December2010

More Fan Mail. Sort of.

Seems as though my first “Fan Mail” post was a little bit like pouring rocket fuel on an already hot burning fire. From somewhere in the Great Lakes region (I’m just guessing), Chuck sends this photo of a big and beautiful un-clipped hatchery lakerun Skamania steelhead:

I’m so tired of this nonsense about wild versus hatchery steelhead – real , not real!
The argument has it’s foundation in the perception of how well fish fight when hooked.

Anyone who thinks hatchery fish don’t fight hasn’t caught a Skamania steelhead in lake Michigan! They probably haven’t hooked a stocked Atlantic salmon in the St. Marie’s Rapids either! Even the Manistee Steelhead fish fight really well!

I’ve been spooled by everything from a hatchery , lake run, Brown trout to a Carp!  Yep, that’s right …….even a carp!

This argument is asserted by those who want to perpetuate the romance of wild fish – which is great, but it’s nonsense to assert that all wild fish provide a better angling experience than hatchery fish! It’s even greater nonsense to insinuate that catching the wild fish makes them better, which I suspect is the real endeavor!

Chuck

Thanks for taking the time to weigh in with your thoughts, Chuck.

Real quickly let’s explain something for those not in the know, and before I do so let me state that I won’t pretend to know much anything about the steelhead in the Great Lakes region other than what I’ve read. Skamania steelhead are one of the strains of steelhead introduced to the Great Lakes system, and these Skamania fish run up the rivers in the early summer. Other strains head into the rivers in the fall and winter.  On the left coast similar runs of fish occur in both the summer and winter, although our real anadromous fish come in from the ocean before heading into the rivers. I do know that the steelhead in the Great Lakes originated in the Pacific Northwest and no, they did not migrate east of their own accord.

And actually, Chuck, if there are anti-hatchery sentiments as far as steelhead are concerned, in my assessment it has less to do with how well they fight and more with the fact that many left coasters want our dwindling runs of wild, native fish to be given a chance to rebound. The presence of hatchery fish in our west coast rivers is keeping commercial harvest alive, and as long as there is commercial harvest it’s bad for the native fish. Hatchery fish also serve the purpose of providing a recreational fishing quarry (and generate license sales for the fish and game department), but they also compete for food and habitat with the native fish. What’s worst of all is that the presence of hatchery fish serves to shroud the issues surrounding native fish.  There are a lot of anti-hatchery sentiments and I can’t begin to communicate in any valuable manner.

I’ve caught a couple native winter fish that didn’t exactly light me up with their fighting ability, but in their defense they’d come a long way from the ocean, into Puget Sound and up many miles of river, avoiding nets and seals and sea lions and treble hooks. I’ll cut them a little slack for not tail-walking me into the next county. 😉

Interestingly I’ve only had one West coast angler send in their thoughts and fish porn.  Consider this your call to action!

Spey fishing is like Tai Chi

Recent comments from a fan reader of the Unaccomplished Angler gave cause for me to sit back and do a bit of pondering. The first comment asserts that, “Spey fishing is like Tai Chi!” The second comment was equally amusing:  “I find the whole fad a little curious…”

We’ll address the matter of Spey fishing being a fad next week. As to the first statement about Spey fishing being like Tai Chi, I believe there was an unintentional revealing of profound enlightenment in those words.

Fishing with a Spey rod is in fact like Tai Chi. As activities both practiced by humans, they have common roots that go back millions of years to the first ancestors of modern Homo sapiens. Over time, as modern societies established themselves, various activities grew out of the different societies: martial arts evolved in Asia; fly fishing evolved in Europe. So, yes, the Spey Way of fishing and Tai Chi are alike in that they are both activities practiced by human beings, and all humans are alike in that we have common ancestors. That analogy, however, may not be quite what the originator of the statement meant.

In researching the origins of fishing, I was surprised to discover that the Chinese are often credited for having invented the fishing rod around the time of 1300. Less surprising is that the Chinese also developed Tai Chi. So yes, the Spey Way again has something in common with Tai Chi. Still, I believe that isn’t where the originator of the comment was going with the statement.

Actually I know exactly what was meant by the comment–it was intended as a backhanded comparison suggesting that fishing with a Spey rod is not a very effective means of catching fish, and Tai Chi has no inherent physical, tangible benefits.

