17 December, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

DISCLAIMER: I've stayed out of this discussion, for the most part, on social media. This is my blog, and these are my opinions. I won't be sharing them on social media as I really don't need to hear from ranting extremists on one side or the other.

Friday's event in Newtown, CT are, in a word, stunning. I really didn't have words for what I felt upon learning of this tragedy. Anger. Bewilderment. Compassion. And lots more. But I've had a few days to digest and process this, and other similar public massacres and I've begun to organize my thoughts about how we might take step to prevent this type of event from recurring.

Common Ground?
We've become a nation of extremes. All day long both the far Left and far Right lob bombs at each other through the media. Government is clogged up with stand-offs and stalemates. No one seem willing to listen to the other side, consider their perspectives, make some concessions to get some concessions, or much of anything else, in the name of finding solutions and making progress. "I'm RIGHT and you're WRONG. And, anything you think is WRONG and won't be given serious consideration." Well, we live in an era of complex social, economic, and cultural problems. These problems don't have a single solution -- they're interwoven tangles of multiple issues. But Americans seem hell bent on believing without thinking. This needs to change, and it starts at the top.

OK, so let's say somehow the events of Friday get some folks to wake up and realize that these slaughters are becoming increasingly frequent. What would need to happen, in my opinion to make progress is:

Gun Control
I'm a card-carrying NRA member. I believe in the Second Amendment as a fundamental right of Americans. But the days when we could hide behind the Flag and claim that ALL people should be able to own ALL the guns they want has long since passed. Let's remember, the Founding Fathers shot MUSKETS for God's sake. We really didn't need to worry about anyone going on a shooting spree with a dueling pistol! "Hang on, just stand there for 5 minutes while I pack another charge..." Modern weapons are more accurate, more lethal, and easier for nearly anyone to figure out to to use. So, let's start with some things I think are pretty obvious:

  • Eliminate high-capacity magazines. There are only two reasons you would want a 30-round clip on your Glock. One is to spray the desert with a gazillion rounds like a gun nut. The other is to do harm. Sorry pro-gun folks, we need to give a little here.
  • Strengthen background checks. If you or a member of your household has a history of mental illness, no guns for you. Period. A legally acquired firearm in the hands of an unstable person is every bit as lethal as an illegal one. Yeah, this might slow the process, but what's your hurry? 
  • Increase prosecution of gun-crimes. They do this in Europe and many other places and it WORKS. Use a firearm in the commission of a felony, you get a free life sentence. No discussion. Instant jackpot. When actions have clear and strong consequences, it's a definite deterrent.
  • Consolidate information. Yes, I'm talking about gun owner databases. And yes, I know that causes the NRA to go bat-shit calling it one step closer to the government taking all your guns. So, let's compromise - no Federal Firearms Database, but let each State maintain one. In Michigan, for example I'm pretty sure the database in Washtenaw County (where I live) is quite a bit better than rural Kalkaska County. A consolidate source makes identifying problem individuals far more likely when we do those background checks.
Mental Health
"Guns don't kill people, people do..." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that after Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, KC, Portland, etc. I would finally be able to dump my day job, buy a ranch in Montana and spend my time hunting, fishing, and more. But I would expand that statement, "Guns don't kill people, angry and unstable people USING guns do." So how about if we took some of the money we seem to want to spend making it easier for illegal immigrants to enjoy the benefits of being an American (why the hell do we teach Spanish in public schools?) and put it into getting help for the troubled, unstable folks who wind up on the business end of the trigger? Seems that if even one life is spared, that was worthwhile. And Tea Bagger's who say, "Not with my money..." can just suck it. The concept of greater good is a simple one. Now, to Obama -- is there a provision for a stronger mental health system in Obamacare? No one I know can even comprehend the 2,000 page document or what it means. If I have to pay for a welfare recipient who's decided public assistance is a career, we should sure as hell be able to find some money the re-engineer our failing mental health system.

It would appear the sociable, popular, content people don't grab and AR-15 and spray a crowd. Many of these high-visibility shootings are clearly a cry for attention, rather than a well-engineered plot to exterminate the human race. Need evidence? Most of these guys shoot themselves last. Why? Because it will get them boatloads of media attention. Now they'll finally BE somebody, in some warped and twisted way. This is where we can help. Turn off the news. Stop buying The Enquirer. Don't watch anything with a Kardashian. Instead, get outside and hunt, fish, cycle, ski, play golf, backpack, or SOMETHING. We all spend too much time glued to a screen of some type. And yes, I realize I'm writing this on a computer. But we all sit on our collective asses too much, subtly giving up our brains to the media.

Here's a little secret for our legislators - they people who elect you mostly loathe you and what you stand for.  The Republican party (or Democratic party) didn't elect you. WE DID. And, at least in theory, you represent us. So, let's drop all the rhetoric and Party Line. Roll up your sleeves, consider what would make REAL change happen and work with others to make that change happen.

We've become a society without much respect - for each other, for the environment, for the value of life, and so much more. We don't want to work hard, don't expect consequences from our actions, and are utterly unaccountable. It's every man (or woman) for himself. That needs to change. And I don't mean respect by offering entitlements to folks who've discovered that can be a career path. I mean we all need to start giving a shit about the other guy. Help them, but at the same time, give them some expectations. Spend less time thinking about your new big-screen TV and more volunteering to get city kids from broken homes out into the field to learn a love for the outdoors and respect for wildlife. 

Guns kill people. Sometimes innocent ones, sometimes those who would do harm. I can't help but think that a well-trained armed civilian in the third row at that Aurora, CO theater could have changed the events of the day. When the shooter's AR jammed, a well-placed 9mm round between the eyes would have ended the carnage instantly. Removing concealed carry rights is like pursuing a related issue, not the root cause. And it eliminates the potential for an intervention that could have saved lives.  

A complex set of circumstances got us here. And the fix will be equally complex. We're all complicit here in some way. We can all do SOMETHING. So, do it today before this happens again. Again, this is simply my thinking. Others may feel differently, but they can get their own damn blog... 

12 December, 2012

It's A Sickness - Part Deux

Yeah, you knew how yesterday would play out. I bought it.

I am now the proud owner of a Scott G2 905/4 fly rod. Funny thing is that it's the antithesis of my fishing style. I've gravitated toward faster rods to make up for casting deficiencies. But, I think this stick will help me in improving my casting stroke. If you cast this one wrong, you end up with a puddle of line 5' from you.

Scott fly rods, abel spey reel, fly fishing
Burled maple meets finely-machined aluminum
The Abel Classic reel looks like it was tailor-made for this rod. The classic black, non-ported reel looks right at home atop a burled maple reel seat, some fantastic cork, and a sleek unsanded blank.

This will be such a sweet stick for an evening on the Escanaba, the South Branch of the AuSable, the flywaters of the Pere Marquette, the upper Manistee, or any of my other Michigan trout favorites. Heck, it might even get me to make another trip to Haymeadow Creek with Dad...

I'm lining it up with Scientific Anglers GPX Mastery series line (the extra half weight tends to help my casting stroke). I tried SA's Trout Stalker and while it definitely lends a nice stealthy presentation, I've had really solid results with the GPX on my Scott A4 906/4.

This should be the perfect rig for all but the largest dry flies, as well as some small ant or beetle patterns. Nymphs, hopper-droppers, and big terrestrials will be left to the A4 906/4.

Did I need this rig? No, but this, as my buddy Schultzy commented, is a lifetime set-up. As classic as it is high-performance. I'm pretty damn happy.


11 December, 2012

It's a Sickness

I am a Gear Whore. It seems once I start into something, there's always more gear I seem to need. Well, OK, not "need" make that "want". I've said a couple of times that I didn't need any more fly rods. Then I fell in love with the Scott A4 series, so my A2 6-weight and my A3 7-weight needed to be upgraded. Later, I decided that having both an indicator and a swing set-up for steelhead was a good idea. So now I have a Scott L2h with an Abel Spey reel.

But with that, I'm done. No, really.

