Product and Gear Reviews

For People with Beards, and Those Who Love Them

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I’m still wearing my winter beard half-way into April. It is usually so beat up, brittle and tired by the time spring arrives that I just hack it off and hang it in a tree so birds can use it in their nests, but not this year.

My feathered friends will have to wait a while (maybe longer) until I am done with my beard. Yes, it’s kind of grown on me and no, I didn’t lose my clam shell, but my beard is near the top of  the list of things that get me through winter and now I’ve found a way to get my beard through winter, too, thanks to Feared Beard VT.

Frosted Woods Beard Balm

Before anyone goes off the rails and starts in about doing a product review or questions my qualifications to write about grooming, I’ve done reviews here before (a list of them, and a disclaimer for this one can be found below) and this is me after all, so the term “grooming,” is used rather loosely. In addition, there is nothing ironic about my boots, my flannel, or my beard so don’t be thinking I’ve gone all hipster or something.

Frosted Beard

A trip around the lake on snowshoes (or six trips up and down the driveway behind the snowblower) can leave my beard full of ice, frost and frozen who-knows-what. I have yet to find any source recommending that sort of thing for any kind of hair. No silly scarves for me to keep my face warm, no sir, but all that freezing does take a toll.

Then, after the worst of winter is done and it looks like spring might be right around the corner, it’s time to make syrup so I spend hours and hours tending the arch, opening hot cast-iron doors and putting my face close to a roaring, searing fire — something else you won’t find on a hair care “do” list. You won’t find it specifically on a hair care “don’t” list, either, but not just because sugar house stokers are an under-served demographic.

Face to the Fire

The smell of burnt hair is thankfully rare but going to the edge of combustion on a regular basis is as bad for it as being frozen. All that extreme heat and serious cold, along with the naturally unruly behavior of long whiskers, adds up to a beard in need of serious help and I think you can understand why I am sometimes anxious to whip out the old clam shell as soon as spring arrives.

I’ve used different shampoos and conditioners, with varying results. I’ve tried oils for beards and oils intended for salads and didn’t like them one bit. Fly-aways, split ends and breaks were just a price to pay for having a hairy face when the nights turn hoary — until I saw a display at the Vermont Country Store last December, featuring beard balm from Feared Beard VT. Continue reading

Categories: Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Book Review: By a Thread

Most of us would have a hard time naming a dozen influential fly tiers of any gender. Erin Block has done that (and then some) in her book, By a Thread, and it just so happens that the tiers she names are all women, which is fortunate, given the book’s subtitle, A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying.

Well-researched, By a Thread is more than a list. With her amiable story-telling style, Erin introduces readers to a number of women who have had a lasting, if somewhat unrecognized, influence on the way flies are tied and even on the way we fish. From some of the most familiar names in the business, to the anonymous tiers of today, working in places where trout are but an abstraction and the concept of fishing for fun is unheard of, By a Thread weaves them all tightly into the tapestry of fly fishing history.

The opening chapter, on Juliana Berners, fly fishing’s legendary matriarch, was an eye-opener. Within the context of Dame Juliana’s time, Erin tells why the treatise attributed to her was written in the first place and gives us an idea of her persistence and adaptability but, personally, if both my father and step-father had been executed by one king, I would have got me to a nunnery long before my friend, the Duke of York, died fighting for another at Agincourt.

Mary Orvis knew one man’s Grizzly King is another man’s Ferguson and liked to dance. Carrie Frost started tying flies at her parents’ kitchen table and created an enterprise that at one point turned out ten million flies a year — all tied by women. She also owned a car but couldn’t drive.

Elsie Darbee tied her own flies and caught fish where others walked away skunked. She raised her own hackle, breeding for elusive true dun and, if anything from Sparse Grey Hackle is to be believed, she defended her birds fiercely, once stepping into the dark with a rifle and returning with “almost 80 pounds of dead coon”.

Sara Jane McBride more or less just disappeared, Carrie Stevens followed a whim and broke a record and, today, women like Cathy Beck, Sharon Wright and April Vokey share their passion and artistry, skills and knowledge with new generations of fly fishers. Some of the names in By a Thread may be familiar, others are more obscure, but there is no doubting the contributions of each of the women profiled in its pages. Erin Block tells their stories in an engaging style that not only makes them even more interesting but also quite human, like the rest of us.

