Monday, July 7, 2014

Flags and the Fourth of July

    The U. S. flag is a big part of the Fourth of July maybe more than any other day of the year. People are out watching parades and waving old glory as veterans, kids on floats and marching bands return the salute with flags of their own.
     My day began and ended on Independence Day with some memorable flag photos. As I walked out the door of my home, I placed my flag in the holder and headed to work. Every couple of years, I get up early to photograph firemen Mark Gibson and Chip Smale hang a giant flag at High and Hanover Street for the Pottstown 4th parade. Gibson carefully got the flag out of the duffle bag and told me that he decides in the morning on parade day if the flag will fly or not. He watches for the wind and any precipitation that may fall.
Mark Gibson and Chip Smale hung flag over Pottstown for the parade.
     The men rode the tower ladder high over the downtown and meticulously attached the flag to a wire and unfurled it carefully as the centerpiece for the day. They don't take this task lightly not wanting to damage the flag on the important day.
      Patriotic colors are everywhere and people dress colorfully on the one day they wear their hearts on the sleeves. During the 5K race Daniel Harp sported an Uncle Sam hat. Residents will do unusual things like dress up in Captain America and Wonder Woman costumes as Eric Roberts and Bonnie Towell did. If you wore the same outfits on any other day in town unless you were going to Comic Con people may think you're a little weird, but on the 4th anything red, white and blues works.
      Wendy Cullinane lives in Ireland and flies her two daughters Sabine and Adriana back to the United States every year so that the girls can experience the parade and the celebration as she did growing up in Allentown.
     Every direction I turned during the parade was a sea of color. As the Vietnam veterans honor guard marched on High Street they stopped every couple of blocks and the leader of the group asked residents to stand and pledge to the flag.
     On Tuesday July 1st, I traveled to Gettysburg with friend and historian Mike Snyder for the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. We drove and walked around the battle fields as he offered detailed information at various spots throughout the day. At one location he spoke on three Federal soldiers ordered to retrieve the companies colors that were lost during battle with the Confederates. The three men encountered the enemy and fought them hand to hand to regain this important symbol of their unit.
     Snyder stated that during the fight one of the Union soldiers had one hand on the flag pole and with the other thrust a bayonet through the body of his adversary. More southern soldiers arrived at the fight and overwhelmed the three Yankees killing them. In the Civil War it was a high honor to carry the flag but it also made them a target as many guns would be aimed on the flag bearer. That was only one small piece of a battle that violently raged over three days.
       The story had an impact on me as I watched all the flags waving in the breeze during the parade. We sometimes forget our forefathers from the Revolutionary War to the current soldiers who continue the fight to keep freedom alive.
       Sadly that afternoon a home in Earl Township was destroyed by fire. The owners had a flag flying on the front of the building. With smoke billowing from the second story a fireman removed the charred and wet flag from the holder and placed it on a piece of burned furniture away from the home. From there other firemen moved it toward the fire trucks lining the road.
      I knew that the flag was an important photo for the story.  In all the commotion the firemen fighting the fire still had the presence of mind to remember how important it was to also to preserve this flag. Patiently, I waited for the moment that I could see a fireman with the flag.
     And then Amity fireman Craig T. Johnson respectfully lifted that flag and walked out from the fire scene. It only took seconds to snap several photos but I realized that on Independence Day this photo had taken on a special meaning.
Amity fireman Craig T. Johnson carries burned flag while fighting a house fire in Earl Township.
     Later that afternoon, when I completed editing and uploading all my daily photos for The Mercury and website, I transmitted the photo of the fireman carrying the burned flag out over Twitter. Within minutes other followers began to pick it up and retweet the picture. Johnson sent me a message and said that's me in the photo.
     I sent him this reply, "@WorldofNoise awesome effort out there today picture like that shows respect to the flag nice job. Johnson not only volunteers as a firefighter but I found out he was also a soldier in the Army. He sent me a powerful follow up message saying, "@MercPhotog thank you! As a soldier, I couldn't let the colors burn… but thought of all days it could be displayed…
      He put his life on the line defending the flag serving his country, the same way those poor Civil War heroes fought and died for theirs. I never thought Independence day would have such a moment like this.
