Monday, July 30, 2012

Step by Step Fly Tying Tutorial: Home Invader

As we approach the middle of summer here in Pennsylvania, my tying (and I'd assume quite a few fellow Pennsylvanians' tying as well) starts to shift, gradually at first, but more rapidly as Labor Day approaches, from dry flies and bass bugs to egg patterns, nymphs, and streamers in anticipation of steelhead fishing in the fall.  This transition is a chance to look back on the winter, spring, and early summer fishing season and recall any particularly killing patterns to keep in mind when replenishing fly boxes during long winter evenings.  Sometimes it's a classic pattern that I've just started to really use that year, other times its a niche pattern that fills it's specific need perfectly, and other times it's some homemade creation.  Any which way, it's a pattern or two that made a name for themselves over the season, that you want to have backups of when next spring rolls around.

For me, spring 2012 was mostly a missed opportunity of a season.  With a long 8 hour class every Saturday, from January until May, my weekend fishing was effectively non-existent for the entire spring season.  Even when I got out during the week, it was limited to just an hour or two after work, before it got dark.  That said, 2012, more than most seasons, has seen a higher proportion of warmwater fishing than trout, simply because when I finally got to hit the water, not only did I have a new 8wt to try out, but also, warmwater fishing was just getting into prime time.

So my fishing saw much more tossing streamers to bass and pike than drifting dries and emergers to cagey trout.  Because of this, I tied far more #4 and up streamers than any other type of fly this year.  While several produced fish, the clear standout has been Doug McKnight's Home Invader.  Striking a perfect balance between impressionism and realism, the Home Invader is liable to take any species that eats fish.  Of course, like any good fly tyer, I've made a few minor tweaks from the official patter that, in my opinion, make it even more effective in my fishing.  So, without further ado: the Home Invader...

1. Start off with a long shank streamer hook in your chosen size.  While I suppose you could tie it in any size, this is one of those flies where the nature of the materials will dictate proper proportions for the overall finished product.  That being said, for the materials I've chosen, I'd recommend a large hook, somewhere from #4 up to #2/0.  Also bear in mind that this is a patter that will ride point-up.  With these two key characteristics in the pattern, I've chosen a #2 60-degree streamer hook, designed to ride point-up anyway, with the addition of weight, this hook will ensure that the fly rides properly every time.

2. Tie in a zonker strip tail, upside-down compared to the usual.  This is the biggest change I've made from the original pattern.  The original calls for marabou, but to me, marabou is meant for drifted patterns, or swung streamers in slow currents, where the feather fibers can breathe, while the rest of the pattern is more suited to faster flows.  Substituting rabbit fur in the form of a zonker strip adds some body without compromising on motion in the water.  When dealing with warmwater fish, the hide strip may even add a bit of durability.  In this fly, I used a 'magnum' zonker strip, for even more body.

3. Next add some flash.  The specific type and amount isn't strictly limited, just keep in mind your general idea for the rest of the fly and adjust accordingly (If you're tying something big and bright for maximum visibility, load up on flash!  If you're going for natural looking realism, laybe limit to just a few strands, if any.)  In this tie, I used some UV polar chenille in silver flash color.  I find the amount I used to be enough flash to set off a pattern without being so gaudy that it turns off fish in clear, calm conditions.

4. If you do decide to use the polar chenille, definitely layer it.  The fibers are long enough to handle it, and without it, the flash will be subtle/skimpy indeed. Cover the back half of the shank in 2 layers of flash.  If it looks like too much now, understand that this fly is all about layers, and there will be plenty of material to shroud this, making a layered, translucent effect.

5.  Once you're finished wrapping that flash, clip a small bunch of your fur of choice (silver fox shown, though any light, compressible, flowing fur will work...keep fiber length in mind based on hook size), strip out guard hairs, and clip the butt ends evenly to size.  Then tie the clump in, on top of the hook, facing forward, extending over the hook eye.  Once you have it tied in, sweep the hair back over the flash, spreading it around evenly over the top half of the pattern.  After this, continue to tie in clumps of hair, but instead of keeping them on the top, distribute the hair around the shank, tie it in, then sweep it back uniformly around the entire body.

6. Once you tie in 3-5 clumps, you should have a body that looks kind of like this, with the front of the series of bunches up near the eye.  You can put a few thread wraps over the front of the tie in point to sweep the hair back a bit too.

7. Invert the hook, either by inverting the vise or removing the hook and putting it back in the vise upside down.  Add in a few hackles along each side of the top of the body, sort of like a tent or roof over the body, but with some space between the top edges.  I've used two hackles on each side to make them more defined, though one feather per side would give a more translucent effect.  Consider both solid hackle colors and patterned feathers like grizzly and badger.  This is also a great time to use some interestingly colored dyed feathers.

