Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Frost Buck

My mother-in-law, Johanna, firmly believes that all big bucks deserve a name that preserves their memory for generations. She has the Christmas buck, an enormous 6 pointer that weighed in at over 200 lbs dressed. As you can probably guess, it was shot on Christmas day. My wife has Talisman, a giant non-typical buck that is one of the biggest in Massachusetts history with a score of 199. The skull of a third giant buck hangs on the wall of Johanna's house. The Bilger buck is a massive 12 pointer that was shot in 1949 by Les Bilger, a renowned hunter and trapper from the area who was a family friend. That buck rough scored 174-175. The buck I harvested this past Saturday wasn't quite at the level of those deer, but he certainly deserves a name. Because of the story that goes with the hunt, I think I'll call him the Frost buck, as a tribute to "The Road Less Traveled." This is how he earned it.

The Frost buck

After a night where Cullen woke up screaming every hour or so, I somehow managed to roll out of bed and make the drive to one of my favorite hunting areas. The wind was howling, with gusts over 30 MPH. I set up downwind of a feeding area, with a bedding area to my south. I was hoping to catch them making their morning commute. Just before first light, I set out a couple pieces of cloth I had sprayed with doe urine. About ten minutes later, I heard what sounded like crashing toward the bedding area, sounds that faded quickly away from me. I suspect a young buck was bedded and came to investigate, only to get a strong whiff of me and head for the hills. In all likelihood, the wind had forced them out of the open feeding area and into the sheltered bedding area earlier than usual.

After a while longer, I crept to another spot where deer move, albeit randomly, throughout the day. It wasn't long before I looked up the ridge to see a couple deer moving. Unfortunately, the wind was swirling toward them in a direction it hadn't blown all morning. I am pretty sure they scented me or something else because they didn't stick around long and never got close to being in range.

My wife is pretty famous throughout MA and New England for this giant buck 

Eventually, I headed back to the house to meet up with Mary May and my father-in-law Jerry. We decided to push an area where we suspected those deer had headed; however, the push yielded nothing. With only about an hour before lunch, we decided to try another short push in area we know well. After getting set, I started to slowly climb a long hillside toward where Jerry was situated. My job in the push is to cover the back door via a route I've walked dozens of times. Generally, I either push deer up toward Jerry or re-direct deer coming from MM's direction. Of course, if you sneak in, it is a great spot to sit and wait, which I have done many a morning. As I walked, I was noticing fairly fresh sign here and there, as well as giant coyote tracks. Suddenly, I came over a knob and saw a blob of orange near one of my old spots. I had to do a double take. At this point, I was way off the beaten path, and we never see other hunters in that area. I was somewhat let down as I pondered what to do next. I decided to circle back a few hundred yards and cross a flat well above him to not disturb his hunt too much. Typically, I avoid that route because walking across it leaves too many gaps in our push, rather than funneling deer toward Jerry's position. In this case, the less-preferred route was my only option.

I slowly made my way up a small secondary ridge and onto a flat that angles uphill for a few hundred yards before hitting thicker woods. I was moving fairly quickly and quietly, as the ground had thawed and allowed me to walk without a crunch beneath each step. As I stepped into a small lane in the trees, I caught a glimpse of the outline of a deer about 50 yards away. I was directly down wind, and he had no clue I was there. As I raised my gun, the deer raised its head, and I could see the reflection of an antler. I took a deep breath, focused, took my time, and squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped instantly.

In full disclosure, it was hard to tell just how big he was originally. I never got a great look at the head, and I could only see from the base of the neck down from where I was standing, but it looked like a big-bodied deer--the perfect kind for filling the freezer. I waited about 20 minutes while trying frantically to get a text message to send to MM letting her know that the deer was down. Of course, I also texted her earlier that there was another hunter in the area, and that text didn't send right away. So, she got the "there is another hunter down here" text and the "deer down" text at the same time. "Yours?!" I eventually got back. I'm sure the suspense was killing her.

In that span, I also heard the other hunter climb down and walk out of the woods. I feel a little bad about the way it happened, although he couldn't see or hear that deer from where he was. I guess luck was simply on my side that morning, and hopefully that luck finds him this season as well.

As they say on those annoying hunting shows, "big buck down"

I eventually walked over to the deer to check and make sure he was dead. The neck shot was a quick kill, and I got my first good look at him. He was bigger than I had thought--way bigger--in fact, the 9 pointer is the biggest deer I've ever killed (granted, I didn't really hunt for about a decade while in college and both rounds of grad school).

Soon after, MM and Jerry got to me and saw the buck. I'm not sure who was more excited, MM or me, but all three of us were smiling from ear to ear as I told the story of how it happened. Our family has been pretty successful the past couple years, harvesting three bucks and a doe, but this is the biggest buck that has been taken by the group since the Christmas buck in 2006.

A family buck! 

We were a long way from the truck, and although over half the drag was downhill, the terrain was fairly unforgiving. The last 1/4 mile or so was almost all uphill. Needless to say, I'm still sore a couple days later, and I'm glad Jerry and MM were there to help me drag it out. Per tradition, we took the buck to Gould's Sugar House to check it in with a state biologist. Processing will begin for us tomorrow, and fresh loins, steaks, burger, and sausage will soon be on the menu.

I always enjoy checking in my deer here in MA and learning more about them from the biologists (also, of course the kid who never wants to look at the camera is staring right at it in this pic)

I always get sentimental after a successful hunt. This year was particularly special because it was the first hunting season for Cullen. Of course, he won't be out there with us, but I like to think of him as my little good luck charm. Additionally, it was my first MA buck, which goes to show that curses can be broken (for more on that, see my synopsis of last year). Of course, I always think about my grandfather, who taught me so much about hunting, and although I never met him, about Ted Howes, the namesake for Cullen's middle name who had such a special influence on MM and her parents (as well as numerous others). Thanks for looking down on us with your amazing facial hair, old timers! You, and fate, steered me down a path in the woods I rarely take, but this time, it was meant to be.

My two favorites snapped a selfie while we were cutting down our Christmas tree last week

Until next time, tight lines!

Monday, December 5, 2016

I @$*!# Missed

There aren't many feelings like seeing a buck approach through the woods. Your heart rate cranks way up, and remaining calm, cool, and collected can be a challenge for any hunter. If you are lucky, the time comes to line up a shot and squeeze the trigger. Often, that moment is the culmination of months or even years of patience and hard work. Bang!

@#!$%*...I missed.

