21 December, 2011

Quality Time

Spent yesterday duck hunting on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair with good friends Jon and Dan. Though we got skunked (again!), it was still a great day. Which was a reminder of the other benefits of spending time outdoors with your friends and family.

I've spent considerable time outdoors with these guys - hunting ducks and pheasants, fishing for steelhead, salmon, trout, and musky, as well as shooting sporting clays. We always have a blast, no matter the conditions or outcomes. Spending a day in a boat, field, or river with these guys never fails to produce some entertaining moments and create memories.

I have so many friends I'm fortunate to spend time with outdoors. And one of the key side benefits is that you get to know each other in ways you'd never accomplish at a party, in a meeting, or in some similar setting. My Dad and I have gotten great time and grown closer both on our outdoor adventures and travelling to these same adventures. Jon and I had a great chat about life, New Year's Resolutions and much more on our trek back from Canada yesterday.

Not to sound sappy, but cherish those outdoor buddies - the value of the time you spend with them is far greater than the fish you caught, the ducks you shot, or the number of Black Diamond runs completed.


16 December, 2011

Product Review: Columbia Stuttgart 1000 Hunting Boot

Last year I picked up a pair of Columbia Stuttgart 1000 hunting boots. I purchased them for duck hunting, fishing from a boat, and other cold-weather antics after I realized that I had boots that were warm and boots that were waterproof - but none that were both!

The boots were plenty roomy, so I added a pair of wool footbeds to ensure warmth and comfort. A great addition!

I'm very pleased with these boots! I've fished all day in January, hunted all day in November, and even worn them to a couple of college football tailgates. Everytime they're warm and dry. As an added bonus, despite being a slip-on booth, they're amazingly supportive. My feet and back felt great, even after a day standing on an aluminum boat! Paired with my Columbia wool bibs, they're a super-toasty combo!

If you don't have a pair of insulated rubber boots like these, I highly recommend them for a wide range of outdoor activities.


14 December, 2011

Rites of Passage

Was thinking the other day about some of the cool outdoor things I've been fortunate enough to do in the past few years. This got me thinking about "rites of passage" -- that is, those achievements that make you feel like you've arrived at the next level. For me, a few include:
  1. Catching my first steelhead solo; without a guide's help.
  2. Skiing my first Western black diamond run.
  3. Shooting my first pheasant.
  4. Powdering my first clay with a shotgun.
  5. Catching a fish on a fly I tied.
  6. Getting a steelhead on the swing.
  7. My first outing with a guide where the guide mostly worked with the other guy; making it clear they could tell I needed the help less.
  8. Performing a complete tear-down on a shotgun by myself and having it all go back together smoothly.
  9. Landing a steelhead unassisted.
  10. Inventing my first fly pattern; and then having it catch fish!
Every one of these events made me feel a profound sense of pride. Some of my love of the outdoors comes in opportunities for growth and mastery. Learning something new feels like such an accomplishment. But you'll never know everything, so those moments when you recognize advancement feel truly special.

Happy trails!


12 December, 2011

An Evening with a Rising Star

Had the pleasure to spend an evening with April Vokey, fly gal, steelhead guide, and noted tier and learning to tie her version of Ed Ward's Intruder flies. April is rapidly building a solid reputation in the Pacific Northwest, and throughout other steelheading regions, as a rising star. So it was a real treat when Schultz Outfitters pulled together a limited seating class with her.

First and foremost - these are not the flies Midwestern steelheaders are used to. The finished product, when tied by someone more gifted than me, is truly a thing of beauty. And these suckers are quite large. Some of the materials are ones we know well, others (like polar bear fur) are going to be new to us.

During the evening April patiently worked with all of us - from newbie tiers, to experienced hands with decades of experience to transform a pile of feathers and fur into a fly that will live and breathe in the river. Most of the colors look like a whorehouse exploded, but all are proven on BC steel. April's patient teaching style and her ability to hang with a room full of guys (drinking beer...) made the evening a genuine pleasure.

One of the most interesting parts was watching how she responded to quizzing from some of the more experienced guys in the room - this lady knows her materials! I watched her stump tiers with multiple patterns in the Orvis catalog. Pretty sharp!

If April comes to your town, be sure to sign up - you'll enjoy AND learn a great deal!


09 December, 2011

To Conserve and Protect

An article in this month's issue of Eastern Fly Fishing on the Driftless Area (the intersection of MN, WI, IA, and IL) and the effects of Federal agricultural policy set me to thinking. Like many, I'm skeptical of lobbyists. But this was a good reminder of their value in steering government policy.

Groups like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and Trout Unlimited all expend considerable lobbying effort to habitat protection for all of our outdoor passions. And, as we've seen many times over - no habitat means no fish, ducks, pheasants, etc. Whether its agricultural subsidies, dam removal, or natural gas fracking, these groups are working within the government to ensure and influence public policy with the interests of their members in mind. In many ways I feel like they're doing a better job of representing their constituents than the elected officials!

I've even made my peace with the NRA. For a long time, I considered them to be the representatives of the lunatic fringe of gun nuts. What I've come to realize, especially with the current administration in Washington, gun owners need a voice. And the NRA is that voice. While I may not agree with some of the things they advocate, basic protection of the Second Ammendment. I've been learning a bit more about the history of gun owner's rights in Canada and the UK. You're only a stone's throw from having to keep your guns in a locker at the police station, check them in and out, and account for every round of ammunition. I'm fairly certain this isn't what the Founding Fathers wanted for our country.

So, support the groups that represent you at the State and Federal level. If you're counting on your elected representatives to do that, you'll likely be seriously disappointed.


08 December, 2011

Updated Bucket List

I love the idea of bucket lists -- they help you keep an eye out for experiences you'd like to have. This year I've been fortunate to tick off a couple. So, here's my latest list:
  1. Catch a legit two-foot trout.
  2. Ski Jackson Hole.
  3. Duck hunt in flooded timber in Arkansas.
  4. Master tying the Intruder fly.
  5. Fish for steelhead in one of the legendary rivers of the Pacific Northwest.
  6. Master the blood knot.
  7. Complete a Half Century ride (cycling)
  8. Shoot a double on pheasants.
  9. Catch a bonefish.
  10. Ski I-75 at Caberfae; it's been a few years since I've had the opportunity.
I think I have legit shots at 2-3 of these this year. We'll see how I do!


07 December, 2011

Product Review: Simms Windstopper Flap Cap

Everyone keep your arms and legs inside the ride, it's about to get weird...

Yes, I am going to deliver a negative review about a Simms product. I know you thought that scarcely possible, but turns out it is.

Last Winter I picked up a Simms Windstopper Flap Cap for Winter trips. A previous Simms hat had become a favorite, but it was looking pretty worn.

Initial impression was good. Fit well. Warm. Very windproof. As-advertised. But they missed on critical detail. I can't hear ANYTHING with it on. First day I wore it I'm out on Jon Ray's boat with my Dad. Jon offers me some instruction and all I get are lips moving. No sound. Nada. And I hadn't thrown a backup in my bag, so I spent a very quiet day.

I suppose that if you always fish by yourself and want complete solitude, this is one route to that. But if you fish with anyone, you'll never hear them. Plus, I like to be able to count on all five sense in the outdoors and this hat eliminates one of them!

So, note to the excellent folks at Simms - I wasted my money on this one! Should have picked up the Chunk Knit Beanie. As a general rule, I'm not that wild about Windstopper hats. Better to stick with a simplek, densely knit one (my Ibex wool beanie is AWESOME), especially if you want to hear anything.


06 December, 2011

Learn from My Mistakes

Recently had a good reminder about a life lesson I've finally learned. A knowledgeable fishing guide friend said, "I'd like to help you avoid all the mistakes I've made by not buying the right gear in the first place..."

So true. Whenever there's been an item I really wanted to add to the quiver, but I cheaped out, I end up regretting the decision. Some fairly simple algebra applies -- it's cheaper to buy the right thing the first time than it is to buy a lower-cost alternative, then replace it with what you wanted in the first place. Even eBay sales seldom recoup that loss.

Next time you're pondering an expense; think it through. If you'll only end up with the more expensive one, just wait and save your money. You'll be glad you did.


