15 April, 2013
20 March, 2013
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.
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.
21 January, 2013
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
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.
16 October, 2012
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
12 October, 2012
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…
08 August, 2012
I’ve donned back packs, sling packs, chest packs, hip packs, a variety of combo packs and, of course, fishing vests. Aside from a minor aversion to chest packs, I think that all of these products work well, depending on the kind of fishing day you have planned.
It’s nice have the opportunity to try out all of this gear, but I’ve always struggled with how much stuff to take along on a fishing excursion. I’m a minimalist at heart: nippers, tippet, two extra leaders, pliers and, of course, flies - the end (that’s my little fly fishing fantasy). When I do head out, though, I generally carry a touch more gear. The process I’ve developed is to lay out all of my gear and then decide what’s definitely not coming on the trip, one obvious example: popper box stays home if I’m interested in bonefish (etc).
Something else I wondered about recently is what is the ideal carrying capacity that a product should offer? I envy you minimalists: 325 cubic inches and you’re set (and you probably have some space left over for a small sandwich), and my sympathies go out to anglers from the ‘everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink’ school: 11 fly boxes, 3 or 4 line spools, 7 tippet spools, thermometer, rod repair kit (etc., etc.) I’m sure this group is fine with carrying everything they own, but I just don’t get it…
After some careful (and honest) calculations, I’ve come up with a volume figure that insures you’re not carrying too little – and equally prevents you from carrying too much. That number is 1,300 - cubic inches.
1,300 cu/in automatically disqualifies all sling packs, chest packs, and hip packs, which generally start at 350 and max out at 850 cu/in range. We’re left with vests and back-packs. Learn to stock your vest – properly – and that vest becomes a valued treasure on the water. I’ve heard more than a few anglers complain that they wish they could figure a way to stop overloading their vests, though, the logic being that if the pockets are there, then you have to fill them with something, which does make sense on some level.
Vests, by virtue of their small compartments, require you to be organized. Not a bad thing, but let’s be honest, how many vest-wearers have you seen unzipping or ripping Velcro - and cursing? I’ve heard “it’s usually in THIS pocket,” too many times.
Hip packs are great, but there’s no way that one can be developed to carry 1,300 cu/in – comfortably.
Chest packs have a way of getting in the way.
I’ve worn a few combo systems, generally of the chest-pack/back-pack variety, and I like them, but for some reason manufacturers outfit these ‘systems’ with far too many straps, buckles and doo-dads – so that users can tailor a proper fit. Smart enough. Nearly every model I’ve tried, however, left me with way too many pull-straps flailing in the wind, sort of like a mummy, coming undone.
If I were forced to choose just one of the carrying options listed above, back packs would win by a mile.
Plain back packs have two shoulder regulators, and sometimes a chest strap or waist belt. Clean, simple and efficient configuration.
With a 1,300 cu/in back-pack, you just throw everything in there, in just one or two large compartments, and you can comfortably fish an item out when needed. Small items tend to sink to the bottom, and I can deal with that.
What can comfortably fit into a 1,300 cu/in back pack? This: reel, additional reel spool, 4 medium sized fly boxes (for 250 flies), leaders, several tippet spools, nippers & pliers, large sandwich, 2 apples, crushable rain top/windbreaker, 750ml water bottle, compact thermometer, sunglasses and ball cap, extra T-shirt, knife, w/c paper, wallet, cell, car keys. Secure your 4-piece rod to the side of the pack and you’re set.
I tested Fishpond’s sporting club backpack ($150) recently, and highly recommend it – it’s shaped like a classic rucksack.
· Highly functional: 2 large interior compartments with Velcro mini-compartments and a zip-top flap.
· Buckle and magnetic lid closure.
· Four mid-sized, zippered outside pockets (think fly boxes).
· Comfortable, wide, padded shoulder straps.
· The cotton used in its fabrication is tough enough to withstand some abuse and is treated with a wax that renders the pack impermeable.
· And comes in at 1,281 cu/in – go figure!
07 August, 2012
Teva is known for innovative outdoor performance, but this time around insisted their designer produce something uber-stylish. Skiff-meisters, boat enthusiast/fashionistas take note: these non-slip shoes lay the competition to rest.
