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!


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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.


14 December, 2010


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!


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!


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.


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!


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!


01 December, 2010


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!