Just as each and every woman in this book would be right at home on anyone’s list of influential fly tiers, By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying would be right at home on any angler’s book shelf.

(By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying, 6×9 softcover, 182 total pages, B&W illustrations, available from the publisher, Whitefish Press.)

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

A Visit to Sugar Bob’s

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I see Sugar Bob at the hardware store now and then and I see him and Ann at Boxing Day parties but usually that’s about it. This time of year, though, I see him almost every day (or at least hear him) as he drags his trailer with a tank on it through the mud on our road, collecting sap from scattered stands of maples he’s tapped. Sugar Bob and his crew are acutely aware of the relationship between sugaring and Mud Season. “If the roads are good, you are not making sugar,” he says.

Not everyone has a sugarbush on a hillside, with sap collecting right there at the sugar house like Skye and Tina on Bobo’s Mountain. Enterprising, hard-working sugar makers like Sugar Bob tap trees where they can, spending a good part of the day driving to collection points and hauling the sap back home. The rest of the day and most of the night are spent boiling it down before the next batch comes rolling in.

Sugar Bob makes his syrup somewhere in this vicinity, but in the other direction:

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sugar Bob's

Somewhere in the vicinity of Sugar Bob’s

With daytime temperatures nudging above freezing and nights dropping below, the roads were falling apart and the sap was running, so — after finagling an invite when he stopped by Bobo’s one afternoon — it seemed as good a time as any to motor through six miles of mud a couple of weeks ago and pay a visit to Sugar Bob.

Sugar Bob's

Sugar Bob’s

Ask any reasonable person if there is a reason for the white bucket on the roof and they will tell you there is. Sugar Bob is no exception. Ask him to tell you about his sugar house and one of the first things he will point out is that it is not so much a sugar house as it is a sugar cabana.

The Sugar Cabana

The Sugar Cabana

Tea, made with boiling sap, flowed in both “fortified” or “non-fortified” versions and, after a song, small cups of “fortified” syrup were hoisted to celebrate the day’s boil. A handy barber’s chair offered a comfortable seat for those who might find themselves overly fortified.

Inside the cabana

Inside the Cabana

Sap Tank

Sap Tank

Unfortunately, because my visit was during the day, I missed the excitement of the night life at Sugar Bob’s but it’s probably just as well that the disco ball comes down in the morning or I might have hit my head.

Sugar Bob's Disco Ball

Sugar Bob’s Disco Ball

Sugar Bob can make syrup with the best of them, without vacuum collection, reverse osmosis or a big Steam-Away unit, and he sells a lot of what he makes at the local farmer’s market. What really separates Sugar Bob from the rest of the pack, though, (aside from his big, glittery ball) is the way he puts Yankee ingenuity to work, embracing “Venturi injection principles” to create something really special.

Sugar Bob infuses syrup with smoke.

IMG_1569I’m not a foodie but I sure like to eat, and it is no secret that I love maple syrup. I’m also a big fan of smoke flavors but Sugar Bob is not kidding when he tells you that Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is probably not for your pancakes. It is, however, pretty amazing as an ingredient, especially combined with savory flavors. The blend of sweet and smoky adds a whole new dimension to sauces, glazes, marinades, and even whisky.

Someone with a more advanced food vocabulary or repertoire of recipes could describe Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind better than I and really do it justice as the versatile ingredient it is. I have no doubt there is some fancy-pants chef out there using it to create some fancy-pants “experience” involving tiny portions to make foodies swoon, but that’s not the type of cooking that takes place in my kitchen so we’ll leave that stuff to the experts and stay close to home.

Snuck into a batch of beans, Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind adds sweet smokiness that comes through in waves without swamping other flavors. Drizzled over chicken in the oven, it brings the taste of a summer cook-out indoors but without the mess and, as the highest compliment I can pay, Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is the secret ingredient in Quill Gordon’s Super Top Secret Recipe Hot Wings and we can’t wait to try it in barbecue sauce once grilling season gets here.

Learn more about Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind by visiting their web site or check it out on facebook. Order yourself a bottle or two online. It’s a heck of a lot easier than driving through six miles of mud.

