SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE: A REVIEW (OR SIXTEEN)

Posted by | December 02, 2013 | Reviews | One Comment
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I’ve never been one to follow the herd. As my dad says of my path from there to here: you’ve always done things 30-degrees left or right of center, son. But a run this morning through the last couple days of RSS feeds from blogs I try to keep up with reminded me that I’ve got some big-time thanks I need to give — for the intangible and unconditional friendships, love and support of people in my life and also for the tangible things that traveled with me into the wilderness at various points, or got me to consider heading to the wilderness in the first place.

Just so you know, that’s as schmaltzy as I’m going to get in this post, so you’re all off the hook for having to wade through deep sentimentality. Besides, I’m indebted to so many fantastic people from here to [insert place] and everywhere in-between, it’s futile to call everyone out in any other way than en mass. Needless to say, it’s a fortunate man who can look at any horizon with the confidence that an open door and open arms will greet him and his family. Eventually I’ll be making good on those offers.

But, right now I want to take this time to share that list of tangibles that I mentioned. Because, when it comes to the things that have served me well or have offered much needed inspiration, I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due. Mind you, a list like this is a first for me and this blog. In the over four years I’ve authored fishingpoet, reviews have been sparse at best. I’m just not a review-writer at heart, but I’m going to make an exception here. OK, the disclaimer: Some items were given/awarded to me. Most I bought on my own. No one has paid for space here. Anyhow, here’s where the rubber met the road.

GEAR
Redington Sonic-Pro wading pants– Sonic Pro wading pants at work in Alaska - photo by Earl Harper
I received these a couple weeks before I flew to Alaska as part of my atta-boy for being selected (along with Chad Schmukler of Hatch Magazine) for the Trout Unlimited Blogger Tour trip to the Tongass National Forest. I’ve rolled the tops of my chest waders down for years, regardless of weather or whether I was standing in drift boats, traipsing around gravel bars, stalking small mountain streams or hiking game trails en route to water. I’m just more comfortable without the full-on height and shoulder straps. The Sonic-Pro wading pants are made of a durable but light-weight material that’s quiet and comfortable when hiking in hot weather and, when layered appropriately, has kept me more than warm in cold tailwaters and freezing temps. They’ve got heavy-duty zippers for the side pockets (which are not water-tight, so put your phone or point-and-shoot in your pack above the water-line), a hold-fast velcro belt system and simple elastic suspenders if you’re inclined to use them. I’ve been told that I wade a bit deeper than most guys when conditions dictate, but I’ve found that, generally, I can wade 90% of the water I need to in these (albeit sometimes while holding my breath and waist line). They’ve seen Alaska, Montana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and some trib fishing in upstate NY. I love these things.

Fishpond Westwater large zippered duffel– Fishpond Westwater Duffel - kitchen sink not included, but it'll fit too
This was another atta-boy from the Blogger Tour selection, and a fantastic addition to my travel arsenal. I’m pretty sure I found a new definition for “bottomless” when it comes to duffel bags. Being prior service Army, I was used to strategically packing my entire life in a standard issue OD green stand-up military duffel. I’ve had a couple soft-sided travel bags since then, but they’ve only had the typical handle straps to carry them with–which makes it a pain in the ass to carry if it’s loaded for bear and I’m also carrying any other smaller bags/packs with me. The first thing that I liked about the Westwater bag is that it not only has the handle straps, but it has heavy-duty backpack straps, just like my old Army duffel. Throw all that weight on my back and both hands (and shoulders to a point) are left free to carry other gear, or get into pockets for cash, phone or ID. As for what it holds…I packed 7 days-worth of clothes (base-layers to outer-wear) to accommodate warm, cold and rainy SE Alaska weather, two sets of waders, wading boots, a pair of sneakers and boots, waterproof camera bag, hats, gloves, a bottle of Buffalo Trace and full-size bottle of Advil Liqui-gels. When I thought there wasn’t enough room, I unlatched the buckles on each end of the bag, zipped the bag 3/4 of the way, stood it up and dropped it a few times on its end, compressing the contents enough to fit the rest of the gear (including the bottle). Re-clasp the buckles to further compress the whole deal and I was ready to jet.