This sequence pretty much sums up my opening day of shotgun deer season here in western MA. I was up early and headed for a section of woods with fresh sign where I had spent a lot of time archery hunting last year. After about a mile walk, I was tucked in behind a large, split-trunk beech tree. I had about 20 minutes before first light, but I was able to survey some of the surroundings in the early twilight. Literally, one minute after legal shooting light I heard something charging up the ridge to my south. "No way", I thought to myself. This is not how hunting works. You don't see deer just one minute into the season. I was almost positive it was a deer, and it was headed right to me, but it slowed down before reaching me, and instead of continuing to the top of the ridge, it split off and headed southwest on a lower secondary ridge. I never saw the animal, but it had me optimistic.

About 40 minutes later I heard something moving fast from the west. It sounded too human to not be a fellow hunter. Notably, there was a slight swishing sound between distinct bi-modal footsteps. Maybe it was Sasquatch or some ridiculously giant buck or bear, but I never saw it either, as it continued west without hitting the upper flat where I was situated. Still, my optimism was high.

I then spent about an hour scanning the woods and trying to shake the cold. Even multiple insulated layers were no match for the mid-20 degree Massachusetts morning. Then, I heard crashing through the woods to the south. It almost sounded too clumsy to be an animal, but to my surprise, a young doe was moving briskly in my general direction. Then, she turned and headed directly toward me and eventually paused about 20 yards away. Suddenly, I heard crashing behind her, and I knew exactly what was happening. I could hear him grunting as he charged, love struck, in my direction. With his neck bristled and nose to the wind, the buck only had one thing on his mind. I could see a rack, although it was tough to tell how big, but likely in the 6-8 point range. Unfortunately, by the time he got within about 100 yards, the doe had started to make her way directly east from my stand. In turn, he started to angle away from me. Seeing my chances of bagging this buck quickly decreasing, I could only hope that he gave me a chance at a shot. He briefly paused pseudo-broad side about 70 yards away. It wasn't the clearest or easiest shot, especially with an open-sighted shotgun, but I knew my hunting time would be limited this year, so I decided to take what the buck gave me.

I rushed the first shot, focusing my eyes more on the brush in front of the deer than on him or my sights. I'll chalk it up to nerves. The second shot was better, but still a little hurried before the deer realized what was going on. By his reaction (or lack thereof), I didn't think that my slug had made contact. I waited for about 20 minutes before surveying the scene, and sure enough, there was no blood, no hair, and clean tracks headed east. I had missed.

It is hard to believe how far my hunting strategy and mindset have come since bagging my first buck 17 years ago

I hate missing. It happens to everyone, but dang is it a tough pill to swallow. As I made my way out of the woods to meet Mary May an hour or so later, I was able to put some of it into perspective. I rushed the shots, and I didn't go through my usual mental progression before I shot. Some of that can be attributed to being out of practice. I haven't shot much this year, and practice goes a long way, even for the most experienced hunters. Also, the idea of my first MA buck has filled my head for years, and I think buck fever got me a bit, as this was the first MA buck I've shot at since moving up here in 2014. However, failure is probably the best learning tool there is, and I learned a lot from my mistakes that morning.

The rest of the day was quiet, and none of us saw another deer. Fortunately, I got a chance at redemption the following Saturday, and this time, I made the most it. That story is coming soon. Until then, tight lines!

Friday, November 4, 2016

My Almost 100-Mile Adirondack Adventure

Back in February, I got a text from my friend and editor/writer Ben Duchesney (formerly of Kayak Angler Magazine) inviting me on a canoe trip in the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, I had other obligations and, after some thought, I had to say no, but I figured that he and the rest of the crew would have a blast, as the Moose River and surrounding area is full of fish. I joked a bit about southerners planning a trip in upstate NY in April, and we had some friendly back-and-forth banter in the weeks prior to his journey. Somewhat regrettably, I deleted that text conversation a few months ago to make room on my phone. In hindsight, I would love to read it again, as saying yes would have been a heck of a different outcome for me.

Ben and the rest of the group (Robert Field, Rex Del Rey, and Mark Vlaskamp) ended up on a grueling week long adventure that changed their lives forever. Below is the first video in the four part series. The others can be found at YakfishTV or on YouTube. Check them out if you get a chance!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to Choose the Best Fly Rod Weight

Lately, I've noticed a trend in fly fishing. Everyone wants to go lighter. And although I always try to go as light as possible because I love light-tackle fishing, sometimes you need to think twice before you go that route. Using an under-powered fly rod can not only be a chore, but it can actually lead to long-term health issues and take a toll on your body. I don't pretend to be the authority on fly fishing, but I have learned a lot from some darn good ones over the year, as well as by personal trial and error. Here are a few of my recommendations on choosing the right fly rod weight for any application.

 Rarely do I hit the water without at least two fly rods, regardless of the conditions

Admittedly, my favorite fly rod is a 3 wt. My dad gave it to me for Christmas when I was in college. I own rods that most would deem as "nicer", at least based on price, but it casts smooth and can lay a bug down as gentle as can be. Rarely do I embark on a trout fishing trip without it. But when I'm chasing bigger fish with bigger flies, it is a no-brainer to leave it at home.

To me, choosing the right fly rod weight is about five things: fly size, fly weight, line weight, weather conditions, and target species. The most important factors are fly size and weight. Even with perfect form, throwing big flies on heavy rods will tire you out. I often refer to a story my good friend and expert fly angler Levi told me. Before embarking on a trip south to catch tarpon and other big game species, his would-be guides recommended that he learned to cast both left- and right-handed, for the simple reason that you are bound to get tired chucking big flies long distances for any period of time. Throwing big flies on undersized rods not only tires you out a lot faster, it often leads to poor form, sloppy casting, and sore arms. Fly anglers are already susceptible to overuse and repetitive strain injuries, which are generally associated with poor mechanics and kinematics. The bottom line is this, if you plan on throwing big flies for the species you are targeting, go to the high end of the recommended rod weight for that particular species. For example, most companies recommend a 3 wt to 6 wt rod for trout. Although I use 3 and 4 weight rods most often, I use a 6-7 wt rod when throwing big trout streamers and mice patterns. Throwing those big patterns on light rods gets frustrating quick, to the point where it isn't nearly as fun as it should be. If you aren't having fun on the water, something needs to change. Thankfully, I am seeing more charts that recommend fly rods based on fly size, rather than the conventional fly rod-target species charts. For example, this article and chart from Back Country Chronicles are pretty informative.

Line weight is another important factor. Generally, the line weight should match the rod weight; however, some rods cast better with over- or under-weighted lines. Additionally, sinking lines are often listed by grain size (e.g., 300 grain line) rather than traditional line weight. So, it may take some trial and error to find the right line. Here is a really basic, but useful line weight chart.