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Thank you, Rob, Ann, Carl, Harry and everyone else who was at the cabana the day I visited. I had a great time!

 

 

 

Categories: Maple Syrup, Product and Gear Reviews, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Bamboopalooza, Part 1: Fall River Flyrods “South Fork” is Not Your Grandfather’s Rod

The Outdoor Blogger Network announced on March 1st that Fall River Flyrods was building a custom bamboo rod to be fished by 15 anglers over the course of the season, with one of the 15 owning that rod when all was said and done. The lucky 15 were chosen at random from over 100 interested anglers, which worked out well for me because I am much better at random chance than well-developed skill.

Montana Fly Company provided a 5/6 wt Madison II reel, with a beautiful “River Rock” finish, and RIO Products chipped in with their Trout LT DT5F fly line to complete the outfit. I would like to thank Fall River Flyrods, Montana Fly Company and RIO Products for giving me and 14 other anglers the opportunity to play with this rig, and I would especially like to thank Joe and Rebecca for all the hard work and dedication they have put into making The Outdoor Blogger Network the great place it has become. Over 1000 Outdoor Bloggers, all connected together for your reading pleasure. Imagine that.

I would also like to point out that I have no connections with Fall River Fly Rods, Montana Fly Company, or RIO Products. Except for the chance to fish with this rod, reel, and line, I received nothing other than a great time, good memories, and a chance to connect with a wonderful bunch of outdoor bloggers.

Fall River Flyrods “South Fork”

There was a time when fly rods were made from glued strips of wood, such as ash and lancewood. Exceptionally long, and requiring two hands to cast, those rods were heavy and cumbersome. Rods made from split cane bamboo were shorter and lighter, bamboo was relatively plentiful, and in 1874, H.L. Leonard began making bamboo rods exclusively. A trade embargo on Chinese imports in 1950, along with the development of modern synthetic materials, pretty much ended large-scale bamboo rod production but a number of makers continue the tradition, producing custom rods that are not only beautiful but also make use of the best qualities of the long fibers of bamboo.

An entire generation or more has learned to fly fish using synthetics, and the trend has been toward lighter, faster rods, especially of graphite and boron, that load and have most of their power in the upper third of their length. Traditional bamboo rods are heavier, slower, and flex deeply, well into their lower third. Hand a bamboo rod to someone used to fishing rods made of modern materials and, at the very least, you will get a funny, puzzled look as they try to figure out what the heck just happened to their cast. Most will eventually catch on and settle into the rhythm of bamboo but they will more than likely say it is much too heavy and slow for them.

Jason Zicha, of Fall River Rods in Pocatello, Idaho, has created tapers for the rods he makes that more closely mimic the action of graphite, loading quickly and flexing toward the tip, like the “South Fork” model currently making its way around the country as part of a project put together by the Outdoor Blogger Network. Fifteen anglers will be giving this rod a workout (and a history) through the season and writing about it on their blogs, as well as adding their thoughts to the journal that is travelling with it. This is Part One of my experience with that rod. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Outdoor Blogger Network Gear Review: A Box of Stuff from Joe

(This assignment is overdue. The items in this review arrived in September, which is now known in these parts as “the month we spent cleaning up after That Bitch, Irene“. I was concerned enough when the package arrived to open it right away but it has taken until now to post my review. Excuses? Which ones do you want to hear? I’ve got a million of ’em.)

Baseball is a contest of skill. Consequently, I was no good at it, so when a contest comes along that involves nothing more than dumb chance, I’m in. Such was the case late last summer when Joe Wolf from the Outdoor Blogger Network announced he was moving and wanted to shed some of his accumulated stuff. Some sucker lucky winner would be chosen, at random, to receive a box of that stuff, which Joe promised would be appropriate. My best effort turned out to be good enough, and I won!

I was a little worried when Boogie, our Rural Mail Carrier, dropped the package at the door, my first thought being, “Oh, no! My new puppy!”

I was very relieved, but more than a little disappointed, to find the box did not contain a puppy. Continue reading

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Owl Jones Flies (But Don’t His Arms Get Tired?)

Fame can be a dangerous thing. Just look at all the people out there who are only famous for being famous and the train-wrecks their lives can become. It can also be dangerous for us, the spectators, as our desire for famous people is filled by the likes of Justin Bieber and that Lady Gaga fellow. The internet was abuzz last week when Justin Bieber got a haircut. Big deal. He’s what, 12? When Quill Gordon gets a haircut, that will be news. 

