31 August, 2010

Be Prepared

Looks like it's "tween" season for me. Trout's a Summer pursuit. And while I know lots who love it, Salmon really aren't my bag. Crowds usually hit the river, plus you're just chasing a big, dumb fish. When you hook up it's like connecting with a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. But it just lacks the challenge of steelhead or trout.

So, I prepare. It's the Boy Scout in me. How can I be most ready for a productive, safe, and warm season? This week, I'm picking up my Ross Momentum V with Rio Skagit Short line for two-handing with the switch rod. And got my 8-weight Orvis Wonderline on a spare spool for my Battenkill LA V -- this will become the Indy rig for the single-hand rod. So, now I have swing and indy on the switch rod, indy and chuck-n-duck on the single-hand rod, and a centerpin indy rig. Any water, any time. I've even added some knowledge about what rivers and what seasons are appropriate for which.

Fly box is about half full. I'm chugging away whenever I find some time. Mostly focused on early season patterns, but also tying for Winter. I've also got a few Green Caddis nymphs in olive and chartreuse. My tying skills aren't up to Stoneflies. Yet. By late October, I should be all ready to rock through March.

Found a great hardware box for Winter, too at Centerpin Angling. 1/4 the size (and weight) of my current one and will hold swivels, snaps, beads, weight, and other critical little parts. Check it out here.

And so I wait for late October. But I'll be ready.


30 August, 2010

I Know A Guy...

Seems like so many outdoor pursuits require knowledge, access, or experience. A big part of my professional life involves networking, and these skills have translated well into outdoor antics. Whether its gear, a sharp local guide, lodging, or totally new experiences, who you know (and often who THEY know) goes a long way.

A friend's father-in-law was in the market for a heavy-duty reel for Fall Salmon fishing. Sure enough, I knew a guide who was looking to clear out some inventory to generate cash. I want to try duck hunting. Of course, I know a guy who knows some people who can get us access to a private club with excellent hunting in Canada.

Social networking through tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have only made this easier. I have several Facebook friends who have specific knowledge, or are in distant geographic locations. Want to know how the South Branch of the Au Sable is fishing? I know a guy. Curious if the leaves are changing in the UP? I know a guy for that. Pretty cool, eh?


27 August, 2010

Fun Challenge

Discovering a new way to grow in tying lately. Applied it with some green caddis nymphs I'm tying up for Winter steelhead. Pretty simple, but seems to improve my skills.

Tie up a bunch of flies in a moderate size -- maybe 10's or 12's for nymphs -- until you feel like you have it down. Now switch to a smaller hook size. Less space demands more precision. Do it wrong and all the elements no longer fit. Quick test of your new skills.Can't get it right? Move back to the larger size for a bit, then try it again.

I've now got a few basic patterns down. Once I have a solid selection of eggs and green caddis for Fall steelhead, I think I'll try a few new patterns. I fish a lot of Blue Winged Olives during dry season (or I did this year) maybe a dry should be my next goal?


26 August, 2010

High Road

As the time on runs out on my Honda Element lease I've started to contemplate what will be next. Current front-runners seem to be a full-size extended cab pickup from Chevy or Ford or a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. All seem to meet most of my needs, including fuel economy, functionality, price, and the ability to seat four when needed.

One key thing unites all of these considerations. Ground clearance. While the Element's all-wheel drive goes quite surprisingly through a fair bit, there's nothing that can replace plain ole' inches under the axles. I've found myself in a couple of situations in recent months where I probably shouldn't have been. While seeking out spots on the AuSable I found myself high-centered and realized I'd better harness momentum or risk getting stuck. On a recent offroad foray in the Manistee National Forest I turned down a road, that degraded to a two-track, and later into a deer path. Unfortunately I was quickly plowing sand. A VERY quick shift to reverse and some skillful backing got me out.

In the past, I've owned several Jeeps -- Grand Cherokees and Cherokees. Their strongest suit was always a simple, stout drivetrain coupled with tremendous ground clearance. I can't ever remember high-centering one and I certainly had those vehicles back in the woods. Obviously a full-size truck would have similar properties.

Now the challenges. At this point, I'm not sure if or how I can get my Yakima rack system on a Wrangler Unlimited. No mounts. No gutters. Now what? Not having a roof rack for bikes, skis, kayaks, canoes, etc. is unacceptable. Unless I have a pickup. On the pickup side, I have some doubts it will fit in my garage.

Ah, well. Test driving will likely tell. I've got a little time, but it's good to have thought through what you want before you hit the market.


19 August, 2010

Can't Wait

I love Fall and Winter steelheadin' -- somehow even more than Spring. And thanks to my buddy Jonny Ray, I've got something some solid fish porn. Jon's an exceptionally knowledgeable guide, but he's also evolved into an outstanding photographer and videographer (check out his Mangled Fly Media web site). I think this video showcases the excitement of Fall nicely. Even got a few of my fishing buddies in here. Plus it just fires me up... enjoy!

