Mother’s Day Fishing

This year was a slow start to fishing for me. Poor weather, cold, other priorities kept me out until today. I was able to get up for an early Mother’s Day visit to my local beach. As it turned out, it was an outstanding start to 2014 fishing.

I used my Scott Radian (9’6″ 6 weight) with an Airflo 40+ floating/intermediate line. As a side note, in earlier posts I had expressed some reservations about the Radian, but a bit more testing caused me to take the plunge and get one at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop.

On arrival, my favorite spot below a point was occupied by a spin caster. So I started farther down the beach in a very soft back eddy. As he moved up the beach, I followed along until I got to may spot where the current is much stronger. Not sure what he was doing as he hadn’t caught anything that I could see. But I had gotten 3-4 hits as I moved up the beach on a chum baby. I switched to a Clouser-type (size 6) and then it was like magic. I was catching searuns almost as quickly as the fly hit the water. In a very short period of time I caught and released 9 fish (smallest was five inches, most were in the six to eight in range).

I continued up the beach to the edge of the seawall, getting at least one more hit until I called it a day. But not a bad day – most fish I caught in one day.

In terms of equipment, I was using a stripping basket but still had a good deal of problems with the Airflo line, the running line tangled frequently. I should probably On the other hand, the Sage performed wonderfully. When I was in the groove the casting was easy and I could put the fly where I wanted.

Gig Harbor Beer Festival

Since we moved to Gig Harbor last year, we’ve tried to become part of the community by participating in the annual events that are part of life here. Yesterday was one such event – the Gig Harbor Beer Festival. The festival was held at the Pavilion in Uptown (next door to Panera Breads) and was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. For the admission price of $20, one was given a four-ounce sampling glass and 7 tokens (one beer equals one token). But always in the spirit of community, additional tokens were on sale.

This year’s festival had 21 brewers, offering a total of 48 different brews. With only seven tokens, choices had to be made. My favorites were Dick’s Brewing Company (Centralia, WA), with both their Imperial IPA and 12-Man Pale Ale being great beers. Almost as much as those, I liked the Interurban IPA from Fremont Brewing (Seattle, WA). Others I liked were the Dabob Bay IPA (Hood Canal Brewery from Kingston WA); Whoop Pass Double IPA (Silver City Brewery from Bremerton WA); and the Narrows IPA (from Narrows Brewing from Tacoma WA).

Several other beers were…interesting. The following had unusual (at least for me) ingredients, producing beers that were definitely not from the King of Beers. Narrows Brewing had beer called Hibiscus Salson. It was pink and tasted somewhat like flat champagne. Slippery Pig Brewing (Poulsbo WA) had a beer called Stinging Nettle Extra Mild. Made from stinging nettles, it had a very earthy taste, which reminded me of something that the Ents of might have served Merry and Pippiin in Lord of the Rings. It was a bit too earthy for me.

After our time at the Beer Festival, we determined we’ll be back next year. Tough duty, but someone has to do it.

The Sculpture of Fly Casting: Eliminating Shock Waves

I think the mastery of fly-casting is like a sculpture. The initial stages of learning and practice knock off the rough edges to form the outline of a fly caster. Then with a lot of time and practice the fly caster reaches the competence of an intermediate. An intermediate fly caster is similar to the form of a sculpture when the artist first thinks the sculpture is done.

Beyond that point is where progress becomes elusive. Subtle changes are made, requiring study, reflection and frustration – at least for most of us.

I’ve gotten to the point in my fly-casting that I’ve begun to pay attention to things that weren’t visible to me even a year ago. Lately, I’ve spent more time watching the forward cast and have noticed the dips and peaks that occur when the line is rolling out. Those are shock waves and I’ve been trying for some time to eliminate them.

I suspected that too much power or too much speed for the amount of line was causing them. And with some work I’ve been able to reduce much of it. But I wasn’t perceptive enough to understand how they were actually being introduced.Then I came across an article written by a Federation of Fly Fishers member that discussed shock waves and explained that rod tip oscillations generate them. It was obvious – at least after reading the article.

