Words and Images from Ed Felker

Archive for May, 2014

First Float of the Season

The Potomac River was well above flood stage just a couple weeks ago. And while she’s still a bit swollen, and her waters still murky, Spring doesn’t give you too many beautiful Saturdays with float-friendly water levels. So when you get one, you take it.

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The river was shrouded in mist early. I tried to get some photos quickly before it burned off. Here my friend Chris goes hunting for smallmouth.

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Anna casts to the bank on the Maryland side.

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And before we were a half mile from the put-in, the day was bright and clear. Thanks Anna for this photo. That is actually my house over my right shoulder.

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You may have noticed from that last photo that I have kind of a lot going on. I’m trying out a GoPro for the first time, mounted on the bow. Then I have my Wirehaired Vizsla, Winnie, in the boat. And I decided that wasn’t challenging enough so I brought my fly rod along.

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I loved this row of canoes on a little island I floated past. I should have anchored here and taken my time trying to capture the scene. With the water in sun and the canoes in deep shade, it was just too complicated a photo to snap quickly as I went by.

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My other dog, Finn, stayed home today because he just gets too excited when he sees a fish. Turns out he wouldn’t have had many opportunities to get overly excited today, but I did catch a couple sunfish. As you can see, Winnie is appropriately unimpressed with my fishing prowess.

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If you feel like you need to get out and stretch your legs a bit, then odds are the dog in your boat does too. Be mindful of canine passengers if they get fidgety in the boat. Here Winnie gets out for a break.

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Thanks Chris for this photo of me taking Winnie’s picture.

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This Float Coat from Ruffwear Performance Dog Gear is beautifully designed and constructed. Winnie is not a strong swimmer, but she likes the water. This vest fits really well, whether she’s running around on shore or lying down in the kayak.

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It doesn’t restrict her movement while swimming, either, and seems to give her a confidence boost when venturing into deeper water for a swim.

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Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, please consider using a PFD for your companion if you take him along in the canoe or kayak. The handle makes bringing aboard a wayward dog a much easier task, and if things do go wrong on the water (and they eventually will), the high visibility of a coat like this one from Ruffwear can make it a lot easier to spot a dog in the water in any light conditions.

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But, apart from not catching many fish, nothing went wrong today. It was a stunningly beautiful Saturday to get out on the water with a few friends and take some pictures.

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And as we headed toward our take-out ramp, to bookmark our trip that began with a layer of fog on the river, hundreds of trees on the bank decided to give up their seeds all at once, filling the air and blanketing the water. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, like snow flurries on a beautiful Spring day.

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Some Gave All

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The remains of over 400,000 servicemen and women, veterans and their families are laid to rest on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. This national treasure sits not five miles from my childhood home, yet I’ve probably visited less than a dozen times. I wanted to mark this Memorial Day in a special way, so I decided to brave the crowds and pay my respect to those who have served and sacrificed.

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I have no family buried here. I have no friends buried here. But I do know men and women whose names will one day — in the distant future, God willing — be engraved into white granite here. I am more proud of my friends who have served and serve still than I can possibly express. I am a better man for putting myself in their company.

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I happened across this stone that took my breath for a moment. The sheer number of graves here makes it too easy to lose sight of the individuals. Countless white markers spread across hundreds of acres, like flag-adorned whitecaps on a rolling, green sea. Heroes from a vague past, fallen in a strange land. I don’t know the story of TEC5 T.J. Carona, just what I can glean from the inscription. A soldier, a Tech Corporal in World War II, T.J. made it home safely to his family. He had a life beyond his service before the war, and after. And in the spring of 1955, he and his wife lost a daughter they had known only for a day. And the stone next to this one has a story too, and the next stone over from that. And when you start thinking of all the stories, the lives, the deaths, the weight of this place pushes down on you like water.

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But for all the weight pushing down, it is somehow an uplifting place as well. Honor, respect and meticulous ceremony are all around you. People young and old, rich and poor, from near and far gravitate here. Yes, the calendar told many of us this is a weekend we should honor those who rest here. But that’s why we mark these occasions with holidays, so we won’t forget. And there were thousands of people here today, not forgetting. And that’s enough to restore a little faith in humanity for even the most cynical among us. (Hint: I am the most cynical among us.)

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Here Rests in Honored Glory, An American Soldier, Known But to God.

