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.