2011 September

GEAR REVIEW: WILLIAM JOSEPH EXODUS II PACK

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Unless I’m purposely packing light to fish out of my kayak, I always wear a backpack along with a chest pack when I’m wading or fishing out of a boat. Between a thermos of coffee, a couple water bottles, jerky, maybe a sandwich, camera, extra fly boxes and wet/cold weather gear, the chest pack alone doesn’t cut it and I’d rather hump a pack than leave it in the truck and waste time making trips back for short breaks. I do the same thing when I’m out deer or goose hunting. Being self-contained keeps you in the game…after all, that’s where the fur, feathers and fins are. The one down-side is that within a couple hours my lower back is killing me and it won’t loosen up regardless of taking breaks or stretching. I’ve found Bourbon to be the closest solution to-date, but it makes wading difficult pretty quickly.

A few days before we flew for Idaho, a package came in the mail from Paul Swint over at William Joseph. He and I had talked about the trip at the IFTD show in New Orleans a week or so earlier and he thought it worthwhile to send me one of their new packs to try out. What showed up at my door was the Exodus II pack/vest combo in sage (it’s available in blue as well). I’d been fishing a small chest pack of theirs for the last 10 years and had planned to pack my extra gear in my backpack the same way I always do. I was looking forward to changing up that routine and hopefully turning the corner on the sore back thing. Damn, I sound freaking old.

The detachable vest pockets were an immediate plus. Our flight west had two layovers, so I planned on using the back pack as a carry-on in order to keep my reels, flies, accessories, camera, some clothes and flight essentials (food/water) with me. I was able to organize all of my fly boxes and accessories in the vest, unbuckle the two components from the pack and fit them in the main compartment with everything else, essentially river-ready.

On the water, the Exodus (retail price of $169) fit me well with the wide, adjustable shoulder straps and chest buckle. I thought the size would make it heavier out of the package, but it was surprisingly light-weight. Plus, the vented back and shoulder straps allowed for plenty of air circulation, which kept me comfortable even with a few 8 – 10 hour days on the water and consistent temps in the 90’s. The contents I packed in the main compartment were not inordinately heavy, but I was able to fit a sweatshirt, shell and a pair of wading sandals along with the other items I mentioned, and the compression straps on the sides, bottom and back kept the pack low-profile and also kept the weight close to my center of gravity, which completely alleviated my back strain.

The material and stitching was durable enough not to snag, rip or pop when hiking a game trail through woods and thick brush, being dropped on the ground or gravel bar, or thrown in the back of a truck or boat at numerous points during the trip. Speaking of boats, during our two days on the South Fork, it was flawless and stowed easily out from under foot when not being pillaged for flies, tippet or jerky. Plus the rugged handle at the top was a solid, easy grab when reaching for the pack or tossing it back.

The one sticking point for me was the dangling straps at the bottom of back-pack. When wading in waist-deep water, where the line you strip bellies around behind you in the current, the line invariably gets snagged on one or more of the straps when paying out line to cast. I tried tying them up to shorten them, but still had some snags. Rolling/folding them up in rubber bands or elastic might’ve worked, I’ve seen that on other packs, but I didn’t test that hypothesis.

The vest components are very well designed with six generous pockets that hold a lot of gear: 4 fly boxes, 5 containers for my sex-dungeon collection, extra leaders, floatant, strike indicators, split-shot case, my pipe and tobacco and Kodak Play Sport video camera. The two components zip together to hold the pair securely front and center, and when unzipped, swing out of the way if you need less in front of you to, say, untangle major knots.

And they’ve paid attention to detail: the water-tight Zip-No magnetic pocket closure system makes it easy to get at fly boxes and other accessories without the one-handed zipper wrestling match; the two zippered cargo pockets it does have are armed with rubberized tabs for easy gripping; rounded, tube-covered pull tabs give you something substantial – but non line-snagging – to pull open the magnetic pockets; additional webbing straps are included for lashing your tippet dispenser or hemos; a retractable clipper clasp is built into one of the pockets; and the AirTrack suspension allows you the flexibility adjust the fit of the whole rig to wear over more layers or fewer.

Aside from the fish we caught, the pack made a huge difference in the overall trip experience – from flight to fishing. Off the water it was comfortable, spacious and convenient enough to travel with. On the water, I had everything I needed (and then some) and without the nagging lower back, I actually forgot that I had anything more than the chest pack on. I look forward to putting it through further abuse/use back up here in NY chasing salmon and steelhead and hopefully some pike and late season bass. Hell maybe the back pack will see hunting season as well.

