Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Food for thought

Truth be told, we enjoy playing with our food…

“If you want to feed your family healthy food, you have to ask a lot of questions.” -Yvon Chouinard

Hang around our home long enough and you find that MRS and I really enjoy cooking, eating and drinking. If we have a common love of literature it would be cook books, cooking magazines and bartending books. We care a lot about where our food comes from, especially when we are cooking for the “wee ones.” Where we can we support local, sustainable producers.

The more we learn about food the more interested we get in the sources and sustainability.

It will come as no surprise that I am a big fan of Patagonia. When I heard about Chouinard’s latest experiment with sustainability and food I was excited to see where it went. He has shared many of the products from Patagonia Provisions with me,  the salmon and buffalo jerky being my favorites.

Last year, Patagonia Provisions released a film directed by Chris Malloy, that explores the connection between food and the environmental challenges we face. Two of my favorite foods make appearances.

Revolutions start at the bottom

At the bottom are these little small farmers and fisherman and they are committed to the same things we are which is doing something different. People who are willing to break the paradigm.

Agriculture revolution is not going to come through technology. It is going to come through, in a lot of cases, the old ways of doing things. -Yvon Chouinard

Sound familiar tenkara fans?

I was especially delighted to see Dan and Jill OBrien included in the film. I have been a fan of Wild Idea Buffalo ever since I read Dan’s terrific book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart. It is a fabulous true story about their struggles with ranching and the notion of returning buffalo to the native prairie.

In the PNW salmon are their buffalo. The folks from Lummi Island Wild are harvesting based on an old method. They show and talk about reefnet fishing around Lummi Island.

If you care about your food you should take 30 minutes and watch Unbroken Ground.

Watch Unbroken Ground below

Wet Work

Lily Wet long

wetter is better…


As a fishing guide and a journalist the chance to chronicle the outdoor experience is a side benefit of being on the water. Many times that means getting a photo of a happy fly-fisher with a fish.

Here’s the rub. The grip and grin, hero shot is great for the angler, but even when it is done right is not great for the fish and when done wrong can be deadly. My friend Dr. Andy Danlychuck has been beating the drum about this for a while and the idea has been stuck in my head.

I’ve done it, at lot and it bothers me. Sure, I am careful when I set up those shots but I’ve always worried about it. Of course I want the client to have a memento but not at the sacrifice of my business partner the fish.

Not surprisingly others have similar concerns.

Kirk Deeter has posted before on the subject and recently posted New Year’s Resolution Number One: Goodbye Grip-n-Grins in Field & Stream’s Fly Talk. “Fact is, a lot of fish get killed to make photographs, and we need to do more to improve that one way or another.”

Cameron Mortenson of Fiberglass Manifesto posted Keep ‘Em Wet. “The more that I think and talk about it, the better idea this becomes.”

Native Fish Society is running a photo contest to help drive the Keep ‘Em Wet message. “So, let’s get creative with the way we photograph our wild fish by keeping them wet and in the water.”

You only need to look at some of Brian OKeefe’s photos to see how to do it right.

The time has come for better, wetter photos.

The Duty to Act

Below is a trailer to the film CO2LD WATERS.

You need to watch it.

As Thomas McGuane wrote in The Longest Silence, “if the trout are lost, smash the state.”

Fortunately, Todd Tanner of Conservation Hawks has started the process. In this new project he joins fly fishing notables Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies, Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Steve Hemkens of Orvis and Tim Romano of Angling Trade in pointing out the consequences of ignoring global climate change.

If you don’t think climate change is problem, then you are just not paying attention.

Not sure what you can do about it? Share this video, add your voice and stay informed.



The Philosophy of Brook Trout

If you have even a passing interest in brook trout then you will want to pick up a copy of Downstream by David L. O’Hara and Matthew T. Dickerson.

If we could explain why grown men are so fascinated with brook trout, or why we spend so much of our time waist-deep in their waters, soaked to the bone, shivering, and delighting in every encounter with a specked trout, we wouldn’t need to write stories. This book is the best answer we can give.”

So begins this excellent book that explores the nexus between brook trout, fly fishing and some of the more interesting locations these very special fish call home.

The authors switch off with narratives that reflect both their personalities and points of view. The joy in the book comes in how they share their experience of fishing for brookies and the insights they give to the importance of the habitat the brook trout occupy.

The only complaint I would lodge is that they did not include Virginia in their travels. It would have been wonderful to see my home waters through their eyes.

