29 April, 2011

Ham n' Eggs

Just when I thought I had my egg tying program down, I find a whole new world. I've been tying round eggs and nuke eggs using primarily McFly Foam. I've gotten very proficient at making perfectly shaped and sized eggs in a wide range of colors efficiently.

But, I've been mostly tying for Fall conditions. This Spring I've been exploring clown eggs as a solution for all the high water we've had in the Midwest this year. On a recent trip with Brad Petzke he turned me on to the clown egg pattern from Hawkins Outfitters. Now I'm bulking up my tying materials stock with yarn, which makes much better rag eggs than the foam. And after tying up a couple of dozen I'm getting very fast and with great quality results.

My last steelhead trip was on a blown-out day on the Pere Marquette where nothing was working. Hoping to get in one more trip this Spring and hope to prove these new flies effectiveness! Unfortunately, if they do work it will benefit me next Spring. For now, getting ready for trout on streamers and upcoming smallmouth season.


27 April, 2011

Pedal to the Metal

OMG, a blog entry not about fly fishing? Seriously? Yup.

Now that temps are warming I'm starting to think more seriously about my bikes. Up first is my mountain bike. Regular readers will know this ride is a SE BM Flyer single-speed 29er with wheels built by Steve Sauter of Great Lakes Cycle and Fitness, along with a collection of other sweet parts including a White Industries Eno Eccentric rear hub and  Avid BB-7 disc brakes.

My plan for this season was to replace the stock house-brand cranks with something more rugged (and less creaky!). Courtesy of my buddy Josh, I scored some gently used Profile BMX cranks. As the rest of this mountain bike is really just and overgrown BMXer, why not use the best of the breed? These welded tubular cranks are bulletproof. The 48-spline connection means a precise fit and indestructible performance. The stock cranks are 175mm and these are 165mm. I'll give up a little in taller gearing, but will gain some much-needed pedal clearance.

Dropped the bike off today so they can order me the appropriate bottom bracket. I think I'll have them do the install as this seems like an area where my dated bike mechanic skills could enable me to destroy some pricey gear. The fit of arm to spline is like nothing I've ever seen - redefining close-tolerance!

Eager to get this mod made and out there. With that, I'll be done for a while until it's time for new tires. Or, if I stumble on a nice suspension front fork... 


26 April, 2011

Chuck & Swing

Found a nice combo last week on our frustrating steelhead day on the Pere Marquette. Brought along my Orvis Clearwater/Orvis BLA IV set-up for chuck n' duck and my Scott A3 switch with Ross Momentum V and Rio Skagit short for swinging. With high water, my go-to indicators seemed rather pointless. This proved to be the ideal combo for an enjoyable day.

With a thin running line (I use Climax Zip Line on mine currently) and a good bit of weight, c-n-d was a good way to get down to the bottom with a lot of water. On a tough day, it was a good choice. However, I generally can't fish this style all day. I find it tedious and too repetitive after a while -- especially if the fishing's slow.

Enter the swing rig! If you haven't cast a set-up like this, it's just pure fun. Once you get timing down it's very low effort and relaxing. There's a kind of Zen groove to it. And it's easy to cover a bunch of water. Stop your cast high, use the upper hand as a pivot point, and put the power in the bottom hand and BOOM!

For me though the best part of swinging is trying out some of the streamers I've been tying over the Winter to see how they behave in moving water. My earliest efforts definitely lacked much action, but the later flies with schlappen collars and bulky wool heads make a huge difference. Totally "swimmy" action. Of course, it would have been validating to actually hook something!

This combo was a nice way to work a hole. Chuck n' duck through, then swing by starting at the top and making a few drifts before stepping downstream and repeating the process.


25 April, 2011

Rip n' Strip

Getting excited for Spring and upping my streamer game for trout and smallmouth this season. The final parts of my new rig for this style are coming together just in time.

As of now, I've got a Scott A3 907-4 rod, a Ross Evolution LT 4 reel with a spare spool, and Rio sinking tip in 200 grain, as well as Rio Outbound Short intermediate line. I really like the Evolution, so I've ordered another spool that I'll put my 300 grain Rio sink tip on for high-flow situations.

I've done a little streamer fishing and always found it a fun style. In clear water it's very cool to watch a charged-up trout pursue and crush your fly. I'm eager to try this style out locally on the Huron River for smallmouth (that's what the intermediate line's for). With gas prices rapidly racing toward $5.00 a gallon, maximizing local fishing opportunities seems well-advised.

Motivation behind this set-up actually started with my Fall trip to Montana's Stonefly Inn this October. This is prime streamer time for big trout in this region. After reading a little, I decided I needed to get my streamer game up a notch. And, if I'm going to be throwing it for 4 days, I thought I should have a rig that's comfortable and delivers great performance.

Get wait to get out and play with this new gear!


