08 August, 2013

RIO’s Simon Gawesworth on Fly Lines and Product Categories


The idea to write this article came about during a discussion with several anglers. The topic:  fly line price points. You can purchase a fly line at a discount shop for as little as $9.99, and products at the other end of the price/quality spectrum can run ten to twelve times that amount. You can easily guess that the main point of discussion was price range. One significant flare-up came early in the discussion when someone offered “they’re all the same, the only difference is price, and some anglers need to think that they’re fishing with a ‘superior’ product”—not quite something I’d agree with, but it certainly got me thinking.
The debate highlighted the need for clarification, so I contacted Simon Gawesworth, RIO’s line development guru and chief marketer.  I also put Simon’s claims to the test, and asked RIO to send me three lines (same weight rating and taper), at three different price points: RIO’s Mainstream (entry level, $40), Avid (mid-range, $55) and Trout LT (premier series, $75) lines. I spent an entire day fishing the lines on both a fast and a traditional fly rod. My observations follow the Q&A.
RM: Considering the features offered in the RIO LT range of products, why would anyone gravitate towards Avid lines?
SG: It is no more than a pricing reason, to be honest. The LT is far superior in sophistication of taper, in materials used, in technologies and slickening agents, and is a much better line. However, not everybody wants to pay $75 for a fly line, and for anglers that aren’t going to appreciate the extra quality and price of the LT, the Avid is a great way of getting a very good trout line for a lot less money.
RM: Which species are the Avids best suited to (besides trout)? – are they more of a multi-species line than other RIO products?
SG: They are designed for trout, but will work for most coldwater species that doesn’t require casting huge or air resistant flies.
RM: How do the Avid cores (materials/weave) and coating material formula differ from the hi-end and entry level products?
SG: In many ways.  First, the raw materials used are not of the highest grade, nor of the lowest. Our LT has the finest micron size of microspheres, and the very best silicones and other raw ingredients. With the Avid lines we use slightly less a quality of raw materials than we do with the Premier lines, but a much higher grade of chemistry than of our mainstream level. The same with the core material, where we use the tightest, smoothest weave cores possible on the LT and Avid lines, and for the Mainstream lines we use a slightly lesser quality braid.
RM: Are the Avid tapers adjusted to suit a moderate (as opposed to advanced) casting proficiency?
SG: Yes, the Avid lines have a little more weight, and more front loading than the AFTMA standard recommends, just for that reason – to be easy to cast, and ideal for moderate casters.
RM: Is the durability, hardness, slickness, materials formula of the Avids on par with the hi-end or entry level products? If neither, what makes the Avids unique?
SG: Neither, really. The Avid lines have their own unique chemistry and features. For example, Avid lines have AgentX technology and Extreme Slickness, which were are top quality technologies last year. Now the new trout premier lines, like the Trout LT, have a very sophisticated, highly enhanced technology coating that we call MaxCast. Lines like the Mainstream don’t have any such technologies. The hardness is about the same for each level of line, but the durability and slickness certainly improves with the addition of the technologies.
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My observations, on the water…
Note that there’s one physical difference in overall line length, with the Mainstream product having 10 feet less running line than the other two products.
RIO LT Trout
RIO’s Trout LT lines constitute the “full package,” so expect super-slickness, hi-flotation, welded loops and individual taper formulas. Make these the go-to lines when you’re expecting to fish quiet, cool waters. Also, if your casting is up to the task, expect surgically precise deliveries, and the softest of presentations, whether you’re fishing up close or at mid-range distances.
LT coatings were developed for coldwater use and are amongst  the most supple lines available. They are the ideal partner for traditional, softer fly rods and perform well on new-school models with more zip.
Roll-casting the LT is at treat that will probably spoil you. An excellent product for fishing tight quarters.
RIO Avid
Well balanced and surprisingly supple, with no appreciable difference in slickness when compared to the LT (perhaps something that becomes more apparent with long-term use).
Avid tapers seem to have been designed to high-light the qualities of medium-to-fast action rods, but will function adequately with more traditional rods. More of a general use line than the LT. Great performer if meatier flies are part of your fishing day. Loads quick.


RIO Mainstream
Due to its core weave, the Mainstream offers a bit more stretch when the line lays out, so expect a little bounce-back and adjust your drift accordingly. The line is a little less buoyant – but not enough to make mending a chore. The Mainstream is better suited to cooler conditions, so not quite the all around line the Avid is. Taper formula makes casting a breeze: perfectly suited to novice anglers.

Dressed To Fish

Reviewing fishing apparel isn’t as easy as you’d think. There are times when an attributes become apparent only after several outings: fit and comfort are immediately apparent, but functionality and durability take a while to gauge—and appreciate. In late winter, I asked several manufacturers to send in fishing apparel for testing.
I’ve put shirts, pants, shorts, footwear (etc.) through the paces a number of times, and as you’d expect, there’s a good supply of mediocre items to be had and there are duds out there as well, but they are increasingly becoming the exception to the rule. Also, it has become apparent over the last few years that apparel manufacturers have been consistently upping their game. The main improvements come from fabric R&D and cut: heat retention/dissipation are on designers’ minds, as is the number of (fabric) panels needed to create a functional, comfortable garment. Top manufacturers spare no expense when creating full-featured clothing, employing as many panels as required to produce river/ocean-worthy clothing. The items below are the ones that stood out from the pack.
Benefits of 100% poly (stain resistance), but brushed up to give it a cotton feel and good heat-retaining properties. Fabric is deceptively light, but do not mistake for a warm weather garment. Designed by people who fish, so offers a great balance of casting comfort/precision fit. Quick snap buttons. Dry time: fast.





