Friday 29 April 2016

The Great Jacket Hunt - Chapter 3

I never intended there to be a Chapter 3 of this saga.  By definition sagas are long - you need something expansive to fill the Scandinavian winter nights - but in this case I judged two chapters quite enough.  Then something changed.

There are no fewer than
4 pockets in this view

At the end of Chapter 2 I explained how I wound up with a second hand Simms G4, which was never part of the plan.  I duly outloaded all my kit into the Simms, which after the settled 15 year-old routine with the Snowbee Prestige took a bit of time owing to the plethora of pockets and vertically arranged zips.  Decisions, decisions: what to put in which?  In the event I didn't use them all, and as I tend to fish lightly loaded, there was still room to spare.

A few days later a useful spate on the Ure tempted me out to spend a day blowing the cobwebs out of my casting and getting back into the groove.  As a result of the wet spring there are lots of early fish in the Ure.  Last year we had less than 90 mm of rain across February, March and April, and the river only rose twice above minimum low in May before going back onto its bones until October.  In contrast, this year we've had serious flooding after Christmas followed by 290 mm of rain over the same February - April period.  As a result the Ouse system has been sending very strong signals to the salmon accumulating in the Humber, and this is reflected in the numbers that have passed through the counter at Tanfield.  This presented me with a difficult choice: if I fished below Redmire Force on Bolton Hall there was an excellent chance of a salmon but nowhere to exercise my casting; conversely, up at Thoresby I could cast to my heart's content but the possibility of catching would be much lower.  In the event the casting took precedence as I wished to be fully ready for a guest day on the Tweed in May.  As a result I didn't catch a salmon (but I did hook a host of ravenous brown trout up to 2 lbs).

It didn't rain to test the Simms, but it was windy and a raw 5 degrees.  The G4 is pleasantly light, flexible and silent: you just don't notice its presence when you're casting.  The collar and cuffs are very comfortable.  However, after a lifetime of top loading bellows pockets, the Simms is the first jacket that I've used with vertically arranged external zip pockets.  Two problems emerged.  First, there are so many of them that it was difficult to remember what I'd put where.  And second, you need to access the pockets on the left with your right hand and vice versa, which at first is a bit counter-intuitive.  As time passed I overcame both problems and became really happy with it.  The only outstanding niggle was the back pocket.  The Snowbee has an excellent and easily accessible 'poachers' pocket arranged laterally just above kidney height, which was ideal for stowing items like lunch, chocolate and gloves, and required only one hand to open and close.  The Simms' is high up the back, inconvenient and inaccessible except with 2 hands.  Nevertheless, as the end of the day I voted the Simms G4 a solid success and went home happy that my £200 had been well spent.  The bottom line is that it's a great jacket and worth £499 if you earn your living either standing in a river or sitting in a swivel chair dealing in bonds (in which case £500 is worth as little to you as a fishing jacket or just 2 bottles of Roderer's Crystal champagne).

The next bit takes a bit of explaining - even I was deeply confused - so please pay close attention. My confusion was exacerbated by the pressures of last week: we had step father in law's funeral on the Monday; on Tuesday our daughter produced her first child 3 weeks early (oh joy, and I have plans for him for the 2022 season), so we jumped onto a train from York to London to visit, returning after midnight; and on Wednesday morning early we packed the car and drove 360 miles to Devon to prepare for HMCX's wedding on Saturday (yet more joy and the sun shone).  Amidst this, the very nice chap from whom I had bought the Simms contacted me to ask whether he could have it back (I'll not go into the reasons, because I don't rightly understand them myself).  As recompense he would give me a brand new, unused Patagonia SST jacket, which has an RRP of £370.  At this point it helps (or not) to remember that I'd only paid him £200 net for the Simms.  As I consider him a good fellow I duly agreed, even though it seemed too good to be true.  The Patagonia arrived the next day, and so I'm now the owner of a brand new, very expensive wading jacket that never featured in my plan for which I only paid half price and thus falls within my original budget.  In that situation I may as well give my first impressions of the new Patagonia SST.

 The Patagonia SST

Patagonia SST
Front view, fully loaded

The SST is a shell design, with the conventional ensemble of 2 front bellows pockets; 2 hand-warmers behind; a single inside; and a high large capacity back pouch.  The additional extras are the holder for forceps/pliers visible on the left front (good); and inner zip pockets inside the big front bellows (very handy for locating smaller frequently used items like a tippet spool and glue).  There are 2 D rings at the front and one on the rear collar.

The bellows pockets are vast and the zipped hand-warmers similarly capacious. Clearly in Patagonia keeping dry is a higher priority than warm hands, as they are unlined.  The zip facility adds extra security if like me you store your camera in a hand warmer pocket (via a lanyard and zinger visible on the right side).  Conversely, as the zip runs all the way down to the bottom of the pocket, if it is fully down, things do fall out.  However, as you can see in the photo, you only need them half open to get your hands comfortably inside.

