30 December, 2013

Goal Setting

I love the idea of a New Year. An opportunity to capitalize on opportunities missed in the old year, to try new things, and to set goals that remind you that you're alive. I don't think outdoor pursuits require "resolutions" (though some of my personal resolutions overlap with these goals). Here are a solid dozen I'm shooting for in 2014:

  1. Land a musky on the fly. I had three on last Fall, but nothing in the net.
  2. Swing more for steelhead. I learned a lot more on the December trip to NY on how to actually fish a swing rig. My tying skills are solid, so now I just need to put in the hours.
  3. Complete a full Century ride. I met last year's Metric Century goal quite easily (in fact, I did 3 of them). I'm pretty certain that with an earlier start this season, I can do hit this one. Overcoming my dislike of riding while cold has certainly helped me in this regard.
  4. Shoot more sporting clays. Last year, I'd made exactly zero outings prior to duck season. And my results showed it on my first hunt. I've already made two outings since that hunt (including yesterday) and my performance is already up. So much of shotgunning is muscle memory.
  5. Learn to shoot a shotgun with both eyes open. Crack shots that I know swear by this. In my mind it makes sense. And yesterday when I did it, the results were solid. Now just to work this into #4 above.
  6. Ride my bike over 2,500 miles. Last year, even with a weak start, I hit 1,738.5. With an earlier, stronger start, I know I can crack 2,500 and maybe even get over 3,000.
  7. Ski more days in Michigan. Last year's total? One. Yup, you read that right. And that's only due to getting some lucky late season snow. My love of Winter steelheading, my day job, and having a household to maintain don't help. Having my first day on snow be in Colorado last year was NOT a solid plan. By day three, I was pretty solid again, but getting there was painful. Hoping to hit Utah, or head back to Colorado this season. This time I'll be ready.
  8. Touch my toes. Yeah, OK, this one sounds stupid. But I've always lacked flexibility. One nice surprise from last year was that cycling actually improved this considerably. I think with some more miles, I can do this. I literally halved the distance last year.
  9. Build my rowing skills. I learned to row a drift boat last year at age 47. And I friggin' love it. It's forced me to learn about currents and their effects. I got very comfortable on bigger water, especially when it was slow. Now I want to learn to be comfortable in tighter spaces and faster water.
  10. Use my gear more. I have a gear addiction. I've always loved gear-intensive outdoor pursuits. In recent years, I've been fortunate enough to acquire PLENTY of gear to cover nearly anything. Now I need to stop buying it and start USING it more.
  11. Improve my fly casting skills. My overhand cast, especially with a floating line, SUUUUUCCCCKKKKSSS. But I took a lesson last year and learned some good base skills. Now I'm committed to doing the one and only thing that will improve my skills - practice.
  12. Try something completely new. I've added a lot of activities in recent years. I've tried some things that really weren't for me, and others I loved. The key to finding things you love is trying new ones. Last year it was turkey hunting (pretty fun - but not sure it will become a core passion). Who knows what it might be? Is this finally the year of deer hunting? Or, maybe it's golf. No, it's probably not golf...
Hope the Holiday Season found you playing outside a little bit and that you're looking forward to the coming year as much as I am!


19 December, 2013


Hours spent out in below freezing temperatures. Piles of feathers, flash, and fluff. Elaborate attention paid to knots. Complex layering strategies. Endless study. That goofy cocked-head look when you tell people that no, you are NOT ice fishing, the rivers are open and you stand in them all Winter.

Why do we do it?

I've had chrome on the brain these past few days, perhaps as a reaction to the flurry of Holiday and year-end activity around me. Yesterday, in a moment of clarity I realized why I love chasing steelhead, especially in Winter. The connection to the power.

From the first strike - whether it's the tap-tap while Indy fishing, or the grab on the swing, every neuron in your body seems to fire simultaneously. If you can not blow this first 30 seconds, your odds go up exponentially. Then once you feel the weight of fish on line, the real rush starts. Through a slender bit of graphite, a skinny fly line, and finally a microscopic bit of tippet, you are connected to a primal beast. Every leap thrills, but also brings the potential for disaster. Every run reminds your muscles that you're one-on-one with a powerful beast.

I suppose this has fueled my love of click-pawl reels. With such a simple drag, you gain such an intimate connection to your fish. There's no elaborate piece of technology providing "tippet protection" -- it's all you.

Then there's the moment you realize that you have the upper hand. Maybe you've finally turned the fish upriver. Or suddenly the run are a bit less violent. But instinctually, you know. You're not done yet, but the game has changed in your favor.

After a successful landing comes another opportunity. To grip that thick tail and feel the raw, muscular power of a perfectly evolved swimming machine. An even more intimate connection to the visceral energy of Mother Nature. Then the fish revives, first wiggling a little harder before eventually a hard tail thrust draws a cold (but happy) splash in the face for the angler.

If you've never caught a steelhead on a fly before, put it on your bucket list. It's a rush like few others.


12 December, 2013

NY Steelhead Alley - Fun Firsts

Mighty fine first trip to New York's Steelhead Alley region last week with Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters. Really an awesome program -- rustic, but clean cabin with over 80 acres of river access in the beautiful Zoar Valley. Owner Vince Tobia, and guides Mike and Tom couldn't have been cooler guys to fish with. For me, bigger trips like this are opportunities to hit milestones. And on this one I scored a trifecta!

Number One: Biggest Steelhead on the Swing
Buddy Andrew and I spent Monday with Vince on the Catt swinging. Though the conditions looked tough, with a lot of stain from melt-off after recent deep snows, we stuck at the swing game. Mid-day we wandered up into an amazingly scenic canyon. Within 15 minutes, Andrew's reel is singing and shortly after we're on the board with a swung fish. Right after that, he sticks another, but loses it. Then things go quiet for a little bit. Suddenly, I'm upriver from Vince and Andrew when I feel the familiar tug that I so love. Fish ON! A quick lift after I feel the weight of the steelhead and the fight is on. This is my first fish on the new Speyco River Switch reel, so I'm curious how much palming I'll be doing. For a clicker, this reel has a pretty solid bit of drag. I put the boots to this fish, get some bend in my rod and after some jumping and antics, Vince performs some nice net work and I'm on the board, too! But it gets better -- the fish tapes out at a touch over 30"!!! This is easily my biggest steelhead on the swing; and probably among my top five ever. SWEET!

Sadly, the only photo I have is of this fish in the net. As soon as I lifted her for a photo, she found some more "go" and worked her way out of my grasp. Before we could get a net under her, she's gone. Ah well, I saw her, as did the guide and my fishing buddy.

Number Two: First Steelhead Double

Day two finds us headed to the creeks. Warm weather the day before has the Catt too colored to fish effectively. After finding crowds on the first creek, we head to the Chatauqua. I do love these creek settings of Steelhead Alley. You can step out of a neighborhood and into a little canyon that feels like a thousand miles away. The water is skinny and clear - you're sight-fishing to most of the steelhead. One my second drift, I hook up but lose the fish to a weak hookset. Note to self - this is indy fishing, not swinging. Set it like you mean it.

Fishing partner Ralph scores a couple from upstream, so our guide Tom moves me up just below a small waterfall. A few drifts later is bobber DOWN! Most of the fish we've hit today had moved into the slow-motion Winter fight. But not this one - she is pissed and fired up! So, down the river I go trying to keep her from getting an advantage in the current. Of course as I'm nearly down to Ralph, he hooks up!. Fortunately his fish is smaller and has less go, so Tom is able to net it quickly. As this is happening, I realize this is my first steelhead double - SWEET! But with Ralph's fish landed, now the pressure to close the deal is on me. By now, I've covered 50-75 yards and I'm finally getting this fish under control. A quick solid net job by Tom and I've got my first steelhead double.

Number Three: First Swung Fly Steelhead on a Fly I Tied
I've landed a number of steelhead on the swing. All have been on other people's flies. I've hooked up on a few on one of mine, but no landings. Today we're going to change that. Partner Karl and I decided we're going to man up and spend our last day swinging - to earn those tugs.

Guide Vince puts us in one of his favorite spots. And today he comments, "Let's run some of your big Michigan uglies!" So onto my line goes one of the Senyo's Artificial Intelligence flies I tied up just for this trip. I love this fly's motion in the water. Fat, shimmery, and just plain fishy.

