Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Fishing’

“All that is solid melts into air.”

In Adventure, Memoir, Nature on October 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Last Tuesday, three days after my 61st birthday, I was thigh-high in the Blue, just outside Silverthorne, Colorado. The water was cold, in the low fifties. The air was about the same. I had been fishing the bend in the river for an hour to no avail. I know there is a trough to the freestone bottom at this spot, holding nice trout. I worked it with a prince nymph. But nothing.

The wind picked up and I looked upriver, to the north, over the mountains. A front was moving in. Dark clouds were approaching. The air temperature dropped and the sky opened. Big juicy drops of rain began to fall, then snow, then sleet, roiling the river surface. Suddenly, around me in every direction trout began to rise. Big fish, thick as your forearm, rising to sip from the river’s surface insects, midges and such, that were being knocked out of the sky. Flashes of pink and red and steel grey, these fish. My heart raced.

I drew in my line and breathed into my cupped hands. My fingers were stiff and half-frozen. The fish continued to rise, in front, behind (I could hear them), up and down stream. I switched flies, struggled to tie on a dry fly. The river around me boiled with rising fish, rolling like porpoises against the surface. I flipped my fly upstream. Fish on! I pulled in a nice rainbow and released it. I tossed my fly into the river again. The sleet-rain continued to pock the river surface. Another fish. Then another. Then the rain stopped. The sky opened. The sun came out. The river grew quiet, the door closing. The fish disappeared, becoming liquid and melting into the invisible. I was, again, thigh-high in moving water, but everything, though the same, was now different.

Sunday Repost: Five Islands

In Travel on February 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
Portland, Maine. Home, Sweet Home

Portland, Maine. Home, Sweet Home

Gulls wake early. And they sound hungry, very hungry, screeching complaints of empty belly. Our bedroom is on a wharf overlooking a working lobster dock and the lobstermen head out early, between 4 and 5 am, and in doing so, they get the gulls riled up and being riled up, being scavengers, they set out screaming like a small rodent being crushed under heel; all the more violent it seems at 4am. But really, one should not complain about waking up on the water in Maine.
I walked into town early this morning to get the Sunday Times and coffee. I poked around the fish market though no one sets up on Sunday; but found a man pushing a grocery basket down Commercial Street. It was a third high with collected cans and bottles, residue of a Friday night downtown. There is a 5 cent bottle return in Maine.

“Can you spare me any change,” he asked.

His face was tan. He was short and wore a clean white tee-shirt. I had a dollar or so in change I gave him. I asked if he was from Portland. “Massachusetts,” he replied. “But I worked with the Coast Guard here. He motioned to the harbor. “Fifteen years and see where it got me. How this country takes care of its own. It’s a crime.” I thanked him for his service to the country and noted that the bottle return was a sound environmental policy. He said he makes up to five dollars a day returning cans and bottles.

House on Peak’s Island, Casco Bay, Maine

“I saw my girlfriend back there,” he offered, nodding down the street. “She won’t stay with him long.”
“Your ex?” I asked.
He nodded. I asked when they broke up.
“Yesterday. But she’ll come back. I’ve got a fifteen hundred dollar check coming. It’s overdue now…”


It was suggested to me two or three years ago to visit Five Islands if I wanted a true taste of Maine. The suggestion came from my friend, Franz Hanson. I met Franz in 2000 while fishing in Chile where he guides Patagonia rivers during the North American winters and Maine rivers during South American winters. We’ve fished together in both hemispheres. He said Five Islands was the real deal. So yesterday we headed out in search of true Maine, south on Route 127.

It was not until we got into the village of Five Islands that the cars started to back up, drivers searching for places to park. Two portly women were leaving the gravel lot, wearing large sun-shielding hats, brims bending back from the ocean breeze; their peddle-pushers, as my mother calls them, creaping up with each advance of their ample thighs. Across the way a carload of kids from Pennsylvania spilled out of an SUV. When I saw all this I thought that perhaps Five Islands is no longer the secret it once was–or maybe living in the wilds of Patagonia poor Franz’s perception of unspoiled civilization was twisted. Nonetheless, asphalt is for me the rubicon of touristy interest. If a venue is paved all is lost. The parking lot at Five Islands is gravel. On we marched.

