Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Dirt

Fishing is dropping off a bit, so maybe time for some thinking (on other, related items). Like black dirt and closing the loop at your home.

Here are some shots of Compost Alley - a key component of our local landscape. That black beauty represents quite a few months of food waste from our kitchen. Also thrown in are ashes, green plants, some leaf litter (not black walnut) and shredded paper.

We started composting ~5 years ago, and since, we've not thrown away any food matter. Corpses - the few chickens, beef bones, etc. are buried beneath the shrubbery just downgrade from the garden. Everything else - including meat scraps, fat, dairy - goes to this black hole.

There is no bottom to the bin, which allows Phylum Annelidia to inhabit at will.

The benefits:

(1) Less waste exits our home and property.
(2) Less fertile material need enter our home and property.
(3) Maximization of the value of the food material we purchase.
(4) We observe an important process.
(5) We know (in large part) the history of the fertilizer we apply at home.
(6) Kids roll around in black compost and attempt to eat it straight-up, thereby skipping several normally realized steps in the process of food production and consumption. If you think about it, fewer energy transformations ~ more efficiency, and therefore Danny is putting forth a good argument when he blackens his mouth.
(7) It's just cool as hell. I think people have an inherent love for process and efficiency and watching things work and fit together. Today's society obscures that though. In some degree, we all want to be farmers I'd say, even if we don't realize it. This is urban farming. It's micro-scale dirt farming. The caution is that it will likely lead to even further inroads, like laying chickens and vineyards and prairie plants, etc. Everything you can do to say Hey man, I live in this urban joint for various reasons regarding efficiency, transportation and neighborliness, but you can't beat the dirt out of a guy. Be a hybrid: city and rural together.

Visit Kenny's Sideshow for a bit on Finding God in the Compost Pile

Couple more bits on this topic:
Compost info from Better Times

In his collection of essays, Wendell Berry answers the question, What can folks do to address this modern day industrial food travesty? His answer, which includes an important nod to composting, is paraphrased here (can be found in the book What Are People FOR?):

From Jim Dixon's Real Good Food:

Berry's essay includes some suggested next steps:

"Participate in food production to the extent you can." This doesn't mean plowing up the front lawn and planting cabbage. A small vegetable garden, a couple of tomato plants, even a pot of herbs can provide the sense of responsibility for your own food. Tending a garden and managing a compost system also puts you into the natural cycle of growth and decay. Knowing the blend of sun, water, and effort that produced the tomato you're eating makes you appreciate it even more.

"Prepare your own food." The practical benefits of home cooking-cost and quality control-pale when compared to the real advantage: the food you prepare yourself can be better than anything you can buy in the market or restaurant.

"Whenever you can, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist." Food produced locally is generally going to be safer, fresher, and cheaper than imported food. Dealing with the producer at a farmers market allows you to communicate your needs and become familiar with the seasonal fluctuations of local agriculture. It also eliminates the packers, shippers, advertisers and other "middlemen" who add cost to the food at the expense of both producer and consumer.

"Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can about the economy and technology of industrial food production." Food costs are often determined as much by the "not food" components as anything else. Finding out what's added to the food we eat, and how much it costs, can be a real eye-opener. It can also scare the hell out of you.
Mealtime does more than merely fuel our daily activities. It provides a social context, offering a shared experience with the people we care about most. And eating itself, the most primordial activity, puts us in touch with the world we live in and demonstrates our dependence on lives outside our own.

The newly added food scraps are behind the divider... the finishing pile is in the front compartment.

Application of fresh compost to newly broken garden, to be planted with vegetables next year (in addition to base plot broken and planted this year). This tract is wedged between houses, but is south facing and is a "heat trap" of sorts. Some experimental planting there this year showed great results. Down with lawn!

The black geometry of Juglans nigra...

This special camo actually makes kids invisible... nightmare for parents.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seventh Anniversary

It has indeed been seven years. We had quite a little weekend over in Cheeseland, USA. Maybe get some more text out later... but for now - here are some pics. It was a perfect blend of activity and de-activity. Disc golf (played 24 holes on a professional course) and Sparta-Elroy trail ride (~18-19 miles roundtrip, including a stretch in a tunnel of ~1500 feet - headlamps were in play) were highlights.

