Friday, March 30, 2007

Trout Fix: Last of the Winter Fishing

I’m working the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo this weekend, so I had to take some hours off during the week. Given that I am moving to Roch soon, I feel the need to learn some of the basins down here – like I did the Cannon while I lived here… fits with work too. So my plan: take a day and realize a hiking adventure of sorts in a local valley. Go somewhere that slightly off the normal path. Bring a fly rod, some nymphs, small rations of water and food, and a camera. That’s it.

I started out the day with the night before – preview style: I stopped at a bridge crossing somewhere in the WW and cast for 30 minutes or so… landed two little brown trout and loved them a lot. It was awkward to cast that nymphing rig – I’ve only been trout fishing ~3 times in the past six months or so…

I Spent the night at the home of some good friends. Their hospitality was outstanding, and they also guided me to a particularly Godly part of the WW valley. Whether or not the fishing would be good was unclear, but I was assured shock and awe in the true sense.

The day starts out like this: strong coffee from an expert maker. I got high as a kite off 1.5 cups of the stuff. It was like I was floating up the ceiling when I left for my day’s adventure. I stopped at the only payphone in the WW valley (not sure about that one) and called Em and James… talked for quite a while – I think she could tell I was caffeinated. On to the river… and the fishing.

To make the story short: I started at 10:30 AM, and the first three hours were really tough. I caught one, spooked one, and turned one… but that was it. Instead of enjoying the majesty around me, I was cursing myself and saying things like “you rusty bastard, you’ve forgotten how to trout fish – no, you never knew how to trout fish!” I wasn’t falling on my face, or spooking big pods of fish, or tripping over rocks… but nothing seemed to be just right.

Finally, I came to a certain place that just made me drool. I was literally saying “hehehe” in my head as I was approaching it. It had the three keys (in my opinion): deep water, fast current running through/over the deep water, and adjacent woody debris/boulders. I just about died when I saw it, and the drama proved to be well founded. Beginning around 13:30 I proceeded to pull fish after fish from this water, including this piggy rainbow, and 2-3 browns that measured in the high teens.

I was in heaven. After spending quite a while there I was ready to leave… I decided to try one more thing: sneaky-sneak over to a boulder and flip my nymph rig up in front of it… let it drift down out of sight behind the boulder.. just to see what would happen. First and second casts both produced nice 12-13” fish that were hiding under the root mass just opposite the boulder… a few casts later behind the boulder and I saw the indicator twitch… set the hook and felt a special, big movement. It was a movement that would have a sound like “blaawump” associated with it. Anyway – it felt big right away and stayed close to the bottom… I had to battle to get it out of the boulder/tree cover, but finally landed another great fish in the mid to high teens.

I went on to find three more really good holes/stretches of water. They all produced fish – great, strong fish. I turned around at 17:08 and walked/jogged out, to find that it was 25 minutes to the nearest trail… I had gotten into the interior of the WW, away from easy access stuff, and I think that was key. Surely I saw boot tracks all along, but not too many.

It was a tale of two half days – very interesting. The first half of the day I used my normal nymphs: Pink Squirrel and DLK Hares Ear. Second half of the day I switched to Prince Nymph with a Scud trailing… orange and pink for the latter (from the SE MN swap). I don’t think the flies were what changed the fishing though – I think it was the water… early on I was fishing marginal/okay holes and reaches. Afternoon was really good water. Overall I probably did not catch 20 trout, but likely mid to high teens of fish. The remarkable thing though was the quality of these fish: no joke that 4 were high teens and another ~6 were low to mid teens. It's probably the most big fish I've caught in one outing. I was reminded that I'm a hack caster - utilitarian is a better way to put it. I can get the nymphs where I want them though, so I guess it's okay. Also, I probably strong-armed the fish more than I should have. I was fishing with 4x tippet. My leader was too long too, which was annoying when trying to land fish. I think I was a clumsy picture... but I have no negative memories of the day.

Never saw one human being. The wind was on a bit in the AM, but died in the PM. I was surrounded by amazing cliffs and enveloped by a flowing river. I met a number of stunning fish. After the day of fishing and hiking, I returned to the warm hospitality of friends. That’s it.

