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Monday, June 18, 2018

Fishing Needs More Liars

I hit the restaurant at Gates Lodge the other day for lunch.  My friend says you don't go to a place like Gates to order a turkey sandwich.  At his recommendation, I tried a corned beef sandwich they call the, "Eastern Rise."  Its shaved corned beef and kimchi, topped with melted swiss, on rye.  The chefs at Gates cook their corned beef down themselves, and have it down to a science.  The flavors that hit when you take a bite are, just, well, something I don't have the vocabulary to describe. 

Matt took my order at the takeout window and we got to talking about fishing.  He and I always talk about fishing when we bump into each other, in fact I'd say most of our conversations have gone into detail on fishing stuff I wouldn't normally talk about publicly.  But this time he asked a question he normally doesn't-- "Where were you at?"  Now I've unfriended and blocked people on social media for asking that same question or variations of it, but Matt is a good dude, so I just gave him my canned response, "a gentleman never tells." 

"Were you on the South?"
"No."
"The Main, the North, the upper Man, up North?" 
"Nope,"  I answered to each in rapid succession.  He was getting desperate.
"C'mon, man, why won't you tell me where were you at? You were on the Main weren't you?"
"Yup."
He knew I was lying.
"Man, that's really kind of weird that you won't tell me what river you were on."
"I don't know who is standing behind me."  I said and laughed, knowing full well there was no one else in sight.
"There isn't anyone else out there." he said through the window.

I walked away feeling bad and proud at the same time, all the while wishing the conversation had taken place after he made my sandwich.

June is a great time to lie to your friends.  I talked to one person who showed up at their favorite spot to see 11 vehicles parked there.  11, on a stream 50' across!  I don't even understand how a guy could stop the car after pulling up and seeing another car or two already there, let alone, get out, gear up and go try fishing amongst the masses.  How the 11th guy did it, I have no idea.  The only thing keeping that place worth going back to after is the fact that 10.5 of the 11 don't know what they're doing. 

But sometimes, you aren't being secretive to protect good fishing, you're doing it to just have a pretty place to yourself.  Because having a beautiful place to yourself is really what its all about.  I could lose my job today, and it would be ok, because I could go sit on the side of a river and remember that life would go on.  My dog could get hit by a car, and it would be ok, because I could go reflect on the side of a river, and remember that life would go on.  My car might take a crap, and it would be ok, because I know that I would forget all about it on the side of a river, and life would go on.  I couldn't do those things in a combat fishing situation.

While waiting for the evening rise one night, I posted a photo of the fog moving over a gorgeous stretch of river I was on.  It was beautiful, despite the poor fishing that would follow.  The next morning I got a text from a friend asking if I was on the Main.  I told him I was, even though it was a bold faced lie.    

I love it when people try to guess where I was fishing and give up a good fishing spot I didn't know about in the process.  They'll ask if I was on river x, and then before I can lie to them, they will tell a story of how they really love that stretch below some bend where all those big trout pile up.  I'll just agree, replying that I love it, too, letting them think that's right where I was, even though I'd never had any interest in fishing there until that point in time.  And even though I never answered the question, they walk away thinking I had.  Its like a two for one deal, I keep my spot a secret and get a new spot to check out in the process. 



Traver wrote that you should, "never show a favorite spot to a fisherman you wouldn't trust with your wife."  I'm not sure that goes far enough.  I have four or five friends I trust enough to speak openly about my fishing spots at that level.  Though I'm not 100% sure as one lives 1500 miles away, two are much, much older than me and physically can't get to many of the places I'm usually talking to them about.  Older guys are usually more fun to fish with anyway, they have nothing to prove and all in all, just get it-- and they're not interested in your wife. 

The downside of all this secrecy is that I truly enjoy fishing with other people, and since I can't trust 99% of them, I'm forced to fish with them on water I would rather not be fishing.  You know, tourist water.  Tourist water is the water everyone who has been around already knows about.  Its in all the local fishing guides, its easy to get to, and while its generally not the best place to fish, it gets the job done. 

New fishing buddy candidates must prove they can keep those types of places a secret before I will take them to the next level of fishing spots, the spots that aren't in the guide books, but are still on the rivers everyone knows about.   If they talk about it to anyone else, or if they go back there with someone else after you introduce it to them, they fail.  I'll still fish with them, but will never again take them to a new spot or a spot without 11 vehicles in the parking area, but they're welcome to take me to theirs. 

