September 29th, 2011
The morning of September 3 saw Matt and I all geared up and standing in front of the hotel in a state of bleary-eyed readiness when Rebecca pulled in to pick us up. We were a man down today. Our good buddy, Robert had the launch of a client’s web site to oversee, and had left the fishing to the three of us. So, after stopping for coffees and more ice for the cooler, Rebecca drove us west again, into Oregon and toward River X. We were sure going to miss Robert (and his grill,) particularly when lunchtime rolled around! Luckily for us, we’d get to see him later in the day.
After the performance of the previous day, I was feeling pretty optimistic about connecting with some more good fish. As there often is, though, there was a bit of an internal struggle to balance my desire to fish with my need to photograph. I usually have to allow one of the two a small victory, and so far this year, I had more images than fish to my credit. I decided to take pictures while we were all getting ready at the truck, but then I’d stow the camera into the backpack and pick up the fly rod and see what I could do with the trout. Today, the camera pack would come along and sit on the riverbank, just in case. Priorities were now in order. Sort of.
We had planned to leave the river early that day and head back to Rebecca’s folk’s house to watch the Boise State Football game with them. Truth be known, (and please don’t tell Rebecca I said this,) I was struggling internally a little bit with the thought of leaving such great waters to go sit on a couch and watch football. I mean, Hell, I’m not even a football-watcher, and I sure as heck hadn’t flown across the country to sit on the sofa to chonk popcorn with Grandma! I submitted without too much complaint, though, and rolled on with the rest of the crew. Our fast new friend, Rebecca Garlock, was obviously being an incredible host to us, and I was pretty certain that if we were hanging out with her and her family, we’d probably enjoy ourselves just a little bit. So, for now, we fished.
Because I was fishing this morning and not right next to Rebecca with the camera, I missed the chance to photograph her first fish of the day. The morning seemed a little slower than the previous day had been, but we were still really excited about being on this amazing river. Matt was downstream working on catching a trout that had been rising steadily for a while, so Rebecca and I sat on the riverbank for a bit, getting to know each other over Diet Coke, Coors Light and Snickers Fun Size. We watched Matt change flies occasionally and continue in his pursuit of some unknown beast of a trout. It was nice just to sit for a while and really soak it all in. The aromatic smell of the surrounding sagebrush came to us on a perfect breeze, the sun felt great, the river and canyon were just gorgeous, and we were only on the second day of fishing. Rebecca and I laughed together, popped another Snickers, and watched Matt some more.
Then, Matt hooked up. I grabbed the camera and pack, and followed Rebecca through the rocky riverbed downstream toward Matt and his arcing fly rod. We could tell it was a good fish. I was excited to get there with the camera, but choosing my steps really, really carefully so I wouldn’t go down. Rebecca got there just ahead of me and positioned herself to grab the fish when Matt could swing it toward her. The trout flashed, all golden and beautiful in the water. Nice fish, too. All of 23 inches, easily, and stout. Really pretty fish. And then, he was gone. As expertly as Rebecca had got her hands on him, though, he just spit the fly, and flopped free. I had only been able to rattle off a few quick frames of him as he abruptly scooted to resume his search for bugs.
We all took a break and visited some more, then decided to fish a little farther upstream. I took the farthest upstream point with Rebecca below me. Matt was around a bend in the river, and I couldn’t see him any longer. I sat for a bit, and watched for rises. After a short spell, I had located four rising fish. One was directly across the river from me, underneath some overhanging willow branches. The others were a little farther away, so I figured I’d give this one a shot first. I tied on a size 14 or-so winged-ant pattern, knowing that many of these willows were laden with similarly sized black ants. My target fish took the ant after just a few presentations, stayed there long enough to bend the rod for a few moments, and then was gone.
Pretty much the same deal with the others. The fish, I mean. I couldn’t seem to hook one today, no matter what I tried. Rebecca hooked two good ones, but again, they came off. She would later lay the blame on a faulty hook, though, for it had no point! We decided to head back to the truck and drive up the road to where we had fished the day before, to The Land of Lunker Browns. From high up on the bank, the three of us stood and located a BUNCH of good fish, rising with regularity to sip flies off the water’s surface.
Matt made his plan of attack, choosing a spot that should put him within reach of a few fish. I headed upstream to the area where I had caught mine the previous day. I worked at it for a while, but in the end wasn’t able to bring any fish to the net. I was enjoying listening to Rebecca’s direction and banter with Matt as she watched over him from her high perspective and told him where the fish were, relative to his position. It almost sounded like a game of Battleship. Well, curiosity and loneliness finally won over, and I clambered uphill over the boulders and ants to join Rebecca with a couple of cold drinks from the cooler and a folding chair. Then, I started chiming in. To help Matt, of course. “Matt,” I’d start, “There’s a Toad about twelve feet upstream from you, just on the other side of that submerged rock. Wait, here he comes. (Sip-slurp.) There! See him?” “He’s got to be at least 26 inches.” It went on like that for a while. I was waiting for Matt to throw something at me, but he never did. At one point, I’ll bet there were easily a dozen SERIOUS browns within reach of Matt’s cast. Unfortunately, these fellas were being ultra-selective, and were stone-cold focused on whatever they were gleaning off the surface of the water. I never did actually see what they were taking. It sure as heck wasn’t anything that Matt was dishing out.