This is a valid post here, as I do have a fishing link: the Burnstad Restaurant in Tomah, WI is GIVING AWAY all the KOI it currently houses in a little pond... Yes, I was tempted.

Thanks to Mama for hanging out with the kids while we recharged a bit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Nature of Carp Fishing

Sunday AM, pulled another early morning deal, only this time my friend and neighbor came along. I had considered (1) exploring another new stream reach - like I did last weekend, (2) going back to that smallie stream and fishing it a little differently - maybe with more minnow patterns, (3) trying to get one last carp. When neighbor confirmed he could get out, I went for option 3, because he's been wanting to tackle a carp for a while now. I'd also seen some great fish feeding right downtown... the sight of tails sticking up out of silt plumes - that can tip the scale to carping it seems.

We got up too early, per my scheduling, and we basically waited around in the dark for the day to come around. We started at that downtown location... and found that day was in fact never going to come. That is, we were largely foiled by overcast conditions. Later a south wind came and compounded further the sight-fishing difficulty. With patience though, and careful study of the water, we were able to spot a few fish. At one point I spotted a couple great tails from high on a wall... marked them by the streamside veg, and ran down to fish to them, only to find that I could see absolutely nothing at the level of the water. I had no shots at fish. Neighbor had one good chance, but didn't get a take. We checked out two more locations - one of which was a bust - we saw silt plumes but couldn't get hooked up. The second showed us a couple great fish. We were perched very high this time... and we could see a couple big, beautiful tails, just waving back and forth in catch-me-flag fashion. Just begging for it. I put a LOD right on one and watched it sink. I saw the slightest change in behavior, so I set the hook and I figured I'd have a fish on... but nothing. One more cast and the fish sensed something and swam off. Not sure what happened - could have even eaten and spit the fly before I set the hook. I do know what I should have done though: put the fly ~8 inches further forward (instead of right on head) so I could have had a better visual cue. Maybe you can tell that I've been replaying that bit in my head a few times. Would have been a great fish, in an extremely difficult spot. Would have been outstanding. Still can't believe I botched that one. Oh well.

On the nature of carp fishing though - this got me thinking... here in our area of SE MN we don't really have a carp water that we can go to and sight fish all day. We have to drive from water to water, searching, hoping, fishing, looking. Getting skunked and stone-walled now and then and occasionally getting into fish. Whereas John Montana out west has quite a Cadillac situation: he can drive somewhere and pretty much know he can sight fish all day if conditions are right. Kind of jealous of that. What it does is make every single fish that we see here somewhat of a big deal. That fish I missed was my one chance all morning. I need to find a water that will tone down that pressure a bit and just let a guy fish, knowing he's got opps coming for a while. Those waters must be out there.

Kids and sunnies saved the day. Out of the blue, JD said "I want to go fishing today." We made it work for the late afternoon, and the kids had a mini-riot at a local fishing pier. For a while though, it seemed even the sunnies were going to blank us... Their behavior has changed a little, and on this outing they wouldn't eat a still presentation. Eventually we figured out that they would aggressively attack the fly when it was skittered around in the surface film like an injured bug.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ooooh, ah-hah, I'm takin' a walk... - John Prine

Found myself behind the wheel of a one-eyed Saturn on Monday morning – driving south to a stream I’d never had the privilege of meeting. What happened was this: some time ago – maybe summer 2005 – I was standing in one of the upper reaches of the Vermillion River with a Marsh-McBirney velocity meter in hand when I was approached by an unidentified person. He asked me if I’d seen any trout, and he proceeded to tell me about those that he’d seen in this particular location… okay, yeah, yeah, 0.89 ft/sec, 0.82 ft/sec tick by on the meter and I pay a little attention. Then out of the blue he starts to tell me about some smallmouth he’d caught recently on a certain stream that was way in the hell far from where we happened to be standing. “In fact,” he said, “I’ve got some pictures in my car.” Kind of strange but I like to trust human beings so I took a look. He did indeed have pictures of flowing blue waters and smallmouth bass in classic grip-and-grin layout. The background that I remember was a nice corner hole with a stump on the outside bend. He flat out told me not only the name of the stream, but the exact road crossing. That went in the notes. I knew I’d get there one day… wasn’t in a rush though. Finally made it on Monday.