The best laid plans of mice and men, are soon thwarted though. A deal on an Abel Classic that was too good to turn down fell in my lap. Original plan was to put it on my TFO Deer Creek 6-weight two-hander. But, it's too small for a Skagit line. Then I thought perhaps my 4-weight Scott A3. It's an OK combo, but I'm really pretty well set for reels for that stick.

Hmmmmm ... maybe a really sweet dedicated trout set-up for hoppers and dries. Yeah, that's what I need. My local fly shop has a couple of Scott G2's that they were eager to get rid of. Oooh, yeah, that's a LIFETIME rod. So, I'll be casting one soon.

It never ends.


07 December, 2012

Product Review Abel Spey Reel

I've got most of a Fall season chasing chrome on my Abel Spey reel, so I thought a review was warranted.

This reel was added to my quiver out of a desire to go a little retro with a classic click-and-pawl reel. While I've had some great reels with traditional drag, I just like the direct connection to the fish you're fighting with a clicker. Plus, there's just a look and feel of these old school line winders that's unique and super-cool.

What I like best about the Abel offering is how they've managed to elegantly update the classic reel with modern materials and machining methods. Anywhere you look this thing is built like a tank - from the burly reel foot to the industrial-strength clickers. They've clearly advanced the state of the click-pawl art to the level of Abel's traditional reels. This thing's a brute.

My two-handed swinging rods are a classic Scott ARC1287/3 spey and a Scott L2h 1168/4 switch. Both have a very traditional look that melds very well with the Abel Spey, in particular the unsanded blank of the L2h. Naturally my reel is classsic black and unported. I suppose if I had one of the "spaceship" sticks like a Sage TCX "death star" or  an ECHO TR I might feel the need to explore Abel's myriad of custom colors and finishes. But on my sticks, I think they'd just look completely ridiculous.

Even the mechanics of the drag (such as it may be) system have evolved. The Abel feature two clickers that can be configured for left- or right-hand retrieve, as well as a "maximum drag" setting. Switching is as simple as rotating one or both of the burly clickers. I've been running mine on maximum drag with no complaints.

Abel offers spey reels in three sizes - Spey, Switch, and the new smaller Classic configuration. One of these should easily balance almost any two-handed rod less than 14'. If you're in the market for a well-built, stylish click-pawl spey reel, I strongly recommend giving Abel a look!


03 December, 2012

Control Your Gun?

In the wake of Bob Costas' gun control sermon on NFL Halftime, The gun control frenzy seems set to explode yet again. You can expect both sides to rush to extremes - the NRA that no limits should be placed and the anti-gun crowd that Jovan Belcher's gun somehow caused this situation.

I've owned and shot an awful lot of guns of all sizes, types, and flavors. And I have yet to find one that included the self-firing feature. You have to pull the trigger, or nothing happens. Jovan Belcher pulled the trigger both on his girlfriend, and later himself. Clearly this was a young man with some very serious mental health issues. Other notable shootings from Columbine to VA Tech seem to suggest that guns don't kill people, people struggling with mental health problems do.

So, here's a thought. Maybe we ought to give some consideration to closing these loopholes. Don't allow purchase of ANY (not just handguns, long guns too) firearms by individuals with serious and/or chronic mental health issues. The vehicles to regulate are pretty simple -- background checks could include institutionalization, or possibly even long term medication with anti-depressants above a certain threshold.

While we're at it, I'd suggest a few other improvements that would help prevent these types of situations:

  • Institute Federal Firearms laws that bring state-to-state consistency to the laws for gun ownership; yes the NRA will fire up the "state's rights" argument, but that's just a strategy to confuse the issue.
  • Prohibit individuals with ANY history of debilitating mental illness from owning firearms; period.
  • Step-up penalties for unregistered firearms; though I am NOT advocating for a Federal gun database
If you're a law-abiding gun owner (as most of the folks I know are) a few simple checks and balances in the system won't hinder our freedom. And if they prevent even one tragedy, they're worth it, in my mind.

As with anything else you find in this blog, just my opinion.


29 November, 2012


Well, I didn't win the Powerball jackpot last night. But it did get me thinking of my outdoor-related list of stuff I'd buy if I had:

  • Browning Citori 725 shotgun in the sporting clays configuration.
  • A place on the river in NW Michigan -- probably either the Manistee or Pere Marquette.
  • A pole barn for the above.
  • Condo at Solitude, Utah.
  • A jet sled to go in the aforementioned pole barn.
  • Some sweet new rockered skis. 
Not a totally unreasonable list, I thought. Ah, well, fun to dream...


Remington Versa Max Follow-Up

After a day chasing ducks (and a lot of rounds fired), I feel compelled to write a little follow-up on this fine firearm.

Things I really like:
  • The "heft" of the gun. Sure, I would NOT carry this one for a day in the field, but for waterfowling a bit more bulk helps the mount, the swing, and in absorbing recoil.
  • The recoil, or lack thereof. Even 3" Remington Hypersonic ammo had very little recoil. 
  • Being able to shoot high-speed ammo like Hypersonic. I found that this round is really ideal for me on waterfowl. I shot several flavors of ammo on this hunt and the Hypersonic was far and away the most effective. I'm told that Beretta advises against it as it can damage the receiver. The Versa Max was built for this type of abuse.
  • I love that this thing digest whatever ammo you throw at it. Put in a 2-3/4" a 3" and a 3-1/2" and it just  blows right through.
  • I've never had a misfeed or misfire. Ever. Cheap ammo, expensive ammo -- doesn't seem to matter.
  • The TruGlo fiber optic bead is pretty sweet. Enables me to keep my eyes on the target, but easily track where the barrel is (without looking at the barrel).
  •  This gun fits me. I have relatively long arms, but it shoulders perfectly every time. Somehow it just seems to find my shoulder pocket.
  • The safety falls naturally to-hand.  It's so easy simply to disengage during the mount. I really never had to think about it. And I haven't had a single "safety whiff" yet. 
  • It's sleek and good-looking without the spacegun looks of some of the new guns out there on the market.
  • It shoots where I point it. When I use good technique, the results are very solid.
Issues are very few:
  • Given that it's mostly a waterfowl gun, I probably should have bought it in camo. My bad.
  • The "float" of the forearm and to a lesser extent the barrel are a bit off-putting. I'm sure it's all part of the engineering, but it does feel weird.
  • It's just a touch long overall, which made finding a floating case a bit challenging.
All-in-all I would give this fine shotgun very solid marks. At a very competitive price point, it really delivers.


28 November, 2012

Nice Shot

Chose to pass on the Black Friday chaos in favor of Duck Friday on Mitchell's Bay in Ontario over the Holiday weekend. My buddy Dan had set this hunt up and I always enjoy time out in the field with him.

Last year, we hunted this area TWICE and got skunked BOTH times! So there was some retribution in this trip.

One thing I love is the feeling of a really well done shot while hunting. Even when you only get one in an outing, it's such a rush. On Friday, I was fortunate enough to get in two. There's so much to go wrong with a waterfowl shot - consider range, timing, follow-through - that something that seems so simple is actually fairly challenging.

The first came on a crossing group of teal. Both of my hunting companions missed everything. I picked one, swung with the target and BLAM. Got 'em! Even our guide offered up a "nice shot" -- which always feels pretty good. These guys see a lot of shots, good and bad. To get a compliment is pretty cool.

The second "perfect shot" came on a group of 3 inbound ducks. With three shooters, we were able to call our shot (also pretty cool!). Mine came in, locked up over the decoys and started to flare upward for the escape path. Not so fast. Blam and it's Duck Down.

Somehow these missed shots make up for the blown leads (we had a tough day there -- with 20+ mph winds, figuring out how much to lead a screaming diver duck is pretty tough), the too-early attempt, or the Hail Mary thrown at a fleeing duck.

Like so many things, when you nail it with shooting, you know it.


21 November, 2012

Product Review - Scott L2h 1158/4

Now that I've got a couple of outings under my belt with the new Scott L2h switch rod, I thought a quick review to be in order.

