31 January, 2012

Quest for Stone

For Spring steelhead, stoneflies are among my favorites. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a pattern that I can tie in a reasonable amount of time. Most are too intricate, take too many steps, and require too many different materials.

So, for the past year or so, I've been playing with inventing my own. The early prototypes were based on a green Caddis nymph I've had some success with. So basically, the program has been:

  1. Daiichi 1120 egg hook in #10 size
  2. Wrap a thread base, using black thread
  3. Tie in some medium black vinyl D-rib
  4. Bring thread forward to about the 2/3 point
  5. Wrap D-rib forward and tie off
  6. Apply black dub to thread and tie forward to the eye
  7. Apply two pairs of rubber legs, one on each side of the hook.
  8. Whip or half-hitch finish
OK, so I've caught a fish or two on this one, but it just looks like a kludge. I think my basic idea's solid, I just need to start finessing the execution. The finished fly seems heavy handed. So, here's where I'm headed...
  1. Swapped out the rubber legs for some MUCH thinner silicone silli legs. These seem far more proportional. Tied a few last weekend and it seemed to help.
  2. While I love the strength and sharpness of the Daiichi 1120's for eggs, they just seem too short-shanked to deliver the right proportions. So yesterday when I had some time to kill between appointments, I picked up a 2x heavy, curved hook with a bit longer shank. This should enable a longer proportional balance.
  3. Standard black dubing looks so, well, blah. Picked up some black ice dub that has a nice sheen and variability.
Hoping to find some time to tie later this week and try out these improvements. We'll see. But I was also talking to my buddy Jay recently and he evidently has a killer pattern that's super easy to tie. May get that recipe tomorrow night.

I think this "engineering" facet of fly tying is what appeals to me. Answering questions like, "How do I get that bulk up front and not thoughout", or "Does that look like something in the wild?" keep me entertained.


25 January, 2012

Kid in a Candy Store

Last week while in Vegas on business, had the opportunity to spend a day at the Shot Show. This annual event, put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, is a trade show dedicated to the industry. For folks in firearms/law enforcement industry, this is THE show.

For the enthusiast like me, it's like combining every gun shop you know of into one place. I had the opportunity to see almost anything I could be interested in. Including some things you might never see in a shop ($160,000 Blaser 4-gun shotgun set, anyone?).

My highlights included:

  • Remington 1911 R1 in stainless steel. I've been waiting for this one and now the time seems to have arrived. Solid basic 19111 that should shoot well out of the box, but will also serve as a platform for performance enhancements. That's now on the Wish List.
  • CZ full-line booth; I'm a big CZ fan, but dealers are few and far between. And when you do find a dealer, most only stock a few high-volume models. Had the chance to compare my CZ Canvasback O/U to the others in the line-up. I actually preferred my no-frills, visually simple model to more expensive alternatives like the Wingshooter. Too garish for my tastes.
  • Browning Citori 725 Sporting; in a word: WOW! I've always loved this series from Browning since I picked up my first 525 Citori. The grip swell is outstanding and the ergonomics of these are second to none I've tried. Sadly, I'm no investing that much in a shotgun. For me, that would be like owning a $90,000 sports car - just wouldn't get used enough.
  • Remington 1911 grip hunting knife; what a cool idea! A hunting knife based on the grips of the proven 1911 handgun. I need one.
Fortunately, as a trade show, I couldn't buy anything off the floor!


23 January, 2012

Can Fish Climb Trees?

I promised some updates from recent steelhead fly fishing antics. On December 30th, I had the good fortune to spend the day in Capt. Jon Ray's boat. Due to some scheduling complexities it ended up just the two of us, so Jon joined in on the fishing fun. A string of unseasonably warm weather made for a productive and entertaining day.

The highlight of my day, and perhaps the 2011 steelhead season, was the Tree Fish.

We set-up on a hole on the Manistee river beneath a large tree. Naturally as my indicator drifted under the tree, it happened - Bob Down! Thwap! A quick hookset and I was off to the races with a solidly hooked steelhead.

But just fighting the fish and landing it would be too simple for me. Now, I've got the line tangled in the low-hanging tree. Fortunately, the bowed limb is putting enough pressure on the fish to keep him on. Jon and I have shared a boat a fair bit, and we've seen some chaos. So he calmly jumped up on the back deck and sent me scrambling for the anchor control. I moved the boat down to the tree as Jon untangled the line. As soon as it was free, I plunged the rod tip into the river to keep the line free. Awesome -- still FISH ON!

