Sling Packs

The fly fishing vest has been the garment that for decades marked someone as a fly fisher. Originally made of cotton canvas, the short-waisted vest with its many pockets was as distinctive as the fly rod and reel.

Over time, the hot canvas vests gave way to lighter, cooler vests made of nylon fabric or mesh. But for many, the vests were still confining or tended to induce carrying too much for a day’s fishing.

Recent years have seen the increasing use of waist packs or sling packs, with the vest, if still owned, relegated to the back of a closet. I gave mine away.

Most of the gear manufacturers have sling packs. Over the last few years I’ve spent time, and money, trying packs from Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms (pre 2014 models).

I found the Simms pack the least comfortable and useful to me. It was more like a waist pack with a sling, rather than a true sling pack. Simms is revamping their line for 2014 and a true sling pack appears to be coming. From what few pictures I’ve seen it looks rather interesting.

Patagonia’s Stealth Atom Sling is an interesting pack that has good size, a water bottle carrier, drop down hard pocket and a nice waterproof internal sleeve. I liked this pack though it has a few quirks I didn’t care for. There is a small padded pocket on the neck strap that has no utility that I can find – too small for sunglasses or a cell phone. The pack itself has a number of places to clip on forceps and other tools. I like things put away so I don’t knock them off – and have done that with forceps on more than one occasion.

Patagonia Stealth Atom

And that brings me to my current favorite sling pack: the Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack. It has two features I really like and make it stand out for me: it has a sleeve forceps on the neck strap; in addition, there’s a sleeve for pliers on the main bag. Both sleeves are secured with magnetic closures. The pack has two pockets that enable me to carry all that I need and not more. It doesn’t have a water bottle pocket (the large Guide Sling does), but I can work around that. And it doesn’t have a waterproof inner sleeve; I bought a waterproof sleeve and that takes care of that need.

Orvis Sling Pack

Give one of them a try.

On the Beach: The Fukushima 21st Century Version

One of my favorite movies is On the Beach.  Released in 1959, it is a post-apocalyptic story of a group of people in Australia waiting for a radiation cloud to spread over them after a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere.

But this is not a summer blockbuster about radioactive monsters or mutants. This is a movie about people finding love and redemption in the everydayness of ordinary life as they cope with the coming reality.  I won’t discuss the plot – see it for yourself. I will only say one of the final scenes of the movie where a submarine sails from port as the soundtrack plays the Australian ballad “Waltzing Matilda” is one of the more haunting movie scenes ever.

I raised this movie because we on the west coast of North America face our own On the Beach moment – maybe we have already. I’m talking about the past, present, and future releases from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disasters on March 11, 2011. And in the worst case scenarios, maybe the majority of the people on Earth face the same moment.

Though government officials in both the United States and Canada continue to minimize the degree of exposure and risks in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami when three plants had complete core meltdowns, each new revelation is more frightening,

Recent reports have indicated the radioactive plume of water will hit the northwest coast of North America starting in early 2014. Some oceanographic simulations conducted in Spain predict that while the radiation will begin arriving then the levels of radiation will be much lower than in the waters surrounding Fukushima. Other studies by German oceanographers suggest a three-year plume event – again with lower levels of radiation.

Does that mean the days of eating salmon are over?  In the worst case that might not even matter.

I think the governments of the United States and Canada may have misrepresented (in not lied) about the amount of radioactive fallout hitting the west coast of both countries in the days following the earthquake and tsunami when the cores melted – but it may take years to know how much radiation exposure there was (to be determined by the rates of cancer).

And the mixing of a radioactive plume in the wide basin of the Pacific Ocean means perhaps a significantly lower concentration of radioactive water on the shores of the Olympic peninsula and other coastlines in North America. Still it gives pause to think that the days of eating salmon and walking the coastline may be coming to an end for years, if ever.

Even more frightening is the announcement this week that Tepco (the plant operator) has been given permission to remove the fuel rods from the spent fuel pool in Plant Number 4. The issue is that the building in which the fuel rods are stored is crumbing and the rods themselves are in an uncertain state. Without going into all the technical details, the rods are clad in a chemical element (zirconium) that burns if exposed to air. If there is a collapse of rods or the building, fuel rods would begin to burn. The impact of burning fuel rods grow to apocalyptic levels based on how bad the fire is and how far it spreads to other areas of the Fukushima plant – starting with a need to evacuate large areas of Japan (if not the entire country) and growing to a highly radioactive cloud of a dust spreading over the entire northern hemisphere.

