31 March, 2011

It's a Sickness...

I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol. I do not need another pistol.

Just need to keep telling myself this. Even though I could score a nice deal on a Remington 1911 R1. From the looks of it, a pretty sweet gun. I've always liked the .45 ACP round. And, from what I've read, Remington has done a very nice job with their version of the timeless John Moses Browning classic. But .45 ammo's expensive, and I don't shoot the handguns I already own enough. Just gotta' keep telling myself that.


29 March, 2011

Ross Love

A couple of new reels arrived for the quiver - and both just strengthen my loyalty to the Ross Reels brand.

The first is a CLA-6 for my spey rod. I wanted a reel large enough to hold a Rio Skagit Short line, and balance out my Scott ARC 1287-3 rod (at 12' 8" that's a fair bit of rod). I own three other CLA's, but all are smaller. This new one's like an extra-large, extra-beefy version. Seems like it will be perfect to throw on the spey stick. Very impressive, especially at the price point. Funny though, the market calls it a "guide favorite". Knowing a few guides, I think this ironic. For client gear, most guides seem to aim toward good quality with a keen eye toward reliable performance. In a reel that means that they can hand them to clients of all levels of ability and awareness and expect solid performance throughout the season. Ultimate precision isn't typically the goal; a good dunking and a sand bath will kill that reel quickly. This reel meets these goals perfectly -- rugged, performance that will last for years without bells and whistles you don't need.

The second is an Evolution LT 4 and spare spool. This one's going to be for my streamer rig for chasing trout and smallmouth. One spool will get a Rio 200 grain sink tip, and the other a Rio Outbound Short. I'd seen this reel in a case at a recent show, but wasn't prepared for how impressive it would be in reel (ha) life. What an amazing piece of design and machining. Light, durable, and super cool looking. Shocking how light it is for a size 4. It will be great balanced on a 9' Scott A3 7-weight streamer stick! As mentioned previously, I do a lot with precision machined parts in my day job and this thing is incredibly well-done. As a bonus, it incorporates a super-simple drag system that just looks bulletproof. I think I may actually pick up a third spool and put my 300 grain sink tip on it too. This product completely exceeded my expectations.

All of this is why I've gone to standardizing on Ross Reels for all my rigs. Every one has consistently exceeded my expectations. Now I just need to talk myself out of the blisteringly cool F1...


28 March, 2011

Dalley in Alley

Spent a day in Steelhead Alley region with Mike Schultz yesterday. He was scouting as prime guiding season started today and invited me to tag along. I've heard legends of Steelhead Alley, so I wanted to go see it myself. If you're not familiar the region runs along the south shore of Lake Erie. We were to be working the eastern end (we started out about 2 miles from the PA border).

Despite being only a few hours away, this region is completely different from anyplace I've fished in Michigan. The geological structure is all shale, including the riverbed. It makes for a very different program. Plus, the scenery was pretty amazing, especially considering that at one point we were in a canyon in downtown Ashtabula, OH!

We fished on the Conneaut and Ashtabula rivers and covered a LOT of ground so Mike could check out some spots. These rivers are all spate, meaning that unlike Michigan they're not spring-fed. The water in these rivers is primarily from run-off. What's interesting is that every season's ice formation and melt-off can drastically change the nature of the river. Guides have to quickly assess what's changed to find the best spots to bring client.

Mike got a couple on the board pretty quickly -- both out of the identical spot! Took me a while to get going as I was adjusting to a whole new progam. But around lunchtime I had my first fish on. After a spunky fight, I got sawed off on a shale ledge. Boo! In the afternoon, we switched rivers to see more ground. Late in the day I hooked a fired-up skipper and fought him for a bit. Unfortunately he got unhooked just about the time we reached for the net.

A very cool and unique experience. I'm glad I went. If you're considering it, I would definitely talk to Mike He's been guiding and fishing down there for a number of years and given the complexities of private land access taking your first trip with a guide is a solid recommendation.


25 March, 2011

The Virtues of Simplicity

The simplest designs frequently seem to be the best. I was thinking about that as I did tear-down on my new Remington Versa Max shotgun last weekend. I must say that I'm impressed by the simple, straightforward design and execution of this firearm. Everything has a purpose, it comes apart and goes back together in a logical fashion that doesn't require a 4,800 page manual and a team of Chinese gymnasts to complete.

