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.