Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beautiful Misery: T.O.A.D.S. Part Deux, The Anticipated Conclusion

Something must be known about the behavior at Smitty's Lodge.  The general condition of one's body takes a back seat to a good buzz when the occasion dictates.  I'm not saying that we happen to be a band of vile soaks, but we have a good time during certain weekends of the year, and sometimes there are casualties of war per say.  That being said, we continue the tale.

"Breakfast is served boys," Dubby beamed.

I nearly lost it at that moment.  A neatly lined, full to the brim, chilled row of blackberry brandy shots adorned the aged wooden table.  Blackberry brandy, the lodge kick starter and overall go to, has remained a staple sipper for as many years as the elders can bring their minds back to.  Sometimes it goes down like candy, but at 7 or so in the morning it can be hell.  This situation edged toward the latter.  We took our shots and cheersed to the venerable T.O.A.D.S.

"You have to be kidding me?" I choked out and took off in a dead sprint to the other room.

As I prayed to the porcelain god, in a series of foul heaves, I managed a smile.  Scurf and Corey had crowded the bathroom door to snap a few shots of this wounded soldier.

"Oh yah, Smit, give 'er," Corey chimed and giggled. 

Now that business had been taken care of and put behind us, we cooked breakfast and gathered around the table to put some substance between ourselves and the next round of blackberry.  It was a delicious spread of scrambled eggs, potatoes O'Brien, crisped bacon, and thick wheat toast.  Hearty.  Now I am still not sure if it was the last sip of milk, the smell of Hughes' Grizzly wintergreen, or just too much excitement geared towards wild brook trout, but something got me.

"C'mon," I groaned, and everyone shared a healthy laugh as I sprinted off once again.  I left my breakfast at the cabin, feeling like someone had hit me in the head with a shovel and pumped my stomach checking for what nymphs might be drifting that day. "Let's get outta here," I said motioning to the trucks.  "Time to fish."

After a half hour's drive we reached our first locale.  A four wheel trail of iron red gravel had led us to a walk in spot near one of the U.P.'s premier early season fisheries.  The mixed crew of fisherman rigged their respective rods.  Some hardware haulers, some bug chuckers, and some that even had a spinning rod and a fly rod in tow.  Though I prefer to fly fish exclusively these days, it was somewhat beautiful and nostalgic to remember the early days of learning to read the water with my dad and an ultralite.  To each his own, as they say.  Once we rigged and beers had been placed in the vests, another toast to the day was had.  I graciously passed on the idea. 

With that it was on.  I had already wet a line for browns during early trout season in Western Wisconsin with Big Smitty and caught some gorgeous fish, but something sacred is found in the U.P.'s opening ceremony.  The desolate look of the north's late spring radiates in it's own special way.  Something resonates in the idea, nearly mystical, when you say, "I'm fishing for native brook trout."  Geeking out.  This particular river holds good fish, browns and brookies, most of a fat average size. 

 We set out in teams.  The Hughes boys, the DeSmit father son combo, Garrett and Scurf, and the two sages Buck and Dubs.  We would fish for a couple of hours, have a few man pops before noon, then gather for communal man pops at the trucks.  The first four listed headed down to fish up, the latter went up to fish back.  The water, though still turbid but only lightly stained, was at a very manageable level due to the lack of heavy winter snow.  This being said, the fishing was surprisingly slow, with fish not holding in likely spots. Dad and I nymphed and threw streamers into the icy lies to no avail.  Even the Hughes boys were skunked with their Mepps and Panther Martins bringing nothing in.  Discouraged, we gathered as four and headed up to find the others.  On our way up Hughes finally hooked a smallish brook trout, and I had a bump swinging a sparkly bugger.  There were fish.  We arrived at the meeting spot where in years past we had caught trout.  It was nice corner, with a soft near edge that offered sanctuary for the finned quarry in high water years.  The water was at June levels and it seemed too slow to house anything but minnows.  I put the rod down and watched Hughes fish.

"Oh yeeeah," he yelled as his light spinning rod nearly doubled over.  "Good fish on!" 

