January 24th, 2012
September 9, 2011
We had truly been smiled upon these past eight days. Someone up there must really, really like us. I can’t explain it otherwise. I closed my eyes and turned my face to the sky, soaking it all in once more, taking one long breath. The water here was slow and slick. Only the warm breeze of the afternoon made its surface imperfect. And yet, still incredibly perfect. I turned back around to look at that one lone tree, half a mile off on the plain. A single cloud poised over it in a wonderful symmetry. Tall, golden grasses played in the wind all around us. The mountains on the horizon seemed a thousand miles away. Matt was twenty yards out beyond me in the river, and Ross was just downstream from us. Both of them were just tying, onto ultra-fine tippets, whatever size 22 something-or-other they had so very delicately selected from their very best fly box. Perfect presentation was of the utmost importance here. Weeks later, Ross would tell us, “Boys, that’s probably one of the toughest places in the world to catch a trout.”
The morning was filled with mixed feelings. Both Matt and I arose with purpose, and were eager. At the same time, we knew it was our last day on the water in Idaho for quite some time. We hated for the end of the trip to be close at hand. We would head back west to Boise the next morning, and hop our eastbound flight the day after that. During the planning stages of our trip itinerary, Matt had received an invite from our new friend, Ross Slayton, through their social media connection. Ross had so very graciously offered to show us around the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. The details had all been worked out, Ross took the day off from work, and picked us up at the hotel around 7am. We shuttled the gear into his Chevy Blazer and hopped in for the ride. Along the way, we got acquainted and listened to Ross spin some great yarns about his outings on the river, about fishing, and about life. He’d told us that today, were going to be fishing two of his very favorite sections of the river. The first was in the upper reaches of Cardiac Canyon, and later in the day, we would find ourselves farther upstream in the Harriman Ranch section.
This was one of a few days in the trip on which I’d decided to focus my efforts strictly on photography. It has often been a dilemma for me, having to choose between two things that I love so much, but realized that my greatest priority was to collect as many great images as I could before heading home. I kept my camera kit pretty light, with a Canon 5D Mark 2 body, a 50mm f/1.2 L-series lens, and a 28-70mm f/2.8 zoom. Spare batteries, lens cloths, Compact Flash cards, waterproof bag, that’s it. Even the laptop would stay in the truck today.
We paid our usage fee at one of the area campgrounds, and drove through the site to arrive at the river access. We’d be leaving the truck here and hiking a little over an hour downstream, then working our way slowly back up. The thin line of trail that wound through the woods along the river took us over boulders and deadfall, and occasionally made it necessary for us to wade the river where the trail became impassable. Wading the river was no cakewalk, either. Hard-edged rocks of all sizes lay under the dark water, sometimes obscured by vegetation, just waiting for the chance to threaten any shins or ankles that might come along. The going was slow. I’d often pause to photograph the guys ahead of me, and amidst Ross’s energetic chatter, Matt kept pausing to see if I was following along alright.
The country here was gorgeous. Again, different from any other place we’d fished in the days that had passed. Near the beginnings of the canyon itself, blocky, gray basalt ridges began to emerge from the soil. Downstream, these ridges rose up to become the canyon walls. Solid sentinels. Protectors of these waters. Along the trail, trees scarred deeply by the clawings of bears reminded us of our true position in the food chain. Usually not too much of a concern back east. (A week or two after our return home, the owner of one of the fly-rod shops we visited, and his friend, were attacked by a grizzly while hunting elk not too awful far from where we fished this day.)
Once we had arrived at our goal, Ross stood with Matt and shared some great insight on this section of river. Ross was an incredible wealth of information, particularly in the area of entomology. Bugs. Bugs that trout like to eat. Ross had vials in his pack that contained everything from stonefly larva to grasshoppers and emerging caddis. He’d collect these specimens during an outing to reference when tying his own flies to mimic them. At one point, Ross had reached into the water and pulled out a clump of aquatic grasses that were hung up under a log. He sifted through the vegetation, and pulled out several different types of bugs, explaining to us what each one was, and why they’d sought shelter among the grass, rather than under the stones in the river. We listened.
