Words and Images from Ed Felker

Posts tagged “Brook Trout

The Project Healing Waters 11th Annual 2-Fly

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The Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament is held each spring at Rose River Farm, PHW’s Home Waters. It has always been a weekend punctuated with powerful moments, and the eleventh annual event was no exception, with temperatures and emotions both running a bit higher than forecasted. But, Project Healing Waters is a family of sorts. In fact it has never felt more so to me. And as always, everyone involved came together in mutual support and camaraderie. The 2-Fly is also a celebration, though, and friends old and new were issued generous doses of friendly ribbing at any and every opportunity. To sum up with a cliche: We laughed, we cried. Here are some highlights…

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Saturday evening’s program includes plenty of time to catch up with those we haven’t seen in far too long. Hopefully now that Eivind and Tara Forseth have moved to Virginia, I can see them more often! That’s Mark Eustis in the background hogging the oyster bar. Mark runs the PHW Stars and Stripers tournament in August on the Chesapeake Bay.

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Former Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler was the Master of Ceremonies for the Saturday evening program and did a wonderful job. Tara has been a friend to Project Healing Waters for many years, and I hope she makes a habit of making the yearly trip from Charlottesville where she anchors the evening news for CBS19.

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Judge Thomas Hogan has been a fixture at the annual 2-Fly since its inception, so it is as fitting as it is exciting that he agreed to be the evening’s Keynote Speaker. Hogan is a skilled and patient fly fisherman, a distinguished and highly respected federal judge, and one of the very nicest men you’ll ever meet. I have not read Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River, but it jumped to the top of my list when Judge Hogan spoke about its themes of the destruction of war, and the healing powers of nature. His words were pitch perfect for his audience, and kicked off a wonderful weekend of fun, fish, friendship and healing.

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Even Project Healing Waters’ highest honor, the Patriot Award, seems inadequate when it comes to the organization’s founder Ed Nicholson. Introduced wonderfully by Chairman of the Board Bob Fitch to a sustained, standing ovation, however, Nicholson had to feel the love and gratitude in the room. Through tireless devotion to the cause of healing our wounded servicemen and women, Ed has touched more lives than he can count, and saved more than he can imagine. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my friend.

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The last few 2-Fly weekends have been cold and rainy. But as anglers geared up early Sunday morning it was already warm, and an early fog burned off, leaving behind its humidity for the rest of the day. Here Eivind is looking for the right two flies to use for the day. If they don’t work (or if he loses them), his tournament is over, so these are important decisions.

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A permanent plaque remembering Brian Mancini, a big part of the Project Healing Waters family, was dedicated before the tournament began. The pool where Brian first fished with a fly rod, where he first felt the healing power of standing in flowing water and casting to a trout, will from this day forward be known as Brian’s Pool.

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Brian’s absence was palpable. And those feeling the weight of his loss found the comfort of an understanding shoulder to lean on.

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With the last of the morning mist burning off the Rose River, Chris Rowland was among the first to fish the pool newly named for his dear friend.

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Rick Warrington, guided by Gavin Robinson, smiled big after catching this stunning brook trout.

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Jason Baker must catch a lot of trout to ooze such nonchalance with a huge rainbow on the line!

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The prize for biggest fish of the day went to Rob McKennan for this gorgeous 22-inch monster. Rob and Jim Graham, guided by Jimmy Aliff and Ira Strouse, respectively, came in first place among the Pro/Vet teams.

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Robert Bartlett, like a lot of fly fishermen, enjoys being on the water whether he’s catching fish or not. This is a photo of him not.

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Rob Snowhite, who was guiding Lee Barbee on Sunday, tenderly releases a rainbow back into the river.

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Tom Stark and Joanne Hopkins have been fishing in the 2-Fly for many years. If you think they might be slowed down by a new baby, you’ve never met Tom and Joanne before.

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What do you get when you combine a great group of participants, tireless staff, dedicated hard working volunteers, generous donors and a little cooperative weather thrown in for good measure? You get a family reunion, and the best weekend of the year.

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2015 Photos of the Year

I enjoyed going through my photographs of 2015 and picking out my top twenty. The annual exercise serves as a reminder of special places, fascinating people and amazing wildlife encountered over the past twelve months. All but two of the photos this year were taken in Virginia. One of the exceptions is the first image, below, showing Patrick Fulkrod of the South Holston River Company releasing a brown trout into the cool waters of the Watauga River in Tennessee.