A good example of this happening recently was when I took a guy who I've known for some time out on a little known piece of tourist water, you know, to see if our fishing buddy relationship might be worth taking to the next level.  Not a day after we fished, we were both with a large group of people when he blurted out how awesome the fishing was the evening before and named the spot.  He had potential, so in a fishing buddy kind of way, it was heartbreaking.  But that's why I took him someplace marginal for the first date- not someplace that needed to be kept a secret.

A marginal fishing spot is better than one in pressured, pristine trout water if you're the only one who fishes it.  Spots in pristine trout water you have to yourself are sacred and shouldn't be shared with even immediate family, even if that means, someday, you break a leg and die a slow death, exposed to the elements because no one knew where to look for you.  The even bigger conundrum comes in for the guy that finds your pile of bones on the bank and has to decide if he wants to report the find to authorities and risk that spot to the world, or leave your remains, and his secret spot, a secret. 

The catch-22 in all of this is that when the time comes that your secret spot is threatened by something-- oil/gas drilling, mining, a dam, etc.-- you're going to have a tough time trying to save it by yourself.  That's why there is hell and lawsuits to pay for anyone who even breathes on the Au Sable without brushing their teeth first.  It might be the epitome of tourist water, but it gets 300+ people to show up for it at a river cleanup. 

That said, I think fishing needs more liars and more guys keeping secrets. 




Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Fly Fishing Through a Mid-Season Crisis

Forgot my waders, made the best of it.

Its weird getting older.  I can't tell you how confusing it is to look in the mirror and see a guy in his mid to late 30's, cause in my mind, I'm still 17.  It isn't just me.  The people around me are getting old, too.  My dad will be retiring at the end of the week.  When did that happen?  It still feels like he is in his early 40's. 

The same thing is happening with everyone I know.  The men and women who have been in the primes of their life for my entire life are slowing down.  And the people who I thought of as being old when I was 17, who weren't really old, but just slowing down, are now actually old.  Its crazy how fast it happens to them.  One day, they're physically or mentally able to do whatever they want; the next, they can't stand up by themselves anymore.  

I remember when I was living out in New York, missing my favorite northern Michigan trout streams, and doing the math.  If I live to be the average age of 72, and I can make it back home to visit them for around 3 days a year, I've only got, at most, 126 more days on my favorite water.   Then I figured, ok, if our parents live to the ripe old age of 72, and we only get to see them 3 days a year, we're only going to get to see them about 60 more times.   Those numbers weren't nearly big enough and we moved home to northern Michigan soon after. 

Its kind of a shock to the system, this feeling young but realizing you and the world around you aren't staying young forever, thing.  This must be what causes all of those midlife crises you hear about.  I don't think I'll ever have your classic midlife crisis.  My whole life has been a perpetual series of midlife crises.  I'll have no regrets on my death bed. 

Which, strangely enough, brings me back to the whole point of this post, and that was going fishing a few times over the weekend with some retired guys. 

Gary and Darcy are brothers and grew up fishing my favorite trout streams.  They've literally been fishing them longer than I've been alive.  Its cool to listen to their stories of "the good old days" and even the "bad old days."  But its even cooler seeing that many years of history on a stretch of river getting put to use during the evening rise. 



This picture looking into the back of one of their fish cars says it all.  These guys are still getting after it more than most guys half their age.  They're old school, and as I get older, I appreciate old school more and more. 

One particular spot of Gary's had a visit from some other anglers over the last year or so.  Apparently, they weren't very good fishermen because they "pruned" entire tag alders away from about 30' of riverbank so they could cast to a nice seam on the opposite bank. 

Nothing but tag alder stumps for about 30' of river

This is something I run into every season and it drives me crazy- those overhanging tags or other woody debris or vegetation are a big part of the reason many spots are good spots in the first place.  It drives Gary crazy, too.  So in retaliation, he is keeping every fish he can from that spot so when the jerk who can't fish comes back, there is nothing to come back to. Gary's revenge started with a 23" brown trout. 
 
I had a really good fish going but missed the hookset on it.  I picked up a smaller fish in the high teens a little later before the spinnerfall ended.  Had another good fish going last night, too, but a rather large beaver came by just after it started rising and did the tail slap of death right over top of it.  Needless to say, my shot at that fish was over before it started.  There is a special layer in hell for beavers who do that kind of thing to fishermen, its full of 330 connibears and petrified wood. 
 
