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BLOODY KNUCKLES

First fly rod pike

First fly rod pike

It was a morning like any other morning on the water.

Then it wasn’t.

Big nasty got a whole jaw-full of strip-set-streamer-and-eight-weight comeuppance.

Toothy sonofabitch.

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Filed under On the water

GEAR REVIEW: WILLIAM JOSEPH EXODUS II PACK

Unless I’m purposely packing light to fish out of my kayak, I always wear a backpack along with a chest pack when I’m wading or fishing out of a boat. Between a thermos of coffee, a couple water bottles, jerky, maybe a sandwich, camera, extra fly boxes and wet/cold weather gear, the chest pack alone doesn’t cut it and I’d rather hump a pack than leave it in the truck and waste time making trips back for short breaks. I do the same thing when I’m out deer or goose hunting. Being self-contained keeps you in the game…after all, that’s where the fur, feathers and fins are. The one down-side is that within a couple hours my lower back is killing me and it won’t loosen up regardless of taking breaks or stretching. I’ve found Bourbon to be the closest solution to-date, but it makes wading difficult pretty quickly.

A few days before we flew for Idaho, a package came in the mail from Paul Swint over at William Joseph. He and I had talked about the trip at the IFTD show in New Orleans a week or so earlier and he thought it worthwhile to send me one of their new packs to try out. What showed up at my door was the Exodus II pack/vest combo in sage (it’s available in blue as well). I’d been fishing a small chest pack of theirs for the last 10 years and had planned to pack my extra gear in my backpack the same way I always do. I was looking forward to changing up that routine and hopefully turning the corner on the sore back thing. Damn, I sound freaking old.

The detachable vest pockets were an immediate plus. Our flight west had two layovers, so I planned on using the back pack as a carry-on in order to keep my reels, flies, accessories, camera, some clothes and flight essentials (food/water) with me. I was able to organize all of my fly boxes and accessories in the vest, unbuckle the two components from the pack and fit them in the main compartment with everything else, essentially river-ready.

On the water, the Exodus (retail price of $169) fit me well with the wide, adjustable shoulder straps and chest buckle. I thought the size would make it heavier out of the package, but it was surprisingly light-weight. Plus, the vented back and shoulder straps allowed for plenty of air circulation, which kept me comfortable even with a few 8 – 10 hour days on the water and consistent temps in the 90’s. The contents I packed in the main compartment were not inordinately heavy, but I was able to fit a sweatshirt, shell and a pair of wading sandals along with the other items I mentioned, and the compression straps on the sides, bottom and back kept the pack low-profile and also kept the weight close to my center of gravity, which completely alleviated my back strain.

The material and stitching was durable enough not to snag, rip or pop when hiking a game trail through woods and thick brush, being dropped on the ground or gravel bar, or thrown in the back of a truck or boat at numerous points during the trip. Speaking of boats, during our two days on the South Fork, it was flawless and stowed easily out from under foot when not being pillaged for flies, tippet or jerky. Plus the rugged handle at the top was a solid, easy grab when reaching for the pack or tossing it back.

The one sticking point for me was the dangling straps at the bottom of back-pack. When wading in waist-deep water, where the line you strip bellies around behind you in the current, the line invariably gets snagged on one or more of the straps when paying out line to cast. I tried tying them up to shorten them, but still had some snags. Rolling/folding them up in rubber bands or elastic might’ve worked, I’ve seen that on other packs, but I didn’t test that hypothesis.

The vest components are very well designed with six generous pockets that hold a lot of gear: 4 fly boxes, 5 containers for my sex-dungeon collection, extra leaders, floatant, strike indicators, split-shot case, my pipe and tobacco and Kodak Play Sport video camera. The two components zip together to hold the pair securely front and center, and when unzipped, swing out of the way if you need less in front of you to, say, untangle major knots.

And they’ve paid attention to detail: the water-tight Zip-No magnetic pocket closure system makes it easy to get at fly boxes and other accessories without the one-handed zipper wrestling match; the two zippered cargo pockets it does have are armed with rubberized tabs for easy gripping; rounded, tube-covered pull tabs give you something substantial – but non line-snagging – to pull open the magnetic pockets; additional webbing straps are included for lashing your tippet dispenser or hemos; a retractable clipper clasp is built into one of the pockets; and the AirTrack suspension allows you the flexibility adjust the fit of the whole rig to wear over more layers or fewer.

Aside from the fish we caught, the pack made a huge difference in the overall trip experience – from flight to fishing. Off the water it was comfortable, spacious and convenient enough to travel with. On the water, I had everything I needed (and then some) and without the nagging lower back, I actually forgot that I had anything more than the chest pack on. I look forward to putting it through further abuse/use back up here in NY chasing salmon and steelhead and hopefully some pike and late season bass. Hell maybe the back pack will see hunting season as well.