Not fifteen minutes in, Karl's been bumped twice. Then he proceeds to hook up, but lose the fish. Shortly after that, I get a solid hit. This isn't a tug. More like a yank, followed by a solid run. The Speyco is howling and we're off to the races. I had to palm this one a little, but not much. Vince gives me a solid scoop with the net and I'm on the board with my first steelhead on the swing on one of my flies. A damn fine ending to an excellent trip.


09 December, 2013

Product Review: Speyco River Switch Reel

Two word summary?  Buy. One.

Bonus word? Now.

The Circle Spey taking a break after a battle with Cattaraugus chrome.
I first stumbled on The Spey Company and reel builder Tim Pantzlaff a couple of years back on the Spey Pages web site forum. From the get-go, these reels appealed to me. 100% American-made (in Green Bay, WI), uber rugged, and with an incredible-looking clicker drag. Add to that the amazing range of customization options, and you've got a slam dunk.

With a trip planned to the Cattaraugus Creek region of NY's section of Steelhead Alley last week, it seemed like it was time. I selected a River Switch model, in black/silver, with the Snake Roll handle option. This reel was selected to match my Scott L2h 1157/4 switch rod as the Abel Spey I had on it seemed a bit on the large side.

Before I talk about the reel, I should mention the guy. Tim is about the coolest, most accommodating guy around. This is just someone I feel good about doing business with. In this era of global conglomerate fly fishing gear, that's rare.

Now the reel.

In my day job, one of my favorite industries is manufacturing, in particular metalworking. There's just something about the craftsmanship, precision, and the whole down-and-dirty nature of it that appeals to me. And the smells and sounds of the shop floor have always intrigued me. I knew the Speyco was for me the instant I opened the box. It just SMELLED like a handcrafted reel -- this one has SOUL right out of the box.

Part of the appeal of click-pawl reels is their simplicity. While Tim's Hexad clicker design is a bit more complex than some, it more than makes up for it in performance. This clicker is nearly the best of all worlds with much of the holding power of a disc drag, matched to the sexy sound of a screaming clicker. My first fish on it turned out to be a 30" hen steelhead. This fish was plenty strong, and even for a Winter fish, she had some go. I had expected to be palming the reel more, but I almost never needed to! Cool!

And that sound...

Guitarists praise the Fender Stratocaster for its distinctive sound. Pianists do the same for Steinway. Violinists for a Stradivarius. Yes, the Speyco is in this category. It has a unique, nearly undescribable tone and pitch. Over the course of three days in New York, I scored three fish on the swing and every time that beautiful sound cut through the air. Not a high-pitched scream, but more like a throaty growl.

Every so often I encounter a piece of gear that is truly exceptional. A favorite that I know I will enjoy and cherish for years to come. My new Speyco River Switch is hands-down my new favorite reel. Thanks, Tim for an exceptional product.


26 November, 2013

Be a Stud

Smartest damn thing I ever did was buying a second pair of Simms Rivershed boots after my last trip to Montana. I've written plenty about these excellent boots previously - great support and comfort, durable, and actually look pretty cool. But one boot won't do everything. Sorry, I've looked at Korkers, and somehow that whole interchangeable sole thing just looks like a huge potential liability on a frozen January steelhead day.

My first experience with studs was on a trip to Ohio's Steelhead Alley region with Mike Schultz. Schultzy insisted studs are mandatory for the Alley, and he wasn't kidding. Those spate river bottoms, with just a little algae have instant potential to become slicker than a freshly Zambonied hockey rink. Since then, I just left my studs in and found the increased grip was beneficial whether in a boulder-filled UP trout stream, or a frozen steelhead river.

Only one problem - boats. After two days of freelancing on the Madison in Montana (where studs were immensely beneficial), we moved to guided fishing at The Stonefly Inn. Dragging your studded boots into someone else's boat is bad form. Akin to playing golf without pants, I'm told. So we had to crank 'em out. Gigantic. Pain. In. The. Ass. Even if a someone doesn't mind you in their boat in studs, they're flat-out dangerous. Think of those childhood cartoon characters flailing wildly while walking on marbles. Yeah, you get the idea now.

Right after arriving home, I ordered up a second pair of Riversheds. Now I have a studded pair for walk-and-wade trips, and another to use when I'm out in my boat or someone else's. No wrestling with screw guns, mangling screw heads, or inadvertently punching a hole in your calf swapping out studs. Next week I'll be in the NY section of the Alley - once again, stud (and wading staff) water. No problem - grab the studded boots and I'm ready to rock.

Money well spent. BTW, I dig the Simms Hardbite Studs. Expensive, but worth it.


12 November, 2013

Silent Snow, Secret Snow

"He was thinking about the Arctic and Antarctic regions, which of course, on the globe, were white."
Conrad Aiken
Silent Snow, Secret Snow

First snow last night. A magical, spiritual time for me. I love Winter and anticipate its arrival each year. While I've developed an appreciation for Summer, especially as I've gotten a little older, Winter is a special season.

A perfect Winter day on the Pere Marquette river.
A season of Holidays with family. Of skiing a beautiful line on a perfect day. Of those cold water steelhead who hit with stealth and then barrel roll to attempt escape. Of the anticipation of a circling ball of ducks considering whether those decoys are their pals, or just hollow plastic approximations. Of Christmas lights. Of a pine forest, trees heavy with fresh snow, and the unmistakable silence of a mantle of snow. Of roaring fires, and hearty comfort food. Of spending a day on the river with good company and not seeing another soul.

Winter is the perfect antidote of the late Fall in Michigan. For me, there is precious little so unpleasant as 35 degrees, grey, and a pissing drizzle. In some parts of the country, they call that winter. Notice that I didn't even validate the season by capitalizing it. Late Fall means an end to Summer activities, but not yet being able to dive into the Winter Wonderland.

It's finally here. Even Lilly, my black lab mix, could smell it on our walk last night. It put some extra pep in her ramblings, and even elicited my favorite -- the doggie snowplow maneuver.

Most forecasts are calling for a cold, snowy Winter here in Michigan. I welcome it. We've had a few weak ones - with plenty of brown and grey depression - which makes you appreciate and enjoy the good ones.

Here's hoping you can find the joy in Winter. It's there, if you seek it.


11 November, 2013

Is Simpler Better?

Ever since I first saw it in Bicycling magazine, I've been intrigued with the Transition Klunker bike. This thing's so old school it's preschool! Basically an overgrown version of the BMX bikes I wasted much of my youth riding. Ape-hanger handlebars. Coaster brake. Indestructible cromoly frame. Heavy, bombproof wheels. Sweet. Simple. Would be perfect for cruising around town (something that really seems like a good idea, but I never quite get around to actually DOING).

What a cool ride!


08 November, 2013

Remington Customer Service Props

As noted previously, there's one facet of my Remington Versa Max shotgun that I'm not all that happy with. The forend is loose and "floats". I had always assumed it was a part of the design of the gun. By floating it, there's room for expansion when the gun heats up. But it's annoying and weird. Especially when I pick up my buddy's nice, tight Beretta Xtrema.

On Saturday, my companion in the duck blind notices this and says, "Hey, is your forend loose?" I tell him it's been like that since day one and I think it was designed that way. My other buddy alos offers, "Wow, that's weird." Crap. And I had just made peace with this feature as somehow "normal" even though it bugs the shit out of me and always has.

Earlier this week I find myself at Cabelas, so I lay my hands on three different Versa's (one new, two in the used rack). Hmmmmm. All nice and tight. Like they should be. This simultaneously validates and frustrates me. But it gives me hope that maybe I can get this gun, which I basically like, to perfection.

After digging out my paperwork (damn, I'm just out of warranty), I call Remington's customer service. Rep on the line is very knowledgeable and confirms that yes, they have redesigned that part. And even though I'm out of warranty, they'll send me a new one at no charge. He puts me on hold to do some paperwork. In the meantime, I decide to ask if there are any other significant updated parts and can I please get those, too?

When the rep returns to the line, he confirms my order, as well as a few other parts that have been upgraded and he will also be sending me.

This is a key element of brand loyalty - standing behind your products without question. Even in the most elite precision manufactured products (got any friends who own high-end European sports cars?), mistakes happen. Engineering changes are made to solve problems discovered in real-world use. Remington would have been fully within their rights to say, "You're out of warranty, so we'll have to charge you." But, they didn't. Pretty damn cool. Kudos to Remington.


