The Minimalist Packer

Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack

In a couple weeks I'll be heading for Canada to see my family. The trip is being split with some time in British Columbia where my family lives and the other will be in Banff National Park. I'm not a frequent flyer as I'm lucky to fly every couple years of so. I still remember the days when we would travel to England to see my grandparents and I'm watching my mother as she crammed what seemed like an endless supply of clothes into a couple suitcases. Those were the good old days, when everything was free. Today, the airlines nickel and dime passengers for everything. Every time I travel, I'm surprised how much luggage people will bring. Since I'm a minimalist person, I pack the bare necessities. I don't want to pay extra for baggage, wait for it or deal with surly TSA agents. When the plane lands, I want to grab my stuff and head out of the airport. 

Backpack for traveling

I researched what most minimalist travelers use and it wasn't much of a surprise, all of them use a backpack. It made perfect sense as a backpack is very versatile. After much research, the backpack that was highly recommended on various sites was the Osprey Farpoint 40. I bought mine at a local outfitters store for $140.00. The price is expensive, but you're paying for high quality material and a lifetime warranty. The Farpoint 40 measures at 22"x 14"x 9", which meets most airlines carry-on requirements. It weights a little over 3 pounds empty which is amazing considering it's listed as a 40L backpack. 
The main material of this pack is 210D Nylon Mini Hex Diamond Ripstop and it’s one of the main reasons it’s so light and incrediblely durable.

minimalist traveling

The backpack has a clamshell design, which allows you completely open it and lay it flat much like a suitcase. You can access everything without having to pull stuff out. Inside, there is a sleeve for a laptop, tablet or slim books. The other is a front flap zippered mesh pocket. At the top of the outer shell of the backpack there's another pocket called a slash pocket that is useful for items such as keys, wallet or a passport. 

Another great feature is the shoulder harnesses can be stowed away to minimize the size of it when placing it in a overbin compartment or under a seat. There's also a handle on the side of the backpack and a strap if you wanted to use it as a duffle bag.

Osprey backpack

To take advantage of all available space and keep my stuff organized, I use packing cubes. I purchased set of cubes made by Gonex from Amazon for $26.00. The set has a large, medium and 3 small cubes plus a laundry bag. For my trip, I'm using the medium and 3 small cubes. Everything is rolled and neatly packed in them. One top will be my fleece jacket and toiletries. 
I packed all of those items and I was surprised how much I was able to fit in it. The compression straps made it even more flatter. 

Here's my list

One pair of hiking pants

3 pair of wool socks
5 pairs of underwear
3 pairs of shorts
5 shirts
Fleece jacket
Swimming trunks
Flip flops
Cell phone charger

Doesn't sound like a lot, but I'll be able to do laundry at my mother's place. But even if I didn't have access to a washer and dryer, I would have simply washed my clothes in a sink and dry them on a hanger. 

Backpack and packing cubes

The Osprey came in handy when we hiked up the Lake Agnes teahouse. I packed snacks, some clothes and water. The hike was a little over 2 miles and almost 1,700 ft up through a series of switch back trials. For the entire hike, I barely felt the weight of the pack. The hip and shoulder straps kept it tight against me. 

Being a minimalist packer isn't for everybody. Most do it because they're on a tight budget or backpacking through Europe going from one hostel to the next. The Osprey is great if you're traveling for a week like in my case. It was a gamble clothing wise, but the weather in Western Canada can be fickled. But having a backpack like can minimize the amount of luggage you instead of lugging around a huge suitcase. 

So remember when traveling there's no need to pack like you're spending the next 8 years in Tibet. 

That's A Wrap

Grand River steelhead

Last year, I remember the last outing. It was extremely hot and I only caught one fish. It was a day of attrition as I bounced from one spot to the next with my girlfriend in tow. It was an exercise of futility as I couldn't figure out why the river wasn't giving up any fish. One clue was another angler tossing spinners and landing a smallmouth bass. Even though it wasn't the end of April, it felt like most of the fish did their thing and immediately raced back to the lake. There wasn't any stragglers or last minute spawners. I just remember sitting at the restaurant eating wings, watching the Cavs playoff game, and wondering why I had only one fish. My girlfriend on the other was happy that she started on her tan early.