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While I didn’t hand raise any Monarch butterflies this year, I watched dozens of these beauties go through their magical life cycles on my milkweed plants. I caught this female emerging from her chrysalis, and watched her with my camera as she unfolded wings of flame.

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Dove hunting with friends has become a favorite new tradition each fall. And when the hunting is slow, as it was for me this year, you can always work on your still life photography. A well used Winchester Model 12, a fine Orvis case and the only dove of the day combined for, to me anyway, a calming blend of textures and colors.

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This copperhead ventured a little too far out into the travel lane to soak up some early morning warmth stored in the asphalt. He is deceased. But it’s the first one I’ve gotten to see up close, so I felt compelled to photograph him.

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Ed Clark of the Wildlife Center of Virginia released this red-tailed hawk after many, many months of rehabilitation. The bird, ill with severe lead poisoning, by all accounts should have died. But when Ed and his staff encounter an animal with an extraordinary will to survive, they join in the fight, and are committed to doing everything in their power to help.

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At a birthday party for my friend, these kids jumped around under an amazing evening sky.

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I saw more black bear in 2015 than in all other years combined. This youngster watched traffic go by along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

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The Washington, DC area was treated to a unique spectacle this summer as dozens of WWII era war planes gathered in formations and flew over the region in the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover. I have much closer shots of the planes, but I thought this image of a couple watching the distant plane had a vintage feel to it that suited the day.

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Naturalist Brian Balik and I spent some early fall mornings cruising Skyline Drive in search of wildlife. But even when the animals aren’t cooperating, the scenery never disappoints.

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While photographing the Middleburg Hunt before the Christmas parade, I was lucky to capture Devon Zebrovious making this elegant turn, resulting in one of my all time favorite portraits.

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Speaking of models, my friend Joel Thompson of Montana Troutaholics is the most photogenic person I know. I loved this relaxed shot of him taking a break from brook trout fishing along the Rapidan River. That Pelican cooler has traveled all over Virginia this past year, which is particularly cool because I just learned that Pelican is actually a Virginia-based company.

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I spent a lot of time looking for reptiles to photograph this year, but I spotted this beautiful northern water snake while trout fishing. Luckily I had my camera handy and captured this image in early morning dappled sunlight.

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My wirehaired Vizsla, Winnie, reflects on her reflection at Rose River Farm. There are more favorite dog photos of the year in this earlier post.

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This five-lined skink, warm from the sun, moved very quickly. But I lucked out and got this cool shot of the beautiful critter.

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This was a great year for turkey sightings where I live. These two composed themselves perfectly for a nice shot along our driveway. Carrying a camera in the truck almost every day has resulted in far more photographic opportunities this year.

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On assignment covering the dedication of a home built for a combat wounded hometown hero, I quickly walked past this cool scene of waiting escorts and kept thinking about it. I was glad they were still there when I went back to photograph them.

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Frog eggs, probably from a wood frog, sit just below the surface of a vernal pool.

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Low light is the bane of my photography. But every now and then I capture an image I really like, and sometimes it only takes a couple hundred snaps of the shutter to get a keeper. Dominion Power lines create an interesting composition on this lightning shot.

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Owl sightings are rare for me, so any time I see one is a special occasion. I spotted this Great Horned owl at nightfall and was thrilled to have my camera with me at the time. The light was obviously limiting, but every now and then a silhouette is just what a scene calls for.

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I struggled shooting this sunflower field with photographer Martin Radigan, but love the mood of this one keeper from the evening. I look forward to trying this again next year.

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I am thankful for everyone who takes the time to read this blog, and I hope you enjoy this collection of my favorite shots of the year. Let me know your favorite in the comments!


Shenandoah Brookies: Cracking the Code

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Fly fishing for brook trout in the Shenandoah National Park is unlike any other type of fishing I have ever attempted. Throwing small flies at small fish in small water with a small rod can be frustrating. Casting is a challenge when the pool you’re fishing is so small you don’t have enough fly line out to adequately load the rod. And whipping a leader with a dry fly at the end of it back and forth trying to propel it forward is like pushing a rope. I’ve had a good day fishing SNP before, although really just the one. But I love the park, and wanted to figure out how to fish this water. I needed professional help.