Regular readers may recall I picked up this rod to be part of a dedicated swung fly rig. I love swinging and found that breaking down and switching over from an indy rig was just too much of a pain. This enables me to roll up to a good swing spot and go!

The rod has Scott's new unsanded blank approach. I like the retro look and feel of it, but never understood that there were performance reasons behind this decision. Evidently traditional sanded/finished blanks are first sanded, then painted and sealed. This adds a cosmetic layer than can actually negatively impact performance. Interesting -- I had no idea, but it makes perfect sense. For more, read the full article on the Scott web site here.

In addition to the aesthetically appealing finish, this rod has some of the nicer cork I've seen from Scott. My other Scott sticks are fine cork-wise, but this one has a nice, dense, smooth surface. And it feels great in-hand. I know this doesn't really affect the functionality, but it certainly does improve your overall impression of the rod when you first pick one up.

Great, fine -- it's a sweet-looking stick. But how does it FISH? Well, here's the disclaimer. I haven't actually caught anything with it. YET. But I've got some casts in with it and have formed enough of an opinion that I'm very happy with its performance.

The L2h is clearly in the "baby spey" category of switch rods. Unlike the softer float rods (like my A3 1108/4), this one has some more serious backbone. That backbone translates into some serious power. It would be interesting to compare this to the Sage TCX "Death Star" switch. I've thrown a TCX spey rod and the L2h clearly holds its own comparatively.

One interesting issue is selecting the correct line weight. I found a plethora of wildly differing opinions in online resources. In Skagit, Scott calls for 440 grains, whereas Rio suggests 525-575 grains. And Scientific Anglers says 480 grains. Confusing, at-best.Since I was running an SA Skagit Extreme intermediate, I went with their recommendation initially. Casting felt pretty good on the first outing. No blown anchor points and decent "go".

But as the constant tweaker I am, I wondered if a slightly heavier head would benefit me. So, I picked up a 520 grain head and on my second trip to the river - MONEY! With this heavier head, I could feel the rod load much better, manage my application of power, and put the fly right where I wanted it! On my second outing I gained tremendous accuracy, distance, and confidence. I really like this set-up and I'm quite certain it will help me up my two-handed casting skills.

So, if you're looking for an all-around switch rod for mid-sized rivers, I highly recommend the Scott L2h series!

07 November, 2012

Use Both Hands

Sunday was the inaugural outing for the new switch swing steelhead rig. Regular readers will know that I decided last year to convert my Scott A-3 11' 8-weight over to an indicator rig. This way I don't have to bust down and re-rig just to swing a hole. That, plus I'm really getting into the idea of swinging for steel and a dedicated rig was really appealing.

One key element was scoring an Abel Spey reel. The idea of a classic click-pawl reel (as opposed to a high-tech sealed drag tech monster) was really appealing. I want to hear that screaming reel as a pissed-off Fall chromer tries to make his way back to Lake Michigan. The fit and finish of this thing is awesome. Of course mine had to be the retro black, non-ported model so it had that classic look.

Next, a rig needs a rod. This was an easy choice. After having the chance to cast the new Scott L2h 1158/4 over the Summer I knew my choice right off the bat. Switch rods are a funny little enigma. In my experience, I've never cast a "true" switch rod that could change between indy fishing and swinging with a spey line. My Scott A3 is definitely better as a bobber rod. While the L2h is much more like a "baby spey".

I've evolved all of my two-hand rigs over to running line/shooting head combos from Scientific Anglers. This means a floating running line with Dragon Tail, coupled with a Skagit Extreme Intermediate shooting head in 480 grain. I've also got a Steelhead Scandi head that I'll be playing with later. The new intermediate heads are ideal for Great Lakes steelheading where keeping the fly down and in the zone is critical.

Finally, the crowning grace of this set-up are the new Rio MOW Tips. I've always used homemade T-11 and T-14 tips. But they varying lengths, coupled with my beginner casting skills just caused chaos - blown anchor points, 4" flies whistling at my head, etc. Greg Senyo turned me on to the MOWs. With the MOWs you have a constant tip length -- pretty much always 10'. What changes are the ratio of floating line to sink tip. So you have a 2.5' sink/7.5' float, a 5' sink/5' float, a 7.5' sink/2.5' float, and a 10' sink. These families are offered in Light (T7), Medium (T11), and Heavy (T14) weights.

OK, OK, enough gearsturbation -- what's it fish like?

Fan-f*ckin-tastic!!!! I started at a new spot in the middle PM that a guide friend was kind enough to turn me on to. Great swing water -- oh, and BONUS no one there!!! Once I found my timing, everything flows smoothly.  Contrived cast to re-position. Sweep to form the D-loop. Climb the mountain and BAM line whistles to it's intended destination. As always, the issue for me is slowing down. Slowing down means no blown anchor points, and thus no chaos.

I enjoyed fishing this stick so much that I decided to just swing all day. I encountered nary a fish, but that's OK. This was a learning trip, not a catching trip. By the end of the day I was pretty solid at casting where I wanted, as well as controlling the drift and speed with mends. So now I'm fishing, not just watching.

So, all in all, I really couldn't be happier with any aspect of this set-up. Casts great. Drifts perfectly. And looks ever so retro-cool. The Olde Schoole look of the Abel Spey fits perfectly with the sedate grey of the Scott L2h.

Go on, you know you want one -- get some!!!!

05 November, 2012

Product Review - Patagonia Stormfront Hip Pack

It seems as though the quest for the best solution for carrying fly gear on the river is never-ending. Like many, I started with the ubiquitous "River Runs Through It" vest. But it wasn't long before I realized this just isn't the best solution, as many others have. Vests are too hot in the Summer, add another pointless layer in the Winter, and are just too tempting to load down with gear up to - and including - the kitchen sink.

OK, so now what? Where do you stash some flies, tippet, flies, bug dope, sunscreen, swivels, beads, and other hardware, and a pair of nippers. I started with a used Orvis backpack. Nice if you're doing a lot of hiking (for example in Steelhead Alley) but really more than I want to carry, plus this one's not waterproof. Wade any deeper than your waist and your gear gets a soaker.

Next up is an Orvis Safe Passage sling pack. Nice bag, well-designed, sits a bit higher up so it's out of the water. Only problem is, small capacity. It's OK for trout or smallies where I don't usually carry a ton of gear, but for a steelhead outing where I need a couple boxes of bugs, several weights of tipper, and a box of hardware its overflowing pretty quickly.

At a Fly Fishing Film Tour event, I won a Patagonia hip pack. This is the first bag that showed promise. Holds a lot of stuff. Very well organized. And, lots of attachment points to keep gear accessible. One problem. Also, not waterproof.  Don't have to get too deep before it gets a soaker.

Enter the Patagonia Stormfront hip pack. PERFECT! Just the right amount of carrying capacity. Simple zippered sections combined with an enormous main compartment. Lots of external lash points. And 100% completely and totally waterproof. Expensive? Yes, but it's Patagucci. I've come to learn that it's expensive because it's better. I'm told that the burly self-lubricating zipper is a large portion of that cost.

Yesterday bouncing around the Pere Marquette swinging for steel this bag was perfect! Held two fly boxes, two spools of tippet, and an assortment of sink tips. Another bonus is that I now have a good attachment point for my Ross Pescador pliers. I waded in well over my waist a couple of times without having to swing the pack out of the way. Nice!

One warning -- the zipper is waterproof ONLY if you zip it all the way to the end. The last inch or so is a "zipper dock" that seals it completely. Not a major issue. Unless you forget it...

Thank you, Patagonia. Once again you deliver a great product that totally meets the needs of its user.


01 November, 2012

Big Sky Country 2.0 - The Fifth & Final Day on the Water

The weather for this year's Montana trip, while not optimal for streamer fishing for trout, sure was pretty damn nice. Bluebird skies and temps in the 70's made a float very pleasant. But that was about to change.

