Archive for the ‘Creative Nonfiction’ Category

One of the unfortunate facts of living on the great plains is that we live in Tornado Alley… where the largest number of tornados form in the world. If you have been following the news, I am sure you have heard of the tornados in Oklahoma City this year…

Growing up and living in the Great Plains, you grow used to tornados being a part of your life. In the spring and early summer, you learn to remain vigilant to the weather.

A few times a year, there are tornado outbreaks in my area; which produces tense moments…

This poem is about those tense moments.

As Distant Thunder Rolls

We sit and wait in silence
As distant thunder rolls.
The weatherman on our TV
Interrupts the show.
He points to red spots on his map
Not very far away.
No one says a single thing;
We hang on every word.

We sit and wait in silence
As he talks of tornados.
The rain outside begins to fall
And patters on the ground.
Humid air blows in the house
From a restless night.
The neighbor’s wind chime sings outside;
Rings out a haunting hymn.

We sit and wait in silence
And think of our close calls.
The time with mom on Highway 10
We raced a twister home;
The night a cyclone jumped my town;
Cleaning branches from the street;
Or how in Moore the EF-5
Just missed my sister’s home.

We sit and wait in silence
Like so many nights;
The thunder rolls and hail falls down;
Wind howls in the night.
The warnings and the weather
Do their best to scare.
Not with bang but with a whimper
Storms fade into the night.

We sit and wait in silence;
Lighting flickers bright outside.
“Tornado warning ‘til 10 o’clock
Get underground right now!”
The weatherman points to a town
Below us on the map.
The thunder heard not far away
Threatens all their lives.

We sit and wait and wonder
Will we be next this time?
Run down the stairs in shaking fear
To cower for our lives.
Splitting wood and cracking glass
As home falls in on us.
Pray and scream with all our might
Storm spares us all inside.

We sit and wait in silence
As distant thunder rolls…

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Sometimes fly fishing can be a profoundly existential experience… whether the fish are biting or not.

Yesterday, the fish were not biting.

As I roamed the banks of East Twin Lake, I noticed a sign… this same sign can be found at lakes across North American. There was nothing special about the sign itself. Sadly this sign is often ignored…

As I passed this sign, I got to thinking about it’s message… what do we leave behind?

At first, my thoughts were drawn to the surface message itself… “No trash pick up”. Walking down the beach, this was painfully obvious. In fact, it almost hurts to see the years of beer bottles and cans, fast food containers, empty worm bowls, among many other things, that litter the beach itself. The sign began to read less as a statement and a call to action; and more like an eerie prophecy.

How careless some people can be.

But as I wandered further down the beach, the amount of trash decreased; even though the paths were still well beaten into the ground. As I slowly reached where I wanted to fish, I was struck by my first epiphany of the day… yes there are a few bad apples in the crowd. But I shouldn’t let this ruin the experience for me. I believe that we as humanity our inherently good; even if a few people can occasionally cast the rest in a bad light. The type of people who are lazy enough to carelessly cast their waste upon the ground are also to lazy to move very far from the comfort of their cars in the parking lot. The worst litter by far was within a very short walk of the parking lot, and within a couple short minutes I had out walked it…

And in this realization was a tinge of sorrow. There is great reward for venturing further into nature… and it is clear that this type of person will never know the nirvana it brings.

As I walked further down the beach, different words from the sign cried out into my head… “Please leave nothing but your tracks. Will you help?”

Leave nothing but your tracks…

Leave nothing but your tracks…

“Of course,” I thought to myself. I consider myself in high regard when it comes to outdoor ethics. I never leave trash behind, always release my fish, and do everything I can to leave nothing but my tracks. I even take the small snips of tippet material from tying flies onto my line and shove them into my pocket. Of course I only leave my tracks…

Then, as I waded into the icy water and began what would be come a fruitless task of casting, I reached my second epiphany…

I worked my way around brush piles hoping to hook up with a largemouth, white bass, or crappie; and as I did so, I found another reminder of what we leave behind hanging from a branch and dancing in the wind. A single spinner bait…

I don’t mind wading into the water while fly fishing; in fact it is often necessary to provide enough space to backcast and avoid hanging up in trees. But this is not something that all anglers like to do. And every angler will let loose that one poorly timed cast that drifts from control… and hangs up on a snag.

I believe most anglers will do everything they can to remove their tackle from a snag. But sometimes it is not practical, or even safe to retrieve the tackle. And we leave something behind… like this spinner bait swaying in the wind.

I waded over to the brush pile and cut the spinner bait free from it’s tangle. Even though I rarely fish with a spinning rod, I am building quite an impressive tackle box for my spinning rod on gear that I have rescued from the water. On this same day, I also recovered a Rapala crack bait, and a foam grasshopper fly. All good signs that I am fishing a spot where others at least think they will find fish as well. And each reminds me of all the flies that I have lost to snags and fish.

I consider losing fishing tackle a forgivable sin. Like I said, I believe that most anglers do everything that can to avoid losing tackle… replacement costs can add up fast. But it is a part of fishing. I would rather find a 1000 spinnerbaits and Rapalas in the lake then a single piece of trash on the beach.