The SST is very well made and finished: Patagonia have clearly invested heavily in training their Vietnamese workforce and quality supervisors.  As I had an unusual idle 10 minutes I checked the full length of every seam with 3 power reading glasses without finding a single defect.  The internal taping is perfect and flush finished, which of course it has to be in an unlined jacket if you wish to avoid damaging friction.  The waterproof front zip is robust and easy to operate.  In that respect it is superior to the Simms (a mite fine for my taste) and a long way ahead of the Taimen (too fiddly by half).

SST Cuff
The cuff adjustment is simpler than the Simms (and the Taimen copy).  Achieving a water-tight seal is easy.  However, I have a historic preference for concealed cuffs owing to their great protection against snagging running line whilst casting, so only time will expose the success or failure of the SST's cuff design.

SST Rear View
showing pouch pocket

My first niggle is the waterproof back pouch pocket.  Despite recently taking up Yoga classes to improve my flexibility in the face of ageing, I can only reach the zip tag with my left hand.  However, I can't open the zip by more than a few inches without bringing my right hand into the act to keep the material taught.  What do you do with a two handed salmon rod when both hands are behind your head?  (There is an answer)  Even when I've opened the zip I can't get either hand far enough into the pouch to reach anything.  Put simply, you can only easily stow, close and empty this pouch by taking the jacket off, which when you think about it, rather defeats the object of the SST's superb waterproofing.  Unless Patagonia's other customers are made of India-rubber, this does seem stupid to someone who's accustomed to the easy one-handed, mid-river operation of the Snowbee back pocket.

The magical mystery rod holder
The bottom seam is to the left
Overall length ca 2.5 inches / 6 cm
Here's the answer to how you hold your rod whilst disjointing both shoulders when getting your lunch out of the back pocket. This loop of fabric on the bottom inside hem of the jacket, held in place with a pop fastener, is described as a 'drop down rod holder for when you need an extra hand'.  Unfortunately it doesn't come with an instruction manual, so I haven't yet worked out how to take advantage of this facility.  Do I put the rod butt through it?  Hook it over the reel handle?  Or what? My initial reaction is that this is yet another of those marginal 'improvements' dreamed up by anglers advising designers in the close season.  In my old profession there was a clear design dictum: "if it's not immediately clear why something exists, it's probably not worth having".

My final gripe is with the otherwise excellent hood.  Patagonia's customer service office is in Reno Nevada, where it never rains. As a result of this unusual choice of location for thinking about waterproof kit, they may believe that it rains incessantly everywhere else.  Indeed, in Patagonia the hood is probably more up than down.  But contrary to popular belief and the statistics offered at the beginning of this post, it doesn't rain all the time in Britain and especially Yorkshire.  Even Todmorden gets the odd day's sunshine.  As a result I like to be able to stow my hood neatly behind the collar (like the Simms).  All it takes is 3 pennyworth's of Velcro strip.  In the absence of such an extra on the SST and to make sure that I wasn't missing a trick, I contacted Patagonia's customer service department.  Within the hour a charming young lady responded: "The hood isn't designed to roll into itself or stow away; I wish I had a better answer for you!".  It doesn't come much more honest or genuine than that, thank you.

So now all I have to do is get out onto the river for a practical test in order to decide whether to keep the SST, or sell it and resume the search, leading inevitably to Chapter 4 of the Great Wading Jacket Saga.  My inclination is to keep this beautifully made jacket, which only cost me £200, and spare you another chapter.  I'd certainly need it today as the rain and sleet are thrashing the windows.  Indeed, it's been snowing, sleeting and raining here for the past 3 days; all the tops in Wensleydale are brilliant white (if and when they emerge from the low cloud); and the water level in the Ure should be absolutely brilliant next week.  If you're similarly fortunate, tight lines.


All this debate up in the realms of super-expensive jackets has set me pondering the question of whether they are really worth 3-5 times the price of their budget peers?  In my next post I shall look at HMCX's £120 Vision jacket and give an opinion.

Friday 8 April 2016

Unusually Slow

Joy and Sorrow

It's been an unusually slow start to my fishing year.  Followers of this blog will be familiar with the enthusiasm that bubbles out of me as the new season approaches.  However, some may have noticed an absence of written output in recent months and perhaps worried that I've lost my spark.  Fear not, I haven't, but I have been distracted by two rather important things, like life and death: yes, really.  I'm very keen on fishing, but I can't equal the level of fanatical devotion achieved by the late great Bill Shankly, who managed Liverpool FC 1959-74.  When asked whether football was a matter of life and death for him, he replied "No, it's much more important than that".