05 November, 2013

Lessons Learned

Had the opportunity last weekend to duck hunt with a friend who's a member at the Walpole Island Rod & Gun Club. I've hunted the marshes on Walpole before and found it a fun, unique experience. But it's definitely a challenge.

We hunted Friday evening and then Saturday morning. Much better results on Friday evening with 16 ducks among three hunters. I folded a duck on a tricky passing shot, so I felt good about that. Saturday was tougher - rainy, cold, and not many opportunities, but blind partner Andy was up for the challenge and bagged three.

But the real purpose of this post is to share two key things I learned. Well, OK, maybe I didn't LEARN them, I just forgot to do them in advance.

Practice Makes Perfect
Shoot clays. Shoot clays. Shoot clays. I didn't shoot any over the Summer or Fall this year. Just too many other things going on. Boy was that a mistake. My mount ranged from bad to inconsistent. My follow-through was poor. My lead's were way off and I wasn't swinging through the shot. And, finally, I was getting behind and then rushing shots. Shooting is a muscle memory skill. You have to do it to do it well. Lesson One learned.

Check Your Gear
My Remington Versa Max is a great waterfowl gun. I've written plenty on this subject. It ran perfectly on this trip, even in a flurry of shooting at dusk on Friday. But I couldn't hit sh*t. Yes, some clays shooting would have made a huge difference. But something else didn't seem right. On Saturday, I tore the gun down for a thorough cleaning after sitting in the rain for 4 hours. When I removed the choke tube to clean it, I noticed something key - I had the Full choke installed. That's swell if you're going to shoot turkeys. Or, maybe on the second barrel of a double gun. But for the hunt we were doing, I might have just as well brought my .22 rifle. Oops. I'll be getting a choke tube case and carrying them in the blind bag now.

Valuable reminders that would have upped my success. Or, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "Duh-OH!!!!".


31 October, 2013


I love milestones. They make me feel growth and accomplishment. Whether it's my first solo steelhead on the fly, or riding my bike over 50 miles. They mark progress and become waypoints on a journey toward proficiency.

Finally got a nice pic of my boat on the river!
Recently, I had a big one on the fly fishing front - my first "unsupervised" float on the Pere Marquette river. While I've had the Clack out a number of times, I've always been with an exerienced rower who could offer guidance and assistance when needed. This time, it was just my Dad and I.

On the recommendation of a guide buddy, we picked a target stretch (sorry, not revealing it -- find your own damn water, I'll be working this stretch for a while). As we were arriving and departing separately, we had two vehicles, so no need for a car spot.

Parking lot prep feels a bit frenzied. I don't really have my program down as to what goes where. Patience, Grasshopper. It will all come with time. So, I put the cooler on the wrong side (cupholder on the boat gets in the way) and then have to swap it and the boat bag. But I'm starting to get things figured out. Dad gets a new permanent assignment - his job is to remind me to put the drain plugs in.

Eventually we get rods strung up, gear loaded and the boat headed down the launch. My trailer backing skills are much-improved, so I nail it on the first try. Launch goes smoothly and we load up for a day on the water. After an initial bad call (oops, that log was shallower than I thought and we can't get over it), my rowing's going well. I'm able to control speed, and boat positioning is no longer a complete mystery. And, best of all, it's happening naturally -- which frees my head up to concentrate on good water to find steelhead.

We find some nice water, and even both get one on (mine on the swing, Dad's on the float) but neither lands a fish. I even rowed through a couple of tricky spots with confidence and poise, which feels pretty damn good. One did hang me up and force me to walk the boat through, but this isn't bad for a first run.

At the bottom of the float, we run into one of the top guides on the river - nice proof that I'm on the right piece of water. And, it validates our decision to run it again the next day.

Takeout goes smoothly with one exception. While my trailer backing skills have improved a great deal, I still lack in one area - trailer sans boat. Getting down a pretty broad, simple ramp has me zig-zagging all over the place. Eventually I get it down to the boat and get the boat on the trailer.

The next day goes similarly - only no fish on. But this was a great accomplishment for me. I've found a stretch of water I'm confident I can float successfully. I even feel like I could solo it readily. This was a proud couple of days for me. Plenty of room for improvement - like catching fish - but I've reached the next level. Feels pretty good.


29 October, 2013

Initial New Product Review: Bozeman Reel SC 325

First, a confession to set the table. I love click-pawl reels. I love the nostalgia. The feel. And the purity. So, I am a sucker for a good one. And I already have some good ones - Abel's Spey and Classic, the Kingpin Spey, and a couple of the Abel Creek series.

I found out about Bozeman Reel through a "friend of a friend" situation. All of their reels are manufactured in Bozeman, Montana. A trout reel from trout country - perfect. While I like their more "standard" reels quite well, what caught my eye was the oh-so-retro SC Series. This is a reel that would have looked just right on Hemingway's bamboo rod chasing brookies on the Fox river in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It's the fly reel equivalent of a Parker side-by-side shotgun for upland bird hunting. So, of course, I need one. Well, OK, actually I really just want one. So an order is placed for an SC 325. This will be perfect on my Scott G2 905-4.

As a marketing guy by profession, I'm impressed with companies who consider the full brand experience. And the Bozeman Reels guys have this aspect mastered. The reel comes in a box that looks like it would have been right at home full of Cuban Cohibas. A mahogany tone, with the very chic BR logo woodburned in. Tight. Open up this wonderful box and you find a canvas tent cloth reel cover with an elk horn button. Note to Orvis - watch these guys. Packaging makes a difference and yours is boring.

But how about that reel, you ask? Perfection. True minimalist perfection. The fit and finish are tight. The clicker has just the right balance of tone and smoothness. And, it just feels right. My Abel Creek reels are jewels - super-nice, but a bit blingy. The Bozeman SC is like a perfect marble step in a centuries-old building. Smooth. Solid. But somehow it's almost warm to the touch.

I can't wait to hit the water with it. I've spooled it up with a 5-weight Rio Perfection line. This stealthy line will make this thing killer throwing delicate dries to a sipping trout on a pleasant Summer evening. Thanks, to the Bozeman Reels crew - you seem to have created a winner!


28 October, 2013

Product Review: Giant Defy Advanced

Well, I've got a few hundred miles in the saddle of my Giant Defy Advanced, so I thought a review was in order. Regular readers of this blog will remember that this bike is a bit of a mutt, as it all began with a low-end Giant OCR 3 that got upgraded wheels and components, and then a Defy Advanced frameset. So, basically, it's a Defy Advanced 1 with heavier (and more durable wheels), and a Fizik saddle.

Ye Olde OCR

My motivation for the new frameset were twofold. First, I wanted some isolation from the shitty Michigan roads. The freeze-thaw cycle here in the Upper Midwest plays hell with the roads. Any ride over 20 miles on the previous aluminum frame left me feeling like the loser in a kickboxing match. And second, I wanted to get some more punch for hills. My climbing ability was just weak, at best and I'd read that this was a key benefit to carbon.

A little research led me to the Giant, the Trek Domane, and the Pinarello Paris as potential candidates. My hope was to score a lightly used frame from a cyclist with acute upgradeitis via eBay. As the Domane's a hot new product from Trek, that seemed unlikely (it was -- I never found one). I found a couple of Paris', but could never really figure out what size I'd need. In the end the Giant won out as the Defy Advanced has been in production for a number of years, so there are quite a few out there. And the things I'd read sounded like the perfect bike for me - a balance between responsive performance and long-haul comfort. Plus, I understand the Giant size system pretty well (more on this later). Sure enough, pretty quickly I find a bike on eBay; owner's a tri-guy who wants a dedicated tri frame. Score.

The Speed Goat
First Impressions
Different. Really, really different. In recent years, I've been riding an alumimum road bike, and I grew up on uber-rigid BMX bikes. I am used to the "stiff = responsive" mindset. So, at first, while the carbon felt good, it also produced some squirrelly moments. I've now come to realize that the issue was entirely ME and had nothing to do with the bike. The frame is in no way squishy - it just has a totally different feel than other materials.

But I noticed one overpowering factor immediately. Suddenly the miles ticked off almost effortlessly. My second ride on the bike was my first-ever Metric Century. I whisked through it, feeling like Superman. I could have done another 10-20 miles without issue.