This complexity is one of my issues with Ruger firearms. While they seem to be great guns, someone at Ruger seems to take a special twisted interest in complexity for complexity's sake. Ever seen a Ruger Mark series .22 pistol taken apart? Lots of parts and the re-assembly sequence requires some truly ridiculous gyrations to comple. "Hold the receiver at a 17.5 degree angle and the firing pin retainer will slip in..." Seriously?

Scott fly rods are another product that seems to follow this mantra. They extol the virtues of carefully selected materials, lovingly assembled by hand. And the result is a rod that's light, but suprisingly powerful. Simple is better. I love their discussion of The Difference from their web site.

Even more than just a simple design is one that's truly well-thought-out functionally, but at the same time executed in a simple way. I think the Versa Max is a solid example of just that.


23 March, 2011

Tie, Not Buy

I'm so glad I invested in learning to tie flies. It's rewarding on so many levels. But best of all (with some exceptions - like complex dry flies) may be the ability to tie what I need. This weekend I'm heading to the Steelhead Alley region of Ohio in pursuit of Spring chrome. Asked my buddy for his recommendation on flies and was told #6 and #8 clown eggs in two primary colors (can't reveal his secrets online!).

So I plop down at the vise last night and in about an hour-and-a-half I've got a nice assortment of over 3 dozen. Minimal cost, minimal effort. And ideally suited for the waters and time of year. When I head up to the UP in April, I'll throw in my vise, hook box, and supply of yarn. If I go through a bunch of flies (a problem on the Manistique -- lots of snaggy bits on the bottom) I can just bang our a few that night to refill the fly box. Nice.


22 March, 2011

Share the Road

Read a great article in Outside magazine about the growing trend of bicycle-car friction. It's a fascinating read and very illustrative of the conflict that's out there. This article also lead me to a great blog that includes video shot from helmet- and bike-mounted cameras. The stupidity of some of these drivers is mindblowing. You'd swear it was an episode of Jaywalking from the Leno Show. "Q: Why don't you ride on the sidewalk? A: Because it's illegal in most states."

One interesting factor is the legal climate. Much of the U.S. could be termed "bike unfriendly" -- or at least "bike unaware". Oregon is one notable exception, with laws that say drivers need to look out for the more vulnerable vehicle, the bike. This legal approach is actually laws in the Netherlands.

Even in (relatively) bike-friendly Ann Arbor, I've had my share of run-ins. Most seem to result from driver inattention. The too-close pass is my favorite. When I can feel your mirrors brush my arm, you probably didn't leave enough room. However I did have one especially nice run-in with a pickup full of rednecks who elected to stop and "chat".

But cyclists aren't immune to stupidity. I've seen my share of herds of riders who, in an effort to "take the lane" end up being the road hogs they accuse drivers of being.

In the final analysis, we all need to be more aware.


21 March, 2011

First Impressions

The new Remington Versa Max shotgun arrived on Friday! Just in time for Spring sporting clays, turkey hunting, and more.

I must say this gun created a solid first impression. The sturdy bright green case held all sorts of goodies. Five chokes, components to adjust length of pull, cast, and more. Even a full complement of HiViz site inserts. The potential to customize this gun without a costly trip to the gunsmith is almost overwhelming. Almost.

Tore it down on Sunday to clean all the protective factor lubricants out and get it ready for action. Clearly this is a well-engineered gun. Disassembly was quick and easy. With only a few simple steps, I'd stripped it down to the receiver. Everything seems straightforward and logically designed. Best of all re-assembly was just as simple. These are good signs for a long operating life.

Of course I had to get it out for a round of sporting clays, so it was off to Island Lakes in Brighton. As expected, first two stations weren't my shining moments. Haven't shot clays since last Fall, and that, plus a new gun didn't help my mount or target acquisition. It's hard to hit things you're not seeing. But the Versa Max performed flawlessly! Cycles very consistently, and recoil is really minimal. After a few stations I started to slow down and find my groove.

I did learn one less though. I think I need to have a more clear understanding of the real-world impact of different chokes. I'd put the stock Modified in, and I'm not positive that was the best choice. I'm sure as time passes and I shoot it with other chokes I'll be able to figure out what works best. I'm just not used to having options!

So, thus far, the new Swiss Army Knife of shotguns seems to be treating me very well! More reports will follow as I get this gun dialed in for me and my style of shooting. Looking forward to it.


18 March, 2011

The Old Man & The Sea

Had a fun getaway with Dad this past weekend. We spent a day up on the PM doing some walk n' wade, then met up with Jon Ray for a day on the Manistee. I seem to have thoroughly infected my Dad with my passion for steelhead. It's been a great way to spend time together and something we really have in common.

