Friday, May 19, 2017

Fly fishing with cancer

I have two blogs.  One is a lot older than this blog.  That one actually has some readers, as well.  I started blogging, with a focus on some ultramarathon races I was attempting to do.  Over time, due first to an injury, and then to some follow-on life events, the blog really just became an online diary.

Part of that "diary" was my fly fishing adventures,  But, to be honest, some of the fly fishing information was simply of no interest to my friends who were interested in my ultramarathon running, my time as a skier and ski instructor, and other things in my life.  So, I started this blog and I've been writing about fishing here instead.

And, I've mostly kept them separate.  But, some events in my life really affect every facet of my life and the reality is, I've been mostly ignoring some stuff here that's affecting my fishing a lot.

In September of 2013, I had a high PSA test.  This is a blood test that can indicate prostate cancer.  There are many reasons that PSA can be elevated, but prostate cancer is one of them.  And, it turned out that I did have prostate cancer.  I had surgery in January of 2014, and I've been tested routinely since then.  It seems likely that I'm cured of that cancer, although the treatments come with permanent and unpleasant side effects.

But, two years ago, I started to get sick.  No energy.  I had to quit fishing on a vacation day because I simply ran out of juice.  I didn't have the energy to wade at all and I barely had the energy to get to my car.

I'll spare the details here, but it took months to find out the cause.  Finally, I had an emergency event where I couldn't breathe properly.  A CT scan showed a large mass (described as the size and shape of a nerf football) growing on my right kidney.  Things had been moving slowly, but this changed everything.  I had surgery very shortly, losing the tumor and my kidney.  What was assumed to be kidney cancer turned out to be much rarer and more dangerous - liposarcoma.  Specifically, dedifferentiated retroperitoneal liposarcoma.  I think a few hundred people per year in the US get that diagnosis.

The first surgeon knew he didn't get all of the cancer out of me.  A few months later, a scan showed it was back.  I had chemo and then another surgery.  And then, a clean scan.  That was during the summer and I had a great trout season that year.  I felt healthy all season for the first time in a while.  I traveled to fish and caught some nice fish.  It was easily the best trout season of my lifetime.  Yes, this was just last summer.  It seemed like I caught fish every time out and I caught my fair share of nice fish.

In November, I found out that the cancer had returned.  I had some radiation.  Then, I was supposed to have surgery, but some new tumors showed up just before my surgery.  This indicated that I needed a systemic treatment to try to kill the cells that were generating new tumors from somewhere in my body.  I started chemo in February of this year.  I just recently finished it and I'm still dealing with the side effects.

To be honest, I can't fish for more than 3 hours at a time right now.  I'm just too tired.  I worry that I'll make a mistake wading and go under.  We've had a cold, wet spring so far.  Rivers are running colder and higher than normal, although not by much.  But, it's been enough to delay the really good fishing.  And enough to make me very cautious while wading.

So, I'm still somewhat sick.  The season is somewhat delayed.  And, I'm coming off a memorable season, where I really thought I'd started to dial in some new skills.  It's getting into late May.  Between my limited time on the water (I've been out 10 times or so, but just a few hours at a time) and the conditions, I honestly haven't caught a trout yet.  I've had one strike, and immediately hooked and lost that fish.

I am frustrated as hell, to be honest.  Yet, if I'm honest, I have some really good reasons why I haven't caught fish.  And yet, I can't seem to be honest with myself.  I keep claiming I'm going to quit fishing.  I'm going to build a bonfire and burn my equipment.  Think about that - simply burning close to $10K worth of fly fishing gear.  How stupid would that be?  I just bought a new Helios 2 rod and some Patagonia waders.  I tied flies this winter like never before.  I love this sport as much as ever.  I just need the season to come around, just like I need my health to come around.

I fished the Black River yesterday.  The plan was to fish all day.  I was on the water at first light.  I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Black.  It really should be called Six Flags over Vermont, or something like that, because it's as much amusement park as trout stream.  There is no wild fish population.  People question whether any fish even hold over through the winter.  And, the state stocks bigger fish in the river.  A four mile stretch of water gets a couple thousand fish with a minimum size of 16" or so, and some fish go 20".  I got a 20" brown last year.