Mosquitoes are out in force now.  Hendricksons and little black caddis are done or winding down depending what stretch you're on.  Mahoganies are going, borchers are going, and the first big show of the season (brown drakes) are right around the corner.  Two and a half weeks or so from now, hex will be going, and a few weeks after that, the peak of the dry fly season will be over. 
 
 
 
There will still be some good hatches to be had in late July and August, but its a midseason crisis we all must deal with.  June is the prime of the fishing season, and it never lasts forever.  So we'll fish every night, usually way past midnight, going on almost no sleep, chasing bloops and rise forms in the blackest of northern Michigan nights.   
 
My entire trout season is a perpetual state of mid-season crises.  As Josh says, trout season is just a bunch of two week seasons.  There is always something peaking, somewhere.  So whatever that micro-season is, I'll be trying to hit it just right on just the right stretch of river, as many nights in a row as possible.  And when the season is winding down and I am realizing that its over, there will be no regrets.





Wednesday, May 23, 2018

If You're Not Eating Trout, You're Doing It Wrong



I recently came across a post on the Trout Unlimited facebook page where someone got all worked up over TU sharing a video on how to debone trout.  I believe the comment went something like, "This isn't what TU is about!"  For the sake of protecting his identity, we'll call him stereotypical trout guy (STG).  This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I've seen this type of reaction to anything associated with keeping trout versus always releasing them.   There are a lot of STG's out there. 

I used to be a STG.  Wait, let me say that again.  Hello, my name is Alex and I used to be a stereotypical trout guy.  I was all about the catch and release.  I loved trout, why would I want to kill one?  And then I realized the inherent hypocrisy in my outlook and practice of 100% C&R.

The act of hooking and fighting a trout causes stress on the trout.  That stress manifests itself in the form of lactic acid build up in the fish's bloodstream.  Once a fish reaches acidosis, or a point where the lactic acid buildup is so high that the trout's bloodstream can't get rid of it, the fish will die whether it swims away or not.  And that death often occurs hours after being released due to issues created during the fight and release. And that's all before that killer instagram photo session takes place.

Maybe stereotypical trout guy should be more concerned with guys practicing C&R with light rod weights and tippet?  Maybe stereotypical trout guy should be more concerned with social media feeds full of hero shots?  Maybe stereotypical trout guy should be more concerned with people practicing C&R with conventional tackle rigged with treble hooks? 

Maybe stereotypical trout guy should be more concerned with fighting and stressing trout out for his own amusement only so they can swim away and die?

So I could be a hypocrite, or I could fish for the same reason humans have fished for thousands of years...food.  I don't keep every fish I catch, and still have plenty of fishing trips where I don't keep any fish.  But I keep enough for dinner just often enough that I don't feel like a hypocrite anymore.

The crazy part?  Trout taste awesome.  Brown trout not so much, though I've heard a particular strain of lake runs on one of my local trout streams are pretty good.  Rainbows are ok, but I don't run into them very often.  Brookies are delicious, one of the best fish I've eaten and right up there with whitefish, walleye and salmon. 

The first thing I do as soon as the decision has been made to keep a fish is bonk it on top of the head and gut it wherever I am.  Two brookies in the 8-12" range are what I'm after.  Smaller or bigger fish will be released.  If I'm not going to eat them right there on the stream, they go into a container of some sort that will keep them cool until I get home.  I never freeze fish, they taste a million times better fresh. 

My favorite way to cook brook trout is nothing fancy.  If on stream, I cook them unseasoned over an open fire.  If I take them home, they'll get fried in butter, hopefully with morels if I have any. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Getting Guided: A Non Politically Correct Primer on Booking a Guided Fly Fishing Trip



Just got back from a quick steelhead trip up to the U.P., fishing with Capt. Brad Petzke of Rivers North Guide Service.  We had kind of a double whammy going against us, as far as steelhead are concerned, a one day cold front and clear skies.  Luckily, Brad has been doing what he does for a long time and was still able to put me on fish and show me a good time on one of the most beautiful rivers I've fished in Michigan. 

On the way home, I thought it would be fun to write a piece helping someone get the most out of their guided fly fishing trip. 

Choosing a Guide

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but a prospective guide should be familiar with the water you want to fish.  They should know where the fish are, what the fish are looking for, and what to do if they're not cooperating.  They should be a capable teacher, meaning they should know how to help you get your angling skills to a level good enough to catch fish if you're a beginner, or to that next level if you're an intermediate or advanced angler.  Good guides can usually teach you a little bit about the area's history, too.  And finally, and most importantly, they should make the trip fun. 

