked me. I was enthralled. I decided then to add the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls and some other spots along the Lewis and Clark Trail to my itinerary.

As I looked on a map, plotting a course that combined new places I wanted to see and fish like Yellowstone with places of historical interest, it occurred to me that they are the same places. It turns out I do have a use for history. The natural world I love so dearly has a fascinating fabric of American history woven through it. The cutthroat trout I’ve caught before in the cold, clear waters of western Montana have some of the same genetic material as the cutthroats first described to science in the expedition journals of Meriwether Lewis. And while the expedition did not enter what is now Yellowstone National Park, Lewis and Clark did explore the Yellowstone River. And this September I may stand near where they once stood, looking out over terrain virtually unchanged in 200 years.

But it is not unchanged by chance, it literally took an act of Congress to preserve such a place. In March, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act of Dedication, and Yellowstone, America’s first national park, was born.

Today, individuals and organizations work tirelessly to protect these special resources. And the threats against them are real. The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout is in grave danger due to the illegal introduction of invasive, non-native lake trout into Yellowstone Lake 20 years ago, and Trout Unlimited, along with the Yellowstone Park Foundation is aggressively attempting to reverse the near total decimation of the Yellowstone Cutthroat.

But I can’t just sit back and observe these efforts and hope they go well. There is more at stake than just being able to hold up a cutthroat trout and say, “Oncorhynchus clarkii, named after William Clark. Neat!” As a fly fisherman, a lover of the outdoors, a fervent – albeit recent – student of history, an outdoor writer and blogger and a regular visitor to our national parks and waterways, I have a responsibility as a steward of these resources.

It’s not for me to say what others should do. But as I enjoy my recreational pursuits, both here in Virginia and across this great land, I will try harder to do my part, to stay informed about the preservation and conservation efforts concerning natural treasures like the Yellowstone Cutthroat, and to support organizations like Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Simms and the Outdoor Blogger Network, whose efforts both on the ground and in the arena of public awareness are a true act of dedication. I encourage my friends and readers to do the same.