30 December, 2009

Highlight Reel

All these "Best of 2009" got me to thinking about some of mine, like:
  • December steelhead on the Manistee with guide Jon Ray and my Dad. I think Dad caught his first steelie on a fly that day (along with three others!) and I got two steel and ended the day with my biggest ever brown trout.
  • Camping along Lake Superior's shores and fishing the Two Hearted river this summer. One of the most peaceful spots I've ever been to. Cooked the best steak I've ever eaten over the campfire that night.
  • Re-discovering mountain biking through my cool new singlespeed 29er. Especially rides at Island Lake rec area.
  • Pleasant summer nights camping on the Pere Marquette and catching some nice trout on an evening hatch.
  • Rabbit hunting with my friends at Muscato Enterprises. Always fun and always feel welcome.
  • Camping; I love it. Makes me feel self-sufficient.
  • Last two days of MI skiing at Caberfae. Arrived to 6" of fresh powder, snowed all day (and night) and enjoyed a second day in bluebird skies and a foot of fresh!
  • Finally feeling like I have steelhead rigging figured out enough to be self-sufficient. And getting proficient with indy rig so I don't have to chuck n' duck everywhere.

Hope your year is filled with some outside memories!


28 December, 2009

Season Opener

Headed North to open the ski season at Caberfae yesterday. A little fresh snow and high 20's made for a perfect day. Surprisingly I was able to get my powder boards out for a the morning. While they certainly weren't necessary, I like to ski them when conditions are right.

They're Line Prophet 100's and I'm amazed how versatile they've proven. In anything short of Midwest boilerplate, they do a solid job -- surprising for a ski that will float in 14" of fresh powder! I skied them until lunch time. Glad I threw them in at the last moment.

Another pleasant surprise was that from Turn One I had my ski legs back! While I will admit that by five, I was ready to end my day and head homeward. But for most of the day I was charging the most aggressive lines I could find, and even making a few flat-out blazes down the hill!

Great day, and a solid opening to the season. Snow was decent, considering Cadillac got a half-inch of rain on Christmas Day. Now we just need a few big dumps to build up the base!


23 December, 2009

Lifetime? Whose Lifetime?

Read a great article in Fly Rod & Reel magazine over the weekend. The discussion centered on lifetime guarantees on fly rods. They argued that the cost is built in to the initial purchase price as the manufacturer has a history on warranty costs and can factor in this cost when setting the selling price. As a marketer, I completely understand this logic. Your costs are covered, but now you also have the added marketing benefit of a lifetime warranty.

As a buyer, I own several rods with lifetime (or 25 year -- hope that's not a lifetime for me!) warranties. And, I'll quickly admit that this warranty was an influencing factor in their purchase. I own a couple of TFO rods that were purchased both for their price/performance ratio as well as their lifetime no-hassle policy. Break a rod? Send it back with $25 and you get it repaired or replaced. Period. Ditto my Orvis Clearwater 8 wt. steelhead rod.

Initially I thought this mostly applied to lower-cost rods like TFO, Redington, lower-end Orvis rods. But then I remembered Scott has a similar guarantee. Unfortunately, both of my Scott rods were purchased used from a friend and the warranty is only for the original buyer. Oh well, small price to pay for my two favorite rods!

I will say the article was thought-provoking - and not just for fly rods, for anything with a lifetime guarantee. If you take good care of your gear, your odds of needing a replacement go down (unlike the clumsy fellow ... you all know one...). Would you prefer to pay less and forgo anything beyond the standard year or so?


22 December, 2009

Wascally Wabbit!

Joined in the annual Muscato Enterprises bunny hunt at my friend Nick's family place. Been doing this the past three years and it's just a blast every year. Nick's dad, Dominic, is about the most gracious host and being invited and welcomed back is a genuine honor. You really couldn't ask for a nicer group of hunting companions. Nick's brother won the "furthest travelled" award after trekking up from Tennessee to join in! With my buddy Paul joining us, and other Muscato family and friends, we had a total party of 8 guys to cover a lot of ground.

Fantastic weather -- 30's with some fresh snow. But yesterday's menu was fully of wiley wabbits. We earned every one. Highlight was our three-timer. After repeatedly tracking one particularly clever bunny (which charged Nick at one point!) Nick dispatched it with a solid single shot.