But how do you know who can do all that, and how do you know you are going to get your money's worth?

My whole tenure as a guide was in the age of social media, and having been "behind the curtain,"  there was a stark difference between the "real deal" guides who were on the water every day and the ones who played great guides on facebook.  The worst mistake a person could ever make-- at least if they want to catch fish-- is to book a guide trip with someone because they have a killer social media presence.  You want to know who the best guides are in an area?  Ask other guides or the guys who work for fly shops local to that area (not a shop 3 hours away), they all know who is the real deal and who isn't. 



There is a respect thing amongst guides, and if a guide is worth booking, other guides will give them the respect they deserve and give an honest assessment to a prospective client.  In my experience, a guide isn't going to say anything negative about another guide publicly, so if you ask a guide about another guide and he says something like, "I've never fished with him," or, "He's a nice guy," that should speak volumes.  The two exceptions that jump out at me here are: if someone is a new guide, and word hasn't gotten out on them yet, or guides who work through an outfitter or fly shop and have someone back at the office doing the marketing for them while they are out fishing.

And I can tell you, one of the crazy things about the guides who are head and shoulders above the rest, its that they don't do a lot of posting on social media.  They don't need to, most of their business comes from word of mouth referrals and repeat business.  I won't go so far as to say a social media presence indicates someone is a wannabe, I think all guides share a pic every now and then, but if your guide's facebook page is posting multiple times a day or sharing pics of the same fish they caught two years ago over and over again, that might be a red flag. 


Setting up Your Trip

Once you've found a guide, its time to book your trip.  When you book, your guide should be able to tell you what to expect for the dates you're fishing as far as hatches, typical weather conditions, how you should dress, what to bring, what they provide, etc.  If they can't, call someone else.  If your guide is playing conditions by ear as far as what particular piece of water you're going to fish, they should contact you again after you've booked, but a week or so before your trip to dial in where and what time to meet for your trip.  This is particularly common for independent guides who won't be meeting you at a fly shop or outfitter. 



This is also where you want to tell your guide what you want to do, what you expect, etc.  Its important that you're both on the same page to get the most out of your experience.  If you just wanted to fish dry flies but you never tell your guide that, and are booking a trip in October, you might be disappointed when there are no significant hatches and you spend all day throwing streamers.  If you tell your guide you want to fish dry flies, he should steer you to a time of the year favorable for that type of fishing. 

Taking Your Trip

This is the fun part, but it can be less fun if you didn't do your homework up front or get on the same page with your guide beforehand.  I can tell you from experience both as a guide and as a client, that its really important that you listen to your guide.  If your guide keeps telling you to keep your rod tip low and you aren't, and you're missing hooksets because of it, that's not your guide's fault.  Do what your guide says to do and you will have more fun, its really as simple as that.  Not only that, but you will learn more from your guide, and you get to take that knowledge with you on every fishing trip you take for the rest of your life.  And that's the real value in taking a guided fly fishing trip-- the knowledge you gain from it. 

If your guide is chumming, he probably isn't worth booking with again.  If your guide is following other boats/anglers around all day, he probably isn't worth booking again-- guides worth booking are the ones other anglers are following.  If you aren't catching fish and your guide isn't making constant adjustments to your tackle or location to try and get you into fish, he probably isn't worth booking again.  Keep in mind, they're guides, not gods, they can't make the fish eat, but they should be doing everything in their power to try and figure out what is working on that particular day.

If your guide is talking about stoneflies hatching in the middle of the river (stoneflies crawl out of the water onto logs and rocks or the shore to hatch), he probably isn't worth booking again.  If your guide has you doing things considered to be unethical-- purposely fishing to actively spawning trout (this is unethical, but the line gets blurry, particularly when fishing for spawning warmwater species), high or low holing other anglers, etc., he probably isn't worth booking with again. 

If your guide shows you a good time and didn't do any of the stuff mentioned above, tip them.  And if your guide did a really stand up job, book another trip with them as quickly as possible, good guides book up fast, particularly during the best fishing times. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Venison Stroganoff

Its funny how after you grow up and move out on your own, you start to crave some of the stuff your family would make for dinner while you were growing up.  You know, those staple dishes your mom would make, that you kind of took for granted or even got sick of eating your whole life.  Tuna Casserole, Meatloaf, Cream Tuna & Peas, Bunkerslunk, etc.