First, the waterproofing: Ion-mask™ technology is a protective layer that is molecularly bonded to every surface of the shoe, including the laces (the treatment is actually an ultra-thin and invisible coating). Its maker, P2i (www.p2i.com), claims the ion mask makes materials hydrophobic and stain resistant, while still allowing the shoe to be breathable. That claim bears out: water beads up and rolls off the material, including the shoelaces. Do the shoes dry off quickly? No, because they don’t get wet in the first place. Another impressive claim: the ion mask lasts as long as the material itself and is not compromised by everyday wear (look for a medium-term review in a few months).
The soles were originally designed for kitchen staff working on greasy floors. The gecko-like traction on slippery surfaces is the result of the sole’s dual rubber compound and a tiny cross-cut design that appears in numerous octagons. The Xs form channels in the octagons themselves, diverting water and increasing the soles’ surface contact. (Teva has posted a video of somebody standing on an acrylic ramp covered in dish soap to show how well the shoes grip. View it, and prepare to be impressed).
I laced up a pair, found some wet surfaces then walked, jogged and came to abrupt stops – the shoes literally feel like suction cups. Traction is nothing, however, if your foot isn’t properly supported: there’s a fine balance to be struck and Teva makes good in that department as well, providing a foot-hugging upper and a snug toe box. The insole is heavily sculpted – with particular attention paid to the heel sink, which allows for your heel to be well anchored. All in all, think hi-tech, amphibious Converse All Star with at vastly improved insole. These are semi-rugged shoes that have a deceptively rugged finish, featuring four different types of stitching.
Shoes are well ventilated and they drain quickly. They feature a clever, collapsible heel for quick on/off – and easily morph into slipper mode, if that’s your thing (although you’ll sacrifice the aforementioned support while in that mode).
The Teva Fuse-Ion: ideally suited for hanging around boat ramps, docks, or on a skiff – and they look good overall, especially if you’re fond of that skater look.
Mens/Womens models available.
Mens/Womens models available.
01 August, 2012
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 end of that fairly heated debate cried out for many points that needed clarification, so I contacted Simon Gawesworth, RIO’s line development guru and chief marketer - our brief Q & A appears below. 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.
F3M: 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.
F3M: 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.
F3M: How do the Avid cores (materials/weave) and coating material formula differ from the hi-end and entry level products?
SG: In many ways; 1) The raw materials used are not of the highest grade, nor of the lowest. Our LT has the finest micron size of microshperes, 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.
F3M: 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.
F3M: 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.
Summary: there are very real materials/manufacturing and physical differences that are responsible for performance differences in different product categories.
On the water…
Note that there’s one 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.
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 quickly.
26 July, 2012
Task-specific clothing is stuff that should work for you. They’re items that allow you to comfortably carry out a task and, ideally, increase your performance without worrying that they’ll break down somehow and impede your play/work-flow.
Columbia graciously provided me with an array of PFG (Performance Fishing Gear) items to put through the paces. My observations follow.
Columbia Bonehead PFG shirt ($43)
100% cotton shirt that’s made really large, so no worries about restricted motion (although considerable flap when your zipping along on your skiff). Features a corresponding large, rear vent with a coarse mesh underlay – which goes a long way in keeping you cool even in just a slight breeze. I have a preference for cotton items, but cotton quality can vary greatly, Columbia selected a hi-quality cotton (along with a perfect weave) for the Bonehead: offers excellent breathability, and dries quickly. No shortage of pockets (4, in various sizes, with Velcro closures) and loops aplenty for attaching light tools. If you’re sporting this shirt in a freshwater environment, you can seriously consider leaving your vest at home.
With one minor tweak (fining up that rear mesh in order to keep bugs out), this could easily be transformed into an ideal fresh-water shirt. Are you listening, Columbia?
Also features a collar that locks down via Velcro, instead of those annoying tiny buttons (nice touch).
And there’s a Velcro rod holder.
Excellent value. Highly recommended.
Columbia Men's Cool Creek shorts ($55)
I like everything about the minimalist aesthetic, to the extent that I’m envious of those that travel, and fish, using only the bare essentials. If that’s your mode (or the mode that you aspire to), then Columbia’s Cool Creek shorts are for you.
