Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Goodbye Malibu Kayaks

For the past 3 years, I have been a part of the Malibu Kayaks pro-staff.  At the end of the month, I will be officially leaving the team and will no longer be affiliated with the brand.  I relayed these feelings, as well as my frustrations regarding their treatment of the pro-staff, to MK back in July.  However, I told them I would honor the remainder of my current contract, which legally ends at the end of 2014.

Unfortunatley, MK has repeatedly failed to deliver on promises, including not honoring contracts and giving the team no support in any way shape or form.  The list of unethical practices goes on, many of which are known throughout the kayak fishing community, so they will not be listed here. 

Sadly, the Malibu Kayaks I joined in 2012 is not the MK of today.  Now, it is on to bigger and better things.  Tight lines!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter in the Woods

 Winter has arrived in western Massachusetts.  It came in with a bang, dropping a foot of snow the day before Thanksgiving.  Needless to say, the waterways are beginning to ice up.  I will do some fishing this winter on the local rivers, but lately, my attention has been focused on the woods.  Although I haven't found the buck I've been looking for, it has been a great season for the family and we still have a few weeks to go. 

Archery season was rough.  I didn't get to hunt as much as I wanted and when I did, I was seeing everything but a buck.  Here in western MA, pulling a doe tag through the lottery is rare, so only bucks for me this year.  I saw does, fawns, turkeys, a bear, a bobcat, grouse, rabbits, squirrels, woodcocks, a pheasant, and coyotes.  I don't think I have ever seen so much wildlife without seeing antlers.  To further frustrate things, during the peak rut we had a week straight with winds above 15 MPH, often gusting well over 30 MPH.  Although deer were more active, it made them nearly impossible to pattern and it seemed like no-one was having any luck.

Between archery and shotgun season we did some small game and bird hunting.  One good Saturday resulted in a couple of healthy woodcocks that we turned into a delicious hash.  Too bad we also missed a few of those crafty critters.

MM and I with our woodcocks after a good day of bird hunting

Finally, firearm season opened up for whitetails.  Here in MA, they don't have a rifle season, only shotguns and black powder.  Mary May, her parents, her brother and I all hunted together the opening two days of the season.  It didn't take long the first morning before the shooting began.  My mother-in-law, Johanna, missed one just before 7 AM.  We saw some tails and blurs the rest of the day, but nothing that we could get a shot at.  MM and I had to leave a little early that evening because she had a work dinner she couldn't miss.  But around 6 PM, her dad and brother pulled in to our house with a nice 8-pointer.  My brother-in-law, Jason, had bagged the brute just before dusk and roughly 1/4 mile up the hill from us.  It dressed at 127 lbs and was a beautiful deer.  The next morning we were back at it.  Around 8 AM my father-in-law, Jerry, missed a doe (he is the only one of us who drew a doe tag this year).  We saw a few the rest of the day, but never could quite get them in range.  By evening, the rest of the crew had waved the white flag, but not MM and I.

We headed out around 3 for one last sit.  Finally, around 4:15 PM, I heard MM shoot about 200 yards from me.  Then again.  Then again.  I figured she had missed given the number of shots and the fact that she hadn't texted me.  It turns out that her phone was dead and about 15 minutes later I looked down a ridgeline to see her waving her arms at me.  I hurried over to her and she quickly explained the story and showed me where she had hit him.  The ground was covered in blood and I knew we needed to start tracking before it got too dark.  It was a good shot and we found the deer fairly quickly, but it was a brutal drag uphill, through dense forest and in the dark while the sky spit sleet at us.  The 5-pointer had a big body and dressed at 120 lbs.

