Tuesday, April 2, 2013


The longer one ties the more the quality of the tying materials dictate the end result.  Having worked in the fly fishing industry for a number of years I have seen the quality of natural products drop as demand increases and the size of tying manufacturers grow.  For large distributors the work that goes into boutique level quality control just prices itself out of the market when you are trying to supply 500+ shops.  The best materials have always been from small basement suppliers or specialty shops.  Some will no doubt argue that mass produced products catch fish just fine, but personally catching fish is only part of the fly fishing equation for me.  There is pride in a finely constructed fly, a delicate cast, reading the conditions and adjusting from a size 16 to 18 emerger.  For those who build rods there is the craftsmanship in component selection, thread work, and finish application.  regardless of the project, this much seems to hold:  You can't get a great result if the materials or workmanship you put into it are second rate.  The review that follows is of a a supplier who produces a small range of product, but what they offer is the absolute top of the line.  SWISSCDC have focused their efforts on CDC feathers and specialty dubbing.  If you have never experienced anything other than Hareline (or any large suppliers) then the qualitative difference between what SWISSCDC has to offer is stunning.

SWISSCDC offers their CDC in three sizes:  Standard (39 colors), Select (24 colors), and Ultra Select 18 colors).  All of the CDC feathers are harvested from winter ducks, which tend to produce a nicer feather.  Summer CDC has a tendency to have more broken barbs, in part, due to matting caused by heat.  I've worked with all three sizes and have yet to find one feather that had broken barbs or was matted!

Ultra Select

Select CDC

The Ultra Select is unlike any CDC feather I have ever seen.  They are large enough to use as spent wings on Hex flies and have applications in a wide range of classic salmon flies.

What sets SWISSCDC apart from other CDC producers, in addition to the quality of feather and size, is the range of colors!  In addition to 39 dyed colors SWISSCDC also offers a line of CDC that has been colored with natural dyes.  The end result is that you can produce feather blends in just about any possible shade to match local hatches.  

In addition to the CDC feathers SWISSCDC also produces CDC dubbing blends that will revolutionize your dry flies.  The CDC dubbing is not just chopped up whole feathers that contain stems and long uneven fibers.  Instead the barbs are stripped and then cut to an even length thus producing a dubbing that wraps tight and makes tapering quick and easy.  CDC dubbing is available in 14 shades and they can even mix custom colors with 10g orders.  I have been using CDC dubbing for dry flies for the last few years and recently have used it to add "hot spots" to my Czech nymphs.  The ultra soft dubbing flows and offers textual contrast that I have not found with any other material.

Other offerings from SWISSCDC include Argentinian Hare dubbing, which comes in both standard and long varieties.  Like their CDC the qualitative difference is surprising!  The dubbing has a three dimensional quality to it that is just not found in domestic farm raised hares.

Finally, SWISSCDC offers Arctic Fur dubbing.  This dubbing range is harvested from adult seals and has the characteristic dense and super spiky fibers that makes seal such a great material for constructing flies.  I use the arctic fur dubbing on soft hackles to supper the partridge and it works great.  The dubbing can also be used to produce some of the wildest nymph bodies you can dream up.  Arctic fur dubbing comes in 8 colors.  

In Sum:  SWISSCDC offers boutique quality materials in a very nice range of colors and sizes.  The quality control that goes into each package is exactly what you would expect from a company that has focused their efforts on a handful of products!  For my dry flies, nymphs, and soft hackles I use their dubbing exclusively and their CDC is heads above any "super select" that I have seen from domestic suppliers.  Additionally, for those interested, all orders can be supplied with an official macro biological / veterinarian certificate that states that the product has been tested and cleared for harmful pathogens.  As with any niche market the effort that goes into producing top quality products carries with it an increase in price.  SWISSCDC products are not cheap, but the quality of product is well worth the price of admission.

Disclosure- SWISSCDC provided the featured products free of charge for me to review. I was not compensated in any other way for this blog post.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guideline: Alta Jacket

Over the years I have owned or worked with all of the major U.S. brands of wading jackets (Simms, Patagonia, Orvis etc...).   I fish year around in Michigan and my equipment takes a real beating between 90 degree days in the summer and fishing off shelf ice in February with temps. holding in the low 20s.  Integral to any good fishing insulation system is a wading jacket.  Wading Jackets offer protection from rain and snow and allow moisture to escape (trapped moisture is perhaps the greatest hinderance to staying warm during winter fishing).  A good wading jacket also allows an angler to load up everything they need for the day and offers a storage system that not only makes finding what you need quick, but also does not generate bulk so as to interfere with casting.  For a long time I used the Orvis Pro Stretch Wading Jacket, but found that the large pockets lacked the necessary structure to organize.  Additionally, the cut of the Orvis jacket (like most Orvis products) is way too loose.  The front pockets of the Orvis jacket are internal so they do not provide much bulk which is a very nice feature, but the lack of structure in the pockets makes them more like black holes.  On the other end of the spectrum i've also fished Patagonia's SST jacket, which is a great all around wading jacket, but the large billow pockets on the front (loaded or unloaded) are always getting in the way.  The pockets offer a ton of storage, but at the cost of becoming cumbersome on the river.  Simm's wading jackets suffered from the same problem as the Patagonia jacket too bulky.  The pockets simply puffed out thus making them difficult to get a good clean casting stroke.

