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!