     The day started with one perfect banner waving lightly over Pottstown and it ended with another flag though burned and discolored was just a beautiful. The 4th is a special day.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Lucky Time in the Creek

      The dog days of July are here and the sumner time heat is building. But that hasn't stopped me from heading to the creeks for a couple of hours of fishing to flick some type of fly into the water. The bug has bitten me hard and I just wish the trout would bite as much.
      I consider the spring fishing season a great success. It could have been better if I had more fly fishing knowledge as fish would jump and feed around me but some days I couldn't get them interested. That said, thirty trout were landed by the end of June and for me, that is a good effort.
     The best time fishing this year was with friend Mike Snyder
The new fly rod and reel my family gave to me.
along with our wives making a three day trip to Lycoming County to fish the Pine Creek. My wife Deb isn't into fishing but the area in Slate Run where we stayed has a long trail that is perfect for biking and walking. And that's what they did while we fished.
     If it was up to me, I would have stayed in that creek all day until dark but we made the best of the time we had. On the first afternoon we made a stop at the Slate Run Tackle Shop to get the scoop on what the trout were biting. The friendly staffers behind the counter told us to stock up on some March Brown dun dry flies. That was the hatch that was starting to show up along the banks of the creek.
     So out came the wallet and into my trout pack went about a dozen new flies. I hadn't really fished a dry fly before, mostly preferred using nymphs and some sort of sinking bead head bug. This would be a whole new ball game as I said before that it's my first season fly fishing for trout.
     We chose a section of the creek to fish that was a fairly open stretch about 400 yards long. In this beautiful spot were only four other fishermen. A far cry from some of the shoulder to shoulder fishing that takes place around here on opening day. I was ready. The top area where we started had a riffling section over rocks that fell into a deeper pool. The water was still high and I was reluctant to try the dry fly so on went a reliable weighted hare's ear nymph. Within a short time I hooked my first fish and was excited until pulling it out of the water and to my disappointment staring at me was a big old creek chub. So disheartening, but I got a fish.
     We saw where a small creek was emptying into the Pine so we headed downstream for a try in that area. The creek bed is covered with large stones and drop-offs and deep pockets just prefect for fishing. We treaded carefully walking slowly not to get in water that was too deep to cross. I stumbled a few times but managed stay upright and not take a cold swim.
     For this trip my wife Deb and my kids bought me a new fly rod and reel to celebrate my forty years working at The Mercury. Man was I happy that someone acknowledged my career anniversary at the paper and even happier to be given a gift to relax away from work and enjoy a new hobby. The five weight Scott fly rod and Lamson reel make for better casting so it's easier for me to get the fly in the direction I want.
Some of the nymphs and flies in one of my bug boxes.
     We had an hour or two remaining on the late afternoon before heading back for dinner with the girls, so we got down to business. I put on a March Brown and tried casting the dry fly.  Within several casts I hooked a fish but it broke the line when it got next to me. Frustrating! Determined to get another, I tied on a fly and cast out toward the water of the incoming stream. Bam, the line went tight as the fish took the dry fly and I set the hook as it swam to the bottom.
     I was a nervous wreck not wanting another to break off, this one had to brought in. Slowly the fished was worked as it darted back and forth with me giving it line. The fish was netted and looking down it was a big brown trout, beautifully speckled. These browns are bigger hefty fish and it was fun playing but I wasn't wasting time. I used the forceps to take the fly out from the corner of its mouth, looked it over and got the brownie back into the water. The fish swam back into that deep pool to tell the others to stop biting. That ended day one.
     On the second day of fishing we again started at the fly shop to buy a couple more flies and some other odds and ends. Mike and I were like a couple of kids in a candy shop. Both of our boots had leaked the day before and I had tried to patch mine on the inside but still had a wet foot after fishing. We got some UV boot sealer goo and spread the stuff over spots that were marked for holes and it worked great, no more leaks. A couple of bucks beat spending a hundred or so on new waders.
     We tried fishing downstream which was a picturesque area, but the water was running way to fast. So after some time we headed back to the same spot where we fished the previous day. I was able to land another rainbow and brown trout before we stopped for lunch and a drive around the hilly landscape with our better halves. The fishing turns off a bit during mid day so even though I would have camped there until evening, we relaxed and took in the country side also scouting other sections of the creek that we may fish on another visit.
