SIX STRINGS AND SIX POUND TEST:

INTRODUCTION

The road is a great place of adventure, wonder, and mystery. It is also a great place of boredom, frustration, and disappointment. When its first three attributes aren’t quite as prominent, travelers have numerous means of dealing with the latter three attributes.  For thousands of years, musicians, salesmen, soldiers, and freight-haulers have long looked to books, booze, loose women, dice, and cards as a distraction from the pain of traveling.

More times than not, these distractions have caused more pain than they have relieved. Hell, just read the Odyssey. In the last year however, I have adopted a new vice to ease the boredom and stress of the road. I realized that after fifteen years of playing music professionally and traveling extensively, I have not taken advantage of the numerous opportunities that I have had to fish in new waters.  After rededicating my life to fishing this year, I have decided to remedy this tragedy. This blog is dedicated to that task.

In the forthcoming posts, you will read a lot about fishing, the road, some music, perhaps a little college football, and a fair bit of how I see the world.  I will do my best to adopt more brevity than Homer,  but I will warn you that I love to tell stories. For those wondering if these stories are true, I will say two things: first, it is in fact true that these are stories; second, I am a fisherman.

The Caney Fork and The and The Square Room

Part I.

Since I moved to Nashville in 2002, I have driven the stretch of I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville countless times. Whether my wife Katy and I were going to play a couple of house concerts and college shows in East Tennessee and North Carolina or Jake Bradley and I were crammed into Julie Lee’s little red Honda with an upright bass strapped to the top to go play the Blue Plate Special on WDVX in Knoxville, I have always enjoyed that stretch of highway. My eyes have wondered at the beautiful redbuds and dogwoods in the spring, lush green canopies of hardwoods in the summer, and gorgeous red and orange hues in the autumn, all painted on a canvas of rolling hills and rock outcroppings. Woven into this landscape of trees and geology is the Caney Fork River. For years, these trips to Knoxville and back would send me over the Caney Fork near Cookeville and my heart would long for my youthful fishing adventures on the Tellico River in southeast Tennessee. Knowing that I was nearing the region where I spent most of my summers as a boy, I was tortured by the reality that the Tellico was always just too far out of the way from whatever gig I was going to play. Nonetheless, I always enjoyed the flood of memories triggered by the sight of the Caney Fork.

After rededicating my life to fishing this year, I was excited when Drew Holcomb asked me to join him this past spring in Knoxville for an acoustic show at the Square Room. Because the gig would coincide with two gigs in Dayton, OH with Over The Rhine on the following days, I needed to drive separately.  This was the perfect opportunity to explore new waters.

I did a bit of research and discovered a couple of public access points on the Caney Fork. If I couldn’t break off for another adventure on the Tellico, I would find a new adventure on the Caney Fork. Friends had told me for years that the Caney Fork was full of rainbow and brown trout, so my heart brimmed with anticipation when I pulled away at 9 A.M. in my Dodge minivan (the preferred mode of transport for most working musicians I know). I arrived at the first access point at approximately 10 A.M. As I approached the rushing waters, I was surprised at the river’s width and volume. It was a bit larger than it looked from the road. After greeting a fly fisherman or two with a long-distance wave, I first broke the waters with a # 2 Mepps  Spinner fashioned with a bucktail and gold blade. I think it is the finest all-purpose fishing lure ever made. Though I love to tease my wife about her affinity for French culture, I have to concede that the French did in fact produce two of my favorite toys in the world: the Mitchell 300 spinning reel and the Mepps Spinners. After familiarizing myself with the pace of the current, I moved on to a little bait fishing.  Now, if I didn’t already lose them with my spinner fishing, this is the point at which I will probably loose most fly fishermen that have happened upon this blog. But before you go, know that I look forward to my day of sanctification when I can be just as self-righteous as you, the great spiritual fly fisherman. I’m sure the air breathes sweeter, the food tastes richer, and the porta-johns reek of American Beauties when you’re finished with them. However, my day of sanctification has not yet come. Perhaps it is around the corner? I will be sure to blog about it when it arrives. Anyway, I went on to Berkeley’s Powerbait “Power Eggs”. The sunrise color has always been pretty good to me, but not on this day. In fact, nothing I had was very effective. I decided to move downstream for a while, but still had no luck.

