Monday, October 21, 2013

Redington Sonic Pro Waders Review

If you were to ask a Die Hard Steelheader what is the most important equipment in their arsenal waders wouldn't be far from the front of the list. Aside from ones Rods and Reels there is nothing more near and dear to a die hard steelheader than his/her waders. Just think about it. As tried and true all season steelheaders we rely on today's modern fabrics to provide a barrier between us and the elements while maintaining a comfortable dexterity that affords us the ability to hike miles of river basin in pursuit of our quarry. We rely on our waders to keep us dry, warm, and injury free from sudden puncture, abrasion, or the like. In the most extreme conditions that couple millimeters of fabric means the difference between keeping warm and dry or getting wet and hypothermic. On the other end of the spectrum we rely on the same fabrics to provide a breathable barrier that mitigates internal condensation to keep our layering system dry and functioning. Most of us take our waders for granted. We overlook just how far today's modern fabrics and waders have evolved.
I can remember borrowing my father’s rubber hip boots back in the early 80's and wading the rapids of the Little Ausable in Inverhuron Provincial Park. They were heavy, cumbersome and often developed cracks that almost always leaked.  Back then rubber was the best and only game in town. Wow have we come a long way. Although neoprene still holds a market for the hard core Waterfowler it has almost entirely disappeared from the steelheading scene aside from the fitted boots that compliment a set of Breathables. This is namely in part to advanced layering techniques and thermal fabrics that complement the breathable wader system. Today’s breathable waders allow for comfort and dexterity second to none and do so in the most extreme cold weather scenarios as long as proper layering techniques are employed. There is no longer a need to wrestle into the heavy and constricting 5 mm neo's and waddle ones way down the snowy trail for a winter steelheading adventure. I hung the neoprene waders up about 10 years ago and have yet to look back. I can honestly say I have put the entire system through the paces and tested the extremes. One time we even had to de-thaw at a nearby Coin-op Car Wash in order to melt the ice off of our frozen waders and wading boots. I can truly say with conviction that the breathable wader system is the way to go hands down.
Three years ago I was looking to replace a two year old set of Cabela's breathable waders that were starting to develop a leak. Typically I would get two hard seasons out of a set of waders and then need to replace them. I started to weigh my options and discovered a new offering from Redington that afforded a stitchless seam technology that they referred to as the "Sonic Weld System". The Redington advertisment stated that their Sonic-Pro waders seams were welded with sound, not sewn with needles, thus eliminating thousands of stitch holes found in traditional waders. This intrigued me and led me to reach out to them via an email. After an in-depth introduction and multiple back and forth emails they graciously offered me an opportunity to put their product to the test at prostaff pricing for the blog. To be fair to the process I have put any formal written review on the shelf until a time I felt I could offer up an honest and sincere review of these waders. This meant time on the water. Well...three years have passed and I am still running the initial pair of waders hard without any compromise to the watertight sonic welded seam system. I now own three pairs of Sonic's…Two Sonic-pro stocking foot chest waders and recently one pair of Sonic-pro zipper waders. I keep one pair at home in Ontario for the Huron Flows and two pairs at the cabin for the Michigan river adventures.
The Sonic Pro wader line offers an aesthetically pleasing product in a two tone color arrangement with a multitude of sizing options to meet the masses. I run XL's and find there is ample room in the leg and torso sections to allow for proper thermal layering. The ergonomically shaped neoprene boots are adequately sized with foot comfort in mind. This is important to me as I do a great deal of deep winter fishing and adequate room for blood circulation in the feet after heavy socks are worn is essential. The suspender system employs a quality, easy to use, buckling arrangement that readily adjusts to meet a fair range of end user height scenarios. There is ample storage located in the front compartment that is accessed via a water tight Ykk zipper system. There is also another internal storage pouch that incorporates a forceps dock and Hypalon retractor. I find it best for storage of more delicate items like a cell phone, car keys, and identification. It flips out from the inside of the waders at chest level for easy access.
