Saturday, March 17, 2007

Read a Reliable Product Review Lately

Not long ago I received another poorly done fly-fishing product rating and review publication. Lately these appear to be growing in popularity. Between the internet, chat rooms and a number of in-depth magazines such as this, there seems to be a lot of experts crawling out from the woodwork. Conceptually, product analysis and rankings can provide valuable information. Unfortunately since the majority of the reviewers lack professional expertise and are often motivationally influenced their printed word often falls short of any substantial credibility.

Most of those who analyze fly-fishing products get it for free. Wouldn’t that be nice, free inventory to use at my discretion? The concept of free definitely creates impetus towards a biased response. Should you have personal interested towards specific companies or products that may slant your review even more? When it’s all said and done, there’s even and opportunity to make a little extra money off e-Bay from those excesses acquisitions.

If you’re publishing your findings and seeking advertising dollars, the significance of a manufacturing account may have an influence on your findings, especially in the early stages of a publication. One would be reluctant to piss off a key account by giving their products an unfavorable review. It’s also common knowledge in our industry for manufacturers to pay to have their products favorably reviewed. If it works for politics, it only seems unfortunately natural here.

I found it interesting that rarely do you get any background information on the testers. In fact in the last publication I received, I’d never heard of the guys. Having been in the business for 25 years, I don’t know everyone, but I have a pretty good handle on most of the key players.

In another recent publication the testers were listed as a saltwater guy, steelhead guy and a guy from Salt Lake City. There were some other testers as well, but no mention as to their background or credentials quantifying their participation. What makes these guys qualified testers? They fish! So do a lot of people. In fairness to this particular review I know several of the testers, and they have significant pedigrees. It would have been nice if the general public had been privy to this.

George Anderson did a very good review on 5 wt. Rods. He dedicated a fair amount of space to qualify his expertise and validating his opinions. The outcomes of his rod choices were fairly obvious since he worked with a number of the top rod companies. Of course those rods being influenced by his preferences rated as some of the best rods in his ranking. His biases were identified and his choices only seemed natural.

As I read this new publication and shared it with my fellow employees, including a number of valued customers, we were most perplexed by the rod reviews and rankings. I must say over the years that in most systematical reviews involving rods that I’ve found their analysis to be puzzling. This one to seemed to follow this unfortunate path. Point and case!

The SAGE TCR 905-4 was rated as the best all around trout rod of those tested. The review included Winston, Scott, and several other very reputable rod manufacturers products. After looking at the rankings from best to worst, I then read the accompanying analytical review written by the testers. Remember when you where in grade school and had to match a description to a specific object? If you had done this simple grade school exercise with this publication you would have flunked.

The TCR is a fairly straight forward specialty rod. If you asked 10 shop owners who handle the line, I bet you’d get at least 9 of them to agree on its qualities and attributes. I would guess that none of them would have described the rod as it appeared in this review. Makes you wonder what these guys were smoking.

Before I continue and get my head handed to my by Bruce, Mark or Jerry from SAGE, should they stumble upon my Blog, I better clear the air. First off, the SAGE TCR is one of the finest rods available and SAGE Rod Company is unquestionably one of the leading rod manufactures in the industry. For some the TCR would be a great all-around rod. However, so would the SAGE SLT or TXL along with many of the other rods that were included in the publications testing. It truly depends on ones casting abilities, the way they fish and the techniques they employ. To emphatically rank a rod as being the best for you just because it tested well for those who reviewed the product bears no merit. I am sure that Bruce, Mark, and Jerry equally been perplexed by such reviews on more than one occasion.

In another series, a magazine reviewed and rated the leading waders. One of the testing categories was the ability of the wader to with-stand DEET. What they neglected to inform the consumer of was the amount of DEET, applied to the waders for an extended period of time had a toxic rating of 100%. A puddle would accurately describe the application. An unrealistic proportion at best. This part of the test carried a significant amount of weight as it pertained to the waders ranking and those that tested poorly were reviewed rather poorly. Personally, I’ve never used any product that carries a skull and crossbones warning on the label.

The point is, if you’re in the market to choose a fly-fishing product, the majority of these analytical reviews are biased and very misleading. They may offer some valuable data and insight, but in most instances are filled with a fair amount of individual bias and misinformation to appease those who provide them with their products and dollars. If it can be helped you should never invest in a product, especially rods, without being able to get a hand on one or two.

I’m sure I’ll get some feed back on this piece, but my motivation is simply to enhance an anglers fly-fishing experience. If you ask me what product is the best, my answer most times is the one you like. That’s one of the very cool aspects of our sport, from the style of fly-fishing you prefer to the equipment you choose to pursue your quarry with. Those who write reviews and rank fly-fishing products do not do the equipment they analyze justice and rarely rank equipment based on how it would suit a style of angler. At times, and more times than not, it is obvious. Their inconsistencies leave consumers making in appropriate decisions and confused. Should you consider the motivation and influences behind the process, it’s easy to see how opinions can be compromised. As they say when making an important medical decisions, “get a second opinion”.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

First Day Out

There's something special about the first day of the year on water. For some such an eventful outing isn't defined, instead it's a mere blend of continuous days fishing from one year to the next. Others, such as myself, consummate each season with a traditional day or trip where upon it's conclusions a purposeful reprieve is taken. Such pause nurtures time for reflections and anticipation, anticipation for the first rings from winters trout lulled from frigid currents to feast on the years first aquatic drifters.