The lobstermen were oblivious to the tourists. The lobster boats were dirty and smelled of fish. The woman behind the window taking orders was pleasant and sun tanned and had the thick working forearms of a farmer or a gymnast or an oyster shucker. Good signs all. We ordered, sat at picnic tables and ate. The claims were large with sweet bellies and the onion rings were world-class. Visit Five Islands if you get a chance. Turn back if they’ve paved the parking lot.

N 45° 41′ 12.57 – W 70° 36’35.80

In Nature on August 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

N 45° 41′ 12.57/W 70° 36’35.80

N 45° 36’35.80/W 70° 21′ 50.09

Above: Coordinates for Eagle Pond and Horseshoe Pond respectively.

I was humbled by the North Woods last month. The Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited put a call out to members interested in volunteering for a study of remote ponds in Northern Maine which might hold native brook trout. It is estimated that 97 percent of all native brookies resident in the lower 48 live in the state of Maine. But no one knows for certain. One way to find out is to fish the ponds and lakes which have never been stocked. Hence the call to anglers comfortable in the backwoods. I raised my hand, packed my gear, loaded my dog into the Escape and headed north to Jackman, a lumber outpost a dozen or so miles shy of the Canadian border.

I did not leave home leave without committing the Google maps of my ponds to memory, not without my compass and a quick brush up of orienteering skills. I used to be pretty good with a map and compass. No more. Of the five ponds I was to survey, I could not deliver myself to a single one. I knew where I wanted to go, but I could not get there, which feels like a metaphor for (my) life. Apt metaphors aside, I found the woods impenetrably thick. The deeper I got into them, the less likely I was heading in the right direction and the more concerned I grew about getting out. Frankly, I bailed. Me and Lucy, tails between our legs, came home humbled.

The difference between pride and humiliation is a matter of a few degrees. Where I was proud of back country skills, I was handed up a meaty dish of humiliation. But that was then. Modern technology has a solution and I embrace it wholeheartedly. I now own a Delorme PN-60 GPS, loaded with the lastest topo map and, most importantly, keyed with the coordinates to my assigned ponds. No matter how deep I crawl into those wonderful 27,000 square miles we call the The Great North Woods, I should find my waters–and my way out! Old school be damned. Maps and compass are so very yesterday. So next week I’m off , as Twain said, to parts unknown, seeking redemption and tight lines.

Bonefish, Sharks, Sunburn and the French

In Adventure, Travel on November 17, 2003 at 1:44 am


George, my friend in France, sent me an email. He had a cancellation on a fall trip he was putting together to the Seychelles. “We’re going to fish two new atolls. The bonefish have never seen a fly,” he wrote. “It should be quite good. Interested?” Of course I was interested. There aren’t many places left where fish haven’t met a sport and you’d better jump to when you hear about one. Seychelles, I seemed to recall, was off the coast of Africa. Beyond that, I’d have to consult an atlas. “Count me in,” I emailed back. I’ve got incurable wanderlust that, when coupled with fly-fishing, knows no cure.

I looked it up. The Republic of Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean, about 150 miles northeast of Madagascar. It is an island-country of 115 islands scattered across 154,000 square miles of southern hemisphere sea. Only a few of the islands, 15 or so, are inhabited. It is a place that existed in remote obscurity, little changed since first noticed in 1502 by Vasco de Gama. Then 25 years ago an airport was built on the largest island, Mahe, and tourism arrived. I mentioned my imminent trip to an acquaintance that had sailed through the Seychelles archipelagos in the navy. “It is the most beautiful place in the world,” he said.

They say that in life and in travel, it is the journey not the destination that matters. The notion befits the nineteenth-century adventurer where links of sea travel, rail, carriage, even horseback and foot travel were employed to deliver one to destination. Travel one hundred years ago evokes images of patient journeying, casual connections and quiet rendezvous. But in modern terms, I find nothing romantic or particularly pleasurable about the journey itself, assuming air travel is involved. And one is put off by more than cramped quarters and bad food. Once, on a flight home from South America, my row mate, a Chilean farmer, fell asleep and farted continuously until he awoke, smiling, as we touched down. But a passion for travel blinds the traveler to the disagreeable realities of the modern journey. Consequently, I booked an 8-hour flight to Paris, where I got a day room, napped a couple hours, dined with George, then, that evening, boarded Air Seychelles for the 10-hour flight to Mahe. I looked at my row mate and crossed my fingers.

