Archive for January, 2016

A martini for the river…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2016 by stflyfisher

”I had never tasted anything so cool and clean.” “They made me feel civilized.”
Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms.

I grew up with the martini. My dad once called it “the tonic of the gods”. As a kid I can remember my parents holding their daily after-work social hour and a martini – on the rocks – was always in attendance. And so it goes that this “king of cocktails” has graced my life. I hold court with it most every night – one, mind you.


The martini is clean, cold, pure, and the ultimate symbol of class. Ernest Hemingway described making Martinis as one of three manly skills alongside bull fighting and game fishing. Indeed, the Nobel prize winning author’s characters drank what Hemingway himself quaffed, and the martini was a constant. In Across the River and Into the Trees, Colonel Richard Cantwell orders a Montgomery Martini: 15 parts gin to one vermouth. In A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry muses of sipping martinis: “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.”


The master at work – Hemingway pouring a strong one…

Most recently, I learned the martini even crosses over to fly fishing, in an entirely new cocktail recipe. Friend and fellow fly fisher, Eric Tomosky, mentioned the drink one day while we talked and then pitched an email my way with a delightful article from the “Scuddlebutt” section of Drake magazine. The article, written by Dana Sturn, gave the history of the making of this excellent version of an old classic and dubbed the formulation, The Steelhead Martini.

 Sturn writes that the drink was born out of need when a key ingredient – dry vermouth – was forgotten on a steelhead trip. For the non-sophisticated drinkers out there, the classic martini is an easy cocktail to make. The main ingredient, gin, is married with a small amount of dry vermouth: the drier one wants their martini, the less vermouth is used. In fact, some aficionados will literally wave the bottle by the gin in a symbolic act rather than pour even a drop of it in their drink. In any case, the vermouth was not in the fishing trip bar bag and so Sturn and his buddy improvised with scotch as a substitute – and the steelhead martini was born.

The steps are only a little varied from the standard martini recipe but are imbued with tradition which makes them even more appealing. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Start by placing glasses and stainless steel shaker in the freezer or on ice to get them chilled. Sturn’s exact instructions are to use stainless steel “goblets” for obvious reasons when roughing it along a steelhead river. Once the shaker is chilled, fill it with cubed, crushed or cracked ice.
  2. Pour 6 – 8 measures of quality gin into the shaker. Sturn uses Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, which are both very high quality gins. I prefer Beefeater or better yet, the supremely delightful Hendrick’s.
  3. Add what would be the equivalent of a dash or so of dry vermouth in a classic martini, but in this case, we add no more than a teaspoon of single malt for the Steelhead Martini. Sturn advocates the use of a very smokey Islay malt such as Lgavulin or Laphroig, but also mentions the less challenging malts such as Balvenie or Glenmorangie, as substitutes in a pinch.
  4. Take a stirring implement of some sort – a glass stirring rod, a spoon, a long-bladed knife, or better yet, as recommended by Sturn, the tip of your spey or switch rod (I like that the best), and give the mixture one or two soft swirls. Now here is where I disagree with Sturn in personal taste. I’ve always liked my martinis ice cold and shaking is the best way to achieve that. However, it is said that shaking can “bruise” the gin, meaning the drink turns cloudy from the tiny shards of ice dispersed in the mixture.
  5. Now let the mixture sit – don’t pour just yet. In some ways, letting the drink rest allows the ice in the shaker to dilute the mixture a bit, smoothing the taste, but the process is rather more symbolic of what the steelheader does, in that good steelhead fishing is a cast and wait game and that rushing anything would bring bad kharma, riverside.
  6. The last step of the process is to stir the mixture again for several minutes in what Sturn describes as a slow and relaxed meditative manner. Then retrieve glasses, goblets, or cups, read aloud the final paragraph of A River Never Sleeps, and pour. Garnish the martini as you see fit – olives, cocktail onions, a dill pickle, or lemon twist.
  7. Getting back to my preference for an ice cold martini, I suppose the process could be altered to shake the mixture in step 4, and then after letting it rest, stir instead of shaking it in step 6.

More than anything, the true test of a quality martini is how it leaves you feeling. Some might say, “well, it leaves me feeling quite drunk” and that kind of remark is exactly not how to cherish such a classic libation.


