Archive for the Gear Category

How to own a piece of fly fishing history

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , on September 10, 2016 by stflyfisher

“Ever since I started making fly rods, I wanted to make the finest rods available – not just good rods, but the absolute finest rods available. I truly believe that these are the finest graphite and fiberglass fly rods currently in production, and others are starting to agree. I have put all of my creative talents into designing and building these rods, and I think that my efforts are apparent not just in how they perform, but in how they make you feel. Much like holding a rare cane rod or a fine side by side shotgun, a McFarland fly rod possesses that same magic and resulting feel of wonder and amazement. It is just one of those things that you can’t quite explain; that unmistakable ambiance that surrounds only the very finest objects. When you have one in your hands there is no doubt that you are holding something special.”

Mike McFarland – Owner and Rod Designer, McFarland Rods

Fly fishers looking to own a bit of history, beauty, and excellence need not look any further for the opportunity than an upcoming auction to be held by the BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF. On the auction block is a custom fly rod specifically built to honor Cortland Line Company’s 100th anniversary in business. The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF was fortunate to receive fly rod #5 of 100 from the Cortland Line Company and will auction it off to some very lucky angler. The auction starts with the chapter’s September 22 general meeting

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BC Flyfishers IFFF chapter President, Nick DiNunzio, receives the 100th Anniversary fly rod from Brooks Robinson of the Cortland Line Company.

The 100th Anniversary rod is the quintessential trout rod as you’d expect any fly rod representing a company that’s an innovator in fly lines to be. It measures out at the standard 9 foot in a 4 piece configuration and it’s rated for a 5 weight line – standard trout fare. Best of all, it’s completely handmade, including the graphite blank, by the McFarland Rod Company located in Bellwood, Pennsylvania.

Mike McFarland, McFarland Rod Company’s founder, likes to feature premium components on his handmade fly rods. The handles on all of his rods are turned from the finest quality cork and the guides are hand wrapped and expertly finished. In the case of the Cortland 100th Anniversary rod, the reel seat is a true nickel silver seat by REC. The wood is California buckeye burl with the Cortland logo engraved in it. While Cortland picked the reel seat, McFarland picked the rod wrap color, using gold to give the rod a bit of a nostalgic look…

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The finishes on the 100th Anniversary Cortland Line Company fly rod really stand out…

 

Every rod is hand signed with the marking of the 100th anniversary and serialized…

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Note the nickel silver winding check and hook keeper…

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There are only 100 of these very special rods in the whole wide world…

McFarland designed the Cortland 100th Anniversary Fly Rod to embrace the old and new in fly fishing. While it’s built with modern-day graphite, it has a traditional fly rod feel in terms of its medium action. The rod blank was rolled using a unique composite of varying carbon fibers and features a special ferrule design that not only adds strength but also provides a seamless transition of power from butt to tip. Says McFarland; “The taper design of these rods combines a refined progressive taper and classic action with updated materials and resin system.  The result is an extremely smooth casting rod with great line feel and perfect performance with just a few feet of line out the tips as well as at longer distances.” Indeed, at its very heart, this is a trout rod that does its best work at casting distances in the 15′ to 50′ range. It will make a perfect dry fly rod but will also serve the trout angler well fishing nymphs, wet flies, and streamers.

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Mike McFarland began building fly rods in 1991 as a hobby while he was in high school. He continued building rods while in college, selling them for “beer money” as he explained to me while I interviewed him over the phone. After college, Mike started to build the business and as anglers purchased and used his hand-built rods, word got around and the business grew.

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McFarland’s work in graphite – beauty and performance…

He has made a name for himself in that he not only finishes rods, but also manufactures the blanks. In fact, the bigger part of his business is selling blanks to other rod makers. He produces blanks and finished rods in both fiberglass and graphite.

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A McFarland “butterstick” that surely casts as smooth as glass…

So how would a small rod maker afford the high caliber equipment needed to produce top-notch blanks? The answer circles us back to the very fly rod that’s up for auction.

