Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Snowshoe & Campfire Finale for Fly Fishing 2013

   Without the fish, we likely would not have come.  However, the fishing wasn’t the main attraction on this particular trip.  The guys wanted to snowshoe into the valley and winter camp along the sweet little brookie stream tucked away in the Driftless Region.  I’d hoped we could trek in at night and enjoy the star-specked darkness of a moonless sky.  We made it all happen by altering our plans by one day to avoid the predicted rapid drop in temperature accompanied by freezing drizzle, snow and blustery wind.

   We towed our belongings in on our backs and on a sled on a starry, moonless night with the snow brightening our way.  The sled was also used to carry the firewood we cut for that night’s and the next morning’s campfire.  At the top of the ridge overlooking the little brookie stream, I paused and let the guys shoe ahead.  For a few moments I enjoyed the view of the valley coupled with the sound of the spring-fed stream.
   Dan and Jeff have an intimate knowledge of this little Iowa stream.  It is their favorite.  However, on a blue-sky, upper 30*F Saturday, the fish were inactive and all 3 of us were skunked.  However, we’d enjoyed each other’s company during an ideal winter’s night and day.  We’d laughed, shared meals, and drifted to sleep to the sounds of coyotes howling in the distance.

   Snowshoeing out of the valley was a bear – much of it is uphill and generally a workout, even without backpacks and a sled to pull.  But we all shared & appreciated the work and it was a mighty fine way to spend the last weekend of 2013.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tying at Java Java Saturday, Dec 14, 2013

   Last-minute tying today at Java Java, 836 E. River Drive, Davenport, IA. We'll tie from around 830-noon.  I called Friday to ensure they'd be open on Saturday. Daron, the owner, reported they planned to be open.  Happily, the snow and wind have not been too bad.  Looking forward to a good day with friends, talking about fly fishing while drinking warm froo-froo coffee drinks!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

First Fly Tying Sunday at Bruegger's Bagels, Davenport, IA

    As long as the weather doesn't tank (& I hear it might), on this Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, we're planning an experimental fly tying session from 2:30 until closing time at 6 pm or until folks decide to leave.  Java Java is not open on Sunday and not open past noon on Saturday, so I was hoping to find another tying spot in addition to our favorite coffee shop.

   All are welcome to come to Bruegger's Bagel Bakery, located at 1503 Kimberly Rd., Davenport, IA.  It is located across Locust St from Schnuck's grocery store, at the intersection of Locust St and Kimberly Rd.  You don't have to tie flies to join us.  If you are simply curious or have questions about fly fishing, come on out!

   The store manager gave permission for us to tie flies but I don't know if she really knew what I meant by this!  Of course, we are expected to buy some form of food or drink while there, so bring your thirst &/or an appetite.  The soup is quite good.

   If snow is blowing and drifting moderately or heavily, we will likely cancel & by 1 pm, I would plan to update this post to indicate that. Of course, one must assume I will have an internet connection to do so!
(*12/8/13: It's snowing but not blowing. Unless this dramatically changes, I think there will be at least 5-8 of us at Bruegger's)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Iowa's First Casting for Recovery Retreat for Women Who Have Had Breast Cancer

   Iowa’s first “Casting for Recovery” retreat was held on October 11-13, 2013.  Women with breast cancer & survivors attended seminars, counseling sessions, an entomology class, fly casting & knot tying classes, were treated to good food, and finally, enjoyed a few hours of fly fishing with a “river buddy”.  The retreat was held in Decorah, a small, scenic town in Northeast Iowa, and the attendees fished the clear, spring-fed water of Trout Run.

   Women, who must be Iowa residents, signed up to attend the no-cost retreat and 14 were randomly chosen to participate.  Volunteers included social workers, other health care workers, fly fishing instructors and fly anglers.  On the final day, the ladies were paired up with a River Buddy to stream fish for trout.  Afterward, the ladies and the volunteers were treated to a luncheon.

   For the retreat, the women were provided with everything they needed to fish, including a fly rod, waders, vest, tippet materials and flies.  I’ve been told that at least a couple of the women have since purchased their own fly rods & plan to continue fly fishing.  Of course those who caught fish were thrilled to do so and others also said they enjoyed the peace of listening to and being on the water.

   For more information about Casting for Recovery in Iowa or in another state, including how to sign up, how to volunteer or where to send donations, see the link below.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

144 steps Lead to Fun at Bueter's Michigan Salmon Camp

   Salmon Camp, a fly fishing only camp, has been luring anglers to Michigan for years during 1 or 2 consecutive, long weekends from late September into early October.  Anglers fish the Pere Marquette River, & primarily target king (AKA Chinook, tyee, Pacific) salmon.  John and Rhonda Bueter are hosts of Salmon Camp and proprietors of Cloud 9 Resort, located in Baldwin, MI.  The actual camp, located at 3200 S. James Rd, is about 1 mile from the resort with most anglers electing to camp on the grounds and some renting cabins back at the resort. 
   This post was written to help the angler plan for and know what to expect at Salmon Camp.  It is a blast!  John’s mantra is, “This is too much fun to keep to ourselves!” To get a better idea of the social aspect of Bueter’s camp, please see my post from fall, 2012.         
The People
  Friendly folks from all walks of life attend Salmon Camp.  Generally anglers, & some spouses and older children attend.  Seasoned fly fishers and first-time anglers are welcome at camp.  4-footed friends must remain at home.