FLY ROD
Thomas & Thomas ESP 7’6″ 4-piece 5wt– Thomas & Thomas ESP - the 5wt redefined
I have to admit, I’m biased when it comes to fly rods. And extremely spoiled. Until recently, I was the guy behind the blog and social media for Thomas & Thomas. As such, I was able to get my hands on any and every rod that was born of handcrafted goodness from the shop in Greenfield, MA. Glass, grass or graphite. Single or two-handed. Tom Dorsey (one of the two original Thomases), Trevor Bross and Troy Jacques afforded me a lifetime’s-worth of fly rod knowledge over the two and a half years of working with them. Of all the rods though, it was that medium action small stream ESP that fit like it was made for me, and at “22 broken-down, it travels like a champ. I fished it initially on the Owyhee in SE Oregon for tailwater browns and landed more fish 20″ or better on that rod (with 18 – 24-sized flies) during that one trip than I have in my entire life. From a distance and control standpoint, there was no part of the river I couldn’t reach on a dime – although longer casts across varying currents were tough to mend well with the shorter length. Regardless, if I asked, it answered. And then some.

BOOKS
The Blitz–
I bought this book when it first came out back in 2011, before I fished with Pete McDonald (author of the blog Fishing Jones) for pike on a shit-cold April weekend. Authored by Pete with photography by Tosh Brown, it is a permanent fixture on my coffee table. My kids thumb through it. Friends who visit thumb through it. I thumb through it. Every last one of us exhaling man-oh-man at various points in the respite. If you haven’t, get the book. You’ll win friends and influence people–and likely start combing the interwebs for two-day coastal forecasts, fly reels with drags that don’t suck and how-to videos for tying clousers.

View from Coal Creek– Three great reads Erin Block is one of the most talented writers I’ve ever read–and a seriously devoted back country trout and flats carp fly angler. I had the good fortune to meet her (and a passel of other blog writers and industry folks) in Denver last January at the Fly Fishing Show. Her book is a chronicling of a months-long story started on her blog, Mysteries Internal–that being her experience with building her first bamboo fly rod from scratch. It is meditative, at times humorous, and as well-crafted, beautiful and purposeful as the rod that she ultimately finishes–and fishes. Well worth a place on your bookshelf or reading list, between Coal Creek’s covers you’ll find one of the finest voices in contemporary outdoor literature.

50 Best tailwaters to fly fish–
I am just starting to crack the spine on this tome from Terry and Wendy Gunn, but what I’ve read so far is about as comprehensive as is gets when it comes to intel about some of the country’s top tailwater fisheries. Broken down by region, and introduced by Lefty Kreh, the book includes species, regulations, tackle, lodging, local fly shops, emergency support services, topo maps and fantastic personal write-ups by local guides, anglers and others experts that call these rivers home–from the Arkansas to the Yampa and everywhere in-between. You can check out their promo video for it too.

FILMS
Long Shot–
Erin Block leading-in with a fantastic narrativeThis is the latest short from the talented duo of Ivan Orsic and Russ Schnitzer, otherwise known as The Fly Collective. Very well shot and edited, featuring Erin Block (see above) and Jay Zimmerman (professional fly tier, wood splitter and obsessively dedicated carp and trout fly angler – OK, scratch trout), the film opens with Erin reading a piece she wrote about the parallels between fly fishing for carp and our sometimes unfounded or irrational hope and belief in the impossible becoming possible–the long shot. Between the images and listening to the words and story throughout, it made me realize that I need to find my way back to writing more. Absolutely worth a 9 and a half minute break to watch.

Into the Mind–
Two words for the ski film from Sherpas Cinema: Holy. Shit.