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The Memorial Amphitheater was off limits when I was there, in preparation for ceremonies tomorrow. But I stole a few glimpses.

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“When we assumed the soldier we did not lay aside the citizen.” From then-General George Washington’s June 26, 1775, letter to the Provincial Congress. Above the stage, from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

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The landscape is dotted with monuments, memorials and trees honoring individuals or events in our history. I let myself get too wrapped up in trying to photograph this one to take the time to read and remember the plaque thereon.

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There are rows upon rows of these undated, unnamed markers. I wonder if anyone attended these funerals. After a hundred years of wind and rain have worn the letters smooth, it feels like the universe is trying so hard to forget these men. Rest in Peace, Unknown U.S. Soldier.

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I pondered the grave of Private Michael Burns for quite a while. In the time it took for this tree to take hold, flourish and adopt this rock as its own — and of course it is but a rock to a tree — I can only imagine his casket beneath, eternally embraced by a tangle of ancient oak roots. I don’t think it’s sad. I think instead it’s kind of comforting.

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Before I left Arlington there was one more stop I needed to make. The United States Marine Corps War Memorial depicts the iconic scene from Iwo Jima in 1945 and stands “In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775.”

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Some of the most incredible people I have ever met in my life are Marines. I will not single out my friends here but you know who you are. Oorah!

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Most people, I imagine, have seen photos of this memorial. In person, it is impressive. The figures are 32 feet high, and are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. The entire memorial is almost 80 feet tall.

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“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” ― Ronald Reagan

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I am lucky to live within easy driving distance of places that commemorate those who have given their lives in service to this nation, defending and protecting all I hold dear. And I hope my friends near and far find your own way to take time this Memorial Day to think about all the lives lost. God bless them all, and give us the resolve to never, ever, forget.


Second Jewel: The 139th Running
of the Preakness Stakes

Meet Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, in Baltimore this week for the Preakness, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. I hope you enjoy some of my favorite photos of a remarkable day…

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What a difference a day makes! Twenty four hours earlier, this was Pimlico race track. Colossal rains Thursday night made for an absolute slop pit Friday morning!

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But the sun was out by late morning, and incredibly the track was perfect by the time the sun rose over Baltimore Saturday morning.

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California Chrome, just over 24 hours before his shot at the Preakness, appeared relaxed and comfortable.

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I’ve been going to Preakness for 20 years, and this may have been the absolute best weather we’ve ever had.

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The day is rich with tradition, from the black-eyed susans…

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To the beautiful hats!

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As the day progresses, seats fill up, excitement builds and bets are made. When the Preakness race nears, the excitement in the air is palpable.

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Ride On Curlin had a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby, but he looked exquisite in the post parade. He would prove to be formidable, taking second. His handlers are looking forward to the Belmont, a race they feel he has a fair chance in.

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But this day belonged to one horse.

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Barreling down the stretch for the first time, California Chrome (the 3 horse in blue) was in great position.

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When they came down the home stretch, it was California Chrome all the way.

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Chrome’s jockey Victor Espinoza grins on his way to the winner’s circle.

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Back at the barn, California Chrome comes out to show off a bit.

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I’ve been around a lot of horses, and I have never seen one so eager to have his picture taken. His ears go up when he hears the first shutter click, and then he poses for as long as you want him to.

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You’ve got to polish the Chrome!

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Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn’s signature cowboy boots as he greets his horse.

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In a moment that felt intensely private, despite being closely surrounded by fifty cameras, Coburn put his arms around his champion’s neck and whispered to him.

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Two jewels down. Can he take the third? Gambling is just that, but one thing’s for sure. Such a likable horse, surrounded by equally likable people, will have much of the world pulling for him as he enters the Belmont.


Sweet Sixteen

My wife Sandy and I don’t go away together very often. We tend to take trips separately so one of us can stay home to tend to the zoo. So she goes to Rolex, and I go fishing. But for our sixteenth anniversary this past weekend, I arranged a short getaway to Solomons Island, MD, a great place I’ve gotten to know from a couple recent trips. Just a bit over two hours from home, it’s a perfect spot for an overnight trip. I’ll get to the rest of the photo tour in a bit, but first I want to say a little bit about this first photograph.