I suppose the hands of the clock were what really got Matt out of the river at that moment. We had to get headed back to Idaho in time to watch the football game with Rebecca’s folks. Had it not been for that distraction, we might have sat there until dark “helping” Matt in any way we could have. I can remember feeling a bit empty inside when I saw the last little bit of River X out the rear-passenger side window of the truck. I had hoped Matt and I could get out on that water again before we flew back East, but a busy schedule on other rivers would win over, and we’d have to back-burner that idea for our next trip. Besides, we still had five more days of fishing to do and four more rivers to see.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.
September 13th, 2011
I never suspected that I would have found myself flyfishing for trout in what struck me as such a harsh climate and unlikely location on the map. I am, quite frankly, still in amazement that those fish not only exist among that landscape, but seem to flourish. Brown trout. Big ones. This river, for me, would, in part, set the “symbolic tone” for the rest of a journey that would exceed my expectations on many levels, especially in the very pleasant surprises it would reveal to us along the way.
The river that Matt Smythe (who also goes by the flashy, five-dollar handle, fishingpoet,) and I began our “creative expedition” on was one that we found to be swathed in secrecy. It really has kind of a cult following among the hardcore flyfishing addicts of the area. It seems to me, to be a very tight-knit group. People who are “in-the-know.” Our guides for the first few days of this journey were Rebecca Garlock, aka The Outdooress, and her (very cool) husband, Robert. The two had invited us to fish and photograph these seemingly sacred waters with them, and in doing so, had generously allowed us into the fold. The catch was, we could never utter the name of the river once we returned home. From the moment we first wet our waders in that cold, rushing water, we had signed a blood oath. This water would forever be known as River X.
When Rebecca and Robert picked Matt and I up at the Hampton Inn / Meridian, Idaho that morning, we were all pulsing with the excitement of the coming day. We’d had such a wonderful dinner the night before with Jason and Vicki Lindstrom of Flytooth, and had made our plan of attack over some really delicious food at a Basque joint called Epi’s. Matt and I had rushed through our breakfast at the hotel that morning. So much so, that I didn’t even have time for the “Make-Your-Own-Waffles” machine. Rats. Well, they didn’t stock Vermont Maple Syrup anyhow, and yeah, I’m a syrup snob. So, jet-black hotel coffees in hand, we hustled our gear outside so we wouldn’t be late. We had a bit of a drive to get to where we were going, and we were all excited to get there and start catching some good fish. I was traveling fairly lightly with the laptop, one camera body, and a small handful of lenses, and was anxious to start getting some great photographs under my belt. On the way to River X, we stopped off for fuel, ice, coffees, a huge Diet Coke for Rebecca, and a few bags of Jack Link’s Beef Jerky. This would become the morning ritual for much of the remainder of the trip. Matt and I must have eaten sixteen pounds of jerky that week. Lord knows how much coffee.
Matt and I were in awe, gawking out the windows of the truck and taking in the amazing, changing landscape as we headed into the desert canyons of southern Oregon. Sagebrush, willows, rocky terrain, rugged hills and canyon walls. To us, coming from the Northeast U.S., this was such a foreign landscape. Fascinating and alluring. It seemed to me, though, an unlikely area to find a river teeming with chunky trout. It was far too dry, hot and inhospitable for fish. It went against everything I knew about trout habitat. That’s what was going through my head as I rolled the rear window down to take a few shots with the camera. That’s when we came around a sweeping bend in the road and got our first glimpse of the river. It was gorgeous.
Amidst a great deal of chatter, we parked the truck at a pull-off near the river, and geared up. It was busy, energized activity. At least, that’s how it felt on the inside. I was pressuring myself to bring my “A-Game” today. Kickoff time. Outwardly, though, all of us seemed pretty relaxed. Rebecca was rattling off a list of flies and tactics for Matt to try as he meticulously pieced his Scott 5-weight pack rod together. I had my hands full with my waders, boots, camera rig, and a waterproof sling pack that turned out not to be very waterproof after all. Thank goodness I had taken an extra level of precaution. After a firm warning from Rebecca about the ant-laden willows, we clacked over the rocks in our studded wading shoes, through the bushes and to the water’s edge. Robert had scoffed at us “water-swatters” and headed upstream with his spinning rig. Slipping into the current, I was amazed at how very cool the water was. I’m sure it wasn’t even 60 degrees. Fed by snow-melt from a heavy winter in the mountains, River X flowed in stark contrast to the relentless sun striking our backs. In the rising heat of that morning, the water’s coolness was welcoming.