22 April, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

Spent some time on the Pere Marquette river over the past couple of days with buddies Dan and Mike. A huge volume of recent rain made for some interesting conditions. We fished a few hours on Wednesday night with a TON of water in the river. Some very careful wading was necessary. Oh, and it was SNOWING on us the whole time.

Thursday got off to a better start -- I had a nice buck in during the first half hour. Unfortunately after a couple of acrobatic jumps he threw the hook, gave me the fin and went on his way. We fished several holes, all day and this was pretty much the story of the day. Between three of us we went 0 for 4 on hook-ups.

I took this as a good opportunity to practice spey casting with my switch rod. If you're going to not catch fish, this is way more fun than Chuck n' Duck. A good opportunity to play with casting and fishing my swing rig. Also, got to put a couple of the steelhead streamers I tied over the Winter to work Very cool.

The high water was fascinating. Though I've probably fished the PM more than any other river and generally know my way around decently, much of the river was unrecognizable due to high water.

One good lesson learned to pass along. I brought both my studded and unstudded boots. When I asked our guide on Wednesday night about studs in his boat. Upon learning they were the bad ass Simms HardBite cleats, he asked me to go unstudded. These cleats are awesome - I think I could walk up a tree - but they look like they'd leave a fiberglass drift boat in shreds. If you're fishing guided from a drift boat, ask first!


19 April, 2011

Big Water

Got a copy of the promo video for my trip this Fall to the Stonefly Inn in Twin Bridges, Montana. Wow -- what a cool location and experience! I've always wanted to fish the storied rivers of the West and this looks like a great way to start.

Kudos Schultz Outfitters for putting together this top-notch trip. Evidently in early October, we'll be fishing primarily streamers. I've only done this for trout a couple of times, but the strike is so cool when a big fish blows up that big gaudy fly!

On the video I saw rainbows that could have easily passed as a small-medium steelhead! We don't see that in the Midwest. I'm actually looking forward to trout season this year; it's such a pleasant way to spend a Summer evening.


18 April, 2011

Real Steel

Trekked up to the UP on Friday for a day fishing with Dad and guide Brad Petzke. This was our first time fishing the Lake Superior tributaries and it didn't disappoint. Few people know the steelhead rivers of this region like Brad. We spend the day on a beautiful river with cascading waterfalls, rushing runs, and a natural splendor that's unique to the UP.

The fishing style is very unique as well. Think of it as "technical chuck and duck". With high spring water and mostly pocket fishing, indicators would have been nearly useless. When you need to get down into a 5' hole behind a boulder, nothing sinks like skinny line with some weight on it.

Fishing was tough, with clear skies and a sudden cold snap. And wild UP steelhead make you earn it. But the work was worth it -- some of the most intensely colored steelhead I've ever seen. Dad got a nice male in the afternoon, and I picked up a female in the late morning. Technically, I didn't hook it, but I did land it!

If you're looking for a special experience in a most unique setting, definitely look Brad up. You won't regret it!


13 April, 2011

Fly Flicks

If the Fly Fishing Film Tour is coming to a city near you, snag a ticket. Even if you don't fly fish, the cinematography, settings, stories, and music are a fun evening. From the opening sequence chasing Winter redfish in Louisiana, to a trek with hardcore smallmouth enthusiasts in Wisconsin, every one of these short movies was filled with enjoyment.

The F3T did crystallize one thing for me - this fly fishing thing is a lifetime of learning and opportunity. Chasing fish on a fly is just a different way to look at the world. Can I get this species in this setting to eat a fly? Can I learn how to do it better? Do I live for the challenge? Or do I need the instant gratification of bait fishing. What was interested to me was that all of the fanatics profiled didn't look down on bait, rather these are individuals who get a charge out of succeeding at doing something the hard way. I have a ton of respect for that outlook. Sure, I could pull plugs or run spawn and catch lots of steelhead. But it's SO much more fulfilling to figure out how to get a charged up fish to eat a piece of lint on a hook, or a conglomeration of feathers and tinsel on the end of a piece of sinking line.

Check it out. You'll be glad you did.


07 April, 2011

Spey Play

Finally, I have all the components of my two-handed spey rig. My reel arrived a couple of weeks back, but I haven't had time to get it spooled up with the line. Hoping I can get that done before I head to the UP later next week. While it's not really swinging season, I am eager to experiment with laying out some casts. I've done enough with my switch rod over the Fall and Winter to feel like I have some basics down.

For those not familiar, I picked up a classic Scott ARC-1287-3 rod (12"8" in 7 weight). To this I added a Ross CLA 6 reel. I'll be spooling it up with Rio Skagit in 500 grain. From all that I've read, this rig should throw some sweet casts. Eager to get in the Manistique river and belt a few out. I've signed up for a spey school this summer, so hopefully by next Fall I'll have some skills.


