30 December, 2014

Play Dirty! Specialized Crux Comp Initial Impressions

Been looking for ways to extend my cycling season and increase the opportunities for rides as part of an overall fitness program. So when riding buddy Josh decided to upgrade his cyclocross bike, the idea popped into my head that this might be a good addition to my quiver. He who dies with the most bikes wins, right? Plus, the chance to play dirty was just too good to pass up!

For those unfamiliar cyclocross is a style of racing that mixes beefed up road bikes with mountain bike style courses and obstacles requiring the rider to dismount and clamber over with the bike. Obviously my racing days are long since past, but these heavy-duty road bikes with wider tires and more aggressive treads, as well as more relaxed geometry, are ideal for riding on less-than-ideal roads.

Near my home a numerous dirt roads - all with less traffic and beautiful scenery. Plus the 'cross bike makes slushy conditions doable as well. 

So, I scored a 2011 Specialized Crux Comp, with a few nice upgrades, including a Fizik saddle, and Avid Shorty Ultimate brake calipers and pads. Due to all of my crazy travels in December, as well as family and Holiday commitments, I hadn't been able to ride it until last Friday.

This was my first ride on a 'cross bike, so I really didn't know what to expect. At first the ride was "interesting". I'm used to my Giant Defy Advanced 1 road bike which is sleek and smooth, but handles crisply. By contrast the Crux clearly had different geometry. It didn't feel sluggish, per se, but just felt different. Some of that is the difference between the 23mm tires on the road bike and the 35mm tires on the 'crosser. On the pavement, it was a noticeable difference. But I didn't buy this bike for the pavement...

We'd had quite a bit of rain in the days before I got out. The loop I'd chosen included a few miles on some very scenic dirt roads that featured classic Ann Arbor clay - notoriously squishy and slick. The was no way the Defy would have handled this, but on the Crux it felt super comfortable. 

I was a bit concerned about the SRAM Double Tap shifting - as I'm used to standard Shimano Ultegra. With Double Tap a single paddle controls shifting. A short throw downshifts and a longer throw upshifts. Curiously, I figured it out right away and had no issues at all.

By the end of a short ten mile ride, I felt quite at home on the Crux. I've got a couple of fit adjustments I want to make, but overall it's 95% there. 

Once challenge I did face are the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 2 pedals. These are highly recommended in online forums due to their resistance to mud clogging, durable construction, and high value. Once I got clipped in they were just fine. Nice float, easy to release - but oh man finding the engagement point to clip in was a pain in the arse. I'm sure I'll get it all figured out in time. 

First impression? Money well spent and a tremendous value. 


29 December, 2014

Time Flies

Holy crap - when did I last post? Geez, poor blog's been neglected. On the upside, I was having some pretty awesome outdoor adventures, but time flies! I'll post more on them soon, but here are some highlights from December:

  • Three days steelhead fishing in Western NY - including getting a fish on the Niagara River, as well as a personal best record of 7 steelhead landed in a single day (hooked up on 11 total).
  • My first visit to Lambeau Field for a Green Bay Packers home game. Not your conventional "outdoor" venture, but I was outside and it was cold! And awesome! Packers fans truly are the about the nicest people you could ever meet. As a Yooper (born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula), I reserve the right to cheer both the Lions and Packers, so this was a pretty cool experience!
  • A week on the Big Island of Hawaii - including a visit to the volcanoes, as well as a day spent sportfishing on a beautiful 43' Merritt boat.
  • The addition of a new cyclocross bike (and my first dirt road ride).
  • My first outing on the new Blizzard Bonfide skis. In short - superfriggin' cool
So, uh yeah, been too busy to blog about all this cool stuff. As I said earlier, time flies. Stay tuned.


18 November, 2014

Initial Impressions: Kast Steelhead Gloves

These past few years I've been finding that keeping warm hands has become a challenge. Cold hands while skiing are no issue other than discomfort. Cold hands while Winter steelhead fishing are a problem. Can't tie knots properly. You drop stuff. And God forbid you actually hook something...

As a result, I've been paying more attention to gloves. In the past year or so, I've heard a lot of buzz about Kast's Steelhead Gloves. Most give them very high marks. I'd been looking at them, but they were pretty spendy for an experiment. Plus, I've been pretty happy with my Simms Windstoppers (I have both the fingerless and full-finger models). But when I stumbled upon a good deal on a pair of Kasts, I picked them up.

One quick caution - many reviewers I read made comments that they ran large and to size down. I have to vehemently disagree. I wear an XL in nearly every glove I've ever bought (except, curiously the aforementioned Simms Windstoppers...). And the Kast Steelhead was a perfect fit in size XL. So, try 'em before you buy 'em.

Last weekend I spent both days floating the Pere Marquette river chasing chrome. Not very successful, but saw some new water, and got to try out my new gloves.

My conclusions were a bit surprising to me. Almost immediately, I noticed that my Simms gloves felt warmer. Maybe it's just the fleecy interior, or some other factor, but they feel a good bit warmer. I've got three days in NY on the Cattaraugus Creek swinging flies so I'll have some more solid experiences coming. But my first impression is that they're not as warm.


They're waterproof. Like as in submersible. That's really never been an issue for me previously as I've not found much need for this quality. Until the drift boat. So - where does the anchor go? That's right - in the water. And what attaches the anchor to the boat? Correct again - the anchor rope. So the anchor rope gets - anyone? Anyone? Bueller? That's right - soaking friggin' wet. When you're hauling the anchor up after every stop, your hands end up soaked. This is where the Kast's shine. Of course, it took me until the second day to figure that out (after I soaked my Simms on the first).

First impression? Great glove -- extremely well made. Excellent fit. Roomy but not bulky. Surprisingly good tactile qualities. But not quite as warm.

More to come as I get in some additional time on the water with these. But for now, I think these will be my rowing gloves and my fingerless Simms Windstoppers will be my fishing glove. Perfect combo!


03 November, 2014

Product Review: Louis Garneau Enduro 3 Cycling Bib Knickers

In my quest to extend the outdoor riding season, I recently add the Louis Garneau Enduro 3 cycling bib knickers to my cold(er) weather arsenal. In the past couple of seasons I've really become a convert to bibs. I've found them much more comfortable, supportive, and generally functional than conventional shorts and tights.

I already have a set of Pearl Izumi thermal tights, but a recent ride on a 65 degree day in them (well, I thought it was colder...) had me thinking I needed something in between the tights and shorts.

I've now gotten in two solid rides in these and they've already become a favorite. A few reasons:

Sizing for cycling clothing is bizarre at best. This is especially true of the European brands. I'm a straight-up XL top in nearly shirt or jacket. Yet I own Euro jerseys ranging from L to XXL. These Canadians (Garneau) get it. In Garneau I wear an XL jersey and L shorts/tights. Period. Every time. this is beginning to make Garneau my go-to. These bibs are no exception. They fit perfectly.

Technology really has come to sports garments. By using compression, and strategically placed panels of differing materials you can now get a garment that's comfortable and improves performance. Louis Garneau has done this perfectly in these bibs. My occasionally tweaky right knee gets some extra love in these - especially appreciated in cold weather.

Tights with chamois? Or no chamois? Long time debate that I've finally settled. On your lower half, more layers equals more opportunities for chaos. And chaos equals chafing. Not good. So a tight with a chamois is a must. And Garneau's are the industry-standard for me. Even at lower price points, they're consistently excellent. If you doubt that importance of this on a 40-miler, try something with a poor or weird chamois. I have a pair of Castelli shorts that DO NOT get along well with my tender parts. Enough said. Garneau gets it right.

It's really easy to look like an overstuffed sausage in lycra. For me, that's the sign of bad fit, or someone who doesn't belong in lycra. But well-styled garments can make even the less svelte among us look better. In these bib knickers I look like the streamlined, chiseled cyclist I like to think of myself as. And thought I originally thought knickers were a little goofy, I've gotten over it quickly. these just look cool.