Except for one more thing – when I got home today, I saw the Cannon a-flowing strong. I took some advice from John Montana and tried to nymph for carp anyway… my family is visiting my in-laws, so I have no reason to hang out at home… might as well try it. Very quickly nymphed up five carp. All were small 2-3 lb fish, but it was still a lot of fun. One big ol mammy grabbed my nymph and took off downstream… and that is one thing about fishing from a platform in a flow like this: no WAY can you possibly land a big fish. If a biggie goes downstream on you, you are done for. She kept running line of my reel like a mad carp… went under the bridge and said “I’m headed for Waterford me boy!” At that point I knew I was screwed so I tried to turn her… the pressure brought the fish to surface, and even at 50-60 yards away it still looked HUGE rolling on the water. I guess I’ll never know for sure. I also had a buffalo take the nymphs and shoot across perpendicular to the flow – come up and head shake the hook out! So the best roughfish were not landed… but it was a great time. My hands were numb by the time I left – it was cold and rainy… fly rod carp can help you ignore that though!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Anas platyrhynchos

I was searching for carp a couple weeks back in one of the sub-worlds of the Cannon system... I figured they might be hanging around warm water discharge, so I went to a wastewater outfall. Unfortunately my access and the glare of the sun disallowed any sight into the water. I did spook a hundred or so ducks though - all of whom had been enjoying the open water and treated human and industrial waste. I just whipped the camera up as they flew bye and snapped off a few frames. I like the way this one turned out: greenheads peeking into sight. I never did find those carp. I will though.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ted Kooser is so ridiculously good, I don't even know what to say about the guy. Spring is coming, and rhubarb always comes with spring, so here is some foreshadowing:

How to Make Rhubarb Wine

By Ted Kooser

Go to the patch some afternoon
in early summer, fuzzy with beer
and sunlight, and pick a sack
of rhubarb (red or green will do)
and God knows watch for rattlesnakes
or better, listen: they make a sound
like an old lawnmower rolled downhill.
Wear a hat. A straw hat's best
for the heat but lets the gnats in.
Bunch up the stalks and chop the leaves off
with a buck-knife and be careful.
You need ten pounds; a grocery bag
packed full will do it. then go home
and sit barefooted in the shade
behind the house with a can of beer.
Spread out the rhubarb in the grass
and wash it with cold water
from the garden hose, washing
your feet as well. Then take a nap.
That evening, dice the rhubarb up
and put it in a crock. Then pour
eight quarts of boiling water in,
cover it up with a checkered cloth
to keep the fruit flies out of it,
and let it stand five days or so.
Take time each day to think of it.

When the time is up, dip out the pulp
with your hands for strainers; leave the juice.
Stir in five pounds of sugar
and an envelope of Red Star yeast.
Ferment ten days, under the cloth,
sniffing of it from time to time,
then siphon it off, swallowing some,
and bottle it. Sit back and watch
the liquid clear to honey-yellow,
bottled and ready for the years,
and smile. You've done it awfully well.

Whenever I read his poetry, I always want to talk smack afterward - like "how can you be better than that?!?" and "this guy puts you RIGHT there - right in the yard with that beer and that fuzzy, sunny feeling - this is IT man!!" and "why would I want to read some old dusty, wordy Shakespeare when I can get with a guy who can take me places and show me things!?!" I LOVE YOU TED!! And heck, I've only got ONE of your books!
Slow Weekend = Good

Nowhere to go this weekend... With our days in Northfield limited, we tried to appreciate the local surroundings as best we could.

First picture - on the way out the door James said, "I'm going to sit down here for a while." And he did.

I asked JD: what color is the water? "Green!" he exclaimed. He was pretty excited to see two mallards dabbing around, and two red squirrels rumbling in the leaf litter. Main attraction was just stomping in puddles though...

At one of the local eateries, he was given an ice cream cone by a friend... the two of them were perfect images of kids - all smiles - as they slopped away the chocolate.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cheap Food

By far the biggest gripe you hear out there re organic and/or local food is the price: too high. Every time I encounter that complaint though, I try to remind folks that the price you see at the supermarket is absolutely not the actual price you pay. Pollan has put this to words much better than I ever could, so here it is (he is talking to a grass farmer named Joel Salatin):

I asked Joel how he answers the charge that because food like his is more expensive, it is inherently elitist. “I don’t accept the premise,” he replied. “First off, those weren’t any ‘elitists’ you met on the farm this morning. We sell to all kinds of people. Second, whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that, with our food, all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water—of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.”