On Tuesday night a cold front rolled in. We went from 75 to about 40 for a high (and honestly, I doubt it ever made 40 on Wednesday). Tuesday night over dinner, we had a quick pow-wow with Rooster (owner of the Stonefly and our guide for Wednesday). With temps for much of the day in the 30's and winds over 30 mph in the forecast, we weren't optimistic. Plan A was some walk and wade fishing (no float - boo!), but we were also prepared for Plan B which involved a bar and a steak lunch.

Rooster, however, had held back on us and on Tuesday morning announced that he had some other ideas and hitched the boat to his truck. Now a few thoughts on Dan "Rooster" Leavens. After two visits to his place, I've grown to really appreciate this exceptional outfitter. His fun loving exterior belies one of the fishiest guides and hardest working river rats I've ever met. This guy knows the outdoors - whether chasing elk with his bow, steelhead with a spey rod, pheasants with a shotgun, or (naturally) trout with a fly rod. And, he's not afraid of ANYTHING that I've seen. He gets up earlier than the other guy and stays up later. Rooster knows that just because it's blowing like stink in Twin Bridges, doesn't mean it is up by Melrose.  And sure enough, he's right.

At the launch, it's clear Rooster is assessing the weather. He quickly announces that he'll be back in a minute as he needs to arrange for a car spot and that, in fact, we'll be floating! In the meantime, Reid and I take a little stroll and stick a few fish!

The plan is again to run bobbers chasing pre-spawn browns that abound on this stretch of the river. We'd done it very successfully with Garey Avis the prior day, so I was all about it. Funny thing about fish though. Sometimes they aren't very interested in YOUR plan.

After some slow fishing at some usually hot holes, we start chucking streamers on the float. What unfolds next is one of those days you grin about for a long time. Reid and I are almost literally hitting a fish per cast. Sure, many aren't huge, but some are nice solid fish and what the hell -- it's FUN! I don't care what others say, for this angler catching is more fun than not catching (why I consider myself a steelheader then makes little sense...). Between the two of us, we destroy two flies each that are just shredded due to the number of fish. Despite blowing snow and frosty temps, we're a jolly bunch firing off bad jokes and good casts.

At the takeout, we decide that we can't entirely pass on the bar portion of our program. A quick stop at the Melrose Bar yields us adult beverages to go. After a stunning drive over the mountains back to Twin, a fantastic trip begins to wrap up.


31 October, 2012

Big Sky Country 2.0 - Day 4

Houston, we have a problem. One of my goals was to land a trout over 20" on this trip. I flirted with it last year with an 18.5" brown and a 19" rainbow, but I never got there. And as we head out on Tuesday morning, I haven't even had a contender on yet.

But today we'll be on the Big Hole river with Stonefly Inn guide Garey Avis. From the get-go, it's clear that this guy knows this river (and guiding) in a way that only decades of experience can deliver. Today we're getting in on pre-spawn browns that are looking to fatten up. Garey's got a few secret spots to show us, so after a beautiful drive over the mountains, we're off.

Our first stop is literally a stone's throw from the launch. While Reid nails one right off the bat, I'm off to a slow start. No worries, that will change soon enough. The second spot is one I'd fished last Fall and cleaned up in. Within an hour we'd caught so many 14-18" fish we stopped counting. But I never found the hawg. This spot was really where I figured out my drift, got my casts working, and all the other little kinks you need to work out at the start of a day on the water. Once again, this spot yields a nice collection (mostly browns) of mid-sized fish. Fun fights and plenty of them. Just before we're ready to roll on to the next spot, BAM! and I've got a hawg on. Unfortunately, I couldn't get his head turned and he pops off. Dammit -- Garey agrees this one would have easily made my goal. No problem. Lots more fish in the Big Hole!

The next spot is one I'd have probably rolled right past. Interesting because on this trip I feel like my angling skills have improved considerably over last year. I've got much better mechanics for casting, hookset, and reading water. Lesson learned -- you can ALWAYS learn from a good guide, even when you think you're da' bomb.

Pretty quickly I stick a nice brown. As we examine it in the net, Garey says, "Welllll, you could call that your 20...". Reid quickly agrees. Nuh-uh boys, that's not what I came for. I want the fish that's an easy, no-doubt, slam-dunk 20+ incher. A half hour later, I've got it! A hard take-down, followed by a solid fight, and I've got my 20" brown trout.

After this, the fishing is just plain relaxing. I stuck some very nice fish, including at least a dozen at the last hole above the take-out, but now that I've hit my goal, I'm just chillin'.

Kudos to Garey and fishing partner Reid for helping support me in making my goal -- my first legit, native (non-lake run) brown over 20"!


30 October, 2012

Product Review - Arc'teryx Hardfleece

First, a confession. I've become hopelessly addicted to high-end outdoor clothing. Yeah, Columbia gear is pretty good, and The North Face even a bit better. What I'm talking about are brands like Patagonia, Arc'teryx, and Simms. I find that this is a category where you really do get what you pay for - this top-notch gear is usually warmer, drier, and/or better fitting. I think it started with my Simms G4 Pro jacket, a birthday gift a few years back. I've worn this jacket in day long downpours, 40+ mph wind days, and freezing cold and it never fails me. And, it delivers incredible functionality with pockets in the right places and all the adjustability one could ever ask for. This was followed by a Simms Windstopper Hoody - my go-to in a broad range of fairly shitty conditions. Then last year I added a Patagonia Retro X jacket. Warm, perfect fit, and windproof beyond expectations. When you like to play outdoors, a small investment in the best clothing really pays off.

I've always liked the Canadian brand Arc'teryx. Great styling, bulletproof construction, and some really innovative features (the Sidewinder zipper that keeps the nasty frozen zipper off your chin is sweeet!). But, the prices always put me off. This stuff is pricey. As in make-Patagonia-look-cheap expensive. This Summer I found myself in the Arc'teryx store while in Montreal on business. All the cold weather gear was 50% off and they had some cool items. Fueled by a few-too-many tasty Canadian beers (Molson Ex, anyone?) I decided I definitely needed an Arc'teryx hardshell fleece.

In brief, this thing ROCKS! It's hard to truly describe -- it's kind of like a soft shell meets a fleece. But it's not really either. It's a bit more bulky than my Simms Windstopper Hoody, but not much. Yet, it's considerably warmer. When you slip it on it's clear this was designed by Canadians who spend a lot of time outside. Roomy where it needs to be, fitting where it doesn't. One of the best tests of a jacket is the hood. Does it fit close (but not TOO close) to your head so it follows as you look side-to-side? Or is it simply a bulk tent that stay put while your melon swivels inside like a puppet show? The Arc'teryx is clearly the former (as an aside -- so are both of the previously mentioned Simms pieces).

Our last day in Montana the temps dropped 40 degrees overnight, the wind came up, and a little blowing snow was in the forecast. As one of my travel companions had forgotten his jacket, I lent him my Simms hoody. This put me on a trial run with the Arc'teryx. Throughout the day we enjoyed temps in the 30's, with wind over 20mph, and intermittent snow squalls. Me? Nice and toasty, thank you very much! And the softshell fit kept it from interfering with my casting stroke.

Last night, dealing with the distant effects of Frankenstorm Sandy we had chilly temps and high winds (a top gust of 78mph was recorded here). My black lab mix pooch fears no weather, so come 10pm she wants her customary walk. Hello Arc'teryx! Warm and happy we strolled to her content.

I only have two complaints. First, the outer jacket is a sage green. But the inner fleece is a bright kelly green. Strange. But somehow it sorta' works. And second, I don't actually know what model it is (as I mentioned, alcohol consumption may have been a factor in the purchase). As such, I can't tell you what to go buy. But if you're considering such a garment, I'd take a serious look at Arc'teryx.


29 October, 2012

Big Sky Country 2.0 - Day Three

Day Three marked our first day with the crew at The Stonefly Inn & Outfitters. It is possible that we were overserved on Sunday night, so our start was somewhat delayed. Fortunately, we were fishing with the unflappable Joe Willauer. Once we had lunches packed, gear gathered, and found out butts, we were off to the Jefferson river. Reid's luck on the Jeff in prior visits wasn't good. While I'd fished it twice last year with solid results.

