National Geographic Article on Warming Streams

Climate change is claimed by some to be pseudo-science, as if belief in magic, cynicism, and ignorance represent sound scientific thinking; yes, I’m talking about religious conservatives; paid flacks of the fossil fuel industries; and corporations planning revenue streams based on climate change.  They represent a toxic mix that stifles any serious debate about the seriousness of the climate crisis and the steps necessary to minimize the inevitable changes underway.  The public is left confused, in spite of the increasing evidence of radical weather (think Hurricane Sandy and the floods in Colorado) and the ongoing drought in the Midwest.

Now National Geographic has written an excellent, if disturbing, article on the impacts of climate change on fishing streams across the country.  Many of us may be dead or decrepit before many of the worst impacts are felt – or maybe not. But our children and grandchildren will live in a world unknown to most of us.  And our hopes and dreams about passing on our love of fishing (whether fly or gear) may be dashed.  To quote only item from the article, a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation said, “The science is telling us that in the lifespan of a child born today, 50 percent of the habitat suitable for cold-water species of fish will no longer be suitable for them.”

The article can be found here.

Floating Fly Line Comparison: Ambush versus Outbound Short

I’m always looking for ways to reduce the amount of gear I have to take beach fishing.  I moved from a vest to a sling pack several years ago; take only a few flies in a small case; and carry only one or two sizes of tippet material (typically 1X and 2X).  So I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using only one fly line along with poly leaders to cover most of the fishing situations encountered on the beach.

My favorite and primary fly line for beach fishing with my six-weight Winston  is an Airflo 40+ Floating/Intermediate line. Its 35-foot transparent slow intermediate head settles nicely beneath the water surface. And it nicely loads my 9’ 6” rod and allows me to easily cast out to 50 feet with no hauling.

Still, there are times when I’d like to cast surface flies (e.g., popper) with a floating line. I’d carried a spare spool loaded with floating line for those low-tide low-water situations in which a surface fly excels.

Consistent with my goal of reducing what I carry, I’ve been considering the use of floating lines with poly leaders as a one-spool solution for my fishing needs. Given that poly leaders come in a number of densities (from floating to fast sinking), I thought that might be all I’d need.

Yesterday I went to my local beach on a falling tide (and no wind) and brought along two six-weight fly lines: a Royal Wulff Ambush and a Rio Outbound (OB) Short Floating.  The Ambush has a 235 grain weight 18 foot head; the OB Short has a 265 grain weight 30 foot head.  I also carried an Airflo Slow Intermediate 10-foot poly leader.

First up was the Ambush. I used the poly leader along with a five foot length of 1X tippet (the fly was a tube fly with a size 4 hook).

The Ambush roll cast very nicely. It provide a nice D-loop and gave a nice crisp cast.

It did also work in overhead casting. With one or two false casts, I was able to shoot line with no problem.

But there was something about it that wasn’t clicking with me. It may be that the line itself is very large and it felt clunky. And I found that if I did a poor cast the line would collapse.

I switched over to the OB Short, including the poly leader / tippet combination described above. Roll casting was near that of the Ambush, but I think the Ambush was slightly better.

Overhead casting was no comparison. The OB Short was a much easier casting line for me. If I made a bad cast, the line still performed and didn’t collapse. I also had the sense the line moved through the rod guides a good deal smoother than the Ambush. I easily was able to get out to 40-50 feet with no effort. In that regard it felt a lot like casting my Airflo 40+ line.

So have I found a one-line solution for the majority of my beach fishing with my 6-weight rod?  I’d have to say not yet.

I know if I was dealing with a high tide condition with no room for a back cast I’d want to use the Ambush.

For most of my beach fishing where there’s some wind and surface chop (and I know I’ll not be doing any surface flies), I’ll stick with my Airflo 40+.

But on days where I might want to go either surface or sinking, I think the OB Short is a great solution when combined with poly leaders from either Airflo or Rio.

Could I get to the point where the OB Short would replace the Airflo? I’m not ready to say that. I’d need to cast the OB Short more to say that. And it might take a beach shootout in conditions that favor the use of the Airflo.

Stay tuned.

Whither Independently Owned Fly Shops?

There have been a number of announcements through 2013 related to consolidation in fly shop ownership. At first glance, the announcements may be interesting to customers of the different businesses. But I think they say something about the future of retail fly-fishing shops.

Grizzly Hackle, a very successful brick and mortar and online fly shop from Missoula Montana announced its purchase of Kiene’s Fly Shop of Sacramento California on January 1st, 2013.  This was followed by its purchase of Bob Marriott’s fly shop in Fullerton California in early May.

