All posts by chris

About chris

Before I became a family man I was a professional river guide. I still run rivers and play in the outdoors, but now I bring my young family along.

Kid’s Ski Gear Programs: The most Bang for your Buck

Heart and Cross Ski's
Creative Commons License photo credit: CraigMoulding

Our local ski shop, Rogue Ski shop, has a great way of getting families into skiing painlessly, both financially and effortlessly.

I’m not sure if this system is a common occurrence in other parts of the country, but if you’re lucky enough to be somewhere where there’s a similar program, it’s definitely worth doing.

Here’s how it works. Basically, it’s a ski exchange. When kids reach an age, or more exactly a height and weight, they are eligible to join the Rogue ski shop junior ski exchange.

It’s simple to get started and doesn’t cost much when you look at everything you get. For around 300 bucks per kid you get three years of ski gear. I’ll walk you through it.

When my oldest was 8 we enrolled him in the ski exchange program. He had been skiing since he was 4 so he was a decent skier, a perfect candidate for the exchange. The ski technicians measured and weighed him then found ski gear( boots, skis and ski poles) that fit him perfectly.

That first year he was given a pair of used skis and bindings that had been turned in by a young skier the previous year. Since there weren’t any good ski boot matches, he was given a brand new pair of boots. This gear isn’t chincy or cheap either, good stuff like Rosignol and Volkl.

Once he was outfitted the ski techs adjusted the ski bindings to the boots and adjusted the settings that were appropriate to his height, weight and ablility, they even tuned the skis. All I had to do was show up and take the gear home.

It was ours to use for the rest of the season. If anything went wrong with the gear (it never did) we were assured that it would be replaced or repaired at no charge.

The next year we got a call from the shop in early November asking us to bring in the gear to be evaluated and exchanged out for more appropriate lengths and sizes.

Since my son had grown so much over the year, we exchanged our gear and got a second set of  boots, skis and poles. Even though the gear had been used, it had only been used a couple of times, it was still in pristine shape.

The following year, same thing, only this was the final year of the three-year program. This third set of gear was a little different.

This gear we’d get to keep. We wouldn’t turn it back into the exchange program. this year all the gear is brand new. It’s all top of the line, name brand ski gear.

The techs made sure to get us dialed with gear that we’d hopefully get more than one season out of. For instance, they put my son into a more aggressive ski, knowing that as he gets better he’ll want the more aggressive style. they also tried to size the skis and boots big to give us some growing room.

My oldest is done with the program now. For that 3oo dollars, I got 3 different sets of ski gear, the third set we keep. If I had to buy new skis, boots and poles every year, it would have cost a lot more.

It was also a relief to rely on the experts to outfit my son with the perfect gear, set to the perfect settings. There was no guess-work and no fuss.

My youngest son is in the ski exchange now and  were just as pleased with the results.

Klamath Duck Hunt: Final Days of the Season

Before work the other day I went duck hunting with my brother. We had a great hunt, ducks were everywhere and we limited out within 2 hours. If we’d been shooting better we could have limited in under an hour. The ducks were low and decoying like crazy.

It was a beautiful day with clear skies and storms in the surrounding mountains. This may have been the final hunt of the season since the weather is starting to get cold, and the open water will start freezing hard.

Here are some pictures and a youtube video of the hunt. Pay close attention to the  youtube video, watch the duck on the far left get shot out of the sky.

Last duck of the day  (youtube video)

Here are some random pics from this awesome day of duck hunting.

Early morning duck hunting
Golds and Blues of the Marsh

 

A full limit of ducks

 

A full day of Retrieving ducks makes for a dirty dog

Hopefully we’ll get another hunt in this year, but with the weather turning colder, the marsh will probably freeze up in the next couple of days. Then it’ll be time to Chukar hunt!

Duck Hunting in Klamath Marsh

last weekend I went duck hunting with my brother and nephew. This is the 4th time hunting this year and it’s been pretty good. We’ve been shooting limits of ducks mostly consisting of Widgeon, Mallards, Pintail, and Gadwall.