The water is so low around here right now, I expected the fish to be pretty concentrated in deeper holes. I think they were, although I didn’t fully verify that. I encountered three types of water: shallow riffles that were really too shallow to hold any fish at this point, long, still and deep pools that probably held fish but were skipped over by me due to boringness factor, and plunge pools. The plunge pools scored all the fish. Just swinging a BWCA style chartreuse and black conehead leech down from above… letting it fall down the riffle and into the pool. The action was not intense, but enough to keep a guy going. Likewise for the fish. I know there were some biggies in there, but I caught only fish of moderate size. Most were smaller than moderate. A few went airborne though, which was pretty fantastic. Rolled a beautiful brown trout too, but no connection. The yellow belly was particularly bright. Smallie and brown combo water is what it is…

Anyway – it was quite a morning. Involuntary smiles – which are the best kind – when I looked on some of the images you see below in the pics. Fishing a stream that’s about as skinny as Tayshaun Prince, at the foot of a looming cliff…. Walking on limestone slabs and then picking through head-sized cobble… and finally feeling a resistance and watching a smallmouth bass launch. Pretty good. Some would say really good. The sun did shine down and the leaves were demanding a look. What a place. I’ve only been there once and I can say that for sure. There are many gems like this down here in our southeast corner. The more a guy walks these streams the more he comes to realize that there is in fact a lot out there to keep – a lot that’s worth fighting for if it comes to it. It’s a pastime and an education and a love.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Carping Gone Bad

I pulled another early morning bit this AM. Up around 530. Made some coffee in the green light of my little hat-brim-LED and walked out the door - leaving behind snoozing family. My goal was to get a few carp before the real cold sets in. The water is so low... fish are concentrated. I went to a concentration point with the intention of nymphing.

The problem was that I couldn't see the carp that I knew were there, and there wasn't enough current to get a good drift. That pretty much leaves the slow-retrieve technique, so I went with that. When you go away from dead drift though and put action on carp flies, other fish hit them.

It worked out then that I only actually landed one carp - a small one of maybe 2-3 lbs. I hooked two fish that I presume were carp, but I never saw them. They popped off - likely snagged, but then again I wasn't using a retrieve that was conducive to snagging.

Despite the fact that the morning didn't lay how I would have liked it to, there were some cool moments:

(1) Landed what must have been my biggest every freshwater drum. It was pretty damn big. It slipped away just as I was taking a photo. Amazing how little fight it had in it.
(2) Caught a good handful of walleye on the LOD and Carp Carrot. I rigged up a live well because I caught a few right away and I wanted to eat them and consume their flesh. The live well was a bad idea though, in that all the fish I put in there escaped. I caught one more walleye of keeping size (~14-15") and I put it on a stringer. Going to clean it tonight and treat My Fair Lady to a walleye dinner tomorrow. Local walleye.
(3) Caught a few smallies, the biggest of which is pictured here. My honest guess is 17". I've thought about the fish a lot today and how it compared to a lot of the BWCA fish we measured. For the context - the location at which I was fishing - this was a pretty big smallmouth. It could have gone 18" or 16" but I'm sticking at 17". Nice bronze - took the LOD while it was sinking.
(4) I saw what I believe is the biggest smallmouth I've ever seen in person today. Absolute monster fish. You've all probably had carp or other fish swim in tandem with a fish you are playing... They kind of weave around the hooked fish and ask him "what's wrong man?" and they get frantic now and again for reasons we'll not completely understand. Maybe it's just that when they sense a commotion they figure it's either a wounded fish that they could maybe eat, or it's another fish feeding on something that they could maybe eat... so they come check it out. Maybe some folks would say they are in fact coming to the aid of a fellow. I watched a big catfish once swim with a twin-looking fish that my grandpa had hooked in a pond down in Texas. I remember that the fish mirrored every movement of the hooked fish and stayed with it the entire time, right up to the point of landing. Anyway - that happened today, only it was two different species: I was playing a walleye, and all of a sudden I caught sight of a giant, deep fish flitting around it and even ramming it with its head - like it was trying to strike it to do some damage. It hung around while I held the walleye in place and I decided to try to net them both at the same time... Didn't work, as you could guess. The smallmouth was just huge - it dwarfed the fish pictured here, and any I've seen in the BWCA. I cast for quite a while after that, putting some serious action in my retrieve - trying to induce a strike... no way though. There's a reason that smallie is that big and old. I like knowing that that fish is out there.