I love this portrait of my wife. Yes it just shows her hand, but it shows so much about her. We hiked along the trail at Calvert Cliffs State Park. The path was riddled with inchworms hanging down from branches high above the trail. From a distance we must have looked comical, dodging invisible obstacles as we walked. Some of the little guys, though, inevitably ended up as passengers. Sandy found this one on her shirt and observed him for a while. Then she felt bad that she had broken his silk line to the tree above, and wanted to replace him somewhere out of harm’s way. I almost missed the moment, but got the camera up just in time to capture this act of tenderness. This is the essence of the woman I love, I thought as she waited for the inchworm to move to that leaf like it was his idea. I hope you enjoy the rest of my favorite photos from our special weekend.

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We didn’t see any beavers, but they certainly live here!

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We both think this is a Northern Water Snake.

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Skink, I think.

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Okay there is a lot going on here. First and foremost, that sewer cap with goo dripping off it is an enormous snapping turtle. Follow that same log to the left and you’ll see another turtle, maybe a painted turtle? And then there’s the one in the foreground, can you see his back legs? He is actually moving so fast his legs are flying out behind him!

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I didn’t have a long enough lens to capture many of the great birds we saw, but this trail is a birdwatcher’s paradise! We must have seen dozens of species, including a few we had never seen before.

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I love these red headed woodpeckers! This isn’t the first time I’ve seen them, but we definitely do not get these at home. Very cool sighting, and I loved capturing two together on this log, despite the technical problems with this photo.

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Calvert Cliffs. We walked this beach looking for sharks teeth. No luck, although we did find some cool little fossils. But even though fossil hunting is the focal point of the park, we were both anxious to hit the trail back up and find more live critters!

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These two fly catching birds were having a pretty serious discussion.

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Trail closed. Shutter open. Oddly I only took one photo of this scene, but I like it.

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An example of the well maintained trails at Calvert Cliffs State Park.

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This is the view from my favorite hotel room in the east. The Holiday Inn Solomons Conference Center and Marina is a great property, conveniently located near anything you want to see at Solomons.

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And being a marina, you can have a boat pick you up right at your hotel and take you fishing! This is Captain Robbie, who showed us a great time on the water.

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Early on we spotted this very unusual nesting spot for a Canada Goose. Robbie said in 50 years on that water he had never seen a goose nest up high like that.

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Lots of beautiful Osprey around. This one seems to only have one foot.

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Salt Life.

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I absolutely love being on a boat. The fishing was slow but we didn’t care. I find it extremely relaxing to just watch the water go by.

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Speaking of relaxing, Sandy got comfortable while she was waiting for a fish to hit one of the trolling lines Robbie put out.

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It was pretty exciting to hear that reel screaming after a few hours of settling into the hypnotic drone of the motor. And if you’re only going to catch one fish on your sixteenth anniversary, let it be this one. This striper (they all call ’em rockfish down there) weighed in at sixteen pounds. Pretty cool.

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After a day on the water we were in the mood for a big seafood dinner and a few cold adult beverages. Kingfishers delivered exactly what we came for. I love this restaurant. Really great food, fun and friendly staff. I will eat here every time I visit.

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All our friends who love Solomons told us, “You have to go to the Tiki Bar!” And they were all right. This place is amazing. It’s more of a compound than a bar, just a great place to hang out on a beautiful night.

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We fit a lot into the 36 hours or so we were away. And while we found a great getaway destination, we are always glad to get back home. Special thanks to our friends Chris and Anna, who allowed us not only to get away but to do so without worrying about our animals. And a huge thanks to Joyce Baki, Tourism Specialist for Calvert County, who helped with all our arrangements. Captain Robbie, Lilly the funny waitress at Kingfishers, the guy who bought us anniversary shots at the Tiki Bar, the friendly hotel staff, everyone was great. I do also want to mention if you visit the Calvert Cliffs State Park, say hello to Charlie or Pat of the Friends of Calvert Cliffs. They might be the two nicest people you’ll ever meet.

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Healing Those Who Serve:
Project Healing Waters’ 8th Annual 2-Fly Tournament

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Every Spring for the past eight years, central Virginia’s ordinarily tranquil Rose River Farm bustles with energy and purpose as dozens of volunteers and supporters come together to hold a truly special event. Project Healing Waters aids the physical and emotional rehabilitation of thousands of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and related activities. The annual 2-Fly Tournament is the organization’s flagship fundraiser, and this year over $200,000 was raised to support 167 PHW programs in 49 states.