I photographed around Rebecca and Matt while they fished different seams, and targeted pockets around structure, maybe a hundred yards or so from each other. We talked, laughed, and got to know each other. Rebecca was the first to connect with a fish, and then Matt would, a short while later. Then, they each caught some more. In the strength of that slightly milky current, with slick underwater rocks of different sizes and shapes, carrying the camera, I chose my steps very carefully, not getting anywhere too awfully fast. Back and forth, between the two anglers. Casting shots, portraits, landscapes, and pictures of some gorgeous fish! Every now and then, I’d leave the river and head back to the truck to load image files into the laptop, chug down a cold bottle of water, grab a couple hunks of jerky, and head back through the willows for more action.
That afternoon, in the shade of a big tree next to the river, Robert grilled us an incredibly tasty lunch of sausages and bacon-wrapped tenderloin. All the fixin’s, too. It was delicious. Still, we didn’t sit too long. I was ready to think of doing some fishing myself, and rigged up my Scott 6-weight, heading down to the water for a little practice session. I was feeling pretty rusty. Not long after, the others hollered to me, and we all hopped in the truck to head up the road to another spot, farther upstream, on River X. Interestingly, this place offered a very different scene, where, from a high, boulder-strewn bank, we could gaze into the river below us and see the forms of large browns suspended in the water, feeding. At different intervals these fish were rising to gently slurp unseen insects off the water’s surface, giving us a good look at each one of them. Some of them were true horses. Toads. Bruisers. It was so cool. Again, more planning. Further anticipation.
After getting our non-resident licenses checked over by a friendly-enough, (but diligent) Oregon Fish-and-Game Warden, Matt chose his path to what looked like a prime spot. Leaving the camera in the truck, I grabbed my gear and headed upstream from him to see what I could do with these bruisers. I heard Matt holler something to Rebecca about ants, but quickly refocused my attention to a pair of side-by-side Salmo Trutta that were working on their lunch. With my back to the bank, I cast out ahead of them into a nice looking seam, again and again. Nothing. But they were right there!
Moving slowly upstream every couple of minutes, still nothing. At one point, I heard a wet slurp behind me and to my left. I could see the remaining swirl in the water when I turned. I redirected with a couple of false casts, and laid my “hopper / dropper” rig, very sweetly, about twelve feet upstream from where the rise had been. The foam grasshopper imitation I was using as an indicator floated along past the unseen fish, and suddenly disappeared. Gloop! With a strip-set and a raised rod, the line came tight. I had just hooked my first brown trout. Ever. He had taken the miniscule size 20 midge that Rebecca had given me that morning. I whistled to Rebecca, and she came down the bank with the camera to get a few pictures of me with my fish. One of her shots would be among my favorite photographs of the trip. One that I wish I had taken! That fish had some real character to him that seemed to fit what I was feeling inside about this place. There might have been far bigger fish in that river, but to me, he was a real bruiser. A beauty.
Now armed with a flyrod, Robert was doing pretty well for himself upstream. We could hear him hoot now and then when he hooked a fish. From several hundred yards away, I could see arc of his rod reflecting in the Sun, and the flash of a good trout in his hands as he released it. I hustled upstream and joined him with the camera shortly after, but no more fish came along for him. Hike back to the truck, and drive farther up the road for a relaxing sit in the grass, a Snickers bar recharge, and a visit before fishing a new spot to end the day.
While the middle part of the day had reached the mid-80‘s, the evening air in the desert had a coolness to it that made it necessary to wear a softshell jacket under my waders. The water seemed colder upstream here, too. Noticeably so. Taking photographs from low angles, I realized, made it necessary for me to submerge further into the chilly water to where it threatened the top of my waders. I shivered uncontrollably a few times as the rushing waters of River X sucked the heat from my core. The light was flattening out anyhow, as the Sun slipped past the surrounding hills. Time to put the camera away, get moving, warm up, and fish.
I gathered my gear and waded downstream from Rebecca and Matt, but we were all still in sight of each other. Robert sat on the bank watching the camera bag and relaxing some. I had only gone about 20 yards when I spooked a big mule-deer doe that was bedded among the willows just feet away from me. Sorry, darlin’. Didn’t mean to make you jump. I cast my line again and again into good looking spots as I worked along the river, a few swirls and half-assed hits here and there, but no solid hookups that I could claim as any kind of success. In my mind, I reflected back to my first and only fish of the day, my first brown ever, and recalled how he’d felt on the end of that line, the bend in my rod against that stellar blue sky, and how the strength of him felt to my hands as he slipped back into the current.
We still had another day on this river, and now, we were in the groove. Immersed in it. Tomorrow would be an epic day.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.