While the guys sought their own spots to fish, I began to work from the woods above and behind them, photographing the land, environmental details, and shots of Matt and Ross from that high perspective. It was important to me to pull back a bit, and create images that conveyed a true sense of space. Then, I’d find some good, flat spot for the camera bag in the woods, and wade into the river alongside them to shoot from very low perspectives, too. Back and forth, all morning. A couple times, I sat with Ross on the bank as he changed up his rig. We’d visit some, and I’d make some detailed images of his process. Each of the guys had some bites, and Ross landed a couple smaller rainbows. We were really hoping for something solid, and with some nice color, that we could photograph. Come on, boys. Catch something, will ya?
Hours had passed now, and I was starting to feel shot-out. The week of travel, early mornings and late nights was taking its toll. I’d accumulated over ten-thousand images at this point. Enough. Plenty enough. I moved a hundred yards upstream, and found a great tree-stump among some blow-downs on the trail, and set up camp there. I had packed the camera away, figuring the guys would be done soon, and kicked my boots up on a boulder to relax for a few. I had watched Matt pick his way across the river to a really good looking run. Ross was upstream from Matt, probably halfway between us. I think I closed my eyes for a few minutes.
My head lolled, and I snapped back awake. Trying to shake it off, I reached into my pack for a Coke and some beef jerky. Matt had settled into a nice rhythm out where he was, and I watched him. All of a sudden, during a drift, I saw him strip-set and raise his rod high. It was on! Crap! I could see that he was looking upstream for me, but we were too far away from each other to communicate very well. There was no way I could make it back down the trail through the blow-downs in time to photograph that fish. No way. “Aw, Hell,” I said to myself, grabbing the haul strap of the camera bag and slinging it over my shoulder. I whistled loudly to Matt, and motioned with my arm for him to come back across and meet me. I clambered over boulders and fallen trees, making the best time I could. I could see Matt picking his way back across, and still, he had his fish on. No way. Minutes later, we met up in a little protected eddy near the edge of the river. The sun was getting lower in the afternoon sky, and was behind all the pines on our side of the river. Miraculously, there was a six-foot-or-so area that was bathed in sweet, gorgeous, perfect light that filtered through a gap in the trees. I had Matt join me there, and we set to photographing his “Eleventh-Hour Rainbow.”
By now, the two of us had established a pretty nice routine. We wanted to have gorgeous shots of the fish, but not at the expense of stressing the fish out. Gentle handling and frequent underwater resuscitation were the key, mixed with short periods of photography. We’d got some good practice during the past week, and had it all down cold. That fish looked like Old-School Christmas ribbon candy, the iridescent way he glistened in the sunlight. Gorgeous color. Though he wasn’t huge, he seemed to pack a fair amount of attitude. We liked him plenty. Especially at this late-stage in the game. Within a minute or two, the fish was released, and he swiftly made his way back out into the currents. Twenty minutes later, we were back at the truck, and heading into the town of Island Park to check out the two main, local fly-rod shops.
After a bit of a break and chat with the fly-shop owners, and a couple of lousy Idaho Spud candy bars, we hopped back in Ross’s rig and headed up into Harriman State Park to fish the ranch section of the Henry’s Fork. Keeping with the rhythm of the week, it, too, was different from any other place we’d been. The Snake flowed in relaxed fashion through a broad, flat plain. God, it was beautiful out there. Stunningly serene. The afternoon sun bore down on us, and the breeze was warm as we geared back up. Realizing that this would be the last couple hours on the water for us, I did my best to absorb as much of it as I could. Every little detail. This stretch of the Henry’s Fork seemed to be a very fitting place to end our expedition. We wound down and relaxed. Wading was easy here. The landscape seemed vast, unlimited. Lone trees stood far off among the prairie grasses. The mountains in the distance were faint. Being there reminded me of how very small and delicate our spot is in this world. I could have stayed there forever.
I worked around the guys with the camera, getting some great casting shots of Matt, and some beautiful portraits of Ross. The fishing was slow, with Matt only getting one solid hook-up, only to have the fish come unbuttoned moments later. Defeated, perhaps, but not unfulfilled, the three of us stood there together in the water before turning our backs to it and heading out to the truck for the ride home. Until next time.