8.  Add a pair of hourglass eyes near the hook eye, making sure to super-glue them into place.

9. Using a dubbing loop, dub the head of the fly around the eyes, then whip finish and trim!

Home Invader

Hook: Size 4 or larger streamer hook (#2 Eagle Claw 413-2 pictured)
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: White Magnum Zonker Strip (original pattern calls for marabou)
Flash: UV Polar Chenille (silver pictured, original pattern does not include flash)
Body: Silver fox fur, tied in reversed
Wings: Neck hackle
Eyes: Weighted hourglass eyes
Head: Dubbing loop (Senyo's laser dub, gray, pictured, not part of original pattern)

Fish this pattern like any other streamer, varying depth, speed, and pace to entice fish.  Also dry dead drifting this pattern with an occasional twitch.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Introducing: Dharma of the Draft - Crash Course in Tasting Beer, and a Sample Review of Sneaky Pete Imperial IPA

Just as I promised months ago, I'm about to start expanding the scope of this blog from fly fishing, fly tying, and include another field of interest: beer.

No, I'm not talking about pounding down Coors Light all day, or beer-bonging Natty like a frat boy.  I'm talking about taking an intelligent, thoughtful, adventurous approach to trying new and different beers, and sharing the experience with other beer lovers/beer snobs/beer nerds.  Recently, it seems there's a connection between craft beer and fly fishing emerging.  Maybe it's the younger crowd, maybe it's the independent spirit, maybe its a sort of counter-culture vibe, but there's no denying the overlap of beer snobs and fly fishers.

Before I just dive right into a beer review, though, I thought it might be nice to explain where I'm coming from, why I do this, why you might care, and how to rate/review a beer yourself.  Whether you've always been interested in craft beer, but suck at putting words to a taste beyond "good" and "bad", or maybe you just don't want to look like the odd man out the next time you go with the guys to a 'beer bar', either way, I hope to teach a little something with these reviews; maybe not with each and every one, but often enough to keep it fresh.


Before we progress ANY further, I want to nip in the bud any would-be pedants or ne'er-do-wells that might say something like, "Well who died and made YOU beer god?!"  I'm by no means a beer expert, and I do not wish to pass myself off as such.  Rather, I'm simply someone who enjoys the experience and complexity that the world of craft beer offers, and I like to communicate and share among others that share this interest.  

On that note, just about 100% of the content of my beer reviews, beyond the statistics of the beer (name, brewer, serving type, style, ABV, IBU, etc.) is all subjective opinion.  I have very little formal training in beer tasting (though I DO have a small amount), and I am not a certified Beer Judge.  I'm an enthusiast with SOME knowledge of the styles, history, chemistry, processes, and flavor profiling of beer.

So take my reviews at face value.  To be blunt, it's something I do for me, not anyone else, so if you don't like them, don't read them (they'll be clearly labelled when I post them).  That being said, if you are a beer nerd and you don't like them for ANY reason, by all means, let me know why in the comments!

My Background

As I said, I'm not a certified beer judge, nor am I a full time professional beer taster.  I don't feel that any of that expert-level qualifications should be necessary to share one's thoughts on ANY subject, and beer is no exception.  To that end, I encourage ALL of my readers to chime in whenever they like.

With this being said, it is worth mentioning that, as a part of my full-time job at a brewery, I am a member of our taste panel for quality control, so yes, I do get paid to drink beer at work, and I have had training.  I'm far from certified, but I can taste the difference between isohumulones and dimethyl sulfide, and I know what causes each one, and whether they belong in the flavor profile of whatever style I'm drinking.  While I'm no pro, that should count for something, right?

You may think that without that kind of knowledge, your untrained palate is useless, but you're wrong.  If you want to describe flavors, the single biggest roadblock is your own brain, overthinking the experience.  When I can't pinpoint a specific flavor, I compare it to flavors I do know in my description.  I even do this at work in formal panels, and I've described such odd descriptions as "lemonheads candy", "wet, dirty gym socks", and "old wood shed by the ocean" to describe flavors I've encountered in beers.  Communication is the key, and if a stupid description gets your point understood by others, then it's not stupid.

If you need help, the two biggest aids you can pick up and use from day one are the beer flavor wheel and the BJCP Style Guidelines, linked here.

Finally, you must understand that tasting is, by its very nature, a subjective experience.  Two people can taste a beer from the same pour, in the same glass, and have very different descriptions and flavors.  It happens.  Just be honest with yourself, and you'll be surprised what you might learn from it.


If the only thing you care about with any beer is a simple Love It/Hate It decision, then tasting as an activity isn't necessary.  You don't need a flavor description to know if you like something, you know this from the moment it hits your tongue.  What we're after is something a bit deeper: an accurate description of the experience of drinking the beer.

To get more specific than a completely subjective thumb up or down, you must have some sort of baseline to measure up against.  This is where your beer styles and flavor profiles come into play.  In the BJCP Style Guidelines I linked above, you'll find descriptions of nearly every style of beer in the world.  This is your roadmap to what makes a good beer good, beyond whether or not you like it.  This alone is a key distinction that many miss: knowing whether you don't like That Beer because it has a localized problem, because you just don't like That Beer's style, or because That Beer is just a poor example of it's style.