All-around footwear is perhaps the most difficult item to design, so most designers come up with specialized products—not a bad thing. If your fishing day is varied in terms of conditions and terrain: slippery boat docks, boat surfaces, trekking through woodland and so on, Columbia’s Peak Freak Enduro Mid OutDry is a solid bet. Features an Omni-Grip combination tread to handle a wide assortment of surfaces, designed as a low-cut “boot style” shoe, yet is very light and breathes well for a shoe of its type. Made primarily to handle lower temps but can be worn without socks if the temperature soars. Meant as a trekking shoe, and happens to make an excellent fishing shoe: can handle a good splash while keeping the inside bone dry.


Called a guide shirt because if allows for a full range of motion—as far as a full lean to untangle a client’s mess of a cast. 100% nylon, and (a little surprisingly) excels in warm weather due to its patented weave, which is tight, yet somehow offers excellent breathability. Good sun protection, two large chest pockets plus one zippered pocket. Minimalists can just about get away with substituting this shirt for their pack. Refined cuffs: high style points. Dry time: med/fast.




Ultra high-quality poly/cotton blend that features a clever microfiber pocket for your sunglasses or anything else that you don’t want scratched up, such as your MCD—or simply for cleaning your lenses.
Cast cut fit features many Howler Brothers styling points: side slits, wide cuffs, double stitching throughout, slightly vented back yoke.
Cotton trade-off means dry time is not optimal, but nonetheless it’s one of the best-made warm-weather fishing shirts currently available.


Ideal travel pant: 100% ultra thin nylon—takes very little space in a carry-on, precise fit/tapered cuffs for near zero wind flap (so perhaps not the best choice for heavier set persons), Velcro cargo pockets for ample storage (two fly boxes), rear zip pockets, dry time very fast. Blood, muck, etc., washes out very well. Pockets feature drainage holes, as all proper fishing pants should.

Learning Something New, By Doing Something Old


I drove right over a rod tube recently. It contained my new fly rod.
I’ll spare you the gory and embarrassing details. This happened 90 minutes from my home, where I was preparing to start an afternoon of fly fishing.  But no worries, a spare rod was in the trunk. I verified the trunk: no spare, for the first time ever. Cursing took place.
What to do?
I decided to walk around and just observe the water (something I don’t do nearly enough of). After a few minutes of observing, I ran into an angler who had just wrapped up his day and was exiting the site. I told him about my brand new, and newly wrecked, rod.  He was staying an additional hour and graciously offered to lend me his rod during that time. I accepted without hesitation.
He had a vest on and I assumed, quite wrongly, that he was going to lend me a fly rod. We walked to his vehicle and he took out a spin-casting rig (what the…?), along with a tackle box loaded with spoons, impressive looking Rapala-type artificial minnows and dozens of colourful rubber lures—“bass magnets” according to my new friend.
I hadn’t handled a spin-casting rig in 18 years, but my options were limited, so, what the heck, off to the water….
I tied on a spoon and cast.  Instant bass: a rebellious two-pounder.  I moved around the area and had similar success with floating Rapalas (beautifully crafted items, by the way).  I stayed away from the bass magnet rubber lures because I was doing just fine with the non-magnetic variety. My hour was up. I brought the gear back, said thanks, got in my vehicle and drove home.
Some things that went through my mind during the drive back: (1) check to be 100% certain that I am carrying a spare fly rod, (2) I loved my hour of spin casting and (3) I’d definitely do it again, at least once a year. There are several good reasons why.
The very first cast brought me right back to my youth. I started to fish by spin-casting—fly fishing came much later—and there’s no question that the rod arm develops muscle memory. Casting that relatively heavy spoon brought back those memories in a very physical way. Beyond that, handling a different implement, even for just an hour, gives you both an appreciation and a better understanding of what you are accomplishing with a fly rod.
I walked away from this experience realizing that I didn’t focus enough on that subtle wrist action that’s required of a fly cast if you’re to get your fly to really sail. That wrist movement is something that comes instinctively when you’re propelling a half-ounce spoon or Rapala lure. This particular facet of casting knowledge comes to you instantly—and acutely—because the wrist snap used in a spin cast is not only far from subtle but indeed essential (it also it doesn’t have the inherent consequences of an overdone snap when using a fly rod).
Finally, this one hour exercise renewed my appreciation for the skills required in fly fishing: casting (proficiently), minding the line, tracking the fly, minding drift, limiting slack and so on. This is not a dig at spin casting, which has its own unique subtleties. The experience did, however, make me realize that fly fishing is more demanding of the angler because it’s a more participatory and connective type of fishing.
Spinning gear? It will widen your horizons—and perhaps even bring back memories of why you fell in love with fly fishing to begin with.