Normally I take my two boys, but it was supposed to be really cold and possibly rainy. I thought it would be a good idea for them to stay home this time out. My youngest was pretty bummed, but my oldest convinced him how nice it would be to sleep in for a change.

We went to our normal spot, rode our bikes the 2 miles in the dark, and made our way across the marsh.

crossing the marsh

It’s always a bit brutal, no matter how cold it is you end up sweating profusely. Of course once you stop moving the sweat turns to ice and you shiver.

Walking through weeds, tules and ankle-deep water while carrying a heavy decoy bag wearing neoprene chest waders and carrying guns, shells, food, water and everything else you need out there makes for sweaty grueling work. This kind of thing is the reason I work out.

Once we got about a half mile into the marsh we came to a canal. This is the same canal we used to be able to cross, but now there’s so much water, we would fill our waders with the attempt (I learned this from experience). So this time we brought a blow up dingy. It’s not the normal duck hunting gear, you won’t find it in a Cabela’s magazine, but hey it worked…barely.

My brother and I were able to lay on the thing and kick our feet to cross, but my nephew is too little and had to use his hands. Dipping your hands into icy water at daybreak isn’t something that’s fun or wise, but that’s what he had to do.

It was a foggy day and the hunting was actually slow. Erik and I shot 8 ducks, each of us killing 4, but that was only because we hit most everything that came in. We missed a few, but for the most part we shot well.

Duck hunting in early morning fog

We hunt on this great little pond with light tule cover. In past years you could stand on solid ground, but this year there’s so much water we have to stand in shin deep water. This isn’t too bad for us humans in waders, but the dogs suffer a bit. We were careful to walk them around  to keep their circulation going.

Poor dog has to stand in water all day

I had been hunting only two days prior and had limited out. There had been a lot of ducks around, the only difference was the fog, but that cleared up around 9am. It seemed like the ducks I’d seen had packed up and headed south. Damn.

As we were packing up and preparing to re-cross misery canal, we happened to look to the north and saw clouds upon clouds of ducks getting up. Something had spooked them. So that’s where all the ducks were…north of us about 3 miles.

Shit, oh well I guess next time we’ll bike further north.

biking back to the rig...loaded

 

 

The Big Wood River Fishing Report for First Week in October

Just spent 6 glorious days in Ketchum Idaho  trout fishing the Big Wood River. The river was low, around 235 CFS and gin clear.

Rainbow fishscape
Creative Commons License photo credit: El Frito

I arrived in the evening, went straight to Lost River Outfitters, bought an out-of-state license and asked the helpful staff what the hot fly was.

They suggested some number 14-18 parachute adams type flies and a small bead headed zebra nymph as a dropper fly.

I don’t usually fish a dropper fly on the Big Wood because I love it as a dry fly fishery, however, I hadn’t fished here in a long time and bought of few of the dropper flies.

I walked the 50 steps from my parents’ time share and casted a number 12 elk hair caddis into the Big Wood. That’s right, I completely ignored the fly advice and stuck with what I know works, or thought I did.

After 25 casts I finally got a nice rainbow to rise and take a look at the caddis. He flashed at it, smacked it with his tail…a refusal.

I noticed a small hatch of something grayish coming off the water. I realized it was some kind of baetis fly so I took the proffered advice and tied on a small parachute adams. Things changed quickly. I got more rises and even managed to hook one or two nice rainbows. But one or two rainbows? I was used to catching far more in the 2 hours I’d fished.

I was reluctant to try the dropper, I’d just come from fishing Steelhead on the Rogue river with a nymph setup. I wanted to dry fly fish dammit.

Oh well, the next day I tied on the zebra dropper about 10 inches from the bigger, purple haze fly, (a purple parachute adams) and immediately I went from fishing to catching.