05 December, 2011

Order to Chaos

A place for everything and everything in its place. Normally my mantra for keeping outdoor gear organized and stored safely. Sadly, one I had not applied to my tying supplies.

All those feathers, furs, beads, and wiggly rubber legs were just in chaos in a few different Rubbermaid storage containers. But I couldn't find much of anything. And, I'd even started buying duplicates. Not good. Time to bring order to chaos.

After pulling everything apart into some rough groupings. Once I did this, I quickly discovered most things fit pretty well into three categories:
  • Feathers
  • Furs
  • Man-Made Materials
Fortunately, everything divided fairly equally (though I do seem to have amassed an outstanding amount of feathers). To keep things even further organized, I grouped some of the man-made stuff together. I found I have a ton or rubber legs, dubbing, and Senyo's shaggy dub (a steelheader's staple!). So each got a Ziploc bag.

The results are awesome! Now I can tell what I have, don't have, or am getting low on at a glance. And when I'm feeling creative, locating that new cool material is a snap. Wish I'd done this a long time ago.


30 November, 2011

Need for Complexity?

I was reflecting with a friend over lunch about how many of my good friends are as obsessive as myself, especially regarding outdoor interests.

Several times I've told people that I prefer to fish on the fly because I need to make things as complex as possible. A wary steelhead won't think twice about striking a spawn bag -- that looks and smells like real food. But you've really got to outsmart that same fish to hit a piece of belly-button lint tied to a hook.

Same happens with my mountain bike. When I tell people I ride a single-speed with no suspension they look at me as if I have three heads. When I look inward, it DOES seem a bit odd. But I love my single and wouldn't trade it for the world.

I'm also continually tweaking my gear for that "little bit better". As I wait for the warranty replacement on my Scott 6-weight, I'm already pondering whether a nice reel than my Ross CLA would be appropriate for my all-around trout stick. Maybe a Hatch 5-Plus or a Ross Evolution... or maybe a Ross F1.All for a trout reel. I've routinely fought trout up to 20" simply by stripping them in without ever even going to the reel!

In the end, I think it comes down to a simple core part of my personality. I like a challenge with room for improvement. Even as a kid, I got bored pretty quickly. Just ask my parents about Parent-Teach Conferences. Same story every year -- "Sean's not working up to his potential". But when I am engaged by something where I can learn and grow, it fulfills me, challenges me, and just plain makes me happy. In my educational career, I proved that. Despite being a consistent lower-middle-of-the-pack-student throughout K-12, I completed a Master's degree with a 4.0 GPA - because I was engaged, challenged, and things had the complexity they needed to keep me engaged. So, in the end, I think that need for complexity is hard wired to keep me interested, motivated, and fulfilled.


29 November, 2011

Choke Artist

With the new Remington Versa Max shotgun, I've been discovering the wonderful world of interchangeable choke tubes and their effect on shot patterning. While I'd settled on Improved Cylinder for sporting clays, most of my recent shooting has been in hunting situations. This presents some interesting challenges. For one, clays behave in a predictable way. Ducks and rabbits do not.

For now, I've settled on Improved Modified. It seems to pattern well at 35 yards, which has been good for ducks over decoys. But it's likely this weekend rabbit season will commence. So, now a new challenge - at what distance does THAT shot normally happen? Hmmmm.

These are all nice problems to have. Last year at this time I was doing most of my hunting with a Winchester 1200 that I had only the choke it came with. But it does add a degree of complexity to the whole thing.


22 November, 2011

Follow-Up Review: Remington Versa Max

Got in two solid duck hunts with the Remington Versa Max, so thought a follow-up review was in order.

From the hunter's perspective, it's clear this shotgun was designed for the waterfowler. The weight, swing feel, and action seem ideally suited to tracking down and stopping a duck on a smokin' approach.

I find the light pipe fiber optic sight is really helpful for aquiring your target and establishing a solid lead. So far, I haven't swapped out colors, but it seems to me that this will eventually be a solid feature for dealing with varying weather conditions.

Best of all is the soft-shooting action. Remington claims that this 12 gauge has the recoil of a 20 gauge. Thus far, my shooting confirms this. 2-3/4" shells on the sporting clays course were noticably softer, but the real proof was with 3" shells in the layout boat and duck blind. WOW! Only a very small difference versus the lighter 2-3/4". Haven't shot any 3-1/2" shells yet, but eager to see those. Definitely a solid benefit, especially if you throw a lot of steel at ducks.

Interchangeable chokes have been excellent. Being able to swap out based on the decoy spread has been excellent. I seem to be alternating between Modified and Improved Modified as optimum. As time goes on, I'll probably settle on one and adapt my timing to that.

Thus far I've got about 4 boxes of 3" shells and about a case of 2-3/4" through this gun without a single cycling issue. All indications are that this gun should approach the legendary performance of a Benelli.

Hoping to get one more duck hunt in before the snow falls and it's rabbit season. More reports to follow, but VERY happy with my purchase so far!


18 November, 2011

First Thoughts: Orvis Mirage 6

My spey stick's a way-cool classic Scott ARC 128l7-3. Since picking it up, I've gotten many comments and compliments from spey guys in the know.

I needed a reel for it and didn't have anything in the quiver large enough, so I picked up a Ross CLA-6. Certainly a nice enough reel, plenty capable of holding a reasonable amount of backing and a Rio Skagit Short 475 grain line. But, it's got no soul. And just lately, I'm all about rigs with some soul.

I was leaning toward the The Spey Co's Circle Spey reel. Way, cool. Hand-crafted. And you're not likely to run into another one on the river. For the very reasonable price, I think you get a lot of soul.

Somehow a deal always changes things up. And I scored a deal on a gently-used Orvis Mirage 6. This is Orvis' latest generation reel and one that's been getting a good bit of attention in the media. I know several guides who fish them and all say good things. The excellent sealed drag gets high marks, and since reliable performance in sub-freezing temps is a key for me, this was the one for me.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's surprisingly heavy for being so light. Or light for being so heavy. And I know that makes little sense. Perhaps the best description is that it's surprisingly robust for how light it is.

Had a chance to look deep into the guts of the sealed drag. Holy crap. No low-tech cork here. A carbon-to-stainless-steel construction uses technology borrowed from fighter jet brakes. Seriously. This thing's the shit. Oh, and swapover to right-hand retrieve was butt-simple.

Gotta' get out and get my swing on. See what happens when a pissed off double-digit steelhead puts the hurt on me. Look for more soon...


17 November, 2011

Long-Term Product Review: Browning Hell's Canyon Jacket

 I have a couple of years in with my Browning Hell's Canyon jacket and felt it was time for a follow-up review. This was sparked by its performance on a recent layout duck hunt. The day was clammy and overcast. While not super-cold, laying around in a small boat in the mouth of the Detroit River for a few hours can get pretty chilly. Add to that intermittent periods of rain, and you have a recipe for a big chill. But I stayed dry and toasty through it all. Excellent performance - certainly more than I could ask for a jacket that makes few claims as a shell (I don't own a cammo waterproof shell -- that's on the shopping list).

Initially I was concerned about the unfinished neoprene cuffs wearing or getting pulled all the time. That's been no issue. And, it's nice to be able to cinch them down water- and wind-tight. As with the rest of the coat, wears like iron. I've fished, hunted rabbits, pheasant, and ducks in this jacket in almost every condition and this jacket looks like the day I bought it.

Zippers are where you can tell a superior outdoor item. And Browning's on this product are top notch. Works smoothly and neoprene backing gasket keeps out wind and driven rain. Upper chest pockets are nice for frequently accessed small gear.

Highly recommended. If you're looking for a good all-around camo windproof fleece, you can't go wrong here. I paid under a hundred dollars for mine - a bargain for a jacket this good.


09 November, 2011

Care Instructions on Reverse

If you spend time outside, outerwear that's well-suited to your pursuit and able to stand up to the elements is key. As such, I've got a closetful of clothing. This represents a significant investment, so taking care of this gear is paramount.

But chucking that $400 GoreTex shell into the washing machine with some Tide and house brand fabric softener will almost immediately clog all those little wonderful pores that let perspiration escape and keep out the elements. The alternative is to just wear the garment until it's utterly disgusting. Yeah, we all know that guy...

