Random Reviews

Launch Pack: The Anti Duffle

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The Anti-Duffle Trout Edition

There’s a new kid on the wader bag block.

I was recently contacted by the folks at Launch Pack with an opportunity to review their new wader bag, which they call the Anti-Duffle™ Trout Edition. To be honest, at first I wasn’t really all that excited about another wader bag: I already have a Simm’s bag that’s perfectly functional if not a bit small for everything I like to cram into it. Suffice it to say I’ve not been overly impressed by the wader bag offerings on the market: most of them are either too small or too expensive; some are both. But since Launch Pack makes their goods in Bend, Oregon, I thought, ‘What the heck—anything made in the USA deserves a look. Anything made in the Northwest, even better.’

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When the bag arrived, I was rather under-impressed. I pulled it from the shipping box and just stared at it, lying there on the floor like something deflated. It seemed too basic. Like, oh I don’t know, a 1979 Chevy Pickup trying to compete in today’s world of technologically advanced vehicles? I’m not so clever as to have made that up myself—that’s is best left for you to read on the “Our Story” page on their website, getlaunchpack.com Launch Pack equates their bags to a 1979 Chevy pickup: no cruise control, stereo, GPS, back-up camera, heated seats or other of the plethora of fancy accoutrements found in modern vehicles.

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But the beauty of the Anti Duffle lies in its simplicity, and after I began looking more closely at the bag, my lack of being impressed gave way to just the opposite. It’s a flat bag that folds in half, forming a sandwich, if you will. Think of waders, boots, rods and other necessities as the fixings. There are two cavernous pockets: one for waders and boots—wet, dirty stuff. That pocket has a mesh panel to allow for drainage and breathability such that things keep from getting too ripe. The other, equally large pocket, is protected to insure that your clean and dry articles of clothing stay clean and dry. Think of these two large pockets as a means of keeping the sliced tomato (waders, boots) from getting the bread soggy. Anyone who has ever made a sandwich knows there’s nothing worse than that.

The Anti Duffle is intended as a wader bag and I would say they achieved that goal nicely. It’s quite an ingenious design—so simple that you may smack yourself upside the head and think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Well, you didn’t. Neither did I. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have one.

To get yours, simply visit the Launch Pack website and click SHOP. The regular price is $129 which is pretty darn reasonable for something made in America. Tell them you read about it here on the Unaccomplished Angler—you won’t get anything, but you’ll feel better about yourself.

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If you’re in the market for a new wader bag, give the Anti Duffle Trout Edition a look.

 

Closer To The Ground: A book reviewed

Closer To The Ground: An outdoor family’s year on the water, in the woods and at the table
By Dylan Tomine, foreword by Thomas McGuane
Published by Patagonia Books
October 2015
Paperback, 264 pages
$17.95 US|$22.95 CAN

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The book.

Ironically I received a copy of Dylan Tomine’s book, Closer To The Ground, just as my least favorite time of year was approaching: w#nter. In chapter one, Tomine paints a painfully accurate description of the gloomiest season of the year in the Pacific Northwest:

“There’s no question winter here can really take a chunk out of you. Not like the extreme cold of the upper Midwest or the round-the-clock darkness of Alaska might, but rather the opposite. Here, it’s the general lack of severity–monotonous flat gray days and constant drip-drip of misty rain–that erodes the spirit.”

With that, I was intrigued. I felt as though perhaps I’d discovered someone who understands why, despite being a lifelong resident of western Washington, I have never become mentally acclimated to our long, dreary winters. I live about 25 miles by overland travel, plus a 30 minute ferry crossing, from the author’s home on Bainbridge Island. Despite the Puget Sound region being one of many microclimates, we endure essentially the same winter gloom, and it’s during this time of year that I bitch and moan and become a considerably less dangerous version of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. Perhaps, in Dylan Tomine, I had found my kindred Seattle-winter-loathing spirit.

