Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fly Fishing Equipment Review: Hardy Zenith Rod and Hatch Finatic Plus Reel

Before I get into particulars here, let me say that I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, a world class fly fisherman.  I bought my first fly fishing set-up when I was 17 or so.  It cost $20 and came from a then-small company named Cabela's.  In those days, they mailed you a catalog and you filled out a form and mailed them a cashier's check for what you wanted.

I actually caught more fish on that first rod using worms than I did using flies.  I used it through college, and in 1985, I bought my first graphite fly rod.  I think it cost me $75 or so and I thought I was in the big leagues.  I continued to use the old reel and line from my Cabela's rod.  In those days, to be honest, I used spinning gear more than fly fishing gear.

In 1987, I moved from New England to CA and started to fish in the Sierra Nevada.  I got re-hooked on fly fishing.  In 1989, I bought my first ever quality fly fishing set-up.  The rod was a 9', 5 weight rod from Fisher, a now-defunct company from the LA area.  I bought a Ross Gunnison G-1 reel that I still use to this day.  I even took a fly casting class and began tying my own flies more regularly.  My trips to the Sierra Nevada were infrequent, but fairly productive.

Late in 1995, I had $500 to spare.  My grandmother had died, and despite not having much money, she left me $500 in her will.  When I was younger, she was the person who took me fishing.  No one else in my family fished except my mom's parents.  I decided to spend that $500 on a 9 foot, 5 weight Sage RPL+ fly rod, mostly as a way of honoring and remembering my grandmother.  And for the past 18 years, that rod, with the Ross reel, has been my primary set-up.

I do have an 8 weight Sage rod that I purchased in Alaska for salmon fishing.  That one has a Ross Cimarron  reel, but I haven't taken it out of its case in almost 15 years.

When my son took up fly fishing a few years ago, we put an Orvis Battenkill reel on the Fisher rod and he used that.  On occasion, he would use the Sage rod and he liked that rod better than the Fisher.

And last season, we both got to take some casts with a 5 weight rod from Rock and River Rods - a company here in Vermont.  I may still buy one of their rods for my son.  Their rods are extremely responsive and they are a great value as well.

So, that was a long story, but the main point is that I'm not a guide, I don't fish huge numbers of days each year, and I don't cast lots and lots of fly rods.  So, as you read the reviews below, keep that in mind.

Earlier this season, I decided that I wanted to get a new rod - preferably a 4 weight for fishing in the smaller streams here in VT.  I also wanted to drop the length from 9" to 8'6" or maybe even 8'.  I did lots and lots of reading on the internet.  For the rod, a review at Yellowstone Anglers provided me with most of my input.  I ended up with the Hardy Zenith, Sage One and Orvis Helios 2 as my top choices.  For reels, I looked primarily at Abel, Hatch, Ross and Orvis.  In some ways, I thought that buying a high end reel on a lightweight rod would be overkill, but I figured I'd go for the best combo I could afford to buy.

For the reel, I read as much as I could, and eventually decided I wanted a sealed drag.  That eliminated only one of the brands.  After that, price and aesthetics became more important.  I loved the look of some of the very high end Abel reels, but the price was simply too much.  And, while the Hatch and Orvis reels had similar price points, Hatch had a deal for a second spool at a discounted price.

So, this is what I ended up with:

Hardy Zenith rod - 4 weight, 8'6"
Hatch Finatic 3 Plus reel
I loaded the reel with Hatch backing and Rio Gold line

For the second spool, I've got the same backing and a 5 weight Scientific Anglers Trout line.  But, to be honest, I'm having so much fun with the four weight rod that the second spool still hasn't been used.