I really need to take a moment and express a tremendous, heartfelt thanks to the people that helped Matt Smythe and I make our journey truly incredible: Jason and Vicki Lindstrom of Flytooth (and family,) Rebecca Garlock and Robert Nelson, Sarah Bridges-Heusser, Colby Hackbarth of Kast Gear, and Ross Slayton. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Pretty sure we’ll see you all again.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2
January 15th, 2012
September 7 and 8, 2011
Neither Matt nor I were moving very quickly this morning. It actually felt pretty nice not to have to be geared-up before sunrise, hustling out of the hotel with camera bags and peanut-butter toast. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, got the room all squared away, loaded the Highlander and checked out of the hotel. Our drive to Idaho Falls would take about four hours. On the other end of it, we’d be meeting up with Colby Hackbarth of Kast Gear, and fishing with him on the South Fork of the Snake River.
Matt was at the wheel as I was editing images on the laptop and running the iPod playlists on the car stereo. Johnny Cash, Soundgarden, Ryan Bingham, Led Zeppelin, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Townes Van Zandt, Reckless Kelly, Beastie Boys, Alice in Chains, Chamberlin, Alison Krauss. Oh, and Iron Maiden. We passed through the lava fields and on up to Idaho Falls. If you ever find yourself traveling this stretch of highway, be sure to pull in to the truck stop at the exit for Eden. It has all the regular truck-stop stuff, but also boasts a “Garden of Eden” themed sit-down café, complete with a giant, red-eyed snake. The bathrooms were pretty clean, too, as I recall.
Once we had checked in to our new digs, Matt raised Colby on the phone and arranged to meet up with him in a church parking lot about 20 minutes away. We found the place eventually, exchanged handshakes and introductions with Colby, shot the bull for a few minutes, and transferred our necessary gear into his truck for the ride to The Snake. Colby had so very graciously offered to take us out on the river in his jet-boat, and we were not the sort of guys to turn an offer like that down. While most of the other folks fishing the river would be floating along with the current in drift-boats, Colby’s rig would allow us to cover more water with far greater ease, and to re-fish hot stretches that we had drifted through just minutes before.
On the way up the road, we stopped at South Fork Outfitters to gather a selection of flies that were the “hot tickets” for this river. Sex Dungeons. We found them in brown, olive, black and white color variations. Gorgeous, fat, drive-the-trout-crazy flies filled the sectioned drawer that the shop attendant had set on the counter for us. Somebody had been busy at their fly-tying vise. Matt also found himself a cool Simms hoodie that, as far as I know has been on him (or his daughter, Aleida,) every day since we got back east.
At the boat launch, Colby filled out the necessary paperwork while Matt and I transferred gear into the boat and got into our waders and boots. Once the boat was in the water, Colby took us downstream to give us the lay of the land and find a good spot to start fishing. From the very beginning, I was really impressed by Colby’s knowledge of these waters and his relaxed prowess as he navigated around boulders and challenging currents. Occasionally, he’d pull the boat onto a gravel bar and have Matt cast flies along a good looking run. If there was no action within a short period, we’d move on. It wasn’t too awfully long before Matt had his first fish.
Thunderstorms were threatening in the skies to our South, but they never came close enough to be of any real concern. We just kept fishing as the afternoon wore on. I was keeping pretty busy with the camera and laptop as Matt cast and cast and cast. Gravel bars, undercut banks, hot-looking stretches, bald eagles, and several really good fish. Rainbows, browns, cutthroats and cutty-rainbow hybrids. Oh, and those stupid whitefish. Yet, for every good fish brought to the net, there were probably something like ten strikes or slashes that weren’t capitalized on. That made the netted fish even more rewarding. Furthermore, they were absolutely gorgeous.
Just before dark, Colby ran us upstream to show us a pretty cool waterfall on one side of the river. As the boat ran swiftly upriver, our eyes and faces had to be covered against the blast of all the caddisflies that were coming off the water. Millions of them. The next day would be similar in structure, but on a section of The Snake that was farther downstream. It was this morning that I would hook a fish that will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. It likely would have been the largest trout I’d ever caught, probably a 28″ class brown. Only, I didn’t catch it. Oh, I hooked it soundly, alright, and that sumbuck ran hard upstream for Montana, putting a gorgeous bend in the 8-weight rod that I had borrowed from Colby. My “moment of greatness” lasted all of ten seconds. The fish decided he’d had enough of that nonsense, and broke off in the rocks. Gone. Deflated. Humbled. God, I love Idaho.