      We decided to have an early dinner out around 5 p.m. with me pleading with the girls for that hour so Mike and I could stay in the water until dusk (really it was more like dark, but don't tell them!) We gobbled down dinner got back to the cabin, grabbed our gear and ran for the car. Within minutes we were getting boots on by 6:30 p.m. I was amazed to watch more patient trout fishermen sitting and waiting, looking into the trees and around the creek for a fly hatch to begin.
Strick's Pix holds up a beautiful brown trout. 
     I said to Mike that we didn't drive four hours to sit and wait for the bugs, we only had two hours until dark and I wanted in the creek. He agreed and we waded out again to the same spot. There were only six guys and four of them were in the top working the shallower rocky section.  That big smile came back onto my face again, thinking we have this hundred yard section of pristine water to ourselves. Lucky Day!
     And with that I made a couple of casts and latched into another rainbow. The hatch was on. The mayflies were fluttering around and if it wasn't for the guys at the shop putting me on the hatch there would be no way I could tell what was in the air. I'm too new and inexperienced to pick out what's flying around me. But with their help the next two hours would be some of the most fun fresh water fishing that I ever had. It was the first time a mayfly hatch occurred while I was in the water.
      The fish were rising and I could see where several were making regular appearances in the same spot, so instead of me making blind casts, I'd wait and watch where fish would break water. I'd cast a few feet above and as my March Brown dry fly floated into that spot the fish snatched it. I did this four other times waiting patiently for the fish to show. In that time I caught five fish and missed several others.
      I pleaded for the sky to stay bright, I needed more time, not wanting to stop fishing. But it was long past dusk and made my way to the bank. A couple other guys were standing around and said to me laughing, we wondered if you were going to get out of the water. They nodded seeing that I had caught a number of trout. We talked fishing for a while and that made my night and I hated to see it end.
     Every fish I've caught this spring was put back into the creeks. It's also been good fishing around the tri-county area. Patience and persistence have paid off. So now it's time to head to fishing school. Next will be a guided day trip to learn more about matching the hatch and fishing the cold water of the Tulpehocken Creek.
    I've caught seven more in the last two weeks but it has been tough with the smarter fish refusing what I think looks like a scrumptious meal. I missed one when I didn't set the hook and another trout with it's head out of the water and mouth practically around the fly, spit it out before I could do anything.
     I'm looking forward to autumn and the steamy days over with, but I'll will keep fishing over the summer.  And possibly make another trip to the Pine.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Movie Ghosts Can Mirror Your Life - Happy Father's Day

      From the time I was a small boy baseball has been a part of my life. We took in a Reading Phillies game recently along with our daughter Jan's family. It was the first time her girls were at a ball park and it was all about the mascots, hotdogs, cotton candy, peanuts and pop corn. That got me thinking about my own playing days.
     This year marks the 25th anniversary of the classic baseball movie 'Field of Dreams.' A film about the relationship of a father and son with twists including Shoeless Joe Jackson and ghosts of Black Sox players emerging onto a baseball field built in an Iowa cornfield. 'If U Build It, He Will Come.'
'If you build it, He will come.'
     It is one of my all-time favorite movies and the speech by actor James Earl Jones playing Terrence Mann is one that hits home with me. His deep booming voice brings out the pure essence of baseball.  Paraphrasing the dialog, 'People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom… They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it - for it's money they have and peace they lack. It'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters, he states as the old time players press in around him. People most definitely will come, Ray.' It is a long speech but so well done and meaningful. I've watched that film many times and never tire of listening.
     As the film winds down a short sentence is spoken that has most people in tears. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) watches major leaguer John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) as a young ball player pull off the catchers mask. And at the end he looks over at his ball player dad and asks him a simple question. 'Hey … Dad? You wanna have a catch'?  This quiet moment gets to anyone who has ever played catch. When a baseball thrown by your father falls into your glove you understand. If you have a heart and a soul you'll cry like a baby.