But bluebird skies and low water add some complexity to the equation. We quickly learned today we'd be on the bobber with egg and San Juan worm flies. Last year, this rig was a good learning exercise. Let's just say my skills with it were less than stellar. Surprisingly, I was all over it this time. Within site of the launch ramp, both Reid and I had scored fish. Shortly after Reid boated a nice brown.

I think my favorite part of fishing the Jefferson is the true beautiful scenery of the Ruby Valley. It reminds you that the name "Big Sky Country" is well-deserved. the vistas are truly stunning. If you haven't fished Montana yet, stop reading my silly blog and go book a trip now!

But, I'm hear to fish, not sightsee (well, OK, maybe some of both...). And the fishing on this day is startlingly good. And, the coolest part for me is that it's 90% rainbows! Don't get me wrong, I love catching browns, especially big ones however they're not known for their fight. Rainbows are another story entirely - I was treated to some spectacular acrobatics, some powerful runs, and even a nice tail walk down the river!

Perhaps the highlight of the day was floating with Joe. His low-key demeanor fits perfectly with his other gig -- substitute teacher and HS basketball coach. Screw ups were met with a calm, "No, your OTHER left...". Plus, as both a Montana trout guide, and an eastern Washington steelhead guide, he's got plenty of experiences. When you're spending a full day in a guide's boat, getting a guy who's a genuine pleasure to chat with is just icing on the cake. Joe's that guy. He also runs a pretty cool blog that's full of solid writing and great photos.

All great days on the water must have an end. This one ended with some unbelievable Alaska wild caught salmon steak off the grill back at the Stonefly and a Moscow Mule or two to wash 'em down. Niiiiice.


16 October, 2012

Big Sky Country 2.0 - Day 2

Our second day in found us headed toward Yellowstone National Park and more of the Madison river. After a beautiful drive from Ennis up to West Yellowstone we found a hearty breakfast and some good input from the helpful guys at Blue Ribbon

Schultzy gettin' it done on the Madison below Yellowstone!

First stop was just outside the Park (to avoid paying for an additional fishing license). This location was unlike the Madison we'd experienced the first day - broad, fairly slow, and a bottom of sand and gravel. Super easy wading! After rigging up for streamer pitching, we headed downstream. A sudden Blue Winged Olive hatch sent us scrambling back to the truck for dry flies. Unfortunately despite some great looking water and a solid hatch, this was not to be a hot spot. Schultzy stuck a few dinks, while Reid and I got skunked. 

Time to move on downstream toward Quake Lake. If you're never visited this area, Quake Lake is pretty amazing! Formed as a result of a 1959 earthquake that actually re-routed the river after 80 million tons of rock fell into the valley, the lake is 6 miles long and 190 feet deep!

The Madison above Quake Lake; pretty, but tricky wading.
This segment of the Madison was especially beautiful. But with this beauty came some tough wading. Some seriously FAST water, combined with basketball-sized ankle-breaker boulders, and slick algae growth was the recipe for scary. Early on I made the mistake of deciding the fishing would be better on the far back. Mid-crossing I realized I was wading in a spot that was above my skill level. Unfortunately, when you find yourself in these spots, turning back is often worse than completing the crossing. After a few tense moments of slick footing, fast current, and heart-racing adrenaline, I made it across. 

Though beautiful, this stretch left us all fishless. And it helped me address an important gear issue. Rocking Simms HardBite star cleats is the only thing the kept me upright in the fast-flowing Madison. Later in the week I also found them tremendously helpful wading some of the algae-slick portions of the Big Hole river. Previously I'd only used cleats in Ohio. The issue with cleats comes into play when fishing from a boat. A good way to be unwelcome quickly is to clamber aboard in your cleated boots, scratching the crap out of your host's boat. After this trip, I've decided it's time to add a second pair of boots sans cleats for boat-based fishing. I love my Simms Riversheds, so I think a second pair will be on-order shortly. While I like the idea of Korkers interchangeable soles, I have serious doubts that they'll hold up like my Simms have.

Back at the truck, I found that not only had I gone fishless, so had Reid and Schultzy. But we did get the pleasure of meeting a true Montana bullshitter who claimed to take 90 yard bow shots on whitetails, and hunt grouse with his bow. Uh huh, sure you do. Of course. And your 11-year-old daughter will kill her first elk with a bow at 60 yards...

A quick drive over to Twin Bridges got us to The Stonefly Inn - our home base for the next few days. A fine dinner of Rooster's coffee steaks followed by a few Moscow Mules had us all happy and energized for some great fishing starting on the next day...


15 October, 2012

Big Sky 2.0 - Day 1

A bit tardy in posting, but wow was Montana an excellent trip! This was my second visit to the Big Sky, and I enjoyed it even more than the first visit. A bit part, I believe, was the increase in my skills. I felt 100% more confident with new skills, and more time on the water. 

After landing in Bozeman, we grabbed our rental and beat it for Ennis and the Madison river. My buddy Schultzy had done a little research and found that just below Ennis lake was a hot spot just then. We hit a fly shop or two, grabbed a cheap motel room that all three of us could pile into, and geared up for the river. 

While walking in from the parking lot, Schultzy throws a streamer into the undercut bank. Bang! We have our first fish of the trip - in about 30 seconds! At this point, the Madison braids, so we had lots of water to fish among the three of us. Schultzy and Reid have a much more high-speed style than mine, so I let them roll down the river ahead of me. 

Within 3 casts I had a nice little rainbow. And pretty quickly I had another half dozen 8-12" fish. A nice confidence builder and fun way to get into the groove. A little while later a mid-teens rainbow grabs my streamer and makes a run for it. But I got the better of him and scored my first "real" fish of the trip.

Before long, I catch up to Schultzy, who's just stuck a 23" brown that's in full pre-spawn colors. Beautiful fish. Not ten minutes later, Reid grabs a nice 20".

As the sun begins to set, we realize we're a good bit downstream from the truck! Time for the death march back. We easily had a two mile hike back to the truck - most of it tromping through cover, across streams, through muck. But beer never tasted quite so good as after that afternoon fishing and evening hiking back!

Following a quick stop at the motel, we wandered of to find food and drink. If you're ever in Ennis, I highly recommend the Gravel Bar - cool environment, very good food, and a nice beer selection!


08 October, 2012

Big Sky Preview

Last week's return trip to the Big Sky Country was epic. In fact, I think the second time was even better. This time I was better equipped, a more skilled angler, and had even set some goals for myself. Travelling with my buddy Mike Schultz, and Reid from last year's trip, we had a blast! Good guys, outstanding anglers, and excellent travel companions.

Despite extremely low water, we found fish. A lot of them. Many quite large. At first on our own, but later with the help of the crew at the Stonefly Inn.

More photos, anecdotes, insights, and more coming soon!


P.S. Reid and I had the good fortune of spending a day on the water with the Stonefly's head guide, Joe Willauer. A great guide and a fun companion for a day on the river. I've added Joe's blog Evo Anglers to the Blogroll here.

25 September, 2012


Over dinner with friends recently, we were talking about some gear or other and one of my friends says, "Well, you're a tweaker, like me, so I'd totally expect that...". I recognized that one word sums up a lot of my approach. No matter whether it's a rifle, boat trailer, or a ski boot, seldom is anything from the factory "just right". And one of the things I enjoy is making my gear better, or better adapted to my needs and preferences. A few examples:

Mountain Bike
Could have just hit the local shop and picked up a nice 86-speed with dual suspension. But no, I had to start with a stock SE 29er and build the ultimate hardtail single-speed. Disc brakes, indestructible Profile cranks, custom-built wheels. The result is bomb-proof and a blast to ride.

