Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scratch Year of the Elk, It is Year of the Salmon!

So if you have read my blog before, you know that in February of this year I threw down the proverbial gauntlet by saying that this would be the year I finally go elk hunting after planning and canceling numerous trips over the last several years for various reasons.  Well, again I am canceling my plans to go elk hunting this fall.  There are several reasons, including the recent development of a knee injury and the fact that my work schedule only allows me to travel during the first week of the season before the bulls really go into rut and begin bugling. When I made this decision, I still wanted to undertake some sort of outdoor adventure, so I began to research other ideas that would fit into my budget and schedule.

For the past several years, my hunting/fishing buddy (and best friend) has faithfully invited me to Alaska to go salmon fishing (he works it into a business trip each summer) and each year I had to decline due to my work schedule.  I began to wonder if I could make a trip like this work given my limited budget and restrictive schedule.  My initial research was a bit disheartening.  It appears that, not only is everything bigger and wilder in Alaska, it is also more expensive. Guided trips, hotels, flights, car rentals are all really, really expensive during the "peak" tourist season.  But I would not be deterred!  During one of my extensive searches of information on the web, I came across a random fishing forum that mentioned a book called "Alaska Fishing On A Budget" where a fellow in the U.K. had decided to make the trip and he utilized this book as his planning resource had good success.

I was intrigued by the mention of the book.  I looked it up on Amazon, it was only $14.95, so I ordered it, and upon receiving it in the mail, I absolutely consumed the information.  I read the entire book in one evening!  This was exactly the information that I needed.  The author, Bernard Rosenberg, outlines how he himself makes a trip every other year to Alaska to fish for salmon and does so on a low cost budget!

Armed with this information, I have been busy planning my trip.  My work schedule has one window of opportunity in the summer that happens to fall during the prime time of a few different salmon runs, so the timing works!  Bernard recommends utilizing a "camping van" (a van that has been converted inside to become more like an RV to allow camping) and he recommended a specific van rental company in Anchorage that would pick you up directly from the airport.  I found the web site of the company, but when I called them, it said the number was disconnected.  I researched further and found that they had actually gone out of business.  I thought to myself, no problem, I will find another camper van rental company.  Well that wasn't so easy.  There are plenty of car rental agencies and there are also RV and pickup camper rentals, but these are really expensive.  I found one camper van company that rents old Volkswagen vans that are set up for camping, but the disclaimer that said "they can't be held responsible for mechanical breakdowns of these old vans" made me nervous.  I finally stumbled across a small "mom & pop" rental agency in a town north of Anchorage called Wasilla that does rent the exact kind of "camper van" that I am looking for, but the town is an hour away from Anchorage (Houston we have a problem).  Well I gave them a call anyway and they just happened to have one van available during the my targeted window of opportunity and they agreed to come to Anchorage to pick me up from the airport!  Upon reserving the van, I also made my flight reservations.  I now have transportation and a place to sleep!  This is really going to happen!

Next I need to decide where I am going to drive my "camping van".  I have three options as Bernard describes it.  Option #1, I can go North and then East on the "Glenn and Richardson" highways.  This path has the lightest pressure, but provides fewer fishing opportunities.   Option #2, I could go North up the "George Parks" highway.  This path provides lots of fishing opportunities, medium fishing pressure, and views of Mount Mckinley or as the locals call it, Denali.  Option #4, is to go South to the Kenai peninsula.  This boasts some fantastic fishing, but it comes with the highest level of fishing pressure and crowds.

Option 1 was eliminated since I don't have that much time.  I am tempted by Option 2 because I want to visit Denali park, but Option 3 would allow me to fish for sockeye salmon or "reds" as their known along the famous banks of the Russian river.   I can't pass that up, Option 3 it is!

Next on the list is establishing where I can park my camping van overnight without being evicted.  I need to find a campground.  Well it just so happens that there is a campground on the Russian river, but it is very popular.  I had to immediately book a spot before they were all taken.  The prime spots were all gone, but I am just happy to have a reservation.  This is the first campground that I have ever reserved that required me to first read the rules around potential danger from bears!  This will be very interesting.