It turns out Cortland Line Company once purchased the Diamondback Rod Company, based in Vermont, but eventually ended up closing the factory and moving fly rod production offshore. In March 2015, Cortland Line Company President Randy Brown announced that they commissioned McFarland to design and build a special, limited edition fly rod to celebrate Cortland’s 100th anniversary. McFarland had struck up a deal with Cortland to build the 100th anniversary rods in exchange for the Diamondback Fly Rod Company’s rod building equipment, a savvy move and a win-win for Cortland, McFarland, and the very lucky angler who will one day grace the water with a rod as beautiful as the very trout it was designed to catch.

 

A fly rod all my own…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Gear, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on June 8, 2016 by stflyfisher

Fly fishers are blessed with opportunity and not only with all the fly fishing that’s available throughout our great country. This wonderful sport offers participants so many other ways to be involved beyond wetting a line, and these niches, in and of themselves, can become full time fly fishing activities. One look at the fly tying greats and it’s readily apparent that some spend more time fly tying than actually using their flies to fool fish.

Beyond fly tying, fly fishermen can learn how to tie custom leaders and how to make nets, wading staffs, and other wading accessories. They can pursue the art of fly casting or focus on the conservation side of the sport. Entomology is yet another area that can be mastered for those anglers with a scientific bent. And finally, there is the craft of fly rod building.

My own foray into rod building started when my local fly fishing club, the BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF, offered a class on the subject. For $125, the class offered participants a fly rod kit. Most kits were 9 foot, 6 weight, 2 piece kits, but a participant could substitute another rod kit of their choosing, as I did. I purchased a 2 piece, 8 weight, medium fast action PacBay blank in a rich forest green finish. The kit was reasonably priced and with the right components could serve duty as a heavy warmwater river rod, lake rod, and light saltwater rod with saltwater grade components. Rod building materials such as epoxy and varnish, tools such as a basic wrapping station, files, and other items, and free instruction given by a master rod maker over three, 4 hour classes, were also included in the price of the class. The class ended up being one of the best “investments” of money I’ve ever made in the realm of fly fishing, much of it attributed to the outstanding instruction of Joe Swam, BCFF member and professional rod maker.

I’ve documented the details of the class with slideshows on my Examiner.com site where I write as the Binghamton Fly Fishing Examiner, but as an overview, I’ll list the basic rod building process:

  • Finding the spline – a critical step used to determine guide orientation.
  • Installing the grips – this step consists of prep work to allow the cork to seat into position on the rod and then the application of 2 part epoxy to secure the grip in place. Additionally, the reel seat is shimmed for gluing later in the process.
  • Ferrule wrapping – this was just the beginning of a lot of rod wrapping. The ferrules (where rod sections are joined) are a stress point and would break eventually if they are not reinforced by wrapping.
  • Prepping the guides – filing and sanding the guide feet is critical for secure guide placement on the rod blank.
  • Wrapping the winding check and the hook keeper.
  • Spacing, aligning and wrapping the guides. Lining guides up true can be challenging.
  • Prepping and epoxying the reel seat in place and gluing the cap.
  • Setting and expoxying the tip-top guide in place.
  • Wrapping the tip-top guide.
  • Treating the wraps with color preservative (optional) and then finishing the wraps with varnish or epoxy.
  • Adding cosmetic touches such as a decal, measuring wraps, etc.

While the steps don’t look difficult on paper, the “hands-on” of fly rod building takes a bit of doing. It’s easy to say, for example, “ream the cork grip, glue the rod blank, and slide into place”, but a seasoned rod maker like Joe Swam made all the difference by providing the nuances of the process, like the proper fit of the cork grip, how to mix the 2 part epoxy, and how to ream out a little extra flare at the butt end of the cork grip to give the excess glue a place to collect. I cannot imagine doing this the first few times on my own, and I’d highly recommend that anyone interested in building a fly rod take a class in the art of rod making – even a very basic one – before trying it on one’s own.

Building a graphite or glass fly rod is a matter of assembly. The blank is already fabricated and finished, unlike bamboo where a rod maker truly builds the entire fly rod, blank included. And while a master rod maker can build a bamboo fly rod in 40 hours, beginning graphite or fiberglass rod makers will require this amount of time and quite possibly more.

I found that the building process literally “built” upon itself, excuse the pun. Tying that first wrap and doing it well was motivation to repeat the step with the same or better quality.

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Wrapping the rod guides was enjoyable work, and a fine beer seemed to lubricate the process quite nicely…

Certain components, like the cork grip, and stripper guides, spur one on to complete the project as a blank starts to look more like a fly rod.