A steelhead martini, chilled to perfection, garnished with a dill pickle. What a way to celebrate a good day on a river…

Instead, make it part of a riverside tradition. Doll it up with folding chairs and even a small folding table dressed with a tablecloth, as Sturn suggests. Use it to slow the pace down. Sturn claims the Steelhead Martini is especially warranted after a good morning of catching, if and when you are so blessed by the piscatorial gods. In that case, after sampling this unique concoction, listening to the sounds of the river, and regaling in the morning’s good graces, you might not even want to return to the river.



How’d we do in 2015?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2016 by stflyfisher

It’s that time of the year when I draw up to the fire (well, maybe not this year based on how mild it has been), break out my goals for the year, and see how I’ve done. I’ve posted my goal reviews here before, but somehow fell out of practice in 2014. So without much adieu, here are the goals I set quite optimistically this time last year, with their status as of the end of 2015:

  1. Become a better nymph fisherman. Complete. This one is probably not a great goal as we can always be better, but I’d like to say I made good progress towards being better – both from an equipment perspective, tactics, and results. I did not fish the West Branch as much as I normally do, in favor of the Salmon River, but I did well nymphing for steelhead.
  2. Learn to fly fish for musky. Not complete. I’ll have to give this one a go again next year. I never got around to purchasing and setting up the proper tackle, nor did I tie any musky flies, but I did get a nice follow from one who chased a large white deceiver to my kayak!
  3. Continue fly tying – perfect these patterns – goal to catch fish with each pattern: Mostly complete. I caught steelhead or browns on the Salmon River on all of the patterns I tied below, save Rusher’s Stone fly and Tom’s Redhead.
    1. The Salmon River Gift
    2. Rusher’s Stone Fly
    3. Sucker Spawn
    4. Egg Flies
    5. Tom’s Redhead
  4. Donate a box of my flies to the TU banquet. Complete. I made up a pretty nice box for the TU banquet and noticed it going early in the table raffle!
  5. Float fish the rivers – 2 times. Complete – see below…
    1. Float fished the Tioughnioga – Messengerville to Marathon
    2. Float fished the Susquehanna – Apalachin to Hiawatha
  6. Make perfect fly casting practice a habit. Complete. I’d say I did a pretty good job practicing my casting, especially since I was involved in our IFFF chapter’s (The BC Flyfishers) casting clinic and also because I gave fly fishing lessons to a wonderfully nice older couple throughout the summer.
  7. Fish with friends. Complete. By my records, I got out and fished 10 times with friends.
  8. Fish 50 – get out and fly fish 50 times this year. Complete. I did get out and fish 50 times this year, including some new spots.
  9. Learn to tie additional fishing knots. Complete. I learned the Palomar knot.
  10. Fish the Salmon River. Complete. This year I purchased a new JP Ross 11 fot 8 weight switch rod and put it to work. I fished for dropbacks in the spring 4 times and followed that up with fall and fall/winter fishing on the Salmon River for salmon and steelhead 4 times. I caught steelhead during both seasons and my first salmon – 2 coho’s (I lost a number of kings too) in the fall.
  11. Night fish for trout. Complete. Finally got out with fly fisher friend Eric Tomosky on the West Branch. No luck, but a very interesting learning experience. This will be repeat in 2016.
  12. Learn the whip finish. Complete!

So there you have it. A very good year in comparison to past years – I scored myself a 90%. Key to this score were two things; 1) setting realistic and achievable goals and 2) getting after them.

Coming soon will be a post listing my 2016 goals. If you haven’t set yours, I’d recommend taking time to do so. Write them out – then let them marinate a bit. Review them again, and commit by showing them to someone, preferably a fellow fly fisher. I promise you won’t regret the exercise and you’ll be a better angler for it!


Here’s to great goals and success in 2016!

Younger Next Year

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on January 3, 2016 by stflyfisher

We all go through at least a few life-changing moments during our winks on this good earth. For me there have been a dozen or so, most of them deeply philosophical, a few from the school of hard knocks, but two, detailed herewith, that related to physical fitness. I can see the eyes rolling already; “yeah, yeah, yeah, another message about how important exercise is for good health and what the heck does that have to do with fly fishing anyhow”. Well, bear with me…

Step back in time some 36 years: the location is Camp Pendleton – a United States Marine Corps base in very arid southern California that stretches over 125,000 acres of coastal land made up of salt marsh, floodplain, oak woodlands, coastal dunes and bluffs, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral – basically a very inviting environment for long leisurely walks…