This is serious stuff and not to be ignored by concerns about Kabuki-theater politics or what NFL game is hot this week.

You can begin reading more here.


Winston Offers Online Joan Wulff Instructional Videos

Winston Rods has just released the first six parts of a planned ten-part instructional online video series called One on One with Joan Wulff.

Joan Wulff is a member of Winston’s Pro Staff Advisory Team, and is one of the greatest fly casters of all time. She has published books (Joan Wulff’s Fly Casting Accuracy, Joan Wulff’s Fly Fishing, Joan Wulff’s Fly-Casting Techniques, Joan Wulff’s New Fly-Casting Techniques) and videos (Joan Wulff’s Dynamics of Fly Casting: From Solid Basics to Advanced Techniques)  and is the founder of the Wulff School of Fly Fishing on the Beaverkill River in New York State. She is deservedly revered for her passion for the sport of fly fishing; her since interest in those she meets and instructs, and the class and grace she demonstrates in the way she lives.

This first set of five contains the following lessons:

1. Introduction
2. The Casting Stroke
3. The Roll Cast
4. The Basic Cast
5. Creating the Loop
6. Timing and Other Variables

Each video is short (less than four minutes), but is filled with tips and insights that will be valuable to both beginners and more experienced fly casters.

You can get to the videos here.

Orvis On Sale at Fishwest: Economies of Scale At Work

Fishwest is one of the biggest internet fly fishing retailers. For years, they have sold gear from all the big names (e.g., Patagonia, Simms, Sage, Winston, and many others). I had posted earlier (see here) about the economies of scale emerging in the retail fly fishing market. That post included discussion of the merger of Fishwest with Missoula-based Grizzly Hackle Holdings.

Today I got an email from Fishwest announcing that it was carrying Orvis. I checked and they appear to have a good selection of Orvis gear including the Helios 2 (many but not all rods in the series). I did notice their Mirage reels and Silver Sonic waders were not currently available.

That was a bit of a surprise as Orvis has its own distribution channels, including its own stores, a network of fly shops that carry their gear, and their own internet store. I was more than a bit surprised.

Who wins the most with this announcement? I think Orvis wins – maybe not big to start, but over time it’ll be huge as it gives them significant visibility and another distribution channel in the west and west coast of the United States. It seems to me this is part of a much bigger strategy.

Orvis has been out west for a long time, with many stores, endorsed guide and lodge operations, and dealer network. (We have an outstanding Orvis store in Bellevue that is highly regarded for its outreach on fly fishing and fly fishing education.) At the same time it has been viewed by many in the west as a stodgy east coast business with sometimes good but not great fly gear, dog beds and traditional if affected clothing.

But the truth is that much of their current fly gear is as good as anything anyone else is making (and so are some of their dog beds). The Helios 2 is properly regarded by many reviewers as among the very best rods for sale today.

Given the size of the retail fly fishing market (see here), roughly $750 million annually, it’s clear – particularly if the fears of a declining population of fly fishers are realized – that any brand (and Orvis is a brand just as much as a Sage or a Winston are) must not settle on existing market share if they are to survive and prosper.

Orvis has clearly demonstrated over the last few years a resurgence by a new freshness in design, a young set of designers (if their videos are accurate representations), and a willingness to change the game in how it does business. I think they want to produce the best gear they are capable of producing and they want to reestablish themselves as the leader in areas such as rods, reels, and waders.

I also think Grizzly Hackle Holdings/Fishwest wins big. They are bringing on a brand with market presence and share, lots of advertising, high volume catalog mailings,and an extensive network of schools, guides, and lodges endorsed by Orvis. The more advertising there is for Orvis, the more chance they will win additional business selling Orvis products.

Does anyone lose on this? I think that remains to be seen.

But certainly the move of Orvis into a new distribution channel demonstrates a refreshing break with the past. Other equipment makers – particularly rods, reels, and waders – likely need to think about a world where Orvis is more visible and is offered in a big way outside their historic way of selling their gear.

Bob Triggs’ The Secret Season

Bob Triggs, Olympic Peninsula Guide and flycasting instructor, reprised an article he first shared on the late Doug Rose’s blog several years ago. Bob’s take on fishing for sea run cutthroat trout is timely as ever. Excellent insights and tips. Read his article “The Secret Season” here.

Into Darkness: Setting Back the Clock

Early yesterday I went to my favorite beach for a morning session chasing sea run cutthroat trout. I like this beach on the ebb where I’ve had consistent success, but decided to give it a try on the flood.