MM and I with her 2014 shotgun buck

Last weekend we processed the deer, which is probably the hardest, yet most gratifying part of hunting.  It involves skinning the deer and butchering the meat.  We ended up with about 22 lbs of loins, backstraps and steaks, 17 lbs of burger and 15 lbs of summer sausage - 54 lbs of total meat in the freezer.  That is about a 45% yield, which we were very happy with given that we cut our meat very lean/clean before freezing.  You hear A LOT of theories about how much meat a deer yields - ranging from 1/3 of the dressed weight to 1/2 of the living weight.  The estimates are all over and many are extremely inaccurate to due hunters not knowing the actualy weight of the animal or the actual weight of the meat.  Not to mention, you don't always know what you are getting back if you take your deer to a processing station/shop.  This webpage (http://www.butcher-packer.com/index.php?main_page=document_general_info&products_id=331) is the best I have found for explaining how everything is related and how to properly estimate meat weight.

The first 39 lbs of meat - sealed and ready to be frozen

We got to try out our new vaccum sealer (a wedding present) and it worked like a charm.  Yet another investment that I should have made sooner in life.  We are still loving the meat grinder we bought last year also.  That thing is a beast. 

We are hoping to get one more deer before the season is done and process it into bologna, jerky and other various cuts.  Good luck to all the other hunters out there around the country.  Stay safe and stay warm the rest of the season!  Tight lines!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Custom Rod Wars - Are They Worth It?

The custom rod scene is blowing up in a big way.  Granted, it has always been full of great rod makers, but now it seems to be exploding into the mainstream...or at least onto my Facebook homepage.  I think a large part of that is due to the fact that many small business builders are linking up with the kayak fishing scene.  They are smart.  Kayak fishing is booming and is shaping up to only get bigger.  With growth comes spending.  And my Facebook homepage is already slammed full of frivolous spending and subsequent bragging.  Look at my new 9+ inch fish finder that I can barely use!  A lot of it has been fueled by the Manley Rods new, ingenius, marketing promo to join their team.  But like any purchase, try before you buy.  You hear folks constantly harp on that point when buying a kayak or paddle.  Why would it not be the case of a rod.  There are tons of great rods out there - custom or otherwise.  But I'll vouche for custom rods.  I've been using custom rods for about 3 years now.  But I certainly wouldn't pick up just any custom rod and promote it with a silly grin on my face.  I found what worked for me.  Here are my thoughts.

One of my favorite custom rods - a 7'6" white-out cranker

At first I was pessimistic.  I really wasn't sure if that custom rod price tag was truly worth it.  So I made it a point to pick-up as many rods as possible - noting their action, flex, dimensions, guides, etc.  I found some great rods with bang for the buck.  I found some amazing rods that were way outside of my price range (I'm looking at you G-Loomis).  And in the end, I found that you get what you pay for.  That thought was consistently backed-up by tournament anglers, reps, and pros that I talked with.  One guy, a former BASS Elite qualifier, proclaimed, "why would you not get a custom rod?  If it weren't for endorsements, every tour pro would have a deck covered with them.  What you don't see is what they fish with on their off-days."  That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

While acting as president for the Duke Fishing Team, I happened to meet a local rod maker just down the road from where I was living.  At the time, he was building rods in his home on the edge of Chapel Hill.  Anyone who knows me knows that it takes all my energy and patience to tolerate Chapel Hill, NC.  But I was beyond excited to make my first trip to see his set-up and pick his brain.  Over the course of an hour or two, I saw some things I liked, as well as some I didn't, but the potential was limitless.  He let me demo rods and walked me through books, showing me exactly what I could order.  He weighed out rods down to the ounce.  He showed me how intricate wrapping can turn a fishing rod into a thing of beauty.  A couple weeks later, I placed my first order.  Then another and another and another.  Eventually, my relationship with Carolina Custom Rods really took off.  Now, I own a stable of CCR custom rods that I absolutely love, each made exactly the way I want.