The latter announcement was followed that same month by the announcement of the May 17th merger of Grizzly Hackle Holdings (which owns the three fly shops) and the very prominent Fishwest Incorporated, an e-commerce fly-fishing retailer, which also owns one shop in Utah.

The businesses above are all quality companies. At one time or another, I’ve bought from all of them. They are all reputable and are staffed by people who care about customers and the sport of fly fishing.

Each of them will carry, more or less, the same brands from the top suppliers in the business (e.g., Scientific Anglers, Simms, Sage, Winston, and Patagonia – to name only a very few).

And so far, five to eight months on, each of the fly shops still market under their own name, maintaining both a brick and mortar storefront along with a web presence. It will be interesting to watch whether their business models change over the next year or two,.

Perhaps more thought provoking is an attempt to understand the whys of the mergers and speculate what it says about the future for many of the fly shops that remain.

I think there are three reasons. The first is related to aging of owners. The other two are related to economic factors and economies of scale.

The sales of both Kiene’s and Bob Marriott’s, both of which have been in business for well over 30 years, were driven at least in part by the owners’ stated desires to move into semi-retirement and give up the day-to-day hassles and pressures of running a business.

Whether there was store staff with the desire, or more importantly – ability to raise capital, to buy the stores is unknown. It’s certainly true that capital availability has been a challenge for the last five years since the economic meltdown in 2008.

The industry is very small. As I related in a previous post (see here), the total annual sales in fly fishing gear is $750 million, less than some brands of candy. A related post (see here) shared the results of an AnglersSurvey study that showed the majority of sales were flies, followed by tippet and fly line.

Now think about how easy it would be to raise capital to buy a fly shop when your primary revenue stream will be based on a two to three dollar fly ­- and in a market that is not demonstrating rapid growth. Selling an $800 fly rod is certainly more lucrative, but the question is how long that rod has to sit in a store’s inventory before the sale is made; otherwise there is the cost of maintaining inventory.

Unless interested parties can self capitalize or the shop in question is demonstrably a moneymaking success in its local market that overcomes banks’ fears of business loans, I fear we will see many fly shops going out of business as the original owners retire.

A related challenge is dealing with the manufacturers.  A small fly shop is at the mercy of the companies and the sales reps that represent them. There are requirements for required volumes to be carried; promotional placements; and terms of sale that a small shop has to exist under.

And from the perspective of the manufacturers they have legitimate concerns about tying their brands to small fly shops that are struggling or only able to carry the minimum required inventory. It’s becoming much easier for them to put at least some of their inventory in a big box store (witness Winston and Sage rods in Cabelas).

Now consider the merger discussed above. It puts all three fly shops, together with Fishwest’s e-commerce site on firmer financial footing with a stronger multi-channel sale network – particularly with Bob Marriott’s, Grizzly Hackle, and Kiene’s all having both brick and mortar and e-commerce sites.

I suspect (but can’t verify) it puts the new company in a position to better negotiate terms of sales, volumes, and promotional support. And it gives a manufacturer the multiple-channels to get the hot new product out to its customers. They understand the critical importance of brand loyalty. It’s a win-win for both the retailer and supplier.

If you’ve gone into a fly shop to get a new just announced Sage rod (as an example) and you’re told they have no idea when they can get one in – how many times does that have to happen before you stop going in looking for the new products?

Fundamentally I think it is these economies of scale that will drive the transition away over time from the small locally owned fly shop to the horizontally integrated companies described above. Only they may have the  ability to compete with the big box stores in the manufacturer’s competition for market share.

The passing of many of the fine fly shops that operated over the years has been and will be a sad thing to observe.  But there can be hope in the new model discussed here.

It may be a transition away from local ownership but done right local color and knowledge will be retained.  It’s the smart business move and it will be good for fly fishers.


I’ve Gone Net

I had never used a net while wading in either rivers or saltwater. I thought nets were cumbersome and difficult to keep out of the way – particularly with a sling pack, which I use.

However, after my last trip to the saltwater, I’ve decided I need to use a net, difficult or not.

Yesterday, I hooked and caught my first sea run cutthroat trout. It was a beautiful fish that was about 11 inches long – by anyone’s standard, a very nice size for this species.

I was understandably excited and wanted a picture.  As I was fishing alone, I had to be the photographer  with one hand at the same time I was trying to control the fish with the other (rod hand)

I had considered backing up to the beach, but I thought the distance (about 30 feet) would have meant keeping the fish too long on the hook.

So I kept the fish struggling on the hook while I got my camera out of my pocket. I then got the fish up and set him in my stripping basket – violating the rule that a catch and release fish should not be lifted from the water. I thought I could do it quickly, but I was thinking more of my picture than the fish.

