Thursday, October 31, 2013

Huginn's Aerie

A wind storm came through about a week ago and left the place a wreck.  The clean-up endeavors involved a vast array of tools from weed whip to chainsaw, and most everything in between.  During the course of my chores I was reminded, once again, that there are plenty of usage and meaning voids in the English lexicon.  I think we need a term for that particularly enraging inability to get lopping shears around the branch you want to cut due to the inability to see it through the other branches or the skewed angles at which one is often forced to attack the offending branch through the brush.  "Lopper Rage" seems many degrees too banal and not nearly visceral enough for that moment of blinding white infuriation when you can't get the mother$*!#&^% blades... around this mother%$*$#(@ branch... !!  Shwew.  Sorry.

Minor clipping conniptions aside, I soon found myself wandering between a good amount of brush, piles haphazardly dotting the yard.  I decided to drag it to one corner that abuts the woods in back, and just yards beyond, a steep drop off to the forest floor deep below.  It had occurred to me in the past that this would be a nifty spot for a ground blind as it overlooks a rather open section of the forest often flooded by the creek when it overflows its banks in spring.

I hadn't gotten around to building the ground blind before now, in part, because I am not a bow hunter.  Nor am I predisposed to be one, truthfully.  For decades, autumn weekends have meant tromping along behind a good looking mutt or two, and swinging on startled birds as they claw and flap for altitude before the backdrop of standing corn or golden leaves.  I've suffered more than a moment's pause thinking about trading all that to sit in a tree waiting for a deer to walk by.  Still, with the weeknight opportunity staring me right in the back deck (I could see the blind as I sit here if I cut just two spruce trees down), that personal opinion is bound to change.  I only wish the urge had truly struck in time for me to be ready to bow hunt now.  That, of course, would involve the possession of both a bow and the ability to shoot it well, apart from a good many other things, none of which I see laying about here.

So I rearranged a few landscaping ties between a tree and couple well-driven re-bar stakes on the precipice of the the drop-off, and screwed down a scrap of plywood to give myself a fairly level platform on which to park a handy chair.  If the whole works isn't actually cantilevered out over the abyss, it's close enough to feel like it sometimes.

All that was left was to drag in my recently trimmed brush, and have a good sit., which I did almost immediately.

Huginn's Aerie- with all the eye rolling, tongue in cheek pomposity I can muster
I've dubbed this new blind Huginn's Aerie partly because, if you're gonna pose as a faux-pretentious douche bag on the internet, as I sometimes find to be enjoyable here, you have to really swing for the fences to make it play.  And, more to the point, if you've managed to pick up some Norse mythology from anyplace other than the Marvel movies, you may remember that Huginn (or Hugin) is one of the ravens that flies all over the world and brings news back to the big cheese, Odin.  The name Huginn comes to us from the Old Norse "thought," and so I chose him for a namesake because that's what you do most of the time in any blind -- you sit and think.

Sometimes you ponder the actual hunting happening in front of you, but just as often the mind wanders wherever it pleases.  In a few short evenings of sitting and cogitating, I've already seen a respectable array of passers-by including the resident pair of great horned owls (I'd guess Jacinda has flown the coop for greener patches of hardwood, but I know little of juvenile owl habits), the somewhat more secretive (but still a local denizen, I believe) sharp-shinned hawk, a red fox, a family of three lumbering raccoons, annoyingly screechy blue jays (of course), plenty of deer, and chippies and squirrels too numerous to count. The most comical and consistent visitor thus far is one spectacularly unafraid chipmunk in particular, who seems to quite enjoy gnawing hazlenuts right in the blind with me, well within kicking range were I so inclined.  I'm probably the interloper, probably built the blind right on little dude's house, but he seems happy enough for the company and we get along in any case.

Almost all the green you can see in this view from The Aerie (except the
blind itself in the foreground) is invasive buckthorn,
about the only deciduous plant still green in the woods.
I got to thinking about buckthorn while taking in the sunset the other night.  If you've ever left the gravel parking lot at the trail head anywhere in this part of the world, you've encountered buckthorn.  You can't not have.  It's as ubiquitous as it is detrimental to native plants.

One of the main "ploys" buckthorn uses to out-compete native species so effectively lies in its ability to green up first in spring and stay green longer than most other woodland plants in fall.  With just such an extended growing season, it has little trouble sucking up more sun and nutrients, growing faster and longer, and choking out the less aggressive species around it.