PROS:
• More than enough pockets and room in the backpack and vest
• Water-tight Magnetic Zip-No pocket closure system
• Lightweight, well-balanced and compresses well
• Detachable vest components
• Fully adjustable for good fit in cold or warm weather
• The price is right for the over-all versatility and quality

CONS:
• Need to find a way to corral straps and avoid line snags

You can learn more about the Exodus II pack/vest combo and other William Joseph products at www.williamjoseph.net

 

Reviews on this site are my unpaid and unbiased opinion of gear, music, guides, books and other outdoor-related items. In some instances I may be allowed to keep what is sent to me for review, but as of right now I’m not affiliated with any company, manufacturer, publisher, or producer in any other way. I suppose there’s still hope though.

FOR THOSE FOLLOWING ALONG AT HOME

Posted by | In the woods, On the water | 26 Comments
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Two years have now officially passed since my first blog post.

It’s been a great ride so far, and I consider myself fortunate to have the modest audience I do. I’m also fortunate to have met–in real life–a couple dozen people I’ve connected with through the blog and social media circles, including other writers, photographers, industry players and good folks who just love to fish and hunt.

I don’t have any sort of giveaway to commemorate the occasion. What I do have is a list of other outdoor writers that I read and admire greatly. While this doesn’t cover every blog or writer I read, these are the ones I drop in on most frequently.

40 Rivers to Freedom – Alex Cerveniak just recently moved back to his native Michigan from central NY and has taken his writing with him. I’ve enjoyed his stream and field reports, opinion pieces and photography for a while now, but he’s found a really strong stride since returning home.

Fishing Jones – There are people who say they travel everywhere with a fly rod, and then there’s Pete McDonald who catches bass out of an airport pond before he heads for security check-in. He’s got a knack for packing a lot into a short post and also just published a beautiful book of essays and photography with Tosh Brown.

Mouthful of Feathers – I can’t help but wish I lived out west with a bird dog and a few bird-hunting comrades when I read the shorts that these six guys write. The stories are unflinching and well crafted. The imagery is as big as the country they turn their dogs loose on.

Fat Guy Fly Fishing – The trio of Alex Landeen, Aaron Dennett and Kyle Deneen dish up healthy portions of snarky opinion, fat bass pics and epic reports from events like Carp Slam and Wrinkleneck 22. You’re just going to have to see for yourself.

LO FI FLY – Probably my favorite recent find. The Unicorn Wrangler fishes with good buds in Canadian big fish locales and posts solid pics, video and write-ups. Plus he dredges up some ill (yea, I said ill) old-skool (and new-skool) lo-fi photos and videos that have nothing to do with fishing or the outdoors, and has singlehandedly made cussing a formal element of creative writing. Dig it.

Mysteries Internal – Erin Block is translating solitude and a life lived simply into a beautiful, ongoing conversation between herself and the world around her. Her stories and anecdotes about fishing and life move with an ease and poesy that remind me of why I was so drawn to writing in the first place: it forces you to slow down and pay attention.

Arizona Wanderings – Ben Smith spends a lot of time outdoors, and not just in Arizona. He fly fishes small Arizona and Adirondack mountain streams and big Alaskan and PacNW rivers. He hunts javelina and mule deer with a recurve. He hunts birds. He ties a mean hopper pattern. And he puts up great reports from his wandering.

fishbeer – Reading Matt Dunn’s blog is like skiing a new mountain in the dark. One moment you’ll be bombing along, adrenaline wide open and hollering, and the next you’ll be flat on your back spitting out bark and your fronts. His mind works in ways I wish mine would, and his writing is in lock-step.

Hunt Ducks, Hook Fish – Pete Thrubis is another dude that spends a lot of time outdoors, and has been known to park his truck with duck/bass boat in-tow in the parking lot at work. His no-frills, Michigan blue-collar voice tells a great story regardless of season, quarry or success. And his appreciation for that time outdoors always carries some good perspective.

The Fiberglass Manifesto – I know this one might go without saying, but I’m saying it. While TFM is a site that explores the Glass Lifestyle, Cameron has established a mainstream daily resource for new gear reviews, industry news, and promoting the sport of fly fishing as a whole. While I may not tune-in to every custom rod build report, I do look forward to fishing some glass in the near future.

Bonefish on the Brain – I’m not sure how he does it, but Bjorn Stromsness drops a post every day about his beloved bonefish or places to fish for his beloved bonefish or small island shacks he dreams of inhabiting so he could chase his beloved bonefish full-time. I’m just about convinced that I need to find some salt soon.