As it is, artisanal producers like Joel compete on quality, which, oddly enough, is still a somewhat novel idea when it comes to food. “When someone drives up to the farm in a BMW and asks me why our eggs cost more, well, first I try not to get mad,” said Joel. “Frankly, any city person who doesn’t think I deserve a white-collar salary as a farmer doesn’t deserve my special food. Let them eat E. coli. But I don’t say that. Instead I take him outside and point at his car. ‘Sir, you clearly understand quality and are willing to pay for it. Well, food is no different: You get what you pay for.’

“Why is it that we exempt food, of all things, from that rule? Industrial agriculture, because it depends on standardization, has bombarded us with the message that all pork is pork, all chicken is chicken, eggs eggs, even though we all know that can’t really be true. But it’s downright un-American to suggest that one egg might be nutritionally superior to another.” Joel recited the slogan of his local supermarket chain: “‘We pile it high and sell it cheap.’ What other business would ever sell its products that way?”

When you think about it, it is odd that something as important to our health and general well-being as food is so often sold strictly on the basis of price. Look at any supermarket ad in the newspaper and all you will find in it are quantities—pounds and dollars; qualities of any kind are nowhere to be found. The value of relationship marketing is that it allows many kinds of information besides price to travel up and down the food chain: stories as well as numbers, qualities as well as quantities, values rather than “value.” And as soon as that happens, people begin to make different kinds of buying decisions, motivated by criteria other than price. But instead of stories about how it was produced accompanying our food, we get bar codes—as illegible as the industrial food chain itself, and a fair symbol of its almost total opacity.

Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring—to the carelessness of both producers and consumers that characterizes our economy today. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. This is why the American food industry and its international counterparts fight to keep their products from telling even the simplest stories—“dolphin safe,” “humanely slaughtered,” etc.—about how they were produced. The more knowledge people have about the way their food is produced, the more likely it is that their values—and not just “value”—will inform their purchasing decisions.

...there are many of us who could afford to spend more on food if we choose to. After all, it isn't only the elite who in recent years have found an extra fifty or one hundred dollars each month to spend on cell phones or television, which close to 90 percent of households now pay for. Another formerly free good that more than half of us happily pay for today is water. So is the unwillingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?

Friday, March 02, 2007

"You are what you eat, and what you eat eats" - Michael Pollan

If you've ever wanted to crystallize in your mind why it is important to eat grass fed meat, or wild game instead of standard grocery store fare - you need look no further than Pollan's book - The Omnivore's Dilemma.

He uses beef as a focus to detail two fundamentally different food chains: industrial, and grass. Here is a basic breakdown:

Grass: this involves the basic process of ruminant animals' consumption of green matter. The sun strikes the leaves of grass in the ground, providing the required energy to synthesize inorganic nutrients taken from the soil into organic matter... that is, grass grows by way of the sun, water and soil. Grazing animals - cows especially, but also buffalo and deer, etc. - can then eat the grass, and turn it into meat, bone, etc. We the people can then slay an animal and eat the meat. This is a basic food-chain process... a foundation of life on Earth, to put it simply.

Industrial: this food chain aims to get you a product similar in appearance to that provided by the grass-based chain (animal flesh as a meat meal), but it is overrun with shortcuts, and ultimately ruin. It starts with a black desert; there is no need for it to be green all the time, as a new energy source is the base here: synthetic fertilizer. That fertilizer is a petroleum-derived product. So this food chain starts in the Persian Gulf, from a well of fossil fuel (true, this is also the sun's energy, but in an ultra-concentrated form that allows us to cheat and shortcut on a short-term basis). It then moves to synthetic fertilizer, and then to a grain of corn. This corn - being more full of energy than an equal acreage of grass - is basically forced on beef livestock, to speed along the fattening process. Despite the fact that cows are ruminant animals - grassophiles - their diets are abruptly shifted to corn-based feed so they can reach slaughter weight in 150 days instead of a couple years. The trouble is - the biology of the cow can't handle the grain - they naturally reject it... so force-feeding them the stuff basically makes them chronically ill. Thus, they are regularly given antibiotics to keep them walking and gaining weight. So you have your corn base, mixed with Rumesin and Tylosin (antibiotics), liquid vitamin and protein supplements, and synthetic estrogen making up the feed that hurries these industrial beef cattle to the slaughter. All in the name of speed and maximization of profits... get the cheapest product out there to as many people as possible - as long as it LOOKS good, folks will think it IS good. And the consumers reinforce the whole deal, for as Pollan notes: "farmers who get the message that consumers care only about price will themselves care only about yield. This is how a cheap food economy reinforces itself."