We had a really great second day. The fishing was quite good, I was pretty excited with the photography I was getting, and the setting was stunning. We were in a dream-world. Gorgeous land, perfect weather, and fantastic people surrounded us. Oh, and the fish! I fished more today than I had on the previous one, but never did bring one to the net. I was enjoying photographing Matt’s successes, and all of the goings-on, and that was alright. For years, I’ve been torn by the sacrifices made when laying the fly rod down for the camera, but somehow, on this trip, I had come to terms with it. Perhaps the photography aspect has become more important to me as time has gone by. Great successes can also come when the camera is in-hand. Still, it felt awfully good to have a handful of cork and a solid fish on the other end. Some days, it’s a painful struggle.
This river offered so many opportunities for different styles of fishing. I said to Matt at one point that Colby seemed to have a nearly “tactical” approach to his methods. Not overly aggressive, but decisive and purposeful. Well thought-out. Always moving, seeking good-looking water, deciding how to fish it, getting it done, and if it didn’t produce, you moved on to the next thing. This approach surely comes from years and years of experience. Colby has fished these waters since he was just 8 years old. We waded and fished gravel bars, we drifted and cast into sweet runs and undercut banks, but not once during those two days did we stop moving. Not once. Colby’s camouflage boat and its 90-horse Johnson seemed to add a poetic attitude to the whole tactical approach, and was far removed in style from the relatively graceful Hyde and ClackaCraft drift boats that navigated their own ways downstream. It allowed us to get to where we needed to be. It got us there swiftly and surely, and with just the right amount of attitude.
I hated to see these days with Colby end. We were just starting to get in a really solid groove. Over the past week, Matt and I had begun to establish a routine. A lifestyle. On this trip, each segment had been quite different from the one before. Different in landscape, fish species, energy, fishing style, attitude, technique, and feel. We were getting close to the end now, and in many ways, both of us hated to see it coming. Matt was looking forward to seeing his wife and kids back home, surely, but I was really kinda wishing for another month or so out here. There must be some way. For now, for a couple more days, we would continue to live in this wonderful dream-world and soak up as much of it as we possibly could.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2
January 12th, 2012
It’s amazing how new events and re-adjusted priorities in the day-to-day routine can put an abrupt halt to the enjoyable process of writing and sharing stories and photographs right here.
I’ve been anxious to get back to finishing up the story of my trip to Idaho, but have had to keep it simmering on the back-burner the past couple of months. New priorities still loom, and finding the right kind of balance and rhythm among everything is much like trying to catch a greased piglet in a dark barn. It sure is fun trying, though. This week, I’m going to attempt to complete the series of posts encompassing the Idaho expedition. I’m going to try and keep things as condensed as I can, but we’ll just have to see how it all goes. Some stories just have to be told.
So, let’s go back to September. And Idaho.
September 4 and 5, 2011
Matt Smythe and I met up with our good friend, Jason Lindstrom, of Flytooth, at the hotel on what would be our third day of fishing. We were heading north out of Boise, into the National Forest, and to the Payette River. Jason knew of my desire to capture an array of dramatically different terrain during the course of the expedition, and had chosen this river for the stunning beauty of the land through which it ran. Nestled among steep, pine-laden mountains, the gin-clear waters of The Payette sparkled emerald-green as they coursed through the valleys that guided them. Smoke from distant forest fires hung thinly in the air, creating a wonderful-smelling atmospheric haze. Morning was cool, but as the sun rose high enough to shine into the river gorge, the day warmed up substantially. Matt and Jason worked the fish while I went around with the camera gear doing my thing. We regrouped from time to time, and once I swapped gear with Matt to see if I could coax any trout to the net. No such luck. I wasn’t overly disappointed, though, because we had come to such a visually gorgeous place, and I was getting some really nice photography done. Priorities.
At some point early that afternoon, I must have decided that I’d worked hard enough for a little while, and found a great spot at the river’s edge that offered a perfectly-shaped boulder next to a small eddy. I nestled into the spot pretty nicely with my lower half submerged in the cool water, and slept for about half an hour while the guys continued to fish that stretch or river. It was one of the most wonderful naps I’ve ever had.
