24 December, 2010

Season's Greetings

Just wanted to take a moment to wish you Season's Greetings for a happy, healthy, fun, and relaxing holiday! I hope you'll find some time to get outside and play - perhaps the best way to hit the "refresh" button before the New Year. I met up with a bunch of friends last night and plans are already brewing for skiing, steelhead fishing, rabbit and pheasant hunting, and far, far more. Be safe, stay warm, and have fun!

-Sean-

23 December, 2010

Bobber Don't Lie

While I know I promised some beginner advice, this isn't going to be one of those discussions...

I love indicators for steelhead fishing. Yes, I know they're just a fancy name for a bobber, but these really aren't the red-and-white buoys of your bluegill fishing childhood. Canadian pinners call them "floats" so let's go with that. With a proper float, you can tell so much -- correct depth, optimum drift, and (most critically) detect a strike. For Winter steelheading with lethargic fish and subtle takes, it's the only way to fly.

I started off with Thill Ice n' Fly floats. They detect strikes just fine, and you can see your drift, but they give no real sense of proper depth. Plus, in low clear water, I think the fish can see them. So these have now been relegated to summer nymphing for trout, where they seem ideal.

Then a friend turned me on to Redwing's Blackbird Phantoms. Much better. Run the line through the surgical tubing pieces, then slip the float into them top and bottom. Tall, skinny profile means they give you accurate depth, easy drift, and that narrow shape means even the slightest strike shows up. Available in a wide range of sizes up to 7g rating. All good. For fly line indy fishing, I think this will remain my go-to float.

But now I'm intrigued by the idea of slip floats and how they would work on my center pin. With a slip float, the line goes through the float with a rubber stop affixed above and below the float. This lets the line slip through the float as needed. Hmmmm. Intriguing. The Drennan Piker seems popular with center pinners on bigger water. I like the idea of having some "give" in the system. I think I may need to pick up a few and play with them.

Nice to be past the basics now and into the fine-tuning. It's one of the things I enjoy about an outdoor pastime. Once you know the fundamentals and can then begin to build actual prowess.

-Sean-

22 December, 2010

Beginner's Luck

I have a number of friends who've told me over the past year that they'd love to learn to fly fish. I'm sure the "River Runs Through It" mythology is part of it for some. For others they've done some baitfishing and found it dull. Still others are outdoorsmen in other realms, but haven't wet a fly line.

For these folks, I'll be periodically doing some entries on how to get started. Fly fishing can be intimidating, at least partially due to the elitist "if you didn't catch it on the dry fly it doesn't count". Sure, you CAN spend a fortune on gear, but it's not necessary to enjoy yourself. The big money seems to happen after the addiction takes hold. For some it's a pleasant pastime. For the rest of us it can become a bit obsessive (there, I admitted it...).

So, if you've ever wanted pass a pleasant summer evening thigh-deep in a storied trout stream elegantly flicking a fake bug to a wiley trout, maybe I can help. Stay tuned.

-Sean-

21 December, 2010

White Christmas

Well, now that we're within a week the local weather forecasters have shifted from bemoaning wintry weather to the frantic wish for a White Christmas. I find that incredibly amusing, especially as someone who embraces Winter. But with some decent snow on the ground locally, a couple inches on the way this week, and continued cold temps it looks like it will happen.

This year I've also noticed more people embracing the snow. I've never understood the Winter Whiners. You live in the Upper Midwest. It snows here. It has for eons. And no matter how much you bellyache about it, that won't change. But this year I've heard more from the camp who loves that fresh just-frosted feel of a new snowfall. Maybe this is an upside of the economic collapse in Michigan? Perhaps the Winter Whiners all finally bailed out and what's left are those of us who love Michigan for its four seasons.

One of my other passions (obsessions?) are exterior Christmas Lights. And the new snow adds just the right touch to my Holiday display. Somehow the nearly 2,000 LEDs on my house just don't quite look right without the white stuff. But all is well this season with consistent snow since a few days after I finished putting up lights.

Whatever it is that makes you happy this Holiday, I encourage you to get out and do it! For me, I'm hoping to finally get in some skiing, perhaps wet a line in search of steel, and keep tying streamers. Enjoy the season!

-Sean-

20 December, 2010

Tied Up

Getting closer on steelhead streamers. Learned a few things recently and got a chance to run them by my guru today. I've gotten the tail dimensions about right and things are nice and "swimmy" to give it good motion in the water. But I still have trouble with the head size. Although I think after today's consultation, I have a better understanding of how to tie properly that should help.

It's amazing the amount of engineering that goes into a steelhead streamer. Unlike dry flies where it's all about size, profile, and such, with streamers a big part of the equation is motion in the water. How best to make your fly look like a tempting, tasty baitfish to a hungry steelhead. While I'm closer, no clue if this will catch fish.

Also made some nice progress in that I've learned how to set-up a stinger hook. One thing I've learned is that unlike trout who attack from the front, steelhead bite from the rear. So having a bunch of feathers and flash trailing way back behind the hook will result in a lot of misses. The solution is tying a second "stinger" hook further back to ensure strikes turn into hook-ups. Turned out the hard part was finding the 30# Fireline that I'd been recommended for this application. Fortunately, Cabela's came through.

I'll likely tie up a few more this week. I think next week will bring a day or two on the PM to try all this out. Hope for a little warm-up to optimize conditions for swinging flies!

-Sean-

17 December, 2010

Let Criminals Have Guns, They May Perform Criminal Acts

Been following the episode with the gunman at the Florida school board meeting? Ridiculous. This is the sort of stuff that someone needs to hit the NRA gun nuts with. How does a guy convicted for stalking his ex-wife wearing fatigues and carrying an assault rifle get to continue to own guns?

I've long felt that a national firearms registry made a ton of sense. Want to own a gun legally? No problem. just register it's serial number. When you sell it, the buyer transfers the registration. You have to do it to own a car and that's not even a Constitutional right!

This national registry then enables officials to keep track of people with gun-related offenses. You follow someone around in camo with a sniper rifle and get convicted? You get your guns taken away. Period. Forever. You have a complete mental breakdown, the ATF gets to take away your guns until a doctor signs off that you are competent.

But, if you're a safe, responsible, law-abiding gun owner this minor inconvenience helps us all. It shows the masses that some of us respect the firearms we own, and understand the power we have access to. One nut makes the rest of us look bad. Especially with people with little or no experience with firearms. To me, this seems a no-brainer.

-Sean-

16 December, 2010

Great Scott!

It started with a used A2 9' 6-weight when I decided it was time to upgrade from my starter Ross Essence FS. Then a sweet used S3 in 9'6" for indicator steelhead fishing. And it's continued from there -- I currently own 4 total. Scott rods have rapidly become my go-to resource.

That A2 changed my fishing world. Suddenly longer casts were easy. Wind was less an issue. Somehow I could just magically cover more water more easily and more accurately. I'm really looking forward to Spring/Summer dries on my new 8'6" 4-weight A3. I've only test cast it on the grass, but it's butter-smooth and sniper accurate so far. With a Ross CLA 1.5 and a Rio Selective Trout line I think it will be a favorite for a pleasant evening tossing dry flies. I love my A2 6, but at times it's felt a bit like hunting rabbits with a howitzer. Can't wait to flick size 16 Hendricksons in the Mason Tract or the PM on a summer evening!

The S3 is a similar magic stick for steelhead. That extra 6" is great for line control and mending. And this rod roll casts like a beast. Accurate, powerful, and with nice open loops that keep my collection of bugs, weights, indicators and other hardware from turning into a tangled mess.

I think what's most interesting for me with Scott rods is that I just don't have to think about casting form. In fact, the less I think, the better I cast. With some other rods I seem to need to be more conscious. Since fly fishing is a very immersive experience for me (pun intended) having a rod I know I don't really have to pay close attention to is perfect.

Another benefit - all Scotts from the high-end bamboo models down to the entry-level A series are made in the USA. And, the company is owned by Bill Ford (yeah, THAT Ford family). US-based manufacturing, Michigan-based ownership. Everyone wins. 

In the market for a new rod? Give a Scott a cast or two. It may surprise you.

-Sean-

15 December, 2010

Man of Steel

Heading to Walpole Island, ON on Monday afternoon/evening for some more duck hunting. On the last trip, I just borrowed a friend's gun to smooth the trip through customs. After finding out that it's not really that complex, I've decided to bring my own. But this raises an interesting challenge. My Winchester 1200 is a great shotgun, but its from the days before steel became prevalent (and legally mandatory) for waterfowl.