September 12th, 2011
What an incredible, inspiring, whirlwind journey. At one-thirty this morning, I reluctantly returned to Rochester, New York from a ten-day “creative expedition” in southern Idaho and Oregon. My good friend, Matt Smythe (aka fishingpoet) and I traveled together to get face-to-face with a new client in the flyfishing industry, introduce ourselves and show work to some other potential prospects, and generate new material for our own creative endeavors. Oh, and we went to fish.
In the course our little jaunt, I created more than 10,400 photographs during seven full days of fishing on four different rivers – The Payette, Salmon, Snake, and one which will come to be known as River X. This secretive coldwater river is a very unique fishery, set among the desert canyons of southern Oregon. We’ve been asked to treat it like the Voldemort (from the Harry Potter series) of trout rivers. “The one of which we do not speak” sort of thing. Swish and flick.
We’ve come away from this expedition with some new, wonderful friends. These folks were so very gracious, accommodating, and great to spend time with. They were perfect ambassadors to their Idaho and their sport. They showed us the very best of their favorite fishing spots. They took us to dinner. They cooked streamside lunches for us. They invited us into their homes to gather with their families. They invited us to college football games and stock-car races. They hauled our asses across Idaho and Oregon without question. They shared with us their vast knowledge of this wonderful thing called flyfishing, and pursued a common passion with us tirelessly.
I’m so eager to start sharing this body of photography here, but I know that with this kind of volume, a bit of time will have to pass before I’ve got it all sorted out. There’s loads of good stuff here on this ol’ hard drive. Two hundred and sixty-five gigabytes-worth, to be exact. My guess is that, following this introduction, I’ll be publishing a series of several posts to break the entire expedition down into manageable portfolios and stories. This is, as they say, a wonderful problem to have.
Please enjoy this handful of images for now, and keep checking back for updates. Matt will surely be creating manuscripts of his own interpretation of our experience that you can check out at www.fishingpoet.com. As in all of the posts published here, you may click once on an image to see it larger.
None of the fish encountered during this entire expedition were injured, harmed, insulted, or otherwise maligned. Except, maybe for a few of the Snake River whitefish. We called them some pretty colorful names from time to time. Their feelings may have been hurt a little bit. Still, they swim.
Thanks for stopping by. Tight lines!
Camera: Canon 5D Mark 2.
July 28th, 2011
While the weather forecast for this mid-June day called for drizzle with skies clearing by late morning, the hard rain that was falling as we drove to Canandaigua suggested otherwise. Sara Klem and I were in the Tundra and hauling gear to a location on the East side of Canandaigua Lake, where we would meet up with art-director, Josh Egerton, of Antithesis Advertising. Today, we would be doing photography for part of a Wilmot Cancer Center campaign for University of Rochester Medical Center.
Our subjects, Leo and Judy Murphy greeted us warmly at their front door and welcomed us inside, out of the wet drizzle. We talked for a while and got to know each other while Judy, so very graciously, fixed us up with some hot coffees. Josh and I talked over some ideas for the shot, and when the rain let up, we headed out to the backyard with the camera to scout and do some test shots that we could show to our client, Jodie when she arrived.
The imagery we would be creating today would help convey the message of a wonderful success story. Leo Murphy is a cancer survivor of five years. With the help of the medical team at Wilmot Cancer Center, he’s thankfully been able to enjoy a rich and active life with his wife, Judy, their family and especially their grandchildren. It was these things that Josh and I would be thinking of while we worked today, particularly capturing expressions of strength, health, happiness and gratitude.
Out on the dock, with the lake at our backs, Josh and I composed some test shots with Sara, trying some different perspectives with the house in the background, and trying to show enough dock and water to give a better sense of a lake-home environment. There was still a light drizzle in the air, and we continued to debate whether today was the best day to shoot. We could always give it another try tomorrow when the sun was out. We pressed on.
In the house, Sara popped the images up on the laptop for us, and we reviewed them all with Jodie. Josh and I talked about image composition, and how that would mesh with his layout of the final ad. During our discussion, the sky had lightened up a little, and after wardrobe choices were made, we went back outside with Judy and Leo for some more tests. There was still some moisture falling, so for now, the two wore raincoats. We kept our fingers crossed for the weather to improve. Eventually, it did, at least enough for us to continue our shoot!
Leo and Judy had been a dream to work with, and there were a great bunch of image options for Jodie and Josh to choose from. I think that Leo had shown great patience with me and my “just another half-dozen shots” requests, and I was thankful for that. Very, very sweet people.
The image shown at the top of this post represents the full-page advertisement that ran in Rochester Business Journal.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2
July 26th, 2011
On a cool, but gorgeous and sunny morning in early June, I found myself surrounded by some really fantastic people, and photographing on a beautiful horse farm in Mendon, NY. I had been asked by the creative team at Martino Flynn to join up with them during a video-shoot and produce some still images for an Absorbine project that would be used in print and on the web. Absorbine is a natual, herbal liniment produced by W.F. Young, Inc., and is used to treat sore muscles and lame joints in horses. Absorbine Jr. is a version of this pain-relieving liniment that has been re-formulated for human use. It’s really good stuff.