But I digress.

Owl Jones recently opened the internet portal to his empire at OwlJones.com. I worry about him, hoping he can handle the fame and adulation, and I hesitate to stroke his already massive ego by writing nice things about him. To keep my pistol-packing pal from Georgia on the straight and narrow, I will not discuss his singing, dancing or film-making abilities. I will leave his regal bearing, trend-setting style and natural good looks out of this discussion, but he does have deceptively dainty fingers.

Midge flies from Owl Jones

Owl ties flies. Some of his creations are displayed and available for sale at his appropriately named page “Owl Jones Flies”. Once you have entered the OwlJones.com portal, there is a tab at the top of the page labeled Blue Ridge Fly Patterns to take you there, too.

I ordered the zebra midges above, and a dozen of his “EZ SK8R Caddis” before the grand unveiling of the new Owl Jones headquarters. In fact, it turns out I ordered these flies during the time he was working out his nefarious plan to dominate the internet through his new web site and, even with everything else on his plate, he tied these flies and got them to me promptly and safely with no fuss at all. That is more than can be said for some bigger, better known sources.

EZ SK8R Caddis from Owl Jones

The caddis are tied so the hook point is on top and doesn’t drag when the fly is “skated” across the water. The hackle is plentiful and stiff so I expect these flies to ride high and skate well. Owl ties them for rough water and some people might think them inappropriate for still water, with all that hackle. Normally, I would agree that flies for lakes and ponds should be tied sparsely, especially those that are fished “dead drift”, allowing the trout a good long look, but to immitate caddis or midges streaking across the surface, that thick hackle will keep these flies up on their tippy-toes where they belong. (An aside: Owl Jones claims his caddis are “bullet proof” but I have yet to hit one. The real test, I suppose, will be the teeth of trout because I am out of patience for standing in the snow, trying to hit a #18 fly from fifty yards out.) 

I have found Owl Jones to be an honest and generous person and his flies are as intricate and well-tied as any I have seen. They will have a spot in my fly box and you should save room in yours for some, too. It will be two months before I can give these southern-tied stream flies a workout on this little New England pond but I have no doubt they will catch fish.

Direct your browser over to OwlJones.com and order some flies! Tell him Quill sent you.

Now Accepting Sponsorships

  

(Owl also sent me a couple of nifty Blue Ridge Trout Bum stickers to dress up my Shappell Jet Sled. I would like to offer this same unsurpassed sponsorship opportunity to my other readers. If you, your business or your organization would like a spot on my sled, drop me a line using the “Contact Quill” tab at the top of this page and we can work out the arrangements. The cost to you? Not a darn thing [other than the cost of a sticker and postage]. Your message is guaranteed to be seen by various woodland creatures and at least a dozen readers of this blog.)

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Shappell Jet Sled — Review

Shappell Jet Sled 1 –ATC (All Terrain Camo)
25″ beam x 54″ long x 10″ deep
Approx. 15 pounds

$54.99 from Shappell Corporation

My job involves a fair amount of lugging stuff (chainsaws, traps, trail maintenance tools & materials, etc.) and a lot of that stuff gets lugged in and out of the trees at the far end of the lake. I don’t cross the ice to get there, though; I take to the woods, working in the trees and the streams along the way, along a loop that covers close to two miles. Limited to what I can carry on my back or in my hands, I sometimes make several trips for one project or just tough it out, setting things down and switching hands every hundred yards.

I’ve looked at plastic toboggans and plans for homemade rigs to help transport gear but they have seemed flimsy, narrow and prone to tipping or weighed more than the stuff I need to haul. Enter Shappell Jet Sleds and the chance to try one out for myself, through a random drawing at the Outdoor Blogger Network.

Officially, this is a Shappell Jet Sled 1 – ATC (All Terrain Camo) and it is absolutely not flimsy. The polyethylene tub is rigid and light-weight. It also has a wide stance and looks to be stable, but if anyone is capable of dumping a load of gear in the snow it is me, especially with a product that has “All Terrain” right in its name. Let’s see how it does on the loop around my home waters. Continue reading

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