I want to address a few things I hear all that time.  The first is, "this is the perfect rod for kayak fishermen."  What does that even mean?  Why would a kayak fisherman be different than a power boat fisherman?  The only arguments I can see are 1) higher likeliness that a rod ends up in the water , 2) less room to store/manage rods and 3) the notion that kayak fisherman can't afford power boats, so why could we afford expensive gear.  I'll start with number 3.  While agree that kayak fishermen can be cheap, so are pretty much all fishermen.  And again, I constantly see guys dropping ridiculous amounts of money on their kayaks and gear.  All that being said, it is all about bang for the buck.  Number 2 is a valid point.  I usually ride with 4 rods - sometimes 5.  But I regularly see guys hauling 7-8 rods.  Heck, most guys like to brag about how many they take.  In fact, I don't know any angler (serious or otherwise) who only uses 1 fishing rod.  So I don't necessarily buy the point number 2.  Number 1, now that is a great point.  A floating rod would be awesome.  But floating rods should not sacrifice quality (see the now defunct Overboard Rods).  So, what does it all boil down to?  It is different for each individual angler.  But I put in the research before choosing.

On this particular day last spring, fish were crushing blade baits.  But before switching to a rod with the right action, it led to many missed fished and a couple lost giants.

I currently own about a dozen conventional rods.  Each has a specific purpose.  I have a cranking rod, deep cranker, finesse rod, jig and worm rod, jerkbait-topwater rod, all purpose rod, etc.  All of those rods were made exactly the way I wanted them - some fairly plain and some very customized.  I would say that for me, undoubtedly, the most important features were action, flex, and weight of the rod.  Spend a day working a jerkbait or topwater walking bait using a rod with the wrong action and length and you end up booking a consult for carpal tunnel a few days later.  There all some great all-purpose rods out there and I even own a couple, but there is no rod to rule them all and all too often, I find myself yearning for that technique specific rod.

I will note that all of my casting rods float and the key is weight.  Not only is weight important to maintain bouyancy, it is crucial for sensitivity and comfort.  For a long time, I used the Abu Garcia Vendetta 7', medium heavy casting rod.  It was a great all-around rod for the price.  But it was heavy and clumsy.  I also used the Abu Garcia Veritas 7', medium heavy casting rod - widely considered one of the best all-around, bang for the buck rods available.  But after picking up a custom rod, of which most of mine check in under 4-ounces, the difference is unreal.  You feel everything.  I can immediately tell you bottom composition and detect every little bit of structure.  In fact, it has elimnated my need for a fishfinder on about 90% of my trips.  Now that is bang for the buck.

Since it is the day before Thanksgiving, I must tip my hat and give a huge thanks to Brett Hinson, owner of Carolina Custom Rods.  His rods forever changed the way I fish and perceive value.  I urge you to give custom rods a try.  You now know where my allegiances lie and I strongly urge anyone interested in a custom rod to contact Brett.  His work is incredible.  But at the very least, try before you buy, do some research, and don't just jump at the first link that shows up on your Facebook feed.  Until next time, tight lines.

Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 Kayak Angler's Choice Awards

In the hustle and bustle of wedding season, work, and other life events, I missed nominations for the YakAngler.com Annual Kayak Angler's Choice Awards.  Oops.  But today, the official list of nominees was released for categories including, "Angler of the Year", "Kayak Fishing Destination", "Kayak of the Year", "Product of the Year", "Blog of the Year", and others.  I was honored and humbled to find my name as a nominee in the "Angler of the Year" category and this blog nominated for "Blog of the Year".  It is always nice to know that your peers enjoy your blogs, stories, pictures, and videos.  I know I love sharing them.

So, follow the link below to check out all of the nominees (there are a bunch of great ones) and vote for your favorites.  Tight lines!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living the Good Life in the Adirondacks

Paddling, rock climbing, fishing, camping on an island, visiting historic places, and enjoying the fall scenery....how much better can it get? About a month ago I had the pleasure of being invited on a 3 day trip to the Adirondacks, specifically Lake George. I eagerly accepted the invite and a couple weeks later Keith, Andy, and I were headed northwest. Packed for just about everything you can imagine, we meandered through the Green Mountains of Vermont and across the New York border to Ticonderoga. It is not only home to the famous fort, but also separates Lake George and Lake Champlain via the La Chute River. We then turned south on Route 9 and made our way to Rogers Rock Campground. From there, our adventure began!