On Land
   The camp itself is home to the 24-hour campfire – the place of tales, toasts, and occasional late night/early morning antics. Mostly tents and a few campers dot the property.  In the large trailer where most food prep occurs, ladies have access to the bathroom with a shower.  Men have access to a shower house.  Running along an exterior wall of the shower house, there is a communal spot to hang waders.  There are port-a-potties on site. 
   Generally, 2 meals are provided:  a large, Friday evening supper and a big Saturday breakfast, both supplied by Rhonda and her crew.  Coffee and leftovers are the norm as well.  The option to purchase a large supper for Saturday is frequently offered.  Under the large, covered outdoor area, hosts welcome anglers, tales are told, meals are enjoyed, flies are tied and John provides lessons in knot tying and leader set-up.  John also coaches those new to salmon fishing and/or fly fishing on how to set the hook and fight a salmon.  He explains yearly why the bulk of Salmon Campers head to the Pere Marquette River at night instead of in the day to fish.
   Late afternoon or early evening, plans are made for the night’s fishing.  Carpools are the norm since parking is limited at the fishing accesses in the Huron-Manistee National Forest and those parking in a non-designated area risk a fine.  There is a use fee for parking.  One should always inquire about transportation, but John, his helpers, or those who return annually to Salmon Camp help ensure that “newbies” have a ride to the river & are prepared for the first trip to the water.

  People come and go throughout the days and nights at Salmon Camp.  All Bueter-led fishing trips are made at night, with folks usually leaving camp between 9 and 10 pm.  Most return to camp between 1 and 230 am.  Some venture out in smaller groups in the day or early evening, and a few leave late at night to return at dawn. The river is especially pretty in the fall & I recommend one visit to it in the daytime.
   There are at least 3 fishing stores, including Baldwin Bait and Tackle (BBT), all on highway M-37 in Baldwin, where fly fishing supplies & fishing licenses can be purchased.  To buy a license, one must also buy the $1 DNR Sportcard. The latter does not expire and can be a 1-time purchase if the angler presents it each time a license is bought. If you are purchasing a 1 or 3 day license, tell the merchant what time you want the license to go into effect to ensure you can fish as much as possible.  For a very good meal, the folks at BBT were spot-on to recommend “Barski’s”, also located on M-37, close to Salmon Camp,

At the Water
   As anglers walk the river trail, sudden, loud splashes made by salmon emanate from the river & through the darkness.  Tucked inside the periphery of the bobbing light of headlamps, angler excitement builds and the desire to enter the dark water & do battle with the scaled adversaries grows. 
   Salmon Camp fishing officially takes place at night on the “flies only”, catch and release section of the Pere Marquette River.  Access is at “Claybanks” & here, what goes down must come up!  There are 144 wooden steps (and the historic salmon slide) that lead down to the water.  Anglers then hike along both public and private land and respect for the shore and water is enforced by John.  Nets may also be used to haul out a smattering of trash left by others who, evidently, still need a mama.  An LED lamp per group is generally left hanging from a tree to mark where tackle, rod tubes & backpacks are left on the bank.  Most anglers string up their rods at the riverbank.
The Fish
  Target the males and try not to disturb egg-laden females or their redds.  During this year’s final Salmon Camp, I heard that a 32# king salmon was landed.  Coho salmon, steelhead, brown and rainbow trout can also be present in this section of the fishery.  Anglers wade into the water and target a particular area based on fish action.  While most of the water is only knee to mid-thigh in depth, there are deep holes & the river bottom varies from sand, to gravel or rocks.  It’s easy to take an unexpected bath when fishing & wading at night.   A headlamp is needed, but the amount of its use will vary depending upon the weather conditions and moon phase.  Classically, I use my headlamp for hiking & wading, to help get the initial amount of line out on the water, to change flies, & also to fight & land fish. 
   I purposely cast a bit short to the hole where the fish are located and then strip out 2-3”
of line after each cast until I feel contact with the head (hopefully) of a salmon.  I feel this method allows the best opportunity to get a fair vs. foul hook-up.  If I feel I’m on target but need to get the fly just a little lower in the water column where I surmise the mouth of the fish is located, I make a small step upriver & cast out the same amount of line.  Powerful runs & acrobatics are common with a hooked salmon.  In a side arm direction, setting the hook a few times is recommended.  Depending upon the angler’s experience level, a 2nd person may be required to land the salmon either with or without a net.  Even when landed salmon are displaying the unappealing signs of being spawned out, anglers ensure salmon are adequately revived prior to releasing them. 

Rod & Tackle
   It’s best to tackle large salmon with a 9 or 10 wt fly rod.  Many use floating line.  If so,
sink tip leader & a fluorocarbon tippet are recommended. Others might simply tie up a tapered fluorocarbon leader to their 40-50# butt section.  The tippet ranges from 12-20# test, depending on the year’s salmon run and how lucky one is feeling.  I run intermediate fly line to a 40# mono butt section to a leader made simply of a 5 foot length of 20# fluorocarbon. When fighting these large fish, John recommends use of an unimproved clinch knot to secure tippet to fly.  If a break-off does occur, this likely keeps it at the hook eye, not farther up the leader or at the fly line.  Apparently, many anglers don’t use weighted flies or add weight to the leader, but most of the flies I tie for Salmon Camp are wrapped with non-lead wire to add weight.  I occasionally add weight to the leader, particularly when fast current is entering a deeper hole. 
   A popular fly choice is the “Crystal Bullet”, made with glow-in-the-dark flash.  Flies can be purchased in town and an angler or two typically sell flies at Salmon Camp.  Ensure the hook is very sharp otherwise you will lose fish.  A net is commonly used, but not required, to land a salmon.  I have gotten away with forceps, but a good pair of pliers is recommended to remove flies from salmon.  Furthermore, the flies you remove may not be just your own!  These fish, whether fair or foul hooked, tend to cause a lot of break-offs.  Bring extra tippet & leader materials.