CZ 452 Rifle
CZ builds a nice little .22LR rifle. Well crafted, exceptionally accurate, nice trigger. Could I leave mine alone? Oh, no. It started with a Montana sling strap and some Uncle Mike's swivel mounts (both super-nice, btw). And then a trigger job to lower to a 2# pull and a more even, consistent pull. Then a new more rigid firing pin and spring. Topped it off with a Bushnell scope and Warne mounting rings. Most recently found a beautiful machined trigger guard from PID Products to get rid of the roughly finished crappy looking stock one. A beautiful rimfire that's a wonderful to shoot - and really not much money in it. Of course, my Ruger 10/22 had to have a trigger job and a few other mods, too.

Steelhead Swinging Rigs
No, just owning a single switch rod with floating line on one spool and spey line on another wouldn't do. First it was a full-size Scott ARC-1287-3 rod. Then an Abel Spey reel. Then another switch rod, the excellent Scott L2H, so one rod could be rigged for indy fishing and the other for swinging. And, naturally, I decided to switch from full lines to shooting heads and running line, for more flexibility. But, I'd say I now have every possible Great Lakes steelhead scenario covered.

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
Didn't think the lowly smoker could get upgraded? Wrong! After haunting a few online groups, I upgraded the stock door to a Cajun Bandit stainless steel one. Looks great, seals better. And I found that the stock water pan made it nearly impossible to manage the fire. So that gets replaced with a Brinkman charcoal pan that's lower and has a flat bottom. Presto! Easy access during long smoking sessions to add charcoal, redistribute, etc. I'm sure more is coming on this one.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. My ability to leave well enough alone seems to be non-existent. But I think these sorts of mods are half the fun.


24 September, 2012


One of the earliest pistols I had the opportunity to shoot was a Kimber stainless Custom 1911 in .45ACP. As it was a rental unit at a local shooting range and had seen a lot of rounds fired and minimal maintenance, I loved that gun. So guns just fit and feel right - that was this gun's story.

Subsequent to that, I had a number of opportunities to shoot a friend's 1911's. These included a rather basic Springfield Armory that I could just never make friends with and a rather fussy Colt. While I liked the 1911 platform very much. Neither of those guns compared to that Kimber.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to finally own the object of my affections. While I haven't yet had the opportunity to shoot it, I love it already. The heft -- just right. The simple, logical action. The exceptional level of fit and finish is outstanding. Barrel lock-up seems perfect and the action is precise and controlled.

I'm glad I waited. I'd considered a Taurus, but that just didn't seem quite right for this very special pistol. A Remington seemed like a cost-effective American-made option, but the R1 is a pretty bare-bones model. This would have necessitated a bunch of work with a pistolsmith to do a trigger job, polish and flare the feed ramp, swap out the hammer, etc. Before long, you've got a $600 gun with $600 worth of custom work. Or, I could just buy the Kimber that already has all of that and more.

Finally, I must confess to some personal vanity. I can't explain WHY, but I just had to have a stainless model. Do I have any practical reason for this? Nope. It's just shiny and I like that.

More to follow once I've had the chance to shoot this beast.


04 September, 2012

First Impressions - Abel Spey Fly Reel

I've been lucky enough to add a sweet reel to the collection for the upcoming Fall steelhead season. For a while I'd been thinking about a traditional click-and-pawl reel. I love the old school look and feel, plus the idea of a screaming reel with a bit of hot chrome on the other end of the line is pretty appealing!

I was first looking at reels from the Spey Company, in Wisconsin. Fully machined, made in the USA, and readily customized to be cool and unique. But, I hadn't found $450 lying around to dedicate to a "nice to have" reel that I didn't truly NEED (but seriously, is any of this about need anyway?).

Out of nowhere, along comes a deal on an Abel Spey reel. If you're unfamiliar with Abel, these folks make top-notch products. But they're not cheap. My Abel nippers are about the sweetest fly fishing accessory you'll ever find.

Though I have done little other than practice cast with it on my Scott ARC 1287-3, I've been mighty impressed. One area that really stands out is the fit of the spool to the frame. This is an area where exceptional workmanship really shines. My mass-produced Ross and Orvis reels are just fine, but the can't hold a candle to the tight-as-a-drum Abel. It sounds like closing the door on a really high-end European performance car.

My reel is the retro non-ported design, in classic black. I'm not really sure I could even own any color combination other than this. The finish on this reel is perfect - not too matte, not too shiny.

Once inside you realize the simplicity of this sort of reel. All you find is a spring and two clickers. By simply rotating them you can select from right-hand or left-hand retrieve. Simple as that! By engaging both clickers, you get the maximum drag setting (which is where I've set mine). One cool feature is the externally adjustable drag. A nice surprise on this sort of reel. At minimum, this will be a nice way to take the tension off the spring when I'm not fishing.

Can't wait to get this one on the swing this Fall! Only a few weeks away!


22 August, 2012

Gun Lust

I don't need it, I don't need it, I don't need it.

But I've always loved the Browning Citori 525. Couldn't really see much difference in the 625. Then at this year's SHOT Show I saw the new 725. For a brief moment, the heavens parted and an otherworldly light shone on this beauty.

Browning did an extensive redesign on the venerable x25 to make the 725 truly special. A lower profile receiver, paired with a redesigned barrel rib, and a new grip make the 725 fall to hand like a finely handcrafted bespoke gun. The action's butter-smooth and the trigger is as crisp as some custom range queen  rifles.

I can just see this superb firearm upping my sporting clays averages or busting pheasants in the field on a crisp early Winter day. Probably too nice for bunny busting or ducks. But I've got the Remington Versmax for that!

A beautiful piece of craftsmanship. And, at $2,500 (Field model) certainly not overpriced. If you're in the market, I would definitely check this new introduction out.


15 August, 2012


Regular readers will know that the swinging flies bug has bitten me good and hard! This year I discovered the potential of swinging flies for smallmouth. Now swinging isn't limited to the Fall steelhead run or some brief windows in the Spring. Now I can add the early and late smallmouth seasons! This is exciting as I get a few more outings throwing a two-handed rod, plus there's some solid smallmouth fishing in my back yard.

This all started with a deal on a very lightly used TFO Deer Creek Series 6-weight switch rod. Add a Ross Evolution 3 reel, and a Scientific Anglers running line/skagit head with a Rio VersiLeader and you have my rig.

So far, my only fish had been hooking, and losing, a rather nice carp. Until yesterday.

On a vacation to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I had the opportunity to wet a line in the Manistique river. After no success in the upper section where I usually fish (which was productive in steelhead season), I moved to a lower, smaller, and faster stretch. I also switched over to a pattern in my box that looked just like some minnows I'd seen on my way down river.

Third drift - I get a soft ticking that feels like I'm hanging up on the rocks on the bottom. Then that ticking gives way to the stubborn pull of a smallmouth bass! If I was generous he might have been ten inches, but that's really not the point. One thing I've found in fly fishing is that a huge step is targeting, hooking, and landing one on your own. For me, getting that first one solo is often a turning point. Looking forward to much more swinging as the Fall approaches.


09 August, 2012

Final Touches

I love my CZ-452 Trainer .22LR rifle. It shoots precisely. It has beautiful lines. And, it didn't cost much.


The trigger guard is an absolute piece of crap. The stamped steel guard is rough and just looks really cheesy on an otherwise super cool gun. I'd found a milled replacement on a rimfire forum, but it appeared the company had gone out of business.

Recently while on that same forum, I saw a mention of a DIP trigger guard. Could it be? Could I finally be able to finish this sweet little gun with a trigger guard that's as nice as the rest of it? Yup, looks like it! I have one on order! Sadly it's backordered, but heh, I waited this long!

Upon closer inspection, I found two other interesting products. I've never been crazy about the stock plastic magazine well. But, it's an internal part and seems unlikely to see much stress so it was never a priority. Well lookee here - it's an aluminum magazine well! Wa-HOO! On further inspection, there's also an extended magazine release. Awesomeness! Didn't even know I wanted one until I saw it.

Can't wait for the trigger guard to arrive! And maybe some nice cold shooting weather along with it!


07 August, 2012

Signs of the Seasons

The past two days have started off with cool mornings - even had to throw on a fleece to walk the dog this morning. This morning I noticed a marked increase in migratory geese. Starting to see reports of salmon in the NW Michigan rivers.