In the end, what The Payette didn’t give up to us in fish, she more than made up for with her stunning beauty and calmly powerful energy. Surely one of the most gorgeous and inspiring places I’d experienced in quite some time.
The following day saw us connecting with Jason and leaving the hotel around 4:30 that morning. McDonald’s. Egg-McMuffins and coffees, black. We had a bigger drive ahead of us today. Up into the Sawtooth Range, beyond Stanley, to the Salmon River. We had to stop and take a quick roadside break not long before sunup. Unwittingly, we stepped out of the car and into 27 degree air. Yikes! It was nearly thirty degrees cooler than Boise had been, just hours before. I don’t think either of us was quite ready for that type of transition. Farther down the road, on the way to Stanley, we passed a frosted meadow in a large valley that was home to a gorgeous looking stream. After a couple miles had gone by, I gave in to the urge and turned the SUV around so we could gear up and do some photography in that meadow. The water in that stream was cold, and the air was even colder. Matt had ice on his line before too long. We shot a few different scenarios, and after about 40 minutes, headed back to the car and removed our wet boots and waders with numb fingers.
We rolled into the town of Stanley around 8:30 that morning, and found a great joint called Sawtooth Luce’s that seemed like our kind of place. We joined the breakfast crowd, and enjoyed large plates of eggs, potatoes and some really great farm bacon. Probably my favorite breakfast EVER. Sitting there with our coffees that morning, and looking southward the craggy peaks of Thompson, Cramer and Snowyside, I probably wouldn’t have cared if I never made it back east. After breakfast, we walked over to McCoy’s Tackle Shop to gather some new flies for our kits, talk with the shop owner and get the river report. Back on the road.
Similar to The Payette, the Salmon River was ultra-clear, and nestled into some really gorgeous, rugged country. Calm as it looked, wading it was not easy. It seemed that wherever I wanted to place my foot solidly, there was some odd-sized rock in the way that told me otherwise. As I recall, both Matt and Jason came up with some decent rainbow trout that day, but not nearly the same caliber of fish as we’d seen on River-X. This was completely different water, and a drastically different habitat. Whitefish also seemed like a bit of a plague on this river, and it led me to wonder how their presence must affect the trout numbers. We parted ways with the Salmon River in the middle of the afternoon. We had a long drive back to Boise, and were feeling the effects of our aggressive schedule. We headed east on the loop out of the Sawtooth Range, and then south, down through Ketchum, where we stopped for snacks and a stretching of the legs. The road then turned us back west, toward Boise.
The variety of landscape that we experienced that day was amazingly diverse, and all of it was impressive. Breathtaking, really. The vast, rugged mountains stood in such stark contrast to the flat valley floors that seemingly extended forever. Fencelines, fields and small herds of Pronghorn whipped past the windows of the Highlander as the sun set in the western sky. The next day, Matt and I would temporarily part ways with our friends in Boise and make the drive east to Idaho Falls to fish two more rivers. Ahead were new adventures and more perfect, beautiful days.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark 2
October 28th, 2011
Back in mid-September, I had the wonderful opportunity to join my good buddy, Joe Mayernik, aka “The Mayor of Nikville,” in the broadcast studios at WBER during his live interview with the Vermont-based band, Chamberlin. I was along to photograph during the broadcast, and for me, it was one of these great little “dream-projects” that comes up every now and then when things are clicking and the stars align just-so. It was one of those inspiring and re-energizing projects that tend to come along and give you a little “creative energy boost” right when you need it the most.
I had first seen Chamberlin perform at Water Street Music Hall on June 24, when they opened for another (dynamite) Vermont-based band, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. I was toting five friends along that night, Joe included, and, truthfully, we were there to see GP&N. I, at that point, unfortunately, had known nothing of Chamberlin. That, though, was soon to change. Big time. During the second song in their set that night, I can vividly recall Joe and I looking at each other with expressions that betrayed our unpreparedness for how truly great an “opening band” could be. Wow! Where’d these guys come from? They were really amazing. I still (and quite emphatically) proclaim that the entire show we saw that night at Water Street was the best live performance I’d probably ever seen, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing shows along the way! When I arrived home that night after the show, around 2 am, the first thing I did, before going to bed, was to log on to iTunes and buy their debut album, Bitter Blood. Chamberlin has quickly come to be one of my absolute favorite bands to listen to. Raw, pure, fresh, powerful, and just plain awesome. The music this band produces has real guts. Sand. Interestingly, I discovered the following day, that the Bitter Blood album had been produced by Grace Potter and The Nocturnals guitarist, Scott Tournet. Good, good stuff.
