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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  In recent years I've even gone in the direction of deliberately seeking out stuff that is vintage and outdated to begin with - remember those old glass rods and antique clickers I've talked about??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!

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