The nice thing about the zebra’s is they don’t sink too far down, in fact they’re just under the surface and pretty close to the dry fly. So, when a fish hit the dropper I could see them rise, which is what I love about dry fly fishing. I was loath to use the dropper for fear of not seeing the take on the surface. I was pleasantly surprised.

By the fourth day on the Big Wood I was consistently catching 30 to 50 fish a day. Most weren’t much bigger than 8 inches but many were over 12 and a few were in the high teens.

On the 6th day, however the rain started coming down. I have never dry fly fished in a rain storm and was unsure of the outcome. In short the dropper fly saved the day.

Since there were no hatches I put on a number 10 stimulator as my dry fly and continued with the black zebra as the dropper. I caught more fish in a shorter amount of time than any previous day. Every single fish was caught on the dropper.

Unfortunately the rain continued all night and didn’t stop or even let up the next day. Within a few hours of daybreak the Big Wood River was chocolate-brown and rising steadily. My fishing was over. It was okay though, I’d gotten 5 really excellent fishing days, I can’t complain.

 

Dogs on River Trips: Tips and Tricks

A constant companion on our river trips is our dog, Zipper. She’s a black lab and loves river trips. What’s not to love: water, family, sticks, wild animals and dropped smores? It’s a river dogs dream.

We’ve learned some tips and tricks on making a dogs’ river trip even more enjoyable.

1. Buy a Good Life-Jacket. It might seem silly to have a life jacket for a dog but even though most dogs are great swimmers, they need one on a river. Dogs don’t have a lot of fat and sink easily in rapids. Do em a favor and buy a life jacket.

The first doggie life jacket we bought lasted about half a season. It seemed like it was well made and was definitely easy to use, however the front straps came loose after 3 river trips.

As with most things in life we learned you have to spend more to get more. My brother bought his dog a life jacket made by Ruffwear. It cost around 50 bucks but he uses his even more than we do and it’s still in great shape.

ruffwear life jacket
Zipper’s new ruffwear life jacket

We followed suit after our first one died and are very happy with our Ruffwear doggie life jacket.

2. Bring a leash and Stakeout. It seems counter-intuitive to have a leash on a river trip…leash laws on a river? But it’s not for legality but sanity. You don’t want your dog running around a busy put-in while you’re trying to load your raft.

Not only will you piss off other boaters, you’ll also put your canine in danger of being hit by cars backing in raft trailers.

While were floating the river we don’t use the leash but when it’s time to camp we sometimes bring it out to keep Zipper out of our way while were setting up.

At bedtime we usually use a stake-out, driven into the sand with a long strap and leash attached and put Zipper near our sleeping area. We don’t put it too close, otherwise she’ll end up in the sleeping bag with us.

The stake-out not only keeps her out of our bedding but also keeps her from wandering, checking out all the various smells and night critters.

stake out
Stake out with orange flag to help us find it in the sand

Bring extra food and treats. When dogs are on rivers they play hard, they need extra nutrients to keep going.

We always feed her an extra cup of food with her morning and evening meals. We also have treats readily available and give those throughout the day. It keeps her energy up for those long summer days.

Bring a small poop shovel. Be sure to respect the river and bury any droppings your best friend leaves.

I know dogs are animals, but they’re not indigenous to the river corridor and their poop shouldn’t be left on beaches.

Zipper loves river trips and we love taking her. She’s part of the family and we would consider any river trip without her sub-par.

The little tricks we’ve learned over the years have helped to make Zipper’s trip and ours smooth and easy.

Swimming Rapids: The best way to get Comfortable in the River

no swimming
Just say Yes to Swimming

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb845

The next time you’re on a river trip, think about swimming…a lot. Swimming rapids, even small riffles helps you feel more comfortable in the river. An added bonus: you’ll have a better chance of staying calm if you happen to fall in, and it’s a ton of fun.

Before you jump in though, be sure you know the section of river you’re on. You don’t want to jump into a rapid you’ve never seen, you don’t know what might be around the corner, or what hidden dangers exist.