Behind the front storage compartment is a built in hand warmer lined with brushed microfleece. It is also zippered with waterproof Ykk zippers and can double as yet another storage compartment. I can't say enough about having quality waders with a decent hand warmer system built in. Redington has a great system with ample room for both hands when a quick reprieve from the cold is in order. The Sonics’ 4 layered breathable wader construction has proven to be durable and wear resistant and has proudly stood up to my abuses. The incorporated gravel guards are snug and tight and stay securely fastened and in place thanks to a cleverly designed lace hook that claims to have been designed with a “line snag” free approach. They certainly do a stand up job of protecting the neo booties and stones in your wading boots are a thing of the past. The included wading belt is robust and sized adequately to provide a secure fit around ones waste. It employs a heavy duty buckle that fits ones hand perfectly and allows for quick and easy one handed operation.
The Sonic Pro Zipper waders employ all of the above features with the added bonus of a front waterproof zipper for unparalleled access to ones under layers. One cannot say enough about this feature when nature calls…especially in the dead of winter when all of the outer layers do not need to be shed in order to address the call of the wild. It is equally as nice to have easy access to ones under layers and pockets for additional secured storage or under layer adjustment. Along with the incorporation of the front waterproof Ri-Ri zipper system some minor changes in the storage compartments had to be addressed. Redington did a great job. There are now two ergonomically designed laser cut hand warmer pockets each incorporating brushed micro fleece for comfort and warmth. Again, each have a water proof Ykk zipper so they can double as secured storage as well. The large front storage compartment of the standard chest wader model has been broken down into two individual vertically zippered storage pockets on each side of the main zipper.
Along with these storage options is an additional large internal micro mesh storage pocket on the inside for one’s delicate items. Eg keys, cell phones, ID etc… These waders are top of the line and no compromises were made in the design.
The Sonic Pro Waders have served me well over the past 3 seasons. They fit me well, keep me dry, and have stood up to the abuses I have bestowed upon them.  These Breatheables have climbed, hiked, slid, stumbled, fell,  bushwacked, ice broke, froze, thawed, flew to Alaska, boat fished, and have seen countless river miles in pursuit of my quarry. They continued to perform in the most extreme conditions that could possibly be thrown at them. Along the way the fabric integrity has withstood thick brush, stabbing branches, thorn bushes, sharp river rock, jagged ice, gravel beaches, and abrasive sand shores. They have yet to leak, puncture or succumb to any of my abuses and keep on performing. They have proven to be comfortable to fish in and allow a dexterity that only assists with the rigors of hiking back to the river and along its overgrown banks.
I have always taken a common sense approach when spending my hard earned money on waders. My philosophy has always been on the practical side. Breathables waders range from $160 to $800 a pair. There are certainly bells and whistles than come with the more money spent but once a certain plateau is reached in fabric and seam integrity I have always employed a personal strategy. My thinking has always been if you can replace a set of waders 2-3 times versus the price of a single pair one would be better off running new gear more frequently. The Sonic Pro’s have challenged this thought process. First off I would be hard pressed to sway from this line of waders having now run them for the past 3 years. The looks, comfort, functionality, and performance fully exceed any of the lower priced wader lines I have utilized in the past. Secondly the price point for this level of performance gear is considerably lower than their direct competition.
A set of Sonic Pro chest waders has a MSRP of $299.95. An Internet savvy shopper can find them on the web for as low as $225. An incredible bargain for the level of performance one gets. Zippered waders are a top shelf, high end option and the Sonic Pro Zipper model is extremely value priced when compared to its competition. The Sonic Pro Zip’s retail for $399.95 and can be found on the web for as low as $299.95 A comparable set of Simm’s G4Zs waders retail for upwards of $799.95 and Patagonia Rio’s for $699. This certainly warrants some much deserved attention.

Redington's Sonic Pro Wader line-up provides top shelf form and function while remaining to meet my personal philosophy in relation to price point versus replacement frequency. I can still get two sets of Sonic Pro’s for the price of a single pair of their competitions. This keeps the cost and risk of ownership extremely low. I do not hesitate to recommend this brand and line of Breathables to anyone. I love my Redington waders and can stand behind this product without issue. They have yet to let me down and have exceeded any previous wader performance that I have owned. I am looking forward to running them hard in the coming months as the Great Lakes Steelheading Season ramps up as well as packing them along in the Spring for another Alaskan adventure.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Second Guess

With a late rise I contemplated my options for what was forecast to be a mainly sunny Northwestern Michigan Fall morning.  The Salmon season has been going strong here for the past month but is nearing its demise.  The system is flooded with eggs and Steelhead have began to enter the rivers.  Reports have been fair to moderate but considering we are in the transition period it can be a crap shoot as to what success can be realized.  It was nearing 11:30 when I finished up my morning coffee and rounded up the trash to take to the dump. 