An hour or so had passed and so I began to work my way further upstream from where I had originally put in.  The conditions were almost perfect. The water level, water color, and water temperature were ideal, but nothing was biting. I began to think that either I had arrived at the river too late for the morning feeding or that I should have learned how to fly fish. Just when I was about to check my frustration and adopt the “oh well, I’m just glad to be on the water” attitude, I noticed an intermittent splash or two on the surface of the water.

To be continued…

Part II. The trout had started to feed on some sort of bugs floating atop the water. Now, a fly fisherman would have immediately consulted a mental file of information and computed multiple possibilities of dry flies and nymphs with varying colors and hook sizes. However, as a bait fisherman, I knew exactly what to do. I grabbed the only bug that I had in my arsenal: a live cricket.

Upon casting into the nearest pool with what was left of my hopes for the day, I felt that old familiar tug that my father once warned me would haunt my dreams. After a flick of the wrist to set the hook, we embarked on the great struggle. I had perched myself on a section of the bank that sat steeply about 2 and a half feet above the water. Knowing that I had engaged a sizable fish, I started to consider how I would land him if I were lucky enough to get him to the bank. I had a small net, but knew that I could only utilize it if I was down at the water’s level. Otherwise, I would have to “hoss” him in one fell swoop from the water to the high bank on which I stood. For a moment, I considered traversing the steep bank and jockeying for position closer to the water’s edge, but thought better of the idea once I extrapolated the contour of the bank into the water and realized that one false step could send me ass over elbows into waters higher than my hip-waders. So, I steeled myself for the hossing.

Now, to hoss a fish is a delicate procedure. Once a fish is pulled from the water with the pole and line, he has the unique opportunity to wiggle unimpeded by the resistance of the water. Thus, he has a better chance to throw the hook and bounce safely into the waters from which he came. There is a moment of truth involved with hossing a fish. You must wait until the fish is positioned just the right way and has momentarily calmed himself. You have to negotiate the fishing line’s tension as well as any obstacles, such as tree limbs or rocks, as you guide the fish along the shortest path from the water to a location on the bank at which you can trap and control the fish. You must be bold and swift. It’s kinda like when Julia Child flips an omelet with the “courage of her convictions.” Well, my moment of truth came and Julia would have been proud. I landed him in the sand of the bank and positioned myself between him and the water. He bounced twice on the sand, throwing the hook somewhere in the process. My heart raced as I dropped to my knees to get a hand on him. I had a rare moment of hesitation just before I touched him. This was my first brown trout and I didn’t know quite what to think. Perhaps fear and awe had gripped me for a moment as I realized that this was the largest trout that I had ever caught.

After tending to the fish with my creel, I couldn’t get another cricket on my hook fast enough. I took three or four more shots at the same hole, hoping that I had not disturbed the other fish that might be lurking below. However, a dark reality set over my heart consciousness as a cool breeze shot up from the river’s surface. I checked my watch to confirm this unfortunate epiphany. Sadly, the screen of my cell phone stared coldly back with the numbers and letters 1:05 P.M. C.S.T. After living in Nashville for 8 years, I had made a rookie mistake. I did not account for the time change from the Central to the Eastern time-zone. I had to be in Knoxville by 4 o’clock and still had a good two hours to drive. I would have at least a 10 minute walk back to my van and….well, you get the point.

I took the proverbial last cast, and begrudgingly packed it in. However, I sallied forth to Knoxville with a deep satisfaction of my ability to hunt and gather and an excitement about playing music with two dear friends. In the end, Drew and Ellie had a nice showing at the Square Room and the fish made it to my freezer. I slept that night with a contentment for miles traveled and waters waded and an anticipation for the road and waters to come. Have a good weekend y’all.

Old Man Winter and the 4 Hopes of Fishing

Part i:

My most recent reawakening to fishing struck me sometime in December of 2009.  Unfortunately, December is not the most welcoming month of the year to fish unless you live in the Deep South.  Other than some stocked trout in a couple of rivers and small lakes, most of the game fish ain’t really bitin’ in middle Tennessee in the winter.

