"Sometimes, you just need to go downstairs and waggle a rod..."

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Dad, My Instructor

I tend to say that I am a self-taught fly caster, but that's not entirely true. While I have never had an actual casting lesson from an actual instructor, my dad, Steve, did give me some rudimentary lessons when I first started flailing away with a fly rod, back around the age of ten. He wasn't the most fluent of casters, but he had done some fly fishing when he was younger, so he knew the basics. Actually, looking back at it now, he pretty much only taught me how to roll cast, and then I filled in the rest on my own. But, he was a good roll caster! Even later on, when I would take him fishing, he pretty much just roll casted all the time... Hey, it worked for him, and he was a stubborn old Norwegian, so who was I to try to get him to change?
My dad, Steve, knew how to roll cast...

Speaking of him and his roll casting, I can't tell you how many times I saw him plop himself at the head of a pool and roll cast a size 14 beadhead orange scud down into the pool, and then just let it sit there in the current, putting a tiny amount of movement on it with his rod tip every once in a while. The fly would just hang there, not like an actual scud at all, yet time after time he would catch a few trout, some of which were good sized. I would routinely outfish him, but he didn't care. He would catch some fish, which justified his unorthodox style, and he was happy. I told you he was a stubborn old Norwegian...
Size 14 Beadhead Orange Scuds

My dad was also my first fly tying instructor. Just like with fly fishing, his knowledge of fly tying was somewhat limited, and that same knowledge was about 30 years old when I got my first fly tying kit. But I was eager to learn, so he taught me everything he knew. Together we made some enormous and gaudy wet flies that started unraveling as soon as they were out of the vise; some cork bodied poppers with terrible paint jobs; and some other flies that didn't really fit into any categories, other than maybe "fish frighteners". None of our flies back then were very pretty, but they got me excited to learn more, and my dad was smart enough to know there were others out there who could teach me more than he could. Together we found a local fly shop, and he allowed me to take all the fly tying classes I wanted. He may have been stubborn, but he was also a great dad...

Of course those weren't the only things my dad taught me, but they are the things that make sense to write about here on my fly fishing blog. You see, my dad died on Friday. He lost his long battle with aphasia and Alzheimer's. We knew the day was coming, but it still was sad. But it has also been fun to look at old photos and relive old memories. Memories of days on the water and time spent behind the vise with him. Memories of him driving a 12-year-old me out to the fly shop almost every week just to hang out and absorb the knowledge of people who seemed to know what they were talking about. And memories of a 35-year-old me acting as his guide, taking him to new waters he had never fished before. My dad was a great instructor, even though he had some unorthodox ways of doing things. He was my first fishing buddy, and I am going to miss him. I love you, dad!

My dad on the banks of our favorite trout stream. RIP Steve Hanson, 1938-2018

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Merry Fishmas! Ha, See What I Did There?

I don't know if you noticed, but Christmas was just a little over a week ago. I didn't ask for any new rods or reels this year, mostly because everybody in my family already thinks I have enough rods and reels, and I didn't want to get any grief from them. But as we all know, you can never have too many rods and reels, so I got myself a few Christmas presents, to go along with the wonderful stuff my family did get me.

First of all, I figured I needed a new reel to go with my new bamboo rod that I won earlier in December (click on Boo! to read all about it!). It's a very light 6'6" 2wt rod, and I didn't have a reel that was small enough to balance it well, and I also didn't have a 2wt line to use on it. The 3wt lines I have seemed a little too much for it.  I know that a classic old bamboo rod probably deserves a classic old reel to go with it, like a Hardy Flyweight or an Orvis CFO, but I don't think I will actually be fishing with this rod all that much, and I couldn't justify spending much on a reel for it. Same with the line. So, after much consternation and grinding of teeth, I finally decided to go with something a little less expensive. I ordered a Maxcatch Avid 1/3 reel direct from China, and a Maxcatch 2wt weight forward line to go with it, also from China. I got both for well under $50, and the amazing thing is that they both came with free shipping. How can they ship things all the way from China without charging for shipping? And, they arrived less than a week after I ordered them! What a crazy world we live in...