Man, some cycling clothing is spendy. And I just can't see why. A $250 pair of Assos shorts? Seriously? Louis Garneau clothing is in the upper-mid range. I think they're products are consistently better than other similarly priced gear. The bibs are no exception. I think I paid $105. Not bad at all for a thermal bib tight with a first rate chamois.

In short...
If you need something to keep your legs warm and happy, this is the ticket. My rides thus far would suggest that they're comfortable 40-55 degrees or so. Wind is a factor, but even though they don't have a true windproof layer, they seem to do a pretty good job cutting wind.


29 October, 2014

Share the Love

Was talking with an angler friend yesterday about the state of the fly fishing industry and the need to get new folks into the sport. And then today Gink & Gasoline had a great blog article about taking a newbie fishing.

It's like the old angler's joke...

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he stays out drunk every weekend.

Seriously - if you're a fly type, take a buddy with you. Or offer to get someone introduced to the sport - take them in to the local shop and introduce them around. Our sport is full of gear, gizmos, and gadgets. It can be intimidating as hell. And there are still some arrogant a-holes around fly fishing who somehow feel compelled to make it overly complicated. You know the type -- has to catch every fish on a dry fly with a silk line or some such non-sense or it's not "real fly fishing".

If you've got a boat, you have the perfect opportunity. Often you'll have an empty seat. Might as well put someone in it. Heck, they might even buy the beer or kick in for gas. And if you bring someone new into the fold our sport stays strong. Plus you get a new fishing buddy. Teach 'em to row and maybe you get to fish more! I actually set-up a couple of extra rigs for guests (sorry, I'll take you fishing, but you're not throwing my Scott Radian...) suitable for trout, smallmouth, and even some steelheading.

And bonus points if you take a kid or a woman. We need kids who grow up into outdoorsfolk. And a lot of women are intimidated by our male dominated sports. But I know a number of women who've really gotten into the sport, once they got past the initial push.

What are you waiting for? We all know someone fly curious -- get 'em out there!


28 October, 2014

Take Care of Your Gear and It Will Take Care of You

Noticed the price of fly lines lately? Yeah, they're pushing a hundred bucks these days for many of the most popular lines. In my experience, the performance improvements are very much worth it - especially if you're a less-than-perfect caster like myself.

600' of fly line on the floor.
In my Trout/Smallmouth quiver I had a wide range of lines -- floating textured, intermediate, sink tip, etc. I've dealt with polymer-based products of all ilk for enough years to know that if you care for them they last longer and perform better during that life. With that in mind, this year I started to do a little research on fly line care. What I found centered on two key areas:

Even the cleanest of rivers has a monumental amount of gunk. Leaves. Algae. Dead salmon guts. Bugs. Tree bark. Foam. And your line floats through all the same gunk on every drift. Today's modern fly line has a wide range of coatings, textures, and other advanced technologies to enable it to cast, mend, and perform well. Initial research showed a number of folks who recommended simply washing them in dish detergent. Then others said, "no, that strips the chemicals, use liquid hand soap...". Wait, I've got an idea, manufacturers develop cleaning solutions for their lines. Since they designed the damn thing, maybe they know a thing or two about cleaning them. A visit to my friends at Schultz Outfitters - guys who know lines - recommended two products:

A well-conditioned line floats higher (if it's a floater - duh), casts further, and lasts longer. Just like all of my polymer kayaks and canoes have been regularly treated with 303 Protectant, my fly lines need protection, too. For the past couple of years I've been using Rio's Agent X Line Dressing

The process was pretty simple - strip the line off the reel. And yes, it takes a while to strip 100' of fly line of. Even longer to do it six times like I did. Try to keep it neat so things don't tangle. Chaos is a pain here, so take a little care. Then clean, and let them dry overnight. Next apply the dressing with a cloth. Leave it to dry overnight, buff with a clean cloth and bingo bango, you're in business. Reel 'em up, put the reels in cases, and you're ready to store.

And yes, I know storing the line on the reel isn't as good as wrapped around a larger coffee can, or spun back on to the original spool is better. However, if you're reading this blog, you're at least a bit serious about this. Which means you've got more than one reel/line to deal with. Do you really want to wrap 600' of line around a coffee can? And then have to re-spool it all in the Spring? No, you don't.

There you have it -- line maintenance 101!


22 October, 2014

Watt up?

Never did understand the whole watt meter thing in cycling. Silly things cost like a kajillion dollars. Most of the earliest ones were in a rear hub, so now you need a full-custom rear wheel. Why not just monitor heart rate and distance? Watt up?

Now, I get it.

This year, as part of a commitment to not porking up over the Winter, I'm trying a new fitness routine to ensure I get some regular, productive exercise. Part of that program is using local cycling studio Power Cycling and coach Marc Mueller. In addition to keeping me engaged enough to actually work out regularly, my theory is that this sort of sport-specific training will benefit me come Spring.

My first visit was a fitting, followed by a performance assessment. The goal was to get me comfortable on the CycleOps trainers, and to begin to explore my level of fitness and what would be required to reach my anaerobic threshold.

During this first visit, the mystery of watt up began to be revealed. When you ride out on the road with a cycling computer with a heart monitor, you gain a little insight. You can watch heart rate as it's impacted by time, distance, speed, hills, wind, etc. And you can see your current and average speeds. But what you can't see is how much power you're putting out under any of these conditions.

With the watt meter, now I could get a full 360 degree view of what was going on. I could see my heart rate over time, at a given pedaling cadence and power output level. Friggin' cool! I could see how quickly I recovered, how well I was holding a wattage output. I now realize that the data I had out on the road was interesting, but not nearly as useful as it would be with the added dimensionality of wattage.

Last night I did my first real training ride. Marc creates training "levels" of intensity using wattage outputs based on your baseline tests, but then he tweaks from there. My half hour training ride felt good, but not as though I had pushed myself too hard. Sure enough, my results showed it. Mid-range average heart rate. Decent but not exceptional wattage. Bottom line? I'm getting a harder training ride assignment next week!

Some pretty cool information here. I don't know that I'll be rushing out to drop $1,400 on the Garmin Vector power meter pedals. But they do suddenly look interesting...

03 October, 2014

Muskies Still Suck

"Muskies still suck" - the best quote about fly fishing for muskie I've yet heard. But somehow, they get inside our heads. For freshwater fly guy, this is the Alpha Predator. The Big Kahuna. So much so that even the guys in the fly shops we visited in Montana all said, "Man, you've got some awesome 'skis out there. I'd LOVE to come do that!"

But yet, Muskies still suck. They're an aggressive, but fickle predator. They lie in wait, ready to pounce, but don't. They follow to the boat - and even through a figure eight - and still don't hit. But yeah buddy when they do... wow!

So, on this year's muskie fly date with Capt. Jon Ray, it was my time for revenge. I missed three last year, but I've now come to learn that at least I got three shots. Despite brutal conditions of 15-20mph winds with gusts over 30 and nowhere to hide, I got one.

Cute little guy, ain't he? My first boated muskie on the fly!
Wasn't a big one, but I hooked, fought, and landed a legit muskie on the fly. And I'm damn proud of it. I saw the boil, then the follow, and the strike. A vicious predator. Absolutely mugged the fly with no apologies.

Of course, there's the one that got away. About an hour earlier I had a much larger one all the way to the boat. We watched it roll, then follow, and finally WHAM! Game on! At one point, I had a Scott Tidal 9010/4 rod bent IN HALF with an angry muskie on the other end. This was my first experience with this rod and it definitely has some backbone. In addition to making a day casting a soggy Muppet on a 350 grain Scientific Anglers Coastal Express line all day a relatively easy task, it was definitely up to the power of an adult muskie. 

Earlier in the day I missed another that was on briefly. Dad stuck three, with two solid fights, but none boated. Though he made up for it later in the week with a nice one boated.

