28 May, 2010

First Ride & Miscellany

Hoping to get mountain bike out for a couple of rides this weekend. Michigan spring weather's been pretty wet and chilly until a few days ago. We seemed to go from 50's into the high 80's overnight. Unlike some masochists, I don't feel that I need to be completely mud-marinated to have a successful ride. I'll likely hit either Island Lakes loop or perhaps start out at the more manageable Olson Park on Ann Arbor's north side.

Also, some prep for next weekend's UP/northern MI fishing trip. Dad and I are doing a float trip on the Upper Escanaba with Brad Petzke of Rivers North. Really looking forward to this trip. This river's supposed to be very remote and beautiful - and hopefully full of trout!

Best part of this warm-up has been the pleasant evenings - done some great grilling this week (one of my other favorie outdoor activities).

Whatever you're doing this long holiday weekend -- enjoy!


27 May, 2010


As a sportsman, I see the BP oil spill debacle and just shake my head. While bureaucrats and corporate executives finger-point and navel-gaze, millions of acres of critical coastal area edge closer to obliteration. Every time I see TV footage of the fishermen of Louisiana I cringe.

Meanwhile, dozens of other countries and thousands of technical entrepreneurs offer help and solutions. The EPA response seems to be a variant of "Uh, we don't know ... did you talk to BP?" Meanwhile BP is trying to find a rock they can hide under until this blows over (note to BP -- IT WON'T).

This is looking rather like the asian carp issue of the Great Lakes on a FAR larger scale. During the hearings, it became very clear that bureaucracy had caused complete ineffectiveness.

These government officials aren't stupid - many have advanced degrees and years of experience. But somehow once they get that cushy pension and easy lifestyle they turn into functioning idiots. But best of all? These people are paid by the taxes of individuals and businesses who are impacted by these catastrophes.

President Obama - I'm most disappointed in you above all. The environment was a key part of your campaign. And you've already demonstrated that you're not all that interested in it. You've got the power to make this happen (just as you could have by closing the Chicago locks). How about if you step-up, smack a few heads, and get this done. Oh, that's right, BP was one of your largest campaign financiers and you'd like to get re-elected. Time to stop pandering to the special interests and do right by the people who elected you.

Knuckleheads, all. Monkeys could do a better job than BP and the EPA. Yeah, I'm pissed.


26 May, 2010

G3 = Great Fit, Great Function, Great Features

I've written plenty about how impressed I am with Simms Fishing gear. It costs more, but it's invariably worth it. A year in with my Simms G3 waders, I couldn't be happier. Regular readers may recall these were a replacement for my thoroughly disappointing Orvis Silver XT's. At the time, this mean throwing in some $$$ (ok, actually quite a few $$$) that I wasn't too happy about. But a year later, it was worth every penny.

When you think about it, waders are a pretty critical component to a safe, comfortable, enjoyable day on the water. You're basically wearing plastic pants for 8-10 sometimes. Fit,breathability, function and a million other little variables can make such a difference.

Simms got the G3 right. First the fit is unlike any wader I've tried. After the G3's, everything else just seems baggy and floppy. Yet, even in full winter steelhead layers, everything fits. I've never quite figured out this piece of magic, but I'll just accept it. And since abrasion is a leading cause of wear, I figure these are in for a long life.

And then there's functionality. Can't say enough good things about fleece-lined handwarmer pockets. On a chilly steelhead day, it's nice to shove your hands in for a quick warm-up. Also several Velcro and zip pockets give you a place for all your stuff.

Initially, I had some reservations about the gravel guards. The seemed a bit flimsy and had a raw neoprene edge. But after a year, they show ZERO signs of wear, so I think this concern was unfounded.

If you're in the market for waders and haven't tried the Simms G3, I highly recommend you hit the local fly shop and try some on. Also, a word to the wise - in addition to supporting local businesses, there are about a gajillion sizes and some help from a knowledgable fly shop is invaluable.


25 May, 2010

Crash Pads

I love finding the local dumpy-but-clean motel as a home base for outdoor antics. Clean bed and a hot shower are my only requirement; other than CHEAP. If there's an interesting bar with digestible food nearby, that's a bonus. The best places are locally owned and genuinely happy to have your business. Here are a few faves:

Red Moose Lodge - Baldwin, MI
Home base for my winter steelhead adventures on the Pere Marquette. Nicely updated recently, clean rooms, and Clint and Debi are about the nicest folks you could ever meet. Plus, in the winter, a single room is only $45. Free wireless (though it only works in the lodge), a hot tub, free continental breakfast - and it's right on the river. Only disadvantage -- it's smaller, so it fills up fast in peak seasons.

BBT Motel - Baldwin, MI
Owned by the excellent folks at Baldwin Bait & Tackle, the BBT Motel is a frequent destination and great alternative to the Red Moose. Fifty bucks a night, it's clean, and a solid choice. My only complaint were the bathrooms that needed some updates - but I hear they were recently re-done.