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Full wells grip assembled in place with the butt end of the blank shimmed for the reel seat.

Raw materials slowly add character. One can feel the rod evolving. And then at last, the beautiful wraps cry out for varnish or epoxy – the rod blank asks for adornment.

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My fly rod benefited from the kharma that “Hemingway On Fishing” provided – the book served as a great thread tensioner…

I followed the advice of Joe Swam who recommended the use of McCloskey’s marine spar varnish for coating of the wraps. The other option was the use of a two part epoxy, which is common in the industry, but Joe prefers varnish for his bamboo rods and feels it is easier and more forgiving for a beginner, yet still makes a great finish for even an expert rod maker such as himself.

With each coat of varnish, the wraps filled and smoothed with glossy goodness. After the final and fifth coat was applied, all that was left to do was to add a custom decal. I kept my inscription pretty simple: my name, “rod maker”, and the length, weight, and action of the rod. After securing the decal, a very simple process, I applied two coats of varnish over the decal and let the rod dry adequately over a few more days.

The finished rod impressed me after a lawn casting session. Naturally, I have some bias, for what father isn’t proud of their “child”, real or otherwise. The rod handled a floating WF line just fine, but it was the way it threw an intermediate sink-tip line and a sinking tip fly line with relative ease that really caught my attention. I noted that my addition of two stripper guides (for a total of four) in place of snake guides may have given it a bit more backbone. After casting, thoughts of fishing big flies on the Susquehanna and even casting for blues and stripers in New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay, swirled in my head.

On May 24th I took my rod to the water for its baptism. Nicknamed “The Golden Bear” for its Vestal school colors of green and gold, I strung it up with an 8 weight intermediate sink tip line and waded downriver. The rod balanced perfectly in my hand.

I cast a #6 streamer across a shallow bay and loved how well I could bomb out long casts. Later I set it p with the sink tip line and worked some deeper water. I caught a number of very nice 18″+ bass that evening and returned a few days later to land a best-of-the-year fish.

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This Susquehanna River smallmouth bass nudged the 20″ measuring wrap – a promise that Hemingway’s kharma was there and would hopefully bless the rod for many more years of great fly fishing.

Rod building has bitten me hard. While I truly cherish my production fly rods, in particular my Scott, TFO, and JP Ross fly rods, among others, the feeling of building and customizing the rod as you truly want, adding touches that identify the rod as wholly your own, and then casting it, fishing it, and finally, feeling the head shake of a good fish – well no fly rod company can sell that…

 

 

 

 

The All-Rounder…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on April 30, 2016 by stflyfisher

You might have heard it as you worked your way up through high school, preparing for college, a profession, or work: “you should go out for track (or band, or the debating club, or…) to be more ‘well-rounded’. Whether that worked out for you or not, there is some merit to the strategy of being a “renaissance man”, so to speak – so much so that a version of the term even eked its way into fly fishing.

The Orvis Company, a giant in fly fishing, began a transition to graphite rods in the early 70’s, thanks to Howard Steere, the superintendent of the Orvis fly rod shop. Steere loved bamboo but had the vision to recognize the potential of graphite as a fly rod blank material. During this era, no company had built a satisfactory graphite fly rod. Orvis eventually came out with their own  and these rods included the Orvis 8’3” All Rounder 7wt. The name of the rod recently caught my eye, especially in light of my parent’s well-meaning lectures to be ‘well-rounded’ in life…

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The Orvis All-Rounder – 8’3″ of versatility…

While there is truly no all-around fly rod, the Orvis All-Rounder is considered by some to be a good attempt at a noteworthy objective in rod design. It is a full-flex rod with great butt strength and a soft tip and because of its design, it has the ability to cast a lot of line or cast short. The rod handles small flies fairly well yet due to its line rating, can throw streamers in the salt. Its short length allows its use in small streams that have close alder growth and cover.