So, I started researching bismuth and tungsten ammo. OUCH -- $30-40 per BOX! When you need a couple of boxes, that just won't work. Especially when decent steel ammo is $12-15.

After some discussion with one of the knowledgeable outfitters at Cabela's last night I discovered that the simplest solution is to simply swap out the choke for a steel-compatible choke and shoot away. So $18 for a Carlson Modified choke and I'm ready to rock. The savings on ammo for this trip alone make this worthwhile. And in the future, I can now shoot waterfowl with this gun.

Since this gun is my hunting all-arounder, I'm very happy to have it all set for yet another use. I've really not made friends with my Remington 11-48, and my Stoeger side-by-side is really best suited to upland birds. My Winnie was my first shotgun and it just works for me. Pump action is 100% reliable, and this gun really shoulders well and just fits me. I'm hoping that shooting my own gun ups my accuracy.

-Sean-

14 December, 2010

Chromin'

Great day on the Manistee river with Dad and Jon Ray on Friday! I love Winter steelheading. Being outside in the snow and the cold is so rejuvenating, especially for an office-dweller. 6" of snow earlier in the week, plus a couple more overnight transformed the bleak Fall landscape of Michigan into a Winter Wonderland.

Although I brought the switch rod along for swinging, on Jon's counsel it stayed in the case. Weather had been cold all week (after a very warm Fall) and one swing guy and one bobber guy in a boat don't mix well. So, we spent the day float fishing.

What was amazing was the subtlety of the strike. This is the toughest period of the season. With the sudden drop in temperature, the fish become more tentative. Once cooler temps have been around a while, things will stabilize and return to normal as they adjust to Winter conditions. But for now, a simple "dink" in the float's drift might be all you see of a take. I'm sure we missed several.

But for this time of year, we did really well. Went 3 for 6. Dad won the standing bet with First, Most, and Biggest fish. Here's a shot with the largest of the day -- our day-ender in fact. Always go out on a high note.

I got a nice 7-8" hen with GORGEOUS Winter colors. That beautiful iridescent band of purple/red. Funny thing was once we got her netted, I didn't feel the need for a photo. I'd seen her, as had Jon and Dad. That was all the evidence I needed. Better to give her a gentle release to fight another day.

And the best part may have been our return to the launch. The only vehicles in the parking lot were mine and Jon's truck. That's so much of what I love about Winter fishing. No crowds. It's why I can readily skip the Fall Salmon runs. Not a fan of combat fishing, where there's always somebody in your favorite spots.

Plans are already forming for a January trip and I can't wait!

-Sean-

13 December, 2010

Pin to Win

I've managed to do a few steelhead days this Fall/Winter with my center pin set-up. It's proven a great way to fish in many situations. On my UP trip the water levels were HUGE. I spent most of my time alternating between swinging and pinning. I tried a standard indy rig a few times and couldn't get any sort of reasonable drift. All that current grabbed the fat line and dragged all my gear every which way. With the pin, I could readily cast the distance I needed, set-up a nice drift and slide right through the hole in a deadly fashion. On the other hand, the Manistee river in Michigan's NW Lower Peninsula is a perfect place for LOOOOONG drifts. And that's what the pin does so well.

But for me the cool part is the drag-free connection to a powerful fish. With the pin reel it's all you applying drag to slow a thrashing steelhead. Definitely adds a nice Man Versus Fish element to it that I enjoy. My Raven Matix reel is a great tool. I especially like the ergonomics. The width is perfect for palming the reel, and the handles are just the right size and placement for easy access without tangles and hitting them at the wrong time.

I also love the longer 13' 6" float rod. Mends are simple. Line control is easy. Only challenge is hook sets way back in the drift. My rod's a Raven IM6. Given that I seem to like this style a lot, I may need to look at the IM8 or IM9 rods that have a little more backbone for hooksets at some point. But right now, I'm just having so much fun with this one!

Whatever your feelings about pinning (there seem to be many detractors) I love mine. Fly fishing purists be damned -- my pin is every bit fly fishing. Certainly as much as chuck n' duck is. The rig I fish on my pin is nearly identical to what I fish Indy style on a fly line.

If you haven't tried pinning, give it a shot. It's a blast! Not for every situation, but in some there's nothing like it!

-Sean-

09 December, 2010

Toasty Test

A couple of upcoming outings will put some new warm gear to the test. Fishing tomorrow with Dad and Jon Ray on the Manistee river. Supposed to be a little warm-up, but still topping out in the low 30's with some wind in the forecast. Then on Monday evening, some duck hunting on Walpole Island, ON. Forecast calls for a high of 16 and "blustery".

This will be a great opportunity to try out the Columbia Scrape insulated neoprene boots and Gallatin wool jacket. Thus far I've worn the jacket a little bit and it's been surprisingly warm and windproof. Seems to have all the classic characteristics of wool. But the true test is a full day out on the river and sundown in a duck blind. My last trip duck hunting was a 45 degree day, but once that sun went down it got cold FAST. And when you're just sitting, things chill quickly. For extra insurance, I added a pair of $6 wool insoles to the boots. They seem even more comfortable than before, and warmer.

Early indications seem good, but we'll see. I do know that being cold saps the fun out of virtually anything. I think these two key additions will be most helpful.

-Sean-

06 December, 2010

Rack Attack

I hate chaotic storage. When things have a home, they find their way back to the home more easily. And that makes packing for next adventure that much quicker. My latest struggle has been fly rods. I seem to have accumulated several and haven't had an especially good storage solution. For the past couple of years, they've been stacked in storage tubes on my ski rack in the basement. Invariably the rod I want is piled under three others and pulling it our results in an avalanche.

I'd looked at a few storage rack systems, but never really found anything I liked. Horizontal racks eat wall space, don't hold much, and don't help you deal with rods in tubes. I found a few that would store rods in tubes vertically, but they were poorly built, didn't hold much, and were WAY too pricey. Fortunately, with a well-equipped woodshop and some background building furniture I knew I'd stumble upon a solution. My own ideas were really unnecessarily complex. Then I saw a rod rack at Cabelas that gave me the idea. Using some spare 3/4" plywood and some 1" dowels, I was able to build the perfect solution (at right). And fortunately, the local hardware store had some hole saws on clearance in the sizes I didn't have already.

Most standard rods fit fine in a 2-3/4" hole, but I was able to cut some larger 3-1/4" spots for my switch rod and some others that needed more room. And my trusty Scott S3 8-wt. in its aluminum tube got a better-fitting 2-1/4" berth. I was even able to accomodate the odd oval case for my centerpin rod by cutting two holes never to each other and finishing with a sabre saw.

I clamped top and bottom boards together to ensure perfectly-placed top and bottom guide holes. Also, I added a piece of 1/4" pegboard underneath to keep them up off the floor and ventilated. Some screw-on rubber feet and two coats of high-quality enamel and it's ready to go.

I'm very pleased with the solution. Everything has a slot, there's room for expansion should I acquire more rods in the future, and the finished product is plenty rigid. Far better (for me) than anything I could have purchased and WAY cheaper!

-Sean-

02 December, 2010

Cool Streamer Attachment Solution

While setting up my streamer swing rig for steelheading a friend showed me a cool approach. Normally the tippet is attached to the sink tip with a nail knot, then the fly is attached with a Rapala or some other knot. Simple enough, but what it you want to switch flies? Snip it off, re-tie, and lose a few inches. Since you're not dealing with much leader, before long you need a new piece nail-knotted to the sink tip.

Better still, nail knot a heavy tippet to the sink tip. Then tie a loop the the end of this -- perfection, surgeon's, or whatever you like. Then tie another piece of tippet onto your fly with a Rapala knot, and put a loop in the other end. Now you can loop-to-loop connect and fly changes are super speedy!

The end result is that it's SUPER simple to change out flies on the river. Swing through a run a few times. If nothing, swap it out for something different and try it again!

-Sean-

01 December, 2010

Schwinnnnggggg!

I am lovin' tying steelhead streamers for swinging! My first few were interesting. If they even attract a strike, I expect them to self-destruct. But after watching Kevin Feenstra's excellent Searching for Steelhead DVD again and paying close attention to the tying sections, I feel much better prepared.

Here's my latest attempt. A little marabou in the tail for motion, some Schlappen in the body for bulk, and a whole bunch of flash to attract the playa'. Lead eyes help me get down to the sulking Winter fish.

A little tying advice from a knowledgeable buddy helped me focus on proportions. I think my early attempts, in addition to lacking durability, didn't have the profile of a baitfish. This one's much closer to the right distribution of bulk.

For now I've been tying on some Daiichi 1750's I had around. But several sharp tyers have steered me to the 2461. Now I just need to find some, as my usual resources don't seem to stock them.