The forecast was calling for rain later in the morning and cold (in the mid-forties) so I was dressed in my warm shelled insulator pants and my hooded Nano Puff jacket. With my rain coat and waders on, I knew I’d be warm.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how dark it was at the beach. Over the last months, even when leaving the house there were the first fingers of light in the eastern sky. But this is late October and that wasn’t to be. I got dressed in a light drizzle and had walked down along the sea wall to the entrance near the bridge before it was apparent that daylight, however gray, was starting to emerge.

I started working the beach as I typically did. It didn’t take long to relearn the obvious: wading on the flood is different. And that difference extends beyond the direction the tidal current is flowing.

A couple of times I found myself in waters that were deeper than I remembered on that beach, and I slowly worked my way back closer to the beach. Beach fishing is about moving, and wading along a beach there are the shallower points and the deeper holes around those points. Without paying attention, it’s too easy to wade out or deeper than is advisable as I found yesterday.

Fishing for sea run cutthroats is not about deep wading – the fish generally are closer to the beach and going no more than knee depth is sufficient. So I was able to stay in relatively shallow water and cast parallel to the beach, in imitation of the sculpin that inhabit the zone.

That technique worked in the past here, but not yesterday. For the record, I got skunked. No strikes or landed fish.

As I was fishing the wind came up and the rain started in earnest – more reminders that this is now the season for warmer insulation, rain coats, warm hats, and even gloves.

There was another reminder yesterday too. After I got home I checked the tides for next Sunday and noticed the time of sunset seemed odd. It took me a moment to realize that next Sunday is when we shift back to standard time. Sunset will be at 4:49 PM – giving Puget Sound less than 10 hours of sunlight.

Fishing for the next four to five months can be expected to be increasingly cold, wet, and – with morning or evening fishing – dark. On the other hand, fewer fly fishers venture out during the winter months so there should be plenty of solitude.

And there’s still hope for another month or so of sunny weather – however chilly.

Retooling the Rod Inventory: Considering the Orvis Helios 2 8-Weight

Orvis Helios 2 8 Weight

I’ve had a long affection and appreciation for Winston rods. For years I admired the reputation and mystique of the Winston brand. I’ve owned a 5 weight BIIIX for over three years that I used on the Cedar and Yakima rivers. I loved its beautiful green color, the build quality, the soft tip that allowed flies to gently fall on the rivers, and its general fishing ability.

When I started fishing in the saltwater fisheries of Puget Sound, anticipating the wind, I jumped on what was then the newly released faster BIII-SX in a 9’ 6” 6 weight. I liked casting the rod and found it a bit stiffer than the BIIIX but nonetheless a fine fishing rod.

A six-weight rod is more than enough rod for the sea run cutthroat trout and resident Coho salmon of Puget Sound. But I wanted to go after the migrating cousins (Coho/silvers and pinks) and that meant an 8-weight.

Given it was saltwater fishing my immediate and obvious conclusion was the BIII-SX in a 9-foot 8 weight. I got a chance to do more than a bit of lawn casting with it and…I really didn’t like it.

I tried casting it with a Rio Outbound Short (8-weight); a Rio Outbound (8 weight); and an Airflo 40+ (9 weight). It was an exasperating experience. I didn’t feel as I could get the road to load for me in a way I would have expected with an 8 weight. I tried varying my cast in stroke length, timing, and power application. Nothing I did made me feel like I was getting to the Winston sweet spot I could find with the 6-weight.

I was disappointed. It may have been the rod in that weight is too fast for my casting abilities. I’ve begun working on my double haul and sometimes get a rough approximation of one. So, I certainly think that my technique needs improvement. But still, I started to think I was too restricted in my thinking about rod brands.

Not really ever feeling love for Sage rods, which may be blasphemy for someone living in Washington, I decided to check out Orvis – after reading a lot of the buzz over the last year or so about the Helios 2.

I was first able to get my hands on a 9’ 6” 6 weight (saltwater with fighting butt). If nothing else, I figured I could get a feel for how the at least one rod in the series casts and fishes.

My first impression was that it was lighter that the BIII-SX in the same weight¬ – turns out it was half an ounce, and I was surprised I could feel the difference. While I was checking the 6 weight differences, I looked and found the Helios was over an ounce lighter in 8-weight (for the 9 foot rod).