The first issue, a localized problem, is identified as a beer fault.  An off-flavor such as skunkiness is a great example.  Most people are familiar with this one and intuitively understand that just because one beer is skunked doesn't mean the entire brand tastes like that.  Unfortunately, they often fail to apply this experience on a wider scale.

The second issue, that of the taster not liking the style, obviously requires some pre-existing knowledge of that style.  A guy who's only ever drank American Light Lagers cannot tell if he despises Stone IPA because he specifically doesn't like Stone IPA or because he doesn't like IPAs in general.  He just doesn't have the background.  Doesn't make him stupid or any less of a taster, he just lacks knowledge, but the great part about that is that you can always gain knowledge (and in this field, it's lots of fun!).

The final issue, of a beer being a poor representative of its style, is a genuine, legitimate, objective issue, when agreed upon by a majority of tasters.  This is the level you want to get to.  When you can taste a beer you don't like, and you can say with a degree of certainty, "This is bad for a Witbier.", or "I don't like this...but then again, it's a Doppelbock, and I generally don't prefer them anyway.", instead of, "Ew, this sucks!"


First and foremost, you must write.  You also must write as it happens.  You need to physically have your pen and paper there, with you, and be writing as you consume the first few sips of beer.  This is because of a few key points.  First, your taste buds will become accustomed to the flavors in the beer within the first 1/4 of the bottle, dulling your perception of its subtleties.  Second, there's no way you can be as accurate in recall of subtle tastes the next day, writing from memory.  Third, smell and taste are closely related.  Much as your taste buds are dulled to taste, smelling a beer for long will numb your sensitivity to those smells  So please, write it as you taste.

For beer evaluation, I follow the ASTMA procedure.  That is: Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, Aftertaste.  These are all fiarly self-explanatory except for, possibly, mouthfeel, which is simply an account of the non-taste sensations in the mouth.  Any harshness or smoothness is to be noted here, as well as a warming sensation from a high alcohol content, excessive carbonation or flatness, and other 'texture' descriptions.  Record your ASTMA descriptions in order.  Appearance first, and the rest as they follow.  This is to avoid cross-sensory impact as much as possible.  For example, a thick, sweet, heavy ale might appear darker than it really is, once you've tasted it.  More likely, a sour beer may not smell sour until after you've tasted it.

Within each heading, be sure to touch on a few key points.  For example, for appearance, be sure to comment on color and haze (or lack thereof) on every beer.  You may comment on the head and lacing if you wish, as well, though this has as much to do with the glassware, and the washing methods as it does the beer.

On that note, it is worth noting the details surrounding the tasting, right in your review.  Though I don't always do this, many include information such as the beer name (duh), the brewer, the date, the bottled-on date, the ABV, IBUs, serving sytle, glassware, location of purchase or consumption, even what they'd eaten or drank prior, if it might affect perception.

Finally, keep in mind the personal bias I've touched upon a few times here already.  If you don't like oatmeal stouts and that's what you're reviewing, you're going to perceive more negatives than if you loved the style.  It's natural. While it's important to keep this in mind while tasting, you shouldn't try to falsely adjust your report to counter the bias.  Rather, you should simply note it for what it is and move on with your honest opinions.

Sample Beer Review

Now let me share an example of a typical review for a beer.  I've got a bottle chilling in the fridge at the moment, and I'll evaluate it and type my review as I go, explaining things as I see an opportunity.

Sneaky Pete Imperial IPA (Laughing Dog) Beer Name (Brewer)
Serving type: Bottle, poured into water glass.  (It's what I had on hand.  In a bar, you may have pint, tulip, or pilsner glass.)

Appearance: Dark amber/Light brown, translucent, with heavy haze to the point of opacity.  Thin, off-white head.

Smell: Sweet citrus, toasted carmel malt.  Tip: your sense of smell will de-sensetize faster than your taste buds.  Learn as much as you can from the first two sniffs.  If you need another crack at it, smell something else for a while then go back.  Some smell the back of their hand, coffee beans, etc.

Taste: Front end is sweet, almost cloying, and very malty.  Caramel, cookie, and dark fruit, with a dry, crisping hop in the background.  Eventually, the strong hop profile dominates, with powerful citrus, and herbal bitterness mixing with, though never completely displacing the malt flavors and sweetness.

Admittedly, this is a big, bold, complex beer, and maybe a bad first example.  Still, it shows just how complex one beer can be, and this isn't even a terrible good example of complexity.  Try a Belgian Quad, or a smoked Rauchbier for a flavor conflict!  We'll do a simple one soon, I promise.

Mouthfeel: Aggressive carbonation carries the malt flavors and sweetness over the other flavors, but as the carbonation dissipates, both the intense hop profile and alcohol warmth and slickness from a high 10% ABV make their presence known.  Still, with all these big flavors, the alcohol serves as a flavor blender as well, mixing the sweet and the bitter, without any sort of layering beyond what the carbonation offers.  A heavy beer that doesn't mask it's ABV well, if at all, though as an Imperial, that may not be an objective.  Very slightly astringent, but also very slightly cloying with the aftertaste.