He provided a way of demonstrating how shock waves are introduced and could be eliminated.

Take an unrigged fly rod and do a sidearm cast. When you stop the rod count the number of times the tip oscillates before it stops. Then do the sidearm cast again, but begin the cast as slowly as possible and speed up only at the last instant before stopping the rod. The number of oscillations should have been reduced.

With this understanding, immediate feedback on one’s technique is provided. Too many shock waves means that the cast is being started too fast and it’s time to slow down.

I think it’s time to watch the backcast more too. Shockwaves there would interfere with control and timing of the forward cast.

The Rod Breaking Blues

Broken Rods

I came across an old post from the Sage Fly Fishing Blog on primary causes of fly rod breakage.

As in most things, periodic reminders of the “safety rules” are worthwhile. Of course, most of it is common sense, but most common sense isn’t. One of the ways I hadn’t thought about is breaking the rod while stringing the fly line.

You can read the post here.

Red’s Rendezvous V

Yakima River

Yesterday we drove over to Ellensburg for Red’s Rendezvous V.  Sponsored by Red’s Fly Shop, and held at the fly shop and Canyon River Ranch on the banks of the Yakima River, this annual gathering provides instruction, casting competition, the IF4 fly fishing film festival, and presentations on trips and other topics. And it’s a great opportunity to just sit and watch the Yakima River.

Spring is a wonderful time to drive down the canyon. The hills are still green in many places.  And the temperature was in the high 60’s – far from the blast furnace temperatures one can experience mid day in summer. And even the winds were light – which is a somewhat uncommon occurrence. I really like Ellensburg, but the winds were one of the considerations in not moving that way.

We had missed the last two rendezvous due to conflicts and last year’s move to Gig Harbor. So this was a terrific opportunity to see how much progress had been made in the construction underway.  The Canyon River Ranch Grill was in operation (the owners had given us a tour of it before it opened several years ago). The food was great. Line caught rock fish and chips was a quick but delicious lunch.

Canyon River Ranch Grill

There were a number of sessions of riverside instruction, including switch rods by George Cook (Sage’s Northwest representative); introduction to Steelhead fishing by Steve Joyce, guide and part owner of Reds; and European Style Nymphing by Russell Miller of Team USA Fly Fishing.

Overall, the theme of this year was on spey and switch casting, which for river fishing bigger streams like the Yakima make bank fishing possible with their longer casts.  I got the chance to try the new Sage Method switch rod (11’ 9” 8-weight).  It was a gorgeous rod to look at with its bright Magma (bright red) color.

Lawn Casting

It would be wonderful to say I picked up the rod and boomed out one hundred foot casts.  That wouldn’t, however, be the truth. I basically sucked at it.  I understand what I was supposed to do, but as in most things it takes practice and development of muscle memory.  But watching experienced spey casters was intriguing.  They were able to easy get lines out far into the river with little effort.

I’ll mark switch/spey casting down on the to-do list. And we will make it to Rendezvous VI next Spring.

Tweeting Your Facebook: Losing Fly Fishing Tribal Knowledge

As I started my journey into fly-fishing, one of the things I starting finding was the large number of online forums related to fly-fishing: regional focus, gear-specific, general, and so on.

Most were terrific sources of information. Whether they were casting problems, gear questions, best places to go, stream reports, or general issues related to fly-fishing, there was always ready information.

It’s true that it took a certain amount of reading both posts and feedback on those posts to discern who were the real deals and who were the poseurs; that often came after seeing the authors’ posts on a number of subjects and the feedback from others on their posts. And in addition it came from my own experiences acting on recommendations or opinions of others; in general, all received wisdom should be subject to one’s own experience and values.

I learned early on that gear questions could lead to arguments that often were intense. Post on fly rods and rod manufacturers in particular bordered on the religious fervor of the Crusades.

But the arguments themselves contributed to a body of information that make up the tribal knowledge of fly-fishing. It was interesting, for example, to read about a fly rod that a certain manufacturer made a few years ago and how that rod has impacted the evolution to a current design I might be considering.