While I don't think I'm going to become a full-on muskie convert, I do believe that at least one muskie trip a year is in my future. Hunting with a fly rod!


19 September, 2014

Grudge Match

This Summer my Dad got to resolve his grudge match with the Atlantic Salmon. Over the weekend, I'll be rolling up to the Upper Peninsula to settle the score with Esox Masquinongy, or Mr. Muskie to us regular non-Latin-speaking folks. We'll be spending the day in the capable hands of guide and friend Jon Ray of Hawkins Outfitters. JR's been putting in the hours on UP waters building a solid muskie program. Plus, I just enjoy a day in the boat with him. I always learn something new and it's just fun.

Last year, Dad got his -- just under 40" -- right near the end of our day. While I got a few pike, and had three muskie on, none were boated.

Solid first muskie on the fly!

But those muskie got in my head. I know a bunch of muskie fly guys and it's definitely a mental game. These things are the Unicorn of the Water. I think it's the strike that got me. Unlike steelhead who don't often hit really hard initially, muskie absolutely blow up a fly when properly motivated. It's just cool.

On an equipment front (hey, I can't overlook the gear...), I'm intrigued as I know Jon's got at least one of the new Scott Tidal's aboard. I've test cast a 907 and I have to say I rather liked it. Especially at the price point. It will be interesting to actually fish this new rod. I've got in a fair number of hours on my Scott Radian (of course with MUCH smaller flies in a lighter weight).

I realize so much of it is luck, weather, water conditions, and so on - but this year I do at least feel better prepared. Over the past year I've put some effort into my casting stroke to get more power and distance with less effort. I'm getting better at solid, consistent hooksets (I think poor hooksets were a part of my problem last year).

So, I've stepped up my game. Let's see if the Fish Gods smile upon me.


11 September, 2014

It's time...

Yesterday, I pulled the trigger on an Epic Pass ski season pass. After skiing Vail & Beaver Creek that past two years and seeing the value you get with this pass, it seemed worthwhile. Add to this Vail's decision to buy Michigan's Mt. Brighton (20 minutes from home for me), and it seems like a no-brainer.

Would I ski Mt. Brighton often enough to warrant a season pass? Nope. It's small, icy, and can get crowded at peak times. But the way I look at it, if I ski four days out West, I basically pay for the pass and get a free pass to a local hill. This Winter I'm committed to doing a better job to maintain my fitness. A couple of hours skiing on a Tuesday night will be a welcome alternative to the gym. Plus I have some local buddies who also have the pass. So, I think we'll be having some "Old Guy Ski Nights" this year!

Last day at Beaver Creek - one of my favorites!
In addition, my goal would be to try and sneak in a couple of trips out West. It's usually pretty economical to score a flight to Denver or Salt Lake, so this seems pretty doable. Again, anything over 4 days and I've paid for the pass and gotten Brighton for free. With the Epic I get unlimited days at Breckenridge and Keystone, plus some blackouts at Utah's Canyons and some Tahoe areas, as well as a total of 10 days to Vail & Beaver Creek. Seems like a solid deal. I prefer Utah, but I've definitely enjoyed Colorado these past two years (3' of snow in 4 days last year!!!).

I also scored on my regular season pass at Caberfae Peaks, in NW Michigan. When I've got a little more time, this gets me some better skiing than staying local. Plus, at $99 early season, it's also a no-brainer.

Already the days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, and just a hint of color has come to the maples in my yard. My new Blizzard Bonafide's and my trusty Volkl RTM 84's are waxed and ready to go.

Soon enough the snowflakes should start flying - looking forward to an outstanding season!


09 September, 2014

Streamer Technique for Trout - A Gratuitous Rip-Off

On my trips to Montana I got to be friends with guide Joe Willauer. Cool guy who writes a solid blog - Evolution Anglers. One of the things that I enjoyed about fishing with Joe is that we seemed to have a common outlook on what made an enjoyable day.

So rather than write my half-ass, newbie blog article on streamer fishing, I'd let Joe offer you some tips honed Out West. Plus, it'll drive some nice traffic to Joe's blog anyway!  :)

Technique Tuesday: Streamer Fishing from a Drift Boat

Solid work, Joe! Couldn't agree with this more. I especially liked the light line, heavy fly. On my last Montana trip I had the most success with weighted flies on the Rio Outbound Short Intermediate line. Easy to cast and really produced!


02 September, 2014

Creaky - GONE!

Chris King to the rescue! Since the installation of my new bottom bracket, the annoying creak I've had in the lower regions of the Giant Defy Advanced is GONE! Rode 42 miles on Saturday and even pounding up Delhi Hill near the end of the ride (short, steep climb) nothing. Not a sound.

Nothing to see here - from the outside anyway...

As an added benefit, things just "feel" better. Somehow it's more rigid, and seems to roll more smoothly. Intuitively, this makes sense - there's a reason you buy precision components with precision bearings.

The unit comes in several colors, but I'm not even sure you'd have seen them with my frame. Besides, a little bling goes a long way.

While this was a bit pricey, the piece of mind and performance improvement make it more than worthwhile. If you've got an unhappy bottom bracket, I would definitely check out the Chris King bottom bracket solution.


20 August, 2014

Product Review: Bozeman Reels SC 223 Click-Pawl Fly Reel

I've already admitted to a serious addiction to clickers. This all started with steelhead - actually with doing a little Winter centerpinning (don't judge - I only do it on big water and in certain situations where conventional float fishing is a pain in the ass; plus I run a full fly rig). There's something primal about the sound of these reels, and about the direct connection to the fish that truly captures my soul.

Montana guide and friend Joe Willauer (check out Joe's Evolution Anglers blog - a great read) turned me on to Bozeman Reel Company. I'm all about American-made gear and if it can come from the heart of fly fishing so much the better. But what, is that an uber classic clicker in their SC Series reel? Gotta' have it.

Of course BRC didn't have any local or online dealers at the time as Dan Rice and his crew were just getting it launched. So, I got to have some nice dialogue with Dan. Super cool guy with a solid business background. After ordering the SC 325 (that's three-to-five, in case you missed the nomenclature like I did at first) and then later realizing that size was foolish, I ended up with an SC 223.

I wrote a preliminary review on the 325 a while back, but to be honest due to my own stupidity it never even got test cast. This year when I realized that I had some Summer trips to Michigan's Upper Peninsula planned and that I'd get to fish with my Dad, who's an ardent small water enthusiast, it was time for a Small Water Rig (SWR). For a while, I'd been thinking that a 2- or 3-weight would be cool for an outing on some skinny water. I've done this before with my 8'6" 4-weight Scott A3. Too much stick to be fun. So an appropriate 3-weight rod was acquired (review coming soon) and a well-matched line (yet another review...).

But I digress - back the the SC 223. As you may recall, I had a very favorable first impression of the SC 325 in my earlier write-up. Classic lines, solidly built, and some truly impactful packaging. These guys got this one right.

Bozeman Reel Company SC 223
Bozeman Reel SC 223 reel where it needs to be - back in the woods!
Immediately upon getting my hands on the 223 model, it just had something truly magical. It's like the crew at BRC managed to concentrate all the goodness of the larger 325 into a smaller package. The 223 isn't heavy at all, rather, it's maybe more solid. I'm seldom at a loss for words, but this one's magic and I can't quite get to the essence. Check one out in person and you'll see what I mean.

The other cool thing about this reel is that it doesn't need to be switched from left- to right-hand retrieve. Somehow it just magically figures it out and adjusts. I'm no mechanical engineer, so I decided that BRC employs liberal doses of pixie dust and magic in all their reels. I was, however, curious about the reels inner workings. But it's so well put-together I just felt like I shouldn't take it apart. So, I asked Dan, and here's what I learned:

"Those attachment points are hidden to keep the appearance clean.  The spool is then coupled with two stainless spool inserts that when working together create the shaft that the spool rides upon.  Those are inserted into a set of tightly toleranced brass bushings that create the smooth movement of the reel."