   Bring a headlamp (70 lumens minimum) with extra batteries to the river.  Lamps that include a red setting help preserve night vision.  At least one person in each group should have an LED lantern for the shore.  This keeps backpacks, rod cases, etc., from getting lost and helps anglers find their way back to the shore.  Chest waders are a necessity.  A hat is recommended for obvious reasons but in case of rain, a brimmed hat will help keep the headlamp dry.  A wading staff and clear glasses could increase one’s safety.  Also recommended: wader patch kit, water, snacks, gloves, clothing layers &, perhaps, a change of clothing.  For this reason, many carry backpacks during the trek to/from the water.  Because anglers carpool, it’s not convenient to return to camp for dry clothing, etc. 
More Questions?
   John can give more detailed answers to questions, including the net and hook size limitations, current cost, directions to Salmon Camp (a gps may not accurately direct one to the camp), or what one with specific physical challenges can expect with getting to and fishing the water.  At least 1 month prior to camp, John sends out an email providing general information & the basic requirements for Salmon Camp.  Salmon Camp email can be directed to the link email address below.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tie One On at Davenport's Java Java on a Blustery Saturday

   We will be tying flies again this Saturday, November 23, 2013, at Java Java, located at 836 E. River Drive, Davenport, IA.  Tying will start at 9:00 am and last until noon.  Musicians are also being invited but their plans are currently unknown.  All are welcome!!!! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Slip Loop Knot AKA Rapala Knot Video by Pat Ehlers

  I always think of Pat Ehlers fondly and with respect.  When I attended my first fly fishing expo I was hoping to purchase 1-2 fly rods & Pat offered to let me try out a rod or two for a couple of weeks. He and his son, Jared, have always been helpful during phone calls and emails, or during a visit to the Milwaukee, WI., fly fishing store, The Fly Fishers.  I bought my Simms boots from Pat.  No matter how small the question or how small the dollar amount on the product, Pat has always quickly gotten back in touch with me.  Both father and son have also contributed to previous blog posts.

   Pat made a how-to video of the tying of the Rapala Knot & he explained the knot's benefits.  Please click the link to the video below.  I've been considering a different connection from bite guard to musky fly so I may just give this loop knot a try.  If anyone else wants to post comments about the knot, please use the comment section below.  At this time I only moderate comments as means of lessening spam.  So far, there are no 'prove you are not a computer' typing of hard to read letters prior to sending a comment, here.  Just type a comment and send.

**10/29/13:  Jeff, musky brother and striper angler, added a comment to this post about the tarpon loop & the benefits of using the loop with thicker fluoro.  'In the Riffle' has a good video on how to tie this loop knot & I've included a link to it. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Something Unforgettable on the Musky Trail Lurked, Waiting for Us ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 7, Sept. 12-13, 2013)

   The first thing I heard was “Davis!!”  In Wisconsin, place of musky and monikers, I knew something was up.  BB usually calls me ‘Twitch’, an apt title for a jumpy gal.  My first image was of his tall, lean figure & in his hands a flexing fly rod -bent toward the midsection by something unseen at the end of a taut line.  
    He yelled, “I’ve got one and it’s a big one!”  On cue, the musky jumped from the water and both man and esox were framed by a backdrop of frothy, Chippewa River current.  He played that big gal, drawing her toward calmer water near the bank, but then she made a final run & I watched the angler take off after her, running along a skinny, steeply-pitched path of riverbank.  In a calm bed of water, slightly short of breath, the man hunkered over the musky & asked if I was ready.  I was.  He hoisted up that fish, saying it was the biggest musky (including girth) he’d ever caught.  

   I took two pictures of my friend and his toothy victory.  Squirming free of his hands, the musky hit the water & BB’s de-barbed fly, the single-hooked, articulated ‘Bohen 747’, landed 2 feet away.  His girl was gone.  BB was trembling.
   Overlooking the river, we shared a rock and a couple of celebratory Leinie’s in their throwback 1940’s gold cans.  He shared his happiness –no, euphoria- with me.  He relived the fight, talking about the jumps of the black-backed musky & how she jetted the sinking line from the water.  He estimated her length at 50 inches & told me she’d felt like 40 pounds in his hands.  He asked if I remembered what he’d said when we first approached that section of the river:  “Be ready, right here one of us could land the biggest musky you will ever see…”   