Check it out.  This nimrod is about to wade directly into a possibly derisive religious discussion right in the middle of his perfectly harmless little outdoor blog.  Idiot...

I am and almost always have been more of a science-y guy when it comes to explaining the universe and everything in it.  It's more comfortable for me, but due maybe to my upbringing, I do believe there is a higher power out there somewhere as well, humming along in the background.  It, this higher power, is just very much more hands-off in my mind than it is in the minds of some of my more religious friends.  It may be there, but we don't hang much.  And I don't go in the for the big beardly guy sitting on a cloud either.  If anything, I hope it's Morgan Freeman in an all white suit.  That'd be pretty rad.

Nor was I ever much of a "be one with the forest" crystal-wearing spiritual New Age type, until one day when I thought about it through the prism of the periodic table.  If you look at the most populous elements in the universe and the most common materials in us as people, it's the same stuff.  Excepting helium which doesn't really do much for us at the temperatures we hang out in, you check off the list of stuff floating around out there... hydrogen, oxygen, (hi, we're predominately made of water), carbon... we are quite literally one with the forest, not to mention everything else that ever has been.  It's all from the same box of Legos.  Everything that is ever gonna be was puked out in a few seconds or so, and that's it.  We're molecularly one with most everything... or at least the four percent of the universe that isn't dark matter.  That's a different blog entirely.

So as I sat there, elementally at one with the roley-poley raccoons and brave little chipmunk, wondering how many gallons of  Roundup I'd need to put a dent in the local buckthorn population (now is the time of year, after all), it occurred me that maybe it was "meant to be" in some grand plan.  Maybe God or whoever is in charge has decided that buckthorn should take over this corner of the world, and that's just how it is.  And that kind of thinking brought me to thinking, in a roundabout way, of the classic God of the gaps conundrum.

God of the gaps, simply stated, is the practice of inserting God into any situation that science cannot define or explain.  It is taking the holes in our understanding of the world as proof of God's existence.  I have no problem with that on the face of it, except that it leads, without fail, to one massive problem.

Think about when there was a lot more stuff we could not understand scientifically.  Gravity, Newtonian physics, the motion of the stars and planets, self tanning lotion.  Many of them were given to God of the gaps through the ages -- the universe revolved around the Earth because God said so.  Fair enough.

Until we are able to put the observations to a thing, to formulate hypotheses, run ever-evolving experiments and prove scientifically why or how something happens or doesn't.  When that happens to a phenomenon previously attributed to God of the gaps, that deity becomes, by definition, nothing more than an ever-receding shadow of the unknown.  I don't like the thought of that.  It's jarring to me.  I much prefer the Morgan Freeman model, as a matter of fact.

This is what happens when you get some time in a new blind to hash things over.  At least it is when I do.  I'm old enough now that I can occasionally have upwards of five to seven complete thoughts before boobs pop in again, and put everything else back on hold.  I'd be babbling about even more random topics here if it weren't for the one thing I'm most excited about in The Aerie.

There are deer here.  Seemingly lots of them, to my frame of reference.

I'm used to deer hunting in the much larger, much thicker northwoods where deer have not been nearly as common as they are down here for quite a few years now.  There are wolves and bears and inexorably long, cold springs up there that often lay waste to the deer herd.  And there aren't thousands of acres of corn and soybeans for the deer to leisurely grow fat and abundant on up there, as there are down here.

I saw 5 deer the first evening I sat in Huginn's, and that was mere hours after I'd been in there stomping around, raising hell with the chainsaw and stinking the whole place up.  I've gone entire rifle seasons up north without seeing that many deer.  Hell, I think I've gone entire consecutive rifle seasons without seeing that many deer.  Not that you'd ever convince me to hunt during gun season anywhere but The Camp as long as they'll have me, but it is rather exciting, even somewhat startling, to actually see deer every half hour or so while sitting on a stand.  What a novel concept.

I may have to get into this bow hunting thing, after all.  And quickly.

Buckthorn about to block the vitals.  Imagine that.  Call in the Roundup truck.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Techno Feely Ya

Old guys gripe -- probably always have, and probably always will.  It's their prerogative.  They've been around long enough to have seen some stuff and, at the same time, not give much thought to what other's think of their opinions.  So they say what they think, sometimes with a good deal of artful snark.  I can't wait until I've reached the magical age where experience and lack of social imperative meet to suddenly grant me the right to bitch about whatever I like.