The Avid seems like a very nice little machined large arbor reel, with a disc drag and everything! It seems to be very well built, but I guess time will tell if it lasts. The line is your basic weight forward line. I am a fan of name-brand lines, but I also would rather spend my rod fund money on rods and reels, so I have purchased a few cheap lines from Maxcatch. So far, they all seem fine. And super cheap!

I haven't been doing very much fly fishing for bass over the past few years, so about a year ago I decided to sell my high-end bass rod to help fund some other rod or reel purchase that I don't actually remember right now. I figured I could always find a lower priced bass rod at a later point in time. After much searching, I found two at the same time! So, I bought both, and will figure out which one I like best once the temps get above -5 and I go outside.

The first rod is a beautiful old Fenwick HMG 8'6" 7wt, that looks like it hasn't been used much, if at all. There's still a label on the cork...The second is another old beauty, a Sage 790 DS, which also has had very little use. That one even has a built-in extended butt, which will come in handy if I ever catch a brute of a smallie. Some of you might be thinking, "I thought this guy only fished fiberglass rods...". Well, I have come to the conclusion that fiberglass is a perfect rod material for me in smaller line sizes, like 6wt and under. The few fiberglass 7 & 8wts I have cast seemed like they were a little too heavy, so I tired out faster than I wanted. So, it's back to graphite for me, at least in the bigger line weights. But I will stick with the older and slower graphite, thank you very much.

The other fishing gifts were actual gifts, not just things I bought for myself. Both of them were books, All Fishermen Are Liars, by John Gierach, and Fish Won't Let Me Sleep by James Babb. Both Gierach and Babb are excellent writers, so I am excited to have some new books to read during the unrelenting Minnesota winter which has only just begun.

I hope you all had a very Merry Fishmas!

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, New Contest

I like to tie flies, and I like to blog. So why not combine those two things? Starting today, January 1st, 2018, we are launching our Every-Other-Week Fly Giveaway Contest here on The Riffle. Everyone who emails me their name and mailing address to shanson1974@gmail.com will be entered into a random drawing for three (3) flies. For this first contest, we will be giving away three size 8 Yellow Stimulators. Who couldn't use some Stimmies? The contest will run until 11:59 PM CST on Sunday, January 14th. We will announce the winner and the flies for the next contest on Monday the 15th. Let all your friends know! Oh, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 18, 2017


I didn't really plan for this to happen, and to be honest, before a couple of weeks ago, I never had the slightest inclination that it ever would happen. But it has, and it's kind of exciting. Yup, I have made a huge splash, and gotten my first bamboo fly rod. Instead of saying "I got my first bamboo fly rod", I should say that it got me. You see, I didn't go out and shop for this rod, doing my usual research and finding just the right rod to fit my needs. No. I won it in a bucket raffle at my Trout Unlimited Chapter's Annual Holiday Banquet. So, really, all I did was drop my very last raffle ticket in a bucket, and now I have become a Bamboo Rod Owner. In some ways I feel that is a title that is far too lofty for me. I don't smoke a pipe or even own a tweed jacket...

The rod I won is a beautiful little 6'6" 2/3wt quad (4-sided) rod built by the late John Irgens of Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I had never heard of Mr. Irgens before the night of the Banquet, and upon searching the internet, it seems as though there is not much info about him or his rods anywhere. I found some brief mentioning of him on an internet forum that is dedicated to bamboo rods, but not very much. But I guess it doesn't matter if the world knows about John Irgens, because I can attest that he made a fine bamboo fly rod. The craftsmanship seems to be first rate. And the rod is truly a beauty. But even better than that, it casts very nicely, too.
Isn't that a cool little cork grip?

The weather was very nice this afternoon, so I took it out on the lawn/snow for the first time and gave it a good test. Being a fiberglass fan, I thought I would be ready for the slowness of the bamboo, but it took me a little while to get the timing down. It is slowwwww. Once I did, I was able to get very accurate 40' casts out, but it really felt good at about 25-30'. I think it will be a great rod for some of my favorite brook trout streams around here, and I will happily test it out on some bluegills in the local lakes this summer, too. In some ways, I am happy it's the middle of winter and everything is too frozen to fish right now. It gives me some time to go out and buy a tweed jacket!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How Many Reels?