Last year I was introduced to the Guideline Alta wading Jacket and I was blown away by the all of the design features.  Leif Stavmo is Guideline's chief product designer.  Leif's understanding of rod design, lines, and technical clothing is second to none in the industry and his attention to detail comes through in every stitch of the Alta Jacket.  The Alta Jacket is a no frills fishing jacket that can handle the worst weather mother nature can throw at you.  It also is the only jacket, in my opinion, that gets the pockets right.

The Alta Jacket is made from Japanese Toray Dermizax EV fabric, which offers unparalleled protection from moisture both on the outside and inside of the jacket.  With breathability rates at a high 20000g/m2/24hrs and resists water to a level of 20000 mm/psi.  Translation: The shell of the Alta Jacket repels water and breaths more efficiently than a shell made from Gore-tex.  I have personally used this jacket in straight downpours where it was impossible to even get a cast off.  The jacket left me warm and dry the entire day and even after walking a mile or so upstream I hadn't built up any sweat.  Here are a few of the features that really set the Alta Jacket apart from the rest:

The front pockets on the Alta are large and have plenty of room for fly boxes, shooting heads, and just about anything else you might want to bring for a day of fishing.  The pockets also feature elastic bands that hold the pockets tight to the contents.  This allows a streamline pocket regardless of how much you pack into it.  Each chest pocket also features a retractable tool clip that will easily accommodate nippers or a pair of hemostats.  On the outside of the front pockets there are well placed hand warmer pockets for those days when even gloves don't work.  The inside of the pocket (the side next to the front zipper)  features a deep velcro pocket that allows for quick access for items such as gloves, a hat, or tippet spools.  The right front pocket also features a mesh outer pocket for easy identification of contents.  The thought that went into the pocket design alone of this jacket is worth the price of admission!

The cuffs on the Alta are pretty standard for a high end wading jacket and feature a water tight adjustable cuff that keeps water out when releasing fish.  A nice clean design that does not get hung up on anything.

For extra storage the Alta also has two protected zippered pockets that offer the perfect place for a camera, leader wallet, shooting heads, wallet and keys, or just about anything you might want to take with you.  The pockets are protected from the elements by both the storm flap that protects the main zipper and the individual zippers featured on each pocket.

The hood on the Alta was one of the first things I noticed.  The hook offers a number of quick adjustments that allow you to cinch it down to an almost closed position when the rain or snow is coming at you sideways and with a quick adjustment you can have the hood off your head for when the sun comes out.  The front bill of the hook offers plenty of protection and there is room for wearing an insulated had underneath.  Really a great feature to the jacket!  I hate messing around on the water trying to get the hood to fit right and Guideline nailed it!

The Alta jacket also features a mesh internal pocket for small items.

Finally, I'm not generally one to use the back pocket of wading jackets too often, mostly because the access placement tends to be awkward.  Zippers placed too high or too low or worse yet a top access  pocket that means you have to take the jacket off to get to the contents.  I was pleasantly suppressed when I went to grab my headlamp from the rear pocket of the Alta that the zipper placement was perfect.  I didn't have to fumble for it and it didn't require some strange awkward movement  to open and close the zipper.  Again small things like zipper placement are the hallmark of Guideline design and they really set this jacket apart from the rest.

In sum: The Alta Jacket is bar none the most functional wading jacket I have ever had the pleasure of using.  The shell outperforms Gore-tex shells and the design elements right down to pocket design and zipper placement place this a jacket in a league of its own.  The Alta is light enough to wear in a summer rain and in the winter it provides the necessary wind and moisture protection.

Disclosure- Guideline provided the featured products free of charge for me to review. I was not compensated in any other way for this blog post.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Leatherman Charge AL & Ledlenser P7 LED Flashlight

Although never a boy scout, I've always prided myself on trying to anticipating situations in advance and prepare accordingly.  In todays mechanized world including everything from power drifters to fly reels being prepared often means having a number of tools.  My truck generally contains a somewhat ridiculous supply of tools where (If I knew how) could no doubt fix just about anything out there.  When in a boat or on foot, however, taking a large supply of tools is impractical only so far as things go according to plan.  Its when you realize the guy at the Orvis shop never bothered to tighten the drag screws on your reel or in the middle of a high spring runoff your power drifter suddenly looses power that have a set of tools starts to seem pretty darn practical!  When on a boat or camping I now take only two tools: the Leatherman Charge AL and the Ledlenser P7 LED Flashlight.  Between those two tools you have at your disposal, in my opinion, the most practical combination of tools for use while boating or fishing.  Here are a few details:

The Leatherman Charge AL features both a needle nose and stander pliers in addition to a wire cutter.  The needle nose pliers is perfect for removing bolts as well as hooks from toothy critters where a bit of extra reach is desired.  The wire cutter also works great for cutting wire tippet or braid.