My personal highlight was a shot at a HUGE rooster pheasant we kicked up in one of the food plots. Funny part was that I heard this beast of a bird before I saw him. Sounded like a helicopter take-off! I whiffed - this thing had afterburners. Up. And GONE! Threw a couple shells after him, but to no avail.

A great day, with great company. Thanks, Nick!


18 December, 2009

Nice Rack

Swapped bike rack for ski racks last night. Took me about 10 minutes total. I love Yakima racks - wouldn't buy anything else. In addition to my tower/crossbar set-up I have a Yakima Steelhead bike rack, Hully Roller/Mako Saddle kayak rack, and the FatCat4 ski/snowboard racks. All are well-engineered, rugged, and butt-simple to install and use. Every Yakima product I encounter seems to incorporate some surprising little innovation - they're the Apple of the rack biz!

If you're going to run a rack system all the time, I strongly recommend the fairing. Helps mileage, cuts down noise, and give you a place to support your favorite brands Ricky Bobby style with a melange of stickers!

Another piece of advice - spend extra for the good stuff. I initially bought a lower cost ski rack and hated it. Noisy, killed my mileage, and ugly. Fortunately, REI's exceptional customer satisfaction policy enabled me to trade up!


17 December, 2009

Tie One On

Though I thought I'd never be interested, I think this Winter will be time to learn to tie flies. I recognize the obsession this can become, so I'm starting down this path with some trepidation. It does look like something that could be done in front of the TV or wherever, so that's a plus for a nasty winter evening.

Reality is that my species of choice are steelhead. And the means losing flies. Lots of them, if you're doing it right. Steelies like cover and that means drifting through all kinds of nasty shit to get to them. At $1.50 and up for flies, that adds up. My last trip, I lost 10 in a fairly average day.

Plus, I was looking at egg flies recently -- there's really not much to them so how hard can it be? Famous last words, I'm sure. Talking to my buddy Mike about a basic class for steelhead flies at Colton Bay where he runs the fly shop.

Here we go. Updates will be coming.


16 December, 2009

Wrenchin' for the Wright Wreason

I love winter wrenchin' on bikes in the basement workshop. Cozy, fire up some tunes. Maybe have a beer or three. Got a nice workstand and all the tools. Totally therapeutic.

But last night was the best. After a long day at work, I spent a couple of hours assembling a bike we got for one of the kids in our adopted family through SOS Community Services. Made one of my favorite activities even more heart-warming.

Funny thing, I can't see how most parents assemble these things for their kids. I've got a fully equipped shop and have worked in several bike shops. I've put together hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes of all shapes and sizes. It still took me a decent chunk of time. Of course, I probably agonize over the details more than most. Had to get those brake calipers perfectly centered, toed in the pads for no squeal, re-tensioned the too-tight chain. Probably not going to be appreciated by the five-year-old who's getting it. But, it sure felt good to do!

Enjoy the season!


15 December, 2009

Tips & Tricks

Seems like little stuff can make a big difference, so here are a few of my faves:

Spend time outside in the winter? Then you have those painful cracks in your fingers that never seem to heal. The solution? A dab of Superglue! Seals them up and lets things heal up again. If you think about it, this is roughly the same substance used as liquid stitches in ER's.

Disposable Latex Gloves
I got this one from the owner of my local bike shop. Buy a box of these and keep them in your shop. When you have to work on something greasy or with solvents, throw a pair on. Cheap, and makes clean-up so much easier. When I worked in a bike shop, it seemed like I could never get my hands clean from accumulated greasy grime. No problem now! Also great for comprehensive tear-down and cleaning on guns.

CLP Spray
My cleaning choice for all but the nastiest of firearms (I reserve Remington's RemAction for that) is also just about the best all-around household cleaner/lubricant I've found. Works great on the track for my screen door, one squeaky hinges, etc. There's a reason it's called Clean-Lubricate-Protect!

Zip Ties
I think these are the modern equivalent of Duct Tape. My uses are to numerous to list but these ingenous little devices seem to get used in every pursuit or hobby I have. I stock a multitude of sizes and colors for almost any application.

Just a few faves -- enjoy!