I’m certain my blood carries a genetic intolerance for all conditions hot and sticky. I’m convinced my European ancestors came from cool latitudes. Maybe they were northern Europeans, Scandinavian perhaps. Living in the Mid-Atlantic, where two hundred and fifty years ago British solders were paid tropic duty, I am annually reminded of my aversion to summer heat and humidity. But I know I am an anomaly, more people than not like hot weather. My fellow passengers cheered as we landed in the radiant sunshine on Mahe. A member of the crew welcomed us to “paradise.” The door racked open and the ten-hour stale vacuum of the cabin filled with a warm salt-scented air. I immediately prickled with perspiration and thought of autumn back home, my favorite season.

I spent the night on Mahe along with my new friends, six French anglers, at the Paradise Resort Hotel. There were miles to go before I assemble my rod and wet a fly, but the next leg of the journey would not begin until morning. I called my wife, nine time zones away and told her I missed her a great deal. It was the last time we would talk for a week, for once I set out communication would cease. From the back lawn of my bungalow I watched the sun slip behind an island mountain, then escape below a perfect horizon. Venus rose. As the light faded, big dusky bats took to awkward flight, stroking the air with leathery appendages and pulling hard to traverse the evening sky.

In the morning we flew to outlying Desroches, out little plane circling for a better look before dropping to the asphalt strip, which rent the island foliage like a perfect scar. Desroches was named in 1771 by Chevalier de Roslan, commander of I’Heure de Berger, in honor of the Chevalier des Roches, Governor of the islands of France and Bourbon. Later, during British occupation, it was called Wood Island because of the dense vegetation. Palm trees stretch 100 feet skyward and one wonders how they root themselves in sand fine as confectioner’s sugar.

Aboard the Mbjui-Mayi, a 57-foot catamaran, we sailed from Desroches to St. Joseph Island, five hours by open sea. We trailed teasers behind the boat, small plastic red and blue fish that danced and bounced, slapping the waves with silly little wings in an effort to seduce billfish to the surface. Francois, Philippe and Jean Claude stood at the ready, rods in hand peering into the frothy deep. I was jet lagged and the gentle rocking of open sea transit upset my stomach. I watched quietly, breathing deeply and stayed focused on the horizon, where I’d been told the battle against seasickness is fought. Then, as if the sea congealed and took form in solid indigo, a marlin rose to a teaser. I had never before seen anything so quickly wonderful. Guide Nedi pulled in the teasers hand over hand, yelling in Creol, then French. The air was suddenly electric. The anglers threw big gaudy flies at the fish with 12 weight rods. There was shouting. I sat at attention. Goddamn, this is fishing, I thought. Then Francois pulled his rod hard and violently. He shouted. He was connected. All rods were stayed. Jo, Captain of Mbjui-Mayi, looked over his shoulder from the bridge. The fishermen yelled in French. They gestured. The marlin, now 50 feet off the stern shot through the surface like a great blue projectile, twisted in the air, frozen for a heartbeat. It then fell heavy to the sea. He sprinted again, now 100 feet off. The shouting increased. Skipper Jo frowned. The Mbjui-Mayi steamed forward still. Francois’s reel screamed and I looked at it and saw backing, then less backing, less still—more shouting, screaming even—Skipper Jo not understanding French—the boat continuing—another top break and jump of the fish. Then, with a little pop, the last of the backing separated from the reel. The line floated in slow motion through the air and silently fell into the water. Universal quite, but for the chugging engine. All turned to Captain Jo. Francois was red-faced. His eyes bulged. The captain asked what happened and for an ensuing two hours he was gently and politely upbraided for not stopping the Mbjui-Mayi, for losing Francois’s great fish, for not understanding French and for not knowing how to go about catching wonderful muscular beasts on a fly rod. I thought it a hell of a trip, so far.