     And I had tears streaming down my face watching the pair play catch as the movie faded to black. Like most men I have a personal back story on baseball. My life revolved around the game and was an important part of my growing years.
     Father's Day usually gets me thinking about my dad and the things we did during his short life. Like most boys, I started playing ball very young and remember my dad pitching and me smacking the ball with a plastic bat. That was my beginning, a start to my dream. We would play catch on the front lawn of our north end home. And we didn't just throw the ball back and forth. He'd make me glove it to the left and right. He'd throw grounders and high flies. Teaching without me knowing what he was doing. I was just enjoying the game.
      And after one particular catch he wanted a kiss. So as an eleven year old boy I planted one on his cheek. I can still smell the Aqua Velva cologne and feel the stubble of his beard. Funny what you remember in life. And shortly before my twelfth birthday he was gone. My champion had passed from a heat attack. He was larger than life and he commanded attention, a man respected in the community. The wind was sucked from my youthful sails.
      The following summer I took to the field again and played a couple more seasons but the passion was gone. I was turning into Ray Kinsella, angry that my hero could die on me. I thought he'd live forever. And as I grew into a teenager, I did things my way and skipped a baseball practice to caddy at the country club and make some money.
     The coach rightfully sat me on the bench for a playoff game at the end of the season. With a man on first he called me to pinch hit.  I loved to hit, it was the one thing that I liked about the game. But this day was different. Three straight fast ball right down the middle of the plate and I didn't take the bat off my shoulder. I didn't want to hit. I didn't want to play and it had nothing to do with the coach who I liked and admired. It went deeper than that. I dropped the bat and it was the last time I played baseball as a kid and didn't play in high school.
      I never regretted that day or not playing again even though that was all I wanted to do. I had bigger responsibilities helping my mom at our house. I kept busy doing many things never straying too far so I didn't cause her any heartache. It was hard enough being alone in Pottstown with her extended family in Ohio. It took a long time to get over my dad's death.
My dad's baseball mitt.
     Meeting my future wife Deb, I started letting down my guard and enjoy things more. I joined a fast pitch softball team after an invitation from my best friend Dave. That was an important day for me getting back in the batters box as an adult. My hands were shaking a little on that first pitch but I did manage to make contact and was back on the base paths.
     Deb's younger brother Tim also got me to return to the game. He's was six years old when I bought him his first glove and bat. We played catch every day outside their Stowe home as Deb sat on the steps watching. I would pitch to him and he would smack those whiffle balls across the alley. If a butterfly flew overhead he'd drop the bat and I'd smile watching him chase it around the yard. He was the bat boy of our softball team and took care of lining up the gear. Tim would always yell for me to hit a homer.
      It felt good teaching him the game and he progressed from the little league and played through high school becoming a very successful pitcher. I managed to keep his mind on baseball as a teenager even though he had his eye on the pretty girls. We'd travel around to baseball card shows and to Phillies games. The torch was passed. He was more like a son to me then a brother in law.
      When my wife Deb was expecting I saw an infant sized baseball outfit and bought it. My buddy Dave laughed and said I'd definitely be the father of girls. He was right and we have two daughters, both could swing a mean whiffle bat. And I'd have a catch with them and would yell out kidding that they throw like girls! They'd look back at me and say we are girls. We played as they grew until getting involved in gymnastics and other activities. But, we'd still throw the ball around.
      I still like to play catch and recently bought my grandson his first baseball glove and hat. And, with four grand daughters running around, I keep a big plastic bat and ball in my car trunk for the days we feel like hitting. We'll play for the fun of the game.
     My dad's old baseball glove is on a trophy case right next to mine.  Someday Deb and I will get in the car and drive to that corn field in Iowa. I'll grab my old worn out mitt and ball and ask some other baby boomer if he wants to have a catch on that movie set ball field. Then I'm heading to the outfield and a walk into the tall crop of corn to whisper a thanks to my dad.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Milestone - My 40th Anniversary at The Mercury

Ivana and Donald Trump at Kmart in Sanatoga
     On May 20, 1974, I was hired by editor Bob Boyle and started my career at The Mercury as a copyboy. Today marks my 40th anniversary at the paper. It has been a life long commitment and if there is one person I owe thanks, it would be my wife Deb.
