Sunday, August 2, 2020

Somewhere Under the Rhododendron

I am on an adjusted work schedule right now due to the coronavirus which meant that I was home on Wednesday right after lunch.  I had already sorted the needed fly fishing gear but still needed to throw a couple days clothing into a duffel bag and load up our 4Runner for a quickie trip to North Carolina to visit rod maker Chris Barclay and photographer (and all-around creative dude) Dave Fason.  And we can't forget Stella, Chris's pup companion.  She was along for it all as well.

The plan was to stay with Dave and his wife, eat great food (think Traeger, rice maker, garden fresh, and full of spice and flavor) and then take off early the next morning for a stretch of "secret" brook trout water, another crazy good dinner and breakfast, and a half-day on a nearby warmwater river.  Don't get excited about the later since an overnight thunderstorm turned it off-color and I ended up heading home early yesterday morning.  All in all though, a great trip.

This trip had been planned, canceled, planned again, canceled, and then finally came through (all my fault each time) as Chris and I had decided that I would pick up the Synthesis Series 68 that he had built for me and we'd christen it together on the water that he inspired the taper. 

I'll be sharing the process of this Synthesis 68 build in reverse from the on the water experience and working backward to chronicling how it was made in Chris's Winston-Salem shop in an upcoming series of posts.   

Southeast summers are kinda brutal with unrelenting heat and humidity and this high elevation day meant that the dial was turned down to 64 degrees as we geared up and hit the trail to the creek.  I don't think it ever got out of the mid-'70s throughout the day.  The reprieve from the heat was just the beginning of a stellar day on the water.

Admittedly, I just don't fly fish for trout much anymore and where I'm usually grabbing a six, eight, or ten weight, it was kinda weird to be holding this whispy handmade three-weight.  You might note the sharp little click and pawl reel in the images and Chris gave up a little Kineya fly reel from his own collection.  It's the absolute perfect match on this sweet little three-weight.

This was a typical high elevation Appalachian creek that requires rock hopping, fishing little pockets and pools, and often times you're casting at the spot that is chest level from where you're standing.  Native brook trout (sans stocked rainbows and brown trout) swim in this creek and they'll munch on bushy dry flies.  A small red foam worm with a grizzled hackle was the ticket for me throughout the day.       

Chris and Dave were talking about how this creek was the perfect reset to zero for our all too hectics lives and that got me thinking further on the drive home that a day on that blue line was an even deeper reset to zero where fly fishing began for me over twenty-five years ago.

Heck, I spent the first couple of years learning to fly fish on small northern Michigan rivers where I caught trout of similar size to those on this day and was happy as can be. Those learning years were well spent and I had kinda forgotten about the joy of a native fish rising up to sip or smash a dry fly.

I need to do this more often.  

A trip like this is always a great opportunity to work out gear, both new and things that have been in the rotation for a while.  Here are a few notes of seven favorites from this day on the water...

There will be more on this fly rod in upcoming posts as mentioned before but please take notes that this is one of the very sweetest three weights I've ever cast.  Chris Barclay has got an absolute winner here and this 6'8" four-piece fly rod is just wonderful with the ability to lightly land a dry fly on a short roll cast or reach deep down with enough power to lay out long delicate casts to the head of the pool.

I've been wearing quite a few Duck Camp apparel pieces and the bamboo hoodies are super soft and comfortable.  All three of us were wearing bamboo tops in the River Rock color and it was perfect for blending into the rhododendron.  There are lots of color and camo options in their Better in Bamboo crew and hoodie line up and these are perfect for summer days on the water and as a warmth layer during fall and winter.

What I don't have is one of their raincoats and during two heavy downpours, Dave and Chris were quick to pull out their Ultralight Rain Jackets while I soaked in fifteen minutes of rain in my bamboo hoodie.  It was a warm day and the rain felt great...  They were sure to run me through the benefits of their rain jackets to include being dry, the zippered pit vents, and that the rain jackets pack down in their own pocket for easy storage in their packs.  I get it, the rain jackets are awesome too.

Remember to use discount code "WELCOME" for 10% off your online Duck Camp orders.

