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.