Interview: Matt Crawford



Matt Crawford is a public relations associate with Pale Morning Media, a national communications firm specializing in outdoor activities (they count Simms, Aquapac, Woolrich and SOG among their clients). He is also a passionate hunter, angler and skier. I recently caught up with him to discuss fishing, clients, gear and industry trends.
RM: How many days have you fished in the last 12 months?
MC: I’d like to think at least 50, but I don’t really keep track, and I know my ice fishing days were certainly down last year because we barely had winter last year in Vermont. Plus, along about October, fishing takes a backseat to hunting, and I’ll chase anything from woodcock to whitetails.
RM: Which locations?
MC: I fished Montana a bit, and a lot around the house in Vermont. I’ve started to target bass with my fly rod, so that started to fill up my dance card. I live on one of the best bass fisheries in the world (Lake Champlain) and my new goal is to get totally dialed in on catching both largemouth and smallmouths with a fly rod.
RM: What do you do for your clients?
MC: Pale Morning Media is a public relations firm with about a dozen clients. I work directly with Aquapac (waterproof bags), Simms Fishing Products and SOG Specialty Knives & Tools. My title is “Account Director” but that’s kind of all-encompassing, and it depends on what the client’s needs are. In the end, I work directly with the marketing departments of the companies and directly with members of the media who may cover those companies. I do everything from sending samples to the media, to crafting news releases to assisting with social media campaigns.
RM: What’s your “must have” piece of fishing apparel?
MC: I’d have to say my Aquapac waterproof case for my iPhone, my Simms G4Z waders and my SOG multi tool. And while that’s certainly true, in reality, I honestly can’t fish without a pair of sunglasses.
RM: What are the biggest challenges of your job?
MC: The challenges are the greatest attractions. I’m usually doing something different every day, for different clients, so it requires me to be flexible and able to change on the fly. Also, given how we communicate these days, there’s a challenge with always being “on.” It’s the phone, it’s Facebook, it’s Twitter, it’s email. Getting a day on the water without having some sort of electronic tethering device is indeed a challenge.
RM: What are the fly fishing industry changes you foresee in the next 3 to 5 years?
MC: The biggest challenge I see in the industry is keeping the specialty retailer, the ‘fly shop’ intact. Consumers have options at big box stores or on-line,  and all those sales can hurt the smaller fly shops. What I do see is smarter, more active, more vibrant shops rising to the top. Those shops that stick around will be powerful and fun to be a customer of.
RM: These days, customers and manufacturers are evolving to the extent that they are practically working together: with customers giving their feedback to a manufacturer so that they can refine a garment/implement/accessory to better suit a customer’s needs. While the benefits are obvious, are there any pitfalls to this type of manufacturer/customer relationship?
MC: Besides who gets the patent rights, no, not many pitfalls. I do think some companies have to avoid trying to be all things to every potential customer – you know: do best what you do best.
RM: Is there anything about the fishing/hunting apparel industry that you’d like to change or that you think the manufacturers are currently reluctant to consider or do?
MC: On the media end, sometimes the never-ending focus on the Next Big Thing seems a little unproductive. I mean, look at waders, for instance. Yes, a company like Simms can introduce a newer version of GORE-TEX material in waders or change a zipper or something, but when a company really has dialed in a product, it’s very difficult to introduce the Next Big Thing every year. Getting something really revolutionary to the market should be a goal, yes, but not every year. Sometimes what’s been on the market for a few years really is that killer product. I’d like to see the good old staples get the attention they’re due.
RM: List of three people (living or deceased) that you would like to fish/hunt with plus reason for each choice.
MC: My Dad – just one more time. He was the one that introduced me to the outdoors and he had Alzheimer’s at the end of his life. My last few years with him were not like they were when I was younger and we fished and hunted together. He was there when I caught my first steelhead, there when I shot my first duck and deer. I’d like one more chance to go with him again, as he was when I was younger.
Leon Leonwood Bean – Here’s a guy who sometimes gets put on the back burner when we talk about the “industry”  which in his case could be hunting, fishing or general outdoors. He really revolutionized the industry in many ways, but I’d like to see if he can associate the current trends and issues with what he saw back in the 20s and 30s. Plus he was a New Englander. I’d love to see if the trout streams he haunted or the grouse covers he ran through still hold game.
Ted Williams (the late baseball player, not the conservation writer, though I wouldn’t mind that). And the only reason I’d want that is to see just how much pure athleticism factors into being a good angler.

15 April, 2013

Jerry Siem Discusses the Sage CIRCA Fly Rod


Every year, one or two fly fishing implements capture the lion’s share of the media spotlight—items that create sustained consumer and industry buzz. Abel’s nippers were a stellar example of this in 2011.