And as much as I used a search function to get to the posts – whether from a universal search of Google or the search functions in the forums themselves, more satisfying was just reading through posts in various sections of the forums. It was like browsing the aisles and shelves of a used bookstore – treasures could always be found.

I bring all of the above up because in the last year two forums have disappeared that I read constantly.

The first was the Winston forum that ended last year, when Winston announced that it was going to move from a dedicated forum to Facebook. Winston, I think, felt a need to broaden its appeal to a wider audience and felt Facebook could do that.

I disagree. What was lost was a forum for Winston owners and devotees to talk and share information about Winston rods, lines to use with specific rods, destination fishing locations, etc. Indirectly, perhaps, that forum drove the sale of more Winston rods to an audience who already had a Winston rod. The loss of the community identification will not, I believe, be replaced by joining a Facebook page.

The second was the Kennebec River Outfitters Fly Fishing Forum hosted by Bob Mallard, owner of Kennebec River Outfitters. This was a very small forum. I found it a couple of years ago while searching for a review of what I recall was a Sage rod. After that first visit I bookmarked the site and returned often.

One thing I appreciated was the honest discussion about gear. If the moderator, Bob, didn’t like something he said it. That type of honesty is rare from a shop owner on a public forum, where sales tend to mean every piece of gear has won an award or is considered ‘guide tested.’ Bob had indicated on the forum he needed to turn his attention to other areas of his business. I get that and I wish him and those who participated on his forum well.

The bigger issue in all this is how will we keep a history when communication is tweets, selfies, Facebook, and other emerging “presence” technologies?

Facebook, it is true provides the ability to use a slider to go back to previous pages of posts. But the posts themselves are always limited in terms of content. You’ll never find a multi-paragraph review of a rod or reel, or an explanation for exercises to improve your double haul.

Maybe it’s the same as everything else with digital media. In spite of the promise of the Internet bringing together all the world’s information, most of what’s out there is porn, opinion, or pure crap. What’s readily available – at least to most of us – is the trivial, the silly, the current or where we’re going tomorrow or next week.

Here’s an exercise. Go into a library that has a rare books collection – if you can get in, you can see and sometimes touch books that were written in the 17th or 18th centuries (or earlier). Think about the timelessness of the words written in those books.

Then think about who’s going to be reading your Facebook post or tweets even two years from now. No one, except for maybe your phone company, marketeers, and the NSA.

A Question of Balance: The Rod’s Butt Section

Beginners to fly fishing read, or are told, that a rod and reel should be a balanced outfit. That is further amplified by the instruction that each should be of the same weight – so a reel made for an X weight line should be used with a rod built for a X weight line.

Then as the fly fisher continues in the sport, another consideration emerges – the feel of the rod in hand, i.e., the notion of a rod being tip heavy or butt heavy due to the relationship of the physical weights of the rod and reel (particularly the latter).  Common sense thinking is that a heavier reel doesn’t work with a lighter rod – creating a butt-heavy combination, or a light reel with a heavier weight rod becoming too tippy.  And this doesn’t even get into the arcane discussion of whether the balance test should be done with line on the reel or how much line should be stripped off to measure the balance. Or the even more esoteric static balance versus dynamic balance (balance during actual casting).

I came across an even more interesting twist on all of the above.  I had mentioned in a previous post that I had been doing some testing of rods and lines, both to test fly lines and potentially finding a replacement for a BIII-SX (read here).

One of the interesting things I discovered during the testing was the way in which the rod’s butt section affected my perception of the rod. I was casting a Scott Radian 9’ 6” 6wt. I had a Hatch Finatic 5 on it, loaded with a Rio Outbound 6-weight line.  When picking up the rod I found myself thinking it felt clunky and unbalanced.  It was noticeable though somewhat less during the casting.

I then picked up a Winston BIIIX (also a 9’ 6” 6wt) and put on the Hatch reel. It had a less clunky feel though I could feel the weight of the reel. The weight was apparent but it felt better. Casting was no problem.

I then disassembled the rod and took the reel off. I closed my eyes and had both butt sections given to me. It was noticeably obvious that the Radian’s butt section is much heavier than the Winston.