I once heard one of the guys in camp cheer for a Clay Matthews sack emanating from radio as we sat around the table tossing cards and shooting the bull, and in the very same breath, murmur something derogatory about the man's chosen hairstyle.  Mr Matthews had just blown up, in his manic way, what might've been a game-winning drive for the opposition, and my close friend of receding hairline and ready opinions was muttering something about goddamn hippies.

Now don't take me the wrong way, I love me my old guys, and I actually enjoy their griping most of the time.  Often it's said with a little implied wink, a snappy jab to let it be known they aren't quite ready to be pushed out on the ice floe for the good of the tribe.  And funny.  Pour a couple PBR's into the old guys in camp, and they'll rip into fly fishermen, golf, sit-coms, hot dogs... whatever... with a gleeful abandon that often leaves any novice onlookers in presumably stunned silence before the head-shaking laughter erupts.

One of the favorite topics for old guys to rip (after politicians and people from Illinois, of course) is the use of technology.  Kids these days and their... yadda yadda...  I'm positive there existed, at least one time in all the timeless generations of history, a Neanderthal elder huddled around a fire outside modern day Prague, muttering under his breath about these soft kids and their fancy-pants woven flax sandals.
Little should be taken seriously after the boot begins its circuit

I remember once professing, with no small bit of self-important authority, that every bit of technology used in the field served only to remove the user one step further from the true and honest experience of being in the woods.  It should be noted that I made this mildly idiotic proclamation while passing the boot at the Essen Haus in Madison, and therefore should be taken with the proverbial grain of brewer's yeast.

Of course technology aids us all in our every outdoor endeavor.  If it didn't, if we were true Luddites, we'd be walking to the river and bashing fish on the head with a rock -- which, come to think of it, would be a helluva lot cheaper.

We all have our own line of demarcation as to what we consider "too much" technology in the field, usually connected closely with age, experience, and personal proclivity for the use of such devices.  In fly fishing alone there exists the never-ending and sometimes heated debate between the pros and cons of using bamboo, fiberglass, or "modern" graphite and boron rods.  All choices have their moments of beauty and usefulness to varying degrees, but the truth is, if you're using any of them, you ain't rock bashing.  You've allowed technology to seep into your fishing.  For shame!

I have a buddy and extremely accomplished fisherman who states emphatically that, "if it uses batteries, it's a toy."  Implying that it's not a tool, and therefore has no place in the field.  This repeated statement comes to the fore most often in discussions concerning the use of GPS because he's an old school proponent of map and compass.  I tend to agree with him in this particular case, having been brought up with the topo and Silva myself, but I can't go so broad as to state emphatically that nothing which uses electricity belongs afield.  I have used hand-held GPS units in the past, but only to mark hot spots on the ice, never in the woods.

The mind fairly boggles when considering lists of things brought to use through modern technology that avail themselves to the current outdoorsman and woman.  It's absolutely everywhere.  Forced to narrow a list of technological advancements that have most impacted me in my life afield to a very spare few, they would be these.

  • Synthetic Clothing.  I've covered the use of modern clothing here to the point of beating a dead horse (with the aforementioned rock, of course).  Gone are the white waffle cotton base layers and felt-lined Sorrels of yesteryear.  We wear poly-pro next to our nethers now, and we are much more comfortable for it when it comes to working up a lather in the cold.  Down sucks as an insulator when it gets wet, nylon fleece does not.  And unless you work with the little yellow dude on the box of fish sticks, Gore-Tex or the like now goes on the outside in inclement weather, not PVC or rubber.
  • Fly tying materials.  As you've seen here for a couple years now, I can't tie a single fly in my preferred style without immediately and constantly reaching for materials that flash and sparkle, that were extruded through some process unknown to me in a factory somewhere full of modern polymers and glitter.
  • Real Time Sonar -- so called "Flashers."  I'm a Vexilar man, myself, but no matter the brand the modern ice man chooses, the flasher is most often his single most important, well-loved piece of gear.  Tip-up fisherman can bear to go without, but I don't know a single serious jigger of panfish or game species that would now fish without a flasher.  They're a clear and real window into what's happening below the ice.  I should mention, for the sake of being thorough, that ice fishing cameras cross my personal line of acceptable technology in the field for the rather nebulous (even to me) reasons hinted at above.
  • Social Media.  Here's a favorite gripe of the old timer, but for every time they mutter and kick at the dirt about the use of Facebook and YouTube contributing to the death of the true outdoorsman, I believe there is another instance in which some guy or girl out there is using them to learn how to fish or hunt.  Some peoples' dads didn't or couldn't teach them how to huntfishforagecamp for whatever reason, and for those folks, the internet is an invaluable recourse, a nearly bottomless font of information at the fingertips.