     She has put up with a lot over the years with me out on news events at all hours of the day and night. It's not easy to stay married working in the media environment but I try to keep it balanced juggling a home life while I continue to chase news. So thanks Deb, I couldn't do this without you. Luv ya.
     At one point years ago I interviewed with a printing company thinking maybe it was time for a change when the owner told me something that I had never thought of before. He said that he'd be glad to hire me but reminded me that I most likely wouldn't be able to stay inside working an eight to ten hour shift behind a desk after being on the streets all those years. The friend said I'd be like a caged lion. He was right and I didn't take the job.
Doehler's fire
     It was too late for me to change and I remind young journalists to make sure they know that this is what they want to do because the ink runs thick in your blood and I don't think any other profession would work for me. I grumble some days as no job is perfect but still glad to be a part of the news.
     I enjoyed working as a copyboy for two years cutting my teeth learning from Mr. Boyle and photographer Tom Kelly. I covered elections, wrote up news briefs, picked up area weekly and daily newspapers. And any other odds and ends the editor needed me to do. I rode shotgun with Kelly many days starting out at 10 am on my own time before beginning my 3-11 pm shift. I'd hang around the photo department and when he raced out the door on a fire or some other spot news scene I'd be right with him. I watched and learned snapping pictures on all the events. It was the days of the black and white newspaper, what I like to call the golden era of the news biz. There was something about developing b&w film, making a print in the darkroom, then running it out to the city editors desk on deadline for the front page.
      The USA Today forced all newspapers into the color era around 1993 and at first it looked like comic book color to me. I was managing the photo department and was responsible for taking us into color. We started with a Fuji film processor,  a Nikon scanner and a MacIntosh Quardra 950, the first desktop computer I would work on. The photographers made four color negative separations and black and white halftones which were then pasted up in the composing room. From that point changes came at a daily pace, if you weren't of the mindset to learn new techniques and updated computer programs there was no place for you in the newsroom.
     The best day came in 2001when Journal Register Offset opened in Exton and The Mercury was finally printed on a high quality brand spanking new offset press. Before that the paper was printed on an ancient press and the color always had a dusty look to it. Many a day I was called into the publishers office to explain why photos looked muddy. I had the pleasure of shooting the first papers coming off of the new press on startup night. It was an exciting evening, and basically in my mind I was vindicated when I saw the crisp and clean images reproduced.
Chilly Dog
     Shortly after that mechanics tore the press out and piece by piece removed the old beast from The Mercury building. It had served its time printing out decades of historic papers. I drove over to Mayer Pollock Steel Corporation where the steel was taken to be recycled. It laid in a heap on top of other worn out scrap metal.  I snapped a photo and printed it with a caption that stated "REST IN PIECES!"  I wasn't sentimental about the change though I saw many a paper roll off that old press after covering late night news.
Stirring Sunshine
     Now we are into 'the social media' era a far cry from where I started. Tweeting, touting, emailing, texting, blogging all in the name of speed. Constantly changing, faster now then at any time in my career. I'm using a Mac laptop and sending art from a MIFI jetpack.  We also use iPhones snapping photos and video then transmitting the news through cell towers to my twitter followers online.  The news cycles through in seconds. A desk editor will also pick up these news items and move it to the website for the masses who want instant gratification and news as it happens. There is no waiting until the next days paper but I have to say I still like seeing and smelling a fresh daily paper.
FDNY Remembering 9-11
     I have snapped thousands and thousands of photos over the 40 years. In that time I have had the honor of photographing many interesting people. The assignments about people are the ones I like most. When I'm out with someone of advanced age or a rather seasoned individual I will ask them the secrets to a long life. Some are teetotalers others drink wine, some exercise some don't, but the majority seem to be smiling happy people. I'll have to work on that.
Police on a shooting scene
     I've met famous sports figures and military heroes. These folks have stories if you can get them to talk. Most are modest and I remind them that they aren't bragging just conveying information that readers would love to hear.
    For the paper, I have travelled to California, Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Mostly, coverage is within the tri-county area.