Bonefish cast a shadow. You sometimes spot them feeding, their tail tipping above the surface, but when the sun is beating down and the water clear, when the sand and fish seem to coalesce to liquid beige, you search for a moving shadow on the bottom. There you find your prey. As our little party of six anglers spread out and shuffled across the lagoon I saw a bottom shadow, then another and several more. I false cast to the side, getting line into the air, forty, fifty feet; then squaring up I dropped the Crazy Charlie in front of the fish. This was my first cast ever to a bonefish, being a cold-water trout fisherman. “Let the fly lay a moment to two,” George had coached me. “Then when you see him come on it, strip it slightly, like a crab scurrying.” The fish followed my fly, then noised down to it. I slowly lifted my rod tip, felt the fish heavy on the line, and tugged–we were off and running. I knew what to expect, a blistering run, line to the backing, but knowing a thing and experiencing it is the difference between reading about sex and having it. My reel sang with the first run, for which bonefish are rightfully famous. Yes! This is why I had traveled 8000 miles. Water cleaved as my line accelerated. Jean Paul, yards up the lagoon, cleared back as the fish, a hundred feet from me, continued past him across the inlet. He cheered for me, his voice carrying across the flats. After two more runs I brought the fish to hand and released him after Nedi took my photograph. I was no longer a Bonefish virgin.

We began our trip back at the end of the week. We stopped for fresh vegetables on Poivre, where an inhabitant cultivated a garden. There is a legend surrounding Poivre: After Louis XVI was imprisoned in the French Revolution, the Dauphin, pegged as the next Louis, escaped and was taken in by one Poiret, a name he later assumed. Escaping France, Poiret (Louis XVII) reached the Seychelles in the early nineteenth century and settled, as the legend goes, on Poivre. He worked with colonists who were attempting to develop a cotton industry. In 1822 he moved to Mahe, claiming to be the scion of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Today many Seychellois believe themselves to be the descendants of Louis XVII. There is a restaurant, Auberge Louis XVII, on Mahe.

While Captain Jo bartered for lettuce and melons, I spoke to a local Creol. “Fifteen people live on Poivre,” he told me. He was young and dark. He wore no shoes. “The government pays us to live on the island. Here we work.” After six months the work contact would be up and the next group of fifteen would arrive. There was one phone on the island, hanging under a palm tree in the middle of the village. Electricity was seldom generated, as diesel fuel was expensive to import. “Many people leave anyway,” he said. “They go crazy here. There is nothing but sand and ocean.” I explained that some people in the States would pay to live here in what the brochures call paradise. He shook his head and smiled, then laughed slightly. “They crazy,” he said, pointing to his head. The next day we arrived back in Mahe.

I was attempting to leave Victoria, capital of Mahe, in a taxi driven by Bennie, a small man with pleasant features. He smiled often and when he did, his face creased deeply. His cab was clean. I was trying to return to the Eden Paradise Resort. “Breaker Reef Resort?” asked Bennie. “No. Eden Paradise Resort.” “How you come?” I had come into Victoria, the capital, on the public bus, directly from the Eden Paradise Resort. We had crossed the island, up and over the mountain, Morne Seychellois, 905m. “Other side?” asked Bennie. “Yes. The other side.” “Miami Beach Hotel?” he asked. “No. Eden. Like Garden of Eden.” It was a small island, only seventeen miles long, with six or maybe seven hotels. I expected a cabbie to know them all and hadn’t thought to get an address. My cell phone rang. I looked at my watch. It was seven in the morning at home.

“Good morning.” I knew the only person who had the number was my wife. “What are you doing up so early?”

“I couldn’t sleep. When did you get in?” He voice was squeaky from sleep, quiet and sweat sounding.

“This morning, around eight.” She asked what I was doing and I explained that Bennie and I were trying to find the Eden Paradise Resort. I glanced at Bennie and he smiled and nodded.

“Should I be worried?”

“No, don’t worry. It’s a small island. We’ll find it.” Several years ago, Carole and I arrived in Jerusalem on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. We dropped our bags in the lobby and rushed into the street to join the evening throng silently walking into the old city, to the Western Wall. We got lost in the moment, a mix of travel exotica, history and sensory satiation. Much later, as the early morning crowds dispersed, we realized that we had no idea where we were staying. In our rush to hit the streets we had failed to even note the full name of our hotel. It took until dawn, finding an English-speaking cabbie and driving to every place with the name David in it, to get back.

“Are you pulling a Jerusalem?” she asked. I told her I would call her when I got back to the hotel. I nodded to Bennie. “We’ll find it,” I said. He nodded and smiled deeply once again. I gave him a thumbs up. He aped me a thumbs up back.

Bennie and I found the Eden Paradise Resort, but only after calling George’s company in Paris and getting the district name, Port Glaud. “Ahh,” said Bennie. “Yes, yes, Port Glaud. Eden Hotel. It’s new.”