31 March, 2010

Tied Up

Took my first beginner fly tieing class last night at Colton Bay Outfitters. What a fun, and productive activity! Instructor Chris Hatcher taught us to tie a Woolly Bugger and Green Caddis Nymph last night. I was surprised how quickly I was able to pick up the basics!

Of course now I'm looking for a vise and tools as I have NOTHING to practice with before next week and I'm eager to tie a few up. Figure I'll spend a few bucks, and eventually save a lot on buying flies.

There's definitely a ton of finesse I need to learn, especially as we progress to more advanced flies. Even cut a deal with Chris to teach me to tie eggs. I figure I lose enough of them in steelhead season, best to learn how!

This looks like a great thing to do during downtime - between seasons or when conditions keep me inside! Eager to continue this adventure!


30 March, 2010

All 'Rounder

Sunday illustrated a current frustration - I need to land on an all-around shotgun that's suitable for clays and general-purpose hunting. It will probably take a few $$$ but then I can quit monkeying around with "almost works" solutions.

I mentioned my Stoeger Uplander yesterday. Great field gun for birds. But that's about it. Dual triggers mean a larger trigger guard that beats up your shooting hand pretty good after a few rounds. No way you're going to shoot a hundred rounds with this thing. And fit and finish is, well, lacking... but I love it for upland birds.

Then there's my Remington 11-48. I'm fairly close to just giving up on it. I had the length of pull adjusted to fit me better, as I felt like my mount was way off. No good. I still shoot it like crap. I couldn't hit squat in the fields on Sunday and on my last sporting clays outing barely broke .500. I think on big factor is the lack of a barrel rib. I just don't acquire targets well with it. Fortunately, it didn't cost much and it's in good shape for re-sale.

I love my Winchester 1200 pump, but it's a tank. Seriously heavy. And pump action is not exactly ideal for a fast-moving round of sporting clays. But I think for now, I may switch over to this one for my all-rounder.

Meanwhile, what to get...

I think an autoloader is out for me. It doesn't force me to slow down and make the shot like a double or a pump. I keep pulling the trigger, shells keep flying. Plus, there's the maintenance and cleaning aspect. I don't want a gun that needs an involved tear-down 2-3 times a season to function correctly. Too bad - the Beretta 391 feels great in-hand.

It seems like my best choice is an over-under. I love the Beretta Silver Pigeon. What I don't like is it's $1,900 sticker price. I could certainly be happy with a Browning Citori, but the low end starts at $1,200 and goes up FAST. I think I'm going to pursue two options. I love my CZ .22 rifle. I think I need to shoot a CZ double. And, I've always loved the classic Browning Superposed. The Belgian made guns show up pretty regularly in the used racks. I'd love to score one.

Meanwhile, maybe the 1200 becomes a new upper-body workout!


29 March, 2010

Rooster Rockin'

Great day hunting pheasants and chuckar's at the Rooster Ranch in Ubly (tip of the Thumb for those less familiar with Michigan geography. My buddies Nick and Andy joined me for my birthday hunt (a present from Rita) and a great day. The Rooster Ranch was a suggestion from Andy, and a solid one. I've been to a number of preserves and I think this was the best by far. Great people, lively birds, great mix of cover. Plus, they own all their land so they have a lot more control versus spots that just lease.

Had some operator error issues with Stoeger Uplander side-by-side assembly, so I started out with my Remington 11-48 auto. Bad plan. Although I've shot a few rounds of sporting clays and done with it, I don't have much field experience with this gun yet. So as Nick and Andy are getting in solid shots, I'm Mr. Whiff! And the easy of shooting the auto seems to incent me to take shots I should pass on. So I decide to figure out the Stoeger when we get back closer to the truck.


MUCH better. Though this gun has plenty I don't like about it, out in the field, it's AWESOME. Light, points perfectly, comes up quickly. As soon as I had it in my hands, I knew all would be well once again. Sure enough, I'm hitting birds, confidence is back -- it's all good!

If you're looking for a solid hunt, try the Rooster Ranch -- the drive's a little further, but it's worth it!


26 March, 2010

Invasive Species

Read a recent bulletin from local chapter of Trout Unlimited that there's been evidence of VHS disease in nearby Portage Lake. Unfortunately, Portage Lake is part of the Huron River chain -- right above areas I fish.

Given the focus on stopping the spread of things like VHS, whirling disease, etc. I feel compelled to do my part. It seems like boot soles will be a key starting point. But the strategies for effectively cleaning and such don't seem to agree -- and short of boiling my boots or running them through the dishwasher, I'm not sure how I'd achieve it.