 I’ve known Hayward, Wisconsin’s Brad Bohen, AKA ‘BB’ or the ‘Afton Angler’, since Chicago’s Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo in 2009.  On the final day I laid down cash for what became my favorite overall rod, my first 10wt.  I also met a lot of anglers, many who remain acquaintances and some who became friends.  Brad Bohen, head guide of the then virgin Musky Country Outfitters, was the first person to speak at length with me.  He also coached me on the casting floor.  On Columbus Day of that year, I hired him.  After a brutally quiet-water day, nearest to dark when colors shifted to shades of grey, I very happily held my first esox in my hands.  Brad took pictures & I beamed.  It was a pike not a musky, but on a day when one fished from morning until dark & sensed that all species of fish had ceased to exist, the flush of victory was felt.  Brad had said if I landed a fish I could keep the fly.  BB’s Angry Minnow was mine!
   We’ve hit the water a couple more times as guide/client and have plied the waters with other musky friends as well.  However, I’ve spent more time watching the world record holder of the 51.25” musky on a fly manning the oars for others than casting a fly rod.  So, I was very happy with BB’s recent invitation to his Musky Lab and a couple days of Northwoods-style fly fishing. 
   On September 12, 2013, he treated Dynamite Dan, his lifelong friend, and me to a beautiful 15 mile Flambeau River float.  We had a musky follow and 3 smallies to our credit on an otherwise quiet, first day of a cold front.  Scouting the water, Brad primarily stuck with the oars. 
   Brad (BB) works hard to feed the angler’s hunger for musky.  But lately I not only wanted to continue to hit the musky trail with Brad the guide, I wanted water-time with BB the friend.  And on September 13, it happened.  Guide/client or teacher/student roles were largely dropped and we shared one of life’s simple pleasures… we just went fishing.
   Now, if that sounds all folksy and sweet, I can set you straight.  For some reason, fishing and hunting are frequently described as separate things.  I can set you straight on that as well.  On September 13, Brad didn’t man the oars.  BB went hunting.  With a fly rod.  For Musky.

   It was great to go fishing, dropping any roles except the one called ‘friends’.  We both hooked and landed musky.  But in the end, there was more.  I was there when this friend (remember, he is already a musky record-holder), landed his fish of a lifetime, what he labeled his ‘Hemingway’.  I watched how he fought that fish, focused and reeling in much of his excitement until she was his.  Then, there were the pictures.  Proof.  Finally, there was his unabashed happiness, shared with me on a beautiful day while sitting together on a rock overlooking Musky Country; the celebration following a successful hunt. 

   He told me was retiring his fly.  It was going to be a one fish fly.  And later he handed me that fly, his Bohen 747.  He’d given me the Angry Minnow after I landed my first esox and then, for reasons unspoken, the Bohen 747 became mine after he landed his Hemingway. 
   He landed his fish of a lifetime but we both had a blue-ribbon day.  I think the quality of an angler’s life might best be judged by the fishing friends that one keeps and what, as friends, we experience together.
   Life is very good.   

(For Brad's 1st-person account of the exciting hook-up with his toothy, black-backed opponent, click on the link: )


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Tale of Sunscreen, Vitamin D, and Fly Fishing

   Last year a friend bought me a bottle of SPF50 sunscreen.  I'd been spending some time on the water in my pontoon, happily fishing and finning away.  I'd been using a weaker sunscreen and had also trialed a stick sunscreen with comical results.  I believe I had truly sexy legs one year in my life & that was certainly not last year.   My summer of 2012 two-toned legs with white on the back & red with white stripes on the front, may have led to stares, but giggles soon followed along with the bottle of SF50.

   This year, I've been lathering on the sunscreen.  If a particular part of my flesh would get a bit of sun, it got the treatment.  And I repeated the applications throughout the day.  A wonderful friend of mine recently got a spot of malignant melanoma removed from her back.  That knowledge only reinforced the need for sunscreen, especially for those of us who were not blessed with genetics belonging to any darker-skinned ancestor.

   Then yesterday I got a phone call.  The medical assistant told me my blood showed I was low in vitamin D.  Is that why I felt like a walking zombie for the last 5 days?  So I'm following the doctor's advice and taking a supplement.  However, I just have to wonder what that blood value would've been had I not been protecting my skin from the sun with SPF50?!  

   So, fellow anglers and sunburners, continue to wear your sunscreen, your hats, sunglasses and UV-protected shirts.  But under most circumstances, it is recommended to give your skin 15 minutes/day, 3-7 times/week (more if you are darker-skinned) of unclothed & SPF-free sun exposure to let your body make its own vitamin D.  And before you go exposing all those sensitive parts to the sun, speak with your doctor and remember that simply leaving your arms exposed to the sun usually generates enough vitamin D.  Good old 'D' keeps your bones and teeth healthy, your skin happy, and keeps you from feeling like a dull-headed putz.  And after all, who wants to feel like a dull-headed putz when you're out stalking your favorite fish?

   I'm having a privacy fence built in my backyard later this month & then I'll be able to ditch the supplements. Why?  Soon, come any season, I will be able to stand in my backyard -buck-naked- for 15 minutes each day, & turn myself into a vitamin D-generating machine!  Watch out, musky!!!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Smallie Tangles with Fluffy Butt on Upper Iowa River Float

