Words and Images from Ed Felker

Archive for May, 2015

Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Leaders

I recently fished at Virginia’s Rose River Farm on a beautiful, spring, dry fly kind of day. I fish there a fair amount, and I brought my favorite rod, a bamboo 5-weight made by Jerry Nonnemacher. But I did try something very different for me.

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In the past year or so I’ve become frustrated with the leader and tippet I had been using. After a couple of recent bad experiences, I decided I was ready for a change. So I asked my friend Joel Thompson of Missoula-based Montana Troutaholics what he recommended. Without hesitation he told me Cutthroat furled leaders are the best. “They roll over perfectly, they don’t break when you get a knot in them, and one leader can last you the whole season if you take care of it,” he said. When a professional guide tells me he uses one leader for an entire season, that gets my attention. He sent me one, and I was anxious to try it out at the Rose.

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The leaders are braided from thread, and you coat them with floatant at the start of the day. I fished for a good six hours or so and did not need to reapply the floatant to the leader. I’m no expert fly caster, but what Joel told me is absolutely true, these leaders roll over just beautifully. I fished dry flies all day and the furled leader made my presentations land softly. The difference, I think, comes from the fact that these braided leaders have no memory. Stretch a nylon leader all you want, it’s still going to retain some of its original coil. And during the cast, energy is lost in those coils.

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I’m probably not alone in this practice: I put a new nylon tapered leader on, maybe nine feet, and tie a fly right onto the end of it. With each fly change the leader gets shorter, until I’m either tying 5X tippet onto the 2X remainder of my leader, or I’m putting on a new leader. Well, no chance of that here. Cutthroat puts a tiny ring at the end of the leader. Tie a length of tippet onto that, and that is always your starting point for tippet. Gets too short? Cut it at the ring and retie. It’s just a great system, I love this ring. And it’s so small it floats along with the leader.

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I really had a blast casting and catching fish with this new leader setup. I mean, dry fly fishing at Rose River Farm is always fun, but between the bamboo, the furled leader, some new tippet material and little dry flies, I was really having a great time seeing how softly I could land the fly. Then when a trout rolled on it, I had confidence that every part of my rigging was going to hold up.

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The tippet is from Trouthunter, another ringing endorsement from Joel: “I use Trout Hunter tippet exclusively anymore. It is strong as hell and because they take extra care in packaging I have yet to have a spool go bad! I even landed a 15 pound pike on their 2X last year with no steel leader. It is strong shit!”

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I’ve heard about furled fly fishing leaders for years and just didn’t think they were for me. Far from an expert fly caster, I couldn’t imagine even noticing a difference by switching. Plus, for the most part, nylon leaders have served me well. But I’m a believer now, and like Joel, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to nylon leaders. So if you’ve been curious about furled leaders and haven’t tried them, check out what Cutthroat has to offer.

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Check out Rose River Farm HERE.
Jerry’s bamboo rods HERE.
Joel’s guide services HERE.
Cutthroat leaders HERE.
Trouthunter tippet HERE.


Victory in Europe

“They have given their sons to the military services. They have stoked the furnaces and hurried the factory wheels. They have made the planes and welded the tanks, riveted the ships and rolled the shells.” — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, August 19, 1942.

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V-E Day. The anniversary – this year the 70th – of the day Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces, the end of World War II in Europe. I can hardly imagine what this date, May 8, 1945, meant to America, to the world at the time. Victory. My God, the blood and treasure spilled and spent to achieve that victory was unfathomable. I have read volumes and volumes about the sacrifices made by our Greatest Generation and they are literally beyond my grasp. But I am lucky to live in a place where I can honor them by taking part in a once in a lifetime celebration of this epic victory and the historic aircraft that helped make it possible.

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The Arsenal of Democracy Flyover included dozens of vintage WWII aircraft. The planes gathered in holding patterns along the Potomac River west of Washington, DC, eventually lining up in 15 formations tracing the path of the river to Washington, and ending up over the World War II Memorial. I chose Great Falls Park as my vantage point to see this display of history and might, and got there well before a sizable crowd joined me. The sight and the sound — oh, the sound — of these vintage aircraft is something I will never forget. But my knowledge of them is lacking. So my friend Barry Snell, author, patriot and self-proclaimed War Nerd, very kindly offered to write a bit about the planes I captured with my camera over the river. Everything in italics from here on out, comes from Barry, and I thank him profusely for taking the time to lend his passion for history to breathe life into these planes, and into these images.

