February 23, 2016

Exploring Florida - Ravine Gardens State Park

Not gonna lie, silence has been deafening around here. I don't pretend that my readers sit with bated breath waiting for the next Troutrageous! blog post, but I've been blogging for so long, it still bugs me when I go a little while without a semi-consistent stream of content.

Mid-January to mid-February do it to me every year - as work really kicks up around a few prominent sporting events. Add in the work I've been doing on the upcoming issue of Tenkara Angler magazine, and I've been a bad blogger.

I was fortunate to be able to get out last weekend with K.C. & Lilly for some decompression. We headed to a new spot that we hadn't visited in our area yet, Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, Florida.

Most of Florida is relatively flat when it comes to topography which makes Ravine Gardens quite the sight to see. Ravine Gardens was carved deep into the ground by the constant flow of natural springs, creating steep walls that drop over 100 feet straight down. Beautiful azalea gardens were planted around the perimeter walls and trails of the ravine in the 1930s as part of a beautification project, and in the years since, it has enjoyed additional enhancements such as the addition of suspension bridges, an amphitheater, multiple playgrounds, and a civic center.

Leisurely walking and exploring the Azalea Trail took us about an hour and half, but one could easily spend the entire day in the park. I highly suggest visiting should you ever find yourself in the Palatka area. 

February 15, 2016

Inexpensive Accessories To Enhance Your Fishing Pack

You can go in a lot of different directions when it comes to selecting fly fishing gear, particularly when it comes to fishing bags and packs. Most of the fishing-specific packs that are widely available have a ton of awesome features that help make organizing and accessing your gear on the stream a breeze. That said, it doesn't mean that even the best pack can't be tweaked or improved with a few simple (& inexpensive) accessories.

Not really MacGyver-level hacks, but you know what I mean...

With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of the items that I've found to increase the functionality in the use of my fishing gear; figured they might do the same for you.

Chums Zipquix Zipper Pulls

All of my fishing bags have great zippers. Bad zippers are one of my pet peeves, as there's nothing worse than buying a bag that has cheap zippers that just don't zip well. However, not all of the zippers have zipper pulls, which is a small add that you might not really notice until you add them. I started doing this when I lived in Pennsylvania, especially for those really cold days when you might be fishing with gloves on. Believe me, buy a pack, try them out, and you'll see what I mean. 5 for $5.

Sidenote: Works great on wading jacket pocket zippers too (should they not already have them).

Nite Ize S-Biners

I'm addicted to these little S-clips. Every time I see them in a store, I buy another 2-pack. They come in many different sizes and do a great job keeping things where you need them to be. 

As a tenkara fisherman, many of the rod tip plugs these days have loops of string (lillian) on the end, these clips are invaluable to keeping your tip plug put. I also use a few of them to attach nippers and hemostats to the ring on my retractable zinger. Finally, I also use a larger S-biner to keep my car keys put. 

Not having to fumble through various pockets (or the pack itself) to find all of these items is a definite security blanket worth investing in. 2 for $2, size 0.

Outdoor Products Cordlock Replacements

These little cord locks are great for lashing things down to your pack (or possibly your person). All you need to carry with you is a short length of paracord or a shoelace and you can pretty much cinch anything down really nicely. Heck, you can even use one to make an ad-hoc tippet spool dispenser. You'll see in the picture below a cord lock being used to keep tippet spools in one place, as well as some more of the previously mentioned S-biners being used on the tools. 4 for $5.

Lightload Towels

I actually did a product review of Lightload towels a few years ago, but you know what? They still find a home in my pack today. While not an alteration or addition, I thought it would be neglectful not to mention them because they are so useful. They're the size of a half-dollar coin when compressed, but when wet, grow into a full sized 12" x 12" towel that can be used for wiping hands, cooling off, a sun cape for the back of your neck, even fire-starting kindling if you light them prior to immersing in water. Oh, and when nature calls, they come in really handy. Especially the morning after Mexican. Believe me on that one. 2 for $4.  

End Game

To close, these are just some little widgets and whatchamacallits that have proved their worth to me on stream over the past few years. With the exception of the towels (which were presented to me 4 years ago), none of these vendors approached me to review these items today, I simply thought you might find them useful. 

The best part (in my opinion), is that while I've provided links to each, I've actually obtained most of these locally, either at outdoor sporting goods stores such as REI, Bass Pro, or Gander Mountain, or sometimes even more mainstream retailers such as Walmart, Lowe's, or Ace Hardware. If you don't find them with the camping gear, you'll likely find them in the accessories section with the wallets or keychains (typically near the cash registers).

If you've got any gear hacks that fit in with the theme of this post, please share, I'd love to read them in the comments below!

February 8, 2016

Florida Shad, Bream, & A Bonus Fish On The Fly

Needed to get out fishing, it had been far too long. And by fishing I mean not "spend an hour or two fishing retention ponds" fishing, but real, "go somewhere cool and fish all day" fishing.

Recalling that this was about the same time of year that I headed out to chase the annual Florida shad run with Captain Rich Santos in 2015, I popped him last minute note to see if he was booked solid yet... Lucky for me, he had an opening this on Saturday, which I jumped on, cold & rainy weather forecast be damned.

I'm not going to lie and tell you the catching part of the fishing experience was stellar. Cold temps, lack of sun, and an abundance of wind seemed to put the fish down, but damn it didn't matter. When your nerves are frazzled from working non-stop at 1,000 miles per hour since Thanksgiving, you'll revel in the peacefulness that moving water, abundant nature, no cell service, and the occasional tight line provides.

However, it wasn't like the catching was poor. It was a very successful trip. We caught some shad.

We caught some bream.

And we caught a "Sunshine Bass," a hybrid striper, which was a first for me. A powerful fish, you know immediately when one of these takes your fly that there's no shad on the end of the line.

One word. Awesome.

I can't end the post without giving props to Captain Rich & his First Coast Fly Fishing Unlimited guide service. Not only is he extremely personable - the kind of guy you'll easily call your friend after a few minutes - but he just finds a way to put you on fish, even in tough circumstances. I've been out with Rich three times now, and my opinion of him only gets stronger each time. If you're ever in Jacksonville and want to go fishing, Rich is the man (& a great photographer too)!