But most of all, I'm proud of my Dad. At age 67 he's always game to clamber into a frozen river and stand casting for hours. He's eager to learn new things and up for most any adventure I can dream up. Sadly, the fish were less than cooperative for us this week, but we did manage some a nice brookie, a steelhead or two, and even four pike. All in all a fun trip and a great way to spend time together doing something we both love!


16 March, 2011

Sling Thing

How to best carry the gear you need on the river in a way that's convenient, functional, and accessible is an ongoing challenge for many fly folks. I'll admit I've struggled.

Vests are fine for summer trout, but when steelheading they're just one more layer to deal with. Plus they seem to be in the way when swinging or centerpinning. They do carry a lot of stuff comfortably, however. I'll definitely keep mine, but it's really mostly a warm-weather thing.

Then I tried a waist pack from Simms. While it was a great design with lots of nice pockets for stuff, it's not for me. Seemed to always want to slip down. If I tried to wear it over the shoulder the straps prevented access to the pockets on my jacket (a quick warm-up is nice during Winter steelheading).

Chest packs are a no-go for me. With both spey casting and centerpinning stuff in the way on your chest is just a recipe for a tangled-up fustercluck.

Enter the Orvis Sling Pack. I've been looking at these for a while and thinking it might be the ticket. I picked one up at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo. A dealer had a few in a special short-run color on clearance, so I snagged it. Got to try it out the next day fishing the Pere Marquette with my Dad. This thing's perfect. Fits well, slides out of the way for fishing and right back where you need it when you want to access it. Small pocket on the front is ideal for a fly box. Even has a nice holster for forceps/pliers. The asymmetric design makes it fit your body well. I was able to fit some hardware, indicators, tippet, and a turkey sandwich in with plenty of space. Perhaps my only complaint is the the main compartment has only one mesh pocket. Several pockets would help to organize things; but this is a minor issue. We'll see, but I think this could be a nice solution year-round. Definitely ideal for steelheading though.


15 March, 2011


I'm done with Winter. Yes, I know, hard to believe as I've always been such a proponent. Sure, some ski areas are still open and yes, I COULD get out just once more. Perhaps it's because we're in the midst of my least favorite of Michigan's seasons - Transitional. It's really not the Winter we all know of January. But it's also not quite Spring. We get a little warm-up and a sunny day, followed by a surprise 4" snow.

I think I realized it when I was waxing my skis after my last trip. I just thought to myself, "Well, that's it for this season..." It probably hasn't helped that this wasn't a brilliant ski season for me. A warm Fall with snow coming late meant my first outing wasn't until January; highly unusual for me as I've usually gotten in several days by then. And conditions have been mixed. 50-degree warm-ups were immediately followed by several days in the single digits with 20 mph winds. The perfect way to ensure a solid block of ice. This weather killed some days skiing, as well as a few river trips to chase Winter steelhead.

But there's the promise of Summer. My bike becons. I'm already thinking about getting my streamer fishing program dialed in to be ready for Montana in October. I'm already cooking up some camping/fishing trips. And more...

So I just need to remember during this period of fickle weather that this too shall pass.


10 March, 2011

Why I Chose the Remington Versa Max

This is one of the main reasons I selected the Remington Versa Max. What an impressive demonstration. Three different shells, and digested them like a champ. Can't wait!


09 March, 2011

Bobbin' Along

Been playing around with some float alternatives for bigger water with more flow. I've noticed that the standard Blackbird Phantoms don't really get it done in these situations. With a maximum size of 7 grams, they don't really carry enough shot to get a good presentation.

On Sunday, I ran a 16g Drennan Piker, slip style. Simply put on an upper float stop, slip on the float, and then add a lower stop. One issue I've had with rigging for bigger water is opportunities for tangles. When you're throwing that much hardware a little extra consideration for reducing birds nests is worthwhile. With the slip rig there's so much less to catch line, shot, or flies. Compare this to the surgical tubing fixed style of the Phantom, or even the Thill Ice n' Fly and it's easy to see the advantages of the Piker.

My only issue is that 16 grams might be a little too much float, especially with a soft Winter strike. I'll probably look around for something similar in 10-12 grams. Although my impression is based solely on an afternoon on the lower Huron river. I'm curious what I'll think in the Manistee or Manistique.

Glad I explored this. I like float fishing, but the right indicator really seems to make a difference in getting a proper, effective rig set-up.