Bowed up on a 3+ ft gar a few years ago

Weather conditions should also be considered, especially when fishing bigger, open water. A few years ago Mary May and I were fishing a high-alpine lake in Wyoming. The wind was gusting and you had to time your casts between gusts to have any shot of getting your fly out far enough to get a bite. We were throwing small ant patterns, but it felt like I could barely get my 3 wt off the bank. Again, I was starting to loose my cool. I decided to pick up a 5 wt just to see if it made a difference....mind blown! Suddenly I was getting my fly three times as far off the bank and into areas with active fish. I'm not sure why that was my eye-opening moment, as its not rocket science, but it definitely sunk in. Now, I always check the wind before heading out and pick my rod accordingly.

Finally, always pick your rod based on the target species. This is generally how most companies and sites categorize rods - by species. These references provide great basic guidelines, but they are just a small piece of the puzzle. For example, here is a pretty standard chart published by Cabelas (the first hit via a Google search).

So as much as we all want to say that we caught our trophy on light tackle, consider all the factors before making a final decision. It will make your day more enjoyable and take a much lesser toll on your body! Tight lines!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kayak Angler's Choice Awards 2016

The annual Kayak Angler's Choice Awards have arrived. Actually, they arrived a month or so ago. The first round of nominations ended, and the top nominations can now be voted on in round 2. Admittedly, I didn't participate in round 1. I've gotten tired of seeing this become a popularity contest. People with 10 Instagram accounts, 20 Twitter handles, and multiple Facebook pages seem to get the most votes, while more deserving anglers are left in their wake. However, there are also a lot of votes that get it right. Maybe I am helping to fuel a negative change by doing nothing, much like the thought of voting in the upcoming election makes me want to not vote at all. Conversely, part of me didn't vote because there are too many deserving people, products, etc. out there to choose just one. Personal philosophy aside, Man Powered Fishing was nominated for blog of the year, as were a number of other great blogs and websites. This has been a tough year for blogging, and I feel like I had so many grand plans that just never materialized, but I am thankful that people read and enjoy the content! It is always humbling to be nominated by your peers, and this marks the fourth straight year that MPF has been nominated. As other bloggers can attest, it takes more time, effort, and energy than most think to run a successful blog or website. So, a big thanks to those who nominated this blog - you certainly brightened my Monday morning. Check out all of the nominees over at the Yakangler KACA page.

 Yes, this is sarcasm...and also a tribute to the late, great Gene Wilder

I very briefly looked through the nominees in all categories, and I was super happy to see some of the products that I use and endorse get nominated, including the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 for kayak of the year and Bending Branches Angler Pro Plus for paddle of the year (I probably missed others).

Tight lines voters (or non-voters)!

Friday, September 16, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 10 - A Giant Bachelor Bass

Finally, picture #10 gets to be posted. This fish was special for a number of reasons, but mainly because I got to share the memory with a best friend who I don't get to fish with very often these days. Travis and I grew up together in central PA. After meeting in Spanish class, we realized that we both love to hunt and fish. The rest was history. I can't begin to count the number of fish we've caught together, but there have been plenty of big fish and fun stories. This particular fish was caught on a Friday afternoon in a river that is near and dear to my heart in North Carolina. Travis drove down a day before my official "bachelor party" so that we could spend an extra day on the water. Overall, the day was pretty tough, and a couple big fish managed to give us the slip. Finally, this giant inhaled a Rico popper and started to pull drag. I couldn't believe the size of his head as I lifted him out of the water. What a beast!

Eventually, the fish ended up making its rounds on various websites, including in an article in Kayak Fish Magazine.

I should also note that the timing of this blog was pretty perfect, as last weekend Travis entered his first every kayak tournament. The event was held by the PA Kayak Fishing Association and benefited Heroes on the Water. In a grueling 2-day event, Travis managed to bring home first place, and our buddy Ken Glassner took home biggest fish (any species) with a chunky catfish. Congrats to them both!

Until next time, tight lines!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 9 - Wyoming Cutthroats

Day 9 of the fish pic challenge was a flashback to Mary May and I's second big trip to Wyoming (original blog here). It was on this trip that we really hit our stride when it came to exploring the area. Each night we sat down with 2-3 topographic maps and picked places to hike and fish the next day. Generally, those hikes took us into the Cloud Peak Wilderness, but we explored a variety of places within an hour or so of our base camp on the middle fork of Clear Creek, including a few that took us way off the beaten path. Among numerous great memories from the trip, MM and I both landed our personal best cutthroat trout - hers at 16" and mine at 17.5". Specifically, these fish were Yellowstone Cutthroats - both of which sucked terrestrials off the surface. I always think a lot about Wyoming this time of the year. It is hard not to fall in love with the place. Hopefully, we can make another trip out that way next year - with the new addition!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 8 - A Fall River Giant

I met a bunch of great people through the Duke Fishing Club, one of whom was Jerry Li. Jerry just straight up loves to fish, and when he expressed interest in kayak fishing I was happy to take him. It was late November, and although the water temps were cooling down, the air temps were still pretty friendly. We decided to hit the Haw River for a few hours to see if we could hook a few fish. In my original blog post about the day (seen here), I wrote about it being a "bad, good day", meaning that we caught a decent number of fish and some big fish, but we lost a few that would have made it incredible. Still, my biggest was over 6 lbs, and Jerry snapped a couple sweet shots of the fish before I let her go. Shortly later, I submitted the photo to Bassmaster. A few months later I found out that it was chosen as the cover photo for the "Best bass of fall", which was an awesome feeling!

Representing kayak fishing on

Also, I didn't mention in the original blog that Jerry fell in near the start of the day. He was standing and fishing from the kayak when the wind blew the back of the boat into a boulder. The collision was enough to knock him off balance and into the water. Thankfully, I had some extra clothes, and we both laughed it off. It didn't deter him from kayak fishing either, as the next time we fished together, he was showing off his new Wilderness Systems Ride 115.

I can't believe the fall bite is almost upon us!  Tight lines!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Choosing a kayak fishing paddle - a public service announcement

Today, I'm dropping a PSA. Thankfully, I am seeing "try before you buy" mentioned more and more to beginner kayakers. I can't stress enough that folks should find a few good options, try them out, and see which they like best. Too many of the reviews on the internet are biased in one way or another. However, this mentality should not stop at kayaks. Specifically, try a few kayak paddles before choosing one. I don't just mean brands or models, I'm talking lengths, weights, blade shapes and sizes, materials, shafts, costs, etc.