What surprises me is how few people seem to know about the process and benefits of laundering waterproof/breathable garments. Even breathable waders can be laundered. The process removes contaminants that negatively impact performance, eliminates odors, removes soiling and stains (mostly), and add life to your garment.

I've had good luck with the Nikwax line, available at REI and other outdoor retailers. The basic process is pretty simple. To begin, it's a good idea to remove all traces of traditional detergent and fabric softener from your washing machine's dispensers. Wash the garment with a cleaner, like Nikwax Tech Wash. Immediately following, wash again in Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In treatment. This second step will renew the waterproof qualities if your garment. Finally, tumble dry on a low setting - a final step that sets the DWR renewal.

The exception to this process are waders. The Simms Fishing web site has an excellent resource here. The washing process is about the same as outlined above. What's different is the process of renewing the DWR waterproofing. The neoprene booties and gravel guards won't stand up to the dryer. Instead, you simply spray them with some Revivex, then dry and set it with a hair dryer.

I've found the results and benefits are totally worth the effort. Recently a Marmot rain jacket was experiencing some leaks in the rain. A quick wash and retreatment of the DWR and now it beads water like a newly waxed car.


08 November, 2011

What a Dive!

Spent yesterday bobbing around Lake Erie with my buddy Mike Schultz, one of his friends, and Capt. Brian Meszaros owner of the Diver Down Crew guide service. As this was only my second time out for ducks, and my first time hunting from a layout boat, it was highly anticipated.

What a totally cool experience! The layout boats resemble a shorter, wide kayak. After setting the decoys, each guy is dropped into one layout boat. You scrunch down flat to be invisible and start watching the horizon. Within a few minutes, Schultzy and I had some action, though we both blasted through three rounds with nary a hit.

If you haven't hunted diver ducks, they are FAST. Capt. Brian said bluegills can easily hit 60-70 mph on approach. The challenge is waiting until the very last second, quickly acquiring your target and letting fly. That, and leading them a BUNCH!

I had one confirmed kill, with Schultzy picking up the balance. Afterward, I got a quick lesson in cleaning ducks. Surprisingly simple, actually.

A couple of gear reviews will be forthcoming - this was the first hunt with my Remington Versa Max, and my Browning Hell's Canyon jacket kept me toasty and pretty dry. Great experience! I think I'm going blind hunting in Canada in a couple of weeks, so should be a nice duck season!


02 November, 2011

Truth in Advertising

There's a reason its called the VersaMax. I think this video review pretty well covers it. This is about as close to a do-all shotgun as I've found.

Had the opportunity to blow up some clays with mine on Sunday and it continues to perform like a champ. We'll see how it does on the ducks next week on a layout hunt.


01 November, 2011

Big Sky Country

I love travelling out West - whether it's Utah, Montana, or Arizona. The whole scale is SO vastly different from what we see in the Midwest. Your entire frame of reference is suddenly skewed. Freight trains with 80 cars suddenly look like toys when set across the vast background of terrain and sky.

Wisely, I took the DSLR along on the Montana trip. I hope you enjoy the results.

Beaverhead River Skyline

Beaverhead River with the Fisheye

Schultzy Chillin' at the Takeout

Tobacco Root Mountains - Snow on the Last Two Days

Jefferson River Vista

More Jefferson River

Secret Tributary up in the Ruby Range

Enjoy; I sure did. I've already booked again for next year!


28 October, 2011

Strip Club

Early in my fly fishing entanglement I had the opportunity to see PM guide and guru Tommy Lynch do a demo on stripping streamers on sink tips for trout. All of the newbies in this class found this a bit intimidating and challenging. As I recall, Tommy said something to the effect of, "this is isn't First Grade fishing - more like College". Then he proceeded to stick a nice little trout out of the upper Manistee river.

At the time, I thought this was pretty interesting, but I was still struggling with basics like how to tie on a fly and tell the difference between a dry and a nymph. Plus, I was more focused on steelhead and trout were just a fun diversion.

Fast forward a few years and hundreds of river hours to this year. After signing up for a Montana trip that was principally to be about streamers, guide and friend Jon Ray recognized we needed to get my game up. So we spent a day early this Spring floating the Manistee and learning how to cast, spot good water, and so many other minute details to ensure I was able to represent Michigan well in Big Sky Country.

Thanks largely to Jon's patient expert guidance, my trip to Montana was a rousing success. I arrived confident I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself. On my first streamer float, on the Beaverhead river, I was quickly able to spot my opportunities and deliver a streamer right on the money. The result? I caught some nice fish! No monsters, but I did crack a nice just-under-20" brown and an 18-1/2" rainbow, among many others.

A few pointers that really helped me:

  1. Don't just watch your target spot; keep one eye on what's coming and time your casts. If there's a decent hole and followed by one that's just MONEY without enough time to set-up a second cast, hold off. 
  2. A quick roll cast is a nice way to get all that heavy line back to the surface and set you up for a solid next cast.
  3. Unless you hook a monster, stay off the reel. Strip 'em in fast and hard once they hit.
  4. Don't slow down when you get a chase (the natural reaction). Trout are fast, if they want it, they'll catch up.
So now, a few years later, I feel like I'm in the club - not necessarily elite, but light years ahead of the masses. Funny, I've even managed to become more of a trout guy. In fact, my goal for next season is a legit two-footer -- I've gotten a lake-run that big, but it was a bonus on a Winter steelhead day.

24 October, 2011

New Chapter

Last week I added an excellent tool to my fishing arsenal. A boat.

For some time I've been debating getting a drift boat. But I've had a lot of concerns. First, it's a lot of money - at least $4,000 for a decent boat and trailer. Would I use it enough? What about storage? Can I take it solo? What about rivers without good launches? All of these issues, and more had me standing on the sidelines.

But a boat opens up so much for to me. I can fish longer stretches. Get to waters without walk-in public access. And strip streamers off the front of the boat. All big advantages.

Enter the floaty boat. Some friends have turned me on to the virtues of rafts. Lightweight, durable, great in low water, can be launched almost anywhere. And, most tear down in into a suitecase-sized package.

Fortunately, a guide friend had a lightly used FishCat 13 that needed a good home after he upgraded to a larger three-man raft. A good price was offered and a deal struck.

This weekend I did my first float on the Huron River. I've spent my fair bit of times in others boats, but I've never rowed on my own.  So, I was understandably a bit nervous.

Not to worry -- this boat rows like a champ! I can virtually stay in one place and spin it in a 360. Fished a bit off the front platform and found that convenient and comfortable.

I think this will be a great solution for me. Easy to store, easy to row, rugged, and with a reasonable investment. Sweet!


21 October, 2011

Simms Windstopper Hoody - Follow-Up Review

After a week in Montana, this jacket REALLY proved it's worth, so I thought a follow-up review was in order.

Fly fishing in the Fall really puts outdoor gear to the test. You never know what you're going to encounter - high winds, bone-chilling temps, rain, even snow. A jacket that's durable and versatile can make the difference between toasty and miserable.

The Simms Windstopper Softshell Hoody handles it all. For as lightweight as it feels, it's surprisingly warm. And the Gore-Tex Windstopper lives up to it's name; stops even high Western winds dead in their tracks. Surprisingly, it also seems to breathe better than other windproof fleeces I own. Credit the Gore-Tex materials, I suppose.

Our last day was a perfect example of the effectiveness of this garment. 45 degrees, 20 mph winds with gusts over 30, and intermittent rainshowers. Although I had my Simms G4 rain jacket in my bag, I never even bothered to take it out. The Windstopper Softshell Hoody kept me warm and dry all day.

One thing I love about Simms garments universally is the cut. Obviously this is a company of fly fishing fanatics who make gear for fly fishing fanatics. And this jacket is no exception. It's got movement you need for casting, reach mends, and landing fish, without being baggy.

If you fish in cooler conditions, you need one of these. Whether you think you do or not. Kudos to Simms for a great product.


18 October, 2011

Big Sky - Part 1

The first week of October I was able to tick off a Bucket List item - fishing out West. Spent a phenomenal week with the Stonefly Inn & Outfitters crew. The trip was put together by Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters and included many SO regulars.