   The red-eyed, black Fluffy Butt splatted on the water in a break between the trees.  A split-second later & at least 3’ away, a largish, olive-colored fish leapt into the air.  Oh baby!
   I finned furiously to maintain my pontoon’s position in the brisk current of the Upper Iowa River.  Gaining in excitement, I soon cast my fly into the tree branches located above the fish’s lair.  Feeling the urgency that I’m certain other anglers would understand, I attempted to tease that fly from the wood.  Failing to delicately gain its release, I pinched fly line in my fingers & let tension steadily build on leader and fly by allowing the pontoon to drift downriver.  Then, at one point, the fly line simply relaxed.  Looking down & lifting the rod tip, I didn’t see the expected limp, dangling leader.  My Fluffy Butt emerged from the river, still connected solidly to its tippet.
   The pontoon had drifted downriver from the bank with the overhanging trees.  With the old iron bridge of my take-out spot already in view & the hot July sun again meeting my skin, I decided to finish out the float.  But in the next second, I sensed my regret if I should give up so quickly on landing what was no slouch of a fish.  The river, which meanders through Decorah, IA, before making its way to the Mississippi River, had suffered through 2 drought years followed by multiple floods in 2013.  The water remained higher than usual and turbid.  After 6 hours of fishing, I’d landed one 7” smallie & missed 2 strikes.  Others had admitted to taking no fish, aside from one guy who kept saying he’d “cheated” and put on a worm, telling me he then landed a small fish.  At least the reports of the river’s beautiful scenery were true.    
   So, I rowed my pontoon upriver & continued past the fish’s lair at least another 25’ to ensure there was time to prepare fly rod and line for casting.  Once again, I furiously waggled my finned feet to hold the toon’s position.  The casts advertised my excitement, but I avoided casting into any more trees.  I talked to the fly, I talked to myself, and I talked to the fish.  Please, oh please.
   And on my 5th or 6th drift, someone or something listened…   That fish took my Fluffy Butt, made the shortest of runs & vaulted from the water!  I yelled, “Whooop!!”, among other things.  Ecstatic, I could not believe my good fortune.  That powerful smallie and I fought through its runs, dives, & aerial acrobatics for about 4 minutes.  The fish needed to expend a bit of energy prior to any attempt for me to lip it from on my toon & I was determined not to break it off. 
“If I land this fish will you take a picture?” I asked the man in the kayak.  Just about the time I hooked into the smallie, I’d glimpsed the couple floating down the river in their kayaks.  The man had evidently taken more interest in the fishy antics and remained closer to the action.  With the smallie lipped, we jockeyed our watercraft to maintain close contact and I handed him the camera.  Feeling happy and filled with life, I held that 16.5” smallmouth, complete with red-eyed, black Fluffy Butt adorning its lip.  The next moment I thanked the couple, & retrieved my camera & fly.  After ensuring the fish was doing well, I released it.  In a flash the smallie returned to its turbid waterworld.  Thanks, oh thanks.

IF You Go
   The Upper Iowa River flows through MN and IA in its upper stretch & angling in this region requires fishing licenses from both states.  In Iowa, the river is deemed ‘navigable’ so the public may float its waters.  However the river is also classified ‘non-meandered’, meaning the owner(s) of the land adjacent to the water also own the stream bed.  If this is a private owner, the riverbed is also private property.  While the public can legally float the river, there are limited circumstances in which the public can legally step foot on privately-owned riverbed (likely such as wading through or around obstacles of water navigation).  Please visit the internet or a DNR office in the region for more details. 
   The water varies from skinny to wide as it flows downriver through Northeast Iowa.  The river’s popular rocky bluffs, shores and river bed are interspersed with a wooded, dirt, sand &/or farm landscape.  Easily navigable rapids are replaced by a more placid current flow.  Four dams are present along the river’s length & must be portaged.  Skinny water can mean shallow water where a canoe will need to be dragged.  Bigger water may increase the need for a PFD, but one per person is required on all watercraft in Iowa.  This link is recommended to learn current, average & historic water flows and depths for particular waterways:
   Smallmouth bass are more prevalent in the river’s upper, rocky, often shallow habitat but both smallies and walleye are found throughout the river.  Walleye, as 2” fingerlings, are also stocked in the river and both walleye and sauger travel upward from the Mississippi River.  Pike are also sprinkled throughout the Upper Iowa River.  Trout can be found near coldwater tributaries and springs.
   It is reported that the greatest recreational traffic is often found near Kendalville to Bluffton and on to Decorah due to the combination of beautiful scenery coupled with fewer river sections requiring the possibility of dragging watercraft through shallow water.  Of course more recreational traffic can affect fishing.
   Multiple campgrounds are located on the Upper Iowa River and an easy put-in or takeout spot is an excellent benefit to staying at one of the campgrounds.  Luckily, I    found a quiet, uncrowded campground.  I wasn’t thrilled with the $2 fee to shower or the $20 shuttle service (to take me on a 10-minute drive back to my vehicle), but it was convenient.  I drove by two crowded campgrounds located across the river from one another.  On a Friday at nightfall, I heard blaring country music and the ka-booms M-80s.  The tightly-packed metal campers reminded me of sardines in a can.  The campgrounds might be a fun place to party.  Those who were awake as I floated between the campgrounds on Saturday morning waved & were friendly as was, literally, everyone else floating the river that day.  Again, I recommend an internet search for reviews on campgrounds (or local outfitters for watercraft or shuttle rentals), to ensure your needs for the type of trip you want are met.  Of course, Iowa also offers many Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) if you don’t mind primitive camping.
   DNR employees, campground operators, river outfitters & fishing guides are also potential sources of great information to make a successful fishing and float trip.  DNR offices, including hatcheries and rearing stations, are some of the businesses which offer canoe float maps of Iowa rivers.  The maps are an excellent resource for planning a successful float trip.  I’ve read positive reviews about the book “Paddling Iowa”, by Nate Hoogeveen, & will soon own a copy of the 2012 revised edition. (7/2013)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Annual Fly Casting Clinic in Bettendorf Hosted by K&K and St. Croix Rod Rep

   The annual K&K Fly Casting Clinic was held May 11, 2013, at Middle Park Lagoon, in Bettendorf, IA.  Dan Johnston, a St Croix Rod rep, Cedar Rapids, and Erik Mattley, a former K&K Hardware employee, were the fly casting instructors.  Approximately 20 people, either wishing to hone their casting skills or picking up a fly rod for the first time, attended the clinic.  Dan provided St. Croix rods and the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Club provided additional rods for those who didn't have their own with which to practice.  K&K Hardware provided lunch.