So, I think the next best plan is yet MORE gear. That is keep my current boots for the Huron, and pick up something for Northern rivers. Naturally, I gravitate toward Simms as I've been so pleased with their other products. I think it's time to head to the local fly shop to explore.


25 March, 2010

Whatever Floats Your Boat

I've had the itch for a boat of some sort for fishing for a while. It would enable greatly expanded access to fishable water, and would be fun, too! Problem is I don't think I know what I need (or can afford?).

Initially, I thought an inflatable pontoon would be a good solution. Affordable, durable, easy to learn to row. But it's solo fishing exclusively. And, I'd like to be able to go out with friends.

Thus far, a drift boat looks like a good solution. Solid for 1-2 companions. Durable. Can fish out of it, or use it as the "river taxi". Of course, "drift" means downriver, so you have to be able to figure out some sort of spotting method. On the PM that's fairly easy. Remote UP rivers, less so.

I have seen some "power drifters" that would enable easier lake fishing, as well as self-supported fishing on larger rivers like the Manistee and Muskegon.

But, naturally, this all comes down to money. I've seen some deals, but not many steals. And adding a motor to a power drifter puts you in a whole new category.

And finally, I've never even rowed one on a river. I may need to start there with an accomodating friend.


24 March, 2010

Picture = 1,000 Words

Beautiful Spring day on the Pere Marquette river on Sunday. So pretty you didn't mind the truly lousy fishing! These pictures say so much about this beautiful place.

22 March, 2010

Spring Outing

Headed north to scratch the steelhead itch this weekend. Spent a fun evening with friends in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday and then rolled over to the PM for Sunday.

Beautiful sunny day. Started off pretty cold, but warmed up fast as the sun rose. Unfortunately, this had two effects:
  1. Turned the fish off. I was switching up flies, holes, depths, drifts -- every trick in the book. I got one solid fight, and one quick on-and-off but nothing landed.
  2. Brought the crowds out. This was pretty shocking as my last visit was a snowy February day where I saw not a soul. Yesterday, a dozen boats and as many walk-ins.

Now for the good part -- I got two on! And most everyone I talked to on the river had experienced about the same. It was a TOUGH bite. This is definitely testament to the growth in my skills. Thanks to Jon, Schultzy, Tommy, and other knowledgeable friends who've helped me learn, I can at least go out with a reasonable expectation of some success.

Photos soon, I promise!


19 March, 2010

Another Great Brand

Regular readers will know that there are a few outdoor brands I really respect. Scott Fly Rods has quickly become one of those companies.

One of the first things I pick up on with outdoor brands is tone and style. Much like Simms, the folks at Scott have this down. It's clear that while they know their target market. The copy in their catalog and on their web site balances the fine line between having fun, and taking your passion seriously. Scott rods aren't for the casual once-in-a-while user. These are serious sticks.

But I have little respect for brilliant brands who can't back it up. And to this point Scott delivers. With best-in-class construction, exceptional engineering, and innovative approaches all make them just a little bit better than competitors. What's interesting to me about Scott is that this approach seldom means cutting edge "out there" technology. More likely its about carefully selected components and processes so the whole is greater than the sum of parts.

One of their coolest elements is the "Classics/Concepts" series. Every year they do a couple of unique rods for some specific purpose. This year the concept rod is the Fiberhammer (cool name, eh?) switch rod for swinging steelhead flies.

I own two Scott rods already. My S3 in 9'6" 8-weight is the ideal stick for indicator fishing for steelhead. Its responsive with great line feel, but its got the backbone to stop a charging fish from making its way under a log. Although its in the entry-level series, my 6-weight A2 is simply amazing. This rod just plain makes me a better caster. I can't explain it, but there's some sort of Colorado magic pixie dust in this thing. I can cast further and with far greater accuracy with this rod.

For me, one of the best tests of a successful brand is that it leaves me wanting more, even when I don't NEED it. I want to replace my low-end TFO 3-weight with an A2 or A3. Do I need it? No. But it'll happen in time.

If you haven't had the pleasure of a visit to the Scott web site or better still their beautiful catalog -- I highly recommend it!


18 March, 2010

Least Favorite Season

I love Winter. Always have. Snow's pretty, I don't mind cold, and there's lots of fun stuff to do outside. In recent years, I've discovered a newfound love of Summer. Great time for cycling, trout and smallmouth fishing, hiking, and I love a nice summer night out in a tent. Same goes for Fall with its excellent steelhead season, great bird hunting, and opportunities to mountain bike in cooler, but still pleasant temperatures.