I quickly learned, however, that the author is not condoning that we give in to the temptations of Seasonal Affective Disorder and become reclusive, bitter shut-ins. Au contraire. While admittedly not an optimist, Tomine points out that hope is not lost during the bleak winter months. Take, for example, digging for razor clams on the ocean beach. In the face of a raging winter storm. In what would be the pitch blackness of night if not for a lantern (which only required 90 matches to light thanks to cold, wet hands). What’s not to enjoy about that, right? The book goes on to show that each of the 4 seasons offer something new and different when it comes to outdoor pursuits that involve harvesting Earth’s bounty. Each season provides something to look forward to.

Most anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest—who is involved in recreational fishing and pays any mind to the conservation issues as pertaining to wild anadromous fish—has likely heard of Dylan Tomine. While his activism on conservation matters is well known among certain circles, this book is not a pulpit from which the author preaches. That said, as an advocate for conservation, Tomine would be remiss if he did not offer some commentary on environmental issues facing the Pacific Northwest. And THAT said, the chapter titled, “Prius Envy”, does touch on some weighty matters. But this book isn’t so much, or overtly, about conservation. Although it may be, but perhaps not necessarily.

Closer To The Ground is Tomine’s journal of time spent with his family throughout the seasons of the year; living a more naturally-grounded life as they explore the forest in search of mushrooms, grow their own produce and fish for salmon. They also harvest shrimp and Dungeness crab, and gather oysters and uncover clams at low tide along the beaches of Puget Sound. Anyone who has ever dug geoducks (non-intuitively pronounced ‘gooey-ducks’) can appreciate Tomine’s reference to these giant bivalves as being offensive in appearance to all but perhaps a female horse. I don’t care who you are—that’s good, sophomoric stuff right there—and there’s enough subtle humor woven into each chapter of the book to keep things entertaining and fun. There is also some underlying, deeply personal stuff that is revealed from time to time.

Speaking of wood, in more than one chapter Tomine reveals his self-professed obsession with firewood that makes me wish I heated my own home in this manner. Heck, I even have access to Tomine’s favorite tree species for firewood: madrona. Then again the gathering, splitting, stacking, drying, moving, and re-stacking of firewood, not to mention the anxiety that accompanies a rapidly-depleting inventory, makes me glad that I’m not a slave to this sort of fuel.

The chapter in which Tomine goes hunting for Chantrelle mushrooms with his then 3 year-old son will make readers wish for a 3 foot 2 inch tall partner—one who is agile, enthusiastic, and energetic—with whom to go forth into the woods in search of these delicacies.

While we’re on the topic of delicacies, I don’t recommend reading Closer To The Ground on an empty stomach as the included recipes, such as Chantrelle Pizza, Mom’s Blackberry Pie, Vine-Maple Smoked Salmon, and Crispy Panko Razor Clams, to name a few, will leave you salivating (and reaching for a bag of chips as a distant consolation prize).

Author Dylan Tomine and his children.

Author Dylan Tomine and his children.

We live in an age where kids (and adults) are ever more disconnected from the natural world. Through Tomine’s words we see that spending time outdoors with kids, in pursuit of the wild things, does more than just allow kids (and adults) to have fun getting wet and dirty: it creates a sense of gratitude for the natural resources. This heightened understanding leads to stewardship. It’s all connected. Overall, kids today don’t have the same opportunities to immerse themselves in the natural world as previous generations did. Tomine offers ways in which parents can address that, and combat what is called the Nature Deficit Disorder. It’s fairly simple: take kids outside, spend time with them exploring and foraging for consumable treasures that they will be thrilled to discover, and curious to eat. Involve them in the entire process. Create memories.

We also live in a world where many parents are so busy running kids around from one activity to another that the concept of a family dinner is often lost. After each harvest, the Tomine family gathers ’round the table to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Aside from the invaluable family together-time, the author’s kids learn to appreciate that, thanks to their active involvement in the gathering process, food doesn’t just grow on the grocery store shelves. And nature’s treats are just that—delicious and healthy (not that kids care about the latter). These lessons are a result of making a conscious effort to seek out that which is around us, often times just a short ways off the beaten path.