Wow. That's Olde Schoole craftsmanship. It's very clear that a lot of thought went into the design of this sweet little reel. I'd asked about the reason for no clicker tension adjustment and learned that the group of purists had helped with input for this reel. These folk strongly advocated for a traditional design along the line of Edward vom Hofe. In a trout reel, I'm down with this. It's so seldom you'd actually even go to the reel, and on a 3-weight rig it's even less likely.

OK, so all this troutsturbation is interesting, what's it like on the river? How about one word? Perfect. The weight is just right. The purr of the clicker is just right. And the classic lines are just right. In short, when you wade into a small cold stream in search of tiny, beautiful brook trout, this feels like what should be in your hand.

Fox River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Hemingway
Bugs were kinda' thick on that first outing...
My first outing with the SWR was in the Fox River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I've previously written about this unique piece of water. Suffice it to say, it felt like being on that river, on that day, with the SC 223 I could have been out with Hemingway himself and not felt out of place.

The balance is an interesting issue. It's as though this real cold somehow sense what rod it was on and adjust density. my 3-weight is a fiberglass model

A second outing on the Fox a few weeks later brought similar joy - and some nice brookies. This second outing gave me the same reaction as the first; balance, poise, and style. I can already tell this reel will be a favorite. While it may not get a lot of use each year, as I'm some distance from the places where it excels, it will be used a lot for a number of years!

Love clicker reels? Want American-made? Appreciate fine craftsmanship? Check out Bozeman Reel Company's SC Series 223 reel. Two thumbs up!


14 August, 2014

Creaky: Follow-Up

The lower-end creak that I wrote about a while back on my road bike got worse last week. I did just over 41 miles on Saturday and a bit over 35 on Sunday of last weekend. Both days, after 15-20 miles the creak returned and got progressively louder.

I've been chasing this one for a while. First I thought it was the cleat/shoe interface. Tightened it. No dice. Replaced one of the T-nuts that was bad. No dice. Tried my back-up shoes and found the creak still there. OK, so process of elimination. Check the chainring bolts. All tight. Not that. Maybe the pedal? Nope. It's tight, too. And the creak primarily happens when I'm out of the saddle, so that eliminates a whole host of possibilities there.

With all of these items checked, this leaves one suspect - the crankset/bottom bracket. And modern technology has left me in the dust on this one.

Here, I digress. Through a friend I'd gotten connected to a different shop than the guys I've traditionally gone to. They did my component swap when I upgraded to Ultegra on the Giant OCR. Then when I picked up my Giant Defy Advanced, they swapped the components over to it. This Winter, I had them put fresh grease in my Shimano 105 hubs. They did the work quickly and cost-effectively, but I kept finding little things either left undone or done not-quite-right. Most were minor (not tightening the front brake mount down tight), but it seemed like something always wasn't correct.

So, this time, I returned to Great Lakes Cycling (in their super cool new location!). Owner Oscar Bustos has always been a good guy to deal with and head mechanic Steve Sauter built me some SWEET wheels for both my road and mountain bikes. A quick inspection reveals too much play in the bottom bracket and a more complete disassembly shows that not only did the previous shop sell me the wrong bottom bracket, they installed key parts incorrectly. Awesome.

Now, this does give me a cool opportunity. I love the Chris King brand, but haven't had an excuse to own any. And it turns out the Chris King now offers a press-fit bottom bracket to fit my bike! A little more expensive than the Shimano, but c'mon; it's hand-machined, 100% made in America, and bombproof. Done like dinner -- one is now en-route from Portland, Oregon. I'm hopeful to get it back soon, maybe even in time for a weekend ride. But we'll see.

Either way, this will repair a longstanding, highly annoying problem. I am pleased. And even happier with a cool component upgrade! A review will be forthcoming.

13 August, 2014

Grip n' Grin - with Style

This year I got talking photo angles with Capt. Brad Petzke while we were out for Atlantic Salmon. He taught me a new hold. Pretty sweet, eh?

Now that's some chrome, eh?

12 August, 2014

UP Power Weekend Day Three: A Date with Sal

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted - Summer's a busy time!

Day Three of my UP Power Weekend was the original purpose of the trip. A return to the St. Mary's River at the Soo (the U.S. side). A year earlier I'd booked a day with Capt. Brad Petzke of Rivers North Guide Service. If you want an Atlantic Salmon on the fly in Michigan, Brad's your man. We've also done trout and steelhead trips with him and both have been excellent. This guy knows the UP like few others.

Last year was my first taste of Atlantic was last year in early July. I'd been wanting to do this for a while and it was totally worth it. I hooked and landed a 10# or so fish. Hardest fighting fish I've ever had on. Absolutely kicked my ass. I was left with an adrenaline rush comparable to what I felt after riding the U.S. Olympic bobsled course at Park City, UT. Jacked out of my mind.

Dad, however, as not so fortunate. While he got a ton of whitefish (mmmm, good eatin'), and some very nice resident rainbows, only landed one rather small Atlantic Salmon. Think bait. Uh, yeah...

So this is revenge fishing for him. For me, I mostly want him to get one. If I get one, cool.

After a little too late night with my friend Beer, 4am rolled around far too early. But it puts us on the water not long after 5 and I'm watching my first bobber by 6am.

And then it starts...

On my third drift, I miss one. Bobber goes down. Angler totally spaces. And fish gets away. Awesome. We're not really going to have THAT day are we? As it turns out, no, we are not. Within a few minutes, I've got another one on. And it runs right back to the motor, wraps up in the prop and I'm off. OK, Sean, time to up your game. Especially after Capt. Brad admonishes me to "control your fish, sir". My bad.

Some days on the water, it's all you. And others, it just isn't. I've been skunked plenty, lost good fish, and had a few epic days. There are so many factors - weather, water temps, angler skill and focus, and sometimes just plain luck. That last item is the important one. More solid shots = more fish in the net. It's that easy.

Not too long and BOOM - bobber down! This one's a good fish. Right away we get a couple of solid jumps. I love acrobats, though with every leap, your odds of landing the fish decrease. And this fish is a runner - unusual for an Atlantic, I'm told. While steelhead make long runs that quickly send you into the backing, Atlantic Salmon really don't. They fight HARD, but generally stay in a more compact area. Pretty quickly, I'm into the backing! This one isn't giving up, either. I've got the fighting butt locked against my wrist and I'm putting a serious bend in the Scott Radian 908/4. This fish has some go! Finally we get him netted. A few quick photos and a little drink to revive this beauty and we're back at it.

My first and largest of the day.
Of course, now the adrenaline hits. I'm literally shaking from the excitement. This is the rush of Atlantic Salmon that I love. I get it a bit from steelhead, but not like I do with Atlantics.

Once again, within a half hour, I've got another one on. Not as large or aggressive as the first, but solid nevertheless. This is FUN! Not long after this one finds the net, ANOTHER! I've got three fish boated and it's not yet 8am.
Sunrise Sal
By this time, I'm getting a bit bummed out for Dad. He's missed a couple of takes (easy to do on Atlantics as the take is often very subtle) but had nothing on. We try switching sides of the boat and I hook another. So that isn't it.

After a while, decide it's time for a break and move to another spot and switch over to throwing streamers. With Atlantics, it's a crap shoot. Just depends on what they're eating that day. I pick one up, and both Dad and I score big whitefish (yay -- dinner!).

At this point, I've got four in the net. Dad lost an EXPLOSIVE hook-up. Brad and I were left speculating on whether it was an Atlantic, a steelhead, or some new species of freshwater shark. This thing was BIG and ANGRY. Shortly thereafter he lost another.

So now it's time for a break. Have a little lunch. Talk some smack (if you're me and you've boated four fish). And refresh. Lunch is a good time on the water. Brad is a fun guy to hang out with, and always interesting just to shoot the shit with. We both have a lot of common interests off the water, so there's always something to talk about. And lunch lets you recharge. Refocus. And find your game.