Sensing possible freedom, my fish makes a run for it. So I let him have some line. Meanwhile, Jon's extracted the boat from the tree and we're back out in the river channel.

But does the story end here with a simple netting, a quick pic and a release? Of course not...

20 feet below the first tree, is a second. And, this tree isn't just close to the water's surface, a significant portion is below. Just as Jon and I look downriver we see a fish jump on the downstream side of the second tree.

At this point, there's a long uncomfortable pause. Jon turns to me and offers, "I sure hope that's not your fish...". Of course, it was, so off we go again.

This time with all the tree below the water's surface, the only option is to shove the rod tip into the water and begin to muscle the fish out of the wood. Did I mention this was all on 6 pound tippet? Yeah, so we had that going for us.

Somehow with a little fancy rod work, I manage to extract the the fish. Jon puts on his best display of netsmanship with a one-scoop score and we boat a colorful specimen. After a few pictures and a careful release, it is decided that perhaps it is time to explore the beer I have in my cooler...


16 January, 2012

Why We Swing

This sweet new vid from Jonny Ray's Mangled Fly Media pretty much says it all. The tug is the drug, baby!

Steelhead versus streamer from Mangled Fly Media on Vimeo.

13 January, 2012

Mmmmm ... Toasty!

Patagonia is rapidly becoming a new favorite brand for me this year. I've always liked their advertising efforts, and their consisten commitment to sustainability. But I never really "got" their products. My brand association for them would have been, "green" and "expensive". I always felt the pejorative nickname "Patagucci" suited them. But that's all changed now...

This year I've added some cold weather gear from Patagonia. It started with a Nano-Puff Pullover. Then I added a Retro-X windproof fleece. And recently, I scored a deal on a Down Sweater Hoody.

I know a few folks on the Patagonia Pro Staff and all have shared a similar sentiment - "If you want to be warm in miserable conditions, it's Patagonia." And now I get it. despite its whisper thin bulk, the Nano-Puff is a super-warm insulating layer that fits perfectly and easily stows in a pocket. The Nano-Puff caused me to want the Down Sweater Hoody for super-cold situations. I was looking for a mid-layer that would deliver extreme warmth, and still fit under a shell. Found it.

Finally, the Retro-X was a bargain find at the Patagonia outlet in Dillon, Montana. I've written plenty about windproof fleeces, but this is one of the coolest I've found. The "furry" feel looks cool and draws complements, while staying very warm. It's totally windproof.

But you'll notice repetition of one phrase, "scored a deal...". This stuff isn't cheap. But now that I've got some hours in outside in my Patagonia gear, I must say that paying the price will be far less painful in the future. Every piece of Patagonia I currently have significantly exceeds my expectations. Highly recommended!


11 January, 2012

Technology Review: Columbia Omni-Heat Reflective

As a marketer, I see a lot of gimmicks. Hell, I've probably even a created a few of them myself. The outdoor industry is rich with marketing gimmicks. In an effort to create differentiation, new technologies join the fray every year. Some stick (rockered skis) and others crater (remember top-entry ski boots?).

Columbia Sportswear is clearly a company with tremendous marketing skill. They've grown at a fast-pace to quickly dominate many of the segments they sell to. Columbia's advertising is both attention-grabbing and on-brand. Its web site is well executed and easy to use. And, they're the masters of branding. When their engineers come up with something new, they've immediately got a name and a marketing push behind it.

So, my first encounters with the company's Omni-Heat Reflective materials were skeptical. I mean, seriously, it looks like a jacket lined with aluminum foil. I understand the principle -- reflecting heat means retaining it. Decades of Space Blankets have proven this principle. But Space Blankets are crinkly noisy and they breathe like a Hefty bag.

But now that I have three different pieces incorporating this technology, I have to say the company's claims of "20% warmer" appear to be fact. This stuff is noticably warmer than comparable alternative materials. My first Omni-Heat Reflective piece was a full-zip fleece jacket. Very stylish design, but what stood out immediately was that its WARM. When compared to my older The North Face windproof fleece, or my Browning Hell's Canyon jacket the Columbia jacket is EASILY 20% warmer, if not more.