The Sun ducked behind the clouds as I made the drive to the garbage depot and my thoughts began to swing towards hooking up the Hyde for an afternoon float.  It was Saturday in Northern Michigan and the river was certain to be pressured.  I flip flopped back and forth and thought of  almost every reason not to go but something possessed me to gather up the gear and hook up the boat.  On the way to the launch I couldn't help but wonder if the night priors downpour had any positive affects on fish numbers. 
Optimistically I hoped it was enough to elicit another push of fresh fish but my pessimistic site told me the sun and boat traffic would certainly have any finned creatures heading for deep cover.  There was absolutely no hope I thought to myself as I drove by an almost overfilled Bear Creek Access parking lot.  I made the turn to the Rainbow launch and prepared myself for the absolute worst.  I assured myself if for nothing more it would be a peaceful float.  After all its a beautiful section of river in full fall colour. 
The parking lot was better than expected and as I launched the Hyde an angler on shore hooked up with a hot Chromer just above the ramp.  This was certainly a confidence booster and soon I was making my way down towards my first destination of the float.  The river had bumped up a couple of hundred C.F.S. from the late evening rains and the visibility was prime at approximately 3 ft.  The suspended leaf litter was nothing to be overly concerned about.  As my voyage progressed I fished run after run with little to no luck. 
I continued to recount past successes at each destination I stopped at and managed to keep my focus but still there was no reward.  Each boat I passed spoke of marginal successes and I couldn't help but think I had missed a decent morning bite.  The traffic was heavy but as I made my way down river I managed to get to fish each and every piece of water I wanted.  The second guessing began to set in.  Was my leader to bulky?  Was my shot pattern adequate?  Was it just too sunny now?  Did I have the right colour bags?  and Has all of the boat traffic put the fish down?
We have all been there...It's a Steelheaders curse.  We all know better but we all seem to fall for the same mental trap when things go south.  It's part of the mental game and  I managed to shake it off convincing myself that the next run or hole would see my vindication. I set up on the second last slot of the float and recounted the success we had experienced in this locale.    I continued to fish it hard and push my luck trying to get closer and yet closer to the wood and make a tight parallel drift convinced a fish was awaiting my offering.  Still no reward. 
I was contemplating pulling anchor when I lobed a short cast tight to the boat in the main current seam. Much to my disbelief the float dropped and I set up on a welcomed and familiar thumping sensation.  The GLX loaded up nicely and soon the water exploded with a giant slab of chrome.  After a series of short and sharp runs the fish bolted down stream and across the river.  By now another boat was coming down river and as a courtesy dropped anchor just above me so as not to interfere with my success. 
With an audience I had to pull anchor twice, row the boat to keep position, and eventually lead the angry hen into the awaiting net all with my left arm.  It was a great moment and the reward certainly outweighed the effort.  I was now exhausted but all the second guessing was instantly put to bed with a short lob cast into the main seam accompanied by some determined perseverance and dumb luck.    It certainly is a mental game and defiantly never over until the rods are broken down.  The season is in its infancy and it only gets better from here on in.  As the days grow shorter and the nights colder the rivers will continue to fill with fish on the heels of cold Fall rains.  For a Steelheader its a wonderful time to be alive.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Kickin off Ontario

 Last  weekends torrential downpours left the Huron Rivers running large and proud.  I monitored the situation from work all week in anticipation of an opportunity to fish the home waters.  I watched the graph like a hawk and what I thought would be Tuesday turned to Wednesday and then Thursday and realistically... Friday.  I already had Friday booked off of work to head over to the cabin with the family for Thanksgiving weekend so Thursday was my only shot.  I booked it off of work with a contingency to go in if conditions didn't better themselves.  I wasn't overly confident that the visibility would be prime after a late Wednesday photographic report from a friend so I decided on a game time decision. 
