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.