My mom's beef stroganoff recipe is pretty amazing.  One of the first things I start to think about when deer season is coming is venison stroganoff, it makes my mouth water.  Except I've kind of got my own recipe, a venison version crossbred between my mom's and Paula Dean's.  Really, my recipe is all Paula Dean, except I add red wine to the pan until the smell hits my nose when I'm sautéing the onion and venison.  I also don't include any mushrooms unless I've got some morels on hand.

But that's not the recipe we're here for.  We're her for my mom's, which is admittedly more awesome.  Its good with beef or venison, but I prefer venison.  I bet its pretty good with elk, too, and hope to find out after I hunt for them out west next year.


My mom remarried after I was out of the house, and while that's a difficult thing for a family to deal with, nothing brings a family together better than sitting around the table for a good dinner-- or sharing recipes.  Her husband, Jeff, is actually a chef-- and a pretty good one-- so when I asked her for her stroganoff recipe, Jeff came through with the text message below.  Try this one out when you get a chance, its good stuff!
  1. Marinate 1.5lbs thinly sliced venison in ground black pepper and Worcestershire, (sprinkle on a couple teaspoons of black pepper and splash on a little Worcestershire and let sit lightly covered at room temp for at least an hour)
  2. Sauté a handful of sliced onion in 3 tablespoons of butter, add venison and sear, don't cook through, remove to bowl
  3. Add 2 tablespoons more butter to the pan and sauté about a pound of onions till translucent and some start to carmelize, remove from pan.
  4. Add 1.5lbs sliced mushrooms with more butter if needed and sauté till tender, add more butter, (about 2 or 3 tablespoons) and add 3 to 4 tablespons of flour, stir until brown and bubbly and flour is cooked. 
  5. Add 1 quart beef stock, 1/2 can tomato paste, two tsp dry mustard and 4 cloves of chopped or crushed garlic, add one bay leaf and add the rest of a quart of beef stock, two cans beef consommé (or another 2 cups of stock) and a teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon, bring to a bubble and stir.
  6. If not thick enough add a tablespoon or two of cornstarch dissolved in stock to the mix
  7. Once thickened, return beef, onions and mushroom to pan, stir in 1/2 cup or more of red wine, (burgundy is traditional, but use what you like). 
  8. Simmer until meat is tender, serve over buttered parsley noodles.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Au Sable Trout are Pickier Than Your Trout



Somewhere on the Au Sable at dusk
Places that have hard to catch trout have a few things in common:  high angling pressure, relatively flat water and prolific insect activity.  They're home to trout that eat a lot of food, and who know what food is supposed to look and act like.

Sewing my fly fishing oats in northern Michigan, I always considered Au Sable Holy Water trout to be the toughest to catch.  That changed when I moved out to NY for five years and got a taste of the Delaware system.  Trout on the all branches of the Delaware were a pain in the ass, particularly the West Branch.  I'm sure if you talk to a guy whose homewater is the Frying Pan, or the Letort, or insert renowned trout stream here, he will tell you his trout are the hardest to fool.

I've been told by guys who have fished a lot of those famous places, that the two toughest are the Henry's Fork and West Branch of the Delaware.  When I asked them which was tougher, they would struggle before settling on the West Branch of the D, but those guys were New Yorkers, they are supposed to say that.  And being a fellow New Yorker at the time, I wanted to believe them. 

But here's the thing, they had never fished the Au Sable. 


I'm really loving Scientific Anglers' new ART taper
Now I'm not going to make the case that the Au Sable has the pickiest trout in the U.S., cause I'm not sure I'd believe it.  But they can be tough to fool- one stretch outside of the Holy Waters immediately comes to mind and I would put it up against the West Branch of the D.  What throws the Au Sable out of whack is some of the best, most-fished hatches happen at night when our finest trout specimens have thrown caution to the wind. 

Having fished the Au Sable pretty extensively in the dark, one of the things that always amazes me is how many large trout call it home.  Never in a million years could you convince me there are so many large (greater than 20" long) fish in the Au Sable if I had only fished it during the day.  Yet, most guys who come and fish the Au Sable, but only during the day, will probably catch some fish in the 7" to 12" range and go home thinking the Au Sable is just a bunch of pretty scenery and dinks.   

I think that's cool. 