By the end of this blog post I may wish I hadn't posed this question, but for some reason it is stuck in my mind, so I am going to ask it... How many reels is enough? I won't ask the same question about rods, because we all know that there is no limit to the amount of rods one needs. Fly rods are the coolest and most important tool that man has ever invented, and my goal is to own all of them at some point. But reels are different. Sure they serve a purpose, but they are pretty much interchangeable, at least within a line size. So do you need a different reel to match each rod you own? I don't think so, but how many is enough?

When I first started in this crazy sport of fly fishing, back when I was around the age of ten, I had exactly one rod, an awful broomstick of a pole that was purchased at the anti-fly shop known as Fleet Farm, and exactly one reel, an equally awful Medalist clone that had a hard time keeping its spool in place whilst being turned. If I remember correctly, the line that came with this "combo" was a white level line, and may or may not have been a match to the line weight of the rod. It's a miracle I remained interested in the sport...

Thankfully, soon after that I saved up enough money to buy myself my first "good" fly rod, a Cortland GRF1000 8' 5/6wt. Compared to my initial rod, the Cortland was as smooth as silk. To go with my new rod, I also purchased a new reel, a Scientific Angler System One 4-5-6 reel, which I still own. The knob doesn't turn very well any more, which is the only reason I haven't sold it. I wouldn't want to sell somebody a defective reel. So it sits on top of my gear armoire, not being used.

For several years, that was my gear. One rod and one reel. And it was all I needed, until I got interested in bass fishing, and went back to Fleet Farm to get a Berkley Grayfite 8' 8wt rod. It wasn't great, but it was fine for the limited amount of bass fishing I did. I saved up some more money and bought another Scientific Angler reel, this time a 7-8-9 System One.

For the next 10 years, that was my gear. And it did fine, although to be honest, I wasn't as crazy about fly fishing during that timeframe as I am now.  If you can believe it, there were a few years that I didn't fish at all. I was into other things. In my mid-20s, that changed, and the fly fishing bug bit hard again, and I haven't gotten over that bite yet. If you know of some kind of ointment that helps with the itch, please keep that to yourself...

I soon got a nice Orvis 3wt rod and reel set, and that was followed by an even nicer (more expensive) Sage 5wt rod. Well, I couldn't be expected to fish an expensive rod with a cheap reel, could I? Of course not, so I got a nice Lamson reel to pair with it. Over the next few years, rods were added to my quiver at a steady rate, but my stash of reels stayed about the same. I did get an extra spool for both the Orvis and Lamson reels, but that was about it. And my old S.A. 7-8-9 reel worked just fine, even with the newer St. Croix 8 weight rod I acquired.

Lately though, I have become a real gear junkie. I think it helps me feel connected to the sport even though I don't fish as much as I used to. I get great enjoyment out of buying rods and reels, trying them out to see what I like and don't like, keeping some and moving the rest on to other fisherpeople. Because of that I now have almost as many reels as rods. But why? Why do I have so many reels? The rods are what does all the work. right?. Reels pretty much just hold the line, don't they? So why do I have so many? And how do I decide which ones I should keep? Should I use expensive reels because of their reputation and aura? Should I use cheap reels because they are cheap? If I choose that option, should I spend all my extra money on more rods, or should I go buy some groceries so my kids can eat? This is too many questions. I told you I would probably regret ever starting this post...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The End

For all of my life, the trout season in both my home state of Minnesota and my pseudo-home state of Wisconsin has ended on the last day of September. Up until the last couple of years, that is. At some point  (I don't even know exactly when it happened) the Wisconsin trout season started to stay open until October 15th. This year I finally decided to fish for trout in October, so my buddy Bryon and I headed out on the 15th to see what October trout fishing was all about.
The river looked fishy enough...

