Reviews

SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE: A REVIEW (OR SIXTEEN)

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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.

GEAR REVIEW: COSTA TAG SUNGLASSES

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I have a small melon. Very few hat styles fit, short haircuts make me look 12, and sunglasses give me agida…until recently. On another good mail-day prior to our trip to Idaho, I received a pair of Costa Tag sunglasses. Named after the tagging initiative that folks at the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust are building, the Tags are new style in an crazy-extensive line of high-quality, good looking eyewear. And they fit.

Costa Tag sunglasses

These particular sunglasses came with their new 580P (Polycarbonate) polarized lens in copper. They’re also available in glass. Coupled with a fused nylon and Hydrolite frame, they feel lightweight but well-built. According to the folks I talked to at Costa down at IFTD, the 580 lens (a level above their 400’s) completely eliminates reflected glare, blocks yellow light and boosts red, green and blue light, the C-WALL coating repels water, oil, dust and scratches, and the copper color best-serves sight fishing, driving and everyday use. Having a long-frustrating sensitivity to light (bright daylight and headlights at night), I hoped the additional optic assistance would make a difference.

For the 10 days we were out west, the Tags (which retail for $169) performed exactly as described. The five rivers we fished all brought different conditions to the game. Cloudy and fast; deep and gin clear; wide and choppy; high and white; smooth as glass.

Even with clear blue skies and the resulting glare on the water for 90% of the trip, I rarely (if ever) had to squint or strain to see where I was wading or casting to. The wider wrap-around style blocked peripheral glare as well. Without the eye fatigue, I was much more comfortable on the water. Plus, the flexible temple-tips kept me from getting those “pressure-spots” on the side of my head–even wearing one of those hats that actually fit.

Deep and fast ain't nothin'

This glare ain't nothin' either

They fit, even with a lid on backwards

I put the “driving” benefit of the sunglasses to work as well. We spent the better part of 24 hours over the course of our trip on the road to and from water. But it was one run that sealed the deal on the value of the Tags. I fell on the sword for the four hour drive east from Boise to Idaho Falls on Wednesday morning. Looking east into a bluebird central Idaho morning sky, there was nothing but front-and-center sun. And sun like that plays hell in a couple ways: the intense glare off the windshield (and every bug, wiper drag and water mark on the windshield), and the direct brightness that burns a circle on your iris and leads a trail wherever your eye moves.

It took 3 hours for it to actually dawn on me that I hadn’t had to fight the unruly windshield glare, burned irises or light sensitivity I always have. That’s not to say I didn’t use the visor or gangsta-lean to better use my rearview mirror’s shadow at times, but again, the eye fatigue I should’ve experienced from an entire Idaho plains landcape-full of morning sun simply wasn’t there.

The road back from Stanley and the Salmon

On a mission to Idaho Falls

See the fish. Be the fish.

Nowhere to hide

All-in-all, a great pair of sunglasses that I plan on getting a lot more use out of during our other-than-fair-weather east coast seasons.

PROS:
• They fit my small head
• 580 lens eliminates glare, blocks yellow light
• Lightweight but well-built feel
• Durable Polycarbonate lens
• Flexible, comfortable temple-points
• Great on the water and on the road
• $169 is worth it for little-to-no eye fatigue

CONS:
•  Let’s see after a few seasons of use

For more information on these and other Costa optics, visit www.costadelmar.com.

 

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.

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.