Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fowl Thoughts

The long-awaited Oklahoma Zone 1 waterfowl opener is nigh upon us (or me, anyway) and in all probability Saturday morning will find me hunkered down in a makeshift blind clutching my...muzzleloader.

Yes, once again duck season opens on the same weekend as our deer muzzleloader season, which means if you're primarily a public-land duck hunter - as I am - and if you walk in to most of your duck hunting spots - as I do - if you want to go duck hunting, you (and your vaguely deer-shaped dog) will be walking past an army of smokepolers.

Uh, thanks but no thanks.
I used to be able to get around this by hunting my in-laws' place. Used to, that is, until heavy rains earlier this year collapsed the dam on their flood-control lake and quite literally sent my best duck-hunting spot down the river. The dam was repaired, but thus far the water hasn't returned.

So I'll reluctantly load up my deer-hunting gear Saturday morning while the dogs watch and whine. Don't get me wrong, I love to deer hunt but I'm at best a casual blackpowder hunter. It's a good time to be out hunting, so I do, but from a technique standpoint I've just never gotten into it like bow or rifle hunting.

And since Oklahoma has gone to a two-buck aggregate limit across all seasons, it's going to have to be a pretty nice buck for me to shoot it and give up the possibility of later taking one with bow and one with rifle.

But I'll go anyway because you never know, Mr. Boone and Crocket (or even Mr. That's a Damn Nice Shooter Buck) may make an unexpected appearance.

If we could only get enough rain to put some water back in the lake, though, I'd trade a decent buck for a bunch of mallards in a heartbeat.

Here's hoping for lots of rain between now and Saturday...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Of viral infections and independent film...

Apologies to all who have left comments on the blog and apologies to all whose blogs upon which I have failed to leave comments...

I'm sitting here with a 102-degree fever, chills, muscle aches and various and sundry pains, apparently the result of my three-year-old son having bestowed upon his father a raging case of...nope, not flu, but hand, foot and mouth disease.

At least that's my Internet-derived diagnosis. It is by all accounts a rather common viral infection in infants and children. In adults however, not so much. Here I am, a mere seven months away from my 39th birthday and I've contracted a disease generally seen only in the Sesame Street demographic.

I shall refrain from speculating what that might indicate about my maturity level and general worldview, but it does sorta explain why Elmo looks so comforting about now.

Which brings me to the connection between viral infections and indie film. This is a connection I made last night around 1:30 a.m. when I woke up in a cold, achy sweat. My generally listless and zombie-like condition prevented me from reading with any degree of comprehension, so I decided if I was going to suffer, I was going to suffer in front of the television.

Now I watch hardly any television. I know it's fashionable and intellectually smug to claim that, but I truly don't. I catch Top Gear on BBC, the odd nature show with my eldest son and and I also try to keep abreast of what's on PBS. That's pretty much it. Hunting and/or fishing shows? I literally can't name one.

But I must admit that every now and then I peruse the movie channels. It's a guilty pleasure because long ago in a previous, childless life I was (cue French accent)... a cinaphile.

Seeing as how most of my friends in college were art school film majors, it wasn't surprising I was a film geek. And since I was also the only bonafide huntin', fishin', shootin' slow-talkin' Bubba of the group, and given that I was much larger than the average film major (budding filmmakers tend to be a bit sallow and puny...) I was invariably cast in my friends' class projects as either a hulking, lumpen dullard or a machete-wielding psycho.

It was much fun, but upon seeing the final version of their avant-garde masterworks, it's really no wonder virtually all of them ditched film school for journalism.

And when we weren't making films we were watching them. Sort of. My friends and I would buy a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best, a fifth of Jim Beam and other assorted mind-altering substances (Jolt cola and Slim-Jims, mainly) and watch films we largely didn't understand but drunkenly discussed ad nauseum, topics like "are the films of Akira Kurosawa more influenced by Shakespeare or Dostoevsky and exactly how does this Gai-gin influence color our perception of Japanese culture" (I actually wrote a paper on this. To this day I have no clue what I was trying to say)

Or "What was the underlying symbolry of the last scene of "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover?" (rule of thumb: if the movie was completely lost on you, just make up some underlying symbolry...).

Or in more intellectually honest moments, something along the lines of "Holy shit, look at Isabella Rossellini's tits!"