Wednesday evenings data was predicting a fishable flow but just on the upper limits.  When I awoke Thursday morning my prediction was on the money so I loaded up the truck and made my way to Tim Horton's for some morning fuel.  The ride up was relaxing and I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy the quiet that comes with the downtime of  early morning travel for fishing.  My timing was a little off and I arrived 15-20 mins later than I would have liked.  There was already a car at the access but I didn't let it dampen my spirits.  The fair weather fisherman bite has yet to be squashed by the driving winds and bone crunching cold that comes with this passion so a single vehicle spoke to river conditions on the edge or dumb luck. 
I geared up and started the long trek back to the river.  The morning sun was beginning to light the sky on fire as it threatened to rise off on the horizon.  The only tracks I could make out in the bean field were from what appeared to be rather large Coyote.  We seemed to be headed in the same direction so I kept my eyes peeled as I followed them back towards the bush.  The forest trail was overgrown with lush green foliage.  It had been a rather long time since an opportunity to fish this early in October had presented itself for me. I didn't expect to have to lay down a new trail.  As I made my way down into the valley I could hear the roar of flowing water.  I was initially alarmed by the intensity but reassured myself that graph data and past experience dictated a fishable flow. 
Finally I pushed my way through the last tall grasses to reach the waters edge.  I was marginally disappointed with what lay before me.  To be quite honest I knew all along that the river was going to be on the negative side of fishable but it was my only shot at her for this rain event.  I had been here before and watched her come into shape before my eyes so I kept an optimistic outlook and started to cover water.  It wasn't long and I hooked a 4" river chub.  I had forgotten about those little demons but took it as a positive precursor. 
If this little guy found my offering certainly a genetically superior Great Lakes Steelhead would have no issue.  Another three or four drifts and my float dropped in the slack water and the GL3 loaded up nicely.  It had first Fall Steelhead of 2013 was on the line.  It wasn't a huge fish but certainly validated my efforts and  rekindled my confidence.  After a decent battle the juvenile chromer came to hand.  It was a couple of pounds of confidence and after a quick pic was released.  I was certainly excited and proceeded to pound every inch of decent water with determination as I made my way down river. 
Every effort brought no further reward.  I made my way down  to a well know bend in the river we frequent.  I waded out to the center and worked every inch of the outside bend to no avail.  After overstaying my welcome I decided to further my travels to the final destination of the morning.  This run holds a special place in my heart.  If I had to choose one spot on this river to fish this would be the place.  I can only honestly recall being shutout here once so I was eager to get positioned and make the first throw.  The first 20-30 drifts didn't turn a fish.  I was starting to think about cutting my losses and making the hike out when I noticed the river visibility was showing signs of improvement. 
The visibility went from 6-8" to 10-12".  I had to remind myself that this was going to be one of those days that fish better later on as the conditions improve.  I gathered my thoughts for a moment and repositioned my footing to alleviate a minor lower back ache that was surfacing from standing stationary for so long.  I found myself marvelling at the reflection of the golden fall foliage on the waters surface and becoming hypnotized by flowing water and falling leaves and the ultimately the true splendor of Autumn.   I started to recount all of the fish we had turned and all of the adventures we had shared in this very spot. 
So many good times and fond memories.  Truly sacred water and a place near and dear to my heart. After regrouping my thoughts and coming back down to earth I concentrated my efforts on the lower far side of the pool.  I made a very long drift to towards the tailout when I lost sight of the float.  Instinct took over and I set up.  Surprisingly the GL3 loaded up and a giant chrome buck erupted from the pool. I was in complete disbelief as I made every attempt to handle the angry beast.  After a few more acrobatic leaps he made a long run to the far bank and held his ground deep in the pool.  Then, as if in cinematic slow motion, the orange 8 gm Drennan loafer broke the surface and shot back to the river bank behind me.
