A Re-Awakening: Fishing, Hunting, and Photography

A Re-Awakening: Fishing, Hunting, and Photography

Since moving to New Mexico a full decade ago it has felt like a lot was left behind. No, not just in the literal sense, but also in the sort of mental and physical exploration I enjoyed growing up. Until last year, I had yet to draw a tag for an elk hunt here and while I fished a handful of times early on, the passion was never rekindled. Likewise, in recent years my focus on photography started to wane; partially because of time and work constraints but also a lack of inspiration. All this seems to have changed for 2020.

The global pandemic sure has shifted a lot of priorities for everyone. Kim and I are extremely fortunate in our careers where we can work from home and while travel has been postponed indefinitely, we’re still able to be weekend warriors exploring our backyard.

Fortunately, New Mexico is a BIG state, thus affording many opportunities to experience new areas and learn the land more intimately. A few unexpected things occured, though, in the process that would steer our planning.

First, knowing our two bigger trips were completely off the books, we suddenly had a bit of spare change to use to purchase an elk tag. Second, Kim and I became quick friends with Cari and John of The Radavist, who reignited my photography interest. And lastly, our good friend Jason kept nagging us about getting some flies wet this year, finally. Ok, fine!

Fishing: Tenkara and Flies

Let’s be honest, I was never a great fly fisherman. My biggest successes were along the Deschutes and Metolious rivers back in Oregon, while here in New Mexico I struggled to find the groove along the narrow cutbanks of New Mexico’s narrow ‘rivers’. Here, fish could hear your foot steps and see your shadows while being simultaneously picky about fly choice. It wasn’t my idea of a good time.

As Kim and I learned the ins and outs of bikepacking, we kept hearing about tenkara fishing. On a whim, I googled it up and discovered it’s a beautifully simple concept: collapsible rod, tippet and leader, fly. Shit, it may be simple enough for me to enjoy fishing again.

Oh, and it was. Out of nowhere the obsession over fishing rose like a hungry brown trout and every weekend incorporated some sort of fishing activity. Locally here in Santa Fe, we pursued fish along the Rio Nambe and tributaries, hiked into the Pecos Wilderness, and donned packs on our bikes and rode out to the Valles Caldera in pursuit of more remote water. The combination of cycling and fishing was like a drug. We couldn’t get enough.

By simplifying the process with tenkara fishing, I was able to better understand the local fish behavior and fly selection. It didn’t take long to slide line back through the eyelets of my fly rod and hook a hog of a trout along the Rio San Antonio in the Valles Caldera. Sadly, we could not bring him to shore. After nearly a decade of dormancy, the fishing obsession returned.

Hunting: Going it Alone

Elk hunting experienced a similar slumber. Like fly fishing above, I would never consider myself an expert on the topic, but with enough time in the field to know my way around the woods, I’d still consider myself a hunter. Neither Kim or I drew a tag this year, so we had to resort to scouring the local craigslist in search of a landowner tag. Fortunately, I was able to secure a tag for the same unit as last year, at least providing some semblance of familiarity.

Unlike nearly all my other hunts, this would be all on my shoulders. I’m proud to say that my father always provided planning and resources, wisdom and direction necessary for a successful week in the woods. Given the travel restrictions in place, this year Kim and I would have to go it alone and rely solely on my learned experiences and lady luck.

Hunting this year would be different: we were meat destined and my focus was sharpened. We practiced bugles, calls and obsessively planned. I spent hours on Google Earth scouting possible locations and after splitting multiple arrows, I felt confident my shot would be rewarded this year.

By the time September rolled around it was all we could think about. We spent a full week in the woods, bumping elk, pursuing calls, and tracking sign. The experience of relying on ourselves put a different spin on things and Kim and I fell into a rhythm we do not find anywhere else. Days bled into one another while the miles tacked on our legs. Late nights, early mornings, miles and miles of walking, listening, stalking; after a week we were spent.

The only sign that our time was up was the changing of the leafs. The aspens started to change in fuller force as the week wore on and our hopes of securing a freezers full of elk meat slipped from our grasp. No matter, it was perhaps one of the best weeks of our lives as we spent every waking moment together in pursuit and in full exposure to the natural world.

Photography: Recommitting

Inspiration comes in waves. When I first moved to Santa Fe, I was lucky to bump into the crew at Bostick and Sullivan and suddenly find myself knee-deep in photo-nerdism that it became a job. As with anything relatively creative, it can wane and become a chore. After a few years I found myself selling equipment and pursuing other time-wasting hobbies.

2019 felt like a drought. My creative juices had dried up and most photo projects went on indefinite hold. I could hardly be bothered to carry a camera with me unless there was monetary or similar motivation in mind. At the end of the year I was determined to turn the ship around and rekindle the passion that had been snuffed by the responsibilities of modern life.

Early in 2020 I decided to sell my existing equipment and recommit to a completely new system, purchase a new medium format setup, and get my head back in the game. I settled on a Sony A7Riii and a Bronica setup. The missing ingredient was some inspiration, which arrived in a moving truck.

John and Cari moved to Santa Fe and happened to use one of my favorite people, let alone broker, Stephanie Duran. She made the formal introduction and we became quick friends. John has built an entire industry around artistic photography focused on bikes and the culture they inspire. Needless to say, he’s been an influence on my personal work for years and years. The fact we’d be riding and photographing together put me over the moon.

It didn’t take long to get back in the groove. Working closely with such a talented photographer really pushes one to think harder and to focus on the fundamentals once again. And while I haven’t the opportunity to shoot film yet this year, my gear is ready and in waiting. The results of this relationship and inspiration are all of the photos posted here.

Yes, 2020 is not over and barring a civil war or worse, it may be an odd thing to say that a pandemic provided the necessary time to refocus on what matters. While we slog through the remainder of the year, I hope everyone else can find the inspiration to do the same.