The camouflage Bending Branches Angler Pro in action in NY

For example, there is a current fad in the industry that everyone needs a longer paddle. I see guys bragging all the time about their new 260-270+ cm paddle, simply because they think bigger is better. However, although they work for some, longer paddles don't make sense for many paddlers. It really comes down to your paddling style/angle, body, and boat dimensions.

One of my favorite features on a number of current paddles is the adjustable ferrule. The ferrule is a mechanism in the middle of a paddle shaft that allows you to adjust both the length and/or shaft/blade angle. Generally, I use a paddle in the 240-245 cm range when paddling the ATAK 140, which is 34" wide for reference. However, in shallow, rocky rivers that require more maneuvering, I regularly use an adjustable ferrule and drop the length to 230 cm, as anything longer gets really annoying. Of course, this is where cost comes in, as most adjustable paddles come with higher price tags. The point is that everyone has a sweet spot. Some anglers, like me, value flexibility and performance. Others prioritize price, ergonomics, or other factors - including aesthetics.

Out of curiosity, I polled 36 avid kayak anglers, including guides, shop owners, and tournament anglers who fish all over the country in all types of water. The question was "what length kayak paddle do you use most often?" The options were as follows: less than 230 cm, 230 cm, 240 cm, 250 cm, 260 cm, greater than 260 cm, adjustable from 230-245 cm, adjustable from 240-255 cm, and "other". The majority (44%) noted that they used adjustable shaft paddles in the 240-255 cm range. The next closest vote was for adjustable shaft paddles in the 230-245 cm at 22%. So 66% of paddlers preferred adjustable shaft options. Of the remaining choices, 5 of the respondents chose 230 cm, 3 chose 240 cm, 2 chose less than 230 cm, 2 chose 260 cm (with one paddler noting that he prefers the longer paddle because he stands and fishes a lot), 0 chose 250 cm, and 0 chose greater than 260 cm. What is my point with all of these numbers? First, they suggest that the majority of serious paddlers prefer versatility. Multiple anglers noted that they love the adjustable ferrules on the Bending Branches Angler Pro and AT Oracle and Odyssey. If you are going to be fishing a variety of types of water, you may prefer that versatility too. The other thing I would note is that everyone has a preference, and it is based on trying various options. For example, one of the paddlers noted that they are over 6' tall and paddle 31"-34" wide boats. If you go by a paddle chart, it would recommend that he uses a 250-270 cm paddle. His preference was 230 cm for almost all applications. In the words of Captain Barbossa, those charts are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

My Bending Branches Sun Shadow crank isn't quite "high performance", but it is a joy to use

The bottom line is this, make yourself a list of priorities, go see your local rep or dealer or kayak anglers association (because I bet it is filled with folks who will let you try their paddles), and find the paddle that is perfect for you - not some random guy online. Tight lines!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 7 - Connecticut River Smallmouths

When we moved to western MA in June 2014, I was excited to be closer to smallmouth waters. However, what I didn't realize is that there would be so many great places to fish within 20 minutes of the house, so I rarely end up driving the extra 20 minutes to get to some of the better smallmouth haunts. That probably needs to change. Shortly after moving, MM and I made a couple trips on the CT River. In addition to getting a lesson in the release schedule and rate, we managed a few smallies of all sizes, including this chunk that hit a tube on a rock ledge in 20+ feet of water. That blog can be found here. I need to get back to the CT, but I rarely seem to find the time/motivation, as it really requires a float partner and multiple vehicles. Maybe I can sneak in a trip this fall. Until then, I'll keep thinking back to those bronzeback fights in the past. Tight lines!

Monday, August 29, 2016

My 2016 NEKF Striper Shootout - Giant flies and Linesides

A few months ago, Troy Meyerhoeffer (my regional pro staff director at Wilderness Systems) asked me if I would be interested in fishing the New England Kayak Fishing Striper Shootout this year. The annual event takes place in Salem, MA, and all the proceeds go to charity, namely, the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It attracts tons of kayak anglers from all over New England, including many of the biggest names in the sport. I said yes, noting that I was worried that I would be exhausted from taking care of the new baby. "Don't worry", Troy responded. "We don't sleep anyway." I laughed, not knowing whether to be concerned or assured. Since pretty much all the fishing I've done this year has been fly fishing, I decided to enter the fly division. So, on Friday, I packed the truck full of gear and luggage and Cullen, Mary May, and I headed for Salem. Baby's first road trip!

 Touring around Salem, MA

I should preface this story by noting a bit about my background that some may not know. I've paddled lakes and rivers in over 20 states, including some fairly big water and whitewater. However, I had only paddled in saltwater twice prior to last Friday and never truly fished the salt. I was slightly intimidated by the stories of the tides, currents, and waves on the New England coast. Still, what better way to learn than the hard way.

I spent weeks before the event researching different areas near Salem. Using Navionics, satellite imagery, striper articles, and message board posts, I came up with a tentative game plan. However, I was not nearly as prepared as usual, largely because I had just started back to work after paternity leave, and baby was still keeping both my wife and I busy almost around the clock. Additionally, I wouldn't get to pre-fish due to work obligations. Thankfully, fellow Wildy teammate Eric Hromada offered to let me pick his brain a few days before heading to Salem. Not only did he reassure me that some of the areas I had scouted were good places to try, but he also answered a variety of questions about tides, currents, flies, bait fish, and various other subjects. Without him, I would have been a lot more nervous before the event. He is a prime example of the awesomeness of the kayak fishing community and a great teammate. Troy also gave me some pre-tourney advice, and the folks at Concord Outfitters recommended a couple flies on the way to the coast. Of course, we also talked a bit about catching trout here in western MA.

Baby is addicted to feeling that coastal breeze through his hair

Another important pre-story detail is that I hadn't done any major paddling in approximately 3-4 months. Outside of a few short river trips in the Deerfield, my fishing was either wading or non-existent. Given my out of shapeness, I knew I would be feeling it after a few days of hard paddling and casting big flies. As it turns out, I was right, but more on that later.

We got to Salem and settled in at our hotel before heading to registration. Salem was a nice little town, filled with different "districts" and lots of interesting history. After checking in at Winter Island and shooting the breeze with some of my Wildy teammates, we grabbed a quick dinner and I bid adieu to the family. I was headed to try and catch some river fish.