***As an addendum, I forced my wife to sit through "Blue Velvet" a few months ago. A pragmatic and more intellectually honest sort than myself, she declared it the third-worst film she's ever seen. Number two was another David Lynch classic "Wild at Heart" and the absolute winner, garnering the coveted title of "Worst. Film. Ever." went to Daniel Cronenberg's "Crash." I still enjoy all three for the uh...cinematography.***

Even after college I retained my love of off-beat film, but of course that all comes to a screeching halt when you have kids. The past nine years or so have been something of a film bleakscape for me, a period of time in which I've developed an appreciation for more linear mainstream fare, like SpongeBob.

But last night, shaking and shivering, I turned on the TV hoping a movie would take my mind off my illness, or at least make me drowsy enough to sleep. And that's when I discovered that just being "indie" doesn't make a film suckproof.

In fact, I discovered that a bad movie is much like a viral infection: Once you turn it on, it infects you and you just can't seem get rid of it. Insomnia, morbid curiosity and the 272 channels of infomercials running at the same time see to that. Treating it certainly doesn't work. Believe me, I tried to clear my mind and channel my inner film geek to see what the filmmaker was trying to make me see, but in the end all I saw was a muddled, crappy, juvenile, pretentious attempt at art.

And then it hit me: I probably would have loved this film in college. In fact, I know I would have. With a start I realized the yawning chasm between what I was then and what I am now is a bit wider, a bit more conventional than I had previously imagined.

Depressing, really. So I did what any mature, self-respecting, 38-year-old suffering from an infantile sickness would do in my place: I flicked off the excruciatingly bad movie and started watching some DVRd episodes of "Rocky and Bullwinkle."

Ahhh, much better. I finally discovered the cure for a cinematic virus is a healthy dose of joyfully clever and punny 60s-era animation.

Unfortunately, the only cure for a real virus is time, so it's back to bed for me. I was hoping to get out bowhunting some this week but I'm afraid that would require the actual drawing back of the bow, an action for which I'm physically ill-equipped right now.

So I'll just drink my liquids, pop my vitamin C and keep watching to see what Rocky (Doh! I mean Bullwinkle) pulls out of his hat...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One Fish, Two Fish, Blackfish, Bluefish...

It is now nine days into our deer archery season, it's 41 degrees outside, a few bucks are starting to show up around the house and I find myself still in a fishing frame of mind.

My recent trip to New Jersey has a lot to do with that, but I usually don't start hunting until after the first wave of over-anxious public-land bowhunters crash over the local WMAs anyway, so until this weekend I'll just keep thinking about fishing.

And speaking of fishing, besides the marlin I did catch other fish. False albacore, bluefish (well, OK, only one and it weighed maybe a pound), herring and this ugly thing. The blackfish. Tautog. Or simply "tog."
But whatever the name, the tog is a perfect case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

My first full day in Jersey, Joe and his friend Darren Dorris, saltwater editor of "New Jersey Angler Magazine" took me offshore on Joe's boat. We were hoping for bluefin, dolphin, false albacore and whatever else we could catch.

As it turned out I did get to catch a few false albacore but the weather was going to hell, the wind was picking up and we had to pack it up and head inshore long before we wanted to.

Joe and Darren are pros at Plan Bs, however, and today's plan B would be tog fishing off the jetties. Not knowing what the hell a "tog" was, I just smiled, nodded and kept my mouth shut.

Presently we arrived at the chosen jetty, swung the boat around and tried to idle in place as the waves crashed against the rocks. Darren and Joe took turns rigging rods, driving the boat and cutting the green crabs we'd be using for bait while I sat there trying to look nonchalant about the rocks we seemed destined to smash against with each huge wave that rolled under us.

As they rigged rods the guys tried to explain to me what tog fishing was like. "Tog fishing is all about developing a feel for the bite," said Joe. "It's a very subtle take and it might take some getting used to. You develop a touch for it, but until you do it can be kinda frustrating"

Joe's a master of understatement.

Darren handed me a rod, a conventional lever-drag Penn that - besides not having a level-wind - wasn't too different from the baitcasters I was used to. That was good. And the rod was rigged almost exactly like a typical catfishing set-up back home. Baited hook above a three or four-ounce weight.