I came through with the assist, netting his bulging fat 14" brook trout.  It was a haus. Interestingly enough the fish had a fly in it's that I had tied the night before! We had solved the puzzle of where the fish were, but where did that fly come from?! Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you might look into it, the fish was swiftly knocked on the head and brought to the creel.  We eat trout only a few times a year, and this was one of those occasions.  I prefer to put back, but some of the crew had ideas to taste the buttery flakes of such a fish.  One should experience this delicacy from time to time, because at it's true root fishing is a blood sport, whether we like it or not.  Though it makes me cringe to harvest such beauty each time, the feeling generally lasts until that wonderful smell adorns the kitchen.

"Ok, my turn."

I was not to be outdone by the likes of Hughes.  One cast behind a rock on the edge of the slack water and, pow-pow.  My rabbit strip concoction was savagely hammered by a lovely trout.  After a short fight and a complimentary assist from Hughes, another equally fat but slightly shorter brookie saw the creel.  On those two positive notes we hooked our flies and lures to our poles and made haste to meet the others back at the vehicles.

We arrived to see smiles, and knew the morning had been good to Buck and Dubby.  Dubs took the cake with a nice brown that barely trumped Hughes' brookie, but many fish from 10"-15" were caught.  We had our meal.  Scurf took one look at Hughes' brookie, with the fly still in it's mouth, and he nearly messed his pants. 

"No way!  I hooked that fish and snapped it off on one of my first casts!  No way!"

An interesting look into the eagerness, and aggression of the brook trout. Predatory in their ways, no doubt.

We swilled some more, and made our way to town to feast on pasties and chips.  After some much needed calories we made our way back toward the lodge, but to another staple early season stream.  This one unknown to many, fished by less, and holding some of the best trout in our area come early season, was ripe to see some flies.  Brookies only. 

Upon arrival a typical Hughes move was made, and the late afternoon watched Matthew doze in the truck while the rest of us did the dirty work.  The elders hung out by the bridge and plunked for trout casually drinking a Labatt Blue, and listening to "A Prairie Home Companion" on NPR.  The rest of the young guns headed upstream to a heralded tail-out that never fails to produce in April.  We fished for a little while with good results.  The Rat and Scurf pulled fish, and it was a pleasure seeing Garrett land his first ever fish on a fly rod!  Celebrating, we returned to the truck for a beer.  The elders had grown restless and informed us that they would head out to prepare cocktails.  Hughes remained a dead pile.  The boys had other ideas. 

"Let's go back up there," said young Hughes a.k.a. the Rat. "There's fish in there still."

That was all it took. We re-rigged and headed up with some brewskis to fish the same lie.  Cue the epicness.

As we returned to the hole the sun was setting against the poplars and furs on the opposite river bank in a psychedelic swirl of orange and yellow and pink, against a sky that made a Monet painting look hideous.  The flowing water was toiling in shades of steel, blues, and purples, streaked with blacks like spilled ink.  I watched from afar soaking in the awesome glory of this fantastical scene as Scurf and Garrett casted to speckled jewels within the deep tail-out.  Have you ever had that longing, deep stomach feeling for serenity and pure beauty?  A hunger for something that is nearly perfection in the activities you choose to love?  The moments at that pool, in the days fast dying light, satiated any thirst I ever had for a perfect fishing setting.  It was an utterly profound moment painted with God's mighty brush.  I felt so blessed, and truly saw what the impressionists must have seen through their eyes, but tenfold.

"The Magic Hour"
Oil Pastel, Spray Paint, Sharpie, Paint Pen
20"x 30"
(Click Here For More Art

I stepped in and made a cast, stripping back my articulated mess with no take.  I threw the wiggly bug back up across the pool.  Strip, strip, strip, pause...strip...strip...bump...pause...then wham she smacked it and ran.  Up to the head of the small basin she fled, and I steered her back down to fight fair.  After a few minutes of good fight the stubborn brookie came to hand.  Like all of the fish caught in "The Magic Hour", this hen glowed in a steely purple hue that I have never seen in trout, something cosmic and unreal.  Her shoulders broad, and her dotted flanks a work of art in their own right.  We high-fived as she finned back to the haunts of the pool.  The fish marked the end of a miraculous evening, and left the awed crew inspired and joyed.  We shared stories and a beer with Hughes at the truck, then headed for the lodge for cocktails and eats.

