Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Return to Montauk - August 2015

After my first fairly successful solo trip to Montauk back in August, I had the itch to return as soon as possible. The last week of August was looking promising for a quick weekend trip, but my work schedule wasn't 100% set in concrete. I wasn't positive I'd be able to take off the Friday like I was hoping, and I also wanted to make sure the weather would cooperate, so it was going to a short notice trip.

As much as I enjoyed camping by myself on my last trip, I think for my own mental sanity, I needed to bring someone along with me this time. Luckily, my buddy Jeff is always up for an impromptu camping trip, and I knew I could count on him to join me at the last minute. So Thursday, our plans were finalized. We would both work half-days on Friday, I'd drop off my dog at my parents in Washington, MO, and meet up with Jeff on the road to Montauk in the early afternoon. There was only one snag in the plan - Montauk does not accept campsite reservations with less than 24 hours notice.

I'm sure back in the 1980s, this policy made a lot of sense. But there is no good reason today, in the age of online reservations, that I should not be able to book a damn campsite in real time. When I spoke to the very polite park worker on the phone, she did let me know that there were still campsites available, but they were on a first come, first serve basis. When I asked her the reasoning behind the 24-hour reservation rule, she had no idea. So Friday morning was spent at work nervously doing math equations in my head of what time we'd have to arrive if a campsite was booked every hour or so by people who got to take all of Friday off, instead of a half day. I met up with Jeff and we hightailed it down to Salem as quickly as we could. The drive down was an anxious one, trying to figure out a backup plan if we arrived at Montauk and found the campgrounds full.

Luckily, when we arrived, there were some empty lots available. Thank god. Honestly, I have no idea what we would have done otherwise. There were surprisingly few campsites between Salem and Montauk that would have worked. We probably would have had to hide out and camp behind a storage locker shed or something like that. We checked in and began putting our camp in order. When we went to pay the lady in the little wooden hut, we had a near death experience. While standing under an awning attached to the small check-in building, some guy who does not know how to drive a camper cut a corner to short and plowed his skyscraper-on-wheels into the side of the shack. The entire building shook and the camper driver had a lovely new brown streak down the side of his giant RV. Luckily for us, the only casualty was the check-in building's gutters. The driver popped his head out of the window and asked, "Did I hit it?" as if the loud crash and scraping noise weren't a dead giveaway.
Damaged shack
Yes. You hit it.

So some background on my buddy Jeff. Jeff and I have been friends since before ninth grade, and he's one of my few friends who's married and is also a DINK (Double Income No Kids). He and his wife Jamie live out in Washington, our hometown, and he's a fantastic camper, always eager to throw up a tent on short notice. As one of my few friends who is also married, we established a bet early in 2014 that whoever got their wife pregnant first, owes the other a case of Busch beer. I still have the signed contract we made. There are few people who shoot the shit quite as well as Jeff. He's truly a master of having hour-long conversations without talking about anything specific at all. With both of our jobs being fairly demanding, and the distance between our homes, we don't see each other nearly enough, so it was great to spend the day with him in the glorious Missouri wilderness.

By the time we arrived in Montauk Friday night, it was already after 6:00, so we didn't have a ton of time to fish before closing bell. We decided just to sit it out and dick around at our campsite instead. We caught up on each others' lives and made up for drinking time we lost on the drive in. Jeff had just landed a new job that month, and he started our campfire with his old business cards from his last job, a cathartic experience if there ever was one. I myself had some professional stresses I was hoping to work out mentally that trip. I had found out earlier that week that I was not picked as the candidate for a pretty solid promotion at my current job, so I was pretty bummed out about coming to terms with that. It was disappointing, yes, but I also had a lot to be thankful for. I still had a pretty great job to go back to Monday, a great wife and dog to go home to Sunday, and I had two days of pure fishing ahead of me. I was going to focus on the positive and let a weekend of fly-fishing wash out any negative feelings that weekend.

Jeff and I cooked brats over an open fire, drank whiskey, and spoke in a conversation of inside jokes and obscure movie quotes that a passer-by would struggle to understand. We waxed poetic about how wonderful our respective wives were, and each bitched about work quite a bit. Jeff had been put through the ringer that week due to some hiccup in the Chinese stock market. I politely nodded along when he described the issue. I soon passed out in my new 2-man tent (generously given to me by Mike Hoffman over at Missouri Trekking) and was ready for fishing early Saturday morning. When the opening bell rang, I was already suited up and ready to get in the water. It wasn't long before I had my first rainbow on my stringer, catching him on the old reliable John Deere jig. Jeff, not a fly-fisherman, wasn't having a ton of luck on his ultralight setup, but he was still enjoying himself. It was a gorgeous rainy morning, with a slight drizzle hitting the stream. It was mild and humid out and as the sun rose higher, it was clear that it was going to be a great day of fishing.