14 December, 2009

Pin to Win

Had the opportunity to try some centerpin fishing recently. I've always been intrigued with this method since learning more during a presentation at last year's Midwest Fly Fishing Expo.

For those who don't know, it's basically drift fishing with flies under an indicator using a running line and a SUPER smooth reel. There are those who would say it's not fly fishing. But the terminal tackle's basically identical to my indie rig, and the running line is about the same as chuck n' duck. Seems like there's always some blowhard in fly fishing claiming that if you're not doing what they are, it's not "really" fly fishing. I figure, if you're not tossing spawn bags or hardware that looks like it escaped from your silverware drawer, you're good.

Back to centerpin. In addition to the super-smooth, super-long drift, what's most cool is the reel. Most are a very precise and smooth running large arbor reel so the line feeds to keep up with the current. But, there's NO drag system. Fighting a large fish means palming the reel to provide drag and slow them down. Which gets interesting when you're trying to figure out just how strong 8# fluorocarbon leader is!

The Matrix XL reel came well recommended among the budget solutions. Good arbor size, smooth spooling, and durable. Oddly I've heard the Ross is too wide. Too bad, as Ross is my default setting these days.

Suspect I'll be picking one up after I get the TFO 11' switch rod. Tools for situations.


11 December, 2009

Big Stick

Had a few opportunities to float fish with a longer rod lately. Must say I really liked it. I have a 9'6" Scott S3, but these are things like 11' Orvis Helios and a 13" G. Loomis. I'm amazed at the difference in line control with the big stick. Mends move BIG line and quickly.

Casting seems a little exaggerated, but 11" of graphite sure can move the line on a roll cast! Astounding how much easier it is to really cover a spot.

Looks like an 11' switch rod is in my future. Temple Forks Outfitter's Deer Creek Switch series looks to be in my future. Sweet rod, and way less pricey than the big Helios. Should be a sweet rig mounted with my Ross Momentum 5 reel! Maybe add a centerpin to the arsenal for long-range drift fishing.


10 December, 2009

Gear Passions

Over the past few weeks I've had exposure to the new Adams Golf super-frickin-cool top-secret driver through work. Readers of this blog will know golf isn't my thing, but I've seen first-hand how my golf-nut client friend react to this cool new piece of gear. Then I saw a Tweet from a fly shop buddy who got a preview of the new Orvis Mirage reel and how off-the-hook cool it is.

Got me to thinking about my own gear and the pieces that inspire those feelings. Yeah, they're inanimate objects, but somehow they stir something.

One is my Orvis Battenkill BLA V reel. I own a more expensive Ross Momentum, but there's something about this Orvis (shown in the picture in the header) that's special. Jewel-like finish, precision design, super-smooth operation. Plus, it's good at it's job. Throw a screaming steelhead on it and the drag system shows it's engineering.

Another is the White Industries ENO Eccentric hub on my mountain bike. Again, beautiful finish and aesthetics are a key. But, like the BLA, it' so well engineered for it's purpose. The eccentric design allows easy chain tensioning on a single-speed without sliding drop-outs or an eccentric bottom bracket.

The last is my Scott A2 6 weight 9' fly rod. This is my main all-around rod for warm-weather fishing for trout and smallmouth. It's one of my favorite sticks. Better control, better distance, and just makes me a more precise fisherman. As an FYI, it was a close call between this rod and my Scott S3 9'6" steelhead rod. That's a sweet stick, too. I love my Scott's -- searching for a short 3 weight on eBay to replace a low-end TFO.

Seems I never regret a penny I spent on truly great gear!


09 December, 2009

Fish ON!

Had a blast on the Manistee yesterday with friend/guide Jon Ray of Hawkins Outfitters. Took my Dad along as he's not had the pleasure of a day with the Master of the Manistee. For early December (hell -- for ANY time of year) we had an oustanding day. We hooked up on 13 or so, and landed 7 total.

This was my second time out with Jon on his unique "fly line indicator drift" technique. It's a little complicated to master, especially once you get some angry chrome on, but it really enable you to find fish in some pretty unexpected spots. It's hard to explain how it works, and I don't want to give up his secrets, but it's pretty darn cool!

Ended the day on a very cool note. Hooked up on what felt like a decent sized fish. After a nice fight, I get the fish near that boat and we find out it's a FAT lake-run brown! This was, by far, my biggest trout yet! A nice end to a really fun, productive day!