I finally got in the water around 7 PM and made about a 2 mile paddle to get to the area I wanted to start in. Unfortunately, it was close to low tide (the tides in the area are 10'-12'), and there didn't seem to be much going on. I began working a rocky drop off with a 6.5" foam head minnow. About thirty minutes into fishing, I felt a fish grab the fly and shake its head a few times. I didn't get a great hook set, and moments later, the fish was gone. I was bummed the fish had got away, but excited to have had a bite. However, the next few hours were a different story. For almost four hours I made cast after cast after cast with no luck. I tried flats as the tide rose, drops, oyster bars, rocky shorelines, and pretty much everything else I could find. I simply couldn't get bit. At this point, I was wishing I had some electronics, as I was one of few competitors out there chasing fish without a depth/fish finder.

 A nearly full moon over Salem

Eventually, I decided to make a paddle to a spot that looked good on the map. After getting to the general area, I checked my Navionics app to see the depth contours. I noticed that the area was called "The Ruins". As I cast, I started thinking about how fishy that name sounded, until I thought of it in the context of the history of Salem. Ruins of what exactly? Suddenly, an eerie feeling came over me and I bolted without hesitation.

Frustrated, I decided to change things up. It was time to get back to basics. First, I decided to start relying on visual cues. Second, I decided that if I was going to get skunked, I was at least going to try throwing a surface fly. So, I swapped spools on one of my rods, cut off the deceiver pattern, and tied on a pole dancer variation created by my buddy Levi. I could see bait fish moving near a dock, and on the second cast a 10" striper blasted the fly out of the water. Although it didn't get hooked, it gave me a newfound jolt of energy. After all, it was past midnight...and past my bedtime.

Not long after, the tide swung from high tide to outgoing. I set up in an area with numerous current breaks and lots of artificial light. The light was attracting bait fish. I would throw the fly into the shadows and slowly work it into the light before stripping it back to the boat at various speeds. Before long, I saw a shadow behind the fly, promptly followed by an explosion. Fish on! I can't imagine how silly the grin on my face must have looked as the schoolie striper burst to the surface and proceeded to pull me around...and I didn't care either. As I worked the fish to the boat, I noticed another fish with him - a fish that was clearly larger than the one hooked up. After a fun fight, I got the fish to the boat. Measuring stripers turned out to be quite the chore, and I have no idea how guys get good measuring board pics of giant fish. After snapping a few of my 17-incher, I revived him for a second and watched him swim away.

Note the ever-important Mt Dew in the cup holder

Now I was intent on catching his running mate. I made 3 or 4 casts in the same area, but with no luck. I was almost ready to move when a fish comes out of nowhere and train wrecks the fly, jumps about 2 feet into the air, and starts pulling drag. It turns out that my silly grin could get bigger. This fish pulled drag off my 8 weight fly rod as if the fly stuck in his mouth was nothing more than a nuisance. He pulled me around as a few shore anglers watched and laughed. Eventually, he tired out and I got him in the boat for a few quick pictures, upgrading to 25.5".

Slowly upgrading

I worked the area for an hour or so more with no luck. At this point, it was almost 2 AM, and I was ready to start heading back toward the launch. I fished along the way, managing two more missed connections, as well as 19" and 20" bass. Still, I never could get on or stay on a big school. I got to the launch around 3:30 AM and noticed that the outgoing current had formed a funnel area not far away. It looked like a scene from a freshwater river or trout stream, a large current chute with rocky eddies on each side. For the first time all day, I truly felt like I was in the right place. As I paddled closer, I began to hear and see fish busting the surface. I pulled up in an eddy and began casting the surface fly. Pop, pop, pop...nothing. I grabbed the foam head minnow and made a cast. Strip, strip, strip...zzzziinnnnggg. The drag took off. It took everything I had to keep my boat in the eddy and out of the ripping current, but luckily the fish made a run into a backwater area. From the way it was fighting, I was sure it was a 30+" fish. Every time I had him close, he would rip 20-40 feet of line back out. The fight lasted over 12 minutes, and I'm not sure who was more exhausted by the end. My forearms (I switched the rod from one arm to the other) felt like jelly. My hands could barely grip the rod. When I finally saw the fish, I shocked and almost a little let down. Although 3-4 lbs heavier than the 25.5" fish from earlier, it only measured 26". I pulled up on some rocks to snap a few photos before releasing the brute.

 My biggest fish of the weekend, which felt so much bigger!

On my next cast, I landed a 24" bass and proceeded to lose two more before the frenzy ended. Around 4:45 AM I decided to load up and launch from a different spot. However, by the time I got in the truck I changed my mind. It was time to get some sleep. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I rolled into the hotel a little after 5 AM, slightly delirious and walking like a zombie. Oddly, I had a hard time falling asleep, but after I did, not even the cries of a newborn could wake me.

I woke up around 9:30 AM. Cullen and MM were awake in the other room, and we were all eager to get breakfast. Actually, I was less hungry than I was keen on getting some food in my stomach so I could pop some Advil. We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring some of the town and scouting some potential launches for later that day/night. Although I had caught some fish in the river, I really wanted to get out in the harbor and coastal area if possible. We gorged on calamari and fried clams at the Salem Willows Park, people watched, and walked the shoreline before returning for a brief nap.

 Throwing down on some fried local seafood

I still wasn't sure where to fish that night, but Eric reported that the wind had made fly fishing nearly impossible in the harbor. After the checking the weather report, I decided to avoid the washing machine waves and again hit the river, which also happened to be Eric's advice. I met another teammate, Alex Post, at a new launch around 6:30 PM. I actually felt pretty good to begin the night and eagerly began casting.

It was close to low tide again, so I figured anything early would be a real bonus. Unfortunately, the water in the river dirtied up as the night progressed. For whatever reason, it seemed to be shutting down my bite. I fished hard through the night with nothing to show. I second guessed a few choices, including not making a run to the funnel area, but I felt like I was in the right spots, despite the lack of fish. Eventually, I landed 15" and 18" fish on the edge of a flat on the falling tide and just before the sun rose. I then watched stripers blowing up on bait fish nearby for twenty minutes or more, but no matter what I tried, I just couldn't get a bite. I also noticed that at this point, I was beginning to lose steam. I was making dumb little mistakes, the kind that occur when you are too tired to acknowledge how exhausted your mind and body are. My stripping hand was throbbing in pain between my index and middle fingers, to the point it hurt to retrieve my line. All weekend I had refused to troll my fly (its just not my style, and I don't think it is legit fly fishing), and making cast after cast and strip after strip in a kayak in the dark had really taken a toll on my hands. Around 6:30 AM, I decided to call it a tournament.

A selfie from the beach at Winter Island

After 3 hours of sleep, I packed up, got the family ready, and headed for the check-in. I talked to Eric, who was also in the fly division, and he told me how tough it had been for he and numerous others. Although I was hoping it deep down, he reaffirmed that my fish might have a chance. After everyone checked in, they called up the top finishers to inspect and download their photos. To my excitement, I heard my name.

