fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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answer: fly fishing. question: what’s good for your physical health?

At risk of luring more physical fitness geeks into waters I’d rather not share, there’s a secret benefit to fly fishing, beyond the mental benefits spelled out last week.

Fly fishing could be the best all-around workout that’s actually fun.

This isn’t the Norman Rockwell vision of fishing, not sitting on a dock, waiting. It’s about walking and wading; constantly moving. Many different level of physical activity come into play with fly fishing.

From the dexterity required to thread line on tiny hooks to working the body’s core by (carefully) wading across uneven streambeds.* Even fly fishing maven Tom Rosenbauer points out on the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center that wading a small stream, “…climbing over rocks and wading in the current, [he] could burn as many calories in the same amount of time as [he] could on the elliptical.”

Rather than spend my time extoling the virtues of fly fishing as exercise, I’ll let the folks over at explain it with an infographic. (You can find the more comprehensive article here.)


Source: Fix.com Blog


*A reason why you should always use a wading staff.

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on the (hidden) cost of visiting a “local” fly shop

Sure, deceit is rampant in fly fishing. A common non-answer answer to “What fly you using?” might be, “Well, they’re looking at dries, taking some nymphs too, but streamers might work.” And it’s always delivered with a grin.

That same grin might go along with a tale about the latest and great gear gotten at a great price, but often left unsaid is the “where” of that purchase. While I pondered the gift certificates on my desk and personally wrestled with this question of “where” the last few weeks, it dawned on me that me and my generation maybe the last one with truly equal footing in the pre- and post-Internet world.

My nearest fly shop is about 17 miles away, not too far. It’s a modest affair and on the surface, like many fly shops, seems to have had its struggles over the years. Inventory can still be hit or miss.

The Orvis gift certificates on my desk, however, made the choice between shopping online and visiting a brick-and-mortar shop both a logistical and a financial decision. The closest store, in San Francisco, closed last year. I could shop online, but wading boots were on my list, and just as much as I wouldn’t buy a fly rod without casting it first, I generally don’t buy anything that will be worn without test fitting. I also detest the drawn out process of buying, returning and awaiting shipment of a replacement item.

That’s why the wife and I ended up at the Roseville Orvis store, 80 miles away from home, a weekend ago.

We made a day of it, stopping to walk in Discovery Park along the American River, just above its confluence with the Sacramento River. The weather was great and the river was dotted with boats of anglers searching for the first salmon of the Central Valley season.

packWe found the Orvis store after realizing it had moved and, feeling a bit like a dork, I carried my waders and socks on the walk to the store. The waders gave me away as soon as I entered the store, and soon I was set with new rubber-soled wading boots. (My old felt boots are still serviceable, but will be relegated to a back role and waters known to be invasive species free.) A small chest pack was selected and a day pack ordered. More than a few flies made it into the bag.

I enjoyed the friendly banter with Frank – comparisons of fishing experiences, hints and suggestions of waters that deserve a visit – something that’ll never be matched online. And there was no cost to fondle wiggle test rods on my wish list.

Fuel to Get There: $18.45
Entrance Fee at Discovery Park: $5.00
Lunch at Smashburger: $10.52
Plenty of New Fly Fishing Gear: Don’t Ask
Personal Service from Guy Who Actually Uses the Gear: Priceless


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my trouble with fly rods

VapenApparently more and more fly rod builders are chasing customers younger than I can pretend to be.

My tenure in the sport isn’t long, but long enough to absorb more than a few old timers’ tales, tales in which rods are referenced by the manufacturer and either a simple model number or more elegant name reflective of fly fishing. Examples: older rods such as the Paul Young Perfectionist, the Phillipson Epoxite Registered Midge and contemporary models like Winston’s Boron series or Orvis’ Access and Clearwater lines.

But, according to Sage, there can be only ONE*. While the Orvis Helios implies it’ll imbue one with god-like powers on the stream, at least that name still has an indirect connection to fishing†. Two years later we have the new Vapen rod from Redington. Vapen? Look it up. The first few results in a search of the Internet will show its etymology is Swedish for “weapon.” A bit of an odd name for a niche of fishing that typically embraces a catch and not-kill-or-wound philosophy. Then there’s the Vapen Red, with a polymer grip, co-developed with a golf club grip company, that’s the color of Technicolor lipstick. Yes, correlations between golf and fly fishing are many, and fly rod development — as well as that of nearly all fly fishing accoutrement &msash; has always been about chasing and adapting the latest technology from other industries.

But I’ve been thinking about stepping up to a nice, and lighter, fly rod. Now, it seems, it’s all moving a bit too fast for me and getting, well, a bit too flamboyant and aggressive for my tastes.

Maybe I’m that is slowing down as the world speeds up around me. Perhaps I’m closer to “vintage” that I’d care to admit. After all, I remember when marijuana was the “evil weed.” My high school education included a typing class. And these days I increasingly have to explain my pop references to the staff I’ve hired.

Guess there’s little hope I’ll ever be hip on the stream.

The comments, as always, are now open.


* Is someone at Sage a “Highlander” fan?
† Helios, the Titan god of the sun and god of the gift of sight, lived in a golden palace located in the River Okeanos.


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a benefit to keeping fly fishing one of the smaller sports

I suppose it’s inevitable that with time and age I’ll someday become that “get off my lawn” guy. This week, however, I purposely took a step in that direction.

Over the last few years I have dealt with customer service at Sage, Redington (prior to its acquisition by Sage), TFO, Orvis and Galvan. In every case, response was immediate and exceeded my expectations.