But then there's Spring. And you just never know with Spring. Today, it's supposed to top 60 degrees with bright sunshine. Cool, except I'm stuck in the office. This weekend? Mix of snow and rain and temps topping out in the high 30's. Awesome. As I reflect, maybe it's early Spring I'm not that wild about. Once we get some rains to wash off the roads, and the temps in the rivers top 40 consistently then things start to pick up. But I'm always itchy right in this transition. Can see the things I want to do are close at-hand, but not QUITE ready.

Ahh well, this too shall pass. That's the nice thing about Michigan. Don't like the weather? Wait a few minutes.


17 March, 2010

Familiar Itch

I need to go fishing. Bad. The chrome is calling on the PM. No weekend commitments, so if the river level keeps falling back toward normal, I smell a road trip. Maybe grab a few beers in Mt. Pleasant on the way up with a buddy I don't get to see often enough

Only one way to satiate this beast -- river time.


16 March, 2010

Can't Quite Capture

Been reading lots of articles and essays on steelhead fishing lately. I think mostly centered on how much hardcores love it in the Winter (which I concur with). What's fascinating to me is that no one seems to be able to truly capture how it feels.

By contrast, I've seen plenty of writers -- Geirach, Traver, Hemingway -- who seem to be able to capture the trout experience. Maybe it's a volume thing; lots of people write about trout, few about steelhead.

For me, it's complex and at the same time simple. I think it revolves around two key things:

Steelhead Live in Beautiful Places
At least in the Midwest, steelhead live in some of the most scenic spots I can imagine. The flywater of the Pere Marquette. The BigMan below Tippy. The Jordan at Graves Crossing. The Two Hearted in the Eastern UP. And more. And the're nothing quite as beautiful as standing in one of these rivers in February during a snow. It's hushed, serene, and about as uncomplicated as life gets. Unless you're standing in the BigMan, in which case you probably should get back in the boat.

The Hook-Up
Although detecting strikes can be tricky, there's nothing I know of like that initial surge immediately following. It's like grabbing a live electrical wire. There's this surge that travels up the line, through your now-loaded rod and into your arm. This is not a trout, nor a sluggish but strong salmon -- it's pure chrome. Although the Fall fish have that extra gear for runs, it doesn't seem to matter what season this first hit is intense. It sparks an adrenaline rush that's comparable to few others. In fact, in most cases, I find I need to make a conscious effort to take a deep breath and collect my wits so I don't lose the fish during the first run.

Last Fall, while fishing with a friend and guide Jon Ray, I had just such a "vapor lock" moment. Hooked up pretty quickly. Got all geeked out on the rush and completely forgot to keep my hands off the reel on the first run. While Jon's "correcting" me for this behavior, and I'm denying I look down ... yup, hands still on the reel and I didn't even notice.

Of course, thinking about these two elements made me think of a dozen other things I enjoy about it, but I think these two are the magic -- at least for me.

15 March, 2010

My Review of St. Croix Traveler Rod Cases

Originally submitted at FishUSA.com

The redesigned St. Croix Traveler rod cases provide maximum protection for your prized rods. They are constructed of a durable Cordura covered P.V.C. with foam-padded ends to protect the rod tips. They have divided nylon liners which provide added protection and eliminates the need for a rod sock. ...

Protection for Float Rod

By Seanahee from Ann Arbor, MI on 3/15/2010


4out of 5

Pros: UNIQUE, Functional

Best Uses: Centerpinning

Describe Yourself: Avid Fisher

Had a very difficult time finding a case that would protect my Raven float rod. Standard fly tubes are too small to accomodate high-frame guides. This St. Croix case was perfect solution! Available in a wide range of sizes to exactly fit my 13' 6" three-piece! Glad I found it!



Lots of cool stuff on the horizon -- can't wait!

Dad and I booked a trip with Brad Petzke of Rivers North for early June. Looks like we'll be floating the upper Escanaba river chasing trout. Brad says we picked a PRIME slot. This guy knows every nook and cranny of the Central/Eastern UP, so we should have some fun and learn, to!

Warm temps this week and some rain to clean off the roads means cycling season at least FEELS like it will be soon. Dropped the road bike off at the shop for some attention yesterday -- shifting adjustments, wheels trued, and bars re-taped. I figure it's been a while since it had professional attention, so its time. Looking forward to getting out on the road. My mileage dropped off last year, so I've set a goal of getting back to 100+ mile weeks this summer.

And, finally Dad and I met up with Uncle Bill and my cousin Travis at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo on Saturday. Made some more plans for May steelhead trip to the UP. Should be a fun trip and it's possible Travis may even join us this year. Right now we're trying to figure out what waters to target.