   Aside from Dan's classically excellent demonstrations of  fly casting techniques & one-on-one casting instruction, he also provided basic information on stringing up the fly rod, how to safely separate stubborn rod sections, and how fly line loads the rod & carries the fly to its intended (hopefully!) destination.

The casting clinic has been held yearly on the Saturday prior to Mother's Day.  Classically, another volunteer provides attendees with fresh breakfast made on the outdoor grill, then beginning fly casting instruction commences, followed with lunch, and then the instruction of the advancement of casting skills rounds out the day.

   To learn more about fly fishing including casting, tying flies, or where to fish, visit your local fly fishing club, fly fishing shop, or, perhaps, an outdoor store. In the Quad Cities region, please visit the link to the local branch of the HFFA's website for contact information and please note that all are welcome to attend meetings or club outings.  For more information, you may also send 'Twitch' an email at .  Finally, K&K Hardware, Bettendorf, IA, offers fly tying supplies and fly fishing rods/tackle.



Saturday, May 4, 2013

AQUAPAC WET & DRY BACKPACK: In-Depth Description & Review

   The Aquapac Wet & Dry Backpack was used in March 2013 on a rainy fly fishing weekend with snow still on the ground.  Also wearing layers for warmth, we hiked along trails and through streams, & ‘bushwhacked’ through the woods.  During the light rain and after setting it in the snow, the backpack remained waterproof & comfortable.  I’ve used the backpack on other fishing/wading trips but no rain or snow was present.  Later, I ‘water-tested’ the backpack at home and the results are posted below.  (11/27/13: Additional updates and comments provided near end of post) (3/17/14: final update on product changes/improvements and customer service provided near end of post)

   This waterproof, IPX6 rated (*1), backpack is made of a TPU-coated fabric with taped seams and has a 25 liter capacity.  Lying flat, it measures approximately 15”W x 26”L.  There are 3 inner compartments to this backpack. The backpack itself creates the largest compartment and it contains an attached, pull-out, inner fluorescent-colored pouch, of similar length to the backpack. This Velcro-sealed pouch has a smaller, clear, velcro pocket fully attached to the pouch’s outer wall.  The fluorescent pouch is water-resistant since the Velcro does not seal fully on the left and right edges. The clear pocket Is water-resistant but not designed to be waterproof.  It is a good location to stowe keys, cell phone, etc.

   The exterior of the backpack has a ~14” long mesh pocket on the left and right sides.  These pockets can hold a thermos, a packable rain jacket, tripod, or a fly rod tube, etc.  There is a small, rear, Velcro closure compartment that contains a ‘back support’, which is a 1/4” thick flexible pad.  It can be removed from the backpack and used as a light seat pad.  This rear compartment could also be used to house a small hydration pack (1.5L to possibly 2L size) when the pad is removed.
The backpack is predominantly black with a small, fluorescent orange overlay, the blue Aquapac logo, and a lashtab with a carabiner.  The adjustable shoulder straps are lightly-padded mesh.  A covering over the mesh allows one to add more carabiners.  There is a sternal strap, adjustable in snugness of fit, and it can also be moved up and down.  An adjustable, unpadded waist strap is present and can be removed.

   The backpack appears designed to optimally fit the average-sized man.  When layered, including waders, for our weekend of fly fishing in winter weather, friend Kate and I took turns wearing the pack and found it to adequately fit each of our body types.  I’m 5’7” & wear sm-med tops while Kate is 5’3” and much more curvy ‘upstairs’ than me (Later, my 6’2” friend, Scott, donned the backpack over a shirt and the fully extended sternal strap clicked in place over his broad chest.).  With all the straps tightened appropriately, the pack held firmly to the back.  It didn’t seem too long for our body styles.  At home, when I fit the backpack over a sweatshirt, I had to fully tighten all the straps to achieve a snug fit.  The dangling portions of the tightened shoulder straps hung down at least 2 feet, necessitating that I wrap them around themselves. 

   The up and down adjustment of the sternal straps accommodated a woman’s shape but also allowed access to the large chest pockets on my wading jacket.  The shoulder straps were comfortable on our trip, but the clothing layers added extra padding.  For a quick trip, simply throwing one strap over my shoulder was comfy, forming naturally to my body.

   It is not necessary to use the waist strap, but it may contribute to an improved ergonomic fit.  On my 2nd outing with the backpack, this strap wasn’t used and I was comfortable & did not experience excessive pack movement.  The waist buckles extend a fixed 3” from their attachment points on the backpack.  The waist strap is adjustable in length and clips to the buckles.  Kate and I both found it challenging to clip and unclip the buckles during each of our turns to wear the backpack.  I helped Kate with a waist strap buckle because she could not adequately reach it.  The 3” buckle length is simply not adequate when wearing bulky clothing or for use on a less flexible person.