This is an aspect you'll develop a knack for describing as you do it.  Many first time reviewers tend to label a big alcohol presence as 'harsh', and sometimes that's exactly what it is, but more often, it's the warmth and slickness of mouthfeel that they're experiencing.

Aftertaste: Lingering sweetness and a slight hop bitter, with the slight astringency and cloying sensation.

Overall: In the interests of full disclosure I've tried (and reviewed) this beer before.  I decided to revisit it for two reasons, first to provide a good test subject for this post, and secondly, to see how an extra month of aging affected the taste.  As I guessed, it's sweeter, with a diminished hop profile, but I never imagined just how much sweeter.  At this point, it almost doesn't fit the bill of an imperial ipa.

The sweetness is nearly overpowering and it affects all aspects of the beer, making it a bit of a chore to finish 12 oz.   That being said, the flavors are still bright and identifiable, it's just a different animal than it was before Memorial Day.


The Overall par tis just my catch-all for my thoughts and any peculiarities that may not hav ebeen noted/stressed in the ASTMA headings.  Finally, I give it a wholly subjective rating on a scale of 1 to 10.

And that's your review!

Look for more beer reviews in the future here, and feel free to refer back to this post if you like.

Questions, reactions, comments, denouncing chastisement?  Leave it in the comments here!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Six Species of Fly Angler

Full disclosure, this post is a spin-off (and a poor one at that) of a recent post over on Troutrageous. In this post, the author has read out a laundry list of gripes with fly fishing culture, which has led to some lively discussion in the comments section below the post.  Like a fly fishing Martin Luther, Mike has nailed his complaints to the door of fly fishing's gilded halls, and the feedback has, unsurprisingly, been lively and varied.

Going off on a tangent, I'm doing something that I'm sure has been done before, but if you've ever fished an established pattern, I don't want to hear you complain. ;)

That being said, I've boiled down the core essence of most every fly angler I've ever met, and come up with six distinct archetypes, that nearly every fly angler I've ever met will fall into one or more of them.  Many of them are one type to a tee, but more often, they're a mix of two, sometimes with a a bit of a third type thrown in.  Sometimes it may seem contradictory, but we fluff-chuckers are a contrary bunch.

So without further ado...

1. The Purist

Identification: While the presence of tweed is a dead giveaway, the purist can often be far more subtle.  While no other single feature is necessarily exclusive to the purist, look for Hardy reels, Wheatley boxes, bamboo, and brown leather.  May reek of ego.

Habits: Upstream and dry!  Poo-poohing lesser tactics and anglers.

Care & Feeding: Feed that ego.  Feign ignorance so the Purist can 'enlighten' you.  For special occasions, surprise them with some single malt or pipe tobacco.

If encountered in the wild: Purists have a large blind spot downstream.  Stay downriver, and you're safe.  

Compatible With:  The Purist generally tends to be a loner, though at times finds common ground with the Professor.

Not Compatible With: People in general, though the Extreme Angler is particularly loathsome.

Role in group: If you have a purist in your fishing group, it's likely you hang out with him for other reasons.  Maybe he brings the good booze/cigars/etc on your trips, maybe he's the only one that ties flies...but the Purist's attitude is certianly not his main selling point.

2. The Professor

Identification: The Professor can be tricky to pick out by sight, though a seine, bug net, and other 'analytic' gear may be a sign.  Starting a conversation will confirm, in which you'll hear plenty of latin, as well as terms like modulus, imago, biomass, displacement, and meniscus.

Habits: Fly fishing is a pursuit that rewards careful observation, so naturally, any good angler has a bit of professor in them.  What defines a real Professor is that this observation causes the actual fishing to take a backseat to more observation.  Often, he'll miss the woods for the trees, so to speak, worrying about why the baetis hatch "that you should be able to set your watch by" isn't happening, even as the rest of the group has long since switched to streamers and catching fish.

Care & Feeding: The Professor is fairly low maintenance.  Just be sure that he has access to plenty of bugs and water.  Also, don't mess with his stuff.

If encountered in the wild: Professors are fairly approachable, and so long as you don't doubt or disagree with their theories, you should be fine.

Compatible with: The Professor can get along with anyone that gives them space, though they often coexist best with a Gear Whore.  Often makes a good buffer between a surly Purist and the rest of a group.

Not Compatible With: The Bum, who stymies the careful deliberate nature of the Professor and yet still manages to outfish him usually.

Role in group: The Professor is a valuable addition to any group, familiar with hatches, hot flies, flow rates, appropriate gear, and special tactics of any locale, long before the group would have thought to learn these things.  That being said, as 'the nerd' of any group, they often get more than their fair share of jokes and pranks.  Groups should strive to avoid having more than one professor in their group, however, as that situation can rapidly go south.

3. Extreme Angler

Identification: Spey rod, 6" streamers with 3 hooks and ridiculous names, usually well-bearded, Drake magazine on hand.  Usually has a video camera nearby.

Habits: Exactly like regular fly fishing, except overwrought and brightly colored.  

