31 May, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

Anyone who thinks global climate change isn't real need only look at the bizarre weather throughout the country. In my corner of the world, it's been rain. Buckets of it.

Saw on the news that the Ann Arbor area got over 12" of rain in the first three weeks of May. This has certainly put a damper on lots of my outdoor fun, especially when coupled with colder than normal temperatures. Been mostly too cold for the road bike, trails have been in terrible condition for mountain bike, and smallmouth fishing on the Huron's not only impossible, but dangerous. For a river that's more normally below 1,000 CFS at this time of year, a reading like the 2,850 CFS that's ripping through the system is truly frightening. Trickling tributaries turn quickly into full-blown streams.

OK, Mother Nature -- enough, please!


23 May, 2011

Bomb Proof

Well, the mountain bike is now absolutely bomb proof. Thanks to my buddy Josh for a pair of nice Profile cranks from his stock. If you haven't checked these out, they're sweet. The 48-tooth spline fits at a level of precision that's truly astounding. Just to illustrate the fit - there's no pinch bolt! A simple end bolt into the spline does it all. Wow.

I did have to buy a Profile bottom bracket, but much like the cranks, it's bomb proof. Fully sealed and just a clear improvement over the generic stock BB.

This is a key upgrade that I've considered for a while, but held off due to expense. With Josh's help, that equation changed. The stock house-brand crankset seems to have been a core issue. Intermittent creaking and clunking have greatly shaken my confidence in this ride. Years as a bike mechanic have made me incredibly intolerant of random noises. Another benefit is that these cranks are a bit shorter than the stock ones. While this means I raise the gearing slightly, it gives me a noticeable increase in ground clearance. Having had a couple of near misses, this will be a nice change.

Now if it would stop raining for long enough for the trails to dry our even a little, that would be great!


19 May, 2011

Welcome Back

I'm happy to be back in the Jeep family. My '11 Jeep Liberty Limited is both a sweet ride on-road, and an effective vehicle when conditions degrade. After wrapping up on the Manistee on Friday, I decided there had to be a more direct route back to Cadillac. The alternative was driving 10 miles west, then 10 miles back east.

So, I headed down a dirt road in about the right direction. This turned into a single-lane two-track. Then into something more like a deer path. Of course, 7" of rain in the area the previous week left conditions pretty poor with some serious holes full of water. In the previous Honda Element, I'd have been stuck for certain.

But like all the Jeeps I've had before NO PROBLEMO! Lots of ground clearance meant powering through everything I encountered. In fact, though I considered it, I never shifted into 4WD. Jeep just kept rolling along. Best part was the ride though. I've always found Jeeps a little stiff on-road, but when you get them off the pavement, its obvious that on-road wasn't what they were designed for.

With gas over $4.00 per gallon, I thought long and hard about vehicle alternatives. In the end, I realized that Jeep is the perfect vehicle for the types of activities I love.

It's good to be home. Thanks, Jeep!


18 May, 2011

Timing is Everything

Some one-on-one instruction on the river with Jonny Ray has helped me get to the root of a core fly fishing problem. For a while I've felt like my overhead casting skills weren't very good. I've always suspected it was related to my backcast, but now it's confirmed.

I suffer from two main challenges. The first is more occasional, and that's simply going too far back. But the second in a pretty regular problem. I don't pause long enough on the backcast to let the loop form and the rod load. The result? The puddle cast and an inability to hit what should be reasonable distances. So to compensate, I then push harder coming forward, which turns the whole mess into a complete sh!t show.

We identified this while throwing sink tips, but I was able to figure it out and get my timing on-track during the morning. I found that if I took the time to think, "Wait for it..." at the end of the backcast, that was about right. It's surprising, when you hit it right, you know it immediately.

After lunch we played around with some casting on standard floating lines. That's where my issues became readily apparent. Jon's a great teacher, and after watching me flounder (why do we suck so much more with a knowledgeable eye watching us?) he had some solid suggestions for my issues.

Now I need to book some practice time on the local field and also the river. My goal is to be able to cast reliably to a 1' square by the end of Summer. Seems like a good project.


17 May, 2011

Screamin' Streamers

My outing on the Manistee was the first day with the new streamer fishing set-up. As one of my goals for this year was to up my streamer game, both for trout and smallmouth, I quickly realized that investing in the right gear would help jump-start things.

The rod is a Scott A3 907/4. The A3 has become my default rod; I also own and 1108/4 switch rod, a 8654/4 for dry flies, and an earlier A2 906/4 for an all-around rod for dries, nymphing, and hoppers. I've found these rods well-made, and easy-casting.

Onto  this I've mounted a Ross Evolution LT 4. I'm a big Ross fan - with a couple of Momentum V's for steelhead as well as some CLA's for various applications. The Evolution was a great surprise. It's incredibly light, features a simple but effective drag (not like I need it for streamers), and is a very impressive design.

When I picked up the Evolution, I also bought an extra spool. This enables me to load one with a Rio 200 grain sink tip for stripping streamers in deeper waters. The other is loaded with Rio Outbound Short for chasing smallmouth on the Huron. I've also decided to pick up a third spool that will get loaded with a Rio 300 grain sink tip for maximum sink speed on places like the Pere Marquette that demand getting down FAST into short holes.