We landed in Bozeman late morning and Dan "Rooster" Leavens, head honcho (really -- it says it on his business card) and another guide picked us up for the drive to Twin Bridges. The scenery was truly stunning; a valley in the midst of the Beaverhead and Tobacco Root mountains made for some amazing vistas.

The Stonefly's configuration is just about ideal - a half-dozen two-person cabins surround "The Roost". The Roost is the central gathering point with a huge screened porch, and a cozy kitchen/gathering room. Everyone eats together at a big table - a very cool opportunity to get to know your companions, swap fishing lies, and enjoy the excellent food that the Stonefly serves up.

That afternoon Mike and I enjoyed an unseasonably warm half-day float on the nearby Jefferson river with Rooster. With sunny skies and few clouds, the fishing was tough. But the scenery, the company, and a few locally brewed IPA's made it a fantastic experience. Fishing Montana in October in flip-flops doesn't suck one bit, either!

That evening found our crew of a dozen all gathered for another excellent meal, followed by some time around the campfire. Not bad for a travel day!

Monday, we set out for the Beaverhead River. Most guidebooks list the Beaverhead as one of the most fish-rich rivers in the region. Another bright sunny day kept the fishing tough, but we did turn a few on streamers. I was thankful for the instruction this year from guide and friend Jon Ray - my streamer game was solid after his coaching. Slow fishing caused us to jump over to the Big Hole river where fishing was a bit better and the scenery up in the Ruby mountains was even more breathtaking.

Unfortunately a little in-boat swordfight resulted in a casualty - the tip of my Scott A2 6-weight. Time for my first test of the much-lauded Scott warranty. On the upside, I got the chance to fish the new Scott A4 6-weight. The difference from my A2 was truly astounding. That extra stiffness really helped me with throwing larger dry flies. One of these sticks is certainly in my future.

More to follow...


11 October, 2011

Product Review: Simms Dry Creek Rolltop Backpack

Just back from 6 days of chasing trout in SW Montana. Lots of stories to tell, observations to share, and lessons learned. But first, a product review...

While packing for the trip I decided that a good waterproof bag for use in the boat would be a wise investment. I have an older Orvis Safe Passage backpack. While it's a great product, it's not even remotely weatherproof. Backpacks have proven a very convenient solution as a carry-on for the flight. And a waterproof backpack is easy to throw in the boat.

A visit to a local shop turned up a model by Patagonia as well as one from Sage. Both too pricey. I can't justify over $200 just for a bag. The Simms Dry Creek Daypack was initially intriguing, but ultimately I don't feel like it's large enough for my intended use. While it may be a fine hike/fish solution, it won't hold my small camera bag, a rainjacke, an extra layer or two, and the other gear I'd want for a day fishing from a boat.

Enter the Simms Dry Creek Rolltop Backpack.  Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this one is JUST right! Not the mammoth Guide size, nor as tiny as the Daypack. A waterproof exterior pocket affords easy access to frequently used items. The simple rolltop provides a simple, leakproof solution that won't fail like a zipper can.

After a week bouncing around in drift boats in the rain and wind the contents of this excellent bag were dry and protected. And I could readily get my DSLR with two lenses, a couple of spare spools, a rain jacket, a spare fleece and more in with room to spare.

So, if you need a well-made, waterproof, durable bag that's easy to transport, I highly recommend this excellent piece of gear.


29 September, 2011

Product Review: Remington Versa Max

Now that I've had my Remington Versa Max for a few months, I feel like it's time to share some of my experiences. As I acquired this gun in the Spring, I've not had the chance to hunt with it yet. Thus far my experiences have been with sporting clays.

First a word about my goals for this gun. My goal was an all-around gun that would perform many tasks well. I wanted to be able to shoot clays with light target loads, 3-1/2" steel for waterfowl, and #6 game loads for rabbits and pheasants. In short, a Swiss Army Knife of guns. One that I could shoot often enough to find a reliable mount and get comfortable with the results. Initially I lusted for an over-under, but I quickly realized that a synthetic autoloader was far more likely to suit my needs.

All new guns get a tear-down, a thorough scrub to eliminate the factory lube/protectant, and a re-lube with appropriate gun oil and grease at key points. I've found this step both helps with performance/reliability and gives me some insight into how this particular firearm operates. The Versa Max is impressive in this regard; the mechanical design is simple and logical. Everything strips down easily and mostly without tools. And it all goes back together without holding the stock at a 15 degree angle while holding down this tang, pushing up on that knob and being done only under a full moon. the Try-Nite coated barrel and nickel-teflon plated internal components mean a long life in the worst conditions.

But will that dog hunt? In a word - YUP! First day out for clays I found a gun that mounts cleanly and consistently. Butt end of the stock hits the shoulder pocket consistently and my cheek's right where it should be. As all good shotguns should, it shoots where you point it. And yes, I've had some that don't...

Surprisingly, despite the 8# total weight the Versa Max feels far more nimble than expected for a gun that seems to have been designed principally for waterfowl. I'm eager to try it for upland hunting this Fall. A day of brush busting for grouse should tell if this early impression holds.

If this all sounds overwhelmingly positive, that's because it is. I've had the opportunity to handle and shoot competitive offerings and all had some significant concerns for me - whether ergonomics, design, or features.

However, I do have two issues with the Versa Max. The first is probably a matter of personal preference. The fore-end is a free floating design.  I expect that with pump-action shotguns, but it's my first experience with an autoloader. I can't find any drawback to it, I'm just not used to how it feels. Time should cure that.

The second was a design flaw which Remington quickly rectified. On more first outings I found the magazine nut loosening after a half-dozen or so rounds. I needed to give it a half-turn or more after each stand. This was both annoying and looked like a great opportunity to loose some parts in the field. After contacting Remington, they sent me a new retainer nut and magazine cap. The results were immediate and obvious -- problem solved! The reality of new products is that design issues happen. What separates the good companies from the mediocre is how they address known issues. Remington responded quickly and solved my issue completely. Can't ask for more than that.

Look for a more extensive review later this year when I've had the opportunity to get the Versa Max out in the field chasing rabbits, pheasants, and other small game. If you're looking for a solid autoloader, the Versa Max should be a serious consideration.

28 September, 2011

Poetic License

Hopped online today and picked up a 10-day Montana fishing license. I love adding a new license to my wallet. It's sort of like those RVs you see with the US map and all the states they've visited marked. Plus, it's a great reminder of some fantastic outdoor experiences.

Like my first time duck hunting on Walpole Island in Canada. Just the obtaining the license was a comedy of errors - from the First Nation guide who no-showed and sent his kid instead to the bait shop we bought our license in that looked like something straight out of Red Green. But the hunt was fun and memorable. The speed the ducks came in at, the challenge of picking one up and following it until the time was right, and all the useful things I learned from my buddy Dan.

Or my Ohio fishing license. My first time walking the spate rivers of NE Ohio that are so unlike anything in Michigan. Beautiful scenery, often in the shadow of an industrial downtown. Despite tough conditions (a 20 degree temperature drop) Mike and I scored well with many hook-ups and several landed. Best of all, I learned so much about fishing this region and the techniques that work.

Every license tells a story and brings a wealth of reminders of enjoying the outdoors - both with my friends and solo. Can't wait to add more!


27 September, 2011

Bucket List

Next week I get to cross off a Bucket List item - fishing out West. Headed to The Stonefly Inn in Twin Bridges, Montana. This is a hosted trip arranged by my buddy Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters. From everything I've heard, this is going to be everything I anticipated - lots of opportunities to hit lots of legendary water.

With the guidance and advice of friend and knowledgeable guide Jon Ray, I feel like I've upped my game and am ready for the trip. I can comfortably throw a streamer, and feel like I understand the dynamics of that program. And I've had some solid tutelage on fishing dries/hoppers from a drift boat. Thanks for putting in the time with me JR!

I'm also pleased to have some hours in with my Scott A-3 907-4 stick with sink tip, floating, and intermediate lines. I picked this rig up mostly for this trip and it's proven to be surprisingly versatile and effective.