   Overall, the pack serves its purpose quite well.  It is a very good day pack for hiking or fishing and would also work well with other pack items on a multi-day float trip.  The main closure seals like a dry bag and the backpack remains waterproof. Due largely to the style of closure, it is not rated by Aquapac for submersion.  To clarify an element of the backpack’s use, An Aquapac representative answered my question about float trips, “Any roll-top dry bag is limited by how well the user closes it. Folds must be crisp and tight, with nothing trapped in them.  If that’s the case, then the backpack will be fine in the sloshing water of your canoe.” (**See March, 2014,  update below, re: waterproof & canoe trips**)

   The interior is especially nice.  Having 2 large pockets, with one brightly colored,
allows one to separate wet/dry clothing or clean/dirty items and to see items more readily than with an all-black interior.  The 3rd pouch, small and clear, is one of my favorite features.  I truly appreciated knowing my key fob was dry and that I had easy access to it.

   If I thought a day would turn hot and sunny, I’d consider using something else when hiking, largely due to the pack’s primarily black color and the lack of any ventilation between pack and back. 

   They aren't perfect, but I really like the exterior, full length mesh pockets.  In rainy/wet conditions, the mesh does not hold water and dries quickly.  However, the mesh did allow cockleburs to attach themselves to the pockets.  The elongated pockets easily held a fly rod tube & a thermos – a huge plus for the cold-weather fly angler!  A typical water bottle sits low in the pocket and it’s not practical to remove the bottle while still wearing the pack.  This is an inconvenience, but more importantly there is little chance of bending over and having a water bottle unknowingly fall out of the pocket.  I wish there was a single, shorter pocket sandwiched over one of the longer pockets to give one the choice of easily accessing a water bottle.

   At most, the ‘back support’ provides very light stabilization to the back (remember, this is for a day backpack) but I definitely appreciate the padding it provides between the pack’s contents and one’s back.  It’s also advantageous that the support is removable for quick drying or to add a hydration pack.     

   I found the shoulder straps to be comfortable and to offer adequate padding to serve
the pack’s intended purposes while keeping it lightweight and quick drying.  The sternal strap adjusted well for snugness, and each half conveniently adjusted up and down along the shoulder straps.  Again, the buckles of the waist strap are too close to the bag which will make it challenging for some to attach/detach this strap, but I don’t feel it’s necessary to use it.  Because I had to wrap some of the dangling straps around their snug counterparts and due to the location of the waist strap buckles, it did take me longer to remove the pack.  While I don’t wish for Aquapac to make different sizes of wet/dry backpacks, I do wish they made packs that came in two different sets of strap lengths to better fit a wider range of body types. 

1)  I put clothing in the backpack and placed the backpack in a small sink containing ~ 4 inches of water.  After 30 minutes the clothing and the backpack’s interior remained dry.  This could represent the backpack sitting in shallow water on the bottom of a canoe.
2)  I flipped the fluorescent interior pouch to the outside of the backpack and then both dunked that pouch and sprayed it and its clear pocket (avoiding their closures) with water.  Their interiors remained dry.  Wet clothing would not affect dry clothing stored in the other pouch & keys would remain dry in the small pocket.
3)  I repeated the first test, packing the backpack with clothing and planning to leave it sitting in water for 1-2 hours.  I’d removed the ‘back support’, put 4-5 inches of water in the sink, & added the backpack.  After 20 minutes I checked on the pack and saw much of the water had drained from the sink.  I checked the backpack’s interior and found moisture at the lower rear section.
4)  The next day, I used the high pressure selection on the garden hose sprayer and & gave the pack a good hosing for a couple of minutes –to represent my home-version of an IPX6 ratings test.  I had not replaced the ‘back support’.  The backpack’s interior again became damp at the rear bottom.  So, I turned the pack insideout, set it in the sink and added water.  Primarily, dots of water appeared right on the bottom rear seam of the backpack, despite that the seams had been taped.  This seam is also the seam for the base of the ‘back support’ pocket. 
 * In August 2013, I followed-up with Aquapac about the waterproofing concerns.  Please see the final paragraph in the 'Verdict' section below for details.

Rated IPX6 waterproof, with no zippers to fail.  Multiple interior compartments with ample space for day trip.  Decent fit.  2 long, exterior, mesh pockets won’t hold rainwater but will hold water bottles, a tripod, or thermos.  Can be used with small hydration pack.  Can attach carabiners.  Lightweight & packs down fairly small when not in use.  No PVC in backpack & it remains pliable in cold weather.  Backpack color blends with environment.  Quick company response to emails and an excellent warranty/return policy.

Waterproof but not submersible due to closure style, & sample backpack did not ‘pass’ home waterproof tests.  Dangling portions of tightened straps are too long for certain body types & waist buckle attachments are short.  Long lengths of exterior mesh pockets make it difficult to access a water bottle while wearing the backpack.  The backpack is black and would make the wearer or pack contents hotter if the day became hot & sunny.

   Would I recommend the Aquapac Wet & Dry Backpack?  During online comparisons of other waterproof backpacks of similar size, the Aquapac seems to be a good bang for the buck & the warranty is great!  Communication with Aquapac staff was prompt and they gave me the impression they really take pride in their products.  This backpack is appropriately simple in its design yet it contains excellent, practical features.  Specific to the fly angler, features on the backpack would make it ideal to:  stow in a canoe for a day float trip; for quick & secure thermos access during winter steelheading; and to carry fly rod tubes during night fishing for salmon.  If the sample backpack had passed my home waterproof tests, I would’ve heartily recommended this waterproof backpack.