By swimming riffles and rapids you’ll gain a greater understanding of what river currents feel like. Not only will you feel more comfortable if you fall in but it’ll also help you understand how to read rivers. If you’re a better river reader, you’ll become a better river runner. Whether your kayaking or rafting, swimming the river will improve your skills.

Start Small

You don’t need to jump into some big nasty rapid, pick something small and harmless. Even the smallest riffles are a blast to swim. Of course you’ll need to be wearing your life jacket at all times, but that actually makes it even more enjoyable.

When you’ve swum a few rapids start trying to move around in the water. Move from the center of the river to the side. Try to catch an eddy.

Feel what happens to your body when you hit the eddy line. It may freak you out at first but go with the flow, keep a light heart and soon you’ll be giggling.

During my years as a kayak instructor on the Rogue river, I used to have all my students swim lots of rapids.

Attitude Adjustment

Sometimes the students were scared of kayaking. They didn’t like the idea of flipping over and feeling trapped in their kayaks. By getting them out of their boats and swimming, they remembered how tame the river really is.

Swimming rapids not only did wonders for their attitudes but also helped them understand the currents that were constantly acting on the edges of their kayaks making them better kayakers.

Swim with the Kids

Swimming rapids is also great for getting kids comfortable with rivers. Put them over the side with life jackets securely fastened and slip in beside them.

Hold hands as you bounce through the riffles. If they get panicked help them by telling them when to breathe.

Sometimes kids breathe right when they hit a wave and gulp some water. Calm them down and help them recover. Soon they’ll be having a blast and want to swim every rapid.

Kids and Inflatable Kayaks: When to let them go Solo

Katie and her boat
Inflatable kayaks are great fun for kids

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mike Miley

We’ve been taking our kids down rivers since they were in diapers…literally. We’d plunk em next to an adult riding in front of the raft and take them through the rapids.

My wife and I are accomplished rowers so our confidence in keeping the kids’ safe is high. We also know that if they fall overboard we’ll be right there with them keeping them safe.

Now that they’re getting older they want to get out of the mother raft and start taking their own boats downstream…inflatable kayaks.

They’ll be almost completely on their own, their paddling skills and river running sense the only thing keeping them safe.

We feel good about them venturing into their own boats though because we’ve done everything we can to prepare them for solo boating.

Here’s a short list of skills every kid-paddler should have before venturing off into their own inflatable kayak:

1. Excellent swimming skills. This seems obvious, but before a kid can be alone in an inflatable kayak they should be good swimmers. This doesn’t mean good swimmers in the pool, but in the river too.

The river has currents and waves and rocks, kids should be able to swim strongly through the water and be able to stroke away from obstacles. Of course they’ll have life jackets on, but they still need to be able to maneuver around the river with their swim strokes.

2. Basic river reading skills. Reading the river is the art of understanding what’s happening with the river currents. Understanding river features like waves and holes and eddies is essential to taking the best, safest route through the whitewater.

easy river rapid
Where would you go?

Kids don’t need to be experts, (it’s a lifetime learning process) but they should be able to figure out the safest route through a rapid with a quick glance. If in doubt, they should be mature enough to ask for direction.

3. Inflatable kayak handling. Kids usually pick up on this very quickly, but knowing how to paddle an inflatable kayak is important. Understanding how to turn and how to paddle straight using basic paddling strokes usually comes pretty quick to kids.

Let them paddle around in flatwater, or through little class 1 or 2 riffles and see how they do. Don’t put them in potentially dangerous situations.

Once they’ve been paddling for an hour or so and are getting the hang of things put them through some drills. Tell them to spin the boat in circles. Have them turn 90 degrees and paddle to a designated spot. Send them into small river eddies and let them feel what happens when the inflatable kayak hits the eddy current. Experience matters.

4. Getting back into a flipped over inflatable kayak. Chances are your kids will flip the boat once in awhile. They’ll need to know what to do and how to get back into the kayak without having to swim all the way to shore. The best way to do this is practice. Whenever they’re in a flat stretch of water have them practice over and over until they’re confident.