06 April, 2011

It's In the Bag

My Steelhead Alley trip illustrated a need for a different sort of bag - a backpack. I've used an older REI backpack on boat trips for a couple of years now. A great way to organize chaos. But Ohio was my first time using a backpack to hike in and cover ground. Unfortunately, the REI bag quickly proved a failure. While it holds a ton, a lack of any pockets or dividers sent me digging to the bottom every time I needed something. Plus I started with a centerpin, but carried a fly rod for smaller waters. Sticking the rod tube in the outside water bottle pockets was quickly destined for failure.

I love the Simms Dry Creek Day Pack, I'm not investing $130 in another bag. If I were willing to spend that kind of cash, that's the bag I'd buy. But, fortunately I scored a lightly used Orvis Safe Passage Angler's Back Pack at a great price. Time will tell, but this pack seems MUCH more functional. Several pockets will enable me to keep a jacket separated from fly boxes, tippet, tools, and my lunch! Well-designed rod straps on both sides makes it easy to carry a spare rod (for example if I want to fish dries and nymphs without heading back to the truck to swap rods). As a bonus, the pack is compatible with a hydration bladder. The straps and back of the pack have a nice system designed for good airflow -- a great feature for hot days! Plus, it's got a nice carrying system for a net. Definitely a good investment. If you're looking for a pack, Orvis has them on sale for $99 which seems like a good deal.


05 April, 2011

Don't Choke

One of the cool new benefits of the Remington Versa Max shotgun is finally having access to a system of interchangeable choke tubes. With my other shotguns being older, I'd never really ventured into the world of changing chokes. The Versa Max came with five chokes and a wrench, so swapping is completely simple.

For a great discussion of chokes and their effects on patterning at certain distances, try this site.

My first outing for clays was with the Cylinder choke that came installed. I find that my natural tendency is to shoot clays further out. Per the diagram link above, a Cylinder choke delivers a 40" pattern at 25 yards. That's pretty close. At the suggestion of a friend, I swapped to the Improved Cylinder choke, which patterns at 30 yards. The improvement was noticeable from the first station on this weekend's outing. My percentage of broken clays went up significantly.

Naturally, this has me curious. What about a Modified choke that patterns at 35 yards? Maybe that allows me more time to acquire and track the target? I think it's time for further experimentation.

Beyond clays, this starts me thinking about choke tweaking for hunting situations. I was pheasant hunting with some friends a couple of years back and one guy had choked down to Full. He did very well that day shooting clean-up on the birds others missed. Hmmmm. Ducks look like an opportunity for a Full choke, also. But pheasants seem like perhaps Modified or Improved Cylinder. Definitely time to pick up a choke tube carrier so I can have options in the field. On the other end of the spectrum, I don't feel compelled to be the guy on the sporting clays course who seems to be continually swapping out chokes.

Just one more way the Versa Max is among the most easily user-adjustable shotguns out there. A solid new offering.


01 April, 2011

Review - Simms Rivershed Wading Boot

Now that I have a few days in with my Simms Rivershed boots, I think it's time for a review. I picked these up last Fall to replace my aging Simms L2's. While the L2's are a great boot, they have a couple of key drawbacks. First, they're pretty lightweight for any serious hiking. And, second, the Aquastealth were an early rubber sole. The traction is OK, at-best. All of that aside, they've been comfortable, durable and served me well. It's just time for something more.

Last weekend I did my first serious hiking in the Riversheds down in Eastern Ohio's Steelhead Alley region. We waded a lot of water and hiked a lot of trails -- easily over 10 miles. The best praise I can give these boots? No blisters, no hot spots, and no stubbed toes. They were supportive, grippy (more on that in a moment), and remained comfortable all day. The conditions in Steelhead Alley are a real challenge - from flat ledge rock in the rivers to a super-slippery muddy clay on the banks. The Rivershed did it all.

Another benefit is the toe box. Stubbing a toe into a surprise basket-ball sized rock mid-stream can help you uncover some new words in your vocabulary quickly. The Rivershed toe box offers a nice rigid design and great protection -- while remaining flexible enough for good performance while hiking.

One issue you'll want to pay attention to is fit. I find the forefoot is considerably larger than my L2s. Initially I was concerned it was too large, but I've found a couple of things help. First, I added a liner sock which adds volume. But, more importantly, I've really made an effort to lace the lower up very tight. Both make a world of difference. I'll be trying an additional insole on the my next trip to see if that helps reduce volume without impacting comfort.

But the best upgrade was the Hardbite Star Cleat. These things are bad ass! Simms claims the offer equivalent grip to 5 conventional studs and I believe it. The shale ledge bottoms of Steelhead Alley are notoriously slick, difficult wading. No problem with these cleats! I'm eager to try them in some other tough spots.

Another benefit is my L2's will now have a new life -- as my boat boots, or for use in hot weather in easier conditions like the AuSable where the Rivershed might be too much boot.

If you're looking for a great boot at a great value, I highly recommend the Simms Rivershed.