Got the suggested gear list at the pre-trip meeting and fortunately was mostly all set. I did add a nice Simms waterproof backpack for use as a boat bag. This will see a lot of use in Michigan, too.

More stories, and pictures, to follow!


16 September, 2011

Reel Lust

OK, we're pretty much looooong past the point of need in terms of sticks and reels. But recently I've discovered The Spey Company and their super-sweet classic spey reels. Wow are these things cool! They look so classic and well-executed. Just what my Scott ARC 1187-3 needs. Classic action rod, with ultra-classic reel!

Which brings up an interesting element of fly fishing. The reel-rod matchup. Yeah, there's the balance issue every book and magazine article talks about, but on an aesthetic, soulful level, it's so much more than that. I think good fly rods and reels have a persona that goes beyond just graphite and metal. It's way more than a product spec sheet could ever convey. Good gear speaks for itself in a unique way. On some basic level that you could never quantify, a Scott rod and a Winston rod are so incredibly different. Just like a Hatch reel is a totally different beast from an Orvis.

And beyond this, these pieces of gear say something about the owner, too. I think that's a part of what makes the brands sticky. I have friends who are incredibly loyal to Orvis. I have one Orvis reel I really do like, but it's not a brand that's stuck with me. Whereas Scott rods have become my standard. I love the performance, but there's something about fishing a Scott. In my mind it says "high performance, but not fussy".

For now, my spey rod will have to be content with a Ross CLA 6 (a fine reel in it's own right). But someday...


15 September, 2011

Share the Road?

Living in a college town, I get to see more than my share of dumbass cyclist moves. We as cyclists are quick to criticize idiot drivers, but somehow we seem compelled to look the other way when one of our bretheren does something foolish. I know a lot of drivers who are highly annoyed at cyclists, and it's my opinion that a surprisingly small pool of morons makes the rest of us who are responsible get a bad name.

Example One
Car stopped to make a left turn. Car behind moves to go around. Meanwhile idiot student on bike speeding along not watching tries to pass second car on right. Nearly gets hit and shoots the driver the bird. I was always taught to behave just like any other vehicle when on a bike. That means, traffic stops, you do too. At a minimum, when riding in an urban setting - pay more attention!

Example Two
I'm stopped at a light. Light turns green. As I proceed into the intersection, here comes an idiot on a bike, speeding down the hill, swerves into the left turn lane to go around me, then abruptly swerves in front of me in the straight lane. Hey, dumbass, if I accelerate more quickly than you anticipated, you're road pizza.

Common sense - it's a gift, not a given.


12 September, 2011

Boss Ross

My new Ross Evolution LT 2 reel showed up today. Holy sweetness!!!!

Regular readers will know I'm a big Ross fan with a couple of Momentums, 3 CLA's, and now two Evolutions. My first Evo was a 4 size for my Scott A3 7 weight streamer/big bug stick. I've quickly become a big fan of that reel, so when I decided to add some jewelry to my A3 4 weight, an Evo was the logical choice. I love the unique Ross colors (although oddly, I only own black, and one champagne) and the Evo's green is too cool, so that's what I had to get!

These reels are truly impressive. Super-light for their rating, and with a fit-and-finish more like a fine watch than a fly reel. On the smaller #2 size, it's even more impressive. Can't wait to get this one lined up and out on the water.

However, I now have a choice to make. My original plan was to line this up with a 4 weight Rio Clouser line for popping bluegills and other panfish. But now that I have it, I'm wondering if it isn't TOO big pimpin' for gills. Might be more appropriate on a trout set-up. Or maybe that's a snobby perspective.

I've learned in the past year that high-end reels with fancy drag systems are really overkill for most trout, smallmouth, and certainly bluegills. In most cases you're stripping them in by hand anyway.

The appeal of a high-end reel for less demanding species is similar to the aforementioned fine watch, luxury car, good knife, or other similar niceties. Great reels just feel cool and somehow give a little more juice when you're fishing them. Sure, on my steelhead rigs, I need that bulletproof drag systems and durable finish. But why not have that when hitting on the smallmouth, too?


06 September, 2011

King Thing

Did my annual Salmon trip on Friday. Got an invite to join my buddy Dan for a float after hearing the Pere Marquette (and most other NW Michigan tribs) were stacking up with early fish.

Now for the disclaimer; Kings aren't my Thing. For some reason, the Fall salmon run brings out the riff-raff snagging, disrespecting private property, and just generally behaving like obnoxious hillbillies. There are usually big crowds, and once the season gets underway, the fish are pretty beat-up and Zombie like.

Friday was NONE of those things. We saw only one other boat, and only 2-3 walk-ins during the entire day-long float. We found a river stacked up with fresh fish. And, best of all, NO crowds!

This was a lesson learned for the future -- early season Salmon are fun. Between Dan and I we landed 4, but easily hooked over 30 with at least half producing a solid fight. As an added bonus, we got to see lots of aerial acrobatics. Even set my own personal salmon record with a 23# hen. This turned into an epic fight that took me well into the backing TWICE!

I recently re-lined my chuck-n-duck rig; replacing the 30# Climax Zip Line with 20# on the advice of the folks at Baldwin Bait and Tackle. If you're in the area, these guys are the go-to resource for the PM. I've found the Zip Line super durable, but really hard on your hands, especially when cold. BBT recommended downsizing to the 20# and the difference was huge. Plenty strong, but much easier to handle. As always, my early Orvis BLA V and TFO Signature Series 10 weight were perfect for putting the boots to a hard-fighting pig!

Thanks for a great day, Dan! Now I'll let my steelhead dreams run freely. Time to tie flies, check gear, and practice my spey casting.


29 August, 2011

Swing's the Thing

While there's plenty I'm looking forward to about Fall, little excites me more than swinging streamers for amped-up, pissed-off steelhead. I thought I knew a thing or two about "the tug is the drug". But my first mind-blowing grab last October on a Manistee river buck changed all that.

Normally, detecting steelhead strikes is more like finding a fart in a windstorm. I miss tons more than I hit. Not so with swinging. Ka-WHAM! And then the rodeo ride of the first ten seconds of a steelhead fight starts.

But it's more than just the take that intrigues me. Chuck and Duck is fine, when conditions warrant it (ever fished the UP in Spring? Short, deep holes and LOTS of flow mean it's almost the default setting). But there's so little feedback and I just feel less involved. In recent years, I've mostly switched to indicator fishing. It's cool due to all the  issues of managing drift, depth, and other presentation factors. But sometimes its a bit overwhelming.

Enter swinging. Find a good run, select a sink tip that puts you in a reasonable place given conditions, belt out a nice circle spey or double spey cast and you're fishing. Plus, it fits my Fish Fast mentality. Didn't pull one out on the first three drifts? NEXT!

Finally there's the tying aspect. There's a great quote from Ed Ward in the first Skagitmaster, "These flies aren't so much tied as they are engineered." That engineering fastinates me as a tyer. How can I make this fly push water and imitate a baitfish effectively? What colors work for this river? How do I want this fly to behave in the water? That process of continuous improvement absolutely fascinates me. How can I make an inferior fly (like my first efforts) better? How can I make a good fly a great one?

This year's goal is simple - I want to get a steelhead on a swung fly of my design and creation. If I pull that off, I'll be giddy. Will it happen? Who knows, but it will be fun to find out!


25 August, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

As a kid, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Sears Christmas Catalog. That magical moment that marked the official start of the Holiday season!

Over the last week, I've started to find the first Fall issues of the ski magazines showing up in my mailbox. And yes, I do receive Skiing, Freeskier, and Powder. I have a problem, but we've already covered that.

The September issues always feature test reviews of all the new skis and boots for the upcoming season. Fortunately, I'm very happy with both my K2 Public Enemies and my Line Prophet 100's. Between both of these, I'm covered for most of the conditions I'll encounter. And with a custom bootfit, I'm loving my Nordica Speedmachine 10's. But, it's still fun to look...

