Tools of the season.
Tools of the season.

It’s the dead of Winter here in MN.  Like all resourceful north-folk I’ve got my trusty hobbies to prevent me from succumbing to cabin fever.  If life gives you freezing temps, make beer (and drink it), do a shitload of drawing, and strip streamers for pike if the temps get above 30.

Brewing: Snowblower Beers

Recipe

I just tapped my Xmas Smoked CDA. It was a typical 3 Gallon, no sparge, BIAB brew session.   Fermentation was on the cold side, and I carbed it at about 5 weeks.  The significance of this beer is not in how it was made, it’s about why it was made.
I made this beer because the dropping temps were pushing my taste buds to desire a dark, roasty, slightly sweet, resinous beer that pushed the 6% ABV level or beyond.  All I had on tap at the time was Pale Ales.  Now, them beers drank pretty good, but I needed something for the season.  I needed some Snowblower Beers, nah’ mean citizens?  I’m not sure who coined term, and may in fact been a group of us at NB years ago….I know we ran with the concept a couple times.  Regardless, they are beers that mirror their Lawnmower Beer brethren that exist on the opposite end of seasonality.

In my book, Snowblower Beers aren’t the behemoths of Winter.  They are not the RIS’s, the Barley Wines, the Old Ales, and/or any of the other 9% plus beers that usually get uncorked, tapped, and served around this time of year.  Rather, they are the amber to black, malty, sometimes hoppy, and somewhere between 6-8% ABV kind of beers.

In the Summer, you can spend a day or afternoon mowing the lawn, planting shrubs, cleaning gutters or some other form of yard work.  After said yard work there is nothing more refreshing (I mean, besides water…remember the water) than a crisp Pilsner, Helles, Pale Ale or even an IPA.  A light Saison can be pretty tasty as well.  It may be hot as hell, but you’re outside, drinking a beer and all is well in your world.

In the Winter however, working outside in my neck of the woods can be down right brutal, even dangerous at times.  Fighting 12 inches of wet snow can be a real bitch.  Especially if you own a house on a double-lot…on a corner…with a driveway with 7 foot retaining walls on either side.  Welp.  Even a couple inches of fluffy stuff can put an ache in the back and leave digits numb.  After such work you need something substantial.  Not too beefy in the mouth and ABV, but enough to warm the guts and take the edge off.

Stouts, Porters, CDA’s (or Black IPA’s), Bocks, Winter Warmers, Imperial Ambers, big Browns, and even a solid IPA really hit the spot after some shoveling or roof raking.

My recommendation it to focus in some Snowblower beer brewing around late Fall.  Make sure you have 3, 5 or 10 gallons on hand to help you get through the Winter.  Have your keg near your garage (avoid bottles, pours should be adjustable to difficulty of Winter work.).   Also, these beers are excellent fare for fly-tying sessions, fly-fishing DVD sessions, cards, and other Winter activities that fill the day-dreaming days of you and your friends.

Don’t fear the snow, don’t fear the cold.  Know that you have a tasty, gut-warming Snowblower beer waiting for you.

a well earned beer
a well earned beer

Art: Just Nice Be Drawn

Sometimes they don’t turn out the way you hope, but you love them none the less.   To doodle is fine, but drawing is a process, habit, calling, profession and many other things; no matter what you call it, it requires constant practice and refinement to get at something deeper.

To draw things that have more impact, one must find a way to convey something beyond the image.  This can be particularly difficult when you venture into unknown subject matter, employ a never-before-used medium, and/or present your work to a foreign context or viewership.

Snags

When you fishing new water, chances are you’re going to lose a few flies, break some tippet, and/or take a dump trippin over an unseen boulder or log.  The process of starting a new body of work is no different.  Especially when the subject matter is something you’ve never touched.