The Outdooress – Rebecca Garlock has been a tad busy, what with starting the Outdoor Blogger Network, running around the Oregon countryside for salmon and chasing browns on River X with yours truly. Thankfully, I have her word that she’s about to play some serious catch-up on her stable of stories. I’m looking forward to some more humor and big fish pics.

 

THE IDAHO TRIP: HENRY’S FORK

Posted by | On the water, The road | 22 Comments
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When we were planning this trip to Idaho, right up to the week prior, there were gaps in our itinerary. Even after we had finished dinner with Jason, Vicki, Rebecca and Robert our first night in-country, we had still only shored up about 80% of the next 9 days.

During the week prior to flying west, Ross Slayton caught wind we were going to be in his neck of the woods and dropped me a message. He offered to show us a few spots on Henry’s Fork if we made it up that way, provided he could get the day off. That was pretty much how we had left it until we talked on Thursday evening.

Well, he got the day off, and we had made it up that way.

7:00 Friday morning, Ross pulled into the hotel parking lot in his mid-80’s Chevy Blazer, fired up as any human being I’ve known. Grant and I, on the other hand, were tapping our gas gauges by this point in the trip  hoping the needle would jump a little. But we were heading for Henry’s Fork. Storied water. The stuff of legends. We rallied.

Ross’s Blazer was a wild experience, and reason to rally, in-and-of-itself. A faded black warhorse with flies stuck, presumably retired, in various places on the dash and around the back hatch, Ross judged speed by RPM’s since the speedometer was out. His tire had thrown a weight which shook the truck like a leaf on a tree. It pulled to the left and the right, a steering-wheel dance that Ross had mastered to the point of it becoming an unconscious activity. Most everything rattled. It was a perfect beater fishing truck that he prayed would stay in one piece through this coming winter.

We barreled up Route 20 through Rigby and Rexburg, crossing the Snake, passing prairie and farmland and plenty of cows and climbed from Ashton into Targhee National forest with the Tetons yawning in the eastern distance. We passed through reforested stretches of lodgepole pine with road-side signs stating Planted in 1981, 1967, 1998, and turned into the Riverside Campground. Situated on the upper stretches of the Cardiac Canyon section, this was one of Ross’s favorite places the fish on the river. His usual MO was to hike 45 – 90 minutes downstream and fish his way back to the truck, so we figured we’d follow his lead on a similar excursion.

We followed a game-trail that ran along the river, picking our way over dead-falls and boulders, through tall brush and pine stands, occasionally dropping into the river to wade 30 or so yards downstream before climbing out again. We’d stop every now and again and Ross would give us some more insight into the river and it’s entomology, the wildlife and the region. A voracious reader, he was down-right wiki-pedic with the depth of his knowledge. It was like having a really cool professor leading really cool field trip.

We’d be working pocket water through what he called “Walter-land,” named after the giant rainbow that haunted Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond. He told us the rainbows and cutts get big in this river. Good bugs, he said. He also warned us about pocket water pools that can drop to 7 feet deep under normal flows. Of course we weren’t looking at normal flows. The lake up at Island Park had been drawn down in order to repair the dam after the unrelenting spring run-off, and much of that water was still right in front of us. How in the hell am I going to wade that? crossed my mind more than once.

I tied on a weighted golden stone, the fly I caught my Metolius ‘bow on, dropped a red copper john about 18-inches behind it, added an indicator and stepped out into the current. Ross and I leap-frogged pocket water while Grant hunkered down in the tree-line and slack water to shoot pics. We were largely held to near-shore targets since the depth and heavier current made it dicey to attempt anything further out. Ross proved that point with a few half-dunks and great saves before the day was over.

After a few hours I was starting to fade and the wheels fell off my roll casts. Ross, on the other hand, laid his out in one effortless arc after another. Neither of us were catching anything, and Grant wound up with a bloody nose from the collective days of lacking of humidity. We pushed on. With the campgrounds in sight, we came to a stretch of the river that was wadeable out to the middle. Several dozen boulders broke up the current enough here that gravel collected and built up the bottom. I stood about fifty yards out casting to the pocket-eddys between four chutes that poured into a single white, churning run.