I got the photo, removed the hook and held the fish in the current of water to get him moving. I thought I held it long enough so he’d swim away – it seemed as if it was ready. But when I released it, it drifted slowly away with the current. Thinking back, I should have given it more time to let the water move over its gills until it began  swim out on its own. I knew it before and I know it now. I don’t know why I forgot it in the moment I needed it.

As I watched it drift away, I felt really bad about that fish.

Hopefully it survived. But I don’t know.

Perhaps the only thing I can do now in addition to carrying a net is to relearn the lesson that our actions have consequences and as such we need to understand the consequences before we act. And protecting the fishery is more important than a photo.

So I will carry a net and focus on the fish I catch – quickly returning them to their environment whether a picture is taken or not.

I owe it to that fish.

A Shared Demo Day – Cooperation as a Model

Puget Sound Fly Company Demo Day

Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.

Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for  American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.

And do you know what sells the most?  The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns.  Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60.  And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.

My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every  $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.

Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop.  Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.

So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.

Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!

But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.

Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.

The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.

So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.

On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma  demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose.  As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.

Latest Angler Trends Media Report has just released its latest angler trends media report, covering May-June 2013. The results are captured in the graphic below.

It’s interesting but should be obvious that the top two types of items purchased are flies and tippets. Those are basically consumables that have to be replaced as previous purchases are used up (tippets) or lost (flies). Rods and reels in comparison represent about one-third the percentage purchases of flies and tippets. That’s to be expected given the several orders of magnitude (100X) differences in price. What wasn’t reported, at least in the publicly available report, was where those items are purchased.

The perceptions of many commentators I’ve read, and believe, is that most purchases of flies and tippets are done locally, but many purchases of rods and reels are done online, where prices are better, taxes are avoided, or there’s something free thrown in (e.g., a fly line on a reel). The challenge for local fly shops is to capture as much of those 20% of sales (rods and reels) as possible. Or we will soon lose more local business – in this case our local fly shops.

Angler Trends May to June 2013

Strikes, But No Sets

Lower Low

Last Sunday I spent the last hour of an ebbing tide fishing at a local state park beach that I had not fished before. In that time I had at least 6 firm strikes on my popper with two to three other probable, but was unable to land any of them.

That in itself isn’t remarkable or noteworthy. Many fly fishers get strikes but don’t get the hook set before the fish looks for a meal elsewhere.

What was remarkable to me was the frequency of the strikes indicating the fish were there. Failure to land could have been timing, technique, or fly size.

The popper had a size four hook and it’s possible the fish weren’t getting the hook far enough into their mouths. But I’ve seen photos of small fish with large flies (and hooks) in their mouths, so I think that can be discounted.

Timing is the same as in fresh water: feeling the fish take the fly and then setting the hook. There was wind on Sunday and I was using a floating line in the very shallow water and it’s possible I was missing the first tug due to the rippled water. But that’s too easy an explanation.

That leaves technique, or lack of it, as cause. The standard technique for setting the hook with fresh water species is the rod set: feel the strike and quickly raise the rod on the tight line, setting the hook. In saltwater, a strip strike is used: the rod is kept pointed at the fish and line is stripped to set the hook. The strip strike is thought to be more effective with the harder jaws of saltwater fish. I did see one of the strikes at the surface. It was a small eight inch or so cutthroat trout. Given that, I think I should have been successful with a rod set.

That I wasn’t means I didn’t maintain tension while stripping in of the line. After I got home and thought about it, I recognized I wasn’t using my rod hand and line hand in proper sequence. As I was stripping I released the line pressure with my rod hand. Then, as I came to the end of a strip (short or long) I should have used the index or middle finger of my rod hand to maintain a tight line as I repositioned my line hand for another strip.

The obvious cure for that is practice, practice, and more practice.

And the noteworthy thing? To me it was that I was having a blast even without landing a fish. The excitement of feeling a connection with a living thing at the end of my fly line was incredible as always. It’s been the same every time whether I bring the fish in or not. I think it’s the sense of connecting with something natural and wild.

So it was a good day of fishing. I had fun and I taught myself a lesson.

Still next time I think I will use a smaller fly.

The Rod Maker’s Journey

Tom Morgan is a custom rod builder, and is the former owner of Winston Fly Rods (1975-1981) where he built the reputation of Winston rods first in bamboo, then in fiberglass and graphite. But he is more than a good businessman; he is an artist of the highest order. To own a Tom Morgan rod, which I do not, is to hold an object of art that links one back to a tradition of master craftsmen.

Tom Morgan would be renowned as a fly rod maker alone, but what makes his life special transcends the mechanical aspects of rod building. For you see, Tom Morgan has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t touched one of the rods he builds in many, many years. The rod building is done by his wife Gerri Carlson and two other workers. She is now the master craftsman of Tom Morgan rods – a journey that started with her knowing nothing about rod building when she met Tom.