The rod has exceeded any expectations I had.  It is light and I can cast it all day.  It loads well and I get more distance from it than I expected.  This is part of the reason I haven't even fished any of my five weights this year.  Even on bigger water, I'm getting the distance I want from the four weight.  The "head length" on the 4wt Rio Gold is 46'.  I'm able to cast that distance quite easily with the rod.  I can probably get just over 50' on a cast.  I'm sure there are many casters who could use a double-haul and get 60' out of this combo, but I'm not one of them.  But, fishing in Vermont, 50' is plenty most of the time.  And, at 30' or closer, the flexible tip of the rod allows me to be very precise in my placements.  When I pick up my older RPL+ these days, it honestly feels like I'm casting a telephone pole.  It is stiff and fast, but nowhere near as responsive as the Hardy.

And, that flexible tip is making a huge difference when nymphing.  I am detecting way more strikes now and catching more fish with nymphs than ever before.  Also, only once this year have I overreacted and set the hook too hard.  With the tip flex, I have a little bit of help from the rod that prevents me from popping the tippet when setting the hook.

So, the rod is light and I can cast all day.  Despite years with a 5 weight, I'm getting sufficient casting distance.  The casts feel precise.  The flex in the tip helps me to detect more strikes.  Basically, it's everything I wanted and then some.

But, why did I pay so much money for a reel?  All a reel does is hold the line for you, right?  Well, most of the time, that's true.  I know that when people are fishing for very large fish, the drag on the reel becomes a big factor.  The drag allows the reel to assist in tiring out the fish.  Most reels use a drag based on cork and metal.  Most of the time, that type of drag is just fine.  Sure, the drag may be slow to release at first and it might not be super smooth all the time, but it usually works.  Until it doesn't.  And it's usually when you have a big fish on the line that it fails.  By then, it's too late to buy the more expensive reel you'd thought about.

Before I continue on to a fish story, I should mention that the reel is beautiful.  It's simple and flawlessly machined and assembled.  It's a reel I can imagine my son using long after my fly fishing days are over.  The reel came with a nice neoprene case.  The second spool came with another neoprene case.  It looks really nice and it is a nice match with the Hardy rod.  But, I was talking about drag.

Trout season often gets off to a slow start here in Vermont.  We had freezing rain the night before the season opened this year.  I've fished opening day in snow showers in the past.  My first few days out this year, I caught nothing at all.  But, the first fish I hooked this season was no shrinking violet.  It was a fat native brown who didn't like the look of my net at all.  He had aggressively hit a large brown stonefly and wanted nothing to do with the net.  Three times, I got the fish close enough that I had the net in the water.  All three times, that fish found a burst of energy and took off into the fast current, with only the drag slowing him down.  And the drag functioned perfectly.  When it was time to release, it did so smoothly.  The pressure was even and the release continued smoothly even as the fish got into deeper faster water.

After three runs like this, I got the fish to net, snapped a couple photos and returned this beautiful brown to the river.  And then I started to realize that just because I was fishing a lower weight rod, I still had a reason to have a high quality drag system on my reel.

I've been out 8 or 9 times this year.  I haven't landed fish every time, but I've done OK.  My nymphing has gone very well, my success with the one big fish made me happy, and my arm never gets tired from hours of high-stick nymphing.

I'm sure there are other combos I might have gotten that I would like just as much.  But, this outfit has exceeded my expectations and I'm not even itching to fish the five weight rods these days.  I'm actually afraid to let my son fish the new rod, because he might not want to give it back.

Yes, it's a very expensive set-up, so high expectations are warranted.  But, both the rod and reel deliver in all respects.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shoulder Update

I think it's now been 8 months since I hurt my shoulder.  I have had very few good nights of sleep in those 8 months and I'm constantly tired at work.

I have been working with a chiropractor.

I've seen a sports doc multiple times.  I've had cortisone injections twice.

I've removed many lifts from my workouts.  No snatches.  No clean and jerks.  No overhead presses.  No overhead squats.  Not even cleans any more.  I do no work hanging from a bar unless supported by resistance bands.  Light and intermittent bench presses, usually with dumbbells rather than a barbell.  No Turkish Get Ups.

I use the foam roller all the time.  I use a lacrosse ball on the injured area.  I stretch.  I use a "back knobber" during the day to work on hot spots.