Care & Feeding: Does not require food.  Keep well supplied with PBR, stinger hooks, SD cards, and heavy metal.

If encountered in the wild: Keep your distance.  Extreme anglers may not be openly hostile, but nonetheless can pose a hazard both to your body (with an errant cast) or your mind.

Compatible With: The Gear Whore, who is drawn in by the sight of new toys, as well as the Weekend Warrior, who doesn't know any better, and the Bum, who wants a beer.

Not Compatible With: The Purist, who lies at the opposite end of the gear, tactics, and philosophy spectrums.

Role in group: The Extreme Angler is the energy and comic relief of any group.  After a long night at the local watering hole, the Extreme Angler is either the enthusiastic impetus, up with the Professor, waking you up by dumping you out of your bed, explaining that he "doesn't get hangovers"....or, he's the one that is suffering so severely from the mother of all hangovers that he is limited to bestial grunting as his only communication for the day, and thus comic relief.

4. Gear Whore

Identification: Looks like a walking fly shop.  Nippers, hemos, zingers, spring-loaded, hydraulic assist net, reel approved for use in the zero-gee vacuum of space...all of this and more.  Away from the water, he is still usually wearing three or more pieces of brand name gear from a fly shop.

Habits: Accumulates gear like your truck floor accumulates empty coffee cups.  Usually one of two subtypes: the capitalist, who sells gear as they buy it, and thus 90% of his gear he's had less than 2 years, or the hoarder, who never sells, and has a higher number of fly rods than his age.

Care & Feeding: Asking about that rod he's fishing.  Then turn on your iPod.

If encountered in the wild: Avoid talking about gear at all costs, or defeat with overwhelming simplicity.  Fish a $40 Sci Angler starter kit with the flies that came with it.

Compatible With: The Extreme Angler, as well as the Professor.

Not Compatible With: The Purist, who insists (rightly) that 90% of that stuff is useless.

Role in group: Quartermaster.  Especially if he will sell his stuff cheap.  He's the guy that lets you try the handful of gear you may consider buying yourself, before you buy it.  And if you're patient, in a few months, you can buy it from him for half price.

5. Bum

Identification: Usually wet-wading, the Bum isn't limited to trout by any means, and unlike the stereotypical "Trout Bum", rather than heaping poetic significance on his venture, he just fishes "cause it's fun".  Check for horribly dirty vehicle, flies in ziplock bags, and warm beer.

Habits: The Bum can be found "slummin' it" wherever fish can be found.  Likewise, he can usually scrounge up everything he needs to fish within a moment's notice.  Woefully underprepared in all aspects except fishing, the Bum doesn't seem to be bothered by 10 hours of fishing without a break to eat, getting caught in a downpour with no rain jacket, or running out of 4X and being forced to use 15 pound test to toss dries to brookies.

Care & Feeding: None.  No really.  The Bum is kind of like a stray or feral pet.

If encountered in the wild: If they don't reek, approach slowly, and wave.  Bums are typically friendly, but may try to guilt you out of your granola bar.

Compatible With: As one of the few species that values simplicity and isn't bothered by solitude, the Bum can often get along with the Purist (who in return despises the Bum's heathen ways).  Likewise, the Weekend Warrior often is drawn to the Bum's simplicity.

Not Compatible With: The Professor, who obsesses over the details that the Bum doesn't even realize exist (and if he did know, he'd ignore them).

Role in a group: The Bum is usually the anchor of a group, keeping folks sane in bad times, and grounded in the good times.  Plan a trip to the coast only to have a storm blow in that week?  The Bum did some pre-trip scouting and knows a great little dive bar just down the street, with a pond out back.  Hit it just right for that trip out west and now you're getting spoiled catching cookie cutter 22" trout?  The Bum points out that any one of these fish would be a top 3 fish of the year back home...but bait for the fish you should have been catching on the coast the year before, if not for that storm...

6. Weekend Warrior

Identification: Starter kit rod, pre-assortment of flies from Wal-mart, brand new vest with fold lines visible, white felt.

Habits: The Weekend Warrior defines himself by the questions he asks (So...what are we fishing for again?) and his eternal optimism ("You said the spinners come off late, right?  Well maybe they're just waiting for sunrise..."), he doesn't have a clue, but he's happy to be out in the woods, out with the guys...just out.

Care & Feeding: The Weekend Warrior does require some babysitting, mostly because of ignorance.  Get him set up and fishing before you start.  Have flies and spare leaders ready for him, lest you become his 24 hour tech support every time he breaks off.

If encountered in the wild: If he's with a group, keep your distance and pass by.  If alone, call animal control and get him back to his family, the poor boy is clearly lost.

Compatible With: The Weekend Warrior's upbeat cheery personality will serve him well with everyone save the Purist (who will avoid him like the plague) first.  After some time, the questions and inanity will start to grate on more and more people.  Generally ends up with the laid back Bum.

Not Compatible With: The Purist, and occasionally the Professor.