23 August, 2011

Product Review - Scott A3 907-4

I've got in a few days with my Scott A3 907-4, so I thought a review was in order. This stick was initially purchased for my October trip to The Stonefly Inn and the waters of Montana, but I also figured I had plenty of other uses for it in the Great Lakes region, too. Turns out I was right! Thus far, I've put it to use:
  • Stripping streamers for Spring trout
  • Tossing poppers to panfish (OK, it's overkill, but it was what I had along...)
  • Stripping streamers to smallmouth bass
I've paired this rod with a Ross Evolution LT 4 reel - an awesome combo! For this stick, I have spools with a 200 grain Rio sink tip, a Rio Outbound Short intermediate line, and a Rio Clouser floating line. Thus far, I've only cast the sink tip and the Clouser line.

Sink tip lines are an interesting challenge for a fly rod, in my opinion. The rod needs some backbone to effectively throw a sink tip, but it's still got be be light enough to cast all day without wearing your arm out. My A3 walks that line nicely. The medium-fast action has some oomph to get the line moving, but I've cast this stick for pretty long periods without fatigue. This rod's also equally comfortable tossing poppers large and small.

Thus far I've gotten a couple of decent sized trout and smallmouth on it. Seems to have the backbone to fight like a champ. I'm eager to hook into a hawg in Montana to really see what it's got.

I'm quickly finding this to be a favorite in my quiver that's far more versatile than I'd even expected. Highly recommended and a great value!


16 August, 2011

At the Hop

Heading to the Northwoods for a long weekend of R&R. Work's been pretty steadily crazy lately, so time off the grid is looking really nice.

Talking to a guide buddy today and he reminded me that terrestrials are still the fly of choice for trout. I love fishing hoppers. Nice big foam fly. Easy to cast, easy to track, easy to see strikes. It's like Training Wheels Trout. Had a great time fishing hoppers with Jon Ray on the upper Manistee a few weeks back. Cast, wait, strike, wait, WHACK! Fish on!

Can't wait. Great Beer Fishing. Beer in one hand, rod in the other. Wet wade. Cast, sip, wait, sip, pinch, strike, set beer down, strip, strip, land. Repeat. A true joy of summer.

Whatever summer brings you, enjoy the time!


12 August, 2011

Product Review: Fizik Alliante Road Saddle

As expected, part of the recent road bike fitting included a saddle replacement. I originally put on the Serfas RX saddle not long after I bought the road bike a few years back. But I'd been noticing it's cushy top and wide profile seemed to have some ill effects. It almost seemed to rob power, and I felt like it was throwing my hips out of alignment as I compensated for the width.

During my first fitting session with Oscar, owner of Great Lakes Cycling and Fitness, the saddle was one of the first things he commented on. He diplomatically said that, "nomally we don't put this type of saddle on this sort of bike." What he didn't say was, "...because it's mostly designed for Grandpa cruisers..."

The options were dizzying, and more importantly looked like some sort of medieval torture device. I settled on a mid-priced Selle Royal saddle. More aggressive than my previous one, but not nearly full-out racing gear. Great Lakes has an excellent 7-day trial period for saddles. So, off I went. After a couple of rides, I found that while it was comfortable, it lacked the center channel feature I liked about the Serfas and that made certain southern regions less comfortable. Plus, I found that the narrower profile and lower padding were surprisingly comfortable.

So, back I go to the shop. After some discussion, I decided to move to a Fizik model - actually one of the torture devices I'd seen earlier in this journey. A little more expensive, but with less padding, an even narrower profile, and an anatomical center channel.

From the first mile, I knew I'd made the right choice. I'm not sure how a saddle makes a bike feel faster, but it did. Comfort was surprisingly good. Plus it just looked COOL on my bike.What was surprising was realizing how much I'd been riding almost bowlegged compensating for the wider saddle. The whole ride felt more efficient and I could tell my ergonomics have improved.

The only downside? Minimalist padding means I need to put in some time on the road to toughen up. By the end of a ride, my butt's a bit sore. However, I know this can only be addressed by riding more miles.

If you're looking for a great, high-performance saddle, I highly recommend the Fizik line. Not cheap, but worth it!


11 August, 2011

Signs of the Seasons

Fall is on its way. Our first week of cool temps has arrived. It's darker in the mornings. And the Canadian geese are starting their journey, honking all the way.

I've learned to appreciate and enjoy Summer, but I always reach a point where I'm done. I start looking forward to chasing steelhead, the Fall colors, cooler days, and tailgating. Last week, I hit that point. I could tell because I started thinking about organization among my fishing gear - switching over from trout and smallmouth gear to the big gun steelhead hardware. I'll probaby tie up a couple of new streamers this weekend.

But, still have some trout trips in mind, plans to get out on both mountain and road bikes, and some canoe floats I'd like to do. I'm sure there's plenty of warm-weather fun yet to come, but at the same time, I'll be making plans for the coming season.


10 August, 2011


Had a nice feeling of accomplishment today in my evolution as a fly guy. A friend, who's a novice with the fly, mentioned he was headed to the area around the Au Sable in a couple of weeks. It felt really good to be able to readily recommend some terrestrials and a few dries likely to bring some fish to hand. A very fulfilling feeling from a couple of years back when it seemed like I'd look in the bins in the fly shop and barely be able to identify anything.

I think this is a combination of two factors - experience, and tying. At any rate, it's a nice feeling.


05 August, 2011

Adventure on River X

Normally I've not been a big advocate of the "secret fishing spot" that many fisherman pride themselves on. Readers of this blog have seen posts on the AuSable, Pere Marquette, and other well-known rivers. These rivers have been made famous in magazines, TV and other media. My blog mention isn't going to lead to crowding. But now I've found my secret spot.

Took a drive into Northern Michigan last weekend to fish a piece of water that's been recommended to me for a while. After visiting, I wonder why it took me so long. Found a great campground, right on the banks and got my tent set-up. What I found was some phenomenal water! Beautiful surroundings, great fishing, easy wading. But best of all - no crowds! I fished two days on this piece of water and never saw another fisherman! In Michigan's Lower Peninsula, this is a rare occurrence. The 90+ degree daytime temps probably kept a few away, but this was far from a crowded river.

On Sunday I hitched a ride with a guide buddy for a short float. What a great chance to see even more great water (with easy walk-in access throughout)!  I also got to brush up on my dry fly skills casting to the sweet spot, and learned the art of the SLOOOOOOOW hook set that scored me far more fish once I figured it out.

So there it is. I found my own sweet water. Sorry, can't tell you where it is. Go find your own!   ;)


01 August, 2011

Product Review: Scott A3 854-4 Fly Rod

I'll mix it up this time and skip right to the end, then explain...

I love this stick! If a 4-weight fits your need list, add this one to your quiver.

OK, now that I've gotten the exuberance in up-front, let me tell you more. After a few outings with tiny dries on my Scott A2 906-4 I felt the bug for some lighter tackle bite. Since the Scott A3 series has become my default setting, that's where I decided to start. I had the opportunity to cast both the 8'6" and the 9' versions, before choosing the former. I paired the new rod with a Ross CLA 1.5 and Rio Selective Trout LT fly line.

This weekend I slipped north to investigate the upper stretches of the Manistee River. This time of year, it's hoppers and teeny tiny tricos. Perfect -- let the 6 weight handle the big bugs and the 4 weight to for small stuff.

Casting a rod in your backyard is somehow totally different than casting it out on the river. From the first cast, I found this a magic stick. Distance and accuracy were non-issues. And presentation was always ever-so-delicate. And the light weight made casting comfortable and kept my form in-check. Quickly I was able to entice a nice brookie and a small brown to accept a pile of feathers and fur as food.

I was also very happy with the pairing of rod and line (thanks to Mike Schultz for his help in getting that right). This now-discontinued line from Rio was just right with this rod. It balanced casting power with a smooth, delicate presentation.

In short, buy one. You won't regret it.

As an end note, I'm looking forward to pressing this rod into duty as my bluegill/panfish rod. Picked up a Ross Evolution LT 1.5 and a Rio Clouser for it. Should be many hours of fun!


29 July, 2011

Tying Space Upgrade

I have a pretty sweet fly tying space - actually it doubles as my home office. Looks out over woods, cool old Craftsman style desk, etc. As luck would have it some old stereo components also occupy this space, so I have some nice tunes. Tying in the evening while listening to music is an incredible way to chill out. At the heart of this system is an original NAD 3020 amplifier - a legendary piece of gear known for its smooth, musical sound. I usually drive it with my iPod Classic. But what's been lacking are decent speakers. I've been using some Utah Acoustics speakers that I rebuilt in HIGH SCHOOL (oooh, that's old...). Their sound is pretty underwhelming.