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As luck would have it, I am friends with a lot of great professional fly fishing guides, among them Kiki Galvin of Ms. Guided Flyfishing. Kiki enjoys great success fishing the waters of SNP, so I asked her for help. I also ran into my friend Tom Sadler who guides with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. Tom is extremely familiar with the streams I like to fish inside the park, and he echoed a lot of the things Kiki had shared. My good friend Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters advised me on fly selection too. But fly fishing instruction is a lot like any other type of learning — at some point you have to actually do it, and do it with some success, before it registers.

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For instance, Tom and I sat together at an outdoor writers event, at a round table that seats eight. He told me he throws flies in pools the size of that table. Now, people can tell you this till they’re blue in the face, but trust me: Until you start pulling fish out of table-sized pools, you simply can’t believe those pools are worth fishing. And once things start clicking, all of a sudden you look at a mile long stretch of the Rapidan, or the Upper Rose, or Cedar Run, and you realize there are literally hundreds of pools and pockets that can and do hold fish.

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I spent the weekend at Rose River Farm. The luxury rental cabins there are just minutes away from all three of the rivers I mentioned above. It is the perfect ‘home base’ to hit several streams in a weekend or even a single day. So, armed with new knowledge of reading water, fly selection and fishing techniques, I hit the park with high hopes. Kiki told me to throw a dry fly even if I don’t see them rising. It was early morning, the water was still cold, I saw no rises. I tied on a dry fly — a size 16 parachute adams — but still didn’t fully trust any of this, so I tied a pheasant tail nymph dropper below the adams. I assumed if there were any takers that morning, they would hit the nymph. But on my third cast, in a pool I swore I could see every inch of and seemed to hold no fish, out of nowhere a brilliant flash of gold and orange swirled on that adams. A gentle tug on my Scott 3-weight and the hook was set in the corner of his mouth. After briefly exchanging pleasantries he returned my fly and I slipped the fish back into the cool, clear water, where he promptly disappeared. How such a flamboyantly colored fish can be so well camouflaged, I do not know.

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And that’s how it went. Brook trout kept coming after my fly. Standing alongside a pool, high sticking and reaching to the far side of the current, keeping the fly line and even the leader out of the water to reduce drag, they ate that adams. Standing at the bottom of the pool and fishing up to tiny pockets alongside the water rushing in at the head of the pool, with a “drift” lasting only a second or two before the fly gets sucked under, they ate that adams. Fishing nymph droppers in bigger, deeper pools where I still didn’t trust that the little tykes would come all the way up from the bottom, they came all the way up to eat that adams.

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I mentioned I’ve had a good day before fishing the park. But this was different. I will have bad days again, that is certain. But as I hiked along these waters, tossing flies in pockets of water I would have walked right by a week ago, my trust in what I was doing grew with each catch. The formula for success with fly fishing is a moving target. The flies will change with the seasons, maybe terrestrials in the summer, stone flies in the winter. They may change day to day, or hour to hour. Maybe smaller flies, maybe larger, maybe 6X tippet instead of 5, maybe evening instead of morning. As I continued to catch fish, tending to find them in similar environments within the pool, I could readily recognize those conditions in the next pool, and the next. Every pool is unique, with different dynamics in the current, depth, shape and size. But I began fishing with something I had never fished with before on these mountain streams: Confidence. And that’s what made this weekend’s success more meaningful than a single, right place right time banner day at a single pool.

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That’s not to say I have it all figured out and that these fish are easy. They are equal parts finicky and aggressive. They are lightning fast and don’t like to sit still when they’re caught. They are slippery as hell and can spin around in a net so fast they’ll make a bird’s nest out of your leader in the time it takes you to wet your hands to handle them. And once the hook is free, they don’t much care for sticking around to have their picture taken. They will make you drive on roads so bad your fitbit will register a thousand steps just from having your hand on the steering wheel. They will make you hike for miles through thorns in waders and boots. They will make you buy a new fly rod just for them. But then one day you will find yourself in the woods. You will push through the curtain of trees and the muffled, distant sound of rushing water that has accompanied you on your hike will become suddenly crisp and loud. You will step into the water and know that you are sharing that space with one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. As your fly dances in the current, you will stare at it with all your might. And when that thing of beauty darts up from the bottom, breaks the surface and takes that fly — that fly you brought so far to place exactly there exactly then — thoughts of effort and past frustrations and the ones that got away will all be washed downstream.