One observation -- tying streamers is a MESS! When I get done it seems like I have flash and feather bits everywhere. But what a blast. After a Fall tying up boatloads of eggs and nymphs tying these big beasts is just a great time!

30 November, 2010

Small Giants

Great column in this month's Ski magazine by Warren Miller on the virtues of small ski areas. I've long been a fan of the smaller ski areas for a broad range of reasons. They're friendly, tend to focus on skiing over ammenities, and usually less pricey. Sure, the lodging's not Michelin-rated, but that's really not what I'm there for.

In Michigan, I love Caberfae Peaks and have for years. Family-owned and with super-friendly locals it's a great place to ski. Plus, it's situated just far enough from Lake Michigan to get hammered with some tasty lake effect snow. Good terrain with a mix of skill levels. And the people I meet are just great. Never been a fan of the color-coordinated, bitching-about-everything (lift lines, food, etc.) set at places like Boyne. Yes, I do know some great serious skiers who regularly visit Boyne, but I also meet more poser assholes who talk up the place. Not so Caberfae. Everything from the woman on 110mm powder boards skiing trees to the newbie guy in full deer hunting camo. And all friendly as can be. An added bonus? My favorite Winter steelhead fishing waters are within a 30 mile radius. Can't ski? Fish!

Out West, I found the same love of the local place returning. My first couple of years I skied mostly the Park City areas. While I enjoyed them, lift lines are long, lift tickets are expensive, and there seemed to be a lot of people there to "be seen". On the advice of a SLC local, I paid a visit to Solitude. Ahhhhhh, now that's more like it. In addition to some great terrain, NO CROWDS. Since then, I've probably skied a dozen days there -- it's become a must-visit in Utah. A couple of years back, I ventured further afield to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain (at right), up near Ogden. Both are equally exceptional and totally different. Snowbasin benefitted from a complete re-do for the SLC Olympics and is super-posh. The dining makes Deer Valley look like a Denny's. And the skiing is excellent. A former local area all grown up. At the other end of the spectrum is PowMow. What a great local place! Zero ambiance -- I think Caberfae might have more! But, the largest skiable acreage in Utah. And it's quality terrain. I've only skied one day, but I'll be back!

So, support the little guy -- so we can keep them around. Whether it's Wilmot Mountain in southern Wisconsin, or Snowsnake in Harrison, Michigan there's some great skiing and good fun to be had with the locals!

-Sean-

29 November, 2010

Schwing!

A little swinging humor. As a new convert to this really cool style of steelhead fishing, I found this pretty damn funny! Enjoy!

24 November, 2010

Rod Review -- TFO Deer Creek Series Switch

Now that I've got a little time in with this one, I thought a review was in order. Thus far, I've really only swung flies on a Skagit line with it, so I'll add more later when I've had the chance to Indy fish it a bit.

Temple Fork Outfitters new(ish) Deer Creek Series are family of 6 switch rods ranging from a 5/6 weight all the way up to a 10 weight. As befits my steelheading passion, mine's an 11' 8-weight. Especially in a switch rod, 4-piece construction is key to easy transport.

From the start, this rod makes a great impression visually and in the hand. A deep blue blank with copper wraps, and a matching blue anodized reel seat makes for a nice visual. It's a good looking rod! The two tone grip is comfortable in the hands and seems to have very nice cork. And, it all comes in a very nice larger diameter case.

TFO is known primarily for low-priced rods with good value. The Deer Creek seems to take that to a new extreme. I own a couple of TFO Signature rods for more specialized purposes (a short 3-weight for bushwackin' and a stout 10-weight for salmon) but neither of them are all that pretty. Both perform in a workmanlike manner, but are nothing special. But at their low price and with a lifetime guarantee, I have no complaints. But the Deer Creek is something entirely different. It's easily as visually appealing and feels as good in-hand as my Scott's or any Sage I've seen.

With some help from buddy Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters, I was able to figure out a line configuration. Skagit line is a 475 grain Rio Skagit Short, with a 5' Rio Skagit Cheater. This links to 6'-10' lengths of T-14 depending on water conditions. For Indy fishing, a 10 weight Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon line is spooled up. Both are on Ross Momentum V reels.

As pretty as this rod is, it's a rocket ship on the water. Once I refined my casting stroke a bit, I was easily able to shoot powerful, accurate casts almost effortlessly. A very experienced guide (who will remain nameless as he's on a competitor's pro staff) cast it a few times and simply said "Kudos to TFO -- great stick". I got slammed on the swing on the Manistee and landed a nice 8# steelhead. The rod was outstanding fighting this fish. Plenty of backbone to lead things, but soft enough to offer some shock absorption.  

Regular readers will know I'm a Scott rods fanatic. Just exceptional products, all American-made and a Michigan-owned company. When I bought the Deer Creek the Scott A3 switch either wasn't available or I didn't know about it (plus, there wasn't a local dealer at that time). Last night I got to do a side-by-side comparison of the two. I'd been considering if I should sell the TFO and buy a Scott. I decided against that. After comparing, I think the TFO Deer Creek is a prettier rod with a better grip design. This is no knock against the Scott -- I'd buy one in a second, but it's not worth the effort of selling what I have first. The flex pattern did seem a bit different, but not huge.

Complaints? I only have three:
  1. No hook keeper; I wish it had one. Although the Scott didn't either. Not major.
  2. It's a LITTLE bit heavier. Not an issue with swinging two-handed. Maybe it will be for Indy fishing, but if that's the case, then I'll just fish my Scott S3 single hand.
  3. It's made in the East, not the US. Can't have it all.
Looking for an high-performance rod a great price? The TFO Deer Creek switch is worth a look. I think you'll like it.I sure do. Until I can justify big money for an Orvis Helios switch or a Sage TCX, I think it will be a great tool for me. Given the Deer Creek's performance, that may never happen!

-Sean-

22 November, 2010

Quiver

Ran across this shot last night from Winter 2008. Despite today's forecast of 64 and thunderstorms (wait, it IS the week of Thanksgiving, right?) it got me rolling for ski season. But it also got me thinking about my quiver and how it's ideal for the way I want to ski.

When I joined the world of modern skis (my Kastle 207's look pretty cool screwed to the ceiling in my workshop) I picked up a pair of Fischer RX9's. Great boards. Ski magazine's Ski of the Year for two years in a row. But, like most Fischer products of that era they were STIFF and all about fast. After a while I realized that I'm past wanting to do that all the time. Sure it's fun once in a while, but poking around on bumps, in powder, or in the trees on stiff race boards isn't that enjoyable.

Enter my K2 Public Enemies. Before buying, I did a lot of research. Despite being originally designed as a park and pipe ski, the Public Enemy quickly gathered a reputation as a great all-mountain ski that's surprisingly versatile. I picked up a pair at season's end (50% off -- thank you very much) with some sweet Tyrolia bindings and all set. Quickly I found that my Fischer's were almost never skied. So when a friend needed some new boards, they got sold. I've always loved K2's (remember the 712 and the balls-out VO Slalom? I owned both) and these are no exception. They just seem to do a lot of things really well. With the exception of the iciest conditions - where a stiff ski with an aggressive edge offers greatest advantage - I don't miss my Fischer's one bit.

A few powder days in Utah had me longing for some true fat boards. At 85mm underfoot, the K2's certainly no narrow-waisted supermodel. But I wanted some fat boys to enjoy the true float experience. I noticed my local shop has a pair of Line Prophet 100's in 184cm. A little online research reveals the Prophet 100 is the powder board equivalent of my Public Enemies -- a solid powder ski that's very versatile for all mountain skiing. Score! Wrangled a deal on these and some Marker bindings with brakes big enough to clear the width (not the easiest chore before the market explosion of fat boards) and I'm ready to rock. Once again, the versatility is shocking. Awesome in any powder from a few inches to a over a foot, rock-solid in crud, and even decent as things firm up. Their only true nemesis seems to be pure rock-hard ice. The soft tips just start to chatter too much and blow any hope of edge hold.

With these two skis, I can readily ski almost any conditions on almost any slope. Got a foot of fresh? No problem! Two-week old crust? Got it. Bumps? Cool. High-speed groomers? Can do! I've owned lots of skis over the years (LOTS -- did I mention I worked in a ski shop for a while?) but I don't think I've ever had this perfect a pairing.

Now, we just need to get that snow rolling...

-Sean-

19 November, 2010

Wind Blows

Had some real run-ins with the wind while fishing this Fall. Bailed out on the second day of a two-day trip on the Manistee in late October after a HUGE tree blew down into the river not far from the boat. This weekend bailed on last day in the UP when winds got consistently above 30 mph. Talked to my Dad today and he fished very little this week as the wind continued.