A few months ago, I was tipped off on the Game Changer II lanyards and ended up ordering one for myself.  I always like when someone sees potential in making something better and these are steps beyond any other lanyard that I've used or seen.

I'll be posting a step by step on how my Game Changer II lanyard was made but you call the shots to include a long list of color choices and a few other tweaks to fine-tune it to your own.  The C&F Fly Box is perfect to access at chest level and will hold 175 favorite flies if you pack it tight.  The S-Biners give you places to place all your needed tools and a wide tippet holder to carry all the spools. 

I'm going to keep this fly box and lanyard set up for bluelines and small warmwater streams with attractor and foam flies that both trout and bluegill will equally munch on.

There is a very close knit Austin, Texas area fly fishing crew that I've been following on Instagram for a while and woodworker Dustin Scott continues to create beautiful art with his landing nets.  I was able to swing a Poquito from one of his last batches with a fiberglass fly rod trade and aside from a really deep net bowl, it's perfect for quick grabs of even small fish to keep them wet while minimizing having to touch them before a quick release.

The workmanship is top-notch and I really dig Dustin's unique designs, woods used, and there's much reason why his nets are creating quite a buzz from Texas and far beyond.

I've been wearing this latest water shoe from Orvis for the past few months and am so far very impressed with the durability, build, and traction of the soles on wet and dry terrain. The "PU Cage" provides a lot of protection for your feet and toe areas of these shoes and the Michelin® Outdoor Extreme rubber outsole is super grippy. 

If you deep dive into the reviews, I can confirm that I did have blisters the first time I wore these but none since and sizing is a little short of normal with a fit that is somewhat narrow.  I would say to try on at your local Orvis dealer to ensure that you get the right size the first time around.  

Some of the early 2021 gear is starting to show itself and RIO Products has quite a few fly lines that boast new technologies and advancements to their offerings.

Chris Barclay is pretty picky when it comes to fly lines to use on his fly rods and he and I were both super impressed with how the Elite Technical Trout line performed on the Synthesis 68 with everything from pinpoint short casts to long accurate roll casts.

I'll be fishing this fly line a lot more over the coming months but so far I like it a lot. 

On a typical day on the water, I often carry a DSLR camera, usually a couple of lenses, maybe my drone, and always other gear that needs to stay dry.  This usually means that I am wearing a waterproof backpack or slingpack of some sort and more often than not, it's the YETI Panga Backpack.

I know that I might sound like a "YETI Fan Boy" on this website quite often but not everything is a win in my eyes (the Daytrip Lunch Box and Lunch Bag are good examples) but the Panga Backpack is pretty close to perfect.  High durability meets fit and comfort in carrying meets waterproofness with structured and straight walls for ease of packing put this at the top of the packs in the same class.  The addition of the Sidekick Dry pouch and Rambler Sling to the hitch points create additional waterproof storage and an easy to access bottle holder on the exterior of the pack.

The Panga Backpack is built to last and in several years of hard use, I've yet to be disappointed in it.

Where do you go to completely reset and take your own angling path back to where it began?


Jay said...

Perfect way to christen that rod Cameron!
Love you chose the ventilated grip too :)

Jim said...

Just left wnc after a couple of weeks away from the tropics. Rhododendron and small creeks will be my new waters since no trout lives in less than spectacular places

Fontinalis Rising said...

Good stuff man. Good to see you getting out. Classic blog stuff too.

Cameron Mortenson said...

Jay... You are absolutely correct. This fly rod was built a couple months ago but it was well worth the wait to meet up with Chris to recieve it in hand.

Jim... Those WNC creeks are something special.

FR... Thanks. "Classic blog stuff" made me laugh. Yep.

R. Peyton Hale said...

Great read, glad you had a solid day on the water. I have been using the Rio Creek on my Synthesis 68, but I may have to order the Elite Technical Trout to compare. I still have to take Chris up on his invite to fish, maybe this fall will be the perfect time.

Cameron Mortenson said...

RPH... I've actually got a RIO Creek on the way for comparison. Maybe we can trade notes.