Be sure they understand the importance of hanging onto the paddle if they flip. It’s a lot easier to put everything back together if the paddle isn’t floating off downstream.

These 4 points are essential for having a safe and fun day of river running. It sounds like a lot of steps to understand, but the information comes quickly when you spend any amount of time on rivers.

If your kids are apprehensive about solo inflatable kayaks,  jump into the boat with them to make the transition easier. Once they get the hang of it though, they’ll be kicking you out and they’ll be on their own.

It’s always a good idea to keep young inflatable kayakers close to the mother ship. If they get in over their head, you want to be close by to lend a hand.

Raft Rowing Seat: The Best Choice

It seems the trend these days is having a shaped cushioned seat bolted onto a river box as a rowing seat. I’m sure you’ve seen these and maybe even use one, but personally I can’t stand the things.

We recently bought a whitewater raft and the frame had one of these seat systems. Since it was there and I had never used one, I figured I’d give it a try.

rowing seat
removed raft seat

I sat on the thing and thought, wow, this feels pretty good, nice and comfy. Then I started to row.

At first it was fine, it’s exactly in the center of the rowing box, so you start off in the correct spot, however it felt too high. I felt like I was having to reach down to get the oars in the correct position. This made my oar stroke awkward.

In order to get the normal purchase on the oar I’m used to, I had to keep my arms low and pull them into my belly. This immediately felt wrong.

I’m used to pulling back on the oars with my back and shoulders. With my arms so low, I was being forced to pull only with my arms. My back and shoulders are one hell of a lot stronger than my arms…so I flailed.

The seat put me too high on the oars. This is a mistake I see many beginner whitewater rafters make. They try to pull the oars with their arms instead of their back. If you’re sitting on a seat that puts you too high in the first place your bound to use too much arm.

I suppose this problem could be overcome if you had your raft frame altered to lift the oarlocks into a higher position. But the cost of doing something so drastic would far exceed the much simpler fix of not using the padded rowing seat.

Another problem occurred when I wanted to make a move, like a hard pivot and row away from an obstacle, I was forced to stay on the rowing seat. I couldn’t move around in the seat to gain a better purchase on one oar or the other. If I came off the seat I was sitting on bare metal and sliding all over the place.

I quickly realized that I move around a lot when I row, depending on what I’m trying to achieve. If I need to put a lot of power into my right oar, I’ll move my body that way to get a better angle and bite on the water. The rowing seat was far too restrictive for any kind of lateral movement.

The other thing I can’t stand about this raft rowing seat is the high back. For the life of me I have no idea why this has a back at all. It’s not big enough to add support however it is big enough to get in the way when you really need to make a pull. I don’t understand this design at all, it was annoying and in my way.

Notice the high back… how annoying

Okay, so what’s the answer? What’s the best rowing seat? It’s really simple, sit on something thin like an ethafoam pad strapped to the river box you’re sitting on. Honestly this is all you need. If you want something thicker, purchase some thicker mini-cell foam and either strap it on or if you’re ambitious, glue it onto the top.

Gluing mini-cell onto the lid is a great way to go. You don’t have to worry about straps, and the mini-cell layer will help protect the river box and add a layer of insulation to the contents. But more importantly, it won’t be too high to row on, and won’t restrict your movement.

I give the rowing seat pictured above an A+ for comfort,  and an F- for rowing functionality.

Kayaking Little Butte Creek: A Hidden Gem

It’s raining and its been raining for quite some time. For most people today might be a day to stay inside and get some laundry done, but me and my brother have other ideas…were going kayaking.

putting in on little butte creek

Early Spring days in the Rogue Valley mean warm temperatures (relatively) and high river levels; the perfect recipe for doing some play boating on flooded creeks.

Today’s target is Little Butte Creek. It rained all night on top of saturated ground so the creek that normally meanders through Eagle Point is now topping its banks and kicking.