I fished the Au Sable system the last two nights.  Saw sparse Hendrickson spinners and a couple black caddis in the air on evening one.  Got a little fish slime on my hands, but it was slow.  Last night I got home from work and talked my way out of doing some stuff around the house to go fishing instead.  It was in the mid-80's, there just had to be a spinnerfall, no way I could waste that kind of weather doing chores when there was bad weather coming later this week. 

You know its getting serious when you bust the net seine out
I never know where exactly I'm going to fish until I get there, and when I got there, the air was filled with Black Caddis.  I laid my rod down on some dead cedar branches and started catching them and taking pictures and all the other stuff bug geeks do when there are bugs everywhere and no fish rising.

I found a nice log to sit on and called a friend to pick his brain on broadheads and arrows shafts.  He already has me talked into switching to the Tooth of the Arrow broadheads this year, now I'm just trying to figure out what kind of arrows I want to run behind them.  I was leaning towards Easton FMJ's, but now I'm kinda thinking more about Carbon Express Maxima Hunters.  I'm gonna think on it some more, but my goal is to build an arrow in the 500 to 550 grain range so I don't have to make any changes to my setup when I go out west for elk next year, and so I can gain confidence in it through hunting whitetails this year. 

I've got the arrow building bug bad right now.

Just as our conversation was about to end, a few fish started to rise.  I wouldn't call them happy fish, but one was close, so I put a #14 Hendrickson spinner out there for a few (what I thought were) really nice drifts.  Switched to a #16 hemingway caddis.  Switched to 6X.  Switched to one of Dennis Potter's caddis patterns.  The caddis were mostly gone, and hendrickson spinners were bobbing up and down 30' in the air.  As far as I could tell, there were none on the water but I switched to a #14 egg laying Hendrickson spinner that John ties, and that was the ticket. 

It took 3 fly changes and 6X tippet to fool this little guy-- check out the red spot on that adipose!
While all that was happening, there was a grouse eating poplar buds 20' up a tree in front of me, and another in full strut walking the bank behind me.  The one in the tree was literally hanging upside down from the end of a skinny little poplar branch that was bowed over in the shape of a rainbow.  SNAP!  The branch broke and it fell and righted itself and landed gracefully like it was just another day in the office before flying back up for more.  Both of those birds and a third roosted in a different tree just a few yards away just before dark.

I left shortly after, giving in to the fact that the evening rise was over.



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Backpacking for Trout Part II: Shelters & Sleep Systems

Everything needed for three days of backpacking for trout (Not Shown:  waders/boots and pack)

Note:  This is part two of a four part series, which was broken up due to length
 
Part III:  Clothing, Cooking & Hydration, Survival & Misc.
Part IV:  Fly fishing gear for the backcountry

There are a lot of things I love about fly fishing, but the thing I probably love the most is getting as far off the beaten path as possible and exploring new water.  I've always been drawn to discovering whats around that next bend or seeing what those thing blue lines on a topo map look like in person.   
 
But the thing about going further and further in is the fishing and adventure often gets better and better the further you get from an access, and just when you are about to get where you want to be, you often need to turn around so you can get back to your vehicle at a decent hour.  I could never get as far away from the car as I would have liked.  I could never spend as much time as I wanted at the destination I was going, and as a result, I'd feel rushed while I was fishing. 
 
That's when the light bulb went off.  I needed to stop going back to the car and start backpacking ina and staying where the fishing was good. 
 
Now I've always thought fly anglers were the ultimate gear heads.  No one could love gear and gizmos more than us, right?  Wrong.  Backpackers take being a gear head to a whole new level-- and for the beginner, all the stuff to consider can get pretty confusing.  So I thought I'd share a list of whats currently in my pack for a 3-day fishing trip, why I chose what I did, what I need to upgrade when I get the extra money, etc., and hopefully demystify some of this stuff for the guy who wants to fish backcountry locations but doesn't need to get outfitted to hike the Appalachian Trail. 
 
So we talked about packs, now onto the next three pieces of gear:  Shelters, Sleeping bags/quilts and sleeping pads.  We're also gonna hit on what is probably a luxury item, backpacking pillows. 
 
A brief intro to the Tent vs Hammock Debate
 
I quickly realized that backpacking tents were expensive.  That's when I remembered my buddy Ed who slept in a hammock. 
 
Hammocks had to be less expensive, I thought.  And pound for pound compared to a tent, just the hammock is.  I got a hammock for Christmas with a built in bug net and thought I'd just get a cheap rain tarp and be good to go, but I didn't realize that if I wanted to go out in colder temps- say below 45-degrees,  I'd also want to get an underquilt. 
 