2012 saw a handful of fly fishing products take center stage, but none generated the anticipatory buzz that the CIRCA fly rod did. Drop in on any on-line chat/thread and you can enjoy what seems to be unlimited chatter on this one rather unique product—which has already garnered some awards.
For those new to the product, the CIRCA is a Sage rod that is currently available in a 2- through 5-weight. Jerry Siem was tasked with developing the fly rod from its inception to final packaging. I recently asked Jerry a few questions about the rod and its origins.
RM: Why did you decide to release the CIRCA product last year?
JS: It was time, from a technology perspective. For several years, anglers have been asking when are we going to introduce a softer or slower-action rod. Our thought was, if we are going to do it, let’s make it dramatic. With the introduction of Konnetic technology the time was right to develop the CIRCA. It allowed us to deliver a rod with a softer more relaxed feel and casting action. Although it has a deflection similar to that of a glass rod, it also has a very crisp recovery. Konnetic technology also allowed us to build the rod with many of the benefits of the ONE rod (smaller diameter, lightweight blank with tremendous line feel and high accuracy). It’s our go-to rod for matching the hatch.
RM: Briefly explain Konnetic technology. Also, there’s been a touch of confusion on the following point: is Konnetic technology the same as, or a subset of, Generation 5 technology?
JS:  We learn from every generation of rod building technology that we develop. With each generation, we learn more about materials, construction methods and manufacturing processes. Even when we aren’t building new rods, we are constantly exploring, researching and testing. In the world of fly rods, technology is often equated to just the material makeup of a blank. Our technologies are a combination of materials, methods and processes. Generation 5 (G5) still uses exclusive materials and unique construction methods and was a breakthrough upon its debut. I would submit that it is still more advanced than many other technologies currently being used in industry.
Konnetic technology (KT) is a whole new recipe or cohesive system that is unique and separate from G5. In other words, you couldn’t take the same materials, ratios, alignment processes and use the new construction methods of KT and have it work the same. The components of the two technologies are not interchangeable. It’s a new breed of technology, and a giant leap forward on several fronts.  It’s a whole new composite made from a very specific and optimal ratio of exclusive high modulus carbon fiber and our proprietary resin system. We are using more carbon fiber in a smaller package. This, combined with an Advanced Modulus Positioning System allowed us to specifically place and align carbon fibers even more precisely and accurately for a more fluid energy transfer throughout the blank. The last piece of the Konnetic equation (which is not an element of G5), are some proprietary construction methods that result in a noticeably smaller diameter blank that has a greater density. This is one of the keys to minimizing the torsional movement of the blank. In short, KT works as a whole new system and an entirely different system than G5.
RM: Technology sometimes comes at a price. Were there any sacrifices or concessions that you had to make on the CIRCA because of the technologies used to design and produce it?
JS: Not at all. The foundation is the same as the ONE rod, but the design, taper and modulus positioning is a unique recipe for the CIRCA. We didn’t cut any corners in developing this rod, and its unique action, feel and performance is proof of this.
RM: You had a very specific fly rod in mind when you decided to create the CIRCA.  What were the most challenging aspects of taking that idea and making it a reality? Design challenges? Materials sourcing/selection? Prototyping? Manufacturing?
JS: There were no difficulties in designing or producing the little collection of CIRCA fly rods whatsoever. In the early 70s, when I began guiding on the Henry’s Fork for Outfitter Will Godfrey,  the first fine fly rods I was exposed to were the wonderful fiberglass rods of that era.  Fiberglass as a material was being pushed into some wonderful lightweight and fluid designs and I am very grateful the population of anglers I was fishing with were outfitted with the various Winston’s and Russ Peak rods as well as Jimmy Green’s Fenwicks and Harry Wilson’s first Scott rods.   The only reason I refused Harry’s offer to join him was I was a country kid from Southern Minnesota, and San Francisco terrified me!  There were a lot more great glass and cane rods being used that I handled gingerly for a minute or two.  You have to understand that this was taking place a year or two after Swisher/Richards Selective Trout hit the bookshelves.  Will was buying flies and stocking his bins with flies tied by RenĂ© Harrop and Mike Lawson themselves. This was an era unto itself in fly fishing history in the West.  Fast forward to today: while my casting style may outwardly appear to function with a more efficient movement consistent with the powerful fly rods we currently develop, fishing and casting softer fly rods, using a single fly, no bead heads, no indicators, etc., encoded a reverence and appreciation as well as an understanding as to what this was all supposed to feel like.
It is wonderful to see the tradition of fiberglass being carried forward.  Personally, I find graphite a material that is astonishing to craft a fly rod with and excels in strength-to-weight ratio and versatility.  The design of the CIRCA collection could have taken on several forms in terms of taper design, but I chose to exaggerate the diameter to create a level of product differentiation not only in comparing a fiberglass side by side, but also compared to many graphite rods, and which would highlight Sage’s Konnetic Technology versatility. Without KT, I am certain I could craft a nice slow fly rod, but I would not be able to draw down the profile such that we did with the CIRCA.   A fly rod taper utilizes diameter and wall thickness as well as modulus of material, belying what the appearance of the OD of the rod might suggest. The CIRCA collection was a labor of love at every step along its path of development.
RM: Why the snub-nose, half-wells handle?
JS: The choice of rod handle allows for ease of handling and reduces hand fatigue.   Arguably, those fly anglers using an extended index finger grip on their rod might prefer a cigar style, or at least until they try this grip design.  Overall feedback has been overwhelmingly in favor of the snub-nosed half-wells.   It really does allow you to hold the rod with a more relaxed hand and forearm.
RM: Who is buying the CIRCA?
JS:  It’s not so much about a demographic profile as it is angler preference, style and fishing situation. Fly fishing and the tools we use have become faster over the years. There are many of us out there who want a specific tool for the specific fishing situation. The CIRCA rod is meant to take you back to the essence of dry fly fishing for trout. Slowing down, reading the water, matching the hatch and taking in the whole experience. That said, the angler who buys this rod is likely a fan of traditional casting actions like that of bamboo or glass. However, because the CIRCA rod is fast to recover and is highly accurate, we still call it a high performance rod. It’s becoming a fast favorite for those fast and moderate anglers who have been missing this type of action—but didn’t know it until they cast this rod.