With Old Man Winter sitting stubbornly and grumpily above the Nashville skyline, I sat in the back of a Ford Econo-line passenger van (yet another preferred vehicle of many musicians I know) with a hopeful and sly grin on my face as I travelled I-65 South toward Jackson, Mississippi to begin a winter tour with Matthew Smith along the considerably warmer Gulf shore. Matthew is a good friend who delights in Ryan Adams, old hymns set to new tunes, I-phone apps and his band-members pursuing their hobbies and interests on the road (as long as we are not late to the gig or need bail money). Bassist Adam Keefer likes to pursue photography, bassist-guitarist-pianist John Davis enjoys skating in local skate parks and parking lots, and I like to fish. Matthew believes that a happy, well-rounded band is a rockin’ band.

I had packed 2 rods and reels and a small tackle box in the back of the van and had a folder full of Google maps in my tour-book.  I had a pretty good shot at some “road fishing” on this run and I was looking forward to escaping to milder climes. After a couple of days of gigs around Jackson, we arrived at the home of Heber Ethridge Jr., father of Matthew’s beloved drummer and mo-ped enthusiast Heber Ethridge the Third (or Tripp, as many in Nashville know him). Tripp had mentioned that his grandfather, Heber Sr. had a nice little pond in his front yard and that we were welcome to come and fish it.  So, with some free time in hand, off we went.

Though it was mid-January, the temp was probably about 65 degrees and the sky was a bit overcast. Upon arriving at Heber Sr.’s estate, I took note that the water in the pond was relatively clear with just a shade of murk. The variables appeared favorable for a good morning of fishing.

I started with a Zoom 7” u-tail plastic worm rigged Texas-style. I went with the chartreuse pumpkinseed because I have typically had good luck with that color in farm ponds, and this pond was no exception. Upon casting toward a submerged tree-limb, I felt that old familiar tug that releases endorphins into my system like few things I know.

After a light crank of the reel to check the tension, I set the hook and I began to participate in the ancient ritual of hope. Actually, the ritual really began with the first cast. Every aspiring angler should understand that with every cast, there is the hope of a tug; with every tug, there is the hope of a struggle; with every struggle, there is the hope of an acquisition.  My hopes were all realized when I landed a nice 1-pound largemouth bass. However, this inspired another hope: with every acquisition, there is the hope that it has friends (hungry friends).

To be continued…

Part II

Well, he did have some friends and they were hungry. Though I had a few unrealized hopes when some tugs failed to convert into struggles and when a struggle or two failed to turn into acquisitions, I did manage to land a couple more one to two pound largemouths before Tripp and I had to make it back to sound-check. Though Tripp’s luck wasn’t as good as mine, he was successful in helping me accomplish the time-honored task of giving an old fishing buddy a little bit of hell.

Knowing that St. Louis is even colder than Nashville in January, I figured that my long-time fishing buddy Dr. Eric Bryan (professor of Medieval English in the Missouri university system) had not wet a hook for some time. It’s a fine-tuned craft, giving a fishing buddy hell. You have to be sensitive to your friend’s inability to get to the water, yet you still have to assert your momentary prowess and angling superiority (especially if he or she is the one that regularly out-fishes you). In the words of Dwight Yoakam’s character in Sling Blade, “That’s the way friends do one another!” For this instance, I thought it best to email a photo.

Now, I normally don’t condone the use of the interweb or cell phones while fishing. It just feels wrong. Nothing is more annoying than folks updating their Facebook status or tweeting when they should be feeling for a bump on the line or telling me a tall tale about “the one that got away”. The only exceptions that I have made in the past are texts, phone-calls, or emails that facilitate staying on the water longer than originally communicated. That being said, I did discover a new exception.

With Tripp’s handy dandy I-phone, I utilized the best that modern technology had to offer so that I could give Eric some grief. Hell, technology ain’t so bad after all. I might even get me one of them thar smart-phones.

Anyway, the tour rolled on with a couple more fishing opportunities that yielded no more fish (though that’s not exactly what I told Eric). However, they did provide refuge from the rigors of the road. Unfortunately, one of the excursions ended with a broken Okuma fishing rod. For the record, I wasn’t exactly impressed with Okuma’s customer service. My well-crafted letter (mailed the old-fashioned way) must have landed on the desk of someone that was too busy tweeting, but I digress.