   In my opinion, the greatest value of Aquapac's backpack lies in the claim that it is IPX6 waterproof-rated.  My hope is that I simply received a flawed backpack.  If this is not the case, I could not recommend the backpack based on its cost in relation to its limited scope of use in the outdoors.  Again, Aquapac appears to stand behind its products.  I intend to send pictures of the home waterproof test findings to Aquapac.  If there are any information updates or changes to their backpacks, as appropriate I will update my post or write a new backpack review.  
   * August 23, 2013:  After I sent pictures to Tim Turnbull, CEO, in May I was asked to return the backpack for testing.  Not having received further correspondence, yesterday I emailed Mr. Turnbull & reminded him that I would update my post if they had made any changes to the product, etc.  I had a reply sitting in my inbox this morning.  I haven't received another backpack for testing to personally confirm Aquapac's findings, but Mr. Turnbull's response is quoted here:  Hi Lisa. Sorry if nobody got back to you. I checked and this was the answer from the Director who looked into it: “Yes, the sample returned had defective seam-sealing at the base of the bag and on part of the back-protector pocket, where water under pressure was seeping through. We’ve flagged it as a QC problem with the factory and they have said that they’ll pay more attention to it. It was human error. We've tested some random samples by hosepipe and filling with water and I’m happy that it was an isolated or low-volume problem.”  
   *November 27, 2013:  In October I purchased another Aquapac.  Great sale price, so if it performed like the others, I figured it still wasn't a bad deal.  I'm glad I bought it on sale.  While I didn't test this backpack as thoroughly, it also leaked.  I placed it in water similarly to how it might sit in a canoe.  At a minimum, this one also leaked at the region of the back-protector seams.  About 3 tablespoons of water entered the interior of the pack in 15-30 minutes.  I plan to use it in snow or rain but would be cautious in a heavy rain.  On a positive note, the yellow-green pocket remained waterproof when briefly submerged in water to just below its opening. However, the small, clear pocket where a cell phone and key fob would likely be stowed did have leakage from a bottom seam.
   *March 17, 2013:  I got around to letting Aquapac know that this pack leaked, too.  Again, they wanted me to return it.  I opted to use their normal warranty claim process.  I was very pleased. I sent an email and received a response with an RMA number the next day.  It cost me ~$6 via USPS to return it rolled up in a small box.  I received my new pack in less than 1 week from initial contact. Excellent customer service!
   Yesterday I water-tested it. I simply put some weight in the backpack and placed it in a bucket filled with water.  The exterior was about 50% immersed for 5 minutes.  No leaks.  I then sprayed it thoroughly with the shower head.  No leaks/damp spots.  I then submerged it to about 30% from the top for 15 more minutes.  No leaks and heavy beading to the exterior!  Finally I unzipped (Unzipped? Yes, this is a recent change to the Wet and Dry Backpack) the yellow inner pouch from the backpack and submerged the pouch until only the upper 30% remained dry.  Yet another pouch interior remained bone dry.  The small, clear pocket attached to the pouch did become slightly wet inside but it was never intended by Aquapac to be waterproof.  I wish this was sealed better as most folks would likely carry phones etc., in it & extra water-tight insurance here would be welcome.   However, I'm very, very pleased I took the time to go through the warranty process.  I am exceptionally happy with this backpack & I will take it with me on many fishing trips, especially the wet or snowy ones!  
   **During recent correspondence with Aquapac, it was suggested that their new Toccoa Daysack would be more appropriate for canoe float trips.  The Toccoa has welded seams & would stand up better to the long-term water immersion that backpacks are frequently subjected to when placed in the bottom of a canoe.  And yes, a review of the Toccoa might be forthcoming on this blog.
   Tip:  If you plan to purchase the Wet & Dry backpack, check to see if it has the added zipper.  I wonder if Aquapac has also made improvements to ensure its backpacks are more consistently meeting its IPX6 rating for level of waterproofing.    
Any follow-up comments by blog readers would be welcome!  
The Aquapac Wet & Dry Backpack retails for $85-95.00.
   Aquapac was founded in 1983 by 3 windsurfers in the UK.  Tim Turnbull is the CEO.  Aquapac offers an excellent 5-year warranty and return policy.  The company product line includes waterproof cases, bags, and pouches that come with a waterproof rating (IPX) in  either the ‘Submersible’ or ‘Stormproof’ product range.
   Other products that would be popular with a fly angler:  digital or SLR camera cases/bags, especially  items allowing one to take pictures and adjust dials through the bag; similarly-styled cell phone cases and pouches, and very light dry bags with detachable shoulder straps and a divided inner compartment.   (main website)  (Excellent YouTube review of backpack)  (Aquapac’s waterproof rating page & IPX6 summary)

*1)  IPX6 waterproof rating, which is the greatest level of waterproofing in Aquapac’s ‘Stormproof’ product range.
IPX6 Definition: Protected against heavy seas/temporary flooding - Water projected at all angles through a 12.5mm nozzle at a flow rate of 100 litres per minute at a pressure of 100kN/m2 for 3 minutes from a distance of 3 metres.

   I acquired the backpack directly from Aquapac under my request for a review & under atypical circumstances.  Mr. Turnbull, CEO, was aware that I would honestly report any discovered pros/cons in my review.  My earlier viewing of an excellent YouTube review of the product (see link above) had already left me with a positive impression of the backpack, but I wondered how well it would serve the fly angler who both wades and boats.