Spring-Ford wins state hoop title
    If the alarm sounds on my anniversary date, I'll be running out the door just like always. Only these days it's more like a quick jog to the car on a sore knee.  I tell people all the time, this job makes you old and this job keeps you young. That may sound strange, but I can be dragging one minute and the next I'm flying around like a 'twenty something'.
    It's a fast paced business that doesn't show any signs of slowing down.  I'll be out driving my black pickup truck looking for news that day.
     And I just want to thank my wife again and tell her I'll be home for dinner but I may be a little late if the fire whistle blows.


Monday, May 19, 2014

A Busy and Great Week Looking Through the Camera Lens

     Most weeks, daily photo assignments are mixed with some okay features along with others that open themselves up for chances at snapping some especially good photographs.  Last week was the exception, every assignment had the potential for a special moment if I was ready to capture it.
     The first one of the week was a late night fire that destroyed several buildings and vehicles. It was my day off but ran out anyway. The fire was mostly knocked down but still was the most important story of the day. Later, on Tuesday, the schedule called for coverage of two lacrosse matches and two softball games all held on fields at Spring-Ford High School. Times overlapped on these playoff games and I was able to run back an forth between games and transmit in time for deadline. It doesn't take long to shoot lacrosse with constant action and athletes battling for control of play. Liam Hare, a defenseman for Spring-Ford took possession of the ball and ran coast to coast firing the ball and scoring on the play. He was very excited as he doesn't get many chances on the offensive end and he celebrated his good fortunes. They won the game so we used that photo as one of the lead shots on line and in The Mercury. With time constraints I shot various photos from softball and transmitted them into the system and called it a night.
     The follow day's most important sports event was the PAC-10 boys baseball final between Pope John Paul II and Methacton. The game turned into a pitchers duel and moved along at a brisk pace. There were good photos to take during the game, but it remained 0-0 going into the top of the seventh inning.
     I checked the time after every batter as I was also shooting for a sister newspaper with an earlier deadline. If the game went into extra innings there wouldn't be any chance to stay and get photos to the desk on time.
     And then things unraveled for PJP, first with a Methacton batter hit with a pitched ball. Two batters later the bases were loaded and the Warriors had their chance to score a run. I focused on home figuring a ground ball would have the throw going to the plate. And this time my calculated guess was correct. Pat O'Neill grounded one to PJP second baseman and he fired the ball home. Pope John Paul II catcher Sean Williamson tagged the plate as runner Kyle Lowery slid by on a close play. The umpire called him safe and the Methacton celebrated giving me my lead shot.

     You have to be ready for these moments as they are over in a matter of seconds. I looked down at the camera's viewer and the slide and cheering photos were both in focus. I never take this for granted and never let down because I try not to miss the big play of the game. Today I had them and got everything done on time. The game ended with Methacton winning 1-0.
      The following day wasn't going to be any easier and I again had the early deadline. This always adds another level of pressure. Girls softball normally moves quickly as pitchers typically dominate in these late season playoffs. The final between Methacton and Owen J. Roberts was running long. Lots of hitting and a number of runs.
     Methacton's pitcher Megan Stauffer was in control of the game and the team was leading in the top of the seventh when OJR threatened to even it up with runners on second and third and two outs. Stauffer got the last batter out and she jumped into the arms her catcher Emily Harris in victory. That photo was my favorite of the week with the battery mates expressions showing total elation.
     Saturday was another busy day ending a work week with several community events. One was the traditional placing of the flags on veterans graves for the coming Memorial Day holiday. I saw three
young scouts stood looking down at a grave. The boys were discussing something and even though they had all the room in this open cemetery the three were shoulder to shoulder. I wondered what they may have been thinking about. So young and possibly unfamiliar with death and the real meaning of the duty they performed that day. But they worked hard and moved quickly from one grave to the next.
     Across in another section were three veterans old enough to be the boys grandfathers. Old enough to have experienced war and loss. They worked together slowly and deliberately. Talking and walking, I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the generations. These photos told the story on this day.
      Then off to Tunes, Taps & Trucks food and beverage event held for the first time at Sly Fox Brewery. The place was packed with hungry patrons looking for unique food and a tasty beverage. Reporter Caroline Sweeney and I sampled several different snacks including a first time treat of fried cheese curds which were quite good. Everyone looked to be having a great time and musicians filled the air with good sounds. Hopefully I can get to this one when I'm off so I can taste several of their beers and spend more time at the venue.