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Vought F4U Corsair. The Corsair is one of the most famous fighters of the PTO. It was fast as hell—the first fighter we had to fly over 400 mph—could take a real beating, and was very distinctive with its bent wing. Did I say the Corsair was tough? A pilot once used his Corsair’s propeller to literally chop the tail off a Japanese fighter after his guns jammed. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, right? And yes, he flew it home and landed safety. Mostly used by the Marines, the Corsair is frequently associated with Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and they were made famous to the masses by the show Baa Baa Black Sheep, which featured the Hollywoodised true story of an actual Corsair fighter squadron. John Glenn flew Corsairs too.

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North American T-6 Texan. The T-6 Texan was one of the most common, and perhaps now the most famous, fighter and aerial gunnery trainer during WW2. The yellow paint schemes of the ones on the left are typical flying school colorings, presumably preferred for visibility for cadet instructors. Many fighter pilots loved the Texan and fondly remember their time as cadets flying them. Texans also have the dubious distinction of looking somewhat like the Mitsubishi Zero, and many have been modified to look like the Japanese fighter for war movies such as Tora, Tora, Tora!

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Top left: Beech AT-11 Kansan. Virtually all bomber pilots and navigators were trained in the twin-engine Kansan. The one in the photo sports Commonwealth markings and invasion stripes, and does not have the standard glass navigator’s bubble nose it probably would have had during the war, just like the big bombers.

Top right: Douglas SBD Dauntless. The Dauntless dive bomber earned its way into the history books at the Battle of Midway, when four squadrons of them sunk all four Japanese aircraft carriers at the battle, literally one right after the other, after the Japanese had held off all other American attacks throughout the day. The Dauntless was also used to good effect from the famous Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.

Bottom left: Consolidated PBY Catalina. The sub killer. The PBY was used to spot Japanese subs and is responsible for dozens of kills during the war. It was also a PBY that spotted the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway.

Bottom right: Lockheed P-38 Lightning. This baby is perhaps the most distinctive looking fighter plane of the war, and the only fighter plane that saw service from start to finish. The Lightning destroyed our enemies in both theaters, and was nicknamed the “Fork Tailed Devil” by the Germans. She was fast, tough, had a lot of firepower, could carry a lot of bombs for a fighter, and could fly farther than any fighter until the P-51 came along. She kicked ass all over, killed Pearl Harbor architect Admiral Yamamoto, and was flown by America’s top scoring aces.

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Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. Even if you’re not an aviation geek, no doubt you’ve heard of the Fighting Tigers. This was their plane. The Warhawk got famous before World War Two was even a thing, during its service with the American volunteer pilots fighting the Japanese in China in 1941. Notice the Chinese symbols on the wingtips of the right plane. Used mostly in the PTO and eventually outclassed by virtually every other airplane, the P-40 still holds her place in history as the one that made it into the air during Pearl Harbor, and as our front line fighter in the first months of the war. The old girl was notable for being a very sturdy plane that could take a lot of abuse, and performed excellently in a dive.

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North American B-25 Mitchells. This airplane answered the nation’s call when James Doolittle led a squadron off them off the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet, where they bombed Tokyo in response to Pearl Harbor. This baby bombed shit all over the world, but mostly in the Pacific, where it was used to great effect in all those island battles. Interestingly, they discovered that it was great as a ground attack craft too, and flew it a lot just a few dozen feet off the ground, shooting everything in sight. Deke Slayton flew B-25s.

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Consolidated B-24 Liberator. Perhaps the most modern and advanced of the bombers in its class, the Liberator never quite achieved the fame the B-17 did. The Liberator was faster, could go farther, and hold more than its peers, and had advanced radar and other technologies. Yet it was a pain in the ass to fly, sometimes caught fire easily, and had other miscellaneous quirks. Still, the Liberator did a ton of heavy lifting for us in all theaters of the war, and especially earned its name in Europe, where it made history during the many ongoing raids on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. Some of the greatest casualties of the war were suffered by the Liberator crews during the Ploesti raids. Joe Kennedy, Jr. was killed in a remote controlled Liberator, which was to be used as a drone in a secret mission, when the explosives inside the plane prematurely exploded.