What's special about the last outing is you never know how the day will start or end. Some years, I've banged fish in every spot and other years, I've struggled and threw in the towel by mid morning. The weather was also unpredictable. It was either fishing in a tee shirt or bundling up. There was no in between, because the weather during the spring on the Alley can be so fickled.

I'm sitting my car, drinking my coffee as I wait for the gatekeeper. One of my friends has the access code for the gate. The weather today is not one expects for April 30th as the temperatures are lucky to make it out of the 30s. April has been a miserable month for most Clevelanders as the winter begrudgingly hangs on and many have grown weary of the cold and dreary conditions.

The gatekeeper finally arrives and opens the gate. We drive down the road and park on the gravel bar right next to the river. The wind is blowing from the north and the skies are low and grey. In past years, the trees and bushes would be sprouting leaves. Today, the surrounding landscape is lifeless. There's four of us and we spread out, wondering who will be the first to hook up. Usually I'm the first because I have a good idea where the fish are.

I immediately go to my money spot above the pool. Fish will be either dropping back or spawning. This time of the year, fish will be passing one another. Some have spawned weeks ago and others are recent arrivals. My money spot as it turns out doesn't give up any fish. Three other guys are clustered at the top of the pool. I chuckle because they are set in their ways. The loveable hole beaters who are content at fishing in one place. They are older than me and father time has taken hold of them. Bad knees and bad habits have render them to fishing in places that have easy access. I on the other hand is in better shape than I was in my 20s. If I was alone today, I would have been far off somewhere, miles ahead everyone. The guys today are only fishing until noon and I'll fish until I run out of bait or patience.

The first fish of the morning is caught and I'm downstream shuffling along. I hear whooping and hollering as I start to make my way back up. I suspect the fish are spawning at the head of the pool. Not the one to low hole, I give the others space, plus one of them hasn't been out all season long due to knee replacement surgery. I watch my float chug along and see it go down. I rip it and feel something small tugging. It offers no resistance and I immediately know what it is, a smolt. I fling it out of the water and others see it. I've been know as the smolt master as I have an uncanny habit of cleaning them out of spots. I gently release it and in 10 minutes I catch three more. What is more amusing is the little grebe hanging around in the hopes that he can at least muster the chance of catching one of them. The current is probably a little too fast for him as even the mergansers are on the other side where the current isn't strong in the hopes that can feast on the bounty of them.

The others continue to hook into fish and I'm still plugging away. Finally I get redemption as the float gets sucked under and I feel the rod surge. I watch a pretty large steelhead leap from the water. It blasts downstream and scares off the little grebe. With a pretty stout tippet, I haul in the fish quickly. I look down and it's a dropback hen. She has all of the signs as the bottom of her caudal fin is worn down, numerous scars on her bottom and she's looks emaciated. I pop the hook out and she bolts back into the current. We all start hooking into fish, but it goes from hot to cold during the morning.

The cold wind starts to take toll on some of us and couple of the guys seek refuge in the truck. I'm chattering a bit as I'm up to five fish caught. I start to shuffle back downstream and cast out under a tree. Mending is a chore because the current grabs my line. I hold the rod high and flip the line upstream. I continue to watch it go under the tree and float pops and goes under. This fish however feels different. It's not the typical blast off and erratic run of the steelhead. This is more deliberate fight as the fish bulldogs along the bottom. I catch a glimpse and chuckle as I a chunky smallmouth come up. This is another sign that the steelhead run is coming to an end when lake run smallmouth enter the river. Once in a while I'll catch a bass on a spawn sac.