There are still innumerable times when the old way is the better way, or more often, the more enjoyable way.  Sometimes it's just cooler to go old school.  

If I ever find the time to add bow hunting to my still-growing list of outdoor pursuits, it will include, at least at some point, chasing deer with a traditional bow.  I'll probably start with a modern compound bow in a tree stand both because that will be the natural continuation of my rifle hunting and because that appears to be the easiest way to go; but at some point, I hope to find myself on the ground, face darkened with schmutz, stalking with longbow or recurve in hand.

For a recent evening meal, I chose to go old school with venison in cast iron on a matchless Swedish fire torch, simply for the joy of practicing a little backyard bushcraft from my teenage years.  You can now actually find Swedish fire torches (also sometimes called Swedish candles) in stores, pre-cut into the signature wedges with a chainsaw from seasoned hardwood.  They come cocooned and clean in plastic wrap for those less likely to have a hatchet or saw handy, which never fails to elicit a little mocking eye roll from yours truly.  I understand not everyone wants to be out there grubbing it up, but getting dirt stains on your knees is half the fun for me.

For the purposes of remaining a tad less yuppie-fied than that, and to keep things feeling more retro, I went with a grubby little white pine stump I'd cut during spring clean-up, and left out in the rain and weather for half a year.  If you're gonna practice a little roughing it, running out to Williams Sonoma simply won't do.  A quick buzz with the chainsaw to square up the notched end left from felling, and a few well placed whacks with the hatchet to split the log into quarters, and we were under way.

I don't think we have to wander into profound firecraft excitations here, but I will note that when it's been raining for a few days, and you're found to be coaxing a fire without matches or a lighter (whether through choice or necessity) mature milkweed seeds make for great tinder in season.  They remain dry encased in those odd rubbery pods, and catch a spark very well when properly floofed up.

Once you have your small fire going in the normal fashion, building the torch is simply a matter of smushing up the quarters of your log around it so it begins to take on the form of a reassembled chunk of wood.  Kindling can then be crosshatched up in the open spaces to bring the fire to the log.  Things will go much better for you here if everything you're working is as square and level as feasible from the start.

While the appeal of the store-bought Swedish fire torch is purely that it looks cool and burns well, it's true utilitarian roots lie in the fact that it is at once a great stable cooking surface and is also easily moved.  Once you get to this point, you can pick up the quarters individually, and as long you don't dally, move your cooking fire wherever you'd like.  The fire level is controlled by simply adjusting the proximity of the quarters to each other.  There is always sweet spot, depending on the conditions and wood, that allows the torch to get enough air and still remain close enough to burn.  That's the Goldilocks zone you want to find.

Then it's simply a matter of perching your pan on top, and getting to the business of making some grub.  I'd cut and parboiled the sprouts and sweet potato in the house here.  Seasoned them too.  I'm not a damn heathen.

  A splash of Oktoberfest for steam and sauce, some additional kindling if things are really damp.  Perfectly acceptable steps when needed.  Even though the fire burns from the inside out, as you can see here, as long as you don't flail about too much, things remain perfectly stable.  No cheffy sauté flip thing here -- use your tongs to stir.  Or a pocket knife, in this case.

I prefer my venison very rare.  Still snort-wheezing, as it were.  Under normal circumstances, I simply set it in the general proximity of a mild heat source for a few moments -- a 60-watt light bulb, say.  In an extraordinary show of selflessness, however, I actually laid my marinated steaks in the pan quickly for the purposes of this post. 

That dog'll hunt.

That wasn't exactly hanging unseasoned steaks on a forked stick over the fire, but neither was it making use of the latest and greatest technology in camp cookery.  Which, by the way, would've made me just as happy to do.