Lunch break's over, I'm two drifts in and bobber down. This time, I have the clarity to set the hook -- and hand it to Dad. He jumps in and fights a solid Atlantic into the net. YES!!!! The Old Man's on the board now. Of course, he doesn't want to take the credit, blah, blah, blah. But he's fought and landed his first adult Atlantic Salmon. Super cool.

Dad's first REAL Atlantic Salmon!
Confidence plays such a big part of fly fishing. And it's really hard to know you can do some things until after you've done them. Fighting and landing an Atlantic last year taught me I could do it. This fish turns my Dad's day around. Now, he's Mr. Atlantic for the afternoon (though I did pick up three more). We ended the day with a dozen boated between us.

But, Dad got the cool fish of the day. For the last hour or so, we moved to another spot and threw streamers. At day's end, Brad calls "last cast". And Dad hits one. I've fished a fair number of days with guides and I've never seen that done. To make it even sweeter, he does it on a streamer.

Last cast - have you ever seen a happier angler?
As we're motoring back to the launch, I remark to Capt. Brad that this would go on my "Epic Day" shortlist.

One final note - the UP is a complex fishery. Access can be easy, weird, or impossible due to a variety of factors. If you're considering exploring this wonderland, book a day with Rivers North and Capt. Brad. Nobody knows the waters of the UP like this guy. And he's just a stand-up, solid dude.

With this day in the rearview mirror, six hours of driving home was a breeze. Thus endeth this UP adventure!


29 July, 2014

UP Power Weekend Day Two: In Papa's Footsteps

In the outdoors, Hemingway is truly a larger-than-life character. This is especially true in the Central Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where his "Nick Adams Stories" left a lasting footprint. These tales are all set on the Big Two Hearted River, which always mystified me. As the story begins, our hero jumps off the train in Seney, and hikes a relatively short distance to the Big Two Hearted. Anyone who knows anything about UP geography knows that would be a damn long hike! Sure enough in recent years it became more common knowledge that Hemingway didn't actually fish the Two Hearted, but preferred the smaller (and much closer to Seney) Fox River.

As a marketer, I can definitely see the appeal of the Big Two Hearted having a better name. But others have argued that perhaps he was simply a cunning angler who wanted to protect his secret spot. Add to this the Fox's reputation for some big brook trout, and  you've got a "bucket list" destination.

The Fox has been on the radar for my Dad and I for some time. The problem is it's not the easiest to access. The banks are thick with tag alders and other nasty vegetation. The holes are DEEP and large. Add to this a lot of downed timber and you have a tough river. We've looked at it for years, but neither of us has ever fished it.

This trip, we were determined to fix that. Or at least do some serious scouting. And we needed to make our way from Manistique over to the Soo by Sunday night. From previous looks, we've both seen that there are numerous access points along the river road north of Seney. But neither of us had done more serious exploration (or even gotten our feet wet). So, we dropped Dad's Focus off in Seney, in favor of the more robust Wrangler - which turned out to be a good idea given some of the roads we hit.

Basically we drove up the River Road, ducking in at each spur trail to check out access. First stop - nope; brushy, deep, no way into the river safely. Second - same. Third - mmmm, maybe. Fourth - uh-uh; no thank you. About this time I'm thinking this will be more recon than fishing.

At stop number Five, this changed.

The Fabulous Fox
A quick look over the edge revealed a beautiful sugar sand bottom. With perfect UP tannin-hued water. Brook trout Heaven! On closer inspection I found some good access points and what looked like wadeable water both up- and downstream. Decision made. I'm IN! Wader up. Cover every possible square inch of exposed skin (UP backwoods bugs are BRUTAL). And string up my rig with a tasty looking beetle.

There's a future review coming on the new Small Water Rig (or SWR, if you prefer). But suffice it to say, I'm pretty excited to have it's debut be on Hemingway's water.

As soon as I slide into the water (literally - the access point I chose took a leap-of-faith slide down the bank the last 4' or so), I know this is going to be great water. Even through waders on a hot day, that water is COLD. And cold Summer water means happy trout.

This little river is just perfect. If I were a trout, I'd live here. Banks lined with dense vegetation. Crystal clear water. Lots of nice cover in the form of overhanging cedars and downed timber.

After only a moment, I've got a rise. No commitment, but these are brookies. And brookies are more aggressive than smart. You miss a brown on a dry, you blew it. But with a brookie, just give 'em another shot. Sure enough, I've got my first fish on in a matter of moments after getting my boots wet. SWEET!

For a 5" brook trout, I did a lot of hollering. This got Dad's attention (he'd decided to let me check it out before he committed) and sent him scurrying to wader up. While he was, I scored another larger brookie - maybe 7" or so. Nice!

Dad doing his best Hemingway
Once Dad joins me, I send him up to the spot that had been working for me, while I headed downriver. Within moments, I hear the sounds of success as Dad finds fish as well.

At this point, I have to say how much I was enjoying the day. And friend know I've long given my Dad a hard time for his love of UP backwoods bushwacking. The new SWR definitely does make a difference. A day on a river like the Fox with a 9' will be a frustrating day. But with a 7' 3-weight it's just about as good as it gets.

This was the more "open" water...

We spend a couple more hours exploring up and downstream. Finding rises and a few more commitments. Extracting flies from overhanging trees, and generally having a good time. As the afternoon sun begins to sink, we grudgingly admit it's time to cover the miles to our destination for the evening at the Soo.

A truly special day that I got to share with my Dad - and Ernest. Definitely a location I will return to. It's marked in my GPS as simply "Fox - Hemingway 1".

Day Two in da Yoop, also a success!


28 July, 2014

Up Power Weekend: Day One

Saturday was decided to be Escanaba Day by Dad and I. The Esky is a river I really enjoy, though I've only fished it a few times. The settings are pretty, and the fish are usually plentiful. Probably doesn't hurt that my first day fishing it I got fish on dries, nymphs, and streamers all within one day.

But first, we needed some detours (hey, you don't want to be out there TOO early). I'm a big fan of Rapid River Knife Works. Handmade, by Michigan craftsmen. I've had one of their Skinner Series knives for a few years and been extremely pleased with it. Recently I noticed some new knives on their web site, so I thought a repeat visit was in order. After making the poor kid behind the count pull out about 87 knives, I settled on a nice elk antler-sided folder (oddly, not pictured on their web site). Like my other knife, excellent quality at a very fair price!

Marble's Outlet, a few miles down the road, is the UP's newest fly shop. Dad had met the owner on the river one day, so we paid him a visit. Owner Jim couldn't have been any nicer. Great guy to chat with. Gave us some solid river intel and showed us around the place. If you're in the area and need some gear, a great place to stop. For a new shop, he had a nice selection of inventory, especially tying materials.

Next we made a stop along the river to check out a smallmouth spot Jim had recommended. Looks solid. Perhaps I'll get back there, though if I'm in the UP, I'm generally more interested in coldwater species.

By now, it's mid-afternoon. Time for a late lunch and perhaps a beer or two. Since we're in the "big city" of Escanaba, that means Hereford & Hops. Food is serviceable, while the beer is actually pretty good. Thirst quenched and belly filled, we're off to the river. Jim's given us some pointers on a stretch we've fished before that's been producing lately.

Now the dilemma - what to fish. On a stretch that I know, I'm partial to taking two rods - one with a dry or nymph rig, and the other a streamer. Streamer is easy - Scott Radian 907/4, Ross Evolution LT III with Rio Outbound Short line. Boom. Done. I really WANT to fish my fancy Scott G2 5-weight. But the wind is blowing hard and picking up velocity. I'm thinking I need the 6-weight advantage to cut the wind. So it's the Scott A4 906/4, Abel Creek Series AC2 standard arbor reel, and Scientific Anglers GPX line for dry flies.