Then came the worst part - waiting. I ate my fair share of delicious BBQ and re-checked my ticket about fifty times during the raffle (with no luck). Finally, it was time to announce the winners. I'll start by saying there were tons of impressive fish caught in all divisions (youth, fly, open, and artificial). My name was called for third place in the fly division, and given everything involved, that goofy grin crept right back on to my face. I believe second place was 31" and first was 33", so I have some work to do next year. However, I got beat by two locals who fish the waters multiple times a week and are part of the local guide crowd, so I felt pretty good about where I landed. Wildy teammate and guide Mike Baker caught a 46" fish that won the open division. As if that wasn't impressive enough, he caught a 50+" trophy the night before the tourney started. I hadn't met Mike before the event, but I can tell you how excited I was to see him win. He is one of those guys who puts in the work and time, so it is really rewarding to see guys like that do well. Troy also caught a giant the night before the event.

 Mike Baker and I posing in front of the Wildy booth

Eric Harrison, who has been featured on this blog before, took second in the artificial division with a 48" giant. The biggest overall fish was 48.5". A huge tip of the hat to NEKF and everyone who put on the event. Everything was top notch and all for a great cause. After everything wrapped up, we all loaded up again and headed south to visit with family and spend a few days at the Rhode Island coast.

Lobster rolls for days!

A few people have already asked about some of the flies that worked well for me and what gear I used. My top flies included the 6" pole dancer spin-off in white and chartreuse, the 6.5" articulated foam head minnow in white with a rattle, and a 7" olive and white clouser minnow. Those were the three flies I caught fish on. I also tried a couple eel patterns, a squid pattern, and various bait fish patterns, with no luck; however, I think all could be productive at the right time. I was using 5'-7' 15 lb to 20 lb fluorocarbon and monofilament leaders that I hand tie. I had two rod and reel set-ups that I used throughout the weekend. The first was a 9 weight TFO BVK with an Allen Alpha III (size 4) reel. I had two spools, one with 350 grain Rio sink tip line and the other with 9 wt Rio Bonefish floating line. The second was an 8 weight Scott A4 with a Montana Fly Co. Madison II (7-8 wt) reel. I had two spools for it as well, one with 300 grain Rio sink tip line and other other with 8 wt Rio Bonefish floating line. Overall, I thought everything performed quite well. At times, I felt like the 350 grain was slightly much for the BVK. Maybe it was me, but it seems like the rod is best suited for a 325 grain line, at least when used from a kayak. I found it tough to get a nice quiet presentation at long distances, but again, it could be caster error. I also thought that the 8 wt Rio Bonefish was slightly slow to load on the A4, even thought the line is supposedly "upweighted" by .25 weights. Still, I am going to try the 9 wt Bonefish line on that rod soon to see how it does. I actually never ended up casting the Rio Bonefish 9 wt on the 9 wt BVK, so the jury is still out on that pair. I can say that the 300 grain sink tip on the A4 was ridiculously easy to cast. I mean crazy distance with little effort - definitely a winning combo.

On a gear-related note, I've talked at length about my love of the ATAK 140. This tournament further cemented that feeling. I stood and cast most of the weekend in all sorts of wakes, waves, currents, winds, and tides. The boat is an amazing all-around kayak, and it is just about perfect for fly anglers.

Nothing like loading your new hardware into a baby stroller

Now that I've had a few days to let the entire experience sink in, I've been thinking of a couple things. First, I've noticed a few things that separate great anglers from good anglers. These things allow you to go anywhere and succeed on any new body of water and in any conditions: preparation, effort, and willingness to learn (specifically, the hard way). Today in kayak fishing, I see so many guys who want everything handed to them. They don't want to work for it or put in the time to explore and fail and learn. But the guys who do always seem to show up with fish when no-one is catching or big fish when everyone is catching. I'll be the first to say that I got my butt kicked most of the time in Salem, but I learned so much and can reflect on it in a really positive way. I paddled over 15 miles, made hundreds of casts, and left it all on the water - giving it everything I possibly could. In no way am I saying that seasoned kayak anglers shouldn't be role models that go out of their way to help beginner kayakers. I'll be the first to offer info and advice to anyone who asks, but while some things are learned, others are earned.

Second, I don't know what I'd have felt like out there were it not for one simple exercise - the pull-up. Pull-ups are just about the only strength exercise I've done in the past few months (other than hauling around a baby), often doing 5-6 sets of 6-10 with different grips/hand placements every 2-3 days. If there is a better exercise for paddlers, I'd love to hear about it (although thrusters are a close second).

Third, I've had some thoughts regarding paddles and recent paddle fads, but I'll save those for next week.

I'll leave you with a few more pics from the trip.

 Great Aunt Betty and Uncle Martin spending some time with Cullen

 Homemade seafood pasta

 Walking the beach in Misquamicut, RI

 Snuggling with daddy during the weigh-in

 Little man looking sharp in his new beach outfit

Until next time, tight lines!

Friday, August 26, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 6 - Susquehanna Catfish

Sorry for the interruption in my 10-day challenge blog posts. I've been traveling with limited internet access. However, a belated day 6 takes us back to my roots in central Pennsylvania. As a teenager, I waded or canoed the Susquehanna River and its tributaries at least once a week during the warmer months, and fairly often during the colder months as well. In August 2011, I got to fish a stretch just north of Harrisburg with my father and (now) wife. We caught a bunch of solid smallies that day, including a really nice fish pictured in the original post. However, the highlight was seeing Mary May and my father both land gorgeous cats on light tackle. Mary May's beast of a channel cat hit a 1/8 oz spinnerbait and hunkered down in a shoal. She originally thought she was snagged, but we eventually felt a head shake, which was followed by an awesome fight. Dad caught his blue cat on an inline spinner. I miss that fishery. Hopefully, we can all do it again soon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 5 - Roanoke Bass

Day 5 of the fish pic challenge is a fish that is near and dear to my heart - the Roanoke bass. I caught my first Roanoke shortly after moving to central NC in the summer of 2008. Given their similar appearance, I thought it was a Rock bass; however, I was quickly corrected after posting a picture online. The Roanoke bass is a unique species of bass, although more of a sunfish than a black bass, that lives in only a handful of watersheds in NC and VA. This one wasn't particularly big, but it had gorgeous spawning colors.

