Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Kayak Fishing Fitness Series - Intro

I feel like I pretty much constantly have ideas for blog series or videos. Many of those ideas never come to fruition for one reason or another. However, I am very excited to announce an upcoming Kayak Fishing Fitness series on Man Powered Fishing. I've partnered with good friend Eric Boyd of Foothills Angler, who is also a National Strength and Conditioning Association certified coach and my teammate with Bending Branches paddles. Kayak Angler Magazine online will also be featuring the series. This particular blog will provide an overview of the series, so that you know what to expect.

First, a bit about us. In addition to Eric's NSCA certification as a strength and condition specialist, he is a former college athlete, NCAA division I strength and conditioning coach, and professional baseball strength and conditioning coach. I am also a former college athlete and have been fortunate enough to work with numerous trainers and athletes, including USA Powerlifting record holders, extreme sports professional, health science educators, and various outdoor industry pros. I've written multiple articles for Rapid Media and Kayak Angler Magazine sharing my fitness regimen, tips, and tricks.

Eric fly fishing an eddy seam along a strong rapid in western NC

We aren't the gym selfie, Creatine ingesting, social media hash tag types. I love cooking delicious food and drinking good beer, and we would both rather spend our spare time with family or on various hobbies. That concept will be a big part of the series - S.M.A.R.T. goals, standing for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. I'll add economically feasible (read cheapskate) to that list. For instance, part of Eric's regular workout includes push-ups with his son Grayson on his back, while I utilize 5-gallon buckets, sand bags, and various other items around my house and yard. We don't spend our mornings checking for a six pack in the mirror (I prefer to keep mine in the fridge), and a perfectly sculpted body lost its appeal after age 25. We workout for health and to improve various functional exercises, paddling being one of them.

For me, especially here in New England, winter allows me to focus on health, new hobbies and projects, and coming up with goals for the upcoming fishing season. It is a perfect time to sneak in a short, high intensity workout nearly every day. We aren't believers in fad workouts or diets. Just as there is no perfect kayak, there also is no perfect workout or diet for everyone. The best diet and workout are ones you can consistently stick to. We believe in giving full effort, while it keeping it simple and fun. My average workout lasts about 20-30 minutes. In that time span, I typically do 3 circuits of 3 exercises with 3 sets per exercise. It is high intensity, but it is simple, functional, and focuses on improving strength, balance, and flexibility. And both of our workout regimes are based on years of experience, and at times experimenting, to find what provides us with the best bang for the buck.

Hooked up on a fall trout in western MA

In addition, these workouts have changed for us over time. Workout evolution is something I regularly think about. For instance, some lifts I did back in my football playing days aren't terribly useful on a daily basis today. However, lower back exercises and stretches have become incredibly important, since I spend 40+ hours a week in front of a computer earning a paycheck. So, workouts should include things you do on a regular basis, such as lunging, squatting, twisting, bending, etc.

One last item before I introduce the various topics. Success, especially related to diet and exercise, stems from support, motivation, and attitude. That means being non-judgmental, positive, and open minded - things this series will promote. All too often, I've seen these values disappear from gyms, and at times from social media.

Here is what we currently have planned. These blogs and videos will be released once per week, starting mid- to late-week next week. Some will also include input from other paddlers and industry pros.

1 – Creating a true home work out
Why spend money on a gym membership? You can put together a cheap home "gym" and incredible workout that will save time, money, and headaches in the long run.

2 – Cardio 
 I've always joked that, outside of athletics, there are two reasons to run - from the cops and to catch the ice cream truck. However, cardio exercises are paramount to our health, especially when combined with strength training and stretching.

3 – Diet and nutrition
Most folks reading this probably know the things they should and shouldn't eat. So, this blog will focus more on lesser discussed topics, such as our favorite fitness apps, recipes, and tips, especially for days on the water.