Anyway - I guess this is what you do when you can't catch carp.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Closing the Loop

On the trout season that is.

I was a little anxious to get up and out on Sunday morning. The plan was to leave well before anyone was awake, and return just a couple hours after breakfast…. Proceed through the day then riding the high and emanating goodness. The days are getting shorter. I got up too early and actually ended up waiting a while at streamside for some steel gray to break through the dark. During that wait, I played around with the camera a bit. I toyed with the idea of being aggressive and swinging streamers in the dark… but just wasn’t up for it. The desire was for some nymphing. My dad gave me a 7 foot fiberglass rod (see pic) that I wanted to try out… ended up fishing it all morning.

Fishing started at the best hole, with strategy being fish it early and first, move on to the body of the stream and return to it at the end after some reset time. Plan started out pretty well. Right away (~715 AM maybe) fish started eating pink squirrel #18 and gray scud #20 or #22. They weren’t in the top of the pool but rather in the middle and tail it seemed. Chucking rig up to front and letting it sink… fishing pretty deep… and then on the edge of current… that seemed to pick up fish consistently. At that first hole I had a quota enough to make a guy happy. Good way to begin. No small fish either… all were in that 11-14” range it seemed, which was exceptional. It’s worth mentioning that three browns actually took line off the reel, which I thought was pretty cool. They fought with vigor. It would have been a fine sample from which to take a few home, but alas – keeping time ended a couple weeks ago. I was surprised to catch no book trout during this first burst of action. Toward the end, I set up the Gorilla Pod on a rock and took a couple photos.

Worked my way upstream… Gray, silent day and no folks around. I took sweet time at each hole. I never did find another big run of fish, but each hole turned out one or two browns. Hooked a beautiful brookie – probably right around 11” – but I was up high on a bank and as I tried to pick my way down to the water’s edge I think I put a little too much tension on and she popped off. Showed me her bright red before flipping away though.

One of the coolest fish encountered was not actually caught… Spotted a couple of nice browns hanging in a very difficult location under a log that was perpendicular to the flow. No way to get them nymphs. I cut off the trailing scud and replaced it with a WS variation… crept upstream and swung it down. I had to cast into what was basically slack water and mend a bunch of line downstream and right just to get the fly in front of the fish for even a second, as the fish were positioned near the right bank. I figured odds weren’t good, but I wasn’t in a rush, so I kept at it… finally get the line to come tight just right in that little alley of flow and like clockwork the hit came. Missed though.

Another notable fish was the one pictured below as photographed from a downed tree. I climbed out above the water and flipped the nymphs in that deep dark hole… and was actually fishing to a bigger brown when that one came and struck the pink squirrel. That’s a nice fish.

When I returned to the starting point I encountered a gear fisherman at the pool throwing a lure all the way across and dragging it back. I figured it was his turn to work the water, so I fished a seam for about one minute and left.

The trout season ends where it started this year then, on a home water – small tributary to a big river. Beautiful day and beautiful fish.

It's early.

High sticking was in play. Gorilla pod experimentation here. Cool device. Note that reel is seated up from butt - cork grip wouldn't let me put it at the rod's base. Kind of made for a fighting butt on a 7 foot rod, which was interesting.

Small pink squirrels, scuds and HE got all the day's fish.

Trout on glass was very cool. The 7 footer is a good small stream rod. I was surprised to find that I could get a lot of line out with it... 4 wt line maybe slightly under-loaded it.

Fishing from a tree.

This is what the word beautiful means. It's part of why I take pictures when I'm fishing: words, no matter how eloquent the pen, cannot describe this... and I don't trust my memory to paint it right.

Fall is here.