Role in a Group: Here's the guy that dodged the kids and wife for the first time since the Clinton administration to get out and wet a line with his buddy or buddies.  He picked up his gear at Wal-Mart last week, and still has the plastic on his cork to prove it.he provides a bit of smug comic relief as well as a morale boost in tough times.  He's more of a liability on the water, but becomes a positive presence back at camp, the bar, or the room.
EDIT: After a bit of interaction with another blogger, I've removed a link to his blog from this post. While I don't have any ill will toward the individual, they use their blog/blogs as a platform for rhetoric which I find counter-productive to open communication, as well as manipulating content contributed by commenters in a way that I feel is disingenuous. As such, I wish to avoid any association with or implicit approval of such a publication. As my readers have seen in previous posts here, I am happy to publish and respond maturely to all non-spam comments, and I expect the same from any site I recommend. Thanks for reading, understanding, and commenting!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First Pike on the Fly!

A few weeks ago, I took a rainy weekend and targeted pike in some water I've never fished, but had heard held good numbers of the toothy critter.  It was slow going, and the rain was coming down faster, but just before I decided to turn back, I was rewarded by my first pike on a fly, as well as the first fish on my new Redington Predator

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Spring Cleaning

It's been a while since I've posted, but there's good (well...truthful at least) reason for that.  Over the past several weeks, I haven't gone fishing more than 2-3 times, and have exactly no fish to show for it.  Further, I've done no tying at all, and what little photography work I've done to this point has been just that: work.  The D80 got it's first real workout of the year at work, taking a few shots of various pieces of equipment for reference purposes.  Not exactly thrilling news.

That being said, changes are in the works for Dharma of the Drift. 

Dharma of the Draft? 

With recent added responsibilities at work, I've found myself becoming more and more interested in beer.  Not just the drinking of it, but the history, taste, brewing, and chemical aspects as well.  While I'm no chemist, brewer, or historian, I am now a beer-taster by occupation, at least partially, so as difficult as it's been to commit to tasting beer on a regular basis, I'm taking my tasting more seriously.

To that end, after posting some fun facts, reviews, impressions, and opinions elsewhere on the interwebs, I realized that my readers probably do their fair share to keep people like me, in the beer business, in business.  While I'm sure not everyone who checks out DotD is a beer drinker, I bet many are, and I bet there's a high-percentage of craft beer enthusiasts.

To this end, I've decided to include beer, alongside fishing, tying, and photograpy, as a focus of the blog.  Of course, some may argue against diluting the purity of focus...but ultimately, it isn't their blog.  Over the past few months, beer has become another sort of hobby-taken-seriously for me.  Instead of browsing the coolers for a funny name or snazzy packaging, I'm looking at styles, favorite brewers, hard-to-find beers, or beers that showcase particular ingredients.  I'm far from an expert, but I hope my readers will enjoy the shared thoughts.  Further, sharing my impressions will make for much more regular updates, which is a good thing for all of us.


I'm sure many of you remember the original gray and orange theme that was in place when the blog here launched.  Wasn't much, but it was functional.  Then I made an overhaul to the current look.  Over the next several months, I'm looking to re-do the look of the site, preferable to a simpler (though not strictly minimalist) look.  I read several dozen blogs, and I most look forward to visiting the simplest layouts among them.  

While I want to maintain functionality, there's lots of baby fat in the current design, and I'd like to trim it somewhat.  Though it's far from finalized, I'm thinking 3 or fewer colors, in maybe 2 tones each.  Nothing busy or flashy.  I'm even considering dropping the carousel window (one of my favorite features in the early days of DotD).  

Long story short, I guess you'll know it when you see it.


Just added this little beauty to the stable.  

Though she needs a bit of TLC, expect to see some pics from this one (as well as a more detailed intro post) soon!

Reel Good News

The reel I wanted to pair with my new 8wt finally arrived at the doorsteps of a shop I've been emailing for a month.  Placed the order a day or two ago, so hopefully, I'll have it in my hands within 2 weeks!

That's all for now...after two weeks of stupid-warm March weather, an incredible St. Patrick's day in Pittsburgh, and a really nice birthday, it's time to get to some fishing!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Redington Predator 7'10" 8wt Review

For those of you in contact with me outside Dharma of the Drift, whether personally or on any of a number of forums, you probably know that I’ve been looking to put together a setup specifically for fishing big streamers for big fish, especially from my kayak.

What started out as ‘keeping an eye out for a good price on a 6wt’ turned into a real learning experience.  

Some may know that over the past few weeks, I decided on a rod. While I’ve been busy with long work hours and the onset of the spring semester (complete with a 6 hour class that is held at 8am on’s every bit as awful as it sounds), I’ve not had a chance to fish the rod, but I figured that if any of my readers are in the market, it might be helpful to them if I shared my first impressions.  

It was a long deciding process, but eventually, I decided on a streamer rod...

Redington Predator, 7'10" 8wt, 4pc

Decision Making Process

As everyone here knows, I do a fair amount of comparing, reading of reviews, obsessing, considering, and generally fussing over any major choice, and this rod was no exception.  In the end, for off-the-rack rods, it was narrowed down to the TFO TiCr X, Sage Smallmouth, Ross FlyStik, or the Predator.  