A leisurely walk, Marine Corps style…

While the weather was quite bright and warm, the greeting committee we NROTC midshipmen met was, well, less than sunny, shall we say? And the accommodations – Quonset huts right out of Gomer Pyle, USMC, complete with a resident mascot bulldog that had the undershot jaw only an orthodontist could love.  What stands out as most memorable about Camp Pendleton were the leaders we served with for that week – a Latino gunny sergeant whose name escapes me now but who talked about chevies (with a hard “ch”) and cleaning the rifle chamber (with a soft “ch”) – and a most charismatic “bully pulpit” major by the last name of Hatch who unabashedly took us “young guns” to task for being pathetically out of shape and then proceeded to lead us on runs through the hilly terrain complete with oh-so-colorful jodies. I recall one “speaking to” after a run through the hills when we were severely dressed down for not being able to keep up with a man twice our age. So taken was I by the espirit de corps of the place that I remember leaving Pendleton wanting to become a marine officer. Asthma prevented me from walking down that path and while that might not have set well with the mighty major, I think he would be pleased that I have tried to remain at least reasonably fit all the years since…

Fast forward to the summer of 2008: I’m fishing the Chenango River, late one summer afternoon. I round a bend in the river and see another fly fisherman – hunched a little, butt-deep in the river – he false-casts his fly two or three times with nice loops in an easy, almost effortless motion. It’s a rare sight: he is only the second fly fisherman I’d seen on the river in the course of 10 years. I slowly fish my way down to him.

I wade with the river, working my streamer down and across, then pull out just upstream of him.  He has a gentle manner about him, and is so soft spoken that I have to draw close and listen cup-eared just to understand his words above the river’s soft murmur.  He’s an older man, late-60’s – maybe early 70’s. His face is drawn, his eyes worried…

We talk fly fishing; he prefers fishing dry flies, but laments the days of chasing trout in the faster rivers of the Catskills are largely over. As he says this he glances down at the long wooden wading staff attached to his waist and wagging atop the water below him.

I wish him luck and wade downriver as evening sets in. A few times I turn upriver and observe him in the same spot, but eventually, almost imperceptibly, he removes himself from the river. As I finish my evening of fishing and hike back to the car, I double back on my promise to keep physically fit but this time the promise is targeted on fighting off aging so that I may actively fish well into my eighties, and even beyond, God-willing.

Sometime after my riverside re-awakening, I came across a book that would be that second life-changing moment related to physical fitness. The book was titled, “Younger Next Year” co-authored by Chris Crowley, a 70-something ball of energy, and Henry “Harry” Lodge, M.D., his internal medicine doctor. The two trade chapters: Chris providing the application and real-world experience side of the book and Harry, the facts and reason behind the advice. The book’s premise: if you can fight the biological clock by sticking to some basic rules, you’ll live like you’re 50 well into your 80’s and beyond. I read the book and was compelled to read it again with highlighter in hand.


Harry’s Rules are so simple that one might question buying such a book. But it’s what’s behind the rules that fascinated me most. The medical detail behind each rule convinced me of the book’s worth and reminded me of a common criticism I have of the medical profession: that many doctors preach rules, order tests, but rarely take the time to explain “why”…

So, here are Harry’s Rules:

1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
2. Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life
3. Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
4. Spend less than you make.
5. Quit eating crap.
6. Care.
7. Connect and commit.

Notice that the rules go beyond being just a gym rat, another thing I loved about the book. And even the importance of non-physical rules, such as “Connect and Commit” are backed by sound medical rationale.

The book is a delightful read, especially for us older guys. It’s written by a guy who can relate to age and by a doctor who sees daily, the results that lifestyle can have on one’s aging. Harry and Chris use the mantra, “grow or decay” throughout the book and it is a good one to remember as is their chart that depicts normal aging and what “old age” can be.

Here, according to the authors, is how we typically age…


And here is the aging process if we live by Harry’s Rules…

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According to Harry, over 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle related and that through simple lifestyle changes, captured in Harry’s Rules, over half of all disease in men and women over 50 could be eliminated.

The choice is ours. We can look at aging and all the associated aches and pains and limitations as normal, or we can choose to delay the onset of the slippery slope, and continue to live well into our 80’s.

And so I’ll begin 2016 with another read of Younger Next Year. I’ll think of all the fishing left to do in my life and remember the old guy on the Chenango. I’ll re-commit to fighting the relentless tide of old age, with Harry’s Rules in hand, so that I can still venture out and wet a line into my 80’s. And with a little luck, maybe I’ll hear the young bucks over the roar of the fast water say, “would you look at that old guy?”