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A description of the All-Rounder found in an old Dan Bailey’s fly fishing catalog…

As I researched the All Rounder, I started to realize how specialized fly fishing product has become. These days one can buy a myriad of fly lines with tapers targeted to specific fish species, casting taper (WF, DT, Intermediate, Sink Tip, etc.,) and even fishing conditions. A recent scan of one online fly fishing store’s inventory showed a Mastery Redfish Warm and Mastery Redfish Cold fly line. Talk about niche fly lines! The same applies to fly rods where the choices must be absolutely bewildering and intimidating for beginners. Material choices have expended and now include bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite, as well as composite blends. The lengths of fly rods range from diminutive 5 foot creek rods to 14 foot spey rods, all offering different cork grip options, reel seats, guide types, ferrule types, and sections, including a return to one piece rods. Actions vary from slow to ultra fast and then there are rods built for specific species or types of fishing, switch rods and nymph rods being recently marketed niches.

And yet, many of the old timers and the greats of fly fishing did just fine without the specialization. Lee Wulff, for example, spent a lifetime pursuing larger fish on lighter tackle and frequently used a one-piece, six foot bamboo rod to catch fish ranging from small stream trout to Atlantic salmon up to 26 lbs!

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I happen to own a Scott G706/3 (7′ 6 weight 3 piece) that is a replica of the fly rod that Scott’s founder, Harry Wilson, first built for Lee Wulff. It supposedly became Lee’s favorite rod and he used it to catch everything from trout to Atlantic salmon to permit.

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None other than Lefty Kreh was interviewed in an excellent video about his fly fishing biography during which he bemoaned the fly fishing industry’s over-pricing of product so that many people – particularly the working class – have not been able to afford to enter the sport of fly fishing. Lefty also discusses fly rods during this video and has an intriguing take on their classification. He breaks down fly rods into 3 categories as follows:

  • Presentation weight – up to 6 weight. These are generaly used for trout fishing where tippet protection is of most importance.
  • Distance weight – 8 to 10 weight. These are used where distance casting and the use of large / heavy flies is common such as with smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike, and carp.
  • Lifting weight – 12 – 14+ weight. Lifting weight rods are almost exclusively used in saltwater fly fishing where the rod’s primary function is to fight and land big fish.

Lefty’s approach would definitely help any beginner angler slim down their choices to a few, rather than pursuing a stuffed quiver of specialized rods such as I now own that fill up an entire corner of my study. And while Lefty doesn’t see much use for transition weight rods (7 and 11 weight), it’s interesting that the All Rounder happens to fall squarely in the gap between presentation and distance categories.

My own start in fly fishing began with the purchase of a St Croix Pro-Ultra 9 foot 5/6 weight 2 piece fly rod. I bought it at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store for $99.00. This rod served me well until I began to read fly fishing magazines and then fell under the product trance they sometimes cast. It wasn’t long before I started purchasing higher end specialty rods under the auspices that they would somehow make me a better angler. It’s ironic that even now, with some very good yet high priced rods in my stable, I’ll pull out the St Croix…

So, I’m on the verge of taking action on the goal of fly fishing for a year with some sort of “All Rounder”, just to see. I’m certainly no Lee Wulff or Lefty Kreh, but maybe fly fishing with one rod could be a good thing. Maybe it would force me to focus on improving my skills, rather than relying on new fly rod design and technology to bolster me up. And quite possibly it would then put a halt to expanding my inventory of fly rods, putting a smile on the wife, reducing credit card debt, and making a seller’s presence on eBay? Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

The Seiko 5…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 9, 2016 by stflyfisher

In 1968, the Seiko watch company had a great idea for a watch that would surely appeal to a mass market. The company decided to make a watch that had 5 key attributes: 1) Automatic winding, 2) Day / date displayed in a single window, 3) Water resistance, 4) Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position, and 5) Durable case and bracelet. The watch was originally titled the Sportsmatic 5, but all watches that have these very basic characteristics are considered “Seiko 5’s”.

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A classic Seiko 5 – everything that makes a good watch…

From the start, the Seiko 5 was designed to reinvent watch performance and to bring to the 1960’s generation a watch that belonged to the age and that fitted into their lives. As perhaps never before, the Seiko 5 needed to be a watch that could go anywhere and everywhere and therefore it had to be very durable. To be durable, the watch needed to be impervious to water and shock.

Water resistance was built in as standard to every Seiko 5 watch, and metal bracelets were used so that, from “buckle to buckle”, the watch was resistant to water and sweat. Shock resistance was assured with two Seiko inventions. First, the mainspring was made from “Diaflex,” an unbreakable alloy, and the “Diashock,” system was created to protect the movement from shock within the case.