Size Matters
One other upgrade on this bike was a slightly larger size. When I bought my OCR, Giant only had Medium and then Large. In recent years they've added some sizes and a Medium/Large with dimensions midway between was introduced. Moving up a size was a really great decision. Initially it may have contributed to the squirrely moments (a too-small frame will always handle better than a too-large one). But as I logged some miles, I realized that the larger size really enabled me to stretch out and open up.

Late Season Thoughts
I love my bike. Even after three weeks off due to weather and other commitments, I put in 40 miles yesterday. It's one of those unique pieces of gear that just makes you better than you are. I own others, so I recognize them when I experience one of these superior products. The geometry is responsive, without being twitchy. And ride is supple, but it climbs like a goat.

My only complaint is relatively minor. This year's Defy (I think mine is a 2012) has an integrated ANT+ speed and cadence sensor. That would be really cool. But I think having a Garmin sensor zip-tied to the chain stay is a fair trade off for a frame that cost me half of what a new one would.

If you're looking for a bike that can reel off 30 mile training rides, but also prove comfortable for a few Centuries a year, definitely give the Giant Defy Advanced a spin.

Oh, yeah, it also looks friggin' cool.


24 October, 2013

Honor Mother Nature

The view that greeted our morning.
Some great adventures over the past few days with hot chrome fish, my first rowing outing on the Pere Marquette, and two days fishing with the gurus at Hawkins Outfitters.

But, let's talk about bourbon...

Through a couple of good friends, I've been turned on to the virtues of this delicious brown elixir. Or, at least the good stuff. Now I may or may not bring along a growler of microbrew, but my flask is always in the bag. Hit a good fish? Celebratory snort. Whiffed on one you should have boated? Penalty shot. And always offer your guide pull as a thank-you. If you're the guide, well then have a second one. 

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending the day on the Manistee river with good friend and Hawkins head guide, Jon Ray as well as a friend and colleague who introduced me to both steelheading and Jonny.

This year's Fall steelhead run looks to be a good one. Lots of big, hot fish. And we got into them. After one heart-pounding battle, I was collecting my wits when Jon offered, "Seems like you ought to offer the river a drink for that one...". Solid idea. I decided right there that this needed to become a new tradition for me. At some point during a day of good fishing, a touch of whatever's in my flask, growler, or bottle. I've long thanked the fish, and this just seems a natural extension.

Will I look silly pouring perfectly good bourbon in a river? Perhaps. Do I care? Not in the slightest. I do believe I have a new tradition. Traditions are important. I think they connect our everyday lives to happiness.


02 October, 2013


It may finally be time to consider myself a "collector" of reels, rather than an angler who buys reels to meet specific needs or rods to one who buys them for their inherent beauty, functionality or some other aspect that interests me.

With this rationalization, I can now live with the fact that I have more reels than rods to use them on. Funny part is that I know where it all started. I was Winter steelheading on a centerpin for the first time. Don't be a hater. Below the bobber, my pin rig is not very different from an indy fly set-up. I hooked a very large fish. And now I get to find one of the greatest challenges of the pin - no drag. It's just your palm and your brain trying to figure out how hard you can push 8# tippet. In the end, I landed a VERY nice brown trout. And without a triple-sealed, carbon unobtanium, Space Shuttle grade drag system. Since then, though I don't fish my pin a ton (I really mostly use it as a tool for certain situations), I love doing so. Every fish I hook is a direct connection from man to fish.

When I began exploring swinging for steelhead on a two-handed rod, the traditional click-pawl style reels immediately caught my eye. They also caught my ear - I love the sound of a good clicker. It all started with an Abel Spey series reel. I figured my classic Scott ARC 1287-3 was a classic soulful rod, that needed a reel with equal levels of class. Then an opportunity to pick up the new Abel Classic smaller reel. This (of course...) was paired with the addition of a Scott G2 905-4 rod. The penultimate classic dry fly set-up. A second Abel Spey might have slipped in there for my Scott L2h switch rod.

Kingpin Spey "Great Lakes" atop a Sage TCX 7126
Oh, and perhaps the most amazing of them all, a Great Lakes Edition of the Kingpin Spey reel. This bright green beauty is one of only 25 made and looks oh-so-sweet atop a Sage TCX 7126.

This Summer, the sickness added a new dimension - trout reels. I mean, if you think about it a drag on a trout reel is nearly useless. I stripped in a 23" brown this Spring and never touched the reel. In rapid succession, I stumbled upon two "used but new Abel Creek series reels  - an both AC2's in large arbor for my 4-weight and standard for my 6-weight.

 Now, I'm eyeing the newly introduced Bozeman Reels SC Series. Uber retro cool. I'm hoping it will just replace the Abel Classic which is a touch too heavy on the Scott G Series. Or, maybe they'll just go on my bookcase.

I need help.


27 September, 2013

Product Review: Yeti Tundra 45 Quart Cooler

"Dude, it's a $400 cooler - seriously?" That's most people's reaction to their first encounter with a Yeti Cooler. I know it was mine. It's especially fun to watch with non-outdoors types.

I have many friends with Yeti's, so I've had quite a bit of firsthand experience. But it really hit home when I borrowed a buddy's last year. Due to an overly large college football tailgate, out of town, I needed another cooler. We get our beef with a group of friends who goes in on a whole beast that's free-range, grain-fed, etc. And, of course, we had to pick it up on game weekend. I packed this Yeti 65 quart full of frozen beef and ice and put it in a car on an 80 degree weekend. When I returned home on Sunday everything was frozen rock f*cking solid. Wow.

So this year I decided one key item needed for the Clackacraft 16LP was a 45-quart Yeti Tundra. This size fits perfectly in the rower's pod, providing comfortable clearance for the oars.

This thing is BOMBER! It truly does hold ice incredibly well. Seals up super-tight. And will stand up to just about any abuse. Plus it's cool to tell your friends it's "Certified Bear-Proof" (seriously -- there's an o-fish-ul looking sticker inside to prove it. While the walls are definitely thicker than a standard cooler I've found the capacity to be more than adequate for pretty much every use. It's now my go-to tailgate cooler, too.

My only complain is that the interior is just a LITTLE too short to stand up a standard sized beer growler. BOO! But my Hatch Premium Beverage Containment Device fits perfectly. A minor complaint really.

Also, the non-skid bottom pads are exactly that. They don't slide. At all. You'll be surprised by how often you move coolers around by sliding them. You don't do this with a Yeti.

My advice is simple. Shut up and buy one. Yes, they are ridonkulously expensive. They are also worth every cent. You won't regret it. I don't - in fact I'm already thinking I need a Yeti Roadie....


26 September, 2013

Random Intriguing Outdoor Gear

As the Summer begins its wrap-up, and Fall steelhead and Winter skiing and fishing make there way onto the horizon, lots of assorted (and largely random) gear is on my mind.

Speyco Reels
I've developed a passion for click-pawl reels. I think it grew out of fishing a centerpin in Winter. I love that almost mythical connection from me to that surging fish. No fancy-ass sealed, carbon-ceramic-nanotube drag system. Man vs. Fish, with a little clicker help. I've already got both the Abel Spey and the Kingpin Spey. Tim Pantzlaff's beautifully machined brutish reels really have my attention. No, I don't have a stick that needs one, though maybe the Scott L2H might benefit from a smaller reel. Yeah, that's it...

Scott Radian Fly Rod
Damn you, Scott. I was done buying rods! But I have a deep lust for a super fast 7 weight for all-around streamer fishing.

Rockered Powder Skis
After only a single day on my Volkl RTM 84's, I quickly realized the impact of rocker on ski design and performance. Now my traditionally cambered Line Prophet 100's look sadly outmoded. All the great reviews of the Line Prophet 98 rockered ski are NOT helping.

Next Generation Helmet
It is quickly coming to light that current SNELL/ANSI helmet standards do little to protect your melon from much other than blunt force trauma. Reality is that concussions and rotational damage are being recognized - from the NFL to snow sports - as more serious threats to your health. I haven't done a ton of research on who has them out, etc. but look for more on this blog on the topic soon. I'm thinking it start with my ski helmet, but may later move to the cycling brain bucket.

Bozeman Reels
My name is Sean and I'm a Reel Junkie. There I said it. And as regular readers will know, I'm in love with well-made click-pawl style reels. Over the Summer I ran across this relatively new company. While all of the products look sweet (and 100% made in the U.S.A.), I'm really captivated by the SC Series. Do I need it? Nope. I may just need to admit that I collect reels and call that a hobby.