Underquilts are kind of like a hammock campers sleeping pad, they are your bottom insulation.  Due to convection, you can get cold in a hammock a lot faster than you might think.  A good example are bridges which get icy before the roads leading up to them due to the cold air moving around below them.  Hammock campers without some type of bottom insulation often get woken up in the middle of the night by "cold spots" beneath them. 
 
Now you don't have to get an underquilt, some hammock campers will use a sleeping pad, but if you're going to hammock camp, you absolutely want some type of bottom insulation, and an underquilt is the way to go.  Good ones are lightweight, pack down small, and don't take up a lot of space in your pack.  The same goes for rain flies.  But when you add all of these components together-- add up their size, add up their cost, add up their pack volume-- you will find that there is little difference in size, cost or volume savings with hammocks vs ultralight tents.  Which makes the decision about whether to go with a hammock or tent more about personal preference.
 
I don't want to get too far into it, but there are many other pros and cons to each type of sleep system.  There are some situations where I think a hammock is the way to go, others where a tent is the better option.  But if I had to choose only one, I'd go with a tent.  Why?  Because I can set up a tent pretty much anywhere in the world.  You can't hang a hammock where there are no trees or the trees are too far apart, or too close together, or too small. 
 
Marmot Limelight 2P
Shelters
 
My first backpacking trip to fly fish for trout, I carried a 50lb, 10-man eureka tent about a mile into where my basecamp was going to be in the Adirondacks in upstate NY.  I basically had to make one trip in just with the tent, and a couple more for the rest of my gear.  My backpacking days were pretty much put on hold until I could afford some lighter/smaller gear, and that gear search started with my shelter. 
 
One of the first things you want to consider when choosing a shelter is how many people are going to be sleeping in it?  For me, the answer was just myself 90-percent of the time, but maybe every now and then I might be able to convince my wife or one of the kids-- or maybe a friend-- to join me; so I was looking for something that could sleep two people. 
 
Now as anyone who has ever purchased a tent knows, two man tents are usually one man tents, three man tents are ok for two men, and so forth.  Only once I started looking at the cost for lightweight or ultralight two man tents, I couldn't afford any of "the good ones" that all the cool thru-hikers were using. 
 
The first backpacking tent I bought is still my daily driver, a Marmot Limelight 2P.  To my car camping friends, its a Cadillac.  To backpackers, its a Chevy Malibu-- maybe more of an Impala.  Its a little heavy (5lbs 2oz), and would be nice if it could pack down smaller, but, I got it on sale with free shipping for $150 at backcountry.com (Regular price is currently $199) and would have had to spend at least twice that much for something like a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.   
 
I like the straight side walls of the Limelight, and its a true two person tent.  My son is man-sized now and we both fit in there with room to spare.  It has dual doors so if one of us has to get out to take a piss in the middle of the night, we can do it without crawling over the other guy.  The dual vestibules are nice, too, and plenty big enough to use as storage for stuff like boots or a pack.  It is freestanding, meaning it can be set up without being staked down, which will come in handy when I'm in the Adirondacks or western UP and possibly need to camp on bedrock.  Because its freestanding, I can leave the tent part at home and just camp under the fly which is a huge weight reduction that I'm not accounting for here-- but not recommended in tick country.  The weight isn't a big deal with two guys, you just split it up into two packs and its like carrying nothing at all.
 
I think given the option, I'd make the same buying decision again.  But if I cut cost out of the purchasing decision, I'd go with the Nemo Dagger 2-person which currently retails for about $400.  The Dagger has a lot in common with the Limelight and the Copper Spur, kind of getting the best of all worlds.  It only weighs a smidge over 3lbs.  Its a great tent, and much tougher than other tents in its weight range, and backpackers might give me grief for this, but tough means a little more to backpacking anglers and hunters than someone thruhiking. 
 
My future shelter plans are to get all of the mileage I can out of the Limelight, but when it comes time to purchase another tent, I will get something like the Seek Outside Cimarron w/ Stove.  The Cimmaron is a 4-person tarp/tee-pee style tent that sleeps 4 without the stove, two with.  The crazy thing is, even with the stove, the Cimmaron only weighs 6lbs 2oz!  Basically about the same as my Limelight.  Its pricey, though-- currently at $824.
 