It takes hundreds of men and women from every corner of this nation and beyond, from all walks of life, to make this event happen. Countless volunteer hours, generous donations from individuals up to major contributors such as The Orvis Company, community support, tireless dedication of the Project’s leadership and some rare and welcome cooperation from the weather all culminated in one remarkable weekend. Those two days go quickly, but the bonds formed, the friendships made and the good that is done will have a lasting impact.

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The 2-Fly Tournament is held Sunday, but Saturday’s traditional Bluegill and Bass tournament at the farm’s largest pond is a popular ‘tune-up’ to the main event. Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing guide William Heresniak brought his drift boat along, and SGM Jeremy Bruns, US Army, cast for some bluegill from the boat. The tournament was run by long-time supporter Cory Routh of Routhless Outdoor Adventures.

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Saturday evening’s banquet begins with another favorite tradition, the escort of the servicemen and women by the Virginia Patriot Guard.

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Temple Fork Outfitters president Rick Pope, former Washington Redskins safety Reed Doughty and PHW Founder and President Ed Nicholson catch up during the cocktail hour.

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The Gold Top County Ramblers are always a fantastic addition to the Saturday evening festivities.

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Capt. Kimberly Smith, USMC, receives a few pointers from a volunteer, and for the camera.

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Rose River Farm owner and PHW Chairman of the Board Douglas Dear welcomes everyone to the dinner. “Every year the 2-Fly just seems to get bigger and better,” Dear said. “It is really a tribute to the many volunteers that make this such a great weekend for the Vets.”

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Major Nicholas “Nick” Warren, USMC, was the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. Warren is the pilot for Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. One does not get that assignment without being extraordinary at their job. But Nick is as friendly and humble a man as you would ever hope to meet.

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The evening included an address from Keynote Speaker John C. Harvey, USN (ret.), and moving testimonies of three PHW participants on how the program has changed, even saved, their lives. Not one person in attendance will soon forget the power of those testimonies.

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Donations in the form of silent auction bids continued throughout the evening. Happy supporters went home with artwork, fly fishing equipment, guided trips and selections of items donated by each of the program’s 14 regions.

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But reveille comes early, as it always does. So the participants, staff, volunteers and special guests had to say good night to a memorable evening and prepare for the great day ahead.

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Sunday brought a stunning sunrise, and some butterflies in the stomachs of a few participants.

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In perfect weather, fishermen geared up, posed for photos, strategized with guides and teammates, and fueled up with coffee, donuts and a touch of pre-tournament adrenaline.

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When the horn sounded, the first shift of anglers entered the water on their assigned beat and put lines in the water. First-time volunteer guide Joel Thompson of Montana Troutaholic Outfitters flew in from Missoula to be a part of this event. He guided Colorado’s SSG Brian Christensen, ARNG. The pair, who Brian said have similar personalities, bonded over the experience of competing together. “We were a perfect match,” Brian said of his new friend. The two have been in contact since they both returned home to the Rockies.

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SGT Justin Burdette, US Army, finds success at the ‘Road Hole.’

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SSG Kevin Gabert, ARNG, hooks up as guide William Heresniak readies with the net. Kevin and William were paired with Brian and Joel, and the team grabbed second place in the Pro/Vet category. “Kevin’s skills were top notch,” Heresniak said of his teammate.

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Guide Eric Stroup directs Jeremy Bruns to yet another Rose River rainbow. Jeremy’s team, with SGT Kyle Pletzke, US Army, and pro guides Eric Stroup and Michael Hatfield, respectively, came in First Place in the Pro/Vet category.

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Michael Hatfield waits for SPC Kyle Pletake, US Army, to get that ‘bow a little closer.

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Fly Fishing legend Lefty Kreh has been a long-time supporter of Project Healing Waters and our wounded and disabled servicemen and women. He gives generously of his time, for which there is incredibly high demand. He tirelessly gave casting lessons to beginners and tips to more experienced casters. Kreh’s sacrifices, as a WWII combat veteran from the Battle of the Bulge through his selfless devotion to today’s veterans, simply can not be overstated.

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Former Army Ranger Jason Baker, an excellent fly fisherman, nets one of many for the day.

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The hot fishing Brian and Joel experienced in the morning cooled off a bit for the afternoon shift, but they still did well. Here Joel stretches out to net another beauty.

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Just because it’s a competition, doesn’t mean there isn’t time to smile and share in a special moment!

