Friday, October 18, 2013

Little Friends

I hope this head cold wanes soon. The olives are up and Sam thinks we need to go fishing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I am the enemy (and so are you)

The battle for fly fishing retail dollars is a brutal one. Fly shops, never a place to make one's fortune, exist in an increasingly competitive landscape. These days if you don't have an online presence to complement your bricks and mortar you either have a shop within a double haul of a storied water or are preparing to go out of business. If your business model depends on selling flies for two bucks a piece, it better be something better than can be had for thirty-nine cents online.

While as a consumer, I understand the day-to-day warfare, there's one theater in the retail battlefront that I wasn't aware of -- the fly rod guarantee. Apparently, shops are upset with rod manufacturers, and have been for years, because they offer these lifetime guarantees.

Short story: If I buy a rod with a lifetime guarantee, I'll never buy another one. If it gets damaged I get it repaired. If I want a new model, I wait for the old model to go out of production, damage it, and get sent a new one. The shop never makes another sale.

In a opinion piece over on The Angling Trade website, fly shop owner David Leinweber attributes rod sales declines primarily to warranties.
Over the past decade, fly shops across the country have seen premium rod purchases decline. There are several factors pointing to the decline of premium rod sales compared to the “pre-warranty” era. It may be competition, the economy, it may be the advent of the Web, it may be the increasing cost of repairs; it may be a lot of things. My opinion is that there is little incentive for someone with a “lifetime warranty” to buy a new rod.
He'd like to see manufacturers stop offering warranties so that when our rod accidentally breaks or when we need the new model and slam our old rod in the car door* that we have to go into the fly shop and purchase a new one from him. If we want a warranty, he suggests that we purchase one separately from the rod manufacturer. Presumably this also reduces the price of rods for consumers so those who want a warranty get one and those who don't, don't.

I'd like to see some data on this subject. Of the five things that David cites as the possible reasons for sales declines - competition, the economy, the internet, cost of repairs, warranties -- I think warranties is at or near the bottom of the list. Again, I have no data, just opinion.

One of David's key presumptions, that folks are slamming rods in car doors in order to get free upgrades, seems dubious. I know of two people who broke rods -- one on a backcast hooked in a tree, the other on a steelhead -- and then sent in rods for repairs. One got the same model, the other a newer one. The one didn't break his rod to get the newer model. I'm sure there are cheaters out there. Heck lowlifes cheat on far less valuable things, why not rod repairs. It's a matter of ethics. I don't think this is as much a problem as David thinks.

When I want the latest rod, I buy it. I don't scan the box of rods in the garage trying to figure out which to run through the ceiling fan. That said, of the three I've purchased during the past five years, only one came from a fly shop. The others I purchased online from the manufacturer**. Why? It's easier. I don't have to leave my house to go to a fly shop. Also, the selection is better. I don't have to purchase what they have in stock, I can purchase what I want. Again, my gut tells me that the ease of purchase on the web coupled with the crap economy far outweigh the effect of warranties. That's what the past decade has been all about.

I think much of this comes back to the role of the fly shop in our sport. Good ones seem to be places we go naturally, bad ones we avoid. There are two up on the Housatonic River and I clearly prefer Housatonic River Outfitters to the other***. Up in Pulaski there are two I like and one I don't. And down in Townsend, TN is one of the best I've found.

There are a lot of conditions facing fly shop owners and I think any time spent on warranties is time that could be better spent wondering how to improve your internet store or declutter the shop or investing in customer service training for the staff. I think those are the things that are going to make folks come in (or log on) and buy stuff. Eliminating warranties isn't going to change anything at all for fly shop sales. It's the red herring in this pool.

* I prefer to use a ceiling fan.
** Another sore spot with fly shop owners, I'm sure.
*** Which may, or may not, be still in business.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

No unsolicited poetry, please.

Why can't he write about what he's writing about? Poets...
Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

- Excerpt from The Bait by John Donne*

I've been distributing my writing in a few places that pay one to do such and having more success than I expected. That, of course, has led me to look for other places upon which to inflict to submit my words.

I find it amusing that in a number of submission guidelines I have found the following phrase:

No unsolicited poetry, please.

I am no poet, as I have demonstrated in the past, and no judge of poetry. I don't particularly enjoy the form though on occasion I will read a piece that is recommended. But I was struck by the request. Clearly there must be some supply-demand imbalance in the poetry world; so much poetry is available that it must be turned away. Are there really that many poets out there? Or are they generally worse than they think they are? Or both?