Rabbit food - a necessary evil

4 – Stretching, flexibility & posture
If there is one thing I consistently see anglers struggle with, it is flexibility and posture, which is heavily linked to stretching and fitness. It can help to improve your fishing from seated or standing positions, especially after long days on the water. We even dabble in the art of Yoga, with help from some special guests.
5 – Stability
Let's face it, the ability to stand and fish from a kayak is becoming more and more popular. Beyond that, stability exercises can vastly improve your core strength and paddling. We will break down a number of different key exercises for improving overall stability in this two part topic.

The ATAK is makes standing easy, but balance and stability exercises help
6 – Strength
After building a solid foundation with previous blog topics, we will dive into strength training. This two part topic will breakdown the ins, outs, dos, and don'ts of body weight exercises, as well as some of our favorite strength training lifts and circuits.

7 – Multi-functional favorites
Last, but certainly not least, we will focus on multi-functional activities, including plyometrics, medicine ball exercises, lifts, and more. These will kick your butt, but provide great bang for the buck!

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas, please shoot one of us an email (drew@manpoweredfishing.com or foothillsangler@gmail.com). Tight lines!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fishing buddy - coming July 2016

Mary May and I officially announced this publically on New Year's Eve, but MM is pregnant! She is due in July 2016 and we could not be more excited. We get to find out the gender in about 6 weeks. I don't really have a preference - just rooting for a healthy, happy baby! Although I know he/she will be our little fishing buddy some day, I am hoping I'll still be able to sneak away for a bit of post-July fishing time next year.

Thanks to everyone for all of the amazing support via calls, texts, messages, emails, comments, likes, etc. We are definitely feeling the love!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Deerless Hunting Season - One of my Favorites

You walk away from some life events knowing that they will have a significant impact on your life from that point forward. More often than not, I've found that those events are failures, or at least things that don't go as planned. My 2015 deer season falls into this category. Let me explain...

Growing up, I mainly hunted a 50 acre patch of woods. It was also threaded with trails because it was used for horseback rides during the summer. These trails also served as game trails, so deciding where to sit wasn't rocket science. And beyond all else, I didn't have the mental capacity to fully understand, appreciate, or properly approach deer hunting.

My grandfather and I with my first ever buck - circa 1999

Then the better part of a decade passed without taking a single hunting trip. Looking back, I regret it, but school was my priority. I began hunting again 3-4 years ago after moving to a house in the woods in Hillsborough, NC. We hunted the 10 acre lot around our house, which happened to include a huge oak flat and funnel area. It had a lot of deer around and didn't take genius to figure out where to set up.

Fast forward to last year - my first year in Massachusetts. We got hitched in September, honeymooned after, and kind of improvised our way through the hunting season. Thankfully, my wife and in-laws have hunted the land for decades and with their help, I was able to learn a few of the dominant patterns. By the end of the season, Mary May (my wife) had harvested a nice buck and Jerry(my father-in-law) took a nice doe. But instead of a 10-40 acre lot, I spend most of my time hunting tracts that sum to approximately 1500 acres of forest - no fences, no baits, no food plots, no posted signs...the way it used to be - the old fashioned way. The learning curve here is just a wee bit steeper.

This year I was bound to spend more of my pre-season scouting, putting up trail cams, and setting up stand locations. Well, guess how that went? Between work, fishing, and life, I scouted for about 15 minutes all summer. I sat in the woods for a total of 4 hours during the warmest bow season on record. I didn't even unpack a trail cam until early December. When shotgun season rolled around, I was determined to make the most of it. But again, life got in the way, and although I hunted, I didn't spend terribly much time in the woods. To complicate matters, the deer were not following their typical patterns - I mean not at all. The insanely warm weather, booming bear and coyote populations, abundance of food, and lack of snow combined to create one heck of a challenge. It started out pretty rough, but I slowly began learning. Mary May, Johanna (my mother-in-law), Jerry and myself all went deerless during shotgun season. Then, for me in particular, a switch flipped. I spent a lot of time scouring orthoimagery trying to develop patterns. I then used what I saw to plan mid-day, rainy day, and windy day combo hiking-scouting-hunting trips. Eventually, it started to click.