Meanwhile, I'm itching to get on the river. But I heard from several PM/Manistee guides that with the rapid disappearance of Winter this past week the rivers are WAY up and really unwadeable. Bummer!


12 March, 2010

Best Laid Plans

Fun evening with Dad last night - first to Colton Bay Outfitters to hear Brad Petzke's talk on fishing the St. Mary's river and other UP destinations. We had been considering trying for Atlantic salmon in the St. Mary's, but after hearing about all the other cool options and seasons we're considering other possibilities.

We both agreed that while one option with guiding is a knowledgeable partner to try new stuff, we really enjoy the learning aspect. You can pick up so much about gear, rigging, technique, tactics, reading water, and more from a day with a guide. So, now we're looking at early Summer trout on some of the UP backwaters. In addition to Atlantics, Brad specializes in finding cool fish in some pretty out of the way places.

After the presentation and a great chat with Brad we headed to dinner. It was fun to relax and plan the Spring fishing trip. Where to go, what gear to bring, who might be joining us. That planning and scheming make it so much more fun. We're excited as both Dad and I know about 500% more than we both did a year ago. This Spring maybe we'll CATCH fish (other than the trout Dad got or the half-dozen suckers I encountered). We had several steelhead on last year, but no one landed any. Likely a combination of gear (light tippets) and technique. This year, I'll likely do a mix of indy and centerpin fishing, perhaps some bottom bouncing on the Manistique, and may try my sink tip for stripping streamers on an inland lake we know of that's got some nice trout.

Can't wait!


11 March, 2010


I know I've said it before, but I truly have to offer kudos to REI. If you're fortunate enough to have one of these excellent stores nearby its a great resource.

While I generally try to support the local business, many times their selection is thin, or I just need to do some quick one-stop shopping. It's a great place to browse.

But their employees and policies are their best attribute. Today at lunch I needed a small part for my Yakima Steelhead bike rack. A simple stainless steel C-clip. So, I stopped in and a helpful staffer took one off a stock item and then ordered a replacement for the store. How many places would have done that? Most would have pointed me to the manufacturer.

Kudos -- I've always found your employees friendly, knowledgeabel, and customer focused!


10 March, 2010

Pay vs. Play

One of the benefits of getting older is understanding your limits and the value of your time. While I truly LOVE puttering in my basement workshop waxing skis, tuning bikes, cleaning guns, tieing up steelhead rigs, and other pursuits, I now realize that sometimes there are things I should pay someone else to do for me. For years I was the worst possible combination - handy and cheap. I hated paying people to do things I thought I should be able to figure out.

This week, I picked up some parts to get my road bike tuned up. It's about due for new cables and bar tape. Cables are no sweat. The perfect no-brainer, drink a beer project. I think I've done them about 3,453 times in my life. But properly taping road bars is another thing. Done right, it's a thing of beauty that actually adds to the appearance of a well-maintained bike. Done wrong, it's a visual nightmare that's also uncomfortable to ride. Plus, I do it once every 3-4 years, so I forget what the little tricks are. This year for the first time, I decided to pay the bike shop to do that for me. Big step.

Spooling up fly reels is another. I have friends who insist its no big deal and do it themselves. But fly shops have machines that tension the line evenly, as the knowledge to distribute the line correctly across the arbor. Plus, most don't even charge for it if you're buying line from them.

All of that said, I am looking forward to spending a couple of hours wrenching on my own bike tonight!


09 March, 2010

Pin is In

Tried center pin fishing for the first time last Fall. I'd been intrigued after seeing a couple of presentations. The long drifts looked perfect for seeking out steelhead in unfamiliar waters - especially bigger, more open locations.

I've since learned from a few guides that they pin a little bit for certain species in certain situations but keep it quiet as they get criticism that it's not REAL fly fishing. This mystified me. What I'd seen was fishing flies under an indicator -- just as I do on my regular indy rig. Sure, it's on a different line, but the terminal tackle is identical. People consider bottom-bouncing a chuck-n-duck to be fly fishing -- even though most use a running line or some sort of monofilament type line.

But recently I picked up a book on float fishing for steelhead (center pin is really a subset of float fishing). Interesting book, but NO mention of flies. AH-HA! All the book focused on was spawn bags, hardware, and other spin tactics. Now I get it -- many pinners aren't running flies, hence the stigma.

It will be interesting to see how perceptions change. While pinning has been long accepted in Europe and especially in Canada, it's a relative newcomer to the US and especially the Great Lakes region. Several shops have told me they're seeing a lot more interest. And even the Steelheadsite.com has a forum devoted to the pin. I think once it takes off in the US among fly folks, we'll see some change in the perception.

