24 February, 2014

Done? No, evidently, never done...

Well, I'd said I was done with any new fly rods. Quiver's all full, etc., etc., etc. Turns out I was wrong. Two new sticks are on the way. I never intended to own all these rods. And every one I own has a purpose. I guess that's the price you pay for being a year 'round, multi-species angler.

I've wanted a fast streamer rod for a while. Whether it's for smallmouth or trout, I love throwing streamers. Right now I primarily use a Scott A3 907-4 rod for this. Then I cast my buddy's S4S last year. Holy shit. More like a weapon than a fly rod. The streamer equivalent of my Sage TCX "Death Star". Now Scott has the Radian with the tagline "Fast meets Feel" -- sign me up! One's on the way and the A3 will be going on eBay. Now I'll have a Scott A4 for topwater and a Radian for streamers. Boom!

Yeah, I'm an occasional pinner. Get over it - from the bobber down, I'm running a fly rig that's very similar to the Indy rods I run. If Chuck-n-Duck is fly fishing, so is this. I mostly use the pin either to search new water I don't know anything about, or in situations where running a traditional Indy just isn't practical. I've been exploring some of the lower Pere Marquette river and I wanted a pin rod I could get in the boat. My 13' Raven Matrix just won't fit safely and securely. I can't justify spending big bucks on this rod, as it's not one I'll use a ton. Online reviews look good, and it'll fit nicely next to my Scott L2H 1158 switch swing rod!

I am a gear whore. And I suppose I am proud of it. But at least I can look you in the eye and tell you the exact purpose I bought both of these sticks for. Now the Speyco reel that's coming for my smallmouth swinging TFO Deer Creek 11' 6-weight I have no excuse for other than the Ross Evolution LT3 was too light. And not cool enough. Yeah, that's it. Too light...


19 February, 2014


Last night I was flipping through Bike Magazine's "Bible of Bike Tests". The were gushing over the Specialized this, the Niner that, the Santa Cruz the other when I realized - I don't care. For a self-professed gearhead, tweaker, and tuner this is a pretty big admission.

I realized that I am totally satisfied with my mountain bike. I don't want newer, or more suspension travel (heck, ANY suspension...), or more gears. I built a bomb-proof, single-speed, hardtail 29er that is EXACTLY the bike I wanted. I think I did that as a result of three key things:
  1. Focus - I knew exactly the end result I wanted. Simple, rigid, durable, and strong.
  2. Patience - I didn't have to have it all at once. My wheels needed to get handled pretty quickly as the originals were fairly trashed. Beyond that I waited looking for deals or a little spare cash.
  3. Enjoying the Process - the final build took about a year. What was cool was enjoying each new addition and how it improved my ride.
Sure, this bike limits me -- big hills are tough, as are really rooted, rutted trails. But I don't mind. It does a great job on the trails I enjoy riding. This truly is a purpose-built beast. Built for ME.

It's nice to be satisfied.


15 February, 2014

Cabin Fever

Pardon my French, but I am done with the fucking Polar Vortex. I love Winter. And I've been enjoying all the snow this year tremendously. But endless days of single-digit high temps, nighttime lows in double-digit negatives, and significant wind have me done with Winter. Or at least this kind of Winter.

On Wednesday night, I was hanging out with the usual Schultz Outfitters crew at the popular Bar Flies tying series. Ed McCoy was on the vise showing us a couple of patterns. Discussion turned to the brutal Winter. Now remember, this is a group of hardy Winter Steelheaders. Misery is a badge of honor for us. Trout guys look at us like we've lost our minds (probably some truth to that...). And to a one, we're all going stir crazy looking for a break in this. We're tying flies, watching too much TV, or embracing a new workout program. All to retain some degree of our sanity.

Whenever I head to my basement, my bike taunts me. I'm dying to get out, but that won't happen any time soon. So back into the gym I go. None too happily. I'm geared up to get riding earlier and longer. This year I'll complete a full Century. But not anytime soon. I haven't seen the surface of my driveway in a month.

Headed to Colorado at the end of the month. I would like to request that Winter show some serious retreat by my return...


14 February, 2014

Weighty Issue

Ernest Gagnon is a pretty damn impressive fellow. Two years ago he tipped the scales at over 500 pounds and had a wealth of other health issues. Instead of surgery, or simply doing nothing he decides he's going to lose the weight training for and competing in a cyclocross race. Now he's down 240 pounds. You can read the full story here.

I'm mightily impressed with his accomplishments, but what I find equally cool is the acceptance and support he found in the cycling community. Serious cyclists can be an intimidating. Lycra. Gazillion dollar carbon rides. Jackrabbit bodies. And a language that only vaguely resembles English. And, that's just the serious road folks. Racers are an even more intense crew.

Yet these awesome folks accepted this morbidly obese man, and even helped him on his journey. I've found mostly accepting, encouraging people in cycling. Yes, there are bike snobs -- but there are snobs in any pursuit whether you're talking wine or wingshooting. But this group went above and beyond to help a man struggling with a major life issue achieve a positive outcome.