20 March, 2013

Distant Cousins



 AS a kid growing up in Quebec, I fished for the following five species: bass, trout, walleye (or as the locals call it – dore), perch and northern pike.  It wasn’t until many years later, during a trip to southern Florida, that I inadvertently landed my first barracuda: a solid 7 ½ -pounder that was so bait-obsessed it rammed the boat, twice, while I was reeling in to check my bait.

I couldn’t get a proper look at the fish due to its thrashing and ripping about, but the moment I brought it on deck the only thing that went through my mind was “pike”…  this fish took bait like a pike, fought like a pike and pretty much looked a pike. From that moment on, I couldn’t help wondering if the two species were related…


Science tells us of an evolutionary phenomenon called convergence, where two or more species show similarities in body form, life history and behavior resulting from similar environmental pressures. But how is it that these two different fish species, living in entirely separate and exclusive environments, show so many biological and behavioural similarities? In fact, those similarities are so undeniable that many researchers suspect that somewhere in the ancient past, northern pike and barracuda must have been members of the same family.

The Esocidae family includes large freshwater predators found in cold-temperate North American and Eurasian inland waters, such as the familiar northern pike (Esox lucius) and muskellung (E. masquinongy). The various 18 to 20 types of barracuda (family Sphyraena), on the other hand, live in the warm, tropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. They bear such a resemblance to pike and muskies that many historical texts refer to barracudas as pike-like fishes.

Given their different environments, the northern pike and barracuda share a list of similarities surprising in its size and scope. Both are solitary, stalking predators at the upper levels of the food chain, both mature at around two years of age, live to an average of 14 years, sport canine-like and conical teeth, hunt by sight, have nearly identical body shapes and share cannibalistic tendencies, even at a young age. Despite living in completely different waters, they prefer a strikingly similar habitat. They even stalk prey in the same fashion.




 Fish evolved more than 400 million years ago, but didn’t thrive until the placoderms (prehistoric creatures covered in bony plates and resembled fish), and large sharks began to recede in dominance. ‘Modern’ bony fishes appeared about 395 million years ago; the earliest forms lived in freshwater, meaning that saltwater fish evolved from their freshwater counterparts, and that barracuda evolved from the northern pike template. This evolutionary path provides evidence of the powerful nature of convergence and the overwhelming influence it has on living organisms.

Fish did most of their evolving between five million and three-and-a-half million years ago, during the Silurian and Devonian periods. In the middle Silurian, the jawless fishes diversified, but it was not until the Devonian that a large variety of fishes really flourished and specialized in their respective aquatic niches.

About 80 million years ago, the North American continent gradually drifted toward the North Pole, one species that was more tolerant of colder conditions evolved, eventually becoming the northern pike. Esocidae evolved from the herring-salmon order of fishes during the mid-to-late Cretaceous period, but developed a much more predatory nature along the way. Pike jaws, in particular, developed to allow it to eat much larger food than the salmonids could handle. Barracuda followed a similar developmental pattern but became the pike’s warm water counterpart, explaining its much broader range, which now extends to nearly all the warm waters of the world.

Barracuda and northern pike each benefit from a physical trait provided by evolution: long, skinny jaws. When viewed head-on, elongated jaws appear to disappear, so they aren’t visible against the greater circumference of the body, giving the illusion that the predator is farther away than it really is. Being able to approach prey head-on is a highly successful tactic for stalking predators. Pre-strike behavior is also similar; both barracuda and pike are not so much dependent on their sense of smell (like sharks, for example) as their sight. They hunt based largely on visual stimuli. So they orient most quickly to moving fish, as opposed to prey that’s sitting still.

The parallels continue in the way pike and barracuda propel themselves. Ram feeding is the process in which a predatory fish uses a high-velocity lunge to overtake and engulf prey. Florida gar, redfin needlefish, northern pike and barracuda species are all ram-feeders that use their bodies in the same way, where the predator assumes an S-shaped posture prior to acceleration. This instinctive attack sequence is very distinctive in the fish world and only a handful of species have adopted it as their preferred strike pattern (sometimes, being a well-armed predator that is able to ambush prey with lightning speed can come at a cost: there are several documented cases of pike choking to death after attempting to swallow fish as large as, or, on occasion larger than, themselves  - zero documented cases for barracuda).