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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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Performance, Art

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A friend asked me a while back why I liked fly fishing so much. He said it seemed more difficult and less productive than, say, spin fishing. And I have to admit there have been days when I have paddled a kayak and fought wind and current and tangles and snags and have wondered the same thing, why do I like fly fishing so much? The answer snuck up on me recently when I wasn’t even pondering the question.

I spent a day fishing at Rose River Farm with a very special rod, a 7’6″ 5-weight ‘Rose River Special’ made by master bamboo rodmaker and good friend Jerry Nonnemacher. I had treated myself to the rod this spring for my 50th birthday but haven’t had much opportunity to fish with it since. So I was looking forward to casting it again.

Just sliding the two finely crafted pieces out of the tube makes me think about the painstaking, skillful work that went into creating the rod. Jerry was kind enough to send photos of my rod at every stage of the building process. The rod is a thing of pure beauty when you first lay eyes on it. The fit and finish, the detail and quality of the craftsmanship are all immediately evident at a glance. But it’s not until the rod is in your hands that it truly leaps to life.

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Standing in a river on an unseasonably warm December morning, stripping line out in a puddle in front of me as I watch for the pattern of rising trout upstream, I am unhurried. Perhaps for the first time in weeks, I am unhurried. I have nothing to do but fish for trout, and I have all day to do it. I lift the rod tip up and immediately feel the perfect balance of rod and reel in my hand, and with the drag of the water on the fly line, the rod bends. It bends more as I accelerate the back cast, and fifteen feet of line silently slips behind me overhead. The feedback I get from this rod on the very first cast is loud and clear: Wait. I see a trout rise ahead as I feel the rod loading behind me. A gentle, firm forward stroke and the rod moves forward, bringing fly line with it. I let go of the line held snug against the rod with my finger and fifteen feet becomes twenty five. Drab olive line shoots easily, parallel with the water. The leader unfurls after that and my size 16 Parachute Adams delicately lands in the center of the rings now fading from the earlier rise. This trout has moved on, or has chosen another unseen meal, and the Adams drifts gently toward me. It matters not. After one cast I was already having a great day. And the answer to the question posed months earlier became as clear as the waters pushing my fly downstream.

There is something about the rhythm of fly fishing that causes a physical reaction. I feel like my blood pressure drops, and the water pushing on my legs eagerly washes my stress and worries downstream. This occurs whenever I fly fish, but the feeling is somehow more immediate, more acute with a finely crafted bamboo rod in my hand. It forces me to slow my body, and my mind simply follows. I lift the rod and repeat the cast, a foot to the left this time. And again, a foot left of that. On my fourth cast of the day, a trout breaks the surface, rolls in a red, purple, silver arc and my fly disappears beneath the surface. I tug upward and feel the firm resistance of a hook set into the mouth of the rainbow. As I strip in line, the delicate tip of the Rose River Special dances, sending vibrations from every turn of the fish’s head and beat of his tail down to my hand, and a good day got better.

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I brought that fish to hand, and several more throughout the day. But I didn’t count, and I didn’t care. I enjoyed standing in the water, casting. Sending line out through the guides, watching flies delicately land on the surface, and watching intently for the bubble and then waiting for that tug of life on the end of the line. The rod performs wonderfully even in my oft clumsy hands, and I feel like I’ve been fishing with it my entire life.

Jerry Nonnemacher’s custom cane fly rods are a masterful blend of performance and art. And this 5-weight will not be the last Nonnemacher rod I own. The small and stunning native brook trout of the equally beautiful Shenandoah National Park seem best suited for the delicate feel of a 2- or 3-weight cane rod. In time, a person could imagine owning one for every fishing occasion. Here is the rodmaker himself, Jerry Nonnemacher, enjoying fishing a little creek in Montana recently.

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So if you ever find yourself on the water and you’re having trouble recalling what it is you love — or used to love — about fly fishing, talk to Jerry. Find a way to make room in your budget, and your life, for a little performance art. It just might lower your blood pressure. Hell, that makes it practically a doctor’s order.