The Charge AL also has a serrated blade that makes quick work of rope.

The sturdy saw is perfect for cutting small branches while camping or trying to remove an expensive fly from a tree.

The standard knife blade is razor sharp and has more uses than I have time to list.  Just the other day I removed a pretty nasty sliver from my hand with it.

The Charge AL features a quick change screwdriver tool that allows you to work with hex, standard, and philips bits.  The extra bits are stored in a sleeve that fits behind the tool in the leather case.

One of my favorite features of the Charge AL is a standard file along with a diamond file.  Keeping your hooks sharp or working out a burr on the water has never been easier.  The Leatherman Charge AL also features: A bottle opener, micro screw driver, serrated scissors, large flat screwdriver.

A tool is generally only as good as your ability to see what you are doing with it.  To that end I now carry the German made Ledlenser P7 LED flashlight.  This small light, which runs on 4 AA batteries is brighter than my 4 D cell Mag light!  It can been seen from hundreds of yards away and has one of the best wide/focus features I have ever encountered.  To adjust the beam all you do is slide the head of the light forward or backward.  no more twisting only to have the head fall off while adjusting the beam!  The P7 features two settings (high and low) for different situations or to save power on extended trips.  Dollar for dollar I have never seen or used a flashlight that matches the P7!

The P7 features an easy to find on/off switch that also toggles between high and low settings.  The switch is fast and reliable.  No more twisting heads or scrambling to find the switch in the rain.

In Sum: When on a boat or camping I always carry both the Charge AL and the P7 light.  Between the two I have repaired boats, reels, glasses, changed a battery, removed slivers, fixed glasses, sharpened hooks, and found my way back to the truck in the pouring rain.  Without hesitation I fully recommend owning both the Charge AL and the P7 flashlight.

Disclosure- Leatherman and Ledlenser provided the featured products free of charge for me to review. I was not compensated in any other way for this blog post.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Medlar Press: DVD/Book Mayflies and More

Medlar Press is a small book publisher located in north Shropshire England.  They specialize in angling literature and offer a number of great titles.  Medlar uses sustainable paper and inks and rely on a handful of artists and photographers.  Because of their size Medlar is able to publish a number of fantastic titles that you can't find anywhere else.  They offer a two volume set on the history of fly fishing and very nice selection of angling literature.  You can purchase books direct from their site or you can find a number of titles on Ebay or Amazon.com

Chris Stanford is at it again with his DVD/book combo Mayflies and More which contain some of his favorite chalk stream patterns.  Having fished my local rivers and lakes for going on 25 years I'm always interested in trying new patterns.  Lately, at least for the last ten years or so, it seems that most of the fly shops are stocking flies imported from Kenya and the pattern selection is moving from custom flies to commercial reproductions.  The compromise is that you have readily available patterns, but they all pretty much look the same and over time fish can become conditioned to the same patterns.  Additionally, fishing the same patterns season after season can get boring and turn an otherwise beautiful day on the water into a monotonous changing from a Adams to a pheasant tail nymph and picking up a few fish here and there.  With that context in place, Chris Sandford offers a fresh set of patterns that have been tried and found successful on a number of rivers and lakes.  Chris's patterns are not difficult to tie.  Some like the "No Hackle May Fly" require a bit of practice to get the wings just right, but the pay off is a fly that presents a unique silhouette on the waters surface.  Chris also offers a nice selection of nymphs, emerges, terrestrials, and attractor patterns all of which look and fish great!  Finally, and I apologize in advance if this sounds a bit cynical, but I find it so refreshing that Chris' patterns are not really just a thinly discussed marketing campaign for new fly tying materials.  Most if not all of Chris's patterns can be tied with a nicely stocked bench.  For the dozen or so patterns listed in the book I had to purchase exactly two items.

The book Mayflies And More offers easy to follow step by step instruction with just the right amount of  pictures and written instruction.  Each pattern is preceded by a short description which includes the history of the pattern and how to fish it.  Before the step by step instructions there is also a conveniant material list so you don't get half way through the pattern and realize that you need something.  To top things off, Mayflies And More also comes with a DVD where Chris ties each pattern showing you in realtime every technique as the pattern is constructed.  Personally, I use the book at my tying desk and then if there is a technique that I am unfamiliar with or if I want to see the proportions of a particular fly from a different perspective, then I simply pop in the DVD and Chris demonstrates the tie.

In Sum:  I have tied and personally fished every pattern in Mayflies And More and have caught fish on all of them.  Without hesitation I fully recommend this book/DVD combo.  Chris is an informative and entertaining writer.  His patterns are a great way to try some new techniques and learn a bit of history as well.  My only wish is that Mayflies And More was longer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and tying the flies.  You can find more information on Chris's other books, articles, and a fantastic collection of fishing related links on his new website:  http://www.chrissandford.com

Disclosure- Medlar Press provided the featured products free of charge for me to review. I was not compensated in any other way for this blog post.

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