Last month I contacted [name redacted], the manufacturer of a now relatively well-known brand, regarding the replacement of an integrated iPhone adapter. Apparently, I can replace it myself, saving a bit of money, but the part can only be bought from the manufacturer.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have seen trouble on [name redacted]’s website email form, which stated, “Due to extremely high email volume, if you require order changes or immediate assistance, please call our Customer Service Department,” followed by a toll free phone number and the typical office hours. Heeding this advice, I called. After a cursory “hello,” I described the issue to the customer service representative, offered the model number and was told they could certainly send out the part.

“Can you take a credit card,” I asked. The answer: “No.”

The silence that followed was finally disturbed by the representative telling me that I could send a check or money order. I did so on Oct. 5.

Life interrupted and it wasn’t until earlier this week that I realized the part had not arrived. The check had been cashed, but no part. So I called. And called. And called. And called. And called.

Each of those five calls, no matter the extension I chose, entailed more than a few seconds of silence before an automated message told me that my call was important and a representative would get to me shortly. That message was immediately followed by a click and dial tone. I’ve since sent an email, despite the advice mentioned above, and three days later there has been no reply.

Sidestepping any debate of the merits or problems of growing the sport of fly fishing, it dawned on me this week that the relatively small population of fly fisherman — those who regularly support manufacturers and retailers of fly fishing gear — offers a benefit rarely seen in other consumer segments. Strong customer service.

That’s why I’m now more inclined to encourage only a limited number of folks join the sport. The fewer of us who fly fish, the harder retailers and manufacturers have to work to keep our business. Not necessarily a bad thing.


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folks might think I’m one of those guys, but I’m now old enough to not care

This is how my journey of self discovery (one of many recently) started this week:

“The new seat for my custom motorcycle seat arrived today. I’m going to test ride it tomorrow,” I told my brother, realizing that its arrival Monday sort of made it a birthday gift to myself.

“Cool. How much did that cost?” asked Mark.

“Oh, about $400…”

“You mush like your tush…”

The conversation went on with justifications about spending that kind of money, talk about long rides that have been planned for some as-yet unset date.

I’m certainly not wealthy, but with a bit of scrimping and saving in other parts of my life, I can equip myself with motorcycle (or fly fishing) gear that increases my enjoyment. Good gear is worth it: not thinking about how my butt may start to go numb is priceless.

Stuart Smalley

“I deserve good things, I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.” Three out of four ain’t bad. Dig the sweater.

I’m tough on all my gear, but the big name waders I purchased almost five years ago only recently needed repair after hiking through brambles and blackberries, scrambling over boulders, only to be unceremoniously crumbled and thrown in the trunk until their next use or being unpacked and hopefully cleaned at home.

There’s also that one rod I use most, even when it’s not an exact match for my quarry, even when it’s a bit too long for the brush-lined banks of relatively small water. It’s the one that casts best. I don’t have to accommodate the rod, it fits me. Like that motorcycle seat, I don’t think about it, it just does its job. Also like that seat, my favorite wasn’t cheap. But it does everything that I ask of it, without me asking.

In some respects, I was a fly fishing snob in my formative fishing years, arguing that landing a 14-inch trout on my less-than-$100 rod was equivalent to a 21-inch fish on more expensive gear. Back then, I figured waving around a more expensive rod would scream “poser.” Perhaps I’m wiser now. Or, like that honey badger, I just don’t care.

Luckily, my wife’s been the most ardent support of my purchasing good stuff. I’ve just been a bit too miserly to listen. So when the bill comes, she can’t complain. She started it.


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we’ll be asking Santa for a second set of waders

“Uncertainty and expectation,” according to William Congreve, “are the joys of life.” Among fly fishermen, uncertainty is part and parcel of the sport.

This uncertainty plays into casting, fly selection, finding the fish and the water itself. A spey cast and wet fly swing can be used cover wide swaths of a river in the search for secluded fish. Innumerable “searching patterns” directly address any uncertainty as to the location of fish or even the existence of fish in a stretch of water. Weather and wildfires threaten fishability with flooding, drought and habitat destruction.

But fly fishermen forge ahead. There’s an enjoyment of unfamiliar waters, or the challenge of hooking a fish on that day when the fishing is mediocre or worse, or the choice of a fly made in frustration, one that doesn’t make any sense but fools an unexpected trout nonetheless. For all the science that the unknowing ascribe to fly fishing, those intimate with the sport know there can an equal amount of guesswork and, sometimes, plain ol’ dumb luck. Gilda Radner would have called this uncertainty a “delicious ambiguity.” More esoteric explanations claim that in uncertainty, the execution of the activity becomes secondary to the intellectual problem solving and decision making; two big parts of fly fishing.

My problem is that the uncertainty of today may affect my enjoyment of any uncertainty on the water next week. Currently, I’m a fly fisherman without waders.

My Simms waders had served me well the last four years. But last time I was out and up to my waist in a river, I felt a dampness that shouldn’t have been. Though it could have been the result of traipsing through blackberry bushes all those years, I was more suspicious of the seam. Availing myself of the warranty, I shipped the waders to Simms, where they were declared not repairable. Thankfully, a new pair has been authorized, but I have yet to hear that they’ve shipped. And no, I don’t have a back up pair. Yet.

Being without waders isn’t so much of an issue this time of year, if one were to fish after the hills have been warmed by the sun. But fishing early, as I often do, is still a chilly proposition in waters that aren’t too distant from the snow that is its source.

So, until the day I’m supposed to be fishing, I’ll be watching for the UPS guy.


In all fairness, I will also comment on Orvis’ customer service. I returned to Orvis a Safe Passage Sling Pack for replacement because of defective stitching that I thought could allow a seam to come apart. I shipped the Sling Pack (from California) to Orvis’ return center in Roanoke, Va., about two weeks ago on the same day the waders went to Simms in Bozeman, Mont. My replacement Sling Pack was in my possession earlier this week.