Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Great Jacket Hunt - Chapter 1

I haven't written anything since Christmas, quite simply because I haven't had anything useful or original to say.   Yes, I've said that before, but slothful writer's block is both recurrent and unoriginal.  Nor would it be very original or interesting if I merely recycled some of my previous articles describing things happening or needing to be done at this time of year.  However, just in case you're interested here are the links to some of the hardy perennials:


  • The Annual Miracle - about the phenomenon of migration and some of the ways in which the salmon navigates from ocean to river.
  • It's Here - preparing for the new season, in which I display my tendency towards neatness and organisation.  it's not obsession, just the conditioning of intensive training.
  • Loading Up - further preparation and the outloading of gear from chest to car.
  • Countdown - a summer post, but with an explanation of how best to prepare your lines for a season's use.
And just in case you were tempted by a new rod here's Springtime - Swallows, Primroses


The Demise of the Prestige


Pensioner - heavily laden
With that out of the way, I now have something original to write.  My Snowbee Prestige wading jacket, a veteran of 15 seasons, is starting to fall apart.  Last winter my wife kindly rebuilt the lining in the arm-holes and shoulders, but after a further season's wear and tear and the tempests on the Deveron, it's clear that the lining has worn through in so many places that it's beyond repair.  The exterior is better by virtue of annual washing and re-proofing, but the Deveron experience showed that it's no longer wholly waterproof, especially around some of the seams.  It's time for a replacement.

The Prestige owes me nothing and has last far longer than I might reasonably have expected of a fully featured and lined jacket priced at £140.  It's given excellent service; has all the necessary pockets and D rings in the right places; and has been warm when needed but not excessively hot on brighter days.  If I don't find anything markedly and demonstrably better, I'll get another.

On reflection, I'm probably the tackle trade's worst nightmare.  My kit lasts for years: the folding wading stick is as old as the jacket (I have replaced the elastic twice); and my Gye net is of the same era (albeit with a new mesh).  My oldest graphite trout rod and reel will be 40 next year. It's not a product of the renowned Yorkshire parsimony, but rather a mixture of DNA and conditioning that makes me look after things.  In an earlier time, my life and the lives of others depended on my kit working in often awful conditions.  The discipline went deep and has stayed with me ever since.


Competitive Procurement


Several decades ago I underwent training in how to buy things as part of a year long course that also covered technology, systems engineering, and financial and project management.  Some of it stuck: regular readers will have noticed the methodical way in which I approach the purchase of fishing tackle.  The principles of objectivity, open-mindedness, competition on price and quality, and practical examination or testing are pretty good guidelines if you want satisfaction and value for money.  So, being a creature of habit (and subject to your scrutiny) I applied the same principles and approach to the procurement of a new wading jacket.


Step 1 - The Budget


The first decision was the budget.  Unless you're a professional ghillie or guide, or a fanatical amateur fishing 150 days a year, you don't need and can't justify a seriously expensive jacket.  Warmth and comfort are fundamental to their enjoyment and sustained performance of their job or sport.  Of course, as F Scott Fitzgerald noted in the Great Gatsby, "the rich are different" and thus unconcerned by price.  However, if you're a normal mortal, and especially if you only fish for Just One Week, then there must be a sensible balance, but you do want the jacket to deliver a decent service life - at least 10 years.  Given my age, that's proof of my natural optimism.  Eventually gut feel intrudes: how much feels right?  In my case I drew the top line at £250.

That's a lot of money and you can get a perfectly adequte jacket for about half, as the Snowbee Prestige proves.  In defence of my optimism and profligacy, I'm an OAP, not getting younger and feeling the cold more than beforeI do very little early spring (arctic) fishing, but need a jacket that keeps me warm in April in Yorkshire, where the onset of spring is marked by the migration of the penguins.  I have also had some frigid days in Scotland in September.  Of course I have all the base and intermediate layers, but I don't like bulking up too much under a jacket: three are enough for me, and with four my freedom of movement and casting suffer.  Put simply I've reached the point where I'm prepared to pay extra for comfort.

Step 2 - The Specification


 E = Essential and D = Desirable:




Of course the biggest question is "does the jacket fit/"  In UK tailoring terms I'm a 42 Short, or in plain English, not very tall and a mite overweight.  Based on my river bank observations that's a pretty good description of the average salmon fisher, so one might hope that the market understands its customers.

Inevitably any specification is shaped by experience.  The Snowbee Prestige was the basis for the table and meets all but 2 of those criteria: internal dry pockets (they're not waterproof); and the stowable hood.  All the rest are pretty straightforward common sense and would probably feature on most people's list of features.

The budget and table then became the means for filtering all the available contenders.  I'll spare you the grisly details of web searches, walks around shops and canvassing opinion on the Salmon Fishing Forum, but lots of highly regarded jackets fell by the wayside for one reason or another.  The process left me with questions for some of the manufacturers' design, marketing and sales teams.  How can you produce a £350 wading jacket without any D loops?  Think that 2 basic external pockets suffices at £300? (and that was on a special deal).  Offer a £240 jacket with no hand warmer pockets?  Or sell a non-breathable jacket at £200 with only a rear D loop and no internal pockets?  Designing and specifying a wading jacket isn't rocket science, but on the other hand it may be that they employ rocket scientists rather than fishermen in the design teams.


Step 3 - The Contenders

The shortlist came down to 4 jackets.



Taimen Chuluut

 The Taimen Chuluut, which lies at the high end of their extensive range, was strongly recommended by several people.  I'd not encountered Taimen before as they are based in Poland and don't appear to have any retail representation in UK.  The specification and description on the website met almost all of the criteria, and the design appeared neat and simple.  The breathable membrane is the new Polartec product.










Guideline Experience


The Guideline Experience was recommended by two anglers whose opinions I trust.  Moreover, as a company, Guideline has a strong reputation for common sense products based on hard Scandinavian fishing experience, which gave me added confidence in short-listing this jacket.  The Experience's specification met the key criteria: their cheaper Kispiox missed by a wide margin; and the Alta was far beyond the budget.











Nomad

The Nomad made the shortlist by virtue of strong recommendations and an excellent specification that is clearly drawn from fishing experience.  Given the level of the specification and features, the £200 price potentially offered excellent value for money.  I'd not heard of the Nomad brand - apparently they're better know for stalking clothing - and they rely on web sales without a retail presence.













Snowbee Prestige



The Snowbee Prestige was my banker for the reasons I outlined above, and therefore would set the standard against which I judged the other contenders.  I harboured only one reservation:  Snowbee are an excellent company (based in Plymouth) managed by avid fishermen of every discipline, but that enthusiasm can lead to fiddling.  For example, the changes they applied to their original functional folding wading staff were unnecessary and ruined a superb product.  Accordingly I hoped that they hadn't fiddled with the Prestige.












Step 4 - Purchase and Comparison


By now you're probably wondering why this article is titled Chapter 1.  Surely completing a simple process of buying a wading jacket could be described in a single blog post?  I too thought that when I started.  But as ever, Murphy intruded and the best laid plans and business processes of this man and his supporting mouse went completely "a'gley" (with due apologies to Robbie Burns).  The shambles that ensued was so complete that it requires a second chapter, so for now, I'll leave you in suspense.


If you're lucky enough to be getting out onto a river in pursuit of a springer, tight lines, and I hope you've got a nice warm jacket!



1 comment:

  1. Please hurry up and write the second chapter. How did you end up not buying the Taimen? Very smart, that jacket...

    ReplyDelete