The next day brought us slow fishing, and the early departure of Buck and Dubs.  However, we saw Smitty heroically avoid the weekend skunk and shared a good morning on the stream.  May the tradition live on for years to come, the tradition of the T.O.A.D.S. weekend.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

T.O.A.D.S. part 1

photos by Brad Scurfield

"Josh...Josh... Hey, where is Hughes?"

Nice wake up call.

"Wah?  Ugggh...what do you mean where is Hughes?" I managed back through a raw and dusty croak, reflecting my displeasure in the early morning hour and absence of my good friend.

"I can't find him anywhere," Dad said in a voice ripe with uncertainty.

I quickly fought through my grog and grasped the importance of the situation.  A long night of drinking, a large tract of woods and water in any direction, and a missing comrade is not a good combination.  I dressed and joined my father on the hunt.  Like blue-tick hounds we scoured the perimeter of our U.P. retreat and came up empty.  A bit of nervous sweat had accumulated on our brows, but I knew Matt Hughes well and had partaken in this drill before.  He would turn up...I hoped. 

We reentered the cabin to find the rest of the troops stirring.  Eight in total had made the journey.  This was the famed T.O.A.D.S. weekend, or Trout Opener And Drunken Stooper. Historically an esteemed holiday for my dad and his friends over the epochs. Three years ago I had invited a few of the boys up north to have a go at opening trout fishing.  After another two years and some generational gap bridging, T.O.A.D.S. was now a resurrected  and growing tradition in our humble lodge.  This year held record attendance.  As for roll call there were the elders:  Johnny "Buck" Jaakola, Carl "Dubs" Johnson, and my father, Dave "Smitty" DeSmit.  They were good old boys born of Michigan's upper lands. They were a seasoned team and their age and treachery had trumped over youth and inexperience during the previous night's cocktail hours.  The youth, as it were, consisted of my college hockey buddies including the awol Matt Hughes and his younger brother Steve the rat, Corey Garrett, Brad Scurfield, and myself.  Hangovers aside, there was an excitement in the air on this last Saturday in April.  All we had to do was deal with a missing person, and the fishing would commence. 

The general consensus was that we leave Hughes for dead and move on with it all, but when we realized that Scurf was also unaccounted for shit got real.  We doubled our thought process, which magnified the brain power level to a slow moving hamster wheel.  Where could they be?

"Scurf is in the playhouse," Smitty assured us, "I just checked there, but didn't see Hughes."

One down.

"Maybe check again?" I said thinking of the infamous, heavy-eyed drunken Matt Hughes.  He was surely sleeping between a chair and the wall or in a back seat of one of the trucks.
Dad came back to the cabin once more, only this time he was laughing hysterically and gesturing for the crew to come have a look.  We all knew this was going to be good.  Smitty led us to the playhouse, a small one room bunk shack where Scurf had made a home.  We all gathered around the door and peered in. 
"What are we looking at here?" Corey questioned as it appeared Scurf was just peacefully snoozing on the bottom bunk.
"Look a bit closer."
Upon further inspection Scurf had three or four legs, one with a unique boot attached to it.  The limb seemed to be jutting out at an unnatural angle. When we headed for bed the prior evening he was certainly a bipedal creature.  We all began to laugh as the third foot rustled a tad. The search party had completed the mission when a wild haired, fully clothed, and quite disheveled Hughes rose from a mountain of blankets and position of big spoon. 

"What you guys want? I just like to cuddle, that's all," he rasped in his usual Hughes-tonal voice.

We all made a few flavorful jokes at his expense and shared some relieved laughs.  Following the rescue the boys made way to the main room of the lodge where Dubs had secretly been preparing "breakfast".  He ushered us in with a huge toothless smile barely visible under his power mustache saying, "Ohh, good mornin' fellas, I got somethin' for yas!"

"Good Lord," I heard from the younglings, and knew just what was taking place.  This was T.O.A.D.S.