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(Photo by Steve Hasty)


Fall Foliage, Brook Trout and the Company of Dogs

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The sun was just peeking over the mountains, flooding Rose River Farm with golden morning light when Team Orange and I passed by on our way to the Shenandoah National Park, so I stopped to take some photos there. Fall in Madison County, Virginia is special, and I was looking forward to immersing myself in it for a day.

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But we had a lot of hiking ahead of us, up Cedar Run and down White Oak Canyon is almost a nine mile loop, so we didn’t linger too long. Winnie, taking advantage of the missing barrier that usually keeps them in the back of the car, indicates she’s ready to hit the trail by jumping in the back and up to the driver’s seat. And sitting backwards because she is odd.

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When we arrived at the park, the lot was more full than I’ve ever seen it in the morning. There was a large group of hikers gathering at the trail head, so I flashed my annual park pass to the ranger and slipped ahead of the group. The lower elevation parts of the park are at peak fall foliage. In fact the most spectacular colors I’ve seen this year are along the road that leads to the park entrance near Syria. But on the trail you don’t spend much time at the lower elevations, climbing starts right away and continues for almost four miles.

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Sometimes I’ll rig a fly rod and carry it with me, trying different pools along the way for the beautiful native brook trout that live here. But it’s a rugged trail at times, and managing both dogs and the fly rod seemed problematic, so I packed in a rod, assembling it once we arrived at my favorite spot. Here, isolated from the busy trail, we set up for a few hours of fishing, playing and relaxing. Winnie approves. (Note to self: Why do I always pack in drinking water for the dogs when I hike along fresh, clean water?)

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I have a 3-Weight Scott fly rod that is perfect for this kind of fishing, but being a 2-piece rod it comes in a very long tube that’s hard to hike with. So I brought my 5-weight Hardy rod which packs more comfortably. I sat on a fallen tree, dogs by my side, putting the Hardy together and watching the pool. Brook trout were rising. I couldn’t see what they were eating, but I’m actually not much of a ‘match-the-hatch’ fisherman. My fly progression for brook trout goes like this: Parachute Adams > smaller Parachute Adams > Stimulator > Stimulator with a dropper > Wooly Bugger > End. But none of those worked, and the fish kept rising. I finally caught a natural with my hat, looks like a pale yellow stone fly (I have included a grey hair in the hat for scale). I had a few variations of a Yellow Sally in my fly box, tried them all. I got a few strikes but no hook sets. I wondered later if the softer set of the 3-weight rod would have made a difference on these fish, some of which were pretty small. Maybe even a subtle set with the 5-weight was just pulling the hook right out of their mouths.

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But here’s the thing. I went through many, many fly changes, even going back to some I had already tried. I’d give the fish a rest while I changed flies or had a snack of futzed with the camera, then go back and cast some more. I watched a hundred rises, including a quite large brookie come out from beneath a boulder and roll on a surface fly in the same spot a dozen times. I got strikes, maybe ten or so (none from the big fella), but no hook ups. At one point I was changing flies and I looked up to find Finn swimming around in the pool. But moments later the trout were feeding again.

It occurred to me that I don’t think I have ever been as patient as I was at this pool. I had every reason to be frustrated and discouraged, but there was a tranquility surrounding me, and I honestly think it was the dogs. I loved having them there, and it’s fun to watch their different personalities at work. Finn mostly watches me. He wants to be near me but quickly got bored of the fishing and found a spot with a good vantage point to just lie down. Winnie, on the other hand, was fascinated. She followed the fly as I cast it, and then followed it on the water. When fish would rise she would perk her head up and focus on that spot. After a while she started whimpering every time the big one rolled on the surface. It seems she sensed there was a connection between what I was trying to do and what those rising fish were doing. She didn’t know what was gonna happen, but it was going to be fun!

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But alas, nothing happened. I eventually put the rod away, with fish rising all around and swimming right up to the shallows, and decided to try to get some photos. I took probably forty pictures of these wild brook trout in their natural habitat, which is a pretty special experience. It’s okay that I wasn’t able to catch any, at least I captured a few.

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I found a can of Virginia-brewed Full Nelson in the bottom of my backpack while I was looking for a second fly box. Since it is against the law to have alcohol in the park, to be in full compliance I disposed of the beer. But before I did, I let the cool waters of Cedar Run chill it to optimal disposal temperature.