 Closer To The Ground is an easy, enjoyable read thanks to Tomine’s sense of humor and casual story telling that is neither fraught with nor obfuscated by the supererogative use of sesquipedalian verbiage. The author writes in a comfortable manner that is masterful without being fancy. He presents compelling and enjoyable reasons for us all to spend more time outside in search of nature’s gifts: gifts which may be food for the table, or our souls.

Undoubtedly both.

Perhaps worthy of note: The book isn’t exactly new—it was first published in hardback 2012. However, this is the second printing, in paperback, and it has 30% new content. And speaking of new content, I’m hoping that since the book was written the author has replaced his old Montero with a proper firewood-hauling F250, and added a heat source to his office.

Take a moment to visit DylanTomine.com and watch the short trailer for the book.

 

The Sage ACCEL: A selfish review

While this is a rod review it’s not necessarily to benefit my readership (all 11 of you). Rather this is a purely the result of a selfish endeavor to determine if the new Sage ACCEL might be the next addition to my quiver. You see, I am looking for a very special 4 weight rod.

My favorite rod, overall, is my Z-Axis 490-4 that I’ve had since Sage first launched the Z-Axis series in 2007. I’ve fished this rod so much that it’s like an old, reliable friend: always there, always willing and always able. The Z-Axis has a sensitive tip section and plenty of backbone: in my opinion, a perfect combination that makes the rod light to cast and fun to catch small fish on, but capable of handling fish up to 20 inches (as if I ever catch fish that size). I’ve shuddered at the thought I should ever lose it or break it (knock on wood) and not be able to get it fixed (does Sage keep a large stock of old blanks?). And so to ease my anxiety I recently began looking for another Z-Axis in the same configuration to have as a back-up; finding one in excellent condition has proven impossible so far. It was during my quest for another Z-Axis that a discussion came up with an associate who had tested the new ACCEL. In his estimation the ACCEL felt a lot like the Z-Axis and he suggested I give it a go. But you can’t take another’s word for something like that—fly rods are highly subjective things.

Upon my request I received an ACCEL 490-4 demo rod from Sage to test out. The rod was brand new and had not been out of its green ballistic nylon tube yet (except obviously before the rod was placed into the tube at the factory). I’ve always preferred the aluminum tubes with a screw-on lid and gasket seal, but Sage has always offered their less-than-top-of-the-line rods in nylon tubes with zipper closures. Nothing really wrong with that, unless you automatically (and inaccurately) associate a lower-priced rod with less than top-of-the-line performance. I have many different Sage rods, and all but one have the aluminum rod tubes. What does that say about me?  (Don’t answer that question). I should point out that that I’ve never had a zipper fail on an aluminum tube, and the aluminum doesn’t hold any moisture after sitting in the bottom of a boat. Other than that, my take on the matter is that the style of rod tube has more to do with perception of the rod’s quality. Both style tubes will protect their contents, which is all that really matters.

Ballistic nylon tube (top); Aluminum tube (bottom)

Many people look at the history of different rods from a manufacturer and try to draw relationships—create a family tree, if you will. Well, don’t try to do that with the Sage line of rods. Instead look at each new rod as just that: all new. I actually spoke with a source from Sage and they had this to say:

“New rod designs are based on the materials (mix of graphite and resins), tapers, components, etc. available to the designer to create something completely new each time. Each rod family is created to be unique with its own purpose and personality. Sage does not see the lineage story as essential to the Sage customer and that is not how they are developed.”

So there you have it: the ACCEL is neither a cousin to the Z-Axis, nor a half brother, or anything of the sort.  And the ACCEL certainly isn’t the red-headed step child of the Z-Axis, or any other Sage rod (it’s green, after all). The ACCEL is a new rod all its own.  Acknowledging that, I will be drawing comparisons between the ACCEL and the Z-Axis.