Stay tuned for part actually contains fishing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Baetis, Baetis Everywhere...and a Spot of Flash to Sink

There happened to be a baetis hatch. It happened to be as cold as certain portions of a brass monkey.   Brisk as it was, those little blue-winged freaks just kept on popping out of the water like a Janet Jackson Super Bowl mishap.  I so happened to stroll upon the river at just the right time, thus encountering what happened to be some pretty fun fishing. 

I had taken my time that morning.   I enjoyed a stellar ham, egg and cheese bagel with a side of boiling coffee and milled about the house contemplating the reasons behind fishing in the cold.  The night previous had wracked the Twin Cities with rain and a temperature drop of a stout thirty degrees. I came to the conclusion that because I could fish, I ought to.  Noon thirty...well...I supposed it was that time. The Jeep had been loaded up trout bum style for a month now.   I had the whole setup complete with waders, rods, an over-geared vest, and used and abused leaders.  A Fly Angler sticker adorned the hatch and the interior was beautifully decorated with McDonald's bags and gas station coffee lids. As my hour long drive started I envisioned the Rush River to be a chocolate colored rage-fest with heavy, golden beasts mashing unsuspecting bait fish near the banks.  A.ka. streamer water!  Alas, my dreams of fat brown grandeur were dashed.  Upon first sight of the modest stream I was baffled when viewing the sheer perfection of it's flow and clarity.  Where did all the rain go? None the less, a good problem to have when the baetis had been stirring in their shucks for a few weeks already. 

Rewind a week.
I had admittedly been owned by a very similar scenario.  Clear water and picky fish left me high and dry save for two small browns.  I don't mind not catching fish, but when I can see what the fish are eating and still can't hoist a few it makes me head straight to the vise.  One of the many joys of fly fishing is to think things through, solve problems, and then watch your solutions kick ass the next time around.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't.

Back to  the future.
Frustrations and some amateur entomological surveying of rocks, floating bugs and a little thing called my brain had helped me to tie a couple of faux creatures that I thought would tease a few fish. Tease they did. It was one of those outings where three flies cut it all day. I still missed some nice fish, but caught droves of fat brookies and some browns on the swing, dead drifted in the film, and dry. I even accidentally lassoed a fish on a two fly rig.  I literally pulled a brown to hand without a hook piercing any part of it.  Odd, and perhaps a new X-games sport I'd like to call trout roping...Troping.  Anyway, the day was so fun I was inspired to do a few small fly drawings, as well as include a tutorial for the emerger baetis that caught most of the fish.  Get on that vise and cure what ails you.  What is better than tying your own flies and watching a flame bellied brook dweller inhale it time and time again?

"Hen Hackle ComparaBaetis", 5"x7", spray paint & sharpie, on black mat board

Tying the Hen Hackle ComparaBaetis (pardon the picture quality...iphone :/)


Hook: Favorite nymph hook sizes 14-20
Thread: UTC Black 70
Tail: Brown hen hackle fibers or Grouse tail fibers(shown here)
Abdomen: Thread or black super fine dubbing
Rib: Pearl Krystal Flash
Thorax: Behind wing: gray dubbing, in front of wing: rust dubbing
Wing: Brown hen hackle, trimmed on bottom

step 1: hook in vise, start your thread wraps to the hook point.
leave space near eye for wing.
 step 2: tie in tails as far as the hook barb, wrapping up and down build up a body by folding excess feather back over the shank and secure with thread wraps. If using dubbing make a noodle and create a slim carrot shaped body getting fatter near the fore of the fly.

step 3: tie in your krystal flash to the rear and wrap your thread forward.  create your rib by evenly spiraling the flash toward the eye.  secure the flash with your thread and trim extra flash.
step 4:  create a gray dubbing noodle and use about three wraps for a small thorax just in front of your rib still leaving space for the wing.

steps 5&6:  tie in your hen hackle.  wrap 3 to 5 turns depending on how fluffy you want the fly, secure with thread and trim excess hackle.  create a rust colored dubbing noodle and complete the thorax with a few wraps.

step 7: whip finish to create a small black head. trim the bottom of the hackle completely leaving a comparadun style wing.