Finally the others tell me they're done. Those old bones can only take so much. I'm itching to move to another spot. We head up the road and go in different directions. I'm heading upstream to place that I know that have some fish. I drive down to the recreation center and I pass a series of baseball and soccer fields. The place is empty of people. By the time I get there, the sun is gradually coming out. I see another angler at the head of the pool swinging streamers. I climb down the bank and fish along the cliffs. The clouds are gone now and the sun helps me see the bottom. I gradually inch my way out out on to the shale. I scan the bottom to see where the shale ledge begins. I would have preferred to fish from the other side as I can work it more effectively as the current isn't as strong.

The wind shifts to the south and starts gusting. This makes fishing difficult as the wind blows the line off the water. I also have to put the brakes on the float as it drifts pretty quickly downstream. Further up is a place where fish have spawned. I suspect some fish have dropped back into this spot. I work the pool mending the best I can. As the float moves along I watch it go 
under. I set the hook and the fish blows upstream and leaps from the water. It frantically races along the pool as I put the brakes on it. Being mineful of the cliff behind I try to move the fish along the bank. It's a large spawned out female, probably finished several days by the looks of some fresh scars. I continue to fish and start getting into fish. I look at the bait situation and I'm down to 6 sacs. I had plenty of eggs in the freezer but I purposely keep a couple pounds to fish in the early fall as I can't get salmon eggs until mid October. I catch a couple more fish and I'm down to one pink sac. I look at the river and I toss it in as some token to the fishing gods for a great last trip.

It's a very short walk back to the car and I get undressed. I look at my boots and they're a wreck. Last week I had to use super glue as one of the sole came off. I can't complain as I squeezed four years of hard fishing out of them. As I drive home, I call the guys and tell them I hit them good out that spot. For some of those guys, the walleyes will be calling. They'll be out on the big pond all summer long. As for me, I'll be bound to the land. Summer is my busiest time for work. We rarely contact one another during that time as we do our things. It's been like that for the longest time. When the cool winds come off Lake Erie and days get shorter, we reunite.

Muddy Waters

Grand River, Ohio

Whenever I think about fishing for steelhead. I see myself walking along a river in British Columbia. The surrounding mountains are cloaked in mist. I look into the water and it's a beautiful mixture of blue and green hues. The ancient rainforests are covered in moss. It feels like place where man's footprint rarely ever set foot. Instead, I'm looking at a boiling river of brown running along a muddy bank next to series waste treatment ponds in Northeast Ohio. Hardly a place where an angler would think of steelhead would exist, much alone in water that resembles my morning cup of Joe laced with heavily with cream.

Why do Ohio's streams run dirty? It's all about the clay and this part of the Buckeye state has a lot of it. Whenever it rains or the snow melts, the runoff deposits a high volume of it into the water. Depending on the drainage area, most of Ohio's streams can clear within a couple days to over a week. The problem is even worse when streams thaw and large chunks of ice start flowing downstream. Those chucks of ice gouge out the banks and dump a ton of sediment into the water. Even when water levels drop to fishable levels, it can take some time for those clay particles to settle. 

For some, they wait patiently at home for the waters to take on that green hue that the Alley's streams are noted for. But for the hardcore steelheader like me, I don't sit on the sidelines, I grab the gear and head out regardless.

Today, I'm on the Grand and she's notorious for running dirty. That's the result of the river running through a large series of swamps on the far upper reaches. Even when the river is low, there's that hazy stain that hides fish and gives them security that other streams rarely offer. 

On the drive out, I check the flow data and the river is running over 1100. The majority of anglers will never fish at that flow. They consider it far too high and muddy. At that flow, it limits my options, because I can't cross anywhere without me being swept off my feet and drowning. In cases like that, I'll concentrate my efforts on the lower stretches because of the easier access. 

I arrive my destination and the wind is howling out of the north. It's a typical March on the Alley as the weather has fluctuated wildly. The temperatures have been below average for most of the month, keeping the fish in a holding pattern and off the gravel. I make the long walk down and eventually I see the river trucking along. The river races along the long sweeping pool and swirls about. I step into the water and my boot immediately disappears. I probably have a murky 12" to work it. Muddy waters aren't going to stop me. Over the years, I've learned the secrets of fishing it.