Packed with intelligent features like close-to-the-body tailoring that’s coupled with comfort-stretch fabric, waterproof waist snap, rear Velcro pockets and one large zippered side pocket that can hold a medium sized fly-box. Poly-blend features Columbia omni-wick advanced evaporation tech, so dries lightning quick, and probably the snazziest shorts you’re likely to see on the water. Fashion conscious?... sport these and you won’t have to change into your ‘fancy pants’ before heading out to the bar.
One minor flaw: coarse mesh pockets in lieu of drainage holes are OK, but not suitable for keys or small implements as they tend to get caught in the mesh. Recommended for minimalists.
11 July, 2012
Jim Harrison wrote in an essay, that “Most of the changes in older fishing are toward simplification. I must own twenty-five trout rods but only use two. I think I know where they are… “
My father is the person responsible for my love of fishing.
I remember him having many, many rods, as well as a half-dozen beautifully machined, gloss-black Mitchell reels, and all of the other necessary doo-dads that could be crammed into two or three large tackle boxes. But he was no gear junkie. All of that gear was essential, in that he obtained a rod and reel for each member of the family.
The number of occasions that we fished as an entire family (5 members, total), could be counted on one hand, but still, according to my dad: you had to have the gear so we could all fish, simultaneously, if we wanted to… can’t fault that logic.
I, on the other hand, am a dedicated gear junkie, or at least used to be until very recently. I love to fish, and equally love trying out new fishing implements. I anticipate (and savor!), every press release issued by rod manufacturers, reel manufacturers… heck, I get a kick reading about newly designed tippet spools. I don’t suspect that that part of me will ever change: just like a kid, I’m always interested in new toys.
What has changed is that I’ve realized that I - like our friend Jim Harrison - always return to the same two or three rods (out of a small collection). Every one of them is fine product, but as always and with nearly everything else in life, you end up with favorites.
Add to this that I have to put up with a pesky day job, which really cuts in to my fly fishing time, and you can quickly begin to see that I just don’t have enough time to play with all of my toys.
Some of my fly rods and reels would have a thick layer of dust on them if they weren’t in their protective tubes and pouches.
Recently, and on a whim, I reduced my toy box by a full one-third. Doing this felt right. And it felt good. After all, people should be using stuff that’s meant to be used. Beyond this, I’m a minimalist at heart, but certainly not in practice, and paring down somehow brings me a step closer to that better if not perfect person that I want to be.
I suspect that sometime in the future another third of my now very modest collection will get the chop. And this doesn’t faze me one bit.
If you’re sitting on a collection of fishing rods, reels (etc) that haven’t seen the light of day in a long while, consider putting that gear in the hands of someone who will get some mileage – and some fishing fun - out of it.
26 June, 2012
As per the manufacturer: This powered-up version of our original Drainmaker offers great fit and support. When your day takes you in and out of the water, you want a shoe that can tackle surf and turf equally well… The amphibious Powerdrain does just that with a fully drainable design that features a quick-pull bungee cord on the upper for great fit and side welds for great foot lockdown. Our new 3-layer system allows water and air to move easily through the shoe for quick-dry, barefoot comfort, while the Omni-Grip® wet grip rubber outsole delivers outstanding traction on slick surfaces.
Unboxing these shoes was an odd experience. I thought for a moment that the box might be empty, but no, the shoes were in there, both of them, and they’re light. Extraordinarily light. I couldn’t resist weighing them on my kitchen scale. My size 11s came in at an astounding 262 grams per shoe. There’s something to be said for rapidly evolving materials technologies…
The first issue that crosses my mind whenever feather-lite items are concerned is durability. While I haven’t tested the shoe over the long term, all of the product reviews I read mentioned nothing about deterioration, and some reviewers have been using the shoe for as long as 5 months.
On the foot they feel light, very comfortable – and solid. The Powerdrains feature three-layer construction and come with a reinforced toe cap and heel cup (they’re actually a beefier reincarnation of Columbia’s Drainmaker shoes).
These are extremely versatile shoes. The Techlite and Omni-Grip materials, for shock absorption and gripping ability in wet conditions, work exceptionally well on boat decks and equally well on smooth cement approaches and boat ramps. If you’re kayaking / rafting / canoeing / out on the skiff, you may want to give the Powerdrains serious consideration.