Our success was not defined by a lack of effort - Mary May could barely stay awake after hunting Christmas day

By the middle of muzzle loader season, I was seeing deer on nearly every trip to the woods - although it seemed as if I was getting so close, yet so far. It was always a little too dark, or there was one too many trees in the way, or I should have walked another 5 feet before stopping, or the wind shifted and blew my cover. Most of the late season bucks around here are highly pressured and get smart quick, as do the does, but I was even managing to sneak up on deer before they spotted or scented me. Eventually, I was putting deer in the scope, just nothing with antlers. With only three days left in the season, we finally got the few inches of snow I had been hoping for. Unfortunately, it promptly crusted over with a 1/2" of ice, making walking incredibly loud and almost impossible in some areas. In the end, the season was an uphill battle I couldn't quite win.

I didn't want the season to end. I wanted to keep hunting, but more than anything, keep learning. Hunting became more cerebral to me than ever before - like a chess game. You graduate from a pawn to a knight, learning from your mistakes and misteps while chasing the king...of the woods.

Despite not harvesting a deer, it was one of those years that you know is going to pay dividends in the future. Above all else, I learned the ins and outs of the woods that I now call home and feel like I've developed a stronger connection with the New England wilderness. I don't know how many miles I put on my boots this fall, but I'm sure it was approaching triple digits. I reflected back on all of the previous hours I'd spent in the woods and the people I'd shared that time with, as well as the people who had walked those same miles and sat in those same places before me, most of whom I will never meet. Of course, I also think to the future, of all the things I hope to do differently next year. Hunting is (or at least should be) so much more than pulling a trigger.

Johanna with her muzzleloader buck who had spent the morning chasing does

A footnote, the season didn't entirely kick our butts. Johanna harvested a nice 4 point on the first Saturday of the muzzeloader season. The deer dressed around 110-115 lbs and provided about 55 pounds of meat for the 4 of us. Until next time, tight lines!

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Top 5 Favorite Trout Lures

The late fall and early winter weather have been unbelievable this year. Unlike the foot of snow that got dropped on us on Thanksgiving eve last year, we haven't seen a flake yet and temps have been unseasonably high. The warm temps led to some fantastic mid- to late November fishing, but I've spent all of my December free time (which hasn't been much) in the woods. The crazy wind put a slight damper on my fly fishing, but I still carried the long rod on nearly all of my trips and typically pick up a few trout on it. However, I've been using lures a lot more...and they haven't let me down. I had quite a few 30-50 fish days and many others that resulted in more than a dozen trout. So, I've decided to make a list of my top 5 favorite trout lures. Hopefully, it helps you put more trout in the boat as well!

I'll start by saying that I throw all of these lures on either 4 lb or 6 lb test line, which may be fluoro or mono depending on the technique. I typically use a 6' Fenwick HMX ultralite rod paired with a Pflueger President size 20 spinning reel. Sometimes I will also use a 6'6" Carolina Custom Rods medium power rod with an Abu Garcia Orra S 30 spinning reel. Both are super sensitive and allow me to throw a wide variety of baits.

1) Bass Pro Shops XPS Slim Body Floating Minnow
When I was about 16, I somehow ended up with one of these in my tackle box. Typically, I strongly urge folks to avoid Bass Pro Shops brand hardbaits, because about 50% of them require significant tuning to run correctly out of the package. The XPS Slim minnow is no different. I would say that about 1 in 3 don't dive correctly and require some tuning. But those that do (or after tuning) absolutely catch trout. They have a wider wobble than most jerkbaits, which is something different that the trout don't often see. I fish both the small (about 2.75") and medium (about 3.75") baits and almost always use the color "mirage". However, i've also had luck using the chrome black back and olive ghost shad colors. I've found that the smaller size catches more fish and both sizes seem to catch about the same size trout. But on certain days, they prefer one size to the other. In current, you can often straight reel the lure (like a crankbait), but in most lakes or flat water areas you will need to work it with a typical "reel, jerk, jerk, pause, repeat" cadence. In particularly deep lakes, I will rig it on a 3-way swivel, which attaches to the main line, a 14" piece of line with a 1/2 oz weight, and a 14" piece of line tied to the lure. The 3-way rig can be a pain to cast on light gear, so I typically troll it instead.