I want to ski this face

My friend Denver Miller (co-shooter for the latest Confluence production – Waypoints – which is coming up on the list next, in case you were wondering), turned me onto this film while we were out in Montana a few weeks back. As he put it: I don’t know if they were eating mushrooms when they put this thing together, but the edit and cinematography is crazy good. Turns out to be accurate and very well put. The music is fantastic, the places these cats hike and heli into are ridiculous, and the whole shootin’match re-lit the fire in me to finish Deliberate Life.

Waypoints–
Waypoints. Unbelievable places, story and imagesI flew to Bozeman earlier in November to catch the “hometown” premier of Waypoints with my friend Denver Miller who co-shot the film with Chris Patterson (Jim Klug’s partner in Confluence Films). Aside from my own biased “hometown” connection, I wished the film could’ve gone on another hour. Venezuela, Alaska, Patagonian Chile, St. Brandon’s Atoll, India…each 15 – 18-minute segment could’ve been it’s own gorgeous feature. Add to that a fantastic narrative that speaks to “the important milestones and significant stopping places that collectively shape our journey through life.” The experiences and waypoints that define who we are. Beautifully done and well worth getting your own copy if you haven’t seen it.

1800 South–Ready to get out after it
A close friend watched this and said: This is totally you. I want it to be me too. If you have ever heard your soul call for to head out into this world on an adventure–this film will likely have you staring out the window plotting which horizon to run for. The film follows Jeff Johnson (photographer and writer) as he re-traces the 6-month trip that Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins took to Patagonia in 1968. Its story is timeless, honest and makes you think about just how much we take our planet – and our time on this planet – for granted.

CLOTHING/FOOTWEAR
Skinny Water Culture–SWC mojo - photo by Eric Estrada
I’ve got two shirts from the SWC boys that have made their way into the laundry pile more than pretty much any other shirts I wear. The long-sleeve SWC circle logo micro and the Flying Silver t-shirt. I get more double-takes from those old enough to know Led Zeppelin when I pimp the Flying Silver shirt. And the circle logo micro was the mojo that helped me land my first tailing red in Islamorada. Believe it.

 

Hell Razor jacket–The Kast Hell Razor. My go-to.
Colby and the guys at Kast Gear are making some fantastic cold-weather gear. They’re definitely doing it right, and bringing some good-looking stuff to market too. I got a hold of my Hell Razor jacket two years ago and wear it religiously–solo as a jacket and also layered under a shell like their Storm Castle Jacket (which I also wear a hell of a lot). Warm, well-built and worth a Christmas-list nod.

GUIDES/DESTINATIONS
Mark Heironymous, Bear Creek Outfitters – Juneau, AK–
I had the good fortune of spending an inordinate amount of time with this cat on the Blogger Tour trip this past July. Imagine John Madden as a kick ass fly-in salmon/steelhead guide and conservationist. BOOM! This guy has forgotten more about fly fishing in the PacNW and Alaska than I’ll likely learn in my life. A more passionate and intelligent advocate for the fisheries he calls home, you will not meet.

Eric Estrada – Miami, FL–
Not to be confused with the CHiPs co-star of the same name, fish with this kid and you better be as ready to pull a Mission Impossible into a private tennis club for peacocks as you would poling backcountry flats for tarpon, reds and bones or running, running, running for his own mangrove hide-outs for snook and reds. My first red on the fly came from his bow (see pic above). So did a whole lot of shit for busting a rod on a trout-set. He’s also a talented artist who’s coming out with his own clothing line.

Brett Seng – Bozeman, MT–
I just met and fished with Brett for the first time two weeks ago and I’m already recommending him to guys I know here in NY. One of the guide/anglers in the Chile segment of Waypoints, his energy, personality and his uncanny knowledge of the water he makes his living on is fantastic. Not only that, but we caught actively rising Gallatin River rainbows on dries in November out of his boat. That shit just does not happen. He’s also a stellar photographer that chases assignments all over the world (next up 37 days in NZ).

Last, but certainly not least, I want to say thanks to you all. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by for a break in your day and read the words I manage to put down here. Your support means a lot.

Enjoy the holidays.


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