The authors explore not only the impacts wrought upon the brook trout’s habitat, they also share their experience as fisherman; the teaching, manners, politics and connections to home. Dickerson is quite adept and entertaining at sharing the conundrums many fly fisherman face.

At the beginning of the conclusion, O’Hara quotes Kathleen Dean Moore from Pine Island Paradox.

I believe that the most loving thing you can say to a person is “Look.” And the most loving stance is not a close embrace, but two people standing side by side, looking out together on the world. When people learn to look, they begin to see, really see. When they begin to see, they begin to care. And caring is the portal to the into the moral world.”

Then, in my favorite part of the book he delves into the question of why he fishes. No doubt the answer to why is going to be different for everyone; but he does a fine job of putting on paper something that I and many others can relate to, to know the world we live in and our own lives better.

Downstream delivers an excellent “look” that Moore describes and the reader will come away with a sense of having stood side by side with the authors as they share their sense of caring for these special fish and the places they live.

Water is my business

As a fly fishing guide,  a member of the board of directors of the America Fly Fishing Trade Association and president of the Massanutten Chapter of Trout Unlimited, I spend a lot of time thinking about water. The fact is, I make part of my living in water and without it much of what I hold dear would be lost.

Lately I have found myself drawn back into conversations about clean water and the need to protect it. EPA has a rule making underway and there are some who would like to undermine that effort. In looking around the inter webs recently, I came across an excellent report from Trout Unlimited. Rising to the Challenge shows just how important small, seasonal and headwater streams are and why they need to be protected.

TU shares a pretty simple equation (not unlike one you see often on this blog) and points out three things that make a healthy stream.

  • Cold, clean water
  • Habitat for juvenile fish to hide, and for big fish to grown and spawn
  • Sensible rules that protect streams from development

Pretty simple Venn diagram if you ask me.

The report shows “the connection between seasonal streams that may run dry at certain times of the year (i.e., “intermittent and ephemeral” streams) and historic trout and salmon habitat.”

There are maps for 14 states, including Virginia below:



Download the report and learn how you can make water your business too.

If you want to learn more about EPA’s rule making here is a link > http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters

Here is some information from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership > http://www.trcp.org/issues/wetlands/cleanwateract#.VDHMnr51qaF



Celebrating the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture

One of the more enjoyable aspects of more than 30 years in the lobbying business is the chance to look back on the projects you took on, not because you were going to make a pile of money from it, but because deep down in your heart and soul you knew that it was important.

What became the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture is the one I am most proud to have been part of. It started, back more than 12 years ago, when a small group of us got together to sketch out a plan to protect, restore and enhance brook trout and their habitats across their historic native range.

Recently I had the honor to be invited to speak at the opening of  the 10th Anniversary EBTJV partners meeting. I told them how the EBTJV came to get started and that the EBTJV was a success because of the courage, and in some cases arrogance, of the original steering committee. I have likened the EBTJV to the Rolling Stones (a tribute to the time Mick Jagger was confronted while relieving himself on the side of a gas station and said “We are the Rolling Stones, we piss anywhere.”) At the time, the National Fish Habitat Initiative, later known as the National Fish Habitat Partnership was just getting started. While the NFHI was a good idea, we were concerned that “process” might get in the way of progress. The folks managing the Action Plan wanted to build a program first. We wanted to put our time, money and energy into “on the ground” projects. And that was what we planned to do.

The steering committee shared an incredible, lifelong, visceral passion for the brook trout, did not feel compelled to color inside the lines and were willing to put regional and state boundaries behind them for the greater good of the brookie. We channeled that passion and went directly to the fish and game departments in the 17 states that encompassed the Eastern Brook Trout’s native range. We got buy-in to our ideas for the joint venture and, at a meeting a year later, the EBTJV became a reality.

At the time, the original co-conspirators could not have imagined how successful they would be. In the last 10 years the accomplishments are truly impressive.

2004-2014 EBTJV Infographic Final_11x17


The highlight of the meeting for me was receiving a gorgeous rendering of a brook trout, by the renowned artist James Prosek, in recognition of my “dedication to the EBTJV and its cause.”

This beautiful signed print now graces our living room and is a treasured gift from my friends at the EBTJV. I’ve nicknamed the brookie “Mick.”

10th Anniversary Meeting_Tom's Print

Nat Gillespie (L), “Mick”, me, Doug Besler (R) Photo credit Callie McMunigal

If you care about these iconic fish and what to learn more or even better lend a hand, then follow this link to the EBTJV website.