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Monday, April 27, 2015

What's Old is New Again aka "The Pack Rat Syndrome"

Continuing in the spirit of my "cheap skate" story, I was thinking along the lines of how I tend to be a chronic "pack rat" with equipment as well.  Once I buy a piece of equipment, I tend to hold on to it for a long time, sometimes a very long time.  I still own items from my earliest entry into fly fishing, including a Fenwick 7' 5wt glass rod from 1977 that I ordered from the Cabelas catalog when I was a middle school kid on Kauai.  I also still own old Sage RPLs, a Pflueger Medalist, SA System reels,  Thompson A vise, Thompson fly tying scissors, and even an original SA Mastery Steelhead Taper fly line (circa 1991) among many other vintage items from the late 80s/early 90s.

Even after I have bought some newer stuff that has come on the market with the latest technology, I've kept my old stuff "just in case I might need it someday".  In recent years I've even gone in the direction of deliberately seeking out stuff that is vintage and outdated to begin with - remember those old glass rods and antique clickers I've talked about??

Some of my friends are good with maintaining a better balance in life.  For instance my good bud Keith loves buying new gear each season, but he is good with selling stuff whenever he buys new stuff so he does not continually accumulate more gear.  I do sell gear every once in a great while, but only when I feel pretty sure I'll never want or need it again.  Even then, I can agonize over the fear of regretting letting go of something I might miss someday - irrational, I know.

Of course, there are downsides to being a pack rat: stuff keeps accumulating and finding places to put all that stuff becomes problematic - I tend to be a slob anyway and the more stuff I have, the more cluttered things get to be in my house and garage.  This has been a point of ongoing tensions between Wendi and me since Wendi still doesn't understand my fine tuned sense of purpose in the midst of what appears to be a chaotic mess.  If left to my own devices, our house would be one big tangle of fly fishing gear and fly tying stuff laid out everywhere.  If Wendi had it her way, our counters, floors, and living areas would always be clean and clear of ALL clutter.  Luckily, we find a balance somewhere in the middle (actually off middle, more towards Wendi's side if you ask me) and I feel a healthy sense of discomfort if I leave my junk laying around too long, especially if we are expecting company, so I actually do clean up every now and then.

Symptoms of a Pack Rat
Things getting out of control on the kitchen counter, look out
 One of the "advantages" of being a pack rat is that what is old can be new again.  For instance, I started off chasing steelhead in the late 80's/early 90's so I got myself set up with a SA System II 7/8 reel, Sage 9'6" 8wt RPL (built from a blank for affordability) and SA Mastery Steelhead Taper floating fly line in 1991.  I had been inspired by Lani Waller's 3M steelhead videos so I sought to emulate what seemed appropriate steelhead gear a the time.  Even though I possessed what was touted as a good all around steelhead setup, I struggled casting and fishing with this combo.  I practiced my double hauls, but still felt like I was working harder than I should have been.

Sage 896 with Mastery Steelhead taper, circa 1991
Just recently, a guy who goes by "Speyspaz" on Speypages started a thread on revisiting the use of double taper and longer lines and it got me thinking about how the longer lines force one to focus more closely on timing and technique in casting.  I started off with a double taper and Delta/Windcutter lines in my earliest days of speycasting and remembered the joys of those long casts when executed properly.  While I love the short, heavy Ambush lines that I currently use most often, I have to admit, they are somewhat "dummy proof" as they allow for much leeway in errors in timing and anchor placement and where "brute force and ignorance" can get the line out if one's casting skills are limited.

Luckily, starting off with the longer lines had taught me something about timing, technique, and anchor placement.  I've been a self-taught spey caster since I began spey casting in 1995 while I lived in Hawaii.  I spent hours rewinding and replaying Derek Brown's and Dec Hogan's spey casting videos and practiced my casting at boat harbors on Kauai as amused bystanders (both locals and tourists) often gave me funny looks.  Seems I hadn't picked up too many bad habits and my muscle memory survived the past several years of fishing short lines.

