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.