In addition, the reflective layer seems to have no effect on breathability and even seems to improve wind resistance (although NOTHING tops my Simms Windstopper Fleece Hoodie for its wind-busting abilities). While wearing the jacket, the relective layer is silent and doesn't change the feel of the garment.

Since then, I've added an insulated hunting jacket and bibs with the technology. Both are similarly incredibly warm, quiet and breathable.

If you're a cold weather freak like I am, I would highly recommend checking out this new technology. I'm a fan!


I Want One

Yeah, I know you don't NEED a reel with a drag system this advanced for the majority of trout. Yeah, I know it's mostly just a line holder. But this thing is a BEAST. Just what my new 6-weight Scott A4 will need for Montana next Fall.

Kudos to Ross for a true next-generation reel. I had the chance to handle one at the Fish Hawk in Atlanta last Fall. This thing is da' bomb.

10 January, 2012


Sorry it's been quiet here for a couple of weeks -- busy Holiday season, tons to do at work, plus I was outside DOING STUFF!

Pleny to write about, so stay tuned!


03 January, 2012

Playing the Over Under

From the time I got serious about hunting and clay shooting, I've wanted a double-barrel over-under shotgun. The break-open action is super simple, as is cleaning and maintenance. But more important is tradition - a double has been the gun of choice for upland hunting for year. Plus, there's just something about the feel of an over-under. The way it balances, how it fits in your hand, and the way it comes easily up to and connects to your shoulder and cheek.

Then economics come into play...

My natural instinct would be to start with one of the storied "B" guns -- Beretta, Benelli, or Browning. I've had the opportunity to shoot a Browning Citori Sporting Clays as well as a Beretta Silver Pigeon. Both felt perfect in-hand and shot extremely well. But at $3,500 and $2,000 respectively, there's no way for a casual shooter with a day job (that's me) to justify such an extravagant purchase.

But wait a minute - if I don't shoot often enough to justify this expense, maybe I don't need the ultimate durability and level of finish these guns deliver. Perhaps a lesser alternative would work? I've seen plenty of used Remington Baikals, as well as the Stoeger Condor. Neither impresses me. The Baikals have some goofy features and that level of Russian machining that's decidedely underwhelming. I've owned another Stoeger. Let's just say you get what you pay for at the extreme low end.

Then I remembered CZ - my CZ 452 .22 bolt-action is a great gun that I got for a great price. Fit and finish are decent, it's been very reliable and accurate. Unlike its rifles, which are made in CZ's Czech Republic factory, their shotguns come from Huglu in Turkey. After some quick online research, I find the CZ Canvasback. This model includes a single trigger (cheaper models feature doubles - I've done that and didn't care for it), ejectors, and a nice level of fit and finish. A friend I hunt with frequently has had a CZ side-by-side and been extremely happy with it.

A little online research shows that Cabelas has this model for less than MSRP, and it's on sale for two more days! Road trip! I also took advantage of this opportunity to clean out the gun safe. As the new over-under will become my Upland field gun, I no longer need my Stoeger Uplander side-by-side. While its served me well, I've never liked the double triggers. These force a larger trigger guard which I've found beats up the base of my index finger pretty badly. And my Remington 11-48 and I have never gotten along since it's purchase a couple years back. While its operation is smooth and reliable, I've always had trouble shooting it well. Fortunately, Cabelas was very short on used firearms and was all too happy to take these off my hands.

Immediately upon picking up the Canvasback I could tell this was a winner. Balances well, feels good in-hand, and points nicely. Not too heavy, nor too light. Sold!

More to come after I put this gun through its paces a bit more...


02 January, 2012

Happy New Year!

With my day job closed for the Holidays last week, I was pretty much unplugged from all things digital. However I did have many outdoor-related activities last week -- look for future posts on these antics.

With a new year come new opportunities here are a few things that I know are on my horizon:
  • Early January steelhead expedition with my Dad
  • Montana trout-chasing in the early Fall
  • Some skiing, if it ever snows here...
  • UP steelhead trip around the trout opener; including taking along two newbies who think they might be interested in fly fishing
  • Lots more cycling; never did find my groove last year
  • Potential Spring trip to Utah
  • Learning to row my raft and exploring new waters
Much like New Year's resolutions, I find it useful to have a goals list for my outdoor activities. This enables me to better utilize my limited spare time (damn day job...) so I get the most out of it. I'm also working on some 2012 goals. More to come on those.

Happy New Year! Hope you're making plans to get outside in the new year.