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Travel Article in Sunday Boston Globe

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To travel, write and photography — it sounds like a pretty good life, doesn’t it? Well, thanks to the Boston Globe, I got to do just that.

The story — “Western fly fishing and bird shooting, close to Boston” — appeared this past Sunday in the Travel section. Alongside my story, the piece featured some of my photography as well. It was a real delight to see this in print, and to hear from so many people.


Maine Drone Photography

I have recently been experimenting with aerial photography from a drone. It’s amazing the quality of the photos that come out of the DJI Phantom, even before post. Truly – I was stunned. Here’s a small selection from my early attempts in Maine.

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2015 Fishing Season Video

The 2015 season was a truly great year, with fun trips, big fish, and meeting great new people. Check out my video recap here.

 


Recent Fishing Photos

The sun’s been shining, the fish have been biting, and I’ve been out on the water with my camera. See below for a few selections, one from floating the Deerfield, and another from the Cheeky Schoolie Tournament.

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Video: Interview With My Dad

I’ve been teaching myself how to shoot and edit video lately, as it’s such an important (and expensive!) part of any marketing or communications efforts. In working for nonprofits, I’d like to be able to internalize some of these costs so I set out, with the help of my friends at Wistia, to teach myself. Here’s my first serious effort that I’m proud of, with the text from the original post to go with it.

My dad’s bamboo fly rod shop was always there, just out back. Some of my first memories are of the shop — the sounds of the compressor and the lathe, the smells of metal shavings and wood, the light angling in through the windows. As I grew older, I came to understand it had a time, and a provenance, all its own; it was from another age, and from the hands of two exceedingly talented bamboo fly rod makers: Everett Garrison and my dad, Hoagy B. Carmichael.

This past fall, my father gave the shop to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum. It was generous of him, and very much like him: he cares about the history, and about the craft. He wants both to reach as many people as possible. I support this. But I also felt a sense of loss at not having the shop out back any more. I could sense he did too. (For past posts about the shop, read here and here.)

Before it was gone, I wanted to capture it, and its history. Over Thanksgiving, I shot a bunch of video of my dad talking about the shop, and have spent the past few months editing that video down to what you can see below. In my own way, it was my way of saying both how proud I am of my dad’s work, and of trying to help him fulfill his goal of making sure as many people as possible share an understanding of our beloved sport.

This one’s for you, Pops. For all that you’ve done: thank you.

Outtakes: Hoagy Carmichael Bamboo Rod Shop Interview

Photos of the Carmichael & Garrison bamboo fly rod shop before it was moved to CCFFCM.

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New Blog: New England on the Fly

Those who know me well, know I love fly fishing. They also know that I like to communicate: it’s what I do professionally, in part because the tasks involved — writing, creating images, engaging with people — are all things I derive great satisfaction from. And so it is that, after much prodding from friends, I’ve started a blog about fly fishing in New England. The title? New England on the Fly.

I’m still developing the look and feel of the site, and so I’d welcome any and all feedback! Add it to your RSS feed, or follow it via the button on the upper right.

Again, that link is: www.newenglandonthefly.com

Thanks!

 


Lessons From a River

This is a story of stories.

It is about one night on a river. It is a story about listening, about healing and about nature. This story is the reason I am here, now, talking to you.

A few weeks ago, I drove with my father up to the Catskill Mountains in northwest New York. We were to stay at The Brooklyn Club, an old fly fishing club tucked into the bank of the little branch of The Beaverkill River.

We had come with the expectation of chasing trout. And that we did. But it wasn’t the fish that mattered; it was what happened in the quiet spaces in between.

To pull into the club is to settle back in time. There is no parking lot, no sign. The flag pole is still hewn from the same tree, the face of the cabin still worn past the recognition of red, and the spring still giving forth water cold enough to make your teeth brittle.

In writing about this club, Sparse Grey Hackle, a famous angling author, called his story “The Lotus Eaters” for the way nothing ever changed. He’s largely right. The kerosene lamps still flicker over stories by the fire and the beds are still built logs. Into these, the initials of old members and guests are carved — a tapestry of people made familiar through a simple gesture.  Standing on the porch, I ran my hand over my own initials, and those of my father’s. When he got sick, they were still there. When he is gone, I will likely stand there again, and reach out and remember his place.

It is a place he has taught me — the comfort of standing knee deep in a river.

That evening, I made the familiar trek down the arching gravel pathway to the river’s edge. The river water was clear, the evening warm, and the bugs — food for trout, good news for fishermen — hatching.