It’s not the beautiful Winston green, but a refined midnight blue; . The reel seat is attractive with a skeleton frame surrounding what is advertised as woven graphite; it’s good looking! (I did see the rod tube, and well…to each his own).

Enough about aesthetics. How did it cast?

Well and this was almost not a surprise given the praise heaped on it by most of the reviews I’ve read, it was a great casting rod. Light in hand and light in swing. I found it easy to shoot line; at the same time it was easy to accurately cast with only several feet of line and leader beyond the rod tip.

Comparing rods, even when switching back and forth between my BIII-SX and the Helios 2, is always subjective based on perception as much as observation of casts. But I’m prepared to say that I liked casting the Helios 2 much more than the BIII-SX. I had the sense my casts were straighter and more confident than with the BIII-SX.

Of course, not all rods in a series are the same. Often one-rod weight and length will be terrific; then moving up or down to another weight and it’s difficult to believe they are from the same series – as I noted with the BIII-SX above.

But I’ve found the rod I want to look at for my 8-weight. If it casts anywhere near as well as the 9’ 6” 6-weight, the crew from Vermont will be getting my business.

And now what to do about the 6-weight?

Money not growing on trees or being the latest lottery winner, it’s difficult to conceive of having two premium rods of the same weight and length. And even a justification of having a backup when a rod needs repair (as I had with a broken tip on the BIII-SX this summer) is a bit of a stretch.

So I’ll keep the BIII-SX for now and get the Helios 2 in 8-weight. After that, something may be going on sale on eBay. And more important, I need to get some additional casting coaching and instruction.

October – Reflecting on the Change of Seasons and Journey’s End

Harvest Time

Everyone has their favorite season and month. For me, it’s autumn and October.

It may have started while I was growing up where autumn, and particularly October, was the break between two unpleasant seasons. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, summers were what were “90 and 90” – 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 percent relative humidity. Winters were cold with the periodic St. Louis specialty of ice storms. Autumn was a time for transition from one extreme to the other.

October, in particular, was a month of warm days and cool nights. It was a season of many things: jackets for early mornings and late afternoons and evenings; a time for football; a time for family drives out into the country to see the baled hay and harvested fields; and a time for the cool nights that lead to the leaves changing from a palette of greens to brilliant reds and yellows.

But there is more to October than Halloween and the promise of Thanksgiving within a month.

October and autumn are a time for adults. After the long days of summer, hours of daylight begin to dramatically reduce. Patterns of sunlight and shadow appear that at first are unfamiliar after the long bright days of summer, but then there is the comfortable recollection of having seen them before. Many breezes may still be warm, but then there are the days that bring the chilling whisper that alerts our senses that winter will soon arrive.

October as the month of harvest also marks for those of us on the Northwest coast the transition in the salmon runs. The Lake Washington sockeye salmon run is long past The Chinook salmon and pink salmon (the latter in odd numbered years) runs have come and gone. The Coho salmon (silver salmon) have begun to wind down – at least the non-resident salmon.

The chum salmon have begun to arrive and the start of the winter steelhead run is now measured in weeks. But in the main, the life history of this generation of salmon is about to come to an end as they complete their life mission and plant the seeds of a future generation.

Fishing in Puget Sound to me is more than about recreation. It is to share the waters of a life cycle that goes back thousands of years. It is to be able to wade in the tidal waters that bring the salmon to their natal rivers; to observe the other species (seals and eagles) that feed on the salmon for their own food; and to reflect on the native people who lived here and based their lives on the salmon.

Early morning wading in Puget Sound in October is also a time of transition in clothing. The summer wading attire of ball caps, light pants and shirt sleeves gives way to warm hats, a Nano Puff jacket, insulated pants, and often gloves. It is yet another reminder that winter is coming.

And the coming of winter, along with the end of the salmon runs, is a reminder that another cycle of our lives is coming to an end. It is the time to take stock and measure what we have we have done with the last year – our own harvest – how have we lived and how we have affected those in our lives. And it’s a reminder, however unpleasant, that each autumn brings each of us closer to our own final migration. It is a time to take pleasure in the season and a time to remember what is, and what should be, important.

The New Site Launch

I have decided the title of my old blog, Swinging the Fly, does not represent what this blog is really about. It’s more than just fly fishing, but fly fishing is at its core. The thing that was missing was the context of of where I live and where I fish. Living near, very near now, Puget Sound – my fishing is driven by tidal currents.

And for that reason, I felt the site name had to reflect the importance and role of tidal waters. Hence my site’s new name:  Tight LInes and Tidal Waters.