Thursday, February 27, 2014

DIY: A rod rack shelf for the other rods

I'm not as proud of this project as I am of my fly rod tube rack, but it serves a purpose... definitely a bit more function over form. Thanks to a rekindled interest in fishing with lures too heavy to be cast with a fly rod, I decided about six months ago it was time to build some sort of rack to organize the growing number of non-fly rods. Several of these rods are one piece (6' or longer) with no protective case... very different from the rods organized by my fly rod tube rack.

The inspiration for this piece came from two sources- the wire rod rack shelves that are readily available at the big box outdoor outfitters and a wooden shelf I saw at a local thrift shop. This project was my attempt to synthesize those two things.

First, I acquired the nifty piece of wood that made the bases of the rod racks on each side of the shelf. They are cut from a factory milled wooden deck railing. The baluster recesses were just right to receive a fishing rod handle. I went to Home Depot with a vision... not knowing exactly what I would buy... until I found this piece of wood. I instantly knew I had found what I was looking for... the Holy Grail of an uncertain quest.

I went home and almost immediately cut the railing down into two equal pieces- one for each side of the shelf... and then the project sat on a back burner for about four months during the course of moving into our new house. As soon as I got the garage workshop somewhat operational (it's still not quite fully functional), this was one of the first orders of business. It's an important piece of furniture in our obnoxiously fishing themed spare bedroom... critical to organizing the disorganized mess of rods that had been carefully leaned in the corners of the room.

In a quest to acquire the right piece of wood to make the box, I found a unique piece of plywood at Lowe's. It was a  4' x 8' sheet of 5/8" sheathing (low grade plywood- not intended for cabinetry)... supposed to be pine, but a layer of poplar at the mill snuck its way onto this sheet somehow. I don't know exactly how things work in a plywood production facility, but I did work in the lumber department at Home Depot... and I know that this isn't normal. This sheet was special, so I snatched it up. I used it to make the exterior of the shelf, while the interior shelves are made of some plywood leftovers from another project.

The color variation in the poplar gives this piece a lot of character.

The most frustrating part of the project came when I began trying to install the first set of rod retaining hooks I purchased for the project. Much like the wood railing... I thought I had found the perfect piece of hardware for the job, but that turned out to not be the case. I tried to use "safety" cup hooks that have little spring clips that essentially close the hooks. They're readily found in the hardware sections of home centers and even Walmart... but beware! They're made out of some really cheap "pot metal" that breaks easily... as I quickly found out when trying to align the hooks how I wanted them. Turning them just a wee bit past their first point of resistance broke the screws off very easily. I eventually gave up on the safety cup hooks and installed the hooks you see in the photo above. The rods are now just leaned into the hooks... but I would much prefer them to be securely held in place. It's a compromise.

I finished the piece with several coats of clear semi-gloss spar urethane- a very smooth and durable finish. If you're interested in further details or dimensions, please comment below.

Thanks for checking it out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014 Bassmaster Classic: a report from a bass fly fisher

If you ask me about my favorite fish to pursue with a fly rod, I will invariably answer you with some species of the genus Micropterus- one of the black basses. In the past I would have quickly answered "Smallmouth," but now that I live in Alabama, and I've experienced fly fishing for Alabama Bass and Redeyes, they've achieved similar status in my mind. Wading a creek for river bass is my idea of fly fishing fun... and I'll always enjoy fly fishing for stillwater bass from a kayak or boat.

To make this very clear- I am a bass fisherman, even though I may not be "conventional" in my preferred method or choice of tackle. I know a lot about bass fishing, and although I prefer a fly rod, I actually have a lot of experience fishing lures with spinning and baitcasting gear...

but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced on Saturday- the Bassmaster Classic daily "weigh in" at the Birmingham Convention Center Arena.

The fishing took place on Lake Guntersville, but the daily "weigh ins" were staged over an hour away in the sports arena of the big city... because there is no such venue near the lake. A big arena was necessary to accommodate the hordes of fans that came to the weigh ins... literally from around the world. I saw a handful of Japanese fans there to support their professional bass fishing compatriots... clearly not from Alabama.

It was a cultural experience that I will never forget.

As I tried to describe it to my friends on Facebook... "Try to imagine a Nascar rock concert with fish."

I've seen these sort of events on TV before, but I admit that I'm not a follower of professional bass fishing... or any professional fishing tour for that matter. It's too painful to watch others get paid to go fishing for a living... and always think to myself, "I could do that."

"We have a new leader!"

There was also a free fishing expo held in conjunction with the Classic.

Gratuitous metal flake bass boat photo

Kelly and I made it a point to seek out all of the booths for companies with strong ties to fly fishing... but that doesn't mean we found much that was actually fly fishing related.

We only found two actual displays of fly rods- one at the St. Croix display and one by TFO. We appeared to be the only ones who showed any interest in these seemingly out of place sticks.

We also found the Simms display where they were promoting their rain gear and other non-fly fishing, bass-oriented fishing apparel.

Kelly even tried on a ProDry GORE-TEX rain suit and got in the Gore mobile rain room to try it out.

Ready to face the elements

Bring on the wind and rain!

One of the Simms guys was kind enough to give us a couple of camo baseball caps, and I'll be giving one away for anyone who is still reading. In the photo below, I am modeling the cap with my old Simms guide shirt while holding my first bass of the year- caught at Lewis Smith Lake on a spinnerbait on Sunday. Finally.