I do my rehab exercises all the time.

Nothing.

I wish I could get some real HGH to try, but that's not going to happen.  Since surgery is more than I need, but what I've been doing isn't working, in between, there is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy.

I wrote about my previous PRP for a hamstring tendon here, here, here and here.

That one was done in September of 2009, for an injury much worse than my current injury.  And the results were good.

So, on 6/24, we will try the same procedure on my shoulder.  My doctor has now done this procedure over 500 times, with about 70% of those in the shoulder.  He says he has very good results with the shoulder procedure and the rotator cuff seems to respond better than any other part of the body.

I recently read a study that documented very good results with this procedure for rotator cuff injuries.

It's expensive and not covered by insurance.

I just want my shoulder to work well again.  And I want a good night of sleep.  If this doesn't work, I have no idea what's next.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

More of the same

I've been wanting to write a post that will be of little interest to the few people who normally waste some time here, but I just haven't had the time.  I have been fishing quite a bit recently and I want to write a review of the new fly rod and reel that I bought this spring.  But, that will have to wait until I can find some more time.

When I last wrote a post, I'd just been trashed by the CrossFit workout Eva.  I did take a rest day the day after and then I got back to CF on Thursday and Friday last week.  My arms were still a bit sore on Thursday, but I got through the workout OK.  Friday, I had to adjust the workout quite a bit.  The first part was a series of overhead presses - a total of 8 sets of 3, using two different types of press.  That just isn't going to work for my shoulder, so I substituted 8x3 back squats.  I lifted moderately heavy, but I didn't realize for a few days how hard I'd gone.

When I left CrossFit on Friday night, I'd only been to three workouts for the week, but they were all solid workouts, so I was fairly happy.

Saturday was very typical of my weekends this time of year.  My wife and I went to the farmers' market.  We did a few other errands.  Then, we went to my daughter's lacrosse game.  And late in the afternoon, my son and I went out fly fishing.

This was our first trip of the year to the White River - a large river that often lags behind some of the smaller rivers in terms of early season production.  We saw some insects in the air - mostly March Browns and Pale Evening Duns, but we only saw one fish break the surface.  That was a small fish that left the water completely and for no apparent reason.  So, we were fishing under the surface and dealing with some tricky currents.  My son still struggles in this type of fishing; the strikes are difficult to detect and if you're not quick, the fish is gone before you know what happened.

I manged to hook four wild rainbows in three hours of fishing, but only one of them made it to the net.  I think we lost an opportunity for dry fly fishing when a large cloud obscured the sun about 90 minutes before dark.  The bugs disappeared and we saw no fish at all feeding on the surface towards sunset.

On Sunday, I spent some time cooking and I mowed the lawn.  I took a nap.  And then, despite some rain, I headed out for some solo fly fishing (my son was working).  I fished the First Branch of the White River, about 25 miles upstream from where I'd fished the day before.  Not too long after starting, I'd caught two rainbows - both of them stocked fish.  And then, the fishing just turned off.  I didn't get another strike for two hours and I finally quit when the rain had soaked to my skin and I was starting to get cold.

Monday night I returned to CrossFit and the strength work was squats.  As I warmed up, I discovered that my legs were still really fatigued from Friday's workout.  We were supposed to do 8 sets of 2 reps (doing 1-1/4 squats - front and back), but on my second working set, I simply let the barbell roll off my back to the floor.  One of the trainers was afraid I'd hurt myself, but I explained that I was simply too tired from Friday to do yesterday's workout safely.  While everyone else lifted, I ran a mile.  Then, I returned for the rest of the workout - ten minutes of power cleans and wall balls.  I was wiped out after a very moderate workout.