The first fish on my new Steffen rod

I'll tell you this much, the trout fishing in October wasn't anything like the trout fishing we had experienced in earlier months, that's for sure. It was hard! We fished as well as we could for several hours, and had very little to show for it. I caught 4 trout, three of which were tiny, and Bryon landed two. He also performed a couple of heart-wrenching LDR's on some big fish that I heard about later. He's a pretty honest guy, so I believe him. Other than that, we spent the day fruitlessly flailing away with all sorts of different flies, to no avail. Let's see, I tried an Elk Hair Caddis, a biot-bodied parachute, a CDC-winged emerger type thingy, a Spearfish Special nymph which had slayed the fish all season long no matter where I was fishing, a Madam X, a Stimulator, a couple of different colored wooly buggers, my rubber-legged prince nymph, and probably several other flies.
Bryon, the man, rigging up

I am not sure what flies Bryon used, other than the X-Caddis he started out with. He's not nearly the crazed fly-changer that I am, so I assume his list would be much shorter than mine. The thing is that we saw fish rising, at least for a while. And quite a few of them. But that didn't mean we could catch them. We both must have been too out of practice when it came to fishing dries. Oh well, we have the winter to practice up...

My newest acquisition, a Steffen S-glass 7' 4wt

The best part about the day was getting to use my new Steffen Brothers 7' 4wt glass rod I recently acquired. If you are unfamiliar with Steffen rods, they are a small company in Arizona that makes some of the best casting fiberglass rods around. This is my second Steffen rod, to go along with my 7'6" 2/3wt. I paired the new 4wt with my Scientific Anglers System 4 reel, and together that combo performed flawlessly. OK, maybe not flawlessly, seeing that I was the one casting them, but they performed very well, especially when I was casting smaller dries and nymphs. When I added a big, bushy Stimulator to my rig to act as an indicator, the Steffen wasn't quite as crisp. It still got both flies out where I wanted them, but it was just slightly more laborious. Later, when the water started to get dirtier from a recent rainfall, and I knew I would need to use some bigger and flashier flies, I switched to my Fenwick FF75 7'6" 5/6wt glass rod.
A dude I met in the woods

My biggest fish of the day...

Obviously, both Bryon and I had a fun day. We were fishing for trouts, after all. But it wasn't the glorious way I was hoping we would end the season. Oh well, if every day on the water was glorious, things would quickly get boring and I would revert back to playing golf...I can't wait until next year's trout season opens!

Gear Used: Steffen Brothers 7' 4wt S-Glass rod; Scientific Anglers System 4 reel; A plethora of flies;
Fenwick FF75 glass rod; Lamson LP-2 reel; Even more flies...
A lovely way to end the season, as we drove back to civilization.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Scott and his Scotts

I have developed a deep appreciation for Scotts. And I don't mean myself, or even other humans named Scott. Despite the fact that I do like myself, and even have a few friends named Scott, those aren't the Scotts I am talking about. The Scotts I am referring to are Scott fly rods, and to be even more specific, Scott fiberglass fly rods. I have owned a few Scott graphite fly rods over the years, and they were nice, too, but at this particular point in time the only Scotts I own are of the fiberglass variety, and they are sweet!

Me and one of my Scotts. Photo by Bryon Tang
As you may already know, my rod arsenal is always changing, but at the moment I own three Scott glass rods. First up is an F754/3, a sweet dark gray 7'6" 4wt. Next up is an F2 774/3, a lovely yellow 7'7" 4wt. Lastly I have an older yellow Pow-R Ply 8' 5wt. They each are their own rod, and have their own individual feel, but I like them all. The two 4 weights are both light and crisp, perfect dry fly rods. The Pow-R-Ply 5wt has a feel all its own. At first it feels quite heavy in the hand, which isn't a feeling that fills me with confidence. But as soon as I start casting it, it comes alive. It can make any cast I want to try with it. I can make delicate presentations with small dries, I can cast weighted nymphs and indicators all day, and I can boom long casts into the wind. It's pretty amazing.
This Scott really loves his Scotts!
The F754/3 with a cute little bluegill
The F2 774/3 on a lovely Driftless stream

The Pow-R-Ply 8' 5wt, after a chunky brook trout flopped out of the photo. I promise, it was a brute...