Metropolitan Inn - Salt Lake City, UT
If you're in Utah to ski, staying in the valley can be the hot ticket. You can reach a dozen resorts in under 45 minutes from downtown. Plus it's cheaper and you have access to great dining and bars. Solitude got a foot overnight -- go there. Next day, Powder Mountain -- cool. I stumbled on this place a few years back. From the outside, it looks a bit sketchy. But the rooms are clean, recently updated and have Tempurpedic beds! Quick walk to Squatter's brewpub at day's end!

Fay's Motel - Grayling, MI
A recent addition, Fay's is outstanding if you want to fish the AuSable or upper Manistee rivers in the Grayling area. When I called for a reservation the owners were just great -- really seemed to appreciate my business. Clean room, hot shower, and a great location. All for $53.60 a night with tax!

Manistee National - Manistee, MI
If you're fishing the lower Manistee river in the winter, a sweet destination and a deal. For $60 a night you get updated rooms with flat-panel TVs, a free continental breakfast, a pool, and a nice pub/lounge area. Bungalow Inn just up the road has excellent food and friendly staff.

Those are my hot locations - now one to stay away from. I thought Caberfae Crossing would be a hot spot -- close to the ski hill, a few miles from Tippy Dam. On my first visit, I find my rate jacked up on my arrival, my TV not working, and a lousy bed. Stay away.



24 May, 2010

Let's Get Serious

Lots of gun-related crime in the news in the Detroit area just lately. As a legal, responsible gun owner, this trend is concerning. This type of activity only fuels the anti-gun crowd into an "all guns are bad..." mentality. On the other end of the spectrum, those of us who support the Second Ammendment also need to be reasonable - we can't argue that carrying would have prevented these situations. That only makes us look like nut jobs.

Clearly something needs to be done. How about a crack down on illegal and unregistered firearms? The CPL-holding, legal gun owner isn't shooting 17-year-olds in front of the local High School. Commit a crime with an illegal gun? You get ten extra years on that sentence. Make it a felony to possess an unregistered handgun.

Next tighten the purchase/registration process. Many states have waiting periods. If you have a legal purpose and are competent to own a firearm, waiting a few days is no big deal. And no gun ownership for convicted felons. Period. No handguns, no long guns. Not even a muzzleloader.

The bottom line is simple - as tensions from a bumpy economy tighten, too many people are far too casual about the respect and seriousness gun ownership entails. I think the "guns don't kill people..." logic almost furthers this. Reality is a gun wields tremendous power. If you're not willing to demonstrate respect that power, perhaps you should be prevented from ownership.


21 May, 2010

Lucky Hat?

I have this favorite fishing hat. It's a simple brown Simms baseball hat. Comfy, fits great. Looking a little rough these days -- some stains, a bit of fading. But I realized last weekend, it's my favorite. When I'm not wearing it on the water, things just don't seem quite right. But when I am, I feel like Master Fisherman.

Thus far, I've caught steelhead, brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, salmon, and largemouth and smallmouth bass in it. It's survived rain, sweat, sunscreen, and bug repellent.

At some point, it's going to look to rough for the river. And that will be a sad day indeed. May need to start considering its replacement!

Tight lines!


19 May, 2010

Way Cool

Always seem to have flies rolling about in the Element. Whether it's a big streamer that needs to dry out, a hopper-dropper rig that needs to find its way back into a box, or an egg that was the wrong color. As I quickly discovered, just sticking them into the headliner really isn't an option - as they make a mess when you try to extract them.

Enter Cliff Outdoors. Picked up one of their Head Liner patches at Old Au Sable this weekend. PRESTO! Problem solved. Just clip it to the visor and your errant flies have a place to hang out until they can find their way back into the proper box (or until you want to fish them). All this for a lousy twelve bucks!

I was poking around Cliff's web site this morning and found they have a few other items that look interesting. May need to visit the local fly shop to have a look...


18 May, 2010

Ghosts II

At my dinnertime planning session on Saturday night I decided that exploring the North Branch of the AuSable made sense, followed by working down the South Branch in the later afternoon (and toward home).

The North Branch has a long and storied history. Perhaps no spot is as famous as Fuller's North Branch Outing Club. Founded in 1916 by a lumberman who realized his business was declining, NBOC was a favorite spot for noted outdoorsmen like Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone (did those guys ever WORK? Seems like they're well-known in about a dozen locations...), and the Dodge brothers.

The most striking thing about the North Branch was its similarity to the UP. More so than any river I've been on in the Lower, this area looks very much like Schoolcraft and Delta counties in the central UP. And the river structure is much like those rivers -- shallow, lots of gravel, the occasional swampy patch, and moderate current.