Unlike many of my last days wading
Nez Perce Country's cool fall waters methodically hoping for that often elusive Steelhead tug , first days occur more randomly. As I've gotten older, I'm a little more selective about maiden voyages. Where once freezing temperatures were an open invitation for solitude, they now leave me in the shop patiently awaiting more temperate conditions and reasonable weather. I must be getting old, not wanting to admit my maturing age. Perhaps particular is a more appropriately chosen word.

For the last several weeks there's been a change to the weather. Although there has been a significant amount of needed precipitation, the days are warmer stirring the urge to get out. I'm not the only one to have noticed. My compulsion
possibly has been coerced from the growing number of reports from those who have recently ventured to the river. After all, one can only take so much and I've appeared to have reached that threshold.

At the end of my Tuesday evening tying class, I finally succumbed. Although it's late when I arrive home, that energy derived from the contemplation of this day has me anxiously running around my home and garage in search of those trout fishing necessities; fly boxes, floatant, tippet material (had to make a quick run back to the shop-one advantage to having a key to the door), cheaters and license. You'd think it would be easy, but I'm not the most organized person. My wife will attest to that. By midnight I'm packed.

I'm fortunate I don't need much sleep nor need to set an alarm, especially on a day such as this for I slept little. I'm up before it's light out with coffee on, while the rest of my family sleeps. Normally I travel with someone on a day like this, but for some reason I've relegated to fish alone. At times there is no better elixir for relieving life's often hectic pace. Not having much time, I figured I may possibly put a damper on anyone who might come along.

Today my requirements are simple. Most days on the water lately seem to take on this peculiarity. Even if I chose not to cast a fly, the elements that make our sport gratifying will suffice to satiate my needs. Should my expectation be met, I'm hopeful to cast a fly over a rising trout. If I should be fortunate enough to have the trout take the fly than I'll consider the day a
fortuitous success, for not many enjoy such acts of leisure.

Entering the canyon a fair amount of snow lies plowed by the road. The sun has yet to touch the water. All
remains still as I pull over. The canyon aromas and sounds rejuvenate my numbed senses upon exiting my vehicle. As foreseen I'm the only angler in the canyon, yet I don't waist time in preparing to begin. Having not fished this year, I leave my rod unstrung until the need arises. Initial observations reflect all is quiet, no signs of life.

I head upstream to an area that's a little more challenging to access in hopes my effort will leave me plenty of water to fish. A short distance should suffice knowing the habits of most anglers. Entering the water to cross, I pause to study the rivers surface for signs of any aquatic travelers. For now there appears to be none. Crossing an old trestle where mornings first rays perpetrate a growing window into a trouts world. I watch several decent Browns comfortably nestled in the depths of the rivers protective currents that on occasion alter their restive state to intercept a minute meal.

Crossing the river for a second time, I
again look for the midge hatch that I've heard about. An insignificant winged creature emerges and quickly departs the icy meniscus for life in a new found world. Several others, barely perceptible, follow in suit and take to flight. The game begins, yet will there be enough to lure these trout to the quieter pools to feed. Only time will tell.

It's still early yet much of the river lies before me bathed in sunshine. The mornings rays feel good, the air however yet crisp. Cautiously making my way up river, a trout rises and stops me in my tracks. I watch for a moment before quietly retreating to a lower vantage point with no sign confirming what I saw. Quietly entering the water a short distance downstream moments later another ring appears.

The cool currents creep into my bones as I patiently watch and wait. In the shadows the fish rises it's tail dimpling the waters still surface as it settles. Paying close attention to the growing number of midges now dancing across the currents I finally string my rod before selecting a hopeful imitation. A dark of snout delicately pierces the water and a cast is made, then another and another before I retrieve the fly. Another fish also rises within casting distance, yet I ignore the temptation knowing that the best opportunity lies just a short distance ahead. Inspecting a natural I change flies and again patiently wait not wanting to rush or spoil
possibly the days only opportunity. One never knows.

The rises are sporadic but consistent enough to pin the location of this fish with some confidence. I present the new offering. It's small, too small to see. No reaction from the fish has me making another cast. The dark nose again appears disrupting ever so slightly the waters placid surface. An audible sip is followed by a purposeful yet gently lift of the rod, the line comes tight. Although I suspect this to be a decent trout, it's a little larger than expected as it leaps into the sunlight before crashing back into the dark depths of the river revealing it ample proportions. It bores upstream removing what little slack I've held in my hand, then plays a short tune of beautiful reel music before eventually coming to hand. These fish have wintered well. Its plump yellow belly evidence of that. The fly is quickly removed and cordial respects are paid before this Brown slips back to his icy laird.

More fish are now working the pool I've started in. I bring one more to and then loose another on a strong run then leave to explore another section. The waters clarity affords an easy view of the numerous trout that inhabit this prolific river. Up river I bring two more to hand before reeling in to call it a day. Although I could of easily fooled several more trout, I'll leave the others for another day. These fish don't get much of a repreive and I'm grateful for my fortunes. Knowing this, I'd prefer to preserve the quality of my experience to be shared by others. After all, in reality adding to my tally would add little to the enjoyment that I experienced this morning.

I take some time to enjoy the quiet and appreciate the canyon before
reluctantly heading to work. Several Browns quietly rise to take the growing number of midges that are now scurrying across the waters surface. It's a view that will carry me through the remainder of my day, possibly lingering longer. Still no anglers have made the trek to share these waters. Tracks in the snow show signs that few have traveled before me since our last needed storm. The quiet walk is a fitting conclusion to the limited time I had, yet there was time to satisfy my cravings and surpass all expectation for any day, let alone the years first.