I guess the only thing more to say is that I’m glad to have eaten some good Cajun seafood before sadness darkened the gulf this past summer. I also offer my heartfelt thanks to Matthew Smith for helping me acquire online fishing licenses, Heber Sr. for the use of his pond, Heber Jr. for the Jack Daniels brazed beef tenderloin, and Heber the Third for being my fishing buddy. Soon, I will use an I-phone to give you hell.

Have a good weekend y’all.

Jim Bowie’s Influence on Father’s Day

I must start by offering a brief apology for the most recent hiatus. The past six months have brought quite a bit of change and I am just now adjusting. I have been doing less touring and more film scoring and I have been getting acquainted with my newest future fishing buddy: Miss Story Jane Hutson. She is almost 6 months old and sweet as sugar. Oh yah, did I mention that she is my daughter?

Anyway, excuses aside, I am hoping to arrange my life so that I can post a little more regularly. For now, I hope you enjoy this little diddy about a recent trip to Alabama.

My old friend Jon Black recently gave me a call to play a little benefit concert in northern Alabama. Oddly enough, the benefit had nothing to do with the recent tornadoes that wreaked havoc on the state. However, it did have something to do with environmentally responsible property development along Smith Lake in northern Alabama. Though I wasn’t sure if a bunch of rich good ole’ boys were trying to garner some politically-correct publicity or if they in fact suddenly developed a conscience after reading a Wendell Berry essay or two, I figured I would do it in the hopes of catching a fish or two between sound check and show-time.

I lit out from Nashville around 11 A.M. and had a pleasant trip down I-65. The vibrant green canopy of spring had spread across the rolling hills of southern Tennessee and northern Alabama and though my youth rarely brought me in contact with this part of the world, I couldn’t help but remember the spring turkey-hunting trips I took with my father in Georgia. The recent arrival of my first-born amplified my emotions and before long, I had a tearful eye as I imagined future trips into the wild with my daughter. I kinda’ felt like I was in the middle of cheesy country song.

Anyway, after a beautiful 2 and a half hour drive, I arrived at Smith Lake and met up with Jon. We enjoyed a little bbq and ran over a few songs at sound check. Then, I hit the water. Jon joined me just to have a little conversation and catch up on life. After a little bit of squirrel fishing (code for a mis-cast into a nearby tree), I settled into an easy rhythm of casting a Texas-rigged plastic worm around some docks. Jon and I kvetched about the music business a little and then I switched to a light tackle rod and reel with my ol’ favorite, a #2 Mepp’s spinner. Before long, I snagged a nice little ½ pound bass along a rocky bank. He wasn’t a monster by any means, but he did put up a good little fight.

I managed to pull out another little one before a bunch of raucous teenagers decided to have a rock-skipping contest right on top of my fishing hole. A bit annoyed, I considered modeling one of my late father’s reactions to such a situation by brandishing a bowie knife; but, after a moment of reflection, I decided to give the young bucks a pass. After all, they could have been potential Jon Black fans. Anyway, it was about time to tune up for the gig.

Well, in the end, we folk-rocked a few environmentally conscience Alabama good ol’ boys, drank a coupla’ beers, ate a bite or two of swine, and snagged a coupla’ bass. All in all, it was a pretty great day. As I drove off site and pointed the nose of my minivan toward Nashville, I popped the radio knob and happened upon the nearest country music station. Now, if I didn’t already feel like I was living in a cheesy country music song when I started the trip, I certainly couldn’t deny this feeling as I headed home. The first song that I happened upon was the new Trace Adkins single called “Just Fishin’.”

To be completely honest, I really don’t have a lot of good things to say about Trace Adkins’ music. I will concede that he does have a great baritone country voice and he does command it well. However, I have never been a fan of his song selection or his choices with regards to producers. But in the case of this song, I have to admit that he chose a song that hit me where it hurts right now. I never thought I would ever do something like this on this blog, but…go to youtube and check out a homemade video that someone made to his song. It kinda’ tied a bow on the day for me.

In closing, father’s day is upon us. Call your dad if he’s still around. Also dads, take your kids fishing every chance you get. It’s more than just fishin’ and sometimes you get to brandish a bowie knife.

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2 Responses to “SIX STRINGS AND SIX POUND TEST:”

  1. […] Kenny’s been writing about fishing, music and life- you can read it here. […]

  2. I think the mystery of why people love to fish will be revealed through your blog, Kenny. Behind every good (fisher)man is a good woman who inspires Julia Childs’ references.

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