Turning upstream, I left the path and stepped in the river, favoring the push of cold water against my legs. I left it only to hop over a rock, or take cover under the low branches of a tree.

I stopped in the middle of Flood Run — a long stretch of river interrupted by a healthy scattering of boulders, laid as though a hand tossed coins into a pool on a whim. On one side is a grassy bank, on the other gravel. Upstream the pool disappears around a corner marked by fast water, so all you can do is listen to confirmation of constancy. Below is a knoll of high grass onto which deer often emerge, stand and stare back at you in recognition.

Up in the air, silhouetted against a clear sky, I could see the feint outline of such bug species as Blue Winged Olives, Sulfurs and Caddis. Each was dancing out their own riddle, spinning and diving, waiting to mate, to molt, and then to die. The drama of life in one dramatic evening, captivating only to a few who either through choice or magnetism can’t help but stare and care at what goes unnoticed by so many.

Down on the water, the surface was speckled with the silent rise of trout. Sometimes a tail was visible, sometimes a shiny back, but often no indication of what lay beneath. Just a circular disruption, soon erased from the blackboard.

Here, then — in between the visible sky and unsolved motion beneath — is the fishermen’s place. It is our place to watch, listen and learn. The better fishermen are the ones who know the narrative written onto a river each night. They know the evening opens as the temperature cools. That the characters are predictable only by the season, not the day. That the themes of this story are always birth, temptation and death in arresting succession. Only those fishermen who can read the air and the water correctly participate in performing that particular evening’s story.

The rewards are a captured in an instant. When the surface turns and the line tightens with the force of a fish there is a moment — silent and solitary — in which there is nothing. And then, suddenly, there is everything again.

It is in these moments that a pair of promises are made. One is constancy. The other is conservation. Only one of these promises is mine to make, but I have committed myself to both.

For this is how I came to understand nature. As a riddle, a promise, a force and a shared vision that something beyond ourselves is not only possible, but enduring.  This is a belief born of a landscape. I have waded the waters of many rivers around the world, and found them to tell similar stories, and to make similar promises.

You could say that I came to fly fishing through books. My dad has written about fishing, as have many of our friends. Our house is filled with books about rivers the world over. While its certainly true that I’ve learned about fishing through them, I feel like it’s properly the other way around. Fishing taught me about stories. Before I could read I could fish. I joke that my father took my last diaper off of me and placed a fly rod in my hand. Thing is, it’s not far from the truth.

If ever there can be an explanation for why we fill our days with tasks, this is mine. I write about the environment to reenact the lessons learned on the river — of observation, of self education and of translation. Of quiet connection.

There is a another, more personal reason: it’s the best way I know to help protect the rivers, mountains and coastlines I care about. I’m talking about the quiet places constantly under threat. In sharing their story, I hope you might come to care enough about them too.

Walking back from the river that night under cover of dusk, I retraced a path I would mark many times again. I took off my boots by the flickering light of the kerosene lamp, wiped the sweat from my brow under the spring and, as I walked towards the warm glow of the dining cabin, ran my hand along the rough edges of the names marked on the wall.

I settled down to the dinner table to listen to my father and his friend who had been fishing down stream. I heard their stories of bugs, fish and water. They had been nearly a mile down river, wading through water that passed between my legs only minutes before. But they had been in a completely different river blessed with more bugs and more fish. It was another chapter, written by older, more experienced hands.

By night’s end, who had caught what didn’t matter. We sat in front a fire and shared our stories. From the wall, worn faces of the club’s founders looked down. For a moment that stretched for an hour, there were together, leaning out, listening.

(Photo provided courtesy of Zero-X @ flickr. Used under the Creative Commons license.)

Source: Originally published in On Earth on July 6, 2009.


After All the Fish Have Gone

I grew up chasing trout and salmon across the American northeast. From New York to Maine to Canada, the water has always run cold, the pressure ever steady against my legs.

Over the past twenty years, the conditions of my fishing have fluctuated with the weather. Some years were wet, others dry. And yet you always knew the fish were there, if only you could find them.

The fishing became about exploration, and expectation, guided by the certain presence, and beauty, of the fish you chose to chase.

But two reports force a grim question: Will there be a day when I will wade through still waters?

The first report concerns salmon in the San Francisco Bay-Delta area (press release & full report). According to the study, salmon could disappear entirely from California’s rivers, if actions aren’t taken immediately. Water projects in the San Francisco are contributing to declining salmon populations by reducing the water available for spawning; killing tens of thousands of juvenile fish by sucking them into pumps; and by blocking migration routes with dams.