Being inspired by Speyspaz's post, I took out my old Sage 9'6" 8wt and Mastery Steelhead Taper (essentially a single hand long belly line) a couple weeks ago.  The old rod and line felt like a brand new outfit as I single hand spey cast the longer line almost effortlessly as I skated for late winter steelhead on a coastal Oregon river.  Why did this old outfit feel new and more "user friendly" now??  It must be that over the years, I've managed to develop stronger casting skills, especially with single hand spey casting, and my skill set and muscle memory finally came closer to matching up with the capability of my outdated tackle.  I had also seen go pro clips of North Umpqua guide Tony Wratney utilizing "pokes" to help with maneuvering the longer line on a single had rod in tight spots and it was so satisfying to be able to problem solve with this outfit as I never had before.

When I took up the two handed rod in 1995, I largely left single hand rods for steelhead behind at that point.  From that time forward, I was totally immersed in the spey culture and never looked back.  Then sometime around 2009/2010, I started seeing posts on a fly fishing message board by a guy named Randy Clark.  This guy was using old glass rods and having a blast using them for bass, trout, and even steelhead. 

The gears in my head started turning and I decided to bust out an old 7'6" 6wt glass rod given to me by my father in law in 1989 while I visited him in Montana.  I put a new inexpensive 6wt WF line on  an old 1494 Medalist and hit the Willamette town run one day in July 2011.  I was fishing a #6 Borden special figuring to split my chances between trout and the unlikely steelhead.  I was on my lunch hour so I hurriedly fished through the top of a riffle.  When I got my cast out to about 30 feet, my line suddenly snapped tight and I felt the surge of a fish that was surely not a trout.  A large silvery flash on the surface told me that I had hooked into a steelhead during brightest part of this clear summer day.  A few blistering runs that nearly spooled the little medalist kept me on my toes during the fight and I was able land this beautiful hen steelhead of about 8-9lbs on the little trout outfit.  I also noted that this steelhead had an adipose fin - one of the few non-finclipped steelhead that come up during the summer season on the Willamette each year.  (They are wild to me, but that's a whole different story).

Old Glass, Pflueger Medalist, and a "Wild" Town Run Steelhead
 After getting that steelhead on that old glass rod, the hunt for more vintage steelhead weight glass rods went on until I accumulated more vintage glass than I could possibly wear out in my lifetime.  Getting these used gems for as little as $40 and seldom more than $90 kept me shopping.  There was even a model I liked so much (a 9' 9wt configuration) that I kept jumping on good deals when I came across them.  I became friends with that fellow Randy Clark who had inspired my interest in old glass through his postings on the fly fishing message board.  I ended up getting another one of those 9' 9wts from Randy Clark for $40 and I got yet another one for $75 off ebay from a guy who lives here in town and who delivered it to my home!

My love affair with old glass continues to this day.  But I have to admit, this was interrupted last year when bamboo rod maker James Reid loaned me a single hand cane prototype for a 9wt line to field test that I just fell in love with.  I never saw myself ever owning a cane rod and thanks to James's kind offer to allow me to field test the rod and seeing how I loved the rod so much, he worked things out so a blue collar guy like me could own such a beautiful piece of steelhead equipment.

I've gone through phases with the equipment that I've used and sometimes, for whatever reason, I take out stuff I haven't used in a while and rediscover the joy and utility of those setups that I was using regularly in seasons past. 

My past few years of steelheading has been dominated by the use of single hand rods and the short, heavy Ambush lines.  However just the other day, I revisted one of my older outfits that I had not used in a while - my Sage 13'6' 8wt and Airflo Delta Spey 8/9 line purchased in 2004.  Using a longer line is a whole different deal compared to fishing short lines, but my muscle memory from my earlier days of speycasting with longer lines came back to me.  The lift, sweep, d-loop/anchor, fire routine and the larger strokes and movements that go with fishing the longer line were a pleasure to execute as I watched the line unfold with my newest pink skater trailing behind for the ride across the river.  I was reminded of the pleasure that comes from fishing big water with longer lines and vowed to air out my longer lines more this season.  I plan to bring out my Sage 9140 brownie (circa 1995) and Windcutter 7/8 soon and I just spooled up my CND 7/8/9 double taper to be put back into use as well.