Each choice had pros and cons: reviews of the Sage were all over the place...not just with regard to personal satisfaction, but even down to things like the overall action (with the same line), casting in the wind, casting topwater, casting streamers, and distance/accuracy.  With that much variance, I was a bit leery, also, most reviews either completely loved or completely hated the rod...that makes it one I'd like to borrow from a friend or shop for a day or two on the water before committing to a purchase.  

The Ross seemed to get generally positive reviews, but not many reviews compared to the others, and at that, I seemed to get the impression that most of the reviews I read were by people not as steeped in fly fishing as me.  That isn’t to say I consider myself some kind of pro, or that I’ve been fishing for decades...just that a lot of what I read seemed to be coming from a guy who, while happy with his Fly Stik, would have been equally pleased with any mid-level 6-8wt on the market.  Yes, it was a good rod that did everything they asked of it, but few seemed to have perspective compared to it’s direct competitors in the ‘short, fast, heavy’ niche.

That left the short (now discontinued) 7’6” 6wt and 8wt in the TFO TiCr X line and the Predator, which comes in the same weights at 7’10”.  For both of these rods, what little in the way of info and reviews I could find was overwhelmingly positive.  In fact, most of the negative feedback on both rods came in the form of questioning the usefulness of such a rod by people who never actually used one.

From what I could gather, both rods filled the same niche and filled it pretty equally well, with the TFO being, perhaps, a bit faster and more powerful, the Redington a bit smoother and better finished.  Really, these things effectively cancelled one another out, so it simply came down to price, availability, and personal preference.  For the preference end of things, all else equal, I prefer to steer clear of TFO, due to spokesman Lefty Kreh’s stance on the privatization of public water.  Not that I’m boycotting TFO or despise Lefty by any means, just that I disagree with him on an issue that is very important to me, and as a result, given otherwise equal options, I’d rather not support his position through my dollars.  

Of course, finding the Redington at a deep discount made the decision fairly easy as well.


Upon receiving the rod, I found it to be about as high-quality as I expected for a rod at its MSRP, and significantly nicer than any rod retailing for what I paid for it (with discount), making me, thus far, pleased with my purchase (though it hasn’t hooked any fish yet).  I’d expect a $700 Winston to have higher standards of quality, but I really couldn’t imagine any rod having $450 worth of higher standards than this rod.  

I think that’s an important bit of perspective that many reviews and reviewers either ignore completely, or fail to take into account for the factor it is; a review must include context, and the most useful context is to compare the subject to other rods in its price range.  For fly rods in the sub-$350 range, I think any comparison to rods within $50-75 of the subject’s MSRP is fair, perhaps expanding to $100-150 in $350+ rods.  That being said, my subjective review of this rod is in comparison to similarly MSRPed rods in the $175 to $325 range.

Fit and finish were great.  Wrappings had a few noticeable flaws, but nothing too hideous...things like a ⅛” thread tag sticking out or other cosmetic imperfections ...if they were present in a custom rod, I’d be displeased, but for a mass-produced, off-the-rack rod it’s well within the limits of acceptability.  Epoxy is smooth and even, guides are straight, grip and reel seat are neat and straight, and the cork, while not top quality, is very nice for the price point and well-filled and smoothed in the minor pits and gaps it does have.

The Predator features both alignment dots (a nice feature) as well as a line weight & rod length designation at each ferrule which, while not strictly necessary, is also a nice touch.  I suppose if you had several of the same product line in different configurations...that you regularly had disassembled in the same area...this might be necessary...but even if you’ll never need a feature like that, it’s a nice addition that doesn’t detract from the look of the rod in the slightest, so it’s a cool little added bonus.

After assembling the rod and giving it the test waggle, the only thing I can really say about it (without having fished the setup extensively) is that I’m surprised at how light it feels.  Though the short length has a lot to do with that, I was still prepared for an 8wt to an 8wt.  As it is, I think my 5wt St. Croix weighs more, or at least feels heavier, than this rod, which is great for a rod I plan to use a lot once things warm up a bit around here.  Really, though, this trait is in keeping with the only other Redington I’ve fished, which is a 9’ 5wt that a buddy of mine got as a starter outfit.  


While I’ve only spent about ten minutes on the water with this rod, it was a very positive experience that has me eager for warmer weather and feisty bass, pike, and carp.  With a 300gr. 26’ sink tip spooled, the rod was shooting as much line as I could give it (cold weather and line memory was resulting in some tangles).  For it’s purpose, a light, fast, rod capable of tossing large flies in rough conditions, I think it’s going to be ideal.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cross One New Years Resolution Off the List!

Each year, I have a recurring New Years Resolution to take a new species of fish on a fly rod.  Last year it happened to be a chain pickerel, taken late (October) purely by accident.  The year before that, it was an 18-20" flounder, my first ever salt water fish (despite many vacation evenings spend in the surf with squid and blood worms...and two separate charters...all with spin gear).  That fish was the result of a great deal of pre-trip research, tying, map-reading, and deliberate decision making as an angler.