You want to go all space-age with your hunting, fishing, foraging and cooking?  I'm fine with that.  You'd like to chuck homemade darts with an atlatl?  Go nuts.  I'm just pleased you're out there doing it.  You may want to check local regs on bashing fish with rocks before you try that one.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tracer Round Tutorial

I was struck by the muse in the bottle last night, sipping bourbon and staring at the vice, when the color of my Buffalo Trace in the glass inspired a new pattern.  It's been a while since I did a fly tying tutorial, and I've never done one here on A Tenderloin, so here we go... Introducing, The Tracer Round.

"New pattern" being a relative term, of course, and a bit of a stretch in most cases -- including this one.  Almost all flies in the modern era are revamped iterations of previous patterns.  With very few exceptions (I'm looking at you and your Game Changer, Mr. Chocklett), most of us tie directly on the shoulders of, and in concert with, our contemporaries.

I do bristle a bit when one among us throws a different set of legs (head, wings, etc.) on a well-loved pattern, and calls it their own.  But barring the occasional leap forward in creativity at the vise, that's how these things most often evolve.  If you can't see the Wooly Buggers in a Sex Dungeon, you need your eyes checked.

Try that as a pick-up line at the bar sometime.

So we watch what the other guys are tying, and add our own twist to the mix.  More presciently, some of the more observant and intuitive among us attempt the fill a void in our repertoire or more completely appease the "needs" of certain fishing conditions with a certain pattern.  The latter is partly where I was coming from with the Tracer Round, alcohol-fueled inspiration aside.

If you've read here much at all, you know I'm a proponent of the big, meaty articulated streamers.  They're fun to tie, fun to chuck, and they work.  They've also left a hole in the spectrum of the flies I like to tie and fish.  In my boxes you can -- concerning size and profile -- reach for either a #8 bugger or the like on the small end... or ginormous, honking articulated streamers of all manner on the big end.  And there ain't much in between.

Hopefully a smaller and lighter articulated fly like the Tracer Round, downright dainty as it is compared to its steroidal streamer brethren, will help fill that void.  To my mind, it can, um... trace (sorry) its lineage to a bunch of Hog Snare, some Voodoo Squatch, with a little Sex Dungeon and Peanut Envy thrown in.  Not to mention a good dose of Kentucky firewater.

Enough with the yapping.  Nobody cares.  Let's tie.

The Hardware:
Gamakatsu B10s #2
35mm Fish Skull shank
Uni 8/0 - Light Cahill

The Software:
Marabou - cream, tan, burnt orange
Fire Fly - gold
Krystal Flash - root beer
Mallard Flank - "wood duck" gold
Dubbing - Awesome Possum, light yellow
Mini Speckled Centipede Legs (Orvis) -  orange, tan
Craft Fur -  cream, tan
Sculpin Wool - tan
Fish Skull Living Eyes - Earth

Tie in a sparse cream marabou tail the length of the shank.  I'm pulling off the "waste" pieces near the base of the quill here, so as to not use an entire plume for something that's gonna be pretty buried.  Just need a little color here.

Tie in a tan marabou plume by the tip, and make 2 wraps forward.  Like a wet fly hackle.  Secure.

Add a few strands each of gold Fire Fly and root beer Krystal Flash.  Trim just longer than the tail.

Tie in a burnt orange marabou feather by the tip, and make 2 wraps forward.  Like a wet fly hackle.  Secure.

Tie in the gold mallard flank by the tip, and dub forward about half the shank length.

Palmer the mallard flank forward to the end of the dubbing and secure.  Repeat with another, larger mallard flank and round of dubbing.  Palmer forward to within about a hook-eye distance of the eye.

Center tie one each of the orange and tan centipede legs, folding over to secure so you end up with 4 legs per side.  Trim just shorter than the tail.

Reverse tie 2 clumps of craft fur.  Cream on the bottom, tan on top.

Fold back the craft fur (the body of a ball point pen works great here), and secure over the body of the fly.

Insert the open end of the articulated shank through the hook eye, and secure with your thread.  Hit it with some cement.

Repeat the exact same steps on the shank, tying the same fly twice and leaving room for a head.

Center tie the sculpin wool on top and bottom, and fold back over the body to form the head.  Secure.

Glue on some peepers.  I went with the spares you get with the sculpin helmets here.  I was thinking "light and small" this entire fly, but you can certainly go bigger with the eyes.

Sip bourbon and admire.

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