Losing a fly does not bother me; even if I spent a lot of time on the tying vise creating it. It is just a part of the experience. I am only bothered losing a fly when one breaks off in a fish. A fish with a fly is stuck in its mouth is at a higher risk for mortality; and one that I always feel I could prevent if I was a better fisherman: if I had tied a better knot, if I had set the hook sooner, if I had done more to turn the fish from the snag…

This feeling does much to drive me to become a better fisherman…

After a few hours of casting and no bites, I decided to pack it in. I hiked back around the lake… over my footprints, and footprints of anglers who had came hours before me; past the brush that I had rescued tackle from; past the trash on the beach; past the entire world of nature…

As I reached my car, I stopped and took one final gaze back toward the lake…

Again, I thought of the sign I passed on my way to the water; and its words screamed out in the silence…

“Leave nothing but your tracks.

Leave nothing but your tracks.

Leave nothing but your tracks.

Will you help?”

As I looked down the gravel to the boat ramp, I had my final epiphany…

I did not think about the trash that I passed but did not pick up; the flies I had lost in this lake in trips past and could not recover; the footsteps on the beach that I had left; or about the fishing tackle I had saved that day.

I thought about myself. My soul. And why I come to the lake in the first place.

And with apologizes to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the order is too tall to fill. I always leave something behind at the lake…

With every cast, every fish caught or escaped with my fly, with every moment caught breathless looking out of the water, I leave something behind…

Sometimes it falls out of me effortlessly. And sometimes I have to fling it away with every cast… as if I am somehow trying to flick a piece of myself off the end of the line; off of the fly; and into the depths of the water.

Physically, I try my best to leave only my tracks.

But I always leave something behind…

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You never know what will be at the end of your line when you go fishing… that is one of the best parts of the experience. Last night, I caught something that you are not suppose to be able to catch on a fly… at least not very easily…

Last night, while taking a break from blogging, I tied on a new bass fly that I found on the internet, blew up the float tube, and set out on the Bowling Lake. The weather was nice and it had been a while since I landed a bass, and I wanted to break my losing streak. After a few minutes, I cast into a “bassy” looking spot and let the fly sink…

The first thing I felt was a small tap on the line, so I instinctively jerked the rod tip a few inches to attempt to set the hook. If the line goes limp after the jerk, you missed. If it goes tight and stays tight, you have a snag. If it goes tight and starts to vibrate, you have a fish.

My line went tight and started to pull away from me…

As I felt my fly line pull through my hand I knew I had a nice fish. When that line started to accelerate out of my hand faster and faster, I nearly fell out of my float tube.

Something special was at the end of my line…

My throat got a lump in it… my heart was beating uncontrollably and pounding against my chest… my hands and fingers started trembling… I sat straight up in my float tube and was instantly aware of anything that would cause me to lose this fish.

All at once, everything I have ever heard or read about fighting a big fish on a fly rod came back to me at the same time… keep the rod tip up… let the fish have line if he wants it… paddle the float tube out to open water to keep the fish from snagging you up… maintain pressure so he can’t throw the hook… but don’t put so much pressure on the line that it breaks… remember, you tied on 2x tippet and it breaks at about 6 pounds; which is only one big yank from you or the fish away… and the knots will break far before 6 pounds of pressure…

While feeding the fish line with my index finger on my rod hand, I slipped the slack line under my pinky finger. I started frantically reeling my slack line off the water with my free hand. Under my breath, I politely asked the fly line not to knot up like it does so many times when I pick up slack line; giving the fish something to break off on.

As the line went tight on the reel, I realize I have never needed to put a fish “on the reel” before. This was new ground for me… And for the first time I heard the drag on my fly rod try to stop a running fish…


Thoughts continued to race through my mind…

Adjust the drag, it’s not giving out enough line and it is going to break… Slack line, start reeling in… Crap, he’s running again; let him have the line… Oh shit! I turned the drag down too far; He’s taking too much line… He turned, start reeling in again…

For an instant, I looked at my fly rod doubled over in a way I had never seen before, and got caught up in the moment… should I get my camera and take a picture of this… Then the fish brought my mind back as he went on another run and my fly reel’s drag screamed out again…


Pulling, reeling, giving line… pulling, reeling, giving line…

As my leader emerges from the water, I knew that I was getting close. Finally after about six minutes of fighting I could see him come to the surface about 15 feet from my boat. A great big catfish! Holy cow, why did he take a fly?

And just like any good catfish, as soon as he saw the light, down he went again on another run.

Over open water he swam circles trying to get away from me. I paddled the belly boat after him; continually trying to keep him from making a break to the shore, the rocks, the weeds… anywhere he could hide.

Ten minutes in, he came to the surface for about the third time. He was exhausted and his struggles against the line were lessening as he lost the ability to maintain the fight. I pulled him as close to the boat as possible, reached out as far as I could with my landing net, and scooped him out of the water.

As I sat there in my belly boat staring at the fish on my lap, I realized I have been trembling with excitement the entire time… and I was still trembling…

I grabbed the camera and tried to take pictures… if there are no pictures, it doesn’t count according to my wife. And this one needs to count after all that…

As I tried to take pictures, I realized that I couldn’t get the whole fish in the frame and get a good picture. I looked around and found a young couple bank fishing. I paddled over to them as quickly as possible and thankfully they agreed to take a picture for me…

After the picture, I had all I needed. Some people would have wanted to take him home… but he had given me enough so I would remember him for the rest of my life. 15 minutes of one of the best fishing experiences I ever had… right up there with catching a 22 inch rainbow trout on an ice fishing rod…

I didn’t need to take his life too.

I carefully put him back into the water and started reviving him. After a minute or so he regained his strength, gave his tail a waggle, and returned to the depths from which he came…

Thank you to “Natalie” and “Joe”, if I ever see you again, for taking the pictures… I really did mean it when I said you have no idea how much I appreciate this.

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