Not submitting poetry. Anywhere.

* And it's not even a poem about fishing! Damn that poetry, it's always about something else!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Rainbows of Eagle Ridge Ranch

Sheridan Creek

My first day in Idaho I had mentally penciled in the Henry's Fork as the place to fish. I had my camp site reserved and was fantasizing about hiking far from the beaten path to find water that had less pressure and large, less discriminating fish. Of course, I didn't foresee my buddy Chris Hunt offering a real bed at his place and an opportunity to fish some water for choice Rainbows with two friends, Greg McReynolds and Tom Reed.

Sheridan Creek runs off the flanks of Taylor Mountain near Island Park, Idaho, meanders across the valley floor for miles before emptying into Island Park Reservoir. Most of the land it crosses is privately owned and while there are ways to access the river from public lands and road crossings access through private land is the most convenient. That's where Eagle Ridge Ranch comes in.

An average denizen of Sheridan Creek. (Photo: Chris Hunt)
Eagle Ridge Ranch is located is Island Park just off the beaten path. It is comprised of 90,000 acres and is a working cattle ranch. Of course, all that pasture has some sweet trout streams running through it. The ranch has a lodge (four bedrooms) and four cabins for rent and accommodations include access to streams and lakes on the property. There's also the opportunity to canoe the ponds, do some horseback riding and participate in other ranch activities.

We had made special arrangements to do some fishing and you should contact the ranch directly if you're interested in doing so. We came for the fishing; specifically fishing for trophy rainbows in Sheridan Lake. Of course, there's also Sheridan Creek, a pretty meadow creek, that caught our eye and was where we started our day.

By the time I got down to the water, Chris and Greg were both into fine rainbows. Chris was using a small fiberglass rod and it lacked the backbone to muscle the fish in any way so part of the joy of seeing him catch this fish was to watch him dance along the bank and through the riffles trying to stay connected. Fortunately, Chris is light on his feet and he managed to complete the dance and land the beast. Those fish proved to be the largest that we caught though everyone got into more modest sized bows and Chris managed to catch a beauty of a Brookie.

A delicate ballerina.
One of the things that you have to contend with when fishing a ranch are the fences. The location we chose seemed to be some sort of nexus between many fields and there was a maze of barbed wire fences that needed to be navigated. At one point I hooked a fish in an alley between two fences and he promptly fled downstream. Unable to cross the fence that spanned the stream, I had to literally drag the fish back upstream under the wire. Fortunately, the tippet held.

Chris' eddy rainbow
A highlight of the afternoon was sight fishing to a pod of bows in large eddy that formed off to the side of a bend. Chris was fishing the main channel when Greg and I came over the rise. The eddy was still and weedy and didn't look like much until the sun came out from behind the clouds. We both saw the shadows of several large fish slowly circling. Redirected, it took Chris a few casts to get the fly in the right place. With a twitch and a short strip, Greg and I got to watch a hefty bow surge and strike Chris' hopper.

We never made it to the lake to fish for the trophy bows. By the time we got around to going over to the lake the day was waning and the wind was up. We had foolishly passed on the option to bring along a battery for the boats on the pond and rowing in the wind wasn't appealing. Besides, our hunger had built. And we were thirsty. Again.

We drove into town and had a burger and a few beers. While the desire to linger was there, we all had ground to cover. Tom needed to get back home and Greg and Chris had a long ride ahead of them. I had an appointment with a campground in the park and needed to get to West Yellowstone before the shops closed down.

As I drove north, I passed the turn off for Sheridan Creek. I looked long and hard down that dusty dirt path. Fortunately, I was temporarily sated and continued north setting up my tent just before a storm rolled through. As the front passed the air chilled and I took a coffee and cigar to the banks of the Madison River to enjoy the last of the sunset. Even with storied water before me I couldn't help but reflect on Sheridan Lake and the rainbows we never saw.

For a video of what it's like to fish on the lake, check out Marc Crapo's Eagle Ridge Adventure Video

Prettier places are hard to come by. (Photo: Chris Hunt)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fiction: Yellowstone Taper

I've been writing a bit of fiction lately. Two pieces have been accepted for publication. Trying to stuff a good story into something less than three thousand words has been an interesting challenge. I look forward to seeing them in print. I'll let you know when they're out.