I worked every seam I could reach without even a bite. Rolling one last half-assed cast into the head of the near pocket, a flash went off in the bottom of the pocket and I was suddenly into a good fight in fast water. I hollered to Grant. The ‘bow ran to the far side of the four chutes and jumped, then dove into the current. It was all-or-nothing at this point–either horse the fish back to my side of the current and risk losing it, or play it in the current and possibly down stream and risk losing it, and probably my ass if I had to give chase.

I turned the fish back to my side of the fast water and started busting my way back toward shore, falling twice, playing the fish in pocket after pocket  around boulders and a couple branches along the way. Grant was all mountain goat getting down the game trail to where I’d be landing. We were determined to get a shot of this fish. When I finally got my hand under the ‘bow at the shoreline, I could see he carried the scars of dodging an osprey or two. I felt like I just crossed the finish line. Our last of five rivers over roughly 8 days and I had managed to coax a beautiful trout from its belly in the 11th hour. I felt pretty damn amazing.

We elected to drive up to Herriman Ranch to try our hand at fishing this notoriously difficult section of the Fork, and at least be able to say yep, been there. When you hear someone mention Idaho or Montana trout water, the Ranch is usually the picture that comes to mind. Big sky. Wide, flat, gin clear water. Prairie grass and sagebrush and hoppers clicking in flight from your footsteps. We made the obligatory stop at Rene Harrop’s Trouthunters fly shop and Mike Lawson’s Henry’s Fork Anglers and then drove over to a stretch just off the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.

The latest report for the ranch section of the Henry’s Fork read as such:

Henry’s Fork: Looking for the most difficult fishing you’ll ever experience? Look no further. The Ranch has plenty of big Rainbows and a decent number of insects. Mahogany duns and Baetis can both be seen. The hitch? Holy cow are these fish tough. The water is low and the trout are very selective. One bad cast or drift will send them fleeing to the next county. Bring only you’re A+ game here and hope for one.

At this point, Henry’s Fork – and Ross – had just put the perfect icing on the cake with that ‘bow, so I was game for the next-to-impossible. Ross, Grant and I stood on the bank for a few minutes watching the surface for rises and taking the whole landscape in. The wind had dropped and the fish were active. I tied on a big hopper with one of Rebecca’s #20 red zebra midges, all on 6X and waded slowly out toward the middle–about half-way to a few risers. Pulling about 40 feet of line from my reel, I stood hip-deep in the current and waited. Ross did the same about 100 yards up-river.

A good fish rose. I worked out line and made a cast that fell embarrassingly short. I let it drift below me before I reloaded another cast which didn’t raise any interest either. I waited again. A bigger, splash-rise. I laid the hopper about 15 feet above the expanding rings and it drifted directly down the middle of the lane until the water exploded like the fly hit a land-mine. I felt two big head shakes and then – boop – he was off. I smiled, wiped my face with some cold water and looked to the beautiful blue sky. The wind picked back up and the fish stopped rising. I waded slowly back toward Ross and Grant waiting at the bank, leaving my own rings to drift off on the current.

THE IDAHO TRIP: THE SOUTH FORK, DAY 2

Posted by | On the water, The road | 9 Comments
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The next morning our drive to the South Fork felt entirely different. It was the same landscape of sprawling grain fields and foothills, beautifully wide blue sky and brush-stroke clouds. It was roughly the same river waiting on the other end of the drive. But everything was different.

We had been this way already. We’d already learned the roads from the hotel to the church parking lot. We’d already loaded our gear and hauled ass into the unknown of a new river. We’d already taken our lumps, managed to keep our dukes up and had held the reward, all cold color and fantastically alive. We had the thin-thread benefit of familiarity from one run-and-gun afternoon. But on this morning, our pace took a couple steps back, settled into the truck seats and tried to just take everything in. We were there, and that was enough.

We made another stop at the fly shop so I could replace the tan sex dungeons I had lost to the motor and the bottom of a greedy boulder. In the parking lot, I ran into Jeff Currier, a tremendous artist and rep for Ross and Scientific Anglers who I met at IFTD in New Orleans a week and a half earlier. Having met Colby for the first time at the show as well, it was pretty cool to cross paths with Jeff again, especially clear across the country. We put the boat in the water, pulled our collars up and hats down and turned down-river for the canyon.

About halfway there Colby pulled up on the throttle, swung the boat left back against the current below a giant gravel bar under six inches of water and then right easing us up on the bar. Over 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, he told us that this bar didn’t exist before the spring run-off. The extended bolus of snowmelt deposited the entire sweeping mass of rocks over the course of months, leaving a perfect section of riffles that drop into a deep, teal green run. I waded to the head of the riffles while Grant claimed a spot halfway down. Time to nymph.