It's here.

While I have certainly learned to appreciate Summer in recent years, Fall and Winter are my favorite seasons in Michigan. Already thoughts of swinging for Fall steelhead, watching the colors explode in the woods, duck and pheasant hunts, football tailgates, and epic powder days are swirling in my head. It means my Fall trip to Montana is coming soon, and that the reality of standing in a Winter Wonderland in the middle of a remote river chasing chrome aren't too far off.

But then reality strikes. It's supposed to crack 90 degrees today. And tomorrow. This will be made a bit easier by the comfort of a changing season on the horizon.


03 August, 2012

Little Stick, Big Fun

When I originally purchased my Scott A3 8'6" 4-weight, my intent was to use it for smaller water and fish on the trout streams of Northern Michigan. Catching a 6" brookie on a 6-weight seems just ridiculous. I figured this would make an evening on the South Branch of the AuSable so much fun.

Little did I know that this rod would be the basis for a rig that's become my go-to local set-up. This all started with an evening throwing poppers to a bluegill bed off the front of my buddy's pontoon boat. Since my 7-weight A3 was all I had with me, that's what I did it with. Let's just call it overkill.

At that point, I decided that perhaps my little 4-weight was more versatile than I'd considered. With this in mind, I acquired a Ross Evolution 2 reel and spooled it up with backing and a Rio Coldwater Clouser line. It's actually the rig shown in the photo at the top of the blog (and yes, that looks like the upper Manistee river and no I wouldn't normally run that line on that river).

This Spring, with gas prices still steep and free time at a premium, I made myself a goal of getting out more regularly to fish for smallmouth bass. A little poking around on the Huron river found me a nice little spot that nearly always yields some fish.

Sure, there are plenty of dinks -- bluegill, sunfish, rock bass, and smallies. But every once in a while I stick a good smallie and that makes my day! A 12" smallmouth on a 4-weight puts some nice bend in the rod. My biggest to-date went about 14" and I've also gotten a softball-sized sunfish! The best part is that it's literally a few minutes from my home. Got an hour to kill on a week night? Go fishing! If you don't have a little rig like this, build one up and have some fun!


20 July, 2012


What did the fish say when he swam into the brick wall?  


With one of my favorite jokes out of the way, lets talk about dams. We're finally starting to wake up in this country and realize that altering Mother Nature wasn't such a good idea. I'm a big believer in the movement to remove dams and return river flows to their natural state. In the Western US this movement is gaining momentum rapidly. Recent efforts on the Elwha are an excellent example, and even the once untouchable Snake River dams are now up for discussion.

But then what?

My professional colleagues will know that I'm a big believer in Systems Theory. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Every action has a reaction, and cumulative reactions can sometimes cause unplanned consequences. So, when you take out a dam, what happens next?

Human nature wants to "fix it" by intervening. In this case, that means hatchery fish. But planting with hatchery fish creates its own set of problems - it's basically inbreeding and you lose much of the fish's ability to adapt to the conditions.

The more logical alternative, in my opinion, is better management of the wild population. This is where efforts like gear restrictions, tight creel limits, and other measures begin to make sense. Give the wild fish a fighting chance and you'll see how tough Mother Nature really is.

For more on this topic, here's an excellent video from Dylan Tomine - Patagonia ambassador and legendary fisherman. It's a worthwhile watch.


19 July, 2012

Video Review: Small Mouth; Big Appetite! DVD

If you fish for small mouth on the fly, or want to, there's a great new video out from Michigan guides Jon Ray and Kevin Feenstra. Small Mouth; Big Appetite is now available and it's excellent! Shot on Michigan's Muskegon and Manistee rivers, the video covers three styles of fishing (streamers, poppers, and crayfish hopping). Featured are tips and techniques, as well as equipment recommendations and fly patterns for each. Whether you're a novice or you've put in your time, there are useful tips, tricks, and techniques for everyone to catch these river thugs!

Take a look at the trailer to see more!

The DVD is shipping now - ask your local fly shop, or you can buy it directly from Jon's web site. Enjoy!


05 July, 2012


Spent the 4th Holiday at a friend's lake house in Hillsdale County. On an evening boat ride, I spent some time throwing BIG poppers into the lilly pads. Didn't turn up any fish, but WOW what a confirmation on that Scientific Anglers Titan Taper line. Pardon my French, but that stuff is the SHIZNIT for throwing big bugs long distances easily!!!!

You can really feel the line loading the rod fully. And, the textured finish makes it slicker than snake snot and capable of shooting really long distances, especially when accelerating with a haul. If you need to huck the big stuff on a floating line, definitely check this line out. I have to say I found it to have considerable advantage over my previous favorite, the Rio Clouser. Comparatively, the SA line is like having another gear.

Now, if I'd just picked up any strikes...


29 June, 2012

Wet & Wild

Last year I discovered the simple beauty of wet wading. When it's stinkin' hot and you're in some nice water, it's just an exceptional cool-down. Even the most breathable waders get pretty sticky when temps head toward the 90's.

Best of all is the convenience - a pair of river shorts and some sort of footwear and you're off to the races. And, after you're out of the water, no waders to hang dry, no boots to deal with. For warm water excursions on local SE Michigan rivers, it's the way to go!

The caveat is true trout streams. If a stream is truly cold enough to support trout year-round, it's likely too cold to wade for any length of time without some waders. Sure, I did it on the upper Manistee last Summer, but the ambient air temperature was 96 degrees F.

If you're still stumbling around in waders in the heat, give it a try!


26 June, 2012

Simple Pleasures

Got in some fishing at my new local fun spot. An extremely short distance from my home, this is the perfect "Tuesday Evening" spot. Quick drive, string up the rod and go!

After a few outings, I've found some nice structure. And with structure, comes -- SMALLMOUTH! At one especially prolific spot, I had just switched over to a small topwater popper, I got nailed on the first cast. Now that's MONEY! Within an hour I had a half dozen more fish, including a couple of nice mid-teen's bruisers.

The next day I returned, this time without my 7-weight but rather with my 4-weight. None of the fish I found were huge, so I figured a lighter rod makes a 10-incher feel like a tuna! What a blast! Cast. Twitch. Twitch. BAM! Repeat. Though I did manage one nice teener, and a sunfish the size of a softball.

Also in Day Two I went superlight. I've already been wet wading in some river shorts and Simms Streamtread sandals. Now I stuck a fly box and some 10# tipper in my pocket, grabbed some nippers, and clipped a hemo to my shirt.

A rabid fly fishing friend told me he's got a similar spot. One where he can go light, tuck two beers in his hip pack and kill a couple of hours on a weeknight.

An added bonus? For me, the nearest rivers with any real trout population are 2-3 hours away. With $4/gallon gas, this makes popping some local smallies look pretty fun. Save some gas, fish for bass!


15 June, 2012

First Impressions - Scientific Anglers Titan Taper Fly Line

In the quest for distance, I swapped in a Scientific Anglers Mastery Series Titan Taper for use on my Scott A4 907/4 stick for smallies and carp. And now, my two word review...

"Holy sh@t!!!!!"

To call this line a rocket is an understatement. The web site says, "Loads quickly and delivers the biggest flies to the furthest targets". That's marketingspeak for, "This thing will throw a half a chicken down a football field". It loads my 7-weight Scott A4 like a freight train. And the Mastery Series texture isn't a gimmick - it really does aid shooting line considerably. This is the second Mastery Series line I've added to my quiver (the other is a GPX in 6 weight) and these things will definitely move the line.

Did some quick testing with Mike Schultz at the Schultz Outfitters Secret Testing Facility (aka Riverside Park in Ypsi) to determine line weight. Mike's found that in some instances underlining can be a benefit, depending on the rod. With my A4, the rated 7-weight was perfect. I will be interested to try this line on a stiff stick like a Scott S4 or a Sage Z-Axis.

Looking forward to hucking some leech patterns at local smallies and carp on this rig over the weekend!