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After that most enjoyable few hours fishing and enjoying the company of my two best friends, it was time to hit the trail again. We could have gone back the way we came and shorten the hike by several miles, but I decided to push myself and continue up to do the originally planned loop. This morning my back, my right hip, left knee and both feet are questioning my judgment, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s a beautiful hike, though, and Team Orange had a blast. Here they spot a squirrel along the trail.

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I was relieved to get to the top of White Oak falls and began our descent. Even though every step of the descent is a foot-pounding, bone-jarring reminder that I am old and I’m carrying too much weight around. This panorama shows the lower falls at White Oak. Trout don’t live in ugly places. (I encourage readers to click on the panoramas in this post for a better view.)

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It was a very long day, and these great dogs deserve the sleep they fell into about a minute after getting in the car. I hope they aren’t nearly as sore as I am today.

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Common Bonds

IMG_0087From left to right: I met Matt many years ago when he showed up at a party at my house with a mutual acquaintance. He spotted a picture on our fridge of me with a Steelhead and we got to talking fly fishing. A few weeks later we were on a road trip together to upstate New York to fish for salmon and we remain great friends and fishing buddies. Harold, who runs the guide service Spring Creek Outfitters out of Western Maryland, was the first guide I ever fished with when I started fly fishing. Since then we have become friends through his generous work with Project Healing Waters. I first met Joel when a mutual online friend introduced us because Joel needed a fly fishing related logo design. We became fast friends, and his Missoula, Montana-based guide business Montana Troutaholics is an absolute must if you are planning a trip to that area to fish.

IMG_0025So myself and three friends I met because of fly fishing but who have never met each other, came together because of that shared passion for fly fishing at one of the best places for it, Rose River Farm.

IMG_0001The morning was fairly cold, and the fish were sluggish early on.

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But I was fishing with two of the best trout guides I know, so I was positive it was just a matter of time.

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In the afternoon, with just a hint of sun to warm the water a couple of degrees, things turned on and the fish became a lot more active.

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There was a little beer drinking going on as well, of course.

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Matt and Joel warming up by the grill before lunch.

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A hot lunch hit the spot after spending the cold morning in the water.

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Here’s Harold putting the bamboo to the test on a nice rainbow.

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And back you go into the Rose River.

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My biggest fish of the day.

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I think it’s safe to say the Rose was pretty clear!

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Joel always looks like he’s in a Simm’s ad or catalog cover.

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A full day of fishing behind us and more weekend adventures ahead for Joel and I, we all headed back to the wonderful luxury yurt-style cabin at Rose River Farm. More beer and many laughs went great with a few thick rib-eye steaks on the grill. A perfect end to a great day.

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Hanging around the fire pit was so much fun. There was weather coming in, but luckily it held off long enough.

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We were surprised the next morning to find a couple inches of fresh, wet snow on the ground!

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An unhurried, hearty breakfast started our day off right.

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I don’t drink coffee, but on this morning I could have used a cup or two!

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After breakfast, Joel and I headed into the Shenandoah National Park for some brook trout fishing and a vigorous hike. We stopped at a few pools along the way, but the fishing was pretty tough, quite possibly the result of the weather front that had just moved through.

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But Joel would not be discouraged! We tried many different flies to get the attention of these stubborn fish.

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Finally patience and skill paid off as Joel brought this little beauty to hand. Joel’s first native brookie, and also by far his farthest easterly fish caught in the U.S. So while not big, it was memorable.

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When we let this little guy go, we told him to tell all his friends that he was treated with care and respect and that the fly was delicious. But they didn’t get the message, this was the only fish of the day. I was psyched Joel got it though, and the company and great hike made for a fantastic day despite the fishing.

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This is my favorite photo of the day, and I encourage you to click on it to see it larger. Joel stepped off the path to try one more spot on the hike back, and I captured this cool panorama with my iPhone. Winter has its own brand of beauty, and while at first glance it can look pretty brown and dull outside, nature reveals wonderful, subtle colors in the winter. Sometimes we have to just remember to open our eyes and maybe look a little harder.

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The next day brought another opportunity to share with Joel, who has never been out this way, something that’s very special to me: A hike with Team Orange (my two Wirehaired Vizslas). I chose the more difficult trail at Maryland Heights, which has some neat Civil War history along the way.