I'm a big fan of Klipsch speakers, especially the KG series. I have KG1's in my family room with a KSW 15" 500w subwoofer. And a pair of KG .5's in my kitchen. I always wanted a pair of Klipsch KG2's, but never really had a good space for them. This looked like the perfect opportunity and a review of eBay showed some nice examples for $100 or less. After losing a couple of auctions, I was able to score a pair in very nice condition. Fortunately the sell shipped them pretty quickly as I was pretty eager by now.

In a word -- Wow!

Despite being early 90's vintage, the KG2's sound outstanding. Warm mids, great bass, and clear crisp highs. Truly a significant (and cheap) upgrade for my tying/office space. Was tying up some oddball sorta' Clouser's to throw at trout last night and had on some nice, rich Great Lake Swimmers that sounded wonderful!

Of course, any upgrade always seems to incite more. Plans are underway to add surround sound in the family room, so a new receiver will be required. This will free up my Creek 4240 integrated amp to join the KG2's upstairs. I expect the resulting sound to be brilliant.

As you may have guessed, in addition to a myriad of outdoor pursuits, I love music and once upon a time was a bit of an audiophile.


25 July, 2011

One for Fun

Rode ten miles at Island Lakes Recreation Area yesterday on the mountain bike. Had several of those moments that reminded my why I love Project SingleSpeed. When you ride a single speed, you get passed. Frequently, especially on climbs. So you're alert to a rider behind you who wants to get by. Several times I was alerted to this by the "click-click-CLANG-thunk" of gear changes.

This simplicity is what inspired this endeavor initially. With my bike, there's no need to think about what gear you're in - because you're in the ONLY gear! But also, the total quiet that comes from a single-speed hardtail bike. It very much appeals to me - very Zen.

Also, heard a couple of bikes that clearly needed some tuning. Missed shifts. Ungraceful transitions. When there's no derailleur, there's considerably less chaos and less to keep in adjustment. Plus, my now-bulletproof drivetrain (thanks to Josh for the Profiles) mean I can just grunt it up that hill. No chain skipping, or other nasty surprises. 

Sweet ride. Super happy.


22 July, 2011

8-Ball, Corner Pocket

One of the most fascinating revelations of Will Turek's spey clinic was finally learning the proper way to hold a two-handed rod for spey casting.

I've been putting the Vulcan Death Grip on the full expanse of the lower grip. But spey casting is a ballet using both hands, with cross-overs, multiple changes of direction, and other complexities. A full grip on the lower just sets up disaster.

Turns out the proper approach is a ball-and-socket with the bulb in the palm of your hand and fingers gripped around it. This gives a solid grip with nearly full rotation. This was truly an "Ah-HA!" moment.

Amazing what some basic instruction will do for understanding! Hoping to get out this weekend to throw a few casts. I've set a goal to have at least two casts - one with an upstream anchor, the other with a downstream - comfortable and repeatable by 1 October for steelhead season. As of now it looks like those will be a Double Spey and a Circle Spey. Several of the Great Lakes guides I've met seem to use the Circle and it's cousin the Snap-T a great deal, so this seems like a good place to start.


20 July, 2011

Chrome on the Brain

Just when I'm enjoying the Summer groove, someone has to go put chrome in my brain. Talking to a buddy this morning who organizes a Fall steelhead fly trip and he tells me to block off some dates in late October. Cr*p, now I'm just itching to get bent!

Don't start fly fishing for steelhead. Do something less addictive, like crack. For now, steelhead porn's just going to have to do the trick...

19 July, 2011

Product Review: Fishpond Ice Storm Soft Cooler

Fishpond products are super-cool. Great style, fun colors, built using indestructible materials and manufacturing methods, and all seem to feature some innovative engineered feature. My favorite clippers are their Pitchfork models - I think I have one on my waders, another my jacket, and one on a lanyard.

Recently, I added an Ice Storm soft cooler to the arsenal of coolers in my basement. I've seen this cooler and it's smaller bretheren bouncing around in guide boats for years, so I knew it was rugged. But taking it a step further with a lifetime warranty is a nice bonus. 

Soft-side coolers usually haven't been especially good at keeping things cold in truly hot conditions for very long. But, Fishpond's done a great job. I had a cooler full of beer and food out in 90+ degree heat for most of Sunday afternoon with everything chilly and surprisingly little melt by the end of a canoe trip. It wouldn't be my choice for a weekend camping (for that, I'll stick to my hard-sided Igloo Max Cold which could keep beer cold in Hell), but for a day on the river, it's outstanding.

My other issue with soft-sided coolers is access. Flimsy zippers make it hard to access, and eventually fail. Not Fishpond. Big, beefy zippers with rubberized handles meant easily opening while balancing in a canoe speeding down the river. And, lots of zippered pockets mean convenient stowage for all sorts of gear.

I also really like the rigid plastic bottom. It offers both structure and durability, as well as keeping melted ice from leaking. Finally, the rubberized liner seems about 3X as thick as any soft cooler I've ever seen. It certainly seems like it will provide a long, useful life.

Yes, $90 is ridiculous for a cooler. But this one's top-notch and should provide me with years of useful life!



Only a true metalhead would be watching Winter steelheading fish porn when it's 90+ degrees out. Yup, that's me. Can't WAIT!

There's nothing quite like that strike to put the heat back into you on a cold day. Chasing smallies and trout is all cool; but for me, the tug is the drug!


18 July, 2011


On Saturday I got to take part in a long-awaited class. Schultz Outfitters hosted a spey clinic with guru Will Turek of the Midwest Spey School. I've been fishing a switch rod for about a year and recently added a dedicated two-handed rod to my arsenal. Thus far I've had a total of roughly 15 minutes of instruction - just enough to be dangerous.

Most of my outings have gone OK, but not great. I really only knew one cast. Wind, orientation, and river dynamics would completely throw my program into disarray. But I think it was good to get out and learn what I didn't know.

Will's program was excellent with a solid progression of knowledge.  We started with some classroom basics that really helped me get a better understanding of my rigs and how you match lines, sink tips, rods, reels, etc. As a bonus, I finally learned how a "cheater" segment fits in. I've been running cheaters on both of my rigs because a more knowledgeable guide told me I needed them. Now I know why, when, and how to figure out what length to use.

After class, we moved to some lawn casting. Again, some really great fundamentals that would come into play later in the day. Focus was on overhead casting and getting comfortable really working BOTH hands in unison. That extra "pop" from the lower hand on the backcast and shooting cast really energizes the whole program. He also made us cast to both sides - as I quickly learned, spey casting is an ambidexterous thing!~

By this point everyone was HOT (high in the low 90's on Saturday) and eager to hit the river. Will started us with the basics of building a double spey cast. Mastering the stop-and-flop of setting up the cast, as well as getting some sense of timing. After that, an exercise in clearing the line that helped with the sweep (to set-up the cast) had us prepped for the real thing.

One key element I learned was the components of the cast. First is the "contrived" cast that sets your anchor point. Next is clearing the line, which creates the D-loop the delivers the power of the cast. Finally is your overhead cast that delivers. What I learned was that the last two steps are universal, no matter the cast. What changes with a Spey, Double Spey, Circle, Snap-T, etc. is the contrived cast. And all of these are based largely on where you need the anchor point. This has been a HUGE source of challenge for me and resulted in some might nice collision casts. But I learned that happens as a result of having the rod tip inside the D-loop. And that's completely driven by wind, and the change of direction needed to hit your target. Wind upstream, D-loop upstream. Wind downstream, D-loop downstream. Basically you never want the D-loop blowing into you/your rod and collapsing into a shit show.

Now we were ready for the big show -- putting all the pieces together. Contrived cast (double spey first, later circle), clearing the line, then BOOM -- delivering the cast. Now it's all clicking and I know why I need each element. Of course my timing could have been better, and timing is critical. But that comes with practice. We also learned Circle Spey, ideal for an upstream cast (and a key for heavy flies and sink tips here in Michigan).