I can tolerate so many outdoor conditions, but nothing seems to make outdoor conditions difficult or impossible like high winds. I've fished all day in solid pouring rain. Snow's great, and as long as temps aren't in the negative digits, cold's fine, too. But some solid, sustained high wind sends me scurrying for shelter.

Cycling -- if it's windy, I stay home. Too much work. I don't even try.

In skiing, I can tolerate it, to a point. My most hairy day was skiing Solitude, UT with sustained 40 mph winds and a full-blown thunder AND lightning storm. Weird, but I stayed out there. I did an evening at Caberfae a couple of years back with 30mph sustained and gusts to over 50. Felt like being sandblasted when you skied under the snow guns. Not quite sure why THOSE were running.

Wind is definitely my outdoor Kryptonite. What's yours?

-Sean-

18 November, 2010

Baaaaaah!

Been looking for a warmer insulating layer for hunting and fishing in Winter. Generally, I'm a synthetic guy - polyprylene base layers, fleece, etc. But lately wool has intrigued me. It's warm, even when wet. It doesn't accumulate odors the way man-made materials can, and it's just got a retro-cool about it.

Stumbled on a good deal on a Columbia Gallatin wool jacket (I love shopping for such things during deer season -- always on sale). Not too wool prickly, and seems super-warm. Very well-constructed, especially for the price. Tried it on under my Simms G4 shell and it all seems good.

I'm eager to try it out on some frosty conditions. Sadly, we'll have highs in the low 50's much of this week locally, so that will need to wait. But, its Michigan. Could be 20 next week.

The alternatives in synthetics weren't cheap. Standard 100 and 200 weight fleece is OK for warmth, but 300 Series Polartec is where it's at. Unfortunately,  at $165 a North Face Denali jacket is twice the price. Beyond the Denali, not a lot of true 300 Series options. Plus it doesn't have Yooper Cool like a subtle camo wool garment! This should make those Winter runs on a wide open jet sled MUCH more tolerable.

-Sean-

17 November, 2010

I Am A Steelheader

I don't think things get really interesting until daily highs stay consistently below 45 degrees.

I am a steelheader.

I check every knot three times after I tie it.

I am a steelheader.

I have a closet full of layers for virtually every possible sort of nasty weather.

I am a steelheader.

My overhead cast sucks, but I can roll cast a rig with two flies, weight, and an indicator like a machine.

I am a steelheader.

I own only two 4-6 weight rods; and at least six 8 weights.

I am a steelheader.

I keep a tube of superglue in my bag for cracked fingers.

I am a steelheader.

I relish the curious looks I get from people when I explain that yes, I do wade all winter.

I am a steelheader.

I'm happiest when it's snowing.

I am a steelheader.

-Sean-

16 November, 2010

Just in Case

On my first outing with the new switch rig, I discovered something key. At 11' long, this rod doesn't fit in my Rod Loft in the Element. Hmmm. And, I love to be able to quickly transport a rigged (or semi-rigged) rod so I don't have to spend a ton of time standing riverside tying knots.

A visit to my local fly shop and some time on Google reveal, there aren't a lot of case solutions. Two-piece cases are too long, and most four-piece are too short. Plus, what to do about the butt section? Enter the Sage Switch Rod/Reel Case. Looked pretty good. Naturally, no Sage dealers near me to look at one. Fortunately, I'm connected to the owner of Streamside Anglers through Facebook (nice guy with lots of great stuff in-stock BTW, highly recommended).

This case completely exceeds my expectations. Fits my rod PERFECTLY. And unlike many other rod/reel cases includes dividers to protect each section. Each divider has Velcro connectors to ensure everything stays put. The rod tube overall is a bit larger in diameter to ensure a good fit. And the long reel pouch accomodates the switch rod butt. Best of all, the price is very reasonable.

Now my switch rod is in one easy-to-transport, protective case. I couldn't be happier. I think I'll need to investigate other Sage luggage and cases. Nice stuff!

-Sean-

15 November, 2010

Pin to Win

Did a long weekend chasing Fall steelhead with Dad in the Central UP this past weekend. Though we try to mix it up, the Manistique river is our default setting for chromers. It consistently fishes well, we both know a bunch of good spots, and it's easy to access.

However, we had one challenge -- the dam is WIDE open just now. Water flows were over 1,300 CFS and have been as high as 2,000 in the past week. The current is just blasting through. This meant we needed to do some thought on tactics, and locations. We principally worked one area as it had some good holes and slower flows. I did some swinging, with one strike, but no deals closed.

I hear lots of flack about pinning, but I love mine. There's just some water where it's the only way to fly. Purists will scream, "it's not fly fishing" but most of those people only fish May-Aug with dry flies on tiny little sticks. C'mon out and and fish Winter chrome with me, pansy. Everything below the running line is fly gear. From the indicator down, I run a very similar rig on my pin to what I run attached to a fly line on an indy rig.

In high water and long runs the pin is awesome. Super long drifts, and reliable casting make it idea. A 13' 6" rod means easy repositioning and the ability to stay tight to the indicator no matter the conditions. But that same long rod makes solo landings a little tricky!

Only complaint is that I get cold pinning. I tend to rest my hand on the back side of the reel. Cold stainless steel plate chills your hands pretty fast. May be time for the Hillbilly Heatilator solution with some cork or neoprene!

-Sean-

11 November, 2010

Picture = 1,000 Words

It's time to shop for a new compact digital camera. As regular readers will know, I drowned my trusty Nikon Coolpix S9 after a Winter swim in the Pere Marquette river. It was replaced with a low-cost refurbished Nikon Coolpix S220. While the S9 was a great camera, the S220 is not. It seems to have real trouble with almost any contrasty image. And color balance is mediocre. I've owned a ton of Nikon gear over the years and this is only the second disappointing item (early generation 43-86mm Nikkor zoom was an absolute train wreck of a lens), so that's not bad.

A year or so back I looked into water/shock/coldproof compacts. I pretty quickly found out that while they were durable, image quality was very poor. Plus, they were pricey. But the appeal of such a beast is powerful. Right now, I keep S220 in a small compact case. Fumbling with that has become a pain, and results in me taking fewer pictures as it's not very convenient.

But it would appear that advances in technology benefit me here. I've now got three viable candidates in consideration.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2D
I'm all about good optics for great images. And the only thing better then my beloved Nikkor lenses is Leica glass. Guess what's in the Lumix? Yup, a 28-135mm Leica. Sweet. Evidently the earlier TS1 had some issue with sealing that have been addressed in the TS2. At present, this seems like my leading candidate.

Canon Powershot D10
Canon's first entry into waterproof has gotten solid reviews. Most say it's got great image quality, a good user interface and many other admirable qualities. But I have two issues. First, it's bulky. And big cameras get left at home. But second, it's a Canon. This is a Coke-Pepsi thing. As a lifelong Nikon loyalist, I just don't think I can do it. Oh, and it's the most expensive of the bunch. There, yeah, now I don't have to buy one...

Pentax Optio W90
My favorite camera brands (Nikon, Olympus, Leica) are notably absent from the waterproof scene. But Pentax has always been a brand I thought highly of. And this one is totally cool looking. Has that "you could park a truck on this thing" look. Price is good, too. But the image quality, as reported in many reviews, seems sub-par.

So I think it's finally time to take the plunge (pun intended) on a waterproof compact camera. Not that I won't miss fumbling with a fly rod, camera, and case while trying to take a picture of a buddy with a fish. Or just leaving the camera in my pocket all day on a bluebird ski slope.

-Sean-

10 November, 2010

Rock(er) On

Looks like the "next big thing" in skis is rocker. Reading a lot of articles touting it as the latest innovation, on par with shaped skis. As a marketer, I am immediately suspicious. Shane McConkey developed the Volant Spatula in 2004, and the K2 Pontoon shortly after that. If rocker's such a revelation, why has it taken 6 years to hit the market? The answer seems simple -- the ski industry had nothing else new to sell us. Unless you're a park rat, twin tips are unneccessary and passe. The adoption of shorter shaped skis has largely been completed. I seldom see the long skinny sticks anymore. So the marketing machine needed to find something we could lust after.

What's fascinating is that I somehow missed this whole movement. Normally, I'm a gearhead in almost any pursuit. I think that at the root of it all, I'm really happy with my ski gear. My Nordica Speedmachine 10 boots have a full custom footbed and a completely worked-over fit. They're the most comfortable, responsive boots I've ever owned. My K2 Public Enemy skis are the perfect all-around Michigan boards, and solid for Western groomers. When the fluff falls, my Line Prophet 100 skis are the stuff for powder. I love my ski gear -- I bought exactly what I wanted at the time and have remained happy.

