21 December, 2011

Quality Time

Spent yesterday duck hunting on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair with good friends Jon and Dan. Though we got skunked (again!), it was still a great day. Which was a reminder of the other benefits of spending time outdoors with your friends and family.

I've spent considerable time outdoors with these guys - hunting ducks and pheasants, fishing for steelhead, salmon, trout, and musky, as well as shooting sporting clays. We always have a blast, no matter the conditions or outcomes. Spending a day in a boat, field, or river with these guys never fails to produce some entertaining moments and create memories.

I have so many friends I'm fortunate to spend time with outdoors. And one of the key side benefits is that you get to know each other in ways you'd never accomplish at a party, in a meeting, or in some similar setting. My Dad and I have gotten great time and grown closer both on our outdoor adventures and travelling to these same adventures. Jon and I had a great chat about life, New Year's Resolutions and much more on our trek back from Canada yesterday.

Not to sound sappy, but cherish those outdoor buddies - the value of the time you spend with them is far greater than the fish you caught, the ducks you shot, or the number of Black Diamond runs completed.


16 December, 2011

Product Review: Columbia Stuttgart 1000 Hunting Boot

Last year I picked up a pair of Columbia Stuttgart 1000 hunting boots. I purchased them for duck hunting, fishing from a boat, and other cold-weather antics after I realized that I had boots that were warm and boots that were waterproof - but none that were both!

The boots were plenty roomy, so I added a pair of wool footbeds to ensure warmth and comfort. A great addition!

I'm very pleased with these boots! I've fished all day in January, hunted all day in November, and even worn them to a couple of college football tailgates. Everytime they're warm and dry. As an added bonus, despite being a slip-on booth, they're amazingly supportive. My feet and back felt great, even after a day standing on an aluminum boat! Paired with my Columbia wool bibs, they're a super-toasty combo!

If you don't have a pair of insulated rubber boots like these, I highly recommend them for a wide range of outdoor activities.


14 December, 2011

Rites of Passage

Was thinking the other day about some of the cool outdoor things I've been fortunate enough to do in the past few years. This got me thinking about "rites of passage" -- that is, those achievements that make you feel like you've arrived at the next level. For me, a few include:
  1. Catching my first steelhead solo; without a guide's help.
  2. Skiing my first Western black diamond run.
  3. Shooting my first pheasant.
  4. Powdering my first clay with a shotgun.
  5. Catching a fish on a fly I tied.
  6. Getting a steelhead on the swing.
  7. My first outing with a guide where the guide mostly worked with the other guy; making it clear they could tell I needed the help less.
  8. Performing a complete tear-down on a shotgun by myself and having it all go back together smoothly.
  9. Landing a steelhead unassisted.
  10. Inventing my first fly pattern; and then having it catch fish!
Every one of these events made me feel a profound sense of pride. Some of my love of the outdoors comes in opportunities for growth and mastery. Learning something new feels like such an accomplishment. But you'll never know everything, so those moments when you recognize advancement feel truly special.

Happy trails!


12 December, 2011

An Evening with a Rising Star

Had the pleasure to spend an evening with April Vokey, fly gal, steelhead guide, and noted tier and learning to tie her version of Ed Ward's Intruder flies. April is rapidly building a solid reputation in the Pacific Northwest, and throughout other steelheading regions, as a rising star. So it was a real treat when Schultz Outfitters pulled together a limited seating class with her.

First and foremost - these are not the flies Midwestern steelheaders are used to. The finished product, when tied by someone more gifted than me, is truly a thing of beauty. And these suckers are quite large. Some of the materials are ones we know well, others (like polar bear fur) are going to be new to us.

During the evening April patiently worked with all of us - from newbie tiers, to experienced hands with decades of experience to transform a pile of feathers and fur into a fly that will live and breathe in the river. Most of the colors look like a whorehouse exploded, but all are proven on BC steel. April's patient teaching style and her ability to hang with a room full of guys (drinking beer...) made the evening a genuine pleasure.

One of the most interesting parts was watching how she responded to quizzing from some of the more experienced guys in the room - this lady knows her materials! I watched her stump tiers with multiple patterns in the Orvis catalog. Pretty sharp!

If April comes to your town, be sure to sign up - you'll enjoy AND learn a great deal!


09 December, 2011

To Conserve and Protect

An article in this month's issue of Eastern Fly Fishing on the Driftless Area (the intersection of MN, WI, IA, and IL) and the effects of Federal agricultural policy set me to thinking. Like many, I'm skeptical of lobbyists. But this was a good reminder of their value in steering government policy.