11 September, 2013

Product Review: Kool Stop Brake Pads

The real deal - Olde Schoole Kool Stops
from back in the day!
Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "Brake pads? Seriously, that's the most interesting thing you can find to blog about, dumbass?" On the surface, that does seem a logical conclusion. but I've been a big fan of aftermarket brake pads since I first ran the big Olde Schoole Kool Stop's on my BMX bikes. With a fat, tall 2.25" BMX tire, you needed some fairly long calipers to reach the rim. And what do long calipers do? Yep - they flex. And what does flex cause? Sucky braking performance. But with the addition of the Kool Stops, its definitely better. Plus, hey they looked trick...

Fast forward a couple of decades with me. It's 2005 and I purchase my 2004 Giant OCR 3. For some unknown reason Giant decides to position the brake mounts such that they require long calipers. Maybe they thought everyone would want to run 28mm tires? Or fender? Or God-knows-what? Anyway the braking suuuuuuccccckkkkksssss on this otherwise pretty good bike.

A little time with Google reveals that Kool Stop is still around, and they now make brake pads for road bikes. With a few clicks of the mouse, I have a pair of Kool Stop Dura Road Pads on their way. One great feature I notice immediately are that these are pad holders with replaceable inserts -- nice touch! And they include two sets of inserts - salmon for wet and salmon/black for wet/dry. Figuring two must be better than one, I install the salmon/black.

Kool Stop Dura Road Pads

Braking goes from fairly awful to not-so-bad. In fact, it's pretty good. Amazing how such a small thing can help so much. A bike that had been sort of scary on descents is much more confidence-inspiring.

This year, I move to the Ultegra grupo. Nice upgrade, but naturally the Ultegra brakes don't fit on the OCR. Crap in a hat. But hardly a surprise. However, when I make the move to the new Giant Defy Advanced carbon frame, I now have normal reach brake mounts - YAY! Bike shop does a quick swap and set-up and I'm on the road on the new bike.

After a couple of weeks dialing things in, I decide to try the Kool Stops to replace the factory Shimano Ultegra pads. The Ultegra's have been fine, but I figure if the Kool Stops can make bad brakes good, they'll only make good brakes great - right?

Well, not quite...

Figuring I might as well install fresh pads, I use the remaining new set of Salmon inserts. From the first ride, I'm not that happy. Grabby (makes sense -- they're for wet conditions), not that much more powerful. And just flat out weird. Now, I'm not so happy. But as a good tweaking mechanic, I remember the Salmon/Black pad inserts. Again, a few clicks of the mouse brings them to my doorstep. A quick install last night and I head out on a ride.

Yeah, baby -- that's what I remember! Braking is now smooth, progressive, and powerful. Tons better than the Salmon inserts, and a nice step forward from the factory Ultegra pads. Now I could stop a freight train. Very happy.

So, if you have a ride with questionable braking, or if you want to make a good stop better -- Kool Stop brake pads are highly recommended. But, I'd just skip the Salmon inserts and go for the Salmon/Black. A world of difference.


09 September, 2013

Planning Ahead

Summer is quickly winding down. The days are shorter. The nights chillier. Soon the woods will be ablaze with color and we'll be into the thick of college football season. Of course, in typical Michigan fashion, it will be 95 degrees here tomorrow. Seriously, you can't make this shit up.

All of this change hasn't led me to abandon warm-weather pursuits -- I'm going to try to stretch my cycling season well into October, and I figure there's at least one more smallmouth fly fishing float in my September. But my favorite cold weather activities are coming. As is my bent, this has my head spinning so I'm ready when the time comes. With that in mind, here are a few of the current projects:
  1. I've been looking to upgrade my base layer bottoms for skiing. It's time to leverage technology and get into the new millenium. So I have a pair of CW-X Stabilyx Insulator 3/4 tights on order. I'm hoping these will enable me to ski without an additional knee brace, and will provide some solid muscle support.
  2. Scored a deal (I love the off-season; $57 shipped free!) on some SWEET lime green Marmot Motion ski pants to match the new coat I picked up last year. I've been looking to get out of dullsville and step up my look a bit. Rather than shredding them with my crappy, toothy $7 clip-on hunting suspenders I'm putting in some Duluth Trading suspenders using real buttons. We're finally doing it up right.
  3. Considering a boat net for steelheading. The Fisknat Grande Ronde is the current leading candidate. I have a Fisknat trout net and it's sweet. No more beaching. It's just not nice.
  4. Looking at an oar upgrade for the Clacka. Sawyer Dynelite Square Tops are the current leading contender. Everyone I talk to says the difference from the Cataracts that came with my boat will be "life changing". I want to row the flywater of the Pere Marquette, so I think this will definitely help my manueverability and make a long day in the rower's seat shorter.
  5. The boat bag is on the workbench, ready for the Summer-Winter switchover. Goodbye smallmout and trout gear, hello STEELHEAD!!!!!
  6. I'm thinking about guns. I think this year, my Kimber 1911 is going to get a few upgrades. I've started a discussion with a gunsmith about the best bang for my buck in upgrades (bad pun intended).
Beyond this, some important issues have already been handled:
  1. After breaking the winch strap on my trailer, a new heavy-duty repacement has been installed. And at the sage advice of Jon Ray, a back-up is in my tow box.
  2. Winter boat storage has been secured. Parking in the garage is driveway is swell and all -- until you have to scrape.
  3. Cycling season has given me a solid level of both cardio fitness and leg strength. Western ski slopes, be prepared...
  4. I've started to transition from cycling to gym. Painful, but don't want to lose the fitness (and weight loss) base I've built.
  5. Starting to tie up some cool swing flies. Greg Senyo's Artificial Intelligence and Slim Shady will be key this year.
So, yeah, I'm kind of fired up for the cold. Bring it!!!!

26 August, 2013

Product Review: Lezyne Steel Drive Floor Pump

Regular readers will know - I'm a sucker for beautifully manufactured gear. My Abel fly reels are machined masterpieces. My Giant Defy road bike frame is a thing of beauty. And I find the unsanded blanks of my Scott A4 series fly rods unique in a sea of sameness. I lust for the Kingpin centerpin because my Kingpin Spey is such a perfect reel.

A couple of years back, I discovered the bike tools and components of Lezyne. Wow. Impressive. The kind of stunning machining, just-right heft, and rugged but elegant style that I go for. Thus far, I'd never run across a need for their gear. Until recently when I decided I needed a new tire pump. My Serfas pump has become increasingly inconsistent, so I hopped in the Interwebs to check out Lezyne. Sure enough, they have one. Wood handle. Steel body. machined solid brass chuck. Now you're talking!

So, I've added a Lezyne Steel Drive Floor Pump to my quiver. Of course the aesthetics are marvelous. The machine brass chuck feels hefty in-hand and turns butter smooth. The wooden handle makes plastic-handled pumps seem so -- well -- wrong. But how does it work?

Much like the classic Silca pumps of old, the Lezyne has a thread-on chuck. No more of this "depress the chuck, flip the lever, hope it seals..." as with so-called "modern" pumps. The Lezyne is precise and powerful. But best of all, this chuck design makes you slow down. It makes you appreciate the experience and live in the moment. Kind of cool in today's wired-24/7 world. If you don't go slow, it doesn't work.

The pump stroke is absolute genius. Smooth, consistent, and controlled. The first stroke pressurizes the gauge system and then each adds 2-3 psi per stroke. Like everything else on this fine piece of gear, it just works. In a way that suggests that this was exactly like a pump was intended to feel.

 So, if you appreciate fine craftsmanship over the latest whiz-bang features, check this one out. You'll likely dig it as much as I do!


22 August, 2013

Product Review: Garmin 810 Cycling Computer

As my Garmin Edge 305 was limping along on it's last legs, my wife was kind enough to give me a new Garmin Edge 810 cycling computer as a gift. This was an incredibly pleasant (and generous) surprise! The 305 had started randomly losing satellite signals, disconnecting from the speed/cadence sensor, and other curious weird acts that are the telltale signs of imminent failure.

The 810 is Garmin's latest generation, top of the line cycling computer. I think this thing could likely control the Mars Rover. But the coolest feature may well be Garmin's online Garmin Connect data collection and analysis tool. With Connect you can review a wealth of data about your ride, compare to other rides, download routes, and much more. I also have the app on my iPad and iPhone 5 and this is where it gets cool. The 810 comes with built-in Bluetooth. Finish a ride, hit save, and SKIDOOSH! your rid is uploaded to Garmin Connect via the smartphone. This is freakin' sweet.