After a couple casts I noticed a guy and his dog watching from the far bank, smoke rising slowly from a small campfire behind them. I waved. He waved. A couple more casts up and across the current and my indicator went under. I lifted the rod into a nice bend, collected my line on the reel and backed a flashy cutbow out of the heavy current. This is exactly how a day of fishing should start.

I picked my way back up to the head of the riffle and made a couple more casts. When my indicator dropped again, the hook-set stopped me short. I could feel a big body start to work up some heavy back and forth before it gave a couple good head-shakes, a few rolls and then put its nose as deep into the current it could. Fish on the reel, I backed into shallow water again, but this toad wasn’t following. I kept him from heading for bigger water, finally turned him toward shallow water and Colby slid the net under him to seal the deal.

I made a dozen more cast before I carried my big-honkin’ grin back to the boat to swap my rod for Grant’s camera. He had a couple takes that didn’t stick and I wanted to make sure I got some shots of him when one finally did. Within three or four casts his #16 rubber-legged prince nymph dropper found the jaw of a brown the size of a German u-boat, which bent his rod to the cork, turned tail for Canada and busted the line. And as luck would have it, I caught all 10 seconds of the fracas.

Enough drift boats had dropped below us by this point that Colby wanted to jet down into the canyon before the crowds socked it in. As we made out way down-river, we passed sheer rock walls that dropped into white current, stratified cliffs and pine, sage and grass-covered slopes. We pulled up into a small switchback to grab some lunch, relax, and burn a couple hours before the afternoon bite. Not one to sit still long, I ate my sandwich and waded out to a riffle. Colby picked up his rod, walked down the bank about 20 yards and promptly hooked up a nice cutbow.

That afternoon, we dropped down to another money spot Colby called the hog bar. A 100 yard sub-surface gravel peninsula usually stacked up with cutties, ‘bows and browns. Colby navigated through the drift boat fleet and drifted Grant and I down the right edge while we drifted our nymph rigs down the middle. Then he’d jet us back up to the top and drift it again. Grant was getting plenty of hits but no hook-ups. I on the other hand became a whitefish sniper, landing 15 or more in the 6 drifts we made. Having the fight at the end of the line was better than the alternative, but I was tired of getting my heart rate up over pike-bait.

Then it happened. My nymph rig dropped into a depression in the gravel bar and stopped. I lifted the rod and a flash appeared in the heart of the pool, turning into big rainbow as it blew into the far current. It took the loose line I had at my feet and then some from the reel. I could liken the fish to a football, but I’d be doing it a disservice. It was built more like a defensive lineman.

Colby rowed us into slower current near the bank and grabbed the net. Grant had finished his drift, collected his line and grabbed the camera. A few more runs and some dashes for the brush on the bank and I had his head up and pointed toward the boat–a cloud of iridescent silver and pink reflecting a universe around him. A foot off the net he came unbuttoned and I let go of a long, mournful noooooooooooo! that spooked birds from the trees on the hill above us. Non-native species be-damned, he would’ve been the fish of my trip.

As the afternoon wound down, we decided to head back up-river to the gravel bar we started on that morning before the clock struck the witching-hour for pounding streamers. In spite of that ‘bow, I felt about as full and happy as ever as Colby pushed the boat around bends, through rips and riffles and wide flat expanses, the sun moseying westward. We stopped and fished a few likely areas along the way with no takers. Reaching the morning’s gravel bar, I reclaimed my spot back at the head of the riffle for a handful of casts before deciding to pick up Grant’s camera again.

Further up-river I got back to pounding the banks with that tan sex-dungeon and a fast sink leader. Cast, strip, strip, strip, lift and reload, cast, strip, strip, strip, lift and reload. Under brush, against logs, through big pockets behind boulders, against cliff walls. Over and over, drift after drift. All I could draw were slashes, swings and short-strikes. Colby just shook his head in disbelief. If I would’ve converted on half the fish that I raised, we’d have easily had a 20-fish day. 20 big fish at that.

Colby had gifted us a personal tour of his life-long home water. We had caught (and lost) amazing fish in some magnificent country. We were exhausted and happier than hell. With daylight almost completely gone, we finally settled into the water at the bottom of the launch. Grant and I repacked all the gear and rods in silence while Colby went for his truck and trailer. We looked at each other a couple times, smiled and shook our heads, knowing we didn’t have to say a word. Waiting hip deep in the river, holding the boat, we were there, and it was more than enough.