Sleeping Bags/Quilts
 

For backpacking, a sleeping bag is one of those items where you can really cut some weight and save some available pack volume.  I can't stress enough here how much you want a bag that packs down small.  Unless you are lashing it to the outside of your pack, your standard run of the mill Coleman sleeping bag is not going to cut it, you just don't have the room. 
 
That doesn't mean you need to spend big bucks, my first backpacking bag was a Suisse Sport Adventurer Mummy Bag off of Amazon.  I'm 6' tall, have a fairly wide chest, and I fit in that bag comfortably, yet it packs down to roughly the size of a volleyball and only costs about $40.  I still have that bag, and it serves its purpose, but I'm not a big fan of mummy bags so I upgraded to a Quilt. 
 
Quilts are basically just that, a quilted blanket filled with some type of insulation-- typically down.  Most have some type of footbox for you to tuck your feet into. 
 
After reading online reviews for what felt like months, I narrowed my list down to the Enlightened Equipment Revelation and Enigma, ultimately deciding to go with the Engima to save a little weight over the Revelation. My quilt specs are below.  I really like how the Enlightened Equipment quilts have baffles that run vertically instead of horizontally all the way up the bag.  That keeps your insulation where its supposed to be, instead of "falling" to the sides of the bag while you sleep.
 
 (Down Type (DownTek Treated): 850 fill, Temperature: 30°F (-1°C), Length: Regular - 6', Width: Wide - 58", Outside Fabric Options: Black 10D, Inside Fabric Color: Charcoal 10D) 

Being a bigger guy, I was happy I went with the wide version. I went with a 30-degree rating. I'm not a warm or a cold sleeper, but feel I'm somewhere in the middle. So far I've slept with it down to the low 20's and stayed comfortably warm (wearing a baselayer while sleeping). I think I could comfortably get down into the high teens. On warmer nights, I've had it with night time lows as high as the mid-60's and didn't need to uncover or anything like that due to overheating as I used it as more of a blanket than a bag.

One thing I kind of lucked into was going with a black exterior/charcoal interior. When the sun comes up in the morning and you aren't ready to get up, you just tuck your head inside the quilt (no problem with my height) and its pitch black again.

Weight (~16oz) and pack size wise, this thing packs down about as small as you can get- maybe half a volleyball.  I can't see myself ever going back to a mummy or traditional sleeping bag.

Sleeping Pads
 
Sure, you can just sleep on the ground or your tent floor, but you will be uncomfortable and probably cold as the ground absorbs your body heat, and that's where a sleeping pad comes in. 
 
I have the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite, which weighs a whopping 12-ounces.  It has an R (insulation) value of 3.2, which is pretty good for a 3-season pad and the reason I am able to get by with a 30-degree quilt at colder temps.  I have the regular size, which I thought I'd be rolling off of all the time when I first saw how big it was, but its pretty comfortable and I rarely roll off the side while sleeping.    It does tend to make a "crinkley" sounds when you roll around which is probably the only con I have for it.
 
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite
 
 
Another honorable mention here is the Klymit Static V, which costs less than half of the NeoAir, packs down just as small, and weighs only 18oz.  The only con of the Klymit is the R-value is much lower, coming in at 1.3.  I have one of these, too, for a backup or my wife/son to use and its also a pretty comfortable pad. 
 
Backpacking Pillows
 
So pillows aren't really a requirement, but I need my beauty sleep and wadding up some of my clothes or using my arm or sleeping pad as a pillow just isn't going to cut it.  I went with the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow which is wicked comfortable, packs down smaller than your fist, and weighs in at just 4-ounces. 
 
Base Weight So Far
 
So with my 5.1-pound pack, a 5-pound tent, 16-ounce quilt, 12-ounce sleeping pad and 4-ounce pillow my total pack weight is sitting at 12.1-pounds.  That's not ultralight backpacker class weight, by any means, but its close, and pretty light for hunting and fishing.  I gain a couple/few pounds by having a hunting pack, and I am gaining two or three pounds by having a heavier shelter, but I'm ok with that as I like the pack and shelter I have and comfort is just as important as weight on some things.   
 
My goal is to be under 40-pounds with everything including fishing gear (adds a ton of weight that normal backpackers don't have to worry about), food and water.  For hunting, I'm not sure yet where I want my pack weight to be, but I'm guessing under 50lbs with my bow/arrows, etc. 
 
In Part III, we'll talk about all the other backpacking/survival stuff that goes in my pack to get us up to that 40-pound mark. 
 

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