Thursday 10 March 2016

The Great Jacket Hunt - Chapter 2

As recorded in Chapter 1, I reached a nice orderly shortlist of 4 jackets.  At this point there was nothing to suggest that there would be any difficulty in buying one of each; deciding which I liked best; and returning the other three.  I could not have been more wrong.

I ordered the Taimen, Guideline and Nomad jackets over the internet on 16th February.  As the Snowbee was my fall-back there was no need to buy an example at this stage.  What follows is a commercial sorry story that contains some salutory warnings to others.

Guideline Experience

I had high hopes of this jacket and was looking forward to its assessment.  I placed the order with John Norris and paid by card.  Within 90 minutes their stock manager sent me a charming email informing with regret that they had none of the 2015 jackets left; the 2016 stock would not arrive until mid or late April; and asking whether I wished to keep the order open.  I replied that I didn't, so they refunded my payment within the trading day.  John Norris' professionalism and efficiency were amongst the few bits of good news in the saga.

After failing at John Norris, I looked up all the UK stockists on the Guideline website and started contacting them.  My first discovery was that not every Guideline stockist carries their clothing, so I endured several wasted calls.  The second was that none of the major suppliers had an Experience jacket. Fortunately all my UK calls are free: in this operation you have to grab and hold any shred of good news.  Finally, Angus Angling thought they had one somewhere, and if not, they were due a large delivery from Guideline that week. They would contact to let me know whether they had a jacket or not.  I duly placed an order over the phone and gave my details.  Sadly there wasn't an Experience jacket in the delivery and I had no choice but to terminate the order with Angus.  I felt really sorry for Angus, who are really nice helpful people, because Guideline had left them in the lurch and probably cost them more sales than just mine.  Life is tough enough for small tackle shops without this sort of treatment from their suppliers.

I find it amazing that Guideline as a major supplier of quality fishing clothing should have no stock of its mid-range jacket available in the UK retail chain for a 2-3 month period across the start of the salmon fishing season.   That is precisely the time of year when you might reasonably expect stocks to be at their peak.  Instead, owing to Guideline's dire supply chain management I haven't been able to assess their product.  

For those reasons the Guideline Experience was eliminated: one down, 3 left.


I had previously lodged an enquiry with Nomad, who gave me advice on sizing, so my order wasn't a surprise.  I ordered via their website; used the PayPal 'pay on delivery' service; and got an automated acknowledgement.  After a while I tried the mobile telephone contact number on the site, which didn't work.  Two days later the owner/manager emailed me to say that he was out of the country doing product promotion and filming until 3rd March.  If, however, I sent him a reminder he would get a jacket to me on the 4th (I had told him that I was tied up with business 7th - 11th and flying to the Gulf on the 12th).  I sent the reminder by email and text message, since which I have heard absolutely nothing.  The payment was deducted from my bank account on 4th March.

I like supporting small businesses.  Not only does it make me feel better, very often they offer innovative high quality products, and the prospects for this jacket were excellent.  Small operations don't have a big payroll, so I'm prepared to accept some compromises in business processes and administration.  But taking payment when you are incapable of fulfilling an order is wholly unacceptable practice.  If you can't fulfill an order, and you haven't trained your wife/friend/partner/labrador as the sales and despatch clerk, then you really must put a notice on your website saying: "We much regret that we unable to take orders between X and Y, but will be delighted to attend to your needs immediately thereafter".  And you turn off the ordering and payment functions on the website.

There is a golden rule in business: once you take someone's money you change from amateur to professional.  I am too busy running my own business to be wasting time messing about with amateurs, no matter how good their product might be.  Only an amateur would have the brass neck to ask a customer who has ordered and paid for a £200 product to send them a reminder.  Mr Wright and Nomad might benefit from some training in customer handling skills, and I for one do not like being made to feel that my order is a nuisance.  I can only hope that  the refunding of my payment proceeds more quickly than anything else Nomad has done to date, but I'm not holding my breath.  (After note: request for refund acknowledged by email 13th March, with a statement that it would be posted to me on the 14th.  It wasn't as it didn't arrive until the 23rd, so I would not recommend buying stamps from Nomad.)

Nomad was eliminated on the grounds of incompetence and frustration: two down, two left.