Despite that the name “ACCEL” conjures up images of speed and acceleration, Sage has dubbed the ACCEL a medium-fast action rod. The Z-Axis was labeled fast action. The Sage ONE is also a fast action rod, which I’ve cast (and reviewed HERE), and I would agree that it is. By comparison to the ONE my Z-Axis is noticeably slower—still fast, but definitely more flex in the tip than the ONE. Personally I like the feel of the Z-Axis better, despite liking the ONE a great deal. But the question on this day is, would I like the ACCEL?

I don’t particularly care a whole lot about aesthetics when it comes to rods (or clothes, according to my wife). So the fact that the ACCEL is an attractive bright green blank, considerably lighter in shade than the Z-Axis, didn’t factor into my assessment of the rod one way or another. The Z-Axis was made with a reverse half wells grip while the ACCEL comes with a a full wells grip. I prefer the look of the grip on my Z-Axis, but again that’s merely personal preference. The ACCEL is a nice looking stick, but I wasn’t looking to judge a book by its cover—I was looking for feel.

Z-Axis (top); ACCEL (bottom)

I always start with what some consider a worthless act: the old wiggle test. Side by side, the Z-Axis and ACCEL both look and feel nimble. To the average eye, the blanks are the same diameter. They’re both made from the same generation 5 graphite technology. The ACCEL (2-5/8 oz) is actually lighter than the Z-Axis (3-1/16 oz), but again for the average person, which includes me, that’s not a huge difference: both are light in the hand. When wiggling the rods side by side, the Z-Axis recovers a bit faster than the ACCEL, and I could see and feel the ACCEL flexing farther down the blank than the Z. But there was a definite similarity. 

Next up was the lawn test. I mounted my go-to 4 weight reel lined with RIO Gold WF4F line and began waving the ACCEL back and forth with only 15 or so feet of line out front. Gradually I began feeding more line, but living in suburbia has its limitations and my restrictive homeowner’s association doesn’t allow me to cast farther than about 30 feet (remember, 60 total feet is required to cast a forward distance of 30 feet). Because lawn casting didn’t really afford me a true assessment of the ACCEL’s range capabilities, and no lawn trout were biting anyway, I took my Z and the ACCEL down to the river. There, I had more than enough room needed to test the limits of my casting ability rods.

The ACCEL threw as much line as I was capable of doing, and it did so nicely out to about 44.5 feet. Compared to the Z-Axis it didn’t quite seem to have the same “punch” that can shoot an extra few feet, but for the intended purposes of a 4 weight rod the ACCEL will cast as far as I need it to: after all, a 4 weight isn’t exactly a power tool. The ACCEL is smooth and effortless to cast, and it throws nice tight loops. It’s no slow action rod by any means, but it bends farther down the blank than does the Z-Axis, which accounts for why I can cast a bit farther with the Z. The ample tip flex makes mending a breeze, a downfall of stiff, fast action rods. The Z-Axis has ample tip flex so mending has never been a problem with that rod. Again, a similarity revealed itself. The ACCEL felt remarkably like an old friend. I fished for the better part of the day, throwing Reverse Spiders for coastal cutthroat trout, of which I only caught one. It wasn’t a very big fish so I wasn’t able to enjoy the true fish fighting capability of the ACCEL. I also threw a few tungsten cone-head streamers and the rod did a fine job of chucking those heavy flies. It wasn’t an ideal match-up, but these weighted bugs are better suited for a 6 weight. By the end of the day I forgot that I was fishing a strange new rod. 

Conclusionary thoughts: The ACCEL feels quite like the Z-Axis, despite that the Z-Axis was, at the time, the premium offering from Sage and came with a $700+ price tag (and an aluminum rod tube). The current top shelf, all-around rods from Sage today are the Method and ONE, with price tags of $800. The ACCEL comes in at $595, making it a step down in price and perhaps perceived quality. But based on my observations, which are my own and may have little bearing on you, the ACCEL is my first choice of the current all around rods from Sage, making it the best—for me. The ACCEL may be a bit a slower casting rod than my Z-Axis, but that’s OK because I’m slowing down a bit myself. 