Well it's official!  I going to Alaska to fish for salmon and I will be sleeping in a van down by the river (that is a joke for all you Chris Farley fans from Saturday Night Live)!  I still have a lot of planning to do since I need to get all my fishing gear in order and there are still some logistics I need to work out.  I am not disclosing the exact timing of my trip because I am paranoid about letting the world know when I am away from my family, so you will hear about the trip after I return.  I also have tons of research to do around how to catch salmon, so I am sure I will be posting more about the planning in the near future.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

OBN Gear Review: Irish Setter Boots

This is a first for me as I will be doing my first gear review on An Outdoor Adventure.  Why am I doing a gear review you might ask?  Well the folks over at the Outdoor Blogger Network (see the OBN badge on the right side bar for a link) offer weekly gear give-aways to outdoor bloggers so they can field test the equipment and write reviews.  I was the lucky winner of a pair of Irish Setter Rut Master Boots!  So here we go.....

First, let me just say that the folks at Irish Setter are first class!  I won these boots about a week ahead of my turkey hunting trip.  I emailed Joe at OBN and expressed my concern about receiving the boots in time for the hunt.  He shared my concern but then responded by saying that Irish Setter had agreed to ship the boots 2nd day air so that I would receive them in time!  They arrived as promised and are beautiful.

I am a heavy user of rubber hunting boots as they keep my feet dry in wet conditions (such as water crossings, muddy conditions, and heavy dews), but the primary reason is scent control during deer hunting.  I am really hard on my boots while hunting and expect them to perform without fail.  Here is my review of the boots highlighting those aspects that I look for when purchasing new hunting boots.

The first thing I noticed when unpacking the boots is that the quality is obvious.  These boots are made to last.  I pulled out my old hunting boots and did a side by side comparison. 

Side by side comparison of New vs. Old

1.  Heavy Tread:  You can tell this boot has an aggressive tread before you even pick it up.  It has cleat like grippers along the side and when you pick it up to take a look at the bottom you are even more impressed.  The lugs are thick but are spaced out enough that it won't just be a mud trap.  Able to provide traction when you need it most.  I took a look at my sad pair of old boots and noticed that the tread was almost gone in most places.  Granted, these are very old boots, but the wear is more excessive than you would expect.

Serious tread on the Irish Setter Rut Master

Tread that didn't hold up on the old boots.
2.  Reinforced Tops:  The biggest complaint from my old boots has been solved by the folks at Irish Setter!  The weakest part of most rubber boots is where it flexes in the front where my foot meets my ankle.  This has caused my old boots to crack and wear in this area causing holes in both boots!  The Irish Setter boots have reinforced material in this area to prevent that from happening!  Wow!  I know it seems like I am over emphasizing this point, but if you ever stepped in a creek on a day when it it just above freezing and you felt cold water rushing into your socks through your "water proof" boots, you would share my enthusiasm.  These holes also compromise the "scent free aspect of the boots and are the primary reason for utilizing them during deer season.

Pointing out reinforced areas with double layer.

What happens when you don't have reinforced area.
3.  ExoFlex:  What the heck is that?  Well, if I only read about it, I wouldn't have believed it, but this actually works.  The Irish Setter boots have this flexible area in the back that is where you place your heel inside the boot, that allows you to slip it on.  The boot "gives" just a little as you slip your foot in so it isn't a chore, but once you have it on, it is a nice snug fit.  The old boots, well you just use brute force.

4.  Comfort:  When you put on my old boots, you can feel the "thin" construction, like there is no cushion of support between me and the sole of the boot.  The Irish Setter boots are luxurious.  They have a cushioning that provides tennis shoe type of comfort with the protection of rubber hunting boots.  No pics on this attribute, but you can imagine me smiling as I put them on!  

Over All Review:  I tried to utilize these boots during my turkey hunt, but the conditions weren't right for this test.  These boots will thrive in a cold and wet environment, but this trip was very hot and very dry.  Had it been a normal wet Spring season, they would have been perfect.  I know that I will be utilizing these boots also this fall season as I bow hunt whitetail deer.  Overall, I give these boots a 5 out of 5 star rating due to their heavy duty construction, aggressive tread, comfortable fit, and the innovative design that helps you more easily put them on.  Let me express my thanks to the folks at Irish Setter Boots for donating the boots and thanks to the Outdoor Blogger Network for coordinating these gear reviews!