Both pike and barracuda are sprinters, with torpedo-shaped bodies and fins placed well back on the body to maximize thrust. Their muscles are suited for rapid bursts of activity (contrast this with the muscle type that appears in many tuna species, making them ‘marathon’ fish, able to cross entire oceans in record time), they also have more deeply forked and proportionately larger tails than slower species. The shape of these fish also suggests that they well suited to stalking prey in very shallow water. Pike are regularly found in weed beds, barracuda in mangrove beds. As is often the case with evolutionary convergence, behavioural similarities go hand-in-hand with physical similarities.

Significant barracuda populations appear near coastlines because the waters there are generally rich in nutrients. Northern pike share this preference for waters near land for the same reason. “Two species that act differently can live in the same area, can co-exist and not out-compete each other,” says fish breeder Gregg Sakowicz, who studies fish behavior at Rutgers University Marine Field Station. On the other hand, he says, offering a hint as to why barracuda and northern pike evolved far away from each other, “if your brothers and sisters all like the same foods, you will compete at the dinner table more than if you all liked different foods. By spreading out into different habitats, similar species increase their chances of obtaining food – and surviving.”

“Nature’s evolutionary strategies are devised with a great deal more common sense than the ideas of man,” points out Bill Little, a writer for Esox Ecosse, a Scottish publication dedicated to pike angling. When it comes to barracuda and pike, he suggests, there is still a great deal of work to be done by evolutionary biologists, who are just beginning to refine their theories of evolutionary convergence. After all, species are normally defined as populations that are reproductively isolated from other populations; evolutionary convergence counters that intuitive reasoning.

Prehistory has provided a partial answer: one template from which both fish evolved. Time has added another piece of the puzzle, with both species preferring similar, albeit exclusive, types of environments. Even though it doesn’t seem to make sense, the barracuda and northern pike clearly demonstrate that living in dissimilar environments can - and often does – lead to species that should be very different actually looking and behaving the same way.

3weight

Learned something new, by doing something old




I drove right over a rod tube recently. It contained my new fly rod.

I’ll spare you the gory and embarrassing details. This happened 90 minutes from my home, where I was preparing to start an afternoon of fly fishing, but no worries, spare rod in the trunk. I verified the trunk: no spare - for the first time ever. Cursing took place.

What to do?

I decided to walk around and just observe the water (something I don’t do nearly enough of). After a few minutes of observing, I ran into an angler who had just wrapped up his day and was exiting the site. I told him about my brand new, and newly-wrecked rod.  He was staying on site an additional hour and graciously offered to lend me his rod during that time. I accepted without hesitation.

He had a vest on and I assumed, quite wrongly, that he was going to lend me a fly fishing rig. We walked to his vehicle and he took out a spin casting rig (what the - ?), along with a tackle box loaded with spoons, impressive looking Rapala-type fish and dozens of colourful rubber lures, “bass magnets” according to my new friend.

I hadn’t handled a spin casting rig in 18 years, but my options were limited, so, what the heck, off to the water…

I tied on a spoon and cast… instant bass: a rebellious 2 pounder.  I moved around the area and had similar success with floating Rapalas (beautifully crafted items, by the way).  I stayed away from the bass magnet rubber lures because I was doing just fine with the non-magnetic variety. My hour was up. I brought the gear back, said thanks, got in my vehicle and drove home.

Some things that went through my mind during the drive: (1) check to be 100% certain that there’s a spare fly rod in there, (2) I loved my hour of spin casting and (3) I’d definitely do it again - at least once a year. There are several good reasons why.

The very first cast brought me right back to my youth. I started spin casting, fly fishing came much later, and there’s no question that the rod arm develops muscle memory. Casting that relatively heavy spoon brought back those memories in a very physical way. Beyond that, handling a different implement, even for just an hour, gives you both an appreciation and a better understanding of what you are accomplishing with a fly rod.

I walked away from this experience realizing that I didn’t focus enough on that subtle wrist snap that’s required of a fly cast if you’re to get your fly to really sail. That wrist snap is something that comes instinctively when you’re propelling a half-ounce spoon or Rapala lure. This particular facet of casting knowledge comes to you instantly – and acutely – because the wrist snap used in a spin cast is not only far from subtle, but essential (it also it doesn’t have the inherent consequences of an overdone snap when using a fly rod).

Finally, this one hour exercise renewed my appreciation for the skills required in fly fishing: casting (proficiently), minding the line, tracking the fly, minding drift, limiting slack and so on. This is not a dig at spin casting, which has its own unique subtleties to be appreciated. The experience did, however, make me realize that fly fishing is more demanding of the angler because it’s a more participatory and connective type of fishing.

Spin gear, it will widen your horizons - and perhaps even bring back memories of why you fell in love with fly fishing to begin with.

3weight

21 January, 2013

How Low Can You Go? (II)




I fished North-East Florida over the holiday season and noticed a growing group of rebels that’s taking salt water fly fishing and turning it on its head. They’re easily spotted, fishing right alongside spin casters, sporting chest or hip-packs, wading knee-level and fishing light and sometimes ultra-light fly lines. Judging from the number of 5 and 6-weight rods around, this is clearly a new trend.

I ran into three small groups, one of which consisted of four Ohio natives, headed by Charlie, a “kind of former trout bum who still likes trout - but this has more oomph than trout fishing, if you know what I mean.” 

No, Charlie, I don’t - please explain.