I’ve not been able to find any published rod weights on the Radian yet, but feel in hand suggest the overall rod weight is about the same range as a BIIIX or Helios 2. In looking at the rod butt lengths they are all approximately the same length (some differences in blank length

A visual and tactile inspection of the Scott leads me to think the reel seat itself is heavier than the other rods. Given its position in the rod it has a more noticeable affect than weight spread along the rods length (say from the weight of heavier guides).

I put a lighter weight Galvan Torque on the Radian (with all four sections assembled) and the rod felt right in hand. Casting was easy and the Radian is a terrific rod.

After all of the above, is there some mystery of the universe (or of fly fishing) revealed?

Of course not. The only thing to be relearned is that all of the received wisdom and technical specifications are meaningless in the face of actual experience.  True of fly fishing – or life.

The Alchemy of Fly Rods and Fly Lines: Rethinking the BIII-SX

I’ve been out in my backyard over the last few days to do some practice casting and continue my evaluation of a few fly lines. It’s been sunny and relatively warm (high 50s), something that’s not going to last, with rain and wind coming tomorrow.

This time out has reminded me that much like ancient alchemists, we seek our own philosopher’s stone of mixing rod and reel to create fly fishing gold. Unfortunately, sometimes we wind up with lead.

I’ve been using my Winston BIII-SX (9’ 6” 6 weight) for this practice. In addition, I’m using the time to decide if I should keep it or sell it on eBay. I’ve had mixed feelings about the Winston BIII-SX since I got it.

It was my second Winston (my first was a 9’ 5 weight BIIIX). The BIIIX was, and is, a joy to cast. But after moving over here to Gig Harbor, I decided to spend more time focused on beach fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout and resident Coho. That meant a 6-weight in 9’ 6”. And I chose the BIII-SX as I thought it’d give me a bit of heft for the bigger Coho’s as well as being a stronger performer than the BIIIX on the steeper beaches in wind.

Initially I was excited with the BIII-SX as it was a Winston. The line choice recommended by the Gig Harbor Fly Shop was a great match: the Airflo 40+ Floating/Intermediate. Initial casting was somewhat easy and fun (if by no means as fun as with the BIIIX). The rod weight was more noticeable and at shorter line lengths it did feel more like a club than a fly rod. I’ll confess and say I hadn’t cast it before I bought it – dumb me.

So I might have just consoled myself that it was a Winston and kept on using the AirFlo 40+, except for two things.

The first was that I wanted to go with floating lines for casting some beach poppers, and that’s when I started to see the BIII-SX had some major issues with its dependency on lines. I first got a Rio Outbound (OB) Floating in 6 weight. I figured the 37.5 foot head would cast approximately like the the Airflo with its 35-foot head (though the Airflo is heavier at 261 grains versus 240).

It did take some practice to get my casting down with the OB, but once I did I was hitting around the 70 foot mark as with the Airflo. Shorter casts were doable – but as with the Airflo – without any feel. For both lines it seems I needed to have at least 30 feet of line out – making approximately a 50 foot cast the minimum for the BIII-SX.

I then got the Outbound Short (OBS) Floating in 6-weight and put that on. I thought the compact head (30 feet versus 37.5 for the OB) would load the rod better. The OBS was almost as heavy as the full length OB (235 versus 240 grains).

But all the theory was irrelevant. The rod never really seemed to come alive; heavy and unresponsive. I have a sense a 7 weight OBS might work better. But that points to the problem with the BIII-SX series: I they are all actually at least one rod weight higher.

Late last year I had also tried casting the BIII-SX in 8 weight with an 8 weight OB and it was like casting a broom stick. The rod wouldn’t load at all. Even when putting a 9 weight OB on it was not much better. I’m guessing it’s at least 1.5 – 2 weights heavier than stated. Winston blew it with this series.

Then there is the other thing – how the BIII-SX compared to casting other rods. I’ve had the chance to cast the Orvis Helios 2 Tip Flex, Sage One, and the Scott Radian.