During the interview that afternoon, as I recall, Mark Daly, the band’s front-man, described Chamberlin’s music genre as “Indie-Rock with a Folk influence.” I would probably add that there is a modern twist in the unique blend of sound and energy that Chamberlin puts forth, and I really, really dig it. There are other elements too, in much of what they do, that I might describe as natural or organic. Combined with sweet rhythm changes, powerfully moving shifts in intensity, and dynamic, strong vocals, Chamberlin exhibits a really interesting and nicely-gelled blend of traits that each of the musicians contributes to. Eric Maier, the pianist and “supplemental percussionist” for Chamberlin was also along for the interview that afternoon, while the band’s other members: guitarist, Ethan West; percussionist, Jamie Heintz; and bass guitarist, Charlie Whistler were downtown at Water Street setting up and doing sound-checks before the evening show.
I had arrived to the WBER site a couple hours earlier in the day to set up a very modest lighting arrangement. The studio space was tight. The ambient light consisted of yucky, overhead fluorescent. This photographer’s nightmare. So, to add some life to the scene, I had brought along a single Lowell Caselite 4, a daylight-balanced (and bright) fluorescent source, and jacked it up high in the right corner of the room on a sandbagged C-stand. This would give me the direction of light that I wanted, add some contrast, put sparkles in the eyes of the subjects, that sort of thing. Simple, but effective. Just right.
I so enjoyed having the opportunity to experience and photograph the whole interview process. The studio space made for a wonderfully intimate setting, both for the photography and for the music. Mark had brought along his Taylor acoustic / electric guitar to play during the hour-long, live-broadcast, and wound up performing the songs “Turn Around,” from the Bitter Blood album, and Chamberlin’s cover of Passion Pit’s “Little Secrets” from their just-released Cabin Covers EP. In that small space, it sounded and felt really fantastic. Stripped down to the basic elements. Pure, powerful and perfect. One of the things that impresses me most about Chamberlin is their dedication to making recordings that are live. From what I understand, overdubbing in their studio recordings is very minimal. The result is that what you hear on the CD’s you buy, or on iTunes downloads you carry in your pocket are wonderful representations of what you’d get from these cats at a live performance. These guys are not only purists. They’re very, very talented musicians.
I worked around the tiny room during the interview, shooting with nearly wide-open apertures, and trying to catch natural, candid expressions, interesting compositions, the energy of the moment and the process that was unfolding before me. I didn’t have a sound blimp for the camera body, so I was trying to be conscious of my proximity to the microphones, and trying not to shoot too much during the quiet pauses in the conversation. Joe, the consummate professional, had inadvertently left his well thought-out list of interview questions at home earlier that afternoon, and was very gracefully improvising and going “off the cuff” during the live broadcast. Awesome!
I was really happy with the body of work that came from this short hour of photography. The collection of images shown here represents only a fraction of the “good stuff,” and it’s been difficult to edit down much further. For me, one of the greatest successes of this shoot was in its simplicity. I really love to work with pared-down lighting and camera gear, photographing people who are comfortable and in their natural element – especially in environments that convey a sense of intimacy or ease. The combination of these things seems to help me create images that allow the viewer to feel as though they were part of that moment, right there, among those who were photographed. Cool stuff.
The timing of this blog post is not entirely unplanned. Chamberlin, you see, is currently headed East on the back-end of a nation-wide tour and will once again grace the stage at Water Street Music Hall. One week from this evening, on Thursday, November 3, the band will be right back here in Rochester, NY. This time, though, Chamberlin is headlining and their guests are Wildlife. We will surely be attending with a larger group of friends this time! Tickets to the show can be purchased at Water Street Music Hall’s site. Hope to see you there!
Camera: Canon 5D Mark 2
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.