A rainy Montauk morning

Standing on the low-water bridge, I had the single greatest fight with a trout to date. After I landed my first trout, and having the fear of being skunked melt away, I was feeling a bit over-confident. I hooked a second, clever trout and decided to play him a while. Having a spry fish on the hook, I naturally began quoting Captain Quint from Jaws. "He's either very smart or very stupid, Chief. I think he's gone under the boat!" As my words hung in the air in front of my face, the trout changed course and dove straight towards me on the low-water bridge. Before I could pull in the slack in the line, he had darted directly into the small vortex of water that formed at the base of a rock sticking out from the bridge. I didn't react quickly enough, and as I tried to pull the leader and trout out of the vortex, the hook slipped. The trout was nowhere to be seen. For all I know, he's still down in that hole, laughing at me to this day. 

After a quick break and breakfast, I hit the stream again, this time heading to the weed-bed near the water intake above the dam. The trout were hitting hard. After maybe a half hour, I had another couple of rainbows on my stringer, and if I kept one more, I'd be done fishing for the day, per park regulations. Of course, it was at this time that I landed the largest rainbow yet in my fishing career. It was a real hog, and put up a solid fight when I brought it in. I had it in my net and cursed the fishing gods for the fact that I had to put him, and his orange gills, back in the stream. But such is life. As soon as I released him, I hopped out of the water to go find Jeff.

A Rainbow Trout with orange gills

Conditions above the dam were perfect this morning, and I was confident that I would be able to get Jeff into some trout with a fly rod. I found him on the low water bridge, went to the car for my back-up rig, and dragged him up to the dam to teach him to cast a fly rod. I gave him my primary rod and rigged him up with a John Deere. After a few minutes of training on the basics of roll-casting, and having to untie a few nasty knots he got himself in, Jeff was able to land his first rainbow trout on a fly. A true beauty. I have to tell you, the pride I felt in getting Jeff to catch that fish was immense. I might have a future in guiding, so long as guiding means yelling at your client a bunch and then taking their picture once they land a fish.
Jeff victorious
The hero shot.

Jeff had to head back to Washington later that afternoon, taking his prized rainbow trout with him, and I was once again on my own. I fished some more that afternoon and evening, and did eventually hit my limit, but for the most part, it was pretty uneventful. That night I went to the lodge to buy the next day's tag and use their payphone to call my wife and my mom (thanks for the awful coverage area, Sprint). Of course, there was something lodged in the payphone's quarter slot, so I had to call collect. (First name Bob. Last name Wehadababyitsaboy.) I wasn't able to get a hold of Emily but I was able to speak with Barb, my mom. It seemed my dog, Norma, had gotten into something in the back yard, and now was throwing up all over my mom and dad's house. Wonderful.

That night I made myself a pretty sparse campsite dinner, and went and watched a documentary about coyotes that the park was screening in their outdoor amphitheater. Now, I might have been overly enthusiastic due to the outdoor atmosphere and whiskey, but my goodness did I find the documentary fascinating. It's a bit dated, but the imagery shown is stunning. After a few minutes of googling, I was able to track down the video on youtube. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did,, and come to appeciate our country's song dog.

Watching a video about coyotes, and knowing my dog was sick at my parents' made me a bit homesick. I wrote a postcard to Emily, letting her know that I missed her, and a second postcard to Jeff, thanking him for joining me on the trip. He tells me that it's still hanging on his fridge. The next morning I packed it in pretty early to get out to Washington to pick up Norma and take her home. I called my mom on the way, and apparently the dog had thrown up a few more times since we last spoke. Of course, as soon as she was back with me, she didn't throw up at all. Grandparents' luck I guess.

It was an extremely fun trip, both spending time with Jeff and catching a good amount of very pretty trout. I was happy to be home with Norma and Emily, and happy to have my freezer restocked (even after giving away a couple of fish to my parents as a thank you for taking care of my sick puppy).  Catch and release season quickly approaches, and I have a feeling I'll be back on the water soon.

A couple of fun post-scripts to this trip, as I write about it nearly two months later. Turns out while I did get passed up for that internal promotion at my current job, I was able to secure a job offer from another company. It's a great opportunity and I'm working with some old friends from my last job. An exciting change in my life that begins in a few weeks. Also, it turns out that my buddy Jeff owes me a case of Busch beer. Little did we know that as we sat around the campfire acting like a couple of idiots out in the woods, back in Washington his wife Jamie was already pregnant with their first child. So congratulations to Jeff and Jamie. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to seeing Jeff as a dad. Mazel tov.
Jeff and Jake's pregnancy bet
Legally binding.

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