Life is full of delight.  Our first grandchild arrived at the end of December, fractionally short of the 11 lbs of a full 2 MSW  salmon.  He's a lovely chap, albeit pink rather than silver in colour, and although fathered by my non-fishing son, I very much hope to be allowed to introduce him to the joys of angling as soon as he's ready.  Hopefully I shall have 2 students in the  2021 season as my sometime trout-nymphing daughter is due to produce her first child in early May.  And in between the salmon-catching HMCX gets married in late April.  So the positive side of the equation is unbounded joy all round, even if it has managed to diminish my thinking about fishing.

Death is always a shock, even if it has been long anticipated.  My step father in law had suffered progressively worsening health over the past 3 years, and by February it was evident that he was entering the final phase.  He was admitted to hospital and died peacefully just after Easter at the age of 85 with his family at the bedside.  Now there is much to do and organise, leaving even less time to think about fishing.  Amidst the sadness we have to accept that death is as much a part of life as birth, so faced with its inevitability, let us smile, strive to be happy and enjoy our fishing as much and for as long as possible.

Despite those worthy sentiments I cannot avoid maudlin thoughts of the family's fishermen who have gone before me: my grandfather who suffered a stroke whilst spring fishing on the Exe at 83, but fell backwards onto the bank, denying him the death in the river he would have chosen; my father who introduced me to the sport that would captivate me and taught me to live every day to the maximum as he had since D-Day; my original father in law whose dedication to the River Rye and the pursuit of its trout made Bill Shankly seem half-hearted; and his eldest son, my brother in law, forever 26, whose ashes blended with his father's in the Rye.  They all contributed to my life and fishing in many different ways, and their enjoyment of the sport, enthusiasm, wisdom and good company makes it easy for me to remember them with grateful smiles.

Getting Ready

Sorting the Kit

The Great Fishing Chest 
Despite all the distractions and the lack of the impetus of a spring trip to the Dee this year, I spent a happy half hour last week poking about in the GFC to work out my annual John Norris order.  As usual the major components were fluorocarbon tippet (15 & 19 lbs) and sinking polyleaders.  It may grieve a Yorkshire heart, but throwing away last season's tippet materials is an essential discipline.  Fluorocarbon is expensive, but losing a first class fish is beyond price.  Some people question the reliability of fluorocarbon, but it's never let me down, and last season 15 lbs Seaguar withstood the power of a 32 pounder for 40 minutes.  Yes, Maxima is much cheaper and may arguably be more reliable, but it doesn't sink well and it hasn't got Seaguar's near invisibility in water.  If you don't believe the invisibility point, have a look at the photos in the Blinded by the Light post for some solid evidence.

MCX Dark V2
Size 8

The main fly order will be for MCX Shrimps, which bore the brunt of last season's fishing.  The progression from the original sparsely dressed Darragh Digney prototype, through the fluffy Version 1, and thence to the conservative V2 shown here, has produced a fly in which I have solid confidence.  The difference between Light and Dark is the substitution of grey for black throughout the dressing.  I used the MCX on every day that I fished the Ure last season, and on each occasion that there was sensibly fishable water, it caught fish. On the other hand, I didn't use it on either the Dee or the Tweed because the ghillies insisted on other patterns: I caught nothing (which of course proves nowt, but I couldn't resist making the point).

Here's some well chewed proof, looking distinctly the worse for wear after 40 minutes in the jaw of the Beast of Wensleydale and extraction with pliers.  Despite its dishevelled appearance I suspect that it would still be capable of hooking fish, even if the far hook-point might not hold anything substantial.  I need a full re-stock of MCXs owing to the consequences of fishing in low water - catching rocks - leading to bent hooks or lost flies.  My order will go off to Martyn Roberts shortly.  Sadly Martyn had to shut his business, All Water Fly Fishing of Harrogate in early March,  another expert tackle dealer subdued by the might of the internet.

State of the Rivers

We had a very wet winter and to round it off almost 100mm of rain in March, which was about 30% above average.  As a result Yorkshire's rivers are in fine fettle.  The winter storms flushed them through, clearing away the sludge left by 3 years' low flows, and leaving them bright and clear.  The invertebrate counts in the Rye are at record levels and my friends who fish the Wharfe and Nidd have a spring in their step.  The prospects for the trout and sea trout are excellent.

With the wet winter salmon have been running into the Ouse system since before Christmas, and in growing numbers over the past month.  More than 400 passed through the Tanfield counter over Easter.  Everywhere the land is very damp, which sustains the flow; causes levels to fall very slowly in the dry weeks; and extends the periods in which the salmon can run, bringing them further upstream.

Whereas for the last 3 cold very dry springs it was hardly worth wetting a line, this year I am as optimistic as ever and can't wait to get out.  Amidst life and death my enthusiasm for my 61st season shines as strongly as ever, with the added excitement this year of spending Just One Week in Norway on the Gaula in July.  

Hopefully I shall have something substantial to write about before long.  If you're out on the water, tight lines, and remember in cold water to fish the fly more slowly and a foot or so deeper than later in the year.