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!