I love my Abel clicker reels AC2 Creek Series shown here.

Now for the disappointment - can't tell you where we were. Yeah, if you know the area, you can probably guess. But if you don't, you're not finding it from my blog. Sorry, but I make it a policy never to reveal spots a guide's taken me to. The best guides spend a ton of time developing their list of spots so they have good water for their clients. I feel very fortunate that a few have been generous enough to share them with me. But I won't post 'em up on the Interwebs. Figure it out yourself, or better still book a day with a guide. In the UP, that's simple - Brad Petzke of Rivers North is THE MAN in da Yoop!

After a short walk, we find the areas Jim had shared with us and set up. Dad's downstream running an stimulator, with a bead-head nymph below. I find some likely looking water and start in with the a similar rig with slightly different flies. Fairly quickly I'm hooked up. And just as quickly, I'm off. After fishing a bit more, I dredge the streamer through the run. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Now I'm starting to get puzzled. I realize that  we basically walked up, waded in and went to work. And we're trout fishing. Mr. Trout is now in my head. Am I really in the right spot? What am I throwing and why? Time to sit a spell and have a look at the river.

Glancing upstream I notice a riffle with a nice tail-out. Hmmmm. Time for a walk. After wading out, I start running the hopper-dropper with the stimulator and a pheasant tail nymph below. I grid the water out in my mind and start to work it. It's not long before I have a few refusals. OK, Mr. Trout, now you're WAY up in my head. Good friend and primo guide Jon Ray taught me a simple lesson - trout don't miss. If a trout rose and didn't take your fly, that means there was something they didn't like about it. But, they are looking at my flies. So I'm in the right ballpark. Time for a trip back to the bank and a sit (and maybe a sip of the bourbon in my flask...). I notice some smallish white flies fluttering by occasionally. Ah-HA! the #12 Ephorons that Jim sold us! Re-rig and back out I go. Before long, I've got a mid-teens brown to-hand. I don't get to do it enough, so I do really love getting a trout on a dry fly. A bit later I hit another one. I've noticed that smaller trout seem to show themselves at the surface more readily after you hook them. This one does not. Heads straight for the bottom. Unfortunately, this one breaks me off. Bummer.

On the drive back to the cottage we encounter a MAMMOTH  hatch of bugs. The windshield sounds like it's raining. Wow - had a great day, but sorry to have missed that. A damn fine day in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


25 July, 2014

The Upper Hand

While I get a lot of traffic on this blog from Michigan, I also get a ton from locations around the world. So, first a little explanation of Michigan geography.

If you know anyone from Michigan you'll know that we're a unique state. You can basically show someone a "map" of the state with both hands. The Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. By tipping the other hand on its side, you've got the Upper Peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge connects to the two, bridging the Straits of Machinac where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet.

The two Peninsulas couldn't be more different. Back in the 70's, the Upper Peninsula (or UP as it's more commonly known) even tried to form it's own State. Unfortunately, they overlooked one minor issue - all the money, and all the population (i.e. tax base) is in the Lower. Oops. "Yoopers" are the from the UP, while "Trolls" (as Yoopers refer to them) live below the bridge. I am proud to be a Yooper by birth. But, I left shortly thereafter. My family has had a place in da Yoop since the early 90's, on Lake Michigan just outside Manistique.

Last weekend I took advantage of a day booked over a year ago to chase Atlantic Salmon with guide Brad Petzke of Riversnorth Outfitters to expand into a full-on Yooper Fishing Fest with my Dad. Over the course of three days, we covered a lot of backroads, a lot of water, and caught a wide range of fish using a wide range of techniques.

If this feels a bit like a movie trailer - it is. Look for a broad range of upcoming posts on our antics.I'll be mixing in some gear reviews as well - this was a first outing for a whole new fly fishing rig set-up just for small UP streams.

Stay tuned.


17 July, 2014

On the Road Again!

I've returned to my road bike over the past couple of weeks, after a little health incident had me off the ride for about seven weeks. Since my return, I've already broken the 35 mile barrier. Some observations from my ride:

  1. Damn it's nice to be back out. From the first pedal stroke, the feeling of freedom returned. Ahhhh.
  2. I love my Giant Defy Advanced. It's prime season, so all the bike porn has been showing up in my mailbox. While there are some pretty rides in there, I am utterly and completely satisfied with my bike in its current configuration.
  3. Dammit - the Bont cleat squeak is back despite replacing the bolt. F@&$!!!!
  4. I live in a great place for riding. So much easy access to so many great routes. I love Huron River Drive.
  5. Did I mention how happy I am to be back out?
  6. I'm excited to be able to ride the Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure in honor of my late friend Pam Prentice. I made my fundraising goal easily this year. Sadly, due to the lost training time and the fact that I'm not 100% greenlighted (is that a word?) by my doc, I won't be doing the Century this year. I just have to remember that one point it looked like I might not be able to ride it AT ALL.
  7. There is no shame in the small front cog. 
  8. Good cycling clothing makes a world of difference.
  9. The Garmin 810 is just cool. I harness the power of data every day at work, why not on the road?
  10. People on bikes are nice. They usually wave or smile. If you're stopped they ask if you need any help.
Off to the Upper Peninsula tomorrow for some fishing adventures with my Dad. I'm sure more will follow on that trip.

Have a good one. Remember to make the most of every day.


09 July, 2014

Speak Softly and Carry a Small Stick

4" brook trout everywhere will be quaking in the riverbed with my new small stream rig.

Like many of my outdoor gear projects, this one started on a silly whim. I had this magnificent reel - a Bozeman Reels SC - that was basically sitting unused. I purchased a 325 size, with the misguided idea that I'd use it on my Scott G2 905/4. Not sure what I was thinking - since that rod already has an excellent Abel Classic reel on it. Plus, I live in SE Michigan and gas is nearly $4 a gallon. How much dry fly trout fishing can I do?

Then I got to thinking. With a family place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I have access to some nice small water spots. And my Dad just LOVES fishing this backwoods stuff. I've also got a few spots in the Lower Peninsula that I like. Maybe it's time for a cool shorter 3 weight?

As I'm starting to ponder the possibilities, I notice on the Bozeman web site that the SC is now available in a smaller 223 (2-3 weight) size. Hmmmm. A quick e-mail with them and we work out an exchange (my 325 was never even cast). Very soon an SC Series 223 is in my hands. And what a perfect little reel it is. All the goodness of the SC325, just in a smaller package.

Now for a rod. Already own a Scott A3 856/4. Nice stick, but I want something lighter and shorter. Need to be able to handle it back in the bush and want something that makes a 6" brookie feel like a steelhead. My Dad had cast the Hardy 'glass rods and liked them. I see that Echo has a new line of glass rods - they've always had good value for the price. But glass (often) is SLLLOOOOWWWWW. And I suck at slowing down my casts.

And then I found it. The new Orvis Superfine Glass in a 7' 3-weight configuration. Soul from fiberglass, speed from graphite. Perfect! The more I read a few online reviews, the more excited I am about this stick. Everyone calls it "shockingly fast" but remarks it has the feel glass is known for. Sign me up. A quick test cast, and one is procured.

Line is easy - when you have a top-notch shop like Schultz Outfitters handy. With all the new market introductions, keeping up with fly lines is a full-time job. I find that line knowledge is a really valid way to assess a good shop. Bonus points if they're clued in on spey lines. My selection is a Rio Perception. Great all around presentation line for trout fishing.

A very competent rig. But sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That's the case here. This rod and reel look and feel like they were made for each other. The classic looks of both blend beautifully. And the reel weight and size are just right to balance the rod. From the instant I slip the reel into the seat, it's all good. Everything is in holistic harmony. Yeah, seriously, it's that good.

I'll be headed to the UP in a couple of weeks. Dad and I have an Atlantic Salmon date booked with Brad Petzke of Riversnorth. But before that I'm sure we'll put in some time on the small water. I'm sure I'll have much more to write after that. Can't wait!