First bass of 2014... sadly not caught on a fly

If you are interested in a FREE Simms camo cap, be the first to leave a comment below with a correct link to any post where I've previously mentioned Simms gear on this blog. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Signs of Spring

Liquid precipitation.


The return of migrant birds.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) with nestlings

Snakes emerging from their winter hibernacula.

Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus)

The resumption of insect activity.

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera) nymphs

All classic signs of springtime in the South.

And then there's this...

Only the essentials- a fishing license and bait

Found on an Alabama creek bank on a Sunday afternoon in mid February.

A sure sign spring is drawing near.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

L.L. Cool Beans

I'm gonna knock you out 

Mama said knock you out

Wait a second...

where was I going with this?

Oh yeah... L.L. Bean... sorry I got a little sidetracked with my attempt at a catchy title... partly Mike's fault.

Anyway... getting back on track... 

Ever since I've had an interest in fly fishing, I've been obsessed with L.L. Bean.

I remember getting L.L. Bean catalogs in the mail as a youth and drooling over hiking boots, Teva sandals, canoes, backpacks, all sorts of other outdoor gear, and sometimes even clothing. On rare occasions, I was lucky enough that mom would actually break down and buy something for me. The items we were able to afford were usually on sale. I didn't grow up wealthy... and I still shop for bargains out of necessity.

When and where I grew up (1990s Memphis, Tennessee), believe it or not, L.L. Bean was really cool. It was something of a status symbol. Every cool kid at school had a Bean Deluxe backpack with their initials embroidered on it... and who could forget the Bean Anorak of the early '90s? I eventually got a Deluxe backpack, but not until I was almost finished with high school (Class of '96). Unfortunately, I never got a Bean anorak. I imagine if I did, I would still have it. I still have the Baxter State Parka that I got when I was in 9th grade. It still fits (it was too big for me back then), and I still wear it on the coldest days... it's the warmest coat I own.

Not only was L.L. Bean cool, but the gear they made was good stuff... like the Baxter State Parka that I'm still wearing twenty years later. Way back in the '80s and '90s, most of their products were American made as far as I can remember, and they were built to last. On top of that, L.L. Bean had a very generous return policy, excellent customer service, and they stood behind their products- replacing them if they were defective or otherwise unsatisfactory. It's been so long since I've ordered anything directly from L.L. Bean that I can't currently speak for any of those once commendable attributes. I would like to believe that some things haven't changed.

Baxter State parka and my first piece of Bean fly fishing gear

I still have the first piece of fly fishing gear that I got from L.L. Bean... circa 1995. It was an Angler-1 reel; Bean's entry level model made in the good ol' USA by Martin. My mom let me get it because it was on sale. It was a great reel for a young fly fisher. It was tough as nails, and it's still around today as a testament to its durability. I've replaced a couple of screws over the years that were lost while afield... and at some point the mounting foot started coming loose, and my machinist uncle helped me reattach it- we retapped and put in slightly larger screws. I obviously didn't pay close attention to the condition of my gear when I was younger... thank goodness some of it was well made.

That first reel started my love affair with Bean fly fishing gear. My first fly fishing waders were a pair of Bean's Flyweight... also purchased on sale. Over the years I've acquired several more Bean reels and rods as well as an Emerger wading jacket thanks to Ebay. The collection includes a 9' 7/8 wt bass fly rod that was supposedly owned by Dave Whitlock (I broke the tip back in '07 and have yet to repair it), a 9' 5 wt SPT ("Smooth Power Transfer"- Loomis made), an 8' 6" 5 wt GQS ("Guide Quality Series"- Loomis made) with GQS Disc 4/5 reel (Hardy made), two Guide Series reels- 200 & 300 (J.W. Young made), and a 9' 7 wt Orion rod with matching Orion reel (I believe this to be one of the last Loomis made Bean rods- later Orion rods were "Imported"). I also have 2 more recent Streamlight #3 reels and a spare spool. Here's most of it...

Burled walnut reel seat- they don't make 'em like they used to.

GQS Disc reel (Hardy made)- the wear shows it's a favorite

Guide Series reels (J.W. Young made)

Orion reel- this one has seen a lot of action

Streamlight reels and spare spool

I still look for old Bean fly gear on Ebay, but I feel like something was lost when one of the last great American fly tackle companies moved (most if not all) production to China. Unfortunately for loyal L.L. Bean gear hounds, "imported" doesn't equal a Hardy reel from England anymore... and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment.

To answer Troutrageous! Mike's recent question regarding "why L.L. Bean gear isn't discussed more in fly fishing circles?", I think the fly fishers of this generation who discuss such things have little recollection of what L.L. Bean fly gear used to be- quality tackle made by top notch manufacturers. Bean is definitely not the leader in the industry that they once were, and I don't believe the "imported" element is gaining them any ground among serious fly fishers... especially those who buy high end gear. I think there may also be a perception among the younger crowd that L.L. Bean is an old company that makes duck boots, and since they don't focus on fly gear like Orvis always has, their fly fishing gear must be garbage.

Such was not always the case...

and I still like to remember when L.L. Bean was synonymous with quality fly fishing equipment.

This post was inspired by Mike's recent post on Troutrageous! I gotta give credit where credit is due. Like Mike, I would still love to get my hands on a Pocket Water outfit and take it for a test drive. I know that rod has gotten good reviews, and I admit being curious about the current quality of Bean fly gear, but I'm not willing to spend the money for what could be a serious disappointment compared to the Bean gear of days gone by.

I have no desire to ruin my high regard for L.L. Bean fly gear...

and I still like to think I'm cool beans with an L.L. rod and reel in hand.