I'm not sure what inspired the following piece. On short notice, I was asked for 700 words that ultimately hit the editor's floor. This may be the beginning of a longer piece. Or it may just languish. Regardless, unsatisfactory for publication I'm free to inflict it upon you.

Camp Benign?

"TA-DAA-A-A, says the clown!" and I show two thumbs-up delivering the punch line with gusto.

The groans of two fellow revelers signal the joke's off-color nature. The other two fall off their perches laughing hard. It's a good joke. I tell it better sober. Not tonight.

Sharing a fire with strangers is part of solo camping. I've met some assholes this way but they're the exception. These four, college-aged guys pulled in late in a rust bucket of a pick-up truck and took the camp at the corner. Coming back from the john I chatted with them for a bit. They have a guitar, beer and fire-cooked meat. I return later with scotch and am offered a place.

With chuckles still coming from two knuckleheads, I slink off into the woods for a piss and then stagger back to the fire. Frankie is out. The blonde dude and goatee are talking low. Dylan has disappeared.

"I think I'm going to turn in", I say to no one in particular and turn stumbling vaguely in the direction of camp. At the next campsite, vacant on this post-season night, I sit at the picnic table to take a breather. Hours later an icepick of sunlight stabs into my brain. I raise my head from the table sticky with accumulated drool and dew. A glass of water before bed usually staves off a hangover. My swollen tongue and the spinning forest are but two of the symptoms that tell me I neglected this prophylactic treatment. I shiver. Late summer nights at 8,000 feet are more like early winter elsewhere. Coffee will restore some of me. A bottle of Gatorade will probably do more. Advil too.

Back at the truck I see that I've left the back open all night. Fortunately no creature has ransacked the interior. To a lay person's eyes its disordered state probably looks like the result of feral rummaging but I've got a system -- fishing gear to the right, camp gear to the left, valuables stashed elsewhere. Except that there seems to be less of a pile where the fishing gear normally sits.

As I explain to the officer, it appears that three rods - two in tubes, one strung, a gear bag containing reels and such and a waist pack are missing. My camp gear was left untouched including a fairly expensive stove. I suspect another angler. The officer is impressed with my sleuthing. I gain a piece of official yellow paper "for insurance purposes".

It's a crap place to be two days into a five day trip without a rod. A four-hour round trip into town seems certain when my gaze lands on my rear view mirror. Hanging there is my lanyard -- nippers, tippet, a dozen flies, floatant, a bottle opener. All the makings of a day on the water. With a bit of enthusiasm tinged with adventure I throw a beer and lunch into my pack and head upstream.

A thick, flexible willow branch hacked and whittled bankside and an improvised leader constructed with what will henceforth be known as a Yellowstone taper get me going Tenkara style. This stream, ten feet wide at its broadest, has plenty of fishy spots and soon pan-sized Rainbows and Browns are at hand.

In the early afternoon a hefty Rainbow smacks my Stimi drifting along the recesses of a dark undercut bank. I race up and down the stream splashing and stumbling trying to prevent my leader or rod from parting. As I beach the rainbow on the gravel his shovel tail makes a fine slap in the shallow water. The sound is immediately followed by a huff sound that raises the hair on the back of my neck. My bowels lurch.

I turn slowly to see a bear, large enough by any measure, standing on the gravel fifteen yards distant. I drop my rod and slowly back away, avoiding eye contact, speaking nonsense in a soothing voice and reaching for the bear spray that was burgled last night. Wading back across the stream I bump up against the far bank and stop facing the menace.

The bear approaches the limply flopping 'bow, huffs one last time and picks up the fish. It, the rod, and the Yellowstone taper disappear into the willows. Maybe it’s a sign.

Jetboil. Civilized Coffee. Anywhere.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The things you learn from internet videos

It's amazing how much video has changed the way we learn. And sometimes, it's not the educational videos that teach you something; other videos can be instructional as well.