08 March, 2011

Trout n'About

Big trip planned for this Fall -- headed to Montana and the Stonefly Inn with Schultz Outfitters in early October. Fishing the big Western rivers has been on my bucket list for a while. This should scratch that itch perfectly! Mike set the trip up to coincide with streamer fishing for BIG trout. Watched the promo videos the other night - WOW! Small fish were in the high teens, with plenty of monsters on-tap. I really like these guys approach. Meals are included and the guides have dinner and hang out with the guests each evening. Our group's fairly small and carefully selected. Should be a blast!

This will give me some time to dial my streamer game this year. I've done a little, both from a boat (fun!) and wading. Had an 18" on my first time trying it on the Pere Marquette. Since then I've had several more. It's a fun strike - aggressive fish that you can often see hit the fly.

I've got both 200 and 300 grain sink tip lines. Until now, I've been mostly tossing streamers on back-up sticks. My 5/6 wt. Ross feels a clearly undergunned and my cheapo 8 wt. Albright GPX is like casting with a tree trunk. I'm already cruising for a good 7 wt. both for this trip and to chase smallmouth on the Huron and other SE Michigan rivers this summer. My guess at this point is a Scott A3 7 wt. Scott's become my standard rod and I think the combination of light weight and good backbone will make this a perfect solution and increase my enjoyment on this trip. I'm continually amazed at how good every rod in the A-series family is. Especially when you consider the price point. Plus I like that they're American-made (Colorado) and Michigan-owned (the Ford family).

Funny thing is that my roll cast with a sink tip is awesome. Whereas my overhead cast; not so much! Hey, as long as it puts the fly in the zone, all good. But I'll have all Summer to fine-tune.


07 March, 2011

Pin is In

I love my centerpin set-up. When you don't have a boat and need to readily cover some water easily, it's the ticket. There's plenty of controversy about pinning among hardcore fly folks. But, the reality is that from the indicator down, it's basically the same rig I run for indicator fishing with a fly line. I'm not running wax worms or spawn bags, so

Yesterday, after too much time inside as a result of a cold that just won't leave, I headed down to the lower Huron to chase some chrome. Sure, it's not the PM or the Manistee; but it's 40 minutes from home. A big melt Fri-Sat had the river running high and with lots of color. I tried the Flat Rock dam, but there was just too much water to bother, so I headed downstream to some secret spots in Rockwood. Much better! I think I missed one strike, but it was mostly nice to get out on a sunny day. Even found a few great walk-in spots.

With a centerpin, once you find a nice spot, it's pretty easy to just grid it out and start working it. And when you can run a 50 yard drift easily it makes for pretty efficient fishing! I wouldn't use this set-up just anywhere though. In tight quarters with other anglers, it's rude and you can be a river hog. Also, for rivers with short, deep holes like the PM, I wouldn't even consider it. But for big, uncrowded water, it's a sweet way to efficiently and effectively cover the river.

Even though I'm one of Winter's greatest fans; being outside in some warmer weather sure was nice. I think I've turned the corner; I'm ready for Spring.


02 March, 2011

Use Two Hands

Check the casting in this clip. This is why I want to learn more about spey casting. Ballet with a fly rod. Can't wait to get some sweet skills with my Scott ARC 1287-3 and Ross CLA 6.

01 March, 2011

Steel is Real

Spring steelhead is shaping up to be a fun season for me. Through good fortune, I've already got some cool trips lined up, and I'm sure some other options will present themselves.

The first is a mid-March trip on the Manistee with Jon Ray of Hawkins Outfitters. Jon's a good friend whom I've fished with a fair bit and learned a great deal from. But I've never had the pleasure of Spring on the Big Man. We always do well in Fall and Winter, so this will be interesting.

One of the more intriguing is a day chasing chrome on the Lake Superior tributaries with Brad Petzke of Rivers North and my Dad. Have spent very little time chasing steel on the Superior side. The beauty of this area is an attractor, but even better is what I've heard about the fish. Supposed to be lively fighters, even if smaller their Lake Michigan relatives.

And, I get the chance to fish the renowned Steelhead Alley region of Ohio with buddy Mike Schultz who guides down there through Steelhead Alley Outfitters. He invited me to join him for a day exploring some new territory. I've heard some amazing things about this area in terms of sheer numbers. Plus, the scenery looks really cool. Looks like it will be a great spot to bust out my switch rod and drift indicators all day.

This gets a couple of the rivers on my bucket list. The other day I ran into a friend at breakfast and he was telling me about fishing the Carp in the Eastern UP -- another on my list. And finally, there's the Mighty Muskegon. I have some pointers on walk-in spots, so that may go on my spontaneous trips list.

Just as ski season winds down, Spring steel is heating up!