I am somewhat concerned that I didn't recover with two rest days over the weekend.  Yes, I was moving around on the weekend, but I did no real training.  I didn't think Friday's work had been that difficult.  I did my 8x3 at about 75% of my 1 rep max weight, which isn't that high.  But, my body simply said "no" last night and I had to listen.  I'm used to CrossFit being tough for me, but I've only exercised about half of the days in May so far.  I'm guessing it was just a bad day or bad sequencing of workouts and I'll be fine.  I hope.

I got to bed early last night and I hope I'm rested and more ready to go tonight.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

CrossFit Eva - Again!

Eva is a b*tch!

I wrote about Eva here the last time we did this workout.

The workout is named for Eva Twardokens.  Eva spent about a dozen years on the US Ski team. She is in the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.  She was one of the original participants in what became CrossFit.  She is still a trainer at CrossFit Santa Cruz Central.  She also works as a personal trainer.  Besides the workout that bears her name, along with two other CF legends (Annie and Nicole), she is one of the original CF Nasty Girls:



In short, the real Eva is a bad-a**.

The Eva workout is very simple:

5 rounds, as quickly as possible
Run 800 meters
30 kettlebell swings
30 pull-ups

I first did this workout on 5/7/2012.  I used 35# kettlebells (the prescribed weight for men is 70#), and I used assistance bands for the pull-ups.  I don't do kipping pull-ups.  It took me 51:36 to finish the workout that day.

I did the workout again on 10/17/2012.  I used the same kettlebells and assistance bands.  I improved my time to 45:31.  My comment in my training log for the next day was short and sweet: "Eva trashed my arms.  Needed a rest day."

In the last six months, I've been using 53# kettlebells for most workouts.  Last Saturday, I did 120 reps at that weight as part of the workout, so I decided it was time to use the heavier kettlebells for Eva.

My first round took just about 8:15.  I tore a callus on my hand during the first set of pull-ups and knew this would be an issue for the rest of the workout.  My second round took just over 10 minutes and I had to use a lot of chalk to cover the open skin on my hand.  At this point in time, it was clear that my best time was not possible using the heavier kettlebell.  But, I was sure I could beat my slower time and maybe I could get under 50 minutes.

The third round took just under 10 minutes.  The fourth round took almost 11 minutes.  And, as I started my last 30 pull-ups in the 5th round, I had about 100 seconds to complete those pull-ups to finish under 50 minutes.  I made it by 4 seconds.

I'm guessing my workout log for today will say something like this: "Eva trashed my arms.  Needed a rest day.  Went fly fishing with my son".

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More of the same - fly fishing, no skiing, and CrossFit

Saturday, my son and I returned to the rivers we had fished on opening day and just last Wednesday.  This time though, I had a very clear spot on one of the rivers in mind.  The New Haven River was stocked last week.  They put a lot of fish in the river, and I'd heard from a friend of a particular spot where they'd put in a lot of fish.

Fishing for stocked fish is not my favorite thing to do.  I'd rather catch a couple wild fish than a dozen stocked fish.  But, my son hadn't caught any fish at all this year, and I wanted some easier fishing for him.  And, we found it.

One fly was the key to most of the fish - an olive woolly bugger.  But, we used a variety of attractor patterns to bring stocked brown trout to the surface, which was a lot of fun.  Rainbows liked the woolly buggers and browns liked the dry flies.  We caught fish on both.

I think the stocked fish are even competing with the wild fish for food, because I caught a few wild rainbows as well.  My son caught one wild rainbow.  By the time it started to get dark, I'd caught more than a dozen fish and my son had more than half a dozen.  I'd hooked and lost more than I caught.  And, I'd had at least 50 strikes while we were out there.

It wasn't challenging fishing, but it was a fun afternoon.  My son showed none of the signs of boredom and frustration that I see on days he isn't catching anything at all.

This coming weekend may be tough - lots of rain in the forecast for the next four or five days may mess with river conditions.  But, we might get out for a while anyway.

On Sunday, I had hoped to go skiing one last time, but Sugarbush closed for the season after Saturday.  Our recent warm weather had been too much for the snowpack.  Two other resorts were open, but I wasn't willing to drive the distance or pay the money for a handful of trails.  Killington, for example, was charging $49/person for two trails.  And even then, their web site warned that you might need to cross bare spots at places.