I pulled up the gravel driveway that morning with Sara Klem, my assistant for the day, riding shotgun. The video crew was already fairly well set up for shooting their first scene, and after finding a spot to park, Sara and I went around and got acquainted with everyone. I would be doing photography during the video crew’s “down time” in between scenes, and walked around to the back side of the barn with art director, Chuck Bennett, to take a look at a location he had found during an earlier scout. We talked about Chuck’s ideas, did a few test shots, found some good camera perspectives, made a plan, and while Sara and I got the gear from the truck, Chuck went back to join up with the video crew as they began shooting.
Though I had planned to photograph very simply, and use the day’s natural light to help create the desired aesthetic, we had brought scrims and Profoto strobes along with us in case we decided to take that route. Whatever the sky was doing when it was time to shoot would help us to figure that all out! Once we had our things in order, I shot some more tests with Sara, made adjustments, and then went we walked out to the front of the barn to watch the video crew do their thing. I handed Sara a camera so she could shoot some production stills around the set, and she went to work.
Being a bit of an equipment-nerd, I’ve always had great interest in watching video crews work. In my experience, for the most part, their equipment is a little bit different from what I normally have my hands on, and the productions themselves are done on a somewhat larger scale. Bigger lighting stuff, fuzzy microphones, more people, trucks full of gear, fresh donuts and coffee. Cool. I enjoy how the idea of incorporating motion and changing camera perspective during a segment can bring a whole added dimension to the visual component. Different thought processes, too, from still photography in some ways.
Well, once the first video scene had been captured, I headed back out behind the barn with Sara, and Russell, our talent for the day. Chuck drove the farm’s pick-up truck and a few hay bales around to join us, and we took a few minutes to get the truck positioned just-so. After talking things over with Russell for a bit, how his expressions should convey “hard work and sore muscles,” we started our own process. We didn’t have the luxury of too much time that morning, and would need to release Russell when the video crew was set and ready for their next scene. No pressure! I had brought along my Primos Double Bull hunting blind to set up and create a dark environment where we could scrutinize the images on the laptop. It worked really well, but because of our tight schedule, we didn’t wind up going back and forth to the laptop very much. Once we verified our initial shots, I did most of my checking on the camera’s LCD. Histograms and magnifying buttons are wonderful things! Shoot, shoot, shoot! In the end, the sunshine dominated the cloud cover, and the scrim was deployed to soften the light on Russell’s face. Sara and Chuck had a challenging time holding the scrim in the breeze, but it was far faster to deploy and adjust that way than it would have been to use C-stands and sandbags. Gotta love art directors that are so willing to help out with that stuff. Thank you, Chuck!
Well, when the video crew was ready to take Russell back for their next segment, we wrapped, shook hands, finished loading images into the laptop, and hauled the gear back out front to load into the truck. Sara and I said our “goodbyes” and left to head back into the city. I really wanted to stay a while longer at that farm. There were so many great little spots to explore with the camera, perfect areas to photograph people, a really sweet location. I’ve certainly got it on my list of spots to re-visit in the future. I saw the new Absorbine commercial on television just the other day when I was at the gym, and it looked great! Congratulations, guys!
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.
Production Stills: Sara Klem
July 19th, 2011
This past Saturday evening, I found myself heading south to Naples, NY to take in a little bluegrass music with a few good friends. I’d planned to bring the camera along to collect some new images for a musician-related body of work, and had been communicating with Elaine Verstraete, one of the band members, to make the necessary arrangements. It turned out to be a really nice way to spend a perfect summer evening outdoors and have some fun while getting a little photography done at the same time!
Eva and the Dog Boys were playing the back patio of the clubhouse at Reservoir Creek Golf Course in Naples starting at 5:00, and were well underway by the time I rolled in. My friends Willie, Michele, Leah and Chris were already there enjoying some cold drinks, and after catching up with them a little and enjoying a perfectly chilled glass of lemonade, I decided to get the camera out and see what I could do.
Truthfully, I had felt a bit drained from the heat of the day, and didn’t have my mind quite in the right place to feel very motivated to do photography. The lemonade helped perk me up, though, and once I got clicking, I started getting re-energized and having a really good time! I’ve always loved hearing music performed acoustically, and was truly enjoying what I was hearing as I worked with the camera. The dinner crowd that had gathered to fill the tables on the clubhouse deck was having a great time with the music, too! I moved around the group, trying to find some interesting perspectives and make some images that helped to convey the energy and soul of this group of artists and their music.