14 June, 2012

Roll with Soul

For a while now I've wanted to get a retro-cool click-and-pawl reel for my Scott ARC 1287-3 spey rod. I'm starting to develop an appreciation for matching the character of rods and reels. And as this sense developed, this classic olde schoole stick seemed to be dying for a click-pawl reel.

It started with a Ross CLA-6 because it was the right size and didn't cost much. But it had no soul and isn't the most sophisticated drag for bad weather steelhead with a bad attitude. Then I stumbled on a gently used Orvis Mirage 6. This thing is a beautifully engineered and machined reel with a first-rate sealed drag system. In short, it's the shizznit. But it seems better suited to a Helios or a Sage TCX. So my quest for some soul continued.

The Circle Spey from Speyco seemed like an excellent option. These semi-custom traditional style reels are hand-machined in Wisconsin. Some dialogue with owner Tim Pantzlaff and I'd settled on the Circle Spey model. Now I was just waiting for some spare cash to fall into my grimy paws.

In the meantime...

Along comes an opportunity to pick up an Abel Spey reel. Abel reels have an amazing reputation as some of the most durable, well-made reels for salt or freshwater applications. And the Spey model (without ports, of course -- points for style) looks and feels just like an updated classic Hardy. The machining and finish are top-notch. The design is simple and classic. And the sound of that clicker --- mmmmm, music! Can't wait to have an angry Fall steelhead make a run for Lake Michigan and make that reel sing!

I'm also taking this opportunity to re-configure my lines for greater diversity. I've been using a full Rio Skagit line, but I'm going to switch over to a running line/shooting head combo. This will enable me to enjoy some of the experimentation of using different style heads with more convenience (and much less expense). I'm planning to start off with a 500 grain Skagit Extreme Intermediate head from Scientific Anglers and a Scandi head of some sort. I've been running the Skagit Extreme Intermediate on my 6 weight switch rig for smallies and it's been great.

Can't wait for the Fall run! Fish on!!!


12 June, 2012

Product Review - Simms Streamtread Sandal

Last Summer I discovered the joys of wet wading. On a hot day, it's just perfect - cool and refreshing! This is especially true of the local warmwater rivers. A good trout stream with proper water temps migh be a little chilly on all but the hottest days. And, it's just that much less gear to deal with.

At first I just wore my Simms Rivershed boots with neoprene socks. That was OK, but they really didn't fit that well and I found that, especially in sandy rivers, I ended up with lead foot due to all the accumulated sand and debris in my boots. Then I tried my Teva sandals. Comfortable enough, but no protection from rocks, tree limbs, etc. that you tend to bump into while wading.

Then I found the new Simm Streamtread Sandal. Think of these as the offspring of a Keen sandal and a Simms wading boot! The uppers offer great protection and easy fine-tuning of the fit. And the lowers are basically a Simms Streamtread sole that nearly identical to a wading boot. The full toe box provides protection, while the open sides enable easy draining and pebbles, sand and other debris easily clear. Thus far I've had a couple of opportunities to wear for boat-based float trips and for walk-in fishing on the Huron river. This sandal is perfect for both boat-based and walk-in uses. Plenty of support, grippy rubber sole (even compatible with studs!), and comfortable all day long.


06 June, 2012

Go Green!

Recently received a direct mail piece from Patagonia promoting some stories of key products. These folks are rapidly becoming one of my most respected brands in the outdoor space. In addition to making some exceptional products, I've really come to respect how they're running a successful company in an environmentally and socially responsible way. As an aside, if you haven't read CEO and found Yvon Chouinard's book "Let My People Go Surfing", I highly recommend it. Perhaps the best business book I've read in recent years.

At any rate, this catalog has a very frank discussion of wetsuits. The bottom line was this - no matter what you do, manufacturing wetsuits (and many other pieces of gear) is inherently environmentally destructive. Patagonia goes on to say that there's really no way to replace neoprene rubber in a wetsuit, but that they take steps to minimize it use. And that at the end of the day, a wetsuit that lasts longer benefits the environment.

I came away from this catalog with a real respect for Patagonia. Their directness on this issue was refreshing. Especially as it ultimately does NOT benefit them as they're essentially saying that the only way to reduce the environmental impact was to sell fewer.


Today I realized something. I was reading all of this in a PRINTED catalog that was sent to me in the MAIL. Two strikes, and perhaps a touch hypocritical? I buy most of my Patagonia gear online, or from a local retailer. I'm totally comfortable with a web-based interface. Why kill trees and contribute to the carbon footprint with direct mail? To my recollection, Patagonia's never asked me if I'd prefer to receive communication via e-mail.

Interesting. Shows you that even the best companies sometimes fail at walking the walk.


04 June, 2012

Big Time Small Mouth

Had a great opportunity to get my smallmouth bass game dialed in recently. Was invited to float a mid-Michigan river that's been producing epic levels of fish lately. Don't have to ask me twice!

Original plan had been to fish topwater with poppers. But we also were prepared with streamers, and friend Jay wanted to have a shot at carp, if we saw them. During the first ten minutes of the float, we quickly discovered that Murdich Minnow streamers were the hot ticket as Jay outfished me about 10 to 1! So, I quickly switched over to the streamer program.

This is super-cool sight fishing, especially in the low, clear water conditions we experienced. Just like trout, you could easily watch predator chase down the prey. Well, most times...

I got warmed-up on some dinks -- in the 6-8" range. Pretty quickly we were shaking off the little guys to pursue the river donkeys. By early afternoon, I had my personal best 18.5" fish. Came out of the edge of a weed line to SMACK the streamer. I love that smallmouth fight -- even the little ones are fun. But the big ones like this can get you bent on a 7-weight steelhead rod!

Just the sheer numbers we stuck that day were a huge help in building confident and experience. I quickly got better at hooksets and fighting fish. Between three of us we likely boated at least 75 fish and shook of maybe that many little guys. A few other highlights of the day:

  • Spent a good part of the day casting a Scott S4S (hey, it was already rigged and ready). Wow - there's a reason they're $700. What a rocket!
  • Mid-afternoon I cut the popper off and fished my Scott A4 907/4. While not the S4S, this new rod did not disappoint. And, I got a couple of nice fish.
  • Made my drift boat rowing deubt! My friends say, "If you can't row, you can't go" so time to man up and learn. Did very well at managing speed, putting us in the right places. Even managed to back-row up to retrieve a streamer from a tree!
  • Murdich Minnow was MONEY, time and again. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it held up, too.
  • Having a great new waterproof camera is excellent. Unless it's bured in the backpack at the other end of the boat when you land your personal record fish...
Many thanks to Brian and Jay for inviting me along on their float. I look forward to the opportunity to do it again.


24 May, 2012

Small Mouth - Big Fun!

Over the past year I've developed a new appreciation for the pugnacious smallmouth bass. I've had some pretty modest fish put the bend in the rod like a 7-8# steelhead! As such, I can't wait for the release Small Mouth - Big Appetite from my buddy Jon Ray and his guiding cohort Kevin Feenstra. Check out the trailer below!

Coming soon to a Fly Shop near you! Be sure to pick up a copy.


23 May, 2012

Fishing Buddies

I've found something amazing in fly fishing - it truly is a family. In just a short time, I've made bunches of fishing-related friends. And, I'm continually amazed at how quickly that list grows. I always hear people comment on how hard it is to make "grown-up friends". Not when you fly fish.

It's a secret bond we all share. That we're all basically obesssive idiots. That we all KNOW there's an easier way to accomplish an end (like catch a fish). But, we're all stubborn enough to feel compelled to do it the hard way -- with some dryer lint artfully arranged on a hook.

What's cool is that unlike many other pursuits, with my fly fishing friends, we talk about TONS of other topics. A trip to the local fly shop for a seminar is as much like a cocktail party as it is a class! And the range of people I've met have been incredible from experienced guides and reps, to physicians, a carpenter, corporate executives, a barbershop owner, a publisher, and a whole bunch of folks who work in my profession of marketing. Pretty cool, AND a nice addition to my network of resources.

Thanks everyone! I look forward to years more of friendship!