So, to answer today’s question, would I like the ACCEL? Yes. So much so that I’ll have placed an order for one of my own before this review is read by all 11 of you. And if I find that I can’t live with the ballistic nylon rod tube, I’m sure I can find an aluminum replacement.

Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters

Idaho may be best known for its famous potatoes, but it’s beans that are being spilled in author Chris Hunt’s recently-released book, Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters—or so one may think, based on the title alone. When I first heard that Hunt’s book was hitting the shelves my first thought was, “Sweet, he’s dishing out GPS coordinates.” My second thought was,”Oh, crap—sh#t is about to hit the fan!”

I’m lucky enough to fish Idaho a couple of times each year, but like many other visiting anglers I gravitate toward better-known rivers: after all, it’s not always feasible to do much prospecting when you’ve got only a few days at your disposal. In particular I love fishing the upper St. Joe and each time I’ve visited this gorgeous part of northern Idaho I’ve pondered the lesser-known backcountry streams—hidden gems that are tucked away, off the beaten path, in this part of the state (and elsewhere). I figured this new book would point me exactly where I need to go; maybe even tell me which rock to stand on. And so it was that I opened the book, hopeful the author had done all the legwork for me. After all, with a name like Hunt, certainly it was his job to track down the info and provide the goods. Conversely if you happen to be of the tight-lipped position that nobody should enjoy these resources other than yourself or maybe a scant few locals, you’re likely to cringe when you read the title.

Your own priviate Idaho?

The author breaks the state into 4 general regions: Eastern, Southern, Central and Northern Idaho. Despite offering some very good general information about several rivers and creeks and even some helpful information on where to find these reclusive waters in a Gazetteer, I was largely disappointed to discover that I will still have to do a lot of legwork should I seek them out. Finding these gems on a map is one thing; leaving the road and hiking a few miles to explore them is another. Most won’t go to the trouble and that alone should come as great reassurance to the territorial Idahoans who may not be quite as enthusiastic about having  a few of their secret streams shared with the world. Furthermore, Idaho is home to an awful lot of river miles—clearly the author has only put a small dimple in the surface of all the water Idaho has to offer. 

Follow the blue squiggly lines.

The author is a passionate conservationist—that comes across in his writing—and anyone who cares about a resource understands that rivers and fish need supporters. To keep these little gems of backcountry streams under lock and key would be a disservice to the waters themselves. If few people are aware of a particular hidden treasure, when that treasure needs advocacy who’s going to take up the fight? Those that care; those who have been there. By offering a glimpse at a few of Idaho’s “secret waters” the author is actually inviting readers to care. 

Hunt writes real good and he weaves personal experiences and a bit of colorful history into his description of the backcountry streams mentioned in his book. This makes for a very enjoyable read and I found myself eagerly pouring over each chapter. At 128 pages I was left wanting more—not necessarily more insider information into the backcountry streams of Idaho—but more of the good stuff that makes this much more than just a ‘where and how-to fish’ guidebook. Like the state of Idaho itself, this book is a gem. 

Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters (History Press) carries a retail price of $19.99 and can be found at many of popular places where people buy books on the internet.

Some winter reading: 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish

As winter nears and trout fishing slows to a crawl in most places, anglers do one of a few things:

  1. Switch gears and prepare for winter steelhead fishing.
  2. Develop a case of the “shack nasties” and hope to maintain their sanity until the Spring thaw. 
  3. Reminisce about the glory days of the past and dream of troutier days ahead.
  4. Read about trout fishing.