I took a just few short breaks to visit with my good friends at their table before they headed home, I ate a little dinner on the deck, and hung out with the band after they finished up their set around 9:00. What a fantastic group of folks to sit (over steaks and beers,) and visit with! We talked music, photography, life in general and had some great laughs together! We had also touched upon a few ideas for some upcoming collaborations, so I’m really looking forward to our next time together.
Eva and the Dog Boys is made up of four ultra-talented musicians who gel together just wonderfully: Elaine Verstraete – Upright bass, Mike Cloonan – Banjo, John Denniston – Mandolin, and T-Bone Farley – Guitar. The group is constantly changing configuration during their set, each taking turns at lead vocals, depending upon the piece being performed. It’s readily apparent that they have a great time playing together, and that energy comes through beautifully in their sound. Information for upcoming appearances can be found at the band’s web site and also on their Facebook page. Check ‘em out!
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.
July 17th, 2011
After several outings for creating photography and several more for videography, our project for the Seth Green Chapter of Trout Unlimited was getting pretty close to wrapping up. We had a great body of images to pull from for the poster series and for the downloadable wallpaper set. Now, being guys that love to fish, though, and being guys that pay great attention to detail, and, well, just being guys, we collectively agreed to go back out for one more trip to see if we could catch some larger brown trout. A couple of the images in particular, while already beautiful, in our minds might carry more impact if they’d been made with some “more solid” fish in hand.
Going along with the wonderful little morning routine we had developed through the course of our project, Matt drove up from Canandaigua to meet me at the Starbucks in Henrietta, grab coffees, hop in the Tundra and head south to meet Dean at Foxy’s in Scottsville. Now, for the record, the parking lot at Foxy’s had merely become a convenient meeting spot for us. We didn’t venture in. Ever. Besides, at this time of day, it’s doors are locked up tightly. See, Foxy’s is a little “exotic dance” type of joint. At least that’s what we had heard from others that had experienced it.
Dean rolled in to Foxy’s, added his waders, boots, rod and reel to the growing pile in the truck bed, and hopped in the back seat. This morning, we were going to fish a stretch of Oatka Creek that is really only accessible through private land, doesn’t see much fishing pressure, and is known to hold some good fish. We were all pretty excited at the prospect and the possibilities that this place held. With Dean’s connections, we were actually able to drive down a utility road on his friend’s land and park right next to the creek. Not exactly “roughing-it,” but we sure weren’t complaining!
I shot video of the guys gearing up at the tailgate for a little bit, and then got into my own chest waders and boots. We eased up to the creek and while the guys began reading the water and making their plans, I was reading the light and making plans of my own. It wasn’t too awfully long before Dean hooked his first fish. I was right next to him at the moment, and could tell that this one was substantially meatier that the other browns we had seen so far. Once he’d brought the fish into his release net, I knelt in the water next to him and composed the images I had hoped to capture. We didn’t have too long. Not much more than a minute, really. We’re trying to be conscious of the fish’s health and do our best to release them safely without creating too much stress for them. Dean had submerged the trout so it could breathe some, and then I could really only get a handful of additional shots before it was time to let the fish go. I had said to Dean a few moments later, after scrutinizing the images on the laptop, that if we didn’t catch anymore fish that day, I was extremely satisfied with what we had already. That first one was a beauty.
We did wind up having another fish come to the net, one that had a little different character than the previous one, and succeeded in capturing a few more really strong photographs. We were having a really good morning. Heading downstream, we explored some new water, shot more video footage, and came up empty-handed as far as trout were concerned. Time for lunch. Truck bed full of wet waders and boots, we rolled into Caledonia, picked up some supplies at the grocery store, and headed over to Dean’s house to grill up some Zweigle’s hot dogs for our lunch. Mustard, onions, relish, chips. Washed ‘em down with a couple ice-cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, and relaxed on the front porch for a while. Matt even fell asleep in his chair for about twenty minutes, mouth agape, while Dean’s dogs snarled viciously at each other as they fought over the rights to a rubber ball. Dean and I just kicked back in our chairs, sipped our beers quietly, and took it all in. It was a perfect day. Perfect.
At this point, the images have all been edited, final picks have been made, and a video has been edited and put together. Maybe there’s still a little fine-tuning that Dean and Matt are wiggling out in the design and copy, but it’s pretty much a wrap. While that’s a very satisfying accomplishment, I had really been enjoying our collaboration and routine. Kind of hate to see this one end. Fortunately, there will be many others to look forward to!
In an added note, none of the brown trout encountered during our project were eaten, injured or otherwise maligned. All swim freely, and happily so.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2
June 15th, 2011
May 14, 2011. I met up with Dean Milliman early that morning in our normal spot. I had arrived early this time, and was already in my old Simms waders when he pulled off the road. Matt Smythe had commitments for the morning, but was planning to join up with us later in the day. This would be our second outing to fish and create photography for our Trout Unlimited-Seth Green Chapter project. We were into it fully now, and had some great work under our wader belts already. A handful of posters for the campaign had taken shape, and we had begun to talk about shooting footage for a video component or two.