So that's it - my interpretation of Pollan's information. Which sounds better to you? Would you be willing to pay $4 for a pound of unadulterated food chain instead of $2.50 to eat petroleum?

I'll type some Pollan here verbatim to sum this up:
We’ve come to think of “corn-fed” as some kind of old-fashioned virtue, which it may well be when you’re referring to Midwestern children, but feeding large quantities of corn to cows for the greater part of their lives is a practice neither particularly old nor virtuous. Its chief advantage is that cows fed corn… get fat quickly; their flesh also marbles well, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have come to like. Yet this corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us, since it contains more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals fed grass. A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn-fed beef. (Modern-day hunter-gatherers who subsist on wild meat don’t have our rates of heart disease.) In the same way ruminants are ill adapted to eating corn, humans in turn may be poorly adapted to eating ruminants that eat corn. p.75

"You are what you eat" is a truism hard to argue with, and yet it is, as a visit to a feedlot suggests, incomplete, for you are what what you eat eats, too. And what we are, or have become, is not just meat but number 2 corn and oil. p.84

If you want to eat meat (I do) - the best things you can do, in my opinion: shoot a deer, catch a fish, and buy a side of beef from your buddy who raised it in an unhurried, un-industrial fashion.
On the Chicken McNugget

[below is an excerpt from Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma]

"The ingredients listed in the flyer ["A Full Serving of Nutrition Facts", given out by McDonalds] suggest a lot of thought goes into a nugget, that and a lot of corn. Of the thirty-eight ingredients it takes to make a McNugget, I counted thirteen that can be derived from corn: the corn-fed chicken itself; modified cornstarch (to bind the pulverized chicken meat); mono-, tri-, and diglycerides (emulsifiers, which keep the fats and water from separating); dextrose; lecithin (another emulsifier); chicken broth (to restore some of the flavor that processing leaches out); yellow corn flour and more modified cornstarch (for the batter); cornstarch (a filler); vegetable shortening; partially hydrogenated corn oil; and citric acid as preservative. A couple of other plants take part in the nugget: There's some wheat in the batter, and on any given day the hydrogenated oil could come from soybeans, canola, or cotton rather than corn, depending on market price and availability.

According to the handout, McNuggets also contain several completely synthetic ingredients, quasiedible substances that ultimately come not from a corn or soybean field but from a petroleum refinery or chemical plant. These chemicals are what make modern processed foods possible, by keeping the organic mterials in them from going bad or looking strange after months in the freezer or on the road. Listed first are the "leavening agents": sodium aluminium phosphate, (etc...) . These are antioxidants added to keep the various animal and vegetable fats involved in a nugget from turning rancid. Then there are "anti-foaming agents" like dimethylpolysiloxene, added to the cooking oil to keep the starches from binding to air molecules, so as to produce foam during the fry. The problem is evidently grave enough to warrant adding a toxic chemical to the food: According to the Handbook of Food Additives, dimethylpolysiloxene is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen, and reproductive effector; it's also flammable.
But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to "help preserve freshness." According to A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e., lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause "nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse." Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill."
(p. 112-114)

One in three kids eats fast food every day. Let me suggest this - BUY THIS BOOK and read it cover to cover, and take notes all the while. I am only ~40% through it and I'll already name it among the best books I've read.

First trout of my life was from Taylor Lake, Aitkin County MN. Believe it or not I think I actually have a vague memory of it... I recall running into some people at the landing who had a 5-gallon bucket that contained a few trout - field dressed and levitating in some water.