This year, I've already got my new species...similar to last year, it was more dumb luck than anything else, but it was last year's research and exploration that allowed me to put myself in a position for dumb luck to take effect.

Yesterday afternoon I bought my 2012 license (probably the latest I've waited to get it in the past 5 years) and hit a tailwater that I'd explored for the first time last year at the peak of summer heat.  It's not the classic image of tailwater...last summer it was barely 20 feet wide at its head, easily wadeable at any point, with the only real holding water being the first 100 yards from the outflow.  Still, it was a source of cold water in late July, and in January, ironically, these sorts of places are among those that resist freezing (as any good angler with access to these flows should know).  Even though we've been blessed so far here in PA with a winter that has thus far declined to bare its teeth, I was interested to see how this small area might fish later in the winter, assuming that it will eventually assert itself and lock up more popular water.

As I made my way to the water, I noted that it was definitely higher than when I'd last visited in the summer...and moving.  While it was certainly still well within the realm of 'fishable', One would be wise to give careful thought to if and where they would cross this flow.  Indeed, I made the decision not to attempt a crossing at all after giving the current a quick evaluation.  This left me limited, obviously, to the side from which I'd approached, and while I had originally intended to fish the stream down, using streamers to probe likely water, I decided to check out the area right up at the outflow first.  As it turned out, I never left that area.

As I approached the outflow, I noted that the area between the main and secondary outflows (aligned along the main outflow about 50 feet down, as opposed to parallel), which had been little more than a near-stagnant pool of shin-deep bath water in July was now a deep blue green, churning with the confusion of several different currents, pulling water in every direction.  This would be a tricky flow to fish properly...especially with my guess that any fish present would be holding near the bottom.  Undeterred, I peeled some line off, and sent my the end of a short, heavy, fast-sinking streamer leader...into the churning water.

For a few minutes, I went without a bite, trying various tactics to get my fly down and still allow for a slow retrieve.  Eventually, I figured out the best way to get my streamer down in the various portions of the pool, usually with two or three mends immediately after the cast, that let my fly sink a good ten or fifteen seconds before I had to begin my retrieve, or surrender the fly to depth-robbing drag.  As soon as I figured this out, I felt a weight on the line.  Not sure if it was a fish, a snag, or the effects of some strong undertow, I slowly tightened the line.  

I felt a sluggish head shake, then my line went slack.  I'd missed my first fish of the year.

This was repeated a few more times, and while I tried striking harder, each time, the fish was able to get off the hook.  I was starting to think that either the fish were short-striking...somewhat odd for trout to do so consistently...or that I'd found a group of small fish that were just not big enough for the 2 1/2" streamer I'd been throwing.  I changed to a smaller minnow pattern, tied on a longer hook, to try to account for both possibilities.

I was concerned that the smaller fly would have trouble sinking, but it turned out not to be a problem, as a few casts later, I again felt a little heaviness on the line.  I waited about two second, then raised my rod and strip set hard.

The resulting head shake dispelled any thoughts of puny fish, as the weight and pull that came from the hookset put a bend well past the middle of my 4wt.  Knowing that I was into a good fish, I quickly began reeling in slack to get the fish 'on the spool'.  Once I had this accomplished, the fish started to fight a bit more enthusiastically, still too deep in the pool to see what sort of fish I was into.  It was definitely the sleepy, slow fight of a winter fish, as opposed to the quick runs and thrashing of warmer months, but the fight was distinctly different from most trout I've caught, even in the winter.  After the first head shake, I didn't get any more, and rather than a frantic back and forth, the fish seemed to prefer hanging deep and pulling steadily, with the occasional three or four short but strong dives even deeper.  I had just about decided that I was into a winter smallmouth, when my leader broke the surface, as the fish rose.  Just before my tippet came out of the water the fish turned and dove again, leaving me with only a glimpse of a long greenish side, easily in the 18"+ range.  No matter what it was, it was a good fish, though the reflection seemed too long and lean for a smallmouth.

As it came to the surface again, clearly tiring, it turned again, and the bright orb of one of its eyes shined up at me and I knew what I had: my first walleye on the fly.

Now, a lot of things made more sense: the bumps at the line, the odd fight, the reflection.

As the fish came to hand, I was careful to avoid both the spiny fin, held high at attention, as well as the mouth, which I knew would be full of pretty wicked teeth for a PA fish...bested only by pike and musky in this state.

After the fish was very cooperative in coming to hand, allowing me to dislodge the fly and take a quick photo, he went back in the water.  Though it may be just my perception, it seems like time spent out of the water is more taxing on a fish in the winter than it is in warmer times, and fish take longer to revive themselves.  This held true for the walleye, as I had to hold it in a bit of still water for a good twenty or thirty seconds before it caught its second wind and swam away powerfully.

And just like that, my first fish of 2012 was a new species for me to take on a fly.

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