With the wet Spring we’d had in Western New York and most of the Northeast, the ground was already pretty heavily saturated, and water levels in the creeks were on the high side. Thunderstorms and steady rain had pounded our area all night long, and in the morning, arriving at Oatka Creek, we realized that the fishing conditions were going to be pretty unfavorable. Dean had used his iPhone to check the Oatka Creek Water Level Charts, and had seen that the last reading at the USGS-Garbutt, NY reading station was around 3.2 feet. The watershed that feeds The Oatka still had to drain all of the moisture from the night before, so Dean knew that the sucker was going to rise some, and muddy up. Not good for fishing. Not one bit. Still, we pressed onward.
We spent the morning working together, casually at times, conversing and laughing while Dean peppered some good-looking runs of the creek with bead-head nymph patterns. Roll cast after roll cast, mend after mend. Not much action. I still worked around Dean with the camera, shooting details, environmentals and landscapes, crouching in such a way that the creek’s cold, moving waters threatened to find their way over the top of my chest waders. At times, only an inch or two of neoprene protected me from a very wet and chilly awakening. About mid-morning, I had felt it was getting increasingly difficult to hold my footing among the rocks in the creek bed. The flow of water had increased noticeably. Dean had the splendid idea of leaving the now rising and silty Oatka, and heading down the road a couple miles to Spring Creek in Caledonia. This spring-fed creek boasts notoriously gin-clear waters and does not have the massive watershed that affects Oatka Creek with runoff. Spring Creek wouldn’t likely be under the same, unfishable conditions, even on a nasty day like this.
We were the only ones there. At least initially. We re-rigged, hiked in to one of Dean’s favorite spots, and got back to it. Dean, intent on nymphing a very specific run, and me kneeling in the waters just in front of him getting some great shots. It was raining again, relatively lightly, and the sky had darkened considerably. Our bellies were growling, and it got our minds churning on lunch and good, grilled burgers. Wait! No! Dismiss that thought for now! Back to fishing.
Eventually, Dean came tight to a really nice brown. The trout of Spring Creek are known for their color, and this one was very handsome. He had some decent meat to him, but still wasn’t who we were hoping to run into. After a few camera shots, Dean released him and began casting again. About now, our area on the creek was starting to get a little popular with some of the other guys that had rolled in. Before too long, our cravings got the best of us, and we hiked out to the truck. We hit the grocery store on the way back to Dean’s house, and picked up the necessities for a good cheeseburger lunch. One with all the fixin’s.
Fed and happy, we enjoyed a couple cold beers and a nice visit with Dean’s wife Jane, their daughter, and their two ferocious hounds. Matt showed up some time later, and after making a plan, we trucked out to a piece of property that was owned by a friend of Dean’s – one that would provide us access to a somewhat restricted stretch of Oatka Creek that is known to hold some truly big brown trout. As good as a creek might be, though, unfishable is unfishable. The waters on The Oatka had risen even further, and were just plain opaque with silt from runoff. Rather than nymphing, the guys mostly chucked Wooly Buggers into the current, knowing full well that some beasts were there to be caught. Problem was, the beasts weren’t very likely to see the Wooly Buggers in all that murky water. No dice.
We did get a spot of sun late in the day, and plenty of really nice images for the campaign. That evening, we were treated to a delicious, hot dinner of tuna casserole that Jane had worked up for us. It was a beautiful and well-deserved end to a long day. We visited on their front porch later that night as thunderstorms revisited the area. These storms, and the rain that would come in the following days would cause Oatka Creek to rise another two-and-a-half feet in the next 48 hours, and the creek would not be fishable for another two-and-a-half weeks.
As I write this post on the evening of June 15, we are planning to fish the “private” stretch of Oatka Creek in the morning. Matt’s meeting me at the Starbucks in Henrietta again, at 6. We’ll coffee-up, and head south in Dean’s direction. Hopefully, tomorrow will bring some better luck, and some bigger trout. Fish with shoulders.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.
June 15th, 2011
April 16, 2011. After having scouted a few productive-looking stretches of Oatka Creek and Spring Creek a couple of weeks prior, it was time to begin work on our project for the Seth Green Chapter of Trout Unlimited. For me, that meant gearing up in neoprene chest waders and immersing myself in the icy, rushing waters of Oatka Creek to do my photography. For the people I was photographing, it was pretty much the same, but they got to catch some fish! My good friends, art director, Dean Milliman and copywriter, Matt Smythe were not only along to fish and be photographed, but were gathering experiential information that they could apply to their own creative perspectives on our project. They were collecting the heart and soul of the waters we were on, and of the day itself. Sensitivities to be conveyed in the coming creative pieces.