2) Mepps Aglia or Blue Fox #2 Spinner
If you make a list of your favorite trout spinners and an inline spinner isn't on it, you should probably throw your list in the trash. I prefer Mepps Aglias and Blue Fox spinners, but will occassionally use a Rooster Tail or Panther Martin. The one thing that I always stress with spinners is to go big. I almost never use spinners smaller than #2 (which is based on blade size). Bigger spinners have almost always correlated to bigger trout for me, plus #2's will catch piles of smaller fish too. There is just no reason to go smaller unless they are being super picky. I typically prefer undressed (i.e., no hair/feathers on the hook) silver, gold, or copper blade spinners. I do carry a few with hair tails, but find that they typically produce fewer fish than undressed baits. Spinners, particularly Blue Fox spinners, sink fast, but will rise fairly quickly as they displace water during the retrieve. That is why a big blade is so helpful, because you can reel at almost any speed and the blade will turn, including incredibly slow retrieves. One note - I sharpen my spinner trebles about once a week. For whatever reason, they seem to dull faster than many other hooks.

3) Thomas Buoyant Spoon
I found my first Thomas Buoyant spoon stuck on a log in the middle of a creek. One day, I got bored and tied it on. The rest is history. Compared to traditional spoons, it shimmies, shakes, and swerves, but still puts out a great vibration. I typically use the 1/4 oz size and replace the factory hook with a highly quality treble. When it comes to color, I prefer a basic silver (the duller the better), and have a few with dots and lines on them, but nothing overly bright or unnatural. I'll make long casts with the spoon and either use a slow, steady retrieve or work it spastically back to the boat. On many days, i'll get my biggest bites when i'm retrieving the spoon at a painfaully slow pace.


4) Rapala X-Rap or Husky Jerk
I grouped these two Rapala baits because they are very similar suspending minnows, with only slightly different profiles. Both dive to 4-5 feet and suspend when retrieved. I work them with a typical jerkbait cadence, especially along contour drops where fish are feeding up.  I'll adjust the length of my pause based on the response of the fish, which often means slowing down in non-ideal conditions.I prefer the 3 1/8" X-Rap and 2 3/4" Husky Jerk in natural colors.

5) Rapala Floating Minnow
The Rapala Floater has an action that is somewhere between the BPS XPS minnow and a Husky Jerk. The nice thing is that it has a nice wobble when simply reel in, but also moves well when worked with a jerkbait cadence. I will fish a wide variety of sizes ranging from 2" to 4" and typical natural colors.

Honorable mentions:
- Berkley 3" Floating Trout Worm rigged on a drop shot fished vertically
- Luhr Jensen Kwikfish rigged on a 3 way swivel and trolled
- Case Lil' Hellgrammites fished on a drop shot or small jighead

Monday, October 26, 2015

Smoked Trout Recipe using the Big Green Egg

As my last post indicated, I've been binging on trout lately. I just can't get enough of targeting them in super clear water using a fly rod. Since I've been catching 20-40 fish a day, I've begun to cull out a few "eating size" fish to bring home for the smoker. I try to keep trout in the 11"-14" range for smoking, that way the smaller ones can grow up and the larger ones can (hopefully) reproduce. Plus, a fillet of that size smokes up very nicely. Although I could eat about 20 pieces, a couple small to medium fillets will typically fill me up.