Over the course of my time in NC, I caught numerous Roanokes, including many that surpassed the IGFA world record. Coincidentally, the IGFA record is 1 lb 5 oz, but the NC state record is 2 lbs 11 oz. The VA record is listed as 2 lbs 9 oz. I have heard numerous stories as to why those state record fish aren't recognized as IGFA records, but the real stories have probably been lost in translation over the years. Myself, Gary Ribet, the Froggy Waters Outdoors crew, and many others won't submit an IGFA record unless it also breaks the state record. Although I've caught some fish over 2 lbs, and even a couple around 2.5 lbs, I have only seen one fish that I believe would have broken the NC record. It was caught by a good friend of Gary in a central NC river. After a couple quick photos, it flopped off of a measuring board and swam away, so we will never exactly how much it weighed. However, I wholeheartedly believe it was over 3 lbs. In this day and age, I suspect someone will lust for that piece of paper that says they caught a world record, and we will slowly see the IGFA record go up in weight. For me, it was always about the fun and the challenge, rather than a piece of paper that hangs on the wall. Go grab your creek tromping shoes, an ultra-lite rod, and a handful of lures and get knee deep in a river full of Roanoke bass. There aren't many better ways to spend a summer day!

Monday, August 15, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 4 - Pennsylvania Brown Trout

Day 4 of the fish pic challenge is a beautiful brown trout caught by my beautiful wife. It was one of her first winters in Pennsylvania, as we had come up to spend some time with my family around the holidays. She, my dad, and I decided to hit a local creek for a few hours and see if we could manage a few winter trout. First, we had to get her bundled up, which included a variety of cold weather gear and a mid-1990's Penn State Starter jacket. Fishing was slow, but we did manage a handful of trout, including this chunky brown trout. The following year, we could barely keep them off the hook in some of the same areas, catching dozens of native brownies. Despite everywhere I have traveled and fished, I will always have a special place in my heart for my home waters in central PA. It is a great place to grow up and learn to fish. Tight lines!

Friday, August 12, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 3 - Bruiser Bass on Tournament Day

Day 3 of the challenge was a memorable day on University Lake. "U" Lake is the location of the annual/bi-annual Duke-UNC Charity Fishing Tournament. The fishing clubs from the two teams square off in a bragging rights contest that benefits charity (100% of the proceeds go to the charity of the winners choosing). The year prior, my fishing partner Santosh and I had won the event, catching around 20 fish over the course of the day. That blog can be found here. However, spring was unusually early, and fish were in an early spawn funk. We started the day with a solid 4+ lb fish flipping to wood cover. A short while later, we had a borderline 8 lber in the livewell. In the afternoon, we put the icing on the cake, landing another stud out of wood. Other than a couple short strikes, we didn't miss a legit bite all day, ending with 3 fish for 18 lbs 9 oz. That was good enough to win the event by roughly 3 pounds, making us repeat champs. Full details of the day can be found here.

Two giants from University Lake that helped secure a repeat win for Duke
(note that all fish caught swam away healthy and happy)

The following year, Santosh and I fished on different teams, as we had a number of young anglers joining the Duke club. It was a pretty tough day on the water with my new partner Dean, as conditions made it tough. We had a small limit until literally the last minute, when I landed a 7+ lber from under a dock to seal the deal. That win gave Duke the three-peat. That was my last event, but the Duke club also went on to win the last two or three events. Sadly, I don't think the tourney happened in the past year or two, but it was always a great time for great causes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 2 - Alpine Rainbow Trout

Day 2 of the fish photo challenge took me to alpine Wyoming, specifically, the Bighorn Mountains and Cloud Peak Wilderness area. I originally blogged the day a few years ago (click this link for the full story).

After a bumpy, winding drive, we arrived at the trail head ill equipped for the hike. Because the trip was our first to that part of WY and a mixed bag of visiting my sister and her family, exploring, and doing a bit of work, the only backpack we had was my satchel-style computer bag, and the best we could do for footwear was running shoes. Still, we managed the challenging climb to almost 10,000 feet, which included maneuvering a boulder field and a stream crossing. The lake was crystal clear and tough to fish, particularly given the gusty wind. Many of the active fish were far from shore, and those closer to shore were fairly cagey. It is amazing to look back at how much I've since learned about fishing those types of lakes. This beautiful rainbow was one of a number of solid fish we caught that afternoon. I can't even remember what flies we were using. I think one was a mosquito and the other a bumble bee pattern.

As if the hike, fishing, and scenery wasn't enough, we also got to see a black bear swim across the lake in front of us and bumped into a big bull moose on the way out of the mountains. What a great day and great trip - one that really made Mary May and I fall in love with that part of the west.

Friday, August 5, 2016

10-day Fish Pic Challenge - Day 1 - Bartrams (Redeye) Bass

I've noticed that Facebook has become the modern day form of spam email. "Like" this or you won't have good luck. "Share" that or I won't give you 10% off my product. "Come play this (time wasting) game with me". I could go on, but you get the point. However, FB has also become a place for bickering and negative political banter. It seems like all the terrible things from the media end up there, yet you see considerably fewer positive posts. Thankfully, I am friends with some great folks who always manage to make me laugh and smile with what they put online. That includes people putting up awesome pictures of fish. Where am I going with this, well, a couple weeks ago a hashtag trend started for the #profishingchallenge. The name is a bit misleading, but the goal is to load up FB with fish pics rather than negativity. So, if you get nominated, you post a fish pic for ten days. I'll admit that as soon as I saw the hashtag, I knew it would eventually come by way...and I balked at it. But when my nomination came (via good friend Chris Ferguson), I actually really enjoyed looking through some old fishing pictures. Rather than post all my biggest fish or sunsets and scenery shots, I decided to grab 10 photos from trips that mean a lot to me. I am going to post them here for the next ten days, with a brief recap of each picture. Without further ado, I present pic #1.

A Bartram's Bass (Redeye) from north Georgia

This fish is a Bartram's bass, which is a subspecies of the Redeye bass. Redeyes are only found throughout parts of the southeastern US (off the top of my head - SC, GA, AL, and possibly TN). Although they generally don't get very big, they are an aggressive species that mainly occupy rivers. The Bartram's was the first target on the BASS Slam trip that Bill Kohls and I did back in 2012. We had driven all day and got to the river in time to fish for about an hour. It looked more like a trout stream, but before long Bill caught one on a jerkbait and I soon followed suit. It was an amazing start to what would be an (brace yourself for an overused term) epic road trip. Spoiler alert - later that year, we completed the BASS Slam in Texas with my Mary May in tow. We made a lot of good memories on those rivers - and this is one I will never forget!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Spring Fly Fishing in Western Massachusetts

As we prep for the baby to arrive, fishing time has gotten slimmer and slimmer. Thankfully, we have a river in the backyard. Like every late spring, I can look out over the Deerfield and see bugs doing their magical dance above the water. As a fly fisherman, it doesn't get much better. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand that trout do the bulk of their feeding beneath the surface, and I more than comfortable with nymphs and streamers, but nothing beats fish feeding on dries.