I followed the river north from Lovells and found a quiet spot. Ten minutes in - BANG, nice little brook trout. As the sun warmed things up, the bugs started to come out and the fish started to get interested. After a couple of hours, I decided to continue my exploration.

After a few stops to investigate other spots, I switched to the east side of the South Branch (I'd fished the west side the night before). My TU guidebook called out Daisy Meadows as one of the pretties spots on the river -- and they weren't wrong. Though a bit tricky to find, and probably best reached by 4WD vehicle, it's worth the effort. Fished dries here for a bit, then switched over to strip streamers. Oddly, the most scenic spot on my trek didn't produce any fish! Ah,well -- it was also mid-day with bright sunshine.

Closed out my day by returning to the Mason Tract segment on the west side of the river. Again, solid. Nice sulphur hatch in progress and got two nice little trout, along with several missed strikes. This time I waded a good bit down the river - as I discovered when hiking back up the trail! Wind was a little active, so glad I had my 6 wt. Scott, rather than the lighter 3 wt. I'd considered.

All in all a great trip. Though I still prefer the PM, I now better understand the allure of the AuSable. I will definitely be back!


17 May, 2010


Spent some time on the AuSable river this weekend. I've fished the Holy Waters section a couple of times and never really got it. Easy wade and lots of fish, but too many riding lawnmowers and loud stereos in the stretch I've done. Had some unexpected free time, so decided to head up.

I've found Andy and the guys at Old AuSable Fly Shop in Grayling very knowledgeable and helpful, so that was the first stop. They suggested I have a look at the South Branch and the Mason Tract. After a stop to check-in at Fay's Motel (too cold to camp) for a very nice $53 room, it was off to the river.

The Mason Tract is a 4,493 acre section that includes 11 miles of the South Branch. A 9.2 mile path wends through the property, along with two-track roads. When auto executive George Mason donated it, he required that no logging, drilling, development, or camping be allowed. A true wilderness area.

Beautiful surroundings, lots of nice trout water, and easy to access. Pull off the two track at one of the parking clear cuts, bushwack to the river (mmmm, cedar swamps, yummy...) fish downriver, then walk back up the path. Really nice accessibility. Fishing was solid for small brook and rainbow trout. Got a couple beautiful, if small fish and several more takes.

I picked up the Trout Unlimited guide to the AuSable. While these are pricey, they support the local TU chapter and are written and edited by locals who fish the river regularly. I found it an invaluable guide for accessing the river and planning my trek. Which is exactly what I did over a burger and beers later at Spike's Keg-O-Nails - best burger I've had in MI, and if you're lucky you can score a seat at the left end of the bar with a big picture window overlooking the river!

Reports of adventures will continue this week (pictures, too!)...


13 May, 2010

Beauty, Grace & Power

I've always been intrigued with Skagit/Spey style fishing for steelhead. Now that I've tried it, I'm even more so. Beautiful. Elegant. And, now that I've thrown a Skagit - POWERFUL! This preview of the Simms flick Skagit Master says so much...

Enjoy! I am!


12 May, 2010

Under the Stars

This week I've had the camping bug. Eager to get out and sleep under the stars (well, almost -- tent and all...). Nothing quite like cooking over a campfire, then enjoying it's tranquility afterwards. Then crawling into a comfy sleeping bag for a great night's sleep!

And, this season will feature an upgrade - R.I.P. $12 tent. Looking forward to the added confidence a decent tent brings. Especially the idea that if it rains, I might actually stay dry!

Camping puts me right on top of the action. Like the picture at left. This was taken at a campsite at the mouth of the Two Hearted River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A fifteen-foot walk put me on the beach of Lake Superior. A few moments drive to the Reed and Green Bridge for solid trout fishing. And the North Country Trail for mountain biking was at the top of the hill!

That night I grilled a steak, asparagus, and potatoes for one of the best meals ever! I love campfire cooking. Sure it's a challenge to manage the heat, but I'm up for it!


10 May, 2010

Can't Leave Well Enough Alone

It seems I'm always tweaking some piece of outdoor gear for better performance, or to adapt it to my needs or style. Latest victim is the Centerpin fly rig. Smooth running, low-friction bearings are at the heart of a good centerpin reel. And, I figured that better bearings deliver better performance in other rolling applications - bicycles, skateboards, Rollerblades - so why not my 'pin?

Enter Boca Bearings. I found them through a discussion forum on Steelheadsite on pinning. Turns out these guys specialize in a wide range of high-performance bearings for fishing reels, RC cars, and more. Pretty cool! Found my reel in their model list and quickly a set of their high-performance ceramic Orange Seal bearings are on their way!

Spent some time on the pin on a recent trip. I've found yet another great tool for fishing steelhead. If you need to efficiently cover a LOT of water with long straights, it's a great method. As an added bonus, it's EASY! Once you figure out the mechanics of casting and providing drag during fights, it's very low impact. On my recent trip I was fishing with mostly chuck-n-duck guys who looked over longingly as I delivered 100' and longer drifts!