They also perform well while wading and negotiating slick rocks or rocky shorelines. The entire shoe is ported like a premium fly reel, so water shedding is near-instantaneous – no sloshing when exiting the water.
Three-layer construction means dry time isn’t optimal (overnight normally works), but considering the shoe’s overall comfort and grip features, this is still an optimal product - you’ll want to keep your Powerdrains on the entire day.
Powerdrains sport a bungee lacing system: shoe on (or off) is lightning-quick - no need for laces in a water shoe.
Bonus: although not technically running gear, these shoes track really well on sand and pavement, and offer up a surprising level of lateral support.
Like many other Columbia products, this shoe is eco-friendly: Waterproof Techlite is made with a molding process that reduces waste, keeping excess material out of landfills.
· Combination mesh, TPU and EVA upper with a TPU toe cap
· Techlite® midsole with drainage ports in heel and forefoot
· Fully drainable footbed
· Omni-Grip wet grip rubber with traction lugs
Columbia Men's Powerdrain shoe
24 May, 2012
If streamer fishing makes up part of your fishing schedule, then take note, there’s a new implement in the toolbox that’s designed and built just for you: St. Croix’s Bank Robber series, which comes in a #5, 6 or 7 - all models are 4-piece configuration.
One of the tags that comes with this St. Croix rod reads “technology meets craftsmanship” – succinctly put, and a claim that bears out with each use.
I normally dispense with the tech talk when writing about rods because (a) it’s boring and (b) tech specs are readily obtainable on the manufacturer’s website and literature included with the rod purchase. It is worth noting, however, that Bank Robbers are packed with new and improved technology essential for this type of product: 3M NSi nano silica resin (to better bind the carbon fibers that comprise the blank), high-strain graphite/carbon-matte scrim, the list goes on… and on… [definitely worth a visit to the St. Croix website if this is the kind of stuff that excites you]
One cool bit of tech worth mentioning is the REC recoil guides, which flex considerably, yet retain their memory. According to the manufacturer literature, they’re up to 3 times lighter than regular guides, absolutely rustproof, and highly appreciated by anglers like me, who snag rods while traveling through wooded areas.
Tech aside, the Bank Robber is a pleasure to cast due to its impeccably calibrated and balanced blank. The middle third of the blank provides just enough heft to cast large streamers without having to resort to those extended, ‘bonefish-style’ casts and yet still feels light, even after hours of non-stop use. The market has been flooded with hi-powered sticks that will cast a bug one zip code over, except that most of these rods take the fun out of playing a fish. This isn’t one of those rods: it does have the horse-power to get big streamers out at a very wide range of distances, but the real highlight comes from the action imparted when striking and landing a fish – there’s a impressive degree of subtlety in the tip section, giving you the confidence to put a bend in the rod without fear of losing that bass, coupled with enough power in the lower 2/3 of the blank to pressure a stubborn customer. I even took this #6 out for some light-saltwater action - sorry, St. Croix - the rod performed beautifully under some high strain (the jacks didn’t seem to mind). There’s always that moment while you’re trying to persuade a tough fish to comply with orders and you hope your gear can handle the pressure – this rod will relegate that moment to a distant memory.
I initially had my reservations about the tip section, feeling that it was too supple for the overall package, but by the end of day one, I realized that I had taken in more than one fish because of the enhanced strike detection. If you’re mostly used to new generation, super-fast rods, I suggest that you relax and slow down your cast when first using the Bank Robber and the rod’s characteristics will shine right through: distance and accuracy attained, with ease. Even small bass are notorious for break-offs, the supple tip section goes a long way in protecting tippets and leaders. Fewer break-offs… more landings.
Annodized, machined-aluminum reel seat with built-in hook-keeper, super-premium grade cork handle and Flex Coat slow-cure finish (2 coats) are among the top-tier components featured in the rod series.
For those interested in the rod’s lineage, St. Croix asked master angler Kelly Galloup to design the Bank Robber. Judging from his web comments, St. Croix delivered exactly what he asked for.
Final note: kudos to the cosmetic surgeons for producing the sexiest, see-thru reel seat - ever.
Comes with a rugged rod case and limited lifetime warranty.
Tested with Scientific Anglers Sharkskin GPX WF6F