The user interface is a giant leap forward over the 305. Initially I didn't think I cared much about having a touch screen, but it makes on-the-road use so much simpler. Want to see where you are on a map? A few quick swipes and you're there. But where I find it really shines is in customizability. I have a standard "dashboard" (sorry buzzword stolen from my day job in marketing) of data that I like to have on display during a ride. With the 810 I was even able to add a couple of elements to it. Currently, my "home" screen includes:
  • Elapsed time
  • Distance
  • Time of day
  • Speed
  • Average speed
  • Heart rate
  • Pedaling cadence
I've found that, for me, shooting for a 75 rpm cadence seems optimal to ensure a solid pace, without wearing me out on longer rides. I might spin a bit faster on hills, or slow down on a flat windless road. But having a target really helpls! Average speed is also something I've recently added. This is a metric that I've been using this season to gauge overall fitness.

During the recent Susan G. Komen "Ride for the Cure" metric century, I discovered another awesome feature - the ability to download routes! How cool to have turn-by-turn navigation and not have to worry about missing a turn? Kudos both to Garmin for this feature, and to Komen for putting downloadable routes on their web site!

Complaints? Really only two. First, the battery life seems short of the claimed 15 hours. Although I've not fully discharged it. I have noticed that it loses the first 40% of its charge pretty quickly, then slows down. I will be monitoring this for any issues while it remains within warranty. Second, it randomly loses the Bluetooth connection to my phone, for no apparent reason. A minor annoyance at most.

Need a new computer with a full complement of feature and a great UI? The Garmin 810 is worth every cent.


13 August, 2013

Jack of All Trades?

Had an interesting revelation as I was struggling against a stiff wind on Saturday while trying to keep up with a group of faster, fitter riders than myself. I'm a little bit good at a lot of things.
  • I can ride my bike 60 miles in under 4 hours.
  • I can tie a number of fly patterns.
  • I'm a competentent, capable skier.
  • I hit a reasonably high percentage of sporting clays.
  • I catch fish. Sometimes large ones.
  • I can row a drift boat.
  • My shooting skills are reasonably good.
  • I'm reasonably quick on a mountain bike.
But I'm likely not expert at any one thing. I suppose part of it is that I have friends who are really good in their respective disciplines. I have professional fishing guide friends who can row a river in the dark, blindfolded, with only one oar. I shoot with a buddy who hits clays I haven't even SEEN yet.

At first, this sort of bothered me. I haven an internal competitive streak that, though I mask it well, is definitely there. I don't like being outpaced in anything.

After some reflection I realized that this is OK. I have a personality that needs diversity. And that's OK. No matter what time of year it is, there's always something fun I can go do. My buddy who hits all the sporting clays can't cast a dry fly to save his life. And I have a friend who shoots quite well, but a long bike ride is 15 miles for him. Sometimes, being a generalist is OK.


11 August, 2013

Exhausted but Exhilarated

I did my first real 100%, no fudging, I know it Metric Century ride today. Last weekend's Komen Ride for the Cure fell a little short of 60 (by my GPS) and I'm not sure I could count the rid to and from my house as 2.5 miles. But today, we did 62.6 legit miles.

And it was brutal. I rode with people who are faster than I am, and fitter than I am (some both). But I persevered. The ride out was into a solid, gusty wind. And at a pace a good bit faster than I'm accustomed to (see earlier faster, fitter comment).

But the day was extra-special. Relatively new riding buddy Chris' does a ride each year to celebrate his birthday and does a ride equaling the distance to his age. Chris turned 60 on Thursday. Pretty damn cool.

The route friend and ride mastermind Josh cooked up was solid with some beautiful scenery, some great roads, and some brutish hills. I'm no climber, but I held my own today. And I'm damn proud of it. Last year I barely rode 200 miles. This year I've had a few times when I got in over 150 miles in a week.

Has it sucked? At times. Has it been disheartening to get dropped like a hot rock on some group rides early in the season? Yup. But today made it all worthwhile. I held my own with a solid group of riders.

Damn, I'm tired. And tomorrow, I'm going to be sore. But it will be the happy soreness the only comes from earning it. It was a good day.


07 August, 2013

Initial Product Review: Giant Defy Advanced Frameset

Last week I made a quantum leap in cycling - a move from my trust aluminum Giant OCR frameset to a trick Giant Defy Advanced carbon frame.

With my Shimano Ultegra grupo, this makes my ride roughly the equivalent of a Defy Advanced 1. My wheelset is a bit heavier, but far more bombproof for a 200# guy.

Though it would be easy to assume that I made the move to carbon purely for weight reduction, that really wasn't the primary driver. Michigan roads suck. Our brutal freeze-thaw cycles during Winter wreak havoc on our roads. And flat-broke municipalities simply can't keep up with all the maintenance that needs to be done. Aluminum's greatest strength is it's key downfall - it's rigid. This rigidity translates into effective power transfer and solid handling. Unfortunately, it's relentless on the cyclist - transmitting every imperfection straight to your body.

In an unexpected turn of events, I scored a gently used frameset on eBay, which was quickly shipped. Then the guys at Aberdeen Bike & Fitness offered to do a 24-hour turnaround build-up. The net result was that I had my new ride the week before my first Metric Century. Sweet!

A defective front tire blew my first attempted ride, but my second was a rousing success. I have a regular weeknight training ride that I like that's just under 30 miles. Right away, I notice two key things:
  1. Moving up a half-size from the Medium to the Medium/Large was the right thing to do. I can just get a lot more comfortable with just a little bit of extra room.
  2. This thing is FAST and SMOOTH!
I picked up over 2mph in my average on my first outing. A steady 17mph was easy peasy. I think this was due both to improved power transfer, and the ability to handle rough pavement.

I'd been warned, "Carbon feels different..." by a number of people. And, it definitely does. Carbon frames can be tuned by altering the layup, material, and reinforcements to have certain area perform differently. On the Defy Advanced, the rear triangle was clearly design to be rigid laterally -- for excellent cornering, while compliant vertically -- to soak up road vibration. Initially, this was an adjustment. At times the rear almost feels like I'm starting toward a flat tire. But it's just the carbon doing what it does best. Yet you can lay it down in the curves and at tracks like it's on rails.

The oversized bottom bracket is a very noticeable change. The lateral stiffness is incredible. This is noticeable in cornering stability, as well as acceleration responsiveness. I'm sure the oversize head tube is part of this as well.

A side benefit of this upgrade is that I can now use standard reach brakes! This means my sweet Ultregra brakes could finally be installed. This upgrade is SWEET! After years of crappy proprietary Giant long-reach brakes, the Ultegras are amazing. Considerably stronger, better modulation, and a generally more high-end feel.

All of this was put to the test on Saturday - with my first ever Metric Century (100km) in the Komen Ride for the Cure event. There's no way of knowing how the OCR would have fared, but on the Defy I felt GREAT! Even the notoriously hilly Unadilla-Hell-Pinckney region really wasn't an issue. And the ability to stretch out a bit made a long day in the saddle no problem. I finished 60 miles in well under 4 hours at a nearly 16mph pace. I've got another 60 on the calendar for this Sunday, so I'm eager to see if the results are consistent.

Bottom line -- comfortable, responsive, and surprisingly high-performance. We'll see how it feels as I get a few hundred miles on it, but early impressions are rock-solid!


29 July, 2013

Road of Milestones

No matter your passion, there are usually milestones that mark your passage from an amateur to a hardcore. It might be your first unguided steelhead on the fly. Or comfortably skiing an out-West black diamond. Or dropping your first pheasant with a single shot. I'm fortunate to have hit a lot of them in recent years.

This year, my goal was to drop 25# over the Summer. I've learned for me that I need to improve both diet and exercise to meet this sort of goal. Doing one of the other never seems to yield much result. The problem? I hate gyms. In fact, hate may not be a strong enough word to adequately cover the vitriol I feel toward the dank, windowless caves of pain and suffering.