He had won.  I was alright with it.  I experienced a incredible battle while he put on an acrobatic show that only a hot October fish could.  I frantically collected my line on the reel and checked my leader.  Not only did he win but he won because of purpose.  The hook was gone and the  bottom 6 inches of the leader was severely frayed.  He wrapped my line on some rocks and ground himself free.  Certainly a conscious effort on his part and well played.  I retied my rig and wondered how many more opportunities I would get.  Once done I excitedly made a cast to the top of the pool and mended the slack line when the float dropped.  I set up, the surface exploded,  and it was game on again. 
The very next cast and I was into another chromer.  This time a hen.  I was taking no chances with this girl and put all my faith in the gear.  Soon I was holding a magnificent silver slab in the shallows.  It was a great moment and another gift from this amazing river. I fished for a bit longer and lost another giant chrome  missile on my way out at the first run of the morning.   I chalked that one up to early season rust.  It was now shortly after 12:30 and the sun was warming things up. 
I had a long hike out and decided to take my time.  The hike out was tough.  It doesn't get easier with age.  Unseasonably warm temps and steelheading gear make for a tough hike.  I was certainly glad to reach the truck and crack a cold reward for the days efforts.  Life is good I thought to myself as I geared down.  The best days of the year are before us.  Fish are in the rivers and the steelheading season is here.  This time of the year is what its all about.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Salmon Camp 2013

It's been a long time since I wet a line in pursuit of a finned adversary.  Aside from a couple of half-hearted summer trips on Tippy Dam Pond it has been months since I had last fished with  any conviction.  This was all about to change this weekend with the third annual Salmon Camp at the cottage. 
Arn and Red were more than eager to do battle with some giant kings in pursuit of our yearly supply of Roe for the Steelhead season.  I have mixed feelings about the Salmon Run.  On one hand one of the greatest spectacles of nature unfolds before us. 
Thousands upon thousands of majestic King Salmon navigate countless miles in hopes of reaching the sacred headwaters.  Once their destination has been realized their only mission is to spawn and ensure the longevity of their species.  It truly is an amazing spectacle to witness and one can be nothing short of moved by the size, number and fortitude of these mighty migratory fish.   Then comes the bad...While this magnificent event is unfolding people from all walks of life gather in great number along the banks. 
For many its an annual tradition, for many its the only fishing they know, and for many there are no holds barred when it comes to catching the almighty King Salmon. 
The "evening bite" as many will tell you is where its at.  The river sees more traffic at night and under the cover of darkness non stop splashing and tail slapping can be heard for miles.  A surreal spectacle of headlamps line both sides of the river for as far as the eye can see.  The Salmon stand little to no chance as they get winched in backwards and sideways under fouled intent. 
It's reminiscent of a train wreck and one can't help but be mesmerized by the seemingly organized chaos that unfolds.  A slaughter is unfolding but under the cover of darkness and the multitude of white lights flickering along the banks and through the forest trails can be hypnotising. 
This fishery means a lot to these people.  It means a lot to this community, and it certainly means a lot to the local economy.  They travel from as far away as Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, and the list goes on and on...Who am I to judge.  This is a put and take fishery.  These fish will die and line the banks of the river rotting once they do their deeds. 
These fisherman keep and eat what they "catch" and I'd bet good money not an ounce of it goes to waste.  It's been going on since the Salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes and snagging was once a legal activity.  A time honoured tradition I guess.  For the most part I think the DNR turns a blind eye to it within reason and even if they wanted to they could never fully enforce something of this magnitude.  Until you are there and witness it in its entirety one cannot even begin to understand it.
For us the King Salmon provide an opportunity to harvest a small amount of Roe to keep us fishing throughout the season without having to harvest any Steelhead.  Salmon Camp has always been about  camaraderie and tom foolery with a little bit of fishing thrown in for good measure.  It's always good times and an event I look forward to annually. 

Salmon camp officially kicks off the Fall fishing season as well and the Season is officially before us.  The Rains have come and the Steelhead are entering our rivers. As I type this the rain is falling hard on my roof.   It certainly is going to get interesting in the coming weeks.  If the rains and river levels dictate I hope to be chasing my first fall Steelhead of 2013 this coming week.  It's game time and my fishing is going to kick into high gear.  Keep checking in as the blog should be updated regularly with fresh photography and writing.