Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Balls, Gills and the Meaning of Life...

When you take a look at sporting pursuits that generate the largest amount of literary pretension, two come immediately to mind: golf and flyfishing.

Peruse the shelves at any large bookstore and you will find them absolutely stuffed with gilded-prose paeans to chasing little white balls or chasing little fish. Personal memoirs about how the author, struggling with the deeper questions of (to steal a line from the late, great Douglas Adams) Life, the Universe and Everything, found his answers either on the misty dew-bejeweled fairway or the misty, dew-bejeweled trout stream.

Now golf, I just don’t get. I’m not what you would call a fan.

You see, when I was sixteen my grandparents, worried about the truly inordinate amount of time I was spending plying the illicit and wholly intoxicating waters of whatever local ponds I could sneak into, bought me – quite unexpectedly - a set of golf clubs in the ultimately vain hope that golf would somehow turn me from a budding delinquent redneck into a refined junior gentleman.

I shrugged my shoulders, took the clubs and hit the links. For about four tortured weeks I tried. Mightily.

But it quickly became apparent I possessed neither the interest nor the temperament for golf. I kept staring at the water hazards and wishing I had a rod. Or staring into the woods and wishing I were bowhunting. Or wishing I were pretty much anywhere but standing in the middle of this goddamned golf course surrounded by a bunch of drunk, pastel-clad jerk-offs suppressing their homoerotic tendencies with manly, metaphorically-loaded Alpha Male talk of gripping their shafts in order to better crush their balls.

But I knew it would make my grandparents happy so I sullenly kept after it.
Filiopiety toward ones elders can only go so far, however, and one afternoon when the well-dressed asshole who had been shouting at us for the past five holes nearly lobotomized me with a golf ball after playing through without the courtesy of a warning, the needle on my internal fuck-this gauge indicated it was time to quit.

So I grabbed his ball, teed it up, hit a fine shot back at him and followed it with my middle finger and a shouted invitation to grip my shaft. With his lips. Which of course got me kicked off the grounds.

Having decided that golf was, to put it charitably, not for me, I traded my golf clubs for a Remington 870 and still consider it one of the best deals I’ve ever made. And my opinion of golf hasn’t changed one iota over the years.

But flyfishing? Well, I can see that. I can understand that. I get it. Most of the problems in my life have been worked out - or at least recognized and acknowledged – with a rod in my hand.

Of course being an Okie that rod was usually chunking a spinnerbait or a plastic worm for bass, so unlike so many Compleat Anglers out there I’ve never believed flyfishing holds the world-exclusive on piscatorially-aided self-enlightenment, but I enjoy it and can see where its grace and form lends itself to waxing poetic.

And therein lies the basic problem with flyfishing literature. Everyone’s an angler-poet, casting for meaning (and an appropriately deep metaphor) across the limpid pools and riffles of the soul.

Or some such shit as that.

Simply put, much of it, well, sucks. And by sucks I don’t mean it has a few minor quibbling issues. I mean it blows harder than a Pigalle hooker. It's the kind of self-absorbed prose usually reserved for vanity presses and uhh…you know…long-winded personal blogs…

There’s simply so much published crap out there that if there were a category for books bought but never finished, the flyfishing memoir would beat hell out of diet books and celebrity autobiographies.

But now, some 640 words later I finally come to the original point of this blog post, the point any real journalist would have made in the opening paragraph, which is: I recently picked up a copy of James R. Babb's "River Music" and it is one helluva good read. Highly recommended. Seriously, I couldn't put it down, even for Jon and Kate's divorce announcement. It's that good.

How's that for succinct?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Things That Don't Suck: G. Loomis Rods

I am a man of modest means. Very modest means. Victorian-era modesty. So modest my income stream wears a burqa.

So why am I singing the praises of a rod, a fishing pole, a simple, unadorned wand of spun carbon fiber that weighs next to nothing but (for some GLX models) costs in the neighborhood of four hundred (that's four, followed by the word hundred) bucks?

And that's just for a casting rod. Fly rods? Fuggetaboutit...

Because casting it gives me the kind of intense, endorphin-releasing sensation usually reserved for smack junkies, nymphomaniacs and religious fanatics, but with the advantage that a Loomis rod won't kill me, leave me sore and exhausted or require me to dance with snakes while talking gibberish. Like a talented stripper, it just leaves me feeling penniless and happy.

I own three Loomis rods, only one of which I could afford to purchase new, a low-end GL2 popping rod I happened to find on the clearance rack of a local shop. The two IMX models I have managed to acquire were pawn shop purchases in which the pawn shop owners didn't know what they were worth and I did. Too bad for them.

Unfortunately, the top-of-the-line GLX travel rod in the picture isn't mine but I did have a brief, torrid affair with it on a trip to Florida. I got this opportunity not because I am a wildly successful and influential outdoors writer, but because I called up the PR rep for Loomis and shamelessly begged him until he agreed to send me a loaner if I'd stop sending him e-mails.

I won't bore you with technical minutia. What I will say is that the GLX rod I used (paired up with a Curado 300 he also sent along. A damn fine reel BTW and hell no, I couldn't keep it, either) simply blew me away.

Being a three-piece rod, I expected a few compromises and shortcomings. I found none. Fishing-wise the trip pretty much sucked, but I will say that GLX/Curado combo caught no fish beautifully.

When I got home I took it and my then-current favorite fluking/jerkbait rod out on a local pond for a direct comparison. And when the shooting stopped my rod (a middle-to-higher-end rod from another maker that retails for around $200) lay in the dust bleeding to death.

Now I know it may seem unfair to compare a $200 rod to a $400 rod, but bear in mind the GLX is a three-piece rod, which theoretically means some loss of sensitivity and casting performance. Theoretically.