The report comes after a terrible season for California fish stocks. A federal court recently ruled that water projects threaten the survival of several salmon stocks. Earlier this spring, the entire California salmon fishery was closed due to low fish stocks. I wrote about this a few months ago.

The second report concerns trout habitats in the West (press release & full report). This report, called “Trout in Trouble,” describes how Western rivers are getting hotter, and drier. The reduction in cold-water habitat are making it more diffcult for the trout to spawn and to feed and, ultimately, making it much more difficult for them to survive.

As Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited (MTU), said: “The implications of our shifting climate are clear: fewer trout and fewer opportunities to fish.”

You’d be right to point out that these are two different fish, in two different areas, confronting two different problems: one is about water management, the other about climate change.

But these two crises share the same two causes: a poor allocation of natural resources, and a failure to learn from past human events. Whether its water, or carbon fuels, our response to increased demand in the face of steady or, in some cases, declining supply, is to invest in improving the supply chain. And yet, we know our own folly. We are dependent, if not addicted, to the very natural resources that are harming our world.

Especially troubling is how slow we are to adopt solutions. Both of these crises could be solved, if only partially, by a combination of federal and state action.

In the West, where the problem is more diffuse, we need legislation that will lead to significant reductions in our carbon emissions, to improved water use, improved shade along riverbanks, and reduced logging roads near riverways. Meanwhile, in California, we need to reduce water diversions and reform water projects.

Growing up, I had the privilege of receiving lessons from Lee Wulff, a famous educator, fly tier and fisherman. In teaching me to respect the fish I longed to catch, my father used to quote Lee Wulff by saying, “fish are too valuable to only be caught once.”

The spirit of preservation could not be more necessary at this moment. Fish are a gift to be nurtured, and to be shared. We should honor them with the national resources, and personal dedication, proportional to the pleasure they bring to us.

On the river, there is no canary, only fish. But in this coalmine economy of ours, our fish are beginning to go belly up, and we have no place to go.

(Photo courtesy of Spappy.jonseS @ flickr, via Creative Commons license.)

Source: Originally published in On Earth on June 27, 2008.


Save the Salmon

The way I tell the story, the day my father removed my last diaper he placed a fly rod in my hands. Since then, I’ve cast a line over nearly any open body of water I can find. He nurtured an avid fly fisherman, sure, but also an avid environmentalist.

And so I was sad to see this headline: “Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace” above an article that described the virtual disappearance of the Chinook salmon from the Pacific Northwest. “The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations – and coming up dry.” Fellicity Barringer, NY Times, March 17.

Not that I should have been surprised. For much of the past 18 years, I’ve had the privilege to fish for Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick and Quebec on some of the most productive rivers. And for many of those 18 years, the conversation over the fish population has been marked by concern and confusion in almost equal measure.

Last year, for example, the runs on the Grand Cascapedia were particularly low. From those who worked and fished the river, the explanations were many: changing sea temperatures, an ice blockage off Greenland, etc. Always, people say they’ve never seen a year like this. There was no science to back up these stories, only concern.

On the Miramichi, another prized Salmon river, this one in New Brunswick, the story has been somewhat different. While the river doesn’t produce it nearly as many fish as it once did, and its different branches report varying returns year to year, the strict catch and release policy that has sustained sizeable runs makes it a model for the area. Growing up, I can remember Miramichi guides remarking on how quickly the salmon seemed to be recovering.

My home state of Maine offers a similar lesson. The Penobscot River closed in 1999 to salmon fishing, with populations down to around 530 in 2000 — down still from 5,000 twenty years prior. By 2006, the river had recovered to runs over 1,000 and restored a short fishing season.

It seems to me that trying to read the lessons offered by the conversation records on these rivers yields conflicting lessons. One, that Salmon are remarkably resilient and can be nurtured locally, river by river. And two, that they depend on remarkably complex systems. As an anadromous species, they depend upon the rivers they return to, and the oceans they live in. They depend upon watersheds in areas often heavily logged, and on areas of the Atlantic that, until recently, were over fished.

In this sense, Salmon reflect the problem of climate change: they are global in cause and consequence. If these stories do offer a lesson, it’s that while our experience fishing for salmon is often rural, continued practice of fly fishing is dependent upon stabilizing global patterns – rising sea temperatures, shifting ocean currents, and bottom trawling, to name only a few.

But then, to paraphrase Isaac Walton, author of the book everyone owns but nobody has read, if ever hope sprung eternal, it’s in the heart of the angler. Let’s hope he was right.

Source: Originally published in On Earth on March 17, 2008.