And in addition to demands of filling the orders that come in from around the world, Gerri takes care of her husband through the daily struggles of supporting someone unable to do even the simplest of things most of us take for granted. From shaving to the “poop wars”, she embodies unconditional love.

There is a remarkable article about Tom and Gerri on ESPN.COM. It is inspiring and touching. Read it and think about the tears in Tom’s eyes as he watches a friend cast, wishing he could pick up a fly rod and cast just one more time. And read about the remarkable woman who loves him and builds Tom Morgan rods.

The article is located here.

Fly Box Simplication – A Status Update


I had a previous post about using Plano boxes as fly warehouses – from which individual flies are pulled for the day’s fishing (see post here)

I wanted to report on what I’ve found.

I started with my saltwater flies, as I have a smaller assortment for sea-run cutthroat trout fishing than I do freshwater fishing.

I decided to put everything into the same box and organize by the same fly type, e.g., all baby chum salmon patterns in the same slot; all euphasilids (shrimp-like crustaceans), and so on. I did put my clouser minnows in different slots as I had a number of each color; if I got more flies I would probably combine them in a couple of slots.

I think the Plano boxes for saltwater flies – at least mine – is a terrific organizing tool. Admittedly, I keep a group of the flies I most use in a small box in my sling pack. But it’s good to know I can keep everything else in one place and if needed could just bring the Plano box to the beach.

I’ve not been as satisfied with my organization of freshwater flies. I’ve not yet figured out an approach that works with the array of flies. I think part of the problem is that I’ve accumulated those flies over a number of years without much of plan. So, for example, I‘ve got bunches of Parachute Adams but only a few Stimulators. Then I’ve got weird numbers of sizes – sometimes too many sizes; other times not having enough.

The more I think about it, a better approach for my freshwater flies would be to go through and toss out the old ones; then determine what I want to keep. As it is, freshwater fishing will be less of a priority given the nearness of the Puget Sound beaches. And when I do make the drive over to the Yakima, I can stop by one of the local shops and pick up a bunch for what’s working.

So maybe this is just an intellectually empty exercise – at least for my freshwater flies. But then again, it’s still thinking about fly fishing.

The Closing

I’ve made mention in previous posts about our move to Gig Harbor. The house was ours on the first of July.  We started hauling boxes over immediately. Movers brought over the big items (e.g., beds and furniture) the following weekend. Last week we cleared out the storage locker we used during the “decluttering and staging” we had done in preparation for selling our Kent house. That means our Gig Harbor house finally has everything we own in it. Plus, it seems for some period of time, storage boxes, as we adjust to new realities in closets and rooms.

This past Friday the buyers of our Kent house finally closed with the recording of the deed. They own the house and we now have only our new one. Everything has been closed.

Closing is a term used in the western of the United States to indicate when the parties in a real estate sale complete the transaction under the supervision of a trusted agent (escrow officer); documents are signed and any funds needed to complete the transaction are collected. Interestingly, as it was something I didn’t know, that in the eastern part of the U.S., it’s called settlement and is handled by a settlement agent.

But did we really close something?

In both a literal and figurative sense we did.  Obviously, we closed (completed) the financial transaction discussed above. And figuratively, we closed out a part of our lives in a place we no longer live.

A good many things will be missed, but not all.

We’ll miss our neighbors – some of whom I didn’t get to know as well as I should in all the years we lived there. The excellent arts program run by the city of Kent, which gave me a chance to see the East Village Opera Company and Roger McGuinn. The routes we developed to walk our dogs or for me to go running. A few very nice groceries and restaurants – specifically Paolo’s. QFC and Nature’s Market – both for their quality vegetables and fruits; the latter for an excellent variety of supplements. And the noise of children on their way to and from school buses – marking the end and the beginning of summer.

While many of the above are close enough for a visit, it’s never the same. Stepping away from a place even for a time means only coming back as a visitor. It’s like going back to the house you grew up in. It’s never quite the same.

Fewer words are needed for won’t be missed: one neighbor for the large numbers of cars in varying states of repair cycled between curb and driveway; the tedious routes endured on the daily drive to work; the tired and increasingly tiresome array of chain restaurants (mostly fast-food) that were close by; and the way in which the main floor of our Kent house became unbearble when outside temperatures reached even only the high seventies.

So this reflection is the final close of that chapter of life.

The new chapter has begun.  We live in a house we like in an area we’ve wanted to live. I can be standing in salt water casting my rod not more than three miles from where I live. Our new neighbors seem nice. I’ve started my list of things to be fixed or upgraded in the new house. And the drive to work – while long – isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. As in all things, there will be the good, the bad, and the things to be endured.

But the last three months of moving are over. It’s time to get back to fly fishing.