I was recently watching a fly fishing video in Catch Magazine. The frame I stole below shows a chap keeping some of his fly line out of the current in a creative way. I've been trout fishing and missed having a stripping basket. It's an obvious method once you see it but it never struck me while on the water.*

* Note how I have resisted the baser urge to make vulgar puns related to internet videos and oral methods. I leave that to trolls in the comments section

Monday, October 7, 2013

Infamous Stringdusters & American Rivers

A buddy of mine recommended the Infamous Stringdusters on his list of top bluegrass bands. I now have a Pandora station that streams some excellent music. Turns out the Stringdusters were part of an American Rivers Tour this year. The Frank Church Wilderness was just added to my list of places to go.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gear Review: Fishpond Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack

The good folks at Fishpond sent me their new Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack. I registered my first impressions a few weeks ago. Since then I've fished with it a dozen times including a few days wandering about in Yellowstone National Park. While at the park I recorded a video review.

A summary of what I liked and didn't like:

  • Stupendously water resistant - the material (thermoplastic polyurethane) is impervious to water and the zippers are highly water resistant. Anything short of a dunking will keep your gear safe.
  • Large capacity - swallows a bunch of gear including four fly boxes, cigar case, headlamp, lunch, and the bazillion consumables (leader, floatant, strike indicators, etc) that one needs on the water.
  • Comfortable to wear, all day - wide, ventilated waist band and comfortable shoulder strap make this fairly comfortable, even fully loaded.
  • Customization  - lots of lashing points externally for zingers and gear both on the belt and the case itself.
  • Lacks an effective place to put a net. (True of all waist packs I've used). I used a s-biner to connect mine to one of the d-rings on the belt. A d-ring on the shoulder strap would have been great.
  • The straps on the bottom are too short to accommodate a heavy weight jacket. They either need to be an inch longer or include a quick release snap (or both)
  • The zippers are very stiff (yet water resistant). You really need two hands to zipper effectively (True of all waist packs and most vests I've used). Single handed closure seems to be the holy grail of packs/vests -- desired but unobtainable.

Overall, I like the pack. There's some competition coming out in the next few months and I'll be interested to compare those packs with this one. Until then, I'll be using the Fishpond Westwater Guide Pack on the water.

Retail Price: $139.95

Full Disclosure: This pack was sent to me gratis. I'd like to think that doesn't matter in the words that I chose. You judge for yourself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Congress and Conservation

"Experience Your America". Unless Congress gets its head stuck somewhere dark.*

The closing of the National Parks is one of the effects of the government shutdown that strikes me most strongly as wrong. Hell, just keep the gates open and let folks wander about. Of course, I'm totally underestimating the work that goes on in the background to maintain the park and keep us all safe. I should probably be more understanding but it still pisses me off.

It's easy to shrug off government shenanigans such as these. One's assumption is that it'll work itself out before too much damage is done. But in the dark of the night, I worry that this one may go on longer than one otherwise might think. A party minority, electorally sheltered in gerrymandered districts, really has no reason to take the gun away from our collective heads. Equally, the defense of the majority rule, democratic system requires the President and the Senate to stand their ground. It's the perfect storm for stupidity to rule the day.

Anglers and conservationists don't have too look far to find impacts of the government shutdown. A buddy of mine was planning to fish the Firehole tomorrow. Not so much if the park doesn't reopen. Further, there's a whole ecosystem that surrounds these parks including the fly shops, guide services, hotels and restaurants (and stuff that silly non-anglers use) that are now losing tons of business. I've heard of the woes of a fly shop in Boulder, CO losing several hundred trips, no doubt to the double whammy of the shutdown of Rocky Mountain National Park plus the flooding. One can easily imagine the impact of not being able to guide in Everglades National Park if that's where you hang your hat. One estimate puts the daily economic impact of closed national parks at $750 million a day.

In a call with the Trout Unlimited Government Affairs folks today they also spoke about the impact of the government shutdown on conservation projects. From the inability to get a $100,000 invoice paid, to stopping work on conservations projects occurring on public lands in Virginia, West Virginia, Vermont & Pennsylvania to the cancellation of the Wild Trout Symposium in Yellowstone National Park the government shutdown is silting over the fertile redds where progress on habitat restoration is made. And if this doesn't end soon, winter weather will delay field work into the coming year.

The effects to the things we care about is significant though likely small in the grand scheme of the federal government's machinations. That said, the government has to govern and Congress has to do whatever it's supposed to do in order to allow them to do so. Time to tell your reps to find a way out of this mess. And maybe do some fishing. Outside of federal lands.

* Like Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Where it's very dark when the lights are off. Which they are due to the government shutdown. What? You thought I meant...? No, I'm not that vulgar.....