Groups like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and Trout Unlimited all expend considerable lobbying effort to habitat protection for all of our outdoor passions. And, as we've seen many times over - no habitat means no fish, ducks, pheasants, etc. Whether its agricultural subsidies, dam removal, or natural gas fracking, these groups are working within the government to ensure and influence public policy with the interests of their members in mind. In many ways I feel like they're doing a better job of representing their constituents than the elected officials!

I've even made my peace with the NRA. For a long time, I considered them to be the representatives of the lunatic fringe of gun nuts. What I've come to realize, especially with the current administration in Washington, gun owners need a voice. And the NRA is that voice. While I may not agree with some of the things they advocate, basic protection of the Second Ammendment. I've been learning a bit more about the history of gun owner's rights in Canada and the UK. You're only a stone's throw from having to keep your guns in a locker at the police station, check them in and out, and account for every round of ammunition. I'm fairly certain this isn't what the Founding Fathers wanted for our country.

So, support the groups that represent you at the State and Federal level. If you're counting on your elected representatives to do that, you'll likely be seriously disappointed.


08 December, 2011

Updated Bucket List

I love the idea of bucket lists -- they help you keep an eye out for experiences you'd like to have. This year I've been fortunate to tick off a couple. So, here's my latest list:
  1. Catch a legit two-foot trout.
  2. Ski Jackson Hole.
  3. Duck hunt in flooded timber in Arkansas.
  4. Master tying the Intruder fly.
  5. Fish for steelhead in one of the legendary rivers of the Pacific Northwest.
  6. Master the blood knot.
  7. Complete a Half Century ride (cycling)
  8. Shoot a double on pheasants.
  9. Catch a bonefish.
  10. Ski I-75 at Caberfae; it's been a few years since I've had the opportunity.
I think I have legit shots at 2-3 of these this year. We'll see how I do!


07 December, 2011

Product Review: Simms Windstopper Flap Cap

Everyone keep your arms and legs inside the ride, it's about to get weird...

Yes, I am going to deliver a negative review about a Simms product. I know you thought that scarcely possible, but turns out it is.

Last Winter I picked up a Simms Windstopper Flap Cap for Winter trips. A previous Simms hat had become a favorite, but it was looking pretty worn.

Initial impression was good. Fit well. Warm. Very windproof. As-advertised. But they missed on critical detail. I can't hear ANYTHING with it on. First day I wore it I'm out on Jon Ray's boat with my Dad. Jon offers me some instruction and all I get are lips moving. No sound. Nada. And I hadn't thrown a backup in my bag, so I spent a very quiet day.

I suppose that if you always fish by yourself and want complete solitude, this is one route to that. But if you fish with anyone, you'll never hear them. Plus, I like to be able to count on all five sense in the outdoors and this hat eliminates one of them!

So, note to the excellent folks at Simms - I wasted my money on this one! Should have picked up the Chunk Knit Beanie. As a general rule, I'm not that wild about Windstopper hats. Better to stick with a simplek, densely knit one (my Ibex wool beanie is AWESOME), especially if you want to hear anything.


06 December, 2011

Learn from My Mistakes

Recently had a good reminder about a life lesson I've finally learned. A knowledgeable fishing guide friend said, "I'd like to help you avoid all the mistakes I've made by not buying the right gear in the first place..."

So true. Whenever there's been an item I really wanted to add to the quiver, but I cheaped out, I end up regretting the decision. Some fairly simple algebra applies -- it's cheaper to buy the right thing the first time than it is to buy a lower-cost alternative, then replace it with what you wanted in the first place. Even eBay sales seldom recoup that loss.

Next time you're pondering an expense; think it through. If you'll only end up with the more expensive one, just wait and save your money. You'll be glad you did.


05 December, 2011

Order to Chaos

A place for everything and everything in its place. Normally my mantra for keeping outdoor gear organized and stored safely. Sadly, one I had not applied to my tying supplies.

All those feathers, furs, beads, and wiggly rubber legs were just in chaos in a few different Rubbermaid storage containers. But I couldn't find much of anything. And, I'd even started buying duplicates. Not good. Time to bring order to chaos.

After pulling everything apart into some rough groupings. Once I did this, I quickly discovered most things fit pretty well into three categories:
  • Feathers
  • Furs
  • Man-Made Materials
Fortunately, everything divided fairly equally (though I do seem to have amassed an outstanding amount of feathers). To keep things even further organized, I grouped some of the man-made stuff together. I found I have a ton or rubber legs, dubbing, and Senyo's shaggy dub (a steelheader's staple!). So each got a Ziploc bag.

The results are awesome! Now I can tell what I have, don't have, or am getting low on at a glance. And when I'm feeling creative, locating that new cool material is a snap. Wish I'd done this a long time ago.