It's also an insane river.  Crowded.  No gear restrictions.  It's not uncommon to have bait chunkers or spinner fisherman cast right over your fly line.  There is no sense of decorum here.  It's a free for all.  When you drive along the river, most fishermen are from out of state.  When you are on the water, the fishermen skew older.  I think a lot of retired out of staters make up the majority of the people on the water, but not all of them.  And, the fishermen (ignore the demographics for a minute) tend to be rude and aggressive.

I refuse to fish this river on a weekend.  I usually take one vacation day in May to fish it.  Yesterday, I hit a perfect weather day and I was on the river at first light.  There were three spin fishermen in the first hole I was going to fish, but I could see that the half mile upstream was clear of other fishermen.  So, I hopped in and fished up.

The first things I noticed were than the water was cold and high for this time of year.  That's been true statewide and the season has started slowly for everyone.  Yes, I fished with some friends who did well last Saturday, but they are working hard for nice wild fish.  Yesterday should have been an easy day to catch a dozen big fish.  And yet, I got nothing.  Not one strike.  Early on, I stuck with the tried and true.  A couple standard bead head nymphs.  Then, a different pair.  Then, because of the fast current, I tried some fast sinking competition nymphs.  Still nothing.  Streamers.  Buggers.  Nothing.

As the sun finally appeared, so did some Hendricksons - the first I've seen this year.  And the fish ignored them.  Finally, the number of cars where I'd parked reached critical mass.  And, the fishermen made it upstream.  Not one fisherman had a fish (You can keep up to 2 fish per day here and the spin fishermen tend to keep their 2).

People started fishing elbow to elbow.  I was well established in a pool, but that didn't matter to these guys.  They crossed my line and blamed me.  I ignored them.  Then, I accidentally crossed one of their lines and someone got all pissed off.  Remember, I was here first.  I reminded this other fisherman that I was fishing this pool and he'd jumped in at my elbow.  He told me there was plenty of water and I should avoid his line.

I reeled in and left.  I refuse to play that game.  The assholes can have it.

I'd been out for 3 hours.  No strikes.  It wasn't even 8:00.  So, I drove home and worked for the day rather than dealing with the other fishermen, the fatigue that was already hitting me, and the slow fishing.  Maybe things picked up later, but I'll never know.  I'm done with that river for the season.  I tend to fish where I normally fish because I prefer the solitude on my primary rivers.

I thought about going out again locally after work.  It was 90F+ and I was exhausted.  I took a nap instead.

That's my season so far.  Fish or nap.  In the past, fishing always won.  Now, naps are winning.  Fishing is tough and you're going to have to work hard for every strike.  Normally, I have the time and energy for that and I even enjoy the challenge.  Now, I go home and take a nap.

The fishing will pick up in a week or two.  Maybe I'll even catch a fish tomorrow morning because I will be out there again.  For a while at least.  Before my nap.

My guess is that June is going to be the month this year.  And, I won't be able to fish at all in June.  The cancer requires another surgery on 6/8.  I head to NYC (this cancer is so rare that I have to use out of state hospitals for treatment) on 6/3.  If I'm lucky, I'll be fishing again by the end of June.

Part of what sucks is that I honestly don't know how many seasons I have left right now.  This is not a a cancer that will be cured.  And, I may find that even if I have future seasons, my health may be worse, not better.

For now, I'm going to have my surgery.  I'm going to recover.  And, I'm going to fish the hell out of July, August, September and October.  By then, I should feel a lot better.  No more naps. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

If anyone out there actually reads this blog (I see that people do read it sometimes, but I've never had a single comment here, so I feel like I'm just talking to myself.), get out fishing.  Don't take it for granted.  Contrary to what people may say, there isn't always tomorrow.  Yes, tomorrow will arrive, but our lives can change.

I haven't lost fishing yet, but I might.  That scares the shit out of me, to be honest.  I spend way too much time wondering if this might be the last time I fish somewhere, the last time I do something, anything.  I wonder all the time if this might be my last season on the water.  That makes my frustration even more palpable.