Some may also hop a plane for Patagonia where it’s currently summer, but I’m trying to keep it real here, folks. Frankly I do a bit of all four. With regard to #1, admittedly I’m not a real avid steelhead fisherman because the older I get the less tolerant I become of the foul Pacific Northwest weather that must be endured in pursuit of these ever-increasingly imaginary fish. With regard to #2, cabin fever cannot be avoided—it just comes with the territory, although #3 and #4 help in dealing with #2.  Let’s focus for a moment on #4: reading about trout fishing.

I don’t know how many tailwaters there are in the US and Canada, or whether they’re all worthy of fishing. But thanks to 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish (Terry and Wendy Gunn) I do know there are fifty tailwaters that should be on every angler’s bucket list. The publisher offered me a copy in exchange for my thoughts. I’ve no doubt I got the better end of the deal, but here are my thoughts as promised…

This book is a very comprehensive reference for the angler planning to travel to distant rivers, and if you live in a state without any of the listed tailwaters, you’ll be doing some research before you embark on your trip. But is the book necessary?  With the internet, anglers can research most any water they wish to fish. Guides, local fly shops, recommended gear, lodging, maps, launch points, seasonal hatches and a score of other helpful information can likely all be found in cyberspace if you put in the time. The internet is, after all, an endless abyss of reference material, among other things. And because of that vastness it’s not always easy to navigate the internet in quest of all the information you may need for a trip. Fortunately the authors have done that for you and it’s all packaged neatly in one volume, divided into 4 sections: The West, Rockies, South, and East. Another thing you don’t get with the internet—something I love—is the smell of a new book when you crack open the cover. And books get better with age. Imagine the condition of this book after it’s traveled with you across the country several times as you check each river off your list. A road-weary book develops a personality all its own: bent cover, torn pages stained from early morning coffee spills—just try to dog-ear a web page…

Detailed maps, great photos, comprehensive content.

Lest one should think that no single author (or in this case, two authors) can possibly be experts on 50 different rivers spanning the continent, don’t fret—each river in the book is covered by a chapter author. These folks are the local experts on the rivers listed so you get firsthand knowledge and information from people who have an intimate familiarity with the waters. It’s a very authentic way to cover so many locations. Each chapter includes photos of the river and the fish that beg the reader to come hither. Full-page, detailed maps showing roads, launch points, wading areas and campgrounds in the immediate vicinity are included. The chapter descriptions of each river are very comprehensive and supplemental information at the end of each chapter provides valuable information such as the closest fly shops, outfitters/guides, lodging, closest emergency medical help, eateries and perhaps most importantly, the best place to get a cold, stiff drink. Also provided is the quality of cell phone service in the areas you may be fishing. This is all great information to have. In one place. Try THAT on the internet.

Local information to help plan your trip.

Here is a list of the tailwaters covered:

West: Lees Ferry, San Juan, Provo, Feather, Lower Sacramento, Trinity, Upper Rogue, Deschutes, Owyhee, Henry’s Fork, South Fork (Snake), Upper Columbia (BC, Canada).

Rockies: Dolores, Cheesman Canyon, Dream Stream, Elevenmile Canyon, Arkansas, Taylor, Fryingpan, Gunnison, Blue, Yampa, Green, Grey Reef, Miracle Mile, Wind River Canyon, Madison, Beaverhead, Missouri, Kootenai, Bow.

South: Guadalupe, Chattahoochee, Toccoa, Little Red, Norfolk, White, Lake Taneycomo, South Holston, Caney Fork, Cumberland, Mountain Fork, Hiwassee, Clinch, Watauga.

East: Big Gunpowder, North Branch Potomac, Upper Delaware, Neversink, Farmington, Deerfield, Upper Connecticut, Rapid, Muskegon, Grand

I don’t know about you, but I’ve only got 46 more tailwaters to go before I’ve fished all 50 listed in this wonderful book. I better get busy. If you need more compelling reasons to pick up a copy of this book, the authors look like real nice folks—I’m sure they’d appreciate your patronage.

Authors Terry and Wendy Gunn

50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish is published by Stonefly Press and retails for $34.95