So, my wife and I used the nice Sunday weather to take the dogs for a run.  We watched some hockey.  Did some cooking and cleaning.  Relaxed.  It was a nice day.

Last night was a workout we do maybe twice a year - CrossFit total.  Essentially, you work at your own pace, establishing the highest weight possible for a single back squat rep, a single strict (or military) press, and the deadlift.

Last time we did this workout was in October, and my weights were 365-140-415, for a total of 920 pounds.

Recently, I have moved my deadlift best to 425 pounds.  I haven't been doing any overhead work, so it's been months since I tried a strict press.  And, my heaviest back squat since the 365 in October was a 335 a couple months ago.  I have been doing regular back squat work though, and I was pretty sure I could get to 355 or so.

Each lift is done in the order mentioned above.  You do all your reps for the back squat before you move on to the press, and you finish the press work before you move on on to the deadlifts.

For the back squat, I did multiple warm-up reps at 45, 135, 185, and 225.  I then did a single rep at 275 and one at 315.  My first working rep was 335 and it went pretty easily.  Next, I did 355 and was surprised at how easy that felt.  I jumped to 375 and nailed a new PR.  I thought I might have a little more in me, but opted to save my legs for the deadlifts.

For the strict press, I wanted to keep reps to a minimum to protect my shoulder.  I did a few warm-up reps at 45 and 95 and one rep at 115.  My first working rep was 125 and that was harder than I'd hoped it would be.  At 135, I failed the first time, but I made it on a second attempt and then stopped.  I felt like pushing any more was going to be bad for my shoulder.

On to the deadlifts.  Warm-ups were done at 135, 225, 275, 315, and 335.  Next, I did my first working rep at 365, and then moved on to 385 and 405.  I felt like I had one more good rep in me, and I was torn.  I only needed 415 to get a new lifetime best in the CF total, but 430 would give me a new deadlift best.  But, I don't like to do heavy deads too often due to the stress they place on your central nervous system.  And, I'd done heavy deads twice in the previous 8 weeks, along with some lighter dead-lifting sessions.  I decided that it would be better to focus on the CF total rather than the all out deadlift max.  This turned out to be a great idea, because I failed on my first attempt at 415, and I barely got it on my second attempt.  There was no way I could have done 430.

Because the volume is low, this workout doesn't always seem as tough as it is, at least not right away.  The fatigue tends to hit the next day.  But, our coach had a surprise for us last night to make sure the pain hit sooner.  Right after finishing the total, he wanted us to run a mile for time.  After heavy deadlifts, I knew this would be no fun.  I was slow but steady and ran 8:16.  My lifetime best for the mile is 5:18, so this is a pathetic time for me.  But, after the workout I'd just done and given my lack of running mileage, I guess it's OK.

After the workout, my chiropractor, who happened to be at the gym last night, suggested that today (Tuesday) would be a good rest day.  I somewhat agree with him.  Actually, I totally agree with him.  But, my daughter has a lacrosse game near my office tomorrow afternoon, and I'm going to her game rather than the gym.  I'm not a big fan of back to back rest days, so I'm not sure if I'll work out tonight or not.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Off the Schneid

From Wikipedia, a definition of "get off the schneid":

"To break a scoreless, hitless, or winless streak (i.e., a schneid). According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the term "schneid" comes to baseball via gin rummy, and in turn comes from German / Yiddish "schneider," one who cuts cloth, i.e., a tailor."

Wednesday, I got off the schneid, fishing-wise.

I had been shut out on opening day.  Last weekend, I fished Saturday and Sunday, and caught nothing at all. This week, my son had Wednesday off from work, so I took the day as well.  We returned to where we had fished opening day.

We started in the Middlebury River.  The water levels were down and the water was very clear.  It was so clear that we saw a few fish in the river after we'd spooked them while wading.  We fished a very promising stretch for over an hour with no luck and then moved to the New Haven River.