“One, the variety of fish you can hook is exponential compared with what you can expect back home (in fresh water) and pound for pound, these (salt water) fish have far more torque than anything in fresh water.” After a bit more discussion, I realized that perception is indeed everything: considering that a one-and-a-half pound jack or boxfish can be a prize on a 5 or 6-weight rig…

The rods generally range from 5 to 7-weight, I even spotted one person wielding a #4 fly rig that sported an Abel Creek fly reel (for those not familiar with the model, it’s a trout reel – and yes, it has a click drag). This person was targeting small jacks – specifically. And what if you hook into a 10lb snook? I asked. “We’re not here for large snook, or large anything. I fish the lightest saltwater leaders available, so anything over the 6 or 7lb range will result in a break-off, which is fine. We’re conscientious, we’re careful, and take care not to exhaust fish.”

Charlie: Naysayers always point out that fishing a #6 rig on a beach is nothing but a nuisance, well, it’s certainly a bit more of a challenge, not relying on a 9-weight rod for wind-busting strength,  but let’s be honest: if you’ve developed a solid cast, it can be done – and with relative ease. Cast low, cast tight (loops) and directly into the wind and you’re good. Also, there are products out there that address some of these difficulties. What we look for are quick-loading lines with short, fat heads  – once again, we’re using ultra-light gear – but we aren’t chasing trout – so subtlety isn’t high on our list of requirements.

Also, we aren’t making 80-foot casts, remember that the fish are generally right here, at our feet –  that said, we still have to turn over chunky flies (merkin crabs, medium sized clousers, weighted shrimp), which is another reason short, slightly heavier heads are the order of the day [RIO’s new QuickShooter bonefish line is a case in point. It has a short, easy-casting head that is designed to load rods at close range and is suited for anglers wading the flats or for novice saltwater anglers - RM].

There’s no shortage of techniques or leader formulas, either, “the general recipe is to give our leaders ‘the chop’ –  removing the last 18” to 24” right off the bat. We have to turn over some pretty large flies, relative to our gear, and most surf fish aren’t leader shy, so the formula works out. I repeat: this isn’t trout fishing – or even bonefishing, for that matter.” Still, some of the hard core members in the group are using full, 9-footers that taper down to 8 and even 6lbs. These are clearly the more proficient casters in the group.

Charlie: There are definitely a few trade-offs, the fishing is unquestionably less focused since we’re after smaller saltwater fare, and, as with all types of fishing, we learn to expect the unexpected: my father-in-law landed a 26lb hammerhead – using a 7-weight, and was able to accomplish this in “well under 10 minutes” - granted that it takes some fishing experience to accomplish that. The shark was released in very good condition.

Barracuda in the 1 to 6lb range populate nearly every stretch of water, so poppers are a pretty consistent treat. The system requires a super-short leader, normally trimmed down to 66” or 60” and finished off with 4” to 6” of bite guard, you’d be surprised at the distance a mid-sized popper can be cast using that leader formula.

Backing capacity seems like the only undetermined component so far. Some equip their mid-size reels with plenty of it, in the event of an unexpected bonefish or permit strike. Many others use very little of it (as little as 80 yards in some cases). “Risky? Without question. Some days, break-offs can be the rule rather than the exception in this game.”

Rods themselves are a non-issue. They’re widely available and up to the task. St. Croix, Sage, Orvis and several other manufacturers make ultra-stiff, fast action saltwater fly rods, the lightest of which usually come in at #6.

On the growing numbers, “… a few short years ago, we consisted of a very select group of people. We’d get plenty of odd looks, and still do, but attitudes are definitely changing.”

A Bass Pro Shops salesperson supported this, telling me that sales of light saltwater fly rods and fly lines have shot through the roof in the last 12 to 18 months. He also offered, “many of these people are either totally new to salt water fly fishing, or just unable – or unwilling – to spend the dollars required to chase billfish, or other saltwater species of the more glorious variety”.

24 October, 2012

How Low Can You Go? (essay)




At the end of each season, I lay out my seven fly boxes (five freshwater, two salt) and get to work discarding, reorganizing and getting a sense of which patterns in the inventory need refreshing – or replacing altogether. About three seasons ago, muddlers, for reasons I still can’t figure out, were dismal performers (of course it couldn’t be my performance as an angler, ergo, it had to be the fly), so I intentionally let my muddler supply dwindle for the following two  seasons. Bad move, because I learned that quite a few anglers were doing well with those flies. So I upped the muddler count last year – to a very modest six flies.

My flybox collection used to total ten. Then eight. Now seven, and I suspect it’ll hover near that mark for a few years at least. This got me thinking: how low can you go? The mathematical answer to that is simple: one - fly. We’ve all read or heard about that select group of enigmatic fly fishers being able to ‘make due with one pattern [hares ear, usually] for the entire season’. Quite possibly, but in my mind this amounts to nothing more than a philosophical exercise. Anyone going to those extremes is limiting themselves, literally.

There’s no question that those fortunate jet-setters who fish the entire planet need a vast assortment of bugs. Most of us, however, normally fish a handful of relatively local spots. So, how low can you go? The answer (ahem) is 4 boxes. Medium sized.