Don't wait until you are there to really appreciate your time on the water.  I've been fishing for trout for 40 years.  I've caught my fair share.  I've taken some hiatuses in there, mostly while raising kids.  I have had some years where I didn't fish.  But, more recently, I've been putting in 50 days or so per year.  At age 55, I'm improving.  My tying is as good as it's ever been.  My dead drift nymphing is still coming along, but it's a lot better.

I'm at a point in life where I can afford to fish high quality equipment and I'm happy for that.  I read people online debating certain equipment and making fun of people who buy high end equipment.  Marginally, the best stuff might not be a great value.  But, a Helios 2 rod or a Hardy Zenith rod, or a Hatch Finatic Plus reel are just amazing tools.  If you can afford them and you love to fly fish, go ahead and invest in the good stuff, if you can.  I still fish (and love) a Sage RPL+ from more than 20 years ago.  The best stuff lasts and holds up as time goes by.

And time goes by.  If you really love fishing, spend that time on the water.  If you can convince loved ones to fish with you, even better.

Regretfully, time marches on.  Every single one of us will eventually face our final season on the water.  Our skills or fitness will diminish.  We will be left with some amazing memories to comfort us in our old age.

I will fight this damned disease.  I will fish as long as I can.  But, I've also gotten a glimpse of the end.  I'm not looking forward to it.  So, to all of you who are fully healthy and who decided you weren't going to fish tomorrow, I say go for it.  Get your gear and get out fishing.  The fish aren't going to come to you.

And, until my dying day, that wonderful rhythmic almost zen-like pattern of casting and drifting will be part of my thought patterns.  The fish are part of it and most of the memories are about the fish.  But, the relaxation that can come from just fishing is worth its weight in gold.  When I'm casting, I'm not worried about my mortgage payment.  The latest problem at work is forgotten.  My cancer is forgotten.  In that moment, it's just me and the rod and the river.  And if I'm lucky enough and skilled enough, maybe one more trout.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New toys and never ending rain

Due to the wader problems I wrote about last week, I had new waders this weekend.  I purchased the Patagonia Rio Gallegos waders - non zipper version.  And, I'm wondering already if I should have spent the extra money for the zipper, but I do like the waders a lot.  The gaiter was very different than with Orvis waders - a bit tighter to the boot, and harder to hook onto the laces, but just not that big a deal.

Overall, I found them to be very comfortable, warm, a perfect fit (I'm 5-10, 215, size 11 shoe and the XL is a perfect fit for me).  It was pouring the entire time I was fishing (I'm a glutton for punishment, I suppose), and I stayed comfortable in the waders the entire time.  River temperatures were cold and my feet and legs stayed warm.

So, I now have three pairs of waders.  An older Orvis Silver Sonic wader that works just fine and will likely end up used by my wife most of the time.  Newer Orvis Silver Sonic Guide waders that currently need a repair.  I need a sunny day to repair them, due to the resin that seals the patch being UV cured.  And, the new Patagonia waders.  And in reality, they all work just great.  I would have to say that the basic Orvis Silver Sonic waders have the fewest whistles and bells (no belt loops, cheap suspenders, no waterproof pocket for my phone, and are just a bit lighter than the other two pairs.  But, it's a luxury to have those options available.

After yesterday, I'm pretty sure that the Patagonia waders will be my go-to pair, for the most part, at least until the water starts to warm up.  And, I may sell one of them, to be honest.  Two pairs is almost a necessity in New England, while three pairs are overkill.

My other new toy yesterday was something I didn't really expect.  I've been looking at 5 weight rods recently.  I have a 3 weight, high stick nymphing rod from Hardy (Zenith line, Lamson Litespeed reel).   I have a 4 weight Winston Passport - only 8' that my wife primarily uses.  It has a Redington Zero reel.  Next, I have my favorite rod - an 8'6" Hardy Zenith 4 weight, with a Hatch Finatic Plus reel.  This rod is a bit undersized at times on bigger rivers, but it's truly an amazing rod and reel.  And, from 1995 or so, I have a Sage RPL+ - 9 foot, 5 weight.  But, in reality, this rod is very stiff and fishes more like a six weight.  I keep an Orvis Access reel on this rod with six weight line.  Lastly, I have an old bamboo rod from the late 1930's - a long term loaner from a friend who only fishes Tenkara these days.  That rod will only get out in special conditions - mostly stockies where I know a big fish is unlikely to break the rod tip.