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Another iPhone panorama from the summit, showing the historic town of Harper’s Ferry, WV, and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

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A mellow evening after a fun filled weekend was in order, beginning with a final beverage on the Platform.

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The sun sets on the last day of Joel’s visit. I’m so grateful to have my friends together for some fishing down at Rose River Farm, and for the chance to spend some more time with Joel, he and his wife Debbie have been such gracious hosts to me when I’ve visited out west.

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Everyone was a bit tired after three days of fishing, hiking and drinking. So some couch time was what we were in the mood for, and Finn wasn’t going to let his new hiking buddy get too far away.


Fishing in Madison County, Virginia

I spent a couple of days fishing in beautiful Madison County, VA with my friends Andrew, shown here on the left, who set up the trip as a birthday celebration, and Josh. I met Josh several years ago through Project Healing Waters, and while I always look forward to seeing him at PHW events, he is very much in demand at those events, so it was nice to spend some quality fishing time with him.

We started out with a day of fishing at Rose River Farm, a wonderful private stretch of water that holds some big, strong rainbows, with a few beautiful browns mixed in. Here Andrew targets some trout that were still sluggish in the cold morning water.

Josh ties on one of his favorite flies.

Conditions were perfect as the day warmed up. The water was gin clear.

Josh getting a nice drift.

This beautiful rainbow survived a heron attack and has the scar to show for it.

William from Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing was also fishing the Rose that day. I know William from his volunteer work with PHW and was glad he was there. He not only took this photo of me with a beautiful rainbow, he provided the fly I caught it on. Thanks William!

The day wound down, and we said goodbye to the Rose River. After a slow morning, the fish got pretty active in the afternoon and the late day dry fly fishing was incredibly fun. A great day on the river.

Andrew had arranged to rent one of the three luxury cabins at Rose River Farm.

The cabins are beautifully designed and furnished, and your eye is immediately drawn to the skylight atop the conical ceiling.

I have never tied a fly before. But Josh, an accomplished fly tier who sells his flies on his Dead Drift Flies web site, offered to teach me how to tie one. The wooly bugger is a common beginner fly design, and is also something I could fish the next day as we headed into the Shenandoah National Park in search of brook trout. So this is what I tied. It is far from perfect, but Josh insisted it wasn’t awful for a first attempt.

The next morning brought temperatures at least 20 degrees colder than the previous day, a change that can sometimes turn off fishing altogether. But we decided to head into the park and give it a try. After a vigorous uphill hike to reach some nice pools, it wasn’t long before my first ever fly tricked this beautiful brookie.

It’s hard to believe I fished the entire previous day in short sleeves, as 24 hours later we were regularly cleaning the ice out of the eyelets!

The brook trout are typically small here in the park, with some exceptions, but if there is a more beautiful fish you can catch on a fly rod in the eastern part of the United States, I do not know what it is.

We worked hard for those little brookies, but were all very excited when Andrew caught his first brook trout ever!

Josh shows off his first of the day. Beautiful.

Josh proving, and not for the first time this day, that he has better balance with one arm than I do with two.

It was a wonderful day of hiking, scrambling on rocks to access hard to reach pools, and catching stunningly beautiful trout. A fantastic couple of days in a beautiful part of the state with great company and cooperative fish. Can you ask for anything more?


Hiking for Brook Trout in Shenandoah National Park


Every now and then I’m in the mood to do a long hike, which for me is anything over five miles. The Cedar Run/White Oak Canyon loop in the Shenandoah National Park has a few different configurations, but last year I did an eight mile loop which is plenty, considering half of that is steeply uphill. So I decided to repeat this very enjoyable and vigorous hike, with one addition: this time I brought a fly rod. Both Cedar Run and White Oak Canyon are home to some of the most beautiful brook trout you’ll find anywhere. And since during my last outing in search of brookies I got shut out, I had a score to settle.

The Cabins at Rose River Farm are an awesome place for any weekend getaway, and a Saturday night stay allowed me to get a nice early start Sunday morning as I was literally just minutes from the trail head.
The Hill Top Cabin offers great views and is an extremely relaxing place to put the work week behind you and focus on the outdoors!

This is the type of water found along both legs of this hike. Falls at the head of a pool, surrounded by great scenery.