It was great to spend a day throwing streamers on this rig. It's light enough not to wear you out casting it all day - a real advantage as this style of fishing is a good bit more work. The rod has plenty of backbone to punch casts out there in the wind and can handle the largest of trout. But best of all is how it casts. If you allow it ample time to load on the backcast (a subject of an upcoming article) this thing is a cannon. Pretty quickly I was putting my fly exactly where I wanted it. And even as the wind came up in the afternoon it still delivered reliable, powerful casts with minimal effort.

I love when equipment set-up for a purpose gets it right; this one does!


16 May, 2011

Trout Hunting

Spent a day with Jon Ray on the Manistee to get schooled on stripping streamers for big trout. As my Montana trip this Fall will be mostly this style, Jon wants to help me up my game so I'm ready to have a great experience. We set out on Streamer 101 with some basics - delivering the line efficiently. Stripping streamers is about hitting the right spot at the right time. Especially when fishing from a boat, this is critical. In most cases, you don't get a second cast.

Once we had me consistently delivering the fly to the right spot we set off down the river. This is where things get interesting. See that 2'x2' spot up against the bank under that tree? The fly needs to be RIGHT there. And you learn to look where you're fishing AND keep an eye on what's coming to time your casts to hit the best hidey holes.

Pretty quickly I found my groove and got a handle on targeting a location and delivering a cast. The extra oomph of the 200 grain sink tip definitely allows you to punch it out there.

What I found interesting was how active and focused this style of fishing is - it's much like hunting. You stalk your prey, try to think like a big trout, and then deliver. If you do it right, you pick off that big fish. Plus, I love sight fishing. Seeing that fish hammer your fly is too cool. And streamer fishing is the next level -- watching a big trout chase your fly through the water is tops for adrenaline.

I will say that this is not really a self-taught style. Having a guide who's a good teacher is invaluable. I learned fly selection, casting, fighting, and far, far more under the watchful eye of Jon.

Lots more highlights, insights, and a challenge or two were had. More on these to follow.


09 May, 2011

Picture = 1,000 Words

I was looking at some of my photos the other day and ran across this shot from over the Winter.

This photo just connections with me in so many ways. In art school they taught me that the best photos tell a story. This one says a lot about me as an outdoorsman.

I've caught steelhead in nearly every season, but nothing captivates me like Winter steelheading. I love the solitude, the challenge of targeting a lethargic fish with a slowed metabolism, and the absolute feeling of really disconnecting with the day-to-day. Being in a place where cell phones don't work and therefore get left in the truck. Plus snow just completely changes a landscape, especially a special place like the Pere Marquette river.

And I've fished for steelhead with a variety of tools, but what I seem to return to is float fishing. It's the one way I feel completely connected to what's going on under the water's surface. On my last trip we were primarily doing some chuck n' duck, but I ran some drifts on my Indy rig. Ahhhhh ... home. I like nothing better than perfectly roll casting the full rig to just the right slot and setting up that perfect drift.

Finally, I've really enjoyed discovering two-handed rods. This one's my Scott A-3 11' switch 8-weight. Casts a Skagit line wonderfully, but its like butter with an Indy. That little extra "oomph" when you pop it with the lower hand is so cool. Can't wait to swing on my Scott-based 13' spey rod next fall.

For the technician in me, it meets all the art school criteria -- proper exposure (not easy on snow which goofs up 18% grey-based metering), some nice negative space at the top, and a color progression that pulls your eye through the image. Add in a nice juxtaposition of angles with the rod, line, and indicator and you've got yourself a technically well-executed image (he said, modestly...).

I hope you enjoy my image. Every once in a while I get one I'm really proud of.


05 May, 2011

Only in a Jeep

Turned in the Honda Element last week for a return to the Jeep family. While the Element had some interesting features, it turned out not to really be the right vehicle. Underpowered, poor gas mileage, and a ride like a tin box made me glad to turn it in.

It's been replaced with a Jeep Liberty 70th Anniversay edition. I've had a number of Jeep vehicles over the years and all have served me well. The core thing that keeps me coming back to the brand is its offroad capability. Design for offroad performance is a hallmark of all Jeeps. Sure they may not always be the smoothest riding vehicle on city streets, but when you're up to the transfer case in sand looking for a river access point, you appreciate the offroad heritage! Having nearly buried the Element twice last summer in this sort of situation, I'm looking forward to the confidence a Jeep delivers.

Last weekend I got my Yakima roof racks installed, so now it's ready to roll. Not sure if I'm going to install the Rod Loft system or not. I've been finding I don't use it a great deal, so not sure if it's worth the hassle to configure for the new vehicle.


04 May, 2011

A Good A$$ Kicking

I got a good old-fashioned a$$ kicking on the Pere Marquette river yesterday. But I loved every minute of it. High water last week brought in a big push of REALLY hot chrome steelhead. These fish were all go from the first one we hooked. I got my first on, and subsequently lost it, within a few minutes of hitting my first spot.

Late morning I hooked a charged-up buck that schooled me. From the initial head shake, it was clear this fish was going where HE wanted to go and had no interest in my efforts to persuade him otherwise. I started chasing him downriver and cranked up the drag on the reel. None of which mattered in the slightest. After a pretty good fight that took me into my backing, the 6# tippet finally gave up.

This is what steelheading's all about for me. The adrenaline after that fight was insane! I was left shaking and with tremendous respect for the powerful creature I'd just tangled with. Very cool.

Had a couple more good fights, and with a total of 11 hook-ups. And ZERO landed! Best of all, I had a BLAST and was in no way disappointed. The tug truly is the drug!