Sage 8136 IIIe and Airflo Delta Spey 8/9, circa 2004
One thing I've learned is that over the years, when I have gone through various phases of my preferences in steelhead gear, is that I've tended to "overgeneralize" the use of whatever class of gear I've preferred at given times.  For instance when I discovered the two handed rod, I figured they were appropriate for being used everywhere.  I even resorted to squeezing a 14' two handed rod onto a small coastal river.  When I discovered single hand glass rods and the Ambush lines, I also tried to use them everywhere, in rivers both both big and small.  At this point in my journey, I'm learning to match my gear to the water.  Smaller rods for shorter casts on smaller water, maybe switch rods on medium sized water, big rods/longer lines for bigger water and lots of room.  Of course this doesn't mean I can't leave the option open to use whatever setup I'm in the mood for no matter where I happen to be fishing at a given time - that' why it's a good thing that I'm a pack rat so I can cover all those bases!!

 So there you have it, all my rationalizations of why it is worthwhile to be a pack rat.  Your mileage may vary and beware that most spouses won't tolerate this kind of BS, I'm lucky that mine does the best that she can - I am blessed!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cheap Skate

Steelhead caught on inexpensive gear - Echo Classic Rod and old JW Young Beaudex

I gotta admit, when it comes to steelheading gear, I tend to be a "cheap skate".  I believe I may have gone down the road of the frugal initially out of necessity.  I remember when I first got serious about fly fishing in the late 80's, my first yearnings for higher end gear started when I spotted some Sage RPL fly rods on the rack at the old Larry's Sport Center in Tigard, Oregon.  When I wiggle tested those Sages, I was amazed at how light and lively they felt in my hands.  I had to have one, but at the time the $350.00 price tag was way out of my range.

When I did get my hands on higher end rods, I ended up rolling them from blanks so that I could afford them.  My first home built graphite fly rod was a G. Loomis 9' 5wt IMX that Wendi ordered from Cabela's for me as a gift.  I got my wish with owning Sage RPLs, again by rolling them from blanks.  My first Sage RPL was the 896, 9'6" 8wt.  While living in Montana from 93-94', I had also obtained several Sage "factory second" RPL blanks from the River's Edge fly shop in Bozeman, which reduced the cost of my rods even more.  These included the 490 (9' 4wt), 790 (9'7wt), and 279 (7'9" 2wt).  I also built my two Sage two handers (the 9140-4 brownie and 8136-4 IIIe) from blanks and components purchased from Angler's Workshop to put them within range of my budget.

By 2008, the trend in two handers began to go in the shorter direction and I was in the market for a 12'6" 6/7 wt.  By then, makers like TFO and Echo had come on the scene and great two handers at low prices were on the the market.  I read great things about the Echo Classics and I ended up with the 6126 for $270.00.  I liked that rod enough that I purchased the DECHO 6126 when it came out as well and paid just a bit more for a rod with some nicer cosmetics.

In 2011, I discovered the fun of old vintage single hand glass fly rods.  I began regularly shopping on ebay and bought several of these rods until I ended up with a pretty large collection of glass from yesteryear.  I got another one of these rods from a friend and another was on consignment at my local fly shop and I couldn't pass it up.  I paid as little as $40.00 and as much as $150.00 for these outdated wands.  I was having a ton of fun with fishing these relics and I had also discovered the Wulff Ambush fly lines at the same time.  The Ambush lines made single hand spey casting with single hand glass rods smooth and easy.  I found myself fishing these rods for all my steelheading whether skating for summer runs or fishing Winter's Hopes on heavy irons on a dry line in winter.  I also added short lower handles to some of these rods and turned them into mini switches.

Old Glass and Pflueger Medalist

Just last year, I happened to be visiting with a friend who works at our local Cabela's and he mentioned the TLR switch rods were on sale for $79.95.  I gave the 11' 6wt the wiggle test and being the cheap skate that I am, grabbed one one the spot.  After fishing with this rod, I loved it so much, that I ended up grabbing the 11' 6" 7wt and the 11' 7wt before the $79.95 sale ended.  I was simply amazed and continue to be amazed at the performance of these rods, especially for what I paid for them.  I took the 11' 6wt and the 11' 6" 7wt on my trip to BC last fall and used them for the whole trip.