03 July, 2014

Clickety Clack

I love click-pawl reels. There's some primal connection of man to fish about them. I love the sound as you strip off line or a fish runs. They just have this immediate and tactile quality that's hard to truly describe. From talking to other fly anglers, clickers seem to be a love or don't proposition. The Hatch guys mostly look at me like I've lost my low-tech mind.

Currently, I own a bunch of clickers for a variety of sizes and applications. From larger models on full spey rods, down to a small reel for my 4-weight trout rod. Each has unique and distinctive features that set it apart from the others. The common thread? I love them all. I think I picked up this mantra from my guns - I don't own any guns I don't love. I've had a couple, and when I sold them, I felt better. Same goes for my clicker reels.

I own clickers from Abel, Bozeman Reel, Kingpin, and The Spey Company (Speyco, to most). Speyco occupies a special place for me. But it's hard to put my finger on exactly what it is that I love about Tim Pantzlaff's reels. If I was pressed, I suppose it would be simply Soul. Tim's reels have soul that is unlike anything else on the market. It's in the feel in your had. The purr of the clicker. The wide range of customization options he offers to make it "your" reel. Some of my other reels have smoother machining/polishing (I'd have to give that to Kingpin, with Abel a close second). Or are more "classic" - the Bozeman SC probably gets that honor. Speyco combines soul with bombproof construction. These things are just built. You talk to Tim for just a few minutes and it's clear that this guy knows how machinery is supposed to work. And his reels reflect that knowledge in every aspect. Top-notch bearings. Everything fits together exactly as it should - rather like a finely crafted firearm.

If this sound like a commercial for Speyco, well, I suppose it is. Recently I received my second Speyco - a 3-3/4" Switch model in all black with the Snake Roll handle. This one's for my smallmouth swing set-up on a 6-weight TFO Deer Creek 11' switch rod. As soon as I got it in the reel seat, I knew this was the right call. Swinging for smallies on the previous Ross Evolution LT (a great reel -- my go-to for stripping streamers or fishing topwater smallies) just didn't seem right. Can't wait to hear it howl!


27 June, 2014


This year I decided to take the advice offered to me and get in some practice casting the fly rod. My overhead cast isn't all I'd like it to be. Of course, it is possible that hanging around with guys who can throw an entire 100' fly line effortlessly probably doesn't help when setting a realistic expectation.

Yesterday I had a few minutes after eating lunch and needed some "outside time", so I broke out the rod/reel I'd brought in for just these pursuits. While I'm walking to the field, I notice the rod. "854/4" - wait minute, that's not my A2 906/4 that I'd intended to use. It's my 8'6" 4-weight Scott A3. Naturally, I have the Ross CLA 3 with a Rio Gold 6 weight line on it. Predictably, it cast like a 4-weight with a 6-weight line. But it's nice to get outside for a bit.

So last night, I take this rod home, thinking I'd grabbed the wrong one and intending to swap it for the 6. Not so fast, cowpoke...

A few weeks back I went out to my favorite little quiet walk-in spot on the Huron River near my house. Beautiful sunny day, perfect temps, just a bit of wind. An idyllic time to throw some small poppers at a mix of panfish, rock bass, and smallmouth. But from the get-go, my casting is piss-poor. Can't even competently throw a 20-footer. WTF? Is the wind goofing me up? Or am I just that rusty? Net result, while it was a nice afternoon out, no strikes, and I left feeling pretty disappointed in my casting skills.

Last night when I go to stow the 4-weight, I notice a rig hanging in the rod rack. This is the one I took on the aforementioned outing. Well, a 4-weight line on a 6-weight rod suddenly explains a lot...

Today I take 20 minutes to cast at lunch with the 6-weight rod and the 6-weight line/reel. From the FIRST cast, it's ON. Nice clean loops. Solid distance. Reasonable accuracy despite a cross-wind. Just money.

The moral of the story is a simple one. Before you rush out, check your inventory. What rod's in your hand? What reel? What line is on that reel? In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "duh-OH!".


19 June, 2014

Solo Outing

Fun little float on Sunday afternoon. Perfect day for it - 80 degrees and sunny. No humidity. All systems GO!

As I was going solo, this presented the perfect opportunity to run the kicker motor. I've only done one outing with that and while it went OK, I wouldn't describe it as outstanding. But no one drowned and I didn't lose any key gear.

I've got a nice stretch of the Huron River near home that's good for the float down-motor up strategy. Looks like some decent spots, plus the water's pretty big so flow levels aren't an issue. There are launches at both ends that I can get my Clacka into, so it's a good option. I chose to launch at the upper spot so I could float downstream and motor back.

This proved to be a mistake. The launch point is a prime spot for canoes and one of the major livery services. Holy crowd scene. And canoe renters seem to be among the dumbest animals on the face of the planet. Within five minutes of hitting the launch, I've been reminded of that fact at least three times. No, I did not move that kayak to put it in your path to the water. I moved it so I could clear my truck and trailer off the ramp. Doing so will afford you access to the water. Dumbass. And the launch here is a bit sketchy. For some reason, the canoe folks put in a sort of dock/launch that's fairly difficult to put a trailer and driftboat onto. But I manage, and soon I'm off.

My view from the rower's seat - very nice!
My plan is to row between likely looking spots and then fish off anchor. Having covered this stretch before, I figure on a nice 3-4 hour outing. Perfect.

But then there's the wind. 10-15mph, coming straight upriver. On a stretch with minimal gradient and therefore current. Surprisingly little impact on my casting, but it sure slows my rowing!

I've got both my Scott Radian 907/4 and Scott A4 904/4 with the former rigged with Rio Outbound Short for streamers and the latter with Scientific Anglers Titan Taper for topwater. Did I mention how much I love owning a drift boat? Walking in, I'd have never been able to run two rigs like this. In the boat - no problemo!

My trusty river ride
First couple of spots don't yield anything on topwater, so I throw the streamer a bit. No deal. But after a while I switch back to the always productive Boogle Bug on the floating line. Not long after, I stick two rock bass in quick succession. OK - I'm on the board!!!!  Early in my fishing evolution, UP fishing guide Brad Petzke taught me the progression on a trout run - dry fly, then nymph, and then if that's not working dredge that streamer through there. If you run through first with a streamer, you run little chance of getting anything with subsequent techniques. Solid advice and my guiding mantra for this day.

And it works. After drifting the Boogle with no success, I run Mike Schultz's S4 Sculpin pattern through. MONEY! Stuck a rather angry mid-teens smallmouth. This one's bulldoggin' for the bottom, but eventually gives it up. Definitely a nice fight from a mid-sized fish.

By now, it's getting a little later, so I decide to continue on my float. I want to run the full stretch to look at terrain and get some time on the tiller on the way back up. Damn pretty day. And I made an interesting discovery. While the river has plenty of canoes and kayaks, this year there are a ton of Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs). And SUPs bring out the Bikini Hatch like you wouldn't believe. Oh, the stuff you see on the river.

At the bottom, drop the Nissan 3.5Hp kicker in. Fires right up and away I go to the top. I'm really happy with this little motor. Easy starting, quiet, and very straightforward operation. Plus at only 41 pounds, it's easy to handle. Buzz back up to the top, grab the truck and load up the trailer. Five minute ride home. Not a bad day way to pass an afternoon.

16 June, 2014

Project Ruger - Part I

My new project gun is off to a nice start. My goal is to completely trick out my Ruger Mark III as a tack-driving range pistol. Oh, and it should look cool.

The stock Ruger grips on my Stainless Target model are bad. I'm not even sure they're legitimate plastic - more like 1930's Bakelite. They make such a terrible first impression. This otherwise SWEET looking gun just looks cheesy. Plus, they're slick and don't fill the hand very well. I was surprised though that they shot pretty well.

