Monday, October 30, 2006


First take this or anyone’s opinion about fly rods with a grain of salt. After all we are biased towards a personal perspective. My perception, unlike many, has also been shaped by almost thirty years of working with anglers of all abilities and all configurations of rods for a wide variety of fishing situations or simply improving their casting. So I interject some additional influences other than my own.

Since graphite was introduced I’ve watched fly rod designs evolve. The evolution has led to overly quick and lighter rods. Finesse rods being replaced by rods of power. Fishing rods by casting rods. However, as of late some of that power has been toned down. For the first time in a while this new breed of rods has me excited about the latest in fly rod offerings.

My first good rod, as many of you know, was an 8’1/2” for a 5 Winston. I picked it up back in the late seventies. In my mind this is the best all around trout rod ever built for the wading angler. At least for the way I prefer to fish. Since that purchase rods have evolved to become lighter, faster, and overly powerful. At times casters had to over line some of the more powerful ones to load them properly. Flyfishers could cast these rods further, yet when they got them to the stream they often had difficulty getting them to cast effectively within the fishing range. For those of us who preferred rods that had more feel and flex, they were becoming scarce.

Not all was bad with this direction. The generation of power rods made life easy for fishing conditions where rods with backbone were needed; long casts, long rods, big bulky indicators, steelhead, saltwater, launching big flies, boat rods, there were a number situations were these rods added to ones choice of weapons depending on their fly fishing situations and preferences. However, for the average caster and fly fishing scenario they were to much gun for the game we were pursuing.

Some rods companies got carried away. I won’t bash any here since I do realize that if you like your rod, it’s the right one for you regardless of how I feel about it. But, some of these stick were better for staking tomatoes or beating off bears. You might actually stand a chance of fending off and unwelcome intruder should the need arise with a few of these power sticks. But for most of our trout fishing needs this wave of rods and their designs were too much gun.

Personally (surprised) I don’t have much use for rods of this nature. Having grown accustom to the feel of a smooth rod with a sensitive flex, I’ve always gravitated towards those that have similar properties to my old buddy. Steelhead, Tarpon, Bonefish, it doesn’t matter; I like the sensation of a rod that flexes right into my fingertips. One of the aspects of this sport that attracted me was the cast. Rods that are sensitive in the hand help connect you to what you’re trying to accomplish when on the water. For me, those tools involve rods that are smooth and have a more moderate flex. Like fast rods, their not for everyone, but for us “Old Schoolers” there sweet music once in the hand.

So why am I so excited as of late with the rod world. For the past several years we’ve seen a number of rod companies put some of that good old music back into their rods. Sage, long one of the driving forces in modern fly rods designs, has toned down their latest offering with the new Z-Azis rod line. The new Z-Axis, in our mind, is an improvement over the XP for the average fly fisher. It’s much easier to cast, has more of a feel, and in general is a better all around rod.

No by now means is this new Sage slow compared to many of the more traditional flex rods that are available today. But, one cast with this rod and it was rather unanimous as to the comfort and ease of casting this rod compared to the now defunct XP.

Many die hard XP lovers, and for good reason, won’t let go of their old sticks for the same reason I can’t deviate from what I find acceptable in a rod. The good news for the XP aficionados, these rods in various conditions will be available for a long time to come through a number of clearinghouses and fly shops. Just like I can still find original Wintson graphite rods, you’ll be able to find almost any rod you bias will steer you towards thanks to the power of the internet. All is not lost.

Last year Scott came out with their new G2. That was the best rod, again in my opinion, that came out for 2006. Scott has always leaned towards full flex rods, but like all rod companies for a time they got caught up in the chase. Their popular G series embodies their rod philosophy, and always has. The G2 carries many similar properties as the G, just tuned it up; lighter, and a littler quicker, but still with a great presence in the hand. I give great kudos to the guys as Scott for sticking with their roots and thus introducing one of their more successful lines of trout fishing rods.

Winton this year, got back to their roots as well. Over the past few seasons, like most manufactures they got busy trying to keep up with the Jones. Most of those rods have been put to rest. A few years back they introduced the BII. Like the Scott G2 it to received wide acceptance and quickly became one of our more popular rods. This year they’ve done it again with the BIIt, (t-Trout). I made one cast with this rod and immediately felt it was made for me; soft, slow and with great feel. It’s properties are very similar to many of the older more traditional fishing rods.

These and other new rods are the first to revisit that which many of us have become familiar with. Until recently rods with similar prosperities have been like old friends, hard to come by. For the first time in a while I can now go over to our rod rack with incredible options. Options that I’m very excited about.

My poor reps have listened to me rant and rave about the rods for years. How’s it go; opinions are like A… everyone’s got one. It wasn’t just me however. I could see the difficulty, and displeasure in many of my customers when casting some of these more powerful rods. As of late I’ve no room to complain. I tip my hat to the rod designers and companies. They keep pushing the envelop, but for now are moving it in a directions that is good for us all. In fact I’m charged up enough that I just might have to go out and buy a new rod. It’s been a while.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Why Steelhead?

It’s been four steelhead seasons removed since traveling to BC. That last visit my son of sixteen accompanied me. Having returned from this year’s trip I called him. First thing he asked was whether I got his fish. I tried, I replied. In a run fondly known as Four Banger he hooked his first steelhead. After retrieving his backing for the third time, it came unbuttoned. My son, welcome to the world of steelhead fishing.