The beginning product (although this specfic fish was released)

This fall has been my first attempt at smoking trout. Since MM gave me the Big Green Egg for my birthday this summer, it has received a ton of use, and I was hoping it would excel at smoking some trout at low temperatures.

My smoking method is essentially a 3 day process. The daily creel limit in Massachusetts is 3 fish, so I typically fish for 2 days and keep 6 trout. On day 1, I'll simply gut and clean the trout, leaving them whole. After fishing on day 2, I will fillet all 6 fish, remove the rib bones, and wash them again. I leave the pin bones in, because removing them is more of a hassle than it is worth on trout of that size. Plus, they peel right out when eating the finished product.

Chrome...with red highlights

After I have the 12 fillets ready, I brine them. My basic brine recipe is as follows.

1/3 cup salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp black pepper
6 garlic cloves (or 2-3 tbsp garlic powder)

I mix all of these ingredients in a bowl, then use the mixture to coat the trout. I often add 1-2 tbsp of Old Bay as well for a little more kick. I'll also modify this recipe by cutting the salt down to 1/4 cup and adding 1/4 cup of lite soy sauce. And I should note that I think this recipe has some definite wiggle room, but my one firm recommendation - don't skimp on the brown sugar. It provides delicious sweet undertones to the final product. I pack the fillets in a glass baking dish, coat and cover them in the brine, cover them with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for about 5-7 hours. I prefer a long brine time, but you can likely achieve a solid brine in 2-3 hours.

The freshly mixed brine coating. Over time, it turns into more of a liquid.

After the brine period, I thoroughly rinse the fillets, pat them dry with paper towels, and place them on a baking sheet. The fillets should feel slightly stiffer than normal at this point. I then place the baking sheet, uncovered, into the fridge for about 10-12 hours, but a bit more or less time won't hurt. I typically let them sit overnight to get plenty dry. What you are looking for is for the trout to get a nice shiny surface, which is called pellicle. Pellicle is a type of coating that forms on proteins and is what the smoke adheres to.

The grill is loaded and ready to drop. Note the shiny pellicle surfaces.

I fire up my Big Green Egg using a little bit of "old" lump charcoal, meaning that it has been pre-used/pre-burnt. I also include a bit of kindling and give it about 5-10 minutes to catch. I then start adding a variety of wood chips and larger wood pieces. I pre-soak the larger pieces in water for a few hours before adding them. I typically use cherry wood, which we harvest from our land. Alder is another favorite, but you can use whatever you like. I would suggest staying away from very strong smoke flavors, such as hickory or mesquite.

A little prep, then the BGE is smoking

I prefer to smoke meats on crappy days - those with lots of moisture in the air and plenty of wind. I feel like the BGE really excels in those conditions, particularly in terms of providing a lot of smoke and a maintaining constant temperature. The moisture keeps the wood wet and smoky and the wind keeps the fire consistently stoked in the perfect smoking range. Plus, it is something to look forward to after a day of staring out the window at work at those bleak conditions.

I smoke the fillets at 170-190 degrees for 2-3 hours. If you like your smoked trout a little drier, like I do, go for 3 hours. If you like it a little moister, shoot for around 2 hours. Some folks will smoke at 180-220 degrees for a shorter period of time (closer to 2 hours), but I prefer a slightly lower temperature and longer smoke. The key is that you want the trout to be fully cooked throughout, reaching 150-170 degrees in the middle.

A plate of smoked trout - about to be turned into a delicious appetizer.
The finished product...delicious!

I usually eat a piece or two right away and vacuum seal the rest in packs of 3 or 4. There are a bunch of ways to use the finished product, and it is also a big hit as a gift or at parties. Our favorite way to chow on the trout is either on a bagel or crackers with cream cheese, red onion, capers, dill, and tomato.

Get out there and take advantage of this beautiful fall weather and trout action - you won't regret it! Not only are they a blast to catch, but man are these trout delicious. Until next time, tight lines.