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!!!!".