Now, I just need that snow to get started! Nice to see Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah getting 15" this week. It will be here soon enough!

-Sean-

09 November, 2010

Drift

In skiing, it's all about the line. How do you find that perfect groove within a gigantic hill. In fly fishing, it's all about the drift. Early on, I focused on staying away from trouble -- snags, rocks, etc. Now that my skill set has matured, and I've learned more about the ways of fish, I actually chase the trouble. That 10 pound steelhead isn't likely sitting out in the middle of the river, away from sticks and logs.

Now that I fish several styles -- indicator, swinging, and bottom bouncing -- I have the tools to be able to think about the drift. How do I put that fly where it's most likely to incite action? And drift is (for me) a 3D proposition. I consider both the horizontal plane, as well as the vertical plane. Am I getting deep enough? Or, am I just slamming into bottom obstructions and snags? I think setting up a rig for swinging got me really thinking more about this in a whole new way. As I'm assembling sink tips with various lengths of T-14 and weighted and unweighted flies I'm considering the flow, depth, and configuration of the rivers I tend to fish.

At the same time, there's great adaptation for conditions. I don't fish chuck n' duck much anymore, but sometimes it's the only tool that works. For example, last Spring on a UP trip the water in the Manistique was REALLY low in the most productive runs. One attempted drift made it evident that indy fishing wasn't going to fly. So I grabbed the trusty chuck n' duck stick and had a fish on the second drift through!

Adding this knowledge and awareness to my skill set has been really cool. It's improved my confidence, and upped my success and enjoyment. But, as always, I want to grow. After fishing with some really talented guides and watching them I've come to realize that I could benefit from better skills reading water. I'm fascinated when we roll up to a spot and the guide says, "Lousy swinging water, but great for bottom bouncing". How did he know that? I suppose it's years of pounding that spot. But sometimes I feel like its more of an intuition formed by looking at the dynamics. Now, I just need to figure out better what those dynamics are.

-Sean-

08 November, 2010

Dress for Success

Cold weather's here, with more on the way soon. So it seems like a good time to talk about some of my favorite gear for staying warm and dry. If you wnat to play outside, it takes some extra planning - and gear.

Simms G4 GoreTex Jacket
Getting wet is the fastest way to get cold and unhappy. This jacket is my go-to for fishing. It keeps you bone-dry in the most pouring rains, cuts the wind, and provides that critical outer face against the weather. It's also got about 847 pockets so there's a place to keep most everything. In fact, for Winter steelheading, I generally switch my gear over and just use it as a walking tacklebox.  One key favorite is the hood -- seems cut perfectly and easy to raise or lower. A small detail, but one that matters on the water. Expensive. And worth EVERY penny.

Black Diamond Mercury Mitt
Michigan delivers some brutal ski days. My coldest day out last year started with temps at 3 degrees. I don't think it cracked the single digits at all that day. Fortunately last year was the season I gave in to mittens. I normally ski in gloves for the dexterity, but on those days with frosty temps and high winds, the mitten is the perfect solution. I hunted for these for a while and there are a suprising range of mitten configurations and materials. Like all of Black Diamond's products, these were clearly designed by a skier.

Browning Hells Canyon Jacket
I bought this one on a whim. I was rolling North to do some fishing last Fall and felt like I wouldn't have the right layers to be warm on the chilly mornings before sunrise. It's proven to be my most versatile all-around jacket. It's impervious to wind, neoprene wrist cuffs enable you to snug it down tight, and it's got pockets in all the right places. It's even fairly water-resistant. The best surprise is the warmth. Most other windproof fleece gives up some warmth. Not this one. Toasty! Also, surprisingly affordable.

UnderArmour ColdGear Turtleneck
This is an older model that I'm not sure even exists in their line-up now. Probably replaced by something with far more tech features, but I love it. This item is the base layer of choice for staying warm. Great wicking properties ensure that even if things heat up you stay dry. In my experience, an effective base layer it critical to staying comfortable.

Simm RiverTek Bottom
Not just for cold weather, I basically use these under waders year-round. Stirrups are a great feature that keeps them put with wading boots. Mid-weight makes them ideal for a wide range of conditions. I fish in these until the hottest part of the summer. I should probably get a second pair to rotate in, but mine show virtually no wear.

Mountain Hardwear Sub-Zero Down Jacket
It's not many things (stylish, waterproof, cheap...) but it is one and that's WARM. Really, really warm. When the real January polar temps roll in, I reach for this one. From the instant you put it on, you're warm. Plus, it's so light and fluffy, it feels like not wearing a jacket. Most puffy's aren't very durable, but heavier Cordura on the shoulders seem to make this one a bit more rugged than most.

-Sean-

04 November, 2010

Keep Your Powder Dry (and warm)

I have boots that are very warm. I have boots that are very dry. What I lacked were boots that were both. My duck hunting excursion finally convinced me I needed to change that. Everything was comfy, dry, and toasty -- except my feet which were dry but COLD. And cold feet suck. I've found that's the most critical element to being comfortable in the outdoors. Once your feet get cold, you're miserable.

Fortunately, the onset of deer hunting season is the perfect time to pick such things up. It seems every major retailer has something on sale. I've found Dunhams to be a solid source for many pieces of outdoor gear. So last night I scored a pair of Columbia Scrape insulated rubber boots for $50 off. I looked at more expensive Muck, LaCrosse, and Irish Setter boots, but as is often the case with the Columbia Performance Hunting Gear line, the extra cost didn't seem to be warranted. The boots have a nicely lugged sole, a supportive arch/instep, and seem well-constructed. For my purposes, I think they'll be more than adequate.

I haven't even worn them, and these seem like one of the best ideas in a long time. Should be perfect for boat-based Winter steelhead fishing, duck hunting, even just to pull on and snowblow the drive!

-Sean-

03 November, 2010

Quack

Had another first-time experience yesterday -- duck hunting. Hunting buddy Dan was kind enough to invite me to join him on Walpole Island, Ontario. For those unfamiliar, this is a legendary location. The St. Anne's Marsh club (currently closed) is the oldest hunting club in North America. Unfortunately right now it's locked in a First Nation tribal dispute so we couldn't hunt it.

Once we crossed the river from Algonac, cleared Canadian customs (surprisingly smooth, considering firearms were involved), and navigated securing hunting licenses, we were ready for some ducks.

Guide Jesse Sands navigated the maze of canals through the marsh to put us on a great pond. The three of us mostly sat and chatted in the blind until dusk, as we saw few ducks within shooting range. Then it all changed.

Important life lesson: Ducks are FAST.

Not fast like a pheasant coming up on flight path. Fast like an F-16 on a strafing mission. These things are hauling ass. For the ones we could see on approach, no problem. But with many, by the time you perceived them, "splash" they're safely in the water.

The coolest part is the sound of a duck screaming down toward the water. There's a "whoosh" that's clearly the sound of a foil (wing) moving VERY rapidly through the air. Unfortunately, by the time you hear it, you probably missed your shot.

Try as I might, when we got a group coming in, I had a very hard time resisting the urge to shoot at the mass. Most experts tell you to pick a bird and target that bird. Hard to do with a dozen ducks rolling in at 50 mph.

A really cool experience. I'll be back. This time with warmer waterproof boots.

-Sean-

01 November, 2010

Swing for the Fences

New switch rig was just awesome on the Manistee last week. It's a Temple Fork Deer Creek Series switch rod in 11' 8-weight. Reel is a Ross Momentum V. Line is 475 grain Rio Skagit Short with a 5' cheater. For indicators, I'll switch to a Ross Momentum LT V with Rio Atlantic Salmon/Steelhead in 10 weight. But that's a story for another day.

Once I got some pointers from guide Russ, I was covering serious water with ease. I was belting out accurate casts over 75'. It was interesting to note the different stroke from a single-hand roll cast. With the switch rod, I needed to stop far higher on the forward cast. Once I made that change, it made a huge difference.

As the day progressed, I learned more about the effects of the bottom hand. A lot of the power comes from using the bottom hand properly, with the top hand as a pivot, on the forward cast. Once I added this to my stroke it became even easier to add distance.

Also, I learned that this line is designed for shooting, so a bit of the head needs to be back inside the guides. If you don't do this -- it's Thrash Fest. Later I found some online references that there's actually a marked sweet spot on my Rio Skagit Short line that needs to be near the upper hand for best casting. I'm eager to try that out.