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The Washington, DC area’s own Fly Fishing Consultant Rob Snowhite watches Capt. Kimberly Smith, USMC. They were paired with SSgt. Chris Matthews, USMC and former Marine, perennial guide and devoted PHW supporter Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters. The team was aptly named “Semper Fly.”

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In addition to counting the number of fish caught, each team measured no more than three trout for the day, getting points for every measured inch. Measuring a strong, slippery, angry fish under the pressure of tournament conditions is as hard as, well, measuring a strong slippery, angry fish under the pressure of tournament conditions. Stuff, as the saying almost goes, happens.

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In the end, a few went home with trophies. But all went home with smiles and memories, hopefully enough to last a long time. They deserve that. They earned that. We owe them that.

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From a Block of Wood: Carving Trophies

As a fly fisherman, I have seen countless trout replicas. They are on display in the homes of my fly fishing friends, in fly shops, and in every bar in every fishing town I’ve ever been in. Almost all of them are fiberglass casts, molded by manufacturers in an array of different species, sizes and positions. Then they are painted — sometimes exquisitely — to look just like that special fish an angler wants to immortalize. To make those replicas appear lifelike requires great skill. But imagine crafting such a thing from scratch, coaxing life out of an inert, featurless block of wood.

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Meet Virginia-based artist Russell Pander, who does exactly that.

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I first learned of Russell when my friend Douglas Dear, owner of Rose River Farm, commissioned him to recreate a special brown trout he caught from the Smith River in Montana a few years back. When Douglas took delivery of the carving, pictured at the head of this post, he couldn’t call me fast enough. “You have got to see this thing in person!” he said, and he was right. It is astounding.

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I asked Russell to share how he got into carving and to tell me a bit about his process. While I tell some of his story, I’ll mix in some progress photos from this Smith River beauty.

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Russell’s interest in carving goes back to an uncle who carved decoys. But he didn’t start carving until he received a gift certificate to a class at the local Audubon Society. The class, given by carver Dave Farrington, was filled with mostly retired women and a 29-year-old Pander. Students carved a Chickadee using a knife and wood burner, and hand painted them with acrylic paints. “I liked it,” Russell recalls, “and found I had the ability to see symmetry and in three dimensions — two of the most important aspects of carving.”

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He took more classes from Farrington, carving a couple decoys, a skimmer in flight, a Greater Yellow Legs and a Sanderling in flight. “This is where I learned to power-carve, using mostly burrs and stones on a rotary tool to remove wood and create detail,” Russell said. But around the same time, life got in the way a bit. His family was growing, his schedule shrinking, and he put aside carving for two decades.

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But Russell never lost interest. An avid fly fisher and fly tier, he always wanted to carve a cold water fish. The opportunity presented itself when fellow member of the International Fly Fishing Association Bill McMannis caught a record Brook Trout. Word went out throughout the organization that McMannis was looking for someone who did reproductions. “I felt this was my calling and reluctantly offered to do it,” Russell said. “I had never carved a fish, I didn’t own nor had ever used an airbrush, but considered this my opportunity.” And with that Brookie under his belt, he was off and running.

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To me Russell’s carvings show an uncanny understanding of the natural movement and posture of the animals he creates, and Douglas’s Brown Trout is a great example. “The pose and posture of the fish come from how I think the fish would move,” he said. “I do a great deal of studying. I look for underwater shots of fish, to help me understand how they move, and things like natural eye and mouth positions.”

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He has carved with Sugar Pine and Bass Wood, but his favorite wood to work with is Tupelo. “It’s the best wood for power carving,” he says. “It’s light, and doesn’t ‘fuzz’ when ground.” This brown trout is carved from Tupelo.

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When it comes to subjects, however, Russell doesn’t play favorites. “I learn more techniques from not carving the same subject all the time,” he says. “I like to switch between birds and fish.”

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Among the animals on his wish list are raptors, including a Kestrel, a Pueo Owl native to Hawaii and a Red Tailed Hawk. But don’t put anything past Russell Pander. Who knows where his drive to learn new techniques will lead? “Some day I may carve a life sized Elk,” he says. “I have always admired the chainsaw artist, as the scale they work on is so great!”

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I look forward to following Russell as he explores new horizons with his art. Just as long as when that trout of a lifetime comes to hand for me, he’s willing to go back and create another masterpiece like this one.

For more info, check out Russell Pander Wildlife Art on Facebook.


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