The coolest part may be the fight. There's NO drag on a pin reel. It's all you, palming the reel to slow a charging fish. Eventually I found it was best to leave the rod under my left arm, and provide drag with my right hand by reaching across.

Sure, there's some debate over whether pins are "real" fly fishing. But the reality is that other than the main line, my rig is VERY similar to what I used to Indicator fish with a floating line. And I'd argue that centerpin float fishing is more fly fishing than chuck-n-duck! Plus, I have to add, it's a BUNCH more fun!

One caveat - I had a knowledgeable 'pin fisherman show me the ropes. This would be a tough model to teach yourself, I think. If you're interesting, find someone who's done this before and learn from them.
Can't wait to get the new bearings in the reel for next Fall! Should be a blast on big water like the Manistee, Muskegon, or Manistique!

07 May, 2010

One & Done

Seeing tons of singlespeed bikes around town this spring. Mostly of the road variety. Interesting to see such growth in what is - admittedly - a niche. This weekend while I was talking to friends about my s/s mountain bike, the familiar "WTF?" looks began to emerge on their faces.

"So, it only has one gear? Why?"

I love my single. It's simple, rugged, reliable,and requires minimal fuss. No derailleurs to tweak or tune. No suspension. And way less thinking and strategy -- want to go faster? Pedal faster. Simple as that.

But deep down inside, I know the real reason. As a kid, I spent HOURS exploring a wide variety of trails on my BMX bike(s). From sunup to sundown most every day was spent doing something on the bike. When I'd outgrown standard 20" wheel BMX bikes, I made the move up to "cruisers" with 26" wheels.

My SE single-speed mountain bike is the evolved, grown-up version of these bikes. I even owned a couple of SE race bikes back in the day. I think perhaps that connection to my childhood, coupled with the elemental nature of the bike, are what make me so love riding this unusual bike.


06 May, 2010

The Tug is the Drug

I fish for steelhead because the fight is like crack for me. From that first tug of a solid hook-up with a fresh fish, there's nothing so electrifying. Sure, Kings are HUGE and trout are fun to outsmart. But a fresh chromer? C'mon -- nothing like it!

Must give props to Jon Ray on a significant element of my improved success not just hooking up, but actually landing these fun fish. He taught me a ton about how to fight a steelhead, but most of all to take a deep breath and adjust to the groove of the fish after a hook-up. That's helped me tremendously in avoiding "vapor lock" that causes me to make stupid mistakes that result in lost fish. Plus, you spend all day trying for that elusive hook-up. Why rush it! Lock that rod but into your forearm, put some bend in that rod, let the fish run when he wants it, and enjoy the moment. For a few fleeting minutes, you're directly connected to nature through some 8-weight tippet!
Last night I was taking down the steelhead rigs and stowing rods in tubes. Kinda' sad -- that season's over. Time to switch to smallmouth on the Huron, and trout in the Northern rivers. I am looking forward to fishing drys as well as stripping streamers. But it's never like the Chrome Rush! Can't wait for Fall!

04 May, 2010

Learn to Earn

Just back from PM/UP spring trip -- awesome few days with great locations, solid fishing, and fun companions! Can't ask for much more in a fishing excursion.

I was talking to my Uncle the other night about some fishing things and we stumbled onto the element of learning. I realized that this is perhaps my favorite part of fly fishing -- no matter how much I know, there's something more to learn.


As I reflect on last year's version of this trip, my knowledge has grown SO much in so many areas. From reading water, rigging, styles of fishing, even wading skills. And it really empowers me with confidence that makes these trips so much more rewarding.

On this trip, I got exposure to three new styles:
  1. Super-secret drift that I can't speak of; sworn to secrecy by two guides who taught me. But it ROCKS for covering a lot of water.
  2. Switch/spey casting - picked up my new 8-wt. TFO Deer Creek Switch on the way out of town. Way-cool spey guy and fill-in guide for our trip Jed Litwiller was kind enough to lend me a reel spooled up with 450 grain Rio Skagit line. HOLY CRAP! With very minimal effort I was quickly belting out ripping long and accurate casts. This is indicator fishing taken to its next level. Can't wait to get some spooled up on the Momentum 5 reel!
  3. Stripping streamers - got to try out my new rig on the float out on the PM; and scored a nice brown with it! So cool to see the fish roll and chase down the streamer! Even tried it on the Indian River in the UP. Something BIG hit on it at one point, but wasn't able to land it. Thanks to all the guys who played a roll in getting me to check out this style of fishing.

So, lots more tricks in my arsenal -- resulting in lots more hook-ups, solid fights, and fish landed! More on this trip to follow later this week.