Switch casting with a Skagit rig was everything I wanted it to be -- fun, low-effort, and accurate. Kudos to guide/gear guru Mike Schultz for helping me figure out the right line, cheater, and showing me how to make up my own sink tips. I could never have navigated the complexities of Skagit without his help. Now this rig's a rocket! Time to continue to improve my casts and catch some steelhead!

-Sean-

29 October, 2010

Affirmation

Had a really cool experience this week fishing the Manistee with a group. Lead guide and friend Jon Ray wanted me to get a steelhead on a swung streamer, so he got me hooked up with guide Russ Maddin. Our group was spread out in search of chrome, but Russ was planning to float the stretch above High Bridge. He was game to help me learn the swing game. A perfect combo.

I spent the first hour thrashing with my switch rig. Lots of effort for little result. Frustrating, to say the least. Russ asks to throw it around a little. After two casts, he turns to me and says, "this thing's a rocket". Just watching those few casts enables me to correct my form (I wasn't stopping high enough on the forward cast, plus my line's a shooting head with a sweet spot you need to strip to). After that BAM -- I'm belting out long, accurate casts effortlessly. This facet of Skagit is one of the prime attractors; easily covering lots of water.

After another hour or so, I get completely blown up just as I'm starting to strip in at the bottom of a swing. This strike was like nothing I've ever experienced. When swinging, you're looking for the "player" fish -- aggressive fish who're looking for a tasty meal. Normally detecting strikes is one of the challenges of steelhead fishing on the fly. Not so with a swung fly. The water just exploded. A really cool experience.

I'm not sure who was more excited -- Russ or me. And then Jon was equally happy I'd succeeded. I have a ton of respect for Jon and he's taught me a lot about steelheading. It sort of felt like graduation day from Newbie to Angler. Having these guys whom I totally admire for their skill, know-how, and ability to make the complexities of steelheading look easy view me as solid was really rewarding.

Another cool thing was as I was fighting the fish. This group trip usually has a lot of folks who are new to steelhead. And it's a different fishing style than other species. The fight is a lot more challenging and rich with opportunities to hook but lose fish. There's typically a lot of coaching. Russ didn't say a word while I fought mine -- he was just ready with the net at the right time. That felt cool; he knew I had everything under control.

If you're looking to have the steelhead experience in NW lower Michigan, I can't say enough good things about the guys at Hawkins Outfitters. Chuck runs a class outfit and Jon, Russ, Tommy, and Ed are all top-notch guys. There's a reason they were the Orvis Guide Service of the year.  I've had the pleasure of instruction from all of them, and fished with most. And I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to earn a measure of their respect.

-Sean-

22 October, 2010

Bring It!

Record low last night at 26 degrees. Consistently lower temps. Windy for the past few days. And on-and-off rain starting on Saturday for the next week. All the telltale signs...

It's CHROME TIME!

Got a couple little guys on my salmon trip, and been hearing reports of steelhead in small numbers. But everyone says the real push hasn't gotten rolling yet. But that's all about to change.

And, just in time. Next week I'm on a two-day business fishing (hey, I don't golf...) trip with some clients and folks from the publishing industry. We've got some of the NW Michigan region's best guides in the team at Hawkins. I talked to the organizer yesterday and it sounds like we'll be on the Manistee river. I enjoy the Manistee and trips like this make it better. A prolific river with lots of fish. But not readily wadeable due to its size and lack of good public access.

One of the challenges of such trips is narrowing gear. I think I've settled on the TFO Deer Creek switch rod with both indy and skagit lines, and Orvis Clearwater with chuck-and-duck rig. Being left-handed and fishing in a group, it's just easiest to have my own gear so guides don't get surprised.

Up after that will be a trip to the Upper Peninsula with Dad and perhaps others in early November. No evidence of steelhead yet when Dad was up last week, but this change of weather should change that. Can't wait - the tug is the drug!

-Sean-

20 October, 2010

Tweener

Looks like we're firmly in the "between" season. Not that I'm not enjoying the beautiful Fall weather in Michigan, but I'm definitely at the crossroads of my activities.
  • It's too soon for snow for skiing. Even I have to admit that.
  • Nice weather and sunshine mean the steelhead haven't shown up in the rivers in significant numbers. A little wind and rain would do wonders for this, along with some consistently colder temps.
  • It's just a LITTLE too chilly to ride my road bike.
  • As I've not really learned the way of the Fall trout, that season's mostly done for me.
But, in the meantime it's a great season to enjoy some college football, finish up some household maintenance so I don't have to do it later in the year when all this good stuff gets rolling, and tie up flies! I knocked out one crazy looking streamer last night, but it was better than my first attempt by far.

Looks like the rain starts in this weekend. As I have an annual NW Michigan steelhead trip planned for next week, a good thing!

-Sean-

19 October, 2010

Success

Talked to my Dad in the UP last night after a solid day on the Manistique river. Before this trip up I gave him a bunch of flies I tied up -- eggs, pheasant tail nymphs, and green caddis nymphs. On the phone last night his first words were, "What were those green things? And, can I get more?" He'd managed to hook into7-8 salmon, and land two, all on my green or olive caddis nymphs.

I have to say, this is pretty rewarding! Validates that even though my flies aren't always the prettiest (though I'm getting better) that they do catch fish!

My steelhead egg and nymph box is now nicely filled for the season, so I've had some time to explore other things. Last week I tied up some steelhead pheasant tails without beadheads on #12 scud/egg fly hooks. But my latest experiment is tying streamers. I picked up a couple of Kevin Feenstra patterns at a shop over the weekend. Inspired by the guru of big, crazy patterns for swinging to steelhead, I tried one of my own. For a first attempt, not bad. But I suspect it blows up after a big, pissed-off steelhead smacks it once. I've ordered some more materials and will commence to tie up a batch for Fall antics!

-Sean-

15 October, 2010

Gun Control

There's a great bumper sticker that reads, "Gun Control Means Using Both Hands". If I didn't live in the most PC town in North America, I'd likely have one.

Got out with a friend last night to shoot a round of sporting clays, followed by a little time on the rifle range. A beautiful Michigan evening with unseasonably warm temps. We both shot well. In brief, the perfect mid-week refresher. Afterward we were talking and both agreed that it seems like the biggest anti-gun advocates have never shot one.

This was supported a couple of weeks back when a local radio talk show host was sharing his first experience at a charity clays shoot. He was shocked by how much he enjoyed it. One of his co-hosts mentioned that she'd recently had the opportunity to visit a range to shoot handguns and she too was shocked by how much she liked it.

A gun is an inanimate object. On its own, it isn't inherently evil. But people can use it to do harm. They can also use a knife, a tire iron, or a toaster. Last I checked there was not a big push to ban toasters. As an aside, the idea of a Concealed Toaster Permit is pretty funny ... to me anyway...

So, if you're one of those folks pressing to take away my Second Ammendment rights, maybe you ought to try it before you knock it. You might just find out it that if done with care, responsibility, and a priority on safety, shooting can be a lot of fun.

-Sean-

12 October, 2010

Yum

One of the reasons I hunt is that I enjoy cooking with wild game. I'm not interested in hunting for anything I wouldn't plan to eat. Thus far, that hasn't taken me into deer hunting, but all in good time since I love venison. But I've got some great dishes with pheasants, rabbits, and other small game. Funny, for the most part, I'm a catch-and-release fisherman.

Latest success is a pheasant and wild rice soup. This one's a perfect combo, as it uses the carcasses of two smoked pheasants (thanks to hunting buddy Andy for this idea). Simple and rustic, as most of my better dishes are. Nice smoky flavor, too. Apologies if this recipe isn't super-tight; that's sorta' how I roll in the kitchen. Ingredients are:

Two smoked pheasant carcasses (don't pick them too clean -- leave some meat)
Two whole pheasants
Water
1 cup sliced carrots
2 stalks celery diced
1 leek, trimmed and washed
1-1/2 cups wild rice
2 bay leaves
Seasonings of choice (I like sage and thyme)

Process goes something like this:
  1. Put smoked pheasant carcasses in stock pot and cover with water. If you believe in added value of some vegetables for stock, go for it  (ingredients above are for later)
  2. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook uncovered for an hour or two until all meat falls from the bone.
  3. Strain stock using colander into crock pot. Reserve bones to cool. Then pick meat into crock pot.
  4. Remove meat from fresh pheasants and cut into small pieces. Put them in a plastic bag with some seasoned flour and shake.
  5. Brown pheasant in pan with olive oil until all sides are golden brown. Transfer to crock pot. Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup white wine to get all the tasty browned bits and add to the crock pot.
  6. In same pan, with olive oil, cook vegetables until they begin to soften. Add to crock pot.
  7. Add spices, per your preference and set crock pot to high.
  8. After 2-3 hours, add wild rice.
  9. Cook 2-3 more hours (or until you get hungry!) and serve.
Freezes well, makes great leftovers for lunches. Bon appetit!