Legibility was the next vital attribute. Today, it’s taken for granted that day and date are presented in a single window but, in fact, this was an idea built into the Seiko 5 to enhance the legibility of the dial. The genius was to create a unique system that allowed both day and date to be shown in one plane.

The final challenge was to create a distinctive look that defined the brand. Thanks to the extraordinary Seiko invention of the ‘Magic Lever,’ the winding efficiency of Seiko 5 is very high, and the wearer rarely needs to use the crown. So the designers made it smaller and hid it under the lip of the case at 4 o’clock, giving Seiko 5 its signature look.

Inside these watches beat several different movements. The 7S26 features 21 jewels while some improved versions feature 23 jewels (the 7S36, for example).  The caliber 7S25 automatic movement is featured in watches where only the date is displayed. All of these movements beat at a rate of 21,600 bph (beats per hour).

There are currently many versions of this great watch in the marketplace. They range from basic “beaters” to sports watches…

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A military green version of the Flieger (German for pilot) Seiko 5

I own a black-faced Flieger and it’s been a steady companion around the house, in the yard, on walks, and while fishing.

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The glass back casing reveals the simple but reliable inner workings of the Seiko 5’s automatic movement.

The Seiko 5 does a lot of things well and that is its genius. In fact, if I was asked to wear only one watch that was reasonably priced (< $150, and some can be found as low as $50), this would be the one.

And besides being easy on the wallet, most Seiko 5’s are also easy on the eyes, light on the wrist, and feature luminescent hands and dials. What you won’t get with a Seiko 5 are features like hacking, manual wind, extreme water resistance via a screw down crown, or a bezel.

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A dressy version of the Seiko 5

For fly fishing and general fishing use, I prefer the Seiko Monster, which I posted about in this blog some time ago. The Monster is essentially a Seiko 5 on steroids, and features incredible ruggedness, reliability, and superior water proof qualities, at an albeit higher price. It is a not-so-distant cousin of the Seiko 5, though much heavier on the wrist.

For everyday use, reasonable cost, and a great all-rounder of a watch, it’s hard to beat the Seiko 5. And even if you do slip on the Monster for on-water fly fishing duties, you’ll be glad to have the humble Seiko 5 when drinks are served back at the lodge…

 

In like a lion…

Posted in Gear, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on March 2, 2015 by stflyfisher

So it is said, however the month of March comes in, it will go out exactly the opposite. In like a lion, as in bad weather, means one should expect a gentle, lamb-like, exit to the month. And the start of March seemed very much lion-like on the eve of my 56th birthday this year. I planned to trek south to Lancaster, PA to attend The Fly Fishing Show as well as visit Cabelas and the TCO fly shop in nearby Reading.

I was on a mission to look at some switch rods. Several of the rods and brands I was interested in were either at the show or at one of the retailers nearby. And the one I had the most interest in, a JP Ross Trib switch rod, might be on hand at the Tailwater Lodge booth at the show. Tom Fernandez kindly said he’d try to have some available though he himself wouldn’t be at the show.

So I woke up early Sunday morning and with coffee at my side, looked bleary-eyed at weather.com. I had every intention of leaving at 6 am so I could get a full day of browsing and shopping in, but the weather forecast was pretty shady for starting off in the dark. It was snowing heavily already, and the forecast was for more of the same for the next few hours. I figured I’d wait for light and then hit the road.

I left around 8 am and drove down Grippen Hill without too much of a problem even though the roads were not plowed. I passed a guy coming up the steepest section – his Corolla was at a slipping crawl. That was the first moment of many where I began to question my judgement.

Being an early Sunday, the likelihood of plowing activity was not good but I thought, optimistically, the highways should be clear. I was soon on Route 17 West and found the highway in pretty poor shape. The slow lane was clear with tracks – the fast lane was completely snow-covered. But I continued on despite it all…

I made Lancaster by noon. A fine and historic town I must say. Everywhere it seemed there was brick, colonial architecture, narrow roads, plaques speaking to history…

Lots of old brick in Lancaster - charming, but slippery after freezing rain and sleet...