Spey casting was developed as a means of delivering the fly effectively and efficiently in certain fishing circumstances. Nobody ever said it was THE most effective way of fishing, but if your goal is to cover a lot of water with reduced casting repetition and limited room for back casting, Spey casting may just prove worthy of your consideration.

Tai Chi, with its familiar slow, meditative-like physical movements may not look something you would expect from a martial art but to say that it has no physical value is to not understand. When translated literally it means “supreme ultimate fist” and when practiced at its most advanced level, it’s movements are a series of strikes, blows, sweeps and kicks, etc. There are even Tai Chi forms that involve swords and spears. It’s important to acknowledge that fighting and practicing martial arts, just as fishing and catching fish, are two different things. To draw a comparison: on one hand you have Yin (Spey fishing and Tai Chi); on the other you have Yang (gill netting and cage fighting).

Back in 497 A.D. when Bodhidarma walked into China from India, among other things he taught martial arts to the monks at the Shaolin Monastery. This was necessary as a means of defending their domain against invading bands of marauders. To study a martial art today is much more simply an alternate form of exercise done for mental and physical health and to adopt a philosophical outlook on life. Bottom line: we no longer need to be able to fight for survival. Still, the benefits of martial arts training are not insignificant and include improved balance, stamina, flexibility, emotional and physical self control and stress relief. Those seem like fairly tangible benefits to me. It’s certainly easier on the body than other high impact martial arts/physical activities, with which I do have some experience.

Back before the marketplace economy when people lived off the land, fishing was a means of harvesting food needed for survival. Since the overwhelming majority of us no longer fish to feed our families, fishing (whether done with or without a Spey rod) is simply a means of engaging in a recreational activity for the sake of enjoyment and for many it also becomes a way of life. A day on the water casting and swinging flies is a sure way to relieve stress (it sure beats a day at work) and there is much less repetition involved in Spey casting than there is with typical overhead casting with a single handed rod. Therefore it’s much easier on the arms and shoulders, and I have experience with regard to shoulder tendonitis.

So yes, the Spey Way is remarkably like Tai Chi. Let’s examine some of the other similarities:

  • Both Spey Way and Tai Chi have been around a long time. Spey casting was invented in the mid 1800’s. Tai Chi is said to have been founded in the mid 1600’s.
  • Both Spey casting and Tai Chi have many fluid, circular movements.
  • In Spey casting they practice the Snake Roll. In Tai Chi they practice Snake Creeps Down.
  • Long sticks are not uncommon to both Spey Way and Tai Chi.
  • While one may learn Spey Way and Tai Chi from a book or video, it is highly recommended that one seek instruction from a master.
  • There are very simple, helpful diagrams which can be used to supplement instruction in both Spey casting and Tai Chi.
  • One can find large groups of people engaged in both Spey Way and Tai Chi.
  • To the untrained eye, it may look like large groups of Spey casters and Tai Chi practitioners aren’t really doing anything.
  • Spey casting is usually done in the water and Tai Chi is often practiced on grass. Sometimes Spey casting is practiced on grass and Tai Chi is done in the water.
  • It’s not uncommon to Spey cast among large rocks in a river. Apparently the same goes for Tai Chi.
  • It may look as though the two Spey casters are fighting, but one is actually telling the other not to push his top hand. Similarly the two Tai Chi practitioners are not fighting, rather they are practicing Push Hands.
  • There are cool photos of  Spey casters at sunset. There are cool photos of a Tai Chi practitioners at sunset.

There’s more to practicing a martial art than learning to fight, and there’s more to fishing than catching fish. So yeah, fishing with a Spey rod is a lot like Tai Chi. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised but what someone combines the two graceful practices some day, and when that day comes I’d like credit for the idea of Spey Chi. Even if it does turn out to be just a passing fad.

Close your eyes and listen to this video. Spey casting or Tai Chi?

Review: Sage DXL Typhoon Chest Pack

When I started this blog I never intended to review anything, as stated on my WELCOME page. And I’ve stayed mostly true to my words, although occasionally in moments of weakness I’ve deviated. Well, that ends today with my official review of the Sage DXL Typhoon Chest Pack.

Sage DXL Typhoon Chest Pack

For you naysayers who might proclaim that the Unaccomplished Angler has no grounds for reviewing anything, I would agree for the most part. However I submit to you that I am perfectly qualified to review the Sage DXL Typhoon Chest Pack if only for one reason alone: I live in the Pacific NW where water falls from the sky 10 months of the year.