This isn’t a hard run, it doesn’t have enough gradient to generate any nasty drops, but the river bottom is made up mostly of smooth bedrock which creates some beautiful big surf waves when a large volume of water is forced through it.

The last time I was on this stretch, over ten years ago, I was blown away by the quantity and quality of the play boating. There were perfect waves and holes everywhere. Todays’ level wasn’t quite as high as ten years ago so the waves weren’t quite as big or plentiful. It was damned fun though.

One feature I distinctly remember from last time, was a great play hole about halfway down the run. It was there today and was even better than I remember it. We played here for quite a while. The sun was out and hole was perfect.

The hole sets you up perfectly for throwing ends. All you have to do is relax and it automatically puts you into the perfect spot. I filmed my brother throwing some ends.

little butte creek oregon (click the previous link to view the youtube video.)

After the hole we were hopeful to find the next big feature I remember from last time; a massive wave with a perfect break at the top. I remember this wave being big enough to easily do crossovers with two boats.

As we made our way through Eagle Point, smelling the smells of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, we came upon a nasty horizon line we’d totally forgotten about. It’s a two-part weir dam…nasty sumbitch.

We walked around it, thinking how stupid it would be to die in the middle of Eagle Point, on little Butte creek.

As we started getting near the end of the run, we realized the wave we were searching for must be coming up. We came through a stretch that looked like we remembered but the wave wasn’t there.

The creek was either not high enough, or it had changed. Whatever the case, the wave of my dreams wasn’t there. Oh well, I’ll always remember it the way it was that first time.

As we hit the confluence of Little Butte Creek and the Rogue we figured no one had run that fun little stretch of river since the last time we did. It’s a hidden gem that gets overlooked because of its close proximity and benign nature.

Bear Creek Boating: The Ghetto Run in Medford Oregon

It’s mid-April, the ground is saturated from recent rains which means the rivers and creeks rise quickly when the rains come. The ground can’t hold anymore moisture so it all runs off into the creeks making for some great high water kayaking.

One of the best runs is right in downtown Medford…Bear Creek.

Mostly people don’t even notice Bear Creek as it meanders through the guts of Talent, Phoenix and Medford, finally dumping into the Rogue river around Gold Ray.

But when it rains and the polluted little creek starts to swell, the play boating can be damned good.

The best section is from Barnett road bridge to the Rogue Valley Mall. It flows through the soft underbelly of Medford, which is why we call it the ghetto run.

It always feels funny putting in at the Dairy Queen on Barnett. You get some damned funny looks from the locals as you begin donning your gear and carrying your boat to the water.

This isn’t the normal remote put-in most boaters are used to, this is downtown Medford, a stones throw from Interstate 5.

There’s no designated put-in, you have to fight your way through thick riverside blackberry bushes, hoping you don’t step on a used hypodermic needle.

Once you’re on the water though, the fun begins. The river bottom is made up of smooth bedrock which makes for some really perfect surf waves.

The only problem is slowing down enough to catch the waves. As with all high water runs there are very few eddys.

Usually kayakers have to plow into the river bank and hold onto some submerged sapling, or possibly an abandoned shopping cart, as you wait your turn for a 6 foot wave.

You don’t really have to wait though, there are many waves and not many kayakers think to float this section, so there isn’t much competition.

It’s a short run with lots of fun surf waves and a few holes too. The holes are pretty shallow though and I don’t mess with them much, mainly because I don’t relish flipping over in this nasty, muddy, polluted water.

I’ve flipped many times and never contracted an illness, but the less I’m under the better.

The pollution probably isn’t a problem when the river is really cranking because it’s flushing all the nasty shit down pretty quick…it’s parts-per-million.

A good level to do the ghetto run is anything over 800 CFS. You can find an up to date flow here. It gets really fun when it’s above 1000 CFS, the more water the better.

A word of caution: as with all high water runs be sure to watch for sweepers and floating logs. They can ruin your whole day and they can appear and disappear from day-to-day on these little creeks.

So be careful, have fun, and keep your mouth shut tight while playing on these super fun surf waves.