A lot of anglers aren't keen on fishing in these conditions. Fly fishermen would have a toss a fly the size of a chicken to get a strike. Even some of the bait guys think the water is too dirty for fish to detect the scent of a sac. I've seen some guys tie sacs almost the size of a silver dollar. But those fish do have an incredible sense of smell. Generally, I use sacs about the size of a nickel and no bigger. There's no reason use that many eggs per sac. But some guys will swear double bagging is the only way to get fish. If I double bagged, I would run out of sacs within a couple hours, because I use uncured eggs. Plus I've debunked that myth many years ago about running double bags. The key is where to find them and I have a knack for knowing their muddy haunts.

Whenever the waters are off color, you would be surprised how close to shore steelhead will hang. I've caught fish that were only 10' away from me. Usually when the rivers are running muddy, the flows will be higher than usual. So fish often hang off the main current. Since the bottom or any features are not visible, the only thing that helps me are the bubbles. The speed and movement of the bubbles will tell me where the current is at its slowest. This is especially helpful when the water is colder as steelhead prefer to be at the tail end of pools or runs. The other thing that gives me the advantage is my memory. I have photogenic memory of spots on many rivers. I know where every cut, rock and shale ledge is.

Since there's nobody here, I elect to head down to a tailout just above a small feeder creek. For the past couple months the lower section had been locked up in ice. As I wade down, I see a large branch from a tree protruding from the water. The tree is a latest addition to the pool. The wind gusts from downstream, but it actually helps as the wind blows the line up and slows the float down. Slowing it down gives me that little extra time for a fish to detect the sac. I work the tailout to see where the fish are holding and for 30 minutes, I get nothing. I make adjustments as I move the sinkers lower to get it down and keep it down in the strike zone. I continue to plug away and my efforts only get me one fish. I suspect the fish might be holding closer to the opposite side as the current isn't strong. I wade right in front of the tree and cast out. I fire it across and watch the float land. I pull it in and mend the line. I work that part throughly and I come to the conclusion that fish aren't holding here for whatever reason.

The next spot is a run above the pool. It's a tough going as the current pushes against me as my boots dig into the rocks. I feel my legs starting to burn as I finally get into shallow waters. I get to the halfway point of the pool and I can see a series of waves. This is where the shale bedrock is and directly off of it is a ledge. But the current is ripping pretty good through here. I don't cast very far out as I simply flick the rod and toss the float out. I make a series of adjustments, before I catch my first fish. I watch a small steelhead leap from the water and dart about. With a 8lbs tippet and I can haul in it fairly quickly. My gut tells me that fish might be holding in that slack water right above the tailout.

That's where the action starts as I start hooking into fish. Some of them on the larger size as they rip up and down the pool. They race towards the middle in the hopes of tearing the hook out. I apply side pressure and steer it clear of the current. From the mud I see a beautiful hen, bright as silver. The high water has ushered in some fresh fish as they head up river to spawn. I move her next to the gravel bar and I quickly pop the hook with my hemostats. Immediately she disappears into the murk and I wonder how far she will continue up river. For the next hour, the spot produces a mix bag of fish. Some of them are dark especailly the males, others are small and others brightly colored. It was decent number of fish despite the challenging conditions.

The run had given up enough fish as I look downstream. I walk down and the current was moving far too fast to effectively fish it. Because of the numerous rocks at the bottom, the current was all over the place. Far across, the current is going at half the speed. If I did cast across, the faster water would take hold of my line and create a massive belly of line. I would literally have to hold my rod straight up just to keep as much line off the water as possible. Mending would be extremely difficult if not impossible. If it was a foot lower, I would give it a shot. Since I'm scouting for the upcoming weekend and I only had the afternoon to fish, I'm more than satisfied with the results.

Not everybody enjoys fishing high and dirty. It takes a special angler that is dedicated to put in the time and effort in challenging conditions. There's times when I didn't sniff a hook up for the entire day and or times I couldn't keep them from biting. But was there one thing that was a consistent, I hardly didn't see anybody out. Nothing is more enjoyable then fishing an entire without anybody invading your space. Embrace the muck.