Casting away in front of the island on which we camped

This wasn't your ordinary camping trip. Car camping, which we all admitted we thoroughly enjoy despite also being backpackers, was not going to work. Instead of a campsite you could pull up to and unload, our site was 2.5 miles from the campground - on a small island in the middle of the lake. Before the trip, we had planned to only have 3 kayaks with which to haul all of our gear and supplies. I tried to mentally prepare for that, but I'm not sure it really sank in just how much gear we had and how far 2.5 miles of big water can be with a boat loaded to the gills. But at the last minute, we were saved. Andy pulled an early moring audible and decided to bring his 14' jon boat and 9 HP motor. Originally, I remember slightly bulking at the idea of bringing a motor boat on our kayaking trip. In hindsight, he was clearly the smartest of the group and I was awfully glad he brought the horsepower.

Rogers Rock - 500+ feet of beautiful slab climbing

I did manage to fit all of my personal gear and some of the food into my Malibu Stealth 12. I was pretty proud of that. But there was a lot of group gear that went directly into the jon boat.  Miraculously, the wind was fairly mellow on our paddle out and we casually made our way to our island retreat, soaking in the scenery along the way.  The water was very clear - with roughly 12 feet of visibility in many spots.  We also spotted 'Rogers Rock', our climbing destination for the next day, got to observe a few beautiful wooden boats from up close, and enjoyed the fall colors.  The island greeted us with a wooden dock, small beach, and large bedrock outcrops.  It was bigger and nicer than we had imagined and we eagerly set up camp.

The MK Stealth 12 - loaded and ready to go!

The dock on the island

Bit by the explorer bug, we grabbed a quick snack and headed for the water.  For me, of course, it was time to do some fishing.  Keith and Andy paddled around some islands, snapped some photos, and soaked it in.  Unfortunately, the grass in that part of the lake was already going dormant and the bottom was mainly composed of sand - neither of which are terribly conducive to bass fishing.  I had spotted a rock pile in about 10 feet of water just across a small bay on the paddle in.  I paddled back to it and it wasn't long before I landed a short bass...a humble start.  Not having a depthfinder was killing me, as I suspect there were more offshore rock piles and structure in the area that I couldn't see.  Instead I focused on what I could - rocky points, docks, and weed clumps.  The only consistent bite was the weed clump bite.  They were few and far between, but every time I found one, I got bit.  Most were small largemouths that ate finesse worms in a green pumpkin color.  But the last fish of the evening was a chunky 14-incher that put up a healthy fight.  It was my last cast before dinner.  Usually it is hard for me to put down the fishing rod to go eat, but I was insanely hungry and tired and Mexican spiced chicken tacos over the fire were screaming my name.

Targeting isolated grass in the S-12

Andy enjoying an exploratory paddle

The sunset on night 1

Keith working some chicken over the fire

We ate, drank, and sat around camp for a few hours before turning in.  Despite nightly temps in the high-40's, I slept like a baby.  7 AM arrived before I knew it and it was time for a hearty camp breakfast - you the know the kind you only eat when camping/hiking/paddling/climbing because they are loaded with delicious protein and fat.  After some debate, we opted to pack all of our gear in the jon boat and take it on our climbing excursion rather than making the 3 mile paddle.  We would have fought the wind most of the way there and none of us were keen on paddling back after an exhausting climb up a 500 foot slab.  So we motored over, beached the boat (which required more effort than I just made it seem), and started to get set-up.  Having not climbed, other than indoor rock gyms, since I left New Mexico back in 2008, I was chomping at the bit with excitement.  The day was full of learning for me - as I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible from Andy (the manager at Central Rock Gym in Hadley, MA) and Keith (the manager at Zoar Outdoor in Wilmington, VT).  They were great teachers and kept a smile on my face all day. 

