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

"Write what you know. If you don't know, make it up..." - Scott Hanson

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let's Catch Up with Mike Alwin

If you are anywhere near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and you have an interest in fly fishing, you probably have at least heard of Mike Alwin. He was the proprietor of Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop in Lake Elmo from 1994 until the spring of 2013. I have known him well since about 1997, when I got back into the sport of fly fishing after an 8 year hiatus, and quickly became one of his best customers. I got to know him even better when he hired me to be one of his part-time "henchmen" in the fall of 2001, a role I played for the next almost-twelve years. Since he sold the shop three years ago, I have seen Mike probably less than 10 times, so I thought it was about time to catch up with him and find out how retirement is treating him.
Mr. Alwin, looking pretty much the same as always...
I got to choose our meeting place, so I decided on one of the fancier restaurants on my list of favorites, Denny's. Whilst cramming my face with the Moons Over My Hammy, Mike regaled me with story after story of what he's been up to since he retired. He has definitely made the most of his time, that's for sure.

When I worked at Bob Mitchell's with Mike, it always seemed like his duties at the shop kept him from fishing as much as he would have liked. Now that he is retired, he seems to be making up for lost time. He has been able to get on his beloved Kinnickinnic more, he has made trips to Rock Creek and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana, he has hiked through the Wind River range in Wyoming, and he has even made the trek over to the Rush River a couple of times, which is something I never thought would happen. Mike was never a fan of the Rush, despite it's being one of the most popular rivers in the area. Maybe that was the very reason why he didn't like it...

Along with fishing, Mike has been spending time helping out with the DNR's electro-shocking crew, he's been designing some super-secret trout leaders, and he's been tying a lot of flies, mostly local patterns that can't be found anywhere else any more (if you are interested in his patterns, he will be selling some at the River Falls Fly Fishing Festival in a couple of weeks).

Despite what some of us think, fishing isn't the be-all and end-all, even for people who have been in the industry for almost 20 years. When not on the water, Mike has done a lot of traveling. He and his wife Deb went on an extended trip throughout France and Germany in the spring of 2014, and they are planning another big trip to Germany and Poland in 2017. They also are heading east this summer, as Mike will be making his maiden voyage to the state if New York, specifically the Adirondacks, to do some camping, sight-seeing and fishing.

There was a glimmer in Mike's eyes the entire time we were chatting, but I think they got the glimmeriest when he was talking about their new dog, Gina, an English Springer Spaniel they rescued a year and a half ago. His praise of Gina was effusive, as he told story after story about her. If you know Mike and Deb, you should know that they have long had a love of Springer Spaniels, and it seems they have found another great one in Gina. His glowing praise makes me wish I could have a dog some time...Oh yeah, I already have two...I temporarily forgot...

If you want to catch up with Mike like I did, make sure you head on over to the River Falls Fly Fishing Festival on March 11th & 12th, where he will be tying and selling his flies. Or, if you can't make that, head to the Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter's booth at the Great Waters Expo the following weekend. He will be there, too. Make sure you tell him you read about him on my blog. But be warned, you might have to explain to him what a blog is...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review of a Troutchaser's Guide

I thought I knew a lot about the trout streams of southeast Minnesota, but Bob Trevis' knowledge of the area blows me out of the water! If you are interested in learning more about it, you should be thankful that Bob wrote the newest book on the subject, instead of me. I just finished reading Fly-Fishing for Trout in Southeast Minnesota...a Troutchaser's Guide, and I came away with at least a dozen new places I plan to fish in the near future. I can't imagine anyone not finding some enticing new nuggets of info while reading Bob's book.

Bob came about his extensive knowledge of the area honestly, through 30+ years of fishing and/or guiding. Not only does he know where to fish, but also where the best places are to camp, take a warm shower, and find a tasty hot dog while moving from one stream to another. And he seems happy to share this info with you, the reader. What a guy! He's even happy to warn you where the worst patches of itchy wild parsnip are growing, so you can decide whether to go there or not. This is as detailed a guidebook as I have ever seen.

It's also an easy read, and beautiful to boot. Filled with beautiful, full-color photos, it is sure to get you drooling over the trout fishing possibilities in SE Minnesota. As I sit here in my cold den, with my space heater working overtime trying to keep my toes warm, all I can think about is warm summer temps, running water, and feisty brown trout on the end of my line in a beautiful southeastern stream. I can't wait!!!

Find more info and order Bob's book from his website, www.troutchasers.net. You can also find it at all the Twin Cities area fly shops, and Bob will also be selling it at the two nearby fly fishing expos in March, first in River Falls, WI on March 12th, and then in White Bear Lake, MN on March 18-20. If you are going to be fishing for trout in SE Minnesota, you are going to want to pick up a copy of this guide!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rod Review - Anglers Roost Fiberglass Rod

I only have one "modern" fiberglass fly rod, and this is it. It's a 3-piece, 6'10" 3/4 weight rod, and it was made with an Angler's Roost blank by Shane Gray of Graywolf Rods, which is located in Britton, Michigan. Shane used the blank as a tool to teach some students how to build rods, including stripping the old paint off the blank, repainting, adding a clear coat finish, turning cork to make a grip, and wrapping thread. I don't know what color this rod started out as, but now it is a lovely translucent yellow color, with very nice green thread wraps. In Shane's own words, it is "not the best looking rod", but I think it is beautiful! The wraps seem perfect, the cork grip and reel seat seem flawless, and the whole package is wonderful. Plus, it casts like a dream! I am not usually a fan of 3-weight rods, since I tend to favor the all-around capabilities of 5- and 6-weights, but this rod is perfect for small streams where I know I will be casting dry flies, and also for a lazy summer evening casting foam spiders for big bluegills. The action is very similar to my only other 3-weight rod, an older Orvis graphite rod from the mid-1990s.