They were all superior to the BIII-SX, at least for me. I didn’t like the Sage One in a 9-foot as it’s too stiff too, but it was still better than the BIII-SX (and much lighter).

The Scott was definitely a fast rod, but I was able to feel it at distances less than 30 feet, while at longer distances I could feel the power and speed of the rod. It was a different casting experience than a Winston and while it’s a very fine rod, the thicker grip was something that felt uncomfortable. A person’s muscle memory sure plays a part in evaluating a new rod. If I had a couple of weeks to cast it to get used to the grip I might change my mind. Adding it to the list for future consideration.

The Helios 2 was the best of three as far as I was concerned on this day of testing – easy to cast at all distances. Feel wasn’t great at short distances; it was sort of there but not as noticeable as the Radian. At longer distances, there was feel and control. The only problem I noticed was that with longer casts, I had to work a bit – more than with the Radian. So not perfect, but very close. It’s definite candidate to replace the BIII-SX.

After all of the above, I’ve come to see the BIII-SX is a much more specialized rod than an all-around rod. Maybe that’s what Winston intended it for – heavy flies in heavy winds at distance where feel and easy casting are not part of the equation. That narrow use may make it a standby rod, but not the first choice for many trips around here where sea runs and Coho are closer to the beach.

Maybe eBay will be getting a listing soon. But I think I’ll get some time on a BIIIX first. I may have just made a bad decision based on moving away from a rod series I like a great deal. And maybe take another look at both the Helios 2 and the Radian.

Buy American Makes Sense for Fly Fishing Gear

There are a number of reasons to buy from American companies, and by American companies I mean smaller companies that employ American workers. I like to support businesses that contribute to their local economies by providing good wages (as relative as that term is) to both skilled and unskilled workers. Good wages build strong communities. I truly believe without a blue-collar middle class this country is doomed. We may already be past that point, but that’s a comment for another day.

Today I want to offer another reason to buy American – it supports fish and wildlife management.

Gink and Gasoline in today’s email noted there’s a 10% excise tax on all fishing and hunting gear. The excise tax was mandated by the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950. The monies collected go into a trust fund used for fish and wildlife management.

You can read their article here.

Lawn Casting the Scott Radian

I had an opportunity to take a 9’ 6” 6-weight Scott Radian out for a bit of lawn casting. Based on the buzz I’d read about it being a “fast rod with feel”, I had high expectations for it. After approximately one hour of casting, I thought it was a really nice rod, but I don’t think I would sell the rods I have just to buy it. I still think the Orvis Helios 2 is a better casting rod at distance; and within about 50 – 60 feet, I’d give the edge to the Winston BIIIX.

All the testing was done with a Rio Outbound 6wt Floating and a 7-foot practice leader.

I started with about 10 feet of line out. Pickup and lay down casts were easy. I could feel the line (lightly it’s true but still feel it). It was something I could never feel with that amount of line with either a Sage One or Winston BIII-SX.

I stripped off another 10 – 15 feet of line and the tip started loading more, making casting easy and fun. I stripped more line until it I had about 55 feet of line out. False casting (without stripping) was simple. The rod was loading more and I could really begin to feel how fast a rod it was. Same thing when I added a haul or two.

And I think that’s when it lost its luster for me. It wasn’t the rod as much as me not really liking the fast feel at longer distances. I’ve cast enough to know I don’t like rods that feel like broomsticks to me. If I had to rank the order of broomstick feel of faster rods I’ve cast, I’d say the Sage One was easily the stiffest and the one I liked least. Between the Radian and BIII-SX it’s a bit of a tossup, but based on memory, I think – at least in 6 weight – the BIII-SX is stiffer.

I think I like rods that are a bit slower – the so-called “medium fast” rods like the Orvis Helios 2 (Tip flex) and Winston BIIIX rods. Of course, that’s just me. If I had a chance to cast the Radian for a longer period and got used to its speed I might change my mind.

If you like faster rods with a bit of feel, particularly ones made in the USA by our fellow citizens, then I think the Scott Radian would be a terrific choice.