-Sean-

11 October, 2010

Another Grand Brand

As I set-up my switch rod for steelhead season, I'm reminded of another great brand -- Rio fly lines. In some cases, I respect brands for their presentation, in others for their products, although the best blend both. In some cases, the products are far better than the brands (Temple Fork Outfitters), while in others the brand is better than the product (sorry Orvis...). Leaders like Rio and Simms nail it on both accounts.

I own a number of Rio lines for a variety of purposes. All are excellent products. The Rio Gold line on my 6-weight is just pure poetry. Easy to cast well, and just has a great feel. Same goes for the Selective Trout (now discontinued) on my 4-weight. I'm eager to get in some time on the Atlantic Salmon/Steelhead for nymphing and the Skagit Short on my switch.

Also, I respect Rio's breadth. They literally seem to have a line or product for virtually every application and sub-application. I've definitely seen this as I assemble a swinging rig. Innovative products like their MOW tips help make fishing a better experience for a wide range of anglers. Prefer to roll your own? T-11 and T-14 are available in 30' or 500' bulk rolls. Their braided loops are a perfect solution to easy rigging.

And, I love their brand. Their logo's well-suited and disctinctive, and print ads are recognizable, targeted, and effective. They even use social media, especially Facebook, very well (unlike many other outdoor marketers who seem to feel the need to be there, but don't quite know what to say).

Need a new fly line? Check Rio first. You won't be sorry.

-Sean-

08 October, 2010

(Two) Hands On

Videos like this have me completely geeked about my new Switch rig for steelhead. What a beautiful casting style and cool way to cover water...

05 October, 2010

My Review of Merrell Phaser Peak Hiking Boots - Men's

Originally submitted at REI

These Phasers will stun you with amazing comfort, rugged durability and solid support—built for long day hikes or weekend backpacking escapes.


Best Hiking Boot Yet

By Seanahee from Ann Arbor, MI USA on 10/5/2010

 

5out of 5

Sizing: Feels true to size

Width: True to size

Pros: Ankle Support, Great Traction, Good Arch Support, Sturdy/Durable, Comfortable

Best Uses: Day Hiking, Everyday, Wet Conditions

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

Arch Type: High Arch

Was this a gift?: No

I've always been a big fan of the Merrell brand, so when I wanted an all-around light hiker that's where I started.

Where do I start? Great fit, great cushion, exceptional support. I've struggled finding hiking boots I liked in recent years. Everything was either too heavy and ski-boot-stiff or too light. These are a perfect balance. I can wear them all day and feet feel great no matter what terrain.

Haven't had the opportunity to really test wet weather performance, but early indications are good.

Initially I had some concerns about the wrapover rubber toe bumper. Seemed to pinch into top of my big toe. But after a little break-in this problem was completely cleared up.

Glad I finally found the perfect boots!

(legalese)

04 October, 2010

Covering Water

OK, steelhead, time to start making your way into Michigan's rivers in real numbers. I'm ready for you.

With some additions to my quiver, I can now fish a wide range of styles, including:
  • Single-handed indicator
  • Two-handed indicator
  • Two-handed swing
  • Bottom bouncing (chuck-n-duck)
  • Centerpin indicator drift
Between all of these, I should now be able to capably fish most any water I encounter. Or, whatever mood I may be in. I probably fish indicator 75% of the time, as its well-suited to the waters I encounter most often. But I'm looking forward to the SLAM takes of a big fly hit on the swing. When you've got the room and want to search a bunch of water, the centerpin is a way-cool style of fishing. And its pretty fun to land fish, too -- without any drag from the reel!

So, why all this stuff? First, it's fun to learn. Figuring out casts, drifts, and rigging presents continual challenges. Second, I can quickly change my style to the conditions. No more, "I wish I had a ______________ rig" moments. Low shallow water -- bottom bounce. Deep long runs -- indicators. Warm water temps -- swing. All good choices! Can't wait.C'mon chromers!

-Sean-

01 October, 2010

Bucket List

Latest issue of Outside magazine has a nice article on things you must do (was happy to see "Catch a steelhead on a spey rod" and "Ski epic powder of fat skis" -- check, and check!) in the latest issue. This set me to thinking on my outdoor Bucket List. So here are a few. Some are short-term and could happen in the next year or two, others may take a little while:

  • Heli-ski in Alaska or British Columbia
  • Catch a 30" trout
  • Pheasant hunt in South Dakota
  • Learn to row a drift boat well
  • Ski Mt. Baker, Washington and Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Master the Skagit cast
  • Ride a half-century
  • Shoot a double while pheasant hunting
  • Catch Atlantic Salmon in the St. Mary's
  • Explore the steelhead rivers of SW Ontario
Doable? Actually, I think every goal on this list is very possible; and attaining them will certainly keep me challenged! Of course, by tomorrow I'll have ten more!

-Sean-

29 September, 2010

Complex Equation

I now have all the pieces and parts to put together my switch rod setup for swinging flies to steelhead. Little did I know that there's a good bit more complexity to all this. But the more I read about this technique the more eager I am to give it a go - the idea of a slammin' take from a powerful fish like a steelhead completely charges me up.

For those not familiar with Skagit rigs, it goes something like this. In addition to a line that looks something like some sort of cartoonish licorice rope (seriously -- my 475 grain Rio Skagit Short is about 2-3x the diameter of a regular 8-weight fly line), you will likely use a cheater section that's a 2-1/2 to 7 foot piece of additional line. The cheater is used (I think) to adjust the actual amount of weight-forward line so your rod loads properly to execute a spey cast.

Then, in most cases you attach a length of sinking line (mine's T-14) to get the fly down to the fish. The length (I currently have 8' and 10') are determined by flow rate, depth, and time of year. This is the part I don't yet understand, but I'm guessing I'll figure it out on the water.

Onto this sink tip, goes a short, stout leader that can withstand the powerful takes that tend to happen with this style of fishing.

Of course, since I don't want to spend a fortune, there's some assembly required. You can buy sink tips with welded loops and leaders already nail-knotted on. But where's the fun in that? So in the coming days, I'll be affixing loops to T-14, then tying leaders onto the other end.

A lot of work, but based on the little taste I've had, it looks like a very cool way to fish. And, for Winter, I've got an indy set-up all ready to roll with 10-weight Rio Atlantic Salmon/Steelhead line on a Ross Momentum 5. So this 11' Temple Fork Outfitters Deer Creek Series could become my default year-rounder!

-Sean-

28 September, 2010

Groove On

Looks like tying is another of those things where you need to find your groove. Had some time to kill this morning and wanted to tie some alternative pheasant tail nymphs (on scud hooks I use for steelhead egg flies). Funny, but I couldn't tie a decent one to save my life!

On the upside, filled my box with eggs and caddis nymphs over the weekend. Felt nice to load up on stuff I tied! And, I've got enough left over to fill my Dad's request for some flies before his trip to the U.P. later this month. I have about 2-3 dozen eggs for him and a dozen or so caddis in various colors.

Been reviewing some steelhead books lately, getting ideas for flies to fill my boxes for Winter. I think next fly to learn are hare's ear nymphs. They sound productive and will be good to have in my box. Also found a reference to a Great Lakes stonefly that looks a lot like a caddis pattern I already know. Stones are a go-to for me, so I think I'll hop on tying up a dozen or so.

-Sean-

24 September, 2010

Fish On!

Did my one annual trip for salmon yesterday on the Pere Marquette river with friends. I've written plenty about my feelings on salmon. Not my bag, but fun for a day.

Turned out to be a nice, warm day. Breezy, but very pleasant. Given the NASTY forecast of 80 degrees and a high chance of violent thunderstorms, it was stunning. Last year's trip was on a day of high 40's and continuous drizzle.

My companions on this trip love salmon fishing. And they put up BIG numbers. Between three of us in the boat, we'd landed 10 by 9:30am! Lots of fish, many pretty fresh.

But my reward was something different entirely. I noticed some trout below a pod of salmon feasting on the egg buffet. On one long drift, BAM -- hit one. Turned out to be a great 20" male in full pre-spawn Fall color. This was a gorgeous fish with rich brown and gold tones, and some red accents. Probably the prettiest fish I've ever caught. And, for 2010 my largest brown thus far! After a quick revive, he happily sped back to take his place below the egg conveyor.