07 December, 2009

Say yer' Prayers, Rabbit...

Took my new wheelgun to the range yesterday for it's inaugural shoot. I've wanted a revolver for a while, but couldn't justify spending the big $$$ for an S&W (not to mention the higher ammo cost for one of the larger calibers).

Courtesy of a Cabelas special event, I scored a deal on a Taurus M94 revolver in .22 LR. If you haven't handled one of these, I highly recommend. Great build quality, feels solid in-hand, and super-sharp in stainless steel. Mine's a 4" barrel model, since it will be targets-only.

Great, so how's it shoot? In a word - outstanding. I love it. Target sights are easy to see, easy to align, and make it all happen. On first three rounds, I was getting 2" groups at 10 yards; not bad for a first time out with a new gun! Best of all, ammo's under $20 for a brick. Try that with 9mm!

Did get a nice treat, too. Met a guy at the range who let me shoot a couple of his guns (and of course I let him shoot the new revolver). His hot rod gun was an S&W in 9mm on a 1911 platform, custom built by S&W Performance shop. WOW -- this thing was insanely accurate! Thanks, Sam!


03 December, 2009

Shoulder Seasons

I am going stir-crazy in this Michigan late Fall weather. 40's and drizzle are what I detest. I've always loved Winter, and in recent years have really embraced summer. But this stuff SUCKS.

And, this week the weatherman is the ultimate tease -- promising snow every day. Of course, when it DOES snow the media will be bemoaning it. Not me. Bring it! The past two snowy winters have been outstanding.

At least it's getting colder. That's a start. Those short cold evenings that seem to be showing up lately are the harbinger of the white stuff. A friend of mine was up on the PM earlier this week and said there was snow on the ground. He's a skier, too so he was pretty pumped about it.

Meanwhile. I'll continue the Fall clean-up of the bikes, some indoor target shooting, and slip in a day or two in the river.

C'mon Old Man Winter, we're waiting for you!


02 December, 2009

Bobbin' Along

I've recently become a big fan of Redwing's Blackbird Phantom floats for indicator-style fly fishing for steelhead. After trying cheapie foam floats (seem to always fall off), and Thill's (somehow I just never felt the love - that's really an ice fisherman's tool) I've found the perfect solution.

Sure, you have to put them on the leader before you tie up the rig, but once you do, easy as pie! Easily adjusts for drift depth, and stays put after you move it.

But the best part is how it functions as an indicator. Neon top segments are easy to see, and equally simple to tell you what's going on below the surface to keep flies suspended nicely below. Clear bottom is great for clear water and spooky fish (as is usually the case on the PM).

I've used Redwing's micro swivels for a couple of seasons, too. Great solution for simplifying rigging (tieing complex knots in 20 degree weather isn't all that fun for me) and over 30# breaking strength.

Lean more about all this stuff at http://www.redwingtackle.com/.


01 December, 2009

Don't Get Fleeced

I've always liked Polarfleece and it's derivatives. Comfy, warm, dries quickly. But it was completely lacking in ANY windy conditions. If the wind was blowing at all, needed a shell over it to have a prayer of warmth. And, forget it if any rain is in the forecast.

A couple of years back I picked up a windproof North Face fleece. It quickly became a staple. Stops the wind, fairly comfy, even repels some water. But it gives up a lot of warmth over conventional fleece.

On my way up to a recent trip fishing on the Big Manistee, I realized I probably didn't have the proper outerwear. A quick stop netted me a Browning Hell's Canyon jacket. Little did I know how much I'd like it. When fishing the Big Man from a jet sled, it's all about surviving the ride from the launch to the first hole, and the ride back at the end of the day. It's a fast, chilly, splashy, windy ride, usually. You're warm for that, you're fine for the rest of the day. This Hell's Canyon jacket was perfect -- toasty, water repellent, and impervious to wind. And, with almost the comfort of conventional fleece!

In addition, this jacket has some great design features like neoprene cuffs with a nice cinch-down system, well positioned and generous chest pockets, and a ScentLock liner. Best of all? I paid $85 for it! My only regret? Camo's not always appropriate for everyday wear and I'd like another one for more general wear in a solid color!