Spending £220 with a Polish company of unknown provenance was an act of faith.  They have a nice website and an immense array of products.  After a little research I selected the Chuluut jacket, but when I came to order, I encountered the first problem.  There was no size guide.  Undaunted, as I am around Large with most wading jacket makers, I selected Large, ordered and paid by card.  As the order form helpfully allowed me to enter notes, I remarked on sizing, giving my dimensions and seeking their advice.  This led me into a prolonged exchange of emails with the charming Ola.  However, the development of our mutual understanding was seriously constrained by her lack of English.  Her friend Monika from Accounts was similarly nice, but she only added 3 new words to the dialogue.  Eventually I learned that Taimen Polish Large is indeed big, with a chest measurement of 120 cm (about 4 feet) and a waist of 110 cm (about 6 inches bigger than me), so I opted for Medium.

They processed the order the next day and the jacket arrived in good time and condition via UPS.  Sadly it did not fit - too small at chest and waist, but too long in overall and sleeve length.  Clearly it was tailored for an Alfa Romeo driver and not an English salmon angler.  It was obvious that the hem and arms of the next size up would reach most of the way to my knees, and so there was no point proceeding further.  Accordingly I returned the jacket immediately and Taimen emailed to say that they had refunded my payment.  The credit arrived in my account within 2 days: extraordinarily they appear to have refunded their original postage.  Within the limits of their English, Taimen were quite efficient, although the lack of a sizing guide on the website and English speakers in the sales department are handicaps.

The jacket was well made and finished.  The Polartec membrane is robust and heavily taped along the seams, which suggests that the Chuluut would be durable and waterproof.  The front attachments are not conventional D rings but a perforated flap of composite material through which you attach your zinger.  The design is probably viable, but it doesn't offer the ease and convenience of the qucik detachment from a hard D ring, and I was worried about its durability.  The Chuluut has a mass of pockets in most of the right places, fitted with waterproof zips.  The obvious deficiencies were the lack of secure, dry inside pockets; and a rear 'lunch' pouch.  The more closely I looked, the longer the list of failures against the specification becameI was especially dubious about the fiddly nature of the fine-toothed front zip (the first fitting took 3 attempts) and its long term robustness.

As I was moving the Chuluut around for photography it dawned on me that what I was looking at was a very close copy of the features of the Simms G4 Pro.  Shown here, the cuff and adjuster design is identical, although the internal lining material is different (a rather unpleasant plastic texture).

The similarity extends to the closures on the main pockets, with identical shape, positioning and dimensions of the 3 velcro patches.  Across the board there are design details in the Chuluut that are taken straight from the Simms G4, but in every case the materials used in the Simms are of a higher specification.  For example the velcro strip across the main pocket is wider, tougher and more closely stitched.

The neat stowage of the loose ends of the bottom adjuster is a further example of the transfer of Simms' design.

Once one recovers from the righteous indignation of apparent copying you can draw some sensible thoughts.  First, there aren't many ways of skinning the cat and being original in the design of a wading jacket.  Second, it you're going to copy, then Simms are a good place to start.  And third, the Chuluut is less than half the price of a G4, although it lacks several of the G4's features and involves some tacky compromises in materials that are inconsistent with its £200+ price tag.

With exchange rate differentials, postage and insurance, my abortive experiment with Taimen cost me about £30.  This underlines the risks and costs of internet shopping outside the UK.

Three down, one left.

The Unexpected

After 2 weeks of this debacle I was becoming increasingly frustrated and fed up.  My master plan for a perfect acquisition process was in ruins; I'd wasted loads of time; and I still didn't have a jacket to show for my efforts.  On the Sunday night I resolved to have done with the whole thing and place an order with Snowbee on the Monday morning for a new Prestige.  And then Murphy did a back-flip.  On the Salmon Fishing Forum, Doon Rod offered his used Simms G4 Pro jacket for sale.  We'd done business the previous week, when I gave him an old B&W fibreglass rod against a charitable donation to the Ure Salmon Trust.  The price he put on the jacket was fair - half RRP - and fired by frustration and hope I made him an offer that was immediately accepted.  The jacket arrived the next day, fitted me perfectly and met my requirements in full.  It needs some minor repairs, but with Simms' lifetime repair policy, a trip to Montana in the next close season should solve all the outstanding issues.  In the interim it's ready for service.

It's better to have a plan than no plan at all.  But when you're confronted first by failure and then the unexpected, you have to be ready to ditch the plan and exercise judgement, even if it involves a solution that you'd excluded from the outset.  Dealing with someone you know and trust is a great help in such matters.

So now I'm the owner of a Simms G4 Pro, contrary to all expectations, at a price within my budget.  By the end of the season I shall be able to have an opinion on whether a new one is worth £499.

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.


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!