I remember handling a Mark II some years back with the checkered cocobolo wood grips and really liking them. Ruger offers a 20% off coupon when you register with them (nice little spiff - smart, too) so a pair are ordered.

From the instant I open the package, I know these are MONEY! Rich wood tones. Nice matte finish. And a perfectly positioned thumb rest on the left side. Five minutes with a 2.5mm allen wrench and we're ready to rock.

The transformation is nothing short of jaw-dropping. From Plain Jane to Hot Rod in about a minute! Astounding how such a seemingly minute difference could have such an impact. I got to shoot it on Saturday and the new grips made it feel so much better in-hand.

So, what's next? Well, I need to get about 300 more rounds through it, but I can already see a few items on the horizon (I love these aftermarket projects - the parts are so inexpensive):

  • Replacing the cheesy plastic "Loaded Chamber Indicator" with a stainless steel filler (already on order).
  • Volquartsen extended magazine release and extended slide release. The new grips are thicker and a longer release would be helpful. 
  • Williams Fire Sights fiber optic sights; these are a definite "maybe". I want to shoot the stock sights some more.
  • And the big one -- a Volquartsen accurizing kit. This includes lots of components, but is mostly a trigger job to smooth the break and reduce the pull slightly. A little pricey, plus I think I'm going to have Volquartsen do the installation. I've taken a Ruger trigger apart before...

13 June, 2014

Cast Master

A quick outing on the Huron River last Sunday was a good reminder of the importance of practice casting. This was my first time throwing a floating line since last Summer (roll-casting a steelhead rig doesn't count). And I suuuuuuccccckkkkkked. A little wind and I can't throw a small popper 25' on a 4-weight. Whaaaaat?

Yeah. Gotta' get my ass out there and throw around the floater a bit. It's not strength. It's not power. It's all timing, finesse, and muscle memory. All things that appear to have gone completely out the window during this evil, Polar Vortex-fueled Winter. This is unfortunate as last year I did a casting lesson and was feeling much better

Timing was for shit to start. By the end of my outing, it had gotten better. But I think I need to go spend a little time throwing the floater on a calm evening to get that muscle memory back to where it needs to be. Solid aggressive pick-up, drift back, let the rod load, hard stop, go forward. It's a progression. I learned in my class that I need to break those steps down and then put them back together. I think it's time for a couple of weeks of casting practice. Topwater smallmouth's just coming into its own and I'll likely have some chances to go chase trout in the north. Got to get my game on!


06 June, 2014


My Browning Buckmark .22lr semi-auto has always been one of my favorite handguns to shoot. Feels good in-hand, very accurate, good sight picture. I just shoot this gun really well. But its not without drawbacks. First, it's a bit fussy on ammo. Anything less than mid-grade stuff and you get 2-3 stovepipe jams per box. It's very reliable with CCI MiniMag. Good luck finding any. And second, there's a lot of plastic in this gun. Yeah, I know, when properly engineered, plastic is fine stuff, blah, blah, blah. But somehow guns (like fly reels) should be metal. Finally the upper is really basically held together by two screws. These can work loose, affecting point of impact. Plus it makes it a bit of a pain to do a tear-down. Don't get me wrong - I love this gun and will likely never sell it.

But I'm looking to build the ultimate tack-driving target range .22 handgun. I want something that shoots nearly any ammo without a burp. That feels solid in-hand. And that enables me to put up dime-sized groups at under 30 feet. I've been poking around online for a while and found that the Ruger Mark III series has a reputation for having this potential. It's a solid, proven gun. Quality from the factory is basically very good. And there are a TON of aftermarket parts available to improve it.

A recent stop at Guns Galore, in Fenton, MI uncovered a Ruger Mark III Target model in stainless steel (hey, I have a shiny gun attraction...). And their prices were considerably lower than list. As soon as I held this fine firearm, I knew I'd found the basic platform for this project. Solid. Fits my hand like a glove. Great sight picture. I like the balance from the steel lower and bull barrel. Sold!

Of course, I'm aware of Ruger's reputation for difficult tear-down and re-assembly, but it seems like a small trade-off for the benefits. Plus, I watched the videos on Ruger's site and it doesn't look THAT bad. I'm eager to clean out the factory grease/protectant and get this one cleaned and lubed for a trip to the range!

I'll be writing more about this one after I get a chance to shoot it, and then as I start to make modifications. At the outset, I think it will be a candidate for a Volquartsen trigger/action kit, some Target style wood grips, and possibly Williams Fire Sights. But first I want to get to know it and see the strengths and weaknesses.

Looking forward to this journey!


22 May, 2014


As a guy who grew up wrenching on bikes in shops, at races, and in my own garage, I hate extraneous noises. Creaks. Squeaks. Squeals. Rattles. All of them are a sign of one thing - something isn't working correctly. Engineers don't design products to make noises they're not supposed to.

But chasing down a squawk or a ping can be tough. Bicycles are interconnected systems. A noise you think is emanating from one place could be someplace completely different. It's sort of like a water leak in your house. Where you see the puddle could be a LONG way from the source.

I've been wrestling one on my road bike for a little while. Like many, it started quietly and infrequently. And then grew louder. And louder. And louder. Kinda' like in Edgar Allan Poe's "Telltale Heart". OK, maybe it wasn't that loud. But in my head it was.

This one's from the drivetrain side, somewhere in the lower regions. After decades of listening to bikes, I can usually pretty quickly discern what type of issue I have. Carbon sounds different from aluminum. Aluminum sounds different from stainless steel. And so on. My creak is carbon-related. It's just got that pitch and cadence.

Carbon creaks are generally not good. Especially when you ride a carbon frame, like my Giant Defy Advanced Composite. But sometimes they're a minor issue - like a seatpost that needs a cleaning and a little carbon paste. Other times, they're an indicator of an impending failure. I've learned from fly rods that all it takes is minor weakening of structural integrity and chaos ensues.

But this one is weird. I know it's in the lower end, on the drivetrain side. It only happens when I come out of the saddle and hammer on the pedals. And it's very clearly only on one side. Oddly, somehow it feels outboard of the bottom bracket and it doesn't seem to travel up the frame.

Ah-HA! Cleats.

Cleats on cycling shoes are a lifelong pain in the ass. In the olden days, I remember nailing the cleats onto my Sidi shoes. Yep, you read that right - NAILING. Modern clipless systems have moved things forward tremendously, but still the cleat-shoe interface remains a trouble spot. This area takes a lot of stress, forces in all directions, and more. Three bolts (typically) connect the power of your legs to the bike's drivetrain. And, my Bont A-Three's have carbon soles. So, I re-tighten my bolts. Creak is still there.


On returning home from my first weeknight ride on Monday, I decided to investigate as the continued creak now has me thinking my frame is self-destructing. I also see plagues and locusts on the horizon.

One trick I've learned with cleats is the power of blue Loctite. If you don't keep some of this around the house, buy some. Today. Keeps problematic things with threads where they're supposed to be. So I figure time to tear down the right shoe and re-do the Loctite. First screw comes out easy, drop or two of thread sealant, re-torque and good to go. But the second one loosens, but then won't come free. Finally with some upward pressure from a screwdriver while twisting the Allen wrench it pops out. But wait - where's the threaded insert? I don't see it anymore.

Crap. Bonts are made in Australia. And while they make great shoes, they're in Australia. Just shipping something back to them takes weeks and costs at least $25. They're starting to get some US dealers, but I didn't buy mine from a dealer, so they'd have to go back to the Land Down Under. Then I notice something rolling around in the shoe. It's a regular old T-nut. And it's just popped out of the hole. After closer inspection the "teeth" that bite into the sole seem squashed.

Later that night, I find the Bont sells replacements for these (via Colorado Cyclist). Hmmmmm. This tells me this is not an isolated problem. So, I have some extras on order.

In the meantime, I have a backup pair. I'll be riding those tonight to see if my creak is still there or not. A report will follow.