For me, I can't WAIT to drift through the Manistique river in late April!


08 March, 2010

Got A Line On You

I've read frequently that fly line selection is the most critical element in the equation. At first, I dismissed this as line manufacturers wanting to sell more $70 fly lines. As my skills grew, I figured out that there's a lot of truth in this philosophy.

My brand of choice these days is Rio - they offer a line for almost every specialized purpose, as well as some great general purpose lines. My first Rio line was 6 wt. Rio Gold on my Scott A2/Ross CLA set-up. I really recognized its value on a windy evening on the Two Hearted river. I found I could just punch casts to exactly the spot I wanted consistently with this line. Previously I'd been using the generic cheap-o line that came on my Ross Flystart reel package. When I bought the CLA, I upgraded to a good line. Worth every penny.

Since then, I've added Rio Selective Trout on my 3 wt. spring creek rig, as well as 200 and 300 grain sink tips. Eager to put all three to use this season. I'm particularly intrigued by stripping streamers looking for monster brown trout.

I would also put in a plug for the Orvis Wonderline series - I have the steelhead/salmon version in 9 wt. on my steelhead indicator rig. Cast well, mends even better! Now that I'm more comfortable with my indy rig I realize how much I like this line.

So, if you're in doubt of your casting abilities, try a better line. I found it to make a world of difference.


04 March, 2010

Signs of a Changing Season

There are plenty of signs of a changing season -- lengthening or shortening days, cooler or warmer evenings. But for me the way I know a new season is coming is that I start feeling compelled to monkey with the gear of the next season.

The other day, I waxed my skis after the last outing. As I was doing it, I thought it was likely the last time and that this was "putting them up for the year". Last night I walked past my road bike and started to mentally itemize all the clean-up, tune-up, and prep I want to do over the next month. Yesterday I got my Ross CLA 3 set-up with a sink-tip for stripping streamers. Even did some more fine-tuning on my centerpin reel in prep for the April UP steelhead trip. This weekend I'll probably clean my target rifles and do some maintenance on the handguns now that the days are warm enough to sit on a concrete bench at the range.

Yup, all sure signs that Spring's about to get sprung!


03 March, 2010

Hello, Old Friend

Grabbed my Ross CLA 3 reel last night to get the spare spool lined up with a sink tip for stripping streamers this summer. I've been swinging all the big gear since September and seeing this reel made me smile.

This reel is part of my main summer fishing rig for trout and smallmouth. I've had some of my nicest, most pleasant outings with it. Some highlights:
  • My first evening on the AuSable last May during an excellent Hendrickson hatch; both my first time on the Holy Waters as well as my first experience with a big hatch.
  • A pleasant evening camping and fishing at the Clay Banks on the Pere Marquette in July. One of the most relaxing trips I've had in a long time. Caught two nice trout, followed by a meal grilled over an open fire and a great night in a tent.
  • Fishing the upper Huron, five minutes from home, for smallmouth during the hex hatch last summer.
  • An evening on the Two Hearted River in Michigan's UP. Unfortunately it was during the mosquito hatch! But solid two-fish night, followed by a campfire on the shores of Lake Superior and a great dinner.

Looking forward to some more fun with this rig this season!


02 March, 2010

Bargain Shopping

Picked up an Albright GP Series rod in 8 wt. for use in my 350 grain sink-tip set-up. Regular price is around $200 and I picked it up for under 50 bucks with free shipping. I've had Albright recommended by a guide before, and I think I maybe have even fished one previously.

My theory was that re-rigging is a PAIN. Snip the fly off, remove the reel/spool, install the other reel/spool, re-tie the fly/streamer. Easier to just have a dedicated rig and this makes it really cheap. I've done this with my steelhead gear with great success. Plus, I can see times when I might want to switch over, even for just a few, and try a different technique. My logic is that if it's easy to use, it's more likely to actually GET used!

But, I'm a big believer in the old "you get what you pay for" adage. I'll be curious to see product quality when it arrives. If nothing else, it will be nice to have a back-up rod handy for heavy-duty applications.


01 March, 2010


It's that funny time of year. I'm not QUITE done with Winter, having had too few solid days of skiing in this snow-starved Michigan winter. But I'm already thinking about those Spring steelhead days as I noticed they were starting to get up on the gravel last week. And, I've been starting to plan some road bike rides I'd like to do this year.

But with 43 degrees and sunny forecast for Saturday, I think the die is cast. C'mon Spring! If I can slip in one more day on the slopes, that would be cool. But if not, I'm good.