But, what I've been missing is a true 5 weight.  And, I've been lusting after one for a while.  I had a handful of rods in mind - all high end stuff that I can't really afford.  Scott Radian.  Orvis Helios 2.  Loomis NRX LP, and Hardy Zephrus.  A few other options exist, such as one of the Loop rods that gets great reviews, and at a slightly lower price point, but those four rods above have all been cast and I know I'd be thrilled with any of them.

I have an extra spool with 5 weight line for my Hatch Finatic Plus reel, and that's easily my favorite reel, so I don't need a new reel.  My plan has been to sell the 3 weight and use that money to finance the 5 weight.  I simply don't use the Euro Nymphing rod as much as I'd expected, and it's often too windy to cast a 3 weight on anything but the smallest rivers in New England.

So, on Saturday, my wife and I headed to Syracuse to pick up our daughter from her freshman year of college.  As we got back to Lake George, I asked my wife if it would be OK to stop in at the Orvis Outlet store to look around.  Mostly, I wanted to look for some shirts for work, and a new bed for our dog, but I wanted to see what rods were in stock as well.  You can never really take the fisherman out of some people.

Across the 5 weights in the Helios 2 line, there are 3 rods.  Two are 9 footers - one a tip flex and one a mid flex.  And, the other is a mid-flex 8'6" rod.  From having cast them in the past, I knew my favorite was the 9' mid flex, then the 8-6 mid flex, and finally the tip flex.  I really like the tip stiffness in the mid-flex rods, and the accuracy at close distances.  Yes, you give up some distance, but I've got my Sage rod for days where I need distance.  And, the lightness of the rods is just amazing - 2.25 oz. for the 8-6 rod.

So, as my wife poked around the dog beds, I discovered there was an 8-6 mid-flex Helios 2 rod in stock.  It was selling for $479, well off the $795 list price.  Now, in the Outlet Store, below a certain price, the normal Orvis warranty does not apply.  So, if you break the rod, you need to pay for the repair, but a general repair is typically less than $100.  So, that risk is real.  Most of the rods in the outlet store have some sort of checkered past.  They may have been damaged casting in the main Orvis shops.  A tip section might have broken and been repaired.  There might be blemishes. The rods are clearly marked as "Outlet" rods, so the lack of warranty is clear.  But, we couldn't find a thing wrong with this rod.

Orvis also had a deal where if you applied for an Orvis credit card (I already have one, but my wife doesn't), they will give you an additional 20% off your purchase.  So, after some conversations with my wife, and knowing the store was closing soon, I headed to the parking lot to cast the rod.  I was amazed at how stiff it was at its light weight, how easily it threw nice tight loops, and how accurate it was in short.  Just like last time I had cast it, I was enamored.  With no water in the parking lot, one area I couldn't really test was roll casting, but most rods that aren't too slow do just fine with this type of cast.

I don't whether she really loves me or she's just a pushover, but my wife filled out the credit card application in case I wanted to buy the rod.  That brought the price down to $385, or about $410 with tax - less than half the suggested price.  And, with my wife's blessing, I pulled the trigger.

So, despite the disgusting rain yesterday, I had to fish - new waders and a new rod.  (And, somehow, I'd gotten both of them for less than the price of the rod alone - not a bad week of deal seeking).  I focused on a stretch of the Third Branch of the White River - a place where a dam had been removed last season.  This spot holds some big browns and the state had also stocked some brookies in the area in the past week, although 1000 brookies for 10+ miles of water is very much hit and miss.  After an hour at this site (they did a great job with the stone work and constructing a shoreline conducive to fishing), I moved upstream to keep looking for those elusive brookies.  It's now well into May and I've hooked just one fish and landed zero so far, so the need to catch a fish is growing.

But, all I got was rain, rain, and more rain.  Finally, after a couple hours, I headed to a beaver pond that always yields a few small brookies and some occasional rainbows.  And, I got shut out there as well.