If you are a rod-builder, I would highly recommend you check out the blanks you can get from the Angler's Roost. If you aren't a rod-builder, like me, I would suggest you talk to Shane Gray at Graywolf Rods and see if he can set you up with one. If he thinks this rod of mine is not all that great looking, I can't imagine how nice his other rods are!

Monday, February 8, 2016

CDC Nymphs

I haven't had a chance to shoot any fly tying videos yet, but I wanted to post something, so here are some pics of flies I shot for an article I wrote in the Autumn 2013 issue of Fly Tyer magazine. The article was about the effectiveness of adding CDC hackle to nymphs. I have added CDC to almost all the nymphs I tie at some point or another, and in my non-scientific analysis, I seem to catch more trout with CDC-enhanced nymphs than with regular, old, ordinary nymphs. I am not sure if you will have the same results as me, and I make no guarantees, but it's something to try. Below are photos of the finished flies. If you want to see step-by-step photos you can try to get your hands on a copy of the Autumn 2013 Fly Tyer, or keep your eyes peeled here on this blog. I will be doing a video of the process soon.
CDC-Enhanced Pink Squirrel
CDC-Enhanced Rubber Legged Prince Nymph
CDC-Enhanced Hare's Ear
CDC-Enhanced Poor Man's Copper John
Spearfish Special

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rod Review - Ideal's Fly Atom Glass Rod

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a fan of vintage rods. To be more specific, vintage fiberglass rods. Fiberglass has become pretty fashionable again, but a lot of the modern glass rods cost as much or more than their graphite counterparts, so I stick with vintage rods, most of which are as old or older than me (that's old), but they still cast beautifully and they tend to match my casting stroke better than faster graphite rods do. And, as an added bonus, they are relatively cheap!

One of the most unique glass rods I own is called an Ideal's Fly Atom. I don't know anything about the Ideal's company, or if they made any other fishing tackle, or how old this rod is, but I do know one thing: it is really short. It's by far the shortest fly rod I have ever seen. At 4-and-a-half feet, it probably is the shortest fly rod ever made. Most people don't think such a short rod is castable, but it is. Sure, I can't bust out a 90' cast with it, but it is deadly accurate up to about 40 feet, and in most trout streams around here, that is the perfect casting distance. It is a fine casting tool, and a pleasure to use.

To be honest, my Fly Atom is not usually the first rod I grab when I am headed out on a fishing trip. It is the first one I grab when I am going to teach one of my fly fishing classes, though. The fiberglass blank allows students to actually feel the rod loading and unloading, which really helps them to figure out the timing of the cast. And, as an added bonus, the rod is so short I can cast it in most classrooms I come across without fear of hitting the ceiling.

I wouldn't say that the Ideal's Fly Atom is for everyone. Which is good, since I've only ever seen two others in existence. But it's a fun rod to play around with. If you ever take one of my fly fishing classes you can see what I mean.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Kickoff, Times 2

Alright, time to kick this thing off again. I have been doing too much thinking and not enough writing, and it's time to change that up. So, here is my first real post here on The Riffle. It is February 2nd, also known as Groundhog Day, also known as my dearly departed grandmother Ethel's birthday. I think she would have been about 108 or so, if she was alive, but she's been gone for almost 20 years now. Here in the Twin Cities we are in the middle of our first real snowstorm of the season. Up until now we have gotten the occasional dusting of snow, with a couple of 2-4 inchers thrown in, but for the most part it has been a very weak winter so far. Please don't think I am complaining about that. If I had my druthers I would wish for a brown winter every year. But I guess a good pack of snow come springtime will be good for the health of our local rivers, so I shouldn't complain about the snow either. Fine, I will find something else to complain about...

But not here, and not now. Instead I will let you know what I have in store for this blog. I am very excited that I just got my hands on my first HD video camera, and the plan is to start shooting loads of fly tying tutorials. First up will be "Highly Adequate Parachutes", in which I will show my own technique for tying good looking parachute hackles every time. After that will be tutorials on nymphs, streamers, wet flies, emergers and some specialized techniques to help you tie great flies. Plus there will be a series of videos about fly tying basics, so if you are just getting started you can have a place to come to help hone your skills.

Along with the tutorials we will have equipment reviews which will pretty much be focused on stuff I like to use. So, be ready to read about vintage rods, modern reels, books filled with short stories that I can read while in my "library", if you know what I mean, and whatever else catches my eye. We will also be previewing and reviewing the fly fishing expos that will be happening locally in the next couple of months, and once I get out on the water I will write some posts showing off all the huge fish I am bound to catch. Or I will steal photos off the internet if I have to...

Make sure you keep an eye on this page so you don't miss out on anything. If you'd like I can call you every time I post something. I should warn you that my posts often "go live" at 2 or 3 in the morning, but I'm sure you won't mind waking up to read my stuff...

See ya next time!