This chest pack by Bainbridge Island-based Sage Manufacturing hails from the family of DXL Typhoon Bags that include the large and small waist packs, backpack and boat bag. The common elements of the Typhoon series is that they all feature hybrid zippered/magnetic closures and welded construction for exceptional waterproof qualities. And they’re pretty cool looking. DXL is an acronym for “Destination X Luggage”, suggestive of the fact that no matter where your fishing destination takes you, this is the luggage for the trip. And if your destination takes you into a Typhoon, don’t despair: this stuff can take it. For you techno material geeks, the gray rubberized stuff is TPU coated Nylon.  The green material is PU coated HT (high tenacity) Nylon. Tough stuff that appears to be very durable.

This is the first chest pack I’ve ever owned, and it’s ironic that just recently I said I didn’t have a chest pack. Luckily I also said that I would never say never to owning a chest pack. Upon receiving the DXL Typhoon Chest Pack in the mail, I quickly headed out into the cold, damp late November weather to put it to the test on the banks of a local river. It was wet and cold. Winter steelhead season. Did I mention it was wet? I performed as I had hoped, keeping everything inside nice and dry.  I also mentioned it was cold, so I came back inside to write my review and shoot some product photos.

First off, I like the size.  It’s not terribly large, and that’s a good thing.  When I want to carry several boxes of flies and all my fishing doo-dads, I use my Sage DXL Typhoon Large Waist Pack and usually I’m fishing for trout.  Steelheading is a much more minimalist endeavor, requiring a fraction of the gear I carry with me when chasing their resident cousins.  A box of nymphs and beads streamers, a pair of forceps, a spool of 12lb tippet material, a couple of protein bars and a flask (for medicinal purposes) fit neatly into the Typhoon chest pack, with room for a few more items.

Like my Typhoon waist pack, the chest pack has built-in sheaths on either side for stowing forceps, a magnetic storm flap closure and magnetic points for keeping tools from flapping around. On top of the pack is a velcro strip fly patch to keep nymphs and beads streamers at the ready.  I realize it’s not needed, but I like to attach a foam patch here (not included). While the pack is designed to be worn as a true chest pack, it’s very versatile and I prefer to wear it as a sling, keeping the bag at my left hip and out of the way when executing two-handed Spey casts. The waist strap, which holds the pack securely in front when worn as a chest pack, is easily detachable for wearing it as a sling.

A feature common on any good chest pack is the fold down tray so that you have a mini workspace right in front of you.  On the Typhoon chest pack this platform is completely adjustable, allowing you to open the tray as much or as little as you prefer. The velcro tray securely holds flies while you’re selecting the right pattern for the job, or perhaps tying up a double nymph rig (although there would be no reason for this when fishing for steelhead because any respectable angler only swings flies).

Inside the pack are a couple of fairly large pockets for holding a few doo-dads and keeping things organized. You’ll note a tube of sunscreen in the photo which is just for staging appeal–clearly there is no need for sunscreen while winter steelheading.

The Sage DXL Typhoon Chest Pack gets two thumbs up from me. It’s not large enough to carry everything, but it fills a niche nicely. Unfortunately it doesn’t make me a better caster, nor has it landed me a steelhead, but it does a great job of carrying a few necessities. If you’re looking for a waterproof, rugged, versatile pack and don’t need a lot of carrying capacity, look no further than the Sage Typhoon Chest Pack.

And with the Holidays upon us,  if you’re looking to give a gift that will put a smile on any angler’s face, this is it.

Blue sky, sake, and a good winch

If you’re like me, you don’t have a winch on your truck and you naturally assume that most of the folks who do, don’t use them (or know how to use them, for that matter).  It looks cool to have a stout front bumper with a winch mounted on it, attached to the front of a truck that’s all jacked up on Mountain Dew with multiple shocks, chrome differential covers and monster off-road tires: you know, the trucks that have a set of rubber testicles dangling from the tow hitch. These trucks are always spotlessly clean and likely never see any off-road use. There was a time when I was 18 that this might have appealed to me, but when I was that age I couldn’t have afforded the truck, let alone the thousands of dollars wasted on decorative custom add-ons. Actually, no — that sort of truck would never have appealed to me.  A winch?  Really? AAA is cheaper, or better yet – don’t get stuck.