(Note: Fans of Laura Hillenbrand’s brilliant book, Unbroken, about hero Louis Zamperini might recall that Zamperini crashed in “The Green Hornet,” a B-24 Liberator.)

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Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. The B-17 was the workhorse of the American bomber effort, and is easily the most famous bomber of the war. The skies would literally be filled with these things, as hundreds upon hundreds of them would fly to mainland Europe virtually daily throughout the war. In the months before D-Day, B-17s bombed Luftwaffe targets on a daily and constant basis, which accounted for the zero German air resistance during the invasion. And while not indestructible like the name suggests, the Flying Fortresses were an exceptionally tough and forgiving aircraft that easily earned the respect and profound love of her crews. See the movie Memphis Belle for some B-17 love.

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Left: Grumman TBM Avenger. Seeing service in the PTO, the Avenger was a big torpedo bomber. She made her first appearance in the war at the Battle of Midway, but really made a name for herself in the Battle of the Phillippine Sea, where they just slaughtered the Japanese. A few Avengers saw some good service combatting the U-Boats in the north Atlantic too. The plane was stout enough that we kept her up through the Vietnam War. George H.W. Bush was an Avenger pilot, and was shot down.

Middle: Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. The Helldiver replaced the Douglas Dauntless, however, it was not a well-liked aircraft. Using the plane’s acronym, pilots and crew often called it the “Son-of-a-Bitch, Second Class.” Others called it “The Beast” because it was a big, unwieldy aircraft. The difficulties with the Helldiver actually contributed to the closing of the Curtiss factory. That said, it did have a fine service record and according to the numbers, appears to have done just fine.

Right: Grumman TBM Avenger

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Douglas A-26 Invader. I don’t know much about these airplanes, except that they weren’t really notable during WW2. Not sure why; I do know that they were used in Korea to good effect, and we still were using them up through Vietnam. The CIA used Invaders in the Bay of Pigs too. They were fast though, and I think they were the fastest bomber we fielded in WW2. In addition to B-25s, Deke Slayton also flew a few missions in Invaders over Japan.

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Top: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
Top middle: Vought F4U Corsair
Bottom middle: Grumman TBM Avenger
Bottom: North American P-51D Mustang

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North American P-51D Mustang. The Mustang is an aviation legend. It is arguably the finest aircraft to come out of the war. It flew faster, higher, and farther than any other airplane within the fighter class, and even many outside. To this day, the Mustang remains one of the fastest prop planes ever made, and they are routinely raced—often to victory—in the modern era. But aside from being the sexiest thing with wings during the war, she earned her reputation beginning the moment she took to the air in combat. Before the P-51, our bomber crews frequently suffered more than 50% casualties because they had to fly to their targets without air support, as no fighters existed that could go the distance. Because of this, the 8th Army Air Force lost more men than any other unit in American military history. Look it up; the numbers are staggering. After the P-51 arrived though, we quickly achieved air dominance in Europe. The Mustang could stick with the bombers all the way to the target and back home, and they just kicked the Luftwaffe’s ass all over the sky. It wasn’t very many months after the Mustang arrived in Europe that the skies were virtually cleared of any significant German resistance. It is not an exaggeration at all to say that the P-51 is one of the most significant factors in the United States’ victory in Europe, and perhaps the most lifesaving machine of the war.

The middle P-51 in the photo is painted with invasion stripes, and the one on the right appears to be painted in the colors of the Red Tails, the famed and exceptional African-American fighter squadron. A horrifically bad movie about the Red Tails was made a few years back, but one thing that is true about them is that bomber losses from missions launched from North Africa and later Italy virtually stopped when the Red Tails moved in…Those boys were that good, and yes, the bomber crews did request them as escorts on their missions. Chuck Yeager flew P-51s during the war as well.

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Boeing B29 Superfortress. The biggest, baddest, highest, and farthest flying mamajama of WW2, and it dropped The Bomb. Twice. ‘Nough said!

Indeed. Another thank you to Barry Snell for his generous contribution to this blog.


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