So, what to do? Every since I was young, I've always loved bicycles. The freedom. The adrenaline rush. And the self-reliance. All appeal to me. Oh, and you burn calories and build fitness. I stopped riding for quite a while post-college. But in 2006 I picked it back up after purchasing a Giant OCR3 road bike. That got some upgrades, and then I built up a single-speed 29er mountain bike. Over the past 2-3 years, my cycling had tapered off for a lot of reasons. This year, at the urging of my buddy Josh, I signed up to ride the Komen Ride for the Cure. I knew that many experts say charity rides are the perfect way to set goals. And it's worked for me. The ride is this weekend and I've tripled my fundraising goal, and also decided to double my mileage.

This past weekend, as I was on the return loop of a 43 mile ride, I started thinking of the milestones I've hit this year:
  • Broke the 20 mile barrier. And then the 30. And the 40. And the 50. This weekend, if all goes well, I'll break the 60.
  • Wore out a set of tires. Just flat rode them until there wasn't enough left to protect the tube. Cool.
  • Overcome my aversion to hills. I went out on Saturday looking to get in some time in the hills. And, I stayed on the big ring in the front. This is huge for me.
  • Stopped talking myself out of rides due to the potential for poor weather. I rolled out Saturday knowing full well of the 90% chance of thunderstorms. And, I paid for it with 10 miles in some of the hardest rain I've ever seen.
  • Bought my first carbon frame. It arrived today and it's going to be SWEET. Thanks to eBay and a guy who wanted a dedicated triathalon bike, I now have a Giant Defy Advanced. More coming soon on this.
  • Dumped my triple chainring front crankset. Nothing says "old fat guy" like a triple.
  • Purchased my first pair of bib shorts. Turns out they really are as comfortable as everyone says. Go figure.
It feels really cool to recognize all of this. Being down 17# so far doesn't suck either.


26 July, 2013

Soo True

Ever since the first time I saw Capt. Brad Petzke's presentation on fishing for Atlantic Salmon in the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie, MI (called "The Soo" by Michiganders), I've been intrigued. The opportunity to catch this rare species, coupled with the legendary fight makes it pretty attractive.

But in the early days, my hard-earned budget for guides was typically spent learning new spots, new fishing styles, or building my skill set. I don't have access to an appropriate boat, nor the necessary gear to even consider doing this on my own. Nevermind that the St. Mary's has fast, tricky currents, major shipping traffic, and many other challenges...

Last year though, the "bucket list" (I hate that term, for the record) came to include doing Brad's program to catch an Atlantic. Want proof that Brad's the MAN for this program? Check his availability. The best dates go fast. I'd been looking at 2014, when July 2, 2013 opened up! As this was the day before my Dad's 70th birthday, I locked it down quickly.

The morning started off slow, and EARLY (5:15am). Dad quickly hooked - and lost - a sizable whitefish. This is another fun aspect of the Soo fishery - it's a mixed bag of species. Then he landed a few whiteys. As a general rule, I'm a catch-and-release angler. But whiteys are another story. These aren't a sport fish - they're a DINNER fish! Suddenly Dad turns into Captain Whitey -- with strike after strike. Meanwhile, I'm getting nothing. Oh, except for one SOLID bobber down. Immediately, I realize I just missed my first Atlantic Salmon. DAMMIT!

After a couple of hours fishing the chutes of the Hydro Dam, we move to another location. One of the things about fishing with Brad is that he likes to keep his secrets. He's spent years scoping out the Soo (as well as a lot of the rest of the UP) and knows some amazing places. So, I feel compelled to keep his secrets. This spot proves fruitless for Atlantics. But...

Dad with a 23" rainbow!
Dad hooks a personal best 23" resident rainbow! After a quick fight, this beauty is landed, photographed, and returned to the river safely. Then I get a 17" rainbow myself! OK, now I'm on the board! Dad hits another teener and we decide it's time to return to the Hydro dam and have a lunch break.

After lunch, as predicted, we mostly have the chutes of the dam to ourselves. It's pretty cool to watch Brad hopscotch us along the dam. Dad picks up a juvenile Atlantic, so at least we've seen the species. By now we're to the point in the day where I'm starting to wonder, "Is it going to happen?" when WHAM!!! Bobber down! A hard, well-timed hookset (not always something you can count on from me) and I'm on my first Atlantic Salmon. Experienced guides always amaze me with their ability to quickly and deftly perform a multitude of tasks, all while coaching the client to not freak out. Within seconds, Brad has us unhooked from the dam, has my mammoth pile of line up with me on the back deck (where he had me move) and is spinning the line up onto the reel so I don't have to handline one of the most challenging freshwater sport fish around.

So, here we have an interesting new challenge. I'm left-handed (as is my Dad). And, of course, I've got this fish hooked on a right-hander rig. I've fought and landed my fair share of wrong-handed fish, but it seems like it never gets any easier. Somehow this time, I found the mental clarity to just put the rod in my right hand and reel left.

This fish has some GO! That's a 9 weight bent in half!

The fight on this fish is just astounding. It's as strong as even the biggest steelhead I've had on and unlike a steelie, this thing just doesn't let up! I'm starting to feel like one of these Hemingway characters who needs to get strapped into the fighting chair. I've got a 9 wt. Scott A4 bent in half for most of the time.

Yeah buddy - my first-ever Atlantic Salmon!
Eventually, I start to get the upper hand - gaining more line than I'm giving. As we ease the fish to the net it's evident this one's a solid beast. Brad estimates around 10-11#. After a few quick pictures, and back in the water we go. As I'm holding this stunningly beautiful fish in the clear blue water on a bluebird day, I think of how lucky I am. I live in a biologically diverse state with a wealth of outdoor opportunities. As of right now, the St. Mary's river is the only place in the United States where you can catch an Atlantic. And I've been fortunate enough to make friends, like Brad Petzke, who know how to help you access these opportunities. To make it even more surreal, Brad points out that there are no clipped fins - meaning this could be a wild fish. Sweet. I'm hooked. See ya' next year, buddy!

If you want a truly special experience, check out Riversnorth Fly Fishing and Brad's program. In fact, if you want to experience any of the magic of Michigan's Upper Peninsula on the fly, Brad's your man.

25 July, 2013


Headed out on Sunday morning for a long ride. Got an early start on a hot day. Legs felt fresh. Didn't have anyplace I needed to be or anything I needed to get done. Perfect - I'm thinking it's time for some longer miles, some hills, and a nice solid ride. On August 3, I'm doing the Susan G. Komen "Ride for the Cure" in honor of my late friend Pam who lost her life to breast cancer a couple of years back. I signed up for this earlier this year as a motivator, and to honor a good friend. My base goal was the 30, but I quickly set my sights on the 60 mile ride.

A quick run out Huron River Drive to Dexter is followed by a nice smooth roll into Chelsea. So far, so good. Not much wind. Body feels great. But this is all familiar territory. I've done a shorter loop that includes Chelsea, but this time, I want to head north on M52, up to North Territorial Road (North T to us locals) which I'll take back to Huron River Drive and then home. I know it's a pretty ride, plus there are some solid hills. The Komen route has some pretty rolling terrain, so I need to work on surviving hills.

M52 goes quite nicely. I'm maintaining a solid pace. Though long at times, the climbs are manageable. There's a lot more ascent than descent on this stretch. But it's all feeling good. Plus, this part of Washtenaw County is really very scenic. A super nice ride. I make good time as I swing onto North T. And then...

F*ck me. Chip seal.

Few things strike fear into the cyclist than this evil road re-surfacing. It's cheaper, so strapped County road commissions are using it a lot on rural roads. But it SUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKSSSS to ride on. Initially, it's nearly like riding on gravel. Scary and shifty and completely uncomfortable. As it wears in and firms up, it's more like riding on one continuous vibration. You never really notice how unpleasant it is until you hit conventional asphalt. Then you realize the stuff was loosening your fillings.

But I make the best of it. My pace slows a bit and my riding is a bit more tentative - especially in corners on descents. As I'm riding, I start to wonder how long a set of road bike tires should last. And are mine going to protect me on this road full of sharp cinder. My trusty Michelin Krylion Carbons have been on my bike since 2006. I don't even want to speculate on the mileage I have on them.

And shortly, we have the answer. Yup, flat tire. OK, no big. I've worked on bikes all my life and spent several years working for bike shops. I've changed about a gazillion tires on every conceivable sort of bike. So I find a shady spot under a tree and get to work. Naturally, I find the my tire levers never made it into my saddle bag when I switched to the Fizik system. F*ck me, again. A quick try by hand yields no results, so I switch over to the screwdriver on my multi-tool along with the trusty dollar bill to protect the rim. This goes pretty well and shortly the tire is re-installed, inflated, and I'm on my way.