I can't explain how much this fish made my day. I was grinning from ear-to-ear after that one! Such a pleasant and beautiful surprise. Another bonus was a little steelhead skipper. Small, but more imporantly my first chromer of the year!

A great day. On the drive home I was thinking -- "Gosh, I needed that!"

-Sean-

21 September, 2010

So Much Water, So Little Time

Just finished re-reading Bob Linsenman's excellent book "Best Streams for Great Lakes Steelhead". Probably not a beginner's book (I think most of it was lost on me when I read it the first time), but this time I got so much from it.

One big thing was a whole wealth of new locations. I was especially captivated by the rivers of Southern Ontario, as well as the Steelhead Alley rivers of Ohio/Pennsylvania. The Ontario rivers seem especially alluring. Most seem big and perfect for swinging flies or drifting nymphs on fly gear or centerpin. Plus, it's Canada and they're just cooler.

Of course how to fit this into life is a bit more challenging. Road trips take time - a precious commodity these days. I suppose I'll just put them on my bucket list.I'm pretty good about getting to this sort of thing, but you can never tell when the opportunity will arise. Meanwhile, I've already got two Fall steelhead trips brewing, plus at least one Winter trip solidified. Was talking to a guide friend today who thought the upcoming season looked to be as good as last Fall/Winter -- woo hoo!!!

-Sean-

20 September, 2010

The Greatest Snow on Earth

Received the 2010-2011 promot catalog from the folk at Ski Utah over the weekend. Seems everyone has their favorite Out West destination for skiing -- mine's Utah. In addition the already-explained "greatest snow on earth", the resorts surrounding Salt Lake City have so much more going for them.Over the years, I've skied most of the major areas, with the exception of Snowbird and Sundance. I'm sure I'll get to those eventually.

I will offer one caveat to all this. I'm not a big fan of the areas around Park City. While I started out there, I quickly found Utah has so much more to offer. PC has plenty to do, but it's pricey, crowded and gets less snow (typically). But, remember, I'm not that big on resort ammenities. I'm there to ski and see. Plus, I'm cheap...

On a couple of trips, I've stayed in Salt Lake City, and used the Ski Utah web site to figure out who got snow and head there. Salt Lake has cheaper accomodations, lots of great restaurants, and is a under an hour from a dozen ski areas.

My favorite? It's a tough call that's very dependent on conditions, but all-around I think I enjoy Solitude most. A local turned me on to it a few years back and I've tried to return on every trip. No crowds, varied terrain, and the stunning scenery of Big Cottonwood Canyon. The drive up is beautiful. It's also the site of my wildest day skiing -- an all-day powder dump with a full-blown thunder and lightning show! Weird, but it was a great day on the slopes.

If you're up to get more off the beaten path, Powder Mountain is some off-the-hook skiing -- especially after a dump. I've only been here once, but  I enjoyed almost two feet of fresh for my journey! Lift tickets are downright cheap, and the locals are super-friendly. You won't find the luxe cafeteria and marble bathrooms of Deer Valley, what you will find is some truly excellent skiing. Afterward, Rooster's Brewery in Ogden has some tasty brews and even better food.

Finally, there's Snowbasin. Again off the beaten path (both Snowbasin and PowMow are outside Ogden), Snowbasin was completely redone to host the SLC Winter Olympics. The terrain is exceptional and diverse. The snow's good, and the drive up from the valley floor is totally cool. As a bonus -- the food at the Needles Lodge is full-on gourmet and still very reasonably priced. One caveat, however, Snowbasin tends to get socked in with fog/inversions easily. It's happened to me twice and to friends I sent there last year. When that happens your visibility extends roughly to your ski tips. A bit spooky. But it burns off after a couple of hours.

As you can guess, already thinking about a trip this Winter...

-Sean-

17 September, 2010

Fall Trout

I started my fly fishing journey with Steelhead -- which I imagine will always be my passion. Later I discovered trout and found that rather fun, too. Although, I've always thought of that as a summer thing. A pleasant June evening on the PM or AuSable tossing BWO's on a 4-weight at dusk before retiring to a campfire to cook dinner.Or perhaps mid-morning drifting nymphs. In shear numbers, this is how I've caught most of my trout. Although, I must admit my two biggest fish were actually surprises in Winter while steelheading.

At any rate, I've typically felt like trout fishing was "over" once the terrestrials were done and the salmon showed up. That's the time I tear down the 4-6 weight rods and starting digging around for the 8 weight sticks. But this weekend I think I'll mix that up and hit the Pere on Sunday (have a wedding in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday) for some late-season trout. I've packed my 6 weight for nymphs and an 8 weight with a 300 grain sink tip for streamers. Time to expand my repertoire. Current reports have the salmon run primarily focused on the lower river, so this should keep the crowds down.

Either way, some quality time standing in my favorite river will be most enjoyable!

-Sean-

16 September, 2010

Chillax

I think fly tying may just be one of the most totally relaxing things around when you can't be outside. Got a half hour to kill? Sit down and bang out a few flies. In the mood to learn something new? Fire up YouTube, find a new pattern, and then give it a try.

Currently, I'm making great progress on filling the egg box for steelhead season. Have some basics (cheese, pale pink, cream, steelhead orange, and late roe) tied in reasonable quantities. Now moving on to some nuke eggs which have always served me well.  Coupled with a bunch of green and olive caddis I've tied lately, this should put me in good stead for the coming Fall/Winter season.

On Sunday I'll hit the PM for some early Fall trout chasing, which should enable me to try out some of the beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymphs I've been tying up. It's been nice to re-fill my boxes and not get hit for $25 at the fly shop!

But back to the relaxing aspect. I find that I do need to pay attention to what I'm doing to achieve good results. Much like shooting, this means you can't be thinking about other things (Did I turn off the stove? What about that headline I need to re-write to make that ad work? Will mortgage rates go any lower? Should I shift some of my retirement dollars into a Roth IRA?). But it's not TOO mentally demanding. Plus, it's a great creative outlet.

I think it helps that I have a great spot to tie - my home office. Nice desk, comfortable chair, good lighting. All my tying supplies are nicely organized so I can find them quickly. Very chillaxing!

-Sean-

14 September, 2010

Foundation of Bad Habits

Found some time to slip out to the Sharonville DNR shooting range on Saturday. Haven't done much of this sort of shooting this year -- not very pleasant when it's 90 degrees and dripping humidity.

After about a half-hour a Dad and two teen-aged kids show up. Everyone seemed to be in a frenzy, first to set targets, then re-set to get on the bench they son had set-up on. It was evident that Dad had squeezed this little field trip into a busy day. He was trying to get the kids an opportunity to shoot shotgun slugs at deer profile targets. But at every turn he was yelling at either the son or daughter and continually pressing them to hurry up. It became pretty annoying pretty quickly, and more importantly illustrated a key point. What's the rush? Safe shooting and hunting DO NOT happen at a compressed pace. You need to be aware of your surroundings and in tune with what you're doing. Having your ranting father in your ear all the while certainly does little to foster learning.

The son seemed completely rattled by all this. Every time Dad started yelling, his fumbling only increased. The daughter, however seemed much more able to focus and complete tasks. But none of them looked to be having any fun. Which causes me to ask -- why bother? If you're just going to turn it into a task for the kids, suddenly it's like taking out the trash. In this era where kids exposure to the outdoors is so reduced and the major industry groups are bemoaning declining participation in hunting and fishing this type of interaction will only turn the next generation off.

Just my observations. I wish I could say I'd never seen this sort of thing before, but sadly I have.

-Sean-

13 September, 2010

Fat's Where It's At

Been reading a ton of positive reviews on Line Prophet 100's just lately. Naturally, this has me itching for ski season! Most reviews have commended their versatility. I must say that I found them amazing on Utah powder, as well as Michigan groomers. Really the only place I've found them lacking was on rock-hard weeks old Michigan hardpack (out West they call it ice..). Tip softness just causes too much chatter.

The biggest surprise in reading reviews is how fat is the new normal in ski designs. I've had my Prophets for two seasons. At first they were totally unusual and sparked lots of conversation on lift rides with strangers. In fact, my K2 Public Enemies, a season older than the Prophets, did as well. The Public Enemies are 85mm underfoot and the Prophets 100mm. When I bought the Enemies, the replaced some Fischer RX9s that were maybe 65mm underfoot. Now it seems that many all-mountain skis are as 80-90mm.

I will say that the Prophets just look COOL. Beefy and solid. And the float the deliver, even in a small amount of powder is truly amazing. They make skiing the deep easy. That said, my deepest powder day was over 20" of fresh at Powder Mountain, Utah -- and it was on the Public Enemies! I wish I'd had the Prophets then!

-Sean-