The first spot that we went to is probably the single most popular spot on the New Haven.  It's so popular that I wasn't going to fish there at all, but we had stopped at the local fly fishing store and the person working there suggested giving it a try.  We also talked about some advice from the main fishing guide from that shop.  He's been emphasizing letting wet flies swing the whole way to a dead stop downstream and then letting them just float in the current for a little bit before casting again.  That turned out to be very important advice.

When we got to the river, my son decided to fish upstream and I went down.  I don't know why I went downstream, because I've only ever caught fish on the upstream portion of the river at this spot.  But, I went downstream anyway.  Before I could launch my first cast, my leader and flies got all tangled up.  I couldn't untangle everything and I lost ten minutes before I got everything cut and re-tied.  I was surprised at the number of bugs in the air, but no fish were coming to the surface.  I was fishing a brown stonefly with a Montana Prince Nymph as my trailing fly.  There were caddis flies, Baetis, and Hendricksons in the air.  I fished the entire downstream stretch that can be easily waded.  I worked slowly downstream, trying to hit every inch of water.  Nothing.  I started fishing back upstream, focusing a bit more on the sections that were in the shade.  It was a bright sunny day and with fairly clear water, I was guessing the fish were hiding in the shade.

On every cast, I would let the fly drift until it was done moving.  Then, I'd count to five and only then would I start my retrieve.  And suddenly, right on the count of 5, I had a fish on.  I guessed quickly that it was a brown trout rather than a rainbow because it wanted to stay deep rather than jumping.  And, it seemed strong but not particularly big.  But, the longer I fought the fish, the more I started to wonder if it might be bigger.  I got it within eyesight a couple times, but when the fish saw me in the river, it took off like a shot.  Earlier this year, I bought a new rod and reel, easily the most expensive fly fishing gear I've ever purchased.  The reel seemed like overkill - something designed with a state-of-the-art drag system to stop fish from snapping the line.  Would I really need that in our little Vermont rivers?  As it turned out, the answer is yes.  Three different times, the fish took off on its own, and I simply let it pull out line against the drag.  After about ten minutes, I finally got it to the net.  The frame of my net is 18" long and the fish barely fit into the net.  It was at least 16", perhaps a bit more.  And fat.  This photo - with the net frame held high and the fish in the bottom of the net, doesn't really show the size of the fish very well, but I was trying to keep it in the water as much as possible:


Regretfully, this was the only fish of the day.  My son has been out three days and he is still "on the schneid", I suppose.

Looking at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resource's page this morning, I saw that the New Haven received 3500 stocked fish yesterday.  Stocked fish are not my favorite fish to catch, but I really need my son to catch some fish.  So, I think we will head back to the New Haven tomorrow afternoon for a few hours.

And yeah, I still work out on occasion.  Monday night's CrossFit workout was really tough.  We did moderately heavy "pause squats", where you hold the bottom position for three seconds.  Then, deadlifts mixed with running for 10 hard minutes.  Tuesday was a modified workout for me, to protect my shoulder.  I did some dumbbell bench presses, 100 sit-ups, and the main workout included lots of front squats, push-ups and some running.  Yesterday, I started the workout feeling tired.  We started with fifteen minutes of double-under practice alternated with burpees.  I'm getting better at double-unders, but I'm not there yet.  In the 15 minutes, I did 15 rounds of double-under practice and 50 total burpees.  Then the main workout included 80 sit-ups, 60 ball slams and 70 box jumps, although I subbed step-ups for box jumps partway through the workout.  Tonight's workout is not shoulder friendly, but I'll make some adjustments and get my 4th CF workout this week.

And then this weekend, I'll fish on Saturday and ski on Sunday.  Sunday will be Sugarbush's last skiing day this season and skiing is free for everyone.  It's also Cinco de Mayo, so there should be a fun party atmosphere at the mountain.