There’s lots of old brick in Lancaster and it’s charming. Just beware the brick and stone sidewalks after freezing rain and sleet…

After parking, I walked to the convention center through pelting sleet and snow. I walked carefully, then decided to take a covered walk that was two steps down from the sidewalk. Wrong move – feet up in the air – followed by back, elbow, and stone stairs all colliding at once. Oh, I got up fast enough, like a pro boxer unexpectedly knocked down by an underdog. I brushed myself off and headed into the convention center entrance wondering if anyone saw me.

The convention was nice. I’ve been told the Somerset version of The Fly Fishing Show is better, but this was a first visit for me so I was impressed with what I saw. I walked around to get the lay of the land. I saw Bob Clouser, Joe Humphreys, Lefty Kreh, and George Daniel. I stopped at some of the fly tying booths, gawked at all of the fly rods and reels. I breathed it all in and thought of spring fly fishing.

The casting seminars were great. I was particularly intrigued with the casting demonstration of Joe Humphreys. He MC’d every cast, threw in puns and jokes, and made it a lot of fun to watch. It was all about simplicity and just watching him made it all seem so easy.

Joe Humphreys and a beautiful brown trout.

Joe Humphreys and a beautiful brown trout. Picture courtesy of the Lackawanna Chapter of TU

Fly tyer Safet Nikocevic was on hand. He ties some beautiful Caddis nymphs that I had read about in a fly fishing magazine. So was Mike Hogue of Badge Creek Fly Tying – a great local fly tyer, fly fisherman, and retailer.

Safet Nikocevic at the vise...

Safet Nikocevic at the vise…

As I walked around I finally spied the Tailwater Lodge booth. Two nice ladies were at the booth, but I saw no fly rods. I was expecting a rod rack and possibly some other gear but the exhibit was only about the lodge.

Tailwater Lodge offers some great accommodations on the banks of the Salmon River. The reps at the booth were as accommodating as this picture suggests...

Tailwater Lodge offers some great accommodations on the banks of the Salmon River. The reps at the booth were as friendly and welcoming as this picture suggests…

After a few laps of the exhibits, I thought I’d better at least ask about whether the rods had made it down to Lancaster. I approached the booth and before even opening my mouth to inquire, I was immediately greeted with, “Oh we have two rods for you…”. I assembled both rods, gave them a wiggle, and admired their beautiful fit and finish.

The JP Ross Trib Switch Fly Rod...

The JP Ross Trib Switch Fly Rod… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

It’s not a first for me, being a JP Ross fly rod owner. I purchased a Beaver Meadow 7 foot 4 weight 2 piece years ago and was utterly impressed. I soon put the rod to good use on the creeks and small streams of the Southern Tier.

A nice little Cayuta Creek brown thanks to JP Ross and a Picket Pin wet fly...

A nice little Cayuta Creek brown thanks to JP Ross and a Picket Pin wet fly…

I also purchased a workhorse of an 8 weight that has done double duty for smallmouth bass and steelhead.

A nice smallie that inhaled a double bunny streamer. Delivery courtesy of a 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross fly rod...

A nice smallie that inhaled a double bunny streamer. Delivery courtesy of a 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross fly rod…

This switch rod is designed primarily for trib fishing for browns, rainbows, steelhead and salmon. I plan on putting it to work on the Salmon River this spring for hungry dropback steelhead.

Two JP Ross Trib Switch rods, ready for duty...

Two JP Ross Trib Switch rods, ready for duty… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

Beauty and the beast. I've found these rods to be both beautiful to own and sturdy fishing tools...

Beauty and the beast. I’ve found these rods to be both beautiful to own and very sturdy fishing tools… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

After going over the rods thoroughly, I knew I couldn’t walk away. They felt too good in my hand. The Salmon River called to me and I decided to bring the 8 weight home.

I spent a little more time at the show but decided I best leave by 3 pm. I was advised by Mike Hogue that the bad weather was not letting up. So with rod tube, fly tying supplies and other miscellaneous tackle in hand, I set out for a long drive home. A 3 hour drive gradually lengthened to 6 hours – 6 steering wheel death-gripping hours, with my side still hurting like hell. Cars littered the side of the highway – snow plows came out in force. Darkness overtook the light. I drove on, just wanting to get home.

I finally got to the base of Grippen Hill, and after looking up a steep climb, the road deep with virgin snow, decided that March had indeed roared in like the King of the Beasts. After a long bitterly cold winter, it seemed like spring was ages away, not a mere 21 days. At least tradition promised a lamb on the other side.