     My last assignment had me climbing the roof at Pottstown High School to shoot the schools 175th anniversary 'We Are Pottstown' group photo. I graduated from PHS with the class of '74 so it was nice to be able to participate. I saw a few friends and my brother Gary attended but its hard for me to stop and chat for long because of the need to snap pictures of what's going on around me. It was still nice see some old grads.
     It was a good way to end the week on my 40th anniversary and to move forward to new things starting again this week as I keep shooting photos for the paper.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Update: Fly Fishing Adventures One Year Later

     When it comes to fly fishing it's all about the cast. If you can't get a fly to land in the water where you want, you might as well pack up and go home. It's that simple. And I've learned the hard way snapping off many two buck flies and nymphs in over hanging trees and brush.
     The creeks have been running fast this spring with high water from winter snow melt and heavy rain. And one of the storms had to come a day after the restocking of the Manatawny Creek near my home. I fish mostly wet flies and nymphs using hare's ears, pheasant tails, green weenies and wolly buggers. If the water calms down I may float some dry flies.
First trout caught fly fishing.
      Last year was the first time fly fishing and I began late in the spring after the creeks warmed up and trout fishing was winding down. But it was a productive season and I was amazed at the number of fish caught throughout the summer and into late fall. The summer season was filled catching many small mouth and rock bass along with blue gills and creek chub. Many of the fish were of good size. I could catch a couple one day and over twenty the next. I didn't keep a count but I'd say without telling fish stories that I caught several hundred fish.  By Thanksgiving the rod was stuck in the corner of the garage as a cold and snowy winter kept me away from the banks.
     But, I still hadn't caught a trout. I was out of town the first full week of the 2014 trout season. On my first day getting in the creek, I was in a big hurry to get out of the house and fishing. Just like the rod tip caught in the front door and snapped off. I need to slow down. Cutting the remainder of the tip down to the next eyelet, I headed for the creek.
     Th rod could still be used and I didn't care how it looked. My objective was to haul in some species of trout. There are a number of spots in the Manatawny Creek where I like to fish. And this day, the quiet section in Earlville was the choice. It was two and a half weeks since opening day and there wasn't another fisherman in sight.  Starting early I had the creek to myself and was able to walk this picturesque stretch.
     Within a handful of casts and slowly drifting a pheasant tail, a fish snatched the bait. I set the hook and started to strip in the line and the fish gave quite a battle. It was a sizable rainbow trout. It was time for a snapshot because nobody would believe me. So I grabbed my cell phone and took a couple quick pix and got the fish back into the water without any stress.
Biggest fresh water trout I probably have caught.
     Success! I've caught many trout over the years flipping lures, minnows and earthworms. But, there's something unique about catching fish on a fly rod. I was able to hook one more that day in the two hours I was fishing.
     Several days later, the rains came and didn't stop until six and a half inches had fallen. The creeks rose and flooded the low lying areas along the banks. I'd check the progress of the streams to see when they would return to a normal flow. It took almost ten days and once out fishing I needed two split shots on my line to sink it down to the fish.
     Out for the second time this year I hooked the biggest one in all my years fishing. He fought hard and I had to work the reel to get land it. The line was tight but the trout broke water flipping and splashing and thought for sure it would break the line. And this was on the new lighter weight rod that was purchased to replace the broken one. The rod was bend practically in half but the fish was netted.
     Again, it was snapshot time because I'm not telling stories. Setting the rod down next to it, gave perspective to see just how large the fish was. And back it went into the creek so that some other fisherman can catch it. The trout took off in a flash back into the deep pool where he was hooked. In the several times out fishing I've caught nine trout, rainbows, brook and brown. All nice size, nothing under ten inches. That may not sound like many but for me it is big progress.
     I got skunked on trout the last time out but I still caught fish. A half dozen creek chub and a nice sized small mouth bass. The Manatawny Creek is starting to warm up a bit and soon it will be bass fishing time.
Starting to be small mouth bass time.