Weather-wise, it was one of the nastier days we had seen for a little bit. It was cold, it was raining, and the winds gusted heavily from upstream. Waders and raincoats, hats and light gloves. It didn’t take too long for me to notice that the guys were taking longer than usual to tie tiny bead-head nymphs onto delicate tippets with their cold, unfeeling fingers. Just part of the deal when you’re on a Northeast trout creek in the springtime.
As we had done on our scouting day, I had met Matt at the Jefferson Road Starbucks to pick up our jet-fuel for the morning. Two tanks full, please. Pike Place Roast. Black. With a heavy spray of mist coming off the road behind the Tundra, we rocketed southward, toward Dean, who was already waiting for us when we turned into the pull-off in the hamlet of Garbutt, NY. We all geared-up for our morning on the creek, shut the tailgate on the truck and headed down the muddy trail that would lead us through the woods to The Oatka.
The water was a little bit higher than we had wished for, but the creek was still pretty fishable. I hung out around the guys, photographing them from different perspectives as they waded, roll-casted, mended, stripped, and replaced flies that were lost to tree branches along the banks of the creek. We played this way for a while, moving upstream little bits at a time, casting, shooting, protecting the camera from the wind-driven rain, and shooting some more.
Dean caught the first fish of the day. There’s always something special about that first one of the season. The brown trout’s colors seemed impossibly intense on such a dark, drab day. He was gorgeous. He wasn’t big, but he sure was beautiful. His pectoral fins were a wonderfully deep amber color, his belly bright white, with gold on his flanks. Blood-red speckles mixed with chocolate ones to further camouflage his olive-green back. Dean held him for me to photograph, but only for a few moments, before releasing him back into the creek’s rushing waters.
Matt would hook up not long after, also landing a really pretty brown. I was upstream from him, though, and couldn’t navigate the underwater rocks quickly enough to get to him and photograph his fish before its release. That would be the first fish Matt had caught on his new Flytooth weight-forward Razorstrike line that he’d been yapping about and loving. Dean caught a few more fish later in the day, farther downstream, and in the course of the day, we collected hundreds of images that I would bring home to edit that evening.
Some of the images we collected on this first day of the project would become the ones that would set the tone for the remainder of the project. They would become, for me, the bar that I would reach for each time we went out with the cameras. For me, they became goals and motivators. They also became successes. Good, meaningful ones. Not unlike that first good fish of the season.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.
June 2nd, 2011
We hit Oatka Creek for the first time in the early morning hours of April 2. I was joined by good friends, Dean Milliman and Matt Smythe for a scouting mission of one of Western New York’s most popular trout fisheries, one that is deeply steeped in history and tradition. The three of us were beginning work on an advertising campaign for the Seth Green Chapter of Trout Unlimited. On this day, we had joined up with Pete Bella, another good buddy, who was our contact with the organization and would serve as its voice during our processes. We were getting the lay of the land, talking with Pete about the message we could carry for Trout Unlimited, deciding where and how to photograph, absorbing the feel of the creek, gathering thoughts and ideas, and figuring out the likely spots to catch some decent fish. We were well armed against the day’s cold with jackets, gloves, boots and hot coffees. Cameras in hand and at the ready, we headed upstream first and then back down, stopping at likely spots to explore possibilities, and hold streamside brainstorming sessions.
After a few hours of scouring the riffles, runs, banks and eddies of The Oatka, we decided it was high time for a little nourishment. We headed down the road to find some lunch at a great little joint called The Iroquois in Caledonia, NY. Along the way, though, we decided to pull in to make a stop at the Caledonia Fish Hatchery. The hatchery in Caledonia is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Seth Green himself started the hatchery in 1864, specializing in the breeding and nurturing of brown trout. The hatchery has the capacity to crank out more than 800,000 of the little buggers each year. Located along the crystalline waters of Spring Creek, the old hatchery buildings and runs on the land convey a sense of great historical importance to trout fishing in our country. It felt good to be there. For the four of us who love the outdoors and trout fishing so much, it felt as if we were standing on hallowed ground.
When we finally arrived at The Iroquois, we were all about ready to gnaw the legs off a porcupine. We found a four-top table, got situated, and promptly ordered a round of cold beers. When we told the proprietor what different types of food we were all interested in, he gently informed us, “We got cheeseburgers.” The four of us assured him that cheeseburgers would suit us just fine, thank you, and we enjoyed them thoroughly with the usual condiments and a really dynamite salsa that was made in-house. Fries, too. Good stuff.
Through the hot chow and another round of beers, we hashed out our thoughts from the day, describing to each other the visuals, written messages, sensitivities and ideas that were zinging around in our brains. We would talk again soon, once we gave ourselves time to absorb and think. We headed back to the trucks, and pointed them in the directions of home. I would meet up with Dean and Matt again in two weeks for our first outing on Oatka Creek to capture images and fish. That story will come in Part Two.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2.