 

 

 

The things I carry…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on September 21, 2014 by stflyfisher

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending on a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.

The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien

 

In the movie Platoon, there’s a scene where the young, battle-seasoned Sergeant Elias checks the packs of his new grunts (Chris and Gardner) and pulls out, one by one, what they were instructed to carry in boot camp, but what they wouldn’t need in the jungles, swamps and mountains of Viet Nam. These things, after all, have to be ‘humped’ as a grunt would say, and weight in that hot and steamy environment could snuff the life out of any fighting man.

Grunts humping 60 - 80 lbs or more of gear into the bush of Viet Nam...

Grunts humping 60 – 80 lbs or more of gear into the bush of Viet Nam…

I think of this scene every time I pack my vest for fishing. What do I really need? What can I expect on the water? What do I need in order to fish safely? Will I be equipped for the weather? Will I be equipped for the fishing?

I typically pack tubs – one each for the type of fishing I do – a warmwater river tub, a tub for the trout streams of the Catskills, a tub for trout creeks, a smaller tub with pond gear, a tub for the salt…  So before I head out to “the bush”, I’ll take the appropriate tub and pack it in my car along with my wading gear, my rod and tackle, and my vest. I’ll carry these things in my vest, in my fishing shirt, or around my neck and on my wading belt:

  • Bottle(s) of water
  • Cell phone
  • Waterproof watch
  • Rain jacket
  • Wading staff
  • Toilet paper
  • Tippet spools
  • Lanyard with nippers, tie-fast knot tying tool, forceps, leader straightener, small triangular file
  • Thermometer of IR water temp gauge
  • NY State Fishing License
  • Extra reels and/or spools
  • Landing net
  • Split shot
  • Indicators
  • Leader wallet
  • Rigged fly rod / reel
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen, lip balm
  • Fishing hat
  • Extra clothing and/or gloves (weather dependent)
  • Heat tabs (weather dependent)
  • Fly boxes (fishing dependent)
  • Topo map
  • Lunch / snacks

I can fill out a vest pretty well, and all of that has to be humped, sometimes good distances, while wading. I won’t pretend that it is anywhere near the weight hauled by a grunt in Viet Nam. And in almost all cases, there’s no threat of being shot, but still…

Some of the things I carry on the West Branch of the Delaware...

The things I carry on the West Branch of the Delaware…

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, also writes about the weight that soldiers “humped” in Viet Nam. He gets pretty technical very early in his writing – spouting off military acronyms for all sorts of weaponry and gear – most of which I recognized from my own military experience and my fascination with military history. But the real story he writes is about the other things the men carried and the things that truly weighed them down – their worries, their fears, superstitions, girlfriends, troubles back home… In the face of battle, staring at death, scared out of one’s wits, a man faces what is truly essential, and I suppose after such experiences, is cleansed of what truly doesn’t matter. But then again, those very experiences added weight to their drooping shoulders on the way home, if they made it home. As we are seeing now, much of that does come home. O’Brien writes a chapter about one soldier he served with who survived the war in Viet Nam, but sadly, not at home.

I will admit that I carry some of those things too when I head to the water. I try to fish without weight, but sometimes the matters of daily life jump on. I may be swinging a wet fly, dead drifting a nymph, or stripping a streamer only to have work, family, or other worries grab onto my line and claw their way up to my very being. But I will also say that fishing often dissipates the very darkness that intrudes. The wondrous scenes of nature – an eagle flying overhead, a mink slipping along the bank of a river, the autumn colors of trees, the rush of water, the incredible camo of a smallmouth bass, the green of the back and the rose of the side of a rainbow trout brought to net, the throb of the head shake, the jump a fish gives for freedom…

I have carried many burdens as all of us do. But fly fishing is often the outlet that vaporizes them.  The tug on a line is magic to me. And has saved me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Salmon River Conversion to Darn Tough Socks

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on January 19, 2014 by stflyfisher

In a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” – a Southern Tier Fly Fisher favorite – Forrest and his good friend Bubba are introduced to Lt. Dan Taylor, their platoon leader. Lt Dan, as he is referred to by Forrest, is a pretty straight-forward type of military leader who instructs his “FNG’s” in a few basic essentials on his way to visit the hooch. Among his words of advice is the following:

“There is one item of G.I. gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks. Cushioned sole, O.D. green. Try and keep your feet dry. When we’re out humpin’, I want you boys to remember to change your socks whenever we stop. The Mekong will eat a grunt’s feet right off his legs.”