Admittedly, I've been spoiled. I grew up a few short miles from Penns Creek in central Pennsylvania, one of the most well-known freestone flows in the state. I vividly remember my first ever trip during the infamous green drake hatch. Huge bugs filled the air (and your mouth if you weren't careful), and the later we stayed, the more big trout started to sip them down. I got skunked that night, but I was hooked. I've since experienced some incredible fishing all around the country, but as touristy as it is, I will always love the drake hatch and those giant flies.

 There have been a few net fillers this year, including this beast rainbow.

On certain evenings, the Deerfield can almost replicate that magic. It does get a Drake Hatch, although alone, it falls well short of those in central PA. However, combined with a number of other bugs (including huge March Browns), the sheer number of insects in the air is amazing, and the fishing can be insane.

I've been able to sneak out every few days for an hour or so just before dusk. Some nights, it is every cast. That isn't an exaggeration. Other nights, for one reason or another, I'm more than content with two or three fish.

Brookies tend to start early. I assume that most are born as native fish in the river's tributaries. They aren't huge, but they are fun and beautiful.

This pretty brook trout fell for a Brown Caddis

Then, the browns and rainbows start. These fish are a mix of stockies, hold overs, and natives, depending on the stretch you are fishing (some of which have all three). Oddly, they aren't too spooky in terms of wading fairly close to them in super clear water. However, they can be very picky when it comes to drifts and line management. One night, it seems like I can do no wrong. The next, I may get snubbed the majority of the trip.

 On this particular evening, I had a number of 15"-17" browns in the net

The fluctuating water levels in the river can change very quickly, and are often different each night. What worked one evening may have to be tweaked the next. Fish position differently in the different currents, and it impacts the timing of hatches as well. It makes fishing the same areas a lot more fun and challenging, but it can be equally frustrating when plan A turns into plan B and C...and D.

I've found that carrying two rods, including one with a 10'-11' leader and one with a 8' leader, can make a world of difference. Also, don't be afraid to go big. I almost always tend to downsize my flies, but these Deerfield trout don't mind big offerings if they look right. In fact, on many late spring days, I would argue that they prefer the bigger meals. Additionally, don't be surprised if the bugs you are seeing in the air an hour and a half before dark almost disappear by the time the bite really starts picking up on certain nights. Sometimes you can keep fishing the pattern, while on other nights it is best to re-tie.

I also like to grab my kayak and float through some of the less pressured areas, getting out to wade at certain spots. This approach allows me to cover water early and target bigger fish when surface feeding starts.

The Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 in action

One last tip, and this is very general. I tend to fish in fairly muted or natural colored clothing most of the time. But I've noticed a clear trend lately. On days or nights when the bite is slow, I get probably 30%-50% more bites wearing my faded blue/grey Red Sox hat than I do wearing my fairly bright red RepYourWater hat. Keep that in mind the next time you dress to hit the river.

The "insane" hatch season is slowly dwindling on the river, but it fishes well all year, particularly in the colder months (when it is safely accessible). But if you are new to flinging flies or simply want to go have some fun, the Deerfield likely won't disappoint.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Ins and Outs of the Ned Rig

For quite some time, I had been slowly piecing together a Ned Rig article for this blog - a mix of a review and multiple trip reports. However, that idea got nixed and I ended up running the article in Kayak Bass Fishing Magazine. This issue is loaded with awesome content, and you can find my article on page 12. Long story short - the Ned Rig is super productive for both quantity and quality. The smallies absolutely destroy it in cold water. Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Short Letter to my Unborn Son

Dear Son,
I can't believe that you will be here in just 8 weeks, assuming that you don't get antsy and make a run for it early like your mother and I both did. But please don't, because there are too many projects left to complete before then. Plus, I still need to get a haircut.

At a recent baby shower, the guests all filled out questionnaires of things they hope for you some day. As we read them, I noticed a definite trend. Many people hope that you have the same passion for fishing, hunting, and the outdoors as your mom and I. I can't lie - I hope you do too. Your mom is infamous for her giant buck, and I've gotten pretty good at fooling fish into eating fake food, which probably sounds pretty weird. Well, maybe not that weird, as you'll soon be putting many non-food items in your mouth as well, I'm sure.

But I want you to know that if you don't like those activities, then that is OK as well. Or maybe you just won't be as passionate about them as I am - also fine. You may prefer music or art or working on cars or golf or something I know nothing about (despite what your mom may say, I don't claim to know everything). I/we will support you no matter what you do, as long as you give it 100% of your effort. I won't hesitate to give up time on the water or in the woods to drive you to practice or a show or whatever it may be. Honestly, seeing you succeed will mean more to me than anything I have achieved myself. People are unique, and that uniqueness should be embraced and promoted. Do what you love, and you will be as happy as I am (as I sit and write this with a smile).

Of course, if you end up liking the aforementioned outdoor activities, then this letter is somewhat moot. In that case, I've already got me eye on a few beginner rod and reel combos. These New England fish aren't going to be too happy about that.

All my love,

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pflueger Patriarch XT Review

Wow, that was a serious blogging lull. My last post was on February 2nd. Coincidentally, I started a new job on February 8th. Between it, baby prep, and numerous other winter projects, my free time has been lacking. However, I'm hoping to turn a corner and get back to regular blog posts. This blog actually isn't mine at all, it is a review from friend and Kayak Angler Magazine digital content manager Ben Duchesney. He had a chance to recently review the Pflueger Patriarch XT. In my opinion, Pflueger spinning reels don't get enough love from the fishing industry. However, rarely I have encountered folks who try and Pflueger and go back to another brand. All of my trout reels are Pfluegers and I love them. They are workhorses, but still smooth as silk. Anyway, here is a snippet of what Ben had to say about the Patriarch XT. The rest of his review can be found on the Kayak Angler Magazine website.

"Lightweight, riddled with high end carbon fiber, titanium and magnesium components and pretty enough to be on a poster up on your wall. I'm talking about some supercar, this is the Pflueger Patriarch XT, $249.95. Everwhere I turned anglers (and Pflueger) were saying this reel is one of the lightest spinning reels around. I wouldn't want to show you guys a reel just because of its light weight though. The Pflueger Patriarch XT is also designed to be smooth. Though when I say smooth, I really mean smooooooth, (in a Rico Suave voice)."

Now, if winter would just give up so that I can go fishing! Tight lines!

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 ( or Tight lines!