Late last spring I went fishing on the Skykomish River with my friends Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services and Leland Miyawaki, fly fishing manager at Bellevue Orvis. Our intended target species was steelhead, though I for one would have been happy with anything that happened to hit a swung fly (a bull trout, or dolly varden or native char would have tickled me pink). The day started with a forgettable breakfast in Gold Bar before we arrived at our launch site at the Big Eddy.  As is always the case, there’s much excitement and anticipation to get on the water, and it was my first time to be a passenger in Derek’s new Green Drake raft by StreamTech Boats, so the eagerness level was running high, like the river.  The only thing that prevented us from quickly getting on the water was a truck.

A stuck truck, that is, at the bottom of the ramp. With its drift boat trailer completely submerged and it’s rear wheels sinking deeper into the wet sand with every attempt to get unstuck. It was not a good predicament for the owner and his buddy. Luckily, we arrived on the scene before the truck became buried up to its rear axle. Enter the cool winch on the front of Derek’s truck.  Now, in all fairness to Derek, his truck isn’t a showy piece of ridiculosity as described above.  In fact, Derek’s rig is simply a functional vehicle that serves his purposes well and is understated, if anything.  It just happens to have a hefty ARB bumper up front to hold a winch, which he actually knows how to use.  Without the winch, the stuck truck may have remained so for a good long while, which would have put a real damper on the fishing for the guys who belonged to the truck. We could have still gotten the Green Drake in the water and been on our way, but Derek’s winch made short work of the extraction and everyone got to fish that day. I doubt those two guys caught any fish, but after getting them unstuck karma was on our side, or so we assumed.

And thus ended the excitement for the day, so if you’re hoping to read about more hair-raising adventures and epic battles with hot summer steelhead, you may as well close your browser window right now. There weren’t even any harrowing encounters with savage white water. Not that I remember, anyway, because the Green Drake effortlessly carried us downstream in comfort and safety. No fish were encountered as we plied miles of fishy looking water with our Spey rods.

Fat Train by Leland Miyawaki

This was only Derek’s second time with a two-handed rod, so sitting back and watching him was not nearly as enjoyable as sitting back and watching Leland masterfully sling his favorite Fat Train pattern, which is a sparsely dressed fly that most closely resembles a bare hook with some hackle and seems to be anything but fat. In fact the Fat Train looks like something tied by someone who couldn’t afford the rest of the materials to tie a proper fly, but less is often more. Derek’s status as a neophyte Spey caster made me feel good about not being the most unaccomplished caster for once, but Derek is a quick study and by the end of the day I was clearly once again at the bottom of the Spey casting food chain.

After enduring a miserable, cold, wet Spring that seemed would never end, this day found us enjoying blue sky and plenty of sunshine.  Being philosophical in our approach to fishing, there was much to enjoy even though the catching left a bit to be desired. Being able to enjoy a fishless day is a skill that doesn’t come easily to everyone, but skill only comes after much practice.  I’m well practiced in the art of not catching fish and so highly skilled in finding ways to enjoy a day spent not catching fish. Good weather and good food are a couple ways to ensure that maximum enjoyment is achieved, and to that end we were not disappointed.

Sunning ourselves on the rocks while enjoying a traditional Japanese lunch provided by Leland was fitting reward for simply being outside on such a glorious day. Lunch included, among other things, what Leland described as “peasant sushi” which are essentially sushi without fish. Leland says it best:

“I come from a Japanese farmer family that could never afford the expensive raw fish “city sushi.” So we had vegetable “makisushi” and “agesushi.” (maki are like the futomaki you see at sushi bars, agesushi is the rice stuffed into tofu boiled in soy).”

Apparently Orvis needs to give Leland a raise so he can afford fish, or perhaps he simply felt neither Derek nor I were deserving of the city sushi. Either way, it was delicious and much better a drastic improvement from what I typically eat for lunch on the water (sparsely dressed sandwiches, stale chips, cheap beer).  In keeping with the Japanese lunch theme, Leland provided sake (酒) as a beverage.  I’d never before had sake, and found the rice beverage to be quite enjoyable and rather easy to drink. I cannot say that the sake helped with my casting any, but it helped me not care so much about my casting. I think that may be some form of Zen-like enlightenment, although I’m not sure.  Maybe not.

By the end of the most enjoyable day I found myself grateful for the company of good friends to not catch fish with, and also contemplating the need for a Green Drake and a winch for the front of the Fish Taco. And more sake.