     So recapping, it hasn't been all successful outings and it will take me a long time to get knowledgable about fly fishing. I still don't know what's hatching around me as I try to swat a flying insect into my hat to get a close-up  look to try and match it with a dry fly. But it's still a guess for me.
     And I'm still losing a number of flies on back casts into the trees. Line gets tangled at times. But I've remained patient not frustrated. I am catching fish and that is the object. And I don't care what I'm catching and continue to be amazed at the numbers and size of fish in areas where water is deeper than my waist in these little creeks.

     I've also found being outdoors by the creek is where I'm the most relaxed, until I've hooked one and then the heart's beating. The wildlife along the bank is also something I hadn't expected to see. This week a white tailed deer ran across the creek next to me. A blue heron near the West Pottsgrove Park is always squeaking at me to get out of her fishing area. Geese and babies are swimming around and the sounds of wood peckers can be heard in the trees. The most unusual animal I saw was a bald eagle flying overhead.
     That stopped me in my tracks and no I wasn't able to get a photo. It's no whopper, you'll have to take my word for it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Annual Stress Test - Climbing to The Pinnacle on the Appalachian Trail

     With the spring of 2014 in just a few days, it's time to think about my annual heart stress test. This isn't the one reserved at a doctors office, it is my examination applied by hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Hamburg, Pa.
      The hike begins at the trail head on Reservoir Road and ending at a point called The Pinnacle. It is a steep five mile climb and for me, a great way to test myself for the outdoors. I figure if I start to suck air, pass out and fall over, then I'm not in very good shape. Though I am kidding, I do value this hike as a way of seeing how fit I'm feeling beginning a new season.
      With many days of snow and bitter cold temperatures this year, I left the AT winter hike for the more hearty souls. I am outdoors shooting photos and video all winter long for work in zero degree weather. The last thing on my mind was to climb a mountain. I was content to tweet and follow hikers who were trekking around the country.
      My wife Deb and I are constantly out once the weather breaks and the sun shines, but we don't camp out on the trail. We are day trippers and hotel sleepers. I apologize to the hard core hikers out there. We will walk old train lines that have been ripped up and converted, also hike along the Lehigh River near Jim Thorpe, in French Creek State Park, or the Valley Forge National Park and many other spots in Pennsylvania. Sometimes it will be hiking for a weekend or when time is tight, we'll walk five milers on a trail near our home.
     The Pinnacle is the first challenge of the year. It is is truly how I gauge the days ahead. I'm hoping all the shoveling, deep snow walking and constant effort have kept me in half decent shape even as I graze on whatever I can find in the refrigerator. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this hike but the view is well worth the sweat.
     At the parking lot we start up a gravel section until you round a bend and then split off at a fork on the trail.
     We prefer the tree canopied white blaze trail to the left, with steep ascents and switchbacks. Short flat sections are part of the climb and this helps to keep me moving without tiring.
     There is also another way to the top which is a wide lane to the right and a point where star gazers drive vehicles up hill to small private observatories. This is a very tough climb and one that wears me down. We did this section on a hot and muggy summer afternoon last year and stopped several times to catch our breath.
     So instead on this spring day, up the white blaze trail we go. Let's face it, I've been walking this stretch of land for nearly thirty plus years and it's still up hill all the way. We do take the time to watch a millipede or salamander. On a rare occasion we will spot a deer but luckily so far we haven't crossed paths with a bear.
     Most of the time we are just slowly plodding along, talking and walking content to be out of town and in the woods. After several miles we enter a small meadow and pick up the blue blaze trail which will take us to The Pinnacle. This part of the trail narrows and is blanketed in rocks. I'm more careful not to turn an ankle on this section as it's a long way to hobble back down to the bottom.

     On the final feet of the climb, the trees part and the sky opens up in a panoramic view. It is a spectacular location and the payoff is well worth for the energy spent along the way. Raptors are floating on the thermals at the edge of the cliff. It's a beautiful site and we sit  for a while to enjoy the moment.
      There will come a day when I will have to turn around, failing to make it to the top. But for now, I look far into the distance from my perch at the top of the world knowing that I passed my test for another year. And then I realize, I have five more miles to go, but luckily that it is all down hill.