Bottom view -->
I fished this pattern wet on the swing, in the film with the wing tips greased, and pure dry.  I caught fish in all three manners.  Give it a whirl! 

Here are the other two fly works I conjured up the same day. All three of the pieces started with a layered base of spray paint.  I then created contour line drawings of the flies, meaning I didn't lift my sharpie for the duration of the drawing. I got a nice random effect from this technique that went nicely with the sporadic sprayed background. I then embellished them with color and darkened the lines to finish up.  All are framed and for sale at $30 a pop, or $75 for all three.  Please email me at if you would like to inquire.

"Deep Olive Stones"
spray paint & sharpie
on black mat board
"Pearl Belly Sculpin"
spray paint & sharpie
on black mat board

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wait for it...wait for it...

Sorry to the readers for the March hiatus.  A new job and some quality time on the river made for a busy month and some great fishing.  The last month has seen a lot of flies tied and the continuation/completion of art in the process.   In this first post of April I would like to unveil a piece I had spent a lot of time on in February, and completed in March.  It is titled "Wait For It".  The subject matter is result of an encounter with a portly hen brook trout late last summer. It was big fly, hopper time on our little home water.  The work reflects the combination of a few missed strikes and the inner monologue of the angler during another lesson on the river.  It tells of the time when he uses his head for once and adapts to the situation to finally bring a nice trout to hand.  For some reason I chose the fish to be a rainbow.  To please the Alaskan's no doubt, and I do have a brookie piece on deck...whatever.  In terms of process, I utilized a found background that I scored in the printmaking studio last year, and then worked up from there.  I enjoy chance encounters and happy mistakes such as this in my work. I felt that the geometric square of the found surface could lead to something interesting and work well with some of my organic imagery.  I used spray paint, sharpie, and oil pastel to finish this bugger off.  Enjoy!  Ill throw down a fly and a hot song to finish things up.

"Wait For It"
20" x 15.5"
oil pastel, spray paint, sharpie on found black mat board

Fly Times:

Josh's RTPZ streamer (Ready To Pop Zit)

Hook:  Mustad Long Shank Streamer # 4
Thread:  Red UTC 70
Tail:  Red Marabou, Krystal Flash
Abdomen and Thorax:  Red Marabou
Wing:  Light Colored Rabit Strip Zonker Style
Collar and Head:  Spun White Deer Hair

Haven't tried this one yet, but thought it turned out cool.  Might work on those blood thirsty brookies or bass.

Song of the Day:  Chinese Translation by M. Ward.  Dude's coming out with a new album, but cannot beat this video and story.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Old Man and the Sea

Photos by Kelley Duffey

Rubber hit the road.  The three amigos were going on a fitchin' adventure.  Kelley Duffey, my lovely girlfriend, and her sassy brother Sean had made the trek with me to the Yoop.  The first voyage of the new year and it felt right. 

We had spent the morning bumming around the cabin taking walks, tying flies, soaking in the wonders of the winterland. We were hoping and waiting for the little bit of sun to warm whatever open water we might stumble across in the post noon hours.  Over the past couple of years Upper Michigan has allowed for winter angling on a select few of it's streams, and coincidentally two of these beauties are right around the way from our humble spot in the woods.  I had yet to chuck bugs into either of these streams during the extended season, and was simply giddy to get on with it. We were off come mid-afternoon.  Perhaps a little later than we should have, but so the weekends tend to go.  A beer here, a viewing of a picked deer skeleton there, all adds up and sometimes the prime fishing hour just slips away.  Better during the winter than during the hendrickson hatch, if you will.
A medium sized ride later we arrived at my super secret bridge, and if we didn't find a frozen river to the nearest bend in either direction.  Snow and wading shoes didn't allow my usual, venturous nature to take hold of the situation. With a humph and a cuss we moved up to the not so secret bridge. By golly a car just happened to be there waiting...weird, eh?  The water was open and that sufficed as a quick remedy.  We deciphered the assailant, who had stolen OUR back-up bridge, had gone down stream.  The obvious tracks in the snow that jutted from the back of his rig and meandered into the pine forest had to be what gave it away. 