Why the mass media doesn't seem to be able to find stories like these amazes me. We can spend hours on Justin Bieber's antics, but a guy loses 240 pounds through personal strength and courage and he's overlooked. In an era of rampant Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and other weight-impacted health issues, we should all hoist Mr. Gagnon on our shoulders and lap the cyclocross course with him.

Kudos to all involved in this fantastic story.


12 February, 2014

Product Review: Simms ExStream Jacket

I bought the Simms ExStream jacket the first day I saw it. I needed something warmer than a fleece for Winter steelheading. I had a Patagonia Down Hoody that just never fit right - to get the right fit across the shoulders mean a XXL with was tent-like on the body. I've finally decided that perhaps I need to give up on Patagonia's "skinny climber" fit. At least for my body type, Simms is where it's at.

But in the past, Simms tended to fall down on cold weather gear. If you wanted to be dry, you wore Simms. And if you wanted to be warm, you wore Patagonia. I think the folks at Simms got the message loud and clear. Life isn't all trout on a sunny day in Montana. Great Lakes steelheaders face some pretty brutal conditions, and being warm really extends our season (more on that later).

The ExStream jacket fit perfectly as soon as I tried it on. Roomy across the shoulders for swinging a spey rod, yet compact in the body for extra warmth. And, like all the Simms products I've owned - the hood is awesome. It's amazing the difference a well-fitting hood makes. Provides coverage, without hampering peripheral vision or just generally getting in the way.

The exterior material of this jacket is a huge step up in durability from the Patagonia NanoPuff and Down Sweater. Far more rugged and clearly likely to handle more abuse. While I'll definitely keep the NanoPuff as my "extra layer" because it packs down so small, the ExStream is a huge step forward in durability.

A few of the key features I love in this jacket:
  • Giant interior net cargo pockets: I first saw this trend in ski jackets a couple of seasons back and am happy to see it in a fishing jacket. Throw a hat, gloves, a flask, a fly box - or whatever - in here leaving the side hand pockets free. Nice.
  • Sleeves that are less bulky: Makes layering ever so much simpler. It's tough to find a warmer layer that slides under others well.
  • Uber-slick ripstop interior: Glides over base layer, fleece or whatever. Layers that don't play well with others are a huge pain in the ass.
In fact, I liked the jacket so much that I also picked up the ExStream pant for a warmer layering option. I purchased these for a December steelhead trip. Little did I know that highs in the 40's would make them unnecessary. Ah, well. I'm sure I'll need them.

But now for the confession - I haven't actually fished in this jacket. This year's BRUTAL cold weather has kept me off the water since the NY trip. Rivers that never freeze fully have been locked up for weeks on end. And getting motivated to spend the day on the water when they high is 3 degrees and you have a 10mph wind is pretty rough. However, the ExStream has become my go-to jacket for so many things. Warm. Windproof. Convenient. I am sure that once I get it out on the water, it won't disappoint.


09 February, 2014

Product Review - CW-X Stabilyx Tights

Decided last year that my Olde Schoole ski long underwear would benefit from a technology update. Yes, they had cotton in them...

Through the power of advertising, I discover CW-X's line of Stabilyx tights. Allegedly they provide some knee support, which I need as I've been skiing with a knee brace on the my tweaky right knee for a few years now. Plus, they come in a 3/4 length -- full-length base layers don't mesh well with ski boots. 

But, ouch -- these are not cheap. Fortunately, I was shopping in the off-season, so I was able to score a deal.

Now that I've got a couple of days in with them, I must say - they do seem to do what they promise. I've skied two days without my brace and my knee feels just fine. The compression also seems to keep my legs fresh for longer.  

Of course, the true test will come in Colorado later this month. If I can ski that whole trip without a brace, I'll be truly impressed. 

I do have a couple of minor issues. First, they don't seem as warm as some of my other base layers. Tomorrow morning will be interesting -- supposed to dip down to 5 degrees overnight, so I'll find out. 

Second, they're TIGHTS. My first outing, I didn't really get them properly in place (ridin' low). And things just didn't feel right until I broke for lunch. Lesson learned. Put them on. Let them stretch a bit and then re-position to get everything into place. Then it's all good.

So, first impression -- good product. Time will tell, but these seem like a worthwhile upgrade. More to follow after Colorado!


05 February, 2014

Ahead of the Game

I'll have some fun with these little guys come Spring...
So, I've set some fun outdoor-related goals in 2014. I've shared a few, but one is surprisingly simple. I really need to tie flies BEFORE the season so I'm well-stocked. Yeah, I can learn things during, but that may just mean a few fill-in colors or patterns. Real, true box stockin' happens before the heat is on.

I got a decent start last Fall. Tied up quite a few swung steelhead patterns before the Fall. And even more in advance of my New York trip. But I totally whiffed on smallmouth season. If you're trying to fill the box with Murdich Minnows in late July, you blew it. That was me.

So, as I look around, I'm pretty well stocked for the rest of Winter and into Spring steelhead. Fair number of swing flies, sh*tloads of eggs, and I buy stones.

Now what? Time to fill the boat box for Mr. Smallmouth in anticipation of the last weekend of April. Come August, time to start thinking about filling the steelhead boxes with more swingers and filling in egg sizes and colors.

This year I'll get ahead of the curve. Really.