Cabela's TLR and "home repaired" Hardy Perfect with a 33" BC surface steelhead

Many other items in my aresnal of steelhead equipment would be consdered low budget as well.  I've been known to use Pfluger Medalists, SA System reels, JW Youngs and other relatively low cost reels.  I do own one Hardy Perfect, a 3 7/8 narrow drum trout model.  I got this reel at an affordable price due to it being somewhat of a beater, which lots of enamel scraped off, bent winding plate and slightly bent frame that caused some interference during winding.  I was able to fix these issues on my own, giving me my "status" as the owner of a serviceable Hardy Perfect.  All of the other reels I have owned have been "consumer grade" models with modest to lower end price tags even when they were brand new.

I've also been a cheapskate in the wader department.  I've owned my fair share of Cabela's neoprenes purchased for as low as $39.95.  Even at that, I still wore them to shreds until no amount of aquaseal could keep all the major leaks at bay.  The same is true of breathable waders.  The models I've gotten have been under $100, usually much less when found on clearance.  Again, these waders are worn to the point of being nearly completely covered on the inside with aquaseal.

This past year, I finally decided to upgrade my current wader purchase and looked into brands like Simms and Redington.  I was told by some local guide friends that the Redington Sonic Pros were tough as nails, especially at their price point, which was at the low end of the higher grade waders on the market.   In cheapskate style, I found them at an even lower price through a retailer online and have been very happy with them.  Unlike some of my cheaper waders, some of which should come with two tubes of aquaseal and directions that read "coat all seams with aquaseal before using", the Sonic Pros have kept me dry and after a full season, show very little signs of wear.

I'm hard on waders, especially during winter as I bushwack through blackberry bushes, looking for the ideal casting station that will give up a winter chromer and not even my tough Sonic Pros are completely immune to such mistreatment.  As a result, I have some pinhole leaks in the knee areas, but they are not substantial enough for me to search for them and patch them as they are just a bit beyond the condensation that forms inside waders anyway.  One of these days I'll get to that patch job.

The tendency to wear things to shreds and get every last penny's worth out of things applies to all my gear, but is especially apparant with wading shoes.  Of course, I always look for stuff on sale or consumer grade if not.  I've had wading shoes that are worn to the point of literally falling apart - holes on the sides, seams coming apart, soles falling off or held by sheet metal screws or duct tape, etc.

I've already talked about my fishing car so no need to go there, but one get's the point - it doesn't take a lot of cash or high end gear to make me happy in this sport.

I'm just content with being a cheap skate....

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Skating for Rainbows

I'd been driving by a neglected stretch of river near my home for the past few weeks while on work assignments and kept thinking that I needed to get up and wet a line for trout there sometime. I noted that several stretches of river were nice big gravel bar runs and I visioned swinging these runs like I would for steelhead, even knowing there are no steelhead up this way.

My opportunity came today, with my grandson's morning soccer game to watch and the afternoon available to drive to this new to me stretch of river. With the mild conditions and with my twisted mind, I wondered if I could skate some of those resident trout up to the surface. I had some of my yellow stimulator colored foam skaters on hand and hoped that the trout might mistake one for an early golden stone.

I started a the very top of a large gravel bar run and due to the wind, I started off with my 11' 6wt Cabela's TLR switch with a 350 gr Ambush head and mono leader setup. I had a small yellow stimulator "wang" on the line and worked my way down. I was swinging the skater and twitching it gently, just like I do for steelhead. By the time I was about a quarter of the way down the run, I began to question my theory that these resident trout would mistake my foam skater for a golden stone on speed.

Just as I was about to change over to a bead head wooley bugger, a fish attacked the fly and missed. It attacked and again and was on. Hey, my theory worked. I landed this bright little rainbow and it didn't even feel too over powered on my switch rod.

Just as I was hoping for more surface action, they sky darkened and some rain came. I tied on a pair of wooley buggers and got several more trout on a #8 black/olive bugger with copper bead. These fish grabbed on the swing just like steelhead and a few of these fish were pulling line from my clicker instantaneously on the grab - I was having fun!

The sun came back out and so did the skater and a few more surface grabs and another nice rainbow came to hand on the yellow skater.

With the slow winter steelhead season I've been having, it was great to actually be able to catch something and getting these resident trout on the swing and on a skater to boot was refreshing. Discovering these steelhead-like runs which hold nice resident trout will keep me occupied until the local hatchery summer runs show up in fishable numbers.

Attached Images
Big Water
Yellow "stimuwaker" does the job
A Rainbow of a different kind