Now you know it just can't end here. Otherwise, I'd never have bothered to write this entry.

After another 3-4 miles I notice the familiar squishy feeling from the rear wheel. A quick check reveals that I have yet ANOTHER flat. This is a more significant problem. I'm 15+ miles from home. So I start running through the mental list of potential rescuers. Wife's travelling. Hadn't seen my cycling next door neighbor this weekend. Maybe my other neighbors, but they were in the midst of a yard project when I left. Training partner Josh is likely out on a ride of his own and lives a decent distance away. Ah-HA! Schultzy - my fishing guide buddy I know he's home as I'd coordinate a meet-up to get my boat back from him. Fortunately he's around, free, and happy to come get me. And, as a bonus he hitches up my boat and he delivers me, my bike, and the boat all home. Bingo! It's good to have good friends you can count on.

Back at home, showered and rested a bit, I do some online research and find the latest equivalent Michelin tire. A quick call to the local bike shop secures two (in stylish red accent, no less) and within the hour I'm back in the basement shop replacing them. Naturally, I find a sharp cinder that's penetrated the casing that I missed during my on-road swap.

Last night was my first ride on the new skins. In a word: Wow! I needed new tires. Badly. Lesson learned: new tires every five years.

21 June, 2013

Pure Michigan

When I think of a Michigan Summer, this is one of the things I think of:

Water. Woods. Solace. Beauty. Who would think this river was named for, and is not too far from what is commonly acknowledged as one of the worst cities in America. Sure wouldn't have guessed it from the float we did yesterday. This is the second stretch of this river I've been on and both provided the kind of epic outdoor days you remember for a long time.

High, stained water meant we had to work for it, but we landed a few smallmouth in the mid-teens -- along with inumerable dinks. But more importantly, I got to spend time learning my new boat better, hanging out with a buddy, and enjoying a spectacular day in a spectacular place.


20 June, 2013


I'd forgotten how much I like owning a boat. While I did a fair bit of tweaking to make the raft better to float, there wasn't really that much you could do with it. Now, with the Clackacraft 16LP, there's definitely been a few things to do. Some are purely cosmetic, some are personal preferences, and others are necessities. Thus far, here's what's happened:
  • New bottom - courtesy of the crew at Stealthcraft. While "Fear No Rock" is a truth about a Clacka, as mine was a guide's boat, it needed some love.
  • Trailer re-wired, converted to LED lights for brighter operation and greater reliability and pivoting tongue jack installed by SLM Trailers. If you need repair or upgrade work done on your trailer, these guys rock the house. Great work at a fair price.
  • Tracked down new seals for the Dexter EZ-Lube hubs. One seal had torn, blowing grease all over the wheel, so I just started fresh on both.
  • Replaced broken latches on two cargo boxes.
  • Built a boat tool kit. Can't tell you the number of times I've been on someone else's boat when something broke and I found myself with a Leatherman as the only tool available. The Boy Scout in me can't stand not to be prepared.
  • Upgraded the strap. Critical component, I don't need something janky failing as I'm bouncing down some UP back road.
  • Moved the boat forward on the trailer to get it in the garage. Then back after I figured out that made the balance SUCK. By simply removing the anchor bracket, I gained the much-needed foot of clearance to get it in the garage, and have it properly balanced.
  • Cleaned off all the decals. Guides love deeks, and from the look of my truck, I do, too. But I wanted to start fresh and make this MY boat. Once I got the deeks cleaned off, I discovered I liked it better. Shows off the boat's lines and cool color scheme.
Am I done? Of course not. I still have trim to install. And my bunks are shot, so I've come up with a high-tech system that will be durable, and make it slide like butter off the trailer. I had planned to upgrade the oars, but now I'm feeling like that won't be necessary. Cool - a few hundred bucks staying in my pocket.

Today I'm off in search of my 20" smallmouth on an undisclosed river. This will be my second float in it and I'm looking forward to every moment!


11 June, 2013

Product Review - Abel Creek Series Fly Reel

In the past year or so, I've become a huge fan of Abel reels. Their machining and tolerances are so incredibly tight, I'm just amazed. I've always had a soft spot for beautifully machined (and finished) metal. And, in my mind, Abel Automatics is one of the best. Founded by a machinist who thought he could do better, this is the sort of company I have huge respect for.

I've also developed a passion for traditional click-pawl reels. Mechanically simple, readily serviced (if you ever need it), and utterly retro-cool. And, oh that sound. Whether reeling in, or with a fish peeling off line. Well, it's just cool. It started with an Abel Spey, then a Classic, and then a Kingpin Spey.

So when the opportunity to pick up a "not new, but never fished" Abel Creek Series AC2 Large Arbor I snapped it up. Perfect for me Scott A3 854-4. Now I have a great little classic rig for smaller trout. Like the Spey series, the AC2 is beautifully machined and finished. Everything fits together with an almost airtight precision. Mine's finished in the Pewter, which is aesthetically perfect on my A4.

Now the clicker bug has me firmly in its grasp. My Scott A4 906-4 has been sporting a just-fine Orvis Mirage III. Very nice reel. Great drag system. Waterproof, consistent. But it lacks soul. And about this time an Abel Creek Series AC2 Standard Arbor shows up pre-owned, but never fished on a forum. Bang. Mine. With the standard arbor, the line and backing from the Mirage fit perfectly. Had the chance to fish it on the Manistee river last week for trout. Perfect. Exactly what I wanted.

There's a soul to fly fishing. And, for me, that's especially true of reels. There's a beauty in precise machining, super-tight tolerances, and spectacular finishes. I once had a discussion with the founder of Kingpin Reels about outsourcing machining - a common practice on this side of the pond. Stuart quickly (and politely) said, "No way - I won't give up the precision I can only achieve myself." I want that reel on my stick.

The clicker adds a special uniqueness to a reel. And thus far, my Creek Series reels are extra-special in this regard. They have a great tone and cadence that I love. Plus they're infinitely adjustable with a reliable, yet mechanically simple system.

So, if you're all about sealed drags and precise start-up - sorry I wasted your time. But if you want soul in your trout reel, give the Abel Creek series a look. I love mine.


06 June, 2013

Anglers Journey's - Notes from a Day on the Water

A big day on the water with Capt. Jon Ray for my Dad and I yesterday. Jon and I fish together pretty regularly in all sorts of styles and for all sorts of species, and my Dad's joined us on a number of Winter steelhead trips. But this was my first full day dry fly outing with Jon (or any other guide). But, perhaps best of all, it was my first outing in my boat!

But first, Dad's epic day. He was eager to get in on this trip. Although he's fished dry flies for years, he really had little first hand knowledge of fly selection. fishing tactics, and the myriad of other details (in all candor, I was definitely lacking, too). On the drive up he explained that his goals for the day were more about learning than about catching fish. Well, he got BOTH. Over the course of a float, he hooked, fought, and landed two 17" brown trout, as well as a personal best 20"er!!! You could see his confidence and excitement level grow with each fish. A really cool experience. And, I got to learn how to be both oarsman and net guy and to work with my angler as a team. All of this while a top trout guide coaches you both from the stern. Pretty cool! I think Jon enjoyed it as much as we did.

Everyone I've talked to has told me that DVD's, books, and YouTube are a poor replacement for time on the sticks. And my first outing proved that totally true. But this time was completely different. Most things have an "I get it" moment, and yesterday was no exception. Suddenly flailing turned to confidence as I found myself able to apply what I've learned. Muscle memory kicks in and suddenly you are able to not only recognize WHAT you need to do, but HOW you do it. Sure, I wasn't perfect, but I kept us out of danger, and was able to focus not on pure survival, but on subtleties like boat position for my anglers The odd part, to me, was that it was nearly instantaneous from the moment we set off. It was as if a switch was flipped in my head, and my muscles. "Oh, I get it now...".

Also, I got to chat with a guide who averages over 200 days a year on the water, and who rows a nearly identical boat, about boat and trailer set-up. I've already got a few tuning ideas to make my boat perform better, be safer, and last longer.

Yeah, I got to fish a bit, too -- though for me that was definitely secondary. Caught a bunch of small brook trout and missed out on 3 nice browns due to bad hook-setting.  But for both my Dad and I, an epic day!