We began a hilarious rig up session turned revealing of Kelley the Mossy Oak Marshmallow Girl. Papa Duff had handed her down some neoprene beasts that were guaranteed to keep the cold out.  My laughter faded when I discovered my own waders had turned into a strainer, but that's neither here nor there.  Sean casually sipped the upscale bottle of Seagram's 7 we had picked up in case of medical emergency. The love birds threw snow balls, giggled and tied on behemoth buggers.  At last, we were ready for battle. 

"You guys are going fishing?!"  The voice came from our backs as we walked toward the bridge. 

We all whirled back like a choreographed Michael Jackson video to see what in the hell was going on.  It was our villain. To our surprise he had no fly rod, vest, or waders.  The man was decked out in what looked like his best attempt at trapper garb and a can't do attitude. 

"You can't fish here, it's the middle of the winter!", he yelped out.  The man, looking to be in his seventies and very set in his ways, remained at high voltage. 

"Yea, we are.  We're going fishing, why?" I manged back to him. 

"Well that's the South Branch, it's a designated trout stream, you can't fish there!"  At this point we didn't know if the guy was going to shoot us, eat us, or both. 

"Sure we can there is a fly fishing only, catch and release season that is open on this very river.  I'm reading the regulations right now," I offered. He had none of it.  It appeared that the trap line was found empty that day and a good old-fashioned argument was just what the doctor had ordered. 

"I've been fishing that stream for fifty years, and I ain't never heard of a winter season.  It's a designated trout stream!"

"I'm sorry sir, I don't know what to tell you, but there IS a winter season.  I'm reading it right now in this DNR book, do you wanna see?"

"No I don't wanna see, trout is all that's in there.  You can't fish it until April!  Fifty years I've been fishin' here." 

Having never fished the stream in the winter I began to second guess everything.  I was getting flustered.  There he was standing in his snow shoes yelling at us like a crazy and repeating himself like a songbird.  Though to him we were the crazy ones.  It was one of those moments that happen only in the weird world of sport. One that will surely be looked back on again and again.  I gathered myself before any choice words flew, and the hockey rat came out of me. 

"Sorry, but I just don't know what to tell you, we are headin' out."

One last appealing jolt from the mad trapper rang out, "How you gonna wade that thing?!"

"'s freakin' open!"  I allowed myself a little animation on the rebuttal, but did kepp it PG for the kids.

"Suit yourself, harrumph."

Ah, the last word.  He nailed it.  I smirked a smirk and made sure my streamer hadn't shrunk a hook size. We turned and headed for the stream.  A great laugh was shared after we heard him pull away.  Quickly we forgot the scene with a couple pulls of the sacrament and the awesome visuals we got as fluffy snow began to fall around us.  It didn't matter that we froze our tails off and didn't catch a thing.  We had our story and a sweet time in the inspiring wilds. It was a familiar feeling having that old line move swiftly through our guides...when they weren't iced up. 

Monday, February 27, 2012


I am very honored and excited to announce that MIDCURRENT.COM, a site dedicated to fly fishing,  has agreed to feature a sampling of my prints in their next newsletter which will be out this Wednesday.  A big shout out to Midcurrent publisher, Marshall Cutchin, for taking an interest in my art and as Bon Iver's Justin Vernon would awkwardly say, "The sweet hook-up".  Along with the feature, my work will be seen in their artist thumbnail gallery for further viewing amidst the company of some of the most renowned artists akin to the sport of fly fishing.  It is a true privilege to have my work seen on their pages, and I am very grateful for the opportunity.  Please peep it out at 

Soooo...How about a piece that will be seen on the site you ask? Absofrigginlutely.

Pick A Winner 2011
Spray Paint, Sharpie, Water-Based Crayon
Original Sold

Friday, February 24, 2012

To The U.P.!!

Headin' to the land of the Yooper.  Hopefully get in a day of fishing if the clouds part and rays of hope hit the river just right.  Should have plenty of new material to write aboot after da weekend up der ya, eh?  Will be working on the latest and greatest prints this weekend as well.  Next week will be a busy bloggin' bonanz'.  Totals.  Until Monday, stay fresh.