Streamers, dry flies and nymphs get one box each. Wet flies and terrestrials have to share the real estate 60/40.

I’m pleased to report that North-American waters can be covered with ten dry and ten wet fly patterns. This scientific fact is supported by the numerous “top-10” articles on these flies - and the good news is that there’s much overlap in the fly selection contained in these articles. The important thing is to have three sizes of each pattern: small/medium/large. On to streamers…

I’m tempted to say, ‘Black wooly bugger. Let’s move on to nymphs,’ but that would be a touch too simplistic, so add a few olive patterns. Small, medium, large, with and without weight. With a slight advantage given to the weighted patterns. If you target bass, weighted Clousers in brown/white and magenta/white should get some shelf space. If, and only if, you’ve experienced success with mickey finns and other dace patterns, then a few of those wouldn’t hurt. On to nymphs…

Hares ear, prince nymph, pheasant tail, scuds in dark, medium and light colours. Same as streamers: weighted and unweighted, three sizes, slightly favouring the weighted models.

Some terrestrials, to keep those wet flies company. I know many anglers who do away with terrestrials altogether, but that’s just wrong. There are times when hoppers and ants – black and red - do what other flies can’t. If beetles populate your fishing locales, add beetles in the appropriate colours. Ants in two sizes (small/medium), hoppers in small/medium/large.

There, your four boxes are filled to about 80% capacity. Feel free send me an email outlining how that remaining 20% should be used. And if you’re partial to muddlers, do let me know what the big secret is to getting those flies to work – properly. I still don’t have very much faith in them.

3weight

16 October, 2012

James Prosek’s Ocean Fishes: Capturing The Moment




The great 19th century painter and naturalist, John James Audubon, knew the difference between striving for something and getting an image just right. Audubon routinely worked from dead specimens but understood the importance of capturing the subtle details of life in his paintings. Take some time leafing through Ocean Fishes, and you’ll immediately realize that Prosek invested much time and effort to nail down those very details.

Prosek painted his subjects as they emerged from the sea and rendered them with an objectivity that he has developed from years of participating in art, science – and the emotional experience of angling. The paintings - 35 watercolors of the most pursued saltwater fish - are at once scrupulously accurate and manage to transcend the anatomical details that define the fish. In this regard, Prosek gives us a privileged place on the deck, a view ordinarily glimpsed only by fishermen, and brings us closer to seeing the fish than any of his contemporaries: he literally ‘captures the moment’. Prosek states, “… as anyone who has spent time on the water knows: a fish is a dynamic, colourful, always-changing organism, lit by some internal light that that rapidly flickers out as the fish expires.”

The Ocean Fishes project began when Prosek was a Yale University undergraduate and it announced his scope and ambition both as an artist and a natural historian. Prosek is also an experimentalist: phosphorescent effects were often called for when rendering fish scales, so he developed a way of working ground mica into the paint to help achieve them. The final result is a volume of faithfully reproduced images (along with accompanying scale indicators since all the fish, from a 14” porgy to a 12’8” blue marlin, were painted life-sized), that is both a reference guide as well as an art book that can find a home in any fishing library or on a coffee table. If you’re searching for gift possibilities for the upcoming holiday season, Ocean Fishes is a no-brainer.  

Published by Rizzoli, New York
$39.95

12 October, 2012

TEVA Churn Water Shoe (review)



 Water shoes – or “surf-mocs” - as they’re sometimes called, have always had two weaknesses: near zero durability, especially if you’re in the +180lb range, and near zero lateral support… well, what did you expect for $9.99?

Newer models with corresponding updated features (and pricing) offer some improvements but still fall way short of offering decent foot support.

TEVA has produced what I think is the first in a new generation of water shoe, the TEVA Churn ($90). It features a heavily contoured foot-bed/inner shoe for real, sneaker-like support, wrap around stiff mesh, broad/dual-compound sticky sole and porting like a fly reel.

Straight out of the box, you’ll note an oddity: there’s an integrated, soft heel-pad on the outside of the shoe, this is so you can kick in the rear portion of the shoe and convert the Churns to slipper mode – which now sport a nice, soft heel. Smart.

On land, these shoes bounce like Air Jordans. They inspire enough confidence to break out a quick game of hoops (note: don’t – as this would most likely go a ways in wrecking the sticky rubber properties, which TEVA dubs “Spider rubber”).

After a thorough dunking, the Spider rubber won’t let you down, even on fairly smooth surfaces the level of grip is superior to most other existing products. Drainage is instant, due to the large amount of stiff mesh used in the shoe’s construction. The mesh at the front of the foot is capped with a tough, rubberized strip, so no worries about bumping into abrasive things.

Another factor that plagues lesser-quality water shoes is dry time - it’s clear that TEVA engineers gave some thought to the materials that went into the Churn. Kick up your feet (or kick off the Churns) in a stiff breeze and they’re dry in minutes.

The Churns also feature a quick-lace system, elasticized ankle collar and an overall build that will keep your feet from dancing in the shoe, because in the water, or on a wet skiff, they shouldn’t.

Hands down the most innovative, built-to-last water shoe currently available. Competing manufacturers will be copying the TEVA Churn in three… two… one…