LtDansocks

Most of us anglers have some idea of the importance of Lt Dan’s advice. Socks can make a huge difference to the fly fisherman, particularly in cold weather. For soldiers in combat, proper foot-wear is even more critical. Trench foot may be the best example of what happens when soldiers don’t take care of their feet in the field. Caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions, it can be prevented by keeping the feet clean, warm and dry. Trench foot was first noted during the retreat of Napoleon’s army from Russia but it was the horrid conditions of the trenches in World War I that brought it to the attention of the medical profession. A key preventive measure that was implemented during that time was regular foot inspections by officers. It was also encountered in WWII, and in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Trench foot even made a reappearance in the British Army during the Falklands War of 1982. The causes were the same: cold, wet conditions and insufficiently waterproof boots.

A WWII GI with a bad case of trench foot.

A WWII GI with a bad case of trench foot.

So feet, it turns out, are of high interest to the military to this very day. A work colleague of mine recently told me of his time in the Marine Corps – where he and his platoon would do forced marches and then be told to sit down roadside and remove their boots and socks for a foot check by a navy corpsman…

uncover... feet!

Foot inspections – a preventive measure…

The lesson learned through all of these wars is the same: take care of your feet by wearing good quality socks and change them as often as necessary…

When it comes to good quality socks, there’s a pretty big selection out on the market these days. One could purchase a pair of authentic Vietnam-era socks, the very socks Forrest Gump would have worn in the Mekong Delta, for example.

Straight from ebay...

Straight from Ebay…

The socks pictured above are the real deal – original unissued Vietnam era olive drab green, wool cushion sole socks made of a mixture of wool, nylon & cotton material and available on Ebay for the nostalgic fly fisherman. While wool is a great material for its wicking and drying capabilities, the use of cotton these days is a big no-no. Cotton tends to absorb moisture, saturate quickly, and dry slowly – a perfect recipe for blisters and worse!

Forrest, Bubba, Tex, Cleveland, Phoenix, Detroit, Dallas, and Lt. Dan would have been a whole lot better off with today’s sock which include advanced synthetics and fine grades of wool, such as merino (click here for some good writing on the topic of merino wool and here for the general topic of dressing for cold weather).

So what would I recommend to these men or anyone venturing forth in the cold and damp? Darn Tough is the brand of sock I like. I was sold on them after spending a rather bitter winter afternoon watching my son play hockey up in Pulaski, NY, where the indoor rink temperature seemed colder than it was outside! I stood there in full shiver along with the other hockey parents – all of whom were doing the same – with one exception. Rich, who works as a NYSEG Lineman, seemed unaffected by the arctic air. He watched the game without one shake from the cold. By the end of the first period, stepping out to the concession area for hot coffee, I had to ask…

“I always used to get cold feet” he confided to me  when asked why he appeared Eskimo-like in the midst of Frigidaire conditions. As a lineman, he explained, he was frequently up in the bucket in some pretty bad weather. And he was tired of being miserable because of his feet. He searched a while for a better sock, and found them in Darn Toughs. He added that they were pricey, but the company claimed free replacement for any reason, forever. He’d yet to have to take one back – they were as hardened to wear as their label suggested.

Needless to say, I decided to give these socks a try, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I’ve been a loyal customer ever since, even buying them for my daughter who often tends the playground in Syracuse winters as a teacher’s aide. There are other brands out there, such as SmartWool, Under Armor, and Icebreaker. These are good options, but I happen to like Darn Tough’s just fine. The price tag is on the hefty side for a sock, but it’s nice knowing they’re the only sock you’ll ever need to own. Your feet will surely thank you.

Ever since my Salmon River conversion, I always let my friend Rich know how darn good his Darn Toughs are. He just smiles, asking if I’ve hooked anyone else on the brand. Turns out he finally wore a pair through. “They took them back and replaced them free of charge, just as promised”. Try a pair – they may just be the only pair of socks you’ll ever need.