Will closed out the class with some thoughts on presentation. How to slow the fly and get good cross-current action, or speed up the sink rate of the fly for pocket water.

If you're doing ANY two-handed casting, I would strongly recommend a clinic of this sort. I learned a wealth of basics that will really help me build a solid repertoire. I would highly recommend Will Turek, if you have access to one of his classes. Really good guy with a very solid style of instruction that helps you learn and retain technique.


15 July, 2011

Pimp Stick

I can't help it. I think I just have to have one pimp stick set-up. I've shuffled some gear and decided I need a line/reel set-up for throwing poppers to bluegills and panfish on my Scott A3 854-4. Enter the Ross Evolution LT in green. This should make a pretty cool looking combo - grey rod blank, blue guide wraps, green reel. Colored just like a bluegill! Do I need an Evo for gills? Of course not! But it will look sweet when it's done, and I sold another spare reel for enough to pay for it. Sometimes it's just more about form than function - although the A3/Evo in no way lacks peformance!


14 July, 2011

Too Many Ways to Play

Seems like Summer has now become yet another season with too many possible activities competing for my scarce spare time. Hasn't helped that this Summer has been unprecedentedly (is that a word?) busy with work, family, and friends. So, as of now, my spare time could be filled with:
  • Cycling - road and mountain bike
  • Fly fishing - local warmwater rivers, trout streams up North, or poppers in local lakes for bass and panfish
  • Shooting - sporting clays, handguns indoors, or rifles outdoors
  • Canoeing
  • Camping
Cross all these activities by weather conditions, work, and more and it ends up spread pretty thin. But that's OK, even if I'm not doing any one thing as much as I'd like it's sure cool to have all these possibilities. Lately mood seems to dictate activity selection, followed closely by weather. Going shooting on a 95 degree day seems far less fun than hitting the river with the canoe.

And people ask me if I golf. Now just when would I do that?


11 July, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Just spent a very fun weekend with friends on Lake Isabella, outside Mt. Pleasant. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was sitting on the front of the boat in the evening hooking an endless stream of bluegills.

As a kid, I spent many hours sitting on a dock someplace in Michigan chasing bluegills, sunfish, and rock bass. So this was a welcome return to childhood.

My 7 wt. Scott A3 with a Rio Clouser was a bit much for chucking tiny poppers, but I certainly didn't lack for distance casting! Took my a few minutes to find my groove. Meanwhile, my buddy Brian's already had three on with crawlers. But once I figured it out, BAM, pretty much a fish on every third cast. The rhythym was very cool. Cast, let it settle, twitch, twitch, strip, twitch, twitch. Somewhere during the twitch sequence was where I hit most of them.

An incredibly pleasant way to pass an evening. Best of all -- a cooler full of cold beer at my elbow!


08 July, 2011

Ski Tuning

Have started working on the marketing for one of my fave ski shops Sun & Snow Sports. The showed this video clip at this year's Warren Miller Ann Arbor movie. As a guy who tuned a boatload of skis by hand for himself and customers for years, I doubt I'd ever tune my own after watching this. Wow!

07 July, 2011


Spent some time re-organizing fishing gear last night. Despite an excellent organizing system, GEEZ there's a lot of stuff in my basement! I suppose that's because I don't confine my pursuit of fish to any one species, so you need a multitude of tools. And, since steelhead are my passion, that brings in another wealth of specialized gear.

I use one main bag for the gear for the current season. In the Fall I load it up for steelhead, and around the Trout Opener I swap everything over to trout and warmwater pursuit. The off-season gear goes into a dedicated plastic container. Last night in the steelhead bin I noticed 2 Ross Momentums, 1 Orvis Battenkill V (with spare spool, lined up), a Raven Matrix centerpin, 3 boxes of flies, 2 wallets of sink tips, 4 spools of centerpin line, and more. And that's just the hardware, doesn't even touch on the 87 layers needed to wade when it's 20 degrees outside.

Originally the off-season box was much smaller, but it seems to have grown, too. Once upon a time it was just a box of dry flies and my trusty Scott A2 6-wt. with Ross CLA 3. Then streamers were added, and a 7 wt. A3, with Ross Evolution LT and three spools (sink tip, intermediate, and floating lines) joined the quiver, along with a 4-wt. A3 with Ross CLA 1.5 for dries.

Funny thing is, I use all this stuff. If something's not useful, it gets sold. I can point to every piece of gear and tell you why I have it. And, fortunately, I've been able to find deals and used equipment in many cases, so the investment is greatly reduced. But man, what a bunch of stuff!


05 July, 2011

First Impressions: Old Town Penobscot Canoe

Got the new canoe out for the first trip on the Huron River yesterday afternoon. It's an Old Town Penobscot 16RX that I picked up lightly used on Craigslist. Although I'd considered several similar canoes from other manufacturers the Penobscot won out for two reasons. The first was weight - at only 58 pounds, the Penobscot was dramatically lighter than the 75-80 pound alternatives I was considering. I plan to paddle this both solo and tandem and wanted a boat I could easily get on my roof alone. Second, I was looking for a manueverable, responsive river boat. I have no delusions of a week-long camping trip in the Boundary Waters. I want to take 1-2 people, and some modest gear and still retain great turning performance. Modest rocker and a narrower profile were key.

The new boat delivers all of this in spades. The light weight made it super-easy to get on and off the roof racks. This also makes shuffling the boat and gear from truck to river simpler, too.

Best of all was the Penobscot's performance in the water. "Zippy" would be the best word I could use to describe it. The boat turns readily with minimal input. And just a moderate current had us moving at a nice pace. Despite this manueverability, the Penobscot tracks arrow-straight very easily. I've learned this lesson the hard way. My first kayak was a Necky that was super-responsive. Unfortunately that made it so twitchy I couldn't paddle a straight line to save my life! Even when paddling solo from the stern, a modest J-stroke kept things right on track.

My only compliant with this boat is completely silly -- no cupholders. Would be nice to be able to have a beer without having to balance it between your feet! I'm sure I'll find an aftermarket unit that mounts conveniently.

So, if you're considering a canoe and have needs like mine, I highly recommend the Old Town Penobscot 16RX.


30 June, 2011

Fit is It

A recent article in Bicycling magazine on the effects of bad fit on your body with road bikes set me to thinking. For the past two seasons I've ridden less on my road bike than in the past. Upon reflection, I realize that the sore neck and shoulders and numb toes are most likely a result of poor fit on my ride.

Stopped by my local shop, Great Lakes Cycling & Fitness, and talked to owner Oscar. Sure enough the do custom fitting by appointment, so I set on up. The fit process was pretty fascinating - in addition to a wide range of all sorts of body measurements, Oscar puts you on the bike on a trainer and watches your riding style. Based on measurements, observations, and a bit of help from computer-based fit sofware, he starts making adjustments.

Two items were immediately apparent. First, my Look stem was a good bit too long. Second my Serfas RX saddle belonged on Grandpa's upright cruiser, not my performance-oriented road bike. Funny thing is that I'd wondered if this saddle was part of my problem - being overly wide and overly padded. A shorter Giant stem and a new Selle Royal saddle were the first times.

Then the tweaking began. Surprisingly, the tweaks were all relatively small, but there were quite a few. It started with raising the seat height, sliding it back, and adjusting the angles. Then, after discussing my flexibility, or lack of it, the handlebars were rotated upward. The effect of all this was to shift my riding position rearward to more evenly distribute the weight load between handlebars and saddle. Previously I'd been riding with much of my weight supported on my wrists, causing neck and shoulder pain.

Finally he addressed the position of my cleats. This is both to provide proper alignment and efficiency, and to deal with the toe numbness I've been experiencing.

It's interesting I'd never considered having a pro do a fitting. Especially since discovering the HUGE benefits of a custom fitting for my ski boots (thanks to Rob @ Sun & Snow Sports for that!) last year. Watching Oscar work made me realize how little I knew about getting a bike to fit me well.

Are we done? No, not quite. I'm swapping the new saddle for one with an anatomical cutout. And there's still a bit of toe numbness lingering. But a few more adjustments today and we should be further along. Hoping to sneak in a ride tonight to see!