Touch, smuch. How hard could it be? I took the rod, cast it close to the rocks, tightened up the line and waited, ready to set the hook on my first tog. I was confident, because one of the things I've always prided myself on as an angler is my sense of feel, my intuition for what's going on down there.

So here I was, on the back of a boat with a good four feet of vertical movement as it rode the waves. There was simply no way to maintain a consistent feel for your bait. But I wasn't worried. Wasn't I the fish whisperer, with an almost superhuman ability to detect a fish's hit? Of course I was.

Suddenly I felt a little tap on the line, and my finely-tuned sense told me a tog was down there taking my crab. I dropped the rod tip, got ready and with a mighty arc set the hook. On a rock.

Now about my hookset. It's a little...dramatic. I grew up pitching big Texas-rigged plastics into weedbeds, the kind of fishing where if you didn't rear back and try your damndest to break your rod as soon as you felt that tap, you probably weren't going to land any fish. It works great for bass in heavy cover, but it sometimes causes problems with other species and other situations.

Like now. My "finely-tuned" fish sense was telling me "set the hook" every time my weight bumped along the bottom. Between the movement of the boat, the rocks and those sneaky goddamned fish down there stealing my crab on every cast I was - to put it mildly - looking like an idiot.

And I was beginning to question whether these damn things even existed. Hell, for all I know we were on the Jersey equivalent of a snipe hunt (hey, let's take the new guy "tog" fishing, nudge nudge wink wink...). And then Joe set the hook on a fish that put a good bend in his rod. I guess they did exist, after all. I was finally going to see my first tog. After a few seconds it broke the surface and Joe swung it into the boat. I looked down at it, rubbed my eyes, looked again and exclaimed "That's a tog? Good gawd, that's the ugliest f***ing fish I've ever seen!"

And it was. I mean, just look at the damn thing. I know ugly, and that was definitely it. It was humiliating. Not only was I being made a fool of, I was being made a fool of by the piscatorial equivalent of the elephant man.

Then Darren caught one. Then Joe caught another one. Then Darren caught another one. And all the while I'm standing there setting hook after hook on...nothing. By then the humiliation had morphed into humbleness. My pride shattered, I conceded defeat. I had been schooled.

And then, quite by accident, I hooked one. I was reeling in slack, felt a tiny bit of resistance,, thought "aww, what the hell" and set the hook on my first tog. I was as shocked as the fish.

I don't know if it was the relief of finally getting the monkey off my back or if I was developing a feel for how tog take the bait, but I started catching fish. And started having fun.

We ended up staying on that jetty catching tog until all our crabs were gone. And a day that could have been sort of a half-bust turned out to be not only a blast, but a reminder of why I love fishing so much.

I may be pushing 40 but every time I pick up a rod, every time I get on the water regardless of how big or small it may be, I feel like a kid again.

Growing up is, quite frankly, a bitch. The necessary demands of life - even a good, rewarding life - can't help but draw down the reservoir of curiosity, awe and wonder each of us are born with, replacing them with worry, weariness, cynicism and despair.

And as we get older we find there are fewer and fewer ways to replenish that reservoir.
But for me, it was always fishing. A rod and reel was my original interface with the natural world, my first portal into its mysteries, and after all these years fishing is still the purest form of unadulterated joy I've ever known.

I've met guys over the years who seem like they're never having much, I don't know...fun when they're fishing. They've got goals. Expectations. Demands. It may be all about numbers, or size, or the competition. It's like fishing is a game they need to win in order to derive any satisfaction or pleasure from the experience.

Two days after tog fishing I went out and caught a fish that in all probability will be the crowning achievement of my angling career (unless Field & Stream suddenly recognizes my obvious talents and starts throwing assignments my way. Right...).

And it was everything I thought it would be, and more. But I can honestly say that in terms of the reasons I choose to fish; the awe, the sense of wonder, the pleasure, the satisfaction I derive from it, I experienced just as much of by catching those ugly-ass tog as I did that unspeakably beautiful marlin.

Don't get me wrong: I desperately want to travel to many far-off places and catch many large, exotic and spectacular gamefish. Who wouldn't? But that never was the yardstick by which I measure success or happiness and it never will be.

Fishing is fishing. And for me that's all that's ever mattered. And besides, Joe and Darren say I've got an open invite any time I want go togging again...