PROS:
• More than enough pockets and room in the backpack and vest
• Water-tight Magnetic Zip-No pocket closure system
• Lightweight, well-balanced and compresses well
• Detachable vest components
• Fully adjustable for good fit in cold or warm weather
• The price is right for the over-all versatility and quality

CONS:
• Need to find a way to corral straps and avoid line snags

You can learn more about the Exodus II pack/vest combo and other William Joseph products at www.williamjoseph.net

 

Reviews on this site are my unpaid and unbiased opinion of gear, music, guides, books and other outdoor-related items. In some instances I may be allowed to keep what is sent to me for review, but as of right now I’m not affiliated with any company, manufacturer, publisher, or producer in any other way. I suppose there’s still hope though.

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THE IDAHO TRIP: SOUTH FORK OF THE SNAKE

DAY 1

By 9:30 we had packed the truck, eaten some breakfast, gassed and coffee’d up and were on the road for our four hour haul to Idaho Falls. When we cleared the 30-some miles of construction east of Boise, I leveled out at 85 mph and and settled into the left lane. Highway 84 through wide prairie, fields of grain and farmsteads set back miles off the road. Past Mountain Home, Twin Falls and Rupert to highway 86 and on through American Falls and Pocatello. Then north on 15 through Blackfoot finally easing into Idaho Falls around 1:00.

About 45 minutes after we checked into the hotel, and a half-dozen phone calls to clarify directions, we met Colby Hackbarth from Kast Extreme Fishing Gear at a church parking lot off the Yellowstone Highway. After a couple handshakes, we threw our gear into the back of his truck and hit the road for the South Fork of the Snake with his jet boat in tow.

Colby was a guide in Alaska for around 10 years and has been fishing the South Fork since he was 8 when he used to drift with his granddad, so when he reported that the water and weather should be stellar and that we should be into some toads on streamers come dusk, I could feel the first twinges of adrenaline tighten my chest and raise the hair on my arms and the back of my neck.

I don’t know whether it was me settling into some sort of 6th-day-on-the-road groove or the aura of a potential X-games-esque afternoon of fishing, but at that moment I was feeling somewhere between Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine. I was ready to take the mic and the mosh pit.

After a stop at South Fork Outfitters to pick up some bite-intel, a half-dozen sex dungeons and a decent hoodie so I wouldn’t freeze after the sun left the river, we drove another ten minutes to the Spring Creek boat launch. Rods rigged, gear stowed, Colby fired up the 90-horse Johnson, eased us out into the current, and lit out down-river for the first of his money spots– a heavy hatch of drift boats coming off in every direction.

It took less than 100 yards of drifting past perfect, trophy trout-holding river bank while I flailed my 8 wt. into half-assed streamer cast after half-assed streamer cast for that whole Beastie/Rage feeling to completely die. Another 200 yards and some brilliant line tangles and I started making up new cuss words, since none of the old ones seemed strong enough. Grant was gracious enough to hold the heckling for another time.

I was gutted. Bleeding out. Wasting world-class water and great drift position. Colby could see it, so he jumped from the oars to the engine and nosed us up onto a gravel bar. We switched to nymphing rigs and fished the riffles for a half hour or so. No bites, but the break got my head back in the game. As some weather began to rumble to the south of us, we piled back into the boat and moved on.

Maybe a half-mile down-river we had pulled up on another gravel bar and I was drifting a heavy point/dropper nymph rig through a deep chute. Two, three, four casts. Near seam, far seam, down the middle. A few steps with the current, another cast. The indicator dropped and I came tight against what I thought was the bottom, until the bottom flexed and took the shape of a strong cutbow–a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid. When Colby netted that fish, I could feel the High Plains Drifter making his way back.

After I let the fish slip back into the current, Colby told us that Idaho Fish and Game put a bounty on the head of several hundred (possibly thousand) hybrids to help promote the reduction of this source of pure cutthroat genetic dilution. They actually embedded tags in the heads of these fish and are offering up to $1,000 for the return of said heads. I’m not always the smartest dude in the room, but it seemed odd that they would spend the time and money to tag that many fish, only to spend more money rewarding other people to decapitate and turn in. Interesting.

Back on the drift, and back on my 8 wt. slinging a tan sex dungeon at the bank, my cast were on. Finally. I was dropping that fly on their front porch. Fish would appear from deep behind boulders, swing and miss, swing and miss again. Big fish. Then a cutty hit the fly and dove for the bottom. It wasn’t a long fight, but it was a damn fine fish.

Colby had a couple stretches back toward where we launched that he wanted to hit before it got too dark, so I got down from the back deck, sat down and we turned into the current for the ride back up-river. Every spot we drifted was money. Giant, hook-jawed browns, football-fat ‘bows and shadow-like cutties appearing from nooks and crannies all along the rock walls and brush-filled banks. But with dozens of swings, strikes, flashes and how’d that fish not get hooked?! I turned only one fish that promptly took my line into the engine and made off with my streamer. It was nuts.

As dusk went from a hint to last-call, we drifted one last stretch above the launch. I laid the streamer into a trough across a gravel bar that was under a couple feet of water. One strip and the water exploded. An immense brown peaked three feet out of the water, came tight in mid-air, crashed back into the water and shook the hook.

It’s all good. We’ll be back tomorrow.
Welcome to the South Fork.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under On the water, The road