18 August, 2010

Quest for the Perfect Indicator

Now that I'm more well-versed in the various styles of trout fishing, I find I use a nymph rig under an indicator as my go-to when nothing else is working. It seems fish are always happy to hit a well-drifted beadhead pheasant tail nymph, even when they're skulking on the bottom.

As a steelheader, this almost feels like cheating. My dry fly cast isn't my best skill. I'm decent, but I can't really hit the perfect cast when it counts, every time. But I can roll cast a tandem rig like a champ. Six inches off that bank? No problem. Bang. Want to see it again?

Although I've got my perfect indicator for steelhead - Blackbird Phantoms are invisible to fish, easy to read drift, easy to adjust, and stay where you put them - I've not found a good solution for trout/smallmouth. So far, I've tried lots of things. Generic "Fish Pimp" style with foam float and a rubber tension tube inside -- they fall off after about ten casts. Then I tried the Thill Ice n' Fly. The trick for these is to ditch the little wooden stick stopper for the "rubber band trick". Unfortunately, I seem to never have the right size rubber band. On a recent guided trip I was turned on to the Thingamabobber. Floats well. Easy to put on. But both my Dad and I are finding that after a few casts, things knot up and it's impossible to adjust. Or, it slips and puts twist into the leader.

I think my best bet is a return to the Thill, with some time invested finding the right diameter rubber bands. Although I've considered using teeny Blackbird Phantoms. Maybe they'd be as good for trout and smallmouth as for steelhead? Hmmmmm......


17 August, 2010

Creative Outlet

Having a blast tying lately. It's super relaxing, a good thing to do when you need to hide out from the heat in the A/C, and most importantly a really cool creative outlet.

I get to try color combinations, alternate materials, and more. I can try to optimize my tying sequences to match my skills and the desired results. It's a cool creative outlet where you can quickly gauge your success (well, at least on the eye -- not yet to the fish as much).

This week I've been tying green caddis nymphs and egg flies in preparation for steelhead season. I found I had some chartreuse vinyl D rib that I could substitute for the olive I had been using. This makes for a nice, bright fly that might work well in high, dirty water, or on the lethargic fish of January. As the D rib is translucent, I think I need to swap from the black thread I had been using with olive to a lighter shade. Naturally, I don't have any .... so THIS is how fly shops stay in business!

Of course the best part remains -- I tie what I use (well, at least in eggs and nymphs; I'll graduate to dries later). Want a #14 beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph? Tie some! Use a lot of cheese-colored eggs in #10? Tie a few. Intrigued with the Superman Egg? Tie up a batch and try them out. I have the materials, so why not?


13 August, 2010

Beautiful Day

It happened last night. The first ski magazine of the season was awaiting me in the mailbox. For me, this is a special day. Usually it's at about the time I'm getting fairly tired of Summer and longing for the joys of Winter.

This event triggers thoughts of crisp days outside, epic powder, and the beautiful landscapes afforded by a fresh snow. Skiing clears my head, recharges my soul, and does so much more. And now that I have the passion for Winter steelheading, that makes me welcome the season even more. I love the uncrowded river and the complexities Winter affords to chasing chrome.

I've always loved Winter, although in recent years, I've come to a better place with Summer. Camping and trout fishing on a calm Summer evening is certainly a wonderful thing. Or relaxing on my back deck with both grills blazing. Cycling on a hot day is tremendous.

But, this Summer's been different. Not cold like last year, but stifling humidity, rolling severe thunderstorms, and consistent high temps (camping s*cks when it's hot, I think). So when I saw the Canada geese fly over last night and found the first issue of Powder in my mailbox, it was a good moment.


12 August, 2010

Tying Update

Hot, steamy, sticky weather, rain, thunderstorms has driven me indoors more often of-late. On the upside, it's helped me to start my production tying of eggs for Fall steelhead, as well as filling my nymph box. I picked up a nice clear plastic multi-compartment box at BBT. My goal is to fill it with eggs in a wide range of my most commonly used colors in sizes 8, 10, and 12 by October 1.

So far, my efficiency and quality are way up. I've even started to have more success with Nuke Eggs, after I picked up some egg veil from Feather-Craft (great online supplier when you can't find things locally). Early attempts used pieces of yarn or McFly foam, which both looked BAD. Been tying cream, late roe, cheese, and other more subtle colors that I tend touse on the PM. May tie a few larger bolder colors for bigger dirty water like the Manistique, Muskegon, or Manistee.

My only quality problem is consistently getting wraps one on top of each other. When you can do this, the quality seems much better. I'm sure I'll get better as I progress. I started off tying with an orange thread, recommended by the guy who taught me. I decided to switch to white or light yellow, as I tend to tie more subtle eggs. Finished product looks much better with this tweak.