In reality, using the exact same bait and fishing the exact same way I picked up way more hits on the GLX than I did my rod.

Now I know the more technical-minded readers may be irritated by my nebulous use of the term "way more" as a unit of measurement and comparison, so for your benefit I'll be more specific: During the course of my comparison the GLX travel rod detected approximately 1.5 shitloads more hits than my one-piece rod. And that's a substantial difference, wouldn't you agree?

Whether that difference is worth $200 is, of course, an individual choice. And for me, it is.

Theoretically, of course.

In reality I can no more afford a $400 rod than I can afford a new bass boat or penile enhancement surgery (or some combination thereof), so until I stumble across a GLX with a twelve-dollar price tag leaning amongst the Berkley Lightning Rods and Shakespeare Ugly Stiks I'll keep dreaming.

But I can say without the slightest equivocation that Loomis rods are things that don't suck.

And yes, it broke my pauper's heart having to send that lovely creation back to Loomis.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chad's Future Excellent Fishing Adventure

This is a picture of a person I don't know talking to a couple other people I don't know as he attempts - using an unknown technique and bait - to catch a fish, the species of which I (surprise, surprise) don't know.

And thus sums up my knowledge of European urban angling. The photograph was taken in London along the Thames on my first trip to Europe a few years back. My plan was to strike up a conversation with him in the international language of the brotherhood of anglers, ask him all kinds of questions about British fishing and expand my fishing horizons beyond my own provincial Amero-centric boundaries.

That was the plan, anyway.

As I walked up to him after the two people in the picture finally left I heard him muttering to himself. I don't know exactly what he was saying, but since it contained multiple instances of the phrase "fockin' tourists", my fear of getting thrown headfirst into the Thames outweighed my curiosity and I just walked on by. In hindsight, I don't blame him a bit.

I had tried the same thing a few days earlier in Paris with a dour-looking Frenchman who was tight-lining a spinning rod along the left bank of the Seine.

I suspect he spoke perfect English, but (again, in hindsight) if I were being heckled by an American buffoon who thought that speaking English slowly and with a ridiculously affected fake French accent would help me understand what he was saying, then I'd probably just ignore him, too.

How bad was it? Imagine the unholy lovechild of Casablanca's Captain Renault and Inspector Clouseau.

"Excusemwha. May eye ask what it eeze you are feeshing for? Eye am an Ameri-cahn and I too enjoy zee feeshing!"

The man gave me a look of unadulterated contempt, or maybe horror, it was hard to tell, spoke something in rapid-fire French and then turned back to his rod in a manner that implied in no uncertain terms that this tortured conversation, such as it was, was over.

I've since learned to just shut up, smile and say "Bonjour" to absolutely everything.

So suffice it to say I don't know much about fishing in Europe. But damnit, that's going to change.

My wife is a high school humanities teacher, and every three years or so she (and by extension I) take a group of her students on a trip to Europe. Twice now (not including the trip on which this picture was taken) I have walked along the banks of the Thames, the Seine, the Arno and the Tiber watching other guys fish and wondering what they were fishing for.

Next time, it's gonna be me. Next time, I'm packing a three-piece travel rod, a Calcutta 100, a small tackle box (after I figure out what kind of tackle to take) and I'm going to fish every one of those rivers. I will have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. I'll try to talk the Suburban Bushwacker into helping me out with the Thames, but the others will be Terra Incognita, pure guerrilla fishing.

I may not catch anything, but at least I can say I did it instead of wondering about it.

I have no idea how many laws - both international and sovereign - I'll be violating with this plan, but I'm sure it's legion. And I don't care. What are they going to do, throw me in fishing jail? Besides, they've got to catch me first. All I have to do is act like I belong there, like I have every right to be fishing that spot.

And if anybody questions me, I'll just smile, say "Bonjour" and run like hell.

Brilliant, no?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I'm still here. Really, I am.

My apologies for the lack of posts the past few days. When I first decided to do a personal blog my goal was at least one post - however trivial, perfunctory or shallow - per day.

So much for goals...

When you're married to a school teacher, have two kids and work from home, choosing the end of the school year to start a writing project probably isn't the best timing for said project.

So for the past week I've been mediating sibling conflicts, watering the dirt I charitably call a "yard", wishing (to paraphrase a Buffet line) I was fishing and basically sitting around the house on my arse doing nothing. It's a typical early summer pattern for me and soon enough I'll find a dark corner, figure out my summer writing routine and the frequency of my posts will increase.

So until then I'll leave you with an image I can wholly commiserate with right now, the version of van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" which hangs in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

It's not the most perfectly centered photograph, but I had to snap it while simultaneously using my mixed martial arts skills to fend off a horde of unsmiling, rather severe-looking German tourists who were determined to get in front of me.

OK, so I'm lying about that last part. I don't know mixed martial arts from mixed fruit and it was actually a horde of camera-toting Japanese tourists dressed like the Ramones, but that's my excuse for the bad pic.

Now everyone claims van Gogh meant to portray a sense of melancholy with this painting, but I'm not buying it. My personal theory is the subject of the portrait, Dr. Paul Gachet(who treated van Gogh at the end of his life) probably had children, perhaps brothers age three and eight who spent every waking hour devising ways to beat, taunt and torture each other while their poor suffering father tried in vain to write, err, I mean, treat patients.

So when Gachet finally got around to dealing with van Gogh he wasn't melancholy, as van Gogh suspected, he was simply worn out and exhausted.

But either way, melancholy or exhaustion, Gachet's presence was apparently one helluva downer because after a mere ten weeks of his treatment van Gogh decided he'd rather self-medicate with a revolver shot to the chest than continue on with Dr. Happyface.

Incidentally, the other version of this painting, which is in private hands, sold for $82 million back in 1990. That will buy you a whole lotta spinnerbaits....