I will write more detailed reviews on the waders and the new rod over the next couple months.  My initial impression of the rod is that it will become my #1 rod very quickly.  I honestly love every rod I have right now, and the only rod that doesn't get fished a lot is the 3 weight.  To be honest, that rod is now for sale if anyone ever reads this blog and has any interest.  I'm willing to make a good deal on the rod and the reel and even throw in some Rio Euro Nymph leaders.

In just a few words, the rod is quick, stiff, accurate, mends very well for a rod of its light weight, and it's everything I hoped it would be.  I was using Orvis's cork strike indicators yesterday, and I think they may be my new favorite strike indicators.  They have a bit of heft to them compared to the Thing-a-ma-Bobs, and you can make a minor adjustment without moving your fly a long distance.

Now, I just have to not break it going forward (In 40 or so years of fly fishing, I've broken 2 rods and I'm not too scared about that happening now, to be honest).  Plus, I know that Orvis can repair the rod for me if I do manage to break it.  I could probably break it 3 times before my total price equaled the retail price of the standard issue rod.

So, no complaints so far.  More details to come in the future.  And, if your timing is good, the Orvis Outlet stores are certainly a way to get some of the best gear out there for more reasonable prices.

One last thought.  The rod is stunningly gorgeous.  The construction is top notch.  The color is a beautiful dark blue.  Orvis has now added the little "dots" to line up rod sections during assembly, something I first saw on the Hardy Zenith rods.  If the weather holds, I'll get out on Thursday evening after work.  Hopefully, the new rod will give me my first fish of the year that night.  And then, on the 18th, I'm taking a vacation day to fish the trophy waters of the Black River down south.  On that river, with most fish in the 16"-20" range, I would normally fish the Sage rod.  This year, I think I'm going to put the stiffness of the new Helios 2 to the test.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Another obligatory "One that got away" story

First of all, thanks to a friend, who had been borrowing my third string waders, I was able to fish and stay dry this weekend.  He had just gotten new waders and the timing was perfect.  These are mid-level Orvis waders without some of the whistles and bells of newer waders, but they kept me dry on a cold day.

My new Patagonia waders will arrive today.  And, I found the primary hole in my Orvis Guide Waders and I think they are repairable.  So, I may go from no good waders to 3 pairs in a week.  If I can get all 3 working at the same time, I'm sure my wife and son will be happy to get out fishing with me a bit more.

So, this past weekend was tough for me.  A lot of fatigue from the chemo.  I worked at home on Thursday, and barely had the energy for a 3 mile walk with the dog on Thursday evening, so no fishing.  Friday morning, I was so exhausted I couldn't get out of bed until noon.  The same was true Saturday and Sunday as well.  According to my FitBit, I slept 52 hours in an 80 hour period.  I was that tired.

So, I wasted the best weather of the weekend, but got out Sunday night in cold, cloudy conditions.  I headed for a spot where two rivers converge.  One river is always cloudier than the other, and I like working the seam where the different rivers meet, hoping to catch a big fish looking for baitfish emerging from the cloudy water to the clearer water.  And, about my 10th cast, I found exactly that.

I was using my Hardy Zenith 4 weight, which might have been a bit undersized for the river here, but I just like the rod so much that I wanted to get out there with it.  I was fishing a size 6 olive woolly bugger trailed by a size 14 Frenchy.  I was mostly fishing on the swing, hoping to move the fly from the cloudy water, slowly into the more clear water.

And, about my 10th cast or so, I felt that distinctive tap.  A second tap and the fish had hooked himself before I could even react.  I knew right away it was a good fish.  It came straight to the surface, doing some amazing tail walking.  It was shaking its head like a mini tarpon, trying to get rid of the woolly bugger embedded in its mouth.  And, in less time that it took you to read that paragraph, the hook came loose and the fish was gone.  My first strike of the year.  My first hook-up of the year.  My first big fish of the season.  And, my first fish story about the one that got away.

Nothing else happened in the 90 minutes I fished, and by then, in the cold and drizzle, I was done for the day anyway.

This same river system is about to get more than 10,000 cookie cutter stocked fish.  Yeah, the tug is the drug, and I still enjoy the 20 or 30 fish days that come out of the stocking truck.

But, I'd trade all of those days for just one good wild fish, and I missed that chance this weekend.  I think the fish would have been my biggest rainbow ever in VT, and  I will return to see if I can entice it again.