Of course, I'll need to tie up some of my fave -- the "Superman" egg. Seen Superman ice cream? Then you get the idea. They're big, dirty water flies and conditions have to be just right for them to work (in my experience). But they look SO cool.

I've also been tying some nymphs for trout and steelhead. Primarily some beadhead pheasant tail nymphs, as well as some green caddis nymphs. My early pheasant tails weren't pretty and took way to long to tie. I've got it wired now. I want to tie up a dozen or so caddis, and may even experiment with more chartreuse patterns for Winter efforts. Got to wake up those lethargic steelies!

Totally happy with my Renzetti Traveler vise. I'm glad I listened to the guys at the local fly shop and got a good one. Should last a lifetime.

My goal for the Winter will be learning some drys and well as stoneflys. Stay tuned!


11 August, 2010

Spey to Play

Getting anxious for Fall steelheadin' with my new Skagit rig. Was talking to a fishing buddy yesterday and he picked up a 14' spey rod with a Ross Momentum 6. This got me all fired up again.

So, here's the rig:

Rod: Temple Forks Outfitters Deer Creek Series 11'6" 8-weight switch rod
Reel: Ross Momentum V (also have a Momentum LT with standard fly line for Indy fishing)
Line: Rio Skagit Short, in 475 grain + 5' cheater (if needed)
Heads: various lengths of T-11 to achieve proper depth in various currents

I've already got a few locations in mind to rock this rig on. If the water's higher, I think it could be an ideal solution on the Manistique river in the central UP. Also parts of the PM. And I've been eager to check out the lower Muskegon. And, naturally on the Big Manistee. If I get to Steelhead Alley in Ohio, this seems like a logical choice, too.

After last Spring's day on the PM, I love this style. Smooth, fluid, and once you get the hang of casting, oh-so-easy! All the chuck-n-duck guys were looking at me and many commented that it looked like far less work.


10 August, 2010

Leave No Trace

Maybe it's the former Boy Scout in me, but I've been somewhat surprised on my last few trips into the woods. With all the play that Leave No Trace gets, I sure see a lot of trash. Latest was along the PM.

I know we all need to share the rivers, but the culprit seems to be the canoe trips. Canoe landings and rest stops seem to have been the worst At the pull-out above Green Cottage, I came upon a nice little pile of empty water bottles, foil wrappers, chip bags, and other delightful surprises. We're talking a pretty sizeable collection. I've seen similar this summer on the AuSable and Huron rivers.

You could try the theory that they're river novices and don't get it. And, I suppose you'd be right. But seriously, what moron doesn't get that? Do you throw your trash on the floor at home? Ummm, no...

When I visit the outdoors - whether hunting, fishing, or camping - I try to leave the location just a little cleaner than when I got there. While my fires were getting started, I would walk the campsite and pick up miscellaneous litter. Didn't take long and made a nice difference. I do think I'm going to stuff a couple of trash bags into my vest. Next time I'll pack that litter pile OUT.


09 August, 2010

Sweet Stick

Last week I filled the last remaining (I hope...) hole in my arsenal. I love my Scott A2 9' 6-weight, but it's a little much for teeny dry flies to 6" rainbows. That rod's more geared to nymphing, windy days, or big flies like Hex or terrestrials. I've had a few outings where I'd wished for a nice 4-weight. Plus, I picked up a Ross CLA 1.5 that I lined up with Rio Selective Trout in 4-weight. So, it needed a good home.

As I've mentioned, I'm a big Scott fan. Both my A2 and my S3 (9'6" 8-weight) fish so well. They improve my casts, and up my numbers. So, an A3 in 4-weight was a natural candidate. Luckily, my local shop, Colton Bay, just became a Scott dealer! Had a lot of debate with my buddy Mike Schultz -- and if you need gear advice, go see Mike, he knows his sh*t -- about 8'6" or 9'.  Simple solution; go cast both.

Mike was advocating the 8'6", although he'd not had the chance to cast it in the A3. I thought I might benefit from the longer stick. After we both threw a few with both rods, the conclusion was the 8'6". Surprisingly, both rods were great, but the shorter stick seemed to have just a little more "pop". But both were AWESOME. Whether you're a beginner, or experienced vet, the A3 series seems to make everyone just a little bit better. It's relatively fast, but not overwhelming.

And, best of all -- it's made in Colorado, and Scott is owned by William Clay Ford (yeah, that Ford) of Michigan. I can buy a great product AND support the U.S. industry? Sweet!

Hoping to get in some river time with dries this weekend, if the forecast cools down a little. Looking forward to gettting this sweet stick out there.