The desire to focus on fish as subject matter has taken hold of me for quit some time, but I never had a concrete reason to shift away from skulls and such.  There has always been a certain “gravity” attached to skulls, particularly human and deer skulls,  The forms, lines, shadows all pull me in and don’t let go.  Everything I find visually interesting resides in the bone, flesh, feather and fur of animals. So why no fish drawings, but tons of deer skull drawings? I’ve been fishing as long as I’ve been drawing, so what gives? My theory:  skulls are really fucking cool.

Skulls that I have known.
Skulls that I have known.

But through my commission with Allen Fly Fishing I forced myself to learn how to draw fish.  It was a crash course, and my first finished works came out OK.  They certainly turned out better than I expected, and gave me a great deal of confidence moving forward.  But there was a bit of beginners luck involved…or maybe more precisely, I decidedly made them more predictable and generic. I aimed for something that I knew I could accomplish.  I swung a fishy spot.

Execution with purpose

How to get started – know your geometry before your calculus.  Practice capturing form, line and even the all-dreaded color.   Next, start to focus on the elements present in the subjects’ form that start to appeal to one’s own style of drawing – in my case it’s the underlying bone structure, how light and water cause significant variation in the compositions, how color is largely subjective to light/water/health of fish/time of year/etc.  The salient thing is to pull the stuff out that you (I) respond to and can amplify.

But as always, the end result is fleeting and never right.  That’s the point though right? If I was to draw, only to produce something entirely digestible and comforting, then why bother?  The pursuit is more important than the end result.  The journey matters more than the conclusion.

And sometimes, you look back and realize that a point in the journey was when things came together, when all factors gelled in a visual harmony.  But you farmed it.  You overworked the surface.  You didn’t trust your instincts and more importantly, you hadn’t trained your eyes to see what you needed to see.  Everything after was misguided effort.  Sometimes the big ones get away.

Winter Chrome: Old Buck - this one is working...
Winter Chrome: Old Buck – gelling annnnnnnnnnd done.

All that consideration and thought boils down to finding a rhythm, finding your groove.  Somewhere along the way you accept that it will never be just “right”.  But, you find the spot where you feel like your making work in a deliberate fashion, towards something, and with purpose.

My jounrey into the fishy subjects is just starting.  Skulls are my thing, and they will continue to get rocked, and have a more influential role in guiding the fish-related work.  My fish should look more like skulls, because after-all, skulls are really fucking cool.  More missteps will be made, work will get farmed and frustration will set in from time to time regardless.

You journey on.  You keep drawing.  After all, just nice be drawn.

Totally farmed attempt at a Walleye
Totally farmed attempt at a Walleye

Fishing: Cold Water Pike

A couple weeks ago I got out on the Big Muddy and did some Winter fishing for pike.  Not ice fishing mind you, straight up fly-fishing, waders and all.  Winter fishing on small streams for trout, and large rivers for pike, smallies, etc is always in the cards here in the frozen North.  It’s never easy, and the quality days to give it a shake are extremely numbered, so when the temps rise above 30 for a day or two, you have to be ready to drop everything and make sure you have plenty of de-icer for your guides.

Cold and somewhat lonely.
Cold and somewhat lonely.

For many years I’ve heard of a spot, North of the Twin Cities where pike, smallmouth, muskie and so forth gather up during the Winter. This particular stretch of the Mississippi stays open, and fairly warm all year long due to some serious warm-water discharge.  I never had the time to fish it; off days never lined up with above freezing temps, weekends were booked with this and that, and sometimes freezing my fingers while standing in water sounded like a stupid idea.

But this time, I had the time, the temps were right, and some frozen fingers sounded perfectly acceptable.  I caught pike, I found the right water, I witnessed two separate mayfly hatches, I never saw a three eyed fish, and I scratched a serious fucking itch.  It ruled.

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It get’s crowded, so I’ll forgo saying where and how to get there.  There are dudes who would have my head for giving out info so easily.  I will say this, it’s not hard to find and a little research will lead you in the right direction.  After-all, I am a true believer that you have to pay your dues and cut your teeth to find, understand and dial-in water.

Great fishing is earned, not given.

So, bring on the rest of Winter.  I’m armed and ready.

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