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!


03 June, 2013

It's All in Your Head

Another solid ride yesterday afternoon with buddy/coach Josh. With fairly high winds all day, I had low expectations, especially as I hadn't ridden any days that week due to weather and other commitments.

We headed out into the wind (ugh), but I felt solid right away. I certainly wasn't setting any land speed records, but I kept it moving. I was shocked by how quickly ten miles sped by. We were on a new route, with some very pleasant scenery and gently rolling terrain. My pace steadily increased and everything felt just great.

On our return loop, as we rolled into Dexter, I found I was bummed that the ride would soon be over (most likely at around 35 miles). So I asked Josh if he was game to extend - of course I knew the answer, so off we went. Net ride was 43.5 miles. Total average speed ended up at 15.6 mph -- about a 1 mph increase over my usual average. And after the ride, I felt really good. Without the wind, I think 50 would have been very doable.

Upon reflection what drove me was simple: I wanted to get in 40 miles. I knew I could do it, as we'd done it last week. I've head several people tell me that hitting a milestone give you huge confidence. And that adding 10 miles is no big deal. I headed out the previous weekend unsure I'd make 40. While yesterday, I knew I was capable of it as I'd done it a week prior. HUGE difference.

Cycling, like many active outdoor pursuits, is all in your head. Think you can't ski that black diamond run? You're probably right. Think you can't make that 50' cast to hit the right spot for that rising trout? Again, you're probably right. But when you open yourself up to the possibilities, I find it almost brings a Zen-like calm.

By contrast, when you get all up in your head, nothing goes right. For me, this is sporting clays. The more I think about it, the less I hit. But when I can clear my thoughts and be in the moment, muscle memory and instinct take over and things go ever so much better.

So just remember: I believe.