06 August, 2010

Camp Cuisine

Though I don't write about it much, one of my other passions is cooking. In particular, I love to grill. So it's only natural that the challenge of an interesting meal cooked over an open fire is one I want to tackle. In fact, I think planning and executing meals over the campfire is among my favorite parts of the camping experience.

This past weekend was no exception and it was fun to figure out how to handle all my dining needs. Lunches were simple sandwiches, as no time for fires and such. But dinner and breakfast it was game on!

Saturday night -- Delmonico steak, grilled asparagus, and roasted redskins. Potatoes were probably the highlight. Sliced thin (love my super-sharp Rapid River Knife Works hunting knife), drizzled in olive oil and Penzey's Northwoods seasoning. Wrapped them in foil and tossed them into the coals for a while. Came out PERFECT. Interestingly, steaks are the one grilling item I sometimes struggle with at home. Yet when cooking over an open fire I can just easily nail a perfect medium-rare. Yum!

Breakfasts -- breakfast is one of my favorite meals to cook. It appeals to my "waddya' got" approach, learned from my Grandmother. Had some nice chunks of steak left so those went into a scramble with eggs and asparagus for Sunday's breakfast. Monday was pepper bacon with eggs and asparagus and a repeat of the potatoes. Sadly, the potatoes fell short -- a touch overdone this time.

Sunday night -- as I made my way back up the 145 steps at the Second Claybanks I realized it was HOT. Wasn't so sure I was up for a fire and all that it entailed. But part of this is the challenge and I decided to man up. Glad I did, as it was perhaps the best meal of all. I'd brined a nice thick pork chop. A quick rinse and a little Penzeys Sunny Spain seasoning and it's ready for some fire. Once again, some grilled asparagus (hey, I love asparagus, and one bundle was just right for two days worth of meals). Had some cold wild rice salad with me that I'd made for an event earlier in the week. What a nice meal.

And, what is food without drink? I've found that a nice growler filled with Michigan craft-brewed beer is the perfect end to a day outdoors. This trip I filled two with a couple of different IPA's from Detroit Beer Company. Tasty stuff. And growlers are actually easier to manage in the cooler than bottles or cans. Naturally, this approach doesn't apply to UP camping. It's Stroh's or nothing up there!

Upon arrival home, I found that I'd planned perfectly. Unloading the cooler was easy -- all that remained was two slices of bacon!


05 August, 2010

R.I.P. Seven Dollar Tent

This weekend's camping/fishing trip on the PM marked the death knell for the $7 tent. Last Fall I replaced it with Moraine 23 from The North Face. A purchase at the TNF outlet store, the new tent cost 10x it's predecessor! This trip was my first opportunity to try it out.

What a novelty that the prospect of a little rain didn't cancel my plans. It was nice to have confidence that as long as it wasn't going to be ark-like conditions, I'd be just fine. With the $7 Special, I'd have been scrambling to find a low-cost local motel room.

I'd set the new tent up previously in my family room. It's a three-pole model so the whole "what goes where" equation was a little complex, but I figured it out eventually. This weekend, I arrived at my campsite and had it set-up in just a few moments - correctly, I might add. I'd also brought along some waterproofing spray, so this was an ideal opportunity to give it a couple coats. Sure enough, started to drizzle just as I finished.

Only disappointment is that as I bought a discontinued model, I can't find the matching footprint anyplace. And since the tent's an odd shape, this will take some custom work. The tarp I'd brought along was just a little bit too small. Since an effective ground sheet is a key to longevity and retaining waterproof performance, I'll need to get this figured out for the next trip.

First night I slumbered happily with the rainfly on. Sure enough, a few rain drops validated that as a good decision. Everything remained dry and tight. Second night was warmer, but dry. I love sleeping in a tent sans rainfly. The view of the trees and/or nighttime sky is so cool and relaxing. Tradeoff is, you're getting up a little earlier as there's no shelter from the sunrise. But it's completely worth it.

As with all products from The North Face, I'm very pleased. These guys are another very dependable brand (I'd love a Denali fleece jacket - but at $125, I doubt that happens any time soon). Set-up was quick and easy, as was teardown. Components seem well-built and durable and design features are nice. I think I'll get years of good service.


04 August, 2010

Another Big Moment

Took a long weekend on the Pere Marquette to camp and fish. Lots of fodder for posts (and more will come), but key was a big success. On Monday, I caught my first fish on a fly that I tied! A very cool moment.

I was fishing nymphs at a new spot that shall remain unnamed. Hit a nice 8" rainbow. When I got him in, I noticed he'd hit on the top fly -- a beadhead pheasant tail nymph that I tied recently. This fly wasn't perfect, but the fish didn't care. He smacked it pretty hard!

This was a nice validation, for me. I proved that I could tie a fly that fooled a trout. And that the time invested in learning and improving my skills actually had value. Can't wait for steelhead season. I'm already tying up a bunch of eggs in various sizes and colors.