Andy begins the ascent

Keith making his way up the route

The rock had some easier sections and some more challenging pieces, but we made it up all three sections without any issues.  I must admit that after the first section, I didn't want to look down...it was freaky.  But by the end of the second section, I was feeling more confident and starting to get comfortable with the height. 

Making my way up the rock

It was also at the end of section 2 when Andy found a hazardous hold on a very loose rock.  He carefully avoided it and pointed it out to us, so that we could also avoid it.  After we were all anchored in above it, we decided to break it off, so that it would not be dangerous for others in the future.  We made sure that no-one was below and Keith gave it a shove.  Initially, it was headed straight over a steep cliff and into the water below.  Then, it made an abrupt right and was headed directly for some of the gear we had left on the ground below.  SMASH!  The air was full of profanities for the next few minutes as we soaked it what had just happened.  We weren't sure whether it had hit our stuff or not, but it was awfully close.  All we could do was laugh about it, but we were eager to see the potential damage.

Soaking in the view from the top

A panoramic from the top - notice the beautiful weather to the left and clouds and rain to the right

At the top, we spent about 40 minutes enjoying the view and eating some lunch.  Spectator boats had begun to gather and gawk at the three crazies tethered to the cliff.  Then came the descent - a three section repel back to the bottom.  Walking backward down a cliff always takes about 20-30 feet before you start to get the butterflies worked out.  Then it gets fun.  Before we knew it, we were back at the base of the rock.  Immediately, we checked the gear.  You could see major impact potholes 6-12 inches from our bags where the rock had come smashing down.  Smaller rocks that had broken off of the larger piece actually managed to put holes in a new rope bag.  It was a close call, and a fun story.

One of several on-lookers below

Andy on the repel

We marveled at the craziness of bringing kayaks as we hopped back in the jon boat.  That night we feasted on venison steaks, onions, mushrooms, and creamy risotto, washed down with a few local brews.  Andy even went for a swim.  It was good to be us.

All smiles...because we didn't have to paddle the whole way back to camp

Andy went for a (cold) dip

Keith playing with camera settings around the fire

I was awakened early the next morning by a strong wind, a heavy mist, and waves slapping against the rocky shore.  I cringed thinking of the paddle back to the launch.  I think we all did as we ate and broke camp.  Our island was slightly protected and I worried that when we got around the first point, we would be met with whitecaps and dangerous conditions.  Still, I loaded up my Stealth and grit my teeth.  I began my paddle, given that my boat was the slowest, and made it to the first point before the others had left the island.  The wind was raging and although the waves weren't huge, they were big enough to make me re-think my decision.  So I turned around.  Rather than getting in the jon boat, I pridefully decided to trade out my kayak for the spare sea kayak.  So we switched the tow rope onto my boat and I got in the tourer.  It was my first time ever paddling a true tourer.  What a way to start.

A beautiful framed view from day 1...day 2 was a different story

Keith, who was in a tourer of his own, gave me some quick tips and I began the journey to shore.  I was motivated by the fact that you feel much more stable at high speeds than you do at slow speeds.  But cutting the wind and paddling a straight line simultaneously was difficult.  After about 2 miles, my body was ready to stop.  It was a true mental challenge to keep going, but I kept grinding and eventually pulled up to the dock.  I eagerly sprung from the boat and stretched.  Visions of milkshakes danced through my mind.  Never in my life have I loved and hated a boat so much at the same time.

Waking it

We lethargically loaded the cars and hit the road, winding back through western New York after a great trip.  I was in need of a good outdoor adventure and the Adirondacks proved to be just that.  MM and the dogs welcomed me home and we feasted on cornbread and our famous venison chili.  Despite sleeping well in the tent, I absolutely crashed when my head hit the pillow that night. 

Venison chili and skillet cornbread...making me hungry thinking about it

A huge thanks to Keith and Andy for inviting me on the trip.  Hopefully we can do it again soon!  Tight lines!