In the early morning, I could see trout rising in almost all of those pools, so I just started fishing them and it wasn’t long before this beauty fell for my antics.

Not all that’s beautiful is under water along this hike!

Trout don’t live in ugly places.

I have to brag on this wonderful little 3-weight Scott fly rod of mine. It casts beautifully, and a lot of the casting in these confined places has to be pretty accurate. It’s only 6’6″ long which helps too.

Back you go, little fella!

Nice view of the beautiful White Oak Canyon.

This is, without a doubt, a very large Shenandoah National Park brook trout. My best brook trout by a wide margin.

Another look at the same fish.

This is the payoff for all that uphill hiking!

A three foot black snake sharing the trail.

This one escaped before he reached me, but I was able to get his picture before he got too far.

Life is good indeed. Bringing the fly rod along made for a longer, but much more enjoyable day!

Eight miles = Four Advil. I’ll feel it tomorrow, but the excitement of dry fly fishing for wild brook trout in stunning scenery will have me back very soon!


Herbert Hoover and I Caught the Same Number of Fish Today


Today I loaded up the dogs, camera and fly rod and headed down to Madison County, Virginia to explore the upper portion of the Rapidan River. The source of the Rapidan is located where two streams come together high on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That spot is also the site of President Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat built in 1929, Rapidan Camp (or, as it is also called, Camp Hoover). You can drive much of the route up the mountain, but high ground clearance is a must, and four wheel drive is recommended. Once you turn off the main road, it’s a rough drive up an extremely rugged and steep road. I drove to the end of the accessible road (seven miles that feel like twenty), not passing a single human, and parked at the gate marking the last stretch up the mountain on foot to Camp Hoover.

I’ve done my fair share of exploring around the Virginias, and I can’t recall ever feeling as remote, as far removed from any other person anywhere in this region as I felt today. I hefted the backpack weighted down with drinking water for the dogs, and we crossed the gate and headed uphill, surrounded by crisp air, brilliant sunshine and total silence but for the soothing nearby rush of free, clean and infinitely abundant drinking water for dogs.

This portion of the Shenandoah National Park is so remote, I broke my Always Keep My Dogs Leashed In Public Parks rule (okay that’s not just my rule, it’s actually the park’s rule too), and let them run ahead and explore. However, the terrain was so remote that I started feeling the real possibility of a bear encounter. The last thing I wanted was for the dogs to spook a bear, or come between a bear and her cubs, or to piss off a bear and then run back to me, leading that pissed off bear back to me. So I decided it was best if we all just walked together.


We (okay, I) took a wrong turn at one point, adding a couple miles to the hike. But exercise was a goal for the day, and besides, if I had not made the error, I would not have seen these cool icicles.


Camp Hoover, currently closed for the season, gives tours of the three remaining and restored cabins during the warmer months.


This fireplace was mainly used for photos of President Hoover and his distinguished guests. Heads of state, era icons such as the Lindberghs, Mrs. Thomas Edison, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Finn and Winnie have all been photographed here.


Mr. Prime Minister? You’ll be happy to know we’ve done a security sweep of the entire grounds, and assure you there are no skwerls on the premises.

Source of the Rapidan located and historical photographs secured, we headed back down the hill, our sights now set on the wild brook trout that populate the river. If I was a brook trout, I would love this spot right here. I am, however, not a brook trout. Nor do I have much of an idea about where they live or what they eat.

Dogs, as it turns out, are not particularly helpful when it comes to fly fishing. But they are genuinely good company, and it was fun having them along.

When I found a spot to fish, I needed the dogs to just stay in one spot so they wouldn’t come in the water and disturb the fish I was not catching, and also it’s critical to know where your dogs are at all times when you are casting a fly line. They were really great today. Winnie is fascinated by the casting of the fly, she follows it with intense focus, and watches it drift along the current while it is not being eaten by a trout. She, it seems, would make a great fly fisher.

After a good hike and some fishing, I like to stop for lunch. Ideally, a local place with some character. The Pig ‘n’ Steak, complete with NASCAR legends laminated into the bar top, fit the bill nicely. I drank this delicious brew, wolfed down a burger, and split the fries with Finn and Winnie. Total tally for the day, Fish caught: 0, Humans encountered: 0, Bears encountered: 0, Awesome day had: 1.


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