Four Banger didn’t produce any fish this past trip, yet it did raise the fear of God and the indelible image of my son playing that fish. If you’ve ever wade a boulder or ledge rock strewn steelhead river near dark, or any river under similar circumstances, you'll ponder my inference. That which you can not see seldom yields firm contact. Your aching toes reminders of the uncomfortable nature of your endeavor. The hour of light, or lack there of, when you can’t see your feet, ratchets up the entertainment factor a notch or two. Such were the conditions as I tried to revive Four Bangers images of four year ago.

The fact that my son remembers vividly his first anadromous fish says volumes about the nature of steelheading. They say it's the land of a thousand casts. In the law of averages that's true. But steelheading isn't about averages when you get to its soul. There are no laws, there are no averages. Steeheadings what a river gives you in the true sense of the word. Although you're part of the process, you have very little control of its outcome.

Greg Smith, steelhead pioneer who's responsible for infecting me with the bug, once uttered after a few cold Schooners after another humbling day on the ditch; "When I pass through those pearly gates and come before the almighty the first question I have is why steelhead?" Dam good question! At the end of many a day I’ve asked the same. One day, year, week you've got them figured out the next they're figments of ones imagination.

Several years removed, a pair of steelheaders hadn't touched a fish all week, no yanks no tugs just thousands and thousands of casts. Towards the end of another cold wet fishless day they pulled into Humble Pie, a rather well know piece of water in the great Northwest. Humble Pie is one of those intimidating pieces of water that can take half a day to fish properly. Should there be no takers it can break you. But it can also spit fish as it did for these two fortunate anglers.

In total darkness and some twenty fish later they floated into camp. Upon their arrival their buddies, dejectedly took in the recount of the epic day. Steelheading can be cruel and unjust with no rhyme or reason to the outcome. Thomas McGuane wrote in The Longest Silence,"...evil luck in steelheading, when your companion once again had a deep bow in his rod, and you are on cast 65,509 without an eat."

If one chooses to chase these mysterious fish and persist, then you quickly come to surmise that that which you pursue often never materializes. In steelhead circles it's called paying your dues. This lesson of patience and pain was taught to me on my first trip, going twenty nine straight days fishless. The thirtieth day between fishing and drying out in local Laundromats I got the tug. The Rolling Stones wrote: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need." Perseverance, faith, and the satisfaction of being knee deep in some of the world’s most beautiful rivers gets you through and eventually you get what you need, the tug.

Since that first Wenatchee Buck I've experienced weeks where you measure a days success by yanks, tugs or an illusionary boil. Compared to days where no such indicators are evident, these are measures of success. I've had moments where I could call the tug. When you've got the steelhead MoJo everything vividly appears ephemeral. Those days that you endure cast after empty cast, run after empty run, day after day, will wear on the rational of your decisions. Your presence in the water takes on an unsettled state. The cinch grows tighter.

Generally I'm not a superstitious individual, really never have been. I would think it fair to say that most people aren't. Steeheading can change that. One September fall day a comrade hooked a dead cat, which he landed. You should of seen the guide trying to release this catch. I was rolling. Worse yet, he hooked this cat twice. Talk about bad JuJu. Needless to say, he went 14 straight days with out a sniff. After fourteen straight days our friends will had been broken, his faith tested, the sanity of steelhead questioned. Yours will be to.

So, why steelhead? What would motivate an angler to stand in forty degree water in the pouring rain with good odds being a fish a day? In today’s world of balloon strike indicators and instant gratifications, it’s not for everyone. I'm thankful for that. Steelheading in many ways represents all that I truly enjoy about fishing with a fly; the unseemly odds, the tug, wild places, big waters, passion, respect, challenge, and the common bond. And then there these fish. If you've ever caressed one in your hand to then respectfully watch it slide illusively from sight, you know what a magnificent piscatorial creature steelhead are. This is why I steelhead fish. To be connected to a fish that has few rivals and travels through some of this earth's most beautiful lands.

So, there I was, fishless. I must be steelheading. My partner had called it after being disgusted, tired and spent. Wanting to take in the solitude of fishing a run solo, I decided to fish into darkness. The evening’s air warm hung silent in the canyon. The run I walked shimmered in evenings dwindling light. At the runs head cradled in the midst of a worn path lay one of the most perfect eagle feathers I’ve come across. Smiling I gently picked it up and rolled it through my fingers admiring natures work knowing my fortunes were about to change.

Entering the run at the head of the pool, I could almost cast across the smooth currents as they flowed over a series of submerged boulders. Huge fir towered overhead, watching in silence. Each cast, the grease lined fly pulled smoothly through the run, the only sounds from the anchor of my single spey and the two steps taken after every presentation.

Having come across the feather, the ensuing tug was expected. Before I could lift my rod, backing was exiting my reel, its scream shattering the virtual silence. Maneuvering to shore, I slipped, pinching a kidney, and proceeded to crumble in pain breathless into the river. Minutes passed before I could regain my feet and continue the fight, the steelhead miraculously still fast to my line. After my ordeal she again headed to the toe of the run, cart wheeling across the waters surface. The bursts became shorter as the fight lingered. The last few moments before the fish came to hand were the most pretentious. Quietly resting I admired the hint of pink that adorned the gills and side, the fins virtually translucent in the waning light. With a single push of her powerful tail she silently slid beneath into the depths of the dark currents disappearing effortlessly as if the moment never existed.

I finished out the run before heading back to join my friend. Knowing I traveled a path frequented by grizzlies added to my elevated mood. Entering the small wilderness cabin, eagle feather in hand, my partner knew without asking of my success. With a smile he called me a son of a bitch. Cracking a Kokanee and taking a seat nothing needed to be said know tomorrow could easily roll fortunes his way. I was just thankful for what the river gave and for tomorrow I'll ask of nothing more.